We all love a bit of romance, an unexpected bouquet; a bar of choccie, a spontaneous hug, even a furtive wink can put a skip in your step for the rest of the day.
Valentine’s Day is upon us again where everyone from 9 to 90 gets license to be silly and cutely romantic.
Even my grandchildren are making cards and cupcakes and having fun.
But most of all the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy, of course you can book a romantic meal for two in a fancy restaurant but how about cooking supper instead of or as well as particularly if your favourite spot is already booked out.
Choose a nice easy menu that can be spirited without too much fuss or bother, a simple starter might me Ardsallagh Goat Cheese with Highbank Orchard syrup with a few rockets leaves or Medjool Dates with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachios and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Both are light and easy. A stew or tagine can be made ahead and served with a bowl of mash, a few baked potatoes or a simple cous cous.
Follow this with a salad of winter leaves and a piece of cheese – a heart shaped Neufchâtel would be perfect. You’ll find it in the many specialist cheese shops like Sheridans in Dublin or Galway or On the Pigs Back at the English Market or Iago on 9 Princes Street Cork. It’s a heart shaped Camembert type cheese made in Normandy it has an appealing mushroom taste and is perfect for a Valentines supper.
A light fruity dessert would be good after this comforting stew. Blood oranges are in season at present. A blood orange granita would be perfect or even some thickly sliced blood oranges with a chiffonade of mint.
However I’m tempted to suggest a rice pudding with a little grating of nutmeg over the top. We’ve been having lots of rice puddings recently – and it seems to get a joyous reception from every age group particularly when it’s served with a little Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar.
Rory O’Connell’s Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Highbank Orchard Syrup
Serve a crisp cheese biscuit or 2 or some hot bread to accompany this cheese course.
120-130g (4 1/2oz) fresh soft Ardsallagh Goats Cheese
4-6 tablespoons Highbank Orchard Syrup (available at Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop)
16-20 Rocket leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Divide the leaves between 4 plates.
Place a slice of cheese on top of the Rocket leaves. Drizzle with the syrup. Season with a pinch of Maldon Sea salt and serve.
Lamb, Winter Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stew
Serves 4 – 6
This comforting stew makes more than you’ll need for your romantic supper but it reheats brilliantly.
1kg lamb neck fillets cut into thick chunks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions peeled and quartered
3 carrots peeled and cut in half at an angle
3 leeks trimmed and cut into thick chunks
1 sprig thyme
1 small bay leaf
600ml lamb or chicken stock
100g pearl barley
a nice handful of fresh parsley
the same of fresh mint
zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, grated
Cut the neck of lamb into chunky pieces, season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan over a high? heat, brown the meat on all sides, transfer to a casserole. Don’t overcrowd / he pan just do the meat in batches. The toss the vegetables in the olive oil and fat in the pan, add a little more extra virgin olive oil if necessary. Add to the meat in the casserole.
Pour the stock into the pan and stir to dissolve all the meat juices, bring to the boil, pour on the meat and vegetables in the casserole, add the herbs and bring to the boil, simmer on the top of the stove or transfer to a moderate oven 180°C/ 350°F / Mark 4 for 45 minutes, add the pearl barley and continue to cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes or until the grains are plump and the meat and vegetables are meltingly tender. Taste and correct seasoning. Not long before serving make the gremolata, chop the parsley, fresh mint and lemon zest together. Turn the stew into a terracotta serving bowl, sprinkle with gremolata and serve with baked potatoes and a green salad.
Jacob Kenedy’s Blood Orange Granita
Blood oranges are in season at present so use them in every way you can while they last.
toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar
a little chopped fresh mint
Juice the blood oranges, removing any pips but straining only through a colander or coarse sieve to do so, so some pulp remains. Add 120g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar per litre (1 3/4 pints) of juice and stir to dissolve.
Pour the liquid into a deep tray that will fit in your freezer (metal is best, as it will conduct heat from the granita fastest – but this is only a question of time, rather than quality). Place it in your freezer, and check after half an hour. Once ice crystals start to form, stir every 15 minutes or so with a fork or sturdy balloon whisk until you have a satisfyingly thick slush. If it gets too hard, you can always thaw it a little before serving – and it can be stored this way (frozen solid) for weeks.
Serve on a hot day, sprinkled with the flaked almonds and mint.
Mixed 2:1 with vodka or Campari, this makes for an excellent cocktail, too.
Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Serves 4 as a starter
8 fresh figs in season
8 tablespoons Greek style natural yoghurt (the yoghurt should be thick)
2 teaspoons fresh sumac
3 – 4 teaspoons pistachios, halved
extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
a few flakes of sea salt
Spoon two – three tablespoons of yoghurt onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.
Wild and Free Food
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
For those who like to be on the cutting edge, you may be interested to know that watercress is the new rocket! Chefs are going crazy for it and using it in all kinds of recipes. But in reality there’s not much new under the sun. There are references to watercress – the original hydroponic vegetable – in many early Irish manuscripts. It formed part of the diet of hermits and holy men who valued its special properties, which we now know include significant amounts of iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamins A and C. Watercress is brilliant for detox – the mustard oils boost and regulate the liver’s enzymes. Its beta carotene and vitamin A are good for healthy skin and eyes, and watercress is naturally low in calories and fat. Gram for gram, watercress has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than full-cream milk.
Watercress grows naturally in rivers and drains all around Ireland. When you’re looking for it in the wild, make sure the watercress you pick comes from a pure water source with constantly running water. Avoid water drained from fields that are grazed, especially by sheep, which may infest the plant with the liver fluke parasite. Look for darker leaves, which signify older plants and deliver more peppery flavour. Watercress often grows side by side with a plant called fool’s watercress (Apium nodiflorum), which is sometimes referred to as wild celery but it isn’t, even though it is part of the parsley and celery family. It has small green flowers, whereas watercress has small white flowers. With watercress, the top leaf is the biggest and they decrease in size as you go down the stem; with fools watercress, it’s the reverse. When the watercress begins to form little white flowers the leaves elongate.
Garden Workshop at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Learn how to build a Willow Structure with Norbert Platz The Willow Wizard from West Cork. Norbert will show you how to make scarecrows, dragons, willow tunnels, plant covers, baskets… On this intensive course you will learn how to harvest and prepare willows and the basic techniques needed to create a variety of willow structures in your own garden. Monday 17th February at 9:00am, coffee and homemade biscuits on arrival and light lunch included – €95.00. Phone 021 4646785 to book or www.cookingisfun.ie
Cask and Winter Ale Festival at Franciscan Well on 14B North Mall, Cork Festival is on Friday, Saturday & Sunday the 14th, 15th & 16th February. With a selection of casks from a selection of Irelands best craft breweries and some winter specials this festival is growing each year to showcase the real ale culture in Ireland. Talk to some of Irelands newest brewers at the ‘Meet the Brewer’ section, a new element in this year’s festival. See their FaceBook page – Cask & Winter Ale Festival.