Valentines Day

Usually about this time of year, the rush begins to secure a sought-after restaurant reservation and pay over the odds for a mediocre meal, all in the name of St Valentines.

This year, for those of us seeking our annual dose of romance, its down to us to recreate the magic at home. Now I’m all for supporting your local takeaways (perhaps a little too much over the last 12 months!) but the way to my mans heart is definitely through his stomach. So my gift to him this February 14th is going to be a romantic dinner cooked by moi.

My wedding day was arguably one of the most romantic days of my life (until I jumped in the pool in the dress and my husband pulled the plug on the party and sent everyone to bed. Did I mention he’s the inspiration for our fun sponge mug?) Anyway, the location was a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside and the theme pretty much start to finish was wine and authentic, beautifully simple, Italian food. I’m talking endless pizza and copious amounts of pasta – you need the carbs to soak up all that Chianti.

I’m throwing together a few Italian inspired favourites for our Valentine’s Day meal and thought I’d share them with you. But first things first, a shameless plug for Swank & Whimsy candle holders, because with all the will in the world, that energy saving lightbulb above your dining table is doing nothing for romantic ambience.

Check out our glamourous gold leaf cast aluminium candlestick holders online now, or the Midas touch candle holders in solid white Indian marble

If you and your lover live on the wild side then invite along a couple of our kiwi bird candle holders instead. Did you know greater spotted kiwi birds usually mate for life? The best bit – they combine their calls and duet together (too cute, I know).

Now for those of you that aren’t up to speed with the basic principles of psychology, turns out all we need to do to excite the senses of the opposite sex is slip on a red dress or some red lippy. Various studies have concluded that women that wear red are approached by men more often. Perhaps even more relevant in todays ‘zoom call culture’ – apparently men are even more attracted to the same woman if viewed against a red background verses a white one. I’ve also read that female primate’s skin turns red when they are most fertile to attract mates. From red light districts to red fast Ferraris, red is turning up the heat so I’m running with this theme in the kitchen too.


Caprese salad

Caprese-salad

It doesn’t get much simpler than juicy red tomatoes and cheese but add in some fresh basil, dried oregano, balsamic glaze and cracked black pepper and you have yourself a pretty special treat.

Step 1
Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella, chop the herbs, marinade it all together.

Step 2
Stack it all up and finish with a ‘cheesy’ mozzarella heart and what’s not to love?

I’ve included some grilled asparagus because its Valentines day and after a little google research, I discovered that asparagus is a lesser known aphrodisiac.

Turns out it contains a high amount vitamin E which increases blood flow and oxygen to the genitals – “oo la la” (how do you say this in Italian?!).

Asparagus is also jam packed with potassium which is linked to sex hormone production – who knew!


Tagliatelle con gamberi e brandy

If you didn’t see the Lapland Christmas special with Gino d’acampo’s bare body in a hot tub, then thank your lucky stars and don’t ever watch it. I find his passion and humour quite attractive, not sure if that’s something I should publicly admit to or not but turns out he’s excessively hairy, and that kind of ruined it for me. Anyway, he does profess a few delicious pasta recipes and this one is my favourite.

Its super simple but perfect for date nights. This whole meal can be thrown together casually in the kitchen with next to no stress. Shellfish is another famous aphrodisiac and I’m pretty sure generous amounts of brandy will do the trick too!

To make this dish you’ll need:

  • 30g salted butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2 Shallots
  • 60g Walnuts
  • 300g Uncooked prawns
  • 20 Cherry tomatoes copped into halves
  • 60ml Brandy (or 120ml, or just add as much as you like)
  • 250ml Cream
  • 1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 400g of fresh parsley
  • Tomato puree (optional)

Step 1
Melt the butter and oil in a pan then cook the shallots and walnuts for about 2 minutes.

Step 2
Increase the heat and throw in the raw prawns and tomatoes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Notice all those lovely shades of red in the pan!

Step 3
Add in the brandy and let the alcohol evaporate in the heat before adding cream and balsamic. Let it all cook for a few more minutes. The tomatoes should colour the creamy sauce but you can always add a little tomato puree at this point if you feel you need it.

Final Step
Boil and drain your tagliatelle, stir through the sauce, scatter in the parsley and ‘hey presto’. Buon appetite.


Cinnamon Apple Roses

Last but not least, cinnamon apple roses. Not technically an Italian recipe but my Italian wedding cake was basically a 2ft by 2ft round pastry full of cream, scattered with fruit and dusted with icing sugar. If I’m honest I’m not sure how this came to be, perhaps a wedding planner with too much creative license, but who doesn’t love pastry and cream?

Apples might not be your traditional aphrodisiac but another quick google search revealed a 2014 study that claimed an apple a day didn’t just keep the doctor away but also correlated with better sex life in young women. Happy days!

