How to impress your Valentine for dinner this year? Miriam shares a wonderful menu that can be part prepared ahead, leaving you with more time to make yourself look perfect. Soothing chicken & fennel soup, followed by seared beef salad rounded off with ginger & pear eclairs.
So there’s a person that you’ve fancied for a while, maybe you’ve been on a few dates and now you want to impress them…well, go on, invite them round for dinner… on Valentine’s Day! I know it sounds like a cheesy idea but think about it – all the restaurants are going to be full to the rafters with couples being herded in and out for a heart-shaped set menu, and there’s no sense in you both sitting at your respective homes watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona. No, no, no, pick up the phone, crack open the pink champagne (it’s probably on offer) and cook up a storm!
The classic Valentine’s Day Menu formula seems to begin with an aphrodisiac-based starter (such as oysters or asparagus) followed by a heavy main course and finished with a very gooey, chocolate-y pudding. This all sounds lovely, but if I ate all that my conversation would certainly not be sparkling…more like snoozing! Instead I have gone for things that are fairly light, easy to prepare and won’t fall flat if your guest arrives a little late. Oh and I have written the recipes to be part prepared ahead – this leaves you time to do all those things you need to do before they arrive, you know, brush your teeth, cut your toenails, wash the dust off the champagne flutes, that sort of thing.
Starter: Chicken & Fennel Soup
Serve in dainty cups and saucers or big cosy mugs, either way it should be just the thing to soothe any dating nerves and particularly perfect if your guest is drenched from the rain (you know, like in ALL the movies!).
2 free-range chicken legs
Salt & Pepper
2 shallots, finely diced
½ fennel bulb, finely diced (keep the other half for the main course)
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 courgette, finely diced
500ml of chicken stock
4 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 handful of broken vermicelli (optional)
Pinch of fresh parsley, finely sliced
Earlier in the day:
Place the chicken legs in an ovenproof dish cover with a splash of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
Roast at 200°C for about 1 hour or until the skin is getting crispy and the meat is cooked through
Allow to cool, discard the skin, take the meat off the bones and cut into small pieces and set aside
Just before your guest arrives:
Fry the diced shallots and fennel with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan, until they start to soften and the shallots are becoming translucent
Add the diced courgette and carrot and cook for another minute or two then add the stock, cloves, and the star anise.
Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5-6 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste and discard the star anise and cloves
Add the cooked chicken and vermicelli (if using) and simmer for 3 minutes
Serve with the parsley sprinkled over the top
This recipe makes quite big portions, so you’ll probably have some leftovers which you can have for lunch the next day… or it could be good to give to any housemates who turn up half way through your dinner, the ones who said they would be out all evening!
Main Course: Seared Beef Salad
This is a light, elegant and ridiculously simple main course that you can both delicately pick at while discussing topics such as favourite films, music tastes or… baby names!
200g of good quality beef fillet
1 tablespoon of chopped chives
1 small bag of wild rocket
50-60g of hard goats cheese, finely sliced with a vegetable peeler
½ fennel bulb, finely sliced
Earlier in the day:
Season the beef well on both sides with lots of black pepper
In a non-stick frying pan over a very high heat, sear the beef in about a teaspoon of olive oil. It just needs a few seconds each side
When the beef is still raw in the middle but is just starting to pick up some golden/caramelised colours on the outsides, take it off the heat and leave on a plate.
In a medium sized bowl mix the zest of 1 lemon, 2 teaspoons of olive oil and gradually whisk in the juice of the lemon until it’s fully incorporated. Add the chives and the beef and cover with cling film to marinate for at least 30 minutes
Lay the fennel slices over the plates then dot around the caperberries, pieces of goat’s cheese, and rocket leaves.
Slice the beef and add to the plate along with a drizzle of any remaining marinade
Serve with slices of fresh bread (I won’t tell anyone if you don’t bake it yourself).
Dessert: Ginger and Pear Éclairs
Although technically they are giant profiteroles but éclair rhymes with pear… or you could just call them “Pearfiteroles”… I’ll leave it to you.
50g of butter
2 tablespoons of strong white bread flour
½ teaspoon of caster sugar
100g of mascarpone
100g of extra thick double cream
The seeds of 1 vanilla pod
3 tablespoons of light brown sugar
1 thumb sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon of ground ginger
2 pieces of crystalised ginger (optional)
1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced
Earlier in the day:
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a tray with a piece of lightly greased baking paper and splash the tray with a tiny bit of water
To make the choux buns: put 6 tablespoons of water into a small saucepan with half of the butter. Heat until the butter has completely melted and starts to simmer
Take the pan off the heat and quickly add the flour and the caster sugar stirring vigorously to remove any lumps
When you have a smooth, thick paste whisk in the egg. You need to give it a bit of welly, but the lumps will go and you will be left with a smooth and glossy batter
Divide the mixture into 2 large dollops on the baking tray (don’t put them too close together) and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until well risen and golden brown on the outside
Split the choux buns in half horizontally as soon as they come out of the oven and leave to cool, cut side up on the tray or a wire rack
To make the caramel sauce; heat the rest of the butter in a pan with the brown sugar and the root ginger slices until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is simmering
Take the pan off the heat and add about a tablespoon of the cream, stirring continuously, then discard the ginger slices and set aside
Make a simple icing by mixing together about 4 tablespoons of icing sugar, the ground ginger and 3 teaspoons of water. Mix well and add more icing sugar if it is too thin or a splash more water if it’s too thick then spread the icing over the top of 1 half of each choux bun and leave to set (top with a piece of crystallised ginger if using)
For the vanilla cream simply combine the mascarpone, 50g of the cream and the vanilla seeds together in a bowl and leave the mixture in the fridge until serving
When you’re ready to serve:
Lay the un-iced base of a choux bun on each plate, cut side up, and fill with spoonfuls of the vanilla cream, slices of pear and the caramel sauce then top each one with its decorated lid
Adorn the plate with any remaining caramel sauce and a dusting of icing sugar
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a super Valentine’s Day x
There are more inspiring Valentine's Day recipes on Great British Chefs for that romantic night in.