Sunday 31 January 2010

Mushroom Fondue

The craving for melted cheese overwhelmed me. I ordered a fondue pot. Now, most of the time I don't feel particularly connected to my Swiss heritage - I don't even back Roger Federer in the tennis (although good luck to him in the Australian Open today) - but it all came bubbling out while I was looking for a fondue pot. Non-stick aluminium? What is this fuckery? How can you possibly make a caquelon from non-stick aluminium? The cheese needs to stick and you need to scrape the brown crispy bits off with the fork, to take that away is to deny the essential nature of the fondue experience!

Anyway, I did find a good ceramic pot, just the right size for the two of us. And we set out to re-create the mushroom fondue we had in Geneva a couple of years ago. It went pretty well really!

Mushroom Fondue (serves 2)

2 cloves garlic
2 shot glasses of dry white wine
1 tbs porcini puree
125g gruyere, grated
125g emmenthal, grated
Handful of mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp cornflour, slaked in 2tbs white wine
Bread cubes and steamed broccolini, to serve

Bring the wine and garlic to a simmer, remove from heat and allow to infuse for a couple of hours. Just before serving whisk in the porcini puree and return the caquelon to a low heat (best done on the stove, easier than trying to regulate the heat of the fondue pot) and add the sliced mushrooms, then gradually add the cheeses, stirring until they have melted. Add the cornflour and stir until smooth. Place the caquelon of melted cheese over the lit burner, and dunk cubes of bread and steamed broccolini in it to eat it.

It can be very indigestible, so drinking wine with it, and a herb tisane afterwards is a good idea! Better for lunch than dinner too.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Childhood Ambition Realised - Sugar on Snow

When I was a little girl, my mother and aunts spent a lot of time reading to me. Some of the books that they read to me captured my imagination and have stayed with me for 30 odd years - Teddy Robinson being ex-and-shoff at a birthday party, Millie Molly Mandy's pink and white striped frock, the Beaver's house on the dam in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Of course, me being me, a lot of the things that have stayed with me have involved the food in those books - marmalade rolypoly, marrow and ginger jam, ginger biscuits with ham as picnic food. And maple syrup sugar on snow in Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Little House in the Big Woods. When I got Diana Henry's excellent winter food cookbook Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, I discovered that I was not the only one. The image of gathering the maple sap, boiling it in big cauldrons and pouring it onto fresh snow to make a sticky, dark brown toffee was unimaginable alchemy to me.

Now, as you may have heard, the UK has had an unusually snowy winter. The first two years we were here there was hardly any snow at all. Last year there was quite a lot. This year there has been an enormous amount, as this video of Urchin's first venture into it attests. She was initially very sceptical, but she took to it after a while.

As we had sufficient clean snow, I decided that the time really had come to try my own sugar on snow. I bought a bottle of organic Canadian maple syrup, fetched a pan of snow and set to it. It's really not rocket science, but a candy thermometer takes the guess work out of it.
It froths up a lot as it boils, so use a larger pan than you think you need. The traditional accompaniments are sour pickles and doughnuts. I didn't have either - I just lifted the lacy toffee off the snow with a fork and ate it. Pouring the boiling syrup onto snow and not having the snow instantly melt really is magic. And it is delicious, with a much more complex flavour than a plain cane sugar toffee. But that being said, now that I have done it, I don't need to do it again, unless some day we end up in Vermont in winter.

Monday 25 January 2010

Home made cheese, a first attempt

I'm inspired. For a while now I have been reading on Natashya, Heather and Simona's blogs about their forays into homemade cheese making. It has all sounded amazing and wonderful and I decided that I really had to have a go at it. I ordered some supplies from Leeners, bought a couple of litres of full-fat goats milk from the supermarket and got stuck in.

I started with these recipes, following the method for cheddar because it sounded the most achievable. I didn't have the right sized mould for making a single cheese, so I used egg rings, lined with scalded cheesecloth and set in my bamboo steamer. 2l of milk made 4 cheeses. The curds didn't set up as firmly as I was anticipating, so I abandoned the idea of pressing them into a hard cheese, and just went where I was led, into a soft goats cheese.

