30 December 2011

Green Pesto, Red Pepper, Green Olive & Goat's Cheese Tart

That's quite a mouthful to say - and it is also quite a mouthful to get on a fork!

Hubby and I dreamt up this tart when we were considering the menu for the week.  Hubby had a yen for a tart of some kind, but his suggestions for ingredients seemed to be headed down the Pizza Tart route, that we did only recently.  We were both agreed on the Goat's Cheese as being the thing we wanted to build the rest of the tart around, so the Chargrilled Peppers and Green Olives came fairly naturally afterwards.  However, the Green Pesto was a blindingly good idea of hubby's that worked perfectly.

These sorts of tarts really are quite ridiculously easy to do.  Couple them with a bit of salad and you've got the easiest and most satisfying supper that it's possible to have.

Quite simply, there are days when you're so happy to have something this easy on the menu.  Particularly at a busy time of year - as this is, being around Christmas - when you've been called hither and thither to attend to this purchase, or that appointment, or this convivial gathering, or that miserable soiree.  To know that following on from a small amount of slicing, a touch of opening jars and spreading, a wee bit of blotting followed by some gin & tonic while the whole assembly cooks will provide you with a delicious meal, is just perfect.

I must just highlight a point for anyone considering making this deliciousness - which is to remember to copiously prick the raw pastry prior to assembling your tart thereon.  If you don't perforate it, the pastry layers will puff up in distressing fashion, causing your carefully - and may I say, perhaps artfully - placed strips of pepper, pieces of olive and blobs of goat cheese to all tumble down the side of the pastry wave, leaving you with something more akin to a science experiment, than a delicious tart.  I know.  I forgot to wield my fork, my pastry remained prick-less - and the end result wasn't pretty.  Hey ho.

Contents of tart put right, in order to facilitate acceptable photograph!

The flavour of the end result was, however, superb.  I'd used a very mild, creamily cheesy green pesto, which didn't overwhelm the goat's cheese, but provided the great background flavour from which the other ingredients could all launch - and launch they did.  Served with a simple salad of green leaves, cucumber ribbons and marinated beetroot (marinated in raspberry vinegar & rosemary) that was dressed with more of the pesto, let down with a little olive oil and some white wine vinegar, it was a fabulous meal.

GREEN PESTO, RED PEPPER, GREEN OLIVE & GOAT'S CHEESE TART  (serves 2-4)

Ingredients :

1 piece of ready-rolled Puff Pastry, rectangular shaped
2-3 tbsp green pesto (I recommend a milder version)
2 large pieces of chargrilled red pepper (from a jar is fine), sliced finely
8-10 large Queen green olives, stoned and halved
120g soft creamy goat's cheese.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180degC/450deg F/Gas 4.

2.  Place the pastry onto a baking tray and flatten out.  Run a sharp knife lightly around the pastry piece, approx 1 inch in from the side, to detail where the tart crust will be.

3.  Prick the inside of the pastry crust - where the filling will be - copiously with a fork.

3.  Coat the inner of the pastry piece with a layer of green pesto.  Try not to make this layer too thick, or the pastry won't cook so easily - and make sure to not go over the line onto the pastry crust.

4.  Sprinkle with pepper slices and olive pieces, making sure they are evenly distributed.

5.  Dot the surface of the vegetables with blobs of the creamy goat's cheese, again, making sure it is evenly distributed.

6.  Season lightly with pepper and place into the oven to bake for some 25-30 minutes or until the pastry crust has risen and turned golden brown and the tart contents are showing browned tips.

7.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a moment or two prior to cutting.

Serve with a simple salad.

29 December 2011

Where did Christmas go? Meal planning for New Year.

Did you see it? That was Christmas, that was!
Flipping heck!  Blink and you'd miss it - that's how Christmas was in our house this year.

We spent a good month working towards it and in an instant it's gone.  I suppose it's very much like making a good dinner.  You spend what seems like ages planning, shopping, then creating and cooking, only to have it devoured in less than five minutes, where after it becomes just a memory.  Makes you wonder why we do it, really!

Oh and I know I've yet to blog any of the recipes from last week.  All I can say is "patience, young Padawan!", they'll get blogged as soon as I can spend the time to do so!

I thought that, before I got cracking on blogging the lovely recipes that came out of the Christmas week, I'd better get on with blogging our plans for the week leading up to New Year's Day, or it would have passed us by without any word about it!

Son & heir very kindly passed his sniffles on to hubby, who contracted a nasty case of Man Flu over Christmas.  Fortunately, he was just on the upside of it when Christmas Day struck, so was able to enjoy what was, for us, a very quiet day.  I was determined that the nastiness should not breach my defences and so had nothing to do with it.  Right up until about 3 days ago, when I started feeling a bit rough.  However, I seem to have gained the upper hand without any noses starting to drip or hacking coughs becoming evident, and I'll settle for that!

Because of all this feeling below par, the first few days of this week have been a bit low-achieving on the meal front.  Consider it the culinary equivalent of treading water, before getting back into the kitchen in a big way again.

I got three new cookbooks over Christmas - Rose Prince's Kitchenella (my favourite cook book of all time) as a gift from son & heir, James Martin's Desserts as a gift from my brother & his family and Michel Roux's Eggs which I won in a competition run by Clarence Court (the source of the lovely Burford Brown).  So you can imagine, it wouldn't take long for me to get back in harness again - I've so much inspiration, from those three books alone!

Here's the plan for this week's menus :

Tues : High Tea including party nibbles like mini Duck Spring Rolls, Jalapeno Mozzarella
bites, Spicy Chicken Kebabs and a cheeseboard.
Weds : Pizza
Thurs : Sausage, Mash, Baked Beans & Peas
Fri : Lamb rice with golden onions
Sat : Tarragon chicken with gnocchi
Sun : Pork Ballotine, Parsnip & Sweet Potato roast, Baby Aubergines & Courgettes
in lemon vinaigrette followed by Chocolate Mousse
Mon : Tuna Pasta Bake.

