Valentines

blogchocmoltencakes04.jpgI have started internet dating the last few months so occasionally I ask someone over for dinner. Should I query them about their food likes and dislikes? What I really want to ask is how do they feel about eating herring, do they like Champagne and is eating lamb in your comfort zone?

Usually asking this at first is a real dealbreaker, never mind mentioning that Classical music will probable be playing in the background. Should I keep it “safe” and make a simple braised chicken dish or should I go out on a culinary limb and make braised lamb shanks that perfume the house with the ethic smell of a casbar in some far away place. Should I ask or just take a gamble? 

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stable.jpgAround fifteen years ago, my wife and I decided that eventually we wanted to leave Los Angeles and move to the country.  Although neither of us had ever lived on a farm, we both had grandparents who did and had fond memories of visits where we “helped” with chores such as milking and gathering eggs.  However, I soon learned to avert my eyes whenever I saw my grandmother pick up a chicken, as I knew this was Step 1 of the recipe for the pot pie which would appear on the supper table. 

Once we had decided to move, we spent our vacations looking for the perfect place.  We checked out Northern California, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian Maritimes before eventually deciding on Vermont because it actually looked like “the country” of our imaginations.    

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ImageMy husband, David, and I are both chefs, so we are always busy working in our respective kitchens on Valentine’s Day. Cooking for hundreds of people while miles apart is a bit romantically challenging. So we try to capture and share the spirit of the day through our food, like this classic dessert, which has a few distinct twists to make it worthy of this special day.

We use wild flower honey to give an exotic flavor to the panna cotta and then we top it with deep-red blood orange granita. I love the texture of the granita – instead of being smooth like a sorbet – it's actually crunchy and icy (in a good way). I love the combination of rich and creamy with icy and tart, which makes it like a grown-up creamsicle, so refreshing, but also so beautiful to look at.

Kumquats are another of my favorite ingredients that I can't get enough of when they are in season. I seriously find myself trying to think of new ways to use them! In this case they are tossed with the wildflower honey and become rather “fresh-candied.” It’s an elegant and colorful dish, which is just perfect for Valentine’s Day. In our kitchen, it is executed by our pastry chef Breanne Varela who started at Lucques and A.O.C and because of her skill with sweets of all types, is now in charge of all bakery duties at our newest place,Tavern.

No Valentine’s Day meal is complete without a fantastic dessert, perhaps enjoyed after some champagne and caviar, which we rush home to indulge in – if Dave remembers to buy them, which happens about 50% of the time.

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3d-shadow-box-art-ssThat’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds, earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.

Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts. For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage. Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about. To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.

I took Risa’s lesson to heart. Many Valentine’s Days I baked. Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts. Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds. And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.

For this Valentine’s Day I was presented with a problem. I couldn’t bake Michelle a cake because she had sworn off dairy products and sugar. No matter how much she used to like my desserts, a beautiful cake wouldn’t tell her “I love you” the way it used to. So what could I make or do for her that would show her I love her?

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apricot-almond_cake.jpgUsually, pound cake is a Spring thing for me. I make it each year around Easter and maybe again a little later when fresh, locally-grown strawberries are ready to pick. The sweet berries with their bright juice are a perfect companion for pound cake. But in the midst of my almond paste frenzy, my apricot brandy pound cake seemed like a logical place to try to add almond paste. So, I did. And I was right. Brandied Apricot-Almond Pound Cake is the result of a match made in heaven.

Remember the brandied apricot topping on those almond bars I posted last week? Well, here it is again, swirled like birthday ribbons through apricot brandy-spiked pound cake laced with almond paste. I made some adjustments to my original pound cake recipe. The resulting texture is not exactly that of my original pound cake, but it comes pretty close.

It's best to make the cake a day or two before serving. Seal it up tight and store it in a cool place. The flavors develop with such depth and the fragrance that wafts up through your nostrils when you open the cake is intoxicating.

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