Tuesday, 10 January 2017

It's 2017 & Time For A Floctail

Let's not dwell on the dispiriting aspects of 2016. Here are a few food and drink snippets worth celebrating from 2016 and worth looking forward to in 2017 - well, for me anyway. Given the events of the last year I suppose it's not surprising that a number of them are alcoholic.

But first, let me offer a sincere apology. At the start of last year I confessed that I was running out of recipes and that 2016 would probably be the last year of this blog. The bad news is that not only have I been hopeless at getting around to adding the remaining recipes to the blog, I've also found a few more in a ditch somewhere with the result that I might well have another year to go. Sorry about that.

I did make an effort to be a bit less hopeless and more like a proper blogger early in 2016. I was persuaded that I should start a Facebook page for the blog. It seemed to use up time that I couldn't really spare but I gave it a go until a very successful blogger told me that Facebook would allow me to ‘begin the leverage of my blog's potential to maximise the exploitation of my profile on social media’. At least, it was something like that. Of course, as soon as I heard the word ‘leverage’ I deleted the Facebook page. I'll try to avoid mistakes like that in the future.



Some very fine (and often affordable) wines crossed my path during 2016. Sometimes they were from places I didn't expect like Tasmania, sometimes made from grapes I didn't expect like touriga and sometimes they were just plain surprising. I was especially surprised by a number of delicious 'new world' wines that you might well think were from the oldest of the old world.
Casas del Bosque Syrah and LH Riesling

One of the most interesting people I met last year was Grant Phelps, winemaker and DJ. Until recently he was the head winemaker at Casas del Bosque in Chile and his wines were my choice for Christmas. They're seriously good wines (especially the Syrah) and very possibly not what you'd expect from Chile. Mr Phelps has now left Casas del Bosque to run a hotel and wine bar made out of shipping containers in Valparaiso. (Told you he was interesting.)

And I can't mention wines without saying that there are some really good sparkling wines being produced in England these days. And I do mean REALLY good.



Staying with alcohol, I'm inordinately pleased to say that the British gin revival continues in a glorious fashion. Just to mention a couple of very fine examples: Silent Pool (and not just because it's my local gin) and Bathtub. And try the Bombay Sapphire Distillery experience if you get a chance - it's good fun.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery


I'm looking forward to the crowdfunded publication of 'The Plagiarist In The Kitchen', the first cookbook by Jonathan Meades. I know that there are still some interesting cookbooks being published but there also seems to be an endless succession of dismal, repetitious and self-congratulatory celebrity cookbooks. I think I can be certain that Meades won't be that kind of writer and I'm assured that the book will not contain the word 'drizzle'.



In 2016 there was a nasty moment in my little town when a number of people were treated for shock after a local restaurant served several dishes which contained no kale at all (hard to believe, I know). In other 2016 fashion news, I think I might need to join a support group if I come across yet another cake made with coconut flour. And don't get me started on chia seeds. However, despite the obvious dangers, I believe that it's compulsory to discuss future food trends in January so here goes.

In 2017 I'm told that we'll be eating vegetable yoghurts, tucking into anything that looks vaguely fermented and, by the end of the year, we'll be unable to live without regular doses of cauliflower. I'll need to revive my cauliflower soup and purée recipes - I might be on trend for once in my life. No, let's be honest, that's not likely.



I've also been told that sherry cocktails might be big this year. That's OK by me but I’m currently more interested in floctails. For some outlandish reason I think of floc as a winter drink so here's a fruity and cheering cocktail based loosely on some drinks that turned up in a Landes pine forest. I think I might call it “Floc Wallpaper” just because I can. Adjust the size of your measure according to your need for a drink.
Floctail or Floc Wallpaper

4 measures of white Floc de Gascogne
1 measure of peach schnapps
1 measure lemon juice
½ measure of lime juice

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Strain into a suitably decadent glass and decorate if you really feel that you have to.


Hopefully I’ll soon get round to publishing some of the deeply unfashionable recipes that I didn't get round to in 2016. Until then let me wish you all a slightly belated very best for 2017 and leave you with my favourite song from 2016.

