Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day!

What do you do when you come down with a nasty sinus infection the day before Valentine's Day? Cancel your fancy dinner plans because you can't taste anything anyway? Say who cares because it's a stupid holiday created by Hallmark (it's not)? Or for those of us who actually like an excuse to celebrate love  (or really, anything), postpone your dinner plans til the following week? I choose the last one.

So tonight's menu really isn't anything fancy. It's just fancier than what I make most nights of the week, meaning, a side dish that takes more than 5 minutes to throw together and if everything goes well, a dessert for two. Here goes.

(Belated) Valentine's Day Dinner Menu for Two

Green Salad
Potato Gratin for Two
Steamed Broccoli
Individual Fallen Chocolate Cakes

I'm starting with the dessert because if I don't, it's the one thing most likely to be cut from the menu due to lack of time, energy or interest. Well, not really lack of interest. More like willpower or the realization that Bob and I have both eaten our weight in chocolate this past week. Nope, I'm not one of those people who loses their appetite when they're sick. This dinner was the only part of Valentine's Day that was postponed; the chocolate was most definitely still gifted and received.

And regardless of how much chocolate was received (and sometimes already eaten), Valentine's Day also means chocolate for dessert around these parts. It's what my Valentine wants and it's what he gets - and it's such a simple, yet amazing dessert, I'm sure I'll be finding other excuses to make it throughout the year.

Did I mention how easy this dessert is? It's a variation on the always popular molten/lava cake and unlike other recipes, doesn't involve separating eggs or anything tricky. Not that I think separating eggs is tricky, but it usually involves dirtying more bowls (and whipping the yolks and whites separately) and I'm all for streamlined if the end result tastes this good!

Buttered ramekins, about to be dusted with cocoa.

Final whipped egg/sugar/salt mixture.
The only special technique required in this recipe is folding. And I happen to love folding. If you don't, or don't know what I'm talking about, folding is a method of gently mixing ingredients together so that whatever you're mixing, doesn't get deflated. And the reason you don't want those ingredients (typically eggs) deflated is so they puff up in the oven.

It's always easier to fold ingredients together when your bowl is big, rather than small. You want to have enough room to move the spatula around. See how much room I have in the bowl below?

First step of folding.
Halfway there.
Start by scraping your spatula along the side of the bowl and then continue under the mixture at the bottom, pulling the spatula up through the middle. Give the bowl a quarter-turn and repeat. Continue to gently fold the ingredients together, taking care not to deflate the egg mixture more than necessary. When barely any streaks of flour or egg mixture are visible, you're finished.

Final mixture, completely folded.
The finished cake with a piece of chocolate added for a goofy bit of garnish.
The cake pictures are the only ones that turned out, but I'm including the potato gratin recipe, anyway, because it's just so good. And if you're looking for a foolproof way to cook a steak in the oven, check out the link above or here.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Individual Fallen Chocolate Cakes
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated - Cooking for Two 2010
serves: 2

notes: special equipment needed - two 6-ounce ramekins

If you find yourself at a kitchen supply store with no idea how to determine the capacity of the ramekins staring you in the face, allow me to help. I have Apilco ones from Williams-Sonoma and if you can find them on sale (sometimes they have seasonal colors, like pink), grab them.

According to the W-S site, the ones I have are the large size (3 1/2" wide,  1 1/2" tall) and hold 5.4 ounces. They also have a mark on the bottom, near the edge, that looks like a 7. I haven't been able to determine exactly what it means, but it must have something to do with size as my much larger Apilco souffle dish has a number 6 (or an upside down 9) on the bottom.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins
cocoa powder, for ramekins
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)
  1. Set oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 6-ounce ramekins and dust with cocoa.
  2. Combine chopped chocolate and butter in microwave-safe bowl and microwave til melted, approximately 1-3 minutes. I suggest using medium power and start with 30 seconds, stir, repeat until melted. Stir in vanilla.
  3. In large mixing bowl, beat egg with whisk attachment on medium-low until foamy, approximately 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat egg til soft and foamy, about 1 minute. Slow speed to medium and gradually add sugar and salt; return speed to med-high and continue to beat til egg mixture is very thick and pale yellow, 5- 10 minutes longer. If using a stand mixer, this should only take 5 minutes.
  4. Using a spatula, scrape whipped egg mixture on top of chocolate mixture, then sift flour over top. Gently fold mixtures together until just incorporated and no streaks remain.
  5. Divide batter between prepared ramekins and smooth tops. Note: If you're making these in advance, stop here and chill the filled ramekins by placing them in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, proceed with the following directions.
  6. Place ramekins on baking sheet and bake until cakes have puffed about 1/2" above rim of ramekins and jiggle slightly when shaken, 10-13 minutes.
  7. Run a small knife around edges of cakes. Gently invert each ramekin onto individual plates and let sit til cakes release themselves, about 1 minute. Remove ramekins, dust with confectioner's sugar and serve immediately.
Potato Gratin for Two
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated - Cooking for Two 2009

notes: special equipment needed - a shallow 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" baking dish with sides that are no more than 2 inches high.

Prep and assemble all the ingredients before slicing the potatoes or they will turn brown (don't store the sliced potatoes in water - the starch is needed for the recipe). The 1/8" thickness of the potato slices is crucial for the success of the dish; use a mandoline, a V-slicer or a food processor fitted with an 1/8" thick slicing blade.

1 large russet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and sliced 1/8" thick
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced, fresh thyme - or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (or Parmesan)

  1. Adjust an oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" baking dish with vegetable oil spray (like Pam). Place the potatoes in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and salt and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic, thyme, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook until incorporated, about 10 seconds. Whisk in the cream, bring to a simmer and cook until beginning to thicken, about 30 seconds.
  3. Pour the sauce over the potatoes and toss to coat thoroughly. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and gently pack the potatoes in an even layer, removing any air pockets. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the potatoes are almost tender, 35-40 minutes.
  4. Remove the foil and sprinkle with the cheese. Continue to bake, uncovered, until the cheese is lightly browned and the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes longer. Let the gratin sit for 10 minutes before serving.


  1. Wowee! Great photography! And those cakes look delish. Hope you guys had a lovely belated V-Day dinner.

  2. Oh yeah, and I love that Cook's potato gratin. mmmmmmmm

  3. Thank you SO much! :) Bob's getting a little tired of waiting for his food while I photograph it!