Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

A quick plea for the underused gooseberry before the season is gone for another year. At least, I think the poor old gooseberry is underused. They're lovely in puddings and ices and they make very fine jam but I look forward to gooseberry season so that I can use them in savoury dishes.

I've wittered on about gooseberry sauces before but this year I've tried combining them with fennel and a fine combination it turned out to be. This sauce is very easy to make and freezes well. It works beautifully with simply cooked white fish, such as bream, but will also sit very happily alongside chicken or richer meats like duck or pork. I use the classic, sharper gooseberries for this kind of sauce rather than the sweeter, modern dessert types.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce
This sauce is not short of flavour and so should make plenty for four people.  

1 small to medium bulb of fennel, chopped quite finely
400 g gooseberries
50 g dried apricots, soaked if they need it
½ tsp dark soy sauce
A generous pinch or two of pepper
A dash of water
1 - 2 (and possibly a few more) tsp sugar, if the sauce needs it

Put all the ingredients except the sugar into a non-reactive pan and place on a gentle heat. Cover and let it simmer until the fennel has softened, the gooseberries have collapsed and the apricots have swollen up and softened. Let the mixture cool a little then liquidise the whole lot. Add a little more water if the sauce seems too thick. Taste and add as much sugar as you think you need. Reheat to serve.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

Monday, 22 June 2015

Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt

I first came across marmalade ice cream sometime in the 1980s when Sophie Grigson published the recipe in a London evening newspaper. At least, that's if my memory is to be trusted, which it's not for the most part. Essentially the recipe is a simple combination of double cream and marmalade and produces a rich, no churn ice cream beloved by just about anyone who tries it. Very similar recipes have appeared quite often over the years since then.

I thought I'd try making a lighter version of this little treat using zero fat yoghurt and I'm pleased to say that it works well. Let's not pretend that it's healthy, though: there's virtually a whole jar of marmalade in this recipe. Until recently I would usually strain low fat Greek style yoghurts when making frozen desserts but there are some in the shops now that are thick enough to make that unnecessary.

I've tried making this by simply putting the mixture in the freezer and also by using my very basic ice cream machine and, although it works well using the no churn method, it's a little smoother if you can face using a machine.

Sometime in the 1980s I went with a friend to a party somewhere in Fulham and having enjoyed a few refreshing, cold drinks, I spent a couple of hours passionately talking food to a woman that I was sure was Sophie G. I have a nasty feeling that I was explaining my theory about British regional food. I did that a lot back then. These days I can't quite remember what that theory was. My friend told me afterwards that it most definitely wasn't Sophie G and didn't even look vaguely like her. But, then again, around the same time this same friend mistook Tom Robinson for a waiter, so who knows? Sophie or not, I can only apologise 30 years too late to that poor, bored woman. I went home alone on the night bus.
Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt
300 g thick 0% fat yoghurt
350 g lemon and lime marmalade
3 tsp limoncello

If you want a very smooth frozen yoghurt then you could sieve out any peel from the marmalade, but I wouldn't usually bother. Whisk the marmalade lightly to loosen it and stir in the yoghurt and limoncello. Put the mixture in the fridge to chill thoroughly. Put into the ice cream machine and let it churn in the recommended way. Alternatively, just place in a suitable container in the freezer and let it get on with it. It won't be quite as smooth, but life's not always totally smooth either.

This recipe will work with other types of marmalade, of course. For instance, you could use a thin-cut orange marmalade and substitute an orange liqueur for the limoncello.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

When it's in season I never really get bored with simply cooked asparagus but, just for a change, I do use it in some slightly more involved recipes. I've often made a simple asparagus risotto in the past but this year I've played around with different flavours that complement and enhance the asparagus.  Almond milk provides a good background flavour and gives the risotto a creamier texture.  It might sound odd but I think that a little ginger in the stock intensifies and highlights the taste of the asparagus.  Don’t overdo the ginger, though, or you won’t taste much else. The easiest way to create a little ginger juice is to squeeze about ½ - 1 inch of peeled fresh ginger in a garlic press; although you could use a commercial ginger extract instead.

I served this risotto with a little jamón ibérico (I do mean a little - I can't afford a lot) and a small, simple salad of red pepper. I love both of those flavours with asparagus but in a way they're just icing on the cake and the risotto will stand on its own slightly sloppy feet perfectly well.

