Something New- Pork n Pears (with bonus apache potatoes)

Hello, and a Happy New Year to you all. Yes, I’ve not been blogging, sue me if you wish and feel free to make up a more exciting reason for this than “I’ve been pretty knackered since the beginning of December”.

Less knackered now though, and ready to share a bit of a double whammy dinner idea for those still interested in my now out of date new years resolution from 2013 to do more, and thus eat more, New Stuff.

A pork n pear dinner with various veg and some luverly spuds

A pork n pear dinner with various veg and some luverly spuds

Christmas came and went, gifts were exchanged and much turkey was eaten. Hurrah. Cut to January and everyone is broke, cold and nursing the bitter comedown from tinsel wrapped heights of the festive season to the cold, soiled basement level of Being Back To Normal. Horrors. My significant other and I were due a night in with the younger female in law and dinner was on us. A quick trip to Morrisons came up with a bargain bundle of pork shoulder and some quirky looking potatoes and some kind of stew idea began to form. The boy picked up a big bag of slightly worse for wear pears in the yellow sticker vulture’s corner of cut price delights. Hmm. Pears. I’ve made pork with plums before and we all know pork and apples do the trick. Why not, what’s the worst that could happen?

Apache potatoes, get some if you can and don't mess with them too much.

Apache potatoes, get some if you can and don’t mess with them too much.

I’ll start with the apache potatoes, little bundles of red and golden skinned spuds- sorry, they aren’t pink on the inside unfortunately! What they are on the inside was incredibly buttery and smooth- very tasty indeed and on the seriously simple end of the preparation scale. Gentle scrub, 5 minute blanch whole in boiling salted water then into a medium hot oven with a drizzle of olive oil to roast for about 40 minutes. One might immediately consider how good they may be if slant cut and done in hot goose fat but to be honest, it’s not necessary. Their buttery finish isn’t over powering so too much crisping could take away that subtle pleasantry. We love apache potatoes.

Moving on, I give you the full method for a very easy, warm and satisfying comfort dinner, packed with protein and one of your five a day with an optional adaptable heat kick. Really tasty, though not desperately photogenic! With a possible third point for new stuff as my dining companions had never before had a braised lettuce.

Philistines.

Boom Boom Stewed Pork n Pears

Serves 3
700g pork shoulder, roughly cubed
4 well ripe pears- cored and stalks removed but do not peel.
Fresh ginger
Fresh red chillies
1 star anise

Heat up a small amount of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan or saucepan with a lid. For your spicing you now need to choose how hot you want it- I like warmth rather than heat and am a big fan of ginger so a 2 inch piece of ginger (grated) and two chillies (one deseeded) did the job for me. Keep in the chilli seeds or add another for the spicier palate or lose the seeds from both to keep it mild.
Add the ginger and chillies to the pan and stir well before then adding the pork and cook for a couple of minutes, moving the meat until sealed on all sides.

Roughly chop the pears and add to the pan with one tablespoon of water (don’t be tempted to add more, there will be plenty of liquid released from the fruit). Stir well,  turn down to a very slow simmer then cover and cook for ten minutes. Now throw in the star anise and go away and think about what you are doing with your life, where your career is going and what ever happened to the cast of Eldorado.

Check the mix and stir gently every 15 minutes or so and cook for at least an hour until the pork is very tender and the pear pieces fully disintegrated down into a sauce.

Serve with roasted veg and braised little gem lettuce and a big glass of red to enjoy on the sofa. Hurrah.

an ideal accompaniment for this meal- simply wash and halve a little gem then braise swiftly in a little olive oil in a hot pan

an ideal accompaniment for this meal- simply wash and halve a little gem then braise swiftly in a little olive oil in a hot pan

Advertisements

VIFC August Meeting- The Elizabethans.

Yes, yes, my VIFC write ups have been remiss of late and for that I apologise. I let myself off the hook for July as I was otherwise engaged in Twickenham that night and sadly unable to attend so your guess about how the 1930’s theme night went are as good as mine!

