When I asked my wife where she wanted to go for Valentine's Day dinner this year, her reply was unequivocal: nowhere. We love eating out, but Valentine's Day makes something that ought to be simple seem so difficult. For a start, if you want to book a hotticket restaurant, you've got to do it months in advance. Then, a lot of places will have set menus, which can translate into getting dishes you don't want (and there will probably be a Valentine's price hike for the privilege).
I'm betting, too, that on the way home Uber surge pricing will be through the roof. Finally, to add insult to injury, you'll pay for the "two glasses of wine too many" at work the next day. But what are the other options? An elaborate homecooked meal on a weeknight doesn't really fly, and if you order delivery then that doesn't set it apart from any other Thursday night, right? My advice: keep it simple. A big bucket of prawns, a nice bottle of wine, something sweet for dessert and, above all, good company. That's what it's about.
A romantic bucket of lobster and prawns
Serves 2, generously
I prefer to boil shellfish myself as you can generally get a better texture and flavour than buying them already cooked, but in a pinch some cooked prawns and lobster artfully arranged in a bucket is a no-brainer.
• 1 whole lobster (or 2 small lobster tails), intestine removed
• 1kg large Australian prawns, intestine removed
• buttered white rolls and leaves of oak lettuce, to serve
• 1 tbsp salt
• 1 star anise
• 1 brown onion, peeled and sliced into 1cm rounds
• 2 lemons, sliced into 1cm rounds
• 1 cup champagne or Australian sparkling wine
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 tsp fennel seeds
• 1 tsp coriander seeds
• ½ cup Japanese mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp sour cream
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• ¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
Combine the ingredients for the champagne boil in a pot large enough to hold the lobster, bring to the boil and add the prawns. Top with enough boiling water to cover the prawns and boil until just cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove prawns with tongs and transfer to a tray of ice to cool.
Place the lobster into the pot and top up again with boiling water, if necessary. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer the lobster for 15 minutes, then remove to a tray of ice to cool. Add more ice on top of the lobster and prawns to chill them faster.
For the dill mayonnaise, combine the ingredients and mix well. Serve the chilled lobster and prawns in a bucket with buttered white rolls and lettuce leaves, and the mayonnaise on the side. Oh, and with the remainder of the bottle of champagne, of course.
Peaches and cream puffs
These delicious choux treats are filled with a simple cream mixture and summer peaches. You could use mango, or any other soft fruit in season.
• 60g unsalted butter
• a pinch of salt
• 60g plain flour
• 3 eggs
• 2 peaches
• 300ml thickened cream
• 100ml sour cream
• 2 tbsp icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
Heat your oven to 200°C. Place the butter and salt in a medium saucepan with 100ml of water and bring to a simmer. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low and mix well with a wooden spoon until a film forms on the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and transfer the flour mixture to a heatproof bowl. Mix for about 20 seconds to cool.
Whisk the 3 eggs and add to the flour mixture in four equal portions, mixing well with a wooden spoon until each batch is fully incorporated before adding the next. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a wide, round nozzle and pipe 5cm rounds of the mixture. (To make even circles, do this without moving the nozzle.) Bake the choux puffs for 30 minutes until golden brown, then cool on a wire rack.
For the peach filling, blanch the peaches in boiling water for just 30 seconds each and remove the skins. Remove the stones and cut the flesh into 1cm cubes. Whip the creams and icing sugar together until soft peaks form. Fold through the peach cubes.
Fill the choux creams by making a diagonal cut across the pastries, without cutting all the way through. With a small spoon fill the pastries with the peach filling. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Adam's tip For success in piping choux creams, you need to keep the batter warm. The old chef trick is to leave the piping bag on top of the oven while preparing the trays, but a warming drawer or very low oven will work well at home.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 10.