Make your Valentine's Day sizzle with steak

CookingWinesRestaurantsWeatherDining and DrinkingKevin KlineMeg Ryan

There's little that's more romantic than a wonderful dinner enjoyed a deux in a cozy setting. With Valentine's Day in the offing, restaurant phones (and websites) are undoubtedly busy taking reservations for just such tete-a-tetes.

If you're into the "cooking is showing love" lifestyle, however, an even more romantic way to spend an evening with your honey is to fix a lovely meal you don't have to go out for. Dinner, and even a movie, seems just the thing for telling someone you have feelings for him (or her).

One of our favorite movies is "French Kiss," starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. It's funny and romantic, and not too girlie — if you take my meaning. It can provide a lighthearted background for you and your long-time love live-in while you enjoy the dinner — French, of course — that you lovingly prepare.

Our romantic French-style dinner for two features three courses. First up is some seafood. Not oysters — too obvious — but sea scallops. We like a dry white wine with this course. It should have a French name, of course — like Chardonnay — but needn't be imported.

Steak au poivre is our main dish. Simple, and ideal for us last-minute types. We like a pinot noir with this. It goes nicely with the warm spinach salad we fix to go with.

And for dessert? Ooh-la-la. Some petite choux (meaning little cabbages, roughly because of their free-form shapes), or if you prefer, call them profiteroles. We save the sparkling wine for dessert. Something soft and a bit on the sweet side. Either a sparkling rose, or even Asti Spumante.

Ah, l'amour.

Noix de Saint-Jacques Dorees

Translated, this means "golden" sea scallops, which get their gilt from a bit of curry powder and turmeric, as well as the fact that we only pan-fry the scallops on one side. This dish only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and another 15 to cook. You can do much of the prep work ahead. Some French baguette slices do well here.

1 large leek (about 3/4 pound), white part only

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

Freshly ground pepper

Pinch each curry powder and turmeric

1/2 cup heavy cream

About 1/3 of a bunch of chives, chopped

12 large sea scallops, rinsed well, patted dry

Juice of half of a lemon (about 1 tablespoon), divided

About 2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut white part of leeks lengthwise into 4 strips, then cut crosswise into 1/2 -inch pieces.

Wash well to remove any dirt. Pat very dry.

In a large, non-stick skillet over high, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook leeks for 1 minute, stirring. Add some pepper, and the curry powder and turmeric, then let any residual water in pan evaporate over high heat for about 1 1/2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-high. Add cream and cook, keeping liquid at the boiling point and stirring often, until leeks have a soft, melt-in-your-mouth consistency, about 5 minutes. Add chives. Stir well. Remove from heat and keep handy.

In another large, non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add scallops, at room temperature, and cook on one side only, just to the point when the uncooked side of the scallops just begin to lose their translucency. Immediately remove from heat.

Just before serving, stir some of the lemon juice, and the olive oil into the leek mixture. Taste, adding more lemon juice if desired.

To serve, arrange six scallops in a circle on each of two luncheon plates, golden side up. Use a slotted spoon to place a small mound of leek mixture in center of scallops. Drizzle leeks and scallops with some of the sauce. Serve more on the side, if desired. Makes 2 servings.

Steak au Poivre

Simply translated, this means peppered steak. The only secret to this recipe is to obtain the very best rib-eye steaks you can.

If you have a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, that's the tool to use. Otherwise, a heavy skillet whose handle can survive a 375-degree oven will do the trick.

2 smallish bone-in rib eye steaks (about 1 pound each), at room temperature

4 teaspoons coarse black pepper

1/3 cup brandy

1/3 cup heavy cream

4 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar

1 teaspoon coarsely crushed black peppercorns

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Sea salt, for sprinkling, optional

Heat oven to 375 degrees. On stove top, heat a cast-iron or heavy, oven-proof skillet over high heat. Pat steaks dry and press 2 teaspoons black pepper into each steak (both sides). Put steaks into skillet and cook until blackened and they are easy to lift (with a spatula) from the skillet's surface. Turn steaks and place in heated oven. Cook to desired doneness (insta-read thermometer should read 125 degrees for medium rare).

Remove skillet from oven and transfer steaks to a cutting board; cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

Put skillet back on stove, over medium heat. Carefully add brandy and use a fireplace match to ignite it to burn off alcohol. Add cream, vinegar and peppercorns and simmer until quite thick. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Taste for seasonings; add sea salt if you must.

To serve, slice steaks and place on individual plates. If desired, drizzle some sauce over each serving and pass remaining sauce on the side. Or pass the sauce separately.

Warm spinach salad

We combine spinach and radicchio and toss with a warm, balsamic-based dressing. We prepare some Parmesan toasts to go with the salad and the scallops.

Make the Parmesan toasts ahead. Prep the salad stuff, too. Pour the warm dressing over the greens just before serving.

1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach, stems trimmed, if needed

Half of a small radicchio head, thinly sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons dry red wine

1 small shallot, minced

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

[Toasts]

One-half of a French-bread baguette

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small garlic clove, pressed

One-half cup (packed) grated Parmesan cheese

For the toasts, heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice baguette on a sharp diagonal, making about 10 quarter-inch thick slices.

In a small pan, melt butter with olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Remove from heat and brush butter mixture over both sides of bread slices. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese on bread. Add pepper, and salt if using. Bake about 13 minutes, until crisp. (If making ahead, cool completely and store in an airtight container. Gently heat in oven for a few minutes before serving with salad).

For the salad, in a medium bowl, combine spinach and radicchio. In a small pan, over medium heat, bring oil, vinegar, wine and shallot to a simmer. Immediately pour dressing over salad. Cover with foil and let stand 5 minutes; this wilts the spinach. Toss salad to coat with dressing. Divide some of the salad between 2 plates. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Serve with warm Parmesan toasts.

French kisses

You can get filled puff pastry desserts from your grocer's freezer, but knowing how to make these charming little morsels is a good skill to have in your repertoire. And winter's a good time to make them, as the air in the house is rather dry, and the puffs don't absorb any moisture from the atmosphere.

Filling them will be a snap. You could make a custard-y filling, but ice cream and store-bought hot fudge sauce, plus your own homemade whipped cream will serve you just fine.

You can also make the choux (pronounced "shoe") a bit larger and fill them with warm chicken salad (or whatever) for an interesting gourmet appetizer.

1 cup water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

3 eggs, plus 1 egg, at room temperature

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a heavy, medium saucepan, over high heat, combine water, butter, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until butter has melted, about 1 minute.

Add flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from sides of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Beat in 3 of the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg well before adding the next one.

Break remaining egg into a small bowl, beat it, then pour about half of it into the pastry, enough to make a soft, shiny mixture. Save remaining egg mixture.

Butter a baking sheet. Use a pastry bag to pipe batter onto baking sheet. Or, use 2 regular teaspoons to scoop up some batter and gently press it into 11/2 inch balls, then push ball onto baking sheet. Leave about 2 inches between each pastry ball. Beat leftover egg again and lightly brush it over the tops of the pastry balls.

Bake until golden and about twice their original size, about 20 minutes. Remove to rack to cool almost completely. Use a sharp knife to cut a small slit in each "kiss" to help keep them from absorbing moisture from the air.

Can make early in the day. Leave at room temperature.

When ready to serve, slice open almost all the way. Fill with favorite ice cream. Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce. Add some whipped cream. How 'bout a few strawberries on each plate, for color?

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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