It’s damn well bloody over! 69-er is COMPLETE.

And it ends with mixed feelings (and an expanded waistline!).  I’m sorry that there’s no longer going to be anything pushing us out of our comfort zone of routine dinners.  That there won’t be anything that motivates me to whip up a cake or some scones after dinner when I normally couldn’t be arsed.  That it may not occur to me any more to sling together a casual salad or soup for a saturday lunch instead of a sandwich.  However I am relieved that I stand a chance now to lose the weight I’ve put on in the last 9 weeks.  And that I can do other things in life other than cook and pick recipes!

So what have been the wins?

Engaging with cookbooks I normally can’t be bothered to open has been a wonderful discovery.  Who’d have thought that cookbooks without photos actually work?  I love a visual demonstration of a dish to inspire me but a number of my cookbooks didn’t help me out with that. And guess what? The food tasted just as good without the photo.

If a cookbook is old it doesn’t stop it from being excellent – Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef (1999) helped me to make the best beer bread in the world and Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) provided the recipe to an exquisite mushroom ragu.

Even if I don’t particularly like a chef on tv (Rick Stein – I find him very whingey) doesn’t mean that they can’t write an amazing cookery book. I was literally blown away by Rick’s creamy leak cannelloni.

It’s forced me to try different sorts of cooking – I often avoid my Asian/Indian/Chinese cookbooks because the ingredients can be difficult to source.  But we managed and the dishes were a joy.

Conquering bread was a HUGE deal for me.  I’ve talked about making bread for YEARS and with this challenge I made pitta bread, beer bread and potato bread.  My fear of breadmaking has gone.

It’s confirmed to me that some of my favourites will remain favourites.  I refer to them again, but Nigella and Jamie never failed to deliver amazing food throughout the challenge.

And what will I be taking with me going forward?

I’m going to be more curious about my cookery books and not stick to my comfort zone of my three favourite healthy cook books. Different styles of cooking have different merits and it’s fun to mix it up.  I hope to make an attempt to return to as many of those 69 books as possible.

Finally let me talk you through the last eleven recipes of the challenge. They were all pretty lovely – apart from the Basil and Mango Smoothie (Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book) which was a bit bland.  You can look at all the dishes on the collage below, but I’ll pick out my top 3 faves.

  1. Beetroot and Feta and Mint Salad – Fabulous Baker Brothers.  A bit faffy to make as you had to roast the beetroots then de-skin them with rubber gloves.  Messy work I can tell you. But this was a beauty of a dish – fresh and wholesome and deliciously oniony.
  2. Leek Cannelloni – Rick Stein.  This took ages to make and involved four pans on the go at once.  Every element required steeping and simmering and several stages (eg infuse the milk for the cheese sauce for 20 mins with bay leaves, onions & garlic before you even make the cheese sauce!).  And the lasagne sheets we had to boil in a pot ended up stuck together so we had to chuck them out and have a pasta-less cheese bake. However this didn’t matter and the effort was worth it.  It was out of this world.  The tomato sauce was rich, the leeks with ricotta were a great combination and the cheese sauce was so  flavourful and creamy – it was the icing on the cake.
  3. Baked Cheesecake – James Martin.  I went through a phase about six years ago when I’d have people over for dinner and I’d ALWAYS make a cheesecake.  I was obsessed – I must have tried ten different varieties of cheesecake.  So since that overkill, I don’t make cheesecakes, until the challenge that is.  As it turns out I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever made – the lemon zest and whisky soaked sultanas added a subtle and sophisticated twist to a traditional recipe.

So now 69-er is over, what next? Well certainly for the next two weeks before my holiday I’m going to be doing a lot of healthy eating recipes to lose those extra pounds I’ve gained. So expect a post about that.  And for the next challenge – I’m not quite sure yet, but it would be nice to start another juicy challenge in September.  A food waste challenge or mastering a cuisine are appealing ideas.  Do comment and let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

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A chatty night at the Drunken Butcher’s veggie supper club

I arrived before any of the other guests to discover a very invitingly laid table and a waitress.  The Drunken Butcher himself was hidden in the kitchen.  I was getting excited already.  I was a bit nervous as I’d decided to rock up alone.  I’d been wanting to go to a Drunken Butcher supper club for ages and I decided to chance it by myself.

table

My nerves did take a bit of a spike when the remaining seven guests arrived.  They ALL knew each other and had in fact been friends for about nine years. Sharp intake of breath.  Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so easy. Thankfully they were all delightfully friendly and interesting, so I got stuck into finding out all about them.

salad
Beetroot and pickled celeriac salad, with blue cheese and walnuts

The starter was a work of art: beetroot and pickled celeriac salad, with blue cheese and walnuts. And it was exquisite.  My favourite item were the walnuts which tasted like they were honey roasted.  Iain achieved this flavour by roasting them then caramelising them with sugar.

gnocchi
Homemade gnocchi with sage and tomato

Next course was homemade gnocchi with sage and tomato – delicious, squidgy comforting potatoey dumplings in a tasty tomato sauce. And followed up by a main of vegetable terraine and ‘ratatouille’ and crispy shallots.  The resounding favourite element of this dish was without question the crispy shallots which everyone went wild for.  Iain had treated them in the same way you would batter fish.  Soaking the shallot rings in carbonated water for two hours before dipping in flour and deep frying.  Oh yum!  And there was a nifty accompaniment to our meal – a little shot of spicy tomato vodka.  I examined my glass warily – it looked like tomato stock in a glass – not my thing.  But as it happens it was my thing! Effectively a clear version of bloody mary – made from the liquid of sieved tomatoes mixed with vodka and tobasco. Thank you very much Iain!

main
Vegetarian terraine and “ratatouille” and crispy shallots
vodka
Iain’s special bloody mary vodka

 

pud
Grilled pineapple, sour cream sorbet, blueberry sauce

And then came dessert.  A yummy combo of grilled and caramelised pineapples with Iain’s home sour cream sorbet (great idea!) and blueberry sauce.  And how the evening had flown by! I was so busy chatting to my table neighbours that I hadn’t noticed the time.  They were cheeky, challenging, opinionated and funny and I loved chewing the fat with them.  And to me this is the point of supper club.  What a lovely relaxing environment to meet some new people.

And the final treat of the night, was when the Drunken Butcher (Iain Devine) appeared from the kitchen to have a chinwag with us all.  Iain is charming, witty and he really knows his food.  We got the low down on his cooking techniques and life in the food industry.

It felt like a unique night – the doors being opened to me to Iain’s cuisine and house and to a lovely bunch of friends.  It definitely beat a night in front of the telly.  If you want to find out more about the Drunken Butcher’s supper clubs follow him @drunkenbutcher.

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The Drunken Butcher emerges from the kitchen at the end of the night for a chat