More Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

We paired our lobster Newburg canapés with lobster thermidor tartlets. And we paired them both with a little wine of course! It was Valentine’s Day after all. 😉

You can buy premade tartlet shells or make your own with store-bought phyllo dough. I made my own, but only because my local stores didn’t have the shells. I think there was a run on them for Valentine’s Day! 😉 The filling for this appetizer can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan. I love recipes I can make ahead. Then I can focus on the celebration instead of being back in the kitchen. This recipe also works really well with shrimp. This month, my Valentine tasted three batches with shrimp while I was testing the recipe before we enjoyed the lobster version on the big day, (but I don’t think he minded. 😉 )

Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

About 4 ounces white mushrooms, finely diced

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

White pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Mini phyllo tartlet shells

Parmesan and/or Gruyère cheese

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point.

Pull out the lobster and set aside on a plate to cool.

In the same pan, add the mushrooms and shallot, and cook until they soften and brown slightly.

Remove the mushrooms and shallot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Wipe out the pan to make sure you don’t have any bits of shallot or mushroom left that may burn. Over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the bubbles subside. Sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to make a roux. Cook until the roux turns golden. While continuing to whisk, add the sherry, brandy, and milk, and cook until the mixture is thickened. Add the paprika, mustard, and pepper, and whisk to combine.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat, mushrooms, and shallots back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until everything is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the lobster meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed, (but remember there will be salty cheese added as a final edition, so be careful not to over salt.)

Spoon the mixture into the tartlet shells. Grate a little cheese over the top of each tartlet. With a kitchen torch, melt the cheese. Add a little more grated cheese on top for a pretty presentation.

Serve immediately.

Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Newburg Canapés

This year, rather than an elaborate Valentine dinner, I focused on hors d’oeuvres I could enjoy with my hubby later in the evening. 🙂 I made lobster Newburg canapés and lobster thermidor tartlets, two classic lobster dishes converted into small bites. I have to say, both went quite nicely with a glass of wine by the fire!

I’ll start with the canapés. I love that the topping can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan, and the lobster can totally be substituted for shrimp for a more modest dish. I made a couple batches with shrimp as I was testing the recipe this month, and my taste tester (AKA, my hubby) loved it! The lobster was perfect for our special Valentine’s Day celebration, though. I think this is a recipe I will go back to again and again. It is fancy enough for a special occasion, but simple enough to make on a weeknight.

Lobster Newburg Canapés

Sliced artisan bread, cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter

Extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Ground white pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Preheat broiler. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Brush the tops of the bread with a little olive oil. Arrange the bread with the oil side facing up on the prepared sheet pan. Broil for a minute or two until the bread is golden on top. Watch them closely, because they can burn very quickly. Set aside.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point. Set aside to cool.

Continuing to cook over medium heat, sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to combine with the remaining butter. Cook until the roux is golden brown. While whisking, add the sherry, brandy, and milk. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thickened. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper, and whisk until well combined.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells, and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until the lobster is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed.

Spoon a small amount of the lobster mixture onto the toast rounds. Serve immediately.

Valentine Sweets ~ Pink Heart Meringue Cookies

I made something sweet for my sweet to celebrate Valentine’s Day. 🙂

These crisp meringue cookies are tinted a lovely shade of pink with the simple addition of a little beet juice. For those of you without a juicer (like me!), I processed a couple of roasted red beets in a food processor. Then I put the beets into a few layers of cheesecloth and squeezed out as much juice as I could. Voila…nature’s red food coloring!

Use these little hearts to make a schaum torte, an Eton mess, or just eat them on their own. 🙂

Pink Heart Meringue Cookies

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon red beet juice

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Wipe the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer with vinegar to ensure it is free of any oil.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of the stand mixer, and whisk until they begin to look frothy. Very slowly sprinkle in the sugar while continuing to whisk. The mixture will become thick and glossy with stiff peaks. Rub a small amount of the mixture between your fingers, and if it is smooth with no sugar granules remaining, you are there. At this point, add the salt, cornstarch, vanilla, and beet juice, and whisk until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

On the prepared baking sheets, pipe the mixture into heart shapes.

Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Then turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in the oven for another 30 minutes. Let cool completely.

Valentine’s Day Dinner ~ Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange SauceOur Valentine dinner was a celebration of winter citrus! I love that citrus fruit comes into season in the middle of the winter months, just when we can use a bit of brightness. I thought it would be fun to choose a variety of citrus fruits, and then base my menu on what I found at the market.

I ended up with kumquats, blood oranges, Buddha’s hand, and a pomelo. This was my first time playing with Buddha’s hand, which was quite a discovery! I would highly recommend picking one up if you see it at the market. The scent is lovely, and the taste is distinctly different than any other citrus I have tried before. I really enjoyed exploring what I could do with the fruit. A culinary adventure! 🙂Scallops and Fennel Salad with Tarragon Kumquat VinaigretteWe began our dinner with scallops and fennel salad, all dressed in a tarragon and kumquat vinaigrette. The main course was seared duck breast with a blood orange sauce. Then for dessert we had Buddha’s hand cheesecake with candied Buddha’s hand on top. It was all paired with a sparkling wine pomelo cocktail and a delicious red wine from Orange Coast Winery.