 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

A Slacker's Christmas Standbys

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

Artichoke Dip


If you were around and reading cookery books or magazines in the 1980s then you'll already know this first little cheat. It seemed to turn up just about everywhere and with good reason - it’s useful, speedy and very tasty.
Slacker's Artichoke Dip
  • Buy a jar of artichoke hearts in oil.
  • Put the contents of the jar in a blender or processor with a squeeze of lemon and a few turns of pepper.
  • Wizz until it's as smooth as you fancy. If the dip is too thick then add a little more oil.
  • Pour into a bowl, drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar or dust with paprika. Serve with some fancy breadsticks or flat breads (from the shops, of course). You can add some additional flavours if you wish such as a little sherry vinegar or some Parmesan grated on top. (If you're tempted to use pickled artichokes, please click here first). 

PX Affogato


In recent years the affogato has become the easy standby dessert and why not? Although I can't resist adding a little twist.
PX Affogato
  • Buy some decent quality vanilla ice cream and put a scoop or two in a bowl.
  • Make a good espresso (ideally with a really easy capsule machine to minimise effort) and pour it over the ice cream.
  • At this point I suggest that you add a little Pedro Ximenez too. In case you've been living far from civilisation and haven't heard of PX, then let me explain that it's a gorgeous, sticky toffee sort of sherry. It's not authentic in an affogato but it makes a truly delicious difference.



As I said, it's been a difficult kind of year and I could give you a list of the music I've been listening to by the artists who left us this year but I prefer to offer something soothing. Halfway through the year William Tyler released 'Modern Country', a deceptively simple, understated but hugely satisfying album of guitar led music. Perfectly judged for times such as these, so take a few minutes out to relax, reflect and enjoy if you can.




Just in case this posting hasn't been quite festive enough, I leave you until after the celebrations with a seasonal pic from the local RHS Wisley Garden Christmas Glow Event.

Wisley Christmas Glow 2016

I wish you a happy and soothing Christmas.

Friday, 18 November 2016

South London Goulash Or How We Survived The 1970s

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

In fact, that probably wasn't such a strange dream. There were endless bowls of goulash back then. Pretty much everyone that I knew in the late 70s seemed to cook goulash as often as possible. Mr Stein's version wasn't quite the dish that I remember, though, and I felt compelled to try to recreate the one in my head. This is my attempt and it comes close. It's actually a bit lighter than the 1970s dishes and I don't think we'd heard of smoked paprika back then but I couldn't resist adding just a little.  Mr Stein also avoids green peppers in his recipe but I seem to recall that they were definitely part of the South London version.
South London Goulash
I remember a number of people crediting The Gay Hussar restaurant in London as the inspiration behind their goulash. I doubt that many of them had actually been there, though, and they probably found the recipes in magazines. But the Gay Hussar was just the kind of place that you really had to talk about back then, even if you couldn't afford to eat there. It wasn't exactly trendy - it was more of a legend. I'm very pleased to see that the GH still exists (almost all of the restaurants I remember from back then are just historical footnotes) but I admit that I've not been near the place in many years. I don't often recall the meals of the 1970s with much fondness, but this was a good dish back then and it's still surprisingly good now. Without regular (very regular) servings of goulash we might not have survived the 1970s.

This serves 2 fairly generously - the 1970s were generous times at least as far as portion sizes were concerned.

2 onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp caraway seeds
4 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
400 g shin of beef, cut into chunks (small chunks but definitely not tiny)
Beef stock (about 500 ml)
2 green peppers
1 tbsp tomato purée
Sour cream to serve if you fancy it

Gently fry the onion in a little oil until it begins to soften. (OK, lard or dripping may be a bit more authentic, but they were more 1950s than 1970s). Add the garlic, chilli, caraway seeds and both types of paprika and continue to fry for a minute or so while stirring regularly. Season with a generous amount of pepper and a little salt.

Stir in the beef and fry for few minutes more until it's well coated with the spices and onions. Add a little beef stock – only around the bottom third of the beef chunks should be in the liquid. Cover the pan lightly and allow it to simmer for between 90 minutes and 2 hours or until the beef is tender. You don't need to do too much to the dish during this period, just stir occasionally and add more stock or water if it threatens to dry out.

