Monday, 28 November 2011

Q is for...

... Queen Elizabeth cocktails and Scotch quail eggs, quesadillas,  quahogs in Quinta, qotban, quince-stuffed quail with quinoa, queen of puddings (and quaking pudding) with a quenelle of Quark ice cream and qumbe with coffee.

When Richard and I hosted Easter last year for the whole Glass clan, he was concerned there wouldn't be the slightest hope we could fit them all in. My mother was bringing an extra table, along with a few chairs and extra crockery and cutlery. Problem solved I said. Richard asked for the measurements of the extra table to see if it would fit in the room. I replied, as is my wont, with, "It'll be fine". Richard, unconvinced, asked again. I rang up my mum and dutifully asked for the table measurements, to which she replied, "Oh, but it's behind lots of stuff in the garage and it will be a pain to have to get it out before we actually need it. And, if it doesn't fit, don't worry, we'll work something out when we get there. It'll be fine". Her voice could have been mine. This is exactly how I approach all things. If I fall in love with a painting or a piece of furniture AND extraordinarily enough I can afford to buy it, I do. I just do. Without any thoughts on where to put it or if it will fit or if I can find it cheaper elsewhere. If I fall in love with a person, an object or an idea, I go with it, certain in my belief, and regardless of anything else, that it will fit, there will be room and it will all work out in the end. Richard approaches things very differently. Armed with his parents' log-in details for Which? magazine, a tape measure and a firm idea of his current bank balance, he makes decisions based on reason and logic and asks questions like, "But do we really need a new ...?".  This is why we work well together; he reigns me in where necessary and I tell him to "bugger it, just get it" when I can see he really wants something frivolous, but feels guilty about it. I've talked before about the process for creating an Alphabet Soup menu and probably the most vital part of this process is the bit where Richard reigns in my natural extravagance and ungrounded optimism by saying something on the lines of, "Have you invited Mr Creosote?" or simply, "That looks like rather a lot of food. Are you trying to kill our guests?" This time, this part of the process was going to have to be sacrificed for the greater good. I was going to go it alone for Q for a very important reason.

Richard is always privy to everything. He is the only Alphabet Souper (apart from me), who knows what we are eating before we eat it. He is the only Alphabet Souper allowed in the kitchen, in case secrets of courses to come are uncovered. He is the only Alphabet Souper who occasionally rolls up his sleeves and prepares a letter-themed dish. And, so it struck me, that all those things also meant that Richard was the only Alphabet Souper who hadn't fully experienced Alphabet Soup. For the letter Q, this was all going to change. The menu planning, shopping and food preparation were going to be secret until each dish was served. He wasn't allowed anywhere near the kitchen and he had no idea what we were going to eat, drink or the music we were going to listen to. This highly secret evening kicked off with Queen Elizabeth cocktails and enormous Scotch quail eggs to a soundtrack of Queens of the Stone Age and Queen. Thankfully, neither of us own any Queen Latifah.

Queen Elizabeth

If I'm honest, I have absolutely no recollection of what these tasted like, or, more extraordinary still, whether or not I liked them. This leads me to believe that I probably had more than one and that they must have packed quite a punch. If you want a less hazy description, I suggest you try one yourself. I'm sure they're very good. Probably.

2 shots of gin
1/2 shot of dry vermouth
1/2 shot of benedictine

Shake over over and strain into a Martini glass.

Scotch quail eggs

Richard hates eggs, but I knew he wouldn't be able to resist these little lovelies, covered, as they were, in a thick layer of delicious sausage meat. Admittedly, the layer of sausage meat may have been rather too thick, which is why my hopes for soft, gooey yolks, fell by the wayside. After accidentally making Scotch quails eggs the size of Scotch hen eggs, I was left with only two choices: I could either have runny yolks and raw meat, or cooked meat and hard eggs. Obviously, I went for the latter, but next time I won't make the mistake of being too meat-greedy again. Still, they were completely delicious and Richard and I, rather unwisely, gobbled up two each, leaving us quite full before I'd even dished up the starter.

4-6 quails eggs
200g sausage meat
A pinch of cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Plain flour for dusting 
Fine breadcrumbs or Panko
Salt and pepper
1 litre of rapeseed or sunflower oil

Prick the top of each egg with a cocktail stick and boil in salted water for a minute to a minute and a half (go for 2 minutes if you want them hardboiled). Remove the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a bowl of ice-cold water to stop them cooking any further. You have to work very quickly here.

