Monday, February 10, 2014

A Menu For Valentine's Day

                            Salmon with Pomegranate Butter Sauce and Couscous
                                       Chocolate & Earl Grey Pots de Crème

(Listening: Aaron Parks: ”Arborescence”)

In a restaurant Valentine’s Day is one of the nights often called “amateur night," referring to the large increase in customers with less dining experience and more demands. The term was first used on occasions when there would be a greater number of people getting unpleasantly drunk (think New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, etc.). It has gone on to refer to any overcrowded, often unpleasant night in a restaurant.
Save yourself the hassles and dine in. This is an easy and approachable menu. Things can be made in advance, leaving just the final cooking.
Besides, everyone loves it when one’s significant other can cook.
The pots de crème need to be made ahead of time so that they can chill thoroughly, so making it one to two days before you need it cuts down on last minute work.
The pomegranate sauce is a variation of the classic beurre blanc, substituting pomegranate juice for wine: reduce the juice, swirl in a little butter at the end and it’s ready. It pairs beautifully with salmon. Couscous is an effortless accompaniment.
This menu will make you look like a pro. Make dessert first, one or two days ahead.

Chocolate & Earl Grey Pot de Crème     
The flavor of Earl Grey tea (which comes from bergamot, a variety of orange) pairs beautifully with chocolate. This recipe can’t be  “scaled down” to two serving. This will make three 4- ounce servings. Use any ovenproof  ramekins or dishes to hold the custard.

1 cup half and half
One Earl Grey tea bag
3 Egg yolks (Grade A large eggs)
2 Tablespoons Sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (58% or higher), chopped

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Place the half & half into a small saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat; warm until the half & half begins to simmer. Add the tea bag, remove from the heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the half & half into a bowl through a fine strainer; press the tea bag to extract as much tea flavor. Remove and discard the tea bag. Measure the half & half making sure there is one cup remaining; if not add additional half and half to make one cup. Return the half & half to the saucepan.
3. Add the egg yolks to a bowl and whisk in the sugar and vanilla until dissolved. Set aside. Reheat the half & half until it begins to simmer. Remove pan from heat and whisk a few tablespoons of the hot liquid into the egg mixture (this is referred to as tempering the egg yolks). Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and cook the custard mixture; use a silicone spatula to stir. As you stir press the spatula on the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat as needed. The custard is cooked when there is no light colored foam on top of the mixture and the custard is a uniform color; it will read at least 168 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Strain the cooked custard into a bowl through a fine strainer; this should help remove any bits of cooked egg that might be in the custard (don’t worry, this happens to everyone.) Add the chopped chocolate to the hot custard mixture and stir until the chocolate has melted.
4. Divide the custard mixture between the individual ramekins or baking dishes. Place the dishes into a larger baking pan. Pour hot water into the pan around the dishes; the water should come up halfway outside the ramekins. Carefully place the pan into the oven and bake the custards for 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard had set. Remove from oven. Let cool before removing the ramekins from the water bath. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Pan Seared Salmon with Pomegranate Butter Sauce
  with Pistachio and Pomegranate Couscous
The couscous can be make while the salmon is cooking or made right before you cook the salmon. The basic rule for cooking any fish is 10 minutes cooking time for every 1” of thickness for well done. If you like your salmon more on the rare side, reduce the cooking time.

Pistachio & Pomegranate Couscous
You can omit the pistachios or the pomegranate seeds. To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, cut a ripe pomegranate in half, "across the equator" of the pomegranate. Hold the pomegranate cut side down in you hand. Tap the pomegranate with a wooden spoon. The seeds should drop out into your hand.
For two servings:
2/3 cup couscous
¾ cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon pomegranate seeds
1 Tablespoon chopped pistachios
1. Place the water, salt and olive oil into a small saucepan. Place pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and stir. Remove from heat, cover and let stand until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Before serving fluff the couscous with a fork to separate the individual grains. Add the pistachios and pomegranate seeds and stir to combine.

Pan Seared Salmon with Pomegranate Butter Sauce
For two servings:
Two 4 to 6 ounce Salmon fillets
Salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil, for cooking
½ cup pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 Tablespoon and 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1. For the sauce, place a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the shallot, cooking to soften the shallot, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not brown. Off heat, add the pomegranate juice and honey to the pan; stir to combine the juice with the honey. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture is reduced to about 3 Tablespoons. Remove from heat and reserve.
2. Place a non-stick pan over high heat. Pat the salmon fillets dry with a paper towel. Season the salmon with salt and black pepper. When the pan is hot, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan. Place the salmon skin side up into the pan. Cook the salmon until golden brown, then turn the salmon over and continue cooking to your preferred degree of doneness (see note above). Remove the salmon to a paper towel lined plate; cover and keep warm.
3. Warm the couscous over low heat. To finish the sauce, return the pomegranate juice reduction to the stove and warm. Swirl/whisk in the tablespoon of butter until the sauce is glossy. Remove from heat.
4. Plate the salmon and the couscous. Spoon the pomegranate sauce over the salmon and serve. Pour some wine, light some candles. Serve the pots de crème for dessert. Honey, disconnect the phone.

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