I feel I should apologise for specifying yet again how to make a risotto. I do pretty much the same as everyone else so there's nothing stopping you using your own method or a risotto machine if you have one. The ratio of liquid to rice given here is only a guide. The exact amount of liquid needed will depend on the type of rice, how quickly you cook it and, of course, the texture you prefer in the finished dish.

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

This will serve 2.

1 red pepper
About ½ onion, chopped quite finely
1 medium-sized carrot, cut into small dice
1 stick of celery, chopped quite finely
A small glass of white wine
120 g carnaroli (or other risotto) rice
300 ml vegetable stock
700 ml unsweetened almond milk
A small bundle of asparagus (6 - 8 spears, depending on their size)
About ½ tsp of ginger juice (see above)
A small handful of fennel fronds
White balsamic vinegar to dress the pepper
A few small slices of jamón ibérico, or another cured ham

Core and deseed the pepper, slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Place in a plastic bag or in a covered bowl and keep the pepper sealed up until cool. Peel off and discard the blackened skin and slice the flesh into strips.

Fry the onion, carrot and celery very gently in a little oil until they soften. While that’s happening, mix the stock, almond milk and ginger juice, heat to simmering point and keep at a gentle simmer.

Pour the wine into the softened onion mixture, turn up the heat a little and, when the wine has has almost disappeared, add the rice and stir around. (It's more usual to add the wine after the rice but lately I've been following Simon Hopkinson's advice and not allowing the rice to absorb the flavour of the raw alcohol). Add a ladleful of the simmering stock and almond milk mixture to the rice and stir until the stock is pretty much absorbed. Repeat a ladleful at a time until the rice is fully cooked and the texture of the risotto is to your liking.

While that’s going on cook the asparagus (I usually steam it, but boil or grill if you prefer), then cut into bite-sized chunks. When the rice is ready, stir in the asparagus pieces and about half of the fennel fronds. Add some salt and pepper but don't overdo the salt if you’re serving with salty ham and use white pepper if you want to avoid seeing specks of pepper (personally, I don't really care about specks).

To serve, dress the red pepper with a little white balsamic and put a small pile on each plate. Surround with the jamón ibérico. Put a portion of the risotto alongside the pepper and ham and sprinkle on the remaining fennel fronds.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gâteau Ardéchois or a Chestnut Cake from a Can

Several years ago I was called on to make some cakes as part of a birthday celebration. That's normally pretty straightforward but at the time I was down in the south-west of France, in the Gers, and I wasn't quite sure what the local French people would make of British cakes. After all, the mayor had been invited and you certainly don't want to upset him. We decided that small chestnut cakes covered in icing would be a bit different and a good alternative to some of the other delights on offer. They turned out OK but I did notice that some of the French guests seemed to look at them a little oddly. Maybe I'd overlooked the French tradition of chestnut cakes and gone a little bit too far from the norm. After that experience I started looking for a more traditional form of chestnut cake and since they've got an awful lot of chestnuts in the Ardèche, that seemed like a pretty good place to start.

To be honest, I'm not absolutely sure how close this cake might be to a genuine gâteau from the Ardèche. I can't remember exactly where I found the original recipe but I think it was from a chestnut purée company – probably off the back of a can. I've played around with the recipe so it's definitely no longer truly authentic. The result is moist and not overly sweet and I think it's particularly good as a dessert cake. The extra bits of  good news are that it's a really easy cake to put together and that there's not a lot of fat in chestnuts. Don't expect a crumbly, sponge-like texture, though.

Chestnut purée is available in different forms. The type I've used here is unsweetened and not flavoured. This type is fairly widely available in the UK but there are other purées which are sweetened and sometimes flavoured with vanilla. If you're using sweetened purée then lower the amount of caster sugar in the recipe by at least 25 g and if it's already flavoured you may not need the vanilla paste. The purée I've used is thicker than some of the French products and I've adapted the recipe to suit. If the purée you use is a little runny, then you may find the baking times increased. Finally, I've added a little Frangelico liqueur to the cake because I love the flavour but it’s certainly not traditional. You might well find that French bakers would add some rum, though.

I've been working on a new version of the original, small chestnut cakes as well but I'll tell you about that sometime in the future.
Gâteau Ardéchois or is it Chetnut Cake?
2 eggs
100 g caster sugar
25 g light brown soft sugar
120 g plain flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 tbsp Frangelico (or maybe dark rum)
200 g unsweetened chestnut purée, at room temperature
100 g butter, thoroughly softened plus a bit for the cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 20 cm cake tin.

Whisk the eggs with both types of sugar until the mixture is light in colour. Beat in the flour and baking powder.

