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.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Carrot Halwa For Al

I think of Al whenever I see carrot halwa on the menu of an Indian restaurant (and, believe me, that's quite often).

Al did a lot of the cooking at iDEATH. His signature dish was ‘mess of carrots’. Al was definitely known for his carrots. When he and Pauline cooked together ‘they made a potato salad that somehow ended up having a lot of carrots in it.’ I think if Al made a dessert, then this would be the one. It would probably be sweetened with watermelon sugar.
In Watermelon Sugar
In the early 1970s when I first read Richard Brautigan’s ‘In Watermelon Sugar’ it seemed an extraordinary book and, as it happens, it still does today. The book was actually written in 1964 and published in 1968 and I can't imagine it being written in any other decade. The narrator (‘Just call me whatever is in your mind’) lives in a shack near iDEATH and tells us of his life in a place where many things are made of watermelon sugar and the sun shines a different colour every day. I'm wondering what the people who lived at iDEATH would make of iPhones and the iPlayer. I like to think that Mr Brautigan would be amused but sadly he left us in the 1980s. Still, he has his place in history. As he said ‘All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.’ I've certainly never forgotten Al and his carrots. 

There are many, many variations on carrot halwa and so I don't really worry that my version isn't particularly authentic. It's a little lighter than many - there's often a fair bit of ghee involved. I used some sultanas and dried sour mango in this halwa but other dried fruit such as papaya or pears will work well too. Many versions of halwa that I've eaten over the years have been sweeter than a picture of two fluffy kittens cuddling up to a puppy dog but I prefer to hold back a little on the sugar. I still think this version is pretty sweet, though, so you could reduce the sugar even more if you prefer. I find it's easiest to use a chef's pan with curved edges for this kind of dish to assist with the reduction of the milk but any suitably sized saucepan will do.
Carrot Halwa
This will serve 4 if you're reasonably delicate and restrained or 2 if you're really hungry after a hard day at the Watermelon Works.

250 g grated carrot
A small knob of butter
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
400 ml full fat milk
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp dried sour mango, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
75 g light brown soft sugar
To serve:
Crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt
A few roasted crushed nuts
A little finely grated lime zest

Crush the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the carrots and cardamom. Stir the carrots around for a minute or two then pour in the milk. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat until the the milk is simmering quite gently. Stir in the sultanas, the dried mango (or whatever dried fruit you're using) and the vanilla paste. Continue simmering, stirring regularly (that's important), until the milk has all but disappeared but the mixture is still moist. This process is likely to take around 40 minutes at a gentle simmer. Stir in the sugar and continue cooking and stirring for another 3 or 4 minutes. Allow to cool and chill until needed.

More often than not, in the restaurants I've been hanging out in, this is served warm and with ice cream (usually vanilla). There's nothing wrong with that, but I think room temperature is best with a few roasted and crushed pistachios or cashews, some Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche and a little finely grated lime zest. It's a very adaptable dessert, though, and some people even prefer it ice cold.

Carrot halwa is probably even nicer if eaten by the light of a lantern that burns watermelontrout oil.
-
I'm submitting this little piece to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole. I always look forward to discovering what turns up at Novel Food so I'm very happy to be part of it.
Novel Food

Monday, 23 February 2015

Gâteau Battu

In Picardy, near the mouth of the Somme, lies the ancient region of Ponthieu (unless I've got my geography wrong again) where there lives a strange beast known as the Gâteau Battu. This translates as ‘beaten cake’, but imagine a tall, light, buttery, yeasty brioche and you'll be somewhere near it. I first tasted this gâteau over a decade ago and, although I loved it, I didn't think about trying to make it at home. Then a few years ago, I met Michel Savreux, chef and member of the Confrérie du Gâteau Battu. His enthusiasm for local food and the Gâteau Battu in particular inspired me to attempt to make my own version. (I was particularly impressed when I saw that on ceremonial occasions the Confrérie wear truly wonderful hats in the shape of a Gâteau Battu).

