Monday, 8 September 2014

Tarte au Maroilles – The Lazy Person’s Guide

Bonjour tertous ! OK. that's just about all the ch'ti I can speak but I thought it was about time for a ch'ti recipe. After all, it's from just across the channel so it's almost a local dish.

In case you're not familiar with Maroilles, it's a soft cow's milk cheese with an orange rind that's made in northern France. Those simple facts sound harmless enough but there's a little more to it than that. The aroma of Maroilles can be scary. If you don't eat it quickly, it could start to set off fire alarms and endanger low-flying aircraft. On the other hand, it tastes great. As well as being a fine addition to the cheese board, it’s also a superb cheese for cooking.

One of the commonest dishes using this pushy little cheese is the Tarte au Maroilles. You can find different versions of this tarte around Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy but the most traditional form has a yeasted dough base rather than a layer of pastry. Think of it as a sort of enriched pizza dough. (I've now upset everyone from the north of France by saying that).

If you can’t get hold of any Maroilles, then you could substitute another cheese.  If you happen to venture into the Boulonnais region then you could do worse than to look for some of the cheeses made by the Bernard brothers in Wierre-Effroy. The Fruité du Cap Gris Nez would be ideal but the Fleur d’Audresselles or the Fort d’Ambleteuse would also do very nicely indeed. (As usual I should point out that I've no connection with the brothers and haven't received anything for nothing. I just like their cheeses.) Failing that use a cheese that isn't too soft and ripe but does have a powerful flavour: Chaumes, Reblochon or Pont-l'Évêque come to mind.

This is not a difficult dish to make but, if you happen to have a bread making machine, then it will need remarkably little effort. (The dough's not difficult to make without a machine, if you'd prefer to remain traditional). I use a Panasonic bread machine and it recommends the addition of the ingredients in the order I've given here, but follow the instructions for your particular breadmaker since the recommended order is often reversed.
Tarte au Maroilles
You can serve the tarte hot or cold, but I think it’s at its best when warm and accompanied by a green salad. This makes one 25 – 26 cm tarte, which should serve at least 8 as a starter, or 6 as a lunch.

For the base:
     ½ tsp easy bake fast action dried yeast
     300 g strong white flour
     ½ tsp salt
     2 tsp caster sugar
     15 g softened butter
     1 egg, beaten
     100 ml milk
     20 ml water
For the topping:
     300 g Maroilles
     200 ml crème fraîche
     1 egg
     Plenty of pepper, a little salt, a sprinkle of paprika and a pinch or two of ground cumin

Add all of the base ingredients to the breadmaker in the order recommended by your manufacturer. If your machine has a pizza dough setting then use it, but, if not, use the basic dough setting. Once the program is complete, you should have a light, slightly sticky dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to prove in a warm place for 45 – 60 minutes.

Butter a 25 cm or 26 cm diameter pie dish. (The tarte topping tends to bubble up more than you might expect and so a deeper dish is no bad thing.) Knock the dough back and roll it out until it covers the base of the pie dish. Some recipes suggest that you should fully line the dish by spreading the dough up the sides, but I was told in Picardy that it should remain flat.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Slice the Maroilles quite thinly and cover the dough base with the cheese. You don’t have to remove the rind of the cheese, but unless the cheese is very fresh then I think it’s better if you do. Beat the egg and stir it into the crème fraîche. Season this mixture with the pepper, salt, paprika and cumin. (The paprika and cumin aren't traditional, but they do add a little extra something). Pour the mixture onto the tarte and spread it out to cover the whole of the surface (you don’t need to be too fussy or precise about this). Bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is golden and puffed up.
Tarte au Maroilles
I will be forever grateful to Richard of ‘Maison de Plumes’ in Heuchin for persuading me to try Maroilles for the first time a few years ago. (Of course, I'm sure that he would never sink so low as to use a breadmaker).

Friday, 8 August 2014

Slow Cooker Carrot, Lemon and Almond Chutney

I'm a fan of slow cookers but I often seem to forget about them except when making casseroles of one kind or another. They're much more useful than that. Using the slow cooker for chutneys means that you don’t need to watch them too carefully but, even better than that, the slow cooking seems to blend and enrich the flavours exceptionally well. On the down side, it’s very difficult to give precise instructions on timings for slow cookers and I think it's quite tricky to get the amount of liquid in a preserve recipe correct. Slow cookers seem to vary a great deal, not only in the temperatures they reach, but also in the amount of liquid they tend to lose while cooking. So, it’s possible that after the initial cooking period you may need to transfer the chutney to a conventional pan and boil it for a short while to get the desired consistency.

