Valentine’s Day can be such a terribly angst-ridden occasion. As a flighty teen, there was a big build up: I’d be simultaneously longing to get a card from my object of desire, knowing that would never happen - and terrified that I’d get the pity card from my mother. Oh, the advantages of growing up!
Now older and wiser and several different Valentines down the line, each with their own ideas about
celebrating - or not - it’s never been a feast that I’ve warmed to. A Valentine’s weekend in Carlingford at a B&B that had maroon bathroom fittings to match the red walls, wine carpet and, yes, even a claret-coloured ceiling, plus a breakfast room full of silent couples cured me of any desire to jump on the V-Day bandwagon.
So instead of trying to desperately trying to make your night meaningful in a restaurant full of tables for two having a compulsory dinner à deux, think of staying warm and cosy at home with your loved one.
We like to go cheesy at the cottage for Valentine’s Day, with a fondue of mature Hegarty’s cheddar, palmsized Coeurs Neufchatel from Cork's Iago, a Vacherin Mont d’Or – or this Baked Brie with Caramelised Maple Pecans. It's easy, involves very little preparation, and takes just minutes to become irresistibly unctuous and ready to be consumed with lots of nibbly bits, making it a perfect supper after the smallies go to bed.
While it's in the oven, lay the table with two plates and whatever takes your fancy for dipping into the runny cheese: crunchy apples and slightly underripe pears; cubes of sourdough bread crisped up in the hot oven; dried apricots; thin crackers (I used crunchy Cranberry and Hazelnut Crackers from Foods of Athenry); gherkins to cut the richness; some thinly sliced Gubbeen chorizo and salami; and a good salad. A simple bowl of floppy leaves, with a mustardy dressing, or last month's crunchy Winter 'Slaw recipe is perfect. Pour a glass of something nice to make it into even more of an occasion – a gently hopped red ale or saison (Black Donkey's Sheep Stealer works especially well) from an Irish microbrewery, some local cider or even a zesty sauvignon blanc.
When your cheese is warmed through and happily bubbling, serve it up and eat by candlelight.
Note: you won't need a dessert afterwards but a few pieces of high-quality dark chocolate from an Irish bean-to-bar producer like Wilkie's Organic Chocolate, Burren Chocolatier or Clonakilty Chocolate will finish off the meal in a suitably luxurious fashion (are you listening, St Valentine?).
Baked Brie with Caramelised Maple Pecans
This makes the perfect after-the-kids-go-to-bed feast. Serves just two.
Recipe by Caroline Hennessey. She blogs at Bibliocook.