I wasn’t planning on doing anything particularly exciting for Valentine ’s Day this year, but plans always change. At 5pm a friend called with an “emergency.” One of our friends had a recent break up and is panicking about v-day, so they call me to whip something up fantastic. I checked the pantry and had all the essentials for a fabulous last minute dinner. What was on the menu, you ask? Well we started with a great garden salad with house made bleu cheese dressing, frozen mozzarella sticks (it was a hormonal evening on short notice….don’t judge), homemade fettuccini alfredo with grilled chicken (real for the meat eaters, soy-based for those not), Girl Scout inspired Thin Mint cocktails, and chocolate soufflé for dessert. Believe it or not, all of this was ready in about an hour and I didn’t have to go to the store for any of it.
My salads are always simple: for the four of us, I chopped 3 heads of romaine (I always have a few days worth of salad ingredients on hand for lunches), 3 roma tomatoes, 1 cucumber, a quarter to a half of a red onion, and some croutons. When it comes to the dressing, I am a bleu cheese guy all the way! My problem is that it is very, very difficult to find a bottled or jarred bleu cheese dressing worth buying. Even the alright ones in the refrigerated section don’t live up to restaurant counterparts and are always more expensive than their worth.
That being said, I am a proud fan of Paula Deen and all of her butter use! On my last flight back to Boston from Florida, I happened to be watching Food Network and Paula was on. And, she just happened to be making the bleu cheese dressing she uses at the Lady and Sons in Savannah. Having been there, and eating the dressing, I knew I had to make this dressing. It is super easy and very inexpensive to make this dressing yourself and it has none of the preservatives the bleu dressing at the store has. Now when it comes to Paula, I personally think she uses too much mayonnaise and not enough sour cream. I also, almost never have buttermilk on hand so I have made a few alterations to the recipe I now regularly use. Paula’s original recipe can be found here.
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 heaping tablespoons sour cream (just under ¼ cup)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
6 ounces crumbled bleu cheese
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cream, half and half, or evaporated milk
Pinch cracked black pepper and salt to taste
Just mix well and serve. This should be well more than enough for the salad I prepared above.
The alfredo is something I have held close to my chest after years of tweaking to perfection. I share it though, because it is so simple and such a crowd pleaser. This is certainly one of those recipes where fewer ingredients really is the more appropriate way to go. I just heat up whatever protein I plan on eating with it and toss it with the pasta at the end.
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Over medium heat, sauté the garlic until tender, about two minutes. Then add the cream and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Continue boiling until sauce has thickened to desired consistency.* Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until melted, add the salt and pepper to taste. Toss with one pound of cooked pasta and serve immediately.
*This can take some time, so be patient. Often times, I will bring the cream to a boil right before I put the pasta water on. By the time the pasta is done, the alfredo is usually at the appropriate thickness.
Soufflés are another crowd pleaser that are usually always easier than people expect them to be. I stake no claim for this soufflé recipe, except that the proportions of ingredients I’ve posted here, I have pared down to fit 4 6oz. ramekins instead of 6 6oz. ramekins. The original recipe is also from the Food Network Kitchen, and can be found here. The chocolate sauce I used with them is my own recipe, but it’s super easy to make as well.
2/3 cup finely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 2/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus for preparing the molds
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2large egg yolks
2 tablespoons warm water
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 1/3 tablespoons, plus for preparing the molds
5 1/3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/3 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Confectioners’ sugar for garnish
Brush 4 6oz ramekins with soft butter, then coat with sugar and place in the freezer.
Set an oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double broiler, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Set aside.
Combine the egg yolks and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer or large bowl and beat until frothy. Gradually add the 1 1/3 tablespoons sugar, and continue beating until ribbons form, about 5 minutes. Very lightly fold the yolks into the chocolate mixture.
Remove prepared ramekins from freezer. Put the egg whites and the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Beat on medium until frothy; then gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and increase speed to high. Beat until the whites hold a stiff peak.
Working quickly, fold about a third of the egg whites into the chocolate to lighten; then fold in remaining whites until blended. Gently ladle or spoon the soufflé mixture into the ramekins, and place on a baking sheet. (Level off the surface with a straight edge, scraping any excess mixture back into the bowl.)
Immediately bake until the soufflé rises about 1 1/2 inches from the ramekins, and the tops are touched with brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately.
Make 4 6 oz. soufflés
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
Place all ingredients over a double broiler and stir until smooth and shiny. Break the tops of the soufflés and fill with sauce.
Thin Mint Cocktail:
I fell across the Thin Mint cocktail recipe on pinterest this past weekend and had been looking for an excuse to make them. The original recipe can be found here.
Place 4oz each of Irish cream liqueur, Kahlua, and peppermint schnapps in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until thoroughly mixed and strain into champagne or martini glasses garnished with chocolate syrup.
This makes 4 3oz cocktails.