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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Caesar Salad, Pancetta wrapped Cod, Jelly, Ice Cream and Chocolate

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents dearly. But for two immensely talented and successful people, they are absolutely hopeless at feeding themselves. People think I’m joking when they ask where I learnt to cook and I tell them it wasn’t so much where but why, it was a necessity if I didn’t want to live off fish cakes for the majority of my teenage years. Take this weekend when I came home. I had offered to cook dinner for the parents and the man upstairs, and in return my mum had bought in a shopping order. I had left basic items like stock and dried herbs off the list assuming anyone who isn’t a student, lives in a house full time and presumably eats would have these staples, I was wrong. My mothers response? ‘We had some at christmas’, yes we did, and I used it up, the last time I cooked in our house. My father is I’m afraid no better, while very good at selecting wines for our dinner, he took in the food order and left out most of the veg and salad because they wouldn’t fit in the fridge, the fridge was full of potatoes…. Anyway, for those of you who know how to store vegetables, here is a standard, albeit slightly middle class, quick dinner party menu.

Posh Caesar Salad (Serves 4) 

2 iceberg lettuces, 2 chicken breasts, 4 quails eggs, 10 anchovies, 1 small sourdough roll, 1 egg yolk, 1/3 tsp of English mustard, 1/2 tsp of garlic, finely chopped, 1 1/4 tsp of white wine vinegar, 1 1/4 tsp of lemon juice 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce, 10g of Parmesan, grated, 120ml of vegetable oil

1. Sprinkle chicken with sea salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil and top with 1/2 crushed garlic clove each. Roast for 12-15mins at 180*C, leave to rest. 

  1. Meanwhile boil the quails eggs for 2 1/2mins, then run under cold water to stop the cooking process. When cool, peel and set aside. Cut the roll into croutons and toast on both sides under a grill, seasoned with a little salt, pepper and olive oil.
  2. For the dressing, blend 2 anchovies, egg yolk, mustard, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slowly add oil whilst blitzing. Add Worcester sauce, lemon juice and Parmesan, season to taste.

  3. Serve drizzled over Iceberg lettuce topped with chicken, anchovies, quails egg and Parmesan slivers.  

Pancetta wrapped cod, pearl barley risotto, garlic mushrooms, crispy kale, Early Grey jus

4 cod fillets, boneless and skinless, 12 rashes pancetta, 100g button mushrooms, 2 cloves garlic, 100g kale, dried rosemary, 320g pearl barley, 2 stock cubes, 1 onion, dried thyme, drizzle of truffle oil, 3tbsp Brandy. 2 earl grey tea bags.

  1. Soak the tea bags in 300ml hot water for at least 1hr. Wrap 3 pancetta rashes around each fish and set aside in a baking tray. Meanwhile place the kale in a baking dish, sprinkled with salt, pepper, rosemary and a small drizzle of oil. Place in the oven at 140*C for 25mins, stirring occasionally, until crispy.
  • .Meanwhile, slice the onions into small pieces. Sauté for 2-3mins in olive oil and salt. Add the pearl barley, thyme then brandy. Add 600ml stock and cook, stirring occasionally for 30mins, adding more water if needed. Season with lemon juice, pepper, salt and truffle oil and set aside.

  • Forthe mushrooms, finely chop garlic and cook in truffle oil for 1min. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5mins over a high heat, set aside. Put the fish on to cook in 140*C oven for 15mins.

  • Meanwhile, make jus. Combine earl grey stock with stock cube, salt, pepper and lemon juice, reduce by about half.

  • Just before serving, heat jus and risotto. Make a bed with the risotto, scatter around mushrooms, place fish on top, drizzle jus and scatter with kale chips.  

  • Grown-up Jelly, Ice cream and chocolate sauce

    A nostalgic nod to my primary school, The Rowans, where we indulgently were given those wonderful ice cream squares, strawberry jelly and chocolate custard, my favourite dessert. We used to mix them all up together in a wonderful synthtic, sugary mess we loved. This thankfully is more refined, very simple and quick and tasty, try adding ginger to the ice cream.

    1 tub vanilla ice cream, 200g shortbread biscuits, 4tbsp maple syrup, Silicone half sphere moulds, 300ml grapefruit juice, 4 gelatine leaves, 200g dark chocolate, 50g sugar, 50ml water, pinch of sea salt.