I think our favorite dish of the night was the duck. The recipe was based on a duck bigarade recipe, which is a dish traditionally made with Seville oranges. I used blood oranges that were a little tart since I thought the blood orange color was perfect for Valentine’s Day!Buddha's Hand CheesecakeSeared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

Based on a recipe from Epicurious.com

Serves 2

2 duck breasts

Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice

1 tablespoon orange liqueur

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Zest of 1/2 blood orange, for garnish

Flesh of 1-2 blood oranges, for garnish

Salt the duck breasts generously on both sides, and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Pat the duck dry with a paper towel. Once the pan is hot, place the duck breasts into the pan, skin side down. Sear about 6 minutes on the skin side, and about 4 minutes on the flesh side, or until golden on the outside and still a little pink (medium) on the inside. (Of course, if you like your red meat cooked more, by all means cook it a little longer.) When the duck is cooked to your liking, set it aside on a cutting board. Tent with foil.

While the duck rests, discard all but 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in the pan. Turn the pan onto medium heat. Add the flour to the hot fat, and whisk until well combined. Cook until it is the color of a café au lait.

Slowly whisk in the stock, orange juice, orange liqueur, and vinegar. Pour any juices that may have accumulated around the duck into the sauce. Boil the sauce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Salt and pepper to taste. Optional: Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer for a smoother consistency.

Remove the fat from the duck breast. Thinly slice the meat, and serve with the sauce, orange zest and orange slices.Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange Sauce

To Top Off Valentine’s Day ~ Chocolate Frosting

Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingI was on a Valentine baking streak! 😉 I made one more batch of hidden heart cupcakes, and I decorated them a little differently for some variety. I don’t typically frost my cupcakes, but I figured everyone needs a little chocolate on Valentine’s Day, no? 😉Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingIf I’m completely honest, I didn’t fill my second batch of cupcakes full enough of yellow cake batter, so the hearts weren’t completely hidden after I baked them. That led me to figure out a frosting solution. Sometimes unexpected and good ideas come out of mistakes! I thought that was a good Valentine cupcake lesson for the day. 😉Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingChocolate Frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (or more if you would like it sweeter)

4 tablespoons skim milk

Whisk all of the ingredients together until smooth. (That’s it!)Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frostingI used a few of my tiny heart-shaped sugar cookies to top these cupcakes. I made sure to place them along the middle so I knew where to cut the cupcakes to reveal the heart inside.Hidden heart cupcake with chocolate frosting

One More Valentine Sweet! ~ Hidden Heart Cupcakes

Hidden Heart CupcakesI made one more Valentine sweet for my sweet. 🙂 These hidden heart cupcakes are another idea inspired by Cupcake Jemma that I just couldn’t resist trying! I think they are so adorable. 🙂

I made mine with a beet whole-wheat red velvet cake in the middle and a simple whole-wheat yellow cake for the outside. The yellow cake was from a recipe I made before, but the red velvet cake was new for me. I think the red velvet would also be delicious on its own, so you might see more red velvet cakes in the future!Hidden Heart CupcakesHidden Heart Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cake:

3/4 cup packed beet pulp

1/4 cup light olive oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup skim milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Yellow Cake:

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup light olive oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons skim milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the red velvet cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spray a 9-inch cake pan with oil. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Steam the beet pulp until it is tender. Purée in a food processor. When the beets are puréed, add the oil and sugar, and process until smooth. Add the egg, and process until incorporated. Then add the milk and vanilla, and process until smooth.

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Whisk until well combined. Then add the beet mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Fill the prepared cake tin, and bake for about 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool.

Once the cake is cool, invert it onto a cutting board. With a small heart-shaped cookie cutter (approximately 1-inch high), punch hearts out of the cake. Squeeze the cake in the cookie cutter with your fingers so it is compact. Gently work the cake hearts out of the cookie cutters and set aside. The hearts can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator.

For the yellow cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Line a standard-sized muffin tin with 12 baking liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until well incorporated. Add half of the dry ingredients, and whisk until combined. Then add the milk and vanilla, and whisk until combined. Finally, add the remaining dry ingredients, and whisk until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.

To assemble:

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the yellow cake batter into the bottom of each lined muffin cup. Bake for about 5 minutes, until slightly set, but not completely baked. Place a heart, tip side down, into each muffin cup. The semi-baked batter should hold it upright. Fill the cups with the remaining batter until they are about 4/5 full. The top of the heart will still be visible.

