It’s long been established that the route to the heart is by way of the stomach, but UAE chefs seem to believe that only works if you go via the sweet tooth. We asked several kitchen mavens what people should be cooking for their Valentines this week, and every single one of them offered up a dessert. Clearly, pudding pulls.
Without further ado, then, here’s what they had to say.
Stay classy, shuck some oysters
Belgian national Romain van Durmen knows all about cooking up romance, having assisted countless couples as part of his day job as chef de cuisine at the Chef’s Palette Cooking Studio at Fairmont The Palm.
On Valentine’s Day, you can’t go wrong with an old-style aphrodisiac, he says. “The best and a classic dish are oysters,” he tells Gulf News tabloid!. “They are full of good vitamins so you will be sure to enjoy a good night if you start with these!”
Keep the mood going with something that doesn’t need watching so you can spend more time with your partner. “I would suggest a baked seafood nage with an easy side dish like asparagus — romantic, simple, and doesn’t take too much time,” he says, advising to get as much prep done in advance as possible — but also to create everything from scratch, “so they can see your effort.”
End on an impressive but easy note, with something like a chocolate fondant.
It also helps to go beyond merely whizzing up dinner and setting the mood with candles or flowers. An activity might be a good idea, he suggests naughtily. “Something fun I did once was a scavenger hunt for my partner in the apartment was to hide presents that were meaningful to me with small romantic notes and a clue about where to find the next one. It’s quite nice and fun and you can put the last one where you want to finish the night…”
Despite efforts like that, he has often struck out in the romance department himself, though. Asked about the most romantic Valentine’s Day he’s ever had, he confesses: “I have no idea, I have been single most of the time on Valentine’s Day unfortunately!”
- Romance status: Date night
- Cooking skills level: “Must try harder”
- 100g Butter
- 100g Dark Belgian Chocolate
- 100g whole eggs
- 55gr egg yolk
- 50g sugar
- 30g flour
1. Melt the butter and the chocolate but be careful to not over heat the chocolate.
2. Mix the eggs, yolks and sugar together.
3. Fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs.
4. Add the flour slowly and mix it.
5. Pour the mixture in ramekins and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for eight minutes
Get messy with a sharing tub
At the stage of your relationship — deep into long-term territory, we’d say — where you don’t need to impress your significant other in shallow, showy ways? Kick back, let your hair down and have a relaxed Valentine’s Day.
“Sharing is caring, those who are comfortable in their relationships can celebrate and eat some wings, ribs and not mind it getting messy,” suggests Chef Tony Jardella, who runs the kitchens over at the Madinat Jumeirah’s Perry & Blackwelder’s.
If you’re cooking at home, he suggests finding a recipe that’s fun, shareable (because that’s how we eat now) and certainly nothing too complicated. “You should spend more of your time wooing your date than stirring your pot,” he reminds us.
He himself has no time for any of that nonsense though — asked to name the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for him he says, “The marketing team at Jumeirah Group are quite romantic, they’re always sending me emails and printing my menus.” Chefs, of course, don’t do Valentine’s Day. As he says, his V-Day memories are all of “working in a hot busy kitchen all day and then going home all alone and eating a tub of ice cream.” We can only hope he’s joking.
Naughty but nice glass of paradise (Raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake with yoghurt and homemade granola)
- Romance status: Laidback
- Cooking skills level: “I usually order in”
- 120g organic rolled oats
- 60g chopped nuts
- 50g honey
- 30g brown sugar
- For the filling
- 200g cream cheese
- 100g strained yoghurt
- 80g whipped cream
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 80g icing sugar
- 80g white chocolate chips
- 80g whipped cream
- Raspberry compote
- 200g raspberries
- 100g caster sugar
- 60ml lemon juice
1. For the granola, combine the oats, chopped nuts, honey and brown sugar in a bowl and roughly mix and place in an oven with greaseproof paper, bake at 170°c for 8-10 minutes and then leave to cool.
2. For the filling, mix all the ingredients together apart from the cream in a mixing bowl.
3. Beat out any lumps of cream cheese to create a light velvety texture. Fold in the whipped cream and place it in the fridge to cool.
