By Jane Knoerle
Most couples celebrate Valentine's Day by dining out. But if your favorite restaurant is already booked, or you can't get a sitter on a week night (Valentine's Day is next Tuesday), don't despair.
Together, the two of you can make a simple, but luxurious, dinner for a romantic evening at home. Menlo Park residents Kathleen Jensen and husband Bruce Goitia show us how to put it together.
Kathleen Jensen knows her way around a kitchen. After working as a personal chef for 10 years, last year she launched Butterscotch on the Go, a food truck serving office buildings in Menlo Park. She also joins food truck gatherings.
"I work with Mobile Gourmet," she says. "We have four to seven food trucks that meet every Wednesday at the Hiller Air Museum in San Carlos."
Retired Menlo Park police chief Bruce Goitia isn't a chef, but "he helps all the time at dinner parties," says his wife.
For this Valentine dinner, the menu is filet mignon with merlot sauce, roasted yellow fingerling potatoes, green salad with pear and toasted walnuts, and chocolate fondue for dessert.
Filets are a natural choice — tender and easy to prepare. Mr. Goitia can saute them in minutes in a cast-iron skillet. The wine sauce makes them extra festive.
Fingerling potatoes are cut in half, tossed in olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, sprinkled with fresh herbs — parsley, rosemary or thyme — then roasted in a 425-degree oven for about 35 minutes.
For a green salad, Ms. Jensen adds pear or citrus and toasted walnuts to mixed greens. She prefers making her own dressing, using olive oil, honey ginger vinegar, a little Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. The secret is using the assorted flavored vinegars found at gourmet food markets.
Busy three to six days a week with the food truck, Ms. Jensen likes to plan dinner ahead.
"Before leaving for work, I set the table," she says. "For the salad, I put the greens in a bowl, measure other ingredients, and get as much as possible out of the way."
With everything assembled, it's a snap for Mr. Goitia to toss the salad.
For dessert, there is chocolate fondue. Fondue is one of those food crazes that pop up every few years, dating back to the 1960s. "It's a little bit old-fashioned to be doing chocolate fondue, but it is so romantic," says Ms. Jensen.
If you've tossed your fondue pot or never had one, don't worry. You can melt the chocolate over hot water, then pour the mixture into individual bowls or glasses. For a festive look, Ms. Jensen edges margarita glasses with red sprinkles, dipping them first in corn syrup.
What to dip in the chocolate? Anything goes. Strawberries, or other chunks of fruit, are a natural. Pound cake, madeleines, shortbread, even pretzels, taste great with chocolate. No fondue forks? Try chopsticks.
Setting the scene for a romantic dinner, takes some forethought. If you have kids, feed them pizza at 6 and deal with any next-day school problems before starting your dinner for two.
Set the table, preferably not in the kitchen, ahead of time. Candlelight and fresh flowers add a special touch, as does a good wine.
In preparing this special dinner, it's important to share the duty. If she does most of the prep and cooking, he should take over the clean-up. Or, if you've done the meal together, leave the dishes in the sink. After all, Valentine's Day comes just once a year.
Filet mignon with merlot sauce
2 filet mignon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup merlot
1 finely minced shallot
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1 tablespoon diced butter
Salt and pepper
Minced parsley and chives for garnish
Season filets with salt and pepper. Place heavy-duty, cast-iron pan over medium-high flame and let heat for a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sear filets for approximately 4 minutes per side for rare to medium, depending on thickness. Remove to a plate and cover loosely with foil.
Add shallot to pan and stir for about 1 minute. Add wine to pan. Reduce to half. Add stock and reduce liquid to half again. Remove from heat and whisk in butter a bit at a time until thickened. Taste for seasoning. Place filets on plates and spoon over sauce. Sprinkle with a mixture of parsley and chives and serve.
12 oz. fine quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup cream (more if necessary)
1 to 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
To dip: fruit in season (cut in chunks), pound cake, angel food cake, madeleines or shortbread cookies.
Melt chocolate and cream in a double boiler, stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add Grand Marnier to taste. If too thick, thin with more cream. Serve immediately with any of the above (or use your imagination here).