16:50 19 January 2012
Roses are red, violets are blue You love your tummy and I do too.
Of all the months in the year, February struggles to offer much more than depressing bank statements and dreary weather. No wonder they made it as short as possible.
So we should be thankful to St Valentine for giving us an excuse to indulge each other a little.The original eponymous Christian may have martyred himself back there on the 14th of February, but Im sure we are all agreed its not the martyring bit we want to celebrate its the romantic gesture.
My other half has long given up buying me flowers, as I prefer to nurture my own (same applies to quality verse, as you have already seen) and chocolates arent my thing. However, on a cold evening in mid-February, delicious food carefully prepared certainly hits the spot.
Valentine dinners out are, in my opinion, asking for trouble. The pressure builds on all concerned to have the perfect meal, relationship and conversation (please lets not talk about children/exams/money/university fees/Europe). Glance around the restaurant and therell always be someone with a glazed expression really wishing they were at home watching i-player and eating pizza. And thats just the women.
Why not stay in and cook something you both want to eat? Ideally both of you could get involved with the cooking. But whoever it falls to, please dont slave over complicated dishes that are wasted...youll hate yourself and your partner for it.
Many years ago, when young and inexperienced, I had a boyfriend whom I thought was passionately in love with me. All the signs were there; the dreamy looks, the desperation, the willingness to go along with whatever I suggested. But it turned out it wasnt me he loved.I spent a very long time that Valentines night cooking roast duck followed by creme brulee.
My parents were safely out of the kitchen for the evening. The boyfriend turned up late, too fidgety to eat. His little face only lit up when his mate arrived on a bicycle, with a packet of homegrown marijuana, which they then sat and smoked; confirming what others had tried to warn me. Put it this way, he and his delivery boy had a great evening. They ate the duck by ripping it apart with their fingers (which incidentally I rather applaud) and the brulee barely touched the sides.I was left to open the windows and wash up. Ho hum.That aside, I still think duck is a pretty good Valentines supper choice.However, roasting whole ducks can fill a kitchen with a smoky fug, so maybe for this Valentines supper try making it into a starter by roasting a couple of duck legs under foil with a little soy, red wine and ginger till the flesh is falling off the bone and serve it with a little crunchy salad. I urge you to slice up some fennel very finely and dress it with a little hazelnut oil, whole roast hazelnuts and lime. Some pickled pear slices or slices of apple fried in a little butter would be delicious - and a little bowl of chilli sauce is my nod to Chinese New year.For a main course, you need a dish that can wait politely without getting in the way or needing your attention. Pork doesnt seem quite the thing and beef fillet likes a careful eye on the clock, so how about venison? Its rich without being indigestible, its locally available, free range and conjures up romantic images of wild walks.
I like to get a bit fruity and throw in some sour cherries or grapes. There is a chance you still have some port or sloe gin hanging about after Christmas, so this seems like a good opportunity to use it. You might even stretch to baking puff pastry love hearts!
For pudding I think I would be unable to resist the temptation to camp it up with cupid on my side. Rather than risk any creation that involves timers and leaping up from the table this rules out souffls and chocolate fondants - I would go for jelly and white chocolate panna cotta, in a heart shape of course. Forced rhubarb will have just hit the shops and the pink of it makes a beautiful jelly, but if you cant find it, just use a juice of your choice like guava or lychee or strawberry even. Just so long as its a good strong taste.
I wanted to bring flowers as well as hearts into my Valentine dinner and I am always pleased to let that fellow love poet Shakespeare in on the act. His poor old lovesick Ophelia was prompted to say that rosemary is for remembrance which, as I remember this quote and little else from my studies of Hamlet, is clearly true.
Happily I also remembered to bring my pot of rosemary into the porch this winter, adding pretty blue flowers to the plate and giving the opportunity to flavour the panna cotta with its leaves.If your problem is not deciding what to eat but finding someone to eat it with, never mind. Just call a friend.
Valentine venison (with sour grapes!)
This recipe makes enough to serve 6
â— 1kg venison cut into large chunks
â— Dripping or oil for frying
â— 250ml stock
â— 2 tblsp balsamic or sherry vinegar
â— 100g sour cherries, cranberries or red grapes cut in halves
â— A dash of sloe gin or port
â— Salt and pepper
â— 500ml orange juice
â— A strip of orange peel
â— 250ml red wine
â— 2 onions, sliced
â— A few juniper and allspice berries, crushed
â— 2 bay leaves
â— 3 cloves garlic, sliced
â— 3 tbsp olive oil
Mix together the marinade and combine with the meat. Cover and leave for at least half a day, preferably 2 days in the fridge.
Lift out the venison pieces and roll around on some kitchen paper. Strain the marinade and reserve it for later.
Brown the venison in batches and then gently fry the onions. Swirl the marinade round the pan together with the vinegar and either simmer very gently on the hob or put the whole lot in a moderate oven. I like to drag out my slow cooker for this.
Leave the fruit to soak.
Test the casserole after a couple of hours. The meat should be very tender. Strain off the liquid, add the fruit and alcohol and simmer for a few minutes to reduce it and mix with the venison again.
Taste it and season well. You might remove the bay leaves and the peel.
If you want to add a pastry heart just roll out a little puff pastry and cut the shape before brushing with a little egg. Place spaced apart on a tray lined with baking parchment and leave to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking. Bake for about 12 15 minutes at 180degrees until puffed and golden and plonk on the top when you serve.
Rosemary panna cotta with fruit jelly
Makes 6 small hearts or, for another time, you could pour into a loaf tin and serve in slices. I would allow 24 hours to fully set, whatever mould you choose.
â— 400ml double cream
â— 200ml full fat milk
â— 150g white chocolate, broken into pieces
â— 50g caster sugar
â— A few sprigs of rosemary
â— 4 gelatine leaves, soaked for five minutes in cold water
â— Heart moulds or other moulds of your choice!
Put the cream, milk and rosemary sprigs into a pan and slowly heat to simmering. Leave to infuse for half an hour. Remove the rosemary.
Put back on the heat until just about to simmer, take off the heat and add the chocolate and sugar.
Stir until melted and well combined.
Add the wilted gelatine leaves and stir until melted.
Leave until cool then stir again. Pour into your moulds up to half way and leave in the fridge to set.
To make the fruit jelly, simply heat 600ml of fruit juice with a little sugar and add 5 sheets of gelatine, as described above. You could mix in a quarter share of sparkling rose or other suitable alcohol to give it a kick.
You can use bought strawberry or raspberry jelly as a base but do feel you can add some cordial or redcurrant jelly to ensure it is nice and strong rather than bland and potentially rubbery, as most bought jellies are. Let it cool and, when you are happy the panna cotta has formed a bit of a skin, pour slowly on the top. Once the whole lot has set, dunk in a bowl of very hot water and turn out on to a plate. Its up to you which way up it goes.