Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Slacker's Christmas Standbys

It's been a difficult kind of year and I know that right now we're all supposed to be making huge efforts to feed vast numbers of people in a festive manner but actually I'm longing for simple and quick recipes. So here are two ridiculously simple dishes that are perfect for that bothersome unexpected Christmas guest and are guaranteed to let you get back to the telly without undue delay.

Artichoke Dip


If you were around and reading cookery books or magazines in the 1980s then you'll already know this first little cheat. It seemed to turn up just about everywhere and with good reason - it’s useful, speedy and very tasty.
Slacker's Artichoke Dip
  • Buy a jar of artichoke hearts in oil.
  • Put the contents of the jar in a blender or processor with a squeeze of lemon and a few turns of pepper.
  • Wizz until it's as smooth as you fancy. If the dip is too thick then add a little more oil.
  • Pour into a bowl, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar or dust with paprika. Serve with some fancy breadsticks or flat breads (from the shops, of course). You can add some additional flavours if you wish such as a little sherry vinegar or some Parmesan grated on top. (If you're tempted to use pickled artichokes, please click here first). 

PX Affogato


In recent years the affogato has become the easy standby dessert and why not? Although I can't resist adding a little twist.
PX Affogato
  • Buy some decent quality vanilla ice cream and put a scoop or two in a bowl.
  • Make a good espresso (ideally with a really easy capsule machine to minimise effort) and pour it over the ice cream.
  • At this point I suggest that you add a little Pedro Ximenez too. In case you've been living far from civilisation and haven't heard of PX, then let me explain that it's a gorgeous, sticky toffee sort of sherry. It's not authentic in an affogato but it makes a truly delicious difference.



As I said, it's been a difficult kind of year and I could give you a list of the music I've been listening to by the artists who left us this year but I prefer to offer something soothing. Halfway through the year William Tyler released 'Modern Country', a deceptively simple, understated but hugely satisfying album of guitar led music. Perfectly judged for times such as these, so take a few minutes out to relax, reflect and enjoy if you can.




Just in case this posting hasn't been quite festive enough, I leave you until after the celebrations with a seasonal pic from the local RHS Wisley Garden Christmas Glow Event.

Wisley Christmas Glow 2016

I wish you a happy and soothing Christmas.

Friday, 18 November 2016

South London Goulash Or How We Survived The 1970s

Earlier this year I saw Rick Stein on TV making some goulash (or was it gulasch?). He said that his Viennese style version reminded him of the classic dish that was so common in the UK back in the 1970s and 80s. A few days later I had a strange, vivid dream that I was back in the 1970s and eating endless bowls of goulash.

In fact, that probably wasn't such a strange dream. There were endless bowls of goulash back then. Pretty much everyone that I knew in the late 70s seemed to cook goulash as often as possible. Mr Stein's version wasn't quite the dish that I remember, though, and I felt compelled to try to recreate the one in my head. This is my attempt and it comes close. It's actually a bit lighter than the 1970s dishes and I don't think we'd heard of smoked paprika back then but I couldn't resist adding just a little.  Mr Stein also avoids green peppers in his recipe but I seem to recall that they were definitely part of the South London version.
South London Goulash
I remember a number of people crediting The Gay Hussar restaurant in London as the inspiration behind their goulash. I doubt that many of them had actually been there, though, and they probably found the recipes in magazines. But the Gay Hussar was just the kind of place that you really had to talk about back then, even if you couldn't afford to eat there. It wasn't exactly trendy - it was more of a legend. I'm very pleased to see that the GH still exists (almost all of the restaurants I remember from back then are just historical footnotes) but I admit that I've not been near the place in many years. I don't often recall the meals of the 1970s with much fondness, but this was a good dish back then and it's still surprisingly good now. Without regular (very regular) servings of goulash we might not have survived the 1970s.

This serves 2 fairly generously - the 1970s were generous times at least as far as portion sizes were concerned.

2 onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp caraway seeds
4 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
400 g shin of beef, cut into chunks (small chunks but definitely not tiny)
Beef stock (about 500 ml)
2 green peppers
1 tbsp tomato purée
Sour cream to serve if you fancy it

Gently fry the onion in a little oil until it begins to soften. (OK, lard or dripping may be a bit more authentic, but they were more 1950s than 1970s). Add the garlic, chilli, caraway seeds and both types of paprika and continue to fry for a minute or so while stirring regularly. Season with a generous amount of pepper and a little salt.

Stir in the beef and fry for few minutes more until it's well coated with the spices and onions. Add a little beef stock – only around the bottom third of the beef chunks should be in the liquid. Cover the pan lightly and allow it to simmer for between 90 minutes and 2 hours or until the beef is tender. You don't need to do too much to the dish during this period, just stir occasionally and add more stock or water if it threatens to dry out.

You don't need to grill and skin the peppers, but I think it improves the 2016 version of the dish if you do. Core and deseed the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Then either seal them in a plastic bag or place in a bowl and cover them. Either way, leave them until they're cool enough to handle and then peel off and discard the blackened skin. Cut the peppers into thick slices.

Once the beef is tender add the peppers and tomato purée to the pan and pour in some more stock. Exactly how much stock you add at this stage is down to how much sauce you want in the finished dish. I know some people like plenty of sauce for mopping up but I keep it relatively dry. Continue simmering for an additional 30 minutes or so.

