Wild West Party in Paris

September 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

My aunt’s 70th birthday bash on Saturday night was the raison d’être for my trip to Paris this weekend so I’d better say a few words about the main event.  The party had been organised by Auntie Madge’s lovely group of friends who go under the name of the Golden Girls.  They’d done her proud putting on a Wild West party (exactly why they chose this theme remains a mystery) complete with line dancing, a Clint Eastwood look-alike, friends and family from around the world, and of course lots of lovely things to eat and drink.

My own contribution was a couple of very simple salads put together from my purchases at Joël Thiébault’s beautiful market stall earlier that day (see previous post).  People often try too hard when asked to prepare something for a party – there are too many stars of the show – stunning terrines, tarts, three-bird roasts and the like and not enough simple salads.  I decided to put this right and threw together very quickly at my aunt’s apartment before the party a simple potato salad dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.  What made it special was the purple potatoes I’d used plus generous quantities of herbs – chervil and chives.  I also sliced up the motley bag of tomatoes I’d bought earlier, dressing them with olive oil, basil, salt and just a touch of lemon.  I’m gratified to say that both salads disappeared pretty quickly.

Here is an attractive way of serving a dip with crudités for a party.  That French sense of style just can’t be held back.

I mentioned that there were friends and family from all over the world.  My cousins Pierre and Alain are married to Meryanti (Indonesian) and Yuko (Japanese) respectively.  I have a great recipe for Beef Rendang from Mery (as she is usually known) which I will share one of these days.  Yuko is a fabulous cook and I will certainly be asking for some of her recipes too.

Yuko had pushed the boat out for the party and had come with a tray of what the French call verrines.  I was horrified at first thinking this might be something to do with earthworms.  The root of the word is verre – glass, not ver – earthworm and it turns out that verrines are dinky little shot-type glasses of filled with artfully constructed layers of delicious things to eat.  Yuko is both practical as well as talented so her verrines were in fact made of disposable plastic (plasticines perhaps?).  She’d filled them with layers of chopped prawns, fromage frais mixed with herbs and diced tomato.

It transpires that verrines are all the rage in France.  There are whole books, devoted to them and they can inspire flights of fancy leading to obsession.  Just have a look here for starters:

http://www.lesfoodies.com/recettes/verrine

and if that appeals, try this:

http://www.verrine.org/

Enough of this aside on verrines.  Not sure if they’ll catch on in the UK but if they do remember you read it first here!

My cousin’s wives Mery and Yuko really are from the far east (as opposed to Wild West) but stealing the show was second cousin Arthur who has reinvented himself as a Buddhist monk and now goes under the name Topgyal.  The purple and saffron robes certainly look good at a party.

Sadly my sister Jane couldn’t make it over for the weekend but it was good to have the chance to catch up with my dad.  Here we are both in matching cowboy check shirts, the cheat’s answer to fancy dress.

That’s the last of my Parisian posts – back home on Eurostar now with lots of new food ideas.

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Burning calories in Paris

September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

During my food-leaning weekend in Paris, I decided that I needed to burn a few calories as well as ingest them.  My solution was to take an early morning run from my hotel in the Rue d’Arras on the Left Bank along the Seine then down through the Jardins de Luxembourg and back again through St Germain.  This would make a pleasant change from my usual running route back home in Manchester when I swap the Seine for the Bridgewater canal and the Left Bank for Moss Side.

First stop was the Ile de la Cité and majestic Notre Dame thrillingly free of tourists at this early hour:

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Just setting up on one of the Seine quais nearby was a Gascon food market filled with enticing looking goose-fat laden produce but sadly not yet open for business.

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Crossing back onto the Left Bank I stumbled across the famous Maison Ladurée tearoom and pâtisserie in the Rue Bonaparte and couldn’t resist taking a picture of its over the top window display. Ladurée is quite an institution now, a marketing man’s dream as its website demonstrates http://www.laduree.fr/.  I had a bit of a snigger at the whole section of the website devoted to the photos and life history of company President David Holder.  That said, he and his father (who interestingly is the brains behind the Boulangerie Paul concept) have clearly built an impressive business on the basis of a single tearoom.

