Saturday, August 18, 2012

Random Recipes #19 - A French Re-discovery.

It was with some trepidation that I set out to pick my first "proper" Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Belleau Kitchen.  I was a RRV (Random Recipe Virgin) last month.  The challenge then was to take photographs of my cookery books which wasn't too tricky but I couldn't understand quite why Dom felt that the numerous RRV's who had taken part might find the regular version of the challenge so hard.  Then I gave it some real thought.  I have to admit I've got a few books that, for one reason or another, I've not cooked anything from.  There are also some recipes that I'm frankly intimidated by and I never really got over the disaster I once had with a fresh squid.  I was suddenly aware of how difficult this might be!

Still, not wanting to shy away from a challenge I updated my cookery book database (a little OCD I know but it evolved from logging all our books into Excel when we moved house the last couple of times and is very useful - even if it does clearly state how many cookbooks I own, 230 but don't tell anyone).  I then asked Joe to add a random function especially for this challenge (VLookup and Randbetween apparently (???!)).  Bracing myself I pressed F9 to update and the function picked Floyd on France by the flamboyant Keith Floyd.

I'm a bit young to have fully appreciated Keith Floyd when he was at his prime (that's the story I'm sticking to anyway).  I was probably still at school when he was gracing our TVs with his cooking and wasn't that interested in watching cookery programmes at the time.  I bought the book second hand several years ago, not long after we bought our first house in France.  It came highly recommend with lots of great reviews but, I have to admit, I've never cooked anything from it.  Now I really see the point of your Random Recipe Challenge, Dom!

Slightly concerned about the amount of butter I was going to have to use and how much wine I was going to have to consume while cooking I selected the recipe using a combination of the very technical method of "eyes shut" with "open and point".  My random recipe this month will be Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins, a dish from the Savoy region of France.  It comes under the vegetable dish section and like many French vegetable dishes they've manage to sneak some bacon in.  Mr Floyd suggests that it can be eaten as a pudding (it does have a very large prune and raisin ratio) but frankly with the bacon and potato I don't get it as a pudding.  His other suggestion is as a "sweet and sour vegetable dish to go with a little roast leg of pork..." which sounds a much better idea to me.  The recipe is as follows:

Potatoes with Prunes and Raisins or Pommes de terre aux pruneaux et raisins

Serves 4 (I made half the quantity, which, as side dish, would be plenty for 4 as it's pretty rich).

3 large potatoes, peeled and grated, well rinsed, drained and dried
500g prunes, stoned, soaked and drained
250g raisins, soaked and drained
Dash of eau de vie (I used bourbon)
2 tablespoons of flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
500g diced bacon

Ready to go into the oven
Mix all the ingredients together, except the bacon which you fry and then add to the mixture.  Put the whole lot in a baking dish, press it in really hard, pop into a bain-marie and cook in the oven, at gas mark 5, 190C for a couple of hours, until it becomes a kind of cake.  This is the traditional way of preparing it.  (Mr Floyd does suggest that you can fry it for 15 mins each side like you would with rosti).   I opted for the traditional method, mostly because it involved less effort on my part!

The finished dish
Some of the prunes did go rather too brown (although not as black as they look in the photo!) even though I covered it with foil half way through cooking time and, despite pressing the mix down hard into the dish, it didn't really become a "cake". Maybe older or a different variety of potatoes would have helped.

I have to say I was a bit dubious about this dish to start with, without this challenge I can't imagine it would have caught my eye (it certainly hadn't for the last 8 years of owning the book!).  Its ingredients were all good but not something I would necessarily put together, especially in these quantities, however the end result is tastes pretty good.  It's definitly very sweet - maybe lose the extra sugar and some of the prunes, their taste is very strong, but as an accompaniment to some grilled meat it's lovely.  In my opinion it's more of a wintery dish with some game as Keith Floyd suggests.  That said, I would be tempted to cook it to go with a barbeque in the summer.

Thank you for the challenge Dom, it was good to try out something I wouldn't normally have choosen to cook.  It was also good to rediscover this rather forgotten book - not long after buying Floyd on France we moved to France and, don't tell anyone, but after a while, I found myself not really liking French food (sacre bleu!).  I think there is some truth in the reports of French cooking being in decline, certainly in some areas of France.  We used to live in the Languedoc and virtually gave up eating out as the quality of most restaurants was so bad.  However flicking through the pages of this book I've been reminded that there is some fantastic cooking out there and some great recipes to try. I'm off to dig out my other French recipe books for a browse and maybe a cook.


  1. I wish I could say that I was too young for Floyd in his prime but I really can't. I have very fond memories of cooking from this book in the 1980s - I must revisit it. This is a very Floyd dish as well as a very Savoy region dish. It does look really good to me, although maybe mostly for winter. I agree that French cooking has declined especially in some areas. But I think some less well-known areas have maintained standards and there's some great new cooking turning up now in areas such as Normandy.

    1. Thanks Phil, I completely agree, having spent several years in the Languedoc we moved to Basse-Normandy nearly two years ago and the quality of restaurants here, even very rurally, is of a much higher standard and much more exciting.

      Hope you re-enjoy cooking some more Floyd.

  2. I also think Mr Floyd is an acquired taste, which is a shame because he did showcase some incredible recipes. I am really intrigued by this - I can't imagine it as a pudding (though if bacon ice cream is in vogue, perhaps he was ahead of his time) but as a side dish, I think it could be great. Perhaps, as you say, fewer prunes, no sugar, and perhaps something tart to cut the sweetness? Hmmmm, I think I have a plan coming together...

    1. Hi, You'll have to let me know how your plan works out, sounds intruiging. It was very tasty (as a side dish, definitely not a pudding!) but did need more of a sweet/salty balance and the prunes were a very predominat taste. Enjoy experimenting!