A feast for your Valentine: the #formanslovecookoff challenge and a chance to win some goodies

Lightly smoked salmon sashimi

Valentine’s day. It’s fast approaching and whatever you think of it, and whatever that significant other (or object of unrequited desire) might say or do – or be overheard muttering – it’s not an opportunity any budding Romeo or Juliet should forget.

And talking about unrequited objects of desire, Forman and Field – purveyors of devilishly tempting packets of smoked fish and other goodies I could never quite afford – got me thinking about that very occaision. Specifically what to eat.

They did this by issuing a challenge, laying down the gauntlet to a host (six) of food bloggers. Or rather, laying down the gauntlet on our behalf because this was a competition to see who could come up with the best Valentine’s dish or menu from a box of mystery F&F ingredients.

The #formanslovecookoff mystery ingredients
The mystery ingredients unpacked

How exciting! And flushed with the joy of competitive brawning I picked up that heart shaped gauntlet. And so, a week later a mystery box was delivered to Meemalee’s Kitchen, Paul from How Not To Do A Food Blog, Bribed with Food, Food Urchin, Jo’s Kitchen, Essex Eating and I.

It was (given aforementioned attitude F&F goodies) with some excitement that I tore into the box to find: A royal fillet of London cure smoked salmon, marinated anchovies, Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, horseradish sauce, apple & tarragon jelly, Regent’s park honey and a huge pot of brandied cherries.

Making something using all the ingredients was going to difficult. This was a Valentine’s meal so I didn’t want to create anything that took too long to put together. This is the day you want to spend with your significant other/object of desire right? Not slaving over a stove and sweating like a pig.

The box transformed
There’s a lot you can prepare beforehand

And so my menu is one that requires minimum effort on the day – but is still romantic, aphrodisical and not too heavy. Because you might get lucky. And you don’t want too heavy a belly when that happens. Right?

There are plenty of contrasting and complementary tastes and textures. Peppery and crunchy, pungent and piquant, smooth and slippery – oh yes! Lip smacking food that involves some slurping and sucking. Rude food.

Hazelnut and Lancashire salad
Hazelnut and Lancashire salad

To start, a simple watercress salad tarted up with roasted hazelnuts and crumbly creamy Lancashire cheese, all pulled together with a sweet and tart dressing made with the tarragon and apple jelly.

Next up the salmon. The royal fillet is a beautiful cut of meat, all silky smooth with a subtle and gently smokey edge. If the Scottish did sashimi, this is how they’d do it. It was too good to mess around with. It just needs something to play off that oily fatty goodness.

Which is where anchovies come in. Whizzed into a salsa verde with some fresh herbs, capers and mustard, they provide a piquant counterbalance to the smooth fish. Something to make the tastebuds sing.

Salmon, courgette ribbons & potato salad
Smoked salmon & salsa verde, courgette ribbons and new potato salad

Accompanied by al dente, almost raw, courgette ribbons spritzed up with lemon and black pepper. Simple, tasty and fresh. And a new potato salad with a light horseradish mayonnaise to provide a little creamy, gentle-with-a-hint-of-heat, ballast.

In an last minute burst of inspiration (once again from Mrs GW) I mixed some of the tarragon apple jelly with bison grass vodka and put it in the freezer before I started assembling. A sub-zero palate cleanser.

Dessert was the honey ice cream. The Regent’s Park honey we got was wonderfully fragrant – redolent of warm spring days – and gave the ice cream a surprisingly subtle edge. Sweet and honeyed with just the hint of cinnamon. The cherries providing an alcoholic and fruity contrast.

Ice cream and frozen vodka
Honey ice cream, chocolate covered brandied cherries and apple vodka

The whole lot only took about forty minutes of preparation on the day and while filling, it was not overwhelming. So if the meal served its tempting purpose and the dishes were left on the table as you ran up to the bedroom, then it wasn’t one that would sit heavy in the stomach.