To make this dish you’ll need:

  • 1 or 2 red apples
  • A pack of puff pastry pre rolled ( I know I’m not the only one with a busy life)
  • Small bowl of melted butter
  • 1 Heaped tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 Heaped tsp of icing sugar

Step 1
Cut the pastry sheet into lengths, you should get 4 out of the roll easily.

Step 2
Slice your apples in half and then into thin slices

Step 3
Dab melted butter across the strips of pastry, then lay a row of apple slices along the length. Place each piece in the middle of the strip and leave the red edge of the apple sticking out over the edge. Overlap each piece of apple slightly.

Step 4
Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon then fold over the pastry to cover the apple, leaving the red edge poking out.

Step 5
Dap butter across the folded strip and roll up into pretty little roses. Cover with another dusting of sugar and cinnamon.

Final Step
Place in buttered ramekins and pop in the oven for 40mins at 200c (gas mark 6). Serve with fruit and cream on a Swank&Whimsy serving board.


Limited Edition Valentines Candles

Create the Perfect Cheese Board


Building the board.

(Yes there is a tried and tested cheese board process and it never fails me).

It’s always best to start with the cheese, position it on the board so it feels balanced, then build the garnishes around it. Unless you like to include a little greenery on the plate, in which case I would scatter some rocket, shoots or peppery salad leaves and place the cheese on top. No one wants a beige board, so colour is extremely important! That’s where leaves can really help, but of course there’s plenty of other ways to brighten up your platter. So before we get to the cheese, lets talk accompaniments.

For me, it isn’t a cheese board if there aren’t any grapes. I like to use red or black ones. The rich colour is a bonus but the flavour also pairs best with strong salty cheese (my favourite!). Green grapes compliment creamier cheeses like brie or camembert. Just remember Black & blue, green & cream. (The cheese police aren’t going to make any arrests if you don’t stick to this, but it really does enhance the flavours)

To be honest, any fruit on a cheese board is a win. Keeping it seasonal means you should get the best tasting produce. Figs are always easy on the eye but the good old apple is also a reliable front runner! I’m not a huge fan of fruit actually in cheese but my other half loves a wensleydale and cranberry, its quite a pretty looking cheese so I’m always happy to accommodate!

Chutney.

Cheese’s best friend and a great way to spice things up. I always look for something with a little kick to add another layer of flavour to a salty and sweet board. Whether its chilli & red pepper, hot gooseberry or a warming spiced fig. I’m currently making my way through a jar of apple and pear chutney with ginger and cinnamon and it’s the perfect combination of sweetness and spice.


As much as I like a strong stinky cheese, the actual smell itself isn’t always so celebrated. Herbs can bring colour but also fragrance to your board! Feta and oregano, mozzarella and basil and my all time fave, rosemary and brie. (If you don’t use rosemary when you bake a brie then you deserve to be arrested by the aforementioned cheese police!)

Nuts and Honey.

I don’t do one without the other. I’m a recent convert to nuts on a cheese board so I’m still discovering the best combinations but I’ve learnt that pecans, naturally sweet, go with just about any cheese. Pistachios work best with creamy pale cheeses like feta, goats cheese, ricotta (They also give you a fabulous colour pop of green and purple!) Walnuts are soft, dry and earthy so stick them with cheddar or other hard cheeses. Ok now stay with me because I’m about to get super fancy…. Truffle baked pecans. Truffle is my all time favourite flavour so when I discovered truffle baked pecans I had to try them. They didn’t disappoint and have earned this special mention. In fact any infused roasted nuts are going to pimp up your cheese board so go ahead, check your local deli’s for something a bit different and try some out.

When it comes to honey, chunks of honeycomb don’t just look incredible, but also add texture. Like chutney, honey goes with pretty much any cheese, not just the creamy mild ones. The ultimate combo is honey and blue cheese. If you haven’t discovered this yet then my friends, you are in for a treat. Sweet honey mellows the tanginess and strong flavour, so even if you don’t usually go blue – you can now. Gorgonzola, honey comb and truffle pecans – you can thank me later. (seriously if you take one thing away from this cheese guide let this be it!)

Olives.

I could write an entire blog on olives alone and how much I love them. Blue cheese martini’s, you have my heart. But lets keep it brief for the purpose of your cheese board.


Now I’m not bashing a good old Halkidiki or Kalamata – they are super tasty, easily found and available in dozens of delicious marinades. But if we are talking cheese boards, its definitely worth hunting out some Castelvetrano, also referred to as nocellara. They aren’t salt cured like most olives. They are treated with lye and stored, so you end up with a slightly salty but more mild sweet flavour and a really buttery texture. We all have one or two friends that insist they hate olives right? Well try them on these and they might be pleasantly surprised. The mild taste means they go with just about anything so they’re a good all rounder for a cheeseboard.


If you need no convincing when it comes to embracing a salty olive then go for a liguria/taggaisca instead. These are those small black olives often marinaded in herbs. They might be small but the taste is mighty so they work best with all the mild cheeses.

