An idea for a Valentine’s night supper

February 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Here’s a quick idea for a special meal at home if you don’t fancy sharing an evening in a restaurant with couples out on an awkward first date, red roses and all that over-hyped jazz.

My suggested menu is built around a main course of Lobster Mac and Cheese. This is a world away from the stodgy macaroni cheese I remember from my childhood. It was a very on-trend dish last year but now that Marks and Spencers do a ready meal version I think we can say it’s truly become mainstream.

I’d wanted to give the dish a try but couldn’t bear the idea of using expensive and hard-to-source lobster in anything except it’s purest form. But then I saw the Iceland Christmas ad campaign and filled my chest freezer with 10 quid packets of pairs of Canadian lobster tails. Perfect for experimenting with different lobster recipes, be they salads, chowders or indeed lobster mac and cheese.

After a couple of trial runs, I’m quite pleased now with the recipe I’ve come up with. I’d accompany it with a crisp green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

To start, you could stay with the seafood theme and serve a pretty-as-a-picture crab, pink grapefruit and avocado salad.

To finish something fresh and light on carbs would be in order – maybe a lemon granita or fruit salad, and of course Champagne would be the perfect drink.

Lobster mac and cheese

Serves 2


180g dried macaroni or other small pasta shapes (I used conchigliette)
2 small cooked lobster tails, meat removed from the shell and cut into bite-size chunks
30g unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
25g plain flour
100ml Noilly Prat vermouth
350ml semi-skimmed milk
35ml double cream
2 teaspoons tomato purée
1 teaspoon paprika
generous pinch cayenne pepper
25g gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons Panko or similar dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C fan.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boilings salted water until just al dente then drain.

While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce.

Melt the butter and sauté the chopped shallots for a minute or two until soft and translucent. Stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for a further minute.

Add the Noilly Prat, milk and cream a little at a time stirring well after each addition. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. Add the tomato purée, paprika, cayenne pepper and gruyère cheese and stir to combine well and melt the cheese. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.

Mix together the sauce, cooked pasta and lobster meat and turn into a shallow heatproof dish.

Sprinkle the grated parmesan and breadcrumbs over the top and bake in the preheated oven 210 degrees fan for about 15 minutes until piping hot and golden brown on top.

Fillet steak for Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

Yes I know it sounds hackneyed and a teeny bit boring but this is what I will be cooking up at home on February 14th. It won’t be just any old steak and chips but one of my all-time favourite special occasion recipes, Tournedos with Polenta and Salsa Verde, the signature dish of chef Alastair Little’s restaurant in Soho back in the nineties.


The recipe comes from the book “Keep It Simple” co-authored by chef Alastair and food-writer Richard Whittington and first published in 1993 at the height of the restaurant’s fame. It’s a slim volume arranged in four seasonal chapters with attractive photographs and drawings and clearly laid-out recipes. It’s a book I turn to time and time again and as I leaf through the pages I marvel that it doesn’t seem dated at all. Every single recipe is true to the book’s title, the flavour combinations are spot-on, and the mixture of classic and eclectic dishes means it’s book you keep coming back to.

The tournedos recipe is really three dishes in one – a polenta croûte enriched with parmesan and butter, crunchy golden-brown on the outside but with a soft inside perfect for soaking up the steak juices; a perfectly cooked fillet steak medallion with the pan juices turned into a sauce with the addition of stock and madeira; a lively and unexpected salsa verde that freshens-up the dish and makes all the flavours sing.

Most of the prep can, in fact needs, to be done in advance making it ideal for dîner à deux when you don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen. I suppose that the raw garlic in the salsa verde should make this a no-no for a romantic meal but, what the heck, we’ve known each other long enough now not to mind a little mutual garlic breath.

Tournedos with polenta and salsa verde

Serves 4.


For the polenta croûtes

200g instant polenta
50g grated parmesan cheese
30g unsalted butter
salt and pepper
light olive oil for oiling the baking tray and croûtes

For the salsa verde

1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
large bunch flatleaf parsley, washed, dried and largest stalks discarded (about 40g prepared weight)
small bunch basil, just the leaves (about 20g prepared weight)
half a small bunch mint, washed, dried and stalks discarded (about 10g prepared weight)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
a little coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
150ml extra virgin olive oil

For the tournedos and sauce

Four 140g tournedos
A little light olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml beef stock
5 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
15-20g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Make the polenta croûtes at least 2 hours before you plan to cook the steaks. Cook the instant polenta in a medium saucepan following the packet instructions. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and butter and season generously. Spread the polenta out onto a lightly oiled baking tray and spread out into a sheet about 1cm thick (a small crank-handled palette knife is ideal for this). Cool, then refrigerate for an hour or so. When set firm, cut out 4 rounds using a cutter a little larger than the tournedos. Brush lightly with oil and transfer to a second baking sheet lined with baking paper.

