Come on, you can do better than beans on heart-shaped toast; its Valentines For Crying Out Loud!

You may think its ages away but it’ll creep up on you I promise. Yes, now we’ve put Christmas to bed and we’re just breathing out the last of the Vodka-soaked fumes from New Year, it’s time to look towards the future. You might, like me, be in the middle of the usual January ritual of desperately trying to shake off those Christmas pounds through vigorous(ish) exercise and existing solely on fruit smoothies, detox tea and the smell of fried breakfasts drifting out from nearby cafes but remember, it’s all for a good cause. I’m working this hard now so I will be nice and trim for the next big event in my social calendar – Valentine’s Night! Now let me be clear here; I don’t mean Valentine’s Day. I don’t mean Valentine’s- ‘the shamelessly commercial , companies doing everything they can to squeeze every post-Christmas penny out of you, cheesy, tacky, really has nothing to do with St Valentine any more, and just because you stick a heart on it doesn’t mean you can charge double now does it?’-Day. No, I mean Valentine’s Night. That’s when the magic happens. Oh yeah baby, you know what I’m talking about don’t you eh? That’s right; I’m talking about damn good food. What…?  Well what else did you think I was going to say? This is a food blog after all you know!

For me, Valentine’s night is the perfect excuse to eat really delicious, tasty, sexy food with the one you love. I don’t know about you but to me good food is great whereas great food is sexy.  I’m not talking ‘Nine and a Half Weeks’ sexy with whipped cream in the belly button or a pickled onion up the nose, I’m talking about food tasting so damn good that it does a tango in your mouth and (tastefully) lap dances on your taste buds whilst singing the sweetest siren’s song inviting you to crash into the rock of  it’s calorific ecstasy. You see?  Sexy.  I realise I am possibly alone in sharing this point of view; many chefs I have worked with over the years think this is just plain weird and have suggested I leave my food fetishes at home in the fridge by the carrots and expired yoghurt where they belong. But if there is any time of the year that food should be sexy then it’s got to be on Valentine’s night. Whether you’re with the love of your life, in the first flushes of romance, on a first date or hell, even on your own, the food’s got to turn you on! You could book a table and go out for dinner; there are loads of amazing restaurants out there that will wow you with their sexy food. If you really want to impress the one you’re with however, you could start by cooking dinner yourself. What better way is there to show your Valentine that you’re not just a pretty face and a demon in the sack – you can cook as well.

Over the next few weeks leading up to 14th February, I am going to be giving you recipes for a three course menu created especially for Valentine’s Night. I have tried my best to design an intimate sharing menu which allows you to get up close and personal with your Valentine through food. It’s easy to make but looks fantastic and most of it can be prepared ahead of time so you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night. Equally as important,  it’s delicious but light – you don’t want loads of heavy grub weighing you down at the end of the night do you? Especially if after dinner coffee is to be followed by a healthy serving of sexytime. (I can’t help you out there but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you all!)

The type of menu I have chosen is Asian. This is of course a very broad cuisine, encompassing many different styles of cooking from all over the Asian continent but the essence I wanted to capture was its fullness of flavour accompanied by the sharpness of citrus and ginger combined with the lightness of coriander. I think it works – I hope you do too.

What I’ll do is give you the starter now with the main course and dessert to follow in my next two blogs. Please do contact me if you have any questions or queries – I’ll be happy to help you as best I can. In the meantime, happy cooking and remember:

‘Don’t be Scared, it’s just food!’

Love Danny x

The Caper Tree

PS – if you have, or know someone who has a fondue set, dig it out of the cupboard or steal it from your friend when they’re not looking – you’ll need it for the main course!  If you don’t have one, you can pick up a new one for under £8 at Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Funky-Fondue-set/dp/B00261ZGI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A1KA4XBH5O5K77&s=generic&qid=1295015355&sr=1-1 I strongly recommend you get hold of one but if you can’t don’t worry, there are ways to get around it.)

Asian Sweetcorn Fritters with Pak Choi with a Lemongrass & Mint Citrus Cream (wf, gf)

This may seem like a tricky and fiddly recipe with its many elements but it’s not trust me. Most of it can be made the day or even a few days before so make sure you keep some time free for a stress free Valentines! I recommend you definitely make the Lemongrass & Mint Citrus Cream in advance although you can buy a ready-made Balsamic reduction/glaze if you want to (http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/groceries/index.jsp Most supermarkets do their own versions.) You can also make the garlic, ginger & coriander paste for the fritters in advance too but I recommend you make the fritter batter on the day as they’ll taste better. You can make the fritters earlier in the day however and reheat them in the oven on a medium heat for around 10 minutes just before serving.

The key to this dish is presentation. Get that right and this dish will look after itself.

