Valentine’s Day


Are we all ‘loved up’ and ready to celebrate? Here it comes again, can’t have escaped your notice that St Valentine’s Day is right around the corner – every year the excitement ratchets up another notch, creative marketing teams have been brain storming for quick cool ways to engage a public who are increasingly tiring of overt consumerism.

If you are short of ideas beyond a bunch of red roses and a glass of fizz, take to the internet to be inspired and amused. You can’t imagine how many creative suggestions you’ll find for ways to enthusiastically celebrate Valentine’s Day.
How about an early morning visit to Dublin Zoo, collect a romantic breakfast picnic, wander around and enjoy a talk on the courtship and romantic rituals of some of the animals. A romantic hike up Croagh Patrick or the Knockmealdown mountains…..

You could rent a bicycle made for two for a romantic cycle and a giggle. Go along to a comedy show together and nibble some popcorn. If none of these ideas appeal how about whale or dolphin watching or ice skating followed by cocktails and a romantic dinner for two.

But if the whole palaver of Valentine’s Day sends shivers down your spine and if you are a singleton or haven’t been planning to spend the day canoodling with a loved one you could check out the growing Valentine’s day back-lash. There’s a myriad of exciting anti Valentine shindigs planned. Lots of parties and events to chase away the singleton blues.

One way or other have fun. If you’re not ‘coupled up’ how about making Valentine’s Day your own – send a family member some flowers, send a Valentine’s day card or leave a little pressie for that little old lady or man with the dog who live close by or create a celebration by cooking a wonderful meal for your friends – the very best way to warm the hearts and tummies of your ‘besties’ including your very special loved one. Of course a romantic dinner in a gorgeous restaurant is a wonderful way to spend the evening if you haven’t booked by now you may well be too late to secure a table but believe me rustling up a delicious cosy brunch, lunch or dinner could well be the best way to bring on a proposal if you’ve been waiting on that magic question or keep the home fires burning. Happy Valentines’ Day

Here are a few suggestions

Hot Tips
Smoked Chilli Flakes
I’m super excited by some smoked chilli flakes that I found on Frank Hederman’s, Belvelly Smokehouse stall at the Midleton Farmers Market on Saturday last. Sprinkle some over grilled chicken breast. Add a pinch to a tomato fondue, a stew, tagine or chowder to introduce a perky smoky flavour.

Ballymaloe House
Now reopened following winter renovations. Check out their special breakaways – Valentine’s Getaway, Hello Spring, Ballymaloe Spring Breather… Tel: 021 4652 531

Avocado Toasts with Lime and Coriander

Enjoy a romantic brunch, avocado toasts are everyone’s favourites, there are so many variations on the theme – combine with scrambled egg for a more substantial brunch.

Much more than the sum of its parts!

Serves 2

1 ripe Hass avocados

1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 slices of sourdough, toasted or pan-grilled

Maldon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh coriander

Whisk the lime juice and extra virgin olive oil together.

Just before serving.
Toast or grill the bread.

Stone and peel the avocado and slice into chunky segments. Place the avocado on top of the toast – allow 1/2 per person. Drizzle with the dressing. Garnish with coriander and a few flakes of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Oyster Stew with Hot Buttered Toast

We’ve always been told that oysters are an aphrodisiac, I love them au natural and without question natural Irish oysters are the best in the world. However this oyster stew given to me by one of my favourite American cooks, the late Marion Cunningham, is super easy to make and delicious to share.

Serves 2
8 fl ozs (250ml) milk
8 fl ozs (250ml) cream
14 shelled oysters (7 ozs/200g approx. after shelling) with their liquor reserved
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 oz (15g) butter, optional
To serve
lots of hot buttered toast

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan, but don’t let it boil. Add the oysters and their strained liquor. Simmer just until the edges of the oysters curl a little. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the butter and serve very hot with lots of hot buttered toast.

Cod Chraymeh

We found this recipe in Observer Food Monthly by Tomer Amedi and loved it. I’ve adapted it ever so slightly and reduce the quantity to serve two for a delightful one pot wonder.

Serves 2

1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 red chilli, depending on hot you like it, sliced
1 red pepper, cored, deseeded and cut into 1½ cm fingers
1 yellow pepper, cored, deseeded and cut into 1½ cm fingers
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons hawaij spice mix (see recipe), optional
40 ml (1½ fl oz/2½ tablespoons) of Aniseed flavoured spirit, such as arak, pernod or ouzo, optional
75 ml (2½ fl oz) water
200 g tin good quality chopped tomatoes
A pinch of sugar
2 x 200 g (7 oz) cod fillets, skinned
Salt to taste
1 large bunch of coriander, chopped
Lemon juice, a squeeze

For the Hawaij Spice Mix
2 tablespoons black peppercorns or 1 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted or 1 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1tablespoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon cloves, 10 cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon dried coriander leaves

2 tablespoons Labne, to serve
Fresh coriander leaves

To make the hawaij spice mix, toast the seeds for 2-3 minutes in a dry pan over a medium heat, then grind all the ingredients in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar. This will keep in an airtight container for 1-2 months.

