So, here I am, just lounging around at home, wondering what I should put on the menu tonight.
I'm off work for a few days, and thinking of new menu ideas, I thought I'd cook Sophie a nice little mid week five course tasting dinner.
And I wanted to try out my new Persian blue salt crystals, and as I'm such a rubbish bloke, I hardly ever take Sophie out to eat, so I could kill two birds with one stone!
Asparagus was always going to be on the menu somewhere, and I thought that some nice, young tender Derbyshire lamb might be nice as well.
A couple of fish courses and a classical French pudding and we would be sorted!
Luckily for me some people in Derbyshire are still enjoying fine food and wine, well at my house we are.
So, as usual, I'm a little bit in it.
First things first though, and I'd managed to get my hands on some nice, plump chicken wings.
Now I love wings, but just cooked like that would have been far too messy for the meal I had in mind, so what I did was just chop them in half at the joint, as I was going to use the middle section.
And that means I can fry the knuckle ends off tomorrow night and have them with some scampi in some sort of Mexican themed delight.
All I had to do then was salt them for a couple of hours, just to start the seasoning process, and it will draw out a bit of moisture, making them go nice and crisp when I fry them off later.
Right that's one element of one course done!
Next I had to sort out my fish courses, and as I wanted to serve them both cold, it means that most of the preparation had to be done in advance.
With a nod to Japanese sashimi I got a couple of mackerel, whipped off the fillets and pin boned them.
A pickling liquor was made by dissolving some sugar with horseradish cream, yuzu juice, which has a nice, sharp, citrus flavour, wasabi powder and some cracked peppercorns.
This was going to poured, warm, over the mackerel, to take away some of the rawness.
You can do this and leave the fish in the marinade for longer, and fish will keep for longer, so it's a great way to plan in advance, as the longer you leave the fish in the pickle, the more it will "cook", so it doesn't taste raw at all.
A piece of salmon fillet was skinned, pin boned and
trimmed of all it's fat.
And I mixed equal amounts of caster sugar and smoked Viking salt together, as I wanted a background smoky flavour, but don't have a smoker at home!
Left for a couple of hours, and then washed off it will work well with the other oily fish as a starter.
But as it's also quite rich, we need something to cool it down a little, so cucumber was peeled, deseeded, and chopped into pretty diamonds.
These will be marinated in a splash of white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt, just to make them nice and crunchy.
So, the salmon is ready to be washed off, but I'm just going to blot the mackerel fillets on some kitchen paper, as I want to keep the horseradish, and anyway there was not much salt used in the cure so I don't need to.
A couple of Jalapeño chillies were sliced, as were a couple of red radishes, and then the easy bit.
Plating it all up.
On my new Himalayan salt blocks!
Which, in truth, is the reason for this first dish!
It was alright actually, a bit of a kick from the chillies, cool cucumbers, the nice juicy salmon and fatty mackerel, and I sprinkled on a few more drops of yuzu juice and finally some blue Persian salt crystals.
Now the next course was a nice easy one.
First thing was to sort out a potato salad.
And, as with most French dishes, a couple of shallots are required, these are just peeled and chopped, covered in white wine vinegar and then reduced, until almost dry, as if it's not reduced enough the finished dressing will be too sharp, and then finished with some olive oil, that's the dressing sorted.
Now I first learnt how to do this salad at Le Ritz in Paris, and
it's brilliant, as it goes with so many things, but then we served it, warm, with soft poached eggs, Morteau sausage and black truffles.
It's quite simple in a way, but it's important to get everything just right, or it can be a bit of a mess.
I was checking out the hotels website yesterday, but they are closed for a two year refurbishment, so I'm sure it's going to be stunning when it reopens.
And I'm going to take Sophie!
Now what I should have done is cook the potatoes in their skins, and while still warm, peel and slice them and then put them in the shallot dressing.
