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Love is in the air.

Since Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday this year, Greg and I decided that we were going to celebrate at home. We didn’t want to be bothered with the crowds at restaurants to only receive a sub-par meal from an overwhelmed kitchen. We thought that cooking together and enjoying a romantic dinner with a bottle of great wine would be much more enjoyable. As a side note while I am mentioning wine, I picked up a bottle of Mark West Pinot Noir a while back since Pinot is Greg’s favorite and I had read that this was a fantastic wine for the price.  This was the bottle we chose to have with dinner and to my surprise and happiness, Greg loved it and thought it was one of the best Pinots he has ever had. Score one for me!

Getting back to dinner, we decided that Greg would grill up some steaks, which he does incredibly well, and I would be in charge of side dishes and dessert. For the sides, I ended up going with a cheesy smashed potato crock and zesty asparagus with shallots and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

After sitting down to our home cooked masterpiece, we both agreed that we made the right decision by staying in. The food was amazing; especially his steaks and we were able to enjoy each other’s company without the hustle and bustle of the Valentines crowd. This may just be a new tradition for us.

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Cheesy Smashed Potato Crocks

1 large baking potato
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
½ cup cream (or milk)
1 tbs. unsalted butter
¼ cup chopped green onion
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the potato and cut it into about 1 inch chunks.  Place the cut potato into a medium pot of salted water and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes or until a knife can be inserted easily.
Drain the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl.  Using a fork, smash the potatoes to the consistency you desire (I chose to leave small bits in ours).  Add ½ cup of cheese to the bowl (please note that you can use as much or as little cheese as you desire).  Add the cream (or milk), butter, green onion and salt & pepper to taste.  Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated.

Divide the potato mixture into two crocks or individual sized casserole dishes.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of each dish.  Place the dishes on a baking sheet and insert in oven.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until tops have golden brown specs.

Serve the hot crocks carefully.

Yields: 2 servings.

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Zesty Asparagus

1 package fresh asparagus
2 shallots, sliced
1 tbs. butter
1 ½ tsp. Penzey’s Tuscan Seasoning (or Italian seasoning)
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes.
¼ cup fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Wash the asparagus and cut into 2 inch pieces. Place the butter in a sauté pan on medium-high heat. When the butter has begun to melt, add the sliced shallot and the cut asparagus. Add the Tuscan Seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 10 minutes or until your desired tenderness. Remove from pan and put in a serving dish, sprinkle the top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Yields: 2-3 large servings.

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Amazing Brussels Sprouts!

I have never been a fan of Brussels sprouts. I tried and tried to like them since they are a favorite of Greg’s, but I just couldn’t acquire a taste for them. At least I couldn’t until I came across this recipe. I not only converted myself to loving these Brussels sprouts, but I also converted my mother, who absolutely hated them in the past. I have made them two or three times and can’t get tired of them.

If you are looking for a great veggie side dish, look no further. These Caramelized Shallots and Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta will wow you and your guests.

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Caramelized Shallots and Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

adapted from Cooking Light, October 2008
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved (I prefer to use fresh)
cooking spray
1 tbs. olive oil
2/3 cups thinly sliced shallots
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 ounce finely chopped prosciutto
4 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. white wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange Brussels sprouts on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Add shallots, pepper, salt, and prosciutto to pan; toss well. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Add sugar and white wine vinegar; toss to coat. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until caramelized.

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My First Barefoot Contessa Recipe

I started watching the food network on a regular basis about five years ago and I have to admit that I was not a fan of Barefoot Contessa. I think it may have had to do with the fact that I was a poor college kid through most of that period and her recipes didn’t appeal to my style of cooking at the time or my pocketbook for that matter. About a month ago, on a Saturday morning, I found myself sucked into a Barefoot Contessa marathon. Before I knew it I was very much attracted to her recipes. One in particular stood out to my husband and I both…..the Scallops Provencal with Herbed Basmati Rice. It looked so fancy and decadent but yet simple at the same time. Not too long after this my husband had to go out of town for a whole week so I decided to cook him and extra special dinner upon his return. He had been subjected to sub-par restaurant food during his trip so I knew he wouldn’t object. I figured this would be the perfect time to try the recipe we had been eyeing.

After picking up the ingredients I went to work on my romantic dinner. It was surprisingly easy for as pretty as it looks when complete. The only issue I ran into was it took a while for my scallops to brown up since I was using a non-stick pan. Note to self: next investment is a good stainless steel pan for browning.

In the end it was SO good and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Mission accomplished!

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Scallops Provencal

courtesy of Barefoot Contessa/The Food Network
1 pound fresh bay or sea scallops (I used sea scallops)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, cut in 1/2

If you’re using bay scallops, keep them whole. If you’re using sea scallops, cut each 1 in half horizontally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with flour, and shake off the excess.

In a very large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until sizzling and add the scallops in 1 layer. Lower the heat to medium and allow the scallops to brown lightly on 1 side without moving them, then turn and brown lightly on the other side. This should take 3 to 4 minutes, total. Melt the rest of the butter in the pan with the scallops, then add the shallots, garlic, and parsley and saute for 2 more minutes, tossing the seasonings with the scallops. Add the wine, cook for 1 minute and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice.
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Herbed Basmati Rice

courtesy of Barefoot Contessa/The Food Network
1 cup uncooked long-grain (white) basmati rice
1 3/4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh curly parsley leaves (I used flat leaf parsley)
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill leaves (I left the dill out)
1 tablespoon minced fresh scallions, white and green parts
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Combine the rice, 1 3/4 cups water, the salt and butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to low, stir once and simmer, covered tightly, for 15 minutes. (You may need to pull the pot half off the burner to keep it from boiling over.) Turn off the heat and allow the rice to sit covered for 5 minutes. Add the parsley, dill, scallions, and pepper. Fluff with a fork, and serve warm.

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