Friday, 21 August 2015

Chocolate “Mousse” and “Parfait” with Meringue Shards and No Shopping

This may not be the most serious dessert I've ever made but it's a fine store cupboard treat for chocolate lovers. It uses two types of chocolate (dark and white), egg whites, sugar and water - and that's it. I could tell you that this was a personal challenge to create a dessert from the ingredients lying around in the kitchen or I could admit that I was far too busy watching old Keith Floyd episodes to bother going to the shops.

The usual rule for chocolate desserts is ‘thou shalt never mix chocolate and water’ but this dessert depends upon the Hervé This method of doing exactly that to create a chocolate cream or mousse. I tried this technique for the first time a couple of years ago and I'm still deeply impressed by it. It's the intensity and purity of the flavour that I like so much. Let's face it, Mr This is a genius and should have several parks named after him.

I layered and arranged the chocolate elements with meringue shards, but you can forget the meringue and just place the two chocolate preparations in a suitable glass if you'd prefer a simpler life or if you have too much TV to watch. A few raspberries make a fine addition and luckily there were some in the garden.
Chocolate Mousse and Parfait with Meringue Shards
Mixing water and chocolate might seem slightly odd but don't be put off, it's very easy and surprisingly forgiving. Although you really do need an electric mixer. Don't think about whisking by hand unless you're extremely fit or just showing off in an unnecessary manner. This should be enough chocolate pleasure for 4 people - it's fairly rich, after all.

The Meringue Shards

You can use pretty much any French meringue recipe you like for the shards - this is just the combination that I used this time. It will probably produce more meringue than you need and you could halve the quantities. The truth is that I find it's a bit irritating trying to whisk less than 2 egg whites and, anyway, spare meringue is not a bad thing.

2 large egg whites
120 g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar a little at a time while continuing to whisk until the mixture is glossy and relatively firm, although still spreadable. Spread a thin layer of the meringue (no more than 5 mm thick, ideally) over a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment or, probably better still, a silicone baking sheet. (A palette knife is the best tool for this, if you have one, but any spatula will do.)

Place in the oven until dried and set. This will probably take around 50 - 60 minutes depending on thickness. Lift the meringue off the tray once cool - it will break into random shards no matter how careful you are. Store the shards in an airtight container until needed.

The Dark Chocolate “Mousse”

150 g dark chocolate, around 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
135 ml water

Take two bowls - one a little larger than the other - and put some ice into the larger bowl. Place the smaller bowl inside the larger on top of the ice. Put the water and chocolate into a pan, place on a low heat and stir now and then until the chocolate has melted.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the smaller bowl (keeping it on the ice) and use an electric mixer to whisk the chocolate as it cools.The mixture will thicken to a smooth, mousse-like consistency. At that point, stop whisking and keep the mousse cool until needed. If you fancy, you could add some orange extract or even substitute filtered orange juice for some of the water.

The White Chocolate “Parfait”

The above process is fine for dark chocolate but you're never going to make a successful emulsion in quite the same way with white chocolate. I've played around with a few ideas, though, and I'm happy to report that by adapting the technique you can make a very fine white chocolate parfait. (OK, it's not strictly speaking a parfait - that’s usually defined as an iced dessert using cream - but this does have a texture similar to a smooth parfait.) It's pretty much pure chocolate in a different form so the flavour is more intense than most mousses or ice creams. In other words, a small portion will give you plenty of flavour.

250 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
220 ml water

Prepare the bowls and melt the chocolate and water together as above. (Melting white chocolate can be a lengthy process but keep stirring and it will get there). Once melted, whisk as you did for the dark chocolate. The white chocolate will not behave in quite the same way. You need to whisk quite vigorously until the mixture is reasonably chilled, a little frothy and has thickened somewhat to resemble a pouring cream. If you whisk too much beyond this point, the mixture will start to separate and look horrible but if the dreaded separation happens then shrug your shoulders and put it back on the heat. With a bit of stirring it will come back together and you can simply try again.

