Indulge your beloved

Chef Jason Laurin is putting on a course to teach people how to make a complete Valentine’s meal. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Chef and caterer Jason Laurin has learned the hard way that searing meats over high heat at the last minute is not always a good idea.

“You can only set off so many homeowners’ smoke alarms before you learn that it’s better to do some stages ahead,” says Laurin, who started Essence Catering company six years ago. “The same goes for deep-frying — the smell of frying oil is not something you necessarily want at a nice meal.”

So when Laurin devised a Valentine’s dinner menu, he knew exactly how to break down the cooking stages so that you can present an indulgent, decadent, delicious meal — without smoke, smell or stress.

The menu is doable even for novice cooks, he says, but he has offered classes, called “Date Night Hero,” where participants can get hands-on help making the meal (you can still sign up for a Feb. 10 class).

“I’ve already led one group through it and, even through there were some self-professed awful cooks, they did it all and it turned out really well.”

Laurin says he came up with the menu through crowd-sourcing.

“I went on Facebook and Twitter and asked people what they would like most for a Valentine’s meal. Lobster was No. 1 and beef was No. 2, so I said ‘Let’s take it over the top — go as far as we can with those ingredients while staying within the budget for the class.’ I wanted to make a meal with real luxury appeal.”

While the hands-on class costs $90, Laurin says you can likely make this indulgent meal for two for about $50, depending on how many of the staples you have on hand. And if you spread out the prep over several days as suggested, you can feel rested and romantic as you do the finishing touches.

The menu

■ First

Lobster Bisque with Arancini, Lobster & Fennel Candy Garnish

■ Second

Seared Sea Scallop with Celery Root Purée, Pancetta, Chicory and Brown Butter

■ Third

Pan-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Lobster Ravioli, Garlic Kale and Sauce Vin Rouge

■ Dessert

Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Port-Stewed Cherries and Sauce

Take the class

There are still a few spaces left in Chef Jason Laurin’s Valentine’s Day meal hands-on class.

When: Sunday, Feb. 10, from 3 to 6 p.m.

Where: Essence Catering, 430 Parkdale Ave. (around the back)

Cost: $90

Contact: coordinator@essencecatering.ca or 613-850-4776

The prep plan

Three days before:

Make dark chocolate cheesecake

Make cherry sauce

Make fennel candy

Two days before:

Make celeriac purée

Make crispy pancetta

Prepare chicory

Blanche and chop kale, refrigerate

Make sauce vin rouge

Make brown butter

Make risotto for arancini

One day before:

Make lobster bisque

Bread and deep-fry arancini

Make lobster ravioli

Morning of your meal:

Sear beef tenderloin

Finishing touches and plating on serving day:

■ First course

Arancini: Reheat in a 300 F (150 C) oven till ready to serve.

Bisque: Reheat gently in sauce pan.

Lobster claw: Reheat gently in frying pan with 3 tbsp (50 mL) butter.

Plating: Place lobster claw meat on top of arancini, and top with fennel candy.

■ Second course

Scallops: Sear at last minute as per recipe.

Plating: Place celery-root purée on two spoons, dragging with a spoon. Place a scallop in the middle on each plate. Scatter some cooked pancetta around. Top the scallop with the dressed chicory. Spoon 1 tbsp (15 mL) of brown butter on each plate.

■ Third course

Beef: Cook seared tenderloin in 350 F (180 C) oven till it registers 130 F (54 C). Take out and let rest for 10 minutes.

Ravioli: Cook in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. Drain and toss with olive oil. Keep warm.

Kale: Sear blanched and chopped kale in a hot pan with oil or butter and garlic.

Plating: Place a mound of kale in the middle of the plate. Cut tenderloin into two pieces and place one on each plate. Top each with one ravioli and circle plate with Sauce Vin Rouge.

■ Fourth course

Cheesecake: Remove from fridge before you sit down for dinner.

Plating: Slice cheesecake, cleaning your blade often with hot water and towel. Place on slice on each plate, then spoon a circle of cherry sauce around cheesecake slice.

The recipes

Lobster Bisque

Makes more than enough for 2 servings

Lobster bisque with mini arrancini and lobster salad garnish. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

1 lobster

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

For mirepoix: 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 stalk celery, all chopped fine

4 cloves garlic whole

1 sprig tarragon

1 sprig rosemary

1 sprig thyme

1 tbsp (15 mL) tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp (15 mL) peppercorns

4 cups (1L) water

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1. Cook lobster in a pot of boiling, well-salted water — 8 minutes for a 1 1/2 lb (680 g) lobster.

