Thursday, February 12, 2015

Studio 5: Romantic Tropical Valentine Dinner

* Video to be posted later this afternoon.

My most romantic moments have been on vacation, and especially on a beach!  So, what better way to celebrate Valentine's then to re-create some of that romance by preparing a tropical three-course meal for you and your sweetie.

Put the little ones to bed (or get a babysitter),  light a few candles, start some soft Hawaiian music and let yourself be transported to where I know you really want to be in the middle of Winter.

But wait...there's more!  There is nothing more romantic then doing things together, yes, even in the kitchen.  You really can't leave your spouse sitting at the table twiddling his thumbs while you prepare dinner, so get cozy in the kitchen!

Before you run screaming at the thought, let me share exactly HOW to do this.  Leave as little as possible to do right before you eat.  Prep, prep, prep!  I've timed it all out for you, so all you have to do is fry some shrimp and cook your fish and plate your food.  The perfect tasks for two.

Let's start with a crunchy, sweet appetizer, Coconut Shrimp & sweet Pineapple dipping sauce.  Ok, your appetite is awake and you want to eat more!  The main course is Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi with a Tropical salsa and Avocado crema.  Lastly, a Banana/Coconut Croissant Trifle.

Recipes & Timing follows...enjoy!  

Pineapple Dipping sauce        
Chill Drinks                             
Macadamia Mixture (for fish) 
Tropical Salsa                        
Basmati rice                          
Avocado Crema                     
Coconut Shrimp                    
Set Table & Prepare plates     
Start cooking Fish first  
Spouse cooks Shrimp            

day before
day before
day before
early in day
early in day
early in day
2-3 hours before
2-3 hours before
2-3 hours before
ready to eat (10 min/oven while you eat shrimp)
ready to eat

Banana Coconut Croissant Trifle

{easy make-ahead decadent dessert}


1 banana, sliced

1 day old croissant, chopped into small pieces (about 1/2" cubes)

1 small package Jello coconut (or Banana) pudding

2 cups milk

1 can Dulce De Lece, warmed & thinned with a little Half & Half or milk.

1/4 cup Sweet Flaked Coconut, toasted in over (watch it!)

1 cup whipped cream, sweetened with 1 Tbsp sugar


·         Find some pretty glass bowls or goblets (so you can see the layers)

·         Have everything ready and work quickly.

·         Make the pudding right before you're ready to assemble.  By adding it while it's not fully set up, it will fill in the spaces and absorb into the croissant pieces.

·         Start with a layer of croissant cubes at bottom of glass.  Pour enough pudding over it to cover.

·         Add a layer of bananas, making sure to have some cross sections showing.

·         Sprinkle some coconut.

·         Drizzle in some Dulce De Lece.

·         Repeat with another layer of all ingredients if you have room.

·         Finish by placing a layer of Croissant pieces and more pudding, until it reaches the top of the glass.


·         At this point, you can cover and keep in fridge until ready to serve.

·         Have your whipped cream made and in fridge as well. 

·         When you are ready to serve, dollop (or pipe) whipped cream on top, sprinkle with toasted coconut and add a few slices of banana.

Coconut Shrimp & Pineapple dipping sauce

{Great crunch and a little sweetness...wake up your taste buds}


10 large Shrimp (Butterfly, leave tail on)

2 cups vegetable or Peanut oil (to fry in)

1/2 cup Unsweetened big flake coconut (process so it's smaller but still looks like coconut)

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Pinch Cayenne Pepper (if you don't like the heat, omit it)

1 egg, beaten well

1/2 tsp. Coarse Salt & 1/4" tsp. Freshly ground pepper

Small handful chopped Cilantro

Pineapple dipping sauce

1/2 cup Fresh Pineapple, pureed

4 oz. Cream Cheese, softened

1/4 cup Sour cream

1/4 tsp. Coarse Salt & some Freshly ground pepper

few drops of your favorite hot sauce (optional)


Prepare your shrimp by cleaning (if necessary) and butterflying.   Do this by running a sharp knife down the top of Shrimp so it lays open.  Blot dry with paper towel.  Sprinkle salt lightly on Shrimp.

Place beaten egg in bowl.

