Sunday, 28 November 2010

E is for... Earl Grey eggs

Earl Grey eggs


To serve alongside the espresso mousses, I decided to make a dish that my guests would assume were boiled eggs - effectively ending the meal with what looked like breakfast. I'm not sure why, but I enjoyed the silliness of it all. I was inspired by an Easter gift from Richard of praline truffle filled hens eggs from Rococo. The instructions on the egg box required me to blast them in the microwave for a couple of minutes, but we don't have a microwave. I decided to roll the eggs on the table top to break their shells, just like with hard boiled eggs. It worked! It was fiddly and time-consuming but the filling was so delicious, it was well worth the effort. I took the rest of the eggs to my mum and dad's house, because they do have a microwave, and zapped the eggs as instructed. The molten filling was fabulous as a topping for ice-cream or to dunk biscuits in, but I still found it all a bit of a palava.

I wanted to fill hollowed-out eggs with a soft-set Earl Grey infused white chocolate ganache that I could serve in egg cups, so that my guests could crack them with the back of a spoon, slice their tops off and spoon out the contents. It worked really well, although I must admit that I hadn't properly appreciated how time-consuming hollowing out the eggs would be. Initially I tried using a needle, but after I managed to snap one in half while simultaneously crushing the egg I was trying to hollow in my hand, I decided an implement with a bit more sturdiness was in order. I found that a cake tester was just the ticket. I scratched at a point on the centre of the base of each egg until a small hole was made. Using the tester, I made the hole bigger until it was the size of a 0.5cm circle. I wiggled the cake tester inside each egg until their insides spilled out. Once empty, I rinsed the eggs under running water, squeazed a tiny amount of washing up liquid inside each, filled them halfway with water and gave them a shake before rinsing them out again and leaving them to drain, hole-side down.

Earl Grey ganache

While they were drying, I made the ganache. When making ganache it's easiest to think metrically - 100g of chopped chocolate to every 100ml cream.  I infused 300ml of double cream with 2 tbsp of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea. I used such a large amount of tea for two reasons. Firstly, so the ganache would have a strong, aromatic flavour, but also so there would be enough oil in the tea to prevent the ganache from setting completely. While the cream and tea were infusing over a gentle heat, I chopped 300g of good quality white chocolate - I used Green and Black's. I then placed it in a heatproof bowl and waited for the cream to come to near boiling point. Turn the heat off and leave the cream for 1 minute before pouring through a sieve over the chopped chocolate. Mix it together until all the chocolate has melted and you are left with a thick, glossy ganache. Pour the ganache into a piping bag or into a plastic sandwich bag. Place the clean, dry eggs hole-side up in an egg box, snip the end of the piping/ sandwich bag off and carefully fill each egg almost to the top. Allow the ganache to cool before placing the egg box in the fridge. When you're ready to serve the eggs, place them hole-side down in an egg cup. The ganache should have set just enough not to drip out of the hole, but should still be soft, ready for your guests to crack open and spoon out.


E is for... "Espresso"

"Espresso"



I wanted to make little espresso mousses served in espresso cups, but I wanted them to look like real espressos, so knew they would need to be incredibly dark with  a wet-look top. I decided that a coffee liqueur jelly top would give the required wet effect, but it wouldn't be dark enough to be really convincing. I decided that a crisp-thin layer of dark chocolate in between the mousse and jelly would do the trick and would also provide a pleasing contrast of textures.

Espresso mousse

1 quantity of chilled creme anglais
1 small tub (330 ml) double cream
4 leaves of gelatine
4-6 tsp instant espresso
2 tbsp boiling water.
1 egg white, whisked with a pinch of salt to the soft peak stage (optional)

Soak the gelatine in cold water for ten minutes until soft and squidgy. Dissolve the espresso powder in the boiling water and stir in the gelatine until it has completely melted. Stir the coffee mixture into the creme anglaise and taste to ensure you have the right strength of espresso, adding more if needed. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream and fold into the coffee custard. For a lighter mousse, fold in the whisked egg white until fully incorporated. Spoon the mixture into espresso cups about 3/4 of the way full and pop in the fridge for an hour to set.

Melt 100g/ 4oz good quality dark chocolate in a bain marie. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly and drip a teaspoonful on top of each mousse, swirling it around so the top of each is fully covered. Pop them all back in the fridge to set.

Coffee liqueur jelly

4 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
200 ml coffee liqueur

Place the pre-soaked gelatine and half the liqueur in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of  simmering water until the gelatine has melted. Take off the heat and stir in the rest of the coffee liqueur and top each espresso mousse with the jelly. Pop back in the fridge to set, until ready to serve. 

