Pork Chop Parmesan with Lemon-Mushroom Risotto for Valentine’s Day

If someone asked me, “What is a romantic meal?” I’m sure I would be expected to have an answer. After all, I’m a food blogger; I’m a cooking teacher. I’m married to the man of my dreams. I don’t think I do, though. (Today’s Pork Chop Parmesan with Lemon Mushroom Risotto might qualify!) Do I even know how to define “romantic”? To begin with, the word “romantic” is both an adjective and a noun. Leave it to the English major to think of that. If you just drop the word “romantic” into a conversation, I’m likely to think of Brahms, Chopin, Verdi, or Beethoven because I’m also a musician. While several definitions pop up when you search, here is one likely to make sense to most folks:

...conducive to or characterized by the expression of love.
 "A romantic candlelit dinner."
                                                                                                                       ~Oxford Languages
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Pork Chops on Mashed Root Vegetables with Mustard-Mushroom Sauce–Cook at Home for Valentine’s Day


If you haven’t made a restaurant reservation yet for Valentine’s Day, you’re probably too late except for the 3:30 or 10:30 pm slots.   

What you’re definitely in time for is a trip to the grocery store, a little cooking action, an attractively-set table, and a relaxed dinner with no one asking


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Make Your Own Chocolate for Valentine’s Day

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere and lots of drops to drink.

This gorgeous bark is one that Dave had made for me for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago.  Truth to be told, his bark is better than mine.  Candy maker, I’m not, though my toffee was to die for this year.  (pat pat)

Make someone happy. This bark is quick, incredibly decadent, makes lots, and is much less expensive than a big box of perhaps elderly chocolates off the store shelf.   It’s also a beautiful candy you might want to make together.  The recipe came from the Food Network (courtesy Dave Lieberman), as do so many scrumptious things these days.  There is hardly an easier dessert to make except perhaps to clean strawberries and arrange them in a bowl come summer.  And that’s not really making dessert.  Serve with  a little port or a coffee laced with brandy.

Dave’s Cranberry Almond Chocolate Bars with Tangerine Zest

1/2 c slivered almonds
3 cups chocolate morsels (I like 1/2 milk chocolate and 1/2 bittersweet)
1/2 c dried cranberries (We like cherries, too.)
1/2 tangerine, zested

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Line a 13×9″ baking pan with aluminum foil.

Lay out almond slivers on baking sheet.  Bake in oven until light brown, shaking the baking pan occasionally to mix them around, about 10-15 minutes.

Melt the chocolate morsels in a double boiler over low heat.  Mix in the cranberries, almond slivers and tangerine zest.

Pour into prepared pan.  Smooth the chocolate mixture out into an even layer.  Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until hard, at least 1 hour.  Use a knife to break up chocolate into jagged, varied sized bars.
… … … …

Lose 10 Pounds in 8 Weeks or Subtract 35,000 Calories — Update

I finally got the crud the rest of the world has had, so I am off schedule a bit this week.  3 pounds so far and even while ill I’ve stayed on the food program.  For now, the exercise portion is off-schedule.  I’ll be back at it as soon as I’m able to stay on my feet for longer than a few minutes.
Keep cheering!

Sing a new song,

No Reservations (Valentine’s Day at Home)

Alyce’s Tuna with Marinara and Spinach with Onions*

To get you in the mood, kick off with Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”  
Or, if you’d rather, “Someone Like You.”
          Note: If you right click on the song title, you can open youtube in another window and keep the music playing…………………………………
If you’d rather just order pizza (I know you!) and watch a movie, stop here and look at the best movies of 2011 and call for delivery.   Wow, that was a short blog!   But…if you’re in the mood for food at home, read on.

Since everyone and their mother is now a food or wine writer, it’s a bit crazy to see just how many articles there are about cooking for Valentine’s Day or drinking for Valentine’s Day.   “I Wine You to Wine Me,” is out from Wine Spectator.  Phew.   The desserts, the bubblies…  It’s all somewhat odd, eh?  Because the word has always been that one goes OUT for Valentine’s Day–something I’ve seldom done.  Why?  Too crowded, too expensive, and rushed food.  Enough reasons?  I will admit, however, that if you have children of any age in the house, going out looks better and better.  Who wants to be searing a great piece of salmon while your loved one lights the candles only to be confronted with a dirty diaper, a bloody nose, a soccer practice, or a boyfriend crisis?

The only kids now at home sleep under the table!

