Special delights for Valentine’s Night

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How about some special delights for Valentine’s Night – how delighted will your partner be to receive a cute little invite to a romantic supper on Tuesday next.

Of course one could just book a table in a favourite restaurant but is it not tempting to get away from the hustle and bustle?. How lovely to plan a delicious little dinner, away from all those other canoodling couples. Choose the food carefully, something really special that can be prepared ahead to serve easily, so the whole event seems relaxed and effortless. 

The first course could be a plate of mezze or an anti-pasta, a collection of delicious bites to nibble with a glass of bubbly. Light the fire - Set the table beautifully, pretty glasses and crockery. Lots of candles and twinkling night lights, arranged in a circle or diamond on the table look great. Little posies of snowdrops, violets and crocuses are full of the promise of a new season, but its hard to beat some blowsy red roses for Valentine’s Day. If you’d rather not be predictable and arrange them in a vase, why not scatter the petals over the table and the remainder in the bath!.

Main course needs to be trouble-free so how about Pork with Rosemary and Tomatoes. If you’d rather have chicken it can be substituted for pork in this recipe. Rice, noodles or a big bowl of fluffy mash could be served alongside. A good green salad with a dressing of balsamic vinegar or verjuice and olive oil would help you both to feel less full and then it’s on to pudding.

For a chap, how about a tart with the new season’s rhubarb, or a comforting bread and butter pudding with a heart-shaped sparkler on top. An oozing chocolate fondant is naughty but oh so nice.

Alternatively you could make a little fruit fool and serve it with a few boudoir biscuits specially for dunking.

If you haven’t had a chocolate pudding a few handmade chocolates would be delicious or pick up a heart-shaped Tête-de-Moine cheese.

Don’t forget to whip up a little loaf of bread so the aromas are wafting through the house when your ‘heart’s desire’ arrives!

All those heart shapes are seriously over the top but its certainly good for a giggle!

Enjoy!

Middle Eastern Mezze with Chilli and Coriander Flat Bread

You might be able to buy quite a few of the elements, the plate might include
Serves 10

Aubergine puree (see recipe)
Hummus bi tahini 
Feta with walnut and mint
Parma or Serrano ham
Spicy carrot puree (see recipe)
Roast peppers and chick peas (see recipe)
Salad leaves and fresh herbs, tossed with a little vinaigrette
Roast red and yellow peppers or Piquillo pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
Toasted pine kernels
10 flour tortillas brushed with olive oil and chopped chilli
2 tablespoons olives
1 teaspoon paprika
Flat parsley
A few whole chickpeas
Tiny olives
Fresh coriander

Make all the components. Taste and correct seasoning.

To serve
Put a dollop of aubergine puree, hummus bi tahini and feta with walnut and mint and Tunisian carrot salad on a white plate. Put a salad of little leaves and herbs in the centre.

Put a strip or two of roast red pepper on top of the aubergine. Sprinkle with toasted pine kernels. Mix a little paprika with some olive oil and drizzle over the top of the hummus. Sprinkle with flat parsley and a few whole chickpeas.

Top the feta with walnut and mint with a sprig of mint. Scatter a few tiny olives on the plate and serve crisp tortillas, pitta crisps or with triangles of flat bread which has been crisped in a moderate oven for a few minutes.

Chilli and coriander flat bread.

Brush the tortillas with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with chopped chilli and Maldon sea salt. Crisp for a few minutes in a hot oven. Sprinkle with chopped coriander.

Aubergine Purée with Olive Oil and Lemon

This is one of my absolute favourite ways to eat aubergine. It is served all through the southern Mediterranean; there are many delicious variations.
Serves 6 approximately 

4 large aubergines
4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, optional

Roast or grill the aubergines depending on the flavour you like, (see page 00).

Allow to cool. Peel the aubergines thinly, careful to get every little morsel of flesh. Discard the skin and drain the flesh in a sieve or colander. Transfer to a bowl, mash the puree with a fork or chop with a knife depending on the texture you like. Add extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Variations:

1. Freshly crushed garlic may also be added.

2. In Turkey some thick Greek yogurt is often added, about 5-6 tablespoons for this quantity of aubergine puree, reduce the olive oil by half. 

Mixed with ricotta and freshly chopped herbs eg. marjoram this makes a delicious 'sauce' for pasta.

