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A little cheese and a little whine

That Birthday Dinner Party in Full

Rose Biscuits

These, like many of the evening’s dishes, were obtained from the Good Food Network. GFN have lots of good stuff and are great to deal with – it’s well worth checking out their site.

Watercress Soup with Rosemary Sourdough and Homemade Butter

The soup was broadly based on this recipe but I used about half the quantity of peas, potato and onion and omitted the cream. Crucially, instead of vegetable stock I used the stock from poaching two ham hocks on a previous occasion.

The bread was sourdough made by my usual method, adding two teaspoons of rosemary. TBH I don’t think the rosemary added much but double the quantity might have made a more definite impression.

I made the butter using guidance from this article. I don’t own butter bats so had to wash and dry the butter by hand. This was an absolute nightmare; I think butter is one of those things best made in a factory, unless you happen to have a source of particularly good cream.

Beech Smoked Mackerel

This was another acquisition from GFN. The salad was just a mixed leaf salad, dressed in the oil from the mackerel mixed with a little tomato puree.

Goat’s Cheese and Walnut Tart with Avocado and Lime Caviar

The pastry for this was a high-fat shortcrust pastry, using 2:1.2 flour to fat, with the fat made up of 3:1 butter to lard. I blended everything in a food processor and added 1 egg yolk (for about 130g flour) and enough water to just bring it together as a dough. I’ve been experimenting with pastry recently, including using the traditional French “fraiser” technique, and I have to say the dough I got using the food processor was just as good.

I lined the tart cases with the pastry and left them in the fridge for an hour before trimming them and baking them blind for 10 minutes at 200C.

The lower layer of the filling was a crème patisserie made with 25g flour, 2 egg yolks, 250ml milk and 100g of ground walnut, seasoned with a little salt and pepper (and, of course, no sugar). I would have used 4 egg yolks but ran out of eggs!

The upper layer was goat’s cheese blended with just enough cream to make it flexible enough to pipe using a piping bag, and a little (1 part in 20, roughly) parmesan for a bit more flavour.

The tarts were baked for about 20 minutes at 200C, until the cheese browned.

The avocados were just ripe; I didn’t do anything other than peel and slice them.

To make the lime caviar, I put a bottle of vegetable oil in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then, I mixed 80ml of lime juice with 1tsp of glucose and 1g agar-agar, and brought the mixture to the boil. I let this cool for about 10 minutes, then filled a tall half-litre glass with the oil and used a pipette to drop droplets of the lime juice mixture into it.

This process is very sensitive to the temperature of the oil and the size of the droplets. If the oil is too cold, the droplets don’t sink; if it’s too warm, they don’t solidify properly and stick together at the bottom of the glass. If the droplets are too small, they don’t sink; if they are too big, they don’t solidify properly on the inside so they don’t stick but are prone to bursting. If you have problems with the droplets sinking, a little nudge with the back of the pipette will usually get them moving.

This is really a matter of trial and error, but on the plus side, if the lime mixture solidifies while you’re buggering about, gentle reheating will bring it back to a liquid state. Also, if you’ve got the lime mixture right, it should solidify when you let it reach room temperature (because that’s essentially what you want the droplets to do).

The droplets will hold in the oil for a few hours (if need be). After this, tip the mixture into a sieve and gently rinse the caviar with cold water. You should find that the individual “pearls” will separate reasonably well, but too much poking around or exposure to water might reduce the lot to a limey slush.

Tarelli Biscuits with Chilli Garlic

These were just two acquisitions from GFN served together.

Salmon with Pesto and Peccorino with Polenta

This was a Delia recipe. The polenta was made with 1L water and 300g cornmeal, 0.5tsp salt and a little garlic olive oil. I find it easiest to make polenta by putting the cornmeal in the pan with the salt and adding cold water; this means no lumps form. I then bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly once it gets above about 40C. Once it thickens, I keep it at a medium temperature for five minutes, stirring constantly. This takes a lot of effort, as the mixture is very stiff, but it gives a good result if you’re after something which will set and stay set when reheated.

The cooked polenta was allowed to set in a baking dish then covered in garlic olive oil and baked at 200C for about 30 minutes.

Figs in Chocolate

Another GFN purchase

Violet Ice Cream with Crème de Banane

There is some consensus that this was a bit of a triumph, but the recipe is actually very simple. The ice-cream was made with 500ml custard (3 eggs, 400ml milk, 100ml cream, 2tsp cornflour) and 200ml Moulin de Valdonne Violette Sirop, available from French Click. I also added 4g of ice cream stabiliser which gives a smoother, softer ice cream.

The violet cordial is a beautiful intense purple, and has the look (when diluted in water) of particularly attractive stained glass. I was hoping this would carry through to the ice-cream, but this instead turned out a sort of baby blue / aquamarine.

I served each individual ice cream bombe with a couple of teaspoons of crème de banane and some crystallised violet petals to give a little crunch without adding the saltiness of a biscuit.

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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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