As soon as you have your white chocolate cream, pour it into a suitable container and freeze until needed. The frozen white chocolate is creamy and smooth and doesn't need to go near an ice cream machine, but it's not going to behave like a classic ice cream or parfait. It will remain relatively unstable and will melt quickly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure that you take it out of the freezer immediately before serving.

Layer or arrange the chocolate and the meringue in whatever way you fancy and serve immediately before your guests realise that you just couldn't be bothered to do any shopping for them.


It’s a while since I took part in the We Should Cocoa challenge hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme but this month the theme is anything goes as long as chocolate is the star of the show. The only thing to distract from chocolate here is water and very thin meringue so I think it fits the theme just fine.
We Should Cocoa

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

A quick plea for the underused gooseberry before the season is gone for another year. At least, I think the poor old gooseberry is underused. They're lovely in puddings and ices and they make very fine jam but I look forward to gooseberry season so that I can use them in savoury dishes.

I've wittered on about gooseberry sauces before but this year I've tried combining them with fennel and a fine combination it turned out to be. This sauce is very easy to make and freezes well. It works beautifully with simply cooked white fish, such as bream, but will also sit very happily alongside chicken or richer meats like duck or pork. I use the classic, sharper gooseberries for this kind of sauce rather than the sweeter, modern dessert types.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce
This sauce is not short of flavour and so should make plenty for four people.  

1 small to medium bulb of fennel, chopped quite finely
400 g gooseberries
50 g dried apricots, soaked if they need it
½ tsp dark soy sauce
A generous pinch or two of pepper
A dash of water
1 - 2 (and possibly a few more) tsp sugar, if the sauce needs it

Put all the ingredients except the sugar into a non-reactive pan and place on a gentle heat. Cover and let it simmer until the fennel has softened, the gooseberries have collapsed and the apricots have swollen up and softened. Let the mixture cool a little then liquidise the whole lot. Add a little more water if the sauce seems too thick. Taste and add as much sugar as you think you need. Reheat to serve.
Gooseberry and Fennel Sauce

Monday, 22 June 2015

Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt

I first came across marmalade ice cream sometime in the 1980s when Sophie Grigson published the recipe in a London evening newspaper. At least, that's if my memory is to be trusted, which it's not for the most part. Essentially the recipe is a simple combination of double cream and marmalade and produces a rich, no churn ice cream beloved by just about anyone who tries it. Very similar recipes have appeared quite often over the years since then.

I thought I'd try making a lighter version of this little treat using zero fat yoghurt and I'm pleased to say that it works well. Let's not pretend that it's healthy, though: there's virtually a whole jar of marmalade in this recipe. Until recently I would usually strain low fat Greek style yoghurts when making frozen desserts but there are some in the shops now that are thick enough to make that unnecessary.

I've tried making this by simply putting the mixture in the freezer and also by using my very basic ice cream machine and, although it works well using the no churn method, it's a little smoother if you can face using a machine.

Sometime in the 1980s I went with a friend to a party somewhere in Fulham and having enjoyed a few refreshing, cold drinks, I spent a couple of hours passionately talking food to a woman that I was sure was Sophie G. I have a nasty feeling that I was explaining my theory about British regional food. I did that a lot back then. These days I can't quite remember what that theory was. My friend told me afterwards that it most definitely wasn't Sophie G and didn't even look vaguely like her. But, then again, around the same time this same friend mistook Tom Robinson for a waiter, so who knows? Sophie or not, I can only apologise 30 years too late to that poor, bored woman. I went home alone on the night bus.
Marmalade Frozen Yoghurt
300 g thick 0% fat yoghurt
350 g lemon and lime marmalade
3 tsp limoncello

If you want a very smooth frozen yoghurt then you could sieve out any peel from the marmalade, but I wouldn't usually bother. Whisk the marmalade lightly to loosen it and stir in the yoghurt and limoncello. Put the mixture in the fridge to chill thoroughly. Put into the ice cream machine and let it churn in the recommended way. Alternatively, just place in a suitable container in the freezer and let it get on with it. It won't be quite as smooth, but life's not always totally smooth either.

