Friday 26 October 2012

Home made honeycomb

Home made honeycomb is a doddle. Just don't do it with bare arms, or sandals. You will need a sugar (jam) thermometer or a food grade temperature probe.

In a big, TALL, pot, on a large heat, add 400g sugar, 5 tablespoons of water and 75g clear honey

You also want 20g of bicarbonate of soda to hand. Make sure there are no lumps in it.

Heat the sugary mix gently until it all dissolves and then whack up the heat. When it's just approaching 150°C take it off the heat, drop in the bicarb and whisk like frenzy for a few seconds to integrate. The mix will expand and rise alarmingly. This is why I stipulated a tall pot. If you have oven gloves to wear while you do this part, I'd recommend doing so. I have sugar scars, man.

Carefully pour the foam (because it burns like napalm) onto something that doesn't stick: an oiled board, non-stick baking sheet like Silpat or baking parchment. Let it cool and trap all those air bubbles. This doesn't take long. It will look something like this.

You can also pour it into molds (apparently). This might be fun.Either use it immediately or wrap in baking paper and store in an airtight jar. It is important to do this soon afterwards. Honeycomb takes in water from the air (deliquesces) and will turn into toffee within a few hours.

You will probably notice many sweet, delicious but very pointy crumbs, on the surface, on the floor, upstairs in the bedroom, bizarrely. Pick these up or you'll be prowling tacky for weeks to come.

It's said that the ancient Britons stuck several very large honeycomb into the ground just outside Salisbury for reasons unknown, but someone kept sucking them in the night so they restored to big old stones instead.*

In Hawaii, surfboarding began when a family dog snatached a large honecomb and ran into the ocean with it. A small but brave boy waded out and rode the piece home. By the time he'd caught a wave and hanged ten (or whatever) the honeycomb had softened and collapsed and this is how Americans first made saltwater taffy, so popular now in country fairs.**

Now you can eat in in chunks or use it to make honeycomb ice cream.

*This isn't true.

** Nor is this.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Savoury French lightning for a man with no shoes

I'm beginning to get the hang of this, I hope. The last few parties haven't felt micrometers from madness. I've been calm and collected (when else are you collected? It's always C&C isn't it, never just collected?). Possibly a little shouty just before people arrive but these things are said in the heat of the kitchen and shouldn't be taken too seriously (family).

Karen and Ben came for the second time, part of an ebullient party of six (including @karenpine and @jesschivers). Couldn't help noticing that one man arrived barefoot but I forgot to ask why.

Baked some mini savoury eclairs (French for 'lightning') just for fun. This was the logical extension of my recent gougere dalliance. I made some choux pastry with some roasted onion and thyme milk (milk in a bowl in the fridge with things added for a couple of days) and a pinch of smoked paprika.

I filled these with some cheese mousse, made from gruyere, parmy and whipping cream, dispensed from a syphon. It was a real trial getting the mousse out of the syphon. I think my mistake was using a hard cheese which when cold just sulked in the bottom of the syphon, refusing to come out and party, but when too warm just flopped out like... well, floppy cheese which is never good. Maybe goats cheese next time (and let's not have the debate about the apostrophe in goats cheese. I'm using the adjectival form here BTW).

The eclairs were topped with a rather delicious but ridiculously time consuming roast shallot puree.

Anyway, the end result looked like a sweet eclair (I'm such a wag, me) and was both fun to serve and to eat.

Wish I'd taken a photo now.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Easy salmon supper

See. That is easy. For some reason, people often say they can't cook fish. Anyone can do this. Fresh salmon with dill, lemon and toms. Oil the fish first, including the skin so it doesn't stick. Season with salt and pepper. It's important to keep that gap between the pieces BTW, as this allows the air to circulate for even cooking. Wrap up the paper into a parcel, nothing fancy, just keep the edges sealed. Bake on a tray at 220°C for between 12 and 18 minutes depending on how well done you like your fish. We normally do 14 mins.

Tonight, we're serving this with crash potatoes, (waxy roasties with fennel seeds), honey baked chicory,  French beans and a beurre blanc sauce.

Monday 15 October 2012

My no-bacon, cheese and bacon gougères

I was trying to find a way to keep these light and crisp but make them more interesting. I filled them with a light cheese mouse mousse(!) but they then go soggy very quickly. Instead I infused a pint of milk with a pack of fried, smoked streaky bacon and a chipotle chilli for a couple of days and made the choux paste with that. I also added a half teaspoon of smoked paprika and 30g of parmesan.

Quite inspired by this infused milk thing. Will be trying more combinations. Caramelised onion and thyme milk could be good. Might be fun to have a bowl of same-looking but very different-tasting gougères.

Might also try savoury eclairs. Light creamy cheese filling with... what on top? Smooth, glossy tapenade maybe? 

Sat 13 Oct. Tomato Tarts and Baked Chicory.

Party of 4 followed by a raucous party of 5 (mentioning no names, Maureen.) By far the most relaxed evening to date. It's all about prep. Tomato tarts followed by baked salmon; both easily baked in 15 minutes. The only risk was a classic beurre blanc that accompanied the fish (and went well with the pan fried French beans) but that cooperated all evening, happily sitting in a bowl above a pan of simmering water. It didn't even pretend to split. I found I was looking for things to do, rather than run around swearing under my breath.

The chicory was baked for an hour (180) following a stern rub down with butter, honey and orange juice. It's a complex flavour of contrasting sweet and bitter, cutting well with the soft fish and unctuous butter sauce.

The dessert was a vanilla cheesecake. Another recipe from Anthony Demetre. I love his sophisticated bistro style cooking. This was my first ever baked cheesecake (set with egg yolks and not gelatine) but it was wonderful (most of the credit goes to his recipe), smooth, light and very creamy. The only trick is to be brave enough to de-oven it when it still wobbles and allow the residual heat to set it. This was served with local raspberries picked with son-number-one on Friday.

Some heritage toms from Borough Market.

Chicory shimmering with butter, honey and OJ.