Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Mushrooms and chocolate

Tonight I made dinner for BK and have just realised it is for only the fourth time this year that I've had someone round for dinner (mind you that's four times as many as in 2011 (co-incidentally BK was the "lucky" one then too)...).

The driving force behind what we had was the fact that BK likes "mushrooms and chocolate". My other motivation was my ongoing strive to be as seasonal as possible. Given that it's the tail-end of autumn and I  LOVE autumnal ingredients, it took a while. Game, beetroot, parsnips, cabbage, celeriac, apples, pears, mushrooms, squashes and pumpkins: they are just so delicious either individually or together, in almost any combination. I eventually decided on:

Mushroom soup
Venison steak with braised red cabbage and seasonal root vegetables
Gâteau Opéra

I also hadn't done any "proper" cooking for a while, so I ended up going a little over-board and made some mushroom and walnut dip to have with pre-dinner crudités and some chocolate and pistachio biscotti to have with coffee. Both recipes taken from Marcus Wareing's One Perfect Ingredient, also the source of the Gâteau Opéra recipe, so really I'm pretty sure some of the blame lies with him and his damn good cooking. Doesn't it?

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

Essentially liquid mushroom: Brilliant. I think this is because of the few ingredients involved; it can't help but give you a hit in the face with the glorious deep umami of mushroom (even if I had slightly over seasoned with lemon juice - curse my metal body). As smooth as this was, it's times like these that make me wonder if it could have been even silkier if I had a liquidiser...

For me it's the garnishes which turn a run-of-the-mill bowl of liquid into a memorable and enjoyable stand alone experience. I'd toyed with the idea of a poached egg and even a single large croûton topped with a large portabello mushroom and fried quail egg, but eventually opted for a riff on persillade or gremolata. A few Parmesan croutons and some walnuts fried in duck fat (great crunch and depth of flavour), with plenty of parsley and tarragon (a fragrant note and a lovely lightly crisp texture as they were mixed with the hot bread and nuts), lemon zest (adding a zing) and a hint of garlic. Altogether pretty damn good, even if I do say so myself.

Venison steak with braised red cabbage and seasonal root vegetables

I got a pair of 7oz venison steaks from the great butchers in Banners. It's a proper traditional establishment and has pretty much everything you can think of. I always get a bit giddy when I go in there and have to stop myself from buying a random cut with no plan whatsoever (my freezer currently has a trotter awaiting culinary dispatch). The venison was lean and full of deep complex flavours. Thankfully I managed to cook it reasonably rare. It's not often I cook a slab of meat so I'm always full of trepidation.

The braised red cabbage was a great accompaniment the port adding a deep fruity note which worked really well with the venison. We also had celeriac puree, roast parsnips (dusted slightly over-zealously with cayenne pepper. I should have used cumin really.) and roast beetroot. All the vegetables worked really well together with an underlying earthy note. the only thing that was missing was something to pull them all together (especially the beetroot). Mind you the pan juices de-glazed with port worked pretty well.

Gâteau Opéra

Gateau opera

Now apparently (I say apparently as I can't find it in my Larousse) this is a classic French cake of almond sponge, coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache. Though this version was without the almonds it was still bloomin' lovely. The 18 different layers make for a far more interesting eating experience than a normal slab of cake.The coffee was an underlying and understated flavour. The intensity of the dark chocolate came through at the end of each mouthful apart from the glaze which gave a whacking great big chocolate hit. The layers also give a great contrast in texture: hard ganache, soft and smooth butter cream, airy sponge

[The butter cream might possibly be slightly too buttery (not that I'm in a position to question Marcus Wareing's recipe!) but I think it might benefit from whipping the eggs over a bain marie or actually using less butter].

