Strawberry Cheesecake

Strawberry Cheesecake is one of my all time favorites. I have made it and served it a thousand times and most of our friends have tried it. It is so popular with my family that it is by now almost a cliché at home. But no-one has complained yet and so I prepared it as part of my holiday menu and I will make the Strawberry Cheesecake tomorrow again for my darling Valentine.

Ingredients for the crust:
200g of digestive cookies
3 Tbs canola oil
1-2 Tbs water
1Tbs sugar

For the filling:
500g good quality cream cheese at room temperature
150ml whipping cream
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1tsp pure vanilla extract
250g strawberries
1/4 cup strawberry jelly or jam

Preheat oven to 175C/350F

Make the crust by mixing the cookies, oil and sugar and water in the bowl of a food processor and blend well. It should look like wet sand. Press the cookie mixture on the bottom of an oiled 8-inch removable bottom cake pan. Transfer it to the freezer while making the filling.

Make the filling: Whip the cream and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and eggs until light and creamy. Add the vanilla and cream cheese and beat until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream with a spatula. Pour the filling over the chilled cookie crust and bake for 25 minutes or until just set in the centre. Do not overcook.

Decorate: Allow the cheesecake to cool down to room temperature and then refrigerate it for 4 hours or overnight. Arrange the strawberries on top and gently brush them cake with the jello or strained jam to give it a a nice glossy finish.

Serve your Strawberry Cheesecake chilled.

Wine Suggestions: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or good Port.

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Duck Breast a l'Orange

Duck a l’orange is undoubtedly one of the timeless classics of French cuisine but sadly preparing it involves many steps and plenty of time. This recipe for Duck breast a l’orange, on the other hand, works with the very best part of the bird, the magret or breast, offers all the flavor and takes about half an hour to make once the meat has been marinated. Duck breast a l’orange was also the last savory course I served on my New Year’s Eve supper menu, following the octopus and the lobster.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 large large duck magrets or 4 smaller duck breasts
4 oranges
2 Tbs cognac
4 Tbs of light honey or sugar sirup
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
fresh thyme

Clean and score the duck breast: Remove the meat from the packaging, wash well and pluck any stray feathers, trim if there is any excess fat or silver skin on the meat. Pat dry the duck breasts and score the skin with a sharp knife without reaching the meat. Generously sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides.

Marinate: Place the zest and juice of one large orange in a big ziplock bag, put in the duck breasts and a couple of fresh thyme sprigs. Refrigerate for 4 hours of over night.

Cook the duck: It is best to use a cast iron pan to cook the duck breast. Place the meat skin side down in a cold pan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side for a larger breast. Cooking time of course greatly depends on the size of the breast. Don’t poke the meat but use tongues to turn it. For best results use a meat thermometer (125F for medium-rare).
Transfer the breast to a cutting board and cover it foil, let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Make the sauce: Drain the oil from the pan, leaving only 4 tablespoons of it in. Deglaze the pan over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of cognac. Add the vinegar, the honey or sugar sirup, 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and the zest of 1 orange to the pan. Add the prepared supremes (the flesh between the membranes) of 2 oranges, throw in a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, shake the pan gently, lower the heat and let the sauce thicken to a sirupy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Plate and serve: Slice the duck breast, plate them as suggested on the photo and spoon over the sauce and the orange supremes. Serve with  Gratin Dauphinois.

Wine Suggestions: Côtes-du-Rhône, Pinot Noir or Barolo.

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Lobster tail with Lemon garlic Butter

Lobster is one of those things that people love to order in restaurants but are reluctant to make at home from fear of failure. But in my view, cooking luxury meats should be kept as simple as possible as to allow them to boast their unique flavor and texture. When paying for a lobster one wants to taste the lobster rather than layers of overpowering spices. I prepared this lobster tail with lemon garlic butter as part of my New Year’s Eve menu and it was a quick, simple and blissful.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 large or 8 smaller lobster tails
100g melted unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
lemon wedges

Clean the lobster: Using scissors carefully cut the hard top shell of the lobster tail and devein it (remove the intestine). Rinse well under running cold water and place the tails in a shallow baking sheet.

Make the lemon garlic butter by combing the meted butter, the garlic, lemon zest, salt and pepper and mix well. Transfer half of the butter mixture to another bowl. Brush the lobster meat with the first half of the butter.

Preheat the oven to 250C/500F.

Broil the lobster: Place the baking sheet about 10 cm from the broiler (upper burner) and broil for about 12 minutes or until the lobster meat turns white and firm to the touch.

Serve: Transfer the lobster to a serving platter and brush the flesh with the reserved butter, add a pinch of fleur de sel and serve with lemon wedges.

