Photo model from 32 East in Delray Beach — Photo by Tim Stepien

By Jan Norris

Perhaps the romantics are right — the past is more dreamy than today. It was a time when linens and china dressed the tables, and more formal wear dressed the diners — who had real conversations and lingered at the table. Meals were served by a staff trained to know the proper silver to lay out, and which wine to uncork. For a little romance on Valentine’s Day, dress up your own table and serve a romantic meal. Our menu isn’t deep or complicated. It’s inspired by many from the early 20th century and meant to be somewhat light, providing you keep portions small; they’re more appealing on the plate.
For those who aren’t proficient at the stove (though you’ll win points from her if you just try), call your favorite restaurant, pick up a three-course meal (reserve this at least a day in advance) and set a beautiful table to serve it.
Begin with a glass of champagne, and serve an amuse bouche of three cherry tomatoes on a small plate. Hollow them with a spoon and fill with 1/2 teaspoonful of soft cheese (goat or blue). Tuck a fresh basil leaf into the top of it and drizzle very lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle chopped basil around the plate to dress it slightly.
Next, serve the oyster soup. Buy some good baguettes and slice thinly to serve alongside. Serve a white Burgundy or un-oaked chardonnay, or a pinot gris with this.
Follow that with the fillet and bordelaise sauce, with mashed potatoes and steamed baby vegetables alongside. A rich Bordeaux, cabernet or super Tuscan is in order.
Retire to the living room, with candles, dim light, soft music, and your dessert of flourless chocolate cake (it’s easy, but available to buy if you can’t bake) topped with some fresh berries and a dollop of whipped cream (no fake stuff!) and a glass of Port, or more bubbly.
The rest is up to you.

Oyster soup is lighter than oyster chowder, but no less flavorful. Antiques: Bowls, liners and large place are Lenox's The Colonial pattern, introduced in 1920. Spoons are in Towle's Old Colonial pattern. Chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East provided soup for our photo. Photo by Tim Stepien.

Oyster Soup
1 pint oysters and their liquor, separated
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freshly chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika for garnish
Strain the liquor from the oysters, then strain it again through a fine cloth or coffee filter into a heavy, 2-quart saucepan. Add cream to oyster liquor. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat; remove pan from heat and reserve.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the celery and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add oysters and cook until their edges curl slightly. Return the cream to medium heat, and add sauteed vegetables and oysters, stirring and cooking until mixture is piping hot, but do not boil.
Just before serving, add the lemon juice, chives, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and dust with paprika. Serve with sliced baguette.
Makes 4 servings.

Fillet With Bordelaise Sauce

two 4-ounce fillets, thick cuts
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Coarse salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed tarragon

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 6 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, chopped, or 2 green onions
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, such as pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon
1 can (about 10 1/2 ounces) condensed beef broth
1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

For serving: Mashed potatoes and steamed baby vegetables
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Rub all surfaces of fillets with cut garlic halves.
Mix together pepper, salt to taste, and tarragon; rub fillets with mixture.
Heat heavy iron skillet over medium-high heat; add oil and fillets. Sear on both sides till slightly crusty. Remove from heat; put fillets on a broiler pan and place in oven (reserve skillet). Cook to desired doneness (about 8 minutes for rare, 11 for medium-rare, 14 for medium well and 17 for well; but test by making a small cut into one to check). Do not overcook; fillets will continue to cook slightly once removed from oven.

Meanwhile, make sauce: In reserved skillet heated over medium-high heat, add olive oil, mushrooms, shallot and garlic. Stir and saute for about 90 seconds. Add flour and stir; add wine, slowly, stirring up any bits on bottom of pan. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Add broth and thyme and stir well; cook, simmering over medium heat until mixture is reduced by nearly half. Season with salt and pepper; keep warm.
To serve, spoon about 2 tablespoons of sauce on plate; top with fillet. Garnish with a sprig of thyme. Served with a small portion of mashed potatoes and steamed baby vegetables.
Makes 4 servings.

Flourless chocolate cake is simple to make, but you also can buy it and dress it up with fresh berries. Our photo model is from 32 East in Delray Beach.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla or bourbon
Pinch of salt

For serving: 1 cup raspberries or strawberries, cleaned, washed
1 teaspoon Cointreau or almond extract
Whipped cream
Mint leaves

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Grease an 8-inch square cake pan and dust well with cocoa powder. Melt chocolate with butter in a double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat and cool slightly; stir in sugar, cocoa, eggs and flavoring and salt. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 325 F for 25 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire cake rack.

Make sauce: Reserve 1 whole berry for each square of cake served. Put remainder of berries and flavoring into blender or food processor; process until smooth. (Strain if desired.)
To serve, place square of cake on small plate. Spoon a pool of sauce alongside the cake. Pipe rosette of whipped cream on top of cake and place whole berry and mint leaf on top.
Makes 9 ultra-rich servings.

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Comment by Mary Kate Leming on February 4, 2010 at 6:06pm
Thank you for your help! I'm a horrible food stylist...
Comment by Luanne Lippold on February 4, 2010 at 5:59pm
Gorgeous photos!!

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