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#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 48 – Beef Wellington (and CHALLENGE COMPLETE!)

For my final recipe of this challenge I felt I had better do something worthy of being the recipe on which the task concluded; something technically challenging, something I was a little scared of, something I wouldn’t have attempted when I started this challenge four years ago.  Beef Wellington definitely fitted the bill.  It’s a dream dish (for meat eaters anyway) but it’s also notoriously difficult to cook.  There is no way of checking whether it’s cooked through apart from cutting it open and once it’s cut open you can’t cook it any more without turning it into a totally different dish.  And as if that’s not bad enough there’s the perennial problem of the soggy bottom to contend with…

As this challenge has above all taught me to research recipes and read around the method rather than just grabbing a recipe and jumping straight in to trying it, I was grateful to find this Guardian post evaluating different recipes and methods and giving some sound advice on what to do (and more importantly, what not to do):

Of course, I also checked out a number of other recipes by chefs whom one assumes know what they’re doing (Raymond Blanc, Delia, Michel Roux, Gordon Ramsey for example) but actually I came back to the Guardian’s in the end.

There were two key decisions involved in making the Wellington:

  • crepes or no crepes, and
  • homemade or shop bought pastry

I was so worried about the soggy bottom I decided for crepes and bought ready-made pancakes reasoning they would be thinner than anything I could make.  I also decided for ready made puff pastry in the interests of saving time.  (Frankly, I can and have made puff pastry before and I had a busy week.  There was no need to demonstrate that I can do that, again.)  The advice about getting a good quality all butter puff pastry was worth listening to but finding one proved more tricky.  Most of the supermarket puffs (and indeed Jus-Rol which you might assume to be a leader in the field) are made with margarine.  Eventually however, I eventually tracked down all butter puff in M&S.  (If desperate, I imagine Waitrose probably sell it too.)

Difficult decisions over, the first step in making the Wellington was to make the mushroom duxelle.  I fried off chopped onion and mushrooms in a not inconsiderable amount of butter, adding a couple of tablespoons of double cream at the end.  I chose to use chestnut, shitake and porcini mushrooms, with the tiniest drizzle of truffle oil as well.

The beef fillet I had bought from my local butcher  (who I totally trust to not only give me meat with a good provenance but also exactly the right cut for what I’m doing), and it was indeed a beautiful piece of meat – just look at that marbling:

Beautifully marbled beef fillet and mushroom duxelle

The fillet simply had to be seared in a pan of hot vegetable oil and left to cool.  I was very careful to ensure that both the duxelle and the fillet were totally cool before I tried to assemble the Wellington – pastry likes to be cool and any warmth at this stage would simply melt the pastry, meaning it wouldn’t puff.  (You’ve seen panicking cooks on Bake Off because their pastry was melting.  Well, that wasn’t going to be me.)

Then came assembly time.  I looked at the bought pancakes.  They looked really thick.  I thought about the comments in the Guardian article about the pancakes not being pleasant to eat but the meat-juice-soaked-buttery pastry being extremely pleasant to eat and, at the very last minute, decided against the pancakes.  This gave me a bit of an assembly problem as I had been intending to follow the Michel Roux method and use the pancakes to wrap the fillet with the duxelle and chill down so it firmed up.  But without the pancakes this was nigh on impossible.  Instead I simply unrolled the pastry, spread the duxelle onto it, placed the beef fillet on top and attempted to roll up the pastry in much the same way as you roll a Swiss roll.

Attempting to roll the Beef Wellington

Spreading out the mushroom duxelle

This is not a method I would recommend.

The pastry very quickly came up to room temperature, started melting and became very sticky.  (Yes, I know, Bake Off and panicking bakers….  I was there.)  It was impossible to turn the Wellington over so I ended up with the seam on top.  Nevertheless, it needed to go into the oven before it melted any more, so I rapidly egg washed it, sealed the ends and popped it to cook.

It was then a waiting game….

Waiting for the cooking time to elapse….

