Thursday 27 December 2012


Last year and this, Le Grand Pressigny hosted un grand spectacle de magie, a magic show, absolutely free and gratis. You might think this would consist of old uncle Louis in a shiny tail coat doing card tricks that fool nobody, but no! The magicians concerned were both extremely professional, with the "how did they do that" coefficient at 10 out of 10.It's all what Terry Pratchett refers to as "boffo" - showmanship and misdirection - but boy were they good at it.
Nothing up my sleeve

This year the hall was packed for the featured magician, "Max". Just "Max"! Yes, there were a couple of card tricks, but how did he get four complete strangers from the audience to pick the four cards that were written on a piece of wallpaper inside a sealed roll? Time and again he produced a flock of paper butterflies from variously shredded paper, only to reveal the paper whole again. He showed a small audience member three methods of tying knots in a rope without letting go of it, allowing him to win two candy bars by getting it right the first time and then again, then to win back the candy bars with a trick knot, twice carefully showing him how to tie it from no more than a yard away! The lad then regained the candy bars by tying two knots simultaneously, one with each hand. The long rope Max cut, knotted, untied, moved the knot, untied it again, yes two pieces of rope but not the same length, tied again, moved the knot again .... The flying table, no strings attached... And where did the live canary go?

The audience loved it. It was great to see so many children, most of whom were right at the front and eager to join in. Many of them were rewarded with balloon animals, including a bouncy scarlet octopus. During the interval, soft drinks, cakes and crêpes were served as somewhat sticky finger food, and I suspect that sugary smears will continue to turn up on the Salle des Fêtes stacking chairs in months to come.

Watch him kids! Did you see how it's done?

Our neighbour told us that Max is presently the acknowledged best magician in France. He told us to look out for him on Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde on the Reveillon edition. Not bad for a village in La France Profonde!

Thursday 20 December 2012

You've sung the song, now eat the reindeer

Today in Intermarché we were brought up short by a refrigerated display of exotic meats. You could choose a lump of meat from antelope to zebra, via kangaroo, wapiti (a sort of small kangaroo according to the butcher... actually American Elk #), élan (European Elk... or Moose), camel, bison, llama, and to remind us that it's Christmas, reindeer (renne). I know that reindeer meat is a dietary staple in Lapland, and a very healthy meat it is too being low in fat, and I still recall the lovely reindeer pelt on the Finnish stall at Saltaire European market, but eating Rudolph at Christmas seems somewhat heartless...
There's still plenty left, especially at those prices!
Question: what sort of wine should you have with zebra?
Answer: any good stripy wine will do!
(adapted from an elephant joke, circa 1964).

No elephant or bear though. At least three of the animal species featured here also appeared on the menu of the Café Voisin on Christmas Day 1870 during the Siege of Paris by the Prussians when the chef served specimens from the zoo. Surely it hasn't come to that yet! I wonder what panda tastes like?

# American Elk... a Red Deer [Cervus canadensis]

Sunday 16 December 2012

Betty... not sweet!

A Betty doesn't have to be a pudding... yesterday, I made a savoury Betty using fresh veg and a few leftovers....

Savoury Betty

The leftovers were some boiled Charlotte spuds and some steamed cauliflower... the fresh veg were broccoli [an unknown, locally bought plant], Cylindra beetroot, Flakki carrots, Hercules onions and Germidor garlic. As some were leftovers, I steamed the beetroot, broccoli and carrots until "al's dentist" and fried the garlic and onions and allowed all to cool.

This gave me green broccoli florets, white cauliflower, diced beetroot, sliced spuds, sliced carrots and fried sliced garlicised onions.

From the freezer I took a block of Canadian, 30 month matured cheddar and some streaky bacon and two handfuls of frozen PeeWee petit pois ... I grated half the cheddar whilst it was frozen [about three ounces], thawed the bacon and cut all but one slice into thirds. The PeeWee were left frozen. The remains of the block of cheddar went back in the freezer.

Now for the Betty topping... this is a savoury Betty, so no sugar.
You need the three or four ounces of three-day old bread, crumbed as for the sweet Betty but you don't add the suet yet... instead, add the salt and pepper to taste... I used a teaspoon of each of Sel de Guerand and cracked black pepper.
Toss well to evenly spread the spices. Now you add the suet and cheese and mix again...
as cheese is a source of fat, I used only one ounce of suet and two ounces of cheddar....
you will realize that this doesn't give you as much topping as the sweet Betty...
no matter, the method of setting the ingredients up is different.

Then comes assembly...

