February 11 - 17, 2024: Issue 613


The Food Of Love: Valentines Day Meal Ideas For The Home Cook

Valentines Day is coming up this Tuesday, February 14, and even though we may not go overboard in Australia in celebrating this day, a few little bit special recipe ideas, and being able to make them quickly, can add something extra to what is a weekday after all again this year, and if done without slaving for hours, also give you more time with your loved ones – you can never have enough of that!

These ideas feature some scrumptious Summer fruits, now in season, as well as a couple of mains alternatives, one you can prepare at dawn when everyone else is not up yet and then flash through a hot pan at dusk. There are also desert ideas for those not into too much chocolate, and one featuring chocolate that gets made and eaten year round here. 

Chilli and lemongrass chicken
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
350g chicken thigh meat, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tbsp sunflower oil
100ml chicken stock
1 tbsp caster sugar
½ small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
small handful fresh mint, basil and coriander leaves, to garnish (optional)
steamed rice, to serve

In a bowl, combine the lemongrass, chilli, garlic and fish sauce. Place the chicken meat into another bowl and add half the lemongrass mix, reserving the rest. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 20 minutes. You can leave out the chilli if serving this to youngsters.

Heat the oil in a wok or a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Add the reserved lemongrass mixture and stir-fry for about one minute until fragrant. Then add the marinated chicken and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken pieces have a nice colour on all sides. Add the broccoli and stir-fry for another minute.

Pour the chicken stock into the pan and stir in the sugar. Simmer for a few minutes, or until the stock has reduced and you are left with a thick sauce. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with the herbs.

Pappardelle with mushrooms

150-200g field mushrooms
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup grated parmesan
30g unsalted butter
50ml olive oil
200g Swiss brown mushrooms, quartered
300ml cream
200g pappardelle pasta
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Slice your mushrooms, reserving 2-4, and garlic..
Place remaining mushrooms in a food processor with the parmesan and process to combine. Set aside.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over low heat until the butter has melted. Add the garlic cloves and cook, covered, for 10 minutes until golden and soft. Add the Field and Swiss brown mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes. Cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add the cream and allow to simmer gently until thickens.
Cook the pasta in a saucepan of boiling salted water following packet directions or until al dente. Drain, then toss with the mushroom mixture. Stir in the parsley and serve in bowls dusted with the porcini mixture.

Vegetable Bhajis
500 grams of Besan Flour (chick pea flour – available in health food section of supermarkets or in good fruit ad veg. stores)
4 zucchini (grated)
1 large onion (sliced thin)
4 large mushrooms (sliced)
2 carrots (grated)
2 handfuls fresh green beans - chopped
3 spring onions – chopped
Salt and pepper to season Besan flour
Cold water to mix – or 2 x eggs plus water
Vegetable oil
Spices as below in Onion Bhaji alternative or omit if making for children

Put oven on to 180 degrees and two flat trays in at same time to heat up (this will keep bhajis hot while you cook others – it is also a way to shallow fry them and finish off cooking process in oven, minimising oil use). Place all your prepared vegetables in a bowl, add in the Besan flour and mix so all ingredients are coated. 

Add your wet ingredients – when adding the water you want to form a sticky fairly thick mixture otherwise you will have problems flipping the Bhaji. We only shallow fry these rather then deep frying so we get the taste of the vegetables and besan flour instead of the oil predominating. Heat a frying pan and place about 1cm of oil in. 

Dollop a tablespoon of mixture in and allow to flatten slightly; stir with spoon to flatten if required. Allow to brown and then flip. Once other side has browned, place on your heated tray in oven to finish cooking and begin next batch. Continue this process until all are cooked. Serve with a nice crisp green salad and fresh hot bread.

Tamarind Chutney
1/2 lb tamarind, seeded
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons roasted ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black salt
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
Break the tamarind into small pieces and soak in boiling water for one hour. Mash it into a pulp and strain, pressing the tamarind into the strainer to remove all the pulp. Add sugar to the pulp. Mix well. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix and taste. Add more sugar, salt or pepper as needed. Chutney can be refrigerated for two to three months.
Serving suggestion:
Tamarind chutney is delicious with samosas, pakoras, and bhajis.

Cucumber Raita
2 Lebanese cucumbers - peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups Greek yoghurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Stir together the cucumber, yoghurt, lemon juice, mint, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Onion Bhaji
100g (4oz) chickpea flour or gram flour
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
25g (1oz) fresh coriander, finely chopped
Cold water, to mix
Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Sift the flour, chilli, turmeric, cumin, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped coriander, onions and chillies and mix well. Preheat the frypan and add oil. Gradually add enough water to the flour mixture to form a thick batter, mixing very well so the onions are well coated. Very carefully drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain well on paper towels. Keep warm whilst you cook the remaining bhajis on your oven trays. Serve hot.

Chocolate self-saucing pudding

1/2 cup milk
1 egg
80g salted butter, melted, cooled
1 cup self-raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra to serve
1/2 cup brown sugar
50-100grams grated dark cocolate
Thick cream or ice cream to serve
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 180°C or 160C fan-forced. Grease a 1.5L, 6 cups, capacity ovenproof baking dish. Combine milk, butter and egg and lightly whisk.

Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl. Stir in sugar. Grate in 50-100 grams of dark chocolate. Slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture, whisking until well combined and smooth. While you're combining those dry ingredients, get your sauce combination ready too: combine cocoa powder and brown sugar for sauce in a bowl.

Spoon pudding mix into baking dish and smooth so it sits evenly. Sprinkle combined sugar and cocoa over pudding. Pour the boiling water over the back of a large metal spoon to cover pudding. Place dish onto a baking tray just in case some spills over into your oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until pudding bounces back when pressed gently in centre. Serve hot with whipped cream or ice cream - bliss!

Chocolate is believed to contain high levels of antioxidants with some studies showing chocolate could lower cholesterol levels and prevent memory decline - so, as long as you don't have this winter warmer every week, you are also helping your body to be at its peak. 

Vanilla Poached Peaches

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 large peaches, pitted and quartered
Mint leaves or cinnamon, for garnish

Place the water, sugar, vanilla bean and scrapings into a saucepan. Over low heat stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the cut fruit. Poach over low heat for about 5 minutes. Transfer the peaches and sauce to small, decorative bowls. Garnish with mint leaves or a dusting of cinnamon. Serve immediately. If you don’t like peaches – try peaches - they are perfect at present.

Plum & Nectarine Clafoutis

5 Plums and 5 Nectarines or Peaches
200 grams caster sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
5 large eggs
butter to grease
1/4 cup flaked almonds (optional)
icing sugar to dust

The French fruit and custard called clafoutis was first made in Limousin with unpitted cherries (pits were said to add flavour) and many French cooks still make clafoutis this way. The pudding-like dessert is also made with any soft fruits or berries. The batter comes together quickly in a blender. During baking, the custard puffs up and deflates as it cools.
Preheat your oven to 190C. Grease the base of the baking dish with butter and sprinkle one tablespoon of the sugar on the base of the baking dish. Cut the fruit in half and remove the stone and place cut side down on the bottom of the dish.

In a blender mix the rest of the sugar, milk, cream, flour, vanilla and eggs for 2 minutes until all lumps have disappeared. Pour over the fruit which will then pop up to the top. Sprinkle almonds over the top and then bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes until golden and risen.
Remove from oven and dust 1 tablespoon of icing sugar on top and serve with ice cream.

Clafoutis - easy to make, tastes spectacular