romantic date ideas

Introducing Guest Blogger : A Best-Selling Author, Chef, & Friend of Linx

It is my pleasure to introduce a remarkable Bay Area based woman named Jessica Theroux to the Linx blog. I had the opportunity to visit with Jessica in the Spring of this year and we shared a wonderful afternoon getting to know one another. I was so impressed hearing her passion for cooking, but even more so at how soulful her story is. Jessica spent a year traveling throughout Italy, cooking and talking with Italian grandmothers as part of her research for her celebrated book – Cooking with Italian Grandmothers: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany to Sicily. Not to mention that celebrity chef, restaurateur, and author, Alice Waters, did the introduction to her cookbook!

I not only adored Jessica’s enchanting cookbook but loved how she truly embraces the “old world” and doesn’t forget how important tradition is, particularly in today’s fast-paced modern era. Her philosophy and passion tie so nicely into what Linx represents. So, on that note, with the holidays in full swing, I thought I would reach out to her to see… just see …if she might be able to suggest a recipe for our faithful readers. To my surprise, she presented me with a romantic, yet healthful and balanced, holiday menu for two, written especially for our readers! Enjoy!

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By: Jessica Theroux

Each year, as the craze of the holidays begin, my mind returns to the tranquility of the small Sicilian islands that I visited while researching for my book, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers. Life happened at a slower, gentler pace on those islands, the result of which was a rich experience for the senses. Days were spent in the warm ocean breeze, which carried with it the aromas of wild fennel and native mints, and the distant sounds of local men deftly catching fish for dinner. Sicily Breathtaking Sicilian coastline

With the pressure and demands of modern life lifted (there were barely any cars, let alone cell phone reception), endless hours were passed talking with and helping local grandmothers slowly prepare their delicious traditional dishes. Sicily 2 Sicily

This simple, elegant menu for two evokes the ease and sensuality of those islands, while also bringing health and balance to the holidays through its focus on high-quality protein, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. A delightful dose of subtle hedonism runs throughout the dishes– in their use of heady fresh herbs and toasted spices, punchy citrus and creamy avocado, and in the silky texture of melted bittersweet chocolate tucked within plump dates.

This is the perfect seasonal meal to prepare for a love interest or dear friend—someone for whom you would like to offer an indulgent way to wind down and relax during, or after, the holidays.

MENU

Seared Tuna with a Coriander-Fennel Rub
Mache Salad with Clementine, Avocado, and Mint
Warm Dates with Hazelnuts and Bittersweet Chocolate, Fresh Mint Tisane

Serves Two

Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Execution Time: 15 minutes

Seared Tuna with a Coriander-Fennel Rub
This seared tuna is inspired by the Sicilian all-male tradition of hand-spearing migrating bluefin tuna; the most extreme expression of this being the annual “mattanza”, or culling, that happens along the west coast of the main island during the summer months. When the tuna is brought to land, local housewives spend weeks both grilling and oil-curing the bounty of their men’s catch. Here, crushed fennel and coriander seeds combine with citrus zest to create a bold crust upon searing; the tuna is also delicious grilled.

2 tuna steaks (yellowfin or bluefin) 6-8oz each and ¾ inch thick
*You can also substitute with another firm fish, such as halibut
Salt
Black pepper
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 clementines or tangerines, zested, with the flesh reserved
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Lightly toast the coriander and fennel seeds in a small skillet set over medium-low heat, 3-4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the heat immediately and crush them in a pestle and mortar, or clean spice or coffee grinder. Mix the ground spices together with the clementine zest and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Rinse the tuna under cold water and pat it dry. Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper on both sides, and rub thoroughly with the spiced oil.

Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil in a ridged or flat skillet set over medium-high heat. When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, add the tuna steaks to the pan and turn the heat down the slightest bit. Seared Tuna, Salad with Clementines and Avocado

Sear the tuna for 2-3 minutes on the first side, until lightly browned. Flip the steaks, and sear the other side for 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna. You can check its doneness by cutting into it. The above method and timing will cook the tuna so that it is still a little rare in the middle when you take it off the stove; it will continue to cook once removed from the heat and will be just pink at the time of serving. If you prefer a more rare-seared tuna, simply sear it for less time on each side; or, for a more well cooked fish, sear it for a little longer on each side.


Mache Salad with Clementines, Avocado and Mint

This salad offers a healthy and refreshing accompaniment to the seared fish, to be served alongside it. Be sure to combine the tuna with little bites of avocado and clementine—the combination is divine!

