Friday, 18 April 2014

Cookies and Pate

Cookies and Pate
Once again I managed to turn a holiday into an excuse to spend 12 hours a day in the kitchen, this time with a rather perfect background of Jazz recording next door, intoxicating blue sky and for that matter intoxicating amounts of wine.

 Although I particularly enjoyed the saxophone production line assisting me when making 80 canapés for the concert, the most successful recipes turned out to be duck liver pate (only in france) and chocolate chip cookies of which I couldn't make enough…
Disclaimer: Unfortunately I had no scales or measuring jugs etc so I did mot of the amounts by sight… but I've written roughly the right amounts

These cookies may not look much like cookies, more like misshapen slabs but I have testimonials that the are pretty damn good.

Makes roughly 30-40
500g butter
500g caster sugar
1tbsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
500-600g flour (until you have the right consistency)
pinch of salt
200g chocolate chips

1. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
2. Beat in the eggs one at a time with the vanilla extract, you will need to beat pretty hard to combine.
3. Add the flour a bit at a time with the salt and mix hard. You want to have the consistency of a stiff cake mix, not quite as solid as your average biscuit dough.
4. Finally stir through the chocolate chips.
5. Scoop ice cream size balls of the cookie dough onto a greaseproof paper lined tray and bake in the oven for 12-15mins at 180oC until the dough has spread out and the cookies are golden brown, just starting to crisp up on the edges, you may have to separate the cookies. Leave to cool and harden up, serve.

I'm not sure yet whether this pate will work out of france because it is so very french, mostly duck livers and garlic… I also realise the prospect of eating duck liver might freak some people out so there is an equally rich mushroom pate recipe below which pretty much looks the same too. Usually you would use brandy or port for this but all I had was wine… Likewise for the really daring feel free to set the alcohol in the pan on fire (flambé) I was just a bit scared of burning down someone else's house.

Makes A lot.
900g duck livers
400g butter
pepper and salt
6 shallots
10 garlic cloves
200ml white wine
200ml red wine

1. Heat 200g of butter in a pan and add the shallots, garlic, pepper and lots of salt. Sweat for 5-8mins or until soft. Add the thyme.
2. Add the duck livers and brown all over, add the alcohol and bubble it off as quickly as possible (here is where the flambé comes in)
- you may want to do this in batches depending on your pan.
3. Blitz the livers mix and the rest of the butter in a food processor till smooth, pour into a dish and leave in the fridge to set.

Mushroom Pate

Makes a lot
150g butter
4 shallots
2 leeks

12 cloves garlic
700g basic white mushrooms (mix this up a bit and add different mushrooms for different flavour)
salt and pepper
200g creme fraiche

1. Sweat the shallots, leeks and garlic in a pan with the butter, salt and pepper until soft. Add the tarragon and mushrooms and bubble until most of the liquid from the mushrooms has gone.
2. Blitz in a food processor with the creme fraiche, then pour into a dish and leave in the fridge to set.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Dustbin Tales

Dustbin Tales
            A good friend of ours is one of my favourite types of people, the sort of person who will eat anything. I cannot stand fussy eaters. (I know I contradict myself a bit on this because of not liking cheese but you know what I mean) So of course I am always delighted when he comes round to dinner or drinks and I can palm of some of my latest invention on him. He is always a grateful receiver of any cookies, brownies or cake that are left lying round the house which I baked as a stress reliever and can’t persuade any of our family to eat any more. So I was delighted when I was asked to cater his 21st birthday. I had absolutely free reign on a savoury and sweet canapé spread; I could experiment with mini macaroons, cheesecake bites, three different sorts of dip and mini toad in the hole. I made mini satay chicken, white wine jellies, chargrilled squid and mini apple pies. Most of all I got to make a spread sheet to organise the whole thing – brilliant! The only request was that I make a cake like the one his mum made for him every year for his birthday.

