Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – The Highlights

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – The Highlights
Considering I decided it was a wise idea to make 11 side dishes alongside our christmas Turkey this year, as well as a three course meal on Christmas Eve, I suspect even my most dedicated readers would get a little bored reading all of the recipes so here are some of my Christmas season highlights.

I’ve always wished that I had a brother. Mostly cooking for 3 small women, 2 old people and my dad (who valiantly attempted to eat with the same gusto as a teenage boy, but was eventually overwhelmed) is a bit disappointing when you’ve cooked for the 3 thousand and have over 3 quarters left over, no matter how much they enjoyed the meal. Ot doesn’t help that my Grandma has a fear of whole nuts, peas and alcohol in her food, and my Grandpa and Dad refuse to eat onions, celery, cabbage, spicy food and Brussel sprouts and my Aunt, Dad and Grandpa tend to just fill up on Cheese Footballs (I think it runs on the family, it’s an addiction that only comes round once a year….. (this wasn’t helped on christmas eve that we had drinks while watching Carols from Kings pre dinner, amazing as always, but as it is already an hour and we had the addition of my father pausing the TV to try and spot him and I in the congregation, we managed to get through a lot of cheese footballs)

Only available at Christmas


 I of course took the stance this year that I was going to completely ignore all of this and just make what I wanted to anyway. It went down surprisingly well, although my Moroccan christmas eve meal was viewed with a little suspicion (my grandma enquired as to what ‘quas-quas’ was) and the leeks were left mostly untouched by the male members of the dinner table ( are these onions? was asked), but a good effort was made all round, despite the spice in the Harissa glaze for the mackerel and the whole pistachio nuts in the baklava. The biggest success of the night was the light and delicious lemon and rosewater mousse

500g greek yoghurt
2 egg whites
75g sugar
1-2 lemons zested
3tbsp lemon juice
2tsp rosewater

Whisk the egg whites and sugar over a pan of boiling water until the sugar is dissolved.
Take off the heat and whisk until you get soft peaks.
In a separate bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice and rosewater.
Fold the mixtures into each other and then place in the fridge for 1-2 hours

TIP This also works as a cheesecake topping, with orange juice or as a side dish for xmas pudding

Christmas day begins with Champagne, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (see the Ultimate brunch for my recipe). Possibly the only day of the year that you’re allowed to drink before 9am in the morning, but only if it sparkles. Luckily my dad is well supplied with champagne and red wine by pupils from the school giving christmas presents and supplemented by buying cases from the Cellars of his affiliated college so we were unlikely to run out. He even managed to get a special 2003 burgundy which was incredibly smooth when we drunk it for christmas lunch (I am still learning about wine but apparently this was a good harvest and so hence a good vintage).

However my christmas day begins with the turkey. I am assiduous about prepping everything in advance and the kitchen is full of assorted zip lock bags filled with chopped vegetables, seasoned, which luckily means that all I have to do is place the turkey in the oven and set a timer at breakfast time. This year we got a wonderful turkey from http://www.sandylanefarm.net – possibly the most juicy turkey we’ve every had (shameless plug here but this and the veg – once scrubbed – was absolutely delicious).

                        THIS                                 TO                       THIS


When we all got back from blaring out christmas carols at the top of our lungs at church, I was relegated to the kitchen to put everything (as I said fully prepped) in the oven while everyone else went off to open stockings (this still goes on despite the fact that at 21, I am the youngest ) and drink champagne and eat more cheese footballs. As I said before 11 side dishes are probably a bit much but the highlights from this year were probably…

No-Sausagemeat but still meaty Stuffing
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2744665/chestnut-stuffing-roll

Impulse created Truffle and Thyme Potatoes
1kg Potatoes
2 tbsp truffle oil
3 tbsp olive oil
good sprig of thyme
1-2tbsp flour
salt
peppercorns
bay leaf

Par Boil (boil until just piercable) in water with salt, peppercorns and a bay leaf – this can be done the day before – . Dust in flour. Heat the oils in a large roasting tin for about 10mins. Toss the potatoes in and cook in the oven at 200OC for 30-40mins until golden