UntitledAs for the 80’s night review, I was waiting for someone else’s photos to upload then I was busy then I had an itchy toe for a while and, yeah. It didn’t get written. I can summarise to say that we had Duck a l’orange (yum), potted shrimp (nom), chicken liver pate (drool) unintentionally blackened nutty shortbread (cough), a syrup sponge pudding (happy diabetic coma), my silly cake as pictured and something else that Matt made which I can’t for the life of me recall at this point. Sorry Matt.
80’s night was a funny one, as the more I googled, the more 80’s food I found was actually 70’s food, or 60’s or 90’s……because long story short a lot of food doesn’t change all that much and remembering stuff my mum cooked me in the 80’s she learned in the 70s and so on and so on. But to hell with the semantics and off we went and the main running themes we as a group identified from the 80s were dinner party favourites and the wider introduction of haute cuisine. Plus, you know, cake. Every generation needs cake.

So on to the August meet and another time period theme- The Elizabethans. Bit of a wider range than the 80/30s but not as easy as it might first appear. I for one will freely admit to much swearing for this task. I was allocated a starter or side dish and went to my usual information source, the jolly old interweb.

I found lots of information on what the Elizabethan’s didn’t eat, which didn’t help much, and lots of general blaaaah about how the rich ate meat and the poor didn’t, the majority of seasonings were spices and herbs tended to be eaten fresh in green salads rather than cooked in. Fish and fowl were popular, as were dried fruit and nuts plus the Great British staples of bread, cheese and beer. Could I find any helpful actual recipes though? Negatory. Fine, I’ll get something modern that has lasted since those times. Bread? I cannot make bread. I thought about trying it again then remembered the weapon like bricks of doom that my dough making has always resulted in and decided against it. However as the old wives say, those who don’t have bread hands do have pastry hands. I can make pastry and once won first prize in the Brownie’s Cornish Pasty making contest thing. Yeah. I made those eight year old bitches weep with my mad shortcrust skills. Pasties it was. Did the Elizabethans have pasties? Debatable. Some old history on The Globe Theatre tells us that arts lovers in the days of Shakespeare would merrily partake in a little sweet meat and nut pie topped off with a sort of marmalade as a pre theatre nibble. I could make something like that. I must confess I did not use a strict recipe but will try to recreate it properly for a later post but the basics were lamb cooked up with quite a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and ginger, plus dried berries and roasted nuts. Wrap it all up in a shortcrust shell, served with my friend Louise’s rather fantabulous fig and grapefruit chutney. You’d like her actually, read her blog here! I was pleased with the outcome, although the pastry wasn’t my best but I suspect that it would have made any of Queen Bess’ followers happy enough.

So, the results!

Sweet lamb pasties, from me! Chutney is slightly off camera. I have to say the meat mix was yummy, the lamb really nicely set off with the sweet spices and some texture from the fruit and nuts. I'll be trying this again, with a slightly more butter rich pastry.

Sweet lamb pasties, from me! Chutney is slightly off camera. I have to say the meat mix was yummy, the lamb really nicely set off with the sweet spices and some texture from the fruit and nuts. I’ll be trying this again, with a slightly more butter rich pastry.

And a partridge in a glass bowl! That's the 2nd time I've use that joke today and I'm still snickering. This was no joke though- partridge poached in lamb stock with mace butter from Dave. I've not had partirdge before and this was beautiful, moist and darkly gamey. A veritable treat.

And a partridge in a glass bowl! That’s the 2nd time I’ve use that joke today and I’m still snickering. This was no joke though- partridge poached in lamb stock with mace butter from Dave. I’ve not had partirdge before and this was beautiful, moist and darkly gamey. A veritable treat.

 

Roasted sweet potatoes with apple and sweet spices- nutmeg if memory serves? As Sheena, this dish's owner, tells us it was sweet potatoes, rather than white, that first came from the New World during the reign of Elizabeth I. I love sweet potatoes anyway and the sharp sweetness of apples complimented them perfectly. This would go amazingly well with a big lump of roast meat.

