Valentine meal you can take to heart

A simple steak with trimmings, a no-bake chocolate dessert, and special beers to toast your sweetie.

Posted: February 09, 2012

Here's one of the benefits of spending Valentine's Day at home: You get to eat what you want. Sure, you have to make it, but that also means costs can stay down, and you don't have to fight the crowds or be subjected to a rule-ridden tasting menu. And honestly, when is the last time you had a special dinner with your loved one at home without the TV on? Light some candles. It's a nice thing.

Sticking around the abode means you can casually indulge. I've created a menu that allows just that, taking the best of a steak-house dinner and combining it with pop-a-pilsner elements.

The menu: a simple steak, truffled potato skins, cauliflower roasted with pearl onions and green olives, and a Shore-evoking version of shrimp cocktail to start. Salted caramel brownie ice cream sandwiches don't take chocolate too seriously (nor do they require real baking). Save the wine for Saturday - we've got some special beers to match with the meal. Feel free to drink them straight from the bottle. No one will tell.

Most of this meal can be prepped the day before, so getting this together on a Tuesday night, after a long day, is a cinch. (Check out the Game Plan sidebar for a timeline.)

Let's start with the steer. When steak is done right, it can stand on its own. I suggest using a New York strip. It has more marbling than a tenderloin, which means more flavor and more beef for your buck.

Chef Chris Scarduzio, of Table 31, has had plenty of experience perfecting his technique. There are just a few important things you need to know about getting a steak-house-worthy strip at home.

First, it's worth making the trip to a butcher. The quality will be superior and the cut will be thicker. A strip that is 11/2 to 2 inches thick is ideal.

When it comes to cooking, these are the few Culinary School 101 techniques worth keeping in mind (and the only things separating you from an Iron Chef):

Season generously with kosher salt and black pepper. Use a cast iron or stainless-steel pan. Nonstick pans just do not get hot enough to give you that great crust. You'll want to use a vegetable oil for your sear, or a combination of vegetable and olive oils, and you want that oil to get hot. Really hot. Smoking hot.

Heat the oil over a high flame. After you lay the steak in the pan do not move it. Let it be. For at least two minutes. I promise it will not burn. You'll see the sides of the steak get nice and brown, and then you'll be able to lift it off the pan effortlessly. If it fights you, it's telling you it's not ready. Let it be.

As at the restaurants, finishing the steak in the oven brings great results. Scarduzio tosses a garlic clove and rosemary sprig in the pan for a little extra flavor before it goes in the oven, and serves the meat with only a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of good olive oil - a perfect "sauce" for your weekday dinner.

The other benefit of the searing-roasting technique is that after the pan-cooking, the meat can hang out until you are ready to serve. Then just pop it in the oven for five to eight minutes. I cooked the steak at 425 degrees - also the temperature for the potato skins - which works out well.

I dream about these potato skins weekly, and I swear it has nothing to do with the fact that I am pregnant. They are inspired by a version on the menu at Barclay Prime for years. The high-low intersection of truffles and fancy cheese with potato skins and bacon is right in my wheelhouse. They might even steal the steak's spotlight.

The skins can be cooked in two steps. Prep the potato boats, bacon, and truffle butter the day before, then melt the cheese while the steak is cooking. This has the added benefit of getting the skins extra crispy.

To keep the vegetable simple, I turned to an easy roasted cauliflower standby, which requires tossing a bunch of ingredients together with olive oil and roasting them. I also prepped these the day before and reheated to serve.

So that the meal would feel special, I wanted to have a first course. I cooked up a peel-and-eat version of shrimp cocktail, with a tangy rémoulade. As you peel, enjoy the first beer, a lemony Saison Dupont Vieille Provision - which Kyle Sebring at the Foodery paired up perfectly.

Despite months of pastry and bread training at culinary school, I am a hapless baker. Which inspires me to create sweets that are, well, from a box. I love ice cream sandwiches (see above: pregnancy) and decided to keep them current by adding the flavor du jour: salted caramel. I used brownies instead of cookies because it's not V-Day without chocolate. These can also be made in advance, and, I must say, look pretty impressive.

Keep the recession-chic vibe going with some upscale beers. The guys at the Foodery had some more great suggestions. Brooklyn's Sorachi Ace and Southampton's Saison Deluxe work well with the olive oil and lemon on the steak, as well as the sides. For something a little extra special, Ommegang has a limited-edition Seduction ale, which has chocolate and cherry notes. In fact, the Foodery is hosting a tasting of it on Friday. Perfect timing to get you in the mood . . . to cook.

It will be simple if you start early

Putting together this Valentine's Day meal is pretty easy, especially if you start preparing a few days beforehand. Here, a quick guide to when to get stuff done.

Two days before

Get all your food shopping done. A trip to the butcher, supermarket, and beer store should do it.

Day before

Roast potatoes and scoop out flesh.

Make remoulade for shrimp.

Prep for the potato skins: Cook bacon, make truffle butter, chop scallions.

Prep the cauliflower dish: Boil and peel pearl onions, cut cauliflower into florets, cut olives.

Bake salted caramel brownies.

Day of

Roast cauliflower, onions, and olives.

Turn up oven to 425 degrees, cook potato skins to crisp.

Boil shrimp, set aside, or chill.

Assemble ice cream sandwiches and pop in freezer.

