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.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Damien Trench’s Parkin and This Year’s Kitchen Music

It's about time that I paid due homage to the man widely recognised as this country's finest food writer and cook - Damien Trench. I believe that he'll be on the radio this Christmas and there's a rumour that he may grace our television screens at some point next year. I can't tell you how difficult it is to contain my excitement at the thought of it.

As a tribute to the great man I decided to make his recipe for parkin. I've hardly baked anything this year due to a lack of time and the fact that pretty much everybody I know is constantly on a diet, but surely I'm allowed at least one treat at this time of the year. I don't want to infringe Mr Trench's copyright by presenting his recipe in full but, suffice it to say, if you take this fine Tate and Lyle recipe, adjust the ratio of oatmeal and flour to favour the flour, adjust the milk up and the syrup down, use fresh rather than dried ginger and bake it for less time, then you’re pretty near it. I'm sure that the detailed recipe will appear in the next volume of Mr Trench's Diaries.
But enough of this cake-based enjoyment. I'm afraid that we’re now faced with the grim inevitability of my annual self-indulgence in the music that I've loved in the kitchen for the last 12 months.  Sorry about that.

Once upon a time knowing what music to play when people came round for dinner was so much easier. These days there's just far too much choice. In the late 1970s if you played anything other than Fleetwood Mac then the police kept watch on your house. In the latter part of 1984 it briefly became illegal to have a gathering of more than 3 people without playing Sade's ‘Diamond Life’. So do I have a suggestion for music for a modern gathering? You might as well ask if Jamie Oliver likes to drizzle – of course I do. I'd suggest Woman’s Hour (the band not the radio programme) for any informal gathering. The music is assured, stylish and relaxed. Their excellent first album ‘Conversations’ was released this year.

If that leaves you with a need for more stylish and assured music, then try PHOX, who released their début album this year. There was also a fine album 'Days Of Abandon' by the excellently named The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I can't resist including this little clip because it's exactly like most evenings round at my house.

There was some very fine, old-style song writing and singing from the Australian Stu Larsen on the album 'Vagabond'. (If you have some spare time for more fine song writing then please give the gentle album ‘Home’ from the tea-drinking Icelander Hafdis Huld a try.)

This year also saw the release of the ‘Lights Out’ album from Bishop Allen, a band that’s been a favourite of mine for a number of years now. And if that’s all too English language for you, then there’s always Tourista from Peru. But in line with a short-lived tradition, here's my  favourite French song of the year to end with - ‘Transhumance’ from the album ‘Hirundo’ by Dominique Dalcan.

I'm off for a relaxing cup of tea and a revivingly delicious piece of parkin. Oh my actual goodness as Mr Trench has been known to say.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Tangerine Gin

This is a seasonal drink that's very easy to make, tastes lovely and might even be described as festive if I were the festive type. I decided to make some when I was thinking about how much I missed Belfast gin. There are some very fine gins available, but back in the 1980s Belfast gin with its citrus flavour was always my favourite. Sadly I believe the gin disappeared sometime in the 1990s. This is definitely not a recreation of Belfast gin, it’s just inspired by it. In fact it’s more a way of producing a posh and expensive tasting liqueur without spending too much time or money. Once the Seville oranges arrive in the country you can use those in place of the tangerines.

This is quite an old recipe - there's a version of it in the Ocklye cookbook of 1908, for instance - but it deserves a revival. You can drink a little nip as a winter warmer, mix it with tonic or sparkling water for a longer drink or add it to cocktails. The tangerine combines well with lemon or with summery flavours like elderflower and some people mix it with ginger ale, although I'm personally less convinced about that. You can even sprinkle a little tangerine gin onto desserts or ice creams. Like quite a few liqueurs this is relatively sweet so cut down on the sugar if you prefer a more gin-like flavour.
Tangerine Gin
For any readers of my generation out there please note that it's Tangerine Gin and not Tangerine Dream. I can't guarantee that even after a few snifters of this gin you won't be running from the room should anyone press play on the Phaedra album.

8 or 9 tangerines
175 g granulated sugar
Half a bottle (375 ml) gin (a neutral, but pleasant gin - a cheap one should be fine)

Wash and dry the tangerines. Sterilise a suitable jar or container (allow a bit of room in the jar for shaking the contents). Use a fine vegetable peeler to remove the outer peel of the tangerines and place in the jar. (Try to avoid peeling any pith from the tangerines, although a small amount won't do any real harm.) Add the sugar, pour over the gin and seal the jar tightly. Shake the jar to dissolve the sugar.

Put the jar to one side for 4 or 5 days but shake the jar whenever you remember it (at least 3 or 4 times a day would be good). After those long days have passed, filter the gin through muslin and pour into a nice bottle. Seal, label and put into a cupboard. (It's possible to leave the peel in for much longer for a stronger and more matured flavour, but I'm not sure that’s the way I like it).

Now in theory, even after filtering out the peel, you should leave the gin to mellow for a while before drinking. There are some old recipes that suggest leaving it for a year or two. Well, that's a nice idea but a bit unlikely in my house. I promise you that it still makes a very pleasing drink after just 3 or 4 weeks in the bottle.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Turnips with Vinegar and Maple Syrup

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

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

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

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

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

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