With my Sister and her family expected to be in Australia and my Brother and his girlfriend expecting an arrival any day, we hadn’t really planned very well for New Year and by December my Wife and I were trawling the internet for somewhere that looked good, not too pricey, no taxi problems. You’re thinking, good luck with that and you would be right in thinking we couldn’t find anything. So as we haven’t seen the New Year in with my Dad for quite some years we (I) thought a nice dinner would be in order. Now with it being a celebration, I thought why not celebrate some chefs & cooks. Four courses sounded like a good idea too so I had to keep it simple while hopefully still giving it a wow factor. Was to be a case of less is more I thought.
I trawled through my cookbooks, so many recipes, so many great cooks and chefs. What to do? Then as I was sat watching Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers I was him make a roast beef with pumpkin Ragout dish. It looked great, I like pumpkin and I knew I could get some squash if I couldn’t get a pumpkin. The only problem is my wife is not keen on beef. So I thought a good cut of lamb would be good and picked up a saddle of lamb from the butchers. While I was there I also picked up a couple of duck breasts for the starter which I had decided on. I definitely only needed two for the three of us, unlike getting them from the supermarket, they were huge, freshly portioned from a whole duck.
I had decided on the dessert fairly quickly too. I was given a copy of the Christmas With Gordon book and there’s a great cheesecake in there which I just had to make. I have to pause here and just say hello to Mark Sargeant, a great Chef who often passes on tips and advice via Twitter. Thank you Mark and good luck with the book and restaurant next year. So, fish course. This gets difficult as my wife eats tuna, scallops or bass. Every now and then she’ll try something else if it’s cooked by a top chef. Richard Corrigan, Stuart Gilles, Michael Caines and Nigel Hawthorn are a few who have managed to get her to eat something new. And step forward Simon, top Michelin star chef………….. erm, hold on, no I’m not am I? Anyway, off to the fish monger to get some turbot. No turbot, no skate, no bass, panic sets in. I walk away, unsure, I walk back, I see bream. Well I know I like it, oh well, it will have to be bream and hope for the best. All this after taking two days to decide between a Michel Roux Jr or Marcus Wareing recipe.
The menu was as follows (I have put in brackets the originally ingredients where I had to substitute).
Warm Duck and Red Cabbage Salad
From: A Slice of Cherry Pie – Julia Parsons
Fillet of Sea Bream (Turbot) in Red Wine with Artichoke Puree & Pickled Beetroot (baby beets)
Recipe by Marcus Wareing, from the Great British Menu Cookbook
Roast Saddle of Lamb (fillet of beef) with Squash (pumpkin) Ragout
From Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers
Pear & Amaretto Cheesecake
It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve. I wake early as one of the most simple ingredients I needed had sold out everywhere the previous day. Look people, I know it’s christmas but do you all have to cook with red cabbage? I mean, honestly, some of us have New Year feasts to prepare. I drive to town after checking the market will be open.It was, just, half the stalls closed but the veg man was there and he had red cabbage. Some may have read my plea of “My kingdom for a red cabbage” on Twitter the previous day. It didn’t quite cost me my kingdom, more like 8 and £1 for the car park which amused me for some reason.
I get home, have breakfast, then set about in the kitchen. The great thing about the menu I chose is it is fairly easy and simple. Very much a case of letting the ingredients speak for itself. I made the cheesecake base, digestives crushed up with butter & chocolate spread. While it’s setting I unpack my brand new food mixer, mainly just to use the bowl. I realised after making the filling and setting the cheesecake, I didn’t have much to do until later. So why did I get up so early. I decide to chop the veg required for the evening and leave in water, pickled the beetroot and let them cool to re-heat later and prepped the poaching liquid for the fish. Made sure I got the meat out of the fridge to it wasn’t too cold when I cooked it later.
While I was doing all this, my Wife was setting up the table which looked beautiful (and so did she). With about an hour to go before serving the first course I got the lamb on, wanting to give it plenty of resting time. I suddenly realised I hadn’t sorted out what plates I was using and serving everything on so a quick dash to the cabinet was called for and after several switch-a-roos I made up my mind. I made the ragu to go with the lamb, again to just warm up on the hob before serving. Oh by the way, I have no Idea what squash it was, oval and green so if you can tell me that will be great (no it wasn’t a melon)This is while Wife and Father enjoyed their aperitif of champagne & hibiscus flowers in comfort. Mine was on the kitchen side.
