Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine's Dinner for One

      Happy Valentine's Day to You!

Here's a menu you can make just for you with great leftovers.  This post features big double lamb chops that are grilled first and then finished in the oven;  a piquant tapenade tops them at the table.  Meantime, you'll oven-roast large, whole carrots laced with ground cumin.  There's a make-ahead green bean salad you'll fix again and again and I also give suggestions for wine and tiny, light desserts.  Don't want leftovers?  Cut the amounts in half for a one-time dinner.  Don't want to eat alone?  Invite a friend or neighbor; there's plenty.
Start with a beautiful sparkler that needn't cost much.  I heartily recommend a New Mexico sparkling wine such as  Gruerather than splurging on French champagne.  Despite all, I've found sparklers do keep a day two. Or, if you'd like, choose a half-bottle of a very special sparkling wine from the wine shop.  Add some of the tapenade with baguette or crackers or a bowl of great potato chips--my favorite sparkler pairing.  Stay away from cheese; fresh vegetables would work wonderfully.  Just stick with something light; lamb is loving, but filling.

If you're cooking for just you, open the wine, turn on the music, set the table, and enjoy a beautiful night.  Afterward, get out that novel you've been meaning to read and take it to bed with you along with the last glass of wine.   You could write letters or cards to a few people you adore; make yourself post them in the morning.   Whatever you do,  have fun cooking and taking care of yourself!

Start with the salad, which can be made ahead or right before you cook the chops and carrots:

Make-Ahead Green Bean Salad with Cream Shallot Dressing    serves 2

This recipe calls for you to blanch the beans and fresh peas briefly in boiling water, drain, and cool quickly in an ice bath.  You can also cook them, separately, in the microwave for 2-3 minutes with just a couple of tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe covered bowl.

  • 2 cups fresh haricots verts or green beans, trimmed, blanched, cooled in ice bath, and drained
  • 1 cups fresh green peas (or frozen), blanched, cooled in ice bath, and drained
  • 1/2 cups sliced celery
  • 1/ 4c each diced red  bell pepper, yellow bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly-sliced carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 cups mixed salad greens
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch sea salt
  • pinch fresh ground pepper
Dressing:   2T minced shallots, 2T lemon juice, 1 cup half and half, 2T finely minced flat-leaf parsley,  1/4 tsp each sea salt/ fresh ground pepper, 1 tsp grated lemon zest,  2 drops Tabasco.  Place all ingredients in a jar with a tightly-fitted lid and shake vigorously when making and just before dressing salad. 
  1.  Early in day or up to one day ahead:  Mix all salad ingredients---except lemon juice-- together in a large bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. 
  2. When ready to serve, add lemon juice and toss well.  Drizzle with dressing and toss again.  Taste and re-season.  (You'll have leftover dressing.  Store in refrigerator 2-3 days.)
Note: This salad is loosely based on one from the book SALAD FOR DINNER by Patricia Wells, who is one of my favorite cookbook authors.

Pan-grilled Double Lamb Rib Chops with Tapenade and Oven-Roasted Rosemary Carrots

  2 servings

  A. Up to two days ahead, make tapenade and store tightly covered in the refrigerator:

Tapenade- Chopped olives, garlic, parsley and anchovies.  Great with sliced baguette or crackers, too.
  • 1 cups pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 anchovy
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil                                              
  • 1 1/2T red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch fresh ground pepper
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • salt, if needed, to taste   
Process all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Store, well-covered, in refrigerator until needed.  Serve in a bowl on the table so you (or a guest) can help yourself or spoon a bit on each chop if you like. You'll have enough to serve for a starter with crackers or baguette.

B.  For chops and carrots ( recipe, see below) -- about 45 minutes before dinner time.
  •   4 double lamb rib chops at room temperature
  •  olive oil
  •  kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  •  6-8 long, thin carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1T finely minced fresh rosemary

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

 Place carrots on a large baking sheet/s, drizzle with oil and dust generously with salt, pepper, and   rosemary.  
Place pan of carrots in the oven on a rack in the bottom third of the oven and roast until tender and somewhat crispy--about 30 minutes.  If done before chops,  place back in oven for five minutes or so to reheat before serving or serve at room temperature.

Heat grill pan or large, heavy skillet/s for the chops over medium-high heat.  Place another rack, for the chops, in the upper third.

  1. Meantime, drizzle chops with olive oil on both sides and salt and pepper thoroughly on both sides.  Brown chops very well on each side and remove to a roasting pan or oven-safe casserole.  When all the chops are browned, place pan/casserole in the oven and roast until done to your liking. 
  2.  Use instant-read thermometer to determine if chops are done.  I like mine fairly rare (quite pink) and took them out to rest when the temperature was between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you'd like them just pink, try 140 degrees.  Quite done is about 160.
  3. Remove pan/casserole from oven and remove chops to serving platter.  Let sit 2-3 minutes. 
  4. Remove carrots from the oven, if not already out, and add them to the platter. Serve hot with tapenade.  
Note:  If you'd like to use nice big and thick bone-in pork chops instead of lamb chops, they'll work just as well using the same process.  You'll want them cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (medium rare) and allowed to rest a few minutes.  Great with tapenade.

Wine:  The traditional pairing is Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon.  I am perverse here; I like an Oregon Pinot Noir, which is a burgundy.  Oregon pinots do not have to age nearly as long and a good one is a fraction of the price of a decent cab.  I also occasionally drink a peppery Syrah or Shiraz and am pretty happy.  Just make sure it's decent wine. You've spent all that money on the lamb; the wine needs to keep up with it.

Dessert:  While Valentine's is the quinessential dessert time, I'd give it a rest here.  Perhaps a ripe or poached pear with a piece of chocolate or a small dish of gelato with coffee.  Port either way.  Brandy if you don't like port.  A digestif might be all you want or need.

Music:  Just because you're by yourself doesn't mean you can listen to a few loving favorites.   General suggestions include Paul McCartney's "Kisses on the Bottom" or "Sarah Vaughn for Lovers."  Tony Bennett also has a lovers album, as does Ella.  You can also look at lists like  Best Love Songs of 2000s, etc.  If this isn't appealing, you might think of sticking to instrumental piano or any instrumental recordings you like.

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself; Happy Valentine's Day,

Originally posted on More Time at the Table for Easter Dinner and on this blog in February, 2013

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