Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Here are four delicious ways to win a foodie's heart

Here are the ingredients, dishes and edible gift ideas to look to this Valentine’s Day

Neufchatel cheese is heart-shaped. Getty  
Neufchatel cheese is heart-shaped. Getty  

From classic pairings to more out-there matches, food and romance go hand in hand. If there’s ever a time when you have full license to go overboard on meals that purportedly channel love, then surely February 14 is it: little ditties, saccharine statements, glorious cheese and heart-shaped everything of the edible variety will send you on the way to Valentine’s Day success.

Say cheese

Valentine’s Day calls for a cheeseboard made up of carefully curated, lovingly picked fromage (no string cheese allowed). Select your favourites, then add a cupid’s nod to the array with coeur de Neufchatel, a creamy soft-white cheese that just so happens to be heart-shaped. Order it online at Les Gastronomes (www.lesgastronomes.ae).

The prize for the ultimate sharing cheese, however, goes to rich, fruity, fluid Mont d’Or (also known as Vacherin). This seasonal washed rind cheese comes ready presented in a wooden box, making it feel special from the get-go, plus it’s the perfect size for two. Mont d’Or sourced from the Jura Mountains is available from gourmet food suppliers Maison Duffour on www.maisonduffour.com.

For the cosiest of Valentine’s Day meals, treat your Mont d’Or like a mini fondue, and simply remove the wooden lid, stud the surface of the cheese with slivers of garlic and rosemary, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in the oven until molten, golden and oozing. Serve with a couple of dipping spoons, a pile of crusty bread or ­crackers, and bowls of toasted nuts, olives and pickles, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal to linger over.

For the love of oysters

Oysters are seamlessly ­interwoven into the lexicon of food and romance, and yet it could never be said that a love for these sweet-salty specimens conquers all. No matter the purported aphrodisiac ­qualities, or the sense of excitement you might feel serving them, if the object of your affection isn’t a fan, this is not the night to attempt to convince them otherwise.

Oysters from Maison Duffour
Oysters from Maison Duffour

For couples who have fallen hook, line and, er, sinker for these minerally bivalves, there is no better or easier way to begin a romantic meal. Once the oysters are shucked, all you need to do is arrange them on piles of ice and put together a few simple accompaniments – a splash of Tabasco sauce, squeeze of lemon juice, spoonful of finely minced shallot softened in vinegar, and you’re done.

Never is the fisherman’s mantra of “fresh is best” more pertinent than with oysters. Select yours carefully, handle them with care and keep them in the fridge, on ice. They should smell clean and briny, like the sea. If there’s even the slightest doubt in your mind as to the freshness of your oysters steer clear, otherwise you risk your night being memorable for all the wrong reasons.

You can order oysters online from various gourmet grocers across the UAE, including Secrets Fine Food (www.secretsfinefood.com), Maison Duffour (www.­maisonduffour.com) and Les Gastronomes (www.lesgastronomes.ae).

Sweet like chocolate

Along with bouquets of red roses and cards bearing messages of love, chocolate – boxes, bars, desserts and more – is so synonymous with February 14 that to call it cliched would be, well, a bit of a cliche.

The association ­between ­chocolate, romance and desire is a long-held one. In addition to using cacao beans as a coveted form of currency, the ancient Aztecs are believed to have endorsed its ­love-inducing qualities, noting that the popular cacao-based drinks consumed in royal courts promoted “success with women”.

The Aztecs were on to something: the science behind chocolate’s positive, ­romance-inducing qualities is now believed to be due to it containing small quantities of a chemical compound called phenethylamine (or PEA), which triggers the release of those feel-good endorphins.

Chemistry aside, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the partnership between chocolate and Valentine’s Day was really solidified. Chocolatier Richard Cadbury is largely credited with introducing ornately decorated, heart-shaped boxes filled with ­chocolates to a ­hungry Valentine’s market back in 1896. The idea stuck, and boxes of chocolates have been considered love-food staples ever since.

My Life Would Suck With Out You Cake Pops. Courtesy SugarMoo
My Life Would Suck With Out You Cake Pops. Courtesy SugarMoo

So there’s absolutely nothing wrong if you are planning on giving chocolates as a gift this year, but you might want to do so with a little flair (think a few hand-picked artisan ­truffles over a box of Celebrations), or with a distinctly tongue-in-cheek air – online cake and dessert delivery company SugarMoo (www.sugarmoo.com) has a slew of fun options, including a Millennial Love Box Nutella brownie set and some sentiment-heavy “My life would suck without you” cake pops.

Maison Pierre Marcolini in The Dubai Mall will offer a ­metallic gold and black ­collector’s box designed in ­collaboration with ­Victoria Beckham, featuring 16 white chocolate hearts. These ­include the Belgian ­chocolatier’s praline made with hazelnuts from ­Piedmont, combined with signature biscuits from ­Quimper in France and a hint of Maldon salt.

Heart-shaped chocolates by Pierre Marcolini x Victoria Beckham
Heart-shaped chocolates by Pierre Marcolini x Victoria Beckham

Say it with steak

A quick perusal of ­Valentine’s menus at various UAE restaurants and high-end choices such as dinner on-board the Queen Elizabeth 2 or at the Emirates Palace hotel’s sophisticated Italian Mezzaluna, to more relaxed, street-food-style eats, such as Vietnamese Foodies in JLT, Dubai, proves that steak features time and time again.

This is no surprise. ­Protein- rich red meat has always had romantic connotations, not least because it contains the invigorating hormones dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which increase heart rate and blood flow. Perhaps more ­pertinently, at a time when food budgets are being reined in and many of us are actively trying to reduce our meat ­consumption, a hearty, flavourful rib-eye, beautiful bavette steak dripping with Bearnaise sauce, or a rosy-in-the-centre beef Wellington feels like an indulgent treat.

Indulge in a juicy steak. Photo by Scott Price 
Indulge in a juicy steak. Photo by Scott Price 

Should you be serving steak at home tonight, a few ­simple precautions will elevate your meal no end: buy the best ­quality piece of meat you can afford, remove it from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking, season it generously, prepare carefully (finish by basting with butter), and don’t forget to leave it to rest.

Updated: February 13, 2019 07:28 PM

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