This weekend my parents are throwing their third annual office party and for the third year in a row I’m heading over to Kentucky for an evening of unpaid but highly appreciated work. It’s really a simple affair- buffet style, and my expertise isn’t at all necessary but my mother would rather not deal with the stress of cooking and my father likes to claim that he’s flown in his private Chef. The fact that I’m not a chef and never have been is ignored and for one evening a year I’m The London (now New York) Chef. This year I will be accompanied my very own tried and tested wine waiter- my boyfriend. For a ‘wears-a-suit-to-work’ kind of guy- he’s extraordinarily good at playing the more subordinate and helping role of a bar waiter. So, now my father can proudly boast he’s flying in his Chef and Bar tender.
The problem is- seeing as I’m always cooking other peoples’ recipes, I tend to get carried away with the menu. If you’ve read any of my previous posts and recipes then you’ll know that I’m a simple cook, though I do like to add a few extra ingredients here and there. In other words, you wouldn’t find me bringing plain hot dogs and buns to a BBQ. I sent the proposed menu to my mother weeks ago:
Slow cooked leg of lamb, feta and herb salad, cod poached in olive oil with gremolata, roasted garlic and tomato tart…
“Sounds delicious. We’ll use salmon and put it on the grill”, my mother said.
“What’s lamb?”, asked my father’s secretary.
Being fed-up with making burgers at work all summer, I pleaded to my mother to allow me some creative liscence and go with the lamb
“Oh, don’t worry- it tastes a lot like beef when it’s slow cooked” my mother replied.
Organic leg of lamb cooked for seven hours in stock and wine at a low simmer until it peals off the bone in tender strands of succulence- and you want to say it’s BEEF!
Dessert is another headache altogether. This crowd loves desserts, which tend to be the main event and no matter how many I make the the FHB (Family Hold Back) rule always comes into effect. I make proper puddings (which are not as an American thinks- custards thickened with corn flour- or should I say corn starch?). Convincing the crowd isn’t hard- explaining what it is can be! Last year I made a summer pudding, hand picked berries and all. It was stared at a little ominously, until I cut into its glistening bread casing and the fruit came tumbling out. I had to called my peach and raspberry crumble a cobbler but the chocolate éclairs were devoured instantly and I was thanked very much for making such wonderful “cream puffs”. But how can I complain? They all enjoy my food and even if the lambs not quite tender enough for me, or my meringue crisp enough- I know that I will get huge compliments. What’s in a name anyway?
Cheese & walnut gougeres
On the menu this weekend- these are made of choux pastry and can be made in advance, frozen and then heated in the oven before serving. The basic recipe is for choux pastry, and can be used to turn into éclairs or “cream puffs”.
Makes about 35
85g/3oz cold unsalted butter, cubed
220ml/ 7.5 fl oz water
100g/4 oz plain flour, sifted with salt
large pinch salt
3 eggs, beaten, plus 1 extra to glaze, beaten
55g strong cheddar, finely grated
30g finely chopped walnuts, toasted
freshly ground black pepper
pinch cayenne, optional
1/ Heat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas 5. Make the choux pastry. Place the water and butter in a medium sized saucepan and let the butter slowly melt over a gentle heat before bringing up to a rolling boil.
2/ Add the flour, all at once and beat into the liquid over a medium heat until it forms a smooth and glistening dough. Keep stirring and allow the mixture to boil gently for 2 minutes (this stops the mixture from tasting too floury).
3/ Remove from the pan and into a large bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Add the egg in small batches (you may not need it all), beating it in each time with a wooden spoon (it will look like it has separated, but it will come back together). Add the egg so that when you pick up a spoonful of the mixture and gently tap it down, the mixture will drop into the bowl easily (“dropping consistency”). Stir in the ¾ of the cheddar and all of the walnuts. Season to taste and add the cayenne, if using.
4/ Line baking pans with wax paper and either spoon small balls (2 teaspoons worth for each gougere) onto the sheet or use a piping bag and pipe. Glaze with the beaten egg and dot with remaining cheese. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until puffed up and golden. Serve plain or with crème fraiche mixed with chives and garlic.