Portabello, Oxford 

One of the first lessons you learn at cookery school is that there is my way and then there is the Leiths way and you are there to learn the Leiths way. Whether that be using cutlery knives to rub butter into pastry, hand mixing water and flour on a counter top for pasta or finding the bloody oysters before you even think of jointing a chicken. The theory is that we should learn a basic solid level before we experiment and branch out on our own, and it’s a good method. Every day we follow a recipe or 5 from the Leiths book and serve it to our teacher at an allotted time and get marked and given feedback. – apparently soon we’re going to start to be given freedom with our choice of accompaniments, pressure.- We’re given a grade for things like meat cooking, sauce consistency, knife skills, you get the picture. I bring this up because I’ve realised that I’ve started viewing every dish I eat like this and marking it in my head…..
It was my own fault. I shouldn’t have ordered the chicken with red wine jus, bacon and celeriac puree. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious. As my teacher Michael would say: ‘It’s nice warm plate, food piping hot and served in good time. Good presentation, nice portion size, maybe a little extra colour next time, some green or something to add freshness but nice clean plate. Fibres nicely set on the chicken but there’s still some moisture, beautiful rendering down of the skin and nice carving of the supreme, still served in the bone, good. Lovely sauce consistency, see how it’s syrupy but still runs down the plate, that’s what your looking for. Bacon, on the less crispy side but works on this dish. Puree isn’t gloopy, nice flavour, hint of pepperyness coming through but good punchy flavour of the celeriac. The consistency though, see how you can still taste those fibrous textures from the celeriac? I’m looking for silky, creamy smoothness, maybe next time pass it through a chinoise (very thin sieve) and add a little cream or Creme fraiche, but otherwise lovely dish, just think about the veg as well as the main event’. I’m being pinickity here because mostly it was a delicious dish, a lovely atmosphere and really great friendly waitresses, but this is what cookery school does to you. As you can see I might not be able to have McDonald’s ever again! ( I’ll cope, I’ve only eaten there about 5times ever anyway #foodsnob). Also I don’t mean to brag but I did nail the celeriac puree when I made it on Friday in my duck, dried cherry and almond sauce, celeriac puree, artichoke crisps and sautéed kale. I’m allowed to say this mostly because my sauce was too thin and my duck wasn’t portioned right, Portabello won anyway.      

   I should also mention the wine and quails eggs I began with. I knew already that the owner of Portabello served exceedingly good English wines as we had previously been to another of his restaurants, the Perch, where we had had a lovely Oxford retreat white wine. The rose, whilst overchilled (another annoying hangover from now having an interest in food and wine, you realise most white and rose wine is served far too cold in restaurants, kills the flavour) was fresh and dry, with strawberry and raspberry flavours, beautiful. I highly recommend Portabello, it’s not the most easily accessible but the cheerful atmosphere and reasonably priced food make it worth a visit. 

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Chicken Mole or Chicken with chocolate sauce…

  
It has taken a good 7 years of gentle coaxing but we have finally got to the point in the Gullifer household where my father drops hints that he wants to be served a dish as exotic as Mole. I can see the appeal to Gullifer senior. Any dish that combines chocolate and meat cannot be faulted, especially when served with creamy guacamole and crunchy flaked almonds. So upon the highly anticipated arrival in Oxford of the German gal and the slightly spontaneous invite of the man who lives upstairs to dinner, I decided to give in to my father’s subtle demands. At least this way I could at least indulge in the sauce and guacamole alongside my soup on my liquid-only-aching jaw induced diet, even if I missed out on the flaking chicken thighs and buttery rice served alongside….. The day cannot come soon enough until I can eat anything with more texture than jelly, or at least dull the pain for a while with painkillers while I indulge. The dessert of Dime Bar Crunch ice cream with pecans was especially cruel to watch, at least liquid diet includes wine.

