Valentine's Day Menu:
Cooking for Two

Food & Drink
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Photos: Courtesy of Chronicle Books

This Valentine's Day, skip the overly crowded restaurant, roll up your sleeves, and spend some quality time together in the kitchen. Food writer and blogger Sarah Copeland, whose Newlywed Cookbook just hit shelves, shared a romantic Valentine's Day dinner menu with Brides.com.

The main course is a hearty short ribs dish paired with creamy polenta and a salad of roasted beets and pistachios. And for dessert: slices of a bittersweet chocolate tart, sprinkled with smoky sea salt. Click here for the full menu and recipes.


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Big-Flavor Braised Short Ribs (Serves 4)

Short Ribs
1 bay leaf
Sprig of thyme
1 garlic clove
5 whole black peppercorns
2 1/2 lb beef short ribs {about 8 pieces}
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine {such as Sauvignon Blanc}
3 cups low-sodium beef or chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut in 2-in chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in 2-in chunks

Gremolata
1 lemon
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Melted Polenta
3 cups water
1 cup polenta
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup aged or smoked gouda cheese, grated

Make the short ribs: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Wrap the bay leaf, thyme, garlic, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string to make an herb sachet.

Place the ribs on piece of parchment/baking paper and season generously on all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other wide, heavy ovenproof pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the ribs and cook to a deep brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the ribs to a plate.

Add the white wine to the pan and scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen the brown bits. Add the broth and return the ribs to the pan along with the onion, carrots, celery, and herb sachet. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; as soon as it reaches a constant simmer, transfer to the oven and cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 2 1/2 hours, stirring once to make sure that all sides are immersed in the cooking liquid.

Remove the ribs and large vegetables to a plate, leaving any small or delicate bits of vegetables behind. Cover the meat with aluminum foil to keep warm. Place the Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat; skim any excess fat off the broth with a large shallow spoon. Simmer the liquid over medium heat until it has thickened slightly and reduced to about 1 3/4 cups of sauce, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the Gremolata: Use a vegetable peeler to strip two or three long pieces of lemon zest from the lemon. Slice the zest as thinly as possible with a sharp knife and stir together with the parsley and olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.

Make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Slowly add the polenta and stir together with a wooden spoon. Season with the salt. Decrease the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add the milk, butter, and cheese to the polenta and stir together over medium-low heat until just warmed through and just soft enough to drop easily from a spoon.

Serve two ribs per person on top of a bed of melted polenta or mashed potatoes in shallow bowls or plates. Spoon the cooked carrots around the sides. Top the ribs with a generous heap of the Gremolata. Serve with the cooking liquid to spoon over.



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Roasted Beets with Pistachios (Serves 4 to 6)

2 large beets/beetroots or 1 bunch baby beets/beetroots {about 1 1/4 lb}, tops trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cara cara, navel, or blood oranges, peeled and cut in thick rounds
1/4 cup shelled Sicilian pistachios or regular pistachios {about 1 1/4 oz}
4 oz ricotta salata cheese
Small handful of fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Trim the beet/beetroot tops to 1 in and scrub the skins. Drizzle the beets generously with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put them in a small roasting pan with 1/4 in of water. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil.

Roast until the beets are just fork tender, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size. Set aside until cool enough to handle; cut off the root and stem ends and scrape off the skins {they should slip off easily} with a knife. Quarter large beets or halve smaller ones and toss with additional olive oil just to coat, and salt and pepper.

Arrange them on a plate with the oranges, pistachios, and thin shavings of ricotta salata cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh mint.



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Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Smoked Sea Salt (Serves 12)

Crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 cup all-purpose/plain flour

Filling
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
7 oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped {1 heaping cup}
1 large egg, beaten

Smoked sea salt {optional}
Crème fraîche {optional}

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Make the crust: Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and stir until it feels like damp sand. Press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of an 8-in square or 9-in round tart pan/flan tin with a removable bottom {which makes it much easier to remove the tart in one piece. If you don't have a tart pan/flan tin, you can make this tart in a springform pan; press the dough evenly across the bottom and only about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 in up the side of the pan}. Use wax/greaseproof paper or buttered fingers to even out and press the dough tightly into the corners. Prick the crust all over with a fork and chill in the fridge until ready to bake, about 30 minutes.

Set the pan on a baking sheet/tray and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Make the filling: While the crust bakes, bring the cream, milk, sugar, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, without stirring. Starting in the middle of the pan, whisk together until the chocolate is evenly melted and the mixture a smooth and a shiny dark brown.

Whisk the beaten egg into the chocolate filling and pour the filling directly into the hot crust. Decrease the oven to 300°F and return the tart to the oven. Bake until the filling is set, but still a little wiggly in the center, about 15 minutes (temperatures vary from oven to oven, so the visual clue is more important than time}. Set your timer for 13 minutes. If it looks mostly set at that point, test it by opening the oven door a crack and carefully jiggle the tart pan/flan tin with the edge of your oven mitt. Only the center third should wobble. If it wobbles all the way to the edge, close the door quickly and continue baking about 2 minutes more.

Remove and cool the tart completely on a rack at room temperature. Just before the tart cools and sets completely, sprinkle a few large flakes of smoked salt on the surface, or leave plain.

Remove the tart from the pan sides and carefully transfer to a platter before serving. Let it cool just until it slices easily. It melts in your mouth when served slightly warm, with a dollop of crème fraîche, if you wish, for extra decadence. Or cool completely, and serve by itself.

P.S. The deep, smoky flavor of smoked sea salt is a fine complement to the rich chocolate, but this tart is just as elegant with big flakes of white sea salt, or if you're a chocolate purist, no salt at all.

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