Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Luuuuuurve Trifle

"Hey baby. Yeah I've seen you looking at me. Yeah and you've seen me looking at you, yeah? And I know that you've seen that I know you've been looking at me and I can see that you know that I've been looking at you, yeah? Yeah baby, I see everything. So sugar, let's cut to the chase. Why don't we get out of here? Go some place else. Your place. My place. Outta space. Let me show you what I got. Let me show you my lil' box of tricks. Let me feed you girl. Let me deglaze your pan. Gimme a moment and I could fricassee you to heaven in seconds. Ooh yeah. It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes, it's getting hot in here, can I have a cup of water please? Ha, yeah baby is that a smile? Ever been ballotined by a ginger magician? Get on my kitchen top and I'll mirepoix yo' sexy ass. I'll butter you up both sides and deep fry you to delirium. Taste my kimchi and I'll show you a different kind of ganache. Yeah baby, I'm not messin'. Let's blow this place. Let's mojama, no pyjamas. Tonight is your night girl, tonight is your night!"

Believe it or not, these were precisely the words I used the night I first met my wife. All delivered in the deep, dulcet tones of Barry White. She was putty in my hands and what can I say, the rest is history.............

Actually no that's a load of rubbish. When we first met we spent most of the night sitting under a table in a dodgy nightclub in Romford because the music was too loud. It was just talk and tentative kisses to begin with. And she made me sit on my hands for at least three dates after that. The cow.

So what's the reason for the rambling, freaky naughty monologue at the start of this post? 'Been listening to a lot of early Prince lately?' I hear you ask. Well yes I have. I have been trying to get myself into the groove you see and for the last few days combinations of food and lovin' have weighed heavily on my mind. Purveyors of fine food, Forman and Field have been running a competition via their blog to see who can come up with the perfect Valentine's Day recipe using produce from their delicious looking range. And so I threw my name in the hat. Now to be totally frank here, I find the whole concept of Valentine's Day to be a commercial crock of shit. This cynicism is borne out of too many years waiting desperately and tearfully at the letterbox in my early teens. Too many nights getting shoehorned into crowded restaurants where suddenly covers leap from 30 to 100 for crappy, if not sappy overpriced meals. Oh and one day trip to Milton Keynes. Believe me, one day is too much and if you want to kill the prospect of love in it's early stages, then go on a Valentine's date to Milton Keynes. The row I had on the train back was spectacular. However, I am still a romantic at heart and also the prospect of receiving a box of goodies from Forman and Field was far too enticing. I must admit, when I opened the polystyrene container and peered in after it arrived, I certainly felt a deep thud within my chest and a rush of blood to my nether regions. But what was in it? Well there was......... cue 'Je t'aime'

Forman's Royal Fillet....... je t'aime

Garlic Marinated Anchovies......oh, oui je t'aime!

Kirkham's Lancashire non plus

Forman's Brandied Cherries......oh, mon amour

Regent's Park vais et je viens

Plantation Cottage Tarragon Jelly......entre tes reins

Moniack Castle Horseradish Sauce......infirmière!

I would say that on the face of it, it was a fairly random selection of goods to put together but each item was very sexy nevertheless. And it wasn't clear from the rules of engagement for the competition whether we had to use all of the ingredients or whether could get away with using just some of them. But as I am not one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to use them all and create a menu de l'amour for Mrs FU and I to enjoy on Saturday night which went as follows:

Anchoïade with Toasted Sourdough and Parsley, Caper and Red Onion Salad

Seared Forman's Royal Fillet with Horseradish Mash, Honeyed Vegetables and Lemon Butter

The 'Luuuuurve Trifle'

Heart-shaped rarebit

As anchoïade is basically pulped anchovy with garlic and vinegar, the starter didn't amount to that much work. With the flavourings already in the marinade, all I had to do was grind it down with my pestle and mortar, add some pepper and a little bit more olive oil. Along with the capers in the salad, this plate certainly had a kick and was perhaps a little too astringent as my sweating head testified but it was a fresh summery dish nonetheless. By using salmon, honey, lemon and horseradish for the main course, I was trying combine the taste senses of salt, sweet, sour and er hot (sort of bitter eh?) and they all worked really well together. The salmon alone was sublime. However, the genius of lump-free mash eluded me on this occasion despite the fact that I baked the potatoes this time rather than using boiled ones but it mattered not. The 'Luuuuurve Trifle' was the greatest success. Keeping things neat and tidy in wine glasses, I constructed a dessert using Amaretti biscuits, boozy cherries in jellied brandy and blood orange juice, custard and topped tarragon flavoured whipped cream and it was lush. Having made some enquiries on t'internet, I was pleased to discover that the subtle aniseed flavour of the tarragon does actually work in a sweet dish and married up well with the slightly almond cherries. So this will be the recipe that I shall submit for the Forman and Field challenge. The Kirkham's Lancashire cheese was supposed to be served up with some water biscuits and port but we were well sated by this point and just wanted to retire for the evening. But I did serve it up melted on heart shaped toast a la rarebit in the morning for Mrs FU though. Gerard Depardieu has nothing on me, nothing.