2. Chill cooked lobster in ice water. Remove arms, tail, claws and remove meat from shells.

3. Set meat aside to use in ravioli and for garnish.

4. For mirepoix, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté carrot, onion and celery for 5 minutes.

5. Add lobster body and shells. Crush with a ladle to break up the body somewhat.

6. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim the foam.

7. Lower heat and simmer until reduced by half. Strain into a small sauce pot.

8. Reheat the lobster stock and reduce by half again.

9. Add butter and swirl in the pan to emulsify.

10. Adjust seasoning.

Arancini

Makes 2 servings

1 small shallot finely chopped

1 clove garlic minced

2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil

1 cup (250 mL) Arborio rice

1 cup (250 mL) white wine

3 cups (750 mL) warm chicken stock (you will not need all of it)

1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan cheese grated fine

1. Sauté the shallot and garlic in the olive oil on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Try not to brown the shallot.

2. Add rice and turn heat up to medium high. Add salt to taste. Coat the grains of rice in the oil well. Toasting them slightly.

Add the wine and turn heat back down to medium.

3. Stirring constantly over medium heat, add stock as needed till mixture is creamy and cooked through.

4. Remove from heat and add Parmesan. Add pepper to taste and adjust for salt.

5. Allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

For arancini breading layer

1/2 cup (125 mL) flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup (250 mL) panko bread crumbs

1. Season the flour with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Scoop the cooled risotto into a golf-ball-sized balls. Pat together well in your hands. Roll in seasoned four, then eggs, then panko.

3. Deep fry in oil at 350 F (180 C). It takes no more than 1 minute to brown the balls nicely.

4. Keep warm in 300 F (150 C) oven if serving soon or refrigerate covered; reheat in oven before serving.

Candied Fennel

Makes enough to garnish 2 servings

Half a fennel bulb, cut into julienne matchsticks

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

2 tbsp (25 mL) brown sugar

3 tbsp (50 mL) Port

1. In skillet, cook fennel matchsticks in butter over medium-low until well caramelized.

2. Add sugar and port and cook until sugar has dissolved and liquid has evaporated, coating fennel pieces. Cool.

Seared Sea Scallops

These scallops need to be cooked at the last second. (You’ll use the nicest two and eat the third, because you’re the date night hero, Laurin says.)

Seared Sea Scallop with Celery Root Pureé, Pancetta, Chicory and broken brown butter sauce prepared by Chef Jason Laurin. (Photo: Jana Chytilova)

Makes 2 servings

3 nice diver scallops

Salt and pepper

Splash of olive oil

2 tbsp (25 mL) brown butter (see recipe below)

1. Dry the scallops carefully on paper towel.

2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and some olive oil.

3. Have everything at room temperature and ready to go. Just before serving, heat cast-iron pan over high heat, then sear the scallops: brown one side well, about 1 minute, then turn and cook for about another minute and remove. You want them to stay nice and medium on the inside.

4. There will be some juice and brown bits from the scallops in the pan. Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) of brown butter to the pan and swirl — the brown butter will pick up all the flavours from the scallops. You will use this butter sauce when plating the scallops.

Celery Root Purée

Makes more than enough for 2 servings

1 small celery root

2 tbsp (25 mL) butter

Cream (as needed, to get desired consistency)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1. Peel and get rid of any imperfections in celery root. Cut into rough chunks of equal size. Cook in a pot of water for about 25 minutes. (Or until a knife pierces the flesh easily.) Drain and keep warm.

2. Add butter and enough cream to blitz (use a hand mixer) to make a fine purée.

3. Adjust seasoning and keep warm, or refrigerate till needed.

Crispy Pancetta

Makes more than enough for 2 servings

1 small flat slab of pancetta

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1. Cut pancetta into small cubes, about a half inch by a half inch (1 cm by 1 cm).

2. Sauté pancetta pieces in a pan with olive oil over medium heat, 3 or so minutes. Then turn heat down to medium-low until the fat is well rendered and all the pieces are crisp.

3. Drain.

Chicory

Makes enough for 2 servings

A few nice leaves from a head of chicory

1 tsp (5 mL) lemon olive oil (Laurin uses Meyer lemon olive oil from Emulsify, on Wellington Street West)

Sea salt to taste

1. Put chicory leaves, lemon olive oil and salt in a bowl.

2. Toss.

Brown Butter

Makes more than enough for 2 servings of scallops

1/2 cup (125 mL) butter

Half a lemon

1. Heat butter in a pan till it starts to brown and has a real nutty aroma. Do not cook over too high heat, or it will burn and need to be discarded.

