Indulgent dinner for two
Chocolate orange mousse. photographs: dara mac donaill
Scallops and cauliflower cream. photographs: dara mac donaill
Avoid the scramble for a restaurant table next week; cook scallops and chocolate mousse at home instead
The annual homage to stuffed teddy bears and overpriced roses is still vaguely amusing, to even the most diehard of cynics. But no matter how cheesy you find the day in question, I have now come to the conclusion that it is a great excuse to cook something delicious. So ignore the musical cards babbling about endless love and undying affection, and forget about the cheap, heart-shaped chocolates. Instead, cook something superb with someone you care about.
I am a bit of a cauliflower addict and the strong flavour of this mighty cruciferous floret goes beautifully with scallops. The sautéed chestnut and bacon mound that supports the sweet and bitter flavours in the recipe on these pages is delicious, and very moreish. When all these flavours are combined, you are going to feel like a Michelin star chef on day-release. And don’t be daunted: this may look fancy, but it’s very do-able. As Mr Obama says when he’s in the kitchen: “Yes, you can!”
The chocolate mousse, on the other hand, is not particularly fancy, but it is gooey, rich, and has a very nice texture. It can also be bunged in the fridge and does not require much fanfare.
You could decorate it by crumbling some yellowman (honeycomb) on top. Alternatively, get some hazelnuts, sprinkle them with sugar and toast in the oven on parchment paper at 150 degrees/gas 2, until slightly caramelised. Roughly chop them and sprinkle the chocolate mousse with shards of nutty sugar.
The orange rind makes this mousse taste like a creamy bowl of Terry’s chocolate orange, which for some reason always cheers me up. Maybe it’s the association with Dawn French doing those ads on telly, but either way, there is something nostalgically pleasant about chocolate and orange. Not sophisticated, but very tasty.
SCALLOPS WITH CHESTNUTS, BACON AND CAULIFLOWER CREAM
1 small head cauliflower
Good knob butter
Few splashes olive oil
Salt and pepper
Small onion, peeled and very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
150g ceps, or any fancy mushroom mix
150ml white wine
12 cooked, peeled chestnuts
Few sprigs thyme
8 scallops, roe removed
Start by making the cauliflower cream. Break the cauliflower up into small florets, put these in a roasting tray, cover with foil and dot with butter and a few splashes of water. Roast – covered – at about 160 degrees/gas 3 for about 30 minutes, or until tender. You could boil them, but the flavour is much nicer when they are roasted gently, and they won’t be as waterlogged.
Process the florets in a blender with some olive oil and any juices left in the roasting tin. You may have to add a few tablespoons of water to get it to process, maybe even another knob of butter. You could add some cream if you wanted, but I don’t like the flavour to be diluted by fat. Season with salt and set aside.
You can do this the night before. To reheat, simply add a small amount of water to loosen the purée; it will evaporate as it warms up. It should be thick enough to hold its shape on the plate.
Next, make the mushroom and bacon mixture. Cook the lardons in a splash of olive oil until they are very crispy and caramelised. You can help this along by adding a pinch of brown sugar. Then transfer them to a bowl and set aside.
Using the same frying pan, heat 20 grams of butter and sweat the onion and garlic. Very finely dice the mushrooms and add to the soft onions. Add the wine, turn the heat up and reduce. Put in the chestnuts (which you can roughly chop or crumble) and put the bacon back in, along with the thyme. Cook slowly and add a little water or more wine, or even some stock. Cook it for about 30 minutes, until you have a delicious sort of mushroom compote. Season, if necessary, and set aside. Again, you can do this in advance and then just reheat.
To cook the scallops, heat up the remaining butter until it is foaming. Place the scallops on the hot pan, season lightly and let the heat and butter solids caramelise the outside of them. Turn them over and briefly cook on the other side. This should only take a couple of minutes on each side.
Ideally the mushroom mixture and cauliflower cream should be nice and hot. Plate up by making a nice bed of mushroom mix, spoon a few arty blobs of the cauliflower cream onto each plate. Place the seared scallops on each plate and serve.
CHOCOLATE, ORANGE AND MAPLE MOUSSE
200g dark chocolate
zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp maple syrup
Break the chocolate into small pieces and put in a bowl over simmering water. Add the butter and slowly melt, stirring occasionally. Add the orange zest once it’s fairly well melted.
Meanwhile, separate the eggs and whisk the whites until soft peak stage. Whip the cream lightly. Add the egg yolks and maple syrup to the melted chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy. Fold in the whipped cream and then the egg whites. Spoon or pour into glasses or jars and chill until ready to serve. This can be done the day before.
Garnish with bits of orange zest, grated chocolate and a dollop of cream, if you wish.
Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp and Paul Kavanagh
DOMINI RECOMMENDS:Peeled and roasted chestnuts are a healthy and tasty snack. I bought mine - vacuum-packed by International Favourites - in Roy Fox’s in Donnybrook in Dublin 4. Finding peeled and roasted ones will make the scallop recipe here a real cinch to make.