Last minute buys

 

There’s a fruit and veg stall in one of the small local shopping precincts – all the traditional calls and a fine array of good produce.  At the end of the day, there are bargains to be had if you can use them fairly quickly.

The punnets of strawberries made a quick pudding and half went into the dehydrator for another day.  Baby plum tomatoes were halved and dried in the oven with a little salt and pepper – now in jars steeping in olive oil.  Raspberries went straight into the freezer but I wanted something special with the fresh figs.

 

9-12 fresh figs, stems removed and halved

1 orange, juice and zest

2 teaspoons of butter

2-3 tablespoons of honey

Handful of walnuts, shelled and chopped.

 

Place the figs cut side up in an oven proof dish.

Pour over the orange juice, dot with butter, anoint with honey and top with walnuts.

Cook in a pre-heated oven Gas 4 for 45-60 minutes.

Serve with yoghurt or cream, sprinkled with the orange zest.

 

Don’t be mean with the honey or orange juice – it is delicious.

 

And I’ve been experimenting with my hot water pastry.  It made excellent cases for turkey and mushroom pies – hot or cold – and also for vegetable tarts (sautéed onion, courgette, mushroom, potato, fresh thyme with a little well-seasoned egg and cream   custard).  The pastry had been sitting in the fridge overnight after making pork pies but was still easy to handle and cooked perfectly.  This is a pastry that can do more than just raised game pies.

 

 

Man of many talents.

You may have seen me cooking with John: for Comic Relief https://youtu.be/6SaB88MiUu4xx   and with an American guest https://youtu.be/cOXzP3NGzFkxx

Not only is he a super-cook but also Director of my long-term (over quarter of a century) taxi company but he has just turned avid fisherman and arrived bearing gifts of freshly caught mackerel.  He and brother-in-law Derek (of wedding cake fame) had just returned from another trip in their boat on the Solent.

Blind people are perfect for filleting fish: we can feel all those pesky tiny bones and get them out.  But I was grateful that John had already gutted the mackerel.  Simply fried in a very little olive oil, they were magnificent for breakfast with just a little of my apple, date and walnut chutney.

Last week, suitably masked, he prepared one of his favourite dishes: slices of gammon gently poached in honey with oven-cooked potato wedges.  And long-term Navy pal, Maggie (again, I’ve known her for more than quarter of a century) joined us for the cooking demo and to devour the results.

 

1 Large potato per person

Seasoning mix such as a little ground chilli, garlic powder, crushed dried thyme and rosemary, salt and pepper.

Olive oil.

1 gammon slice per person.

Honey.

1 fresh pineapple, skin, core and top removed, sliced.

About three cherry tomatoes per person.

Stab the potatoes and microwave on high until becoming soft.

Cut the potatoes in to wedges lengthwise and brush all over with oil and then gently roll in the seasoning.

Place in a moderate oven (Gas 5) to crisp and finish cooking.

To prevent the honey burning, mix with oil: 3 measures honey to 1 measure oil.

Heat the honey mix gently in a frying pan and add the slices of gammon.

Cook gently for 20-30 minutes with the mix just bubbling rather than simmering and spitting.

Turn the gammon steaks over halfway and/or baste with the mix.

Remove the gammon when done and keep warm.

Add the pineapple slices and cherry tomatoes to the frying pan and heat through.

Serve the gammon, pineapple and tomatoes with the potatoes, a salad and those wonderful cooking juices.

 

The special extra touch was the cocktail that John  created “to cut through the sweetness of the dish” or for any reason:  Tall glasses full of ice with measures of gin and bitter lemon  with segments of pink grapefruit squeezed over at the last moment.  Maggie got a taxi home!

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Baclava.

The good news is that I’ve done another book review for RNIB Connect radio (talking about three novels I’ve just read) plus my third on-line cooking demo (for the Braillist Foundation https://www.braillists.org) to share some of my cooking tips.  The bad news is that I didn’t make the grade for a TV commercial – the casting company was super-polite but they didn’t want me.  One day, you might see the ad and remember that I was completely the wrong person to play the elderly, blind grandmother!  Those of you who know me will not be surprised.

But the triumph of the week has been making baclava: indulgently sticky and sweet with our home-produced honey; fragrant with cardamom and orange; crunchy with hand-cracked French walnuts, toasted and sliced.  I’ve had to protect the outstanding results from marauding fingers.  But it is blissfully simple and a wonderful way of celebrating our autumn honey harvest.  Any good honey from a local producer would be just as successful.

 

300g shelled walnuts, toasted and cut into pieces.

3 tablespoons honey

12 cardamom pods, husks removed and contents chopped

Zest of 1 orange

200g butter, melted

2 packs 270g filo pastry

300g honey

Juice of half an orange.

 

Mix the 3 tablespoons of honey, walnuts, cardamom and orange zest (I left overnight to infuse together).

Heat oven gas 4

Brush the bottom of a baking tray with butter.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on the bottom of the tin and brush with butter, repeat with the rest of the pack to give a firm base.

Spread the nut and honey mix on the pastry.

Place the first sheet of pastry from the second pack on top of the nuts, brush with butter and repeat to use the rest of the pack.

Cut through all the layers to make squares of baclava – about one-inch square.

Pour over any remaining butter.