Personally, I've never really understood the attraction of the dollop of sour cream that was often added when serving the goulash in the 1970s, but I know that many people thought it was the best bit, so don't let me stop you adding some if you wish. Everyone seemed to serve this dish with rice or, if they were feeling very avant-garde, some sort of noodles and either would be fine with me. Purists may well be outraged by such accompaniments but I'm being faithful to my South London roots.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Proustian Sunsets and a Crème au Chocolat

Once upon a time I imagined that I'd get around to reading Proust when I was old. A few years ago I was walking along the Promenade Marcel Proust on the Cabourg seafront in Normandy as the sun was going down and it occurred to me that I was old and so I'd better get on with it.  Cabourg was the inspiration for the Proustian Balbec and the sunsets are as notable in real life as they are in literature. (And you can still get a notable seafood dish or two along the Cabourg seafront too).
Cabourg Sunset
So wearing suitable clothing and with a lot of strong coffee to hand I read all seven volumes. It took a while, but I survived. Don't worry I'm not going to attempt any form of literary criticism - this is a food blog, I seem to remember - but there are two observations that I'd like to pass on. First, at some point during volume two I actually started to think that prodigiously long sentences were perfectly normal and had to give myself a serious talking to in short phrases. Second, there are more jokes in Proust than I was expecting (I wasn't really expecting any at all).
Cabourg Sunset
Think of Proust when you're hungry and you're likely to think of the famous madeleine. It's mentioned early in volume one of 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu', so that's fair enough but a reproduction of some of Proust's notebooks was published recently and it appears that the madeleine was something of an afterthought. Initially Proust may have been inspired to begin writing his sizeable masterpiece by a slice of toast. But I digress – well, of course I do, I've been reading Proust.

Now you might expect an elaborate bit of haute cuisine to celebrate Proust but, while I was part of the way through my Proustathon, I read a blog post by Francis Tessandier of the fine literary restaurant Chez Francis in Brive-la-Gaillarde who had chosen a crème au chocolat to honour the inspiration of Proust. It's a little treat that clearly meant a lot to Proust and his family so I'm stealing that idea, although with a very different sort of recipe. Little chocolate crèmes are more often than not made by creating an enriched custard and adding chocolate before cooking in a bain-marie. As usual, though, I'm trying to make life as simple as possible and this recipe for crème au chocolat is ridiculously simple. There's no bain-marie, no additional sugar and, if you go to similar supermarkets to me and buy the items below, not even any measuring.

The result is perhaps not as light and fleeting as Françoise produced for the Proust household but it's silky and rich and should persuade anyone that you made a big effort to please them even though that's not quite the case. There's nothing surprising about the ingredients, it's the technique that's so different. It's based on the Joyce Molyneux method from her legendary time at the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth from the 1970s to the 1990s. In my insignificant opinion she was a true giant of British cooking.
Crème au Chocolat
I used a raspberry liqueur to add additional flavour, but other liqueurs such as orange or hazelnut will work just fine if that's what you have. If you don't want to use alcohol, then try other flavourings such as orange extract, but don't add too much or it may mask the chocolate flavour.

200 g bar of dark chocolate (good quality, obviously)
300 ml tub of single cream
1 egg
2 tsp raspberry liqueur (or whatever flavouring you fancy)

Bash the wrapped chocolate bar on the worktop a few times to break it into small pieces. (You don't have to be too fussy about this, as long as the chocolate is in relatively small chunks). Unwrap and pour the chocolate into a food processor.

Pour the contents of the tub of single cream into a small saucepan and turn on the heat. As soon as the cream comes to the boil, pour it into the food processor and whiz until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. (This won't take long but you may need to scrape down the bowl of the processor once or twice).

Add the egg and the liqueur. Process again until the egg is thoroughly mixed in. Pour the mixture into espresso cups or small ramekins (you should get about 6 small but satisfying servings). Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes or so before serving if you remember.


Just in case you were wondering what Proust might have to say on this subject, here's a short snippet. It's in the original French, which means that I'm not only annoying, I'm also deeply pretentious.

"Quand tout cela était fini, composée expressément pour nous, mais dédiée plus spécialement à mon père qui était amateur, une crème au chocolat, inspiration, attention personnelle de Françoise nous était offerte, fugitive et légère comme une œuvre de circonstance où elle avait mis tout son talent …… Même en laisser une seule goutte dans le plat eût témoigné de la même impolitesse que se lever avant la fin du morceau au nez du compositeur."


I'm submitting this recipe to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole and hopefully she'll forgive me for having the effrontery to represent the monumental 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu' by a recipe that may very well take less time to make than it takes to read one of Proust's longer sentences.


I've been a bad blogger and not entered anything into We Should Cocoa for more than a year so I'm also submitting this to the latest challenge over at Tin and Thyme.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Taloa with Duck Legs and Plums

Taloa is a simple Basque flatbread that can be wrapped around a variety of savoury and even some sweet fillings. It's quite often filled with ventrèche; in other words, it's made into a southern French bacon sandwich - kind of. I've come across quite a few variations on this simple little bread, some of which I suspect add yeast since they look and feel more like a pitta bread. This simpler version is based on a recipe from a tourist office leaflet so I assume it's reasonably authentic. The breads would normally be cooked on a flat grill (plancha) but a frying pan does the job too. If you're wondering why cornmeal is used then you clearly haven't driven along the many, many miles of road lined with maize fields in the south west of France.

