As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m reminded of my first boyhood crush: British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I used to pretend I was the Falkland Islands and she was invading me. Of course, this wasn’t easy on Mom and Dad, who were forced to get me professional help after finding a pile of Time magazines under my mattress. The family G.P. referred them to several prominent specialists, but as winners of Wisconsin’s experimental reverse lottery, they could only afford Dr. Max Hinkle—psychiatry’s leading pioneer of cigar burn therapy. “Sometimes, a cigar burn is just a cigar burn,” he’d always say, then burn me with a cigar.

One thing I learned from Dr. Hinkle (other than a lifelong fear of bearded men) is that a healthy love life requires a second person. That’s why I’ve lined up a big date for Valentine’s Day. Her name is Knuckles Mahoney and she gets released on Tuesday. We met through her Craigslist ad: “Single white convict seeks tiny man for line dancing and long walks through Hardee’s. Must refer to couch as ‘davenport.’”

Knuckles has a guillotine tattooed on the side of her neck, so I’ve decided to surprise her with a traditional French dinner. Luckily, I took a French cooking course in college. It was scheduled right after Biology 101, which was great because I saved a lot of money on frogs.

I’ve included my recipes below so that you can try them on your Valentine. The menu consists of three courses, a structure the French take very seriously. In fact, I once served escargot after coq au vin, and Marcel Marceau broke down my door and beat me senseless with an invisible baguette. To spare you this hilarious fate, I’ve organized the recipes from hors d’oeuvre to dessert. Willy Street Co-op carries all the gourmet ingredients you’ll need, as well as a full line of antacids and digestive aids.

Hors d’oeuvre Course: Butternut Squash Bisque

The bourgeoisie invented hors d’oeuvres as a way to really stick it to the lower class, who could only afford two courses. Soup is a common hors d’oeuvre in France, so here is a Butternut Squash Bisque that will really knock your date’s slacks off. I’m sorry, make that socks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken broth (veg-heads: substitute Imagine No-Chicken Broth)
  • about 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and sage to taste

Directions:
The secret to this recipe’s rich flavor is to roast the squash first. Just remove the skin of the butternut with a vegetable peeler, and cut it in to 1-inch cubes. Toss the cubes in a cakepan with olive oil, salt, and pepper until well coated, and then roast in a 350ºF oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

While the squash is in the oven, sauté the onion and celery in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. After 5-7 minutes add salt, pepper, and any combination of rosemary, sage, and thyme to taste, and sauté for another 2 minutes. Then add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. The last step is to add the roasted squash and heavy cream, and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Garnish with croutons if you’re a good-for-nothing showoff.

Main Course: Chicken in Cream Sauce

French cooking is characterized by its use of local ingredients, a practice dating back to the 18th century when Louis XV forbid the transport of produce across county lines without the presence of a kickback. With this in mind, I have selected chicken in cream sauce for the main course, as the majority of ingredients are available from local sources. Where applicable, I have indicated the local brand next to the ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lb. broiler chicken (Roesler Farms)
  • 5 Tbs. butter (Westby)
  • 1 cup dry white wine (Botham Seyval Blanc, available at Star Liquor, is made in Barneveld, WI)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup cream (Blue Marble)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cut the broiler in to 8 pieces and season with salt and pepper. In a large pot, sauté the pieces in the butter over high heat, turning once until brown (about 3-4 minutes each side). Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil.

Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock, the browned chicken, and a sprig of fresh thyme. Cover the pot and reduce heat to low-medium.

After 10 minutes, increase heat to medium high and add the cream. Simmer uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. The dish is finished when the sauce is thick and the chicken is cooked through. Serve with a side of Bear Clan wild rice, found in the Bulk aisle.

Dessert Course: Chocolate Mousse

An article about French cooking wouldn’t be complete without a recipe from Julia Child. Julia is the author of the best selling cookbook From Pond to Plate: A Guide to Wetland Wildlife and How to Cook It. Later re-titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961), this groundbreaking tome introduced French cuisine to mainstream America. I have selected a fantastic Chocolate Mousse recipe from this book, but it’s kind of tricky so I recommend you prepare it a day ahead of time. If you completely flub it, a Swiss-Miss packet stirred into a tub of Cool Whip makes an elegant substitute.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup dark-brewed coffee
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup, plus 1-tablespoon sugar
  • 2 Tbs. dark rum
  • 1 Tbs. water
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Directions:
In a double boiler, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3-cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks in the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then add the vanilla. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Wine pairing

Finally, impress your date by pairing each course with an appropriate wine. I recommend a fruity merlot for the bisque, dry white for the chicken (the same one used in the recipe would be perfect), and a sweet port for the mousse. As for me, I’ll be serving aged Gatorade—a delicacy Knuckles discovered while backpacking through Leavenworth.

Exciting news in the meat department

Big things have happened in our meat cases. We have welcomed the return of Willow Creek Farms and a new local certified organic meat facility—Black Earth Meats.

Tony and Sue, the owners of Willow Creek, are working with Willy Street Co-op to supply us with their award winning Berkshire pork. We brought back most of the popular options we had in the past and are trying out some new ones—St. Louis-Style Spare Ribs, Pork Tenderloin, Loin Roast, Smoked Hams and Soup Bones. Everything comes in frozen and is wrapped in white butcher paper. They have a wonderful web site, www.willowcreekpork.com. where you can learn more about their sustainable, natural farming practices and their certification with the Animal Welfare Institute. And Willy Street Co-op is the only retail store where you can buy their products!

Black Earth Meats is an old-style butcher shop with a reputation for quality meats. They upgraded their facilities in 2008 and are USDA inspected with a focus on local, organic, pasture-based agriculture. With our first order, we brought in certified organic Stew and Stir Fry Meat, Boneless Arm and Chuck Roast, Ribeye, New York Strip, and Sirloin steaks. As our relationship grows with them, we will be trying out all kinds of new products.