French Regional Food, by Joël Robuchon and Loïc Bienassis

Books
French Regional Food, by Joël Robuchon and Loïc Bienassis

I’m going to go out on a limb here – a very, very short limb, I accept – and state that French food is the best in the world. It’s the mothership of cuisines, the place that anybody with any interest whatsoever in food or eating eventually comes back to.

There’s good reason for this, of course, good reason etched in the centuries of culinary tradition and supremacy that’s central to French culture. The French know food, and are fiercely proud of that fact, as well they should.

All that said, a French cookbook can often be a little formulaic. There are many, many great books in that genre, but you may find them a little … samey. The canon of French food demands respect, and that can lead to a certain repetition of recipes, because, for example, all of those books have to have a recipe for onion soup, or tarte tatin, or bouillabaisse … a certain sense that if you’ve seen one French cookbook, you’ve really seen them all is very clear, although each book will assert its’ own supremacy. Naturally …

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German vollkorn bread

Food & drink
German vollkorn bread

‘Vollkorn’ is German for ‘whole grain’.

This bread is not a whole grain bread. It’s an approximation of such that’s lighter and not quite as dense as a full whole grain loaf. It’s not really ‘vollkorn’, but it’s very good indeed.

Germany would not be happy, but might eventually get over it.

All that said, this loaf comes from the same stable as all those dense, heavy Northern European ryes and whole wheat loaves, thick and substantial loaves baked long and slow to a dark crust. This vollkorn substitutes the rye for white bread flour, and packs in a bewildering variety of seeds and grains that bring body and a certain heartiness.

This backbone of seeds and grains is the main point of the loaf – start with a large bowl and add 25g of wheat grains, 25g of rye grains, 25g of whole barley grains, 20g of chia grains, 20g of jumbo rolled oats, 50g of sunflower seeds, 20g of linseeds, 15g of coarse polenta, and 15g of sesame seeds, along with 150ml of hot water.

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Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

Food & drink
Tajine tfaiya – tagine with almonds and eggs

There’s something satisfying about chucking a few ingredients into a big pan, heating it all up slowly for a few hours, and emerging with a sublime casserole or stew with the absolute minimum of effort, and this particular tagine is a fine example of that form of (dare I say) lazy, one-pot, slow-cooking.

The key thing that stands out about this method is the literal simplicity of it.

When I wrote a few lines ago about ‘chucking a few ingredients into a big pan’, that’s exactly what happens. The whole lot goes in right at the start, to be gently fried for a while, covered with water and allowed to slow cook for a couple of hours.

It really could not be any simpler.

The result is excellent – a mild tagine of lamb that disintegrates at the slightest touch, wrapped in a rich, brightly coloured sauce and set-off by the crunch of almonds.

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What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

Books
What to Bake and How to Bake It, by Jane Hornby

I’d describe most cooking as an art of sorts, something that allows the cook a certain freedom of expression in the design and construction of a dish, some latitude to interpret a set of instructions into something new and different.

I don’t think that about baking.

That’s a science

It’s a set thing that does not change. Deviate from the recipe at your peril.

This shows more about my lack of confidence when it comes to baking than it does about the discipline itself. I’m terrified of messing up something that’s destined for greatness by fiddling with the ingredients, which stops me, quite successfully, from experimenting or straying from the well-trodden path at all.

That said, I did chuck some mixed nuts into a banana bread last week, with surprisingly good results, so maybe there’s a shade of the radical left in me yet.

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Flourless chocolate cake

Food & drink
Flourless gluten free chocolate cake

I made this for Christmas Day because, pretend as we do, nobody in this family really likes Christmas pudding.

There’s no point persevering with the lie anymore, so we did something different, and it was a vast improvement on the traditional bowl of stodge.

This is our new Christmas pudding.

The absence of flour makes this particular cake light, but richer than normal, as if the chocolate flavours become more concentrated because of the lack of flour to dilute them. A splash of very strong coffee draws out and bolsters the cocoa taste even further … this is the sort of cake that you’d naturally eat alongside a good cup of coffee, so why not add a little to square the circle?

The body of the cake is made from ground hazelnuts. You’ll be lucky to get skinned hazelnuts in the shops, and you don’t need or want the skins in this cake, so do the skinning yourself, you must.

Methods for doing this litter the Internet, but only one of them works – cover the hazelnuts in water in a pan, and add a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes before draining … the skins will just slip off the nuts very easily. It’s a little laborious, but it works.

If you can’t stand the hassle, try ground almonds instead.

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