            As I mentioned before this friend was famous for eating everything, so his mum had come up with a dustbin cake. A chocolate cake with the top sliced off, topped with all the disgusting gummy sweets he wasn’t allowed most of the year and then the top of the cake placed over them. Now I wanted to go one step further for this cake. So I planned a 4 layer chocolate cake, of which I cut out a hole in each layer. I filled the hole with gummy sweets, smothered the cake in chocolate icing with a few token gummy worms making their exits down the sides and topped the whole thing off with a pure chocolate disc lid. On this lid I piped lines coming off the centre and added on a fondant handle and there you have it a pure chocolate dustbin. I was later told that this was breakfast for weeks afterwards, ah well better to over cater than under….

When In Bruges...

When In Bruges
If you haven't yet been to see the 39 steps in the Criterion theatre I would strongly advise getting a ticket (not that it seems to be going anywhere soon, they just celebrated their 3000th performance….). After you've been to see the fast paced, british slapstick comedy piece of genius, you might be peckish (we certainly were at 10pm). We headed over to what can be described as possibly too trendy for the group of Cambridge students that encountered it but I was very glad that we did go there because despite the overly trendy feel of exposed piping and industrial staircase the food was delicious and very good value. A restaurant called BELGO. I've been told the beer was rather good but I'm afraid the meagre sip of honey beer I tried just tasted like beer to me - I clearly haven't had enough beer to taste the subtle nuances of different flavours. I did like the exciting looking test tube that one of the beers came in, and exciting presentation does always make me like things better, but I'm still not sure I would've liked any of the beers their no matter how superior their glassware. 
Having ordered and declaring 'I am a Snob' to order the Snob mussels (well employed someone else to do it on my behalf - I was chicken), we were impressed when the starters came within minutes - did I mention it was 10pm? I made a very wise choice with the duck salad. It came warm with soft and crunchy croutons ( I do mean this), a perfectly on the cusp of soft boiled egg, some sort of delicious dressing (I would love the recipe) and hidden treasure troves of black pudding. Passing the salad round it got approval from all areas. Although a close second was the chicken liver pate which came with giant sourdough croutons and was rustic but spreadable with a salty smooth flavour - pretty sure I can create this one at home, watch this space. The melting gruyere cheese croquettes were never going to be my choice not only were they too cheesy for me, but also served with beer relish… however I was assured from all sides that they lived up to the hype and a very popular option round the table. There was also the lobster bisque which looked like a rather dull butternut squash soup but one sip was enough to show the there was a really deep seafood flavour, it wasn't grainy and it wasn't too thick or thin, I was almost jealous but luckily I was having the snob mussels for main, champagne, cream and lobster.
The blondie decided to splash out on the 'add half a lobster for £10' deal, although all of us were questioning whether surf and turf really expanded to include pork belly… As I'm afraid has been the case before I think the lobster was some what of a disappointment. The lobster lovers out there will probably heavily berate me for saying this but as my opposite dining partner said, lobster really only tastes properly fresh if it is cooked from living in a pot of boiling water (now I'm off to hide before the witch hunt comes) and this one was probably frozen… The sauce on my mussels was absolutely heavenly, full of flavour, decadent and the mussels weren't chewy or overcooked. My only gripe was possibly I would've preferred to be offered bread to mop up the sauce, the fries were nice, but they were nothing special. I believe the same was said of the classic mussels, they were excellent too. I'm afraid I didn't here much about the pork belly and half chicken as they were sitting down the other end of the table.

We finished the meal around midnight with a surprise plank of shots appearing from somewhere. I am still not entirely sure what these shots were but the menu described them as SCNAPPS SHOTS: MIXED SHOT STICKS IN A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS. I believe I smelt, apple, vanilla, chocolate… etc
Probably should've gone for the waffles/ice cream, the salted caramel flavour looked really good. Belgo - I shall be coming back!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Peas Please Louise: Mummy had a little lamb….

Peas Please Louise: Mummy had a little lamb….
Loosely based on a Fat Duck this is dedicated to my mum - Happy Mothers Day.