Bake for about 17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the yellow cake comes out clean.Hidden Heart CupcakesDecorate with powdered sugar or chocolate frosting. (Recipe for the frosting to follow!) For this batch I used my set of Valentine cupcake stencils for the top. A simple dusting of powdered sugar was all they needed. I made sure to keep all of my cakes in alignment and dusted the designs in the same direction so I knew which way to cut into the cakes to reveal the heart.Hidden Heart Cupcakes

Valentine Sweets ~ Double Heart Cookies

Double Heart CookiesI just love all of the cute Valentine desserts at this time of the year, so I decided to get an early start to give myself plenty of time to make a few! I started with these sweet little sugar cookies. This idea was inspired by a British baker named Cupcake Jemma. I love watching her weekly recipe videos, which are filled with some very cute and festive ideas throughout the year.Double Heart CookiesI used my whole-wheat sugar cookie recipe from my Christmas cookies last year, and I dyed half of them pink with beet juice. The beet flavor doesn’t come through, but the color is very pretty. For a little variety, I also made some of them into stained glass window cookies with cinnamon hard candy melted in the middle.Double Heart CookiesDouble Heart Cookies

2 raw beets

Approximately 1/4 cup cinnamon hard candies (if you would like to make some of the stained glass window cookies…otherwise, omit)

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

To make the beet juice to dye the pink cookies, start by putting on latex gloves if you have them. Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler. Grate the beets on a grater or with a grater attachment of a food processor. With cheesecloth or a thin kitchen towel you don’t care about, squeeze out as much juice as you can. (Reserve the pulp for the red velvet cake recipe to follow!)

To prepare the candy for the stained glass cookies, place the hard candy in a plastic zip lock bag. With a meat mallet, smash the candy into fine pieces.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Divide the dough in half. Into one half of the dough, add as much of the beet juice as you like for the color you desire. (Keep in mind, the color fades slightly when baked.) Thoroughly knead the juice into the dough for an even color.

Wrap the two pieces of dough separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the two pieces of dough until they are between about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

Cut out the dough with a large heart-shaped cookie cutter. In the middle of each large heart use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out a smaller heart in the center. Reserve the smaller hearts.

Transfer the larger hearts to a cookie sheet.

For the stained glass window cookies, fill the center of each large heart with an even layer of the crushed candy. The candy will bubble up slightly when baked, so don’t fill the cookies to the top.

For the remaining cookies, fill the hole with the smaller hearts in the opposite colored dough.

Bake for approximately 7 minutes, turning the pan once, until the cookies are cooked through and the candy is melted.Double Heart Cookies

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, Final Course ~ Battenberg Cake

Battenberg CakeFor the grand finale of our Downton Abbey-inspired Valentine dinner, I made a Battenberg cake! It is a classic British checkerboard-style cake, held together with jam and a marzipan coating.

The tale behind the cake is that it was created to celebrate the wedding of Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria’s granddaughter) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Given the romantic story about the cake, I think it is the perfect dessert for Valentine’s Day! A little more about the cake’s background and some fun facts can be found at SeriousEats.com.

I decided to make a chocolate and vanilla version rather than a traditional pink and yellow version, so I would not require any food coloring. (Or rather, since I am in a British state of mind, I should say “colouring.” 😉 ) I started with a recipe from Jamie Oliver, but I changed it so significantly that the final result was a completely different cake. For my healthier Nooncafe Battenberg, I wanted to use whole grains rather than self rising flour, so I used whole-wheat pastry flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. I also didn’t want to use butter, so I replaced it with coconut oil, and added less oil than the recipe called for. To offset that change, I added more milk for moisture. I also reduced the sugar quite a bit in the batter, since the jam and marzipan also added a lot of sweetness. The final product was denser and heartier than a traditional sponge cake, but it was quite delicious!

For decoration, I dyed some of the marzipan pink with beet juice. Just grate a raw beet on a cheese grater, place the grated beet inside of 2 or 3 layers of cheese cloth, and squeeze out the juice. Knead a little of the juice into the marzipan until it is uniformly pink. It’s a little messy, but so pretty! In the book A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes, it mentions that in the era of Downton Abbey, the food was highly decorated. Even the serving platters would have been decorated. Inspired by that fact, I cut out hearts with my pink marzipan and placed them all around my cake platter, as well as on top of the cake.

Since this is a very British recipe, I wrote most of the measurements in grams (and even gave you the Celsius temperature for the oven if you please!)

Battenberg CakeBattenberg Cake

200g coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the pans

250g fine or caster sugar

6 eggs

½ tbsp vanilla extract

6 tbsp milk

285g whole-wheat pastry flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

50g ground almonds

40g cocoa

125g apricot jam

450g marzipan

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease 2 small loaf pans, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease the parchment as well. This will ensure the cakes come out of the pans in one piece.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until very well combined. Set aside. Divide the coconut oil and sugar evenly between 2 bowls, and whisk until well incorporated. Beat 3 eggs into each bowl. Stir the vanilla and half the milk into one bowl, then fold in 175g of the flour mixture until just combined.
 In the other bowl, fold in the remaining flour mixture, almonds, cocoa and remaining milk. Mix until just combined. Take care not to over mix the flour. Spoon the two batters into the greased pans. Bake both together for about 40–50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. The chocolate cake may take longer to cook than the vanilla, so check often towards the end of the baking time. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn the cakes out onto a rack.

To assemble, warm and strain the jam. Level off the tops and sides of the cakes with a serrated knife so each cake is a rectangle and the same size. Cut in half lengthwise so you have 2 long strips of each. Place 1 of the vanilla cakes on a board and brush the top and sides generously with jam, then do the same with a strip of chocolate cake and stick the 2 together, side by side. Gently place the remaining cakes on top, opposite colors on each, brushing all the edges with jam. Trim the cake so the sides are straight, if necessary.