2. Strain the butter from the solids by pouring carefully.

3. Mix 2 tbsp (25 mL) brown butter with a squeeze of lemon juice; add salt and pepper to taste.

Pan-Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Makes 2 servings

One 12-oz (340 g) piece of beef tenderloin

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

Salt and pepper for seasoning

1. Make sure the tenderloin is well dried.

2. Season all over well with salt and pepper. Rub with olive oil.

3. Heat a cast iron pan to medium high heat and sear beef till nicely browned all over, but not cooked inside.

4. Remove from heat and let cool down.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Lobster Ravioli

Pan roasted beef tenderloin with lobster ravioli, garlic kale and sauce vin rouge. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Makes 3 (or more) ravioli

Meat from 1 cooked lobster tail

1 egg yolk

Salt and pepper

1 tsp (5 mL) olive oil

1 tsp (5 mL) unsalted butter

Half a shallot, minced

One clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup (50 mL) whole-milk ricotta cheese

2 tbsp (25 mL) Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tsp (5 mL) fresh lemon juice

Round won ton wrappers

1. Place lobster in food processor and blitz till smooth. Add egg yolk and pulse to mix. (If you prefer chunkier ravioli, finely mince the lobster tail.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté shallot and garlic until softened, remove from heat, then add minced lobster mixture. Mix in cheeses and lemon juice.

3. Place 3 won ton wrappers on a work surface. Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) lobster mixture on top of each wrapper. Moisten the edges around the filling with water. Top with another 3 wrappers and press to seal.

4. Can be held in the fridge for 1 day covered with plastic.

Garlic Kale

1 whole kale

2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil or butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1. Remove the stems from the kale leaves and discard. Cook kale leaves in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute.

2. Drain and run under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water.

3. Roughly chop and set aside in refrigerator.

4. Just before serving, heat oil or butter in a hot pan, add garlic and sauté kale for about a minute or until hot through.

Sauce Vin Rouge

Makes more than enough for 2 servings

Half a carrot, chopped

Half an onion, chopped

Half a stalk of celery, chopped

1 clove garlic whole

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

Half a bottle Syrah red wine

2 cups (500 mL) veal stock or beef broth

1. Cook vegetables and garlic in butter till browned. Add wine and boil gently until reduced by half.

2. Add broth and reduce by half again.

3. Strain and cool. Can be refrigerated for 1 week.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Makes 8 servings

Deep dark chocolate cheesecake with port stewed cherries and sauce. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Deep dark chocolate cheesecake with port stewed cherries and sauce. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Flourless chocolate cake layer:

4 ounces (110 g) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1 stick (1/2 cup/125 mL) unsalted butter

3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup (125 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

1/4 cup (50 mL) white chocolate, chopped, or chips

1. Melt chocolate with butter in to pot of double boiler. Add sugar and mix till smooth. Mix in eggs and finally cocoa. Mix well. Add white chocolate. Pour into 9-inch (22-cm) springform pan that has been lined with parchment. Bake at 350 F (180 C) for about 18 minutes. Let cool completely.

Cheesecake layer:

1 package gelatin

3 tbsp (50 mL) water

Two 8-ounce (250 g) packages of cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

1½ cups (375 mL) whipping cream (divided into 1 cup/250 mL and 1/2 cup/125 mL)

6 ounces (170 g) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1. Mix gelatin with 3 tbsp (50 mL) water.

2. Mix cream cheese with sugar till smooth. Add 1 cup whipping cream and vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks hold.

3. Heat chocolate in top of double boiler till melted. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup (125 mL) cream until boiling. Remove from heat and mix in softened gelatin mixture. Mix into cream cheese. Add the melted chocolate and mix well. Pour on top of cooled cake layer and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Chocolate Ganache and Cake Decoration

3 ounces (85 g) dark chocolate, chopped

3 tbsp (50 mL) heavy cream

1 bar white chocolate, shaved with a vegetable peeler

1. Heat cream to a boil stir in dark chocolate until melted. Pour melted-chocolate mixture over refrigerated cheesecake.

2. Sprinkle white chocolate shavings as desired over poured ganache.

Port-Stewed Cherry Sauce

1 cup (250 mL) frozen tart cherries

1/4 cup (50 mL) powdered sugar

1/4 cup (50 mL) Port

Half lemon, juice if needed

1. Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat until reduced and syrupy. Blitz with a hand blender.

2. Adjust acidity with a squeeze of lemon juice if needed.

lrobin@ottawacitizen.com

twitter.com/laurarobin1

Connect with Laura Robin |Google+|@LauraRobin1|lrobin@ottawacitizen.com