Season the sausage meat generously with the cayenne and salt and pepper, you can even add a splash of Tabasco if you fancy it. Fry off a little ball of the meat so you can taste it for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Being very careful not to break them, shell the eggs inside a bowl filled with cold water - it will make the job easier. Flatten a ball of sausage meat into a flat patty shape, place the egg in the middle and carefully wrap it in the meat.

Put the beaten eggs, flour and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls and roll the eggs first in the flour, then egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Place them in the fridge for half an hour to firm up before dunking them again in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)

Heat the oil in a wide heavy-bottomed pan and deep fry the Scotch quail eggs for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and pop them in the oven for a further couple of minutes before serving.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

P is for... Pine nut praline truffles and chocolate dipped physalis

Pine nut praline truffles

for the praline

250g/ 10oz caster sugar
250g/ 10oz pine nuts

for the ganache

50g/ 2oz dark chocolate, chopped
50ml/ 2 fl.oz double cream
Cocoa for dusting

First, make the praline. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan and leave to cool. Heat the sugar in a pan over a medium heat. Don't stir it or your caramel will go grainy. Once all the sugar has dissolved and turned a deep, rich golden, take it off the heat and chuck in the pine nuts and pour the whole lot on to the baking sheet, tipping the pan away from you. Be very careful not to touch the hot caramel! Rock the sheet carefully from side to side to level out the mixture. Leave to cool completely. Break the pine nut praline up a little, before whizzing it in a magimix into fine crumbs.

Next, heat the cream in a pan until it just boils. Take off the heat and leave for one minute before chucking in the chopped chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth, glossy ganache. Tip in the pine nut praline and mix together. Leave to cool completely. 

Once set, use a teaspoon to scoop out small balls of ganache and roll to even their shape between your hands. Roll the truffles in sifted cocoa before placing on a serving plate.

Physalis dipped in chocolate

When Richard was in his mid twenties, his whole family went over to Bordeaux to celebrate his younger brother's 21st. During the trip, they visited OH! Légumes Oubliés, the farm park of forgotten vegetables. I defy anyone to resist visiting somewhere boasting such a name. Apparently, most of the "forgotten" vegetables consisted of strange shaped squashes. Once they'd finished their tour, they were given a selection of dishes made from all the forgotten vegetables. They were given nettle flan, glasswort and wild blackberries and "amour en cage" - or physalis, which had been dipped in chocolate. Buses back from OH! Légumes Oubliés were few and far between, so the whole Turner-Hurst clan were driven back into town by the friendly farmer. Eating weird shaped squashes makes you kinder. Fact. Richard has recreated the chocolate dipped physalis he ate there more times than he could shake a stick at, and, although not a particularly forgotten or even startlingly original recipe, it is one that comes with a rather nice story about a delightfully eccentric French farm.

We were too drunk by this point in the evening to take a photo.

Several physallis (as many as you want to eat)
Melted dark chocolate

Dip the physalis in the dark chocolate and leave to set on a piece of baking parchment. Serve just before they're rock hard, so you don't have to worry about your un-tempered chocolate "blooming" unattractively. Failing that, you can temper the chocolate if you can be bothered. It's easy enough to do, but I had about a minute and a half to make these on P night, which, after several pints of Prosecco washed down with a couple more of Port, was quite a feat in itself. 

P is for... Pont L'Evêque, Pecorino, Provola di Bufala Affumicate, Perazola Azul, Prefailles

It was to La Fromagerie that we turned to for P night's cheeseboard, which we served with poppyseed crackers and more of the plum pickle from earlier in the evening. Starting from the top left of the board, the suspiciously shaped cheese on a string is Provola di Bufala Affumicate, a smoked buffalo milk cheese with a delicate, fruity flavour. To its right is a Spanish blue sheep cheese Perazola Azul, a fairly mild Roquefort-style cheese with a nutty finish. In the centre of the board, you'll be unsurprised to know, is Pont L'Evêque is a soft French cows milk cheese washed in cider, which gives it an aromatic earthiness. The bottom right of the board boasts a whopping chunk of Pecorino - which La Fromagerie are particularly keen on, having an enormous range instore. Neither Richard or I can remember which particular Pecorino this was, but it was considered the best in the shop by the cheesemonger, so that was good enough for us. Finally, we had Prefailles, a French semi-soft goat cheese with a buttery texture and a tangy earthiness. The cheese is coated in aromatic herbs and spices.

