Looking Up, Looking Down

Bril­liant con­cepts are often described in ris­ible ways: ‘push the envel­ope’, ‘wake up and smell the cof­fee’, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, ‘let’s make a plan going for­ward’ and ‘blue-sky-thinking’. I aim to do all of those things most of the time, but never, ever will you get me to use any of those phrases. Take ‘blue-sky-thinking’ for example: the notion of devis­ing cre­at­ive ideas that are unfettered by the mundane or the ped­es­trian. The concept is per­fect, but the cliche-ridden pack­aging kills it stone dead. But then it struck me that per­haps ‘blue-sky-thinking’ would be bet­ter if I rever­ted to tak­ing it lit­er­ally rather than meta­phor­ic­ally. Lying on a forest floor and star­ing up through the can­opy of trees at the blue, wintry sky bey­ond is as good a way of think­ing new things as any and it cer­tainly took some of the sting out of the cliche.

To be abso­lutely truth­ful, the idea that came to me while I looked up through the can­opy of leaves wasn’t exactly revolu­tion­ary. All I kept think­ing as I stared up at the sky was that look­ing up is the same as look­ing down — it’s the simple action of tak­ing a dif­fer­ent view­point that counts. To prove my the­ory, I’ve been star­ing down into a pot of home-made orange curd to see what inspir­a­tion might come. My orange-pot-thinking pro­duced two and a half decent ideas — I will tell you about them in my next post. In the mean­time, here’s my recipe for orange curd to help you with a little orange-pot-thinking of your own.

ORANGE CURD

Makes four or five 200ml jars

  • 4 large oranges — finely grated zest and juice
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 300g unsalted but­ter, chopped
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 3 extra yolks, beaten

Add the but­ter, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest and orange juice to a pan and heat gently until the but­ter has melted. Pour the mix­ture into a heat­proof bowl and place above a plan of sim­mer­ing water. Strain the eggs into the mix­ture and stir con­stantly until everything is com­bined. It will then take at least an hour to thicken. Stir it fre­quently and do not allow it to get too hot — it will sep­ar­ate if you do. If you’re cau­tious with the heat, the thick­en­ing will take longer, but you will avoid calam­ity. Once the mix­ture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, pour it into the ster­il­ised jars and cover with a circle of greased paper. It will keep for around 6 to 8 weeks in the fridge.

P.S. I have used the phrase ‘orange-pot-thinking’ three times in this post. It is now offi­cially a cliche and I prom­ise never to use it again — unless, of course, literally.

Lit by orange light.…

I was invited to a friend’s house last night, on one con­di­tion. We had to sit in the dark. It turns out we were mark­ing Earth Hour by eschew­ing elec­tri­city. I admit that our ges­ture of solid­ar­ity to the planet was small, but sixty minutes of candle-lit gloom became slightly addict­ive. Four hours later we were still sit­ting in the murky light shed by a dozen candles.

Although gentle candle-light is flat­ter­ing to a slightly sag­ging com­plex­ion, it turns out that cook­ing in the vir­tual dark is a night­mare. But in the interests of Earth Hour camaraderie, I have the per­fect recipe, one inspired by the great chef Skye Gyn­gell. It’s so easy you could make this dish with your eyes shut. And so brightly zing­ily fresh-tasting is it, you could light a room with its orange glow.

Oranges in Rose­mary Syrup

Serves 4

5 or 6 sweet, juicy oranges. I used Mal­taise san­guines, a deli­cious vari­ety of blood orange

2 good sprigs of rose­mary, about 10cm long

150ml light, clear honey

Cut a thin slice from the top and bot­tom of each orange. Stand the fruit on a chop­ping board and, with a very sharp knife, slice the peel off in curving down­ward move­ments. Reserve a couple of table­spoons of the juice that col­lects on the board as you pre­pare the oranges. Slice the oranges thinly and arrange on a plate.

Bend and bruise the rose­mary in your hands to release the aroma and place in a small pan with the honey and the reserved orange juice. Warm gently for ten minutes over a low heat. Allow to cool for a fur­ther ten minutes, remove the rose­mary and pour the honey over the sliced oranges. Dec­or­ate with another sprig of rose­mary and it’s done.

After my even­ing of enforced gloom I walked home by the gentle light of a wind-up torch. But open­ing the front door was like walk­ing into a harshly lit lift in a muni­cipal car-park. Blink­ing mole-like at my slightly alarm­ing reflec­tion in the dazzling hall­way mir­ror, I real­ised there’s another peril to enter­tain­ing by candle light. It’s impossible to see quite how many times your wine glass has been filled up.

Blood Orange Posset

Like people, there are recipes blessed with both beauty and eleg­ant names. When my daugh­ter was four years old, she heard a waiter in a Por­tuguese res­taur­ant say that the fish of the day was ‘pan-fried-fillet-of-golden-bream’. It had such a poetic lilt to it that my daugh­ter repeated the name of this dish end­lessly, enchanted by its rhythm.

Sadly ‘Blood Orange Pos­set’ got a rough deal when names were being handed out. The word ‘blood’ is never good when attached to an eleg­ant pud­ding and ‘pos­set’ (like ‘gus­set’, ‘cor­set’ and ‘thicket’) is just plain hor­rible. But don’t be fooled. Blood Orange Pos­set is a divinely creamy con­fec­tion with the fresh sting of Sicilian oranges and the extra­vag­ant indol­ence of double cream. It’s also the easi­est pud­ding I know.

Blood Orange Pos­set With Can­died Orange Peel

Serves 4

For the Posset

2 blood oranges (ordin­ary oranges or even lem­ons will work too, but you won’t get the bubblegum-pink final res­ult). You will need the juice plus the finely grated zest

500ml double cream

120g caster sugar

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil in a pan and then bubble gently for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the juice and zest. Stir to com­bine. Pour the mix­ture into glasses or bowls and refri­ger­ate for at least 3 hours until it’s set.

For the Can­died Peel

Peel of 2 blood oranges

Half cup caster sugar

One cup water

Peel long, very fine strips from the oranges and put them in a pan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, drain the water off and then repeat twice more. In the mean­time, in a sep­ar­ate pan, com­bine half a cup of sugar and one cup of water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a sim­mer for a couple of minutes and then add the pre­vi­ously boiled orange peel to the sugar solu­tion. Sim­mer for a fur­ther ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool and then hook out clusters of peel from the pan with a fork and place care­fully on top of each posset.

All you need to do now is to eat your Blood Orange Pos­set while dream­ing up a new name for it. Since I’m speak­ing as someone who cre­ated a ukelele pop group when she was nine years old called The Umbil­ical Chord I think I should leave the re-naming to you.