If you’ve read the other pages on this site – especially the manifesto post and the about page – you should be getting to grips with the idea that adventure can be found all over the place. It doesn’t just have to come from strapping on your boots and heading out into the great unknown.
Doing something you’ve never done before, not knowing how things will pan out, is just as adventurous. This is what we decided to do on Valentine’s Day.
The original idea for the weekend was to go away. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to an early start Sunday morning for Shelli. So with that plan scuppered, and an evening at home ahead, we came up with a plan to cook something we’d never made before. Well, not one thing but three as it goes as we decided to cook ourselves a three course meal.
Adventurous? You better believe it! Even more so knowing Shelli doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in the kitchen. Why? A past of being criticised and ridiculed for “doing it wrong” will do that to someone!
We thumbed through our recipe books on the run up to the weekend looking for ideas. It didn’t take us too long to come up with the menu for the evening:
Butternut squash and coriander falafel with cucumber yoghurt
Salad potato griddle cakes with olives and poached eggs
Bitter chocolate and salted caramel torte
After having a well deserved lie in and breakfast in bed, we made a start with the day’s cooking. There was quite a lot to do (see the recipes below) and we didn’t want to be rushing or stressing about getting it all done.
We were fortunate that we could intermingle the preparation for the different courses. Knowing the dessert had to cool down after cooking we decided to start there. Getting that finished meant it could spend all afternoon cooling down in the tin if needed.
The first [and only] mistake in our planning was picking up the wrong type of caster sugar. We bought regular but the recipe required golden caster sugar…doh!
No bother. These things happen. We used the regular caster sugar and carried on regardless. We had to guess when to take it off of the heat though. It may not have been 100% right but it tasted divine!
Caramel out of the way we focused on sorting out the torte. No mistakes here! Once it was in the oven we took a break from the kitchen to sort out the Marlow to Windsor update.
We were a little bit apprehensive while the torte cooked. We shouldn’t have been as it looked great when it came out. That said, we did have a little joke about it collapsing while it cooled down…which it didn’t!
Next we focused on preparing the falafel, roasting the squash and blitzing the chickpeas. The smells from the herbs and spices in the kitchen were wonderful.
It didn’t take too long to sort out the falafel mixture and soon it was cooling in the fridge. As was the cucumber yoghurt. This wasn’t a difficult recipe but we were hopeful it was going to taste good with everything that went into it.
The final bit of prep for the day was to sort out the potato cakes and the salsa verde. We shared the chopping duties while the potatoes boiled and cooled.
The smell of the salsa verde was amazing while the ingredients were mixed together.
The real fun and games started once we’d mixed the ingredients for the potato cakes. We had to form the mixture into individual cakes. Clearly we got the portion size wrong as we only managed to make five cakes instead of eight. Oops!
It was a lot of messy fun though and I’m sure the girls would have loved to have helped us out.
Cakes made and chilling in the fridge we went back to sorting out the blog post.
All the prep done, and a few glasses of wine consumed, we got to cooking our dinner around 7pm.
The good thing about the menu we’d chosen was the actual cooking of the courses was pretty simple.
We formed the falafels, again getting the portion size a little out, making 11 instead of 16. We popped them into the the oven and laid the table, a grown-up table for a change.
The falafel and the cucumber yoghurt were really nice. They made a great starter as they weren’t as heavy as some falafels we’ve had before. A very good start to the evening’s delicacies.
Next up: the main course. The potato cakes weren’t a concern but we were both a little bit worried about cooking the poached eggs. Poached eggs are something we both admitted to being rather unsuccessful at cooking. We’d tried various methods between us over the years, all of which didn’t produce very good results.
The technique described in the recipe was something we’d never tried before and it sounded far too easy. No swirling a big pan of water before dropping the egg in; just some boiling water and that’s it. We weren’t sure but I have to say it worked flawlessly! The eggs were perfect. Hurrah!
The combination of the potato cakes, poached egg, salsa verde and the Italian cheese was wonderful. Really scrummy indeed! Okay, it was really just a posh bubble and squeak at the end of the day, but it was very nice.
There’s not a lot to say about the torte other than it was divine! A definite winner of a dessert that one!
The menu we’d chosen worked amazingly well. We’d spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen over the course of the afternoon and evening but we’d had a great time. There wasn’t any point when we’d had enough or felt like it was just a chore.
