Food: Executive Relief, October 2001

Easy posh dinners for people who value their time. This menu from Patrice Mcintyre.

Virginia Hume

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If you love good food and entertaining, but have better things to do than pore over recipe books, make lists, and then spend half a day in the kitchen with cooker, children, and smoke alarm competing for your attention, then you might be in need of Executive Relief.

Executive Relief will feature dinner party menus, with simple recipes designed to take minimal time and effort – while reaching the standard you would expect from a good restaurant.

You are invited to share your own dinner menus with spiked readers. The best, as judged by my dinner guests, will get a bottle of champagne. To take part, see the rules at the end.

This month’s menu comes from France and was sent in by Patrice Mcintyre. She says this is not a menu to cook for friends who are concerned about calorie or cholesterol levels: ‘Cuisine Minceur it is not.’

Pate de Foie gras and Melba toast

Confit de Canard and sauté Potatoes

Tarte au Pommes with Crème fraiche

Pate de Foie Gras with Melba Toast, serves 4

‘This starter is effortless on the day. The melba toast is easy, it can be made several weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container.’

110g pate de foie gras

4 slices white bread, medium thickness

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Toast the bread on both sides and cut off the crusts.
Cut each slice in two horizontally (so each slice becomes two thin, bread-sized slices). You’ll need a very sharp knife for this.

Cut each slice diagonally.

Put them, toasted side down on a baking sheet, in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The edges will curl up.

Cool on a wire rack and store until you need them.

Divide the foie gras between the four plates and serve the melba toast on the side. Nothing else is required.

Wine suggestion – White Bordeaux or Hungarian Tokaji Aszu (this wine can also be drunk with dessert so is probably the better choice).

Confit de Canard, serves 4

2 ducks, preferably Barbary

Get the butcher to cut off the legs with the thighs attached. Then get him to cut off and chop up small all the remaining fat from the ducks. Get him to weigh the chopped fat.

Duck or goose fat

You will need to buy more duck or goose fat to get a total weight of about 1.5kg of fat. If you find you are still short when it comes to cooking it is perfectly acceptable to add some lard. (The amount of fat that you need depends in part on the dish you will use to hold the legs, so it is difficult to give an exact amount.)

course salt

1 tbspn juniper berries, crushed

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

6 cloves garlic, crushed

fresh ground black pepper

Coat the legs liberally with the salt. Place them in a glass dish along with all the ingredients except the fat. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for a day or two – but at least for 24 hours.

Meanwhile put the fat in a heavy-bottomed pan and melt it. The fresh pieces of duck fat will need to get very hot to melt down properly. Keep a close eye on the pan. When most of the fat is liquid (there will be some small solids remaining), strain it through a fine sieve, pressing it with the back of a ladle to extract as much as you can. Then put it back in the large pan and refrigerate.

A few days later, melt the fat again in the pan, strain it again if necessary. Take the legs out of the fridge and brush off the salt. Rinse them in clear water and pat dry with kitchen towel. Put the legs plus the juniper, rosemary, bay, thyme and garlic into the pot along with the fat. The fat should completely cover the legs. Bring to a gentle simmer. Do not allow it to boil. The fat should be at about 70 C. Cook it like this, uncovered, for two to three hours – when it is cooked the meat should pull very easily from the bone.

Take the legs out of the fat and put them into a container. This is traditionally an earthenware crock, but this is not essential – any pottery or glass dish is fine. What is important is that the legs should fit snugly without being squashed.

Pour the fat over the legs, cover the crock and leave in the fridge for at least a week, preferably two.

On the day of your dinner, while you eat the starter, put the legs in a large lidded frying pan. Heat over a medium flame for about 20 minutes, turning once. If you want to crisp them up you can put them under the grill for a minute or two before serving.

Saute potatoes

2 large potatoes, floury variety

about 4 tbspns. duck fat from the confit

about 1 tbspn finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Peel and slice two large potatoes. Dice them into evenly sized pieces and dry them in a tea towel.

Heat the duck fat in a large frying pan until it is very hot, add the chopped potato, and turn the heat down fairly low. Fry for about 5 to 10 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown and cooked through. If using parsley add this just a minute before the potatoes are fully cooked.

You may like to serve a plain green or tomato salad on the side, or even before the main course.

Wine suggestion – Madiran or Costieres de Nimes.

Tarte au pommes with crème fraiche, serves 4

‘This is very simple to make. The most difficult bit is finding the right dish to cook it in. You will need a small (about 7-inch diameter) metal dish that can be used inside the oven as well as over direct heat. As this is for busy people I suggest you use frozen pastry. It is actually very good and can be defrosted and rolled out within a few minutes.’

70 g butter

85 g sugar

Apples. 3- 4 small eating apples. Cox’s orange pippins (‘Cox’s’) are the best available for this recipe in Britain

Shortcrust pastry.

Preheat oven to 200C.

Defrost and roll out the pastry to about 1/8 inch, no thicker. Turn the pan over on it and cut around the pan, leaving an extra three-quarter inch around the edge. Leave the cut pastry aside to rest until later.

Peel, core and halve the apples. Add a little lemon juice to them to stop them discolouring while you prepare the rest.

Put the butter and sugar in the pan over a medium flame. Stir well and heat until the mixture is bubbling.

Add them to the pan with the cut side up. Add enough apple halves to fit in the pan, without being too snug. Cook the apples in the pan for about 10 minutes. Watch them carefully, they should go a nice mid-brown colour on their underneath, but must not be allowed to burn.

Take the pan off the heat. You can prepare the tart up to this stage hours before your guests arrive.

When you have finished the main course you should then put the pastry on top of the apple mixture, make a few slits in it to let the hot air out, tuck the pastry in around the edges and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Remove it from the oven and wait a minute or two before turning it over onto a plate.

Divide between four dishes or plates and serve while still very warm, with a large dollop of creme fraiche on each. The crème fraiche should be very cold.

Suggested wine – Hungarian Tokaji Aszu

Shopping list

110 g pate de foie gras

4 slices white bread, medium thickness

2 Barbary ducks. Butcher to take off legs with thighs attached, and chop up remaining fat; ask the weight of the remaining fat.

duck or goose fat to make total up to about 1.5 kg

course salt

1 tbspn juniper berries, crushed

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh thyme

6 cloves garlic, crushed

fresh ground black pepper

2 large potatoes, floury variety

fresh parsley, finely chopped

70 g butter

85 g sugar

3-4 Cox’s apples.

frozen shortcrust pastry.

White Bordeaux or Hungarian Tokaji Aszu

Madiran or Costieres de Nimes

Hungarian Tokaji Aszu

Executive Relief: The rules

You are invited to share your dinner menus with spiked readers. The recipes do not have to be original – they just have to be good. Simply follow the rules below, and send your recipes to: virginia@vhume.demon.co.uk.

1) There should be at least three courses, only one of which needs to be cooked on the day of the dinner.

2) It should not be too fiddly or difficult – nothing that requires balloons, spun sugar or blowtorches.

3) You should suggest a wine for each course.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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