15/02/2013

St Valentine's Dinner

If you want an eyebrow raiser, look into the Festival of Lupericalia, the pagan festival which St Valentine's Day superceded: "Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.".

Curiously, St Valentine was no patron of lovers (that, itself a Chaucerism) although his martyrdom may have been, in part, for his performing of clandestine marriage ceremonies for soldiers forbidden to marry. Legend has it that on the eve of his execution, he wrote the first Valentine card ... to the daughter of his jailer, signed "from your Valentine".

In modern times, a day to declare love, even in secret, and for those of us who have already found true love, a day to celebrate that love together. In the Anglican liturgy, the day is the Feast of Saint Valentine which has the optional rite of renewal of the vows of marriage.

Did someone say feast? ... a really nice dinner, maybe.

Cauliflower greens and spinach amuse bouche

We began with an amuse bouche of cauliflower greens, spinach and smoked garlic.

Simply soften an onion, garlic and shredded cauliflower greens in some butter, add stock, ground coriander, black pepper and a couple of generous handfuls of spinach.

Boil until everything is soft and then blend.

Pass through a sieve, discarding the fibrous waste.

Reduce the liquor further, fortifying the flavours. From something like a pint of soup, a couple of espresso cups should be gleaned.

Smoked salmon

Next, smoked salmon and caviar.

Smoked salmon is so gorgeous, but it does like to be served with something lighter alongside, for which I made an aubergine and creme fraiche dip.

Peel and cube an aubergine, softening it in a skillet with butter. Add a little white pepper, squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of ground coriander and cumin.

Blend together with equal amounts of creme fraiche, dropping into ramekins to cool in the fridge. Serve cold.

Crisp lettuce leaves fill in for thins.

In all, a good, fatty dish - each bringing its own thing to the party.

Salmon sous videSous Vide salmon and hollandaise with roasted roots

For mains, sous vide salmon and Hollandaise with roasted roots.

Scale, fillet and skin your salmon, selecting two really good fillets for poaching. Place each fillet in an airtight bag and lower into water that has been boiled and allowed to cool for a few minutes. After about half an hour, just put the pan on a very low heat.

The heat in the water will gently and slowly cook the salmon through. This is my paleo-sous vide method.

Roots? Peel and cut some roots - parsnip and carrot are perfect, and roast them in goose fat. Done.

Hollandaise is so simple, I wish it wash not proposed as a cumbersome or daunting task.

Simple separate a couple of eggs, yolks into a bowl, whites can be reserved for something else, and whisk the yolks with some lemon juice. Whisk it well, so it becomes light a airy.

Melt some butter in a pan. Some? It doesn't need to be exact, but an equal amount of melted butter to the size of the yolks is about right.

Over a pan of hot water (the poaching pan, having withdrawn the salmon and set to a boil), hold the yolks over while you slowly pour the butter in, whisking all the time. Carefully done, the milk solids can be left behind. Efficiently done, the Hollandaise will not scramble.

If the sauce even begins to look like its turning to scrambled eggs, whip it off the pan and pour in a quick splash of cold water, whisking it in. Return to the heat to firm up again.

I use salted butter for this since it does like a little saltiness. I also like herbs in - chives, here.

Serve out, salmon taking pride of place, spooning the Hollandaise over and roots alongside.

Again, there's a lot of fattiness here, but each bringing their own thing to the party.

Now for dessert ... Raspberry Soufflé.


Prep. The eggs whites from the Hollandaise are happily sitting an a bowl. Two whites here, which will be more than sufficient for two people.

One cup of raspberries, blended and passed through a sieve will do as the colour and flavour, and just a little honey. Half a teaspoon. When I started experimenting with this dish, I noted that it lacked a certain something and that is ... sweetness.

Ramekins - this will make four, so butter them up and line them with cocoa powder. The powder will help it not to stick and to rise quite uniformly.


Whisk the whites until they are soft and velvet-like, and able to form peaks with the whisk.

Fold the raspberry mixture in and pour out into the ramekins ...


See how the cocoa stops the soufflé from sticking?

Bake in the oven at 180C for about ten minutes. Serve quickly, since they do drop - posing for a picture leaves them a little deflated.

What a meal!

Of course, at times of celebration, what better than a bottle of pop?

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