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Showing posts from 2016

A Slacker's Christmas Standbys

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It's been a difficult kind of year and I know that right now we're all supposed to be making huge efforts to feed vast numbers of people in a festive manner but actually I'm longing for simple and quick recipes. So here are two ridiculously simple dishes that are perfect for that bothersome unexpected Christmas guest and are guaranteed to let you get back to the telly without undue delay.

Artichoke Dip
If you were around and reading cookery books or magazines in the 1980s then you'll already know this first little cheat. It seemed to turn up just about everywhere and with good reason - it’s useful, speedy and very tasty.

Buy a jar of artichoke hearts in oil.Put the contents of the jar in a blender or processor with a squeeze of lemon and a few turns of pepper.Wizz until it's as smooth as you fancy. If the dip is too thick then add a little more oil.Pour into a bowl, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar or dust with paprika. Serve with some fancy breadsticks or fl…

South London Goulash Or How We Survived The 1970s

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Earlier this year I saw Rick Stein on TV making some goulash (or was it gulasch?). He said that his Viennese style version reminded him of the classic dish that was so common in the UK back in the 1970s and 80s. A few days later I had a strange, vivid dream that I was back in the 1970s and eating endless bowls of goulash.

In fact, that probably wasn't such a strange dream. There were endless bowls of goulash back then. Pretty much everyone that I knew in the late 70s seemed to cook goulash as often as possible. Mr Stein's version wasn't quite the dish that I remember, though, and I felt compelled to try to recreate the one in my head. This is my attempt and it comes close. It's actually a bit lighter than the 1970s dishes and I don't think we'd heard of smoked paprika back then but I couldn't resist adding just a little.  Mr Stein also avoids green peppers in his recipe but I seem to recall that they were definitely part of the South London version.

I reme…

Proustian Sunsets and a Crème au Chocolat

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Once upon a time I imagined that I'd get around to reading Proust when I was old. A few years ago I was walking along the Promenade Marcel Proust on the Cabourg seafront in Normandy as the sun was going down and it occurred to me that I was old and so I'd better get on with it.  Cabourg was the inspiration for the Proustian Balbec and the sunsets are as notable in real life as they are in literature. (And you can still get a notable seafood dish or two along the Cabourg seafront too).

So wearing suitable clothing and with a lot of strong coffee to hand I read all seven volumes. It took a while, but I survived. Don't worry I'm not going to attempt any form of literary criticism - this is a food blog, I seem to remember - but there are two observations that I'd like to pass on. First, at some point during volume two I actually started to think that prodigiously long sentences were perfectly normal and had to give myself a serious talking to in short phrases. Second, …

Taloa with Duck Legs and Plums

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Taloa is a simple Basque flatbread that can be wrapped around a variety of savoury and even some sweet fillings. It's quite often filled with ventrèche; in other words, it's made into a southern French bacon sandwich - kind of. I've come across quite a few variations on this simple little bread, some of which I suspect add yeast since they look and feel more like a pitta bread. This simpler version is based on a recipe from a tourist office leaflet so I assume it's reasonably authentic. The breads would normally be cooked on a flat grill (plancha) but a frying pan does the job too. If you're wondering why cornmeal is used then you clearly haven't driven along the many, many miles of road lined with maize fields in the south west of France.

There are plenty of plums around in that area too so I've added some to the duck sauce. I used fairly large British plums, but if you have some of the smaller varieties (and smaller varieties do seem to be popular in the…

Wheat Beer Walnut and Fig Breadmaker Loaf

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This recipe is based (very loosely) on a bread from northern France although the original was an artisan product needing a lot more time and attention than most of us can spare for a loaf. So here's my simplified, busy person's machine-made version. It may not have quite the finesse of the original, but it still makes a very good alternative to the usual breadmaker loaves. In fact, it's one of my favourite machine breads. It works especially well with pâtés and cheeses.

