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Going by the (cookery) book

PUBLISHED: 16:35 22 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:02 20 February 2013

Going by the (cookery) book

Going by the (cookery) book

When novice chef Ben Keenan decided to make his wife a romantic meal by trying out some of those 'easy to do' recipes from best-selling cookery books, we expected some culinary chaos amid the moments of triumph. Here is how he got on...

When novice chef Ben Keenan decided to make his wife a romantic meal by trying out some of those 'easy to do' recipes from best-selling cookery books, we expected some culinary chaos amid the moments of triumph. Here is how he got on...






Those who know me well know that if Im not eating something delicious, then Im talking about eating something delicious. One of my first memories is helping my mama push homemade pizza dough into the corners of a baking tray and then staring in amazement as she poured beautifully seasoned tomato sauce over it before topping it with a variety of wonders. Since then Ive become a food obsessed gastronome and throughout my life, have asked people more about what they had for dinner than anything else.


As a bookseller I have had the unique pleasure of being in charge of a cookery section for the last five years and can usually be found loitering next to it with my head in a new release and a glazed, faraway look on my face. What you are about to read began as a conversation with the editor of this fine magazine, which in turn lead to one of the most wonderful experiences Ive ever had in my own kitchen. So please join me, as I cook my beautiful wife Jenna, four courses from four different cookery books from my extensive range of titles at Waterstones.





To start



Galton Blackistons Sweet Corn Soup. Page 30 of Chef! by James Winter and James Bulmer (Absolute paperback, Waterstones 14.99)



One of the benefits of living so close to my mamas allotment is that Jen and I are always knee deep in wonderfully fresh seasonal produce. Last years harvest of sweetcorn was one of the biggest to date, and instead of ploughing through hundreds of butter soaked cobs, we decided to remove the kernels and put huge bags of ready to use corn in the freezer. Having found a bag whilst searching for ice-cream, I was reminded that Galton Blackiston (whose Morston Hall restaurant in Norfolk is one of the most respected in the country) has on his eclectic menu, a popular dish of creamy sweetcorn soup. So, armed with a huge bag from the freezer, I reached for one of my favourite cookery books ever and started to prepare the opening act of my four course extravaganza...


Method


After heating butter and gently frying some garlic I grab my favourite chefs knife and make light work of three white onions and add them to foaming garlic butter. Once nicely translucent I add Galtons specific measurement of 1.2 litres of water and bring the liquid to a rolling boil. I sidestep the option to throw the kernels from six sweetcorn cobs into the stock and decide to pour it in the pot slowly from a jug. After no more than three minutes the corn is nicely softened and ready to be taken off of the heat. I add 150g of double cream and the entire mixture is poured into my liquidiser and blitzed. Before my eyes a blend of yellowy goodness is formed and after a minute or so on high speed, I pour the soup through a sieve to await seasoning. Now, Im the kind of guy who adds salt to anchovies but after sampling a spoonful, I decide to add just a tiny pinch of Maldon sea salt and a shake of white pepper to harmonise the flavours. It is without a doubt one of the best soups Ive recreated, and when ladled into bowls and sprinkled with chopped chives, it puts a huge grin on my and Jens faces. Spoonfuls of sunshine and granary bread soldiers are consumed in record time and we both agree to instantly add it to our repertoire.





Second course


Jamie Olivers Peruvian Ceviche. Page 64 of Jamies America by Jamie Oliver (Penguin hardback, Waterstones 26)



In order to cleanse the palate after a bowl of intensely rich soup, I was planning to follow a recipe for a refreshing sorbet but found that very few chefs at the moment care about tradition and prefer to serve icy scoops of insanity. For example, I came across a black coffee and cigarette flavoured option, a green tea and burned wild rice flavour and my personal favourite grass flavour. Now I love my ice-cream maker with all my heart so was not prepared to risk tainting it with the flavours of the meadow on this occasion, no matter how cleansed the finished product left my palate. Having recently watched Jamies American Road Trip on television I remembered he had visited an illegal Peruvian restaurant where he sampled a fish dish which had refreshed his taste buds in a remarkable way. I had to give this one a try even though my darling wife wouldnt be joining me for this course. For this dish to work I had to visit the amazing Mr Turner from Turners of Lowestoft, who can be found parked in Long Melfords high street on a Thursday between 2pm and 5pm. This is where I queued to get some beautiful fillets of sea bass for my fish course. He de-boned and skinned a lovely looking specimen in the time it took me to get my wallet out of my jeans, and I returned home with my purchase including the bulk of his home smoked prawns and a dressed crab!


Method


The beauty of a ceviche is the time it takes to prepare and cook. Its a dish that works as an appetiser, a starter or a light lunch because once the ingredients are prepared, it literally takes seconds to finish. I first slice some dainty chunks of firm sea bass and put them in a bowl in the fridge while I finely chop half a red pepper, half a spring onion, one deseeded red chilli and a small handful of fresh parsley, mint and coriander. I then deviate slightly from Jamies method by combining his lemon juice with half a fresh lime. Its nothing personal Jamie, I just love the vibrant zingy taste of lime and think it works particularly well when paired with lemon. Then as soon as the fish comes out of the fridge Im ready to rock. I squeeze the juice from a whole lemon and half a lime into a jug, add a big pinch of salt and the finely chopped red pepper and chilli and use a battery powered milk frother to blend everything together. As Im doing this I realised I could have used a fork to mix it all and avoided rummaging through all four kitchen drawers to find the gadget but no matter, the job is done and done well. I mix the finely chopped herbs with the fish and spoon it on to an attractive black plate then slowly pour over the citrus fruit dressing and give everything a final mix by hand.


