No reservations needed for this dinner! Sometimes it is just nice to have a special dinner with your partner in your own home. I try to have this special kind of evening every once in a while. Come up with a menu that is elegant but easy to make and the evening will be memorable. The salad and main dish recipes below are easy and come together quickly. The dessert takes a bit longer but eclairs and cream puffs are not difficult to make. You can certainly make anything you like for dessert, as long as it is special to you. Keep romance alive.
Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberry Tossed Salad
1 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the dressing: Whisk vinegar and honey in a small bowl until blended. Whisking continuously, slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Layer the romaine lettuce with the cucumber, onion, almonds, cranberries and bleu cheese on two individual salad plates. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette just before serving.
Filet Mignon with Leek Sauce
2 Filet Mignon steaks, about 7 oz each and 2 inches thick
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, finely chopped white and light green sections of the leek
1/4 cup red wine (such as Cabernet)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the grill or broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan. Rub the steaks with the salt, then press the pepper into both sides of the steaks.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the leeks for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Add the wine, capers and tarragon.
Simmer for 3 minutes, or until well blended and heated through. Keep warm.
Grill or broil the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 135°F for medium-rare. Place the steaks on individual serving plates.
Top with the leek sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Mash the potatoes, adding the buttermilk until moist. Add the chives, cover and keep warm.
Chocolate Filled Eclairs
Makes 12 medium-sized eclairs
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use an eclair pan.
Put the butter in a saucepan with the salt and water; bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the butter is melted.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour; continue to cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the eggs to the slightly cooled flour mixture one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition — the batter will come apart after each egg is added but will reunite as you stir.
Mound dough about 1 inch high and 1 to 2 inches in diameter on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each one. If using an eclair pan simply fill the indentations.
Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven and pierce the bottom of each puff once with a skewer, to keep them from getting soggy.
Return to the oven; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the puffs crisp up for about 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Place cream, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters for at least 30 minutes.
When chilled, beat until stiff peaks form.
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth; then add the vanilla.
To assemble the éclairs:
Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise. Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries, then dip the tops of each one into the glaze.
For best results, serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within several hours.
Note: Puffs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days; freeze unfilled eclairs for longer storage. If the eclairs soften in storage, they can be crisped up in the oven before filling and serving. To re-crisp; bake uncovered in a 300°F for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.
Trapani is a province in the island region of Sicily in Italy. The northwestern part of the province is rugged in comparison to the south. The province also includes the archipelago of the Egadi Islands, the volcanic island of Pantelleria, which is the largest in Sicily, and the Stagnone Islands. The Egadi Islands consist of three main islands, Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo and two islets, Formica and Maraone. The coast is one of the most impressive in Italy and comprises valuable naturalistic spots with its seafront full of cliffs and stacks alternating with beautiful beaches.
Marsala, a town in the province of Trapani, is the home of Marsala wine. Marsala became known when the English began their explorations for commerce and trade. As the legend goes….
In 1770, a violent storm forced a British ship to take shelter in the harbor of Marsala. John Woodhouse, a merchant, disembarked and went into town to sample the wine in one of the humble taverns. Although more accustomed to the liqueur wines of Spain and Portugal, his palate detected their similarity to the local Marsala wine, prompting him to risk purchasing a considerable consignment of wine (blended with alcohol to withstand the journey) to take to his native land to sound out the market. The response was positive, the merchant set up his own company in Marsala. A second English merchant, Ben Ingham, a connoisseur of fortified wines, gradually improved the wine’s quality by using carefully selected blends of different grape varieties.
In 1833, the entrepreneur Vincenzo Florio, bought up large areas of land between the two largest established Marsala producers and set out to make his own vintage with a more specialised range of grapes. At the end of the 19 century, several more wine-growers joined the competition, including Pellegrino (1880). After the turn of the century, Florio bought out Ingham and Woodhouse and retained the two labels.
