Valentine's Day is now less than a week away. As soon as the shops closed on Christmas Eve the festive decs were wheeled out of one door and the hearts, fake red roses, Champagne chocolates and teddy bears were rolled in the other.
But every year Valentine’s Day still manages to creep up on me. I’m the idiot running around on February 13 at 5.30pm looking for a card and present.
I daren’t think what would happen if my missus woke up on Valentine’s Day and there was no card or gift. I’d probably be sleeping in the car for the foreseeable.
I’m a bit of a Valentine’s Grinch. Some people are all bah humbug about Christmas. Well, I feel the same way about February 14.
I think it’s a bloke thing. Until I met my wife, February 14 was a big no-no as far as I was concerned – just another day for the shops to push a load of over-priced schmaltz.
The only cute soft toys I want to get anywhere near are those littering the floor of my young daughters’ bedrooms.
But I can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is a fantastic excuse to enjoy a great meal – as if you need one! It’s the ace I have up my sleeve.
As a chef at one of the region’s top restaurants, I can always be trusted to come up trumps in the kitchen and a romantic meal is a great way to charm yourself back into your loved one’s affections if, like me, the thought of being faced with a shop full of tired and cheesy Valentine’s cards brings you out in a cold sweat.
Cooking for your loved one is an intimate and immensely romantic gesture, even if it does mean spending time in the kitchen. Think about it. What could be more pleasurable than making the effort to cook for someone you care about?
And if they care about you, they will love the fact that you have made the effort.
But effort doesn’t have to mean going over the top with a full menu of lovers’ foods like oysters, asparagus, truffles, caviar, Champagne and chocolate.
Perhaps it’s because I spend all my time working in a kitchen, but when I’m off-duty I like to keep it simple.
If you want to get out of the house and skip the washing up, here at Food Social we’ve pulled together a very special and sophisticated menu for the big night that includes, among other dishes, twice-baked Northumbrian cheese soufflé to start, a sharing main course of marinated rib of beef for two and an indulgent hot chocolate fondant, banana parfait and peanut brittle for dessert.
But for me, a Valentine’s night at home with the kids safely despatched to their grandparents calls for food that is quick and easy to prepare – and it needs to strike a balance between simple, seasonal flavours and extra special touches.
I hope Donna isn’t reading this as I want our Valentine’s Day meal to be a surprise.
But rather than oysters, I’ll be going for a shellfish cocktail using in-season crab, mussels and langoustine from North Shields Fish Quay for a real flavour of the sea. I’ll probably follow this with steak and a bottle of juicy red wine and round the meal off with something light and chocolatey like a mousse, fondue or Food Social’s moreish white chocolate and cardamom crème brulee.
I’m not convinced chocolate is an aphrodisiac, but it has become an essential Valentine’s Day ingredient, more for its perceived than actual effect. Any food carefully prepared can be romantic. The great thing with this menu is that the seafood salad and the dessert can be made in advance and the steak takes just a few minutes to cook.
This takes some of the pressure off your date night in.
Neither is it a long, drawn-out multi-course affair.
The last thing you want to be thinking of taking is a post-meal kip rather than an amorous kiss!
:: Andrew Wilkinson is head chef at David Kennedy’s Food Social, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk
The Valentine’s night menu costs £45 and includes handcrafted confectionery to take away. To see the full menu go to www.foodsocial.co.uk
RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Treacle tart, lemon curd and creme fraiche (Makes one large pie)
This is one of the desserts on the Valentine's Night menu here at the restaurant. It can be made in advance and reheated.
For the sweet pastry:
250g plain flour
100g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
For the filling:
92g unsalted butter
165g white breadcrumbs
90ml double cream
720g golden syrup
For the lemon curd:
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
1½ lemons, juice and zest
2 egg yolks
First make the pastry by sifting the icing sugar and flour together in a bowl. Add the softened butter and mix together until the pastry resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Break in the eggs and bring the pastry together until smooth. Form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Next make the lemon curd. Put the butter, sugar, lemon juice and zest into a bowl and place over a pan of boiling water and stir until all the butter has melted.
Add the egg yolks and whisk for around 10 minutes or until you have achieved a custard consistency.
Pour the curd into a sterilised glass jar and refrigerate.
Roll out the pastry until it is the thickness of a £2 coin and use it to line a loose-bottomed flan tin, remembering to press the pastry into the sides and to leave a slight overhang to allow for shrinkage.
Line the pastry case with parchment paper and weigh down with ceramic or baking beans. Bake blind at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 12 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for another two minutes until a light golden colour. The pastry should not be cooked, however. Make the filling by warming through the golden syrup in a pan. Melt the butter in another pan until it gives off a nutty smell and then pour it into the golden syrup.
Mix the eggs and the cream together and stir into the golden syrup along with the breadcrumbs and salt.
Turn the oven down to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Pour the syrup into the pastry case to within 4-5mm of the top and cook for 25 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 140C/275F/gas mark 1 and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Leave the tart to cool slightly and serve with the lemon curd and crème fraiche.