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At-Home Dining Can Be Romantic Without Fear of Financial Ruin : Creative Touches Yield Heady Passions and Delicious Gastronomical Delights for Couples With Limited Time on a Tight Culinary Budget

December 26, 1986|NINA KILLHAM | The Washington Post

Romance is so expensive these days. The cost of dinner for two at a swanky restaurant, Champagne that doesn't taste like liquid gum balls and long-stem roses is enough for a man or woman to forsake love in favor of buying a personal computer.

But love doesn't have to break you--at least not financially.

For starters, how about dinner chez toi ? With a fire in the fireplace if you have one, lots of honey-colored candles if you don't. Two elegantly set places at a long table or two fat armchairs with TV trays. Crystal goblets or gas-station glasses--it doesn't matter. What matters is what's served and who's serving it.

A Pretty Little Dish

Although passion is said to be heightened when offered something expensive, there are ways to fool it. There's nothing like inexpensive caviar served expensively.

Scoop the caviar into a pretty little dish and set over chipped ice on a serving plate. Serve with delicate crackers and sour cream and bowls of finely chopped onion and hard-cooked egg. Garnish with lemon slices.

Or take canned foie gras and spread on toasted rounds of French bread and melt under the broiler. Arrange on a serving platter garnished with parsley.

Bake a triangle of Brie and serve with fresh French bread and a pot of raspberry jam.

Carefully cut off the top quarters of two raw eggs and scramble the contents with a little cream, salt and pepper. Scoop the eggs back into the shells and dab with a little sour cream and caviar.

Or serve herbed cheese on cucumber rounds or in the nooks of celery sticks and garnish the platter with mint leaves and purple violet blossoms.

For After Dinner

A few ideas for after dinner:

Strawberries, orange sections and raspberries in a pool of chocolate sauce.

Store-bought refrigerated brownies cut in the shape of two hearts and served on a pool of raspberry puree.

Vanilla ice cream with chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and chocolate sauce.

A white chocolate bar, cut into pieces, served with coffee.

And for in between you might want to try the elegant dinner below. With broiled tomato halves, the lamb and potatoes would dazzle anyone worth dazzling. And if you have salt, pepper, milk and butter, you need not spend much time in the express lane.

Express-lane list: lamb, parsley, rosemary, garlic, mustard, bread crumbs, potatoes, whipping cream, Parmesan cheese (optional), tomato (optional)

RACK OF LAMB PERSILLE

1 (2 1/4-pound) rack of lamb (7 to 8 chops on each rack)

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary leaves or 3/4 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs

Have butcher remove spine and partially saw through backbone of racks for easy slicing. Have butcher remove all surface fat from top of ribs, leaving very thin layer, which may be scored. Have butcher trim fat from ends of bones to expose them.

In addition to butcher's trimming, remove layer of fat under top flap of meat by cutting parallel to bone under top layer of meat with sharp slicing knife. Be careful not to separate this flap from the main "eye" portion of each rack.

In mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon parsley with rosemary and salt. Rub mixture into all surfaces of meat as much as possible. Recipe can be done ahead to this point.

In mixing bowl, combine melted butter, garlic, mustard, remaining 3 tablespoons parsley and bread crumbs. Stir to mix. When cool, divide and press bread-crumb mixture onto meaty part of each rack.

Place in shallow roasting pan, interlacing exposed rib ends to support each other. Cut 2- to 3-inch strip foil (long enough to wrap around interlaced bone ends) and cover loosely, shiny side down, to prevent burning. Roast at 475 degrees 12 to 14 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and roast 15 minutes longer or until instant meat thermometer reads 130 to 135 degrees for rare or 145 to 150 degrees for medium, or when meat feels springy to touch when poked lightly. Lamb should be served pink with crusty, well-browned surface. Transfer rack to carving board and carve between each rib to serve. Makes 2 servings.

--Adapted from "Cooking at Cooktique" by Silvia Lehrer (Doubleday: 1984).

GRATIN DAUPHINOISE

1 pound boiling potatoes

Milk

1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1 tablespoon butter

Peel and rinse potatoes and slice about 1/8 inch thick. Place in saucepan and pour on just enough milk to barely cover. Place over moderate heat. Bring to boil, then simmer 12 to 15 minutes until tender but firm. Drain in colander.

Butter 8-inch baking dish. Transfer half of potatoes to dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle with half of garlic, dash salt and several grinds of pepper. Spoon on half of cream. Repeat second layer with remaining potatoes, garlic, seasonings and cream. Sprinkle cheese over top layer and dot with butter.

Place dish on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes or until top is crusty golden brown and bubbly. Makes 2 servings.

--Adapted from "Cooking at Cooktique" by Silvia Lehrer (Doubleday: 1984).

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