Roasted sweet potatoes with apple and sweet spices- nutmeg if memory serves? As Sheena, this dish’s owner, tells us it was sweet potatoes, rather than white, that first came from the New World during the reign of Elizabeth I. I love sweet potatoes anyway and the sharp sweetness of apples complimented them perfectly. This would go amazingly well with a big lump of roast meat.

More sweet spuds from Amanda, this time mashed and buttered with a liberal throw in of orange zest. Perfect alone, great alongside the partridge and everything else. Bloody lovely. Did I mention that I love sweet potatoes?

More sweet spuds from Amanda, this time mashed and buttered with a liberal throw in of orange zest. Perfect alone, great alongside the partridge and everything else. Bloody lovely. Did I mention that I love sweet potatoes?

Chicken broth soup from Paula- a thick and hearty mix of chicken and mixed grains, so very very satisfying and warm with pepper. Great stuff.

Chicken broth soup from Paula- a thick and hearty mix of chicken and mixed grains, so very very satisfying and warm with pepper. Great stuff.

Spinnage Pie! Found on an authentic recipe from Dr Stuart, this was a heavy shortcrust pastry pie filled with simply cooked spinach flavoured with cinnamon and either mace or nutmeg. It was really nice and put me in mind of a spanakopitak (sp?)- the greek spinach and cheese filo pastry pie which I ate a lot of visiting a friend from school with a Greek mother. Much better pastry than my pasties too, a truimph for the creator!

Spinnage Pie! Found on an authentic recipe from Dr Stuart, this was a heavy shortcrust pastry pie filled with simply cooked spinach flavoured with cinnamon and either mace or nutmeg. It was really nice and put me in mind of a spanakopita (sp?)- the greek spinach and cheese filo pastry pie which I ate a lot of visiting a friend from school with a Greek mother. Much better pastry than my pasties too, a triumph for the creator!

 

Rice pudding from Tom. Tom has to win dish of the night as this is the first rice pudding I have ever eaten and, well, actually eaten without gagging and spitting up. I loathe rice pudding, but I didn't want to be childish so I tried some and it was fine. Proper stodgy thick (it needed a knife and fork) and subtly sweetened with honey and more cinnamon. I managed a small portion. Don't tell my brother or mother or step mother or anyone else who's rice pudding I have steadfastly refused to consume since I was old enough to speak.

Rice pudding from Tom. Tom has to win dish of the night as this is the first rice pudding I have ever eaten and, well, actually eaten without gagging and spitting up. I loathe rice pudding, but I didn’t want to be childish so I tried some and it was fine. Proper stodgy thick (it needed a knife and fork) and subtly sweetened with honey and more cinnamon. I managed a small portion. Don’t tell my brother or mother or step mother or anyone else who’s rice pudding I have steadfastly refused to consume since I was old enough to speak.

This dish din't have a name, rather a literary introduction as The Lord Devonshire, His Pudding. Conjoured by dessert addict Matt this was a big square bread and butter pudding with dates and stuff. Possibly some more cinnamon. Job jobbed.

This dish din’t have a name, rather a literary introduction as The Lord Devonshire, His Pudding. Conjoured by dessert addict Matt this was a big square bread and butter pudding with dates and stuff. Possibly some more cinnamon. Job jobbed.

And finally, a honey cake from Ian. Delightfully moist and highly satisfying I shall be needing the recipe for this.

And finally, a honey cake from Ian. Delightfully moist and highly satisfying I shall be needing the recipe for this.

So there we have it and don’t I sound like a suck up again going on about how good everything was! Well it was, I can’t lie. Well I can but I’m not right now. Or am I?

Anyway moving on to the summary- Elizabethans ate some OK stuff, heavy on the meat and carbs though, one has to wonder just how uncomfortable those corsets became if this was standard dinner fare. I certainly could have done with a cart ride home by the time we were finished. More fatty stodge from the nuts too, maybe a saving healthy grace in all that cinnamon which is all kinds of good for you, though not enough good to fend off the masses of scurvy that came from such a low vitamin C diet. Good job potatoes were right around the corner really!

