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

Selective shopping keeps kitchen activities relaxed in February. Thismonth’s options include a simple breakfast with French origins, avalentine dinner children can engineer, and a calorie-light dinner withelegance. Ready-to-use foods fit in well.

For breakfast, buy bread andtoppings and brew the beverage. For dinner, buy cooked meat and cheeseto warm for the main dish. And for supper, buy cooked crab. 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 sipsteaming 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 auchocolat blanc, coffee with hot white chocolate.

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For children, you cansubstitute 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 toslice, and small pots of butter, honey, ricotta cheese, jam, and gratedsemisweet 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 satisfymost individuals. Package any leftovers for another day. Cafe auChocolat Blanc Into each coffee cup or small bowl, pour equal amounts strong hotcoffee (directions follow) and hot white chocolate (directions follow).Allow 1 cup total for each serving. For children, omit coffee and stirsweet ground chocolate to taste into each 1-cup serving of the hot whitechocolate.

Hot strong Coffee. Make coffee using twice the amount of coffeegrounds 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 pastelcoating), and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir frequently over medium heatuntil chocolate is melted and milk is steaming.

If made ahead, letcool, cover, and chill up to 2 days, then reheat. A valentine gift Even children can deliver a valentine message with dinner byserving this easy-to-manage meal in a packet. Preparations can involveanyone 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 sealedand baked, then opened at the table. Embellish the entree with fancy-cutvegetables. From-the-Heart Valentines Carved Raw Vegetables SmallRoasted Potatoes Painted Chocolate Hearts Ice Cream Cabernet SauvignonJuice Spritzers On Valentines’ Day or the day before, prepare the main dish,using meat and chesse from a deli. Also cut vegetables and makechocolate hearts. The paper hearts and small potatoes bake in the same oven, but thepotatoes need a 25- to 35-minute head start. Scrub 1-1/2- to2-inch-diameter thin-skinned potatoes and pierce with a fork; bake onthe oven rack until the potatoes give when gently squeezed.

Cut radishes into roses, celery into brushes, carrots into curls orsticks; keep in ice water until ready to serve. To make chocolate hearts, use a small brush or the back of a spoonto paint melted semisweet chocolate thickly in small hearts on a sheetof foil; chill until hard. Remove from refrigerator just beforeserving, then peel off foil. Serve like cookies or stick into scoops ofice cream. To make spritzers, combine chilled Cabernet Sauvignon or othervarietal grape juice with sparkling water. From-the-Heart ValentinesBaking parchment paper 1/2 pound thinly sliced, cooked, boneless turkeybreast 3/4 pound thinly sliced jack or fontina cheese 1/4 pound thinlysliced cooked ham 1 cup frozen peas or frozen Chinese pea pods, thawedGrond nutmeg Red food coloring and cotton swabs, optional Tear or cut 4 pieces of parchment paper into 11- by 15-inchrectangles. Fold each piece so short sides meet; draw a half heart fromthe fold, using as much of the paper as possible, then cut out theheart. Alternate turkey, cheese, and ham to make 4 equal stacks, endingwith cheese on top.

Open hearts and place a stack on each beside foldline, tucking edges of meat and cheese in so you have at least 1 inchmargin 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 atthe inside curve of the heart, roll and crimp edges together; twist tipto hold folds shut. Place packets slightly apart on a 10- by 15-inchpan. Dip a cotton swab in red food coloring and write your message onthe packet, retracting letters firmly until dark. If made ahead, chillas long as overnight.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400 [deg.] oven until cheese is completelymelted, about 7 minutes (or about 10 minutes if chilled); open 1 packetslightly to check. Serve packets closed so message is delivered, thenunfold or individual plates. Makes 4 servings. Gone crabbing It’s the nature of these foods, plus simple preparation, thatkeeps this meal low in calories. Cold cracked crab is enhanced by asoy- and vinegar-based sauce. The leanness of the potato chips and soupcomes from dry roasting in the oven. Roasted Eggplant Soup MarinatedCracked Crab with Salad Greens Dry-roasted Apples with Yogurt DrySauvignon Blanc or Limeade The potato chips bake for about 2 hours and take a lot of space; ifyou don’t have two ovens, you can bake them in sequence.

Roastsoup 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 andpierced in several places with a fork 1 small onion 3 cupsregular-strength chicken broth 2 tablespoons lemon juice Salt and pepper8 or 12 thin red bell pepper slices Finely chopped parsley Put eggplant and unpeeled onion in an 8- or 9-inch round or squarepan.

Bake in a 400 [deg.] oven until vegetables are very soft whensqueezed, about 1-1/4 hours. Let cool (vegetables can be chilled,covered, overnight), then peel. Puree vegetables in a food processor orblender. Blen puree with broth in a 2- to 3-quart pan. Bring to aboil, uncovered; add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Pourinto individual bowls and serve garnished with bell pepper and parsley.Make 4 servings. Marinated Cracked Crab with Salad Greens 2/3 cup whitewine vinegar 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion 1teaspoon each minced fresh ginger and fresh or picled jalapeno chili 2large 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, andchili.

Gently mix crab pieces into marinade. Cover and chill 10minutes or as long as a half hour. Arrange greens on one side of aplatter. Lift crab from bowl and reassemble next to greens; top crabwith the back shells. Pour marinade into a small dish to serve withcrab and greens. Serve 4. Dry-roasted Potato Chips 1 pound thin-skinnedpotatoes Water Nonstick baking spray Salt (optional) Scrub potatoes.

With the slicing blade on an Oriental shredder ora food processor, evenly cut potatoes into paper-thin slices. Drop 1/3of the potato slices into a 3- to 4-quart pan filled 3/4 full withboiling water; boil, uncovered, until potatoes are slightly translucent,1 to 2 minutes. Lift potatoes from water with a slotted spoon; setaside to drain.

Repeat with remaining potatoes. Place wire coolingracks on 10- by 15-inch baking sheets; you’ll need about 4 pans, oruse them in sequence. Coat racks with nonstick baking spray. Arrange potato slices on racks in a single layer withoutoverlapping.

Sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake, uncovered, in a 200[Deg.] over until chips are dry and crisp, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Carefullylift from racks and serve hot or cool. If made ahead, cool and storeairtight at room temperature up to 1 month. Makes about 1 quart, or 4servings.

Cider-poached Apples with Yogurt 1 quart apple cider or juice4 medium-size McIntosh or Golden Delicious apples 1/2 to 3/4 cupunflavored or berry-flavored yogurt 1-i cup chopped pecans In a 2- to 3-quart pan, boil apple cider, uncovered, until reducedto 1 cup. Core whole apples and add to cider. Bring to a boil; cover andsimmer until apples are tender when pierced, 8 to 15 minutes. Serveapples and sauce in individual bowls; spoon yogurt and nuts onto fruit.Makes 4 servings.

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