Monday, 9 January 2012

Q is for... Queen of Puddings (and Quaking Pudding) with a quenelle of Quark ice cream

Richard took me to Heston Blumenthal's The Hinds Head in Bray a few years ago and, although the famous triple-cooked chips were everything everyone said they were, it was the quaking pudding that really resonated for me. I found this recipe penned by the great man himself and followed it to the letter. TO THE BLOODY LETTER, HESTON! And (forgive me if I sound too much like Gregg Wallace here) although the flavour was the same comforting custard-y cuddle I'd remembered, this  pudding was less quaking and more total collapse. My quaking puddings resolutely refused to set and as such were a resounding flop. It was all the more annoying to later discover that Heston had published another recipe for quaking pudding all of three months later, which is COMPLETELY different. He'd clearly cocked it up the first time round and had to revisit the recipe to correct it. I wish I'd found the correction first, then maybe Q night would have been saved from a pudding of quaking soup. It wasn't all bad though. As is my usual wont, I couldn't decide which pudding to make out of quaking and queen of, so I did the only sensible thing and made both.

On P night, the guests were making predictions for Q's menu and the inimitable Chris Neill's offered suggestion was "a quenelle of some shit". So a quenelle of some shit or other it had to be, and what better shit to choose than another ingredient beginning with the letter Q. I went for a quenelle of Quark, which some might think is quite shit in and of itself, due to its staggeringly and saintly low fat content. It turned out not to be shit at all and, in actual fact, was rather delicious and cheese cake-y when transformed into lemon ice cream - the slug of cream probably didn't hurt it either.

Queen of Puddings

It's traditional to use breadcrumbs, but I think they taste nicer with brioche. If you take objection to  this alteration, by all means substitute the brioche crumbs for white breadcrumbs. I attempted to make just the right amount for two puddings, but, as usual, I over-estimated and ended up with three. I made these in custard pots, which I think are probably a little bigger than ramekins, so you might be able to get a fourth pud out of the same volume of mixture. 

300ml of full fat milk
75g brioche crumbs
A knob of butter, plus extra for greasing
50g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
The finely grated zest of half a lemon
A dash of vanilla extract
2 eggs
A pinch of salt
A couple of tbsp of raspberry jam (or whatever jam you fancy)

Bring the milk to the boil and take the pan off the heat. Stir in the brioche crumbs, butter, 25g sugar, lemon zest and vanilla and leave the mixture to swell for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, butter your custard pots/ ramekins and place them on a baking tray and preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).

Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks into the cooled brioche mixture. Divide the mixture between your buttered dishes, flatten their tops and pop them into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until set.

Melt the jam in a small saucepan and spread it over the set puddings. Whisk the whites with the salt in another bowl until stiff, then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar. Generously spoon a a mound of meringue on top of each pudding and fluff it up with a fork. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the meringue tops are golden brown. Leave the puds to cool a bit before serving.

Quark Ice Cream 

(this obviously makes more than 2 quenelles' worth)

The zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp of caster sugar
1 tub (250g) Quark
125ml double cream

Place the lemon zest and juice in a saucepan with the sugar over a gentle heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and you have a light syrup. Leave to cool. 

Whisk together the quark and cream and add the syrup - A strained mine of zest because I wanted it smooth, but you don't have to. Mix it all together and pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so to make it properly fridge-cold. 

If you have an ice cream machine, then follow the manufacturers instructions. If not, pop the mixture in a tupperware box and stick it in the freezer, giving it a vigorous whisk every half an hour or so until it's set to stop any ice crystals forming.

Take the ice cream out of the freezer for 5-10 minutes before you're ready to serve your pudding to soften. Using two tablespoons, scrape a spoonful of ice cream back and forth between the two spoons until you have made a rugby ball shape. Plonk it on a plate next to your queen of pudding and dig in.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Q is for... Quince-stuffed quails with quinoa

Although I've said that all the dishes were kept secret from Richard on Q night, there were definitely no surprises here with quail, quince and quinoa. He may not have anticipated them all being served on the same plate, but if bets had been placed he would certainly have cleaned up with these three. But none of that really matters, and besides, there is hardly an exhaustive list of foods beginning with Q, so as far as predictions go, there was bound to be quite a high hit rate for accuracy. Despite the lack of surprises at the contents of this particular dish, it worked together beautifully.

