Saturday, 30 June 2012

PROLOGUE: LIÈGE - 'LE GRAND DÉPART'

Le Tour traditionally begins with a Prologue Time Trial in which the individual cyclists compete "contre le montre" (against the clock). Tour de France rankings are based on time (the overall leader wears the Maillot Jaune/Yellow Jersey) though there are also competitions for points won (the Green Jersey), climbing (polka dot King of the Mountains jersey), and best young rider. The previous year's winner (in this case, Australian cyclist Cadel Evans) always goes last in the Time Trial, and wears the yellow jersey. A test of pure speed and power, the Prologue Time Trial may give an indication of the overall winner of the Tour, though not always, but the serious contenders, who cannot afford to lose a single second, will undoubtedly reveal their form, and will be looking to notch up some impressive results to set them on their course for the rest of the Tour, and to psych out their rivals.


Go to most bars in Belgium, and you'll probably find the ubiquitous Jupiler beer on sale, if not on tap (pressé) then in a bottle. It's Belgium's best-selling beer, a pale lager that has been been brewed since 1966. The Tour Prologue Time Trial follows a 6.4km route around Liège, which is where you will find the Jupiler brewery. Belgium is famous for its huge variety of beers - from lagers to white beers, fruit beers, trappist beers (some dangerously potent!), and even "champagne" beers. The restaurant chain Belgo has made Belgian beer and food popular in the UK for over 20 years now, and we are lucky enough to have a fantastic gastropub nearby in Twickenham: Brouge at The Old Goat specialises in Belgium beers and food (a sort of "mini Belgo"). We're headed there to sample a glass of cold Jupiler (or maybe Leffe) to chat over the Prologue result and what runes it casts for the fortunes of the Classement favourites. We're sure Cadel has relaxed with a cold Jupiler at the end of a hard season of racing, and we hope he can look back on this Tour with a typical big Cadel smile on his face.


Cadel Evans, 2011 winner


Brouge at The Old Goat

Prologue Time Trial information

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A GASTRO TOUR DE FRANCE

Demon Cook's Gastro Tour de France will be a stage-by-stage culinary journey to accompany the greatest cycling race in the world, Le Tour de France.

Following the course of Le Tour, I will blog about food and drink from the places and départements Le Tour visits. Sometimes I will be cooking along with Le Tour, while at other times we will be tasting local wines, beers and ciders, and other regional specialities. The first post, to coincide with the Prologue Time Trial on Saturday 30th June, will feature food and drink from the starting point of this year's Tour, Liège in Belgium.

So, slip into some lycra, saddle up, and join me for Le Gastro Tour de France!


Vive Le Tour!



Saturday, 23 June 2012

ADVENTURES IN FLAVOUR

This week I went to an event at Waterstones in Richmond (the manager is a good friend of mine and a regular at my dinner table) with Niki Segnit, the author of The Flavour Thesaurus, a wonderful book for true foodies and real cooks, offering a treasure-trove of flavour pairings, many well known, others less so and more unusual. (I have blogged about the book before, soon after I received it as a gift.) It follows the format of the traditional Roget's Thesaurus, and, like the thesaurus, flavours are grouped in categories, or 'flavour themes', such as "grassy", "earthy", "citrus", "marine",  and so forth.

The event at Waterstones was an opportunity to meet the author and discover how she came to research and write the book, together with the chance to explore some flavour pairings. In her preamble, Niki Segnit explained that her motivation for writing the book was the distinct lack of any cook book or cook's reference book about flavour. In creating it, the author has produced a book which wittily combines solid food science with the aesthetics of taste and flavour. Each flavour is accompanied by a mini essay and there are some 200 recipes or suggestions embedded in the text. The writing is lively, entertaining, intelligent: it steers clear of much of the traditional vocabulary and clichés found in food writing, which succeeds in bringing the flavours to life, and through her text, Niki Segnit displays a real excitement and love for food.

