Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hellos and Goodbyes

Hello again everyone!! It’s a little late but I thought better late than never so ‘Happy New Year’!! I hope these first six weeks of 2010 have been a good start to the year for all of you. We had a wonderful start to the year with the safe arrival of our beautiful baby boy. Mini Vanilla was born on December 27, 2009 weighing in at a very healthy 8lb 15oz and almost 23 inches long!

The last 7 weeks have flown by in a blur of sleepless nights, dirty nappies (diapers to everyone in Canada and North America) and feedings, but most importantly getting to know our wonderful little boy (who is still affectionately known as ‘Wee One’ despite the fact he is not so wee!). So with that in mind I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the arrival of Mini Vanilla put a very swift halt to my blogging! I am hoping however, that since he is 7 weeks old, we are starting to get a little more of a routine and the colic is improving (I say that with my fingers crossed!) I can attempt to return to my recipes and ramblings.

However when there is good news it seems to go hand-in-hand at times that there follows bad news, and it was very unfortunate that with the arrival of such a wonderful little boy came the loss of another wonderful person. It is with great sadness that I must say that on January 12, 2010 Mrs Dobson passed away.

After a month of trying to work out how I can possibly put into words what she meant to me I am still at a loss. The impact and influence she had on my life was enormous and for that I can’t thank her enough. My wonderful (and giant!) collection of cookbooks is all thanks to her. Her knowledge of food and the contents of all of the hundreds of books still amaze me. She had watched so many chefs and food writers’ rise and fall throughout all of the different food movements and remembered them all along with their trials and tribulations! Her determination and encouragement for me to write and cook will constantly remain with me and inspire me to keep doing it and keep pushing myself until I achieve what it is I am looking for. For everything she has taught and given me, I am forever indebted – thank you Mrs D, you are missed more than you can imagine.

Cook Club – A Tribute to Mrs Dobson

On February 7th Mrs D would have been 87 years old, so in honour of her and to celebrate her birthday I decided to use her and her cookbooks as the inspiration for our cook club which we hosted here last Saturday night. Normally I like to use my own recipes but for this one I used a special book that we both enjoyed reading and have cooked from in the past (a book that we both agreed would be a fun one to work our way through cooking every recipe) –‘ La Potiniere and Friends’ by David and Hilary Brown, the original owners of the La Potiniere restaurant in Gullane, Scotland (unfortunately, as far as I am aware, no longer in print). I have used this book for years (it was my Mum’s book which she had received as a Birthday present) for the wonderful crème brulee recipe which had always amused Mrs D after a particular visit from Dad in which he announced when leaving that he was off home to email me the recipe as I was desperate to make it and didn’t want to use any other recipe! Of course it wasn’t long after that before a copy of the book was sent along to the Manse for me to save Dad from any desperate last minute emails! So with that in mind I turned to La Potiniere for inspiration for both the main course and dessert which undoubtedly had to be the famous crème brulee recipe.

I decided since La Potiniere was a restaurant cookbook I would stick with that theme and used ‘Maze the cookbook’ by Jason Atherton for my starter and Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Secrets’ for a side dish recipe. The full menu was:

Crab Mayo with Avocado and Sweetcorn Sorbet
(From Maze by Jason Atherton)
Braised Pork with Prunes
(La Potiniere by Hilary & David Brown)

Pomme Puree
(Secrets by Gordon Ramsay)

Green Beans

Crème Brulee
(La Potiniere)

The whole meal was a complete success that would have made Mrs D proud. The starter was a wonderful combination of flavours and textures that melted in your mouth. I have to admit I was a little hesitant about the sweetcorn sorbet, knowing it would either be a complete disaster or exceptional. However, having complete faith in Jason Atherton (who spent time working at El Bulli) and sticking to the fact I had to follow the recipes exactly, I pressed on and was delighted that it turned out to be amazing (bad me for having doubts!!). The combination of the sweet, cool sorbet with the delicate crab mayonnaise and rich, creamy avocado puree created a taste explosion that melted in your mouth.

The main course was equally as good. Mr. Vanilla wasn’t at all convinced when I told him that the pork braised in a low oven for 3 hours but after 24 hours of marinating in a brine and then the long, slow cooking in cider he admitted “it was the most tender pork” he had ever eaten. The pork fell apart at just the touch of your fork and was further enhanced by the delicious cider and white wine sauce, perfectly sweetened by the prunes (which I have to admit is not something I would usually cook with or eat!).The pomme puree was a perfect accompaniment adding an element of comfort to an otherwise elegant dinner party dish.

Dessert was my reliable, delicious crème brulee that cannot be topped. The perfect combination of velvety smooth, thick, rich and creamy custard speckled with vanilla seeds and topped with crisp amber sugar, waiting to be tapped with a spoon and broken into shards, is the ultimate in decadence and the absolutely perfect ending to a very delicious meal!

So, after an absence of what I would consider ‘proper cooking’ (in other words a delicious meal that required some real attention, time and love and not something I have just thrown together in between feedings) for a good two months, my tribute to Mrs D and her cookbooks more than paid off. Not only did I get to raise a glass to her and enjoy a delicious meal prepared from books she has given to me, I got back a renewed sense of inspiration and desire to get back into the kitchen and really enjoy cooking again. Thanks Mrs Dobson, now I just need to find the time!
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