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Returning along the Boulevard St Germain, now rather crowded with people looking at the bizarre sight of me, the lone female jogger dodging traffic and pedestrians, I spotted three famous gastronomic establishments.  First, Brasserie Lipp, founded in 1880 by Léonard Lipp and now flagship restaurant of the Groupe Bertrand.  How times change…

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Just across the road are the Cafés Flore and Aux Deux Magots, both haunts of the existentialist and artistic crowd including Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir.  Thousands of tourists (self included) throng their now sampling the nostalgia and hoping a little of the stardust will rub off.

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Just a little further along the Boulevard St Germain was an enticing collection of neighbourhood food shops: a fantastic looking butcher with ducks on display ready to take flight, a fishmonger with the freshest looking sea urchins for sale and cheese shop with an array of unusual regional cheeses:

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How lucky to have such inspiring shopping on your doorstep – it beats the central Manchester offering of Tesco Metro or M&S food hall hands down!

I was on the home straight now as I turned into the Rue Monge but I stopped to photograph one final entrancing shop window, that of Le Bonbon au Palais, the sweetshop of your dreams:

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Inside, there were tantalising glimpses of crystallised violets and rose petals and other goodies, all displayed in gorgeous glass jars.  Not a branded plastic package in sight.  A little bit of internet research reveals, pleasingly, that Le Bonbon au Palais is an independent shop which has delighted bloggers the world over. The website gives you a flavour of what to expect  http://www.bonbonsaupalais.fr/.

Run over, it’s time for a well-earned breakfast.

A day in Paris with Clotilde Dusoulier

September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

Well almost… Clotilde  Dusoulier is the woman behind www.chocolateandzucchini.com which began as a cult food blog describing her adventures in a Parisian kitchen.  Clotilde is now very much mainstream with a book deal and international press recognition the end result.

I’d read one of Clotilde’s articles describing a food lover’s tour of Paris in a copy of “Delicious” magazine two years ago.  I cut out and kept that article thinking it might well come in handy and so it finally did.  My aunt, who lives in Paris, chose to celebrate her 70th birthday this weekend with a Wild West party (more of this later).  This was the opportunity I needed to hop on the Eurostar and spend a day in Paris with Clotilde at my side.

I was staying on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard St Germain so Clotilde’s suggestion of a visit to Bread & Roses for breakfast fitted the bill nicely.  Bread & Roses is a bustling, bright bakery with a small café situated on a corner of the Rue Madame near the Jardin du Luxembourg.  I took a seat amongst the morning joggers, breakfast meeting businessmen and chic post-school run Parisian mothers and ordered breakfast.

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I chose freshly-squeezed orange juice, Darjeeling tea rather than coffee  (24 hours after leaving home I was longing for a decent cup of tea) and a whole Brioche a L’Ancienne.  What a wonderful breakfast!  Everything just perfect: the juice freshly squeezed in front of me, the tea freshly brewed from leaves rather than a bag far superior to anything I’ve had in the UK for ages, and the brioche to die for – pillowy soft and buttery.  I couldn’t finish it as you are given a whole loaf – it’s really designed for two people or more to share.  I ended up giving my other half to a tramp on the Boulevard St Michel.