Next month we have our first Celeb Chef night, where we all have to bring a Rick Stein dish. Three guesses which Celeb Chef’s books I own non of?

Back to my old mate google then, until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Plug- CHeFS at Colchester Institute.

I don’t need to explain to anyone who has ever ground the nine to five grind that there is something very special about a Friday. Magical things happen around this portal to the weekend. Things like swapping the suits and sensible shoes in favour of ‘dress down’, the sudden abandonment of weekday diet righteousness for Friday Cakes, a relaxing couple of closing hours of the business day playing candy crush after the boss inevitably buggers off home at three and the sudden total lack of restraint that speaks to your soul and says yes, yes I think we will go out for lunch. It’s Friday.

At my glorious establishment of employment this usually means a pannini and skinny fries at the pub a couple of doors away but this Friday just gone I was told I was going to the Clone Restaurant at the local college. It turns out that this was a comical typo and not some kind of Lucasfilm themed lunchery (I’m bagsing that idea for the future BTW) and we were headed to the Colne Bistro- one of three rather charming open to the public restaurants which form part of the catering college at Colchester Institute.

I hope to rack up enough eating experience to fully review all options here, but for now I can only reflect on one surprisingly pleasing lunch. For the Colne Bistro option, you arrive into a really sweet dining area with almost twee rattan furniture on the carpeted hall floor staffed by some immaculately turned out students from the college. Yes, students. They are not seasoned professionals but they are doing a pretty good job so cut them some slack. Water and bread come to your table free of charge and promptly after you are seated. And if you like scrummy, soft and generally perfect bread they will be bringing you a second serving pretty promptly too as there is no option but to devour the first offering, it is marvellous. Hats off to whoever knocked that up. You can also, if you choose to, watch all the action from the kitchen on a large live feed screen which does dampen the ambience of the room somewhat and may destroy your lunchtime conversations.

20130517_133623The menu isn’t extensive, it seemed to be a single meat, fish or veggie option for first and main courses plus a handful of desserts- you can see a sample menu here. Held in by the restraints of being on an hour break, we just went for mains and my friend and I both ordered a grilled salmon served with a watercress sauce, served in a typically ‘restauranty’ way with strategically placed shell-on cockles and a side of seasonal veg (great roasties). We both thoroughly enjoyed it too and left very clean plates. And the whole thing cost less than a tenner for us both, double bread rounds inclusive.

At the risk of coming over all Governator, I’ll be back. If you’re local to these parts you should definitely take some time to check out this little charmer of an eating spot, you’ll get a good lunch for a bargain price and be supporting local folks in their education to boot. That’s a win-win-win situation for you.

20130519_092659To book or learn more about eating at the CheFS project click here.

Something New- Chinese.

It’s a long way from the new year, but I’m still trying to embrace new things in line with that little resolution which seems so far away today.

Enter Saturday night, enter dinner with the friends in law, Chinese in theme and everyone to bring along a dish. Due to some poor forward planning (blame the boy) we found ourselves in serious danger of entering said dinner empty handed 😦 Due to the thankful over preparation of everyone else involved we got away without having a proper dish to take so I voted for a quick trip to the oriental market for some bok choi and anything else that might be able to hide his our hideous lack of organisation skills.

Bok choi is not new to me, I love it done off lightly in a pan with some oyster sauce, or even some butter and black pepper for the non traditionalists, and as usual I was happy to get a couple of bags for less than three quid. Yay. Not as usual, we also took some time for a wander through the highly stacked aisles and picked up some interesting little bits to try with dinner. Afterall, I love most Chinese food and this produce was about as authentic as it gets (you work out most of the packet contents by the pictures on the front unless you read Mandarin in this shop). There was bound to be some tasty morsels in that lot somewhere, some new unlikely delicacy just waiting to be discovered.