    1. Let the ice cream soften, until it can be squeezed out of its tub. Use a pastry brush to coat 4 silicone moulds. Crush shortbread in a plastic bag with a rolling pin to fine crumbs. Pour into moulds to coat and shake out so you have an even layer lining the moulds. Scoop ice cream into each mould, using a knife to level the base. Freeze.
  • For the jelly, heat grapefruit juice to boiling. Soak gelatine leaves in cold water, squeeze out and stir into grapefruit juice. Pour into a base lined square dish and refrigerate for at least 2hrs.

  • For the sauce, heat water and sugar to boiling. Stir in chocolate and salt until melted. Chop grapefruit jelly into squares. Serve beside ice cream and jelly in a little jug.

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    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. 

    Home, Sweet Home

    I have, unfortunately, got a back log of blogs, something I never thought I’d say. So during a period of self induced anti-social behaviour (by this I mean speaking as little as possible, no drinking, no noisy places etc in order to heal my vocal chords after years of singing on them sub-par) I am attempting to knock as many of these out as possible. Let’s start with my trip back home for the weekend, partly on the way back from an interview at Leiths cookery school (shameless name drop there) and partly to catch up with my grandma (and of course download the link to this site as part of her desktop so she never misses an article). I come home and suggest a nice dinner out, my parents enjoying my company, me exploiting free, nice food. My mother had other ideas. She had recently had a delivery from Sandy Lane Farm, the lovely oxfordshire farm that provided our Turkey for Christmas, of an assortment of random vegetables. In her own words, she was never going to get around to using them this week, as they were out almost every night, so could we maybe eat in? Well played mum, who’s exploiting who now…. On that note, Happy Mothers Day for yesterday So here is the vegetable inspired 3 course meal. (NB I think I may have found a way to convert even the most die-hard anti-sprouts veterans with this starter)

    Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Wilted Cavolo Nero, Lemon-yoghurt dressing, Parmesan shavings, Poached Duck Eggs.

    1. For the brussels sprouts, wash, trim and cut brussels sprouts in half. Place in a dish and scatter with truffle oil, black pepper, salt and lemon juice. Roast for 20mins at 180°C.
    2. Meanwhile combine lemon juice, pepper, greek yoghurt and a pinch of sea salt and mix well. Wash the cavolo nero then pour over boiling water to wilt slightly, toss in dressing.

    3. Finally poach 4 duck eggs for 2-3mins so the centre is still soft. Top the cavolo nero with the brussel sprouts, parmesan shavings and finally the duck eggs.

    Pan Fried Sea Bass, Swede and roasted garlic mash, walnut pesto, roasted lemons and maple roasted baby carrots.

    1. Peel and chop swede, boil with salt, bay leaf, thyme and pepper until soft. Meanwhile roast the garlic (Whole) and slices of lemon for 20mins at 180°C.

    2. For the pesto, blitz 200g walnuts, handful of parsley, 1tbsp walnut oil, 1tsp truffle oil, 2tsp lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor.

    3. For the carrots, scrub, top and tail the baby carrots. Roast for 15-20mins in a drizzle of oil, maple syrup, salt, pepper and white wine vinegar.

    4. For the sea bass, put 4 sea bass fillets in a pan of cold water with a bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and cumin. Bring slowly to the boil, as soon as you reach the boil turn of the heat and leave for 10mins. Pan fry in a drizzle of oil skin side down for 2mins, until skin is crispy.

    5. To serve, mash the swede with 2-3tbsp olive oil, a pinch of cumin and the roasted garlic. Serve topped with the fish, walnut pesto, lemon slices and carrots.

     Maple and Sweetcorn Pannacotta, Maple Popcorn.

    1. Bring 600ml milk and 200ml cream to the boil. Add 1tsp vanilla extract, 3tbsp maple syrup and 500g sweetcorn kernals, simmer for 2-3mins. Blend until smooth and pass through a sieve. Meanwhile soak 4 leaves of gelatine in cold water squeeze out and add to sweetcorn mix. Pour mix into ramekins.

    2. For the popcorn, drizzle 1tsp oil in a pan. Add 2tbsp unpopped popping corn. Cook covered until the popcorn begins to pop, turn off heat and leave covered until the popping stops. Add 2tbsp maple syrup and shake well to coat, leave to one side.

