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Food & Entertaining

Menu de Romantico

Author: Karen Fernau
Issue: February, 2017, Page 104
Photos by Grace Stufkosky

Postre Paradiso
Flavorful Recipes That Speak the Language of Love

For a Valentine’s dinner that you’ll both enjoy and remember, forgo the typical reservation at the local eatery and cook together at home. There’s no better way to show your loved one how much he or she means to you than to plan an evening of talking, laughing, cooking and kissing in the kitchen.

Because she embodies the connection between love and food at her inherently romantic Latin-inspired Sedona grille, Mariposa, we asked Chef Lisa Dahl to create a menu for an intimate dinner for two. Set against a breathtaking view of the red rocks, the restaurant’s environment is beautiful, luxurious and serene. Complementing the setting is Dahl’s menu, which is eclectic, innovative and fresh.

The four-course meal she envisioned for us has all these characteristics, plus some of the chef’s distinctive philosophies wrapped up into them. “When you cook together with love, you feed each other’s souls,” says Dahl. “Two cooks have the power to turn a meal into an elixir of love.”

The self-taught chef also knows that cooking can have healing powers. When her son, Justin, was tragically killed at age 23, she left her San Francisco-based position as an executive in the fashion industry to seek the therapeutic promise of Sedona’s mystical rock formations. That’s when she also started to cook, channeling the styles of her mother, grandmother and Southern-born nanny. Four Sedona-based restaurants later—Mariposa, Dahl and DiLuca, Cucina Rustica and Pisa Lisa—she continues to create dishes in honor of Justin, who she says is her “angel.”

“I draw my love for food from my loss,” she notes. “I cook with love to keep his memory alive.”

In her foods for the restaurants, and in the dishes that grace her Valentine’s dinner, the Indianapolis, Indiana-raised Dahl typically laces in Southwest flavors and ingredients. The sashimi ahi tuna appetizer combines avocado, pico de gallo and chili aioli with pink grapefruit and fried shallots, while the classic mushroom gorgonzola sauce for filet mignon gets a regional kick with chipotle purée.

The cuisine is impressive, but the chef’s eye for presentation also inspires. Dahl thoughtfully considers the color, textures and shape of each course when choosing just the right vessel, plate, bowl, flatware and linens.

“You want the meal to look stunning, so take the time to set a nice table,” she says. “Everything about the menu should say the food is love.”

Chef Dahl’s Menu de Romantico
Ahi Lovers’ Cup
Ahi tuna, pink grapefruit, avocado, chipotle aioli and crispy shallots

Sultry Sopa
Roasted garlic and caramelized onions

Filete Decadente
Filet mignon with mushroom gorgonzola sauce and truffle-scented asparagus
Mashed potatoes with lobster scampi

Postre Paradiso
Maple-coconut flan

Ahi Lovers’ Cup

Serves 2

8 ounces sashimi grade ahi or yellowfin tuna, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small head butter leaf lettuce
1 pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
Chipotle aioli (see recipe)
Crispy shallots (see recipe)
Pico de gallo (see recipe)
Avocado (see recipe)

Ahi Lovers’ Cup
Cup butter leaves into two stacks and place on two individual or a single shared plate. Next, add a generous mound of the avocado layer to the butter leaf cups. Drizzle with chipotle aioli to taste. Place a single layer of pink grapefruit sections on top of the aioli, followed by 3-4 ounces of tuna in each cup. Drizzle again with aioli. Generously top with pico de gallo. Finish with crispy shallots.

Chipotle Aioli

2 teaspoons chipotle purée 
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon capers

To make the purée, add a small can of chipotle chilies to a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Add all ingredients in small bowl and whisk together. Taste, and add more chipotle if necessary. Set aside. Chipotle aioli can be made 2-3 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. Refrigerate remaining purée to use in the Mushroom Gorgonzola Chipotle Sauce.

Crispy Shallots

½ cup vegetable oil
2 shallots, peeled and sliced paper-thin
Pinch of salt 

In a small saucepan, heat vegetable oil on medium. Dust shallots lightly with flour. Add shallots to hot oil. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until shallots gradually turn brown. Add a pinch of salt before removing shallots with slotted spoon. Place on paper towel or parchment paper. Set aside.
Pico de Gallo

4 Roma tomatoes
1 generous tablespoon scallion, finely diced
1 generous tablespoon red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons jalapeño, seeds removed and finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice from ½ lime
Salt to taste

Cut tomatoes in half. Scoop out center and finely dice; set aside in a small bowl. Slice jalapeño and set aside. To assemble, place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Taste and adjust salt and jalapeño. Set aside. Chef’s note: Wear gloves or wash your hands after removing the jalapeño seeds.


1 avocado
½ lime
Pinch of salt

Cut avocado in half and remove seed. Score into ½-inch squares. Squeeze lime over the avocado flesh before scooping out and placing in a bowl. Toss lightly with salt. Chef’s note: Prepare avocado right before serving to prevent browning, or wrap tightly with clear plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Sultry Sopa

Makes approximately 3 quarts

10 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly coated with extra-virgin olive oil
2  pounds or about 6 large yellow onions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup dry sherry
8 cups chicken broth
4  cups beef broth
4 fresh thyme sprigs
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped

Sultry Sopa
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place half of garlic cloves on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Form foil into a packet. Repeat with remaining garlic. Place garlic packets on a baking sheet in oven and roast about 25 minutes, or until cloves are soft. Meanwhile, peel and slice onions into ¼-inch rings, leaving rings intact. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or sauté pan. When oil is hot, add onions. Reduce heat to medium low and sauté until onions are browned and caramelized. Pour sherry over onions and sauté until almost completely absorbed. Add chicken and beef broths, and bring onions to a boil. Add roasted garlic cloves, fresh thyme sprigs and black pepper. Reduce heat and gently simmer while preparing the roux.

