More marmalade

March 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I discovered a little goody bag of frozen Seville oranges in the bottom of my freezer this week and decided to make a second batch of marmalade.

This reminded me that I hadn’t posted the results of Tim’s Man-Made Marmalade entry into the World’s Original Marmalade Competition held at Dalemain in the Lake District back in February (see my February post

https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/02/14/dalemain-marmalade-competition/

The Marmalade Competition and associated Festival did really well this year both in terms of the number of entries (over 800 jars) and in terms of media coverage. I read about the competition in every publication I picked up in February from the Independent to Delicious Magazine and even the Virgin Trains in-house magazine.

BBC Radio 4’s flagship Food Programme devoted a whole show to marmalade in which the competition featured prominently. At the time of writing, the programme was still available to listen again.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qyvf8

I’m proud to report that Tim did pretty well in his first ever marmalade competition. Here’s the personalised results slip he was sent:

The judges are the redoubtable ladies of the Womens’ Institute who have developed their own national standardised scoring system. 15 marks out of 20 is not at all bad for a first attempt – and if he hadn’t scored an own goal by slightly burning the rubber seal on the lid in an over-zealous attempt to sterilise it in the oven he would certainly have increased his score to 16, just 2 marks away from a bronze medal score of 18. That’s the challenge for 2011…

I thought my own marmalade turned out pretty well but elder son George (aged 13 and already a marmalade enthusiast) pronounced it “not bad, but not as good as daddy’s”.

Harsh but fair!

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Tartiflette, or, I need another cream, cheese and potato fix now!

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Back home for 10 days now and still pining for the sunny crisp weather and the food of the French Alps.

I decided I could hold out no longer and visited the very wonderful Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury to buy a splendid Reblochon, half to savour au naturel (that is just a wedge of cheese and a glass of wine rather than me eating the cheese in my birthday suit) and the other half to turn into an unctuous Tartiflette, the potato, cheese and cream gratin which is a speciality of the Savoy Alps in France. You can find a link to the Cheese Hamlet’s site in my blogroll/links section in the sidebar. Here it is again just for good measure:

http://www.cheesehamlet.com/

Having picked up a leaflet about Reblochon whilst in Moutiers 10 days ago I feel obliged to show off with a few cheesy facts:

• The name Reblochon is derived from the verb reblocher literally “to pinch a cow’s udder again” because the cheese is made from the more creamy milk of a cow’s second milking of the day.
• Reblochon achieved AOC (now the European AOP Appellation d’Origine Protégée) status in 1958 and is produced in a small region within the département (administrative region) of Haute-Savoie centred around the Aravis massif in the Alps.
• Reblochon is produced from unpasteurised cows’ milk from 3 permitted breeds: Abondance; Tarine; & Montbéliarde.
• The rind of an authentic AOP Reblochon cheese will bear a small edible seal made of the naturally occurring protein caseine; the very special Reblochon Fermier has a similar green seal.

That’s enough of the academic stuff. What you really need to know is that Reblochon is a creamy semi-soft cheese with an earthy nutty flavour and an apricot coloured edible rind which is dusted with a naturally occurring white mould. And if you are in the United States, sorry folks you can’t get hold of it because of your (misguided) countrywide ban on cheeses made from unpasteurised milk. Your loss I’m afraid….

Recipe for Tartiflette

This is my version of this classic Savoyarde potato gratin, pretty similar to the one found in my authentic Reblochon information leaflet. Some ersatz supermarket-derived recipes suggest cubing the cheese or, horror of horrors, cutting off and discarding the rind. No, no, no! When the cheese is halved horizontally and placed rind-side up atop the potatoes, it becomes deliciously crispy and brown when baked in a hot oven, absolutely the point of this dish.

The specified quantity is enough for 2 greedy people. Serve with a simple green salad and a glass of crisp white wine (ideally an Apremont from Savoie). The name of this dish is derived from the Franco-Provençal word for potato – tartifla.

Here’s the Tartiflette ready to go into the oven. The finished dish can be seen in at the top of this post.

Ingredients

1 medium onion finely chopped
70g lardons (I like pancetta lardons – inauthentic I know but still tasty)
750g waxy potatoes such as Charlotte, scrubbed, steamed until tender and thickly sliced
142 ml double cream
half a Reblochon cheese which should weigh approx 250g
salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, a few fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Fry the onions and lardons together until golden brown. Grease a cast iron gratin dish generously with butter. Layer half the cooked sliced potatoes in the bottom. Season then spread over them half the onion and bacon mixture. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, onions and bacon. Pour over the cream and top with the Reblochon cheese, which you should cut in half first horizontally then vertically, rind and all. See picture above.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.