This particular chutney is a classic combination but it’s one that works very well with a range of different foods and that seems to lend itself very well to slow cooking. You do need to allow time for the flavours to blend, so it’s best to make this chutney over a two-day period. Like just about any chutney the flavour is likely to improve after it’s been stored for a week or two, although this particular chutney is pretty good even if eaten straightaway. This amount will fill roughly 2 conventional jam jars or 4 small ones, although this will depend a little bit on how much you thicken the chutney before putting it in the jars. I feel confident that this will store very well for many months but, to be honest, so far I've just gobbled it down too quickly to be certain of that.
Carrot Lemon and Almond Chutney
500 g finely grated carrots
60 g ginger, peeled and either finely grated or reduced to a purée in a processor
300 g caster sugar
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
Juice of 2 lemons
50 ml runny honey
100 ml cider vinegar
40 g flaked almonds

Mix the grated carrot, ginger and caster sugar together and stir in the coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, pepper, salt and lemon zest. Pour the lemon juice, honey and vinegar into a jug and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour over the carrot mixture. Cover and leave overnight. (If you really can’t wait that long, then allow a few hours at least).

The next day, stir the mixture and cook in the slow cooker on its ‘High’ setting for 2½ hours. At the end of this time, the carrots should have softened a fair bit, without falling apart and the flavours should have combined and intensified. At this stage, check how much the liquid has reduced. If the chutney has thickened sufficiently, then stir in the almonds and leave to cook for a further 15 minutes or so. If the chutney still has too much liquid for your taste, then transfer it to a saucepan and boil it for a few minutes before adding the almonds and simmering briefly. The chutney will thicken somewhat as it cools.

Allow the chutney to cool slightly before spooning it into sterilised jars. Seal the jars and store somewhere cool and dark.

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Happily, this month’s Slow Cooker Challenge hosted by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen is for preserves and so I'm duly offering this as an entry.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lemon And Cardamom Nonnettes

I've wittered on about nonnettes in the past  but I love them and I can't understand why everyone else in the world doesn't feel the same way. So apologies for nearly repeating myself but here's my current favourite variation on the nonnette theme, replacing the more traditional orange flavours with lemon.

Nonnettes are most commonly associated with the town of Dijon, although there are bakers elsewhere in France who seem a little unconvinced by this suggestion. Wherever the recipe originated, though, it's certainly been around a long time. In fact, it seems to  date from the middle ages. One notable feature of these cakes is that they don’t contain any eggs (well, not the way I make them anyway). I've used lemon curd in this particular version, but if you want to avoid eggs, substitute marmalade or jam (raspberry, blackberry or boysenberry will all work well).

Nonnettes are closely related to pain d’épices and so will often contain a more complex mix of spices and will also often use rye flour, at least in part. For this version I've stuck to a single spice and I've used a mixture of plain white and wholemeal flours. Nonnettes are usually baked in round tins and so smallish muffin tins will be fine. Just for a bit of variety I used a friand tin on this occasion.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
This recipe should make around 15 cakes.

200 g runny honey
100 ml water
100 ml milk
100 g light soft brown sugar
80 g butter
1 tsp limoncello (optional)
200 g plain flour
100 g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
15 tsp (or one teaspoon per cake) lemon curd

For the glaze:
     5 tbsp icing sugar
     a little lemon juice

Put the honey, water, milk, brown sugar, butter and limoncello (if you’re using it) into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the ground cardamom. While the honey mixture is still warm, sieve the flour mixture onto it and whisk the two together until smooth. Stir in the lemon zest. Put the mixture into the fridge and leave it there for at least an hour until thoroughly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into the muffin or friand tins until they’re somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of lemon curd on top of each nonnette. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes. It can be a little tricky to judge when the cakes are ready – they should be golden brown and, although still soft, they should spring back when pressed gently.

While the nonnettes are still warm and in their moulds, mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to create a thin icing. Pour the icing over the nonnettes or, better still, spread it on with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before removing them from the tin.

Nonnettes keep well in an airtight tin and, in fact, taste even better if allowed to mature for one or two days, if you can wait that long.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
I haven't entered many blog challenges in recent months because of a serious lack of time (and energy) but the theme for this month’s Love Cake challenge, hosted by Jibber Jabber UK is French. If you've read this blog before, then you might have noticed that French cake is a bit of an obsession with me, so I can't resist entering this particular challenge.
Love Cake Logo

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding for M. Satie

The other day I was listening to a fine rendition of Erik Satie’s ‘Je te veux’ on the radio and, for some reason, I remembered that he claimed to eat only white food. This choice may have stemmed from an artistic desire for purity, although, let’s face it, Satie was as mad as a box of frogs a trifle eccentric.

I started to imagine what I’d serve up if Satie came round for dinner. I wouldn't put it past him to turn up out of the blue with a bouquet of umbrellas in hand expecting to be fed. I'm not sure that being dead for nearly 90 years would stop him. The starter could be a white soup, I suppose, and maybe chicken in a white sauce for the main course. But this is definitely the dessert.

