12 March, 2016

Marmalade and almond muffins

Marmalade and Almond Muffins

I can never resist making jam when summer fruits are in season, but we don’t actually eat that much of it, so it accumulates in the larder till I give it away or cook with it. This recipe, based on one in Nadine Abensur’s Cranks Bible, used up most of a four-year-old jar of marmalade. American-style muffins, but unlike those, these are not over-sweet; the only sweetener is the marmalade plus a little maple syrup, and my home-made marmalade is true bitter-orange marmalade. The crunchy topping is interesting too.

You can use this as a basic muffin mix, replacing the marmalade with other not-too-sweet preserves, or fresh or frozen berries. Also, if you are like me and always have sourdough starter hanging around, try replacing part of the flour and buttermilk with it (see recipe for details).
Recipe for Marmalade and almond muffins »

29 February, 2016

Sourdough blini

blini290216small

This is becoming a theme — yet again I had jars of starter bubbling all over the kitchen. We fancied smoked salmon, and I was sure it must be possible to use sourdough for blini. A quick Google and I found a recipe on a Spanish blog of all places, but it’s a blog I followed till it went dormant, so I felt confident that it would work. I was right; they were delicious. Just as good as the Delia recipe that was my standby up to now, and without all the cream.

The following is my adapted recipe. Use buckwheat flour if you can, for authenticity. I didn’t have any, so I used wholegrain spelt instead. I have an electric plancha which is perfect for cooking these as it remains at a low, even temperature — otherwise use a griddle or large heavy frying pan, over a low heat.

This made about 30 blini; halve the recipe if you want fewer, but they freeze really well. I wrap 6 or 8 together in flat foil packets and freeze them in ziplock bags. Then you can just take out as many packets as you need and warm them through in the oven. They are just as good with butter and honey as they are with salmon or caviar.
Recipe for Sourdough blini »

21 November, 2015

Cheat’s hummus

This isn’t really hummus, because it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it. But if you’re trying to cut down on fat intake, it’s not a bad substitute, and it is very quick and easy to make using a jar of chickpeas and a few other ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. It’s part of our campaign for healthier nibbles to eat with aperos; we have it with raw carrot sticks, but you can use other vehicles of your choice, including pitta bread of course.

Words of advice:

  • Use a Spanish brand of chickpeas if you possibly can, they are just better. Jars are generally better than cans for some reason.
  • Lack of tahini and oil means you have to really ramp up the spices and garlic to stop it being bland. Don’t take my quantities as gospel — taste and adjust as you like.
  • This makes a lot; I hope it freezes well because that’s what I’ve done with half of it. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Recipe for Cheat’s hummus »

22 September, 2015

What to do with overgrown courgettes

A vexed question. This one was so overgrown it qualified as a marrow. We’d already done the standard stuffed marrow with half of it, and still had enough left for another meal. A bit of googling turned up something called “savoury marrow bake” at AllRecipes. I glanced at it half-heartedly and then realised it wasn’t stuffed marrow but a kind of frittata/crustless quiche for which we had all the ingredients. So we took the idea and ran with it, changing quantities to make a lighter, more slimmer-friendly dish. Of course you could add or substitute other veg if you wanted.

We were very pleasantly surprised by the result. The flour and baking powder give it a smooth yet light texture quite different from frittata. You can eat it warm or cold; we had it with a tomato sauce, but chilli jam would be excellent too. Good picnic or buffet fare, cut into small squares. Or use it as a side dish with anything that has a sauce. Definitely a keeper. Now I just need to think of a name for it.
Recipe for What to do with overgrown courgettes »

27 July, 2015

Sourdough focaccia

Sourdough focaccia

When you make sourdough you are always looking for ways of using up starter. This recipe (also known as fougasse in France) was a good accompaniment for post-film drinks. It’s great for picnics too. I started it in the morning and baked it late afternoon. It’s best warm or cold rather than piping hot from the oven.

This recipe is fine with ordinary plain flour, but you can use white bread flour if you want, or a half-and-half mixture. Whatever you choose, the dough is very wet and sticky to work with, so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, I really recommend using it. If not, use the “kneading” technique of using one floured hand to stretch and fold the dough in the bowl — no need to turn it out, and you can keep your other hand clean.

Toppings: this isn’t pizza, so topping should be scanty and not too complicated — two or at most three elements. You can keep it plain by just sprinkling fleur de sel and olive oil over it. For this occasion I did some with chopped rosemary and onion, and others with sliced artichoke hearts and a few squirts of pesto. Sun-dried tomatoes and serrano ham or prosciutto are a good choice too — or use your imagination and go for something more original like crumbled blue cheese and thin slices of pear. In all cases, finish with oil and salt.
Recipe for Sourdough focaccia »

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 »

16 July, 2012

Salade Savoyarde

Poor neglected blog! Summer is a busy season; I just have time to post a recipe for this lovely salad from Savoie. It makes an excellent fuss-free starter when you are having a substantial main course; or you could eat it as a light lunch. Non-vegetarians can add strips of prosciutto or serrano ham, or crisply fried bacon bits. You can prepare all the ingredients in advance, adding the dressing and croutons at the last minute. This amount will serve about four people.
Recipe for Salade Savoyarde »

5 February, 2012

French Country Kitchen, by Geraldene Holt: braised chicory with mushrooms

French Country Kitchen is very similar in approach to Jenny Baker’s Simple French Cuisine. I was given Jenny Baker’s book around the time we bought our holiday house in the Languedoc, so I kept it here to provide inspiration. We had a very rudimentary kitchen then, so it was useful having a book of delicious recipes using local ingredients and requiring no fancy equipment. I tend not to pick it up much now; it may soon make an appearance in this neglected cookbook series!

