My Valentine


Valentine’s Day is coming up so if you haven’t popped a card into the post get onto it right away, all the youngsters are agog with excitement and don’t we all love a little romance in our lives.

Many restaurants are already booked out of ‘tables for two’ on the 14th  February but there is always the 13th and the 15th or you could cook a sizzling supper at home on St Valentine’s Day and really clock up brownie points. Try to ‘suss out’ favourite dishes ahead of time it’ll probably be comfort food maybe even the rice pudding Mummy used to make. Well if it is, so be it. The golden skin, an irresistible blob of softly whipped cream and some soft Barbados sugar on top transforms this simple pud into a feast. However if you wanted to make it more edgy, how about scattering a few pomegranate seeds and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts on top – or maybe add a few cardamom pods to the milk while cooking.

Blood oranges are in season just now, this little salad is fresh tasting and will flit across the lips and wake up the palette. I also love dips; they’re good for sharing and can be made well ahead. We love this new puréed beetroot and yoghurt with za’atar from Ottolenghi’ s last book Jerusalem. Serve it with some flat bread or toast.

A warm and comforting soup can also do the trick, we have tons of kale in the garden at present so we’ve been eating it in every possible way, this kale soup got an enthusiastic response recently but if you don’t love the sound of that substitute watercress or cabbage for the kale – still great but Curly Kale Soup really hits the spot.

I chose a tagine for main course, a Moroccan stew so easy to serve with couscous and a dollop of yogurt.

Follow it with a salad of winter leaves and whatever pud you fancy – it’s hard to beat a little choccie mousse and you could always put it in a heart shape dish – absolutely always a hit! And it might just bring on a proposal!

Curly Kale Soup

If you have curly kale, you usually have lots of it. One way to use it up is in this delicious soup. When I eat this, I feel like every mouthful is doing me good. Note that if this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.

Serves 6 

50g (2oz) butter

140g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

110g (4oz) onions, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken stock or vegetable stock

250g (9oz) curly kale leaves, stalks removed and chopped

50–125ml (2 – 4fl oz) cream or full-cream milk


Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and

onions and turn them in the butter until well-coated. Sprinkle with salt and grind on some fresh black pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil gently, covered, until the potatoes are soft. Add the chopped kale and cook with the lid off, until the kale is cooked, about 5 minutes. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk just before serving.


Ottolenghi’s Beetroot with Yoghurt and Za’atar


Serves 6


900g (2lb) medium beetroots – (500g (18oz) after cooking and peeling)

2 garlic cloves – crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

250g (9oz) Greek yoghurt

1 ½ tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish

1 tablespoon za’atar



To Garnish


2 spring onions, thinly sliced

15g (3 /4 oz) toasted hazelnuts, roughly crushed

60g (2 ½ oz) soft goats cheese, crumbled


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Mark 6. Wash the beetroot and place in a roasting tin. Put them in the oven and cook, uncovered, until a knife slices easily into the centre, approximately 1 hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut each into about 6 pieces. Allow to cool down.

Place the beetroot, garlic, chilli and yoghurt in a food processor bowl and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the date syrup, olive oil, za’atar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Taste and add more salt if you like.

Transfer the mash onto a flat serving plate and use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture around the plate. Scatter the spring onion, hazelnut and cheese on top and finally drizzle with a bit of oil Serve at room temperature.


If the beetroot is watery and the dip ends up runny and doesn’t hold its shape, consider adding a little mashed potato to help thicken it.


Lamb Tagine with Jewelled Couscous with Pomegranates and Pistachio Nuts


Serves 4


1 kg lamb shoulder diced

2 tablespoons oil

30g (1 1/4 oz) butter

4 onions, chopped

2 celery stalks, sliced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon chilli powder

2 bay leaves

350g (12oz) stoned prunes, soaked in lots of water for at least an hour or overnight

175g (6oz) dried apricots

hot stock or water

chopped fresh coriander to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat, brown the lamb on all sides in batches.

Heat another few tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, add the onions and celery and stir and cook on a medium heat until soft and lightly coloured, about 8 -10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the spices begin to stir for 2 – 3 minutes until they release their aromas.

Add the bay leaves and dried fruit and pour over enough hot liquid to just cover.  Bring to the boil, then simmer very gently over a low heat until very tender – 1 ½ hours. Sprinkle with plenty of chopped coriander and serve with couscous.


Jewelled Couscous


Serves 8


350g (12oz) couscous, precooked

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

50g (2ozs) dried apricots, soaked in cold water

50g (2ozs) raisins

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

pomegranate seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

50g (2oz) pistachio nuts (or toasted almonds) halved

2 tablespoons flat parsley leaves

2 tablespoons coriander leaves


Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if necessary


Put the couscous into a Pyrex bowl.  Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous and rub with your hands.  Drain and chop the apricots and add with the raisins to the couscous.  Bring the stock to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, pour over the couscous and dried fruit.  Allow to soak for 15 minutes, stir every now and then.  Cover the bowl, heat through in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for about 10 minutes.   We usually put the bowl into a Bain-Marie.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Add the pomegranate seeds, pistachio nuts and fresh herbs just before serving, taste and add a little freshly squeezed lemon juice if necessary.



Valentine’s Day Rice Pudding


A creamy rice pudding is one of the most nostalgic comfort foods. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it gets an unbelievable reaction every time!


Serves 6–8


100g (31⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk


1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.


Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1–1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden; the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.


Three good things to serve with rice pudding:

•           Softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar (make a heart stencil to sprinkle the sugar over)

•           Compote of apricots and cardamom

•           Compote of sweet apples and rose geranium



Seems like it’s all happening in Ringsend and Stoneybatter – the Shoreditch and Hackney of Dublin. Recently I popped into Food Game on Lotts Road near the Aviva Stadium, a tiny, cute little café and foodstore with a signal red awning and a couple of tables on the pavement. The interior is hip and cool, the menu is short, simple and well-chosen and the home baking pretty damn delicious, try their choccie dipped oatcakes or bacon and egg pies. Bring along your special pet.

Winter Suppers – Michelle Darmody’s Cake Café in Dublin is offering another treat this year – Giles Clark whose impressive CV includes stints at Noma in Copenhagen, Alinea in Chicago and St Johns Bread and Wine in London – will cook a series of Winter Suppers on 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th February. Tickets cost €35.00 which includes a four course meal – you’ll need to book fast – 01- 4789394.

The buffaloes at Toonsbridge Dairy near Macroom, West Cork are milking again so we can look forward to Irish Mozzarella within the next few weeks. I recently picked up some plump Turkish figs and unsulphured apricots as well as olives from the Olive Stall close to the Midleton Farmers Market – 026 41471.

Come and make some noise at Ballymaloe Cookery School! East Cork Slow Food are having a Wassailing ceremony of eating, drinking and singing to scare away evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest of apples in the Autumn – today at 5.30pm in the orchard near the Shell House. Delicious free range pig on a spit and mulled apple juice with lots of dancing and singing around the bonfire, bring something to make music and noise and wear your wellies! Slow Food Members – €4.00 – Non Slow Food Members – €5.00. Pulled free range pork sandwich €10.000. Proceeds to the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. Enquiries 085-2295237.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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