Monday, 16 February 2009

The best-laid plans

Well, I think it's fair to say that the Valentine's Day meal didn't go quiiite according to plan. Our repas pour deux was supposed to comprise balsamic pears wrapped in prosciutto, followed by spice-crusted venison with glazed beetroot (because nothing says romance like beetroot), with steamed berry puddings to round things off. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't get any bleeping venison! Two game stalls at the farmers' market and my back-up, Marks and Spencer, all let me down. (One of the stallholders did offer me venison heart, which I suppose would have been appropriate for Valentine's Day in a macabre sort of way...). With my main course languishing in ruins, I ducked into Waterstone's to sneak a look at a copy of the book and pick an alternative recipe. Not only did Marks not have the stuff I needed for said alternative recipe, they didn't even have the ingredients for my alternative alternative recipe! So I did what I'm sure Delia Smith does on these occasions, and retired to the pub. (Several hours and a couple of bottles of champagne later I found myself throwing together a random dinner for four, but that's another story.)

Back to the abortive meal: we ended up eating a truncated version - that is, just the starter and dessert - as a light lunch the next day. Arguably it would have been lighter still if we hadn't supplemented it with conspicuous quantities of Pringles between courses, but hey.

7. Balsamic Pears with Prosciutto
8. Very Berry Puds

The pears come from the 'Special Food' section, and are one of the very few recipes in Lighten Up intended as a starter. Basically you make a poaching syrup from water, sugar, balsamic vinegar, bay leaves and black peppercorns, and simmer the peeled pears in this for ten minutes until they're just tender. After leaving them to cool (Jill doesn't specify for how long - I took it to mean waiting until they could comfortably be handled, but I don't see why you couldn't prepare them further in advance for a dinner party, say) you stand them on a baking tray (having cut a slice from the bases to make sure they stand up nicely) and wrap each in a furl of prosciutto. Then all you have to do is bake them till the prosciutto's crisp - according to the book this should just take three or four minutes, but mine still weren't properly crisp after six; I'd probably give them longer next time. As a final touch, if you're feeling creative, you strew your plates artistically with pine nuts and micro leaves, and finish off with a drizzle of oil and vinegar. Except I sort of forgot that my balsamic vinegar doesn't come in the kind of bottle that drizzles but rather one that pours, and consequently I ended up with a mini vinegary flood. Also, what the bejeezus are micro leaves? The glossary helpfully says that they have "higher concentrations of phyto-chemicals than in their adult form" (yum, phyto-chemicals, my favourite), but that didn't enlighten me much when looking for them in my local Sainsbury's.

Ta-daaa! Impressive, no? If you look closely you can see faint traces of the aforementioned flood, but I'm sure you're all much too polite to do that. The pears were really good - nice texture, delicate but unusual flavour, and the salty, savoury prosciutto went very well with the sweetness of the fruit. The only thing I might change in future is the ratio of ham to pear - they complemented one another so well that it seems a shame only to get to enjoy the combination until the prosciutto runs out; perhaps smaller pears would balance it out a bit.

On to dessert! I can't say I'm entirely sure what this recipe (from the 'Fruity Food' chapter) is doing in a book purportedly about healthy eating, as it contains not insignificant amounts of both butter and sugar, but ours not to reason why. To make delectably cute mini-puddings you need - logically enough - mini-pudding basins, and I made a bit of a blooper by buying plastic ones before actually reading the recipe and realising that they needed to go in the oven. Ooops. Luckily I'm the kind of person who considers a return trip to Lakeland a treat (as evidenced by that fact that that was Mike's suggestion for a Valentine's Day activity). Anyway, once you're pudding-basined-up you proceed as follows: cream together butter and sugar (my heart always sinks at that instruction; it presuposes the existance of muscles in places I'm fairly sure I don't have any); beat in eggs and fold in flour, baking powder and milk. Then you arrange some berries in the bases of your basins (I used blackberries and raspberries, as per Jill's suggestion) and spoon the batter over them until the basins are 3/4 full. Annoyingly, halving the recipe gave me enough for two and a half puddings, though I suppose it depends on how large your basins are. Once they're filled you tie foil over the tops with string, then stand the puddings on an oven tray, pour boiling water into the tray so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the basins, and bake for 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile you whip up a sauce by briefly heating some more berries with port and a bit of sugar, and that's it! When the puddings have had their time you simply upturn them onto a plate and pour over the sauce.

Mmmmmmmmmm! (My eloquence strikes again!) These were scrumptious - very light and airy in texture, but somehow hearty and satisfying at the same time. I'd put out some crème fraîche to serve with them but neither of us touched it; the puddings were delicious just as they were.

And now for the wise words of Mike:

Mike on the pears: "Surprisingly nice combo, thought it would be too sweet for a starter but really nice flavors. Pear was too big and there was not enough ham to go with it. Also it is quite hard to eat a whole pear with a spoon. Perhaps someone should breed mini pears just for this recipe then you could have three per plate. Peace x."

Mike on the pudding: "Although this pudding is lacking chocolate, which is normally one of my requirements for a good pudding, it is still one of my favorites. It wins points for looks and tastes like a lovely steamed pud with sweet fruit, yum yum. Could have eaten double but I guess it is a decent portion if you have a main also."

I would like the record to show that attempting to eat his pear with a spoon was entirely Mike's own decision and not the result of a chronic cutlery shortage.


twigletqueen said...

And why shouldn't one eat a pear with a spoon! Cutlery rules are far too rigid these days. Mix things up a little, I say. FREE YOUR SILVERWARE!

Steak with chopsticks next time please

Alana said...

Wow, the pears look amazing!!