E is for... Epoisses, St Eadburgha and Emmental

Cheeseboard

Epoisses, St Eadburgha and Emmental

For E night's cheeseboard we were in for a real treat. Richard picked up this letter's selection from the brilliant Paxton and Whitfield and I couldn't have been more thrilled when I opened the bag to find Epoisses - one of my all time favourite cheeses. I don't think I've tasted St Eadburgha before, but I will certainly be going back for more. Another runny cow's milk cheese with a fruity finish - my idea of Heaven on a plate. Emmental I can take or leave to be honest. It's a bit bland for my taste, but it was nice to have an extra E on the plate. 

E is for... Eton Mess Eclairs

Pudding



Eton Mess Eclairs

Eton Mess: strawberries, meringue and cream - what's not to like? Eclairs: Choux pastry filled with cream and covered in chocolate - what's not to like? Stick them together and you'd have to be a lunatic not to want in on some of that action. That was the theory, anyway, and E night saw it put into practice. This amalgam of puddings worked very well, as was evident from the empty plates all round. This is one I will certainly be making again. And probably very soon, if Richard gets his way.

Eton Mess

Preheat the oven to 150 C (130 C Fan)

for the meringue

3 egg whites
6 tbsp caster sugar (use white rather than golden sugar for white meringues)

Whisk the egg whites until they are at the stiff peak stage and then gradually, spoonful by spoonful whisk in the sugar until it's all fully incorporated and you have a beautifully shiny and billowing meringue. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and, use a tablespoon to dollop rounded mounds of the meringue mixture in rows. Place in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down by 10 degrees. Leave for one hour and turn the oven off. Leave the meringues in the oven until it is completely cold - this will help crisp them up. Whisk a tub of double or whipping cream and crumble the meringue into it. Chop a punnet of strawberries, reserving a quarter of the fruits for later, and fold the mixture together.

Eclairs

Preheat the oven to 220 C (200 C Fan)
When I was a child, I used to make profiteroles every time we had a big family lunch or if my parents were having a dinner party. I was a dab hand at choux pastry from about the age of 7 or 8 up until I was about 12, when I got bored and stopped making it, having moved on to other puddings instead. I haven't made it all that often since, but I remember the beating of the choux pastry being much harder work back in those days with my feeble little girl arms. If your arms are as feeble as mine once were, you can always use an electric hand whisk or even stick it in a food processor for a quick blitz.

150ml/ 1/4 pint water
75g/ 3oz butter
100g/ 4oz plain flour

Pinch of salt
3 eggs, beaten

Place the water and butter in a large saucepan on a medium-high heat. Stir until the butter melts and then allow the mixture to come to a rolling boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and sift the flour and salt over the pan, quickly. Beat vigorously until the mixture is smooth. Place the pan back over a low heat and stir for a minute or so, until the mixture begins to stick slightly to the base of the pan. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Beat in the egg, a little at a time, until the dough is soft and silky and has a dropping consistency.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and get ready a glass of cold water and a small butter knife. Place your choux pastry in a piping bag, snip off the end and pipe the dough in lines which are about 4" long and a couple of inches apart. Use the blade of the knife, dipped in water, to end each line of dough. Brush each eclair with beaten egg and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 C (180 C Fan) and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove the eclairs from the oven and pierce each one's side or base with a skewer. Return them to the oven for a further 5 minutes to allow the steam to escape and then transfer the eclairs to a wire rack to cool.

Once your eclairs are cool, slit them open and fill them with eton mess, adding an extra few slices of the reserved strawberries to prettify them and then spoon some cool, melted dark chocolate on to their tops. If you want to make regular eclairs, instead of slitting them open, make a small hole in each bun and use a piping bag to fill each eclair with chantilly cream - whipped cream, sweetened with icing sugar and scented with vanilla.

E is for... Elk with a St Emilion reduction, roasted eddo and an endive salad

Main



Elk 

I have already declared the delights of The Bison Centre on Alphabet Soup, and I'm more than happy to do so again as their service and their elk were both truly wonderful. I cleared them out of all their elk at the end of the week, which amounted to a small fillet - enough to feed 3 - 4 people and 4 fillet steaks. I cooked the fillet by seasoning it and browning it in a pan with a little butter and then finishing it off in the oven for about 7 minutes (I like my red meat rare, you can cook it for longer if you want to kill it all over again). I cooked the steaks for a couple of minutes each side in the same pan I browned the fillet in, while the fillet was in the oven. I didn't want to serve some people steak and some people a piece of fillet, so after resting the cooked meat, I cut both the fillet and the steaks into roughly 1 inch discs so there was enough to serve everyone 3 pieces.

St Emillion reduction

For the sauce, simply place a pint of beef stock (preferably home-made) in a saucepan with 2 or 3 finely chopped shallots, a couple of bay leaves and a sprig of thyme. Simmer until the stock has reduced by half.  In a separate pan, reduce a bottle of St Emilion by half and pour into the reduced stock. Reduce by a 1/3, season to taste, stir in a knob of butter and strain into a jug. Serve immediately.

