Lemon and Garlic Cod, Truffled red pepper puree, pearl barley risotto and crispy pine nuts. Pimms Jelly, Avocado mousse and Vanilla and raspberry macaroons.

I’m sure it appears that my house is an endless stream of dinner parties at the moment. This is mostly because my parents have been storing up invitations to dinner until I came home, giving me an opportunity to practise my cooking before next year. This time it was the turn of some very good family friends of ours who I credit for helping further my career with advice and investment. They were the first people to listen to the ideas of a precocious 17 year old and trust me with catering 21st birthdays, engagement parties and even help me out with my brief hamper business. So no pressure with actually delivering something which lives up to their high opinion of me then… I was tasked with creating something not too heavy and of course given the dreariness of the British weather, something enticingly summery to counteract the rain. But then who in England isn’t extremely used to drinking Pimms outside whilst a faint mist of drizzle falls around them?

   

 

Lemon and Garlic Cod, truffled Red Pepper puree, pearly barley risotto and crispy pine nuts (serves 4)

Cod

4 skinless, boneless cod fillets, 4 garlic cloves, 1 sliced lemon, fresh coriander, black pepper, groundnut oil

Pepper Puree 

3 red peppers, drizzle truffle oil, 1tsp dried oregano, 1tsp dried basil, 1tsp chilli powder, 1tsp paprika, 1tbsp lemon juice, 2tbsp white wine vinegar, 2tsp sea salt 

Pearl Barley Risotto 

2 onions, 4 garlic cloves, drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, 3tbsp sherry, 2tsp each dried rosemary, parsley, thyme, 1tsp turmeric, 1tsp chilli powder, Fresh Coriander, 280g pearl barley, 1 stock cube 

75g pine nuts

  1. For the cod, place fillets on a piece of foil. Scatter with chopped garlic, slices of lemon coriander and black pepper (nb NO SALT) and drizzle with groundnut oil. Fold up into a parcel and crimp the top like a cornish pasty.
  2. Roast the Peppers whole in the oven on the highest setting for 20mins, turning halfway, or until skin is blackened slightly and blistered. Leave to cool.

  3. For the risotto, chop the onion and garlic and sauté in oil and a sprinkle of salt until translucent. Add the sherry and some lemon juice followed by the spices. Add pearl barley and cook for 2-3mins. Add 600ml water and stock cube. Leave to simmer stirring occasionally until water has mostly gone and barley is cooked. Add more water if needed. Stir through herbs. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. This can be heated up just before serving, if doing this, leave a little undercooked and add more water before heating.

  4. To finish the puree, remove the skin and seeds of the peppers. Using a blender liquidise all the ingredients, adjusting seasoning to taste.

  5. Bake the fish at 180 o C for 7-10mins. Meanwhile toast pine nuts on a medium heat in a frying pan for 3-5mins, then crush in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. To serve, spoon puree onto plates, top with risotto, then fish and finally crushed pine nuts.

  

Pimms jelly, Avocado Cream, Vanilla and Raspberry macaroon

Jelly 

125g sugar, 100ml water, 4 sheets gelatine, 125ml pimms, 100ml lemonade, selection of berries to serve, mint leaves

Avocado Cream 

1 avocado, 2tbsp greek yoghurt, pinch salt, 2tbsp icing sugar, 1tbsp lime juice

Vanilla and Raspberry Macaroons 

2 egg whites, 2tbsp caster sugar, 110g icing sugar, 175g ground almonds, 1tsp vanilla bean paste, 75g frozen raspberries, 1tsp vanilla bean paste, 2tbsp caster sugar

  1. For the Jelly, Bring the sugar and water to the boil and boil for 2-3mins. Meanwhile soak gelatine leaves in cold water. Remove syrup from the heat and add gelatine leaves, squeezed out. Add pimms and lemonade and stir. Pour into 4 teacups. Leave to set at room temperature for 1 hour. Add fruit, leave to set in fridge for 2 or more hours.