This recipe will work with other types of marmalade, of course. For instance, you could use a thin-cut orange marmalade and substitute an orange liqueur for the limoncello.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

When it's in season I never really get bored with simply cooked asparagus but, just for a change, I do use it in some slightly more involved recipes. I've often made a simple asparagus risotto in the past but this year I've played around with different flavours that complement and enhance the asparagus.  Almond milk provides a good background flavour and gives the risotto a creamier texture.  It might sound odd but I think that a little ginger in the stock intensifies and highlights the taste of the asparagus.  Don’t overdo the ginger, though, or you won’t taste much else. The easiest way to create a little ginger juice is to squeeze about ½ - 1 inch of peeled fresh ginger in a garlic press; although you could use a commercial ginger extract instead.

I served this risotto with a little jamón ibérico (I do mean a little - I can't afford a lot) and a small, simple salad of red pepper. I love both of those flavours with asparagus but in a way they're just icing on the cake and the risotto will stand on its own slightly sloppy feet perfectly well.

I feel I should apologise for specifying yet again how to make a risotto. I do pretty much the same as everyone else so there's nothing stopping you using your own method or a risotto machine if you have one. The ratio of liquid to rice given here is only a guide. The exact amount of liquid needed will depend on the type of rice, how quickly you cook it and, of course, the texture you prefer in the finished dish.

Asparagus and Almond Milk Risotto

This will serve 2.

1 red pepper
About ½ onion, chopped quite finely
1 medium-sized carrot, cut into small dice
1 stick of celery, chopped quite finely
A small glass of white wine
120 g carnaroli (or other risotto) rice
300 ml vegetable stock
700 ml unsweetened almond milk
A small bundle of asparagus (6 - 8 spears, depending on their size)
About ½ tsp of ginger juice (see above)
A small handful of fennel fronds
White balsamic vinegar to dress the pepper
A few small slices of jamón ibérico, or another cured ham

Core and deseed the pepper, slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Place in a plastic bag or in a covered bowl and keep the pepper sealed up until cool. Peel off and discard the blackened skin and slice the flesh into strips.

Fry the onion, carrot and celery very gently in a little oil until they soften. While that’s happening, mix the stock, almond milk and ginger juice, heat to simmering point and keep at a gentle simmer.

Pour the wine into the softened onion mixture, turn up the heat a little and, when the wine has has almost disappeared, add the rice and stir around. (It's more usual to add the wine after the rice but lately I've been following Simon Hopkinson's advice and not allowing the rice to absorb the flavour of the raw alcohol). Add a ladleful of the simmering stock and almond milk mixture to the rice and stir until the stock is pretty much absorbed. Repeat a ladleful at a time until the rice is fully cooked and the texture of the risotto is to your liking.

While that’s going on cook the asparagus (I usually steam it, but boil or grill if you prefer), then cut into bite-sized chunks. When the rice is ready, stir in the asparagus pieces and about half of the fennel fronds. Add some salt and pepper but don't overdo the salt if you’re serving with salty ham and use white pepper if you want to avoid seeing specks of pepper (personally, I don't really care about specks).

To serve, dress the red pepper with a little white balsamic and put a small pile on each plate. Surround with the jamón ibérico. Put a portion of the risotto alongside the pepper and ham and sprinkle on the remaining fennel fronds.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gâteau Ardéchois or a Chestnut Cake from a Can

Several years ago I was called on to make some cakes as part of a birthday celebration. That's normally pretty straightforward but at the time I was down in the south-west of France, in the Gers, and I wasn't quite sure what the local French people would make of British cakes. After all, the mayor had been invited and you certainly don't want to upset him. We decided that small chestnut cakes covered in icing would be a bit different and a good alternative to some of the other delights on offer. They turned out OK but I did notice that some of the French guests seemed to look at them a little oddly. Maybe I'd overlooked the French tradition of chestnut cakes and gone a little bit too far from the norm. After that experience I started looking for a more traditional form of chestnut cake and since they've got an awful lot of chestnuts in the Ardèche, that seemed like a pretty good place to start.