Marsala is registered as a DOC wine (a State-designated label of controlled quality); this means that production is restricted to an exclusive area around Trapani and a collection of additional vineyards in the provinces of Agrigento and Palermo. Only grape varieties with a high natural sugar content are used to make Marsala: these, once pressed, are left to ferment before being blended with ethyl alcohol to produce the different types and flavors of Marsala. Relative to the sugar content, Marsala may be categorised as dry, semi-dry or sweet. Its main denomination, however, is relative to the length of time it is left to mature: Marsala Fine (1 year), Superiore (2 years), Superiore Riserva (4 years), Vergine (5 years) and Vergine Riserva (10 years). Dry Marsala is usually served as an aperitif, while the sweeter forms are drunk as a dessert wine.
Marsala was traditionally served between the first and second courses. It is now also served, chilled, with Parmesan (stravecchio), Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and other spicy cheeses.
Marsala is a fortified wine – this means alcohol is added to it. This also means that, just like you can keep an open bottle of vodka or rum on your shelf, you can also keep an opened bottle of Marsala around. Just keep it in a cool, dark area.
Cooking with Marsala
Should you use – sweet or dry Marsala – in a recipe? Do you like sweet or savory chicken dishes? Are you even going to notice the subtle difference? You might not even be able to taste any difference since both are going to taste “like Marsala”. So make your recipe one time with the sweet and one time with the dry, and see if you can even notice any difference.
Garlicky Marsala Mushroom Sauce
This sauce can be served over cooked pasta, folded into an omelet, served with pan-fried chicken breasts or over cheese grits (polenta).
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound white mushrooms, caps quartered
- 1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps quartered
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves, 2 thinly sliced and 2 minced
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced rosemary
- 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 6 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
In a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the white and shiitake mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over moderately high heat for 5 minutes, stirring once. Uncover and cook over high heat, stirring once, until the mushrooms are browned all over, about 3 minutes.
Add the sliced garlic, the shallot and rosemary and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the minced garlic, chives, olives and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.
Maggiano’s Little Italy’s Rigatoni D (Marsala)
This dish was named after its creator, David DiGregorio, Executive Chef at Chicago’s Clark & Grand St. restaurant. David and his team spent about 3 months perfecting the Marsala Cream Sauce to compliment chicken.
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
- 3/8 cup Spanish, yellow or white onion, diced ½”
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups cold low sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups rigatoni pasta
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 lb chicken breast, boneless, skinless
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup dry white wine (Chardonnay)
- ¾ cup sweet Marsala wine
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 3/8 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
On a 12 X 18 cookie sheet or tray, mix the diced onions, mushrooms, finely chopped garlic and balsamic vinegar together until all the ingredients are evenly mixed and coated. Bake for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are a deep brown color and almost all the liquid and moisture has evaporated. Set mixture aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the cornstarch with the cold chicken broth with a whisk. Set aside the mixture.
Prepare pasta as directed on the box to the al dente stage approximately 10 minutes before you plan on cooking the entire pasta dish. Drain pasta in a colander, shake out excess water, then toss in an 8 quart bowl with half of the olive oil.
Cut the chicken into pieces approximately 1” long x ¾” wide. In a 12”-14”.
In a pan or Dutch oven. heat the remaining olive oil and butter until melted and the butter begins to lightly brown, add the sliced chicken and cook for approximately 3-4 minutes until a light golden brown color is achieved.
Immediately add the white wine to the sautéed chicken, cook until the wine evaporates, add the Marsala wine and reduce by half, then add the cold chicken broth/cornstarch mixture, bring to a simmer. Then add the heavy cream, kosher salt, black pepper and the roasted mushrooms, onions. Bring to a simmer and allow the sauce to thicken.
Add the cooked rigatoni and simmer for 2 minutes. Finish the pasta and sauce with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese.
Sage Meatballs with Marsala Wine Sauce
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup soft unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves (about 20 leaves), very finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- 1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
In a large bowl, combine the meat, Parmigiano, half the butter, the sage and salt until they are very well blended, using your hands. Form small meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter using cold wet hands to keep the meat from sticking. Roll the meatballs in the flour and set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat, then cook the meatballs until brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Shake the skillet often so they don’t stick.