Endive salad

For the salad, I simply washed Escarole and Frisee (curly endive) - two types of endive that are more like lettuce leaves than Belgian endives (or chicory) but still have a slightly bitter flavour. I seasoned the salad and dressed it with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. 

Roasted eddo

What can I say about eddo? It's a bland looking root vegetable about the size of a large new potato with a slightly hairy, faintly lined and brown skin.  I'd never cooked it before and had never even heard of it, until one fateful afternoon when I was flicking through 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die, and there it was, bold as brass. "Hello E night", I thought. 

I like almost all root vegetables, from potatoes and parsnips to carrots and black salsify. Roots are comforting and add a pleasing hit of tasty starch to any meal so I couldn't foresee that eddo would be an exception. Besides, 1001 Foods describes it as having a texture "similar to that of a white potato, but it has a nuttier and more earthy taste". Sounds good, I thought naively. I'd already decided to give it a go before reading Larousse's damning claim that "The taste is insipid". As E proved not to be a bountiful letter for food stuffs, I ignored Larousse.

First things first, let's talk about the alarming side effect of preparing eddo. Richard was given the task of washing and peeling when, after about 30 seconds, his hands became red, sore and itchy.  Apparently there is a poison just under the skin of the eddo, which can, in an unlucky few, produce an allergic reaction. Oh good! I'm so pleased the packet came with a warning (it didn't) and so relieved that 1001 Foods and Larousse both mentioned eddo's possible effects (they didn't). Poor, unlucky Richard. The toxins are completely eliminated by boiling, but I became immediately suspicious of this strange, hairy root and hoped, aloud, the taste would be worth his suffering (it wasn't).

I'd read somewhere on the internet that eddo is particularly delicious roasted and that you should treat it exactly as you would a potato. So that's exactly what I did. The results were far from spectacular and produced hard little lumps of flavourless matter that no amount of salt or butter could possibly rescue. They were so bland, in fact, that bothering to chew was a chore in itself.  Perhaps I overcooked them. Perhaps they would have been better suited to mashing or sautéing. Or perhaps I should have listened to Larousse in the first place, who, I feel certain, didn't warn us of the toxicity of eddo's raw flesh because he didn't think anyone would be stupid enough to bother with this unedifying root after reading his damning but insightful critique. Well, lesson learned, Larousse! Never again shall eddo disgrace my dinner table. 

E is for... Enoki soup

Starter



Enoki soup

This is a startlingly simple dish to make. So simple, in fact, that I didn't even make it - I merely barked orders at Richard while I was busying myself stirring a sauce. Into a saucepan went some chopped spring onions, some garlic and a generous glug of olive oil. After adding boiling water from the kettle (or if you want to make a proper miso soup base, use dashi stock made from kombu seaweed), next in went a tablespoon of white Miso paste - think in terms of about 1 tsp per head. Stir the paste until it has dissolved and then drop in the enoki mushrooms - after trimming the ends off. Once cooked, the enoki start to resemble thick rice noodles that you can swirl round your chopsticks. A few minutes before serving, throw in some fresh coriander leaves and/or, wakame. Make sure you don't let the soup come to a boil and serve in miso soup bowls with chopsticks. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

E is for... Escargot empanadillas


I'm not generally the squeamish sort. I am game for trying anything put in front of my face. My relish, greed and curiousity are usually strong enough to override any initial repulsion or irrational prejudices that may be lurking beneath the surface. I have eaten locusts, I have eaten crickets - both acrid and repellent, like ash in your mouth. I have eaten a chocolate-covered scorpion - all texture, no flavour. In essence, you can't polish a turd. I have eaten escargot, or snails, many times. And I have enjoyed them! This was the first time I ever cooked escargot myself and, with a resigned sadness, faithful Reader, am quite sure it will also be the last.

The initial problem may have been the decision to buy tinned snails. But they were POSH tinned snails - they were from Fortnum and Mason and everything! Initially I was pleased that I wouldn't have to fiddle about with the shells, but when I opened the tin and saw the murky, grey gunge these pustular blobs were bathing in, I longed to see them bobbing in their little shells - perhaps then they would be recognisable as things that might once have resembled beings from planet Earth. I shuddered as I tipped them out into a sieve and watched their bath of discoloured, gelatinous ooze dripping down the plug hole. The side of the tin instructed me to rinse them in warm water. I did as I was told and bits of matter started slipping off them. The matter looked alarmingly similar to white snot.

