Thursday, 18 December 2014

Damien Trench’s Parkin and This Year’s Kitchen Music

It's about time that I paid due homage to the man widely recognised as this country's finest food writer and cook - Damien Trench. I believe that he'll be on the radio this Christmas and there's a rumour that he may grace our television screens at some point next year. I can't tell you how difficult it is to contain my excitement at the thought of it.

As a tribute to the great man I decided to make his recipe for parkin. I've hardly baked anything this year due to a lack of time and the fact that pretty much everybody I know is constantly on a diet, but surely I'm allowed at least one treat at this time of the year. I don't want to infringe Mr Trench's copyright by presenting his recipe in full but, suffice it to say, if you take this fine Tate and Lyle recipe, adjust the ratio of oatmeal and flour to favour the flour, adjust the milk up and the syrup down, use fresh rather than dried ginger and bake it for less time, then you’re pretty near it. I'm sure that the detailed recipe will appear in the next volume of Mr Trench's Diaries.
But enough of this cake-based enjoyment. I'm afraid that we’re now faced with the grim inevitability of my annual self-indulgence in the music that I've loved in the kitchen for the last 12 months.  Sorry about that.

Once upon a time knowing what music to play when people came round for dinner was so much easier. These days there's just far too much choice. In the late 1970s if you played anything other than Fleetwood Mac then the police kept watch on your house. In the latter part of 1984 it briefly became illegal to have a gathering of more than 3 people without playing Sade's ‘Diamond Life’. So do I have a suggestion for music for a modern gathering? You might as well ask if Jamie Oliver likes to drizzle – of course I do. I'd suggest Woman’s Hour (the band not the radio programme) for any informal gathering. The music is assured, stylish and relaxed. Their excellent first album ‘Conversations’ was released this year.

If that leaves you with a need for more stylish and assured music, then try PHOX, who released their début album this year. There was also a fine album 'Days Of Abandon' by the excellently named The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I can't resist including this little clip because it's exactly like most evenings round at my house.

There was some very fine, old-style song writing and singing from the Australian Stu Larsen on the album 'Vagabond'. (If you have some spare time for more fine song writing then please give the gentle album ‘Home’ from the tea-drinking Icelander Hafdis Huld a try.)

This year also saw the release of the ‘Lights Out’ album from Bishop Allen, a band that’s been a favourite of mine for a number of years now. And if that’s all too English language for you, then there’s always Tourista from Peru. But in line with a short-lived tradition, here's my  favourite French song of the year to end with - ‘Transhumance’ from the album ‘Hirundo’ by Dominique Dalcan.

I'm off for a relaxing cup of tea and a revivingly delicious piece of parkin. Oh my actual goodness as Mr Trench has been known to say.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Tangerine Gin

This is a seasonal drink that's very easy to make, tastes lovely and might even be described as festive if I were the festive type. I decided to make some when I was thinking about how much I missed Belfast gin. There are some very fine gins available, but back in the 1980s Belfast gin with its citrus flavour was always my favourite. Sadly I believe the gin disappeared sometime in the 1990s. This is definitely not a recreation of Belfast gin, it’s just inspired by it. In fact it’s more a way of producing a posh and expensive tasting liqueur without spending too much time or money. Once the Seville oranges arrive in the country you can use those in place of the tangerines.

This is quite an old recipe - there's a version of it in the Ocklye cookbook of 1908, for instance - but it deserves a revival. You can drink a little nip as a winter warmer, mix it with tonic or sparkling water for a longer drink or add it to cocktails. The tangerine combines well with lemon or with summery flavours like elderflower and some people mix it with ginger ale, although I'm personally less convinced about that. You can even sprinkle a little tangerine gin onto desserts or ice creams. Like quite a few liqueurs this is relatively sweet so cut down on the sugar if you prefer a more gin-like flavour.
Tangerine Gin
For any readers of my generation out there please note that it's Tangerine Gin and not Tangerine Dream. I can't guarantee that even after a few snifters of this gin you won't be running from the room should anyone press play on the Phaedra album.

8 or 9 tangerines
175 g granulated sugar
Half a bottle (375 ml) gin (a neutral, but pleasant gin - a cheap one should be fine)

Wash and dry the tangerines. Sterilise a suitable jar or container (allow a bit of room in the jar for shaking the contents). Use a fine vegetable peeler to remove the outer peel of the tangerines and place in the jar. (Try to avoid peeling any pith from the tangerines, although a small amount won't do any real harm.) Add the sugar, pour over the gin and seal the jar tightly. Shake the jar to dissolve the sugar.

Put the jar to one side for 4 or 5 days but shake the jar whenever you remember it (at least 3 or 4 times a day would be good). After those long days have passed, filter the gin through muslin and pour into a nice bottle. Seal, label and put into a cupboard. (It's possible to leave the peel in for much longer for a stronger and more matured flavour, but I'm not sure that’s the way I like it).

Now in theory, even after filtering out the peel, you should leave the gin to mellow for a while before drinking. There are some old recipes that suggest leaving it for a year or two. Well, that's a nice idea but a bit unlikely in my house. I promise you that it still makes a very pleasing drink after just 3 or 4 weeks in the bottle.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Turnips with Vinegar and Maple Syrup

The other day I put my Panama hat away in the trunk marked “Not Needed In Winter”, my butler poured me an autumn Armagnac and I found myself looking back on this year’s crop from what I laughingly call my vegetable patch. It was probably a decent return for very little effort. (Mind you, I'm still very grateful that there’s a large pick your own farm just up the road).

The homegrown vegetable that I've enjoyed most has probably been the humble turnip. I've wittered on about quick growing turnips before, but I'm still very impressed by them and I can’t understand why they’re not more widely grown. I get most of my seed from France where they’re grown far more often but small British varieties can give an excellent return as well.