Whack a load of cream crackers on and your good to go right? Wrong.

So you have your cheese, you have your chutney, your fruit, nuts and everything else. Whack a load of cream crackers on and your good to go right? Wrong. Don’t fall at the last hurdle! I like to serve bread with a cheese board as well as crackers so I usually set up a completely separate plate with some seeded bloomer and crusty baguette, but its nice to finish off the board with a scattering of crackers. You might have cottoned on by now, but I’m all about colour and texture and crackers are no exception. Try black charcoal crackers, herby green oatcakes or seeded flatbreads. You don’t need to search hard for them, or pay more than you usually would. All the supermarkets have varied ranges and plenty of options. Never underestimate how much some nice crackers can transform your cheeseboard.


Now its time to choose your weapons.

The Cheeseboards

As you can probably tell, I maybe love a cheeseboard a little too much, but I know I’m not alone. It’s a great food to bring people together; parties, small gatherings, romantic nights in front of the fire. Men, women, old and young, you can’t go wrong. So when it came to curating my first Swank&Whimsy range I knew I wanted to include some inspiring cheese products.

The marble art deco board is arguably my favourite piece in the range (I say that about lots of the products) Its handmade from 5 different types of natural marble and pieced together around a beautiful gold inlay. What makes this the perfect basis for your cheeseboard? Well, natural Marble stays cool so it’s the perfect base for your cheese to rest if your planning on grazing all evening.

The mango wood round board with brushed copper handle is the perfect combination of rustic natural wood and industrial metal charm. A modern twist on a classic wood board, it looks right at home in neutral surroundings, but amazing amongst mix and match eclectic tabletop setting. Think japanese pad print bowls and portuguese reactive glaze plates! My favourite thing about this board is how versatile it is, I can use from prepping right through to serving just about anything (not just cheese)


It’s important to have the right tools for the job and with the Swank&Whimsy cheese knife sets you are all covered.


Here’s my guide to cutting cheese;

The Cheese Knives

The long and pronged knife is perfect for soft cheese such as brie and camembert. This knife should help you make a long clean cut and maintain the shape of the cheese. If you can dip it in hot water and wiped it dry before you use, even better! The forked tip is excellent for picking up chunks and slices too. Make sure you cut cheese like brie into wedges from the centre to the edge. The best part of the cheese is in the centre, its where the strongest flavour is so slicing from side to side means one lucky bugger gets the best bit all to themselves!

Cleavers, as you would expect, are magnificent at cutting hard cheeses in chunks or wedges. Use this knife for the toughies like gruyere, gouda, cheddar or provolone.


The spreader, or spatula knife has a smooth rounded blade, and yes you guessed it, its perfect for spreading soft cheese like Stracchino, robiola or cream cheeses. Use this for the boursin, because who doesn’t love boursin right?


You’ll find all three of these knives in the Swank&Whimsy antique brass cheese knife set. With a twisted antiqued handle and gold burnished blade they are classic and timeless but look stunning against the marble art deco board.


Cheese forks are another multipurpose tool, you can use to hold a block in place while you cut, or use it to break hard or crumbly cheeses into chunks. I like to use this with cheeses like feta or a crumbly stilton. If you guy your stilton in pots you’ll need a stilton scoop, but I much prefer a big wedge on the board.


A chisel, or flat cheese knife has a wide paddle like blade. It can be used to cut slices of aged cheese, hold up vertically and push down on cheese like gruyere or asiago, or glide through a slightly softer cheese like wensleydale.


Finally the narrow plane, trapezium shaped knife is another useful tools for a wide range of cheese. It can be used for cutting cheeses like cheddar or chipping away at harder varieties like gouda or jarisbar.

You’ll find a fork, chisel and trapezium knife in the Swank&Whimsy hammered handle cheese knife set. This is a super versatile every day set. It’s a simple classic shape, but hammered by hand for that rustic artisanal finish. Looks good with any cheese board, on any table.

The Cheese Markers

Now you’ve rocked the cheeseboard. It looks incredible. You can’t wait to tuck in and show your family and guests what an impressive spread you just threw together. As proud as you may be, you don’t want to be hanging around the board all night explaining which cheese is which. (To be honest, I’m usually hanging around the cheese board all night regardless!) I absolutely love dressing up the board with some little markers like the Swank&Whimsy set of 4 vintage teaspoon cheese markers. These work with any combination of cheeses, featuring all the keywords; stinky, mild, hard & soft. Or the fork style markers, with timeless simple shape and most popular cheese names hand-stamped into the design. Either set is the perfect accessory gift for a cheese lover or hostess with the mostess.

Use code CHEESEMAS on our website for 25% off all Cheeseboards, Cheese Markers and Cheese Knives.

If you purchase more than one cheese product, we will send you a Swank and Whimsy £5 voucher.