Ingredients (serves 2)

2tsp fennel seeds
1 dried bay leaf
salt and pepper
3 juniper berries
dash lemon juice
800g rolled, boned lamb breast, cut in half widthways to make two pieces
Pea Puree
300g frozen peas
½ garlic stock cube (or 2 cloves crushed garlic)
pinch of salt
60g butter
dash of cream
dash lemon juice
4 sprigs dill
Caramelised Onion Gel
1 large white onion
1 large red onion
knob of butter
1 leaf gelatine
Pickled Cucumber
¼ cucumber stick
100ml olive oil
100ml white wine vinegar
black pepper
splash of lemon juice
3 sprigs dill
pinch of salt (3g)
pinch of sugar (5g)
Lamb Jus
Reserved caramel onions
Reserved lamb juice
Spelt Poppadoms
200g flour
1tsp fennel seeds
50g spelt
pinch of salt

1.     For the Pickled Cucumber, peel and halve the cucumber lengthways. Halve lengthways again then halve widthways. Mix the oil, vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, salt, sugar and cucumber. Leave to marinate.
2.     For the Caramelised Onion Gel, peel the onions and slice into rings thinly. Put in a frying pan with the butter and cover, leaving over a low heat for 30mins. When the onions are golden and caramelised, remove from the heat and pour over 150ml water immediately, then cover. Leave for 5mins, and then drain the onions, reserving the liquid. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 1min then mix into the onion liquid. Place in the fridge for 1-2hrs until set*. Puree the remaining onions and reserve.
3.     For the Puree, Pour boiling water over the peas with the garlic. Leave for 3-5mins, topping up with boiling water if the water goes cold, until the peas are a bright green and do not feel frozen but feel a little tender. Drain and puree wit the butter and cream, leave aside.
4.     For the lamb, place in a shallow dish and pour over the spices. Then pour over boiling water and leave for 7mins.
5.     For the Poppadoms’, mix the flour, salt, fennel seeds, 2tbsp oil and spelt with water, adding until it forms a firm dough (roughly 100ml-200ml water). Split into 3 pieces and roll out thinly. Heat up 3tbsp oil in a pan till hot, fry each piece for 4mins until crispy, turning halfway.
6.     For the lamb, drain and reserve the liquid. Heat 1tbsp oil in a large pan and sear the lamb for 2-3mins on each side. Meanwhile mix the onions and 300ml reserved lamb liquid and heat to boiling, simmering for 5mins until it forms a jammy gravy.
7.     To serve, warm the pea puree and spoon a large teardrop onto the right side of the plate. Delicately place four cucumber pieces on the left of the tear drop on each plate at different angles. Chop each lamb piece into four slices and lay on top of the teardrop. Gently spoon over the gravy on the lamb. Spoon out dabs of the Caramelised onion gel and dot between the cucumber Finally break up the poppadum and place a shard between each lamb slice facing upwards, finish with dill sprigs.

*alternatively place in freezer for 30-40mins

Monday, 31 March 2014

Welsh Turbot, Laver puree and Potato wrapped Langoustine

Welsh Turbot, Laver puree and Potato wrapped Langoustine
 Random Competition Entry

My dish is based upon seasonal produce for January from around Britain, with the key ingredient being the little known Laver, also known as the ‘Welsh man’s Caviar’. This is a type of seaweed found on the rocks around the coastal areas of Britain, traditionally served for breakfast in Wales. Here it is accompanied by a welsh turbot fillet, as homage to it’s origins, seasonal English leeks and carrots, Irish Dublin Bay prawns and Scottish cockles, making it a dish from all corners of Britain. Paying homage to the strong British fishing industry, using all sustainable, seasonal produce.
For the Turbot:
2 x 150g fillet of welsh turbot, skin attached, bones removed
2tbsp olive oil
15g unsalted butter
For the Laver puree:
15g dried laver seaweed
15g butter
1tsp brown sugar
For the Deep fried cockles:
250g cockles
50g well seasoned flour
500ml corn oil
For the white wine sauce:
1kg/2¼lb fish bones and skin
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
6 black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
3 fresh parsley stalks
20g butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 fennel bulb, finely chopped
125ml white wine
125ml dry vermouth
2 cloves garlic, halved
250ml double cream
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
For the potato wrapped Dublin Bay Prawns or Langoustines:
2 langoustines/ Dublin Bay Prawns
300g floury potato, peeled
50g plain flour, mixed with a pinch of salt
80ml sesame oil
1tbsp unsalted butter
For the Garnish:
6 spears baby leeks
6 baby carrots
45g unsalted butter
Parsley to garnish

