Thursday, 12 March 2020

Beetroot – An Ocklye Dressing And A Pomegranate Dip

I know that there are plenty of people around who outwardly look quite normal but inexplicably don't like beetroot. I'm definitely not one of them. Recently I made a mistake and bought too much beetroot. Actually, that was a good thing. It gave me the chance to make a couple of special but really simple beetroot treats.

Beetroot In A Sort of Ocklye Dressing

This is based a little loosely on a recipe from the Ocklye cookery book published in 1909. The book is described as ‘recipes by a lady and her cook’, which might sound a bit off-putting but it's actually a very usable and varied set of recipes. Well, mostly usable - I wouldn't advise trying to find sun-dried turtle in your local supermarket. Eleanor Jenkinson (the lady) was the author of the book but I think we should be celebrating the skill of Annie Hobden (the cook), who had rather a lot to do with it.
Sort Of Ocklye Beetroot
1 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp tarragon vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp runny honey
2 tbsp crème fraîche (reduced fat versions will work)
Salt and pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together and dress some cooked sliced beetroots or whole baby beetroots generously. This should dress enough beetroot for at least 2 people.

Beetroot Dip with Pomegranate Molasses and Walnuts

I know that everyone and their dog has a produced a recipe for a beetroot dip but I don't care, here's my extremely easy version anyway. This dip is a reflection of just how much I love pomegranate molasses and the combination of the molasses and walnut is a classic that's used in many of the versions of muhammara that I've come across.

You can use a thick yoghurt or cream cheese for the dip but I used faisselle. If you're not familiar with it, faisselle is a sort of enriched, strained fromage frais which is very common in France but which is now available in the UK in some supermarkets. It's extremely useful stuff for both savoury and sweet dishes.
Beetroot Dip
This should be enough dip for around 4 people.

300 g cooked and peeled beetroot
5 tbsp faisselle (or thick yoghurt or cream cheese)
60 g walnuts
6 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice (have a bit more on standby in case the dip needs it)
A generous amount of salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar or lemon-infused olive oil for a drizzle on top of the dip

Just put everything except the balsamic or olive oil drizzle in a food processor and whizz until it’s as smooth as you like it - a little bit of texture from the walnuts is no bad thing in my opinion. Put in a bowl and drizzle the top with a little balsamic or lemon-infused olive oil if you're so inclined.

Serve with your choice of flatbreads. Breads containing rosemary work particularly well with this dip.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Walnut Cake or Gâteau aux Noix

I first ate this cake many moons ago in Sarlat in the Dordogne (or the Périgord Noir if you prefer). It's a town with an abundant supply of walnuts, as well as a truly excellent market. In my selfless struggle to make as many French cakes as possible I decided to recreate this little treat. I soon realised that there were almost as many variants of this cake as there are geese around Sarlat (and that's a lot of geese). At long last this is the version that I think comes closest to that original cake and happily it's also just about the simplest.

This really is a cake, honest, but I think of it mostly as a dessert. Small pieces are really good with an espresso or some classic, strong tea but I think it comes into its own when served warm or cold as a dessert with apple or rhubarb compote or poached pear and crème fraîche. It’s also very pleasing when drizzled with dark chocolate.

It's possible to buy ground walnuts and that's the easiest way to make this cake but I usually make my own just to be sure that they're fresh. Walnuts don't seem to keep well once ground and can start to taste bitter. The walnuts in this recipe don't need to be very finely ground, in fact they can be quite coarse as long as you get rid of any serious chunks. It's easiest to pulse the nuts in a food processor but don't overdo it or you'll end up with an oily mess. The slightly more traditional method involves grinding them in a classic mouli-légumes but it's also a lot slower so allow a bit of time if you try it. Whatever method you use I think it's best to prepare the walnuts shortly before using.
Walnut Cake or Gâteau aux Noix
150 g ground walnuts
80 g plain flour
4 eggs
100 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus a bit extra for the tin)
120 g golden caster sugar

You'll need a tin of around 23 cm diameter for this cake. I find a springform tin easiest if you have one but it's not critical. It doesn't need to be a deep tin since this gâteau really doesn't rise as much as a classic cake. Butter the tin and line the base. Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Stir the ground walnuts and the flour together. Separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they're pale and doubled in volume. Whisk the cool, melted butter into the eggs and sugar mixture, lower the speed of the mixer and add the flour and walnuts gradually until well combined (don't overmix at this stage).

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Stir a spoonful or two of the egg whites into the cake mixture to loosen it, then fold the rest in gently.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, even out the top and bake for around 20 minutes. When done the cake should have a nice light brown colour and a knife point should come out clean. The cake will remain relatively dense - remember that this is more dessert than cake.

