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A little cheese and a little whine

Recent Recipes

This is a busy month for cooking, with three dinner parties over four weeks. The third is quite a big one – eight courses for 13 people – so I’ve taken the opportunity to experiment with a few recipes over the last two. Here are some results worth sharing:

Celeriac Soup

This was cooked according to this recipe. I tried a few recipes from this site, but many of them were difficult to follow and in some cases didn’t give very good results, as far as I can tell just because the details of the recipe hadn’t been kitchen tested. The celeriac soup, though, was a winner.

Tibetan Fried Bread

I latched on to this recipe because it was mentioned in an episode of Elementary. It really is worth the effort – the bread is delicious, and takes almost no work. When we served it with the celeriac soup (for six) we used half the quantities and added six generous teaspoons of horseradish sauce. We could probably have added a little more. The bread also works well if you add fried onion and grated cheese, although the cheese has a slight tendency to burn.

Mushroom Pate

I often find that mushroom pate doesn’t taste of very much, so decided to try concentrating the flavour by microwaving them on low power to drive off excess water. I started by frying the mushrooms and pureeing them, and then microwaved them on 40% power (800W microwave) in five minute bursts until their weight had reduced by about a third. I then added a little fried onion and garlic and some brandy for flavour before mixing with enough melted butter to make a pate. The microwaving concentrated the mushroom flavour very well.

Scallops with Chorizo, Pheasant in Cider

Both these recipes – from Nigella and Delia – were straightforward and worked as expected. The pheasant went well with buttered carrots and roast potatoes.

White and Dark Chocolate Gateau

This was a combination of four recipes. The base was 1cm of Genoise sponge (taken from Leith’s Cookery Bible; there’s nothing special about the recipe, this one would no doubt work as well). On top of this was a layer of white chocolate mousse made to this recipe, but omitting the milk and adding 2 tablespoons of Amaretto. Then we had a layer of dark chocolate mousse made with Hervé This’s recipe (which has chocolate and water as its only ingredients). The whole thing was coated with the dark chocolate glaze from the Great British Chef’s Black Forest Gateau, much the same recipe as can be found here.

The Hervé This mousse is well worth a try, but it does take a surprisingly long time to go from chocolatey water to mousse (about five minutes, I found). As with many things, it’s largely a matter of not losing your nerve. The thickening process is quite gentle at first but speeds up after about another minute and a half of whipping.

The dark chocolate glaze, on the other hand, was an absolute nightmare. I was hoping to get a thin, completely smooth coating which would give the cake a shiny finish and set to a consistency which was easy to cut. The basic technique (as far as I can tell) is to pour the glaze onto the cake in a single stream, allowing it to spread naturally creating a smooth surface. However, it proved to be very temperature sensitive – too hot and it flowed too quickly, with too much glaze on the side of the cake and not enough on the top; too cold and it started to set before reaching the edge. This latter meant that it had to be spread using a trowel and so didn’t have the completely smooth shiny surface I was hoping for. Once set, it remained very sticky, making the cake difficult to handle without tearing off the glaze, which would take some mousse or sponge with it. It had a good rich chocolate flavour, but was also very sweet so detracted a little from the more delicate flavours in the white chocolate mousse.

Asparagus and Blue Cheese Tarts

These were inspired by this recipe. The six tart cases were paté-a-paté, made with 200g flour, 100g butter, 2 egg yolks and a little water. These were baked blind for eight minutes (lined with baking paper and with baking beans to stop the pastry rising), then coated with egg wash and baked for another two minutes. This sealed them so that the pastry was crisp in the finished product.

We boiled the asparagus for about five minutes, and put in the cases with a custard made from 200ml double cream and three egg yolks. We then baked them for a further 15 minutes, then added a slice of blue cheese on top of each and baked for a further 10.

We served them with watercress dressed in basic white wine vinaigrette, mixed with a little red onion and anchovy salsa. In combination with the cheese this made the dish a little salty, but the flavours combined well.

Ham Hock with Tonka Bean Crumpets

The ham was roasted in a sealed iron dish for 90 minutes at 200°C, on a trivet of sliced onion, with a little water. It was coated in a mixture of flour, mustard powder, cinnamon, ginger and dried cloves. This added almost nothing to the flavour, and I think pretty much any method for cooking the ham would have worked just as well.

After resting, we stripped the meat from the joint and cut the skin into eight pieces which went back into the oven at 230°C for 35 minutes. This crisped them up nicely to make the crackling.

The red cabbage was chopped and combined with two chopped apples, then cooked over a very, very gentle heat in a mixture of butter, cloves, cinnamon, sugar and white wine vinegar, for about two hours. This gives a mild sauerkraut sort of flavour and the spices are very evocative of the Christmas season. The recipe was inspired by this one from Delia.

Tonka beans similarly have a spicy, aromatic flavour. They’re an unusual ingredient, but in the UK you can get tonka bean powder online from Sous Chef (and it’s well worth having a look around the site generally). We fried six crumpets in butter with a couple of teaspoons of tonka bean powder to form the base of the dish. The crumpets absorb the flavours very well and go crispy after about five minutes. We then assembled the dish, topping each crumpet first with cabbage, then shredded ham, and then a piece of crackling. A dollop of crème fraiche brought all the textures together.

Duck Breast with Polenta Fries

This was pretty much a direct rendition of this recipe, but with a couple of variations:

  1. We made the polenta with water rather than milk, and used 150g rather than 100g to 500ml to help it set. We added 45ml of orange liqueur rather than just a dash which gave a very satisfactory orange flavour. The sugar in the liqueur also helped offset the bitterness of the orange zest.
  2. The vinaigrette was just mixed together rather than made like a mayonnaise. This gave a runny product (I’m not sure what the original recipe intended here) but it worked well on the plate.

The polenta fries took 8-10 minutes to cook when fried in batches of twelve. The quantity of polenta used yielded 24 reasonably sized fries, so we had to cook them in two batches, which threw the timings of the meal slightly.

Chocolate Gateau Take Two

This was inspired by this recipe, but was rather simpler to make. The base was a flourless chocolate sponge from Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes (melted 150g dark chocolate, 135g sugar and 85g butter with a pinch of salt in a bain marie, then folded in 2 large eggs beaten with half a tablespoon of ground almonds) . The dense fudgy texture of this worked much better than the lighter texture of the Genoise in the previous desert.

We topped the sponge with a thin layer of cherry jam which had been blended with a little water (to make it smooth) and then reduced (to drive off the added water). Then we added a layer of dark chocolate mousse, again made to the Hervé This recipe, but using 200g chocolate, 100ml water and 50ml Kirsch. We coated this with the same chocolate glaze as before.

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My Bookshelf

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

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