 Because I’m a faithful person and because my (adult) children know I love them madly, I’ll admit I’ve been thrilled to cook at home on Valentine’s Day in the years since they left.  THANK YOU, GOD! And, truthfully, we were broke for a lot of years before that, so I cooked for a bunch of those, too.  Not only that, I  have always made Dave one of his favorite desserts for his Valentine’s Day present.   (What do you get a guy for Valentine’s Day??)  For us, it’s a bit simple. While embarrassing to admit, I cook better food than most restaurants serve (as do many people) and I can afford the wine in my cellar (or on my counter) because I bought it myself and it’s paid for.  So, the food and wine are both better…   I’ve saved a heap of money (even the loveliest filet at the butcher is $15 per in St. Paul), I can hear everything Dave says, and dinner can–and occasionally does–take all evening.   No one is standing at the entrance to the room eyeing our plates to see when we’ll be done.  No server is bringing dessert before I’ve finished my dinner.  If there’s any clanking in the kitchen, Dave and I are doing it.  And, in St. Paul, no doors are opening letting in the Arctic Circle.

I often plan a meal complete with music (you can get “Sarah Vaughn for Lovers,”  “Ella Fitzgerald for Lovers” or just put on Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and be done) and it may start in one room–maybe the kitchen– with a tiny appetizer and a sparkler, later moving into dining room for soup, main course, and salad–and end in the living room with cheese and dessert.  A spot of port.  While that’s possible in a restaurant, it’s not probable.   You don’t have to do all those things, of course; but they’re fun!

So if you can pawn off the kids elsewhere or pay them to stay upstairs… or if you have no kids… dream up something scrumptious and cook at home.  Leave the dishes rinsed in the sink for the next morning.

First,  you’ll have to decide about the gift dessert— I don’t know what I’m making Dave this year, but here are some of my favorites on More Time:

Hazelnut-Chocolate Cake

Apple pie...a great gift for Valentine’s Day

Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Cookies (good anytime)

 Lemon Scented Pear-Almond Crostata – Yes!

There are directions for making this crostata with apples, too, if you like.

One of my all-time favorite desserts is Brandied Fig Vanilla Pudding from Epicurious.  Almost done before you begin, this silky pudding is simple, subtle, supple, and topped with a bit of fig preserves mixed with a spoonful of brandy.  Sometimes I offer a tish of hot fudge and berries in placeof the figs, depending on the season.   Made on the stove in a few minutes, it can be done ahead or at the last minute.  It’s great warm if you’re running late!  One note:  Brandied Fig Vanilla Pudding is gorgeous in nice, heavy crystal on-the-rocks tumblers; you can see the pudding and the shining golden fig layer at top through the sparkling glass.

 Thing is, I think you can often cook as well as the folks in the restaurants, too.  You can cook to your own tastes and take your time.  You can make the dessert today and just serve a salad and steak tomorrow.   I mean, most of us work on Valentine’s Day, right?

Needn’t be a complex salad to be good.  In fact, the opposite is true.

Just for fun, I’ve looked around at a few available menus to see what exactly IS a romantic menu?  I’m not sure I know; so here are a couple I’ve seen around the net lately:

This one, off the Epicurious site, is called:

                                        ROMANTIC DINNER

  • Peach Royale
  • Smoked Salmon with Crispy Shallots and Dilled Cream
  • Seared Duck Breast with Cherries and Port Sauce
  • Penne with Hazelnut Gremolata and Roasted Broccolini
  • Sliced Strawberries with Grand Marnier Zabaglione
OR…you might like…
  • Flatbread with Fingerling Potatoes, Shitake Mushrooms, and Truffle Oil
  • Spice-Coated Rack of Lamb for Two with Arugula, Avocado, and Blood Orange Salad
  • Almond Cakes with Chocolate Passion-Fruit Sauce 

Other options are:


LAMB CHOPS AND ROASTED VEGETABLES FOR TWO  right here from More Time.  (pictured at top)
                           If you do make the lamb chops, you are wide open for both wine and dessert.  While a typical pairing for lamb is Cabernet Sauvignon, I like Syrah or Pinot Noir (California and Oregon, respectively, though I love CRISTOM Syrah, which is Oregon) with this meal to meet up and ring with with the sweet tones in the root vegetables.  In the post, there’s a simple bread pudding, but you might remember I just blogged another bread pudding that’s to die for.  Don’t want to make dessert?  Pick up two kinds of gelato or sorbet (I like Pistachio gelato with Raspberry sorbet) and some tiny Scots shortbread cookies or feast on a bit of the chocolate you bought.  Don’t skimp on the coffee; make sure it’s lovely.  It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s all in the details (and the laughter.)



While I’m just realizing this, one of my favorite meals to serve Dave or company, isn’t on the blog; the marinara, however, is on my other blog, Dinner Place, as is tuna with spinach and onions.
I think you can figure out how to put it all together from the photo; don’t forget Parmesan at the table. 

Whatever you do, enjoy. 

two-dog kitchen and around the ‘hood

Last Friday Night’s Table

The other lovers.

On my kitchen window

Tucker–thinks he’s hiding.

Sing a new song on Valentine’s Day….