Allow the gâteau to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin and leaving to cool completely on a rack.
In A Sarlat Garden

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Venison with Supercharged Gin and Dried Limes

Venison is excellent in slow-cooked casseroles but they're often very rich and heavy. There's nothing wrong with that on cold, dark evenings in winter, but sometimes I'd welcome something a little less hefty. This dish uses a classic venison casserole approach but gives a lighter, fruitier result without losing the characteristic flavour of the meat. I admit that this is an odd combination of ingredients but I've never been very good at the authenticity malarkey.

I find gin very useful in cooking, especially with game or as part of a cure for fish. Not long ago I was using some gin as part of a marinade and it occurred to me that I could have a special bottle in the cupboard that would have “marinade” flavours built in. So I made a supercharged, marinade gin as follows.

Take a half bottle of gin (a decent supermarket London dry gin will do) and add a few extra juniper berries, a few pink peppercorns and 2 reasonably large sprigs of rosemary to the bottle. Reseal it, give it a shake and leave it to infuse for 3 or 4 days in a cool cupboard. Filter the gin, put it into a clean bottle and label it in case of mistaken gin and tonic use. (I have come across a number of gin and rosemary cocktails in the last couple of years but, to be honest, I'm not sure that I'd recommend many of them).

I've also used a little homemade raspberry vinegar in this marinade but if you don't have any you could use balsamic or wine vinegar with maybe just a touch of raspberry liqueur, if you have any, for that fruity accent.
Venison with Supercharged Gin and Dried Limes

Personally I reckon that this will be enough for 4 people alongside one or two little, mezze-style dishes or salads but, if you're hungry, then it might only serve 2 or 3.

400 g diced, lean venison

For the marinade:
   3 tbsp supercharged gin (or ordinary gin plus some chopped rosemary)
   1 tbsp raspberry vinegar 
   A few turns of black pepper

For the casserole:
   1 onion, chopped
   4 carrots, in smallish chunks
   2 dried limes, pricked with the point of a knife
   300 ml white wine
   2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
   2 tbsp honey

Combine the marinade ingredients, mix with the venison in a non-reactive bowl, cover and leave in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160⁰C. Drain the venison, reserving the marinade, and pat the meat dry with paper towels. Fry the onion and the carrot gently in a little olive oil until the onion begins to soften. Place the onion and carrots into a casserole dish.

Brown the venison in batches, using a little extra olive oil as needed, and add the meat to the casserole dish. Deglaze the pan with the reserved marinade and reduce it by about a third. Pour the reduced marinade into the casserole dish and tuck in the dried limes. Add the white wine to the frying pan and reduce by about a third. Pour into the casserole. Stir the pomegranate molasses and the honey into the casserole.

Cover the casserole contents with a cartouche (that's a posh name for a layer of damp greaseproof paper) and place in the oven for 1½ - 2 hours. During this time check the casserole now and then and, if it seems to be drying out, add a little water.

Fish out and discard the limes and check that the flavour is how you like it. Hopefully there will be a good balance of sweet and sour but make any necessary adjustments by adding a little lemon juice or some extra honey or pomegranate molasses if you think it needs it. Serve the venison with couscous and some harissa on the side.

If anyone asks where on earth this unorthodox dish comes from, mutter something about Hyperborea. 


Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Really Useful Two Pepper Sauce

At this time of year I know it's usual for food bloggers to offer Christmas cake and turkey recipes but I'm really not a Christmas person. So instead I'm offering this not entirely seasonal recipe because I think it might prove useful for all those festive leftovers.

Now I'm about to let you into a secret, so keep this to yourself. This deceptively simple recipe was a staple of a late and much lamented Indian restaurant some years ago. They used this sauce in a number of different ways and in a number of different dishes. I've adapted this recipe a little since then and reduced the quantities for home use. To my shame, I can't recall the name of the chef from whom I stole, sorry I meant to say learnt, the recipe but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that it still serves as a base in one or two restaurants somewhere in our fair land.

This is a remarkably useful and adaptable concoction that can be used either hot or cold. Try serving small, undiluted amounts cold with appetisers such as pakoras or baked, spiced chicken fillets. Alternatively, thin the sauce with water or stock and heat to produce a sauce for meat or vegetables, including leftovers of course. You can add chillies, herbs such as coriander or garlic chives, spring onions or spices to the sauce before serving if the dish calls for it. The sauce will keep well for a while in the fridge but also freezes excellently.
Two Pepper Sauce
250 g flesh of red peppers, roughly chopped (there's no need to peel the peppers)
250 ml red wine vinegar
1½ tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1½  tbsp golden caster sugar
A pinch or two of sweet, smoked paprika

In a wok or large frying pan begin to soften the red pepper flesh in a little coconut oil over a moderate heat for 5  - 10 minutes. (An alternative oil will be fine if you prefer.) Add the vinegar, black pepper, fennel seeds and sugar. Sprinkle over a generous few pinches of salt. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer gently for around 30 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a couple of tablespoons and the peppers are tender. Stir in the smoked paprika.

Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little before liquidising until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). You should end up with somewhere between 100 - 150 g of very concentrated sauce.

Serve hot or cold, diluted or undiluted as your customers or friends desire.

Since I'm not much of a Christmas person, it's almost unknown for me to enjoy a Christmas song. But the masterly Josh Rouse has presented us with an album of holiday songs this year that are as smooth as very smooth silk on a particularly smooth day in Smoothland. And that sounds like my ideal Christmas. Have a very festive (and very smooth) Yuletide.


Friday, 22 November 2019

Fromage Frais Gâteau

I've called this a gâteau because that's what the French original was called but this is definitely a dessert (or maybe a sweet snack) and not a cake to be nibbled with tea. The French seem to have a great love for flan-like desserts of various kinds such as the classic flan pâtissier,  le millas made with maize flour from the Charente or maybe the pastizzu made with semolina from Corsica. This dish may follow that tradition but it's a modern and health-conscious invention. I've come across it in many forms in the last 20 or 30 years and I've always been a bit doubtful about some of the simpler and lighter forms of the recipe.

Well, having played around with the recipe for a bit, I now realise that I was wrong. A simple and low fat version suits my less complicated tastes these days. If you want a dessert that's lighter and healthier than most cheesecakes but still creamier and smoother than a cake, then this might be right for you as well.
Fromage Frais Gâteau

In France this would be made with fromage blanc, but in the UK we have fromage frais. The difference between French fromage blanc and British fromage frais is confusing, a bit dull and not really all that important for this kind of recipe. The type of fromage frais you choose does make a difference, though. Personally I think the low fat content of this recipe is a major part of its appeal and so I use a 0% fat fromage frais. A fromage frais with higher fat content will taste a little richer and should prevent the gâteau collapsing quite as much. It's really a question of taste.

I use vanilla in this gâteau but it will work very well with other flavours too. Lemon is a good alternative (use lemon zest and a little juice) but I've also come across examples with orange flower water and the odd touch of Cointreau or rum. I combine plain flour with a little potato flour in this recipe which I think gives a slightly lighter result but it's not critical and you could use all plain flour.
Fromage Frais Gâteau

4 large eggs, separated
90 g golden caster sugar (plus 2 tsp for the tin)
500 g fromage frais (0% fat or higher fat content if you prefer - see above)
1½ tsp vanilla powder (or vanilla paste or extract)
70 g plain flour 
30 g potato flour (or use an extra 30 g of plain flour) 

Prepare a 23 cm tin by rubbing it thoroughly with butter and sprinkling evenly with the 2 teaspoons of sugar. (It's not vital, but I find a springform tin easiest). Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Whisk the sugar and egg yolks together thoroughly until pale and increased in volume. Briefly whisk in the fromage frais and vanilla powder (or paste or extract).

Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the fromage frais and egg yolk mix. I find it's best to add the egg white in two stages but, however you do it, don't be too vigorous and knock out all the air. If in doubt remember that it's better to have a less thorough combination than a flattened one. Pour into the prepared tin and even the mixture out. Place in the preheated oven.

The time this gâteau takes to bake will vary according to the thickness of the chosen fromage frais but around 30 minutes is about right. Check after around 25 minutes but don't be surprised if it takes closer to 40 minutes. When baked, the top should be browned, the gâteau should feel springy to the touch and if you test with a knife point or a cake tester, it should be largely clean (a little stickiness is not a bad thing).

Allow the gâteau to cool completely in the tin before turning out (it will sink as it cools, but that's OK). You could smarten up the top of the gâteau by sprinkling with icing sugar but I quite like the crusty look and so I don't bother. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Serve in slices with berries or a fruit coulis or purée. I like it served cold from the fridge but most people seem to prefer it served at room temperature so remember to to remove it from the fridge in advance. Any leftover slices will freeze well. 


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Chicken Liver Sauce From Back When Tratts Were Fab

I've just been listening to someone on the radio wittering on about how terrible British restaurants were back in the 1960s and 70s. This version of history seems to be accepted as the official narrative today. I admit that many of the restaurants back then were pretty bad. In fact some of them were laughably awful such as the trendy restaurant that served only tinned food. But there were very good places to eat if you looked hard enough in the right places. I was lucky because the right places were often in London and that's where I happened to be living. If you headed for one of the simple trattorias scattered around town then you could get decent, straightforward Italian food at a reasonable price as well as encountering waiters with comically large pepper grinders.

