Valentine’s Day Special

I was supposed to be elsewhere for the 14th February, thus I wasn’t expecting to have to cook anything that special. However as life is, nothing goes as smoothly as one would hope it would, and plans change. So I’ve been left with the challenge of whipping up something nice for dinner this evening. Mom and dad are here, my brother is visiting (he is extremely fussy when it comes to food) and I’ve invited my best friend Katie over to join us.

As I look in my fridge, all I can see is chicken, chicken, chicken – which is great as Laurence likes chicken and ‘plain’ dishes. Perfect. Now what to do with it?! It’s kind of a dreary day outside; windy, rainy and dull. Dad’s already starting on the fire and I’m sitting with a hot water bottle in the kitchen, coffee in hand, pondering on what makes a simple, plain, yet tasty dish, which satisfies all needs of a good hearty dinner, with a special hint for valentine’s day.

Hey presto – Coq au vin! I haven’t had time to put anything in the slow cooker, and I don’t have time to go out and buy any ingredients… what do we have in the fridge? Chicken: yep, garlic: yep, bacon: yep, shallots: yep, mushrooms: yep, herbs: yep, stock: yep, and of course red wine: YEP!

I look through all Mom’s old cooking books to find a recipe which fits my needs: quick and simple. I find a Casserole book where Mom makes her heavenly beef bourguignon and Irish stew from and I’ve got the perfect recipe:

Coq Au Vin (serves 4)

1.5kg chicken pieces

Plain flour

40g butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

200g bacon, chopped

250g shallots

200g button mushrooms, halved

2 tbsp brandy

250ml dry red wine

250ml chicken stock

Fresh parsley

2 tsp finely chopped thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp tomato puree

  1. Toss chicken in the flour and shake away any excess flour.
  2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and cook the chicken until browned all over
  3. Drain all but 1 tbsp of the liquid from the pan and remove the chicken.
  4. Cook the garlic, bacon, shallots and mushrooms in the remaining liquid
  5. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the brandy, wine, stock, herbs, bay leaf and puree. Cover and simmer for around 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender
  6. Remove the chicken from the pan and simmer the sauce until thickened.
  7. Discard bay leaf before serving
  8. Serve the chicken with the sauce

It’s the perfect combination of warmth and flavour with the simplicity that anyone can do it. Now for pudding? Uh-oh this could be a tricky one. Again, I’m limited for time and I need something that everyone will like. I know Laurence likes toffee, I know Mom loves custard, I know Dad is absolutely obsessed with dates (they have to be from Israel) and I know that Katie pretty much likes anything sweet… quick look in Delia’s Christmas specials…. Sticky Toffee Pudding anyone? Yes please.

As long as you have some double cream for the sauce, you’ve probably got pretty much everything else in your cupboards somewhere. Here’s the recipe:

Sticky Toffee Pudding (Serves 6)

175g stoned dates, chopped (if desired)

½ tsp vanilla essence

2 tsp camp coffee essence

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

75g unsalted butter, room temperature

Delia uses 150g caster sugar but I like to replace this with light muscovado or demerara sugar to give it a richer taste

2 eggs, beaten

175g self-raising flour, sifted

I also like to add 1 tbsp black treacle and 1 tbsp golden syrup to give it that really sticky texture

For the sauce: 25g pecan nuts, chopped (if desired) 175g soft brown sugar 110g unsalted butter 6 tbsp double cream 1 tbsp black treacle

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. Begin by putting the chopped dates in a bowl and pouring 175ml boiling water over them
  3. Add the vanilla extract, coffee essence and bicarbonate of soda and leave on one side
  4. Next cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl, beating until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy
  5. Gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Gently fold in the sifted flour, then fold in the date mixture (including the liquid)
  7. Finally add the black treacle and then place mixture in a baking tin for around 25 minutes
  8. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes
  9. Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a saucepan and heating very gently until the sugar has melted and all the crystals have dissolved
  10. To serve the puddings: pre-heat the grill to its highest setting, and pour the sauce evenly over the pudding
  11. Place under the grill, and let it heat through for about 8 minutes

And here’s how it all went: IMG_6168

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IMG_6177 IMG_6175

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