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Set up for the day, it was time to visit a Parisian market.  Clotilde’s suggestion of the market on Avenue Président Wilson meant I could take in the Eiffel Tower:

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The market itself was more like an outdoor art installation rather than a place to buy food.  Fish, meat, cheese, charcuterie and fruit and vegetable stalls were lined up for a kilometre or so along the centre of the Avenue Président Wilson, all a feast for the eye.  I was arrested first of all by a magnificent swordfish:

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I was next stopped in my tracks by Joel Thiébault’s astounding vegetable stall.  Thiébault is France’s first celebrity greengrocer, a Gallic Greg Wallace if you can imagine that and I was pleased to see he was there in person sweet-talking customers.  Acres of greenery, rainbow chard, carrots in four different colours, all of them shouting Buy Me!  So I did – I bought a kilo of mixed tomatoes – no ordinary tomatoes but green ones, red ones, yellow ones, large, small, melon shape – some weird-looking purple potatoes and bunches of basil, chives and chervil.  I was banking on having the chance to throw together a couple of salads as my contribution to the Wild West party later that evening.DSC01196

Reluctantly I left the market – after all I was on a tight schedule today – and headed back on the métro in a southerly direction  heading for food shop Beau et Bon which describes itself as “l’épicerie folle”.  Intriguing.   Walking along the rue des Volontaires heading for the rue Lecourbe I couldn’t help but notice that there are food shops everywhere in Paris.  Here is a cosy looking Alsatian deli, Tempé, on the corner of Volontaires and Vaugirard:

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And a little further down the street I was seduced by the foie gras and wild mushrooms on display at Le Comptoir Corrézien:

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Whilst on the corner I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the cubist cake displays at prestigious urban pâtisserie Lenôtre:

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I finally made it to Beau et Bon on rue Lecourbe.  The shop is tiny with shabby chic appeal and is crammed full of interesting things to eat.  Owner Valérie Gentil’s (perfect name!) unique selling point is that she puts on sale the fruits of her gastronomic “Tour de France” each year.  You will find within Beau et Bon not the standard cheeses, pâtés and biscuits you might pick up at Charles de Gaulle airport but lovely, unusual and sometimes frankly wacky items.  I picked up a dinky bottle of deep green pistachio oil destined for a special salad dressing, two bars of nougat flavoured with green olives and  chestnuts respectively, some gorgeous edible pearls for sprinkling over special cupcakes, and a jar of Breton kéramel for spreading on warm toast for breakfast.  I couldn’t carry any more!

Here are my Beau et Bon and Comptoir Corrézien goodies safely book at home.  Breton kéramel already consumed I’m afraid!

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Thank you Clotilde for the tour of Paris – I’m now inspired to start work recommending a food tour of my home city of Manchester..

Bread & Roses
62, Rue Madame

75006

01 42 22 06 06

www.breadandroses.fr

M° Rennes

Marché Avenue Président Wilson
From Place d’Iéna to Alma Marceau

Wednesdays and Saturdays

Tempé Specialités Alsaciennes

196 Rue Vaugirard
75015

01 45 66 87 38

M° Volontaires

Comptoir Corrézien
8 rue des Volontaires
75015

01 47 83 52 97

Lenôtre
61 rue Lecourbe

75015

01 42 73 20 97

http://www.lenotre.fr/

Beau et Bon
81 rue Lecourbe
75015

01 43 06 06 53

M° Volontaires ou Sèvres Lecourbe

http://beauetbon.free.fr/

Weekend in Paris: Restaurant Hélène Darroze

September 20, 2009 § 2 Comments

My aunt who lives in Paris, Marjorie, was celebrating her 70th birthday with a Wild West party on Saturday 19 September and I decided to make a long weekend of it and take the opportunity to explore Paris.

I travelled to Paris in leisurely comfort taking the train all the way from our front door.  It takes longer than the plane but is a comfortable and relaxing way to travel. I hopped onto the metro, breathing in the distinctive smell it has and positively enjoying the bustle and excitement of Paris.  I checked into my cheap (for Paris..) and cheerful hotel, the Vendôme on the Rue d’Arras on the Left Bank and was very touched to find that husband Tim had thoughtfully sent a bouquet of flowers to the room.

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There was just time to unpack, bathe and change before setting out to that evening’s destination, Restaurant Hélène Darroze on the Rue D’Assas, also on the Left Bank, a couple of metro stops away.  You may have guessed that I thought my hotel was on the same street as the restaurant but I didn’t check carefully before booking and confused rr with ss.  Never mind, I was approximately in the vicinity and the exercise did me good.