My version of coconut rice pudding isn't dairy-free, because I like the silkiness that the dairy elements bring to the dish. The fromage frais not only gives some extra creaminess, but also adds a little sharpness, which I think lifts the flavour of the pudding.

There are other elderflower liqueurs around, but I used St-Germain. You could use some elderflower cordial instead if you want to avoid booze. I know that St-Germain is not truly white – it’s more of a light straw colour – but I think M. Satie may be willing to make an exception to his white rule for alcohol. He was all too fond of a particular green form of alcohol, after all. (I've no connection with the St-Germain company, by the way, and I've never received so much as a drop of liqueur for being nice about them.)
Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding
I dished up five servings from the amounts given, but I've no idea how much M. Satie will eat if he ever arrives. After all he insisted that dinner should last for no more than four minutes.

120 g short-grain, pudding rice
400 ml coconut milk (you can use reduced fat coconut milk at the expense of a little richness)
80 g caster sugar
400 ml milk (full-fat ideally, although it’s not essential)
8 tbsp fromage frais (ideally a richer version rather than a fat-free option)
2 tbsp elderflower liqueur such as St-Germain
A sprinkling of white chocolate curls for decoration

Mix the rice, coconut milk, sugar and milk in a saucepan. Bring slowly to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer very gently, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened and the rice is tender. If you’re being very gentle, this could be 35 – 40 minutes. Remember to keep stirring towards the end of this time to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the liqueur and the fromage frais. Chill until you’re ready to serve.

To serve, place into serving glasses or dishes (white dishes, of course) and decorate with a few white chocolate curls. I make the curls by scraping a vegetable peeler very lightly across a cold bar of white chocolate.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Pig Cheek Curry

Pig (or pork) cheeks seem to have become a trendy ingredient over the last couple of years. I'm a long way from trendy, but I have to admit that they’re a fine cut of meat. As long as they’re cooked slowly and gently, they’re meltingly tender and full of flavour. For the moment at least, they’re also reasonably cheap. In fact, they can be a bit of a bargain. Most of the dishes using cheeks that I've come across recently have been based on traditional European slow braised recipes and there's nothing wrong with that. If you fancy something a bit different, though, I've found that cheeks work well in spicier dishes.

Despite what might seem like a lot of ingredients this is actually a midweek, standby sort of recipe, assuming that you have enough time to let it simmer away slowly. Apart from the cheeks and the squash, everything can come out of the store cupboard or freezer and it’s not only very simple to put together but it will also cook gently while you get on with something useful or diverting.

Actually, this is a simplified and quick version of the way I learned to make a Madras curry in the remote past. The Madras is a very flexible restaurant institution, so who cares about a little extra variation? I've given a simple spice mix here, but you could use a Madras curry powder instead to make the whole thing even easier still.
Pig Cheek Curry
With a little rice or flat breads of some kind, this will serve 2 people.

Spice mix:
     ½ tsp black pepper
     ½ tsp chilli powder (or more, if you like it hot)
     ½ tsp ground turmeric
     1 tsp ground cumin
     1 tsp ground coriander
     ½ tsp garam marsala
     Seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into small dice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
280 g (or thereabouts) pig cheek – trim off any large bits of fat or membrane but leave whole
400 g tin tomatoes
200 ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground almonds
½ butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes (other types of squash would do)
A few green beans or peas, if you have some – frozen or fresh (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, or use some frozen spinach
A few leaves of coriander, chopped (you could use frozen chopped coriander too)
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Soften the onion and green pepper slowly in a little oil. If they start to dry out and catch, then add a little water. Once softened, stir in the garlic and continue to cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato purée, the spice mix (or curry powder) and a couple of tablespoonfuls of water and stir together well. Let the mixture cook gently until the water has evaporated. Turn up the heat a little and add the pig cheeks. Stir them around in the mixture for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, the chicken stock and the ground almonds. Bring slowly to the boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently for a couple of hours. Ideally, every twenty minutes or so, turn the pig’s cheeks and give the mixture a quick stir.

While that’s cooking, coat the cubes of squash lightly in oil and roast in the oven at 180°C until soft and starting to brown around the edges. This will take roughly 20 to 30 minutes but could vary a fair bit. Cook the beans or peas in a little boiling water, if you’re using them.

At the end of the 2 hours, the cheeks should be very tender but not falling apart and the mixture should have thickened a little. If the sauce is still a little too liquid for your taste, then remove the lid, take the cheeks out, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid until you’re happy. Stir in the cooked squash and beans or peas. Add the spinach and cover the pan again. Cook gently until the spinach has wilted and the squash is heated through.