I started by lining the bottom of the dish with half the sliced potatoes and added on top all the beetroot and half the fried onions...

then came two thirds of the broccoli and half the carrots...

and another layer using the remaining spuds...
and some salt and pepper....

.... then half the bacon and the remaining onions...

...followed by the remaining carrots and broccoli...
all the peas...
and finally, the cauliflower neatly arranged on top... you will notice that everything is now rather too close to the top....
I can't go back...
so I pressed it down and layered all but the uncut slice of bacon over the top.

At this point I made up a stock [about 300ml] in the onion pan with the condensate water from the steamer and a Knorr Garlic and Herb cube and poured it over the contents.

Now turn the oven on at 180°C [175°C for a fan oven]

Now for the topping... yes, I didn't make a mistake during that assembly...
the middle layer of potatoes replaces the crumb mix at the half full stage for a savoury Betty...
the crumb mix doesn't work!!. It comes out like soggy stuffing!

Put the topping in place and shape carefully into a slight dome... slice the remaining bacon into short pieces... ie; across the slice... and arrange around the topping... now sprinkle the last ounce of cheese on top and put the dish in the oven when up to temperature. Set timer for 45 minutes... but check after 40mins for a crispy bacon, golden topping.

The last of the cheese is not on in this picture
If the stock is boiling well, the peas should be just done.
Take it out if the topping is as you like it... or leave it the last five!

First serving done, now for the second!!

We finished the meal with a new discovery "la fermière" créme gourmand...
chocolate and hazelnut flavour...

very, very nice and you get left with a useful terracotta pot for future puddings...
or sauces, souffles, etc.

Really creamy!
An Ingredient list:

A mix of veg and meat[s] to almost fill a large ovenproof deep dish... the one above is 24cm diameter.
300ml of suitable stock
one ounce of grated cheese
The topping
  • 3 to 4 ounces of breadcrumbs
  • one ounce of shredded suet
  • 2 ounces of grated cheese

Sunday 2 December 2012

Cooking Elizabeth...

I had to try and stop the Rhubarb growing this week... the weather has caused lots of new growth and we will be moving it and the others to a set of "triangles" this winter. It yielded about half a pound of usable stalk... but what to do with it.

Well, yesterday was a horrible grey day so warming comfort food was called for...
I decided to make a Betty...

Betty... the overview.

Now, to do a good one, you need about one and a half pounds of fruit, so what to add... a couple of Granny Smith apples and three Clementines seemed to suit.

If you've not come across a Betty before, it is one of the easiest puddings to make... apart from the fruit you need:
Three to four ounces of two/three day old Stale Bread... it MUST still be moist!
Three ounces of Suet
Three ounces of Demerara sugar
Seasoning  of choice.... for this I used the finely grated zest of the Clementines... for a completely rhubarb based one I usually use some powdered ginger.
Some butter.

Firstly, blitz the bread in a food processor until you have some nice breadcrumb... no need to remove crusts for this.
Put the breadcrumb into a bowl with the suet and sugar.
Mix well and add the seasoning, mix again.

You've already got the prepared fruit... up to you what size you cut it up to... raspberries don't need any... rhubarb can be cut into one inch lengths... apple in bite sized chunks... plums halved... etc.
For the apples and clementines, I matched the size of the rhubarb with the apples and just segmented the clems. On this occasion I mixed them up... but you can just as easily layer the ingredients to type!
It is entirely up to you and what you want it to look like in the bowl.

Turn on the oven... set it for 180 Centipedes... or the equivalent. [175 C for fan ovens]

Take an deep ovenproof container, it doesn't need to be glass... the one shown here is one of three Duralex ones we've accumulated... and add half the fruit.

Over this layer half the crumb mixture....
Now spread over the remaining fruit....
and top it off with the remaining crumb mixture...
and now comes the really difficult bit...
dot the top with butter.

This is the Betty on the plate... ready for cream, créme fraiche.... or...

When the oven has reached temperature, pop the pudding in the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes...
and wait.
The pudding will come out golden brown with crispy bits on the top... that is one good reason not to remove the crust on blitzing.

It is much lighter than a crumble... but just as rich! So be warned...

We ate ours with real "Créme Anglaise".... Bird's Custard!

... Bird's Custard.

As an aside... Bird's Custard now looks like créme anglaise... the egg-yolk yellow colouring has been removed... but it hasn't altered the flavour!!

The Valderance ciders are very good... they use some very good cider apples and a healthy tannin backnote is present... I'll blog about these later.

