Sunday, 19 June 2016

Lamb Argenteuil

Before it was swallowed up by the spreading suburbs of Paris,  Argenteuil was known for being a good place for messing about in boats, knocking together the occasional Impressionist painting and growing asparagus. At that time pretty much any French dish that used asparagus tended to get the word ‘Argenteuil’ nailed on to it.

Argenteuil was best known for its white asparagus but this dish uses green. To be honest it's a slightly alarming green at first sight, but please don't be put off. This recipe seems to turn up in books in some form or another but very rarely in real life. I can't remember ever seeing it on a modern restaurant menu and I've never met anyone else who makes it. That's a shame because it might seem a little eccentric (and green) but it's also pretty easy to make and tastes delicious, especially if you love asparagus anywhere near as much as I do.
Lamb Argenteuil
You might come across some versions of this recipe that are much richer but this is my slightly more restrained effort for these slightly more restrained times. This will serve 2.

300 g (trimmed weight) green asparagus
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
350 g (approximately) lamb neck fillet
½ glass white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche

Wash the asparagus and discard any woody ends. Cook the asparagus in gently boiling water until tender - this will take around 6 - 10 minutes depending on the size and freshness of the asparagus. Remove and drain the asparagus but don't discard the cooking water.

Trim any excess fat from the lamb, slice into 2 - 3 cm pieces and season lightly. Fry the shallots gently in a little oil and butter until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and continue frying gently for a few minutes. Add the lamb, increase the heat and fry until it takes on a little colour.

Pour in the wine and allow it to reduce until only a very small amount remains. Pour in around 250 ml of the reserved asparagus cooking water - you don’t need too much liquid, it shouldn't completely cover the lamb. Partly cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering gently for 60 - 90 minutes until the lamb is tender. The liquid in the pan should reduce during cooking but add more of the cooking liquid if it's in danger of drying out.

Cut off some or all of the tips of the asparagus to use for decoration, put the remainder in a food processor and reduce to a thick, smooth purée. You may need to add a little of the cooking water if the asparagus seems too dry to form a genuinely smooth purée.

By the time the lamb is tender the liquid in the pan should ideally have reduced to something like a coating consistency. If there seems to be too much liquid, remove the lid and allow it to reduce a little more. Stir in the asparagus purée and the crème fraîche. Allow the mixture to heat through. Taste, adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Gently reheat the asparagus tips and use them to decorate the plates when serving. Some simply steamed or boiled new potatoes will do very nicely alongside.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Chestnut Cupcakes

Last year I posted a recipe for Gâteau Ardéchois (a plain French chestnut cake) and at the time I said that we'd made some iced chestnut cupcakes while in France. Those cakes were based on a Marie Claire recipe but I wanted to try changing some of the flavours and textures of that original to suit my personal taste and, finally after more than a year, this is the result.

Chestnut purée is available in different forms. The type I've used here is unsweetened and not flavoured (many versions have added vanilla). This type is fairly widely available in the UK and is generally thicker than many of the French products. If the purée you use is a little runny, then you may find the baking times increased.

I like these little cakes just as they are – they stay very moist and have that pleasingly different chestnut flavour. On the other hand, if you fancy a topping then something creamy and lemony works particularly well. I used a combination of homemade lemon curd and mascarpone on a few of the cakes for a bit of a treat.
Chestnut Cupcakes
This should make 10 – 12 cupcakes.

3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
60 g flour, sieved
½ tsp baking powder
200 g unsweetened, unflavoured chestnut purée
50 g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture is very light in colour. Beat in the flour and baking powder followed by the chestnut purée. Stir in the ground almonds. Pour into cake cases or prepared tin filling them around ⅔ full. Bake for 18 – 25 minutes. The exact baking time will obviously depend upon the size of cakes you make but could also vary according to the consistency and type of chestnut purée that you use.

Decorate when cold if you fancy a topping.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Braised Pig Cheek with Fennel Sauce

A few weeks ago I was saying how versatile pain d'épices could be and here's some proof. If you can't lay your hands on some pain d'épices and don't fancy making any, then you could use slices of sourdough, pumpkin bread or even brioche instead. The spices add something extra, though, and a British gingerbread could do the job, as long as it’s not too sticky or too intensely gingery.

