Sunday, March 3, 2013

Companion Recipes for the Valentine's Day Picnic

I realized that food, no matter how tasty-looking, tasted better when shared. Of course I did share all of this delicious picnic food with my beloved on Valentine's Day, but I failed to shared it with all of you! How horrible am I for keeping you from such deliciousness?! Alright, now that I've slapped myself on the wrists for that oversight, here's the how-to for the more complicated components of my Valentine's Day picnic. Enjoy!

To slow-roast the tomatoes for the tomato salad, cut roma tomatoes in half and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes in the oven at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes. Check the doneness - you want the tomatoes to lose most of them water, shrivel down and darken in color. Depending on the size, this could take as long as one whole hour, like it did for mine. Start with 25 minutes of roasting, and continue adding 10 minute increments, checking the tomatoes each time. This works for any quantity, from 2 halves to a whole pan full.
To make the Balsamic fig jam accompanying the Brie cheese, start with dried figs, which are cheaper and easier to obtain than fresh. Roughly chop up 1-3/4 c. dried figs and combine them in a small saucepan with 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, 1/3 c. water and 1/3 c. sugar. Bring the fruit to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer the jam for about 15 minutes. You want the figs to absorb most, if not all, of the liquid and to become tender and spreadable. This jam can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge. Also, if you happen to come up a relatively large quantity of dried figs, this jam could be doubled accordingly, poured into mason jars and sealed in a hot water bath for future use. Why not?
As for the delectably rich and decadent Chocolate Pots de Creme with strawberries,  I got myself a set of mini ramekins, which hold about 1/4 c. of mixture. I wanted to serve just a little bite of sweetness at the end of the meal. 

Preheat the oven to 285 degrees F. In a saucepan over low heat, melt together  1 c. milk, 1 c. 15 % cream, and 150 g of good-quality dark chocolate. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 whole eggs, 3 eggs yolks, and 1/2 c. sugar. (I know, that's a lot of eggs. It is a rich dessert, which is why I like the smaller portions) Add the warm milk to the egg mixture, a little at a time, to temper the eggs and not cook them. (No one wants chocolate-flavored scrambled eggs.)

Pour the mixture into 6-1/2 c. ramekins, or 12-1/4 c. ramekins. Place the custards into a 9" x 13" glass baking dish and transfer the dish to the preheated oven. Before baking, fill the dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will help the custards set evenly. Bake 35-40 minutes until the pots de creme are barely wobbly on the surface, or 20-25 minutes for the smaller custards. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, or fresh strawberries. Delicious!

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