Friday 23 November 2012

Winter Jewels

For the first time, a plant we brought with us from Leeds has come into flower. Yes - in November. The original was sold to me as viburnum x bodnantense "Dawn". I suspect it may have reverted to one of its parents, probably viburnum farreri, as the flowers aren't as showy as the books indicate. It has pom-poms of tiny pale pink trumpets, which are scented faintly with vanilla. These appear, a few at a time, all through the winter. It has not yet lost all its leaves, which are dark green flushed with red and handsome in themselves through the summer, but it is when the leaves finally fall that the flowers come into their own. The stems form graceful arches and root themselves to form new plants if they touch the ground. Thence came our plant here in France.

Little pink trumpets

It is as hardy as an old boot and will grow anywhere, although the first one I planted - before we moved in - died of thirst. This one sent up two healthy shoots last year, which are now flowering. This year it's been given the vegetable washing water, as it's just a step from the kitchen door. We'll have to make sure it doesn't get as big as its parent or we won't be able to cross the bridge!

Viburnum farreri was named after its finder, Reginald Farrer, a botanist, artist, would-be novelist and poet, who traveled through the mountainous regions of East Asia in the first two decades of the 20th century. Farrer populated the gardens of Ingleborough Hall (in "Clapham, North Yorkshire" as the Leeds railway station announcement robot insisted on calling it) with exotic plants, on one occasion by firing seeds out of a shotgun. Some of his introductions, including viburnum farreri, may be seen in Clapham to this day. You can find out more about Reginald Farrer here.

Pauline [signed in as Tim on the laptop.]

Thursday 8 November 2012

Discovered treasures...

We have a barn full of boxes....
And amongst those boxes are ones containing beers....

I was searching for the box K39 containing the Moulinex Juicer for Susan and found a box with beers that had remained packed since leaving our cellar in Leeds.
I never found K39... it didn't exist!!
But it turned out that the juicer was in box K38... which wasn't on the list. They were amongst the last boxes to be packed and Pauline, who was attempting to supervise the contents of the boxes and record them.... was getting very frazzled!!

However, back to the beers discovered....
we decided to rescue a couple tonight.
We lost a few bottles in the big freeze this February...
fortunately nothing that cannot be replaced...
but still a sticky waste!

So our evening meal was cream of pumpkin, carrot and tomato soup, bread, cheeses and beer.

The ones we chose were from Briscoe's Brewery in Otley, West Yorkshire.
Dr. Paul Briscoe started brewing commercially in 1998 having been made redundant... he had been brewing successfully on a non-commercial basis for years... making special beers for friends and colleagues... as well as 'special' bottled runs for the Fell Runners that Paul competes against... yes, he's a brewer with the runs!
The 'brewery' in his cellar was expanded... by using a garden shed for the messy first stages of the process, and then piping the wort down into the cellar for the fermentation and racking of the final result.
He has three 'core' brews, available in local pubs and at the Otley Beer Festival...

3 Peaks Ale (4.5% ABV) a strong pale premium bitter;
Chevin Chaser (4.3% ABV) a refreshing pale-coloured all malt bitter with a distinct hop finish.
Chevin Light (3.8% ABV) a classic "Yorkshire-styled" session bitter;

....all very tasty.

The beers we had tonight are:
Puddled & Barmy Ale (5.8% ABV) a sweetish, smooth dark old ale. [1998]

The crown cork on the bottle had rusted somewhat... and the beer poured into the jug on the flat side of petillant... so I served it in small wine glasses.... it was very nice despite being almost flat... answering to the above description perfectly... not bad for a bottle of beer that was 14 years old. It was dry enough not to be too slippery! The yeast was 'nailed' to the bottom of the bottle.

this was followed by:
Shane’s Shamrock Stout (4.5% ABV) a slightly less dry Irish-style stout with a hint of chocolate.[1999 - a special bottling for our wedding!!]

This bottle was in much better condition... and as you can see from the photograph had a good head... much dryer than the Puddled & Barmy. There is a hint of choclate... 
hold on I'll just try another sip... 
yes, because of the dryness, it does come across as an 80% cocoa mass bar. 
[Well, if wine writers want to go all descriptive so can I...
Seriously, I am drinking it as I type, and the flavour is of a very dry chocolate...  
the beer is much dryer than Guinness.
Pauline commented that we should have drunk it on our aniversary... 

oh well....  
only 40 days late... 
so I'll raise a glass to the Keighley Beer Festival where we met over the Foreign Beers counter. 
And now go and refill it!!

Why had these beers kept? The secret is in the bottle... both brews were on the yeast. Had the crown cork not rusted on the first bottle, it would have had a full head... not a vinho verde bubbliness.

The cheeses were Salers, Forme d'Ambert [blue] and two St.Maure Chevre logs... cheese goes very well with dark dry beers, but the Forme d'Ambert went with sables anglais... McVities Digestives.

There's a bit more about Paul's brewery here... it is somewhat out of date... the Bowling Green venture collapsed when Paul broke an arm fell running and couldn't brew... then the pub owner decided to retire and sold the pub to Weatherspoons... sadly, it is not what it was!! 

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Hercules the mighty

No potager would be complete without a row of onions in early summer. We grow onions from sets (baby onions) and have tried both over-wintering (planted in November) and spring-planting varieties. This year our over-wintered onions survived the freeze well enough but they bolted once spring arrived. Every single Red Baron and over 80% of the Silver Moon produced a flower head on a fat hollow tough stem. Bolting saps the goodness from the bulb, so you get smaller amounts of edible matter, and the plant having decided it has done its job in producing a flower, what you do get doesn't store well. I bought these two varieties on impulse - I should have stuck with something I know, such as Senshyu Yellow, which has some bolters but nothing like so many. At least this year there wasn't so much onion fly, thanks to the cold.

For spring planting, in March, I planted 500 grammes of a variety not known to me at all - "Hercules". Immediately after I'd bought them, Gardening Which printed a study of onion varieties (January/February 2012). Hercules was "recommended", the comment being "a decent crop of big bulbs, spoiled by a couple of bulbs with rot" - which was exactly what I got when I harvested them last month. The biggest point in their favour, though, was that not a single one bolted. I'd definitely grow them again, though I'll look out for the "best buys" Autumn Gold, Centurion and Forum (what's with the Roman thing? They all come from the Netherlands!).

I laid the newly lifted onions out to dry on racks so that the air could circulate around them. Actually the racks are old bakery delivery trays in galvanised steel that we found in a skip at the allotment. These have a wide range of uses; the other way up they are great for collecting and drying off potatoes!

Two racks of onions drying nicely - 10th August
The onion skins were dry enough at the end of August for me to string them up. The method I use is one described by Harry Dodson of The Victorian Kitchen Garden. You take a piece of stout string about 60cm long and make a loop in one end. To the other end you tie a good onion with a reef knot around its neck. Hang the string from a hook by the loop.
Ready to start - an onion on a string. Trimming the roots ready to start twisting
Take a pair of onions roughly equal in size, remove any loose skin and the roots. Put to one side any damaged or unhealthy-looking onions for use straight away, do not attempt to store these. Cross the necks of the two onions, about 10cm up the neck.
Cross the necks - and twist!
Twist the two necks together a couple of turns for each onion, twisting the necks around the dried leaves, not the leaves around the necks, so you form a very short rope between the onions.
Onions with a twist
Pass one onion behind the string, cross them over and let them hang over the bottom onion.
First pair of onions on the string
Do the same with a second pair of onions, but hang them at 180 degrees to the first pair.

Second pair
The third pair hangs above the first pair. Keep going until you run out of string or run out of onions.
Third pair

Fourth pair

That's heavy enough I think
Trim off any leaves that are sticking out.

Hang the string of onions in a cool airy place out of direct light where they should keep well through the winter.

I got about 10kg of Hercules from my 500g, after a month of drying, which I think is pretty good. That was 9kg on strings and 1kg in the "use now" bag. Not all of the "use now" were "iffy" - a couple were too dry in the neck to twist properly and broke off. And of course there was an odd one. These all go very rapidly now the tomatoes are on line, mostly in the form of bottled pasta sauce!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Pass the sherry!

We don't drink much sherry - we recently finished the bottle we brought with us two years ago from the UK. We didn't miss it until I wanted to make a courgette soup using a recipe that called for a small glass of sherry - for the soup, not the cook! I substituted a dry white wine - not the same but good anyway. We then added sherry (le xérès, pronounced "keres" or "gzeres" according to my dictionary) to the shopping list.

So far we have visited Leclerc, Intermarché, Super U, Simply Market and even the specialist wine shop Le-Dit Vin in Descartes - no sherry. LOADS of port, even Madeira, but so far the only place that xérès turns up regularly is in La Nouvelle République's crosswords.

Here's the sherry!
That X is handy for a Mots Codés! With the aid of the letters already placed, you replace the numbers in the grid with letters in order to obtain words horizontally and vertically. A good way of learning vocabulary, if somewhat skewed......

