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Dinner for Two

These romantic dishes are like love itself — delicate, intimate, complex, daring

Valentines Day is an opportunity to luxuriate in romance and fine dining. Romantic dishes are often much like love itself — delicate, intimate, complex, daring. Both, properly nurtured, can result in sumptuous rewards.
    These recipes for Valentine Day dinner derive from French dishes that feature elegant ingredients and rich flavors. Many of the ingredients have special significance in the language of love. Preparation is for two.
    Each amply rewards the attention in preparation or consumption.

Lobster Bisque

Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

    Lobster bisque is a luxurious soup of pureed lobster, vegetables and seasoning. This indulgent shellfish — at once meaty, creamy and rich — is a match for the complexity of love.
    Lobster shells used during cooking impart flavor and a lovely, succulent red color to the soup. This dish is not difficult, but it will take a while to proceed through all of the steps. It is worth the effort.

1 live lobster, 1¼ -1½ pounds
olive oil
½ cup mirepoix (equal parts finely diced onions, ­carrots and celery)
4 tbsp butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp brandy
½ cup dry white vermouth
½ tbsp dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
¾ cup tomato puree
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ cup fish stock or canned clam juice
2 cups beef stock
2 tbsp plain raw white rice
cayenne pepper
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
croutons or French bread for serving

Preparing the mirepoix
    In a large skillet, cook the diced onions, carrots, and celery slowly in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are just tender.

Preparing the lobster
    Plunge the lobster head first into boiling water for one minute. Put lobster on a cutting board set inside a baking pan to catch the juices. Turn shell-side-down and cut in half, lengthwise. With a knife, separate tail sections from torso. Sever legs and claw joints. Crack claws. Drain the juices into a bowl and reserve with the green tomalley from the torso.
    Sauté the lobster meat in a Dutch oven with a 1/16-inch layer of olive oil. Heat on medium-high until the oil is very hot but not smoking. Add lobster cut side down. Toss and turn frequently until shells are a deep red, about 4 to 5 minutes.
    Lower heat slightly. Generously salt and pepper the lobster, then pour on 4 tablespoons brandy. Ignite the brandy with a match or long lighter. When flames have died down, pour on the wine and mix in the tarragon, bay leaf, garlic, mirepoix and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
    Lift out the lobster and remove meat from each section, including claws and legs. Use a lobster cracker to open the claws, and dig the meat out. Break legs at each joint, and use the tip of a knife to remove small bits of meat. Reserve all the meat in a bowl. Keep the tail meat separately for garnish.

Preparing the stock
    Bring the fish stock or clam juice and beef stock to a boil in a large pot, then sprinkle in the rice. Stir once and simmer for 20 minutes.
    Drain rice through a sieve and reserve its cooking liquid. Scrape rice and lobster, except tail meat, into blender. Puree, adding rice-cooking liquid if mixture is too thick for easy blending. Scrape the puree back into the pot. Puree the vegetable cooking sauce, then strain through a sieve into the pot with the meat and rice puree. Add the remainder of rice-cooking liquid.

    Heat 3 tablespoons butter to bubbling, and stir in lobster shells. Sauté 2 to 3 minutes, tossing and turning to heat thoroughly. Drain butter into a bowl through a sieve, tossing shells to get all the butter. Discard shells.
    Heat the butter to bubbling in the frying pan; stir in the lobster tail, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat 2 minutes, tossing. Pour on the additional brandy and cook a moment until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and reserve for garnish.
    Shortly before serving, bring the bisque to a simmer. It should be quite thick. Carefully correct seasoning with cayenne, salt, pepper and tarragon. Stir in the cream and lobster butter.
    Pour the bisque into bowls and top with the lobster tail meat, fresh herbs and croutons, or serve with bread.

Lamb Chops with ­Pomegranate Couscous

    Juicy, tender lamb chops make a lovely main course. Lamb chops are both visually impressive and delicious when rubbed with spices and grilled to perfection. This exotic dish is inspired by North African influences in France, with the flavors and fragrance of both cuisines. Serve the lamb over a bed of couscous made with pomegranates, perhaps the original forbidden fruit. Their bright-red color and bursts of juice give this dish a luscious balance of sweet, savory and spicy flavors.

For the Lamb

4 lamb rib chops
¼ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp za’atar (substitute thyme and sesame seeds)
1⁄8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp salt plus more to taste

For the Pomegranate Couscous

1 cup instant couscous
2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt plus more to taste
½ tsp za’atar (substitute thyme and sesame seeds)
½ tsp sumac (optional)
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ pomegranate, seeded
3 tbsp or several sprigs mint, parsley and/or ­fennel, chopped

    Mix lamb spices and salt. Dry rub the lamb 1 hour — better still, the night before cooking. Cover on a tray and let stand in the fridge.
    Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, covering the bottom of the skillet with a 1/16-inch layer of olive oil. Sear chops on all sides until well browned on the outside but still pink on the inside. For medium-rare, the internal temperature should reach 135 degrees; for a medium finish, 150 degrees. Do not overcook the lamb. It is at its best when tender and just done.
    While the lamb marinates, prepare the couscous. Boil the stock and pour over couscous. Stir and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Incorporate the other ingredients and salt to taste.
    Serve the lamb rib chops over the couscous on a single, shared plate or on individual plates, with plenty of pomegranate seeds and red wine to accompany the meal.

Braised Artichokes

    Behind their thorny exterior, artichokes are tender, flavorful and meaty — and they have a reputation for heightening the mood. Peel each leaf from the artichoke and scrape the soft flesh with your teeth.
    The braised artichokes in this slow starter absorb classic flavors of wine, lemon, and garlic. What better excuse to lick your (or your partner’s) fingers? And after eating each leaf slowly, one by one, you are rewarded with the delicious soft artichoke heart.

2 large artichokes
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup chicken stock
¼ cup white wine or vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
juice and zest of ½ lemon
one large clove of garlic

    Cut each of the artichokes in half along their length so that there are two mirror pieces. Use scissors to cut off the hardest, thorny parts of the outer leaves and trim the stem. Use a serrated-edged grapefruit spoon to remove the choke, the fuzzy strands inside the artichoke.
    Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichokes, cut side down. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add stock and wine, bring to a boil, and cover. Lower heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender, checking every 5 or 10 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, adding more wine as necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and transfer artichokes to serving platter.
    Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half and slightly thickened into a sauce. Stir in lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon butter; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve artichokes drizzled with the sauce.