So you can see how the week progresses to the crescendo of New Year's Day, followed by the return to "treading water" on the Monday!

Friday's Lamb rice with golden onions is a recipe taken from Rose Prince's Kitchenella and aside from sounding gorgeous, it looks really incredibly simple to prepare.  I'm all for "incredibly simple", right at the moment.

The Tarragon Chicken and gnocchi is one I've done before - quite recently - and it was very well received, so it will be a nice warm-up to the following day's culinary endeavours.

The Pork Ballotine is a home-brewed recipe, conjured up by hubby and I during a quiet moment on Boxing Day.  The idea is, to take a pork fillet and very nearly cut it in half but instead opening it out, then flattening it and thinning it until you achieve sufficient to wrap around some stuffing.

The stuffing will be formed primarily by laying a little stuffing mix of pork sausage meat with flavourings such as pine nuts, sage, prunes and sauteed onion along the pork, followed by slices of chicken breast, followed by a little more stuffing.  The whole lot is rolled, wrapped in cling film and cooked sous vide style, in the slow cooker.  Just prior to service, the ballotine is unwrapped and pan fried in butter to give it colour and flavour.  Well, that's the plan.

I'll be serving it with an Ottolenghi recipe - the Parsnip & Sweet Potato roast, on a few Rocket leaves for colour.  Extra vegetables will be provided by griddled baby aubergines and courgettes, dressed with a parsley & lemon vinaigrette.

Sounds good - we'll wait to see whether it IS good!

New Year's standby dessert : Xmas Pud!
I've also got some good dark chocolate left over from Boxing Day's Avocado Pie, which I intend on making into a chocolate mousse.  I've never made a chocolate mousse before, so fingers crossed it works out well!  I've found a super-easy recipe that's just melted chocolate, cream, egg yolks and beaten egg whites (in a nutshell) and I reckon that if I make it the day before, if it turns out to be disgusting, well I've always got the remainder of the Christmas pudding to break out!

Having detailed all that, you can probably understand why we're going for the easy option on the Monday!

We'll be trialling gluten-free corn pasta in the Tuna Pasta Bake, as normal wheat pasta has the unfortunate habit of giving me stomach pains, followed by some quite severe bloating.  I've got enough of a girth, without any bloating adding to the mix!  I seem to recall that we've tried this pasta previously and weren't impressed, but it will be interesting, nonetheless.

Apart from a few forays into "bottom of the fridge vegetable soup" (of which I've just made a Celeriac, Butternut Squash & Carrot version which was top notch), that seems to be everything on my "to cook" list for this week.

We've decided not to make New Year Resolutions this year, but to make New Year Culinary Intentions, instead.  Just got to finalise them, then we'll have a plan to work to for the year.  Love a good plan!

.

24 December 2011

Meal planning to Christmas!

This week's meal plan is a remarkable thing.  I say that, because right up until Christmas Day (Sunday), hubby has chosen (and is doing the lion's share of the cooking) all the meals.  I'm really not sure how or why this has happened, but I am grateful for it - as it has given me a couple of hours' space in each day, with which to catch up with the blog here!

So, without further ado, here is what is on the menu this week :


Tues : Pizza for son & heir plus Green
Pesto, Red Pepper, Olive & Goat Cheese Tart with salad for us adults.
Wed : Bolognese Pasta
Thur : Chicken & Sweetcorn Dinner Wraps, Broccoli, Carrots & Green Beans
with a parsley sauce
Fri : Bacon & Asparagus Risotto
Sat (Xmas Eve) : Chinese Takeaway
Sun (Xmas Day) : Roast Sirloin of Beef, Ottolenghi's Fennel & Cherry Tomato Crumble Gratin, Roasted Butternut Squash, Roast Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon,
Yorkshire Puddings and Port Gravy.
Mon : (Boxing Day) Sandwiches.

Exciting stuff, eh?

The Tart we had on Tuesday was one which we decided on the filling for, then went out and bought each ingredient.  It was absolutely fantastic - and together with the salad of beetroot, cucumber and salad leaves - was such a great success.

Watch out for the blog post which details the tart, as you'll undoubtedly want to give it a go!

Wednesday's Bolognese Pasta started out life as an ordinary Bolognese sauce to be had over spirali pasta.  However, hubby had a number of great ingredients at his fingertips and used them well.  He included red wine along with char-grilled red peppers - and had the expert help of son & heir, who decided to become involved somewhere along the line.

Hubby Head Chef also became down-graded to Sous Chef somewhere along the line too - and son & heir took up the mantle of being Head Chef to the point of dishing up.  He did a good job - and it was nice to see him interested in cooking, as his guitar has taken up all of his attention, just lately.

The end result was really very nice indeed - a lovely change from a thick tomato sauce.  I'd have quite happily continued eating that, if I hadn't have filled up so quickly!

Thursday's Chicken & Sweetcorn Dinner Wraps was something that I had a lot of trouble getting my head around.  Hubby had a picture in his mind, though, that he was going for - and it was based around a Chicken & Sweetcorn Crepe.  The wraps we use, these days, are corn wraps (as they're better for me than flour wraps) and I was having trouble seeing how they were going to go with broccoli, carrots and green beans along with parsley sauce.

Having both seen and tasted the dish, I take my hat off to him - as the chicken & sweetcorn was dressed in a lovely white sauce, all of which was wrapped in a corn wrap and then baked in the oven.  This, basically, converted the wrap into a kind of pie affair - which worked perfectly.  I was surprised and delighted by this one - and will blog the recipe in due course, as it's very well worth passing on.

