By now you should have enjoyed two delicious courses, drank some fine wine and, most importantly, now just be staring into each other’s eyes. If you can draw yourself away long enough, we have one more little treat for you.
Our final retro treat for you is a real blast from the past. This is a really fun dish, and sharing a large one makes it even more exciting. Just imagine sinking your spoon through the crisp outer layer into marshmallowy meringue, then boozy smooth ice cream, all the way down to the chocolate brownie base. With all that on the spoon it’s going to take all your will-power to feed this to your loved one, and not shove it your own gob.
A traditional baked Alaska usually has a sponge base but I thought chocolate brownie sounds a bit more decedent and if this is not the day to spoil someone then when is?
The impressive thing about the baked Alaska is that it goes into the oven to cook the outside, and the ice cream within stays frozen. To protect the ice cream it is surrounded by a layer of Italian meringue. This differs from a normal meringue (French meringue) in that instead of sugar being mixed in, very hot sugar syrup is mixed with the egg whites, which cooks them. This process means you get a very stable meringue which will hold its shape for days in the fringe compared to a normal one which will collapse after a few hours.
Remove the ice cream from the freezer and allow to soften slightly at room temperature, then bash in the booze.
Scoop the ice cream into a cappuccino cup or similar sized mould, pressing down tightly. Put it back in the freezer to harden.
Using a mixer, whisk your egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Place the sugar and water into a pan and slowly bring to the boil until the syrup reaches 121C, using the probe I told you to buy in the last post.
Whilst whisking, drizzle the sugar syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream, (ensuring it doesn’t hit the beater in your mixer, as this will cool the syrup and cause it to solidify)
Keep whisking the eggs whites and sugar syrup for about another 5 minutes.
Cut a disk of chocolate brownie about 1cm larger than the mould you used for your ice cream.
Place your meringue mixture into a piping bag.
Remove the ice cream from the mould and place onto the brownie base. Pipe the meringue around, encasing the ice cream and ensuring there are no gaps.
At this point you can either bake in the oven at 200′c, or if you’re feeling flash and cheffy, and want to impress your girl, whip out your blow-torch, and cook the meringue until nicely browned. (Please just put it in the oven if you’ve had a few glasses of wine).
Serve and eat immediately, before the ice cream melts.
Now its time for the main event. The main course needs to be impressive and this really fits the bill. Take this to the table and carve a piece of tender meat wrapped in crispy pastry and its sure to seduce. The rest is up to you.
The second of our classic dishes is a take on beef wellington. I love the original made with a whole fillet of beef and carved at the table in front of everyone it’s a real showstopper. I have made this with a piece of venison fillet which has a more interesting flavour than the standard beef, and will give you and your partner something to talk about for weeks to come. (Honestly, the Photographer won’t shut up about it now!)
Serve this with the two veg of your choice and the only other thing it needs to go with it is some more wine to help set the mood.
10oz venison fillet
1 Savoy cabbage
100g button mushrooms, sliced
¼ tsp thyme chopped
500g puff pastry
1 egg beaten
6 slices Parma ham
1Tbsp vegetable oil
Sauté the mushrooms in the butter along with the thyme. Season, then whiz in a food processer till it makes a coarse mushroom pate. Leave to cool.
Heat the oil in a heavy pan until very hot. Season the venison fillet and sear on all sides until browned. Place on a plate to rest.
Remove 4 large leaves from the cabbage and cut out the stalks. Bring a pan of water to the boil then blanch the leaves for 1 minute. Refresh in cold water. Remove from the water and place on kitchen paper to dry.
Pull out a length of cling film. On it lay the cabbage leaves. They need to overlap to form a sheet longer than the fillet and wide enough to roll round it. On to the cabbage lay the slices of ham in two rows of 3, making one large sheet of ham.
Take the mushroom pate and spread it over the ham. Place the fillet on the middle of the sheet of ham.
Now lift up the edge of the cling film furthest from you and fold the cabbage and ham over the venison. Roll it up in to a sausage and twist the ends. Place in the fridge while you roll the pastry.
Roll the pastry out into the thickness of a pound coin, making it longer than the cling-filmed parcel and wide enough to wrap round it.
Un-wrap the parcel and place in the middle of the pastry. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg then roll the pastry over, folding in the sides to form a neat little package.
If you have any excess pasty you can use it to decorate the top of the wellington. Something romantic and heart shaped should do the trick.
It can now be chilled until you sit down for your starter. When you are ready, brush the top with egg and bake at 200’c for about 20 minutes then allow to rest for 10 minutes.
You can cook it to the same level you like you steak, and the best way to do this is to invest in a digital meat probe. It might sound fancy, but they are quite cheap now, and available even from some supermarkets. Cooking temperatures are as follows:
That time of year is coming up again, and if you don’t get it right I can guarantee that you will not have a romantic evening. You can always book a table at a restaurant (if you can get a table anywhere good), and even if you do get a table, the usual overpriced heart shaped and pink things to eat can be a bit of a disappointment.
A home cooked meal shows a lot more thought, effort and care than booking a table and a taxi. At home you can put a CD on you that both like, light the candles, and set the mood without the waiting staff looking on. I should be careful what I say here – I might be doing myself out of a job as a chef – but everyone tries to book for this one night.
Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to bring you some ideas for a three-course dinner. Each course will consist of one dish that can be shared, which sounds very romantic as long as you or your partner is good at sharing! I think the dishes are a bit retro and fun, as well as being damned tasty.
I thought we would start with the starter. I don’t know why, but it seemed a good idea. Cheese fondue is a 70’s dinner party classic, but who does not like things dipped into melted cheese? You don’t need a fondue set to make this or even the long forks, as using asparagus wrapped in bread or Parma ham means you can eat everything with your fingers, and makes feeding a tasty morsel to your partner less likely to result in being stabbed in the face with a few fork tines. (The Photographer can be vicious when she’s asked to share).
You can use any cheese you want for this really, so it’s a great dish to use up the bits and bobs in the fridge.
425g cheese, rinds removed and at room temperature
2tsp corn flour
175ml dry cider
12 spears of asparagus
6 slices Parma ham
6 slices white bread
Trim the asparagus, removing the woody stalk. Wrap the ham round half the spears and place on a baking sheet.
Remove the crusts from the bread, and using a rolling pin roll the slices out as thin as possible. If you have a pasta machine this does the job even better. Wrap the bread round the remaining asparagus and place on the baking sheet. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and put the tray in the oven at 200’c for about 12 minutes or until the asparagus is cooked and the ham and bread crisp.
While the asparagus is cooking, start the fondue.
Chop the cheese into small pieces, and mix in the corn flour. Pour the cider into a pan and bring up to the simmer. Remove from the heat and tip in 1/3 of the cheese. Using a wooden spoon mix in a zig-zag motion until the cheese has melted in.
Place the pan back over a low heat. Keep adding more cheese bit by bit to the cider, stirring all the time. It will take about 10 minutes to incorporate all the cheese in to a nice smooth mix.
To serve, pour the cheese into a serving dish and arrange the asparagus around.