I was ready for the first course, the duck went in the pan. Now I know there are lots of ideas about how to cook duck, I season the skin and cook skin side down for most of it, turning over at the end when it’s resting. Now I do pride myself on my duck breast cooking skills and tonight was the best yet, medium rare, cooked enough to eat, soft, succulent, fantastic. While the duck rested I set up the plates with salad leaves mixed with grated red cabbage. Anyone know why red cabbage is purple when you start and looks red when you serve it? Anyway, I put the simple but tasty red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing over the leaves and placed the duck on top.
We had two bottles of wine to go with the meal and started with a Pouilly Fume 2009 which was a Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference wine. I love this wine, find it can handle red meat as long as it’s not a heavy dish so was perfect with the duck salad. A nice rest and I was back in the kitchen. I heated up the poaching liquid for the fish, also a re-heat of the beets and the artichoke puree. The fish takes literally seconds which is good as you don’t want it overpowered by the red wine, just flavoured. I was fairly proud of my presentation too, mind you I more or less copied the picture in the book. You must be sitting there wanting to know, did my Wife like it? Well, the man from Del Monte he say yes. It was a bit fishy for her but the beets and artichoke puree balance the dish out well. The funny thing is I only remember the first couple of mouthfuls as I was then concentrating on my Wife’s reaction. I do remember the beets were especially nice.
By this time we’d opened the second wine, a Michel Sarrazin Bourgogne Cóte Chalonnaise 2006. What a wine, smoky, deep, fruity. Would recommend it to anyone. Obviously went well with the fish course and good to carry on drinking with the lamb. Talking of which, the lamb had been resting long enough so I dash back to the kitchen and heat up the ragu. How simple is that ragu? Onions, squash, herbs, seasoning, stock, white wine. Perfect for a big meal. Effectively the main used a large pot and a roasting tin, easy. I carved the lamb, keeping fingers crossed it was going to be cooked okay, which was tricky holding the knife (boom boom). It was perfect, I don’t think I have ever cooked lamb that well actually. I used deep plates and filled with the squash, laying the lamb on top. I know why this is a supper recipe, it’s very filling, tastes amazing though. But here’s the thing, during this course, my Wife tells me, if I cooked beef like I had cooked the lamb, she would have eaten it. Thanks, now you tell me. Not that I’m complaining really as the lamb was melt in your mouth stuff. I guess I should mention too that I roasted the meat on the bone and must have had a knowing look as when I was buying it, the butcher looked at me and said “you’ll be wanting to roast this on the bone won’t you?”. We were stuffed and knew there was a huge cheesecake to eat yet so we had a rest and at 11 we retired to the lounge to watch Jools Holland’s Hootenanny (a must if you stay in on new Year’s Eve).
The cake left the fridge, carefully carried through to the lounge and an ice candle stuck in the middle, which is just an indoor firework. Very apt for the occasion. I have to say Gordon (Mark), it’s a great recipe. I love pear, I love Amaretto, I love chocolate, so all three together, fantastic. It is a fairly classic combination which never fails to work. Light, tasty, and will no doubt impress your friends. I love too that there’s crumbled amaretti biscuits in the filling. I could eat a truck full (yes the man that doesn’t do desserts, although I may be coming round). A great finish to a successful meal. I keep trying to think what I could have done better and, to be honest (and big headed), I’m not sure I could have improved it that much, maybe presentation but not on taste. I do put a lot of that down to fresh ingredients, good quality fish and meat and my new food processor and knives. You may laugh but they just lifted me enough to up my game some. We should have had a dessert wine with this but it had gone off which was a shame, although with another bottle of champagne to come, I was secretly pleased.
The hour approached, Jools, his band and guests were entertaining us to the point I almost missed getting the champagne ready. What to drink for the end of the decade? Well you can’t do much worse than having a ten year old vintage champagne, in this case it was a Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2000. I . do like vintage champagne, it seems to have much more depth of flavour. The cork pops, glasses filled in readiness. We count down with Jools, Kylie oh and @puddingface, sorry Gregg Wallace (he was one fo the guests, didn’t know he could sing). The hour arrives, we sing Auld Lang Syne, then I turn the TV down and play two more versions of it, one by Frank Sinatra and then I up the class with Chas & Dave. I toast my family, my friends and the chefs/cooks that gave me the inspiration for this meal. So to Julia Parsons, Marcus Waring, Nigel Slater and Gordon Ramsey (yes you too Mark Sargeant) I raise my glass and say cheers, thank you for the great food eaten that night and for all that will be eaten in the many years to come.
A Slice of Cherry Pie – Julia Parsons
Christmas With Gordon – Accompanies Gordon Ramsey’s Christmas Special on Channel 4
Great British Menu Cookbook – BBC
Lamb dish inspired by Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers series on the BBC where the recipe can be found.