This is a sweet and sour take on the turnip which is very simple but does rely on the use of good, small turnips as well as decent quality vinegar and maple syrup. You can use any sort of wine vinegar but one made from a sweet wine or sherry works particularly well. I used a vinaigre de Banyuls (not an expensive one) in this recipe, but that’s a bit obscure outside of France so a sherry vinegar or a mix of cheapish balsamic with a standard white wine vinegar would do nicely instead.
Turnips With Vinegar and Maple Syrup
This will serve 2 as a generous side dish.

350 g small turnips
3 tbsp wine or sherry vinegar (see above)
vegetable stock
2 tbsp maple syrup
a generous squeeze of lemon juice

Peel the turnips and cut into small chunks. Season and fry the chunks in a small amount of butter until they start to take on a little colour. Stir in the vinegar and add just enough vegetable stock to cover the turnips. Cover the pan loosely and simmer until the turnips are almost completely tender. The time this stage takes will depend on the size of the chunks and the age of the turnips, but 15 - 20 minutes will be about right for fresh, young turnips in smallish pieces.

Once the turnips reach the almost tender stage, remove the lid and increase the heat to reduce the liquid in the pan until there’s only around 2 tablespoons of it remaining. Stir in the maple syrup and continue cooking and stirring until the turnips are coated evenly with the sauce. Finish with the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning. A little extra black pepper added at the end is usually a good thing.
Vinegar and Maple Syrup

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Soupe à la Bière

Every year at around this time Le Festival Des Soupes et Des Pains (The Festival of Soup and Bread) is held either in or around Montreuil-sur-Mer, but I've heard that apparently this year’s event had to be cancelled. So I thought I'd put this soup together to compensate myself in a small way for that loss. (Not that I could have been there physically, but I definitely intended to be there in spirit.)

There are many types of beer soup across the north of France as well as in Belgium and northern Germany. Some versions seem to me to be little more than beer warmed up with a bit of seasoning but this version is closer to a northern French recipe using some of the fine root veg from the area. I roast the veg to concentrate the flavour although I doubt that roasting is very traditional. 

This type of soup is very often served with croutons and grated cheese. Typically the cheese would be gouda or emmental although you can use whatever hard cheese you fancy - some cheddars would be a good option. Given the choice, though, I'd probably go for a mimolette. The Bernard brothers produce a particularly fine mimolette at Wierre-Effroy, which is just a little way down the road from Montreuil. (I've referred to the brothers before but I felt guilty for not mentioning their very fine mimolette).

If you're expecting the kind of subtly flavoured French soup that you might find in a refined French restaurant then think again. This soup has a strong and distinctive flavour and, for that reason, I think it's best served in small bowls as a winter starter. The amounts given here will provide you with 4 starter portions. Of course, if you really love beer, then by all means have a large bowl.
Soupe à la Bière

3 average or 5 small carrots (I used small chantenay carrots) - a total weight of between 200 g and 250 g
1 leek
1 large or 2 small shallots
½ tsp sugar
250 ml bière blonde (use an interesting lager if you can’t find a French bière blonde)
300 ml chicken stock, plus another 100 ml on standby just in case the soup needs it (use a vegetable stock if you prefer, but chicken stands up better to the beer flavour)
4 - 8 tbsp crème fraîche
100 g hard cheese (see above)
A few thin slices of baguette for croutons

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Wash and peel or scrape the carrots (if they need it) and cut them into large chunks. If you’re using smaller carrots, then cutting them in half lengthways should be enough. Coat the carrot pieces in a little oil and place on an oven tray. Wash the leek, dry it and place it on the oven tray alongside the carrots. You don’t need to do anything else to the leek. Put the tray in the oven and roast for around 30 minutes until the carrots are almost completely tender and the leek has softened and collapsed a little. (Don’t worry if the leek looks a little brown or even burnt on the outside; you don’t need the outside leaves.)

Chop the shallot finely and, using a large pan, soften it slowly in a little butter. While that’s happening remove and discard the base, the outer leaves and any coarse green part of the leek. Chop the softened leek and carrot pieces roughly. Once the shallot has softened add the leek and carrots to the pan, season and pour in the beer and stock. Stir in the sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, cover loosely, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Liquidise and adjust the seasoning. You may also need to add a little more sugar if the beer is a less sweet variety. Add a little extra stock if the soup is too thick. Pour into bowls and stir in as much of the crème fraîche as you think the soup needs. Don’t skimp on the crème fraîche: it’s an important part of the soup and not simply a garnish.

Fry or toast the slices of baguette to use as croutons and grate your chosen cheese on top of the croutons or into a small bowl to serve alongside the soup.


By the way, if you've never been to Montreuil-sur-Mer and feel that you might be tempted to visit one day (after all it’s less than an hour’s drive from the tunnel) then it might be helpful if I point out a few random things:
  • First, it’s not ‘sur mer’. It hasn't been ‘sur mer’ since roughly the end of the middle ages. The access to the sea silted up about then, but why change a perfectly good town name?
A Montreuil Walk
  • Second, it’s been described as the Carcassonne of the North. Well, it has impressive ramparts and I can recommend a bracing stroll around them but if you compare it to Carcassonne then I’ll have to put on my doubtful face. It’s not as elaborate, it’s not as touristy and it’s not as fairytale. It’s more like a real northern French town with added ramparts.
Montreuil Ramparts
  • Third, it has a surprising number of cobbles.
Street Scenes in Montreuil
  • Fourth (and this might be less helpful), I'm rather fond of the place, even if the festival of soup has been cancelled.