I was amused to catch on the TV in my room a few minutes of “Un Dîner Presque  Parfait” (an almost perfect dinner) a reality TV show which is evidently the French equivalent of “Come Dine With Me”. The French contestants had taken the whole thing a lot more seriously than we do in the UK: in this week’s episode filmed in the lakeside mountain town of Annecy, hostess with the mostest Carole had recreated an alpine meadow by turfing over her dining table with real grass onto which were dotted toy animals and artificial flowers.  You can check out the latest episode of the show here:  http://undinerpresqueparfait.m6.fr

Suitably refreshed and in the mood for dinner after watching the lovely Carole prepare foie gras for her guests, I set out for Restaurant Hélène Darroze which is located on the discreetly  affluent Rue d’Assas just off the bustling Boulevard Raspail.

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It felt good walking in through the sleekly dark doorway and being shown in the Salon, the less formal (and less expensive) way to sample to cooking here.  It had been surprisingly easy to book a table –  I had phoned and booked in the main restaurant just 10 days’ earlier without any difficulty.  A sign of the recession perhaps.  Plan A, dinner for two (me and Auntie Madge) in the restaurant, changed to Plan B, dinner for three in the salon when we realised Cousin Eileen was in town.  Eileen, like many members of my extended family has led a colourful life and is now married to a Turkish Cypriot and runs a beachside bar, The Soho Lounge, in a resort not far from Kyrenia.

As I was a little early and was the first to arrive, I settled down in the boudoir-like salon with a glass of Laurent Perrier rosé and took in the delicious sounding “Menu Tapas” realising with pleasure that there were no difficult decisions to make as all of these dishes would be served up during the course of the evening.  The salon décor is a mix of funky minimalism (citrus green walls and dinky dark wood dining tables) and Arabian nights glamour (screen of butterfly wings and jewel-coloured silk cushions).

The Tapas menu is shown in the photograph below, along with the mildly eye-watering price of Euro 88 per head (in fact not unreasonable for Paris given the number of different dishes and sheer quantity of skilful cooking involved – to put this into context, a single main course of sea bass at the Restaurant Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower is also coincidentally Euro 88, a spotted on the menu during next day’s sightseeing)

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My fellow guests arrived and joined me in a glass of pink champagne.  The waiters (all good looking sharp suited young men) were gently flirtatious and were happy to take our picture.  Cousin Eileen is on the left, Auntie Madge in the middle and me on the right.

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Why did I choose Restaurant Hélène Darroze?  Because she’d appeared as an example of a top-class Michelin-starred chef on BBC’s Masterchef last year and had stuck in my mind as being quietly competent and observing the highest standards in the kitchen.  I toyed with the idea of trying out Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant but in the end thought I’d like to visit a restaurant run by a female chef.  She is now in her early 40s, at the top of her game and, like Angela Hartnett before her, has taken over the running of the restaurant of London’s flagship Connaught Hotel.

I knew next to nothing about Darroze’s style of cooking before visiting the restaurant so this was all a new discovery.  I now know that she is a native of Landes in South West France and this certainly showed in the cooking on the menu this evening.

The first course of 3 “tapas” comprised, transcribing from the photographed menu above:

Foie gras de canard confit au naturel, chutney de figue de chez ‘Pierre Bau’, réduction Mas Amiel
Haricots maïs du Béarn, homard bleu, olives Taggiashe, roquette
Ris d’agneau et kokotxas de morue en fricasseé aux noisettes fraîches, velouté d’artichauts bretons

Here’s what the dishes looked like when they arrived at the table:

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As you can see, all the dishes were served in tiny portions, just right for a greedy person like me.  I tend to like my plates and bowls round, finding the various square receptacles, wooden boards, jars and the like that modern chefs feel compelled to employ rather  faddish.  The delicate little shell shaped bowls that were used here were however rather lovely and suited the dainty nature of the food and portion sizes.  Wine glasses I recognised as Riedel and felt good in the hand.  We chose a Beaujolais (a Fleurie I think) as a cost effective and versatile wine which lasted all through the meal.

