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…

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….

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.

 

coconut jam

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam

coconut jam 

Theoretically I have the most fantastic simple slow cooker idea for a Christmas gift for you today. However when you taste it, you’ll fall so in love with it that you might want to hoard all the jars to yourself and sit in eating it off the spoon while you wrap something from the pound shop instead.

I hadn’t heard of coconut jam until very recently. My local branch of Marks and Spencer has gone a bit upmarket with lots of the posh gourmet food products you buy for people at Christmas and while I was circling the aisles going green with envy at all the stuff I could never justify buying, I saw a jar of coconut jam. Interest piqued, I lifted it and saw that it was coconut cream cooked down til soft and jammy and highly popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. I took a snap of the jar and went home to research it.

I have a pretty unerring knack of being able to adapt things to the slow cooker these days and the more I read about coconut jam or its Singaporean name of kaya, the more I suspected I could make something really good here. As is my wont with anything from Singapore, I checked out Shu Han’s fab blog Mummy I Can Cook to see what she had to say on the subject. Two paragraphs in and I knew I had to make this.

Practically the national obsession out there, it’s usually served as kaya toast on white toast with butter and some hard boiled eggs with it. I eat eggs for breakfast every morning, but some reason, the idea of eggs and coconut together doesn’t appeal to me. (I’m very fussy about eggs for breakfast. I don’t like the whites and yolks mixed together, fried eggs must not be crispy and chilli can only accompany them when I feel like it. French toast cannot be the savoury eggy bread. This is the law in my house.)

Instead my eye was drawn to the variations on kaya. I couldn’t really be authentic as kaya relies on pandan or screwpine leaf for a distinctive flavour to cut through the richness of the coconut and I have no idea where you’d find it in the UK. I read on. The Hainanese variety caramelises the sugar first for a darker stickier version and I decided to tweak this into a very multicultural cross between kaya and dulce de leche as few things I’ve done have pleased people more from the slow cooker (see page 199 of Slow Cooked) . The result was even better than that sounds and is spectacular on toast, even if might technically be better described as a curd than a jam.

Slow Cooker Caramel Coconut Jam (makes 5 x 250ml jars)

  • 250g sugar
  • 2 x 200g block creamed coconut
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

As with any dish involving the heating of sugar, get everything ready first. Speed is imperative to prevent things burning. Grate your blocks of creamed coconut using a box grater onto a plate and set aside. Open the coconut milk as well.

Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and allow it to melt over a medium heat. Don’t stir too much. When it starts to colour very slightly, put the creamed coconut in and stir well. The sugar will continue to colour as will the creamed coconut. Keep stirring like crazy. Don’t let the coconut catch on the bottom of the pan. Once it starts to melt, add the coconut milk and stir it all well with a balloon whisk. It will continue to darken in colour, so keep stirring until everything is melted together and a lovely golden caramel colour.

Take off the heat immediately and stir the vanilla in. Leave to cool slightly for about 15 minutes in the pan. Then beat the eggs in and pour into a lidded plastic pudding basin. Put the lid on and place the basin in the slow cooker. Pour boiling water half way up the basin. Cook on low for 3 hours without disturbing it.

At the end of three hours, the coconut cream and milk will have reduced to a caramel and the eggs will have caused it to set like a custard. You could in future halve the amounts and pour it into ramekins before cooking for 2 hours and serving as a gorgeous dessert. Just allow it to cool for about 20 minutes first to enhance the flavour. However to turn it into a gorgeous jam, simply beat it with an electric whisk for 2 minutes until light and creamy.

Put the jam into glass jars you’ve sterilised in the oven at 160℃ for 15 minutes and seal immediately. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. If you’d like Christmas to come early, make some French toast and spread this on it to serve. You’ll hear angels sing as you eat.

Don’t forget that if you’re enjoying Slow Cooked, you can leave your 5 star review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy it there. It’s a great way to introduce people to the book as they browse before Christmas and since I’m on this bland low fat diet again, the only thing I can have fed at the moment is my ego so I’d really appreciate it!

wrinkled potatoes

Slow Cooked and Wrinkled Potatoes

wrinkled potatoesThis year, the big date in my diary hasn’t been my birthday or Christmas or even Bonfire Night but the 6th of November instead. That’s because it’s publication day for Slow Cooked! My book baby is all ready to go out into the world. Those of you who have pre-ordered should have their paws on it by now and everyone else can start buying it from today.

I’ve had so much support and encouragement while I was writing it, especially from my Twitter followers and I’d just like to thank everyone who showed enthusiasm and interest throughout the process. Your patience is about to be rewarded! Go forth and make yourself something lovely in the slow cooker!

You can buy Slow Cooked on Amazon or in branches of Waterstones and WH Smith and good independent bookstores in person or through the fantastic Hive. It’s also available as an e-book if you’re new-fangled that way. Whatever format you decide to buy it in, I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to do so and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. A massive thank you to Anti Limited for design, Olia Hercules for food styling and Jen Collins for illustrations.

You’ll also have to bear with me while I spend the new few weeks retweeting praise and generally getting a big head. I’ll make it up to you all by answering any slow cooker questions you’ve got on a webchat on Friday 14th November though. Simply tweet @northsouthfood and @eburypublishing and @thehappyfoodie using the #slowcooked hashtag and I’ll be happy to chat about slow cookers til the cows come home!

To celebrate today I’ve decided to go for a slow cooker recipe with one of my all time favourite ingredients; the potato. I’ve gone Spanish with wrinkled potatoes from the Canary Islands. Small potatoes are cooked in salted water until they wrinkle and are imbued with savoury flavour. The long slow cooking mellows the salinity and makes them massively moreish.

Traditionally they’d be served with a mojo sauce of red peppers and smoked paprika, but obviously as a fully fledged pepper hater, I didn’t want to do that. Instead I took my inspiration from another famed Canarian dip, almagrote which is made from mature goats cheese and tomatoes. I must admit that it’s the loosest interpretation of the dish possible and one that will probably get me hounded out of Tenerife if I ever visit. But it is lovely…

Canarian Wrinkled Potatoes with Sweet Potato Almagrote Style Dip

  • 750g small potatoes (I used International Kidney from Sainsbury’s Basics)
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 large sweet potato, roasted or steamed
  • drizzle of oil if roasting
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 50g cream cheese
  • 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • juice of one lemon

This makes a great pre dinner dish like a homemade tapa. Perfect for soaking up the cava I will be celebrating with tonight in fact. You could also serve it as a side dish.

Start with your potatoes. Scrub them clean if needed and put into the slow cooker crock whole. Add the sea salt and pour the boiling water over them. Put the lid on and cook them on high for 5 hours. You can also boil them on the stove in the salted water but they get a better flavour and texture in the slow cooker.

Heat the oven to 200℃. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch chunks. Drizzle with the oil and roast for about 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and add the smoked paprika and crushed garlic so the heat of it mellows them both. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese, parmesan and tomato puree. Beat well until it is smooth and add the cayenne and white pepper. Add the lemon juice and set aside.

Drain the potatoes well. The water will look dark as some of the colour has leached out of the potato skins, but don’t worry. This is totaally normal. Don’t rinse the potatoes, you want to keep the saltiness. Roast them for 10 minutes in the oven to dry the skins out and wrinkle the potatoes further. Serve with the sweet potato dip and enjoy the salty savoury umami hit each spud contains. The warm glow of publication day is optional…

PS: don’t forget, the fantastic Brixton Blog and Bugle that I also write for is crowdfunding for a news editor to keep bringing local news to Brixton. In the years it’s been going the Blog and Bugle have been funded by love and volunteers. We need some cash to move forward so please give anything you can!