Alyce’s Lamb Shanks on Mashed Ginger Rutabaga and Next Day Lamb Stew

I like a pasta bowl for lamb shanks and sides…sit them up in the rutabagas to show them off.

 If you’re a bit unsure about lamb shanks… what they are or how to cook them, here’s the deal:  they’re pretty much like cooking a tiny pot roast on a big old bone.  Whatever treatment you’ve given beef chuck roast is probably going to work with lamb shanks–which are from way up on the lamb’s leg.  Since the meat is tough, it needs to be braised (cooked in liquid) and the braising liquid of choice is often wine, though it needn’t be.  A stiff stout would work, as would broth, tomatoes, cider and water…whatever floats your shanks.  Add root vegetables and/or onions, celery, garlic, and you’ve an entire meal.   Even just onions and wine with a bit of dried rosemary will give you something well worth eating.  Most recipes call for two lamb shanks per person; there isn’t a lot of meat on one.  I find that given the vegetables and sauce inevitably cooked with them that one is plenty.

I start  lamb shanks on top of the stove and finish them in the oven, cutting off about a 1/2 hour cooking time compared to all oven braising.   They can also be done totally on top of the stove, paring down the cooking time even more to about an hour total. Because I wanted a simple rutabaga mash as a base, I cooked the rutabaga separately stove top just like you would mashed potatoes, except I added fresh ginger and garlic to the cooking water.  You could certainly cook the rutabaga in the pot with the meat for ease of preparation; add them for the oven time only.  Or, if you wanted, you could mix up a bit of couscous (in place of the rutabaga)  while the lamb rests or even make a salad in place of green beans. I added potatoes mostly because I wanted them for the next day stew.  It won’t take much (and actually there are vegetables in the sauce) to finish this meal.  Then, there’s

way fast shanks in the microwave

If you’re interested in under an hour (really),  folks have also been microwaving lamb shanks with great success since 1989 thanks to THE NEW BASICS COOKBOOK (Workman, 1989) written by Silver Palate gurus Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. These shanks are done in 30 minutes.  Just for fun, here’s  the info for microwaving the shanks:  (And by the way, I microwave my chuck roasts for chimichangas.)

In a 2 qt microwave-safe casserole, cook 2T olive oil at full power for 2 minutes.  Stir in 1 cup chopped red bell pepper, 3/4 c chopped onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 sprigs rosemary (1/2 t dried), 1/2 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, 3/4 cup dry red wine, and 1T tomato paste.  Cook, uncovered, 5 min.  Remove 1/2 of the vegetable mixture and set it aside.   Lightly oil 3 small lamb shanks with a bit more olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Arrange shanks in a triangle over the vegetables remaining in the casserole.  Cover, and cook for 20 min.  Turn the shanks and cook another 10 min.  Spoon the reserved vegetables over the shanks, cover, and cook 2 minutes.  Remove the casserole from the microwave, and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.  Serves 2-3.

 Still a great all-purpose cookbook( above recipe courtesy THE NEW BASICS)

If you’d like to try them my way, do what Dave and I did:  put on some great music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and throw this in the oven to braise while you put your feet up and talk through the day.  While you can sure eat lamb shanks alone, they’re worth sharing.  And, wonder of wonders, if you didn’t eat the third lamb shank, you can make a beautiful stew next day…recipe down below.


While the French like Bordeaux with lamb, I am partial to a softer, rounder wine here like Burgundy (Oregon Pinot Noir to be exact; good French Burgundy is out of my price range generally speaking) or a (red) French Côtes du Rhône, which is a Grenache blend.  These wines, for my palate, compliment the softer, sweeter notes in the root vegetables. So, yes, you’ll need two bottles of wine for this meal.  One for you and one for the pot.  (Not a bad deal.)  Ask your wine shop about an inexpensive–under $15– Côtes du Rhône; there are lots of tasty values.  The Oregon Pinot will be pricier for the most part (though there are some $20-$30 bottles), but really worth it for a splurge or birthday.  These wines will be $40-$50 and up and are often cellared for several years before drinking.  So if you head toward the Pinot for you to drink, pick up something less expensive for the pot.  Which ones:  I love most Oregon Pinots, but have soft spots for PriveKen Wright and Sineann,

Try this: 

 alyce’s lamb shanks with mashed ginger rutabaga, new potatoes, and lemon-crumbed green beans               serves 2-3

Raw lamb shank

Let them brown well on each side
  • 3-4 lamb shanks
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (plus extra for vegetables)
  • 4T olive oil, divided
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 2 stalks celery, with leaves, chopped
  • 4 large carrots, trimmed
  • 3 cloves garlic, whole
  • 1 750 ml bottle red wine; I like Cotes du Rhone
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1t Herbes de Provence
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1 large rutabaga, trimmed and peeled
  • 6-8 small red potatoes  (No recipe given for steaming potatoes or beans.)
  • 2-3 cups fresh green beans
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1t butter
  • 1/2 t grated lemon rind
  • 2t chopped fresh parsley

