Category Archives: Marriage

Emeril’s Wok-Seared Duck Salad Recipe: Romantic Sizzling Skillets

When the email arrived from The Secret Ingredient with three recipes we could share from Emeril’s Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders, I admit, there was a hint of skepticism when I saw this one.  Not really a big fan of duck, but I knew I could not recommend something I hadn’t tried.  Although there was no requirement to use these recipes (see Cajun Shrimp Stew here), it is the ideal “try before you buy” kind of experience. With this in mind, I decided to give duck another chance and Wok-Seared Duck Salad was on the menu.

Oh, man, I am so glad I did not pass this one up!  We loved it! Emeril’s inspiration for this salad marries citrus, ginger, fresh herbs and Thai chiles—and as you might have guessed the seared duck breast tops it off superbly. While it is lighter fare, it is a satisfying main-course salad.

Friday night was dine-in date night, so I served it on one large plate for us to share.  We could not stop talking about the deep heat of the red Thai bird chili, the luscious duck breast, or the playfulness of the fresh herbs with citrus-ginger sauce (okay, maybe that was the one-plate effect). Let the spice in this salad bring a little spice to life and plan a special evening with your sweetheart—yes, salad can be romantic. As it turns out, Wok-Seared Duck Salad is great date food … like me, you might even see duck in a whole new way. 😉

Wok-Seared Duck Salad

This recipe was inspired by a Thai dish called laap, which is made with minced or ground chicken, fish, pork, or duck and seasoned with the wonderful flavors of chiles, ginger, fish sauce, and citrus. I decided to use the same flavors with a seared duck breast and make it into more of a main-course salad. This is a refreshing take on northern Thai street food.
Serves 4

2      tablespoons uncooked jasmine rice
1      tablespoon minced fresh red Thai bird chile
2      magret duck breasts (about 12 ounces each) or 1 ½ pounds other domestic duck breasts
1/3   cup minced shallot
1 ½  tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
¼     cup fish sauce (see note below)
¼     cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼     cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ½  teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
½     cup fresh cilantro leaves
½     cup fresh mint leaves
½     cup fresh basil leaves
1       medium head of red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
2       cups bean sprouts
1       cup julienned red bell pepper

1. Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the rice. Toast the rice, shaking the wok constantly, until all the grains have turned golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the rice to a mortar and set aside to cool. Once the rice has cooled, grind it using a pestle until it reaches a sandy consistency. Alternatively, grind the toasted rice in a clean spice grinder. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Place the chile in the wok over medium-high heat and cook, shaking the wok, until lightly colored and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove the chile from the pan and add to the bowl with the rice.

3. Using a paring knife, score the fatty side of the duck breasts by making shallow cuts in a diamond pattern; this allows the fat to render more easily. Place the duck breasts in the wok, fatty side down, and cook over medium heat until the skin is golden brown and slightly crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the duck breasts to a cutting board, slice them into thin strips, and return the strips to the wok. Add the shallot and ginger and stir-fry over medium-high heat until the duck is just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the duck from the wok to the bowl with the rice and chile and set aside.

4. In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, orange juice, and palm sugar and mix well. Pour the mixture over the duck and toss until well coated. Add the cilantro, mint, basil, lettuce, bean sprouts, and julienned red pepper and toss to combine.  Serve the salad immediately.

Notes: Fish sauce can be found in Asian markets and sometimes the international food aisle of the grocery store. There are many brands of fish sauce, but we (Emeril) prefer Three Crabs, Golden Boy, and Tiparos brands.

Additional Notes from Savoring Today:
I recommend Red Boat Fish Sauce based on my own taste test and because it has so few ingredients, just anchovies and sea salt.

If you cannot find fresh red Thai bird chile, dried will work, however be careful when heating the dried chiles in a wok or skillet so the area is well ventilated.  The dried chiles can cause lung irritation when heated in a dry skillet (learned from experience 😉 ).  Also, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of the dried chile will give a lot of spice, so use sparingly unless you are familiar with it (or have a fire hydrant nearby).

