Gache melee

Guernsey Gâche Melée

Gache melee

I know most people go to book group as an excuse to drink wine and possibly read Fifty Shades of Grey, but the one I go to has ended up being much more highbrow than that (we’ve never read Fifty Shades and I had spare bottles of wine after the last one.) It’s introduced me to books and people I didn’t know and taught me a lot along the way. It was constructed from a group of us on Twitter who had all read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and had not entirely positive feelings about it.

On the suggestion of the Guernsey native in the group, we went for something much more authentic and less whimsical and read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page instead. We ate Guernsey’s national dish of bean jar (a recipe I shamelessly appropriated for Slow Cooked) and put the world to rights. Sadly we haven’t found much other literature from the Channel Islands to read since then, but I thought it would be fun to hark back to Guernsey’s charms for this week’s get together and try making gâche melée for dessert.

Almost like a cake made with suet instead of butter, gâche melée is filled with apple and differs from the similarly named gâche which is more like a tea bread like barmbrack or bara brith. Gâche melée is an excellent vehicle for Guernsey’s famous cream and allows non Guernésiais speakers to try and get the pronunciation right as they eat. It should be as close to gosh mel-aah as you can get (which isn’t very in my Belfast accent.) Or you can just keep your mouth too full with its loveliness to say much.

Gâche Melée (serves 6-8)

  • 450g apples
  • 500g self raising flour
  • 400g sugar, divided
  • 200g suet (veggie is fine)
  • 250g milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before I go any further, I should say that every single recipe for Guernsey gâche melée varies from cook to cook and there are arguments about which is authentic so I’ll declare now that mine probably wouldn’t impress a Guern granny who has made millions of them, but my friend did congratulate it and we wolfed it down. I’ve copied the recipe from a postcard sent from Guernsey but added the eggs because I didn’t have enough milk or the inclination to go out and buy any.

Start by peeling and coring your apples. I used Bramleys for mine but I actually think something that cooks quicker would be better as mine were still a bit firm for my liking. I might use a Braeburn in future. There is debate in Guernsey as to whether one should slice or cube the apples. I sliced mine because it’s quicker and I hadn’t realised the controversy until afterwards. Scatter 50g of the sugar over the sliced or cubed apples.

Grease a deep, preferably square, dish or baking tin well with butter. Some Guerns say that ceramic or Pyrex dishes make the bottom of the gâche melée soggy and it must be metal to get the best finish, but I was already using my only square tin so I ignored that gâche melée rule as well.

Put the flour, 300g sugar, suet and salt in a large bowl. Crack the eggs in and add the milk and vanilla, stirring it all together. It will make a firm but sticky dough. Press half of it in your dish, making sure it is fairly evenly into the corners and then lay the apple on it. Cover them with the remaining dough to make a apple and dough sandwich. Sprinkle the remaining 50g sugar over the top. Handle the dough very lightly to stop it becoming heavy during cooking.

Bake immediately at 180°C for 1 hour 30 minutes. The dough will rise so don’t do what I did and shove it onto the top shelf while cooking a lasagne below so the top burns slightly. Allow it room to rise and don’t cover it while it cooks. Check it after 90 minutes with a skewer and give it an extra 15 minutes at 200°C if it looks pale or the apples don’t give nicely in the centre.

Let it cool for about 15 minutes and serve it in hefty slices with a dollop of good rich Guernsey cream. It should have a nice crisp top and soft fluffy texture from the suet. It is also very good eaten completely cold for breakfast the next day if you have any leftovers. In fact, speaking of cold, it’s excellent for fortifying you in this chilly snap too…

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A Slow Cooker Salon

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If I could sing or didn’t hate The Sound of Music so much I’ve never managed more than 23 minutes of it in one dose, I’d be tempted to give you an early 2015 burst of some of my favourite things but instead I’ve decided to make a New Year’s Resolution that includes them.

I spent New Year with one of my favourite people. We lazed on the sofa drinking tea and watching Graham Norton in the run up to midnight and talked about our achievements and aspirations of the past and future for hours afterwards. Next day we ate fennel roasted pork belly and drank Prosecco to whet the appetites of the new year even though I burned the potatoes that were to replace the traditional lentils I’d run out of.

