Confusing the Palate

Confusing the Palate

Once again I have been possibly slightly unwittingly coerced by my friends to cook for them in what can only be described as basic cooking conditions. This time it was marginally easier, only 4 to cook for, no dietary restrictions and a more free day leading up to it. Plus I had further enticement as the three dinner guests agreed to match my menu with wines for each course. As per usual the menu was possibly a little obsessively planned – excel, timetable, price itemised shopping list….. If only I gave my degree this much attention.

Unfortunately that day the time I had allotted to finishing my coursework so I felt slightly better about jet setting to the Isle of Man on choir tour ( yes we did fly and it was a very exciting tour) was spent trying in Vain to save my degree, I accidentally wiped my computer hard drive, hopefully this can be remedied – watch this space. Most people in this circumstance would most likely be in hysterics, alleviating anger by throwing heavy objects at the wall, or immediately degrading from their degree and moving to anguished exile in Siberia to escape the pain of the disappearance of half a years worth of coursework. I’m afraid I did none of these things. The excitement of cooking a dinner party made up if my favourite foods, with some of my favourite people and a copious amount of good wine somehow managed to inspire such a cloud of optimism – I am still living in the sphere of it and am still convinced this will be ok- my mother on the other hand is despairing, possibly mostly at my casual attitude….
Anyway back to dinner – if anything can distract me from a possible career ending mistake it would be confit chicken, truffle jus, peanut butter parfait…. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We began with prosecco and walkers crisps. However these wakers crisps tasted especially good because I’d stolen them from the snack basket of the current bane of my life, the college fundraising campaign. If you have ever had to persuade people to give you money when they are trying it tell you that they’ve just been made redundant/had a baby/ bought a house so can’t afford it right now you will understand the soul draining experience that is telephone campaign. (Disclaimer – the crisps were meant for workers like me so it wasn’t so much stealing)

 I wanted to challenge our taste buds by starting with a sweet course and ending with a savoury while still trying maintain some sort of style and complexity within my ‘having to reboot the oven every 15mins’ limitations. So we began with a Roasted tomato and caramelised onion Tarte Tatin with Ricotta quenelle. This is a surprisingly easy dish, particularly with the aid of Lakeland disposable foil pudding dishes – effectively the basis of this meal.

Serves 4
2 large tomatoes
Thyme
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 onions
1tbsp butter
Bay leaf
2 tbsp sugar + 2tbsp sugar
Salt
Pepper
Drop vanilla essence
White wine vinegar (I shamefully had to use fish and chip vinegar)
Ready rolled puff pastry

Roast the tomatoes, cut in half and garlic still in its skin with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and thyme leaves for about 10-15mins at 180oC.
Meanwhile chop the onions and then sweat over a medium heat in the butter with a good sprinkling of salt (add water if the onions look like they will burn).
When translucent add the bay leaf, a splash of vinegar, pepper, drop of vanilla and half the sugar. When sticky and caramelised, set aside.
Finally melt the remaining sugar with 2tbsp water till a golden amber colour .
Place 1tsp caramel in the base of 4 foil pudding pots. Top with the tomatoes, flat side down and a garlic clove, squeezed out of its skin. Then add a spoonful of onions. Finally top with a disk of puff pastry.
Bake in the oven for 15 min or until golden – turn over – make a quenelle with a spoon of ricotta and serve.

The main used one of my favourite ingredients. I can’t stress enough how amazing a few drops of truffle oil is in most dishes! Some of the best examples include in mash potatoes, mushroom risotto, in butter for steak or even (if you’re feeling adventurous) white truffle and black pepper ice cream with strawberries. It is most definitely worth the £3.99 I paid for it – this bottle is going to last me for about a year, even the smell of it is pretty satisfying.
Other than the truffle oil, all the ingredients in this main are pretty cheap which just goes to show that you don’t need to spend a lot to throw a great dinner party (this is one of the many tips I tend to shout at the TV screen when watching Come Dine with Me, along with why do you start cooking when your guests arrive???). I do agree that you can taste a great cut of organic meat, especially with steak where the better the quality the less you have to do to it, I barely cook mine, BUT I used sainsbury’s basics chicken leg pieces for this dish, at the grand total of 4 for £2.69, and it came out absolutely beautifully.
So here it is Confit Chicken leg, buttered cabbage with nutmeg, butternut squash dauphinoise, toasted hazelnuts and truffle jus. Again relatively easy, just prep the hazelnuts, chicken, dauphinoise and chop the cabbage in advance and you can pretty much just leave it to cook while you can go and drink with your guests (take notes Come dine with me contestants).