As we said at the beginning of this post, it’s not something we would have classed as an adventure before, but it really was. Trying new techniques and cooking new things was a lot of fun and we’re pleased it all turned out so nice. And best of all was getting to eat all the wonderful food!
That was a Valentine’s day we’ll remember for some time I don’t doubt.
For the falafel:
- 500g butternut squash, deseeded and cubed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 400g tin chickpeas, drained
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 small bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped
- 1 small bunch coriander, leaves only, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
For the yoghurt:
- ½ a cucumber, peeled, deseeded and coarsely grated
- 300g thick natural yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Makes about 16
Preparation time: 20 minutes plus chilling and standing time
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6).
Toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season well. Spread out on a baking tray and roast for about 35 minutes until soft and caramelised. Set aside to cool.
Place the well-drained chickpeas in a food processor with the garlic, bicarbonate of soda, parsley, fresh and ground coriander, and cumin. Pulse the machine, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides with a spatula, until the mixture forms a rough paste. Tip into a large bowl and season well with salt and pepper.
Crush the roast squash with a fork until very roughly mashed and add to the chickpeas. Fold everything together. Chill for 30 minutes if you have time.
Scoop dessertspoonfuls onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and space out well. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake at 200°C (400°F/Gas 6) for 15-20 minutes until golden underneath.
To make the cucumber yoghurt, scoop the grated cucumber into a colander or sieve, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry with a clean tea towel. Stir into the yoghurt with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the falafel.
The Main Course
- 500g small salad potatoes, such as Charlotte, Ratte or Pink Fir Apple
- 2 shallots, very finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
- 50g pecorino sardo, shaved
- 5 very fresh eggs
- 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour, plus extra to dust
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons salsa verde dressing (see below)
Preparation time: 10 minutes plus cooling time
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Scrub the potatoes and boil in their skins in salted water for 15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, allow to cool for 15 minutes and then crush roughly with a fork. Add the shallots, olives, parsley and half the cheese. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a little salt, and taste the mixture to make sure the seasoning is balanced. Beat 1 egg and mix into the potatoes along with the flour. Form the mixture into 8 flat cakes using floured hands.
Space the cakes out on a plate and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Before cooking, generously brush the potato cakes with olive oil on both sides. Heat a large griddle pan and slowly brown the cakes for about 4 minutes on each side, in batches if necessary. Keep warm while you cook the remaining eggs.
Heat a deep frying pan of water until it just reaches boiling point then reduce the heat so the base is covered in tiny bubbles. Carefully crack in the eggs, one by one, as gently as you can. Poach the eggs for 3 minutes until the whites are just set, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
Serve a poached egg on each pair of cakes with the salsa verde spooned over with the remaining pecorino shavings.
- 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
- ½ small bunch mint, chopped
- 75ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed
- 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
- 1½ tablespoons dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Makes about 200ml
In a small bowl, cover the chopped herbs with olive oil – start with 75ml and see how you go. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should have a spoonable consistency so add more olive oil if needed.
For the salted caramel:
- 175g golden caster sugar
- 120ml double cream
- ½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 120g unsalted butter, cubed
For the torte:
- 250g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), in pieces
- 160g unsalted butter, cubed
- 175g golden caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 120g ground almonds
- 5 medium egg yolks
- 6 medium egg whites
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
Line a 25cm springform cake tin with non-stick baking paper.
To make the salted caramel, pour the sugar into a heavy-based pan and add 3 tablespoons of water. Heat gently, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up to medium-high and allow the syrup to come to the boil undisturbed. Simmer briskly and watch like a hawk until the caramel turns a rich amber colour. Swirl the pan to prevent ‘hot spots’ but don’t stir or the caramel will crystallise. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream and salt; it’s sure to hiss and splutter. Now stir in the butter cubes until a smooth caramel forms and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°C/Gas 4).
To make the torte, melt the chocolate, butter and sugar together in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth, then mix in the vanilla and almonds, followed by the egg yolks, one by one.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold stiff peaks. Using a metal spoon, fold 1 large tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest, being careful to retain as much air as possible. Scrape into the tin and smooth the top. Pour or spoon the caramel over the top in a big circular swirl, moving from the centre out. Use a skewer or sharp knife to mix the caramel a little deeper into the batter but don’t overdo it. Bake for about 30 minutes until puffed up but still wobbly in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slicing and serving with cream or ice cream.