A long while ago I saw a wonderful film called Like Water for Chocolate (based on the novel Como Agua Para Chocolate by Laura Esquivel) and it portrayed the alchemy that can result when love and food combine. The film tells the story of Tita, who can't marry the man she loves but is asked to make the wedding cake for his marriage to her older sister. While she cooks, Tita weeps into the cake batter and, later, when the wedding guests eat her cake, they are overcome with the same sadness that weighs on her heart.
Even before I saw the film, I knew that food and love go together. My grandma looked after me when I was little, and I watched the loving care she took with the food she cooked for grandpa and the rest of the family. I also noted that when Grandma cooked while upset, the food never tasted as good. But when she got excited about making a special cake or trying a new dish, the flavor of whatever she had made seemed to be heightened by that enthusiasm.
I enjoy cooking, but never more than when I’m cooking for someone I love. What better way to share love through cooking than on Valentine’s Day? It is no accident that my kitchen cupboards are stocked with heart-shaped cake and tart pans, red food coloring and pink and red sprinkles for dusting on cupcakes.
For me, Valentine’s Day is the best day of all to combine food and love. It’s my chance to infuse what I cook for my husband with all of the appreciation and passion I feel for him. From planning the menu based on what I know he likes, to selecting ingredients, to the time spent combining flavors to create a delicious result, I cook a special Valentine’s Day meal with care and hope that he will taste love in every bite.
My Valentine’s Day menu is sometimes elaborate, but doesn’t always need to be. It’s not the complexity of the recipe that matters, only that my husband knows I took time and care to make him something special. One of his favorite recipes is actually quite simple. As a Scotsman, he loves Scottish Steak Pie, particularly the way his dad used to make it. When he passed the recipe onto me from his father, I was actually shocked at its simplicity. Then I made it and tasted it. I’m still not sure how so few ingredients can taste so good, but they do...
Scottish Steak Pie1 lb. (at least) of good stewing beef cut into bite sized pieces
1 OXO cube or other beef bouillon cube
1 sheet of thawed puff pastry
Water to cover beef
Salt (seasoned, if preferred) and pepper to taste
¼ c milk or one egg beaten, for pastry wash
I use a Dutch oven pot for stewing the beef. Heat the pot and then sear off the beef until it's just browned. I add my seasoned salt and pepper as the beef sears. Afterwards, add water to cover the beef and break up an OXO cube into the water. Let the beef stew, covered, for a couple of hours until it is tender and tasty. Remove beef cubes and place them inside an oven-safe casserole or pie dish. Add some of the stewing water to the casserole dish, not quite enough to cover the beef. Cover all with puff pastry, shape around the pan, and cut a cross or slits to vent steam. Brush an egg or milk wash over the puff pastry to encourage beautiful browning. Let the whole thing bake in a 350 degree oven until the puff pastry bakes and browns, about 30 minutes.
Do you think the love and care you take with a recipe can be conveyed to those who partake? Do you have a special Valentine's Day recipe that you make for your valentine?