Overall and as a precursor to the main event in a couple of weeks time, the whole meal worked really well. Largely because of the top quality ingredients and also because it was fairly spontaneous and last minute. And that's usually when things work out best. Whenever we book ourselves up for a romantic meal these days, either at home or out at a restaurant, sans children, there is a tendency to over-egg the pudding. Especially with the old vino which leads to tiredness and sometimes a visit from Jello Biafra. But not in this case!

I hope I was suitably vague with those last couple of sentences. Ahem.

So all that is left for me is to say thanks to Forman and Field for supplying the treasure trove of aphrodisiacs and good luck to the other competitors. And by good luck, I mean good luck *wink wink*.

The 'Luuuuurve Trifle'
serves 2 horny devils

for the base

4 Amaretti biscuits

for the jelly

20 boozy cherries (from Forman and Fields brandied cherries)

100 ml of the reserved brandy/cherry liquor

Juice of 2 blood oranges

Shot of cherry vodka (optional - we had some homemade stuff kicking around in the cupboard)

2 sheets of gelatine

for the custard

150 ml full fat milk

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp caster sugar

A couple of drops of vanilla essence.

1 sheet of gelatine

for the whipped cream

100 ml double cream

2 tsps tarragon jelly


Take two large wine glasses or any other suitable vessel and place 2 Amaretti biscuits in each one.

Stone and half the cherries and place in a pan along with brandy and juice from blood oranges (and optional shot of vodka) and gently warm through on the hob. Meanwhile soak two sheets of gelatine in a bowl of water and after 5 minutes take back out, squeezing off any excess water. Take pan off the heat and stir through gelatine until dissolved. Pour in the mixture up to roughly two thirds of each glass. Leave to cool and then place in the fridge for an hour or so to set.

Heat the milk in another pan, bringing slowly to boiling point, then take back off and leave to cool slightly. Beat the egg yolk in a bowl with the sugar and vanilla essence and then pour the milk onto the yolk mixture, continually stirring whilst doing do. Place the pan back on a gentle heat and stir for 5 minutes until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl. Again soak one sheet of gelatine in some water, squeezing off the excess and stir through custard until dissolved. Again, leave to cool and then pour onto set jelly up to about 1-2cm further up the glass. Place back in the fridge to set custard.

Just before serving combine the double cream and tarragon jelly in a bowl and whip till nice and stiff (oo-er). Pipe the cream around in a swirly pattern on top of the custard if you feel so inclined or simply spoon a splodge into each glass. Top each trifle with a whole boozy cherry.


*****STOP PRESS!*****

Having seen some of the other very impressive entries that have been posted today, Can be Bribed With Food, Meemalee's Kitchen , How Not To Do A Food Blog and The Grubworm so far (I'll add the others later), I am reminded that there is in fact a Forman and Field Hamper worth 60 squid up for grabs! Doh! How could I forget?!

So in order for the chance to win a hamper of fine goodies all you have to do is leave a comment with email details on this post describing your perfect Valentines meal or recipe. The winning comment will be drawn by random and should entered by Feb 10th.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Outnumbered at The DuCane

Feeding time at the zoo. Sometimes there's no other way to describe it. Within seconds of placing the plate on the table, it can end up on the floor raising a chorus of laughter followed by a shriek of exasperation. On some occasions, the carrot in the spaghetti bolognese is missed and gulped down in the blink of an eye. However, more often than not, it is spotted and becomes an interesting decorative feature that slowly slides down the kitchen wall. Inevitably, bowls become interesting hats but never ever after the contents are actually finished. Which in turn prompts howls of protest in the bath later that evening as dried rice pudding is brushed out of matted, greasy hair. Yes, welcome to the world of feeding wee bairns.

Still we've come a long way from those heady days of mucky little mouths and foreheads, stubby toes dangling down from high chairs and the slumped exhaustion that comes from scrubbing the kitchen floor for the twelfth time that week. The twins have turned into quite a nifty pair of diners, quite happy to sit in grown up chairs and eat whatever is put in front of them at the table. OK, I am painting a rose tinted picture here. It can still be quite messy as clumsy hands try to co-ordinate spoon and fork Isla is a total carnivore, Finlay is the sensitive veggie and it can be a struggle to get them to wolf down the vice versa. Plus they've picked up this annoying habit of shouting "we want dinner, we want dinner", thumping their fists down on wood in unison. God knows where they've got that from...................

But by and large, meals around the table are fun and enjoyable and pretty much encapsulate the family scene that I've always dreamt of. I believe that eating at the table is important and as we all get older, I hope that table will become the same social focal point that I grew up with. Eating out however, away from the safe, secure, wipe down-able confines of home is a little bit different and perhaps a slight return to hair pulling days of old (er Mrs FU hair pulling that is). We found this out late last year when we visited The DuCane in Great Braxted for lunch.

