By: Brianna Bates
For this Valentine’s Day, plan a date-night-in that will rival any fancy restaurant experience but will guarantee a softer blow to your budget. Whoever said the key to a man’s heart was through his stomach was very wise, but I think a little narrow in his or her scope. Personally, if a man not only cooked me dinner but planned a whole menu catered to my specific tastes, I would be hard-pressed to let him go. In my experience, the best meals I’ve cooked that have gotten the coveted “marry-me-now” reaction are the simple recipes that hover somewhere between comfort food and gourmet trends — favorite foods kicked up a notch. As a rule of thumb, try to pick recipes that you’re somewhat familiar with. Now is not the time to try out the new molecular gastronomy trend that is popular on your favorite foodie television show. Pick something you know he or she likes and add a few gourmet twists to amp up the sophistication level. We have the perfect recipes that will take your favorite foods beyond the every day. With just a little bit of prep and a whole lot of love, you too can impress your significant other and, most importantly of all, enthrall his or her taste buds.
Chances are, your guy or gal will come through the door with his or her tummy rumbling, hovering around the kitchen as you prepare the meal. To get them out from under your feet and hold them over until the big shebang, have this Baked Brie already assembled and slowly melting in the oven. When your dinner guest arrives, pop it out of the oven and onto a tray full of crispy crackers and adorned with luscious grapes. Set them up with a refreshing glass of wine and watch them dig into this creamy and addictive before-dinner treat.
You will need:
1 8 oz. package Crescent roll dough
1 7 oz. round French Brie
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Carefully spread the crescent roll dough out flat onto the cookie sheet, making sure to press any seams that come apart back together. Place the cheese, rind intact, in the middle of the dough. Spread the apricot preserves over the top of the Brie. Starting with opposite corners, bring the dough over the tops of the cheese. Finish with the two opposite corners that are left. If desired, reserve some dough for cutouts to be placed on top. Bake for 20-24 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately serve with crackers.
The Perfect Steak
Restaurant-style steaks at home are something of a rare accomplishment, but not for the reasons you might think. Most people believe they are ill-equipped to cook their own steaks simply because they do not have the right tools. But armed with the right knowledge and a few simple tricks, and you too can serve up a sizzling sirloin that rivals any fancy steakhouse.
You will need:
2 steaks, cut of your choice
2 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper
At least an hour before you begin cooking, take the steaks out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle both sides liberally with coarse salt and let sit out until they reach room temperature. It is very important that they are not the least bit cold. After an hour, brush off the salt. Re-season the steak with salt and pepper, this time with normal proportions of salt. With a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet, heat the pan as high as your stove will allow. Once the skillet is extremely hot, place your steaks in the skillet and sear for a few minutes on each side until browned. Make sure to undercook your steaks because they will continue to cook after they are taken off the heat. Place a tablespoon of butter on top of each steak and let rest for at least 10 minutes before you serve. Cover with Red Wine Demi-Glace (recipe below) and enjoy!
Red Wine Demi-Glace
I believe nothing amplifies a great steak like a savory red wine reduction. To some steak purists, this addition might seem like blasphemy, but it instantly elevates even the most amateur of grill jobs. And what goes better together than red wine and red meat? Make this sauce an hour or two ahead of time for an effortless accoutrement.
You will need:
1/4 cup butter
1 large shallot, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup red wine
2 cups beef stock
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter and cook the shallot until tender. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Add the wine and beef stock and let simmer for about an hour over medium heat. The sauce will reduce about 1/3 of the way and become slightly thicker. Server over steak and enjoy!
Fancy Mac ‘n’ Cheese
This side dish is nothing compared to your Blue Box childhood favorite, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a sizzling steak. Fancy Macaroni and Cheese might sound like an odd paradox. However, the addition of the premium cheeses, caramelized onion and bacon transform this common recipe into something out of the ordinary. Because of its creamy richness, a small scoop of this mac ‘n’ cheese goes a long way, and you’ll definitely want to add some fresh greens on the side. Balance it out with some steamed green beans or a leafy salad. Whip this recipe gem up for your date, and it just might guarantee you a spontaneous marriage proposal.
You will need:
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons of butter
1 medium-sized onion
5 pieces of bacon
1/8 cup of flour
1 cup of 2 percent milk
¼ cup of half and half
¼ cup Fontina cheese
¼ cup Gouda cheese
¼ cup Goat cheese
¼ cup shredded Italian cheese mixture
Cook your pasta half of the time specified on the package. Drain and set aside. Cook bacon and set aside. In a skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter. Sautee the onions for 10-12 minutes or until brown and tender. Set aside. In a large pot, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat to low and pour in the milk and half and half, stirring constantly. Stir for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cheeses and add a splash of extra milk if the cheese sauce is too thick. Check seasonings and add the onions and bacon. Add the cooked macaroni and stir to coat. Pour in an 8×8-inch square pan, sprinkle the tops with the breadcrumbs and cook for 20-25 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Chocolate Espresso Martini
Normally, I am a huge proponent of chocolatey baked goods as the perfect crowd pleaser, especially one geared toward impressing a crush. However, I am also a fan of the after-dinner drink as the perfect sweet ending to a meal. This Chocolate Espresso Martini not only plays off the usual chocolate dessert, but also serves as the obligatory after-dinner cup of coffee. Once your meal has ended yet the conversation has not, shake up this elegant yet playful martini and watch where the evening might take you.
You will need:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup brewed espresso, chilled
2/3 cup Kahlua
2/3 cup Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka
Melt the chocolate and ¼ cup water in a small, microwave-safe bowl stirring frequently. Let cool slightly. Fill the martini shaker with ice and fill with the espresso, Kahlua and vanilla vodka. Dip the rim of the martini glass into the cooled chocolate and fill with the alcohol mixture. Serve and enjoy!