Valentine’s Dinner


Every restaurant in Ireland will be booked out for dinner on Thursday next, Valentines Day – everyone wants a romantic table for two.  Thousands of courting couples dining a deux, sipping elegant glasses of fizz and staring deeply into each other’s eyes. This causes considerable difficulties for many restaurateurs who have a variety of table sizes.  By the law of averages at least one of the couples will be hoping that the question is popped.   Recalcitrant chaps not eager to take the plunge, may well be dreading this evening’s close encounter, because remember girls this a Leap Year, so if he’s been happily chugging along ‘having his cake and eating it’, well this is your big chance to call his bluff.
Takes quite a bit of courage ‘to propose’, what if he says no, are you ready for the gnawing feelings of rejection?

Such a dilemma but the opportunity won’t come around again for another four years, so if you are desperate to know where you stand, grasp the opportunity, but make sure you enjoy your dinner first!.

For those who can’t swing a prime time restaurant booking there’s another option, if you really want to impress, why not invite your partner around for a simple supper.   Nothing will bring on a proposal faster than the prospect of coming home to a delicious supper every evening.   The aroma of freshly baked bread wafting towards you when you open the hall door is a darn sight more appealing than the smell of charred hamburgers.   Doesn’t matter how ‘drop dead gorgeous’ you are, the way to a man’s heart is through his tummy, as it always was and always will be.   The Africans have a saying that sums it up ‘kissin don’t last, cookin’ do!’.   Sounds a bit corny but there could be something in it.   So whatever about your career, your cool dress sense and make-up skills, allocate a little time to learn to lay a table and cook a few yummy delish comforting dishes.  They don’t have to be fancy and are better not to be too extravagant, otherwise he might decide you’ll be far too expensive to keep!.

Start a little folder and gradually add a few recipes for favourite starters, main courses and puds, easy bread, a few bikkies and one or two cakes.

Choose a reliable cookbook where the recipes are well tested and easy to follow.  Nothing more frustrating than trying a recipe that doesn’t work.

Here’s a nice easy menu that can be prepared ahead so that you can spend maximum time sitting at the table rather than sweating over the stove – after all it must appear effortless and taste sublime.

Bon courage and happy St Valentine’s Day.


Hot Tips



Slow Food and Slow Food Dating presented by Slow Food Limerick and Region

-         choice of two unique gourmet dining evenings.

Gourmet Slow Food Dinner Thursday 21st February and Slow Dating Gourmet Evening Friday 22nd February @ Aubars, Thomas St. Limerick, in partnership with Aubars,,  Febvre Wines and Limerick now.  Book with Niall and Alex at Aubars 061-317799 or check out – Limerick home page or email



Farming for Conservation Conference – BurrenLIFE

Major International Conference will take place in the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, Co Clare from 24-27 February 2008.  The Conference which is titled  ‘Farming for Conservation – Supporting the Future’ is the first ever farming for conservation conference in Ireland and will include speakers from Ireland and a number of other European countries.

Full details available on  Limited number of heavily discounted places available to local farmers and 3rd level students.  Bookings through Conference Connections 065-6825200/6825201


Mint Restaurant

Ireland’s best kept secret – Dylan McGrath Chef Patron of Mint Restaurant Awarded Prestigious Michelin Star in 2008 Michelin Guide

In just over one year, 30 year old Belfast born chef, Dylan McGrath of Mint restaurant has pushed all culinary boundaries and gained a reputation for his highly distinctive, signature approach.   Mint Restaurant, 46 Ranelagh, Dublin 6. Tel 01-4978655

Foolproof Food

Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue

Myrtle Allen devised this Cheese Fondue recipe made from Irish Cheddar cheese. It’s a great favourite at Ballymaloe and even though it’s a meal in itself it may be made in minutes and is loved by adults and children alike. A fondue set is obviously an advantage but not essential.

Serves 2

2 tablesp. white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teasp. Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teasp. freshly chopped parsley

6 ozs (170g) grated mature Cheddar cheese

Crusty white bread

Put the white wine and the rest of the ingredients into a small saucepan or fondue pot and stir. Just before serving put over a low heat until the cheese melts and begins to bubble. Put the pot over the fondue stove and serve immediately with fresh crusty French bread or cubes of ordinary white bread crisped up in a hot oven.

Buttermilk Scones

These scones only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20 minutes to bake.

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon  breadsoda

Sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.  Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut into scones.  Bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 for 20 minutes approx. 

If you prefer you can leave it whole to make a loaf of white soda bread,  pat it into a round as before and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

French Peasant Soup

This is another very substantial soup – it has ‘eating and drinking’ in it and would certainly be a meal in itself particularly if some grated Cheddar cheese was scattered over the top.

