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a dinner for lovers

Yesterday’s post explained why this is what’s for our Valentines dinner…it’s quick and easy to prepare, colorful, pretty, sensuous, light in the stomach, delicious in the mouth. Tomorrow morning I’ll lay out a schedule for how to get it from kitchen to table in under an hour. That will be easy as pie if you just spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes of light prep work the night before. (Tomorrow or Sunday will also bring another option for dessert.)

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A reminder of the menu:

To whet (& wet) the Appetite:

Passion Fruit Cocktails for Two

Stacked Crab Bistro Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette


Seared Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

oh-so Forbidden Rice


a sweet multitude of options

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A very little time spent prepping the vegetables the night before will make this dish a breeze.

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

  • ½ pound sugar snap peas
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil (I love toasted sesame oil for this, but not necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • ¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, (stems removed & discarded) – sliced
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons ginger, thinly sliced & sliced again into matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce or Tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking sherry
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

Wash the snap peas and remove their strings, if any. Put a pot on to boil, add salt. Have a colander in the sink and a bowl of ice-water close by. When the water comes to a boil, add peas. Cook for only 1½ to 2 minutes. (You want peas to be bright green and crispy, nearly tender.) Empty into colander. Transfer peas to bowl of ice water for one or two minutes to cool. Remove from water. Place in a clean kitchen towel, and roll and pat to dry. (At this point you can put them in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator if you’re preparing ahead.) Otherwise set aside as you prepare the other ingredients.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice fairly thinly. Cut the ginger into tiny “matchsticks”.  (Whether you opt for 1 or 2 tablespoons is entirely dependent on your love and tolerance of spicy warm ginger.) Thinly slice the shallots.

Heat the canola and sesame oils in a good-size skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the shallots and, stirring constantly, cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the ginger. Stirring constantly, cook about 30 seconds, then add mushrooms, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. They’ll have begun to release some of their liquid and have started to sizzle. Raise heat to medium-high and add the peas. Stir occasionally, allowing peas to be touched by bits of brown. Add the soy sauce and cooking sherry, deglazing the pan of brown bits. (Taste for salt, adding a bit more soy if needed.) Add a pat of butter, stir to melt and glisten the peas and mushrooms. Serve.

Printer-friendly version of the sugar snap peas, click here.

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Ever hear of forbidden rice? It’s the deepest darkest shade of purple – like aubergine. Royal purple. With all its brilliant color (phytochemicals) it’s rich in antioxidants. (The stuff that protects our cells from free-radical damage.) It’s a whole-grain, even more nutritious than its brown cousin, but cooks in only slightly more time than its white relative. (About 30 minutes.) I suppose it was chosen for this menu for obvious reasons. How can one not be a little tempted – at least intrigued – by what’s labeled forbidden? It got its name in ancient China when it was grown and harvested and fed to only the Emperor. Anyone caught with purple grains between his teeth was summarily executed. Well, perhaps I’m playing loose with the facts there, but it makes a rather dramatic story. And a great introduction for a side dish for lovers. (It’s not on every market’s shelf, but some of the better-stocked markets will carry it. It costs more of course, but it’s not prohibitive…a small bag will make enough rice to feed 8 to 10 and cost about $5.00.)

oh-so Forbidden Rice

(will serve 4)

  • 1 cup forbidden rice
  • 1¾ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • optional: 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (I like Better than Bouillon – concentrated, natural good flavor)
  • chives, finely chopped

Bring water to boil, add salt, butter and bouillon (if using.) Add rice, stir, return to boil, then lower temperature to simmer. Cook on simmer for 30-35 minutes. (My simmer took 35.) Turn the heat off and allow pan to sit for 5 minutes or so before removing the lid. Fluff rice with a fork. Return the lid if not serving immediately. Before serving sprinkle with chopped chives.

Printer-friendly version of the rice, click here

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The very last thing you’ll do with this dinner is to prepare the ahi. It will only take several minutes, and both the rice and the vegetable can hold on a wee bit as you sear it.