Dijon Braised Brussel Sprouts (somehow even my grandpa ate these – good for unwilling sprout consumers)
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/11/dijon-braised-brussels-sprouts/

Brandy and Clementine Custard (we didn’t tell my grandma about the brandy – yet this was possibly her favourite bit of the meal…. oops)

4 egg yolks
900ml milk
100ml cream
vanilla extract
100g golden caster sugar
2 dried bay leafs
1 clementine
a good slug of fresh brandy (not the stuff left in your cupboard from last christmas…)

Heat the cream and milk in a pan until almost boiling. Add a good swig of vanilla extract, the bay leaves and the clementine, squashed. Leave for at least an hour. Heat again until boiling and set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until frothy. Make sure the milk is lukewarm, removing the clementine and bay leaves and pour over the egg yolk mix whisking steadily. Pour back into the pan and place over a low heat whisking slowly. Heat until the mixture has thickened to coat the back of a spoon and take of the heat bearing in mind you should keep whisking until the mixture has cooled slightly as the bottom of the pan will still be hot. Add the brandy and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold

Gin and Juniper Cured Salmon served with creme fraiche and pickled cucumber
Inspired by my sister who discovered this combination while working for the events company Rocket to finance her new extravagant lifestyle in London – she tried one canapé and requested I make ‘as much of this as i could’ – once you’ve tried this you will never go back to smoked salmon – it is so much better! – also dedicated to my aunt who was badgering me for the recipe all through her stay with us

Skinned and boned 1kg Salmon Fillet
3-4tbsp gin (don’t use the good stuff – save that for the Gin and Tonic’s)
1tbsp juniper berries
300g salt (basics will do)
200g sugar
1tbsp peppercorns
1tbsp lemon zest

1 cucumber
150g caster sugar
200ml white wine vinegar
1tsp juniper berries
1tsp peppercorns

Low fat creme fraiche
chopped dill

2-3days before –
Mix the sugar, salt, juniper berries, peppercorns, lemon zest in a bowl. Pour the gin over the salmon fillet, turning to coat both sides. Lay on a cling film covered tray and pat the sugar/salt mix onto the top. Tightly wrap in cling film and place in the fridge with a heavy weight/roast potatoes/ turkey etc on top (you’re looking to weigh it down)
Leave for 2-3days pouring off the liquid every day, until the salmon feels more firm and has turned a deeper shade of orange. Wash and re-wrap, leave till needed.
The night before, use a peeler or mandolin to create strips of cucumber ignoring the seeds as much as possible. Boil the caster sugar, vinegar, berries and peppercorns in a pan until boiling. Pour over the cucumber, cling film the bowl and leave in the fridge
To serve Thinly slice the salmon with a sharp knife. Strain the cucumber and place a little in the centre of the plate. Top with 3 salmon slices and then a quenelle of creme fraiche (use two spoons to shape into a peaked oval, passing it between the two and then softly push off the spoon onto the plate) Sprinkle with chopped dill and serve


                                
TRY THIS RECIPE IT IS AMAZING AND EASY AND CHEAPER THAN BUYING SMOKED SALMON

Things I learnt this Christmas
1. Always wish while stirring the Christmas pudding and force all members of your family to do it too – I find snapchat is effective to include members of the family who might still be in London when you make the pudding, I’m superstitious and while your wish may not come true, nothing will go right in the kitchen over christmas if you don’t


                                                                                                 Mum stirring the Xmas Pudding

   I made a bit too much….