And here is what everyone else made:
Meemalee’s bento box
Paul’s fishy feast
Bribed with Food’s indulgent meal for one
The Food Urchin’s Luuuuurve Trifle
Essex Eating’s good lookin’ selection
Jo’s anchovy foccacia, grilled salmon and honey biscuits

So now tell me, because I’m curious, what is your idea of a great valentine’s meal? Leave your answers in the comments below and you’ll be in with a chance to win a hamper of tempting Forman & Field goodies.

Click here to skip straight to the comments if you don’t fancy reading all the recipes

The recipes

I know there seems a lot, but here’s a bunch of stuff you can do beforehand and the rest really doesn’t take long – with a little organisation.

Forman & Field’s loved up cook off Valentine’s dinner
Feeds two loved up bellies, with enough room for hanky panky afterwards if you feel like it

Assuming you’ve already made the sauces (see below) then it’s all just a matter of assembling. So put the icecream in the fridge, shake some bison grass vodka and tarragon apple jelly together in a jar and put it in the freezer, and get going.

Watercress, roast hazlenut and Kirkam’s Lancashire salad with an apple, tarragon and mustard dressing

One bunch of watercress – washed
A handful of hazelnuts
A small wedge of Kirkam’s Lancashire – crumbled
2-3 tblsp of apple, tarragon & mustard dressing (see below)

Set oven to 180oC and start getting the rest of the meal ready. When it is hot, put the hazelnuts in for 8-10 minutes. Remove and roll them between your hands to remove most of the skin. Careful though, they’ll be hot

Roughly chop the hazelnuts, and toss half of them with the watercress, half the cheese and the dressing. Put the salad on the plates and scatter over the rest of the cheese and hazelnuts.

Smoked royal fillet of salmon with a warm horseradish and new potato salad and courgette ribbons.

175g London cure royal fillet of smoked salmon
Salsa verde (see below)
1 large or 2 medium courgettes
1 lemon – zested and then juiced
EV Olive oil
A handfull of new potatoes
1 dessertspoon of horseradish mayonnaise (see below)
Cayenne pepper
Chopped parsley

New potato salad
New potato salad
Put two pans of water on to boil before you start to make the salad above. Add the new potatoes to one and bring to the boil and leave to bubble away for 15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool a little.

Chop each potato into four pieces and toss them with the mayonnaise. Pile carefully onto the plate and sprinkle a pinch of cayenne and some chopped parsley over the top.

Slice the courgettes into fine ribbons using a mandoline, peeler or sharp knife. When the second pan comes to the boil, add the courgettes and cook for two minutes only. Drain and refresh under cold water.

Curl the courgettes onto the plate next to the potatoes and scatter over the lemon zest and some of the juice along with a little olive oil and black pepper.

Slice the salmon into thick slices – approx 7-8mm (sashimi thickness for Japanese food lovers). Lay then on the plate infront of the potatoes and courgette and spoon over a little of the salsa verde.

Courgette ribbons
Courgette ribbons

Stuff to do ahead of time

It’s Valentine’s (or some other special) day and the last thing you want to be doing is spending the day all alone in the kitchen cooking. You’d much rather be pulling the cork on a great bottle of wine and looking deeply into someone else’s eyes, wouldn’t you?

Or maybe it’s more of a case of cracking open a few cans and gettng the playstation warmed up, or possibly line dancing in plaid shirts to a fiddle reel. Whatever floats your boat, you want to spend the day doing cool stuff. Not blending sauces.

So, all of these can be made a day or two beforehand and will mean the most you have to do is cook a the potatoes and courgettes and then assemble the rest. Easy peasy.

Apple, tarragon and mustard dressing
5tblsp e v olive oil
Juice of a half a lemon
2 tblsp F&F apple tarragon jelly
2 tsp grainy mustard
Black pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until combined.

Salsa verde
1 bunch parsley
15 basil leaves
6 fillets of formans garlic marinated anchovies
Juice of quarter of a lemon
1 tsp capers
3 tblsp e v olive oil
Half a small clove garlic – crushed
Pinch of caster sugar
Black pepper

Strip as much of the thick stalks as possible from the parsley. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until a fine paste. Pour in more olive oil until the paste loosens into a thick sauce.

