Refinery 29 UK

5 Women Who Know Food Share Their Seduction Meals

Eating together is an intimate act. Even making eye contact with a stranger as you try to stop a particularly ambitious bite of a burrito spill over yourself feels revealing. That stranger has seen something essential in your hunger, your choice of fillings, your inability to hold your meal together. It’s an exposing experience – and you were just trying to get through a rushed pre-COVID lunch break.This is why the meals we make and eat are so crucial in relationships, especially at the beginning. Beyond the obvious siren call of aphrodisiacs like oysters, chocolate and (supposedly) asparagus, what we choose to eat can shape the course of a conversation, setting the tone and the bar for how intimate the date will become.So, ahead of Valentine’s Day, we asked some of our favourite food people what meal they make when they want to set exactly the right tone for date night. Whether it’s an attempt to seduce with finger food, wow with your culinary skills or just pull together the perfect after-dinner tipple, eating in is the only option for potential lovers right now – you might as well make the most of it.Food and travel writer @breaudreygrahamA really good plate of pasta is pure romance to me. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating alone or cooking for two, pasta always pleases. What could be more seductive than a rich carbonara with extra cheese added at the table? To me, nothing sparks romance like spaghetti and meatballs. It doesn’t matter about the size of your kitchen or your cooking skills, a good plate of pasta can be as simple or as sophisticated as you fancy. You can make the sauce ahead of time, set the table, pour the wine and by the time you’re ready to eat, all you need to do is throw a few things together. I like a meal that makes you linger at the table so time spent twirling spaghetti is always better when the company is good. The key to all good cooking to me is comfort. I think that no matter if it’s a first date or your third or even 30th anniversary, you want to make the person you’re cooking for feel loved and to me pasta brings that comfort and more. The first time I nervously cooked for my boyfriend, I made a deep green spinach and walnut pesto tossed through fresh tagliatelle with blood orange and mozzarella salad on the side. A little stressed after a long day at work, I got all the ingredients on my way home but once I was in the kitchen it only took 15 minutes to pull the whole dinner together. The scent of garlic, lemon and parmesan made a date night in the depths of January feel like we were miles away in Italy. Little did I know at the time that the two ingredients he hates the most (spinach and oranges) featured heavily on the menu but romance still found a way.Take inspiration from Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and share a huge bowl of carbonara in bed while watching a film or go Lady and the Tramp-style with spaghetti & meatballs. A must-do for both is bringing a big wedge of parmesan to the table for extra cheese. You can find the recipes for spaghetti carbonara and spaghetti & meatballs on Dishes to Delight by Bre Audrey GrahamChef and cookbook writer @ninaparkerIf I was trying to seduce I would start the evening with bagna cauda with pickled vegetables and margaritas. Crab linguine for mains and some brown butter blondies for dessert. There would definitely be some Darondo playing.Brown butter is the way to most people’s hearts. You would definitely be in the good books.If I were to describe how making this has gone in the past, one word comes up over and over again: outrageous. You can find the recipe for brown butter blondies on Nina’s website or from Saucy by Nina ParkerPhoto courtesy of Nina Parker, photographed by Kate Metzner.Tablescape designer @KirthanaaI love to make a special effort for celebrating occasions like Valentine’s Day – particularly by going for the more exciting options. Cooking seafood is always fun and definitely sets the scene really well for a date night. As I’m in a long-term relationship I feel we can share food that we both genuinely love – and create that special atmosphere by setting the table beautifully, as I very much believe the atmosphere is as important as the food. My menu would be cocktails: mezcal margaritas, starter: yuzu scallops, main: grilled lobster and confit potatoes with pink radicchio, blood orange and burrata salad. And for dessert, it’s tiramisu pavlova.During a trip to Mexico early last year, I absolutely fell in love with mezcal, and mezcal cocktails. I find the variety of mezcals inspiring, and their flavour more deep and interesting than normal tequila. Also, having been unable to leave the country for so long, it’s great to have a refreshing taste to trigger the memory of better times. I managed to bring back a few bottles of my favourite varieties, which certainly do the trick! For the starter, I would pan sear scallops, basting them in foaming butter and yuzu juice. I’ve made them once before, and they were so simple but wonderful as a starter. Keeping with the seafood theme, a grilled lobster would have to be next on the menu, with a pink radicchio, blood orange and burrata salad. The pink radicchio leaves are such a lovely colour, I fell in love with them as soon as I first saw them at the Natoora counter – they really brighten a salad dish. Lobsters have always intimidated me, mostly because you have to buy them alive and the thought of dealing with that has always put me off! But then they are delicious and impressive – and I’ll let my partner handle all the gory business anyway. For dessert (which is by far my favourite course), Nigella Lawson has an incredible chocolate meringue recipe that I adapted into a tiramisu pavlova. It can be made in advance, so no fussing about once we’ve started eating. The confit potatoes are definitely in fashion at the moment – so I thought they would be a great inclusion for last year’s Christmas dinner. What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of