Sunday, 23 December 2012

Crunchie Tuiles and The Kitchen Music of 2012

Last December I suggested making tuiles out of glacier mints. This year, in my seemingly endless and slightly pointless quest to make tuiles out of unlikely things, I've used Crunchie bars. (In case you've never heard of them, Crunchies are chocolate coated honeycomb bars). Honeycomb tuiles have turned up on the menus of many a fine restaurant but this is the downmarket version. It’s a quick and easy way to produce very tasty, very sweet tuiles that will make a simple dessert a bit more special.
Crunchie Tuiles
Make sure that your Crunchie bar or bars are cold, break them up a little and place in a food processor or blender. Blitz them until they're reduced largely to powder, although a few slightly bigger bits can add a nice contrast. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Avoid using a fan setting if you can because it might spray the powder around the oven. Line a baking tray with a silicone sheet or some very non-stick paper. Spread a layer of the smashed up Crunchie bar onto the silicone sheet. The layer should be reasonably even and thin but don’t make it too thin or the tuiles will be impossibly fragile – around 2 or 3 mm will be about right. The tuiles will be a little neater if you make a template out of card or a piece of spare silicone sheet when you spread them onto the baking sheet, but it’s not essential. 

Remove the template, place the tray in the oven and bake the tuiles until they melt and merge together but before they start to burn. Somewhere in the region of 2 to 5 minutes should be enough. Test by touching lightly (carefully, they're hot) – if they feel relatively firm and no longer like powder, then they should be OK. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before attempting to remove them carefully from the tray. The tuiles keep pretty well in an airtight container and if any fall apart or get broken, then they’re still delicious sprinkled on ice cream.
Crunchie Tuiles
I admit that’s not much of recipe – in fact, it’s more of an excuse for my annual piece of blogging self-indulgence: My Favourite Bits Of New Music That I've Listened To While Cooking This Year. (I've really got to think of a snappier title). This year I've particularly enjoyed the strangely addictive ‘Human Don’t Be Angry’ album or, for sheer quality, Karine Polwart’s ‘Traces’ and The Staves ‘Dead & Born & Grown’. But they’re not really the music that I choose for cooking. That has to be joyous pop and this year nobody’s done joyous pop better than those young whippersnappers from Oxford Alphabet Backwards. Their first album ‘Little Victories’ was released this year.

Miniature Dinosaurs were also helpful at times of difficult baking this year. Their ‘Turn It On’ EP was released in November.

And sadly there are occasions when I just can’t resist singing very badly in the kitchen. This year’s song that forced the neighbours to close all their windows and doors is ‘Penitentiary’ by Houndmouth. (This band also wins the ‘most significant beard on a drummer’ award). Their first EP, just called ‘Houndmouth’, was released in August.

OK, that’s enough musical indulgence – pass me some cake and a refreshing kir.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Confit d’Oignon

What’s the difference between confit d’oignon and onion marmalade? The answer is: one of them is French.

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked us to select a recipe at random from ‘a book or books you received for Christmas last year’. Now this is a bit of a problem for me because I pretty much gave up the Christmas presents thing quite a few years ago. Looking through my cookery book shelves, though, I came across a book that I seem to remember buying at a charity Christmas fair a couple of years ago. I hope that will do.

‘The Paris Café Cookbook’ by Daniel Young, published back in the 1990s, is actually an American book. As far as I know, it was never published in the UK and it was probably donated by one of the many US expats who live around here.  The book is a guide to the French capital’s cafés and a selection of the recipes you might find there.

The randomly selected  page took me to the Café de l’Industrie and a recipe for confit d’dignon made with red onions. This is a very appropriate recipe for the time of year since confit d’oignon is consumed in large quantities at Christmas time in France. Of course, you don’t need to follow the French Christmas tradition and serve this alongside foie gras; it will sit very happily alongside many different meats, pâtés, poultry and cheeses.

Confit d'Oignon
To be honest, this is pretty similar to many other onion marmalade and confit recipes but, like a number of other French recipes I've come across, it adds grenadine to the mix, which gives not only a pleasing sweet and sour flavour but also a fantastic colour. I confess that I've changed the quantities a little and lengthened the cooking times. I've no excuse really; it’s just that I like very soft, melting onions. Depending on how much you reduce the confit, this will fill around 2 standard jam jars or 4 smaller jars.

6 red onions (obviously onions vary a lot in size, but around 700 – 730 g unprepared weight should be about right)
60 ml neutral flavoured oil, such as sunflower oil
125 ml red wine vinegar
125 ml sirop de grenadine
450 g granulated sugar

Peel and slice or chop the onions quite finely, although a little variation in size will be no bad thing. A food processor will make this a lot easier, of course. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Fry gently with plenty of stirring until the onions are thoroughly softened. This will take at least 20 minutes, but shorten this time if you prefer more texture in the finished confit.

Pour in the wine vinegar and the grenadine and bring to the boil, while continuing to stir. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring back to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. The confit will thicken, but there’s no real need to worry about a setting point as you would with jam. Stir in a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Allow the confit to cool a little before pouring into sterilised jars and sealing. Et le tour est joué, as they say in Paris.

The confit will have pretty decent keeping qualities, but I think it’s best stored in the fridge and used relatively young.

The Café de l’Industrie is still very much in business and you can find it on the corner of the Rue St-Sabin and Rue Sedaine not far from the Bréguet-Sabin metro station.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Kent Pudding Pie with Cobnut Pastry and Pear

Pudding pie is an ancient dish from Kent that is traditionally made during Lent but, believe me, it tastes lovely at any time of the year. In fact, what could be better than a pudding in a pie crust? Actually, this is a bit of a twist on the classic recipe that I'm entering in the grand final of the Best of British blogging challenge, sponsored by New World Appliances. The details of the challenge can be found on The Face of New World Appliances and the final is being hosted by London Unattached.

For the Best of British final we can choose any area of the country we fancy and I felt strangely drawn to Kent and its fine produce. A plain pastry (usually shortcrust) is used for this dish most of the time but I wanted to celebrate the wonderful cobnuts grown in Kent by using them in my pastry.

In case you’re not familiar with them, cobnuts are a form of hazelnut with a long and illustrious history in Kent. I once asked a cobnut grower what the difference was between Kent cobnuts and imported European hazelnuts. His answer was: ‘Hundreds of years of careful growing and the English Channel’. Most cobnuts are sold green and fresh these days and very lovely they are too, but at this time of year some stored nuts are available and can be shelled and ground for baking. Before grinding them you can enhance the flavour by lightly roasting the shelled nuts for around 30 minutes at 130°C (but be careful to avoid burning them). If you don’t have access to the glorious cobnuts of Kent, then you can, of course, use hazelnuts.  Either way, grind the nuts quite finely and ensure that there are no lumps.

