Today I am planning a Saint Valentine’s Day feast that is sure to win the affection of whomever you make it for. Pan seared scallops in a lemon butter sauce, creamy mushroom risotto with parmesan cheese and for dessert a salted caramel chocolate budino.
I do most of the cooking in our house but I think it’s fair to say that, amongst my friends, that duty is pretty evenly split between spouses. Some of my friends’ husbands do all the cooking and some wives do all the cooking. Some share the task but I find that there is usually one person who claims possession of the kitchen. Even if you are NOT the one who does the cooking in your house I think you will be able to make this spectacular meal with ease. Your Valentine will be beyond impressed.
The simple key things to remember are:
- Scallops cook quickly. Sear on one side, sear on the other and done.
- Follow the simple do’s and don’ts of making risotto and it’s a breeze.
- Add cold butter to the lemon butter sauce slowly melting one 1/4 inch slice at a time stirring it until melted to emulsify the sauce and make it creamy and delicious.
- slowly add the warm milk to the egg mixture when making the budino so you mix them together slowly without cooking the egg.
If you follow the directions and keep these simple reminders in mind you’ll have a delicious feast that will be sure to impress.
Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Jeni Britton Bauer where she uses lemon sorbet to create this creamy butter sauce; the slight sweetness is especially lovely with seared scallops. I was skeptical of the addition of lemon sorbet but it worked beautifully. Now it is my go-to trick for lemon butter sauce. To balance out the sweet scallops and buttery, rich sauce I’ve sautéed red and green swiss chard in a bit of fresh garlic and olive oil. It pairs beautifully with this dish.
- 1/4 cup lemon sorbet, melted
- 1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter. I prefer butter when searing scallops.
- 18 large sea scallops
- In a small skillet, combine the sorbet with the vinegar and shallots and bring to a boil.
- Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons, about 7 minutes.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and swirl in the butter 1 piece at a time, briefly returning the skillet to the heat once or twice as necessary.
- Season the sauce with salt and keep warm over very low heat. To do this I place a cast iron pan on a low flame and put the sauce pan in the cast iron pan to create an indirect low heat source.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering.
- Working in batches if necessary, season the scallops with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat allowing the pan to get scorching hot before adding the scallops, turning once, until nearly white throughout, about 5 minutes. Be patient.
- Allow the scallops to get a nice brown sear on one side before turning. Repeat on the other side.
- Transfer the scallops to plates, drizzle with the beurre blanc and garnish with snipped chives.
Risotto with Crimini Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese
For preparing the mushrooms
- 1 8-ounce package crimini or baby bella mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
For preparing the Arborio rice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ large onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock
- ¾ cup grated parmesan
- Salt and pepper to Taste
- To prepare the mushrooms, clean the mushrooms by brushing them off (do not wash if possible) and slice.
- In a medium sauté pan, melt the 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Add the cleaned and sliced mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat until lightly browned, stirring frequently. (Note – it’s important to sauté the mushrooms over somewhat high heat in order to get the mushrooms to release their moisture without steaming the mushrooms.) Once the mushrooms are lightly browned sprinkle lightly with just a touch of salt and allow to sauté for another minute more – this step will release just a bit more of the moisture in the mushrooms. Remove the mushrooms from the heat and set aside.\
- To prepare the rice, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
- Add the Arborio rice, stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes until the rice is just starting to turn lightly golden.
- Slowly pour in the white wine and allow the liquid to boil and be absorbed into the rice. Then pour in ¼ cup of chicken stock to the rice, move the rice around. You want to keep the rice moving around every minute or two but avoid the temptation to listen to those who say to stir it constantly. If you do you’ll end up with sticky paste. YUK!
- Keep adding more stock ¼ cup at a time – adding more just as most but not all of the liquid is absorbed before adding in more stock.
- Cook the rice and stock together in this manner for approximately 25 minutes or so – until the rice is slightly aldante/tender, risotto, like pasta, should not be overcooked. Turn the heat off when there is still some liquid remaining in the rice and stir in the parmesan cheese and mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine completely.
- Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
- Note: Risotto may be reheated by adding in some additional chicken stock and stirring to incorporate into the risotto.
Here in this image, the risotto is about 2/3 of the way finished. I’ve added just a 1/4 cup of stock and I will move the rice around (back on the burner of course) to allow it to absorb the liquid before adding more.
Myths about cooking risotto.
These are common misconceptions about making a classic risotto. Do NOT be intimidated by it. It’s easier than you might think.
Use Cold Stock
Adding chilly stock to a hot pan will cool everything down and mess up the cooking process. Keep stock at a simmer in a small pan so everything stays hot and cooks evenly.
Stir It Constantly (or Not at All)
Stirring the rice constantly will add air into the risotto, cooling it down and making it gluey. But if you don’t stir enough, the rice will stick to the bottom and burn. Agitating the rice is important, because risotto’s creaminess comes from the starch generated when grains of rice rub against each other. So stir it often, but feel free take a break.