After 2 days draining I turned them out of their moulds, onto a fresh piece of scalded cheesecloth, and let them mature for another 4 days before we sampled one. Isn't the pattern from the bamboo steamer pretty? It was delicious. Very mild and creamy, goaty but not intensely so and with an unmistakeable "cheese" texture - it definitely wasn't yoghurt. It had grown up.

The intention was to let the other 3 cheeses mature for longer to see how the flavour developed, but sadly they developed a nasty mould and had to be chucked. Oh well - for a first attempt I was happy!

Of course, when you make cheese at home, you end up with a lot of whey. In a lot of areas (well - Stilton and Parma) a thriving dairy industry has also led to a thriving pork industry, as they whey is fed to the pigs and they grow fat and flavoursome. But I don't have a pig.

The last scoop of the goats curd (which didn't fit into the moulds) and a little of the whey went into my blood orange syrup cakes instead of yoghurt.

The rest of the whey went to make ricotta. Now, making ricotta this traditional way is very, very low yield. But since it takes no effort and it is really a bonus yield from the cheesemaking, I wasn't too bothered. Remember I started with 2l of milk, got 4 x 10cm cheeses and 200ml of goats curd for my cakes. The 1/2 cup of lovely fresh ricotta was eaten almost straight away, in this pasta with artichokes dish. It was seriously delicious, but I kept thinking that it'd be even better in summer with fresh baby courgettes substituted for the artichokes.

So THEN the whey drained from the ricotta needed a home. Oh yes - I was very keen to make this milk go as far as possible! 1/3 cup went into the syrup for the orange syrup cakes - it added a slight tang and richer flavour than a plain citrus syrup. Some went into the freezer - I hear it makes a good marinade for meat - and some went into a version of this buttermilk syrup (I say "a version" because I used twice the amount of whey as the recipe calls for buttermilk, no corn syrup and no baking soda). Then THAT syrup went into this spelt porridge, which I portioned up and took to work for breakfast.

Spelt Porridge

250g pearled spelt
250ml water
1/4 cup golden flax seed
1/4 cup dessicated coconut
375ml whey syrup
60g dried cranberries
80g dried figs, cut into quarters
100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently on a low heat for about 1/2 hour, stirring frequently, or until it is thick and gelatinous and the spelt is tender. Serve hot, with extra cold milk poured over. It's very filling and sustaining.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Blood orange: theme and variations

Winter is when you get the best citrus in the UK. Sweet, easy to peel clementines and satsumas for Christmas stockings, lovely sour Seville oranges for the best tangy marmalade and blood oranges for, well, loads of things!

I love blood oranges. I get a weird thrill from seeing red and tasting orange. In the short time that they are in season it is definitely worth while grabbing a bag to play with. The skin is generally orange, although some have a flush to them, so it is worth looking for dishes where the colour of the flesh and juice really gets to sing.

With my bag of 6 organic and unwaxed blood oranges I made:

1. Buck's Fizz (known to the Americans as mimosas) - just blood orange juice topped up with sparkling wine. This would be perfect for brunch, but we had it in the late afternoon.

2. A warm salad, to accompany duck breasts. I segmented 2 of the blood oranges, reserving the juices. I roasted beetroot, peeling and cutting them into wedges while still hot and combining them with cubes of feta, the blood orange wedges and mint leaves. I mixed the reserved orange juice with finely diced shallot and a little sherry vinegar and microwaved it until hot and used it as a dressing for the salad.

3. I revisited this recipe for St Clement's Cream to make a tangy, fresh-tasting dessert. I didn't strain it, because I wanted to maximise the citrus flavour, so it wasn't a smooth, velvety cream, but the flavour was just gorgeous. The last time I made these St Clement's Creams I thought they were one of the best desserts I'd ever made, and this opinion hasn't changed!

