I have never really been into the whole going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day thing, because being crammed into a table inches away from another couple while eating a hastily assembled prix fixe with overpriced wine is not romantic. And I know from romantic, as my place of work was recently named the third most romantic spot in Southern California to spend Valentine’s Day.
As an alternative, there’s something to be said for the time-honored tradition of preparing a special meal for your loved one. You get to pick the music, set the mood, and if dinner is a bust, you can always go out for beer and cheese fries after, which actually is romantic.
So, here’s a little menu I threw together from the Junior League of Waterloo-Cedar Falls‘s Pig Out (1986) for a Valentine’s Day dinner. Since Iowa produces about a quarter of the nation’s pork, and the cookbook itself has a chapter called “Pork Specialties,” I decided it simply would not do to look elsewhere for my main course. Also, this recipe is noted with an epithet that reads, “Very impressive.”
I made half-batches of all of the following recipes, including the roast, which was only a 2 1/2 pounder. Should you do the same, reduce your roasting time to about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. And don’t forget to rest the meat before carving.
Pork Loin Roast with Orange Glaze Cups
1 center cut pork loin roast, about 5 1/2 pounds
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 cup orange juice
2 1/2 t. cornstarch
1 t. grated orange rind
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground mace
1 13 1/2-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained (or use fresh pineapple)
2 T. Grand Marnier
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place meat, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Insert a meat thermometer so the bulb reaches the thickest part of the meat. Roast 3 hours or until meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees.
Combine orange juice, cornstarch, rind, ginger, and mace in small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Brush glaze on meat during the last 30 minutes of roasting. To serve, place roast on platter. Garnish with parsley and orange cups. Pass remaining glaze.
Cut oranges in half and scoop out pulp and dice. Drain off juice and combine pulp and pineapple. Add liquor. Chill. Spoon fruit into orange shells.
— Ruth Lutz Black (Mrs. David)
Now, as tempting as the orange cups stuffed with pineapple sounded, there was yet another orange cup recipe in Pig Out that caught my eye, and it sounded absolutely perfect. Because nothing says “I love you” like carving a decorative edge into the hollowed out skin of an orange.
Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups
4 medium oranges
8 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
rind of 1 orange, grated
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup pecans, broken
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup tiny marshmallows
Cut oranges in half, extract juice and remove pulp. Scallop or cut in “w” shape the edges of orange shells. Mash potatoes until smooth and fluffy. Add butter, brown sugar, orange juice, rind and salt. Beat until well blended. Add nuts and sherry. Fill orange shells with potato mixture. Dot with marshmallows. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Hint: Surround your pork roast with these.
— Kate Della Maria Weidner (Mrs. Steven)
And while I’m sure that the pineapple-stuffed oranges are a lovely accompaniment to what is a truly excellent glazed roast pork, let me tell you here and now that these sweet potatoes are better. We adored them.
For dessert, I forged ahead with this tart recipe, despite not being able to find appropriately-sized heart-shaped molds. Instead, I used ramekins, though I’d advise finding something with a slightly more sloped side. Fitting pastry crust into a ramekin is really not much fun.
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups unbleached flour, sifted
1 t. salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 T. orange liqueur
1/2 t. vanilla
2 pints fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam, melted
Combine sugar, flour, and salt in a chilled bowl. Cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water until mixture can be formed into a ball. Chill 30 to 60 minutes wrapped in wax paper. Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/8″ thick and cut into six equal pieces. Grease backs of six oven-proof heart-shaped molds, and fit dough into molds. Trim excess with a sharp knife. Press bottoms gently in several places, place on baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, carefully remove shells from molds and place on platter and fill.
Melt chocolate over very low heat and while warm, gently spread over bottoms of cooled shells, and allow to set. Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Add whipping cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla. Spoon over chocolate and chill 30 minutes. Combine strawberries and jam, tossing berries gently to coat. Arrange over filling, cover carefully and refrigerate. Serve within 6 to 8 hours.
— Jane Rife Field (Mrs. Hugh)
If I were doing these tarts again, I might make them with a graham cracker or a pecan-butter-brown sugar crust, and just serve them in the ramekins. I thought that those flavors might go better with the filling and strawberry-raspberry topping, which is sublime. Of course, maybe I’d have thought otherwise had I been able to get that buttery crust rolled out a little bit thinner without it sticking to my countertop.
That said, my sweetheart was much impressed, and didn’t even mind the clumsy tart crust, nor the fact that I’d (yet again) forgotten to garnish the entree with parsley. It was a lovely meal, and even though it was an ordinary Monday night, the few special little touches on these recipes made it a bit less ordinary. And Charlie Brown, that’s what Valentine’s day is all about.