PUTTING YOUR HEART INTO A MEAL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's almost Valentine's Day and, if you are like millions of Americans, you will soon be in your local card shop flipping through dozens of messages in search of the perfect verse to send your honey. Or perhaps this year a box of luscious chocolates or long-stemmed roses will convey your passion.

Since the sweetest hearts in our lives are those nearest to us, February 14th is a fitting time to target your family's sentiments for Cupid's arrow. The love potion, a family dinner, is an affectionate way of saying the things we often are too busy to express.

Begin as you would for any dinner party, by inviting your guests -- in this case your children (the little cherubs) and spouse (the heartthrob). While it may seem like a bit much, a written invitation sets an idyllic mood and ensures everyone is home on time. They can be store-bought, handwritten on a red paper heart or doily, or a Victorian card edged in satin and lace. Send them through the mail or place them in strategic spots that can't be missed -- taped to a mirror or door, slipped into a book or desk.

For this whimsical holiday, excess is amorous (remember love has no bounds), so decorate the food and table to your heart's content. Write each guest's name on a small lacy place card and tuck a flower, valentine or chocolate surprise at each place. Scatter pretty velvet and satin ribbons around the table and tie them on glasses and napkins.

A heart-shaped veal loaf bedecked with fanciful pastry cutouts makes an exquisite edible valentine. Because the beautiful golden wrapper is made from refrigerated crescent rolls, the preparation is minimal. Although you may bake the decorations directly on the Wellington, when baked separately they can be removed at the desired color. Filled with more than just devotion, the meat hides a surprise pocket of creamy sauteed mushrooms. If you prefer ground pork, beef or turkey to veal, any one or a mixture may be substituted.

This elegant entree, served with or without the delicious mushroom sauce, is beautiful accompanied with a vibrant rainbow of julienned vegetables and garnished with rapturous red pepper or beet hearts. The vegetables are very easy to cook al dente and then reheat in the microwave. Mashed potatoes, shaped into individual you-know-whats, would make a nice addition also.

For a finale, two disks of crunchy cookie-and-nut-laden meringues (shaped in that same romantic configuration) sandwiching a layer of velvety smooth ice cream and smothered with hot fudge sauce will keep little hearts throbbing with sentiment and nostalgia for years to come.

Ground veal Wellington Serves six.

FOR MUSHROOM STUFFING:

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced (about 8 medium)

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup regular or low-fat sour cream

FOR VEAL LOAF:

1 1/2 pounds ground veal

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup regular or low-fat milk

1/3 cup dried bread crumbs

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste

1 package (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent rolls

1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze

To make the stuffing, melt butter or margarine in large skillet. Saute mushrooms, onion and garlic until onions are tender and liquid from mushrooms has evaporated. Cool slightly and stir in sour cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the veal loaf, in a mixing bowl combine veal, eggs, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Grease a rimmed baking sheet. Press half the meat into about a 9-inch round or heart-shape. Spoon mushroom filling into center, leaving a 1-inch border all around. With hands, press remaining meat mixture into round or This is a reset, NOT a correction heart and place over bottom layer, making sure filling is covered. Pinch edges together to seal.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Remov from oven and cool slightly. Remove rolls and place overlapping on lightly floured board. Roll into a circle large enough to cover top and sides of loaf, allowing about 1/2 inch to tuck underneath. Place over meat and trim to fit; using the tip of a knife, tuck edges underneath the loaf. Cut decorations from trimmings, if desired, and place on top or bake separately. Brush pastry with egg glaze. Return to oven and bake loaf until golden, about 10 minutes for decorations, 15 minutes for the Wellington. Slice and serve with mushroom sauce.

Mushroom sauce for Wellington

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

8 mushrooms, sliced

1 cup regular or low-fat sour cream

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup beef broth or bouillon

In a medium skillet, melt butter or margarine and saute mushrooms until soft. Stir in sour cream, mustard, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce. Dissolve cornstarch in beef broth and stir into sauce. Cook, stirring over moderate heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.

Rainbow of julienned vegetables Serves six.

1 medium zucchini

1 medium crookneck squash

2 carrots, peeled

1 red pepper, seeded

1 can (8 ounces) whole beets, drained on paper towels

2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

To prepare fresh vegetables, cut each into 2- to 2 1/2 -inch pieces. Cut each piece into matchstick strips about 1/8 inch thick. Cut beets into 1/8 -inch strips; drain well on paper towels.

To cook the vegetables on the stove, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add zucchini and crookneck squash; when water returns to a boil immediately remove with strainer or slotted spoon and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Add carrots to water; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender and remove to cold water. Repeat with red pepper strips.

To cook the vegetables in the microwave, place each in plastic self-seal bags with a small amount of water. Microwave each on high power for 1 to 3 minutes or until just tender.

Vegetables may be cooked a day ahead and refrigerateovernight, if desired. Before serving, place all vegetables but beets in bowl, toss with melted butter and salt and pepper to taste. Heat covered in microwave until hot. Stir in beets.

Crunchy meringue ice cream sandwich heart

Serves eight to 10.

2 ounces semisweet chocolate

20 shortbread or vanilla wafer cookies

3/4 cup pecans

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 quart desired flavor ice cream

hot fudge sauce for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Trace a 9-inch heart in center of each and grease them. In food processor with metal blade, chop chocolate into coarse chunks. Add cookies and pecans and process until finely chopped.

In large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until very stiff peaks form. Mix in vanilla. Fold in chocolate-nut mixture.

Divide meringue in half and spread onto the hearts, smoothing the tops. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. If baking in one oven, reverse positions after 8 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and while still warm, loosen edges with a spatula, leaving meringues on baking sheets until completely cool.

To assemble, remove one meringue from paper and place on cutting board. Spread with slightly softened ice cream. Top with second meringue top side up, pressing it in lightly. Wrap in foil and freeze. (The dessert may be frozen for several weeks.)

Remove from freezer 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with hot fudge sauce.

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