Friday found poor old hubby in the kitchen yet again, this time creating one of his legendary risottos.  Son & heir had requested a chorizo risotto, which had somehow transmogrified into a "something with bacon" risotto by the time we got to doing the shopping list.  Knowing that son & heir likes asparagus - and in our efforts to encourage any eating of anything green - we swallowed our reluctance to buy out of season vegetables and bought some Moroccan asparagus.  The ensuing Asparagus & Bacon risotto was completely gorgeous, as only hubby's risotto can be.

Saturday (Christmas Eve) is our one guaranteed night off from cooking.  We've tried to make it a family tradition that on Christmas Eve we always have a takeaway of one sort or another.  Financial constraints have precluded us from carrying out this tradition in the past, but we're living up to it this year.  We must be getting better at forward planning, or something!  I understand that, at the last count, we had all voted for a Chinese.  Suits me!

Which brings us to Christmas Day.

Now then, where else would I begin, but with breakfast?  In years gone by, we've had a "special" breakfast on Christmas Day.  However, what with all the unwrapping of son & heir's Christmas stocking, then cooking the breakfast, the day has begun to slip behind on timings before we've even started.

So this year, we're going to have a bit of a French breakfast of coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat - which is a whole lot easier to prepare and clear up from and which will (hopefully) buy us a bit more time.  Of course, what we'll spend that time doing will probably be teasing son & heir about when we're going to be opening the main presents, plus teasing the poor boy that he's got Vegetable Casserole for lunch and teasing him a bit more that we've decided not to watch t.v. in the evening and play Ludo instead.  He'll be begging for eggs & bacon for breakfast next year.

We've decided to eschew the traditional Turkey for Christmas lunch this year.  After all, how could we hope to beat the superlative Kelly Bronze Turkey that came in the Foreman & Field box from Knorr?  Just couldn't be done - not on our budget, anyway - and, to be honest, we've done the Roast Turkey thing now and are looking for something different.

Hence, we popped down to the local Butcher this morning and picked up our 1kg piece of Sirloin of Beef.  1kg doesn't look like much, represented in Sirloin, does it?  Still, it's large enough for the three of us for a Christmas Dinner, which is what it's all about.

To accompany the beef, I'm planning on making the Ottolenghi Fennel & Cherry Tomato Crumble Gratin (which is just glorious), some roasted Butternut Squash (tossed with salt, pepper & garlic), some roast Potatoes for son & heir (he loves them), the ubiquitous Brussels Sprouts with bacon (it's not Christmas unless you've had a sprout), Yorkshire Puddings and a good beef gravy (which may well morph into a port gravy) - all accompanied by various mustards and horseradish sauce, of course.

My Mum has provided us with the traditional Christmas Pudding and I'm hoping that this next year she'll be prepared to hand the job of making the puddings for the family over to me.  Not that her puddings are bad - far from it, they are normally incredibly rich and delicious (if a tad heavy on the nuts!) - but I'd just like to a) take the weight of the task from her shoulders and b) feel that the baton has been handed over.

Christmas Day afternoon, I shall have to make an Avocado Pie to take to my parents' house the following day, as I said we'd only accept the invitation if she let me do dessert!  I'm looking forward to another Avocado Pie, as the last one was super-delicious.

We're all into simplicity on Christmas Day evening - and if anyone gets peckish, I've laid in several boxes of "chuck it in the oven" party nibbles.  We've cheese (Cheddar, Stilton, Red Leicester and a fabulously fragrant (*cough*) Pie d'Angloys which is currently stinking out the fridge) and crackers, together with piccalilli and olives - not to mention the mince pies, nuts and fruit that are the unspoken backbone to Christmas.  So I don't think we'll starve.

Boxing Day takes us off to spend best part of the day with my parents, as I said above.  I'm looking forward to the meal we'll be sharing, as my expectation (I may be proved wrong!) is that we'll be having our traditional Boxing Day lunch of cold turkey, bubble & squeak (drool!), fried potatoes (drool again!), buttered new potatoes (excessive, I know), baked beans, peas and carrots.  Hubby couldn't quite believe his eyes the first time we sat down to this meal, as he considers that a carrot should never share plate space with baked beans.  Along with the pickled walnuts and Branston pickle, redcurrant jelly, cold devils on horseback and cold stuffing balls, this is my favourite dinner EVER.

I can't help but think that, next week, we'll be on salads so as to get over all the rich food.  But hey!  It's Christmas!


Here's wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever, with lots of great food, big happy surprises, good health and loving company.

23 December 2011

Running hard to catch up with the meal plans!

I am getting old.  I must be - because I'm sure time didn't slip away quite like it has done, when I was in my twenties!  It only seems like yesterday that I was telling you what's on the meal plan for the week - yet that was some eleven days ago!

So - to catch you all up with the results of various menu items, let's start with the Chicken Dopiaza.

It was nice.  That's the first thing to say, in the hope that all the negative stuff that's about to pour out will be tempered by the knowledge that it was nice - and we ate it all.  However, there's one thing that's stopping me from passing on the recipe - and that's the use of a Patak's Curry Paste in its production.

I know that Patak's Curry Paste is no different to Bipin's Curry Paste or anyone else's curry paste - it's still a collection of curry spices that you might use to create a curry dish.  However, I can't help but think that it's cheating to use something like this.  I know jolly well that I can produce a perfectly spiced curry without using a curry paste - in fact, making my own curry paste (which would qualify as a blog post plus recipe!).  I just opted not to do so in this case because of speed.

For all that the end result was nice (and we ate it all), it wasn't earth-shattering and there was a textural problem with the sauce that I know wouldn't have been there, if I'd have made my own paste.  However, I did enjoy the process of making the Dopiaza and the research that went into it was educative too.  It turns out that "Dopiaza" means "two onions" and there is an argument over whether that means "two onions" or "onions, added at two different times".  I felt the simple "two onions" left something to be desired in method terms - after all, why name the dish after its two onions, unless they made a particular difference to it?  Now, if you're cooking one onion in one way and another in another way - that made sense.

