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.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Turkey with Beer and Juniper

Just over the channel in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais there's a village called Licques which is noted for its fine poultry. But of all the fine poultry produced in the area turkeys are the most celebrated, especially during ‘La Fête de La Dinde’, which is held every December. There are prizes for the best birds, a local Christmas market and enough food and drink to keep out the cold. Everyone has a fine time, except possibly the turkeys. The festival is said to have sprung from the time when the local farmers herded turkeys through the village to their inevitable pre-Christmas fate. As a result there's still a parade through the village with a marching band and the poor old turkeys. (I'm told that this year's festival will be held from 12th to the 14th December and some mechanical turkeys are promised).

Paraded or not in my opinion a turkey is for lunch and not just Christmas. (I know quite a number of people who refuse to eat turkey at any other time than the day itself and that seems a shame to me). But I thought I'd get this recipe in early before everyone starts roasting birds the size of planetoids. This recipe is based on a dish from the Licques area. It's very much a winter dish and typically for the area uses beer rather than wine, root vegetables and a dash or two of the local genièvre.
Turkey with Beer and Juniper
The crucial thing about this simple dish, apart from good beer and fine turkey, is very gentle cooking. In French recipes you might well come across the word ‘mijoter’, which is usually translated as simmering or slow cooking. When it comes to this kind of very gentle simmering there's an even better word with a descriptive sound - ‘blobloter’. This means the kind of gentle simmering where the surface of the liquid just trembles with merely an occasional bubble rising to the surface. At least, that's what I was given to understand. Allowing for my lack of language ability and general gullibility it may turn out to mean something very rude.

This recipe needs to be started the day before serving. It should serve 4 or maybe 3 if you need hearty winter portions to keep out the cold.

450 g turkey breast, cut into chunks
75 g smoked bacon pieces or pancetta
1 tbsp light soft brown sugar
Chicken stock - probably 200 - 300 ml should be enough
4 tbsp crème fraîche

     2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks or rounds
     1 leek, white part only, sliced
     2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
     6 juniper berries, lightly crushed
     3 tbsp genièvre (or gin)
     A generous few turns of freshly ground black pepper
     250 ml bière blonde (or use a good, flavourful lager but avoid a strong, dark beer) 
     ½ tsp dried thyme

Put the turkey chunks into a non-reactive bowl. Combine all the marinade ingredients and mix with the turkey. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 5 or 6 hours but preferably overnight.

Drain and reserve the marinade. In a large pan fry the bacon or pancetta until the fat begins to run. Add the drained turkey and vegetables and stir them around just long enough to get a small amount of colour. Sprinkle the brown sugar into the pan and pour in the reserved marinade. Top up with just enough chicken stock to cover the turkey. Put a lid on the pan and allow the mixture to simmer very gently for 1½ - 2 hours or until everything is nice and tender.

Uncover the pan, lift out the vegetables and turkey with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Turn up the heat and reduce the cooking liquid by about half. If you prefer the sauce to have more of a coating consistency, then you could use a little cornflour to thicken the cooking liquid a touch more. Whisk in the crème fraîche and pour the sauce over the turkey and vegetables immediately before serving.

I'd be very happy serving this with plain rice but potatoes are probably more traditional.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Pepper and Chilli Jam

Last year I grew a Scotch Bonnet chilli plant. It was hot, of course. This year I thought I should grow one that was a little less hot. I chose a plant called Paper Lantern because it looked pretty on the label. I hadn't quite grasped the fact that it's also very hot. In fact, hotter than the Scotch Bonnet. So I had a lot of hot chillies to use up.
Paper Lantern Chillies
To turn the heat down a notch or two, I combined the chillies with plain old peppers (sweet or bell peppers that is) and made this Pepper and Chilli Jam, which will spread nicely on such things as burgers and sausages but will also stir easily into casseroles and stir fries without causing you to reach for too much iced water.

Not that there's anything wrong with a hot sauce in my view. I used up the rest of the chillies by making some of my usual Tomato and Chilli Jam, some hot Chilli Ketchup (a similar sort of recipe but a thinner result) and some Caribbean Pepper Sauce. I used the recipe you can find here for the latter. It's a nice variation on the classic pepper sauce with a good hit of lime and plenty of heat.
Chilli Sauces and Jams
There's not much in the way of pectin in a pepper, so this won't set like a classic fruit jam without a little help. If you want a reasonably firm set then use jam sugar but if you'd prefer a softer set then add just a little pectin (see the recipe below). If you don't add any pectin then the result will probably be more like a ketchup, but that's no bad thing if that's what you fancy.  This will make around 3 small jars.

6 red, yellow or orange peppers (sweet or bell peppers)
2 decent sized shallots
3 hot chillies (more if they’re a milder variety)
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
170 ml water
210 ml white wine vinegar
360 g jam sugar (or 360 g granulated sugar plus 1 or 2 tsp pectin for a soft set)

Core and deseed the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. 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.

