Saturday, 23 January 2010

Pumpkin jam

Moving to Frangy  allowed my eldest son to fulfill his fantasy of growing pumpkins. A few seedlings soon multiplied into a pumpkin patch that threatened to take over not just a good part of the garden, but engulf the driveway and even obscure the view of our ground floor bedroom as vines climbed up the wall. Needless to say, I have had to cook all the pumpkins I couldn't give away. I've made pumpkin everything, from every ethnic group possible, from Italian tortelloni to Indian dals. Which eventually meant canning or experimenting with jam making, a VERY new experience for me. After a few not-so wonderful recipes, I've adapted the first one I tried and actually came up with something yummy. I even gave out jars of pumpkin jam to friends & family (including the mother-in-law, so it must be good!).

TIP: When canning, place spices in the last jar for extra flavorful jam.

1 kilo pumpkin
150 ml  water
375g jam sugar
50ml kirsch, schnapps or rum

fresh vanilla
fresh ginger
6-8 empty jam jars

Cube pumpkin, peel an almond size of ginger. Slice vanilla pod & break cinnamonstick to release flavor.
Bring water, sugar & alcohol to boil. Maintain boiling for about 3 minutes, until all the sugar is dissolved.
Add pumpkin, ginger, cinnamonstick & vanilla. Turn heat down and let simmer about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.
 Prepare jam jars by placing them in a bassin or large pot and pouring boiling water around them. Keep them heated.
When mixture begins to thicken, check consistency by placing a few drops on a plate. If it gels quickly, the jam is ready for canning.
Pour jam mixture into jars, keeping them slanted to avoid airpockets. Overfill, then screw lid on tightly. Place upside down, checking for air bubbles, until cooled.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Honey glaze

Honey glaze is delicious on ham, try it on poultry as well, wether in the oven or on the bbq.
1 cup honey
1/4 cup mustard (best with grains)
1 finely chopped shallot
1 tbsp soy sauce (to taste)
ginger powder

Endives: savory bread & other ideas

Endive inspires love or hate, but not indifference. In our family we're evenly split on the issue. Most will eat it in salads, but there is an even split on cooked endives. Here are a few recipes that seem to please nearly everyone.

A mix of thinly sliced endive & watercress makes a lovely salad since the sweetness of the watercress is balanced by the bitterness of the endive. Grate a small garlic clove (or a thinly chopped shallot) in the bottom of the bowl, add the salad, serve with olive oil & white balsamic vinegar.

Chopped endive with walnuts & blue cheese, served with classic French vinaigrette (see recipe).

Or just add thinly sliced endive to mixed salads!

Endive can be grilled on the stove top or in the oven, with olive oil dribbled on top. Usually I wrap it in bacon or ham. Occasionally I add a slice of cheese and a dash of white wine. For a crispy effect, try a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan & parsely.

This is a way of getting endive past the palates of those that usually won't eat it. Makes a lovely accompaniement to aperitif or soup.

2 small endives or 1 large
180g flour
10g baking powder
3 eggs
100ml oil
100ml milk
30g sugar
50g parmesan
green olives

Preheat oven to medium, line bread pan with wax paper or use a silicon mould.
Beat eggs, then blend in milk, oil, sugar, salt & pepper, paprika & nutmeg.
Add flour & baking powder.
Mix in thinly sliced endive, chopped olives & walnuts.
Pour mixture into pan, bake for about an hour.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Seville oranges

When it's as relentlessly cold as it has been all over Europe, the best place to be in just about any house is by the stove, where the endless stirring of stews and other warming foodstuffs at least keeps you busy and warm, especially if you've had the good sense to put the oven on at the same time. You might even find your children want to help, if you're clever enough to ensure that the rest of the house is woefully underheated. 

Making marmalade is an excellent means of staying warm, as it involves a goodly amount of stirring and you put the oven on to sterilise the jars. It is also madly seasonal, since Seville oranges are only in season for a couple of weeks in January and they don't keep. Apparently sales of marmalade are going down; one can only assume that it is because more and more people are discovering that there is nothing like surveying a dozen pots of home-made marmalade to fill you with the warming glow of domestic smugness.

 Seville Orange Marmalade (adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe)
Makes ten jars
10 Seville oranges
1 navel orange
15 cups water
pinch of salt

2.5 kg sugar
1. Wash oranges and wipe them dry. Cut each orange in half, crosswise around the equator. Squeeze the oranges, manually or mechanically, depending on how well your kitchen is equipped, and then set a wide mesh non-reactive strainer over a bowl and strain the juice to remove the seeds. Scoop out all the interior pith from each orange half, so you are left with just a shell. 

2. Tie the seeds and pith up in cheesecloth or muslin very securely.

3. Cut each rind into 3 pieces and use a sharp chef's knife to cut the rinds into slices or cubes as thin as possible. Or do what I do and put them through the slicer attachment of your food processor.

