August 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

Nothing to do with electronic devices but the easiest and most rewarding of wild foods for the first-time forager.

These beauties came from the grounds of the house on the North Wales coast where we holidayed last week. For us Mancunians, it’s like Cornwall but without the long car journey. Breathtaking mountain backdrops, glorious sandy beaches, quaint stone cottages – all it lacks is reliable sunshine.

The brambles love it there and there is excellent blackberrying to be had at this time of year if you can find a sunny spot against a dry stone wall where the fruit has had chance to ripen. The best blackberries are always just out of reach – but maybe the scratches and attendant cunning required to hook down the high branches are all part of the appeal, the annual repetition of childhood ritual.

What to do with your precious hard-won haul? If you’ve exhausted the repertoire of pies, crumbles and jellies, here’s an idea for an easy-to-make pudding that lets the flavour of the blackberries shine through. It’s a blackberry clafoutis, the simple French baked pudding from the Limousin region usually made with cherries. This version, which I’ve adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” replaces cherries with blackberries.

The house where we stay when we come to this part of Wales is a rambling manor house remodelled in the last century by Clough Williams-Ellis, architect of nearby Portmeirion. Cooking here is a pleasure as the house is blessed with a cool slate shelved pantry and well-equipped kitchen with cupboards packed with Portmeirion pottery. But you don’t need a well-equipped kitchen to make this pudding -it’s quick and easy and the proportions are forgiving so it’s perfect to make when your’re staying in a holiday house or cottage.

The berries are macerated in delicious Crème de Mûre, French blackberry liqueur, and the resulting juices are added to the batter mixture along with some blanched almonds which enrich the pudding and the subtle almond flavour works well with the blackberries.

The tip in the recipe for pouring a layer of batter into the baking dish and gently letting this cook to provide a base so that the fruit can’t all sink to the bottom really does work:

Adding the macerated blackberry juices to the mixture turns the batter an appealing but shade of pink:

But don’t worry, despite starting off as pink, the baked clafoutis will puff up and become crusty and golden brown just as the recipe promises.

Dust with icing sugar or sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with chilled pouring cream. Dig in and enjoy your the fruits of your blackberrying.

Recipe for clafoutis

Adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. I give first of all the basic recipe with cherries, then variants with liqueur, almonds and blackberries. The version I cooked last week combined all 3 ie I substituted blackberries for cherries, macerated the blackberries in liqueur and added almonds to the batter as well.

Serves 6 to 8


For the batter

½ pint milk
2oz granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
2 and ½ oz sifted flour

For the fruit

¾ lb stoned black cherries
2 oz granulated sugar

Place the ingredients for the batter in the jar of a liquidiser or food processor in the order listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If you don’t have a liquidiser, break the eggs into a well in the flour and sugar and gradually incorporate them into the batter with a whisk, adding milk as you go.

Pour a ¼ inch layer of batter into a 3 to 4 pint capacity shallow ovenproof baking dish. Place over a moderate heat or hot oven until the batter has set. Remove from the heat. Spread the cherries over the batter and sprinkle on the sugar.

Pour over the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 160 degrees C fan; 350 degrees F and bake for about an hour. The clafoutis is ready when it is puffed and brown and when a knife plunged into the centre comes out clean.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve hot or warm.

Variant 1 – cherries marinated in kirsch

Additional ingredients

1/8 pint kirsch
2 oz granulated sugar

Let the cherries stand in the kirsch and sugar for one hour. Substitute the liquid that results for some of the milk and all of the sugar in the master recipe.

Variant 2 – with almonds – “À la Bourdaloue”

Additional ingredients

3 oz blanched almonds

Add the almonds to the liquidizer and puree along with the other ingredients. If you don’t have access to a liquidiser, add ground almonds to the flour instead and proceed with the well mixing method as described in the master recipe above.

Variant 3 – Blackberry

Substitute 12oz stemmed and washed blackberries for the cherries.

Increase the flour from 2 and 1/2 oz to 3 and 1/2 oz as the berries are juicier than the cherries.

Just as a footnote, if you fancy having a go at the classic Limousin version of clafoutis with cherries then I can recommend the Oxo Good Grips cherry-stoning device which I picked up on for £7.99. This gadget really is the business and the boys couldn’t get there hands on it once they realised they could fire cherry stones at one another…

Comforting casseroles part 2: beef

January 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

The snow has melted here in but the weather outside remains wintry in a dank Mancunian kind of way so casseroles are still the order of the day.  I started off thinking about pork earlier in the month:

I’ve now moved on to beef. I made a carbonnade last week and for the first time ever finished it off properly with toasted bread on top -it worked a treat and wasn’t fiddly at all as I had supposed it might be. The end result was I suppose a Belgian take on the familiar stew and dumplings, deeply savoury with the beer adding an extra dimension to the taste.

Here’s the finished dish:

This is what it looked like before the addition of the bread:

And here is the mise en place:

The origins of the word carbonnade are somewhat confusing. A couple of web sources I checked out suggested the word meant (i) something to do with grilling the meat or (ii) had a Spanish derivation. Neither of these seem immediately plausible to me.  Though on reflection, given that Spain controlled the Netherlands (in the wider sense encompassing modern day Belgium) for 150 years or so beginning in the mid sixteenth century, maybe there is something in the Spanish connection.  My own conjecture is that, like spaghetti carbonara being a hearty meal for Roman charcoal burners, this could possibly be a favourite dish of Belgian coal miners.

