julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Any Day Can Be Valentine’s Day

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“The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all of the time.” – Julia Child

 

My husband has this theory about Valentine’s Day: it’s not for married folks. While I get where he’s coming from, the romantic side of me still hangs onto the sweetness of this holiday. And so, the first three years we were married, I made it a point to cook a Big Romantic Dinner for Two to show him my love. While the meals turned out great, I began to notice that I was spending the entire evening in the kitchen and no time with him. Hm. This wasn’t adding up the way I had thought it would. Last year I decided maybe he was right…maybe I didn’t need to put forth all this extra effort. After all, he knows I love him. We show each other every day. So this year, we’re kind of skipping out on the ol’ V-Day. Tonight we’re off to see Gnomeo and Juliet, and tomorrow…I’m so excited!!…he’s accompanying me to a book signing of the ever-popular Pioneer Woman! Funny how the things that make you fall in love all over again kind of change over time.

To give a nod to the lover’s holiday without doing any extra work, I dedicated last night’s Julia dinner to Valentine’s Day. I made Tournedos Henri IV (filet steaks with artichoke bottoms and Bearnaise sauce) with Carottes a la Creme (creamed carrots), Aubergines Farcies Duxelles (eggplant stuffed with mushrooms) and potato balls. It was an amazing meal, perfect for a special occasion or otherwise important dinner (read: make this if you really want to impress someone). Whether you’re wooing your new girlfriend, wanting to impress the future in-laws or are having the boss over for a pre-promotion discussion, this meal is just the ticket…and I’m going to teach you how to do it. Ready? Let’s go!

Scoop the insides out of the eggplant...

Start with the eggplant, because this takes the longest to make. Remove the green stem covering and slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Make delicate incisions along the skin about an inch apart, barely piercing the skin. Sprinkle a little salt over the fleshy parts, lay them face down on a towel to absorb their moisture for a half hour.  Preheat the broiler, then drizzle some olive oil over the flesh and set them in a shallow roasting pan, then pour about 1/8″ water around them. Set them about 5″ beneath the broiler for about 15 minutes.

While those are going, you’ll want to cook your artichoke bottoms. Remove the stems and leaves until you’re left with just the bottoms, then simmer them in a mixture of flour, water, lemon juice and salt for about 30 minutes, until tender. Then, with a spoon you’ll gently remove the choke (the center fuzzy part of the artichoke) and any extra leaves. Season the artichoke bottoms with salt and pepper and cook them in a casserole of butter covered with buttered wax paper in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then they’re ready for anything – fillings, other recipes, whatever.

Potato Balls

But back to the eggplant. Once they’re done under the broiler, remove them from the oven and carefully scoop out the meat, leaving a small layer in the skin. Chop the meat and toss it into a mixing bowl, then add sauteed minced yellow onion and mushrooms, as well as softened cream cheese and herbs (thyme, minced parsley). Mix it all together, then scoop this filling back into the eggplant skins. Top with shredded Swiss cheese and white bread crumbs, as well as a bit of melted butter, and they’re ready for the oven (375 degrees for 25 minutes).

Creamed carrots

I prepared some canapes (French bread slices toasted in clarified butter) and set them aside for the steak. I used the small end of a melon baller to scoop out rounds from peeled potatoes, then tossed the into a pan of butter and rolled them around until they were nice and toasted. Then I sliced some carrots and braised them, then drained them and covered them with boiling cream. I let them cook on the stove until most of the cream had been absorbed by the carrots. They smelled delicious.

The steak was next. I dried a sirloin filet with paper towels, then cooked it in a pan of butter/oil until I could see the juices running pale red. I set the meat aside and drained the fat from the pan, then added some madeira and beef stock and made a yummy sauce to pour over the meat. Finally, I made the Bearnaise sauce, which I’ve done before. A mixture of wine vinegar, vermouth, egg yolks, butter and seasonings create a thick, yellow, custard-like sauce that goes well with steak and chicken dishes. I’ve made it before but wasn’t too wild about it, but was willing to give it another try.

Sirloin cooked to perfection!

Now, here’s where things get fancy…are you ready? Slice the steak into pieces that fit on the canapes. Lay a piece of steak over the canape and drizzle it with the steak sauce (not the Bearnaise…we’re not there yet). Then, set an artichoke bottom on top of the steak and fill it with spoonfuls of the Bearnaise sauce. Ta-daa! Your family will think you brought home some take-out from a five-star restaurant. Decorate the plate with the potato balls (I know, you’d think we could think of a better name for those things) and add your sides – the eggplants are large enough you could probably split one with someone. Pour yourselves a glass of red wine, play a little soft music in the background, and enjoy a delicious meal together. At least, that’s what we did.

**Swoon!**

We tried the potatoes first, which are crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside. We’ve had these before and knew what to expect, but they were tasty just the same. The carrots were perfectly cooked, tender but not mushy, and the cream gave them a light sweetness without making them soupy. The eggplant was interesting. First of all, it looked really impressive. The filling was bubbling with the browned cheese on top and the bread crumbs gave the top a light crispness. I decided I liked the filling by itself better than with the skin. It was sweet and creamy and hearty, and the flavors of the eggplant and mushroom mixed really well with the cream cheese. The skins almost gave it a bitterness I didn’t care much for, but all in all, it was a good dish. But NOW, my friends, we get the main attraction…this canape/steak/artichoke combination. First off, here’s my advice to you: your first bite of this dish must — I repeat, MUST — include each layer… a bite of canape, steak, artichoke and Bearnaise. Because when you put that perfect bite in your mouth and all of those flavors come together in an explosion of greatness, you won’t believe your tastebuds. The bread is softened and flavored by the steak juice; the steak, cooked to perfection, tastes delicious; but it’s the combination of the soft buttery artichoke bottom and the burst of tangy creaminess of the Bearnaise sauce that’ll really put you over the edge. If you’re not a fan of artichoke and/or Bearnaise sauce, give them another try with this recipe, because I’m telling you – their whole purpose of existance is made abundantly clear in this harmonious meal.

So there you have it. With a meal like this, any day can be Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will love you forever if you serve this at the dinner table. Unless of course they’re vegan…but that’s another story altogether.

Remember, nothing says “I love you!” like really, really good food.

Spread the love!
– Jessica

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