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Why not try a ‘‘date night’’ at home. These dishes from Lou and Ant Bently from the Akaroa Cooking School are great ‘‘make-ahead’’ recipes, which can feed the rest of the family nice and early before making a lovely special dinner for two with a few extra touches and a glass of wine.
Beef and prune tagine
This is a really moreish winter dish. It gets better and better the longer it cooks. It could easily be made in a slow cooker and how wonderful it would be to come home after a busy winter’s day to find your tagine waiting. Any leftovers make for a delicious pie filling.
1kg beef cheeks, trimmed (or beef shin)
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1½ tsp flaky sea salt
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 Tbsp Moroccan spice mix (see below)
400g can cherry tomatoes
600ml beef stock
100g pitted prunes
¼ cup flaked almonds
Moroccan spice mix
1 Tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp Spanish sweet smoked paprika
Mix all the Moroccan spice mix ingredients together. (The mix can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container until needed.)
Cut the beef cheeks into 3cm dice. Heat the olive oil in a tagine or casserole dish and add the beef in batches. Fry over medium-high heat until golden brown all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.
When the beef has finished browning, turn down the heat and add the onion and salt to the pan — adding more oil if needed. Saute gently until the onion is soft and then add the garlic and the spice mix. Stir well to combine, add the cherry tomatoes, drained chickpeas, stock and prunes and mix well. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Place the lid on the dish and put in the oven to cook for 3½–4 hours, or until the beef is very tender and falling to pieces. If the liquid hasn’t reduced and thickened enough, remove the lid and cook until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Serve immediately with couscous, flaked almonds and plenty of fresh coriander.
Chocolate molten puddings
These gooey little chocolaty treats are fantastic on a winter’s evening. They can be made in advance and then baked when you feel like dessert. The key is to not overcook them so they remain molten in the centre. Each oven is slightly different so I would suggest making a batch of puddings for a test run in your oven at home.
2 free range eggs
150g caster sugar
3 Tbsp plain flour (or substitute rice flour for a gluten-free version)
vanilla bean ice cream
Heat the oven to 200degC. Grease four 150ml ramekins with a little butter.
Melt the butter and 125g of chocolate together in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (ensure the base of the bowl does not touch the water). Alternatively, melt in the microwave on medium heat. Remove and allow to cool slightly.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then add the sugar and beat to combine. Stir in the flour.
Add the egg mixture, stirring constantly, to the slightly cooled chocolate and mix together well. Stir in the 100g of extra dark chocolate. Pour into the prepared ramekins and put on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15–17 minutes, until firm on top but still gooey in the centre.
Remove from the oven and carefully place on serving plates. Serve immediately with vanilla bean ice cream.