Add Too Much Stock
If you dump in the stock all at once, you’re just boiling rice. By slowly adding stock, you allow the rice to bump up against each other, creating that creamy starch. Wait until the rice absorbs all the stock to add some more. And keep in mind the ratio–about 4 cups of stock for every cup of arborio rice.
Cook the Rice Until It’s Mushy
Like pasta, the rice should be al dente – just cooked, with a little bite to it. If you can mold a risotto into a shape (like some restaurants do) you’ve cooked it too much. Risotto should have body, but not be overly mushy and starchy. You’re not making rice pudding!
Use a Wide Pot
If your pot is too wide, the rice will cook in a thin layer and won’t be able to bump and grind enough to generate starch. Another problem: there will be hot and cold spots in your pot, so choose one that fits perfectly over your burner.
Cook at Too Low a Heat
Yes, risotto is supposed to be a slower cooking process; but if you cook it at too low a heat, it will never cook. The rice should be at a medium simmer throughout cooking.
Cook Vegetables with the Rice
Except for your mirepoix, you should add already cooked vegetables into your risotto after the rice is finished cooking. This is especially important for tender greens like spinach, delicate herbs like chives, lemon zest, and veggies like asparagus, mushrooms, legumes. Again, you don’t want anything mushy in your risotto! Make sure you cook your vegetables seperately before adding them in.
Add Cheese Too Early
Save things like mascarpone and Parmesan for the end of the cooking process. Fat will break under heat and it will be, in a word, yucky. When the rice is finished, we like to stir in some fresh whipped cream (unsweetened, of course) to give the risotto a light, silky texture.
This chocolate budino was a curious recipe to develop. I have long been a fan of flourless chocolate recipes. In my youth, I worked in a restaurant that served a wonderful chocolate mouse. Light and smooth with a dense rich chocolate flavor. If you were lucky enough to get the job of transferring the large batch of mouse into smaller containers your prize was to enjoy the remaining mouse on the spatula and bottom of the giant tub.
After visiting french bakeries and then actually going to France my taste turned to the even more rich and delicious chocolate pot de creme, I’m torn between the classic Pot de Creme and the chocolate budino. When I first had budino in a restaurant it stayed on my mind for a long time but when I finally looked up a recipe to try to prepare it at home I found that this desert is a bit of a mystery.
Budino is Italian for pudding. Just as there are many ways to make an American pudding so it seems there are many ways to make budino. Some have flour, some corn starch, some baked, some unbaked. The pudding recipes I found were mostly chocolate or salted caramel but I also found recipes for lemon budino and budino-filled tarts and cakes.
So, this is my rendition of a chocolate budino. I start with the best quality chocolate I can afford with 70% cocoa. It’s not fussy or difficult, but it is important to temper the milk and eggs slowly so the end result is a satiny smooth chocolate. I top the finished dessert with a thin layer of caramel sauce, a sprinkle of sea salt and a few cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are the outer shell of the cocoa plant. Alone, they look chocolaty but do not actually have much flavor. What they add to this dessert is a lovely crunch that balances the thick sweet creamy chocolate budino. (It’s just more fun to say than pudding ;).
Chocolate Budino with Caramel and Cocoa Nibs
For the Budino
- 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
For the garnish
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, preferably gray
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Cocoa nibs
- Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
Make the budino
- Combine the bittersweet and milk chocolates in a heatproof bowl, place over (not touching) barely simmering water in a pot, and leave to melt.
- Meanwhile, warm the milk in a small pot over medium heat, just until it begins to simmer.
- In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and then gradually and SLOWLY whisk in the warm milk. You don’t want to cook the eggs so stir constantly and slowly add the (just warm, not scalding) cream.
- When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir until smooth.
- Strain the egg-yolk mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the melted chocolate and stir until combined.
- In a small pot, heat 1 cup of the cream over medium heat, just until it begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and slowly stir the warm cream into the chocolate mixture. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream.
- Pour the chocolate mixture into eight 1-cup ramekins or small heatproof glass jars and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place the pan into a larger baking pan and pour warm tap water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake the filling for 40 minutes, or until the edges appear set but the center is loose and a bit runny.
Finish each tart with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce, sprinkle the top of each with cocoa nibs and about 1/8 teaspoon of the sea salt.
About the Author
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. Her Blog, Table and Dish is a website devoted to celebrating and curating the many ways that food binds us. Sally hopes that her recipes and images will inspire you to gather your friends and family in the kitchen to make memories, use the time to connect with busy kids, chat over mixing bowls, get messy, laugh, sing, set the table, clear the table, pass the salt, debate the days topics and pray. You can follow her here as a weekly contributor to 365Barrington and Heinen’s as well as via Table and Dish on Instagram and on her website at TableAndDish.com.
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