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.

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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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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.

 

Tour de France

Since realising that I’ve finally left institutionalised education and actually have no fixed path anymore I’ve decided to branch out with my cooking. I seem to have had writers block during all the post exam furore ( hence the lack of posts recently) so I’ve decided to try and set myself challenges. In order to master these recipes I’ve always struggled with I’m going to read lots of different versions of the recipe to try and pinpoint the problems and come up with the best result. First up is Patisserie. I’ve never really mastered some of the classic French recipes so with a week of nothing to do but put off unpacking my university stuff, I decided to do a mini tour of the highlights of French patisserie. First up is choux pastry. In homage to the upcoming final leg of the Tour de France in Paris, I’ve decided to make  Paris Brest. This pastry was first made to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race in 1910, ironically it was popular with the riders as it gave them a lot of energy but I can’t image that it would fit in with the intense nutritional programs of today’s competitors. It’s meant to look like a bicycle wheel, as exhibit A shows.

Paris Brest 4

 

I’ve had problems with choux pastry before. My profiteroles looked incredibly promising in the oven but sank the moment they came out leaving a soggy flat circle…. So this time I studied a number of different recipes to try and get it right this time. As far as I can tell the 3 things to be careful are

1. Don’t slack beating the flour and water mix before adding the eggs as the pastry needs a good support for the outer shell.

2. Don’t try to add all the eggs at once, the eggs need to be properly beaten so that the pastry rises enough.

3. Don’t take the pastries out of the oven too soon, even if it is a little brown, the pastries will sink if brought out too early.

The Recipe

1. Start by melting 150ml water and 50g butter and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and beat in a pinch of salt and 75g flour into the mix so the dough is shiny and comes away from the pan. Return to the heat and beat for 2mins.

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2. Set aside to cool a little. When the mix is cool, add 2 eggs and a drop of vanilla essence, beating in 1 at a time. Beat well for 2-5mins until the mix is shiny and drops off the spoon.

3. Heat the oven to 200oC. Fill a piping bag with the mix and pipe circles onto a lined baking tray. (This is actually the hardest bit, try to make the thickness as equal as possible all the way round for a the prettiest finish) Brush the tops with egg yolk and then scatter over 50g flaked almonds. Bake in the oven for 10mins, then turn the heat down to 180oC and bake for a further 20mins until brown on top. As soon as they come out of the oven split the pastries in half lengthways. Leave to cool.

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4. For the filling, beat together 2 egg yolks and 40g sugar together until light and fluffy, then add 25g plain flour. Meanwhile heat 160ml whole milk in a pan with 1 tsp expresso powder and 1tsp vanilla extract. Pour the heated milk (not boiling) over the egg mix and whisk together. Return to the pan and cook over a low heat whisking constantly. When the mixture is thickened remove from the heat. Leave to cool (This is again where I went wrong – try to refrigerate this if possible as if you add the mixture too warm to the cream, the mix won’t be as thick in the pastries as it should be)

5. Beat 200ml cream to soft peaks. Fold in the patisserie cream and decant into a piping bag. Pipe between the pastry halves. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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As a side note I also had a go at making Kale chips (healthy crisps so I’m told). Simply remove the thick stalks of the kale leaves and tear into small pieces. Lay on a foil lined baking tray, sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven for 6-8mins at 200oC. It’s not quite the same as Walkers but they are pretty addictive.

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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.

Playing House

Playing House
There is a reason I cook less in Cambridge. Mostly because my kitchen this year consists of two ‘warming plates’ and a microwave and my fridge (as I’ve said before) resembles the toy fridge that came with the ‘my first kitchen’ I got at the age of three. I have minimal access to an oven and any attempt to use it involves running four floors down my staircase and two floors up on another one, which is always fun when you’re carrying a hot tray…. Plus I have limited (three armchairs) seating and only a desk to eat off. All this makes it less than ideal to throw a dinner party, but I took up the challenge when my friend the Girtonion persuaded me to throw one with her.

