Valentine's dinner

Mark Hix cooks up a steamy meal for two, with passion guaranteed.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Oh yes, it's that time of year when everything turns heart-shaped. That time of year when no one feels like spending any money, but shopkeepers and restaurants are desperate to cheer up a dull time of year and try and make a killing. I'm still not clear why we celebrate the saint, and the more I read up on it the more confusing it gets. I like the story that has Valentine in prison and falling in love with the jailor's daughter and sending her a greeting card "From your valentine". I wonder what he was in for?

Anyway if you held Valentine responsible for the crimes against good taste committed in his name he should have stayed locked up for years. Still, I don't want to sound too curmudgeonly and it is a great excuse to cook something special for two.

Tempura oysters

Serves two

We are well into native oyster season and I've consumed a fair few down at the Wright Brothers new oyster bar in Borough Market since it opened a few months ago. I know oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, probably to do with the fact that they're a bit of a luxury nowadays, although I'm glad to see that they're becoming more accessible as more people get to try them.

Raw oysters aren't everyone's cup of tea, but deep fried with this hot Japanese horseradish they're an impressive treat. It goes slightly against my purist instincts to cook them, but this recipe is just the ticket for getting the juices going for a torrid night in. The wasabi and dried seaweed (a mix of different colours sold in little packets) can be bought in well-stocked supermarkets or Chinese or Japanese stores. If you can't find the seaweed then some finely shredded cucumber would be a good replacement. I would recommend rock oysters for this as it's a bit of a waste cooking natives.

12 rock oysters shucked and loosened from the shell
100g tempura batter mix
10g dried seaweed salad mix, soaked in cold water for 1 hour
2 spring onions, shredded
Half tbsp soy sauce
Half tbsp mirin
Half tsp wasabi paste
Half tbsp good quality mayonnaise
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Mix the tempura flour with enough iced water to form a thickish batter. Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick bottomed saucepan or electric deep fat fryer. Squeeze the water from the seaweed and mix with the spring onion, soy and mirin then divide into the cupped oyster shells on a serving dish. Mix as much wasabi with the mayonnaise as you wish and transferto a small serving dish.

Dip the oysters in the batter and fry six at a time for a couple of minutes until crisp but not browned. Tempura should stay transparent and light, not like conventional batter. Place the oysters on top of the seaweed and serve with the mayonnaise.

Châteaubriand with roasted artichokes

Serves two

A big chunk of rare beef cut into generous slivers fits the bill for a meaty bit of romance. The châteaubriand is the large end or head of the fillet and a traditional restaurant dish, grilled or roasted for two people. Baby artichokes are entering the markets now from Spain and would team up simply with a beautiful steak as a healthy alternative to chips or potatoes. I would also recommend a simple lettuce heart salad dressed with a good mustardy vinaigrette. You don't want to be too weighed down after dinner.

1 châteaubriand weighing about 500g, trimmed of any sinew
6 baby artichokes
Half a lemon
A few sprigs of rosemary
8 unpeeled garlic cloves
3-4tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Trim 4 or 5 of the tougher outer leaves of the artichokes and put into a pan with the juice of half a lemon and a couple of teaspoons of salt and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, drain and leave to cool a little then cut them in half.

You'll need a small roasting pan or one of those frying pans without a long handle - it needs to be something you can use for frying that also goes in the oven. Season the beef well, heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in the pan and brown the meat on all sides over a high flame. Lay the artichokes and garlic in the pan with the beef, pour over the rest of the oil, season them and scatter with the rosemary. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes for rare, turning half way through cooking and turning and basting the artichokes every so often.

Leave the beef to rest for 10 minutes and slice into 1cm slices and arrange on a board with the artichokes and garlic cloves. The roast garlic will be meltingly soft and you can squeeze it out like a relish for the meat. The outer leaves of the artichokes may have to be removed to get at the tender heart.

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