There are plenty of very good wheat beers available in supermarkets and specialist shops but if you come across any bottles of Christophe Noyon's Blanche de Wissant in your travels then I'd recommend grabbing some. It's a fine beer that's from the same area as the original recipe. If you can't lay your hands on any wheat beer, then you could use a lighter style of lager as an alternative. In fact this recipe can be adapted quite easily by changing the type of nut or dried fruit as well a…

Cherry Chutney

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It's cherry season and the trees are obligingly providing plenty of fruit. Not that I have any cherry trees but the local Pick Your Own has plenty. Sorry to repeat myself but I really do love a PYO. Disconcertingly I'm offering another savoury recipe where you might expect something sweet - but why not?

This is quite a smooth chutney that's very versatile and works well with cold or hot meats but is absolutely ideal with cheeses. Admittedly this isn't a particularly novel idea - there are a lot of similar chutney recipes around, but this is the combination that works for me. You can add other spices or some chilli if you wish, but I wouldn't overdo the spice or it will diminish the fruity flavour.

The chutney will take a little while to make and the amounts here will only produce roughly 2 small jars but there's really not a lot of effort involved and it's an enjoyable bit different to other chutneys. It will add a serious amount of flavour to your cold (…

Gooseberry and Beetroot Ketchup

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In the past I've bored everyone I know and anyone unfortunate enough to stumble across this blog by wittering on about how undervalued I think gooseberries are these days. They make very fine jam and puddings, of course, but they're possibly even better in savoury dishes. So I can't let the gooseberry season pass without one more savoury recipe and this year it's a ketchup. Very easy and very delicious I promise. The weather hasn't been perfect this spring or summer so far (I'm a master of understatement) but the gooseberries finally arrived in abundance at the local pick-your-own farm. I really love a PYO and I'm not ashamed to say it.

I've combined the sharp gooseberries with the sweetness of beetroot and I suppose I should suggest that you pick fresh beetroot and cook your own. That's a very good thing to do but vacuum-packed, cooked beetroot without added vinegar will definitely do the job if you're pushed for time (and I bet you are).

Goos…

Lamb Argenteuil

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Before it was swallowed up by the spreading suburbs of Paris,  Argenteuil was known for being a good place for messing about in boats, knocking together the occasional Impressionist painting and growing asparagus. At that time pretty much any French dish that used asparagus tended to get the word ‘Argenteuil’ nailed on to it.

Argenteuil was best known for its white asparagus but this dish uses green. To be honest it's a slightly alarming green at first sight, but please don't be put off. This recipe seems to turn up in books in some form or another but very rarely in real life. I can't remember ever seeing it on a modern restaurant menu and I've never met anyone else who makes it. That's a shame because it might seem a little eccentric (and green) but it's also pretty easy to make and tastes delicious, especially if you love asparagus anywhere near as much as I do.

You might come across some versions of this recipe that are much richer but this is my slightly m…

Chestnut Cupcakes

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Last year I posted a recipe for Gâteau Ardéchois (a plain French chestnut cake) and at the time I said that we'd made some iced chestnut cupcakes while in France. Those cakes were based on a Marie Claire recipe but I wanted to try changing some of the flavours and textures of that original to suit my personal taste and, finally after more than a year, this is the result.

Chestnut purée is available in different forms. The type I've used here is unsweetened and not flavoured (many versions have added vanilla). This type is fairly widely available in the UK and is generally thicker than many of the French products. If the purée you use is a little runny, then you may find the baking times increased.

I like these little cakes just as they are – they stay very moist and have that pleasingly different chestnut flavour. On the other hand, if you fancy a topping then something creamy and lemony works particularly well. I used a combination of homemade lemon curd and mascarpone on a f…

Braised Pig Cheek with Fennel Sauce

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A few weeks ago I was saying how versatile pain d'épices could be and here's some proof. If you can't lay your hands on some pain d'épices and don't fancy making any, then you could use slices of sourdough, pumpkin bread or even brioche instead. The spices add something extra, though, and a British gingerbread could do the job, as long as it’s not too sticky or too intensely gingery.