This dish was created as a starter. I don't often make starters - I'm not sure that many people do these days (unless they work in restaurants, of course). So I must point out that this doesn't have to be a starter. It will actually make a very good main course, especially if you add a little crème fraîche to the sauce, forget the pain d'épices and serve something like some sautéed potatoes and green veg alongside. But if you want a starter then this is intensely flavoured and just a little bit different. It also makes use of the cheap, delicious and unfairly ignored pig (or, if you prefer, pork) cheek.

The combination of pain d'épices and pork isn't original but I can't remember where I first saw it. I think it may have been in a Cyril Lignac recipe and since he apparently has more than 40 books to his name so far, there's a fair chance that it could have been. Finally, just a little personal aside: some of the very finest pork I've eaten in recent years was at Fallowfields in Oxfordshire, which closed at short notice early this year. Although I and many others will miss it, I wish the owners a long and happy retirement.
Braised Pig Cheek with Fennel Sauce
This will serve 4 as a starter or 2 if you make it as a main course.

2 shallots, finely chopped
1 small bulb fennel, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
4 pig cheeks cheeks,trimmed of any sinew if necessary
1 glass white wine
Small dash of tarragon vinegar (optional)
around 250 ml chicken stock

To serve:
          4 small, thin slices of pain d'épices
          Fennel and apple, cut into matchstick-sized pieces

Soften the shallots and the fennel for 5 to 10 minutes in a little oil. Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside. Add a little more oil and increase the heat. Season the pig cheeks and brown them lightly on both sides. Remove and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and the dash of tarragon vinegar, if you have any to hand. Let the wine reduce by about half. Return the shallot mixture and the pig cheeks to the pan and pour in the chicken stock. You may need a little more or a little less than 250 ml of stock depending on the size of your pan. The stock and wine should only partly cover the cheeks.

Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and keep simmering gently for around 2 hours. Make sure the pan doesn't dry out and add more stock if necessary. Turn the pig cheeks over a few times during this period. Once tender, remove the cheeks and keep warm. Liquidise the remaining contents of the pan using a hand blender. If you're left with a lot of liquid you may want to reduce it to a coating consistency.

If you want to serve this as a main meal, then it’s not a bad idea to enrich the sauce by adding a little crème fraîche at this stage. To serve as a starter toast four small slices of pain d'épices, cut each cheek in half lengthways and place on the toasted pain d'épices. Anoint with the sauce. Serve with a small salad of fennel and apple cut into matchsticks. Dress the salad with either a simple vinaigrette or just a little pomegranate (or other fruit) vinegar.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Pain d'Épices Revisited

I've posted a recipe for this classic cake before but there are probably almost as many recipes for pain d'épices as there are people who make it so why not another one? It's such a useful cake to have around. You can eat it any time you fancy on its own or with some jam or marmalade (I like a slice at breakfast time) but it can also be eaten with pâté or even cheese. When you've had enough of that, you can use it to thicken and flavour casseroles (such as Carbonade ) or whiz into crumbs and use them to flavour crumbles or as a coating for fried or baked meats, cheeses or even fish.

There's a wide variation in spices between pain d'épices recipes and I've decided that there's very little point in trying to be authentic because I'm convinced that nobody really knows what the authentic spices should be. For me a little aniseed gives the characteristic flavour of this cake but, on the other hand, my use of cardamom might be seen as a bit of an eccentricity. In France you can buy pre-mixed pain d'épices spices, which avoids arguments I suppose. Whatever spices you choose, though, I think it's best not to overdo it or you'll lose the honey flavour.

The type of flour used for pain d'épices can also vary widely but will more often than not be a combination of rye and white or wholemeal flour. I've used just wholemeal here simply because I like the result. I also add a little brown sugar to the cake because I think it enhances the flavour and because that's the way I first learned to make it. Many people would insist that the genuine, traditional pain d'épices should be sweetened only with honey.

This type of cake is open to all sorts of variations and a while ago Snowy of Cookbooks Galore posted an unusual and luxurious version using dark chocolate which is well worth checking out.
Pain D'Epices
300 g runny honey (use whichever honey you like but I prefer a dark, rich style in this cake)
100 ml milk (a full fat milk is probably best but semi-skimmed does work)
1 egg, beaten
100 g unsalted butter
30 g dark brown soft sugar
220 g plain wholemeal flour
1½ tsp baking powder

The flavourings:
     1 tsp orange flower water
     ½ tsp aniseed
     ½ tsp ground cinnamon
     1 tsp ground ginger
     Seeds from 4 or 5 cardamom pods

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Butter a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin thoroughly. You could also lay a strip of baking paper along the length of the tin allowing the ends of the paper to stand proud of the tin a little. This makes lifting the cake out of the tin a little easier. Crush the aniseed and cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar.

