On Feb 14th restaurants from here to Mars will be chock full of couples and I wish them all the best, really I do.
I’m all for Valentine’s Day – I have little time for naysayers who moan about commercialism. Lazy chaps hiding behind excuses mostly, I fear…but I have to confess I have never been to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. But before you ask, no, it’s not because I’ve never been asked. I just feel a bit weird and self-conscious about it. I can’t get over the dinner-for-two, en masse thing – it’s just too Moonie Wedding.
I wholeheartedly believe in pushing the love boat out, eating glorious food, guzzling fizz and getting a little giddy. I just prefer to do it at home. And I suspect I’m not the only one. There are all sorts of things that could keep you home Feb 14th; babies or over-spending at the A Hume Sale are just two off the top of my head.
Whatever your reason dinner at home in the love nest can and should be a candlelit feast. All you need are a few tips, some fabulous recipes and the right tunes on the iPod.
Starter – Crostini with peas, prosciutto and quail eggs
Preparing food in advance is key to making this a meal you both enjoy. So keep it delicious and simple.
These elegant little quail egg crostini fit the bill perfectly, all the components can be prepped in advance, you can even – if you’re feeling kitsch – use a heart shaped cookie cutter to love up the pumpernickel.
6 quail eggs
4 slices prosciutto or pancetta
50g rocket leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cook the quail eggs in simmering water for two minutes, drain and cool under cold running water.
Cook the peas in simmering salted water for two minutes, then drain and cool under cold running water. Reserve one tablespoon peas.
Heat oven to 200C. Cut prosciutto into 12 small pieces and bake for three minutes or until crisped.
Peel eggs and cut in half. Blitz the peas, rocket, mascarpone, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender until smooth and bright green.
Use a cookie cutter to cut small rounds from pumpernickel. Add a splodge of green pea puree, and top with half a quail egg and prosciutto. Add two or three reserved peas, scatter with pepper and serve with a little rocket or watercress spritzed with a little lemon juice.
Braised lamb shanks with lemon, garlic and parsley
For reasons I can no longer recall lamb shanks are known in our house as – The Hunks of Burning Love – most likely it’s because shanks are big ‘hunks’ of meat and we welcome any excuse to dance around singing the Elvis song. But, whatever, it perhaps explains why I thought of lamb shanks for Valentine’s Day.
I also love lamb shanks because they’re easy and delicious. The meat slowly bubbles away in the oven getting sweeter and more tender with every passing hour to the point where it almost melts off the bone, leaving you free to concentrate on other enjoyable aspects of Valentine’s Day – who says all the fun should be reserved for after dinner…..
2 tbsp olive oil
2 x 400g lamb shanks
1 small onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, chopped
3 fresh bay leaves, torn
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
5 garlic cloves, 4 chopped, 1 whole
8 fresh thyme sprigs
700ml lamb, chicken or beef stock
150ml white wine
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 140°C.
Heat the olive oil in a large, wide pan with a lid over a medium heat. Season the shanks and brown all over. Remove to a plate. Add the onion and fennel to the pan and cook until just turning gold. Add the bay leaves, rosemary, finely chopped garlic, and half the thyme then return the shanks to the pan.
Pour in the stock and wine and heat until just bubbling. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 2½-3 hours, until the meat is achingly tender.
Meanwhile, crush the remaining garlic with a pinch of salt and finely chop the remaining thyme. Put in a bowl with the lemon zest, parsley and extra-virgin olive oil and mix together well. Season with black pepper.
Transfer the shanks to a dish and cover loosely with foil. Skim off and discard the fat from the surface of the sauce, then bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. Mix 2 tablespoons of the sauce into the lemon, garlic and parsley mixture.
Divide the lamb shanks between plates, strain over the sauce and spoon over the gremolata. Serve with mashed potato.
Quick and Easy Apple Tart
Finally, pudding….you may feel inclined to serve something chocolate in which case I shall point you in the direction of these fabulous Browned Butter Brownies on the I Am A Food Blog. However as this is dinner for two I favour something perfectly proportioned for two; simple little apple tarts with exquisite (shop-bought) ice cream, also from I Am A Food Blog.
Prep them in advance and pop in the oven whilst you’re eating the shanks. Perfect timing.
1 apple, cored and sliced
squeeze of lemon juice
4 tablespoons brown sugar
sprinkle of salt
1/3 of a sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
A splash of milk
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Toss the apple slices with the lemon juice, brown sugar and salt. Roll out the pastry in a rectangle on a floured surface, cut in two and layer the apple on top of the puff pastry sheet, leaving a 1.5cm edge. Whisk the egg with the milk to make an egg wash, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pastry edges. Bake in the oven until the pastry is puffy and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
n.b. Quail Egg Crostini and the Lamb Shanks recipe originally from Good Food Australia and Delicious magazine.
If you know of any soft hearted romantics in need of a little love food inspiration, please ‘like’ and ‘share’ this post using the social buttons.