Hence, I took my first onion and cut it finely, then fried it in a mixture of sunflower oil and butter until it was a deep golden brown.  Just before it reached the depth of colour I was looking for, I added the second onion which I'd cut in a more chunky shape and simply sweated that until it was soft - and the first onion had taken on the depth of colour (and flavour) that I was after.  This effectively gave you the gorgeous, deep, sweet fried onion flavour along with a harsher, more tangy onion flavour - and once the sauce was made, left some large pieces of onion quite obvious in the mixture, as opposed to having melted into the sauce.

I was happy with this method and will try it again - this time with my own spice mix - before I blog the recipe.

Carmargue Beef Daube marinating in wine - pretty!
Next meal on the list was Trish Deseine's poor old Carmargue Beef Daube.  I say "poor old", because I strongly suspect that I killed the dish owing to adding a too large stick of cinnamon.  The cinnamon flavour completely dominated the dish, wiping out any evidence of the red wine or the brandy - so you can imagine how strong it must have been!

Hubby and son & heir both rejected the orange flavour provided by the 3 pieces of zest that I included, although I have to say that I enjoyed that aspect of it.

Carmargue Beef Daube with Parsnip & Apple Mash
The cinnamon stick was from a fresh packet and was absolutely enormous.  I broke it into two and then two again and only use less than a quarter of a stick, so felt that I'd taken precautions not to let it dominate.  However, we live and learn - and now I know that this particular packet of cinnamon sticks are dynamite!

I doubt I'll be trying this recipe again, owing to the shock that registered on hubby's face when I suggested I'd need 100ml of his brandy.  It would need to have been pretty darned exemplary, to warrant that much of a donation again!

I served the Daube with a new recipe for Parsnip & Apple Mash, which demanded that the parsnips and apples be roasted in the oven, then blitzed into a mash.  It was an interesting flavour - but not one that went particularly well with the Daube (regrettably) and was a wee bit sticky for comfort.  I suspect that if I was to serve it with some lovely butcher's sausages, it'd be another matter - so I'll be saving the recipe recommendation for after a second try at it.

Cheesy, bacony loveliness

The last recipe on last week's list (yes, this week's list has yet to come!) was for Ham & Cheese Pasties.  Now, as I have said previously, because of the anti-inflammatory diet that I'm following, potatoes are definitely off.  These pasties required the use of potato in their filling, which I'd decided to swap out for celeriac.  For all that the pasties were scrumptious both hot and cold, I have to say that I couldn't find any celeriac flavour in there, whatsoever.  It was a shame, as I felt that it would go particularly nicely and it seemed a disappointment to not be able to taste it - albeit that it was better for me, than the potato!

I'd also been forced to exchange ham for bacon, as all the ham available from our local supermarket had been cut on a slicer more readily used by faeries - to say that you could read Horse & Hound Magazine through each slice, is something of an understatement.  They obviously haven't heard of thick-cut ham, in Bournemouth.

Still, the mixture of bacon and cheese is always a good one - and for my money (and son & heir's) the pasties were delicious.  Hubby - who is something of a pasty fanatic - wasn't happy with them at all, though.  He prefers his pasties to have puff or flaky pastry around them and professed to not be able to taste the cheese.  I suspect that last point can be put down to the fact that he was on the verge of going down with an 'orrible cold and had lost the use of his taste buds, as both son & heir and I could very much taste the cheese - particularly in the cold version.  Personally, I'm not particularly bothered which pastry surrounds my pasties - I'm as happy with shortcrust as with puff or flaky, so my perspective on the little lovelies was totally at odds with hubby's.  It all comes down to your own particular taste and how you find the dish at the time.

Again, I think I'll have another go at this one.  This time, however, I will make a mash of the celeriac and mix the cheese and bacon through it before putting it into the pasty.  This will not only pad out the inside of the pasty (which tended to become hollow once the cheese had melted), but might encourage the celeriac's flavour to stand up and be counted.

It certainly worked that way for the Celeriac Slice, so I'm crossing my fingers!

 

Cranberry & Orange Tartlets (or how to use up a few leftover Cranberries)

Still sizzling from the oven.  Yum!
This recipe is one of those happy little accidents that only happen when leftovers come together.

You see, I had some Cranberries left over from the Red Cabbage & Cranberries and although I'd used some in the Cinnamon Plums & Cranberries, I still had a fair amount left over.  They were taking up space in the fridge and were starting to look a bit sad, when lo and behold, I was left with half a block of shortcrust pastry left from the Cheese & Bacon Pasties (which you've yet to hear about).

I spent about half a day thinking about what combination of flavours I could use in a small tartlet, or maybe some turnovers (except that would really need puff pastry, so that wasn't such a good idea).

I knew I had a little of last summer's Rhubarb Jam in the fridge and thought that would make an interesting combination as the jam was very sweet and would be a good foil for the tart Cranberries.  However, upon further investigation, the Rhubarb Jam had died in the meantime and was threatening to grow fur - so that went into the bin.  Fortunately, it was only around a half a cupful, so no real harm done.

However, that had got my brain working along the lines of "juicy things that are already sweet" lines - and I remembered the orange marmalade.  It was a medium marmalade, so not too bitter, with some peel but not too much.  However, I didn't really think the marmalade on its own would be sufficient to sweeten the oh-so-tart Cranberry.  I didn't want to use granulated sugar, as it would have potentially roughened the texture too much.  I briefly pondered honey, but rejected that as being another flavour too many.  The answer, lay in the Golden Syrup pot.  Being smooth, sweet and relatively unflavoured, it was perfect.

