Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dragon eggs anyone?

The original plan was a lantern-lit ghost punt along the Cam swaddled in blankets, clutching hot water bottles and sipping hot chocolate. Followed by a ghost walk through the cobbled streets of Cambridge and then back home to put on a bit of finery before round to B and C’s to tuck into B’s Chicken and Mulled Wine dish and a few glasses of something bubbly to celebrate the New Year. But that was plan A!
Everyone had been feeling under the weather to varying degrees over the festive season and tonight was no exception. D had barely recovered, MC felt the need for lashings of sympathy and B was really not feeling well enough to stay up late and toast the New Year so we had to switch to plan B.
Clearly the locusts had swooped onto the supermarket shelves already so we decided on some frozen scallops and pancetta followed by sausages and you’ve guessed it - mash!
We left the scallops defrosting with MC and the rest of us headed into Cambridge. The weather didn’t look too good, cold would be okay but I wasn’t sure a rain lashed punt ride would be so atmospheric. We had nice wide punts (fortuitous as it turned out) and professional punters though ours had unfortunately lost his pole before we’d really left the docking area. We then hurtled down stream due to a rather impressive current chased by some of the other punters armed with a few spare poles. Pole duly restored we sat back to enjoy our guide’s ghost talk. And then it started raining… really hard! The punt was furnished with umbrellas but LLcT, D and I just seemed to be sat in the place where the rising wind was at its whippiest so every umbrella we opened was instantly turned inside out, deemed entirely useless unless we considered a sail to our punt would enhance the journey along the Backs. So we just got really wet! Naturally this rather put a dampener on the traipsing through the rain-sodden streets for the ghost tour so we left for home. And we never got the hot chocolate!
So after squelching home and bidding farewell to B and C, we started thinking of our sausage and mash feast. LLcT had plans of excessive drinking so he headed forth with a plentiful supply of cider and we concentrated on dressing up, dressing the table and ‘poshing’ up the potatoes. We decided that for a change we'd make individual potato soufflés from possibly the last ever Fresh magazine. Rather oddly the last Fresh we’ve seen appeared on the shelves at the very end of October with December on the front and then…nothing! So maybe this is the last one. It’s never quite matched up to Olive and Delicious but it would be a shame if it disappeared altogether as there’s generally a couple of good ideas to try. And this, in Fresh magazines words, ’perfect posh comfort food’ seemed an excellent idea.

Soufflé Potatoes
Fresh - December 2006 Serves 6

700g floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
400g carton fresh four cheese sauce
1-2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Butter to grease
6 tbsp finely grated fresh Parmesan
3 medium eggs, separated

- Cook potatoes in lightly salted boiling water for 20 minutes until tender, then drain and return to pan stirring over the heat for 1-2 minutes to dry.
- Take off the heat, add cheese sauce, mustard and season with black pepper. Mash well until lump free.
- Pre heat oven to 200c. Grease a soufflé dish (or use 6 ramekin dishes) with butter and sprinkle the base and sides with a little of the Parmesan.
- Add the egg yolks to the potatoes and beat in well.
- Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form then gently fold into the potatoes.
- Spoon into the dish, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and bake for 30 minutes until well risen and then tuck in.

We made two thirds of the mixture as splitting egg yolks always seems a little faffy and used 3 large ramekins (actually the ceramic dishes leftover from previous Bigham’s pies). I also riced all the potatoes before adding the cheese sauce. I think perhaps we should have cooked them for less as they were certainly well risen! And very tasty indeed, though they continued to cook for quite a while so it was slightly like consuming molten potato lava.
The table decorations somehow turned out extra gothic, the fabulous tall silver candles, black crockery and bizarre creation of colour changing crystals inside a ring of black feathers (looking somewhat akin to dragon eggs!) all added to the macabre appearance. It was unintentional but wonderfully dramatic!
We started with the scallops, pancetta and leaves. I thought the scallops being defrosted were a little watery, perhaps I should have floured them lightly. They were okay though.
Then of course the much acclaimed souffléd potatoes with some tasty fat musk sausages. We finished with a little Gü pot of chocolate - naturally! Not a bad New Year’s feast at all. And we didn’t get drunk and no napkins caught alight!

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