  2. For the macaroons. Whisk egg whites to stiff peaks. Add caster sugar to form a meringue. Fold in icing sugar, almonds and vanilla bean paste. Scoop mix into a piping bag and pipe into circles on greaseproof paper. You may find it easier to draw templates on the paper first. Preheat oven to 210 o C. Drop trays onto a flat surface from a low heat to remove any air bubbles and peaks. Leave macaroons for 20mins to set the tops. Put in the oven for 5mins or until the macaroons start to brown. Immediately turn the oven off and leave for 30mins.

  3. For the filling, Heat raspberries, caster sugar and vanilla paste over a medium flame. Stir and mash the raspberries together as they defrost. Leave to simmer till dark and jammy Remove from the heat. When room temperature, sandwich to macaroons with the jam.

  4. For the Avocado cream, blend all ingredients together and adjust to taste.

  5. To serve, pipe cream onto the jellies, top with a mint leaf and serve macaroon on the saucer.

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Exam term Medicine: GF/DF Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow frosting

Exam season has hit Cambridge. Even those of us who haven’t got exams can feel up in the air, or is that just the dismal weather. Remember back in April when the sun was shining? No me neither, we do live in England after all. Not only is the atmosphere pretty grim, but extra curricular and social activities have dropped to virtually nothing. Other than a housemate trip to the very English ‘Cambridge Beer Festival’ things are pretty quiet. Im aware I am making myself incredibly unpopular to those with exams by keeping myself busy with Sudoku puzzles and the like, so I thought I would cheer them up by making a cake. As it is a cake for the choir, it is of course Gluten and Dairy Free for the Gluten and Dairy Free boy. I also thought it would be a bit more fun if I made it in the shape of book, specifically the book that is pretty much the foundation of knowledge for any music student. That way the music students can get a kick out of literally devouring their revision.

Cake

600g ground almonds

6 eggs

100g cocoa powder

2tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

4tbsp honey

200g sugar

2tsp vanilla extract

Large pinch of sea salt

4tbsp water

Marshmallow Frosting

3 egg whites

300g sugar

Vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to Fan 180*c and line a 20cmx15cm baking tray.
  2. Whisk the egg, sugar, vanilla, honey and salt together. Meanwhile combine all the remaining dry ingredients. Mix the two bowls together and add water to thin the mixture a little.

  3. Cook for 15-20mins in two batches, until set and a spatula comes out clean.

  4. Meanwhile make the marshmallow icing. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Meanwhile heat the sugar with a splash if water until it becomes a clear, bubbling liquid. Pour into the egg whites whilst still whisking. When all the syrup is combined, keep whisking for 4-5mins. Spread or pipe onto the cake, using some to sandwich the cake and some to ice the cake.

NB If you want to recreate the book, use ready to roll icing and roll between to sheets of grease proof paper to get a thin sheet without sticking to the rolling pin.  

     


Easter Day with the Gullifers

Aren’t you lucky, today you get a double whammy of Gullifer Eats. Second part here. Partly because Easter weekend is all about food (and music and religion), or is that only in the Gullifer household? And partly because I am currently on a three and a half hour bus journey back to Oxford and am extremely bored. Most people are not put upon by relatives to host major festivals until they are at least settled with a mortgage, but for some reason the Gullifer clan descended on me this Easter holiday. Apparently it had something to do with the fact I mentioned I wouldn’t be able to come and cook the normal Easter feast at home, due to work….. But of course I relished in the planning, cooking, and of course the food shop that arrived to my door paid for by the parents, as I couldn’t afford to pay to feed everyone. It was a lovely weekend, peppered with Kings college concerts and services, the most amazing brunch at Cau (see below), cocktails with my sister and chocolate. For the main event I invited over Gluten-free-Dairy-free man and the Perpetual Poldark lover as they were in Cambridge for finals and I thought I’d add to their stress levels by inflicting my family on them.  

 

(Eggs Royale with grilled avocado and chimichurri sauce)

I am ashamed to say I didn’t cook any of the starter, I was a little strapped for time. But Waitrose came up trumps with their anti-pasti selection and the Sister arranged a Work of Art on the plate to make it that extra bit special.  We had giant Sicilian olives, gin and orange soaked olives, ricotta, baby mozzarella, fresh grilled anchovies, chargrilled artichokes (in some amazing dressing), smoked sundried tomatoes (wow) and some of the best pesto I’ve  tasted, with whole shreds of Parmesan.   

