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!)
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.
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.
New Years Eve
I’ve tried the whole going to London, see the fireworks NYE. I’ve tried the going out concept, but found it expensive and too crazy. In my opinion the only way to spend New Years Eve is a dinner party, interspersed with cooking, singing and champagne. Luckily I had one such offer from the organist, and on top of that he wanted me to come early to help him cook. I was always going to love a kitchen that had an oven that had the appeal of an aga but with the functional qualities of an electric oven, and on top of that a fridge the size of a large man. My first job was to make the bread and butter pudding (my contribution to the meal. Same principle applied as to my custard from christmas, except this time it had a whole load of butter added to the mix as well. I left the butter, cream, milk (I know heart attack on a plate) mix to infuse for about an hour with a squashed orange and some basil leaves and a lot of vanilla extract. Meanwhile I mixed whole eggs (not egg yolks as you would expect for custard) and sugar in a bowl and added the warm milk mix, then poured the whole lot over some bog standard bread in a bowl-mould and cooked in a bain marie for 40mins-1hr. The remaining custard I used as a side and I just put the pudding aside till later when I heated it up. (for extra cheesy factor I turned the pudding out with a sprig of holly on top – but this isn’t necessary)
Meanwhile the organist had been co-ordinating the peeling and chopping of potatoes for Dauphinoise, as well as making a port and butter sauce for the main sauce (Duck – this was basically my calories for the week in a meal).
I was then delegated to add salt, pepper, lots of chopped garlic and a bay leaf to the potatoes before they were smothered in a cream and milk mix, sprinkled with a little cheese and put in the oven. Slowly other members of the party arrived while we made crab mayonnaise (amazingly delicious, simply red crab meat, mayonnaise, lemon salt and pepper but great on blinis) and the organist made a dill sauce and a scallop and bacon salad with a lime dressing, while I chopped some of Heston’s tea smoked salmon from wait rose which worked surprisingly well and had a nice tea flavour.
At some point during these proceedings R arrived to prepare the second pudding (I told you this meal was a mammoth ) for which he grated a mixture of marzipan and mincemeat over a puff pastry sheet before creating a puff lattice over the top to be cooked later in the evening.
We were strictly not allowed to start the champagne drinks reception till 8pm but that didn’t stop us from having a cheeky beer (white wine for the girls) while we added the finishing touches, such as the dill for the top of the blinis.
I think I made the mistake of eating too much of the crab blinis during the hour long drinks reception, because I found it hard to finish all my food, which for me is a rare occurrence. We started with a simple seared scallops and bacon salad with a lime dressing.
Then I watched the maestro at work as he pan fried duck breasts, heated up the sauce and steamed some green veg.
Our main was duck with a port cherry sauce, dauphinoise potatoes and steamed greens. We then were allowed a short break while we played a game recently made popular by Sherlock, who plays it at Watson’s stag do.
Then the bread and butter pudding and mincemeat lattice and if that wasn’t enough (well I was certainly defeated by this point) we finished with enough cheese to feed at least 100 people and wonderful ‘cheese accompaniments’ and port. When it eventually got to midnight, for some reason we decided to ring the new year in not only with Auld Lang Syne, but also with drunk christmas carol sight-reading……musicians…..
The only way to cope with food/wine hangover of New Years Day, is to cook brunch. The organist was well prepared for this and provided us with bacon, scrambled eggs/smoked salmon hash, hot buttered toast, sausages and garlic mushrooms all served with copious amounts of coffee (I think I had about 5 cups). We were meant to be following this with a hearty New Years Day walk……
(Later that day I was forced to eat more food – I know poor me – and was introduced to a very tasty restaurant next to the Royal Opera House, La Ballerina. Had an amazingly tasty Aubergine Parmigiana – really good tomato sauce – and a wonderful marsala Zabiglione, light and frothy – I recommend checking this place out if you are nearby).