Timing is everything, maybe even the hardest thing, in both love and cooking.

Meeting the right person at the right time is like opening the oven door to find the souffle peaked perfectly. Staying in a relationship too long is akin to lingering over a mediocre main course and having the souffle sink. Cooking for the same person day in, day out for 26 years, well, that requires, swapping out the souffle for an easy five-minute hot fudge sauce and two kinds of ice cream to make everybody happy.

My recipe for romance this Valentine’s Day requires that my husband be standing at the stove. I’ll be perched atop a kitchen stool at the island with a glass of my favorite Bread & Butter pinot noir in hand.

It’s not that Andy doesn’t cook. He pulls off instant oatmeal on most cold mornings. He makes a mean Bachelor Chicken. He’s a grill master, waiting for the meat to come to temp with a beer in one hand and The Economist in the other. And he’s never shied away from the chore should I need a reprieve. I needed one a few weeks back after a 14-hour day styling pasta dishes for a magazine photoshoot.

We’d blown the monthly dining out budget the weekend before on our staycation in Camden, so takeout was not an option.

“Want me to start dinner?” the car console read Andy’s text to me in its sexy hands-free driving voice as I made my way back to Brunswick. I knew I’d be tired when I’d left the house at 7 a.m. so the plan for dinner was a simple one. Leftover white rice, green beans and a quick-cooking marinated pork loin. He won’t cook it the way you like it, says chef Christine.

But you should give him the chance anyway, says wife Christine, who’d just made a New Year’s resolution to be nicer to Andy.

“Sure,” says the real Christine to the console who relays the message. All the ingredients for dinner are sitting on the same shelf in the fridge, the one just under the cheese drawer. You may need to bend at the waist to find them.

I walk into the house via the garage and then through the laundry room, a path that lands me right at the kitchen island where I see him cutting BOTH ends of the fresh haricots vert this mostly locavore splurged on at Trader Joe’s. I typically just top them, leaving the cute tender tails on the slim beans in place. I say nothing but “Hi, honey!” keep walking … toward the wine rack.

I’m pouring myself a glass of red when he puts the overprepped beans into a pot of UNSALTED water and slaps it on the stove over high heat. Kind Christine reaches for the wine and pulls it to her lips so Chef Christine can’t say anything. Does it really matter if they will be mushy, pale and unseasoned because he’s not dropped them into already boiling, salted water and has no plans to shock them in ice water to keep them bright? After all, he went to Harvard, not culinary school.

I decide it’s best to leave the room and set the table as he cranks the heat up under the cast iron pan to sear the pork but has not yet turned on the oven so it can finish cooking in gentler heat and hold onto its moisture.

So I cook this to 180 degrees, right? Finally, he’s phoned a friend.

“That’s a bit too much, sweetie. Pull it at 140 and let it sit for a few minutes. That’s the way you like it,” I say encouragingly. Sawdust pork, averted.

In the end, the meal was lovely, made especially more so, because it was made for me.

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige watches as her husband Andrew Rudalevige prepares dinner (and she tries not to correct him). Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Andy and I worked up this three-course Valentine’s Day menu with the understanding that timing is indeed everything when cooking a dinner for your love. Especially if it’s your love who usually does the cooking.

Early in the day, wet brine your pork chops, because that will help them stay juicy while you cook them. It’s easy to overcook pork. Soaking it in salty water infused with herbs and spices gives some insurance against overcooking. Plus, the process adds flavor. Brine even thick-cut pork chops for just an hour, longer will make the meat kind of springy. After an hour, drain off the water, and store the chops, still with the herbs and spices, in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them.

With chocolate being part of the whole Valentine’s Day tradition, hot fudge poured over a scoop of your sweetheart’s favorite flavor of ice cream is a lovely, yet devilishly easy, way to go. It really does only take five minutes. Pour the rich topping into a jar and set the jar in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm until you serve it.

The timing of both the Baked Feta and Tomatoes appetizer and the Roasted Brassicas side dish for this menu gives the cook some leeway as well. Since the ingredients are enveloped in olive oil when you prep both dishes, they will not discolor with oxidation as they sit and wait to go in the oven when you’re ready to put them there.

Andy and I have mapped out the a la minute cooking that has to happen to pull this meal off.

T-minus 30 minutes: Make sure you have three racks placed in your oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove pork chops from the refrigerator, discarding the herbs and spices. Slather meat with olive oil.