A dish for spring: potato pie with Beaufort cheese

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

The best thing about the Tarentaise town of Moutiers in the French alps is that it is home to a co-operative which produces the magnificent Beaufort cheese. I passed through Moutiers last weekend on the way home from my ski tour and brought home a generous wedge of the stuff.

You may know Moutiers as the road bottleneck en route to your ski holiday or indeed as a vast alpine waiting room: at weekends the coaches lumber through from the early hours of the morning and the place is thronged with dishevelled looking bleary-eyed travellers. However last weekend, Moutiers was looking uncharacteristically lovely in the spring sunshine:

Just around the corner from the bridge over the Isère river is the redoubtable co-operative building. Solid and pink, you really can’t miss it:

And, joy of joys, there is a wonderful shop within which keeps sensible opening hours (open till 6.30 in the evening). Of course the Beaufort d’ été (cheese made from summer milk when the cows have grazed on the high alpine pastures) takes pride of place:

As well as the Beaufort, the shop sells a fantastic range of other local cheeses, sausages and preserves. I could have filled my shopping basket many times over but, mindful of my budget airline’s baggage weight limit and my own ability to lug the stuff home along with my ski kit, I confined myself to a single perfect generously proportioned wax paper wrapped parcel.

The co-operative offers guided tours at weekends. Sadly I didn’t have time for one of these but there are plenty of information leaflets on hand.

Time for a few Beaufort facts:

• Beaufort is produced under the EU’s “Appellation d’Origine Protégée” scheme
• Its production is limited to the Beaufortain, Tarentaise, Maurienne valleys plus part of the Val d’Arly all in the département (administrative region) of Savoie in France.
• The milk used to make the cheese must come from two special mountain cow breeds, the Tarine and the Abondance.
• There are currently 650 milk suppliers, and 45 cheesemakers collectively producing some 4,300 tonnes of cheese a year.

And one kilogramme of this lovely stuff was mine all mine to to take home and treasure! In the unlikely event that you should tire of eating your Beaufort au naturel, here is a recipe which both showcases the cheese and doesn’t require too much of it.

It comes from Simon Hopkinson’s new book “The Vegetarian Option” and combines the cheese with potatoes and cream, encasing the lot in buttery puff pastry. A scattering of fresh herbs – thyme and the first chives from the garden – give a taste of spring.

Here’s the cheese and potato filling spread onto the puff pastry base:

And here is the finished pie glazed and ready for the oven:

And here is the crispy golden brown finished article smelling deliciously of thyme, a touch of garlic and cheese.

Recipe for potato pie with Beaufort cheese

Taken from Simon Hopkinson’s “The Vegetarian Option” but with some alterations/improvements of my own. This is absolutely gorgeous eaten warm from the oven with a simply dressed peppery green salad. It’s also pretty good cold the next day perhaps as part of a superior packed lunch if by chance there’s a wedge left.

Ingredients

500g small/medium potatoes (SH suggests Desirée: I used new season Pentland Dells very successfully – they have just the right balance between flouriness and waxiness for this dish)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
100 ml double cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly bruised
10-15g butter for dotting
375g bought all-butter puff pastry in 2 equal pieces or sheets (if you have a 500g pack pastry, simply scale up the recipe)
75g Beaufort cheese, very thinly sliced
teaspoon each chopped thyme leaves and snipped chives
beaten egg to glaze the pastry

First steam or boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Leave to cool, peel and slice thickly and put to one side.

Place the cream with the garlic in a small saucepan, bring to the boil then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse until the cream is cool.

Line a shallow heavy baking sheet with baking paper. Roll out the pastry into a rough square shape 2-3mm thick. Take as much care as you can as this will be the shape of your finished pie. Lay the pastry on the baking sheet.

Leaving a border of 2 cm or soCover the pastry shape with half of the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Lightly season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cover with half the cheese, half the herbs and a few dots of butter.

Repeat these layers. Brush the border of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second piece of pastry to an identical shape and place over the following. Press the edges very firmly together, rolling up to form a tight seal. Remember that you will be adding liquid cream to the filling shortly and it is imperative that it does not leak out. Press the tines of a fork into the rolled rim of your pie to further reinforce the join.

