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Organic Annie: Valentine's Special, with recipes!

Wondering how to make St Valentine's special - Organic Annie steps up and it's fantastic!

It's February, one more wet and chilly winter month before Spring. I love the cool of February; the island storms are followed by completely still and quiet nights. It is all about roaring fires and dinners around the family table. The best of February for me is Valentine's Day dinner. My husband, Rene, thinks of it as a Hallmark holiday, meaning American cheese, turning up last minute with half assed gifts looking pained. I am forced to call in reinforcements, my friend Sophie B and her family, they think it's lovely or are at least English enough to join in.

For me, it's a time for cooking the food of love. It starts a couple of days early, Sofia, my daughter, and I usually make a little something for her school friends. This year we will make pink chocolate drizzled marshmallows, the fabulous, on trend treat currently in vogue - I think it will be the new cupcake. For dinner we will have beef ragout, Yorkshire pudding and peas, they are just beginning to come in, a first breath of Spring. We love them.

The dining room will be festive with pink and red heart shaped balloons, the table set with pink dishes and the table strewn with love heart candies. A wrapped package at each place. I just can't stop myself and I don't want to. We always have a really great evening, even Rene. Having eaten fabulous food and gotten over having to produce some form of romantic, I think he begins to look forward to what might be next.

Maybe there is a little something extra special from cupid to Rene. That and the evenings Cava and homemade truffles ought to encourage a little Valentine appreciation, perhaps even a little romance..... Being married to a cheesy American romantic might not be all that bad after all.

Recipes:

Pink Chocolate Drizzled Marshmallows

Yields approximately 50 Marshmallows

Homemade Marshmallows in no way resemble store bought - they are divine. We just love them, they are extraordinary to make, especially with children. The egg whites whip up beautifully and promote a gorgeous pillowy texture. Think of eating a gorgeous pink evening sunset. The recipe comes from David Lebowitz, a fabulous food writer. I have tried dozens of different recipes, but in all honesty, this one is near perfect. Look up his blog, it's a great read.

Equipment Essentials: KitchenAid Stand Mixer, candy thermometer, 2 decorator bags with the nozzle that holds the tips on and one smaller tip for the chocolate, and small paper cases. All are available at HiperMenaje, the kitchen shop across from the Big Syp on the Ibiza Town road.

17 gr Gelatin Sheets, soaked in 2 cups of cold water

1 cup White Sugar

1/3 Cup Golden Syrup + 1/3 cup Water

4 Large Egg Whites

Pinch Salt

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

A few drops of Red Food Colouring

Warning: Boiling sugar is extremely hot and dangerous. Use extreme caution with children.

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar mixed with 1/2 cup Corn Starch

100 gr Chocolate, melted in bowl set over, but not touching slightly simmering water

Red and White Sprinkles, We love ‘love hearts' if available.

Soak the gelatin sheets in 2 cups of cold water, until soft

Put the egg whites in the mixer bowl with the pinch of salt. Using the whisk attachment turn on to the lowest setting to break them up.

Mix the sugar, syrup and water in a small sauce pan and over medium high bring to a boil.

Clip the thermometer to the side of the pan. When the temperature reads 210F/99C, turn the mixer to high. (About 5 minutes, once the boil begins.)

When the thermometer reads 245F/118C, 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer on high pour in the boiling sugar in a slow steady stream. For ease, use the plastic chute attachment. Be careful not to splatter the sugar is quite hot.

Remove the softened gelatin to the sugar pan plus 2 tablespoons of the water and swirl to dissolve. The heat helps.

Once dissolved, pour into the mixer along with the vanilla.

Add a few drops of the red colouring and let it work in, use additional drops to achieve a delicious pink. We love ours bright.

Continue whipping until the mixing bowl is completely cool.

Sift together the corn starch and powdered sugar over a couple of cookie sheets. Marshmallows are intensely sticky, the mix will prevent sticking by providing a coating. Careful not to get it up the sides of the marshmallows, so as not to get the white powder stuck in the pretty pink.

Fold the rim of the decorator bag over your hand and scoop the marshmallow mixture into the bag. Don't get stuck in, this is the sticky part.

Pipe 4cm dots in rows on to the prepared cookie sheets and leave to dry for 3 hours.

Drizzle with the melted chocolate and decorate with sprinkles.

Rest to set the chocolate, not a terribly long time in the cold month of February.

Using a spatula, carefully lift the marshmallows and place on to the centres of the paper cups

A note about drizzling. I am not usually a fan of the kitchen gadget. I prefer a lean kitchen equipment wise. Living in an old farmhouse, I don't have much space and more importantly, most kitchen gadgets just don't work. An exception would be the fabulous Lekue decorator. I love this thing, It gives complete control over the chocolate, easy to use, easy to squeeze and no waste. It's a great design, the tips and cap are stored inside the cavity, so the parts don't get lost. I recommend it highly. It is also available at HiperManaje, look for the Lekue Silicon display.