For the Laver puree: Cover the laver with salted water and bring to the boil. Cook for 5-7mins, until the laver begins to break down. Drain and transfer to a blender. Blend until smooth. Add the butter and sugar and blend again. For the White Wine Sauce: Put the fish bones, carrot, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf and parsley into a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and skim off any scum that has formed. Cover and simmer very gently for 20-30 minutes. Strain into a large bowl and allow to cool. Reserve for later. Meanwhile gently sweat the fennel and shallots in the butter and a pinch of salt until soft. Add the wine, vermouth and garlic and reduce by half. Add 250ml of the reserved fish stock and reduce again by half. Pour in the cream and boil to a thicker sauce-consistency. Strain to remove the shallots, garlic and fennel. Stir through the mustard and season to taste. For the Cockles: Wash the cockles carefully under cold water to remove any excess sand, leave to soak for 10minutes then rinse again, draining out as much excess water as possible.  Lightly dust the cockles with the well-seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the oil to 190oC and immerse the cockles for about 1minute until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. For the Langoustines: Clean the langoustine leaving the tails attached. Shred the potato thinly, Julienne style. Roll the prawns in a little flour to help the potato stick. Tightly wrap the langoustines in the potato threads until completely covered with the tail sticking out. Heat the oil in a pan to 190 oC and add butter. Fry the prawns until the potato is golden brown, remove and drain excess oil. For the Turbot: Heat the oil in a pan and then fry the fish for 3–4 minutes on skin side down, so skin is crispy before carefully flipping to cook for a further 3-4 minutes on the other side, basting throughout. Then adding the butter to finish off. Sprinkle with sea salt. For the Garnish: Heat 20g butter in a pan, add the carrots and 100ml water, cover and cook gently for 5mins. Uncover and cook for a further 3-5mins stirring occasionally until cooked through, season. Meanwhile heat 25g butter in a pan, add the leeks and cook over a medium heat for 5mins, ensuring they still retain their shape, season. Place 3 baby leeks and 3 carrots in a line along the centre of each plate. Spoon small circles of the laverbread puree around the vegetables. Scatter the deep fried cockles over and either side of the veg. Place the pan-fried turbot fillet on top of the carrots and leeks and lean the potato wrapped langoustine against the fish. Spoon over the white wine sauce and garnish with parsley sprigs.  

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Italian in the Isle of Man

Italian in the Isle of Man
If I told you that the traditional dish of the Isle of Man was the grand choice between herring and boiled potatoes and chips with gravy and cheese you might get the idea that this place isn't perhaps known for its grand haute cuisine. However that wasn't why we were there, it was no Italy. But luckily we were provided with the most lovely selection of home cooked meals (particularly a melt in the mouth lamb shank, fluffy trifle and copious wine on the last night) and a few of us were impressed with the traditional kipper roll (gutted I missed this), manx beer (NOT me), goats milk strawberry cheesecake ice cream (definitely me), and of course the Manx Knobs (humbug like sweets). In fact we were given so much food, tea, cake and sandwiches here there and everywhere, that a walk up the 'mountain' was definitely well received.
One thing I can definitely attest to is the quality of the food in the Italian restaurant La Piazza in Douglas. Lovely and filling, the highlight was unfortunately dessert by which point I was really full, any other time I would have just eaten several portions of that! More later.
The choice of starters was unfortunately limited due to the lateness of the hour, but the newbie and I shared between us a rather disappointing Caprese salad (literally just mozzarella and tomato, no dressing or pesto or nothing) and retro vol au vents (two the size of a pie each) with a lovely creamy mushroom sauce, possibly again could have a done with a touch more seasoning. However I'm glad we shared because one of them alongside the considerably lighter salad was a better size for a starter than two giant puff pastries. Im likewise pleased I didn't opt for the garlic bread as it was literally a pizza size, if I'd have had that alongside a second pizza…..