Sesame-encrusted Seared Ahi Tuna

  • Fresh, sushi-grade ahi tuna – about ½ pound per person will be good for most appetites – minimum 1 inch thick – better that it be 1½ or more
  • Sesame seeds – both black and white sesame seeds taste identical, but if you can find them (at an Asian market, for example) – the black are beautifully dramatic
  • Salt
  • Wasabi paste (optional, but traditional and I can’t imagine seared ahi without it)
  • Tamari or Soy sauce
  • Pickled ginger (optional, but a wonderful palate cleanser, spicy, refreshing, num)

If you can allow your ahi to sit on the counter for 20 minutes before cooking, some of the chill will have come off it. Since we’ll be cooking it rare, this will be a good thing. At this time, it would be good to prepare the condiments – soy sauce in a little dish if you can, pickled ginger and wasabi paste in the corner of the plate.

I find a cast iron skillet works best for me when searing ahi. Bring your skillet to a smoking hot temperature. (On my gas stove, medium high is good. Yours may vary.)  Allow the empty pan to heat completely. Definitely no oil! As it’s heating, sprinkle coarse sea salt over the ahi. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pat so that they adhere (which they’ll naturally want to do because it’s a match made in heaven.)

When your skillet is smoking hot, drop the ahi (lovingly) into the pan. Watch it closely. Ahi is the most exquisitely tender, delicate fish. You could be toothless and eat it happily. It NEEDS to be rare. This means very pink,  which is really more like a claret. (When you buy sushi grade ahi, it’s selected to be eaten raw, and you could certainly do that, but we’ll save that for another time.) Watching the sides of it closely, you’ll see the bottom edge begin to turn white. Allow that white to travel up just a fraction of an inch. I’d say whatever you’re comfortable with, but then you might miss the best fish your mouth has ever known. You can judge from the photo what’s about right. Flip when ready, and observe the same careful watch for the other side.  Remove from heat. Slice on a diagonal, not following the natural “seams” of the fish but running diagonally counter to them. Plate the rest of your dinner. Serve!

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To print the Ahi recipe, click here

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(To view the time-line, click here.)

35 Comments Post a comment
  1. You have really outdone yourself. Some year, I’m going to prepare this meal for my lovah. What a feast for every sense, I imagine. And beyond gorgeous. There really are no words.

    February 10, 2012
    • I hope that “some year” doesn’t imply that you find this at all intimidating! I swear, this is EASY honey! I just use a lot of words is all! 🙂

      February 10, 2012
      • Really, it does not look hard. ‘Tis about sharing an evening with young ones and not just my love. I think forbidden rice and ahi might not be fully appreciated by those wee ones. Looks fun and beautiful!

        February 11, 2012
        • I do believe you’re right on the ahi…but the rice? Little girls not liking purple rice? they could even decorate the plate with pansies, a dinner fit for fairies!

          February 11, 2012
  2. Spreesgratefulguineapig #

    May I sing the praises of my Valentine? Cad that I am, I have business that requires me to be absent for the Hallmark holiday of passion. Thus my incredible partner not only crafted this beautiful piece of work to share with you, her friends, but she gifted me with this oh so sensuous, beautiful and delectable work of performance art, while recognizing my pending abandonment. I can only assure you of the sincerity and total commitment Spree has made to share her innate heartfelt passion for life, beauty and sustenance that she brings to this space, and every space she inhabits.

    The meal

    The cocktail is really a very nice start of sweetness and heat. That appetizer is really wonderful. You can see that it’s truly beautiful but it’s delicate, clean and subtle tasting, oh so luxurious without being gratuitous. The ingredients speak for themselves, simply elegant – and the preparation presents them respectfully and beautifully.

    We simpy love ahi and this preparation is simple but so appropriate. A little soy/tamari and wasabi and the rodent’s eyes roll back into my skull in utter euphoria. Spree knows the portly rodent has a fungi fetish so that vegetable preparation speaks L-O-V-E to this furry nuisance.
    The forbidden rice is dramatic and offers a nice textural compliment to the rest of the plate.

    You all should be as blessed as I am to share this and so much more with my Valentine. I wish you all blessings as abundant as mine. This menu and my life with Spree is 5+++++++ on the portly rodent scale.

    February 10, 2012
    • Gosh Guinea pig, awfully sweet, but a card would have been just fine! xo

      February 10, 2012
      • That is so lovely – it´s wonderful to know that your efforts are more than appreciated! I did wonder if you would be cooking this meal all over again next week, so that is now explained 😉 An absolutely stunning menu and I am making the salad this evening! A happy Valentine´s Day to you both even though you won´t be together 😦

        February 11, 2012
    • Golly Gosh Guinea Pig, what a LURVE story 🙂

      February 12, 2012
  3. Ali #

    Simply exquisite!! Beautiful in every way!!!