Roll out the marzipan on a board sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar so it is large enough to completely cover the cake (with a little extra to use for decoration.) Place the cake on one of the shorter sides, and bring the marzipan up and over the top to cover 4 sides. Pat to make sure the marzipan adheres to the jam on all 4 sides. Trim to neaten the two exposed checkerboard edges with a serrated knife.

I find that videos are easier to follow than words when I have a technical recipe such as this one, so here is a link to a video I found helpful when assembling my Battenberg.

Battenberg Cake

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, Main Course ~ Mini Beef Wellingtons

Mini Beef WellingtonMy Valentine requested his favorite dish for our Downton Abbey themed dinner – Beef Wellington. I have made a full beef Wellington as well as a salmon version on previous occasions, both with delicious success! This time I decided to try mini Wellingtons with pâté, and I think my Valentine was happy with the result. 🙂

Looking into the history of the dish, the origin is a bit cloudy. It may have been around during the Downton era, or it may not have. It may have British origins, or it may actually be American. (Gasp!!) Anyway, the dish is a favorite in our abbey, so we included it in our celebration.

I used a tried and true recipe from Martha Stewart. This mini version is much easier to make than the full beef Wellington. It can also be made ahead of time, which is a lovely feature! It is admittedly a rich dish, but the base of beef tenderloin is a very lean cut of beef. To make it a little healthier, I used less of the pâté than the recipe called for, and I also rolled the pastry thin and cut off the excess, so I didn’t use the entire sheet. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I cut out little hearts for the top of the Wellingtons with some of the extra puff pastry. Just stick them on with a little egg wash. I only made half the recipe, but I will include the original full recipe below:

Mini Beef Wellingtons

From MarthaStewart.com

1 beef tenderloin (5 pounds), trimmed and halved crosswise

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons safflower oil

2 packages (12 ounces each) all-butter puff pastry, such as Dufours

8 ounces mousse pâté, such as D’Artagnan mousse de foie de canard

2 large eggs

Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add half of beef; cook, turning, until browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board; repeat with second half. Let cool, 40 minutes. Cut each half into 4 equal pieces.

Roll out 1 sheet of puff pastry to a little larger than 16 by 12 inches. Trim edges; cut into four 8-by-6-inch squares. Place one piece of beef, cut-side down, on a pastry square; top with 2 tablespoons mousse, spreading evenly. Lightly beat 1 egg, then brush over edges of pastry, fold up corners to enclose filling, and gently press to seal. Repeat with remaining pastry, beef, and mousse. Arrange Wellingtons, seam-side up, on parchment-lined baking sheet; wrap well in plastic and then foil. Freeze up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, if you are not freezing the Wellingtons for later, wrapping is unnecessary. Just chill for an hour in the refrigerator before baking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly beat remaining egg, then brush over frozen Wellingtons. Divide between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake about 35 minutes for medium-rare. If your Wellingtons are not frozen, bake for only about 25 minutes. The internal temperature of medium-rare beef is between 130-135 degrees.

Remove Wellingtons from baking sheet and let rest 10 minutes before serving with mushrooms.

Serve with sautéed mushrooms (I made this recipe, which is the recommended pairing on MarthaStewart.com), and a salad.

Next course, Battenberg cake!

P1240983

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, First Course ~ Cream of Watercress Soup

Cream of Watercress SoupHappy Valentine’s Day!

My hubby and I enjoyed another themed dinner at home for Valentine’s Day, which is the way we like to celebrate this holiday every year. 🙂 We love to try new things together in the kitchen, and we have had a lot of fun over the years making new and different recipes – Most recently, for Valentine’s Day two years ago we made two kinds of ravioli (beet and lobster), and last year we made sushi with miso soup. This year we decided to try a Downton Abbey theme! I made three vintage British dishes the characters might have enjoyed at one of their elaborate dinner parties on the show.

I learned that for a grand dinner, there could be as many as nine courses. Since I was playing the part of both Mrs. Patmore while cooking the dinner, and Lady Grantham while enjoying the dinner, I limited our meal to three courses. 😉 Our first course was a cream of watercress soup based on a recipe I found in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes. I replaced the butter with safflower oil, and replaced the cream with 2% milk, but otherwise followed the recipe rather closely. I ended up using three bunches of watercress. Remember to save a few sprigs to garnish the plate. 🙂 Also, this can be made a day or two ahead of time, which is always a plus.

Cream of Watercress SoupCream of Watercress Soup

Based on a recipe from A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey

Serves 4

1 tablespoon light high heat oil, such as safflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 large leek (white part only), washed and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper

3 cups hot chicken stock

9 cups watercress, de-stalked and chopped

A large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

⅔ cup 2% milk

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, then add the onion, leek and potato and stir to coat them in the oil. Season with salt and pepper and let the vegetables sweat with the lid on over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are tender, add the hot stock. Bring back to the boil, then add the watercress and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Take the pan off the heat and liquidise the soup. Stir in the milk and pour into bowls to serve.

Cream of Watercress SoupWe paired our dinner with the perfect wine: Downton Abbey Bordeaux Claret 2012. I learned that great English houses of the Downton era enjoyed many French wines and foods, so this was similar to the wine the characters on the show may have paired with their fine meals.

Stay tuned for episode 2 of our Downton Abbey dinner – The main course!