Monday, 6 October 2014


I'm lucky enough to live only a short distance from the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley. Towards autumn they often sell some of the fruit grown in the garden and that means a chance to try some of the more traditional and rare varieties that you’ll never find in a supermarket. And that’s how I ended up with a fine bowlful or two of apples and pears. With that much fruit on hand, I thought that a flognarde might be called for.
Apples from Wisley
I've come across some versions of this dessert that seem like an attempt to make uninspiring apples a bit more interesting. But if you start with interesting apples or pears, then it’s so much better than that. The flognarde (or flaugnarde) appears to have started life in the Limousin region of France, although it turns up in other places such as the Périgord too. You might be tempted to ask what’s the difference between a flognarde and a clafoutis with apples in it, but please don't - that question gives me a headache.

There's a little drop of rum in this recipe and I know that will put some people off. Rum just doesn't seem to be a popular flavour these days. You could leave it out altogether or substitute some calvados but please try the rum if you have some lying around because it adds a lot to the overall taste in my very biased opinion.

I used a 24 cm square tin that was sold as a Yorkshire pudding tin on this occasion. This size will give quite a thin centre to the flognarde, but that’s the way I like it (and the way that I first came across it). Some people like a thicker result and so use a smaller tin if you prefer. Don’t use a loose bottom or springform tin, though, because the batter is thin and likely to leak.
I reckon that this will serve 8 people but 6 is more realistic if you have hungry friends.

For the fruit:
     30 g butter
     2 - 3 tbsp caster sugar (depends on how sweet your apples or pears might be)
     4 apples or a mixture of apples and pears - peeled, cored and sliced

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the caster sugar and the apples or pears and cook gently for five minutes or so. Stir now and then to ensure that the fruit is coated in buttery juices but don’t allow it to break up. Set aside.

For the batter:
     80 g plain flour
     ½ tsp baking powder (this probably isn't traditional, but I think it helps the texture)
     60 g caster sugar, plus a bit extra for dusting the tin
     4 eggs, lightly beaten
     1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
     1 tbsp melted butter
     2 tbsp dark rum
     150 ml milk (whole milk is probably best but semi-skimmed will be OK)
     20 g softened butter
     1 - 2 tbsp caster sugar for sprinkling on top of the flognarde

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter a suitable pie dish or oven tray (see above) and coat with a light dusting of caster sugar. Mix the sugar and flour together in a large bowl.

Whisk the eggs, vanilla paste, melted butter and rum together and then whisk this mixture into the flour and sugar mix. Gradually whisk in the milk, while doing your very best to avoid any lumps. Stir in the apples (or whatever fruit mixture you’re using). (If there’s a lot of juice, then you don’t need to add it all). Pour the mixture into the prepared tin or dish.

Break the softened butter into small pieces and dot them over the top of the batter. If you can, avoid putting any of the butter too near to the edges of the tin.  Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes. The centre should be set, but still soft and the top should be browned in places, especially at the edges. (Personally, I think the slightly crisper edges are the best bit).

Sprinkle with an additional tablespoon or two of caster sugar as you take it out of the oven. If you’re serving this hot from the oven then it’s best cut into pieces before removing from the tin. If not, allow the flognarde to cool in the tin and then the whole thing can be lifted out carefully and divided up appropriately.

This dish is usually served hot, ideally straight from the oven, but I think it’s also pretty good at room temperature or even chilled. A little crème fraîche or cream would be nice alongside, but it’s not essential. I know that some die-hard flognarde fans even like a room temperature slice for breakfast the next day and, actually, I reckon that’s not a bad idea.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tarte au Maroilles – The Lazy Person’s Guide

Bonjour tertous ! OK. that's just about all the ch'ti I can speak but I thought it was about time for a ch'ti recipe. After all, it's from just across the channel so it's almost a local dish.

In case you're not familiar with Maroilles, it's a soft cow's milk cheese with an orange rind that's made in northern France. Those simple facts sound harmless enough but there's a little more to it than that. The aroma of Maroilles can be scary. If you don't eat it quickly, it could start to set off fire alarms and endanger low-flying aircraft. On the other hand, it tastes great. As well as being a fine addition to the cheese board, it’s also a superb cheese for cooking.

One of the commonest dishes using this pushy little cheese is the Tarte au Maroilles. You can find different versions of this tarte around Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy but the most traditional form has a yeasted dough base rather than a layer of pastry. Think of it as a sort of enriched pizza dough. (I've now upset everyone from the north of France by saying that).

If you can’t get hold of any Maroilles, then you could substitute another cheese.  If you happen to venture into the Boulonnais region then you could do worse than to look for some of the cheeses made by the Bernard brothers in Wierre-Effroy. The Fruité du Cap Gris Nez would be ideal but the Fleur d’Audresselles or the Fort d’Ambleteuse would also do very nicely indeed. (As usual I should point out that I've no connection with the brothers and haven't received anything for nothing. I just like their cheeses.) Failing that use a cheese that isn't too soft and ripe but does have a powerful flavour: Chaumes, Reblochon or Pont-l'Évêque come to mind.

This is not a difficult dish to make but, if you happen to have a bread making machine, then it will need remarkably little effort. (The dough's not difficult to make without a machine, if you'd prefer to remain traditional). I use a Panasonic bread machine and it recommends the addition of the ingredients in the order I've given here, but follow the instructions for your particular breadmaker since the recommended order is often reversed.
Tarte au Maroilles
You can serve the tarte hot or cold, but I think it’s at its best when warm and accompanied by a green salad. This makes one 25 – 26 cm tarte, which should serve at least 8 as a starter, or 6 as a lunch.

