Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Prunes in Armagnac

A month or so ago I found some prunes just lying around doing nothing. Since it was a wet afternoon and I was thinking about sunnier days, I decided to soak them in some armagnac in a Gascogne manner. Actually, this is not really a Gascogne manner - it’s just what I do. There are many variations on prunes in armagnac and maybe my method is not entirely traditional, but it works for me.

You could, of course, use brandy if armagnac is in short supply or a bit too expensive but if you’re approached by anyone looking even slightly like they come from the south of France and asking awkward questions, then please tell them that you’ve never heard of me and that I never said the bit about brandy.

Once the prunes have matured they not only smell fantastic, they’re also extremely useful. They can be used in tarts, clafoutis and many other desserts but they’re also great in sauces and stuffings with pork and poultry or in terrines and casseroles.

Probably the favourite way of eating them in this household, though, is in ice cream and I will reveal more of that very shortly…..

Prunes in Armagnac

250 g soft, pitted prunes (pruneaux d'Agen, would be nice)
300 ml strong tea (I used 2 Ceylon tea bags)
150 g caster sugar
150 ml water
2 good-sized pieces of lemon peel (only the yellow peel – no white pith)
250 –300 ml armagnac

Place the prunes in a heatproof bowl and pour over the hot tea. Leave to soak for an hour or so. In the meantime, make a simple sugar syrup by putting the caster sugar and water in a saucepan and bringing to the boil, stirring now and then. Boil for about a minute (make sure that the sugar has completely dissolved) and take off the heat. Drop the pieces of lemon peel into the hot sugar syrup.

Strain the prunes and discard the remaining tea. Put the prunes back in the bowl, pour over the sugar syrup, cover the bowl and leave somewhere cool overnight.

The next day, strain the prunes, reserving the syrup but discarding the lemon peel. Put the prunes into a preserving jar (a jar of around 600 – 700 ml should be fine). Mix the reserved syrup with the armagnac, pour over the prunes and seal the jar. Store somewhere cool and dark for around 4 weeks before using.

Prunes in Armagnac

Friday, 19 August 2011

Rosewater Rice and Chocolate Coconut Tarts

For this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog has challenged us to use both rose and chocolate. I thought of a number of ways to put the two flavours together, but came to the conclusion that this isn’t an easy combination to carry off. So in the end I thought it would be safest to borrow a few ideas.
Rosewater Rice and Chocolate Coconut Tarts
I’ve pinched the idea of the tart case from a Donna Hay recipe. Essentially she uses a simple coconut macaroon recipe to make tart cases by shaping them in muffin tins. It might not be as adaptable as a conventional pastry tart case but with the right filling it makes a great alternative. For the filling, I’ve added rosewater to rice, which is a combination that seems to turn up everywhere from Greece to India and most places between. Finally, all that sweetness needs some dark chocolate on the top to balance it – or maybe I was just thinking about Bounty bars.

This should make 8 – 10 tarts, depending on exactly how big your muffin tin might be.
Rosewater Rice and Chocolate Coconut Tart

For the tart cases:
        170 g desiccated coconut
        120 g caster sugar
        2 egg whites

For the rice filling:
        100 g short grain rice
        400 ml full-fat milk
        90 g caster sugar
        1 tbsp rosewater

For the topping:
        100 g dark chocolate

To make the coconut tart cases, preheat the oven to 170°C and simply mix the three ingredients together thoroughly. (It may seem at first as if they’ll never come together but I promise they will). If you have a silicone muffin mould, then use it but, if not, carefully and thoroughly grease a muffin tin. Press the mixture into the muffin mould with damp fingers and shape it as evenly as possible across the base and up the sides.

Bake for around 10 –12 minutes until the shells look golden on the edges. Leave them to cool in the mould for a few minutes before carefully removing and putting on a rack to cool completely.

To make the rice filling, put the milk and rice into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring every so often, until the rice is tender. This is likely to take 20 – 30 minutes. (A little texture in the rice is good, but too much isn’t so nice). Add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved and the rice mixture has a nice creamy consistency. Take off the heat and stir in the rosewater. Set aside to cool, stirring every so often. Once cold, fill the coconut tart cases. (You may have a little rice left over as a cook’s treat– it’s good with raspberries or fine just on its own).

For the topping, simply melt the chocolate in your favourite way and spread it evenly over the tarts. If a little drips down the side, then that’s just life.

