Love is in the air and there are a few things more alluring than the smell of something delicious cooking in the oven. Doesnâ€™t matter how sexy you are, they soon get fed up with burnt burgers and greasy chips.
So why not ask your cute friend round for lunch or dinner. Doesnâ€™t have to be fancy â€“ just comforting and gorgeous. Think about the menu carefully, listen out for clues in the conversation, would a chicken casserole hit the spot or will a tagine of lamb be more appealing? Both could be made ahead and served with ease and aplomb. The latter just needs some couscous, the former some fluffy mash or just a baked potato.
A bowl of delicious soup might be the perfect starter on these wintery days with some freshly made bread. Nothing brings on thoughts of romantic proposals faster that the smell of crusty bread â€“ organise it so the bread is just coming out of the oven as they arrive. Suddenly they can see their whole life stretching out ahead of them â€“ coming home every evening to the smell of something delicious bubbling on the stove â€“ you may laugh â€“ but try it and let me know how you get on.
If a delicious soup seems a little dreary or pedestrian why not try a twice baked soufflÃ©, it sounds posh, but it can made ahead and just popped into the oven to reheat a few minutes before the meal. Alternatively a little goat cheese salad with crispy chorizo or pomegranate seeds is another easy option with a little twist.
For pudding thereâ€™s a vast choice, you might want to check out whether your friend does in fact have a sweet tooth, otherwise a delicious piece of Irish farmhouse cheese and some homemade crackers could round off the meal.
However most people are tempted by a bit of pudding. Is it to be an irresistible bread and butter pudding, a silky chocolate mousse with a few boudoir biscuits to dunk or a juicy apple tart even better mammy used to make. Here at the cookery school Rachel Allen and Rory Oâ€™Connell will be teaching a one day course â€˜How to be a Culinary Cupid â€“ the Art of Cooking for your Valentineâ€™ on Saturday 6th February â€“ youâ€™ll have lots of fun and learn two or three menus and a myriad of tasty tips to tantalise your sweetheartâ€™s taste buds. If you are going to Galway
donâ€™t miss the terrific food at Sheridanâ€™s on the Docks restaurant and pub. Sheridanâ€™s Cheese Shop is also a must â€“ itâ€™s got the best selection of cheese in the West and lots of other goodies as well 091 5649905 email@example.com
Chicken and Streaky Bacon Casserole
The casserole can be an entire meal in a pot by covering the top with whole peeled potatoes just before it goes into the oven. Use a really good chicken (see Hot Tips for sources)
1 x 3 1/2 lbs (1.57kg) chicken (free range if possible) or six chicken thighs
a little butter or oil for sautÃ©ing
12 ozs (340g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty) look out for Gubeen or Woodside Farm bacon at Mahon Point or Midleton Farmers Markets.
12 ozs (340g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced (if the carrots are small, leave whole, if large cut in chunks)
1 lb (450g) onions, (baby onions are nicest)
sprig of thyme
homemade chicken stock â€“ 1 1/4 pints (750ml) approx.
roux – optional â€“ just melt Â½ oz butter and stir 1oz white flour, cook on a gentle heat for 2 â€“ 3 minutes.
mushroom a la crÃ©me (see recipe)
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
Preheat oven to 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/regulo 4
Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1 inch (2 cm) cubes, (blanch if salty). Dry in kitchen paper. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp, remove and transfer to the casserole. Add chicken pieces a few at a time to the pan and sautÃ© until golden, add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sautÃ© the chicken. If it is too cool, the chicken pieces will stew rather than sautÃ© and as a result the meat may be tough. Then toss the onion and carrot in the pan adding a little butter if necessary, add to the casserole. Degrease the pan and deglaze with stock, bring to the boil and pour over the chicken etc. Season well, add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, then put into the oven for 30-45 minutes, 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/regulo 4.
Cooking time depends on how long the chicken pieces were sautÃ©ed for.
When the chicken is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease, return the degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary (see below). Add the meat, carrots and onions back into the casserole and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning. The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some mushroom a la crÃ¨me is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and bubbling hot.
Mushroom a la CrÃ¨me
1/2-1 oz (15-25g butter
3 ozs (75g) onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced
4fl ozs (100ml) cream
freshly chopped parsley
1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used.
Mushroom a la CrÃ¨me keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.
Tagine of Lamb with Raisins and Honey
The great thing about this recipe is that you have all the ingredients in one pot and can prepare this ahead and the flavour improves with time.
1.35kg (3 lbs) boned shoulder of lamb
1/2 tablespoon) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch saffron
50g (2ozs) unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
175g (6ozs) raisins, soaked in water and drained
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 tablespoon oil
50g (2ozs) flaked almonds
fresh coriander leaves
Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes. Mix cinnamon, ginger, pepper and saffron with 4 tablespoons water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.
Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the drained raisins, honey and half the coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.
While the tagine is cooking, scoop out the flesh out of a preserved lemon, chop up the peel. Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown. Then add the diced lemon and toss 2 or 3 times. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle preserved lemon, almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving. Natural yoghurt makes a delicious accompaniment. Serve with couscous.
Salad of Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Rocket Leaves, Pomegranate Seeds and Local Honey
Pomegranates are the symbol of fertility and also cut cholesterol brilliantly.
2 handfuls rocket leaves
soft Ardsallagh Goatâ€™s cheese
1 tablespoon best quality local honey
Maldon sea salt
coarsely ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Divide the rocket leaves between 4 large plates or 1 large flat serving plate. Slice or dice the goatâ€™s cheese and sprinkle on rocket leaves. Remove the pomegranate seeds from the skin, sprinkle over the rocket leaves. With a teaspoon, drizzle the honey over the salad in a grid pattern then drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Homemade Cheese Crackers
â€˜Wow you make your own crackersâ€™ is bound to be the response to these delicious little biscuits. They keep for several weeks in an air tight tin and also freeze well.
Makes 25-30 biscuits
110g (4 oz) brown wholemeal flour
110g (4 oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
25g (1 oz) butter
1 tablespoon cream
water as needed, 5 tablespoons approx.
Mix the brown and white flour together and add the salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter and moisten with cream and enough water to make a firm dough.
Roll out very thinly to one-sixteenth inch thick approx. Prick with a fork. Cut with 6.5-7.5cm (2 1/2-3 inches) round cutter. Bake at 150Â°C/300Â°F/gas mark 2 for 45 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Chocolate Mousse with Boudoir Biscuits
110g (4ozs) good quality dark chocolate
110ml (4fl ozs) cream
1-2 tablespoons rum, brandy, or Grand Marnier,
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (optional)
2 eggs, separated
Chop the chocolate finely. Bring the cream up to the boil, turn off the heat, add the chocolate to the cream and stir it around until the chocolate melts in the cream. Add in the alcohol, if using, and whisk in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until just stiff, then stir in a quarter of the egg white, fold in the rest, gently, being careful not to knock all the air out. Pour the mousse into a glass or cup and pop into the fridge for an hour or two to set. Serve with Boudoir biscuits for romantic dunking.
Bread and Butter Pudding
Donâ€™t change anything in this recipe. I know its rich but it tastes divine and will definitely do the trick.
12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted
1â„2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice
200g (7oz) sultanas
450ml (16fl oz) cream
225ml (8fl oz) milk
4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
175g (6oz) sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
pinch of salt
1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) 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 spice and half the sultanas, and then arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and sultanas on top. Cover the sultanas with the remaining bread, again, buttered side down.
In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4.
Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream.
Irresistible Apple Pie
The pastry is a gem, it is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter. Rhubarb, plums, apricot, gooseberries in season all work brilliantly.
8 ozs (225g) butter
2 ozs (50g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (300g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 1/2 lbs (675g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
5 ozs (150g) sugar
egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
castor sugar for sprinkling
softly whipped cream
tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/regulo 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Peel, quarter and dice the apples into the tart, sprinkle with sugar and add the cloves. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.
Fool Proof Food and Thrifty Tip
Doune McKenzie’s Cheese Biscuits
A brilliant recipe for using up left over bits of cheese, add a little blue cheese if available.
Any bits of left over cheese eg. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyere, Coolea, Cashel Blue â€¦ a little soft cheese may also be added but you will need some hard cheese to balance the flavour.
Weigh cheese then use equal amounts of butter and plain white flour.
Grate the cheese – rinds and all. Dice the butter. Cream the butter and stir in the flour and grated cheese, form into a roll like a long sausage, about 4cm (1 1/2 inches) thick. Alternatively whizz in a food processor until it forms a dough, shape using a little flour if necessary. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 -2 hours until solid.
Slice into rounds – about 7mm (1/3 inch) thick. Arrange on a baking tray, cook in a preheated oven 250ÂºC/475ÂºF/regulo 9 for approximately 5 minutes until golden brown.
Leave to cool for a couple of seconds then transfer to a wire rack. Best eaten on the day they are made as they soften quite quickly.
All over the country people
are beginning to rear good chicken in a traditional way once again. They take much longer to mature so cost considerably more that the intensively produced birds â€“ however the meat is like a forgotten flavour and the carcass makes a terrific pot of broth.
Dan Ahern, Dungourney Co Cork 021 4631058.
Nora Aherne: Elfordstown, Midleton, Co Cork 021 4632354
Tom Clancy: Ballycotton, 086 3089431
East Ferry Poultry: 021 4651916