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.