Heat a large saucepan or a wide shallow pan over a medium heat, add the oil, chillies and peppers and sauté for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the aniseed flavoured spirit, if using and crank up the heat to allow the alcohol to evaporate, then add the water and stir for a while.

Next add the tomatoes and sugar, then leave the stew to simmer for a further 10-15 minutes.

Season the cod fillets with salt, then gently slide them into the stew. Add half the coriander and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add the squeeze of lemon juice, give the stew a good shake and check for salt, then turn the heat off and leave it to rest for 5 minutes before you serve, topped with the rest of the coriander and add a blob of labne.

Risotto with Shrimps and Lemon Thyme

Few dishes are more comforting than risotto, here we add the lovely little shrimps from Ballycotton but of course you could add scallops or mussels if you prefer or enjoy a vegetarian version. Follow with a salad of organic leaves. There’s ample here for four helpings so save the remainder for a second meal or make arancini.

Serves 4

½ l-3/4 litre broth or homemade chicken stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
10 g butter
½ onion, finely chopped
200g Carnaroli or Arboria rice
10 g butter
11/2 teaspoons lemon thyme leaves
110 g cooked and peeled shrimps
25 g freshly grated Parmesan
Sea salt

First bring the broth or stock to the boil, turn down the heat and keep it simmering. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft but not coloured. Add the rice and stir until well coated (so far the technique is the same as for a pilaff and this is where people become confused). Cook for a minute or so and then add 150 ml of the simmering broth, stir continuously and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150 ml of broth. Continue to cook, stirring continuously. The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside. If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey. It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously. The risotto should take about 25-30 minutes to cook. Add the lemon thyme leaves.

When it is cooking for about 20 minutes, add the broth about 4 tablespoons at a time. Watch it very carefully from there on. The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly ‘al dente’. It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick. The moment you are happy with the texture, stir in the warmed shrimps and the remaining butter and Parmesan. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve immediately. Risotto does not benefit from hanging around.

Taste, carefully – you may not need all the cheese. Follow with a salad of organic leaves.

Arancini are crispy rice balls usually made from left over risotto (spread the risotto onto a baking tray to cool), coated in bread crumbs and then deep fried. The name literally translated means ‘little orange’. There are regional variations in shape, the Sicilian version tends to be more conical rather than round. Flavour the risotto as desired – they can be plain or flavoured with a myriad of tasty additions – ragu, wild mushrooms, mozzarella, aubergines, wild fennel, shellfish, pistachio…..they sometimes have a little surprise filing in the centre though not always. Scoop up a fist full of cold mixture, shape into a round slightly oval or conical shape. Dip in breadcrumbs and deep-fry in hot oil until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

White Chocolate Mendiants with Dried Cherries and Pistachios

A fresh cherry with stalk attached is also pretty good.

Makes 28

110g white chocolate (we use Valrhona)
12g dried cherries
12g shelled pistachios
50g dark chocolate

parchment paper

Put the white chocolate into a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Just as soon as the water comes to the boil, turn off the heat and allow the bowl to sit until the chocolate has melted.

Put teaspoons of the melted white chocolate a little apart onto the parchment paper. Shake gently to level, then shape in heart shapes, quickly dot a few dried cherries and coarsely chopped pistachios on top. Allow to set.

Meanwhile, melt and cool the dark chocolate. Peel the medallions of white chocolate off the paper and brush the bases with dark chocolate. Allow to set and cool on the parchment paper. They look wonderfully festive served on a gold doyley on a chilled plate.

Coeur a la Crème with Summer or Autumn Fruits

Serves 4

A most exquisite summer pudding. You may use one large mould or individual moulds. In France they are traditionally heart-shaped. The moulds must be well perforated to allow the cheese to drain. Also delicious with a compote of blackcurrants, Kumquat compote, green gooseberry and elderflower compote. Save some for another meal. A heart shaped dessert that melts in the mouth.

225g (8oz) unsalted cream cheese or homemade cottage cheese
300ml (1/2 pint/1 1/4 cups) softly whipped thick double cream
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) castor sugar
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Berries, strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries……
300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) cream, softly whipped
castor sugar

mint leaves

Press the cheese through a fine meshed nylon sieve and blend it gently with the double cream. Stir in the sugar and lightly but thoroughly fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Turn the mixture into muslin lined heart shaped moulds. Stand them on a wide plate, cover with a large plastic bag and leave in the refrigerator overnight to drain.

