Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine´s Special: Sweet Treat.

Love songs, old movies, romantic dinners followed by  romantic walks, roses and red hearts represent what Valentine's day is all about. This special day cannot be celebrated without some great food made with that special and magical ingredient called love.   

Drawing inspiration from Valentine and all the images that spring into your mind when this holiday is mentioned, I decided to make adorable cupcakes shaped like hearts and roses and serve them with a red sauce made with either strawberries, raspberries or sour cherries as the perfect accompaniment for the sweet vanilla cakes.

I love sour cherries. Their tart flavor and  slight sweetness makes the perfect sauce to go with the vanilla cake, the marriage of flavors is blessed by none other than Cupid himself!

Unfortunately fresh cherries are very difficult to find out of season, but luckily, the jarred ones are available year round in supermarkets. Just pick a jar of the brand you love the most and with minimal effort you will have the perfect Valentine sauce.

For the cupcakes you need:
  • 110 g soft butter
  • 100 g sugar (I used vanilla-infused white sugar)
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 120 ml milk
  • 1 pod of vanilla or 2 tsp of vanilla essence
  • 8 g baking powder (around 2 tsp)
  • dash of salt

Firt sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar then add the eggs, one at a time. When all combined fold 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the milk, then 1/3 of flour, rest of the milk and finish with the last 1/3 of the flour.

Pour the batter in the cupcakes tins and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, the baking time varies between ovens and size of cupcakes. When baked, the cake must spring slightly to the touch of your finger. 

For the sauce you need: 
  • 250 g sour cherry (or any other berry fruit)
  • 50 g sugar
Mix the sugar and fruits and let them simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve the sauce when it's cooled.

I prepared a simple cream cheese frosting with just cream cheese, a little bit of powdered sugar and vanilla. A little bit of this frosting goes a long way and are perfect to top and decorate these mini cakes with or to decorate your serving plates.

To serve the cupcakes, pour some of the sauce on a plate, add the cake and decorate with the frosting. Add as much or as little as you want of the frosting. Personally, I piped the frosting into tiny rosettes.

Serve this cupcakes to your loved one at the end of a romantic meal.

From me to all of you: a big shout out to Love!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine´s Special: Savory Dishes

For most the ideal way to pass Valentine's would be over a romantic dinner with your significant other. With this spirit in mind, I decided to make a complete romantic dinner menu starting with savory dishes and ending with a sweet note.
The way I see it, a romantic dinner should never be heavy or too filling but should be light and flavorful.

My romantic dinner starts with two savory dishes: a starter of baked asparagus and a main of Salmon with pesto sauce. and

Let's tackle the starter. I chose to make some asparagus wrapped in a delicious buttery puff pastry with a drizzle of a tweaked pesto sauce.

The ingredients of the starter:
  • Asparagus (4 per person)
  • Puff pastry (there is a time and  place for home-made puff pastry, but a good quality store bought will save you the hassle)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried herbs (a mix of Mediterranean herbs would be the best)
  • Some parmesan cheese to sprinkle on  top
  • Cream to brush the pastry
First you need to prepare the pastry, my pastry was already rolled out to aout 1/2 cm thick, this is the thickness you need,  just  and cut 1 cm wide strips of pastry with almost the same length as the asparagus.
Remove the woody end of the asparagus and wrap the pastry strips over them in a corkscrew fashion.   Brush the pastry with cream, sprinkle with some salt, pepper, dried herbs and finally sprinkle with some cheese.

Bake in a preheated (200C) oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the dough is slightly golden and the cheese is nicely colored. 
Serve the baked asparagus with a simple vinaigrette sauce or use my tweaked version of pesto sauce which you can prepare by mixing well one teaspoon of pesto sauce, one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar  and 3 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle the sauce over the asparagus or put some over the serving plate. 

For the main dish of salmon and pesto you need:
  • 2 salmon fillets (250 g each)
  • 20 g of mixed pine nuts and walnuts (slightly toasted)
  • 20 g of basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • Just a tiny grate of parmesan

To make the pesto base combine the garlic, salt, walnuts, pine nuts and squeeze a tiny bit of lemon. With the pestle work these ingredients together to form a paste then add the oil and the grated cheese. Usually, pesto has more cheese than I recommend using for this specific recipe. However, salmon is an oily fish and if you add too much parmesan the end result would be a bit heavy, so to keep things on the lighter side I reduced the amount of cheese.
Once your pesto is ready, all you need to do is to cover the salmon with the pesto and bake for about 15 min in a preheated over (200C). Check the internal temperature of the fish with a baking thermometer if you have one and it should read 65 C for a perfectly cooked and moist salmon.

If you don´t have the thermometer, don't worry, you will know the salmon is cooked to perfection when it starts releasing some of its oil. When this happens, take it immediately from the oven. Allow the fish fillet to rest a couple of minutes before serving.

I served the salmon with some hasselback potatoes but you can serve them with sauteed carrots, peas or green beans. Additionally, I added some small hearts made with puff pastry just for prettier presentation.

I am confident that these two dishes will satisfy your palate and will be perfect for your romantic Valentine's dinner. 

The dinner is not over yet, the all important sweet treat is waiting for you, catch it in the following post. 
Bon appetit.