P is for... Peach pannacotta with pomegranate and Prosecco jelly, passion fruit and pomegranate pavlova with pomegranate coulis and pistachios

peach pannacotta, pomegranate and Prosecco jelly, passion fruit and pomegranate 
pavlova with pomegranate coulis and pistachios

Pavlova is always my fallback pudding of choice. When I want to make something quick and easy that looks beautiful bunged in the middle of the table, like a billowing snowy cloud topped with fruit, it's to pavlova I turn. It also has the wonderful added bonus of being gluten free, so you can dish it up to gluten dodgers and wheat lovers alike, without having to make the slightest compromise on taste. Another plus in a pavlova's favour is that people tend to think you're a culinary genius because you've whisked up some egg whites. As for pannacotta, it's another really simple pudding with a little element of danger - namely, whether or not it decides to set. You only want to put in just enough gelatine to make it set, without turning it into blancmange. Then there's the unmoulding of the pudding on to the plates. Not difficult in itself, but enough to turn some otherwise calm and collected types into shaking nervous wrecks. I've been served pannacotta in Italy that hasn't been fancily unmoulded into a pretty dome shape at all, it's just been served in the glass it was set in, which is definitely worth bearing in mind to ease the pressure.

Passion fruit and pomegranate pavlovas

Serves 8 

I always think imperially when making pavlovas, largely because I never bother with scales when making one. In fact, this is a great pudding to make for those who don't own weighing scales, but do have a tablespoon rattling round in their cutlery drawer. One slightly heaped tablespoon of sugar equates to roughly one ounce and you need double the number of ounces to the number of egg whites used. So, that's 6oz for 3 egg whites or 12oz for 6 egg whites, etc, etc. I know puritans often bang on about the scientific necessity for absolute accuracy in baking, but trust me on this one, I bake for a living. I have managed to make a whole wedding cake to feed 100 greedy guests with only a tablespoon as a measuring tool, working in a friend's shockingly under-equipped holiday rental kitchen, so a little meringue isn't going to be beat me. And, if you follow these simple instructions, nor shall it beat you.  If you're frightened of getting distracted and losing count, you can always count out the right number of spoonfuls into a bowl beforehand, but I like to live a little dangerously and plonk them straight in. Go on, don't be scared, show this pavlova who's boss.

3 large egg whites (you can save the yolks and make a delicious custard later)
6 slightly heaped tbsp caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar (it doesn't have to be white wine, that's just for clarity of colour, but I've been known to use malt vinegar before and it's worked out just fine. Just don't use balsamic)
A splash of vanilla extract (optional - it's just for flavour)
1 330ml tub of double or whipping cream
The juice of 4 passion fruits
3 pomegranates

Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff (if you have an electric hand whisk, save your arms and use it). Gradually whisk in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until your meringue is beautifully glossy. Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk in - these two ingredients are responsible for creating the deliciously marshmallowy inside beneath the crisp, chewy crust. Lastly, whisk in the vanilla if you want to.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C fan)

At this stage, you can bung the meringue into a large piping bag fitted with a plain or star nozzle, but two spoons will also do just fine. Create individual mounds on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure you leave a couple of inches either side of each pavlova to allow for any spreading. Next, make a little dip in the top of each to make room for the cream and fruit topping later. Pop the tray/s in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140°C (120°C fan). Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once baked, turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly and leave the pavlovas to cool inside. Once cold, peel the pavlovas off the paper and place them on serving plates. Whip the cream until billowing and whisk in the passion fruit juice. Top each pavlova with a generous blob of passion fruit cream and top with pomegranate seeds. There's no need to pick them out with a pin, just turn them upside down and bash them over a bowl with a wooden spoon and the seeds will fly out.

Peach pannacotta with pistachios

Serves 8

6 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for about ten minutes
600ml/ 1 pint and 1 fl.oz double cream
150ml/ 5 fl.oz milk
250ml/ 9 fl.oz peach purée (I couldn't get hold of peaches, so I bought a pouch)
50g/ 2oz caster sugar
100g/ 4oz shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly smashed up in a pestle and mortar

Place the cream, milk, peach purée and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a simmer. Take the pan off the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine and add to the pan. Stir until all the gelatine has dissolved and divide the mixture between 8 ramekins or custard pots and leave to cool. Once cold, place them in the fridge for at least an hour to set. To unmould, quickly submerge the base of the ramekin in a shallow bowl of hot water, wipe and turn upside down on a plate. The pannacotta should slide out and keep its shape. Repeat with the rest of the puddings and sprinkle their tops with crushed pistachio nuts.

