Sugarbird's Sweet Nothings

I am passionate about food. And cooking. And baking. And running. Come and find a new recipe, a funny story, some strong opinions and whatever else I feel like throwing in the mix today.
Published on June 30th, 2010
by Clarabella

Come Dine with Me

I have the pleasure of working with a few great people who do appreciate fine food. In one of our fine food related discussions one day it came up that some time prior to me joining the company, a few of the guys and girls in the office had held their own version of Come Dine with Me. Being the foodie that I am my ears pricked up at this and I was very keen on the idea of repeating this event.

I had not originally intended to go first, it just happened somehow. I don’t know if it was fate or my colleagues conspiring against the Office Come Dine with me newbie, but despite the fact that someone else had a date booked in before me, that date was scrapped due to the unavailability of certain unnamed persons, and I ended up first in line for the chopping block.

I don;t have many pictures of the food to be honest. Partly because I did a lot of the preparation ahead and I have (still!) not gotten into the habit of taking photos as I go so by the time that it occured to me that this evenings creations would make for a good blog post, I’d annoyingly done most of it already. I do have a couple of food pictures however so I will share them in the spirit of proving that I did actually do this and I am not making it up. I did a 3 course meal for 4 people and was not remotely stressed at any point in the evening!

The starter I made was a Prawn and Salmon Pate with Homemade French Loaves. This was the Daring Cooks challenge for last month that I did not get done in time for that reveal, but I had really wanted to do it, and it was acually a lot easier than I thought! Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice. Even the french loaves which are the ones I attempted, although the took hours and hours and hours and hours in the making process, were not remotely difficult. The problem is, I did not take a photo. I have 3 witnesses who will vouch for the fact that I did make it, it did taste nice and they devoured the WHOLE LOT, but I am an idiot, and I did not photograph it. It was supposed to look like this (below) and it looked rather similar and it tasted amazing, as did the bread. But without photographic evidence nobody will really believe me I’m sure.

Then there was the main course – Blue Cheese and Butternut Risotto, which I did take a little lonely photo of. It was the only one of the three courses that I made on the night and it took a little time as Risotto generally does, but it was good. It was not my best attempt at this risotto but as I was entertaining at the same time and dashing in and out of the kitchen to stir, I hope that I can be forgiven. My guests certainly did not seem to mind.But after that much red wine, pretty much anything tastes good! My strategy worked, hahahahaha!

(Empty plates, good sign!)

Dessert was a Amaretti ‘semifreddo’ which I have never attempted before. I really wanted to make an ice cream but the lack of ice-cream machine and the laziness of not wanting to churn endlessly steered me away from that option. Then I discovered the concept of the semifreddo which I have to admit I had heard of, but I did not really know what it was. The beauty of it was that, again, I would make it in advance and it used LOTS of cream and amaretti biscuits and coffee and amaretto, which can only be a good combination. I decided to make the amaretti biscuits as one of my dinner guests is gluten-intolerant and as they were just biscuits they could also be made ahead, and how hard could it be? In my humble opinion dessert turned out gorgeous. So smooth and creamy and punctuated here and there with the bite of amaretto and soft coffee soaked amaretti biscuits. Yum! The only little blip in this plan was that the recipe I had made SO, SO much! I had assumed that it would fill a normal size loaf tin (to later be sliced in an ice cream loaf kind of way). But how wrong I was. I ended up filling my loaf tin, and another glass bowl and half an ice cream tub! But too much is better than too little, and if all else fails, I can feed it to the gannets, uh colleagues, at work.

All in all I would say that the evening was a success and lots was eaten and drank buy all and although we ended up very full and slightly tipsy, I’d do it again tomorrow. Roll on the next dinner and hopefully remembering to take photos! Bad Claire, Bad Claire!

Trout and Shrimp Pâté
Yields one 6×3 inch (15×7,5 cm) terrine or loaf pan

1 tbsp / 15 ml butter
1/4 lb / 4 oz / 120g medium raw shrimp, deveined, shelled and tailed (about 12 medium shrimp)
1/8 cup / 30ml Cognac (or Grand Marnier, or another strong liqueur of your choice) (optional)
1/2 lb / 8 oz / 240g trout filet, skinned and cut into thick chunks
1/4 lb / 4 oz / 110g raw shrimp, deveined, shelled and tailed (any size)
3/4 cup / 180ml heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
Chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

In a heavy, flameproof frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the 1/4 pound of medium shrimp, stirring often, until pink and cooked through. Remove the pan from heat. (NOTE: These shrimp will be used to form layers within your pâté. If you feel they are too thick – like the ones in the photograph, you might want to slice them in half lengthwise.)