Wine suggestion: Pinot Gris or California Chardonnay.

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Octopus Carpaccio

The Holiday season is now a thing of the past and the time has come for me to tell you about my New Years Eve dinner party. This tale will stretch over several posts however. This year I decided to spend the better part of the New Years Eve preparing a 6 course dinner for an intimate circle. We began as usual with a cheese and cold cuts platter accompanied by a traditional Bulgarian fortune bread, the recipe for which can be found here. In every piece of the bread is hidden a small piece of paper with fortune written on it. Next I served a simple arugula salad to cleanse and prepare the palate for what’s coming. After the salad I served Octopus Carpaccio, the recipe for which I share today, followed by a Buttered Lobster Tail which of which I will talk in my upcoming post. Coming next was Duck Magret à l’Orange which will be the subject of the post after. Around 11:30pm we bid farewell to the old year with a slice of my beloved Strawberry Cheesecake.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1kg octopus
1 onion
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
10 black paper corns
1 Tbs salt

For the dressing:
2 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
zest of 1/2 lemon

Olive oil
lemon slices
sea salt

Boil the octopus: Place the onion, carrot, bay leaf, pepper corns and salt in a medium pot, add about 2 litters of water and bring to a boil. In the meantime clean well the octopus. Using large bbq tongs dip several times the tentacles in the boiling water to give them a nice curl. Then simmer the octopus for about 1 hours or until tender. Gently remove the octopus from the water, taking care not to damage the skin and let it cool slightly.

Season the octopus: Use gloves. Make the marinate by combining the paprika, salt, pepper and lemon juice in a medium bowl, then add about a 1/4 cup from the cooking liquid which is very gelatinous and will hold your carpaccio together. Using scissors cut the tentacles and place them in the bowl, mix until they are well covered with dressing.

Mold the carpaccio: Cut the top of a 500ml plastic round water bottle. Start arranging the tentacles in the bottle one by one by pressing them down with a mortar rod or garlic stick. Make sure the octopus in tightly packed. Then using a sharp knife or scissors make 4 incisions in the empty part of the bottle up until the level of the octopus, this will allow you to close the bottle as you would close a carton box, then wrap it tight with scotch tape and refrigerate for 6 hours of over night.

Serve: Unmold the octopus by carefully cutting the bottle with scissors. Cut the carpaccio as thinly as possible with the sharpest knife you have. Arrange the octopus carpaccio in a large flat plate, drizzle with good olive oil, add a pinch of sea salt and serve with sliced lemon.

Wine suggestions: Cava or Sauvignon Blanc.

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Brie and Onion Marmalade Tartlets

Brie and onion marmalade tartlets is the appetizer on this year’s holiday menu. It makes a sophisticated, delicious and yet simple to put together first course. You can even make them in advance and simply assemble the brie and onion marmalade tartlets just before dinner. Ideally they should be served with the same wine used for the marmalade.

Yields 14 tartlets

Ingredients:
250g puff pastry
100g Brie cheese
rosemary for decoration

For the onion marmalade:
3 large onions, thinly slices
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs honey
1 Tsp salt
1 cup red wine
pinch of pepper

Make the marmalade: Melt the butter in sauce pan and add the onion and salt. Cook on medium heat stirring frequently until most of the liquid gas evaporated, then add the honey and continue cooking until the onions start caramelizing. Pay close attention and don’t let them to burn. When the onions start drying out and begin to stick to the bottom, deglaze the pan by adding 1/3 cup of the red wine. Once the liquid has evaporated add again 1/3 cup of wine and then again the last third of a cup until all liquid is gone and the onions look glossy and smell delicious. Add a pinch of pepper and keep warm.

Bake the tart shells: Preheat the oven to 180C/375. Roll the puff pastry over a floured work surface and poke it through with a fork, this will prevent the pastry from puffing too much. Brush 14 tartlet moulds with oil. Cut the pastry using a round cookie cutter larger than the moulds and line them so that pastry reaches slightly above the edges of the tartlet moulds. We do this because the puff pastry will shrink while cooking. Bake for about 15-18 minutes or until the tartlet shell edges start turning golden.

Assemble the tartlets: Allow the tartlet shells to cool slightly before gently unmolding them. Fill them with onion marmalade, top them with a slice of brie and decorate with rosemary for a festive look.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make it ahead: These brie and onion marmalade tartlets can be simply assembled before dinner. The onion marmalade can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated, but allow it to come to room temperature or gently heat it in a microwave before using. The tartlet shells can be baked and stored at room temperature for several hours before serving.