Pre-order a copy of Emeril’s Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders here.

Disclosure: For my participation in The Secret Ingredient’s One-Pot Blogger Cooking Party, I received a copy of Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders, a jar of Emeril’s Essence seasoning, and a set of Emeril – by zak! Table Art 7-piece. Once the party concludes, upon my successful completion, I will receive a $50 grocery reimbursement and a set of Emeril’s cookbooks.

Shared on the following Blog Hops:
EKat’s Kitchen Friday Potluck
Real Food Whole Health Fresh Bites Friday
Premeditated Leftovers Gallery of Favorites


Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes 2-Ways: Gluten-Free & Lactose-Free

While planning the menu for the bridal shower I was hosting, I used a couple of different recipes to accommodate those gluten-free and lactose intolerant guests. (I am reluctant to describe guests by their food sensitivities, but using their names on-line is even less appealing.)  Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting anchored the dessert table at the request of the Bride-to-Be.  I was thrilled to see Meyer lemons already available in stores and picked up the first of the season.

Although, I had a companion gluten-free cupcake in this same flavor for my daughter (recipe below), it seemed too confusing to try to do both for the event, so the cupcakes shared the dessert table with Cheesecake Strawberries with Chocolate Accents (also a crowd-pleaser).  The Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes were lactose-free, the Cheesecake Strawberries were gluten-free, and so there were safe dessert choices for everyone.

You will love these tender, citrus infused cakes with flecks of poppy seeds, topped with velvety cream cheese frosting. They are perfect for showers, parties, or as a treat with afternoon tea.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting [Lactose-Free Options]

Source: Recipe adapted from original recipe by Guilty Kitchen
Yields 12 cupcakes
1/2       cup  butter, coconut oil, -or- Meyenberg goat milk butter
— room temperature
1 1/2    cups  cake flour
1/2       tsp  baking powder
1/4       tsp  baking soda
1/4       tsp  sea salt
1          cup  sugar
2          large  eggs
1           large  Meyer lemon, or 2 small — juiced and zested
1           tsp  vanilla extract
1/2      cup  buttermilk -or- lactose-free milk + 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1           tablespoon  poppy seeds

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2      cup  butter, coconut oil, -or- Meyenberg goat milk butter
— room temperature
8          ounces  cream cheese – or – Tofutti® Better Than Cream Cheese
— room temperature
1           tbsp  vanilla extract
1 1/2    cups  powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a small bowl.   In bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about five minutes. Incorporate eggs one at a time until well blended. Mix in the zest, lemon juice and vanilla.

Add flour and buttermilk to batter in two separate additions, until well mixed. Fold in poppy seeds.  Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating half way through baking time. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For Frosting:
Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy.  Add-in the vanilla and stir to combine.  Mix-in powdered sugar on low speed until incorporated. Pipe onto cupcakes and serve immediately.

Note: Since lactose intolerance was the concern and not a milk allergy, goat milk or butter is often a fine substitution.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting (GF)

Yields 12 muffins
Source: Recipe adapted from Gluten Free Gobsmacked
8         tablespoons  butter
1          cup  sugar
2         eggs
3         tablespoons  lemon zest — 1-2 lemons
4         tablespoons  lemon juice — 1-2 lemons (of those used for zest)
1 1/4   cups  King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour Mix
1/2      cup  almond flour
1          teaspoon  xanthan gum
1          teaspoon  baking powder
1/2     teaspoon  salt
2         teaspoons  poppy seeds
1/2     cup  buttermilk

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2      cup  butter — room temperature
8          ounces  cream cheese — room temperature
1          tbsp  vanilla extract
1 1/2   cups  powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add the egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and buttermilk, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and almond flour until combined.  Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture and stir just until moistened–do not over mix. Gently fold-in poppy seeds.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and bake for 16-20 minutes until lightly golden. A toothpick inserted in the muffin should come out clean. Once removed from the oven, allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:
Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy.  Add-in the vanilla and stir to combine.  Mix-in powdered sugar on low speed until incorporated. Pipe onto cupcakes and serve immediately.