Carefully cut a hole 1 cm in diameter in the centre of the pie. This will allow you to pour cream into the pie in due course. Glaze the finished pie generously with beaten egg.

Before adding the cream and baking the pie it is a good idea to rest the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to stop the pastry shrinking when it goes into a hot oven.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 while the pie rests.

Once the pie is rested and you are ready to bake it, the final step is to add the cream. Remove the garlic from the cream then carefully pour cream through the hole into the pie either using a funnel or a teaspoon. Allow the cream to settle and stop pouring as soon as the pie seems full. Reserve and set aside any leftover cream, you will have a chance to add some more once the pie has browned.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes until the pastry begins to crisp up and become golden. Remove from the oven and add a little more of any remaining cream.

Reduce the heat to 180 degrees/gas mark 4, return the pie to the oven and continue cooking for a further 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown all over. Check progress during this second phase of baking and cover with foil of necessary to stop the pastry turning too brown.

Let the pie stand for a few minutes after baking. If you are not eating it straightaway, remove carefully to a wire rack to allow to cool.

From the sublime to the not so ridiculous: food in the French Alps

March 25, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’m fresh back from my annual ski touring week which this year was a traverse of the Vanoise National Park. Our group comprised me, David, a Glasgow-based classical music composer and Matteo, a Milanese financier now settled in London. We were led by mountain guide Bruce Goodlad together with aspirant guide Phil Ashby.

For the skiers amongst you, our trip involved setting off from the Val Thorens lift system on Sunday morning and arriving in Val d’Isère five days later on Friday afternoon. Accomodation and most importantly meals were in a different alpine hut or refuge each each evening.

This might sound like hardship but we ate some fabulous food on the trip with the only dud meal being an indifferent tartiflette down in the valley in Moutiers on the Saturday night before our team set off into the wilderness.

After a relatively gentle start to the trip (a short climb followed by a long ski down) we arrived at the Roc de la Pêche hut at the head of the Pralognan valley. This is more mountain hotel than hut with running water and hot showers in the dormitory rooms. We had not really worked up sufficient appetite to do justice to our huge platefuls of jambon à l’os, sauce madère, gratin savoyarde and grilled sweet peppers. Afterwards, we felt like the pet hut St Bernard must have done in the picture below:

Our second night in the Dent Parrachée hut was the real deal. This is a wilderness cabin at the foot of the majestic striated mountain which gives the hut its name. We were given a warm welcome by hut guardian Franck and his Sherpa assistant Kaptan, known affectionately as the “Prince of the Vanoise”. They sound like characters created by Hergé for an episode of Tin Tin.

Franck invited us to the inner sanctum, his kitchen table for an apéritif of local white wine accompanied by delicious olives. Dinner then followed: a first course of vegetable soup followed by a main course of local sausages, diots, braised in white wine and accompanied by a generous dish of gratineéd rice and vegetables. Salad, a wedge of reblochon and Kaptan’s freshly baked apple tart completed the meal. Hearty and delicious, just right after a long day in the mountains.

Here’s a picture of our convivial dining table as the soup is served. The presence of a Bordeaux winemaker in the group meant that Franck raided the cellar for a superior bottle of red.

Here’s a link to the Dent Parrachée recipe for braised diots this time cooked with potatoes.

http://www.dentparrachee.refuges-vanoise.com/actualites.pl?id_evenement=29

Day 3 took us the the Arpont Hut in the heart of the Vanoise national park, perched on the moraine of the Arpont glacier. With no guardian arriving until the end of the month we were staying in the hut’s winter room and cooking for ourselves. This felt like the real wilderness experience emphasised by the golden eagle and ptarmigan we saw along the way.

Arriving at the hut in glorious late afternoon sunshine we set to work chopping the wood, lighting the fire, melting snow and brewing a cup of tea. Having made ourselves at home, we set to work to produce a four course meal: first soup – dehydrated vegetable but tasting good after a long day out. Next the pièce de résistance, chilli con carne with rice. How did we do it? The rice was long-grain boil-in-bag which after 12 minutes was cooked to perfection – tender separate grains. The chilli con carne was a dehydrated meal in a foil pouch – just add boiling water, leave to stand for 10 minutes and your meal is ready ta da! If dried food brings back memories of Vesta curries, then think again.

Our chilli was made by high tech German firm Simpert Reiter marketed under the brandname Travellunch. It’s proper food, nutritionally balanced, packed with calories and actually tastes quite decent. This was the not so ridiculous element of our diet this week.

