EyeSwoon

What constitutes a romantic dinner? How can we create a swoony setting where we can indulge in a decadent meal and truly be present with our lover? These questions swirled in my mind last week as I began to think about Valentine’s Day. And devoid of inspiration, this swooner took to Pinterest. Upon entering “Valentine’s Day” in the search field, I was appalled by the cheesy images and ideas that flashed in front of me. I mean, I get the whole hearts and Cupid thing for starry-eyed teens, (and I might add that my 12-year-old has his first girlfriend, so on February 14th I am sure I will see plenty of that!), but for adults who have a more elevated aesthetic and palate, how exactly can we create an intimate spread at home?

As per usual, when I could not find precisely what I was looking for, I drew on disparate images and scribbled down concepts, then filtered them through my own vision. The end result is this dark and moody scene. I think the vibe evokes sensuality, just the tone I seek for a quiet dinner for two.

The design choices are simple, but with thoughtful execution. My overall objective was to evoke seduction. So rather than the typical candy colors, I began with deep, dark focal hues, expressed in the form of tonal grey table linens, black ceramics and flatware. Lighting is an important component as well, so I selected dim candlelight to play into the dusky ambiance. Since the scape is for an intimate dinner, I erred on the side of understated. The setting is not too fussy with the florals — some winter branches counterbalance the moodier tones and a few saturated blooms are just enough to set the scene while offering the accent palette. And the setting all comes to life in the details. Rich wine toned velvet ribbon, just $3.99 per yard, makes a sophisticated statement wrapped around each napkin, and completed with a wild sprig of greenery.

In addition to the visuals, I had another important Valentine’s Day dinner consideration: I wanted to be able to focus on the one I love, not be a slave to the kitchen. To satisfy that criteria, much of this meal can be prepared in advance. The spicy chermoula for the rack of lamb can be made and refrigerated the day before, as can the blood orange bundt cake.

And that brings us to the swooniest part of any meal — the food! The celebratory beauty of the rack of lamb. It sure is a showstopper. Accompanying it is a rather intoxicating Moroccan chermoula. Infused with North African spices like caraway, paprika and cumin, plus bright herbs like parsley and cilantro, the sauce truly enlivens any meat. And once those spicy and earthy notes mingle with the sweet caramelization of the fennel and beetroot, it touches upon so many points in your palate. The cooling quality of the pomegranate yogurt balances out the dish, making the entire meal so swoony! And it’s all created in one pot, I might add.

With decadent, delicious results, there you have it! Creating a Valentine’s Day dinner without the cheesy cliches may require a little extra preparation on the front-end, but it is a labor of love, after all. And for more of my tips for creating an evening of real romance, and for the super-moist blood orange bundt cake recipe, head over to Food52.

Many thanks to Jenny Huang who worked with me on developing these recipes.

Rack of Lamb with Chermoula over Roasted Fennel and Beetroot

EyeSwoon Kitchen

  • Ingredients

    • serves 2

      The chermoula

      • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
      • 3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
      • 3 cloves garlic, halved,
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
      • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
      • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
      • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
      • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
      • 1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron
      • 1 preserved lemon, rind
      • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
      • 1/3 cup olive oil
      • kosher salt, to taste

      The lamb:

      • 1 rack of lamb, frenched (about 1 ½ pounds) and trimmed of all but a thin layer of fat
      • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
      • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
      • 1 bulb of fennel,  trimmed and cut lengthwise into large slices
      • 5-6 beetroots, peeled and cut into 8ths
      • 5-6 cloves of garlic, smashed with skin on
      • olive oil

      The Yogurt with Pomegranate and Pistachios:

      • ½ cup plain whole milk yogurt
      • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
      • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
      • kosher salt, to taste
      • lemon juice, to taste
      • olive oil, for drizzling
  • The Prep

    • The Chermoula and the Lamb: 

      1. To make the chermoula, combine the cilantro and parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add the preserved lemon rind, lemon juice, and spices and pulse to combine. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Salt to taste.
      2. Pat the lamb dry and rub with salt and pepper. Over high heat, heat a heavy-bottomed pan until hot. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Brown the lamb on all sides, 2-3 minutes on each side.
      3. While the lamb is browning, toss the fennel, beetroots, and garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Arrange the vegetables in the bottom of a small roasting pan.
      4. Once the lamb is browned, coat the meaty parts with about half of the chermoula sauce. Make sure to press to really get the sauce on. Place on top of the vegetables. Roast for 15 minutes then cover lamb loosely with foil and roast until a thermometer inserted diagonally into center of the meat reads 120 degrees, about 5-10 minutes. Let stand, covered, 15 minutes.
      5. While the meat is resting, cover the vegetables with foil and return back to the oven until they are tender through, 10-15 minutes.
      6. Serve with vegetables topped with the chermoula sauce and yogurt with pomegranate and pistachios.

      The Yogurt with Pomegranate and Pistachios:

      1. Whisk the yogurt, salt, and lemon juice until well combined.
      2. Top with pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios, and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

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