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Smocked Fish Arugula Salad
Smoked fish arugula salad is a very simple yet suitable for special occasions salad. Choosing an elegant yet uncomplicated salad course to serve for a holiday dinner will make your task easier. As with all simple recipes, the quality if the fish, the arugula and the olive oil used is what makes the salad. The secret is to season the arugula while mixing it by hand in a separate bowl and then transfer it to the serving plate and cover it with the smoked fish. You can use smoked salmon, smoked tuna, smoked trout or smoked kingfish, here I am using smoked sailfish from the Indian Ocean which is locally produced and very delicious. You can also chose to serve this smoked fish arugula salad in individual plates.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 bags of arugula
200g smoked fish, thinly sliced
sea salt
drizzles of olive oil
lemon wedges

For the vinaigrette:
2 Tbs lemon juice
6 Tbs your best olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
pinch of black pepper
Make the vinaigrette by combining all ingredients in a jar and giving it a good shake.

Assemble the salad: Wash and dry the arugula using a salad spinner if necessary. Transfer it in a mixing bowl, add as much of the vinaigrette as you like (I use it all) and mix well with your hands, making sure every leaf is seasoned. Try to adjust the seasoning. Then using your hands again transfer the salad to a salad platter or divide it between the individual salad plates and cover with the sliced smoked fish. Add an extra pinch of sea salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with a few lemon wedges and toasted baguette.

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Beef Wellington with for Christmas

Beef Wellington is an impressive main course to serve for a special occasion such as this holiday season. This recipe can be easily double if you are expecting a larger group. Beef Wellington is definitely one of the most spectacular main dishes of English cuisine. Their is an unconfirmed relation between the origins of this dish and the 1st Duke of Wellington, hence its name. The original recipe consisted of covering a beef fillet with a foie gras and a coat of duxelles (which is mushrooms and onion mince sautéed in butter) then rolling it in a layer of pancakes before finally wrapping the whole thing in pastry. The Beef Wellington recipe I suggest here is much lighter, I coat the meat in spinach and Parma ham before enclosing it in the pastry.

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:
600g beef tenderloin
2 Tbs canola oil
salt and pepper
2 Tbs mustard
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped, frozen or canned spinach
150g or 6-7 slices of Parma ham
250g rectangular sheet of puff pastry
1 egg for the egg wash
large sea salt

1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Wash and pat dry the beef, season with salt and pepper and brown the meat over high medium-heat on all sides. You are not cooking the meat at this stage, you are just sealing in the moisture. Transfer the fillet to a plate and let in cool completely. Then brush it all over with mustard and refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes to a hour.

2. Cook the spinach and the onions in the same pan for 7-10 minutes or until almost dry, put aside and let it cool down.

3. Place a large piece of cling film over your work surface and cover it with the slices of Parma ham. Next spread the spinach in a even layer over the ham. Then place the tenderloin over, roll and wrap tightly with the cling film. The meat should be neatly and tightly wrapped in ham from all sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

4. Roll the puff pastry over a flowered surface and brush it all over with beaten egg, this will help keep the crust dry from the inside. Then remove the cling film, place the meat over the pastry sheet and roll it in. Seal the ends by pressing them with a fork. Brush the wrapped beef with egg wash for a golden color and gently score it with a sharp blade to give it a pattern, then sprinkle it with sea salt.

5. Preheat the oven to 210C/425F. Bake the beef Wellington in the middle of the oven for 25-28 minutes for medium rare.

Serve cut on thick slices with Fondant Potatoes.

Wine suggestions: Medium-full or full bodied red wines pair well  with Beef Wellington see for more options  here.

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Fondant Potatoes

Fondant Potatoes is my choice of side dish for this year’s holiday menu. I do like adding a touch of old charm to the my Christmas table, fondant potatoes were just the thing to match with my upcoming main course recipe. The history of this dish tell of its popularity among European upper class in a times when the profession a butler was quite normal and not something one would only hear about in our beloved Downton Abbey show. In fact, the fondant potatoes never because quite as popular in North America as they are in the old world which I think, is too bad for the latter. This being said you absolutely don’t need to be a trained chef to successfully prepare it, all you need is a few large potatoes, a lump of butter, a sprig of thyme and a pinch of fleur de sel. Now, fleur de sel, which is a type of salt handpicked in France is definitely worth investing in. It has a distinct flavor which subtly elevates the taste of foods it is added on.

Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 medium starchy potatoes
3 Tbs canola oil
2 garlic cloves
1-2 Tbs butter
small bunch of fresh thyme
flour de sel or sea salt
1 cup chicken stock

Prep the potatoes: Peel the potatoes and soak them in cold water for about 10 minutes to remove some of the starch. Cut the tops and bottoms of the potatoes and then cut them in two in order to give them a shape as square and as uniform as possible.

