Monday, 10 April 2017

Tourte or Pastis or Croustade of The Pyrenees

I've been reading Allyson Gofton's ‘Recipes from my French Kitchen’ and it's been pleasantly nostalgic for me because it talks enthusiastically of foods and places that I've loved in the south west of France.  It's also a bit odd because it's clearly aimed at an audience back home in New Zealand and New Zealand is much more of a mystery to me than France. How I came to be the owner of a signed copy of a book of French recipes written by a cook from New Zealand whom I've never met is just too long a story. As far as I know, the book hasn't been published in the UK.

I was reminded of many places and tastes but one in particular stood out. In the local markets and bakeries, especially as you start to get into the Pyrenees, you're pretty sure to come across a brioche-shaped cake called either a ‘pastis’ or a ‘tourte’ or maybe a ‘croustade’. It's a cake that I'd always intended to make but that I'd never quite got round to attempting and this book persuaded me to get on and do it.
Tourte or Pastis or Croustade
To me the tourte resembles a sort of Madeira cake that you can enjoy up a French mountain. It's a simple recipe that's often flavoured with vanilla or booze such as rum or pastis (the drink) and sometimes contains extras such as blueberries. Of course, the blueberries should be wild and foraged from the mountainside but I foraged for mine in the supermarket on the High Street.

The three different names for essentially the same cake are pretty confusing but here's my highly questionable interpretation just in case you're interested. It was probably called ‘tourte’ because that word was often attached to special occasion (especially birthday) cakes or pastries. The name ‘croustade’ possibly came about because it does have a sort of Madeira cake style light crust. The word ‘pastis’ probably has nothing to do with the famous aniseed drink, although the cakes can be flavoured with the drink and some say the drink got the name from being used to flavour the cake. The word ‘pastis’ actually seems to derive from an ancient Gascon word for dough or batter and, by extension, cake. If you happen to find yourself among the pine trees of the département des Landes, then pretty much the same cake will probably be called a pastis and, as likely as not, will be flavoured with orange. Now that’s as much dubious food history as I can cope with while sober.Pyrenees
There are many different ways of producing this sort of simple cake and this isn't actually Allyson Gofton's recipe (not that there's anything wrong with it). My version is based on an amalgamation of recipes from the area that I've collected over time.

3 eggs
180 g caster sugar
150 g butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp dark rum
2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
2 tbsp milk
200 g plain flour
50 g potato flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
70 g blueberries
1 tbsp  pearl (nibbed) sugar (optional)

This cake looks the part if made in a fluted brioche tin, although a simple round tin will do just fine. The one I use has a diameter of 20 cm (at its widest) and a capacity of around 1.25 litres. If it's a non-stick tin, then so much the better, but I think it's still best if it's buttered thoroughly. (If you see this cake being sold at a French market, there's a good chance that they'll be in paper liners which could save on the buttering business, but the liners are not widely available in this country).

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and the caster sugar together until the mixture is very pale. Add the melted and cooled butter, the rum, vanilla and milk and whisk in. Sieve the flours and baking powder together and add to the mixture. Stir in thoroughly. (If the mixture seems very stiff, then add a little more milk). Stir in the blueberries.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir a large spoonful of the egg white into the cake mixture to loosen it a little, then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently but thoroughly. Pour into the tin and sprinkle the top with pearl (nibbed) sugar if you have any. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 - 60 minutes. Test with a knife or skewer in the usual way. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack.
Tourte or Pastis or Croustade
You really don't have to be up a mountain or in New Zealand to enjoy this.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

London Pie - Sort Of

I was reminded of this dish while meandering along the back alleys of some old cookbooks. It's a variation on cottage pie and the most obvious difference is that you don't usually get fruit in a cottage pie. I don't know the exact history of this recipe but I'm sure that this pie was around in some form during the period of rationing after the war. At that time small amounts of meat were often mixed with any available veg and fruit to make it go further. I can remember eating something like it in the 1970s but it seemed to fade away around the end of that decade. Meat combined with fruit has a very long history in British food and is common enough now in more fashionable, imported dishes so I thought I'd try a personal London Pie revival.
London Pie
Less sweet varieties of apple are best for this recipe in my opinion and I've used both cooking and eating apples to give a contrast in texture. The sour quality of the apples is offset by the dried fruit and the sweetness in the topping. A pure potato top would be much more traditional but this variation is sweeter, lighter and adds a bit of colour. I've used types of dried fruit that I like and that I happened to have in the cupboard but other types would work just as well.