Pomegranate and Prosecco jelly

125ml/ 4.5 fl.oz pomegranate juice
25g/ 1oz caster sugar
125ml/ 4.5 fl.oz Prosecco 
The seeds of 1 pomegranate
4 gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water for about 10 minutes

Line a square dish or tray with cling film. Stir the sugar into the pomegranate juice in a saucepan over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in the gelatine after squeezing off any excess water. Pour in the Prosecco and tip out into your prepared tray. Scatter the jelly with pomegranate seeds and once completely cool, pop the tray in the fridge to set for about an hour. Once set, slice the jelly into little squares to serve with your pudding.

Pomegranate coulis

500ml pomegranate juice
200g/ 8oz caster sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice

Pop the lot in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and leave to simmer until the coulis has thickened slightly. Leave to cool, then pop in the fridge.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

P is for... Passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait stuffed pineapple parcels


pineapple parcel

Last year, Richard decided he wanted to go to Latium to celebrate his birthday. It's an Italian restaurant tucked away in an unlikely road, just north of Oxford Street. Don't be put off by its echo-y lack of soft furnishings or its Italian "fayn dayning" tag line, because the food is properly delicious. As ravioli specialists, you can literally have ravioli for every course, including pudding, and although they offer sweet pasta raviolis, I think it's their pineapple variant that is the most interesting. God only knows where they find them, but they seem to use the biggest pineapples known to humanity and slice them so perishingly thinly that I can't work out how it can possibly be done by hand. I'd put money on it that they use some kind of meat slicer, because if they don't, their precision is nothing short of extraordinary. They use one sheet of pineapple, which is filled and folded in half before being frozen. Although I remember it tasting good, filled with something cold and lime-heavy, it's the look of the thing that most impresses. I wanted to attempt a recreation using a thin sheet of pineapple as a parcel to hold a scrumptious filling, so I went out and bought the biggest pineapple I could find. Really, it was a whopper. After peeling it and removing the "eyes", I began the laborious task of slicing it as thinly as I could, which turned out to be pretty thinly indeed, if you don't hold up Latium's slicing as a benchmark. The thinness wasn't the problem, it was the size of the actual rounds. They would be far too small to contain any decent quantity of filling. Disappointingly, I had to resign myself to the fact that Latium must buy their particular breed of pineapple in Brobdingnag, and, as I didn't have the requisite travel guide, I would have to make do with the non-mutant sized kind found in the greengrocer's down the road. In the end I used two sheets for my parcels, which (take note Latium!) ended up more closely resembling ravioli than the giant-one-sheeted examples ever did. Get in! I decided to fill my pineapple parcels with passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait and scattered more of the scooped out passion fruit flesh on top to create a crunchy, tangy sauce. It went down as a refreshing rest after its meaty  predecessors with all, except Tamzin Aitken, who, as I mentioned before, is perennially averse to the pleasures of the pineapple and is impervious to any powers of persuasion to tempt her otherwise. Ah well, more for me. She had to make do with a bowl of passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait.

Passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait stuffed pineapple parcels.

Inside the pineapple parcel
For the pineapple 

1 large pineapple
1 vanilla pod, cut in half, seeds scraped out
4oz/100g caster sugar
7 fl.oz/ 200ml water
A handful of fresh basil leaves

Top and tail the pineapple and carefully remove the skin with a very sharp knife. Carefully pluck out any little black "eyes" and, without removing the core, slice the pineapple into wafer thin discs. Place the pineapple in a tupperware box. Place the sugar, water, basil leaves, vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat. Strain the syrup over the pineapple, pop the lid on and allow to cool before transferring to the fridge for as long as you've got - 3 hours to 3 days.

For the passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait

4 eggs, separated
4oz/ 100g caster sugar
4 fl.oz/ 100ml water
6 tsp pink peppercorns (plus extra for scattering)
16 passion fruits
5 fl.oz/ 150ml double cream

First, you need to make a pâte à bombe. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Once dissolved, stop stirring and increase the heat until the syrup comes to the boil. Leave it for 30 seconds then take the syrup off the heat. Place the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk (if you have an electric handheld whisk, use it) until the yolks are pale and creamy. Add the hot sugar syrup very slowly, drip by drip, continuing to whisk all the the time. This takes a while, so try to be patient. Once all the syrup has been added, continue whisking until you have a thick frothy custard. Remove the bowl from the pan and continue whisking at the highest speed for a couple of minutes. Turn the speed down and continue whisking for five minutes more at a low speed. Yes, there's a lot of whisking here. The mixture should have doubled in volume and leave a ribbon trail. Leave until cool enough to pop in the fridge to cool completely. 

