Own Valentine’s Day with This Easy 3-Course Dinner Menu from Hugh Acheson

Hugh Acheson
Hugh Acheson

There’s no better day to put together a meal for your sweetheart than Valentine’s Day. We’re not all blessed with culinary prowess, however.

Enter the cooking class, of which there are many during the mostly stay-at-home pandemic era. Some, of course, are better than others. Hugh Acheson is an ideal personality for the role, as the chef and restauranteur breaks concepts down cleanly and offers entertaining commentary while whipping up a meal.

For those who don’t know, Acheson hails from Canada and is currently based in Atlanta. The chef runs four restaurants in Georgia, including Five & Ten, Empire State South, by George and The National. You may recognize the guy from his critiques as a judge on Top Chef or appearances on Iron Chef Canada.

With a handful of other writers from across the country, we attended his most recent digital cooking class via Zoom. The Ottawa-born chef worked with an ingredient near and dear to him in maple syrup. He calls it the umami of sweetness, alluding to the complexity of the stuff. It’s the core item in four recipes that make up a great meal, whether it be to impress a special someone on Valentine’s Day or just satisfy yourself on any other day on the calendar.

The recipes are below and are part of a collaboration between Acheson and Maple of Canada. We’re sure you’ll be making these recipes well past V-Day, and they make for a great date-night dinner menu all year round.

Maple Tree Tap Cocktail

Tree Tap Maple Syrup Cocktail

This drink meshes so many great complementary flavors in rye whiskey, coffee, maple syrup, and citrus. Make two if you have a date or sip on one if you’re going solo, it’ll power you through the full menu.

Ingredients:

  • .25 cup 100-proof rye whiskey
  • 1.5 tsp coffee liqueur
  • 1.5 tsp pure maple syrup from Canada
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish

Method:

  1. In a mixing glass combine all ingredients.
  2. Add ice and stir.
  3. Strain over a large cube.
  4. Garnish with an expressed orange peel.

Radicchio Salad

Radicchio and Mozzarella Salad with Maple Syrup

“Think about a vinaigrette as what it’s landing on,” he suggests, which in this is pillowy cheese. Here, the maple syrup balances things out, offsetting the kick of chipotle peppers to create a nice, rounded flavor. Acheson adds that he loves the combination of maple syrup and vinegar (as you can see again later on with the salmon). There ought to be some extra vinaigrette and Acheson says it’ll last a good ten days in the fridge. As for cutting the radicchio, Acheson basically quarters it.

Ingredients:

Maple Chile Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup from Canada
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • .5 tsp kosher salt

Radicchio

  • 1 head radicchio, cored and chopped
  • 2 tbsp drained capers
  • .5 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Place the radicchio, capers, and parsley in a bowl and season with a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Toss well.
  2. Evenly arrange the mozzarella on four plates. Drizzle more vinaigrette, to taste on the mozzarella and then arrange the radicchio et al evenly over the mozzarella. Serve.

Whipped Ricotta with Maple Syrup

Whipped Ricotta with Maple Syrup

“Our palates want this stuff right now, the mix of sweet, spicy, sour, umami, and more,” Acheson says of this dish. “During the pandemic especially, food can provide that big hug of nourishment.”

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh ricotta
  • .25 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped Calabrian chilis in oil
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup from Canada
  • 4 large slices grilled or toasted sourdough bread

Method:

  1. Place the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor and puree.
  2. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in one tablespoon of the olive oil to emulsify into the ricotta.
  3. Turn off the food processor and scoop the whipped ricotta into a serving bowl.
  4. Smooth down the ricotta to look like a lightly textured bowl of hummus.
  5. Scatter the chopped chilis over the ricotta and then drizzle the pure maple syrup over the cheese. Serve with grilled sourdough and a spoon.

Roasted Salmon

With this dish, Acheson creates what he calls a play on the classic gastrique sauce. “It’s very simply and very hard to screw up,” Acheson says of the salmon, which is great news for those of use who are a bit challenged in the kitchen. Note that the fish can just go straight on a pan or baking sheet. “Parchment paper and oil is sometimes a recipe for a small fire,” he warns.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb salmon filet, skin off, pinboned
  • 2 tsp + 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • .25 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup from Canada
  • 1 tbsp grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 in cubes
  • .25 cup fresh dill leaves and stems, chopped
  • .5 lemon

Method:

  1. Cut the salmon filet against the grain into 12 slices, about 1/2 inch thick then lay them on a baking sheet pan and evenly season with two teaspoons of kosher salt.
  2. Brush the salmon with the olive oil, and arrange the slices on the baking sheet pan, in a single layer, spaced so they are not touching each other.
  3. Preheat the broiler on the high setting with a rack set in the middle level of the oven. Set salmon aside as you make the sauce.
  4. Combine the shallot, vinegar, and pure maple syrup in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat by half, which will take about five minutes. Keep a close eye on it as it is reducing because you don’t want it to boil dry, burning the pure maple syrup. Turn off the heat, whisk in the cold butter slowly to emulsify into the sauce base, and then add half of the chopped dill. Leave near, but not on, the heat.
  5. Place the salmon on the middle rack of the hot oven to broil. Let broil for five minutes until the salmon is just cooked. The middle will be kept a bit away from the brutal heat, but it will still cook quickly and perfectly.
  6. Using a spatula, arrange three slices of the salmon onto a dinner plate. Spoon some sauce over the top like you were dressing a salad. Garnish with more of the dill and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Repeat for three more plates.

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