and the valentine's day dinner


It is well-known by NOW, one of my favorite things to do with this cutie Valentine of mine is to cook, either following recipes step by step (though, let's not kid ourselves, hardly ever), or coming up with our own signature dishes, where he does most of the devising and I do most of the eating, usually before the cooking process is through. It's true, ask anyone: I am a ratio-ruiner.

Still, on that blessed day where Cupid's aim is for your wallets more than your hearts (Aww. But am I right, ladies? Sirs?) and the going-out-to-dinner prices are quite literally raising the roof (because they knooow you're going to be a sucker, they just KNOW it), we collectively decided that the way to show our affection (Show it always! No need for special occasions!) was to make a meal at home, with everything to our liking, all for about six bucks a person. Take that, romantic candlelit dinner for two. BAM. And I mean that in the point-proven way more than the signature Emeril Lagasse way, obviously.

One of the best things about being a vegetarian is the variety of colors you can invite onto your plate at any given meal. Of course, this possibility isn't strictly reserved for vegetable lovers. Though, I feel I'd have a hard time convincing a meat (brown) and potatoes (brown) lover to try something as exciting as a watermelon radish. BUT, I've been humbled before, so: this meal could surely pass for both veggies and non-veggies alike, depending on your capacity for awesome-ness, and your palate's ability to enjoy a range of sweet, earthy, and spicy.

After a quick visit to Whole Earth Center (after a sadly failed attempt to get brunch-y croissants), a tiny local Princeton grocery whose produce section boasts treasure after treasure (ohhh, so hard to resist the romanesco broccoli!), our simple-but-beautiful menu consisted of the following:

Rainbow carrots! Golden beets! Brussels sprouts! Watermelon radish! Cranberry beans! And rainbow baby heirloom tomatoes!

Commence the angels singing here: color color color.

Now, with such a varied texture and flavor presented before us, we took some advice from cute Colin's newest subscription to Vegetarian Times, which walked us through the steps of poaching a vegetable, a method we had never tried, and therefore attempted with the harder root vegetables, the carrots and beets.

bright purples, corals, speckled oranges, and yellows.

So after washing and peeling these beauties, as well as the golden beets, we got about four inches of water (salted) going in a large pot on medium heat. The trick about poaching is to get the water just hot enough, but not to the point of boiling. Otherwise, then your vegetables are just boiled, which can lad to a rubbery, less-than-fresh taste and texture. The perfect poach will leave the flavor and slight crunch of your vegetables intact. If you don't have a kitchen thermometer handy to monitor the water's temperature, just keep an eye out for that near-boiling point, when teeny-tiny pin-sized bubbles start to rise from the bottom of the pot.

watermelon radish! (get it?) and golden beets!

With the beets and carrots into the pot first, we let them simmer for a few minutes before adding the more delicate vegetables, the Brussels sprouts and the beans. Also, something I must say in the defense of Brussels sprouts and kids everywhere who refuse to eat them: they are seriously one of my FAVORITE vegetables. I tried them in my college cafeteria for the first time (it wasn't really ever an offered side in my childhood household), which was sure to be a bust seeing as I nearly survived on frozen bagels and cereal for those four years. Yet I LOVED them. Strange, I know, seeing as they are often one of the most hated eat-your-vegetable moments of all time, or so I hear. But seriously, roasted, sauteed, and now poached, I am an uber-fan of this cruciferous little cabbage. P.S. While the veggies were rolling around the water, we also had a pot of brown basmati rice simmering, though any sort of your favorite grain or pasta would be equally appropriate. 

Also while the vegetables were cooking, I took out our little pint of gem-colored tomatoes, another one of my favorites when the season is right. And though February is surely not the prime-time of tomatoes in New Jersey, I couldn't resist their perfect shapes and colors: traditional red, deep purple, lemon yellow, orange orange orange, and a paler more subdued yellow, something like sand or summer corn.

For the tomatoes we decided to do a simple tomato salad (with the coveted watermelon radishes, a rare variety we have yet to discover outside of restaurants or Whole Earth Center): halve the tomatoes, yes even the smallest ones, put them in a bowl with a sprinkle of salt (to help remove excess liquid), drain the bowl after a few minutes, toss in chopped radish, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and if you're me, a pinch of oregano. Voilá. 

This is a pretty simple and quick dinner preparation, and if you time it just about right, or have a cute cooking partner to assist you, you can probably have all components ready at just about the same time. I think our rice was ready slightly before everything else, but who cares, we're in love. BAM.

the finished plate of color, color, color.