A Table for Two

What constitutes a “romantic” dinner? Certainly not one that requires one to finagle his or her way into reserving a table at a crowded restaurant, or one that brings about the stress of planning and preparing a complicated meal at home.

A Valentine’s dinner should be more about a quiet yet quality time together, perhaps sitting in your patio or at the dining room table, reminiscing many happy times and rekindling the sparks of true friendship, companionship and love. 

And yes, your favorite tablecloth helps create the right atmosphere, along with candles and perhaps a single flower in a simple vase as centerpiece.

My idea for the menu? No soup or salad, no entreé, no desserts!  Just some filling appetizers or tapas (small plates) and your favorite wine, champagne or brew. Take as much time, enjoy the moment, and turn off your smart phones!

Here are my top five choices for a romantic meal. What kind of a romantic are you?

 

Sweet and Exotic:
Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

INGREDIENTS

20 wonton wrappers
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 stems scallions, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp soy sauce
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup fresh crab meat, flaked
Olive oil for deep-frying

DIRECTIONS

In a medium-size bowl, combine the crab meat, garlic, scallions, red onion and cream cheese. Mix thoroughly. Add soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place a wonton wrapper on the wonton mold. Moisten the outer edges of the wrapper. Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the center of the wonton and press to seal the wonton wrapper. Repeat the process for each additional wonton. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Deep-fry each wonton until brown on either side. Remove from heat and place on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve on an appetizer plate and garnish with fresh mint leaves. You can use your favorite dipping sauce: ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce or sweet & sour.

 

Bold Romantic:
Bola Bola

Bola Bola (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

INGREDIENTS

1 lb ground beef
1 small white onion, chopped
1 pc carrot, peeled and grated
2 stems green onions, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
4 tbsps soy sauce
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup corn starch

DIRECTIONS

In a mixing bowl, combine ground beef, white and green onions, carrots, raisins, eggs and soy sauce.  Mix well. Spread cornstarch on a flat plate. Mold the beef mixture into balls, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and roll them in the cornstarch, making sure they are evenly coated. In a medium frying pan, heat olive oil in medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs until they turn dark brown and partially blackened, turning them over on all sides to cook. Place cooked meatballs on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve warm with ketchup, banana sauce, or soy sauce with lemon.

 

Doubly Romantic:
Coconut-Crusted Duo

Coconut-Crusted Duo (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

INGREDIENTS

1 lb thin-sliced pork loin chops (about 5 pieces)
4 pcs large shrimp, shelled (tail on)
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 tsps sea salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp corn flour

DIRECTIONS

Cut a slit (lengthwise) on each piece of shrimp, open it up and flatten. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs and add in garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper. On a separate plate, spread the bread crumbs and shredded coconut. Dip each pork-and- shrimp piece into the egg batter, then roll it on the crumb and coconut mixture, making sure it is totally coated. Place the breaded pork and shrimp on a flat baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until either side of the pork and shrimp turns golden brown (you will need to turn over the pork and shrimp to cook the other side). The shrimp will cook first, so be sure to take them out of the oven first. In a small bowl, prepare the dipping sauce by mixing the soy sauce, brown sugar and corn flour diluted in a small amount of water. Serve the pork and shrimp duo with your favorite vegetables and/or steamed rice.

 

Down-to-Earth Romantic:
Broiled Scallops with Sauteéd Garlic Spinach

Broiled Scallops with Sauteéd Garlic Spinach (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

INGREDIENTS

8 diver scallops or New England wild jumbo scallops
  (If using frozen scallops, make sure they are fully thawed)
2 tbsps grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tbsps bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp thyme flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Turn on oven’s broiler. Place scallops on scallop shells, one per shell. In a small bowl, mix the Parmesan, bread crumbs, oil, thyme flakes, salt and pepper and divide among the scallops. Broil until scallops turn slightly brown, no more than 3 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite greens (For this recipe, I used sauteéd baby spinach and garlic).

 

Colorful Romantic:
Tuna Salad on Peach Halves

Tuna salad on peach halves (Photo by Rene Astudillo)

INGREDIENTS

One 2.5 oz pouch of Bumble Bee premium light tuna
1/2 stalk of celery, sliced into small pieces
1 tbsp of sliced almonds
1 tbsp of gluten-free vegennaise (or regular mayonnaise)
1 15- oz can of yellow cling peach halves
A dash of freshly ground black peppercorn
Fresh mint leaves for garnish

DIRECTIONS

In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna with the celery, almonds and vegennaise. Mix well. Add a dash of black peppercorn. Lay the peach halves on a plate and put about a teaspoon of the tuna mixture on each peach half. Refrigerate to chill. When ready, garnish with fresh mint leaves and serve.

 
 Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo is a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit manager and writer. He is the author of a cook book/memoir, My Bay Kitchen: Memories of my Homeland, Travels and More…, available on www.Amazon.com, www.Blurb.com/bookstore,  www.MyBayKitchen.com and Arkipelago Bookstore in San Francisco.