Snail snot is not a pleasant thing to rinse off. I berated myself for my girlish sensitivities, pulled back my shoulders, jutted out my chin, inhaled deeply, and plunged my hand into the sieve's murky depths. I swished them about to try to remove more of the mollusc mucus. I pulled bits off and rubbed them with my fingers. They felt like grainy rubber in a casing of slime. "Don't look", I said. "Don't look and all will be well". But I had to chop the slimy suckers up to fill my empanadillas. I couldn't brandish a sharp knife and not look where I was striking it. Could I? Maybe I could. Fearing the loss of a finger even more than the snail sieve, I... LOOKED! And I didn't like what I saw.

Cutting through the de-snotted snails, my mind wandered to The Horniman Museum and the shelves of pickled specimens on display. Particularly the pickled brains of tiny creatures. That's basically what snails look like: the pickled brains of tiny creatures. And now they looked like the chopped up pickled brains of tiny creatures. I decanted my grey snail matter into a bowl and topped it with a plate so I could pretend to forget about them while I got on with the rest of the sauce. It's difficult to forget something that has a smell so unlike anything else, so I pushed them to the edge of the worktop and persevered with dilligent and impressive bravery.

What goes with escargot? Garlic. Obviously. Parsley? It would be rude not to. What goes in an empanadilla? Garlic and parsley can be as Spanish as French, especially when you throw some Sherry into the mix. I felt like I might be getting somewhere. How about some onion? Tick. A little chilli hit might be nice? In it went. I simmered the sauce base for longer than strictly necessary in a bid to delay the inevitable. I reached for the bowl at the edge of the worktop and hurled the contents in. I was concerned the mixture might be a little dry on a second cooking in the empanadilla pastry, so I added some chopped fresh tomatoes and more Sherry. After seasoning, I tried to taste it and found that I could not. I called for Richard and, without a moment's hesitation, he plunged a spoon's worth straight into his open pie hole and declared it to be... DELICIOUS!

He encouraged me to do the same and, although I could taste that the flavours were good, my memories of the earlier dissection prevented me from actually enjoying them. It's a shame really. I am not proud of my silliness. And less proud still that I can't seem to shake my silliness off, even now. I tried to eat a snail from Richard's celeriac soup at The Canton Arms last week and the full horror of E night's preparation came flooding back. It is just no use. Alphabet Soup has killed any delight I used to take in eating escargot. 

Please don't let any of this put you off. I'm sure that you, dear Reader, would never plunge into such depths of squeamishness over a matter as trifling as brainy snail snot.

Would you?


Escargot empanadillas

I followed Angela Boggiano's recipe in Pie for the pastry. Empanadillas are small, crescent shaped pasties, traditionally served as tapas with drinks.

for the pastry

To make 20 empanadillas


350g/ 14oz Plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
175g/ 7oz butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
100 ml/ 3.5 fl.oz warm water
milk, to glaze

Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the butter and egg and then gradually work in enough warm water to make a firm dough. Knead for 5 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. Cover in clingfilm and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes, while you are preparing the filling.

for the filling

Olive oil
A knob of butter
1 tin of escargot, washed and chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp of chilli flakes
100 ml/ 3.5 fl. oz Sherry
4 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped.
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and fry gently for a few minutes until the onion is soft. Add the escargot and chilli flakes and cook for a further few minutes. Add half the Sherry and reduce down. Add the rest of the Sherry, the tomatoes and parsley and cook until soft. Season to taste and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C Fan)

Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 3mm/ 1/8in. Use a saucer as a template to cut out 20 circles. Divide the filling between the dough circles and moisten the edges with a little water. Fold over the dough to enclose the filling and press along the edges to seal. Pinch the sealed edges and twist over to create a rope effect or simply press a fork along each edge. Glaze with a little milk and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm. 

E is for...

... Elderflower fizz and edamame, followed by escargot empanadillas, then enoki soup. The main was elk with a St Emilion reduction, roasted eddo and a salad of endives. Pudding was Eton mess eclairs. Next came a cheeseboard of Epoisses, St Eadburgha and Emmental followed by "Espresso" and Earl Grey eggs.

E was a tricky one. You'd think there would be no shortage of foods beginning with E, but there really isn't a wealth of choice. And some of those that do start with an E can be very tricky, or nigh impossible, to track down. Elderberries being one such E and emu being another. These small hurdles weren't going to stop me though and I managed to track down the delightful people from The Bison Centre and Farm - who, as I'm sure you can guess from their name, specialise in bison and, less obviously, elk. They have a farm in Wiltshire that is home to herds of bison, elk and red deer. You can visit them, along with the owls, rare breed sheep and pigs, chipmunks, guanaco, prairie dogs, rheas and raccoons that they live alongside and, while you're there, you can make a trip to the Native American gallery that they have in the grounds too. The Bison Centre were exceptionally helpful and sent out a special next day delivery of elk fillet and elk steaks (I took everything they had left!) that arrived in a polystyrene container that looked like a human organ carrier - quite an exciting parcel to sign for at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The eddo was bought specially by Richard from The Japan Centre, along with the edamame beans, before we realised that the international supermarket a stone's throw away from our flat stocks them in plentiful supply.