Any word with lots of e's in it comes in useful in French crosswords, so here are a few more frequent clues to be getting on with while we play "hunt the sherry".

Fleuve anglaise: Nene
Fleuve irlandaise: Erne
Saison chaude: été
Fabuliste grec: Esope (Aesop)
Divinité: Eole (Aeolus) or déesse
Crochet: esse
Cheville: tee
Héros grec: Enée (Aeneas)
Général Sudiste: Lee (Robert E. Lee)
Estonie: EE
Mer Grec: Egée (Aegean)

Friday 13 July 2012

Eggahs with everything

One day when faced with the annual glut of courgettes I turned to Claudia Roden's  A Book of Middle Eastern Food which has two courgette omelette recipes. The North African eggah is not at all like a dainty French omelette in which the egg is hardly more than shown to the pan - the egg is cooked for at least 20 minutes and the result is more like a cake. The egg is just a support for the vegetables, or meat, or chicken and noodles, or whatever you have used for the filling. It is usually cooked on the hob in a covered frying pan but may also be baked in the oven. It can be served hot cut into wedges as a light supper dish, or the more substantial ones as a full main course, or cold (ideal picnic food), or cubed on cocktail sticks as a starter.

Here's one I prepared earlier - aubergine eggah in the Jamie pan. Note the heat spreader underneath
The simplest eggah consists of a lightly cooked fresh vegetable (broad beans, spinach, courgette, aubergine, leek, broccoli) - about 12 ounces / 350 grammes to 6 eggs, seasoning and butter, with perhaps a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs as a garnish. Depending on the capacity of your pan and of your diners, you can up the veg and the eggs - it will just take a little longer to cook. We have a plentiful supply of fresh free-range eggs locally (e.g. from the Limouzin Frères market stall).

Prepare and lightly cook the vegetable. This time I had some freshly picked broad beans from the potager which I podded and blanched in boiling water for 15 minutes and, no, I didn't peel them! Good grief, life's too short. For an aubergine eggah, slice, cube, salt, drain, wipe and fry with a little chopped onion and garlic until soft. Courgette eggah - slice and boil, or fry as with aubergine. Et cetera - you get the picture. Or you could defrost a package from the freezer and cook it.

Melt the butter in the pan, mix the eggs into the vegetable and season. Pour the mixture in the pan, stir around to make sure the veg is evenly distributed, cover (with a plate if your pan doesn't come with a lid) and cook for about 15 minutes on very low heat, until the eggah is firm on the top. Make sure it is free to move and loosen it with a nylon spatula if necessary. Slide the eggah onto a plate (or the lid of your Jamie Oliver skillet), invert the pan over it (it will have drunk the butter) and turn the whole lot over, thereby enabling you to brown the underside for a further 5 minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad. It's very comforting on a cold miserable day like today!

The last slice of Broad Bean Eggah... with a roquette and terrine baguette accompaniment.
Almost forgot to take the photograph!!

Wednesday 11 July 2012


Inspired today by an entry on Days on the Claise to look a little further into the various species of salad green that most English-speaking people refer to as "lettuce" - a leafy, sometimes slightly bitter green vegetable used mainly raw in green salads, but sometimes cooked. I used to wonder at school what happened to the hearts as I chomped my way through lunchtime sheets of clammy green raincoat - that was before the days of supermarkets and their pristine displays of hearts. It's no consolation to find out that the outer leaves are even richer in beta-carotene than the heart.


Westerners waste up to 50% of the food they buy and a lot of that is lettuce, with good intentions turning rapidly into brown sludge. Every year, according to Green Oak Buzz, 860,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables, £1.4 million worth, goes to waste in the UK... By contrast, French salades from the market keep nearly as well as home-grown, and the coarsest outer leaves are snapped up by the chickens, or vanish into the compost heap.

There are three members of the aster family widely eaten as salade.  All three have been part of the human diet since at least the times of the Pharaohs and probably much longer.

Lettuce (lactuca sativa), or laitue, is a quick-growing annual with yellowish green flowers. It comes as roundhead or cabbage lettuce, crisphead or Batavia (iceberg), cos (aka romaine) and loose-leaf (cut-and-come-again) types and many old French varieties are available mail-order e.g. from Simpsons Seeds in the UK or Baumaux in France. We grow a red-leafed mini-cos variety called Pandero, a Gardening Which 'best buy' for flavour and all-round quality. We are just about to sow some more while the maximum daytime temperature is below 25C, because high temperatures deter germination in lettuces.

