Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Le Frésinat

Le frésinat is a simple country dish from the Tarn region of France that consists mostly of pork and potatoes. That doesn't sound too promising but the combination of ingredients produces an intensely savoury and satisfying dish that's just perfect for winter. It's said to be the meal that was traditionally cooked as a thank you to the friends and neighbours who helped out when the farm pig was slaughtered. I don't have a pig or a farm and so I can't vouch for that. I just use pork shoulder from a friendly, local butcher. You could use other cuts, but it's best to avoid any that are too lean. (It's also best to avoid unfriendly butchers, funnily enough).

I'm not usually bothered too much about authenticity in my recipes and I often substitute ingredients. This dish, however, relies on the balance of simple flavours and I've learnt the hard way that it's probably best to not play around with the ingredients too much. For instance, if you swap the duck fat for butter or oil it turns into a much less pleasing dish in my opinion. (I should probably admit that I do add less fat than you might find in the Tarn). On the other hand, if you don't have any armagnac lying around, then you could use brandy or eau de vie or, if you really have to, leave it out altogether.  Should you be lucky enough to lay your hands on any rose (or pink, if you prefer) garlic of Lautrec, then that would be the ideal, local choice for this dish but, whatever garlic you choose, don't be shy with it. The four large cloves here is a minimum.
Le Frésinat
I can't claim that I learnt this dish in a Tarn farmhouse and it may not be entirely authentic but it's probably not that far away from the original and it works for me. I reckon this makes 4 portions but  it seems that traditional portions are often more generous than I'm being in these more restrained days.

700 g pork shoulder (or another cut that's not too lean), cut roughly into cubes
700 g potatoes (a fairly waxy variety is best), peeled and roughly cubed
2 onions, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, chopped  (or, if in doubt, add an extra clove or two)
A small glass of armagnac (or other spirit – see above)
Leaves from a large sprig of thyme
A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
4 - 5 tbsp duck fat

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.

Season the pork and brown it in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat (it's best to do this is in several small batches), then set aside. Add a little more duck fat to the pan if it's dry and fry the onions slowly until soft - 20 minutes or more would be good. Add the garlic and fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in the armagnac and stir around until the liquid has all but disappeared. Return the pork to the pan together with any juices and add a cup of water and the thyme. Increase the heat until the liquid is simmering. Partly cover the pan and allow the mixture to simmer for an hour, stirring now and then. Make sure that the pan doesn't dry out completely before the hour is up, but you should end up with quite a dry result - the pork should be coated with a sauce rather than sitting in liquid.

While that's going on, pat the potato cubes dry and lightly season them. Preheat an oven tray with a tablespoon or two of duck fat and then add the potatoes. Roast in the oven until cooked through and golden (about 30 minutes, although that'll depend on the size of your cubes, of course). Turn them once or twice while roasting.

To finish the dish, stir the potatoes into the pork and check the seasoning. Chop the leaves of the parsley and add to the dish just before serving. (There should be plenty of parsley, so don't hold back). You could treat this as a meal in itself but some simple green veg definitely wouldn't go amiss.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Speculoos – The Domesticated And Eggless Version

For years I thought of speculoos as the little, wrapped biscuits that often accompanied a bad cup of coffee at conferences and business meetings where people said "going forward" a lot. Then I discovered the almost fanatical devotion to this biscuit in Belgium and northern France and I realised that speculoos must have hidden depths. These days I've long since given up the conferences and the "going forward" people but I've learned to love one or two speculoos alongside good coffee (or tea if you're making it). There's no shortage of the mass-produced, commercial product (whatever they choose to call them these days) but a lot of bakers in northern France, both professional and amateur, make their own. Many of these are more substantial than the usual commercial biscuit and a little different in texture too.

Most of the recipes I've come across add egg to the mixture but I've been told that egg isn't truly authentic (although I admit that it does make the dough easier to handle). As usual, there's a very good chance that what I've been told isn't true but I really wanted to try an eggless version in order to recreate some of the northern French variants of this little treat. So, after a bit of faffing about with different mixtures, this is my eggless recipe. The resulting biscuit is firmer and denser than most commercial offerings but is much closer to the ones served with coffee in some of the secretive speculoos dens of northern France. (I could say more but the first rule of speculoos club is "shut up and eat your biscuit").

This is a very simple recipe that can be adapted to suit pretty much any size, shape or flavouring you fancy. Some bakers use a much more complex spice mix than mine, but, on the other hand, there are some who stick to cinnamon and regard even the use of a little cardamom as a modern aberration.
This will make quite a few biscuits. You can create pretty much any size or shape as the mood takes you, but as a guide I used a 5 cm round cutter and got 36 biscuits with a thickness of roughly 5 mm out of this amount of dough. You can also make domed, macaroon or amaretti shaped biscuits that are excellent for sitting on a saucer beside your espresso by simply pulling off small pieces of dough and shaping them roughly into balls before baking. The biscuits keep well in an airtight container.

175 g brown sugar (I generally use a mixture of light muscovado and soft brown sugar)
140 g unsalted butter, softened
250 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cinnamon (or more if you feel like it)
A pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch or two of ground ginger
Seeds of 3 or 4 cardamom pods, crushed

Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder and spices and beat together well. The dough will be stiff, but that's the way it should be. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour. If you leave it to chill for longer, then it's best to let it warm up just a little before using.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. The dough won't roll out easily, so I think it's easiest to pull chunks of the dough off the ball and simply flatten them on a board to a thickness of around 5 mm. You can then use a pastry cutter to cut out any size or shape you like or roll into balls (see above). Place the shaped biscuits on lined baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven. The 5 cm biscuits will take around 10 minutes. To be honest, it's not that easy to judge when they're ready. Normally, I'd look for a change of colour in a biscuit as it bakes, but these are brown before they go into the oven. It's safest to do a quick trial bake of one or two biscuits to be sure.

Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes on their baking trays before sliding onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Normandy Lamb With Mint

I've been rereading 'Flaubert’s Parrot' by Julian Barnes, which is a funny, sad, literary novel from the 1980s and in my lightweight view is one of the finest written during my lifetime. Mr Barnes refers to the Normandy travels of the Reverend George Musgrave Musgrave (that's his name, not an accidental duplicate word) and, in particular, a conversation he reports in his 1855 book 'A Ramble Through Normandy'. The Reverend Musgrave amuses himself by questioning  'a thriving merchant of Rouen' who, despite being 'upwards of sixty years old', had never heard of mint sauce! Of course, the Reverend 'advised him to take up a new set of notions on English cookery'. It isn't what the Reverend intended but I was reminded of this dish from Normandy.

Some French people (well, Parisians, at least) can still be very dismissive of British food. In my experience, if you try to defend British cooking to them, then you might well get the response, ‘But you serve lamb with a sauce made from mint.’ (The word ‘mint’ should be accompanied by a truly disgusted but slightly pitying look.)

I've never really understood this because the French are not entirely averse to serving lamb with mint themselves, as in this dish. You can find some excellent lamb in Normandy, especially the lamb raised on the salt marshes. Most Normandy salt-marsh lamb, it seems, never leaves Normandy but Welsh salt-marsh lamb is also excellent if you can find it. The local crème fraîche d'Isigny is justifiably famous too if you can get some but another crème fraîche would be fine as a stand-in. This is old-school Normandy cooking and I must admit that the aromas drifting from a classic Normandy kitchen are pretty much guaranteed to transport me to a very happy place. Presumably that was also true for the Reverend Musgrave not to mention Flaubert; although I can't say the same for his parrot since it appears that it was stuffed.

Normandy Lamb With Mint
I'm a bit of a fan of lamb neck fillet – it's an adaptable cut that's generally not too expensive. It's excellent for slower cooking, but good quality neck fillet responds well to more rapid cooking too. You do need to take a bit of care to ensure that the sinews are trimmed off, though. I used 2 small fillets weighing just over 200 g each, which should comfortably serve 2 people. If the fillets are larger, you may need to adjust the cooking times a little.

1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
A little butter for frying and finishing the sauce
300 ml cider, preferably dry but not too dry
2 or 3 sprigs of mint, plus a few extra leaves
2 lamb neck fillets
A generous dash of calvados (or a little more cider if you don't have any to hand)
3 – 4 tbsp thick crème fraîche

Melt a little butter in an ovenproof frying pan. Soften the shallot in the butter over a gentle heat without allowing it to colour. If you're really gentle, then this will probably take around 15 minutes. Add the cider to the pan, bring to the boil and continue boiling until the cider is reduced by about half. Lower the heat and add the sprigs of mint to the pan (keep the few extra leaves aside for later). Simmer for another minute, then pour the contents of the pan into a jug and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Give the pan a quick wipe, put it back on the heat and melt a little more butter. Season the lamb, place in the pan and fry until it's lightly brown on all sides. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 5 or 6 minutes. This will be fine for small fillets, but if they're larger or you just like well-done lamb, then leave them in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes longer.

Put the lamb fillets aside somewhere warm to rest while you finish the sauce. Pour off any excess fat from the pan (remember the pan will be hot from the oven – I've been known to forget). Put the pan back on the heat and deglaze with the calvados. Remove the mint sprigs from the cider mixture and pour it back into the pan. Bring up to simmering point and stir in the crème fraîche. Adjust the seasoning, stir in a small knob of butter and keep the sauce warm while you slice the lamb and chop the remaining mint leaves. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve and stir in the chopped mint. Arrange the lamb slices on warmed plates and pour over the sauce. Serve immediately.

I think some simple new potatoes and green beans sit nicely alongside this dish but something like a potato rösti would work pretty well too.
Normandy Salt Marsh
I'm submitting this to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole with apologies that the connection between the novel and this dish is just about as obtuse as is usual for me. I'd recommend ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ to anyone who wants to read an excellent, literary novel but if you're ever inclined to read ‘A Ramble Through Normandy’ then I feel I should warn you that the Reverend Musgrave could never be accused of breviloquence and it might be quicker to go for a ramble through Normandy for yourself.

While I'm on the subject of Julian Barnes I would also strongly recommend his collection of essays ‘The Pedant In The Kitchen’, especially if you've ever tried to write down a recipe for others to read.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

In the early 1990s dulce de leche was in every supermarket and every recipe magazine. You just couldn't avoid it unless you hid in a cave far from civilisation. In those long lost days I decided it would be a spiffing idea to use the abundant supply of dulce de leche to make some ice cream. It turned out to be very easy to put together and very pleasant indeed to eat. And so I kept making it. In fact, I made it so often that people begged me to stop kindly suggested that I should maybe try another flavour.

So I moved on to other types of iced delight and forgot all about dulce de leche ice cream. Then, a few days ago, I came across a notebook from my younger days that wittered on about this ice cream and I really wanted to try it one more time. My very cheap ice cream machine is a simple freeze-ahead bowl type that's not particularly efficient but that's all you need for this ice cream. In fact, you could make this without a machine at all if you put the mixture in the freezer and wizz it up in a food processor part way through freezing. (Some of the basic ice cream machines available these days are a fair bit less expensive than in the 1990s and I think that they're not a bad investment if you're keen on a bit of ice cream).
Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
It may be my memory playing tricks but there did seem to be more uniformity in the dulce de leche that was available back in the 1990s. It always seemed to be thick and very smooth. Some of the product available now seems a little thinner and, as a result, you may need to vary the amount of dulce de leche that you use in the recipe. Back then I used roughly half an average jar (225 g) but you may need to increase that amount a little. The idea is to create something that's the thickness of a custard and coats the back of a wooden spoon in the first stage of this recipe. Of course, I'm assuming that you don't have time to make your own dulce de leche, but I applaud you if you do make the effort.