4. I made little cakes and soaked them in blood orange syrup. I followed this recipe but I used the zest and juice of the whole orange instead of lemon, I used fresh goat's curd instead of yoghurt and I baked them in my friand tins. It made 11 little cakes. For the syrup, instead of using water, I used some whey that I had leftover from cheesemaking (more about that later). The flavour was wonderful, the texture was perfect, and they had very good keeping qualities - we ate the last of them 6 days after baking and they were still soft, moist and delicious, with a pretty soft pink colour from the juice.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Ploughman's Lunch

I don't really go in for New Year's Resolutions. I don't see much point in actually courting the sensation of failure when I don't lose 10kgs, save money, drink less, practice dancing more or learn a language. But I do think it is a good idea to take a step back from time to time, consider what you are doing and evaluate whether those things are constructive.

So I've been thinking about this blog in those terms. What am I doing? How is it going? What should I do differently? There are still some questions that I haven't resolved - the ones about accepting freebies from PRs for review and putting advertising on the blog, mostly - but I have made a few decisions. The main one is that I am going to post less often. Fewer "this is what we had for dinner" posts, and concentrate on some of the more interesting and unusual things that Paul and I attempt. More in-depth exploration of seasonal ingredients. Possibly more healthy options and perhaps even some slightly smaller portions in the photographs! But I'm not prepared to swear to that one.

And here, to celebrate my new found focus, is a Ploughman's Lunch.

Now, the origins of a ploughman's lunch are a bit hazy. It looks like a properly old-fashioned traditional sort of a meal, but it is believed that it was part of a milk marketing board campaign in the 1960s to get pubs to sell cheese. If that is true I think whoever came up with that campaign is a genius and should get a national holiday in their honour. Or at least a statue.

You are supposed to picture a brawny labourer - possibly with his shirt off and sweat glistening on his broad shoulders - sitting down in the shade of a tree, taking a lump of good cheese and some crusty bread from a cloth wrapping, and enjoying it with a mug of cool beer that a curly haired tot has carefully carried into the fields. You are going for rustic. Pastoral. Unspoilt.

We used to spend quite a lot of time at a pub in Sydney that did a killer ploughman's as a bar snack. The Lord Nelson ploughman's consisted of freshly made beer damper, enormous slabs of excellent cheddar cheese, pickled eggs and Branston pickle. And that really is the best model to follow.

In my opinion a ploughman's may contain: ham sliced from the bone, pickled onions, chutney, British cheese, celery sticks, crusty bread, apples, pickled beetroot. There is no room for: brie or camembert, tomatoes, sliced white bread, mayonnaise, ciabatta, sweet chilli jam, smoked chicken breast. And a ploughman's lunch is most emphatically NOT a cheese and pickle sandwich in a triangular carton selected from the shelf of a supermarket. Hell no.

For the last four years - ever since we bought it in a timber craft shop in Knysna - Paul and I have been saying that our blackwood carving board was the perfect thing to serve a ploughman's lunch on. It took a while to assemble all the other elements.

Beer damper: I followed this recipe, using half strong wholemeal flour and half plain white flour and adding baking powder to get the self-raising effect. I rubbed the butter into the flour as if I were making scones, and used Leffe Blonde as the beer because it tastes good, it was what I had and it was what we were going to be drinking with our lunch. The flavour of the beer does come through, so this is no time for cheap lager. I put the dough in a mound in a greased caketin, rather than wrapping it in foil. The hot bread was crusty and delicious, and the leftovers made really good toast the following day.

Pickled onions: I used this recipe of Delia Smith's for pickled shallots in sherry vinegar. They need to sit for a month before you eat them, so I'd had these in the cupboard since early December. These are much milder than a lot of commercial pickled onions, and they have a lovely crunchy texture.

