Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Menu starring Penne Bolognese and Chocolate Mousse, with Romaine Sweet Hearts and Roasted Garlic Potatoes

While Kevin and I really don't celebrate this Hallmark holiday, we always use it as an excuse to have a delicious meal and open a special bottle of wine. This year both the meal and the wine were the best EVER! I made a homemade bolognese sauce, and it was divine. Bolognese is a rich meat and tomato sauce that is simmered on the stovetop for a couple hours, imparting a rich earthiness and making the house smell amazing! Emeril's bolognese recipe called for a couple secret ingredients- cinnamon and nutmeg- and they really made the sauce incredible by adding a rich depth of flavor and smoky sweetness. The sauce was so delicious that I could have eaten it with a spoon!

Along with the pasta I served garlic bread, roasted broccoli, and roasted garlic potatoes, which were a delicious warm version of a potato salad with a flavorful and unique roasted garlic vinaigrette. As an appetizer I made a super cute salad called Romaine Sweet Hearts that featured avocado, artichokes and pomegranate seeds. And you can't forget dessert! The Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries was a delicious, light and flavorful end to the meal. Perfect for Valentine's Day!

Bolognese Sauce with Penne Pasta
Rich, thick, and meaty, this sauce is a star!
Serves 10 (make a big batch and freeze the leftovers!)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
1/2 pound pork sausage, removed from the casings, or ground pork
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef or chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pound penne or your favorite noodle
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the beef and sausages, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the cream, butter, and parsley, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and toss to blend. Divide among pasta bowls and serve with the cheese passed tableside. (Alternatively, toss only the desired portion of pasta with a bit of the sauce at a time in a serving bowl, reserving the remainder for another meal.)

Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

Romaine Sweet Hearts
A special salad for a special someone!
Serves 2

3 T. mayonnaise
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh mint OR combination fresh parsley and dill
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 c. chopped marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 avocado, chopped
4 T. pomegranate seeds
4 leaves romaine lettuce from the heart
Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl stir together the mayonnaise, herbs and lemon juice. Add the artichoke hearts and avocado and toss to combine. Season with salt. Spoon the salad onto the lettuce leaves and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top.

Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
A perfect side packed with bright garlic flavor
Serves 2

2 T. olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 baking potatoes or 4 new potatoes, quartered
2 T. minced chives
1 T. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine 1 T. olive oil with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of pepper, garlic, and potatoes in a greased roasting pan or jelly roll pan; toss well to coat. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until tender, stirring after 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Squeeze garlic cloves to extract pulp. Discard skins. Combine garlic pulp, 1 T. olive oil, more slat and pepper, chives, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl. Stir well with a whisk. Add potatoes to bowl; toss well to coat.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine

Chocolate Mousse with Freshly Whipped Cream and Strawberries
A creamy and ultra-satisfying end to a meal
Serves 4 

1 1/2 bar dark chocolate (3.5 oz. size)
1/4 c. strong prepared cooled coffee
4 fresh eggs
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 T. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Break the chocolate and put the chunks in a bowl. Place the bowl over boiling water until the chocolate has melted. Add the cooled coffee, and fold in the egg yolks one at a time.

Beat the egg whites into a hard foam in a separate bowl, then add it to the chocolate and mix. Allow to cool in the fridge.

Before serving make whipped cream by beating the cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until it reaches your desired consistency.

Serve a dollop of whipped cream on top of mousse with fresh strawberries. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from IKEA food

Wine of the Night
"The Poet" 2005
Cosentino Winery
Meritage Napa Valley Red Wine

The Poet is Cosentino Winery's flagship wine, and it is the first recognized American Meritage. "Meritage" is a name for a Bordeaux-blend of grapes that are grown on non-French soil. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot is exquisite. When Kevin and I were in Napa we tasted this wine and then joined Cosentino's wine club because it is just that amazing. (They also have many other fantastic wines!)It is deep ruby in color, exhibits tart cherry and currants up front, and evolves into a long spicy finish. A bright balanced wine with structure and richness. At $75 it is a very special occasion wine, so be sure to savor every sip! 

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