I’m all about getting dinner on the table quickly and without fuss or muss. So you’d think my idea of a nice Valentine’s Day dinner would be to go out, and indeed that is just my idea of a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. However, if I’m going to do something nice for The Beloved Spouse, it won’t be to take him out for dinner. It’s not that he doesn’t like going out to restaurants. He just really likes my cooking, drat him. It’s a case of what Peg Bracken wrote in the “I Hate to Cook Book,” about your basic husband. “He’s not going to want to take you out for enchiladas if he knows he can get good enchiladas at home.”
Note – the above quote was written in 1960 or so, when women were expected to be the primary cooks in the household and going out was a very special occasion. It still holds up no matter the gender or marital status of the primary cook and primary eater in a given household. And, alas for me, the primary eater in my household knows he can get good enchiladas here. It’s become the running joke whenever I make something particularly good, meaning he has one less reason to take me out, which I’d generally rather do. As much as I love good food, cooking it is not my favorite thing to do.
But pleasing The Beloved Spouse is a preferred activity and fortunately for me, there are a number of great classic dishes that are insanely easy to do. It makes sense. The best food is all about playing up the basic elements, not smothering them under a host of spices, herbs and other ingredients. Take sole, or fish, meuniere. If you remember the film Julie and Julia, the scene where Merrill Streep as Julia Child is in tears of ecstasy while eating a fish being fried at the table. Sole meuniere is the dish and it takes no time and almost no effort to make.
You take a filet of a white fish – tilapia works great here, or even real sole, you dredge it in flour, salt and pepper, then sauté it over medium high heat in melted butter until the flour is golden brown, then serve right away alongside some steamed vegetables and a salad. You can add a lemon slice if you want to get really fancy, but I don’t. Make your salad before you start the fish, then prep the veggies for the microwave and press the start button about the same time you start cooking the fish. No sauce, no nothing, just a light, tasty fish and a couple tablespoons of butter, which if you consider the rest of the menu, isn’t going to add that much to your waistline. Besides, this is a special occasion dinner.
Or one of my personal faves, steak, salade, frites. Or steak, salad and fries. This is a bistro classic that is wonderfully delicious, even though I generally substitute oven-fries for the classic French fry. You don’t even need sauce, although I do like to chop up the leaves off a couple stems of tarragon and mix it with a generous spoonful or so of mayonnaise while the oven is heating for the potatoes. Crank your oven on to about 475 degrees. Cut a potato – or two if they’re small – into wedges about 1-inch wide. Plop those on a cookie sheet, dribble just about a large spoonful of oil over it all (not olive because that doesn’t handle the high heat well), shake some salt and pepper over everything, and mix it all up until the potatoes are completely covered with oil. Then spread them out on the pan and put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Make your salad – just lettuce, some radishes, oil and a splash of vinegar with salt and pepper. After 10 minutes are up, turn the potatoes over, then put them back in the oven for around 10 minutes or until they’re cooked through.
Then get good, thin-cut rib-eye or New York steaks – boneless. You can buy a thick-cut one and cut it in half horizontally, but that’s a bit more work. After the potatoes have been turned, take your heaviest fry pan, put it over high heat and let it get hot. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the surface of the pan, and lay in your steaks. Take a deep breath, kiss your sweetie, and turn the steaks, two kisses if you like them more done. Grind some pepper over the cooked side, flip the meat again, then once more and dinner is served. If you didn’t do the tarragon mayonnaise above, you can sprinkle some crumble blue cheese over your steaks. Or not.
Pick a nice chardonnay for your fish or your favorite red for the steaks, light the candles and you’ve got easy-ish romance. Or you can go out to eat.