4. For the raspberry compote, melt the sugar in the lemon juice in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the raspberries and cool down for 5-10 minutes before leaving to chill, as the compote chills it will thicken.
5. Stack the three ingredients in a glass and decorate as desired.
Prepare to put your partner first
Gentlemen, take your V-Day cues from chef Rajeev Krishnan, who clearly believes the key to a good relationship is to put your partner first.
“My Valentine’s memories are not of what I received but from the pleasure I got in sharing with my loved ones! Things I made myself with genuine effort and feeling,” he says. “One such memory is when I went to search for a heart-shaped cake tin and made a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting for my wife.
“While she was away, I came home early and got the house decorated with balloons, and a secret gift with a message for her to feel special. Later in the day, a home-cooked meal, the red velvet cake along with the gifts blew her away!”
This legend of the Oberoi Dubai’s kitchens clearly seems able to juggle kitchen duties with the demands of a relationship, and we think it comes down to his idea that Valentine’s Day begins well when it begins in bed — with breakfast. His menu choice? An easy but decadent chocolate strawberry crepe with vanilla sauce, and if you really want to push the boat out, a waffle lollipop with whipped cream and strawberry compote.
Krishnan also seems to have been a boy scout: prepare ahead seems to be his motto. “Make your chocolate cake or tiramisu one day in advance and then serve it the next in room temperature. It tastes much better the next day,” he says. Plus of course, it leaves more time for your partner.
He’s living proof that you reap what you sow. Asked what the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for him, he describes the time his wife asked him to book a week’s emergency leave. “On reaching the airport I came to know the flight was booked for Singapore! I knew something was cooking. On arrival, we were picked up by a chauffeur who drove us to the Raffles Hotel, where my wife had booked us a nice suite with bubbles and a chocolate cake with a special message. This was 2014 and it was one of the best years for me.”
You might have a hard time matching up to that, but here’s his recipe for a nice little cake to get things started. It’s not the easiest and you might need special equipment, but hey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, eh?
Red fruit Valentine cake
- Romance status: Need to impress
- Cooking skills level: “I could win Chopped”
- Choux pastry biscuit
- 120g milk
- 90g butter
- 140g flour
- 250g egg yolks
- 250g egg white
- 120g sugar
- 5g strawberry food colour
- White chocolate mousse
- 400g white chocolate
- 175g cooking cream
- 12g gelatin, soaked in a little warm water
- 425g whipping cream
- 200g Raspberry puree
- 75g eggs
- 50g sugar
- 75g butter
- 8g gelatin, soaked in warm water
- Cranberry Jelly
- 250g cranberry purée
- 150g sugar
- 12g gelatin, soaked in warm water
1. For the choux biscuit, boil the milk and butter together. When the butter has melted, remove from heat and add flour, mixing vigorously to avoid any lumps. Add yolks one at a time and incorporate into a smooth paste.
2. Whisk the egg white along with sugar separately to make a meringue. Add red food based strawberry colour.
3. Fold the meringue into the flour mixture to make a smooth, lump-free batter.
4. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 12 minutes. Cool and set aside.
5. For the chocolate mousse, add the cream to a pan. When it reaches 70 degrees centigrade, add the soaked gelatin. Add the white chocolate and blend until smooth. Slowly fold in the whipped cream and set aside.
6. For the raspberry cremeux, in a bain marie, mix together the eggs, sugar and raspberry purée and cook until 82 degrees. When it cools to 60 degrees centigrade, add the soaked gelatin and stir, adding the butter when the temperature drops further to 50 degrees. Stir well and set aside.
7. Make the cranberry jelly by warming the cranberry purée in a pan. Add the sugar when the mixture reaches 60 degrees. Add the soaked gelatin, mix well and set aside in a flat tray lined with plastic wrap.
8. To assemble, line a mould of your choice with the choux pastry biscuit. Pipe all around with the white chocolate mousse. Place a strip of cranberry jelly in the centre and freeze for 30 minutes. Fill with raspberry cremeux, top with white chocolate mousse and freeze again. Once it has set, unmould and decorate with fresh berries, chocolate hearts and other garnishes of choice.