Richard made an E compilation album, featuring Echo and the Bunnymen, Elvis Presley, Erasure and Explosions in the Sky, to name just a few. We drank St Emilion, Emiliana Reserva Especial Pinot Noir, El Bombero, Errazuriz chardonnay and Efes lager.

One friend had struggled with the idea of coming for an E dinner, in case the whole meal consisted entirely of eggs. Needless to say, it didn't. In fact, eggs didn't really feature at all until the final and silliest of all the courses. But, before we get to that...

Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles

Elderflower Fizz


During the elderflower season I had been sure that I would get round to foraging for some nice blossom heads and making my own elderflower champagne a la Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. But it wasn't to be, as every time I had a moment spare to forage, it was either too late in the day or too cold - apparently they must be picked early in the morning on a hot day, when the blossoms smell at their very best and make for the tastiest wine. Thinking I had plenty of time to get round to it, the season evaporated into thin air and a case of home-made HFW's bubbly just wasn't to be. Maybe next year. Instead, Richard and I made a cheat's version and simply poured a measure of elderflower cordial into glasses before topping them up with Cava. They were very gluggable, so it didn't feel like too much of  a loss not to have had the proper stuff in the end.

Edamame



These couldn't be easier. Just chuck them in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 3 - 4 minutes from frozen. Just like frozen peas. Drain them and toss them in sea salt and serve. I like to pop the pods in my mouth and drag the bean out with my teeth, so the salty shells season the beans as you eat them.

Monday, 15 November 2010

D is for... Douillons filled with Dolcelatte and damson & cobnut mincemeat stuffed pears

After dinner pastry with coffee

Douillons filled with Dolcelatte and damson & cobnut mincemeat stuffed pears



I found a recipe for douillons in Larousse Gastronomique, which describes them as a speciality of Normandy, consisting of an apple or pear wrapped in a pastry case and baked in the oven. My eyes lit up at pears as I adore them with Dolcelatte and felt certain douillons would be the perfect place for this pairing. Last Autumn my mum made damson and cobnut mincemeat which made by far the most delicious mince pies I have ever tasted. She didn't give me the recipe (but there are plenty of recipes online), but she did give me a kilner jar's worth and I have been very restrained all year and only opened it for the first time on D night for my douillons. I was planning on making my own pastry for these, but after 3 hours of rolling wonton skins, good quality shop bought puff seemed like a good compromise.

Preheat the oven to 190 C (170 C Fan)

Half a pear per person
Damson mincemeat (or any mincemeat you fancy)
Dolcelatte
Ready made all butter puff pastry
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Core enough small pears for half a pear per person. Place a small knob of butter in the cavity of each pear half, place on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Allow the pears to cool completely. Roll out your pastry and cut out squares of equal size. Place a pear half on each square and pop a teaspoon of mincemeat into the cavity and top with a small piece of Dolcelatte. Fold up the sides of the pastry and, using damp fingers, fold the corners upwards, stretching the pastry a little and sealing the sides and top. Draw lines on the pastry with the pointed tip of a knife, brush the douillons with an egg wash (beaten egg with a splash of milk) and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. They can be served hot, warm or cold. I served them cold and we washed them down with most of a bottle of Dalmore whisky - I felt excellent the next day (I didn't). 

D is for... Dolcelatte, Danegold and Dorstone with damson cheese

Cheese board

There isn't an endless wealth of cheeses beginning with D, but the ones we found were delectably delicious. Again, it was Neal's Yard that we turned to for D's shopping trip and the nice staff let us try all their cheeses beginning with D. They only had two in the shop - Danegold and Dorstone - we picked up the Dolcelatte from a stall in Borough Market that I forgot to take note of.  The cheese was served with crackers and damson cheese - a gift from my mum, made from a Mrs Beeton recipe. The damson cheese is excellent with cheese or cold cuts and I'm partial to a smear of it on toasted fruit bread too. 

Damson Cheese

1/2 lb of sugar to every lb of damsons

Remove the stalks from the damsons and wash them. Place the damsons in a preserving pan and simmer until soft. Push the damsons through a sieve over the preserving pan, so you are left with the pulp and juice. Add the sugar to the pan, stir well and leave to simmer gently for two hours. Skim well and then boil for half an hour or until it looks firm and hard on the spoon. Quickly pour into sterilised jars with airtight lids and allow to cool before sealing.

