Valentine’s Day…. I’m not sure what to think of this day now that I’m older. Romance is so much more than just that “one day”. No longer deluded by the typical cliché – love, romance, a weekend in Paris (as much as I visit my adored Paris regularly for my blog) a dozen red roses, balloons and chocolates, a romantic meal out. I find myself as a cynical Virgo saying it’s just another money-making day for the florists, restaurants and hotels. The true, naked Valentine’s, I’m sure you’ve all experienced, isn’t just magic and fairy tales but more strictly the relationship between you and your ever-so-loved other half every single day of the year. But as much as I say this, underneath all that cynicism, I’m still a hearts and flowers kind of girl still stuck in my teenage years believing in true love and romance; wanting to be whisked off my feet, to be surprised with that weekend away or with mountains of flowers or that meal that’s been so lovingly cooked just for me. Underneath it all, I do still long for this now and again and that’s not to say that Mr London meets Paris isn’t the loving type, yes underneath that tough exterior is a man who would do all these things for me and more were it not for lack of time or if money was no object.
This photo is one of my favourites, we were in Paris for my birthday in September 2014 and yes, I know it was a cliché but he suggested buying a padlock, scratching our initials on it and securing it to the Lover’s Lock Bridge (Pont des Arts) then, not long after, the Parisian authorites took them all down! We never got to go back and have a look if we could find it when we returned to Paris the following September. Just another of the little gestures by Mr LMP which touch and surprise me and mean so much more, it’s the little things that count these days for us.
Instead, romance for me are the precious little things that make me feel loved and appreciated any day of the year. For example, I like that just out of the blue now and again I will get breakfast in bed and every single Sunday, I’m woken with a lovely hot cup of tea. A sweet text message out of the blue, holding hands to this day every time we go in the evening, a surprise mini bottle of champagne whenever we travel to Paris on the Eurostar – ok, I kind of expect it now but it was the sweetest thing to find some champagne after I awoke from my slumber on our trip to Paris the day before my birthday in 2014. But most of all, the most touching thing was when he had some time off, a rarity nowadays and we went to London shopping, we didn’t come back with the usual, instead, we came home with the most gorgeous vintage baguette diamond and platinum eternity ring that compliments my engagement and wedding ring perfectly and if he had his way (I stopped him) he had his eye on the most gobsmackingly gorgeous very expensive eternity ring in Rome 7 years ago. He says that not buying that dazzling ring was his biggest regret but my eternity ring means so much to me, it’s just what I’ve always wanted, and it just slipped on my finger that day, it was meant to be. Yes, it would be sad if we counted on just that one day of the year to show our loved one how much we love them.
On Valentine’s Day, we never go out, it’s something we decided on years ago, instead, we go out the Saturday after the big day and sometimes, we stay overnight in a hotel – a mini staycation. We didn’t want to be ripped off by a boring set menu at a restaurant, instead, we’ve always cooked something extra special. I remember one year, I made such a rich three course meal, he was sick! If you’re one of those couples who’ve always dreamed of setting foot in Paris around Valentine’s Day, undoubtedly the world’s most romantic city and gourmet capital of the world, but that one wish has never been fulfilled, then please keep reading because below is my sparked-up substitute to replace that dream and you never know, he may just surprise you at the weekend.
WHAT TO START WITH
A cocktail and it must involve champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries. This cocktail is almost like a Bellini and all you need is a mix of blackberries and raspberries. In a blender, blitz a punnet of raspberries and blackberries with 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar and some vodka – about 30 ml. When it becomes a puree, sieve to get rid of the seeds. Make this in the morning so that it can be well chilled before the evening. When ready to make, surprise your Valentine with a Velvet Kiss Cocktail, pour some into two champagne flutes to come a third of the way up the flute, gently pour over the champagne. Be careful it doesn’t bubble over, I’ve even tried making it the other way around to avoid a spill of precious bubbly, fill the flute with ¾ with champagne and top with the fruit puree, finish with a slice of strawberry or a raspberry/blackberry secured with a cocktail stick. Another stunning cocktail is a Hibiscus Champagne, hibiscus flowers are gorgeous deep crimson raspberry/rose flavoured flowers in syrup. Pop one in a champagne flute with a bit of juice from the jar and top with champagne, like magic, they unravel and open making a pretty pink/red cocktail and the best bit, the flowers are edible. For the strawberries, gently melt 100g dark chocolate over a basin of hot water, the saucepan only needs about 150ml of simmering water. Make sure the basin is large enough to sit over the top of the saucepan and it MUST NOT touch the water, let it melt and dip strawberries in the chocolate. Lay on a plate with greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge.