It’s traditional to add dried fruit to the pudding pie but, at this time of year, the apples and pears of Kent are excellent and I used a Kent Conference pear instead.  Frangelico liqueur, however,  is neither British nor traditional but it does work really well in this recipe. If you don’t want to add alcohol, a little hazelnut syrup would be a good alternative.
Kent Pudding Pie with Cobnut Pastry
For the cobnut pastry:
     35 g ground cobnuts
     150 g plain flour
     100 g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
     40 g caster sugar
     1 egg yolk
     1 – 2 tbsp cold water

For the pudding filling
     470 ml whole milk
     40 g ground rice
     80 g unsalted butter, softened
     50 g caster sugar
     2 eggs, lightly beaten
     Zest of 1 lemon, very finely chopped
     3 tsp Frangelico liqueur
     ½ a ripe but firm pear, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces

First make the pastry.  You can do this either by hand or in a food processor. The processor will be quicker but be careful to avoid overworking the dough.

Put the ground cobnuts in a bowl or processor and sift the flour over them. Add the cold butter and either rub in by hand or pulse in the processor until thoroughly combined and the mixture turns to crumbs. Stir (or pulse) in the sugar. Add the egg yolk and mix in briefly. Add the water in ½ tablespoon amounts and work in (or pulse) until the mixture comes together in a soft but cohesive dough. (You may not need all the water.) Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a loose-bottomed cake or flan tin of around 23 cm diameter. Roll the pastry out and line the tin. (It’s not particularly robust, so handle it carefully.) Trim off any excess pastry and chill the lined tin in the fridge for a further 30 minutes.

While the pastry case is chilling, you can start to make the pudding filling. Add the milk and rice to a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Allow the mixture to simmer very gently until it thickens – this should take no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the surface with some baking parchment or greaseproof paper and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line the chilled pastry case with baking parchment and fill it with baking beans. Blind bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment and return the tin to the oven for a further 3 minutes to dry the base a little. The case is now ready for the filling.

While the pastry is baking,  you can finish making the filling. (Use a stand mixer for this stage if you have one – it makes the job a lot easier). Place the softened butter and the caster sugar in a bowl and beat thoroughly until the mixture is very pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture. The filling may not look too promising at this stage, but trust me. Add the cooled rice and milk mixture, the lemon zest and the Frangelico and whisk the whole lot together thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the blind-baked pastry case and scatter over the pieces of pear, pushing them lightly into the filling. Bake in the oven for around 40 – 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling feels reasonably firm to the touch. (It shouldn't be too firm – a little wobble is a good thing in my view). Let the pudding pie cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and allowing it to cool completely.
Kent Pudding Pie with Cobnut Pastry
Although the pudding pie can be served hot or cold, I much prefer it cold, possibly with a spoonful of crème fraîche (not especially British, I know, but the Channel tunnel is in Kent too).

Monday, 3 December 2012

Pork with Apples and Mustard

Contrary to rumour I didn't spend the entire 1980s listening to the Psychedelic Furs and Immaculate Fools, wearing strange clothes and generally making a nuisance of myself - although that might account for most of it. In my spare time I also kept some notebooks full of recipes and various cooking adventures. I recently came across these carefully compiled archives at the back of a cupboard. Skimming through them, I quickly realised that they weren't as carefully compiled as I’d thought. Some of the recipes are precise but in other cases it can be difficult deciding what on earth I was on about.
Note Books of the 1980s
One of the notes that caught my eye relates to a Michael Smith recipe for pork. Oddly enough, I've already posted a tomato and plum soup based on one of his recipes but I couldn't resist this one as well. I've adapted the recipe a fair bit – the original dish was essentially a stir-fry - but it’s still based on the taste combinations of the original. Michael Smith was a great champion of English food and, although at first sight this dish may seem to have a distinctly eastern influence, these flavours have been around in English cooking for a very long time.

It’s a simple, midweek supper kind of dish that can be served with noodles, rice or mustardy mashed potatoes. It doesn't look too great in the picture but I promise that it tastes much better than it looks. It will serve 4 people.
Pork with Apples and Mustard
500 ml dry cider
80 g (or thereabouts) mushrooms, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
A good inch or so of fresh ginger, finely grated
2½ tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 pork shoulder steaks (you could substitute other cuts according to preference and availability)
2 cox apples (or other tasty, not oversweet eating apples)
1½ tsp English mustard powder
6 (or so) spring onions, cut into pieces around an inch long

Put the cider in a pan on a high heat and reduce by half. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

In an ovenproof dish with a lid, fry the garlic and mushrooms gently in a little oil for a minute or two. Stir in the ginger, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Add the apple slices and the pork steaks (there’s no need to brown them). Sprinkle over the mustard powder, season with a generous amount of pepper and pour in the reduced cider. Give the pan a quick stir to make sure the flavours mingle and scatter over the spring onion. Put the lid on the pan and place in the oven for about an hour and a quarter or until the pork is tender. The sauce should reduce during the cooking but add a little water if it seems to be drying out too much. (The cooking time will obviously vary if you use a different cut of pork or if the steaks are particularly thin or thick.)

Once the pork is tender, remove from the oven, skim off any excess fat and, once again, add a little water if the sauce seems too dry. Use a hand blender to whiz up some of the apple slices and create a thick, coating sauce. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

If you happen to have a copy of the 'Mirror Moves' CD then it might accompany the dish particularly well.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Madeira Cake – A Random Recipe

This month Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked us to use our birthday as a way of selecting the book for his Random Recipe challenge. So that's the number eight. Strangely the eighth book on the first three shelves that I selected turned out to be a book that I'd already used in the Random Recipe challenge and so I tried the pile of books known as ‘the pile that I'm not quite sure what to do with for the moment’. Book number eight turned out to be ‘The Edmonds Cookery Book’.

It’s unlikely that I'll ever get to New Zealand to confirm it but I'm led to believe that this book is a bit of a national institution there. It was first published in 1907, has never been out of print (although it has been regularly updated) and at one time it was given away free to any couple announcing their engagement. My copy was printed in the 1990s (a fair bit after my engagement) and how I came to own it remains a mystery.

The book is bursting at the seams with straightforward, everyday recipes and on opening it I was faced with the recipe for Madeira Cake. This seemed a little disappointing at first but a random recipe can’t always be an unusual recipe and so I just got on with making it. Then, as the smell of baking filled the house, I realised that I hadn't eaten a homemade Madeira Cake for over 30 years and, what's more, it really is a very good, classic cake.
Madeira Cake
I could pass on the Edmonds recipe for Madeira cake but, to be honest, it’s just a basic Madeira cake. If you don’t already have a favourite recipe, this version on the BBC food site by James Martin is very similar to the Edmonds cake and tells you everything you need to know. (Mr Martin does decorate the cake, which, for some reason, never seems quite right to me).

