A couple of years after Mark and I were married, we realized that we would both be working on Valentine's Day evening. We were in college at the time, and working several part time jobs. I wanted our Valentine's Day to be special and romantic, so I decided to make him a candlelight Valentine Breakfast. I found a heart shaped muffin tin, and got up early to make muffins and scrambled eggs to serve with fresh fruit and coffee. I set the table with a beautiful lace tablecloth, lit the candles and woke him up for the surprise. He loved the idea so much, that we have continued the tradition for over 20 years, now sharing it with our children. I don't always make heart shaped muffins; some years, I have made cinnamon rolls with pink icing, cream cheese stuffed French toast, cherry turnovers or a breakfast casserole (see my previous blog for that recipe). What doesn't change is that I set the table, using our best placemats, napkins and dishes, add a small gift and/or heart shaped box of candy and light some candles. Since it is so crowded at restaurants on Valentine's Day, we rarely go out for dinner. Instead, I prepare a second candlelight meal! After all, if one candlelight meal is romantic and special, imagine how the people you love will feel about having TWO on the same day! Like my Valentine breakfast menu, the dinner menu changes. I have made steak, beef stroganoff, lasagne, stuffed shrimp and other family favorites. This year, I was asked to provide Valentine recipes for our local newpaper's food section. I included the previously posted breakfast casserole, along with my Crawfish Pepper Jack Cream Soup and 20 Year Date Nut Bars. Served with a salad and bread, they make a great Valentine feast. I developed the soup recipe after tasting a soup with the same name at the Times Bar and Grill in Slidell, Louisiana. I searched for a date bar recipe for 20 years like Mark's grandmother used for make when he was a child, and finally found a winner in one of Joanne Fluke's mysteries featuring Hannah Swenson, the fictional owner of a cookie store in Minnesota. I hope you enjoy them both!
Crawfish Pepper Jack Cream Soup
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
½ medium bell pepper, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
½ stick (4 Tbsp.) butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups (1 quart) half and half
12 oz. pkg. cooked crawfish tail meat (thawed and drained, but not rinsed; coarsely chopped)
12 oz. Monterrey Pepper Jack Cheese, grated
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Saute onion, celery, bell pepper and carrots in butter for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add flour, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne, and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in half and half. Add crawfish. Do not allow mixture to boil. Stir occasionally, and lower heat as needed to keep from boiling. Cook for 15 minutes on medium low heat. Add pepper jack cheese, and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serves 4-6, if served as a meal with salad and bread.
20 Year Date Nut Bars
(Preheat oven to 350, rack in the middle position)
8 oz. pkg. pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 and ½ cups orange juice
2 and ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 and ½ cups softened butter (3 sticks)
2 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
½ cup shredded coconut (for topping)
In a medium sized saucepan, combine the dates and the orange juice. Do not cover. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Move the saucepan to a cool burner and let it cool.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Mix it thoroughly. Cut in the softened butter with a pastry blender, or two knives until the resulting mixture is crumbly. (You can also do this with a food processor and cold butter cut into pieces. Use the steel blade in an on and off motion until the mixture is crumbly). Stir in the oats, coconut and nuts. Mix thoroughly. Spray a 9 x 13 cake pan with a non-stick cooking spray. Measure out 4 cups of the oat mixture and set it on the counter to use for topping. Press the remainder of the oat mixture in the bottom of your baking pan.
Spread the date mixture evenly over the crust to within a quarter-inch of the edges. Sprinkle the date mixture with the remaining oat mixture. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup coconut on the top and pat it down gently. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, or until light golden brown on top. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut into bars. Store them in a tightly covered container. Makes 36 bars.