Easter Cooking

Don't worry, the pigs head post is coming but as you can see from the following pictures, things have been culinarily hectic this weekend - and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way! I hope that everyone else had a wonderful time over the break too.
FRIDAY:
Paul and I don’t observe the Easter break in the same way as our families because we are not religious. To us the break signified something well deserved: much needed time away from work, court cases and bank letters dropping on our doorstep, reverberating with the all the power of a 20 kilo weight in my overly sensitive brain.
True, we did eat fish on Friday, in the form of fish and chips with my grandparents, but we also consumed pork and chicken cooked in a most novel way at our friend’s house - on a Raclette.
Raclette is actually a Swiss cheese, not dissimilar to Brie, that is melted over boiled potatoes, gherkins and dried meats. The word Raclette is derived from the French Racler, to scrape, and this is how it was served originally, the cheese melted then scraped onto the diners plate, forming a stringy, cheesy blanket for the vegetables of their choice.
Nowadays the word Raclette means the machine that has been produced to make life a little easier for the social diner. A hotplate on which you cook your meat or vegetables, underneath which nestle little trays that you fill with the cheese – it melts as the meat cooks and the two are then joined in a tasty union on the plate. What excited me about the modern day Raclette was the possibilities that this gadget held, much more so than a fondue. Sure, melted chocolate or cheese seems like a good idea but the washing up is just never worth those fleeting moments of chocolate induced ecstasy. On the other hand, the Raclette can cook whole steaks, fish, prawns, vegetables, pizza bases. You could toast pita breads, fruit, maybe even give waffles a try. I am now finding it hard to justify NOT adding one to my collection of dusty gadgets.
Before we went out on Friday, I pretty much got everything prepared in advance (I know, I'm a girlie swot) for the rest of the holiday. I spent the afternoon making dessert (which for now will remain anonymous - it's part of a foodie event so there'll be a whole post devoted to that) and making Cassoulet for Saturdays meal at my mums.

SATURDAY:
Cassoulet is one of those wonderful French dishes that you think must be dreadfully complicated, what with its rules about what meats can and can't go in - how many crusts does it have? Some say one, some three, some none. As with so many traditional dishes from France, you will never get a straight answer so it is best to adhere as well as you can to the elements that everyone agrees on and then add your own twist. My twist was to omit the duck (although I did make Duck Confit for my grandad - I've yet to hear the results), use fresh organic chicken legs and use a pork hock from Graig Farm instead of a hunk of belly pork. I also threw in some Cumberland Sausages for good measure although these certainly weren't needed.
I always hugely overestimate what my family can and can't eat and this was no exception. Paul had leftovers coming out of his ears.
If you fancy making Cassoulet for yourself, with a little organisation it is really easy. For flavour, you need a piece of pork on the bone (i.e. hock or belly pork or even a stock bone), some sausages (should be garlicky Toulouse ones but they are incredibly hard to get around here) and duck confit if you should happen to have some laying around (and don't we all?) but chicken pieces are slightly more economical and tasty. The dried pulse is of your choice but a creamy white one is best: I used Haricot. Butter Beans or Cannelini would be equally delicious. Make sure to soak these at least 6 hours in advance, then simmer them until almost tender with a bay leaf, a whole peeled onion and some peppercorns. Do not salt them.
Brown the pork in a little olive oil until it is richly coloured. Add a roughly chopped onion and lots of garlic. Some recipes ask for all the cloves from 1 or 2 heads of garlic chopped but I used just four cloves (Pauls stomach etc). Brown the onions until softened but don't let burn. Add a stick or two of celery, just snapped in two, and a big handful of parsley torn up. The keyword (to me at least) is rustic so don't spend ages painstakingly chopping the ingredients. The slow cooking in the oven will do all the hard work for you. Pour in a can of chopped tomatoes (my own addition, totally heretic I'm sure!), and the beans, cooking liquor and all. Nestle in the chicken or duck pieces, the sausages and grind over some black pepper. Cover tightly and cook for at least 2 hours in a low oven (about 150c). If you are cooking this dish in advance, you could leave it to cool at this stage, refrigerate and then reheat it thoroughly the next day. Remember to taste for salt now. Serve with some fresh crusty bread and butter.
So, with Saturdays lunch prepared, come Saturday afternoon, I could concentrate on Sundays lunch. You might remember that my grandparents had requested Jerk Pork and Jerk Pork is what they got. However, there was nothing I could do in advance for this, other than make the jerk rub, so, whilst Paul and my mum fixed the fence that Coney once hurdled over to race a horse (she lost), I made the Duck Confit for my Grandad and (hold onto your girdles, ladies)
a Salted Caramel and Chocolate Ganache Tart. That's right: the only truly perfect coupling in the world: chocolate and caramel. This was a recipe lifted in its entirety from the amazingly wonderful Green and Blacks Chocolate Cookbook and one that I had made in my head many, many times. I have never tried salted caramel before and I was not disappointed. Still hot from the pan it tasted buttery but ever so slightly bitter, almost burnt tasting. Once chilled though and covered with a so-rich-you-just-have-to-try-it chocolate ganache (3 and a half bars of Lindt 70% no less) it was tooth-stickingly chewy but not molar-inducingly sweet. The addition of sea salt is nothing more than pure genius. If you do make this tart, just remember to take it out of the fridge a good half an hour before you want to serve it, otherwise you will be getting claims for dental bills for loose or entirely dislodged fillings. Oh, a huge bonus from using the wrong size tart tin (the recipe required 11" and I only had a 9" pan), there was a lot of ganache left so I chilled it and made chocolate truffles with it.