In one of our many conversations, she mentioned this wonderful piece on Serious Eats about Friday Night Meatballs and all that sharing food with people you’ve welcomed into your house entails. I thought it was a charming idea but didn’t get round to reading the article until a few days later and seeing all that it had to say beyond the simple power of meatballs.

For a long time because of both physical and mental health problems, I’ve felt like I’ve been waiting for my life start again, as if there would be a magical arbitrary tipping point when I could do things again. I’m not quite sure if I was expecting an actual Fairy Godmother to wave a wand or putting my faith in something else, but reading about Friday Night Meatballs I realised something striking: if I want there to be a moment like that in my life, no one else is going to produce it. I have to do it myself.

And so I decided to do one of my least favourite things in order to be able to do some of my most favourite things. I’d take the risk (eek) of hosting an open house Slow Cooker Salon so that I could meet people and feed those people the food I cooked. Spontaneity scares me so I’m going to set a few rules and see how it goes.

On the last Sunday of the month, I’m going to cook something simple and easy to eat in my slow cooker and I’m going to open an invitation to eat that dish in my flat to up to 10 people. They can be people I know offline, online, via Twitter, friends of friends, who knows. Obviously I’m not going to put my address online and say come on over, so people will need to email me to say they’d like to come and I’ll give them details and directions.

I’m going to start with meatballs in honour of the the idea that inspired this. I’m aware of people having dietary requirements so if anyone who is coming is veggie or gluten free or whatever, let me know and I can tweak things to accommodate them. On other occasions I’ll be keen to cook things that I can’t tweak to suit everyone but I’ll give lots of info in advance so people can decide if it suits them to come to that lunch.

And of course, if you’d really like to come but aren’t sure if you can eat what I’m making, feel free to bring something with you. In fact, anyone who fancies bringing something should. A gathering of people can be an excellent chance to finally bake or cook that creation that makes 12 portions and try it out on a different audience to usual. Or if your love of food extends to eating it, not making it, then bring some wine or buy something someone else has made. There will be no standing on ceremony here.

In fact, there were will be a lot of sitting on mismatching chairs (including the garden ones brought inside) and eating with uncoordinated cutlery and plates. There will probably even be plastic glasses. My entertaining is usually one or two people for a meal or a floor picnic of an afternoon tea so expect something that’s an unholy alliance of both in my living room. For this reason, it will have to be child free. My house is definitely not kid proofed or big enough to cope with small people alongside big people with big appetites. It’ll be a late lunch from about 2pm to allow for my faffing and your travelling.

It won’t be fancy, but it will be fun (and if it isn’t, we’ll simply never speak of this idea again, pretend it didn’t happen and carry on as normal…) So if you feel like trying something new to with food or making friends this year, email me on [email protected] and hopefully see you on January 25th!

tripe soup

Slow Cooker Mondongo

tripe soup

I am a person who gets hangovers. Even as a teenager when everyone else around me seemed to be able to drink cheap vodka mixed with battery acid on an empty stomach and bounce right back, I was suffering. Not for me the two aspirin and a can of full fat Coke trick. I need to lie on a bed of gossamer, sipping angels’ tears from a cut glass goblet while eating crisps and waiting for the day to pass to put it all behind me. No amount of practise has ever really helped, although occasionally a ball of mozzarella eaten like an apple before bed can stave the situation off completely.

Therefore I am constantly on the hunt for hangover cure stories. I think that I’m one old wives’ tale or anecdote away from the hangover Holy Grail. I’ve tried the whole vitamin B before going out rumour, the milk thistle phase of the late 90s, the Gatorade by the bed trick, even the suggestion of mixing the liquid from a jar of gherkins with some soda water and downing it (spoiler alert: this is not the answer to any question, unless this question is ‘how I could feel immediately worse right now?’)

I think I know now nothing will ever be my ultimate answer, but that I can simply use this quest as a way to try new things along the way, which is how I came to know about sopa de mondongo or tripe soup. A Mexican-American friend online mentioned it once for its hangover curing qualities but still feeling scarred from the pickle juice, I screwed my face up and refused to even think about eating tripe even when I wasn’t feeling delicate.

