Richard seemed a bit down in the dumps yesterday. On top of the stress of a new job I’d kindly given him my cold and flu like symptoms so he was in need of some cheering up.
My cold was getting better so I thought it was time to get up off the sofa and gently get back in the kitchen and plan a cheerful cozy evening for when Rich came home. If I am ever going to do anything even vaguely properly it starts with a doodle and from my doodling came the idea for a Shakespeare Marathon! Rich got the DVD box set of the BBC Shakespeare Collection and he has a candle holder in the shape of the Globe theatre so that’s the (totally cheapo) entertainment and decorations sorted!
Now to the food. I still wasn’t feeling 100% so hoped we had enough stuff in to avoid going outside…
…in the fridge I found a couple of gem squashes, a bag of fresh mint, 3 bendy carrots, and a chunk of swede of questionable age….the real makings of a romantic meal. Press on.
I decided to roast the squash and then use the skins as edible bowls for a Risotto, how kitsch!
Autumn Vegetable Risotto
2 gem squashes, halved, seeds removed
1/3 of a swede (approx) peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 small white onion, diced
100g of risotto rice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 litre of chicken stock
1 egg yolk
30-40g of cheshire cheese, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Fresh parsley and mint
1) Start by placing your squashes, cut side up in a roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a hot oven (around 200°C) for 45 minutes or until they are starting to caramelise at the edges and the flesh is soft all the way through. Leave to one side to cool.
2) Fry the onion, carrots, celery, and swede in a large, shallow pan just until they start to soften. Add the rice and fry for another 30 seconds or so.
3) Add about a cup of boiling water and stir vigorously.
4) Once the water has all been absorbed add the garlic and a cup of the chicken stock. Allow that addition of stock to absorb before adding another.
5) Repeat until all the stock has been incorporated, add the milk in the same way and then mix in the egg yolk.
6) Scoop the flesh from the squash with a teaspoon or a melon baller and stir into the risotto.
7) Fold in the cheshire cheese and the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.
I had planned to serve the risotto inside the squash skins but they seemed particularly tough and the flesh cleaned out so easily I decided to wash them up, dry them and use them as candle holders, squash light; that’s a thing right?
8) Serve the risotto with loads of chopped mint, parsley and generous gratings of parmesan cheese….and in a dish, sssshh!
Right, pudding. Rich loves mint. So much so he has a packet of extra strong mints on him at all times, so I knew it was the flavour I needed in the dessert. I wanted to make a cake but didn’t have the energy for anything fancy (and there was very little icing sugar in the cupboard) but I had an egg white left over from the risotto so I thought I’d have a bash at crystallising.
Wholemeal Chocolate Cake with Mint Buttercream and Crystallised Mint Leaves
16 mint leaves, washed and patted dry with kitchen towel
1 egg white
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
Start by brushing the mint leaves with a very thin layer of egg white on both sides. Then cover them with the caster sugar, use more if you need to. Lay them on a piece of greaseproof or wire rack for at least 3 hours or overnight to dry.
For the cake
100g of wholemeal flour
20g of cocoa
140g of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
40g of butter (at room temperature)
20ml of strong coffee (an espresso will do nicely)
1 egg, beaten
1) Put the flour, cocoa and sugar into a bowl and rub in the butter with your finger tips until it is well dispersed and sandy. Stir in the baking powder.
2) Mix the milk with the egg and slowly pour into the bowl with the flour mixture to make a smooth batter, whisking continuously. Keep whisking as you add the coffee.
3) Pour the mixture into a small, square cake tin lined with baking paper and greased with a little butter.
4) Bake at 170°C for 20 minutes or until the sponge springs back if pressed. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Once cooled I covered the cake in a thin layer of mint buttercream made from about a tablespoon of butter and precisely the amount of icing sugar I had (which wasn’t very much) a few drops of peppermint essence and a cheeky splash of green food colouring. Then I cut the cake into squares, dusted with extra cocoa powder and topped each one with a crystallised mint leaf.
For a final flourish I hurled together some questionable cocktails of gin, white rum, chopped mint, sugar syrup and ice (in quantities I cannot remember) and sat down to watch Felicity Kendal in Twelfth Night.
Me: “So how did you feel about your cheer-up-dinner last night Rich?”
Rich: “Cheered up”