Sunday 9 December 2012

The busy weekend... including a man who broke into Buckingham Palace... and a secret to life.

A school fayre, Emma's birthday party of ten, Rachel's party (catering) of 60 and Leslie's group of eight.
That was intense. I feel like I've been standing and cooking for four days. A confluence of requests lead to our most busy period.
Sarah rang me to see if we could stage a special birthday dinner for her friend, the rather glamorous and fabulous woman-about-town Emma Rigby ( I'm really glad we agreed. It was an excellent, boisterous evening. On the menu was onion soup, chicken braised in sherry and cream and cheesecake (proving very popular that one) with blackberries, which is actually my favourite fruit pairing so far, both for flavours and visuals. One of the guests told us of the drunken night he climbed into Buck House, only to be arrested at gunpoint. Wild stuff.

Emma's birthday. Louder than they look here!

I'd also agreed to do the catering for a party of 70 in Hertford the same day so Thursday night was largely spent making little polenta cakes, anchovy palmiers, szechuan chicken and slow roasting a whole pork belly. The palmiers are a bit love/hate. Some of my friends adore them and can scoff bowlfuls but others back off in horror, pastry pieces being spluttered from the mouth with indignation!

Anchovy palmiers. Not for everyone.
TIP: once you've rolled the pastry and filling, put in the freezer for 20 mins.
It makes them much easier to cut neatly. 

The night before, I been up making MANY choux buns, honeycomb, chocolate meringues and blueberry friands for my sons' school fayre. 
Saturday was Leslie's party of eight, eating polenta and mushrooms, salmon and my new sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and home made vanilla ice cream, just perfect for winter.
The secret behind a good onion soup is, ironically, a good beef stock. I have no idea what to do if vegetarians ask for it.

My best beef stock (so far). A round of applause please.
The secret to beef stock, and all stocks, is a pressure cooker. I urge you to invest in one. Also, clarifying stock is a doddle. Whisk in a couple of egg whites and their shells and slowly, slowly, slowly bring to the boil. It is immensely satisfying to push back the white crust after an hour or so to reveal the exquisite clear liquid, effortlessly de-murked. It seems to be one of those not-difficult-at-alls along with choux pastry, souffl├ęs, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.
The other secret, to stock, to so many dishes, maybe to life itself (along with lemons, vanilla and good Italian butter) is slow roasted onions. Roasted to a singularity; like the primordial soup! Take the time to reduce a kilo of onions down to a sticky, chocolate-like mass in a heavily set pan and you will be rewarded with the ultimate umami base (Ooooh Mammy!) for so many dishes.

Was once a kilo of onions.

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