Here’s a link to the website if you’d like to see the full Travellunch range and read the nutritional data:

http://www.travellunch.de/

We followed the chilli with Beaufort cheese and, for the greediest member of the group (me!) a Travellunch pudding – vanilla dessert with raspberries – an upmarket version of Angel Delight packed with almost 500 calories. The rest of the group sensibly chose to eat their puddings with muesli for breakfast the following morning.

The meal was completed with a delicate tisane prepared for us by guide Bruce and drunk by flickering candlelight. I rather like the Rembrandtesque lighting of this photo:

Next day, an arduous trek up the glacier was followed by a satisfying ski down to the Col de la Vanoise hut. Here we were welcomed by a charming gardienne who could easily have passed for a vendeuse in a chic Parisian boutique. She plied us with locally brewed organic Chardon beers and then produced the most delicious creamy sauté of chicken with tarragon. A surprisingly refined dish to find in the mountains.

I’d be hard pressed to choose whether this was our best meal of the trip or whether that prize should go to the team at the Femma hut the following evening.

We didn’t reach the Femma hut until 5.00pm – this is a long day in ski-touring terms – normally you might expect to arrive at the hut around 2.30pm. We were tired and hungry and looking forward to a good meal.

The comfortable modern Femma hut is blessed with running water from the river running through the valley but despite its large size it still has bags of character. It’s run by a team of mountain women who really know their stuff. After a fresh leek and potato soup they produced the most fantastic deeply savoury dish of braised pork with prunes, garlicky green beans and a generous helping of crozets, a rustic square cut buckwheat pasta typical of the Savoy region.

This was followed by not just a single wedge but a whole board of local cheeses including an unpasteurised soft cows’ milk one made by the hut guardian’s sister as well as the (by now) more usual Beaufort, Reblochon and Tomme.

By the narrowest of margins, we collectively decided that the Femma hut took the prize for best meal of the week.

Having eaten and slept well, we were well set-up for the last push over the col and back to civilisation in the form of Val d’Isère. After a not so short, sharp climb up to the col we admired the magnificent view over to Mont Blanc before our final descent into Val d’ Isère.

A most satisfying end to my ski season this year. Thanks guys for a great trip. Standing on the scales back home I see I’m exactly the same weight as when I left – success!

Contact details

Refuge Roc de la Pêche

Tel +33 4 79 08 79 75
http://www.rocdelapeche.com/

Refuge Dent Parrachée

Tel +33 4 79 20 32 87

http://www.dentparrachee.refuges-vanoise.com/index.pl

Refuge Arpont

Tel +33 4 79 20 51 51

http://www.arpont.refuges-vanoise.com/

Col de la Vanoise

Tel +33 4 79 08 25 23

http://www.coldelavanoise.refuges-vanoise.com/

Refuge Femma

Tel +33 4 79 20 33 00

Visit to the heart of Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle

March 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

I finally made a visit in mid February to what I suppose must be the spiritual home of The Rhubarb Fool, Oldroyd’s rhubarb farm in the village of Carlton near Leeds, home to the world’s largest rhubarb forcing shed.

Dutch rhubarb has been inveigling its way into our shops for a couple of months now.  Thanks to the “High Priestess of Rhubarb” Janet Oldroyd’s interesting talk I know know how and why that is and why it’s best to wait for the proper stuff from Yorkshire.  Whereas Oldroyds and the other 10 remaining Yorkshire rhubarb producers wait patiently for frost to break the dormancy of the rhubarb crowns growing in the fields, the Dutch cheat by spraying their crowns with an active plant hormone, the nasty sounding gibberellic acid.

Rhubarb, or to give it its evocative and alliterative full name Rheum Rhabarbarum is an ancient plant originally from China and Russia.  It’s literally the plant of the barbarians and there is some speculation that the Rha in the Latin name might refer to the River Volga in Russia.

On the morning of our visit Janet was dressed appropriately in a vibrant chartreuse  outfit the exact acid yellow of forced rhubarb leaves.  As she cradled some of the precious rhubarb stalks in her arms I saw the perfect photo opportunity but was just too polite to thrust my camera in her direction.  I had to content myself with pictures of the Oldroyd establishment instead.

