Monday, 17 December 2012

Cooking: Uni Christmas Lunch

Butternut squash soup with pumpkin crisps 

While I was in Oz a group of friends started meeting for a pre-Christmas lunch. As I hadn't taken a turn in cooking before I volunteered to host this year's lunch. The thought of cooking for twelve people didn't phase me too much, but I got quite concerned about where they were all going to sit!

The excellent dinner I had at Mike and Ollie's  a couple of month's ago made me realise that you could have a great evening crowded round make shift benches so when my friend Will came to stay a few weeks ago we popped to Wickes to buy a big sheet of MDF for a make shift trestle.

Table sorted my next worry was chairs. I decided to put up a sign in the entrance hall of my flat offering a cake for chairs trade with my neighbours. Within four hours of the sign going up I had three offers to lend me chairs. I like to think there is a wonderful community spirit in my block and it was nothing to do with the temptation of cake!

Saucisson from Brockley Market 

The problem of where everyone was going to sit sorted it was time to think about the food. Again my dinner at Mike and Ollie proved the inspiration and I decided that I wanted to try and re-create the awesome poached plum that we had during the dinner. Soup is an easy banker for a starter and who doesn't like a chocolate tart for dessert?

Menu decided I upon I got ordering the food. I've started using the East London Steak Co for ordering meat. A few clicks and I'd got the pork belly on order for Thursday morning. The only problem was that I forgot and went out for a run. When I got back I had four missed calls on my phone and the delivery driver had been and gone. Thankfully the delivery driver was excellent and happily agreed to come back the next morning. That's customer service for you.

Roast nuts 

I can be a bit of a recipe slave sometimes, but surprised myself with how flexible I was with the uni lunch. I read a few recipes to get ideas and then flexed them to suit the ingredients I had in my cupboard or what suited my tastes. I think it worked pretty well!

To get everything started I bought some bubbly from Aldi (don't tell my friends), saucisson from Brockley Market and made some roasted nuts loosely based on a Nigella Lawson recipe. They could have done with a bit more of a chilli kick for my liking, but they were still flavoursome and moorish.

You don't really need a recipe for soup. I decided to go with pumpkin as it's seasonal and I like it! A couple of days before the lunch I watched Nigel Slater's Dish of the Day and saw him make some pumpkin crisps using the peeling of the butternut squash and decided to give them a go. They were a great use of something that you'd otherwise throw away, but I found they took quite a long time to dry out in the oven.

Roast pork belly, gratin duaphinois and poached plum 

For the main event I decided to try and re-create Mike's poached plum. The pork belly was almost an accompaniment and decided to add a gratin duaphinois to fill everyone up!

I poached the pears in some red wine, cinnamon and star anise. Reading  couple of recipes online I decided to poach the plums for twenty minutes which was way too long and they lost all of their texture. Luckily I'd bought a second punnet of plums and poached the next batch for ten minutes which was more or less right. I decided to blitz the over cooked plums into the red wine to make a sauce which worked pretty well.

The pork wasn't quite the splendid version that Mike cooked. It was my first time cooking pork belly and I don't think that I cooked it long enough for that melt in the mouth tenderness and my crackling didn't really crisp up as hoped. I ended up cutting off the skin and giving it a blast under the skin. It was still good just not what I was hoping for.
 
Pear and chocolate tart
 
 For dessert I decided to use Jamie Oliver's pear and chocolate tart recipe. I think the tart ended up being my favourite part of the meal (although the plum was pretty stellar as well). Served slightly warm (if you heat it up too much it goes runny) it went down very well with a bit of ice cream.
 
One of my neighbours got a banana bread for her chairs and the other got some of the pear and chocolate tart. A pretty fair trade I'd say.
 
I've got a load of the leftover pork belly in my freezer. Have any of my cookery minded friends got a suggestion of what to do with it? So far I'm thinking of some stir fries. The pork belly also came with the baby back ribs that I used as trivet during the cooking process. I'm thinking of double cooking and trying some kind of pulled recipe.....

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