For the base:
     ½ tsp easy bake fast action dried yeast
     300 g strong white flour
     ½ tsp salt
     2 tsp caster sugar
     15 g softened butter
     1 egg, beaten
     100 ml milk
     20 ml water
For the topping:
     300 g Maroilles
     200 ml crème fraîche
     1 egg
     Plenty of pepper, a little salt, a sprinkle of paprika and a pinch or two of ground cumin

Add all of the base ingredients to the breadmaker in the order recommended by your manufacturer. If your machine has a pizza dough setting then use it, but, if not, use the basic dough setting. Once the program is complete, you should have a light, slightly sticky dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to prove in a warm place for 45 – 60 minutes.

Butter a 25 cm or 26 cm diameter pie dish. (The tarte topping tends to bubble up more than you might expect and so a deeper dish is no bad thing.) Knock the dough back and roll it out until it covers the base of the pie dish. Some recipes suggest that you should fully line the dish by spreading the dough up the sides, but I was told in Picardy that it should remain flat.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Slice the Maroilles quite thinly and cover the dough base with the cheese. You don’t have to remove the rind of the cheese, but unless the cheese is very fresh then I think it’s better if you do. Beat the egg and stir it into the crème fraîche. Season this mixture with the pepper, salt, paprika and cumin. (The paprika and cumin aren't traditional, but they do add a little extra something). Pour the mixture onto the tarte and spread it out to cover the whole of the surface (you don’t need to be too fussy or precise about this). Bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is golden and puffed up.
Tarte au Maroilles
I will be forever grateful to Richard of ‘Maison de Plumes’ in Heuchin for persuading me to try Maroilles for the first time a few years ago. (Of course, I'm sure that he would never sink so low as to use a breadmaker).

Friday, 8 August 2014

Slow Cooker Carrot, Lemon and Almond Chutney

I'm a fan of slow cookers but I often seem to forget about them except when making casseroles of one kind or another. They're much more useful than that. Using the slow cooker for chutneys means that you don’t need to watch them too carefully but, even better than that, the slow cooking seems to blend and enrich the flavours exceptionally well. On the down side, it’s very difficult to give precise instructions on timings for slow cookers and I think it's quite tricky to get the amount of liquid in a preserve recipe correct. Slow cookers seem to vary a great deal, not only in the temperatures they reach, but also in the amount of liquid they tend to lose while cooking. So, it’s possible that after the initial cooking period you may need to transfer the chutney to a conventional pan and boil it for a short while to get the desired consistency.

This particular chutney is a classic combination but it’s one that works very well with a range of different foods and that seems to lend itself very well to slow cooking. You do need to allow time for the flavours to blend, so it’s best to make this chutney over a two-day period. Like just about any chutney the flavour is likely to improve after it’s been stored for a week or two, although this particular chutney is pretty good even if eaten straightaway. This amount will fill roughly 2 conventional jam jars or 4 small ones, although this will depend a little bit on how much you thicken the chutney before putting it in the jars. I feel confident that this will store very well for many months but, to be honest, so far I've just gobbled it down too quickly to be certain of that.
Carrot Lemon and Almond Chutney
500 g finely grated carrots
60 g ginger, peeled and either finely grated or reduced to a purée in a processor
300 g caster sugar
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
Juice of 2 lemons
50 ml runny honey
100 ml cider vinegar
40 g flaked almonds

Mix the grated carrot, ginger and caster sugar together and stir in the coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, pepper, salt and lemon zest. Pour the lemon juice, honey and vinegar into a jug and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour over the carrot mixture. Cover and leave overnight. (If you really can’t wait that long, then allow a few hours at least).

The next day, stir the mixture and cook in the slow cooker on its ‘High’ setting for 2½ hours. At the end of this time, the carrots should have softened a fair bit, without falling apart and the flavours should have combined and intensified. At this stage, check how much the liquid has reduced. If the chutney has thickened sufficiently, then stir in the almonds and leave to cook for a further 15 minutes or so. If the chutney still has too much liquid for your taste, then transfer it to a saucepan and boil it for a few minutes before adding the almonds and simmering briefly. The chutney will thicken somewhat as it cools.

Allow the chutney to cool slightly before spooning it into sterilised jars. Seal the jars and store somewhere cool and dark.


Happily, this month’s Slow Cooker Challenge hosted by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen is for preserves and so I'm duly offering this as an entry.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lemon And Cardamom Nonnettes

I've wittered on about nonnettes in the past  but I love them and I can't understand why everyone else in the world doesn't feel the same way. So apologies for nearly repeating myself but here's my current favourite variation on the nonnette theme, replacing the more traditional orange flavours with lemon.

Nonnettes are most commonly associated with the town of Dijon, although there are bakers elsewhere in France who seem a little unconvinced by this suggestion. Wherever the recipe originated, though, it's certainly been around a long time. In fact, it seems to  date from the middle ages. One notable feature of these cakes is that they don’t contain any eggs (well, not the way I make them anyway). I've used lemon curd in this particular version, but if you want to avoid eggs, substitute marmalade or jam (raspberry, blackberry or boysenberry will all work well).

Nonnettes are closely related to pain d’épices and so will often contain a more complex mix of spices and will also often use rye flour, at least in part. For this version I've stuck to a single spice and I've used a mixture of plain white and wholemeal flours. Nonnettes are usually baked in round tins and so smallish muffin tins will be fine. Just for a bit of variety I used a friand tin on this occasion.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
This recipe should make around 15 cakes.

200 g runny honey
100 ml water
100 ml milk
100 g light soft brown sugar
80 g butter
1 tsp limoncello (optional)
200 g plain flour
100 g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
15 tsp (or one teaspoon per cake) lemon curd

For the glaze:
     5 tbsp icing sugar
     a little lemon juice

Put the honey, water, milk, brown sugar, butter and limoncello (if you’re using it) into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the butter has melted, the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the ground cardamom. While the honey mixture is still warm, sieve the flour mixture onto it and whisk the two together until smooth. Stir in the lemon zest. Put the mixture into the fridge and leave it there for at least an hour until thoroughly chilled.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spoon the mixture into the muffin or friand tins until they’re somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters full. Place a teaspoon of lemon curd on top of each nonnette. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes. It can be a little tricky to judge when the cakes are ready – they should be golden brown and, although still soft, they should spring back when pressed gently.