I love the subtle gamey taste of quail, but I know plenty of people who can't be bothered to order it in a restaurant because they're so small and boney and it can get tiresome picking the carcass for the last remaining scraps of meat. I personally quite like carcass-picking, but I'd already decided to stuff my quails with quince, so boning seemed the obvious way forward. I'm lucky enough to have one of London's finest butchers only a short bus ride away from where I live, so I asked the lovely folk at Moen's to bone my quails for me. I didn't own a boning knife at the time (this year's Christmas changed that - thanks Richard!) and thought I might slice my hand off if I tried to use a chef's knife on something so tiny. Ready-boned, these were a doddle to stuff and a cinch to slice.

Unlike David Lynch, I've never been much of a quinoa enthusiast, but this was soft, mellow comfort food. It's the kind of food you crave when it's cold and dark outside and you're feeling tired and lazy. The kind of food that you can just spoon into your pie hole and lazily chew once or twice before it's ready for swallowing. The kind of food you could probably get away with eating if you didn't have teeth. Like mashed potato or rice pudding. I'm never going to be sent into a frenzy of pleasure or delight by eating quinoa, but it has its place and I think I've found it: lying under a quail stuffed with quince.


Serves 2

150g quinoa
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A few spring onions, finely chopped
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 pint of fresh chicken stock
A glass of dry white wine
A knob of butter

Fry the onions, garlic and chilli in the butter until soft. Add the quinoa and the stock and wine, stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, pop the lid on and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Throw in the parsley and stir through for a couple of minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Quince-stuffed quail

I bought the quince cheese (membrillo) as quinces weren't in season at the time of Q. I found a wonderful quince-centric company who were so passionate about their products when I rang, I ended up buying more than I'd ever intended. 

I've made my own quince cheese before and, aside from passing it all through a sieve, it's not tricky at all. Just chop up the quinces and simmer them in water for a couple of hours until very soft and pass them through a sieve. Next, place the pulp in a saucepan with an equal volume of sugar, add a squeeze of lemon and simmer for a few hours until it becomes very thick and a drop sets hard on a cold plate. Pour into oiled jars or pretty shaped dishes with lids so that you can upturn them straight on to a cheese board, or, in this case, into a quail. 

to serve 2

2 boned quails
1 packet of parma ham
2 tbsp quince cheese
2 tbsp Hot Quince Jelly (optional, as I said, I got rather carried away while quince shopping)

Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C fan)

Simply place 1 tbsp of quince cheese in the centre of the boned quail, season and roll up the bird like a sausage. Wrap it in parma ham and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the other bird. Heat the hot quince jelly in a small pan to melt and then brush it over the parma-wrapped quails. Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes. Rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Q is for... Qotban

So, a qotban is a Moroccan lamb kebab. They are incredibly simple to prepare and, being mainly made up of big hunks of tender meat, are of course delicious.


250g lamb neck, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
The juice of 2 lemons
A finger of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
Salt and pepper
A generous glug of olive oil
Kebab skewers (if using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water before use)

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and pour it into a sandwich bag. Add the lamb cubes, tie a knot in the top of the bag and squidge everything about a bit, so the lamb is fully coated. Pop the bag in the fridge for a couple of hours, giving the bag a bit of a shake and squidge every now and then. 

Thread the meat on to the skewers and pop under a hot grill for about 15-20 minutes. Turn the kebabs regularly and baste with the left over marinade. Serve with a few simply dressed salad leaves.

Q is for... Quahog in Quinta

Quahogs are hard shelled clams often used in clam chowder or eaten raw with a little grated horseradish. On Q night, I decided to steam them in Quinta, a dry, white Portuguese wine. I was particularly keen to feature these little lovelies for Q after the mussels on M night managed to completely revolutionise Richard's attitude to shellfish. After his initial trepidation, Richard tucked into the Moules Mariniรจre with unparalleled gusto and since his seafood epiphany, he's been seen scoffing the stuff at every opportunity since.  If the empty shells (chucked into cocktail-drained Martini glasses. Classy.) were anything to go by, the quahogs hit the seafood spot nicely.