But I didn't, I just sliced them and blanched them quickly, and that's why you need waxy potatoes for this as they are less likely to fall apart when they are cooked.
So that can be cling filmed, and left at room temperature ready for the next course.
Now I know I'm in the middle of Derbyshire but I still wanted another fish course, and I've found out about this company called Seafood & Eat It, which sells this amazing fresh white crab meat, so I picked some up from Waitrose in Ashbourne and course number two is just about there.
All I had to do was season the crab with a touch of lemon, some salt and pepper and olive oil and away we go.
I added a julienne of salami to the potatoes salad, quartered some sweet cherry tomatoes and chopped a bit of parsley.
And that's it!
Sorry about the fuzzy picture, and maybe I should have used a different plate, but it was delicious, really light, and as I'd served some potatoes with it I didn't need any with the main course.
And how easy was that, it's not really cooking at all!
Right the next one does involve a bit of cooking, and I wanted to try out my new Japanese Agemono - Nabe cooking pot.
It's actually meant for deep frying but I think it's
a bit small, so I intended to cook my asparagus in it.
English, of course, and all I had to do was put a healthy amount of butter, a splash of water and a pinch a salt.
Lid on, and then put on a high heat, the water would start steaming the asparagus, emulsifying with the butter giving it a nice glaze, and it's easier than blanching it and then reheating it, as it saves on washing up, although now we are moving to a house with a dishwasher I 'm going to find out just how pots and pans I can use for one dinner, for two people in Oxford!
Quite a lot, probably.
So, I've washed off the chicken wings, covered them with some duck fat, and I'm going to gently poach them.
Only about thirty minutes, or so, and then, all that was needed was to de-bone them.
And you have to do that while they are still warm, as if they get too cool the flesh starts to harden up, and you might rip the skin, and that, darling, would be a disaster!
Just a bit of gentle pressure and the bones just pop out.
What I might do, when I start using these as a garnish in the restaurant is stuff the cavities with some herbs and bacon, and then I've got some little stuffed chicken thingies for a new tasting menu.
Right, they're going into a nice hot pan to brown them off, and these things make the most superb nibble, it's impossible to stop snacking on the hot, salty, crispy little pieces of poulet!
I had some thin slices of Parma ham that I was going to use as well as it's another great match with both chicken and asparagus
So, that's course number three out of the way, and it can't have been easier, smooth Parma ham, roasted chicken wings and some asparagus, what a spring time delight, and there was no work involved at all, I think anyone could knock up this dish, easy!
Ok, so with a nice bottle of red wine decanted, it's time for that lovely
And as so many lucky people will be enjoying Italy this summer, I thought I'd do Sophie an Italian inspired main course.
Wild garlic, from my garden.
Home made, warm focaccia.
And a jus!
And an onion, or two.
One rack of lamb should do.
And all I've done is remove the skin, cleaned the bones and cut it in half, diced up all the meat from between the bones, that will be browned off and turned into a stock, and then reduced for the jus, scored the fat on the four bone rack, and I'm going to dice up all the fat and render that down to whisk back into the sauce.
You see I'm going to use every last bit of the lamb, wringing as much flavour as I can from it.
So into one pan goes the lamb trimming, and a lamb stock is on the way, and by dicing up the lamb fat and then cooking it in water, we can render all the lamb fat out.
Now this is very important as lamb fat has a delicious taste, and it seems such a shame to waste it.
Think of dripping on toast, well that's all this is, only served in a liquid form, and it's going to become a classic "jus gras", gras meaning fat in French.
At work we have tub of this on hand, just to melt into hot lamb stock, so that it splits out on the plate, giving a massive lamb hit to the sauce.
And because fat coats the mouth it will linger on the palate for longer, making the dish taste even lovelier.
The focaccia was started in the normal way of a bigga ferment, well fermenting, then being mixed, by hand, with more pasta flour, warm water and olive oil.
