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A little cheese and a little whine

That Equinox CCDG Dinner Party in Full

Yesterday was the equinox, and next week is the harvest moon, so all the dishes had a “half light, half dark” theme with a bit of red and gold thrown in. Thanks again to Jim, Mike and Helen for their help with preparations and to Julian for being such an accomplished host.

Hummus and Red Pepper Hummus

These were made using the usual ingredients of chick peas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice. We used oak roast garlic (from Booths) and added a little sesame oil to give a more complex flavour and mixed some finely chopped red pepper into half the hummus to give one light and one dark.

Duo of Onion Soup with Equinox Bread

The darker soup was a traditional French onion soup made with lightly caramelised onions and garlic. The lighter soup was made with onions and garlic which had just been sweated but not browned at all, and was thickened with rice and flavoured with vegetable stock. The bread was made from two separate doughs, one made with white flour and the other with brown. These were baked in small bread tins, with a strip of brown dough and a strip of white dough in each tin, to give the two-colour effect.

Black Olive and Black Garlic Tapenade and Leek Puree

The tapenade was just black olives blended with black garlic (again from Booths) and a little seasoning. The leek puree was made by cooking the leeks in a little olive oil and white wine, pureeing them and then stirring them into a roux to give a smooth, thick sauce. The two were served together on melba toast.

Sea Bass with Black Rice

The black rice (bought on eBay) was soaked overnight and then boiled for about an hour (2:1 water to rice by volume). We included the water it had been soaked in in the cooking liquid. This gave a really starchy product, almost like rice pudding (in fact the rice formed a “skin” like a rice pudding while it was cooking). The long cooking time seems to have helped the flavours develop; we did an experimental batch last weekend, cooking it for just 25 minutes, and the flavour wasn’t nearly so interesting.

The sea bass (from Arnedale fish market) was just grilled for a few minutes; the sauce was just onions and mushrooms which had been sweated for a few minutes and then seasoned and finished with cream.

Whiskey Marinated Smoked Haddock on Carrot and Red Pepper Pancakes

The haddock (from Arnedale fish market) was marinated in some Glenfiddich for about 12 hours, but was otherwise uncooked. The pancakes were made by mixing finely grated carrot and finely chopped red pepper with a little water (just enough to make the mixture sticky), enough polenta to form a dough that would stick together, and some cajun spices. This was shaped into patties and deep fried. We experimented with shallow frying and baking the dough – shallow frying gave as good a texture, but a much less colourful product, while baking gave a slightly soggy result.

Roast Duck with Polenta and a Papillote of Seasonal Vegetables

The idea with this recipe was to produce a disk of grilled polenta which was half yellow and half red, but I made up the polenta with too much water so it wouldn’t hold its shape (I used six parts water to one part polenta, as per this recipe; four to one, as suggested here, would have been better). The yellow polenta was made up using water and a little garlic puree. To make the red polenta, we finely chopped some red pepper in the food processor and sat the result in a seive for about half an hour to let the liquid drain off, then used this liquid (with a little water added to make up the volume) to make up the polenta, giving it the deep red colour. We added a little cayenne pepper to give it some warmth.

The papillote contained carrot, sweetcorn, mange tout, fine beans, samphire, courgette matchsticks and broccoli with a little ginger and fennel to give a slightly spicy / aromatic edge to compliment the sweetness of the duck. The carrot and sweetcorn were parboiled for about five minutes before wrapping them. The courgettes weren’t salted before cooking so had a lot of water in them, so we didn’t add any water or wine to the papillotes before putting them in the oven. They were cooked for about 45 minutes on 200C – probably a shorter cooking time would have been fine for a smaller quantity.

The duck was pan fried – first we seared the flesh side for a few seconds, then cooked the skin side until the skin turned golden (which also rendered most of the fat). Then we cooked it in the oven for another ten minutes to cook it through, and rested it for about five. A longer resting time would have been fine. We topped the duck with Helen’s cherry sauce made from locally grown cherries.

Black Sambuca and Orange Cream

The Black Sambuca was an impulse buy from Lidl (firstly because it was on special offer, and secondly because I was on the lookout for black and white foodstuffs). We wanted to serve this with cream (to give us the black-and-white equinox theme) and experimented with several flavours (it’s a tough life) – pear, orange, banana and vanilla. Pear and banana didn’t work terribly well, and vanilla was pretty good, but in the end the citrus tang of the orange really set off the aniseed in the sambuca and so we went with that.

Blackberry Pavlova with Apple and Pear Cream

We started by boiling some apples and pears in a little light syrup until they were soft, then pureeing the mixture. Then we sat this in a sieve to drain off the liquid which we reduced to intensify the flavour, then mixed back into the pulp (pears in particular don’t give up much of their flavour to the cooking liquid, so it helps to retain the pulp). We mixed this with whipped cream to provide the “light” half of the dish. The “dark” half was provided by some blackberries which had been softened a little by sprinkling some sugar over them a few hours before serving.

The meringues were made in the usual way, but we had some problems getting them to dry so they were slightly overcooked and had a mild caramel flavour. Some were in fact burnt and were replaced with some shop bought ones.

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The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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