Our "tasting plate" for the evening consisted of
  • 2 strawberries
  • 2 baby plum tomatoes
  • Some fresh basil leaves
  • A square of Lindt dark chocolate with seasalt
  • An apricot stuffed with goat's cheese
  • A cube of goat's cheese with a sprig of mint
  • A small cake
  • Another cube of cake with a very orange crumb
  • A Marks & Spencer 'Colin Caterpillar' jelly sweet (my son's face lit up when he saw this: even at 14 he still likes these cola-flavoured confections!)
Over the course of talk, Niki invited us to try the items on the plate and to describe the flavours as we encountered them. The two cakes turned out to be Brazilian specialities, a coconut and parmesan queijadinha, and a Bolo de Cenouro Com Cobertura de Chocolate, a carrot cake made with carrot puree (instead of grated carrot). Its rather bland flavour is offset by the chocolate icing which is poured over it, in the manner of a lemon drizzle cake. 

I enjoyed all the little morsels we sampled, especially the chocolate with seasalt (and I'm not normally a fan of very dark chocolate), but the real highlight for me was the queijadinha. When told the ingredients one might recoil a little - cheese in a sweet cake? But in fact the cheese flavour is very subtle, and you tend to notice it when you first bite into the cake. After that, the coconut sweetness takes over. And if you think about it, we use cheese in the classic baked cheesecake. Parmesan has a sweetness which works well in this recipe. The cakes have a chewy texture redolent of macaroons. I decided I had to make these cakes. And so I did.....

Meanwhile, after the tasting, the author signed copies of her book. When I spoke to her, I told her that her analogy of the cook combining flavours with the musician combining sounds was a perfect description, and that the thing I liked most about the book, apart from the beautiful writing, was that it has no pictures! As Niki said, "a proper cook doesn't need pictures!".

Luckily for me, lots of other people at the Waterstones event clearly enjoyed the queijadinha, and Niki kindly posted the recipe on her website. Please note the ingredients are given in American cup measurements.


Coconut and parmesan queijadinha

Oven 180°C

You will need a greased mini-muffin tray (having said that, I used a standard-sized muffin tray and the cakes turned out beautifully!)

1 can of condensed milk
1 cup of unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or Manchego) cheese
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp plain flour

Mix everything together, pour the batter into greased mini-muffin trays, and bake at 180°C for 15-18 mins until golden brown and the tops start to crack. Makes 28.
 
Note that the cup is the standard American measuring cup. If you don’t have one, use a measuring jug. 1 cup = 240ml.

I'm going to serve my queijadinha with strawberries steeped in rosewater and a big dollop of creme fraiche.

A quick Google search turned up a recipe for the Brazlian carrot cake as well

Monday, 11 June 2012

ARANCINI (DEEP-FRIED RISOTTO BALLS)

I make risotto, and paella, fairly regularly. Both dishes are easy and comforting. Occasionally, I find there are a couple of tablespoonsful left in the pan, which no one wants (and risotto isn't particularly appetising reheated the next day - though paella is). Until Saturday, I would chuck the leavings down the waste-disposal unit. Not so now that I have discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make arancini, or deep-fried risotto balls. I have seen these in the deli cabinet at Carluccio's and on Italian restaurant menus, and I don't know why I haven't made them before, because they are simple and tasty, and make a great canapé with a glass of chilled Prosecco.

Arancini are, I suppose, the Italian equivalent of tapas, though the ones I have seen in Carluccios look big enough for a light meal, and indeed the name comes from the Italian word for "orange". But I didn't want tennis-ball sized canapés, so I kept them small (walnut-sized), and they went down a treat with the aforementioned Prosecco. "They were the best part of the meal" said my husband afterwards.

You don't need a deep-fat fryer for this recipe, though it helps. If you don't have one, fill a deep saucepan with olive oil and remove the cooked arancini carefully with a slotted spoon. Set on some kitchen paper to drain. Oh, and by the way, you don't have to serve them hot. We ate them at room temperature and they were delicious.

The ingredients and quantities are approximate, because we're dealing with leftovers here!

Leftover cooked risotto or paella
Breadcrumbs
Grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, Pecorino or Manchego
Mozzarella or similar easily melting cheese for the filling (Gorgonzola, Brie, Taleggio....)
Olive oil for frying

Heat the oil so it is ready to fry the arancini as they are made.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated cheese. Take a walnut-size portion of risotto, flatten it slightly in the palm of your hand and pop a small piece of Mozzarella or Gorgonzola (or whatever you have selected). Then form the mixture into a ball, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Roll the ball in breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown. Repeat the process until you have used up all the leftover risotto.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

GREEKISH SHEPHERD'S PIE

A rather Nigella-ish title for a post about leftovers.....