    February 10, 2012
    • Thank you Ali, so much!

      February 10, 2012
    • Ali #

      I made the snap peas last night! Fast and fabulous!!!!!

      February 15, 2012
  4. I have to agree with Ali, this is wonderful. Really wonderful.

    February 11, 2012
    • I appreciate the kind words Nick.

      February 12, 2012
  5. That is one gorgeous plate of food, Spree! Each component was selected and cooked to perfection. And I do not see how that tuna could be seared any more expertly. You’ve certainly prepared a meal to remember. Cannot wait to see dessert!

    February 11, 2012
    • So sorry to have made you wait for dessert John! Yesterday took me in another (still delicious) direction. 🙂 Dessert will be served shortly. Thanks so much (always!) for your (always) thoughtful comments!

      February 12, 2012
  6. Deb schneider #

    Endearing to read spreesgratefulguineapig’s expression of love & gratitude. This is an exquisite dinner menu for celebrating valentines day, and it seems you know well your valentine’s favorites. Will be thinking of you with love on Tuesday. Xo

    February 11, 2012
    • Thanks, Deb! Yes, I think I’ve pretty much got my Valentine guinea pig’s number! 😉

      February 12, 2012
  7. Wow, such good food and do pop into the farmy tomorrow, (sshh)… TonTon did the draw today but my lips are sealed until tomorrow, just pop over OK! c

    February 11, 2012
    • Yay Celi! Was I ever excited to discover who TonTon picked! So happy he liked my peas so much. 😉

      February 12, 2012
  8. Love the pictures. Especially the one with the tuna and sesame seeds! So delicious.

    February 11, 2012
  9. Amazing Spree.
    I love everything about your dinner, the ingredients, the plating is like something out of a 5 star restaurant and the colors work beautifully together.

    February 11, 2012
    • That’s awfully kind Sawsan. maybe a couple of stars. 😉 Thank you though!

      February 12, 2012
  10. You have surpassed your self if that is at all possible! What fab photos, you do put your heart and soul in this, wonderful….

    February 12, 2012
    • Lesley, Thank You! My heart’s in it for sure!

      February 12, 2012
  11. I was so busy yesterday with the bake sale, I missed this one!! Lord, good thing I came back here and caught it! I love your hubby’s comments:) You’re a lucky spree and he’s so lucky!! What a decadent plateful of love!! xo Smidge

    February 12, 2012
    • I’m heading over your way now to see your bake sale post! I needed to see it on the big screen! 🙂 xo

      February 12, 2012
  12. What a beautiful plate! This is perfect for Valentine’s Day

    February 12, 2012
    • My valentine sure did receive it happily!

      February 13, 2012
  13. This meal looks delicious but also stunning! Amazing work spree! Any Valentine would be lucky to eat this! 🙂

    February 13, 2012
    • aww, thanks for that! very nice of you! 🙂

      February 13, 2012
  14. I’ve always said that the most difficult photos are the ones with food, and you’ve done an amazing job!
    Love everything about them!
    It doesn’t look too difficult to make, maybe I should give it a try soon.

    February 13, 2012
    • What a high compliment Pablo, thank you so much! This is not quite (but nearly) ridiculously-easy to make! It it appeals to you, I hope you’ll give it a go! 🙂 Happy you came by to visit! And I’m happy to be a new follower of yours!

      February 13, 2012
  15. You know that Miss Natterer here is rarely at a loss for words, but I confess that the combination of this menu (*every* spectacular and splendid element of it) with your preparatory directions, your descriptive paeans to the whys and hows and wherefores culminating in death-defyingly delicious recipes, and the glamorous presentation and photography–all leave me suspended in near-speechless rapture. And hunger/thirst, of course, let’s be honest.

    Topping all of that with not just a multiplicity of dessert treats but such delightful love letters to each other, well, you’ve really gone over the top in the most magical, irresponsibly tempting, and delightful of ways.

    Love it all. Love being privy to this sort of luxurious art!

    February 19, 2012
    • You do humble me Kathryn!!! xoxo

      February 19, 2012

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