Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Avocado and Peanut butter

Tonight I hosted a celebratory meal for a very new primary school deputy-head. In order to celebrate suitably a meal featuring avocado and peanut butter was requested.

Now I love the challenge of sculpting a meal to a certain set of conditions but I wasn't too sure what to do with avocado. It's never really used as the main thrust of a dish more as a featuring accompaniment. Thus I turned to Niki Segnit's The Flavour Thesaurus for inspiration and found it in spades. The peanut butter element was far too easy as I love peanut butter and it makes for a great dessert. The problem was more trying to reign myself in. Anyhoo, we ended up having:

Avocado and Cucumber "soup"
Avocado Tasting Plate
Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle
Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich and Grape Sorbet

Avocado and Cucumber "soup"

On a warm June's evening this was a delightful fresh start. The flavours of the avocado and cucumber complemented each other perfectly, accented by lemon juice. A little dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper gave a rounded and more complete mouthful.

Avocado Tasting Plate

Because I wasn't quite sure what to do with the avocado I put together an avocado tasting plate pairing avocado in three different ways: avocado with bacon and blue cheese; grilled avocado, grapefruit and prawn; and finally avocado and mango. I had a hunch that these should be eaten in the same order going from a very savoury salt end through the flavour spectrum to almost sweet with mango.

Rather pleasingly it all worked out rather well. Each of the combinations worked really well. So much so that all the trimmings were very quickly hoovered up and a various different combinations were tried and tested, not all quite so successful as my original!

Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle

Having put so much effort into the avocado and peanut butter elements, I was little lost for inspiration in terms of the main course. I went for a simple spring/summer vegetable pasta: mangetout, peas and asparagus seasoned with lemon and mint. Fresh, seasonal and very tasty.

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich and Grape Sorbet

For dessert I put together a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Two peanut butter cookies sandwiched together by fresh peanut butter ice-cream and blackcurrant jam, served with a  grape sorbet.

The ice-cream was delicious but was over-whelmed by too much biscuit. Peeling off one of the cookies gave a much better balance. The grape sorbet gave a lovely contrast to the rich creamy ice-cream and also prevented the peanut-butter flavour from being too dominant. It went down well but not the resounding finish I was hoping for.

To try and improve I gave it another go the following day, essentially making and ice-cream "cheesecake". I crumbled one of the peanut butter cookies up as the base, covered that with jam and then put the ice-cream on top. It was served with the sorbet on top and a shard of salted peanut brittle. This had a much better balance although it was just too big! (Not something I ever thought I'd say!)

All in all a very good night. Here are the recipes:

Avocado and cucumber "soup"

Half cucumber, de-seeded and roughly chopped
Medium-sized avocado, roughly chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Sour cream
Cayenne pepper

1. Put the avocado, cucumber and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until smooth adding a little water at a time to achieve a silky consistency.
2. Season with salt and pepper (and lemon juice) to taste and chill.
3. Serve in espresso cups topped with a teaspoon of sour cream and a restrained sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

Avocado Tasting Plate

Two ripe avocados
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, cut into three
2 slices of dry-cured bacon
Half red chilli, finely diced
Lime juice
Red grapefruit, segmented
Mango, sliced
Mint, chopped
Melted butter

For the avocado, bacon and blue cheese:
1. Fry the bacon until crisp, leave to cool and then cut into pieces.
2. In the same pan, fry one side of three of the bread slices in the bacon fat until crispy.
3. Brush the other side of the bread with melted butter and fry until toasted.
4. Mash half an avocado with lime juice, salt and pepper and chilli to taste.
5. To serve, liberally spread the avocado on the toast. Sprinkle over the bacon bits and add little pinches of blue cheese. Finish with a light drizzle of olive oil.
For the avocado, grapefruit and prawn:
1. Slice and avocado thickly. Liberally brush three slices with melted butter and season. Grill.
2. Brush three slices of bread with melted butter on both sides and fry until toasted.
3. Fry the prawn in a dash of butter until just cooked and then season with lime juice, salt and pepper.
4. To serve, place an avocado slice on each piece of bread, top with a grapefruit segment and a prawn
For the avocado and mango:
1. Marinate slices of avocado and mango in lime juice and mint.
2. Brush three slices of bread with melted butter on both sides and fry until toasted.
3. To serve, top the bread with a slice of avocado and a slice of mango.
[Note: This might actually work better as a mango and avocado salsa, rather than slices of each]

Spring Vegetable Tagliatelle (serves 3, inspired by Simon Rimmer's Pasta primavera)

1/2 onion, finely chopped
300g tagliatelle, cooked and cooking water reserved
2oz butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g asparagus, blanched, cut into bite-sized pieces
200g frozen peas, podded
200g mangetout
150g baby spinach
1 lemon, juice and zest
Parmesan shavings
Half bunch mint, chopped
Half bunch parsley, chopped

1. Heat the butter in a pan, sweat the onion until translucent then add the garlic and fry for one minute.
2. Add the asparagus, peas, mangetout and spinach and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until the spinach has wilted slightly.
3. Add the pasta and a little of the cooking water to the pan and stir to combine.
4  Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the herbs and season, to taste.
5. To serve, divide the pasta and sprinkle over Parmesan shavings and drizzle with olive oil.

For the dessert I'll just give you the recipes for the peanut-butter ice-cream and grape sorbet.

Peanut butter ice-cream (taken from Allrecipes)
Makes 500ml

2tbsp caster sugar
2 eggs
125ml milk
100g peanut butter
80ml sweetened condensed milk
60ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract

1. Beat the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer until thick, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
2. Bring the milk to a simmer over low heat.
3. Take off the heat and gradually add the milk to the eggs while whisking vigorously. Then pour the whole mixture into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, single cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
5. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Or put in a container and freezer, taking out of the freezer and whisking every hour for the first three hours. Then leave to freeze.

Grape sorbet (from Niki Segnit's The Flavour Thesaurus)

250ml red grape juice
100ml water
100g caster sugar.

1. Warm the water and sugar together in a pan until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Take off the heat and combine with the grape juice. Leave to cool.
3. Once cool, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Or put in a container and freezer, taking out of the freezer and whisking every hour for the first three hours. Then leave to freeze.

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