I reckon that this serves around six people but that does depend on just how much you like ice cream and what you feel like serving with it.

225 g - 300 g (depending on thickness, see above) dulce de leche
340 ml full fat milk
225 g whipping (or double) cream
2 tsp Frangelico liqueur (you can leave this out or add a different liqueur if that’s what you have or what you fancy)

Dissolve the dulce de leche thoroughly in the milk by heating gently and stirring continuously. It won't take long to dissolve but be careful to avoid the mixture boiling. This should create a “custard” that coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and chill thoroughly.

Combine the chilled “custard” with the cream and liqueur. Pour into the ice cream machine and let it do its stuff.

I usually made fresh batches of this ice cream shortly before eating it but if it's stored in the freezer for a while then it will be better if softened for 20 minutes or so in the fridge before serving.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Gâteau au Chocolat de Nancy

I have it on good authority that this is an ancient type of gâteau from Nancy in north-eastern France although I have to confess that I couldn't find a recipe that's older than the 1960s (due to poor research, no doubt).

It's one of those classic flourless cakes which, in this case, is enriched with chocolate. There are some recipes that do add a little flour, which will help to stabilise the cake but I'm hoping that this flourless version is as light and pure in flavour as the real thing should be. It's a recipe that's easy to remember. Essentially it's equal amounts of each ingredient (if you consider the ground almonds and potato flour as a single entity) plus eggs.

This is not the only type of cake that you might find described as a Gâteau de Nancy. The citizens of Nancy seem to have a number of treats at their disposal from large meringue confections to macarons and cakes flavoured with the local plum liqueur. They are obviously wise and happy people.
Gateau de Nancy
A small slice is lovely with coffee but the cake really comes into its own as a dessert served with a little crème anglaise or crème fraîche and maybe a few choice raspberries.

125 g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little extra for the tin
125 g dark chocolate
125 g caster sugar
90 g ground almonds
35 g potato flour, sifted
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Line the base and butter a 20 cm round cake tin - a springform tin is ideal if you have one.

Melt the chocolate either in a microwave or in a bowl over simmering water. Put the melted chocolate in the bowl of a mixer (make sure it's not too hot) and add the butter. Beat together thoroughly. While that's happening, separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks into the butter and chocolate mixture one at a time. Add the sugar and beat in thoroughly. Add the ground almonds and mix in.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the whisked egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it a little and then carefully fold in the rest of the egg whites together with the potato flour.

Put the mixture into the prepared tin and gently level the top. Bake for around 25 minutes. Check that the cake is ready with a knife point in the centre. The middle of the cake should still be moist and you may see a few sticky crumbs on the knife but it shouldn't be liquid.

Remove the cake from the tin as soon as possible: leaving the cake in the tin seems to increase the chance of the top cracking and sinking too much. The cake will be fragile so be careful. Allow to cool on a rack. Many bakers seem to sprinkle this cake with icing sugar but I've noticed that bakers from Nancy don't sprinkle and so I haven't either in a belated and haphazard attempt at authenticity.
Gateau de Nancy
I feel like a bit of an outsider in the world of blog link-ups these days and so I don't usually take part. But this month Tin and Thyme is hosting the last ever We Should Cocoa link-up and so, for old times' sake, I'm submitting this cake. Over the years We Should Cocoa has been the home of many very fine, very chocolatey recipes and I'm wishing it a fond farewell.

Friday, 27 July 2018

A Delinquent Sort Of Muxu and a Glass (or Two) of Kalimoxto

You may well imagine that I'm a sophisticated and elegant man-about-town but allow me to disabuse you a little. I can be a thoroughgoing tatterdemalion if I put my mind to it. I was going through a slovenly phase (it was my butler's night off) when I put the following together. I'm probably in a lot of trouble with the people of the Basque region for mucking about with these local specialities but I swear that I do it with a great fondness and respect and only partly because I've had a glass or two of kalimoxto.

Let's start with my errant sort of muxu….Muxus

I fancied something to go with my evening espresso and so I made this inelegant, chocolatey sort of muxu. A few years ago it became the thing (at least among food bloggers) to create sophisticated, professional looking macarons. Quality patisserie is a wonderful thing but it's not what I usually enjoy baking and I'm rather glad that we've moved on a bit. The real muxu is a refined Basque speciality and mine are not the real thing: they're an idiosyncratic, delinquent tribute to the original. They're also simple to make and perfect with coffee. They do bear a distant resemblance to the sophisticated macaron although they'll almost certainly deny it. 

200 g caster sugar
250 g ground almonds (ideally not too fine if you're as haphazard as me)
100 g cocoa powder (preferably a good quality, dark and unsweetened powder)
½ tsp vanilla powder (not essential, but I like it)
4 large egg whites

Thoroughly mix together the sugar, almonds, vanilla and cocoa powder. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Gently stir the egg whites into the dry ingredients. This will give you quite a firm mixture - don't worry, that's fine. Any serious baker would probably reach for a piping bag but I just spoon the mixture into circles of around 5 cm diameter on lined baking sheets. You should get around 24 - 28 circles of mixture, but don't worry if you get more or less - you can just shorten or lengthen the cooking time a little to make up for it. 

You now need to set the trays aside to let the crust of the muxus dry for at least 1 or 2 hours or even overnight. If you want to speed the process up, put the trays in a fan oven that's switched on without any heat.

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C. Just before putting into the oven, use a very sharp knife to cut a shallow slash across each dollop. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes. When cooked, the muxus should be crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle.