2. On the christmas pudding front, I tend to not use suet or really any fat, but up the fruit, nut and booze content for the perfect xmas pudding, often it’s better if you have last years this year etc….
3. Always use fresh brandy (thank you Giles Coren 12 drinks of Christmas), normally it won’t light, this year we almost couldn’t get the pudding to stop burning
4. Make everything on christmas day, champagne won’t help your knife work…
5. If your sister brings you port to use in the madeira gravy because she can’t open the madeira it still works just as well if not better
6. On that note leave all alcohol out of the names of dishes no matter how high the booze content, I find it makes for happier grandparents (so this year that was the cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, salmon, gravy, christmas pudding, custard, mince pies and brandy butter……)

                Mince Pies (Thank you Nigella)
7. Mothers make exceedingly good vegetable scrubbers (aided by Kings College choir on the radio) ….
8. And delegate your sister to decorate the tree and table, she’ll do a better job and you will be far too busy.
9. The cronut (croissant-donut hybrid) fad trend of 2013 actually lives up to the hype, especially if homemade

10. Leftover cabbage makes amazing coleslaw (try it with mayonnaise, horseradish, raisins, pumpkin seeds, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and grated apple)
11. Cousins are useful for finishing off the salmon and brie
12. Homemade dry roasted moroccan chickpeas are an addictive drinks accompaniment although cheese footballs are worse (seriously how did we manage 5 boxes in 3 days between 8 people….)
13. chestnuts must be cut with a cross before roasting or they will explode over your oven (our open fire is a bit too gas light blue to consider doing these the proper way)
14. Don’t try and learn a whole new board game post – christmas dinner, mulled sloe gin and present time
                                   
15. My family are trying to hint that I should move out – they bought me an entire matching kitchen set (kitchen aid, food processor and blender combo, matching kettle and toaster with heating toast rack) as a combined birthday christmas present – on the other hand my staircase are going to love me next year and my degree is going down the drain.

                                                               Stuffing
                                                My Stocking Photo – Christmases past….
                                                        Eggs for the week
                                                         Baba Ganoush Prep
                                                             Chipolatas
                                                            Tzatziki
                                                         Pitta Bread
                                           Salting the cucumber (to draw out the excess moisture) for the tzatziki
For the full menu see Octobers Blog
HAPPY NEW YEAR 
*New year menu to follow

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Chocolates: The Christmas Collection

Chocolates: The Christmas Collection

Brazil Nut Brandy Butter A milk chocolate shell with a brazil nut butter ganache filling garnished with gold
Mexican Hot Chocolate Dark chocolate encasing a cinnamon, cayenne pepper, vanilla and salty centre
Orange Meringue Pie Orange and basil ganache surrounded by white chocolate and rolled in meringue
Gingerbread Milk chocolate, studded with biscuits, with a centre infused with the classic flavours of gingerbread
Olive Oil and Strawberry Olive oil ganache, smothered in white chocolate and studded with freeze dried strawberries

Green Tea and Lime A green tea and lime centre with a dark chocolate shell streaked with white chocolate


Countdown to Christmas: 2 days to go

Countdown to Christmas: 2 days to go

Now the struggle is no longer against an empty fridge, but instead against a choco-blok full fridge of ingredients I am not allowed to use (according to myself…) This is quite a challenge as I am tempted by delicious looking smoked salmon, home made hummus, a huge log of stuffing and copious amounts of mince pies and brandy butter. But instead I turn once again to the freezer (it’s always these moments that I miss having a freezer at uni, surely a freezer would be most useful to a student who is very poor and can is only cooking for one? Cambridge take note…) I was also keen to make a fairly healthy meal tho prepare us for the excesses of christmas (see above) I’m also not allowed to go too exotic with my Dad and Grandpa (and hide the onions – they have quite similar tastebuds) So in the end I pull up a twist on an old recipe of mine (pea pesto) to serve with a french classic, chicken in white wine sauce, with a healthier slant.

