Sunday, February 13, 2011

Couples dining, February style

Since we first became parents nearly 3 years ago, dining in has changed a bit. My husband and I have always been avid restaurant patrons, researching the best places, what's new and hot, wiggling to get a seat at our favorite chef's latest venture. It's a habit we've slowed on but still we steadily patronize several places in London with our son. He's good at the table, an adventurous eater and is developing table manners that are slightly better than a very excited puppy.
But being the parents of a toddler is not the reason we're dining in this Valentine's Day. No, the reason is the same it has been since my husband and I never go out on Valentine's Day- I'm a February holiday curmudgeon. Many people really love going out for an intimate dinner on the 14th, sharing their expectations of a perfect evening with every other patron in the restaurant they hand selected months before based on lighting, menu and choices of bubbly. I've always felt like it's amateur night for diners. Some couples use this night to splurge like an anniversary or a wedding proposal.
We choose to stay in, and having been a chef for nearly 20 years I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

This year, we will have some new things to sup on. And we'll be double dating with my parents, so there goes any prospect of table smooching. Aah well.

So enough with the rant.
Here's what I'll be making this Valentine's Day.  Last week I ran out of sweet vermouth making cocktails for everyone and not wanting to nip out for a new bottle and, moreover, not wanting to stop at one cocktail each, I invented my new house cocktail: The NW3 Manhattan. It's taken the house by storm. So we'll be starting our festivities on the 14th with those. While sipping those the soup will be warming and the bones roasting away in the oven. I'll do my utmost best to try and keep myself from tippling too much before I sear the scallops in brown butter and chop the parsley salad.
Since it's supposed to be an evening of indulgence and fun for both my husband and I (and our son and my parents, but I imagine the latter three will not be cooking...) I'd like to feel a little treated. So I'll be skipping any slaving over a chocolate pudding the day before. No drizzling or scalding or baking, just  contacting my friend Raffaella of Baruzzo Chocolates and purchasing a selection of her latest line. Pure indulgence. We may round out the lovely meal with some sips of the Bruichladdich 17 Year Old Pedro Ximénez Sherry I've been meaning to try. A nice coda to end the evening.

For anyone else who wants to skirt the mobs on Valentine's, here's my recipes. And long live love, goopy, corny, breathtaking. Whatever brand yours is...

Happy Eating!

The somewhat lazy but decadent menu
NW3 Manhattans
Stilton on Charcoal crackers

Oak Smoked Diver Scallops and Brown Butter Seared Roe floated on Parsnip Velouté
Paired with Brugans Albarino

Roasted Bones with Parsley Salad and De Puy Lentils
Paired with 100% Pinot Noir

Baruzzo Chocolates with Sherry finished 17 year old Bruichladdich

The Recipes

NW3 Manhattans
Shake 1 part Pedro Ximénez sherry with 2 parts bourbon and ice until very cold. Serve up in a chilled martini glass and garnish with the usual cherry. A Fabbri Amarena cherry is my fave.

Oak Smoked Diver Scallops
After too long to admit without being embarrassed, I have found a good source for Oak Dust in London. So I have returned to the world of smoking fish in my dutch oven. First stop was scallops. What a reward for the wait. The very lightly smoked little morsels had the suppleness of flash seared scallops and a subtle, smoky taste of oak- as if they were wrapped in bacon.
serves 4 as a first course

8 diver or U6 scallops with roe attached
1 tablespoon oak dust
1 t blended olive oil or rapeseed oil (as flavorless as you have)
fine salt
1 knob butter

Clean the scallops by removing the roe and connective tissue, rinse in cold water, drain and dry. Clean up roe by removing (I use scissors) the brown yucky bit. Rinse in cold water, drain and dry.
In the bottom of a dutch oven, sprinkle 1 heaping teaspoon oak dust. Cover and put over medium heat.
Toss the scallops lightly in oil and a bit of fine salt then place, well spaced apart, in a vegetable steamer basket. Once the dutch oven starts to give off a wisp of smoke quickly open, drop the basket in and leave to smoke for 5 minutes. Remove right away, preferably near a window!
The scallops will not cook in the dutch oven, only infuse with the smoke flavor.
Heat the butter in a saute pan until it browns lightly. Sear the scallops for a few minutes on each side. Set aside on a plate and then sear the roe.

A not so flattering photo of the soup...
Parsnip Velouté
Serves 4 as a first course
300 grams parsnips, peeled, cubed to 1 cm
1 medium leek, chopped
1 small potato, peeled, cubed to 1 cm
1 tart apple peeled, cubed to 1 cm
2 litres homemade duck stock (or chicken stock)
1 T duck fat (if you have it, other wise a nob of butter)
Put all of the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat then simmer for 20 minutes. With an immersion or upright blender puree to smooth. Salt to taste. Add fresh ground black pepper if you like.
Serve in low wide bowls, topped with seared scallops and roe.

I would happily eat this every day but best not to.
Roasted Marrow Bones 
serves 4 as a main course
4 marrow bones, about 3-4" long
Moen and Sons sells very nice bones through Natoora, or you can ask your local butcher if they can prepare bones for you. You may want to clean up the outside of the bones by carefully scraping with an offset spatula or your knife if you're brave.
Blanch the bones in a large stockpot of boiling water for 3 minutes, remove from the water and drain for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 and roast the bones for 30-40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 160 F. They will retain their heat for quite a while so I let them rest for 5 minutes before plating.

Parsley Salad with de Puy Lentils
1 cup de Puy lentils
2 T olive oil
1 T sherry vinegar
Sea salt, to taste

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, cut to a fine julienne
3 T capers, coarsely chopped
6 treviso leaves, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, from the heart, sliced fine on the diagonal
1 carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced fine
2 T olive oil, very fruity
Salt to taste

Soak your lentils overnight then steam for 10 minutes, then toss with olive oil, salt and vinegar. Set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss.

To serve, place a 1/4 of the lentils on each plate, top with the parsley salad, making sure some of the lentils show. Place a roasted bone next to this and serve with thin, long handled spoons or marrow spoons if you're lucky enough to have them.

Serve with very lightly toasted, sliced brioche.