This evening Anna prepared a River Cafe feast. Her intended guests were unable to come and eat it because of the closure of the Blackwall Tunnel. So Kirstin and her family had to step in at the last minute to eat the food. The menu: “Pork Cooked in Milk”, “Spinach with Oil and Lemon”, “Mashed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Parmesan” and “Bitter Chocolate Almond Torte”.
Anna: I was trying to find something appropriate for a Sunday, having guests round, that wouldn’t cost a fortune — that didn’t involve a whole shin of veal.
Kirstin: Or hare.
Anna: Then I came across the pork in milk, which I ate a million years ago, but I’ve never cooked it. I think my mum did it. I thought I was going to do braised cavallo nero with it, but there was none in the whole of London. Not even at Borough. It’s not the season. It would have been helpful if the book had mentioned this.
Kirstin: But it predates seasonal cooking! That was so early-2000s.
Anna: The book says “we’ve never seen it in Italy south of Rome” and says “it will regrow in February and early spring”… anyway, I couldn’t find any. And the mash: what goes better with pork than mash? And cheesy mash has got to be a good thing.
Kirstin: Have you tried the potatoes with balsamic vinegar? That’s a really good one.
Anna: I did see it, and wondered if I should have been doing that. But by then I was committed to the mash. And the spinach, because I couldn’t find the cavallo nero. And then the cake, I was a bit panicky about the desserts, based on the reputation that they don’t work, and I don’t have an ice-cream maker.
Kirstin: I will do ice creams later in the month!
Anna: It was a toss-up between this and the chestnut and chocolate torte, but chestnuts feel Christmasy, and there’s a topping so I chose this one. The pork was very very easy to cook, I got a delicious loin of pork from Dring’s, and the potatoes were easy apart from…
Kirstin: I had several phone calls about the potatoes!
Anna: They require a yellow waxy potato rather than a floury one. I got Charlotte potatoes, and they were the size of golf balls. I had to peel every bleeding one. It took about half an hour. That would put me off doing it again; I don’t do mash often anyway, because of the peeling and the boiling and the faffing. Given that there wasn’t much moisture, it’s quite a stiff mash anyway, maybe the floury ones would absorb all that oil. But because the pork is so easy, and the spinach, this is the only faffy bit. And the pork takes two hours to cook, so you’ve got time to peel potatoes.
Tom: And the mash was yum!
Anna: And it went with the pork really well, didn’t it? And the spinach was easy as pie. So I’d definitely make that meal again. It was a good Sunday meal. I was worried it would be too wintery, but it was fine.
Kirstin: You could go out all day, and then come home and bung that in. It wouldn’t be too scary. And the pork was so moist. And the gravy, although it looks like vomit, tastes delicious. It was perfect. You did really well.
Peter (mumbling from kitchen where he is washing up): Ooh. Eer. Very good. Firm mash with cheesy bite. Ooh. Er. Yes. Pudding could do with being more consistently cooked.
Anna: I’ll leave it in for longer next time. But would you like that meal again?
Peter: Er, yes.
Anna: The pudding was pretty easy, but it was one of those three-bowl shenanigans, you had to whizz up the chocolate and almonds in the food processor, then the egg yolks and sugar and butter, and then the egg whites separately. So it creates a bit of washing up, but I didn’t cook it for long enough. I cooked it for 45 minutes, like it said in the book. I had the fan on in the hope that it would cook more evenly, and in the end I had it in for 50 minutes. The skewer came out clean, pretty much, and you don’t want to overdo it. But because there’s no flour maybe it’s going to stay moister. I served the torte with strawberries on the side, because I thought it would be nice it have something with it.
Tom: So how long would you cook it for next time?
Anna: At least another 5 minutes, 55 minutes. But I’d start checking after 45 minutes. I’ve always been shy of cooking River Cafe desserts. Kirstin, do you find that they don’t tell you to cook it for long enough?
Kirstin: Their cakes are always a fiasco, but the ice creams are nice. But in River Cafe Easy, they have raspberry and ricotta, I make that all the time, and lots of sorbet recipes.
Anna: With this book, the recipes are simple, but you need to be a confident enough cook that you can improvise the quantities. With the potatoes, I didn’t do the full quantity of oil that they recommended. And the other night, with the dressing for the squid, they wanted an inch of oil, and that was too much as well. The amount of milk with the pork, I improvised too; it would have been way too much. But if you follow the recipe to the letter you’ll come a cropper sometimes. You need to know when to stop.
Verdict: Will I make this again? Definitely a pefect meal to cook for friends on a Sunday.