There are plenty of plums around in that area too so I've added some to the duck sauce. I used fairly large British plums, but if you have some of the smaller varieties (and smaller varieties do seem to be popular in the south west) then add a few extra. You can't travel far in that fine region without coming across duck being cooked in one way or another but, I must admit, you won't find it being cooked exactly like this. Never mind, I like it anyway.
Taloa with Duck Legs and Plums
Most of this dish is prepared in advance but should be finished off and put together at the last minute. I added another touch of the Basque region by topping the filling with a little Ossau-Iraty cheese but you could use something like a Swaledale sheep's cheese as a fine British alternative.

Taloa

100 g fine cornmeal (polenta or maize flour)
300 g plain flour
230 - 280 ml water

This amount will probably make more taloa than you need but a few spares are no bad thing.

Combine the cornmeal and flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the 230 ml of water and gradually bring the flour and cornmeal mixture into the centre and mix to make a dough. Add more of the water gradually as you mix until the dough comes together. It should be quite a firm dough and not too wet. Cover the bowl so that the dough doesn't dry out too much and set it aside to rest for for 30 – 60 minutes.

When your filling is ready to serve, tear off a small handful of the dough and roll it out on a floured surface to make a thin, round bread. Unless you have a large flat grill then try to make them a suitable size for your frying pan. Heat the pan or grill and dry fry the breads over a high heat for about 3 minutes each side. The exact time needed will vary according to the thickness of the bread. The taloa should puff up a little and char here and there.

Duck and Plum Filling

2 duck legs
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp fresh ginger, very finely chopped
1 glass dry white wine
8 plums, halved and stoned
1 sprig rosemary
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp honey (you may not need this if the plums are particularly sweet)
300 - 500 ml light chicken stock
A few slices or slivers of Ossau-Iraty or an alternative sheep milk cheese to serve

Ensure that the skin of the duck legs is dry, prick the skin in a few places and season with salt and pepper. Brown the duck legs in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes on each side. This should produce a fair amount of fat. Remove the duck legs and set aside.

Pour away all but about a teaspoon of the fat and use it to fry the shallot gently for 2 - 3 minutes. (If the duck legs haven't produced much fat, then add a little oil). Add the ginger and garlic and continue frying gently for another 2 - 3 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the wine. Stir and allow the wine to reduce until it's nearly disappeared, then turn down the heat and return the duck legs to the pan. Tuck the halved plums in around the duck legs and add the rosemary, the pomegranate molasses and the honey if you’re using it. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover the duck legs by about two thirds. Cover the pan and let it simmer over a low heat for about 90 minutes, turning the duck legs every now and then. At the end of that time the duck meat should be very tender but not quite falling off the bone.

Remove the duck legs from the cooking liquid and set aside to cool a little. Skim as much fat from the top of the cooking liquid as you reasonably can, remove and discard the rosemary and liquidise the remainder using a hand blender. Place it over a high heat and reduce the liquid down to a sauce-like consistency. While that's happening, remove and discard the skin from the duck and slice or shred the meat.

To serve, add some duck meat to one half of the freshly-cooked taloa (ideally before removing from the frying pan or grill) and drizzle over a generous amount of the reheated sauce. Top with a sliver or two of Ossau-Iraty. Fold the other half of the taloa over the filling and serve at once.
Maize and Mountains

Monday, 15 August 2016

Wheat Beer Walnut and Fig Breadmaker Loaf

This recipe is based (very loosely) on a bread from northern France although the original was an artisan product needing a lot more time and attention than most of us can spare for a loaf. So here's my simplified, busy person's machine-made version. It may not have quite the finesse of the original, but it still makes a very good alternative to the usual breadmaker loaves. In fact, it's one of my favourite machine breads. It works especially well with pâtés and cheeses.

There are plenty of very good wheat beers available in supermarkets and specialist shops but if you come across any bottles of Christophe Noyon's Blanche de Wissant in your travels then I'd recommend grabbing some. It's a fine beer that's from the same area as the original recipe. If you can't lay your hands on any wheat beer, then you could use a lighter style of lager as an alternative. In fact this recipe can be adapted quite easily by changing the type of nut or dried fruit as well as the type of beer. With some more intense, darker beers you may find you need to increase the amount of sugar or swap some of the beer for water to avoid the bread developing an overly bitter taste.
Beer, Walnut and Fig Bread
The recipe given here was developed for a Panasonic breadmaker but it will work just fine in other breadmakers. The order in which the ingredients are added to the breadmaker and the names of the programs may well differ for other types of machine, though, so always consult the manual for your model if in doubt.   