In a small pan, melt butter on low heat and whisk in flour until incorporated. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Next, whisk roux into the simmering soup, stirring continuously until soup thickens slightly. Remove thyme stems. Remove sopa from heat and allow to cool slightly. Meld flavors together by pulsing slightly with a hand-held immersion blender or in a blender or food processor. Avoid overpuréeing; sopa tastes best when roughly puréed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into two bowls, top with parsley and serve immediately. Refrigerate remaining to enjoy later.

Filete Decadente with Asparagus and Mushroom Gorgonzola Chipotle Sauce

Serves 2

2 center-cut filet mignons, about
6 ounces each
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper 
½ bunch asparagus, blanched
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoons butter
Truffle salt (optional)
Mushroom Gorgonzola Chipotle Sauce (see recipe)

Filete Decadente, left; Lemon-Zested Mashed Potatoes, red bowl
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place serving plates in oven to warm. Dry filets well with paper towels, and season on both sides with salt and pepper. To blanch asparagus, snap off ends. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Drop asparagus into water and boil for 1 minute. Remove and dip into ice-cold water to stop cooking. Set aside. Asparagus can be made and refrigerated a few hours in advance.
To prepare filets, heat iron skillet over high heat. Test readiness by adding a drop of water in pan. If the water bounces, the skillet is ready. Place steaks in skillet and sear about 3-5 minutes. For medium-rare, flip steaks and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove and keep warm on a plate in the oven.
Prepare asparagus by pouring olive oil in the hot steak skillet. Add asparagus and roll the spears to coat evenly with oil. Next, add butter to pan and, again, roll asparagus. If desired, sprinkle asparagus lightly with truffle salt.
To serve, remove warmed serving plates from oven. Spoon a ladle of the Mushroom Gorgonzola Chipotle Sauce on each plate. Place filet on top of sauce. Divide asparagus between plates. Pour pan drippings over steaks. Serve immediately.

Mushroom Gorgonzola Chipotle Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup or 8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
½ teaspoons truffle salt
½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper
½ cup sherry or Marsala wine
2½ cups cream
2 teaspoons chipotle purée
½ tablespoons truffle oil
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Heat a sauté pan on medium heat. Pour olive oil in pan and when hot, add mushrooms. Sauté, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes. Mushrooms should be lightly golden and have released their liquid. Add garlic and stir. Lightly season with truffle salt and pepper. Add sherry or Marsala and reduce by half. Add cream, chipotle purée and truffle oil. Cook sauce over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a slow boil and cook until sauce is velvety in texture. Add gorgonzola and reduce heat. Adjust seasonings. Cover and keep warm on stove until ready to plate.

Lemon-Zested Mashed Potatoes Topped With Lobster Scampi

Serves 2

2 large Russet potatoes, or about
1½ pounds
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dahl and her culinary team grow herbs, edible flowers and vegetables in raised beds on Mariposa’s patios for use in their ever-changing dishes and to dress their tables. The tiny white and purple tomatoes gracing the main entree serving caught her eye, along with some fushia-colored coleus.
Peel and cut Russets into quarters; then place in saucepan on high heat. Cover with cold water to ½ inch above potatoes. Add salt and bring to a vigorous boil. Lower temperature and cook potatoes in a rolling boil to prevent them from breaking open. Cook gently about 15 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Meanwhile, pour cream in a small saucepan on low heat. Add butter, being careful to avoid bringing the mixture to a boil. Warm until butter is melted. When potatoes are fork-tender, drain and immediately return to saucepan. Whisk cream mixture into potatoes. Add lemon zest and continue beating or whisking until airy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm in a covered saucepan until ready to serve.

Lobster scampi

Serves 2

11/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 ounces fresh lobster meat
1 large garlic clove, peeled and
finely minced
3 tablespoons white wine
1/2 lemon, quartered
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Pinch sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For lobster scampi, heat sauté pan on medium heat. When hot, lightly coat bottom of pan with olive oil. When oil is sizzling, add lobster meat. Lightly stir with tongs and add finely minced garlic. Reduce heat slightly to avoid burning garlic. When lobster begins to change from opaque to white, douse with wine. Squeeze lemons into pan. Add butter, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat. Add more salt or pepper to taste. To serve, pour lobster scampi directly over Lemon-Zested Mashed Potatoes.

Postre Paradiso

Serves 4

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup condensed milk
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/8 teaspoon maple extract
4 7-ounce ramekins
Fried plantains, dried coconut and fresh pansies for garnish

Postre Paradiso
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add sugar and water to a quality metal saucepan with a thick bottom. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly until sugar turns medium-dark brown, or the color of molasses. Be careful to prevent sugar from burning and turning black.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add all three milks and both extracts. Mix until completely blended. Set aside while sugar caramelizes.

Once sugar is caramelized, pour 2 tablespoons into each ramekin. Allow to set for 5 minutes. Strain remaining liquid through a mesh strainer and set aside. Fill ramekins to just below the rim with egg and milk mixture. Place ramekins in a casserole dish for a “bain marie,” or water bath. Fill casserole dish with boiling water to a depth of at least two-thirds the height of the ramekins. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until custard is set. Carefully remove ramekins from water and place in the refrigerator.

When cool, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin to loosen, then turn over onto a serving dish. Garnish with plantains, coconut and flowers.

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