February menus: French farm breakfast, valentine dinner, cracked crab and soup Essay

Selective shopping keeps kitchen activities relaxed in February. This
month’s options include a simple breakfast with French origins, a
valentine dinner children can engineer, and a calorie-light dinner with
elegance.



Ready-to-use foods fit in well. For breakfast, buy bread and
toppings and brew the beverage. For dinner, buy cooked meat and cheese
to warm for the main dish. And for supper, buy cooked crab.

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French farm breakfast



In the country, the French often start their day with tartine,
thick slices of bread slathered with butter and cheese, jam, or honey,
sometimes sprinkling bits of chocolate on top. With it they sip
steaming cafe au lait–strong coffee and hot milk–from bowls or mugs,
and finish with fresh fruit.



We propose the menu with a variation on hot chocolate: cafe au
chocolat blanc, coffee with hot white chocolate. For children, you can
substitute sweet ground chocolate for the coffee.



Tartine



Cafe au Chocolat Blanc



Ripe Pears Black or Red Grapes



Set out the makings for tartine: a loaf of sweet French bread to
slice, and small pots of butter, honey, ricotta cheese, jam, and grated
semisweet chocolate. Have a piece of ripe brie or camembert as well,
and at least 1 piece of fruit for each person. A large slice of bread,
1 or 2 tablespoons of the toppings, and 1/4 cup of cheese will satisfy
most individuals. Package any leftovers for another day. Cafe au
Chocolat Blanc


Into each coffee cup or small bowl, pour equal amounts strong hot
coffee (directions follow) and hot white chocolate (directions follow).
Allow 1 cup total for each serving. For children, omit coffee and stir
sweet ground chocolate to taste into each 1-cup serving of the hot white
chocolate.



Hot strong Coffee. Make coffee using twice the amount of coffee
grounds you normally would. Use at once.



Hot white chocolate. In a 2- to 3-quart pan, combine 1 quart milk,
4 ounces chopped white chocolate (sometimes called white pastel
coating), and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir frequently over medium heat
until chocolate is melted and milk is steaming. If made ahead, let
cool, cover, and chill up to 2 days, then reheat.



A valentine gift



Even children can deliver a valentine message with dinner by
serving this easy-to-manage meal in a packet. Preparations can involve
anyone old enough to cut a paper heart.



Big hearts, cut from baking parchment paper (sold in supermarkets),
are folded around a sliced meat and cheese entree. The hearts are sealed
and baked, then opened at the table. Embellish the entree with fancy-cut
vegetables. From-the-Heart Valentines Carved Raw Vegetables Small
Roasted Potatoes Painted Chocolate Hearts Ice Cream Cabernet Sauvignon
Juice Spritzers



On Valentines’ Day or the day before, prepare the main dish,
using meat and chesse from a deli. Also cut vegetables and make
chocolate hearts.



The paper hearts and small potatoes bake in the same oven, but the
potatoes need a 25- to 35-minute head start. Scrub 1-1/2- to
2-inch-diameter thin-skinned potatoes and pierce with a fork; bake on
the oven rack until the potatoes give when gently squeezed.



Cut radishes into roses, celery into brushes, carrots into curls or
sticks; keep in ice water until ready to serve.



To make chocolate hearts, use a small brush or the back of a spoon
to paint melted semisweet chocolate thickly in small hearts on a sheet
of foil; chill until hard. Remove from refrigerator just before
serving, then peel off foil. Serve like cookies or stick into scoops of
ice cream.



To make spritzers, combine chilled Cabernet Sauvignon or other
varietal grape juice with sparkling water. From-the-Heart Valentines
Baking parchment paper 1/2 pound thinly sliced, cooked, boneless turkey
breast 3/4 pound thinly sliced jack or fontina cheese 1/4 pound thinly
sliced cooked ham 1 cup frozen peas or frozen Chinese pea pods, thawed
Grond nutmeg Red food coloring and cotton swabs, optional


Tear or cut 4 pieces of parchment paper into 11- by 15-inch
rectangles. Fold each piece so short sides meet; draw a half heart from
the fold, using as much of the paper as possible, then cut out the
heart.



Alternate turkey, cheese, and ham to make 4 equal stacks, ending
with cheese on top. Open hearts and place a stack on each beside fold
line, tucking edges of meat and cheese in so you have at least 1 inch
margin of parchment on cut side of heart. Top stacks equally with peas;
sprinkle lightly with nutmeg.



