The one with all the brackets. Or the one about the bacon salt.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” Winnie the Pooh

About me: there’s not a lot to know (and frankly, do you care?) but it can be useful to know this … and before I tell you the ‘this’ I should qualify ‘useful’. The following information is useful only if a) you’re a booker for Jeopardy and are desperate for a contestant and someone inexplicably gave you my number – DON’T CALL ME! You’ll lose your job and b) if you find yourself having to order for me in a restaurant and don’t really know where to start with that (don’t worry,  it’ll probably never happen). So as information goes, not really useful at all …

Have you ever been at a dinner party where the hostess has called for quiet and then asked the room which celebrity, fictional character, historical figure (whatever) they most identify with? I have. Yes, really, I have. An excruciating silence befalls the room, everyone shifts slightly uncomfortably and wishes they could get back to the not uninteresting conversation with the handsome (read: available and fiscally viable) optometrist and then the hostess launches into her, “I’m like Angelina Jolie” speech. It takes you a little while to realize it’s not because she (your hostess) is a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador (she’s not) or because she’s adopted 11 children from 13 different countries (she hasn’t) or because she was once married to Tommy Lee Jones (she wasn’t) but because she owns a full set of Louis Vuitton luggage. The question is a bit of a death knell at parties but makes for interesting thinking in the cab on the way home (especially as you’re alone in the cab because it turned out the optometrist wasn’t actually available, his girlfriend was just running late). Where was I? Oh yes, in the cab, thinking (if only the hapless hostess knew that secretly were all dying to play her party game). So mine is Winnie The Pooh. And here’s why:

First, like Winnie, I am of little brain. I know enough to know that I don’t know enough – it’s the worst kind of brain to have. Better to not know that you don’t know, I think.

Winnie the Pooh, “When you are a bear of very little brain and you think of things, you find sometimes that a thing which seemed very thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it,” (a bit like this post)

Secondly, like our friend Winnie, I am almost single mindedly obsessed with one type of food. Pig though, not honey. To the point of distraction sometimes. I mean, I can spend a lot of hours thinking about pork and pork products.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Bacon salt. A couple of months ago a very clever chef friend (Ian Leckie*, Sam’s Brasserie, also a pork lover) and I ate at a restaurant that claimed to dust its fries in bacon salt. I had a difficult time imagining a more glorious side dish than thick, home-cut fries glistening with hot oil and then dusted in what must surely be a masterpiece of kitchen engineering. Anyway, they weren’t. There was little chance of the real thing living up to the fantasy I managed to create in the ten or so minutes between ordering and the food arriving but these didn’t even try. Not so much “bacon salt” as just little bits of overcooked bacon sprinkled over the fries – they weren’t even salted with regular salt!

Ian and I spent the rest of lunch discussing the possibility of bacon salt. Could this be a real thing? Or is it just a cruel tease? Like summer in England? We both vowed to try. Ian had to get back to real life and running a busy kitchen in London, so probably forgot our solemn “vow” the second he got on the plane and headed home. I didn’t though, I continued living my fantasy life in Miami. The one in which I lunch with the girls, do Pilates, attend book club and figure out how to make bacon salt.

And so here it is… I tried several variations of this before getting a finished product I was completely happy with, and once I’d found a recipe/method I liked I tested it a lot (it is bacon, after all) so I’m confident this works. It’s simple, really really simple, only two ingredients but requires a bit of patience.

250g (8 or 9 oz) of good bacon, regular cut, not thick-cut. Smoked or unsmoked – I tried both and preferred the smoked. Get it from the butcher counter if you can and buy the best quality you can afford. With only two ingredients there is nowhere for bad quality to hide.

1 teaspoon of sea salt. Again, use the best quality salt you can.

Pre-heat the oven to 200f (90c)

Trim absolutely all the fat** off the bacon, use scissors if it makes it a bit easier.

Spread the trimmed bacon out on a baking rack set over a baking tray and bake for three hours (see edit March 5, 2013) then switch off the oven and let the bacon cool completely. Place the now dried bacon between a couple of sheets of kitchen paper to absorb any remaining fat – let it stand for a bit to be sure.

Blitz the bacon with a stick blender (mine is called a Ninja, it’s lethal. If yours is not called a Ninja it might not work quite as well).

Add the salt and blizt again until you have a pretty fine powder – you don’t want to be biting down on pieces of bacon, it is meant to be a seasoning, not a side dish. (This will keep for a week to ten days in an airtight container.)

And once you’ve made it, what on earth do you do with it? Absolutely anything you like. We’ve had it on fries, on roast potatoes, on a bagel with cream cheese, on mac ‘n cheese, on canapés, on popcorn… the possibilities are endless.

*If you’d like to eat something cooked by the very talented Ian Leckie, you’ll need to visit him here – it’s unlikely you’ll find bacon salt on the menu, but Ian is a very good cooker of fish. And if you’d like to know what Ian has to say on Twitter, you need to click here.

**Don’t throw the bacon fat away, you can render it down on a low heat in a frying pan, pass it through a sieve and use it for any number of delicious things… like bacon mayo.

EDIT, March 5, 2013 – I’ve been making this a lot recently and have found that lowering the temperature a little and drying the bacon for longer, say four to five hours, yields a better textural result. Be sure not to let the bacon char, however, you don’t want a burnt bacon flavor in your salt.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully. 

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.” 

“And he has Brain.” 

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.” 

There was a long silence. 

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Advertisements

Consommé: round one

From this …

Fragrant, local plum tomatoes cooked low and slow with all the usual suspects.

… to this …

Gently pressed through a fine sieve to extract all of the juice and none of the texture. Then returned to the pot with a herb-filled raft* (I was a bit liberal with the tarragon, truth be told. Lesson learned) to extract all of the color and hopefully none of the flavor.