Serves 6

6 ozs (170g) unsmoked streaky bacon (in the piece)

Olive or sunflower oil

5 ozs (140g) potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch (5mm) dice

2 ozs (55g) onions, finely chopped

1 small clove garlic (optional)

1 lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 x 14 oz (400g) tin of tomatoes and their juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

½-1 teasp. sugar

1¼ pints (750ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

2 ozs (55g) cabbage (Savoy is best), finely chopped


Chopped parsley

Remove the rind from the bacon if necessary. Prepare the vegetables and cut the bacon into ¼ inch (5mm) dice approx. Blanch the bacon cubes in cold water to remove some of the salt, drain and dry on kitchen paper, saute in a little olive or sunflower oil until the fat runs and the bacon is crisp and golden. Add potatoes, onions and crushed garlic, sweat for 10 minutes and then add diced tomatoes and any juice. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Cover with stock and cook for 5 minutes. Add the finely chopped cabbage and continue to simmer just until the cabbage is cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley and serve.

Mediterranean Peasant Soup

Add ½ Kabanossi sausage thinly sliced to the soup with the potato.  ¼ lb (110g) cooked haricot beans may also be added with the cabbage at the end for a more robust soup.

Spiced Chicken with Almonds

Serves 6-8

2 lbs (900g) boned chicken, cut into finger-sized pieces (use brown meat)

1 tablesp. coriander seeds

1 tablesp. cumin seeds

2 teasp. ground turmeric

Good pinch cayenne pepper

2 teasp. salt

1 teasp. sugar

4 ozs (110g) onions, roughly chopped

1 inch (2.5cm) piece of fresh ginger root, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 oz (30g) blanched almonds

12 ozs (340g) red pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

5 tablesp. sunflower oil

5 fl ozs (140ml) water

2 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

First prepare the chicken.  (Remove the skin).

Warm the coriander and cumin seeds separately in a dry pan careful, not to burn (cumin burns more easily)

Grind  in a pestle and mortar. Mix with turmeric, cayenne, salt, sugar, onions, ginger, garlic, almonds and peppers. Whizz in a food processor until smooth. Heat the oil in a saute pan and cook the paste for about 10 minutes until reduced, add the chicken, water and lemon juice. Cover and cook gently for 15 – 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender*.  Serve with pilaff rice.

Note: If you would like a hotter curry, increase the amount of cayenne to 2 teaspoonful.

Brown meat takes longer to cook then white meat. 

Orzo with Fresh Herbs

Orzo looks like fat grains of rice but is in fact made from semolina.   Serve as an accompaniment to a main course or as a base for a pasta salad.

Serves 4

7 ozs (200g) orzo

4 pints (2.3 L) water

1½ teaspoons salt

½ – 1 oz (15-30g) butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)

Bring the water to a fast rolling boil and add the salt. Sprinkle in the orzo, cook for 8-10 minutes* or until just cooked. Drain, rinse under hot water, toss with a little butter. Season with freshly ground pepper and garnish with some chopped parsley.

*Time depends on the type of Orzo.

Green Salad with Honey and Mustard Dressing

Honey and Mustard Dressing

6 fl ozs (150ml) olive oil or a mixture of olive and other oils, eg. sunflower and arachide

2 fl ozs (50ml) wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teasp. honey

2 heaped teasp. wholegrain honey mustard

2 cloves garlic

Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.

Green Salad

You will need a mild lettuce (eg. the common Butterhead) as the basis of the salad and as many of the following as you care to or can put in:

finely chopped Parsley, Mint or any herbs of your fancy, spring onions, dice of cucumber, Mustard and Cress, Watercress, the white tips of cauliflower, tips of purple sprouting broccoli, Iceberg lettuce, Cos, Raddichio, Oakleaf, Chinese leaves, Rocket, Salad burnet, and any other interesting lettuces available.

Wash and dry the lettuces and other leaves very carefully. Tear into bite sized pieces and put into a deep salad bowl. Cover with cling film and refrigerate, if not to be served immediately. Just before serving toss with a little French Dressing – just enough to make the leaves glisten. Serve immediately.

Note: Green Salad must not be dressed until just before serving, otherwise it will be tired and  unappetising.

Passionfruit and Mango Fool with Boudoir Biscuits

1 medium ripe mango (about 11oz/300g flesh after peeling)

4 passion fruit

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1-2 tablespoons castor sugar

½ pint (300ml) softly whipped cream

Peel the mango, chop the flesh and puree in a food processor.  Put into a bowl, add the passion fruit seeds and juice, add freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar to taste.  Fold in some softly whipped cream to taste.

Serve in a pretty white bowl or martini glass with Boudoir biscuits to dunk.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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