It turns out that making a Gâteau Battu on a small, domestic scale is not quite as easy as I thought it might be. It’s not that the basic recipe is a secret – the Confrérie publish a recipe on their web site – it’s just that scaling it down to a single gâteau and getting the flavour and texture the way I wanted it proved to be a bit of a challenge. I started with the official recipe and modified it in line with the recipes and techniques of the master baker Francis Fréville, who's been making these things far longer than I've been eating them. After a fair bit of faffing about I've managed to get a recipe that I'm happy with, although there's no real substitute for the true Gâteau Battu, prepared by a traditional baker. So, if you find yourself in Picardy, don't miss the opportunity of eating some of the real stuff.

Although traditionally this gâteau was eaten at Easter, it's very adaptable and can be served in a number of ways at any time of the year. If you want an authentic taste of Picardy, then try serving it as a dessert with a dollop of rhubarb compote or jam and perhaps some crème fraîche. Other fruit compotes will work very nicely with the gâteau if rhubarb isn't available. A small piece can also be enjoyed as an aperitif with a glass of champagne or, more authentically, cider. Of course, it goes well with tea or coffee at any time of the day and, personally, I love a slice as part of a lazy breakfast.

I used a brioche tin with a capacity of 1.25 litres for this Gâteau. This is not the correct shape - it should be deeper with straighter sides – but it will do for now. If you want to get the authentic shape and you happen to find yourself in Abbeville, then you can buy a genuine Gâteau Battu tin. (Be warned - they're not particularly cheap.)
Gateau Battu
A stand mixer isn't absolutely essential for this recipe, but you’ll need significant reserves of patience and energy if you don’t use one.

10 g fast action / easy blend yeast (the type that usually comes in small sachets)
130 g plain flour (not strong bread flour)
50 g caster sugar
A generous pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
125 g softened butter, plus a little more for the mould
1 egg white

Stir the yeast into 50ml of warm water and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Put the flour, sugar, salt, egg yolks and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, which should have started to react a little by now. Whisk at medium speed for 15 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl every now and then.

At the end of this time, whisk the egg white to stiff peaks and add to the mixture. Continue whisking at medium speed for another 15 minutes. The dough will seem sticky and elastic at the end of this time and not much like a conventional dough. That's as it should be.

Butter the tin thoroughly and add the dough - the tin should be roughly one third full. Cover with a clean, damp cloth and leave somewhere reasonably warm for around two hours. At the end of this time, the dough should have risen to near the top of the tin. The time taken could vary so check the dough every now and then.

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Bake the gâteau for around 30 minutes or until the top has browned and a cake tester or skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean or with the tiniest crumb on it. The gâteau should have a dark crust, but if it's in danger of becoming too dark or looking burnt, then cover it loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.

Place the mould on a wire rack and let the gâteau cool thoroughly in the mould before removing.
Gateau Battu Tins

Friday, 23 January 2015

Bogus Café de Paris Sauce

A while ago I was asked what was the first ever recipe that I'd collected. I've been tearing recipes out from newspapers and magazines and jotting others down for a very long time but everything before about 1983 has been lost somewhere along the way. I did some digging and came up with this which is just possibly the earliest surviving recipe in my collection.

I can't remember where the recipe came from but I'm fairly sure it wasn't called “bogus” in the original. It is bogus, though, and has only a distant connection to the original Café de Paris recipe. This may be partly my fault because I think I played around with it a fair bit before I wrote it down but I believe that the real sauce served in the Café de Paris in Geneva is a creamy sauce that’s allegedly made using chicken livers. (Although maybe not - the actual recipe is still secret). To make things even more confusing, there are plenty of recipes for a Café de Paris butter around and that’s an entirely different beast.
Bogus Café de Paris Sauce
Sauces like this aren't very 2015 - not many people seem to make them these days. That's a shame because this is really useful, easy and versatile. This sauce was intended to accompany steaks and there's nothing wrong with that but it will also sit very well alongside pork and, my favourite, simply cooked lamb.

Making sauces might seem a bit of a faff but there's not much work involved, it can all be done in advance mostly using store cupboard ingredients and you'll get enough sauce from the amounts given here for around 6 servings. If you don't use it all at once, it will keep for several days in the fridge and freezes well.
Lamb with Bogus Café de Paris Sauce
If you don't have any tarragon vinegar then simply increase the amount of sherry vinegar, but I must admit that the hint of tarragon does add an extra something.