SUNDAY:
The big day and we can all relax apart from Paul who just has to make his famous tomato salsa (the best ever) and his famous salsa infused rice to serve with the pork. I made a spicy pineapple salsa too (from an Ainsley Harriott recipe), that was just terrific with the blackened pork. I was happy that I had managed to serve pork with perfectly cracklesome crackling, soft, yielding fat underneath that and then moist meat beneath that. My family commented that they couldn't remember the last time they had been able to get crackling this crisp and I rather smugly alluded that, not to the chef, but to the purchase of decent, organic meat that is not pumped full of water for extra weight. My grandad is still sniffy about organic food using his rather flimsy argument that anyone can stamp their food with an organic label but to me, the proof is in the tasting and with this joint of pork they could not deny the simple facts: organic is best.
The food served didn't follow a strictly Caribbean menu, my family are much to fussy for that. But, I think we served the perfect meal for a hot summer and the first lunch eaten outside. Because at least two members of our family (notably me and my grandmother) like to honour the potato famine by eating potatoes at every possible occasion, I made some of Elisabeth Luards salt encrusted wrinkled potatoes. Sure, it was probably a touch of overkill with everything else going on but the dish was emptied of them with astonishing rapidity.
Finally, for a tea-time treat that actually wasn't taken advantage of (the tart pretty much slaughtered everyone as far as appetite went), I had baked a Simnel Cake last weekend. I was worried that it would be too dry. The recipe stated that it needed to be cooked for between 90 minutes to 2 hours. Mine was cooked within 40 minutes. I liberally doused it with some homemade Apricot Kernel Vodka (which tastes wonderfully of Marzipan) and hoped for the best. Kudos goes to my mum who helped decorate the cake. She is the artistic foodie of the family. Like I said to her "you would be more than happy to leave the 'boring' baking stuff to me and just primp things all day" to which she sagely nodded "well, food has to look good too, right?" She spent ages joyously scorching the eleven marzipan apostles and then adding her own touch, a tiny bunch of freshly picked violets which represent nothing more than perhaps the joy of this new season and the promise of the year to come.

28 comments:

Ilva said...

Oh I don't understand how you can have the strength to write after all those treats even if you write at the kitchen table...that's pure food blog dedication!

Lydia said...

What a wonderfully eclectic menu. Next time you have leftovers, you can send that chocolate and caramel tart right to me!

Gemma said...

That tart sounds and looks incredible - I love salted caramels!

valentinA said...

Wow! What a beautiful food galore!
You've been cooking up a storm Freya, glad to see all those yummy food which make me so hungry. Especially the chocolate truffles!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Caramel and chocolate are invincible!

gilly said...

