It’s probably an understatement to say that after all the excitement of Christmas and New Year, January can seem a little flat. But, it’s often February that I find more ‘testing’, just when I start to look forward to the end of January I realise that February is not going to get much better as it’s still cold and gloomy outside. So this year I’ve decided to start February off with a celebration to really kick-start it – with Valentine’s day just around the corner, I thought I’d show some old friends a little ‘love’ by inviting them over for cocktails and dinner. It’s not really a ‘Valentine’s dinner’, after all, it will be taking place at the beginning of the month, before the 14th; but call it what you will – a belated New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Dinner – the point is we’ll be enjoying a meal and raising a glass to each other which is a great start to any month! So with my February celebration in mind, this month’s recipes both reflect the need to impress loved ones and also for us, the cooks, to feel loved. You don’t want to be feeling frazzled in the kitchen – the best recipes are those that leave a good impression and leave you feeling just a little smug at how easy they are to cook. So whether you’re wanting a recipe for Valentine’s Day or an evening with friends, or simply for a family supper, I think that these recipes will impress…
Menu One is ‘Guinea Fowl with Cabbage and Grapes’, it’s a French take on sweet and sour – the cabbage is cooked with vinegar whilst the guinea fowl is roasted with sweet grapes. Not only is it delicious but very easy to make, the cabbage is cooked on the stove whilst the guinea fowl roasts for about 40 minutes. You could of course make this recipe with chicken joints, but I do think that guinea fowl gives the dish a little more depth, as it has a slightly gamey flavour. Menu Two is ‘Roast Duck Breasts with Sour Cherry Sauce’, the original recipe, from Delia Smith’s ‘Winter Cookbook’, calls for a whole duck to be roasted which can be a bit of a faff, fortunately the sauce works just as well with roasted duck breasts! Menu Three is ‘Simple Paella’, this is what Donna Hay calls her ‘cheat’s version of paella’, but despite taking next to no time to cook it is extremely tasty and will definitely impress both family and friends! It’s wonderful fresh flavours will put a tantalizing taste of warmer days on your plate (yes, I know, it’s only February!… ). Finally, Menu Four is ‘Casserole of Vegetables with Pears and Ceps’; the sweet flavour of the pears lift this simple casserole to higher realms – making it a really special vegetarian choice.
Guinea Fowl with Cabbage and Grapes (Serves 4)
This recipe is a French take on sweet and sour – the cabbage is cooked with sugar and vinegar whilst the guinea fowl is roasted with sweet grapes. Not only is it delicious but very easy to make, the cabbage is cooked on the stove whilst the guinea fowl roasts for about 40 minutes. You could of course make this recipe with chicken joints, but I do think that guinea fowl gives the dish a little more depth, as it has a slightly gamey flavour. Serve with boiled new potatoes.
2 guinea fowls, each jointed into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 large Savoy cabbage
2 tablespoons caster sugar
50ml white wine vinegar
350ml chicken stock
Small bunch of sweet, seedless grapes (I like ‘Sable black grapes’)
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and black pepper
- Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove and discard the core, then shred the leaves.
- Put half the oil and 30g of the butter in a large frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the chopped onion, stir for 5-8 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cabbage, half the sugar and all of the vinegar, stir and season. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, over a moderate heat. Reserve in the pan.
- Meanwhile, put the rest of the oil and 15g of the butter in a large frying pan, over a medium to high heat. Add half the guinea fowl pieces and fry for about 5 minutes until coloured, turn over, season and sprinkle with half the remaining sugar, continue to cook for 5 minutes. Remove and transfer to a roasting tin. Repeat with the remaining guinea fowl.
- Pour the stock into the frying pan. Turn up the heat, bring to the boil, stirring. Add the remaining butter, boil for another minute then pour over the guinea fowl and scatter over the grapes and thyme. Roast in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 35-40 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door and allow the guinea fowl to settle whilst you reheat the cabbage.
- Serve the joints of guinea fowl and their juices on a bed of cabbage with the grapes scattered over.