Traditionally two pieces should be sandwiched together, base to base, while still fairly hot from the oven - they will stick together quite easily. (It's how they get their name - muxu means ‘kiss’ in Basque I'm told). But keep them separate if that's what you fancy. You could also add just a little orange marmalade mixed with a touch of Cointreau to the base of the muxus before joining together. They'll store well enough in an airtight container, but they'll be more chewy than crisp after a day or so. No less tasty, though. Muxus
If you want the real muxu experience then go to la maison Pariès and, if you happen to find yourself in St Jean de Luz (or Biarritz or Paris for that matter), then why on earth wouldn't you go there? By the way (pardon my nerdiness), muxus are often called mouchous, which is a much more French looking name.
Saint Jean de Luz   
And now that we've worked up a thirst, how about a kalimoxto?

The kalimoxto is the easiest and the least stylish “cocktail” I know. In fact, you might think that I've finally taken leave of my senses. But don't knock kalimoxto till you've tried it. Obviously once you've tried it there's a pretty good chance that you'll knock it with considerable vigour. See if I care; I still like it.

I don't think I should tell you precisely which sort of wine to use, but please don't choose an expensive one. Something fruity, pleasant and reasonably cheap should do the job. Just remember to stick it in the fridge before you're thirsty. I should also be using a cheap cola I suppose but I'm a fan of some of the newer and expensive colas, especially Fever Tree Madagascan Cola and Fentimans Curiosity Cola, and so that's what I use.

Put plenty of ice cubes into a tall glass (preferably a very cheap one). Half fill the glass with chilled red wine and top up with chilled cola. Add a generous squeeze of lime. Drink.
One Too Many Muxus

Monday, 2 July 2018

Pigeon Breasts with Pomegranate Molasses and Soy Sauce

Pigeon is a very underused meat (at least it is in the UK) but it's far too nice to ignore. I remember that it became quite a trendy thing to eat in the 1980s, often in warm salads or served with soy sauce and sesame. Then it seemed to fade away again. Admittedly pigeon does have disadvantages - there's not a huge amount of meat on a pigeon and what there is can be tough. But it really doesn't have to be like that.

This sauce is based loosely on a Ming Tsai recipe from the 1990s (if memory serves) and the whole dish is simple to put together. Do make sure that you allow enough time for the marinade to do its work, though. I served the pigeon with simply steamed potatoes and roasted beetroot this time, but rice or mash (sweet potato mash, maybe) would be fine and dandy too. You could also ease off on the amount of sauce and make the pigeon the star of a warm salad with interesting leaves, new potatoes and whatever else you fancy. (That's a very 1980s option but it's one that's worth reviving).

I find that it's easier to get hold of pigeon breasts than whole pigeons these days, but if you're faced with whole pigeons, then remove the breasts and make a stock with the rest of the birds. I know that might sound like a bit of a faff but pigeon stock is lovely stuff and really useful for casseroles and sauces.

Sorry about the quality of the picture - it's what happens when you use a camera that's punching above its weight in the dark.

Pigeon Breasts with Pomegranate Molasses

This will serve 2 people.

For the marinade:
          3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
          2 tbsp light soy sauce
          1 tbsp honey
          1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
          1 clove of garlic, crushed or grated
          about 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

4 pigeon breasts, skin removed

Mix together all the marinade ingredients, pour over the pigeon breasts and place in the fridge for around 2 hours.

Drain the breasts, reserving the marinade, and fry in a little oil over a medium heat for about 4 minutes, turning once. The pigeon should be cooked but still quite rare. It's really easy to overcook the pigeon and end up with tough meat, so keep an eye on the time.

Remove the breasts from the pan and set aside but keep them warm. Pour the marinade into the pan, turn up the heat and reduce the amount of liquid a little (or as much as you fancy). Immediately before serving return the pigeon breasts briefly to the pan and coat in the sauce.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

RB’s Lemon Cake

Many people have bucket lists consisting of adventurous or highly dangerous activities like skydiving or eating at a restaurant on its opening day. But I have a bucket list of cakes. I'm much happier that way. Here's one I've just ticked off on that list.

Many of the recipes that I publish on this blog are not particularly well known or are hard to find elsewhere. (My theory being that at least I'll know where to find them when I want them next time). This cake is an exception. It's really well known (at least, it is in the UK). You might have seen it on TV, on a recipe site, in blogs, in a book, in a magazine or you may have been lucky enough to try it yourself. I've made a lot of lemon cakes over the years but, despite my best intentions, I hadn't made this one until now.
RB's Lemon Cake
Many years ago Raymond Blanc began making and serving this cake to guests at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire and it's still made and served there today. It's actually a pretty easy cake to put together. The only tricky bit is getting the glaze just right. That's a bit of a faff, but it does give the cake a lovely finish and I'm convinced it's worth the effort.

You can find the recipe here or here (and probably quite a few other places too).
RB's Lemon Cake
I've heard this cake described as the ultimate lemon cake by some but also as a madeira style of cake with extra lemon and not really that special by others. So, is it the best lemon cake you can make? Well, sat here paying bills on a cloudy afternoon in Surrey it's unquestionably an extremely pleasant cake to lift the gloom and, yes, it's a little like a light madeira cake in texture.

On the other hand, if you happen to be whiling away a sunny afternoon on the lawns outside the Manoir after playing an incompetent and farcical game of croquet, would this be the best lemon cake you could imagine? Oh yes, very probably.
Le Manoir

Thursday, 17 May 2018


Fallue isn't an obscure Shakespearean character, it's actually one of the types of brioche that you might come across in Normandy. It's less sweet than some and uses crème fraîche instead of some of the usual butter. I promised to get around to posting this recipe when I said it was the chosen partner for teurgoule, although you really don't have to make a teurgoule to enjoy this bread.

I know that all good food bloggers should spend many happy hours mixing and kneading their bread by hand and that would be nice but I honestly don't have the time. I use a bread machine to prepare this dough and I don't care who knows it. Of course, you can make the dough in a much more traditional way if you wish. Unlike some brioche recipes, this is very simple to put together and even simpler if you use a machine.
I'm not claiming that this is an authentic fallue but it is based on some genuine Normandy recipes that I've had ferreted away for some time and that I've adapted a little for machine preparation. Fallue is usually embellished by snipping around the top of the risen loaf with scissors just before baking. This creates a sort of crown on top of the loaf. I must admit that I only make a token effort at doing this because I usually slice brioche or fallue as soon as they're cool which means that nobody's going to notice.