The drive out into the picturesque countryside to The DuCane, which received a barrel load of awards at the 2010 Essex Food and Drink Awards including Best Newcomer Restaurant, was surprisingly quick from the badlands of Hornchurch. Luckily the twins are still of an age where the soporific motion of the car sends them to sleep. No "are we nearly there yet? are we nearly there yet?" Which probably helped. Although the excitement quickly escalated once we woke them from their slumber and skipped across the car park hand in hand. Looking from the outside, though smart, I'd hazard a guess that The DuCane has spent the best part of its life as a regular pub before becoming a full time restaurant. So as we entered through the door, I must admit the sparse, clean decor inside threw my scent off a bit. In a kind of 'oh balls, this looks a bit posher than I expected' kind of way. However, as soon as we stepped towards the bar area, we were approached by a staff member who was very warm and welcoming and totally ignored the fact that my daughter had her index finger fully wedged up her nose. Which put me back at ease.

We were sat down in a pleasant window boxed area and immediately we deployed the weapons of mass distraction; colouring crayons, sparkly stickers and paper, before perusing the menu. Having peeked at their website the night before to do some homework, The DuCane was true to its word, locally sourced produce was high on the agenda. Their list of suppliers is comprehensive to say the least. At the time, the restaurant was running a lunch special of two courses for £13.00 or three for £15.50 and it was pretty hard to decide. In the end I plumped for a Salad of Sautéed Black Pudding, Chorizo and Pigeon Breast with Raspberry Sauce and Roast Braxted Pheasant Breast with Savoy Cabbage and Game Gravy with English Bilberries and Crab Apple Jelly. Mrs FU decided to go snap on the starter but opted for the Linguine of Sea and Shellfish Braised in White Wine, Saffron and Herbs. The children's menu was equally impressive. Sure the old stalwarts were there, chicken goujons, burgers and chips etc etc but there was a reassuring byline that everything was fresh, made daily by hand. The offer of 'simply grilled fish with salad and new potatoes' appealed to our cosseting parental sensibilities so we went with that for the twins. Oh and we ordered some bread.

We shouldn't have ordered bread.

Don't get me wrong, when it promptly arrived, the bread tasted fantastic, the tiny bit I tried. And the portion was plentiful too. Maybe too plentiful and tasty because the twins attacked it and after a gremlin-esque five minutes, it was gone. Naturally, with bellies distended with dough (and not to mention freshly pressed cloudy apple juice) their hunger factor had somewhat diminished. And from then on it became increasingly difficult to keep them amused at the table. When our very pretty looking starters arrived, I managed to keep meat eater Isla sat still for a short while by feeding her a few morsels of chorizo and pigeon but the allure of the toilet became too fascinating. It took five visits to realise that she was more interested in dancing under the hand dryer, having her hair whipped up like some pre-school Hannah Montana than actually going for a wee-wee. Fin on the other hand was convinced that the Gruffalo was in the garden and kept peering out through the window, shouting at said imaginary creature and clutching a round candle holder from our table like a hand grenade. Although he did also try some of the starter and wound up fashioning a neat little red moustache from the raspberry dressing on his upper lip. And then for some reason via some kind of mental telepathy that only twins possess, the two decided they should have an ugly face competition complete with fits and giggles.

So it pains me to say that when our main courses came along, everything was scoffed at high speed as Mrs FU and I plunged into the free fall of stressed parents worrying that their kids behaviour was going to affect the other customers. Yes some of us do care you know. The food was certainly delicious, my pheasant was beautifully moist but I'm afraid that the plates were cleared without much consideration. The fact they were cleared is a good sign but I do know that Mrs FU suffered from indigestion afterwards. I ended up polishing off the kid's fish with no side effects at all (it was lovely). But what, surely what could possibly get us so uptight that we felt had to rush things so? I mean Christ, they're only kids after all.

All eyes to Fin for this one, a dead ringer for Daniel Roche. Towards the end of our very brief stay, he decided to stand up on his seat and produce a perfectly melodious one-note piece of french horn from his bottom. I don't know if he did it because he was feeling uncomfortable or if it was purely for entertainment reasons but I do know that the elderly couple on the adjacent table heard it. And they weren't amused. I looked Fin sternly in the eye and said "Finlay! What do you say?"

"I farted", he replied.

As if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Seeing as he was being so honest, the only response I could muster was to stoically and sagely nod, left eye twitching. Firstly at Fin. Then to the grim faced couple. And then to the table. Trying not to burst out laughing. Thankfully, our waitress came along shortly after with the very reasonable bill and we all dashed out. I am sure we shall return in the near future as the plaudits heaped on The DuCane are certainly justified. But perhaps it will be just the two of us.

And have no fear, of course we shall continue to take our beloved pair to eat out more often. It's educational and fun for them and also for us, though I suspect it'll be a long while before we can expect anything remotely civilised. Like I said before, God knows where they get it from.

The DuCane

Salad of Sautéed Black Pudding, Chorizo and Pigeon Breast

Linguine of Sea and Shellfish Braised in White Wine, Saffron and Herbs.

Roast Braxted Pheasant Breast with Savoy Cabbage and Game Gravy with English Bilberries and Crab Apple Jelly

Simple Grilled Fish with New Potatoes and Salad

Daniel Roche gets bored easily

And Hannah Montana likes to draw