    3. Serve pannacotta topped with popcorn.

    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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    Christmas Dinner: Round 1

    I will not call our Christmas dinner at the house the ‘practice round’, despite it being nearly a week early since all three housemates are leaving to spend the actual day with their parents. It was rather impressive in its own right, especially as it only took us around 2 hours to make. Despite Mark Francis’ pleas we did not get a turkey for the three of us; impractical considering 2/3 of us were leaving a day later. Instead I picked up a chicken on the way home from work. I turned up to discover a beautifully laid table with champagne, wine and dessert wine glasses, place mats and candles. The house had been decorated top to toe in tinsel and some wonderfully garish red fairy lights (Santa’s grotto in our home). We even had a mini wooden tree, Aldi’s finest crackers, (I’ve always wanted a fortune telling fish), and numerous Christmas cards. As I pootled around the cupboards preparing the main course, I even found unnecessary christmas bargains picked up from Aldi – a gift set containing stollen bites and rum, more mince pies (we have a never ending supply), and star-shaped biscuits (which turned out to be great in coffee cocktails).
    So with St John’s College Choir’s carol CD blaring from the speakers (interspersed with snippets from the Gospel Messiah Claire Balding had found on YouTube), I set down to work, over-catering as always.
    After some craftily-posed cracker-pulling selfies, it was time to actually eat. The starter was pulled out of the fridge, made ahead and stylishly plated up in cocktail glasses. The lovely Claire Balding’s take on the traditional prawn cocktail used horseradish and tomato and chilli relish for a less synthetically tasting Marie Rose sauce, and was delicious.

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    Gradually I began loading the table with dishes for the main course. I decided this year just to make up the recipes as I went along; sometimes it’s more fun to live life on the edge. I think at this point even Mark Francis was pretty pleased we hadn’t gone for the turkey. We had a roast chicken. Over the years I have tried and failed many times to roast a chicken perfectly – the results have usually been either too dry or undercooked. After some years perfecting it, my fail safe method is to rub the chicken liberally with sea salt and pepper, adding a tbsp of butter massaged under the skin (a bizarrely satisfying thing to do), stuff the cavity with various fresh herbs (I used bay leaves, thyme, sage, rosemary), and then put in the oven for 1 hour at 180ºc with a 1 inch level of water (or white wine?) in the bottom of the roasting tin. After 1 hour, uncover and cook for a further 20-30mins until the juices run clear. Leave to rest for 20mins and you have a ready-made gravy base!

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    Next up were the roast potatoes. I have tried so many times to make these healthy, but I’m afraid while using olive oil produces fairly crunchy and tasty potatoes, nothing can beat goose fat for top-notch roasties. I peeled and cut some King Edward potatoes into uneven knobbly lumps (very important as the more edges, the better the roast potatoes will be). I boiled them for 7-8mins, adding salt, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme to the water. Meanwhile I heated 1 large tbsp goose fat in the oven until melted. To this, I added the drained potatoes and herbs and roasted at 180ºC for 30-40mins. Even Mark Francis broke his usual 3 potato limit for these. In my opinion though, the Chef’s treat has to be the virtually deep-fried crunchy herbs you are left with at the end.
    No Christmas dinner would be complete without parsnips. These are again something I rarely have except at Christmas. But that may be because I am snobby enough only to like my roasted parsnips. I positively turn my nose up at those barely-cooked chunks of parsnips that are usually served up at mass-produced roast dinners. For me a perfect roast parsnip should be thin and slightly caramelised: chewy and crunchy at the same time. So this year I sliced some carrots and parsnips into batons, tossing them in salt, pepper, thyme, truffle oil, olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a drizzle of honey. I roasted these at 180ºC for 30-40mins until caramelised, stirring every so often.
    I am a fan of creamed spinach. I understand it is not everybody’s cup of tea, but since I was forgoing the most delicious part of the Christmas spread (the bread sauce), this was the nearest substitute I could manage at short notice. Simply melt 2 tbsp butter and whisk in 1 tbsp flour, add milk, whisking at small intervals until you get a white sauce. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. When ready to serve, pour boiling water over a colander of spinach to wilt. Stir the spinach into the white sauce, add cream if desired.
    The cranberry sauce is another thing people rarely seem to want to make, which for me makes absolutely no sense. It’s so easy and always sooo much nicer than the stuff from a jar. All you do is put 300g sugar and 300g cranberries in a pan with a splash of vanilla extract, port and water. Add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp ground cloves. Bring to the boil and stir for 2-3mins, and hey presto! Cranberry sauce that will keep for ages.