To be honest, I'm not absolutely sure how close this cake might be to a genuine gâteau from the Ardèche. I can't remember exactly where I found the original recipe but I think it was from a chestnut purée company – probably off the back of a can. I've played around with the recipe so it's definitely no longer truly authentic. The result is moist and not overly sweet and I think it's particularly good as a dessert cake. The extra bits of  good news are that it's a really easy cake to put together and that there's not a lot of fat in chestnuts. Don't expect a crumbly, sponge-like texture, though.

Chestnut purée is available in different forms. The type I've used here is unsweetened and not flavoured. This type is fairly widely available in the UK but there are other purées which are sweetened and sometimes flavoured with vanilla. If you're using sweetened purée then lower the amount of caster sugar in the recipe by at least 25 g and if it's already flavoured you may not need the vanilla paste. The purée I've used is thicker than some of the French products and I've adapted the recipe to suit. If the purée you use is a little runny, then you may find the baking times increased. Finally, I've added a little Frangelico liqueur to the cake because I love the flavour but it’s certainly not traditional. You might well find that French bakers would add some rum, though.

I've been working on a new version of the original, small chestnut cakes as well but I'll tell you about that sometime in the future.
Gâteau Ardéchois or is it Chetnut Cake?
2 eggs
100 g caster sugar
25 g light brown soft sugar
120 g plain flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 tbsp Frangelico (or maybe dark rum)
200 g unsweetened chestnut purée, at room temperature
100 g butter, thoroughly softened plus a bit for the cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 20 cm cake tin.

Whisk the eggs with both types of sugar until the mixture is light in colour. Beat in the flour and baking powder.

Add the vanilla paste, Frangelico, chestnut purée and butter and beat these in until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth.

Place the mixture in the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for around 35  - 40 minutes or until a knife point comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for at least ten minutes before turning out. Serve sprinkled with a little icing sugar and hope that the mayor approves.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Porc aux Pruneaux

Sometimes it seems as if this blog should really be called ‘Some Old Bloke's Half-Remembered Meals’ and I'm sorry but here's another one. This particular nearly forgotten dish is based on something that I ate in Chinon many years ago. Chinon is a lovely little town with a fine castle, the river Vienne, some very pleasing wines and a number of good restaurants. Well, it did then and I feel sure it still does.

This dish is easy to put together, quite rich and definitely old school. It's based on a dish from Tours, which is not far from Chinon, but I'm pretty certain the version that I ate used a Chinon white wine. It can be quite hard to find white Chinon wine in other parts of France let alone outside of the country, so use another dry white wine instead – a Chenin Blanc would be ideal.

Traditionally, I'm sure it would be more normal to cut the pork into noisettes and fry them rather than roasting the fillet whole, but I prefer the roasting option – it’s easier and, I think, the texture is better. I used a homemade rosemary jelly this time and it works very well but I have a feeling that the original dish used a thyme-scented jelly. You could use redcurrant jelly instead.
Porc aux Pruneaux
This will serve 2.

6 large prunes, pitted (Agen prunes would be ideal)
200 ml dry white wine (see above)
1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp rosemary, thyme or redcurrant jelly
100 ml crème fraîche
½ tsp Dijon mustard
A dash of lemon juice

Cut each prune into four pieces, place in a bowl and pour over the wine. Leave to macerate for an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fillet, place in a small roasting tin and put in the oven. It’s very difficult to be precise about roasting times since sizes will vary a lot, but around 30 to 35 minutes should be about right for anything but the largest pieces. Check that the juices run clear.

