Cooking with a Dash of Love – Valentine’s Day

During culinary school, I was busy studying and cooking day in and day out and realized that Valentine’s Day was just around the corner. Excited about my new talents of cooking, I decided to use my skills and treat my boyfriend to a romantic dinner that happened to be one of his favorites; seared scallops with a beurre blanc sauce. I made all of the plans, created the grocery list and prep list to get ready for the big day. I spared no expense.

We commenced the evening with a glass wine. I had been working so much in class I hadn’t taken the opportunity to show off my new skills from school. I wanted to impress him with my techniques of chopping and dicing.

His kitchen didn’t have the big, beautiful and calibrated stove like my school. He watched enthusiastically as I began to cook our Valentine’s dinner. Everything was going perfect and then as I began to cook the scallops I made the mistake of not getting the pan hot enough. Being arrogant and full of confidence, I tossed them in the pan anyway. The second I threw them in the pan, I realized I forgot to dry off the scallops, so the juices began to bubble all over the pan and prevent the scallops from properly browning. Convinced I knew what I was doing, I moved to the beurre blanc when realized I forgot to juice the lemons. I grabbed, sliced and squeezed them into a pan quickly, sending seeds flying everywhere. I was so busy trying to impress my boyfriend with my experience and professionalism that I forgot what I was supposed to do.

The scallops, instead of being seared and golden brown, were still white and translucent. I tried to save them by putting them in the oven only to realize that his oven was mildly warm. I hoped for the best and quickly moved to finish the sauce and cook the vegetables.

Plated and placed, we sat down to a dinner of undercooked scallops, acidic and liquefied beurre blanc and a medley of very crunchy vegetables. James wanted to celebrate the day and my accomplishments and was gracious enough to eat his whole plate. By the end, we were full and less than satisfied. I was so busy making sure that I was putting on a show that I forgot to actually cook the meal. My cockiness had gotten the best of me.

The next morning, a little blurry-eyed from all the wine and slightly sick to my stomach from the undercooked scallops and heavily acidic beurre blanc, I walked into his kitchen. I needed something good and wholesome to eat. I opened the fridge to see what I could whip up and aside from the leftovers and a few other things there was a carton of eggs.

I turned on my instincts and made the carton of eggs into a lovely baked frittata. It was the ideal remedy for the previous night’s dinner disaster. Basic ingredients of eggs, butter, salt and pepper cooked to perfection. With one bite we both knew that something was missing the night before. As I think about the experience with my many years of cooking behind me, I now know what that one thing was. The answer- the intangible ingredient of love.

In cooking for others I’ve become a better guest. I’ve realized that the kindness of being asked to dinner and the thought behind it allows a poorly cooked meal to be one of pure joy and satisfaction. I can eat lumpy mashed potatoes and overcooked lamb when someone’s heart has been added.

It wasn’t the evening I had planned but the overall experience was a great lesson to be learned. While I tried to impress him with an elaborate meal, I forgot the most important thing- Love. Remember this simple advice this Valentine’s Day weekend when you’re embarking on a challenging menu for someone special. As long as you put everything you’ve got into the meal you’ll be fine and, if not, just don’t forget the wine.

Happy Cooking!
Chef Mary

For more great Chef Mary’s Cooking Tips, Recipes or Stories- Please go to my column – Hail Mary Food of Grace or to find out more information about Chef Mary please go to her Hail Mary’s Inc website or email her questions for Ask Chef Mary Friday’s at

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