Coq au Vin (blanc) with pea mash (serves 5)

2 medium onions
5 chicken breasts
glass of white wine
handful of thyme
5-6 cloves garlic
chicken stock
lemon juice
salt
pepper
1tbsp flour
2tsp groundnut oil

500g frozen peas
handful mint
salt
pepper
2 cloves garlic
lemon juice
1tsp truffle oil

Chop onion into small squares, smash garlic with a crusher or bang the flat side of a knife hard against garlic halves to flatten. (NB to peel garlic easily, chop each clove in half and push from skin side to pop clove out of its shell)
Heat oil in a large pan and add onion and garlic and a good sprinkling of salt (to draw out the water from the onion and aid sweating)
When soft, add the wine and thyme, pepper and lemon juice. Add the chicken breasts and top with chicken stock, and simmer for 15mins. Remove chicken from the pan, add the flour and whisk to avoid lumps, reducing till you get a slightly thickened sauce, place the chicken back in the pan to serve
Meanwhile for the pea puree, bring the peas to the boil and immediately drain. Place into a food processor with all the other ingredients and blitz till smooth

Serve



The Countdown to Christmas 4 days to go

The Countdown to Christmas 4 days to go

Still trying in vain to use up the fridge before the huge food order I have coming. Trying in vain to persuade my parents that we need quite so much food (about 3 days worth of cooking…) So I decided to use up the never ending packet of feta and the random 2 potatoes in the corner of the fridge and I even managed to use up a packet of Greek yoghurt (there are 4 coming in the shopping…) and the breadcrumbs that have been in the cupboard since last christmas (I turned my nose up at Paxo  in favour of real breadcrumbs….) I made salmon and feta cakes and moussaka style potato gratin, with a few measly mange tout.

Serves 2

2 salmon fillets, no skin
50g feta
100g breadcrumbs + more to roll in
salt and pepper
mixed herbs
1 tbsp truffle oil

2 potatoes
500g greek yoghurt
2-3 cloves garlic
cinnamon
1 egg
2tbsp grated manchego
ground cloves
nutmeg

Cook the salmon fillets in the microwave (should be about 1-2mins)
Place in a food processor with the feta and breadcrumbs and season to taste
Meanwhile slice the potatoes and top with the crushed garlic. sprinkle over salt and pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Mix the yoghurt, egg and cheese in a separate bowl and pour over the potatoes. Bake in the oven for 15-20mins at 180OC (fan) until bubbling and slightly golden on top.
Meanwhile roll the salmon mixture into balls and flatten into patties, coat in breadcrumbs
Fry the patties for 3-4 mins on each side until golden.
Serve

Macaroons:2 / L’Escargot

Macaroons: 2
Every year my family and I make the huge journey from Oxford to London for an annual christmas shopping trip. We try our best to pretend that we only go up to London once a year (despite the fact my sister now lives there) and plan the trip months in advance. It’s all terribly exciting…. The secret to this shopping trip to prevent the inevitable stress of actually shopping 5 days before christmas on Oxford street, is not to actually buy anything. The hour we spend in Topshop London is about the extent my father can cope with in a shop that isn’t a suit shop or Fortnum and Mason (this year he managed to buy £8 worth of Turkish Delight despite the fact he is the only one in our extended family who likes it). So we tend to potter around, look at the window displays (I go around and gawp at the Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason food halls), do a final mad dash round John Lewis when we realise we haven’t actually bought anything and end up collapsed in a heap in Waterstones coffee shop.

This year I was delivered some welcome respite in the form of a Champagne and Macaroon date with the red haired friend to celebrate her 21st. I wasn’t sure what to expect really when I eventually found my way to Eric Lanlard’s patisserie, Cake Boy. It appeared to be at the bottom of an office block surrounded by a busy roundabout and residential area, I was pretty sure it was the only shop for miles. Once we got in though, it was very modern and smart. This vibe was matched when our macaroons turned up, accompanied by a glass of lovely champagne. 
The plate was so much more than your average plate of macaroons, with a piece of modern art made of chocolate, caramel, raspberry coulis, popping candy, freeze dried raspberry and cocoa nibs underneath the macaroons themselves. It was rather nice to be able to taste the plate as well as the actual macaroons themselves. the flavours they described to us sounded incredibly interesting, including lemon and white chocolate, lime and kinnow, chocolate and caramel and raspberry. However it was a bit of a shame that, while they were all well baked and tasty, most of them were just sweet and the main flavours you could taste were the lemon, chocolate and caramel. But then again I have been spoiled by french macaroons bursting with flavour.