What I was pleased with was the wine selection, thank you Cambridge Wine Merchants. My sister had made an off hand comment earlier in the week about new world sparkling wines all tasting too sweet and sainsburys Cavaesque. I was determined to prove her wrong. I was recommended a Zuccardi Blanc de Blancs, an Argentinian sparkling wine aged on the lees (yeast) for 58 months. As the lady said to me, it tastes like liquid shortbread. Think a really intense champagne, reduced at the moment in the wine merchants to £16 it tastes like a much more pricey champagne, if you are in Cambridge I recommend. 

 

For main course, to mix things up from the traditional Lamb, we had whole baked salmon. Not only was it different and undoubtably healthier than lamb, it also only took 45mins (15mins on the highest temperature, 30 at 180*C). This was served with a lemon, dill and yoghurt dressing. Accompanied by smashed sweet potatoes – Simply cooked in a microwave for 15-20mins, smashed up with olive oil, a drizzle of truffle oil, thyme, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. – We also had brussel sprouts with chorizo, which ‘convinced a fussy eater that sprouts were delicious’ according to the Perpetual Poldark lover. -Halved Brussel sprouts, drizzled with sesame oil, salt pepper, 1 onion, finely chopped, 1 garlic clove, finely chopped, and 200g cubed chorizo for 20-30mins at 180*C. -Finally we had asparagus with balsamic drenched tomatoes. – Blanched Asparagus, cherry tomatoes cooked in a little oil, salt and balsamic for 5mins and a scattering of basil.  

   

Finally for dessert, I couldn’t do anything but go down the chocolate route, it was Easter after all. (For the record Steve had coconut pannacotta, with sweet and salty almonds – literally coconut milk, sugar, lime juice, vanilla extract, gelatine, topped with toasted almonds tossed in sugar and salt-) I made orange and basil mousses, chocolate soil and white chocolate dipped strawberry. Any guesses as to what I was trying to recreate?  

 

We ended the meal in truly decadent (and bordering on bizarre) fashion. Vin Santo and Cantucci biscuits, Articulate – our favourite game, ridiculously competitive, and my father lighting amaretti papers on fire in the conservatory. Fun fact, did you know they rise like a pretty lantern when they burn? Next party trick. 

Twas the night before Christmas…

Now I am essentially what they call a ‘working gal’, I was in the cafe right up to the hilt. This meant, unfortunately, that I was unable to indulge in my usual 3 day cooking marathon in the run up to Christmas, and SHOCK HORROR, had nothing prepared for Christmas lunch before the big day itself. This is unheard of from the girl who usually has everything chopped, prepped and cooked the day before, save the Turkey. I had luckily still found time to create the, now infamous, Christmas spreadsheet and book the grocery delivery slot. -my mother still doesn’t actually know the password, her grocery shops are so infrequent- Credit where credit is due however; I arrived home to a stocked and catalogued kitchen. Mother had received the food delivery and processed it in the only way a lawyer knows how to. This meant that once I breezed in off the dreaded 3 ½ hour coach journey from Cambridge at around lunch time, waving to the grandparents as I walked past them, I could set straight down to work on the Christmas Eve dinner.

I would say it is a tradition in our household to have a three course dinner on Christmas Eve, but considering I instigated it a few years ago when I took over proceedings, it is more of an indulgence of a personal whim. What is more of a family tradition is negotiating the short time frame in which to eat dinner between watching ‘Carols from Kings’ between 5.25pm and 7pm with a glass of bubbly and finishing before the 9.15pm rehearsal for Midnight Mass. The time constraint is combined with the limitations of: my grandmother’s aversion to peas and nuts, my father and his father’s aversion to visible celery, cabbage (I ignored this one) and onions and everyone’s fear of fish bones and remotely undercooked meat. Catering for everyone’s request whilst still gratifying my experimental mindset is a challenge every year.

This year we began with a starter inspired by The Organist’s New Years Eve extravaganza last year, crab mayonnaise. Made by simply mixing crab meat ( I chose brown crabmeat but next time I will go for white, more expensive but a better texture) with lemon juice, mayonnaise, black pepper and salt. I served this with an avocado cream made by blending 3 avocados with Crème fraiche, a small pinch of salt and lemon juice. The combination of the salty crab with the smoother avocado made for a pleasing blend.