Serves 4
For the Chicken
4 chicken legs
2l sunflower/vegetable oil
1tsp truffle oil
8-10 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
few sprigs of thyme
50g sea salt flakes
pepper
For the Cabbage
1 savoy cabbage
2tbsp water
50g salted butter
pinch of nutmeg
pepper
For the Jus
1-2tsp truffle oil
1 stock cube
small knob of butter
rosemary
2 garlic cloves
sprig thyme
bay leaf
pepper
splash lemon juice
For the Dauphinoise
1 butternut squash
pepper
8 cloves or so garlic
sea salt flakes
thyme
bay leaf
300ml cream
(milk)
For the Hazlenuts
100g blanched hazlenuts finely chopped (or bashed)

Rub the chicken with the salt, crushed garlic cloves, pepper and herbs, set aside for about an hour or so. Meanwhile toast the hazelnuts in a dry saucepan over a medium heat NB keep tossing to try and prevent burning, set aside.
Chop the squash into slices and layer in a shallow dish, studding every couple of layers with garlic cloves, a good sprinkling of salt and some pepper and the herbs. Pour over the cream, you may need a bit of milk to bring the cream/milk to the same level as the top layer of the squash, alternatively you can top this up with cream, the dish will be more stodgy but richer and really delicious.
Chop the cabbage into strips (the best way to do this is cut out the centre and chop all the sides into strips). Place into a saucepan with the butter, water, nutmeg and pepper, set aside.
Wash most of the salt off the chicken, reserving the herbs, half of the garlic and about 5-10g of the salt (this is approximate, the idea is you need a bit left). Place in a shallow dish and cover the chicken and herbs etc with the oils.
Put the chicken in the oven at 150oC for about an hour and a half. Forty minutes before you want to eat put the squash in the oven, when ready the squash should be starting to brown on top.
Meanwhile for the jus, chop the garlic and place in a small saucepan with the butter and sauté for 2-3mins. Pour over the lemon juice and add the herbs and 250ml water. Add the stock cube and stir to dissolve over a medium heat. Reduce to about half then add the truffle oil. Remove from the heat.
5mins before you want to eat, put the cabbage on the heat and cover, cook for 5mins and then remove from the heat.
To serve, place a handful of cabbage in the middle of the plate, top with a chicken leg and sprinkle with hazelnuts, finally spoon over some jus. Serve the dauphinoise separately, trust me a normal sized portion may not be enough for each person.

Now since I had done a sweet starter I decided to counter expectations with a salty dessert based on the american classic snack, a PBJ sandwich. My sister will tell you how obsessed I am with peanut butter, so much so that she promised to make me a giant peanut butter cup in lieu of a cake for my 18th birthday (if you’re reading this it’s 3 years down the line and I’m still waiting on that). When we went to America the excitement of every single chocolate bar having a version in peanut butter not to mention every restaurant meal. While in San Francisco last year I remember having a peanut butter cheesecake slice for lunch rather than the more nutritious savoury burritos my friends have. I do try and limit my addiction as too much of a good thing (at least in this case) would make me end up morbidly obese, but since I got to choose the menu for this party, it was inevitably included. This isn’t for everyone (my haribo addicted dinner partner would’ve preferred a sweeter dessert) but for me it encapsulates heaven


Peanut butter parfait, cookie crumbs, chocolate squares and homemade strawberry jam
Makes 6
For the parfait
200g peanut butter
300g cream cheese
75g sugar
vanilla extract
200ml cream
3/4 sachet powdered gelatine
1 packet chocolate chip cookies
50g butter
For the chocolate squares
masking tape
dark chocolate (60% or more)
For the jam
400g strawberries
150g sugar
1 sachet powdered gelatine
black pepper
vanilla extract

Beat together the peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the sugar, beat, then whisk together the gelatine and cream to combine before adding to the mix and beating further. Meanwhile make the cookies into crumbs, best done in a food processor. grease 6 pudding dishes (see above) well and then cover in cookie crumbs. (the best way to do this is place a large spoonful in the bottom and then pour out, turning as you do to cover all the sides). Fill the moulds with parfait and leave to set in the fridge. Reserve the remaining cookie crumbs
Meanwhile make a grid on a parchment lined tray with the masking tape. Melt the chocolate and spread over the grid, leave at room temperature to set, when still soft but not liquid, peel off the masking tape carefully, you should be left with perfect chocolate squares, place in the fridge to set.
Macerate (cover) the chopped strawberries in the sugar and black pepper. After about 30mins, place over a medium heat and liquids using a hand held blender. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-5mins. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve, leave to cool. Ideally you would then put this in a piping bag, I didn’t have one 😦
To serve, place a chocolate square on the plate, release the parfait and place on top, finish with a second chocolate square. Use the piping bag to pipe dots of jam around this (again I couldn’t do this) and scatter with cookie crumbs.

 

For finishing touches to the perfect evening, add wine and good company.

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