Well.

They worked as conversation pieces anyway.

Seaweed strip things

20130504_212742We found these next to various suspicious versions of indistinct meat jerky. I like seaweed of the wakame or sushi variety, this was basically seaweed crisps from the look of it. And how can you not love the look of the bright cartoony packaging? It had to be tried. You can file these with away with nightmare from the deep laverbread type seaweeds. Ick. Dry, ferric and cloying, a bit of a no-no. One kind diner declared them as ‘very seaweedy’. I didn’t try the chilli ones, maybe they were better, but somehow I doubt it.

Refreshing Basil Seed Drink

20130504_160838One must admit, this was picked up as something of a joke after we spent some time marvelling at the radioactive green goop, spotted with ominous floating basil seeds that never settle to the bottom of the bottle. The boy proclaimed that it would ‘really upset’ his sister, so we had to get some.
It really is a whole new level of disgusting. It has the grim aroma of some kind of revolting herbal remedy and frankly I can’t tell you what it tasted of as all my attentions at the time were counteracting my gag reflex against the gelatinous little lumps of basil seed. A drink should not ever have a texture. Eeeeeeeeerck. On the plus side, our youth worker host will be using this to torment his charges later in the year as a ‘drink the frogspawn’ challenge.

Aloe Vera Stuff

20130504_211333Much less offensive than the above seediness, with a very clear crisp taste and only a very slight mediciney aftertaste. It would probably be very good for one’s stomach in quantity what with all the health boosting properties that Aloe Vera has, but this one will never know. Again, this was run through with unpleasant, cloudy lumps of plant which stuck in the throat and made it look unappealingly clotted. Again unlike the basil seed drink, this did get some points on flavour and The In Law claimed it would be quite pleasant as a cocktail base. I’m sure this theory remains unproven for now.

Dessert Stuff

20130504_212544A cautious sampling proved this to be a mixed assortment of bits of fruit and possibly some nuts that had been soaked for several centuries in a very heavy sugar solution, then dried out. We think there was some melon in there and maybe papaya. I got stung with a strip of my old nemesis coconut, as if these little authentic touches weren’t bad enough! It was hard to tell the others apart to be honest, they just tasted like old sugar other than some very small incredibly bitter whole oranges, which those who tasted continued to taste for some time to come. There was a random centre section that looked like hazelnuts with a hole punched through the middle which the daughter of our hosts found very pleasing indeed. Overall, could have been worse.

In summary, I shall be doing more looking and less purchasing of the random authentic products at the oriental market, I bet we gave the guy on the check out a right laugh when we handed over the cash for that disastrous little lot! My money is staying firmly in their fresh vegetable goods from now on and I’ll just tell myself that a crispy chilli beef and singapore noodles from the Mayflower is as authentic as I really need to get.

The Chocolate Chore result- Rosemary Infused Orange & Almond Salad with Cocoa-Balsamic dressing

The finished article, thanks Foodie Stuart from VIFC for the pic

The finished article, thanks Foodie Stuart from VIFC for the pic

I’m actually rather proud of this one, because in this day and age it’s not that easy to come up with something original in the food stakes. A quick google tends to prove that someone else has already done it. They say there are only seven possible stories in the world of fiction, it may well be the same with taste combinations that work but I’m claiming this one. I shall plant my orangey flag.

For those who are new readers, or established ones that haven’t been paying attention, I took a food club challenge to come up with a starter course involving chocolate. Sulking and some failures ensued, which you can read about here. But after abandoning the use of traditional barred chocolate, I looked to cocoa. I looked to what was left in the fridge that day. I looked to an established trend of putting balsamic vinegar with sweet stuff. Now just hold on a minute…….