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I followed this with a venison and chestnut stew, herb crumble, winter slaw and roasted squash purée.
For 6:
Brown 600g Cubed venison dusted with flour,pepper and salt in a little olive oil. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add 2 onions, cubed and 6 rashes of unsmoked, thick bacon and sauté with a pinch of salt until the onions are translucent. Deglaze the pan with a glass of port. Add thyme, a bay leaf and a spoonful of juniper berries. Finally return the venison to the pan with a beef stock cube, enough water to fill the pan. Place in the oven with a lid or covered in foil for 1 ½ hours at 180oC. Remove from the oven and add 250g cooked and peeled chestnuts, simmer on the stove top for 20mins until thickened.
For the crumble: Mix 300g breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, chopped parsley and chopped sage. Toast in the oven at 180oC until browned, mixing occasionally.
For the purée: Roast 500g cubed butternut squash with 1 chopped red onion, 3 chopped garlic cloves, a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of white wine vinegar, a drizzle of truffle oil and chopped sage at 180oC for 30mins, until soft. Blend.
For the slaw: Chop 1 red cabbage and mix with 1 grated apple, 1 tbsp of mustard, a handful of raisins and 2 tbsp mayonnaise. Season to taste.

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The day before Christmas Day I suppose one does not want anything too heavy in order to preserve one’s appetite for the main event. So for dessert I decided on a dish that was small and sweet. A champagne sabayon with popping candy, served with dark chocolate matchsticks. I kid you not, the matchsticks were a revelation. The intense bitterness provided by a lychee vinegar based ganache matched the overwhelmingly sweet sabayon well, adding richness and texture to the dish. NB you would not want too much of the sabayon as it is so sweet, in this case a cocktail glass full was ample.
For the sabayon: Whisk 6 egg yolks with 250g sugar, dash of vanilla extract, 200ml sparkling wine and a pinch of salt over a pan of boiling water for 8mins until it has doubled in size and thickened. Immediately remove to whisk over a bowl of iced water for 10-15mins until light and increased in volume again. Pour into glasses and chill. Sprinkle with popping candy just before serving.
For the matchsticks: Melt 200g milk chocolate and 200g dark chocolate together. Meanwhile bring 25ml cream and 50ml lychee (or other fruit flavoured) vinegar with a large pinch of salt to the boil. Immediately pour over the melted chocolate, leave for 1 min and then combine to a thickened ganache. Spoon into a piping bag, pipe into shapes and chill. When set, dust in cocoa powder.

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Salmon Risotto, Aldi’s finest

So Mark Francis and I are finally in the house together for the first time, me just back from Brazil (more on that later) him just back. The plan is to welcome him back from a long day at the office with a GandT and a home cooked meal of what Aldi has to offer. As I am technically unemployed at the moment I can’t really afford to splash the cash, so it is half a salmon fillet each (found in the freezer) and a pineapple I picked up for 59p from Aldi around which I create the menu. As we sit in the garden having a drink while dinner is cooking on the stove you’d almost think we were grown ups…..almost.

Salmon Risotto with peas and Swiss chard
(serves 2)

1 salmon fillet
100g risotto rice
1 bay leaf
Few sprigs of thyme
1tsp sesame oil
1 onion, chopped in to dice size pieces
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Swig of white alcohol (white wine, vermouth, sherry – I used an ancient bottle of Becherovka (look it up) donated to me by my parents)
600ml stock
4-5tbsp lemon juice
Vanilla extract
Peppercorns
Juniper berries
Salt
Large handful of Swiss chard
Large handful of frozen peas

1. Sauté the onions and garlic in the sesame oil and a large pinch of salt over a medium heat, stirring till they become translucent. Add the wine and let bubble. Add the rice, thyme and peppercorns. Let sit for 1 min, then add a little stock. Stir till stock is combined and then add more, repeat till the rice is al dente. Keep stirring it, try not to leave unattended, it will stick to the pan otherwise.
2. Meanwhile put 250ml water, the bay leaf, a few peppercorns, juniper berries and a few sprigs of thyme in a pan. Add the salmon fillet and bring to the boil slowly over a medium heat. Boil for 2 min, remove from the heat and set aside. When ready to serve remove the salmon leaving it in the water for at least 5mins. Remove the skin and cut in half, the salmon should be on the cusp of turning light pink, the innermost centre still darkish pink.
3. Empty out all but 2cm of the water, add the chard and a pinch of salt, cook over a medium heat for 2mins until dark green.
4. Add the vanilla, lemon juice and peas to the risotto, cook for a further 3mins till the peas have defrosted.
5. Serve with the risotto as a base on the plate, topped with the Swiss chard and finally the salmon.