NOTE: If using another flour mix, check to see if it already has the xanthan gum. If so, omit adding it separately.

Shared on the following Blog Hops:
Mom Trends Friday Food
EKat’s Kitchen Friday Potluck
SS & GF Slightly Indulgent Tuesday

Key Lime Cheesecake: Freshly Squeezed

For our anniversary, my husband had one request: Key Lime Cheesecake. For his birthday a few months ago, it was New York-Style Blueberry Cheesecake, and for Thanksgiving he wants Pumpkin Cheesecake … are you noticing a theme here?  He always appreciates my efforts, so it is easy to oblige.

When it is a special occasion, I don’t take short cuts or simplify recipes, so I set my jaw and started zesting and juicing key limes (I suspect it is akin to milking mice).  Twenty-four petite globes later, there was the 2 tablespoons zest and 3/4 cup juice I needed—it was a citrus massacre.  Following the recipe precisely, I discovered it wasn’t necessarily precise and had a few questions, which were answered and included below.

Baked in advance, the crust includes brown sugar for a caramel flavor far superior to no-bake crusts.  This silky, citrus-kissed dessert is everything you imagine a Key Lime Cheesecake should be—tangy, dulcet, velvety, and refreshing—perfect for warm summer evenings or celebrating anniversaries.

Key Lime Cheesecake

Recipe adapted from One Perfect Bite
Serves 12   (plenty to share)
2/3      cup  butter — melted
1/4       cup  brown sugar — not packed
2 1/4   cups  graham cracker crumbs — 34-2″x2″ squares or 17 rectangles

1        envelope  unflavored gelatin
3/4    cup  key lime juice
4        whole  eggs — at room temperature
2        egg yolks — at room temperature
1 1/2  cups sugar — 1 1/4 cup for lime pudding; 1/4 cup for egg whites
2        tablespoons  key lime zest — grated fine; 10 limes produce 2 tbsp
1         pound  cream cheese — at room temperature
1         pinch  sea salt
2        egg whites — at room temperature
8 1/2 inch  springform pan
Optional: whipped cream

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325° degrees. Process graham crackers in a food processor until fine; add brown sugar and pulse to incorporate. In medium bowl, add processed crumbs with melted butter and toss with fork until evenly moistened. Brush bottom and sides of springform pan with butter also. Empty crumbs into springform pan and press evenly into pan bottom and about an inch up the sides. Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown around edges, 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling.

For the filling: In a saucepan dissolve gelatin in key lime juice over medium heat, about 5 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. Combine 1-1/4 cups of sugar, eggs, egg yolks, lime zest, and pinch of salt in a separate bowl and mix well. Gradually add hot gelatin mixture, whisk to combine. Once all the gelatin and egg mixture is combined pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and is pudding-like, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. While mixer is running, slowly add lime mixture and beat until smooth. Transfer to a large, chilled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cooled, stirring every 10 minutes, for about 30-40 minutes.

In an electric mixer, whip egg whites and remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar on medium high until stiff peaks form. Remove cooled lime pudding from the refrigerator and gently fold egg whites into lime pudding until thoroughly blended. Pour filling into prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 4 to 24 hours.

When ready to serve run a sharp knife along the side of the pan and remove the spring-form. Slice, cleaning knife between each slice, and serve with fresh whipped cream on top, if desired.

NOTE: 22-24 key limes will produce approximately 3/4 cup of juice, however, it is best to buy extra juice for the assurance you will have enough.  If you can buy key limes individually, buy the 10 you need for the zest and bottled key lime juice for the rest. 

Shared on the following Blog Hops:
Hearth & Soul Hop
EKat’s Kitchen Friday Potluck
Mom Trends Friday Food
The Saturday Evening Post

Peanut Butter Pie ~ Tell Someone You Love Them: Feature Fridays

Fridays usually bring features of lighthearted food notes, but this week something meaningful warrants attention.  In recent weeks, the food community gathered around Jennifer Perillo after the sudden loss of her husband, Mikey.  I do not know Jennifer personally, but I do know loss and grief intimately and my heart breaks for her and their children.

