How To: Date Night

Welcome to How To. In this video series Kevin Van of both Providence and The Dining Society will guide us through simple, delicious at-home recipes. If you have a recipe request, let us know in the comments.

For this episode, instead of focusing in on one specific technique, I've compiled some of my favorite low-maintenance recipes worthy of date night. These are just some seductive small bites, meant to be eaten with your hands -- perfect for hand-feeding to special someones, or just sharing with friends. Count on these recipes for a simple showstopper that won't weigh you down. Just think of it as fuel for later on.

Oysters with Bacon Mignonette
Serves 2
6-12 small oysters (like kumomoto, kusshi, or beausoleil)
2 slices bacon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 shallot, chopped very fine
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 lemon
a generous pinch of sea salt

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, render and crisp the slices of bacon (not too crispy). Move the bacon to a cutting board and save the fat from the pan. With a large knife, chop it up very fine.

Place the peppercorns on a cutting board, cover it with a clean dish towel, and smash it to bits using a large blunt object (like a sauce pan or rolling pin). Combine the bacon and peppercorn with the reserved fat, vinegar, shallots, salt, and the juice from the lemon.

TO SHUCK AN OYSTER:
First, wash the oysters in cold water to remove sand and sediment clinging to the shell. Use a dish towel to hold the clean oyster firmly in place on a countertop, with the bowl-shaped side facing down. With an oyster knife, find the hinge of the shell, and place the tip of the knife gently into the crevice. Using a moderate amount of pressure, roll the tip of the knife back and forth until the hinge loosens and the shell pops up slightly. Gently pry the top shell off, and using the knife to scrape the muscle that connects the two shells. Locate where the same muscle is connected to the bottom half of the shell, and scrape it to dislodge the oyster.

OR!

If you don't own an oyster knife, another way is to grill the oysters. Place the oysters directly on the grill grates over hot coals. After about a minute, you'll start to see the seawater start to bubble out of the shell. Give it an additional 30 seconds or so on the grill, then carefully -- CAREFULLY! -- take the oyster off the grill with a dish towel, lay it on a sturdy surface, and use an appropriate device (like a butter knife or small spoon) to pry the top shell off. If the shell doesn't come off easily, give it another 30 seconds on the grill. Scrape the muscle attached to the shell to loosen the oyster. Granted, this results in warm oysters, but luckily the mignonette sauce tastes just as good with warm oysters.

Serve by laying the oysters, chilled or grilled, out on a bowl filled with crushed ice or a mound of salt, to keep them in place. Spoon a tablespoon of the mignonette over each oyster.

Stuffed and Wrapped Dates
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup raw slivered almonds
3 sprigs rosemary
1 clove garlic
3 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb medjool dates
6 to 8 slices prosciutto
canola oil for searing

Peel, and with the palm of your hand, crush the clove of garlic. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the garlic, almonds, rosemary, and olive oil until the oil starts sizzling. Carefully watch for the almonds and garlic to take on color.

Once they begin turned brown, take the pan off the heat. Do not wait for the almonds and garlic to be completely brown, because even after you take the pan off the heat, they will continue to color. Let it cool down a bit, then put this and the ricotta cheese into a food processor. Grind until smooth and incorporated. Season this mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Using a pair of tweezers, pliers, or just your fingers, carefully remove the stem and pit of each date. Make a piping bag by spooning the ricotta mixture into a zip top bag, and with scissors, cut a hole at one of the bottom corners of the bag. Or you can just use a spoon. Pipe a teaspoon's worth of the ricotta mixture into the center of each date.

Cut the prosciutto into strips approximately the same width as the dates, and a length long enough to wrap around at least two times. Lay a single strip of prosciutto on a surface, then lay a stuffed date with the seam side down at the part of the prosciutto closest to you. Roll it up and lay it seam-side down on a tray.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons worth of olive oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Once the oil has heated, but not burning hot, carefully start placing the wrapped dates into the pan, one at a time, seam-side down. Let the prosciutto crisp slightly before rotating the dates. Once the prosciutto is evenly colored and crisped on all sides, remove them from the pan using a spoon and onto a paper-lined plate. Let these cool slightly before serving.

Hibiscus and Honey Macerated Berries
2 pints strawberries
2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1 cup dry hibiscus flowers (also called jamaica in Hispanic markets)
1 vanilla bean pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
additional honey if your berries aren't sweet enough

In a small sauce pot, heat the water to a vigorous boil. Take off the heat and add the additional ingredients, minus the berries, and let steep for 5 minutes. Stem, wash, and cut the berries to an appropriate size. Once the liquid has cooled to room temperature, ladle or pour the liquid over the berries just enough to cover (while holding back the hibiscus in the pot), and let it all macerate and soak, covered, in the fridge for at least an hour, or up to a day.

Happy Valentine's Day!



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