Waiting for the Wellington to rest….

Delivering the Wellington to the table…

Beef Wellington – the moment of truth

Taking a deep breath, offering up a short prayer and cutting the Wellington…

Relief!  The pastry was beautifully crisp on top and made a satisfying crunchy noise as it was sliced.  The very bottom super thin layer was also crisp, and the pastry above it had soaked up the meat juices and turned beautifully oozy whilst still being cooked.  Best of all, the meat was stunningly pink.

My perfect Beef Wellington

I was immensely proud of this magnificent Wellington.

I served it with a simple mustard mash and steamed spinach as I had decided the much lauded accompaniment of dauphinoise potatoes would be too rich.  I think I was right.  The Wellington was amazing, but boy, was it rich.  The beef literally melted in the mouth – no need for a knife to cut it, it pulled apart with a fork (thanks butcher).  The mushrooms were tasty, the pastry was great.  I went back for a second helping and ate far more than I reasonably should have.  Yes, it could have been presented better and I wish I had had time to chill the prepared Wellington before cooking it (and got the seam underneath) but the taste was absolutely bang on.

So, there it is.  Recipe 48, challenge complete!  Definitely going out on a high with this one.

Scores for my Beef Wellington:

Healthiness – 2/10 (There’s a few mushrooms in this but it’s all about the red meat, butter, pastry…  Basically it’s hugely calorific, especially if you eat as much as I did!)

Ease of prep – 7/10 (Actually easier than I thought it would be, especially using ready made puff pastry.  Would definitely have benefitted from more chilling time though)

Flavour/taste – 10/10 (Absolutely stunning, I wouldn’t change a thing if I made this again)

It’s difficult to believe that I’ve been working on this challenge every month for the last four years and I’ve actually done it – 48 new recipes made, new ingredients experimented with and new techniques learnt.  During that time this challenge has led me down so many new avenues as I initially realised my limitations, then found ways to learn and be more adventurous.  It’s made me try new foods, expand the repertoire of cuisines I cook, and made me far less fussy about what I eat.  It’s introduced me to a group of ‘Cooking Friends’ I can turn to for all manner of foodie questions and inspiration, it’s made me take cookery classes and it’s made me join a Cake Club.  In short it has expanded my diet, expanded my knowledge and expanded my circle of friends – both real and virtual.  It’s been so much more than just 48 new recipes, and although it was originally one of the more prosaic challenges it’s one I am so pleased I set it for myself because it has literally changed my life and will continue to do so.  So many more recipes to try and techniques to test!  The one thing it was meant to do and hasn’t in any way actually done is reduced the huge pile of ‘recipes to try’ lurking in my kitchen – if anything I’ve added to it.  But never mind, it’s been a great ride and hopefully my cooking will continue to go from strength to strength.



#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 47 – Fisherman’s Pie

I’m nearing the end of this challenge now – just two recipes to go, so I thought I really had better do something different this time and push myself a bit farther out of my comfort zone.  46 recipes so far; 25 savoury, 21 sweet, a variety of new ingredients and new techniques sampled, largely successfully.  But, not one single one of those 46 recipes has featured fish.

Four years ago when I started this challenge I wouldn’t eat fish (or indeed any form of seafood) in pretty much any format other than fish fingers.  Even the smell of fish made me gag, there was no way I was going to put it in my mouth.  In my world, going to the fish and chip shop for tea actually meant chicken pie and chips for tea.  I blame the fish van which used to come to our village on Fridays and sell Mum bright yellow smoked haddock which we’d then have to have for dinner.  I’m sure it probably wasn’t actually every Friday of my childhood, but it felt like it.  As soon as I had a choice about what I was eating, fish was out.

