>> Friday, 2 September 2011
This was the second year running that m'colleague Chris and I had entered NomNomNom as a team. As always, our first priority was coming up with a suitably awful pun on the word "nom" as a team name. Last year we were NomNomNom de Plume. This year, on the grounds that the competition had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with linguistic theory or critiques of hegemonic capitalist systems, we decided to call ourselves Nom Chompsky. Double eating noise pun = bonus points, we figured. Wrongly.
The competition was, as always, huge fun. Having gathered at the rather lovely Cookery School - and bolstered by breakfast from Rosalind's Kitchen, the rather excellent new offshoot from the school - we set off for the farmer's market about ten minutes walk up the road. One of the great pleasures of NomNomNom as a cooking contest is that you get to buy all your ingredients fresh, local and season from the market, ensuring your dishes are in harmony with what the land around produces.
Unfortunately, this year, we couldn't find a lot of what we needed in the farmer's market, so ended up getting most of it from the Waitrose round the corner. AH WELL.
Armed with our supplies from the fountain of eternal middle-classness, we returned to set about our work with verve and enthusiasm:
This year - unlike previous years, where teams had to prepare a standard three-course meal - we had to come up with something a bit more varied: one soup, two salads, a main and a 'treat'. After much browsing of recipe books, we'd finally settled on:
Soup: Stracciatella soup (an Italian egg-drop soup)
Salads: Baby spinach, pea and feta salad & Spanish roast vegetable salad
Main: Char siu pork burritos (Chris's cunning fusion of Chinese and Mexican stylings)
Treat: Billionaire’s Shortbread (of which more later)
As has been the case with previous years, we started out with the best of intentions: we'd diligently photograph and video every step as we went along. Of course, as soon as you start cooking, these best intentions go out of the window in a flurry of AARGH I NEED FIFTEEN BOWLS IMMEDIATELY HOW DOES THE BLENDER WORK OH GOD I FORGOT TO ADD THE PARMESAN. It all passes in something of a blur, and to be perfectly honest I can't quite remember most of it. I assume that means that I was 'in the zone'. Possibly. Or maybe just in shock from having to get out of bed before noon on a Sunday.
Now unfortunately my partner in crime is currently galavanting around New York, and so isn't available to write up the recipes he took charge of (the burritos and the roast vegetable salad) - although I can confirm that the pork was super delicious, so if you ever meet him you should probably demand that he tell you the recipe and not allow him to leave until he does.
As for my dishes, they were all pretty simple: if you're making stracciatella soup, you won't go far wrong with this basic recipe, although there's a hundred slight variations possible on it (I thickened up the egg mixture with semolina, for example - honestly, that does work, and it's not remotely horrible even though it sounds like it should be.)
The salad's even easier - it's basically taken from his Jamieness of Oliver, and I have to say it's a) well tasty, and b) extremely hard to muck up. Add chopped sugarsnap peas, spinach and crumbled feta to a bowl with a sprinkling of very finely chopped red chillies (minus most of the seeds) and chives; add a dressing that's one part freshly squeezed lemon juice to five parts olive oil, plus a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper to taste. Done.
However, the one recipe that I got several requests to write up in full was for the Billionaire's Shortbread, which it seems turned out rather well - if by 'rather well' you mean 'insanely sweet and dense and possibly illegal due to various pieces of health and safety legislation'. Still, people seemed to enjoy it. "I could feel my arteries shutting down one by one" was an approving comment from a fellow competitor, as he lay dying on the street. So, here it is.
Billionaire's Shortbread is rather a lot like Millionaire's Shortbread, except MUCH MORE CLASSY. By which I mean it's got peanuts in it, and is decorated with gold dust. Peanuts, of course, are noted for their exclusivity and connotations of a luxury jet-set lifestyle. The basic recipe I based this around comes from the Belleau Kitchen blog, although I've tweaked and mucked around with it a bit. Note: the alternative name for this, which it was given on the day and suits it very well, is "Posh Snickers".
For the shortbread
250g Plain Flour
75g Caster Sugar
Mix the ingredients up in a big bowl until you've got a nice, smooth, malleable gloop that - assuming you've measured all the things right - should be substantial enough that you can pick it up and shape it without it trying to escape.
Stick this into a pre-greased cake tin, or similar receptacle - you'll want something roughly a foot square. Ish. Slap it about a bit until it's roughly flat and evenly distributed across the tin. Whack this into an oven pre-heated to 180°C for around twenty minutes (until the surface starts to turn golden), then once it's done, allow it to cool and harden. Because you're probably impatient, "allow it to cool" means "stick it in the fridge".
For those of you who like to keep up with such things, you have now made what's technically known as a "buttery biscuit base".
For the peanut butter layer
A jar of crunchy peanut butter
Scoop about half the peanut butter into a bowl, and briefly stick it in the microwave on a medium heat until it's a bit runnier than it normally is. Once your buttery biscuit base is cool and solid enough that you can do things to it, slop your slightly melty peanut butter all over it and spread it out evenly.
This is definitely the easiest step of the recipe, which given that the rest are also very easy is saying something. Also, you've still got half a jar of peanut butter left over. Bonus.
For the caramel layer
50g Light Muscavado Sugar
400g Condensed Milk
1 tsp Cornflour
Large handful of salted peanuts
First, pummel the crap out of your peanuts with a pestle & mortar (or other peanut-destroying device), until your large handful of peanuts becomes a large handful of tiny peanut fragments. This can be quite enjoyable. Imagine all the peanuts have the faces of your enemies. Smash them. Smash them all. Then retain your peanut/enemy fragments in a bowl for later.
Splodge the butter, sugar and condensed milk into a saucepan, and stir constantly over a medium heat for some time until it starts to thicken. At this point, carry on stirring over a medium heat for longer than you might think. Basically, the point is it needs to be really rather thick - if it's too runny, it'll RUIN EVERYTHING. Once you're convinced it's really quite thick (little bits will probably have started caramelising, which is fine), stir in the cornflour for even more thickening, then stir in the fragments of your vanquished peanut enemies.
Spread all this lot over your buttery biscuit base and peanut layer, then "allow it to cool" (stick it in the fridge) again.
For the chocolate layer
150g Milk Chocolate
50g Dark Chocolate
Gold Dust (edible type)
Obvious bit, really: once your caramel later has solidified a bit, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave. If you do this cleverly and just stir it gently, the milk and dark chocolate should make a pretty swirly pattern rather than just homogenising into a boring uniform colour. Pour your melty swirly chocolate over the caramel and spread until it's even.
Then comes the pointless but fun tarting-up section. Get a small amount of edible gold dust, and using a very fine sieve, scatter it lightly over the chocolate. If you don't have a fine sieve, just chuck it around a bit. Maybe blow it over the chocolate, if you don't have germs.
(Edible gold dust note: you know how the phrase "it's like gold dust" normally denotes that something is very rare and extremely expensive? Yeah, turns out you can get pots of it in Waitrose for under four quid.)
Allow to cool (FRIDGE, although it should be noted that at this point on the day we actually decided to put it in the Cookery School's BLAST FREEZER to speed things up a bit. I wish I had a blast freezer at home, mostly because I enjoy saying the words "blast freezer".) Once cooled, serve (ideally) when the chocolate is mostly solid but still slightly gooey. If you've done it right, your finished Billionaire's Shortbread should have roughly the density of a neutron star, and should be able to give a horse diabetes at fifty paces.
VOTE FOR NOM CHOMPSKY