4 cups Mache, baby arugula, or other salad greens, washed and dried
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 avocado, cut into medium sized cubes
3 clementines or tangerines (from above)
1 scallion, washed and finely sliced
1 teaspoon sherry or champagne vinegar
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt

To prepare the clementines, use a pairing knife to trim away the skin left over after zesting; to do this, cut from the top of the citrus down the sides to the bottom, as close under the white pith as you can manage. Slice the clementines crosswise to make pinwheels, or supreme them into wedges.Clementines for salad

Place the salad greens in a large bowl and toss them with the scallion, chopped herbs, and a sprinkling of salt. Drizzle the vinegar over the greens, and toss lightly to distribute. Repeat with the olive oil. Lastly, add the avocado and clementines.

Plate the tuna on top of the salad, or with the salad to the side, as you prefer.


Dates with Hazelnuts and Bittersweet Chocolate, Fresh Mint Tisane

These warm, chocolate-stuffed dates are just about the easiest dessert on the planet! They take only five minutes to prepare, but provide a long lasting impression.

4-6 medjool dates
1-1.5 oz 90-99% cocoa chocolate, such as Lindt (the higher the cocoa content the better)
1 tablespoon roughly chopped hazelnuts, raw or toasted
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed

Preheat your oven to 250°F.

Make a slit lengthwise down one side of each date, remove the pit, stuff with a piece of dark chocolate and a sprinkling of hazelnuts, and press the date back together to close. Place in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the dates are warm. Hazelnuts for dates

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place the fresh mint leaves in a teapot (I like to make tisanes in a glass teapot, for the beauty of it), pour water (just off the boil) over the mint, and let steep 5-10 minutes.

Serve the dates on small plates, and enjoy with the refreshing mint tisane. Warm Dates with Tisane Warm dates with Tisane

If you loved what you read here and want more of Jessica’s rustic Italian cooking, you can buy her book on Amazon for convenience sake here. Book imageUstica Ustica

Jessica’s film found here

Cooking Rustic Italian

Last weekend, my husband, sister, and I had the pleasure of getting to spend a Friday with a lovely client over dinner. This dinner was not your average dinner. It was extraordinary. It was Italian. It was divine. My client had recently returned from Italia where he took some classes to continue to educate himself on rustic Italian cooking.

When we arrived he has the largest chunk of parmigiano reggiano that he had smuggled back into the US for us to sample and a colorful array of other cheeses, charcuterie, and the kicker- not only a loaf of walnut bread he made that morning (seriously…this is true) BUT fabulous flat bread he made as well. He was so sweet and kind answering some of the most ridiculous questions coming from me. I have so much to learn when it comes to cooking and what we loved seeing was how happy he was in his element- not to mention relaxed and having fun! 6659896207_2fef39f0a5

We sipped wine, nibbled yummy appetizers and then the real fun began. Our evening was a cooking dinner party- part education, cooking, and eating. What a way to spend a Friday after a long week! He made the pasta from scratch and was the most patient cook I have ever witnessed…slowly folding the flour “volcano” into the eggs with a fork…ever so slowly. The pasta came out absolutely perfetto! He then taught us to make pesto using pistachios (versus pine nuts that can go rancid quickly) and an incredibly rich carbonara sauce. A short video montage my sister put together from the night.basil-pesto-in-cuisinart-food-processor

The pièce de résistance was his Torta di Mele cake for dessert- once again completely made from scratch. Delicious apples, sliced paper thin, baked in almost a crepe batter until caramelized. The smell of the torta di mele poured through the oven and was so pretty to watch as it baked in the oven. He served it with a local San Francisco based Madagascar vanilla ice cream paired with ice cold limoncello.

With the holidays right around the corner, giving gifts of homemade limoncello is creative and something anyone would appreciate (also the perfect hostess gift!)Imagine your homemade limoncello poured over ice cream or pound cake. Here is a random video I found to see how it is made. Keep your bottles of limoncello in the freezer until ready to serve. The ingredients are simple and making a batch doesn’t require much work, but you’ll need some time. In most recipes, limoncello must steep anywhere from 40-60 days or so. So that means get started now!

We played board games, we laughed, and drove home that night in awe and with tummies extremely stuffed. He not only gets tremendous satisfaction out of cooking himself two meals a day using only the freshest ingredients from farmers markets but cooks regularly for friends. If we lived closer, I have a feeling we would be camping out on his porch daily waiting for meals of any kind.

H
ere is the recipe for the apple cake. It was SO good we are making this for this Thanksgiving: http://www.divinacucina.com/torta.html

5 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and sliced paper thin
2 eggs, extra large
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
7 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
Powdered sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and lightly flour two round pizza pans or a 9×13 lasagne pan.

Beat the eggs and sugar together and add the flour, baking powder, milk, butter and vanilla. Mix well. Add the apple slices and pour into the prepared pan. Place the pan on the bottom of the oven for 10 minutes, then place in the center of the oven to cook until golden, about 1 hour. Torta di Mele is a very thin, rich cake that will bake down to about one-half inch. It will cut easier if you let it cool before serving. But you can reheat it in the oven before serving.