Sunday, 22 December 2013

Hummus Irritation And This Year’s Kitchen Music

If you saw the Simon Hopkinson Cooks TV series earlier this year, then you may remember that as part of one of his menus he made hummus. Nothing too unusual about that, of course, except that he insisted that the skins of the chickpeas should be diligently removed. That way, according to Mr Hopkinson, it would be the smoothest possible hummus. I've never done that and, frankly, I thought that life’s a bit too short to go to that amount of effort.

Since then, every time I've eaten or even set eyes on hummus, I've remembered the thing about the skins. Recently I finally gave in and tried it. Removing all the skins is very irritating and I’d love to say that it made no difference, but, dammit, he was right and I apologise for ever doubting the great man. The hummus really is better. Mr Hopkinson’s recipe can be found here.

Now, useful as that information may be, I'm afraid it’s just an excuse because it’s time for my favourite kitchen music of the year again. I know it’s self-indulgent and it’s not cooking, but it’s only once a year, so please forgive me. It’s actually been a fine year – new music from Prefab Sprout, Vampire Weekend and Laura Marling, another excellent album - ‘Alaska’ - from those fine tunesmiths The Silver Seas, the 30th anniversary of Capercaillie and Jane Horrocks singing Joy Division among many other lovely and unexpected things. But here are a few delights that might be a little less well known.

I've been haunted by this song and video all year. Less than 2 minutes of pure, if slightly sombre, pleasure from the British band Feldspar.

Marble Sounds are from Belgium and their admirably beautiful album ‘Dear Me, Look Up’ was released in March.

The Trouble With Templeton are from Brisbane, although they did a mini tour of England this year. Their album ‘Rookie’ was released in August.

Finally, someone (actually someone from France) said to me this year ‘It's all very well having French recipes on your blog, but you wouldn't have French music’. This is not true and to prove it this is Baden Baden with a track from their album ‘Coline’.

The management thanks you for your patience and assures you that normal recipe service will be resumed shortly.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Random Cupboard And An Arbitrary Aperitif

This month Dom of Belleau Kitchen has dared us to reveal the contents of our larders or ingredients cupboards for his Random Recipe challenge.  I'd like to say that I have all my ingredients carefully and neatly stored in one location but actually they're scattered all over the place. I decided that the cupboard with the bottles and jars (and a few other things) was a decent candidate for a quick snap.
This challenge has forced me to look carefully at the contents (not something I do too often) and I'm surprised by how much the ingredients have changed from, say, twenty years ago. For instance, I seem to have developed a bit of a vinegar obsession. Twenty years ago, I might have had 3 or 4 different vinegars. It might not be obvious from the picture, but there are 14 different vinegars in that cupboard.

Then there are other things that I didn't use at all twenty years ago that have become essential cupboard ingredients. Top of that list is pomegranate molasses. I first bought a bottle in a Lebanese grocery shop in London in the 1990s and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. These days I get agitated if I don’t have at least one spare bottle in the cupboard. When anyone extols the virtues to me of living deep in the countryside, I can’t help thinking, “The peace and quiet and beautiful surroundings are all very well, but how far do you have to go to buy pomegranate molasses?”
Pomegranate Molasses 1
The other thing that really struck me was how many bottles of booze have made their way into the kitchen from the official booze cabinet. This is partly because I've used them in cooking and can't be bothered to put them back and partly because of a bit of a weakness for the kitchen aperitif. Nothing gives me a more relaxed and happy feeling than a little apero as I look forward to a satisfying meal. A kir, a small glass of Banyuls, pommeau or pineau will usually make my day. (I'm not absolutely sure why or how there’s a bottle of Latvian Black Balsam in the cupboard but I’ll get around to using it sooner or later.)
I need a bracing aperitif after all that cupboard rumination and I've randomly (more or less) chosen a glass of floc de Gascogne. Floc is a combination of armagnac and grape juice from the south west of France and can be either rosé (actually quite a red shade of rosé at times) or white. It should be served chilled (though not too chilled), and will go down very well in an English kitchen on a winter's evening. It's probably even better sipped as the summer sun goes down on the Gers countryside, the distant Pyrénées fade into the darkening sky and the farmer wends his weary way home from his fields of maize, no doubt wondering just how far he’ll have to go to get his hands on a decent bottle of pomegranate molasses.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Malakoff Trifle

