Valentine’s Day is still 6 days away, but if you’re going to wow your loved one over a romantic home cooked dinner, far from the madding crowd looking for restaurant places, the now is the time to start preparing. What are you going to cook? What are you going to cook it with and what time of the day are you going to do it? From new partners to not so new ones, all are impressed by a decent bit of nosh on the most romantic day of the year and to guide you through Pat was joined by food writer, Mei Chin.
Mei’s Valentine’s Day Recipes
Oysters: unless you are really expert at shucking oysters do them ahead of time, and serve ice cold with lemon on a bed of ice/crushed salt. Also a nice cocktail sauce for me is ketchup, a dash of honey, some minced coriander, soy sauce, and a squeeze of lemon.
Smoked salmon – another good option, on dark brown buttered bread. If you want to go fancy, you can chop your smoked salmon fine, add one minced shallot, three or four minced capers, a dash of lemon juice, a dash of olive oil, and some finely chopped dill for a smoked salmon tartare. Serve on buttered cracker toasts.
Caviar/salmon roe or trout caviar. Lovely dolloped on a buttered piece of toast with a smidge of crème fraiche, traditionally served also with a bit of minced red onion, diced hard boiled egg, and some snipped chives, but I prefer it plain. Even better, if you can get blinis (I see them at Fallon and Byrne), serve on gently warmed blini (quick fix in the microwave, wrap in a lightly damp kitchen towel and microwave for twenty seconds) with crème fraiche, and melted butter poured on top and a snip of chives.
Seared duck breast with rhubarb blackberry sauce with cauliflower puree:
Two duck breasts, the skin scored with a knife in a diamond pattern (make parallel diagonal slashes in the skin with a knife, taking care not to break through the flesh, and then make diagonal slashes going the other direction) and rubbed with thyme, salt, pepper honey, five spice powder, a dash of port and a dash of soy. This can marinate from 20 minutes to an hour.
Sauce: Bring 1 cup of ruby port and one slug of brandy to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add half a stalk of rhubarb, finely diced, and then continue to simmer until reduced by half. Add two teaspoons of honey and a pinch of salt, the sauce should be pleasantly sweet and sour. Then add two handfuls of blackberries and three tablespoons of butter and remove from heat.
Sear the duck breasts over medium heat for 6-7 minutes then flip and continue to cook for another five minutes for medium rare. You can test for doneness with a clenched fist. For rare, it should feel like the area between your thumb and your index finger when you have made a loose fist. A slightly tighter fist is medium rare, and then a very tight fist is well done.
For the cauliflower puree – cover four large florets of cauliflower (about 1/3 of a head of cauliflower) chopped into pieces (pre-prepped cauliflower florets ok) and a small diced potato with enough cream to cover, add a hefty pinch of salt, bring to a simmer, and simmer until everything is begins to fall apart. You can start to mash everything with a fork while keeping the mixture at a simmer. Eventually the cauliflower and the potato will absorb all the cream, and become a puree. You should not need an electric mixer/immersion blender for this, you should be able to mash everything together until it is relatively smooth. Having said that, an immersion blender will create a much smoother product. Continue to simmer briefly, the cauliflower should be thicker than cream, but more liquid than mash. Stir in three tablespoons of butter and a hefty slug of white truffle oil. Taste for seasoning – at this point, one generally needs a touch more salt.
For vegetables: either wilted spinach in butter or poached asparagus rewarmed in hot melted butter and a squeeze of lemon.
Salad: this salad combines the less likely aphrodisiac ingredients (almonds, avocado, honey) with one of my favorite winter greens – chicory. For the salad, you want one head of white chicory, the leaves julienned, a handful of chopped almonds, ½ an avocado diced, ½ a pear julienned and tossed in a pinch of lemon juice (optional), and then a dressing made of one tbsp. coarse mustard, one tsp. honey, a dash of vinegar, pinch of salt, and enough olive oil to make a thick dressing (about three glugs.) Mix the dressing together in a bowl, taste (it should be pleasantly sweet and sour) and then add the rest of your ingredients. Garnish with another sprinkle of sea salt, pepper, and a crumbled goat cheese like a boucheron, if desired.
Chocolate mousse for two: melt 50 grams of good quality, broken up pieces of dark, bittersweet chocolate (Cocoa content at least 70 %) with ½ tbsp. of butter, pinch of salt and ½ tbsp. of strong espresso (I use ½ tbsp instant espresso dissolved in water. Good quality instant coffee is also okay, and of course real espresso is ideal). This I find works best in the microwave. Microwave on high for thirty seconds and stir. Also you do not want the chocolate to be completely liquid when you remove it from the microwave – there should still be lumps, which will melt as you stir. This ensures that the chocolate does not burn. If the chocolate is not completely melted, that is okay, microwave it for another ten seconds, stir again, and repeat. Add one egg yolk and let cool. Then beat one egg white with scant 1 tsp. of sugar until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Then whip 120 ml (1/2 cup) of chilled single cream until soft peaks form, fold that into the mousse. (NOTE: I experimented with beating both the egg white and the cream with just a fork, in case people did not have electric mixers/whisks/immersion blenders. The white whipped up in minutes, the cream took slightly longer, but neither was onerous.) Add a tbsp. of cognac or amaretto or rum, if desired, and divide into three glasses and refrigerate. Serve this garnished with raspberries and a sprig of mint, and more cream. Two of the mousses are for dessert, and there is one leftover for a midnight snack/breakfast.