Thursday 18 July 2019

Donal Skehan's seductive dinners for Valentine's Day

Cook up some romance this Valentine’s Day with Donal Skehan’s specially selected recipes for him and for her…

Black forest gateaux
Black forest gateaux
Maple pork chops with baby gem lettuce
Chilli and lemongrass chicken

Donal Skehan

Choosing the right food for romance and specifically Valentine's Day can make for tricky decisions. Food has a tendency to be self-sabotaging when you're under pressure to impress!

So, the planning process is vitally important - Baked Alaska might seem like the perfect way to your man's heart but then again open flames and rapidly melting ice cream may leave you a quivering mess. And guys, that classic spaghetti bolognaise you know how to perfect seems to be a confident choice until it ends up slopped down the front of your date's dress…

To make sure your Valentine's is a success I've come up with two delicious menus - one each for him and for her - that are sure to wow the object of your affection. I have chosen recipes that are not only delicious enough to fall in love with, they include elements that can be prepared in advance, leaving very little room for error. Serve them up and, all going well, the food isn't the only thing that will be considered hot stuff this Valentine's day.

For Him


We all know the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and if you serve this up, you'll be on the right track! Sweet maple syrup, tangy vinegar and salty soy sauce with a kick of freshness from coriander really make for an extra special pork chop in this recipe.

Serves 2

Maple pork chops with baby gem lettuce
Maple pork chops with baby gem lettuce

You will need

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil, plus extra for brushing

2 large pork loin chops on the bone, 2.5cm thick

Sea salt and ground black pepper

1 small red onion, peeled and finely sliced

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons maple syrup

Black forest gateaux
Black forest gateaux

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

4 tablespoons apple juice

4 Baby Gem lettuce, cut in half lengthways

Large handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped, plus extra to garnish

5 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced, to garnish


Preheat the oven to 190C/ 375F/ Gas Mark 5. Melt the butter with the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. Pat the pork chops dry with a little kitchen paper and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Add the chops to the pan and brown on both sides.

When the meat has a good colour, add the onion and fry for about 30 seconds. Then pour in the vinegar, maple syrup, soy sauce and apple juice and heat until the sauce is bubbling. Baste the meat well with the sauce and then place the pan in the oven on the middle shelf and cook for 10 minutes.

While the pork chops are cooking, place a large griddle pan over a high heat and brush the lettuce halves all over with a little of the oil, and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Place the lettuce halves onto the griddle and cook for about 2 minutes on either side until they have nice deep char marks but still hold their shape. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When the chops are cooked, transfer to a warmed plate and reduce the sauce over a medium heat for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Add the coriander and stir through, then add the chops and the Baby Gem and coat generously in the sauce. Serve the chops on warmed plates with the charred Baby Gem and scatter with spring onions and a little extra coriander.

Dessert: Black Forest Gateaux

Having wowed your mister with the maple glazed pork chops, it's time to seal the deal with dessert. Black Forest Cake is a traditional German dessert that has been well and truly adopted by happy dessert eaters worldwide. Typically, black forest cake consists of several layers of chocolate cake, with whipped cream and cherries between each layer. Then the cake is decorated with additional whipped cream, more cherries, and chocolate shavings. This Valentine's version is particularly delicious as I spike each layer of the cake with rum or kirsch, a fragrant cherry liqueur making it moist, boozy and oh so good. What more could he ask for?

Serves 8

You will need

6 large eggs

150g (5 oz) castor sugar

50g (2 oz) sifted cocoa powder

Chilli and lemongrass chicken
Chilli and lemongrass chicken

25g (1 oz) sifted self-raising flour

300 ml (½ pint) double cream, whipped

1 level tablespoon castor sugar

1 x 450g (1 lb) tin black cherries, stoned

50g (2 oz) dark chocolate

1 tablespoon rum or kirsch

Fresh cherries to decorate


Oil two 20cm (8 in) sandwich tins, and line the base with oiled greaseproof paper. Separate the egg yolks in one bowl, whites in a larger one. Whisk the yolks with the 150g (5 oz) sugar until pale and thickened slightly, then fold in the cocoa and sifted flour. With a clean whisk, beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Stir a heaped tablespoon egg white into the cocoa mixture, then gently fold in the rest using a metal spoon. (Do it very gently.) Divide this mixture between the tins and bake near the centre in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for about 15-20 minutes. They may not appear fully cooked but should be set and slightly puffy. They will shrink quite a lot, which is normal.