So, I rolled out the pastry and cut out 12 little tart bases (hubby having turned the pan cupboard upside down, looking for the tart tray!).  I put the oven on to pre-heat and got a small saucepan out.

Cooled - and rather less dangerous to life & limb!
Into the saucepan, I put the cranberries (minus a few that were particularly suspect), two dessertspoonfuls of marmalade and a big dessertspoonful of golden syrup.  I heated the contents on a gentle heat until the cranberries just started to show cracks in their skins and the marmalade was all dissolved.

I felt it was important to partially cook the cranberries before putting into the tart cases, as they are hard little fellows and the 15-20 minutes cooking wasn't (potentially) enough to soften them sufficiently.

As it turned out - I was right.  I popped a spoonful of Cranberries into each tart case and followed up with a little of the orange sauce - but not too much, as I didn't want them to overflow everywhere and I knew that the Cranberries were very likely to release more juice as they cooked.  Into the oven they went, while I did the dishes.

15-20 minutes later and out they came.  The Cranberries were cooked perfectly and although the contents had overflowed a little, I had no problem getting the tarts out of the pan - so long as I didn't wait for them to cool down!  If you let them cool down, I suspect you'd need a jackhammer to get them out.

They are a gorgeous little mouthful.  Two bites big, they release their tart Cranberry flavours onto your tongue, whilst the slightly savoury note from the shortcrust pastry provides a stalwart backbone from which to launch.  Very quickly, the orange of the marmalade breaks through, followed by a hint of syrup.  By then, your mouth is watering and you're ready for the next one!

I have to admit that we didn't stop to do anything fancy with them by way of a dessert, but I know they'd be fabulous with ice cream, cream, creme fraiche, greek yoghurt or even custard.  Anything except a piece of stilton, I'd say!  Although, thinking on ....

CRANBERRY & ORANGE TARTLETS  (makes 12)

Ingredients :

250g shortcrust pastry
200g (approx) fresh cranberries
2 tbsp medium cut orange marmalade
1 tbsp golden syrup.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180deg C/350deg F/Gas 4.

2.  Roll out the pastry fairly thinly and cut out 12 discs to fit inside your tart tins.  Press them in gently, making sure that no air bubbles remain underneath.

3.  Place the cranberries, orange marmalade and golden syrup into a small saucepan and heat gently, until the cranberries are showing signs of their skins cracking and softening a little.  Do not cook until they are soft & squishy - you want them to just demonstrate that they're starting to cook.

4.  Place a spoonful of cranberries (without sauce) into each tart shell, then go around and place a quarter of a tablespoonful of sauce into each tart shell.

5.  Put the tarts into the oven to bake for 15 minutes, then have a look at them.  If the pastry appears to be fairly pallid still, leave them to bake for another 5-10 minutes, but keep an eye on them as you don't want the cranberries to burn.  They are done when the pastry has turned a golden brown.

6.  Remove the tarts from the tin as quickly as possible while they are still hot - try not to get any of the sauce onto your fingers, as it is at an evil temperature and will burn - or they will weld themselves to the tart tin.  Place each tart onto a cooling tray and wait patiently until they're cool enough to handle safely!

7.  Fight off the ravening hordes, whilst attempting to serve.

.

22 December 2011

Celebrating the last day of term with Son & heir's favourite food

The last day of term couldn't come quickly enough, for son & heir.  He's done extremely well at this school and had been working hard all term time.  He'd managed to rack up enough House Points to qualify for a Silver Star - which is one up on the Bronze Star he'd won in the previous term!

We chose this school purely because of its concentration on the Arts & Media - knowing how keen son & heir is on his music.  He's also a very great mathematician, which seems to follow, as there's something mysteriously mathematical about music (or so I'm told).

Son & heir's bedroom - yup, I think he's serious about the guitar.


He's graduated to playing the guitar in a big way having been at this school - which is fabulous so far as we're concerned.  We really don't mind what he does, so long as he's happy doing it and sticks to doing it with some dedication.  Well, looking at the number of guitars he now had adorning his bedroom (not to mention the amps and cabling that goes with them), I'd say he's taking it seriously.

As such, once the end of term hove into view, we thought it would be nice to celebrate a good job jobbed by having his favourite food on the night.

Now anyone who has ever had anything to do with teenagers (and we all were one, right?) can attest to the fact that finding a "favourite" food - that is, putting your finger on just the one thing - is a tricky business.  Aside from pizza, that is.  ~rolls eyes~

Following on from some intense negotiating between hubby and I (you see, we wanted it to be a surprise for him), we settled on Spicy Chicken Wraps, followed by Fruity Lemon Tart.

Redcurrants and lemons - match made in face-puckering sourness, but oh so good!

We've had many incarnations of chicken wraps, over the months, and there appears to be two that are his particular favourites.  Firstly, it's the "Spicy Chicken pieces from Asda, baked, cut into slices and put into a wrap with sour cream and salsa" approach, and secondly its the "Coronation chicken - but make sure no Iceberg lettuce gets involved" approach.

Because the Coronation chicken option demands the use of leftover roast chicken that we hadn't planned for, we opted for the first version.  Again, this is a "make sure no Iceberg lettuce gets involved" sort of wrap, so we settled for some salad on the side - and left his plate gratifyingly (from his point of view) empty of all things green.

Somehow or another, a couple of Hash Browns managed to creep onto the plate.  I'm not sure how that happened - they must've mugged hubby at gunpoint and demanded to be cooked and included.

Son & heir was one happy teenager, that evening.  We had (purely by fluke), apparently hit upon his very favourite form of Chicken Wrap, so hallelujia to that!

Dessert was a complete and utter outrageous cheat.