You don't need to grill and skin the peppers, but I think it improves the 2016 version of the dish if you do. Core and deseed the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Then either seal them in a plastic bag or place in a bowl and cover them. Either way, leave them until they're cool enough to handle and then peel off and discard the blackened skin. Cut the peppers into thick slices.

Once the beef is tender add the peppers and tomato purée to the pan and pour in some more stock. Exactly how much stock you add at this stage is down to how much sauce you want in the finished dish. I know some people like plenty of sauce for mopping up but I keep it relatively dry. Continue simmering for an additional 30 minutes or so.

Personally, I've never really understood the attraction of the dollop of sour cream that was often added when serving the goulash in the 1970s, but I know that many people thought it was the best bit, so don't let me stop you adding some if you wish. Everyone seemed to serve this dish with rice or, if they were feeling very avant-garde, some sort of noodles and either would be fine with me. Purists may well be outraged by such accompaniments but I'm being faithful to my South London roots.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Proustian Sunsets and a Crème au Chocolat

Once upon a time I imagined that I'd get around to reading Proust when I was old. A few years ago I was walking along the Promenade Marcel Proust on the Cabourg seafront in Normandy as the sun was going down and it occurred to me that I was old and so I'd better get on with it.  Cabourg was the inspiration for the Proustian Balbec and the sunsets are as notable in real life as they are in literature. (And you can still get a notable seafood dish or two along the Cabourg seafront too).
Cabourg Sunset
So wearing suitable clothing and with a lot of strong coffee to hand I read all seven volumes. It took a while, but I survived. Don't worry I'm not going to attempt any form of literary criticism - this is a food blog, I seem to remember - but there are two observations that I'd like to pass on. First, at some point during volume two I actually started to think that prodigiously long sentences were perfectly normal and had to give myself a serious talking to in short phrases. Second, there are more jokes in Proust than I was expecting (I wasn't really expecting any at all).
Cabourg Sunset
Think of Proust when you're hungry and you're likely to think of the famous madeleine. It's mentioned early in volume one of 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu', so that's fair enough but a reproduction of some of Proust's notebooks was published recently and it appears that the madeleine was something of an afterthought. Initially Proust may have been inspired to begin writing his sizeable masterpiece by a slice of toast. But I digress – well, of course I do, I've been reading Proust.

Now you might expect an elaborate bit of haute cuisine to celebrate Proust but, while I was part of the way through my Proustathon, I read a blog post by Francis Tessandier of the fine literary restaurant Chez Francis in Brive-la-Gaillarde who had chosen a crème au chocolat to honour the inspiration of Proust. It's a little treat that clearly meant a lot to Proust and his family so I'm stealing that idea, although with a very different sort of recipe. Little chocolate crèmes are more often than not made by creating an enriched custard and adding chocolate before cooking in a bain-marie. As usual, though, I'm trying to make life as simple as possible and this recipe for crème au chocolat is ridiculously simple. There's no bain-marie, no additional sugar and, if you go to similar supermarkets to me and buy the items below, not even any measuring.

The result is perhaps not as light and fleeting as Françoise produced for the Proust household but it's silky and rich and should persuade anyone that you made a big effort to please them even though that's not quite the case. There's nothing surprising about the ingredients, it's the technique that's so different. It's based on the Joyce Molyneux method from her legendary time at the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth from the 1970s to the 1990s. In my insignificant opinion she was a true giant of British cooking.
Crème au Chocolat
I used a raspberry liqueur to add additional flavour, but other liqueurs such as orange or hazelnut will work just fine if that's what you have. If you don't want to use alcohol, then try other flavourings such as orange extract, but don't add too much or it may mask the chocolate flavour.

200 g bar of dark chocolate (good quality, obviously)
300 ml tub of single cream
1 egg
2 tsp raspberry liqueur (or whatever flavouring you fancy)

Bash the wrapped chocolate bar on the worktop a few times to break it into small pieces. (You don't have to be too fussy about this, as long as the chocolate is in relatively small chunks). Unwrap and pour the chocolate into a food processor.

Pour the contents of the tub of single cream into a small saucepan and turn on the heat. As soon as the cream comes to the boil, pour it into the food processor and whiz until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. (This won't take long but you may need to scrape down the bowl of the processor once or twice).

