Tuesday 12 December 2017

Make that special meal with love

Valentine's night meals are better when made from the heart, writes Katy McGuinness

Chicken breasts with pesto and vegetables
Chicken breasts with pesto and vegetables

There are few places less conducive to romance than a restaurant on St Valentine's Day, with its serried ranks of tables for two and awkwardness hanging heavy in the air. It's much sexier to eat at home, and to spend the money that you might have splashed out in a restaurant on buying more luxurious ingredients and better wine than you would normally.

And because February 14 falls on a Sunday this year, you have the option of having your celebration on Saturday night (and letting it segue gently into Sunday) with plenty of time to prepare the meal.

For people who live and eat together all the time, that may not sound very romantic - and it won't be if the person doing the cooking is the person who always does the cooking. But being cooked for when you're not accustomed to it is very appealing indeed. Trust me on this one.

If you're not much of a cook, then you'll want to plan a menu that lets you do most of the work in advance. You don't need any last-minute stress.

Oysters are a Valentine's Day cliché, but they are delicious and you can get your local fishmonger to open them for you if you've never shucked before. A little squeeze of lemon juice and a shake of Tabasco is all you need. But not everyone is keen on bivalves, and crab claws are a great alternative. This recipe is super-simple, and don't worry about the amount of garlic, because you'll both be eating it and you won't notice.

For a main course, these pesto-stuffed chicken breasts are prepare-ahead easy, and universally popular. If you don't know the person that you're cooking for that well, it's better to stick to something uncontroversial and these are just the ticket. It's not a night for obscure cuts or offal.

For pudding? Well, it has to be chocolate. These little pots are luscious and very straightforward to prepare. They'll only take a few minutes.

All recipes serve two. The shopping list assumes that you have small quantities of a few basic ingredients (such as butter, oil, caster sugar, coffee, salt, pepper and rum, brandy or tequila) already, so double-check the recipes to make sure.

Hope you have a great night.

Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts

50g pine nuts

1 bag baby spinach, rinsed

25g butter

2 shallots, chopped fine

1 egg yolk

100g ricotta cheese

2 tbsps fresh pesto (the Happy Pear one is lovely)

Salt and black pepper

2 slices prosciutto

2 chicken breasts, flattened

Juice of a lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 190oC/ 170oC fan. Toast the pine nuts on a dry frying pan until lightly browned and set to one side. Steam the spinach in a partially covered pan over medium heat for about two minutes until wilted.

Place in a colander and pour cold water over to stop it cooking further. Squeeze all the water out of the spinach and chop finely.

Heat the butter in a small frying pan and add the shallots. Saute until soft but not brown. Combine the pine nuts, spinach, shallots, egg yolk, ricotta and pesto. Season and taste. Adjust seasoning. Place a slice of prosciutto on each chicken breast and spread half the filling on each.

Fold over the chicken breast in half. (You can prepare the chicken ahead to this point.) Place on a buttered baking dish and brush with a little more melted butter and lemon juice. Cook for about 30 minutes.

This would be lovely with sautéed cherry tomatoes with a little basil, and green beans, or a few baby potatoes.

Crab Claws with Garlic Butter

125g crab claws

50g butter

2 cloves garlic

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

2 slices sourdough bread

Chop the garlic very small and add to the butter in a frying pan over a low heat. Melt the butter very slowly and allow the garlic to soften but not colour.

Add the crab claws and toss in the butter over a low heat for about four or five minutes or until warmed through. Toast the bread, stir the parsley through the crab claws and serve over the toast.

Chocolate Mousse

3 large eggs

25g caster sugar

100g dark chocolate (70%)

25g butter

1 tbsp espresso coffee

2 tbsps rum, brandy, tequila or liqueur - whatever you have to hand (optional)

Pinch of sea salt

Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks with the sugar until they have thickened to the consistency of double cream, about five minutes.

Break up the chocolate and melt it, with the butter, in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth, and then add the coffee.

Add the egg yolks and the alcohol. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks and, using a metal spoon, add gradually to the chocolate mixture to combine, stirring as little as possible.

Pour the mixture into small glasses or pretty teacups and put in the fridge to set. This will take a couple of hours, but you can leave them overnight.

Irish Independent

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