Simply take a frozen Asda lemon tart (which are - unusually for Asda - extremely moreish) and throw a heap of some soft fruit or another on top.  In this case, we went for redcurrants and sprinkled them with icing sugar, just to control the mouth-puckering tartness.  Dear God, but it was gorgeous.

I know I'm supposed to cook the lemon tart from scratch, (not to mention the chicken pieces), but would son & heir appreciate all the effort that involved?  Somehow I doubt it - not when he's already got the flavours he loves, right there in a box from the supermarket!

One day I'll make the lemon tart - when it doesn't matter - then we'll see whose is best. 

Edited the following day, to say : guess what arrived in my email this morning, but a recipe for Greg Wallace's Tart au Citron!  Now I've no excuse!  LOL

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21 December 2011

Bobotie - the more simple version, but just as good!

It just goes to show how behind I am with keeping the blog up to date, that this blog post is about last Thursday's Bobotie!  I blame the advent of Christmas (literally!) with all its shopping and organising - not to mention racing Son & heir all over the neighbourhood, to keep up with his social engagements!

This Bobotie, however, just had to be blogged.  I've made Bobotie once before from a Rachel Allen recipe and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  That recipe, however, was a touch more complicated than this Kevin Dundon version.  I would liken the difference between the two to being a situation where you'd use the Rachel Allen one for a dinner party, whereas the Kevin Dundon version is far more suitable for a mid-week dinner for the family.

As such, it was perfect.  Satisfyingly simple to prepare, it even gave me time to cook some lovely carrot & parsnip mash (which I'd make again - simply boil some cut carrots, then add the parsnip when the carrots are nearly done.  Drain, add plenty of butter and black pepper and blitz until smooth.  Got the thumbs up from the whole family) and shredded cabbage, all of which went perfectly with the Bobotie.

Bobotie consists of a fairly dry (so a gravy is a must), mildly curry spiced, lamb mince mixture.  However, there are a couple of interesting turns that the meat mixture makes, not least the inclusion of a couple of slices of bread which have been soaked in milk.  On first reading, you need to suspend disbelief for a while and really concentrate on how you feel the flavours will meld together.  

Hand me a spoon, I could dive right in!

Owing to my having drained the fat from the meat, I found that I needed to add around 200ml of water to the meat mixture prior to putting it in the oven to bake, which next time I would make into vegetable stock rather than just water - and have included in the recipe below.  However, the flavours were gorgeous.  Slightly sweet, slightly spicy, very lamby and with a tangy edge, the egg mixture that is poured on top adds a mildly foamy, interesting layer once it has been baked.  It didn't resemble scrambled egg, or an omelette, or baked eggs - it has a texture and a flavour all of its own.

I'm very definitely going to include this as one of our regular standby meals.  For me, being on a low carbohydrate diet, it was completely perfect even with its one slice of bread.  Divide that into three portions and your body won't notice your third is even there.  It is one of those meals that, most pleasantly, you don't miss the lack of potatoes or some other carbohydrate input - and that makes a nice change!

BOBOTIE (the easier version)  Serves 3

Ingredients :

1 slice of bread
60ml milk
1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp grated ginger root
1 flat tsp mild curry powder
½ tsp turmeric
500g minced lamb
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp tomato chutney
¼ of a lemon, juiced
30g raisins
100-200ml vegetable stock
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
100ml milk (reserved from soaking the bread - for the topping).

Method :

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 170deg C/325deg F/Gas 3.

2.  Soak the bread in the milk for around 10 minutes, then strain (I helped it along with a little squeeze), reserving the milk and fluff the bread up with a fork.

3.  Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onions and saute until softened.  Add the garlic, ginger, curry powder and turmeric and mix quickly to coat the onions in the spices.  Remove from the pan and reserve somewhere to keep warm.

4.  Add the minced lamb to the pan and break up with a wooden spoon.  Fry until well browned, then drain off the fat - leaving the meat in the pan.

5.  Re-introduce the onion mixture to the pan and stir well to combine.  Add the sugar, mashed bread, chutney, lemon juice and raisins to the mixture and mix well again.  Add enough stock until you have the mixture moistened sufficiently, without becoming "saucy".  Season with salt & pepper to taste.

6.  Decant the mixture into a casserole dish, level the top and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

7.  For the topping, mix the milk and eggs together, then remove the casserole from the oven and pour the egg mixture on top of the meat.  Bake for a further 20 minutes or so, or until the egg mixture is browned on top and the edges are starting to sizzle.

8.  Serve.

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Looking back over the year since last Christmas

I know this sort of blog post is normally done closer to New Year than at Christmas, but this time of year gets me to thinking about all that's happened over the last 12 months.  I think it's because Christmas is something that I remember quite clearly, whereas New Year can all be a bit of a blur (for different reasons!).

I asked hubby what his favourite dishes were, of those I've cooked over the last 12 months.  We were both agreed that the best ones were the surprises.  Not "surprise" as in "sausage surprise", but the things that we'd never had before and which turned out to be completely delicious.

Things like the Baked Camembert.  That lovely warm, soft, melting cheese being dipped into with griddled asparagus spears.  Oh, truly To.Die.For.  We knew it was going to be good, but oh my word, how it surpassed being simply "good".


Again, the real taste revelation that was Black Pudding.  I'd never had black pudding before and had been too leery of it in the past, to try it.  I was so glad I did - and I suspect it was just at the right time.  It has a complicated flavour that has very little relation to blood, but has an intense savouriness that is just so great – in small doses – with all kinds of dishes.

Another surprise was the Borscht.  I'd been aware of this beetroot soup for donkey's years, but hadn't ever tried any.  To be honest, up until the last couple of years, I'd been carrying a childhood dislike of beetroot.  However, my re-awakened interest in food and cooking has woken me up to many different flavours, one of which was the humble beetroot.  I certainly wasn't anticipating the depth of flavour, nor the complicated levels of flavour that the Borscht brought.

