Simply delicious

The sous-chef has had his booster shot this week.   More by luck than due to any organisation.   Bookings had been made for over 350 people within about 45 minutes at one single-handed chemist.   The maths just don’t work when there’s paperwork to be filled in too.

It was a very long queue with many very old, disabled and fragile people spread out through the car park and pavements of adjoining streets.   By the time he was about 100 away from success, they were already running out of vaccine.   Being a man of initiative, the sous chef grabbed the chance of an alternate pharmacy a few miles away: no queue, three people manning the operation and totally slick.

Reports that booster jab offers aren’t being taken up may be misleading.   There’s lots of willingness out there but an organisation that isn’t working (and it’s not the NHS).

On a happier topic, what do you do with quinces?   In the past, I’ve reduced them to a puree, thickened it with sugar and made simple little fruit pastilles.

But this week, a neighbour delivered her total crop of 10 quinces (bad weather etc) and I was in a quandary as to how to use them with no effort.   Here’s the resultant recipe that proved quick and easy:

 

Half a lemon, juiced.

1 litre water.

250g honey.

250g sugar.

10, quinces, washed.

 

Place the husk of the juiced lemon in a pan with the water, honey and sugar.   Bring to the boil gently to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool a little.

Quarter the quinces and remove the pips with a dessert spoon before rolling them in the lemon juice.

Place the quince pieces in a flat-bottomed roasting pan, pour over the syrup (having removed the lemon husk).

Cover with baking paper and a tight cover of foil.

Bake at 150C, Gas 2 for 3 hours.

Remove the paper and foil before returning to the oven to colour a little for 20 minutes at 200c, Gas 6.

Remove the quince pieces and reduce the syrup in the roasting pan on the stove top.   Pour over the quinces and serve.

These are still mouth-puckering tart and we found the answer was a light crumble topping.   Simply rub oats, butter, soft brown sugar (or honey) and crushed hazelnuts together (Proportions are 2:1:1:1 by weight).   Spread a few handfuls on baking parchment and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes.   With a dash of cream, yoghurt or custard, the crumble-topped quinces were perfect.

Don’t forget the free Christmas pudding on-line demo at 1030 9 November:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

 

 

 

 

Last of the apples?

How sad am I?   Learning the authentic names of our “heritage” apples was rather thrilling!

Thanks to Chris Bird of Sparsholt Horticultural college (near Winchester), we learned that apple trees over 50 years old are deemed heritage.   Ours are remnants of a Victorian orchard that pre-dates the 1890s house by at least 20 years.

Many modern apple varieties are often self-fertile whereas older ones tend to fall into one of four different pollination groups.   With the help of bees and other insects, they will cross-pollinate with other trees in the adjacent group so the most popular trees were those in group 3: able to pollinate with both 2 and 4 which explains why many orchards were a mix of trees.

The College is undertaking a major research project (DNA and all) into such trees in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.   Rather than somewhat boring Golden Delicious, our yellow apples, each with one or two ridges from stalk to top, are much older Emneth Early culinary (cooking) apples.   The other cookers are more esoteric than the usual Bramley: Victorian Lord Grosvenor and Lord Derby varieties.   The Cox’s Orange Pippin was highly commended for great colour although our fruit was sadly subject to “bitter pit” due to not enough water or calcium!   We even sneaked in a couple given to us by French friends in Normandy: Ashmead’s Kernel and Lord Lambourne look-alikes.

He gave tips for pruning: cut out dead, disease, damaged and crossing/congested once the leaves have fallen from full-size trees.   You don’t need to worry about cavities but might prune to reduce the weight and risk of breaks.   Even fallen apple trees are able to regenerate as they send up new growth.

Seaweed is excellent nutrition for apple trees and is applied around the “drip-line” (below the outer edge of the branches as the root structure mirrors the tree shape) twice a year just after the leaves have dropped and just before they bud again.   Sticky bands are good for winter moth whereas pheromone traps sort out the male coddling moths.

Apples are best stored at about 3-5C, don’t need wrapping in paper and should be stalk down.   I need to revisit my mushroom trays in the shed and get them the other way up.

I learned lots about old, big apple trees but he had tips galore for those dwarf patio trees, espalier and more.

Meanwhile, I’m still getting the odd windfall and made this quick apple sponge:

50g butter.

1 tablespoon honey.

3 firm eating apples, cored and sliced.

3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced.

3 eggs.

same weight butter.

same weight honey or sugar.

same weight self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

 

Generously smear the sides and bottom of a 9-inch silicone mould with butter and add a tablespoon of honey.