Like Jenny Baker, Geraldene Holt is a British woman who came to southern France, fell in love with it, and being a keen cook, collected traditional recipes from friends and neighbours. I picked up a second-hand copy of French Country Kitchen recently; it’s out of print, so it can be bought for pennies on Amazon. I love the fact that the Internet has made it so easy to find out-of-print books.

This book is organised by ingredients — there’s a chapter on mushrooms for example, one on olives, one on chestnuts, almonds, and walnuts, more conventional ones on poultry and beef, and a whole chapter on the pig, covering every part of it of course., including making brawn and your own sausages.

I’m not a great meat-eater, so I decided to try the recipe for endive belge étuvée aux champignons, or braised chicory with mushrooms. Chicory is something I only discovered when I came to France, and I love its bitter flavour. The result was delicious and makes a change from our usual ways of cooking chicory (wrapped in ham and covered in cheese sauce, or braised with chicken). If you’re vegetarian you could leave the bacon out, although it does add an essential saltiness and a touch of fat to cut the bitterness of the chicory. I might add a splash of soy sauce if I left out the bacon.

The recipe specifies cultivated mushrooms, and that’s what I used. But I reckon it would be even better with wild ones — cèpes or chanterelles. If you’re making a vegetarian version I would recommend the tastiest mushrooms you can find. As fresh tomatoes are banned in our house from October to May, I used a spoonful of sun-dried tomato paste instead of the tomato, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

I like the homely approach of this book, and like the Jenny Baker book it is an excellent choice to take on holiday to France with you, if you like cooking and buying produce at French markets.
Recipe for French Country Kitchen, by Geraldene Holt: braised chicory with mushrooms »

9 December, 2011

Oven-baked frittata

I first discovered frittata via the Cottage Smallholder site. I often cook one from scratch for a quick supper or picnic lunch, but it is a wonderful vehicle for turning leftovers into something delicious in their own right — providing of course that you are selective about what you put in it. Just throwing in the contents of the fridge without regard to whether the flavours and textures are complementary is not going to give you a good result.

Normally, I cook frittata slowly in a frying pan and finish it off with a couple of minutes under the grill to set the top. This time, I had some left-over roasted vegetables to use up, and was inspired to do it differently. It’s a very quick and easy dish if you have left-over roasted veg, but of course you can cook them from scratch. I always do plenty when I roast vegetables, because they are one of the best kinds of left-overs you can have. Toss them into a salad with rice, pasta, or Ebly and some toasted nuts, blend with some home-made stock and spices and make a delicious soup, use them to fill quiches or omelettes …
Recipe for Oven-baked frittata »

2 December, 2011

Elizabeth David’s Christmas: potato, tomato and celery soup

An Elizabeth David book in the reserve collection? Yes, really! This was a Christmas present a few years ago, and I confess I’d forgotten I had it, so I pounced on it with a cry of delight. It was actually published posthumously; in her preface her editor Jill Norman says they’d discussed the concept off and on for years, but it never came to anything, so after Elizabeth’s death she was surprised to find a box with a pile of notes and clippings for the book, and even an introduction. So she pulled the material together and published it.

Many of the recipes are from ED’s other books, but it’s nice to have all these seasonal recipes in one place. Not that ED was much of a fan of the traditional British Christmas. She got bombarded with calls from friends and family asking how long to to cook the turkey or the pudding, or saying they’d lost the recipe for Cumberland sauce so could she give it them again — to the point where she printed a pamphlet of the most popular recipes and handed it out to them. Classic ED:

If I had my way — and I shan’t — my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening.

What frenetic cook preparing for a family Christmas can’t empathise with that in the days leading up to “the Great Too Long”? It certainly makes a refreshing change from other Christmas cookbooks.

That being said, although there are token recipes for traditional Christmas food like mincemeat and Christmas pudding, much of the focus of this book is on simple but impressive small dishes that can be prepared ahead, pâtés and terrines that can be kept in the fridge for nibbling, and better-than-average ways of using leftovers (including one of my all-time favourite leftover dishes, émincé de volaille au fromage). And like all of ED’s books it is designed to be read for pleasure, not just to cook from. I happily spent an afternoon lounging on the sofa by the fire reading it while my untended bread dough bubbled over the edge of the pan.

Happily, the organic veg box provided all I needed for a simple soup of tomato, leek and celery. She writes “This is one of the most subtly flavoured of all these vegetable soups … a good soup with which to start the Christmas dinner.” It was indeed. Celery is something I don’t like as a vegetable, but as a herb it adds a nice peppery edge to soups and stews. My tail-end-of-season tomatoes weren’t the best, but they did the job — if I make it again at Christmas I’ll use tinned ones in preference to tasteless fresh ones (one day I’m going to start a campaign to ban the sale of fresh tomatoes between October and May).

Unfortunately, the box also contained parsnips, for the third week in a row. So I decided to give her cream of parsnips and ginger with eggs a go. I got as far as cooking and mouli-ing the parsnips and adding the ginger, and the result tasted so unutterably foul that I almost threw it straight in the bin. We just had soup and cheese and biscuits that evening. I don’t think I can blame Elizabeth David for this though — I just don’t like parsnips, and somehow mashing them makes them taste more parsnippy than just roasting would.

This book will definitely stay in my collection. And it’s a good Christmas gift for foodies as well, a reminder of how truly good food writing is impervious to fashion. So much so that the modish soft-focus photos that the publishers obviously felt had to be in any modern cookbook are entirely superfluous. Elizabeth David’s words are enough
Recipe for Elizabeth David’s Christmas: potato, tomato and celery soup »

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