Nods to the Past and Present

I think in all of our families we have as many bad cooks as we do good ones. My grandmother is by far the stand out culinary cornerstone as I was growing up. Sunday roasts, casseroles, her legendary macaroni cheese, honey glazed hams, varieties of seasonal jams and marmalades, cakes, Christmas puddings and so on. She is an amazing all round cook. I even use some of her recipes to this day and I would not change a thing about them; their technical imperfections make them perfect to me and they still take me on a nostalgic trip back to my youth every time I eat them. She is well into her 80s and is partially blind but still cooks from scratch every day, which is an amazing feat.

When birthdays came around, she was always the first to nominate herself to cook for these occasions and my grandfather’s birthday was always one that stood out to me. His birthday in November meant one thing to me: Venison casserole with smoked bacon, celeriac, potato, mushrooms and served with home grown garden peas. She would cook this for hours and hours, probably a lot longer than it actually needed but this would result in incredibly tender meat, an intensely rich sauce and soft veg that had absorbed all of these flavours. This dish will always conjure memories of my family gathered round a table, happily celebrating Pop’s birthday.

He was an incredibly warm and friendly person that had a very positive outlook on everything. A big lover of music, film and photography and one of his hobbies was making his own beer and wine. Things that I have naturally gravitated to in my own life without realising. After he died, my mum gave me a set of cocktail glasses and a shaker that was a gift to him on his wedding day. With the set, it had a set of cocktail recipe books that were dated 1901,1936 & 1953. In these books had handwritten footnotes written by him and also his mother (my great-grandmother) on their own improvements to the recipes throughout the pages. This was something that I found hugely special and really bonded what I was/am doing in my own life back into my own family’s past.

This year, Tor & I have been avidly watching The Great British Menu as chefs from all over the country compete to get a dish at a banquet held to honour of Queen Elizabeth II and all those she has honoured with OBEs, CBEs, MBEs & BEM for going above and beyond for their charity, community and country. It was this brief for the programme made me think of my own family and the food that represents these special people. So, in honour of my grandfather this November, for what would have been Pop’s birthday, I taken my grandmother’s recipe and put my own modern twist on it. Served with it, I have made a cocktail using my grandfather’s cocktail set that perfectly complements the ingredients on the main dish. Taking the best of what my grandparents both did and bringing it into the modern day.

So, I invited my grandmother ’round for some lunch!

Now, I won’t sit here and write out a recipe for you to follow for a complicated fine dining dish, because a magician should never reveal all of his secrets. But, I have included the recipe to the cocktail that is simple and easy so you can impress all of your friends this festive season!

The Cocktail: Pear & Hibiscus Mezcal Sour

You will need:

4 x pears

2 x whites of 2 eggs

1 x bottle of birch water (available at most supermarkets near the heathy juice drink section)

2 x tablespoons of sugar

2 x large lemons

4 x 25ml of Mezcal or Tequila

To garnish:

Star anise and a health pinch of ground hibiscus

Step 1:

Freeze the birch water in an ice cube tray – try and do this hours in advance.

Step 2:

Peel and core 4 medium-large pears. If you can’t get these, juicy red apples are just as delicious. Put them in a saucepan with a little water and simmer with a lid on until very soft. Once ready, pulse to a smooth paste.

Step 3:

Halve 2 lemons, place them into your cocktail tin and squash them using the end of a rolling pin (this is called muddling, if you want to look the pro in front of your friends!) until all of the juice has been muddled out! Separate the whites from 2 eggs and add to the lemon mix (this creates a meringue-like texture and it is perfectly safe to consume).

We added an orange sugar solution that we home-made for desserts, but you can add 2 tablespoons of soft brown (or caster) sugar. Take the teaspoon and add 6 spoons of the pear puree. Now add the alcohol! We used an artisan spirit called Montelobos Mezcal. Mezcal is a cousin to Tequila. Ignore what you think of the old superstition of the hangover-inducing spirit. Tequila & Mezcal are hugely underrated and are having a comeback in popularity with amazing small batch, handmade products. Worth checking out!

Anyway, add 4 shots of this to lemon, pear, sugar and egg white mix.

Step 4:

Now add 6-8 of your birch water ice cubes to the tin, place the lid on and shake very vigorously. You will notice the temperature change while you are shaking – careful not to let the lid fly off. Wait until it is very cold, then into 4 cocktail glasses (or a tumbler over ice, freeze extra birch water if so) and pour the drink. Sprinkle the ground hibiscus and place a star anise on top. The perfume of these will complement the drink as it is being drunk.

With this drink, I served seared venison fillet, celeriac puree, pancetta crisp, pan fried and then sous vied exotic mushrooms in truffle butter, truffle Carpaccio, pommes soufflées, pea gel, truffle foam and nasturtium leaves.

As we sat around the table, I told her what this meal represents to me. I explained what the significance of the ingredients and also why I had served her the drink in her and Pop’s cocktail set. She really understood what this dish means to me and she said that Pop would have loved it. We toasted to him on his birthday and she left me to do the washing up.

How the roles have reversed!

Note to self: A little mezcal helps make the washing up go quicker!