Not sure how many Valentine’s Day articles I’ve written but I’m an incurable romantic so here we go again.
While the teenagers and 20 somethings are all testosterone charged and a dither, each and everyone of us need to keep romance alive in our everyday lives and it’s so worth the little effort it takes.
It could be your last Rolo or some teenie treat that your dear one loves.
A little tiny unexpected surprise can make your heart skip because it’s meant to.
I don’t know any ‘lady’ of any age who isn’t charmed by a bunch of flowers or even a little cyclamen or polyanthus, particularly when it comes out of the blue.
Of course Valentine’s Day is associated with roses but how predictable is that and there are another 364 days in the year when you may well get an even more delighted reaction and set their heart a flutter.
Remember it doesn’t have to be a special occasion to come up with a little surprise which says “hey — thought you’d love them so I picked it up specially for you”.
If you are hell-bent on bringing on a proposal then you might want to take to the kitchen — the way to everyone’s heart and all that.
There’s nothing quite like gorgeous cooking smells for someone to visualise their life stretching out ahead of them and how enticing it would be come home to those aromas every evening!
Here are recipes for a few thoroughly unsubtle heart shaped creations.
Best Ever Valentine’s Day Apple Pie
Everyone’s favourite pudding — the pastry is made by the creaming method, so people who suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
225g (8oz) butter
55g (2oz) caster sugar
2 eggs, free-range if possible
340g (12oz) plain flour, preferably unbleached
675g (1½lb) Bramley seedling cooking apples
140g (5oz) sugar
caster sugar, for sprinkling
Softly whipped cream
30 x 18cm (12 x 7in) roasting tin
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer.
Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour.
This pastry needs to be chilled for at least one hour otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart, first roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8in) thick and use about two-thirds of it to line your tin.
Peel, quarter and slice the apples into the tart.
Sprinkle with sugar and add the cloves.
Cover with a lid of the remaining pastry, seal the edges and decorate with pastry leaves.
Brush with egg wash and bake in the oven until the apples are tender, about 45 minutes to one hour.
When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.
Traditional Roast Stuffed Organic Chicken with Fresh Herb Stuffing and Gravy
4½ - 5 lbs (1.5 - 2.3kg) free range chicken, preferably organic
Giblets (keep the liver for a chicken liver pate), and wish bone
1 thickly sliced carrot
1 thickly sliced onion
1 stick celery, sliced
A few parsley stalks and a sprig of thyme
1½oz (45g) butter
3oz (75g) chopped onion
3-3½oz (75-100g) soft white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives and annual marjoram
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A little soft butter
1 – 1 ½ pints (600-900ml) of stock from giblets or chicken stock
Sprigs of flat parsley
First remove the wish bone from the neck end of the chicken, this is easily done by lifting back the loose neck, skin and cutting around the wish bone with a small knife – tug to remove, this isn’t at all essential but it does make carving much easier later on.
Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken to make a neat shape.
Put the wish bone, giblets, carrot, onions, celery and herbs into a saucepan.
Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skin and simmer gently while the chicken is roasting. This is the basis of the gravy.
Next make the stuffing, sweat the onions gently in the butter in a covered saucepan until soft, 10 minutes approx, then stir in the white bread crumbs, the freshly chopped herbs, a little salt and pepper to taste.
Allow it to get quite cold unless you are going to cook the chicken immediately.
If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half fill with stuffing.
Season the breast and legs, smear with a little soft butter.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Weigh the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over — put on middle shelf in oven.
Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear.
To test prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh, hold a spoon underneath to collect the liquid, examine the juices — they should be clear.
Remove the chicken to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow to rest while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy, tilt the roasting tin to one corner and spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove.
De-glaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 1-1½ pints depending on the size of the chicken).
Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan.
Boil it up well, season, and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick).
Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.
If possible serve the chicken on a nice carving dish surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and some sprigs of flat parsley then arm yourself with a sharp knife and bring it to the table.