Cream of Watercress Soup

Valentine Sushi Dinner ~ Miso Soup

Rob and I celebrated Valentine’s Day and our engagement anniversary all weekend, culminating with a fancy sushi dinner! I decided to try making miso soup from scratch to go with the dinner, since it is almost always served at Japanese sushi restaurants. I really had no idea how it was made or what went into it before I tried it at home. I just knew it was delicious! 😉 Now I have a whole new appreciation for it, so I thought I would share the recipe I used. It’s a traditional soup in Japan, but in my American kitchen, it was a new and exciting culinary adventure.

Since we were celebrating Valentine’s Day and to make the soup a little more special, I cut the tofu into heart shapes with a little cookie cutter. So cute! 🙂

Miso Soup

From Gourmet magazine

1/2 cup dried wakame (a type of seaweed)

1/4 cup shiro miso (white fermented-soybean paste)

6 cups Dashi (recipe follows)

1/2 pound soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens

Prepare wakame:
Combine wakame with warm water to cover by 1 inch and let stand 15 minutes, or until reconstituted. Drain in a sieve.

Make soup:
Stir together miso and 1/2 cup dashi in a bowl until smooth. Heat remaining dashi in a saucepan over moderately high heat until hot, then gently stir in tofu and reconstituted wakame. Simmer 1 minute and remove from heat. Immediately stir in miso mixture and scallion greens and serve.

Dashi (Japanese Sea Stock)

From Gourmet magazine

6 cups cold water

1 oz (30 grams) kombu (dried kelp), about 20 square inches

2 (5-gram) packages katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes), about 1 cup

Bring cold water and kombu just to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and remove kombu. Sprinkle katsuo bushi over liquid; let stand 3 minutes and, if necessary, stir to make katsuo bushi sink. Pour through a cheesecloth-lined sieve or a coffee filter into a bowl.

For the sushi we enjoyed with the soup, I used this sushi rice recipe. If you are using a pot on the stovetop rather than a rice cooker, we thought it was a very good one. Along with the traditional rolls, we also made a couple of pieces in heart shapes. 🙂 To see how to do that, here is a little video. So fun!

We paired our dinner with a little sake, since that only seemed fitting! There is a Northwest sake maker in Oregon called Momokawa, and we had their Organic Junmai Ginjo with our sushi feast. I would highly recommend it. 🙂

幸せなバレンタインデー (Happy Valentine’s Day)!

Valentine Saturday ~ Crab Cake Breakfast

The leftover crab cakes make a really lovely breakfast in the morning. Just toast a whole-wheat English muffin for the base, place a reheated crab cake on top of that, and finish it off with a poached egg on top. Rob likes to put a little crispy prosciutto on his, as well. We are celebrating the whole Valentine weekend, so this was the perfect way to start the day after V-Day. 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day! ~ Crab Cakes

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We enjoyed a low key, but special dinner tonight. Since I worked later in the evening, we just made a couple of our favorite dishes that are easy to put together. My Valentine requested his favorite crab cakes, which I wrote about a few years ago. They always feel like a special occasion dish. That with a little filet mignon and a fennel salad, and we had a gourmet meal in about 30 minutes! It really didn’t take any longer than that.

Since the crab cakes are one of our favorite dishes, I will reprint the recipe here. They are worth repeating! 🙂

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Based on a recipe from Sunset magazine

1 pound cooked and shelled Dungeness crab meat

1/4 cup finely diced celery

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 1/4 cups panko, divided

Preheat your oven to 475 F. Make sure your crab doesn’t have any hidden bits of shell mixed in before you begin. In a large bowl, mix the celery, chives, mayonnaise, egg, mustard, and hot sauce with a fork. Then add the crab and 1/4 cup panko. Stir gently until everything is well blended.

Place the remaining 1 cup of panko in a shallow bowl. Shape the crab mixture into cakes. (I usually get about 6 or 7 large cakes, but make them the size you prefer. Whatever size you choose, they should be about 1/2 inch thick.) Place each cake in the panko and coat on all sides. Press gently to make sure the crumbs stick. Lay the panko-covered cakes slightly apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can make them up to this point earlier in the day. Just cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.)

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve immediately.

I gave Rob a bottle of wine from a new Washington winery called Result of a Crush. He was nice enough to share it with me. 😉 It was a perfect wine for Valentine’s Day!  Delicious, too. 🙂

Valentine’s Day Dinner, Part 2 ~ Lobster Ravioli with Warm Lobster Vinaigrette


The second ravioli course that we made for our romantic Valentine’s Day dinner was lobster ravioli with warm lobster vinaigrette. The recipe is from the chef at Corton restaurant in New York City, so it was our second stop on our virtual trip to NYC. I could almost see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State Building in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. 😉

The spices in the vinaigrette are a truly unique combination, and I would have never thought to put them together myself. It has a lot of Asian elements along with French and Indian. I found what I needed at Market Spice in Pike Place Market, which is always an adventure! If they don’t have a spice, I likely won’t find it in Seattle.

I followed the recipe closely, and I would highly recommend it for a special occasion. It is time consuming, but we thought it was well worth it. It made us appreciate what high end restaurants go through for one dish :).

