Valentine’s Day is a time for sweethearts to celebrate their love and affection for each other. But a romantic night out on the town can be costly, especially if your bank account is still recovering from Christmas. This year, why not avoid the expense and hassle of going out to a restaurant, and instead have an intimate dinner at home? To assist you in your love-inspired and Cupid-approved endeavor, we’ve consulted some of Lake Norman's best chefs and caterers. Below they share their secrets for how to create a truly unforgettable Valentine’s Day experience. Chef Valerie Lamey, owner of Just In Thyme Personal Chef Services, says that creating a romantic mood for dinner starts with the table setting. First, use a basic white tablecloth, or if you don't have that, leave the table bare and use white, pink or red place mats instead. And of course red roses, which symbolize love, are always a nice touch. Lamey recommends placing a bouquet of roses in a vase in the middle of the table, and spreading rose petals along with a line of votive candles down the middle of the table. To whet your Valentine’s appetite, Lamey suggests starting off with a simple appetizer such as skewered bacon-wrapped shrimp baked in the oven. Armin Desch of Armin's Catering in Huntersville, says that while wine and cheese are a great way to get the evening underway, he suggests spicing things up a bit with a cocktail like a Cosmopolitan or maybe a glass of nice champagne with fresh raspberries. And instead of a simple cheese platter or shrimp cocktail, prepare some risotto croquettes (see recipe), he says. They make for a tasty light appetizer that can be made ahead of time and warmed in the oven. “And who can resist deep fried cheese and champagne?" says Desch. When looking for ideas and inspiration in preparing your special Valentine’s Day meal, personal chef and food coach Tammy Broadway, owner of A Touch of Spice in Statesville, suggests digging through your mother's old cookbooks. "Those old cookbooks have great menu plans, extremely thorough instructions and great pictures of what your food should look like,” she says. “Nothing is processed in the recipes; it's all made from whole food." To make your home-cooked dinner more affordable, Lamey advises using less expensive proteins for the entrée, such as chicken, pork tenderloin or skirt steak, which you can complement with a favorite sauce. This will also allow you to use more expensive ingredients such as shrimp, crab, lobster or filet mignon for the appetizers. To complement the main dish, Lamey says to use vegetables that are in season, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, potatoes or sweet potatoes. To make them both tasty and healthy, Lamey tosses the winter vegetables with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roasts them in the oven. "You can also add flavorings to roasted vegetables to add depth to your menu by using lemon zest or juice, garlic or Parmesan cheese," she says. For dessert, chocolate molten lava cakes are easy and quick to put together, Lamey says (see recipe). These can be prepped ahead of time and baked for about 10 to 12 minutes once you and your sweetheart start eating the main course. Then, as a final decadent touch, serve the cakes with your favorite flavor of ice cream. As for wine pairings, Desch says he's partial to wines from Washington state. His favorite with seafood or chicken is Chateau Ste. Michelle chardonnay, while Lamey recommends a dry riesling with crab, and chardonnay with chicken or shrimp. With beef, Desch suggests Napa Valley's montoya cabernet. Lamey says that cabernet sauvignon with beef or lamb and pinot grigio with pork are good choices. Regardless of what you choose to serve, Lamey says her number one rule, especially for inexperienced cooks, is to keep it simple, and prepare items you’re comfortable making. But of course whatever you serve, it always tastes better when you share it with someone you love.
Risotto CroquettesBy Armin Desch of Armin's Catering
3 cups leftover cooked risotto
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives, oregano, or basil
1 large egg yolk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 oz Cheddar or for a little zest use pepper jack cheese
All-purpose flour for dredging
Egg wash: 1 large egg whisked with 2 tablespoons cold milk or water
1 cup fresh Panko (Chinese bread crumbs)
Vegetable oil for deep-frying Dipping sauce on the side 2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce Preparation In a large bowl, combine the risotto with the Parmesan, cream, herbs, and egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper. Cut the cheese into 16 cubes. Scoop up about 3 tablespoons of the risotto mixture and pack it around a cube of cheese to make a croquette, a ball the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Repeat to form 16 croquettes. Put the flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. Dredge the croquettes in the flour, dip in the egg wash, and roll in the bread crumbs. Chill thoroughly, 2-24 hours. Pour oil into a tall pot to a depth of 5 inches. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Deep-fry the croquettes in batches, without crowding, until they are evenly browned, 4-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer to paper towels to drain briefly. Serve on a pool of warmed tomato sauce.
Garlic & Herb Roasted Chicken Breasts
By Valerie Lamey with Just in Thyme Personal Chef Services Yield: 4 servings Prep Time: 25 minutes Cooking Time: 35 minutes
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested
½ lemon, juiced
¼ cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt & pepper to taste
4 split chicken breasts (skin on, bone on)
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
Combine the rosemary, thyme, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt & pepper in a small bowl. Stir to mix.
Rub the chicken breasts with the garlic herb paste. Place on the chicken breasts skin side up on the lined cookie sheet and set in oven on the middle rack. Cook until chicken is cooked through (165 degree internal temp.), about 35 minutes.
Chocolate Molten Lava CakesBy Valerie Lamey with Just in Thyme Personal Chef Services
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Butter, to coat muffin tin
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup vanilla ice cream (or your favorite ice cream flavor)
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a small metal bowl over a saucepan with simmering water (make sure water does not touch the bowl). Melt the chocolate and butter in the bowl. Stir in vanilla. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt. Sift these into the chocolate and mix well with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Beat on high until batter is creamy and lightens in color, approximately four minutes. Chill mixture. Coat each ceramic ramekin or muffin tin with butter. Dust with the cocoa powder and shake out the excess. Spoon mixture into pan using a four-ounce scoop or large spoon. Bake for 10-11 minutes. Outside should be cake like and centers should be gooey. Let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving. Serve with a scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor.