Monday 27 January 2014

Savoury cake a la mode de St. Aignan

What do you cook given half a pack of Emmental and some allumettes de jambon (bacon "matchsticks") approaching their "use by" date? I had already marked Ken Broadhurst's Cheesy bacon olive loaf as a favourite to try soon, having noted that it was one gigantic muffin and therefore reasonably straightforward.*

Just a big muffin

All I had to do was translate the ingredients from US measures into metric.

This is what I came up with.
A total of about 400g assorted tasty goodies (selected from cooked bacon lardons, diced ham, cooked chicken, cheese cut into 1cm cubes, cooked and diced sweet pepper, quartered pitted olives, chopped walnuts, peas, or what have you... according to the contents of your fridge / freezer)
450g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder/bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
a pinch of cayenne
1 egg
250ml natural yoghurt (two 125g pots )
125ml milk
125ml crème fraiche
3tbsp olive oil
My tasty goodies were 80 - 120g each bacon, cheese (Emmental), olives (black and green), and bottled red pepper (one pepper, dried with kitchen towel and cubed). I dry-fried the bacon allumettes in a small frying pan until they gave up a lot of their fat and started to go brown, then let them cool. The whole lot went in the mixture, and I reduced the oil a little. Instead of olive oil I used Fruitée et Noix oil produced by Vigean, a local product which is a blend of colza and walnut oil. This is somewhat lighter than olive and a golden colour rather than green, so my loaf crumb was a slightly different shade. I also used North African-style lait fermenté which is made from skimmed milk, instead of the milk and crème fraiche. The lactic acid in the yoghurt and the lait fermenté combined with the baking powder to produce a well-risen light loaf.

*the standard muffin method: assemble the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly (this includes the tasty goodies). Assemble the wet ingredients in another bowl, and stir well. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix the two just to combine them - do not overmix. Half fill your chosen moulds (greased or lined) and bake at 180°C until well risen and the top is golden brown.

Colourful and tasty!

We made two loaves using paper liners in aluminium moulds [left over from a couple of UK ready roasts], and the papers peeled away with no fighting back. This can definitely come again - it rose beautifully and tastes excellent, with lots of appetising colours. We have a sheet with six miniature loaf moulds and we'll try that - excellent for a picnic or a dinner party starter.

Many thanks to Ken for his inspirational posts, food-related or otherwise. Thanks also to Jean for the gift of "Good Old-Fashioned Cakes" which has an extremely practical conversion chart.

For a further post about savoury muffins, see this recipe from a St Hubert (margarine) pack.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Turmeric - flavour of the month

At last I have been given the go-ahead to make one of my favourite chutneys - Squashney (Squash Chutney).
This spicy condiment is loosely based on a recipe for Marrow Chutney from Tim's 1971 Cordon Bleu "Preserving" by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes. Given our love for all things courge we had rather a large stock going back ten years, hence the embargo on producing any more.

The excuse this time was that we found some fresh turmeric at the All-green Pea.

Fresh turmeric from Biocoop, Châtellerault

Turmeric (curcuma in French) is the dried and ground root of a member of the Ginger family (Zingiberaceae), the main species being Curcuma longa. It is native to India but is grown all over Asia, and in Peru which is where ours came from. The fresh roots are long and narrow, taking the form of "hands" like ginger, with pinkish slightly knobbly skin.

All sorts of claims are currently being made about the health benefits of turmeric - that it can prevent cancer, heart attack, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's... control type 2 diabetes and weight loss... treat stomach ulcers, skin rashes, arthritis, leprosy, you name it, you can treat it with turmeric.  Just take two tablespoons a day and you'll live forever! You may have to put up with bright yellow pee, but you'll be able to wrestle gorillas. See an example of a slightly less excitable medical opinion here. Turmeric is actually useful for the treatment of dyspepsia and has been shown to be a painkiller as effective as ibuprofen for sufferers of osteoarthritis.

Be that as it may, the widest use of turmeric is for flavouring food. Turmeric is one of the staple spices of Asian, Caribbean and North African cooking. Known in India as Haldi, it is included in the diet because it is, as Madhur Jaffrey puts it, "a digestive and an antiseptic". It is also used to give a warm yellow colour (E100) to cheese, yoghurt, margarine and so on. As a fabric dye it gives a glorious but transient egg-yolk yellow, as I once discovered on the way home with a takeaway on my lap in a foil box with a hole in it that leaked curry sauce all over my shirt. My Ugandan Asian friend advised me to hang the shirt on the washline in the sun - in an afternoon it was as though the stain had never been.

Tim is determined to try growing some of the turmeric roots, given our success with growing ginger (zilch). We do not lack advice (here, here, here and here), although the advice is about as consistent as that of our old allotmenting friends on the subject of growing potatoes. If our plant (a) comes up (b) fails to die on us (c) undergoes some sort of miraculous conversion, it may even have an attractive flower, which is also edible.

Curcuma longa flowers, from
We have fond memories of Squashney. One lunchtime we gave a jar of it to our friends the kitchen staff at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms in Dewsbury. On returning later in the afternoon we were presented with an empty jar and a request for more please! They had rapidly progressed from eating it spread on bread to scoffing it direct from the jar with a spoon.

Here's the recipe for Squash Chutney. You can use any kind of thick-fleshed squash or pumpkin. Acorn squash such as Table Ace are particularly good. Don't peel Acorn squash if they are fairly fresh - the colour contrast adds visual interest to the chutney. This time I used butternut squash, which I had to peel because the skin is quite hard. This quantity fills 5-6 standard jamjars.

4lb /2kg Squash
2 tbsp Salt
8oz / 250g pickling onions or shallots, peeled
½oz / 15g ground turmeric, or 1½oz / 45g fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
9 chillies, fresh, frozen or pickled, coarsely chopped (use fewer if they are hot)
1½ oz / 45g ground ginger
1½ oz / 45g English mustard powder
1½lb. / 750g sugar
2 pints / 1½ l white malt, white wine or cider vinegar

Remove seeds from the squash and peel them. Cut into ½ inch / 1cm cubes, place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Cover and leave overnight. Drain off the liquid.

Put remaining ingredients in a preserving pan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 10 minutes. Add the squash and boil for about 40 minutes, or until tender and the liquid has thickened. If the mixture is still liquid, fish out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and boil the liquid until thick. Warning: do not over-boil or it turns into toffee.

Squashney with whole dried chillies - didn't work, replaced with chopped pickled Cayenne (volcanic)

Put into hot jars and screw down while still hot to make a good seal.

Serve with cheese, cold meats, sausages, curries or spread on crackers. Or even straight out of the jar.

Allow to mature for a couple of weeks. This should be ready at the beginning of February.