Romantic dinners for two can be fun — and healthy, too

Quinoa

Quinoa With Shiitake Mushrooms and Delicata Squash. Photos by Dan Kacvinski. Food coordinated by Judy Zeidler

In a wild wedding party last year at the Hollywood Museum, our granddaughter Giamaica married Steve. They met in Flagstaff, Ariz., at the historic Hotel Monte Vista, where Steve was the chef.

They moved to Pacifica, in Northern California, when Giamaica got a position at Terra Nova High School, teaching beginning and advanced dance classes. She is also the co-chair of the physical education department and advises the dance team and the breakdancing club.

Steve was offered a position as chef at San Francisco Towers, a retirement community. He is on the hot line most of the time, and Giamaica explains that he is really good at making sauces and soups. He works during dinner, which includes cooking for both the cafe and the dining room, as well as preparing trays for residents.

When they arrived in Northern California, they didn’t know anyone, but, as newlyweds who loved to cook, they discovered that it was more romantic cooking together.

At home, they order local produce from Planet Organics that is delivered weekly, and they tend to base their meals on the seasonal vegetables they find at their door.

“Steve has taught me so much about cooking technique and what tastes go well together,” Giamaica explained. “We just sort of break up the work for our main meal and bounce ideas off of each other. We always make sure to taste things as we are cooking and agree on what to do.”

Giamaica also does a lot of singing and dancing in the kitchen to keep things fun.

“We laugh a lot in the kitchen,” she said.

On special evenings, they sit down at a small table in their home. They begin by lighting candles and then toast each other with a glass of sparkling wine. It is a special time when they can just enjoy a few hours of being together and eating their favorite foods.

Giamaica continued, “I think one of the most romantic dinners we have had at home was on one rainy night. We started the evening with a sweet and savory baked brie cheese, a variation of an appetizer my mom makes. We often take inspiration from family favorites and then create our own version, and we both love cheese!”

They like to cook with quinoa, because it is now easily available at most markets. Gaining in popularity, it is also very healthy, and creates a dish that is high in protein and very flavorful. It was the main course, combined with shiitake mushrooms and delicata squash, for their romantic dinner, but you could substitute almost any seasonal vegetables. A sweet potato puree was served as a side dish.

Their neighbor, who has a garden close by, grows lots of herbs that she often shares with them. Giamaica, considered the family pastry chef, loves making desserts, and inspired by the new-wave San Francisco restaurants, incorporates fresh rosemary into a traditional vanilla pudding. It is the dessert that she makes for special occasions, and it is Steve’s favorite.

As Giamaica and Steve enjoy their last bite of dessert, they toast each other with the final drops of champagne and begin looking forward to their next romantic dinner.


SWEET AND SAVORY BAKED BRIE

∗ 1 (8-ounce) package brie cheese
∗ 1 tablespoon brown sugar
∗ 1/4 cup dried cranberries
∗ 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
∗ Zest of 1 orange
∗ Rosemary crackers

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Cut brie wheel in half horizontally; set the top half aside. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly on bottom half of the brie. Sprinkle dried cranberries over brown sugar. Top cranberries with 1/4 cup sliced almonds and half of the orange zest.

Replace top half of brie, and gently press down. Garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon sliced almonds and remaining orange zest.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until center is creamy. Serve with crackers.

Makes about 6 servings.

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