While the nonnettes are still warm and in their moulds, mix the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to create a thin icing. Pour the icing over the nonnettes or, better still, spread it on with a pastry brush. The idea is to create something resembling a thin sugar glaze rather than an iced cake. Allow the nonnettes to cool before removing them from the tin.

Nonnettes keep well in an airtight tin and, in fact, taste even better if allowed to mature for one or two days, if you can wait that long.
Lemon and Cardamom Nonnettes
I haven't entered many blog challenges in recent months because of a serious lack of time (and energy) but the theme for this month’s Love Cake challenge, hosted by Jibber Jabber UK is French. If you've read this blog before, then you might have noticed that French cake is a bit of an obsession with me, so I can't resist entering this particular challenge.
Love Cake Logo

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding for M. Satie

The other day I was listening to a fine rendition of Erik Satie’s ‘Je te veux’ on the radio and, for some reason, I remembered that he claimed to eat only white food. This choice may have stemmed from an artistic desire for purity, although, let’s face it, Satie was as mad as a box of frogs a trifle eccentric.

I started to imagine what I’d serve up if Satie came round for dinner. I wouldn't put it past him to turn up out of the blue with a bouquet of umbrellas in hand expecting to be fed. I'm not sure that being dead for nearly 90 years would stop him. The starter could be a white soup, I suppose, and maybe chicken in a white sauce for the main course. But this is definitely the dessert.

My version of coconut rice pudding isn't dairy-free, because I like the silkiness that the dairy elements bring to the dish. The fromage frais not only gives some extra creaminess, but also adds a little sharpness, which I think lifts the flavour of the pudding.

There are other elderflower liqueurs around, but I used St-Germain. You could use some elderflower cordial instead if you want to avoid booze. I know that St-Germain is not truly white – it’s more of a light straw colour – but I think M. Satie may be willing to make an exception to his white rule for alcohol. He was all too fond of a particular green form of alcohol, after all. (I've no connection with the St-Germain company, by the way, and I've never received so much as a drop of liqueur for being nice about them.)
Coconut and Elderflower Rice Pudding
I dished up five servings from the amounts given, but I've no idea how much M. Satie will eat if he ever arrives. After all he insisted that dinner should last for no more than four minutes.

120 g short-grain, pudding rice
400 ml coconut milk (you can use reduced fat coconut milk at the expense of a little richness)
80 g caster sugar
400 ml milk (full-fat ideally, although it’s not essential)
8 tbsp fromage frais (ideally a richer version rather than a fat-free option)
2 tbsp elderflower liqueur such as St-Germain
A sprinkling of white chocolate curls for decoration

Mix the rice, coconut milk, sugar and milk in a saucepan. Bring slowly to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer very gently, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened and the rice is tender. If you’re being very gentle, this could be 35 – 40 minutes. Remember to keep stirring towards the end of this time to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the liqueur and the fromage frais. Chill until you’re ready to serve.

To serve, place into serving glasses or dishes (white dishes, of course) and decorate with a few white chocolate curls. I make the curls by scraping a vegetable peeler very lightly across a cold bar of white chocolate.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Pig Cheek Curry

Pig (or pork) cheeks seem to have become a trendy ingredient over the last couple of years. I'm a long way from trendy, but I have to admit that they’re a fine cut of meat. As long as they’re cooked slowly and gently, they’re meltingly tender and full of flavour. For the moment at least, they’re also reasonably cheap. In fact, they can be a bit of a bargain. Most of the dishes using cheeks that I've come across recently have been based on traditional European slow braised recipes and there's nothing wrong with that. If you fancy something a bit different, though, I've found that cheeks work well in spicier dishes.

Despite what might seem like a lot of ingredients this is actually a midweek, standby sort of recipe, assuming that you have enough time to let it simmer away slowly. Apart from the cheeks and the squash, everything can come out of the store cupboard or freezer and it’s not only very simple to put together but it will also cook gently while you get on with something useful or diverting.

Actually, this is a simplified and quick version of the way I learned to make a Madras curry in the remote past. The Madras is a very flexible restaurant institution, so who cares about a little extra variation? I've given a simple spice mix here, but you could use a Madras curry powder instead to make the whole thing even easier still.
Pig Cheek Curry
With a little rice or flat breads of some kind, this will serve 2 people.

Spice mix:
     ½ tsp black pepper
     ½ tsp chilli powder (or more, if you like it hot)
     ½ tsp ground turmeric
     1 tsp ground cumin
     1 tsp ground coriander
     ½ tsp garam marsala
     Seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into small dice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
280 g (or thereabouts) pig cheek – trim off any large bits of fat or membrane but leave whole
400 g tin tomatoes
200 ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground almonds
½ butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes (other types of squash would do)
A few green beans or peas, if you have some – frozen or fresh (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, or use some frozen spinach
A few leaves of coriander, chopped (you could use frozen chopped coriander too)
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

Soften the onion and green pepper slowly in a little oil. If they start to dry out and catch, then add a little water. Once softened, stir in the garlic and continue to cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato purée, the spice mix (or curry powder) and a couple of tablespoonfuls of water and stir together well. Let the mixture cook gently until the water has evaporated. Turn up the heat a little and add the pig cheeks. Stir them around in the mixture for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes, the chicken stock and the ground almonds. Bring slowly to the boil, turn the heat to low, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently for a couple of hours. Ideally, every twenty minutes or so, turn the pig’s cheeks and give the mixture a quick stir.

