Monday, 3 August 2015

Travel: Fete du village in the South of France: bulls, guinguettes and apero-mousse!

Camargue Cowboy
horsemen at the bull running south of France, languedoc
bull and horsemen at the bull running south of France, languedoc
bull looking at me,  at the bull running south of France, languedoc
Bull being let out, horsemen at the bull running south of France, languedoc
l'apero mousse, Aigues Vives, Fete du village, Languedoc, France
l'apero mousse, Aigues Vives, Fete du village, Languedoc, France
l'apero mousse, Aigues Vives, Fete du village, Languedoc, France
l'apero mousse, Aigues Vives, Fete du village, Languedoc, France
l'apero mousse, Aigues Vives, Fete du village, Languedoc, France
Almost every weekend in the South of France there is a fete du village. People go to their own village party but they also go to the surrounding villages. I happened to be visiting my friend Juanita in Aigues Vives, near Nimes, when they had a particularly South of France phenomenon; the apero-mousse!
  • L'apero is slang for 'aperitif', or as today's youth call it 'prinking' short for pre-drinking. The idea behind an apero-mousse is that you stand about drinking alcohol while being covered in foam and aurally assaulted by terrible euro-pop. The posters boast "Plus d'un metre de mousse!" (more than one metre high in foam!) As an experience it is a) surreal b) funny c) you get sunburnt from all the reflected light (this took place at midday in a canicule/heatwave) d) your eyes sting from the detergent e) you get very drunk. Drinks only cost a euro or two. Many girls only wear bikinis. Some wear rubber rings around their waists. 
  • In a nearby village there was another South of France tradition: bull running. In this village the bulls were locked in a lorry, the sides and rooves were banged to agitate them, then they were let out. Villagers on horseback , Camargue cowboys, chased them along the narrow streets to another lorry at the other end of the village. No bulls are harmed. Bull running, jumping and fighting, the rituals and ceremony, are dated back to Roman times, with matadors replacing gladiators. As a spectator, the bull running is quite frightening, even on the sidelines, where one is behind a temporary fence which isn't fixed to the ground. If the bull decided to take a charge at you, there isn't much you could do. There are also 'taureau piscine', bulls in a swimming pool, which I didn't get to see.
  • Another tradition is the guinguette, a restaurant and dance hall with music next to a river. One of Renoir's greatest paintings depicted a guinguette just outside of Paris. In the oppressive mid-summer heat it is delightful to bathe in the clean rivers then have a typically southern dish such as bull stew 'la gardiane de taureau', or fried potatoes and calamari from plastic barquettes, drink sangria or pastis and listen to the band. I visited the guinguettes at Lecques and at Sommières.
In the river next to the guinguette
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Friday, 31 July 2015

Make peshwari naan at home

Home made peshwari naan on the big green egg

Home made peshwari naan
Home made peshwari naan
Home made peshwari naan on the big green egg
Home made peshwari naan on the big green egg
This is the best naan recipe I've come across so far, it's pretty foolproof. To make it into a Peshwari naan, that is with a sweetened coconut/almond/raisin interior, something I always order with a takeaway Indian, is a no brainer. I made these on my Big Green Egg BBQ but you could also make them on the stovetop. The Big Green Egg is in some ways like a tandoori oven, being oval and ceramic, but I grilled my naan rather than pressing them to the sides.

Peshwari Naan bread recipe:

To make 6 to 8 naan:

325g strong bread flour
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 a tablespoon of salt
A pinch of sugar
1 beaten egg
150ml natural whole milk yoghurt
Milk to bind
Ghee to coat
Nigella seeds
Poppy seeds

For the Peshwari interior:
100g desiccated coconut
100g ground almonds
A big handful of plump sultanas or raisins
Mix together with a couple of tsps of yoghurt. 