However, when I booked my trip to Japan (Challenge 2), I realised it would be sensible to train myself to eat at least some fish and seafood in order to properly experience Japanese cuisine, and then the Chinese and Thai cookery course I took for Challenge 33 introduced me to cooking with prawns.  After that I got really brave and on two occasions have actually ordered fish in restaurants (always a risk because if you don’t like it you’ve still got to pay for it).  Most recently I had Gurnard in a Bacon and Mussel Sauce from River Cottage Canteen.  It was absolutely to die for.  (I’m still scared of fish if it has a head and tail mind you, mainly because I have no idea what to do with it, and having tried both mussels and oysters I’m sticking with prawns!  But at least I’ve given a few more things a go.)

I do occasionally cook a cod fillet at home when I am trying to eat very low calorie meals and am fed up with chicken, but in that case I generally drown it in a ratatouille so I can’t actually taste the fish.  For this month’s recipe however, I wanted to choose a dish that made the fish the star.  I turned to a classic; a good, old fashioned Fisherman’s Pie and of course it had to be a Delia recipe I followed for such a traditional dish.

A cheffy friend gave me three tips when I mentioned that I was going to be making a fish pie.  They were:

1 – Poach the fish in milk to cook them then use that milk to make the béchamel sauce.

2 – Smoked haddock is a must.

3 – Dot cubes of mozzarella amongst the fish sauce before you put the mash on top.

Fish fillets ready to be poached

Fish fillets ready to be poached

I was relieved to see the Delia recipe (taken from her Complete Cookery Course) did indeed require me to poach the fish in milk and then use that milk for the béchamel, but smoked haddock?  My childhood nemesis….  I decided that if I was pushing myself I might as well do it properly, so smoked haddock was in – along with cod and hake.

Assembling the pie was actually quite time consuming with lots of processes required.  It reminded me a little of putting together a lasagne in that there was quite a lot of work to get through before really getting anywhere; the fish had to be cooked through, the potatoes and eggs boiled, potatoes mashed and a béchamel sauce made all before actually starting on the construction of the pie itself.  None of those processes were especially difficult though, so I worked my way through them and was then ready to start assembling my pie.

First the sauce in the bottom, complete with prawns, the flaked fish, parsley, and chopped boiled eggs.

The base for the Fisherman's Pie

The base for the Fisherman’s Pie

Here I deviated slightly from the recipe.  I left out the capers in Delia’s recipe because I think they’re a dominant flavour and I suspected they would overpower it, and I added the cubed mozzarella as suggested by my friend, basically on the grounds that I really don’t think it’s possible to have too much cheese so adding it to a recipe isn’t going to do anything other than improve it.

Fisherman's Pie - ready to go into the oven (with super neat mashed potato topping)

Fisherman’s Pie – ready to go into the oven (with super neat mashed potato topping)

Next I had to layer the mash over the top, smooth it out and (for some reason) pattern it with a knife.  Since I knew I’d be photographing it, I made a special effort to make it neat.  I hope you’re suitably impressed.

All that remained was to scatter over some grated Cheddar cheese and then bake it.

I was rather pleased with how it turned out.  Nicely browned on top without being burnt (a minor miracle with my appalling oven):


The finished Fisherman's Pie

The finished Fisherman’s Pie

I served it simply with steamed broccoli, and we loved it.  It was oozy, creamy, comforting…  I’m really pleased that the recipe generated a huge quantity so there are now several portions in the freezer to treat myself to another day.  A great success for my first proper attempt at cooking fish, and I even enjoyed the smoked haddock.  Perhaps I’ll try a few more fish recipes in future.

Scores for this one are:

Healthiness – 5/10 (Yes, the fish is good for you but there’s A LOT of butter and potato in this recipe)

Ease of prep – 5/10 (The processes aren’t difficult, there’s just quite a lot of them so it takes a bit of time)

Flavour/taste – 10/10 (Just sooooooooo good.  Proper comfort food)

The actual recipe I used isn’t available online, but this one shares the same base.  Don’t forget to add the mozzarella!

