Dinner party

I had planned to tidy the house over the summer holidays and then host a dinner party at the end of the summer holiday to celebrate getting over the C.H.A.O.S. (can’t have anyone over syndrome). However, I had left it very late to start and the place was still a long way from presentable when plans were formed to have dere ole friends over for a spot of supper.

Once a friend described a colleague as someone who went a little too far in preparing for dinner parties because “she made her own chocolates.” If it were tempering chocolate and moulds and fillings, I think I would agree but a few simple ganache based truffles are easily achievable if you have a few days’ warning.

Here’s our menu:

Orange gin and tonic

The original recipe from an old Olive magazine: Shake a tea spoon of marmalade for each shot of gin with some bitters and serve with tonic. I added some of crème de pamplemousse rose from a previous trip for a little more zing and was trying Fevertree tonic for the first time. This tasted good!

Frittata 

Another tip from Olive is to make frittata in a cake tin with a cake liner rather than a frying pan. This helps us particularly as we do not have any large non-stick frying pan. Fry an onion, a pepper, a grated carrot and some chopped sundried tomatoes. Add some ham chunks – I had roasted a bacon joint the day before to give some nice meaty chunks. Put the vegetables and meat into a lined cake tin. Beat six eggs with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, pour on and bake for 30 minutes at 180 deg c.

Sausages

I’m not so good at main courses, so any excuse to visit our local awesome butcher. Johnny provided us with some “cappuccino and chocolate” sausages and some “basil and tomato” ones. Popped in the oven as the starters went out, steamed some carrots and beans and boiled some new potatoes P grew in the garden. Served in warmed bowls for people to help themselves with gravy made with fried onions and mushrooms with red wine.

Pear 3 ways

Pear sorbet – blitz two tins of pears in syrup with the juice from one lemon and dump in the ice cream maker.

Poached pears – two large glasses of white wine, one of water, 300g sugar and a bunch of aromatics – star anise, lemongrass, ginger chunks, cloves, cardamom pods. Boil lightly until peeled pears are soft enough to push a toothpick into.

Pear jelly – set a pint of the poaching liquid with gelatin and separate into serving bowls, chill.

Reduce the remaining poaching liquid to a syrup to serve.

Vanilla mascarpone – one of the most delicious things I have ever made – a small tub of mascarpone beaten with two tablespoons of icing sugar, the scrapings from the inside of a vanilla pod and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Truffles

Two different ganaches fridged overnight and rolled into balls. Peanut butter ganache from Dan Lepard’s cake – half quantities – 120 gr dark chocolate, large spoon peanut butter, splash of sugar, 100mls double cream, melted very slowly and stirred together. Roll the truffles in either cocoa or chopped peanuts. For contrast, an Earl Grey white chocolate – scald 100mls double cream with some Earl Grey teabags, strain and melt 120 gr white chocolate into it. Roll in icing sugar.

Coffee

The latest beans from my monthly coffee club.

The dessert and starter were made well in advance, the main just cooked while we were eating.

Maybe now the house is edging tidier we might be able to do this more often.  I had a slightly crazy idea of doing two dinner parties two nights in a row with essentially the same meal twice running – edging from cooking to catering. The frittata would do 12. The poached pears could be doubled without too much hassle. Roasting 24 rather than 12 sausages makes no difference, but you would have to peel a few more carrots.  The real squeeze though would be having to do all the washing up overnight so you could start again the following night.

Eurovision hors d’oeuvres

We’re taking finger food to a Eurovision party this year, so I have made devilled eggs and puff-pastry pack two ways.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Devilled egg recipe here. Glut of teeny eggs from newly laying small hens, so used them up in this. Quite faffy, hard to transport and not the sort of fiddly work my clumsy fingers are any good at. I should probably stop even trying anything with piping in it.

Then a block of all butter puff pastry is divided – this time I did 1/3rd tartlets 2/3rds croissants.

Preheat oven to 200 deg C

Roll the pastry, cut rounds. Halve cherry tomatoes and optionally pre-roast them a little in the preheating oven. Stick each tomato half to a pastry round with tomato purée and top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Roll the remaining pastry and cut into triangles, either from a large circle of rolled pastry, or less wastefully from rectangles. You are looking for very tall isosceles triangles. Place a small piece of cheese (camembert, goats, etc) and half a spoon of interesting chutney (I’m using something from the Garlic Farm) on the wider part and roll them up to form a croissant. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Serve with Meg Pickard’s Eurovision Bingo cards [PDF] .

Pudding club: marshmallow cheesecake

Quite often with recipes as I flick through Olive magazine or follow links on the internet, it’s a new technique that piques my interest. This was one of those. It starts with melting marshmallows in milk and using the gelatin from there as a setting agent.

