Monday, 19 March 2012

Lime and Prosecco Sorbet

When I was planning and creating my St Valentines Dinner, I didn’t want it to be just a starter, main and dessert.  I wanted elements of surprise and unexpectedness.  However, in advance I had revealed the menu of just three courses.  The first of the culinary surprises were the canapés that we had with cocktails, the sorbet was the second.

Lime and Prosecco Sorbet

What I was going to put in between the starter and the main, I just was not sure.  Was it going to be a fish course, or a ‘palate cleanser’ (I really dislike that saying – sounds like something you are looking for down the cleaning product aisle of a supermarket!).  I decided on a sorbet course, now that sounds better doesn’t it?  Thinking of all the different flavours I could do, I then read that if you are serving a sorbet in between courses rather than a dessert, it has to be a citrus one. 

Squeezed Limes

Lime is my favourite citrus fruit, so was always the one to be chosen.  I wanted something else to go with the lime, something to lift it and make it more special.  Not the lime has to have something to go with it, I love limes, but wanted to give a different edge to it.  I had a bottle of Prosecco in the wine rack that was given as a Christmas present that I hadn’t opened yet, and wondered what the combination of those two together would be.


When I ate this sorbet, I was unexpectedly left with a fizz on my tongue from the Prosecco and a completely fresh and clean palate.  It worked a treat, and done exactly what is was supposed to.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect the sorbet to maintain the bubbles in the Prosecco.  It was zingy, fizzy and brilliant.  Perfect to have in between courses, or I bet on a really hot day, absolutely thirst quenching.
Lime and Prosecco Sorbet
Lime and Prosecco Sorbet

Makes 1 litre - adapted from David Lebovitz The Perfect Scoop

:: 550ml water  :: 150g sugar  :: zest of 1 lime finely grated  :: 180ml lime juice freshly squeezed (took me about 6 limes)  :: 100ml Prosecco

Firstly place the sugar, zest of a lime (ideally zest it over the saucepan to catch the oils)  and 250ml of the water into a medium saucepan.  Place over a medium heat, stirring continuously.  As soon as the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and add the remaining water and lime juice.  Place in the fridge until really cold (I left mine in for 24 hours, but only because I realised the bowl to my ice cream maker was not in the freezer!).

Once the mixture is really cold, add in the Prosecco and pour into your ice cream maker and freeze as per your machines instructions.  Mine took just under 20 minutes.

Once ready, place into a container and pop into your freezer.  Remove from the freezer for about 5-10 minutes before serving to soften a little.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Potted Duck with Date, Fig and Apple Chutney

“18 hours, are you mad?” is the response everyone gave when they knew what I was cooking for the starter of my St. Valentines Dinner.  Maybe, just maybe.  Duck legs cooked for 18 hours, this was going to take some planning.

Duck was always going to feature in my menu, as it is my girlfriends favourite.  It took me a while to decide whether I would use duck in the starter or main and even considered having it for both.  But I when I looked through Heston Blumenthal at home, and came across this, my mind was made up.

Potted Duck with Date, Fig and Apple Chutney

This isn’t a dish that you can create quickly, it takes time, planning and patience.  For one, the duck legs take 18 hours to cook not including the marinating and smoking.  Then the potting and the setting.  Not a dish you can whip up in a few moments or at the last minute.

Spices to marinade the duck legs

I am not a fan of aniseed flavouring.  I blame it on a bad experience was I was younger drinking Pastis in France.  Always makes me a little bit queasy whenever the aroma hits you from opening a packet of star anise.  When I realised how many I needed for the marinade, I suddenly had doubts and that I had made the wrong choice.  Then when I took the spices from the over after roasting them, I was pretty certain I had made the wrong choice.  It was the morning after drinking Pastis in France all over again.  The spices of star anise, cinnamon, juniper berries, black peppercorns and bay leaves were then whizzed up and thyme leaves, orange zest and salt added.  This is then rubbed all over the duck legs and left for 24 hours.  I’m still not sure about the strong aroma of the star anise – too late to change now!

Getting ready to confit the duck

Once the duck has had 24 hours getting to know the flavours, you then need to rinse off the spices and pat dry.  The duck legs then go into a large ovenproof pot, along with plenty of delicious melted duck fat and a few sprigs of rosemary.  This is then placed into the oven at 75C, and the timer set for 18 hours.  It probably took me about an hour to get the pot in the right place in the oven for 75C.  I ended up placing the pot at the very bottom of the oven, with the oven set to the lowest temperature.  Handy tip – have an oven thermometer, you don’t want it to be at the wrong temperature for that long.

Confit Duck

It smells amazing, the aroma of duck in the house is sensational.  If they sold plug-in air fresheners with that scent, I would buy them. Leave to come to room temperature, then remove the duck legs, discard the rosemary sprigs and using a stick blender whizz up the remaining fat.

Smoking duck legs

Time to get smoking.  When planning this I went online to buy some wood chips and I hit a problem.  There were so many different varieties, I didn’t know which to get.  In the end I went for cherry wood, only as cherries and duck go well together.  I realised I didn’t have a wire rack that would fit into my stockpot, so I improvised with a foil dish punctured with holes.  I got the woodchips smoking, put foil over the top of the pot and put a lid on so nothing was escaping.  Took off the heat and left for 30 minutes.  And I never set the smoke alarm off, amazing!