If you like, you can cut the remaining polenta into chunky fingers and brush these with oil and bake them along with the croûtes to make a stack of crispy polenta “oven chips” to serve alongside the tournedos.

And don’t waste the offcuts either. Cut into the neatest pieces you can manage and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Brush them with oil and bake them off and they will form the basis of a light lunch served eg with chunks of dolcelatte or goats cheese or chopped tomatoes and basil.

The salsa verde should also be made ahead of time. Put all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped then with the motor running pour the oil through the spout and whizz until you have an emulsified sauce. You will need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula several times. Decant the salsa verde into a small bowl, cover with cling film and set aside in a cool place (not the fridge which is too cold) until ready to serve.

Remove the steaks from the fridge about an hour and a half before you plan to eat and allow to come up to room temperature.

About half an hour before you plan to eat, slip the baking sheet on which you laid out earlier the oiled polenta croûtes and “oven chips” into an oven preheated to 210 degrees C fan. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning halfway during the cooking process, until crisp and golden brown.

About 10 minutes before you plan to eat, heat a heavy-based frying pan (large enough to hold all the steaks and with an ovenproof handle) over a medium to high heat. Brush the steaks with light olive oil and, when the frying pan is hot cook the steaks for exactly 2 minutes each side, season, then transfer to the preheated oven (210 degrees C fan) for further 4 minutes. These timings work to cook a thick steak to medium rare.

Remove the steaks from the frying pan and place them on top of the croûtes on prewarmed plates and leave to rest for a minute or two while you complete the sauce. Make sure you protect your hand with a dry cloth from the super-heated pan handle and add the stock and Madeira to the frying pan in which you cooked the steaks. Boil fiercely for a minute or two until the liquid is reduced by about two thirds and is becoming thick and syrupy. Quickly whisk in chunks of cold butter and a little seasoning. Spoon over the steaks and serve straightaway.

Valentine’s day dinner at home

February 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

The thought of going out to a restaurant next weekend to spend the evening eating overpriced indifferent food sitting amidst heart-shaped helium balloons, wilting red roses and pink napery fills me with dread.  Far better to put together a special meal for two at home instead.

Food for a Valentine’s day dinner should go easy on the garlic and other strong flavours.  It needs to be light and delicious and look pretty on the plate. It shouldn’t require too much last minute preparation as who wants to sit down next to a cook spattered with fat from flash-frying a steak?

What I plan to prepare for a main course is a koulibiac of salmon, the version given in Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons cookery book.  This has a delicious light crispy crust of yeast-raised dough rather than the more usual puff pastry.  This is not a quick dish as the dough needs to be started the day before you plan to eat the koulibiac. It is not difficult to prepare and the various elements can all be done well ahead of time.  Slip it into the oven as you sit down for your first course and it will be ready 20 minutes later.  With it, I would serve a bowl of sour cream to act as a simple sauce, some steamed spinach simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and perhaps one or two baby potatoes.

To start, I will prepare a carpaccio of beef, following the simple instructions (one can hardly call them a recipe) in Alastair Little’s book “Keep it Simple”. My local butcher sells beautiful beef from locally reared grass fed animals which is just right for this dish.  The truffle oil in the dressing is appropriate for Valentine’s Day  as truffles are known for their aphrodisiac qualities. A simple first course with lots of delicious savoury flavours to tempt the appetite.

For pudding, there are various options.  My favourite cheese of the moment is a buttery Ossau Iraty from the Basque country.  A wedge of this with a tiny perfect bunch of grapes and a glass of dessert wine would be one way to finish the meal.  Or perhaps slices of perfectly ripe mango mixed with passionfruit pulp, the whole brought to life by a spritz of lime juice.  Or maybe only a little something sweet will do.  I have a weakness for white chocolate, white Toblerone if I can get my hands on it, otherwise plain old Milky Bar buttons. I think I might whip up a white chocolate mousse using the recipe from Frances Bissell’s book Entertaining.  Served in dainty white ramekins together with a spoonful of sharp fruit compôte and a crisp biscuit, it should bring the meal to a stylish and satisfying conclusion.

Recipe for carpaccio of beef

From Alastair Little’s lovely book “Keep It Simple” published in 1993 but still fresh and relevant today.  A piece of beef the size specified in the recipe will serve 4-6 people so use what you need for dinner for two and eat the rest for lunch the next day.


1lb (450g) piece of beef fillet from the tail end

about 1/4 pint (150 ml) olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish the dish

Handful of rocket leaves
2 oz (50g) best quality parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons truffled olive oil
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the beef into a neat shape if necessary.  Brush all over with olive oil. Preheat a ridged grill pan to very hot. Lay the fillet on the grilling pan and give it 60 seconds on each side, including the two cut ends (6 sides in all), turning it with tongs.  Immediately refresh by dipping the seared beef into iced water for a few seconds, then pat dry with paper towels.  Season all over with salt and pepper, wrap tightly in cling film, place on a plate and refrigerate for several hours.  In fact the beef can be kept for several days like this in the refrigerator.