Serve the tarts cold but preferably not too chilled.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Smoked Garlic Soup

Not that far from here, just across the Channel in the north of France, lies the little town of Arleux, where they’ve been producing smoked garlic for over 400 years. Originally, it seems, the garlic was smoked to ensure that it could be kept for a long period but these days it’s more for its flavour.

I first heard of Arleux when I came across a version of this simple soup, although I have to admit that this recipe is not authentically Arleusienne. It’s also not as overwhelmingly garlicky as you might think, especially since I’ve near enough halved the amount of garlic in the original.

Quite rightly the people of Arleux celebrate their local produce by holding a festival - ‘La foire à l'ail fumé’ - in September every year  and have a Confrérie to support and promote the garlic - La Confrérie de l'Ail Fumé d'Arleux. I’m particularly pleased to note that they wear fantastic hats. (Although possibly not as fantastic as the hats of La Noble Confrérie du Gâteau Battu – but that’s another story).
Smoked Garlic Soup
Finally, before I get to the recipe, I have to confess that I used British smoked garlic when making this soup. We produce excellent smoked garlic in this country these days, but we just don’t come close when it comes to wearing great hats to prove it. When choosing the garlic for this soup choose the smokiest you can find. The traditional variety of garlic grown around Arleux is relatively small compared to some smoked garlic I’ve seen, which is why I’ve given an indication of the total weight of the cloves needed.

This amount will serve two and, although the garlic isn’t overpowering, don’t arrange too many close encounters for the rest of the day, just in case.

At least 6 cloves smoked garlic (around 20 – 25 g total weight) but more like 10  (35 – 40g) or even more  if you’re up for it
220 g potato (prepared weight)
90 g carrot (prepared weight)
2 tbsp (or thereabouts) crème fraîche
1 – 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

Peel the garlic cloves and remove any central green bits there may be. Peel and chop the potato into small chunks. Peel and chop the carrots finely.

Bring 1 litre of water to the boil and add all the vegetables. Add a generous amount of pepper and a little salt and bring back to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer very gently until all the vegetables are completely tender. This could easily take an hour if you’re cooking it gently enough. (If the mixture starts to dry up, add a little more liquid and turn the heat down a touch).

Allow the mixture to cool a little and whiz it in a blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning and a little extra water if the soup seems too thick.

To serve, reheat the soup, add a dollop of crème fraîche to each bowl and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Some versions of Arleux soup call for garlic croutons to be served with it; personally, I think that might be a clove too far.
Smoked Garlic

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Coconut Sorbet – A Random Recipe

For this month’s Belleau Kitchen Random Recipe challenge I arbitrarily selected the book “Simple Good Food” by the formidable Jean-Georges Vongerichten, co-authored by the redoubtable Mark Bittman. This is an excellent book which I’ve used on many occasions – in fact, it tends to fall open at the Pork Baeckoffe page. This time, though, I opened it in the dessert section and came up with Coconut Sorbet.

I’ve looked at this recipe in the past and somehow it just seemed too simple to work. Oh me of little faith – I now know that it’s excellent. Really simple to make but delicious to eat. It’s called a sorbet and technically I suppose it is but the result is a lot creamier than any normal sorbet and pure in both colour and taste.
Coconut Sorbet with Mango
The sorbet worked really well alongside mango and berries dressed with a little lime juice but it was also lovely on its own. I’ve halved the quantity given in the book because that’s all my little ice cream maker can handle but it still produced a fair amount. In fact, according to the book, this amount should serve 2, but I think it will actually serve 4 comfortably.
Coconut Sorbet Cones
You could use reduced fat coconut milk but for the really creamy effect, the full fat version is best. You could also use either white rum or Malibu but, in my opinion, Malibu is nicer. (By the way, if you’ve never tried Malibu on melon, then it’s worth knowing that it makes an excellent alternative to port on a summer’s day.) Freshly made sorbets don’t always keep well and this is probably best eaten within 3 or 4 days but I don’t think you’ll find that a hardship.

1 can of coconut milk (400 ml)
85 g sugar (I used caster because it dissolves easily)
3 tsp Malibu or rum

Put the coconut milk and sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the Malibu or rum.

Chill the mixture, then pour into an ice-cream maker and churn for as long as recommended in your instructions.

And that’s all there is to it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed unless you really dislike coconut.