In ancient Egypt, lettuce was sacred to the fertility god Min and considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac. A nice row of cos-type lettuces features on an Egyptian wall relief dating back to about 4500 BCE. Min has obviously sampled his own produce!

The Romans, by contrast, believed that lettuce promoted morality, temperance and chastity!

Endive (Cichorium endivia) is an annual or biennial with deeply cut leaves. It is sometimes called curly endive and frisée in the UK and is known in the USA as Chicory and in France as chicorée frisée. Beware - there are also frizzy lettuce varieties such as Salad Bowl. On the market stall it is difficult to distinguish curly endive from lettuce just by looking at it. I find endive rather tough going, personally, and I'll stick with Salad Bowl.

The flowers of a chicory that was part of a salad mix.
Knowing what to expect when it bolted, we left it to flower.
It was a good three weeks ahead of the wild chicory that is now in flower all over the place.

Then there's chicory, cichorium intybus, a blue-flowered European native perennial known in France as endive and often sold as blanched buds called chicons or witloof. Easy to remember, yes? Radicchio is an Italian chicory with many colourful varieties. Radicchio and frisée frequently turn up in supermarket mixed salads, probably because they do not crush as easily as the more tender lettuces. Chicory is one of the "bitter herbs" that form part of the Passover meal.

Friday 6 July 2012

Stitched up

Yesterday I harvested our crop of "Jermor" shallots, which survived minus 20 Centigrade this winter apparently unharmed, in fact quite an improvement on last year. Shallots make wonderful sauces. For those who love onion gravy (British cuisine at its best) there just ain't no onion gravy like shallot gravy. Shallots are a relatively unusual vegetable in the UK and therefore expensive - hence an ideal vegetable to grow on allotments (as opposed to cabbage, cabbage, cabbage). I've grown Jermor for about ten years, first on the allotment in Leeds and then in the potager in France, plus a few in the flower border, where the spout of blue-green leaves is spectacular.

Jermor is a French demi-longue variety, which is to say a good bulb is flask-shaped, rather like an Orangina bottle in miniature. There are also cuisse de poulet (chicken thigh) and ronde (round) shallots, with golden or red skins. I am also growing Red Sun, a round red-skinned Dutch variety, planted in Spring and not a long way behind the Jermor. I've tried growing shallots from seed, but sets (baby shallots) are much more reliable. Wherever you buy them, France, England, Germany, Holland... Jermor sets are produced in France and Red Sun are Dutch in origin.

What a pleasure it is to see shallots, onions and garlic standing on lovely healthy roots. Our allotment soil, used by generations of gardeners since 1896, was contaminated by the spores of onion white rot. This fungus destroys the roots and base of the bulb, causing it to go brown, soft and slimy. Sometimes over 80% of the crop would be affected and unusable, and some of our fellow allotmenteers gave up growing onions because of it. The first signs of attack is drooping, flaccid leaves. When you pull up the bulb you can often see white fungal fluff around the base. The spores can live in the soil for at least 20 years, so we don't want it! The only thing we can do to prevent contamination is to buy authentic high-quality sets - never plant shallots or garlic from the supermarket shelf!

The harvest is now drying on recycled bread delivery trays in the hangar (out of the rain). Some - the smallest and the less attractive - will be turned immediately into shallot confiture, the recipe for which I blogged about here. The most unusual specimen is a pair of rather spindly bulbs from the edge of the bed stitched together by a stolon of couch grass (twitch grass) or I should be calling it chiendent.

Why we don't like Couch Grass
The silica tipped business end of Couch roots.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Bread machine as dough maker

I've mentioned in this blog and in comments on other blogs about using our Panic-sonic Breadmaker as a dough producer. It means that Pauline and I can have decent, "tartine"able bread without the hole up the middle [or the massive holes in our local boulangerie loaves!]

Given the recent weather, it also means that we can make bread when it isn't worth driving into town.

Two days ago, for the first time in about three years I made Tomato and Olive Focaccia... loosly based round the recipe in the machine's handbook.

Resting in my square cake tin... makes pavés
NOTE: With the Panasonic you put the dry in first, followed by the liquid... the opposite way round to most breadmakers!!