3. A spicier version from Morocco includes 1 teaspoon harissa (see page 00), 1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin and 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander leaves,

4. Add some pomegranate molasses - our new flavour of the month as they do in Syria - about 3-4 tablespoons instead of the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Spicy Carrot Puree

When Claudia Roden taught here some years ago she showed us how to make this Spicy Carrot Puree and also the Roast Peppers and Chick Peas.

A peppery Tunisian salad called Omi Houriya.

Serves 6
1½lb(750g) carrots
salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed,
1 teaspoon harissa or to taste or 1 teaspoon paprika and a good pinch of chilli pepper
1½ teaspoons ground cumin or caraway seeds

Peel the carrots and cut into large pieces. Boil them in salted water until tender, then drain and mash them with a fork or chop them, and add the rest of the ingredients. Serve cold.

Optional Garnishes

6 black olives.
4 oz (100g) fetta cheese cut into small cubes.

Roast Peppers and Chickpeas with Fresh Goat’s Cheese

A mild and soft fresh goat’s cheese, jban, is one of the rare cheeses produced in Morocco. If you are not keen on raw garlic, you can leave that out.
Serves 4-6

4 fleshy red bell peppers
1 x 14oz (400g) tin of chickpeas 
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed 
3 sprigs of oregano, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried
11oz (300g) fresh goat’s cheese 

Place the peppers on a sheet of foil on an oven tray under a pre-heated grill, 6-9cm from the grill. Turn them until their skins are black and blistered all over. Alternatively - and more easily - roast them in the hottest oven for about 30 minutes or until they are soft and their skins blistered and blackened, turning them once after 15 minutes.

To loosen the skins further, put them in a plastic frozen food bag, twist it shut and leave for 10-15 minutes. Another old way that has the same effect is to put them in a pan with a tight-fitting lid for the same length of time. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them and remove the stems and seeds. Now cut them into thin ribbons through the stem end. 

Drain the chickpeas. Dress them with a mixture of 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, salt and pepper, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and about one-third of the oregano; mix well, then gently mix with the peppers. 

Mash the goat’s cheese with the remaining garlic clove, the last tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining oregano, and shape it into a mound on a serving plate. Arrange the peppers and chickpeas in a ring around it.

Pork with Rosemary and Tomatoes

Serves 6
900g (2lb) of trimmed pork fillet, chicken breast may also be used
Sauce
450g (1lb) very ripe firm tomatoes - peeled and sliced into 2 inch (1cm) slices
2 shallots finely chopped
30g (1 1/4oz) butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
225ml (8fl oz) cream
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

Garnish
Fresh rosemary sprigs

Cut the trimmed fillet of pork into slices about 2cm (3/4inch) thick. 

Melt 25g (1oz) butter in a saucepan, when it foams add the finely chopped shallots, cover with a butter wrapper and sweat gently for 5 minutes. Remove the butter wrapper, increase the heat slightly, add the tomatoes in a single layer, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. After 2 minutes turn the tomatoes and season on the other side. Then add the cream and rosemary. Allow to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Check seasoning. The sauce may now be prepared ahead to this point and reheated later.

The sauce should not be too thick - just a light coating consistency.

To cook the pork – Melt 5g (1/4oz) butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan over a high heat, when it is quite hot, add the seasoned pork in a single layer. Allow them to turn a rich golden brown before turning over. Turn down the temperature and finish cooking on the other side. It should feel slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to overcook the pork or it will be dry and tasteless. 

Reheat the sauce gently while the pork is cooking, correct the seasoning, spoon some of the sauce onto one large serving dish or divide between individual plates. Arrange the pork slices on top of the sauce, garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and serve immediately.

Molten Chocolate Puds

These are the most delectable little puds, a cinch to make provided you find the right mould, then timing is everything. The mixture can be made ahead, refrigerated overnight or frozen.
Makes 6-8

110g (4oz) unsalted butter + extra to butter moulds
110g (4oz) bittersweet chocolate - Valrhona or some equally good chocolate 
2 eggs + 2 yolks (not cold)
50g (2oz) caster sugar + extra for moulds
2 teaspoons cocoa powder + extra for moulds

Accompaniment:
Icing sugar
Softly whipped cream or crème fraîche

6-8 moulds – we used tin foil moulds 8.5cm (3 1/4inch) across at the top and 5.5cm (2 1/4inch) deep, 150ml (5fl oz) capacity and filled them about 2/3 full.