This will make 1 large (and I do mean large) loaf but it's a size that suits my bread machine and keeps my freezer stocked up. I use a Panasonic bread machine and add the ingredients in the order given below. Other bread machines recommend that liquids should be added first, so check the instructions for yours.

At the risk of being even duller than usual, I think a couple of notes on the ingredients might be useful.

The flour - I used a French T65 bread flour for this recipe although I know that some bakers prefer T55 for this kind of loaf. You can buy T65 flour in the UK but any strong bread flour will do the job, although you might need to add a little milk if the flour you use is very absorbent. If you do use a French flour then you may find the bread won't keep fresh for as long, so freeze any slices that you can't eat reasonably quickly.

The crème fraîche - This needs to be thick but pourable and a full fat version would be best. Where I live in the south of England there's quite a wide choice of types of crème fraîche but I know that's not the case everywhere. Very fresh crème fraîche is often used for baking in Normandy and that really isn't particularly sour so it's probably best to avoid using sour cream as a substitute. It would be better to use a pourable, double (or heavy) cream in this recipe if you can't find suitable crème fraîche.
Lait Special
16 g fresh yeast, crumbled (or substitute 7 or 8 g of dried, fast-acting yeast).
500 g bread (T65) flour (see above)
50 g golden caster sugar
Pinch of salt
100 g unsalted butter, thoroughly softened
100 g thick (but not solid) crème fraîche (or double cream, see above)
5 eggs, lightly beaten + 1 for a glaze

Add all the ingredients (except the extra egg used for the glaze) to your bread machine in the order given unless your instructions tell you to add liquids first, in which case reverse the order (see above). Set the machine to work on a standard dough program, which will probably take somewhere around 2 or 2½ hours.

Once the program has finished, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knock back to deflate it. (The dough will be quite sticky, but don't worry, that's normal). Gently form the dough into a sausage-shaped loaf of around 30 - 33 cm in length and place onto a lined baking sheet.  Put the dough somewhere warm and let it rise again for between one and two hours until it's roughly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. If you want to create the “crown” then snip around the top of the fallue with kitchen scissors to make a ring of spikes. (This is much the same process as creating the spikes on hedgehog bread, if you've ever tried that). Make an egg wash by mixing the remaining egg with a little water and use it to brush the top of the fallue. Bake for around 25 minutes until the fallue is golden on top and sounds nicely hollow when tapped. (Be gentle when testing because the crust is not very robust while hot). Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Slice and serve with teurgoule if you're feeling authentic or just enjoy some slices as part of a lazy breakfast with butter (from Normandy, if possible) and plenty of jam.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


In Normandy every Sunday morning in accordance with ancient tradition the fearless men of the Calvados region gather with their forks and hope to hunt the wild and menacing teurgoule.

OK, I'm lying. Teurgoule is indeed a speciality of the Calvados area but, let's not beat around the Normandy bush, it's a type of rice pudding.

There are a number of stories about the origin of this simple speciality but I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable or gullible to say if they're true or not. So let's just say that this is a very slowly cooked rice pudding that's usually flavoured with cinnamon. That may seem a bit of an incongruous flavour for northern France but once upon a time spices, including cinnamon, would come ashore at Honfleur and the other ports along the Normandy coast. As for the strange name, there are plenty of explanations and it's often translated as “twisted mouth” but, since it has more of a patois or slang origin, I think that “mangled mug” might be better. The implication seems to be that you'll be gobsmacked at how nice it tastes once you try it.

Traditionally this dish should be made in an earthenware bowl but a good, old-fashioned British pudding basin will work just fine. It needs to have a capacity of a little over 1 litre but, ideally, not much more than 1 litre.
As with so many traditional and regional French dishes, I’m pleased to say that the teurgoule has a confrerie to preserve and promote it and this is pretty close to the approved and official recipe. To be honest, I'm not that fond of cinnamon and I replace it with vanilla powder (my apologies to the members of the confrerie).

I'd expect this to serve 4 people but I know that there are some blighters who can't stop eating this pudding once they start so it's best to have plenty.

75 g short grain (pudding) rice
90 g golden caster sugar (actually, pure white is more usual but I prefer golden)
1 tsp ground cinnamon or vanilla powder
Pinch of salt
1 litre whole milk

Preheat the oven to 150⁰C. Mix the rice, sugar, salt and cinnamon or vanilla together and place in the bottom of your chosen dish or basin. Pour the milk gently over the rice mixture, being careful to avoid disturbing it too much. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes.

Turn the oven temperature down to 110⁰C and continue cooking for 4 - 4½ hours. (Yes, it  really does take that long). When the teurgoule is ready the top will have become dark brown and look slightly alien but the mixture underneath will still have a bit of a wobble if you tip the bowl. The teurgoule will thicken a little as it cools.

Allow the teurgoule to cool and, if you're not eating it immediately, store in the fridge. Either way, I thinks it's best served at or close to room temperature but serve it hot or very cold if that's what you fancy - it will taste good at all temperatures. There always seems to be disagreement in Britain between lovers and haters of rice pudding skin. Teurgoule is cooked for so long that the skin resembles leather in my opinion. I may well serve up the skin but that's largely to prove that it's been cooked authentically. I expect everyone to push it aside and refuse to eat it.
The confrerie will tell you that teurgoule should be eaten alongside fallue and I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Fallue is hard to find outside of Calvados and a decent brioche will do in its place (I'm in so much trouble with the confrerie for saying that). If I don't get too distracted, I may get around to a post about fallue shortly.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


To end my very short series of "the Italian recipes that I really had to write down sooner or later" I'm offering something to finish the meal. This chestnut cake is based on a truly venerable recipe dating back as far as the 16th century but many variations have been turning up recently in glossy cookbooks. Unfortunately, the authors frequently disagree on just how the castagnaccio should look and taste. So when I got hold of some chestnut flour (it was French not Italian, but that's life) I just had to try playing around with it for myself and I've decided that this relatively dense version works best for me.