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Home Sweet Home

Recently I’ve been feeling very grown up as I have officially moved out of the family home. This of course means I have to pay bills, learn the colours of the recycling bins, keep the place clean….but more importantly stock the kitchen. After living for two days without a fridge (it was incredibly depressing) our kitchen is now so well stocked, it’s hard to believe there are three novice renters living in it. We have an extraordinarily large collection of glasses and sharp knives (all three of us seem to own them somehow..), very few saucepans and crockery and of course my contributions, the kitchen aid, magimix, and chocolate moulds. There’s the three piece tea set, the wine rack, the canapé spoons, in fact all the essentials for a first time home really… Some might say that I don’t have my priorities straight, they certainly won’t be invited round to dinner any time soon! To christen this little haven, I headed round to my new favourite place, our local Aldi, to gather supplies for a meal for the new inmates. It was only when I’d cooked half of it that we realised the kitchen table Claire Balding and Mark Francis had been trying to put up in the corner was missing two legs, so it was a feast, eaten off a mini chest of drawers….

I’m still going through the avocado obsession faze, so for the starter I decided to make tortilla baskets, salmon ceviche and guacamole.

For the ceviche, I chopped 1/2 red onion, 1/2 red chilli, seeds removed,1garlic clove,a handful of coriander, 1 fillet of salmon, skinned and mixed them together with 1tsp olive oil,a large pinch of salt,black pepper and 3-4tbsp lime juice, to taste. Then I set it aside for about 1/2 hour in the fridge, during this time, the salmon turned a pleasing light pink colour ‘cooked’ by the lime juice.
Meanwhile, for the tortilla baskets, I divided a tortilla wrap into 4 quarters, and shaped each into a basket shape in a muffin tray. I baked them in the oven for about 8-10mins on high until golden and stiffened, then left to cool.
For the guacamole, I mashed 1 avocado with salt,pepper, small handful of chopped corianderand 1-2tsp lime juice.
Salmon in the basket, topped with guacamole and a coriander sprig, hey presto.

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The main was slightly more complicated, I have never eaten Beef Wellington.

Now I’ve given you a moment to get over that terrible fact, I decided to make it for the main course of this dinner alongside braised carrots, baby gem lettuce and peas. There are many different ideas about the ideal beef Wellington, whether you add a layer of Parma ham, foie gras or pancakes. But owing to budget and craving for simplicity I stuck to a simple layer of mushroom duxelles. Besides, I believe adding anything that might mean more moisture around the meat will result in a soggy bottom for the pastry. Then of course there’s the pastry itself, again I went for the classic puff (shop bought, there’s no point in making your own except to learn how to do it). However I was recently informed that brioche pastry is even better so I will be trying that in the future. Finally there’s the meat, this I was very insistent should be rump. Aldi turned up trumps, 1 rump steak, easily enough to feed two people for under £5, sorted. Unfortunately I have waste not, want not attitude so used all the pastry resulting in a disastrously skewered pastry to meat ratio and the pastry was a little undercooked on the bottom (I decided to sacrifice this rather than a perfectly medium rare steak when push came to shove). However I was told that it tasted pretty good nonetheless so the recipe is below, just try to hold back on the pastry.

