Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Primal Valentine's Dinner

I have always been ambivalent about Valentine's Day. On the one hand, how lovely to set aside a day to celebrate love! On the other hand, how sad that we need a reminder to tell us to turn our attention toward the ones we hold dear. And don't even get me started on the cultural and commercial coercion of earnest and hopeful lovers (usually men) to spend vast amounts of money on flowers, jewelry and chocolate, many varieties of which are produced with no shortage of involvement with slave labor and arms trafficking.

But I digress. This was intended to be a happy post, so in the most positive spirit of Valentine's Day, I will share a recipe for a fancy meal that won't break the bank. The prices listed are from my cheapest sources (e.g. organic frozen beans from Trader Joe's, sustainably caught frozen flounder from Aldi). My own costs were a bit cheaper, but I don't expect that everyone has home-grown tarragon hanging in their kitchen and a freezer full of green beans from last summer's Farmers' Market.

For the sauce, if you don't have a double boiler, you can use a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Flounder with Mustard Sauce and Green Beans
Adapted from La Grenouille restaurant’s recipe, via Bon Appetit magazine

I increased the vegetable serving size, decreased the fish serving size, and cooked the fish under a broiler to simplify preparation.

Serves 4
2 lb. cut green beans  3.98
Coarse sea salt   .02
1 Tbsp. olive oil  .09
1 lb. skinless, boneless flounder fillets  3.99
1 tsp. (or more) paprika  .17
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter or ghee   .33
1 small shallot, minced  .10
1 small garlic clove, minced  .10
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley   .04
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon (or 1½ tsp. dried)  .29
Freshly ground black pepper  .05
Mustard sauce   4.01
Lemon wedges  .33

Cook beans in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl of ice water to cool. Pat dry.

Arrange flounder in an oven-proof baking sheet or gratin dish. Season all over with salt and use a sieve to dust paprika over both sides of fish. Cook under broiler for 3 minutes, then turn and cook another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring to coat, until warm. Stir in parsley and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide fish equally among 4 plates, with mustard sauce on the side. Serve with green beans and lemon wedges.

$3.38 per serving (13.50 total)

Mustard Sauce

¾ cup dry white wine (I used Charles Shaw Chardonnay)  .76
2 tsp. minced shallot  .10
1 small sprig thyme  .24
½ small bay leaf  .36
¼ tsp. tarragon or white wine vinegar  .01
6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter   1.98
2 large egg yolks   .58
1/8 tsp paprika  .02
1½ tsp. Dijon mustard  .05

Bring first 5 ingredients to a simmer in a small saucepan; cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the top of a double boiler. Let cool slightly. Discard thyme sprig and bay leaf.

Meanwhile, simmer butter in a small saucepan over low heat until foamy, and the solids are slightly browned and settled to the bottom. Pour clarified butter into a small glass measuring cup, leaving brown bits behind. Keep warm.*

Whisk egg yolks, paprika and 1 Tbsp. water into wine mixture. Set double boiler over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow water to touch bowl). Whisk constantly until ribbons form, about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in butter. Whisk constantly until well blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in Dijon mustard. Season with salt. Serve immediately. **

Total $4.10

*This instruction is important! If the butter gets too cool, it will “break” the sauce when it is subsequently added to the egg yolk mixture. I learned this the hard way. However, even if the sauce breaks, and isn’t glossy and gorgeous, it is still absolutely delicious! I put the leftover sauce in the fridge, then took it out about 30 minutes before serving and stirred to incorporate the butter. It was fabulous! An Italian might call it brutti ma buoni: ugly, but good.

**Because I had already messed up on the sauce, it didn't seem to suffer from having to wait to be served. 

And if you want a little something for dessert, here's a flourless, sugarless chocolate torte that my Mom (who, admittedly, has a bit of a sweet tooth) thought tasted like a nutrition bar. Ummm...thanks Mom, I guess. My non-Primal Eater boyfriend, however, thought it was good, and really enjoyed it with raspberry jam. I am generally not a chocolate person, but I enjoyed it. It reminded me of a less-moist brownie.

Primal Chocolate Torte

Serves 8

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, ghee or coconut oil ($1.98 for butter or homemade ghee)
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up into squares; I used Ghirardelli ($5.00)*
6 large eggs, room temperature, separated  ($1.76)
1½ tsp. alcohol-free vanilla extract (.66)
½ tsp. (64 drops) stevia liquid** ($.23)
¼ tsp. coarse sea salt ($.01)
½ cup chopped walnuts, divided (optional)  ($.74)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees with the rack in the center. Grease (using butter, ghee or coconut oil) the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

Place butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Do not allow water to touch bottom of the top pan. Heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool to barely warm/tepid.

In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until glossy stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Beat egg yolks, vanilla and stevia. Gradually add cooled chocolate mixture, a little at a time. It will get quite thick.*** Beat in ¼ of the egg whites. Gently fold in remaining egg whites, salt and half of walnuts.

“Pour” batter into the prepared pan, and smooth top with a rubber spatula (or with moistened fingertips; it will be stiff). Top with remaining walnuts (if using) and a little more sea salt (if desired). Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set in the center, about 45-50 minutes. It might be hard to discern this visually, as the top of the torte will still appear sort of damp, so you may quickly and carefully tap the top with your finger to see if it is dry and seems set. The toothpick test may not apply with this type of cake.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove sides of pan. Serve at room temperature. May be served with whipped coconut cream with vanilla and stevia added. It is also good with raspberries (thawed from frozen or fresh picked in season; please do not buy raspberries in February unless you live in the Southern hemisphere!).

If you are sharing this with  non-Primal eaters, theirs can be topped with powdered sugar, raspberry jam and/or sugar-sweetened whipped dairy or coconut cream.

If the torte turns out a bit crumbly, fret not! Just layer it in individual glass serving dishes with whipped coconut cream and raspberries and serve it as a trifle.

$10.38 total ($1.30 per serving)

* If you are sensitive to caffeine, please note that each serving has 22.5 mg. of caffeine. On an unrelated note, according to their parent company, while they are not officially buying Fair Trade, Ghirardelli does not source cocoa beans from Ivory Coast.

** I used Stevita brand. Since the sweetness of stevia varies by brand, you might start with 20 drops and keep adding and tasting until you get to your preferred level of sweetness.

*** I must interject at this point to say that, if you aren’t squeamish about eating raw eggs, you could stop right here and just eat the mixture right out of the bowl; it reminded me of truffle filling.


  1. Oops! I forgot to mention that the cooking time is for flounder that has already been thawed. Follow the cooking directions on the package that you have purchased for either thawed or frozen fish.

  2. Oohhhh, I'm so gonna make that torte....