As soon as the pork has gone into the oven, begin frying the shallot gently in a little olive oil. Once the shallot has softened (don’t rush it), drain the prunes and add the prune-soaking wine to the pan together with the rosemary, thyme or redcurrant jelly. Increase the heat, stir to dissolve the jelly and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce until the mixture starts to become syrupy. Take off the heat and strain the sauce – squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the shallot and then discard it.

When the pork is done, remove it from the oven and leave it to rest while you finish the sauce. Reheat the wine mixture and stir in the crème fraîche and Dijon mustard. Once the sauce is thoroughly mixed, add the prunes and allow them to heat through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and add a dash of lemon juice.

Slice the pork fillet, place on warmed serving plates and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately. I like to serve this with simple green veg and some French bread for mopping up purposes.
Chinon

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Professor Denies Everything Or A Review of The Poi’s Son

It's not escaped my notice that lots of bloggers write restaurant reviews but, so far, I've been far too idle to follow suit. But when a new pop-up restaurant opened nearby I couldn't miss the opportunity to pass on the good news. The Poi's Son Of Avril is in the fine tradition of many modern restaurants: find an unexploited, cheap foodstuff and make it fashionably expensive in a room with ridiculous decoration. The speciality of the Poi's Son Of Avril is Hawaiian Poi and they boast not only a chef who is a master of this ancient culinary art but also quite a lot of dry rot.

I quickly perused the Blogger's Guide to Restaurant Reviewing and discovered that if you don't find yourself fascinating enough then you need to take an interesting companion with you. The Professor is usually interesting if not always entirely sober and he was more than happy to accompany me. At least he was after I threatened to tell his wife about the incident with the exotic dancer from Runcorn and a copy of the 1958 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. And so the Professor and I made our way to this exciting new eatery beautifully situated in a shed behind the local waste recycling facility.
Poi's Son Of Avril
At first we were refused entry on the grounds that we didn't meet the restaurant's strict fashion code. Since this is Surrey we were expected to carry bags costing the equivalent of a small house, drive an improbably large four-wheel drive (preferably while talking on the latest phone) or, at the very least, play football professionally. Fortunately an altercation was avoided when the Professor displayed a photograph of a large sum of money. 

We were shown to our table (well, oil drum, actually) by an agreeably surly waiter who denied he was a waiter at all and tweeted a scathing review of our dress sense on the way. The menus were decoratively printed in black ink on black paper, which luckily didn't matter since it was too dark to read. Our starters were delightful. A small pile of what appeared to be gravel in a cheeky oil-slick sauce was easy to throw away while the Professor happily declared that his dish of Something Found in a Ditch was exactly the sort of thing that nobody in their right mind would consider eating.
The Three Waiters
For the main course we demanded to meet the Poi Master. This request invoked something of a kerfuffle and hours passed while we admired the wheelie-bin-inspired décor and watched the other customers silently texting one another in accordance with the traditional Surrey custom. We were considering initiating an imbroglio when the Master finally appeared in his ceremonial costume of cheap suit, carrying the time-honoured pint of gin and tonic. Awed, we asked in trembling voices what sort of poi the Master would recommend. Pulling his ornate baseball cap solemnly over his eyes he spoke in a low, but commanding voice. “Well, mate, I reckon the steak and kidney poi is just about edible.” In the ensuing brouhaha the Professor sustained a minor injury to his reputation. Fortunately I left with my pride intact and someone else's umbrella.

In summary, an excellent evening was had by all and I can't recommend the place strongly enough. Except that, sadly, the shed was demolished this morning by a professional footballer in a gigantic four-wheel drive while attempting a particularly difficult parking manoeuvre. 
The Professor Cogitates
Disclaimer: I was given a number of fivers in a plain brown envelope if I promised not to mention the exotic dancer and the copy of Wisden but the opinions expressed here are all my own and are not only entirely insincere but also erroneous. No poi was harmed in the writing of this review.