When I was a little kid at Briar Vista Elementary School in Dekalb County Georgia, Valentine’s Day was celebrated by all the school children decorating paper lunch bags with red and pink paper hearts and taping them up in ‘home room’ on the radiator by the window to collect the mostly pre-fab Valentine’s Day cards that would be purchased by the parents at the local drug store for all us children to distribute amongst our classmates.
These days, I like to concentrate my Valentine sentiments closer to home by cooking a special meal for my wife. Some fresh flowers set the scene. A few thoughtfully chosen courses and an excellent wine express my feeling better than words. A nice dessert rounds out my culinary love letter.
If this is your idea of a good way to spend Valentine’s Day, read on. We have a fabulous selection of special wines to woo your sweetheart with, and a simple recipe for a classic Spanish dessert (with a touch of my southern heritage) that will endear you to whomever you make it for.
Kevin’s Buttermilk Flan (serves 4 or 2 with leftovers)
6 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups Buttermilk
½ cup heavy cream
1 tblspn. Mexican Vanilla concentrate
½ cup sugar
1/2 tspn. salt
Divide the sugar in half and add ¼ cup to a 9” clay cazuela. Place the cazuela on the stove and heat over a medium flame without stirring until the sugar has melted and turned a dark caramel color (it will start slow at first but do not walk away lest you burn your sugar). Turn off the heat and let the cazuela cool. You will have a hard caramel coating on the inside of the cazuela when you are done.
Beat 4 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks together in a bowl with the sugar and salt until blended. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and cream. Mix well and strain through a fine sieve.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The flan needs to cook in a hot water bath, so place the caramel coated cazuela in a larger oven proof container (I use a 10 inch cake pan) and set on the middle rack of the oven. Fill the cazuela with the flan mixture first, then fill the outer cake pan with boiling water to surround the cazuela with gentle moist heat (do this in the oven so you do not have to carry the sloshing flan and hot water bath to the oven). Cook for 30 minutes and check for doneness. The flan should still be jiggly but not liquid when fully cooked. If still undercooked, allow ten minutes more in the oven (take the flan out of the oven before it sets completely or it will be dry and grainy).
Remove the flan filled cazuela from the water bath and allow to cool completely (refrigerated over night is best). To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the flan to loosen it and invert the cazuela on a serving plate. Serve the finished flan with sliced seasonal fruit and a nice glass of sweet wine.
Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado Cava $14.99 I talk about this wine a lot, but now is the perfect moment to serve this sparkling rosado. It’s pink and bubbly, which may be all you need for the occasion, but this is also a deliciously berry scented yet still dry and refreshing cava that not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic cava aroma and flavor at a reasonable price.
Can Vendrell Brut Reserva Cava $17.99 One of my favorite Cavas is back in stock! This classic blend of traditional Cava grapes (Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo), from organic vineyards, with extended ageing on the lees and low dosage is a dry wine with great depth and nuance. This is rich enough to serve with food, but dry enough to serve as a cocktail.
Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel $11.99 Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, honeydew melon fruit character and light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. Serve alongside buttermilk flan (recipe above) for a nice change of pace.
Don PX Gran Reserva 1979 $27.99 (375ml) One of Spain’s most distinctive wines. An extremely rare aged wine made from Pedro Ximénez grapes that are partially sun dried before fermentation. The wine is dark and thick as molasses, with concentrated sweetness and flavors of figs, raisins and baking spices. Amazing depth and complexity. This is another perfect match for the flan recipe above.
Dolç Mataró $33.99 (500ml) The long forgotten Mataró grape, a relative of the better known Monastrell is used to produce tiny quantities of this sweet dessert wine. Super-ripe late harvest Mataró is hand selected, crushed and macerated in its own juice to extract the maximum of color and flavor from the skins. After fermentation the wine ages for a scant few months in barrel before bottling with minimal filtration in stylish 500ml bottles. The final result is a sweet wine with opaque purple color, the aroma of fresh violets and a sweet fruit character that for all its intensity still possesses a certain delicacy.
Azua Reserva 2003 $12.99 In the Manchuela region of Castilla, just southeast of Madrid, the big, dark, juicy Bobal grape is traditionally used in many of the hearty red wines from this underappreciated part of Spain. Azua Reserva uses 100% old vine Bobal, aged in oak for 12 months and in bottle for an additional 24 months before release. This dark abundant wine is, amazingly, only 12.5% alcohol by volume, making it perfect for those of us who love abundant flavor but tire of the boozy high proof wines that often fit this profile.
Riolanc Vendimia Seleccionada 2006 $10.99 Our newest Rioja is this young wine from the Rioja Alavesa sub-zone, made from 100% old vine Tempranillo. Whole bunch fermentation is used here to create a wine with great freshness and bright fruit character. This is an excellent choice for weeknight suppers now. When the weather warms up a bit I’ll be pouring this one in the back yard by the paella fire.