Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Turnips with Vinegar and Maple Syrup

The other day I put my Panama hat away in the trunk marked “Not Needed In Winter”, my butler poured me an autumn Armagnac and I found myself looking back on this year’s crop from what I laughingly call my vegetable patch. It was probably a decent return for very little effort. (Mind you, I'm still very grateful that there’s a large pick your own farm just up the road).

The homegrown vegetable that I've enjoyed most has probably been the humble turnip. I've wittered on about quick growing turnips before, but I'm still very impressed by them and I can’t understand why they’re not more widely grown. I get most of my seed from France where they’re grown far more often but small British varieties can give an excellent return as well.

This is a sweet and sour take on the turnip which is very simple but does rely on the use of good, small turnips as well as decent quality vinegar and maple syrup. You can use any sort of wine vinegar but one made from a sweet wine or sherry works particularly well. I used a vinaigre de Banyuls (not an expensive one) in this recipe, but that’s a bit obscure outside of France so a sherry vinegar or a mix of cheapish balsamic with a standard white wine vinegar would do nicely instead.
Turnips With Vinegar and Maple Syrup
This will serve 2 as a generous side dish.

350 g small turnips
3 tbsp wine or sherry vinegar (see above)
vegetable stock
2 tbsp maple syrup
a generous squeeze of lemon juice

Peel the turnips and cut into small chunks. Season and fry the chunks in a small amount of butter until they start to take on a little colour. Stir in the vinegar and add just enough vegetable stock to cover the turnips. Cover the pan loosely and simmer until the turnips are almost completely tender. The time this stage takes will depend on the size of the chunks and the age of the turnips, but 15 - 20 minutes will be about right for fresh, young turnips in smallish pieces.

Once the turnips reach the almost tender stage, remove the lid and increase the heat to reduce the liquid in the pan until there’s only around 2 tablespoons of it remaining. Stir in the maple syrup and continue cooking and stirring until the turnips are coated evenly with the sauce. Finish with the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning. A little extra black pepper added at the end is usually a good thing.
Vinegar and Maple Syrup

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Soupe à la Bière

Every year at around this time Le Festival Des Soupes et Des Pains (The Festival of Soup and Bread) is held either in or around Montreuil-sur-Mer, but I've heard that apparently this year’s event had to be cancelled. So I thought I'd put this soup together to compensate myself in a small way for that loss. (Not that I could have been there physically, but I definitely intended to be there in spirit.)

There are many types of beer soup across the north of France as well as in Belgium and northern Germany. Some versions seem to me to be little more than beer warmed up with a bit of seasoning but this version is closer to a northern French recipe using some of the fine root veg from the area. I roast the veg to concentrate the flavour although I doubt that roasting is very traditional. 

This type of soup is very often served with croutons and grated cheese. Typically the cheese would be gouda or emmental although you can use whatever hard cheese you fancy - some cheddars would be a good option. Given the choice, though, I'd probably go for a mimolette. The Bernard brothers produce a particularly fine mimolette at Wierre-Effroy, which is just a little way down the road from Montreuil. (I've referred to the brothers before but I felt guilty for not mentioning their very fine mimolette).

If you're expecting the kind of subtly flavoured French soup that you might find in a refined French restaurant then think again. This soup has a strong and distinctive flavour and, for that reason, I think it's best served in small bowls as a winter starter. The amounts given here will provide you with 4 starter portions. Of course, if you really love beer, then by all means have a large bowl.
Soupe à la Bière

3 average or 5 small carrots (I used small chantenay carrots) - a total weight of between 200 g and 250 g
1 leek
1 large or 2 small shallots
½ tsp sugar
250 ml bière blonde (use an interesting lager if you can’t find a French bière blonde)
300 ml chicken stock, plus another 100 ml on standby just in case the soup needs it (use a vegetable stock if you prefer, but chicken stands up better to the beer flavour)
4 - 8 tbsp crème fraîche
100 g hard cheese (see above)
A few thin slices of baguette for croutons

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Wash and peel or scrape the carrots (if they need it) and cut them into large chunks. If you’re using smaller carrots, then cutting them in half lengthways should be enough. Coat the carrot pieces in a little oil and place on an oven tray. Wash the leek, dry it and place it on the oven tray alongside the carrots. You don’t need to do anything else to the leek. Put the tray in the oven and roast for around 30 minutes until the carrots are almost completely tender and the leek has softened and collapsed a little. (Don’t worry if the leek looks a little brown or even burnt on the outside; you don’t need the outside leaves.)

Chop the shallot finely and, using a large pan, soften it slowly in a little butter. While that’s happening remove and discard the base, the outer leaves and any coarse green part of the leek. Chop the softened leek and carrot pieces roughly. Once the shallot has softened add the leek and carrots to the pan, season and pour in the beer and stock. Stir in the sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, cover loosely, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Liquidise and adjust the seasoning. You may also need to add a little more sugar if the beer is a less sweet variety. Add a little extra stock if the soup is too thick. Pour into bowls and stir in as much of the crème fraîche as you think the soup needs. Don’t skimp on the crème fraîche: it’s an important part of the soup and not simply a garnish.