Line a loaf tin with cling film. Bash the pink peppercorns into a pestle and mortar. Remove the pulp from 12 passion fruits and plonk in a sieve over a bowl or jug. Use a wooden spoon to push the pulp and juice through the sieve leaving the seeds behind. Whisk the cream and stir in the passion fruit juice and the pink peppercorns. Fold the passion fruit cream into the  pâte à bombe you made earlier. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the passion fruit mixture. Tip into your prepared loaf tin and freeze for at least 3 hours.

For the pineapple parcels

Take the parfait out of the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to scoop. Take one piece of pineapple out of the syrup and place on a clean surface (the worktop will do, if you have space). Scoop out a large teaspoons' worth of parfait out of the tin (try to do it all at one end, so you can slice the rest later for another night's pudding) and place in the centre of the macerated pineapple disc. Place another disc on top and, using your hands, press the top pineapple disc around the parfait, expelling any air and sealing the two sheets of pineapple together. Place in a tupperware box and pop in the freezer, while you make another parcel. Continue making parcels (popping each one in the freezer as soon as you've made it, so your parfait doesn't melt) until you have used up your pineapple. Take the rest of the parfait out of the loaf tin and trim off the jagged end you've been scooping bits out of, and wrap in more cling film and shove it back in the freezer to slice for another day. Now, back to the pineapple parcels. Get them out of the freezer 10 minutes before serving and scoop out the pulp from the remaining passion fruits and scatter over the top of each parcel, along with a few more bashed up pink peppercorns.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

P is for... Pork belly, pumpkin puree, parsnips and pickled pears with a port reduction

Pork belly, parsnips, pickled pears, pumpkin puree and Port reduction.

Pork belly is a cheap cut that's been making it big in posh restaurants everywhere. That's the beauty of pork belly, it's just such a versatile beast. It's as happy being the centrepiece of a homely Sunday roast, as it is spiced up with chillies, star anise, ginger and soy for a casual weeknight Chinese red-cooked pork with friends. The lavish layers of fat make for meltingly tender meat, and, when paired with generously salted, crunchy crackling, create a show-stopping supper. I always ask my butcher to score the fat for me, but you can do it yourself with a stanley knife if that's the kind of thing you're into. Pouring boiling water straight from the kettle over the skin, before discarding the water, patting the meat dry with kitchen paper and cooking it any which way you choose, will ensure your crackling is suitably crackly. For a hassle free weekend lunch for a full table of guests, there's nothing easier than roasting it simply for a few hours, while you get on with cleaning the loo and laying the table before your doorbell rings. On P night, oven space would have been too tight and too tricky to let a big belly monopolise it for that long a time, so I opted for twice cooked pork belly; a favourite way of chefs to prepare the meat as it makes for neater presentation, especially if you weight it overnight.

Pork belly (twice cooked)

1 large onion, sliced
10 cloves of garlic
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
A couple of bay leaves
2 k pork belly, ribs removed but kept
1 litre of fresh chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 250°C (230°C fan)

Place the onion, herbs and garlic at the bottom of a roasting tin and place the pork belly, skin side up, on top. Generously season the pork skin and pour the wine and stock into the pan. Place in a preheated super hot oven for 20 minutes. Take the pork out and turn the oven down to 160°C (140°C fan). Cover the pork with a layer of baking parchment and a layer of foil, tucking the pork in as if you're putting it to bed. Pop it back in the oven for about 4 hours or until very tender. Leave the pork to cool in its cooking juices. Once cold, remove the pork belly and place on a tray with two big pieces of cling film draped over it in the shape of a cross. Place the pork in the middle and wrap it up in the cling film. Place another tray on top and place heavy weights on top - tins of beans or even a couple of bricks if you happen to have them lying around. Press the weights on top of the pork down so it lies flat and, with the weights still on top, pop the pork in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove the pork from the fridge 40 minutes before you want to serve it and ten minutes before plating up, trim the belly into a neat rectangle before dividing it into even portions. When you are ready to cook it, preheat the grill to its hottest setting, then heat a large skillet with plenty of olive oil over a very high flame. Place the pieces of pork belly skin side up into the skillet and cook, basting the top with the oil, for about 5 minutes before sticking the pan under the grill until the crackling crackles. Plate up with the pumpkin purée, roasted parsnips and pickled pears before pouring over some Port reduction. 

