I like to go out on Valentine’s Day for dinner about as much as I like to stay out all night on New Year’s Eve. You’ve got double the number of tables in the house, and “Prix Fixe,” overpriced, molten-chocolate-blah menus churned out one after another, along with the embarrassing sense you are a cliché incarnate. More than once this was me, the worst of them occurring at Japonais in Chicago at a tiny table so close to the table next door that one could not utter so much as a word unselfconsciously. The people were jammed in the restaurant entry watching and waiting for their own tiny table to open up soon, and a lady walked around the room with roses in a basket on her arm encouraging the men to buy one. Granted, I’m jaded by the lack of love and therefore humor that also attended that particular dinner with me; that rendered what was truly a dumb night far worse than dumb.
I always prefer to cook, or at least order in, at home on Valentine’s Day. This splendid Valentine menu works beautifully for a tête-a-tête just as well as for a family meal. It is, after all, a mid-week Valentine’s Day this year and the world hardly stops so we can spend the day preparing our hair and our food. Make the luscious meat a day or two ahead (it’s even better that way), and the incredibly moist chocolate cake too, and the rest of the dishes will come together in no time day of, ideally with a glass of pinot noir or bubbles in hand.
Braised short ribs, red wine reduction sauce
(1/2 lb. bone-in beef short ribs per person. Season with salt and pepper. Brown deeply on all sides over medium high heat in a heavy Dutch oven with a touch of olive oil; do this in batches, if needed, to keep plenty of space around each rib for browning. Remove the ribs with tongs, then lightly sauté a chopped onion and carrot in the pot. Still over heat, add a bit of decent red wine and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Return meat to the pan, then add enough liquid to just cover the meat, about 3 cups red wine, 3 cups beef broth, plus a bay leaf and a thyme stem. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 2 ½ hours. Refrigerate to solidify the fat, ideally overnight but same day works, two days just fine as well. Spoon off and discard fat, reheat ribs and sauce together on the stove top, then serve ribs with their sauce over mashed potatoes.)
Garlic mashed potatoes with chives
(Salt the cooking water when boiling the potatoes. Add a couple of peeled garlic cloves to the boil and mash into the potatoes with a little butter, cream cheese, warm milk, and chives. The mashers can be made ahead same evening and rewarmed over low heat, stirring.)
Jess Thompson’s simple roasted carrots with mustard and dill
Double chocolate cake, fluff icing
(Ultra-moist, ultra-delicious. Stay tuned.)
Remember to give your dining companion(s) a Valentine card, however simple…saying I love you, on paper, never gets old.