Cooking On A Budget: Valentines Day Menu

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentines Day Menu


How do you celebrate Valentines Day without breaking the bank? Many restaurants gear up with a special menu but they really jack up the prices. And if they are overbooked you may not get the best service. Do you really want all that noise around you as well? Isn't Valentines supposed to be that one on one romantic date? Or is it? Why not share that time with your loved one and a few really good friends - let's say at your place.
That's what one woman was doing many years ago when I owned my food to go restaurant. It was her and her husband and 3 other couples. I had prepared a special Valentines menu and asked for people to "order in advance". The feedback I received on that dinner was incredible. Everyone loved it and it was priced so reasonably. I recall that the woman who ordered the dinner for her and three other couples mentioned that a friend of hers ordered from a more "upscale" food to go place. Her friend ended up coming in to my place about a week later and told me she paid triple for her Valentines dinner and had to cook all of the prepackaged items. Needless to say she wished she had ordered my dinner.
I still remember the menu and want to share it with you.
  • Stuffed Cornish Hens with a Blackberry/Merlot reduction Sauce
  • Long grain and wild rice
  • Carrots with a brown butter sage sauce
  • Chocolate covered strawberries (An added option is to drizzle of white chocolate
I so wish I had some photographs of that dinner. It was packed in oven proof containers so that it could be popped in a regular oven to be warmed up and the customers loved every thing. For the time being I can at least write up how I pulled it all together. You could replace Cornish hens with a whole chicken. Figure one Cornish hen per person or one small 3-4 lb. chicken for two.

Preparing the stuffing.
In a bowl add all of the following ingredients:
  • 1 small bag of non-seasoned stuffing mix
  • 1/2 of a roll of regular pork sausage - Jimmy Dean or Jones
  • 1/2 cup each celery and onions - finely diced
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups warm chicken broth
  • 1 egg
  • 4 oz. melted butter plus extra for drizzling over the poultry
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
  • Salt to taste

With your hands combine all ingredients and stuff each hen or the chicken with the stuffing mix.  Place the hens in a roasting pan and drizzle some melted butter over each one. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven. Be sure and baste throughout the roasting process.  Toward the end of the roasting time, start basting with some of the blackberry reduction and save the rest for plating. Stick an instant read thermometer into the leg all the way to the bone to determine if your "bird" is at the proper temperature of 165 degrees.

For the Sauce:
  • 2 pints of fresh blackberries
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Merlot wine
  • 1/3 cup water  
In a sauce pot add the blackberries, the brown sugar and water. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat until the berries begin to break down and the sauce is bubbling. Add in the Merlot and cook for about 20 - 30 minutes on medium low to reduce the mixture to a somewhat syrup consistency. Remove from the heat. Glaze the Cornish hens or the small chickens with the glaze and save the rest for saucing when the hens are done.
For the Carrots:
  • Carrots
  • Butter
  • Fresh Sage leaves - finely minced - about 1 1/2 tbsp.
  1. Peel and cut as many carrots as you think you will need. Cut the carrots on the bias for better presentation.
  2. Cook the carrots to the al dente stage - just when you can stick the tip of a knife in them easily. Drain the carrots.
  3. In a larger saute pan or frying pan, melt 1/2 stick of butter over medium heat. Let the butter start to bubble and take it to a brown stage - but not burnt. Keep an eye on it. Add in the fresh sage leaves and turn the heat way down and keep stirring to get all of the sage taste incorporated into the butter.
  4. Add the carrots in and stir and cook for a couple of minutes. You are ready to serve the carrots with the sauce over them.
You can make your own version of Long Grain and Wild Rice or use Uncle Ben's Original Long Grain and Wild Rice. Just follow the box directions. I find this a very tasty product.

The chocolate covered strawberries are fairly simple. Wash the berries and leave the tops in tact.
In a glass bowl add 2 cups of semisweet chocolate bits and use the microwave to melt them or place the bowl on top of a sauce pot that contains water and melt them that way. For added sheen when the chocolate has melted add in 1 tbsp. of butter. Dip the berries in the chocolate and when they are all done place the tray in the refrigerator.

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