Carve as best you can and ignore rude remarks if you are still practicing but do try to organise it so that each person gets some brown and some white meat. Serve with gravy and bread sauce.
Use the cooked carcass for stock.
There are two kinds of roast potatoes — those cooked on their own and those cooked around the joint of meat.
The latter cook more slowly, don’t look quite so perfect but have a delicious soggy bottom rich with the flavour of the roast meat juices.
Old potatoes eg. Golden Wonder, Kerrs Pinks or Skerry Champions
Peel the potatoes, if they are enormous cut in half or quarters — don’t attempt to wash or worse still soak them in water or they will be wet and soapy when cooked.
If you must prepare them ahead then put them into a bowl lined with damp kitchen paper.
Cover the top with more wet paper and store in the fridge, they will keep perfectly well this way for several hours.
Dry well otherwise they will stick to the tin and you’ll loose the lovely crusty bit on the base.
Tuck the potatoes around the roast in the roasting tin, toss them in the rendered fat, sprinkle with salt, baste and turn occasionally as they cook — they will take about an hour depending on the size.
Cook lots and serve very hot.
Chocolate Fudge Pudding
Chocolate puddings run neck and neck with apple tarts as people’s favourite dessert.
This one is wickedly rich with a melting texture.
It should be moist in the centre, so don’t overcook or it or it will be dull.
It is also good cold.
5oz (150g) best quality chocolate (we use 52% cocoa)
5oz (150g) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5fl oz (150ml) warm water
3½ozs (100g) castor sugar
4 eggs, preferably free range
1oz (25g) self-raising flour
pinch of cream of tartar – Bextarter
softly whipped cream or crème fraiche
Pie dish, 2 pint (1.1L/) capacity, well greased with a little butter, or 7 individual 3- inch (7.5cm) ramekins
Cut up the chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter in a very low oven or in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and add the pure vanilla extract, then stir in the warm water and the castor sugar.
Continue to mix until the mixture is smooth. Separate the eggs, whisk the yolks into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the sieved flour making sure there are no lumps.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with a pinch of cream of tartar until it reaches stiff peaks; fold gently into the chocolate mixture and pour into the greased pie dish.
Put the pie dish into a bain-marie of hot water and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 160C\\325F\\Gas Mark 3 for a further 15-20 minutes.*
It should be firm on top but still soft and fudgy underneath. Cool a little and dredge with icing sugar.
Serve warm or cold with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche.
* Individual dishes take 8-12 minutes (depending on the size of the ramekins) approx. at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Chocolate fudge pudding is also delicious cooked in a Kilner Jar (7.5cm/3 inches diameter) cook in a preheated oven at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 12 minutes.
Coeur de Neuschatel:
On the Pig’s Back in the English Market, Cork, has beautiful heart-shaped, camembert style cheese from Normandy now in stock. Tel: 021-4270232
Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni:
Check out Jack Kirwan’s Sprout Kitchen, the ‘go to’ juice and smoothie bar at 63 Dawson Street, Dublin. There’s also his Pop Up juice bar at the Avoca shops in Kilmacanogue, Bray, and Suffolk Street in Dublin. A delicious range of fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and health shots; sproutfoodco.com
Small Plate Ideas:
The hottest food trend at present also happens to be my favourite way to eat.
I often find myself ordering a selection of starters instead of an entrée or main course.
This enduring trend coincides with our love affair with snacking and allows the diner to mix and match as they please.
An appetiser can be a starter; a trio of little plates can make up a meal and provide the opportunity to try lots of dishes on the menu, something new and tempting, or even something scary that one may not have ordered before.
Small plates are also perfect for those who may have a concern about the price point without the potential of a wallet-busting experience.
On Friday, February 19, at the Ballymaloe Cookery School you will be inspired by a whole range of multi-ethnic dishes and lots of hot new ideas for small plates meant for sharing.
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