Monday, 25 March 2013

Celebratory 3 course dinner for 8

This weekend was our mum's birthday so I decided to cook a meal for friends and family. The menu I decided upon was based on previous recipes of mine but tweaked so that they contain no dairy since she doesn't eat any. I aimed to start off light, fresh and green tasting before descending into irony, meaty richness and then chocolate, bringing it back again with citric blood orange. 

Pea and fresh mint soup

Lavender roast duck legs with a red wine jus, pomme purée, honey-thyme glazed beetroot and spinach

Chocolate chestnut cake with blood orange sorbet from Gelupo

My pea and mint soup was a good start because the mint doesn't get cooked for very long so keeps that refreshing taste. The duck is my fail safe since its hard to overcook and takes on the rich, perfumed flavours of the marinade. This time I added my honey and thyme glazed beetroot to balance the meat and the spinach. 

The real revelation was the pudding since it is dairy, egg yolk and wheat free and absolutely delicious. Unlike those health food cakes that are sort of nice despite what they cut out, this is scrumptious in its own right (thanks Nigella!) and elevated by the blood orange sorbet, well worth the £20 I spent on a 1L tub. 


Pea and Mint Soup

4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 fat shallots, chopped
2 stems celery, finely chopped
1 leek chopped
1.3L chicken stock
800g frozen peas (1kg in pods)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
50g pack mint, leaves only, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots, leek and celery, season, cover and sweat very gently, without colouring, for 15 minutes or until completely soft, stirring every few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the peas, bring to the boil  again and simmer for 10 minutes until the peas are soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add the chopped mint, and purée. Push through a sieve if you want a very smooth finish. However, if you have a really good handheld blender such as the Kenwood Triblade, the blending process is effortless and you won’t need a sieve at all. (P.s. this is not very unsubtle product placement, it is the one I have and it is AMAZING!).

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep covered and refrigerate overnight, and then serve with a mint leaf to garnish and toast of your choice.

Chestnut Chocolate Cake (adapted from Nigella's 'Feast')

I used my Nordic warecake mold after very carefully oiling it, and dusting it with cocoa powder but you can also use a regular 20cm cake tin.If you do use a mold, wait for it to cool completely before you turn it out - I had a few disasters the first time round! 

225g dark chocolate

6 eggs, separated

1 pinch salt

125g Pure dairy-free sunflower spread (you can use butter instead)

435g sweetened chestnut puree

2 tablespoons hazelnut liquor (or rum)

15g sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, gas mark 4. Grease a 23 cm spring form or cake tin.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave or in a double boiler (or bain-marie), and set aside.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff, but not dry.

In another bowl, whisk butter and chestnut puree with the sugar. Gradually whisk in the egg yolks, then add the rum and chocolate.

Stir in a dollop of the egg white, whisk well to mix everything together, then carefully fold the rest of the egg white in the chestnut mixture.

Pour the batter into the tin and let bake for 40 to 60 minutes. You could do the toothpick test, but it should not come out completely clean. Let the cake cool in it's tin on a rack before you unmold it on to a plate.

Serve with Gelupo blood ice cream of your choice (or sorbet if you are going dairy-free)!


For the Duck and Sauce

8 duck legs with the bone trimmed (see below)

4 tbsp dried lavender, if not, rosemary

3 ½ tbspn fennel seeds

4 star anise

2 bulbs of garlic

750ml red wine 

8 tbsp plum jam, redcurrant, quince or crab apple jelly… marmalade can work too. (Less if you don’t like it too sweet)
1/2 tablespoon cornflour

Pomme Puree

1.2g mashing potato such as maris piper, scrubbed. 

400ml olive oil

400ml stock

Braised Honey Thyme Beetroot

4 Beetroot, peeled and diced into 1cm x 1cm cubes

1 tablespoon of thyme

1 tablespoon of honey

800 ml stock


2 big packs of spinach

1 tablespoon of olive oil


Marinate the duck in the lavender, fennel seeds, anise, garlic, sliced lengthways, and enough of the wine to cover it. Cover and refrigerate overnight, for a day, or, if last minute 15 minutes will make a difference.


Prepare all your ingredients: trim the duck legs by scraping all the skin up the leg and snipping the sinews with some scissors and then chopping the top of the joint off with a cleaver.

Peel and chop the beetroot

Wash the spinach if necessary and cut up your potatoes, leaving them in a bowl of water


Preheat the oven to 200c (or 180 fan).

Once preheated (hopefully after 15mins), sprinkle chopped garlic and lavender on a foil lined baking tray and cover with the duck legs, having shaken off the wine into the marinating bowl. Sprinkle with salt.  Place in the oven for 1 hour (set a timer!)

SAUCE: do this in 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour all the wine from the marinade along with the rest of the wine into a little saucepan. Add the jelly or jam, bring to a simmer and reduce for 5 minutes then strain and put aside.

POTATO PREP: 4 minutes

Start bringing a pan of water to the boil.

Make sure the potatoes are around 1inch x 1inch or less - cutting them up when necessary. 

Place them in the boiling water.

Beetroot: do this in 10 minutes 

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan and fry the beetroot, covered and stirring every minute or so for 5 minutes. Then add a couple of cups of stock and leave covered again, to check in 7 or 8 minutes. (The Beetroot should have around 40 minutes cooking time in total)

POTATOES REMAINING COOKING TIME: 5-10 minutes: Check the potatoes - they should be soft enough that you can poke a knife through them with no resistance. They will probably need 5-10 more minutes. 

Give the beetroot a stir, add the thyme and honey and a couple more cups of stock.

POTATO PEELING: 10 minutes

Once soft enough, strain them and leave them to cool a bit. Once cool enough, peel them with your hands by rubbing the skin off. If this is too difficult you can use a knife to skin them instead.

BEETROOT: Give the beetroot a stir and if the liquid has mainly evaporated, add another wine glass of stock.

Return them to the dry pan and mash them up. Place over a very very low heat to warm up whilst stirring in the oil bit by bit. It should begin to form a doughy puree.

The puree will be very thick. Slowly stir in as stock as it takes to bring it to the consistency that you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once it is right, take it off the heat.

BEETROOT:Give the beetroot a stir and if the liquid has mainly evaporated, add another wine glass of stock.

Put the soup on the hob to warm up. Adding water if it is too thick. Also remember to take your sorbet out of the freezer so it has time to warm up a little. 


Push the potato through a sieve. Do this twice if you want it really smooth.

When you have sieved it, you can put it in a Pyrex bowl over boiling water and heat it up, stirring it every now and again.

BEETROOT: Check the beetroot and if nicely tender, reduce the liquid to a glaze and turn off the heat. Leave covered until needed. 


Serve up your soup

BACK TO THE DUCK: 10 minutes

The timer should now ring for a second time and the duck should have had 1 hour. Remove the duck from the oven and spoon off almost all the fat (save it for roast potatoes).

Pour the wine mixture around it and return to the oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking and reduce the sauce.

In this ten minutes, quickly give your mash a stir and check it is getting hot.


After the last 10 minutes, take the duck out, put the legs on a plate and rest in the oven (that you have just switched off) for a few minutes.

Pour the sauce through a sieve into a little pot to reduce further. Mix the cornflour with half a tablespoon of water in a teacup so that there are no lumps). Reduce vigorously until thick enough - You want it to be liquidy but with a good viscosity – like a good old balsamic – not quite syrup though, since it thickens as it cools anyway.


Serve by neatly forming a circle of pomme puree to the side of the plate and place the spinach next to it. Rest the leg on top and then dot the beetroot around it. Give it a good dash of sauce and put the rest in a gravy dish for your guests to serve themselves.

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