I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but let’s skip right over that as one of my pet peeves is people who apologise because they haven’t blogged recently (read: haven’t posted in 3 days), or write long tracts explaining that they’re going to be away on holiday so wont be able to post (for a whole 2 weeks – shock horror!). It just seems so…..egotistical. Like they think their readers will be stunned, bereft, inconsolable that they can’t read about a total strangers latest baking project on a daily basis. There’s a darn good reason I haven’t blogged recently and it’s this…..there’s been nothing noteworthy to blog about. My meals for the last few weeks have been homely, dull or downright nasty. We’ve eaten chicken wings with chilli sauce at least 5 times in a fortnight. When we haven’t been eating our own body weight in hot wings it’s been pasta. Pasta. And more pasta. And there’s been takeaways too, more than I care to admit, and all of them ranging from mediocre to piss-poor. Yes, I confess, I’m a foodie who occasionally, eats like a peasant (and I don’t mean an old rural Italian mamma who makes fresh pasta every day, I mean peasant as in definition no.2 from Google: “An ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person”, the kind that shoves McDonalds through the school gates for her bratty monsters rather than force them to eat Jamie Oliver’s healthy school meals).
Christmas may seem like an odd time of year to be making virtuous resolutions about food, but actually it’s a (rare) time of year when I eat less – and generally healthier – than everyone else. When you’re in the kitchen all day for three days straight (I have a big family – I like to feed them!) eating sort of looses its appeal, and I tend to pick at the big meal itself, fortifying myself instead with whole orangeries-worth of clementines. So, to regain my kitchen mojo, improve my diet, and remount the blogging horse all in one go before the rest of 2012 slips away, I would like to share with you the absolute antithesis to my dining of late, a dish with rather more swank than the recipes I usually post:
Glazed beetroot with honeyed goat’s milk mousse and candied cobnuts
Although the instructions are long and it all looks a bit fiddly and poncy, this is actually a supremely easy dish to make – and creates an instant wow when it’s plated up. If I was the sort of person who served starters as part of the Christmas meal this would be what I’d do – everything can be prepped well in advance, and it’s not so heavy that you can’t manage a full-on main course afterwards. The mousse is deliciously creamy, contrasting fantastically with the earthy beetroot, and then the sweetness of the candied nuts adds an extra dimension. The apple adds acidity, and extra crunch. Be sure to be generous with the salt in both the beetroots and the candied nuts, to ensure this stays within the boundary of savoury, rather than becoming dessert-grade sweet.
For the honeyed goat’s milk mousse:
500ml fresh goat’s milk
2 tbsp honey
3 leaves platinum-grade gelatine
125ml double cream
50g shelled cobnuts (or hazelnuts)*
50g caster sugar
6 small cooked, peeled beetroots (if you buy them ready-cooked be sure to get the kind in natural juice, not vinegar!)
30g unsalted butter
1 tbsp caster sugar
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
You will also need: A sharp green apple (Granny Smith has the right level of acidity)
To make the mousse: Heat the goat’s milk in a small saucepan, simmering slowly and gently until reduced by half. This will take around an hour, don’t be tempted to raise the heat too high and boil it, as this will scorch the milk. Once the milk has reduced remove it from the heat and stir in the honey. Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water for a few minutes until soft and flabby, then stir into the hot milk reduction until dissolved, then strain through a sieve and set aside to cool. Whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold gently into the cooled milk. Pour into a small tub, cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight, until set. If you want to turn the mousse out and cut it into strips or squares, line the tub with clingfilm first to make it easier to turn out.
To candy the nuts: Line a small baking tray with greaseproof paper. Mix the sugar with 100ml water in a small pan on a low heat, stirring until it dissolves. Increase the heat and heat the mixture to a deep russet caramel colour, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring. When the caramel looks on the verge of being too dark remove from the heat, and stir in the nuts and a generous pinch of flaky sea salt. Spoon out the caramel-coated nuts individually onto the paper-lined baking tray, and allow to harden. They will keep for a day or two in an airtight container, but if you use cobnuts their moisture will gradually soften the caramel so you’ll lose some of the crunch.
Make the glazed beets: Cut the beetroot into thick slices or small wedges. In a small frying pan melt the butter with the sugar, 1 tbsp water, thyme leaves and a pinch of salt. Cook on a high heat until bubbling, stir in the balsamic vinegar, then add the beetroots and simmer, spooning the mixture over the beetroots constantly, until the liquids have reduced to coat the beetroots in a sticky, shiny glaze.
To serve – arrange either cubes or quenelles of the mousse on plates, then arrange the glazed beetroot and sliced apple around. Scatter over the candied nuts and serve at once.
*Cobnuts are sweeter, juicier and more tender than hazelnuts, but they really can be used interchangeably in just about any recipe. Whilst hazelnuts are easy to procure shelled, cobnuts are usually sold shell-on. You’ll need 200-300g shell-on cobnuts to yield 40g shelled.