Layer the eating apples around the base and top with any remaining pieces of the butter.

Layer with the cooking apple slices, retaining about eight slices.

Whisk the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg separately with a teaspoon of flour and then fold in the remaining flour and vanilla extract.

Pour the mix on the top of the apples, thumping the whole cake mould on the work surface a few times so the mix settles amongst some of the apple.

Decorate the top with the remaining slices of apple.

Place on a pre-heated tray at 180C, Gas 4 for 30 minutes.

Cover with a double layer of foil and cook for another 20 minutes.

Switch off the oven and let the cake continue to firm as it cools.

Turn-out upside-down on a plate once cool.

 

Free on-line Christmas pudding cooking demo – laugh as blind cook struggles to cover the puds:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

:

 

 

 

Harvest exhaustion

Up to our ears in it all.   The honey is progressing through the conditioning into jars and we have even experimented with putting some into bag-in-boxes.   Should be good for ensuring the honey is stored in the dark and easier for me to dispense into recipe mixes using the tap.

But now we are getting overwhelmed with windfalls.   Luckily, another beekeeper produced five large punnets of blackberries so now there are bottles of our own bramble juice (just the apple and berries steamed to release their juices) that should keep for at least a year.   It will be delicious hot with a spoonful of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in the winter months.   And there’s another huge bucket of grapes: more delicious juice.

Alongside, I’ve started Christmas preparations: raisins, currant and sultanas for cakes, puddings and seasonal mincemeat all weighed out and steeping in brandy.

It sounds very domestic and the major challenge is where to store all the preserved produce when there’s lots more to come.   We are starting to view each cupboard longingly and wonder where we can relocate the existing contents.   But it is so satisfying to make the very best of what has been carefully nurtured and grown.

Did you know?   According to the Daily Telegraph, if a domestic TV Licence is in the name of a blind person, they are entitled to it at half price.

Something much simpler, easy and needs no attention: courtesy of Heston, this is my standard roast chicken recipe.   It just needs short preparation and time to cook.

 

1 litre warm water.

60g salt.

1 fresh chicken, any trussing removed.

1 lemon, juice and zest.

freshly chopped herbs of your choice.

1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (optional).

salt and pepper.

55g butter.

a large glass of white wine.

 

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and allow to cool.

Place the chicken in the water, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, herbs, garlic (if using), seasoning and butter to make a paste.

Drain the chicken and push the paste between the skin and breast meat.

Push the left-over lemon halves and any spare herbs into the chicken cavity.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan, season and add the wine.

Cook in a preheated oven at 95C, Gas Slow or a quarter for 180-210 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh has reached 70C.

Remove from the oven and cover with foil and a kitchen towel to keep warm and rest for an hour (while you roast potatoes).

Return to the oven at the highest temperature possible for 5-10 minutes to brown the skin.

Serve and enjoy – wonderfully moist, excellent cold and always a winner.

 

 

 

Honey plus a workhorse of a tart

Life is picking up pace after the leisurely months of lock-down.   This week has included the monthly Open Sight cooking session https://youtu.be/jRIznF2wFAY plus our first substantial harvest of honey.

The dribbles extracted late last summer and earlier this Spring were simply the overtures to the symphony of delectable stickiness that pervaded every surface.   The whole process had been pre-scripted and thought-through: honeycomb frames from the hives; removing the wax cell cappings; extracting honey in a sort of handraulic spin-dryer; filtering out odd bee legs, pollen and dust.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that went awry, and every surface was sticky.   Thank goodness for the vinegar advice following a recent icing sugar disaster: a couple of capfuls into the bucket for the fourth attempt to wash the floor worked.

Now we have a tank of glorious golden honey that has been settling for a couple of days.   It is good enough to eat now but conditioning for 30 minutes at 62C will help maintain the runny consistency.   The fabulous sous-vide water-bath is in action again.   It is proving invaluable for basic cooking, making yoghurt and, now, getting the honey ready for jars.   More of this saga next time.

Meanwhile, this is the savoury tart we blind cooks made together on-line recently.   It has endless uses and combinations.   I’ve slightly adapted the pastry from versions I learned in San Francisco and from the blessed Delia.   It has my special methods for baking that suit a blind cook or anyone else.

 

110g butter, frozen, grated and re-frozen.

220g plain flour, chilled in the fridge overnight.

1 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

a little cold water.

 

4 leeks, finely sliced and washed.

4 eggs, beaten.