#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 46 – Tarte Tatin

Part of the reason for setting myself this challenge of trying to cook new recipe every month was because there are a number of classic recipes which I have never attempted because I am a bit scared of them.  I thought this challenge might force me to give them a go.  Tarte Tatin was one such.  It’s French, it sounds fancy, I have an idea you need special Tatin tin.  All of which is screaming ‘difficult’ to me.  However, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by a Tatin and in that vein, I even wrote it on a (very short) list of recipes I wanted to try and tackle during this challenge.  And here we are, up to Recipe 46 of 48, and I still haven’t attempted a Tarte Tatin…  This month it was time to try.

If I think of a Tarte Tatin, I instantly think apple, and apparently that is the classic flavour.  I erroneously assumed that Tatin was in some way French for ‘apple’, but it turns out that Tatin was simply the surname of the proprietors of Hotel Tatin, which is credited with either inventing or popularising the dish (depending on whose account you believe).  A quick recipe search however, reveals a number of interesting sounding variations, both sweet and savoury, on the Tarte Tatin theme; ‘Plum and Marzipan’ or ‘Red Onion’ both caught my eye.  But I was running before I could walk.  I needed to try a classic apple Tarte Tatin first and as luck would have it my copy of Nigel Slater’s Real Good Food had a recipe in it.  And, even better, Nigel expressly told me that I didn’t need a specific Tatin tin and could use a normal cake tin or even, in extremis, a frying pan.

Making a Tarte Tatin sounded simple enough.  Make the caramel with butter and sugar, add the apples, top with pastry, then bake.  Pastry isn’t a problem for me and Nigel’s recipe used an enriched shortcrust (with egg yolks and sugar added) so that was easy to put together.  Caramelising the butter and sugar was a bit more tricky though.  I couldn’t remember whether you’re supposed to stir it or not supposed to stir it and Nigel didn’t include any instructions on this point.

I stirred it.

I suspect I shouldn’t have done.

Nigel’s recipe called for a golden caramel.  By the time I’d finished wondering why mine was taking hours and turned the heat up to make it melt quicker it was decidedly brown.  I was worried it would be burnt and bitter but a quick taste test once it had cooled and it didn’t seem to be, so I pressed on.  (As an aside, I made the caramel in a saucepan and poured it into the cake tin as I wasn’t entirely convinced a cake tin could take the heat of the hob without warping.  It didn’t seem to affect the end result.)

Apples and Caramel

Apples and Caramel

Arranging the apples atop the caramel was simple enough, as was rolling out a disc of pastry, draping it over the apples and tucking it in around the edges before popping the whole thing into the oven.  I’ll admit to being a bit nervous turning it out but it had shrunk away from the edges of the tin and didn’t look like it would stick, so I plonked a plate over it and bravely inverted it.

E voila!  Apple Tart Tatin

The finished article - Apple Tarte Tatin

The finished article – Apple Tarte Tatin

Served up with a little crème fraiche, it even looked reasonably respectable.

It tasted much as I expected it would.  I was not delighted by the pastry, which I felt was a little heavy.  In fact, there is a degree of debate about whether a Tatin should use shortcrust or puff pastry, and I think based on this particular recipe I would possibly come down on the side of puff pastry.  I also think it would have been good to have slightly more oozy caramel as the tarte wasn’t as sticky as I had hoped it might be.  But, I had made a Tarte Tatin and it hadn’t been anywhere near as difficult as I thought it might be.  I might even be encouraged to give it another go and try some other flavours.

The recipe I used isn’t available online, but this excellent article reviews the different methods of making a Tarte Tatin and gives a great sounding recipe to try, should you wish to give it a go yourself:

My scores for the particular recipe I used (from Nigel Slater’s Real Good Food) are:

Healthiness – 2/10 (Yes, OK, it’s got fruit in it but it’s also got so much butter, sugar and pastry that I don’t even want to think about the calorie and fat count!)

Ease of Prep  – 5/10 (Pretty easy to do if you’re OK with pastry, especially since it turns out you don’t actually need a special tin.  Just don’t burn your caramel.)

Flavour/taste – 7/10 (It was good but not amazing.  I’ve made better desserts.  It did also taste great cold the following day thought.)

