Thursday, 20 December 2012
8 firemen. 2 enormous fire engines. 2 hours until twenty guests arrived. 1 embarrassed, tearstained cook.
I'd been searing the chicken pieces, mushrooms and onions in small batches for about 40 minutes. I sloshed brandy into the pan to deglaze it and multiplied the quantity by ten for my huge batch. I wasn't surprised when the pan burst into flames but I was surprised by the rather large ball of fire in front of me and the way it wasn't going out, choosing to burn into the fan hood above the hobs and lick around the cupboards. I panicked, worried that the electrics in the fan were going to catch, grabbed my electric/liquid fire extinguisher, flung the tab to the floor and pressed the button.
Hunched over, with my apron clenched to my mouth, I ran around opening windows as the house filled with a fog of white powder, reaching from the ceiling down to my waist. The smoke alarm kept ringing as the dust clouds bellowed out of the windows. My friend E, who lives across the street, let herself in and found me sitting on the gravel in the garden in tears, jabbing at my phone with a shaky finger.
Four minutes later, the flashing blue lights of two huge fire engines turned down my road, their sirens coming to a stop as the men jogged down the road in full kit. They were so lovely, insisting that they checked everything while calming me down and assuring me it was better to overreact and be careful. They found my concern for the ruined food highly amusing and joked that I should call the local Indian for takeaway.
[For reference for those in the UK, I called 101 as I'd put the fire out and wanted advice - they put me through to the fire service (and said I could have called 999 if I wanted). The fire people insisted on coming to check everything - I was very embarrassed when I realised they'd sent so many men but they were so charming and really didn't seem to mind. I was pleased that I had a fire extinguisher and blanket easily accessible on top of my kitchen counter and had installed smoke alarms in my house - it really does make a difference in an emergency, even if this was a small one.]
Thankfully the only damage was the fan hood (it turns on but makes a horrible noise), the pan and some of the food and drink I'd prepared. Luckily I hadn't set out all the food on plates - that was my next job. One of the casualties was a big tray of these marshmallows that I'd prepared so we could roast them in the fireplace. They looked so normal with their extra layer of white powder.
I still had vanilla shortbread and mince pies waiting to be baked in the fridge. I had a few nets of clementines and the remnants of the gingerbread (one tin had been knocked to the floor in the chaos - many reindeer lost their heads and limbs). The cheese (an oozing slice of unpasturised Swiss vacherin, a hunk of manchego and a lovely goat cheese) was well wrapped and the crackers and little squares of quince membrillo I'd made were safe. I still had potatoes to bake, herby salad and some burnt and peeled peppers, along with strong cheddar and some tuna from the cupboard. Sadly I completely forgot to serve the tiny slices of salted caramel and cocoa nib brownie I had stashed in the freezer (though now I get to eat them...). We had enough.
It wasn't perfect. I didn't have time to shower and change, so I spent the party in the old clothes I'd thrown on to clean that morning. The house wasn't too dirty but I hadn't had time to clean properly as we'd been frantically cleaning every single thing in the kitchen to get rid of the powder (which, miraculously, didn't seem to settle elsewhere). The food wasn't as I'd imagined it. But I was safe, as was the house. I made new batches of mulled wine and mulled cider, cracked open some champagne and relaxed. Nobody cared about the details. It was a wonderful, warm evening filled with friends I don't get to see enough - of course it was perfect, in its own memorable way.
My marshmallows always weep. I've tried different recipes, added and subtracted ingredients, but the effect is always the same. I thought I'd nailed it yesterday but low and behold, they wept overnight. You can solve it by dabbing with kitchen paper and letting the cubes dry again on a rack, but it's such a faff and I'm sure there's something I'm not doing right, even though I love the taste and texture.
I haven't included the recipe (just like the first time I made marshmallows) but I'll definitely keep trying and be back soon with a solution. I don't want you to try a recipe I'm not confident about (the archives sometimes keep me awake at night, but that's another story).
I tried steeping crushed cinnamon sticks in the water I used for the syrup. I concentrated it by boiling some of the water off before using it but I still lost the flavour once it had been made into marshmallow. In the end I settled for adding normal ground cinnamon at the end.
They toast beautifully, browning and burning on the outside and liquifying on the inside - so much so that the one above slid the whole way down the stick. They're sticky, satisfying and warm with spice - do try adding cinnamon to your favourite marshmallow recipe. Even if I can't get them just right (yet), homemade marshmallows are always joyful (a bit like parties with good friends).
(And, finally, I quickly whipped the fire guard out for the first and third photos but I usually use it - fire safety!)
A few related posts:
Pomegranate and Berry Pavlova
Almond Brandy Butter