oh what a lovely pear!

I’ve been following ‘The London Foodie’ blog for a while now. It’s written by a total foodie called Luiz Hara, who is based, yep you guessed it…in London!. I don’t know how he does it but, seemingly effortlessly he seeks out and frequents an endless selection of London eateries, supper clubs and events and then finds time alongside a full time job to share his experiences and mouth watering photography via his blog. He also runs the London Cooking Club, a monthly supper club with a difference…the idea is that every month has a different theme, Luiz devises a menu and sends it out to the attendees the week before for them to pick the dish that they want to prepare and bring along, with an accompanying wine. Past themes have been Ottolenghi, ‘Demystifying Japanese cooking’ and cooking styles from a variety of countries such as Syria and Portugal and it’s usually based on recipes from one particular cook book. I saw Luiz advertising a ‘French Provincial Cooking’ evening focussing on the recipes of iconic British food writer Elizabeth David, who had her first book published in 1960…

She was responsible for bringing French and Italian cuisine to post war Britain. Her recipes convey her strong personality, she was definitely a lady who knew her mind and this comes across in her non-fluffy, succint, verging on curt instructions…I like her! I chose to take on the dessert that Luiz had selected…poires etuvees au vin rouge (pears baked in red wine). The recipe was brief to say the least…

I fell at the first hurdle…I don’t own an aga 😦 and was so ill prepared that I even had to buy a brand spanking new cast iron pot and get it shipped here tout de suite. 

I woke early on Saturday morning feeling a bit apprehensive and cracked on prepping the comice pears by peeling them and submerging them in their bath of wine, sugar and water…

where they would remain bubbling away inside a ‘slow oven’, which after having done some internet research I concluded was approx 120 degrees, for 5-7 hours!! I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything for that long, let alone a humble pear but what Elizabeth wants…Elizabeth gets, who am I to argue?

With a good few hours to kill before those babies’d be ready, I hopped on my bike and headed to Crouch End to pick up the wine I’d selected to accompany my dessert and a wedge of reblochon, my contribution to the cheeseboard.

4 hours later, my house smelled amazing and this is what the pears looked like…good but not yet good enough…

After 6 long, slow hours they had indeed turned a gorgeous dark mahogany colour just as Elizabeth says they would… 

I’d only been able to fit 6 pears in my pot and with 12 mouths to feed there weren’t any spares to taste test, which was slightly nerve wracking. So I tried to exercise some patience (not something that comes naturally) and packaged them up in an attempt to public transport-proof them ready for the journey to Islington.

At 7.30pm I turned up at Luiz’s, was welcomed warmly into his stunning home and plied with Sipsmith gin (my fave) and tonic. The guests arrived in a  steady stream, we were introduced to one another and given a quick run down of how the evening would work. Not long after this we were served the hors d’oeuvres…rillettes de lapin (potted rabbit and pork) prepared by Cara. I have to admit, I’ve never tried rabbit before and decided it was delicious…

Next we had oeufs benedictine sur brandade de morue (poached eggs on cream of salted cod with hollandaise sauce) prepared by our lovely hosts Gerald and Luiz…

My photo really doesn’t do it justice but I absolutely loved this course…it completely pandered to my love affair with salt!

Next up Tiffany had made the potage creme Normande (Normandy cream of fish soup) but had bravely added a couple of her own twists to add flavour to what was a pretty basic recipe…I’m not sure what Elizabeth would have said about going off piste but I thought Tiffany’s tweaks worked wonders…it was so delicate but full of flavour, a nice departure from the thick stewy soups that have become so popular nowadays…

Kelly and Ben had managed to source the mother of all salmon trout, the length of a strong man’s arm, to make truite saumonee au four avec beuree de montpelier (whole baked salmon trout with montpellier butter). They also decided to veer away from Elizabeths method in favour of Delia, who’s recommendation on cooking times differed by about 6 hours…I don’t blame them!

It was served with puree de celeri-rave at pomme de terre (celeriac & potato purèe) prepared by Lucy…

The veritable meat fest that was the casoulet de Toulouse (beans with pork, mutton, sausage and duck) had been prepared by Elizabeth and Hugh and was divine, tender but not mushy…cooked to perfection!…

And as if we hadn’t already eaten the equivalent of a full meal, this was followed by the boeuf a la Bourgignonne (beef stew with red wine, onions and mushroom) cooked by Libbie and served alongside Johanna’s endives au beurre (endives stewed in butter)…

Again, my photo’s just don’t do the dish justice but the beef was exquisitely tender and the typical bitterness of the endives was balanced perfectly by the rich, smooth butter…heaven!

But next up, was a sight to behold…the cheeseboard of wonder…

We had all brought a French cheese to contribute to this beauty and I’m proud to say, I worked my way through and tried every.single.last.one!

All of this eating and wine quaffing takes time and it was gone midnight by the time I served les desserts…

poires etuvees au vin rouge (pears baked in red wine)…

The moment of truth had arrived and I have to blow my own trumpet and say that my pears were absolutely bloody gorgeous. They were sweet, but served cold, were incredibly refreshing. Just what we needed after so many rich courses. I served them in their juice with some extra thick double cream. I had sought advice from my friend Hannah, earlier in the week, who made contact with Xavier Rousset, MD of Texture to ask for his opinion on wine pairing. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to source the Bouvet Ladubet Rubis that he recommended but I jotted it down and asked for the next best thing at my local wine shop and this is what they came up with…

a sparling white from the Loire. it was delicious and the perfect accompaniment to the sweet, syrupy pears.

We were all completely and utterly sated by this point and my fellow guests started to book taxi’s as it was getting pretty late. I wasn’t far behind but was at the mercy of Luiz’s amazing hospitality and even more amazing liqueur cabinet…

I finally left sometime after 3am, having a had a wonderful evening full of gorgeous food in very fine company. I loved the communal style of dinner party, which everyone had contributed to and shared and despite not having known anyone at the start of the evening I felt like I had made a roomful of friends.

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