Veg Out at the Manor

Last weekend we donned our aprons for the first time in 2015 for our January event. Veg was the theme of the evening as we dusted off Ottolenghi’s Plenty More to create a meat free feast for fourteen hungry guests. In from the cold, our guests were treated to our welcome cocktail, a rose, elderflower and gin. This was a fresh and fragrant concoction that combined gin with sparkling water, homemade elderflower cordial and rose water. A very simple cocktail but it got gin haters enjoying gin and one guest described it as the best cocktail she’d ever had! Sweet and floral it was certainly easy to glug!

Cocktails in hand, it was time for canapés. First up were little pea and mint croquettes. Crushed peas with mint, crumbed and deep fried and served with a sour cream and mint sauce, these were fresh and very moreish. Next up were mini cauliflower cakes. Similar to a Spanish tortilla, these little eggy cakes were packed with cauliflower, cheddar and mild spicing. The final canape was fried upma with quail egg. Upma is essentially an Indian version of polenta but spiced and fragrant. This is set and then fried. Topped with a fried quail egg (there were lots of little eggy casualties before I got my fourteen!) and lime pickle, this was a fragrant assault on the taste buds!

For this event, we did away with the usual starters and served up a series of small plates. Some hot courses and some cold to awaken those palettes. First up was Dan’s spiced Thai red lentil soup. In typical Ottolenghi style this very ‘simple’ soup had an ingredient list as long as your arm! Thai style curry paste and aromats formed the basis of the soup with the lentils thickening it up. It was served up with slivers of sugar snap peas and a good dash of homemade curry oil. This was sweet, sour, fresh and with a pleasant kick.

Next up were delicious little stuffed spiced potato cakes. Similar to the pethis we cooked up for our Indian summer event, these little potato cakes came spiced with mustard seed and turmeric, and filled with a spicy sour chutney of coriander, tamarind and green chilli. These were served simply with a homemade sweet tomato chutney and bright saffron yoghurt.

A cold dish was next on the cards, roasted aubergines with black garlic. Roasted slices of aubergine, drizzled with a black garlic and yoghurt sauce. For those of you that haven’t tried black garlic, it is quite bizarre. Whole bulbs are slowly preserved until the cloves are black and jelly-like (I’m really selling this aren’t I?) and the flavour becomes sweet and almost like tamarind! On top of this was scattered an array of herbs and fried slices of garlic and chilli. The whole dish was soft, sharp, spicy and fresh.

Little quinoa and spring onion cakes were next up, little patties of quinoa, cottage cheese, pecorino, onion and chilli were pan fried and served with salbitxada sauce. Similar to Romesco, this was made with pine nuts, roasted peppers and tomatoes then sharpened up with red wine vinegar. Even the most ardent quinoa haters in the group loved these!

Next up were little roasted red onions with a pine nut salsa. This recipe is Ottolenghi at his best – ridiculously easy but with astounding taste sensations. Red onions were halved and slowly roasted until soft and jammy. They were served up on platters of rocket, with blobs of soft goats cheese and a tart salsa made with crushed pine nuts, chilli and red wine vinegar. A perfect combo of sweet, salty and sour.

A similarly simple but rewarding dish was the tenderstem broccoli with sweet tahini sauce. Green veg was quickly blanched so that it still had a crunch and then was drizzled with a moreish sauce made from tahini, honey and vinegar. A sprinkle of tasted black and white sesame seed added a lovely and toasty crunch to finish the dish.

Finally, our guests were served up little scoops of brussel sprout and blue cheese pearly barley risotto. Rich, creamy yet packed with iron from the sprouts, this is a fab dish to make with those leftover Christmas sprouts! I think the richness may have tipped our guests over the edge however!

Never fear though, as after a short respite, a cooling, sour forced rhubarb and orange sorbet woke up those tastebuds ready for the final course, dessert, which was a delightful blackberry, bay custard and gin trifle. It’s trifle but not as you know it! Sponge fingers were soaked in a syrup of blackberry juice, gin and rose water. This was layered with  blackberry compote, and a custard infused with bay leaves. And hidden beneath it all was a scoop of creamy homemade vanilla ice cream! A lovely twist on a British classic!

As a final treat, with tea and coffee, guests were served mini pistachio and blueberry friands as petit four. These were nutty, moist and chewy with a fresh glaze of lemon and rose. A light but sweet way to end the meal.

This was an enjoyable and fun event, but it was hard work! Given we usually take turns with courses, it gives each of us a chance to spend time with guests and have a few minutes break from the stove, this event meant we were both constantly cooking at the same time for the whole evening! Sore backs and legs a plenty on Sunday morning! However, it was all worth it for the very complimentary comments our guests gave us and for the buzz in the dining room. The dishes were unique, tasty and filling and given there were only two vegetarians dining with us, the meat eaters definitely didn’t feel as though they were missing out. My honest opinion of Plenty More is that it’s a beautiful book. Ottolenghi is undeniably a genius – on the whole recipes were simple but yielded some breath-taking flavours. I think he has a bad reputation for being complicated, but we found that most of the recipes were fairly straight forward. Yes there were some odd ingredients, but once you’ve bought them you have them in stock for next time. My only criticism is that no recipe stands out as a main course which is why we went down the ‘tapas’ route.

Anyway after all that there’s not much of a break for us as next weekend we’ve got our Scandi afternoon tea! Need to get our rye starters fermenting!

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