Finally the time had come to cook something from the Masterchef cookbook. Three things, in fact. After a leisurely hour spent poring over the truly delicious delights within its hallowed pages, I settled on three courses from the cookbook of champions. And it was a tough decision - starters like tian of crab with coriander oil, Dorset apple soup with walnut scones, goats cheese fritters with apple salsa, smoked mozzarella ravioli with tomato cream, Roquefort cheesecake with roasted tomatoes...kept vying for my attention, as did multiple main courses and a plethora of inviting desserts.Eventually I decided on a venison carpaccio for a starter, because it is pretty easy to do, and because I had never tried fillet of venison before and imagined it would be beautiful. I love rare, or even raw, meat: somehow I feel like you are closer to obtaining the natural flavour of the animal, and therefore it can only be better than cooked meat. The texture is also much nicer; silky smooth and less chewy and grainy than cooked meat. There is also something truly beautiful about slices of rare fillet, whether it's beef, veal or venison: that seared crust on the outside with beautiful red softness in the middle is stunning. I asked for the fillet at the butchers, expected to be answered with a no, and instead they brought one out from the freezer (I have learned of late that it is always worth asking at the butchers, as they have so much frozen or behind the counter that isn't on display). It was a beautiful piece of meat. I rubbed it with dried thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil and seared it for about a minute in a very hot pan, then wrapped it up in the fridge. It was sliced thinly, went on a plate with some watercress, and a raspberry vinaigrette. This was just raspberries, pureed and sieved to remove the pips, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. It went incredibly well with the meat, and the watercress was peppery enough to stop it being over sweet. One of the most delicious things I have eaten in a while. And the best part is, there is a lot of meat left over. I will be eating venison sandwiches with Fortnums game relish for the next few days. As your typical student does, obviously.
For the main course we had sea bass. I obtained these beautiful specimens from the fishmonger a couple of weeks ago: they were four for £10, which is incredibly good value, considering their sheer beauty. They are quite large specimens and wonderfully fresh. The only downside being that I assumed they had been gutted, scaled and cleaned already. Oh, how wrong I was. I spent this morning scaling, gutting and filleting these lovely creatures. Gutting is not a pleasant process but at least it's fairly straightforward; scaling is stupidly messy, and I ended up covered in fish scales; and filleting was a definite learning curve, given that I had never done it before and did not own the appropriate knife. However, given all these factors, I think I did a pretty good job and I felt very proud afterwards. A bit like the time I inadvertently bought uncleaned squid, and had to do that myself too (the messiest thing I think I have ever done. My chopping board still bears vestiges of black ink).
The sea bass fillets were pan fried and served with a rice pilau made with ras-el-hanout (Moroccan spice mixture that I love), raisins and almonds, with a tahini sauce (tahini paste, water, lemon juice, garlic, salt and parsley) and a carrot and onion salad (grated carrot, lemon juice, caramelized onion, Nigella seeds and mustard seeds). The whole combination sounds odd, but was one of the best things I have eaten in a while. I will definitely be making this one again. It's such a great mixture of unusual flavours and textures: the fish and rice are quite soft, but the carrot and almonds lovely and crunchy, and then the tahini and garlic is very rich, but the raisin cuts through it nicely. A genius of a recipe. I was also pleased with the way the fillets came out: I managed to get them perfectly cooked with a nice crispy skin, and once cooked they didn't look quite so mangled...
Beautiful, I think. The colours are wonderful.
Dessert is probably less worthy of a photo. In theory, it should have been wonderful. I made a rhubarb millefeuille, which consisted of layers of filo pastry, pastry cream, and poached rhubarb. I was very organised and made the creme patisserie this morning. I had never made it before, and it was quite therapeutic standing there stirring eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar over simmering water until it magically thickened to become that lovely creamy stuff that you get in the middle of French fruit tartlets. (On a tangent, I had an idea to use it in the future to fill tartlets made of filo pastry, but to flavour the creme first with cardamom, and put poached apricots and chopped pistachios on top. Will definitely be doing this soon, now apricots are in season). The rhubarb was poached and ready. I bought filo pastry from the Moroccan deli, and was ready to go. Unfortunately, when I unfurled it, it turned out not to be filo, but something slightly thicker, that didn't stick together like sheets of filo should, and didn't have that lovely melt-in-the-mouth texture. To be fair, the packaging was all in Arabic, so how was I to know?! Instead, it crisped up like a poppadum. So instead, my dessert looked like layers of poppadum, pastry cream and rhubarb. It tasted lovely, but I couldn't help thinking if I had had proper filo, the whole thing would have been elegant and beautiful. Oh well - another time perhaps.
All in all, not a bad attempt at Masterchef goodness. I can't wait to try some more of the recipes.