Valentine's Day Showdown: Bistro Dinner with Our Resident Chef

Our Virgin Cook, Wynter Holden, refers to the Valentine dinner menu as a competition! In spite of the size your knife (is that from the tool shed?) Wynter, game on! And no apologies, Cyndi Coon, Thrifty Cook, we planned our menu to celebrate with a little extravagance for the night.

The romance for a Valentine's Day celebration should be ignited in the kitchen with a few French bistro style dishes. Mais oui? I planned the four coarse menu with a few of my favorites thinking you can't ever go wrong with the classics. Photographer and go to web guy, Jonathan McNamara, seemed to agree as he snapped the shutter and sampled the menu. I candidly reveal there was some appreciative moaning behind the lens.

Valentine's Day Dinner for 2 Crepes with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche, and Truffle Caviar Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomato and Shallot Steak au Poivre with Mushroom Merlot Sauce Potato Galette Baby Greens with Asian Pears,Toasted Walnuts with Truffle Oil Vinaigrette Baked Hot Chocolate with Cocoa Cream

Plan ahead: Prepare the crepe batter the night before. Make and fold the crepes ahead and hold in refrigerator. Bring crepes to room temperature (about ½ hour) before serving.

Prepare the salad components a few hours ahead. Place the sliced pears in water with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to prevent browning. Plate and dress the salad right before serving.

The potato galette and the baked hot chocolate require the longest cooking times: Option 1.-Prepare these dishes one day ahead and warm in a 350 F oven before serving. Option 2. Bake the dessert in the afternoon and serve room temperature, then bake the galette while preparing the rest of the meal.

Create a mis en place (everything in its place): prepare all the ingredients for each recipe before cooking; this helps with timing and efficiency. Read all the recipes from beginning to end!

Recipes (in recommended order of prep or cooking time)

Crepes with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Truffle Caviar

Crepe Ingredients: 3 large eggs 1-cup whole milk ½ teaspoon kosher salt 2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled ¾ cups sifted AP flour

4 oz smoked salmon 1 and ½ oz Truffle caviar or Sevruga

Crème Fraiche Ingredients: ½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped +3 sprigs for garnish Zest of 1 small lime Juice of ½ lime

Crepe Method: 1. In a medium bowl whisk eggs, milk, kosher salt and oil together. 2. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and whisk to combine 3. Cover bowl and refrigerate overnight. 4. Bring batter to room temperature and whisk briskly. 5. Heat a 6" skillet. Add a teaspoon of butter and swirl to coat pan. 6. Pour about 2 Tablespoons batter in pan and swirl to cover bottom. Note: batter = thin even coat 7. Cook crepe until the bottom lifts easily and is lightly browned. Note: run a thin spatula around the edges to lift 8. Flip the crepe over and cook 2nd side 15-20 seconds. 9. Cool crepes on a plate. Fold into quarters.

Assemble: 1. In a small bowl, stir crème fraiche ingredients together. Place in a piping bag with a ¼" star tip or a sandwich bag with a ¼" snipped from a corner. 2. Place a crepe, folded in quarters on an appetizer or salad plate. Roll the salmon slices on the vertical, and place 3 rolls on a crepe. Repeat with two additional crepes, stacking up the plate. Pipe the crème fraiche down the center of the crepes. Top each crepe with a dollop of caviar. Garnish with dill sprigs.

Individual Potato Galette

Ingredients: 1 large shallot, finely chopped 3 teaspoons extra -virgin olive oil (divided) 2 large Yukon Gold potatoes 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped ½ cup Gruyere, grated ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated 1-cup cream 1 egg, lightly beaten Sea salt Note: buy quality cheese in wedges and grate for best flavor

Method: 1. Prepare (2) 5" tart pans with removable bottoms: rub with ½ teaspoon of the olive oil. Place pans on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. 2. Preheat oven to 400 F 3. Heat a small saucepan on medium high heat; add 1 and ½ teaspoons olive oil. When oil is hot (not smoking) add the shallots and sweat until soft, not brown. Remove from heat and cool. 4. Thinly slice the potatoes. Use a mandolin for thin, even slices. 5. In a medium bowl, toss potato slices, shallots and thyme with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. 6. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream and the egg. 7. Place a layer of overlapping potatoes on the bottom of each tart pan. 8. Sprinkle the potatoes with sea salt. Top with about ¼ of each cheese. 9. Continue to layer the potatoes, salt and cheese until you have 3-4 layers, ending with a layer of cheese. 10. In the center of the layers, where there is an opening between potatoes, carefully pour in the cream mixture. Note: don't use all the cream mixture if it overflows the pans. 11. Bake the galettes in the oven until top is crusty and brown, about 45 minutes. Test with a fork-the potatoes will easily pierce all the way through when done. 12. Cool the galettes on a wire rack 10 minutes. To remove the side of the pan, place the galette on top of a jar or can. The side, if well oiled, will slide off. Use a thin metal spatula to slide between the galette and the bottom of the tart pan.