Remove the excess fat from the skillet with a spoon and discard. Once the meatballs are brown, pour in the Marsala wine and continue cooking until it is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Strawberry, Mascarpone, and Marsala Budini
Budini is Italian for puddings or parfaits.
Makes 6 servings
1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
- 6 tablespoons sweet Marsala (preferably imported)
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 3 cups sliced hulled strawberries (about 15 ounces)
- 2 1/4 cups coarsely crumbled amaretti cookies (Italian macaroons; about 4 1/2 ounces)
Combine mascarpone, 3 tablespoons Marsala, cream and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in medium bowl. Stir gently until well blended.
Combine strawberries, remaining 3 tablespoons Marsala, and 1 tablespoon sugar in another medium bowl; toss to blend. Cover mascarpone and berry mixtures; refrigerate 30 minutes.
Place 2 tablespoons crumbled cookies in each of 6 champagne goblets. Divide strawberry mixture with juices among the goblets.
Top berries with mascarpone mixture, then remaining cookies. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Looking forward to fall? One of the nice things about early fall is that the weather is still warm but not too hot and there are plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from at the markets. This dinner menu I planned for you takes advantage of the season’s delicious offerings, like mushrooms, squash, spinach. pears and pork. This dinner serves four but can easily be doubled for a company dinner.
Pork Tenderloin in Mushroom Wine Sauce
- 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
- 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup porcini dried mushrooms
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- Porcini broth
- 1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
Combine the porcini and boiling water in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet. Add the chopped onion and saute until the onion is soft.
Add the garlic and fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
Strain the porcini in a fine mesh colander and reserve the drained mushroom water. Add the porcini to the skillet with the fresh mushrooms.
Season with salt and pepper and stir in the oregano and thyme. Set aside.
Butterfly the pork, by cutting the pork down the center, without completely cutting through, so when the two halves are opened they resemble a butterfly.
Use a meat mallet to flatten the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Spread the mushroom filling down the center of the pork and bring the 2 sides up. Use butcher string to tie around the roll at 1 inch intervals.
Season the stuffed pork with salt and pepper and in the same ovenproof skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Sear the pork on all sides and place the skillet in the preheated oven.
Roast uncovered for about 20 minutes or until done to your preference.
Remove the skillet from the oven and place the pork on a platter.
Place the skillet back on the stovetop. Add the red wine and the strained porcini water and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce until it is reduced by half.
Remove the pan from the from the heat and stir in the butter.
Cut the strings off the pork and slice into thin rounds. Arrange the pork on a serving platter and pour the wine sauce over the slices.
Italian Style Spaghetti Squash
Cook the squash a few hours earlier, so it will be cool enough to handle.
- 1 spaghetti squash, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pierce the squash in several places with a sharp knife. Cover a baking sheet with foil and place the squash on top.
Bake for one hour or until the squash is soft and easy to cut with a knife. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until you can handle it.
Cut in half lengthwise and allow to cool some more. Remove the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh from the squash and place in a bowl.
Run a fork through the flesh to separate the spaghetti like strands.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and breadcrumbs.
When the breadcrumbs begin to sizzle and turn crisp, stir in the squash strands and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss all together over medium heat until the squash is infused with the breadcrumbs, garlic and oil and heated through, about 5 minutes.
Remove to a warm serving dish, top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.
Sautéed Spinach and Garlic
- Two 10 oz packages of fresh spinach
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced thin
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat the olive oil and garlic in a skillet. Add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Cook just until the spinach is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve immediately.
- 1 sheet of frozen prepared puff pastry, thawed
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups chopped peeled pears (about 3 medium pears)
- 1 egg beaten
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Combine the honey, cornstarch, ginger and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Stir in the chopped pears.
Roll the pastry into a 12 inch square on a floured board. Cut the pastry sheet into four equal squares.
Spoon 1/3 cup of the pear mixture into the center of each square and brush the edges with beaten egg. Fold diagonally in half and press the edges with a fork to seal.
With a wide spatula, place the turnovers on a parchment covered baking pan. Brush the turnovers with beaten egg.
Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the turnovers are puffy and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.