#35 – Visit all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in England: Durham Castle and Cathedral and CHALLENGE COMPLETE

Durham Castle and Cathedral perches atop a rocky promontory around which the city of Durham has grown up.  Listed as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding Norman architecture, which is considered as among the best in Europe, it is also believed to be one of the country’s greatest monuments to the Norman Conquest.  The site comprises Durham Cathedral built from 1093 to house the remains of St Cuthbert (former Bishop of Lindisfarne), Durham Castle and the buildings around the square which encloses these two buildings, known as Castle Green.  Unfortunately the Castle now belongs to the University of Durham and part of it is used as Halls of Residence so opportunities to visit are very limited, although Castle Green and of course the Cathedral itself are accessible.  The role of Durham’s Prince Bishops, unique in the medieval church hierarchy, is interesting but not central to the World Heritage listing – see my note below for more information.

First view of Durham Castle and Cathedral, high above

First view of Durham Castle and Cathedral, high above

Norman Arches in Durham Cathedral

Norman Arches in Durham Cathedral

I took a tour of the Cathedral, which talked not only about the founding and history of Durham Cathedral, but also the architectural features and its famous inhabitants.  In addition to housing the shrine of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral is also the burial place of the Venerable Bede, known as the father of English History.  Whilst there, I also visited the new ‘Open Treasures’ exhibition which shows off the Cathedral’s surviving monastic buildings.  Sadly at the time of my visit it didn’t showcase the St Cuthbert relics, but it will do so at some point during 2017, which I’m sure will be fascinating.

Here’s a photo to prove that I did pay a visit:

Me at Durham Cathedral

Me at Durham Cathedral

The Cathedral itself was built to house the remains of St Cuthbert with legend telling that that particular spot was chosen because a delegation of monks carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin said that it became so heavy when it reached Durham that the monks assumed that was where the saint wished to rest.  The coffin was allegedly set down and a Cathedral built around it.  Certainly the cathedral was built ‘backwards’ as it were.  The construction of the shrine predates the construction of the main part of the Cathedral.

For me, one of the most striking features was that the interior of Durham Cathedral is markedly darker than most Cathedrals I have visited.  This is due to the Norman architectural style, which used small, rounded window arches rising in tiers.  In construction terms, the windows are the weak points in the walls and the rounded Norman arches could not support great weight, meaning that windows had to be relatively small.  As Cathedral building developed, it was realised that pointed arches could take greater weight, hence the move towards pointed Gothic arches and larger windows, to let more light into Cathedrals; light being associated with God and ‘goodness’.

Durham Cathedral's pillars, with geometric designs

Durham Cathedral’s pillars, with geometric designs

Walking into most Cathedrals, your eye is drawn immediately upwards due to their perpendicular architectural style, but this is not the case with Durham.  The most distinctive feature of Durham cathedral, for me, was the pillars decorated with geometric patterns.  This is not something I recall seeing elsewhere and is apparently a feature of Norman Cathedral design.

As I was walking around Durham Cathedral I was reminded of the brilliant ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett, which I read as part of the BBC 100 Books Challenge, telling the story of Europe’s Cathedral builders and how they constantly tried to improve their building techniques because what they were building were temples to the glory of God so they were constantly striving to make them even more glorious.  The contrast between the slightly squat Norman architecture and the Gothic style which followed it is well illustrated by comparing Durham with other Cathedrals.

This tour of the furthest north of the English UNESCO World Heritage sites wrapped up my trips to these sites.  So that’s Challenge number 35 completed, and thirty six of my 40 before 40 ticked off.  In my lifetime, I have now visited all seventeen of the English UNESCO World Heritage sites, seen some amazing things and learnt so much.  My favourites were the places which meant learning from my school days suddenly made much more sense – the Derwent Valley Mills, Ironbridge Gorge and the Jurassic Coast.  Maritime Greenwich was a fabulous day out and I fell in love with the grand architecture and fascinating history of Liverpool.  Many of these places I wouldn’t have visited were it not for this challenge, and I’m really glad I included this one in The List.  With all the foreign travel I do, it’s brilliant to appreciate what I’ve got at home too.