There wasn't a huge choice of food in those bygone tratts but some options were very similar to what's on offer in restaurants today. For instance, I swear I had crushed avocado on toast in a little place in Soho in around 1979. On the other hand, there were some dishes that you rarely find on menus now. This recipe is one of those missing dishes and I was reminded of it when I came across a few very old, dogeared recipes that I'd collected back who knows when. I'm quite sure that this particular recipe dates back to the 1960s and I seem to remember eating very similar dishes whilst wearing flares in the 70s.

The original recipe was a little vague and so I might have tweaked it a little for my current tastes but when I ate it I felt as if I was back listening to Jonathan Richman singing about a Roadrunner or maybe the first Talking Heads album. More importantly, though, I started to wonder why we stopped cooking and eating this kind of dish. I know it's humble, simple and cheap but it tastes really good to me.

Chicken Liver Sauce
Personally I think this amount should serve 4 but it's the sort of sauce that I've seen served in big 1960 style portions in large bowls, in which case you might consider it a generous amount to serve 2. I like this paired with gnocchi but, in the spirit of the 1960s and 70s, you could use whatever pasta you happen to have in the cupboard. I know I just said that this was a cheap dish but using a good quality Marsala will make a real difference to the flavour. A Marsala revival must be long overdue.

A small handful dried porcini
400 g chicken livers
2 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
A dash or two red wine vinegar
100 ml Marsala
1 tbsp tomato purée
300 ml chicken stock
The leaves from a sprig of thyme
A little chopped parsley

Soak the porcini in hot water for 20 minutes (or whatever the pack recommends). 

Cut out any sinews or other unpleasant looking bits from the chicken livers and chop them into smallish but not tiny pieces. Pat the livers with kitchen paper to dry them a little then coat them in the seasoned flour. Drain the porcini and reserve the soaking liquid. Chop the porcini quite finely.

Melt a small knob of butter in some olive oil and fry the livers fairly gently for about five minutes. Stir in the chopped porcini. Add the Marsala and red wine vinegar to the pan and cook, stirring now and then, for 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced to something close to a coating consistency.

Stir in the tomato purée then pour in the chicken stock and the reserved porcini soaking water. Sprinkle the thyme leaves around the pan, bring to simmering point, partially cover and let the mixture simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring every now and then. Keep an eye on the sauce to make sure it doesn’t dry out and add a little water or stock if need be. By the end of the simmering time the sauce should be suitably thickened and the chicken livers should be meltingly tender. Uncover and cook for a little longer if the sauce seems too thin.

To serve, cook your chosen pasta or gnocchi, check that the seasoning of the sauce is just right, combine the sauce and pasta and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley. 

Monday, 23 September 2019

Hake with Cider and Apples

This dish might sound a little eccentric - fish, cider and apples aren't usually best friends - but somehow it works. The sauce adds a savoury depth of flavour and the apples provide a contrasting acidity. Although it's more typical of Normandy, the last time I came across this kind of combination was on the Île d'Oléron. And that's entirely appropriate because I find the Île d'Oléron pleasingly eccentric too.
L'île d'Oléron
To be honest, this dish isn't usually made with hake - cod or pollock would be more likely - but I'm very fond of hake so that's what I'm using. You could use pretty much any white fish you fancy. This is a little lighter than some similar northern French recipes but it's definitely not free from calories. Well, we are in Normandy after all. Or we might be on the Île d'Oléron for all I know.
Hake with Cider and Apples

This will serve 2.

1 large shallot, finely chopped
300 ml cider (a light, dry cider would be best)
2 apples (ideally a firm variety with a little acidity)
2 hake fillets
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tbsp crème fraîche
Butter for frying

Fry the shallot gently in a little butter until softened. Pour in the cider, increase the heat and allow it to reduce by roughly two thirds. Pour through a fine sieve into a suitable container and discard the shallot. Set aside.

Peel, core and cut the apples into thick slices. Season the slices and fry them in a little butter until browned. Keep warm.

Fry the hake in a little butter. It's difficult to be precise about how long it will take to cook the hake - it will depend upon thickness - but 6 or 7 minutes will usually be enough. While the hake is frying reheat the cider sauce and gently whisk in the crème fraîche and mustard. Taste and correct the seasoning.

It's just an assembly job to serve. Arrange the apple slices on warmed plates, add the hake and pour on some of the sauce. Simply steamed or boiled potatoes and some green veg would complete the dish nicely.