A beautiful crisp, sunny Yorkshire day.

(Click any picture to see it larger)

Breakfast

Roger pouring Freixenet bubbly at the breakfast table

Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, Irish potato farls and Spanish Cava – Freixenet

Presents, Romanian carols, walk, Betty’s Hot Chocolate (present), Calvados, Queen’s Christmas message, English carols (more…)

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Venison last year for Christmas dinner so I wondered what I could do for something different this year. I settled on wild boar from Ballinwillin House Farm in County Cork, Ireland. It arrived today, just as requested, brought by DHL (and what an excellent tracking system they have!). There are only two of us so I ordered a four bone rack; it looks great. I especially like the look of that black-speckled skin over the substantial layer of white fat. (I also ordered some belly and both wild boar and venison sausages, so bringing the total cost up to the level meriting free delivery). I will, of course, let you know how it tastes on the day.

A case of stouts and porters (more…)

Although I drank Pernod and Ricard regularly in the 1960s, probably trying to capture some of the absynthed minds of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and the like without risking LSD, I’d never thought of cooking with them until I saw Stefane’s ‘Crevette au Ricard‘ on My French Heaven. As some of you will know I adopted them as my Christmas Dinner starter and that turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of 2012. The Pernod flambe adds some indefinable taste, atmosphere, feeling to a very simple dish but surprisingly it cannot be identified as aniseed or liquorice.

Colourful poster for absinth

You can buy this poster from Amazon

As a result I ended up with an almost full bottle of Pernod in the cupboard. What to do with it?

It’s not so full now! I’ve been drinking it, in what I believe is the basic French way – 1:5 with water. I do like it, though at this dilution you have to be a bit careful (unless, of course, you want to get ‘smashed’).

However, I also started to do a bit of research on internet and found that Pernod Ricard themselves had recommended ‘shrimp’ (in the UK these are tiny things found most famously in Morecambe bay; I think it was about what we call prawns)

What 'shrimp' means to most British people

What ‘shrimp’ means to most British people

flambe’d in Pernod at a cooking school in New York. It was described in an article by Roberta Roberti on:

http://www.epicurean.com/articles/evening-with-pernod.html

I presume Roberta is a staff member, writer or something, at Epicurean but the article is a good read and there were two recipes, including the flambe’d prawns.

Although I haven’t made the one given on Epicurean I can be pretty certain I’d prefer Stefane’s simpler recipe. It seems to me that serving the prawn on a bed of fennel is putting it with something too close in flavour to Pernod not to mask the extremely subtle flavour from the flambe. But the Anise Flavored Cream with Fresh Orange Salad, the other recipe given, looks worth a try and I’ll almost certainly have a go at it for our next guests.

First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve

Practice

35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

Yesterday I went into the city of Leeds to do a bit of Christmas shopping, but high on my list was a visit to the market and the excellent fish stalls there (they have survived, probably thanks to the Afro-Carribean community which makes the city such a vibrant place). I was after the basis for the first course of my planned Christmas dinner. Unfortunately the rest of the market no longer compares with those in France so this was all I was seeking there.

If you saw my post of a couple of days ago when I outlined the planned menu, you’ll realise there will be quite a lot of work there. When I detail it you could well find there’s even more work than you thought, as I’m going back to classic French cuisine methods and no short cuts (the sauce will take a few hours to make).

For this reason I wanted a first course that was quick and which would provide a massive taste change to the next course. I didn’t want anything cold, but if possible a bit of a Christmas ‘spectacular’. Then I remembered a recent post on My French Heaven which seemed to be just what I was after.

Picture of a plate of raw prawns

I guess for many people they don’t look so appetising like this. To see them in their Christmas colours, which they will assume when cooked, follow the link below to the recipe

I won’t repeat the recipe – just pop over to My French Heaven by following this link: Crevettes au Ricard. Don’t be put off if you don’t read French; Stephane, the author, repeats all his recipes in English.

In fact I couldn’t find Ricard so it will be Pernod. Nor could I find Espelette pepper so I’ll probably use dash of Tabasco, which is about the same ‘hotness’.

So, it’s quick; apart from a few minutes to make the marinade a day before, it’s just five or six minutes on the griddle. It should be ‘spectacular’, as any flambe is. I’ve never flambe’d with Pernod or Ricard before so it’ll also be interesting. In fact I’ve never eaten anything flambe’d in an anis liquor before, but I trust Stephane.

More about the main course later.