Talking of which I opted for the house specialty, classic margarita base with garlic butter and parma ham. It was very tasty, the garlic butter added an extra layer of flavour and the parma ham was very good quality, added at just the right moment. The main issue was again finishing my plate. I have always been the good little girl that finishes everything on my plate as my mother told me to…. in this case it was possibly a mistake. Likewise the newbie had a large plate of carbonara which she couldn't finish but the historian next to me made solid work of the volcanic looking calzone. The best moment of the night was when the northerner got confused about the sea bass dish believing that bass couldn't possibly be a fish, but rather a manxian assortment of seafood, I believe she was rather surprised when the dish arrived.

At this point the meal deteriorated as only choir tours can and a game of pass the string bean mouth to mouth. It was probably a good thing we were basically the only people left in the restaurant at this point, although I believe one unsuspecting customer was treated to possibly the loudest, most overly harmonised and operatic Happy Birthday she had ever heard…What happens when you mix a choir and wine.
Then came the grand finale, dessert. I wisely passed on the profiteroles (I believe a good profiterole is one in a million and as expected they were soggy and too much plain cream) and grudgingly passed on the pannacotta which ran out, although I was mainly excited by the jam smiley face, and was rewarded with one of the best tiramisu's I have ever had. Rather than a disappointing mountain of plain whipped cream, soggy lady fingers and bitter cocoa powder, we were treated to a sweet boozy zabaglione (sort of custardy but sweeter and thicker) layered with spongy lady fingers, strong coffee and dark chocolate shavings. I could have eaten another couple. La Piazza I salute you

If I could make my perfect menu….2

If I could make my perfect menu….2
you may have seen this post under the title of my 21st menu - so my 21st came and and for some unknown reason I didn't manage to find anyone who wanted to foot the bill for me to create this menu. I decided the next feasible opportunity for this menu is my wedding - so for my future husband (if you are reading this whoever you may be) we are blowing are entire budget on the food, I'll wear jeans.

I've tweaked the menu a bit - and of course added some canapé ideas and dietary alternatives for my weird gluten free, nut allergy, veggie friends.

Beetroot Macaroons, Creamy goats cheese filling (gf) (v) (n)
Crispy Salmon skin, Seaweed cone, seaweed salad, soy dressing, sesame seeds (gf) (n)
Crab, Pink Grapefruit and dill mayonnaise, blinis, caviar (n)
Ras el Hanout seared lamb, pistachio crust, mint and cilantro, harissa sauce, lemon yogurt

Oyster Ceviche
Oysters with tequila, lime, chilli, salt 
Bollinger R.D 1996 Extra Brut
Palm heart and avocado ceviche with soy, ginger and lime (v)(gf)(n)

Twice fried Black Bean, Guacamole, baked corn tortilla strips, crispy fried coriander
Passion Fruit Margarita –
Passion fruit, lime juice, Triple Sec, 1921 Tequila Blanco

Phish Eggs
Smoked Trout, Poached quails eggs, asparagus, hollandaise foam, toasted almonds, crispy toast disc, Lemon Zest
Casa Coste Piane Prosecco Valdobbiadene
Wild Garlic scrambled eggs, toasted sunflower seeds, crispy toast discs, Bloody mary coulis (v)(n)
- Gluten free toast alternative option

Chicken Ravioli, Spinach Foam, Honey barbecue toasted Hazelnuts, Ricotta quenelle, Chicken and sage consommé, sage crisps 
Villa Masetti Pinot Grigio 2009
Wild truffle and mushroom ravioli, spinach foam, creamed white wine and tarragon sauce, tarragon crisps, butter toasted walnut pieces (v)
- Gluten free pasta alternative
- nut allergy, replace nuts with sunflower seeds

Seared Chard wrapped Venison loin, Venison Confit Shepherds pie topped with black garlic creamed potatoes, Chanterelle mushrooms, spicy chocolate sauce, Carrot and Parsnip crisps (gf) (n)
The Black Shiraz 2010 Berton Vineyards
Butternut, spinach and ricotta Wellingtons, three cheese potato gratin, caramelised onions, maple pecans (v)

Iced Melon Soup, Cayenne Pepper, Mint syrup
Campari Sorbetta, Balsamic drizzle (v) (gf) (n)

