Dine Out on Valentine’s Day? Why Not Just Stick a Fork in Your Date’s Eye?

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Did you just hear that? That was the sound of over a hundred million greeting cards being purchased, all adorned with illustrations of little pink ribbons and crimson hearts and golden, not-so-threatening arrows. Oh, yes: Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, friends. And that means you’ve got a question ahead of you: What are you and your date doing for dinner on the 14th? Are you dining out? Or are you staying in?

Well, I’ll answer that question for you: You’re staying in. You’re cooking. And it’s going to be great. You might have had the vision of some fancy restaurant meal ahead of you, filled with bottles of bubbly, candlelight, vibes, and a hefty check at the end of it. But to be quite honest with you, you’d be a fool to do anything other than cook at home. Here’s why you and your Valentine should absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt do dinner at your place this Thursday:

Seared Steak with Pan Sauce

You Don’t Have to Worry About All That Restaurant Stuff

Oh, you didn’t make a reservation yet? Yikes. That’s going to be rough. And at this point, you’re going to end up at whatever restaurant has seats open, not a spot that truly expresses how much you care about your date. That’s not a good look. And even if you’re going to a fancy spot with a killer reputation and impeccable service, what if you can’t get off work at exactly the moment you need to and end up being late? And wait, how much are those drinks!? And…hold on, did the maître d’ just say you have to wait half an hour, even with your reservation? And is that a stain from the chicken Parm you ate for lunch on your shirt?

Dining at home is about taking away the pressure to have a night that’s “worth” what you’re paying for it. That kind of dining out-related stress just doesn’t happen at your place. You’re on home turf. You’re in control. You can breathe more easily. (And you can change that shirt.)

pork chop with endive and apple salad

You should be cooking what you and your date want to eat. Not what everyone else wants to eat.

Special Valentine’s Day Menus (for the Most Part) Stink!

If you approached me and said, Hey, I’ve got this menu that I want you to order from for your special date. You don’t get to choose what you want. The dishes are all going to be relatively safe, because we need to appeal to every diner in our restaurant simultaneously. And it’s not actually that great of a deal. In fact, we marked the prices up a bit, because everyone is trying to dine out tonight. But we’re going to give you a free glass of average sparkling wine when you get here, so you feel fancy. You down? I’d say, LOL. What!? No, I am not down.

The Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu is a scam! They’re money-makers for sure, but most chefs don’t like cooking them. At the end of the day, if I was going to take my date to have an experience at a restaurant I thought she’d love, I’d want it to be the real experience of that restaurant. I don’t want a watered-down menu of Valentine’s Day hits. I want the real thing.

You Will See (and Maybe Even Talk to) Other Human Beings at a Restaurant

Valentine’s Day is about celebrating your affection for a special person in your life. (Or multiple people. Or friends. Or yourself. Or a giant pillow shaped like a human. I’m not here to judge.) And you’re interested in diluting that experience by being in a crowded restaurant, surrounded by couples celebrating their brilliant, unique love, just like you? You want to listen to everyone else’s conversations? And you want to bump everyone else’s elbows? And you want to confuse your date’s coat for someone else’s coat? And then apologize for not knowing what your date’s coat looked like? And then apologize to a stranger for touching their coat?!

No, thanks. I want my Valentine’s Day to be spent with my Valentine and just my Valentine. I’ll be celebrating in the comfort of my own home, where I can spend quality time with my date. And where I am familiar with the contents of the coat rack.

marinated olives and feta appetizer

You know what isn’t super loud? Marinated olives and feta.

You Can’t Hear Your Date in a Crowded Restaurant

WHAT? SORRY, THE MUSIC IS REALLY LOUD. AND EVERYONE ELSE IS SHOUTING. I CAN’T REALLY HEA…WHAT? YOU WANT ME TO MOVE ON TO THE NEXT POINT, BECAUSE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M TRYING TO SAY HERE? IS THAT WH…YEAH? OK. COOL.

No One Wants to Wait On Your Table on Valentine’s Day

Your waiter would probably rather be at home on Valentine’s Day. That’s nothing against you, a perfectly respectable and courteous diner. But a lot of the people who show up to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day are jerks. They feel the need to show off for their date and end up disrespecting the staff, tipping poorly, and/or acting like they own the joint. Your waiter would almost certainly rather have the night off and spend it at home cooking dinner with someone they care about. (Which is what you should be doing, too.)

But also: You really want some stranger all up in your date? It’s impossible for them to not be a major factor in your night. Imagine if your waiter was just along for the ride all night. After you paid your bill, they joined you at a tasteful cocktail bar. Then they accompanied you and your date back to your place. And there they were, wedged between you and your date when you woke up the next morning. You don’t want to share the night with a stranger, as charming and serviceable as they may be at dinner. And they probably don’t want to be in the middle of your romantic evening either.

pet-nat

Ted Cavanaugh

Booze Costs Less at Home

Restaurants sell so many bottles of bubbly wine on Valentine’s Day, and that’s great for them, because booze margins are where restaurants make most of their money. But that’s not great for me, the guy who knows the wine that my date and I really want to drink is only $26 a bottle at my wine shop. And that there’s no corkage fee or bottle markup in my apartment. And that I also have all the ingredients to make a Negroni sitting on my counter. Yeah, I know. Making the point of saving money on Valentine’s Day might seem a little stingy. But hey, deep down, I’m sure you’ll both appreciate it.

Basically Flourless Cake Slice

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Rhoda Boone

Imagine someone baking you a chocolate cake. That person must rule.