… to this …

Perfectly clear and delicately flavored.. it just doesn’t look like a tomato soup though, does it?

*The raft is made from beaten egg whites, herbs, in some cases, vegetables, and in the case of a meat or poultry consommé, ground [insert animal part of your choice here]. It is stirred into a cool stock/broth/soup and slowly heated up – this is what clarifies your soup and turns it into a consommé.

There’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for why this works – something about the solid particles in the broth being attracted to the egg proteins as they heat up blah blah (Wikipedia can probably help out if you’re that interested), I prefer to think of it as magic.  You start with an opaque, messy pot of soup and you finish with a brilliant, glistening jewel. It’s got to be magic.

I hadn’t planned on writing about this but it just looked so pretty I couldn’t resist (it’s also why there are so few photos). I don’t usually blog about a dish unless I’ve made it a few times and thoroughly tested my recipe. This is still a “dish-in-development” (sounds poncy, doesn’t it?) so I haven’t written the final recipe yet… maybe more to come, we’ll see.

“Millions of peaches, peaches for me”

Peaches are everywhere at the moment, gorgeous, sweet peaches and I couldn’t ignore them when I was planning the menu for last weekend’s Underground. Saturday night’s five course dinner ended with this peach and almond tart and I’m sharing it because it’s a simple enough make-ahead dessert that looks quite impressive.

And also because a recent guest to Shelley-belly’s Underground asked me to (and you know how I love requests).

When I started playing with the peaches and trying to decide what to make I thought I’d try a play on an apple tart fine because I love the appearance of the fruit fanned out over the pastry.Then I thought I’d do a sort of Bakewell tart (usually made with cherries) because I wanted to incorporate almonds into the dessert.

I knew I didn’t want to do a large tart that would require slicing, I wanted little, individual tarts that look pretty on the plate. So this, a combination of the two, was the result. It’s really easy, needs a bit of prep but doesn’t really require much more than patience.

You’ll need:

  • Frangipane
  • Fresh peach puree
  • Puff pastry
  • Peaches
  • Icing sugar
  • Soft butter
  • Lightly toasted flaked almonds*

Frangipane

  • 100g blanched almonds (ground)
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk beaten together
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • About half teaspoon almond essence

In an electric mixer (or with a wooden spoon if you the have the muscle for it) cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. With the beaters running gradually add the egg and almond essence. Turn the mixer down to low speed and gently mix in the ground almonds and flour. This will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Peach puree

A couple of peaches go a long way so tread lightly otherwise you just end up with a big bowl of peach puree sitting in your fridge and nothing to do with it but make Bellinis… okay, I just heard it. Make a lot, there’s nothing wrong with a peach Bellini made with fresh peach puree (couple of tablespoons of peach puree, top with chilled Prosecco, enjoy).

If you have any peaches that feel like they may be a little too soft to slice neatly for the top, use those for the puree. Rinse a couple of peaches, remove the stones but don’t bother removing the skin, blitz the flesh in a blender until smooth. Taste for sweetness – my peaches were really sweet and didn’t need any additional sugar but all fruit is different. If your peaches are not as sweet or if you prefer the puree a bit sweeter add some caster sugar, a little at a time. Push the puree through a fine sieve to remove bits of skin. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but oxidizes quickly so cover with cling film (with the film pressed right down onto the surface of the puree) as soon as you’ve made it.

Puff Pastry

If you have three days and the stomach for it, make your own (but you’ll have to find a recipe elsewhere), otherwise just use a good quality store-bought puff pastry.

A 500g package of puff pastry will give you four or five eight to ten tarts (depending on how big you make them).

Roll out the pastry and cut the pastry circles**. They should be no more than a couple of millimeters thick and each tart will need two pastry circles, one slightly smaller than the other. The larger one should be about the size of a regular side plate.

Peaches

Again, a few peaches go a long way so don’t slice too many. Thinly slice enough fresh peaches to fan out over the top of your tarts.

Okay, once you’ve done all that you’re ready to start building your desserts.

First, smear a good, thick layer of frangipane onto one of the smaller pastry circles – and I do mean a good, thick layer, don’t be stingy, it’s not attractive.

Then place the small circle, frangipane-side down, onto the centre of one of the larger pastry circles. Wet your finger with a bit of warm water and run it over the edge of the pastry circle to seal it then fold  (crimp, pleat, whatever) the edges of the large pastry circle over the small circle.

Next, gently smear about a table spoon of peach puree over the top of the pastry, avoiding the edges.

Fan the peach slices out over the top of the puree, don’t leave any gaps.

Dust with icing sugar.

Using a pastry brush, brush the whole thing with soft butter.

These can be made a day before so stop here and refrigerate the pastries if you’re serving later. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve remove from the fridge to allow the pastries to warm to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200 c/ 400 f, sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top of the pastries and bake for around 20 minutes. The peach puree gets insanely hot so make sure you let the pastries stand for a few minutes before serving.

For Saturday’s dinner I served the tarts with a warm, almond scented homemade custard and the one in the photos is served with double cream – ice cold jersey cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, ice cream… just about anything creamy will work as an accompaniment.

*The almonds will toast in the oven but I like to toast them a little before hand, I love the extra crunch it gives to the finished dish.

** After rolling out the pastry let it stand for a minute or two before cutting as it may shrink a little.

I’d love your feedback if you decide to give this recipe a try. Enjoy.

The date for the next dinner at Shelley-belly’s Underground will be confirmed later this week and details will be posted on the Underground page. In the meantime, if you’d like more information you can email shelleybellyunderground@yahoo.com.