So this month the Random Recipe challenge has reminded me that it's too easy to forget the classics and that there are very good reasons why they became classics in the first place. I do remember making this kind of cake in the 1960s using a large ceramic bowl and a wooden spoon and so it's also reminded me what a pleasure it is having an electric mixer with a beater attachment.
Madeira Cake
The cake is great with tea but do try a slice with a little sweet or fortified wine if the mood takes you – that’s why it's called Madeira cake, after all.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocolate Canelés

I posted my recipe for classic canelés (well, probably not that classic) a while ago but recently I saw some chocolate canelés for sale in an upmarket patisserie and I couldn't resist the challenge of trying to make some. I've stuck fairly closely to my old recipe but with the addition of chocolate, of course. I compared the originals to crème brûlée in cake form – well, the chocolate versions are more like portable chocolate fondants.

Canelés have the reputation of being difficult. They aren't difficult to put together and they certainly aren't difficult to eat. I think the only tricky bit is judging when they’re baked to perfection. The chocolate version is darker in colour and that doesn't make things any easier. In my opinion, the best way of telling when they’re ready is to press them very lightly – if they feel soft but gently springy, then they should be fine.

I generally prefer to make small versions of canelés using silicone moulds, which are certainly not traditional and won’t meet a true pâtissier’s standards but they’re really easy and quick to use. Mould sizes vary quite a bit, but, based on the most common sizes that I've come across, this will make up to 50 of the small canelés or around 18 of the larger size. Silicone canelé moulds have proved a little tricky to find at a reasonable price outside of France but, if you live in the UK, Lakeland have recently started to sell a small silicone canelé mould (I've not tried it, so I can’t be certain about its performance). They call it a ‘Pretty Pudding’ mould.

Like all canelés, these are at their best within an hour or two of coming out of the oven. Make a batch of these for chocolate-loving acquaintances, serve them up as soon as they’re cool and you’ll have friends for life.
Chocolate Canelés
500 ml full-fat milk
50 g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
75 g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
110 g plain flour, sifted
240 g caster sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
40 ml dark rum

Place the milk, butter and vanilla in a saucepan and put on a gentle heat. Stirring regularly, bring the mixture up to boiling point and immediately take off the heat. Add the chocolate pieces and stir to dissolve. Set aside and allow to cool a little.

Mix together the flour, sugar and cocoa powder – ideally in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the eggs and yolks and begin whisking them in. Keeping the machine running, gradually pour in the milk mixture followed by the rum. You should end up with quite a thin batter without any lumps. Pour the batter into a jug, cover and put in the fridge for 24 hours.

The next day, preheat the oven to 210°C. If you’re not using silicone, then butter the moulds. Whisk the batter briefly and pour into the moulds, filling them about three-quarters full.

Bake small canelés for around 35 minutes and the larger ones for around 45 minutes. Allow the canelés to cool in their moulds for at least 10 minutes before attempting to remove or they may collapse.
Chocolate Canelé Wharf

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Curried Apple Soup and the Disappearing Tam

The other day, I happened to find a bag of apples being sold cheaply at the local supermarket and, for some reason, this soup was the first thing that came into my head. Strange, since I've not really thought about it for around 35 years.

Spiced apple soups have been around in English cooking for centuries but this particular version is a very 1970s dish. At that time curried soups seemed to be everywhere, at least in England. It was the 1970s when Jane Grigson launched the great classic that is curried parsnip soup on the unsuspecting world. Some of these soups were even served chilled, which was sort of cutting edge at the time. This is a recreation of one of those soups, although admittedly not a truly faithful reproduction. I'm sure that in the 1970s there would have been a lot more butter and there would certainly have been cream and not yogurt.

I thought about specifying the exact mixture of spices to use, but this was the 1970s and using anything other than curry powder would have been the height of eccentricity. You do need a fairly hot curry powder for this recipe, so a Madras mix should be fine. You could buy one or, if you happen to have a bit of time, I can thoroughly recommend making Michelle’s recipe over at ‘The Tiffin Box’ for this particular spice mix.

You could use any dessert apple for this soup but I’d avoid a really sharp apple such as a Granny Smith. After all, you could increase the acidity by adding lemon juice but it’s much harder to remove it. I used the variety Pink Lady in this case, although I have to admit that’s due to the bargain bag rather than careful planning.
Curried Apple Soup
This works well as a little appetiser served in a 1970s glass, but it can also be served either hot or cold as a light soup course. This amount will serve 2 – 3 people as a full-scale starter but quite a few more as a little pre-dinner treat.

1 small onion, finely chopped
650 g dessert apples, unprepared weight
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp hot curry powder
500 ml vegetable stock

To finish the soup each bowl should have:
     A dollop of Greek yogurt
     A small sprinkling of Greek basil leaves

Very slowly sweat the onion in a little oil until soft but not coloured. Meanwhile, peel, core and chop the apples into largish chunks. As you finish preparing them, drop them into a bowl with the juice of ½ the lemon and toss around to coat them.

Once the onion is soft, stir in the curry powder and continue frying gently for a minute or so, stirring. Add the apples and then the stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for around 20 minutes until the apples are very soft.  Allow the mixture to cool a little, then liquidise until very smooth. Add the other half of the lemon juice (unless the mixture already seems sharp) and some salt to taste. If you want to serve the soup chilled then place in the fridge until very cold.

Check again that it doesn't need more lemon juice and salt before serving. This is particularly important if you’re serving the soup chilled since the flavours will be a little dulled by the cold. Add a generous dollop of Greek yogurt to each bowl or glass and sprinkle over some fresh basil. The small leaves of Greek basil look pretty on this dish I think, but shredded leaves of the more usual basil will do fine.

Heading back to the seventies with a bowl of curried soup in hand did bring to mind this noteworthy bit of TV, which has now surfaced on YouTube. It’s an appearance by The Tams on a Christmas Top of the Pops programme in 1971 singing the slightly irritating song ‘Hey Girl Don't Bother Me’. The three Tams in a row carrying out the backing singing duties are unforgettable. The one in the middle might just have enjoyed a refreshing seasonal drink or two and eventually disappears altogether. Oh well, it was the 1970s – we had no internet then and had to make our own amusement.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I frequently overlook anniversaries and significant dates but for some reason I have noticed that this blog’s been wandering along with a puzzled expression on its face for three years now. I recently looked back at the first ever post, which was inspired by a visit to Collioure, and it made me nostalgic for anchovies, blue seas, sweet wines and biscuits.

There’s a fine selection of biscuits available in Collioure. Le Croquant à l'Ancienne, a delicious, crisp almond biscuit, is the true local speciality, but the rousquille was my personal favourite. It’s a Catalan treat that can take a number of forms. The biscuits can vary in size, some don’t have the hole in the middle and some are traditionally made using hard-boiled eggs in the mixture. My version is closer to the one that I enjoyed on the sea front at Collioure but I admit to tweaking the flavours for my personal taste. Many versions have stronger flavours in the biscuit and less lemon in the icing.  This little biscuit can be a bit tricky to get absolutely right, but, whatever happens, you’re likely to get a tasty nibble at the end of it even if it doesn't seem totally authentic.

