Thursday, 13 May 2010

Mandy & Jo return for lettuce and goat's cheese, duck and plum sauce and rhubarb pavlova

The last time Mandy and Jo came round for some post-work dinner, I hadn't actually started the blog, which goes to show just how long ago it was. This time, however, the stakes were raised as the girls had some pretty stiff requirements to test me out:
  • Starter - Something mini/canapé-ish with goats cheese
  • Main - Your take on crispy duck (to include or not include pancakes, but definitely plum sauce to be involved)

  • Dessert - Fruity moussey meringuey thing (in a glass) with a crumbly or flakey (as in from a Cadbury’s Flake) bits on the top
To fulfil their brief I gave them:

Baby gem lettuce and goat's cheese
Duck pancakes with chilli plum sauce
Roast rhubarb pavlova

Baby gem lettuce and goat's cheese

A warm lettuce half topped with grilled goat's cheese, together with the remaining lettuce leaves dressed with goat's cheese and lemon.

The cooked lettuce was a particularly good revelation.

Duck pancakes with chilli plum sauce

A spring onion pancake stack, layered with duck breast, and batons of spring onion and cucumber served with a chilli plum sauce. This was accompanied by steamed pak choi.

I was more worried about this than anything I've cooked for a long time. I think this was because I just didn't expect it to live up to the weight of expectation. Who can cook duck rolls with plum sauce better than the Chinese? I'd had a massive nightmare in getting any duck and in the end bought a whole duck rather than just breasts as I'd planned to get. I was also worried that the chilli sauce was way too hot. However, it turns out that I am completely pathetic when it comes down to chilli heat. The girls lapped it up.

It turned out that this nothing like they were expecting and they really liked it (there were no left-overs!), which was a massive relief.

Rhubarb pavlova
Individual meringues filled with cream and then topped with roast rhubarb.

Not the chewy meringues I was after but still pretty good. That's another thing to add to the list of things to perfect.

I also gave the girls a selection of additional toppings of caramel shards, marshmallows and ginger nuts. Jo bought a Flake, to ensure that part of the brief was fulfilled despite my protestations that chocolate and rhubarb are not natural bedfellows. These were their final desserts.

Overall, I was very happy: two very well fed guests, a culinary challenge successfully beaten and a fun night, which is always the point of having people round for dinner.

The recipes.

Baby gem lettuce and goat's cheese (inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall)

1 baby gem lettuce per person
Semi hard goat's cheese
Olive oil

1 lemon

1. Discard the outer leaves of the lettuce and cut in half. Remove the majority of the hard core.
2. Brush the cut side of one half of the lettuce with olive oil and season. Place cut side down on a hot griddle. Cook for about 3mins or until the stem is starting to soften.
3. At the same time griddle half a lemon until the surface has caramelised.
4. Liberally grate the cheese over the lettuce, season with pepper and trickle over a tiny amount of olive oil. Then place under a hot grill to melt the cheese. It's ready when the cheese has lightly browned.
5. Whilst the lettuce is cooking dress the remaining leaves with a dressing made with grated goat's cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning.
6. To serve put the warm lettuce and cold dressed leaves on a plate together with the lemon half.

Duck pancakes with chilli plum sauce

Ingredients (serves 3):
2 duck breasts
3 spring onions, sliced into thin batons
Half a cucumber, de-seeded and cut into thin batons
3 pak choi, halved
1tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
For the spring onion pancakes:
2 spring onions, finely sliced
100ml milk
2 eggs
75g plain flour
For the chilli plum sauce:
3 spring onions, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely sliced (leave the seeds in if you like it hot)
Cinnamon stick
3oz caster sugar
2fl oz red wine vinegar (rice wine vinegar would be better, but about 5fl oz would be needed)
6 plums, stone removed and cut into eight

1. Firstly make the plum sauce. Fry the chilli and onion in oil until softened. Add the cinnamon and fry for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the plums are cooked but retain some texture.
NOTE: Taste the sauce for balance. If it needs correcting, strain the sauce and return the liquor to the pan. If the sauce is too vinegary add more water and reduce. Don't forget to season.
3. Once the plum sauce is to your taste, purée (including the plums) half of it. Warm the sauces before serving.
4. For the pancakes make a batter and then add in the spring onion.
5. Fry to make 3 or 4 pancakes and leave to cool. Once cooled cut small discs from the pancakes. you will need 3 pancake discs per portion (9 in total).
6. For the duck score the skin and fry the duck skin side down to render out the fat. Cook until the skin had crisped (about 4 mins). Turn and fry for another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to rest.
7. Whilst resting, fry the pancake discs in a little butter until crisp.
8. Steam the pak choi for about 3 minutes and serve sprinkled with the sesame seeds.
9. To serve, carve the duck breast into thin slices and mix with the non-puréed plum sauce. Place one pancake in the centre of the plate. Add layer of duck and plum. Then top with the raw spring onion and cucumber batons. Repeat the layers and top with a final pancake. Decorate the plate with some of the puréed plum sauce.

Roast rhubarb pavlova

Zest and juice of half a lemon
400g rhubarb, cut into 2-3" pieces
4tbsp demerara sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
A small pot of double cream
Half a tub of mascapone
For the meringues:
3 egg whites
6oz caster sugar
1tsp vinegar
2tsp cornflour

1. For the meringues whisk the egg white until stiff.
2. Gradually add the sugar and whisk until very stiff and glossy
3. Gently fold in the cornflour and vinegar.
4. Spoon the meringue mix onto a baking tray lined with silicon paper. Try to build up the walls of the meringue.
5. Put the meringues into an over pre-heated to 180°C, immediately reduce the temperature to 140°C and cook for 60minutes. Turn off the oven and leave to cool in the oven over night.
6. For the rhubarb, toss the rhubarb in all the other ingredients.
7. Spread over a baking tray and bake at 200°C for about until the rhubarb is just cooked (probably about 10-15minutes).
8. To construct, fill a meringue with whipped cream beaten together with mascapone. then top with rhubarb.
NOTE: I made some caramel shards to top the meringues with. to do this I heated ½cup of caster sugar and ¼cup water over a low heat until the sugar had dissolved. Then turn up the heat and boil until golden (about 12 minutes). Pour the caramel onto a greased baking sheet and leave to cool. Once hardened break into pieces (Very satisfying!).

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