The big day. Lots of hype. Huge expectations, and a headache for most I'm sure.
I will be honest though, the last thing I wanted to do was go out for dinner, especially since Valentine's falls on a Saturday night this year. Restaurants would be overcrowded with tables of two, offering over priced, mass produced set menus and overall not achieve a very romantic atmosphere. Waiters are rushing around trying to satisfy all of the high maintenance diners who are expecting all attention of them during the course of the evening, which most probably won't be the case, and in addition all the women are dolled up, looking around the room, peaking to see what special treatment others may be getting, how big their roses are, if they are drinking champagne, what type, and if anyone will be proposed to. I didn't want any of this..........
SO instead I decided to cook for my man and treat him. A nice three course meal, nothing too fancy, but still fresh, hearty and indulgent food, with some good red wine, was my idea of a nice romantic evening. The table was set, wine glasses and all, music setting the mood, my gorgeous roses sitting in the background. However, I forgot to buy candles for the table to achieve that mood lighting all restaurants strive for, but not to worry, my down lights have a dimmer.
My preparation actually started the day before, but more on that later. After shopping all morning for ingredients for my feast, the first thing I wanted to prepare was the butter for the appetizer. I used the jar of Tetsuya's truffle salt,which was a present from the waiters I received when I dined there last year for my graduation. Just as they do, I mixed it with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano then served it with some freshly baked bread I prepared. (See 'Baking My Bread' but instead of adding a filling, just shape the bread, slit the bread across the top about 5 times and bake. It makes two large loaves). HOWEVER, disaster struck when I had to add more butter to the mixture as it was too salty. I slightly melted both the additional and the already prepared butter so I could mix them together, but I didn't realise that they had melted completely, so when I went to grab the ramekin with the truffle butter in it, it spilt all down my chest and also onto my just straightened hair which I was wearing out. This was the worst start to the evening I could imagine. Not only did I have to rewash my hair and re-straighten it, but prepare the butter all over again, this time without being a clutz.
By the time we went to sit down and started sipping some our first wine, a Paringa Estate Pinot Noir, and devouring the bread and butter, I just laughed at myself, as I am known for being clumsy. The truffle in the butter is very strong in flavour and that is why only a touch of the salt is needed to flavour the butter. It is soooo delectable smeared thickly onto warm bread, but since I knew what was to come I had to limit myself to one piece.
Whilst devouring the bread and sipping our wine, our taste buds I'm sure were widely awake by now, so I decided to serve our entree, but let it cook in front of us. It was a Peruvian Ceviche, which is a very traditional dish of raw white fish, in this case I used Perch, which is then cured with lime juice, ají limo (limo chili pepper), Spanish Onions and salt. Unfortunately I could not find ají limo, so I just chopped up some long red chillies, but they were not spicy enough for the dish. If anyone knows where I can get ají limo can you let me know : )
As I poured the juice mixture over the fish we watched it cook then ate it straight away with sweet potato and corn. The sweet potato added a nice sweetness to balance the citrus of the lime and....subtleness of the chilli, but I'm sure if the chilli was hot it would give a bit of relief from it.
View Peruvian Ceviche Recipe
I am sure there will be readers out there who might say my version is not the proper way to do Peruvian Ceviche, and they are probably right. I tried to research as much as I can, but with so much conflicting information out there it is hard to know what is the correct way to prepare it unless I went to a Peruvian's house and watched as they prepared it. Within the next few weeks I intend to dine at a Peruvian restaurant to see how they do it (review to come soon).
Generally I would serve this with a nice dry sparkling wine or blanc de banc to not overpower the fresh flavours of the fish, but as we started on red we just stuck to it. The Pinot I had chosen to start with was light and full of berry flavours. In my opinion, it is one of Australia's best Pinots, it has body, isn't too sweet with fruity flavours and is great to drink young.
I learnt last year around this time that there are two arguments to matching food and wine. The first says that every food has certain wines that will compliment the dish perfectly e.g. goats cheese and Sauvignon Blanc, lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon etc. Which is all good if you don't mind drinking many different wines throughout a meal or transitioning from champagne to white to red to fortified. In my opinion it can become quite an overload and leave you with a nasty headache the following day!
The second argument says that one should enjoy the wine they like best with each dish they have, regardless of whether that ends up being a nice big Shiraz with a fish dish, or a Chardonnay with duck, as long as you enjoy each individually, you will enjoy the meal regardless of whether the match............I choose argument #2 as I generally drink red wine and still enjoy it in warmer weather.
Anyways, back to the food......Once we had digested a bit, and had some more bread and butter, I really could not resist, I served our main, Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks on Soft Polenta. I slow cooked this dish for over 4 hrs as I wanted the meat to just fall off the bone, and it did. The meat was so tender and had a nice bite to it from the Moroccan spices I added. The sauce from the meat mixed well with the polenta making it a gorgeous hearty meal for a cold night.
View Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks with Soft Polenta Recipe
Of course, the best wine to pair with a lamb dish would be a big Cab Sauv, and I had a fantastic bottle. A 99' Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon which we let air for about 4 hours prior to drinking. It was smooth yet bold with a slight tannic finish. It was full of deep red cherry and plum flavours and an excellent companion to the lamb's heavy flavour.
Although the lamb was delicious we had to save room for dessert, of course. I started preparing this dessert the day before, which was good as it made it one less thing to worry about on the day. I made a Passionfruit Semifreddo, which is similar to ice cream but a bit softer and a lot easier to make, especially if your don't have an ice cream maker.
It was so creamy and had a strong fruit flavour, something I was a bit worried about, so I added extra passionfruit pulp. The best way to finish off the night for sure!
View Passionfruit Semifreddo Recipe
I couldn't think of a better way to spend Valentine's day than relaxing in my own house, with nice food, excellent wine, and the best company ever.