Cheese: For Christmas I bought Paul a "hat trick" selection from the Cheese Society. For 3 months they will deliver him a selection of artisan British cheeses. For our ploughman's, we used Dambuster and Hereford Hop. The Dambuster is a waxed cow's milk cheddar from Lincolnshire (made with vegetarian rennet). It was full-flavoured without having that gum-ripping sensation you get from some mature cheddars and had quite a creamy texture. The Hereford Hop is also a cow's milk cheese made from vegetarian rennet. It's from Gloucestershire and is a bit softer and milder than a cheddar, the texture is almost like that processed smoked "bavarian" cheese you get with the brown rind. It's rolled in crushed hop flowers, which adds a subtle nutty, herbal flavour that I found extremely pleasant.

So there you have it. Home made bread, eaten warm, home made crunchy pickles, top notch cheese. A proper ploughman's lunch.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Cook the Books - A Taste for Adventure

I've been so looking forward to another year of Cook the Books - our online book club where we go beyond talking about the books, to cook dishes inspired by them. The current round is being hosted by Rachel, the Crispy Cook, and the deadline is January 22nd, so please visit Cook the Books after that date to see the roundup of reading-inspired dishes from around the blogosphere.

I don't know how other people feel, but I sometimes find it very difficult to start cooking again after a holiday. I feel a bit flat, a bit fed up and not very inspired. I know I want to eat something different, but it's all a bit meh and I can't be bothered.

Our current book, A Taste for Adventure by Anik See, was just the thing to get me out of my post-Christmas doldrums and back into foody experimentation. It was also a great excuse to use these cute sticky flags that I was given for Christmas. Aren't the little animals adorable? No more old envelopes marking pages in cookbooks for me!

Anik's spirit of adventure is totally alien to a nervous traveller like me. When I travel I need to know where I am sleeping at night, it needs to involve an actual bed and preferably indoor plumbing, and I need at least a vague idea of where I will be the following day. The idea of setting off into a country where I don't speak the language, armed with a bicycle and tent terrifies me. But her writing makes it sound bizarrely appealing.

I suspect there is the slightest element of rose-coloured glassery in these stories. Surely no one is so blessed as to encounter exclusively charming, delightful, hospitable people who offer delicious, nutritious food at the drop of a hat? Some people don't even get that at family Christmas dinners! But even with that slight scepticism, I found this book enticing. The people she meets, the food she tastes, the things she sees are all fascinating - and certainly not experiences you'd encounter travelling my way.

I had a great deal of difficulty deciding what to cook, inspired by A Taste for Adventure. So many of the dishes sounded so good! I loved the account of the Patagonian barbecue, as prepared by holidaying butchers, but the thick layer of snow on the lawn made barbecuing not very practical. The Indonesian Gado Gado is an old favourite, but I have recently blogged about it. Recipe after recipe begged me to try them. So at some stage, I intend to try making khachapuri, lahmacun, ali nazik kebabi and fesenjun with chelo. But not yet.

I decided that - as Singapore is the only country represented in the book that I have visited - I would make something from the opening chapter, on Malaysia and Singapore. When we were in Singapore, just for one night, almost exactly a year ago, we stayed in Little India. Anik says "I begin in Little India, where I lose myself in the back alleys for a couple of hours. I walk past piles and piles of spices: of vicious yellow turmeric; of tiny, fragrant pods of cardamom; of curiously shaped fenugreek" and it was exactly that that drew me - the bustle and fragrance and chaos and mess, right in the middle of clean, air-conditioned Singaporean order.

I made two dishes - murtabak and Jagjit's dalcha.

I watched a couple of youtube videos trying to figure out the wrist flick needed for the roti dough and murtabak. And although I tried, it was totally beyond me, so I ended up cheating and using a rolling pin. Despite that, they were very good! I think if I make them again, I'll add a little salt or fish sauce to the beef filling - the spices were very nice, but it just needed to be a little saltier for my palate.

Jagjit's dalcha was also a big success. I don't usually put coconut milk in dhal, but it made a really delicious change. I felt that it needed just a touch more acid to make it really sing, perhaps the tamarind I was using wasn't as concentrated or something, and a squeeze of lime juice made it just perfect. I looked at the quantities, wondering what sort of bird-like people Anik had in mind when she said the recipe served 4, but it was so filling that even with our prodigious appetites that was about right. And in the way of curries, the leftovers reheated deliciously for another meal.