The course which stood out for me was the lamb sweetbreads – these were tiny morsels packed with flavour and were served with what the waiter informed us were the lower cheeks of a salt cod!  Obscure this ingredient may the cheek too were dainty and delicious and worked incredibly well with the lamb and the velvety artichoke purée.

Next up were:

Riz acquarello noir et crémeux, chipirons, chorizo et tomates confites
Maigre de ligne, déclinaison de fenouil, moules de Bouchot et palourdes au jus d’herbes
Effiloché de poularde jaune des Landes, cèpes,  espouma de pommes de terre

These dishes are in the next photograph:

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The rice dish was a refined take on the traditional Catalan black rice dish found on Barcelona restaurant menus, though Darroze prefers to use a type of Carnaroli rice from Italy as the waiter knowledgeably informed us.  Chipirons turned out to be baby squid.  The waiter was also helpful in explaining what maigre was – a fish native to the Atlantic Charentes Maritime coast, a little like a sea bass.  Whilst chatting to us, he also solved the mystery of what bar and loup de mer are – both sea bass but the former is the name used for fish from the Atlantic coast and the latter the name used for Mediterranean fish.

On returning home, I looked up maigre in my trusty Jane Grigson Fish Book and was delighted to find that it was in there – just a couple of sentences but there nevertheless – she is a woman you can count on. Apparently this fish is known in English as a meagre or a croaker and is a bit like a gurnard.  Hats off to Darroze for using something unusual and from her home region rather than the more obvious turbot or sole.

The menu French was getting a little up itself at this point – I mean, a declension of fennel!  This turned out to be fennel three ways with the purée turning out to be a revelation – I made a mental note to try this it at home.  And effiloché of chicken?  This seems to have something to do with knitting or crocheting but turned out to be a delectable miniature chicken shepherd’s pie with the espouma or cheffy foam of potato being the lightest mash imaginable.

Finally, on to the puddings.  These were:

Madeleine a l’huile d’olive, sorbet fromage blanc, salade de mûres et myrtilles, meringue au cassis
Crème au chocolat carapuno du Vénézuela, praline d’amandes fait maison et écume de thym citron

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Both pretty as a picture and as good to eat as to look at.  Sorry to be a pedant (actually I’m not sorry really) but I think the menu should actually describe the chocolate as Carupano rather than carapuno. Arthur Knapp in his 2008 book “Cocoa and Chocolate” describes the criollo beans from this part of Venezuela as “the finest in the world”.  Nothing but the best for Darroze and they certainly made a heavenly mousse.  I was not sure about the combination of lemon thyme (in another of those modish foams) with chocolate but both Madge and Eileen enjoyed the contrasting tastes.  All this sounds positively gushing but it really was very good.  Searching round for something negative to say, the sound of heavy duty machinery from the open plan kitchen, probably employed in whipping up those foams, was perhaps the only (slightly) jarring note during the evening.

The dinky little madeleine was served with the most amazing mini blackcurrant meringues that exploded in the mouth like a refresher.  I would guess that they were not concocted from the usual egg white but from blackcurrant foam.  A touch of the Heston Blumenthal, and a little culinary magic to end the meal.

Train picnic: dining in style

September 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

It was my birthday on Friday 11 September.  Until recently this was not a noteworthy or memorable date and sadly it is now for all the wrong reasons.  I chose to celebrate quietly this year by attending the finals of the Leeds Piano Competition.  Music may be the food of love but I have been married to Tim now for 16 years and I need more solid sustenance.  A picnic on the train as we journeyed across the heather-clad Pennines from Manchester to Leeds was the obvious solution.

