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A Fine Romance (February 6, 2009)

Is this the longest winter ever? Where is spring anyway? More snow tonight? Oh pleeeeze... but wait, Valentine's Day is at hand, and there's nothing like romance to warm up even the most frigid cockles, especially when paired with wonderful food. Bring it on; we're more than ready for romance!

We started looking at recipes for lovers, beginning with Carol Frieberg's The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest Cookbook, the offshoot of Frieberg's The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest travel guide! The locations do indeed sound appealingly romantic, and each "Best Place" is listed with a lyrical description; hopefully one day we'll actually visit some of them. Meanwhile, we're going to create some romantic magic at home with help from Frieberg, the author of five cookbooks, including Breakfast in Bed. Need we say more? She knows romance!

Then arrived the Eiffel Tower Restaurant Cookbook and our thoughts immediately turned to Paris, the most romantic and to us beautiful city in the world... but wait, this restaurant is in Las Vegas! Intrigued, we read on: "Capturing the Magic of Paris," stated the flocked red velvet book cover, and inside the Chef/proprietor of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Jean Joho (himself a Chicago icon!) says, "I'll never forget the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower; I was just seven years old and on a trip to Paris from my home in Alsace. It was an incredible moment for a child from a small town." He goes on, "Growing up in Alsace, I was always intrigued by the United States. seemed to offer endless possibilities, and after my years training with the great chef Paul Haeberlin and working in Michelin-starred restaurants in France, Italy and Switzerland, I was thrilled to accept a job in America at the famous Maxim's in Chicago." Joho never looked back, opening award-winning restaurants and brasseries, and finally ending up opening the Eiffel Tower Restaurant when Las Vegas was still a place with second-rate food in ordinary surroundings. No longer a boring place to eat, Las Vegas abounds with gorgeous restaurants serving fabulous meals, and Jean Joho helped start it all!

Deep Dark Chocolate: Decadent Recipes for the Serious Chocolate Lover is the ultimate chocolate book, containing not only recipes bordering on the obscene but a lot of interesting, solid information about chocolate itself. Did you know that cacao beans have a higher percentage of antioxidants than either green tea or red wine? (We'll toast to that!) And dark chocolate contains plant flavonoids, which help keep cholesterol from gathering in your blood vessels!

Hooray for chocolate and enthusiastic cheers for prolific food writer and author Sara Perry, who with Jane Zwinger has pulled together the most decadent collection we've enjoyed in years.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (117 KB)


Oh Yes, Oysters!

Fresh Oysters with Tabasco and Lemongrass Granité

You know what they say about oysters – so start your romantic evening with a few dozen... or more!

Chilled, fresh oysters on the half shell are nectar, and when just the right touch is added are elevated to Divine. The Point No Point Resort in Sooke, BC, serves chilled Pacific Miyagi oysters with a lemon grass granité; it's simple to make and elegant to serve. This version with the coarse, crystalline texture much like a snow cone has a little kick to it and is a perfect refreshing complement to the fresh, creamy oysters. Polish that ring, honey... the moment is about to happen!

From The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest.

Serves 2

  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass
  • 2 cups ginger ale
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and diced
  • 1 or 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 1 dozen chilled Miyagi, Pacific or other fresh oysters
  1. To make the granité, bruise the lemongrass stalks with a saucepan or a meat tenderizer. Place the ginger ale, lemon juice, gingerroot, Tabasco and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and strain. Add the vodka. Pour a thin layer on to a 9-by-13 inch baking sheet and freeze for 4 hours or overnight. When frozen, transfer chunks to a food processor and pulse until slushy. Refreeze for several hours until frozen.
  2. When ready to serve, shuck the oysters, making sure to cut off the bottom muscle; place them back on the half shell. Use a fork to scrape the granité down the length of the pan, forming icy flakes. Place the granité in a small chilled glass bowl and serve alongside the oysters on the half shell.

But wait, there's more...

Along with Best Places to Kiss came a copy of Sex, Death and Oysters by award-winning Texas-based food writer Robb Walsh. Upon discovering the chicanery in the oyster business – his local Galveston Bay oysters being passed off for Blue Points and Chincoteagues in other parts of the country – Robb spent five years traveling from Galveston to Galway and investigating everything from oyster reefs to oyster bars for the truth about the world's most profitable aphrodisiac!

We adore oysters and have happily slurped them down around the world, and we loved this gastronomic adventure, which was exciting, instructive, poignant and occasionally just plain weird. From Oysters Bienville to Rockefeller to a Pan Roast, all to be enjoyed while you read aloud Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter," it's in here, too! You love oysters, you get this book!

Tony's wine recommendation:
Prosecco, Spanish cava


Chilled Fennel Vichyssoise with Shrimp

She wants Paris, you want Las Vegas; give her both, with a romantic weekend at the Paris Hotel & Resort... If you're clever, you'll win enough to take her to the real thing next trip! Meanwhile, try Jean Joho's Eiffel Tower Restaurant Cookbook's take on the classic French soup; this one is from south-west France with fennel and Pernod.

Chef Joho says you can use lobster or scallops instead of shrimp for your own variation, or use whole shrimp for a dramatic presentation. Oh, Chef Joho... what are you doing later tonight...?

Serves 8

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced (5 cups) plus 2 Tbsp diced fennel
  • 2 onions sliced
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½ inch pieces, plus 2 Tbsp diced potato
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp Pernod
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 jumbo shrimp, cooked, shelled, deveined and chilled or left intact
  • Celery leaves for garnish

In a large, heavy soup pot, melt the butter with the oil over medium heat. Add the sliced fennel and onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the fennel is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes and stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, over and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, uncover, add the Pernod, and let cook until barely warm.