This was easy as all I had to do was, every thirty minutes, or so, just lightly knead it with some more oil, no bashing around or heavy mixing, a final prove, and then baked in a red hot oven for twenty minutes.
And because the oven was cranked all the way up I had cook our lamb "en cocotte".
I like cooking like this, as it's browned off, with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and rosemary, the lid is placed on, but slightly ajar, so the steam can escape, and I've just turned the lamb around every few minutes.
I have been known to forget about things that go in the oven sometimes, so this way, it's on top of the stove and I can carry on enjoying my wine without any fear of overcooking the meat!
Rested for half an hour, it's going to be perfect.
So then Bagna Cauda.
It's an Italian delight, but really easy and as anchovies and lamb are such great friends, I thought that along with some wild garlic, blanched cauliflower and nice sweet roasted onions it would be spot on.
Especially as I had some warm, soft bread to mop all those lovely lamb juices!
Basically it's just olive oil warmed with crushed garlic, salted anchovies that will melt into the oil, and then some butter is whisked in, so it's a warm dipping sauce, normally raw vegetables are served with it, as a sort of crudités, Hayden I hope your getting all this, and haven't forgotten my Italian lesson the other night - now repeat after me "Ti amo mi chica bella"!
And as cauliflower is also so good with anchovies, everything would marry beautifully.
So the lamb was carved into nice thick chops, the warm cauliflower was dressed with wild garlic, crushed anchovies and a touch of lemon, the focaccia was sliced, the onions sprinkled with sea salt and there you go, Italy on a plate.
Right we're just hopping back over the boarder now for pudding, and it's another dead easy one to knock up, as long as you have some eggs and sugar you're there.
So, whites in one bowl, yolks in another.
And then a classic creme Anglaise was prepared, just by warming milk and cream with a split vanilla pod, then whisking it over the egg yolks, that had been already whisked with caster sugar, poured back into a pan, it was then cooked very gently until it started to thicken.
You have to be careful when you do this, if it gets too hot you'll end up with some messy scrambled eggs.
Strained through a sieve, and covered with cling film, all I had to do with it was cool it down.
If I had an ice cream machine all I would have to do then is churn it, and then hey presto, vanilla ice cream!
Meanwhile the egg whites are whisked with more caster sugar and turned into a classic meringue.
Now, everyones got different ways of doing it, but I think the best way is to start whipping the whites and then start to add all the sugar, quite quickly, and then just let the machine do it's thing, and you'll end up with thick, glossy, stiff meringue.
Now this can be piped out and baked in a low oven, but I'm making some "iles flottantes", lovely little light poached meringues for our pudding.
You see, poor old Simon's only got one oven at home, and as it was getting super hot for the bread I had to come up with a pudding that could be done on top of the stove!
So, using two dessert spoons, I shaped the meringues, and poached them in a mixture of milk and water until they were firm to the touch.
If the milk is too hot they will inflate and souffle up, but when they cool down they will deflate and look all small and sad!
I'm going to try steaming some at work and then baking them, I think they might go all crunchy on the outside, but stay nice and soft in the middle.
But for this dessert the crunch will come from a dark caramel that is poured over the cold Anglaise and poached meringues, so that it sets and goes all crisp!
A bit dangerous to do, its just caster sugar and a tiny bit of water, boiled to a dark caramel, you have to watch it mind, as in a second it can go too dark and then its ruined.
A handful of raspberries cut through the rich custard and sweet meringues.
I know it looks a bit homely, but I'll tell you what, it's a great way to end a five course dinner.
Right that's it!
Dinner at my house, and all because I'm such a rubbish bloke, and never take poor little Sophie out!
Although I've got a feeling that's all about to change, because I've heard there is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in Oxford, oh aren't we lucky!!
Next time I'll tell you how Sophie blagged two birthday dinners, and I discovered the world's best drink!
Todays music choice "I can see clearly now" by Jonny Nash, it's all down to my amazing vision you see!