St. Valentine’s day is always an excellent day for indulgence, especially if you are cooking for someone special or for someone you are trying to impress. This is the time to pull out all the stops, and although that may seem daunting, here are a few simple recipes that will not only impress but imprint memories forever more…
Being a bit of a pink addict, this is the time of year I get to indulge in pink food, and I don’t hold back, and neither should you. These recipes may seem a bit complicated, but really, they are quite simple if you plan the timings.
Lemon Blinis | Cream Cheese | Salmon | Caviar
Rare Duck Breast in Chinese Five Spice | Potato Dauphinoise | Griddled Chicory | Raspberry Sauce
Pink Champagne jelly | Ruby Chocolate mousse
My epic Blinis gets a lot of attention when I post pictures on social media, and there is no better time than Valentine’s day to try these. They present so elegantly on a platter and taste amazing, so I do encourage making a platter, rather than just a few, as you will definitely want to go back for more. For those who don’t understand my obsession with these tasty little morsels, let me explain how they are made.
There are two components: The mini pancake and the topping. The mini pancakes can be purchased fresh or frozen from high-end supermarkets, or you can make your own from ready-bought pancake mix. But if you really want to go the extra mile, you can make them from scratch with an essential pancake mix which you shallow fry in spoonfuls. Make as many as you need, or finish the batter and keep what you don’t use. They freeze very well. This dish is best served at room temperature and can be made a couple of hours before it is meant to be done.
Half cup flour (can be gluten-free)
Half teaspoon salt
Grated lemon zest (peel) of one lemon
100ml Yogurt (can be Sheep, Goat, Coconut / Vegan) or Buttermilk
separate yolk and whites, add yolks to flour, keep white separate and whip until it forms stiff peaks. Keep to one side for now.
Mix egg yolks, Yogurt, grated lemon zest, salt and flour until the mixture is smooth. If it appears very stiff, add some milk (cow or plant) to loosen the mixture.
Slowly fold in the whipped egg whites, ensuring not to knock out all the air bubbles. It is this process that makes the Blinis super fluffy. One can forgo the process of separating the eggs and fluffing up the whites instead of just adding the eggs whole, but the pancake is substantially more dense and chewy.
Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in butter (I prefer Goat Butter) at moderate heat, taking care not to burn the butter. They should take at most 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
Remove from heat, and place in a clean tea towel, which will stop them from drying out as they cool down. Once cool to the touch, they are ready to be dressed with topping.
TOPPING. Blinis are traditionally topped with some form of cream cheese or creme fraise. You can use whichever you prefer. There are even plenty of plant-based cheeses in supermarkets these days as options for the lactose intolerant. I like plain cream cheese for my blinis, but also flavoured works. You can often buy flavoured cream cheeses, so if you like, get chives or garlic flavour. One can use either smear on the cream cheese, or if you want to be fancy, you can pipe it on with a floral spout for an elegant rosette effect.
SALMON. It goes without saying that one should find the best quality cured and/or smoked salmon they can, and if you can’t find any, cure your own, it is actually quite simple. However, nowadays, most supermarkets have shelves with variously layered salmon pieces for convenient use. I portion it out as half a salmon slice per Blini, so a 200g store-bought packet of salmon should give you plenty to work with. Place the salmon slice on top of the creme cheese-topped blini, and if it is a bit big, fold it over on itself, then top that with caviar.
CAVIAR. Use as the garnish. If you don’t like caviar, you can skip this. There is no need to go all ‘Beluga’ expensive. There are shelves of pretty decent caviar available in most supermarkets, ranging anything from 3 euros to 10 euros for the run-of-the-mill stuff. However, if you can get your hands on a top-end jar of caviar, this would be the perfect opportunity to use it.
2 Duck Breasts
2 Chicory bulbs
100 g Raspberries
2 tablespoon sugar
250ml double cream
3 garlic cloves
4 large King Edward or Maris Piper potatoes
100g grated gruyere cheese (optional)
Pink Himalayan Salt
Cracked black pepper
Chinese 5 spice
If refrigerated, take duck breasts out to come to room temperature.
Score the fatty skin all the way down to the meat, about a 5 mm distance between each slice. This will help the fat render and give you a place to cut for serving.
