Valentine dinner

By Tina Wasserman

Everything pink and red and white is displayed in stores right now. Don’t you sometimes get the feeling that the “holiday” season now extends from October to February? Well, you can ignore Halloween if you like, but it’s hard to pretend Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist. Although the day was originally set aside to shower affection on significant others, I choose to use the day to show people who have had a wonderful impact on my life how much I care about them. I do it through food!

This month’s recipes require a lot of love and some time but definitely say “I love you” to the important people in your life. Actually, these recipes are easy to make. REALLY! The good news is that most, if not all, of the components can be made in advance and then assembled hours before serving. I am including an interesting salad that also has some red in it for your holiday pleasure and classic Linzer tart cookies that can be made in advance and frozen and then assembled whenever you need them.

For those of you who have taken my classes, I promise you, coulibiac will be new to you; my typed recipe was in dot-matrix from my Commodore 64 days! By the way, this dish is French although it is based on the Russian dish kulebiaka. The dish is traditionally made with hard-boiled eggs (I have left those out) and the dough is customarily brioche dough. In the old days I used to make the brioche dough myself (my students did as well). Today, I am so happy that people want to cook that I have tried to remove some impediments, so prepared puff pastry is the substitute of choice.


Moroccan Watermelon and Olive Salad


Raspberry Linzer Tart Cookies

Watermelon and Olive Salad

The tanginess of the feta and Kalamata olives are perfect foils for the sweet taste of the watermelon and mint. If you want to go crazy, you could buy seedless watermelon and cut it into ¾-inch slices and then use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter and make watermelon hearts for your salad. Hey, it’s only a suggestion! Sumac is not the leaf that causes itching. It’s a dark red berry that grows wild on bushes in the Middle East and has a pleasant citrus taste. It is optional, but adds color and a nice taste to the salad. Buy it in ground form and store in your freezer so it will stay fresh in between uses.

  • 3 cups watermelon, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 very small red onion, cut into thin rings (or ½ cup sliced half rings)
  • ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon sumac, optional
  1. Arrange the watermelon, onion rings and olives on a platter. Sprinkle with the crumbled feta cheese.
  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and sugar together in a small, screw-topped jar.
  1. Sprinkle the mint over the platter and then drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad.
  1. Dust the salad with the sumac and serve.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • As a general rule, I never place a salad that contains raw onion on the table until ready to serve. The onion aroma overwhelms the dining space and is not pleasant. Refrigerate plate, make dressing in advance and then put together easily.
  • A chiffonade of mint or any large leafed herb means to layer the leaves, roll them up tightly from the long end like a cigarette and then slice thin circles crosswise. This produces thin strands that elegantly float when sprinkled on top of your salad.


O.K., take a deep breath and trust me. This is not hard and you can actually start making the components of this the day before if you need to. Actually, you can make this in advance and freeze it. Defrost it completely and then bake it. I did this with four that I made for a big party. The one caveat…make sure the center is hot before serving and follow the note about covering with foil to prevent the dough from getting too dark.

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry, preferably Dufour
  • 1 recipe for herbed crepe*
  • 1 recipe for rice/cheese mixture*
  • 1 recipe for mushroom duxelles*
  • ½ pound salmon, cut in 1½-inch strips, poached
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  1. Combine water and wine in a 10-inch sauté pan with lid. Bring to a simmer and then add the salmon. Lower heat, cover and cook for 4 minutes or until salmon is springy to the touch and just cooked through. Immediately remove from liquid and place on cloth towel to drain.
  1. Roll one sheet of the puff pastry into a rectangle 18×16 inches. Place the herbed crepe centered over the dough.
  1. Spread half the rice mixture down the middle third of the crepe.
  1. Spread half the duxelles over the rice and then lay the poached salmon strips down the center.
  1. Cover the salmon strips with the remaining duxelles and then cover with the remaining rice mixture.
  1. Draw the long edges of the dough together over the filling and pinch to seal. Draw up the sides, cutting off any excess dough, and pinch decoratively to seal. Place the rolled dough seam side down on a parchment-lined cookie sheet that has low sides.
  1. Brush the coulibiac with egg white wash and cut 2 steam holes on top. Decorate the top of the dough with any scraps and brush decorations with the egg wash as well. Refrigerate for at least ½ hour.
  1. When ready to bake, remove coulibiac from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  1. Bake the coulibiac for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the oven to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer or until golden. Insert a metal tester in center of roll to make sure interior is hot. Cover with foil (shiny side facing you) if dough is golden and mixture needs more time to heat through
  1. Serve sliced with Port Wine Cream Sauce.

Port Wine Sauce

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup minced shallot
  • ½ cup port wine
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan and add the shallots. Sauté for 3 minutes or until soft.
  • Add the port and, over high heat, reduce the liquid by half.
  • Add the lime juice and cream. Heat just to the boiling point and then reduce to a low simmer.
  • Whisk in the remaining butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove from the heat. Adjust seasonings and serve with fish.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • You need a sweet fortified wine for this sauce and the port gives it a pink hue.
  • You could substitute cream sherry but it would not have a pink tinge. It would be beige. A drop of red food coloring could be added but would not enhance the flavor. A red zinfandel could be substituted.
  • This basically is a Beurre Rouge sauce.

