Look What I Made: (Cheap!) Four Course Valentine’s Dinner

v day meal
(photos by Travis Awalt)

It’s a tricky thing, writing about Valentine’s Day. There isn’t a whole lot to be said that isn’t well-worn territory at this point. Which makes sense, I guess, because Valentine’s Day, from the little candy hearts that say ‘be mine’ to the ubiquitous red cupids and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, seems not to have changed much in aesthetic sensibility or theme since I was a kid (minus the Mr. T Valentines, unfortunately). See, Valentine’s Day is not about originality*; so why would writing about it be different? And Valentine’s Day certainly isn’t about subtlety either. If love itself is a metaphoric ballet, Valentine’s Day is a metaphoric lap dance. With ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ playing in the background. Loudly. You can’t ignore Valentine’s Day. Tricky or not, I can’t just not write about Valentine’s Day on Valentine’s Day.

Now, I know most people go out for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also an ideal opportunity (guy with megaphone: OK, bring in the dumptruck full of cliches!) to show that special someone how much you care (I just threw up in my mouth a little bit) by working something up in the kitchen or to spend some quality time in the kitchen with your boo (shoot me). It doesn’t have to be super creative. It needs to be thoughtful, delicious (naturally) and, above all, prepared with love (seriously, this is torture). Staying in and cooking doesn’t make you a cheapskate. That said, this post absolutely keeps the cheapskate in mind (who loves ya baby?**). You don’t have to spend a fortune to make a tasteful, multi-course meal. And you don’t have to skimp on the ingredients either. Think simple dishes, needing few ingredients, then buy quality ingredients and accentuate with what you already have on hand. That’s the idea here. Not counting incidentals, I only spent about 20 bucks – $10 on steaks, $3 on carrots, $1 on a blood orange and a lemon, $4 on squid. Not bad, and you can afford a pretty, pretty nice box of wine with some of the money you just saved. Plus, this only takes about 90 minutes – most of it waiting -from the time you get home to having food on the table. Everybody wins.

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It was love at first carrot sight

One last thing: on Valentine’s Day, there are certain ‘expectations’, nudge – nudge, if you know what I mean. As much as we all love garlic, cheese, onions and the like, no one likes a stinky mouth. And bread… look, you don’t want to fall into a Thankgiving-esque coma. Stinky foods and starches, see you kids Friday. Text if you need anything. I love you, bye.

Happy Valentine’s Day, people. I sincerely hope you planned something before now, but if not, enjoy.

Appetizer: Calamari
While this is delicious, it will make your kitchen and/or apartment stink. Work quickly, then get the still-hot frying oil the hell away from where anyone can smell it.
Buy about half a pound of squid and a lemon. I got a mix of tentacles and tube pieces, but if you’re dining with or happen to be grossed out by tentacles, don’t buy tentacles. Cut the tube pieces into 1/2″ rings and chop the longer pieces of tentacle. Dredge in flour, shaking off the excess and fry, in three batches, in about 3″ of vegetable oil over medium heat, for about 90 seconds per batch. The batter is very light and will be a light golden color when done, rather than brown or golden brown. Serve right away with lemon wedges and a tomato based sauce – marinara spiked with some garlic chili sauce is good. What? It’s just a little garlic…


Palate cleanser: Green tea and blood orange sorbet

This is was, honestly, so light and effing delightful (and similar to an ice cream recipe I did a couple of weeks back), but you do need an ice cream maker for this.

Steep one green tea bag in a cup of water for several minutes. We’re going for a light brew, so the water doesn’t have to be hot. Next, blend the tea, the juice of 1/2 a blood orange, 2 tbsp agave nectar or honey and 1/4 tsp xanthan gum in a blender. Chill the mixture for 30 minutes; it’ll thicken some. Freeze in an ice cream maker for about 10 minutes and serve immediately.
Entree: Seared top sirloin fillets with braised carrots
Get about a pound of marbled grilling steak steak, in the $10/pound range. To save time, you could do grilled asparagus instead of the carrots, but these carrots were so colorful, I had no other recourse.

Seared steaks:
As soon as you get home, cover steaks on each side with a palmful of salt. Let them sit at room temperature for an hour. After an hour, wash the steaks off and pat them dry. Season again with about a tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, then sear over very high heat 3.5 minutes per side. This makes a rare steak – if you want them medium, finish in a 450 degree oven (which you’ll already have going for the carrots), 2 minutes per side. Let them rest ten minutes, then slice, fan out and serve with…

Braised carrots:
Peel and cut about 8 medium carrots, preferably  a mix of red, purple and yellow, in half. Place them in a dish with a lid, along with 1 tbsp of butter, the juice of 1/2 a blood orange and about 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves. Place in 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the carrots are starting to caramelize on the bottom.

Dessert – Brownie in a coffee mug
This is no different than the brownie in a coffee mug recipe that appears eleventy billion places on the internet. I have no idea who to credit or thank, other than the internet itself.

Mix together 4 tbsp flour, 4 tbsp water and 2 tbsp each of cocoa powder, sugar and vegetable oil in a coffee mug. Microwave for 60 seconds on high for a molten brownie, 90 seconds for a more cakey brownie. Dust with powdered sugar.

*Which is ironic, right? V-Day is an alleged paean to romance, but romance is sexy partly because it’s spontaneous. Doing the same thing on the same day every year (i.e. planning) is practical, which is great – practicality is what keeps me from being a drifter instead of a citizen with a job – but not sexy. Isn’t the fear of a relationship progressing that one day, everything will be so routine that you’ll have to make dates to have sex? And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day exists to promote?

**Actually, I just want to be friends