It is now 2007, the beginning of a new year and as usual I haven't made any resolutions; if I had, I wouldn't tell anyone them anyway, because I would be bound to break them. Last night we had a quiet meal at home, our first New Year's Eve with just us, in the house, and for the first time I was able to cook on New Year's Eve. I took my culinary responsibility seriously, mainly because I had to get the food right or I would be asleep by 10 pm - I am not very good at staying up late and I hate feeling stuffed like a force-fed French goose. I always knew that the starter would be Jamie's Fifteen Christmas salad, but I didn't decide on the main until I saw a nice-looking organic duck; dessert I only planned yesterday.
The starter, first: Jamie calls it his favourite salad ever and suggests serving it in December when clementines are at their best. This little salad has some lovely ingredients: buffalo mozzarella; fridge-cold clementines; rocket; treviso; speck (smoked prosciutto); lemon oil and zest, mint, and balsamic. My version was a tad different because I couldn't find treviso or radicchio whole anywhere, so I used rocket with a little bit of cos lettuce to boost it a bit (I know it's not the same, but it's what I had). To make it, I tore a ball of mozzarella per person over each small serving plate, seasoned and scattered with lemon zest. I sliced the clementines into thick discs and arranged them over the cheese (again, one per person). Then I tossed the salad leaves and most of the mint with lemon oil and wrapped these in speck to make a bundle for each of us, adding that little package to the plate. Finally I shaved over some Parmesan, added mint leaves and drizzled over the quality balsamic vinegar that Simon bought for me last month.
I can see why this salad would be Jamie's favourite. It immediately became mine, too -it is absolutely divine. The flavours work together magically and every mouthful is an intense pleasure. Jamie suggests making this at other times of the year too, with blood oranges, peaches, pears or figs; I will have to, because I will have to eat this salad again. As starters and salads go, it is perfect: refreshing, sweet, bitter, salty, creamy and peppery.
The Christmas salad was a tough act to follow. I returned to Jamie's perfectly cooked crispy duck recipe, which has an alternative cooking suggestion: instead of rubbing it in sage salt, he suggests giving it an Asian vibe and rubbing it in five spice and shoving ginger, rather than sage leaves, in the cavity. I decided to go with that vibe and take it further, serving the duck with Chinese pancakes and matchsticks of carrot, spring onion, cucumber and coriander (and hoisin sauce). I did this because I figured it would be less filling than a traditional main (this sort of Chinese crispy duck is usually eaten as a starter) and would leave space for dessert. I was right, except that this sort of food is incredibly moreish and you have to stop yourself from picking up just another pancake. This course nearly went wrong because Tesco have apparently stopped selling the little Chinese pancakes (yes I know you can make them, and no, I wasn't about to try) so we had to go into town to the little Asian supermarket, which, thankfully, if unsurprisingly, did. It didn't go wrong, and involved no last-minute cooking; Simon shredded the duck and I chopped the vegetables, and then we ate it.
It was as yummy as Chinese duck and pancakes always are; I don't really need to say any more, except that there is lots left for lunch today (hurrah) and I am looking forward to it already.
For dessert, I made a chocolate and ginger cake from the Green and Black's cookbook. It was basically a simple cake mixture (eggs, sugar, flour, butter) plus some cocoa powder, chopped stem ginger and stem ginger syrup, baked, then topped with chocolate and chopped crystallized ginger. Except I cheated and used Green and Black's ginger chocolate, which has pieces of crystallized ginger in anyway.
You can see the spikes of ginger in the icing, which really gave it a kick. This is a lovely cake: light and vibrant, it would be as good for afternoon tea as it would for dessert, and it is delightfully simple. Below I've added an extra pic to show off my new cake stand, which my parents bought me for Christmas - it looks white but is pale blue, another Nigella Living Kitchen accessory. I love it and am shamelessly parading it now on its first outing.
So: a new year has begun, swept in quite literally here by terrifying gusts of wind that blew down our hanging baskets and threw a learner plate into our back garden. Happy new year, to anyone who has overcome a hangover in time to read me; may it bring health, contentment, and many more Jamie recipes like the duck and the divine salad!