4. In a large stockpot, add the orange slices, seed pouch, water, and salt, as well as the juice from the oranges from step #1. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until the peels are translucent, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove it from the heat and let the mixture stand overnight, to help the seeds release any additional pectin.

5. Stir the sugar into the mixture and bring the mixture to a full boil again, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Stir occasionally while cooking to make sure it does not burn on the bottom. Midway during cooking, remove the seed pouch and discard.

6. Continue cooking until it has reached the jelling point, 104 degrees centigrade, if using a sugar thermometer. To test the marmalade, turn off the heat and put a small amount on a plate that has been chilled in the freezer and briefly return it to the freezer. Check it in a few minutes; it should be slightly jelled and will wrinkle just a bit when you slide your finger through it. If not, continue to cook until it is.

7. Meanwhile, put some clean jars into the oven at 125 degrees C. When the marmalade is ready, ladle it into the hot jars. Screw the lids on firmly and turn each jar upside down. Stored in a cool place, the marmalade will keep for months. 
If you have any leftover Seville oranges you can make a jar of vin d'orange to look forward to when the sun comes out. 
1 bottle rosé wine
5 Seville oranges
1 unwaxed lemon
200g sugar
150 ml vodka
1 vanilla pod
slug of brandy/rum/masala
Slice the citrus fruit thinly. Mix with the other ingredients and decant into a 2 litre mason jar. Refrigerate. Every couple of days or so turn the jar upside down so that the fruit comes into contact with all the alcohol. Leave for a minimum of 8 weeks, or longer. When you are ready to drink it, filter the wine (using a funnel lined with fine cheesecloth) into clean bottles. Serve chilled. 

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Still more of the pig, in all its glory ...

Don't know about you, but I've had my fill of winter. It's fun enough for a day or so, what with the snow deep and crisp and even and all, but any more than that and I'm a whore for global warming. As if. We headed off to Grenoble yesterday to
  • pick up our dearly beloved daughter and
  • check out some likely spice shops
and it was bloody Siberian. OK, they'd had more snow than us, and yes, Grenoble is a hole, but still ... had my woolly scarf, thickest eiderdown jacket I have, slinky gloves and I really should have put on an overcoat as well. And walking around in icy slush is not my idea of a good time.

Still, on the bright side we managed to find Rajah Bazar (recommended for its selection of spices, dried pulses, Marmite and comprehensive collection of at least 5000 Bollywood DVDs), World Market (good spice selection, great line in hair extensions) and Saigon Store (need any frozen prepared Vietnamese or Thai food? Go there) whilst freezing our arses off. And I do it all for you. Without even a drink at the end of it, in this case.

We also made it to The Cake Shop at 11 rue Thiers, who will do marvellous personalised birthday cakes with proper icing and everything, stock a great range of cooking implements (if, for you, "cooking" = "patisserie") and also have a seemingly endless stock of Philadelphia cream cheese. Which is the only true base for a real cheesecake, although in these benighted parts we've been forced to make do with Samos 99. And I also found a Christmas present for Sophie - some rather exotic chocolate and a slim volume entitled "Erotic Recipes for Lazy Women" (reads better in French - "Les Recettes Erotiques de la Paresseuse").

The young English lad who gift-wrapped it for me seemed quite embarrassed - at least, he took some time doing the wrapping. Maybe he was flicking through it.

What I'm leading up to is that I'm really quite looking forward to dinner in a couple of nights - should be, seeing as I started it yesterday. It is, of course, a jarret de porc braisé, aka jambonneau, aka pig foreleg. This may seem cruel, I know, but no part of the pig goes to waste - and in any case, whenever I see the little chap (an odd term for a one-tonne porker) hobbling around on three legs and a crutch I always give him a friendly wave, just to say thank you. I think he appreciates it.

On the other hand, the next time we have this I shall have to seriously think about chipping in to buy him a skateboard or something to slip under the front, 'cos I'm not sure he'll manage too well with two crutches.

The recipe is simplicity itself, although it does help if you have a wood-burner. Mind you, you could certainly do this in a crock-pot or slow-cooker or whatever.

First of all, you need to obtain a pig's foreleg. You could either go down to the supermarket or go see your friendly local butcher (whom you really should cultivate, he is your friend) and get one, or you could go the DIY route late one night with a chainsaw at a pig farm, that's up to you.

Whatever, having done that you really need to brown that on all sides in yer trusty cast-iron poele, then fish it out and fling in a sliced onion, ditto carrot, and a teaspoon or so of juniper berries. Let them slowly sweat in the fat for ten minutes or so, then put the pig back with a bayleaf or two, sprinkle with a bit of five-spice powder and maybe a pinch of ginger, and let it all continue sweating away. For another ten minutes.

