10 October, 2014

The Apple Book, by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan

A neglected cookbook for a neglected blog. This is an old book, published in 1984. At the time we lived in the Vale of Evesham, where fruit and vegetables were plentiful. It’s really intended for people with their own trees, who are desperate for ways of using their gluts. But even if you aren’t surrounded by orchards, apples are available all over the place and all the year round, so it’s well worth having a cookbook dedicated to them.

I used to use it a lot, but it’s gradually migrated to the dusty lower reaches of the bookcase. Flicking through it, there are quite a few food-spattered pages. Some even have notes, including the word “wonderful” scrawled next to the apple and cider sorbet recipe. But there’s one recipe that has become the household standard virtually every time we can get hold of chicken livers: the catchily named Chicken livers with mushrooms, bacon and apples in a peppered cider sauce. You hardly need a recipe after that. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it’s excellent with pasta.
Recipe for The Apple Book, by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan »

12 June, 2014

Spelt sourdough

It’s said to be quite difficult to make a good loaf using spelt (épeautre in French) because it has less gluten in it than modern wheat, so it tends not to rise as well. A few months ago I encountered a chap at the market who was selling organic wholegrain spelt flour that he’d grown and milled himself; it was expensive (5 euros a kilo!) but I thought I’d give it a try.

I googled (of course) and this recipe looked the most promising. It’s almost a “no-knead” recipe — I remember reading somewhere that because of the low gluten content, spelt dough doesn’t respond well to a lot of handling and it’s best to avoid over-working it. The recipe worked out really well, making a moist, open-crumbed loaf. So I tried it again today with some different spelt flour that was described as semi-complet (semi-wholegrain). It obviously wasn’t as absorbent as the whole grain and the dough was wet and quite difficult to handle (it stuck to the pan). But the result was still very good, especially with some smoked trout.

There were things I would change about the recipe though, notably that it was too sweet for a “general purpose” bread, so this is my tweaked version. I bake it in two smaller loaves for the simple reason that it’s easier to handle a smaller piece of this sticky dough — plus it makes a lot of bread and this way you can freeze one loaf and eat the other, warm with butter.
Recipe for Spelt sourdough »

30 May, 2014

Café de Paris butter

This is a killer condiment which I’m sure will enhance all sorts of things. It was invented in Geneva, presumably at the Café de Paris, and I believe its original use was for steak. I used it to liven up some frozen cooked lobster, a task it performed admirably. I’m planning to use the leftovers on some grilled mussels for tapas. You can of course freeze leftovers in handy-sized chunks.

The list of ingredients is long, but many of them are items you have on hand anyway (at least, I do). And with a food processor it’s quick to put together. I’ve listed the herbs I used, but you can vary them according to what you have on hand/what you like. If using on steak, a teaspoon of mustard might be a nice addition. Whatever you use it for, the idea is to put it on your chosen food in slices about 50mm thick, and then grill it for a few minutes to melt and brown it.
Recipe for Café de Paris butter »

29 March, 2014

Successful sourdough: how I got there

Sourdough loaf

My home-made sourdough starter is about to celebrate its first birthday, so it seems a good moment to revive this blog with a post about sourdough. Warning: it can take over your life (or at least your kitchen)!

A year ago today, we visited a working windmill where they grind flour and bake bread. I came away with a bag of freshly ground organic wholemeal flour, so it seemed as good a time as any to start. Of course it required some googling. There are many different methods touted as being the best, but I went with this one: just flour and spring water from the fountain. It’s worth reading this explanatory page too. This method requires you to feed the starter every 12 hours, discarding half of it each time, for a week to 10 days. This gives the good bacteria the maximum chance of taking over and stabilising, and it certainly worked for me — after a week, I had a frothy, sweet-smelling tub of starter.
Recipe for Successful sourdough: how I got there »

11 November, 2013

Torrijas

Torrijas

I love torrijas — if I see them on a dessert menu in Spain, all the other options immediately become irrelevant. They are basically the same as what Americans call French toast, even though in France they are called pain perdu (lost bread); stale bread soaked in milk and egg and then fried. In this Spanish version they are fried in olive oil and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The perfect accompaniment is a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some butterscotch sauce.