Pour the Grand Marnier over the cooked shrimp. Light a match and carefully ignite the alcohol, to flambé the shrimp. Wait for the flames to go out on their own, carefully tilting the pan to ensure even flavoring. Set aside.

Put the trout and the remaining raw shrimp in a food processor and pulse. Gradually pour in the cream and keep pulsing until you obtain a smooth mixture that is easy to spread, but not too liquid (you may not need to use all the cream). Season with salt and green pepper.

Butter a 6×3 inch (15×7,5 cm) loaf pan or terrine, then line it with parchment paper. Spoon in half the trout mixture, and spread it evenly. Place the flambéed shrimp on top, in an even layer, reserving 3 or 4 shrimp for decorating. Top with the remaining trout mixture.

Prepare a water bath: place the loaf pan in a larger, deep ovenproof dish (such as a brownie pan or a baking dish). Bring some water to a simmer and carefully pour it in the larger dish. The water should reach approximately halfway up the loaf pan.

Put the water bath and terrine in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes. The pâté should be cooked through and firm in the center.

Remove the pan from the water bath and let cool. Carefully unmold onto a serving platter. Decorate with the reserved shrimp, and sprinkle with chopped chives. Cut into thick slices and serve at room temperature, with crusty bread.

French Baguette
yield: Three 16″ baguettes

1/2 cup / 120 ml cool water
1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup / 240 ml flour

1 tsp / 5 ml active dry yeast
1 cup to 1 1/4 cups / 240 ml to 300 ml lukewarm water*
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups / 840 ml flour
1 1/2 tsp / 7 ml salt

*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.

Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water, then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly.

Mix active dry yeast with the water and then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you’ve made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer.

Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15″ log. Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.

Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they’ve become very puffy, about 1 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450ºF (240ºC).

Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8″ vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Bake the baguettes until they’re a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

Butternut squash and creamy blue cheese risotto recipe

Risotto is such a thick, comforting and easy Italian dish. The creamy blue cheese adds a lovely dimension of flavour to the subtle layers of herbs and white wine in this satisfying rice and squash dish.

Serves 4
Ready in 1 hour

500g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small pieces
15-20 fresh sage leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
150ml dry, fruity white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
350g arborio rice
1-1.5l good quality vegetable stock (I use Knorr stock pots if I don’t have any homemade stock in the freezer)

125g pack Blue cheese (I prefer Dolce Latte as its so beautifully creamy)

1. Put the squash into a large baking dish. Add 15 sage leaves torn up, 2tbsp of olive oil and salt & pepper. Roast for 40 minutes or until soft and slightly browned. When done, remove from the pan with any juices and crush slightly with a fork.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the 1 tbsp of butter in a heavy-based pan and fry the the onion for about 10 minutes, until very soft but not coloured.

3. Add the rice to the pan and stir well. Increase the heat and stir for 30 seconds, add the wine and stir until it evaporates – about 2 minutes.

4. Start adding the liquid stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring until it has been absorbed before you add another ladleful of stock. After about 20 minutes, all the stock will have been absorbed and the rice will be creamy but still have a little bite. Pour in the squash and stir until hot. Crumble over two-thirds of the cheese and fold into the rice. Ladle into bowls, crumble over the remaining cheese and serve.

Amaretti & Coffee Semifreddo
Serves 12

This recipe left me a little perplexed, I have to admit. It says that it serves 12, and the mixture should fit into a loaf tin, but I somehow ended up with double the mixture to fill my loaf tin. The dessert turned out lovely but the quantitiy did perplex me. You might try halving the eggs milk sugar and cream to make a bit less. 
12 Amaretti biscuits, roughly crumbled
1/3 cup strong black coffee
2 tbsp Amaretto di Saronno
6 egg yolks
Few drops of pure vanilla
3/4 cup milk
250g castor sugar
3 3/4 cups cream, softly whipped
Sweet almond oil

Soak biscuits in coffee and liqueur while you prepare custard. Use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks and vanilla until very thick and lemon coloured. Heat milk and sugar to simmering point in a saucepan and stir until sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 2 minutes, then pour onto beaten egg yolks with the mixer motor running and continue to beat until cold. Fold in cream lightly but thoroughly. Swirl in soaked biscuits with any remaining liqueur – do not blend completely, as the lumps of biscuits and veins of liqueur are part of the charm.

Brush a 1.5-litre log mould with almond oil and line it with a doubled strap of foil. Pour mixture into mould and freeze. Cut into thick slices to serve.