Valentine's Day at home: an occasion to prepare a special meal for the person that you care most about. What that entails depends on the tastes of the person you are cooking for.
For some, the best choice is pure comfort food, a meal of richly flavoured familiar foods that elicits nostalgic memories and feelings of contentment.
A comfort food menu is personal, depending a great deal on the tastes and background of the person in question. For example, slow simmered beef stew might fit the bill for some.
You could build a meal around this hearty dish, beginning with a tossed salad with blue cheese dressing, followed by the stew, and finishing with a little serving of sticky date pudding with caramel sauce.
Oven Beef Stew
25 mL (2 tbsp) cooking oil
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef
50 mL (1/4 cup) all purpose flour
500 mL (2 cups) reduced sodium beef broth
50 m (1/4 cup) sherry
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) baby onions*
1 kg (2 lb) small red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes
500 mL (2 cups) carrots, cut in 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices
500 mL (2 cups) frozen peas
Cut stewing beef into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in 30-cm (12-inch) frying pan, and brown the beef chunks. Sprinkle flour over browned beef, tossing lightly to coat. Gradually stir in beef broth and sherry, stirring well after each addition.
Place in 3-litre (3-quart) casserole. Cover and simmer in oven at 160 C (325 F) for 90 minutes.
Just before removing casserole from the oven, prepare vegetables. Peel baby onions. Scrub potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces. Scrub and peel carrots, cut in half lengthwise if large, and cut into 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices.
Measure frozen peas. Add vegetables to stew, stir in, and return to oven for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Serve with fresh rolls or biscuits.
* If baby onions are not available, use 1 large onion, cut into small wedges. Saute wedges in small amount of oil before browning meat, remove from pan, and set aside while browning meat. Then add sautéed onions to beef in broth before placing casserole in oven.
Makes 10 servings
Instead of going the "comfort food" route, you may want to prepare a meal that inspires a little virtual travelling, a diversion for someone who is longing to take a winter vacation. What is the ideal destination: one of those other islands, somewhere in the Caribbean?
This recipe is an example of a Trinidadian curry, taken from Ann Vanderhoof's fascinating account of her adventures sailinand learning about the foods of the Caribbean islands. Adjust the amount of hot pepper to suit your taste.
Trini-Style Curry Shrimp
Adapted from Vanderhoof, Ann: The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover's Caribbean Adventure, Doubleday Canada, Toronto 2009.
15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 green onion, chopped
15 mL (1 tbsp) fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cubanelle or green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 Scotch bonnet or other hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped (or to taste)
15 mL (1 tbsp) curry powder (preferably West Indian), mixed with a little water to make a paste
1 tomato, chopped
125 mL (1/2 cup) coconut milk
500 g (1 lb) large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 mL (1/2 tsp) sea salt
2 mL (1/2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add garlic, green onion, ginger and peppers, and cook for a couple of minutes until tender and fragrant. Stir in curry paste and continue cooking for a couple minutes longer.
Add tomato and coconut milk. Simmer about 10 minutes, until mixture thickens and reduces.
Toss shrimp with salt and pepper. Add to pan and cook until they are just done (about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on size). Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot over basmati rice. Makes 2 lavish servings.
If all you and your sweetheart really care about is chocolate, next Tuesday might be the perfect time to make a batch of my favourite chocolate brownies.
125 mL (1/2 cup) butter
50 mL (1/4 cup) cocoa
250 mL (1 cup) granulated sugar
175 mL (3/4 cup) all purpose flour
Place butter and cocoa in a microwave-safe glass measuring cup or dish, and microwave at high power just until butter and cocoa are melted. Stir together and set aside.
In a small bowl, beat eggs lightly to combine. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar and flour. Stir in lightly beaten eggs, and then butter/cocoa mixture.
Turn batter into a lightly greased 20-cm (8-inch) square baking pan. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for approximately 30 minutes, until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Cool and cut into squares. Serve with drizzle of raspberry coulis.
Adapted from Epicurious.com
1 280 g (10 oz) package frozen raspberries in syrup
25 mL (2 tbsp) sugar
5 mL (1 tsp) fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Puree raspberries with syrup, sugar and lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on solids. To make with fresh raspberries, use 625 mL (2 ½ cups) fresh raspberries and 50 mL (¼ cup) sugar.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.