1¼ tsp dried fast action / easy blend yeast (the sort intended for breadmakers)
325 g strong white flour
150 g spelt flour
3 tsp sugar
1¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp walnut oil
280 ml wheat beer
30 ml water
70 g chopped walnuts
70 g chopped dried figs

Add all the ingredients except the walnuts and figs to the breadmaker in the appropriate order. The order given here is for a Panasonic model – check the manual for other models. Set the programme to large size, basic bake setting. If your breadmaker has a dispenser that automatically adds additional ingredients then put the walnuts and figs in the dispenser and set the breadmaker accordingly. If the breadmaker doesn't have an automatic dispenser then you'll need to add the walnuts and figs at the time recommended in the manual for your machine.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Cherry Chutney

It's cherry season and the trees are obligingly providing plenty of fruit. Not that I have any cherry trees but the local Pick Your Own has plenty. Sorry to repeat myself but I really do love a PYO. Disconcertingly I'm offering another savoury recipe where you might expect something sweet - but why not?
Cherry Trees
This is quite a smooth chutney that's very versatile and works well with cold or hot meats but is absolutely ideal with cheeses. Admittedly this isn't a particularly novel idea - there are a lot of similar chutney recipes around, but this is the combination that works for me. You can add other spices or some chilli if you wish, but I wouldn't overdo the spice or it will diminish the fruity flavour.

The chutney will take a little while to make and the amounts here will only produce roughly 2 small jars but there's really not a lot of effort involved and it's an enjoyable bit different to other chutneys. It will add a serious amount of flavour to your cold (or even hot) lunch.

By the way, I hadn't tried a cocktail made with puréed fresh cherries and a mix of various alcoholic beverages until last week (I've led such a sheltered life) but I'd heartily recommend that journey of discovery too.
Cherry Chutney
1 fennel bulb
1 onion, finely chopped
600g cherries (weight before pitting)
2 cm (or thereabouts) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Zest of 1 lemon, very finely grated
¼ tsp English mustard powder
½ tsp fennel seeds
125 ml cider or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
225 g granulated sugar

Chop the fennel bulb into small chunks, discarding any damaged or tough parts. In a non-reactive pan soften the fennel and chopped onion very gently in a little oil. If it threatens to dry out add a spoonful or two of water. While that's going on, wash and pit the cherries. Once the onion and fennel are tender stir in the cherries. Keep the heat low and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring now and then.

Stir in the grated ginger, lemon zest, mustard powder and fennel seeds together with a generous seasoning of black pepper and a little salt. Once everything is well mixed, add the sugar and vinegars and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat a little and allow the mixture to reduce, stirring now and then to make sure that it doesn't burn or stick to the pan. The chutney is ready when it's as thick as you want it to be (mine took about 40 minutes), but the way I was taught to check when a chutney is ready is as follows. Run your wooden spoon across the base of the pan and if it leaves a trail that doesn't immediately fill in, then it's ready. (If in doubt, I'd err on the side of quite a loose, runny chutney in this case because it will thicken somewhat as it cools.)

Cool the chutney a little and pour into sterilised jars. This should keep in a cool, dark place for a fair few months, but I can't be sure because I'm just too keen to eat it quickly. This feels like a seasonal chutney that's full of summer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Gooseberry and Beetroot Ketchup

In the past I've bored everyone I know and anyone unfortunate enough to stumble across this blog by wittering on about how undervalued I think gooseberries are these days. They make very fine jam and puddings, of course, but they're possibly even better in savoury dishes. So I can't let the gooseberry season pass without one more savoury recipe and this year it's a ketchup. Very easy and very delicious I promise. The weather hasn't been perfect this spring or summer so far (I'm a master of understatement) but the gooseberries finally arrived in abundance at the local pick-your-own farm. I really love a PYO and I'm not ashamed to say it.
Gooseberries at the PYO
I've combined the sharp gooseberries with the sweetness of beetroot and I suppose I should suggest that you pick fresh beetroot and cook your own. That's a very good thing to do but vacuum-packed, cooked beetroot without added vinegar will definitely do the job if you're pushed for time (and I bet you are).

Gooseberries are traditionally used alongside fish and this ketchup would work very well with fish burgers or fish cakes, but it's much more versatile than that. In particular, it's very fine with a classic beef burger. You could probably live without my recommendation but I'd say a burger made from the luxurious Wagyu beef produced by Ifor Humphreys in Powys and served in a freshly-baked brioche bun would be just about as good as it gets for me.
Gooseberry and Beetroot Ketchup
This will make roughly 400 - 500 ml of ketchup but it's difficult to be exact because much will depend on the juiciness of your gooseberries and just how thick you like your ketchup. Although the amounts given here worked for me, it's a forgiving recipe and you can change the spices to suit your taste. I won't be cross if you do.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
½ chilli (or more if you like some heat), deseeded and finely chopped
1 cm ginger (or thereabouts), peeled and grated
500 g gooseberries
100 ml cider (or white wine) vinegar
¼ tsp salt
A generous few turns of pepper
125 g granulated sugar
1 tsp English mustard powder
175 g cooked beetroot

Put all the ingredients in a non-reactive pan, place on a gentle heat and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Simmer over a gentle heat for 30 minutes or so until all the ingredients are very tender.

Liquidise and then sieve the mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning and the sweet/sour (vinegar/sugar) balance if it needs it. Hopefully the consistency will be to your liking but if it's too thin then return it to the cleaned pan and reduce it over a medium heat until you get the thickness you prefer. (It will thicken somewhat as it cools, so don't overdo it).

