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Recipes for Valentine's Day for a romantic dinner for two

Lady and the Tramp had the right idea.

A mound of pasta, a glowing candle in an old-fashioned chianti bottle and big, soupy eyes just for each other.

Oh, and no utensils.

That single strand of spaghetti brought them together

in the most delightfully sweet way.

Sharing food is romantic,

especially when you're eating with your hands,

not to mention your muzzle.

That's intimate and primal.

Just like love.

Valentine's Day is Tuesday, which gives you plenty of time to plan the perfect meal a deux. If your heart is set on going out, make reservations ASAP or you may find yourself at the drive-through. Or stay in and orchestrate a cozy meal at your pace and to your own liking. Turn up the swanky music and turn down the lights.

There are foods that have long been considered aphrodisiacs, kindling love with special, mysterious properties. Among them are oysters, figs, chocolate, wine and strawberries. I don't know about oysters and figs, but what's not to fall in love about (and over) chocolate, wine and strawberries?

So there is more to chocolate-dipped strawberries and a glass of bubbly (which, you know, is a form of wine) than commercialism. Those treats speak the language of love, figuratively and chemically, it seems.

When you put together the menu for your sweetie, consider what you both like to eat. That said, this is not the time for a heavy feast. There's nothing that squelches amorous intentions more than a bellyful of chili or something equally weighty. Yes, wings are finger food, but you had your fill of those on Super Bowl Sunday.

Keep the Valentine's Day fare light and communal. Imagine the sparks flying as your hands bump on the way to the fondue pot. You'll need to sit closer together, too. Feed him a truffle; serve her a spoonful of Brownie Tiramisu.

It's getting hot in here.

Shellfish, especially inexpensive mussels and finger-friendly shrimp, are excellent choices for a grownup, romantic meal. My Mussels in Chunky Tomato Broth is a slurpy bowl of deliciousness that can serve as a starter or the main event. Get some good bread to sop up the garlic-tinged broth. Don't worry about garlic breath, because that stinking rose has amorous qualities, too.

Rosemary Shrimp Scampi Broth uses woody rosemary stems as the skewers. Put the earthy herb on the list of aphrodisiacs, too. In ancient cultures, it was considered a token of fidelity and remembrance, both important qualities in affairs of the heart.

Fondue is a classic dish for lovers, and the accompanying recipe from the Food Network is fairly simple to put together and will provide a workout for that fondue pot gathering dust on the top shelf. Use cooked fingerling potatoes, plus French bread cubes and vegetables, to dip into the cheesy goodness.

For dessert, you could buy a variety of mini-desserts that are easily eaten by hand. Many grocery store bakeries have mini-eclairs and other creamy offerings. Or you could buy the best box of dark chocolates that you can afford and serve them with red wine or a coffee drink.

Or do something French. Serve a selection of cheeses at room temperature with a glass of port (but only if you're not doing fondue). In December, the Taste section recommended Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Porto (about $20 at big box stores and some wine shops). Uncork this lovely and set out a wedge of Stilton or a bold, blue-veined cheese such as Roquefort. If you can find it, try Oregon's Rogue Creamery smoky blue.

Now that should kindle some flames.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>MODERATE

Cheese Fondue With Fingerling Potatoes,
French Bread and Vegetables

12 fingerling potatoes, cut in half or 24 (1-inch) baby potatoes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 jigger dry sherry

1 cup half-and-half

8 ounces cream cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan

1 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups broccoli florets

1 pound asparagus, trimmed of stems, tips reserved

2 tablespoons fresh chives, snipped or chopped

½ French baguette, cubed

12 cherry tomatoes

Cover potatoes with water and bring the water to a boil. Salt the water and simmer potatoes 10 to 12 minutes, until just tender. Drain potatoes and return to warm pot to dry the potatoes. Drizzle potatoes with a little oil to keep them from discoloring and to shine them up.

Fill a second skillet or saucepan with 2 inches of water. Cover and bring the water to a boil on the stove. Salt the water, replace the cover and reduce heat to simmer.

