Extensive research shows mince is always a winner with NI males

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It’s Valentine’s Day today and I’ve decided to embrace it and go along with the clichés for a change!

Last week I was straining the raspberries from the infused vodka I’d made from last year’s late summer fruits. I thought it would be a waste to throw out the used alcohol laden fruit so added some of them to a self-saucing chocolate pudding. I first made this dessert when I was at school (without the alcohol of course) and remember feeling very cynical pouring hot water over the cake mixture. I was convinced I had a potential disaster on my hands. Despite my reservations, the result was magical and did exactly as it promised - rich sticky cake with an unctuous chocolate sauce on the bottom. Raspberries and chocolate go beautifully together anyway but you could add any frozen berries to excellent effect.

On the subject of berries, Valentine’s Day comes at an inconvenient time in the culinary calendar. Chocolate dipped strawberries are the perfect sharing food but strawberries that you get in February are imported, generally insipid and no amount of chocolate is going to help them. So, frozen raspberries are a good substitute, especially if you have some local treasures saved from the late season in the freezer. Last year I got mine from Douglas Conn’s fruit farm outside Ballykelly. They’re at their best when the season is almost over and have a succulence and deep flavour. Or most freezer sections in shops stock some kind of frozen berry.

Extensive research carried out by me over the years, has indicated that most of the men in Northern Ireland, when asked what their favourite dinner is will respond, mince, beans and potatoes! A small minority will make up something fancy to take the bad look off themselves but will secretly be thinking of the mince option!

In fairness, I think everybody loves a good cottage pie so this week’s recipe is designed to incorporate those three components and make it a bit special.

Good mince from a butcher, cooked with tomatoes and a splash of red wine, with cannellini beans added and topped with creamy golden, cheesy mash? Who wouldn’t want a big plate of that put down in front of them? It might even create an air of romance!