Just before serving, turn the moulded cheese hearts out on to white plates. Scatter a selection of summer fruits around the cheese hearts.

Serve with a fresh strawberry coulis, raspberry coulis or blackcurrant coulis, softly whipped cream and castor sugar.

Note: If you have not got the traditional heart shaped moulds, one can make Coeur a la Crème in a muslin lined bread basket or even a sieve.

Strawberry Coulis

450g (16ozs) fresh strawberries
70g (2 1/2ozs/1/2 cup) icing sugar
lemon juice

Clean and hull the strawberries, add to the blender with sugar and blend. Strain through a nylon sieve. Taste and add lemon juice if necessary, it should taste deliciously bitter sweet. Store in a fridge.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (825 ml/3 1/2 cups)

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) sugar
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.

Valentine’s Chocolate and Almond Cake with Raspberries and Chocolate Curls

Serves 10
150g (dark bitter chocolate or baking chocolate such as the Menier Chocolat Patissier, broken into pieces
3 tablespoons water
150g (5oz/1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs, separated
100g (3 1/2oz/scant 1/2 cup) caster sugar
100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) rum

50g (2oz) dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) water
50g (2oz/1/4 cup) caster sugar
25g (1oz/1/4 stick) unsalted butter

Chocolate Curls, see below
1 lb (12 oz) fresh raspberries

9 inch tin, preferably heart shaped

butter, to grease the cake tin
flour, to dust the cake tin

Heat the chocolate with the water in a Pyrex bowl or small pan that is sitting on top of a pan containing water over a low heat so that the top pan or bowl does not touch the boiling water (this is a double boiler), until almost melted. Add the butter and let them both melt.

In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum very well. Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix vigorously. Beat the egg whites until stiff with an electric mixer and fold them into the mixture.

Grease a 23cm (9 inch) (in diameter (preferably non-stick) with butter and dust it with flour. Pour in the cake mixture and bake in an oven preheated to 160°C/310°F/Gas Mark 3 for about 35 minutes until firm. Turn out when it is cool.

For the optional topping, melt the chocolate with the water in the small bowl or pan over boiling water, as above. Add the sugar and the butter, let them melt and mix well. Spread over the cake. Top with fresh raspberries and chocolate curls. Sprinkle with a little icing sugar. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve with lots of softly whipped cream.

Chocolate Curls

Makes enough to cover 1 x 18cm (7 inch) cake

300g (11oz) dark, milk or white chocolate, in drops or chopped into pieces

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of water on a medium heat and bring to a rolling boil, then turn off the heat. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly, stirring occasionally.

Place a baking tray or roasting tin upside down on your work surface. Once the chocolate has completely melted, pour it over the upside-down try or tin and, using a palette knife, spread it out so that it’s 3-4mm (1/8 inch) thick and about the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

Place the chocolate somewhere cool (but not the fridge as this will be too cold – see tip below) and allow it to slowly set. The chocolate is set when it is no longer shiny – it should become matt in appearance.

Using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler or a cheese slier, run along the top of the chocolate and shave off curls. Either place the curls directly onto the cake or, if you’d like to make them ahead of time, transfer them onto a plate or into an airtight box and place somewhere cool (but not the fridge). Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for up to two weeks.

It’s important that the chocolate is completely set before using it, yet not too cold. If it’s too cold, it will not ‘curl’, but if it’s not sufficiently set the curls will collapse.

Gluten Free Recipe of the Week
Raspberry and Nut Brownies

For Valentine’s Day we stamped out two heart shapes from the tin, added a blob of softly whipped cream, piled some fresh raspberries on top and garnished it with a few fresh mint leaves. It looked adorable and tasted moist, rich and delicious. Can be an irresistible nibble or a gorgeous pud with a blob of crème fraiche.

Makes 24 medium or 18 large squares

175g (6 ozs) butter, cut into dice
150 g (5ozs) caster sugar
150 g (5 ozs) soft brown sugar
175g (6oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
100g (4oz) Doves gluten free self-raising flour
100g (4oz) hazelnuts chopped
3 organic eggs
110 g (4 ozs) raspberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4

20cm x 30cm (8 x 12 inch) swiss roll tin (deep tin)

Line the swiss roll tin with silicone paper.

Put the butter, sugar and chocolate in a saucepan on a gentle heat stirring until it’s smooth and melted. Remove the pan from the heat, cool a little.

Sieve the flour, add the chopped nuts. Beat the eggs and add to the chocolate. Next add the chocolate mixture into the flour, mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Scatter the raspberries over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until almost firm in the centre. Cool in the tin, then turn out and cut into heart shapes.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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