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.