Ask Peter: For my Valentine
I have a new girlfriend (I am in my fifties and find it strange saying that) who is a great cook. I am not much of a cook (I do a couple of fairly basic things) but would like to surprise her with a Valentine’s Day meal that I have made myself. Could you recommend a couple of dishes that would impress a very talented cook and lover of Bite magazine?Paul
I’m also in my fifties and have a boyfriend a few years younger than me, also a really good cook, so I think we’re ok using those words between us (and all of the Bite readers . . . ) Valentine’s Day is always an interesting service in restaurants as the tables are taken up with, basically, two types of diners — those in the heady flush of a new love where the food is the least of their concerns as they look into each other’s eyes ignoring the waiters, champagne, flowers and anything else, and in reality just want to get home as quickly as possible. And those who don’t seem to have too much to talk about and therefore the food is key — and we have to get it right or we know they won’t be celebrating the following year.
Over the years it’s been interesting trying to figure out what the customer wants in order to have a peaceful romantic evening, and some of the ingredients we’ve come to realise aren’t a good idea for various digestive and other reasons are: jerusalem artichokes, beans and pulses, excessive garlic, offal (unless you’re dating a butcher or Fergus Henderson), raw onions, squid ink, pickled herring (unless you’re dating a Viking) or brussels sprouts. As it’s summer in New Zealand, many of these ingredients aren’t available to you right now or of concern — but bear them in mind when you’re celebrating your next Valentine’s in the Northern Hemisphere, which is where I will be on the 14th.
I’m not sure just how well you can cook and so don’t want to appear a taskmaster but how about something like this:
- Keep the first course simple, and cold, so you can prep a little in advance. Lay thinly sliced smoked salmon (or raw salmon) on a plate. Dollop on a few teaspoons of creme fraiche mixed with a little finely grated lime zest, and sprinkle with a chunky salsa of avocado, ginger, chilli sauce, cherry tomato quarters, lime juice and olive oil.
- Main course of roast organic or corn-fed chicken breast served with butter-sauteed spinach and peas, golden kumara mashed with a little miso paste and mustard, and a lovely bright green pesto. The benefit of a simple main like this is that it should be fairly stress-free for you, and you can always buy a good pesto from the shops.
- For dessert, keep it simple again, and serve a small pavlova (this one is my mother’s recipe and it truly is foolproof) or mini meringues, or even some bought high-end macaroons, served with cream, lightly whipped with manuka honey and plain yoghurt, and a chunky fruit salad of passionfruit, mango and raspberries and/or strawberries.
- Chocolates need to be served of course, they’re the perfect expectation. It is fairly easy to make a delicious chocolate truffle (see our truffle collection), so find the time a few days before to make a dozen. Serve them at room temperature, not straight out of the fridge (as they’ll be too hard), and I think you’ll be much loved. Your girlfriend will not enjoy her evening if you’re stressed — hardly an endearing trait — so you’re best to do simple, well. I wish you all the best for the 14th —do let us know how it goes.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.