Getting dressed up for dinner at a restaurant has never been our Valentine’s Day date. Harried wait staff, set menus and inflated prices were the usual reasons.
One of the best Valentine’s Days Magellan and I celebrated was the year we invited two other couples over for a romantic dinner.
I can’t remember what we cooked, other than a heart-shaped cake: a rich chocolate and raspberry concoction whose pièce de résistance was a removable, heart-shaped lid made from swirls of white and dark chocolate. What I do recall is our conversation. I had written a short list of questions for all of us to respond to. “What do you remember about the first time the two of you met?” “What did you do on your first date?” “What’s the most romantic thing he/she has ever done for you?”
Marg and Don and Myrna and Bill now live miles away. But in honour of that memory, here’s a Valentine’s Day dinner menu and recipes to serve six. Like a relationship, the menu shares what we love from the past (warm goat cheese, the drama of a soufflé), offers a taste of today’s cuisine (citrus salsa, the tiny egg-like Israeli couscous) and gives everyone something new to look forward to (“Olive dirt?” they’ll ask you. “What’s that?”).
Valentine’s Day Dinner Menu for Jubilados
Radishes in Olive Dirt
Sea Scallops with Saffron Couscous and Salsa
Spinach Chiffonade Salad with Goat Cheese Crottins and Tomato Roses
Raspberry Soufflés with Raspberry Coulis and Raspberry Heart Cookies
“Looks tasty. But Spice,” I can hear you saying, “isn’t this a lot of work?”
Yes/No. You can do a lot beforehand. And if you’re a jubilado, they said it right at “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: “there’s no present like the time.”
Days Before: Make the Olive Dirt, make the Raspberry Coulis (and freeze)
February 11: Make the Raspberry Heart cookies
February 12: Buy everything else you need
February 13: Make the Spinach Chiffonade, the Goat Cheese Crottins and the Salsa
February 14—Before your guests arrive: trim the radishes, toast the couscous and onions, make the tomato roses and prepare the base for the Raspberry Soufflés
February 14—After your guests arrive: finish the couscous, cook the scallops, dress the Spinach Chiffonade, broil the Goat Cheese Crottins, finish and bake the Raspberry Soufflés
When your guests ask what they can bring, don’t be shy: bubbles or rosé will complement the food and storytelling. Ask them to come with a few questions for the group, too. We guarantee it’ll be a night to remember, right down to the last Raspberry Heart cookie.
- 2 cups Moroccan black olives, pitted
- 18 red radishes with their tops
- Turn your oven to 175°F or dehydrate if your oven has that feature.
- Put the pitted olives on a tray. ( I use a silicon pizza tray with holes in it for more air flow but this isn't necessary.)
- Bake the olives for 12 hours.
- Put the olives in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are small particles—"dirt."
- Clean the radishes and trim their bottoms so they sit flat. Trim the tops but leave about 1 inch of green (it looks great and radish greens are nutritious). Set them in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for a few hours to crisp them up and take out a bit of their bite.
- Arrange about ½ cup of olive dirt on a serving plate and set the radishes on top. If you like, have a bread basket alongside with small slices of a baguette spread with unsalted butter.
- 3 blood oranges (save 3 strips of peel about 3"X 1" long to add to the couscous)
- 1 ruby red grapefruit
- ⅓ cup red pepper, diced (cut away any white pith)
- 2 tbsp shallots, finely diced
- 1 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
- 1 tbsp mint, sliced
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 18 large Digby Bay scallops
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1½ tbsp thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp pink peppercorns, crushed
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups Israeli couscous
- ½ tsp saffron threads
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup red onion, diced
- Three 3" x1" strips of blood orange peel saved from above
- 6 cups water
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- The salsa looks nicest if you 'suprême' the fruit. Trim the tops and bottom off the oranges and grapefruit. Stand them cut-side down on your cutting board. For each piece of fruit, work from top to bottom with your knife to cut off all the peel and pith all the way around the citrus. Reserve 3 strips of peel and squeeze out the juices into a small bowl.
- Rest the fruit lightly on its side on your cutting board and carefully slice between the membranes to release the segments in between. Cut each 'suprême' into two pieces, maybe smaller if your grapefruit segments seem too large.
- Add the fruit segments (and any more collected juice) to the bowl.Add the shallots, vinegar, mint and oil and stir.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the onions, couscous and blood orange peel and cook until the couscous is toasted, about 10 minutes.
- Add the saffron, lemon peel, water and some salt and pepper to the couscous. Bring to a boil and simmer until the water is evaporated and the couscous is tender, about 12-15 minutes. Stir the thyme leaves into the couscous. Cover and let sit (up to 30 minutes). Discard the peel.
- Dry the scallops with a paper towel. Rub the lemon zest and thyme on them and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil over medium high heat in an ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the scallops in a single layer.
- Sprinkle some salt and the crushed pink peppercorns on the scallops, put them in the hot skillet and cook for 1 minute.
- Turn them over and put the skillet in the hot oven to bake for 4 minutes. Remove and set aside on a trivet.
