Classic Cookbooks: Valentines in May


For me, reading cookbooks that emphasize “entertaining” has always been kind of like reading Vogue: the glossy worlds they present are attractive but have very little to do with the world I live in. Wearing clothes and cooking are two things I do every day but still feel surprisingly inexpert at. Although I would love to arrange my own flowers and cook beautiful dinners for twelve while wearing a Miu Miu frock, the truth is that the process of having even one person over—dispatching the apartment’s larger dust bunnies, buying and making the food, figuring out what we’ll eat on—is so challenging for me that I’m lucky if I can manage to change into a sundress inherited from my mother and put on some lipstick before the doorbell rings, even if all I’m serving is chili and cornbread.

Feeling as if my insecurities had led me to cop out by cooking such simple, everyday things from Entertaining, I decided I had to “do” one of its proposed menus in full. “A Country Pie Party for Fifty” was off the table, but the Valentine’s menu for two seemed eminently manageable (and with its strawberries and watercress, more suitable for May than February anyway). I made the dessert one evening, cooked calmly for three hours the next afternoon, and voila: cream of watercress soup, rack of lamb, zucchini coins, potatoes dauphinoise, and coeur à la crème fraîche with strawberry sauce. If I had made the soup the evening before, too, maybe I could have mustered the energy to bust out the china and silver. As it stands, I’m happy to report that everything tasted plenty good on the everyday plates and with dust on the bookshelves.

This order of attack worked for me: I made the coeur à la crème the night before. The next day, I assembled and baked the potatoes. While they were in the oven, I made the strawberry sauce. Then I started the soup. The potatoes came out of the oven, and while I waited for the oven to get hot enough for the lamb, I prepared its garlic-parsley coating. While the lamb roasted, I cut up the zucchini and finished the soup. We ate soup while the lamb finished roasting. While the lamb rested before carving, I slipped the potatoes into the extinguished oven to heat back up and steamed the zucchini. Everything was delicious, especially the incredible potatoes. You will want more of the potatoes. All recipes adapted from Entertaining.