• Forget the commercial hype and spoil your loved one with a sensational home-cooked meal. Three foodies reveal their recipes for romance.

    Andrea Burgener

    Restaurateur Andrea Burgener of Deluxe acclaim and her animator husband Nicholas Gordon have been married for nearly eight years. With two small children under the age of three, quiet meals and romantic celebrations are a rare luxury.

    How do you typically eat at home?
    We eat in a haphazard state. Cooking and eating with a toddler and a baby means that simply getting food onto plates and using cutlery is elegant! Our suppers are simple, anything from homemade pizza to fish in a mild curry, or lots of vegetables in a wok with noodles. On weekends, when lunches tend to be larger and late-ish, we often make fruit whips for dinner. Now and then we do an emergency takeout, but are usually appalled by the bad quality, and really try to avoid this option.

    Who does most of the cooking?
    I do, but Nick contributes and is a really good cook. We ran our first restaurant together.

    Do you enjoy the same food?
    Our tastes are fairly different, though we both like uncomplicated meals. Nick tends towards robust peasanttype dishes with meat. I have issues with how some of our animals are reared and how supermarket meat is produced, so our meals occasionally require compromise. Generally we go more for organic meats, game and only certain fish and seafood. My food favourites change daily, but I particularly like upfront fresh flavours such as ginger, lemon, herbs and chilli. I’ve also had a bad sweet tooth ever since I was pregnant with Jim, and my dark chocolate intake is scary!

    How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
    We aren’t a big Valentine’s Day couple, but do try to take the opportunity to have lunch together during that week or we’ll make supper just a bit less casual on the night, perhaps including good wine or a swanky dessert.

    What would be your husband’s ideal Valentine’s meal?
    Special occasion or not, Nick loves my duck-ham carbonara. I usually don’t mess with classic dishes but this adaptation was born out of necessity (my unhappiness with dubious pork products), and it works beautifully. Tell us more… Instead of bacon or other cured pork products such as coppa or Parma ham, I use organic duck breast in the recipe. It takes on the same fatty shine and mouth-feel of salt-cured pork products but is more delicious. I got the idea from my brilliant food guru friend Braam Kruger – the method for duck ham is actually in his cookbook Kitchen Boy.

    How do you serve it?
    In a gorgeous big bowl or on a flat plate with the duck breast lightly tossed through the pasta. No frills and just a vinaigrette-dressed leaf salad (only leaves!) on the side.

    What was your most romantic meal?
    The one I had with Nick at Sam’s Café on our first date. We knew then we’d marry, right at the beginning of the meal before any alcohol could be blamed!

    Do you have a favourite meal that Nick prepares?
    Not really, but in the mornings and evenings he makes me lots of good tea usually with a block of chocolate on the side!

    What food do you think is hot in 2006?
    Simple, unfussy dishes with big flavours – more effort will go into seeking good dishes, less into showy combinations. I’d like to think that any informed person will share my opinion on healthily produced food, free from hormones and chemicals, and in the case of animals, humanely reared, as the only way to go. Green issues are fashionable and it’s my hope that eating mindlessly this year will be out!


    Serves 4

    This is a slight adaption of Braam Kruger’s brilliant invention.

    4 duck breasts (not really worth it to do less than that)
    75ml balsamic vinegar
    75ml ground black peppercorns
    75ml coarse/kosher salt
    5ml allspice
    3 ground cloves
    5ml fresh ginger, slivered
    7,5ml ground coriander seeds
    5ml dried oreganum

    1 Blot the filleted breasts dry and place them in a non-reactive shallow dish. Mix all the other ingredients together and rub well into the breasts. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and leave to cure in the fridge for about 8 hours.
    2 Wash all the ingredients very well and blot dry with paper towel. Hang up with hooks, or through a skewer, in a well-ventilated place. Winter is really the ideal time, if not in Mediterranean climes.
    3 Leave for 2 to 3 days until the skin is dark and sticky-shiny. Just before eating, place it skin-side down on a very hot pan or griddle until the fat is transparent and the skin is well browned, about 30 seconds. Do not let the flesh cook at all.  Do not refrigerate after cooking the fat as it will damage the lovely crispy versus oozy combo of the skin and fat.