I pour myself a glass of Mexican beer and in the time it takes to let the bubbles settle, the acid from the fruit has cooked the sea bass. The first bite hits me as if a firework display had just started. The flavours are incredibly vibrant and mingle together wonderfully to create a dish which I greedily finish standing up whilst watching an episode of Frasier. If I ever meet Jamie Oliver in person Ill remember to thank him for this recipe. It was absolute perfection!




Main Course


Delia Smiths Crisp Roast Duck with Confit of Sour Cherries. Page 326 of Delias Complete How To Cook (BBC hardback, Waterstones 35)



Who better to turn to for a scrumptious main course than the lady who taught most of the country to cook.


Suffolks very own queen of the kitchen has been serving up mouth watering meals for as long as Ive been alive so it was with a happy heart that I spent an afternoon reading her back catalogue in search of the dish which would become my main event of the evening. After narrowing my choices down to three, the lure of crispy, perfectly cooked duck won me over and I headed for the supermarket to gather my ingredients.


Ever since I was a toddler I have loved a trip to the supermarket. I can still remember conversations with my mama at the checkout when she would ask how an item NOT on her shopping list had made its way in to the trolley. I have recently discovered that my dad does the same thing now that he has retired, so Im thrilled that its become a family tradition! In an age of 24 hour shopping Jen and I sometimes find ourselves lazily strolling through the aisles at some ridiculous time of the morning with a head full of ideas and a trolley full of new and exciting ingredients. With our ingredients sourced, it was time to head home and get quacking...


Method


The brilliance of Delia becomes even clearer when you follow her methods in the kitchen. Its like walking in a straight line from point A to point B after which, the hardest part of the meal is finding suitable music and making sure the cutlery matches!


After letting my Gressingham duck dry out in the fridge overnight I follow in Delias footsteps and prick the fattiest parts of the duck with a kebab skewer to ensure an even crispiness and succulent meat. I then generously season it and slide it into a preheated oven for 1 hour and 50 minutes. I fetch the bowl of sour cherries from the fridge which Ive had soaking overnight in red wine and place them in a saucepan with one ounce of sugar and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.


My kitchen now smells unbelievable and I cant help but smile as I slowly stir the simmering sauce before leaving it to bubble and reduce for the suggested 50 minutes. Delia serves this dish with watercress and the sauce but Ive decided to serve it with Mrs Smiths Perfect Mashed Potatoes from page 176 and a scaled down version of her Oven Roasted Carrots from page 360.


When the cooking time is up I drain the last of the rendered duck fat and begrudgingly allow it to rest for 20 minutes while the sauce reduces further to a shiny and sticky syrup. After carving, serving and settling on Glenn Miller as the musical embellishment to our meal, we begin to eat one of the finest things Ive ever cooked. The duck is moist and the skin cooked to glass like crispiness. Despite my initial reluctance to use an electric whisk on Maris Pipers, I have to say that the potatoes were stunning but in future I think Ill stick to my ricer. And the carrots, although an unnecessary addition to such a huge meal, were delightful.


Ive always liked Delia but after the success Ive had with this recipe I can now officially say that I love her and always will.






Dessert



Jason Athertons Individual Chocolate Souffls. Page 230 of Maze by Jason Atherton (Quadrille paperback, Waterstones 14.99)



When offered a dessert menu in a restaurant I usually have to resist the urge to ask to see the starter options again, but what I do enjoy immensely when at home is a bowl of ice cream or something intensely chocolatey.


The day Jason Athertons debut cookery book Maze arrived at Waterstones, it had sold before I had had the opportunity to read it myself.


As with all Michelin starred chefs, the quality on display was overwhelming, but where others had confused their methodology with influences from obscure sources, Jason told it like it was and wrote easy to follow methods which one day I knew would come in handy... That day had just arrived!



Method


First things first, the chances of finding an impressive dessert recipe which serves just two people is almost impossible. This particular sweet treat is designed to serve six so I had to make sure it was perfect in order to inspire Jen into having a second helping and perhaps even thirds.


I began as you must with all souffl recipes, by preheating the oven to 200 degrees. I then turned my attention to my ramekins which Jason suggests you brush with melted butter using upstrokes and then chilling in the fridge. After they have firmed he suggests applying a second coat which I assumed was the secret to an impressively sized souffl?


I got slightly confused during the next phase and managed to whisk my egg whites into a dense white cloud which were far removed from the stiff peaks Jason had described. The mixture became even harder to work with once I had added them to a separate bowl of cooled melted chocolate before having to use two spoons to guide the mix into each ramekin using surgical precision.


After tapping then firmly on my worktop to ensure the removal of air pockets, I placed them on a tray and baked them for eight minutes before speedily removing them from the oven and dusting them with icing sugar. The photograph in Jasons book showed a huge towering dessert but unfortunately the height of my souffl barely made its way over the top of my ramekins.


Even though each mouthful felt like eating a delicious cocoa flavoured cloud, Jen and I both agreed that the effort and attention to detail it required was a lot of work for what turned out to be a very agreeable chocolate cake. Ill certainly try and perfect this recipe as it was enormous fun to prepare but if Im honest, I think Im too heavy handed to make a decent souffl.


Whenever we eat I am reminded of a quote I once read by the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti... "One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our entire attention to eating." Jen and I agree wholeheartedly!


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