I hate wasting food. As a child growing up in the late sixties and the austerity seventies, I was made to eat everything that was put before me. Food that was left over was invariably turned into a stew,  known at home as "gunge", usually a rather fragrant and comforting mixture of meat and vegetables in a rich tomatoey sauce, basically my mother's version of the French pot au feu. My parents were children during the war and have clear memories of food rationing and other deprivations; they also grew up in working class households where one ate up without complaint. So I suppose I inherited my mother's frugality about left over food.

On Sunday, my mother-in-law and I cooked a large leg of lamb, spiked with garlic, far too big for five of us, despite most of us having second helpings. Unlike beef, chicken or pork, cold lamb is not particularly appetising; however, it can be turned into rather delicious hot dishes, such as curry, Moussaka, or a proper shepherd's pie.

I don't make many 'traditional' English dishes such as shepherd's pie or cottage pie (the beef version), but armed with the generous leavings from the leg of lamb, I thought a shepherd's pie would be a nice, easy supper on the last day of the Jubilee long weekend. But as I started to cook the lamb, I glanced through Falling Cloudberries, a rather wonderful cookbook and family memoir by Tessa Kiros, which contains some Greek classics like Pastitsio, and I decided that the addition of feta cheese would transform my shepherd's pie to something altogether more Mediterranean.

Heston Blumenthal has a great tip for enhancing the flavour of a meat stew: the addition of star anise. Somehow, this earthy spice tempers the slightly metallic flavour of red meat and lends a rich depth to a stew. After this had been added to the pot, a dollop of garlic sauce (made to accompany roast chicken a couple of day's previously) and some oregano, gave my shepherd's pie filling a wonderful aroma. (The sauce began in the usual way with some chopped onion, fried in olive oil, and a carrot, peeled and chopped.)

Another trick with a meat filling like this is to bake it in the oven for about an hour (this is a Jamie Oliver tip). Be careful it doesn't dry out. Baking concentrates the flavours even further. While the meat was in the oven, I parboiled some lovely waxy Charlotte potatoes. When the meat came out of the oven, I sprinkled crumbled feta over it and topped the whole thing off with sliced potatoes. Back in the oven to brown off the top for 20 minutes or so. We ate it with a sharp Sauvignon Blanc and very thin English asparagus, but in our heads and our stomachs, we were in Greece.

Monday, 4 June 2012

CHICKEN COOKED IN CIDER WITH PEAS & POTATOES

This dish comes from the latest addition to my cookery book collection, The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden, an old-fashioned 'classic' recipe book full of interesting Spanish regional dishes, long on words, and short on pictures. I am exploring it slowly, and will blog recipes as and when I try them.

I invited friends for supper on Saturday, and, given the recent hot spell here in the UK, I wanted to cook something that was summery and light. One of my favourite summer chicken dishes is also Spanish - Pollo al ajillo, chicken pieces cooked with whole garlic cloves in a white wine sauce, but I'd made this the week before, so I thought I'd try something else.

This simple recipe uses a few key ingredients to create a delicious and colourful dish. Brought to the table in the pan in which it was cooked, it looks rustic, but if you do as I do, and serve it in the kitchen, it is elegant and pretty. Because the sauce contains both peas and potatoes, you need only add a green salad and some hunks of good bread (I made spelt flour bread) to complete the meal. The cider gives the sauce a delicate sweetness, which complements the peas and potatoes perfectly. (Peas are very popular in my house - my son says we should "give peas a chance"!)

Serves 6
6 chicken thighs, skin on
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
130g pancetta or Serrano ham, cut into strips
500ml strong cider
500g peas, fresh or frozen
500g waxy new potatoes, cooked until they are al dente
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large, deep pan or Le Creueset type casserole. Add the onion and fry until soft. Then add the garlic and pancetta. Now add the chicken pieces. When they have browned slightly, pour over the cider and check the seasoning. Turn up the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 20 mins, or until the chicken is cooked through. You can make the dish to this point in advance, and add the peas and potatoes just before serving.

About 10 mins before you are ready to serve the dish, add the parboiled potatoes. At around 5 mins before serving, add the peas.