STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It is Valentine's Day which can come with pressure to impress that special someone. But you can do that, perhaps, by staying home and sharing a meal. Even if you dont have much time to prep, food writer Nigella Lawson has some suggestions.

Ms. NIGELLA LAWSON (Food Writer): Cause I am, to Valentine's Day, what Scrooge is to Christmas.

INSKEEP: You dont like Valentine's Day?

Ms. LAWSON: I dont, really, but isn't that just because Im getting old and sour?

INSKEEP: I dont - I can't imagine you being either thing, actually.

Ms. LAWSON: I dont know. I think that it's probably better in one's young and courting days.

INSKEEP: So in spite of your skepticism about Valentine's Day, you have suggested for us some things that can be made on Valentine's Day that aren't too complicated. You won't spend forever in the kitchen here. You can spend time with your partner.

Ms. LAWSON: Exactly. And I think apart from everything else, cooking something - and connecting - seems to me to be a very good way of approaching the day. Anything is better, I think, than going to one of those restaurants where there are couples who have dinner with each other only on Valentine's Day, and there are about 20 tables of silent couples.

INSKEEP: Oh.

Ms. LAWSON: Thats to be avoided. Stay home and cook.

INSKEEP: And you can cook whats called a Date Steak. Thats the name you give this, the Date Steak.

Ms. LAWSON: The Date Steak. Well, I feel that apart from vegetarians, obviously, steak is always a treat. And I think sometimes, that why people really get nervous about cooking for someone, especially someone they love, is because they feel they've got to do something very fancy.

So this really is a plain steak, except for the fact that I make it really quick. And, you know, I dont want to upset any sort of Texans, but I make a really quick stovetop barbecue sauce. I just get a saucepan out, and I just put a bit of dark-brown sugar, some red wine vinegar, a bit of Dijon mustard, soy sauce, some red currant jelly, some ginger, a bit of tomato paste - and boil this up.

It's not too sweet and it has edge, and it just make a regular steak look like it's got a party dress on, but it's not wearing uncomfortable shoes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I like that word edge. If I look at the ingredients here: vinegar, mustard, soy sauce, red current jelly, ginger - thats going to have some bite to it. Yeah.

Ms. LAWSON: It's got bite. But it - you dont have to rush off and gargle with mouthwash straight away afterwards.

INSKEEP: And you want it still to be simple, though.

Ms. LAWSON: I think it has to be simple. And for what I would say for a lot of people with steaks - I know people sometimes feel anxious about whether they're going to overcook it or undercook it - I always cook my steak for much less time than you think it needs. And then I double wrap it in foil, and I leave it on a newspaper. Because then, it carries on cooking and yet it stays tender -cause you dont want to cook a steak 'til it gets chewy. And

INSKEEP: Oh, I love that - the science there, just - it's wrapped in foil so it's cooking in its own heat. It's cooking itself.

Ms. LAWSON: In its own heat for about the last five, 10 minutes. And then it collects lovely juices, and I pour that into the steak sauce I've made.

INSKEEP: Youve got a vegetarian choice here, of sorts, here: this Tomato Curry with Coconut Milk.

Ms. LAWSON: I have, you know, Im a cook for everyone. Now, I should say that you dont have to be vegetarian to have this tomato curry. I absolutely love it. The hardest thing about this recipe is halving the tomatoes. Thats the hardest thing. Everything else

INSKEEP: Chopping them in half, cause they're small tomatoes.

Ms. LAWSON: Chopping them in half, thats your only work. I somehow think this would also be a lovely recipe to do if you don't want to, sort of, serve up something as if you were working in the restaurant, but wanted to have your partner with you and chatting. And he or she could be chopping some tomatoes as well.

And really, so this is a kind of two-part recipe. Cook some onions, put in some garlic, I put all the halved tomatoes in, and then a whole range of spices. I mean, I like English mustard powder, but you could easily put maybe quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead. Have two teaspoons of turmeric - cause it really helps to get gold - and some hot chili powder, a bit of garam masala, and then cook the tomatoes in those spices.

And then I cook some frozen peas and then put them into the curry for the last five minutes cooking. Suddenly, there's something rather fantastic about this - sort of the primary coloredness of the green and the red.

And then alongside this, I make some coconut rice. You know, the coconut rice, I, in an egocentric way, use some nigella seeds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LAWSON: But you can use black mustard seeds - they're not enormously different. And again, it's some scallions chopped up. Most things start with an onion of some sort in a pan. And then I put rice in. I use basmati rice, or Thai rice. And there's no reason you couldnt be patriotic and do American long grain.

And just really, you're cooking this in - is a mixture of coconut milk out of a can and some water. And the rice absorbs the coconut milk, and then I fluff it up with a fork. And it's a rather fantastically simple but appealingly exotic meal.

INSKEEP: Nice. Is the tomato curry going to clear my sinuses?

Ms. LAWSON: No, it's really not. It's really more aromatic than anything else.

INSKEEP: So whats for dessert?

Ms. LAWSON: Well, whats for dessert is - here, we're playing with danger a bit -which is not a bad thing - because we're going to do a bit of deep-frying. However, I believe you should take the pain out of deep-frying by doing it in a small pan. So it's not like you're, you know, youve got a huge vat. I get the sort of pan that you would maybe boil an egg in, and fill it two-thirds full with flavorless oil.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK.

Ms. LAWSON: And then I make churros. Now, the point about churros is one, there's omething incredibly compelling about a pastry bag. And even if you think you're not the sort of person who could put a nozzle in and then fill a pastry bag up with dough, there's something almost criminal, I feel, about the pleasure of squeezing out the dough into - so it's like a doughnut without yeast - into the oil.

INSKEEP: So you got a bag of dough, and you're squeezing out globs of it into the

Ms. LAWSON: Bag of dough and I squeeze out, and it's got little ridges. It's like a sort of crenellated shape. And the piece de resistance is the hot-chocolate sauce. So really, just melting some really good bittersweet chocolate, teeny bit of milk chocolate.

And you can lounge about, loll around in a Barry Lyndon kind of a way, dipping your churros into hot-chocolate sauce. And if that's not a good way to end dinner on Valentine's Day, tell me what is?

INSKEEP: Wow. Well, Nigella Lawson, it's always a pleasure to speak with you. Happy Valentine's Day.

Ms. LAWSON: And same to you.

INSKEEP: And if you're planning a home-cooked Valentines dinner, you can find Nigella's recipes for Date Steak and Churros in Chocolate Sauce at NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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