Cool a little and pour into sterilised bottles. This should keep for a few months in a cool, dark cupboard although I store it in the fridge just to be on the safe side and it should definitely be put in the fridge once opened.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Lamb Argenteuil

Before it was swallowed up by the spreading suburbs of Paris,  Argenteuil was known for being a good place for messing about in boats, knocking together the occasional Impressionist painting and growing asparagus. At that time pretty much any French dish that used asparagus tended to get the word ‘Argenteuil’ nailed on to it.

Argenteuil was best known for its white asparagus but this dish uses green. To be honest it's a slightly alarming green at first sight, but please don't be put off. This recipe seems to turn up in books in some form or another but very rarely in real life. I can't remember ever seeing it on a modern restaurant menu and I've never met anyone else who makes it. That's a shame because it might seem a little eccentric (and green) but it's also pretty easy to make and tastes delicious, especially if you love asparagus anywhere near as much as I do.
Lamb Argenteuil
You might come across some versions of this recipe that are much richer but this is my slightly more restrained effort for these slightly more restrained times. This will serve 2.

300 g (trimmed weight) green asparagus
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
350 g (approximately) lamb neck fillet
½ glass white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche

Wash the asparagus and discard any woody ends. Cook the asparagus in gently boiling water until tender - this will take around 6 - 10 minutes depending on the size and freshness of the asparagus. Remove and drain the asparagus but don't discard the cooking water.

Trim any excess fat from the lamb, slice into 2 - 3 cm pieces and season lightly. Fry the shallots gently in a little oil and butter until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and continue frying gently for a few minutes. Add the lamb, increase the heat and fry until it takes on a little colour.

Pour in the wine and allow it to reduce until only a very small amount remains. Pour in around 250 ml of the reserved asparagus cooking water - you don’t need too much liquid, it shouldn't completely cover the lamb. Partly cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering gently for 60 - 90 minutes until the lamb is tender. The liquid in the pan should reduce during cooking but add more of the cooking liquid if it's in danger of drying out.

Cut off some or all of the tips of the asparagus to use for decoration, put the remainder in a food processor and reduce to a thick, smooth purée. You may need to add a little of the cooking water if the asparagus seems too dry to form a genuinely smooth purée.

By the time the lamb is tender the liquid in the pan should ideally have reduced to something like a coating consistency. If there seems to be too much liquid, remove the lid and allow it to reduce a little more. Stir in the asparagus purée and the crème fraîche. Allow the mixture to heat through. Taste, adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Gently reheat the asparagus tips and use them to decorate the plates when serving. Some simply steamed or boiled new potatoes will do very nicely alongside.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Chestnut Cupcakes

Last year I posted a recipe for Gâteau Ardéchois (a plain French chestnut cake) and at the time I said that we'd made some iced chestnut cupcakes while in France. Those cakes were based on a Marie Claire recipe but I wanted to try changing some of the flavours and textures of that original to suit my personal taste and, finally after more than a year, this is the result.

Chestnut purée is available in different forms. The type I've used here is unsweetened and not flavoured (many versions have added vanilla). This type is fairly widely available in the UK and is generally thicker than many of the French products. If the purée you use is a little runny, then you may find the baking times increased.

I like these little cakes just as they are – they stay very moist and have that pleasingly different chestnut flavour. On the other hand, if you fancy a topping then something creamy and lemony works particularly well. I used a combination of homemade lemon curd and mascarpone on a few of the cakes for a bit of a treat.
Chestnut Cupcakes
This should make 10 – 12 cupcakes.

3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
60 g flour, sieved
½ tsp baking powder
200 g unsweetened, unflavoured chestnut purée
50 g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture is very light in colour. Beat in the flour and baking powder followed by the chestnut purée. Stir in the ground almonds. Pour into cake cases or prepared tin filling them around ⅔ full. Bake for 18 – 25 minutes. The exact baking time will obviously depend upon the size of cakes you make but could also vary according to the consistency and type of chestnut purée that you use.

Decorate when cold if you fancy a topping.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Braised Pig Cheek with Fennel Sauce

A few weeks ago I was saying how versatile pain d'épices could be and here's some proof. If you can't lay your hands on some pain d'épices and don't fancy making any, then you could use slices of sourdough, pumpkin bread or even brioche instead. The spices add something extra, though, and a British gingerbread could do the job, as long as it’s not too sticky or too intensely gingery.

This dish was created as a starter. I don't often make starters - I'm not sure that many people do these days (unless they work in restaurants, of course). So I must point out that this doesn't have to be a starter. It will actually make a very good main course, especially if you add a little crème fraîche to the sauce, forget the pain d'épices and serve something like some sautéed potatoes and green veg alongside. But if you want a starter then this is intensely flavoured and just a little bit different. It also makes use of the cheap, delicious and unfairly ignored pig (or, if you prefer, pork) cheek.

The combination of pain d'épices and pork isn't original but I can't remember where I first saw it. I think it may have been in a Cyril Lignac recipe and since he apparently has more than 40 books to his name so far, there's a fair chance that it could have been. Finally, just a little personal aside: some of the very finest pork I've eaten in recent years was at Fallowfields in Oxfordshire, which closed at short notice early this year. Although I and many others will miss it, I wish the owners a long and happy retirement.
Braised Pig Cheek with Fennel Sauce
This will serve 4 as a starter or 2 if you make it as a main course.

