Monday, 17 May 2010

A certifiable night of food, but not a sign of crackers.

I'm unsure whether it was the full moon, or the fabled march madness that made our Lunacy themed night seem particularly mental. It even seemed to rub off on some of our guests, although l'm far too discreet to name and shame.*

Lauren's set certainly helped things along too, as guests entered to find images of themselves distort with a hall of mirrors, then their minds bend with Alice in Wonderland inspired place settings.

As for the food, the first two courses of the night we're a change to the advertised menu due to the late arrival of some of the wild foods l'd wanted to use. The late spurt of cold weather pushed the season back a couple of weeks at least. As l headed off with my basket to collect the young heads of stinging nettles, l found a lot of evidence of the little tinglers bursting into life, but not the difficult teenagers required.

So the first course changed to a tried and tested recipe (and a bit of a favourite at Christmas) was chestnut and chorizo soup with red onion crisps - Nutty, get it? This is a real warming soup and the heat of the chorizo with the comforting heaviness of the chestnuts in the soup feel like a big wooly scarf wrapping the body from the neck down.

The second course was the problematic dish that changed the first first two. It was a shame l couldn't use nettles as l really wanted to use it after learning about how nice, and damn good for you they are on a wild food course in Dorset a few years ago. So out went the feared stingers and in came wild mushrooms in a dish called a Fideau - a Spanish dish (a type of paella). This was served with a large dollop of home-made alioli. I tested this dish on my usual group of baying starlings and the nest bristled so l was eager to unleash it on our guests.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed on the night as it didn't quite live up to the taste of the version l tested. Something seemed to happen when cooking a delicate dish on a larger scale. The tested dish had a wallop of mushroom, and when draped through the mayonnaise became deliciously creamy. I was happy to finally master the art of making homemade mayonnaise after a few disasters experimenting with this white art. Here's my method:

2 egg yolks
1 tsp of english mustard
250 ml groundnut oil
50ml rapeseed oil
salt and pepper

First place the egg yolks, mustard and a drop of groundnut oil in a tall thin container like a jug. It needs to be big enough to just about house the head of a hand blender (the ones you'd normally use for soup) at the bottom. For some reason l've never been able to get a food processor to work, which is probably a blight on the blender! I saw this clip on youtube, tried it, and it has worked every time.

Give it a quick blitz then add slowly the groundnut oil blitzing all the time as you carefully pour. After a while you should be able to pour the oil more freely including the rapeseed oil. I like to add a small amount of rapeseed oil as it gives a little more flavour to the mayonnaise. Add lemon juice and season at the end and your done.

Thankfully the main course stayed true to the plan and bought the mad march hares (actually wild rabbits w/petite poise, cider, lettuce and spiced glazed chicory) to the dinner table. This was a first for us at Toob as l've never prepared or cooked rabbit - although l have caught, skinned and gutted one when l was a vegetarian! I guess it's still a very much a taboo ingredient in Britain and after a quick canvas of the assembled diners it appeared it was many people's first time to eat our furry friends.

I'm sure many of the first timers will championing the merits of le lapin and l certainly intend to carry a carrot shaped torch. It's a delicious meat, and extremely cheap so give it a go if you haven't already. We bought ours online for £3,50 each! The rabbit was braised with a mirepoix and pancetta then stewed in cider for around an hour. The petite poise and lettuce was added just at the end, which added a freshness to contrast with the stewed rabbit. Spiced glazed chicory accompanied the dish which simply involved roasting them in sugar, cointreau, the juice of 2 oranges, and a crushed star anise.

Adding the cointreau to the main meant that some of the citrus flavours from the main was continued into the desert.

For desert a rhubarb fool w/ ginger shortbread almost bought the meal to it's certifiable end - the cointreau making an appearance in the cream. Fully aware that a fool is essentially whipped cream with some sort of fruity accompaniment, l really wanted to craft the pud (mainly because l really enjoy making deserts), into something special. This took a bit of experimentation and a little tinkering to a few recipes l had on my bookcase, the findings…ahem…are as follows:

Ingredients (serves 4 - 6):
500g Rhubarb
1 Ball of stem ginger plus syrup (to taste)
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of ground cinnamon
4tbsp golden caster sugar (to taste)
3 tbsp Cointreau
300ml carton double cream

Firstly cut the rhubarb into approximately 2cm batons and heat over a medium heat with the ginger (not syrup), cinnamon stick and powder, lemon juice, 4tbsp golden caster sugar and a good splash of water. I just undercooked the rhubarb, which took around 5 minutes, being careful to retain the rhubarb's shape and then let it cool in the pan. At this stage l added the syrup from the stem ginger, a little at a time, until the mixture tasted sweet enough while retaining some of the rhubarb's tartness. Be careful not to overpower the mixture with the taste of ginger too. This was left in the fridge to cool while l prepared the cream mixture.

This was created by beating the double cream until it thickened (not too stiff though as it'll come unworkable when serving), then adding cointreau and some of the rhubarb juice to taste.

To serve l strained excess liquid from the rhubarb mixture and reduced it in a saucepan a little. This isn't totally necessary, but a surprising amount of moisture leaks from the mixture, and l didn't want to waste any of it, and i didn't want the presentation of the dish to leak through the layers. This was then added back to the original rhubarb mix. I then placed a layer of rhubarb mix in some small clear herb jars, then piped the cream on top and repeated.

A night themed lunacy couldn't have finished without our guest succumbing to the maddening ways of the green fairy. For this, slightly sorry looking Absinthe jellies were served. I'd wanted to make them extra wobbly and had bought some great edwardian jelly moulds on Ebay, but unfortunately hadn't quite added enough gelatine so they slided into a heap, rather than naughtily standing up and waving to our diners. Still, we weren't short of takers and the actual taste of absinthe jelly is pleasant, much to everyones surprise. I used a recipe posted on the independents website, which can be found here.

Oh, and before we go i have to mention that we had a little surprise up our sleeve for one guest, the lovely Gail Haslam, whom was celebrating a birthday. The following cake was created by our talented Toob (ee) Anna Reid of 'Crumb roll please'.

The idea was to have the cake in sight the whole time, which we then presented half way through the night much to everyones delight and surprise. We're happy to cater for special occasions so if you'd like a cake made let us know and we may be able to help.

All at Toob awoke on Sunday and felt different, almost cleansed. I guess it's good to go nuts now and again.

*Adam, you're absolutely barmy bless you, it wouldn't have been the same without you.

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