What, all five of you who read this might be entitled to ask, have I been getting up to while not blogging. The answer largely involves eating. More of that to possibly follow, but one of those nights of eating involved something I've never tried before: cooking a three course meal. For six people. On my own. The terror! Actually, the evening went rather well and, as it's Christmas, I thought I'd share what I cooked on here. There should have been photos, but I've left my USB cable at home. Anyway, I was so busy getting the main ready, I forgot to take pictures of it.
Starter: Spicy parsnip soup
The perfect dish for a cold winter's evening. The garam masala gives it a nice warm flavour without overpowering the vegetable, and can be served to this who don't like their food too spicy.
You will need:
1 decent size onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped
A small knob or pinch or ginger
1 tablespoon garam masala
5-6 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre stock - chicken or vegetable is fine
1/2 litre of milk
Put a decent glug of olive oil and a knob of butter into a large saucepan and let the butter melt. Throw in the onion, garlic, ginger and garam masala and lightly fry until lightly brown and covered in the buttery, spicy mixture. Then add the parsnip (be careful not to cut the chunks too big) and make sure this is also covered in the mixture (about a couple of minutes).
Pour in the milk and the stock and a dash of salt and pepper (if you want to be fancy you can add coriander at this point) to season. Bring to the boil, then cover and let it simmer for around half an hour. Check if the parsnips are cooked through by sliding a knife in them.
Liquidise your mixture and return to the heat, and season to your taste. If you want to make it extra special, cut a few slices of crusty bread, top with Mexicana cheese and grill for a couple of minutes, then put in bread and cheese into the soup once you've served it up.
Main course: Slow cooked beef in Guinness with mustard and gruyere mash
A brilliantly easy dish to prepare that makes about 10 minutes to put together and can be left while you go off for a walk. Or, in my case, down the pub to watch football before coming back to make the mash. Yes, it's that easy you can do it after a couple of pints. You'll probably need to get the silverside from your local butcher. It won't be cheap but it WILL taste amazing.
You will need:
1.5kg Silverside of beef
150g bacon lardons
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 medium / small onions, peeled and chopped
You can add your own vegetables at this stage as well. I used a leek in this, but sprouts, kale, or any other veg that takes your fancy would work equally as well.
1 can of Guinness
Thyme or coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Tie up your beef (you can get your butcher to do this) and season the surface. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 1 (140 C I think). Get a large oveproof casserole dish, turn the heat up on the hob, throw in a dash of olive oil and brown the meat all over for a couple of minutes. Take the meat out of the dish and put to one side.
Put the lardons in the dish and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the carrots and onion (and other veg) and gently cook for a few minutes until the onion is turning soft and brown. Put the beef back in the dish and give it a good move around in there.
Add the Guinness and a dash of Worcester Sauce and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and put it into the oven for a couple of hours minimum. Take the lid off and leave the dish in for another hour, minimum. Make sure you check and turn the meat occasionally to ensure it browns all over.
When you take the meat out, you can use the Guinness and juices to make a tasty gravy. Remember to cut the string off and to give the meat time to settle, then get carving.
But first, you'll need to make the mash and for that you will need:
6-12 potatoes, depending on size of potatoes and hunger of guests
Lots of butter
Salt and pepper
English wholegrain mustard
Gruyere cheese (other cheese works as well. I just happened to have Gruyere to hand.
Peel and cut your potatoes. Put in a saucepan, cover with water (add a dash of salt), bring to the boil, turn down the heat, cover with a lid and let it simmer for around 20 minutes. Check if the potatoes are cooked by sliding a knife into them. If it easily goes all the way through, you're ready to get mashing.
Before you take your potatoes off the heat, grate your Gruyere or snap bits off so you've got lots of small chunks. Get your mashing implement and mash your potato down. Return to the heat and add a small dash of milk and lots of butter, as you want to get your mash nice and buttery (I tend to use James Martin's advice and put in as much butter as you think you need, then a little bit more). Thrown in the cheese and 1-2 tablespoons of mustard plus the salt and pepper to season and keep mashing until you you've got a lovely creamy cheesy mustardy mash. Serve at one with the beef, vegetables and anything else you want (peas, etc).
Pudding: Zuppa Inglese
Possibly one of the easiest puddings in the world to make! You can prepare this the night before and worry about the main course the next day. If you can't find vanilla custard, you can always use normal custard and throw in a dash of vanilla flavouring. For the brandy, the only stuff I had to hand was peach brandy, which worked well. You could also use Tia Maria (or both) and the cognac isn't essential - really the nearest to what you have to hand works pretty well.
For the layers, if you want it really chocolatey, ignore the instruction to put some of the custard to one side and melt the chocolate into all of it. The coloured layers are purely for aesthetic reasons.
You will need:
1 litre pre-made vanilla custard
1 round sponge cake
1 cup of espresso (or good quality coffee)
150g (or one and a half slabs) of Green & Black's dark chocolate
1 teaspoon brandy or Tia Maria
1 teaspoon Cognac (optional)
Put aside around 1/4 to 1/3 of the custard. Heat the rest in a saucepan and melt in most of the chocolate. Take off the heat once everything's melted into a dark chocolate custard. Meanwhile, in a cup, mix together the espresso, brandy or Tia Maria and cognac.
Get a reasonable size bowl and spoon half the remaining vanilla custard in. You'll then need to cut up the sponge cake and cover the custard with a layer of sponge. Brush the sponge with the alcoholic espresso mixture to ensure it remains moist. Repeat the layering but with the chocolate mixture. You should go chocolate custard, sponge, moisten. The last layer should be the remaining vanilla custard.
Put the trifle into the fridge and leave to cool overnight Just before serving, grate the remaining chocolate. Dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle with the grated chocolate.
So, that's it. Three easy, non-too-time-consuming and delicious courses. You've got plenty of time between each t make your house look amazing. Or watch football.
And a word of warning: it's impossible to have just one helping of the trifle.