Saturday, April 12, 2008

One perfect dinner party

Not that I think that my dinner party was perfect it was that tonight’s menu was based pretty much on Marcus Wareing’s new cookbook “One Perfect Ingredient”. When this latest tome arrived to join my ever-burgeoning shelves I was immediately struck by it. And I know I’ve said that before but I never cease to be amazed how whenever I think I surely must have reached some sort of limit to my capacity for cookbook-love, my propensity for those hard-backed faintly ink perfumed volumes just seems indefatigable. And despite not wanting to murder my darlings - obviously I have favourites, and this one has instantly joined the A–list (or should that be J-list!) I can’t really put my finger on what makes one cookbook shine above another, I guess it’s a mixture a feeling of instant gastronomic connection, the belief I could rely on it in a sudden culinary emergency and a old friend that I could curl up in a comfy armchair with.

The premise of “One Perfect Ingredient” is to take one ingredient and then to conjure up three very different meals. And on my first flick through I realised that it would be a perfect accompaniment for tonight’s extravaganza. I’d been meaning to have T and ML around ummm, maybe forever and now I had to concoct a suitable menu. I had a few ideas; T doesn’t really do red meat but has rather a penchant for risotto which would help my deliberations so with this in mind I consulted Marcus and I think he had some fine suggestions.

I wanted to use my lovely new lead crystal champagne saucers for the dessert so knowing that I can whip it up very quickly I went for the chocolate mousse Gordon Ramsay devised for his cook-along a couple of months ago, as Marcus didn't have something unctuous enough and chocolaty enough. With the crystal theme in mind I went for full crystal-tastic overload on the table décor again and also christened my crystal tea-light holders and crystal rose-bowl for a terribly grown-up table centre. I got some lovely white flowers as I didn’t want the more typical roses but I can’t recall their genus, unfortunately.

For the starter I selected the Leek and Potato Risotto. I did toy with adding my first handful of this year’s English asparagus spears (not counting those cooked by Mark Hix at Divertimenti forced in a Kent micro-climate) but I found out just in the nick of time that ML doesn’t appreciate the spear. I had a small pile of Jersey royals for the new potato ingredient but I actually had stockpiled over double what the recipe needed but T suggested that I boiled them all anyway and we could either have some with the main course or use the leftovers for another meal. I used the rest of my Acquerello risotto rice and boy was it thirsty tonight. I poured in the wonderfully gelatinous stock, the glass of white wine, more wine, some Evian (just because it was handy), more wine, more water and still it drank. It just soaked up every drop of liquid in its vicinity; I could only assume it was drunk when it finally reached that perfect creamy texture. I add the Parmesan, the butter and then the potatoes but was rather alarmed by the texture. This risotto could never be accused of assuming the infamous Italian rippling wave effect across the plate, the all’ onda. It was way more pert than that, actually positively gravity-defying, I assumed it was the potato but not having a picture to reference and more importantly, loving the taste I went ahead and served it. And we certainly cleaned our plates, and then I remembered, I cooked well over twice the amount of crushed potato that the risotto required and then somehow added all of it to this to the dish – mmm, that might explain it. And then there was also the delicious very welcome glass or two of Fortnum & Mason Brut Rosé Champagne (Billecart-Salmon in disguise nonetheless!) that made everything all a little rosé around the edges - that could have explained it also!

For the main course I chose the simple Chicken with Bacon and Pesto accompanied by a version of the Pea and Broad bean Salad with Manchego Cheese from the Pea chapter – clearly I had a premonition that by that stage of the meal I might need 'simple'. The plump organic, free-range chicken breast (yes, I have chickened out – but I have always been a devotee of a happy chicken!) were rather annoying three different sizes. I definitely had daddy, mummy and baby chicken to stuff with pesto and wrapped in bacon. Daddy was feisty and struggling out of its bacon jacket but I managed to pan fry it and wrestle it into the oven without losing too much of its oozy verdant core.

With the help of T and ML's frantic depodding the broad beans were swiftly denuded and I dealt with the frozen petit pois which had all bonded into one great fat pea and needed a little gentle persuasion to return back to their individual little peas. I didn't have any Manchego so used Parmesan and a slurp of double cream to loosen it up a little and then a handful of my favourite floppy lamb's lettuce also.
That all seemed to go down pretty well also. Obviously I didn’t serve potatoes with the chicken because a) it didn’t really need it and b) we’d somehow managed to eat all the Jersey Royals with the risotto in some freak pink Champagne induced accident.

Having produced this Chocolate Mousse recipe before whilst under great time pressure I was pretty confident I could get it to the table pretty sharpish i.e. ideally before either of my guests fell asleep but it didn’t turn out quite as smooth as I would have liked. I used some of the amazing Willie Harcourt-Cooze Venezuelan Black 100% chocolate that T had managed to get at their local Waitrose as mine had nothing but a photograph of smiling Willie and information about this special chocolate, which was hardly going to help my mousse. I read the recipe carefully and then perhaps due to the wine on top of the Champagne and the boozy risotto meant that I read it but totally ignored it so when I was supposed to stir the smashed shards of Crunchie into the chocolate mixture I just got T to heap some in the gorgeous Champagne Saucers (very Babycham but without the cartoon Bambi and way more diva-ish!) and then add a little golden shower on top and then some chocolate flakes. We didn’t eat it all, hopefully because it wasn’t too imperfect but because I made enough for four of us (frankly four people who hadn't had a meal for a few days) and we’d eaten quite a lot of risotto et al! And T and I managed to save room for a soupçon of gooey Camembert with Truffle Butter on French bread as it would have been rude not to!

Maybe not the perfect dinner party but hopefully pretty damn fine!

Oh, and I should really mention another little fabulous touch to the table - get a load of the Evian bottle, not just soon-to-be-recycled plastic but designed by Christian Lacroix etched glass definitely not for recycling - don't you know. Diva - moi!


Kristen said...

I'm sure it was perfect :)
And, that water bottle is gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

It all looks beautifully grown-up and sparkly. The flowers are ranunculus, by the way!
Much love
D xx

J said...

Thank you my green-fingered D! They seem awfully happy in their crystal home so I definitely want to know what to look out for next time I'm feeling grown-up. Jx

michelle @ TNS said...

can i come over for dinner? please? i promise i won't break your crystal.*

also, i love broad beans. that is all.

*okay, i might.