Where to look for inspiration for this special picnic?  First stop was New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser’s book “Cooking for Mr Latte” a chronicle, with recipes, of her courtship with future husband.  Chapter 26 is entitled “Fine Dining in the Sky” and contains some excellent advice which is easily transferable to a train journey.

Hesser’s general advice is “the food must be compact and light, yet it cannot be skimpy.  It must include favorite food like cheeses, cookies and olives, and it should in some way be lavish.”  Suggestions to pack include salted nuts, especially delicious salted almonds from Spain, a chewy country roll and a nutty, soft cheese.  Further recommendations are excellent cured meats, salads prepared with aged vinegars and nut oils, fresh herbs and homemade mayonnaise.  Bought treats are suggested to complete the meal – a tart, cake or petit four or a caramel-filled chocolate.

Next stop was the unlikely sounding “Constance Spry Cookery Book”.  Chapter XXXIV is “Menus, Parties and Food for Special Occasions and contains an apt little section headed “Train Food”.  Who would expect that an English cookery book first published in 1956 could be such a repository of enticing food ideas?.

Ms Spry’s general advice about train food is as follows: “The primary qualification about such food is that it shall taste fresh and be really appetizing.  It should never the bear the faintest trace of paper flavouring, something not so easy to avoid as one might think.”

She goes on to describe a delicious meal made by a family member for  small party going up to “the far north” (Manchester? Scotland perhaps! the destination is never specified).  It makes delectable reading:

“Each of us was handed when we got into our sleepers a small, neat cardboard box containing two little screw-top cartons and other small packages.  In one carton was a perfect freshly made lobster salad in a delicious dressing, the second contained fresh fruit salad of peaches, strawberries, and orange.  Crisp, poppy-seed-sprinkled rolls were quartered and buttered, and a Porosan bag held the crisp heart of a Cos lettuce.  There were small cream cheese rolls made by taking two short pieces of celery, filling the hollow made when they were put together with cream cheese, and rolling the whole in brown bread and butter…”

Suitable inspired, I made by own preparations.  Visits to the deli and greengrocer provided me with Spanish salted almonds, extra large stuffed green olives and thinly sliced meltingly soft Bellota ham accompanied by crisp celery sticks and crunchy radishes.  These would be served with chilled champagne to begin the meal.  Next, I took my cue from Constance Spry and prepared a simple but delicious lobster salad, combining new potatoes, soft-boiled quail eggs and squeaky blanched green beans with the diced lobster meat.  The whole lot was packed into a carefully lettuce lined food storage box and topped with a dollop of wobbly yellow homemade mayonnaise flavoured with lemon zest and a little chopped tarragon.  Next was a ripe St Marcellin cheese served in its own dinky indivdual terracotta pot.  I then put together my favourite simple fruit salad of sliced white nectarines in passion fruit pulp. A quick trip to the bakery provided us with fresh rolls and cherry and almond tartlets, which along with half a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape completed the preparations.  The whole lot was packed into a small wicker basket along with forks and a couple of glasses and we were off!

It was all just as good as it all sounds as I hope the pictures below demonstrate.  It definitely beats the usual railway offering of a pack of peanuts and a curled-up pre-pack sandwich hands down!

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Making use of the bumper harvest of British plums

September 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

A story on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today earlier in the week about this year’s bumper harvest of British plums prompted me to seek out some plums at the weekend and bake this fantastic upside-down plum cake from Aussie chef Bill Granger’s book “Bill’s Food”.

I really like Bill’s take on food, so much so that I have five of his books now and invariably the recipe I’m searching for is in the fifth book I look in.  The recipes are fresh and uncomplicated and, unlike some glossy cookbook authors I might mention (yes I mean you Nigella and Nigel) all the recipes I have tried have worked first time.

Bill’s trick of using a frying pan in which to bake this cake is a neat one and I bet it would work just as well for a Tarte Tatin so I can cross off  that Le Creuset Tarte Tatin tin from my wish list now and save valuable space in my kitchen.