Lobster Ravioli with Warm Lobster Vinaigrette

From Corton chef Paul Liebrandt

1 (1 1/2 pound) lobster

1 cup white-wine vinegar

1 cup dry white wine

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

10 black peppercorns

1/2 lemon, sliced

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Pinch of madras curry powder

1/2 large egg white

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 piece lemongrass, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

8 kaffir lime leaves

6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

3 star anise

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Pinch of espelette pepper

Pasta Dough (recipe follows)

All-purpose flour, for work surface (or ’00’)

1 large egg yolk, beaten

Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Fill a large pot with 32 cups water. Add vinegar, white wine, carrots, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, and lemon; bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. Add lobster headfirst. Cook for three minutes. Remove lobster from pot and remove claws. Return claws to pot and continue to cook 8 minutes more. Immediately transfer lobster to ice-water bath to cool; drain.

Remove meat from lobster, reserving shells. Cut lobster meat into 1/4-inch pieces and transfer to a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add curry powder and egg white; stir to combine. Using a teaspoon, form twelve 1-inch balls of lobster mixture and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; transfer to refrigerator uncovered, until well chilled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Chop reserved shells into equal size pieces. Place olive oil and chopped shells in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until liquid has evaporated from shells. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until shells are bright red, but not sizzling, about 10 minutes. Add lemongrass, shallot, kaffir lime leaves, cardamom, ginger, and star anise. Increase heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Add enough water to just cover; cook until liquid is reduced by two-thirds, stirring occasionally.

Strain mixture into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on solids to release liquids. Discard solids and return liquid to skillet. Cook over low heat until liquid is reduced and slightly syrupy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, and esplette; vinaigrette will look broken. Keep warm.

Set the rollers of a hand-crank or electric pasta machine at their widest opening. Unwrap dough; flatten with the palms of your hands and run it once through the machine. Fold the dough in thirds like a letter and run through the machine again.

Now change the rollers of the pasta machine to the next decreasing setting; roll dough through machine twice. Keep rolling the sheet through the machine two times on each decreasing setting until you have rolled it through the last (thinnest) setting.

Cut sheet in half crosswise and place on a lightly floured surface. Using a 2 3/4-inch round cutter, cut out 24 rounds of pasta, covering cut pasta with plastic wrap as you work.

Working with 2 pasta rounds at a time (and keeping remaining pieces covered while working), brush 1 round with egg yolk and place 1 ball of lobster filling in the center. Lay second round directly on top and press edges together to seal. Repeat process with remaining pasta rounds and filling.

Bring a large pot of water to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. Add raviolis, taking care not to overcrowd and working in batches if necessary, cook for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, rewarm vinaigrette, if necessary.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to warm serving plates or bowls; top each with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette and serve immediately.

 

Pasta Dough

From Corton chef Paul Liebrandt

(Makes enough for 12 (2-inch-round) raviolis)

3 large egg yolks

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons ’00’, flour plus more for work surface

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and eggs; add olive oil and whisk until slightly emulsified. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and pulse for 5 seconds. Add flour and pulse until a cohesive ball of dough forms, about 30 seconds.

Remove dough from food processor. Add a pinch of flour to work surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Wrap with plastic wrap and let rest in a cool place 2 hours before using.

Valentine’s Day Dinner, Part 1 ~ Beet Ravioli with Pine Nut “Goat Cheese,” Rosemary-Cream Sauce, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

We jetted off to New York City to explore their world-class restaurants this Valentine’s Day. Well, not literally, but in our own way. I found two recipes that I was excited to try, and they both happened to be from chefs in NYC. They couldn’t be more different, but they are both types of ravioli.

The first course was a raw beet ravioli filled with “goat cheese” that was made of pine nuts over a “cream” sauce flavored with rosemary and garlic. All of it was vegan, and uncooked. I love to play with food in new and different ways like this. It keeps the kitchen interesting and exciting for me. And tonight I had the chance to play with my best playmate…My hubby! 🙂

I followed the recipe closely, which can be found at Epicurious.com.

Beet Ravioli with Pine Nut “Goat Cheese,” Rosemary-Cream Sauce, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Pine Nut “Goat Cheese:”

4 cups pine nuts, soaked 1 hour or more

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium shallots, peeled and diced

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 teaspoons nutritional yeast

2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Rosemary-Cream Sauce:

1 teaspoon minced rosemary

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup filtered water

Pinch of sea salt

1 clove garlic, peeled

Freshly ground black pepper

Beet “Pasta:”

2 medium beets (2 inches in diameter or more), peeled

2 tablespoons macadamia oil, or other nut oil, or extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons high-quality aged balsamic vinegar

Microgreens or other herbs, for garnish

 

Pine Nut “Goat Cheese”

Process all ingredients in a food processor until as smooth as possible.

You should have about 4 cups. Reserve 2 cups for the sauce, and set aside the remainder.

Rosemary-Cream Sauce

Puree all the ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth.

To Finish

Using a mandoline, slice the beets very thin (so they are pliable and not stiff, approximately 1/16 of an inch or less).

Make small stacks of the larger pieces and use a sharp knife to cut into squares—the size doesn’t matter much, as long as they are all roughly the same. Alternatively, use a round-, heart-or other- shaped cookie cutter to cut the slices. Cut at least 40 slices—10 per serving, with a few extra to spare.