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    On to the stuffing. Mark Francis couldn’t quite believe I was willing to squeeze the meat out of sausage skins in order to make this, but agreed that the end result was worth it. I believe the line CB used to describe them was ‘cakes of fun’, although I think the revised version ‘balls of fun’ has a better ring to it. To make the stuffing I simply mixed the meat of 8 sausages with a handful of cranberries, 1 egg, salt, pepper, a handful of chopped sage leaves, a sprinkling of parsley, 200g chopped chestnuts and 3 tbsp golden breadcrumbs. I shaped this mix into little balls and roasted in the oven at 180ºC for 30 mins.
    My final addition to the table was the gravy. This really needs no recipe as thanks to the method of roasting the chicken above, the juices had already collected in the bottom of the pan. I simply whisked in 1 tbsp sifted cornflour to thicken, and added a stock cube to flavour.
    Mark Francis’ main contribution were the ‘Ancient Roman style’ brussels sprouts, using an old family recipe. Unfortunately Mark Francis’ mother works along the same lines as me when it comes to cooking, providing him only a list of ingredients with no specific cooking times of amounts. This could have all gone so wrong. But in fact they went down so well I am planning using the recipe for my own Christmas dinner tomorrow. Simply take Brussels sprouts, raisins and olives, braise them in stock for 4-5mins until reduced, and then stir through some pine nuts. When in Rome or indeed Cambridge…

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    After sitting and groaning at our stomachs for a bit, we decided we would play some games before dessert. While ‘Pass the bomb’ using the Great British Bake Off music instead of a timer was great fun, I’m not sure ‘Twister’ was the wisest idea given the quantity of food consumed… Luckily Claire Balding had made a delightful light dessert of baked pears, which she had stuffed with ricotta and sprinkled with amaretti biscuits. We served it with a discovery of Mark Francis – Aldi’s Finest: a box set of sparkling Asti dessert wine and Cantucci biscuits. While at first we were unsure what “Aldi’s Finest” would entail, it was a wonderful dessert wine, only 5%, sweet but not cloying. Shame you can only buy it in the box set.

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    Altogether, a fine warm-up for the big day. I will let you know if I manage to persuade the 90 year old grandparents to play Twister!

    The House Party

    It is sadly an altogether too rare delight that my housemates and I manage to be in the house all at the same time of an evening. Despite the fact we have lived together for the past 4 months, we very rarely seem to manage to all be there at the same time. This may have something to do with the fact that I work during the day, Mark Francis works during the evening and Clare Balding works whenever she can/has to. When we do find ourselves in the house together, it is usually either early in the morning standing in our bedroom doorways clad in dressing gowns for a quick 10 min chat, or occasionally at about midnight, when we all traipse in from our various social activities to share the gossip we know about those still at the university. Hence the fact that a dinner together is practically unheard of. When we discovered we all happened not to have prior social commitments on the same evening, that evening became a social occasion in itself. I hit up Aldi, Clare Balding brought the Prosecco and Mark Francis brought… himself. We decided we would make one course each: CB the starter, myself the main and MF the dessert. I feel each course reflected our different cooking styles…

    We began with a classic combination of melon, prosciutto, Parmesan, rocket and balsamic. It was delicious. Sometimes just combining good quality ingredients together is all you need to make a really good dish. (Plus look how pretty it is!)

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    I, of course, went to the other extreme: simplicity was not the aim in my dish. I made lamb neck fillets with a harissa pine nut crust, roasted veg and raisin-studded couscous, a thickened tagine-style sauce, sautéed spinach and a mint raita.

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    The highlight of the meal was inevitably the pizza, sorry, ‘pudding’. Unfortunately by this point the novelty of cooking had worn off, and we were all more interested in watching Christmas adverts on YouTube and listening to 100 year old recordings of castrati sounding incredibly bad. Mark Francis did his best though, and made beautiful looking (slightly pizza-esque) individual strawberry tarte tatins with grated white chocolate. These managed to be not too sweet and full of luscious strawberry flavour: like a fruit-filled strawberry ice cream. However he was too impatient to actually wait for the tarts to cook… As Mary Berry would say (and I know my housemates are fans) the tarts most definitely had rather soggy bottoms.

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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.

     

    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.