At the end of such a long wait it's always a good idea to add some alcohol. In Alsace they'd add some pinot noir: I'm not in Alsace and I didn't have any so I used the last of some rather nice beer and chucked in a couple of sugar cubes. (Quantities may vary. I had about that much beer left, so that's what I used: two 130ml glasses of wine should be fine.)

Bring it to a simmer and let it fester, uncovered, for ten minutes more whilst you consider the rest of the wine and your options concerning it, then cover and let it cook slowly for another three hours.

As an aside, some recipes advise you to wrap your jarret in a teatowel once it's browned, to avoid it "decomposing" (ie falling apart, not going rotten) during cooking: I can't be arsed, you can't get the stains out of the teatowel, and in any case I've never had that happen to me anyway - just be delicate when you stick the fork in to turn it over (as you should do from time to time).

Once all that's done, you should have a very soft hunk of meat on the bone sitting in its own juices: put it aside somewhere until you really want to eat it. Preferably within the next couple of days, otherwise it's an open invitation to whatever bacterial toxin happens to be flavour du jour.

When the time comes, stick the jarret in an oven dish and - surprise! - stick it in the oven, ladling a few spoonsful of its juices over it as you do so. There'll still be lots left, and I would personally cook dumplings in it to go with the meat, but Margo doesn't like dumplings so there you are. If you don't like dumplings either, you'll just have to reduce the juice to about half so it goes thick and syrupy. Either way, pour some juice over the meat every ten minutes or so whilst it finishes cooking for the next hour, so it gets nicely glazed and caramelised.

At the end of this time the meat will be falling off the bone and practically sitting up and begging to be eaten, so you'd better get on to that. Dumplings go well with it (did I mention that?) and green vegetables of your choice - around here that's broccoli or brussels sprouts, you could probably get away with peas.

Dessert is up to you - we had blackberry and apple tart tonight, and I think I can recommend that. Might not be an option if you've no blackberries in the freezer, mind you. I'm sure you'll think of something.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Things to do when it's pissing down ...

Well, it's New Year's day and, as is more or less traditional, it's cold, gray and pissing down with rain. God knows what the poor Parisians are doing up on the ski slopes - probably looking glumly out at the muddy pistes and counting exactly how much every half-hour not spent out there skiing has cost them. Well, that's what I'd be doing, anyway.

Down here in Saint-Pierre, it means that the day (well, afternoon) is ahead of us and nothing much to fill it apart from cooking, eating and drinking, although not necessarily in that order. And quite frankly, nothing incites me to commit baking as much as the combination of a warm cosy kitchen and gray miserable weather. Just the thought of how the kitchen is going to smell gets me all excited.

So given that you're unlikely to be out of bed and capable of coordinated movement much before midday, something to get done during the afternoon would be some spice cake - pain d'épices. Unfortunately I'm the only one around here who really likes the stuff, as Margo is apparently capable of detecting one part per million of anis in anything and it really puts her off. On the other hand, the star anis in Chinese food doesn't seem to bother her ... go figure.

Whatever, pain d'épices is a seasonal thing and has the great advantage of keeping well - in fact, it tastes better after at least a couple of days maturing. You will need a large, high, square cake tin: I would suggest you butter it and line it with waxed paper because otherwise it'll be a right bugger trying to get the cake out when it's cooked.

Getting the cake tin ready is probably the most complicated part of the recipe. For the rest, you just need to:
  • put 200 gm honey, 125 gm sugar, 80 gm butter and 20 cl of water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil to dissolve everything
  • mix together in a small bowl the zest of an orange and the zest of a lemon, 50 gm slivered almonds, 1 tsp anis seeds and the chopped peel of an orange
  • mix together 275 gm of flour (can use rye flour if you like, in which case you may need a bit more as it tends to be gloppy) and 2 tbsp baking powder in a large bowl
Now incorporate the liquid into the flour little by little, stirring well: when that's finished add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Then pour the lot into the cake tin and bake for half an hour at 200° C, after which you need to turn the heat down to 175° and let it carry on for another hour. Do check on it from time to time, and cover it with tinfoil if it looks like browning too much. When done, leave it to cool in the tin at least overnight, then wrap it well in tinfoil and keep it in the fridge until hungry. But like I said, try to leave it at least three days before attacking it.

(Do note that if, like us, you have an old woodburner in the kitchen, you can forget about the temperatures: just get the fire burning nice and hot and put the cake in "until cooked". Believe me, it's how it used to be done.)

Once that's underway, or out of the way, it'd be a good idea to think of dinner. And I think that diots au vin blanc are rather nice, even if no-one else does. (This is turning into rather a selfish entry, isn't it?) Diots are a Savoyard speciality: they are basically pure pork sausages; chunks of pig ground coarsely with their own fat (a 50/50 mix is about right) and stuffed firmly into the poor animal's intestines, then hung to dry (or some smoke them - in fact they used to be hung to dry in the chimney, so you got both for the same price).

