1 week ago

How to Add Glamour to Special Meals at Home

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As our relationship with food continues to nourish the spirit as well as the body, TRISH DESEINE approaches autumn with excitement …

Throughout a difficult year, our homes have served us well. We have been glad, and lucky, to feel safe in them, the wifi held up and our bathrooms became luxury spas, but they might feel a tad over-familiar just now as foreign travel still proves tricky. The excitement and escapism of new restaurant openings will have to wait, too, for even if new places are miraculously managing to emerge, and our old favourites have pulled off the most ingenious transformations, it will be a while until the same insouciance we once enjoyed fully returns. (We are also supporting local restaurants when we can too.) 

During lockdown, in survival mode, thousands of sourdough starters died in our quest to upskill our breadmaking, no overripe banana was left unbaked and tinned fish is now in deep depression after its three weeks of heady, on-trend glory. Now we deserve a little glamour, a little frivolous excess at home as reward and compensation for missing them elsewhere. Here are my golden rules for spoiling yourself until the New Food Normal gives way to something resembling the old version we loved so well:

More than ever, plan your restaurant takeaway nights, transform your table and make an occasion of it. Bring out the good china and cutlery, or treat yourself to some new items. Use a tablecloth, even if the restaurant whose food you’re eating prides itself on having none, make sure you have flowers AND candles and, most importantly, dress up!

Research new cuisines and shop for the ingredients. Online food media is vast, diverse – and mostly in English. And online food shopping is becoming more sophisticated every day. Stray outside your Ottolenghi comfort zone and do some travelling through your cooking. Books I am loving at the moment include Mehra Sodha’s East, Olia Hercules’ Summer Kitchens and Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom.

Take out a wine club subscription. Order a recommended or “lucky dip” pre-chosen selection and start experimenting with pairings as the wines arrive. Try a Château Beychevelle with grilled sardines, a Baume de Venise with Camembert, Sancerre rouge with oysters and Guinness with chocolate cake. There is no end to the fun you can have getting it “wrong” when in reality, there is no right.

At the weekend, when you have, in theory, more time, try upping your game and make restaurant-style dishes at home, like Noma’s quirky Radishes in Soil, below. Remember, plate everything: individual portions only, no communal serving platters! Which is why you might want to restrict this little project to dinner for two. You may have restaurant level food on your plates, but you probably won’t have their staff in your kitchen. Then opt for a classic slow-cooked casserole to follow, rewardingly redolent of autumn, which combines good looks and a sense of comfort. For dessert, individual gingerbread and pineapple trifles look invitingly glamorous.

Noma’s radishes in soil 

One of the most copied and re-interpreted dishes from René Redzepi’s famous Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. This delicious, visually impressive and amazingly practical appetiser is one to adopt. Apologies to René for my simplistic “version” and thanks for conjuring up the idea in the first place!

For 4
15 minutes preparation
15 minutes cooking
30 minutes cooling

2 to 3 slices dark pumpernickel bread
2 tbsps olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled, halved (optional)
1 bunch radishes with leaves attached, washed, ends trimmed
250g Philadelphia cheese
1 – 2 tbsps plain yoghurt
2 tbsps finely chopped dill, chives and mint
Grated zest of a lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Crumble the bread to make a soil-like mixture. Fry the breadcrumbs in the olive oil with the garlic, if using, stirring from time to time, until they are crisp. Reserve, season and leave to cool. Remove the garlic before serving.

Beat the cheese with the yoghurt and lemon juice, and a dash of olive if you like. Stir through the herbs and lemon zest and season well with salt and pepper.

In a deep, narrow bowl (or a flower pot lined with clingfilm!) pour the cheese and smooth it out. Push several radishes into the cream then surround them with the breadcrumb “soil” so that it looks as if they are “growing”. Let your guests remove them first, and then use the other radishes to dip into the crunchy cream.

Poulet Vallée d’auge

I live in Normandy now, in the land of Camembert, cream, cider and Calvados. Ireland’s apples, cream, cider (and Longueville House apple brandy) are perfect for this. 

For 6
20 minutes preparation
45 minutes cooking

2tbsp olive oil
75g butter
2 onions, finely chopped
6 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs or legs, or a mix of pieces)
A small glass of Calvados (optional)
500ml dry cider
500g button mushrooms, finely sliced
500ml double cream or creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 apples

In a heavy-based saucepan with a lid, heat the olive oil with half the butter. Add the chopped onion and the chicken pieces, browning them all over.

Pour in the Calvados, if using, stir well, rubbing at the hardening cooking juices stuck on the pan to deglaze. If you like, ignite the alcohol to flambé the dish – and be careful you don’t inadvertently flamber your eyebrows if you are working on a gas flame.

If that all sounds too scary, or if you don’t have any Calvados, leaving out this step won’t spoil the dish. Add the cider, again scratching around the bottom of the pan to get all the flavoursome caramelised bits. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for around 30 minutes.

Add the cream, the mushrooms and cook for a further few minutes. Season to taste.

An appropriately Norman accompaniment would be pommes en l’air (apples peeled, cut in slices or quarters, and gently fried in butter).

Retro rum, gingerbread and pineapple trifles 

We’re still in need of comfort food, and nowhere more so when it comes to pudding. I love this combination but do feel free to leave out the sweet chestnuts if you can’t find them easily. You could always crumble in a Flake for a truly retro feel, or grate some good dark chocolate instead. 

For 4
10 minutes preparation
30 minutes resting

1/2 a pineapple
2 tbsps dark rum
The grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tbsp honey
2 or 3 small slices of gingerbread
300ml double or whipping cream
2 glacé chestnuts for decoration

Peel, core and cut the pineapple into chunks. Do this over a bowl to collect the juice.

Poach the pineapple pieces on low heat with the juice, the rum, the lemon juice and the honey. Leave to cool slightly before putting it in the fridge to cool completely.

Whip up the cream and stir through the lemon zest.

To assemble the trifles, crumble the gingerbread into some pretty tumblers or glasses. Spoon in the pineapple, pouring the syrup in so it soaks the gingerbread. Crumble the chestnuts over the fruit then top with the whipped cream.

The trifles will keep in the fridge for a few hours before dinner.

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