This particular version comes from Leith’s cookery bible.When I made this a couple of weeks ago there was still snow on the ground so I had to do my shopping on foot at our local Marks & Spencers. I bought a couple of pieces of topside  which worked a treat.  Topside is often sold as a roasting joint but invariably disappoints when served as roast beef. The beer was a dark ale from Adnams of Suffolk, Marks and Spencers own label but uncannily like an Adnams Broadside.

I give a second beef recipe too, a daube from Julia Child’s book.  I did think about quoting her Boeuf Bourgignon recipe instead which is really good but a little involved requiring separate sautéing of the the component parts.  Let’s face it, sometimes all we have time for is to throw a few things on the pot and leave the oven to work its magic over the next 3 hours.  If you don’t have much time for preparation then this daube recipe is for you.

Recipe for carbonnade of beef

This recipe which serves 4 comes from Leith’s cookery bible.  As ever, I can’t leave a recipe alone and so have tweaked one or two of the ingredients to suit what I tend to keep in the cupboard.  I’d recommend making a double quantity and stashing the other half (minus the French bread topping) in the freezer.


675g/1 1/2lb chuck steak (or topside which I used successfully) trimmed weight
1 tablespoon beef dripping (in fact I used some goose fat leftover from Christmas)
2-3 onions thinly sliced
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons plain flour
435 ml/3/4 pint brown ale
145 ml/1/4 pint brown stock or vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
pinch chopped fresh or dried thyme
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

8 slices French bread or  Ciabatta type loaf spread thickly with Dijon mustard

Cut the beef into small steaks, cutting across the grain of the meat. Heat half of the dripping or oil in a large frying pan and fry the steaks a few at a time until browned.  Put them into an ovenproof lidded casserole (Le Creuset type ideal) as they are done. If the bottom of the pan becomes very dark or too dry, put in a little water, deglaze and pour over the meat.  Heat up  a little more dripping or oil and continue to brown the meat.  Once the meat is done, deglaze the pan, add the remaining dripping or oil and fry the onions slowly (you may need a little extra dripping at this stage depending on how much you used to brown the meat). When the onions begin to brown, add the garlic and sugar and continue to cook for a further minute or two until nicely brown.

Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute stirring as you do so.  Remove the heat and pour in the brown ale and stock.

Return to the heat and bring slowly to the boil, then simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  Pour into the casserole and add the vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cover and bring to simmering point then cook in a preheated oven (150 degrees C/300 degrees F/gas mark 2) for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender.  Remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6.  Place the slices of bread, mustard-side up, on tope of the stew.  They will absorb the flavoursome fat on the top.  Return the casserole, lid off, to the oven until the bread is toasted and golden-brown (5-10 minutes).

Recipe for daube de boeuf à la Provençale

From  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  This recipe serves 6 but I find the quantities tend to be on the generous side – this would imply 8oz meat per person whereas the carbonnade recipe above allows 6oz per person which is about right for me.  Another good recipe for doubling up and freezing.

Recommended cuts of beef for the daube are rump, chuck, thick flank, topside or silverside.


3lb lean stewing steak cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, 1 inch thick
1/2 pint red wine
1/8 pint brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 lb thinly sliced onions
1/2 lb thinly sliced carrots
1/2 lb bacon lardons
6 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes peeled seeded juiced and chopped or 2 400g/14oz tins tomatoes, chopped or 1 pint passata
approximately 4oz sifted  plain flour on a plate for coating the beef
1/2 to 3/4 pint beef stock (or water or additional red wine)

For the Provençal seasoning

10 flat anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil either from the anchovy tin and/or plain
2 cloves mashed garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Place the beef in a bowl and mix with the wine, brandy, olive oil, seasonings. herbs and vegetables.  Cover and marinate for at least 3 hours, stirring every so often. Remove the beef from marinade and drain through a sieve.  Reserve both the vegetables and the marinade liquid.

Line the bottom of a large ovenproof lidded casserole (again, Le Creuset type is perfect) with one third f lardons. Strew one third of the marinade vegetables and mushrooms over them then add a third of the tomatoes. Piece by piece, roll the beef in the flour and shake off the excess. Place closely together in a layer over the vegetables.  Continue with another layer of bacon and vegetables, then a second layer of beef.  Conclude with a final layer of bacon and vegetables.

Pour in the marinade liquid and enough stock (or water or wine) to almost cover the contents of the casserole.  Bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover tightly and place in the lower part of an oven preheated to 150 degrees C/325 degrees F/gas mark 2.  Regulate the heat so that the liquid simmers slowly for 3 to 4 hours.  The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the daube is cooking, prepare the Provençal seasoning. Using a fork, mash the anchovies and capers to a paste in a bowl. Beat in the other ingredients. After the daube has cooked for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, remove it from the oven and skim off the fat.  Pour on the Provençal seasoning mixture and baste the beef with the cooking juices from the casserole. Cover and return to the oven for a final half hour of cooking.

Serve with noodles or plain boiled potatoes , a green salad or vegetable and of course a glass of your favourite wine.

Do you have a great beef casserole recipe or a fresh insight into why a carbonnade is so named?  If so, please leave a comment.

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