Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Valentine's Meal

The oven is broken. Disaster. Every time you try to switch it on, it beeps and dies. So when it came to Valentine's Day, and it was my turn to cook, we swapped our kitchen for my parents-in-law's brilliant kitchen in North Wales. Space, a dishwasher, and a gorgeous aga-style cooker, perfect.

I was very nervous about this menu. I had tried to go fairly simple, but I was constantly aware of how much the food, particularly the beef, had cost. So I was pleased when it seemed to turn out ok. The only disaster was a red-wine sauce I attempted: I totally forgot about it and it burned to black in the pan.

So this was the menu. My camera had run out of batteries so I haven't got any photos of my own.

Pan-roasted scallops with tomato salsa
I served the salsa in the scallop shell - might be a bit cheesy but we liked it!


2 tbsp Olive oil
100g cherry tomatoes
40g pitted, drained black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch coriander, leaves only
½ bunch basil leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced
6 scallops (hand dived if you can get them), coral removed.

Method: How to make pan-roasted scallops with tomato and herb salsa

1. First, place a small saucepan over a gentle heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the oil. Add the pitted black olives, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir over a low heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Hold the stalks of the coriander and basil together and slice down with a sharp knife to shave off the leaves. Discard the stalks, gently roll the coriander and basil leaves into a ball and chop. Add the coriander and basil to the salsa and stir to combine.

3. Roll the lemon on a chopping board to soften it and release the juices and then chop in half. Add the juice of half a lemon to the pan, stir and set the salsa aside to allow the flavours to infuse.

4. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat until smoking hot and then add one tablespoon of olive oil. Lay the scallops out on a board, pat dry with kitchen paper and then season one side with salt and pepper.

5. Think of the frying pan as a clock face and add the largest scallop (seasoned side down) in the twelve o’clock position. Continue adding the scallops clockwise working your way round 1,2 3 etc until you get to 12 again. Season the unseasoned side of the scallops and after 1-2 minutes or when the underside is turning golden brown, with a palette knife or spatula, flip over the scallops starting with the scallop you placed in the twelve o’clock position. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the scallops and give the pan a good shake to ensure even cooking.

6. After 1-2 minutes or when the scallops are golden brown on all sides, tip the pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

7. To serve, lay out four small plates and place a large spoonful of the salsa in the middle of each plate, arrange 3 scallops on each plate and serve immediately.

Beef Wellington
This is really delicious with the parma ham, which kind of melts into the pastry. Make sure the beef is rare and well-rested.


400g Beef fillet
400g Flat mushrooms
4 slices Parma ham
English mustard for brushing meat
200g puff pastry
2 Egg yolks
Approx 8 Charlotte/New potatoes
1 Clove garlic, crushed
1 Sprig thyme
Purple sprouting broccoli

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Mustard vinaigrette, optional

Method: How to make beef Wellington

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c.

2. Heat some oil in a large pan and quickly fry the seasoned beef all over until it's brown. Remove and allow to cool. The point of this is simply to sear the beef and seal all those juices in, you don't want to cook the meat at this stage. Allow to cool and brush generously with the mustard.

3. Roughly chop the mushrooms and blend in a food processor to form a puree. Scrape the mixture into a hot, dry pan and allow the water to evaporate. When sufficiently dry (the mixture should be sticking together easily), set aside and cool.

4. Roll out a generous length of cling film, lay out the four slices of Parma ham, each one slightly overlapping the last. With a pallet knife spread the mushroom mixture evenly over the ham.

5. Place the beef fillet in the middle and keeping a tight hold of the cling film from the outside edge, neatly roll the parma ham and mushrooms over the beef into a tight barrel shape. Twist the ends to secure the clingfilm. Refrigerate for 10 -15 minutes, this allows the Wellington to set and helps keep the shape.

6. Roll out the pastry quite thinly to a size which will cover your beef. Unwrap the meat from the cling film. Egg wash the edge of the pastry and place the beef in the middle. Roll up the pastry, cut any excess off the ends and fold neatly to the 'underside'. Turnover and egg wash over the top. Chill again to let the pastry cool, approximately 5 minutes. Egg wash again before baking at 200c for 35 - 40 minutes. Rest 8 -10 minutes before slicing.

7. Par boil the potatoes in salted water. Quarter them and leave the skin on. Sauté in olive oil and butter with the garlic and thyme, until browned and cooked through. Season. Remove the thyme and garlic before serving.

8. Serve hearty slices of the Wellington alongside the sautéed potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli.

Molten Chocolate Babycakes


350g dark chocolate, good quality
50g unsalted Butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing
150g caster sugar
4 large Eggs, beaten
1 pinch Salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g plain flour, or Italian 00 flour
1 carton double cream


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and place a baking tray into the oven. Lay 3 dariole moulds on a sheet of baking parchment, draw around them, remove and then cut the discs out as marked. Then press them all into the base of the tins.

2. Melt the chocolate and let it cool slightly. Cream together the butter and sugar and gradually beat in the eggs and salt and then the vanilla. Now add the flour and when all is smoothly combined scrape in the cooled chocolate, blending it to a smooth batter.

3. Divide the batter between 6 moulds, then whip the baking tray out of the oven arrange the tins on it and replace in the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Then take out and place on either a small plate or shallow bowl.

4. Serve with a dollop of double cream.

I don't know what separates this from a chocolate fondant, but this was really easy, it did work just as the recipe (a Nigella) said it would. I had to use a muffin tin (what are dariole moulds????) but they worked fine! Now if only I could learn to take food photos like this...

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