New beginnings – poached quince with bay & star anise

New beginnings – poached quince with bay & star anise

Today marks day 2 of voluntary unemployment; a day of cooking quince and wondering what the hell I've done.

Let me explain.  For some time I'd been feeling dissatisfied with work.  I returned to London after a trip to Sumatra and Malaysia in March and felt incredibly miserable.  I'd seen beautiful orangutans in the wild and eaten the most amazing food in KL and Penang.  I'd also met some great new people on my travels.  The return to London hit me like a lead weight and the thought of returning to work made me feel physically ill and anxious.

It wasn't that I particularly disliked my job, it just wasn't allowing me to use my natural talents and aptitudes.  I was working for an entrepreneurial, fast growing food company with tonnes of talent, heading up a team of great people.  But rather than spend my time working directly with food, I spent most of my time managing people and processses.  And that simply wasn't me; at times I felt I was playing a role at work; and I wanted to be me.

10 years ago I spent 3 months training at Leiths School of Food and Wine.  Those 3 months would lead me to develop my own food brand, write a cook book and ultimately return to teach at my alma mater.  Yet since my brand wound up, I'd managed to get myself into a role where I barely cooked and where there was no outlet to express my culinary creativity.  I had to do something about it.  So I quit.

Sure, I recognise that I'm lucky that I have some financial security, allowing me to step out of employment for a while to focus on my own projects and work out what I want to do next.  This period is about me working out what my next move/s is/are - and try not to panic!

I'm toying with several different paths; I love writing recipes, elaborating on the stories behind the recipes, explaining what's relevant and why I've come to mix this particular selection of ingredients together - so more recipe writing is definitely going to be a focus.  I love teaching cookery; sharing my knowledge and empowering others to develop new skills in the kitchen; this gives me a real sense of achievement and pleasure.  I love presenting and demonstrating, standing in front of a group of people and performing, capturing their attention and sharing my knowledge whilst entertaining and making people laugh (incidentally, as a child, I hated standing up infront of a crowd; it made me feel exposed and a target for criticism and ridicule from mean school mates).

Utimately I love cooking for people and feeding others; but would I want to run a restaurant kitchen eventually or head up a catering company?  Maybe supper clubs is the way to go?  Or maybe I should do a few weeks in some restaurants here and there - after all maybe I'm meant to be a restaurant line chef, despite its physically gruelling nature?

Right now, all these options are starting to make me feel a little anxious and, for sure, the words 'what have I done' have already started to creep in to my head.  So I've decided I need some structure and have committed to always doing 4 specific things each day.  1) Do some exercise - it helps the state of mind!  2) Learn something new (food related).  I want to learn new skills, even if it's how to use isomalt sugar for a day! 3) Write a blog post which could be just a recipe 4) Cast my net far and wide and network with those I've met over the years.

But essentially, I'm going to see what happens, see which way the wind takes me over the next few weeks and months and hopefully as I start to move in the right circles, the right things will start to come my way.

So today, I've done an hour of resistance training  ('upper body sculpt' from the Nike app - and boy does it need some sculpting!).  I've made quince paste, which to be fair, I've made a few times before but this time I took it futher to ensure optimum firmness (learn something new).  This is my blog.  And I've sent out a few emails. So it's a good start at least!

Poached quince with bay and star anise

It feels quite a good time of the year to be starting something new.  As the days draw in and Autumn takes its hold, there's  less of a pull to be outside. That being said the last few days have been gorgoeus and even warm over the weekend....   But on the whole, for me, Autumn feels like a time of new beginnings when seasonal stone fruit, squash and quince start to appear on the shelves.  So, as their appearance marks the start of a new period  in the year so, it ties in with my new direction.  This simple recipe Is all about the quince.

  • 2-3 quince
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 ltrs water
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 lemon, pared zest and juice

Add the sugar to a saucepan filled with 2 litres of boiling water.  Drop in the bay leaves, lemon zest, lemon juice and star anise.  Bring to simmering point.

Meanwhile peel and cut the quince into quarters, lengthways.  Remove the tough core from each quarter.  If you do this bit ahead, be sure to drop them in a bowl of water with some lemon juice added to prevent the quince from going brown.

Once simmering and the sugar dissolved, add the quince to the pan and cook gently for 1.5 to 2 hours until the quince are soft and have turned orangey red.  Place a piece of grease proof paper over the quince as they cook, directly on top. This prevents the liquid from evaporating too much and ensures the quince cook evenly (it's called a cartouche!).

Once soft, remove the fruit and reduce the cooking liquor to a syrup if you like; it's delicious as it is, but reducing it will intensify the anise, bay and quince flavour coming through the liquor. Serve with mascarpone oe double cream.

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