We all dream about those romantic dinners with the one that we love, but lately, I have been noticing long lines, overbooked restaurants, an overwhelmed wait staff, and not enough parking! There are 28 (sometimes 29) nights during the month of February, but on February 14, the entire planet wants to go out to eat. However, sometimes a quiet evening with your sweetheart might be what you really crave.
How about a small dinner party at home this year? Maybe call the neighbors, or some family members you have not seen in a while, or maybe do not call anyone at all and just enjoy dinner for two. If you are not a huge fan of cooking but want to avoid the crowds, I put together some recipes that are easy, fresh, and uncomplicated. If you do want to get out of the house, these recipes are also great for picnics in the park or an easy tailgate dinner out at the ranch. Add a nice bottle of chilled prosecco (a personal favorite) and you can enjoy that extra glass, as you will not have to drive home afterward. Chilled sparkling water or a good ol’-fashioned Texas-brewed beer are excellent choices as well.
A note on the truffles: This recipe uses honey as a sweetener, although they are not overly sweet. You can add up to 2 tablespoons of extra honey if you like a sweeter truffle. However, I really enjoy the real, robust flavor of chocolate that is not overshadowed by too much sugar.
I used hazelnuts for the nut center of the truffles because they are the right size, but hazelnuts can be difficult to find in some grocery stores. Try substituting pecan pieces (full-sized halves are too large), or even a salted Marcona almond would be delicious. You can even leave the nuts out altogether for a full chocolate flavor!
Spinach Salad with Tangy Avocado Ranch Dressing
Salad Yields 4 to 6 Servings | Salad Dressing Yields About 2 Cups
Ingredients | Dressing
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 large avocado
- ¼ cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
Ingredients | Salad
- 2 large bunches of spinach, washed several times in cold water, and patted dry
- 3 to 4 green onions, chopped
- 1 box sunflower sprouts (or your favorite sprout)
- To make the dressing, combine the buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise, avocado, onion, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and celery seed in a blender and blend until smooth. (Best when made one day in advance.)
- To make the salad, combine the spinach, green onions, and sprouts on a platter or in a salad bowl.
- Top with the desired amount of dressing and serve immediately.
Lemon Thyme Chicken
Yields 4 to 6 Servings
- 1 small bunch of fresh thyme
- ½ cup olive oil or melted butter
- 4 whole lemons
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 ½ pounds without giblets
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Heat your oven to 400°F.
- Line a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.
- Strip the leaves from the sprigs of fresh thyme until you have approximately 1 tablespoon.
- In a small microwavable bowl, heat the olive oil (or butter) and thyme for 20 seconds on high.
- Remove the dish from the microwave, squeeze in the juice of two lemons. Whisk well.
- Brush the mixture all over the uncooked chicken and pour a few spoonfuls into the cavity of the chicken.
- Cut the other two lemons into quarters and place inside the chicken. Season the chicken with the sea salt and cracked pepper.
- Place the chicken in the oven and allow to bake uncovered for one hour and 15 minutes.
- Baste the chicken with the lemon thyme seasoning oil every 15 minutes. If you feel that the chicken is becoming too brown before the cooking time is complete, simply cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil.
- The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear from the meat when pierced with a fork. Allow the chicken to cool slightly before serving, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Honey Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles
Yields 2 ½ Dozen Truffles
- 8 ounce 100 percent cacao chocolate bars, chopped
- ¼ cup honey
- ¹∕³ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 30 hazelnuts, shelled
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder for dusting
- Place the chopped chocolate in a large glass bowl. Prepare a 2.9 cup square plastic pan (I used a square, sandwich-size storage container about 6 by 6 inches) by coating the inside with vegetable spray or greasing it lightly with unsalted butter.
- Place the honey, cream, and unsalted butter in a small microwavable bowl. Set aside.
- Heat the chopped chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds on high.
- Remove the bowl, stir the chocolate, and return the bowl to the microwave for 30 more seconds.
- Remove the bowl again, stir, and return for a final session of 30 seconds.
- Remove the large bowl from the microwave and stir while the chocolate melts.
- Meanwhile, place the small bowl with the honey, cream, and butter in the microwave, and heat on high for one minute.
- Remove the small bowl from the microwave and stir until the butter is melted.
- Pour the contents of the small bowl into the large bowl with the chocolate.
- Add the vanilla extract. Stir the chocolate mixture until it is well combined and smooth, making sure that all the chopped bits of unsweetened chocolate have melted. This is your truffle ganache.
- Pour the truffle ganache into the prepared square pan and cover with plastic wrap.
- Lightly press the top of the plastic covered ganache until the surface is smooth.
- Allow the ganache to cool at room temperature for at least 3 hours.
- Once the truffle ganache has set, remove the plastic. Using a melon baller, scoop the ganache into balls. Place each ball on a separate cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
- Once all the truffles have been formed, press a single hazelnut into the center of the truffle, and roll the truffle again in your hands so it is smooth and round. Dust with powdered cocoa.