Oh, and while we're thinking along beetroot lines - how about the Chocolate & Beetroot Cake!  Now there was a really delightful surprise.   I've since made the cake on three different occasions - two of which were (very successfully) for family birthday parties.  Generally, the news that the lovely chocolate cake before them is, in fact, made with beetroot (along with chocolate) sends eyebrows shooting skywards in surprise.  It is fun to watch everyone taking their first bite and waiting to be assailed by a beetroot club, only to find a gloriously moist and sticky, chocolatey mouthful of loveliness instead.

Another big surprise came from another humble vegetable.  Who'd have thought that a couple of avocados could make such an unctuous, gorgeous, incredibly moreish, dessert when coupled with a tin of condensed milk, a couple of limes and a packet of digestives!  If you're in any doubt, give the Avocado Pie a go.  I bet you'll be as pleasantly surprised as we were.

Something else that came as a surprise, was the Cream of Celery Soup.  Now we knew that this soup stood every possibility of being lovely, but the actuality was (again) so much more.  In comparison, I can quite categorically confirm that the tinned soup tastes as much like Celery as its label does, i.e. not at all.  Who knew such an unassuming vegetable packed so much flavour, that was so successfully eradicated in the tinned version?

For me, one of the big surprises of the year has been my immediate acceptance of Goat's Cheese.  I had always been vehemently against Goat's Cheese, not in general but as something liable to cross my plate.

Not Harvey - but his absolute double, horns and all!

This is entirely down to a Goat I used to know, by the name of Harvey, who was the smelliest most disreputable creature known to man.  He was a lovely boy really, but God, did he stink!

Woodlands Park, Cobham - the scene of the crime!
My most stellar experience with Harvey was when I received a phone call from his owner to say Harvey had escaped and was holding the guests of a local Hotel hostage as he prowled their lounge - and could we do him a favour and go and retrieve him?  We found Harvey happily munching his way along a trail of bread rolls which led out of the door of the Lounge - except every time he reached the door, instead of going out he'd turn back and ask for more.  Not being frightened of him, we quickly grabbed a horn each and frog-marched him back along the road to his pen, where he was quickly attached to a long chain to prevent any further ideas of Hotel domination.

For years, though, the smell of goat's cheese was just too reminiscent of the smell of Harvey to be anywhere near palatable.  After all, I knew what he'd done to himself to create such a green miasma to hover above his head - and it didn't make me think "yummy!".  Nope.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I ventured tentatively into goat's cheese with the New Potato, Bacon & Goat's Cheese salad and absolutely loved it.  Seems like even a rampant male goat can become acceptable, if you add twenty or so years to the mix!

So, with that trip down my culinary memory lane completed, it just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and the best of all things in the year to come.  Who knows what I might try, next year.

I've always had a hankering to try some truffles ....  

17 December 2011

Cinnamon Plum & Apple Crunch

Remember the Baked Cinnamon Plums & Cranberries I made recently?

This is another dessert dish, created both from memories of a dish my Mum used to make (with buttered bread on top, which toasted in the oven) and further ponderings on what to do with lovely purple plums.

I think I was as pleased with this one, as I was with the first - although they are quite different in character.  Both hubby and Son & heir enjoyed this, more crunchy, one and gave it a "thumbs up" and would be happy to have it again.

I would, however, change one aspect of the recipe - and have reflected that in the recipe below.  I used dark brown muscovado sugar to make the cinnamon sugar for the toasts.  However, it over caramelised in the oven and was just short of burning.  With the oven at only 160deg F, I was surprised by that.  So I reckon if I was to use a soft brown demarara sugar instead, it would keep more of its character for longer.  The dark brown sugar is so close to being toffee already, it obviously doesn't take long for it to get there!

Again, it's a recipe that can be adapted to use any fruit that bakes well - the world is your oyster, where that's concerned.  So don't think you're constrained to use just Plums & Apples - I would imagine that a Strawberry & Rhubarb version would be absolutely divine.

CINNAMON PLUM & APPLE CRUNCH  (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

4-5 fat purple plums, de-stoned and sliced finely
1 Bramley Apple, peeled, cored and sliced finely
2-3 tbsp water
a splosh of spiced rum2-3 tbsp runny honey
3 slices of bread, buttered quite thickly
1 tsp cinnamon (or any other Christmas spice)
1 tbsp soft brown demarara sugar.

Method :

1.  Take a fairly deep baking dish and add the sliced plums and apples to it, spreading them out until you've as much of a level surface as you can get.

2.  Add the water, rum and drizzle the honey over the top of the fruit.

3.  Take the buttered bread and cut each slice into four triangles. 

4.  On a plate, mix the cinnamon (or spices) with the sugar and dip the buttered side of each bread triangle into the mixture.

5.  Place each triangle on top of the fruit mixture, crust side down and point end up, laying them slightly backwards.  Place another triangle in front of the last, so that you wind up with two lines of interlinked triangles which should cover the top of the fruit.

6.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 160deg C/325deg F/Gas 3 for 20-25 minutes, or until the bread has firmed up and toasted and the fruit is tender.

7.  Cool slightly and serve with double cream or a blob of greek yoghurt.

Scrummy!

Red Cabbage with Cranberries

I'd had it in the back of my mind that it would be interesting to work with cranberries a little, over this Christmas period.  I had never tussled with the little lovelies before, yet I know for sure that Cranberry Juice is one of the family favourites (as and when we can find some that's affordable or not sweetened with Aspartame), so there was no reason to believe we wouldn't like them.


Hence, when I spotted the recipe for "Red cabbage with balsamic vinegar & cranberries" (ridiculously long name!) in the Christmas edition of Good Food Magazine, it was a definite "cut out and keep" moment.

