Company and Creativity
Sometimes I am asked, “What's the best thing to serve for a Valentine’s Day dinner?” I love the question. There are so many good answers. Of course it depends. It depends on your own personal preferences, on what you have time for, on who you plan to share the meal with.
The answer might be a carefully choreographed seven-course menu. It might be a thoughtfully prepared entrée with a simple salad and dessert. It might be a loaf of crusty bread with cheese and olives picked up at your favorite deli followed by champagne and chocolates. More than the menu, the perfect Valentine's Day dinner is about the company you keep and the creativity you bring to the table.
I think a Valentine’s Day dinner shines when it includes a little hands-on involvement. That can take the form of a home-cooked meal or a handwritten Valentine. It can be shared in a carefully set table or given voice through a thoughtfully selected playlist. It can also take expression in an invitation to dig-in with all of your senses as dinner is served.
Grappling with Dinner
I like an invitation to grapple with my food. Think of lobster or crab legs, fondue or fried chicken, unpeeled oranges or unshelled nuts. I like breaking apart fortune cookies to find out what’s inside or dipping into a bowl of chocolate ganache to roll truffles with a friend. It can be fun to work at uncovering your meal, bite by bite. While it makes dinner more of a challenge it tends to prolong and expand the experience, making it more of an event to linger over and enjoy.
Another hands on dish I enjoy is a Cornish hen. A Cornish hen is a perfect size for sharing with a significant dinner partner while still saving plenty of room for dessert. You can cut a roasted Cornish hen in half in the kitchen, serving each half on a separate bed of rice. I think it is more fun, though, to serve it whole, one hen plated to be shared with your Valentine.
Add a hearty appetizer to the menu, to optimize patience with the main course. Serve it with an easily enjoyed side dish; roasted potatoes or root vegetables, for example. Then cozy up with your Valentine, side by side or across a small intimate table, and savor your entrée together... saving at least a little room for a special dessert.
Roast Cornish Hens
with Red Fruit and Orange Bourbon Sauce
1 Cornish hen, rinsed and patted dry
½ clementine or lemon
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
½ Tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup orange juice concentrate
2 Tablespoons bourbon
¼ cup dried cherries and/or cranberries (soaked in 1 Tablespoon bourbon or orange juice)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Rub a bit of oil on the inside of a small roasting pan.
Rub the hen with a halved clementine or lemon, inside and out. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and tuck the citrus rind inside the cavity along with several springs of fresh thyme.
Place the chicken in the prepared roasting pan breast side up tucking it into shape. (I don't bother to tie it or truss it.)
Rub about 1 Tablespoon of butter all over the skin of the chicken. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Separate the skin from the chicken breast with your fingers, creating a pocket. Tuck several leaves of thyme, rosemary or sage into the pocket over each breast, if desired.
Place the roasting pan in the middle of a hot oven and roast the chicken, uncovered, at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 170 - 180 degrees, or until juices run clear when cut between a leg and thigh, approximately 30 minutes more.
Remove from oven, tent with foil, and let the chicken rest for 10 or 15 minutes.
Blend 1 Tablespoon butter with ½ Tablespoon flour in a small bowl.
Heat chicken broth and orange juice concentrate in a small skillet or saucepan. Boil for several minutes to reduce the liquid and blend flavors.
Add the bourbon and simmer for another minute.
Whisk in the flour mixture and the soaked cherries and/or cranberries. Simmer sauce, stirring often, until it begins to thicken, about 2 minutes.
Spoon sauce over the Cornish hen.
Serve with a rice pilaf or Roasted Potatoes.
Share with a friend.