Orange Spiced Chocolate Truffles

Yield 20 Truffles

Recipe adaptation from Nigel Slater, Food Writer extraordinaire. I have used milk chocolate, Rene prefers it, and a little less double cream to accommodate the higher milk content in milk chocolate. They are heaven and very easy. Don't skimp on the chocolate, use the best you can find, it makes a difference. I love Callebaut, it comes in all strengths, including white with no cacao at all. For cocoa powder, I use the 100 percent from Barry Cacao, it's intensity is a great foil for the sweetness of the chocolate. Both are available at Ibifood, Ibiza/San Antonio road.

250 gr Callebaut or other high quality Milk Chocolate

100 gr Double Cream

BIg pinch Sea Salt

Strips of Zest from 1/2 of an Orange

1/2 Whole Cinnamon Stick, broken in 2

6 Cloves

A couple of chunks of a Whole Nutmeg

100 gr Sifted Cocoa Powder

Bring the cream, zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg gently to a near boil.

Remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour or so.

Reheat to near boil and strain.

Put chocolate in a small mixing bowl, pour the cream over it and let the chocolate melt slowly.

Mix together and cool in the fridge for an hour or so until it has firmed up.

Scrape out on to a kitchen board and roll in to an even log, about 3 cm in diameter.

Press into an oblong box shape.

Heat a sharp knife with warm water, wipe dry and cut into bite size pieces.

Coat a tray with the cacao powder and dredge the pieces to coat.

Orange Scented Slow Beef Ragout

Serves 10

3 half cm thick Bacon Slices

2 kilos Stew Beef Chunks

1/3 cup Flour

2 tablespoons Olive Oil

5 tablespoons Butter

1/2 cup Brandy

2 Celery Ribs, 6 cm each

Small handful Parsley Stems

6 Sprigs Thyme

2 Sprigs Rosemary

1/2 Cinnamon Stick

6 Cloves, stuck in to Celery Rib

Strips of Orange Peel, pith removed

500 gr Whole Shallots, skin On

3 Onions, cut in half lengthwise and sliced

4 large Garlic Cloves, rough chopped

4 Carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 cm rounds

2 tablespoons Tomato Paste

1 1/2 Bottles hearty Spanish Red Wine

750 gr Cremini Mushrooms, brushed clean and quartered

Boil bacon for 3 minutes, cool and Slice into 1/2 cm pieces.

Place the whole shallots on a cookie sheet and roast for 45 minutes in a 175c/ oven. Cool, peel and set aside.

Dry beef carefully, wet beef does not brown, it boils. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Divide flour into 2 plastic storage bags, divide beef in to the bags and shake to coat with flour.

Heat 11/2 Tablespoons each of oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed casserole pan.

Brown the beef all over in small batches, a couple of handfuls at a time.

Remove to a bowl as the batches are done, add more fat as needed, the pan will have sticky bits on the bottom.

Remove excess fat and set aside for use in the Yorkshire Pudding.

Deglaze the pan by heating it to hot, adding the brandy and while it sizzles scrape up all of the bits from the bottom and reduce the brandy to about half. Pour over the reserved beef.

Tie all of the aromatics together with string or wrap in kitchen gauze - rosemary, celery with cloves, thyme, parsley stems, orange peel, 1/2 cinnamon stick in to a bouquet garni, for easy removal.

In the clean casserole pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and sauté the bacon for 2 minutes or so. Add the onion, garlic and carrots and continue cooking a few minutes more until golden.

Add the tomato paste, 1 minute more and then the meat with the juices.

Add the wine to nearly cover.

Set the lid on to cover the pan partially and set in the oven at 150c/ for 3 to 4 hours. Check the ragout periodically, it should be at slight simmer. If cooking too fast, reduce the heat. The beef needs a slow cook to tenderize. It is done when the juice is rich, the wine cooked out and the beef fork tender.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 of butter in a sauté pan to hot and sauté the mushrooms to tender. If you must use button mushrooms, sauté until all of the water is out and the flavour begins to condense. Add to the ragout.

Peel the shallots and add whole, they should be soft and sweet, but not fall apart. Mix together and let sit for a half an hour or so for the flavours to marry.

The ragout can be made a day in advance. In fact, it's better. Any fat can be peeled off when chilled in the fridge and the flavour has a chance to set. To reheat, set over a medium low heat and bring to temperature gently. Handle with so as not to break up the beef and vegetables.

My favourite ragout accompaniment is Yorkshire pudding, I prefer one big one. I love a crunchy rim and a softer middle. And use the fat saved from the browning pan.

Special Mention - A special Valentine kiss and a huge thanks to Joel Rice, Joel Rice Designs, for the illustration. He is a great friend and a fantastic Illustrator, Graphic Designer and Art Teacher. Sofia has had 5 years of happy creative lessons with him, he rocks. He can be reached at joelricedesign@gmail.com or +34 699296169.

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