Who doesn’t get an Oops in their tummy at the thought of Valentine’s Day even if it’s just a trip down memory lane! Back to boarding school, when one waited for days in a mixture of apprehension and excitement for the post to be delivered on Valentine’s Day hoping for at least one card to giggle about and muse over who the anonymous sender might be? One year, I got several Valentine’s cards, my class were mightily impressed and a touch jealous, I was the envy of all my pals, a very sweet memorable moment!
No question of romantic dinners or Valentine’s Day Balls on Valentine’s Day last year, we were in the midst of Lockdown. So this year, let’s ramp up the excitement. I love bunting and it’s so easy to make (or buy) a few strands to drape across the office or kitchen, add a few balloons and sparklers and you’ve already created the vibe and livened up everyone’s day.
How about making a few heart-shaped cookies or maybe a gorgeous cake to share at work. That’ll get everyone’s attention, it’s all about the fun…
If you are short of ideas, just take to the internet to be inspired and amused – there are a million suggestions…whatever ‘floats your boat’…how about a romantic hill hike or cycle and a picnic. Maybe ice skating or whale watching followed by cocktails and a romantic dinner for two!
If you haven’t already booked a special table at your favourite restaurant or café, it’s probably too late now but how about a Valentine’s Day Cook-in with a group of friends, I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be all about couples but first the fun and laughs, the romance can come a little later. So into the kitchen for a bit of communal cooking. The ‘refusers’ can make the cocktails and pour the fizz, then lay the table and sprinkle on the confetti (bit early) or sparklers.
Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac, all that zinc does the trick…it’s so fun opening them and if you’ve never tried one, now’s the time.
I’m also going to suggest a chunky vegetable soup as a starter, it’s super delicious, comforting. A few friends working together will make short work of all the vegetable chopping. Add a can of cannellini beans and a few rounds of chorizo to make it even more substantial and delicious, and a slick of parsley oil for a ‘cheffy’ touch.
Definitely, make some bread, even a few cheesy scones, everyone will love the magic and they are made in minutes. For the main course, I’m going to suggest roast chicken, who doesn’t love roast chicken and even total beginners can slather a bit of herbs or spices over the breast and legs and pop it into the oven. Chop a few potatoes into wedges and maybe sprinkle them with smoked paprika or some gutsy Winter herbs and a pinch of chilli for extra excitement. Add a few chunks of carrot, parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes (or maybe not!) for a one-dish side. All you’ll need then, is a good green salad to make way for some sweet treats. Radicchios are all the rage on New York and London menus so look out for some pink radicchio, tardivo and some bitter leaves to add to your salad.
For pudding, I’m going to break all my rules, around season and suggest a raspberry fool with some heart-shaped cookies. It’s so easy to make, beyond delicious even when made with Winter raspberries and you can ‘zhuzh’ it up in lots of cute ways – it will become a favourite ‘go to’ dessert.
And finally, how about a little heart-shaped cheese. Pop along to Sheridans Cheesemongers or On The Pig’s Back in the English Market to pick up a Coeur de Neufchâtel, an adorable, soft heart-shaped goat cheese from Normandy in France. Sit around the table and tuck in.
What fun you’ll have and yet again you’ll find, there’s something in the old saying ‘the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy’…
if you’re not wanting to be ‘coupled up’ why not spread the joy, drop a Valentine’s
card or a bunch of flowers into a family member or a lonely neighbour to bring
a smile to their day. Happy Valentine’s
Day to you all….
Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette
Even though Pacific oysters are available year-round, they are best in winter. I love native oysters au nature just with a squirt of lemon juice but this dressing really adds excitement to the gigas oysters.
Serves 4-6 as a starter
24 Pacific oysters
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly ginger, grated
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 spring onions, cut at an angle
1 teaspoon red chilli, cut at an angle
3 tablespoons sesame oil
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
fresh seaweed (if available)
segments of lime
To make the Asian vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal and shake well. If you can get some, place a little fresh seaweed on each plate. Arrange 4-5 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one. Serve on a bed of seaweed with segments of lime.
you can find some fresh seaweed e.g. bladderwrack, dip the fonds into boiling
water for a second or two, they will turn bright green. Drop it straight into a
bowl of iced water to prevent it cooking and to set the colour. It will make an attractive garnish, which you
could eat if you were very hungry but it doesn’t taste delicious! Use it soon otherwise it will go slimy.
Chunky Valentine’s Vegetable Bean and Sausage Soup
Have fun chopping together, you’ll love tucking into this chunky soup.
