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.
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.

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?
Normal (well, sort of normal) recipe service will resume shortly. I'm off for a coffee.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Butternut Squash Chutney and the 2015 Kitchen Music

This simple recipe is based loosely on a chutney from a restaurant somewhere in France (I can't quite remember where) and was intended to liven up simple game dishes. I think it would do very nicely on turkey sandwiches or alongside a leftovers curry around this time of year.

If you're short of time, chop everything in a food processor - it won't make a big difference to the finished chutney. Vary the amount of chilli flakes and sugar according to how hot or sweet you like your chutney. This amount will make around 5 small jars.
BNS Chutney
750 g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small dice
Juice of 5 or 6 clementines (or 2 oranges)
175 ml white wine (or cider) vinegar
100 ml sherry vinegar
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and diced
3 tbsp honey
4 - 6 tbsp light brown soft sugar
½ - 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp freshly-ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring every now and then, until the cooking apple has collapsed and the squash is tender. If the mixture seems to be drying out too much, then add a little water.

I prefer this chutney not too chunky so I take the mixture off the heat and attack it with a potato masher until I get the kind of texture that appeals but that's optional. Once the mixture has cooled a little, put it into sterilised jars, seal and label. This chutney is ready to eat pretty much immediately although letting it mature for a few days would be no bad thing. I can't guarantee how long it will keep - I tend to make small amounts rather than keep chutneys for too long.

But enough of these quasi-Christmas recipes, it's the moment that nobody's been waiting for as I indulge myself with some of this year's favourite music in my kitchen. There's far too much good stuff to choose from this year but I've tried to go for the less well-known and, because it's very nearly Christmas, the more cheerful and uplifting. In fact, if you're not cheered up by the Hafdis Huld clip, then you have a heart of steel. But first...

While you're on your way to Birkenhead, if you wander off the M53, you might well find yourself in Hooton. Hooton Tennis Club make it sound like the place to go for endless, lazy sunshine (well, they do for me). Their album ‘Highest Point In Cliff Town’ was released in August and is available for download from Bandcamp here at a very reasonable price.

And now a short detour to Ireland for Owensie’s ‘Dramamine’, which is the only song (and album) named after a travel sickness remedy that I can recall. You can download the album for even less money from Bandcamp here.

It's my short-lived tradition to feature something in a language other than English and this year we find ourselves in Argentina in the company of Blito y los Intermitentes, who thankfully don't seem to take themselves too seriously. Their album ‘Nada’ can be downloaded from Bandcamp here (surprise, surprise) and could not be any cheaper.

And so finally something else that's not in English. One of the delights of last Christmas for me was Hafdis Huld singing Christmas songs live on the internet from her pink house in Iceland. This year she made an album of Icelandic children's songs that isn't edgy, indie or trendy but I don't think there can be many better ways of getting into a happy, Christmassy mood. This song is called ‘Ein ég sit og sauma’ which I'm led to believe means ‘I sit on my own and sow’.

P.S. It may be better known but if you still feel like being cheered up and haven't seen it yet then try the very fine Bhi Bhiman video for ‘Moving To Brussels’  featuring the formidable Keegan-Michael Key. It helps if you've seen the film ‘Whiplash’.

And I'd feel guilty if I didn't mention the excellent work this year from Hardworker, Josh Savage, Goodly Thousands, Olivia Quillio, Joan Shelley and Neøv.

Happy Christmas.