Really, It’s the Act of Cooking—and Hosting—That Counts

You can put a price on how much you love someone when you take them out to dinner. It comes on a little piece of paper at the end of the meal, right above a line where you sign your name. But you can’t really quantify the emotional value of cooking a meal for someone. Sure, you bought the groceries, but the thought that went into planning a menu and choosing wine, candles, and tunes is priceless. The fact that you made the pork chops or the steak or the roast chicken or the salmon or the chocolate cake for this person that you love (or just like, if you’re not ready for that yet) means so, so much more than even the priciest meal out.

Anyone can take someone to dinner. But who can cook the thing that caters to your date’s specific preferences, in the comfort of your kitchen, while connecting in ways that remind you why you like this person in the first place? Only you can do that, my friend. Cooking for another human being is the most sincere way of saying « I care about you. » I want to feed you both literally and metaphorically. That’s sappy. But that’s the truth.

Now, about that dinner menu:

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Eating Eggs with a Fork? You’re Doing It Wrong

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Every Wednesday night, Bon Appétit food director Carla Lalli Music takes over our newsletter with a sleeper-hit recipe from the Test Kitchen vault. It gets better: If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get this letter before everyone else.

I’ve got a soft spot for this special scramble

Scrambling an egg is like skinning a cat. There’s more than one way to do it.

Maybe that’s too broad and/or too gruesome. If I had to put scrambled eggs into just two categories, there are scrambles you serve with a fork, and those that are best eaten with a spoon. The distinction is purely stylistic and a matter of personal taste, but for whatever reason, it seems like our society really puts the fork scramble on a pedestal. I say it’s time for that to change.

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I grew up on fork scrambles, and I never had a reason to complain. I knew how to make my mom’s slow-cooked scramble, which is excellent, and I knew knew never to order scrambled eggs in a diner, because they’re always terrible. I was sure that covered it. Like all radical opinions formed late in life, I hadn’t given any thought to what I’d been missing until a seismic event caused me to reconsider my deeply held beliefs (about eggs). That milestone moment was the day I met and interviewed Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the famous French chef with the namesake restaurant and the very blue eyes.

I went to see JGV, as he’s known, because I wanted to know how he made his legendary, buttery, very runny style of scrambled eggs. He complied, and invited me to come to Jean-Georges, the restaurant, in the middle of lunch service on a weekday, to make eggs for me in his open kitchen surrounded by busy cooks. I spent the first several minutes of our interview attempting to wedge myself into a narrow space between the end of a counter and a trash can. While I was doing that, Jean-Georges, the man, got out a small saucepan, a fat piece of unsalted butter, a whisk, and a container of whipped eggs. The eggs had to be completely smooth, he said, so that there were no visible bits of cooked whites in the finished dish, and he told me that they used an immersion blender to do big batches for service. The other trick, he told me, was to start the eggs in the pan with most of the butter—everything cold—and then slowly heat it up, whisking constantly.

scrambled eggs step 2

Photo by Ted Cavanaugh

Okay, let’s pause right there. For everyone out there accustomed to making a standard batch of light-and-fluffies, dry-and-rubberies, or soft and ribbonies, you know they start the opposite way—in a preheated skillet with foaming butter. Non this time.

Back to JG. The pan was over very low heat. The Frenchman was whisking. He added a pinch of salt. The butter was sort of mushing around. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes. While nothing was happening, he told me that this was how his mother used to make eggs. He told me that what he was doing would make them very light, since the whisking was incorporating air into the eggs. He said the movement would prevent the curds from forming long strands, and instead they’d take on an incredibly smooth, fluffy, finely textured finish. I watched as the egg mixture began to very gradually thicken. It looked like very loose polenta. He kept whisking. He told me that you could finish the eggs with crème fraîche, or cream cheese, or stir in chives or basil, but that the simplest way was with just butter. After a few more seconds, the eggs took on a porridge-y consistency. He immediately dropped another knob of butter into the pan and removed it from the heat… yes, still whisking.

Now, because we were in a fancy restaurant, the next thing he did was spoon the scrambled eggs into an expertly hollowed-out egg shell, top them with whipped cream, and then he capped the whole thing off with a very generous spoonful of black Sturgeon caviar (from California) out of an impressively large tin. Then he gave the whole thing to me, with a spoon.

Moi?! Oh boy, oh boy. I sunk that spoon right through the caviar, and the cream, and into the puddle of eggs, and the bite I got was rich and eggy and hot, cool and creamy, salty and slippery. Whatever JG was saying at that point, I wasn’t hearing, because spoon eggs were happening to me and the noise my brain was making was deafening.

The bad news is that I never got to have the soft scramble like that again, because all the other times have been in my own house and there’s never been a giant can of caviar in this place and I would feel pretty crazy putting whipped cream on my morning eggs. The good news is that the spoon eggs are also very magical without any of these accoutrements, eaten without fanfare out of a bowl. I made them so often at one point after learning this technique that when I’d ask my son how he wanted his eggs, he’d say “the soft way,” and I knew what he meant.

soft-scrambled-eggs-with-fresh-ricotta-and-chives

Lisa Hubbard

At home, with practice, I learned that patience was key. You have to beat the eggs long enough to fully incorporate the yolks and the whites before you start cooking, and you can’t half-ass it. If you rush the cooking process by raising the heat, the bottom will scorch and the eggs will never take on that coveted custardy texture. Go low, go slow, and don’t stop whisking. Slide them off the heat if you feel like it’s going too fast, then slide them back on. A couple of minutes might go by and they may look almost the same as they did when you started, but suddenly the aroma of cooked egg will rise from the pan. You’ll smell it before you see it, and that’s when you should add the end-game butter (or creme fraiche, or cream cheese and chives). Make sure you’ve got buttered toast and a bowl and spoon ready. A fork would be about as useful as a cat in a snowstorm.

Get the recipe:

The Softest Scramble (aka Spoon Eggs)

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