This Feature Friday is about engaging more fully in today by valuing people and relationships in your life, while praying for a young family grieving deeply. Her story hit close to home, just 1 year ago, I stood in a hospital waiting room while my husband was in surgery to place stents in his heart—life changes so suddenly. This was the second time we escaped losing each other and part of the story behind Savoring, it still brings a tight lump in my throat.  We do not know what tomorrow holds, today is truly a gift.

In honor of Jennifer and Mikey, hug tightly, forgive, make that phone call, write a note, make someone smile, cry with a friend, make plans for dinner together, say yes when you’re invited, and make this pie or something special for those you love and savor it together (Jennifer’s request).  It is our 23rd wedding anniversary this weekend, Matt has requested Key lime Cheesecake—it (he) will be my top priority.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

Recipe from: In Jennie’s Kitchen
8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an offset spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Yes, That’s It

I cook a lot and from time to time, I enjoy a break from it as much as anyone does.  Saturday mornings are my favorite.  Each morning during the week there is breakfast to make, kids to send out the door, and the business of managing the household before I can sit down to write.  However, on Saturdays, the kids sleep-in, there is rarely a set schedule, and my sweet husband makes me breakfast. Ah, I love that! One meal I do not have to put any thought into.

I walk out of the office to scrambled eggs with green chilies sprinkled with cheddar or Parmesan, sausage, or bacon, sitting along side honeyed or fruit-topped toast.  Of course, the added bonus is that along with breakfast comes a fresh cup of French press coffee—I even close my eyes to savor that first sip.  Playing in the background is Indigo Girls Radio and the table is set with favorite condiments like salsa, horseradish, or more cheese. I am ravenous by this time because we eat earlier during the week when the schedule runs the day, so I make all kinds of appreciative sounds as I dig in.

This morning, he said, “So is this what it feels like?”
“What’s that?” I said.
“When you make something for someone and they really enjoy it—it feels good.”
“Yes, that’s it.”

Valentine’s Day: NBD or OMG?

In a conversation with a 20-something friend of mine, the topic of Valentine’s Day came up. Her sentiments closely resembled those of many of the young people I talk to—Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, NBD (no big deal).  I mentioned that while you’re dating it probably doesn’t seem very different from any other date, because, well, you’re dating.  Sure, the restaurant might have linen instead of paper napkins, but dining-out alone is routine at that stage of your relationship. I agreed with her that it was certainly not a necessary holiday for the dating world; if anything it creates more anxiety as pressure builds to have a relationship defining moment.

For those who have been married for a while, Valentine’s Day can be the reminder we sometimes need to focus some romantic attention on our spouse. The cares of life, demands of parenting, career, or financial pressures often crowd out romantic rendezvous, pushing it to the back burner for too long. Keeping love alive requires intentionality, Hallmark or not, this particular holiday just makes it easier as specialty chocolate and novelties abound.  Even still, some just hate it because of the pressure or disappointment when it does not live-up to the commercial hype.  We would do well to let it be a reminder and not a mandate.

I like the perspective of my friend who gets a heart-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy’s and makes a Valentine goodie bag.  It is fun day celebrating love.  She says, “Just like I celebrate Christ daily but Christmas is still full of special traditions.”  Of course, you wouldn’t try to make up for an entire year of romantic neglect in just one day—this is one day you get to kick it up a notch from the ordinary.  The point is, don’t let comparison or unrealistic expectations ruin an opportunity to express love to those you love, romantic or not.

If you’ve never read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, now is a great time to check it out.  Having insight about what makes others feel loved can really help take the guesswork out of what to do on a special day, or any day!  Knowing whether it is words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch that really speaks to the heart of those we love can make a real difference.

Our “Chef’s Table”

This year, we will choose a special meal to cook together like we did last year (read about that here).  To make it a little different, I like the idea of setting up a chef’s table—fun, intimate, casual.  It doesn’t have to be in the kitchen if there’s no space for it, any special setting will work, even a tablecloth on the floor for a picnic in the living room.