2 shallots, finely chopped
1 small bulb fennel, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
4 pig cheeks cheeks,trimmed of any sinew if necessary
1 glass white wine
Small dash of tarragon vinegar (optional)
around 250 ml chicken stock

To serve:
          4 small, thin slices of pain d'épices
          Fennel and apple, cut into matchstick-sized pieces

Soften the shallots and the fennel for 5 to 10 minutes in a little oil. Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside. Add a little more oil and increase the heat. Season the pig cheeks and brown them lightly on both sides. Remove and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and the dash of tarragon vinegar, if you have any to hand. Let the wine reduce by about half. Return the shallot mixture and the pig cheeks to the pan and pour in the chicken stock. You may need a little more or a little less than 250 ml of stock depending on the size of your pan. The stock and wine should only partly cover the cheeks.

Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and keep simmering gently for around 2 hours. Make sure the pan doesn't dry out and add more stock if necessary. Turn the pig cheeks over a few times during this period. Once tender, remove the cheeks and keep warm. Liquidise the remaining contents of the pan using a hand blender. If you're left with a lot of liquid you may want to reduce it to a coating consistency.

If you want to serve this as a main meal, then it’s not a bad idea to enrich the sauce by adding a little crème fraîche at this stage. To serve as a starter toast four small slices of pain d'épices, cut each cheek in half lengthways and place on the toasted pain d'épices. Anoint with the sauce. Serve with a small salad of fennel and apple cut into matchsticks. Dress the salad with either a simple vinaigrette or just a little pomegranate (or other fruit) vinegar.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Pain d'Épices Revisited

I've posted a recipe for this classic cake before but there are probably almost as many recipes for pain d'épices as there are people who make it so why not another one? It's such a useful cake to have around. You can eat it any time you fancy on its own or with some jam or marmalade (I like a slice at breakfast time) but it can also be eaten with pâté or even cheese. When you've had enough of that, you can use it to thicken and flavour casseroles (such as Carbonade ) or whiz into crumbs and use them to flavour crumbles or as a coating for fried or baked meats, cheeses or even fish.

There's a wide variation in spices between pain d'épices recipes and I've decided that there's very little point in trying to be authentic because I'm convinced that nobody really knows what the authentic spices should be. For me a little aniseed gives the characteristic flavour of this cake but, on the other hand, my use of cardamom might be seen as a bit of an eccentricity. In France you can buy pre-mixed pain d'épices spices, which avoids arguments I suppose. Whatever spices you choose, though, I think it's best not to overdo it or you'll lose the honey flavour.

The type of flour used for pain d'épices can also vary widely but will more often than not be a combination of rye and white or wholemeal flour. I've used just wholemeal here simply because I like the result. I also add a little brown sugar to the cake because I think it enhances the flavour and because that's the way I first learned to make it. Many people would insist that the genuine, traditional pain d'épices should be sweetened only with honey.

This type of cake is open to all sorts of variations and a while ago Snowy of Cookbooks Galore posted an unusual and luxurious version using dark chocolate which is well worth checking out.
Pain D'Epices
300 g runny honey (use whichever honey you like but I prefer a dark, rich style in this cake)
100 ml milk (a full fat milk is probably best but semi-skimmed does work)
1 egg, beaten
100 g unsalted butter
30 g dark brown soft sugar
220 g plain wholemeal flour
1½ tsp baking powder

The flavourings:
     1 tsp orange flower water
     ½ tsp aniseed
     ½ tsp ground cinnamon
     1 tsp ground ginger
     Seeds from 4 or 5 cardamom pods

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Butter a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin thoroughly. You could also lay a strip of baking paper along the length of the tin allowing the ends of the paper to stand proud of the tin a little. This makes lifting the cake out of the tin a little easier. Crush the aniseed and cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar.

Pour the honey and the milk into a saucepan and heat very gently while stirring until they’re combined. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the honey mixture with the sugar. Stir until the mixture is smooth, take off the heat and set aside to cool a little. (Be gentle with the amount of heat that you use in this stage – overheating the honey seems to spoil the flavour).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. Stir the egg and the orange flower water into the honey mixture and then stir the liquid into the flour until smooth. (It’s easiest to do this by placing the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one and adding the liquid gradually with the motor running.)

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for around 55 minutes. Check that the cake is done in the usual way with a knife or cake tester but because the mixture is very sticky, don’t expect the tester to be quite as clean as with many other cakes. Because of the high sugar content the top of the cake will darken quite significantly. Some bakers prize this dark (well, burnt looking) top as an additional taste and texture but personally I don’t like it to get too dark and I cover the tin loosely with foil after the first 15 or 20 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for around 15 minutes before lifting out and letting it cool completely on a wire rack. The cake should really be allowed to mature for at least a day in an airtight container before eating, although I usually sneak a slice before that. It will keep well in its container.