They are so popular in some parts of Spain that bakers sell special pan para torrijas (torrija bread). This is a brioche-like loaf with quite a dense crumb that stands up well to being soaked in milk without falling apart. So a counsel of perfection is to use this, although failing that stale French baguette or any good white bread is fine (for heaven’s sake don’t try to use wrapped white sliced bread for this). If you do want to try the genuine article, I searched the web and eventually found a Spanish recipe for pan para torrijas, and adapted it for the bread machine — see below. I always make two loaves, cut them in half, and freeze them. Once thawed, I leave them to go stale — the staler the better, you can leave this bread hanging around for a couple of days. It makes good toast too.
Recipe for Torrijas »

11 November, 2013

Salted caramel sauce (caramel au fleur de sel)

Salted caramel sauce

Many competent cooks seem to be terrified of making caramel. Why? It’s a doddle. There are only two things that can go wrong: burning it (due to inattention) and crystallising the sugar. The first problem is easily solved: don’t take your eyes off the caramel while it is cooking, and remove from the heat as soon as it is the right colour. As for the second problem, I discovered long ago that using sugar cubes instead of granulated sugar ensures that the sugar will melt smoothly and evenly without crystals forming. So give it a go! This sauce is excellent with ice cream, but useful for all sorts of other things as well — try it with apple slices fried in butter for example.
Recipe for Salted caramel sauce (caramel au fleur de sel) »

9 June, 2013

Pot-roasted wild boar

Boar with vegetables

A neighbour kindly gave me a leg of young wild boar recently. I find the traditional method of cooking boar here (marinating for 2-3 days in robust red wine and herbs, then braising) nauseating and indigestible. But this tender joint responded well to my adaptation of a Delia recipe for braised leg of lamb. In fact if you can’t get boar, you could substitute lamb (leg or shoulder) here. Serves 4-6 — this is almost a one-pot meal, although I served it with a little pasta to soak up the sauce.
Recipe for Pot-roasted wild boar »

20 January, 2013

English apple pie

English apple pie

It must be over a decade since I last made an apple pie. Since I became French, my default option for apples and pastry is sinfully easy Tarte Tatin. Or occasionally, if I have time, a classic tarte aux pommes. But today I suddenly felt the urge to make an old-fashioned apple pie. I had to dredge long-unvisited corners of my memory for the little tweaks I developed in the years when I made it regularly. Painting the pastry with egg white to stop it going soggy. Mixing a little cornflour in with the sugar to thicken the juices, making it easier to serve cold. Adding a few sultanas. And above all, hiding bits of quince among the apples to perfume the pie and turn the filling a rosy pink. In fact it must have been the quince in the fruit bowl that gave me the idea in the first place.
Recipe for English apple pie »

22 December, 2012

Mince pies with frangipane topping

Mince pies

I find mince pies can easily be too heavy on the pastry. So I was pleased to find a recipe for mince pies with an almond paste topping. Except … there were no almonds in it! I still liked the result when I made them last year. They are much lighter than the traditional version, and the almond flavour complements the mincemeat really well. This year I made my own version of the frangipane, with almonds. So here’s the recipe. Use whatever your favourite mincemeat recipe is (or buy some) and make a sweet shortcrust for the base.
Recipe for Mince pies with frangipane topping »

9 December, 2012

Romesco sauce

Calçots and salsa romesco

This is a truly classic Catalan sauce. Pounded nuts, usually almonds, are a strong feature of Catalan cooking, used to thicken sauces, whether savoury or sweet. Romesco sauce is very versatile: you can serve it with plainly grilled or baked fish, for example. Or steak. Or even escalivade. A very traditional combination is with calçots, young green onions that are grilled over an open fire in winter and early spring. They’re served on a roof tile to keep them warm, and eating them (with your fingers) is a messy business; when I ate them in a restaurant, I was provided with a bib!

It’s an uncooked sauce which is ridiculously easy to make — it will take you five minutes if you use a jar of peppers and a food processor or blender. I used the method in this video, substituting salt for the anchovies. Anchovies are not traditional, and they make the sauce unsuitable for vegetarians.
Recipe for Romesco sauce »

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