Some coriander leaves to garnish

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Add the egg and the yoghurt, kneading the mixture in a bowl. Finally bind together with some whole milk until you have a flexible dough mixture.
Before leaving the dough to rest, coat the dough ball with ghee. Leave, covered in cling film, for an hour.
Then taking a palm's worth of dough, make a round ball then flatten it with the palm of your hand.
Press a tablespoon of the peshwari mix into the centre of the dough circle then bring up the sides and gather them over the peshwari mix. Scatter some flour onto a clean surface and roll out the ball into an oblong or tear drop shape.
Pierce the naan all along it's surface with a fork.
Then mix some ghee with some milk onto your fingers and smear it all over the top of the naan. This will make it moist and soft and enable the seeds to stick.
Sprinkle the Nigella and Poppy (white is more authentic) over the top of the naan.
Place the naan on the flat cast iron grid for the Big Green Egg or a flat wide cast iron frying pan.
It takes around 5 to 7 minutes to cook. You will see it puff up and bubble. 
To keep the naan moist, add a little more ghee to the naan. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Recipe: white chocolate cherry rum blondies

White Chocolate Cherry Rum Blondies
This weekend I was sent an enormous box of giant juicy Kordia cherries by Adventures in Fruit. Saturday, Sunday and Monday I ate a kilo a day by myself: I had purple stained fingers and lips but I just couldn't stop. It got to the point that I wouldn't have enough cherries left over to create a recipe.
Cherries were introduced to Britain ever since Henry VIII tasted them in Flanders but the genus (related to plums) originally came from Anatolia/Central Turkey where cherries are so common that they juice them. Unfortunately, they tend to be very expensive in the UK and the season is short. These Kordia cherries are particularly sweet with shiny dark burgundy skins. It is almost a shame to cook them when they taste so brilliant eaten raw. Kordia cherries are British and grown at an award winning farm in Kent called Mansfields. The cherries are currently available at food branches of Marks and Spencer.
In Russia (and I did this for my Russian supper club a few years ago) they often pair a sour cherry sauce with white fish such as sturgeon. Cherries, sometimes dried and salted, are widely used in Persian cuisine.
I generally include at least one cherry recipe in my cookbooks, sometimes with a combination of sweet and sour cherries. One of my favourite recipes in MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party is the sour cherry baked alaska/artic roll plus a cherry brandy concoction. I also include another blondie recipe in the book, which was so successful with tasters that I've decided to develop a white chocolate cherry blondie with a hint of rum. Think of a black forest gateau after it has snowed.
Blondies are brownies' fun, slightly lower-class sister.  I'm not a chocolate snob - I adore white chocolate, which isn't really chocolate at all but some kind of chocolate lard. Anyway, you'll LOVE this recipe. You can leave the stems on if you like, I did both, but make sure you pit the cherries using a cherry pitter or a sharp knife, you don't want dentistry bills.
Kordia Cherries

White Chocolate Cherry Rum Blondies recipe

Level: Easy
Takes 30 minutes to prepare and 40 minutes to bake.
Makes 12

20 cm square pan or brownie pan.

120g of soft room temperature butter (salted or unsalted), cubed
250g soft brown sugar
2 capfuls of rum
1 large egg, beaten
125g plain white flour
1 tsp of vanilla salt (or 1/2 tsp of vanilla paste and 1/2 tsp of salt)
200g of good quality white chocolate, chopped up roughly
200g of Kordia cherries, stoned, cut into quarters, some can be left whole with the stems left on. 

Butter and flour the tin. In a stand mixer or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the rum, beat again. Add the egg, beat again. Then tip in the flour and thoroughly mix. Add the vanilla salt then the white chocolate. Prepare the cherries by using a pitter or cutting them in half and prising out the stone.
Preheat the oven to 180ºc.
Pour the mixture into the pan, patting it so that it is spread evenly. Then push in the cherries at intervals into the blondie mixture. If using some whole pitted cherries, leave the stalks sticking out. The cherries will slightly poke above the mixture, but don't worry the mix will rise during baking.
The reason I'm adding the cherries last minute is that they are so juicy that they stain the batter. If you don't mind purple blondies you can put them in the mixing bowl/stand mixer with the rest of the ingredients! But I think the blondies are more attractive when the cherries are added afterwards.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. You want them quite squidgy so don't overbake but the mixture will firm up once it cools.
Cut into squares and serve!

Rum Sugar recipe

150g of soft brown sugar (or more, make the quantity you want)
50ml of rum (or more, if you like it stronger)

Rather than adding rum to the recipe you can infuse the sugar with rum or any alcohol. Spread the sugar (preferably brown) on to a baking try covered with parchment paper or a silpat and sprinkle it with rum. Bake on a low heat (not over 150c) for half an hour. Then remove from the oven and let it cool. Use the parchment paper or silpat to funnel the alcohol flavoured sugar into a jar. Keeps indefinitely.