We optimistically set a date in a month and a half’s time, although being me, I planned the menu about a week later. Limitations included budget ( if we had a fish starter, we went with a veggie main), gluten intolerance and logistics, oven space (I went with no-cook starter and dessert). 
On the day itself, about an hour and a half before the start of the party, we had an offer of a better venue, with a proper table and enough chairs and and oven in the next door room. While fantastic, this proved an entertaining challenge as we carried 3 large lasagnes through college and across the road, I was surprised we managed to pull this off but with 3 minutes to go we were semi-organised. 
While enjoying a fine selection of wines (my friends have good taste) we sat down.
Gin and Juniper cured Salmon, pickled cucumber and creme fraiche 
( see christmas blog for the recipe)
This was possibly the easiest course to do within our limitations and relatively cheap with Sainsburys basics salmon fillets, who knew. Although I panicked and left the cure on too long so they were a little too salty but luckily managed to balance out with the mellowing flavours of the creme fraiche and cucumber.

Goats Cheese and Butternut Squash no pasta lasagne, with sage and garlic chips and broccoli.
Why I decided to cook a lasagne for a gluten-free meal I am not entirely sure, but I love the Nigella goats cheese and pumpkin lasagne 
So in order to tweak it to suit my limitations, we used squash instead of pumpkin, cut down on expensive goats cheese and upped the mozzarella, increased the garlic (always makes things better), replaced the pine nuts with walnuts and replaced the pasta with slices of courgette and aubergine. my original idea as an interesting side was fried garlic polenta, but alas a lack of interesting ingredients in the supermarkets of Cambridge scuppered this plan. Instead we went with chips. We parboiled the potatoes with salt, sage and garlic, tossed the drained contents in oil and roasted for about an hour – they appeared to go down well, my neighbours at the table started grazing on extra chips of the tray before we had even served all the food. 
Lemon Posset, popping candy and gluten free shortbread.
Lemon posset is a delightfully easy dessert, in this case quirkily served in plastic cups (Ok maybe that is all I had…) Simply bring 600ml cream and 150g sugar and the zest of 3 lemons to the boil, boil for 3 mins before whisking in the juice of 3 lemons, pour into glasses and leave to set. Note to self, next time don’t put the popping candy on till the last minute otherwise you simply create a sort of strawberry flavour creme brûlée topping to your posset…. 
For the shortbread I got to use my new bright red Kitchen aid for the first time. Again devilishly simple. Cream 150g butter, 75g sugar, 1tsp salt, add 250g gluten free self raising flour, roll into flattened balls and bake at 180oC for 12-15mins till golden brown.
There were moments I thought a three course meal for nine would be impossible in college, it wasn’t, but boy it made me appreciate my kitchen at home. 

An Indian Winter

An Indian Winter

Tonights meal actually had a little forethought – usually it is a case of whatever is in the freezer. But today I was feeling pretty pleased with myself having actually got some work done on my coursework so it felt I might actually have something to hand in at the end of the year. So I popped to Tesco’s and delved into the reduced items (ever the savvy student) and found some pork medallions. I am the first to admit that my meals tend to be mostly french or british inspired with the occasional foray into Moroccan or Oriental, but today i decided to tackle something I have never really attempted before, Indian. As I may have mentioned before my parents do not have the most adventurous taste buds (I’m training them) so the curry recipe below is VERY mild. My first problem with my wonderful idea was getting home and realising I had no cream or coconut milk…. I did however have creme fraiche (I know a seemingly never ending supply – maybe I should write a book, 101 ways with creme fraiche…) My second problematic encounter was realising I was trying to make yellow rice studded with raisins…..without any raisins, however I did have cranberries (you can see where this is going). The final problem I had was I only had a very small amount of gram masala and no curry powder, although I actually made it sort of work by bulking out the garem masala with turmeric and cardamon. If you have more Garem masala (and I expect this is probably the case) feel free to use just that. On the other hand the cranberries and creme fraiche worked rather well and it worked rather well.

