Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What kind of fool am I? Roasted Peach, Basil and Cardamom Fool, that's what!

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One of the food horrors from my childhood was Black Forest Gateau. In theory it should have been delightful – rich chocolate cake soaked in kirsch and filled with cherries and cream. The reality was a mass-produced travesty of cheap ingredients that turned up at too many birthday parties and didn’t pass muster when compared to my mum’s home baking. No, I don’t think I was a little food snob. Like most kids, I just knew Yuk! when I tasted it.

Instead of becoming a classic of the dessert trolley, the BFG has been consigned to that same hall of infamy as the prawn cocktail, and cheese hedgehogs.

In contrast, a dessert that has stood the test of time – originating in the Middle Ages – is the fruit fool (also spelt foole). This simple classic combination of tart fruit folded through sweet custard causes my taste buds to swoon with pleasure time and again. Play with the flavours and the seasonality of fruit to find your own perfect combination. At the moment, mine is this peach of a dessert.

Mmmm... a peach of a dessert!

For 8 servings of Summer you will need…

For the fruit base:
8 ripe peaches, halved, stone removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 fresh basil leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C
Rub the peaches with the olive oil and place in one layer in an ovenproof dish deep enough to catch any juice. Scatter with the basil leaves and place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove and leave to cool before chopping into a rough puree. Stir in the orange flower water if using.

For the custard:
1 litre fresh full-fat milk
200mls single cream
the seeds from 1 cardamom pod, crushed
8 egg yolks (the whites can be frozen for later use or you could whisk up a meringue for tomorrow’s dessert…)
4 tablespoons runny honey (or sugar)
3 tablespoons cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To finish
200mls cream whipped into soft peaks (or Greek yoghurt)
8 sprigs of fresh basil or mint

Place the milk, cream and cardamom in a large saucepan over a medium heat and bring to simmering.

While the milk is heating, place the egg yolks in a large bowl with the honey (or sugar), cornflour and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the time. (Never add the egg to the milk unless you want sweet scrambled eggs!) 

When all the milk has been added return the mixture to the saucepan and place over a low heat and stir until thickened. Be careful not to let the mixture boil as it can become slightly grainy in texture. Once the custard has thickened, taste and add a little more honey (or sugar) if you prefer a sweeter dessert. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming on the surface of the custard.

To serve, divide the fruit between 8 glasses or bowls. Spoon the cold custard over the fruit. Top with a swirl of cream and a sprig of basil or mint. Chill until needed.

(You can, if you prefer, fold the fruit and cream through the custard before serving but I prefer the separate layers).

Other favourite fool flavours include:
Gooseberry with Elderflower Custard
Rhubarb with Cointreau Custard
Damson or Plum with plain old Vanilla Custard
Loganberry with Lemongrass Custard
Cherry with Almond Custard, topped with crushed Amaretti biscuits
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Friday, July 12, 2013

What a Croque, Monsieur!

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"Je ne regret rien!"

This sandwich is so stereotypically French it might as well be wearing a beret and sporting a black and white striped t-shirt, as it wobbles its way down an old country lane on an ancient black bicycle, swinging a string of onions in a carefree manner and leaving a gentle waft of garlic and lunchtime Bordeaux on the breeze while humming “Je ne regret rien” under its breath on its way to visit its mistress.

Cliché, cliché, cliché! When have you ever encountered such a character outside the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo? Sadly, with the Croque Monsieur, unless you are extremely lucky, the same will probably be true.

In theory, the Croque Monsieur is a slightly more sophisticated version of a ham and cheese toastie.

In practice, too often it is an unappetizing weapon made of slightly sweetish long-life bread, plastic ham, industrial cheese, and white sauce, welded together under a grill and then used to extort up to €10 from hapless, hungry tourists.

If you want one, go buy some decent ingredients and make it yourself, reinstating it to King of the Sandwich (or one of its close cousins). It is traditional to take the crusts off but I prefer mine crusts on.

For two sandwiches you will need…

Béchamel Sauce
1 tablespoon butter (not dairy spread)
1 tablespoon plain flour
100mls milk
50g Gruyère cheese, grated
a pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
¼ teaspoon fine table salt

The Sandwich
4 slices good quality country-style bread, about 1cm thick
1 tablespoon butter (you’ll be frying the sandwich so dairy spread won’t do)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
50g Gruyère cheese, grated
2 slices good quality ham (I prefer a cured ham but regular ham will do as long as it is not the wet plastic stuff)
an extra 25g Gruyère cheese, grated, for sprinkling over the top

First make the béchamel sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour and stir into the butter with a wooden spoon. Cook gently for 2 minutes (if you skip this step the sauce will taste of raw flour). Now, swap the wooden spoon for a whisk and slowly pour the milk in, whisking all the time. Once these ingredients have been combined, turn up the heat to medium and keep stirring until it starts to bubble gently and has thickened. Add the grated Gruyère and stir into the sauce until the cheese has melted. Remove from the heat and season with a little nutmeg and the salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Set aside while you assemble the sandwiches.

To assemble the sandwiches, butter one side of each slice of bread. Place two slices butter-side down and smear with Dijon mustard. Top each slice with about 25g cheese and a slice of ham and place the other slice of bread on top, again, butter-side out.

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry each sandwich on both sides until golden brown (about 1 minute each side). While the sandwiches are frying, preheat the grill.

When the sandwiches are ready, remove from the pan and spread (one side only) with the béchamel sauce, spreading right to the edges to prevent the crusts burning under the grill. Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère before placing under the hot grill until spotted with golden bubbles. Ooh la la !
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