We all love a one-pot meal, especially these (pandemic) days, when home cooking is a given, all day, every day. But for a special occasion, like Valentine’s Day, or perhaps when you’re just craving something a bit fancier, consider this more complex menu.
I would call it restaurant-level, but eminently doable for the home cook. The key is organization: doing the work in stages and getting ahead on the prep. This is not a menu to accomplish in one session. Dedicate a little time to it over the course of two days — or more, if you prefer — and it will be very easy to pull off.
The recipes are meant for a table of four to six, for a family or quarantine pod celebration. But they are quite simple to scale down for two.
For a first course, a savory mushroom tart is elegant and impressive. A quickly homemade puff pastry (prepared a day or two in advance) is spread with a thin layer of crème fraîche, then topped with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions. A touch of garlic and thyme perfumes the mixture. It is heavenly, emerging from the oven beautifully bronzed and flaky.
You could use store-bought puff pastry, if you wish, but this dough is straightforward and fun to make. The recipe yields enough for two tarts, so you can store half of it in the freezer for future use. You can even roll out the pastry and freeze it, so it’s ready to top and bake.
Use chanterelles or other pale wild mushrooms if possible. If using cultivated mushrooms, a combination of sliced shiitake, white button, oyster or king trumpet would be nice. (Portobellos or cremini make a rather dark and somber-looking, though certainly tasty, tart.)
For an equally impressive main course that is no trouble to execute, look to wild sea scallops. Ask your fishmonger for large, dry-packed “day boat” scallops; usually there are 12 to a pound.
Sear the scallops slowly, cooking them mostly on one side in a cast-iron or other nonstick skillet, to expose a well-browned crisp top once they are flipped. Then, they just need a minute or two more to finish. Some people like scallops that are nearly raw inside, but I prefer them fully cooked — firm but still juicy — so the recipe reflects that.
To offset the scallops’ sweetness, I chose to make a spicy carrot coulis. (A coulis, pronounced koo-LEE, is a thin, pourable sauce, often made from tomatoes for savory dishes, or from berries for desserts.) This brilliant orange sauce gets a splash of vinegar for a hit of acidity and pinch of cayenne for heat.
It is a nearly effortless dish, provided the carrot coulis is prepared in advance. Then, it’s just a matter of searing the scallops and adding the green garnishes: chives, cilantro and lime.
For Valentine’s Day or other special occasions, you want something luscious and somewhat thrilling for dessert, so it’s good to have an exemplary chocolate mousse recipe in your repertoire.
Mousse is French for “foam,” and a classic chocolate mousse gets its foamy consistency from stiffly beaten egg whites, folded into dark, rich melted chocolate. This one also has a hint of orange liqueur and a splash of espresso. From my days working in a French pastry shop and making chocolate mousse on a regular basis, I can tell you: This is not a difficult dessert. Though many recipes call for folding in whipped cream, this one does not, the better to savor the intense chocolate experience.
I like to garnish mine with a little dollop of whipped cream just before serving and a sprinkling of chopped crystallized ginger for a little extra punch.
This menu requires using more gear than the single-pot meals many home cooks have come to desire do, but it will be worth the extra effort for the happy result. If you get into the habit of washing the pots and pans as you go, you may not be opposed to occasional multiple-pot projects in future. Better yet, since there are no doubt other available hands in your household, learn the gentle art of delegating labor.