Photos Alex J Harris
Special days like Valentine’s Day can put a lot of pressure on couples, especially when they fall in the middle of a busy working week. Going out seems a bit impractical – especially on a very commercial holiday like Valentine’s when prices are inflated and restaurants are busy – but slaving in the kitchen for hours doesn’t hold much appeal either. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Whether it’s an anniversary, a special birthday or any mid-week celebration, there are easy ways to make it memorable. Last night I prepared a three course Valentine’s Day dinner in a little over an hour, with a little help from some of my easy but still impressive recipes, and some wonderful local suppliers.
I served Shrimp Cocktail for the first course.
Using pretty dishes makes the shrimp cocktail look really special, but aside from thawing the shrimp, preparation takes minutes. I always use sustainably caught shrimp, but I buy them when they are on special offer and stash them in the freezer for times like this, so it’s still a frugal choice. Don’t like seafood? Try serving a light salad to start, perhaps incorporating a bit of citrus fruit, or if melons are in season you can serve a few thin slices of melon with some Parma Ham or Proscuitto.
For the main course, I got a little help from my friends at Green’s of Pangbourne. Winner of Britain’s Best Butchers Shop, Green’s offer a great selection of meat, poultry and game, as well as prepared dishes like these gorgeous little Beef Wellingtons.
I love the little pastry hearts on top! These took twenty minutes to cook, and were absolutely delicious. Bypass the supermarket and consider your local butcher the next time you are planning a celebratory meal.
I served the Beef Wellingtons with crushed new potatoes, broccoli and carrots. I boiled the new potatoes for twenty minutes, drained them, and crushed them with a fork, adding a knob of butter and a splash of cream. The vegetables, which I simply steamed, came from my organic vegetable box supplier Abel and Cole. They deliver fresh and delicious fruit and vegetables to the doorstep every Friday. It’s well worth considering an organic vegetable delivery scheme or CSA box. It makes healthy eating really easy. Local farmer’s markets are another great source of in season vegetables.
Dessert was an old family recipe – My Grandma’s Lemon Sponge Pudding.
This classic dessert is ‘magic’ in that it separates to form a light, meringue-y pudding on top, and a tart sauce underneath. It looks like hard work, but once you’ve separated the eggs, it doesn’t take at all long to make if you use an electric mixer.
It was a wonderful evening, relaxing for everyone, including the cook! My husband provided the lovely flowers (from our wonderful local florist Green Parlour in Pangbourne) and a bottle of champagne. He chose my favourite champagne for a special treat, but for a more frugal option try Prosecco or other sparkling wine with a small piece of fruit like a frozen raspberry or blueberry dropped in the bottom of the glass before pouring.
Easy, delicious and memorable celebrations don’t have to wait for the weekend. With a little help from easy recipes and good local suppliers, you can make any meal special.