Ingredients [in order after the 1.5 teaspoons of yeast - about half a 7gm packet]:

300gms of LIDLs Ciabatta loaf mix [this has yeast and salt in it... so cut back on the salt!]
150gms of Strong White [or Pain Maison] flour
180mls of passata [I used homemade Black Krim passata]
70mls of water
Tablespoon [15mls] of Olive Oil

To be added halfway through: [at around the 25 minute mark... set a timer.]
50gms dried Cherry tomatoes... roughly chopped.
20gms dried Sweet Peppers... as for tomatoes
30gms chopped Green olives
20gms chopped Black olives - the Kalamata ones are best

For the Panasonic use the 45min Pizza dough setting... it works perfectly.
Just before the buzzer goes, put the oven on at 30C if you can... if not find a warm space [cardboard box upside-down at the back of the refridgerator works.] We use the microwave combi oven to bake in and the main oven to prove in.
Take dough out of the machine, rescue that damn paddle, and knock dough back a little.
Form loaf to shape, or put into mould. This is a slightly moister mix than normal so it will not hold a shape... push holes in it with your fingers.... be brutal, they mend!! The holes that is!]
It takes about 45 minutes to double in size... get oven going at 240C at about 40 minutes proving time [having checked that the rise is going OK.]
When oven is up to temperature put the loaf in and immediately CANCEL** the oven temperature setting. Re-set the oven to 200C and let bread bake for about 40 to 45 mins... knock it out of mould, if using one, at about 35 to 40 mins and put it back in for the last five minutes... this gives a nicer crust on the bottom.

End crust off for tasting!

A close up of the cut face with the pepper, tomato and olives showing.
If you want larger bits than this add them later... or even fold in when knocking back.
 Allow to cool and serve with cheese, cold meats, soups, etc.

And here's one I made earlier...

This is a 300gm Pain de Campagne, 100 gm Spelt [epeautre] and 50gm Rye [seigle] loaf with 50gms added grains.
Two tablespoons of Vigean's Fruitee & Noix oil and 250ml of water completed the mix.
Same Pizza dough setting, 70 mins proving and 50 mins baking.

**This emulates a traditional bread oven apparently.... it certainly gives a better loaf I think.

Monday 23 April 2012

Coffee and walnut cake for the birthday boy

Tim has been agitating for a coffee and walnut cake for some time, so as the day after tomorrow is his birthday, I gave in.

Looks like a cake...
As it happens, Jean had given us The Hairy Bikers Best-loved Recipes (subtitled "Mums know best") just last week, and there was a delicious-looking version in there. I have at least four versions of the basic Victoria Sponge Sandwich recipe, almost exactly the same - equal quantities of butter (or Stork), caster sugar and self-raising flour, some eggs and "Camp" coffee essence. I used to make the Stork version as a teenager, until my dad commandeered the Stork recipe book I was given by a demonstration team at a school cookery class. I was always slightly disappointed by the result, because it came out rather like a large round biscuit. Four ounces / two eggs to a pair of 7" (18cm) sandwich tins is just not quite enough. The Hairy Bikers give eight ounces / four eggs to a pair of 8" (20cm) tins. Their recipe also called for additional baking powder. The end result was satisfyingly substantial! Thanks again Jean!

Since we have been here, a roll of Lakeland "Magic" non-stick liner has been languishing alongside the baking parchment, on the slightly spurious grounds that it was too expensive to use. As we didn't have enough baking parchment for two 20cm circles, I used this instead. You don't need to grease the tin, in fact it's better not to. It is reputed to last five years regular use - after peeling it off the cake, you just wash it in mild detergent, and dry it (have you ever tried to dry a non-stick disk? If you get too vigorous, it shoots across the kitchen).

Camp coffee and chicory essence, according to Wikipedia, so it must be true,  is a Scottish food product, which began production in 1876 by Paterson & Sons Ltd. in a plant on Charlotte St, Glasgow.

On the original label, the Indian gentleman is a Sepoy servant, standing beside the Scottish soldier and handing him his coffee. Since 2006, the two men are social equals, sitting side by side enjoying their coffee. I suspect in India at least until independence in 1947 the relative status could have gone either way ...
Camp is sometimes available on the "British foods" shelves of our local supermarkets, but we couldn't find any, though Super U had a basic chicory essence. I substituted a mixture of this and instant coffee (Nescafé Gold Blend) to the equivalent volume, but it wasn't enough and I'll use more of both next time.

Here's the recipe, as it isn't on their official web site.
For the cake:
65g walnut halves
225g softened butter, cubed, plus a little more to grease the baking tins
225g caster sugar
4 medium eggs (or 2 duck eggs)
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Camp coffee and chicory essence

For the icing:
150g softened butter, cubed
300g icing sugar, sifted
4 tsp Camp coffee and chicory essence

For self raising flour, I used plain flour and an additional 2 teaspoons baking powder.
For 2 tablespoons of Camp, I dissolved 3 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee with 30ml water and a dash of chicory essence. For the 4 teaspoons, I used 20ml of water, 2 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee and omitted the chicory. Next time I'll double the coffee - and prepare it in advance with hot water so it dissolves.

