The saying goes, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and this applies to women with a healthy appetite, too. No Valentine's Day celebration, therefore, is complete without a cosy meal.
Dining out with the Significant Other on Feb 14, however, is as romantic as mass weddings get, which is to say, not very.
Yet there are couples who would rather jostle for elbow space at restaurants and put up with the indignation of having whispered sweet nothings drowned out in a packed and noisy eatery, only because cooking is not their strongest suit.
Love, however, is all about mustering courage.
So for those eager to step into the kitchen to demonstrate their affection, chef Mark Ho, 36, of The Hidden Host, an events management and catering company, and private chefs Anthony Yeoh and Melvyn Lee of The Funky Chefs share their recipes for a fuss-free, tasty meal at home.
The beetroot gazpacho and dark chocolate mousse dessert on chef Ho's three- course menu, for example, require minimal cooking and can be prepared in advance.
He says: "You want to look cool when your date sees you, not flustered from cooking long hours in the kitchen."
To add an aphrodisiac kick, he serves asparagus, which is said to enhance the love vibes, with the steak.
Because wallets are tight these days, LifeStyle asked the chefs to keep the meals under $50, using ingredients that can be bought from supermarkets.
For The Funky Chefs, sticking to the budget was not difficult. Chef Lee, 23, says: "Restaurants typically overprice their Valentine's Day menu. Our three-course meal would cost more than $100 in a restaurant."
Indeed, the affordability of cooking a Valentine's Day meal at home is an incentive for medical student Tan Yan Sheng, 25, to give dining out a miss this year.
He says: "I used to eat at restaurants with my girlfriend on Valentine's Day and it would cost almost $100 for the two of us. But with the economy not doing well and the need to be more cautious with spending, I would consider dining in. Besides, it is more meaningful to cook for her."
Ms W. Chou, 29, a designer, is looking to have her Valentine's Day meal at home with her boyfriend too.
She says: "In the past, we ate at restaurants to celebrate, but they often raise their prices for Valentine's Day. So we might cook and eat in this year because it is more practical and intimate."
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 8, 2009
MENU 1 by chef Mark Ho of The Hidden Host
CHILLED BEETROOT GAZPACHO WITH PAN-SEARED PRAWN
50g beetroot, peeled and diced
250g vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
65g cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
70g coarsely chopped onion
100g red capsicum, cored and coarsely chopped
20g garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 king prawns, peeled
10 finely sliced cucumber strips
1. Boil the beetroot in water until soft. Drain.
2. Blend the tomato, cucumber, onion, capsicum, garlic and beetroot in a blender for about a minute until smooth. Strain the puree into a bowl using a fine-mesh sieve.
3. Pour the strained liquid from the puree in the previous step and half of the puree that did not filter through the sieve into the blender. Add a pinch of salt and blend for another minute until the mixture is smooth.
4. Chill the mixture for at least 2 hours or overnight.
5. When ready to serve, season the prawns with salt and black pepper.
6. Sear the prawns in a hot pan and flip continuously till they curl and turn pink.
7. Let the prawns cool before skewering them on two wooden skewers.
8. Pour the chilled gazpacho into teacups and place the skewered prawns across the cups. Garnish with cucumber strips.
PAN-SEARED BEEF FILLET ON ASPARAGUS WITH MUSHROOM RAGOUT
3 Tbs olive oil
20g crushed garlic
125g button mushrooms, sliced
100ml double cream
2 x 125g beef fillet steak, thawed
180g asparagus, stalks peeled and blanched
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1. Heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a frying pan on low heat, add garlic and saute until it starts to brown.
2. Add mushrooms and saute on medium heat until soft.
3. Add cream and stir to mix well. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Remove the mushroom ragout from the heat and set aside.
5. In a separate frying pan, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil on high heat.
6. When the oil begins to smoke, sear the steaks for one minute on each side.
7. Lower the heat and continue to cook for six to seven minutes, turning the steak occasionally. This will cook the steak to medium doneness. The timing may be adjusted according to preference of doneness of steak.