While that’s cooking, coat the cubes of squash lightly in oil and roast in the oven at 180°C until soft and starting to brown around the edges. This will take roughly 20 to 30 minutes but could vary a fair bit. Cook the beans or peas in a little boiling water, if you’re using them.

At the end of the 2 hours, the cheeks should be very tender but not falling apart and the mixture should have thickened a little. If the sauce is still a little too liquid for your taste, then remove the lid, take the cheeks out, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid until you’re happy. Stir in the cooked squash and beans or peas. Add the spinach and cover the pan again. Cook gently until the spinach has wilted and the squash is heated through.

Add the lemon juice if you think it needs it – that will probably depend on the sweetness and ripeness of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the coriander just before serving.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Quatre Quarts

I was stuck in a post office queue recently and I started to daydream about Brittany. (The place, not a person). By the time I got to the counter, I felt I really had to come home and make a quatre quarts. Although versions of this cake can be found in pretty much any French supermarket, Brittany is its spiritual home. The cake is essentially a pound cake, but it’s all about good butter and in Brittany that means very good, salted butter. Incidentally, the name simply refers to the four quarters, the four ingredients of identical weight that make up the cake - eggs, flour, sugar and butter.

I add a little vanilla to the cake, which I don’t think is strictly authentic but I like it. Depending on whom you ask, baking powder may not be acceptable either, but I don’t care, I use it anyway. If you fancy a variation, chocolate and apple versions are very popular in Brittany too.
Quatre Quarts
This will make enough mixture for a 2 lb (900 g) loaf tin and that’s the more common shape for the cake but you could use a round tin instead (21 cm diameter should be about right). It will also work well in small, individual loaf tins.

This cake reminds me of Carnac. Surely, I can’t be so shallow that I gaze upon one of Europe’s most majestic prehistoric landscapes and think of cake, can I? Well, nobody’s perfect.
3 eggs, weighed in their shells (If they're anything like the eggs from the local farm here that will amount to close to 200 g)
The same weight in
     plain flour
     caster sugar
     lightly salted butter (plus a little bit extra for rubbing on the tin)
1½ tsp of baking powder
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract (optional)

Mix the baking powder into the flour. Butter your chosen tin or tins thoroughly and line the base with baking paper just to be sure. Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Soften the butter over a very low heat or in a microwave (it should be very soft but not quite melted). Set the butter aside to cool. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly until the mixture is very pale. Whisk in the vanilla paste (or extract) if you’re using it. Sieve in a third of the flour and baking powder mix and add a third of the softened, cooled butter. Mix these in well, but try not to beat the mixture too much. Repeat this process twice with the remaining thirds of flour and butter.

Whisk the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Fold the egg whites into the mixture gently but thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a knife or cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to darken too much for your taste, then cover the cake loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking. (I've noticed that a lot of bakers in Brittany actually like quite a dark top on this type of cake and bake at a higher temperature to produce it).

Allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out to cool completely on a rack.
Quatre Quarts

Monday, 31 March 2014

Veg Patch Confessions Part 43b - New Zealand Spinach

There's no recipe today; instead it’s this year’s first dubious tale from the neglected veg patch.

Spinach is a very useful vegetable to have growing in your garden in my opinion. Even if you don’t have much space to grow a lot of plants, a couple of handfuls of the leaves can be really useful to add to curries, pasta, fish or whatever you fancy. The problem is that if you’re away from home or if you’re just too busy to get out to your plants, then things start to go wrong. Like most vegetables, spinach doesn't take kindly to near complete neglect, especially a lack of watering.

On the other hand, there is a useful little plant that has survived a serious amount of neglect in my veg patch: New Zealand Spinach (tetragonia tetragonioides). It might not be as prolific or as large as conventional spinach, but any vegetable that can survive both drought and my incompetent gardening has got to be a good thing.
New Zealand Spinach
You may know this plant by a different name. For instance, in Australia and New Zealand I'm told that it’s known as Warrigal greens. In France it’s called tétragone and elsewhere it’s sometimes called sea spinach for reasons that I don’t really understand. Whatever you call it, though, it really does taste and behave like spinach once cooked.

If you're not familiar with this plant and you might be tempted to try growing it, here are a few things I've discovered about New Zealand spinach that the seed packet might not tell you.
  • Snails and slugs don’t seem to like it much and will only nibble it if desperate.

  • As far as I know, there are no named varieties and so there’s no reason to go shopping around for a particular variety of seed – they should all be the same.

  • It’s best if you pick the leaves little and often. Once blanched they do freeze well in the same way as normal spinach. If you don’t pick regularly, the plants can become quite large and ungainly. This might not be a major problem unless they outgrow their space and swamp nearby smaller plants.

  • Don’t plant it directly in the ground if the soil is still cold – it will sulk and fail to germinate. On the other hand, it germinates really well in pots on a windowsill, although it’s best to soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.

  • In their raw form the leaves do contain quite a high concentration of oxalic acid (as does sorrel) and this would be unhealthy in large doses. Although eating raw leaves is not recommended, the acid is largely removed by cooking or blanching. Spinach, chard, kale and rhubarb (amongst other foods) also contain oxalic acid, so I don’t think that there’s any reason to worry about this plant in particular.

  • The flowers are small and yellow and it’s almost impossible to stop the plants flowering, especially if you don’t pick the leaves regularly. It doesn’t really matter if they do flower, though, and they will self-seed, so you may never need to buy another packet of seeds.

  • The plants will usually be killed instantly by the first frost.
March in the Garden
While I've got my battered gardening hat on, I feel the urge to mention chervil again. It’s not that easy to find on sale in supermarkets but it’s a useful, decorative and easily grown herb. Some of last summer’s plants set seed in my garden and, as a result, some young plants survived the mild winter and are producing an excellent spring crop.
Now I really must get around to cooking something.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cardamom and Lemon Apple Jelly

I've wittered on about making savoury apple jellies before, but I don't care, I'm going to do it again. They've become one of my essential store cupboard items and, following the superb crop of apples in England last year, I was given plenty of cooking apples with which to experiment over the autumn and winter. This jelly won the award for best newcomer.