D is for... Darjeeling date doughnuts with Drambuie custard

Pudding 

Darjeeling date doughnuts


In all honesty, I don't think the Darjeeling added anything in the way of flavour to these doughnuts and, if anything, just made the dates more difficult to incorporate as their tea-soaked dampness turned the dough into a big, sticky mess. If I was to make these again, I would simply chop the dates and knead them into the doughnut dough (from a recipe that I adapted from Rachel Allen's Bake) and serve Darjeeling tea on the side. They were perfectly fine to eat, though I am no judge, being fairly uninterested in doughnuts in general. Richard, on the other hand, thought they were "delicious", so if you are a doughnut enthusiast, it may well serve you better to listen to him on this one, although he too agreed that the flavour of the Darjeeling was lost. I was personally far more interested in the Drambuie custard. I love custard. And the Drambuie added an extra naughtiness to the dish with its warming punch of booze.

1lb/ 450 g plain flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 oz/ 40g chilled butter, cubed
8 fl. oz/ 225 ml whole milk
3 oz/ 75 g caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet of fast-acting yeast
2 egg yolks
6 oz/ 150 g medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup of weak darjeeling tea (on the side, if you take my advice)
Sunflower oil for frying
8 oz/ 200 g caster sugar mixed with 4 tsp ground cinnamon

Soak the dates in the tea if you want to see if this works for you. Or, if you trust the wisdom of my experience, don't bother. In the meantime, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it together with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Heat the milk in a saucepan until warm, then stir in the sugar and yeast. Remove the milk from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Pour most of the liquid into the flour and mix to a soft but not wet dough (you may not need all the liquid). Knead the dough for approximately 5 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and slightly springy. Drain the dates and knead into the dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and coat in the oil. Cover with oiled clingfilm or a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. I popped my dough in the airing cupboard. Knock back the risen dough and knead for 2-3 minutes. Roll out on a floured work surface to 1cm thick then, using a 5cm plain cutter, cut out about 24 rounds. Insert your forefinger into the centre of each round so it goes all the way through and swing your finger in the air in circles to make a wider hole in the centre of each doughnut - just as you would for bagels. Place the doughnuts on an oiled baking tray, cover again and leave in a warm place for about half to three quarters of an hour, until the doughnuts have nearly doubled in size.  Meanwhile heat 2 - 2 1/2 inches of oil in a wide saucepan until a breadcrumb dropped in sizzles. Carefully place the doughnuts in the oil with a slotted spoon and cook for 2 - 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from the oil with the slotted spoon and immediately toss the doughnuts into the sugar. Only cook a few doughnuts at a time or you will overcrowd the pan and reduce the temperature of your oil too much.
Drambuie custard

Thank you, Paul, for this photo.


Follow my recipe for creme anglais but instead of pouring it into a cold bowl to cool, add a forkful of Drambuie - taste it as you go to get the perfect levels of booziness - and serve hot over your doughnuts. De-lish.
 

D is for... Duck breasts with damson sauce and dutch cabbage with dill.

Main


Although I felt pretty confident in the combination of duck and damsons - duck and fruit's a classic - I was slightly concerned that serving it with rich, creamy potatoes after a spicy starter might get my dinner guests reaching for the Rennies. BUT, my fears turned out to be entirely unfounded. The combination of flavours in this dish were, according to one diner, a triumph. There wasn't a hint of indigestion in sight and the dill added an aromatic freshness that made me wonder why I hadn't thought to add it to my cabbage before.

Duck breasts

People often mistakenly think duck is bad for you and full of saturated fat. In fact, duck meat is lean and rich in iron and B12. The fat is in the skin and the thick layer of fat beneath it. It is not only better for your cholesterol to render the fat off the duck, but also for flavour and texture. If you render off the fat before crisping up the skin, you will cut straight through a pleasing crust of salty crunch to the succulent and tender flesh beneath. Once you've rendered off the fat, why not pour it into a jug to save for later - roast potatoes are delicious cooked in duck fat for a Sunday lunch treat. Well, you wouldn't want to let your cholesterol levels drop too low, would you?

1 duck breast per person, skin on
Coarse sea salt
2 cloves of garlic
Pepper

Take the duck out of the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour before you cook them to allow them to come up to temperature to prevent the meat from getting tough when you cook it. Score the skin with a sharp knife, making sure you don't cut through the flesh. In a pestle and mortar, pound  the salt and all of the pepper and garlic into a paste. Rub the garlic salt into the slits in the skin and all over the fleshy underneath. Preheat a non stick frying pan over a medium heat and place the breasts, skin side down into the pan for around 6 minutes. You don't need extra oil as the fat from the duck will gently render off. Pour most of the duck fat out of the pan and reserve for future use. Turn the hob up to high, pressing the breast down as it cooks to allow the skin to crisp up even more - this should take a few minutes only. Turn the breast over and cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes if you like your meat pink and juicy or leave it on for an extra five minutes or so if you prefer your duck well done. Transfer the meat to a warm plate to rest for 5 - 10 minutes. Once rested, slice the meat into three or four pieces and serve with a generous dollop of damson sauce.