8. Remove the steaks from the pan and set aside.
9. Heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
10. Saute the asparagus for five minutes. When cooked, arrange it on the plates. Keep three spears aside and slice into 2cm pieces for garnish.
11. Warm the pan of mushroom ragout on low heat.
12. Place the steaks on top of the whole asparagus spears and spoon the mushroom ragout over them. Garnish with the sliced asparagus.
DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE WITH CANDIED CHERRY
100g couverture, 70 per cent dark chocolate
200ml fresh, unwhipped double cream at room temperature
30g candied cherries
1. Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water until the chocolate is completely smooth.
2. Remove the bowl from the heat. Pour and fold in the cream gradually and gently until it is well incorporated.
3. Pour into martini glasses and chill for at least four hours or overnight.
4. Remove the mousse from the fridge 10 minutes before serving.
5. Chop the cherries and place on a dessert spoon. Balance the spoon across the glass and serve.
MENU 2 by chefs Melvyn Lee and Anthony Yeoh of The Funky Chefs
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 drops extra virgin olive oil
1. A day before serving: Mix the tomatoes, sea salt and basil leaves in a bowl, cover it and let it sit for six hours in a fridge.
2. Blend the chilled mixture for a minute until it is smooth.
3. Place three layers of muslin cloth, or five layers of paper kitchen towels, over a sieve and set the sieve over a bowl.
4. Pour the blended mixture into the cloth or paper towels, making sure to tie the ends of the cloth or towels together with string. Sit the sieve and bowl in the fridge overnight to allow the tomato essence to filter through.
5. Pour the essence that has collected in the bowl into cold shot glasses. Garnish with sprigs of basil leaves and a drop of extra virgin olive oil in each glass. Serve.
PAN-SEARED SEA BASS WITH GRILLED EGGPLANT, BALSAMIC AND THYME SAUCE
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
leaves from 3 stalks of thyme
1 Tbs olive oil
2 x 180g fillets of sea bass
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 pitted black olives
6 pearl onions
2 Tbs capers
6 cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup of white wine
3 stalks Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1. Pre-heat the oven to 250 deg C.
2. Pierce the eggplant with a fork and wrap it with aluminium foil. Place it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the cooked eggplant from the oven and let it to cool before peeling the skin off.
4. Chop the eggplant coarsely, then blend it with balsamic vinegar and thyme for about a minute until smooth. Set aside.
5. Rub the fillets with salt and pepper.
6. To a heated pan, add olive oil and sear the skin of the fillet.
7. When the skin is crispy, flip the fillet and cook it through. Put the fish on a plate.
8. Add olives, onions, capers and tomatoes to the pan.
9. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan by stirring to dissolve any pan drippings.
10. Add parsley to the pan and stir.
11. To serve, spoon eggplant sauce onto the plate, set the fish above sauce, then scoop the rest of the ingredients onto the plate. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.
100g couverture dark chocolate, preferably with 70 per cent cocoa solids
1 whole egg
21/2 egg yolks
25g all-purpose flour
1. Pre-heat the oven to 250 deg C.
2. Grease 2 large muffin tins or cups with some butter and then dust with flour. Make sure to shake off any excess flour.
3. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it with the butter in a metal bowl set over a pot of hot water on low heat. Stir well and keep the mixture warm.
4. Beat the whole egg, egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl with a whisk.
5. Sift flour into the bowl of egg mixture and fold it in till well incorporated.
6. Fold in the melted butter and chocolate mixture gently till well incorporated.
7. Pour the chocolate mixture into the muffin tins or cups and bake at 250 deg C for eight to 10 minutes. The tops should form a crust and begin to come away from the sides of the mould.
8. Slide a small paring knife along the inside of the mould to loosen the fondant. Tip it from the mould onto a plate and serve warm.