So here it is, my tossily titled summer salad offering. Apart from being yummy, it’s vegetarian and vegan and depending on your nut usage possibly suitable for raw eaters. It’s packing in the vitamins and goodness from fresh oranges and spinach and makes a striking, colourful side dish. Refreshing and zingy with a lovely bittersweet finish, here’s how you do it:

Rosemary Infused Orange & Almond Salad with Cocoa-Balsamic Dressing

Serves 4-6 as a starter/side, 2-3 as a main

For the salad:

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 large oranges
1 large red onion
Fresh spinach leaves
1 cup blanched almonds

For the dressing:

8 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
4 tbspn balsamic vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder
Pinch of sugar

20130408_194033I may take some hate for this, but I’m afraid you need to start early on this one, with a lot of peeling. You need four big, fresh oranges, peeled, segmented then peeled again. Yes, as in taking the thin skin/membrane off the orange segments. Yes it takes ages, but it’s worth it to give an easy, pith free eating texture. Try to keep the segments whole where you can but they may break when skinning. The easiest way I have found if to slit along the inner edge of the segment with a small, sharp paring knife then peel down each side before pulling off the bottom section of the segment skin slowly and carefully. Put the radio on and have a gin while you’re doing it if it helps.
Once this is done, arrange half of the orange pieces into the bottom of a large bowl. Bruise (bash) the rosemary stalks lightly and put on top, then cover with the rest of the oranges. Cover this dish well and refrigerate for at least three hours, ideally over night.

To make the dressing simply combine the listed ingredients into a suitable vessel and aggravate it vigorously to combine- I like to do this in a small (cleaned out, dry) water bottle. Be wary on tasting that the cocoa tends to stay on the surface and a little dip taste will seem a lot heavier on the cocoa than your end result. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks but wont mature past the fist couple of hours. It may become a bit cloggy on cooling due to the extra virgin olvie oil (yes, you do need extra virgin) so leave at room temperature for about an hour before you need to serve.

keep those onions fine!!!!

keep those onions fine!!!!

Now, back to the oranges. After suitable infusion time carefully remove the segments from the bowl to another bowl/container. Discard the rosemary stalks and excess juice. Peel and halve the red onion (use a couple of small ones if needs be) and slice them finely. Finely. Like, very finely. Like that bit in Goodfellas where they cut the garlic cloves with a razor. Fine. Gently combine with the oranges and leave for an hour before serving.

Waited your hour? Great. Arrange the orangey onion mix atop plenty of fresh spinach leaves, then scatter the almonds over. Dress then serve immediately, as a tasty non guilt vegan dish or as the side dish to a meaty main of your choosing. If you need to transport this or have made it well in advance, do not put together with the spinach or dress until the last minute or you’ll get soggy leaves.

I look forward to providing this to accompany some BBQ lamb or chicken kebabs if the summer ever arrives. I can testify, however, that this makes a satisfying and filling lunch without anything extra other than a bit of crusty bread if you like.

20130409_202409

Variations- ok fine, you don’t need to do the rosemary infusion. If you skip this stage you will still get a lovely fresh, zingy result but it will be missing that subtle extra nuance of the rosemary. You could go with a mix of pink or ruby red grapefruit with the orange if you wish or this could be good with pommelo but avoid the sharper citrus like lime or lemon- big no. Raw cashews, hazelnuts or brazils could work instead of the almonds.

VIFC Meeting- Chocolate!

And so it all begins.

And so it all begins.

As I have hinted of late, I have been fortunate enough to get a seat at the table of a little group of foodies who gather in the upstairs room of The Victoria Inn in Colchester for the discussion (and inevitable consumption) of all things edible. Each week a theme is set and by wild card allocation you show up with either a starter, main course or dessert to fit that theme. My first outing to food club was an enjoyable success despite my own near on nervous breakdown in the days prior. Me? Take something as simple as cooking for other people too seriously? Never!

Although I will share in full my own dubious contributions to the group here, there wont be much access to the recipes of others for now, as we hope to put together a charity cook book at the end of this year. Obviously I will flood you with the opportunity to purchase this once it is available! But hopefully you might find some inspiration, or revulsion, or just say oh, right, and skip to the next post. Whatever. Enjoy!

