Friday 24 February 2012

Fiesta time in the Rhubarb Triangle

Glorious forced pink Rhubarb
February marks the major event of the year in the Rhubarb calendar. Grown in an area around Wakefield in the north of England, in warm, dark ‘forcing sheds’, this pink fleshy plant is a popular Yorkshire treat. There’s a big Rhubarb Festival going on around the end of February in Wakefield.  The area where it’s grown is famously called the Rhubarb Triangle and you can even go on a tour of the forcing sheds.

Grandma’s Tips for cooking Rhubarb
Grandma usually stewed Rhubarb by cutting off the leaves, washing the sticks and cutting each stick into pieces each one about 2 inches/50 cms long. Then she placed them in a pan over the hob with a little water and sugar.

When she had lovely forced pink Rhubarb, she would wash and cut the pieces and sprinkle demerara sugar over them. Then she would cook them in the oven (325F, Mark 3, 160C) for about 15 minutes until tender. This way the Rhubarb retains its maximum flavour and the pieces look like pink jewels!
Sprinkle with sugar 
Cooked Rhubarb - jewels in the crown!

Grandma used to make delicious crumbles and pies but one of my favourite desserts is Rhubarb Tart.
Rhubarb Tart

To make Shortcrust pastry
4 oz(110g) butter
8 oz (225g) plain flour
1 egg
A little water (or a little milk and water)
Rub the butter into the flour and salt. When the mixture is like breadcrumbs, make a well and add the egg. Add the water to make a dough. Let it stand for ½ hour in a cool place before rolling out. 
For the filling
Rhubarb (about 450g) prepared and cooked as above
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
1 egg beaten
2 oz (50g) self raising flour
1 oz (25g) ground almonds
A little milk to glaze
Sugar to sprinkle on the top

Roll the pastry out to cover a 9 inch (23 cm) flan dish, reserving the trimmings of the pastry for the lattice decoration. Spread the cooked Rhubarb on the bottom of the pastry base. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, a little at a time, fold in the flour and ground almonds. Spread over the Rhubarb. Bake in the oven at 35oF, Mark 4, 180C for about 25 minutes.

If you have spare pastry trimmings you can make a Rhubarb Lattice Flan. Roll out the trimmings of the pastry and cut into thin strips to criss cross the top of the flan. Moisten the ends of the strips with water and arrange over the filling, pressing the wetted ends to seal. Brush the lattice with milk and sprinkle with sugar. 
 Rhubarb Rhubarb


Saturday 18 February 2012

Something different for Pancake Day ‘Ficelles Picardes’

Ficelles Picardes - Delicieux!
On Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday I love to cook this fabulous recipe my French friend, Francoise gave me some years ago when I lived in France. Francoise comes from Amiens in the Picardy area of northern France and this is a traditional recipe from that area. The pancakes or crepes, make a savoury dish called ‘Ficelles Picardes’ – which translates as ‘Picardy strings’. 
I use Grandma’s recipe for the pancakes which always works a treat. The pancakes, together with a slice of ham are stuffed with mushrooms, then covered with crème fraiche, sprinkled with Gruyere cheese and cooked in a casserole dish in the oven until they are crisp and bubbling.  Superbe!

Ficelles Picardes   
For the pancakes :
125g/4 ½ oz plain flour
3 eggs
1 pinch salt
275ml ( approx ½ pint) milk
Melted butter or oil for frying
To make the batter, place the flour, salt and eggs in a basin and mix well. Add enough milk to make a thin batter. Then leave to stand. Then make about 8 individual small pancakes. Heat the butter or oil in a small frying pan until very hot. Pour enough batter to cover the base. Cook each side in turn. Leave the pancakes to cool and prepare the mushroom mixture.

For the filling and topping
2 shallots (finely chopped)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 Lemon  - juice
8 slices ham
6-8 mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 dsps crème fraiche
Gruyere cheese (grated)
A little butter
Fry the chopped mushrooms in butter and lemon juice, add the shallot, parsley and salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 dsp of cream fraiche.  Place a slice of the ham on each pancake and then some of the mushroom mixture. Roll up each pancake and arrange together in a heat proof dish.
Pour the crème fraiche into the frying pan with a little butter to warm through.  Now pour it over the pancakes and sprinkle with grated Gruyere cheese. Brown lightly, either under the grill or on the top shelf of a hot oven. The pancakes can be made and stuffed in advance then finished off with the crème fraiche and cheese before serving.
Traditional pancakes 
For more Pancake recipes take at look at some traditional Pancakes I found in an old newspaper cutting in Grandma’s collection. Whether you're enjoying savoury pancakes or traditional pancakes with orange juice, have a good time flippin' pancakes on Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. 
Bon appétit!

Friday 10 February 2012

Something for your Valentine

Ivy's heart shape cake tin 
What better way to offer your Valentine a gift than to bake a favourite homemade treat for Valentine’s Day on 14 February ? After all, as I say in Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking book, ‘who can resist the joys of a simple fresh  cake or the appeal of a tray of biscuits, warm, aromatic and straight out of the oven?’ 
Last year, Aunty Ivy gave me a pile of cake tins and amongst them was a heart shape tin. I’ve been itching to use it for one of Grandma’s easy cake recipes ever since so this year I’m making a surprise cake for my Valentine (and me) to enjoy.
Will it be Dream Cake?  
 Orange Cake or ...       
Heart shaped Valentine Cake?
I still feel like an 18 year old in my head and this week, I met up with two friends from student days, one of whom I hadn't seen since we finished our degrees 40 years ago. We’d been on a French degree course at university and had gone our separate ways with careers and families to distract us from keeping in touch and without the benefits of social media. So we spent the day reminiscing about those halcyon days of student life, laughing till we nearly cried over some of our antics .... not forgetting valentines from long ago!

Looks like I can use Ivy's heart shaped cake tin after all!