Place in oven for 20 minutes and then reduce temperature to Gas 2 for a further 30 minutes – the top should be browned.  Run a knife through the cuts made earlier.

Pour the honey and orange juice syrup over the baclava and allow to cool.

There are many different flavour variations: cinnamon, pistachio nuts and more so that you can choose whatever you like best.  We had a huge bag of French walnuts, still in their shells which meant they had kept very well for nearly two years.  Otherwise, I keep all my shelled nuts in the freezer as walnuts and Brazil nuts particularly can taste rather rancid if not used quickly.

It is definitely worth finding a metal tray that fits the sheets of filo pastry closely – if not, alternate the positions or cut the sheets to fit the tin.  Don’t be tempted to make in a foil tray unless you can be sure not to cut through the bottom and lose the syrup.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a fabulous way of using nuts and honey but also utterly wicked when it comes to counting the calories – I’m going to share with friends so that the temptation is removed.

 

The Bee Whisperer

Fact or fallacy: do bees respond to the human voice?  I’m not sure if it is the words that are spoken or the breath that speaks to them.  but there’s no doubt that our two bee colonies are calm, relaxed and reciprocating with their bounty.

We’ve managed to harvest our first honey: over 10lbs (5kg for the modern).  It was an intensely focussed activity that started the night before.  A special board that excludes bees from part of the hive is installed so that the frames of comb and honey can be removed next day without having to brush away straggling bees and risk harming them.

There’s a special tool for removing the wax caps at each end of the honeycomb cells before the frames go into the extractor.  Think of something like a handraulic spin-dryer: the frames are suspended in a cage that is whirled around to enable centrifugal force to spin the honey out.  A golden sticky mass oozed from the extractor and through two filters before resting overnight in the settling tank for the air bubbles to surface.  The filled jars are a glorious celebration of the bees and their hard work over the summer.

My great friend and frequent cooking companion, Karen, had brought five egg yolks leftover from a birthday party Pavlova.    The obvious use was lemon curd with honey rather than sugar.  Honey can be up to 21% water (23% for heather honey) and ours was 17% on the refractometer.  Just using yolks rather than the whole eggs should counterbalance the extra water.  Here’s the experimental recipe I made this morning:

zest of 3 and a half medium lemons, juice of 2 and a half.

5 egg yolks.

6 oz honey.

4 ounces butter, cubed small.

Mix the lemon juice, zest and egg yolks together in a heatproof bowl.

Add the honey, stirring again, and then the butter.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the mix from time to time while it heats to just over 70C.

Allow to cool a little before pouring into sterilised jars.

Keep in the fridge and eat soon.

(I’ve just checked and it is setting perfectly).

 

 

Blind cook and pot of honey is recipe for stickiness everywhere

One of the joys of my time at the LightHouse for the Blind (who kindly provided these images) in San Francisco was cooking with Sydney.  She is their instructor chef who herself has very limited vision.  And she enthusiastically allowed me in to her immaculate training kitchen to create havoc and make the honey cake I’d learned from MasterChef champion, Steven Edwards.

By the end of the morning, I was sticky up to my elbows as was the working surface, sink taps, spoons, bowls and virtually everything down my side of the kitchen.  I had to completely change my clothes afterwards.

And the cake was very much touch and go.  Weighing the dry ingredients was easy but, even between us, achieving 200g of egg whites was a challenge.  I’m not sure if the American hens are fed on something different but their shells didn’t really crack but rather collapsed inwards.  Once opened, we were trying to drop the egg in to a separator that was far too small and that wobbled precariously on the edge of a bowl.  And then, of course, there was the honey. The electric mixer made short work of whizzing together the egg whites and dry ingredients

It took two of us huddled over the stove listening to the butter bubbling and then the smell changing to decide that it had browned.

Even once we had the cake batter mixed, we were very dubious as it seemed far too liquid so extra spoonsful of flour and ground almonds were whisked in.  As to the baking tin, there was nothing like Steven’s deep square tin so we compromised with one of those round ones with a hole in the middle to make a ring cake.  This meant that there was less surface to cook which resulted in nearly double the time in the oven.

All of this was to be dessert for a lunch for 12 and, at one stage, it was looking pretty hopeless.  I was wondering how I could make something nearly presentable with a loaf and the rest of the honey.

A cocktail stick is still the best way of testing If a cake is done - and here it came out clean after 40 minutes in the oven.Nail-biting minutes later the cake emerged: lightly golden, springy and coming away from the sides of the tin.  It flopped out perfectly and, after multiple prods with a cocktail stick, it was anointed with the honey and orange juice syrup (the Americans call this a “poke” cake for obvious reasons).  Meanwhile, I’d toasted some walnut pieces and then candied them in yet more honey so that they made a crisp and sticky topping.

Steven’s wonderful winning recipe was even more adulterated as I’d added orange zest to the batter and on the base of the baking tin – he is probably cringing!Penny stirring the small pan of honey and orange juice to make the syrup to pour over the cake.

But it all worked surprisingly well: light and full of flavour without being too sweet – it disappeared very fast.

Another time, I’ll share Sydney’s Marbella chicken – with prunes, olives and much more.  She certainly deserved one of the Baking Blind apron medals for all her patience and the clearing-up!

PennyThe ring shaped cake is golden brown on the white plate, topped with shiny and sticky walnut pieces.