A Note about Durham’s Prince Bishops:

Durham’s Prince Bishops played a highly unusual role in medieval society.  The role was created essentially because the Kings of England (from William the Conqueror onwards) needed to ensure that Northumbria remained loyal to the crown in order to protect the northernmost reaches of the English kingdom from invasion by the Scots.  Consequently appointments to the see of Durham were initially given to those who favoured the King and the Bishops developed a close relationship with the local earls of Bamburgh to ensure the area was well defended.  From the late 1080s, Northumbria was divided and the area south of the Tyne became the County Palatine of Durham, now known as County Durham.  The role of Earl and Bishop was combined and from that point on the Bishop of Durham effectively ruled in this area, having many of the powers of the King including being able to mint coins, grant charters, levy taxes and even hold his own parliament.  This is a role which was unique in the country and marked the strategic importance of Durham in maintaining English sovereignty.

#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge – Recipe 45: Meringue Wreath

A lovely festive recipe this month, taken from the BBC Good Food website.  I chose this one because when I was invited to join a friend for an unconventional Christmas Day lunch of Beef Wellington (which she cooked beautifully), I offered to take along a dessert.  Something other than the traditional Christmas Pudding was preferred so I decided to make a Meringue Wreath.  Light, fruity and pretty as well, it fitted the bill perfectly.

Luckily for me, the meringue could happily be baked two to three days ahead which was extremely useful amidst the chaos of Christmas preparations.  It was very simple to whisk up the meringue with my electric hand mixer and as I made it up in the evening, I could cook it for its allotted 90 minutes and simply leave it to dry out in the cooling oven overnight. (Apparently this is done because meringues essentially need to dry out rather more than bake so long exposure to low heat is best.)  In the morning, I wrapped it in cling film and stashed it safely out of harm’s way (in the spare room!) so that it wouldn’t get broken whilst I was doing lots of other Christmas cooking in the kitchen.

On Christmas Day itself all I had to do was actually decorate the meringue.  I simply added a dob of whipped cream to the top of each of the meringue blobs, then peeled and sliced the clementines, sweetened the cranberries slightly by briefly cooking them with some sugar (I did add a little water to the pan as well as I was worried I’d end up with a solid cranberry caramel otherwise), chopped the pistachios and arranged the fruit and nuts onto the cream.

Meringue Wreath with clementines, cranberries and pistachios

Meringue Wreath with clementines, cranberries and pistachios

I loved the jewel bright colours of this particular recipe; it really did look like a Christmas wreath.  The combination of clementines and cranberries resulted in lovely Christmassy flavours but of course you could substitute any fruit you prefer.  Berries would work well too, perhaps with some mint leaves to add a touch of greenery.  The one tip I would give you is:  don’t make the meringue bigger than any serving plate you own!  The fact that I had done this made it rather difficult to transport the wreath to my friend’s house, and also to serve it.  At one point I thought I was going to have to serve it on the baking sheet I cooked it on!  Fortunately I managed just about to squish it onto a plate without breaking it too much.  I had used a standard size plate as the template for the meringue, but of course it spread slightly when it cooked.  I realised that what I should have done when spooning the meringue mix onto the baking parchment was to ensure the circle template I was using was at the outside of the meringue blobs, not place the meringue mix on the middle of the line.

If you’re not a fan of Christmas pudding, or want a light dessert to include in a Christmas buffet, this recipe is ideal.  Here’s the link in case you want to try it:

I think it would also be possible to adapt this recipe to make little individual wreaths, but in that case it would probably be best to pipe the meringue in small circles onto the baking sheet, rather than blobbing it on as it would be hard to create a good shape.