Leave the cakes to cool in the tins but turn out while still faintly warm and strip off the papers. Now whip the cream with the castor sugar until floppy but not too stiff. Empty the can of cherries into a sieve over a bowl. Then mix 2 tablespoons of the juice with 1 tablespoon rum or kirsch and sprinkle this over the cake layers. Using a palette knife, spread about one-third of the whipped cream over one cake. Take any stones from the cherries and arrange the cherries over the cream on the cake. Put onto a serving dish. Carefully lift up the other layer and put on top. Cover the entire cake with the rest of the cream using a palette knife. Arrange the fresh cherries around the edges, or make a pattern, and finally grate the chocolate over the top and sides of the cake. Do not move the cake from the surface it is on and keep covered loosely with paper in a cold place.

For her

Main: Chilli & Lemongrass Chicken

This is a wonderfully fragrant dish that is very easy to prepare so you’re already on to a winner with this one! I use chicken thighs here as they have more flavour, but you can easily use chicken breasts instead. The paste made for the sauce can also be used with beef or pork, whatever your lady prefers. Throughout the evening you can impress her with your extensive knowledge of worldwide cuisines. Valentines is not the night for an Irish stew!

Serves 8

You will need

1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped

½ red chilli, deseeded

and finely chopped

1 garlic cloves, peeled

and finely chopped

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)

350g chicken thigh meat, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1 tablespoon curry powder

100ml chicken stock

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Small handful of mint, basil and coriander leaves, to garnish


In a bowl, combine the lemongrass, chilli, garlic and fish sauce. Place the chicken meat into another bowl and add half the lemongrass mix, reserving the rest. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a wok or a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Add the reserved lemongrass mixture, then add the curry powder and stir-fry for about 1 minute until fragrant. Then add the marinated chicken and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes until the pieces have a nice colour on all sides.

Pour the chicken stock into the pan and stir in the sugar. Simmer for a few minutes until the stock has reduced and you are left with a thick sauce.

Serve with steamed rice and garnish with the herbs.


Dessert: Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

Nothing says I love you like chocolate and this rich dark chocolate ganache tart makes a wonderful after-dinner Valentine’s Day treat. I finish mine off with a dusting of gold powder but go wild and show your creative side here. A sprinkle of sugar hearts or edible glitter will surely impress.

Serves 8

You will need

For the pastry

150g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

75g cold butter, diced and chilled

25g caster sugar

1 large egg, beaten

For the caramel sauce

150g caster sugar

125ml double cream

10g butter

pinch of sea salt

For the chocolate ganache filling

240ml double cream

200g dark chocolate (70pc cocoa solids), finely chopped

75g caster sugar

Pinch of sea salt


To make the pastry, rub the flour and butter together in a bowl with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar and a little beaten egg until the mix comes together to form a ball. Press it into a flat oval, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Dust a work surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry to 3mm in thickness and large enough to fit a 20cm diameter, 4cm deep fluted tart tin with a removable base. Line the tin with the pastry and press it into the sides before trimming the edges. As you line the tin, if the pastry crumbles, don’t panic, just patch it together.

Prick the base with a fork all over and line with foil, shiny side down, and fill with baking beans. Place the pastry shell in the oven to blind bake for about 15 minutes until the pastry is a light golden brown. Remove the tin from the oven, lift out the foil and beans and cook for a further 6-8 minutes until cooked through and lightly golden. Remove the tin from the oven again and allow it to cool on a wire rack.

To make the caramel sauce, add the sugar to a heavy based saucepan and let it melt down on a medium heat, swirling (never stirring) until it begins to change colour. Once the sugar has melted and turned an amber colour, pour in the cream and add the butter. It will sizzle and sputter but keep stirring and it will come together. Allow to cool.

Once cooled, spread the caramel sauce into the base of the pastry case then prepare the filling by placing the rest of the ingredients in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix until smooth and then pour on top of the caramel, sprinkle some sea salt on the top then allow to set at room temperature for one hour before serving.


Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life