2 egg yolks
200ml sunflower oil
100ml olive oil
2 tblsp horseradish sauce (blend if it’s coarsely grated).
Quarter lemon
Back pepper

Whisk the egg yolks and add a few drips of the oil and beat hard. Keep adding the oil a few drips at a time, beating hard all the while. The mixture should start to emulsify and thicken.

Once about half the oil has been added in this way you should have a thick mixture the consistency of whipped cream. From here on in you can add the oil in a thin trickle, but keep beating.

About half way through beat in the lemon juice and at the end add the horseradish and black pepper.

Honey ice cream
500ml whole milk
100ml whipping cream
3 egg yolks
20g caster sugar
150g regents park honey (approx 3/4 jar)
1 cinnamon stick

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and heat until warm, then whisk in the egg yolks and sugar before stirring in the honey and adding the cinnamon stick. Keep stirring as the honey melts and the mixture gets hotter.

Just before it boils take it off the heat, pour into a jug and cool down as fast as possible. Then put it into the fridge for 6-12 hours, or overnight.

Make according to ice cream maker instructions. If making the day before put it into the freezer and remove about 30 mins before you plan to eat it. Just before you start eating is a good time.

Chocolate covered cherries
Brandied cherries
100g Maya Gold dark chocolate

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a perspex bowl. Put the bowl over a pan of boiling water and stir the chcolate until it melts. Remove from heat and leave for five minutes.

Dip the cherries into the chocolate and swirl until totally covered. Leave to cool on a piece of grease proof paper. They’ll keep in the fridge for a day or two.

Let me know what your best Valentine’s menu is in the comments below and the best one wins a hamper of Forman & Field goodies

29 Responses to “A feast for your Valentine: the #formanslovecookoff challenge and a chance to win some goodies”

  1. catty

    oh WOW this looks delicious! the smoked salmon and salsa verde is speaking straight to my heart and the honey ice cream straight to my tummy :)

  2. Miss Whiplash

    That looks great – you’ve all done such cool meals :-)
    I particularly like the salsa verde – my mouth is actually watering…

  3. The Grubworm

    @Paul – thanks – and yes, it is tough isn’t it?

    @catty – thanks! It did taste pretty good. That ice cream is good (still lots left in the freezer).

    @meemalee – thanks! As for melt-worthy – it was well on its way in that pic, ;)

    @Miss Whiplash – thanks – this is one tough cookoff.

    @Essex Eating – thanks – am waiting on tenterhooks for your contribution

  4. Food Urchin

    Great moves Aaron, great moves. Loving the sound of the salad……..damn you, damn you all *shakes fist*

  5. The Grubworm

    @Gin and Crumpets – That is exactly the reaction I’m looking for.

    @Food Urchin – Thanks *brushes off the lycra Disco leggings* ;)

  6. The Grubworm

    @shayma – it was tasty – you must get some decent smoked salmon over the pond as well ;)

  7. Vintage Macaroon

    Looks tasty and light and quick to make, everything you want on a Valentines day. You don’t want to spend the night in the kitchen, come out sweating and exhausted.

  8. The Grubworm

    @Vintage Macaroon – that is definitely something you don;t want to end up doing, you want to end up looking cool, collected and devastatingly attractive instead. Sadly, I almost always end up with the sweaty, worn out, stained look going on ;)

  9. Danny

    @jamieoliver_ed Love the fact that the meal only took around 45 minutes to prepare – you need time to be with the one that you love. I also like the fact that it is a lite meal – you definitley do not need to be weighed down afterwards! Well done mate!

  10. Greedy Diva

    Fabulous use of your resources Grubbie. My ideal Valentines menu would definitely involve some salty oysters, creamy smoked salmon and a massive rib eye steak the size of my head. For dessert, your honey ice-cream would do down well, or a tarte tartin or clementine pudding with vanilla icecream. That said, last year, I insisted on a Byron burger.

  11. LexEat!

    Honey ice cream sounds lovely! and the salad looks very pretty – beautifully photographed.

    good luck!