Pour the honey and the milk into a saucepan and heat very gently while stirring until they’re combined. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the honey mixture with the sugar. Stir until the mixture is smooth, take off the heat and set aside to cool a little. (Be gentle with the amount of heat that you use in this stage – overheating the honey seems to spoil the flavour).

Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. Stir the egg and the orange flower water into the honey mixture and then stir the liquid into the flour until smooth. (It’s easiest to do this by placing the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one and adding the liquid gradually with the motor running.)

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for around 55 minutes. Check that the cake is done in the usual way with a knife or cake tester but because the mixture is very sticky, don’t expect the tester to be quite as clean as with many other cakes. Because of the high sugar content the top of the cake will darken quite significantly. Some bakers prize this dark (well, burnt looking) top as an additional taste and texture but personally I don’t like it to get too dark and I cover the tin loosely with foil after the first 15 or 20 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for around 15 minutes before lifting out and letting it cool completely on a wire rack. The cake should really be allowed to mature for at least a day in an airtight container before eating, although I usually sneak a slice before that. It will keep well in its container.

Monday, 22 February 2016

A Sort of Tapenade, A Well-Known Musician and A Box Hill Picnic

Tapenade and I have a complicated history. This is my latest version of that intensely flavoured paste and it really shouldn't be called tapenade - it's a bit like tapenade's distant relative. It's more of an almond, olive and sundried tomato dip with other things in it. Very tasty and very easy, though.

If my memory is to be trusted (it's probably not) the first time I ever ate tapenade was back in the 1970s. Somehow or other I'd got involved in selling 'antique' furniture and other pre-loved collectible items. I'd become the largely useless assistant to a guy who most days knew a secretaire from a settee. I said ‘antique’ furniture but I think the word we used most often was ‘tat’.  Occasionally we'd get a decent piece and one day we sold a pleasant little oak table to a well-known musician. (I'm not saying who – he's still around and probably even better known now and I've got save something for the third volume of my autobiography provisionally titled ‘Phil in the Kitchen: The Lovejoy Years’).
The Old Shop
We turned up in the battered van at the musician's house somewhere in the depths of Surrey one summer evening and found that there was a party going on. We thought it was perfectly in tune with the spirit of the times to dump the table in the hall and join the happy throng. Several hours later the well-known musician discovered we were there and threw us out with nothing more than the remains of a bottle of wine and a handful of canapés to show for our trouble. He seemed to think that we were freeloaders. He was absolutely right.

And so as the sun came up on the next, fine summer day we were sitting on the slopes of Box Hill (not far from where Emma fictionally attended her picnic some years earlier) eating canapés and drinking the well-known musician's wine. I remember thinking two things. First, the canapés with the black stuff on them were really unpleasant and, second, that I was determined never to buy one of his records again. Although I've mellowed on the subject of tapenade over the years, Dear Reader, to this day I have yet to shell out any cash for his recorded works.
A Sort Of Tapenade
50 g almonds
70 g black olives
50 g sundried tomatoes (in oil)
½ - 1 clove of garlic
½ - 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or a mix of thyme and lemon thyme if possible)
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
a few turns of black pepper

This amount works best in a small processor, although these can vary a lot in power and effectiveness. If yours isn't very powerful, you may want to crush the almonds a little first. Otherwise simply place all the ingredients in a suitable processor and whiz until you get the texture that appeals. I like it quite smooth with the occasional larger piece but most people seem to prefer a chunkier version. It's likely that the resulting paste will be a little thick and so add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to thin it down.

Finish the dip by drizzling with a little extra lemon juice and olive oil or, even nicer, a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil. Serve with toasted slices of baguette or with whatever it is that you prefer to dip into dips.

Pick out some fine music and I'll see you on Box Hill for a picnic. Just don't ask me anything about antique furniture - I won't know the answer.

In line with one of my new year resolutions (remember the new year?) I'm making more of an effort to share now and then. This is hardly cooking but it does have herbs so it should just about fit in with the February Lavender and Lovage Cooking with Herbs challenge.

Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

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.