I think I've figured it out, I have somehow made mortal enemies with some form of intelligent virus, and every time I have three or four days of health and productivity, my enemy lies in wait lulling me into an ambush where I suddenly find I am host for a new round of microbial battle.
But sieges are won through persistance and I don't care how long it takes, I'm finishing The Valentine's Day Menu Saga - So there! Hah! Ha hah! Fie on you tiny battalions. True Love and Tangy Citrus Chicken will still be shared with the world!
Or at least True Love for Tangy Citrus Chicken because it was really, really good.
The Boy of the House wanted to do something special for His Girl, but he didn't want her to think he just bought her things. He wanted to DO something for her, and he decided to cook her a Valentine's Day meal. In order to do this after he had chosen his menu, he had to get through religious dietary restrictions, 2 blizzards, learning a few new cooking techniques and the actual cooking itself. He enlisted me as coach and the Poppets as assistants. I didn't sous chef for him much, because he wanted to do it himself, but I did help him keep track of timing, because one of the most difficult parts of meal planning is making sure everything gets to the table served at the right temperature.
So part of that is figuring out how long things take to make and working your preparation plan accordingly. It was a wonderful week working on this and I wanted to keep the memory with all it's details and special insights and recipes, so I'm putting it here in the Dreamtime, for me, for His Girl and our families, because happy things are easy to make smaller and this way we can keep pieces of it as large and adventurous and as loving as it actually was. This is the final entry in the story.
The menu consisted of Tangy Citrus Chicken, Spinach Leek Tart, and Glazed Sweet Potatoes. He was serving non-alcoholic mojitos to drink with dinner and dessert was a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mousse Terrine with Cappuccino.
So this is the order that things were learned and made:
We learned how to use the Bialetti Mukka Express first. The Coffee Poppets were strong enablers . . I mean supporters of this effort. You can read about that here, f you haven't already. We did that at the beginning of the week before the dinner.
Then the Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Terrine takes a couple of days so that was started the Thursday before Valentine's Day with the Choco Poppets. You can read about that here.
That entry was when I realized there were two ways to tell the story: Linearly for the date, or each entry could hold the recipe and tell the story of the dish from decision to delivery on the table. I chose the story of each dish with the date story mixed in so that each entry has the full recipe.
Which meant that I told the story of the Glazed Sweet Potatoes next, which includes the appearance of the Drunken Poppet and the participation of the Pumpkin Spice Poppets. It was supposed to be made in advance on Saturday, but had gotten moved to Sunday morning, as you can see here.
This is when The Skeleton Who Wants to Run a Flower Shop reminded The Boy that he had to do things like set the table and that tables should have fresh flowers. The Boy had never arranged his own flowers so that was another thing he was going to have to learn.
But first The Boy had to make the truly romantic and highly work intensive Spinach Leek Tart. The recipe for which is here, and the entry also includes the slightly manic digression on buying mushrooms before a blizzard.
As you see from the photo that opens this entry, the Skeleton will not be denied. He was waiting, as are we all, for the Tangy Citrus Chicken, the keystone of this V-Day meal, to get underway.
You may remember that the whole thing began with this as the centerpiece recipe. It had his two required elements; it was a meat meal, and it looked "tasty". It has some heat to it which is something His Girl likes, but wasn't so spicy that he wouldn't like it. This was actually the recipe that we really wanted to make in advance to make sure it worked, but circumstances prevented it.
There was also the timing-to-be-hot issue. Tangy Citrus Chicken cooks in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes and then gets finished off with a quick broil. Spinach Leek Tart gets cooked at 400 degrees but it doesn't cook very long, only 15 minutes for the last step. The glazed sweet potatoes would have needed about 20 minutes at 350 degrees if it were the whole batch but we were only going to replate enough for the dinner, because the original recipe serves 8-10, so it would probably be about 15 minutes too.
His Girl was due over by 5:00, which we meant that the chicken had to be in by 4:00 at the latest. Then the potatoes would go back in the oven at 4:55 and the tart by 5, moving the temperature to 375, with them sitting down to dinner at 5:25. At least that was how it was supposed to work when we started that morning.
INGREDIENT LIST FOR TANGY CITRUS CHICKEN
3/4 of a cup of lemonade concentrate, defrosted
1/4 of a cup of ketchup
3 tablepoons of brown sugar
3 tablespoons of white vinegar
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoonn freshly ground black pepper
1 chicken cut into 1/8ths
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of canola oil
On the day before the blizzard the biggest concern we had was finding a full kosher chicken or even better one pre-cut into eighths. Turkey everyone had, but chicken, not so much. I found one and only one pre-packaged chicken ( no way was I going to the butcher on such short notice). It was one chicken, in eighths - obviously meant to be, but it also meant that we couldn't do a test run on the recipe.
Instructions for Tangy Citrus Chicken
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl mix the lemonade concentrate, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce ginger, paprika, chili powder . . . . . .
"Umm wait a minute did we already say chili powder? I put in Garlic Powder I think?"
"Are you having the Drunken Poppet call out the list?"
"Here let me teach you a system." here is the system. We put out all of our ingredients on an area of the counter. That does 2 things. You know that you have all your ingredients so you don't suddenly find out you are missing something, and you can keep track of what you have used.
As soon as you use the ingredient,if you are done with it then you can put it away ( shortens cleanup time) if you can't put it away because you need to tend to the recipie, you move "included" ingredients to a different counter or counter area on the other side of your body so you know what you used and what you didn't use yet. We lined the spices up, topped off the Drunken Poppet's cup and sent him to help elsewhere and let the Highly Caffinated Poppet help line up and inventory the spices. As you can see your starter counter gets clearer and clearer as you go along.
