Will is the romantic in our household, and while I'm well-known for trotting out a sheet of heart stickers to pass around the office on Valentine's Day, I don't get into the holiday much more than to see it as yet another opportunity to buy half-price candy at the drug store the day after. Even still, you'd think a day with such a focus on sweets and chocolates would give me inspiration to bake, and I have to admit I am a bit of a let-down this year. Nevertheless, I did make a delicious and special dinner that was redolent of intensity, warmth, and richness, and isn't that what a good Valentine's Day should be?
Will started us off with an aperitif of Oola Distillery vodka muddled with fresh bartlett pear and topped off with (thematically-appropriate!) Hot Lips pear soda. YUM!
The day before, I had started my duck ragu, which really gave the flavors time to develop, and also meant I had time to just sip my cocktail and eat my pear while it reheated on the stove, instead of running around madly chopping onions. I made a half recipe using two hind quarters in a 12-inch skillet (and we had plenty of leftovers, so it easily serves 4.)
As you will see if you look at the photo in the ragu recipe compared to mine below, I forgot an important step (I blame Oola...) I neglected to shred the meat into the sauce and instead served it on top. This might have been more of a mis-step if the dish hadn't been prepared the day before, but as it was, the sauce was thoroughly imbued with the rich duck flavor.
Not sure that brussels sprouts get much of a top-billing for Valentine's, but they were just the right thing with this dish. Thinly sliced, and sauteed on the stove next to the reheating ragu with a generous pour of olive oil and some of the smoky, salty bacon jam that is a trademark of Skillet Diner (conveniently for all you Seattleites, Skillet and Oola are right across the street from each other), these brussels had the right amount of flavor, texture, and color.
Quite certain that fresh pappardelle is a must, I used Cucina Fresca, and we really thought we could have been eating in Italy. Don't forget a good red wine of course - pick something good to go in the ragu (it only needs 1/4 cup!) and drink the rest. I used a dry Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Finally, for dessert, I did something that I am snobby enough to admit shames me: I made a cake-mix cake. This does not reflect the depth of my love for my husband, rather it speaks to how safe and secure I feel with him that I don't need to continually prove myself. Nevertheless, I did modify the mix with some creative inspiration and some homemmade frosting. I used a yellow cake mix which called for 1 1/2 cups water, 3 eggs, and 1/3 cup oil. I replaced 1/2 cup of the water with 1/2 cup of apricot brandy, and also stirred in a teaspoon of finely chopped sushi ginger (I liked how the pink ginger brought out the apricot theme). Then I frosted the baked and cooled cake with Apricot Buttercream. It has a fabulous sweet-tart flavor, but the consistency is a bit lumpy from the pureed apricots, so it doesn't make a perfectly smooth surface. I was amazed at how fragrant the apricot brandy turned the standard cake mix cake. The snap of ginger gave just an extra layer of depth to the flavor, without adding a noticeable zing, and with a delicious frosting, this cake was very satisfying.