Garem Masala crusted pork medallions, cranberry studded yellow rice and curried sauce

Serves 2

6 pork medallions
handful of breadcrumbs
2tsp of garem masala
2 tsp mustard powder
2-3 tsp dried coriander leaves
salt
pepper
1 tbsp ground nut oil

wedge of butter
100-150g rice (however hungry you are) easy cook is best
salt
pepper
couple of cardamon pods
1 tsp turmeric
handful cranberries
water

1tbsp groundnut oil
2-3 shallots, chopped into little squares
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1tsp garem masala
1tsp turmeric
couple of cardamon pods
salt
pepper
dollop tomato puree
1 bay leaf
water
chopped coriander (we have frozen – I’d advise this)
2-3tbsp creme fraiche

1. Roll the outside of the medallions in the breadcrumbs, mixed with all the dry ingredients
2. Meanwhile sweat the shallots and garlic in the groundnut oil with a good sprinkling of salt.
3. after a few mins add the spices and cook for another minute.
4. Add the tomato puree, bay leaf and roughly 200-300ml water, let it bubble away for a bit until thickened a little.
5. Meanwhile place all the rice ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil
6. Sear the breadcrumbed sides of the pork in the groundnut oil (use tongs for this) then return all medallions to the pan and place in the oven at 180OC for 10mins
7. Before you are about to serve ( rice should have soaked up most of the water) stir the creme fraiche and coriander into the sauce.
8. Place a dollop of rice in the centre of the plate, top with 3 medallions each and drizzle over the sauce
 
 

Give it a Bit of Welly – A view from the other side

Give it a Bit of Welly – A view from the other side
So this week we’ve left the bubble that is Cambridge and moved into an equally self contained place, Oxford. 

Guest Post from an Oxford Student

This year our beautiful fourteenth century hall has been replaced by a tent on the front lawn and so I have taken to cooking for myself. Having done the basic student stuff I moved on to do a twelve hour pork belly a fortnight ago which (though it ended up being more like nine and a half hours) was a resounding success. Unfortunately, my friends are the ambitious sort and so I need to keep on throwing more complex and impressive things at them to maintain the illusion of culinary competence. This week it was time to have a go at Venison Wellington. The benefit of this is that it’s basically the same as I did a fortnight ago but with a different centrepiece: the veg and Yorkshire pudding is now well practiced.
 
The covered market in Oxford is the only place to buy meat. It’s almost always cheaper than Tescos, invariably better quality and you get a chat and a smile with the person behind the counter rather than a computer to whose sole task, selling you stuff, it seems completely ill suited. The butchers I tend to go to is Meat Master whose owner, Matthew, seems keen on rowdy youths like me experiencing interesting meat. This time round he offered me camel and kangaroo. I think I’ll sample them at a later date and report back.
He got hold of a kilo of venison loin off the bone for me at only £22. There was another piece he said might be a bit nicer for £28, but I was working to a budget of £5 a head. That slab of meat procured, I had a quick nip round Tescos picking up carrots, parsnips, spuds, broccoli, mushrooms, pate, Parma ham, chestnuts and a large onion. I must confess at this point that I also bought puff pastry. I’ve made it before and it just wasn’t worth the effort. It all came to about £12.
 