Add the egg and the liqueur. Process again until the egg is thoroughly mixed in. Pour the mixture into espresso cups or small ramekins (you should get about 6 small but satisfying servings). Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes or so before serving if you remember.


Just in case you were wondering what Proust might have to say on this subject, here's a short snippet. It's in the original French, which means that I'm not only annoying, I'm also deeply pretentious.

"Quand tout cela était fini, composée expressément pour nous, mais dédiée plus spécialement à mon père qui était amateur, une crème au chocolat, inspiration, attention personnelle de Françoise nous était offerte, fugitive et légère comme une œuvre de circonstance où elle avait mis tout son talent …… Même en laisser une seule goutte dans le plat eût témoigné de la même impolitesse que se lever avant la fin du morceau au nez du compositeur."


I'm submitting this recipe to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole and hopefully she'll forgive me for having the effrontery to represent the monumental 'À la Recherche du Temps Perdu' by a recipe that may very well take less time to make than it takes to read one of Proust's longer sentences.


I've been a bad blogger and not entered anything into We Should Cocoa for more than a year so I'm also submitting this to the latest challenge over at Tin and Thyme.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Taloa with Duck Legs and Plums

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

There are plenty of plums around in that area too so I've added some to the duck sauce. I used fairly large British plums, but if you have some of the smaller varieties (and smaller varieties do seem to be popular in the south west) then add a few extra. You can't travel far in that fine region without coming across duck being cooked in one way or another but, I must admit, you won't find it being cooked exactly like this. Never mind, I like it anyway.
Taloa with Duck Legs and Plums
Most of this dish is prepared in advance but should be finished off and put together at the last minute. I added another touch of the Basque region by topping the filling with a little Ossau-Iraty cheese but you could use something like a Swaledale sheep's cheese as a fine British alternative.

Taloa

100 g fine cornmeal (polenta or maize flour)
300 g plain flour
230 - 280 ml water

This amount will probably make more taloa than you need but a few spares are no bad thing.

Combine the cornmeal and flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the 230 ml of water and gradually bring the flour and cornmeal mixture into the centre and mix to make a dough. Add more of the water gradually as you mix until the dough comes together. It should be quite a firm dough and not too wet. Cover the bowl so that the dough doesn't dry out too much and set it aside to rest for for 30 – 60 minutes.

When your filling is ready to serve, tear off a small handful of the dough and roll it out on a floured surface to make a thin, round bread. Unless you have a large flat grill then try to make them a suitable size for your frying pan. Heat the pan or grill and dry fry the breads over a high heat for about 3 minutes each side. The exact time needed will vary according to the thickness of the bread. The taloa should puff up a little and char here and there.

Duck and Plum Filling

2 duck legs
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp fresh ginger, very finely chopped
1 glass dry white wine
8 plums, halved and stoned
1 sprig rosemary
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp honey (you may not need this if the plums are particularly sweet)
300 - 500 ml light chicken stock
A few slices or slivers of Ossau-Iraty or an alternative sheep milk cheese to serve

Ensure that the skin of the duck legs is dry, prick the skin in a few places and season with salt and pepper. Brown the duck legs in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes on each side. This should produce a fair amount of fat. Remove the duck legs and set aside.

Pour away all but about a teaspoon of the fat and use it to fry the shallot gently for 2 - 3 minutes. (If the duck legs haven't produced much fat, then add a little oil). Add the ginger and garlic and continue frying gently for another 2 - 3 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the wine. Stir and allow the wine to reduce until it's nearly disappeared, then turn down the heat and return the duck legs to the pan. Tuck the halved plums in around the duck legs and add the rosemary, the pomegranate molasses and the honey if you’re using it. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover the duck legs by about two thirds. Cover the pan and let it simmer over a low heat for about 90 minutes, turning the duck legs every now and then. At the end of that time the duck meat should be very tender but not quite falling off the bone.

Remove the duck legs from the cooking liquid and set aside to cool a little. Skim as much fat from the top of the cooking liquid as you reasonably can, remove and discard the rosemary and liquidise the remainder using a hand blender. Place it over a high heat and reduce the liquid down to a sauce-like consistency. While that's happening, remove and discard the skin from the duck and slice or shred the meat.

