Weekend food with Darina Allen: Recipes for Valentine's Day

Get all loved up and celebrate with Darina Allen’s suggestions for Valentine’s dinner at home.

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 Knockmealdowns.

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 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, 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.

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-¾ litre broth or homemade chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 10g butter
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 200g Carnaroli or Arboria rice
  • 10g butter
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon thyme leaves
  • 110g cooked and peeled shrimps
  • 25g freshly grated Parmesan
  • Sea salt

METHOD

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.

Cod Chraymeh

We found this recipe in Observer Food Monthly by Tomer Amedi and loved it. 

I’ve adapted it ever so slightly and reduced 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 one 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

To serve

  • 2 tablespoons Labne
  • Fresh coriander leaves

METHOD

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.

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

METHOD

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.

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 avocado
  • Dressing
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 slices of sourdough, toasted or pan-grilled
  • Garnish
  • Maldon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh coriander

METHOD

Whisk the lime juice and extra virgin olive oil together.

Stone and peel the avocado and slice into chunky segments. Place the avocado on top of the toast — allow half per person. 

Drizzle with the dressing. 

Garnish with coriander and a few flakes of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Just before serving. Toast or grill the bread.

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. 

It can be an irresistible nibble or a gorgeous pud with a blob of crème fraiche.

Makes 24 medium or 18 large squares

  • 175g (6ozs) butter, cut into dice
  • 150g (5ozs) caster sugar
  • 150g (5ozs) 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
  • 110g (4ozs) raspberries, fresh or frozen

Equipment:

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

METHOD

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

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.

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… 

www.ballymaloe.ie

Tel: 021-4652531



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