Romantic dinners for two can be fun — and healthy, too
Quinoa With Shiitake Mushrooms and Delicata Squash. Photos by Dan Kacvinski. Food coordinated by Judy Zeidler
In a wild wedding party last year at the Hollywood Museum, our granddaughter Giamaica married Steve. They met in Flagstaff, Ariz., at the historic Hotel Monte Vista, where Steve was the chef.
They moved to Pacifica, in Northern California, when Giamaica got a position at Terra Nova High School, teaching beginning and advanced dance classes. She is also the co-chair of the physical education department and advises the dance team and the breakdancing club.
Steve was offered a position as chef at San Francisco Towers, a retirement community. He is on the hot line most of the time, and Giamaica explains that he is really good at making sauces and soups. He works during dinner, which includes cooking for both the cafe and the dining room, as well as preparing trays for residents.
When they arrived in Northern California, they didn’t know anyone, but, as newlyweds who loved to cook, they discovered that it was more romantic cooking together.
At home, they order local produce from Planet Organics that is delivered weekly, and they tend to base their meals on the seasonal vegetables they find at their door.
“Steve has taught me so much about cooking technique and what tastes go well together,” Giamaica explained. “We just sort of break up the work for our main meal and bounce ideas off of each other. We always make sure to taste things as we are cooking and agree on what to do.”
Giamaica also does a lot of singing and dancing in the kitchen to keep things fun.
“We laugh a lot in the kitchen,” she said.
On special evenings, they sit down at a small table in their home. They begin by lighting candles and then toast each other with a glass of sparkling wine. It is a special time when they can just enjoy a few hours of being together and eating their favorite foods.
Giamaica continued, “I think one of the most romantic dinners we have had at home was on one rainy night. We started the evening with a sweet and savory baked brie cheese, a variation of an appetizer my mom makes. We often take inspiration from family favorites and then create our own version, and we both love cheese!”
They like to cook with quinoa, because it is now easily available at most markets. Gaining in popularity, it is also very healthy, and creates a dish that is high in protein and very flavorful. It was the main course, combined with shiitake mushrooms and delicata squash, for their romantic dinner, but you could substitute almost any seasonal vegetables. A sweet potato puree was served as a side dish.
Their neighbor, who has a garden close by, grows lots of herbs that she often shares with them. Giamaica, considered the family pastry chef, loves making desserts, and inspired by the new-wave San Francisco restaurants, incorporates fresh rosemary into a traditional vanilla pudding. It is the dessert that she makes for special occasions, and it is Steve’s favorite.
As Giamaica and Steve enjoy their last bite of dessert, they toast each other with the final drops of champagne and begin looking forward to their next romantic dinner.
SWEET AND SAVORY BAKED BRIE
∗ 1 (8-ounce) package brie cheese
∗ 1 tablespoon brown sugar
∗ 1/4 cup dried cranberries
∗ 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
∗ Zest of 1 orange
∗ Rosemary crackers
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cut brie wheel in half horizontally; set the top half aside. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly on bottom half of the brie. Sprinkle dried cranberries over brown sugar. Top cranberries with 1/4 cup sliced almonds and half of the orange zest.
Replace top half of brie, and gently press down. Garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon sliced almonds and remaining orange zest.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until center is creamy. Serve with crackers.
Makes about 6 servings.
QUINOA WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND DELICATA SQUASH
Delicata squash is mild and not as sweet as other winter squash, so it pairs well with hearty dishes. Delicata’s thin skin is delectable when cooked; there’s no need to peel it.
∗ 1 large delicata squash, diced
∗ Olive oil
∗ Salt and pepper
∗ 1 cup quinoa
∗ 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
∗ 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
∗ 2 stalks celery, diced
∗ 2 medium carrots, diced
∗ 1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
∗ 1 pinch crushed red pepper
∗ 1/4 cup white wine
∗ 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
∗ 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
∗ 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in oven 30 to 35 minutes, until fork-tender and slightly golden.
Meanwhile, prepare quinoa according to package directions, then rinse and drain through a large fine-mesh strainer.
Heat a large pan over medium heat, coat with olive oil, and add onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Cook until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste; cook until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Deglaze pan with wine; cook for 5 minutes until liquid is slightly reduced.
In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, onion mixture, delicata squash, vinegar, thyme and basil, mixing gently. Serve hot or cold.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
SWEET POTATO PUREE
∗ 2 sweet potatoes
∗ 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
∗ 1 to 2 chipotle peppers in adobo
∗ 3 tablespoons maple syrup
∗ 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
∗ 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
∗ 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
∗ Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Roast sweet potatoes in preheated oven until fork-tender. Scoop out flesh and discard skin. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Puree until smooth.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
ROSEMARY VANILLA PUDDING
Rosemary Vanilla Pudding
∗ 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
∗ Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
∗ 2 1/2 cups whole milk
∗ 2/3 cup sugar
∗ 1/4 cup cornstarch
∗ 1/4 teaspoon salt
∗ 4 large egg yolks
∗ 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
∗ 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
∗ Additional lemon zest and rosemary sprigs for garnish
In a small saucepan over low heat, steep rosemary and lemon zest in milk for 15 minutes. Strain into a bowl and let cool.
In a large saucepan, off heat, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in milk mixture and egg yolks. Over medium heat, whisk constantly until mixture starts to thicken and you see bubbles. Reduce heat to low and cook another minute. Pour through sieve into a medium bowl. Add butter and vanilla extract, whisking until butter is melted and all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Place plastic wrap over surface and chill. Spoon into bowls and garnish, with lemon zest and rosemary sprigs.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.