Birthday Celebrations

This Sunday I cooked for a dinner party. The party was more personal than usual because it was to celebrate my dad’s birthday – a milestone birthday, I’ll add.

Fiona went full party-planner when it came to the decorations. Only gold was allowed, no multi-coloured numbered confetti, no sparkly pink balloons, no shiny foil bunting. Everything was very tasteful thanks to her stringent triple-checking through the confetti (in case there was a rouge silver one).

Meanwhile, the pressure was on me to produce three courses for ten hungry guests, beautifully presented and tasting delicious. With little time to prepare during the week I walked into the kitchen ready to make the parsnip purée and horseradish cream, before suddenly twigging, ‘I need to put the beef in!’ Time always creeps up on you.

Seasoning the beef with salt, pepper and mustard powder, I slid it into the oven at 200°C for twenty minutes, allowing it to get juicy and searingly hot before reducing the temperature to 160°C for the remainder of the two hours. A simple slow roast is one of life’s irreplaceable pleasures. To complicate things, however, I had two pieces of beef – one to cook to medium, the other for well done.

Birthday roast beef yorkshire pudding roast potatoes parsnip puree carrots purple sprouting broccoli

Organisation had started off well, I assure you. I spent the day before frying chicken livers and processing them with butter, sweated onions and a generous tipple of Champagne (it was a special occasion after all) before straining the mixture and setting it in a loaf tin, ready to be sliced the following day. I also prepared the hot and sticky onion marmalade, ready to be dolloped on the plate with the pate and some sourdough toasts with which to scoop it all up. I wish I had photographs to share, yet when you’re darting across the kitchen with a slab of pate poised precariously on the end of a sharp knife the main objective is not to stab anyone rather than play photographer.

When it comes to a party there is a temptation to pull out all the stops and cook something gobsmackingly impressive. No matter how alluring this is it will not go to plan! After a great deal of discussion with my parents we settled on a simple roast for the main course and, evenly though I eagerly suggested, they insisted we didn’t caramelised herbed carrots or sesame parsnips. To meet them halfway, as I do love making life difficult for myself, I insisted I’d make a parsnip purée to accompany the roasted carrots and purple-sprouting broccoli. For a bog-standard Sunday roast, a purée is completely unnecessary when all you want it hearty, nourishing and girdle-busteringly stodgy. This was my attempt to make the meal more haute cuisine, and, although the dish didn’t quite resemble a Michelin starred roast, the parsnip worked wonders. This addition of soft maple syrup-spiked sweetness pillowing the salty meat and crispy roast potatoes introduced more flavours to the plate and was a welcome respite to the richness of the meal, especially once doused in gravy made from the meat juices.

Another complication arose in the form of two separate desserts. My dad is a crumble connoisseur so one had to be on the menu. Seasonality is important so it was an opportunity to make the most of the rhubarb before it disappears for another year. Gently stewed with chunks of pear in brown sugar, cinnamon and clove, the rhubarb became soft like butter before I added a star anise and left it to marinate. Once laden into baking dishes I sprinkled the fruit with chunks of roasted hazelnut for a delicious crunch then topped with the crumble.

The other was a devilish chocolate tart, rather like a naughty back massage to sooth a hard day. The pastry case was filled with gooey chocolate mousse, baked and showered in cocoa powder. Unlike a chocolate ganache tart, this one didn’t have you reaching for the water glass after every mouthful. Instead, it melted in the mouth and, no matter the dessert, every guest left happy.

As the potatoes sizzled away gently in their lake of goose fat and I swiftly carved thin pieces of beef in varying shades of pink or brown, the Yorkshire puddings grew at an alarming rate like a monstrous balloon and this is recipe I’d like to share with you. I made twelve because Fiona and I weren’t going anywhere until we’d hoovered up all the leftovers. Be warned; they are enormous.

Yorkshire Puddings

From  Leiths How to Cook

Makes 8
100g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
275ml milk/milk with water
60g goose or duck fat, or 60ml vegetable oil

  1. Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Crack in the eggs. With a wooden spoon stir the eggs gently to break them up, gradually incorporating more of the flour around the edge. Don’t push the flour into the eggs, it should fall in on its own accord.
  3. Once the mixture is mostly combined and thick add a splash of the liquid to loosen and mix together. Beat to ensure the mixture is smooth
  4. Repeat this until all the flour is incorporated and thin enough to add the rest of the milk.
  5. Store in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
  6. Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Pour the fat into the bases of a muffin tin, approximately 2mm in each. Put this in the oven to heat through.
  7. Once the batter has rested and fat is hot, test with a splash of batter. It should sizzle and spit. If it is not hot enough the Yorkshires won’t grow.
  8. Quickly fill the muffin tray with batter and put back in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden and well-risen. Avoid opening the oven door if you can!
  9. Remove from the moulds, blot with kitchen paper to remove some grease and serve immediately with loads of gravy…

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