A Valentine’s Dinner Date

Tim and I have never been out to a restaurant on Valentine’s day. Well, not unless you count lunch at McDonalds 3 years ago – it was an emergency and there really was nowhere else. Instead, we take turns to cook the other person an amazing meal. We both enjoy cooking, and like a good challenge. Over the 5 years we have been together, our menu has included lobster, steak and chocolate torte. This year, it was my turn to cook.

Starter: Comte and Leek Souffle

I had not made a souffle before, so this was a good challenge for me. It was actually much easier than I anticipated! This made 4 portions in ramekins.

Ingredients:

60g unsalted butter

75g leeks , white part only, sliced

40g plain flour

175ml milk

70g Comte cheese, grated finely

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves

3 eggs, separated

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C

2. Grease the ramekin dishes with butter.

3. Melt 20g of the butter in a saucepan and add the leeks. Cook gently until very soft.

4. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan. When melted, add the flour and whisk the mixture. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the time to avoid lumps. Cook for at least a further 5 minutes. It will be a very thick sauce. Add the cheese and stir thoroughly.

5. Let the mixture cool slightly while you whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks in a separate bowl.

6. Add the egg yolks, thyme leaves and mustard to the cheese mixture.

7. Fold one spoonful of egg whites into the cheese mixture to slacken it, then fold the cheese mixture into the beaten egg whites.

8. Divide the mixture between 4 ramekin dishes, and place the ramekins into a roasting tin. Run your finger around the edge of the mixture. Somehow this makes it rise up neatly.

9.Fill the roasting tin with boiling water so that it comes to about half way up the ramekin dish.

10. Bake for approximately 18 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Main Course: Venison with sweet and sour parsnip, celeriac puree and kale

Ingredients

2 x 225g venison loins
Black pepper
20 juniper berries
75g butter
110g caster sugar
110fl oz red wine vinegar
1 parsnip, peeled, sliced into ribbons using a speed peeler

1/2 celeriac

100ml double cream
200g/7oz kale, washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed

1 pear, peeled and thinly sliced

Method
  1. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the juniper berries down finely.
  2. Season the venison loins all over with freshly ground black pepper and some of the ground juniper berries.
  3. Roll each seasoned venison loins tightly in heatproof cling film to form two sausages.
  4. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering at roughly 65C/150F (use a thermometer to check the temperature).
  5. Add the wrapped venison loins, then return the water to 65C/150F and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Peel the celeriac and cut into 2cm chunks. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Bring the sugar and vinegar to the boil into a non-reactive saucepan, then add the remaining ground juniper berries and cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon.
  8. Add the parsnip ribbons, in batches if necessary, and boil for 5-10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the poaching liquid, shake off any excess liquid, and set aside. Keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining parsnip ribbons, if necessary.
  9. Remove the poached venison loins from the water, remove the cling film and set aside.
  10. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over a medium to high until hot, then add half of the butter. When the butter is foaming, add the poached venison and fry for 30-45 seconds on each side, or until just browned all over. Remove from the pan and rest for five minutes.
  11. Put the kale into a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes, until tender.
  12. Drain the celeriac and put it into a blender. Add the cream and puree until smooth.

To serve, place a line of puree down the centre of the plate. Place slices of the pear on one side. Carve the venison into an odd number of slices and place on top of the puree. Top with the parsnip. Place the kale on the other side of the plate. Serve with red wine gravy.

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Dessert: Orange Panna Cotta with Roasted Rhubarb

The recipe for this can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/orange_panna_cotta_with_25558

I used normal oranges as blood oranges were not available, but did everything else as directed.

One of the best things about this dessert was the fact that it can be mostly made in advance. I just put the rhubarb in the oven when I served the main course, and it was perfect.

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