This is a remarkably easy dish to put together. In fact, the most difficult thing seems to be choosing which flavourings and additions you might fancy. I'd suggest that raisins are essential. I soaked mine in sloe gin, which isn't remotely Italian but works really well. Another alcohol, Earl Grey tea or even water will do the job if you prefer. Pine nuts are important too, but you could add other chopped nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts as well. Orange zest is good but in this case I used an olive oil flavoured with orange instead. A little rosemary is often sprinkled over the top of the cake, but I know that Gennaro Contaldo adds some dark chocolate to his castagnaccio and a little of that grated on top is an interesting alternative. (Actually, I used chocolate on some parts of the cake in the picture and rosemary on others). Finally, you may want to vary the amount of sugar given here, partly because you may prefer a sweeter cake (or even a less sweet, earthier taste) but also because chestnut flours seem to vary quite a lot in sweetness.

Before I get on to the recipe, though, I must in all honesty admit that in my opinion you really have to be a fan of chestnuts to eat a lot of it. It has a very distinctive flavour. After eating a number of castagnaccio variations in a short period, I don't think I could look at another chestnut for some time. But if you are a chestnut fan, this will definitely satisfy all your chestnut cravings.
Most people make this in a round cake tin (or a pizza pan) but I used a 32 x 18 cm brownie tray, which makes it easy to divide up into small dessert portions. I find this is quite filling and so it should serve 12 or 14 people.

45 g raisins
Sloe gin (or whatever takes your fancy) for soaking the raisins
340 g chestnut flour (as fresh as possible – chestnut flours don't keep very well)
60 g golden caster sugar (or more if you prefer a sweeter cake; see the text above)
750 ml water at room temperature
50 ml extra-virgin olive oil (or a mixture of orange and plain olive oil)
40 g pine nuts
A few fresh rosemary leaves and/or a little coarsely grated dark chocolate
Zest of ½ orange (optional if you use orange olive oil)

Soak the raisins in sloe gin or your chosen liquid for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare the baking tray by greasing it thoroughly with butter or olive oil.

Mix together the chestnut flour and sugar in a large bowl.  Combine the water and olive oil in a jug. Gradually pour the water and oil onto the flour and sugar mixture while stirring. As the mixture begins to thin, switch to a whisk and whisk enthusiastically while continuing to add the liquid. You need to make sure there are no lumps. The mixture might seem to be too liquid for sensible cake making, but think of it as a batter rather than a standard cake mix. Stir in the orange zest, if you're using it. Pour into the baking tray. Don't worry if the tray seems a little shallow since this won't rise like a more conventional cake.

Drain the raisins. Scatter the pine nuts and raisins over the mixture in a reasonably even but random way. Finally, sprinkle the rosemary or chocolate over the top. Bake the castagnaccio for 45 minutes but cover it with foil after 15 or 20 minutes if it's browning quickly. It's difficult to know when the castagnaccio is cooked to perfection – the conventional cake test with a knife point or tester can be misleading. It needs to feel springy rather than sloppy to the touch and should look cracked on the top.

The finished cake can be served slightly warm or at room temperature with a little ricotta or fromage frais but it also works well with a harder cheese – ideally one with a sharp rather than an earthy flavour. It may not be traditional but I think it's also very good alongside a little ice cream. A small glass of dessert wine wouldn't be out of place either. Castagnaccio will keep well for a few days in an airtight container.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Two Vegetable Purées or How I Got It Wrong In The 1980s

I stopped making vegetable purées for many years because back in the 1980s it was common practice to purée anything you could lay your hands on, especially if it was brightly coloured. It just got a bit too much like baby food. But I shouldn't have been so hasty. Vegetable purées are easy to make, they can be prepared in advance and reheated when required and, if you choose the right type of vegetable, the colour definitely can't be ignored on the plate. That's probably why purées not unlike these two seem to turn up quite regularly in slightly too expensive restaurants.

You could rub these purées through a fine sieve if you want a guaranteed smooth result, although I usually prefer a little texture. Both of these purées will serve 2 or 4 people - 2 if it's for a midweek meal and you're hungry or 4 if you're planning delicate dollops arranged artistically on plates at a dinner party. (Do people still have dinner parties? I'm not entirely sure.)

Red Cabbage Purée

This purée is a variation on the usual braised red cabbage and will sit very happily alongside ham, game, lamb or just about anything else you might fancy. The more crème fraîche that you add at the end of the recipe then the pinker the result will be. Many years ago I met a man in Brittany who told me that he'd cooked his wife a Valentine's day meal in which all three courses consisted entirely of pink food. To this day I'm still not sure what I think of that.

I've admitted to a bit of an obsession with pomegranate molasses in the past but my source of all things that are good in Turkish cooking Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table pointed out some years ago that it complements red cabbage really well. She's absolutely right, of course, and I've added it ever since.
Red Cabbage Purée
If you're feeling really cheffy then you can prepare a green cabbage purée as well to contrast with the red and deeply impress your guests.

1 small onion, finely chopped
½ a red cabbage (ideally this will be roughly 450 - 475 g prepared weight)
1 small to medium cooking or sharp eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
300 ml light chicken stock (use a veg stock if you prefer, but the chicken does add flavour)
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (use a mix of lemon and apple juice or some balsamic vinegar as an alternative)
crème fraîche (a low fat version will work if you'd prefer)

In a large frying pan, gently soften the onion in a little butter or oil. While that's happening, remove and discard the core of the red cabbage and chop or slice the remainder quite finely. Once the onion has started to soften, add the red cabbage to the pan and fry gently for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring to ensure that the cabbage doesn’t stick together. Add the apple and season with salt and pepper.