Pumpkin purée

Many people, myself often included, can be put off pumpkins and squashes because they're such a faff to peel. Well, come closer, people, because this dish requires no peeling whatsoever.

1 medium pumpkin
Olive oil
A few garlic cloves
Double cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)

Chop the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and place each half on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and fill the cavities with garlic cloves (there's no need to peel them). Sprinkle over some salt and pepper and pop them in the oven for around 40 minutes or until soft and until. Discard the garlic and scoop out the flesh with a spoon and place it in liquidiser with a generous splash of cream and a knob of butter. Once puréed, transfer the mixture to a saucepan over a low flame, generously season and stir until the mixture becomes velvety and some of the moisture has evaporated off. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, cream and butter if necessary and leave in the pan to reheat just before serving.


I love parsnips. Especially roasted parsnips. Is there a vegetable more delicious alongside a plate of roasted meat, than a parsnip? No. There isn't. This isn't much of a recipe, so I'm not going to give you a list of ingredients, but I'd usually allow 1 to 1 and a half parsnips per person, but more than that will always be welcome if your guests have any sense. Peel them, slice them in half lengthways and parboil them in salted water. Drain and place back in their saucepan with a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter. Swish the pan round and pour the parsnips along with the oil and butter on to a baking tray, season and roast in a preheated oven at 180°C (160°C fan) for 35-40 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft and golden.

Pickled pears

The spicy acidity of the vinegar works brilliantly alongside the sweetness of the pears, pumpkin purée and parsnips, and the saltiness of the pork belly. Any leftovers will be delicious on a plate of cold cuts and cheese - perfect for Christmas leftovers.

4 ripe pears
A finger of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
A few allspice berries
2 whole cloves
A small handful of black peppercorns
125ml red wine vinegar
2oz/50g caster sugar

Peel the pears, slice them in quarters lengthways and remove their cores. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the liquid up to the boil for a couple of minutes and add the pears. Leave the pears to simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender. Leave the pears to cool in the pickling juice or, you can, at this point, transfer the pears and the liquid into sterilised jars. Once ready to dish up, strain the pears and cut them into small cubes and arrange on the plate with the pork belly, parsnips and pumpkin purée.

Port reduction

1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
The pork ribs from the pork belly
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1 pint of fresh chicken stock
500ml of ruby port (yes, I know it's a lot, but you can always turn this into a red wine reduction if economy dictates it - just add a pinch of sugar if you do)
A knob of butter
Salt and pepper

Brown the vegetables and ribs in a saucepan with a little oil, pour over the chicken stock and leave to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, skimming off any excess fat every now and then. Strain the sauce of vegetables and bones into a clean saucepan and add the port. Leave to simmer until the sauce has reduced by half - it should be thick and slightly sticky, but don't over-reduce it to nothing. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then stir in the knob of butter to enrich your sauce and give it a lovely sheen just before serving. Don't forget to warm your plates!

Monday, 14 November 2011

P is for... Pigeon, parsley and porcini pelmeni

Pigeon, parsley and porcini pelmeni
Pelmeni are Russian dumplings made from unleavened dough. They are very similar to Polish pierogi, but unlike pierogi which can be made sweet, pelmeni are exclusively savoury. Pelmeni are stuffed with raw fillings before cooking, while pierogi are often stuffed with pre-cooked fillings. 

Pelmeni are traditionally made by hand, but I think you could just as well put the dough through a pasta machine. In fact, these little dumplings are close cousins in both construction and taste to large tortellini. In fact, I wish I hadn't been such a stickler for tradition on P night and cranked up the pasta machine. It would would have made the process less faffy and the pelmeni certainly wouldn't have suffered for having more thinly rolled dough.

Pigeon is a delicious dark meat with a rich and subtly gamey flavour and soft, tender flesh - a perfect match for the porcini mushrooms and parsley. The pelmeni were elegant but rustic, tasty and filling. Definitely the perfect plateful for cold, dark nights when only serious carbs can cut it.