L’Escargot

http://www.lescargotrestaurant.co.uk/Lescargot/intro.html

l’Escargot, as my father helpfully pointed out, means snails, so the assumption would be that this was a french bistro, however L’Escargot is so much more. It manages to bridge the awkward gap between michelin starred expensiveness and dynamic innovations (and sometimes pretentiousness), and the casualness and lack of finesse you get in other places, not to mention the repetitiveness of chain restaurants. It was perfect for a celebratory meal. Most places I’ve been to of a similar price (not very cheap but nowhere near michelin prices) tend to underwhelm on the food for what you’re given, but in this case the food and service impressed.

We were not only celebrating managing to get to the end of the shopping trip and the first time we had all been together in a very long time, but my sister also received her first ever job offer, so we started off the meal with something bubbly. The staff were incredibly helpful and attentive, not only taking all our shopping bags and sopping wet coats as soon as we got in the door, but also charging my phone while we ate our meal. They had the level of attentiveness that I would expect in a michelin starred restaurant (filling up water glasses a lot, pushing chairs in/ laying napkins, refilling wine) but importantly didn’t force bottled water on us (they were perfectly happy for us to have tap) and nor did they push the most expensive food/wine choices on us.

After agreeing on a white wine to go with our various choices, we were pretty much left alone, excepting when we were offered 3 different types of bread (olive, brown, white) all warm with sea salted butter (no additional expense). The olive bread I had was particularly morish, clearly made with olive oil, and we kept being offered more (I did decline with the knowledge that christmas with its’ gut busting mounds of food was just round the corner).
When are starters arrived my first thought was, not too big not too small. Mine came with huge chunky tempura prawns, a lovely light crisp batter with a marie rose sauce, a sort of gourmet fish and chip shop fare. But this gave way to a lovely crab mayonnaise, light on the mayonnaise, heavy on the crab, with a nugget of avocado underneath, lovely.

My Father obviously went for snails, insisting you had to have snails in a place called ‘L’Escargot (he’s an English teacher, takes everything literally). I have to say snails are one of those things I can eat but only as part of a dish, the texture on its own is a bit too odd for my liking, it’s sort of up there with tripe. Having said that my Dad looked positively delighted to be presented with a plate of snails along with his own gadgets to eat them with (boys and their toys), his only criticism was it could have done with a tiny bit more garlic but otherwise very nice.
 
My sister’s Tuna also proved a big hit, although it was less lightly seared and more medium rare, but this may have been more pleasing to any clients with a fear of raw fish. My mother had the enigmatic beetroot and goats curd ravioli, about which the waiter went to great pains to tell us that it wasn’t actually ravioli (I don’t think my mum was that annoyed about the lack of pasta) but was paper thin beetroot surrounding the goats curd. It was a classic combination but well executed with a professional finish.

The mains arrived with the same pomp and ceremony as the starters, plated up beautifully. I started by thinking mine was lacking in side dishes as it was essentially a huge mound of pheasant and chorizo type sausage on a small amount of cabbage and a few smears of parsnip puree. However I soon realised this was because the pheasant was so delicious and meaty (although the highlight was the jus which I could happily have licked off the plate) that it only needed garnishing with the sides, a starchy potato dish would have been too overwhelmingly rich. It possibly wasn’t the most ladylike meal to eat in such a nice restaurant (I tried to pick as much meat off the bone as possible) but luckily the only people who could see were my family who aren’t allowed to judge me too harshly.

My family were equally complimentary. My sister’s sea bass with fennel boulangere was apparently perfectly cooked, and I can vouch for the taste of the fennel myself. She particularly enjoyed the Lie de Vin sauce apparently delicious and alcoholic.
 
My Dad liked the samphire and Salmon combination which was complimented by the sweet ratatouille. My mother went for a rather unusual scallop dish (I generally don’t see scallop on the menu except as a starter), but it seemed like it fulfilled the unusual potential of being filling enough as a main, sweetened by the raisins.