Baked Hot Chocolate- adapted from The Essence of Chocolate by John Sharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

Ingredients: 4.5 ounces semi-sweet (62%) chocolate, finely chopped 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed 2 large eggs 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar Water-heated for the pan

Cocoa Cream ½ cup heavy cream, cold 2 and ½ teaspoons granulated sugar 2 teaspoons Dutch processed cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 F 2. Place (2) 8 oz ramekins in a baking pan with sides. 3. In the top of a double boiler, heat chocolate and butter until melted. Whisk to combine. Remove from heat. Note: the bottom of the pan holding the ingredients should not touch water below. Keep the water at a simmer. 4. Using a hand or stand mixer, stir the eggs and sugar completely together. 5. Place the egg and sugar mixture bowl over simmering water and whisk until light and fluffy. (about 3-5 minutes) Note: the volume will increase and the color will lighten 6. Remove the bowl from the heat and with a spatula fold the eggs into the chocolate mixture. 7. Spoon the chocolate batter into the ramekins. 8. Add hot water to the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 9. Bake 15- 20 minutes or until the tops are no longer glossy. The edges will be done, the centers still moist. 10. Remove the ramekins from the water bath with a tong or slide a wide spatula under them and carefully lift out of pan. 11. In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder and sugar. Place heavy cream in a chilled mixing bowl. Whisk until frothy. Sprinkle the cocoa mixture over the cream, continue to whisk until soft peaks form. Note: topping can be made and chilled 1 hour ahead

Serve baked hot chocolate with a spoonful of chilled whipped cocoa cream over top at room temperature or reheat in 350 F oven 5-7 minutes before topping.

Mixed Baby Greens and Asian Pears, Walnuts and Truffle Oil Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Baby salad green mix ¼ cup walnuts, rough chopped and toasted 2 Asian pears, cored and thinly sliced 1/2-1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar 4 Tablespoons white truffle oil or extra virgin olive oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method: 1. In a small bowl whisk Dijon mustard with balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. 2. While whisking, slowly add oil and continue to whisk until blended.Toss salad greens with desired amount of vinaigrette. 3. Place salad greens on a plate. Top with 6 slices of Asian pear. Sprinkle with walnuts. 4. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad.

Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomato and Shallot

Ingredients: 1 small bulb fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced 2 large shallots, diced 1 small carrot, peeled and ¼"dice 6 cloves garlic 1 small tomato, seeded and ½" dice 6 basil leaves, chiffonade (stack leaves in a pile, roll leaves, thinly slice) 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds Pinch of kosher salt Pinch of dried red pepper flakes-optional 2 Tablespoons olive oil ½ cup dry white wine 24 mussels, de-beard and scrubbed

Method: 1. With a motor and pestle or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, crush the peppercorn and fennel seeds. Mix in a small bowl with the salt and red pepper flakes. 2. Heat a large heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, add the oil. When oil is hot (not smoking) add the fennel, garlic, shallots, and carrots-sauté until soft. 3. Stir the peppercorn mixture into the vegetables. 4. Add the tomatoes and the white wine and bring to a boil. 5. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add the mussels. Cover the pot. 6. Steam the mussels until open- about 5 minutes. 7. Discard unopened mussels. 8. Place mussels in a shallow serving bowl. Spoon vegetables and liquid from bottom of pot over mussels. Sprinkle with basil chiffonade. Serve with toasted baguette slices.

Steak Au Poivre with Mushroom Merlot Sauce

Ingredients Sauce: 4 oz mushrooms 1 and ½ teaspoons butter, melted 6 cloves garlic, crushed Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper 3/4-cup merlot

Ingredients Steak: 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed 2 boneless rib eye steaks 1 and ½ teaspoons vegetable oil 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

Method Sauce: 1. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add the mushrooms and the garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are tender. 2. Add the wine and allow the liquid to reduce until thick. 3. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Note: Prepare ahead and add wine (keep reducing) if needed to keep mushrooms moist.

Method Steak: Preheat oven to 350 F 1. Bring steaks to room temperature and pat dry. 2. Crush peppercorns with a motor and pestle or place in a sandwich bag and crush with a rolling pin. 3. Press peppercorns or both sides of steak, and season with kosher salt. 4. In an oven proof skillet heat oil and butter until hot (not smoking). 5. Sear steaks on each side until lightly browned (about 2- 3 minutes per side). 6. Place the skillet in the oven and continue to cook to temperature. (4-5 minutes for medium rare) 7. Remove from oven, plate and rest for 7 minutes. Spoon mushrooms over steaks and serve.

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