Quahogs in Quinta 

(serves 2)

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 rashers of bacon
4 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 large glass of Quinta (or any other dry white wine)
Knob of butter
A little shake of dried red chillies (as much or as little as you like)
750g quahog clams, washed and de-bearded - throw any open clams with open shells away.

Sweat the onion, garlic, celery and bacon in butter until everything is soft. Crank up the heat so the bacon and vegetables turn golden brown. Throw in the wine, tomatoes, parsley, chilli flakes and tumble in the clams. Season and pop the lid on and leave to simmer for a few minutes or until the quahog shells open. Serve in warm bowls with a little French bread to mop up the delicious juices.

Q is for... Quesadillas

Having already scoffed down two Scotch quails eggs the size of cricket balls as pre-dinner "nibbles" with our cocktails, a quesadilla starter was clearly asking for trouble. Having lost all reason, I decided to make enough tortilla dough to make 20 tortillas. Yes, that's right. 20. For two people. As a starter. Fortunately, reason returned for long enough to prevent me from actually serving all 20 tortillas. Instead, I popped the rest in an old cake tin to save for later, or, as actually happened, to be forgotten about until they went mouldy and had to be thrown away. 

I stuffed my quesadillas with plenty of cheese (obviously) in the form of Quicke's Cheddar, along with red peppers, chilli, coriander, mushrooms and onion. They were somewhere between a calzone and a toasted sandwich. They were delicious, but, by gum, were they filling. Richard and I fell back in our chairs, rubbing our full bellies, with the resonating notes of Josh Homme ringing in our ears. "Is there very much more to come?" Richard squeaked. "Yes," I replied, "quite a bit". Richard tried to hide his fear with a kindly smile, before suggesting we should "have a bit of a rest first". 

In all honesty, that little rest could have quite happily turned into a carbohydrate and cocktail induced five hour nap, but our training sessions in the form of the letters A to P had stood us in good stead. Several months of multi-course eating meant we were match-fit to continue onwards in the quest of Q. The quesadillas weren't going to stand a chance against old veterans like us. Bring on the remaining quantity of Qs!


If you haven't got the time, or can't be bothered to make your own tortillas, don't beat yourself up for buying them in. I only made the tortillas myself because I'd never made them before and the whole point of this food quest is to make it a bit of a challenge. Making a sandwich out of shop bought tortillas and whacking it under the grill didn't seem much like a challenge, which, of course, is exactly what would make it so appealing the rest of the time.

for the tortillas (makes about 20)

400g/1 lb plain flour
15g/ 1/2 oz butter
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
175ml/ 6 fl.oz boiling water

Sift together the dry ingredients before rubbing in the butter. Slowly, add the water and mix with a knife using a cutting action until you have created a rough dough - you may not need all the water. Once the dough is cool enough to touch, knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl topped with cling film to rest for 15 minutes.

Divide the mixture into small golf ball sized pieces and roll each one on a floured surface until thin and about the size of a dinner plate. Leave the remaining dough covered while you are rolling each piece, to prevent it from drying out.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium to hot flame with no oil. Dry fry each tortillas for 30 seconds to a minute on each side or until the top is slightly bubbly and golden. Stack the tortillas and wrap them in a clean tea towel or a parcel of baking parchment and foil to keep warm.

for the filling (to make 1 quesadilla that serves 2 people as a starter or for lunch)

You can fill your quesadillas with anything you like, as long as it includes cheese. In fact, you can, if you like, only put cheese in them. As long as cheese is featured, it's a quesadilla. It really is the cheese that's the important thing here, in case you hadn't worked that out.

1 onion, finely sliced in half moons
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
2 handfuls of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 red pepper, seeds and pith removed and sliced
A handful of fresh coriander
2 generous handfuls of grated Quickes Cheddar (or any other cheese you fancy)

Preheat the grill

Fry the onions in a glug of olive oil until soft. Add the mushrooms, pepper and garlic and fry until everything is soft and golden. Season generously and chuck in the chilli. Continue to fry it for a minute or so before taking the pan off the hat. Take one tortilla and sprinkle over half of the cheese. Pop the fried vegetables on top and scatter over some fresh, chopped coriander. Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese and place a second tortilla on top. Press it down slightly and place the quesadilla under the grill until the cheese has melted. Cut the quesadilla into quarters and serve.