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A Valentines Day meal youll fall in love with


By Saira Hamilton


Sairas fajitas, made with chicken, but tiger prawns or sirloin steak work equally well
Sairas fajitas, made with chicken, but tiger prawns or sirloin steak work equally well

Food writer Saira Hamilton, the 2013 TV MasterChef finalist from Sawbridgeworth, has come up with a Valentines Day three-course meal especially for Indie readers (two at a time, of course) thats both light and easy to pull off

Chocolate cheesecakes with chocolate-dipped strawberries
Chocolate cheesecakes with chocolate-dipped strawberries

Happy Valentine’s Day! I find people are in one of two camps: those who embrace the love and make a massive effort for their loved ones, and those who denounce it entirely as an invention of greetings card manufacturers designed only to part us from our hard-earned cash.

I’m not the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day, although I have a wonderfully romantic husband. The thing is, Jim is romantic all of the time – he doesn’t feel the need to wait until an arbitrary date in February. So while I applaud those supporting our local eateries by booking a special night out for the loves of their lives, I am going to focus on the people who would rather have a night in, with this delicious three-course menu for two.

And, of course, there is no reason this has to be done only on Valentine’s Day – any night is good for a romantic home-cooked meal.

I have developed this menu with several things in mind. Firstly, it is light – you don’t want to be so full that you don’t feel like any after-dinner activities (something other than a few episodes of your latest box set, that is), but it is still very, very tasty.

Fig, mozzarella and rocket starter by Saira Hamilton
Fig, mozzarella and rocket starter by Saira Hamilton

Secondly, the menu is easy to achieve. You won’t spend all night in the kitchen and end up tousled and sweaty (well, not until after dinner – sorry, couldn’t resist!).

And finally, the menu won’t break the bank, which means you’ll still have plenty of money left over for some good champagne and flowers.

STARTER: Figs, mozzarella and rocket

This takes no time at all to put together, but you can get ahead by making the balsamic dressing before. The plates can be arranged a good hour before you eat – simply drizzle over the dressing at the last minute.

Ingredients

1 tsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp caster sugar

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

6 tbsp olive oil

rocket leaves

2 ripe fresh figs, cut into quarters

1 ball of buffalo mozzarella

Method

1. Make the dressing. Combine the mustard, sea salt, caster sugar, balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a small screwtop jar. Give everything a good shake and refrigerate until you need it.

2. Take one pretty plate and scatter over it a generous handful of rocket leaves, the quartered figs and the mozzarella, which you can either cut into 6 thick slices or tear, depending on how artistic you are feeling.

3. Serve the platter between two and serve half each onto individual small plates. You could also share a ciabatta roll warmed through in the oven, perfect for mopping up any leftover dressing.

MAIN COURSE: Fajitas

This needs to be cooked just before eating, but you can get everything ready in advance – all the chopping, mixing the spices and decanting all the extra sauces and dips into dipping bowls, so it’s ready to go when you are. That way, you can chuck everything into a pan effortlessly, thereby looking super-cool and rather sexy at the same time. I have used chicken, but the recipe works equally well with tiger prawns or sirloin steak.

Ingredients

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 chicken breasts, cut into 2cm wide strips

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp ground white pepper

½ tsp garlic salt

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp dried coriander leaf

2 cloves of garlic

1 brown onion

1 red onion

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

60g mushrooms

2 mild chillies

fresh coriander

Method

1. Mix together the cayenne pepper, ground white pepper, garlic salt, salt, ground cumin, chilli powder, paprika and dried coriander leaf. Sprinkle half of the spice blend over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge until you are ready to eat. Keep the rest of the spices for later.

2. Prepare the vegetables. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and add to the onions, peppers, mushrooms and chillies, all cut into 1cm slices.

3. Get ready to serve by placing grated cheese, pickled jalapeño peppers, guacamole, soured cream, salsa and whatever else you like into small bowls. Chop some fresh coriander to be ready to garnish the fajita filling before serving.

4. When you are ready to eat, simply heat a large frying pan then add the vegetable oil. First fry the marinated chicken strips for 6-7 minutes, then remove them and set aside. In the same pan, fry the onions, garlic and all the sliced vegetables. Sprinkle over the remaining spice blend and fry the vegetables for 4-5 minutes until they are softened and beginning to take colour at the edges. Add the chicken back in, stir-fry everything together for another 2-3 mins until everything is heated through. Garnish with the chopped coriander.

5. Heat 4 tortillas and serve everything in the centre of the table for you and your loved one to help yourselves. Have napkins to hand, this can be messy eating – but can also be very romantic!

DESSERT: Chocolate cheesecake with chocolate-dipped strawberries

The cheesecake can be made the day before and chilled in the fridge. I have made them in individual ramekins, which makes serving easier. The chocolate-dipped strawberries are best prepared on the day, but you can do them in advance and keep them in the fridge until you need them.

Ingredients

5 Oreo biscuits

25g butter

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tbsp hot water

100g full-fat cream cheese

2 tbsp caster sugar

75ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate chips

4 strawberries

Method

1. Use 2 ramekins (recycled Gü pots are perfect). Crush the Oreo biscuits in a mini-chopper or in a food bag with a rolling pin (not a Cluedo death!). Melt the butter then mix with the biscuit crumbs and press into the bottom of the ramekins. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

2. Mix the cocoa powder with the hot water in a bowl then mix in the full-fat cream cheese, caster sugar, double cream and vanilla extract.

3. Melt the dark chocolate chips, either in a bowl over simmering water or using 20-second blasts in the microwave with a good stir between each one. Add half of the melted chocolate to the cheesecake mixture, keeping the rest for the strawberries.

4. Carefully fill the ramekins to the top with the cheesecake mixture and smooth over the top. Chill for a minimum of 4 hours before serving.

5. For the garnish, take the 4 strawberries. They must be dry before you try to dip them, otherwise the chocolate will just fall off! Dip the berries in the melted chocolate until they are covered. Place on greaseproof paper and keep in the fridge until you are ready to serve.



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