Damson sauce

Although damsons can be awkward to stone, you really don't need that many of these ripe, purple plums to get a big flavour. I used about half a pound, dutifully stoned with an olive stoner (the bit on the end of a garlic crusher) by Richard. As is usually the way of things if I'm cooking, I made enough to feed at least twice the number of dinner guests, so feel free to stop stoning before your hands begin to ache and you'll doubtless have plenty. I used ruby Port for its sweet, velvety depth, but you can replace the port with a glass or two of decent red wine if that's all you've got to hand. If forward planning is your thing, you can make the sauce the day before, pop it in the fridge when it's cool and reheat it while your duck breasts are resting.

Olive oil
3 finely chopped shallots
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 lb (weight before stoning) damsons, stoned
2 glasses of ruby Port or decent red wine
2 bay leaves
A sprig or two of fresh thyme
A mug of chicken stock/ water
2 tsp soft brown sugar
Salt and pepper
A knob of butter

Place the Port/ red wine, thyme and bay leaves in a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat until the liquid has reduced by half.  Fish out the herbs and decant the Port into a mug for later. Heat the oil in the same pan, add the shallots and garlic and fry gently until soft. Add the damsons and sugar and simmer until the fruit has softened. Pour back in the reduced Port, add the same amount again of chicken stock or water, add sugar and season to taste. Once the sauce has reduced by half again, stir in the butter and the sauce is ready to serve.

Dutch cabbage in dill butter

Simply take off the hard, bottom root and slice the whole cabbage and chuck it in a collander. Wash the cabbage under running water and place in a steamer with a little salt until the cabbage is soft but still has some bite. In the meantime, chop up some fresh dill and once the cabbage is cooked, place it in a large bowl, chuck in a generous knob of butter and mix it through until melted. Add the dill and toss through until all the cabbage is coated.   

D is for... Dauphinoise potatoes

Main

Dauphinoise potatoes


I love potatoes. Mashed, roasted, baked or chipped. The versatility of potatoes - my desert island vegetable  - means they go with almost anything, can be comforting and homely or posh and sophisticated and can even be used to make delicious chocolate cakes. Yes, really. As you may have gathered by now, I have a particular fondness for gratinated potato and, as far as I'm concerned, dauphinoise deserve to be crowned king of the gratin. Meltingly indulgent, dauphinoise make for an oozing, garlicky creamy spoonful of heaven. They'll turn any day into a winner and tick the boxes for both comfort and decadence in thick, indelible ink. I really love dauphinoise potatoes.

1 kilo of potatoes (I used Desirees - what with it being D night - but King Edwards or Maris Pipers work wonderfully too)
Either 300 ml single cream or half and half with double cream and whole milk
Butter for greasing and blobbing
4 - 6 crushed garlic cloves
salt and pepper
Gruyere cheese, grated (optional)

Preheat your oven to 180 C (160 C Fan)

Peel all the potatoes and finely slice them - this will be the work of seconds with a magimix. Once sliced, either rinse the spuds in a collander or chuck them in a large bowl of cold water to rinse off the excess starch. Once thoroughly rinsed, dry your potato slices in a clean tea towel.

Butter the inside of a large gratin (lasagne) dish and line with a single layer of potatoes. Generously season with salt and pepper, scatter over some crushed garlic and a few small blobs of butter. Keep layering up the potatoes in this way until you've used all the potatoes up or until your dish is almost full, missing out the crushed garlic on the top layer. Pour over the cream until the potatoes are just covered and scatter the top with your Gruyere. The argument for whether or not dauphnoise should or shouldn't contain cheese is as long as the recipe is old. Some like a layer of cheese between each layer and some believe the authenticity of the dish is tainted if you use any cheese at all. I personally like a cheesy crust, but find it all a bit much if the cheese runs all the way through. You can do as you please. They're your spuds, so it's your call.

Pop the dish in your preheated oven for about an hour, or until the potatoes are soft all the way through (just give them a prod with a skewer) and nicely browned and bubbling on top. Delicious.

D is for... Deer and doubanjiang dim sum

Starter

Deer and doubanjiang dim sum


Now, I've eaten a fair amount of dim sum in my time, but never before have I made them wholly from scratch, and I'm here to tell you, it's no picnic. The filling is as easy as making meatballs or burgers. It's the wonton skins that might push you over the edge of sanity into a sweaty, teary wreck. It's not the dough itself. That takes no time at all. It's not the filling or the sealing or the cooking of the dim sum that'll make you need to lie in a dark room for several hours afterwards. It's the ordeal of rolling the wonton skins. And rolling. And rolling. And wondering how much longer you'll have to carry on rolling them before this insanely elastic dough stops pinging back and remains the thickness of a sheet of filo. Three hours to be precise. Then, and only then, can you stop rolling, wipe your brow and sigh with a sense of relief and pride as you can finally pause to admire the enormous pile of homemade wonton skins you have made - or rather achieved - all carefully cut into even squares.

