Darina Allen cooks up some romantic Valentine's Day treats

V-Day is just around the corner once again. Shops are stocking up with cheesy cards, heart shaped everything and anything — from brooches and cushions to balloons and saucy underwear.

Chocolatiers are working flat out to stockpile sweet treats for the Valentine’s Day stampede and horticulturalists are coaxing their blooms to a state of perfection so there will be zillions of red roses to satisfy the love-lorn Valentines.

Everyone is in on the excitement, several bakers I know are making heart shaped loaves, “Tear and Share” ones are particular easy and fun to make at home.

Pizzaiolo’s like Philip at Saturday Pizzas at Ballymaloe Cookery School are having fun with heart-shaped pizzas…Where will it all end?

But instead of whinging, let’s all enter into the Valentine’s Day spirit.

Valentine’s Day was super charged when I was a teenager in an all-girl boarding school.

This was a unique opportunity to impress your friends, so much depended on getting at least one Valentine card in the post.

Several cards meant your status and popularity sky rocketed with your fellow classmates, I wonder if it still the same…

If you haven’t booked a table for two at your favourite restaurant or one that you have been lusting after for ages it’s probably too late by now.<

Nonetheless there couldn’t be a better time than St Valentine’s day to remind oneself, that a sure fire way to everyone’s heart is the same way as it always was and always will be, through our tummies.

It could be a few luscious cup-cakes, a heart shaped pavlova, a Valentine’s Day chocolate cake or a romantic dinner for two in your place, a sure fire way to bring on a proposal, but consider the menu carefully, nothing too terribly extravagant or it may appear that you’ll be too expensive to keep.

Here are a few suggestions: A comforting soup and a crusty loaf of freshly baked bread could do the trick, but oysters have always been considered to be an aphrodisiac, all that zinc does the trick…

I love them au nature but if you’d prefer them warm try this version with a little horseradish cream, inspired by a dish I enjoyed at a restaurant called Fleet in Brunswick Heads near Byron Bay, Australia.

The choice of main will depend on whether your intended loves a hunk of meat or is a veggie or vegan. Choose carefully.

Perhaps a little heart shaped goats cheese, with a green salad, Coeur De Neufchâtel, from The Pigs Back in the English Market, would be delicious.

We’ve got lots of cute little heart shaped desserts, we made these delectable little panna cottas in coeur a la crème moulds.

Decorated with rose water cream, rose petals and pistachio nuts – they are both adorable and delicious.

A homemade soda or cordial is also stylish, with a few home-made crackers to accompany the cheese. They are easy to make and are mightily impressive; just serve them nonchalantly with the cheese.

Panna Cotta with Rose Water Cream, Rose Petals and Pistachio Nuts

Serves 8

Panna cotta

600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream

50g (2oz) castor sugar

1-2 vanilla pods, split lengthways

2 teaspoons gelatine

3 tablespoons water

Rose Water Cream

chilled whipped cream

rose blossom water (be careful as some brands are very intense)

organic rose petals

pistachio nuts

8 heart shaped (75-110ml (3-4fl oz), Coeur a la crème moulds, lined with cling film and brushed with non-scented sunflower oil lightly

Panna cotta

Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pods and castor sugar. Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage.

Meanwhile, sponge the gelatine in the water.

Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved. Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together.

Remove the vanilla pods, then pour into the moulds. When cold cover and refrigerate (preferably overnight) until set.

To serve: Add the rose blossom water to taste to the cream. Sprinkle generously chopped pistachio nuts. Decorate with rose petals.

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Oyyyy boyyy😍 #oysters

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Warm Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Chervil

Serves 6-8

24 Gigas oysters

Horseradish Cream (see recipe)

Springs of chervil (to garnish)

First make the horseradish cream (see recipe), cover and chill. Preheat the oven to 250C/500F/Gas Mark 10.

Put oysters into a baking tray on a bed of coarse salt. Pop into the oven and cook until the shells just pop open. Lift off the top shell.