Having had such a good meal I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity for dessert. I rather liked how they added matching dessert wine underneath if you desired. We did have to find our way back to Oxford so decided not to do that but my sister did have one glass of excellent sweet sherry. My mum and dad went for the more traditional items on the menu, Apple tart and Sticky Toffee pudding. I was a bit put off by the fact the tart was served with both calvados cream and creme fraiche but apparently the tart itself enough but made up for it as it was perfection. The sticky toffee pudding likewise got the thumbs up. While my more unusual apricot soufflé and white chocolate toffee crumble was tangy and well cooked for the souflee, but accompanied by a rather odd and disconcertingly bright green shot, which turned out to be a sort of pistachio milkshake, nice for a sip but a but overpowering to have a whole shot of.

All in all I was very impressed with L’Escargot, it managed to do what it said on the label – fine dining, affordable glamour. Greatly enjoyed by all – I would come again if just for that jus on the partridge.

The Run Up to Christmas – 6 days to Christmas

The Run Up to Christmas – 6 days to Christmas

So the race is on up to Christmas. In my case the race is on to empty the fridge before the shopping arrives in 2 days time, on which I have managed to buy an extraordinary amount of food and enough Gin to probably last the year (my mum pointed out that we already had 2 bottles, I don’t think she’s realised I’m planning on taking some up to Uni….) So dinner today will have to be eating up, an experimental creation. My mother rather unhelpfully made about 5 times too much couscous for a dinner party on wednesday (I wasn’t there, couldn’t be helped) so that is the focus point around which this meal is based. Poking around in the fridge I find some left over tinned tomatoes, half a packet of feta cheese and some Ferraro Rocher chocolates. Poking around in the freezer I found a packet of puff pastry. Leaving the chocolates for later, I decided to make a puff pastry couscous pie. Not only does this use up the majority of my ingredients, but also wins me bonus points for health and environment, it being a vegetarian dish.

So I made a thick chutney using the chopped tomatoes. Boiling them down to a thick constancy with 2 large tbsp of sugar, a large pinch of salt, some ground coriander seeds, a splash of white wine vinegar and for some christmassy warmth some ground cloves. Putting that aside to cool, I toasted about 5 blanched whole almonds I found in the cupboard (using up another thing) and stirred fresh parsley (I say fresh it was frozen fresh….) through my mothers couscous which seemed to contain pumpkin seeds, though I couldn’t tell you what else. Laying out my sheet of puff, I spread a little chutney on one half, topped with a good mound of couscous, scattered over the almonds and some pitted black olives and finished with chunks of feta. I brushed the edges with egg wash, folded over the other half of puff and then painted the whole thing with egg wash. All it needed was to bake in the oven at 200OC for 15-20mins until golden brown.

Foundation Feast

Another day, another 5 course free feast, with matching wines. Oh no wait this is the only one, so I was goddamn going to enjoy it. We started with a drinks champagne with pink fizz, not Champagne unfortunately but it was nice and dry, not overly sweet as rose can often be. People always say going to Cambridge is a bit like Hogwarts and while I can attest it is nowhere near as fun, or perilous, there are moments when you walk into a gothic hall complete with giant christmas tree, portraits and old silver, it makes you wonder why the candles aren’t floating.

 

Sitting down at the table, there are two things you notice first. We were given about 12 glasses and there was a beautifully printed menu, with the all the food and wine on one side, and the order of ceremonies on the other side. We started with grace, sung by the choir from the balcony (which on this occasion I happened to be singing in…) Then the food started coming thick and fast. We were first bought Venison, pickled walnuts, beetroot and celeriac Espuma served with Vignier, primavera, P-J Villa, 2011 (a white wine). The venison was smoked and beautifully succulent, the walnuts added a crunch, but it was hard to tell they were pickled, the textures of beetroot worked nicely too, adding sweetness (a favourite of kings) but the Espuma was under-whleming. Having said this, the whole dish was rather good, and this was one time that the tiny Kings portions really worked.

