Romantic / English Dinner Ideas?
February 14, 2014 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Seeking ideas for plannning a multi-course, romantic, home-cooked meal for two that is also thoroughly, completely English. The more traditional the better. Looking for dishes in season, no seafood, ideally with a focus on lamb as a centerpiece and easy on the potato/bread. Other then that, assume a high level of cooking skill, endless time for fiddly bits, and acess to pretty much anything and a well stocked UK grocery importer store nearby.

I don't have much experience with English cooking outside making Yorkshire puddings and mushy peas -- but I'm killing it at French right now so I figure it can't be much different.
posted by The Whelk to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a British seasonality table, which shows that for meat (for example), you're currently looking at lamb, pork, and venison. The Great British Kitchen site also has some specifically seasonal suggestions.
posted by scody at 1:15 PM on February 14, 2014

Roast lamb with mint sauce would be really traditional.
We're pretty good on desserts although they're heavy. I particularly love Treacle Pudding. (if you don't want to steam it there are microwave versions). If you want to add an element of comedy then Spotted Dick is a really good dessert as well as having a hilarious name. Please make the custard from scratch.
posted by Joh at 1:16 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Assuming you're looking for English winter cuisine, on account of it being cold in the north east US, and pretty horrendous here in England)

Lancashire hotpot is an excellent lamb based main course, and the crispy potatoes on the top needn't be too prominent. Vegetable-wise, it would be great served with any green leafy veg or brassica. I'd go for savoy cabbage with butter and if it's luxury, lardons, pancetta, bacon chunks stirred in. If not bacon, then maybe little bits of chestnut.

For a desert, a rhubarb crumble sounds like a great idea. Serve it with a custard, possibly with a little booze in for extra flavour, and you can season up the rhubarb with raisins or sultanas or ginger. And for a first course for that, I'm thinking soups. I'm not a great soup person, but leek and potato's a good one.

That'd be my menu. Sherry beforehand, and a claret (red Bordeaux) is a normal wine to go with it.
posted by ambrosen at 1:17 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Traditional English food can be really tasty, but I think it lends itself much more to "thoroughly lining the stomach before going out in bad weather" than "multi-course romantic dinner". This though may be because it's snowing right now and all I can think of is that I would really love some Jam Roly-Poly or Treacle Sponge. However, if you want a dessert that doesn't change your centre of gravity, Treacle Tart may be a better bet.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:17 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

For stone-cold traditional, you could do a lot worse than Mrs. Beeton.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:18 PM on February 14, 2014

Mushrooms on Toast (use just mushrooms or substitute a grilled eggplant slice for bread)

Roasted Heritage Carrot Soup

Roast Leg of Lamb with Root Vegetables. (Substitute the potatoes for yams, or more carrot and parsnip.) Serve with fresh shelled English Peas. I can get them at the green grocer, or you can get them at Trader Joes.

Radicchio Salad

And for pudding: Trifle, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Spotted Dick or if you're really adventurous, Battenberg Cake.

Sounds like a total hoot! Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lamb shanks sounds more like a romantic dinner than most other English things I can think of. They go with mash and a ton of gravy.

Individual trifles might also fit the bill; they can be gussied up as much as you like. Either something with clementines or a kind of dried fruit version if you want to be seasonal. Or rhubarb?

Spotted dick is splendid but romantic it is not.
posted by emilyw at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2014

How about beef Wellington?
posted by meese at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2014

Well thanks to ambrosen now I want rhubarb crumble, so I'm going to change my answer to that! I would share a recipe except that I've never used one, and always cook it by eye - but the trick to a really tasty one isn't raisins or ginger, but some splodges of good raspberry jam in with the rhubarb.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:22 PM on February 14, 2014

I'm killing it at French right now so I figure it can't be much different.

....this is a joke, right?....(Sorry. But seriously - French and English cooking are both comparable in terms of skill, but very different in style.)

Disclaimer: my experience with cooking from the British Isles leans more to the Irish than the English, but there's some crossover to be certain. Roast lamb with mint sauce is one option, but it may be a lot for just two people; Great British Kitchen suggests salmon as something being in season in February, and that may be a nice lighter meal - or at least one more suited to "multicourse" and "romantic". (Many English meals can be very solid and bracing, shall we say.)

The roasted root vegetables and peas as sides sound lovely, along with the radicchio salad. And as for dessert - how about syllabub? That's very English, but is more light.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:23 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Similar dessert options (and this is dipping into the Irish cooking knowledge, now) would be some kind of fool. People are mentioning rhubarb, and rhubarb fool is an excellent choice; stew the rhubarb, and either fold the stewed rhubarb into whipped cream, or do it parfait style (stabilize the whipped cream with a bit of yogurt first, then layer it in a parfait glass alternately with the stewed rhubarb).

You can even sprinkle layers of ground toasted nuts in between the rhubarb and whipped cream layers as well if you do it that way. Or even a handful of toasted and then ground-up rolled oats; that'll take you into it being cranachan, which is traditionally Scottish but is served often enough south of Hadrian's wall, I believe, that you can get by.

Or go with whatever kind of soft fruit in place of the rhubarb. If you choose a berry, then you don't even need to stew it, just mush it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on February 14, 2014

Oooh, trifle. Fruit and custard, as simple or as elaborate as you like. Can't go wrong there. For Burns Night a couple weeks ago, though, I made cranachan which is somewhat similar but involves toasted oats, whiskey, and honey, and it was lovely. I used marscapone instead of the traditional crowdie because unlike you I don't have a UK grocery importer store nearby (*envy*), but it was heavenly all the same.