2 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche.

Salt and pepper.

 

(To prepare the butter: freeze the block then coarsely grate before placing in a bag or box and re-freezing.)

Mix the frozen butter into the chilled flour and salt, breaking down the butter to about the size of a grain of rice.

Beat the egg in about the same volume of water and gradually mix into the flour mix, adding a little more water, until the pastry comes together.

Chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and line a large loose-bottomed tart tin.   Press the pastry into the corners and prick all over with a fork.

Line the pastry-filled tin with kitchen foil, pressing down in the corners and covering the edges.

Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180C, Gas 4 for 12 minutes – this is “baking blind”.

Break the eggs for the filling into a bowl and beat.

Remove the foil, brush the base and internal sides of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and return to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the pastry case and brush again with beaten egg.   Ideally, allow to cool and rest for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the microwave until soft and allow to cool.

Beat the crème fraîche and seasoning into the eggs.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leeks and place in tart

Place the whole tart tin on a large piece of kitchen foil.

Fill the tart with the egg mixture.

Fold the foil over the tart to make a loose tent and bake for at least 40 minutes until the centre is just setting.   The foil catches any spills and protects the pastry from getting overcooked.

Allow to cool a little before serving warm.

 

This seems a long recipe but keeping some frozen and/or grated butter ready in the freezer makes it simple.   I also make the pastry and freeze it for using later and even freeze the pre-cooked tart cases too.   A little time on this preparation makes the final stages quick and easy.

There is no end to the fillings with the savoury custard but most need to be at least part-cooked e.g.   mushrooms with the leeks; smoked salmon or trout with chopped dill and a spoonful of horseradish sauce; asparagus and chopped ham; courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, black olives.

The pastry case has other potential: fill with cooked apple puree, top with slices of eating apple plus a dusting of sugar and butter knobs before returning to the oven for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

August windfalls

Local fellow beekeeper, Peter, turned up with a bucket of his grapes.   Each one had been individually hand-picked and, although some were instantly consumed, the rest wasn’t going to last long.   They went into the Scandinavian steamer which is, bottom to top: hot water tank to produce the steam; juice reservoir with natty tube for decanting into bottles; large container for raw fruit; lid.   The steam comes up through the middle, heats the fruit cells until they burst whereupon the juice drips down into the reservoir where it is heated by the water.   The result: virtually pasteurised fruit juice that will last a year.

His bucket made 15 bottles of precious homemade grape juice and then we topped up the fruit with windfall apples.   It’s steaming away to make apple and grape juice for homemade granola, and we can hardly keep up with the apples dropping from the trees!

The blustery winds and sharp showers brought down even more apples from the exceedingly venerable fruit trees.   They are probably at least 130 years old and a good mix of eating and cooking varieties.   This very moist apple cake is ideal for using any of the windfalls.

 

340g self-raising flour.

1 rounded teaspoon baking powder.

1 teaspoon salt.

340g soft brown sugar.

170g butter, cubed.

100g dates, chopped.

30g walnuts, shelled and chopped.

650g prepared mixed apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped.

4 eggs, beaten.

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

 

Spray a silicon ring mould with oil and dust with flour.

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients.

Add the dates, walnut pieces and chopped apples and mix so that the apple is well covered with flour.

Beat the vanilla with the eggs and gradually stir into the mix.

Stir thoroughly then place in cake mould.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 165C, Gas 3 for 90 -120 minutes, covering with a double layer of foil with a steam hole after 60 minutes.

Allow to cool before turning out.

 

I like my cakes to reach an internal temperature of at least 95C.   The quantity of cold, wet apple means that this cake takes a longer time than expected to bake.

Mixing by hand is a good way to feel how well everything is combined before placing handfuls in the mould.   Messy but I’m easy to clean afterwards.

A ring mould allows the heat to reach the middle of the cake but you could halve the ingredients and cook in a loaf tin lined with parchment paper.

My next experiment is to replace the sugar with honey – not sure what proportions will work.

 

 

Summer party

The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades).   With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked.   The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event.   With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.

However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast.   The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed.   We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun.   With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.

And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations.   It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!).   Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while.   Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.

 

4oz currants.

4oz sultanas.

8oz raisins.

brandy to cover.

8oz butter.

8oz honey.

4 eggs .

12 oz self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

half teaspoon salt

2oz (home-made) candied peel.

8oz glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dates, chopped.

2 oz dried figs, chopped.

1 orange, zest and juice.

1 lemon, zest and juice.

