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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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