This dish was created as a starter. I don't often make starters - I'm not sure that many people do these days (unless they work in restaurants, of course). So I must point out that this doesn't have to be a starter. It will actually make a very good main course, especially if you add a little crème fraîche to the sauce, forget the pain d'épices and serve something like some sautéed potatoes and green veg alongside. But if you want a starter then this is intensely flavoured and just a little bit different. It also makes use of the cheap, delicious and unfairly ignored pi…

Pain d'Épices Revisited

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I've posted a recipe for this classic cake before but there are probably almost as many recipes for pain d'épices as there are people who make it so why not another one? It's such a useful cake to have around. You can eat it any time you fancy on its own or with some jam or marmalade (I like a slice at breakfast time) but it can also be eaten with pâté or even cheese. When you've had enough of that, you can use it to thicken and flavour casseroles (such as Carbonade ) or whiz into crumbs and use them to flavour crumbles or as a coating for fried or baked meats, cheeses or even fish.

There's a wide variation in spices between pain d'épices recipes and I've decided that there's very little point in trying to be authentic because I'm convinced that nobody really knows what the authentic spices should be. For me a little aniseed gives the characteristic flavour of this cake but, on the other hand, my use of cardamom might be seen as a bit of an eccentri…

A Sort of Tapenade, A Well-Known Musician and A Box Hill Picnic

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Tapenade and I have a complicated history. This is my latest version of that intensely flavoured paste and it really shouldn't be called tapenade - it's a bit like tapenade's distant relative. It's more of an almond, olive and sundried tomato dip with other things in it. Very tasty and very easy, though.

If my memory is to be trusted (it's probably not) the first time I ever ate tapenade was back in the 1970s. Somehow or other I'd got involved in selling 'antique' furniture and other pre-loved collectible items. I'd become the largely useless assistant to a guy who most days knew a secretaire from a settee. I said ‘antique’ furniture but I think the word we used most often was ‘tat’.  Occasionally we'd get a decent piece and one day we sold a pleasant little oak table to a well-known musician. (I'm not saying who – he's still around and probably even better known now and I've got save something for the third volume of my autobiograph…

Blanquette de Poisson de la Côte d'Albâtre

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If you live along the Normandy coast, then you tend to be zealous in your search for the best, freshest fish. A good poissonnerie or market stall would both be fine but wouldn't it be even better to buy the fish straight off the boats? Which is why people descend on the little seafront town of Quiberville when the catch is in. There's no harbour as such at Quiberville and so the fishing boats, called 'doris', are dragged up the beach by tractor and the catch is sold at roadside stalls.

Although you can be sure that the fish is fresh, you can't guarantee what will turn up in the catch. This recipe is based on the kind of simple, Normandy dish that will make the most of whatever the catch happens to be. You can use any firm white fish fillets of reasonable size and a mix of two or three different types wouldn't be unusual if it's intended to serve a family. Mussels are typically added to this kind of dish along the Côte d'Albâtre, although prawns might be…

Pascale Weeks’ Mincemeat Cake

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I've made this simple cake quite regularly at this time of year either to use up leftover mincemeat or when the supermarkets start to sell it off at knockdown prices. The recipe was published back in 2009 here on the English language version of the blog “C'est moi qui l'ai fait !”. Recently I was burbling on about defunct food blogs and I suppose that technically this is one of them. But calling it a defunct blog is a bit misleading: the French version of  “C'est moi qui l'ai fait !” is still very much a going concern and well worth reading if you're OK with French. What's more if you've ever picked up a copy of “750g” magazine or come across one of her books, then you'll know that its author Pascale Weeks is still very much around and doing just fine. It was simply the English language version of her blog that she stopped producing.

Mme Weeks gave this recipe the alternative title of “lazy girl cake” because it's so simple and quick to put toge…

Remembering 2015 (Hazily)

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This isn't the usual sort of stuff that I blurt out on this blog but I'm in a reflective mood and so I thought I'd look back on 2015. I wasn't able to do as much cooking or blogging as I would have liked last year and I really must apologise to both of my readers for that. Here are some of the things that I remember from 2015– albeit a little hazily.
Alice celebrated her 150th birthday.
Many food blogs left the building. Sad to say, a number of the food blogs that I'd been reading ground to a halt or disappeared last year. Worse still, I recently came across a  list of the blogs that I used to read regularly in 2010. Around three quarters of them are now defunct. Back then one of the great attractions for me in the food blogging world was that it offered such a refreshing alternative to the branded, self-promoting world of many cookery books, TV shows and websites. Last year there was a commercially successful book published that had just over 100 recipes (fair enoug…