Cherry Ripe
Custard Cream Quenelle, Warm Cognac soaked Black Cherries, Warm Vanilla sponge, Cherry Blossom Sugar shards (v) (n)
Limoncello Di Capri
- Gluten free sponge alternative

Reese’s Piece
60% Bittersweet Chocolate cylinder, Peanut Butter Core, Frozen yoghurt parfait filling, Salted Peanut brittle, Raspberry Jelly crystals (v) (gf)
Jaffa Cake
Milk chocolate bubbly Mousse, bubble wrap dark chocolate, marmalade, salted popcorn (n)

Holy Choly
Black Pepper and Chedder Shortbread (gf)
All Butter Cranberry studded sugar cookies 
Vin Santo Sante Bucciarelli

Affogato truffle
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel
Tomato and Basil Praline

Thursday, 27 March 2014

No Bread Pizza - for healthy days

No Bread Pizza - for healthy days

It is one of those days where you've spent the past weekend being inundated with free food and drink (in my case choir tour) and consequently eat a lot of cake because it's free and you're a student so your brain is always programmed to stock up with free food wherever you go. On top of that you are exhausted so end up buying a lot of chocolate on top of this because chocolate (while bad for your voice) is the best thing to sustain you through a long day. Finally you are also a food blogger so can't possibly say no to eating three courses when you have already obliged yourself (and promised those around you) that you will blog about it. (see the Italian Isle of Man post.) Right about now you are where I am now, feeling like I've eaten an elephant over the weekend, caffeine withdrawal headache, hangover and sleep deprivation. In order to counteract this I have decided to have a day of abstinence/early night/detox, but abstinence doesn't mean it can't be tasty!
Here is the recipe for what I cooked myself for dinner, admittedly I have just gone and taken one of the best bits out of a pizza, BUT trust me it is still very filling, low calorie, nutrient rich etc, plus I woke up after this day feeling healthier, happier and ready to get back to the rich foods that normally fill up this blog.

Serves 1
3 tomatoes, chopped in to quarters
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 small courgette, cut into circles
150g Portobello mushrooms (ideal) or chestnut (chea

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
(NB If you like you could also add red onion or aubergine or sweet potato to bulk it up)
pepper lemon juice
basil (ideally fresh but I used dried and it was fine)
(I added smoked paprika to this the other day as well and trust me mind was blown!)
1/2 ball low-fat mozzarella

Place the veg and garlic in a flat dish and sprinkle liberally with salt, a dash of lemon juice, some black pepper and LOTS of Basil. Now I'm not sure how long to cook this in the oven (I only have a microwave), but feel free to experiment, I expect you are looking about 15mins at 180oC. In the microwave, cook the veg on high for about 7-8mins. Scatter with torn bits of mozzarella and put back in the microwave or oven for about 2mins, until melted, enjoy.....

Of course this isn't an exclusively healthy dish. You could add more mozzarella, add goats cheese, serve with garlic bread, drizzle with olive oil or pesto, add pepperoni or chicken or even for extra decadence try four cheeses and bacon....

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Confusing the Palate

Confusing the Palate

Once again I have been possibly slightly unwittingly coerced by my friends to cook for them in what can only be described as basic cooking conditions. This time it was marginally easier, only 4 to cook for, no dietary restrictions and a more free day leading up to it. Plus I had further enticement as the three dinner guests agreed to match my menu with wines for each course. As per usual the menu was possibly a little obsessively planned - excel, timetable, price itemised shopping list..... If only I gave my degree this much attention.

