With the majority of the UK in strict lockdown, it’s safe to say that most of us will be enjoying – yet another – cosy night in with our Valentine this February.
If, like me, you’ve been cooking nearly every meal from scratch at home since March last year, you might be struggling for motivation for V-day.
One option is to splash out on a ‘fine dining at home’ option – I’ve rounded up a few options here.
But in an attempt to save money and fill time, I’ll be cooking from scratch again.
I’ll aim for three courses, but they need to be carefully considered. Ideally the dessert and starter can be prepped in advance, meaning I can actually enjoy the meal after finishing the main course, rather than continue to cook.
For some reason (er, maybe the biscuit tin?) I’m never as hungry at home as I am in a restaurant, so the three courses also need to be light – this isn’t the time for carbs on carbs, or for big pies or bakes.
I also need to be organised – I try to get most of my food delivered, meaning I need to decide what I want at least a few days in advance, and try to avoid nipping out for missing items or extra bits. So, a little flexibility with my recipes is needed.
Valentine’s Day Starter
In order for this to be a special occasion menu, rather than just another evening in lockdown, a little luxury is important.
A few weeks ago I picked up some huge, fresh scallops from our local fish market (the amazing Flower Farm).
I’d made a big batch of celeriac soup a few days previously, and with some incredible forethought, kept a little aside before I added extra stock to eat as a rich and creamy celeriac puree.
By making the celeriac puree in advance, my scallop dish was super quick to prepare just before eating, taking just 6 minutes. I’ve shared my recipe below.
- 6 large scallops
- 2 portions celeriac puree (this recipe is great)
- 4 strips pancetta
- Handful of sage leaves
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- Make your celeriac puree in advance – it will keep in the fridge for a few days. Heat gently in a saucepan when you are ready to serve.
- Toast your pine nuts for a couple of minutes in dry frying pan. Remove to a bowl.
- Fry your pancetta in the same pan until crisp. Remove to kitchen towel.
- Add your butter to the pan until foaming and add your scallops. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden and caremelised.
- When the scallops are nearly finished, add your sage leaves.
- To serve, make sure you use heated plates. Add your celeriac puree and arrange 3 scallops on each plate. Top with 2 slices of pancetta, a sprinkle of pine nuts and the crispy sage leaves.
Valentine’s Day Main Course
With a 3-course meal, I generally prefer to keep the main course on the lighter side, celebrating protein and vegetables, rather than doubling down too much on the carbs.
However, if you want something really luxurious, there is nothing quite like a creamy dauphinoise potato side dish, or perhaps a mash with equal parts potato and butter, or even polenta, made with milk, parmesan and butter.
For New Year, we enjoyed M&S’s ‘best ever Chicken Kiev’ with polenta – it was a pretty epic meal and we needed a good couple of hours before we could attempt dessert. It’s a great option if you want something really filling and very easy.
However, to follow my scallops and precede my dessert, I’m looking for something a little more modest. Lamb is my meat of choice – it feels special and luxurious and pairs so well with many different side dishes that there is sure to be a way you like it.
One option is this dish of lamb and butternut squash, which I made using lamb steaks from Lake District Farmers.
Another fantastic option for Valentines is lamb with pomegranate – the jewel-pink pomegranate seeds look enticing and go so well with the sweet meat. This slow roast option is great if you don’t want to do too much work just before serving:
This recipe, which includes fennel as well as the always sophisticated rack of lamb, would be a great choice too.
A less stylish but perhaps more delicious lamb dish is Nigel Slater’s ‘Moroccan spiced lamb shanks with aubergine’, from possibly my best-loved cookbook of all time, ‘Real Cooking’.
I made this for the first time just before Christmas, making only one change (adding a tin of chickpeas for a little more substance) and it was fantastic – rich, tangy, hearty – as well as super easy to make (all the ingredients go in a pot and cook in the oven for a few hours).
Valentine’s Day Dessert
I’ve considered lots of fancy cream and fruit desserts, posh pastry, tartlets, but I’ve settled on a super simple but very indulgent choice: the cookie.
We’re all familiar with cookies, but I first had one as a proper dessert at the amazing restaurant ‘Temper’, in Soho. Everything is cooked over fire, including the infamous dessert of ‘deep dish brigadeiro cookie with fior de latte ice cream’.
You need to make a trip there when it’s back up and running.
Nigella made this dessert mainstream with her chocolate chip cookie pots, as part of her Simply Nigella series / cookbook back in 2015. The recipe is online or available in the book.
But actually, my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe is from blogger ‘Rosie Londoner’, and is based on London favourite Ben’s Cookies. I make a double batch and freeze individual balls. They are perfect – i.e. undercooked and gooey – after 8 minutes in the oven.
Served with ice cream, this is an easy and delicious Valentine’s Day pud.
There you have it. My perfect Valentine’s Day in Lockdown menu – scallops, lamb and chocolate-chip cookie.