Hi Freya! What a feast - I love it! The salted caramel/chocolate ganache tart sounds like it's to die for!

Brilynn said...

I know you made tons of goodies but I really can't get past that amazing tart...

Cheryl said...

What a menu. The people in your family are the luckiest people on the earth. Everything looks amazing.

Kelly-Jane said...

What a lovely foodie weekend! All your pics look great. The flavoured vodka in the cake sounds lovely, as does the choc, caramel tart, I made one last year that had hazelnuts in it too.

KJxx

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Good heavens...I don't know where to start...I love your mother...what a perfect compliment to have passions that go so well together!
I love the way you talk through the Cassoulet! I think it's given me courage to try it one day. Last year I did a vegetarian one that was excellent but still I must try one with meat.
Gadfry the chocolate and caramel...well yes let's all go for elastic pants.

veron said...

what a wonderful menu! I've been wanting to try cassoulet and seeing your results make me want to try it soon!

Shaun said...

Freya, love - My gosh...We have been busy, eh? I am in a drought of culinary offerings and am an affrontery to all those who are 'real' foodies and food bloggers, especially when compared to you. You do, certainly, inspire me, and I just hope that I will get myself sorted and make the most of my time in the kitchen whilst back in the US. A fabulous post!

pistachio said...

Lovely post and oh my have you been busy. Everything looks marvellous and your mother decorated the Simnel Cake so prettily.

pi xxx

Joyce said...

What an undertaking! Did you ever get to rest? Do you have a kitchen genie to prep and clean up after you? The tart is unreal! What a fabulous taste combo.
Everything looks lovely...cheers to both of you for sharing!

Katie said...

You did have a busy weekend!
Everything looks wonderful but that chocolate/caramel tort is heavenly. There couldn't possibly have been leftovers of that....at least, not for long!

Linda said...

what a glorious and delicious Easter you had! happy easter - belated!

Sig said...

Wow, you guys had a busy weekend, what a wonderful spread! The cake loos amazing, you can eat the marzipan apostles right?

JennDZ said...

Wow such beautiful stuff guys! That sounds like the Easter break dreams are made of! :)

sher said...

I feel overcome with food lust after that! That was simply amazing. I'm going to go lie down now with a cold cloth on my forehead and dream about those pictures!!!!

Helene said...

Cassoulet...Oh man! Caramel and chocolate tart..Oh man!
I am flying over for the leftover! beats my Easter at the in-laws...This is gorgeous food...all around!

Gattina said...

Freya, thanks for tip on organic meat. I haven't ever succeeded in crackling pork! Got to search for it!
I was still stuffed up after the Easter Dinner on Sunday... but after seeing your cassoulet and camarel and chocolate tart, I am hungry again :P

ostwestwind said...

You were very busy!
The chocolate-caramel tart looks to die for. Could you send me a piece, if there is one left?

Callipygia said...

I am blown away by all the goodies. Thanks for demystifying the cassoulet- the crust, confit, special beans, special sausages kept me away. Love the apostles- they appear to be well fed too!

joey said...

I love this post! I feel like I have taken an incredible culinary journey with you :) Everything sounded so good! Just as I was salivating after one thing, you top it with the next delicious offering!

I also loved the pig's head post below :) I love pork and I hope to work with larger cuts like that one day :) I would so give it a name too!

Kathryn said...

Oh God. That chocolate caramel tart. Wow!

I am interested in cassoulet - a French friend of mine makes it and her version takes days. I've had it quite a lot in France and versions vary incredibly wildly. It is insanely filling, though...

The simnel cake is really pretty! I am not a marzipan fan but I love how it looks!

Looking forward to the pig update!

Kathryn x

Cottage Smallholder said...

We have an unused raclette in a box in our barn. It was given to us without instructions and we didn't know how to use it.

Inspired, Danny is out there searching for it in his pyjamas.

What a fantastic, fun blog!

Pip said...

What a great work, simply amazing.

By the way, great blog, I'm going to link you! :)

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Extremely yummy food! Your Simnel Cake reminds me of my holidays in England (at my grandparents' place)...