I used hobnobs for my cheesecake. The idea that a biscuit base doesn’t have to be digestive comes from Nigella’s Grasshopper Pie where she uses bourbon biscuits. I’ve just been to find that recipe again and was amazed to find that uses the same marshmallow technique!

The cheesecake I made was not massively successful – it looked bad because the cream cheese wasn’t beaten enough, the frozen fruit mix was not nice, and the fruit juice soaked into the base and meant that the whole pie did not slice properly but fell apart. Next time I think I would either make a rough jam from the fruit or try blitzing the frozen fruit to a purée and then blitz it through the cheesecake mix to make a sort of smoothie cheesecake.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I was trying to make:

Serves 10

300g marshmallows
200 mls milk
200g biscuits
50g butter
500g cream cheese
150 mls

Line a 23cm tin. Make a biscuit base from 200grams biscuit and 50grams butter.

Melt 300grams of marshmallows in 200mls of milk stirring regularly over a very low heat. Once the marshmallows have fully melted, cool the mix. Mine separated a little at this point.

Melting marshmallows in milk as a first step to a cheesecake

Put most of a bag of defrosted frozen fruit on your biscuit base, reserving some fruit and juice to make a coulis to serve.

Frozen berries on hobnob biscuit base

My original recipe now calls for you to beat 500 grams of cream cheese with a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and whip 150mls of cream. Because that was two separate bowls, I decided not to let the Kenwood do the whipping, which was probably a mistake. Whilst I can whip 150 mls of cream by hand, it does make a bit of a mess of the kitchen. The texture of the final cheesecake shows clearly that the cheese wasn’t beaten enough to fully incorporate with the marshmallow mix.

Adding cream cheese to the cooled, rubbery, separated marshmallow mix

Some recipes get you to microwave the cream cheese a bit to check it properly integrates.

Because of the sugar in the biscuit base and the marshmallows, there’s no need for any more in the fruit.

Final assembly. Didn't beat cheese enough so slightly unfortunate texture / appearance

Cold brew, butter infused coffee

Last night as I was inputting my food data into Myfitnesspal my eye was drawn by a forum post about butter coffee.

I like butter, I thought, I like coffee, maybe this is for me.

From the details, it turns out you put a good wodge of unsalted, grass-fed butter in a hot black coffee and run it through the blender to emulsify it and stop getting a thick layer of melted butter on top of normal coffee.

The idea is apparently this is a low-carb diet friendly breakfast that helps you feel full for most of the day. It is mainly hawked in the US by someone promoting “bulletproof coffee” and most of the other links about it seem to link back to him.

Not even sure whether butter in the UK is “grass fed” or not and only had salted butter in the fridge, so didn’t make a rush on this idea. I also have a few concerns about putting butter in the blender as that looks much harder to clean out than the smoothies it usually gets used for.

However, whilst reading around on butter coffee I also hit on a few links for cold brew coffee, and that looked both more promising and possible to make with everything I already had in the house at 10pm.

There were lots of complicated things you could use – including this beautiful but expensive and house-filling lab kit and Cory Doctorow’s combo of bucket and tights – but reading a bit through the comments, the easiest thing to do was put the coffee in the camping cafetière in the fridge overnight. It took a while to find a sensible amount of metric quantities – the American sites mostly have quarts and pounds – but in the end I put 75g of coffee with 500mls of water and left it going.

This morning after a bit of a stir, so the grounds didn’t get caught on the mesh, I pushed the plunger and poured, then diluted the mix with hot water for my first three cups of coffee today. The first one slightly less than 1:1, the next one slightly more, the third even more.

The flavour – well, nothing particularly special. I am getting a bit more of a caffeine rush, eventually.

All in all, the faff, the extra use of coffee, which I already spend too much money on, and the mess of using a French press instead of a filter machine, mean this isn’t something I’m in a hurry to repeat.

Perhaps the butter next week…

Two weeks’ food

Meal plans in retrospect, once they become meal histories.

There’s been some casual plans and some moving around and slightly more takeaway than planned.

Last week

Sunday & Monday – spag bol

Tuesday – sausages from the freezer, with frozen corn on the cob and fresh steamed carrots that barely cooked at all. It turns out frozen corn is too heavy for the pan top steamer. We have several packs of sausages in the freezer, I discovered, because of BOGOFs in the past. This is served with gravy made with Bisto poured over fried onions, and an apple and a bunch of mushrooms that have been pushed through a grater. When the first cook has happened, pour in a glass of red wine and reduce before finally adding in the Bisto.

Wednesday – leftover sausage pasta

Thursday was Glamorgan burgers. I thought after two days of sausage related food, we needed to shape the traditional Welsh vegetarian dish slightly differently.

