It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I know you are still wondering what to do. We all spend a lot of time looking for something new and creative to do. We all want to “keep it fresh”. Well, I’ve been married for almost 20 years and let me tell you it gets hard. I am a devotee of the classics. Let’s do a romantic dinner. That’s not to say we can’t shake things up a little bit. If you or your significant other are certified chocoholics, like me, how about a meal that has chocolate in every single course?
There is so much to love about chocolate but what you need to know here is that it starts out as cacao, which is mouth wincing bitter. Don’t be scared, that gives you control. That bitter cacao nib is a chameleon. Once add sugar, fat and cream, with a little mixing, you can have the sweet Hershey Kiss from your childhood or a complex and award winning delicacy.
In a typical three-course meal, you’ll start with salad. Let’s make milk chocolate vinaigrette. The milk chocolate is an emulsifier that creates a welcome creaminess. Serve the vinaigrette it over greens that included purple radicchio. Radicchio is a little bitter so it cuts the sweetness. Spinach adds necessary balance. To round out the salad add Asian pear for a tart crunch and diced cranberries for their sweet chewy flavor.
The star of the main course is a fennel seed and cacao nib rubbed pork tenderloin. The secret really is the rub. The rub is a blend of cacao nibs, fennel seeds, cinnamon and cayenne with cocoa powder and brown sugar bounces all over your mouth. The recipe calls for grinding the nibs and seeds in a mortar and pestle. The result will be quite coarse. If you’d like a finer texture you can use a coffee grinder or food processor. Remember though, the finer the rub, the less pungent the flavor. Is the rub sweet or spicy? The rub will seal your juices in while cooking so you won’t need any other sauce than the glorious juices as they pour out when sliced.
In keeping with the play on sweet and spicy the pork is served with a charred cauliflower in a picada sauce. Picada is similar to a pesto. This recipe uses; bitter dark chocolate, Marcona almonds, garlic, parsley and a touch of sweet sherry. The cauliflower should be tender, almost creamy, inside and just charred on the outside. There are so many great textures in your mouth.
In moments of humility and mistakes often come our greatest success and sweetness. Dessert comes from one of those moments. I misread a recipe that called for teaspoons of flour and sugar as tablespoons and the result is more like a rich, incredible brownie than cake. It won’t look so pretty when you first turn it out, so decorate with abandon. You can try whatever fresh berries in season. For a more elegant presentation, sift some powdered sugar through a lace doily and add some fresh herbs. I always say if it smells good together it will taste good together so get creative; how about some tarragon or thyme? If you are short on time a dollop of fresh whipped cream will work too.
Here’s the truth, I did not take pictures the last time I made this and don’t want to use stock pictures from the internet. I promise to post pictures as soon as I can. Finally, it appears I can only do one recipe per post so I will send the recipes one after the other.
I wish you and your loved one a very meaningful Valentine’s Day!
Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette
Melt chocolate and stir until smooth.
Whisk in vinegar, honey, salt and pepper.
While whisking continuously, drizzle in oil until thickened and combined.
Divide arugula/spinach among plates. Top with pear, cranberries and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve immediately.