Moulds should be well buttered and floured. Tap the moulds on the worktop to get rid of the excess flour. Pour in the chocolate mix. 

Put the chopped chocolate with the butter in a pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat and allow to sit until the chocolate is melted. Meanwhile whisk the eggs and sugar until thick and pale, at least 5 minutes with hand held electric whisk. Add the chocolate while still warm, and mix gently but thoroughly. Sieve the cocoa powder over the mousse and mix in with spatula until just combined. Fill the well buttered moulds about 2/3 full. 

They may be baked now or kept at room temperature and baked later, or can be refrigerated overnight. They must be at room temperature or cool from refrigerator before baking, cover lightly with cling film if they have to sit around for a while.

Preheat a conventional oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8. Heat a baking sheet and then set the moulds on it. Bake for 6-7 minutes. When they come out of the oven, invert on dessert places, leave for 10 seconds, and lift off moulds. Dust them with icing sugar and serve with a blob of whipped cream or crème fraîche. Also great with an unctuous homemade vanilla ice-cream.

Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding is an irresistible ‘must have’ pudding for anyone’s easy entertaining repertoire.
Serves 6-8

12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed 
50g (2oz) butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg*
200g (7oz) plump raisins or sultanas
475ml (16fl oz) cream
225ml (8fl oz) milk
4 large organic eggs, beaten lightly
1 teasp. pure vanilla essence
175g (6oz) sugar
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding

Garnish
Softly-whipped cream

1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish 

Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the nutmeg and half the raisins, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and raisins on top. Cover the raisins with the remaining bread, buttered side down.

In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence, sugar and a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Bake in a bain-marie - the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/gas mark 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.

Note: This Bread and Butter Pudding reheats perfectly.

* One may also use cinnamon or mixed spice.

Foolproof Food

Break his Heart Rhubarb Tart

Serves 8-12
This is such a terrific pastry. If I’m in a mad rush I make it in a food processor – it’s a little more difficult to handle if you use it right away but works fine even if you have to patch it a bit. It’s fun to do a few hearts to decorate with.

Pastry
225g (8 oz) butter
55g (2 oz) caster sugar
2 eggs free-range and organic if possible
350g (12 oz) flour

Filling
450g (1 lb) red rhubarb
175g (6oz) sugar

Egg Wash
1 beaten free-range organic egg with a little milk, to glaze
1 x 23cm (9 inch) tin with 4cm (1 ½ inch) sides

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer, add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and add in the flour, little by little, to form a stiff dough. Flatten into a round, cover with cling film and chill for at least 1 hour, this makes the pastry much easier to handle. Otherwise just put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until just combined.

Roll out half the pastry to about 3mm (⅛ inch) thick and line a round tin measuring 20.5 x 30.5cm (8 x 11.5 inches).

Slice the rhubarb into 1 cm (2.5 inch) rounds, fill the tart and sprinkle with the sugar.

Roll the remaining pastry, cover the rhubarb and seal the edges. Decorate with pastry hearts or leaves. Paint with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 until the tart is golden and the rhubarb is soft (45 minutes to 1 hour). When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Note: This tart can also be filled with Bramley apples, gooseberries and elderflower, Worcesterberries, damsons, plums, blackberry and apples, peaches and raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries.


Hot Tips

Chocolate- Heart shaped chocolates, lollipops etc are available from many of the producers of handmade chocolate – O’Conaills at Midleton Farmers Market and in the English Market in Cork, The Chocolate Crust in Kenmare, Gwen’s Chocolate Shop in Schull, Cocoa Bean Artisan Chocolates in Limerick and many others around the country.
Marks and Spencers have chocolate lollipops with invitations to Hug Me, Kiss Me .. and bags of little chocolate hearts.

Look out for heart-shaped biscuit cutters and cake tins at, The Stock Pot in Midleton, The Ballymaloe Shop at Ballymaloe House, Delia’s Kitchen Shop in Carey’s Lane Cork, Kitchen Complements in Chatham Street Dublin. La Violette in Skibbereen have little heart-shaped pans.

Irish Society of Poultry Fanciers National Show
Has been rescheduled and will be held on Saturday 18th February at Gurteen Agricultural College, Ballingarry, Roscrea, Co Tipperary – it will be open to the public at 2.00pm

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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