Pigeon, parsley and porcini pelmeni

for the dough

400g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
200ml cold water

for the filling

30g tub of dried porcini mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 pigeon breasts
4 rashers of streaky bacon
A handful of flat leaf parsley
1 egg
1 glass of white wine
25g/ 1oz butter, plus extra for frying off the mushrooms
Salt and pepper

Simply bung all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until a dough has formed. If you don't have a food processor, place the dry ingredients in a mound on the worktop, create a well and crack the egg in. Fork the egg into the flour and salt and then gradually mix in the cold water and knead for 15-20 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Cover the dough in cling film and leave to rest for half an hour or so.

In the meantime, make the filling. Place the dried porcini in a bowl and pour over boiling water - just enough to cover the mushrooms. Leave them to soak for 20 minutes and drain, reserving the mushroom liquor. Place the liquor in a saucepan with the wine and reduce the liquid until you are left with about 2 tablespoons' worth. Leave to cool.

Place the pigeon, bacon, garlic, flat leaf parsley, butter, egg, seasoning and cold reduced porcini liquor in a food processor and blitz the whole lot together until finely minced. Fry off a teaspoon of the meat and taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary. 

Unwrap the dough and cut it in half, then rewrap one half. Roll the other into a long 1 inch thick sausage with your hands. Cut the sausage into 1 inch thick pieces and then roll each individual piece into thin rounds with a lightly floured rolling pin. Place a teaspoon of filling into the centre of the circle, lightly dampen the edges with a little water and fold over and seal, so you end up with a crescent shape. Take both ends of the crescent and pinch them together. Set aside on a floured surface and repeat with the remaining dough rounds. Once you've filled all the rounds, roll the other half of the dough into a long sausage and repeat the process.

Ten minutes before serving, fry off the pre-soaked porcini mushrooms in plenty of butter and season generously. In the meantime, heat up a large pan of water with salt and once it's boiling, throw in the pelmeni in three stages and cook for 3-4 minutes or until they rise up to the surface. Remove the pelmeni with a slotted spoon and place three on pre-warmed plates. Top with a few buttery mushrooms and a drizzle of the butter from the pan.

Friday, 11 November 2011

P is for... Potted pheasant and partridge with plum pickle and poppyseed plait.

When Autumn hits us in the face with its burnished hues and chilly winds, my mind always turns to game. Delicious game. What can cheer a dark night's dinner plate more than a generous helping of wild, forest meats? This potted pheasant and partridge on hot buttered toast hits the spot perfectly and also makes for an excellent home-made Christmas gift for food-loving friends and family. 

Potted pheasant and partridge

Potted pheasant and partridge

I couldn't possibly have P night without including some kind of potted "P" (sorry), especially considering Richard's three excellent "potted" shows: the Olivier-nominated Potted Potter, the cutlass-wielding Potted Pirates and the festive firecracker, Potted Panto - which will be on at the Vaudeville Theatre this Christmas. Get your tickets booked before the show sells out!

1 pheasant
1 partridge
8 rashers of smoked back bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Goose or duck fat
1 litre of pheasant and partridge stock (for which you will need, 1 pheasant and 1 partridge carcass, 2 carrots, an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a leek, a stick of celery, a scattering of black peppercorns, a few sprigs of thyme and a couple of bay leaves)
Half a bottle of fruity red wine
A pinch of mace
A suspicion of nutmeg
1 star anise, finely ground in a pestle and mortar
A few sprigs of thyme
Bay leaves
Salt and pepper

3 x 350ml kilner jars, sterilised.

Preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C fan)

First, for the messy bit (which you can easily ask your butcher to do for you if you don't want to get your hands dirty): skin and de-bone your birds and remove any pieces of shot. Next, place the carcasses on a roasting tray and pop them into your preheated oven for half an hour before transferring them into a large pan. Roasting the bones will give your stock a much richer flavour, but if you're short on time, or can't be bothered, just bung your raw bones straight into a pan. Add the roughly chopped veg for your stock (see above), herbs and peppercorns and pour over enough water to cover. Scatter over some salt and bring it all up to the boil, before reducing the heat and leaving it to simmer for a few hours. There you have plenty of pheasant and partridge stock to be going on with for P's feast and beyond.

Fry your onion and garlic in a dessertspoonful of goose/duck fat until very soft. Pour over your red wine and reduce by half. Add your stock and the sprigs of thyme and reduce by half again. Season generously and reduce by half again. Remove the thyme and leave to cool.

