Cooking With Lauren

They say the best way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach. For Valentine’s Day this year, skip the candy and flowers, stop wasting time searching for the perfect gift and get into the kitchen. A home-cooked meal on this romantic holiday has numerous perks. First of all, the ingredients will be cheaper than many other options out there and it will be money well spent. Second, preparing food for someone else shows tons of thought. Even if the outcome is not that great, the mere fact that you spent time and effort to put something together will score you some major points. Finally, if not best of all, you get to enjoy the food too.

For those who can barely push the buttons on the microwave, cooking anything will be impressive. If you have even the slightest knack for cooking, be bold on the 14th. Put together a three course meal complete with appetizer, main course and dessert. Opening the dinner with anything from soup to tartlets, finger foods or even just a nice salad shows some class. If you prefer just dinner and dessert, make a spectacular main course with a memorable side dish and follow it up with a decadent dessert.

For the entr?ee, if you prefer pasta I would suggest something rich and creamy, perhaps involving a b?echamel sauce, a vodka cream sauce or an alfredo. I also definitely recommend spending a few extra dollars for a nice cut of meat, whether it be chicken, steak or fish. Crispy coconut chicken in a roasted red pepper sauce is a great example of an option that is not extraordinarily difficult yet is certainly impressive and exciting.

For cuts of red meat, look for some red wine-based sauces. They will not only make the dish more vibrant, especially when accompanied with earthy mushrooms, but they also fit well with the hues of this holiday. Creamy peppercorn sauces are also spectacular for steak. For fish, especially salmon, try a sweet glaze, like honey-based, to liven up the plate.

To accompany the main event, you can make a side of dressed-up veggies, like grilled asparagus with walnut vinaigrette. Many things can also be done with the versatile potato, from simple roasted potatoes to a hearty gratin or smooth mashed potatoes. If you really want to create a restaurant-quality meal, try making a risotto.

The rice is cooked with delicious ingredients ranging from wine and butter to herbs and cheeses to create a rich and creamy result. Fondue is another option, though it does require a sterno. It is easy and tasty, and makes for an interactive eating experience.

Finally, something chocolate. A flourless chocolate cake is foolproof and remarkably rich. Chocolate mousse, souffl?es and tarts are also sure to please, but individual molten chocolate cakes with centers that ooze chocolate will definitely astound. To offset some of the intensity of a variety of chocolate desserts, integrate berries – whether it be a sauce or the berries themselves – into the dish. A dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream or sorbet will also help cut some of the richness.

Whether you are spending Valentine’s Day with a significant other or just a good friend, cooking a special meal makes it a very pleasurable holiday. This menu will make more than enough for two people, so invite some guests or plan on indulging a second time around on the 15th. Whether you end up making a three-course meal, preparing someone breakfast or just baking a batch of cookies, your friend will undoubtedly be thrilled. From what I have seen, something from the kitchen usually comes from the heart.

Beef Medallions in Red Wine Sauce

1 1?-pound beef tenderloin

4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 large shallots, chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1 Tsp dried thyme

1 Tbsp all purpose flour

2 cups canned beef broth

2 cups dry red wine

Cut tenderloin crosswise into 12 equal rounds. Pound beef rounds to flatten to generous quarter-inch-thick medallions. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Melt two tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, saut?e beef in skillet until brown on outside but still pink in center, about

two minutes per side.

Add remaining butter to same skillet. Add garlic, shallots and thyme; saut?e until tender, about three minutes. Add flour; stir one minute. Add broth and wine. Boil until sauce thickens and is reduced to 1? cups, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes.

Return beef and collected juices to sauce in skillet; heat through, about one minute. Transfer beef to plates, spoon sauce over.

Three Cheese Risotto

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

Salt and white pepper

6 cups chicken stock

2 Tsp chopped garlic

1 lb Arborio rice

1 Tbsp butter

? cup heavy cream

? cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

? cup grated Romano cheese

? cup grated Asiago cheese

2 Tbsp chopped chives

In a large saut?e pan, over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Saut?e for three minutes, or until the onions are slightly soft.

Add the stock and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for six minutes.

Add the rice and simmer for 18 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mixture is creamy and bubbly.

Add the butter, cream, cheese and chives. Re-season with salt and pepper. Simmer for two minutes and serve immediately.

Molten Chocolate Cakes with

Raspberries and Cream

1? Tsp unsalted butter, plus ? lb (1 stick)

4 Tsp all-purpose flour, plus 2 Tbsp

6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

2 Tbsp cold heavy cream

2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

? cup sugar

1 Tsp vanilla extract

Pinch salt

? cup cold heavy cream

2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar

1 Tbsp nut-flavored liqueur

? pint fresh raspberries

4 sprigs mint (optional)

Sweetened cocoa, as garnish

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Grease and flour four (6-ounce) ramekins or baking dishes with the one and a half teaspoons of butter and one teaspoon of flour in each, tapping out the excess flour. Set on a baking sheet.

In a double boiler, or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the remaining stick of butter with the chocolate, cream and powdered sugar, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt until thick ribbons form, about three minutes. Sift two tablespoons flour into the egg mixture and fold together. Fold the chocolate into the egg mixture.

Divide among the prepared dishes and bake until the sides of the cake are set and the tops are puffed but still soft, approximately 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the ramekins for two minutes, then unmold onto dessert plates.

While the cakes bake, in a bowl whip the cream until beginning to form soft peaks. Add the sugar and nut liqueur and beat until stiff peaks start to form.Spoon a dollop of the whipped cream on each unmolded cake, and garnish each plate with raspberries and a sprig of mint. Sprinkle cocoa over the cakes, and serve.