Unfortunately that day the time I had allotted to finishing my coursework so I felt slightly better about jet setting to the Isle of Man on choir tour ( yes we did fly and it was a very exciting tour) was spent trying in Vain to save my degree, I accidentally wiped my computer hard drive, hopefully this can be remedied - watch this space. Most people in this circumstance would most likely be in hysterics, alleviating anger by throwing heavy objects at the wall, or immediately degrading from their degree and moving to anguished exile in Siberia to escape the pain of the disappearance of half a years worth of coursework. I'm afraid I did none of these things. The excitement of cooking a dinner party made up if my favourite foods, with some of my favourite people and a copious amount of good wine somehow managed to inspire such a cloud of optimism - I am still living in the sphere of it and am still convinced this will be ok- my mother on the other hand is despairing, possibly mostly at my casual attitude....
Anyway back to dinner - if anything can distract me from a possible career ending mistake it would be confit chicken, truffle jus, peanut butter parfait.... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We began with prosecco and walkers crisps. However these wakers crisps tasted especially good because I'd stolen them from the snack basket of the current bane of my life, the college fundraising campaign. If you have ever had to persuade people to give you money when they are trying it tell you that they've just been made redundant/had a baby/ bought a house so can't afford it right now you will understand the soul draining experience that is telephone campaign. (Disclaimer - the crisps were meant for workers like me so it wasn't so much stealing)

 I wanted to challenge our taste buds by starting with a sweet course and ending with a savoury while still trying maintain some sort of style and complexity within my 'having to reboot the oven every 15mins' limitations. So we began with a Roasted tomato and caramelised onion Tarte Tatin with Ricotta quenelle. This is a surprisingly easy dish, particularly with the aid of Lakeland disposable foil pudding dishes - effectively the basis of this meal.

Serves 4
2 large tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 onions
1tbsp butter
Bay leaf
2 tbsp sugar + 2tbsp sugar
Drop vanilla essence
White wine vinegar (I shamefully had to use fish and chip vinegar)
Ready rolled puff pastry

Roast the tomatoes, cut in half and garlic still in its skin with a drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and thyme leaves for about 10-15mins at 180oC.
Meanwhile chop the onions and then sweat over a medium heat in the butter with a good sprinkling of salt (add water if the onions look like they will burn).
When translucent add the bay leaf, a splash of vinegar, pepper, drop of vanilla and half the sugar. When sticky and caramelised, set aside.
Finally melt the remaining sugar with 2tbsp water till a golden amber colour .
Place 1tsp caramel in the base of 4 foil pudding pots. Top with the tomatoes, flat side down and a garlic clove, squeezed out of its skin. Then add a spoonful of onions. Finally top with a disk of puff pastry.
Bake in the oven for 15 min or until golden - turn over - make a quenelle with a spoon of ricotta and serve.

The main used one of my favourite ingredients. I can't stress enough how amazing a few drops of truffle oil is in most dishes! Some of the best examples include in mash potatoes, mushroom risotto, in butter for steak or even (if you're feeling adventurous) white truffle and black pepper ice cream with strawberries. It is most definitely worth the £3.99 I paid for it - this bottle is going to last me for about a year, even the smell of it is pretty satisfying.
Other than the truffle oil, all the ingredients in this main are pretty cheap which just goes to show that you don't need to spend a lot to throw a great dinner party (this is one of the many tips I tend to shout at the TV screen when watching Come Dine with Me, along with why do you start cooking when your guests arrive???). I do agree that you can taste a great cut of organic meat, especially with steak where the better the quality the less you have to do to it, I barely cook mine, BUT I used sainsbury's basics chicken leg pieces for this dish, at the grand total of 4 for £2.69, and it came out absolutely beautifully.
So here it is Confit Chicken leg, buttered cabbage with nutmeg, butternut squash dauphinoise, toasted hazelnuts and truffle jus. Again relatively easy, just prep the hazelnuts, chicken, dauphinoise and chop the cabbage in advance and you can pretty much just leave it to cook while you can go and drink with your guests (take notes Come dine with me contestants).

Serves 4
For the Chicken
4 chicken legs
2l sunflower/vegetable oil
1tsp truffle oil
8-10 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
few sprigs of thyme
50g sea salt flakes
For the Cabbage
1 savoy cabbage
2tbsp water
50g salted butter
pinch of nutmeg
For the Jus
1-2tsp truffle oil
1 stock cube
small knob of butter
2 garlic cloves
sprig thyme
bay leaf
splash lemon juice
For the Dauphinoise
1 butternut squash
8 cloves or so garlic
sea salt flakes
bay leaf
300ml cream
For the Hazlenuts
100g blanched hazlenuts finely chopped (or bashed)