From 1877 onwards, Yorkshire did indeed lead the way in forced rhubarb production.  It had the natural advantages of heavy water retaining soil, cold frosty conditions in winter, high rainfall and plentiful supplies of wool by-product “shoddy” to provide a nitrogen rich fertiliser.  The Yorkshire coalfields provided fuel for heating the sheds and the newly built railway lines provided a ready route to market.  The Victorian heyday of rhubarb is reflected in the names of the different varieties – Victoria and Albert are both popular but I must say my own palate is not yet sufficiently attuned to detect the difference.

Janet’s talk was interesting but after 30 minutes or so we were all itching to get into the sheds themselves.  Finally our time came and we filed solemnly through the plastic curtain into the darkened shed itself lit only by flickering candlelight.

The warm, humid atmosphere and pungent vegetal smell hit us at once.  There was a palpable sense of pent-up energy in the shed.  As our eyes became accustomed to the soft light we saw row upon row of ruby red crowns largely devoid of soil packed tightly together.  The stems were thrusting upwards striving vainly to find the light.  The steamy atmosphere of fertility and growth was all too much for one lady in our party – she declared herself a little faint and made a hasty exit!

Our visit ended with an opportunity to buy some of the stuff.  Some of the more contrived products (rhubarb wine and rhubarb salad dressing?) didn’t appeal but the gorgeous satin-ribbon pink stalks did.  I was sorely tempted by a whole box of the premium grade rhubarb – 20 or so sticks as thick as a baby’s arm presented in a blue presentation box.  What a fantastic Valentine’s Day or Mothering Sunday gift that would be!  I remained sensible and chose a pound or so of spanking fresh class 1 stalks (or petioles as Janet Oldroyd botanically correctly calls them).

Back home, I cut them up into chunks and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes or so with a generous quantity of golden caster sugar, and the grated zest and juice of an orange.  Absolutely gorgeous chilled with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.  Since then, I’ve not been able to get enough of the stuff – more rhubarb recipes to follow soon.

If you are tempted to buy some rhubarb, have a look at the producer name on the packet – chances are it will say Oldroyd.

Make your own mountain bars

March 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

March heralds the arrival of spring, and most importantly the ski-touring season.  I have a trip planned to the Vanoise in France mid month and Tim to Glarus in Switzerland a week later, so time to make a batch of mountain bars to provide energy on the hill.

I found this recipe a few years ago on the University of Oregon Library Staff Association website. They call it “Johnny Crunch” and recommend it as the ideal food for skiing, hiking, in fact any kind of strenuous outdoor activity.

Here’s a bar shot on location at the Kinder Downfall in the Peak District last autumn.

The bars taste good, are high in calories, are compact for slipping into your pocket, they don’t freeze to a tooth-shattering lump at low temperatures, nor do they melt at warmer ones. Oh, and there’s the added bonus that you can rub the almond oil they contain into your skin for an inpromptu handcream!

Once you’ve assembled the ingredients, it’s merely a case of mixing them up:

…then pressing into a suitably sized tin:

Recipe for Mountain Bars

Thanks to the University of Oregon Library Staff Association for this recipe. The quantities are all in American cups (US cup is 8 fl oz). Helpfully a standard 370g jar of honey, peanut butter etc equates approximately to a US cup so the measurements can be done by eye which makes life easier with dense sticky ingredients.

Most of the ingredients can be picked up easily at your local supermarket. Try a health food shop for the almond butter and barley malt/date syrup.

Note for those on gluten free diets. As far as I’m aware, the only gluten-containing ingredient in this recipe is the barley malt syrup. If you use date syrup instead, you have the perfect high energy gluten free snack. I skied with aspirant (now fully qualified) mountain guide Mark Thomas last year. Mark doesn’t tolerate gluten which makes life very difficult in the mountains where much of the staple food on offer (bread, pasta, cake etc) contains gluten. This one’s for you Mark!

Ingredients

2 cups puffed rice (I used rice crispies made by you-know who)
1 and 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or other favourite nuts
1 and 1/2 cups sesame seeds
3/4 cup runny honey
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (I like Whole Earth)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup barley malt syrup (or date syrup for a gluten-free option)
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be very firm and sticky. If it seems not firm enough, add more rice crispies and sesame seeds to give the correct consistency. Press into a 9 by 9 inch tin (or rectangular tin of similar area). DO NOT BAKE. Refrigerate overnight then cut into small squares and wrap individually in cling film. Makes 25-30 squares. Store in fridge or better still freezer if not using straightaway.

Variations: you can substitute linseeds for some of the sesame seeds and dried goji berries for some of the dried cranberries.

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