I had the most fantastic menu planned for Valentine’s Day. Despite finding the whole holiday a bit icky, we were going to do it properly and dine on rare roast beef with a maple juniper rosemary glaze, creamy mashed potatoes with leeks and a rich red wine and chocolate jus.
It was a disaster. Sure, the beef was nice but the juniper in the glaze was distracting and intrusive, the mashed potato wasn’t seasoned correctly and the jus, which sounded so good on paper, was completely disgusting. The chocolate was supposed to give a deep backnote to a wine and stock based sauce, and instead it completely took over, rendering every bit of precious potato it touched grossly inedible. I could have kicked myself, because the whole thing was my own fault.
Firstly, I followed a recipe I had no reason to trust. Do not trust an unknown blogger with an important meal unless there is a slew of positive comments to prove that a dish works. Dammit, I know that. The internet is full of people who think they are terribly informed because they once read an article on the NY Times website and therefore spout off about how your interpretation of Star Wars/the Bible/politics in the Middle East is ignorant and mistaken. Food bloggers are no different. Taste might be very personal, but writing a clear, concise and reliable recipe is a very difficult thing to do. Secondly I ignored my own gut feeling in favour of the recipe. I read the recipe and thought, “that sounds like a lot of chocolate”. Then I got the chocolate out and thought, “this is a lot of chocolate, this can’t possibly balance out”. Then I dumped it in anyway. Stupid. Lastly, I didn’t taste things as I went. The cardinal sin of a cook. If I had added the chocolate slowly, tasting carefully with each addition, the sauce might have been saved. My chocolate might have been very different in flavour or had higher or lower cocoa solids to the one the anonymous blogger used, my wine might have been much lighter or my stock could have been more or less salty than hers. These things could have still gone awry even with a very good recipe. Which this wasn’t.
The two gin martinis and the half bottle of pinot noir I had softened the blow somewhat. As did the île flottante I made for dessert. A perfect icy cold rum-spiked crème anglaise topped with a soft baked meringue, fresh blueberries and a drizzle of dark caramel. This is the kind of classic French dessert I love to order in restaurants but had always shied away from making at home, thinking it would be too complicated, too time consuming or just too difficult. Luckily, considering those martinis, it was very simple and tasted phenomenal. The crème anglaise was smooth and rich, heavily spiked with vanilla and rum we brought home from our honeymoon, while the meringue was as soft and light as cappucino foam and still slightly warm from the oven. The contrasting bright flavour of the berries and the dark, almost crunchy caramel finished it all off brilliantly. Naturally, by the time I got this to the table we were both drunk and starving so there are no pictures of my triumph. I’m a bad blogger.
Of course, like any good Valentine’s Day, the best part of the evening was just spending it together. Pottering about the kitchen with a cocktail in my hand, listening to the radio and actually talking to each other has always been my favourite way to spend an evening off, manufactured holiday or not. And then we watched Cronos, because why not? Vampires are romantic, everyone says so.
Crème Anglaise from David Lebowitz, my favourite American in Paris (I spiked my crème with rum rather than orange zest, because that’s how I roll)
Baked meringue and caramel sauce from Ina Garten (David’s crème anglaise recipe is more detailed and reliable, but this’ll see you through the meringue with no trouble)