Roast Duck Breasts with Sour Cherry Sauce (Serves 4)
This is one of those recipes which shouts ‘impressive’ yet is incredibly easy to cook. The original recipe, from Delia Smith’s ‘Winter Cookbook’, calls for a whole duck to be roasted which can be a bit of a faff, fortunately the sauce works just as well with roasted duck breasts!… I like to serve the duck quite pink, but if you prefer them more well done cook for a little longer. This recipe is delicious with ‘Concetta’s potatoes’ and ‘Buttered Savoy Cabbage’ or ‘Stir Fried Swiss Chard’ (recipes here)
4 duck breasts
5 tablespoons of Morello cherry jam (with a high fruit content)
40g dried sour cherries
425ml red wine
Sea salt and black pepper
½ teaspoon cornflour (optional)
Watercress to garnish (optional)
- Measure the wine into a small saucepan and add the cherries to pre-soak, leave to one side.
- Score the skin of the duck breasts, through the fat but not all the way through to the flesh, and salt them.
- Place the breasts in a dry frying pan, skin side down, over a low heat to render down most of the fat, this may take as much as 10-15 minutes. When the fat is rendered, turn up the heat to crisp up and brown the skin (about 2 minutes). Finally, turn over to sear the underside for minute or so.
- Place the duck breasts on a baking tray. Pass 1 tablespoon of the jam through a sieve and brush it all over the skin of each duck breast as a glaze. Then place the duck breasts in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for 8-10 minutes (see note above). Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- Whilst the duck is resting, put the saucepan with the wine and sour cherries over a medium/high heat and let it bubble and reduce to about two-thirds of its original volume, then add the remaining 4 tablespoons of jam and season with salt and pepper. Whisk and allow to bubble and reduce for another 2 minutes (if you prefer a thicker sauce whisk in a little cornflour).
- To serve, slice the breasts and spoon some of the sauce over each portion. Garnish with watercress (if using).
Simple Paella (Serves 4)
This recipe is what Donna Hay, in her cookbook ‘Simple Dinners’, calls her ‘cheat’s version of paella’, despite taking next to no time to cook it is extremely tasty and will definitely impress both family and friends!…
1 red onion, sliced
½-1 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes (depending on your tastebuds)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 chorizo sausages, sliced
4 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, chopped into bitesize pieces
250g short-grain paella rice
1 litre chicken stock
12 raw king prawns, peeled
25g coriander, leaves picked
250g cherry tomatoes, quartered
Lemon wedges to serve
- Heat a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the onion, chilli, paprika and chorizo and cook for 3-5 minutes until golden.
- Add the chicken, cook, turning, for 3 minutes or until sealed.
- Add the rice and stir until coated with the oil. Add the stock, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the prawns and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the rice is tender.
- Divide between the plates and top with the tomatoes and coriander and serve with a lemon wedge.
Casserole of Vegetable with Pears and Ceps (Serves 4)
This casserole may lack meat but believe me it will please the most ardent meat-lover. The sweet flavour of the pears lift this simple casserole to higher realms – making it a really special vegetarian choice! The recipe is from Daniel Galmiche’s cookbook ‘French Countryside Cooking’.
80g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
200g carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
200g swede, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 firm pears, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
2 large shallots, cut into thick rings
40g dried ceps or porcini
2 thyme sprigs
200g celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
200g butternut squash cut into 2cm chunks
4 small new potatoes, scrubbed and each cut into three pieces
125ml Vegetable stock
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
- Place the ceps (or porcini) in a small bowl, add 150ml of warm water and leave to one side to soak.
- Heat 20g of the butter with the sunflower oil in a casserole dish over a medium-high heat. When the butter is foaming add the carrots. Turn down the heat, partially cover and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots just start to soften around the edges but do not colour. Add the swede, cover again and cook for a further 12-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 20g butter in a frying pan. When foaming add the shallots and pears and cook for 8-10 minutes until just tender and starting to caramelize.
- Using a slotted spoon remove the ceps (or porcini) from the soaking water, put on a paper towel and pat dry. Strain and reserve the soaking water.
- Add the ceps (or porcini) to the pan with the pears and shallots, then stir in the thyme and sauté for a further 3-4 minutes over a medium heat until the ceps have softened. Leave to one side.
- Add another 20g of butter to the casserole along with the celeriac and garlic. Partially cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened. Add the butternut squash and potatoes and cook for a further 8-10 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the remaining butter, stock and reserved soaking water. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the liquid has reduced enough to just coat the vegetables – do this quickly so that the vegetables don’t overcook.
- Remove the casserole from the heat and add the reserved pear mixture and chopped parsley, stir gently to combine and heat through. Serve straightaway.