Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cheese Room Christmas Lunch

After much organisation us Cheese Girls (well I can't really say that anymore now that we have Andy and Keppel) have organised a nice Christmas lunch. The way it will work is we each bring a dish or two and our trusty Sommilier will organise the drinks for us.

I have decided to start by whipping up two salads, as they are usually forgotten and are one of my favourite dishes, especially in the heat of the summer. The first will be a simple Panzanella Salad which consists of diced tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, Spanish onions, EV olive oil, a good balsamic and toasted sourdough croutons to soak up all the juices. After looking up many differenet versions of the Panzanella I decided simple is best. No need for capers, anchovies etc as I feel there is enough flavour if you get really good produce.

The second salad I made up was a shredded cabbage salad marinated in a lemon vinaigrette and served with shaved Reggiano. It is very simple but a nice light accompaniment to a main dish. I dressed the salad a couple of hours ahead of time so the cabbage wasn't so stiff and softened up slightly.

BUT the dish that impressed the most was the Chocolate Ganache Caramel Tart. I started this recipe on Satruday afternoon by making the sweet pastry, fridging it, blind baking then baking it. This time I didn't overcook the pastry as the first time I tried it I thought it was still too soft as I forgot it hardens as it cools. Well after the pastry was done it was time to attack the caramel.....this is where the fun begins.

Sugar goes through many stages before it turns into toffee and last time I did it I missed the window by only about 20 seconds to turn it into caramel (by adding cream, butter and salt) and it burnt so this time I was being very careful. It was going very well and starting to turn a light brown when I stirred it and it splat up and onto my hand, burning me quite badly.

When it processed that I needed to wash my hand the burn was quite bad and because I spent time washing my hand, of course the caramel burnt, so I had to to it all again although since I had used the plain stainless steel pot and couldn't wash it straight away (as it needed to be soaked) I needed to use a non-stick pot. This sounds good in theory as it will be easier to clean the caramel at the end, but it doesn't allow the sugar to heat up as much and go through all the stages it would normally go through.

It did work out in the end, although not as clear as when I previously have done it in a plain stainless steel pot, but I didn't care by this stage. I poured it into the pastry and put it in the fridge to set overnight. The next morning it was looking good and I was in brighter spirits to make the chocolate ganache topping. The key to making smooth ganache is to heat the cream before adding the chocolate. I melted my chocolate before combining them just so they blended completely. Once when I have done it with very cold chocolate and cold cream in the douvble boiler they didn't combine completely and the end result was slightly lumpy and not smooth like it should be. Once I had finished the ganache i poured it thickly over the tart and set it in the fridge again for at least 3hrs before serving it.

I will admit it is a very long process but SOOOOO worth it as I was told it was pure decidence, so at least my labour and pain was not a waste.

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