A Valentine’s day Dinner from Paris, 1987

A Valentine’s day Dinner from Paris, 1987

A Valentine’s day Dinner from Paris, 1987 1024 925 Pascale Store

A Valentine’s day Dinner from Paris, 1987

(Pepper, Salt & Lemon)


Pepper Grinder for making steak au poivre - the perfect Valentine's Day dinner recipe.
This is actually an old fashioned hand coffee grinder, now used for
crushing large quantities of peppercorns – perfect for Steak au Poivre 

Living in Paris 

In my twenties fresh out of College I lived and worked in Paris as a fashion designer. My then boyfriend (now husband) was a pizza waiter/would be cartoonist and would come and visit whenever he could scrape together the coach fare – it was all glamour in those days…

My first flat was in the Rue St Martin it was typically Parisian, charming and utterly freezing in winter. Even back then, when I wasn’t working my two favourite things were cooking and going to all the marché aux puces dotted around Paris, so nothing much has changed there.The kitchen in my ‘appartement’ was minuscule with only a two ring hob and no oven. Given my very limited budget and utensils as well as the restrictions of the kitchen I had to be very enterprising but bit by bit I built a very rudimentary ‘batterie de cuisine’ much of it from my beloved marché aux puces. Even now more than 25 years later I still have many of the utensils and pieces of equipment I bought as well vivid memories of some notable culinary disasters.


Vintage enamelled salt box - found in Paris, Pascale Smets' first vintage purchase
My enamelled tin salt box was my very first Parisian flea market buy.

Things that went wrong

The‘Coq au Vin’ I made for a dinner party using an actual coq not a chicken. After about 1000 hours of simmering and then some desperate boiling, it was still like trying to cut an old boot. We just gnawed at the bones in the end. The ‘Charlotte Mousse au Chocolat’ that I carefully and proudly released from it’s spring form tin and then dropped into a sink full of dirty washing up. The time I ruined a whole weekend for guests visiting from England by poisoning them with dodgy oysters – Happys days…
But I did learn how to make Steak au Poivre and this was something I would make for a very special occasions like Valentine’s day.


Valentine’s day 1987 to Valentine’s day 2020

So as a Valentine’s celebration, this February 14th I’m going to recreate our Valentine’s day dinner in 1987 using my beloved kitchen equipment bought in Paris at flea markets all those years ago. Only this time I have an ice-cream maker instead of a plastic tub and a fork and three of my four children will be there for our romantic meals – ah well…

the menu

Steak au Poivre with lemony green beans and roasted baby new potatoes

Steak au Poivre with lemony green beans and roasted baby new potatoes - Valentine's Day Dinner idea
1987 revisited. Steak, cognac, cream and butter – not for the faint-hearted

Steak au poivre

There are endless different versions of this recipe some with wine, some without, ditto the cream, some even have shallots in the sauce. What they all  have in common is steak, cognac, butter and peppercorns – so whatever version you decide on you really can’t go that wrong.

Ingredients for 2

I am usually more of an Onglet/Rib-eye fan, but in this instance fillet is the classic choice, but any cut works, just ensure it’s thick cut.

2 x Fillet steaks (thickly cut) weighing approx 160g each 
5-6 tbls Peppercorns, very roughly crushed – a pestle and mortar works well.
2 tbls Olive Oil
2oz /55g Butter
2oz /55g Cognac or brandy
2oz very reduced home-made stock – veal is the classic but chicken is fine. 
2 tbls double cream.

Start with room temperature steak, rub them all over with a drizzle of olive oil and press the peppercorns on each side.
Using a heavy based frying pan heat the oil and then add half the butter, the pan should be hot.
Sear the steaks all over, then continue to cook until a dark crust forms but take care not to overheat the pan and burn the peppercorns. 
Once the crust has formed transfer the steaks to a warm plate to rest, turn off the flame and add the cognac, it will bubble and reduce as you de-glaze the pan by scraping up the crusty bits.
Turn the heat under the pan back on and add the reduced stock.
Whisk in the butter and finally the 2 tablespoons of cream.
Pour the sauce over the warm steak.
N.B If you want your steak medium rare transfer to a preheated oven 220c for 7-10 mins to continue cooking while you make the sauce.If you don’t have reduced stock use Knorr stock pot.

Lemony Green Beans

Easy, pretty, delicious. Lemon added to the cooked red onion turns them a beautiful magenta. This is probably too much for 2 people but it works just as well cold as a salad the next day.

Ingredients for 2

250g Green beans (very fine)
Juice of a lemon
1 small diced red onion
5 tbsp olive oil

Steam the green beans 
While they are cooking soften the red onion in the olive oil over a low heat with a couple of pinches of salt till it is soft and translucent.
Add the lemon juice and a few twist of pepper.
Leave for a few minutes and watch the onion turn magenta.
Add the onion/lemon mix to the green beans and serve.
If you want to prepare this ahead put the green beans in an ice bath once they’re ready to stop them continuing to cook and fix the colour, this also brings the natural sugars to the surface and improves flavour. Once they’ve cooled down drain thoroughly and when you’re ready to serve re heat the beans gently and only add the lemon/onion mix just before serving.

Roasted Baby New Potatoes

Back in 1987 I pan roasted these as I didn’t have an oven but it’s easier to roast them in the oven.

Method & Ingredients for 2
Boil 200g baby new potatoes for 5 minutes.
Toss in a pan with a couple of glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Place in a pre-heated oven 220 for 20 mins (or until they look like the picture).  
Give them an occasional shake so they cook evenly.

Salted Caramel Ice cream

This is not an original recipe, it is a classic with no twists but as my husband said when he tried it again – that is the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. 

Salted caramel ice cream for 2 in a customised tub - Valentine's Day dinner idea
Serve with two spoons from the (customised) tub 

Ingredients for 4
6floz/170g caster sugar
8floz/225ml double cream
5floz/150ml  milk
4 egg yolks
½ tsp Maldon sea salt

Melt 5floz/140g of the caster sugar in a hot pan until it becomes an amber / caramel colour, stir with a wooden spoon to ensure it caramelises evenly and doesn’t burn. Add the double cream and bring back to the boil.
Stir in the milk and take off the heat.
In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and remaining caster sugar until pale and foamy (this is called a sabayon).
Pour the hot caramel on to the sabayon and whisk well, then sieve and chill it. When it’s cold add the salt to the chilled mixture and churn in an ice cream machine.
Or if you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the mix into a plastic box and freeze removing it from the freezer every hour or so to work the frozen edges back into the middle. The texture won’t be as good but it’ll still be the best flavoured ice cream EVER.