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Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Eve!!

Usually I blog about other people, be they producers or chefs, but on this occasion I want to blog about the food that I cook.

New Year’s Eve is the one day of the year when I am allowed to run riot in the kitchen and just have fun. Traditionally, well for the last 15 years or so, this has led to a meal with good friends and as many techniques as I can think of in a balanced menu.

So last evening the company assembled and the madness began. In a meal that will last for about 4 ½ hours several courses are needed and the occasional palate cleanser has to be included to avoid a confusion of taste buds.

The Billini – a mix of sparkling Pinot Rose with Elderflower Cordial and a frozen Cranberry led into some simple canapés, good Olives, Prosciutto wrapped Goats Cheese stuffed fresh Dates, and a few vol au vents.

Then the Starters. My friend Dilys was impressed years ago by a simple Cheese and Tomato dish and demands one every year. There is a limit to the number of ways you can treat two simple ingredients so finding a new dish is a bit of a challenge. This year it was an oven dried Tomato set on a bed of puff pastry with a Parmesan Shaving topping and the warmed dish having a sprinkle of Porcini Dust added to intensify the flavours.

On to the pates. Chicken Liver is a staple of the NYE bash and I have never found a better recipe than the Ballymaloe one, especially when organic Chicken livers are used and the pan deglazed with Armagnac. Smooth, buttery and packed with flavour it is a winner.

Smoked Mackerel pate with Crème Fraiche, Horseradish and Capers gives a bite and the last pate was actually a terrine of Pork and Chicken.

With all the rich ness and smokiness happening a cleanser was needed and a Grapefruit Sorbet did the job. But the acidity of the mix of Pink and White Grapefruit juice was offset by infusing fresh Mint in the syrup to give a background note and an extra layer of flavour.

Soup has always featured and, given by the reaction of diners I could have a future as a Soup Kitchen Magnate. Often it is deemed Best Dish of the night which is annoying as some involve much more technique and effort, but good clear flavours in a comforting course makes this popularity understandable. For 2011 it was a White Onion and Thyme Leaf Soup with home-made Chicken Stock providing the base.

A Cranberry Sorbet followed as a slight digestif before bringing on the Main Course.

I love Roast Rib of Beef so this year it was the star of the show. I think that you need a good sized joint to maximise the flavour so off we went to a very good local butcher who sources much of his meat from a farmer that we know and trust. “Got a big Beef Rib Dan?” we asked. “Sorry they’ve all gone” he replied, “but I will ring round a few friends and we’ll find one.”

That’s what I like about using local shops, if it isn’t in stock they will find it for you, not try to sell you something else, they know that a happy customer is a repeat customer and that what goes round comes round and next time they will get the trade when the regular supplier is out of stock.
So a trip to Pontypool Market produced an 11lb 11oz monster joint that just fitted the roasting tray but took only 3 hours to roast. I allow 15 mins per pound which gives rare in the middle but well-cooked on the outsides for those who like their beef that way.

Roast Root Vegetables, Yorkshire Puddings and Roast and Boiled Potatoes are the natural accompaniments with Broccoli to provide a green vegetable and gravy made from the pan juice.

Following this minor blow out we took a break for a few minutes before heading into dessert territory.

Two desserts the first a variation on Rocky Road but with the addition of Maltesers, Candied Fruit and a White Chocolate Topping satisfied the sweetest of teeth but managed to avoid being sickly. One of our party had to take a large block home with her!

Then the piece de resistance Ice Cream.
Back in the Summer I cooked for friends as a wedding present but had to leave ice cream off my Italian based menu as my ice cream maker had died. In fairness it had lasted about 20 years and was only about £20 when I bought it. It was one of the freeze the bowl for 12 hours models so two sorbets and an ice cream would have been a three day job!. I determined to get a freezer/churner model, even though it would mean about £250 outlay.
As it happened I found an “End Of Season” reduction in a “major electrical retailer” which reduced the price by “Over £180!”. “Over” in this case meant down from £250 to £69.99p – 1p “over” £180! But it was a De Longhi made in Italy the home of Gelato and at that price could not stay on the shelves.

I was excited by the thought of making creamy soft ice cream especially using a recipe by Dingle (Co Kerry) master ice cream Maker Kieran Murphy – check out the Murphy’s of Dingle website – and the freshest vanilla supplied by my old friend Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Spices. The Vanilla pods look like French Beans and are soft and sticky, they are not the dried sticks that we usually have to use and the beans exude an amazing aroma and taste. Surely the combination of great ingredients, marvellous recipe and professional grade equipment would deliver.

It did and massively.

Quite simply this was the best ice cream I have ever made and one which even Kieran would enjoy. The looks on the faces of the other diners confirmed it this was the best ever and a totally fitting finale to a meal which I had enjoyed cooking as much as they had enjoyed eating.

Having cooked for 15 hours yesterday to ensure an enjoyable eating experience for friends I found myself up at 6 this morning to bake fresh Soda Bread and provide a full breakfast for people who had just 5 hours earlier pronounced themselves “too stuffed full to waddle to bed”. Oh well, must be doing something right!

Thanks to Janet for taking the pictures whilst I merely supplied the food!

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