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Romance in a flash (almost)

Don't worry about going out, fix a speedy dinner at home for your sweetie

Don't worry about going out, fix a speedy dinner at home for your sweetie

February 14, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Procrastinators, you're in luck.

It might be too late to dine out on Valentine's Day if you've not made that reservation, but it's not too late to put together a last-minute - and romantic - Valentine's Day meal.

Local chefs say that a bit of sleight-of-hand gourmet with ingredients already in your fridge is all you need for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, and it's also easy to do if you're in a hurry.

For starters, know that today is not the time to experiment, says Steve Kemmet, chef and general manager at Antietam Cafe and Wine Bar in Sharpsburg.

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"Keep it simple, stupid," Kemmet says. "Don't try to experiment with something you don't know how to make."

That means salad, pasta and chicken are your friends. Soup and steak aren't bad choices, either.

Grayson Bowman, a sous-chef and caterer from Chambersburg, Pa., said he's convinced anyone could whip up his recipes for clam chowder, tuna salad, steak and velvet cake - in an hour.

"They're basic, and most people have (the ingredients) on hand," Bowman said.

But don't confuse basic with run of the mill, he said. The idea is to do something special, right?

The pros offer a few suggestions:

· Consider food's five prominent tastes - spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter - and incorporate at least three of the five, says Sarah Van Sciver, a chef and owner of Sarah's Heart of Cooking, a personal chef and catering business in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

· Scour the Web for recipes. "FoodTV.com is a good source," Kemmet says. The recipes at FoodTV.com, which directs Web users to FoodNetwork.com, leave room for interpretation, so "don't feel like you need to have all the ingredients in the recipe," says Kemmet, who recommends the Web site for sauce recipes.

· Hook up a salad. Toss pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, chopped walnuts and cucumbers with mixed greens, Van Sciver says. Top with a natural or organic salad dressing, which is available at most supermarkets. Or combine equal parts of olive oil and lemon juice, with a bit of salt and pepper, and some chopped fresh herbs of your liking, Van Sciver says.

· Don't rule out Asian cuisine. It requires lots of prep work, "but the cooking, that goes by so fast," said Curt Guyer, a personal chef and caterer in Frederick County, Md.

· Don't be a canned-food snob. "I'm perfectly fine with canned (diced) tomatoes," Guyer said. Whole tomatoes, Guyer said, might be too much trouble if the cook is pressured for time. "Canned whole tomatoes are a step away from sauce," Guyer said.

Bowman, the Chambersburg chef, blends canned and fresh clams in his clam chowder recipe.

What about the worst-case scenario, when there's no time to cook anything?

A trip to the supermarket's deli section might be the best option. "They've got some prepared meals at the grocery store that are decent," Guyer said.

Restaurant reservations are mostly booked, but some might set aside a few tables for last-minute reservations.

Antietam Cafe and Wine Bar will hold a couple of tables, "enough for two or three couples," Kemmet said.

But don't get your hopes up.

"We don't have anything available until after 8 p.m. (Valentine's Day)," said Chris Collison, a bartender at Al Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant in Hagerstown.

But those tables might not last long.

"We're getting like five calls a day for Valentine's reservations," Collison said during a telephone interview the Friday before Valentine's Day. "It's not looking good."




Clam Chowder



4 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken broth
Pinch of salt
8 ounces salt pork, scored
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1/4 cup flour
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 (6 1/2-ounce) can minced clams, drained and rinsed
1 (6 1/2-ounce) can chopped clams, drained and rinsed
5 pounds fresh small clams, such as littlenecks or cherrystones (optional)
1 cup half-and-half, warmedTabasco to taste

Simmer potatoes, 3 cups of broth and salt in a large saucepan about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid and potatoes.

Heat salt pork in a large pot over medium-high heat until about 1/4 cup of fat is in the pot; remove pork and discard it. Add onion and celery, and saut over low heat about five minutes, or until soft.

Sprinkle in flour, stir to coat vegetables, and cook one minute. Stir in remaining cup of broth, clam juice, bay leaves, white pepper and reserved potato cooking liquid. Simmer five minutes or until thick.

Add reserved potatoes, clams, half-and-half and Tabasco. If using fresh clams, cook until they open. Discard any unopened clams. Adjust salt and pepper as needed. Return soup to a simmer and cook 3 minutes.

- Courtesy of Grayson Bowman, a sous-chefand caterer from Chambersburg, Pa.




Steak Diane



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