Candles, linen, flowers, candies, wine glasses filled with whatever you like to drink, a simple splash of color or a few heart-shaped chocolates communicate what you have together is special and worth celebrating.  Borrow a few items from friends or even let the kids make decorations (they love helping mommy and daddy do special things), simplicity is a beautiful thing.  Reluctant Entertainer has more great ideas in a recent post, Six Steps to Setting a Classy Valentine’s Table Using What You Have!

A few ways to slip in an extra “I love you” this Valentine’s Day:

A note specifically identifying something you love about them
A single flower in their car, on their pillow, with their lunch, etc.
A handwritten Valentine card
Preparing their favorite meal
Get out the linens, crystal, and china for dinner (or borrow them from a friend)
Choose a romantic line from a movie or book to text them
Choose a scripture from Song of Songs to text or email
Share a glass of wine together after dinner and just talk
Draw a bath to share
Read old, saved Valentine cards to each other
Buy some massage oil and make plans to use it
Spread out a blanket in front of the fireplace for dinner or dessert
Light candles in the bedroom and place chocolates on your pillows
Pray blessing over them throughout the day and tell them so
Leave a love note where you know they will find it
[Please feel free to leave additional ideas as a comment. -Thanks!]

One final thought. If you have children (young or older), there is no greater gift you can give them than to set an example of expressing love toward each other.  It is so good for them to see you treat each other special and treat your marriage relationship like the treasure that it is.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Dinner: “Did the fish head just move?”

I still smile when I think about Valentine’s Day last year.  Can’t wait to put the menu together for this year!

Valentine’s Day 2010

Matt and I began celebrating Valentine’s Day in advance by selecting a few recipes for the sweetheart dinner we planned together (including youngest daughter, Kristen). Various options were considered—Spanish Tapas, Scallops in Garlic Butter, Bruschetta (Julie & Julia style), Seafood Paella, and Bouillabaisse—wanting to prepare something we’d never tried before, adding a little risk to our adventure.

Since chocolate is the standard-bearer for dessert at our house there was no quibbling over our final course, so it was decided on first. I had prepared Chocolate Mink from Gourmet Magazine a few years back and it just seemed right to have at least one recipe on our carte du jour that was familiar, though it didn’t really fit our virginal, international fare. However, lo and behold, there it was on, a new version of our old favorite fitting into place with its south of the border twist—Mexican Turtle Chocolate Mink.

Even though scallops cradled in a host of garlic and butter seemed like a worthy appetizer for this occasion, I could still picture the scene from the movie Julie & Julia in my head when Julie’s husband bites into the bruschetta … the fried French bread, fresh tomatoes, and basil were just too much to resist. Unintentionally, the final menu took on a movie theme as Matt’s fondness for Bouillabaisse influenced his main course vote, remembering a cool scene from a spy movie, In Like Flint. I agreed and V-day was launched.

Recipes and shopping list in hand, we entered Whole Foods with enthusiasm picking over fresh ingredients and choice seafood as though we did that sort of thing all the time. It was sheer bliss for me, browsing bright, beautiful vegetables with the promise of creating and sharing a feast with the man I love. Fennel, check; leeks, check; red pepper, check; and so on.

Before long we moved on to the fish counter to peruse the fresh catch as well as a variety of crustaceans—lobster, mussels, crab legs, littleneck clams, and shrimp—each one playing a key role in our main course. An important aspect of Bouillabaisse is the stock, which forms the base of this renowned fisherman’s stew, thus landing fish bones a spot on the list. The fishmonger did not have any bones, but instead could offer us a salmon head.