Meal time

Take out steaks and let come to room temperature

Enjoy the shrimp (you deserve it!)

Top potatoes with cheese, put in the oven.

Sear steaks.

Finish steaks in oven.

Reheat cauliflower (put in the hot oven, or give them a quick nuke).

Let steaks rest.

Slice steaks, assemble plate, and serve!


- Ashley Primis

New York Strip Steaks

Makes 2 servings

2 10-ounce New York strip steaks, 1½-2 inches thick Vegetable oil

Olive oil

2 garlic cloves

2 sprigs rosemary

2 lemon wedges

Kosher salt

Black pepper

   1. Let steaks come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season steaks generously with salt and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil and a splash of olive oil to a cast iron or stainless steel pan, ensuring pan is well coated. Turn the flame to high. Heat oil until very hot or smoking. Sear steaks until well-browned, about 1-2 minutes per side. Steaks should easily release from pan; if they don't, they are not ready to flip.

   2. Drain browned oil from pan and add a fresh splash of vegetable oil. Add garlic and rosemary to pan. Put pan in the oven and cook steaks, 5 to 8 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from oven, transfer steaks to a sheet pan fitted with a cooling rack or a cutting board, and let rest 3 to 4 minutes. Slice against the grain, squeeze lemon wedges on meat and drizzle with good olive oil.

- From Ashley Primis

Per serving: 258 calories, 25 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 16 grams fat, 73 milligrams cholesterol, 1,586 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

Truffled Potato Skins

Makes 2 to 4 servings

2 Yukon or Russet potatoes

Vegetable or olive oil

4 slices bacon

2 tablespoon butter

1/4 teaspoon truffle oil,  black or white, plus more for garnish

1/4-1/2 pound Taleggio cheese,  cut into 1/8-inch slices

1/2 bunch scallions, chopped

Sour cream

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Clean potatoes, rub skin with oil, and roast for one hour until soft.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings. Cook bacon slices until crisp, in a skillet or on broiler pan in the oven, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Crumble.

3. Let the butter come to room temperature and mix with truffle oil. Add more if you prefer a stronger truffle taste.

4. Let potatoes cool slightly and cut in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out flesh, leaving 1/4-1/2-inch layer of potato. (Reserve scooped-out potato for another use.) At this point, you can refrigerate the skins until ready to use.

5. Rub skins with oil again, season with salt and pepper and bake, skin side down, about 10 minutes to crisp. Add 1/2 tablespoon of truffle butter to each potato cavity. Top each potato with 3-4 slices of cheese. Bake until browned, about 15 minutes. Top with a few drops of truffle oil, bacon crumbles, scallions, and a dollop of sour cream.

- From Ashley Primis

Per serving (based on 4): 334 calories, 14 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 24 grams fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 832 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower With Pearl Onions and Olives

Makes 4 servings

6 ounces pearl onions

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt

Black pepper

   1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Cook pearl onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and cool. Using a small knife, cut off the top of the onion and pinch skin off. Cut larger onions in half.

   2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower, onions and olives with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan and roast until soft, 20 to 25 minutes, shaking pan after 10 minutes. Remove from oven, check seasoning and toss with lemon juice.

- From Ashley Primis

Per serving: 127 calories, 3 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, no cholesterol, 310 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Peel-and-Eat Shrimp Cocktail With Lemon Remoulade

Makes 2 servings

For shrimp:

10 large shell-on shrimp

1 whole lemon, quartered

2 garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

1 tablespoon kosher salt

For remoulade:

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon sour cream

1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard

11/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon capers, with juice

1 tablespoon chopped scallions

Kosher salt

Black pepper

   1. To make the shrimp, put two quarts of water in a large pot. Squeeze lemon quarters into water and toss in rinds. Add garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp, cook for 3 minutes, remove from heat and let cool.

   2. To make the sauce, combine all ingredients and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauce can hold for a few days. Serve shrimp chilled or at room temperature.

- From Ashley Primis

Per serving: 356 calories, 23 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 22 grams fat, 211 milligrams cholesterol, 875 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Salted Caramel Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Makes 8 servings

1 box brownie mix

Butter for greasing pan

5 ounces store-bought caramel sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 pints vanilla ice cream

   1. Preheat oven according to brownie box instructions. Line two 9-by-13-inch pans with foil and grease well with butter, or use two disposable 9-by-13-inch cake pans and grease well with butter. Mix brownies, following instructions on the box. Divide batter equally between the two pans. You are looking for a thin layer of batter, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

   2. Heat caramel sauce in a small pot over low heat until soft. Stir in salt and combine well. Shut off heat and let cool slightly. Drizzle sauce over brownie batter, dividing equally between pans. Bake brownies for 10-15 minutes, or until top is just set. Do not overcook. Let cool 10 minutes, then place pans in refrigerator until brownies are thoroughly chilled.

   3. Let ice cream get soft enough to spread. Cut brownies into large squares, about 3 inches each, discarding crisp edges. Add 1-2 scoops of ice cream to one brownie, about 1 inch thick. Top with another brownie and place on a tray or plate. Working quickly, continue making remaining sandwiches. Place in freezer until ready to serve. If not serving immediately, wrap sandwiches in parchment paper or plastic wrap until ready to serve.

- From Ashley Primis

Per serving: 327 calories, 4 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 57 milligrams cholesterol, 369 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244,, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.

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