*Mushroom Duxelles

  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • ¼ cup cream sherry
  • 1½ pounds fresh mushrooms
  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ½ to ¾ teaspoon salt
  • Nutmeg to taste (should be subtle)

Pepper to taste

  1. Rinse the dried mushrooms with cold water and drain well. Place in a glass bowl and add the sherry. Microwave for 20 seconds and allow the mushrooms to soften in the liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients for the duxelles.
  1. Wash and drain the fresh mushrooms and mince in a processor until finely chopped.
  1. Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the shallot and onion and sauté for 5 minutes or until golden.
  1. Add the minced mushrooms and the seasonings and stir to combine.
  1. Place the soaked mushrooms (reserve the liquid) in a processor workbowl (be careful not to get any sand from the liquid in the workbowl). Pulse the machine on and off until a fine paste is formed. Add the soaking liquid and process to puree. Add this mixture to the saucepan.
  1. Sauté over low to medium heat until duxelles are reduced and thickened. Be careful that the mixture doesn’t stick. Adjust seasonings. Set aside until ready to use. May be refrigerated for a day or two or frozen for later use.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • I prefer to use cream sherry in recipes because the flavor doesn’t dissipate while cooking.
  • Nutmeg should always be added to dishes containing cheese or mushrooms or spinach. However, add only a small amount so your dish does not taste like eggnog!

*Rice and Cheese Filling

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup finely minced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2¼ cups leftover cooked rice (¾ cup raw rice cooked in 2¼ cups water for 20 minutes)
  • 2 tablespoons minced dill
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and sauté the scallions until wilted. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute over low heat.
  2. Add the milk all at once and rapidly mix the sauce until thickened. Add the remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings if necessary. Set aside until ready to assemble coulibiac.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • When a recipe calls for scallions, use the whole scallion — both the white and the green parts.
  • Leftover rice from Chinese takeout is perfect for this recipe but I have given the proportion of rice and water if you need to make some rice first.

*Herbed Crepe

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup milk (preferably 2% or whole)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  1. Brush a nonstick jelly roll pan with the oil. Set aside.
  1. Beat eggs with a handheld electric mixer for 30 seconds or until pale yellow.
  1. With mixer on medium, add the milk in a steady stream and then add the flour until a smooth batter is formed.
  1. Add the remaining ingredients and mix just to combine. Let mixture rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  1. Spread the mixture in the prepared jelly roll pan and bake for 12 minutes. Let cool in pan until ready to assemble.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • I recommend making the crepe last so that it doesn’t have to sit long before assembling the coulibiac.
  • A jelly roll pan is approximately 15×10 inches with ½ sides.

Linzer Tart Cookies

Almonds, butter, spices and raspberry jam make these cookies a delicious portable version of the large, classic tart. When I go to a bakery, these are my favorite cookies to buy! You can sprinkle large crystalline sugar on the top of the cookies before baking, or dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar after baking and before filling the cookies. Either way, they are delicious.

  • 1½ cups finely ground almond flour
  • 1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Raspberry preserves, preferably seedless

Confectioners’ sugar

  1. Combine the almond flour, flour, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt in the processor workbowl. Pulse on and off to thoroughly combine.
  • Cut the butter into 8 pieces and add to the workbowl. Pulse on and off until a uniform but coarse meal is formed.
  • Beat the egg yolk in a little bowl and then steadily add the beaten yolk while the processor is running. Do not allow a ball of dough to form. Remove from processor and form by hand into a flat disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for ½ hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Roll the dough out on a board or smooth counter that is lightly “floured” with confectioners’ sugar. Cut the dough into heart shapes.
  • Cut little hearts or circles out of the centers of half the hearts. Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool.
  • Spread the solid cookie with approximately 1 teaspoon raspberry preserves. Sprinkle the cookie with the cutout with confectioners’ sugar if it hasn’t already been coated with crystalline sugar before baking.
  • Place the open heart cookie over the raspberry filling and gently press down. Sprinkle with more sugar if necessary.

Tina’s Tidbits:

  • If sprinkling dough with crystalline sugar, then lightly brush the tops with water before sprinkling with sugar.
  •  Confectioners’ sugar is 3 % cornstarch so it prevents dough from sticking when rolled out and it also lends a light dusting of sugar, which helps browning of the cookie’s bottom.

Here are some wines that will be celebratory and complement your meal:

For an apéritif or with the meal try a sparkling wines.

For the Coulibiac choose white or red: A Chardonnay or Pinot Noir would go nicely.

For dessert, why not munch on some of the Linzer tart cookies while you sip a glass of Tawny Port.

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