Refold hearts, aligning cut edges, to cover filling. Starting at
the inside curve of the heart, roll and crimp edges together; twist tip
to hold folds shut. Place packets slightly apart on a 10- by 15-inch
pan.



Dip a cotton swab in red food coloring and write your message on
the packet, retracting letters firmly until dark. If made ahead, chill
as long as overnight.



Bake, uncovered, in a 400 [deg.] oven until cheese is completely
melted, about 7 minutes (or about 10 minutes if chilled); open 1 packet
slightly to check. Serve packets closed so message is delivered, then
unfold or individual plates. Makes 4 servings.



Gone crabbing



It’s the nature of these foods, plus simple preparation, that
keeps this meal low in calories. Cold cracked crab is enhanced by a
soy- and vinegar-based sauce. The leanness of the potato chips and soup
comes from dry roasting in the oven. Roasted Eggplant Soup Marinated
Cracked Crab with Salad Greens Dry-roasted Apples with Yogurt Dry
Sauvignon Blanc or Limeade



The potato chips bake for about 2 hours and take a lot of space; if
you don’t have two ovens, you can bake them in sequence. Roast
soup vegetables before or after the chips.



Use some of the crab marinade at the table to dress salad greens.
Roasted Eggplant Soup 1 large eggplant (about 1-1/i lb.), rinsed and
pierced in several places with a fork 1 small onion 3 cups
regular-strength chicken broth 2 tablespoons lemon juice Salt and pepper
8 or 12 thin red bell pepper slices Finely chopped parsley



Put eggplant and unpeeled onion in an 8- or 9-inch round or square
pan. Bake in a 400 [deg.] oven until vegetables are very soft when
squeezed, about 1-1/4 hours. Let cool (vegetables can be chilled,
covered, overnight), then peel. Puree vegetables in a food processor or
blender. Blen puree with broth in a 2- to 3-quart pan. Bring to a
boil, uncovered; add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Pour
into individual bowls and serve garnished with bell pepper and parsley.
Make 4 servings. Marinated Cracked Crab with Salad Greens 2/3 cup white
wine vinegar 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion 1
teaspoon each minced fresh ginger and fresh or picled jalapeno chili 2
large cooked Dungeness crabs (about 2 lb. each), cleaned and cracked;
reserve back shells 6 cups butter lettuce leaves, washed and crisped



In a bowl, mix together vinegar, soy sauce, onion, ginger, and
chili. Gently mix crab pieces into marinade. Cover and chill 10
minutes or as long as a half hour. Arrange greens on one side of a
platter. Lift crab from bowl and reassemble next to greens; top crab
with the back shells. Pour marinade into a small dish to serve with
crab and greens. Serve 4. Dry-roasted Potato Chips 1 pound thin-skinned
potatoes Water Nonstick baking spray Salt (optional)



Scrub potatoes. With the slicing blade on an Oriental shredder or
a food processor, evenly cut potatoes into paper-thin slices. Drop 1/3
of the potato slices into a 3- to 4-quart pan filled 3/4 full with
boiling water; boil, uncovered, until potatoes are slightly translucent,
1 to 2 minutes. Lift potatoes from water with a slotted spoon; set
aside to drain. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Place wire cooling
racks on 10- by 15-inch baking sheets; you’ll need about 4 pans, or
use them in sequence. Coat racks with nonstick baking spray.



Arrange potato slices on racks in a single layer without
overlapping. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake, uncovered, in a 200
[Deg.] over until chips are dry and crisp, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Carefully
lift from racks and serve hot or cool. If made ahead, cool and store
airtight at room temperature up to 1 month. Makes about 1 quart, or 4
servings. Cider-poached Apples with Yogurt 1 quart apple cider or juice
4 medium-size McIntosh or Golden Delicious apples 1/2 to 3/4 cup
unflavored or berry-flavored yogurt 1-i cup chopped pecans



In a 2- to 3-quart pan, boil apple cider, uncovered, until reduced
to 1 cup.



Core whole apples and add to cider. Bring to a boil; cover and
simmer until apples are tender when pierced, 8 to 15 minutes. Serve
apples and sauce in individual bowls; spoon yogurt and nuts onto fruit.
Makes 4 servings.

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