T-minus 25: Slide the casserole dish of prepped feta and tomatoes into the oven on the top rack. Place a cast iron pan over high heat on top of the stove.

T-minus 20: Place pork chops in the hot pan to sear on one side. After 3 minutes, turn the chops over, turn off the burner, use a potholder to lift and slide the hot pan into the oven onto the middle rack. Slide the sheet pan of prepped brassicas onto the oven’s bottom rack.

T-minus 15: Pour the wine. Set up mood lighting and music. Brush your teeth, reapply deodorant and change your shirt.

T-minus 10: Pull the casserole dish of baked feta and tomatoes from the oven, place it on a larger platter with crackers or crostini. Use a meat thermometer to take the temperature of the pork. If it is 140 degrees, pull the pan from the oven. If not, keep them in the oven for a bit longer. While you’re there in the oven, use a spatula to stir the brassicas.

T-minus 5: Pull the pork chops, if you didn’t before, and brassicas from the oven. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl to toss them with lemon and Parmesan. Place the jar of fudge in a bowl of hot water.

T: Serve the appetizer (presenting a nice piece of jewelry might be nice here, too!) When you’re finished with this first course, arrange two plates with one chop and half of the vegetables each. The fudge should be warm enough to drizzle over ice cream when only the pork bones are left on the plate.

Trust us, your lover will be pleased with both the meal and the fact they didn’t have to cook it.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Brined Pork Chops with Roasted Brassicas together spell love. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Brined Pork Chops

Many local farmers offer bone-in pork chops, from Breezy Hill Farm in Berwick to Broad Hill Farm in Bristol; the latter, even offers a pre-brined option.

Serves 2

3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 small shallot, sliced
5 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of the knife
2 bay leaves
1½ tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
3-4 allspice berries
2 pork chops, bone-in, about 8 ounces each
Olive oil

Combine the salt and sugar with 1 cup boiling water. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the shallot, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper and allspice. Add 1 cup of ice cubes and stir to dissolve. Place the pork chops in a glass or ceramic baking dish and pour the brine over them. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 but not more than 60 minutes. Drain off the brine and pat the meat dry. These chops are great grilled for 3-4 minutes per side or seared in a heavy pan on the stove on 1 side and finished in a hot oven (425 degrees). Chops are done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the chop reads 140 degrees. Let the chops rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

It wouldn’t be Valentines without chocolate, here in the form of Five-Minute Hot Fudge sauce over ice cream. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Five-Minute Hot Fudge

This fudge sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. To reheat, simply place the jar in a pan of hot water and stir as it warms. Alternatively, place the jar of fudge in the microwave and heat in 30-second increments, stirring after each until the fudge is warm and smooth.

Makes 2 cups

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
6 ounces chopped dark chocolate (70-80% cacao)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt

Combine sweetened condensed milk and chocolate in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted. Remove pan from heat, add butter and salt and stir until the butter is melted. Use warm or pour it into a jar with a tight-fitting lid to save for later.

Baked Feta with Tomatoes and Capers makes for an easy, tasty appetizer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Baked Feta Cheese with Tomatoes and Capers

Backyard Farms in Madison offers multi-colored cherry tomatoes that make this appetizer very pretty. You can buy them at most Hannaford stores.

Serves 2 as an appetizer

Olive oil
1 (4- to 5-ounce) block feta
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and black pepper
Crackers, pita chips or crostini, for dipping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Rub the bottom of a small casserole dish with a bit of olive oil. Place the block of feta into the dish. Scatter the tomatoes, onions, capers, garlic and thyme on and around the feta. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the dish to taste (keeping in mind how salty the cheese is). Pour 3-4 tablespoons olive oil over the top, making sure all the ingredients get a bit soaked. Bake until the cheese and the tomatoes soften and turn golden brown on top, about 20 minutes.

Christine’s husband, Andrew Rudalevige, grates Parmesan over the Roasted Brassicas. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Roasted Brassicas with Lemon and Parmesan

This recipe is adapted from one Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten cooks for her Jeffery,

Serves 2-4

4 cups bite-sized pieces of broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 425 degrees

Place the vegetables on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add the garlic, 2 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables to coat them with oil and spread them out in a single layer. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the vegetables are browned.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and immediately toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan. Serve hot.


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