ETA - and now with bonus fesenjun. I had read elsewhere that traditionally, the Iranian pomegranate stew fesenjun was made with pheasant, now more commonly with chicken. Well I had an oven-ready pheasant in the freezer, so decided to have a go. Delicious! Strangely, the walnut and onion flavour reminded me of the old Cranks nutloaf recipe that my aunt makes. Delicious, but odd for a game dish! I served it with pilau rice (brown basmati cooked with a shallot, cinnamon, cardamom and saffron, finished with some dried cranberries) and a tomato salad.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

South Africa - eating out

Where Paul's parents live is a very convenient distance away from the Cape winelands, and also pretty near to the coast. So that helped decide where we should eat when we went out.

The chicken pie at Hillcrest was tasty but nothing special. The sauvignon blanc, on the other hand, was lovely, and took us back for another bottle later in the week.

Paul wouldn't make any promises of fine cuisine on our drive to Blouberg. He said that South Africans haven't embraced the idea of eating seafood at the beach. Turns out that he was wrong. On The Rocks was a wonderful discovery - in fact, if it wasn't for the miserable bitches at the next table making life miserable for the staff, it would have been just about perfect.

I had a seafood platter of crayfish, prawns and calamari. The little squid were absolutely perfect - tender, buttery and delicious. The crayfish was a bit over-charred which got in the way of the flavour but the prawns were very good.

Paul rebelled against the seaside location and had venison espetada - a Portuguese-influenced kebab - and the taste I had was wonderful. It was tender, full-flavoured and not at all dry or stringy, which is often my worry with wine-based marinades on game meats. The little side salad on his meal was very cute too - I guess they must have used a thin flour paste over an inverted bowl to make the basket.

The other thing I loved about On the Rocks was the loo. It really isn't often that you can say that! The washrooms were bedecked with fresh flowers: they were strewn across the cisterns, laid on the window sills and each handbasin contained a pretty still-life. Yes, that is the handbasin, not a salad. I don't think it'd work in a cold country where it is painful to even think of cold water, but on a warm day having cool water splashing over flowers, shells and petals was very pretty and refreshing. And I did wait until there was no one else around before I took the picture!

Our other surprise find was D'Aria, a winery and restaurant in Durbanville about a 10 minute drive from Paul's parents' house. It's only new, the first wine was launched in 2005, but what we tried was very accomplished!

It was only supposed to be a "light snack" but when we looked at the menu, that went by the wayside.

We shared a carpaccio of springbok - which seemed only fair since the English cricket team were in the process of turning the South African cricket team into mincemeat and there were no proteas on the menu... It was cut a bit too thickly, and they could have been a bit more scrupulous in trimming off the sinew, but the flavour was extremely good.

I then had a magnificent ostrich steak. I was so pleased, because the last time I was in South Africa I'd tasted ostrich and it was so smothered in a sweet, sticky basting sauce that it could have been anything. This was something else. I could almost declare that it was the best steak I had in 2009. And I would honestly defy anyone to pick the difference between that steak and the best beef.

Paul had crispy duck on a bed of wild mushroom risotto. It was served with an overly sweet orange sauce that didn't really work with the woodsy risotto, but it was on the side so it was easy enough to ignore.

We had a really gorgeous bottle of their D'Aria Blush rose with our food. The maitre d' explained that it had just 5% merlot to give the colour, with 95% of the grapes being sauvignon blanc - but their website says 60% merlot, 40% sauv blanc. It certainly tasted much more like a sauv blanc than a merlot, very juicy and tropical.

Odette, our completely charming waitress (who incidentally reminded me of my completely charming hairdresser Michelle) offered us the dessert menu - a cute gimmick, they have a big wooden stamp and inkpad and stamp the menu on the table cloth in front of you - but we couldn't fit it in. We bought another 3 bottles of the Blush to take home, and left the restaurant to these kittens.