Individual Beef Wellingtons with braised lettuce
1 large rump steak, trimmed of fat and divided into two pieces
1 packet of ready rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
300g mixed mushrooms, finely chopped
Fresh thyme
2tbsp brandy
Splash of truffle oil
1 bay leaf
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 red onion, finely chopped

For the sauce
2tbsp flour
300ml stock
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbsp brandy
Fresh thyme, chopped

For the braised lettuce
1 baby gem lettuce, broken into leaves
Peas
Carrots, chopped into discs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100ml stock (but 1 stock cube)
1tbsp butter
1/2tsp dried mint

1. Sear the meat over a high heat (try not to set the fire alarm off) for about 1 min each side, set aside to rest in the fridge. Add brandy and garlic for the sauce to this pan immediately then turn off the heat, this will be used later. Nb it will bubble furiously but should die down, put into a cold oven to keep the smoke out of the kitchen.
2. Meanwhile put the mushrooms, garlic, thyme, pepper, bay leaf and onion into a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil and a hefty pinch of salt. When hot, add brandy to the pan and allow to bubble furiously before turning down the heat, cook until most of the moisture has been drawn out of the mushrooms, add truffle oil at the end of cooking. Set aside in the fridge to cool down.
3. It is important at this point to make sure both the meat and the mushroom mix is cold, or the pastry will melt, ideally your kitchen should be cool as well so maybe make the first two steps earlier in the day. Take out the pastry and brush with a layer of beaten egg. Apply a layer of the mushroom mix leaving a circle around the edge. Place the meat on top and wrap the pastry around, sealing the edges by pinching the pastry together and moulding to the meat, try as hard as you can not to have any gaps at all. Repeat with the second one.

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4. Brush with more beaten egg and refrigerate for 10mins.

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Preheat the oven to 200oC and bake for 25mins. Turn the heat down to 180oC and cook for a further 10mins till the pastry is golden.

5. Meanwhile add the flour to the saucepan with brandy in it from step 1, whisk furiously over a low heat to form a paste, gradually add the stock to the pan, whisking as you go to form a thin liquid, add the thyme and season to taste.
6. For the braised lettuce, Cook the carrots for 3-4mins with the stock, garlic, mint and butter. Add the peas, cook for a further 2mins, and finally the lettuce, cook for another 2mins.
7. Serve

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For dessert I reached another blockage, I discovered at this point in the meal that I was missing a crucial attachment for the magimix, so had to make the magic ice cream below in the kitchen aid and somehow it didn’t work, but prior experience means I know this recipe will most definitely work if you have the right equipment. This also means I didn’t take a picture.

Banana Ice Cream, salted caramel rum sauce, dark chocolate, coconut shortbread

For the Shortbread
60g room temperature coconut oil
80g flour
Vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
25g sugar

For the rest
2 bananas
200g caster sugar
2tbsp rum
50g butter
Vanilla extract
Large pinch of salt
2 squares of 85% dark chocolate

1. Mix the flour, vanilla, salt, sugar and coconut oil together to form a dough. Roll into a thick oblong shape and refrigerate for 30mins or more. Slice the oblong and lay on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 180oC for 10-15mins until golden brown, leave to harden on the tray.
2. Freeze the bananas, peeled and sliced. Just before serving, remove from the freezer and whizz up in a magimix for your own soft serve ice cream.
3. For the sauce, leave the butter, salt and sugar with 2tbsp water over a medium heat, do not stir but you may swirl. When just beginning to turn golden (nb this must be watched or it will be a hard gooey mess -toffee) take off the heat and add the rum and vanilla extract, stir as it bubbles furiously.
4. Serve the ice cream, topped with the sauce and a square of dark chocolate with the shortbread on the side.

London Calling

It was long ago decided my sister was going to be the rich sister, along the same time as she decided to go into Property and about the time I decided to go into food…. Unfortunately I can’t even claim to be the creative one in the family as she is both musical as well and way more fashionable than I am. What I can do however is cook for her friends when I am up. While my sister is not actually a bad cook, the fact that she was surprised that the list of ingredients included olive oil (which she didn’t have in the house) was possibly a good reason for me to intervene when cooking 3 courses for 8… London is still a little bit of a novelty for me. Having grown up in Oxford and barely ever leaving University in Cambridge during term time it’s still slightly exciting to use the tube, shop in Oxford street and go out in London (although the prices soon wear the novelty down). I was down in London to do a course in Wine course, 48 wines in 3 days (although of course you spit most of them away as you have to be pretty on it for the exam at the end of the 3 days). So now I should be able to tell you quite a lot about all the different grapes, where they come from, what they taste like and matching wines to food. (More on that later)

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So for the menu I cooked for my sister (aided I might add at this point by my sister’s lovely friend the business whizz, who came early to help. About 2 mins after I first met her she was chopping onions, absolutely brilliant) I made:

 

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Crunchy Butterbeans

1. Spread out 800g tinned Butterbeans or Garbanzo beans in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over sea salt, pepper, lime juice, paprika, pinch of cinnamon, pinch of cayenne pepper and a drizzle of oil.