  12. The Grubworm

    @Danny – you certainly do! Thanks ;) And thanks for the mention on the JO forums too :)

    @Greedy Diva – thanks :) Salty oystyers, rib eye steak – you are talkin’ my language Ms Diva! And you know what? There ain’t nothin’ more romantic than haring a sloppy burger…

    @LexEat – thanks :)

  13. Marina

    My idea of a great Valentine’s meal is something cooked at home. That way you avoid the crowds, and you also feel justified in splurging on some great ingredients. Somehow either salmon sashimi or ribeye steak is involved as well. Hmm, I better start planning this year’s meal.

  14. The Grubworm

    @Marina – I am so with you on the home-cooked theme. I really resent going out and paying two-three times more money for a meal that often has no choice, is half as good and is served in surrounds twice as crowded…

  15. Kavey

    My ideal menu is definitely cooked at home – would never want to go out on Valentine’s Day!

    Would have to be both tasty and simple as I’m not an advanced cook, though I enjoy cooking…

    Probably my chicken liver and port pate, which needs to be made a day or two in advance, then a really good rib eye steak with a delicious sauce, and, given my current obsession, probably lemon posset for pudd. And a seriously fantastic cheeseboard!

  16. Rhiannon

    I love the look of your salad and your wife’s idea for the vodka. Really good ideas out of an unusal ingredients. For me a valentines meal has to have a bit of luxury about it, but also be something tactile that I can eat with my hands. A rack of lamb would be perfect!

  17. The Grubworm

    @Kavey – I try and stay in for most special occasions, home cooked food is always special if there’s just the two of you. Your pate sounds good and the rib eye as well – seems to be a VERY popular Valentine’s day choice that one. Nothing says ‘love;’like a bleedingly rare steak ;)

    @Rhiannon – Thanks! That’s something I had not thought about, but the tactile nature of eating chops etc would be great – properly sensual, all theat finger licken’ grease. Yum ;)

  18. Violet

    My idea of a great valentine’s meal, must be tactile for the tastebuds and the fingertips. Heavy on the protein and light on the carbohydrates.

    Honey ice cream should be dipped into with banana chips or licked out of a cone

    slices of smoked salmon should be rolled around egg mayo and nibbled like sausage rolls

    the body can flirt but so should the food on February 14th

  19. Francesca

    The salad looks so pretty! I bet it was completely delicious. I’m desperate to chuck a couple of slices of pear in it.

    My valentine’s menu would be a mash up of things I love so probably isn’t very balanced – a salad to start with chicken livers and crumbled up crispy bacon. Probably a very slowly roasted shoulder of lamb or a roast duck with a red wine and redcurrant jelly gravy. I’m pants at making pudding, but I’d either go for a pannacotta or something heavy and disgusting like a chocolate bread and butter pudding or treacle sponge…with pudding wine! Which I LOVE.

  20. The Grubworm

    @Violet – I agree totally about the tactility (is that word?) of Valentine’s food. And banana chips with the honey ice cream – yes please!

    @Francesca – Ooo yes, pear would be a great addition. If only our pear tree were still fruiting. And pudding wine is something that can be drunk with any course at any time – it’s so tasty ;)

  21. Emma

    As much as I love the idea of a romantic dinner cooked by hubbie, it aint never gonna happen. Therefore (as I’m damned if I’m doing it on that day as well as every other!), my idea of a romantic meal would be a selection of yummy deli items, eaten with fingers, whilst curled together up on a rug in front of a warm fire

  22. The Grubworm

    @Emma – i actually think that the less work involved in doing a romantic dinner the better. My fall back is usually a good sirloin or ribeye steak, some sauteed potatoes, a green salad and a bottle of bubbly – quick, easy and delicious. And I reckon the deli idea might be even better!

  23. The Grubworm

    And the winner of the hamper from Forman and Field is (drumroll) …

    Francesca – well done!

    Slow roasted lamb, heavy and disgusting pudding AND pudding wine, what could be better?

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