Saturday 9 January 2010

South Africa - eating in

It's kinder really not to mention my cooking over this holiday period. My ability to cook pretty much left and didn't leave a forwarding address. I was all fingers and thumbs and nothing worked out like I wanted it to. Still - by leaving it in the hands of other people we managed to eat pretty well!

Our meals at home were mainly centred on the braai, as South Africans call the barbecue. Paul's parents have this very nifty built-in arrangement, with adjustable racks, a good-sized grate for building your fire (because Real Men cook on wood, don't you know) and an arm that extends to hang your potjie.

We had lamb chops, boerwors, spatchcocked chickens and loads of vegetables. I've had Paul's barbecued lamb chops and spatchcocks before, obviously, and it is always a treat - especially the karoo lamb we were eating. Like Australian saltbush lamb, or the British saltmarsh lamb, the animals graze on wild plants and herbs and end up getting a herbal, seasoned flavour from the fodder. It is particularly succulent and delicious, and Paul's dad had stocked the freezer with it before we arrived. And his prodigious wine cellar is very well stocked with lovely wines that go very well with barbecued lamb. Lucky me!

The one thing that was new to me, in the field of barbecued meat, was the ribbetjie - which is not, as you may guess, frogs legs; the -jie suffix is pronounced "key" and is a diminutive so ribbetjie are "little ribs". Lamb ribs, in fact. Now, I have eaten beef ribs and pork ribs many times, but I can't remember ever even seeing a lamb rib. Which is a crying shame because they are delicious. There is much more meat on them than I would have expected, and for the sort of people who like picking food up in their hands and gnawing on bones they are just superb. We'll have to try to work on our butcher to get us some over here.

There were a couple more traditional dishes that I was pretty keen to try.

Koeksisters are a little cake that seems to polarise South Africans - you either think they are utterly ambrosial or tooth-achingly sweet and cloying. I still haven't formed an opinion, because apparently these ones were stale and not at all as they should be. They should be crisp and dripping with syrup. These weren't. Better luck next time!

Bobotie is a spiced minced beef dish, covered in an egg topping, and Paul has often told me how nice his mum's version is. He's right - it is! It sort of has a meatloaf texture, and you serve it with rice and Mrs Ball's chutney. Very tasty!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Beetroot Crisps

When we flew out to South Africa, we had an evening flight. Which meant that we had to come up with some food but we'd been steadily emptying the fridge for days. I managed to concoct burgers, topped with blue cheese (left from the gorgonzola pannacotta that Paul wouldn't eat) and our homemade, home-grown green tomato chilli relish. We also had a few beetroot that we hadn't managed to get through. I peeled them, sliced them on the mandolin and fried them until they were crisp. They took a lot more frying than I anticipated! But they were very nice, lightly sprinkled with some red wine infused salt I'd been given for Christmas. I don't know that the red wine added any flavour, but it certainly looked pretty.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Le Cafe Anglais - more parmesan custards

For Christmas, my mum sent us some money to go out for a really nice meal. So we did.

As you know, I've been looking for an excuse to go back to Le Cafe Anglais for another taste of the delectable parmesan custards, and it didn't take all that much effort to convince Paul that he wanted to go there too. It only took a look at the menu, actually.

Of course, I began with the parmesan custard and anchovy toast! It was just as good as I remembered (i.e in no way like mine) with a velvety texture and strong cheese flavour, complemented by the salty, crisp, gorgeousness of the anchovy toast.

I also had a portion of salsify fritters, because I wanted to see how mine stacked up. And I have to say I totally won that battle. The slivers of salsify were so thin you couldn't taste them at all! There was about 4 times as much batter as vegetable, and although it was a very light batter, it was a bit greasy. My marinated chunks of salsify in cornflour are much nicer.