Of course, the flavourings I've used aren't typical of the 1950s, especially not the chilli sauce or the cumin, but they're what you might have lying around the place in these non-rationing days. Unless you really love chilli it's probably best to use a mild chilli sauce - I used one that I picked up in The Little Chilli Shop on Anglesey and that's well worth a visit if you're in the area. This will serve 2 pretty generously.
London Pie
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped into small dice
250 g lean minced beef
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 small eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 tbsp sultanas
30 g dried pears, chopped
20 g dried apricots, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100 ml mild chilli sauce
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (optional)

For the topping:
     2 potatoes, medium or large
     350 g butternut squash flesh in chunks
     3 tbsp mango chutney
     A squeeze of lemon

Start the onion and carrot frying in a little oil then add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan. Keep cooking until the water has evaporated then stir in the beef. Fry until coloured then add the apple, dried fruit, cumin, chilli sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper, add around 4 tablespoons of water (you need the dish to be nicely moist rather than swimming in water), cover the pan and cook gently for around 25 minutes. If your apples are not sharp then add the sherry vinegar. Remove the lid and continue cooking until any excess liquid has evaporated but the mixture is moist and all the ingredients are cooked through.

While the filling is cooking, prepare the topping. Peel and chop the potatoes and steam (or boil) along with the butternut squash. When they're both softened, drain thoroughly and mash. (I use a potato ricer because I find that it’s easier to get rid of any excess moisture that way but it's just a personal preference.) Once mashed to your liking, season with salt and pepper, stir in the mango chutney and the dash of lemon juice.

Place the filling in your chosen ovenproof dish and top with the mash. I prefer to leave the mash looking a little rough on the top. (You could dot with butter if you don’t mind the extra fat). If you want to make the dish in advance then you could chill it at this stage until ready to cook or, probably better still, chill the filling and topping separately.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes (you may need a little longer if the mixture is chilled) or until it’s thoroughly hot throughout and the top has a little bit of brown here and there. Personally, I don’t think you need anything with it, but a little green veg will give a nicely contrasting colour.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Munich Pudding

Every so often I come across a historic recipe that sounds barmy but just can't be ignored. I really want to know what it tastes like. This is definitely one of those ‘can't pass it by’ sort of recipes. Essentially it's a variation on a bread and butter pudding but the twist is that it was meant to be cooked in a paper bag.

The original recipe is from Nicolas Soyer's ‘Paper-Bag Cookery’ first published in 1911 and is described as ‘Pudding à la Munich’. This book has been the subject of a fair amount of (mostly academic) ridicule over the years but I think that's unfair. Nicolas Soyer was the grandson of the renowned chef Alexis Soyer but he has a claim in his own right to be the original ‘modern’ celebrity chef. He was probably the first to understand the power of marketing and branded goods. If you wanted to make some of the recipes in ‘Paper-Bag Cookery’ then you really needed to get hold of some of Soyer's own paper bags which came with his signature printed on the outside (I don't think even Jamie's tried that yet). As I understand it these bags were made of some sort of strong greaseproof paper and, in effect, Mr Soyer was promoting a form of en papillote cooking years before it became fashionable. Paper bag or not, I haven't come across Pudding à la Munich anywhere else. And, in fact, I couldn't bring myself to try cooking this in a bag (sorry Mr Soyer).

Admittedly some historic recipes taste very odd when you make them but this was far better than I'd feared. In fact, it left me wanting more. I also admit that I haven't quite stuck to the original recipe. I've added maple syrup to the golden syrup of the original, for instance, and I used quite a dense sourdough to add some very welcome texture.
Munich Pudding
I've not given very precise measurements in this recipe - it's really not that kind of dish - so just add more or less of the ingredients as you fancy (within reason). It's a very easy pudding to put together, especially if you decide to use ready-made custard and should provide plenty for 2 people. A ceramic pie dish (an oval dish 16cm x 11cm with a depth of 6cm) seemed to work well for me but an enamel dish will be fine too. 