225g (8oz) rindless streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) lardons
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) onions, chopped
300g (10oz) carrot, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
215g (7 1/2oz) celery, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
125g (4 1/2oz) parsnips, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
200g (7oz) white part of 1 leek, 5mm (1/4 inch) slices thick approx.
1 Kabanossi sausage, cut into 3mm (1/8 inch) thin slices
400g (1 x 14oz) can of tomatoes, chopped
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1.7 litres (3 pints) good homemade chicken stock,
225g (8oz) haricot beans, cooked * (see recipe) or use a 400g (14oz) can
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Prepare the vegetables. Put the olive oil in a saucepan, add the bacon* (see note at bottom of recipe) and sauté over a medium heat until it becomes crisp and golden, add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cover and sweat for five minutes, next add the parsnip and finely sliced leeks. Cover and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Slice the Kabanossi sausage thinly and add. Chop the tomatoes and add to the rest of the vegetables and the beans. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, add the chicken stock. Allow to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes approx. Taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lots of crusty bread.
* Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold
water. Next day, strain the beans and
cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and
simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy – anything from 30-60 minutes. Just before the end of cooking, add
salt. Remove the bouquet garni and
vegetables and discard.
Cheddar Cheese Scones
These cheddar cheese scones are delicious served as an accompaniment to soup and made in minutes!
450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350-375ml (12-13fl oz) approx.
110g (4oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese
First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. 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 floured board, knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a square about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, brush with egg wash, cut into 12 square scones. Dip the top of each scone into the grated cheddar cheese, place on a baking sheet. Bake in a hot oven for 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, for 5-10 minutes or until cooked. Serve with soup as a snack.
A Roast Chicken with Winter Herbs and Gravy
Buy a gorgeous organic chicken for a treat, slather the breast and legs with a gutsy Winter herb or spice butter and tuck in.
1.5 – 2.3kg (4 1/2 – 5lbs) free range chicken, preferably organic
1 lemon, cut into slices
sprig of thyme (optional)
75g (3oz) butter
2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) of stock from giblets or chicken stock
sprigs of flat parsley
First remove the wishbone from the neck end of the chicken, this is easily done by lifting back the loose neck, skin and cutting around the wishbone with a small knife – tug to remove, this isn’t at all essential but it does make carving much easier later on. Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken to make a neat shape. Put the wishbone, giblets, carrot, onions, celery and herbs into a saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skin and simmer gently while the chicken is roasting. This is the basis of the gravy.
Pop the lemon slices and sprig of thyme into the cavity of the chicken.
Mix the soft butter with the freshly chopped herbs or smoked paprika and chopped parsley. Slather over the breast and legs. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Weigh the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) and 20 minutes over – put it on middle shelf in the oven. Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear or when the internal temperature reaches 75 – 80°C (165 – 175°F) on a meat thermometer.
Alternatively, to test prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh, hold a spoon underneath to collect the liquid, examine the juices – they should be clear.
Remove the chicken to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy, tilt the roasting tin to one corner and spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.
the chicken onto a nice carving dish surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and
vegetables and a few sprigs of flat parsley, arm yourself with a sharp knife
and bring it to the table. Carve as best you can and ignore rude remarks if you
are still practicing but do try to organise it so that each person gets some
brown and some white meat. Serve with the delicious gravy.
Autumn Raspberry Fool with Shortbread Biscuits
A Valentine’s Day present from Rory O’Connell, so easy to make even kitchen ‘newbies’ will be thrilled with the result of their efforts. Any leftovers can be frozen to make a delicious raspberry ice-cream.
250g (8oz) raspberries, fresh or frozen
60-75g (2 1/2 – 3oz) caster sugar
300ml (10fl oz) of whipped cream
Lay the raspberries out flat on a dish. Sprinkle on the caster sugar and allow to macerate for 1 hour. If you are using frozen berries this should be long enough for them to defrost. Puree the fruit in a liquidiser or blender. Pass the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Gently fold in the whipped cream. If you wish to create a “swirly” effect, just be a little light handed with the folding in of the cream. The fool is now ready to be served or can be chilled for serving later. Serve with shortbread biscuits.
Note: This recipe was originally in imperial measurements, to get best results, weigh in oz.
Makes 12 approx.
3oz (75g) white flour or spelt flour
2oz (50g) butter
1oz (25g) caster sugar
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 1cm (1/2 inch) thick. Cut into rounds with a 6cm (2 1/2 inch) cutter or into heart shapes. Bake in a moderate oven 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 to pale brown, 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack. Sprinkle with caster or icing sugar.
Delicious biscuits to nibble but we also serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice-creams.
Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.
However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy. Cool on a wire rack.