The Malakoff torte is a refined item of patisserie, which allows the more experienced and skilful dessert maker to show off his or her talent. But we’re not going there. Instead we’re going back to 1970s England where a much less refined and more relaxed dessert with a vaguely similar set of ingredients turned up on the menus of a number of restaurants. Sponge fingers, cream mixtures, perhaps some almonds or chocolate and plenty of rum were piled into colourful dishes and plonked in front of grateful punters. Being the 1970s, it was a seriously rich and indulgent dessert but it was also a seriously tasty one. Shortly afterwards tiramisu became fashionable and, following a brief but gooey skirmish, the Malakoff Trifle was history. (Actually, it may not have been called a ‘trifle’ at the time - I can only remember the Malakoff bit of the name).

This is my tribute to that abandoned dessert. I've made it a little lighter by not using buckets of whipped cream, although I'm not pretending that this is diet food. I've used a combination of quark and fromage frais as the ‘cream’ layer here because it gave me the texture I was looking for but you could use just fromage frais or even yoghurt. I've also cut down on the booze content, although it still has a distinct rum flavour. Nobody cared much about excess booze or fat in the 1970s.

You can either put this together in a single attractive dish and spoon out as much as you fancy or make individual desserts, which is a little bit fiddly but appealing. It should produce 4 individual desserts but I got carried away and made 2 larger ones. Since this is quite rich, if you do make 2 larger desserts, then I think you should supply 2 spoons per dessert and suggest sharing. After all, these days we do worry about excess.
Malakoff Trifle
80 g unsalted butter, softened
110 g icing sugar
1 egg, separated
60 g plain chocolate
80 g quark
80 g fromage frais (one with around 4% fat is probably best)
½ tsp vanilla paste or extract
2 tbsp caster sugar
10 – 12 sponge fingers (boudoir or Savoiardi)
10 tbsp milk or almond milk
2 tbsp dark rum
Grated dark chocolate or chocolate-coated popping candy to decorate

Cream the butter and the icing sugar together thoroughly. Beat in the egg yolk. Melt the chocolate, allow it cool a little and beat that in as well.  (If you make this chocolaty cream ahead of time, store it in the fridge, but let it warm up a little before assembling the dessert).

Beat the quark, fromage frais and vanilla together briefly. Whisk the egg white until it’s just forming firm peaks. Whisk in the caster sugar one tablespoonful at a time. Fold the egg white into the fromage frais mix.

Mix the rum and milk together in a shallow dish. Break each sponge finger into 3 or 4 pieces. Dip a few pieces of sponge finger in the milk and rum mix. Don’t leave them there too long – you don’t want them to collapse completely and turn to mush. Place the soaked sponge in the bottom of a small dish or glass. Spread a layer of the chocolate butter cream over the sponge, pressing it down a little to fill any gaps. Top this with a layer of the fromage frais mixture. Dip some more sponge finger pieces and repeat the process of creating the layers until you get near the top of the dish or glass and finish with a layer of the fromage frais mixture. If you make this in a single, larger dish it might be easier to avoid trying to create too many layers – it can get a bit messy. The idea is that the chocolate butter cream will be a relatively firm layer around the softer sponge with a lighter fromage frais mixture between or on top.

Decorate the top fromage frais layer with grated chocolate or try sprinkling on some chocolate-coated popping candy for a bit of a change. Keep in the fridge until needed but take it out fifteen or so minutes before serving.


December’s We Should Cocoa challenge hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog asks us to combine chocolate and alcohol. I think this should fit the bill pretty well in a retro kind of way.