Scores for this recipe are:

Healthiness – 6/10 (Meringue contains a lot less calories than most other Christmas desserts, even with the cream on top, and of course there’s the fruit too so you’re getting some of your five a day)

Ease of prep – 9/10 (Perfect for this busy time of year – meringue is not complicated to make and since it can be prepared well in advance and simply topped on the day it’s very easy.  Just be careful how big you make it!)

Flavour/taste –10/10 (I really enjoyed this.  Lovely and light, tasty festive flavours and it looked brilliant too)

This recipe is definitely a keeper, and may well become a regular feature of my future Christmases.

#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 44 – Chicken Liver Parfait

The idea for this month’s recipe was born when the other half and I went out for dinner and he ordered Chicken Liver Parfait as a starter.  This led to a conversation about the difference between a pâté and a parfait, which neither of us knew.  I thought it would be to do with the ingredients – parfait is usually lighter and more mousse-like in texture, so I assumed it had cream added and was perhaps whisked to make it less dense.

But apparently not.  Some pâté recipes have cream in, some don’t.  Some websites suggest that a parfait is simply a pâté that is passed through a sieve to make it very smooth – whether before or after cooking.  There also seems to be a debate about whether a pâté is cooked before it is assembled or afterwards e.g. is the method to cook the ingredients, blend the mixture (and possibly pass it through a sieve) before leaving it to set, or is the method to blend the ingredients, then cook the mixture in a bain marie.  I came to the conclusion that basically both pâtés and parfaits are cooked first then set in the fridge, and anything which is blended before being cooked and set in a bain marie is actually a terrine.  If you want to really confuse yourself though, check out this post:

As I’d spent so long looking this up and reading different pâté recipes I thought I’d have a go at making one.  It’s a good choice for the 48 Recipe Challenge because not only is it a method I’ve not used before, it’s also a new ingredient for me.  Normally I won’t eat offal so I’ve never cooked with it but for some reason I have a particular love for Chicken Liver pâté.  In addition to my dislike of offal, I had an idea that pâtés were difficult and time consuming to make, but having read through various recipes, it seemed that actually is wasn’t as difficult to do as I had imagined it might be.

Having tried it, I can safely say it certainly was not easy.  Well, actually that’s not entirely fair.  It wasn’t a difficult process per se, but it was time consuming.  I had to trim the sinew off the livers (not a pleasant job, they’re really slimy), chop the shallots, crush the garlic, fry the livers, melt the butter to soften the onions and garlic in, deglaze the pan with brandy, add chopped herbs and blend the lot.  As I had decided to make a parfait, I then needed to pass the mixture through a sieve.  After 15 minutes of that and getting nowhere fast, I soon got bored; so out of five assorted sized ramekins I have managed to produce one of chicken liver parfait and four of chicken liver pâté…

Then I had to make the jelly for the top.  Often pâtés are topped with butter but I’d found this recipe: using a port jelly instead, which I thought sounded good.  Pâté does need to be sealed with something (either butter or a jelly) because otherwise the surface oxidises, which both makes it go grey and therefore look unappetising but also affects the taste.  I’m pleased to report that the jelly was very simple to make and poured easily onto the surface of the pâté before setting well in the fridge.

Chicken livers being flambéd with brandy

Chicken livers being flambéd with brandy

As you may have guessed, I didn’t enjoy the process of making the pâté.  The part where I had to flambé the brandy to burn the alcohol off was fun, but I really disliked handling the chicken livers and everything took soooo long.  What initially seemed a simple, straightforward recipe actually took me over 3 hours to complete, including the clearing up (and this does use quite a bit of equipment).  If I’d continued with the ‘passing through a sieve’ lark to make it all into parfait I reckon it would have easily taken another hour at least!  Even getting the pâté into the ramekins was challenging – it went all up the sides and was very difficult to smooth off.

