A Valentine's Day Meal For Two

Many people know Meredith Phillips as the star of the reality TV series, "The Bachelorette." But she's also a classically-trained chef, and has published her first cookbook called "The Date Night Cookbook." Just in time for Valentine's Day, she shows us a simple meal for two, on our "Shoestring" budget of $40.

The menu includes Baby Spinach Salad with Bacon and Swiss, Lake Como-Style Salmon, and Red Wine-Poached Pears.

After years in the California fashion industry and then appearances on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," Meredith decided to go to culinary school. While there she met her current boyfriend, Fritz.

She writes in the introduction to her book: "After culinary school, Fritz and I both wanted to make cooking dinner at home a priority, so two years ago, we decided to schedule a date night: one night out of the week when we wouldn't make any other plans ... And on this one night we wouldn't go out for dinner and movie; we would stay home and cook for ourselves. ... Food is about nourishing people, but cooking together is about nourishing your relationship."

The main course of this meal is very simple - salmon drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, wrapped in foil and parchment paper and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes. The important thing to know about this dish is that when you pull the fish from the oven you drizzle with more oil and lemon juice. You want to allow the salmon to sit for several minutes before serving so that it fully absorbs these flavors. The dish is also good served at room temperature.

Food Facts:

Baby Spinach: Meredith likes to use this in the salad because she believes it's sweeter and more tender than regular leaf spinach.

Lake Como-Style Salmon: This dish, as you might guess, is based on a dish that Meredith and Fritz had one summer in Italy. The dish is so simple that she feels it's essential to use the best quality ingredients you can afford.

Poach: To cook food gently in liquid that's just below the boiling point. Poaching infuses the item being cooked with the flavor of the liquid - in this instance, the pears will absorb some of the red wine flavor.

RECIPES:

Baby Spinach Salad With Bacon And Swiss
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 6 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:
Dressing:
4 strips bacon
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

Salad:
4 cups baby spinach, washed and dried
1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 avocado, cubed

Method:

To make the dressing, set a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook, turning once or twice, until crispy. Drain on paper towels and crumble into bite-size pieces, reserving the rendered fat in the pan.

To make the dressing, add the lemon juice, mustard, honey, and several grinds of black pepper to the warm bacon fat and whisk until well combined. Dip a leaf of spinach into the dressing to taste. Add salt if needed and whisk in up to 1/4 cup olive oil if the dressing seems too tart.

To assemble the salad, place the spinach, cheese, bacon, avocado, and onion in a large bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Place on serving plates and season with a bit of freshly ground pepper.

Variations:

Add sautéed mushrooms. Substitute ricotta salata, a slightly dry and salty cheese, for the Swiss, and crumble it in.


Lake Como-Style Salmon
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds salmon fillet, skin-on
2 sprigs oregano, stems discarded
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 medium lemons), divided
Sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon snipped fresh chives

Method:

Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 475 degrees. Tear a large piece of parchment and aluminum foil, and set the parchment on the foil. Place the salmon, skin-side down, on the parchment. Sprinkle with the oregano leaves, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and season lightly with salt.

Wrap the parchment and foil together, crimping the edges well, but leaving a bit of room for steam in the packet. Set the packet on the preheated baking sheet and bake until the packet puffs up with steam and the salmon is barely cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the salmon from the foil, being careful of any hot steam, and place on a serving platter. Drizzle with the remaining lemon juice and the olive oil. Sprinkle with more salt and season with pepper. Garnish with the snipped chives. Let stand for several minutes for the lemon and olive oil to permeate the fish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variations:
Try this with rainbow trout, striped bass, or other lake fish.


Red Wine-Poached Pears
Prep & cooking time: 1 hour, chilling: overnight
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients:
4 firm but ripe Bosc or Anjou pears
1 (750-ml) bottle Merlot
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick cinnamon
4 whole cloves

Method:

Peel the pears, leaving a bit of skin and the stem intact at the top.

Combine the wine, 1 cup of the sugar, the water, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves in large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Add the pears, reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer until the pears are tender when pierced with knife, but not too soft-about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the pears to cool completely in the wine mixture. Cover and chill the pears in the liquid overnight.

Remove the pears from the liquid and keep chilled until ready to serve. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and discard. Return the liquid to the stovetop and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let boil until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool at least 30 to 45 minutes before serving.

Serve the chilled pears with sweetened Whipped Cream.

Variations:

Use white wine and add cherries, or try using a sweet white dessert wine and eliminating half the sugar. Garnish with toasted or candied chopped pecans.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

Comments