If you're going to try this, do go and get decent sausages: eschew those with breadcrumbs or coyly unspecified "other ingredients". Go find a bloody good butcher who makes his own, or you might be lucky enough to find a farmer who does sausages ... or you could do your own. It's not that hard.

Anyway, the only other thing that might be considered exotic about this is the sarments de vigne, or vine shoot clippings. I have no trouble finding these: I just have to wander down to the garden with a pair of secateurs in the hip pocket, slip through the barbed-wire fence into the paddock behind, and in five minutes I've all the clippings I'll need. You may have a bit more difficulty.

You start by browning the sausages evenly in a hot, heavy saucepan. No extra fat is required, just start them off slowly and then turn the heat up and they'll render all that's required. When nicely brown, fish them out, turn the heat down and fling in a sliced onion and a sliced carrot: when the onion starts to go transparent it would be a good time to add some thyme, some squashed juniper berries, maybe a bit of rosemary and a bay leaf or two. After a minute or two, sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over it and stir it around, then pour in a glass of beef stock and two (or three) glasses of white wine.

If you want to be obsessional about things it would have to be a Jacquères, I'm not that worried and in fact the real point is that there's still at least half the bottle left, and that will need to be dealt with at some point. Just saying. (Come to that, you could use a Mondeuse if you want. It'd come out as diots au vin rouge, but who cares? You'll still have the rest of the bottle to take care of.)

Bring that to the boil and then - and this is the tricky part - you need to build a little sort of mesh or raft of vine clippings over the liquid, on to which you place the sausages before putting the lid on the saucepan. The object of the exercise is to have the sausages (which are already browned, remember?) steam in the alcohol and water vapour, rather than simmer in the sauce. It also gets rid of a fair bit of fat (not that it goes that far, it'll wind up in the sauce) as it slowly melts during the cooking, bastes the sausages from the inside, and then drips onto the onions and wine ... oh, and the tannins and things from the vine shoots sort of intermingle with the wine and stuff like that. Sounds a bit New Age to me, on a par with knitting your own yoghurt.

After about 45 minutes simmering on top of the woodburner fling in some potatoes, peeled (or not) and cut into chunks so that they too can steam and get slightly drunk: 45 minutes more and you can probably eat it. Personally I just remove the vine shoots and then serve the whole lot from the saucepan: this is not an elegant dish and there's no point in trying to make it so.

Finally, I'll leave you with this one: the galette des rois. Traditionally it's served on Twelfth Night, the kings arriving too late for mince pies and steamed Christmas pudding with brandy sauce, but it doesn't really matter.

This unfortunately calls for about 400gm of flaky or puff pastry. You can either buy 2 x 200gm rounds of the stuff or make it yourself: the only advantage of doing the latter is that at least you know there's nowt but butter in it. But it takes about two hours rolling, folding, and waiting for it to chill out in the fridge - I suppose you can at least drink while you're waiting.

Assuming that you have, one way or another, procured yer flaky pastry, I'd start by making some sugar syrup, which is simple enough: boil hell out of 8 clof water and 50 gm or so of sugar until it goes ... well, syrupy. Leave that on a low heat and add the zest of an orange, finely chopped: let it sit and simmer for ten minutes. While that's happening, get the frangipane ready: knead together 100gm of powdered almonds, 50 gm of softened butter, 50 gm of sugar and a shot-glass of Grand Marnier (or Cointreau if that's all you've got). When that's done add an egg yolk, the sugar syrup with its cargo of orange zest, and a good tbsp of lemon juice - mix it all up well.

Now beat the egg white up till stiff and fold it delicately into the frangipane cream: pretend you're getting a soufflé ready. Which is, more or less, what you're doing. Then roll out (or unroll) a 25cm diameter circle of flaky pastry and spread the frangipane out over it to within an inch of the edge.

At this point, tradition has it that you should stick in either a dried bean or a small porcelain figurine (used to be the baby Jesus but these days you can pick characters from Tintin, the Simpsons and, for all I know, the French national rugby team): when you get around to eating the thing the lucky person who gets the bean is King for the night, and has to host the event next year. I gave up on that early on: the first year someone chipped the enamel on a tooth on the porcelain, and the year after someone actually ate the bean without noticing, so there seemed little point.

Whatever, it's up to you. In any case, brush the edges of the pastry with water, and then unroll the other circle of pastry over the top, and pinch the edges well to seal. Then brush the whole thing with some egg yolk diluted with a bit of milk, and bung it in the oven at 210°C for about 30 minutes. Best eaten warm rather than hot, and please don't stick cream on it.