February 12, 2014

What’s Cooking: A sweet menu for Valentine’s Day

A box of chocolates? A slice of chocolate cake? So very been-there-done-that.

A box of chocolates? A slice of chocolate cake? So very been-there-done-that.

This Valentine’s Day, up the ante with your expression of love via chocolate. Rather than end the meal with a sweet hit of cocoa, why not use it as the inspiration for the main course?

Serve flank steak rubbed with ground cocoa nibs, coffee and pumpkin seeds. Accompany that with soft polenta spiked with chopped dates and cocoa butter.

For dessert, switch it up and serve a non-chocolate sweet.

About a decade ago chef Elizabeth Karmel traveled to Italy to take a cooking class. Of the many things she brought home, she said, none is more cherished than her recipe for Italian jam tart.

“I learned it from Judy Witts Francini, an American who teaches cooking classes that capture the simple home cooking of Tuscany, she said. “The first tart we made – technically a crostata – was filled with fig jam, but these simple pastries made from butter, sugar and flour really can be filled with anything.”

This is one of those recipes where the sum is greater than the parts. “For that first tart I made, the secret was a beautiful jar of homemade fig jam scented with lemon zest and almonds,” Karmel said. “The crust is so wonderful, a cross between pie dough and a sugar cookie.”

If you really want some chocolate to round out your Valentine’s dinner, add 1/2 cup cocoa to the crust mixture. Make a strawberry jam tart and drizzle it with some melted chocolate after it’s baked.


Italian jam tart

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves 6

Recipe from Elizabeth Karmel for The Associated Press.


13 tablespoons (1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water or vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (about 6.5 ounces) fig, apricot or berry jam


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Position an oven rack in the center of oven.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment to beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the orange water or extract and blend well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix by hand just until the dough is thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Measure out a scant 1/2 cup of the dough and smooth it out on a small plate, then place the plate in the freezer.

Meanwhile, press the remaining dough evenly into and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. If the dough is too soft to work with, chill it briefly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Once the tart has chilled, spread the jam evenly in it, starting from the center and leaving a border of about 1/2 inch around the edges. The jam should be thinly spread and not resemble a filled pie. Remove the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it into small pieces over the jam.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is a beautiful golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely. Remove the tart from the sides of the pan and cut into wedges.

Per serving: 470 calories; 220 calories from fat (47% of total); 25 g fat (16 g sat.; 0.5 g trans); 65 mg chol.; 59 g carb.; 1 g fiber; 29 g sugar; 4 g protein; 60 mg sodium.


Cocoa-coffee flank steak

Prep time: 15 minutes plus 2 hours rest time

Cook time: about 6 minutes (depending on preferred doneness)

Serves 2


1 tablespoon cocoa nibs

1 teaspoon ground coffee

1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder

1 tablespoon toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 ounces flank steak


Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the cocoa nibs, coffee, chili powder and pepitas until a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the oil and salt. Rub the spice mixture over all the steak, then set it on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

When ready to cook, heat a skillet to medium-high. When the pan is hot, coat it with cooking spray and add the steak. Sear for 3 minutes per side, or until cooked to desired doneness. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then thinly slice.

Per serving: 430 calories; 220 calories from fat (51% of total); 24 g fat (7 g sat.; 0 g trans); 75 mg chol.; 3 g carb.; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 50 g protein; 580 mg sodium.


Cocoa butter-date polenta

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves 2


2 ounces food-grade cocoa butter (sold as chunks at natural foods shops)

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup cornmeal polenta (not instant)

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram

1/3 cup chopped dates

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the cocoa butter. Add the shallots and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. While whisking, pour the polenta in a thin stream into the simmering milk. Stir in the marjoram and the dates. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and the polenta is tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Per serving: 500 calories; 270 calories from fat (54% of total calories); 31 g fat (18 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 28 g sugar; 10 g protein; 230 mg sodium.

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