Rub the chicken with the salt, crushed garlic cloves, pepper and herbs, set aside for about an hour or so. Meanwhile toast the hazelnuts in a dry saucepan over a medium heat NB keep tossing to try and prevent burning, set aside.
Chop the squash into slices and layer in a shallow dish, studding every couple of layers with garlic cloves, a good sprinkling of salt and some pepper and the herbs. Pour over the cream, you may need a bit of milk to bring the cream/milk to the same level as the top layer of the squash, alternatively you can top this up with cream, the dish will be more stodgy but richer and really delicious.
Chop the cabbage into strips (the best way to do this is cut out the centre and chop all the sides into strips). Place into a saucepan with the butter, water, nutmeg and pepper, set aside.
Wash most of the salt off the chicken, reserving the herbs, half of the garlic and about 5-10g of the salt (this is approximate, the idea is you need a bit left). Place in a shallow dish and cover the chicken and herbs etc with the oils.
Put the chicken in the oven at 150oC for about an hour and a half. Forty minutes before you want to eat put the squash in the oven, when ready the squash should be starting to brown on top.
Meanwhile for the jus, chop the garlic and place in a small saucepan with the butter and sauté for 2-3mins. Pour over the lemon juice and add the herbs and 250ml water. Add the stock cube and stir to dissolve over a medium heat. Reduce to about half then add the truffle oil. Remove from the heat.
5mins before you want to eat, put the cabbage on the heat and cover, cook for 5mins and then remove from the heat.
To serve, place a handful of cabbage in the middle of the plate, top with a chicken leg and sprinkle with hazelnuts, finally spoon over some jus. Serve the dauphinoise separately, trust me a normal sized portion may not be enough for each person.

Now since I had done a sweet starter I decided to counter expectations with a salty dessert based on the american classic snack, a PBJ sandwich. My sister will tell you how obsessed I am with peanut butter, so much so that she promised to make me a giant peanut butter cup in lieu of a cake for my 18th birthday (if you're reading this it's 3 years down the line and I'm still waiting on that). When we went to America the excitement of every single chocolate bar having a version in peanut butter not to mention every restaurant meal. While in San Francisco last year I remember having a peanut butter cheesecake slice for lunch rather than the more nutritious savoury burritos my friends have. I do try and limit my addiction as too much of a good thing (at least in this case) would make me end up morbidly obese, but since I got to choose the menu for this party, it was inevitably included. This isn't for everyone (my haribo addicted dinner partner would've preferred a sweeter dessert) but for me it encapsulates heaven

Peanut butter parfait, cookie crumbs, chocolate squares and homemade strawberry jam
Makes 6
For the parfait
200g peanut butter
300g cream cheese
75g sugar
vanilla extract
200ml cream
3/4 sachet powdered gelatine
1 packet chocolate chip cookies
50g butter
For the chocolate squares
masking tape
dark chocolate (60% or more)
For the jam
400g strawberries
150g sugar
1 sachet powdered gelatine
black pepper
vanilla extract

Beat together the peanut butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the sugar, beat, then whisk together the gelatine and cream to combine before adding to the mix and beating further. Meanwhile make the cookies into crumbs, best done in a food processor. grease 6 pudding dishes (see above) well and then cover in cookie crumbs. (the best way to do this is place a large spoonful in the bottom and then pour out, turning as you do to cover all the sides). Fill the moulds with parfait and leave to set in the fridge. Reserve the remaining cookie crumbs
Meanwhile make a grid on a parchment lined tray with the masking tape. Melt the chocolate and spread over the grid, leave at room temperature to set, when still soft but not liquid, peel off the masking tape carefully, you should be left with perfect chocolate squares, place in the fridge to set.
Macerate (cover) the chopped strawberries in the sugar and black pepper. After about 30mins, place over a medium heat and liquids using a hand held blender. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-5mins. Add the gelatine and stir to dissolve, leave to cool. Ideally you would then put this in a piping bag, I didn't have one :(
To serve, place a chocolate square on the plate, release the parfait and place on top, finish with a second chocolate square. Use the piping bag to pipe dots of jam around this (again I couldn't do this) and scatter with cookie crumbs.


For finishing touches to the perfect evening, add wine and good company.