When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day meant a special dinner with our family, and most importantly, CANDY. I still remember one V-day in particular where my sister and I each received a giant Hershey’s Kiss, and I’m pretty certain that we both ate at least half that night (Solveig, you know what I’m talking about). Besides having an incorrigible sweet tooth, Valentine’s Day was never really my favorite holiday – I never really thought it was necessary to have one day to let the people close to you know that you love them. Of course, I’m never going to say no to a good dinner, so when Ari and I were deciding what we were going to do (obviously, House of Cards was the first item on the agenda), I thought it would be fun to come up with some things I don’t make on a regular basis. Surprisingly, I have never tried my hand at chocolate mousse, always one of my favorite desserts at French restaurants, but after this I will definitely be making it again. Seems fancy, and is deceptively simple – plus you can make it hours ahead of time, which makes it perfect for a dinner party.
Even though peaches are wildly out of season (bad), when I was at the grocery store this morning I couldn’t resist buying a few. A girl can only eat so many apples. And since peaches are my favorite fruit, I decided to dress them up with a little sweetened sour cream and these lovely cornmeal shortcakes. The cornmeal adds a nice crunch to contrast with the sour cream and sweetness of the peaches. If you aren’t a fan of sour cream, you can use regular whipped cream, but personally I like the tanginess.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been dreaming of peaches and tomatoes, of zucchini and plums in abundance. The farmer’s market in the winter can be a little depressing, with heavy root vegetables and apples and pears week after week. Even though it hasn’t been all that cold in New York, I’m looking forward to summer and its produce. However, while we are all waiting for spring, this creamy tart might help lift you out of the winter doldrums. I like how the salty, buttery crust contrasts with the sweetness of the pastry cream and the vanilla-scented pears. Also, this would make a lovely Valentine’s day dessert if you have some time…you could even poach the pears in red wine instead of water for some festive color (although then I would recommend removing the vanilla).
This recipe is from one of my all-time favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen — in fact, this is one of the sites that made me want to start blogging in the first place. Deb’s beautiful photography and excellent recipes get me excited every time she has a new post (and she has a cookbook coming out this year! Needless to say, I am very excited). I bought a bunch of spinach at the farmer’s market last week and instead of doing the same old sauté with garlic and olive oil, decided it was time for something new. Namely, creamy, creamy cream sauce. This recipe makes a very rich side dish or you could easily top it with an egg and call it dinner.
Creamed Spinach (just slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
2 pounds baby spinach or 2 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, tough stems discarded
1 3/4 cups heavy cream or whole milk, or a mix thereof (I used a mix)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Wash your spinach well and shake dry. Place spinach in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 to 4 minutes for baby spinach and 4 to 6 minutes for regular spinach.
Press or squeeze out the excess liquid any number of ways, either by wringing it out in cheesecloth, putting it in a mesh strainer and pressing the moisture out with a spatula or large spoon or letting it cool long enough to grab small handfuls and squeezing them to remove as much water as possible. Coarsely chop the wrung-out spinach.
Heat milk or cream in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until warm. Keep warm. Meanwhile, cook shallots and garlic, in butter in the large pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about six minutes. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, about three minutes. Add warm milk or cream in a slow stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, and simmer, whisking, until thickened, three to four minutes. Stir in nutmeg, spinach, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until heated through.
I seem to be on a bit of a Barefoot Contessa spree, but really, this is the only crème brûlée recipe my family uses. While it actually isn’t terribly difficult, it does take a bit of practice and due to the amount of heavy cream it probably isn’t something you want to make on a daily basis. It is, however, an excellent dessert to make if you really want to make someone feel special (without going to all of the effort of making a three-layer cake). Crème brûlée has maintained its position as the epidemy of French dessert for all of these years for a reason — it is classic, silky, and an utterly perfect contrast in texture and taste.
Since the recipe is copyrighted, you can find it here. My only notes are these: use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract for stronger flavor. Additionally, if you don’t have a gas torch (as I do not, although that may need to be my next kitchen investment), you can just as easily caramelize the sugar under the broiler on high. Just be sure to keep an eye on it, as it burns easily.