Now, aspiring to be a great cook, I figure you have to overcome the squeamish, sickly feeling one gets when pondering things like octopus, whole fish, or for some, the mixing of meatloaf with your bare hands. For me, fish heads are right up there in the squeamish category, just short of creepy, the way their eyes follow you around a room like an old portrait in a museum. There I was, standing beside my amiable husband with a line forming behind me, facing a moment of truth—do I really have what it takes to be a great cook? Wanting to appear nonchalant about fish heads, as any great cook would, I confidently accepted their offer and placed it in our cart. Meandering through the rest of the store, occasionally checking our list and sampling cheese, we settled on some crusty French bread for our Tomato and Basil Bruschetta.

Once we were home and relaxed a bit, our attention turned to the kitchen and the mission of the day—to enjoy one another while preparing and experiencing new recipes. We reviewed the instructions to establish the flow of activity and jumped right in. Apron secured, I could not keep my eyes from darting over to the salmon head, determined to muster the courage to face my fate of cooking something that was watching me cook it. (C’mon, it’s hard not to look at someone staring at you!) I remembered being in New Orleans when I was 20, eating barbecued shrimp for the first time, having no idea it would come to the table with the heads and antennae intact. It was delicious, and I did manage to cover their beady little eyes with my napkin so I could finish the meal, but it was the last time I had anything to do with a staring contest while eating.

At this point, I remembered how Julia Child was described as fearless during her days at Le Cordon Bleu as she split lobster or boned a duck. Thankfully, I did not face the scrutiny of a French cooking class. My adoring husband, busy slicing fennel, did offer to contend with the salmon for me (chivalry is not dead), but the stock was my appointed task. So with ingredients assembled and clear resolve, it was time for “everybody in the pool” (a funny phrase from my friend Donna when trying to get food to cooperate) and our fisherman’s stew was underway.

About this time, not realizing I let out a noise resembling a motion-sick cat as I stirred the stockpot, Matt said, “did the fish head just move?”
No.” I said unflinchingly, resisting his attempt to get me to admit I was way outside my comfort zone. Instead of queasiness, laughter bubbled up and I knew the worst was behind me (except when the fish head fell apart in the stock and the eyes just floated by themselves—which oddly makes me laugh now!).

Matt prepared the rouille for the soup while I finished the appetizer (we’d been cooking for over 2 hours, surely it was time to eat something). The bruschetta was heavenly with its delicately crunchy garlic crust and generous topping of sweet, juicy grape tomatoes and basil.

Matt had chosen the perfect wine to accompany our meal, which also refreshed us during our brief appetizing respite. Kristen was lured into the kitchen by the aromatic invitation of the Bouillabaisse and the anticipation of mussels, crab, along with shrimp in her bowl. We were all anxious to taste and savor.

The flavors melded into a rich seafood stew that was as pleasing to the eye as it was to our palate. The white fish blended subtly into the background while the shellfish took center stage with its coral colors, shells, and textures. The garlic bread was great for dipping, soaking up the broth to deliver that crispy, soup-soaked bite we all love. Of course, we analyzed the qualities we liked and the minor things we would change, but far beyond the fare that rested in front of us, we had the joy of discovering something new together.

Mexican Turtle Chocolate Mink before the Caramel Pecan Sauce

Dessert was last, but certainly not least. The Mexican Turtle Chocolate Mink (involving neither turtles nor minks) greeted our taste buds with velvety, chocolate delight. The hint of cinnamon that lingered behind the intense chocolate encounter was reminiscent of Mexico, the toasted pecans and caramel sauce was the perfect accent. Six simple ingredients delivered a most rewarding finish to the day.

Up to this point, Matt had been supporting cast in the kitchen offering an extra pair of hands to help whenever needed. However, this occasion brought a focus on relationship over expediency or efficiency, a genuine collaboration from choosing the menu to setting the table. As we chopped, laughed, measured, kissed, poured, sang, discussed, stirred, and danced our way through the late afternoon, it had become the most delightful Valentine’s Day we have ever shared.

The food was delicious and the companionship, sublime. I was reminded once again that good food is more about the people we share it with, than the fuss over all the fine ingredients. Though I am no longer intimidated by the seemingly creepier parts of a fish, or under the auspices that one can only be a great cook by engaging such things, I am quite content to leave that to others.