This recipe makes around 12 biscuits. You’ll probably have a little too much icing, but I didn’t want to give a recipe that divided up a single egg white. You can serve these anytime with tea or, even better, coffee. Of course, a glass of the sweet wine from Banyuls would be pretty good, too. Best of all, serve with un grand crème while listening to the sound of the waves of the Mediterranean lapping gently on the shore. Well, I can dream, can’t I?
150 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
50 g icing sugar
45 g unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp milk
½ tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp aniseed, lightly crushed

For the icing:
     80 g icing sugar
     40 ml water
     1 egg white
     1 tbsp lemon juice

To make the biscuit, sift together the flour, baking powder and icing sugar. Rub the butter in thoroughly until the mixture is even and sandy. Add the egg yolks, honey, milk, vanilla, orange blossom water and aniseed. Mix together to form a dough but don’t overwork it. Form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge. Chill for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to a thickness of around half a centimetre. Cut out circles using a pastry cutter (a 7 cm cutter is about right but one a little smaller would be fine, too). Cut out a hole in the centre of each circle of dough. I’ve tried different ways of doing this and I think using an apple corer is easiest. Place on a greased or non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes until the biscuits have puffed up and are a light golden colour.

While the biscuits are in the oven, make the icing. Make a syrup by placing the icing sugar and water in a saucepan and bringing to the boil, stirring to make sure that the sugar dissolves. At the same time, whisk the egg white to the firm peak stage. Boil the syrup for around 3 minutes until it begins to thicken noticeably. Take the syrup off the heat, immediately stir in the lemon juice and then pour the lemony syrup onto the egg white in a steady stream while continuing to whisk. The icing should remain relatively firm but not too stiff.

Once the biscuits are baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two. Turn the oven down to it’s lowest setting – if your oven is anything like mine, that’s around 50°C. To coat the biscuit, I've been told that the truly traditional (if rather messy) method is to dip the entire biscuit into the icing but most of the examples I've seen clearly don’t do that. It’s easier to leave the biscuits on their baking tray and to brush them generously with the icing (a silicone brush seems to be the best thing for the job). Once all the biscuits are coated, return them to the cool oven to dry out for around 1 – 2 hours. (Depending on the type of oven you have, you might find that leaving the oven door a little ajar will be helpful.) Allow the rousquilles to cool completely before serving.
The destination for this month's Bloggers Around The World challenge hosted by Chris over at Cooking Around The World just happens to be France and so I can't resist entering this little treat even if it does slightly blur the border with Spain.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Lincolnshire Plum Bread – A Random Recipe

For this month’s Random Recipe Challenge Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked us to delve into the store cupboard and find an ingredient that we've so thoughtlessly neglected and then select a recipe that finally gets round to using it. Well, I chose my worst kept shelf. It’s the shelf where I pile up general cake-related stuff – dried fruits, sugar strands, stem ginger and that sort of thing. So without looking, I reached to the back of the shelf and pulled out a large pack of Agen prunes. Now, I like prunes and I use them in a number of recipes but this was clearly an accidental over purchase and now was the perfect time to put them to good use.

Locating recipes containing prunes proved surprisingly difficult. I decided to try the pile of books that I've bought in the last year from charity shops. Roughly 23 books later I came to ‘The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour Of Britain’ and in it was ‘Lincolnshire Plum Bread’. Since Dom is the master and commander of this challenge I felt a bit uneasy about entering a recipe from his own part of the world, but rules are rules. You can find the recipe here on the BBC site. I don’t really know how authentic this particular bread might be but it’s very tasty and great with cheese – Lincolnshire Poacher would be ideal.
Licolnshire Plum Bread
I have to be honest and say that, lovely though this bread turned out to be, my favourite plum bread was actually made by an Italian quite a few years ago. She claimed that it was made to a traditional British recipe but it was more like a brioche than a conventional bread and I suspect that there was some alcohol involved somewhere. I didn't manage to get the recipe but if I ever get a spare few days I really must try to recreate it.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Damson and Sloe Vinegar

This is another quick autumnal idea. I've wittered on about flavoured and fruit vinegars before but they’re such useful things to have around, especially in the dark, dull days of winter, that I wanted to mention this particularly pleasing one made with damsons and sloes.

The method is much the same as for any fruit vinegar and can be scaled up or down for the amount of fruit you happen to have. This vinegar can be made with all damsons but the sloes add an extra sharpness that works very well. I reckon that two-thirds damsons to one-third sloes is ideal.

This is a traditional British style of sweetened fruit vinegar and it's probably better to treat it like a flavouring syrup rather than a conventional vinegar. It can be used in dressings, is particularly good in marinades and is excellent when added to slow cooked dishes such as braised red cabbage and winter casseroles, especially those made with game. I tend to make fruit vinegars in small batches and use them up fairly quickly, but they should keep for at least 6 months and probably longer.
Damson and Sloe Vinegar
Wash and dry the fruit. Prick the fruit with the point of a knife – two or three times per fruit if you have the patience. Place the fruit in a non-reactive bowl and pour over white wine vinegar (cider vinegar will work too). You need 580 ml of white wine vinegar to every 450 g of fruit. Give it a good stir, cover the bowl and leave it to steep for 5 days, stirring every day if you remember.

After 5 days, strain the fruit and vinegar mix through muslin. Measure the resulting liquid and add 450 g of granulated sugar for every 570 ml of liquid. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan and bring it up to boiling point while stirring to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes skimming off any nasty looking stuff that might float to the surface.

Allow the vinegar to cool a little before pouring into sterilised bottles.
Damson Notice
I don’t have a damson tree, but happily other people around here do.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Slow-Cooked Courgettes

This can’t be called a full-scale recipe, it’s really just a useful alternative way to cook courgettes. I found it especially handy when my courgette plants suddenly decided to become surprisingly productive towards the end of the season. We’ve been told for years that vegetables should never be overcooked so this method sounds odd, but trust me, it really works. This healthy little dish can be used hot or warm alongside meat or fish (don’t overdo the mint and lemon if you’re serving it with subtly flavoured foods). It also works really well at room temperature as a part of a mezze – I think it’s a good alternative to the more common aubergine salad.

I grew yellow courgettes this year and I think the colour’s very pleasing, but green courgettes will work just fine too. If you’ve let a few courgettes get a bit larger than usual, then you can still use them very successfully in this dish, but it would be best to scrape out and discard the seeds.

The amounts given here will give you around 4 servings but they are just a guide and can be varied as the occasion and mood dictates. If you do end up with loads of courgettes then it’s worth knowing that this dish freezes well.
Slow Cooked Courgettes
1 Kg finely sliced courgettes
Very finely chopped zest and juice of 1 lemon
Handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped

Place the courgettes and lemon zest in a large saucepan and add a splash of water and some seasoning. Place on a low heat, cover and cook very slowly, stirring regularly.

