It happened! Our second annual Valentine’s Day challenge. If you’ve read our previous post you’ll know that last year, the Vegend and I started a Valentine’s Day tradition that is more creative and less expensive than any restaurant meal we could have.
The simple premise–I determine which ingredient he should use and he determines mine–has forced us to push the boundaries of our usual (delicious) meals, be thoughtful in our execution, and try new things. I’m here to tell you that last night’s results were astounding. So astounding, in fact, that I ate a good portion more while I was cleaning up. Now, that’s the sign of a good meal.
I had challenged the Vegend to use carrots in our main course and boy, did he deliver. He presented carrots four ways and each way was a nod to something we’ve eaten or cooked before. First up, he pickled carrots in rice wine vinegar, ginger, shallot, honey, and salt, a delicious trick we had first seen at Brooklyn Grange’s Veggiepalooza 2017 but had not yet tried. A quick toss in sesame oil, carrot greens, and scallions provided a tasty and colorful start to the main meal.
The main dish was mind-blowing. Three more ways of carrots, each distinct from each other and, if I’m being honest, a party in my mouth. The sweet roasted carrots with homemade chimichurri (cilantro, parsley, shallot, jalapeno, red wine vinegar, salt, and olive oil) made me want to slather chimichurri on everything. Everything! I didn’t even know I liked chimichurri!
The carrots with yogurt sauce (Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, carrot greens, scallions, roasted cashews, and salt) were inspired by Canoe Hill in Millbrook, NY, whose own carrot-yogurt-cumin combination wowed us just a few weeks ago.
Finally, the carrot and sweet potato puree, which has its roots (get it?) in the Vegend’s classic carrot ginger soup. This version evoked a more stick-to-you-ribs feeling and a richness from its full-fat coconut milk that had been simmered with curry powder.
The side of freekeh with shallot and ginger provided just enough variety on the plate (I’m a big textural eater) to round out the entire meal.
When I told the Vegend that this was the best meal he’s ever made me, he nearly fell out of his chair. Each component was crafted with such distinct flavor (and love!) that it would be hard not to be impressed.
For dessert, the Vegend challenged me to use Medjool dates, something, I suspect, he was inspired to do after he used some to jazz up some leftover Brussels sprouts on Monday night. (Note, Brussels sprouts with dates and pistachios is a top-notch dish.)
I scoured the internet for a recipe that would be just right. At first, “healthy” recipes were populating my search results–you know, the ones that replace white sugar with date sugar or dates. Next came the terribly unhealthy ideas–sticky toffee puddings with at least two kinds of sugar as topping, date cakes that read cloyingly sweet–and then quick breads that are probably quite lovely but not special enough for this challenge.
But then it hit me: many of these desserts were pairing dates with cardamom, a favorite of the Vegend. Could I find something reasonably dessert-y, not off-the-wall sweet, and touched with cardamom? Yes, yes, and yes!
Thank the gods of the interwebs because these brown sugar and cardamom biscuits came from Taste Magazine Australia. In their recipe, the sandwich cookies are filled with caramel; in my recipe, they’re filled with date caramel (thanks, Minimalist Baker!) to make good on my challenge. Plus, I have to assume that date caramel makes these buttery, shortbread-like cookies a little bit healthier.
When the Vegend takes his first taste of anything I make–bread, cookies, dressing–I watch him expectantly, looking for that little bit of body language that could indicate how he really feels about the food. And then, I wait for for those four little words that let me exhale, knowing that my job’s been done well: “It’s really good, love.”
The cookies got that stamp of approval so there’s nothing left to write. Except, of course, on to next year!