  1.  Mix flour with salt and pepper in a shallow, large bowl.  Place one shank at a time in the bowl and, using your hands, cover with the flour-salt-pepper mixture.  Repeat with remaining shanks.
  2. Meantime, heat over medium heat 2T of the olive oil in a heavy, oven-safe pot (you’ll need a lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil; this must be covered).  Place the shanks in the pot and let brown well–10 minutes.  Turn over and brown the other side.  Remove shanks from pan and set aside.
  3. Add remaining 2T olive oil, heat and add vegetables (onions, celery, carrots, garlic), sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and saute briefly–5 minutes or so.  Add herbs–  bay, rosemary,  thyme, the tiny bit of crushed red pepper, and Herbes de Provence.  Pour in wine and chicken stock and bring to a boil.

 4.  Return lamb shanks to the pan. Reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook on stovetop 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5.  Place covered pot in oven and bake another hour or so until meat is quite tender…maybe even coming off the bone if you like it like that.  (Meantime, make the rutabaga mash (see below for recipe) new potatoes and green beans–no recipe provided for these.  I do like a bit of bread crumbs with lemon and pepper on my beans.  What I do is throw a piece of great white baguette in the food processor and then toast those crumbs in a bit of butter and grated lemon peel.  When the beans are steamed and salted, and peppered, I top them with the lemon-crumb mixture)

Making a sauce and serving up:

1.  Remove the cooked shanks to a warm dish and cover.  Place back in oven to keep warm while you make the sauce and mash the rutabagas.



Cover and return to oven to keep warm while you make the sauce.

2.  In the pan you should have a 1/2 pot of lovely gravy with soft carrots, onions, and so on.   If you can do it, spoon off a bit of the fat and remove the small sticks leftover from the rosemary and thyme.  Taste and see if it needs seasoning.  If you have an immersion blender, haul out the power tools and blend this sauce a bit—as smooth as you’d like.  If no immersion blender, you can carefully transfer some of the sauce and veggies to a food processor or simply mash away with a potato masher.  Taste again and adjust seasoning if needed.
3.  In a large shallow bowl, place half of the rutabaga mash and carefully sit a lamb shank, bone up, in the mash, so that it stands at attention. Spoon a generous serving of sauce on meat and mash.  Repeat with the remaining serving(s).
4.  Add steamed potatoes and green beans, if serving.  Garnish with chopped parsley.
5.  Serve hot.  Let leftovers cool completely, cover well, and refrigerate 1-2 days until you make stew.

mashed ginger rutabaga   2 servings

Bring a 2-3 qt saucepan 1/2 full of water to a boil.  Add a 1″ piece of fresh ginger and 1 peeled garlic clove, as well as a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Meantime, trim and peel one large rutabaga, which looks like a large turnip…with gnarly roots.  Just for fun, know that Brits call these babies swedes and Scots call them neeps just as they do turnips.  Cut the rutabaga into 1/2 inch pieces and add to the boiling water.  Cook until tender, about 20 minutes, and drain.  Remove garlic and ginger; discard.  Mash rutabaga well with a tablespoon of butter using a potato masher or a mixer.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning. (Remember these vegetables will have a hearty sauce on them.)
Cut up the cooked new potatoes for the stew; they go in toward the end or they’ll disintegrate.
leftover lamb stew                    serves 4

  •  2T olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and sliced into  1/4-1/2″ moons
  • 1/2 large turnip, peeled and diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6 large mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Leftover lamb braising sauce
  • Leftover new potatoes, cut up
  • Leftover lamb, cut off the bone and chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Drop or two of hot sauce if needed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. To an 8 qt stock pot, add olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add fennel, turnip, carrots and mushrooms.  Cook for 5-7 minutes until just softening and beginning to brown a bit.  
  2. Pour in broth, water, and braising sauce and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add potatoes,  and lamb.
  3. Let cook until vegetables are quite tender…20-30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper, or hot sauce as needed.
  4. Serve hot garnished with parsley and with some baguette for dunking.

two dog kitchen and what else I’ve been cooking:

   Pan-Roasted Brussel Sprouts and New Potatoes with Parmesan and Onions

I blogged this on my other blog, Dinner Place, The Solo Cook

When do we get to walk?  This computer stuff is getting old, Mom.
Testing a new bread machine.

Leftover grilled chicken with pomegranate seeds, berries and cabbage-spinach salad with sherry vinaigrette
Our Gab

Zabaglione…will make again and blog…

Chickadees, in bitter cold, grab seeds and break them with their beaks while standing on metal feeders.  Brr. You think you have food problems.

Sing a new song, and cook lamb!