Let it be known, I am no wimp when it comes to rolling. In my life as a cake maker, there is A LOT of rolling to be done. I have even been known to suffer the odd rolling pin blister (alongside the odd oven burn or three) during the peak seasons. Let it also be known, that the sense of satisfaction I felt after I'd finished made it all worth the effort, as did the fact that they tasted pretty damn good too. Although I'd certainly be in no rush to make them again soon, I haven't been put off for good, but I'll be buying ready-made wonton skins for all but the most special of occasions from now on.

Wonton skins

1 egg
5-6 tbsp water
250 g/ 10 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt

Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl and create a well in the centre. Beat the egg with the water and slowly pour into the well and mix thoroughly. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more water until the dough is soft and pliable. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until elastic. Cut the dough in half and cover the two balls with a clean, damp cloth for a minimum of 10 minutes. Cut each ball into four equal pieces. Roll each piece until it's the thickness of a sheet of filo (it will be about 11" x 11" square). Cut each sheet into 4" x 4" squares and dust each square with flour before stacking them. Be fairly generous with the flour otherwise all your hard work will have been wasted and you'll end up with a sad little stuck together lump.

Deer and doubanjiang dim sum

Doubanjiang is a fermented broad bean and chilli paste from China's Sichuan province. Unlike other chilli bean pastes (usually made from soya beans), doubanjiang is almost always used as a flavouring ingredient and is very rarely used on its own as a dipping sauce. You can buy it from most Chinese supermarkets and is often labelled "spicy chilli bean paste" or "spicy broad bean paste". It has a delicious depth of flavour and packs a real punch, especially on first bite, but strangely the chilli hit becomes more manageable as you carry on eating. In other words, if the first mouthful blows your socks off, persevere. You won't regret it.

250 g/ 10 oz pork mince
250 g/ 10 oz minced venison (if you can't find any minced, look for venison burgers)
One bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp doubanjiang paste
salt and pepper

Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix everything together with your hands, just like when making meatballs. Fry a tiny amount of the mixture to try so you can test for seasoning and heat and adjust as necessary. 

Once you're happy with your filling,  place a teaspoon of the mixture on to a wonton skin. Wet the edges of your wonton skin, fold over and bring the edges together, pinching with your fingers to form a tight seal. I fried my dim sum over a medium heat with oil for about twelve to fifteen minutes, turning halfway so both sides are brown and crisp. I served them with pickled daikon and some soy sauce for dunking. You can steam them and serve them in a hot chicken broth or with noodles if you like too. 

I did consider making a durian fruit sorbet as a kind of palate cleanser between the starter and main course, as I was slightly concerned that a spicy starter followed by a rich, creamy main might be a digestive disaster. So off I went to Chinatown in search of this strange and smelly fruit. I'd never seen one before and was surprised at their size. They are much bigger than I had expected and with their imposing, spiky flesh and thick base "handle", look like some kind of mediaeval weaponry. This in itself didn't put me off, but having been convinced there was a gas leak in the local vicinity, before coming to realisation that the smell was being emitted from the durian fruits themselves, I came to the disappointing conclusion that they may cause more harm than good - living, as we do, in very close proximity to our neighbours in a small block of flats. I am still both intrigued and disgusted enough by the idea of trying them to not let the matter rest here and plan to seek out a restaurant that serves the stuff, so they can stink their kitchens out to their hearts' content and leave mine and my neighbours' kitchens unmarred.    

D is for... pickled daikon

Starter

Pickled daikon


Daikon (also known as mooli) is a long white root vegetable, resembling a giant parsnip in appearance and a radish in taste. I pickled my daikon the evening before the dinner party, so added extra vinegar to speed up the process, but you can do it a week before, or longer, to allow the flavours to marinate fully. Richard bought the daikon from China Town and it was a particularly enormous specimen. I tried a piece raw and found it fairly underwhelming, but once pickled, it was pleasingly tangy and refreshing. I peeled and finely sliced the daikon to about the thickness of a crisp by hand. It took me the duration of an entire episode of Mad Men that we'd taped earlier in the week. I'm sure it shouldn't normally take this long. I blame Don Draper for distracting me. A magimix would have made it the work of seconds, but it was late enough at night to be worried about waking the downstairs neighbours.

Peeled and finely sliced daikon (1 average sized or half a giant one)

for the marinade

3 finely chopped shallots
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tsp soft brown sugar
A large pinch of white pepper

Place all the marinade ingredients into a large tupperware box and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Check for seasoning and add salt or more sugar if needed. Toss the daikon into the marinade until fully coated. Put the lid on and leave it in the fridge up until the point you're ready to serve it with your dim sum, giving the box a shake every now and then.