Thursday, April 27, 2006

The falling leaves… drift by my window…

Or not, as the case may be. Even though today was the day I designated for Nigella’s DEEPLY AUTUMNAL DINNER FOR 8, and it’s been bitingly cold for the past 3 weeks, today we were blessed with clear skies, bright sun, and unseasonable warmth. Dang.


344. Chestnut and pancetta salad
345. Roast venison fillet with apple purée and rosemary sauce
346. Quinces poached in Muscat

The venison is served with peas, and a potato and celeriac mash, whilst the quinces are served with lemon ice-cream.

This dinner is for 8 - I halved all quantities to feed myself, my parents, and my very good friend Frances.

So this afternoon, I poached the quinces. You peel, core and quarter them first, reserving the peel and trimmings (this will help the syrup thicken, you see). To make the syrup, boil up some muscat with water, sugar and spices. Then you put the peel and cores in an ovenproof dish, cover with the quince quarters, and pour the syrup over. They need 2.5 hours cooking, well covered, in a 160C oven.

raw quinces

In the oven - don't worry, I covered them with foil.

After cooking, they should look like… well… Nigella describes this point with the singularly most disgusting image I have ever read: “When you take them out, the quinces will be the colour of old-fashioned Elastoplast”.

EEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. When I read that, all I could think of was manky old bandaids, all dirty and wet and peeling off injured fingers. How disgustingly munting.

Thank goodness, then, that they actually looked pretty good.

After they cool properly, they go a bit darker.

deeper and darker coloured

While they were cooking, I marinated the venison fillet. The marinade consists of red wine, celery, carrot, onion, juniper berries, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves. You boil the whole lot up, let it cool, and dunk the venison in it.

marinating venison

I did this early in the afternoon, and then went to uni to hand in an assignment, (2 days late, whoops). But after I came home, there was still sooo much shit to do! I still had to make the rosemary sauce for the venison, the apple sauce, the mashed potato and celeriac, the peas, salad and syrup for the quinces! This is when I realized what a high-effort menu this really is.

I mean, 3 separate wine-based reductions? (In the venison marinade, rosemary sauce, and the quince syrup). Ahem!

Anyway, getting back to it… the rosemary sauce is pretty similar to the marinade, but with the addition of beef stock and some different vegetables. You boil it all up, reduce it, and then add some of the marinade before boiling it again.

The apple sauce involves simply peeling and coring apples, and cooking them until pulpy with butter, sugar, cloves and lemon juice. Maybe I could have just used a SPC jar of apple sauce…

For the venison, you take it out of the marinade, sear it all over, and then put it in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. It needs to rest for about 30 minutes, so remember to factor that into your timings.

While it was cooking, I peeled, chopped and boiled the potatoes and celeriac for the mash.

Celeriac – what a funny looking vegetable!

It was at about this time that Frances, my dinner guest, arrived. And as a short digression, look at this lovely gift she bought me, prefaced with the comment, “I hope you appreciate the joke”. (I did).

elderflower cordial

You can get it at freakin’ Ikea!!! So yeah, I really didn’t need to get my elderflower elderflower concentrate shipped from Tasmania. D’oh.

I was so tired by this stage, and I hadn’t even made the peas yet. Dammit.

Me: Frances, you don’t really want peas tonight, do you?
Frances: Ooh, I love peas!

Ok, ok. I boiled some peas.

The last thing I made was the salad, which involved frying up pancetta until crisp, then tossing in some chestnuts (thawed frozen, saved from Christmas) and warming it through. Then you toss it through lettuce with a Dijon mustard and vinegar dressing. Boom boom, done.

I didn’t bother serving the salad as a first course, but just plonked everything down on the table together.

pile of mash

venison slices

peas and sauce

chestnut pancetta salad


applesauce and meat

This menu, despite all the work, was great! I loved the unusual tastes of everything. The highlight of the menu, for me, was the salad - the mealy and sweet chestnuts contrasted fabulously against the salty pancetta. The flavour of the venison was very unusual but not unpleasant, and was lovely and tender. But that mash was really delicious! There was heaps leftover (as expected), and I’m very excited about eating it for lunch tomorrow with leftover rosemary sauce. And even though I nearly gave up on the peas, I'm glad I made them because they really enhanced the menu, visually and taste-wise. (Imagine how brown everything would have been without them!)

And here’s dessert. To finish it off, you have to strain the liquid away and boil it until thickened, then pour it over the quinces. (See, that’s the 3rd wine-based reduction in this menu).

poached quinces

I served it with the lemon ice-cream, which worked out well, as Frances’ favourite flavour is lemon. Nigella recommends half a quince per person, but we were satisfied with a quarter each. This was a lovely dessert, and finished off the meal perfectly.

quince and ice-cream

Overall, I really enjoyed this menu. But if you were to make it for company, make sure you make it for people who you can count on to appreciate the time and effort and expense. (Like Frances, of course).

Leftover quinces are going to become breakfast, with yogurt. Woohoo!


TLA said...

Sarah, it's taken me a long time to comment, even though I read your blog religiously!

I just wanted to say thank you for undertaking such a massive task and for actually following it through!

I love reading your descriptions of both the recipes themselves and the results of the recipes, and being an ex-Melburnian I love hearing about the places that you shop at (Leo's, Rendina's, various markets). Makes me terribly homesick, but it's worth it.

I also admire you for trying everything in the book, even if you don't necessarily think you'll like it!

Most of all, I admire you (and your family?) for doing all the dishes (I'm sure often repeatedly throughout the process when you're preparing a big feast like today's Autumnal meal). And I don't think anyone else's Nigella-ware has gotten such a good workout! Have you had direct contact from Nigella (I'm sorry if you've already discussed this - I'm not quite all the way through your archives yet). I'm sure she would be immensely chuffed with what you're doing!

I'll be very sad when you reach the end of the book - do you reckon you'll start another one or do you think you'll be entirely mentally and physically exhausted? (And possibly financially ruined, too, what with the exotic ingredients you're having to hunt down all the time!)

But enough rambling. Thank you for everything so far and for everything yet to come.

Frances said...

What a wonderful dinner!

To all blog readers I can attest: the food tastes even better than it looks!

The venison was cooked perfectly and was still moist and Sarah's lemon icecream has the right balance of tartness, sweetness, creaminess and tang!


Kelly-Jane said...

What a lovely dinner Sarah! I made those quince once, the only time I have ever managed to lay hands on fresh quince! I made them for a Christmas Eve supper, and have very fond memories of them. The lemon ice cream is an inspired match. Well done.