Victoria Inn Food Club April Meeting- Chocolate!

Yes the theme for this meeting was chocolate, an easy brief to meet until you realise that in your absence last time you were allocated a chocolate based starter (thanks Tom!). But more about me later, below are the offerings of all.

Starters:

Roasted Beetroot from Ian, served sizzling hot dusted with chocolate and a wee pinch of salt. Sweet and scrummy and has me now thinking of ways to tart up an old beetroot chutney recipe with some cocoa.

Roasted Beetroot from Ian, served sizzling hot dusted with chocolate and a wee pinch of salt. Sweet and scrummy and has me now thinking of ways to tart up an old beetroot chutney recipe with some cocoa.

Goats cheese & parsnip bread with chocolate chips from Nicola. OMG. Food like this is one of the reasons I don't have a bread maker. Amazingly moreish, stodgy and satisfying I could, and would, eat this until I literally bust a gut. Fabulous, I will be attempting this myself at some point.

Goats cheese & parsnip bread with chocolate chips from Nicola. OMG. Food like this is one of the reasons I don’t have a bread maker. Amazingly moreish, stodgy and satisfying I could, and would, eat this until I literally bust a gut. Fabulous, I will be attempting this myself at some point.

Orange and almond salad, from my good self. Well I liked it and no-one complained, so I'll declare this a success. Full recipe in the next post.

Orange and almond salad with cocoa dressing, from my good self. Well I liked it and no-one complained, so I’ll declare this a success. Full recipe in the next post.

The Main Event

Chocolate Beef bourginon from Tom. Mmmmm. A traditional start spiked with dark chocolate and chilli, wonderfully rich and the chocolate gave the liquor a gorgeous, glossy finish. Yummo.

Chocolate beef bourginon from Tom. Mmmmm. A traditional start spiked with dark chocolate and chilli, wonderfully rich and the chocolate gave the liquor a gorgeous, glossy finish. Yummo.

Venison stew with veg and, yes you guessed it, chocolate! This one from Amanda. Again a lovely dark base made rich with chocolate to compliment the gamey meat, very tasty.

Venison stew with veg and, yes you guessed it, chocolate! This one from Amanda. Again a lovely dark base made rich with chocolate to compliment the gamey meat, very tasty.

 

Vegetable curry with chocolate and coconut. Yes you read that right, coconut. And I ate it. And I didn't die screaming enjoyed it! No seriously I did, mainly because I couldn't quite pick out the coconut and if we were doing a blind taste test thing I would never have picked it out. This was a lovely, sweet and warming dish and Paula gets a medal for coming up with something that I would eat again, despite knowing it contains the dread coconut! Aaaaargh!!!!!!

Vegetable curry with chocolate and coconut. Yes you read that right, coconut. And I ate it. And I enjoyed it! No seriously I did, mainly because I couldn’t quite single out the coconut and if we were doing a blind taste test thing I would never have picked it out. This was a lovely, sweet and warming dish and Paula gets a medal for coming up with something that I would eat again, despite knowing it contains the dread coconut! Aaaaargh!!!!!!

Desserts

Chocolate muffins with a white chocolate centre. Thank you Sheena for ensuring we could have our cake and eat it! These were delicious and light, apparently some freezing was involved in the process which I shall research more and hopefully implement in my own baking going forwards. Scrummy.

Chocolate muffins with a white chocolate centre. Thank you Sheena for ensuring we could have our cake and eat it! These were delicious and light, apparently some freezing was involved in the process which I shall research more and hopefully implement in my own baking going forwards. Scrummy.

Rich chocolate mousse shots from Matt. It may seem a  teeny tiny portion but ye gods you don't want more than this. Evilly rich and gloriously presented, a really naughty treat to finish a night of naughty treats.

Rich chocolate mousse shots from Matt. It may seem a teeny tiny portion but ye gods you don’t want more than this. Evilly rich and gloriously presented, a really naughty treat to finish a night of naughty treats.

Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding. It seems that Matt is more than a one trick pony, so to speak as he doubled up for this meeting and also brought along this. No fruit or messing about, just bread baked in a chocolate custard. Heavy duty man food and no mistake. Good stuff.

Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding. It seems that Matt is more than a one trick pony, so to speak as he doubled up for this meeting and also brought along this. No fruit or messing about, just bread baked in a chocolate custard. Heavy duty man food and no mistake. Good stuff.

The chocolate and nut tart, from Stuart. Apparently this dish had it's debut for Stuart's sister at Christmas. Crunchy with nuts and cheeky with rum essence all wrapped up in a squidgy chocolate base with a shortcrust pastry shell. I think it will be back by public demand soon.

The chocolate and nut tart, from Stuart. Apparently this dish had it’s debut for Stuart’s sister at Christmas. Crunchy with nuts and cheeky with rum essence all wrapped up in a squidgy chocolate base with a shortcrust pastry shell. I think it will be back by public demand soon.

Safe to say, this was not a dinner meeting suitable for any diet plan ever, unless you’re trying to fatten up for an upcoming movie role! Everything was enjoyed thoroughly and if I had to pick a winner for the night my vote would go to that fabulous bread from Nicola. Divine.

Waddling my way home I decided that the evening was more than a fair trade off for some extra gym hours and thanked the God of waistlines that we were going in taster portions as I probably would have gone a full plate of most of them and just ordered a wheelbarrow home. But my self control around the culinary delights is well documented so I’ll leave it there.

Next time, fruit!

several photos stolen from other group members, thanks for that!

Something new- Beetroot Greens

beetroot greens, as delicious as they are colourful

beetroot greens, as delicious as they are colourful

Although spring finally seems to be at least half considering springing, there is still a definite chill in the air in these parts and it’s really not time to be breaking out the  salad dinners just yet. A big fat chicken and some chunky roast vegetables were still order of the day, or more accurately the night, this weekend just gone. For whatever reason I decided I wanted some roasted beetroot in with the sweet potatoes and parsnips, so off to the greengrocers we went and a bunch of fresh baby beetroot we bought, all purple and fragrant and covered in little smudges of dirt. There is a very simple joy in picking up such fresh and local produce, somehow you can actually connect it to the ground it came from and it’s more of a pleasure to cook in a way. And beetroot is certainly always a pleasure to eat. But enough reflection, lets skip to the point, which is the bundling lump of greens that come with this kind of purchase and often find their way to the compost heap. Cooking the main beetroot bulbs is simple enough, a good wash, trim off the stalks, salt, oil, oven, eat. But what now with the big pile of fleshy, vibrantly bright leaves. There must be some goodness in there, surely?

A quick stop to google reassured me that eating these purple streaked greens would not kill me and would impart most of the dietary benefits of their cousin spinach. Waste not want not, so into the pan.
20130303_195829As they were so fresh, no messing was needed. I melted a hearty nob of butter with a good few grinds of black pepper, threw in the greens on top and generally agitated it all until the leaves started to wilt. A sprinkle of sea salt (buy Maldon sea salt!) and ready to go.

I will certainly try this again, it was a really tasty little dish. It has a lot more substance than spinach, with a the sweet, earthy flavour that is so often destroyed by vacuum packing or pickling the humble beetroot. There is a definite, ferric tang of an undertone which you would expect due to the high iron content of the leaves and a really pleasing, fleshy crunch in the stalks. I had the leaves and stems from four beetroot and it made a nice little bowlful, something of an appetiser as I waited for some soup to cook and it was filling enough to make finishing said soup a bit later on something of a challenge. I’m not sure how else I might serve it, it really was perfectly good with some butter and basic seasoning- again the joy of fresh seasonal veg is that it is so little effort! Maybe with the stems forsaken and the leaves cooked down a lot more it could make a little bundle to serve with a heavy white fish or a nice cut of lamb. It may well make a kick ass salad base raw too, many possibilities. I will look forwards to them all.