Preheat the oven to 190C / gas mark 5. Butter the bases of two 20cm sandwich tins and line with circles of baking parchment.

Put the walnut halves in a food processor or blender and blitz them into fairly fine crumbs, but don't worry if there are a few large pieces remaining. Tip the walnuts into a bowl.

Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and coffee essence into a food processor and blend on the pulse setting until well combined and creamy (quite a stiff mixture, probably due to using duck eggs). You may need to push the mixture down with a rubber spatula. Take the blade out, add the blitzed walnuts and mix by hand until just combined. "If you don't have a food processor, finely chop the walnuts, tip all the ingredients into a big bowl and beat like hell!" None of this creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs one at a time and folding in flour business.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the lined tins. You can smooth it off, but I found the mixture was pretty much self levelling once it went into the oven. Bake on the same shelf in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes or until the sponge is just beginning to draw away from the sides of the tins.

Remove the tins from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes. Run a spatula around the edge of the cakes and turn them out onto a wire rack. Peel off the baking parchment and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, put the butter in a food processor or mixing bowl, then add the icing sugar and coffee essence.  Blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and add more coffee essence if desired. (Tim does not recommend the food processor method, and I didn't fancy it either.)

Place one of the sponges on a plate or cake rack and spread with half the icing. Add the second sponge and spread the rest of the icing on the top.  Use the back of a spoon, a rubber spatula or a fork to make interesting swirly patterns (Tim's the expert at this, so I left that to him). Decorate with the walnut halves. Leave to stand in a cool place for at least an hour before serving to allow the icing to become a little firmer.

Serves 12.
Tastes like a cake!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Bean sprouts...

At last we've found some fresh beansprouts in the shops... this is quite important for me as I am an impulse cook.
Sprouting your own beans is a think ahead, time consuming problem.... although easy to do with the right equipment.

These are Germes de Haricots Mungo... AB certified.... they must have had a supply of *Bio-water!

The shop bought Mung Beans

Mung beans unwrapped

It says on the packet that they are commonly called Germes de soja... very strange as soya beans are  much larger and rounder....and pale brown... than Mung beans.

Mung beans [with a Euro and five Soya beans for comparison.]
The mung beans shown above are now about five years old.... and therefore will possibly have a poor germination rate...
but I spotted a sprouter for 4€ in Gamm Vert recently.... I am tempted as all sorts of seeds can be sprouted and are good in salads.... and are... allegedly... good for you.

If you don't want to go to the expense of a 'sprouter', an old fashioned **sweet jar, an elastic band, a bin bag and a bit of muslin will do.
Start this in the evening...
Put a good English handful of Mung Beans into the 'sprouter' and put in enough water to cover them, plus half as much again.
Put muslin in place on the top and hold it there with the 'laccy' band. That's the real fun bit... you usually need three hands... or a willing helper.
Put jar into bin bag and fold the top of the bag over.
Place in a warm place overnight... over the back of the fridge is a good place if it isn't built in... the heat rising from the works is excellent for this [good for homemade wine, too.]
Next morning, drain the beans through the muslin, then rinse the beans well [a couple of times].... and then drain [but not thoroughly] and return them to the warm place. If using the back of the fridge process, move the jar forward from the vents from now on... so that it gets the warmth... but not too much.
In the evening, repeat the process.
Next morning, repeat the process.
In the evening, repeat the process.
Next morning, repeat the process. The beans should be sprouting by the previous evening... or at this point.
Carry on for another day, or perhaps two, until you have nice fat sprouts of a good length... the amount of water left by rinsing and a non-thorough draining should be adequate for good sprouts.
ON NO ACCOUNT LEAVE THEM IN STANDING WATER... they can go bad very quickly!
The best way to remove the sprouts is to rinse them out into a sieve... this gives them a good final rinse and gets the last ones out of the jar without hassle!

** Since starting this entry, I have invested in one of the sprouters from Gamm Vert... it works very well...
so we had bean sprouts twice in quick succession!
If you do decide to buy one of these, just a tip... keep it in a dark place [as with the bin-bag for the other method] not as the instructions say... on the window sill!
The sprouts began to green up! But there was almost 100% success from what I now think is about twelve year old mung bean seed!!