Spoon a dessertspoon of horseradish cream over the oyster. Top with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.

The oyster should be hot and the horseradish cream cold. Serve on a bed of seaweed or coarse salt.

Horseradish cream

Serves 8 - 10

3 - 6 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

225ml (8fl oz)

softly whipped cream

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.

The sauce keeps in the fridge for two to three days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours.

Tear and Share Heart Bread

We use Dove’s organic white bread flour, the water quantity may vary for other brands. This bread can be baked in loaf tins or made into plaits or rolls. Makes 1 “Tear and Share” heart

20g yeast

20g organic sugar

390g warm water

700g strong organic flour

25g butter

16g pure dairy salt

2 x loaf tins 12.5cm (5 inch) x 20cm (8 inch)

Crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and 390g of warm water (anything above 45C will kill yeast). Mix and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, put the flour into a wide mixing bowl, add the salt, mix then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add all the liquid ingredients to the flour and mix to a dough with your hand. Turn out onto a clean work surface (no flour). Cover with the upturned bowl and allow to rest for 15-30 minutes.

Uncover, if it feels a little dry and tough, wet your hand, rub over the dough and knead by hand until silky and smooth — 10 minutes approximately.

Return to the bowl and cover with a damp tea-towel. Allow to rise until double in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

Turn out onto the work surface, knead for a minute or two and shape as desired.

Divide the dough into 4, shape 6 rolls from each piece. Shape into 32 small rolls less than 15g (1/2oz) each in weight and build into a heart shape on a baking tray.

Leave a little space between each one to allow room for rising. Cover and allow to double in size.

Egg wash and bake in the preheated oven 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 10 minutes then reduce to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further 20-25 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Valentine’s Chocolate Almond Cake

Bake in a heart-shaped tin for extra romance.

4oz (110g) best quality dark chocolate (we use Lesmé or Val Rhona chocolate)

2 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum

4oz (110g) butter, preferably unsalted

3 1/2oz (100g) castor sugar

3 free-range eggs

1 tablespoon castor sugar

2oz (50g) plain white flour

2oz (50g) whole almonds

Rich Chocolate Icing

6oz (175g) best quality dark chocolate

3 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum

6oz (175g) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Grease two x 7 inch (18 cm) heart shaped or sandwich tins and line the base of each with greaseproof paper.

Melt the chocolate with the rum on a very gentle heat, peel the almonds and grind in a liquidizer or food processor, they should still be slightly gritty.

Cream the butter, and then add the castor sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.

Add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of castor sugar and continue to whisk until they reach the stiff peak stage.

Add the melted chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture and then add the almonds. Stir in 1/4 of the egg white mixture followed by 1/4 of the sieved flour.

Fold in the remaining eggs and flour alternatively until they have all been added.

Divide between the two prepared heart shaped tins and make a hollow in the centre of each cake.

IMPORTANT: Cake should be slightly underdone in the centre. The sides should be cooked but the centre a little unset.

Depending on oven it can take between 19 and 25 minutes.

Chocolate Icing

Melt best quality chocolate with rum. Whisk in unsalted butter by the tablespoon. Beat occasionally until cool.

When the cake is completely cold, fill and ice with the mixture. Pipe the remaining icing around the top and decorate with rose petals.

Puy Lentils, Spring Onion, Avocado, Chicory, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad

Serves 6-8

350g (12oz) puy lentils

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 chilli, finely chopped

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 head of chicory, thinly sliced

1 pomegranate

4 spring onions or scallions, sliced on the diagonal

2 ripe Hass avocados

12 walnuts, shelled

lots of flat parsley or wild rocket leaves

Cook the lentils in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or until just tender, drain, toss in extra virgin olive oil, chopped chilli and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Leave to cool.

Slice the chicory thinly across the grain. Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the seeds. C

hop the spring onions on the diagonal. Peel, stone and dice the avocado.

Add all four to the cold lentils, toss, taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with the shelled walnuts and lots of parsley or wild rocket leaves.

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