To serve, add some duck meat to one half of the freshly-cooked taloa (ideally before removing from the frying pan or grill) and drizzle over a generous amount of the reheated sauce. Top with a sliver or two of Ossau-Iraty. Fold the other half of the taloa over the filling and serve at once.
Maize and Mountains

Monday, 15 August 2016

Wheat Beer Walnut and Fig Breadmaker Loaf

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

There are plenty of very good wheat beers available in supermarkets and specialist shops but if you come across any bottles of Christophe Noyon's Blanche de Wissant in your travels then I'd recommend grabbing some. It's a fine beer that's from the same area as the original recipe. If you can't lay your hands on any wheat beer, then you could use a lighter style of lager as an alternative. In fact this recipe can be adapted quite easily by changing the type of nut or dried fruit as well as the type of beer. With some more intense, darker beers you may find you need to increase the amount of sugar or swap some of the beer for water to avoid the bread developing an overly bitter taste.
Beer, Walnut and Fig Bread
The recipe given here was developed for a Panasonic breadmaker but it will work just fine in other breadmakers. The order in which the ingredients are added to the breadmaker and the names of the programs may well differ for other types of machine, though, so always consult the manual for your model if in doubt.   

1¼ tsp dried fast action / easy blend yeast (the sort intended for breadmakers)
325 g strong white flour
150 g spelt flour
3 tsp sugar
1¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp walnut oil
280 ml wheat beer
30 ml water
70 g chopped walnuts
70 g chopped dried figs

Add all the ingredients except the walnuts and figs to the breadmaker in the appropriate order. The order given here is for a Panasonic model – check the manual for other models. Set the programme to large size, basic bake setting. If your breadmaker has a dispenser that automatically adds additional ingredients then put the walnuts and figs in the dispenser and set the breadmaker accordingly. If the breadmaker doesn't have an automatic dispenser then you'll need to add the walnuts and figs at the time recommended in the manual for your machine.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Cherry Chutney

It's cherry season and the trees are obligingly providing plenty of fruit. Not that I have any cherry trees but the local Pick Your Own has plenty. Sorry to repeat myself but I really do love a PYO. Disconcertingly I'm offering another savoury recipe where you might expect something sweet - but why not?
Cherry Trees
This is quite a smooth chutney that's very versatile and works well with cold or hot meats but is absolutely ideal with cheeses. Admittedly this isn't a particularly novel idea - there are a lot of similar chutney recipes around, but this is the combination that works for me. You can add other spices or some chilli if you wish, but I wouldn't overdo the spice or it will diminish the fruity flavour.

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

By the way, I hadn't tried a cocktail made with puréed fresh cherries and a mix of various alcoholic beverages until last week (I've led such a sheltered life) but I'd heartily recommend that journey of discovery too.
Cherry Chutney
1 fennel bulb
1 onion, finely chopped
600g cherries (weight before pitting)
2 cm (or thereabouts) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Zest of 1 lemon, very finely grated
¼ tsp English mustard powder
½ tsp fennel seeds
125 ml cider or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
225 g granulated sugar

Chop the fennel bulb into small chunks, discarding any damaged or tough parts. In a non-reactive pan soften the fennel and chopped onion very gently in a little oil. If it threatens to dry out add a spoonful or two of water. While that's going on, wash and pit the cherries. Once the onion and fennel are tender stir in the cherries. Keep the heat low and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring now and then.

Stir in the grated ginger, lemon zest, mustard powder and fennel seeds together with a generous seasoning of black pepper and a little salt. Once everything is well mixed, add the sugar and vinegars and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat a little and allow the mixture to reduce, stirring now and then to make sure that it doesn't burn or stick to the pan. The chutney is ready when it's as thick as you want it to be (mine took about 40 minutes), but the way I was taught to check when a chutney is ready is as follows. Run your wooden spoon across the base of the pan and if it leaves a trail that doesn't immediately fill in, then it's ready. (If in doubt, I'd err on the side of quite a loose, runny chutney in this case because it will thicken somewhat as it cools.)

Cool the chutney a little and pour into sterilised jars. This should keep in a cool, dark place for a fair few months, but I can't be sure because I'm just too keen to eat it quickly. This feels like a seasonal chutney that's full of summer.