Recipe for upside-down plum cake

Ingredients

Caramelised plums
1 lb 14 oz (850g) plums
1 3/4 oz (50g) butter, softened
4 oz (115g) caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cake
3 1/2 oz (100g) butter
8 oz (225g) caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 1/2 oz (155g) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt (optional – especially as Bill specifies unsalted butter in this recipe whereas I invariably use slightly salted butter for most things)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F/Gas 4).  Use a sharp knife to slice the cheeks from the plums and discard the stones.  To make the caramel, melt the butter in an ovenproof (ie not one with a plastic or wooden handle) 28cm (11 inch) frying pan over low heat.  Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until dissolved.  Increase the heat and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until golden and caramelised.  Transfer the plums to the pan and cook gently for 2 minutes.

To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla extract.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt over the mixture and beat until smooth.  Beat the egg whites in a clean dry bowl until stiff (using an electric whisk for speed).  Fold into the cake mixture with a metal spoon.  Spoon over the plums in the pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Leave to rest for a minute or so before carefully turning out and serving with cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 10-12

Obsessed by cauliflower

September 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

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Obsessed by cauliflower?  I can hear the incredulity in your question but, yes, it’s true.I listened to Radio 4’s Food Programme back in August whilst on holiday and heard Yotam Ottolenghi, founder of London’s Ottolenghi restaurant group, singing the praises of the humble cauliflower.  This was one of a series of “Chef’s Choices” where 6 chefs picked their favourite ingredient.  I was delighted that cauliflower had been chosen by a chef with a middle eastern background who could have chosen any one of a thousand exotic ingredients.

I believe that every vegetable can taste fantastic if it is cooked sympathetically.  Cauliflower is a case in point.  My abiding childhood memory of cauliflower is seeing a whole head of cauliflower boiled soggily in the pan, complete with enormous white grub…. yuck.

Cauliflower is really not at its best plain boiled when its brassica flavour can become overpowering.  Easily overcooked, it can become mushy and unpleasant.  Cauliflower does however, as Ottolenghi reminded us, take brilliantly well to spices.  The spiced cauliflower fritters he prepared on the programme sounded absolutely mouthwatering.  I’ve dug out the recipe and list it below along with some more from my own repertoire: another middle eastern fritter recipe from Claudia Roden’s much quoted “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” together with a cauliflower salad from the same source, and a recipe for cauliflower with potatoes from Madhur Jaffery’s first BBC book “Indian Cookery”.

The programme interspersed clips of Ottolenghi in the kitchen with factual and cultivation details from a Lincolnshire based cauliflower grower.  Cauliflower sales it seems are sadly in decline as cauliflower has been eclipsed by its sexier green cousin, broccoli.   It’s definitely time to support our home grown caulis and free them from their blankets of gloopy cheese sauce!

Recipe for cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt

Ingredients for lime sauce
330g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp chopped coriander
Grated zest 1 lime
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for cauliflower fritters
1 cauliflower
120g plain flour
3 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove crushed
2 shallots chopped
4 eggs
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
1.5 tsp salt
1. tsp black pepper
550 ml vegetable oil for frying

1. Put all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Taste – looking for a vibrant, tart, citrusy flavour – and adjust seasoning. Chill or leave out for up to half an hour.

2. Prepare the cauliflower, dividing it into florets. Add to a large pan of boiling salted water and simmer for 15 minutes or until very soft. Drain into a colander.
3. Put the flour, chopped parsley, garlic, shallots, eggs, spices, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk into a batter. When the mixture is smooth, add the warm cauliflower. Mix to break down cauliflower into the batter.
4. Pour vegetable oil into a sauté pan – 1.5cm depth – and heat. When hot, spoon in generous portions of the cauliflower mixture, 3 tablespoons per fritter. Fry in small batches, controlling oil temperature so the fritters cook but don’t burn. They should take 3-4 minutes on each side.
5. Remove from pan and drain on a kitchen paper. Serve with sauce on the side.

