MOST readers will, I am sure, be organised, confident and imaginative as they approach next Sunday. For those of a less romantic bent, or just the plain scatty, you still have time, just, to get your act together for Valentine's Day.

Restaurateurs will encourage you to book a table for two. There is nothing wrong with letting us, the professionals, take care of your evening: you and your loved one deserve to cherish some precious time together, with no dashing to the kitchen to check the oven, or fretting about whether your soufflé will rise to the occasion.

But if it’s privacy you crave, then dinner for two, chez vous, is very seductive. Get the champagne chilled then do as much as possible in advance: you want to be giving full attention to your partner, not the stove. Simple smoked salmon as a starter, blinged up with some caviar perhaps, is classic and elegant. A roasted rack of lamb with a creamy potato gratin makes an accomplished but reliable main course. To finish, I would suggest more champagne, or a brandy and a box of expensive chocolates.

Rack of lamb – either cooked in hay or roasted

Recipes serve two

A seven-bone rack of lamb (it's advisable to pre-order from butcher)

Several bushy sprigs of thyme and rosemary

2 garlic cloves

50g unsalted butter

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Ask the butcher to French-trim the lamb to remove any little bones. Score the fat in a criss cross fashion with the tip of a small knife then refrigerate until needed. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before cooking.

2. If cooking in hay, pre-soak a football-sized batch of hay, snipped down to hands-span lengths, in cold water for an hour. Drain half of it and form it into a nest on an ovenproof tray. Cover loosely in foil then place a second tier of hay on top of the foil. Press in or trim away any loose strands.

3. For both methods, preheat oven to 180C. Heat a cast iron frying pan for a minute, add enough olive oil to thinly cover the base then heat this for another minute. Salt the lamb on the fat side only. Place this fat-covered side face-down in the hot pan and brown for several minutes. Adjust heat if necessary. Cook until this side is an even dark gold colour, about five minutes. Now salt the face of meat facing upwards, and turn over to seal and brown this side, about three minutes. During this time add the garlic, thyme and rosemary.

4. Once browned, turn the rack so the fat side is facing down. Add the butter and allow this to foam up. Spoon this over the meat repeatedly for up to a minute. Add a few twists of fresh ground black pepper..

5. If cooking in hay, lift off the upper layer of hay (using the foil). Place the meat in the lower nest and cover with the remaining hay, discarding the foil. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, then remove and leave to rest, covered in hay, for 15 minutes.

6: If roasting: bake on the first side for 10 minutes then remove from oven. Turn the meat over so the fat is now facing upwards and briefly spoon some of the butter and juices over the meat. Now, with the fat still facing upwards, return to the oven for five more minutes. Remove from heat, baste with the butter and leave to rest in the pan, fat side facing downwards. Loosely cover the pan with tin foil, like a tent. Leave to rest for 8-10 minutes, a good chance to top up the champagne.

7. Both methods: Warm two plates then set the lamb on a carving board. Slice off the last small bone, leaving six bones attached to the meat. Slicing between the bones, carve the rack into cutlets, giving three each. Arrange in a neat curve on the plate then add some blanched green beans and a creamy potato dauphinoise gratin.

Potato dauphinoise

1kg Desiree or Maris Piper potatoes

300ml full-fat milk

284ml carton double cream

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved

2 sprigs of fresh thyme plus extra for sprinkling

1 bay leaf (optional)

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

4-6 fillets of tinned anchovies, roughly chopped or torn up (optional)

25g parmesan


1. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan. Add the garlic, bay leaf if using and thyme. Slowly heat the liquid and, just as it is about to reach boiling point and bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, remove it from the heat. Stand to infuse for 10 minutes or so then strain the liquid into a clean saucepan or jug

2. Preheat oven to 160C. Rub the butter all over the inside surface of a gratin dish measuring about 18x28cm. Peel and slice the potatoes to a width of 3mm. Lay the slices on a clean tea towel and pat dry.

3. Layer half the potato slices in the dish, slightly overlapping them and sprinkling with a little salt and freshly ground pepper between each layer. If using anchovy (which gives a bold, intense saltiness that marries well with lamb, rather than a fishy flavour), sprinkle this evenly as you go.

4. Pour half the hot milk and cream over the potatoes, then layer the rest of the potatoes. Pour over the rest of the hot milk and cream. Scatter the cheese over the top and set the gratin dish on a tray to catch any cream that bubbles up as it cooks. Bake for about an hour, until golden and tender. Test by inserting a skewer into the potatoes (there should be no resistance, which indicates rawness). Two or three times during cooking, remove the dish form the oven and very gently press down on the surface with a spatula to help the layers melt together, but do not press down so hard that cream erupts over the sides.

5. Once done, leave the dish to stand for about five minutes, then serve sprinkled with a few fresh thyme leaves. This can be done in advance and very gently reheated at 150C, or (better still) if you cook it just before your guest arrives, and it is still warm, it will only need the tiniest bit if rewarming and so you won't risk drying it out.

Geoffrey Smeddle is the romantic chef-proprietor of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife, KY 15 5LH 01334 8480206