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.


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Baked Onions with Parmesan, Pancetta and Rosemary

We were having family coming over and staying at the weekend, and we were wanting to cook something for dinner that would really look after itself.  After all, when you have visitors, you don’t want to be spending the entire time in the kitchen.  We settled on doing a slow roast pork leg joint, seasoned with a little salt, pepper and fennel seeds.  Then put in a low oven for 6 hours.  Easy, hassle-free and simple. 

Baked Onions with Parmesan, Pancetta and Rosemary

I wanted to do something a little different to the normal sides for a roast dinner, you can’t have a roast dinner without the crispy and fluffy roast potatoes so don’t mess with them.  But sometimes, the usual vegetables get a little boring – you know what I mean?


These little beauties I had once before, and have been wanted them again for a while.  Rarely is an onion the star of the show, usually it is just used as an ingredient or as a base for a recipe.  This is not one of those times, these onions will shout from the dinner table and make themselves known – as the best onions in the world.

Baked Onion with Parmesan, Pancetta and Rosemary

The fiddly part of this is when it comes to removing the middle of the onion, once boiled they are slippery little fellows.  The layers of the onion spin around and try to fall apart, but if you are careful you will win.  The filling for the onion is the removed onion finely chopped with a bit of garlic, rosemary, double cream and a couple of handfuls of parmesan.  You will struggle to not eat this straight from the pan, I will warn you now.

Onion wrapped in pancetta

The pancetta wrapped around the onion, is like a little flavour blanket.  It just brings all the other flavours together nicely, giving a flavoursome saltiness to the onion.

As well as going with roast pork, they also go very well with roast chicken and sustainably caught white fish.

Baked Onions with Parmesan, Pancetta and Rosemary

Baked Onions with Parmesan, Pancetta and Rosemary

Serves 4 – Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef

:: 4 Onions  :: Olive Oil  :: 2 cloves of Garlic  :: 4 twigs of Rosemary  :: 8 tbsp Double Cream  :: 2 handfuls of grated Parmesan Cheese  ::  Salt and Pepper  :: 4 slices of Pancetta

Place the onions is a large saucepan filled with plenty of water and boil for 15 mins until they are slightly tender.  Remove from the pan and leave them to cool down.  Slice of an inch (2.5cm) from the top of each onion, finely chop and leave to one side.  If you need to help the onions stand up straight in a roasting tray, trim the stalk a little so they sit flat.  Then cut a heaped tablespoon out from the centre of each onion.  Finley chop and place with the other chopped onion.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.  Peel and finely chop the garlic, pick the lower leaves from the rosemary stalks and also finely chop.  Heat a frying pan and add some olive oil, and fry the chopped garlic, onion and rosemary for a few minutes until they are soft.  Turn the heat down and add the cream, parmesan and season.  Remove from the heat and stir well.

Wrap a slice of pancetta around each onion, and secure with a skewer of rosemary.  Place in a roasting tray, and fill the middle of the onion with the mixture of onion, cream and parmesan.  Place in the over for 25 mins until golden.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Frosted Marmalade Cake

It’s cold.  It’s icy.  It’s frosty.   Looking through the kitchen window, the world outside is being covered by a blanket of white.  I’m in here and it’s warm. 

Snow days are the best days to bake.  When you are not able to go anywhere, apart from a walk in the snow.  Then getting home, having a cup of tea and enjoying a slice of cake.  This is the cake to come into from the cold. 

This is a soft sponge, that is lovely and moist.  There is not a strong taste of the marmalade, just a subtle hint.  The orange bringing the summer to you on a cold day.  The icing is thin, and set’s crisp.  Make it once, you will make it again.

Frosted Marmalade Cake

Frosted Marmalade Cake

Serves 8  -  Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries

:: 175g Butter  :: 175g Golden Unrefined Caster Sugar  :: large Orange  :: 3 large Eggs  :: 75g Seville Orange Marmalade  :: 175g Self-Raising Flour

For the frosting:

:: 100g Icing Sugar  :: 2 tbsp Orange Juice

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.  Line your loaf time ready.  Place your butter and sugar into a bowl and beat until they are pale and fluffy.  Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat them with a fork.  Then a little at a time add the eggs, beating well each time you add some.  Add the marmalade and finely grated zest from the orange.  Beat again thoroughly.

Using a large metal spoon fold in the flour.  Be slow and firm but careful until all the flour is incorporated.  Then stir in the juice from half the orange.  Spoon the mixture into your tin, using a spatula remove any last bits of mixture from the bowl.  Gently smooth the top and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.  Using a skewer, check 5 minutes before the time is up.  Leave the cake to cool in the tin, and then place on a wire rack.  The cake will sink a little – don’t panic it is supposed to.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and mix it with as much of the orange juice as you need to, until it is smooth with a slightly runny consistency.  Drizzle the icing over the cake, so that it runs down the side.  Leave to set, then enjoy.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Pea & Ham Soup

Every Christmas and New Year, at some point a ham or two will be cooked in our house.  Firstly simmered in water, and then into a hot oven with a glaze.  Every time, year after year, the flavoured stock the ham has created I have poured away.  All of the taste of the ham and aromatics which has spent several hours in the saucepan getting to know each other wasted, gone and never to come back.  Many times I have had it cross my mind that, next year I really must use this stock.  Not just once or twice, but four or five times.  But never have.

So as the ham cooked on New Year’s Day cooled in the stock, I decided this would be the time I would use would use it.  Once the ham had been removed and it strained to remove the vegetables, I left it to go cold over night.  This allows and fat in the stock to form on the surface and solidify, so that it can be easily removed. 

When you buy a ham to cook, try and get one with a bone in it.  Once you have carved the ham, keep the bone.  When cooking the soup, if you use the ham bone, it will increase the flavour.  You can still make this without one.

This is a warming, comforting soup that is perfect for the start of a new year.  On the side I have Malted Grain Bread to dunk into and mop up the last remnants at the end.

Pea & Ham Soup

Pea and Ham Soup with Malted Grain Bread

Serves 4

:: Butter  :: 2 medium Onions, finely chopped  :: 1 Garlic clove, finely chopped  :: 1 tbsp Thyme leaves  :: 3 medium Potatoes    :: 1 litre Ham Stock  :: 1 Ham Bone  :: 600g Frozen Peas  :: 150ml Milk  :: 6 large slices of Ham  ::  Rapeseed Oil  :: Salt & White Pepper

Place a large saucepan on a medium heat, sweat the onions, garlic and thyme  in the butter for 10 minutes until softened but not coloured.  Add the stock, bone, peas and the potatoes that you have chopped into chunks to the pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.

Then add the milk and four of the ham slice and simmer for a further 5 mins.  Using a stick blender, process until smooth.  Taste to see what seasoning it needs, be careful with the salt as the ham stock will already by salty.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

To serve, shred or flake the remaining two ham slices.  Place a little ham in the bottom of each bowl, and ladle the soup on top.  Place a few flakes of ham on top of the soup along with a drizzle of rapeseed oil.