Create the Perfect, Stress-Free Valentine’s Day Dinner at Home
Valentine’s Day, like absolutely everything else, is going to look a little different this year. Rather than resign ourselves to this and retreat en robe to the couch, it is the perfect time to throw yourself into creating a memorable and delicious dinner á deux at home.
Spending the day prepping a multi-course feast to serve on the dining table you possibly call your office desk at the moment may feel like a lot of hard work, but with the dishes below you can pull it off in style with minimal stress. Bonus? You can exaggerate your efforts to ensure your dining companion owes you one…at least.
Realistically, has anyone actually ever enjoyed a completely cringe-worthy Valentine’s dinner set up in a restaurant? Dinner at home was my V-day go-to pre-lockdown and will remain so, the only thing I really miss is eavesdropping on arguing couples at nearby tables.
You can easily set the scene for the perfect Valentine’s night in with all the candles and dim lighting, breaking out your best linen and glassware and putting some bubbles on ice. Not a bad idea to open a bottle of red to breathe at this point either.
You can even add some extra jazz to the occasion with some golden oldies crooning in the background. From Dean Martin to Sinatra, the Traditional Pop Spotify playlist is the perfect soundtrack for a delightfully cheesy evening in your own personal bistro.
Now more importantly, on to the food.
Nibbles (optional but advised to stave off hanger in the event of starter delay)
I promised a stress-free menu, and working up a sweat in the kitchen isn’t the look we’re aiming for here. If you are one of the many who hopped on the sourdough bandwagon during lockdowns 1 and 2, I salute you and do feel free to magic one up ahead of time to accompany opening nibbles.
I, however, will gladly follow the sage entertaining advice of the Barefoot Contessa when it comes to snacks: buy and/or assemble. Nocellara olives and smoked almonds have been the aperativo of choice in most restaurant takeaway boxes in recent months and that is more than good enough for me.
You can serve these alongside some coppa, lomo or your favourite cured cuts to whet your appetites with the aforementioned bubbles.
Nothing says special occasion to me quite like a luxurious seafood starter to share, and while lobster may feel like the ultimate indulgence, crab claws are a delicious and far less labour-intensive option. These beauties are also very easy to source, meaning less stress and more success on the night.
In fact, it is now easier than ever to get your hands on quality Irish seafood without even leaving the house. You can get premium cooked crab claws delivered to your door from Galway Bay by Gannet Fishmongers. If you fancy getting handsy on V-Day, and why not, you can add in some shell on spider crab claws into the mix and get cracking.
There is a teeny bit of chopping and heating through to be done just before you wish to serve your starter. Peel and crush 2-3 garlic cloves with a pinch of sea salt and pop a pan on medium heat.
Add a knob (I tell a lie, more like half a block) of good butter like Kerrygold or Cuinneog and once melted, add in the garlic, followed by the claws, stir gently until heated through – no more than 3-4 minutes.
I like to add a splash of white wine (nothing you wouldn’t drink, perhaps a nice Picpoul de Penet) towards the end of cooking, or a spritz of lemon juice, then finish with chopped parsley, serve and be prepared to get messy. Here’s where that sourdough would come in handy for essential mopping up purposes.
Not a seafood lover? I have yet to meet anyone who isn’t a burrata fan and one of my favourite ways to enjoy this oozing beauty is alongside juicy nectarines in a seriously simple salad.
Simply oil up your nectarines and sear in a grill pan to get those delightful char marks, then serve alongside the burrata with baby leaves and a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic and sea salt. You can add a couple of slices of prosciutto, crisped in a pan for a minute and broken into shards, for crunch. Divine.
The Main Event
While we’re keeping it simple on starters, my suggested pièce de resistance requires *slightly* more exertion but is guaranteed to deliver ultimate satisfaction: Cote de Boeuf, or bone-in ribeye.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel here. Getting the best possible beef is half the battle, but we are blessed with some of the best in the world in Ireland, so you won’t be stuck for choice. You could get chef favourite Rick Higgins’ salt aged Cote de Boeuf delivered to your door or pop in to your local butcher and ask for a chunky 750g-1kg cut (including the bone), ideally aged for 28 days.
First thing’s first: ensure your beast is at room temperature before you begin, take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you’re ready to get cooking and have your sturdiest, heavy bottomed griddle pan at the ready.
Crust is king on a Cote de Boeuf, and you can ensure you get yours by oiling the meat, heavily salting and cranking up the cracked black pepper on each side as your pan comes up to screaming high heat.
Score the thick fat layer slightly, and place the steak fat side up on the pan first to render it down for a minute or so. Depending on thickness of your cut, we’re looking at 3-4 minutes on each side to get that crust going. Add a knob of butter to the pan and use it to baste the meat, along with some fresh rosemary or thyme. Finish for 8-10 minutes in an oven at 180C for medium rare.
Resting is the key to a beautifully cooked piece of meat, so absolutely do not skip this step. 10- 20 minutes for a beast of a Cote like this should do the trick, tented with foil. Once well rested, slice it up nicely just ahead of serving along with the bone, which you will undoubtedly fight over at the end.
NB: If you can’t get a Cote de Boeuf, two thick-cut ribeye steaks sliced will do nicely. Check out Neven Maguire’s guide to cooking the perfect ribeye here.
For your accoutrements, again, simplicity is key so instead of toiling over a pan of hot oil, try irresistibly crunchy mini roasties. Place a roasting tin with a nice layer of your fat of choice (duck/goose/beef dripping/oil) into the oven at 220C for 10 minutes while you prepare your potatoes.
Peel and chop as you would for your Sunday lunch roasts, then chop in half again, to greedy bite size chunks. Par boil for 5 minutes, drain and shake to create jagged edges, then reduce the oven to 200C and into the hot fat they go for 25-30 minutes, shaking halfway through. They are done when they are audibly crisp and golden. Finish with flakey sea salt.
For your sauce, bypass bearnaise in favour of cheat’s aioli, mixing equal parts good quality mayonnaise (I like Ballymaloe) with sour cream and then whisking in your flavour enhancer of choice.
My preference is a tablespoon of truffle oil, but you can swap this for a couple of cloves of roasted garlic (cook a bulb alongside the potatoes), a chunk of blue cheese or some very finely chopped anchovy fillets – trust me!
Serve up your blushing beauty of a steak, roasties and aioli with a token green for “balance”…toss some watercress or steamed tender stem broccoli in lemon juice et voila – a very happy dining companion and brownie points for days.
Speaking of brownies, if your beloved has a sweet tooth, it best to ensure you have something sinful pre-prepared for your finishing touch. I am firmly of the belief that it should be chocolate-based. While I adore a finicky fondant, the last thing you want is to be watching a timer and hovering around the oven door when you could be toasting to a fabulous evening.
Take all the stress out of the sweet ending by prepping the elements of your dessert the day before or morning of your romantic night in. I have whipped up my Chocolate, Orange and Whiskey Mini Chocolate Pavlovas for many a Valentine’s night and they have never failed me.
As you can bake your meringues ahead of time and have the different components on hand ready for assembly, all that is left to do on the night is top messily on the night and serve with the sweet smugness that comes with knowing you have nailed it.
Finally, I’ll just leave this recipe for the perfect Valentine’s cocktail here in case you wish to raise a toast to pulling off a perfect Valentine’s night in. Cheers!
WRITTEN BY DARINA COFFEY