Place Panko/Coconut mixture in another bowl.

Dip shrimp in egg, then in Panko/Coconut mixture.  Repeat with all the Shrimp and lay on a small baking sheet or plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge until ready to fry.

Heat at least 2" oil in deep pan (or use deep fryer if you have one) to 350 F.

Using tongs, place shrimp, about 5 at a time in hot oil and cook for about 1 minute.  I always like to add one shrimp to my number, so I can test one (someone has to do it, right?)

Have paper towels on a plate ready to hold cooked shrimp.  Immediately sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and cilantro.

Sauce:  Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Keep in fridge until ready to serve.


Prep your Shrimp up to 3 hours ahead of time.  Once coated with coconut/panko mixture, lay in one layer and cover with plastic wrap.  Keep refrigerated.

Dipping sauce can be made the day before.  Keep refrigerated.

Have plates ready with a small bowl for sauce and a simple paper napkin to place shrimp on.  This will absorb any oil and is a nice presentation. 

As soon as Shrimp are cooked, place on plate and serve.

Time Saver option

Buy a pre-made dipping sauce.  Thai sweet chili sauce is often paired with coconut Shrimp.

Additional notes

You could use a sweetened shredded coconut.   Many recipes call for it.  I just find it WAY too sweet.

Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi

{with a Tropical salsa, Avocado Crema & Basmati rice}



Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi

2 fillets Mahi Mahi (these are usually frozen.  Thaw in fridge overnight)

a few Tbsp. Vegetable Oil (to fry in)

1/2 cup Macadamia Nuts

1/4 cup Panko Breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Freshly ground pepper

1 Egg, beaten

·         Preheat oven to 375 F.

·         Process Nuts, breadcrumbs and salt until crumbly, but not too fine.

·         Heat oil to med-high in oven proof pan.

·         Place beaten egg in shallow bowl.

·         Place Nut/panko mixture in shallow bowl.

·         Dip (use tongs) fish fillet in egg and then into nut mixture.  Place in hot oil. 

·         Watch closely; when fillet is browned on one side, turn over and place in oven for 10 minutes.  If you have a meat thermometer, cook until inside temp reaches 140 F.

Tropical Salsa

1/4 cup finely chopped Pineapple

1/4 cup finely chopped Mango

1/4 cup finely chopped Papaya

1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper

1/4 cup sliced grape tomatoes

2 Tbsp finely chopped purple onion

1 Tbsp finely chopped Jalapeno (more or less depending on taste)

Small handful finely chopped Cilantro

Juice from half a lime

Coarse Salt & some Freshly ground pepper to taste

·         Combine all ingredients and keep in fridge until ready to use. 

Avocado Crema (I can eat this by the spoonful!)

1 small Avocado

1/4 cup sour cream

Juice from half a lime

Coarse Salt & some Freshly ground pepper to taste

·         Place all ingredients in food processor.  Process until smooth.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to use.

Basmati Pilaf

1 cup Basmati Rice

2 cups water

2 Tbsp butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

small bunch green onions, chopped finely

·         Soak rice in water (just until covered) for 30 minutes.

·         Sauté Onions and garlic in 1 Tbsp butter on low-med heat, until softened (about 5 minutes).

·         Add another Tbsp of butter and add drained rice to pan.  Stir to coat for a minute.

·         Add 2 cups water to pan.  Bring to boil.  Turn heat to low, cover pan and put the timer for 20 minutes.  You will have fragrant, fluffy rice every time!


·         Make Salsa & Avocado Crema ahead of time.  Keep in fridge.

·         You could cook rice 20 minutes before you are ready to eat.  It will stay warm in pot on stove.  OR, you can cook in advance, store in fridge, then reheat in microwave or in pan quickly.

·         When you are ready to eat, with both of you in the kitchen, start the fish.  Once it's in the pan, start the Shrimp (make sure oil is already hot. 350 F.), it will only take a minute to cook.  Once fish is in the oven, you can eat your appetizer leisurely while fish finishes cooking in the oven.

·         Have fun plating the main a smear with the Crema, mould your rice...get creative!


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"The art of being
HAPPY lies in the
POWER of extracting
happiness from
COMMON things."
~Henry Ward Beecher



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