Monday, 22 February 2016

A Sort of Tapenade, A Well-Known Musician and A Box Hill Picnic

Tapenade and I have a complicated history. This is my latest version of that intensely flavoured paste and it really shouldn't be called tapenade - it's a bit like tapenade's distant relative. It's more of an almond, olive and sundried tomato dip with other things in it. Very tasty and very easy, though.

If my memory is to be trusted (it's probably not) the first time I ever ate tapenade was back in the 1970s. Somehow or other I'd got involved in selling 'antique' furniture and other pre-loved collectible items. I'd become the largely useless assistant to a guy who most days knew a secretaire from a settee. I said ‘antique’ furniture but I think the word we used most often was ‘tat’.  Occasionally we'd get a decent piece and one day we sold a pleasant little oak table to a well-known musician. (I'm not saying who – he's still around and probably even better known now and I've got save something for the third volume of my autobiography provisionally titled ‘Phil in the Kitchen: The Lovejoy Years’).
The Old Shop
We turned up in the battered van at the musician's house somewhere in the depths of Surrey one summer evening and found that there was a party going on. We thought it was perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times to dump the table in the hall and join the happy throng. Several hours later the well-known musician discovered we were there and threw us out with nothing more than the remains of a bottle of wine and a handful of canapés to show for our trouble. He seemed to think that we were freeloaders. He was absolutely right.

And so as the sun came up on the next, fine summer day we were sitting on the slopes of Box Hill (not far from where Emma fictionally attended her picnic some years earlier) eating canapés and drinking the well-known musician's wine. I remember thinking two things. First, the canapés with the black stuff on them were really unpleasant and, second, that I was determined never to buy one of his records again. Although I've mellowed on the subject of tapenade over the years, Dear Reader, to this day I have yet to shell out any cash for his recorded works.
A Sort Of Tapenade
50 g almonds
70 g black olives
50 g sundried tomatoes (in oil)
½ - 1 clove of garlic
½ - 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or a mix of thyme and lemon thyme if possible)
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
a few turns of black pepper

This amount works best in a small processor, although these can vary a lot in power and effectiveness. If yours isn't very powerful, you may want to crush the almonds a little first. Otherwise simply place all the ingredients in a suitable processor and whiz until you get the texture that appeals. I like it quite smooth with the occasional larger piece but most people seem to prefer a chunkier version. It's likely that the resulting paste will be a little thick and so add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to thin it down.

Finish the dip by drizzling with a little extra lemon juice and olive oil or, even nicer, a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil. Serve with toasted slices of baguette or with whatever it is that you prefer to dip into dips.

Pick out some fine music and I'll see you on Box Hill for a picnic. Just don't ask me anything about antique furniture - I won't know the answer.

In line with one of my new year resolutions (remember the new year?) I'm making more of an effort to share now and then. This is hardly cooking but it does have herbs so it should just about fit in with the February Lavender and Lovage Cooking with Herbs challenge.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Blanquette de Poisson de la Côte d'Albâtre

If you live along the Normandy coast, then you tend to be zealous in your search for the best, freshest fish. A good poissonnerie or market stall would both be fine but wouldn't it be even better to buy the fish straight off the boats? Which is why people descend on the little seafront town of Quiberville when the catch is in. There's no harbour as such at Quiberville and so the fishing boats, called 'doris', are dragged up the beach by tractor and the catch is sold at roadside stalls.
Quiberville
Although you can be sure that the fish is fresh, you can't guarantee what will turn up in the catch. This recipe is based on the kind of simple, Normandy dish that will make the most of whatever the catch happens to be. You can use any firm white fish fillets of reasonable size and a mix of two or three different types wouldn't be unusual if it's intended to serve a family. Mussels are typically added to this kind of dish along the Côte d'Albâtre, although prawns might be used instead. I used prawns this time because that's what I happened to have. If you're using mussels, then it's easiest to cook them first. Just steam them in a little wine or cider and remove them from the shells. (You can leave some in their shells for decoration if you prefer, although that tends to be a bit messy when it comes to eating the dish).

This works well with just some plain rice, but I love to eat it with a good baguette to soak up the juices. It might sound odd to use a chicken stock with fish but it does add a savoury quality that enhances the overall flavour. Of course, you could use a fish or even a vegetable stock if you prefer.

This will serve 2. And yes I know that it sounds a bit pretentious using a French name for this recipe but it just sounds so much better than ‘White Fish Stew from the Channel’.
Blanquette de Poisson
200 – 250 g firm, skinned white fish fillets, cut into chunks
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
1 medium or large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice or batons
150 ml dry white wine (a Muscadet would be good or you could use a dry cider)
100 g button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
150 ml light chicken stock
8 –12 cooked and shelled mussels or uncooked and shelled prawns
3 tbsp thick crème fraîche
2 or 3 small knobs of butter
a little chervil or parsley to serve

Using a large frying pan or sauté pan with a lid fry the leek and carrot gently in a little butter until the leek has started to soften. Pour in 100 ml of the wine, place the lid on the pan and continue to cook for 10 – 15 minutes over a low heat. Keep an eye on it to make sure that it doesn't dry out. Add a little water if necessary. At the end of this time the leek should be very soft and the carrots should be fairly tender but not mushy.