 
Apparently at a feast even the bread is a step up. We were given cute little loaves, not warm but soft with a crunchy crust, and the butter deserves its own mention. It was creamy and salty and better than normal butter, you wouldn’t thing you can taste the difference, but this time you really could (see what I did there) I would happily have eaten that butter on its own.

The next course was fish; monkfish cheeks, cauliflower, parsley root, chanterelles and snails served with a Chardonnay, Hen and Chicken, Ad Hoc, Pemberton, 2011. Whilst I preferred the light red midsummer house served with it’s monkfish, this was still quite a full white so sort of worked. The monkfish was possibly my favourite dish, I was especially pleasantly surprised by the snail and how well it worked in the dish. The onion rings meant that the dish had a crispy finish, the parsley root added body and the single snail added a really interesting additional layer of texture and flavour, my only gripe would be that the monkfish wasn’t absolutely perfect but considering they were serving around 200 people it was quite impressive.


 
The next dish was a Lamb cutlet, sweetbread ravioli, braised chicory, shallot puree, baby turnips and morels served with a Chambolle Musigny, G.Barthod, 2004. I was impressed that they had done things properly and served proper meaty cutlets with very little fat, yet still maintained a juicy, rare finish for everyone. The chicory was a slightly unnecessary addition, as was the random baby turnip on the side of the plate which most on my table seemed to leave. But the ravioli had a melt in the mouth centre, the shallot puree worked really well and the jus was lovely.

 I was a little confused by the next course. Blackberry and rose sorbet, vanilla yoghurt sponge, marzipan, blackberry paper and creme fraiche, saved with Moscato d’Asti, Albino Rocca, 2012. It was called sorbet, fair enough. but I still didn’t understand why the ration of sorbet to everything else on the plate had to be so overwhelmingly large, especially given this was the sole dessert and the sorbet was overly sweet. I liked the cake, and the combination of a little sorbet, cake and creme fraiche which cut through the sweetness, they just got the proportions wrong. I’m afraid I don’t like marzipan so left that bit but the ‘paper’ was lovely and crisp, if a little thick to call paper…. The wine was delicious, a sparkling tasting almost like a sweet champagne.

Finally the whole meal ended with Petits Langres pressed and marinated in Champagne and juniper, fennel jelly, rustic bread served with port and claret ( I tried a little of both and the claret was some of the best I have ever tasted). I was dreading this course as I am not a cheese fan at all, especially soft cheese like camembert. I tried a little and it was strong. The bread was delicious, little rustic slices and so I’m afraid I may have just had that with some more of the amazing butter. In my defence I think even the keenest cheese lover would have found a whole baked cheese hard to eat after such a feast… 
This was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and this was a great chance for Kings to shine at what it does best (even if it’s not necessarily what students like…) We all came back down to student life with a bump when the post dinner reception thrown for us was beers in the grand surrounding of our opening reception, leaving the Hogwarts experience firmly behind. 