Add the vanilla paste, Frangelico, chestnut purée and butter and beat these in until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth.

Place the mixture in the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for around 35  - 40 minutes or until a knife point comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for at least ten minutes before turning out. Serve sprinkled with a little icing sugar and hope that the mayor approves.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Porc aux Pruneaux

Sometimes it seems as if this blog should really be called ‘Some Old Bloke's Half-Remembered Meals’ and I'm sorry but here's another one. This particular nearly forgotten dish is based on something that I ate in Chinon many years ago. Chinon is a lovely little town with a fine castle, the river Vienne, some very pleasing wines and a number of good restaurants. Well, it did then and I feel sure it still does.

This dish is easy to put together, quite rich and definitely old school. It's based on a dish from Tours, which is not far from Chinon, but I'm pretty certain the version that I ate used a Chinon white wine. It can be quite hard to find white Chinon wine in other parts of France let alone outside of the country, so use another dry white wine instead – a Chenin Blanc would be ideal.

Traditionally, I'm sure it would be more normal to cut the pork into noisettes and fry them rather than roasting the fillet whole, but I prefer the roasting option – it’s easier and, I think, the texture is better. I used a homemade rosemary jelly this time and it works very well but I have a feeling that the original dish used a thyme-scented jelly. You could use redcurrant jelly instead.
Porc aux Pruneaux
This will serve 2.

6 large prunes, pitted (Agen prunes would be ideal)
200 ml dry white wine (see above)
1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp rosemary, thyme or redcurrant jelly
100 ml crème fraîche
½ tsp Dijon mustard
A dash of lemon juice

Cut each prune into four pieces, place in a bowl and pour over the wine. Leave to macerate for an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fillet, place in a small roasting tin and put in the oven. It’s very difficult to be precise about roasting times since sizes will vary a lot, but around 30 to 35 minutes should be about right for anything but the largest pieces. Check that the juices run clear.

As soon as the pork has gone into the oven, begin frying the shallot gently in a little olive oil. Once the shallot has softened (don’t rush it), drain the prunes and add the prune-soaking wine to the pan together with the rosemary, thyme or redcurrant jelly. Increase the heat, stir to dissolve the jelly and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce until the mixture starts to become syrupy. Take off the heat and strain the sauce – squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the shallot and then discard it.

When the pork is done, remove it from the oven and leave it to rest while you finish the sauce. Reheat the wine mixture and stir in the crème fraîche and Dijon mustard. Once the sauce is thoroughly mixed, add the prunes and allow them to heat through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add a dash of lemon juice.

Slice the pork fillet, place on warmed serving plates and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately. I like to serve this with simple green veg and some French bread for mopping up purposes.
Chinon

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Professor Denies Everything Or A Review of The Poi’s Son

It's not escaped my notice that lots of bloggers write restaurant reviews but, so far, I've been far too idle to follow suit. But when a new pop-up restaurant opened nearby I couldn't miss the opportunity to pass on the good news. The Poi's Son Of Avril is in the fine tradition of many modern restaurants: find an unexploited, cheap foodstuff and make it fashionably expensive in a room with ridiculous decoration. The speciality of the Poi's Son Of Avril is Hawaiian Poi and they boast not only a chef who is a master of this ancient culinary art but also quite a lot of dry rot.

I quickly perused the Blogger's Guide to Restaurant Reviewing and discovered that if you don't find yourself fascinating enough then you need to take an interesting companion with you. The Professor is usually interesting if not always entirely sober and he was more than happy to accompany me. At least he was after I threatened to tell his wife about the incident with the exotic dancer from Runcorn and a copy of the 1958 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. And so the Professor and I made our way to this exciting new eatery beautifully situated in a shed behind the local waste recycling facility.
Poi's Son Of Avril
At first we were refused entry on the grounds that we didn't meet the restaurant's strict fashion code. Since this is Surrey we were expected to carry bags costing the equivalent of a small house, drive an improbably large four-wheel drive (preferably while talking on the latest phone) or, at the very least, play football professionally. Fortunately an altercation was avoided when the Professor displayed a photograph of a large sum of money. 