When the courgettes have completely softened and collapsed, which could take anywhere between 45 and 70 minutes, stir in the lemon juice. The courgettes will almost certainly have produced a lot of liquid, so take the lid off the saucepan and increase the heat. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture has thickened to your liking.

Stir in the mint and add more seasoning if it needs it (this dish can take plenty of seasoning). If the result is a little too sharp, then add a drop of honey. If you’re serving this as a salad, then a little drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil adds a nice finishing touch.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Pamplemousse Financiers

It’s the second birthday of the We Should Cocoa Challenge sent forth into the world by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and Chele of Chocolate Teapot. To celebrate this milestone Choclette has asked us to create something chocolaty inspired by a cocktail. I'm not really known for my consumption of cocktails. (Well, except maybe in the Epsom Bar in Dieppe – but let’s not go there. No wait, on second thoughts, let’s….). On the other hand, I’m deeply fond of an aperitif and the aperitif for me is the kir. Fortunately, when I looked at a very official looking web site on cocktails, I found the kir listed.

Mel of Sharky Oven Gloves made lovely kir macarons for We Should Cocoa back in July using the classic crème de cassis and so I thought I’d create something inspired by my favourite alternative ‘kir’: crème de pamplemousse rose (pink grapefruit) with a dry rosé wine. (I'm eternally grateful to Catherine at l’Ombre Bleue chambres d'hôtes for introducing me to this little aperitif a couple of years ago).
Pamplemousse Kir
This is also a bit of an excuse to use the silicone savarin rings that I bought recently, but these little cakes don’t have to be made in rings – any small mould would do. This is pretty much my standard financier and friand recipe and it can be scaled up and flavoured differently with very little trouble. I filled the centre of the cakes with Greek yogurt, but whipped cream would be even more indulgent if you’d prefer indulgence. I topped the cakes with caramelised grapefruit segments. The caramelised bit isn't essential but it does create a nice contrast of flavours.
Pamplemousse Financier
This will make 12 cakes using individual savarin moulds of 7 cm diameter.

115 g icing sugar
45 g plain flour
75 g finely ground almonds
4 egg whites
95 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
35 g white chocolate, finely chopped
Zest of ½ grapefruit, very finely chopped
2 tsp crème de pamplemousse rose (or use grapefruit juice or limoncello)

To serve:
Greek yogurt, grapefruit segments (pink or red, preferably), icing sugar and maybe a little more crème de pamplemousse

Preheat the oven to 170°C. If the moulds you’re using aren’t silicone, then brush them thoroughly with butter.

Sift the icing sugar, flour and ground almonds into a large bowl and mix together. Whisk the egg whites until frothy – don’t overdo it, though, they shouldn’t be stiff. Stir the egg whites into the dry ingredients until they're thoroughly combined, but, again, don’t overwork the mixture. Stir in the melted butter and the crème de pamplemousse or grapefruit juice. Lastly, stir in the chocolate and grapefruit zest.

Spoon the batter into the moulds – they should be around ¾ full. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

To make the caramelised grapefruit, spread some icing sugar on a plate and move the grapefruit segments around in the sugar until they’re coated (it doesn’t have to be perfectly even). Place the segments in a dry frying pan over a moderate heat until the sugar caramelises on both sides – don’t overdo it or they’ll taste too bitter. Be careful when turning or lifting the segments because they’ll be very fragile.

To serve, fill the hole in the middle of each cake with yogurt (or cream), carefully place a grapefruit segment on top and drizzle with a little more crème de pamplemousse, if you happen to have some.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Bolton Flat Cakes

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge Dom of Belleau Kitchen has teamed up with the Tea Time Treats Challenge hosted by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked. So from quite a small pile of suitable teatime books I randomly grabbed ‘The Sainsbury Book of Teatime Favourites’ written by Brian Binns and published in 1983.

This was one of a series of little hardback books sold in the supermarket for the massive sum of 99p each. The books covered a wide range of different styles of cooking and the recipes were mostly sensible and straightforward but with a few slightly odd things thrown in now and then. (Anyone else remember eating the tinned soup, tuna and sweet corn bake topped with potato crisps?) The books sold by the shedful. Personally, I think this particular book was one of the best of the series.

On opening the book at random, I found myself faced with Bolton Flat Cakes. The first thing to say about the flat cake is that it isn’t really a cake in the usual, modern sense. I recently posted a recipe for Eccles Cakes and I hope that I won’t offend anyone in Bolton if I say that these are in the same family (as are Chorley cakes and sad cakes). I was a little doubtful that I’d enjoy these but, actually, I thought they were lovely, old-fashioned treats – like portable versions of the jam tarts that I had as a kid.

I’ve made a few minor adjustments to the recipe, most notably to the filling. Mr Binns used only jam in his filling and that may well be authentic. On the other hand, I’ve been told categorically that traditional flat cakes must contain some dried fruit. So I added some currants and I think it makes them even nicer. The type of jam isn’t specified and I’m sure it’s intended to be whatever you happen to have. Well, I had some of my wife’s homemade marrow and ginger jam and that worked really well.
Bolton Flat Cake
I’ve halved the quantities of the original recipe to make one cake.

125 g self-raising flour, sifted
pinch of salt
38 g lard
2 tbsp of milk plus a little more to glaze the cake
80 g jam
50 g currants

Put the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the lard. Once the lard has been fully incorporated and the mixture feels a little like sand, then add the milk. Mix together until you get a smooth and cohesive dough. You may need a little extra milk to make the dough hold together, but don’t overdo it. Divide the dough into one piece of 125 g and one of 65 g. Form each piece into a ball, cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll out the larger piece until you have a round shape of about 20 cm diameter. Spread the jam over this round, leaving a border of about 1 cm. Scatter the currants over the jam. Roll the other piece of dough out into a round of about 18 cm. Dampen the border of the larger piece and lay the smaller round on top of the jammy dough. Turn up the edges of the larger round to seal up the jammy parcel.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the cake on a greased or non-stick baking tray with the smooth side uppermost. You need to be a little careful turning the cake over, but the pastry should be robust enough to stay together. Use a fork to prick a series of holes in the top and brush with milk. Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes until the cake is a pale golden colour.

The cake can be eaten cold but is even nicer served slightly warm. Cut into wedges and spread with a little butter for extra richness, if you wish.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Yellow Courgette Cake with Rapeseed Oil

My little veg plot has suffered a bit from neglect this year but in early summer I planted a couple of courgette plants (a variety called ‘Yellow Taxi’) and left them to get on with it. For many, many weeks it seemed to rain solidly every day and the courgette plants sulked. Then, around the end of July, they suddenly decided to produce very large numbers of lovely yellow courgettes.
Yellow Taxi Courgettes
When I get a lot of courgettes, I start thinking about courgette cake. Savoury courgette cakes are nice but I really enjoy the sweet versions. The cakes can have a slightly off-putting green colour unless you remove the peel, but use yellow courgettes and that’s not an issue.