10 - 12 thinnish slices of baguette, slightly stale is fine and I think that sourdough is best
Unsalted butter
A handful of mixed sultanas and raisins, roughly chopped
Golden syrup
Maple syrup
Either milk, vanilla, sugar and an egg yolk to make a custard or around 250 ml of ready-made custard if you’re pressed for time (and who isn’t?)
1 egg white
60 g icing sugar

Butter your chosen dish. Lightly toast the slices of baguette and spread them quite thickly with butter. Drizzle the bottom of the dish with golden and maple syrups and sprinkle on some of the sultanas and raisins. Cover with a single layer of the buttered toast. Cut or tear the toast to give a reasonably even covering. Drizzle the toast with more golden and maple syrups and sprinkle on some more of the sultanas and raisins. Repeat the toast, syrups and fruit layer and, hopefully you'll be somewhere near the top of the dish (although, don't worry if you're not – this is a relaxed sort of dessert).

You now need around 250 ml of fairly thin custard. So separate the egg and use the yolk to make a simple custard. Well that's easy to say, but in my view it's a bit of a pain to make a custard with just one egg yolk and I should know because I did. So I'd recommend either making a larger amount and using any leftover custard elsewhere or buying a ready-made custard from your local supermarket. If you decide to make your own and don't have your own preferred method then Delia's can't really be bettered. If you use  ready-made custard then you might want to add a little milk if the custard is particularly thick. Mr Soyer doesn't specify adding vanilla to the custard but I really think that plenty of vanilla in this dish is close to essential. However you produced your custard, pour it into the dish until the bread and fruit is just covered.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC and make a meringue mix with the egg white and icing sugar. (Yes, it's also a bit of a pain making meringue with a single egg white but even that small amount is probably going to be more than you'll need). Whisk the egg white to the firm peak stage and then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mix is glossy. Spread a layer of the meringue over the pudding. I think a thin layer of meringue is best because the pudding is already as sweet as a sweet thing.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until the meringue has a light brown crust and the pudding is nicely heated through. Serve straightaway or, if you're odd like me, cool and chill in the fridge before serving cold. I think most people will prefer it hot (or at least warm) but try any leftovers cold - you might be as odd as I am.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Pain de Gênes

Most people I know are not only deeply suspicious of fat these days but are also putting on false beards and crossing the street to avoid bumping into sugar and so I suppose it's not surprising that I haven't added a cake recipe to the blog lately. But here's one that I've had around for a while. For some incomprehensible reason I was reluctant to publish this recipe because I thought that it wasn't an authentic Pain de Gênes. That's the first time I've been bothered by authenticity and, to be honest, it will probably be the last time too.

The original and authentic Pain de Gênes should be made with almond paste unless I'm much mistaken (and I could be) but this recipe uses ground almonds and no flour. Oddly enough, I first came across this style of Pain de Gênes in my venerable copy of the 1950's classic 'Constance Spry Cookery Book' but since then I've seen a number of French recipes that are made in a similar way. It's a beautifully moist cake with an excellent almond flavour and, even better, it's really easy to make. It works either with afternoon tea or as a dessert with fruit and maybe some creamy substances.

So here's my version of a Pain de Gênes but please note that authenticity is not my strong point.

Pain de Gênes
110 g unsalted butter, softened, plus a bit more for the tin
130 g caster sugar
100 g ground almonds
3 eggs
3 rounded tbsp potato flour
2 tbsp amaretto liqueur

Butter an 18 cm or 19 cm round tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Briefly beat in the ground almonds until well combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Lightly but thoroughly stir in the potato flour and the liqueur. Pour into the prepared tin, level the mixture and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. A knifepoint inserted in the centre should come out clean. (See, I told you it was easy to make).