Peel and roughly chop the shallots. Deseed the chillies and chop the flesh roughly. Wizz the flesh of the peppers, the chillies, shallots, soy sauce and fish sauce in a blender or small processor until you get a fine purée. Put the purée in a non-reactive pan with the water and vinegar. Add the sugar and pectin if you're using it and place the pan on a medium heat. Stir regularly until the sugar has dissolved and then bring the pan to the boil. Boil the mixture with plenty of stirring until you get the degree of set you want. This is likely to take very roughly 8 - 10 minutes but it's best to do a classic wrinkle test to check the consistency. Chill a few saucers in the freezer, take one out and put a small dollop of the jam on it, wait a moment or two and push the jam with your finger. If it clearly wrinkles when you push it, then it will have a classic jam set consistency. If it offers some resistance without wrinkling, then it's at a soft set consistency. If it offers little or no resistance, then it's more of a sauce and you might want to boil it a little longer and repeat the test.

Allow the jam to cool a little and pour into sterilised jars. I keep the quantities quite low and so the jam doesn't stay around for long, but I've no reason to believe that it won't keep well. I tend to store it in the fridge partly to ensure that there's no danger of it spoiling but partly because I simply prefer to serve it cold.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Yoghurt Lamb and Redcurrant Mayo

This recipe is in two parts, both of them resurrected from the 1980s. The yoghurt coated lamb is based on the dishes that I ate in the Indian restaurants of south London in that strangely beguiling decade. It was made with larger cuts of lamb back then (leg usually) and used to cost a fair bit. Since I didn't have much money, it wasn't long before I tried making my own version. I think I first used a recipe from the Curry Club but I've played around with it over the years since.

I find that this is a good way to use those small (and hopefully cheap) cuts of lamb from the supermarket. Quite often the smaller cuts can be a little dry once cooked but the yoghurt and spice mix will seal in the juices and keep the lamb full of flavour as well as moist. Of course, you can serve this lamb hot alongside vegetable or lentil curries but I've always enjoyed eating the leftovers so much that I thought I'd make some specifically as a cold dish instead.

The redcurrant “mayo” is a real joy - sharp, creamy and a ridiculous colour (very 1980s actually). It's easy, if a little messy, to make and can be used alongside many cold dishes but is especially good with richer meats such as lamb or duck. The extra bit of good news is that it can be made with (defrosted) frozen redcurrants when the fresh berries aren't around.
Yoghurt Lamb and Redcurrant Mayo
This will serve 2 but is at its very best when combined with other dishes in a mezze style meal for a larger group.

Yoghurt Coated Lamb

Small piece of rolled boneless lamb shoulder (around 400 - 500 g)
125 ml yoghurt - a thicker Greek style is best and 0% fat will be fine although it might be a little less easy to handle
2 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp coconut powder
1 shallot or small onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ chilli, deseeded (add more if you like or replace with some dried chilli flakes if you don’t have fresh)
Seeds from 1 black cardamom pod (green will be fine too but the smokiness of black does add extra depth of flavour)
2 tsp dried mint (you can use fresh instead but the dried seems to give a more rounded flavour)
A generous pinch of freshly-ground black pepper
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted (or use another plain oil)

Put the shallot (or onion), garlic, fennel, chilli, cardamom, mint, pepper and oil in a blender or processor and whiz until smooth (or reasonably smooth). Stir this mixture into the yoghurt together with the ground almonds and coconut powder. Place the lamb in a small bowl and coat it thoroughly all over with the yoghurt mixture. Cover and place in the fridge overnight or, at least, for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 140ºC. Place the lamb on a small oven tray without disturbing the yoghurt coating if at all possible (it's best to line the tray with foil - ideally non-stick - if you want to avoid some challenging washing up). Roast for 2 - 2½ hours until the lamb is very tender. Pull the lamb apart, discarding any large pieces of fat and put the lamb, together with as much of the yoghurt coating as you like into a bowl. Either serve at once while the lamb is still hot (or, at least, warm) or allow to cool, cover and place in the fridge until needed. Take out in advance and allow to come close to room temperature before serving.

Redcurrant Mayo

This will probably make a little more than you need for 2 people but I've found that smaller amounts are difficult to handle.

100 g redcurrants, frozen and defrosted if fresh aren't available
2 - 4 tsp agave nectar, or just use icing sugar if you don't have any
2 - 4 tbsp sunflower oil, or another lightly-flavoured oil

Place the redcurrants, the nectar (or sugar) and a little salt and pepper into a blender or food processor and whiz until reasonably smooth. With the motor still running, slowly pour in enough oil to obtain a mayo consistency and until the mixture takes on a slightly disturbing pink colour. Serve at once or store in the fridge until needed - this won't be as stable as a classic mayonnaise so it's best to avoid storing for too long just in case. Take the mayo out of the fridge a short while before serving.
Haigha's Flying Hat Double 2

So why have I felt compelled to revisit the 1980s like this? I think I know who to blame for this fit of nostalgia. There's a reborn version of The Immaculate Fools with a new album and a tour of Spain. I'm certainly not selected or enchanted any longer but I honestly never thought I'd live to see a revived Fools and I can't deny that it's a very good thing.