There are plenty of courgette cake recipes around but this one from the Farrington Oils website is my current favourite. The use of cold pressed rapeseed oil together with grated courgettes gives the finished cake a nutty and herbaceous or almost grassy flavour which may not be to everyone’s taste but I think is a little different and absolutely delicious.

The original recipe suggests a cream cheese filling and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I actually prefer a simpler jam or curd filling. I carried on with my recent gooseberry obsession by spreading the cake with some gooseberry and sloe gin jam.
Courgette Cake
I just want to make it clear that I have no connection with Farrington Oils. I did use their oil in this cake but I went into a shop and bought it with real money just as if I were an ordinary person. Since I am independent and unbiased, though, I am happy to say that it is a very fine oil and I’m also perfectly happy to recommend Yellow Taxi if you want to try growing a yellow courgette in a neglectful manner.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Curious Pineberry

I don't often talk about the goings-on in my garden, largely because I think that there are many bloggers who are much better informed than I am on matters horticultural. However, I can't resist a short digression on the very curious soft fruit known as the pineberry.

Just a few short years ago articles started appearing on gardening sites about strange berries that looked like white strawberries with red seeds and that tasted a bit like pineapple. They were frequently believed to be April Fool jokes. The wildly different opinions on how good they tasted didn’t help. Some said they tasted of nothing at all, while others said that they were the best berries that they’d ever eaten.
Pineberries do exist
Last year I got hold of a few plants and grew some for myself and, for what it’s worth, here are my very unscientific and highly personal conclusions.
  • They can be treated like any strawberry plant but they seem to be more sensitive to the cold and wet. So keep them sheltered in the winter, unless you have very forgiving winters where you live. A greenhouse is probably best during the coldest weather.
  • They aren’t likely to produce a massive crop (although the weather wasn't great this year and that may well be a factor).
  • And now the important bit – the taste. On the scale between ‘tastes of nothing’ and ‘best berry ever’ I’m definitely leaning towards the latter. I would probably still prefer a really good wild strawberry but pineberries combine a wild strawberry taste with a sharper edge that is genuinely reminiscent of pineapple.
  • They probably won’t change your life, but, if you have a spare pot or two in a warm spot, they are definitely worth trying to grow.
Although I’ve never seen them in the shops, I’m told that pineberries are sometimes sold in limited quantities in supermarkets and upmarket (or, to put it another way, expensive) grocers.

Digression over - I promise to get back to recipes shortly.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Tarta de Santiago

This is a really well known traditional cake that you’ve probably seen many times before in books and blogs but I can’t resist bringing you my own version. It’s such a useful and versatile little treat. There are many variations around, including some which are more like a classic almond tart and some which are closer to the sort of substantial cake served with afternoon tea.

For my first attempts at baking this cake many, many years ago I used a recipe that included butter and very pleasant it was too. Then someone from Spain told me that I should try it without the butter and that’s the way I prefer to make it now. This version is light, moist, simple, flourless and, admittedly, a little fragile.

Although you can serve it very successfully with tea or coffee, this cake comes into its own as an excellent and easy dessert at any time of the year and after pretty much any sort of main course. You can serve it with cream, custard, yogurt or ice cream. You can also serve it with either fresh fruit or, even better I think, a seasonal fruit compote. Apricots poached in syrup with a dash or three of amaretto work especially well. I've even known some people to serve it alongside young, fresh-tasting cheeses.
Cross of St James
Traditionally, the cake should be sprinkled generously with icing sugar while a template is laid across the top in the shape of the St James cross. It’s a lovely tradition but I never use the template since it implies to me that I know what I'm doing and that I’ve made a genuine and authentic Tarta de Santiago. I’d never claim that.
Tarta de Santiago
You can use orange instead of lemon zest or a combination of both if you’d prefer. If I was being authentic I'd add cinnamon to the mix, but I prefer it without.

4 eggs, separated
200 g golden caster sugar
200 g ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
4 or 5 drops of almond extract
Icing sugar to finish

Carefully butter and line the base of a 20 cm cake tin. A springform tin is probably easiest – it doesn’t need to be very deep. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly. They should be very light in colour by the time you’ve finished. Sift the ground almonds to get rid of any lumps and stir them into the egg yolks. Then stir in the zest and almond extract. (The mixture will be quite firm at this stage). Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage. Stir a few spoonfuls of the egg whites into the almond and egg mixture to loosen it and then fold in the rest.

Put the mixture into the prepared tin, level the top and bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes. Test with a skewer or the point of a knife. The skewer should come out clean but ideally the inside of the cake should remain moist and just a little squidgy. If the cake seems to be darkening too quickly during cooking, cover it loosely with foil after 15 minutes or so.

Allow the cake to cool a little in the tin before removing carefully to a cooling rack. Once cold, dust the cake generously with icing sugar (with or without a template in place).
Tarta de Santiago

‘T’ is the chosen letter in this month’s AlphaBakes challenge hosted by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker (the host for this month’s challenge) and Caroline from Caroline Makes. So I'm submitting the Tarta as my entry.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Honey and Brandy Ice Cream

For this month’s Random Recipe challenge hosted as usual by Dom at Belleau Kitchen I’m going back to the 1980s for a dessert that’s strictly for grown-ups. It’s a remarkably simple and quick ice cream that doesn’t need an ice cream machine and that stays soft enough to be eaten straight from the freezer.

From one of my less-used shelves I randomly picked a slim volume called ‘The London Restaurant Recipe Book’ published in 1983, which features a number of the best-known restaurants of that time. It’s like a window onto a lost age. Alistair Little was still at 192, Stephen Bull was at Lichfield’s, Pierre Koffman was at La Tante Claire and David Bowie had just released ‘Let’s Dance’. French fine cuisine was still the predominant style, although I rather doubt the Frenchness of some of the recipes in this book.

The random page took me to recipes by Patrick Gwynn-Jones of Pomegranates. Mr Gwynn-Jones opened this basement restaurant in Pimlico back in 1974 and it finally closed its doors for good in 2009 shortly after he retired. In all that time the menu remained varied and eclectic but the 1970s décor was never updated. It was said to be the haunt of celebrities and politicians and was reputed to be the ideal place for a discreet assignation. I really can’t vouch for that – I've always been a good boy.
Brandy and Honey Ice Cream
The recipe on the random page is one for ‘Honey and Cognac Ice Cream’. I have to admit that I couldn’t quite afford a good cognac and so that’s why I've called it ‘Honey and Brandy Ice Cream’. I've no reason to doubt that this dish originated in the Pimlico kitchen (essentially it’s a simplified iced parfait recipe) but, in one form or another, it became something of a 1980s classic. It seemed to turn up in many, many different restaurants. For instance, Franco Taruschio made something akin to it at The Walnut Tree and Gary Rhodes used whisky to make a similar dessert. But, although I'd eaten it,  I’d never made it, so I think that’s OK for the rules of Random Recipe. I confess to reducing the quantity and adjusting the ratio of ingredients a little, simply because the recipe seemed to work better for me that way.

