Tuesday 26 July 2016

The hottest weekend, Claire's 40th, Martin's 50th, vegan mousse and a man who doesn't eat vegetables (he does now)

Alex eats veg, happily.

"I don't mind what we eat. Surprise us!" Said Claire, to my delight. "Good to have something new; something you wouldn't normally eat." I could only agree.

"Any vegetarians, vegans, allergies, food intolerances or religious proscriptions?" I asked Claire. It was her 40th birthday I didn't want anyone collapsing at the table. I find that chills the mood. "No. We're all pretty adventurous." Then a pause. "But oh, yes,  there is Alex; he doesn't eat vegetables... but don't worry, I told him to eat before he comes."

And so I prepped. It was hard. The kitchen is not the place to be on the hottest weekend of the year, with temperatures peeping over the 30° mark. Biscuits sag, chefs flag, mousses fade and whipped creams puddle.

I'll mention the mousse in another blog. It was my new aquafaba chocolate mousse (vegan of course). Melty chocolate stirred into an Italian 'meringue' of whisked bean water. It's a bit good. The chocolate taste really sings forth. I used it in the dessert of thin shortbread biscuits, vanilla cream, and mousse, served with hazelnut ice cream on a bed of orange syrup and cocoa nibs.

The ice cream was new; made conventionally with my five minute custard base and an added jar of this stuff: hazelnut butter. I did try making my own, but even after ten minutes in the Vitamix mine remained gritty. Mind, even this commercial offering wasn't smooth like peanut butter, macadamia butter or pistachio paste. Maybe hazelnuts are tricky to blend? Not enough oil perhaps? It is a very high fibre nut. There's lots of recipes for making butters but not hazelnut.

Back to Claire's party. Laura, one of her friends, had asked to hide the group present (a spa getaway, I believe) in Claire's napkin. A great idea that meant the meal started with a lovely surprise.

Claire and the napkin reveal.

And so to the food and Alex, our lachanophobian friend. The amuse bouche of roast celeriac soup and pickled celery didn't please his mouth; it never even entered. Instead he ate two griddled slices of my home made sourdough. I want everyone to enjoy their meal and feel comfortable and relaxed. It doesn't do for the cook to be imposing an agenda at the table. I obviously didn't want to embarrass him or make him feel awkward so I asked about plating - what to omit? The starter was entirely vegetarian: broad bean and peas in a minty dressing with herby french gnocchi and curd cheese. Was his to be a near naked plate? No. Alex 'didn't mind peas'. I served and he ate. Everything. Result! But the best was yet to come.
Not very amusing.

Main course of pork belly with fennel potatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage and a pickled apple salad. Alex ate and declared the salad delicious. In fact he enthused. I simmered. He wanted more. He wanted the recipe. Emboldened, I offered the red cabbage. He took some and finished it... to the amazement of friends. A triumph.

Post prandial drinks and dancing.
I do love a conversion. This was four. There is something very satisfying about bringing some new pleasure into someone's life; a pleasure that they can enjoy for the rest of their life.

At the end of the meal Etien and I sat with the group (Etien rarely does) and I declared Alex to be an eater of vegetables now. He smiled. "No. I eat your vegetables." Aw. Shucks.

Etien socialises. I do hope that's not another rum and coke Et?

Claire and friends.

And onto Sunday. Very unusual for us to do but it was for Martin, a good friend and an excellent (award winning) producer. It was his 50th birthday. He'd gone for a fore rib of Scottish beef; cooked with my usual reverse sear method: eight hours in the oven at 60°C and then a final five at 260°C. It means I don't have to panic about over cooking a very expensive joint and the meat is only ever five minutes from serving. No need to rest. The one downside with this technique is that the meat loses no juice, it all stays in the joint. Downside? Well, yes, this makes for great eating but a tricky gravy. Luckily I had a pot of stock on the go from roasting a whole beef flank in the week. That's another development dish I will blog in due course.

Happy birthday Martin

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