Valentine’s Day feast

February 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

Happy Valentine’s Day, all you wonderful people. This is usually the day you decide you’re going to pull out all the stops for your other half and remind them just how much you adore and dote upon them. It’s also a heavily scented reminder of the wooing that occurred right at the beginning of your relationship, and that you have to attempt to rekindle some of that enchantment for the day.

I cannot express how important food is for achieving these goals. Food – not poetry, or music – is the food of love. Aphrodisiacs, softly perfumed teas and bubbling champagnes, and fiery, intense flavours can reignite passion like nothing else. Believe me.

While roses and cute Clinton cards and teddy bears will put a smile on your loved one’s face, it’s their tummy you truly need to satisfy. Either mellow, rich tones or hot, vibrant tastes will certainly remind your other half just why they can’t live without you.

Think symbolism, shapes and flavours when cooking for Valentine’s Day. Small gifts like chocolates always benefit from a little thought on presentation, whereas having your evening supper shaped like a stuffed teddy bear might be a touch disconcerting. Why not present some chocolate truffles in a heart-shaped box in little red foil casings? Or whip up some chilli-chocolate covered strawberries and serve them with a glass of champagne tied with a red ribbon around the flute?

If you haven’t been able to make bookings at that gorgeous restaurant you’ve both been wanting to go to, don’t fret, you can have a romantic dinner in. Having a warm atmosphere will enrich the food experience even more…

Enough of the telling you what to do to decorate – now I’m going to tell you what to cook for dinner. Pheasant is beautifully tender, and really quite easy to cook. If possible try to get female pheasant meat as its usually more tender.

  • 2 pheasant breasts, trimmed (if you have big appetites you can double up on the recipe as pheasant breasts can be fairly small)
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 2-3 rosemary stalks
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 60ml dry white wine
  • sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste
  • 500g baby new potatoes

Place the pheasant breasts into a large bowl and squeeze over the lemon quarters, which you then leave in the bowl. Bruise the rosemary stalks and pluck off the leaves to add to the bowl, reserving a few sprigs for later. Season with the sea salt and black pepper.

You can either halve your garlic cloves lengthways or leave them whole before adding them to the bowl. Pour over the extra virgin olive oil and the white wine, then mix well, coating the pheasant, garlic, lemon and herbs in the marinade. Leave to marinade for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a small pan of water to the boil and add some salt. Quickly wash your baby new potatoes to remove any dirt and then transfer to the salted boiling water to cook for around 20 or so minutes, or until tender.

Once the 15-20 minutes for the marinade are up, heat a heavy-based frying pan on a medium-high heat, with no oil. When the pan is hot, remove the pheasant pieces from the bowl and place into the pan skin side down. The pheasant breasts cook very quickly so turn the pieces often, just allowing them to colour. You should only pan-fry the pheasant breasts for 5-7 minutes maximum. Remove with tongs and place on the serving plate to rest for 10 minutes.

While the pheasant breasts are resting (and the potatoes are boiling), pour in the contents of the bowl into the hot pan and allow to reduce for about 3-4 minutes. keep stirring and brown the sides of the lemon quarters. Once the sauce has become a little thicker and darker, turn off the heat and drain your potatoes in the other pan. Place the baby new potatoes next to the pheasant breast, two lemon quarters next to the potatoes and then pour the sauce in the frying pan over the pheasant and potatoes.

Take your reserved rosemary sprigs and sprinkle them over the potatoes, and serve with a lovely glass of red wine.

What to have for dessert? If you have time before you start cooking the meal, grab some blueberries and raspberries and stick them in the freezer. Serve the frozen berries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some drizzled honey.

Have a happy, loved-up day, folks!

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Ethnic-inspired pistachio shortbread

February 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

In these in-between days where England can’t decide whether it wants to have Winter weather or to start to open up the Spring buds, its little wonders like this pistachio shortbread which contain the best of both seasons. Its distinct pistachio flavouring is wonderfully light as a Springtime treat, however the addition of warming nutmeg and ground cardamom provide the much needed warmth that those unpredictable snowy days might require.

Pistachios are used in various sweet and savoury meals throughout the Middle East and South Asia, where it features as an important ingredient of many dishes, such as baklava. Additionally, pistachio nuts have the uncanny ability to ‘fool’ your body into eating less as having to de-shell and then eat the pistachios somehow makes your body feel full without having eaten as much. Fooled by a nut – whatever next?

The shortbread itself is soft and crumbly, but you can clearly taste the pistachio, nutmeg and cardamom with each bite. Not to mention the fact that the smell is divine… To make these you’ll need:

  • 350g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 500g plain flour
  • 150g pistachio nuts, de-shelled and processed until fine
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom

Start off by beating the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. I used golden caster sugar for this shortbread but you can easily use the usual caster sugar if you like.

Once your butter mixture resembles the above, add your flour and processed pistachio nuts (use a food processor to grind them to the consistency of a coarse powder). Usually pistachio nuts are salted and roasted, so you don’t need to add any additional salt to the mixture, but if your nuts haven’t been salted then you might want to add a pinch of salt to the mixture at this point.

Mix well, ensuring that you have an evenly combined batter. Then add the ground cardamom and nutmeg and combine.

At this point it started snowing violently outside.

Pour the shortbread mixture out onto a greased and lined baking sheet and (gently!) press the mix down evenly into the tray. Use the palms of your hands if you don’t want fingertip impressions all over your shortbread. Then use a knife to score rectangles, or triangles if you’re weird like me, into the mixture.

Bake in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes or so, or until golden. Then cool on a wire rack, turn the shortbread out of the baking tray and break or cut into the pre-marked rectangles/triangles. (Suddenly it was clear and sunny again outside, what on earth’s going on?)

You can eat these with ice cream, crumbled over berries, or even with chocolate mousse. Personally, I like them with a cup of cardamom tea.

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