It's more fragrant and a little less punchy than some of the others that I make but it’s certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to flavour. The cardamom is the main taste but it does need the lemon to provide a lift. It’s excellent served with cured or smoked salmon or used as a glaze when roasting salmon fillets. It also works very well with lamb and cold meats and adds an extra depth to vegetable dishes. Mixed with white wine, lemon juice and olive oil it will create a fine marinade or glaze for chicken or pork and it's useful for adding extra flavour to quick, weekday curries. You can even use it to flavour sweet dishes but, if you want a truly sweet jelly, then swap the vinegar in the recipe for more water.

Although this may sound like quite a few apples, it will only produce roughly three small jars. It might seem like a lot of effort for not much reward but a little does go a long way and will provide a big flavour boost whenever you fancy it.
Cardamom and Lemon Apple Jelly
For the first stage:
     1 kg cooking apples (Bramleys are the obvious choice, but other varieties will be fine too)
     500 ml white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
     500 ml water
     2 unwaxed lemons
     40 (or so) lightly crushed cardamom pods

For the second stage:
     450 g granulated sugar for every 550 ml of liquid that dripped through the jelly bag
     Seeds of around 30 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

It’s probably easiest to make the jelly over two days so that it can left overnight, but, failing that, allow at least 3 – 5 hours between stages one and two.

For stage 1, wash the apples and make sure that there are no damaged bits on them. Chop the apples roughly without peeling or removing the pips. Place the apple pieces in a preserving pan together with the vinegar and water. Cut the lemons in half and add them to the pan. Stir in the cardamom and place the pan on the heat. Bring to the boil, squeezing the lemon halves with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure that juice escapes. Put a lid on the pan and simmer the mixture until the apples have collapsed and become mushy. This probably won’t take more than 15 minutes, although it will vary a little depending on the variety of apple you’re using.

Put the contents of the pan into a jelly bag (or you could use fine muslin) and leave it to drip through into a clean container.

When you awake refreshed the next morning or when you just can’t wait any longer, measure the liquid that’s dripped through the bag, pour it back into the cleaned preserving pan and add the appropriate amount of sugar for the second stage. (Don’t use sugar with added pectin – there’ll be plenty of pectin in the mixture from the apples and lemons already).

Put the pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat, bring to the boil and skim any unpleasant looking foam or scum from the top. Boil until the jelly reaches setting point. These days I've learnt to trust a jam thermometer and the way the jelly looks to tell me when that point has been reached. There’s always the old wrinkle test as an alternative, though: chill a saucer in the freezer, put a small dollop of the jelly on the saucer, wait a moment or two and if the jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger, then it’s ready.

As the jelly starts to cool, it will begin to thicken. At this point, stir in the cardamom seeds, which should remain suspended in the jelly. If they sink to the bottom, let the jelly cool a little more and stir again. Pour the jelly into sterilised jars and seal. I tend to get through the jars of jelly quite quickly but they should keep for about a year unopened if stored in a cool, dark cupboard. Once opened, store in the fridge, where they should last for at least six weeks.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Wet Nelly Goes South

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that today is Global Scouse Day. In celebration, here's an alternative dish from Liverpool - sort of. A while ago I read this post about the Wet Nelly of Liverpool on the very fine blog Lola and Finn’s Mum. Shamefully, despite a shedload of visits to Liverpool, I'd never heard of Wet Nelly. While I was back there last year and cruising along Speke Boulevard at the regulation 40 mph with the wind from Widnes blowing through what remains of my hair, I suddenly remembered Wet Nelly and thought I must have a go at making one.

It turns out that Wet Nelly is essentially bread pudding from Liverpool. It might have pastry on the top and bottom and, then again, it might not. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that it’s one of those puddings designed to use up whatever you have left in the cupboard when there’s not much money to go around. I can remember eating bread puddings made from various leftovers as a kid (in London not Liverpool) but I have to admit that they were moderately terrible. So I was keen to see what would happen if I made one now.

I'm a fully qualified southern softie and I just don’t have the same sort of leftovers these days that we had when I was young. Looking round the kitchen, I had leftover brioche, some speculoos biscuits (or Biscoff, as they seem to be called in the UK these days) and butter rather than suet. (When did I become so ridiculously middle class? I think I'm becoming unduly influenced by Damien Trench.) Anyway, this is my attempt at a Southern Wet Nelly or slightly eccentric (and probably woollyback) bread pudding. As it turns out, there’s nothing at all wrong with that idea and the result is so much better than anything I ate as a kid. In fact, it’s decidedly moreish.

One more thing, in Liverpool I was told that Wet Nelly should always be cut into squares before serving. No other shape would be right. I advise against asking why that should be, you might well get the answer, ‘Act soft and I’ll buy you a coalyard’.

Southern Wet Nelly
You don’t have to use rum to soak the sultanas - orange juice, black tea or even water will do. On the other hand, if this dish is a tribute to Nelson as historians suggest, then I'm sure that he would have chosen rum and so would I. If you use stale bread to make this dish, it will probably need some additional soaking time. Brioche is normally softer and needs only 10 minutes or so.