This ice cream is very reminiscent of the 1980s in some ways – indulgent, slightly over the top and very boozy. It’s truly delicious and even those who don’t like brandy often seem to love it. But, a bit like a 12 inch single by The Human League, I wouldn’t advise too much of it in one go. This amount should serve eight comfortably unless you have a truly 1980s appetite. The recipe is also open to many variations – I have very fond memories of a heather honey and lowland malt whisky version many years ago.
Brandy and Honey Ice Cream3 eggs, separated
120 g icing sugar
80 ml brandy
130 ml honey
230 ml double cream

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually add the icing sugar while continuing to whisk until the mixture is very stiff and glossy.

Beat the egg yolks until pale and thickened. Whisk in the brandy and honey. (Make sure that the honey isn’t too cold or this could prove a little tricky).

Whip the cream lightly until it stands in soft peaks. Mix the whites, yolks and cream together, lightly but thoroughly.

Pour into a container, seal and place in the freezer. The original recipe recommends removing the ice cream from the freezer after 2 or 3 hours and remixing it. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it does ensure that the mixture remains even as it freezes and avoids any danger of the cream separating into lumps.

Mr Gwynn-Jones suggests serving this with Langue de Chat and I certainly can’t argue with that. On the other hand, I’d gladly eat it straight out of the freezer container, with or without a spoon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Devon Flats and the Olympic Time Trials

You may have noticed that London is hosting the 2012 Olympics. I have the greatest respect for Olympians and sports people everywhere but sport tends to baffle and bemuse me in a similar way to calculus. I accept that it’s my loss. The only real exception for me  is cricket and even then I only enjoy the game when nothing much is happening.

On the other hand, since the Olympic Cycling Time Trials took place in Surrey and actually passed by about a 1 minute walk from my front door, I would have to be a serious curmudgeon not to take a look. Well, I may be a curmudgeon but I’m rarely serious.

I reckoned that I’d need sustenance to keep me going throughout the event. As I understood it (which is not very well), the cyclists in the time trial would set off at 90 second intervals, so I’d have to make something that I could eat in less than 90 seconds. That seemed to call for biscuits. Of course, it had to be British biscuits for patriotic reasons and so I baked some very traditional Devon flats.
Olympic Time Trials in Cobham
I’m not sure that the Time Trials turned me into a cycling fan but there was a relaxed party atmosphere among the spectators and everyone seemed to have  a great time. The biscuit plan, however, didn’t quite work. I made them too far in advance and they’d been eaten by the time of the event.

This is a very old recipe and I don’t think I’ve mucked about with it too much, although I do add a little baking powder which some traditionalists might consider a heresy. This will make around 24 biscuits, although that will depend on how thin you want to make them.
Devon Flats
250 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
120 g caster sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling on the biscuits
1 egg, lightly beaten
110 ml clotted or very thick double cream
A teaspoon or two of milk

Sieve the flour and baking powder together and stir in the sugar. Pour in the cream and the egg. Mix the whole lot together either with a wooden spoon or using a mixer on low speed. You want to end up with a soft but not sloppy dough and there's a chance that, once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, you will have a dough that’s a little too stiff. Add a teaspoon or two of milk to soften the dough if it needs it, but don’t overdo it.

Cover the dough and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or so. This stage is not essential but it’s a good idea to chill the dough to make it easier to handle. If there’s anything at all tricky in this recipe, then it’s rolling out the rather sticky dough. 

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Roll the dough out thinly on a floured board and cut out the biscuits using a 7 cm round cutter. Place on greased or lined baking sheets and sprinkle lightly with a little extra caster sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for around 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown on top. Cool the biscuits on a wire rack and store in an airtight container once cold.

Actually, I must confess that I also have a certain fascination with the Olympic  Human Don’t Be Angry finals but I can’t seem to find them in the TV guide.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Gooseberry Pudding for the Best of British

The Best of British blogging challenge, which is sponsored by New World Appliances, has been running for a few months but I haven’t managed to enter before now. This month it features the beautiful county of Yorkshire and I can’t resist that. The details of the challenge can be found on The Face of New World Appliances and this month it’s hosted by Karen from Lavender & Lovage
Now Yorkshire could mean rhubarb, Yorkshire pudding, Old Peculier, curd tart or a slice of fruit cake with a piece of Wensleydale cheese amongst many other fine things. On the other hand, you might not immediately associate gooseberries with Yorkshire. In fact, there’s a long and very proud tradition of growing gooseberries in that county. The finest symbol of that tradition is the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show, which is now over 200 years old and can boast that one of its competitors broke the world record for the heaviest gooseberry back in 2009 with a 62 g berry.

This recipe doesn’t require world record sized berries. It’s a very old-fashioned pudding that’s based, albeit loosely, on an Eliza Acton recipe from 1845. Actually, in some form or other, the dish is probably a fair bit older than that. It’s not the most attractive looking pudding but it is seriously full of flavour.
Gooseberry Pudding
This should serve four unless you have the appetite of a particularly aggressive fast bowler from Yorkshire.

300 g gooseberries
A generous squeeze of lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract or paste
60 g caster sugar
30 g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
55 g amaretti biscuits (the crunchy ones rather than the soft kind)
2 eggs

Wash the gooseberries and place in a saucepan with a small splash of water, cover and place on a gentle heat. Cook the gooseberries, stirring regularly, until they fall apart. Work the gooseberry pulp through a fine sieve while still warm. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla.

Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves and then do the same with the butter. If the gooseberry mixture has cooled too much to allow the sugar to dissolve and the butter to melt, than put it back briefly onto a low heat. Once everything is thoroughly combined, set the mixture aside to cool completely.

Whiz the amaretti biscuits in a processor or bash them in a plastic bag until they’re reduced to quite fine crumbs - although a little variable texture is no bad thing. Whisk the eggs until they’re pale and frothy.

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Stir the crushed amaretti and the whisked egg into the cold gooseberry mixture until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish (something around 18 cm x 12 cm will do nicely) and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top is a deep golden brown but the pudding still feels a little squidgy to the touch.

You can serve this pudding warm or at room temperature, but I prefer it well chilled and with a little or not so little cream on top.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Cake Meringue Pie

This is a really easy and quick dessert to put together but it’s also seriously addictive. It's an odd and very old recipe. It must be old because I remember eating a version of it as a kid.