Preheat your oven to 160°C (140°C fan)

Now, turn your attention back to your meat. You need to chop the pheasant, partridge and bacon quite finely, so it starts to resemble mince. Place all the minced meat in a large pyrex bowl with a couple of tbsp of goose fat. Add the star anise, nutmeg and mace along with a generous scattering of salt and ground black pepper. Pour over the cold red wine reduction and mix the whole lot together until thoroughly combined. Fry a little of the mixture to taste for seasoning, adding more if necessary. When satisfied, fill your sterilised kilner jars about 3/4 of the way up and place a single bay leaf on top. Leave the lids open. Transfer the jars to a roasting tin and fill the tin with enough water to go halfway up the jars. Pop them in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Once out of the oven, immediately close the lids and leave to cool. The potted pheasant and partridge will last, unopened in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a month, but once opened, it must be refrigerated and eaten within three days. 

Plum pickle

Plum pickle

I wanted to keep my plum pickle properly plummy, so didn't add any of the extra usual suspects like raisins, currants or apples, but if you want to turn this into more of an old fashioned chutney, go ahead and add away. 

1 punnet of plums (I used Victoria because that's what I found, but you can use what you like), stoned and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
A finger of ginger, grated
A cinnamon stick
A scattering of black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
2 heaped tbsp soft brown sugar
1/2 pint white wine vinegar

2 small sterilised jam jars (or 1 large, whatever you have)

Simply bung the lot in a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir until the sugar has dissolved (don't stir so hard you break up the plums too much at this stage). Stop stirring, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for about three quarters of an hour or until thick and sticky. Taste for sweet/sharpness and seasoning, adjust if necessary and cook through again if needed. Fish out the cinnamon stick and the peppercorns if you want to and then transfer into your sterilised jam jars. Place a small disc of wax paper over their tops if you want to and immediately pop the lids on.

Poppyseed plait

Poppyseed plait 

1 tsp caster sugar
7.5 fl.oz/ 220ml warm water
1 x 7g sachets fast-acting yeast
15oz/ 375g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1oz/ 25g cooled melted butter or 2 tbsp olive oil

In a measuring jug, mix the sugar with a third of the warm water and the yeast. You don't need to leave it to stand with fast-acting yeast. Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl and make a well in the middle for the cooled melted butter or oil, the yeast mixture and most of the remaining water. Mix the lot together, adding the remaining water if needed. Knead the dough for about ten minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic and springy to touch. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, top with cling film and leave to prove for an hour or two somewhere warm, until the dough has doubled in size. I always bung mine in the airing cupboard.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan)

Knock back the dough, by punching it so it deflates. Knead the dough again for another couple of minutes and leave to rest for about 10 minutes. Cut the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a long sausage. Pinch the ends together and plait. Transfer to a floured baking tray, tuck the ends underneath to make it look neater, cover the top with a clean tea towel and place somewhere warm to double in size. Brush the top with an egg wash and scatter the top with poppy seeds. Pop your plait in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 200°C (180°C fan) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the top of the bread is golden and the base sounds hollow when tapped. Cool the bread on a wire rack.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

P is for... Pea and pancetta potage

You'll be forgiven for thinking I'm just trying my luck with the "P" for potage here, but you'll also be wrong. After much teasing from the P-ers that "potage" is just a posh word for soup, I told them what I'm about to tell you.

Although potage has been pinched by some posh restaurants to use as a pimped up synonym for soup, in actual fact, it has defining characteristics of its own.  Potage is from the old French "pottage" meaning "potted dish" and is used as an umbrella term for thick soups, stews or porridges. OK, so potage is, essentially, a stewy soup - I wasn't going to go anywhere near the porridge despite the extra "P" it would have given me. I decided to only blend half of it, to ensure my potage remained thick and chunky. Does a thick soup with bits in turn it into a potage? I'm going to say yes, it does! 

Pea and pancetta potage

A knob of butter
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
200g pancetta
1 kilo frozen garden peas
1.5 litres fresh chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Fry the onions, garlic and half the pancetta in butter and oil until the onions are soft and the pancetta has browned. Add the chicken stock and peas, season and leave to simmer for around half and hour. Blend half the soup and leave the rest chunky. Stir through and taste for seasoning. At this point, you can leave the potage to cool and reheat it later. When ready to serve, fry the remaining pancetta in a dry pan until crispy. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and scatter their tops with the crispy pancetta.