    4 egg yolks
    45ml pouring cream
    30ml grated Parmesan cheese
    salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    15ml parsley, finely chopped
    500g spaghettini (I prefer this to spaghetti which is suitable really only for boarding school bolognaise!)
    1/3 of a duck breast for each portion, thinly sliced

    1 Beat together the first 5 ingredients. Be cautious with the black pepper – you can add more later.
    2 Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and toss immediately with the egg mixture.
    3 Return to the stove and mix well until all the pasta is coated and the egg is cooked. It should resemble a thickened creamy sauce.
    4 Throw in the duck ham (or serve on top if preferred), and plate.
    5 Serve immediately on warm plates with extra Parmesan on the side.

    Deluxe, 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark (011) 482-7795


    Berno du Plessis

    Berno du Plessis, chef de cuisine at Park Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg, is used to juggling shifts to see his wife of four years, Mamie, who also works in the hospitality industry. However, with the birth of their first child just weeks away, the pair knows that stealing time alone is about to become even more challenging.

    How do you typically eat at home?
    We go through phases. Currently we enjoy Italian and healthy foods, but we often eat Indian and Thai cuisine. We try to eat small portions of rich foods more frequently during the day as opposed to one large meal. When we go out for dinner, it’s anything from sushi to steak or pub grub.

    Who does most of the cooking?
    I do, but only because I’m quicker at it. We spend so little time together so don’t want it taken up with cooking.

    Do you enjoy the same food?
    We share most tastes, except for eggs and anchovies on toast, which Mamie only eats when I’m not at home!

    How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
    Informally. There is seldom an exchange of gifts, but we do have a private dinner with good sparkling wine, candles and great music in the background.

    What would be Mamie’s ideal Valentine’s meal?
    February is so hot in South Africa, especially in the Boland where we come from, so for Valentine’s we both prefer small dishes that are light and fresh. I’d start the evening with two of her favourites: a frozen Margarita and an oyster and lemon skewer on the side. For starters, a cold soup of avocado, cucumber and minted yoghurt, followed by Thai-style grilled calamari with lime ginger and chilli, served with wilted bok choy and oyster sauce.

    Tell us more about the main dish.
    I first made it under chef Alex Docherty at the Ambassador Hotel in Cape Town and have adapted it over the years to suit my tastes. I find Thai food inspiring thanks to its simplicity and freshness. This meal in particular reminds us of good times and great friends.

    How do you serve it?
    In a large pasta bowl that catches the sauce, with an ice-cold bottle of crisp dry white wine.

    What was your most romantic meal?
    The one we enjoyed on the day we got engaged. We were in a small guest house in Hokitika on the south island of New Zealand and had fine food and even better wine in a small wooden cabin restaurant with a huge fireplace. It was in the middle of winter with plenty of snow outside – very romantic. Do you have a favourite meal that Mamie prepares? She does great pastas and salads and when I’ve built up enough brownie points, an excellent crème caramel!

    What food do you think is hot in 2006?
    Simple comforting foods – ones that can be enjoyed as close as possible to their natural state such as fresh seafood with only a squeeze of lemon, or perfectly matured beef with olive oil and seasoning.

    This dish also makes an excellent starter.
    Serves 2

    25ml vegetable oil
    250g Patagonian calamari tubes
    125ml soy sauce
    5ml fresh red chilli, chopped
    2cm fresh ginger, grated
    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    2 limes, juiced and zest kept
    2 bunches bok choy
    250ml vegetable stock
    45ml oyster sauce
    15ml black sesame seeds
    25ml sesame oil
    50ml sweet chilli sauce, optional
    handful fresh coriander

    1 In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the vegetable oil until almost smoking hot.
    2 Add the calamari and fry until lightly golden brown on the outside, about 1 minute.
    3 Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce, reduce the heat and add the chilli, ginger, garlic and lime juice.
    4 Allow to simmer for about 20 – 30 seconds and remove from the heat.
    5 In the same pan, wilt the bok choy with some soy sauce and vegetable stock for about 30 seconds.
    6 Add the oyster sauce and toss around the pan to coat the bok choy nicely.
    7 Put the bok choy in the middle of the plate with the calamari scattered on and around it. Sprinkle the calamari with the sesame seeds, sesame oil, lime zest and some sweet chilli sauce.
    8 Garnish with a generous helping of fresh coriander.