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. The top of this cake is prone to cracking but I don't mind a few cracks so I don't try to cover them up. As far as I can tell the plain and slightly cracked top is traditional but I've also seen Pain de Gênes decorated with flaked almonds or showered with icing sugar if you feel it needs something.
Pain de Gênes

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

It's 2017 & Time For A Floctail

Let's not dwell on the dispiriting aspects of 2016. Here are a few food and drink snippets worth celebrating from 2016 and worth looking forward to in 2017 - well, for me anyway. Given the events of the last year I suppose it's not surprising that a number of them are alcoholic.

But first, let me offer a sincere apology. At the start of last year I confessed that I was running out of recipes and that 2016 would probably be the last year of this blog. The bad news is that not only have I been hopeless at getting around to adding the remaining recipes to the blog, I've also found a few more in a ditch somewhere with the result that I might well have another year to go. Sorry about that.

I did make an effort to be a bit less hopeless and more like a proper blogger early in 2016. I was persuaded that I should start a Facebook page for the blog. It seemed to use up time that I couldn't really spare but I gave it a go until a very successful blogger told me that Facebook would allow me to ‘begin the leverage of my blog's potential to maximise the exploitation of my profile on social media’. At least, it was something like that. Of course, as soon as I heard the word ‘leverage’ I deleted the Facebook page. I'll try to avoid mistakes like that in the future.

Some very fine (and often affordable) wines crossed my path during 2016. Sometimes they were from places I didn't expect like Tasmania, sometimes made from grapes I didn't expect like touriga and sometimes they were just plain surprising. I was especially surprised by a number of delicious 'new world' wines that you might well think were from the oldest of the old world.
Casas del Bosque Syrah and LH Riesling

One of the most interesting people I met last year was Grant Phelps, winemaker and DJ. Until recently he was the head winemaker at Casas del Bosque in Chile and his wines were my choice for Christmas. They're seriously good wines (especially the Syrah) and very possibly not what you'd expect from Chile. Mr Phelps has now left Casas del Bosque to run a hotel and wine bar made out of shipping containers in Valparaiso. (Told you he was interesting.)

And I can't mention wines without saying that there are some really good sparkling wines being produced in England these days. And I do mean REALLY good.

Staying with alcohol, I'm inordinately pleased to say that the British gin revival continues in a glorious fashion. Just to mention a couple of very fine examples: Silent Pool (and not just because it's my local gin) and Bathtub. And try the Bombay Sapphire Distillery experience if you get a chance - it's good fun.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery

I'm looking forward to the crowdfunded publication of 'The Plagiarist In The Kitchen', the first cookbook by Jonathan Meades. I know that there are still some interesting cookbooks being published but there also seems to be an endless succession of dismal, repetitious and self-congratulatory celebrity cookbooks. I think I can be certain that Meades won't be that kind of writer and I'm assured that the book will not contain the word 'drizzle'.

In 2016 there was a nasty moment in my little town when a number of people were treated for shock after a local restaurant served several dishes which contained no kale at all (hard to believe, I know). In other 2016 fashion news, I think I might need to join a support group if I come across yet another cake made with coconut flour. And don't get me started on chia seeds. However, despite the obvious dangers, I believe that it's compulsory to discuss future food trends in January so here goes.

In 2017 I'm told that we'll be eating vegetable yoghurts, tucking into anything that looks vaguely fermented and, by the end of the year, we'll be unable to live without regular doses of cauliflower. I'll need to revive my cauliflower soup and purée recipes - I might be on trend for once in my life. No, let's be honest, that's not likely.

I've also been told that sherry cocktails might be big this year. That's OK by me but I’m currently more interested in floctails. For some outlandish reason I think of floc as a winter drink so here's a fruity and cheering cocktail based loosely on some drinks that turned up in a Landes pine forest. I think I might call it “Floc Wallpaper” just because I can. Adjust the size of your measure according to your need for a drink.
Floctail or Floc Wallpaper

4 measures of white Floc de Gascogne
1 measure of peach schnapps
1 measure lemon juice
½ measure of lime juice

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a suitably decadent glass and decorate if you really feel that you have to.

Hopefully I’ll soon get round to publishing some of the deeply unfashionable recipes that I didn't get round to in 2016. Until then let me wish you all a slightly belated very best for 2017 and leave you with my favourite song from 2016.


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.