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 Pari├Ęs 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.