However during the summer I met up with The Skint Foodie for lunch one day in Brixton and we went to El Rancho De Lalo in Brixton Village for one of their vast platters of Colombian food and the soup of the day was tripe. Because you get chicken, plantain, rice, avocado, salad and beans as well, I knew this was the time to try tripe because if it was horrible, I wouldn’t go hungry and I’d have something lovely to take the taste away. I needn’t have worried, one mouthful in and I was in love.

The tripe was tender and not at all rubbery or tough. Cut into small chunks, it had soaked up the flavour of the stock and the chilli and vegetables and was nourishing and fortifying. I finished the whole bowl and have eaten it several times since, thinking it would make an excellent hangover cure with its mix of calm soothing flavours and textures. However, converted as I am to cow’s stomach, I still didn’t want to start boiling panfuls of it at home and then I realised it would be perfect in the slow cooker for achieving the right yielding texture with very little work and I was sold on making my own sopa de mondongo at home.

Sopa de Mondongo or South American Tripe Soup (serves 4)

  • 500g cleaned plain tripe
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, cubed
  • 2 eddoes or medium potatoes, cubed
  • 50g hominy corn or add 150g sweetcorn at the end
  • 1 bunch coriander stalks, chopped (leaves reserved)
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 scotch bonnet chillies, whole
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 limes, halved

Tripe comes in four styles. The two most common in the UK are plain which is from the first stomach and is the one I’ve used here. I find it the least terrifying and least tripey looking but your mileage may vary. You’ll also get the honeycomb version which is what sounds like with its geometric markings and slightly more gelatinous texture when cooked. Both of these are often cooked in the UK in milk which helps to tenderise them, but frankly gives me the heebie jeebies at the same time. I prefer the Nigerian style of tomatoey stews or the South American soups myself.

Buy your plain tripe from the butcher already bleached and cleaned. Uncleaned or green tripe is not something I ever ever want to see or smell. Tripe isn’t quite as cheap as I expected, coming in at around £6 per kilo at Las Americas butchers in Brixton Village, but there’s no wastage on it so it’s still very economical. Give it a rinse under the tap and then put it in a large pan and pour boiling water over it. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes before draining. Allow to cool slightly and then cut into small cubes.

As well as introducing you to tripe, I’m also bringing two other ingredients to your life. Eddoes are a small root vegetable also known as taro. They have hairy brown skins with little tiger stripes and when you peel them, they exude a sticky sap. Wear gloves to peel them and keep them in water until needed as they turn black easily. They have a texture a bit like a potato but with a nuttier flavour and a fluffier finish. The soup also features hominy corn which is corn kernels that have been treated with an akaline to dry them to a texture more like you associate with pulses than corn. You simply cook it from dry and end up with soft but chewy texture unlike anything else. I fear I might worry you when I say it’s like adding popcorn to soup but the texture here works beautifully with the soft tripe.

Place these into the slow cooker crock along with the onion, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, eddoes, coriander stalks, spring onions and hominy corn. Season well with salt and pepper and lob the whole scotch bonnets in there. Pour the chicken stock in. This is a time to use a good homemade stock rather than a cube. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all on low for 8 hours.

Serve the soup in shallow bowls with some chopped chilli if you like, a good squirt of fresh lime juice and the chopped coriander leaves and just feel your hangover subside. And if it isn’t going fast enough, a beer on the side works very well here. If you really can’t face the tripe in a slow cooker mondongo when you feel delicate, then at least you have a marvellous anecdote from the recipe….

slow cooker mulled wine

Slow Cooker Mulled Wine

slow cooker mulled wine

Few things are more Christmassy than mulled wine but often it doesn’t live up to expectations and tastes slightly bitter despite the sweetness of the drink. This happens when you turn the heat off to stop the wine boiling away and then heat it up again. The slow cooker is perfect from preventing this as you can keep the wine ticking over at just the right temperature without bitterness. Nor do you lose the lovely booziness of the wine…

Serves 4-6

  • 2 bottles of decent red wine
  • 400ml cold water
  • 400g sugar
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cloves
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 150ml ginger wine
  • 1 orange, sliced

I do two things that make my mulled wine particularly good. Firstly, I use half decent red wine instead of really cheap plonk and secondly, I make a syrup to add to the wine so I don’t need to risk boiling the wine to melt the sugar.