300 g brioche, torn into chunks (it can be less than perfectly fresh)
200 ml milk
150 g sultanas
3 tbsp dark rum
4 speculoos (biscoff) biscuits (or whatever spicy or gingery biscuits you have)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
50 g butter, softened plus a bit extra for the tin
70 g light brown soft sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp marmalade
2 tsp demerara sugar, to sprinkle on top

Put the brioche chunks into a large bowl and pour over the milk. Squidge the brioche and milk together a little and set aside. Place the sultanas in a bowl and pour over the rum. Set aside while you get the rest of the ingredients together.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter an oven tray or cake tin – I used an 18 cm square tray with a depth of 5 cm. Break the speculoos (or other biscuits) into random chunks. (I put mine into a plastic bag and bashed them on the worktop a few times.) Add the sultanas and any residual rum to the soggy brioche, then add all the other ingredients, except the demerara sugar. Stir the whole lot together thoroughly. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the demerara sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 – 45 minutes until the top is browned but not burnt and the pudding feels springy but reasonably firm. You can either cut the pudding into squares and serve immediately with some custard or allow it to cool and reheat later (a microwave will do the job fine, although Mr Trench might disagree). Or, if you're like me, just eat it cold whenever the urge takes you.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Three-Day Oxtail with Gin and Beer

This dish really doesn't need a lot of work, but it does need a fair bit of time. If you can’t wait, you can shorten the process, but I think this dish is at it’s very best when made over a three-day period. On the first day you prepare the marinade and leave it overnight to do its stuff. On the second day you cook the dish in a relaxed manner and then chill it overnight. On the third day you reheat and enjoy it.

This is an Anglicised version of a ch’ti recipe from just across the channel. The original recipe would have used genièvre and a local beer (a bière ambrée) but gin and a pale ale will do nicely instead, if they’re easier to lay your hands on. You can use other beers, but avoid any that are very bitter.

This dish would normally be served simply with a little pasta or boiled potatoes, I think, but mashed potatoes, roasted celeriac or rice would be just fine too. This is a very warming and comforting dish for a winter’s day. Eat this and imagine yourself in a little estaminet somewhere near the coast of the Pas-de-Calais with good company and steamed-up windows. Hopefully, I'll be the badly dressed bloke in the corner studying a ‘Learn To Speak Ch’ti Without Tears’ book.

This will serve 2 but it will feed one or two more if accompanied by enough pasta, rice or veg. À chés fêtes !
Oxtail with Gin and Beer
600 g – 750 g oxtail, in thick slices

For the marinade:
     2 carrots, chopped into small chunks
     1 onion, chopped
     3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
     8 juniper berries
     2 sprigs rosemary
     1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar (not authentic, but it works)
     2 tbsp tomato purée
     100 ml gin (or genièvre, if you happen to have some)
     150 ml beer
     A little salt and a generous sprinkle of pepper

80 g smoked lardons
140 g mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dark brown sugar
200 ml beef stock
A little lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped chervil or parsley

Day one: Simply mix all the marinade ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl and add the oxtail. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

Day two: Preheat the oven to 150 °C, remove the oxtail from the marinade and pat it dry. Add the lardons to a large, dry frying pan and fry them over a medium heat until the fat begins to run. Add the oxtail to the pan and brown it lightly on all sides. Strain the marinade to separate the vegetables from the liquid (but keep both). Discard the rosemary. Add the strained vegetables to the pan together with the mushrooms. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes more. Sprinkle the sugar over the pan and pour in the reserved marinade liquid. Bring the liquid to simmering point and add the beef stock. Bring back to a simmer. Transfer the dish to a ovenproof casserole dish and place in the oven for 2 – 3 hours until the meat is very tender.

Allow the casserole to cool, at least until you can handle it. Remove the meat from the bones and break up into fairly small pieces. Discard the bones and any remaining chunks of fat. Return the meat to the casserole and put it in the fridge.

Day three: Skim off most of the fat and reheat the casserole in a low oven. When it’s nice and hot adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze or two of lemon. Sprinkle with a little chopped chervil or parsley if you fancy and serve with your chosen accompaniment.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Pistachio Lemon and Rapeseed Oil Financiers

Recently, and not for the first time in my life, I bought a cake mould without really thinking what I might use it for. My feeble excuse is that it was in a sale. Although it’s deeper than a classic financier mould, it’s the same basic shape and it made me think of a recipe that I’d seen a year or two ago on the Elle à Table site for financiers made with apricots and olive oil. (The original recipe can be found here)

This recipe is based on that Elle original but, as any TV chef will tell you, olive oil is just so last decade and I used mainly cold pressed rapeseed oil instead. In fact, I used a combination of rapeseed and lemon-infused olive oil but either will work in this recipe. I know that not everyone agrees but I really like the flavour of rapeseed oil in baking. I think it works particularly well with pistachios and so I've used them rather than the more usual almonds.

The pistachios can be ground in a processor but don’t overdo it or the result will be too greasy. This amount gave me nine larger cakes, but if you make smaller, classic financiers then you should get at least twice that number. These light, little cakes will keep pretty well in an airtight container for a day or two and they also freeze well, but I must admit that they’re at their absolute best when eaten as soon as they’re cool.
Pistachio Lemon and Rapeseed Oil Financiers
50 g ground pistachios
50 g plain flour
150 g icing sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, very finely grated
125 g egg white (this worked out to be about 3½ of the large eggs that I had)
80 ml cold pressed rapeseed oil
40 ml lemon-infused olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter a large financier or small cake mould.

Sieve the icing sugar, flour and pistachios and combine in a large bowl, ideally the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one. Stir in the lemon zest. Pour the egg whites into the bowl slowly while whisking vigorously. Once the egg white is combined, add the oil in the same way until the mixture comes together. (It may seem quite a thin mixture, but that’s the way it should be).

Fill the moulds at least ¾ full. Bake for around 20 minutes until the tops of the cakes are risen and golden and a knife or tester comes out clean. (Small financiers will take around 10 – 12 minutes).

Allow the cakes to cool in the mould for a few minutes before turning out and cooling completely on a rack.