WHAT WOULD I MAKE FOR A STARTER
Obviously, there can only be one starter and that’s oysters. I adore oysters, in fact, the restaurant I’ve chosen to go to this Saturday is all about seafood and fish and I look forward to having plenty of these luscious taste-of-the-sea beauties. You either like oysters or you don’t but make sure if you’re going to have them to get them fresh so that means on the day you want to eat them. I know it’s a skill to shuck oysters but if you have the right knife, it’s a doddle. Sprinkle crushed ice on a plate, shuck your oysters and place them on the ice. Make a dressing with tabasco sauce, finely chopped shallots and lemon juice and voila! The perfect starter.
MY IDEAL MAIN
For me, it must be duck or steak, I really love duck whether it’s breast with a port reduction or sticky cherry sauce, homemade of course and creamy, garlicky potato dauphinoise, it’s fine because you’re both eating garlic so garlicy breath doesn’t count and an erotic vegetable like asparagus. OR, you can make a super easy duck confit. Confit of Duck is an iconic French speciality and you can’t beat it in Paris, I’ve had many memorable duck confit’s in Paris, this version is a super quick one of the laboriously long traditional process of confit. You start the day before, sprinkle an oven tray with torn bay leaf and thyme leaves, lots of chopped garlic and a generous sprinkling of Malden sea salt. Lay the duck legs over this and using the same process as before, top with the bay, thyme and salt. Cover with cling film, place in fridge overnight.
The next day, you’ll find the salt will have drawn out the moisture from the duck, just brush off any excess salt but keep the herbs and garlic. Lay the duck in a large lidded pan and pour over 100ml of white wine, bring to a gentle simmer, at this point, make sure the heat is at its lowest setting. Lay some foil over the top and put the lid on and let it simmer away for 2 hours. By this time, the duck will be cooked, let it get cold, allow another hour for this. When you’re ready to cook the duck, lay it skin side down on an oven tray, roast on gas mark 7 or equivalent for 20 minutes, turn over and roast for another 20 minutes and you’re done. You will have the crispiest most succulent confit of duck ever. Tip – don’t waste the duck fat that’s collected after simmering, spoon into a small jar and use for roast potatoes. You can make this in the morning and roast in the evening, just make sure duck is cold and then cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
I make sauté potatoes with this or a potatoes galette. Peel and slice 1.5kg of potatoes thinly, I use a food processor for this, it does it in a jiffy. You’ll need a metal pie dish for this recipe, melt about 100g of butter and grease the dish, lay a circle of greaseproof paper on the buttered dish and grease again. Lay the potatoes in a circular pattern buttering and seasoning each layer. Place covered in foil in oven, gas mark 5 (or equivalent) for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a plate. Serve the duck and potatoes with an acidic fruit chutney like cranberry sauce or make your own with dried cherries, red wine and vinegar. A special accompaniment is celeriac puree, so easy to make, peel and chop some celeriac, simmer in milk for 20 minutes until tender. Drain but keep the milk, puree in a blender with 50g butter, some of the milk, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of cream. Steam some asparagus for 5 minutes to serve alongside it and there you have it, a simple but stunning dish for a Valentine’s Day meal at home.
WHAT’S FOR DESSERT.
There can only be one thing for dessert, it’s got to be chocolate, that seductive, sexy, rich dark aphrodisiac! There are so many ways you can incorporate chocolate into a dessert, mousse, chocolate fondant with the centre oozing out…so naughty but so very nice or something decadent, Chocolate Soup! It’s the most silky, luscious chocolate dessert and it’s served with vanilla ice cream which melts into the chocolate, so yummy. You can find the recipe here or if you prefer, why not make chocolate pots? Served with fresh raspberries, click on this link for recipe.
There you have it, a romantic meal lovingly prepared and enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. Who says you must be part of that cliché and go out on Valentine’s Day evening? Sitting amongst the many other couples eating whilst holding hands, so cringy, we did it once and said never again. Once you’ve made a meal like this at home, you’ll never want to go out again, then you can leave the washing up until the day after, sit in front of the telly with a good film or perhaps….well, you never know where the evening will lead to….
Above all, enjoy this special day with your loved one!
Love Helen XxX