When ready to eat, remove the meat from the fridge. Wash the rocket and spin it dry. Put it into a bowl, pour over the oil, vinegar and seasoning and toss to coat each leaf. Mound a pile of gleaming leaves onto each plate.

Carve the beef into thickish slices at an angle of 30 degrees.  Distribute on top of the rocket.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave generous curls of Parmesan cheese over the top.

Recipe for koulibiac of salmon

From the Four Seasons Cookery Book by Margaret Costa.  First published in 1970, another book that’s stood the test of time. A great source of inspiration for the occasional instances when you can’t think what to cook. Somewhat surprisingly, you can buy fresh yeast at your nearest in-store Sainsbury’s bakery, maybe other supermarkets too, but I haven’t yet needed to go further afield. The recipe makes 6-8 portions, but it’s a good-tempered dish so take what you need and eat the rest cold or warmed through the next day.

For the pastry

2 oz (55g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
pinch of salt
3/4 oz (20g) fresh yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 small eggs
4 tablespoons (60 ml) lukewarm milk

For the filling

3 oz (85g) long grain rice
fish, vegetable or chicken stock
2oz (55g) butter
1 medium onion or two small shallots, thinly sliced
3oz (85 g) button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1lb (450g) salmon fillet
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
3 dessertspoons (30ml) freshly chopped parsley (or mixture of chopped soft fresh herbs such as basil, chervil and tarragon)

Melted butter; fine dry breadcrumbs

First make the pastry.  Cream the butter.  Sift the flour and salt into a warmed basin. Cream the yeast with the sugar and when it looks frothy, add the well beaten eggs and the lukewarm milk. Mix into the flour, adding more lukewarm milk as necessary to make a soft paste. Beat thoroughly with your hand and finally work the creamed butter into the mixture. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes. Then leave the dough in a polythene bag in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day, start by making the filling. Cover the rice with exactly twice its volume of cold stock. Let it come to the boil, cover and turn off the heat or remove to a cooler part of the stove. In 15-20 minutes, all the liquid should be absorbed and the rice cooked through, with the grains firm and separate.

Skin the salmon, wrap in foil and bake in a 180 degree C oven for 15 minutes or until just cooked through. Melt the butter and cook the onion or shallot in it until soft and transparent. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minuted longer. Mix in the rice and stir in the coarsely flaked cooked salmon. Mix together thoroughly, then stir in the sliced hard-boiled eggs and the herbs. Season well.

Now divide the pastry in half and roll each piece into a rectangle 12 by 8 inches (30 by 20 cm).  Put one onto a greased baking sheet and cover it with the cooled filling to within an inch (2.5cm) of the sides. Dampen the edges. Take the second rectangle and place on top of the first.  Press the edges together then make crosswise slashes at 3/4 inch (2cm) intervals to make a lattice-work effect. Knock up the edges with the back of a knife and leave the koulibiac in a warm place for 1/2 hour to prove.

Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with fine dry breadcrumbs. Bake in a hot oven 230 degrees C, 450 degrees F, gas mark 8 for about 20 minutes. Pour a little melted butter into the koulibiac through the slits and let it cool just a little before serving.

Recipe for white chocolate mousse

From Entertaining by Frances Bissell.  A book filled with lovely ideas if only one had the time, and the lifestyle. After all, how often is one called upon to prepare a picnic to be eaten on an island reached from a small boat departing from Hong Kong harbour? Don’t attempt this recipe unless you have an electric whisk to deal with the heavy duty work of beating egg whites and hot sugar syrup together. This quantity is enough to fill 8 small ramekins so plenty left for a treat another day.


7oz (200g) white chocolate, either buttons or bar broken into pieces
1 oz (25g) golden caster sugar
2 fl oz (50ml) water
2 egg whites, beaten until the soft peak stage
7 fl oz whipping or double cream, softly whipped
optional: 1 teaspoon chocolate or vanilla extract or a little grated orange zest

Break the white chocolate into pieces (not necessary if you are using buttons), place in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of hot water to melt very gently.

Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and boil until the firm ball stage (124 degrees C if you have a sugar thermometer). Pour the hot syrup in a thin stream over the beaten egg whites whilst simultaneously whisking furiously to incorporate the syrup before it sets.  Carry on whisking until the mixture is cold.

Incorporate a little of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate.  Blend the chocolate into the egg whites, then add the rest of the cream and your chosen flavouring if using.  Use a light touch and a large metal spoon being careful not to knock all the air out of the mixture. Spoon into ramekins immediately and chill until set.

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