3oz whole almonds chopped.

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

 

Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.

Cream the butter and honey.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.

Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes.   The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.

When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.

Decorate as you like.

 

If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.

I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.

 

 

 

 

Summer perfection: a good read and ice-cream

Crime fiction, thrillers and spy stories have tended to feature in my book reviews for RNIB.   Not the most literary or spiritually uplifting but great for relaxing in the sun (when it shows its face again).

My latest selection goes live on RNIB Connect radio from 1300 on Friday 9 July – just click  https://audioboom.com/posts/7898711-alex-michaelides-kate-london-penny-melville-brown

I’ve also been telling the international audience of the British Forces Broadcasting Service https://fb.watch/v/9uSZ3flrF/

about next Monday’s 1030 (London time) live on-line bake-in: the 9-minute microwave ginger cake.

https://www.facebook.com/events/806006046955175

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/baking-session-for-visually-impaired-people-ginger-cake-tickets-160566860803

This honey and ginger ice-cream is the perfect accompaniment for both the good book and the cake.   It grew from a Heston Blumenthal recipe: substituting honey for sugar to give more flavour and slightly changing the consistency.   Ideal for those who can’t eat eggs and very easy.   Keeping the pieces of ginger as a topping avoids overwhelming the subtle honey flavour.

My venerable and elderly ice-cream maker has an integral refrigeration unit.  But you could part-freeze the mix for an hour or so before whisking the semi-frozen mix to break up the ice crystals and returning to the freezer.

 

840g double or whipping cream.

360g whole milk.

200g honey (we use our own).

35g semi-skimmed milk powder.

3 teaspoons vanilla paste.

Pinch of salt.

2 handfuls crystallised ginger, chopped.

 

Simply place all the ingredients except the ginger in a pan and gently heat until all is dissolved and mixed.   Briefly bring to boiling point.

Chill for at least two hours (or overnight).

Churn and top with the chopped ginger before serving or placing in the freezer.

How’s that for simple?

 

Here’s one I made earlier.

My hand injury is still recovering so the beekeeping sous chef has been responsible for conjuring up outstanding flapjacks for friends who have dropped in for tea since we could meeting the garden.  Even though most of us have done very little for months, it is amazing how much talking is still needed to bring each other up-to-date.   And how good to hear others laughing.

This is our Easter Spring cake: a cross between a Christmas cum Simnel recipe that I had started at least two months before the injury. Although there are lots of ingredients, it actually takes longer to weigh out than mix.

The dried fruit had been soaking in brandy for a month and the strained residue was later injected into the finished cake (syringe, needle and all).

The sous chef’s home-produced honey replaced the usual sugar, with a little extra flour to offset its 17% water content.  This made a lighter and more flavoursome cake.

To stop the cake drying out, I gave up on the traditional Simnel top layer of marzipan plus 11 apostle balls.  Instead, and completely optional, the cake was covered top-to-toe with more marzipan.  The sous chef made and lovingly applied the final finishing touches of royal icing plus festive birds and bees. (He has to get all the praise as he posts these pieces for me!).  The cake is so unctuous and moist that it nearly needs serving with a spoon.

 

4oz currants

4oz sultanas

8oz raisins

Enough brandy to cover the dried fruit.

8oz butter

8oz honey

4eggs

16oz self-raising flour

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Half teaspoon salt

2oz candied peel, chopped.

250g glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dried dates, stoned and chopped.

Zest and juice of 1 orange.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

3oz whole almonds chopped

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

500g pack marzipan.

 

Soak the currants, raisins and sultanas in brandy – ideally for a month but a week would do.

Drain and set aside the strained brandy.

Cream   the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in each egg with a teaspoonful of flour.

Fold in the flour and the remaining cake ingredients.

Fill a cake tin halfway and top with a layer of marzipan, pressed out to fit the tin.  Fill the tin on top of the marzipan.

Cook Gas 1, 140C for 2 hours 15 minutes, reduce heat for a further 45 minutes.  Internal cake temperature should reach at least 96C.

This quantity was bigger than my cake tin.  I put the extra into a loaf tin and cooked at the same time on the oven second shelf for 2 hours 15 minutes.

Optional: once cake has cooled and been removed from tin, inject with strained brandy over a week.  Brush with warmed apricot jam and cover with marzipan (around 750g) and allow to dry for a few days.  Cover with royal icing and allow to dry.  Decorate with whatever grabs your imagination.

Please don’t forget the live on-line bake-in on Monday 12 April at 1030.

 

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.