4tbsp sesame oil

4 chicken thighs

2 onions

4 garlic cloves

2tsp cinnamon

2tsp chilli powder

2tsp coriander

3tbsp tequila

2 stock cubes

50g dark chocolate

  1. Brown the chicken thighs in 2tbsp sesame oil and a pinch of salt. Remove from the pan. Add the onions and garlic and another pinch of salt and black pepper and sauté till clear. Add the spices, cook for 2 mins. Add the tequila. Add the chocolate, stir until melted. Add the browned chicken, remaining sesame oil, stock cubes and 1l water. Bring to the boil and simmer covered for 20 mins. Scatter with fresh coriander and serve with buttered rice (see below).


Buttered Rice

Place 150g long grain rice in a pan with 600ml water, 1 stock cubes and 1tbsp butter. Cook for 15mins or until water is absorbed.

Optional additions

Toasted flaked almonds (scattered over at end), raisins (added 5mins before end of cooking), flatbreads (200g wholemeal bread flour, 1tsp salt, 100ml warm water: kneaded for 5mins, rolled into thin flat circles and fried for 3-4mins on either side in 1tsp sesame oil), guacamole

The Student 3-course meal

The Student 3-course meal

You know those days when you feel like celebrating (in my case recovering from the flu) but have no money and have left it a little too late to organise stuff with friends? Or perhaps you have just finished an essay and are only just realising that you want food and celebratory food? (or perhaps to speed the essay on its way?) Or maybe you forgot it was your anniversary, but the budget is limited….

Poor mans G+T
so you have no ice, the college accommodation you’re in only provides a paltry fridge the size of a shoebox which of course you have stuffed half of with beverages rather than food… In my case I’ve chosen to refrigerate the tonic, but refrigerating the gin works just as well, especially if your G+Ts tend to be Gin with a dash of tonic…..
I like using Sainsbury’s ‘London Gin’, one above the basics so it tastes slightly better (or if you have parents visiting stock your cupboard with something nice, my personal favourite being Tanqueray, don’t mean to sound like an advert but I can really taste the difference – can’t wait till their visit in two weeks….)
Tonic wise, the basics is fine, but again if you can afford it schweppes is nicer – slimline for the calorie conscious.
To really pimp up this drink, i like to use a dash of lemon juice, one of the squeezable lemons will do, I find my G+Ts are so far and few between any lemons I buy tend to turn a nasty shade of green before I get round to including them in my drink…..
Not quite Gourmet but highly passable.

Starter from the Cupboard
A starter made from a student store cupboard is tricky… but i managed to create one with virtually no prep as well.
Starting point, some sainsbury’s basics chopped tomatoes and some crisp bread.

Chopped tomatoes
1 chopped onion
2 chopped cloves garlic
vinaigrette made with 1/2 oil, 1/2 vinegar (balsamic if possible)
salt and pepper
(if you have basil even better)

Mix altogether and top the crisp bread

In pizza express they would charge you £4.80 for that (and this serves a lot more than one)

Main Course
I always tend to have cooked chicken (mostly because I don’t trust my fridge to not give me food poisoning if I keep raw meat in there constantly), and I try and keep onions, carrots and sweet potatoes in my cupboard because they always come in useful.
So Supper today is…Mashed Sweet Potato Balsamic roast and ricotta cheese

Chop onions and carrots, toss in oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Place in a microwave proof dish and cover with cling film, pierced in various places. Cook on high for 7-10mins. Remove. Prick a sweet potato and place in the microwave for 6mins on high. Remove and replace carrots and onions in uncovered, cook for 2mins, then stir in chicken and cook for a further 2mins. Meanwhile scoop the mash out of the sweet potato skin, season with salt and pepper and butter (sometimes I add a spoonful of pesto but it’s fine without)
Serve all with a dollop of ricotta cheese on the side.

Dessert
Ok so it would be really easy to buy a pot of Gu and heat that up in the microwave and all that but this is cheap and chocolatey and easy, and you can even call it molecular gastronomy because it has an element of science….

Dark Chocolate and water. Melt over a pan of water in a bowl without stirring. Cool. Once Cool whisk together. To pimp it up add a little orange zest and top with creme fraiche.

A cheap and easy 3 course meal, using mostly store cupboard ingredients. Add a large glass of red wine for real celebration.

Countdown to Christmas: 2 days to go

Countdown to Christmas: 2 days to go

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

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

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

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

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

Serve