I don't know how you feel about Nigella Lawson, but a lot of her recipes are updates or modern variations on traditional English dishes, and in my opinion they work quite well and go some way toward preventing the food from becoming...well...too stodgy. But you might be more of a purist than I am...
posted by tully_monster at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2014

hah, great minds think alike on the matter of cranachan!
posted by tully_monster at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2014

I've always fancied having a go at Rabbit Isabel, a Clarissa Dickson Wright recipe. Regardless of your eventual menu, I'd recommend a Two Fat Ladies marathon for the background while you cook, it is the most English thing ever.
posted by Diablevert at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2014

For truely traditional, you could try the Foods Of England blog, which is an amazing resource for traditional and 'lost' dishes. May require some skill as many older recipes are more descriptions than sets of instructions, but, for e.g. the Norfolk lamb parcel looks like a fairly straightforward variant on a classic stuffed-rolled roast dish. I'm a big fan of Queen of Puddings (Tricky) and poor Knights of Windsor (Fairly simple but has bread in) both of which can actually look quite delicate if you keep the portions small and decorate with icing sugar and mint leaves etc. and for a starter? London Particular, of course!
As for seasonal: have a look at what's coming in my veg box, it's a bit bleak at the moment, some support from EU sources but basically: potatoes, carrots, greens of all kinds, celeriac, mushrooms, onions, beetroot, leeks, cabbage, cauli, parsnips....
posted by AFII at 2:04 PM on February 14, 2014

Broccoli and Stilton Soup is delicious and rib-sticking.

That Lancashire hotpot mentioned above is also good with turnips instead of potatoes.

This Barley and Lamb Stew is good, if perhaps too simple for your purpose, but you can roast the lamb and prepare the barley separately, preferably with lemon, for more elegant plating. Plus pan juices!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2014

Response by poster: Upon reading some of the linked sites, I am willing to allow smoked salmon into the recipes but I only know the typical NYC/Jewish way of preparing it.
posted by The Whelk at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2014

English Peas?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2014

Beef Wellington is pretty English, you could adapt it to lamb. Cavolo nero (black kale) is in season and goes great with garlic & a mustard parsnip mash.

Smoked salmon is a great starter. And having only recently discovered it myself, I would do a winter berry Eton Mess for pudding, bonus points for making your own meringue!
posted by symphonicknot at 3:32 PM on February 14, 2014

1 - lox and other NYC smoked salmon variants are brined before cold smoking. Scottish smoked salmon is salted dry before smoking. This leaves the flesh with a lighter, clingier texture and very different mouth feel. Serve with lemon wedges and small amounts of buttered whole meal bread or oatcakes.

2 - be careful of historical English cookbooks, particularly in the US. These are often based on someone's mums recipes from the dark years of the 50s and 60s, with some recipes that should be avoided at all costs. Sago pudding, for example, or tapioca. These have their place, sure - if it's between the sago or your last sled dog, say - but not otherwise.

3 - if you want something nice that you could find on a dining table over here today then you should either look for a stew/casserole, or more likely a roasted or grilled (ie under a broiler, not over coals outside) cut. Family meals would be a leg, half leg or shoulder, roasted whole (and to be honest, usually too well done), and served with mint sauce (finely chopped fresh mint, plus a little brown sugar and vinegar to loosen), new season potatoes and peas or spring cabbage (steamed). For two, though, a rack of lamb, Frenched so the fine bits of meat up the ribs don't burn while the fillet cooks, roasted hot and rare, and served with the same accompaniments plus a jus is as good a spring main course as there is. It's pretty light and naturally a small portion, so you can fit in a proper pudding. A small portion of rice pudding (if you can find short grained pudding rice), served with a little splodge of really good strawberry jam and made with 4% milk, is a very nice follow-on.
posted by cromagnon at 3:59 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm no expert on British cuisine, but wouldn't Yorkshire pudding be a candidate alongside roast beef or lamb?
posted by LonnieK at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2014

When it comes to custard, if you have the time, make a home made custard (delicious), but also whip up a batch of Birds eyes, which will likely tickle a few ex-pat nostalgia centres that actual decent custard will fail to hit.

Also, as an ex-pat Yorkshire person I would find a gourmet presentation of some archetypally northern snacks like some Seabrooks crisps and a Yorkie to be both poignant, touching, and secretly delicious, but ymmv depending on the recipient.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:18 PM on February 14, 2014

Response by poster: Said person I'm cooking for is so Yorkshire that he says he's all shattered after a long day so yes, it would fit.
posted by The Whelk at 5:23 PM on February 14, 2014

As others have said, the essence of British home cooking is comfort, not finesse. And comfort usually means a roast or a casserole, and not really multi-course: more "veg on the side" and room for a sweet.

Said person I'm cooking for is so Yorkshire

Is he curd-tart Yorkshire? That's a sub-regional and somewhat generational thing, but if it fits, it's like intravenous nostalgia.
posted by holgate at 6:56 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well the way too my heart is to end with a cheese board. You'll need to include Wensleydale, stilton, a good mature cheddar, brie and a wildcard. A selection of crackers, and a small bunch of grapes. If you have the time a good homemade chutney is awesome. Served after the pudding. With port, if you're really getting into it.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:13 AM on February 15, 2014

I don't know if Shepherd's Pie is considered romantic, but I've been in love with it for eons and once had it for lunch and dinner in different pubs in Yorkshire on teh same day.
posted by infini at 9:15 AM on February 15, 2014

Syllabub is a classic English dessert, and lets itself to much sensuous eating. My stepmum made hers with gooseberries, but that's a summer thing. Check that seasonality table above for fruit.

Eton Mess could be a romantic dessert too--meringue, whipped cream, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2014

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