Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Romantic Valentine Dinner for Two...Featuring Creamy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dip

I love celebrating Valentine’s with Michael…but I hate having to wait at a restaurant with hordes of other couples vying for a table. Definitely a romance killer. My solution many years is to prepare a special meal for us at home -- something that's not too time-consuming and stressful, but packs a lot of pizzazz! My suggested Valentine's Dinner for Two menu features creamy Luscious Cheddar-Shallot Risotto, crab cakes and an indulgent chocolate dip platter for two. Add some great wine, light a few candles, and fire up some romantic music – and you have all the makings of a perfect evening at home. Best of all, much of this menu can be prepped ahead. My Baked Crab Cakes with Lemongrass-Ginger Mayo can be shaped and refrigerated the day before, then popped into the oven to bake while you make the risotto. The Creamy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dip  is ready in about 15 minutes, then served with fruit and store-bought goodies for dipping. Easy peasy.
The risotto ingredients can be prepped ahead, allowing you to have it ready to plate in about 30 minutes – while the crab cakes bake away in the oven. I paired the risotto and crab cakes with a fun, fruity wine from Friends Fun Wine In a Can. Produced in the South of France, this wine’s presentation is indeed fun -- and the flavor is light and flirty. The pink-hued Strawberry Moscato is slightly sweet, and it contains just 6% alcohol. The sweetness of this wine worked really well with the sweet crab and rich risotto…and the strawberry notes provided a hint of the dessert to come! I’m featuring simple
and decadent Creamy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dip that features NocciolataItaly’s organic chocolate/hazelnut spread. Nocciolata is made with carefully selected ingredients such as dark chocolate from the Antillean Islands, Italian hazelnuts (16%), brown sugar, skim milk and Bourbon vanilla extract. This deliciously smooth spread is gluten-free, kosher and contains no palm oil, hydrogenated fat, artificial flavors or artificial colors. While it’s amazing straight up out of the jar, I somehow found enough willpower to reserve enough to make my dip. This simple dip is served warm and makes enough for two people to enjoy a generous serving. Feel free to switch out the dippers that you and your sweetie prefer. Strawberries were a must for Michael and I...along with dried pineapple, salty pretzels and crunchy shortbread cookies. The key is to have fun and personalize your platter with the dippers that you like best. Marshmallows, peach slices, and graham crackers would also make really fun dippers.

Creamy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dip
a Weekend Gourmet Original
  • 2.5 ounces good-quality chocolate [Note: I used a 45% deep milk chocolate bar]
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup Nocciolata chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 2 tbs. Irish cream liqueur
  • Dippers: I opted for fresh strawberries, dried pineapple rings cut in half, mini pretzels, and store-bought shortbread cookie.
Step 1: Add the cream, vanilla, and 1 tbs. of the Irish cream liqueur to a small bowl. Microwave until steaming, but not boiling. For reference, this took about 2 minutes in my microwave. While the cream mixture heats, break the chocolate bar into pieces.
Step 2: Add the chocolate pieces and the sea salt to the hot cream mixture and let sit for a couple of minutes. Using a spoon, stir the mixture until the chocolate melts fully into the cream. Add the Nocciolata to the bowl and stir until it melts and incorporates into the chocolate-cream mixture. Just before serving, stir in 1 additional tablespoon of Irish cream liqueur.
Step 3: Pour the dip into a ramekin and place in the middle of a serving platter. Arrange your dippers around the ramekin and serve immediately. A ceramic ramekin will keep the dip warm for about 15 minutes, but it won’t harden like traditional melted chocolate. The Noccolata and cream keep it spoonable -- even at room temperature. If you have any leftovers, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It reheats beautifully in the microwave.
This decadent dip is really nice…and it's a snap to whip up! As you can see in the picture above, it’s creamy enough to cling to the dippers, but it doesn’t harden. It has a rich, creamy texture…and the Irish cream liqueur works really nicely with the hazelnut spread. This is a great little recipe to have in your culinary bag of tricks, because it’s totally decadent. Even better, it only takes a few minutes to whip up for last-minute guests…or impromptu romance. I paired this rich chocolate dip with XYZin, a fantastic California old vine zinfandel. It's a blend of 91% Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Tannat, and SyrahIt grapes. XYZin is a deep-red color and features a lush taste, with bright acidity and fresh fruit notes. It also features spicy backnotes with a touch of pepper. Average retail price is $16/bottle, making this highly drinkable red affordable too!

Valentine’s Dinner Game Plan:
Up to a Day Before: Prep the crab cakes, shape, and refrigerate them. Place the remaining lemongrass-ginger mayo into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate.
Day of Your Dinner: Prep the ingredients for the risotto and place them into zip bags or small plastic containers. Refrigerate. Make the dip and refrigerate in the serving ramekin.

Dinner Time: Place the crab cakes in the oven to bake. While the crab cakes bake, prepare the risotto. When the risotto is ready, the crab cakes will be cooked. To serve, place some of the risotto in a shallow bowl. Top with a crab cake and drizzle with lemongrass-ginger mayo. While you enjoy your dinner and wine, let the chocolate-hazelnut dip sit on  the counter to take the chill off.
Dessert Time: Heat the dip in the microwave until warm – approximately 1 minute. Give it a stir and heat longer if necessary. Arrange the dippers on a platter, leaving room in the middle for the ramekin of dip. Bring to the table, uncork the wine, and enjoy! What happens after dessert is totally up to you...

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