work that goes into them! Whether it’s the process of cutting a dozen potatoes wafer thin or buttering each of the 200 or so slices and layering them in a baking pan! Fortunately, most of the work is in the preparation that can be done the day before – as on the day, all that needs doing is cutting them into blocks and frying them up in a pan. They were my guests’ favourite part of the meal as they struck the perfect balance of being crispy on the outside and wonderfully buttery and soft on the inside – a real winner! Follow Nigella’s recipe to make the chocolate meringue base for the pavlova. For the tiramisu pavlova topping, here’s what you’ll need!Ingredients8 – 10 sponge fingers200ml coffee + an optional shot of coffee liqueur (Kahlua/Tia Maria)2 egg yolks30g sugar250g mascarpone200ml double cream2 tbsp salted caramel20g chocolate3 tbsp cocoa powder Method1. Whip the double cream to soft peaks and set aside.2. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick, next fold in the mascarpone cream and salted caramel. 3. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mixture. 4. Soak the sponge fingers in the coffee and break each finger into thirds. 5. Spread 1/4 of the mascarpone cream filling onto the chocolate meringue and top with the broken sponge fingers. 6. Shave half the chocolate onto the sponge fingers then top with the remaining cream. Finally, dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle some chocolate chunks. Co-owner of food and drink collective Rita’s, @MissyFlynnMy mood setting is largely messy and indulgent so this menu is designed to be fun to eat and special enough for an occasion. For mains it’s seafood mess: a mixture of shellfish – prawns, lobster and crab. The best you can buy. Now is a good time to explore your local fishmonger or take advantage of the many restaurant suppliers that have turned to home delivery as a way to distribute their catch. This means you can get good deals if you plan ahead. Try Pesky Fish, Henderson To Home, or hit the ice counter at your local. Dinner always starts with margaritas and a good bottle of wine is a good thing to have on hand (if possible pick orange wine with this). That said, the best seafood meals in my memory ended with beer and shots! When I moved to Hong Kong to work for a few months in 2016, my partner Gabe would come visit me in between running our restaurant Rita’s back in London. He would come for short trips when he could take time off. After long flights, the most instantly restorative thing were the seafood meals we would have. It reminds me of a time when we were both working really hard and far apart but the meals were just joyous.Since then we have travelled a little bit in southeast Asia and our last holiday before COVID hit was to Vietnam, where we ate a forever memorable meal at a restaurant called Be Man in Da Nang. I want to recreate that meal as best I can.Since Gabe is a chef who happens to be quite good, when it’s my turn to cook I realise my strengths are either curry (not his forte) or to do something simple with great produce. Aside from the cliches about lobster being fancy and the Valentine’s stuff, I think this would be a good way to treat someone and also celebrate something that needs little work to become absolutely delicious. Cooking fresh (from live) is best if you can stomach it. Sorry! One of the key things to the seafood mess is the dipping. So make sure you have a little bowl of warm, melted butter seasoned with a little spice. And a warm, oven-fresh baguette to mop up any spills.Here’s a recipe for a very good margarita to have alongside seafood: Ingredients50ml good tequila – it has to be 100% agave20ml fresh squeezed lime juice 20ml of Campari – this just adds a little bit of bitterness and a dusty pink colour. A great alternative if you can find it is Victory Bitter which is made in Hackney with a bit less sugar and naturally coloured with hibiscus.20ml agave syrup MethodShake all of these with ice. Rim a glass with a mixture of sea salt.Pour the drink into the glass over fresh ice.A pitcher of this can be made easily by multiplying the quantities and mixing in a jug. Recipe writer Dina, who brings together British classics with Zanzibari and Omani flavours, @DinewithDinaFor my menu I would start with brown butter and saffron scallops, followed by Fesenjoon, a pomegranate and walnut stew served with rice. And for dessert, mandarin sticky toffee pudding.From first course to third everything needs to have warm notes. Anything pomegranate, brown butter and dates-based would be my way to seducing that lucky Valentine. Starting with brown butter and saffron scallops would set the scene, the nutty richness of the butter would wet their appetite for more. Also scallops are so quick to cook, you can spend more time together than in the kitchen. I’d follow it with Fesenjoon, a pomegranate and walnut slow-cooked stew served with rice. The synergy created in your mouth and stomach when you eat this will have your date falling head over heels! Lastly, dessert: my mandarin and walnut sticky toffee pudding is the way to finish (or continue) a night. Easily prepped in advance, silky, rich and luscious. Between the brown butter and caramel sauce, you’ll have some left over, so if you’re looking to seduce and tantalise each other’s taste buds in other ways…then I have you covered with these. All of my recipes are tested on others, not necessarily a Valentine but lucky humans who get to dine with me! I remember making the scallops for a double date I privately catered; the plates came back practically clean, they might as well have licked everything straight off! It definitely went down a treat and safe to say, both relationships are still going strong a year later. You can find the recipes for brown butter scallops and sticky toffee pudding on Dine With Dina, and the Fesenjoon on Middle East Eye, all written by Dina Macki.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Your Valentine’s Day Horoscope Is HereIn Praise Of The Basic AF Valentine’s DayDate Night Perfumes