Untidy Chicken Liver Pâté in ramekins

Untidy Chicken Liver Pâté in ramekins

So, my conclusion on this recipe is that I probably wouldn’t bother again.  It took a lot of time, made a lot of mess and therefore is only worth it in my book if it produces something which tastes amazing.  On the day I made it, this pâté was very dry and dense, and particularly ‘livery’.  (When I say dry, think of that peculiar dryness that comes from fresh cranberries, where it sort of sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.)  The pâté also had that really noticeable metallic tang that is everything I don’t like about offal.  I was really disappointed, having put all that effort in.

The recipe said that the pâté improved with age, so on the following day I gamely gave it another go and to my surprise it was slightly more palatable; somehow less drying and less liver-y.  Fingers crossed this trend continues over the next couple of days, otherwise given my dislike of offal, and the fact that I haven’t noticed a pronounced livery taste with commercial liver pâtés (which I actually really enjoy), unless this one improves dramatically in a short space of time I think I’ll stick with shop bought in future!  (The port jelly is really good though, and the sweetness cuts through the dryness of the pâté.)

Chicken Liver Parfait with Port Jelly

Chicken Liver Parfait with Port Jelly

Scores for this one are:

Healthiness – 5/10 (not necessarily unhealthy but just under 300 calories a ramekin for what is essentially a side dish or starter is quite a lot, and that’s before you add any bread to spread it on)

Ease of prep – 3/10 (I really didn’t like handling the liver and there was a lot of equipment to clear up afterwards)

Flavour/taste – 4/10 (perhaps it was just this particular recipe but this is shaping up to be much too livery for me, far more so than commercial chicken liver pâtés)

Progress Update – Six months to go!

At the time of my last progress update, around my 39th birthday, I had completed 30 of my 40 challenges, so there were 10 left to complete in the final year.  I’m pleased to report further good progress over the first half of my 40th year.

Since April I have: hosted a Murder Mystery dinner party, ridden a motorbike, spent a Day at the Races and watched a Japanese tea ceremony.  I’ve also technically completed my visits to the English UNESCO World Heritage sites by exploring both Hadrian’s Wall and Durham Cathedral, although whilst Hadrian’s Wall has made it to the blog, I haven’t had the time yet to write about Durham Cathedral.  Coming soon, I promise…

My Murder Mystery dinner party was chaotic but fun, riding on a motorbike was both scary and exciting and the Races were an interesting experience but I’m not a natural gambler so I’m not sure it’s an environment I’ll be rushing back to.  My holiday in Japan (including of course the traditional Japanese tea ceremony) blew me away.  It’s such an interesting and fascinating country with so much to see, learn and taste.

So now, with just under six months to go, it’s 35 down, 5 still to do!  The challenges I have left are:

  • 48 Recipe Challenge – cook one new recipe every month between now and my 40th
  • Eat at a top Michelin starred restaurant
  • Help out a stranger with a random act of kindness
  • Make and wear an item of clothing (not fancy dress)
  • Take a professional make up lesson

I’m up to Recipe 43 of the 48 Recipes Challenge and still learning more and more about cooking and baking as I go along.  I’m about to book myself in for a professional make up lesson and pretty soon I’m going to have to start pattern and fabric shopping for the item of clothing I need to make.  I’d marked it down as a winter project, and as the nights are drawing in I can’t put it off much longer.  Eating at a top Michelin starred restaurant will be part of my 40th celebrations; I’m treating myself to dinner at the Waterside Inn, one of only four 3-star restaurants in the UK.

The challenge I am struggling with the most however, is helping a stranger with a random act of kindness.  A friend recently pointed out that I probably do little things fairly frequently which improve a stranger’s day.  Thinking about it I do; but I think they’re insignificant things.  Things like smiling and saying Good Morning to people I pass on the way to work (it’s amazing how many people look up and smile back), or asking people looking confusedly at a map if they need any help with directions, or picking up a toy that a child has thrown down for a harassed mother who has too much in her hands already.  I see all of those things as just generally being polite and helpful and part of my community, although my friend reminded me that in a way it’s these little things which do improve someone else’s day.  For this challenge though I had in mind something with a little more impact.  I shall keep thinking.