Fifteen years ago, I made the first of what would become thousands of meals for my husband, Philippe. Back then, it was our fifth date, and he was visiting my tiny Parisian apartment for the first time, where we planned an evening of binging on episodes of “Friends” on the VCR.
For our date, I wanted to make something special, but also simple. I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen, worried about executing a complicated, unforgiving dish.
I made a tried-and-true dish I knew I could do with my eyes closed – my 4-step chicken. Four-step chicken is a versatile recipe that can be made with whatever you have in the pantry.
The chicken I made that night was a lemony piccata-style dish, with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. It was the perfect balance of something a little special, but super easy to manage after a long day of work. This also happens to be a great date night dish because it packs lots of flavor without using onions or garlic.
The version I’m sharing here has an extra ingredient: tangy, creamy low-fat Greek yogurt. It’s a great stand-in for sour cream and heavy cream. Even just a spoonful of it added to dressings, sauces and soups adds a luscious creaminess that makes me forget I’m eating healthy. And this chicken dish will do just that, for you and your date.
Dinner for two
To round out a Valentine’s Day at-home menu, we’ve included recipes for a bright grapefruit-grain salad for a first course and an easy but impressive two-sauce fondue.
Chicken with tangy artichoke and mushroom sauce
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers)
Canned or frozen artichoke hearts are fine in this recipe. Just avoid the marinated variety.
1 pound thinly-sliced chicken cutlets
Salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter, divided
8 ounces mixed or button mushrooms, sliced
One 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Season both sides of the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a bowl, then dredge each cutlet through to lightly coat.
In a heavy sauté pan over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter has melted, add the chicken cutlets and cook until golden and crusty on both sides and just cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cutlets to a platter and cover with foil.
Return the sauté pan to the heat and add the remaining oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook until the mushrooms start to soften, about 3 minutes, then add the artichoke hearts. Continue cooking until mushrooms are tender, another 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the wine, broth and lemon juice and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Let the sauce bubble, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove pan from the heat, then adjust seasoning. Place the yogurt in a small bowl and whisk in about 1/3 cup of the mushroom sauce. Whisk yogurt back into the sauce in the pan. Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Per serving: 370 calories; 150 calories from fat (41 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (6 g sat.; 0 g trans fats); 100 mg chol.; 18 g carb.; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 33 g protein; 630 mg sodium.
Grapefruit and grain salad
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
This salad goes together quickly. The quinoa (or farro or bulgur wheat) can be cooked ahead of time and cooled. Recipe from the Chicago Tribune.
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white or red quinoa, well rinsed
2 red grapefruit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 jarred roasted bell peppers, rinsed, sliced in 1 1/2-inch strips
2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 ounce chopped pistachios
2 tablespoons chopped basil or parsley
Heat the water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in the quinoa. Cover; simmer until quinoa is tender, 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the grapefruit into supremes: For each grapefruit, slice away about 1/4 inch from the top and bottom. Stand grapefruit on a cutting board, wide end down; beginning at the top, cut downward to remove the peel, following the curve and cutting through membrane just to the surface of the fruit. Repeat all around the fruit. Holding the grapefruit in your hand, cut carefully between the membranes to release the segments, letting juice and segments fall into a bowl. Squeeze membranes to extract juice. (Alternately, peel grapefruit; section into segments.)
Transfer segments to a salad bowl; set aside. Measure the juice in a small bowl to get 3 tablespoons. Whisk in the olive oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and garlic. When quinoa is done, transfer it to a separate bowl; stir in the dressing. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
Add the bell peppers, Gorgonzola and pistachios to the bowl with the grapefruit; stir to mix. Stir in the quinoa. Taste for seasoning; if the salad tastes bitter or tart from the grapefruit, drizzle in a little honey to taste. Garnish with the herbs.
Per serving: 606 calories, 31 g fat (9 g sat.), 25 mg chol., 67 g carb., 18 g protein, 979 mg sodium, 12 g fiber
Fondue duo of chocolate-mango and five-spice caramel sauces
Start to finish: 15 minutes
When all the ingredients are prepped ahead, this dessert goes together in a flash. Fondue pots are nice, but they aren’t essential. You also can offer these sauces in small serving dishes. If they get too cool, just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds.
The only slightly unusual ingredient on this menu is the mango purée. It’s usually sold in the grocer’s freezer section. If you can’t find it, it’s easy to make your own. Add about 1 cup of fresh or frozen (thawed) mango chunks to the blender and purée. Strain the purée, then proceed with the recipe. Recipe from The Associated Press.
For the chocolate fondue:
1/2 cup mango purée
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons honey
For the caramel fondue:
1/2 cup half-and-half
5 ounces caramels (about 17 to 18 pieces)
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
A selection of favorite treats, such as but not limited to: wafer cookies; fresh berries; biscotti; marshmallows; pound or angel food cake, cut into cubes or sticks
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the mango purée and butter until simmering and the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate and honey. Allow to sit for 2 minutes, then stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. Set aside, but keep warm.
In another small saucepan over medium, heat the half-and-half until it simmers. Add the caramels and five-spice powder, then cook, stirring constantly, until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth.
Transfer the two mixtures to 2 small serving bowls. Set on a platter surrounded by the various items for dunking. Alternatively, set up 2 heated fondue pots according to product directions and pour the dipping sauces into those. Serve immediately.
Chocolate sauce per serving (based on 4): 260 calories; 140 calories from fat (54 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (10 g sat.; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 28 g sugar; 2 g protein; 0 mg sodium.
Caramel sauce per serving (based on 4): 170 calories; 60 calories from fat (35 percent of total calories); 6 g fat (3 g sat.; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 25 g sugar; 3 g protein; 100 mg sodium.