What’s on your agenda for Valentine’s Day?
If you are planning a special dinner for that special person in your life, I have a couple of winners that are perfect for the occasion.
By the way, just who is that saint that symbolizes our day of love and romance?
There are many legends surrounding this obscure person. According to one, he’s a Roman priest; in another, a former bishop of several towns in central Italy.
He is said to have restored the sight of a young girl, was known to secretly marry couples in order to keep husbands from having to go to war. When he refused to offer sacrifices to pagan gods and to renounce his Christian faith, the emperor Claudius condemned him to death and ordered him executed on Feb. 14, 269.
Today we celebrate Feb. 14 with hearts, bows and arrows and candy and flowers, not to mention romantic dinners for two.
That’s where my heart lies. I have two terrific dishes perfectly suited to an evening of romance.
One favorite is a friend’s take on that legendary New Orleans creation, oysters Rockefeller, and for dessert, creme brulee.
Oysters Segar (for two)
7 or 8 fresh oysters
Frozen spinach, thawed and drained
Salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Shuck oysters — directions to follow — and drain. Preheat oven to broil, and that step is important. Return oysters to bottom shells and arrange in a heat-proof baking dish. Squeeze a small amount of lemon juice onto each, top with 1 teaspoon of spinach, more lemon, salt to taste, 1 teaspoon sour cream, small amount of Parmesan and dust with paprika. Place under broiler, close to flame, and broil for 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
It is important that the oven be preheated, oysters are best if cooked quickly. Also, if you have a water-conditioning system, place a ½-inch layer of softener salt in baking pan before adding oysters to keep them from tipping over.
To shuck fresh oysters, place in sink of cold water and scrub shells well. Insert sharp knife at hinge and work back and forth until the shell begins to open. Run blade around shell until top is completely separated.
2 c. whipping cream
5 Tbsp. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Small pinch salt
4 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into a small pan. Add pod, cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and salt. Bring just below boiling over medium heat — do not allow to boil. Remove from heat, set aside to cool slightly. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks with 1 tablespoon sugar until dissolved. Slowly whisk in cooled cream — if not cool, yolks will scramble — then strain through fine sieve. Divide custard between 4 shallow baking dishes, about ½ cup each, set dishes in a baking pan and place in oven. Pour enough cold water into pan to come about halfway up sides. Bake until custards are set, or about 30 to 35 minutes. Check by inserting knife blade into center. If knife comes out clean, custard is done. If not, cook 2 or 3 minutes more then check again, being careful not to overcook. When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool. Cover cooled custards with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Before serving make sure tops are dry then sprinkle remaining 3 tablespoons sugar evenly over custards and use a kitchen torch to caramelize. Hold torch at an angle, flame should barely touch surface, and caramelize.
You can also brown sugar under a preheated broiler. Turn dishes to avoid hot or burned spots. Be careful, as these will go from caramel to charcoal without warning.