Potted Duck

Once the duck has been engulfed in smoke, shred it with two forks and pack into sterilised kilner jars.  Then pour over a little of the melted fat, and put in the fridge to set.

Potted Duck

To go with the Potted Duck, I also made Date, Fig and Apple Chutney that was also in Heston Blumenthal at home.  This was the perfect accompaniment to go with the duck.  It was slightly sweet and sharp, and cut through the richness of the duck perfectly.  It was also fruity and spicy.  The flavours a little more complex and smoother than your normal chutney.  I also made some of my favourite bread, malted grain bread, which I chargrilled.  I then added some cornichons and caper berries to the side as well.

Despite the amount of time, and the number of processes, it is fairly easy to make.  Totally worth all the effort, as the flavour was amazing.  The subtle hint of smoke was intriguing.  The starter was a hit.  This I have been ordered, will be made again.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Smoked Salmon Blinis with Vodka Crème Fraîche and Beetroot

It’s always good to start with a nibble.  Just a little one, nothing too big.  A small bite to get your mouth watering, but nothing to suppress your appetite.  A tease for what is to come.  Something to help stop you getting too tipsy with pre-dinner drinks.

Smoked Salmon Blinis with Vodka Crème Fraîche and Beetroot

The canapés for my St. Valentines Dinner was these delicious Smoked Salmon Blinis with Vodka Crème Fraîche and Beetroot.  The idea for this came from the BBC Good Food website, where there was a similar recipe for a starter and I adapted it into this. 

Blinis cooking

The blinis I made from Heston Blumenthal’s new book Heston At Home.  They were so simple, easy and fast to make.  The quicker I was cooking them, the faster my niece and nephew were eating them!  I made these a week before, and kept them in the freezer.  All I then needed to do was to defrost them a few hours before preparing them.

When it come the to smoked salmon to top them with, I have for a while seen some that I wanted to try.  It was in my favourite butcher and fishmonger (who I have just discovered supplies the only 2 Michelin Star Pub – The Hand and Flowers), and they smoke the salmon themselves.  This was the perfect opportunity to buy it.  I can honesty say this is probably the best smoked salmon I have ever had.  It was so smooth, luxurious, perfect balance of smoke and very tasty.  I don’t believe I will ever by smoked salmon from anywhere else for a long time.  Phil Bowditch Fresh Fish and Butchers is based at Emmett’s Farm Shop in Little Marlow.  Unfortunately neither have a website to show you, but trust me, if you are in the area go and visit.

Vodka Crème Fraîche

The vodka crème fraîche takes minutes to put together.  Just mix a 200ml tub of crème fraîche with 3 tsp. vodka, 2 tsp. hot horseradish sauce and some salt and pepper.  Pop it all back into the pot the crème fraîche came in, and put it the fridge until needed.

Then it comes to the beetroot.  Something that I don’t ever look forward to preparing.  Always looks like some accident has taken place.  So there I am, wearing thin latex gloves, beetroot in one hand and knife in other….. I’m ready.


The assembly of the canapés were simple.  Spread a little of the vodka crème fraîche on to the blinis, a few slithers of smoked salmon and a couple of pieces of beetroot that have been cut into small matchsticks.  Finally, sprinkle over a few dill sprigs.


Monday, 27 February 2012

St Valentine’s Dinner

The roses maybe gone, the cards put away, chocolates enjoyed and wedding proposals celebrated.  St. Valentines Day has now been and gone, however I wanted to share with you the dinner we had to celebrate.  Last year we enjoyed a fantastic meal at Great Fosters, which is in my top 3 meals of all time, to join in this day of romantic love.  That was organised by my girlfriend, and this year it was my turn.  We had already decided that this year we would enjoy it at home, as we were cutting back and saving money.  Later this year we will buy our first house, so as much as I would have liked to have gone to one of my favourite restaurants – a few sacrifices have to be made.

Table laid out for our St Valentine's Dinner

I wanted to ensure that it was going to be a special evening, something for the two of us to enjoy, with a few surprises along the way.  I know some people don’t like to celebrate as they believe it is just a commercial gimmick, and they come out with the line “I don’t need Valentine’s Day to show my love or be romantic”.  To me that’s a cop out.  Being lame.  Neither do I need 14th February to show it, you don’t have to take part in any commercial aspect if your against that, but isn’t it great to be involved when love is in the air?  Anyway I enjoy it, and that is good enough for me.
Below is the menu that I spent 5 weeks planning and preparing, tweaking and changing.  Due to the 14th February actually being in the week this year, we decided to celebrate it the Saturday afterwards.  The next few posts that I will put on Back to the Chopping Board will be on each of the courses.

St Valentine’s Dinner
Saturday 18th February 2012

Cosmopolitan and Mojito

with vodka crème fraîche and beetroot

with date, fig & apple chutney, chargrilled malted grain bread, cornichons and caper berries

Fillet Steak and Triple Cooked Chips
with béarnaise sauce, slow roasted tomato, rocket and parmesan salad

Chambord Crème Brûlée

Chocolate Truffles and Champagne

On arrival my girlfriend was met by candles flickering and giving a soft romantic light.  With the table decorated simply but in the style of the evening, I done my best Tom Cruise impression and made her a Cosmopolitan.  Thanks to an awesome cocktail maker teaching me how to do it, her favourite cocktail was served, ready for the evening to begin.