11 February 20  |  Dining   |  

Romantic Valentine’s Day Dinners

The day of love — regardless of how you choose to celebrate it — is often associated with food. Not only could this be the key to someone’s heart or offer comfort for the soul, but food can serve as a demonstration of your creativity and thoughtfulness. At the same time, a Valentine’s Day dinner of any kind can be, but doesn’t have to be, fancy. Instead, you should keep your eye on your audience first and then, balance and personalization — something that Golden Ocala’s Chef Rick Alabaugh puts into practice at home and in our community.


The Menu

According to Chef Rick, the Valentine’s Day dinner menu is determined by whom you are serving — a significant other, group of friends, what have you — and the chef’s culinary skills. If you have a great lobster or surf & turf recipe that is tailored to your audience, go for it. You could try lamb, pork, venison, filet, shrimp stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat or even sushi. But, if chicken is your best dish, find a recipe that goes beyond a traditional chicken breast — fill it with anything from spinach, to brie, to Caprese, to antipasto, to mozzarella, or fajita-style ingredients.

When your entrée is in place, balance it out with a few appetizers, a salad and at least one dessert. An appetizer may be a lobster bisque or charcuterie board that incorporates a little bit of everything. For salads, you may take a safe route with traditional Caesar. But if you’re feeling adventurous, try a grilled Caesar or house salad with a raspberry or strawberry vinaigrette — which brings in the fruit-centric elements frequently associated with Valentine’s Day and prepares everyone for the final course.

When it’s time for dessert, a go-to may be chocolate truffles. If your audience doesn’t care for dark chocolate, however, there’s always crème brûlée cheesecake or a white-chocolate-filled fruit tart topped with raspberries and blackberries. If you decide on cookies, sky’s the limit — such as chocolate chip peanut butter, oatmeal with chocolate chips and dry cherries, and oatmeal with golden and traditional raisins. Regardless of the dessert or desserts of choice, present them well by painting the serving dish with a fruity sauce or placing the goodies in a favor-type gift box.

celebrate Valentine's Day at Golden Ocala!

The Décor

Chef Rick finds that the type of Valentine’s Day dinner décor you go with will largely depend on the setting of the dinner itself. If the dining room has low lighting and dark furniture, offset it with light-color tablecloths, such as a white cover with a red overlay and red napkins, as well as tea lights and white, red and pink balloons. When it comes to centerpieces and tablecloth décor, consider red flowers mixed with several shades of pink as well as herbs and roses and even vase carvings of roses. And for the same reason that long candles are a thing of the past, keep your centerpieces low, so that everyone at the table can see one another.

Serving Style

The serving style — such as plated or buffet — will be dictated by the location. If it’s a cookout (which Chef Rick and his wife had a blast hosting one Valentine’s Day), for example, most people will help themselves to a plate or two or three. But if it’s in a casual setting with a group of friends, they may want a buffet, so that they are not all reaching for the same things at the same time and can determine in what order they would like to consume all the food types available. Then again, if it’s a significant other whom you want to keep in suspense and surprise, you may plate the food for them, based on how you would like the tastes to blend together and the parts of the dinner you want to emphasize and complement.

Just remember, if you’re staying in this Valentine’s Day, you have the luxury of focusing on the premise of giving how you and your audience see fit. And if you need further recommendations, contact Chef Rick at (239) 629-6229.

Here are some of Chef Rick’s favorite Valentine’s Day dinner recipes:

Thai-Inspired Jumbo Shrimp

5 Jumbo Shrimp


Salt & Pepper

Granulated Garlic


Baby Greens

Pickled Ginger (enough to garnish)

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

2oz Rice Vinegar

6oz Thai Sweet Chili

1oz Soy Sauce

Juice of Half Lemon

Mix all ingredients together

Season flour with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Dip shrimp into the seasoned flour, and then into the buttermilk. Dip the shrimp back into the seasoned flour until it has a light coating. Deep-fry the shrimp until golden brown.

Place the baby greens in the center of a large plate. Toss the fried shrimp in the Thai Sweet Chili Sauce, and place the shrimp on top of the baby greens. Drizzle shrimp with remaining sauce, and garnish the shrimp with pickled ginger.




4 Tart Shells

1 Can Eagle Brand Condensed Milk (14oz)

4 Egg Yolks

3-4oz Key Lime Juice (to taste)

Fresh Berries

Fresh Whipped Cream

In a mixing bowl, add the egg yolks and condensed milk, and slowly add the key lime juice. Let everything set for five minutes, and then add the mixture to the tart shells. Bake them at 350° for 10 minutes. Let them cool, and then garnish them with fresh whipped cream and berries.



Chocolate Truffle


6oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate

16oz Heavy Cream

4oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted – set aside

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, and heat heavy cream in a medium saucepan. While stirring the chocolate, add heavy cream slowly. Keep stirring the mixture until the cream is incorporated.

You must subtract the amount of liquor you add from the heavy cream. Chambord, Amaretto, Frangelico go very well with chocolate. Refrigerate the chocolate mixture until it is cold. Roll the chocolate mixture into medium- size balls. If you have latex gloves, wear them. Roll the truffle into the melted chocolate until the truffle is covered. Pull the truffle out of the melted chocolate with a fork, and place it on the parchment paper until it is cooled.

Great with raspberry coulis (puree)



Pan-Seared Beef Tenderloin & Shrimp in a Cognac Cream Sauce

6oz Beef Tenderloin

2 Jumbo Shrimp

½ Cup of Spinach

1 Tbsp Sundried Tomatoes

1 Portobello Mushrooms (small; whole)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Cognac

½ Cup Heavy Cream

Salt & Pepper to Taste

In a heavy saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Season the tenderloin in a pan. Sear meat on both sides until the desired temperature is reached. Remove the tenderloin from the pan, and let it rest. In the same pan, add shrimp, sundried tomatoes, spinach and Portobello mushrooms. Sautee everything for approximately one minute. Add cognac and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce of the tenderloin over the meal. Serve the meal with mashed potatoes, angel hair pasta or risotto.



Praline Tulip

Serves 10

In its original form, praline became a crumbly candy creation popular with Creoles. This has evolved into our crunchy, flour-shaped “Tulip,” filled with old-fashioned praline ice cream, chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries. It is truly a grand finale to any meal.

½ Cup plus 2 Tbsp of Butter

1 Cup Brown Sugar

½ Cup Plus 2 Tbsp Corn Syrup

2 ¼ Cup Pecans

1 ½ Cup All-Purpose Flour

10 Ccoops Praline Ice Cream

1 ¼ Cup Chocolate Sauce

Whipped Cream

20 Whole Strawberries

10 Whole Chocolate Wafers

Sprigs of Mint

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add brown sugar, corn syrup, pecans and flour one at a time, stirring well before each addition. Cook over low heat for 12 minutes, and stir to avoid scorching.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Cover two sheet pans with buttered wax paper. Place five scoops of mixture onto each sheet pan, with the dollops spaced equally to allow for spreading. Bake for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool for one minute. Then, remove each portion, and place each over an upside-down soup cup. The praline shell will set in about three minutes.

Place it in the center of a dinner plate. Scoop praline ice cream into the shell. Ladle chocolate sauce over the ice cream; garnish with whipped cream, strawberries, a chocolate wafer and a sprig of mint.