Working in batches, purée the cooled soup in a blender. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and mix in the half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Put the diced potato and fennel in a small saucepan, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until cooked, about 8 minutes. Drain the potato and fennel, place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Divide the shrimp among 8 shallow soup bowls. Sprinkle the diced potato and diced fennel and the celery leaves around the shrimp. Divide the soup among the bowls and serve.

Tony's wine recommendation:
fino or manzanilla Sherry; Sercial


Chicken Roulade

While this recipe has a batch of ingredients, it's still easy enough for the novice cook to produce. Go on, you know you want to impress him with your first dinner at home... this is the one to serve!

It's a featured treat at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort and Spa in North Bonneville, Washington, and the finished roulade becomes a work of art worthy of your best china! Each slice displays a colourful garland of filling... which, by the way, can be adapted to the season. For instance, in winter think sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and pine nuts. Whatever combo you use, this yummy dish will still leave you room for dessert!

From The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest.

Serves 2

  • ½ Tbsp butter
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallots
  • 1¼ cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 Tbsp dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
  • 1/3 cup grated white cheddar cheese
  • Additional fresh herbs (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the butter and oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the spinach, cook until slightly wilted. Deglaze with the wine. Let cool.
  2. Cut two 6-inch squares of parchment paper and two 12-inch squares of aluminum foil; center a parchment square on each foil square. Brush the parchment with the melted butter; sprinkle with the rosemary, sage, and parsley. Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap; using a meat mallet, carefully pound the chicken to about ¼ inch thick; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place each chicken breast in the center of a parchment square.
  3. Mix the mushroom mixture with the egg, bread crumbs and cheese. Divide the mixture evenly and pat in to the centers of the breasts. Roll up the chicken, jelly roll-style, in the parchment and then the foil. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until heated through.
  4. To serve, remove the parchment and foil and place each chicken breast on an individual plate. Garnish with fresh herbs.

This is a subtle, seduction finish to the perfect meal; it says I'm serious, sensuous, talented and playful! Your dinner partner will be more than intrigued... now it's up to you for the next move!

Tony's wine recommendation:
white Burgundy, oak-aged Chardonnay, white Bordeaux


Full Tilt Dark Chocolate with Zabaglione

OK, so you're a graduate engineer and a very good one, and quite smitten with a gorgeous artist. She's interested, but sometimes wishes you'd were a touch more romantic, and perhaps creative! Dazzle her with this dessert; it's an irresistible combination of both technical prowess and cooking talent displayed in dark chocolate and zabaglione, and the ingredients plus the presentation will have her gasping. This proves just how good you really are! Before she arrives, light the fire and chill the bubbly... and don't forget to remove the pocket pen protector!

  • 2½ tsp (1 package) unflavoured gelatin
  • 1½ cups tepid water, divided
  • ½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup premium unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 5 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup sweet Marsala
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream, whipped and chilled

To make the slant:
You will need to find a prop to set 6 narrow, 6-ounce dessert glasses at an angle. (Small paperback books work well.) Take 1 glass and fill it with 1/3 cup water. On a baking tray, prop the glass at an angle so that the water comes to ¼ to ½ inch from its rim and support the glass at that angle. Then, use small pieces of floral putty (or other nonpermanent putty) to prop the rest of the glasses at the same angle. Empty the water from the first glass and prop it with floral putty as well. Set aside.

To make the chocolate:
In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup of the water and let stand for 1 minute to soften. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the gelatin dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a heavy, 1-quart saucepan, gently whisk the remaining 1 cup water, the cream, brown sugar and cocoa powder until blended and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until combines. Let the mixture cool slightly, then divide the chocolate among the prepared glasses, about 1/3 cup each. You may find a funnel helps to control the chocolate as you pour it into the glasses. (Any leftovers can be poured into a small dish for the cook to sample!) Carefully transfer the pan with the glasses to the refrigerator, and refrigerate until firm.

To make the zabaglione:
It doesn't take long, and the fresher the better. About 16 minutes before serving, in a double boiler, combine the egg yolks with the sugar. Using a whisk or hand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the mixture until pale, about 3 minutes. Place over barely simmering water and add the Marsala, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick, foamy and warm to the touch, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the zabaglione has cooled slightly.

Fold the slightly cooled zabaglione into the whipped cream. Remove the chilled chocolate from the refrigerator and, holding each glass at a 45-degree angle, slowly fill the empty space with zabaglione, gradually righting the glass as you fill it. Repeat with remaining glasses and serve immediately.

Then pop the question!

Tony's wine recommendation:
10 Year Old Tawny Port, Cream sherry, Marsala


We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

Sasquatch Books, for The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest, by Carol Frieberg.

Publishers Group West and Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA for Sex, Death and Oysters by Robb Walsh. © 2009 by Robb Walsh. Cover design by Kimberly Glyder.

Raincoast Publishers Vancouver and Chronicle Books San Francisco for the Eiffel Tower Restaurant Cookbook by Chef Jean Joho with Chandra Ram. Text © 2008 by French Café LLC. Photographs © 2008 by Susie Cushner.

Raincoast Publishers Vancouver and Chronicle Books San Francisco for Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry with Jane Zwinger. Text © 2008 by Sara Perry. Photographs © 2008 by France Ruffenach.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (117 KB)




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