Brown the potatoes: Heat the oil in a large thick bottomed pan. Arrange the potatoes in it, add a pinch of salt and fry until you reach a deep golden brown color. Turn the potatoes and add the butter. Throw in the thyme and 2 whole unpeeled garlic cloves. Cook for 2 minutes on medium-high het then add the enough chicken stock so that the potatoes are halfway in the liquid. Cover the pan very loosely with a piece of foil so that the steam can easily escape and for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes and cooked through and the stock and butter have been reduced to a sauce covering the bottom of the pan.

Serve: Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle each of the Fondant Potatoes with some of the sauce top with fresh thyme and a pinch of fleur de sel and serve as a companion to any beef, lamb or game dish.

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White Chocolate Cake

White Chocolate Cake is just what I would serve on a Christmas or New Years Eve Party. It is luxurious, wintery and festive looking and absolutely decadent. The cake is very rich but the buttery sweetness of the white chocolate cream is perfectly balanced with a freshness of the blueberries. Served with a glass of good Sauvignon Blanc it is pure magic.

Ingredients:
25 lady fingers
1 cup cold milk
1/3 cup Amaretto liquor
2 boxed of blueberries

For the cream:
250g cream cheese
250g whipping cream
1/3 cup condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
150g white chocolate (bar or chips)
1/4 cup cream

Make the cream: Whip the cold cream until soft peak and put aside. In a large bowl beat the cream cheese, condensed milk and vanilla for 30 seconds or until smooth. Using a spatula fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture.

Assemble the cake: Combine the cold milk and Amaretto in a shallow bowl. Dip each lady finger in the milk briefly and on one side only, you want the cookies to be wet but not drenched. Line a single layer of lady fingers on the bottom of an 8-inch spring fold cake pan. Break one or two cookies in half to fill the gaps. Cover them with half of the cream. Add a second layer of lady fingers and cover with the remaining cream. Wrap the cake with a cling paper and put in the fridge while you make the ganache. At this point you can chill the cake overnight or for 6 hours and finish it before you serve your dinner or you can cover it with the ganache right away and then chill it for 6 hours or overnight. I prefer to finish it at once. It is however preferable to add the fresh blueberries shortly before serving the cake.

Make the ganache by combining the white chocolate and the cream and melting it either over a double boiler or in a microwave. If using a microwave, check after every 30 seconds. Once the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth let in cool for a few minutes. Gently pour the ganache in an even layer over the cake and return to the fridge until it sets.

Serve: Carefully run a knife around the sides of the cake pan and unmold. Transfer the cake to a cake stand or dish, decorate with blueberries and dust with confectioners sugar to give it a frosted look. You could cover the sides of the cake with white chocolate chips or even a little desiccated coconut.

Wine Suggestions: You can of course serve the White Chocolate Cake with Amaretto. Other good options are Sherry, Muscat or Sauvignon Blanc.

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Ice cream tartlets with caramelized orange

This is the time to start planning the holiday menu and why not start with dessert! Putting together these ice cream tartlets couldn’t be simpler really, I make a simple digestive cookie base, fill the tart moulds with my vanilla ice-cream and top the tarts with caramelized orange slices before serving. You can of course unleash your creativity and top your ice cream tartlets with any fruit you like. You can make those days in advance and just put the finishing touch before your Christmas or New Year’s dinner.

Yields 8 tartlets

Ingredients:
300g digestive cookies
3-4 Tbs water
4 oranges, thinly sliced
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs sugar

For the Ice cream:
500ml whipping cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean

Make the cookie crust: Place the digestive cookies a food processor and process for 30 seconds, add enough water trough the feeding tube for the cookie mix to look and feel like wet sand. Brush with oil 8 loose bottom 4-inch tart moulds and press the cookie mix on the bottom of of the moulds.

Make the ice cream: Using a sharp knife make an incision through the middle of the vanilla bean and scrape out the seed. Combine the cold cream the vanilla seed and the vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat with an electrical mixer on hight speed until firm peaks. Bring the speed to low and slowly add the condensed milk to the cream, mixing until fully incorporated, light and fluffy, about 2 more minutes.
Pour the mixture into the tarts moulds, smooth the top with a spatula, cover with a cling paper and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Make the Caramelized oranges: Heat half the butter in a large sauce pan sprinkle a few pinches of sugar in the pan and add the orange slices. Cook over medium heat for a about a minute per side and flip the oranges gently taking care not to rip the flesh . Let them cool down before using.

Serve: Take the tartlets out of the freezer about 5 minutes before serving. Unmould them, top them with the caramelized orange slices and serve.

Wine Suggestion: Serve the Ice cream tartlets with Riesling or Sauterne.

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