2. Roast in the oven 190oC for 30mins, then turn down to 160oC and roast until crunchy, checking every 10mins to stir.

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White Gazpacho

1. Lay out 100g flaked almonds on a baking tray lined with foil. Toast at 200oC for 8-10mins until browned. Roast 2 heads of garlic at 200oC for30-40mins and then set aside to cool. Slice 100g white grapes in half and freeze with 100g quartered slices of cucumber.

2. Cut 375g white grapes in half and place in a bowl with 375g of chopped, skinless and seedless cucumber. Pour over 360ml natural yoghurt, a pinch of salt and pepper, 360ml water, 300g ground almonds, 360g sourdough bread, crust removed and torn into pieces and the roasted garlic cloves. (The best way to do this is using a serrated knife and slice of the bottom of the head of garlic and squeeze out the insides) Mix and leave overnight to marinade.

3. Blend the fridge mix together and season with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar to taste. Serve garnished with frozen grapes, frozen cucumber slices, flaked almonds and drizzle of oil.

Giant Couscous Paella, Roasted Cod, Crispy Ham, Pea Puree

1. Lay 140g Serrano ham (or Proscuitto) on a single layer on a lined baking tray nd roast for 6-8 mins at 200oC,, separate, cut into strips and leave to cool.

2. For the pea puree take 400g frozen peas, add 125ml vegetable stock, 3-4 garlic cloves, a bunch of mint, bunch of parsley and 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt. Blend together till smooth, season to taste. Refrigerate till ready to use.

3. For the Paella, soften 2-3 onions with 4-5 finely chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in 2tsp olive oil. Add a splash of white wine, 4-5 strands of saffron, 1-2tsp paprika, 1-2tsp cayenne pepper and 2-3 red peppers cut into strips. Add 300g giant couscous and stir to coat for 2-3mins. Add 400ml stock and cook 8-10mins until the couscous is cooked.

4. For the cod, put 8 cod fillets skin up in a roasting tin, season and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven at 200oC for 8mins until just translucent and the skin is beginning to crisp.

5. Place pea puree on the plate, put a circle of paella in the centre and top with the fish and crispy ham.

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Lime Sponge, Lime, Tequila and Salted Caramel Syrup, Avocado mousse and White Chocolate Mint leaves

1. For the Syrup (1). Place 150g sugar in a pan. Add 50ml water, a large pinch of salt, 1 lime juice and zest. Bring to the boil and DO NOT STIR. Let bubble till it begins to turn very light orange, remove from the heat. Pour a little syrup into 8 greased, foil mini pudding basins. Leave to cool.

2. For the Sponge. Beat 170g sugar and 170g butter together until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs, vanilla essence, zest of 1 lime and 1tsp cinnamon for 2-3 mins. Fold in 170g self raising flour. The mix should be pale yellow and not too thick, if it is too thick add a little milk. Spoon batter into the 8 pudding basins, filling up to halfway. Bake in the oven for 12-15mins at 140oC or until golden brown and cooked in the middle (check using a metal skewer, if it comes out clean the cakes are done. Set aside till ready to use.

3. For the Mint Leaves, Melt 100g white chocolate in a microwave in 20sec bursts. Pick individual mint leaves and pat completely dry. Dip the leaves in the mint and place on a greased, foil lined tray, place in the fridge to set.

4. For the mousse, mash 2 avocados and blend with 300g Greek Yoghurt (blending creates a lighter texture than just mixing). Add a small bunch of mint, a pinch of salt, 2-3tbsp of icing sugar and lime juice (to taste).

5. For the syrup (2). This syrup needs to be clear so make the syrup as step 1 but take it off the heat before it gets any colour and it should be thinner. Add 50ml white tequila. (This should be used warm)

6. To serve, turn out the sponges and drizzle with the warm syrup. Serve with the Avocado mousse and white chocolate mint leaf.