We were shown to our table (well, oil drum, actually) by an agreeably surly waiter who denied he was a waiter at all and tweeted a scathing review of our dress sense on the way. The menus were decoratively printed in black ink on black paper, which luckily didn't matter since it was too dark to read. Our starters were delightful. A small pile of what appeared to be gravel in a cheeky oil-slick sauce was easy to throw away while the Professor happily declared that his dish of Something Found in a Ditch was exactly the sort of thing that nobody in their right mind would consider eating.
The Three Waiters
For the main course we demanded to meet the Poi Master. This request invoked something of a kerfuffle and hours passed while we admired the wheelie-bin-inspired décor and watched the other customers silently texting one another in accordance with the traditional Surrey custom. We were considering initiating an imbroglio when the Master finally appeared in his ceremonial costume of cheap suit, carrying the time-honoured pint of gin and tonic. Awed, we asked in trembling voices what sort of poi the Master would recommend. Pulling his ornate baseball cap solemnly over his eyes he spoke in a low, but commanding voice. “Well, mate, I reckon the steak and kidney poi is just about edible.” In the ensuing brouhaha the Professor sustained a minor injury to his reputation. Fortunately I left with my pride intact and someone else's umbrella.

In summary, an excellent evening was had by all and I can't recommend the place strongly enough. Except that, sadly, the shed was demolished this morning by a professional footballer in a gigantic four-wheel drive while attempting a particularly difficult parking manoeuvre. 
The Professor Cogitates
Disclaimer: I was given a number of fivers in a plain brown envelope if I promised not to mention the exotic dancer and the copy of Wisden but the opinions expressed here are all my own and are not only entirely insincere but also erroneous. No poi was harmed in the writing of this review.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Carrot Halwa For Al

I think of Al whenever I see carrot halwa on the menu of an Indian restaurant (and, believe me, that's quite often).

Al did a lot of the cooking at iDEATH. His signature dish was ‘mess of carrots’. Al was definitely known for his carrots. When he and Pauline cooked together ‘they made a potato salad that somehow ended up having a lot of carrots in it.’ I think if Al made a dessert, then this would be the one. It would probably be sweetened with watermelon sugar.
In Watermelon Sugar
In the early 1970s when I first read Richard Brautigan’s ‘In Watermelon Sugar’ it seemed an extraordinary book and, as it happens, it still does today. The book was actually written in 1964 and published in 1968 and I can't imagine it being written in any other decade. The narrator (‘Just call me whatever is in your mind’) lives in a shack near iDEATH and tells us of his life in a place where many things are made of watermelon sugar and the sun shines a different colour every day. I'm wondering what the people who lived at iDEATH would make of iPhones and the iPlayer. I like to think that Mr Brautigan would be amused but sadly he left us in the 1980s. Still, he has his place in history. As he said ‘All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.’ I've certainly never forgotten Al and his carrots. 

There are many, many variations on carrot halwa and so I don't really worry that my version isn't particularly authentic. It's a little lighter than many - there's often a fair bit of ghee involved. I used some sultanas and dried sour mango in this halwa but other dried fruit such as papaya or pears will work well too. Many versions of halwa that I've eaten over the years have been sweeter than a picture of two fluffy kittens cuddling up to a puppy dog but I prefer to hold back a little on the sugar. I still think this version is pretty sweet, though, so you could reduce the sugar even more if you prefer. I find it's easiest to use a chef's pan with curved edges for this kind of dish to assist with the reduction of the milk but any suitably sized saucepan will do.
Carrot Halwa
This will serve 4 if you're reasonably delicate and restrained or 2 if you're really hungry after a hard day at the Watermelon Works.

250 g grated carrot
A small knob of butter
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
400 ml full fat milk
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp dried sour mango, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
75 g light brown soft sugar
To serve:
Crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt
A few roasted crushed nuts
A little finely grated lime zest

Crush the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the carrots and cardamom. Stir the carrots around for a minute or two then pour in the milk. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat until the the milk is simmering quite gently. Stir in the sultanas, the dried mango (or whatever dried fruit you're using) and the vanilla paste. Continue simmering, stirring regularly (that's important), until the milk has all but disappeared but the mixture is still moist. This process is likely to take around 40 minutes at a gentle simmer. Stir in the sugar and continue cooking and stirring for another 3 or 4 minutes. Allow to cool and chill until needed.

More often than not, in the restaurants I've been hanging out in, this is served warm and with ice cream (usually vanilla). There's nothing wrong with that, but I think room temperature is best with a few roasted and crushed pistachios or cashews, some Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche and a little finely grated lime zest. It's a very adaptable dessert, though, and some people even prefer it ice cold.

Carrot halwa is probably even nicer if eaten by the light of a lantern that burns watermelontrout oil.
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I'm submitting this little piece to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole. I always look forward to discovering what turns up at Novel Food so I'm very happy to be part of it.
Novel Food