The velvety red hearts. The single long-stemmed rose. I fear I will reveal myself to be a true Valentine’s curmudgeon, but there’s something kind of maudlin about it all, down to the dutiful line at the corner florist.
And who really wants to go out for dinner in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day? Not me. A crowded dining room has as much appeal for me as the matric dance.
You could do something truly special for your sweetheart: stay home and make a meal, even if you’re a rusty cook.
That you’re cooking at all makes an impression. It can be deeply personal.
Knowing your Valentine’s tastes will guide you in the composition of the menu, whether it is beans and mealie bread-style comfort food or caviar-topped blini and oysters.
There’s no need to panic. In the Valentine’s situation I prescribe, the cook is never frazzled or overworked.
It’s perfectly relaxed, a menu that is very straightforward but tastes luxurious, with clean, clear and bright flavours. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg or leave an unwieldy mess. Simply put, it’s simple to make.
Seared Sea Scallops (Serves 2)
4 baby sweet potatoes (or use 2 larger sweet potatoes)
4 to 6 large dry-packed fresh sea scallops
Salt and pepper
3 tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbs grated peeled ginger
1 fresh hot red chilli pepper, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Olive oil, for searing
225g baby bok choy, washed, leaves separated and stems discarded (or use spinach or chard leaves)
2 tbs roughly chopped coriander, for garnish (optional)
Heat oven to 200ºC.
Wash sweet potatoes and wrap them tightly in foil. Roast until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (If you are using larger sweet potatoes, they may require 15 minutes more in the oven.)
Using a paring knife, remove the small hard “foot” from the edge of each scallop. Pat scallops dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper.
Put on a medium pot of salted water to boil for the greens.
Meanwhile, make the ginger butter: combine butter, ginger, chilli and lime zest and juice, and stir together until well incorporated. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
Take a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold the scallops without crowding and place over medium-high heat. Add a film of olive oil. When the oil is nearly smoking, add the scallops in one layer and let them sizzle. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for at least 5 minutes.
Use a small spatula to check the scallops as they brown, allowing them to colour gradually. They should be quite crisp and well caramelised. Turn off heat and flip scallops. Leave in pan until firm to the touch.
While the scallops are cooking, blanch the bok choy: cook it for 1 minute in the salted boiling water, then drain and blot on a kitchen towel. Keep warm.
Remove and place scallops, browned-side up, on to warmed serving plates. Surround with the bok choy leaves and halved or sliced sweet potatoes.
Quickly warm the butter in the cast-iron pan and spoon over everything. Sprinkle with coriander if desired.
Chocolate-Bourbon Truffles (Makes 16-18)
225g bittersweet chocolate
¾ cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 drops vanilla extract
1 tbs bourbon
½ cup toasted crushed pecans, pistachios hazelnuts
Set a stainless steel mixing bowl over a pan of boiling water to make a double boiler.
Put chocolate, cream and salt in bowl and heat until chocolate is completely melted, about 15 minutes.
Add vanilla and bourbon and whisk thoroughly, until mixture is smooth and shiny. Pour into a pie plate or baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Use a melon baller or soup spoon to make rough golf ball-sized spheres. Roll between cocoa-dusted palms, then in crushed nuts. Refrigerate, but don’t serve them ice cold; remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving.
The New York Times