As his starter, Paul had pike boudin. For as long as I can remember he has been talking about seafood sausage. I don't know where he came across the idea but they really captured his imagination. And he has been looking at some winter pike fishing at one of the lakes around our house, so it only seemed fair that he should taste them. This was an amazing dish. At first sight I thought it looked like a baked banana, but it was a magnificently light fish mousseline. It almost had the texture of a souffle, it was so light and airy, and the flavour was subtly fishy without being bland. I don't know if it was in a skin; if it was the skin was the most delicate I have ever tasted.

For our main course, we shared a saddle of roebuck for two people. Where we were seated in the restaurant we had a really good view of the rotisseries in the kitchen, and it would have been a crying shame not to eat something cooked on it! It was fascinating watching the grill chef hook skewered birds, meat and big pieces of lavender-coloured aubergine onto rotating vertical hooks.

The venison was very simply presented, on a large copper dish, with a bunch of watercress, a bowl of celeriac puree and a little jug of sauce Grand Veneur.

I have subsequently discovered that sauce Grand Veneur is one of the classic accompaniments to furred game meats - it's based on a game stock, thickened with the blood of the animal, enriched with cream and redcurrant jelly and seasoned with pepper. I hope they didn't go to as much trouble making it as the recipes imply, because it wasn't really worth it. It was a pleasant creamy sauce that didn't taste of much, and neither the meat nor the vegetables needed moistening.

The meat, on the other hand, was absolutely superb. Paul and I have this joke that whenever people are trying to say that meat was good, they describe it as "melt in the mouth" - and it's frustrating for people who actually like to chew their food from time to time and relish the crunchy bits, but there is simply no other way to describe it. It really was melt in the mouth. But at the same time it had the most wonderful flavour. It wasn't deeply gamy, it just had a really rich, pure "meat" taste, brought out by the coarsely ground pepper it was rolled in.

The celeriac puree was also extremely good - the combination of celeriac and venison is one we enjoy at home quite a lot - but I have to say I prefer the rougher, firmer preparation that we make for it than the silky, smoothly flowing one that was served here.

Paul decided to finish off the lovely bottle of St Emilion while I had dessert.

My decision to try the Mont Blanc was based on my mother's cook book collection. She had a very elegant series of Time Life cookbooks and there were step by step instructions on making a Mont Blanc. Which in the pictures was just a riced mound of sweetened chestnut puree, topped with whipped cream, like this recipe. That was not what this turned out to be. This was a meringue base, filled with a scoop of icecream, topped with chestnut puree and cream and surrounded by chocolate sauce.

It was a very nicely constructed dessert. Somehow it managed to avoid being too sweet or cloying. The chocolate sauce was lovely and bitter, the icecream was milky and light rather than creamy or eggy, and I think it had a little bitter almond essence in it or possibly a chestnut liqueur as well as vanilla. The only thing that let it down was the lack of chestnut! The chestnut flavour and texture was out-competed. And I still want to try a traditional one.

Friday 1 January 2010

Happy New Year! Pears in Red Wine

Happy New Year! May 2010 bring joy, peace and lots of good food to you and all you love.

We flew back to London from Cape Town yesterday morning, very early. The idea was that we would land, spend the day cuddling Urchin and apologising for leaving her at home, then we'd have a nice dinner to celebrate the New Year and an early night.

Knowing that we wouldn't have a whole lot of time or inclination to shop after we got home, I'd made some plans. Lobster tails in the freezer, that sort of thing. And I had been thinking about dessert.

Friends gave us a jar of Italian honey infused with white truffle. Heaven. I had the idea that it would be nice in a pannacotta, subtly flavoured with gorgonzola, as a foil to some cherries bottled in eau de vie. I gave it a trial run. I thought it was lovely. Paul could NOT deal with his palate seeing dessert and tasting cheese.

So back to the drawing board. But I present to you the really gorgeous pears in red wine that I prepared to accompany my prototype pannacottas. So hard to go wrong with a pear in red wine. Fruit, spice, rich flavours but a clean finish. A classic!


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