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Valentine’s at home can be fun, too

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 11, 2021 5:00 am

Whenever Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend, chefs like me rub our hands in anticipation of busy, challenging, but often rewarding times. It’s almost a rite of passage for young chefs to get through the blur of cooking plate after plate, doing their part in giving couples another treasured moment of their relationships. It just so happens that 2021 is another year when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend, but alas, the pandemic continues to loom over us.

Of course, I would love to see my siblings in the restaurant industry have busy weekends still, but I also want everyone to be responsible and cautious when celebrating. If the prospect of dining out is a little iffy for you, setting up a perfectly lovely and romantic Valentine’s Day at home isn’t that impossible either.

Dine and dash

Ordering in is definitely an option, but I’ve always found that it’s a lot more romantic when you personally prepare the food for your significant other. Even if you make mistakes or the food isn’t exactly to their liking, the effort you put forth is what truly matters.

Speaking of effort, I’d much rather put more of the effort into the cooking process and less on the washing process. That’s why I suggest cooking a one-pot wonder, a dish that uses the least amount of cooking utensils possible. 

  My Spicy Sausage Rice is a one-pot wonder.

Here’s what you’ll need to make my Spicy Sausage Rice: 6 links of Chinese sausage or chorizo Macau, sliced thinly, 2 cups uncooked rice (I personally like Jasponica rice for this), 12 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly, 3 tbsps of Chinese chili and garlic sauce (I like Lao Gan Ma chili crisp for this), 3 tbsps of soy sauce, 2 tbsps of vegetable oil, and 4 stalks of Taiwan petchay or bokchoy.

The process is relatively simple. Sauté the sausages and mushrooms in the oil for about 2 minutes. Add in the chili and garlic oil plus the uncooked rice and sauté for 2 more minutes. Pour in the soy sauce and 3 cups of water and stir well. Bring the water to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, drop the Taiwan petchay stalks onto the rice. Cover and let the whole thing cook for 3 minutes more or until the rice is fully cooked.  

What you’ll get is this flavorful and rich rice dish that’s a complete meal unto itself. Here’s the best part: you’ll only need to wash one pot and the one spatula you used to cook the dish. That’s welcome news if you want to spend the rest of the night with your significant other and not with a significant mountain of pots to wash.

Drink and dance

If you’re fortunate enough to have a garden, patio or terrace, fix yourselves a drink, set up that portable speaker and music app (or a vinyl record player) and dance the night away. While I may not be the best at picking music and I definitely can’t dance to save my life, here’s a simple but refreshingly delicious drink to set the mood.

 Calamansi mint tea gets leveled up with a touch of liqueur. 

You’ll only need five ingredients for this: green mint tea, honey, calamansi juice, calamansi liqueur (or vodka or gin), and lots of ice. Steep some green mint tea in 1 1/2 cups of water (I like Jones’ tea, which I get from the Nova Wellness Store) for 5-7 minutes. Remove the tea bag and mix in 1 tbsp of honey. Then, in a glass full of ice, pour in 2 tbsps of calamansi juice and about 80 ml of calamansi liqueur. Then, fill up the glass with the mint tea and honey mixture.

The cocktail is fresh and bright and it’s not strong enough to knock you out, which means you can enjoy several glasses while exchanging stories and dancing with your significant other.

Chinese and chill

I’ve got to say, the thing I miss the most because of this pandemic is the cinema. Watching movies is one of my favorite activities, but staying home isn’t as difficult when you have streaming services and good internet.

Why not make Valentine’s night a movie night? Since the lunar New Year is on the same weekend, make it a Chinese-themed movie night. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a personal favorite of mine that features awesome martial arts but a low-key, touching romance as well. Then, enhance the experience with an awesome snack.

All you really need to level up your regular microwave popcorn is unsalted butter, white pepper, salt and plum powder (which you can get at Chinese groceries). Just melt the butter over low heat, add in the spice powders and toss with your freshly cooked popcorn. If you can’t find plum powder, make it sweet and spicy with some chili powder and sugar.

For a more substantial snack, how about Taiwanese fried chicken? You’ll need two chicken breast fillets, pounded thin, 1 tsp each of sugar and five spice powder, 1/2 tsp each of salt and black pepper and 1/4 cup of soy sauce.

The process is simple. Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients mentioned above for an hour or so. Then, dip the chicken in sweet potato starch and deep fry. Once cooked, season with the same spice mix as the popcorn! 

Ordering in is definitely an option, but I’ve always found that it’s a lot more romantic when you personally prepare the food for your significant other.

Safe space

It’s almost been a year of us being cautious and responsible, but I hope it doesn’t mean a year of us not having little bits of fun along the way. This Valentine’s weekend, there’s definitely a lot of fun and romance to be had, even in the safe confines of our homes.  

Banner and thumbnail caption: Taiwan fried chicken is a perfect movie snack.