I scurried back down holywell street and into the kitchen of a college owned house where some friends of mine live.
Having rubbed the meat with olive oil, I browned it on each side in a frying pan on a medium flame and set it aside.
I turned the oven on to 200oC. That bit I could do.
Next I chopped up a packet mushrooms and onion into manageable sizes and blended them a little without any liquid so that the would be very finely chopped rather than a paste. These were thrown into the frying pan with a bit more oil until the onion was soft. To this I added the remains of a decanter of port I had kicking around (as one does) until it was reduced.
While it was simmering away, aided by the odd prod of a wooden spoon here and there, I laid out about two feet of cling film and laid out the Parma ham so that rind overlapped the meat of the slice beneath it. Onto this I spread the mushroom, onion and port mix.
Returning to the now cooled venison slab, I covered its top side with the pack of pork liver pâté and rolled this, pâté side down onto the middle of the mushroom and onion.
I have the hand eye coordination of a stupid slug so the next bit proved trickier for me than for a person of normal intellectual abilities. I had to lift the cling film on either side of the venison and wrap it around the meat. Simple as it sounds, it’s just quite fiddly once you factor in the effects of gravity upon Parma ham.
However, that done, I got on with rolling out pastry into a large enough rectangle that that could form the outside layer around the Parma ham. Being a student kitchen, this was done with a mug rather than a rolling pin. Normal people should use a rolling pin. I imagine it takes much less time. The meat parcel was duly unwrapped from its Clingfilm and rolled into the centre of the pastry. This was then wrapped around it, sealing the edges with a dab of egg wash. I spread the remainder of the egg wash over the top and sides of the pastry.
Next came peeling and slicing of veg. I tried to get it so that they were all roughly the same chip shape and size. I let them simmer in a pan for five minutes before draining and dousing them liberally with olive oil. For a bit of interest, I sprinkled with dried mixed herbs. Before being shoved in the oven for an hour and a quarter alongside the Wellington. One of the friends who ate has a real aversion to bloody meat or I would have put it in for only about an hour.
The chestnuts didn’t work out quite as well as I would have hoped and I’m not really sure what the trick with them is. I cut a cross in the skin of each and baked them at 200oC for an hour. Any clues on how to do them better much appreciated.
The Yorkshire Pudding is just pancake mix in an ovenproof bowl but that worked out nicely. The gravy was easy enough, just onions, red wine, beef stock cube,
It seemed to go down well. I would have preferred the meat a bit bloodier and I’m not really sure what wasn’t right about the chestnuts, but my friends ate it all and enjoyed it. One of their number had a Chateau Fonplégade 2003 tucked away somewhere and that seemed to go nicely with it. 
 

Suggestions for the next time I cook…?
Venison Wellington
·      Put a large frying pan on medium heat. Rub venison in olive oil and seal on all sides.
·      Heat butter in the pan and wait till it’s foaming. Fry the onions in the pan till they’re soft. Throw in blended mushrooms for six minutes then add the port. Leave to cool once it’s reduced.
·      Lay out clingfilm on a table and overlap proscuitto. Spread the cooled mushroom and onion mix over it.
·      Cover the venison with påté and lay it in the centre of the ham and mushroom. Lift the sides of the clingfilm around the meat so that it is wrapped in the layer of mushroom and ham.
·      Roll out the pastry so that it’s large enough to wrap around the meat.
·      Gingerly remove the cling film and place the venison package in the centre of the pastry and brush the venison parcel with egg wash. Wrap the pastry around the meat.
·      Cook at 200OC
Roast Vegetables
·      Peel and slice vegetables
·      Simmer for 5 minutes
·      Put in a roasting tin and lightly cover with olive oil.
·      Sprinkle with salt and mixed herbs.
·      Roast for 30-35 minutes. Turn over half way through.

Organ lessons

Organ lessons

My friend (who happens to be an organist) turned 21 yesterday. His sole wish was to have champagne and smoked salmon on his birthday (you can probably see why we are friends). So of course I selflessly obliged him in drinking his champagne and going for both lunch and dinner with him (loch fyne and cote since you ask) and had a wonderful evening. But what do you give the foodie organist ? an organ cake of course.
Using the time in my latest Early music lecture efficiently I planned a cake with a little help from another organist for authenticity. I figured a proper large pipe organ was a little ambitious so went with a chamber organ. One thing I am struggling with at uni is the lack of food processor (I know, middle class problems) so my chocolate cake ended up with small chunks of chocolates rather than the smooth texture I was expecting but that was a surprisingly tasty addition which I could easily pass of as an intentional clever twist. After making my two square shaped chocolate cakes I cut one in equal halves, and one with a slightly small half so that there was a ledge at the bottom for the seat. Then I levelled each one so that they had flat tops and square edges and sandwiched the layers together with strawberry jam.