In a medium bowl, place the beet slices, oil, lemon juice, and salt and toss gently to coat evenly. Allowing the beets to sit for a half hour or more will soften them; this is optional but a good idea if your slices are on the thicker side and still a bit stiff.

Lay half the beet slices on a clean work surface and top each with a rounded teaspoonful of the cheese. Top with the remaining beet slices and press down gently.

Spoon the sauce onto serving plates, and arrange the ravioli on top. Garnish with a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar and a few sprigs of either microgreens or fresh herbs.

Happy Valentine’s Day! ~ Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I found some adorable Valentine cupcake recipes on MarthaStewart.com. I combined a few of my favorites, since there were so many cute ideas that I couldn’t decide on just one. 🙂 These are inspired by a combination of Martha’s recipes for Raspberry Cupcakes with Pink Buttercream and Lacy Chocolate Hearts as well as her Frosted Chocolate-Buttermilk Cupcakes.

For the cake recipe, I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, I reduced the sugar slightly and I replaced the butter with coconut oil. Now they are a little more heart-healthy for heart day!

Chocolate Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, (spooned and leveled)

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process

3 tablespoons coconut oil

6 tablespoons buttermilk

1 large egg

1 large egg white

Light Cream-Cheese Icing (recipe follows)

Chocolate Hearts decorations (recipe follows)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard 12-cup muffin tin (or two 6-cup muffin tins) with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

With an electric mixer, combine cocoa and 3 tablespoons hot water until a thick paste forms. Add coconut oil, buttermilk, egg, and egg white; beat until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until smooth.

Scoop (or spoon) batter into prepared tin(s). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Use an offset spatula or butter knife to spread icing over tops. Decorate as desired.

The original icing recipe was already a lightened version of a cream cheese frosting. I decided to make it a little more special and festive for the holiday by adding some raspberry puree, which made it pink! 🙂 It’s more natural than red food coloring, and I love the raspberry flavor paired with the chocolate. I used a little less sugar than the recipe called for. Just taste as you go, and add as much or as little sugar and raspberry puree as you desire.

Light Cream Cheese Icing

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

Ingredients

3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 bag of frozen raspberries

Directions

Thaw raspberries, and blend until pureed in a food processor. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and as much of the confectioners’ sugar and raspberry puree as you desire. (To make without a mixer, sift sugar before stirring into cream cheese.)

I made free form chocolate hearts to go on top of the cakes. However, if you’d like more perfect and uniform shapes, below is Martha’s technique :).

Chocolate Hearts

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Filigree Hearts

Ingredients

Dark or milk chocolate

Directions

Trace the inside of a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter (surlatable.com) onto parchment 30 times using a pencil.

Flip parchment, and transfer to a baking sheet.

Melt 4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Let cool slightly. Transfer to a parchment cone (or resealable plastic bag). Snip a tip to make a small hole.

Pipe chocolate into hearts, following outlines and filling in with squiggles (be sure squiggles are at least 1/4 inch thick so hearts won’t break when removed).

Freeze hearts until set, about 15 minutes. Remove hearts using an offset spatula. Makes 30.

 

Happy Heart Day ~ Smoked Salmon and Crispy Potato Tian with Sour Cream

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We had a special little heart shaped appetizer to celebrate Heart Day :). The original recipe was from one of Sur La Table’s cooking classes entitled Great Restaurant Recipes of Seattle, and this one was courtesy of Rover’s. I streamlined it to make it a little more weeknight friendly, and I also made it a little healthier with a couple of substitutions. I replaced the crème fraiche with reduced fat sour cream, and I used Earth Balance in place of the butter. The original recipe mixes salmon with several other ingredients, but smoked salmon is so flavorful on its own that it really doesn’t need more flavor to be delicious. By streamlining the recipe this way, I’m more likely to make it again for a special weeknight appetizer. The recipe below only took about 15 minutes to put together, and it has a great “wow” factor ;).

Smoked Salmon and Crispy Potato Tian with Sour Cream

2 servings

3 oz smoked salmon

6 oz Yukon Gold potatoes

2 tbsp Earth Balance buttery spread

1/8 tsp minced garlic

Pinch of thyme

1 tbsp minced fresh chives, plus more for garnish

1 tbsp reduced fat sour cream, plus more for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Crumble the salmon into fine bits, and set aside.

Cut the potatoes into a ¼ inch dice. (You may peel them if you wish, but the skin is just fine). Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat, and then add the Earth Balance. Add the potatoes and sauté until they are golden and cooked through. Add the garlic and thyme and toss for 30 seconds. Transfer the potatoes to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain and cool slightly. Combine the potatoes, chives and sour cream in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, set a 3-inch ring mold (or I used a heart shaped cookie cutter) in the center of a plate. Spoon the smoked salmon into the mold, pressing to form an even layer. Top with the potato mixture, again pressing lightly for an even layer. Repeat with the remaining salmon and potatoes. Top with a little sour cream and garnish with more chives.