Pour over the stock and pomegranate molasses, cover the pan leaving a bit of a gap for some of the steam to escape and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the cabbage is tender (or, at least, reasonably tender) - this could take anything from 30 to 60 minutes. Stir now and then and add a little extra water if it threatens to dry out. At the end of this time the cabbage should still be nicely moist but most of the liquid should have disappeared. If you still have some liquid left, then drain the cabbage before the next stage.

Purée the cabbage mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Season with more salt and pepper if it needs it and add a little honey if it's not sweet enough. You could also add more pomegranate molasses at this stage if you feel like it. To serve, stir in as much crème fraîche as you fancy and reheat gently.

Parsnip Purée

Parsnip purées often use cream to produce quite a rich result but this is a bit lighter in style. There's not much point in trying to compete with the powerful flavour of parsnips but I’ve used some Aperol liqueur and a few other bits and pieces to add a bit of contrast and complexity to the end result. The idea for this recipe came from watching a chef braise some parsnips in Pineau de Charentes and that's not a bad alternative if Aperol isn't to your taste. Alternatively, you could use some Campari for a more astringent flavour if that's what appeals to you.
Parsnip Purée
I think this purée works well alongside pork or beef but it's possibly even better with game.

350 g parsnips, prepared weight
1 apple, preferably a firm eating apple
300 ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp Aperol
Zest of ½ a large orange
A sprig or 2 of thyme
1 or 2 tsp lemon juice

Top, tail, peel and quarter the parsnips. If the parsnips aren't young and tender, then cut out any woody centres. Peel and core the apple and cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Add the parsnips and apple to a pan that's wide enough to accommodate them in one layer. Add the orange zest and pour over the stock and Aperol. Tuck in the thyme sprigs.

Put the pan on a medium heat and bring to simmering point. Lower the heat and simmer until the parsnips are very tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup that's coating the parsnips and apple. (If the dish threatens to dry out before the parsnips are ready, than add a little more stock or water).

Take the pan off the heat, discard the thyme and reduce the contents to a purée in a food processor or  blender. Season with salt and pepper and reheat to serve. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice (the amount of lemon juice you add will vary according to taste and the sweetness of the parsnips).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Navette Albigeoise

Years ago I posted a recipe for Navettes from Marseille on this blog and, although they're an interesting and unusual local delicacy, I have to admit that they're a bit of an acquired taste for many people.  I thought about that original recipe recently and I felt that it was only right that I should finally get around to admitting that the Marseille navette is not the only navette in the south of France. Here's an alternative that might be a little less alarming.
Navette Albigeoise

This recipe is based on a navette from the region around the town of Albi in the Tarn. There's no raising agent in the recipe so don't expect a delicate sponge cake but it's lighter and less challenging than the drier Marseille version. Think of it as a little treat to sit alongside or even dip into a coffee or tea. Better still, imagine it with a local Gaillac Doux wine as you sit bathed in the light of the setting sun outside a café in Cordes-sur-Ciel. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there). Sweet Gaillac can be hard to find unless you're in the area but other sweet wines will do the job. I'm a bit of a fan of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh from a little to the west of Gaillac and that might be a bit easier to find.

Strictly speaking this cake should really be made in a diamond-shaped tin with sloping sides. This is said to echo the shape of the shuttle (navette) used in traditional weaving, which is a symbol associated locally with the Cathars. I'm not going to pretend that I know that this recipe dates back to the Albigensian Crusade but you never know. Since I don't have the real thing, I used a simple 20 cm square tin but, whatever tin you use, make sure that you butter it thoroughly. 

Recipes for the Navette Albigeoise vary a lot and don't expect this to be an entirely authentic version. If you come across the real thing, you'll possibly find whole almonds on the top of the cake (I prefer smaller pieces), dried or confit orange inside it and maybe less butter in the mix. You might also find a flavouring of orange flower water or rum but I've used some Cointreau instead. 

120 g caster sugar (preferably golden)
1 additional tbsp caster sugar for the tin and (optionally) ½ tbsp for the top of the cake
2 eggs
180 g plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tbsp cointreau (or triple sec, or rum, or orange juice)
110 g butter, thoroughly softened, plus a little extra for the tin
30 - 40 g almonds - I used blanched, whole almonds but use unblanched if you prefer

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C. Butter the baking tin generously and sprinkle with 1 tbsp caster sugar. I used a 20 cm square tin but use a genuine navette tin if you can find one.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar for a couple of minutes until the mixture has increased in volume and looks very pale. Stir in the softened butter, the flour, lemon and orange zests and your chosen alcohol or juice. Mix together thoroughly, but don't overwork the dough.

Add to the prepared tin and even out the top - the dough should be roughly between 3 and 4 cm deep. Place the almonds on the top of the dough. I break them up and add them randomly but arrange whole almonds in a regular pattern if you prefer. Optionally sprinkle the additional ½ tbsp caster sugar over the top of the dough. Adding the sugar gives the cake an all-round light sweet crust but makes the top a little more flaky and liable to leave residue in your drink if you're intending to dip.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the top is golden and a knife point comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a rack. Cut into small squares or diamonds (I cut mine into 12 pieces) and serve with your chosen beverage.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Fegatini Di Pollo in Swinging London

This is part two of my very short series of the Italian recipes that I felt I finally needed to write down. Like the caponata recipe I'm afraid it's probably a little elegiac in tone. I suppose that's what happens when you're as ancient as me. Never mind, it's the food that matters.