Fry or toast the slices of baguette to use as croutons and grate your chosen cheese on top of the croutons or into a small bowl to serve alongside the soup.

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By the way, if you've never been to Montreuil-sur-Mer and feel that you might be tempted to visit one day (after all it’s less than an hour’s drive from the tunnel) then it might be helpful if I point out a few random things:
  • First, it’s not ‘sur mer’. It hasn't been ‘sur mer’ since roughly the end of the middle ages. The access to the sea silted up about then, but why change a perfectly good town name?
A Montreuil Walk
  • Second, it’s been described as the Carcassonne of the North. Well, it has impressive ramparts and I can recommend a bracing stroll around them but if you compare it to Carcassonne then I’ll have to put on my doubtful face. It’s not as elaborate, it’s not as touristy and it’s not as fairytale. It’s more like a real northern French town with added ramparts.
Montreuil Ramparts
  • Third, it has a surprising number of cobbles.
Street Scenes in Montreuil
  • Fourth (and this might be less helpful), I'm rather fond of the place, even if the festival of soup has been cancelled.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Flognarde

I'm lucky enough to live only a short distance from the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley. Towards autumn they often sell some of the fruit grown in the garden and that means a chance to try some of the more traditional and rare varieties that you’ll never find in a supermarket. And that’s how I ended up with a fine bowlful or two of apples and pears. With that much fruit on hand, I thought that a flognarde might be called for.
Apples from Wisley
I've come across some versions of this dessert that seem like an attempt to make uninspiring apples a bit more interesting. But if you start with interesting apples or pears, then it’s so much better than that. The flognarde (or flaugnarde) appears to have started life in the Limousin region of France, although it turns up in other places such as the Périgord too. You might be tempted to ask what’s the difference between a flognarde and a clafoutis with apples in it, but please don't - that question gives me a headache.

There's a little drop of rum in this recipe and I know that will put some people off. Rum just doesn't seem to be a popular flavour these days. You could leave it out altogether or substitute some calvados but please try the rum if you have some lying around because it adds a lot to the overall taste in my very biased opinion.

I used a 24 cm square tin that was sold as a Yorkshire pudding tin on this occasion. This size will give quite a thin centre to the flognarde, but that’s the way I like it (and the way that I first came across it). Some people like a thicker result and so use a smaller tin if you prefer. Don’t use a loose bottom or springform tin, though, because the batter is thin and likely to leak.
Flognarde
I reckon that this will serve 8 people but 6 is more realistic if you have hungry friends.

For the fruit:
     30 g butter
     2 - 3 tbsp caster sugar (depends on how sweet your apples or pears might be)
     4 apples or a mixture of apples and pears - peeled, cored and sliced

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the caster sugar and the apples or pears and cook gently for five minutes or so. Stir now and then to ensure that the fruit is coated in buttery juices but don’t allow it to break up. Set aside.

For the batter:
     80 g plain flour
     ½ tsp baking powder (this probably isn't traditional, but I think it helps the texture)
     60 g caster sugar, plus a bit extra for dusting the tin
     4 eggs, lightly beaten
     1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
     1 tbsp melted butter
     2 tbsp dark rum
     150 ml milk (whole milk is probably best but semi-skimmed will be OK)
     20 g softened butter
     1 - 2 tbsp caster sugar for sprinkling on top of the flognarde

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter a suitable pie dish or oven tray (see above) and coat with a light dusting of caster sugar. Mix the sugar and flour together in a large bowl.

Whisk the eggs, vanilla paste, melted butter and rum together and then whisk this mixture into the flour and sugar mix. Gradually whisk in the milk, while doing your very best to avoid any lumps. Stir in the apples (or whatever fruit mixture you’re using). (If there’s a lot of juice, then you don’t need to add it all). Pour the mixture into the prepared tin or dish.

Break the softened butter into small pieces and dot them over the top of the batter. If you can, avoid putting any of the butter too near to the edges of the tin.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes. The centre should be set, but still soft and the top should be browned in places, especially at the edges. (Personally, I think the slightly crisper edges are the best bit).

Sprinkle with an additional tablespoon or two of caster sugar as you take it out of the oven. If you’re serving this hot from the oven then it’s best cut into pieces before removing from the tin. If not, allow the flognarde to cool in the tin and then the whole thing can be lifted out carefully and divided up appropriately.

This dish is usually served hot, ideally straight from the oven, but I think it’s also pretty good at room temperature or even chilled. A little crème fraîche or cream would be nice alongside, but it’s not essential. I know that some die-hard flognarde fans even like a room temperature slice for breakfast the next day and, actually, I reckon that’s not a bad idea.
Flognarde

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.