Remove the lid, add the mushrooms, increase the heat and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Add some seasoning. (If you’re being particularly careful about the whiteness, then use white pepper if you have any). Pour in the remaining 50 ml of wine and the chicken stock. Lower the heat again and add the fish and, if you're using them, add the prawns as well. Cook very gently, stirring and turning the fish to ensure that it cooks evenly. The cooking time for this stage will vary according to the type of fish and the size of the chunks, but it’s unlikely to be more than 5 or 6 minutes.

As soon as the fish and prawns are cooked, stir in the crème fraîche (and the cooked mussels, if that's what you’re using) and allow it to heat through. Serve at once, sprinkled with a little finely chopped chervil or parsley.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Pascale Weeks’ Mincemeat Cake

I've made this simple cake quite regularly at this time of year either to use up leftover mincemeat or when the supermarkets start to sell it off at knockdown prices. The recipe was published back in 2009 here on the English language version of the blog “C'est moi qui l'ai fait !”. Recently I was burbling on about defunct food blogs and I suppose that technically this is one of them. But calling it a defunct blog is a bit misleading: the French version of  “C'est moi qui l'ai fait !” is still very much a going concern and well worth reading if you're OK with French. What's more if you've ever picked up a copy of “750g” magazine or come across one of her books, then you'll know that its author Pascale Weeks is still very much around and doing just fine. It was simply the English language version of her blog that she stopped producing.
Mincemeat Cake
Mme Weeks gave this recipe the alternative title of “lazy girl cake” because it's so simple and quick to put together. I'm only half-qualified to comment on the name but I'm definitely lazy and it's easy enough for me. It produces a delicious, gently-spiced (depending on your choice of mincemeat) and slightly crumbly fruit cake. I've also made this cake with homemade, fat-free mincemeat and it still works, although the texture is a little different and you may need to adjust the baking time.

This cake reminds me of sitting in a café in Devon many years ago while the staff and customers tried valiantly to explain the important difference between ‘mincemeat’ and ‘minced meat’ to a man from Paris with a limited grasp of English. He just wanted a typical British afternoon snack but left shaking his head sadly.

If you fancy a different sort of mincemeat cake, then the Apple and Mincemeat Cake that Suelle posted on Mainly Baking recently would make an excellent alternative.

I haven't shared many posts lately and because it's a new year I thought I really should make more of an effort.
Love Cake Logo


Since this cake is perfect for using up leftover mincemeat, it should fit in well with the 'Waste Not' theme of this month's Love Cake at Jibber Jabber.



Monday, 4 January 2016

Remembering 2015 (Hazily)

This isn't the usual sort of stuff that I blurt out on this blog but I'm in a reflective mood and so I thought I'd look back on 2015. I wasn't able to do as much cooking or blogging as I would have liked last year and I really must apologise to both of my readers for that. Here are some of the things that I remember from 2015– albeit a little hazily.
  • Alice celebrated her 150th birthday.

Alice in Devon
  • Many food blogs left the building.

Sad to say, a number of the food blogs that I'd been reading ground to a halt or disappeared last year. Worse still, I recently came across a  list of the blogs that I used to read regularly in 2010. Around three quarters of them are now defunct. Back then one of the great attractions for me in the food blogging world was that it offered such a refreshing alternative to the branded, self-promoting world of many cookery books, TV shows and websites. Last year there was a commercially successful book published that had just over 100 recipes (fair enough) and 64 pictures of the author. It's probably an age thing but I genuinely don't understand how 64 pictures of the author helps when you're trying to cook a meal. I still want to read and try out interesting and original recipes and I much prefer the alternative, nonprofessional and idiosyncratic blogging world without all the commercial hype. I hope it doesn't disappear altogether.

  • It was the best year that I can remember for roses.

I Promised You A Rose Garden
  • Avocado was placed on toast.

You couldn't move very far last year without someone offering you avocado on toast, which is fine by me. But there were also numerous offers of recipes in very expensive books for avocado on toast and I find that decidedly odd. Another age thing, probably.

  • It was 600 years since the battle of Agincourt.

Yes, this really is a picture of the battlefield – or rather, the road round it.
Azincourt


That's enough nostalgia for 2015, it's time for a few words about 2016. I started this blog to record the recipes that I used and developed and, six years later, I've almost come to the end of my list of recipes. I've posted around 200 so far and how many recipes does one man really need? I'm not quite finished, though - there are still some dishes and bakes that I'm determined to get right or just finally get around to publishing. But, unless I discover a bunch of new recipes under a rock somewhere, 2016 will probably be the last year of this blog.


Some of the recipes that I've yet to write down are the ones that seemed more personal and, occasionally, odd and so didn't seem to fit what I though was the food blog brief. But they're actually recipes that I use quite regularly and are often based on ingredients from local suppliers. It's my resolution to make an effort to correct those omissions and mention some more local food. It might mean that things get even more wayward and eccentric round here - sorry about that.


I'll start by admitting that I've spent far too much time hanging about and enjoying myself in Bronte's Café since it opened last year. They do a fine avocado on toast (see above) and excellent coffee from the local organic coffee roasters Beanberry. That's two local mentions already. Who says I can't stick to my resolutions?
Brontes
Normal (well, sort of normal) recipe service will resume shortly. I'm off for a coffee.

Happy New Year