- Spoon the couscous into the centre of six dinner plates. Top each serving with 3 scallops and drizzle the skillet juices evenly on top. Spoon the salsa over the scallops and enjoy.
- If you're making this Valentine's Day Menu in its entirety, leave your oven on to cook the soufflés.
- 6 tomatoes
- ½ pound spinach, stems discarded, washed and spun dry
- 6 ounces goat cheese formed into 18½-inch rounds
- 3 tbsp bread crumbs
- 3 tbsp walnuts, minced
- 5 tbsp olive oil (or walnut oil if you have it)
- 1 tbsp white-wine vinegar
- Using a vegetable peeler, start at the top of the tomato and carefully peel all the around until you get to the base of the tomato and have one long, continuous piece of peel. Wind it around your index finger. Flip it over—voila, you have a tomato rose. Save the tomatoes for another use (BLTs, Tomato Soup, Spaghetti on February 15?)
- Stack the spinach leaves on top of each other in 6 piles. With the long sides facing you, roll them up tightly, like a jelly roll. "Chiffonade" by cutting the roll of spinach on the diagonal into thin slices.
- In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and walnuts.
- Brush the goat cheese with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Coat the tops with the bread crumb/walnut mixture and salt and pepper lightly.
- Whisk the remaining 4 tbsp olive oil and vinegar together along with salt and pepper to taste until emulsified. Toss with the spinach in a large bowl.
- Spread the spinach evenly on six plates.
- Set a tomato rose in the centre of each plate.
- Grill the goat cheese under a preheated broiler for 30 seconds to a minute until golden.
- Place 3 goat cheese rounds on each plate and serve.
- 3½ cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp framboise or kirsch, if you have it
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp + ⅓ cup sugar
- ½ cup raspberry coulis
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ⅛ tsp almond extract
- ½ tsp framboise or kirsch, if you have it
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- 1½ tsp cornstarch
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- A pinch of salt
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Purée the raspberries with the sugar. Strain through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and liquor, if you're using it.
- Set aside ½ cup for the soufflés and pour the remainder into a serving pitcher.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Brush the inside of six five-ounce ramekins with the butter. Swirl 2 tbsp of sugar into a ramekin to coat the inside, repeating until all six are sugared.
- Mix the raspberry purée with the lemon juice, egg yolks, almond extract and liquor if you're using it.
- Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the cornstarch, salt and cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Add ⅓ cup sugar and whisk until the peaks are firm and glossy but not dry. Fold the whites gently into the raspberry purée mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar.
- Drag your finger around the top and outer edge of each ramekin to clean up any spills of soufflés and to ensure they will rise straight up without sticking to the sides.
- Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and sift a little icing sugar on top of each soufflé.
- Serve immediately on individual plates lined with paper napkins or doilies (to prevent the ramekins from sliding around). Pass the pitcher of raspberry coulis around the table for each person to pour into their soufflé.
- 5 ounces hazelnuts (about 1 heaping cup)
- 2½ cups flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp cardamom
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 egg, room temperature
- ¾ cup raspberry jam
- ¼ cup powdered sugar for dusting
- Combine the hazelnuts, ½ cup flour and salt in a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Put in a bowl and add the rest of the flour, cardamom and baking powder, and set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and almost white in colour—about 6 minutes. Add the egg and beat for another few minutes until well mixed.
- Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture and mix on slow speed until incorporated.
- Form the dough into a ball. Flatten to about an inch in thickness, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F or 325°F convection.
- Roll the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Cut out the dough with a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, about 2½ inches in size.
- Poke a hole in the centre of half of the cookies if you want the raspberry jam to peek through. Or add a dab of raspberry jam on top of each cookie just before serving—they'll stick together in the cookie jar if you do it ahead of time! Or, do as I did and use a second, tiny, heart-shaped cookie cutter to make a larger space for the raspberry jam to show off.
- Bake the cookies for 9-10 minutes. I take them out of the oven just before they change colour and turn a light golden brown.
- Remove from the pan. When they've cooled a little, spread the whole cookies with a little raspberry jam and sandwich with the ones with the holes in them.
- Sift a little icing sugar over each cookie.
Goin, Suzanne. the a.o.c. cookbook. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. My current, favourite cookbook from a brilliant LA chef.
Gourmet, March 1986. It was like losing a loved one when the magazine folded in 2009.
JB Prince is where Magellan bought me the gadget that makes radish roses. Cool, aren’t they?
Lee, Susur. Susur A Culinary Life. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2005. Not for the faint of heart as each recipe has many components, but worth the effort.
Waters, Alice. Chez Panisse Fruit. New York: Harpers Collins, 2002. My go-to cookbook for fruit desserts.
Zuckerman, Kate. The Sweet Life. New York: Bulfinch Press, 2006. A New York pastry chef, Kate’s recipes and techniques are as iconic as the Big Apple itself. Her soufflés, for example, are all made with Italian meringue—egg white foam beaten with a hot sugar syrup.