Tuesday 14 October 2014

We can't eat: pork, wheat, dairy, potatoes, shellfish, chicken, duck...

I always look forward to Danny and Natalie's bookings; funny, lively and well natured. They're normally pretty relaxed about menu choices but on this occasion a combination of religious prohibition, medical condition and general not-likingness meant there were over 20 items of forbidden food. I'll give you it in full; my longest list ever. 
Pork, wheat, dairy, potatoes, shellfish, chicken, game, duck, oats, barley, aubergines, cauliflower, parsnips, green beans, kidney beans, oregano, basil, apricots, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries (in fact, any berries).
I'm often asked if I can 'deal with' vegetarians or a lactose or gluten free diet. The answer is, emphatically, yes.

It doesn't really matter what my guests can't eat; it's what you can. The can't/won't eats will always be smaller than the can/wills. We discuss the menus together in the week weaving their likes and dislikes with my experience and abilities to create something desirable. So long as the guests' individual can't eat/won't eats don't overlap too much, I can always forge a culinary path. The only time I've turned someone down was a party of ten where nine were enthusiastic meat eaters, keen on the pork belly... and one was a gluten free vegan. There wasn't much overlap in desire there.

I'd even say that it's good to be tested as a cook sometimes. I'm forced to reframe my menus - never a bad idea. In fact, it was searching for dessert ideas for a particularly picky pair of friends that resulted in rhubarb sorbet, now a New River Restaurant standard.

In this case I served: goats cheese and fig salad, roast topside of beef with roast onion polenta and dessert of chocolate souffl├ęs... with some slight further modifications. See... how very conventional. I might normally have served potatoes or Yorkshires with the beef but the crispy fried polenta was a perfect accompaniment.

The diary problem was circumvented by using goats butter and milk throughout the meal. Many people who are lactose intolerant can happily take goats milk. In fact it may be that  the issue is not with lactose at all, but instead with the major protein of cows milk: alpha S1 casein. Goat milk (and human milk - but no one offered) lack this protein.

Salad of glazed figs, goats cheese, walnuts, watercress, rocket and micro fennel.

Roast beef topside. I'd call that a perfect medium pink.
That salad is my prettiest starter yet. I did stump up for a delivery of some micro fennel and parsley and some borage flowers but it's these little intense additions that make a difference. I also bought a block of rich, glossy fig jelly and made a glaze with some fig vinegar. I added toasted walnuts for crunch and watercress & rocket leaves for peppery leafiness. The dressing was yet another occasion when I reach for the L'Olivier fruit vinegars, mixed with walnut oil and a dab of clementine like Yuzu juice (available in Waitrose).

And all would have been well...  had I not discovered, as guests arrived, that one also didn't eat goats cheese or figs and another didn't do chocolate... Yup.

But as is often the case, the impromptu dish is a good one. I made a heritage tomato and basil salad starter for Karen - including a new dressing that I've been asked to detail - and a bowl of rhubarb sorbet with strawberry sauce for Daniel's dessert. It does help that I keep these things in my house, but that's a consequence of running a supper club.

I've written more about the beef... and beef timings in another blog. Honestly, too many roasting recipes are out of date. It's been decades since we stopped serving hunks of tasteless hessian. No one asks me for well done meat.

It was a great night with much laughter and not a little amateur dramatics (Jason knows what I mean). I sat down with the group at the end and drank maybe more Jack Daniels than I should have (I had a magic glass apparently). Bizarrely, I forgot to do the group shot. Mind, as this is Dan and Nat's fifth time with us, I'd have struggled to find an original pose.

Here's a composite of the evening instead.

Certain members of the party wanted me to title this blog 'Jews who Booze'. I declined.
In a Norf Lahndahn accent, all three words in that sentence rhyme; the diphthongs sing-singing along.

And here's that tomato salad dressing recipe for Karen: 
In tablespoons: two of L'Olivier Tomato and basil vinegar. Half of their red pepper version. Three of extra virgin olive oil. A dab of balsamic. Less of lemon juice. Lots of maldon salt and black pepper. A pinch of smoked salt - but not the Maldon Smoked, as that's rubbish.
You can buy most of these ingredients from the Upton Smokery.

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