Place duck breasts to one side and get on with the Potato Dauphinoise.
Heat oven to 190 C or fan/gas 5
Pour cream and milk, a sprinkle of salt, a good sprinkling of cracked black pepper, and 3 garlic cloves into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Slice 4 large potatoes into slices about 3 – 4 mm, and add them to the milk/cream mixture to simmer for around 3 minutes, stirring gently to make sure the potato does not get caught on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a wide shallow ovenproof dish so that they are about 5 cm in depth.
Pour over the garlic-infused cream (discarding the garlic) just enough to seep through the layers and leave a little moisture on the surface.
Put into the oven and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, scattering the Gruyere cheese on for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
While the Potato Dauphinoise is cooking, start with the raspberry sauce, which is very simple to make:
Place all but 8 raspberries into a saucepan. Keep the 8 for decoration, so make sure they are whole and pretty.
Add the juice of one lemon, two tablespoons of sugar, and a drop of water, just to get it all going.
Place sauce over moderate heat, crushing the raspberries. Just heat the sauce through, do not boil. Take the saucepan off the heat and put it to one side
Now time to get on with the Duck Breast.
Get a skillet or frying pan out and heat it up super hot
Place Duck Breast fat side down, apply pressure, and drop the heat setting by 25%.
Depending on the thickness of the breast, let it cook for about 3 – 5 minutes, letting all the fat render out of the skin.
Do not season at all. Spices only get burned at this stage.
Once the fat is golden and crisp, and most of the fat has rendered, then turn the Duck Breast and griddle for a further 3 minutes in its own fat.
It is at this moment that you add the chicory, which, if you have an excellent bulb, should be sliced in half, with the flat side frying in duck fat. Continue to fly, flipping over occasionally, until it starts to wilt, but still has crunch. Should be a maximum of a few minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
Remove Duck Breast from heat before it is overcooked, and wrap it in wax paper, followed by a wrapping of foil, and then put several tea towels over the parcel. This will allow the Duck Breast to rest and come to the perfect blush pink inside whilst keeping it warm as you plate up the rest of the food.
Duck Breast should be sliced as thinly as possible, at a slight angle, in the original cuts on the crispy skin.
Season with Himalayan pink salt and Chinese Five Spice
Place chicory piece on warmed plates
Arrange sliced, seasoned duck breast over the chicory
Cut a square portion of Potato Dauphinoise and plate next to the duck slices.
If you have some skill with sauce drizzle techniques, now would be the perfect time to spin some circles around the duck and potato.
Garnish with fresh raspberries
Keep some of the raspberry sauce for the desert.
And now for the desert.
PINK CHAMPAGNE JELLY WITH RUBY COCOA BEAN CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
This is a desert made of two parts, and they are layered with the jelly at the bottom and the mousse on top.
PINK CHAMPAGNE JELLY LAYER
5 gelatin sheets soaked in cold water to soften
1 cup sugar
Half a cup of boiling water
250 ml Pink Champagne. Opt for a good one, not too dry.
Place soaked jelly sheets into the bowl and incorporate hot water and sugar. Stir until sugar and jelly are dissolved.
Add only a small amount of Champagne if more liquid is needed, but wait until the entire mixture has cooled down completely before adding ice-cold champagne.
It is important to incorporate the mixture as cold as possible to trap the champagne bubbles in the jelly. Add a drop of raspberry sauce to the jelly to add more pink and a bit more bubbles.
Pour the mixture into elegant glass wine or champagne glasses, reaching about just over halfway.
Put into the fridge to set for an hour.
PINK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE LAYER
100 g Ruby Cocoa bean chocolate, melted in a glass bowl over hot water
125 ml Double thick whipping cream, whipped slightly
1 Vanilla bean, scraped and seeded, adding the seeds.
Gently fold the melted chocolate and the whipped cream together
Add vanilla seeds, ideally scrapped from the pod. Do not use vanilla essence.
Once incorporated, fill a piping bag and pipe with a Florette tip, and pipe it into the glass of now-set pink champagne Jelly
Continue to pipe the mousse as high as you can, beyond the glass of the rim.
Garnish with fresh raspberry and mint leaf sprigs
This dessert can be made the day before and kept in the fridge. But only add raspberry and mint garnish just before serving.