After that I covered the whole cake in strawberry jam which stops the icing from getting all crumby when you spread it over and also gives a nice tang to the cake (I didn’t necessarily realise this would happen but on tasting it was pretty good). Finally I covered the whole cake in buttercream chocolate fudge icing, added a Caramac? (me neither) as a music stand, a Twix as the seat, iced a keyboard and pipes on the back and it sort of looked like an organ. Although it’s a good thing my artwork gets eaten almost immediately

 

Il Tricolore: Red, White and Green

Another one of my favourite courses of the fat duck menu was one of the few seasonally changing ones. Heston has developed an amazing idea for the presentation of this course. A white chocolate picnic blanket with a check transfer which just before serving is gently melted with a blow torch before serving and it looks so delicious. Not only this but it tastes delicious, I’ve already posted about olive oil shortbread which on its own is a really surprisingly good (I would say better than butter….tentatively) but combining it with the strawberry flavours and white chocolate it is even better. Here is my version of the dessert (warning it is addictive and very very sweet) edible flowers are not required for the home version.
Heston’s


Il Tricolore: Red, White and Green


 Ingredients (serves 2)
Freeze Dried Strawberries
400g strawberries
Olive Oil Ganache
150g white chocolate
100ml cream
100ml olive oil
Olive Oil Shortbread
50g butter
50g sugar
100g flour
50g ground almonds
vanilla extract
salt
½ egg yolk
1/2tsp baking powder
50ml olive oil
black pepper
Strawberry Syrup
50g sugar
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
Macerated Strawberries
2tsp Cardomon pods
1tbsp sugar
coriander seeds
To serve
50g shelled pistachios, chopped
micro herbs


1.     For the Ganache, line a 18cm/18cm square tin on the base. Heat the cream on a medium heat, to the cusp of boiling. Chop the chocolate into very fine pieces, mix the cream and oil together and pour over the chocolate, leave for 1 min then combine. Pourinto the tin and place in the freezer for 1-2hours till solid.
2.     For the shortbread, preheat the oven 150oC. Cream the butter and sugar together. Then add the vanilla, salt, flour, almonds, oil, baking powder, egg yolk and a pinch of black pepper. Mix to form a soft dough, adding more oil or more flour depending on the consistency. Line a baking tray wit baking parchment and place the dough on top, cover with a layer of clingfilm and roll the dough out, with the rolling pin above the cling film to approx. 6mm thick.  Bake in the oven for 15mins until hard and golden brown at the edges, place in the fridge.
3.     For the freeze dried strawberries, thinly slice 5 strawberries, removing the husks for a flat edge. Place in a preheated oven at 100oC and leave for 30-40mins.
4.     For the syrup, puree 6 strawberries from the 400g and combine with the balsamic and sugar over a high heat will the mixture reduces and becomes syrupy, drain if possible and pour into a sauce bottle, refrigerate.
5.     For the Macerated strawberries, shortly before serving, cut 5 strawberries in half lengthways, removing the husks so they can stand on a flat base. Crush the cardamom pods and sprinkle over the strawberries with the sugar and leave to macerate for 5mins. Meanwhile crush the pistachios and turn the ganache onto the shortbread. Cut the shortbread and ganache with a short knife into rectangular pieces.
6.     To serve, squeeze a line of strawberry syrup onto the centre of the plate to stick the shortbread. Place the shortbread on top. Lay three freeze dried strawberry pieces on top and sprinkle over the crushed pistachios, pressing into the ganache and place a spoonful of pistachios in the top LH corner just above the shortbread. On the top RH corner above the shortbread position 3 macerated strawberry halves curling around the biscuit and different angles. Squeeze a line of strawberry syrup from the bottom strawberry to the edge of the plate downwards. Position 2 more strawberries along this line. Place a coriander seed on the tip of each strawberry and garnish with microherbs.