Thursday was before a GP appointment for my annual drug review. I’ve been on lansoprazole since 1995, back when I was 75kg, and this year, apparently, there’s been new research to show that people on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) need to be careful of food hygiene, as, with less stomach acid we are more susceptible to “bowel infections” (is that food poisoning?) and also we need to take care about bone density. This means eating a lot of calcium and taking some sort of explosive exercise – not just walking, but that’s good, but also something that involves jumping. In effect, my GP told me to eat more cheese. (Whilst also being careful not to take on too many calories.)

Friday we had takeaway, phoning Dominos.

Saturday I don’t remember and Sunday I made soup from the veg box – potatoes, leeks, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes. That went for lunches too. Mostly this term I’ve been having tinned soup for lunch as a low calorie, low carb plan that can sit in the cupboard for weeks until I need it.

Monday we made this baked potato and leek dish again – it’s become a firm favourite since we first made it.

Tuesday – Greek salad. More cheese! But some rather nasty bullet hard unseasonal Spanish tomatoes.

Wednesday – came home from the gym via the chippy.

Thursday – I don’t remember, but Friday I made a rather nice chicken tikka with a tiny bit of rice and bulked out with some extra veg – onions, mushrooms and peppers.

Pudding club: sticky toffee pudding

I last made this some years ago, when Simon Hopkinson’s cookery programme was on TV. But it seems I didn’t write about it at the time, so here’s a quick post to put things right.

I made it exactly as per this BBC recipe.

It’s a truly delicious recipe – as you’d expect for something that includes over a pint of cream and most of a block of butter, along with a variety of interesting types of sugar, one of which I’d never used till the recipe sent me hunting for it.

The recipe says “serves 4″ but even someone as sceptical of serving sizes as I am would think this recipe comfortably feeds 6.

Sticky toffee pudding for tomorrow's pudding club. Two toffee sauces for assembly.

The other reason this one sticks in the mind is that two years ago when I made it and photographed it and put it on Flickr, some wazzocky company took me to task for using the phrase “pudding club” in the description because they thought they owned it. Fools!

Things I stock up on in French supermarkets

As a frequent traveller to French France there are a bunch of things I try and buy a bunch every time I’m over there.

Our recent school trip had the super wheeze of stopping off in a hypermarket instead of using motorway services, which was a really effective way of exposing the students to an opportunity to use their transactional French, and just have a glimpse of every day French life.

And there was also a chance for teachers to shop.

Some things I always, or nearly always buy in French shops:

Coffee filters. So much cheaper in France than England!

Olive oil. Ditto.

Bonne maman jam. A luxury brand in England, but an every day one in France, so it’s cheaper over there. I have very pedestrian tastes, so I pretty much only buy fraise, and sometimes gelée de mûres, but there is a huge range of fruits available too. P is rather partial to châtaigne – chestnuts – which comes in a jar with a brown gingham top.

Speculoos spread. We found this for the first time last year, but it has since become available in English supermarkets too. See also Dan Lepard’s recipe made with English mixed spice.

Carambars. This is a very recent addition to my lexicon, influenced by Dom’s MFL blog. Delicious sweets, each one with a truly corny French joke on. You can also make them into a tarte. I’m afraid I bought four bags – two fruit flavour, one original, and one pâté de nougat, and I have just sat for days troughing them. I don’t understand all the jokes – the ones based on puns on names of French sportspeople are especially difficult – but it’s fun to see what I do get. If there are any left I could use them as rewards in lessons, or use them with this reading comp resource and this youtube advert:

Classroom tat. The last few years I have a quick look to see if there’s anything I can use for teaching. One of our “ofsted ready” preparations is about use of authentic materials, so things like calendars, maps, exercise books, stationery, etc call all help with that. The last few years, there has been a real trend for American 50s chic amongst the tat in French supermarkets, which has been a bit of a pain. I’m still on the look out for a large French / German perpetual calendar I could use on the board, but ultimately I think I’m just going to have to make one.

Moving on to matters more alcoholic and less suited to school trips…

Pastis. Available in England. A nice refreshing aniseed summer drink with ice and water that goes cloudy when you dilute it. It’s also a super ingredient for cooking fennel as many ways of cooking it lose its gentle aniseed flavour.

Crème de…. Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur, a little like alcoholic ribena. It’s used with champagne to make a kir royal, or white wine to make a kir. It’s a similar idea to flavoured syrups in American coffees. It makes a lovely simple cocktail, takes the edge of any slightly nasty white wine, and since it’s a liqueur served in a glass of wine, is pretty effective at taking the edge of you too. Crème de cassis is widely available in the UK, but (sing it with me) much cheaper in France. Much more interestingly, though, are the wider varieties of crème de… that you can use in the same way. Pêche is an old favourite, as is framboise, but this time to mix things up a bit I’ve come home with bottles of crème de pamplemousse rose and crème de cérise. One of my favourite drinks of late has been a gin-and-tonic-and-pink-grapefruit-juice, so pink grapefruit is a flavour I use a lot.