Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dinner For A Pal Returned From Foreign Shores - Part 1

The absolute best thing about Christmas (I know I have cited many absolute best things about Christmas, but this is definitely the number one best thing, swear) is the return of friends and family from their new homes in other countries. My friend Catherine is now living in Singapore, and I miss her massively. When she lived in Dublin, we used to spend lots of quality time just hanging around eating, and so what better way to reconnect over the holidays than a full-on home-cooked feast. When choosing the menu for the evening, well, it all sounds a little fancy but to be honest I was just working around things that I had in the house already; firstly to keep costs down, and secondly to stem the flow of food pouring incessantly into my house. I was also keen to keep effort to a minimum so that I could relax and maximise on catch-up chats. With an abundance of cheese in the fridge, I decided to go for that winning combination of black pudding and blue cheese to make a salad. I had nabbed myself a couple of those €5 cooked frozen lobsters from Lidl last week and decided it was time to bite the bullet and figure out what to do with them, so I hit on the idea of a lobster risotto. For dessert, I decided that it would be wise to opt for something that I could do a couple of hours ahead of my guest's arrival - not only for purposes of timing and handiness, but also because when you have a teeny tiny kitchen like mine, things can get a tad chaotic when there is a three course meal on the go, and so the less there is happening at any one time the better. Since it's Christmas and I have myself under house arrest until I recover from this pesky hardcore cold thing that is afflicting me, I have the luxury of being able to potter in the kitchen and indulge myself with culinary treats that I can't justify spending time on in the normal course of daily life. I pored over Tessa Kiros's beautiful Venezia cookbook until I found a recipe for posh Italian polenta biccies and mascarpone cream that are actually incredibly simple to make, but have both the taste and appearance of something far more fancy and time consuming.

Look at this beautiful jewel of a book. Is it any wonder I haven't used it up until now? I mean, have you seen the fate of my cookbooks - they have pots and pans plonked on top of them, lemons left to loll on their pages, blobs of food plopped carelessly across them. This beauty is not cut out for the rough n ready way of life in my kitchen, but it needs to earn its keep, and so I felt that I would ease it into my culinary carelessness on an afternoon when the kitchen was clean and I was not rushing around, pressed for time.

There are to be no favourites in my kitchen; I love each and every one of my recipe sources equally, from this precious tome, to my own cobbled together book, padded out with a mish-mash of recipes torn out of newspapers and scribbled down on the go. But I still couldn't bring myself to sully such a pretty cover by plonking it down on the worktop, and so I took the unprecedented step of propping it up against the spice rack.

The design of the book is elegant, but so simple; gold writing on a crisp white background with a quaint velvet ribbon for a bookmark. My first port of call was crema di mascarpone: mascarpone cream. I have often been looking to pick up a little something-something to accompany bits and pieces, like pecan pie, and found myself not-quite-satisfied with a mere blob of cream, but not wanting to extend my efforts towards anything too taxing. This is a delightfully simple-but-fancy option. Whip together two egg yolks, 1.5 tablespoons of sugar and 4 drops of vanilla extract until quite thick.

Whisk in a tub of mascarpone...

...then a couple of pinches of ground cinnamon...

...and finally a tablespoon of brandy. Brandy features heavily in this three-course effort, and I feel that the classic Hennessy bottle is a fitting complement to the elegant design of Tessa Kiros's recipes.

And then all that is left to do is pop it into a receptacle deserving of its beauty, so that you can leave it in the fridge to firm up a little before serving. Since there was no soup involved in this meal, the Le Creuset pots that The Singaporean brought as a housewarming gift this time last year were free to lend their services.

And so to the biscuits. Or, to give them their correct, Italian title: Zaletti. These are polenta biscuits, and having already experimented with using polenta in baking, I was looking forward to experiencing that very pleasing grainy texture once more. Again to the brandy, on its second outing of the evening, and this time 70g of sultanas were bathed in two tablespoons of the lovely boozeyness. I must add at this point that I don't really drink brandy and don't really drink at home, and so I will most likely spend much of 2011 looking for recipes in which to use it, as well as plying visitors with the stuff.

While the sultanas are becoming plump and drunk, it's time to cream together 125g butter, 100g sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla essence, followed by one egg plus one egg yolk and a pinch of salt...

...then in with 150g polenta, 150g plain flour and one teaspoon of baking powder...

...add the sultanas and 30g pine nuts, combine the lot and put the dough into the fridge for 30 minutes or more.

After being refridgeratified, the dough is nicely together, soft without being impossibly sticky and firm without being fall-apart-crumbly. The ease with which it slices up into biscuit shapes is an absolute joy.

Two batches and we're done.

The first batch cools off and waits patiently for its second batch of biccie pals to come join it on the Ikea platter that has come in a lot handier than I would have predicted when I bought it. Fifteen minutes in the oven at 170 degrees, enough time to do the washing up and set the table for dinner.

Friends reunited dot com.

No comments:

Post a Comment