Serves: 2

You will need:

Food processor

To make the Mint Citrus Cream:

Preparation: Approx. 35 minutes

1 stick                          Lemongrass

250ml                          Unsweetened Soya Milk

1 carton (349g)           Silken tofu

Juice of 2                     Limes

½ bunch                       Mint

2tsp                             Maple Syrup

2tsp                             White Wine Vinegar

Salt & Pepper to taste

Cold water

Method:

  • Place the milk into a pan. Remove the outer skin of the lemongrass and gently hit it with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. Add it to the milk and place on a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce down to a third of its volume. This should take around 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Place the tofu in a food processor. Add the lime juice, mint, maple syrup, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and soya milk (discard the lemongrass first). Blend it all together until smooth.
  • Transfer the mixture to a jug or bowl. Gradually add cold water and stir well until you achieve a consistency slightly thicker than single cream.

To Make The Fritters:

300g                           Sweetcorn (defrosted if from frozen)

4 cloves                       Garlic (roughly chopped)

1 root                          Ginger approx. 6cm long (peeled & roughly chopped)

3tbsp                           Ground Coriander (ground from coriander seed is best)

1tbsp                           Ground Cumin (from cumin seed is best)

1 big bunch                 Fresh Coriander Leaf (roughly chopped)

½ bunch                       Fresh Mint Leaf (roughly chopped)

½                                 Green Chilli (deseeded & roughly chopped)

Zest of 1                      Lime

4tbsp                           Sunflower Oil

¾ tsp                            Salt

½ tsp                            Ground Black Pepper

80g                              Gram or Gluten Free Flour

1 ½ tsp                         Baking Powder

100ml                          Unsweetened Soya Milk

Method:

  • First, make the paste. Place the garlic, ginger, ground coriander, ground cumin, coriander leaf, mint, leaf, oil, chilli, lime zest, salt, pepper and sunflower oil into the food processor and mix.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and repeat till it’s well mixed. Remember, you can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge till you need it.
  • Place the mixture in a bowl and add the sweetcorn, soya milk, flour and baking powder. Mix well.
  • Next test the mixture: Lightly oil a frying pan and gently fry a dessertspoon of mixture on both sides till golden brown. You won’t need too much oil in the pan as there is enough in the mixture. Taste the fritter and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set mixture aside.

You Will Also Need:

1 head                         Pak Choi (Washed and separated into individual stems)

1 pack                          Rice noodles

1 litre                          Sunflower oil

Balsamic reduction

Baby spinach leaves (some left whole & some as a chiffonade)

4 thin slices                 Red chilli (Deseeded)

To make the Balsamic Reduction:

  • You don’t need an expensive balsamic for this. Place half a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar in a saucepan and simmer down till it reduces to a thick syrup. Be careful though – you don’t want to reduce it down too much or it will turn solid. It will thicken as it cools so take it off the heat when it’s still a little runny. If it’s too thick when it has cooled, gently heat it until it loosens up before serving. Don’t forget to make this before you need it or buy a pre-made one.

To make the Rice Noodles:

  • These are dead simple to prepare. You just place approx. 10 individual rice noodles in the deep fat fryer or a pan full of sunflower oil.

BE CAREFUL! OIL CAN CATCH FIRE IF YOU LEAVE IT ON TOO HIGH A HEAT AND FOR TOO LONG. NEVER LEAVE A PAN OF HOT OIL UNATTENDED AND REMOVE FROM THE HEAT AS SOON AS YOU’RE FINISHED.

  • As soon as they hit the oil they puff up instantly. Remove immediately from the oil before they burn and set them aside on absorbent paper. You can also make these well in advance on the day and keep until you need them. These Rice noodles are for decoration and make the dish look great but if you don’t want the hassle of  deep fat frying, you can leave them out.

How to finely slice (or chiffonade) spinach:

  • Take approximately 10-15 spinach leaves and stack them together all facing the same way. Roll them up very tightly. Place the roll horizontally and slice it as finely as you possibly can. Repeat if you need more.

How to Assemble:

  • Place a saucepan of water with a pinch of salt on to boil for the pak choi.

  • Dress the plates: Fan out some spinach leaves in the centre of the plate (see pic) and place in the middle of the plate. You’ll probably have to do two semi-circles to make a full circle.
  • Fry off the fritters: Lightly oil a frying pan and place 2 dsp of mixture per fritter into the pan. Cook on both sides until golden brown.
  • While they are cooking, place the pak choi in the boiling water and cook for approx 2-3 minutes.
  • Place one fritter in the middle of the spinach and top it with the pak choi. Place the other fritter on top of the pak choi.
  • Fry off the fritters: Lightly oil a frying pan and place 2 dsp of mixture per fritter into the pan. Cook on both sides until golden brown.
  • While they are cooking, place the pak choi in the boiling water and cook for approx 2-3 minutes.
  • Place one fritter in the middle of the spinach and top it with the pak choi. Place the other fritter on top of the pak choi.

  • Next, spoon the lemongrass & mint citrus cream around the plate. Make sure you keep the edges nice and neat. You can tidy them by wiping a clean cloth round the edges.
  • Drizzle the balsamic reduction in neat lines over the lemongrass cream.
  • Take the spinach chiffonade with your fingers and place them on top of the fritters, making them as fluffy as possible.
  • Top with the rice noodles and some red chilli slices. Serve immediately.

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