Happy Valentine’s Day! ~ Orange Crème Brûlée

For our Valentine’s Day/engagement anniversary this year, I made a few festive and colorful recipes. I found them on the Domaine Chandon Winery website, and then I put my own personal spin on them. The menu included tiny purple potatoes with sour cream and caviar, troll-caught salmon with roasted red and yellow beets, orange crème brûlée, and Ruby Slipper cocktails. Of all of the recipes, I think the crème brûlée stood out the most. If you haven’t noticed by now, I have a sweet tooth. 😉 The dessert very often is the dish that stands out to me…Ha! I changed the cream and whole milk combination to 2 % milk and I used less egg yolks. I also amped up the flavor with a little Grand Marnier and vanilla. I tried many different variations of this dish to get it just right, and my Valentine and I agreed that this one was our favorite. I hope you like it, too!

Orange Crème Brûlée

Inspired by a recipe from Domaine Chandon Winery

Serves 2

8 ounces 2% milk

3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus about 2 tablespoons for the top

Zest of one small orange

3 egg yolks

2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 325 F.

Whisk together the milk, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and orange zest in a saucepan with a heavy bottom. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, taking care not to bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a large bowl over ice. Cool down until lukewarm. Then whisk in the egg yolks, Grand Marnier, and vanilla extract.

Strain the mixture into a container with a spout. Pour the custard into 2 4-ounce ramekins. (Preferably heart-shaped ones if you have them for Valentine’s Day!) Place the ramekins in a baking dish. Heat some water until almost boiling, and pour the water carefully around the ramekins until it reaches about halfway up the sides. (Make sure none of the water gets into the custard.)

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until set. They should still have a slight jiggle in the middle when tapped.

Cool in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving, or overnight.

Right before serving, dust about 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch.

Valentine’s Day/Chinese New Year ~ Moo Shu Pork and Homemade Fortune Cookies

This year Valentine’s Day (and our engagement anniversary) and Chinese New Year happened to fall on the same day, so we celebrated everything together with a romantic Chinese dinner at home. I love to celebrate holidays from all over the world in my own little way. It gives me one more way to spice things up with special moments. Who can’t use another reason to celebrate in the dark winter months? I tried two new recipes, and I would recommend them both if you would like a quiet night at home with Chinese take-in ~ Moo shu pork and homemade fortune cookies. It was an adventure in the kitchen, and I now have a greater appreciation for what my favorite local Chinese restaurant does after trying these dishes! The dishes were a little healthier since I could control the salt, cuts of meat, etc. Plus, we could make our own personal fortunes for each other to open, which was a fun bonus of making our own fortune cookies. (Is it cheating if you write your own fortunes?) 🙂 The first recipe I tried was Moo Shu Pork. The original recipe was from my favorite Cooking Light magazine, and it can be found at MyRecipes.com. I used simple cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake and wood ear to save quite a bit of money. But other than that detail, I followed the recipe pretty closely since it was already a lightened version of the dish.Moo Shu Pork2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 (1 1/2-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat, and cut into 1 x 1/4-inch strips

4 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup sliced green onions

3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 12 cloves)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger grated on a Microplane

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage stalks

4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons sake

Hoisin sauce and flour tortillas for serving

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a zip top plastic bag. Add the pork. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour, turning occasionally. Remove the pork from the bag, and discard the marinade.

Combine the sliced mushrooms, green onions, garlic, and ginger in a small bowl, and set aside.

Combine 3 tablespoons of sake and the next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk, and set aside.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Remove the pork from the pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Add the eggs, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until soft-scrambled. Add the mushroom mixture and stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add the cabbage stalks and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the cabbage leaves and 2 tablespoons of sake. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and the cornstarch mixture. Stir-fry 2 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.

Serve wrapped in warmed tortillas with hoisin sauce.

The second thing my husband and I made together was a batch of fortune cookies. I would recommend doing these with a partner, since they harden very quickly once they come out of the oven. We each filled out personalized little strips of paper for the fortunes, and then opened each other’s for a surprise. The original recipe was from the Food Network.

Homemade Fortune Cookies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon water

Cooking spray for the pans

Write your fortunes on little pieces of paper before you begin.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, vanilla, oil, and water. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Working in batches of 4, drop the batter by tablespoons on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat. Tilt the baking sheet in a circular motion (and use your finger if need be) to spread the batter into 4-inch diameter circles.

Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and working quickly, use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet. Put a fortune into the center of a cookie and fold it in half. Bring the points together with open seams on the outside. Arrange in muffin tins to help keep their shape while they are cooling.

Repeat with the remaining fortunes and cookies.

We paired the meal with Sofia Blanc de Blancs (the same kind of sparkling wine that we enjoyed on New Year’s Day, which seemed fitting) with mandarin orange slices floating in the bubbles for the occasion.

I decorated the table with red (the color of both holidays) and a blend of Chinese New Year and heart decorations for Valentine’s Day and our engagement anniversary. For example, I printed a Year of the Rat image and a Year of the Dragon image, since they were the years that Rob and I were born. That added a little personal romantic touch. I also printed a matching Year of the Tiger image for the middle of the table, which was the year we celebrated today.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! My husband and I are planning to celebrate a little belatedly this year since he’s out of town today, but I published a little article about some of my ideas for the holiday at this link –

Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year Celebration for February 14th

I hope you all have a good day!