 

Ultimate Challenge: £10, one person, microwave (and hob), 20min decadent menu

Ultimate challenge: £10 student microwave (and hob) 20min menu 

I’m not sure you are technically allowed to review yourself when writing a blog but having addressed the ultimate  challenge for any student. You have finished a module of your exams, you want to treat yourself but all your friends are still busy. You can’t really afford (nor would you want to ) to eat alone in a restaurant and you only have a microwave. On top of that your fridge is the size of a shoebox and you can almost guarantee that anything left in it will go off before it has been worth the money you paid for it, plus you are trying to be relatively healthy but are pretty damn hungry. You also (in this woman’s case) have recently purchased a ridiculous amount of amazing bordeaux wine for only £3 a bottle,  what is the point of going out anywhere.

Yes I was lucky to find the £4 rump steak (reduced from £5) but otherwise….and it is £10.41 but who is counting!!!!

Ingredients

2x Mussels in white wine sauce (save one for later) – £2.99

4x bread rolls (3x lunches for the week) – £0.69

Rump steak 200g – £4

1x sweet potato (save half for later) – £0.49

Asparagus bunch (save half for later) – £0.49

1 muller light coconut and lime yoghurt – £0.69

4x lightest cream cheese individual packs (save 1 for later) – £1.00

6 large eggs (save 5 for later) – £1.15

1 snack pack Belvita breakfast biscuits – £0.50

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20:00 Whisk together 1 egg, yoghurt and cream cheese until smooth.

19:00 Pour into a microwave proof dish. Chop the sweet potato into thin strips (the thinner they are the better they work).

18:00 Chop the asparagus and place in a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Season a frying pan with salt, pepper and a very small drizzle of oil. Place on a high heat to heat up.

17:00 Meanwhile place the cheesecake in the microwave covered in a small piece of paper towel. Microwave on high for 1min, it should be mostly cooked. Microwave in 20sec bursts until cooked in the centre. Crush the biscuits into crumbs and sprinkle over the top, refrigerate.

16:00 Put the mussels in a saucepan to heat up (roughly 4 mins). Place the bread roll in the microwave on a low heat for about 45s    ec to warm up. Put the steak on to fry, roughly 2mins on each side for medium rare.

12:00 Cover the steak in foil and put aside to rest. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, pepper a small drizzle of oil and smoked paprika. Put in the microwave on medium high for 10mins. Meanwhile eat your mussels and crusty warm bread.

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02:00 Boil water and cook the asparagus for about 2mins. Turn the microwave to high and cook the potatoes for a further 2mins.

00:00 Serve. Eat cheesecake after.

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Swhisky Sticky Toffee Pud

Swhisky Sticky Toffee Pud

It’s official, I’ve spent far too much time revising I am starting making references to my modules in my blog names. Boris Godunov – look it up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Godunov_(opera). Geeky music moment over. I recommend this for anybody going through a stressful period of your life, it soothes with sugar, stodge and booze (you don’t think so when you’re cooking but it hits you). Adult comfort food.

Ingredients (serves 6 or 1 depending on how hungry and greedy you are)

200g plain flour                                100g butter

1tsp baking powder                          200g caster sugar

150g dark brown sugar                   150ml cream

2 eggs                                                   2 large pinches of sea salt

150ml milk                                         50-75ml whisky

1-2 tsp of vanilla extract

60g melted butter

1 large pinch of salt

 

Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla and butter together, until foamy. Add flour, salt, sugar and baking powder and mix well, doesn’t matter if it is a little lumpy.

Butter a shallow dish and pour the mixture in. Bake at 20-30 mins at 170OC until firm.

Meanwhile put the sugar in a pan with 2tbsp water. Leave on a low-medium heat WITHOUT STIRRING until the sugar turns amber. IMMEDIATELY remove from the heat and add the cream and butter, it will bubble ferociously but go with it and mix well.

Add the salt and whisky , just try not inhale the fumes too much (last time I got unintentionally tipsy at 9am).

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke a few holes with a skewer and pour over the sauce, leave to seep in. If need be reheat before serving and put extra sauce on the side.

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.