Overall I think BK was fairly satisfied and happy with her cake filled doggy-bag. Now what to do with the left-overs? Oh and here are the recipes, if you're interested:

Mushroom soup (taken from Week In Week Out by Simon Hopkinson (Quadrille, 2007))

175g open-cup mushrooms, sliced
125ml milk
125ml double cream
Onion, chopped,
1/2pint Marigold vegetable bouillon
1oz butter
Squeeze of lemon juice
For the garnish:
2 slices of old white bread, de-crusted and cut into 1cm cubes
1oz Parmesan, finely grated
Lemon zest
Clove of garlic, crushed
Handful of parsley, chopped
Handful of tarragon, chopped
2oz walnuts, chopped coarsely

1.Place the mushroom ilk and cram in a pan and bring to a simmer. Cook very gently for 20 mins.
2. Meanwhile, sweat the onion gently in the butter until golden and pour in the stock. Simmer for 5 mins.
3. Combine the two pans of ingredients and liquidise. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon juice.
4. For the garnish, mix the bread cubes, parmesan, walnuts and garlic in a bowl with a slug of olive oil. Fry in a little duck fat until the croutons are golden.
5. Co-mingle the herbs, lemon zest and fried bits together in the original bowl.
6. Serve the soup with a drizzle of extra double cream and crown with a generous assortment of the garnish.

Venison steak with braised red cabbage and seasonal root vegetables

2 venison steaks
2 parsnips, quartered and woody centre removed
Ground cumin
2 cooked beetroot, cut in an array of shapes: wedges, slices etc.
For the celeriac check out the recipe from January
For the red cabbage:
Red cabbage, sliced
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 red apples, grated
4 rashers of smoky bacon, cut into lardons
2tbsp muscavado sugar
4tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice from an orange
1/2 glass port
2 garlic cloves, whole
2 bay leaves
1/2tsp all spice
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp nutmeg

For the red cabbage:
1. Fry the bacon gently to render out the fat. Then add the onion and allow the bacon to crisp. Once the onion is soft add the spices to the pan and fry briefly.
2. Add all the other ingredients and put the lid on. Leave to braise for ~2hours, stirring occasionally.
3. Before serving, remove the garlic and bay leaves then season.
4. For the parsnips fry in duck fat then re-heat in the oven (~180°C) and dust lightly(!) with cumin.
5. Re-heat the segments with the parsnips in the oven.
6. For the steaks, season each side with slat and pepper. Fry for two minutes flipping every 30s in a scorchingly hot pan (exact cooking time will depend on thickness of the steaks) and leave to rest.
7. De-glaze the pan with a little port. Add a little water and reduce for a few moments.
8. To serve, slice the venison and season, serve on top of the red cabbage. Add a spoonful of the celeriac and top with parsnip and beetroot wedges. Serve the jus separately.

Gâteau Opéra (taken from One Perfect Ingredient by Marcus Wareing (Dorling Kindersley, 2008))

For the sponge:
4oz butter

4oz plain flour
4oz caster sugar
2 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1tsp instant coffee mixed with 1dsp hot water
For the butter cream:
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks
3oz caster sugar
125g butter, diced
1tsp instant coffee mixed with 1dsp hot water
For the ganache:
100ml double cream
100g dark chocolate
20g butter
For the glaze:
2tbsp double cream
25g dark chocolate
10g caster sugar
1tsp cocoa

1. Make the sponge in the usual way - cream the butter and sugar, beat in eggs, fold in flour and baking powder - spread into a greased rectangular baking tray 22x36cm (ideally) and bake at 180°C for 5mins (or until done). Cool in the tray.
2. For the butter cream whisk the eggs until light and foamy.
3. Dissolve the sugar in 2tbsp sugar and boil for 3mins. Slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl whilst still whisking the eggs unitl barely luke warm.
4. Whisk in the butter and then the coffee. Leave to cool completely.
5. To make the ganache, gently warm the cream then break the chocolate into the cream. Leave for 5mins. Beat until smooth then add the butter one piece at a time.
6. For the glaze, gently warm half the cream then break the chocolate into the cream.
7. Warm the sugar, cocoa, remaining cream and 50ml water until dissolved. Simmer for 2 mins. Beat into the cream and chocolate mix. Leave to cool and thicken.
8. Now assemble. Take the cake out of the tray and spread the butter cream evenly over. Chill for 30 mins.
9. Spread the ganache evenly over the butter cream. Chill for 30 mins.
10. With a hot knife, cut the cake in half, then each half into three rectangles. Stack the rectangles on top of each other. Chill for 30 mins.
11. Trim the sides of the cake and carefully pour the glaze on top and spread evenly.
12, Cut into slices, with a hot knife, to serve.

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