Start by mixing the sugar and the cold water together in a saucepan along with the zest of one orange, 1 cinnamon stick, the cloves, allspice and nutmeg and gently bring to the boil. Stir it all as the sugar dissolves and heat it for about 5-6 minutes until it all becomes a lovely thick syrup. Allow to cool with the spices infusing in it.

When you are ready to make the mulled wine, pour the red wine into the crock of the slow cooker. Strain the syrup through a sieve into the wine and add the remaining cinnamon stick and half the orange slices. You can stud these with a few more cloves if you like the look and taste.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and heat the wine on high for 1-2 hours minimum before serving. Pour the ginger wine into the now mulled wine. Serve in heatproof glasses or mugs with a fresh slice of orange.

The beauty of this slow cooker mulled wine though is that you can just serve as much as you need, put the lid back on and keep it at the right temperature in between. But be aware, the booze does not evaporate so it’s stronger than you expect!

malt caramels

Hot Buttered Rum Caramels

malt caramels

A few years into living in Brixton, I started drinking rum as my go to drink. Previously that had been gin which was my loyal weekend tipple throughout my late teens and twenties. My friend Jo and I used to sit in the park watching the world go by on sunny days when we first moved to London with matching plastic glasses, a bottle of Gordon’s, some slimline tonic and a sliced lime in a plastic bag. But somewhere along the line, my tastes moved on and gin and tonic is an occasion drink for me these days.

Living in a heavily Caribbean area, it’s not really that strange that my allegiances have switched to rum. I prefer dark rum, preferably something spiced and have learned that it’s an excellent spirit for drinking either neat or mixed. Hot Brixton days often involve rum drunk long with soda water so that they are very thirst quenching and not particularly likely to get you drunk.

In the winter though I’ve become a huge fan of hot buttered rum. A big favourite in Brixton Village because it warms you up more than you’d think possibly when the wind sweeps through those avenues, I was introduced to it at Snugg (the name starts to make more sense now!) and have made several versions at home including this one with spiced quince rum. This year though I’m taking it easy on the seasonal booze and have turned my attention to making sweet treats instead.

Inspired by this recipe for homemade caramels by Diana Henry, I got my sugar thermometer out. I tweaked it to use condensed milk instead of cream (cheaper when like me you are prone to burning sugar based dishes) and added some spices along with a big glug of dark rum and got my buttered rum fix in a chewy caramel way instead. It’s very easy if unlike me you prepare well first and pay attention while you are making them.

Buttered Rum Caramels (makes about 65)

  • 175ml condensed milk
  • 60g salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 75ml dark rum (I use Bacardi Oakheart which is excellent and easy to get)
  • 250g white sugar
  • 160g golden syrup

Start by lining a 8 inch square dish or baking tray with greaseproof paper. Oil it lightly with a flavourless vegetable oil and set it aside.

Pour the condensed milk in a saucepan, add 30g of the butter, the salt and all the spices. Warm it through to infuse the spices and melt the butter but don’t let it boil. If you are doing this on an electric cooker do it on the ring behind the one where you’ll melt the sugar so you have a cold area on the hob so you can take the sugar off the heat for ease. Take the pan off the heat and add the rum. Set aside.

In a large deep pan (I used my Le Cresuet) heat the the sugar and the golden syrup together on a medium heat, stirring occasionally to help melt the sugar and prevent it burning. Once it is molten, turn the heat up and without moving the sugar around too much, heat to 155℃. I used a thermometer to make life easier here.

Take the pan off the heat the second it hits 155℃ and pour in the still warm spiced condensed milk. It may spit and bubble slightly so be careful. Stir it well to make sure it is smooth and return it to the heat until it reaches 127℃. Take it off the heat again and pour it into your lined tray.

Leave the caramel to cool for about 5 hours. Then lift the greaseproof paper out and cut the caramel into bite sized squares and wrap in 10cm squares of waxed or greaseproof paper. I got my rather festive looking stuff from Ebay but also used plain white. The caramel is soft enough to be able to roll up nicely. Store in an airtight container for up to a month. These make a lovely gift and are basically a very grown up version of Highland Toffee bars from my childhood.