Setting the mood for your Valentine’s dinner is easy — a linen tablecloth, candlelight, a bottle of wine — but impressing your sweetheart with culinary skills you may or may not have is a little trickier.
“Have a little plan and do it with love and do it with fun,” said chef Stefan Ryll, assistant professor of culinary arts at Southern New Hampshire University. “I think by doing this you’re showing your love that you’re willing to go the extra mile.”
There’s nothing romantic about wearing bibs or laboring to crack a crustacean. Instead, try a recipe that uses lobster meat in another way.
“If you really want to impress your love, then you want to do more than just boil lobster,” Ryll said. “Cook something that you’re comfortable with and maybe kick it up a notch.”
Ryll suggested alternative options like lobster ravioli, lobster pot pie or lobster bisque. For a twist on something familiar, Ryll suggests a lobster macaroni and cheese with Gruyere cheese, nutmeg and bread crumbs.
Steam your own lobsters or purchase the meat separately. It costs more to purchase the meat separate, but it does save a few steps, Ryll said. He added that some supermarkets will steam your lobster for you.
Ryll said to try lobster thermidor, “if you want to go a little fancier.” Although slightly more challenging, the French classic baked stuffed lobster will definitely impress, he said. Ryll also recommended serving the lobster thermidor with a side of roast fingerling or chive mashed potatoes.
A Valentine’s Day steak dinner can’t be like the steak you grilled during a summer cookout. For something special, try a new recipe like beef Wellington, beef medallion or steak au poivre.
“Number one when you do steaks, most people think you have to go with a certain kind of cut,” Ryll said. “There’s many different ways you can kick up your steak a little.”
Ryll recommends speaking with your butcher to learn more about different cuts, like the shoulder, which Ryll said is almost as tender as beef tenderloin.
“The key thing if you want to use steak is have a nice marinade,” Ryll said.
He recommends steak au poivre, sauteed with a brandy pan glaze, or beef Wellington with its signature puff pastry, mushroom duxelle and prosciutto. Another tip is to pan sear your steak instead of grilling it.
“This takes a lot of work, but if you do this for your love, I think she or he will really appreciate it,” Ryll said.
It might sound exotic, but quail isn’t too hard to come by. General Manager Craig Muccini at The Meat House in Amherst said customers can order quail and will likely be able to pick it up within two days.
“Don’t be too scared by cooking it,” he said. “Most people are just intimidated by the idea of it.”
Quail is a game bird, like pheasant, and has a different flavor than chicken with a darker meat and earthy tones, said chef Brian Murray at The Homestead Restaurant in Merrimack.
“It’s tricky to cook because it’s so small. You don’t want to overcook it, but you obviously want to cook it through,” Murray said. “They’re quick. You can bring them from the refrigerator to the table in under 20 minutes.”
Murray added that at-home cooks should think of quail almost like chicken in terms of preparation. They can be roasted, fried, braised, broiled, grilled or sautéed. Murray suggested simple prep, like olive oil and garlic, an Italian dressing or a sage rub.
“They’re ... not like a truly wild bird like partridge or grouse and woodcock,” he said. “Those are the real strong gamey flavors that would be great for a hunter, but for the average person that might be a difficult sell.”
As seen in the February 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.