Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Dinner with friends: A slow-cooked pulled-beef chili and chocolate mousse with honeycomb

It's Autumn!  Hooray!  Away with you unsightly upper arms, begone sweaty fringe! Welcome, scarves and woolly tights, good day to you, casseroles and mashed potato!  I've missed you, my lardy friends.  Not that we actually had a Summer, but it's such a drawn out anticlimax of a season that I for one am rather glad it's over. If you remind me of this bon homie approach to these new temperatures in December - when our beautiful yet entirely ineffective old windows mean I'm constantly ensconced in a blanket, or I'm trying to get dressed under a duvet at 6am because our boiler is actually controlled by next door - I will deny all recollection of positivity. 

Anyhow, on with the show.  I might have needed an extra comma in the title.  You all understand that these are two separate dishes, yes? I've not gone all Heston on you and created a spicy beefy dessert mousse (although, adding dark chocolate to a chili IS a thing, one which works very well).  IT'S A CHILI AND THEN A CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. You with me?  Good.

Last Saturday people came over for dinner. I know, right, two posts in a row about people coming over and being sociable, ACTUAL FRIENDS - Norwich is warming up.  Ben's old school friend Robert was staying and we also invited our friends, Tom and the two Hollies (one with a Y ad one with an IE, for distinction).  The idea was that we'd have a big dinner, all casual like, then head into town for further drinking and merrymaking. 

One slight problem: I can't do casual dining. 

Casual in a sense that I don't give a crap about what fork anyone uses, and a good belch will get a round of applause - YES.  Casual in the sense of me just serving up a bowl of nachos or a pasta bake - NO.  I just have to faff to some degree.  I long to be one of those Italian mamas who can throw together a grilled fish, a couple of tomatoes and a good bottle of oil and it be pronounced the most glorious thing anyone's ever eaten, but alas, alack, this is not me. 

This propensity to go all out may seem to be a desire to show off, but in all honestly it's more an eagerness to make people happy; to feed, to fuss over, to make everyone so full that I don't have to go to some hideous nightclub.  I want people to enjoy themselves. I grew up with an excellent cook of a step-father and host of a mother, so my standards have been unreasonably set. Luckily everyone's catching on to this civilised shit now we're in our late twenties, but at 21 I think everyone found me a bit baffling. 

So this was my best attempt at being casual.  A chili and a chocolate mousse.  Pretty simple right? Well it would be if I just did a straightforward packet-of-mince chili, rather than one which takes 4 fucking hours to cook, with the meat having to be delicately shredded.  Or if I bought a packet of Gü puddings and a crunchie rather than whisking eggs to oblivion and making volcanoes of sugar.  But no sireeee, that would be far too easy to satisfy my sadomasochistic culinary habits. 

I must say, I don't often make chili, because I'm a terrible snob and I've come to view it as a bit ubiquitous.  I ate too much of it as a student and in house shares, and Ben eats it pretty much everyday when his band goes on tour, as this is what every promoter who puts them on/up seems to provide.  So I don't tend to bother.  Same applies to spag bol, Thai green curry, stir fry etc.  But really the joke's on me, because these are some of the best dishes out there, if made properly. And in this case, despite spending 6 years in the kitchen, shelling out our week's food bill on beef, and sending Ben back into town at least three times to buy forgotten ingredients, I would say it's worth the faff.

Same goes for the chocolate mousse.  Unfortunately I did something really bad in a past life and now chocolate gives me migraines, so I could only eat half, but it was a good half.  It's probably a blessing really, if I wasn't limited by such an ailment I'd almost certainly be the size of a rhino.  Warning - the mousse contains raw egg, so this is an excellent tool for discovering if any of your friends are pregnant. If they're suddenly not drinking and are too full for this pudding they're definitely up the duff. Additional warning - the honeycomb is seriously chewy, so if you've invested in expensive fillings rather than the standard NHS ones you might want to take it easy. 

Luckily, my cunning plan of making everyone too full to go out to a bar was perfectly executed  and within two hours we were all totally shitfaced and too busy trying to pull off 'the egg-separation trick' to realise that we weren't out being young and trendy. The aforementioned state of shitfacedness meant I thought I was doing an instructional video when I was apparently just pressing the camera button, so the only video is of my attempt with my horrible oh-god-is-that-really-what-i-sound-like recorded voice, once Robert had rescued the camera from me.

Slow-cooked, pulled-beef chili
Serves 6
About 1kg of beef  (braising steak, brisket or shoulder is probably best), cut into chunks of about 2" or so
2 large white onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chillies, finely chopped
2tbsp ground coriander
2tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp of cayenne pepper
2tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp tomato puree
3 bay leaves
2 glasses red wine
2 pints beef stock
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
1 x 400g tin kidney beans

To serve - fresh coriander leaves, wraps, tacos or rice, guacamole, sour cream, salsa

You're going to need a substantial casserole dish for this.  I actually used two, because I'm the sort of person that has two casserole dishes (*sheepish look* make that three), but you can probably get it all in one if you're careful.  Or make less for that matter. 

In your casserole dish brown-off your beef in small batches and put to one side.  Then fry your onions till soft, add the garlic and chilli for a moment or two then add the spices. Give a good stir around, so you can smell all the spices, then add tomato puree, then add your beef back in and the wine.  Give a couple of minutes for the alcohol to burn off, then toss in the tomatoes, bay leaves and about 2/3 of stock. 

Put in the oven at gas mark 3 for about 2 hours, checking after the first half hour then every twenty minutes or so.  What you want is for the sauce to be very thick and reduced and the beef to be falling apart.  This could take up to three hours, depending on your cut/size of beef pieces. If it seems to be drying out, add more of the stock.

Once you've got it to the desired state you basically need to take two forks to the beef and 'pull' it, so it's roughly shredded.  Taste to see if you need any further spice or seasoning. Then add in your kidney beans and warm through again on the hob.

Serve with all manner of accompaniments.

Chocolate mousse with honeycomb
Serves 6

For the honeycomb
5 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

In a sturdy saucepan heat the syrup and sugar until all the sugar has melted and it has turned to a good bubbly caramel (not too dark or it will taste bitter).  Add in your bicarbonate of soda and it will suddenly all foam up like one of those volcano experiments at primary school.  Have prepared a sheet of baking paper, on a tray or a cool counter, and pour the foaming mixture onto the sheet.  You want it to be quite thick, otherwise you with have flat honeycomb.  Leave to cool for at least half hour, until it is firm and brittle.  Break into shards.

For the mousse

100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate (you can use all dark if you like)
4 eggs
200ml double cream

You need several bowls for this one.  Four bowls to be exact.  In one bowl, whip your cream until it's nice and thick but not stiff.  In another you want your egg yolks, beaten.  In the third whisk the egg whites to soft peaks (again, not stiff).  The final bowl is for your chocolate, and it needs to be a good size to sit over a pan of water. 

So melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water.  If your chocolate starts to play silly buggers and splits, take it off the heat and beat in a little sunflower or vegetable oil, this might rescue it.  Once melted, add gradually (you don't want to do it all at once and scramble them) to your beaten egg yolks, stirring vigorously to stop it from splitting.  Once this is nicely emulsified, stir in the whipped cream. Then fold in the egg whites.  All the while, stir stir stir, your arm should hurt.

Split into 6 ramekins/tumblers/small bowls and leave to set in the fridge for at least an hour.  Then adorn with honeycomb and serve. 

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