Alvaro Maccioni was one of the food celebrities in Britain through the 1960s and 70s. It's generally accepted wisdom that food in England was rubbish during that period but I'm not completely convinced. I admit there were certainly some highly questionable and eccentric restaurants around at the time but Maccioni's La Famiglia just off the King's Road definitely wasn't one of them. It tended to attract a celebrity crowd and hard up, scruffy people like me didn't necessarily eat there often - well, OK I did once or twice. Maccioni was a great advocate of authentic, delicious and often quite simple Tuscan food. Ahead of his time in many ways and hugely influential, he sadly left us in 2013, although La Famiglia is still there and carrying on the tradition if you'd care to visit.

This dish reminds me of Maccioni because I first came across a version of it in one of his books. Admittedly, this is my interpretation and not his recipe and probably not similar to the food served back then. Oddly, I've just realised that I have a signed copy of one of his books on my shelf but how I ended up with it is one of life's mysteries. My memory's not what it was and my excuse is that I was around in the 60s. At least I think I was.

This is easy to make, very delicious and is often claimed to be the inspiration for all French pâté. Well, maybe. This should serve 4 - 6 as a starter or as part of a simple lunch.
Fegatini Di Pollo

1 medium leek, finely chopped (don't use the tougher green bits)
1 or 2 sticks of celery, very finely chopped
½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
250 g chicken livers, prepared (in other words cleaned and with any nasty-tasting bits removed)
3 tbsp olive oil (this doesn't need to be your best extra virgin)
150 ml white wine
2 tbsp capers, washed, drained and chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp finely chopped chives
1 or 2 generous squeezes of lemon juice
Baguette or other suitable bread to serve

Fry the leek, celery and carrot in the 3 tbsp of olive oil until softened. It's best to do this on a low to medium heat and take your time over it. You want to soften the veg and not colour it. If the livers are on the large size, then chop them into 2 or 3 pieces and add to the pan. Continue to fry, stirring a lot, until the livers have taken on an even colour all over. Add the wine, increase the heat a little and keep cooking and stirring until the wine has reduced by about half. Add the capers and season with a generous amount of black pepper. (Don't add salt at this stage since the capers are likely to be quite salty). Continue cooking and stirring until the wine has almost gone.

At this point anyone with a deep respect for tradition will tell you to take the livers out of the pan and chop them thoroughly by hand. To be honest, I use an electric hand blender and whizz until smooth (or as smooth as you'd like it to be). Either way, return the liver mixture to the pan and stir in the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. (You could also add a little butter at this stage if you fancy a richer result). 

Reheat the mixture gently. If it seems very firm then stir in a little water - it should be thick and creamy but not solid. Immediately before serving stir in the parsley, chives and lemon juice. Check the seasoning.

Serve while still hot (or at least warm) by spreading a generous dollop onto toasted slices of baguette, or whatever bread you fancy. You could rub the bread with a peeled and halved clove of garlic before adding the liver mixture if the mood takes you.

Just over a year ago we lost Peter Sarstedt who had a song that always makes me think of those very old days. If anyone wants me I'll be in Roger's old Jag driving round swinging London.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Lemon And Orange Guinea Fowl

I've just noticed that it's 2018. I know I should be reviewing last year or predicting the trends for the months to come but it's as cold and grey as any self-respecting January should be and so here's a summery sort of recipe for cheering up dismal days. I've been told that guinea fowl is at its best in the depths of winter and so that's the perfect excuse for making it now. (Of course, I might have been misled - I frequently am).

There's a traditional way of cooking guinea fowl with lemon in the Roussillon and this recipe probably owes its origins to that tradition, but it's more directly inspired by dishes that turned up fairly often in England back in the 1980s and early 1990s in some of the better, unpretentious restaurants of those long-lost days.

These days I don't often use cream in sauces (or any recipes for that matter) but I make an exception here because it works so well. You could use chicken in this recipe if that's what you have and it would still be very delicious but the deeper, richer flavour of the guinea fowl is worth seeking out now and then.
Lemon & Orange Guinea Fowl
This will serve 2 -3.

1 guinea fowl
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
200 ml white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ medium orange
1 lemon (untreated), sliced fairly thinly
1 sprig of thyme
300 - 500 ml light chicken or guinea fowl stock (the amount will vary according to the size of your pan)
4 tbsp double cream

Joint the guinea fowl. You can divide the bird up as you'd like but, at very least, use the two legs and two breasts. If you're thoroughly organised you could use the remaining bones and meat of the guinea fowl as the basis of the stock that you need for this dish.

Use a reasonably generous, lidded pan that will hold all the guinea fowl pieces in one layer. Season the guinea fowl lightly and sauté in a little olive oil over a medium heat until lightly golden on all sides. Remove the pieces from the pan and set aside. Add the chopped shallot to the pan and fry gently for around 5 minutes without letting it colour. Increase the heat, add the sugar and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and the juice of the lemon and orange. Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce by about a third.

Lower the heat and put the guinea fowl pieces back into the pan together with the sliced lemon and the thyme. Pour in enough stock to almost cover the guinea fowl. Put the lid on the pan and simmer gently for 30 - 35 minutes. Turn the guinea fowl pieces once or twice during this time.

Remove the guinea fowl from the pan and set aside somewhere warm. Pour the remaining contents of the pan through a sieve, reserving the liquid but discarding the solids, although I tend to keep a slice or two of the cooked lemon for decoration (and to prove that I used real lemons, I suppose). Put the cooking liquid into a pan and reduce over a high heat. The amount that you reduce the liquid will depend on how much sauce you'd like in the final dish but reduce it by at least ½ and, I think, preferably by ¾. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream. Adjust the seasoning and add a little sugar if the sauce seems a bit too sharp.

I serve the guinea fowl with simple green veg and steamed or sautéed potatoes (the purple potatoes in the picture are pure affectation and the result of an ill-advised attempt to impress). Pour on as much or as little of the sauce as you fancy. I like quite a lot of sauce because I soak it up with slices of baguette but that's just my uncouth way.

Happy New Year.