    Park Hyatt Hotel, 191 Oxford Road, Rosebank, (011) 280-1234.


    Julie Lindhiem

    Julie Lindhiem owns the Wild Olive Food Store delicatessen in Greenside, Johannesburg. Her husband Mark works in the financial services industry and manages the money side of the business. He’s shared and supported her passion for all things food-related for 11 years.

    How do you typically eat at home?
    We prefer simple, uncomplicated food and always focus on quality and freshness. If I cook, it’s often one-pot meals (I’m all for shortcuts in the kitchen), cold soups and salads in summer, or dishes like baked chicken with brown rice, veggies and verjuice.

    Who does most of the cooking?
    I’d be lying if I said I did. Since opening the deli three years ago, I’m often too tired to cook at night unless I’m testing a recipe, so Mark takes care of it.

    Do you enjoy the same food?
    We’re like two peas in a pod and in a restaurant often end up unintentionally ordering the same meal! At home, because our lives are so hectic, we want taste, texture and visual impact with little effort. I’m inspired by Middle Eastern culture, and the flavours used in Moroccan and Italian cooking such as garlic, lemon, chilli and spices.

    How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
    By spending quality time together at home. We’ll spoil ourselves with an exotic ingredient – a selection of imported mushrooms for instance and some Italian truffle oil. Then we’ll cook and chat over a glass of wine before enjoying a candlelit dinner on our deck, our two staffies at our feet.

    What would be Mark’s ideal Valentine’s treat?
    Mark is just mad about dark chocolate and marzipan so I included the sinful combination in a brownie, which I serve with fresh fig compote when figs are in season. I think it makes the dessert more decadent as figs are only available for two months of the year.

    Tell us more…
    I’ve been making brownies for years. The recipe is mine and Mark was the guinea-pig during its original development, although he wasn’t very helpful because he rated everything as delicious!

    How do you serve them?
    I like to keep the brownies quite rustic with chunky pieces of almonds and chocolate laid out on a thick wooden chopping board, or alternatively as a gift, in little pink hatboxes with brown and whitestriped ribbon with a message attached. I like to serve fresh fig compote on the side.

    What was your most romantic meal?
    Our engagement dinner at La Belle Terrasse at The Westcliff Hotel – we were serenaded by a violinist.

    Makes 9 large brownies

    325g butter
    250g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped, plus 150g extra
    6 eggs
    425g light brown sugar
    125g cake flour
    7,5ml vanilla extract
    zest of 1 orange
    200g marzipan, chopped
    100g raw almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
    peel of 1 orange

    1 Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave. Allow to cool slightly.
    2 Beat the eggs and sugar until very thick and pale. Stir in the chocolate-butter mixture and fold in the flour, vanilla, orange zest, half the marzipan and half the almonds until well combined. Heat the oven to 160ºC.
    3 Pour the mixture into a 22cm x 32cm rectangular tin lined with nonstick baking paper and bake until the surface of the mixture just begins to set about 10 minutes.
    4 Sprinkle the extra chopped dark chocolate, the remaining marzipan and almonds, and lastly the orange peel over the surface.
    5 Continue to bake for a further 25 minutes. The brownies are ready when well risen with a crust around the edge and a slight wobble in the middle when shaken gently.
    6 Allow the brownies to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting. Cut into 3 large triangles. For smaller brownies, cut the large triangles in half. Serve with ripe fig compote.

    Makes 650ml

    300g frozen/fresh ripe figs
    200g light brown sugar
    2ml ground cinnamon
    2 cinnamon sticks
    250ml water

    1 Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved.
    2 Increase the heat and simmer gently until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly.
    3 Be careful not to overcook the figs – remove them if necessary while the syrup thickens.

    Frozen ripe figs are available from good delis.
    Wild Olive Food Store, Strano Place, Gleneagles Road, Greenside. (011) 646-1445.