Recipe for deep fried cauliflower with walnut tarator sauce

Ingredients for walnut tarator sauce
2 thin slices bread, crusts removed
120 g (4 oz) roughly chopped walnuts
150ml (1/4 pint) olive oil
1-2 tbsp wine vinegar (start with 1, taste and add more if required)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for deep fried cauliflower
1 cauliflower

EITHER batter made with the following ingredients
OR egg and breadcrumbs

4 oz plain flour
1/4 pint water
1 whole egg, beaten
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper

Prepare the tarator sauce.  Dip the bread in water and squeeze dry.  Place in the bowl of  a food processor with 1 tbsp of the vinegar, nuts, garlic and seasoning.   Process, gradually adding the olive oil, until smooth.  Taste, adding more vinegar and seasoning if required.

Wash the cauliflower and separate  into florets.  Boil in salted water until only just tender (5-10 minutes).  Drain and allow to dry well. If using batter rather than egg and breadcrumbs, make the batter by tipping flour into a bowl, breaking an egg into a well in the middle and gradually whisking in the water to the egg and flour.  Whisk in the spices, salt and pepper.

Dip the cooked florets in the above batter mixture (or egg and breadcrumbs) and deep-fry until golden, turning over once.  Drain well.  Serve with the  tarator sauce.

You can also serve the tarator sauce with plain boiled or steamed vegetables such as green beans or courgettes.  Hazelnuts can be substituted for walnuts but I think the walnuts work better with cauliflower.

Recipe for  fennel, celery and cauliflower salad

1 small cauliflower
1 bulb fennel
3 sticks celery
Olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Claudia Roden’s recipe suggests lightly cooking the vegetables to make an unusual salad but I prefer to use them raw.

Wash and prepare vegetables by cutting into bite-sized pieces.  Either use the vegetables raw (my preference) or cook them in boiling salted water for a few minutes until only slightly softened.

Dress with plenty of olive oil, lemon juice , salt and pepper and the chopped fresh mint.

Recipe for cauliflower Waldorf salad

I dreamed up this salad to make use of the tarator sauce  I had left over from the deep-fried cauliflower recipe.  Take the salad vegetables from the preceding fennel, celery and cauliflower salad recipe, add 2 sliced eating apples, skin-on (red skin looks good).  Dress with tarator sauce (from above deep fried cauliflower recipe) toss lightly and serve.  The walnuts required for a Waldorf salad are of course present, ground, in the sauce.

Recipe for Cauliflower with Potatoes Phool gobi aur aloo ki bhaji

Serves 4-6

1/2 lb (225 g potatoes)
1 medium cauliflower (you need 1 lb (450g) florets)
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2-1 fresh hot green chilli very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil the potatoes in their skins and allow them to cool completely. (Day-old cooked potatoes that have been refrigerated work very well for this dish).  Peel the potatoes and cut them into 3/4 inch (2 cm) dice.

Break up the cauliflower into chunky florets, about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) across at the head and about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) long.  Soak the florets in a bowl of water for 30 minutes.  Drain. (  I have frequently omitted this step and the recipe seems to work just the same without the faff of soaking and draining).

Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick frying pan over a medium flame.  When hot, put in the whole cumin seeds.  Let the seeds sizzle for 3-4 seconds.  Now put in the cauliflower and stir it about for 2 minutes.  Let the cauliflower brown in spots.  Cover, turn heat to low and simmer for about 4-6 minutes or until cauliflower is almost done but still has a hint of crispness left.  Put in the diced potatoes, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, green chilli, ground roasted cumin, salt, and some black pepper.  Stir gently to mix.  Continue to cook uncovered on low heat for another 3 minutes or until potatoes are heated through.  Stir gently as you do so.

We eat this at home sometimes as an accompaniment to an Indian meal or more often as a midweek meal in itself along with brown rice and a cucumber raita.

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