1 or 2 carrots (about 60 g), peeled or scraped
1 small bulb of fennel (about 120 g), any tough outer leaves and base removed
1 large or 2 small shallots (about 90 g), peeled
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp tarragon vinegar
400 g tin of tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
100 ml marsala
300 ml chicken stock
Juice of ½ lemon

Put the carrots, fennel and shallots into a processor and reduce them to very small pieces. Place them in a large frying pan and fry gently with a little butter for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the crushed garlic and continue frying gently for a further 10 minutes.

Add the two vinegars to the pan followed by the tomatoes, stirring to ensure that the tomatoes are broken up. Add the sugar, tomato purée, mustard, marsala and stock. Season well. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Pour the contents of the pan through a fine sieve. Press down on the puréed veg to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Stir in the lemon juice. (Alternatively, you could just liquidise the whole sauce. It will be thicker and cloudier and personally I don't think the texture and flavour of the liquidised version is quite as good but at least you won't waste anything.)

There are a number of ways of finishing this sauce before serving. The simplest way is to reduce a little of the sauce to thicken it slightly and pour it around your chosen piece of meat. Whisking in a little butter at the last moment will give the sauce a gloss. Adding more mustard along with the butter will work well if you fancy a bit of heat. Or whisk in some crème fraîche for a slightly richer finish. You could also add fresh herbs: a generous sprinkling of parsley would be the obvious choice.

Serve with your choice of meat and imagine yourself in Geneva. Unless, of course, you are in Geneva, in which case I can't think what to suggest.

-

Janis at Farmersgirl Kitchen has started a new blog event #RecipeClippings this month to encourage us to dig out recipes from our collections of cut out and copied recipes. I think this should fit in quite nicely even if I haven't the foggiest idea where I found it.



Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Vinegar Steak With Mango Sauce

Most years I try to grow at least one chilli plant during the summer and most of them suffer from neglect. Some do produce a decent crop, though, and last year it was the turn of a Scotch Bonnet plant. As the summer ended I carried it indoors and placed it on a windowsill, where it’s just about hanging on to life despite yet more neglect. Oddly the seriously hot little fruits made me nostalgic for the 1980s.
Scotch Bonnet
Back then I started to realise that Caribbean cooking could be exceptionally good as well as exceptionally hot. The big name in Caribbean (and African) cooking at that time, at least as far as I was concerned, was Rosamund Grant. As well as writing cookery books she ran the groundbreaking Bambaya restaurant in London at the time. The restaurant may have disappeared long ago but I still use some of her recipes from the 80s. Actually, this isn't one of them, but it's definitely inspired by her and uses a version of the traditional technique of creating a marinade based on vinegar. I serve this with the simplest possible mango sauce. (I'm not sure that RG would approve of such a basic sauce but it tastes good to me, especially when I'm short of time).

I put this concoction in a bun but serving it with rice or stir-fried veg would be good too. I know that it became trendy to use brioche buns for burgers a few years ago and, although I'll never be trendy, the sweetness of the brioche bun does work really well with this filling.
Vinegar Steak with Mango Sauce
This should serve at least 2 and is very easy to put together provided that you remember to start it the day before.

Vinegar Steak

250 g finely sliced steak (you can use the stuff sold for stir fries)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
75 ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp water
1 Scotch Bonnet chilli, very finely chopped (if that’s a bit scary use ½ a SB)
A generous few turns of black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce

Mix everything together in a non-reactive bowl, cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for 12 - 24 hours.

Drain as thoroughly as is humanly possible then dry the steak on kitchen paper. (Don’t wipe away all the garlic and chilli if you can help it). Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir fry the steak very briefly over a high heat until done to your liking.

Serve on a toasted brioche bun with a generous amount of the simple mango sauce.

Simple Mango Sauce

1 very ripe mango (small to medium ideally)
1 tbsp lime juice
a couple of turns of pepper
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
½ tbsp soy sauce
A little honey (optional)

Peel the mango and slice the flesh into a blender. Add all the rest of the ingredients and blitz until smooth. Taste and add a bit more lime if too sweet, a little honey if too sour and a some more chilli sauce if too mild. One mango should give you plenty for 2 people but it freezes well if there's any left over or if you have a lot of mangoes to use up.