Valentine’s Day comes with high expectations. Oh, the pressure to create romance.
Add to that an expensive dinner in a restaurant overburdened by so many romance-seeking customers, and the evening often ends in disappointment.
I remember one Valentine’s Day dinner, at a top New York restaurant famous for its magnificent cheese course, which it presents on a rolling cart. The most fun part of the meal, for me, would be discussing the various selections with the knowlegeable and enthusiastic cheese master, learning about his offerings, and then tasting our choices.
Once seated, we awaited glasses of champagne, which were included on the price-fixed menu. They took 15 minutes to arrive. Meanwhile, we attempted to flag down the sommelier so we could order wine to go with our main course, but he was nowhere to be found. Our entrées, which arrived before our wine, seemed mass-produced, not hot out of the oven but barely warmed over. And when it was time for cheese, our server — who had disappeared for great swathes of time throughout the meal — informed us that because the restaurant had added extra tables to accommodate all the holiday reservations, the cart would not be able to make its way through.
Since then, I’ve made Valentine’s dinner at home. The key to the meal is ease, because stress isn’t sexy. I want champagne — a half bottle, because then I can afford a really good one, and it’s just enough for two. (Laurent-Perrier makes a delicious kosher brut rosé, which I tasted this week at the Kosher Food & Wine Experience.)
As for the dinner, the less I have to do the better. It’s all about great ingredients, prepared simply and fast. For inspiration, I headed to La Boîte, an incredible spice shop and laboratory on the far West Side of Manhattan, owned by spice-master extraordinaire Lior Lev Sercarz. Accompanied by the Forward’s digital media producer, Martyna Starosta, I asked Lior to come up with a spice blend that could be used for a Valentine’s Day dinner, from cocktail to entrée to dessert.
What he concocted for me was sweet and spicy and alluring — cinnamon, cardamom, rosebuds and Aleppo pepper were among the fragrant ingredients he added to the mix.
At home with my blend, I went to work. First, the cocktail. At Lior’s suggestion, I mixed the spice with some raw sugar and dipped the dampened rims of two cocktail glasses in it. I filled the glasses with a mixture of dark rum shaken with ice, a little maple syrup, and some Meyer lemon juice. Splendid.
Next, I dusted the spice blend, along with some salt, over wild salmon fillets, and baked them in a 425˚ oven for about 10 minutes. The flavor was fabulous. (The blend would have worked just as well on seared filet mignon or chicken.)
The best thing I did with the spice was to use it in homemade ice cream. I followed the recipe for classic vanilla that came with my ice cream maker — a pint of heavy cream, a cup of milk, ¾ cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla — and added a teaspoon of the spice blend, and dark chocolate chips at the end. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was spectacular.
Watch the video and think about creating your own Valentine’s Day spice blend. All you need is a few spices, a clean coffee grinder and a little imagination.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.