Forgetting to make dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day is a surefire way to spend a lonely night on the couch. Long waits in packed restaurants are up there with flowers and chocolates as must-haves on Feb. 14, even though a romantic meal of that caliber can require reservations made weeks in advance, not to mention a bill that makes buying a ring seem like an economical alternative.
So it’s no surprise that at-home Valentine’s Day celebrations are increasingly in vogue. And nowadays, you don’t even have to do-it-yourself when you do it yourself.
FreshDirect, the online grocery store, is offering a selection of three-course meals promising to arrive on our doorstep oven-ready and complete with a detailed presentation guide.
But when we’re planning a romantic meal for two, we’re not content to let just anyone thump our melons for us. In this case, we’ll be doing all the preparation ourselves.
In search of ways to wow our honeys without Brooklyn’s most coveted tables on our side, we sought out a few experts committed to transforming amorous amateurs into enamored epicures.
Laura Nuter, owner of the Grab Specialty Foods in Park Slope, said fondue was the perfect pre-meal teaser to get your appetites — for dinner and more visceral inklings — flowing.
Though traditional versions blend cheeses like Gruyere, Comté and Appenzeller, Nuter likes to “stink it up a bit.” To elevate the common fondue, she recommends adding a French cow’s milk cheese, such as Vaucherin Fribourgeois, or an herb-crusted Marachel, to the mix.
The cheese is traditionally melted with wine; go for crisp whites rather than sweet selections to complement and not overwhelm the flavor. Nuter suggests investing in a high-quality fondue pot to ensure an even consistency. She likes Swissmar sets: “They take the cheese out of fondue,” she joked, promptly putting the cheese right back in.
For help with a main course, we asked Aliyah Rowe, a chef who recently taught a pre-Valentine’s Day Cook & Learn course for All About Brooklyn — one of the many they run throughout the year. The course emphasized healthy alternatives to dining out on the big day.
Rowe’s main course suggestion was a simple, yet sensual, lemon-lavender chicken with baked quinoa, caramelized vegetables and broccoli sauté.
Cooking with hearty ingredients like quinoa (a protein-packed grain), beets and vegetables keep things savory but wholesome.
“What better way to express your love than to think about your partner’s body and health?” she asked.
Valentine’s Day isn’t famous for veggies, though. To get the lowdown on making dessert, we checked in with Dawn Casale and Dave Crofton of One Girl Cookies, who have also offered Valentine’s-themed lessons. On Feb. 6 they hosted a sold-out event, “For the Love of Chocolate,” that guided lovesick students through the basics of creating a chocolate cake for two.
“Couples often dine out so it’s not as special anymore,” said Casale. “Cooking for someone happens less frequently so it’s more of a treat.” If you didn’t make the class, or have yet to master the creme brulee torch, don’t fret — Casale has an idea or two to help you fake it like you baked it.
For serious dilettantes, she suggested serving store-bought ladyfingers topped with homemade whipped cream and berries. Homemade ice cream — if you’ve already got the equipment — is a simple way to impress a deserving lover. Or you could keep things light by simply topping a plate of fresh fruit with sabayon, a painlessly prepared wine-based custard.
And if your cream turns or your custard scalds, all is not lost. Make your way to One Girl for a pint of gelato and fresh brownies for an ad hoc dessert, or spread the love — Two Little Red Hens, a Park Slope mainstay for more than 12 years, offers treats like Secret Affair Squares (layers of almond cake topped with chocolate) which are perfect for dessert a deux.
Even with Brooklyn’s best backing us up, things — particularly in our kitchen — often go awry. In that spirit, we’ve worked out an escape plan to ensure a smooth transition should the smoke alarm sound.
Christine Zeni, chef and co-owner of catering outfit Luscious Brooklyn, will feature a three-course dinner-for-two of jumbo shrimp cocktail, osso buco served over a creamy polenta and a side dish, finished off with cupcakes, available at $65 for pickup or local delivery.
So, as the rest of the world becomes a frenzied coop of breathless trollops and beefy Fabios in anticipation of the great day, we’re sitting pretty, sipping our cocoa (chocolate’s an aphrodisiac, you know) and looking forward to cooking our way into the hearts and knickers of our significant others. Happy Valentine’s Day!
FreshDirect. To insure delivery on or before Feb. 14, order by Feb. 12. For information call (866) 283-7374 or visit www.freshdirect.com.
Grab (438 Seventh Ave. at 15th Street in Park Slope) is open Tuesday through Friday from 12 pm until 8pm, Saturday from 10 am until 7pm and Sunday from 10 am until 6 pm. For information call (718) 369-7595.
Luscious Brooklyn (59 Fifth Ave. at St. Mark’s Place in Park Slope) is open Monday through Friday from 11 am until 8.30 pm, on Saturday from 11 am until 7 pm and Sunday from 11 am until 6pm. For information call (718) 398-5800 or visit www.lusciousbrooklyn.com.
One Girl Cookies (68 Dean St. at Smith Street in Cobble Hill) is open is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am until 7 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am until 9 pm and on Sunday from 12 pm until 6pm. For information call (212) 675-4996 or visit www.onegirlcookies.com.
Two Little Red Hens (1112 Eighth Ave. at 11th Street in Park Slope) is open Monday through Friday from 7 am until 7 pm, Saturday from 8 am until 7 pm and Sunday from 8 am until 5 pm. For information call (718) 499-8108 or visit www.twolittleredhens.com.
For information about All About Brooklyn, Inc. call (718) 859-0229 or visit www.allaboutbrooklyn.com.