I often hear TV chefs telling us that, although they were poor as kids, the mothers and grandmothers would always conjure up wonderful meals out of next to nothing. That wasn’t my experience. Most mothers and grandmothers were just too busy or too tired from working every day to cook anything very much at all. But I do remember one or two dishes and this is my attempt to recreate a pudding that the mother of one of my friends made. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a very accurate recreation (it was a very long time ago) but I’m pretty sure that cake and marshmallowy meringue were involved somewhere.

My friend’s mother was from Scotland and so I always assumed that this odd little dish was from the same country. I’ve only fairly recently realised that it’s actually very like the venerable American dish ‘soda cracker pie’ and so how it came to the streets of south London in the days before the Beatles is anyone’s guess.

For this version I used a slice of a banana and dark chocolate cake that my wife baked, which worked really well, but other types of cake will do. Madeira cake, lemon cake, almond and other nut cakes would all make excellent substitutes. The white chocolate is optional but very nice, of course.

Whipped cream is the obvious thing to pile on top, but the pie is very sweet and I prefer the slight sharpness of thick yoghurt. However, I do confess to adding a little chocolate Philadelphia to my slice as well.
Cake Meringue Pie
I reckon that you can get 6 to 8 restrained portions from this amount, but it’s ridiculously hard to be restrained. Incidentally, if you leave out the cake component, this recipe is similar to the equally venerable ‘forgotten pudding’, which is also an outrageously addictive treat. Nigella has revived that recipe and her version can be found here.

4 egg whites
225 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
¼ tsp cream of tartar
125 g cake (see above)
25 g white chocolate, chopped into very small pieces.

Thoroughly butter a cake tin – I used a 30cm square tin. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Add the vanilla and cream of tartar. Continue whisking while gradually adding the sugar until the whites are stiff and glossy.

Whiz the cake into crumbs in a processor. Fold the cake crumbs and chocolate into the egg whites. Place the mixture into the tin, levelling the top. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the top is crispy and golden.

Allow to cool in the tin before carefully removing – it’s a fragile thing. The pie will sink in the middle as it cools; this is normal – it’s where you add the creamy bits.

And finally a picture of me at roughly the time I enjoyed my first cake meringue pie – just to prove how old I am, I suppose.
The Early Soup Years

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Unbearable Randomness of Cookbooks

For the Random Recipe challenge this month Dom of Belleau Kitchen has asked us to do something a little different. Instead of cooking something from our books, he wants us to photograph the books instead.

Well, here is my main collection of cookery books arranged in no real order at all in an oak cabinet in the kitchen. The cabinet was built by a previous owner of the house, probably as far back as the 1930s. The oral history is that he was a carpenter who worked on local churches and made bits and pieces for his house with (hopefully) surplus oak. He also made the brass fittings by cutting them out of disused name plaques. Some of the brass in the kitchen is cut from the nameplate that was once displayed outside the door of an elocution teacher.
The Cookbook Shelves
Despite mislaying and giving away quite a few books over the years, there are still too many for the church carpenter’s cabinet. So upstairs there are also a number of books that sit on much more modern shelves, although I don't think they're from the well-known Swedish store where you queue a lot and are forced to eat meatballs.
The Cookbook Reserves
Clearly that’s too many books (or so I’m reliably informed). As a result, this year I vowed that I would not shop online or visit bookshops to buy any more cookbooks. I have kept that vow, but unfortunately I didn’t promise that I wouldn’t go to charity shops and sales. And so there is a small but growing pile of books that I’ve gathered this year in the name of charity and, so far, I’m not quite sure where I'm going to put them.
The Charity Cookbook Overspill
Funnily enough, some of these books were purchased at a sale in the local church where I noticed a distinct similarity between the oak in my kitchen and some of the pews. I’m saying no more.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Devilled Gooseberry Sauce and Tarragon Vinegar

Around five or six years ago I got a little carried away (well, actually very carried away) at the Pick Your Own farm and came home with far too many gooseberries for the classic sauces and jams that I wanted to make. Looking through some of my cookery books for inspiration I found a recipe for a ‘Spicy Gooseberry Sauce’ in a Sainsbury’s Fish Cooking book published back in the 1980s. This was a little different to the classic, simple gooseberry sauces for fish. Essentially, it’s a good old-fashioned devilled sauce with a mix of ingredients more reminiscent of chutney than a smooth sauce. The British tradition of devilled sauces often seems to be on its last gasps and I think that’s a great shame. I made a version of the classic Gubbins Sauce a little while ago but this fruitier sauce is at least as useful.

I’ve developed and complicated the recipe since then but, despite a long list of ingredients, it’s really easy to make and very versatile. It’s good with oily fish such as mackerel but it’s also very pleasing with chicken, duck and especially pork. It can even be served hot or cold. I usually make a fair bit of this sauce while the gooseberries are ripe for picking and freeze it in small batches. It’s intensely flavoured and 100 – 125 ml of sauce per person is normally plenty (unless you’re really addicted to the flavour like me).

This sauce contains some tarragon vinegar and so a quick seasonal digression on that subject first…..

Tarragon Vinegar

French Tarragon
It’s possible to make a multitude of differently flavoured vinegars and many of them are very worthwhile but there are two that have proved especially useful to me throughout the year for sauces, marinades and dressings: blackberry vinegar and tarragon vinegar.

There are a number of ways to make tarragon vinegar but I use a very simple method. Pick three long, fresh stems of French tarragon, wash and dry them and put them into a 500ml bottle of white wine vinegar. Shake the bottle a bit and put it in a cupboard for a week or ten days, shaking occasionally if you remember, until it seems to have the right amount of herby taste. Filter the vinegar and put it in a pretty bottle. And that’s all there is to it. You can put a fresh sprig of tarragon in the bottle, which looks nice if you’re giving it as a gift, but has the disadvantage of making the tarragon flavour stronger over time and so can make it tricky to judge how much to add to recipes.

That’s the end of the digression and so back to….

Devilled Gooseberry Sauce

Devilled Gooseberry Sauce
The amounts given here will make around 1250 – 1300 ml of finished sauce.

900 g gooseberries
3 tsp English mustard powder
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100 g sultanas
1 tsp salt
200 ml cider vinegar
50 ml balsamic vinegar (use a cheap one unless you’re particularly wealthy)
50 ml tarragon vinegar
2 tsp dark soy sauce
200 g light brown soft sugar
100 g dark muscovado sugar
250 ml water

Wash the gooseberries, top and tail them if they need it and remove any damaged or unpleasant bits. Then simply put all the ingredients together in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring frequently. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer very gently, uncovered, for 30 – 40 minutes until the gooseberries have collapsed and the flavours have mingled.

Allow the mixture to cool a little and then liquidise it. Work the sauce through a fine sieve and that’s all there is to it. (Told you it was easy). Taste and adjust the sweet and sour balance with a little sugar or vinegar if it seems to need it.
I know that the tarragon is only a small (but important) part of this finished sauce but nonetheless I thought I’d enter this into the July Herbs on Saturday blog challenge created by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and hosted this month by Vanesther from Bangers and Mash.