So to continue:
. . . . garlic powder,onion powder, thyme , oregano, basil salt and pepper. Mix and set aside
The simpler way to say that would have been "take everything but the last three ingredients on the list mix together in a medium bowl and set aside." But it really was handy having each spice listed in the recipe. It acted like a check list.
And so that's what we did.
Well, that took longer than we were expecting. Hmmn.
Now we went to the next item which was:
Dredge the chicken in the flour.
Well our chicken was packaged and it was going to feed a lot more than the two people the dinner was planned for, so when we unpacked the chicken to clean and prep it for dredging we decided to butcher it a little bit more so that it would be easier to serve and eat. Which meant the boy had to learn these things since it was him that was making the meal. We were overshooting our window. We had thought that starting this part by 3pm would give us plenty of time, but there was some shuffling of other family members and we were about a half hour off schedule. Luckily it ended up that His Girl was going to need us to come get her. This meant The Boy could concentrate on doing things in the right order rather than trying to stall or take shortcuts.
So the meat was dressed and he learned how to dredge the chicken which is a way of lightly taking damp chicken through flour.
In a large pot ( yeah it said pot - you don't need a pot, you do need a super big frying pan with deep sides. ) heat the oil over medium high heat. Brown the chicken until the skin is crisp on all sides.
Remove the chicken pieces to a baking pan in a single layer.
Pour the spice mixture over the chicken. Bake covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Apparently the Skeleton Poppet had been waiting patiently. He taught the boy how to mix the preservation cut flower food into water by measuring into a large bowl and mixing it there.
Helpful tip - slightly warm or room temperature water works best for the mixing.
The other Poppets that had been helping in the kitchen were helping to take out the good fleishig (meat) china and silverware. The boy set up the mint garnish for the mojitos as well as a water glass in case she didn't like mojitos as much as he did.
The Skeleton Who Wants to Run a Flower shop taught the boy how to cut flowers to the right height, and use a funnel to fill or refill vases once the flowers were arranged. ( It keeps the water from getting everywhere and you don't have to change the position of the flowers)
The best way to cut flowers : Cut with a sharp knife on a diagonal. Remove leaves that would be underwater on the arrangement, but keep the thorns on the roses, because taking them off shortens the life of a cut rose.
Here is the first arrangement. It went on the painted chest in the dining room.
You always arrange flowers for color and balance. Here is the Skeleton helping The Boy to settle a pink rose into the centerpiece. Fun fact, that is a Waterford crystal bowl that Spook ( the poppet) usually lives inside when it is on the shelf because he likes the disortion of looking through the cut crystal. Hmmmn, I'm letting The Boy use my good knives, the good china and my real crystal - some people might look askance at this, but these things are meant to be used, they're better that way.
With some fussing the table was set. He lit candles.
The chicken had made it in by 4:30. The potatoes were replated in an oven to table ceramic and went in at 5:20.
The temperature was moved to 375 and the tart was put in at 5:30. The Boy muddled the mint and mixed the mojiotos, so they were ready for when His Girl arrived. The Perfectly Normal Husband had left to pick her up before and brought her over by 5:40.
The Chicken came out at 5:45 and cooled down while the Tart finished at 5:55, which is also when the sweet potatoes came out. (Please note that the sweet potatoes were basted every 10 minutes during the second session in the oven, just like when they were cooked originally.)
Everything was served at the table and The Boy served His Girl by 6pm.
Like all good staff I ate in the kitchen. My kitchen has a swinging door so I kept it shut, so the kids had some semblance of privacy. The Perfectly Normal Husband was upstairs - slogged down with work. It was actually surprising that he was home at all this time of tax season. I took a plate up to him. Except for the sweet potatoes, he doesn't like them and I figured why waste them. So I can say honestly not only was the meal excellent, but all of these recipes will be going into the regular rotation.
The Spinach Leek Tart was, not surprisingly, a huge hit with His Girl. However, surprisingly indeed, The Boy really liked it too and asked for us to have it again.
The Poppets were as proud of him as if he were their own Boy, which I suppose he is, at least he's Pumpkin Spice and Cappy and The Skeleton Who Wants to Run a Flower Shop's Boy, since they are His Poppets, and these relationships are always reciprocal. Oh and Spook. He's Spook's Boy too.
When the dinner was over and the Penut Butter - Chocolate Mousse Terrine was served with the Choco Poppet adding a little caramel before it left the kitchen. She loved the dessert.
We discovered that the picture above is a really big serving of that particular dessert. The Boy also made His Girl cappuccino with Silk soy milk which wasn't half bad, but not as good as milk would have been (silly rabbis) and then they sat in the living room looking at the Poppet Circus. . .
. . . and talking for a good long while. I told The Boy he could stay with His Girl and I'd clear the table (because the living room and dining room are open to each other through an arch so it's some nice, unobtrusive chaperoning that way) and when I was just about done with the clean up and the repackaging, they came and asked about curfew - which was ten. So they had about another hour and half. Then they behaved just like a regular couple who were 15 and 14, and played video games and watched TV until it was time for her to go home.
I love them for that, as much as I love them for being unlike a regular couple who are 15 and 14.
The Spinach Leek Tart had been cut and served in a way to keep the heart with her initial intact, and the remaining Tangy Citrus Chicken still had enough to feed another four people - which is more or less the number of people at His Girl's house. Because we followed the strictest of the rules when we were preparing things, we were able to send these things home with her. So even though it was a meal, she still got to show off what her boyfriend gave her for Valentine's Day. Which isn't supposed to matter of course, but I remember being 14 and 15 and maybe even 16, when it's nice to be able to show someone else that you are loved and admired, and that someone put some effort into letting you know.
She is definitely loved and admired.
The boy certainly thinks she's worth every minute of it.
The End of the V-Day Celebration Menu