Add the lemon juice if you think it needs it – that will probably depend on the sweetness and ripeness of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the coriander just before serving.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Quatre Quarts

I was stuck in a post office queue recently and I started to daydream about Brittany. (The place, not a person). By the time I got to the counter, I felt I really had to come home and make a quatre quarts. Although versions of this cake can be found in pretty much any French supermarket, Brittany is its spiritual home. The cake is essentially a pound cake, but it’s all about good butter and in Brittany that means very good, salted butter. Incidentally, the name simply refers to the four quarters, the four ingredients of identical weight that make up the cake - eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

I add a little vanilla to the cake, which I don’t think is strictly authentic but I like it. Depending on whom you ask, baking powder may not be acceptable either, but I don’t care, I use it anyway. If you fancy a variation, chocolate and apple versions are very popular in Brittany too.
Quatre Quarts
This will make enough mixture for a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin and that’s the more common shape for the cake but you could use a round tin instead (21 cm diameter should be about right). It will also work well in small, individual loaf tins.

This cake reminds me of Carnac. Surely, I can’t be so shallow that I gaze upon one of Europe’s most majestic prehistoric landscapes and think of cake, can I? Well, nobody’s perfect.
Carnac
3 eggs, weighed in their shells (If they're anything like the eggs from the local farm here that will amount to close to 200 g)
The same weight in
     plain flour
     caster sugar
     lightly salted butter (plus a little bit extra for rubbing on the tin)
1½ tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract (optional)

Mix the baking powder into the flour. Butter your chosen tin or tins thoroughly and line the base with baking paper just to be sure. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Soften the butter over a very low heat or in a microwave (it should be very soft but not quite melted). Set the butter aside to cool. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until the mixture is very pale. Whisk in the vanilla paste (or extract) if you’re using it. Sieve in a third of the flour and baking powder mix and add a third of the softened, cooled butter. Mix these in well, but try not to beat the mixture too much. Repeat this process twice with the remaining thirds of flour and butter.

Whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to darken too much for your taste, then cover the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. (I've noticed that a lot of bakers in Brittany actually like quite a dark top on this type of cake and bake at a higher temperature to produce it).

Allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack.
Quatre Quarts

Monday, 31 March 2014

Veg Patch Confessions Part 43b - New Zealand Spinach

There's no recipe today; instead it’s this year’s first dubious tale from the neglected veg patch.

Spinach is a very useful vegetable to have growing in your garden in my opinion. Even if you don’t have much space to grow a lot of plants, a couple of handfuls of the leaves can be really useful to add to curries, pasta, fish or whatever you fancy. The problem is that if you’re away from home or if you’re just too busy to get out to your plants, then things start to go wrong. Like most vegetables, spinach doesn't take kindly to near complete neglect, especially a lack of watering.

On the other hand, there is a useful little plant that has survived a serious amount of neglect in my veg patch: New Zealand Spinach (tetragonia tetragonioides). It might not be as prolific or as large as conventional spinach, but any vegetable that can survive both drought and my incompetent gardening has got to be a good thing.
New Zealand Spinach
You may know this plant by a different name. For instance, in Australia and New Zealand I'm told that it’s known as Warrigal greens. In France it’s called tétragone and elsewhere it’s sometimes called sea spinach for reasons that I don’t really understand. Whatever you call it, though, it really does taste and behave like spinach once cooked.

If you're not familiar with this plant and you might be tempted to try growing it, here are a few things I've discovered about New Zealand spinach that the seed packet might not tell you.
  • Snails and slugs don’t seem to like it much and will only nibble it if desperate.

  • As far as I know, there are no named varieties and so there’s no reason to go shopping around for a particular variety of seed – they should all be the same.

  • It’s best if you pick the leaves little and often. Once blanched they do freeze well in the same way as normal spinach. If you don’t pick regularly, the plants can become quite large and ungainly. This might not be a major problem unless they outgrow their space and swamp nearby smaller plants.

  • Don’t plant it directly in the ground if the soil is still cold – it will sulk and fail to germinate. On the other hand, it germinates really well in pots on a windowsill, although it’s best to soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.

  • In their raw form the leaves do contain quite a high concentration of oxalic acid (as does sorrel) and this would be unhealthy in large doses. Although eating raw leaves is not recommended, the acid is largely removed by cooking or blanching. Spinach, chard, kale and rhubarb (amongst other foods) also contain oxalic acid, so I don’t think that there’s any reason to worry about this plant in particular.

  • The flowers are small and yellow and it’s almost impossible to stop the plants flowering, especially if you don’t pick the leaves regularly. It doesn’t really matter if they do flower, though, and they will self-seed, so you may never need to buy another packet of seeds.

  • The plants will usually be killed instantly by the first frost.
March in the Garden
While I've got my battered gardening hat on, I feel the urge to mention chervil again. It’s not that easy to find on sale in supermarkets but it’s a useful, decorative and easily grown herb. Some of last summer’s plants set seed in my garden and, as a result, some young plants survived the mild winter and are producing an excellent spring crop.
Chervil
Now I really must get around to cooking something.