On Valentine's Night, the last thing you want is one of those dreadful "romantic" experiences when you and your loved one find yourselves looking grimly at each other across a table in an over-priced restaurant full of soupy-eyed couples with balloons tied to the back of their chairs. Far better, in my opinion, to share a special meal in your own home.
The key to a successful evening is to make sure that you don't have to spend too many hours in the kitchen – your hot date won't be very impressed if you emerge red-faced and sweating from your culinary efforts.
Your dinner needs to be simple and tasty, with as little preparation as possible – and this simple combination should do the trick nicely.
I walked into my Fish House restaurant in Lyme Regis one Friday night to find the words "Hix Fix" chalked up on the window. When I asked Johnny, my manager, what on earth it was, he said that it was a cocktail made from Julian Temperley's cherries in his eau de vie popped into a glass of champagne.
I thought it might prove a bit strong for some of the customers, but as I looked around the restaurant most tables seemed to be enjoying their new cocktail. It's a very romantic combination, especially as we now serve it in Marie Antoinette champagne saucers.
To buy Julian's eau de vie or apple brandies, visit ciderbrandy.co.uk, or telephone 01460 240782.
2 Julian Temperley cherries in eau de vie
2 glasses of champagne
Place a cherry with a teaspoon or so of the liquor in the bottom of 2 champagne glasses, preferably saucers.
Top up with cold, delightfully fizzy champagne and serve.
Oysters with champagne sherbet
I don't normally like to mess about with oysters – and this recipe is just as simple as putting a spoonful of shallots in red wine on your oyster.
Six or more rock oysters, shucked, plus some seaweed (optional) for serving
Pour the champagne into a shallow container and place in the freezer about 6 hours before you need it. Give it a stir every so often; it should look a bit like a Slush Puppie. To serve, place the seaweed on a serving dish with the oysters on top, then spoon a couple of teaspoons of the champagne sherbet on to each oyster.
Veal T-bone with roasted shallots and rosemary
You don't have to use a knife and fork for this big chunk of meat – you could just tear it apart with your fingers. You can buy welfare-friendly veal from Donald Russell (donaldrussell.com) or Blackface (blackface.co.uk).
1 veal T-bone weighing about 600-700g
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 shallots, peeled
A couple of good knobs of butter
A couple of sprigs of rosemary
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Heat a heavy, oven-proof frying pan with a tablespoon of the vegetable oil, cook the shallots for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, season, add the butter and rosemary and cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often until they are nicely coloured. Meanwhile, heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan, season the veal and brush with oil. Cook for about 6-7 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness, keeping the veal pink. Serve on a carving board with the shallots and rosemary and with the creamed spinach below.
Creamed spinach is a delicious and comforting accompaniment to a piece of simply grilled meat.
500g spinach, thick stalks removed and washed
150ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spinach for 2-3 minutes until tender then drain in a colander, refresh under a cold tap and squeeze out any excess water. Blend in a food processor – as smooth or as coarse as you wish. You can get the spinach to this stage in advance, then finish it at the last minute.
Simmer the cream in a saucepan until it's reduced by about half, then stir in the spinach, season and cook on a low heat for a minute or so, stirring every so often until the spinach is hot. Serve immediately.
Rhubarb and blood-orange meringue
This sexy pudding should get your juices flowing. If you don't have time to make your own, try meringues from Ottolenghi (ottolenghi.co.uk), which are mottled with raspberry purée for great visual effect.
100g caster sugar
tsp cornflour or arrowroot
1 blood orange, segmented, juice reserved
For the meringue
2 egg whites
70g caster sugar
tsp white wine vinegar
2-3tbsp crème fraîche
For the meringue, pre-heat the oven to 120C/gas mark 1. Clean the mixing bowl and whisk in boiling water, then dry with kitchen paper to remove any traces of grease, as this will affect the stiffness of the egg whites once whisked.
In a mixing machine with a whisk attachment or by hand (although this will take quite a while), whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar and continue whisking until the egg whites are really stiff and shiny. Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk again for about 45 seconds. Spoon the mixture on to a clean baking tray, lined with silicone or greaseproof paper, into one round dome.
For a spiky meringue, create peaks round the edge with the spoon if you like.
Cook in the oven for 1-2 hours or until the meringue is crisp on the outside and soft in the very middle, but don't allow the outside to colour – you want it white.
You may need to cook it a little longer, depending on your oven; remove and leave to cool.
Cut the rhubarb into 2cm lengths and place in a thick-bottomed pan with the sugar. Cook on a low heat with a lid on for about 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is just tender.
Carefully drain in a sieve over a bowl to catch the juices. Pour the juice into a saucepan and add any juice from the blood orange.
Bring to a simmer, then dilute the cornflour with a little water and stir enough into the syrup to slightly thicken it and simmer for a minute or so. Leave to cool a little, then mix the rhubarb and blood-orange segments and stir in the syrup.
To serve, cut the top off the meringue, crush it up a bit and fold into the crème fraiche. Spoon the crème fraiche into the meringue and spoon the rhubarb mixture over.
Each month Mark Hix's HIX Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, Dorset, will be welcoming well-known faces from the world of food, art and literature for a new series of dinners and master classes. For more details, see restaurantsetcltd.co.uk