Brined, Braised, Belly Up

Brined, Braised, Belly Up
Ingredients (serves 3)
For the Pork
3 pork belly slices
500ml water
1tbsp salt
1tsp sugar
1tbsp sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
1tbsp thyme
1 nutmeg clove
1 clove garlic
3 juniper berries
For the Ebly risotto
2tbsp butter
1tbsp marmite
150g ebly
½ large onion
1 garlic clove
1tsp thyme
2tbsp pine nuts
For the Jelly
150ml Brining liquid
3 gelatine leaves
For the ceps
9 baby mushrooms
2tbsp olive oil
2tsp salt
2tsp thyme
For the jus
200ml brining liquid
½ vegetable stock cube
2tsp marmite
For the cabbage
½ savoy cabbage
25g butter
1tsp salt
3 juniper berries
To serve
4 tbsp puffed rice
2tbsp brown sugar
1tsp salt
sage leaves
1.     For the pork, boil the water then pour over the pork with all the ingredients. Leave for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the pork and bring the liquid back to the boil, reserve 150ml, remove from the heat, replace the pork and leave for a further 1-2 hours.
2.     For the jelly, with the 150ml of brining liquid reserved, heat till boiling. Meanwhile soak the gelatine leaves in cold water, then squeeze dry and mix into brining liquid till it melts. Line 3 ramekins with clingfilm and pour in jelly in a thin layer. Place in the fridge to set.
3.     For the risotto, chop the onions and garlic into small squares and fry in the butter and marmite for 5mins over a medium heat. Add the ebly and thyme and stir, gradually add up to 250ml water, cooking slowly till the mixture is thick and the water is absorbed into the ebly but it is still al dente. Meanwhile heat the pine nuts in a dry pan till toasted light brown. Add to the risotto and place aside.
4.     For the ceps, Marinade the ceps in the oil, thyme and salt for 30mins. Then cut in half and place the halves face down in a frying pan and fry over a high heat without touching them for 2-3mins.  Remove and set aside.
5.     For the Pork, heat 1tbsp walnut oil in a pan, and place the pork skin side down, searing for 6mins, until skin is brown and crispy. Sear each side 2-3mins on each side, then place to one side under foil.
6.     For the cabbage, cut the stem out and shred into wide strips. Place in a saucepan with the juniper, salt, butter and 1tbsp butter. Cook for 2-3 mins covered over a medium heat.
7.     For the jus, place 200ml brining liquid in a pan with the marmite, stock cube and 200ml water, reduce until a thick consistency (approx. 7-10mins)

8.     To serve, mix the puffed rice, salt and sugar, place on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven at 180oC for 5mins until golden brown. Place the risotto in ramekins and top with jelly then place some puffed rice on top. Place the ramekin in the top RH corner of the plate. Place the cabbage in bottom LH corner of the plate. Cut each piece of pork in half diagonally, and lay on the cabbage. Lead a trail in an L shape from each side of the cabbage with the mushrooms.  Spoon jus over the pork and garnish with sage leaves. Serve

Sidney Formal Hall

Sidney Formal Hall

So after the pomp and circumstance of Kings and they relative casualness of Cauis, I was relieved to be attending a mid priced, tasty meal with the air of formality aided by a compulsory suit dress code and fully plated courses. The first impression of soft white bread with a moderate amount of butter was tasty and simple.

 Since it was the last formal of term ( and the red haired lady was visiting)  I splashed out and got the most expensive wine, a £10 bottle of merlot. (plus the food was free because I’d just sung for 4 hours that afternoon for the college).

You also tend to feel quite special at these formals because they write out the menu in a fancy card with a short history of a particular aspect of the college. We were all a little bemused as to why we would need a fish knife for a prawn cocktail, but we figured that the college had bought a set and decided that they would therefore use them as much as possible, with any excuse.

 

The prawn cocktail itself had a nice sauce, tangy marie rose with a spicy kick on the top with a little paprika, but it was let down quite a lot by the sad, freshly defrosted prawns which felt as fake as the ones you pick up in sainsburys under the premise of ‘fresh fish’ that taste far to fishy for freshly peeled prawns. The lettuce leaf selection could also have been a bit more exciting.

I do like Sunday formal because it generally means a roast, which nostalgically reminds me of my childhood when this would happen every sunday. Todays roast was Pork with Apple sauce. Sidney usually does ok on the cooking front, its not as chewy as Caius, but it’s certainly not absolutely perfect. Likewise the veg was pitifully watery and under flavoured, requiring a lot of salt. But there were two things that however completely redeemed this dish, the gravy which was plentiful and fairly tasty, and the brilliant roast potatoes, well seasoned (herbs and all) and so crunchy and fluffy, very tasty.

The pastry chef at Sidney has a flair for presentation and often it is almost restaurant style, with its mousses and printed chocolate. (Never over the top on foams etc but well presented and tasty) This dessert was tasty, I particularly enjoyed the bite in the apples, which were quite sweet against the creamy creme fraiche and then the pastry was well cooked, there was clearly a good attempt at presentation, but a simple apple tart would be just as smart and probably less weirdly constructed.