To a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and the chopped shallots. Saute shallots for 2 or 3 minutes, then add sherry and allow it to almost evaporate, a minute or two. Add half-and-half to the pan and reduce heat to low. Cut cream cheese into 1-inch slices and add it to the pot. Allow the cream cheese to slowly melt into the half-and-half, 5 minutes. Add Parmesan and shredded Gruyere or Swiss to the sauce and stir until cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Stir in lemon juice. Season sauce with, nutmeg and black pepper. Place a candle underneath a wire rack or warm a fondue pot. Transfer cheese sauce to fondue pot or place saucepan over wire rack and burning candle.

To simmering, salted water, add broccoli and cook florets, covered, 3 minutes. Remove broccoli with a slotted spoon to a plate and add asparagus tips. Cook asparagus tips 2 minutes, then remove with tongs to a plate.

Arrange the items for dipping on a large serving platter. Garnish the cooked potatoes with chives. Set the cubed baguette on the opposite end of the platter, to balance color. Between potatoes and bread, arrange cooked broccoli, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Set out fondue forks or bamboo skewers for dipping.

Serves 4.

Source: Food Network

>>MODERATE

Brownie Tiramisu

½ cup chopped pecans

? cup coffee liqueur

? cup strong brewed coffee

1 ½ (4 ounces) semisweet chocolate bars, divided use

¾ cup butter

2 ¼ cups sugar, divided use

3 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.

Stir together coffee liqueur and coffee.

Coarsely chop 1 chocolate bar. Microwave coarsely chopped chocolate and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium (50 percent power) 1 to 1 ½ minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in 2 cups sugar and eggs, whisking until blended; stir in flour, stirring just until blended. Spoon batter into a lightly greased 11- by 7-inch pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until center is set. Remove from oven, and cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Pierce brownie multiple times using the tines of a fork. Pour coffee mixture over brownie. Let cool on wire rack 1 hour or until completely cool.

Whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, mascarpone cheese and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat whipping cream at medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.

Crumble half of brownies, and divide evenly among 6 (8-ounce) glasses. Spoon half of mascarpone cheese mixture over brownies. Repeat procedure with remaining brownies and mascarpone cheese mixture.

Chop remaining half of chocolate bar into thin shreds. Sprinkle chocolate and pecans over mascarpone cheese mixture. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 24 hours.

Serves 6.

Source: Southern Living

>>EASY

Rosemary Shrimp Scampi Skewers

1 tablespoon dry white wine, such as Sauvignon blanc

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

teaspoon salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

18 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about ¾ pound)

6 (6-inch) rosemary sprigs

Cooking spray

Lemon wedges (optional)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a zip-top plastic bag. Add shrimp; seal and shake to coat. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Working with 1 rosemary sprig at a time, hold leafy end of sprig in one hand. Strip leaves off sprig with other hand, leaving ½ inch of leaves attached to leafy end of sprig. Repeat procedure with remaining rosemary sprigs to make 6 rosemary skewers. Thread 3 shrimp onto each rosemary skewer.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat both sides of shrimp skewers with cooking spray. Arrange 3 skewers on pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining skewers. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Serves 2.

Source: Cooking Light, 2006

>>EASY

Mussels
in Chunky Tomato Broth

3 pounds mussels

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons butter

2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes with garlic, oregano and basil

1 cup white wine, such as pinot grigio

Rinse mussels in a bowl of cold water to remove grit. Let them soak for a few minutes, drain, then repeat two more times. Most store-bought mussels have been debearded, but if not, you'll need to remove their hairy fibers by pulling them off.

Saute garlic in butter until soft in a pan (with a lid) that's large enough to hold the mussels. Add tomatoes and wine and cook for a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add mussels and cover. Stir occasionally to move the shellfish on top to the bottom where the heat is.

When the mussels open, they are done. This will take about 10 minutes. Discard any mussels that don't open. Serve in bowls with the broth.

Serves 2 as an entree.

Source: Janet K. Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Recipes for Valentine's Day for a romantic dinner for two 02/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 2:09am]

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