Staying in on Valentine’s Day? Quick, easy and romantic ideas for dinners and desserts
Recipes by Jenny Flynn, Lilly Higgins, Domini Kemp, Donal Skehan, Vanessa Greenwood
Everybody knows February 14th is the worst night of the year to eat out. So why not stay in, and cook a retro-inspired three-course meal that looks, and tastes like you’ve made a big effort, but can be on the table in just over half an hour?
Prawns, steak, baked cheese, strawberries and chocolate all tick the let’s indulge box, but are ingredients you can pick up easily with a quick detour on the way home or a lunchtime shopping spree.
Jenny Flynn, head chef at Faithlegg House Hotel in Waterford, has shared her recipe for prawn cocktail. She recommends cooking the prawns from raw, but if that’s a mid-week step too far, just use cooked ones. Allow about 10 minutes for this one if you’re cooking the prawns, less if you’re not.
Lilly Higgins’s baked feta is topped with floral, pink peppercorns – perfect for a romantic feast. This could be a generous starter, or a vegetarian main course with bread and salad on the side. It needs 20 minutes in the oven, and a few more minutes chopping and assembly.
You’ll have to factor in time to marinate Domini Kemp’s steak recipe so pop it in the marinade a couple of hours beforehand and it will be cooked in minutes when you want to eat. Just take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature before you cook it.
If you are cooking for a vegetarian, or just eating less meat, Donal Skehan’s cauliflower ‘steaks’ topped with toasted pine nuts and tapenade bring a sense of occasion to the table, and can be cooked and plated in around 15 minutes.
Valentine’s Day desserts scream chocolate – or out of season strawberries. If you’re willing to ignore the air miles on the berries, you can have an Eton Mess meringue, cream and strawberry dessert on the table in well under 10 minutes. Vanessa Greenwood’s chocolate microwave mug cakes will go ping in around the same time, and you can enjoy them snuggled up on the sofa.
Jenny Flynn’s prawn cocktail
For the Marie Rose cocktail sauce:
Lemon juice, to taste
1 splash each of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Splash of brandy (optional)
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp crème fraiche
12 large prawns, or more if they are small
Half a head of Baby Gem lettuce, shredded
Six large prawns, peeled and deveined, per person, cooked in a large pot of boiling salted water and a splash of vinegar for approximately six minutes, then rinsed under cold water until chilled. Pat dry before use (or use cooked chilled prawns)
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together in a large bowl and set to the side.
Put the shredded lettuce into the base of each serving bowl or glass, top with the prawns and a squeeze of lemon and drizzle generously with the Marie Rose sauce. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper (and a few chopped chives if you have them).
Lilly Higgins’s pink peppercorn baked feta
Serves four (or two, with leftovers for lunch)
1 bulb fennel
1 large beetroot, cooked and peeled (usually available in vac pack)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 block feta
1 tsp pink peppercorns
2 tbsp pecan nuts, toasted
To serve: crusty bread and a green salad
Preheat an oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
Halve and slice the fennel bulb, set aside any green fronds that were on the top. Place the fennel on a small tray and drizzle over 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with a little salt and roast in the oven for 10 minutes.
Dice the cooked beetroot and dry it with kitchen paper. Coat the beetroot in the balsamic vinegar. Add the beetroot cubes to the fennel. Peel the skin from the lemon into long strips using a peeler, avoid the pith. Place the lemon peel over the fennel. Make a little space in the centre of the same oven tray for the feta.
Place the block of feta on and scatter the pink peppercorns over the top, along with a little olive oil. Return the tray to the oven for a further 10 minutes. Once ready, the cheese should be soft and the fennel starting to caramelise at the edges. Scatter the tray with the reserved fennel fronds and the toasted pecan nuts. Serve immediately with the bread and salad. The cheese begins to solidify once more as it cools, so this is best enjoyed straight from the oven.
Domini Kemp’s marinated steak
Marinate overnight or for at least a couple of hours
2 steaks, any type, depending on your budget and preference
Handful rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
Half a head garlic, peeled and crushed
Half a tin of anchovies
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Half a tsp English mustard powder
Lots of black pepper
half a tsp Demerara sugar
Quarter bottle red wine
Make the marinade in advance. Put the rosemary, garlic and anchovies (including the oil) into saucepan and heat gently while you squish the anchovies with the back of a wooden spoon. Turn up the heat and let it gently sweat. Add the mustards, pepper and sugar. Mix well and then pour in the wine and bring up to the boil. Simmer gently until the mixture reduces by half. It’ll look like purple coloured hoi sin sauce.
Allow the marinade to cool fully and then pour it over the beef and let it marinate for a few hours, or overnight. Turn the meat occasionally while it is marinating in the fridge, if you can.
Heat a char grill or heavy frying pan and cook the meat according to the cut you are using and your preference. Allow it to rest for at least five to 10 minutes, and then carve at an angle, against the grain, in thin slices.
Serve with a salad.
Donal Skehan’s cauliflower ‘steak’
1 tbsp olive oil
half a jar of green or black olive tapenade
25g pine nuts, toasted
50g rocket leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Remove and discard any leaves from the cauliflower and carefully slice 3cm steaks from the head. You will get 2-4 steaks (use the trimmings for salad or soup).
Place a large pan over a high heat and add the olive oil.
Sear the cauliflower in batches for 3-4 minutes either side, turning when they have a rich golden colour and are slightly softened. Before removing from the pan, add a splash of lemon juice and season with sea salt and ground black pepper.
Assemble on serving plates garnished with olive tapenade, pine nuts and rocket leaves.
Dark chocolate bar, grated
Crumble the meringues into the whipped cream and stir in the sliced strawberries. Serve in individual glasses or a large bowl. Grate some of the dark chocolate over the top and serve.
Vanessa Greenwood’s chocolate microwave mug cakes
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tbsp self raising flour
4 tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 tbsp milk
1 egg, whisked
To serve: whipped cream and Smarties
In a bowl mix together the cocoa, self raising flour and caster sugar.
Add the oil, milk and vanilla essence to the dry ingredients. Mix in the egg until fully combined.
Grease the inside of two medium size microwaveable mugs with a little oil, and pour equal amounts of mixture into each.
Place both mugs in the microwave. Microwave at 900W-1000W for approximately 90-100 seconds or until fully risen to the top of the mugs (it’s a good idea to set your microwave time for a little longer in case you need to give them a few extra seconds without the microwave switching off).
Serve immediately with whipped cream and Smarties.