I'm not sure which thought came first, the "I should make Corned Beef Pie" or the "I should make the Red Cabbage & Cranberries - Corned Beef Pie will go well with it" thought.  I suspect that they happened around the same time, as I seem to have been pairing them up in my mind since that moment.

As red cabbage and cranberries are both good from an anti-inflammatory point of view, I was even keener to make this dish.

It really is simplicity personified to make.  It's a one-pot, on the hob, no fuss series of ingredients being included and stirred.  I will admit to tinkering about with it slightly, in that I completely abhor the flavour of cloves for some reason, so I included caraway seeds instead.  Caraway is a perfectly compatible flavour, but if you prefer cloves, then by all means swap it back!

I loved the end result.  It did indeed go extremely well with the Corned Beef Pie, in that the sweetness from the fruit and balsamic was a perfect foil for the chilli heat involved with the pie.  I've got to say that, even when I ate the remainder for lunch the following day - cold, with the remains of the Corned Beef Pie - it was just as lovely.  I'm thinking that, cold, it would make a gorgeous barbecue side dish for those balmy evenings we're supposed to get, come summer!

RED CABBAGE WITH CRANBERRIES  (serves 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp caraway seeds (or ground cloves, if you prefer)
Half a red cabbage, quartered cored and thinly sliced
100ml vegetable stock
1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
50g brown sugar
100g fresh cranberries.

Method :

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add the onions and fry on a low to medium heat, stirring every now and then for around 10 minutes or until they start to caramelise.

2.  Stir in the caraway seeds (or cloves) then add the cabbage and continue cooking, stirring more frequently to distribute the cabbage evenly across the pan and prevent burning, until the cabbage has started to soften.

3.  Pour in the stock, add the vinegar and sugar, then cover and cook for 10 minutes.  You may need to give it all a stir or two around the end of the cooking time, just to check how the liquid levels are doing.

4.  Stir in the cranberries and cook for another 10 minutes.  You may need to add a little more water, if the pan appears to be going dry.

5.  Once the cranberries are softened and beginning to burst, remove from the heat and season to taste.

6.  Serve.

Corned Beef Pie - plain storecupboard food!

This recipe was another exercise in recreating a flavour from my past.

Before I owned my own horse, my best friend and I went on a riding holiday in the New Forest.  The very first night we were there, after an afternoon of gallivanting about the countryside on horseback, we settled down to a completely gorgeous pie.  Everyone was intrigued by this pie and much discussion was had, back and forth across the table, about its ingredients while its creator (the housekeeper) sat with an enigmatic smile, enjoying the banter.  The pie's filling was soft, like lamb, but tomatoey like baked beans, quite dense, fried onions, quite peppery, shortcrust pastry and a deliciously savoury thick sauce.
Well, it turned out to be corned beef pie.

Now, in the past, I've had one or two goes at recreating the pie - none of which have been the least bit successful.  However, with my (relatively) new found culinary experience and several very successful attempts at recreating flavours from our youth (the Nasi Goreng and Kentish Pie, for instance), I was quite confident about getting it right, this time.

I felt that the key to the pie was to keep the ingredients for the filling simple.  After all, it stood to reason that something billed as "corned beef pie" was unlikely to have a great long ingredients list.  I can remember going down the tinned tomatoes route and failing miserably, as that made the tomato aspect too tart.  It needed to be softly tomatoey.  Having just made the Green Couscous, which involves frying an onion until it is caramelised, then adding a touch of cumin and some salt, got me to thinking about the worth of doing something similar for the Corned Beef Pie.  The tiny touch of cumin was sufficient to provide a background warmth that just brought the couscous a hidden depth - and so it did for the pie.

Served with beef gravy - you've got to have gravy!
I really enjoyed the end result, as did Son & heir (which tells you that it's child-friendly, depending on how much chilli you include!).  Hubby wasn't so enraptured as we were and reported that the chilli made the pie a little bit hard work to get through for him.  Which is fine - it just means that I'll reduce the amount of chilli in the next one and hopefully it will hit the spot for him.  I may even ditch the chilli flakes and go for a shake or two of cayenne pepper, which will provide a quiet warmth rather than the more frisky heat of the chilli flakes.

I served the pie with a Red Cabbage & Cranberry dish, which was completely gorgeous.  The two went together so well, I suspect I'll be repeating the exercise.  In addition, I served some carrot & parsnip mash which almost made a suitable exchange for mashed potato, but I did miss the texture of mashed potato.  The carrot/parsnip mash came up a little wetter than I would have liked, but I suspect that a greater degree of parsnip to carrot would have helped that along a bit.  The flavour of the carrot/parsnip mash was delightful - especially with some freshly ground black pepper mixed in.

So, with all those Christmas Hampers winging their way around the country, if you find yourself with a can of Corned Beef that you don't know what to do with - try Corned Beef Pie!  I'm sure you won't regret it.  I even ate the remaining piece for lunch the next day, when it was just as nice cold as it had been hot - which makes me think "picnic!".

CORNED BEEF PIE  (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
½ tsp ground cumin
1 x 415g can Heinz baked beans
a pinch of chilli flakes if you like a chilli kick, or a couple of shakes of cayenne pepper, if not.
1 x 340g can good quality Corned Beef, fat deposits removed
1 tbsp tomato ketchup

Plus : shortcrust pastry, enough for top and bottom of your 8" pie dish and a little milk.

Method :

1.  Pre-heat your oven to 180deg C/350deg F/Gas 4.

2.  In a frying pan, heat the oil and add the chopped onions.  Fry gently until the onions have begun to caramelise and are softly golden brown.  Add the cumin and stir well.

3.  Add the baked beans and heat through, adding the chilli or cayenne and the tomato ketchup.  Stir to combine.

4.  Once the mixture is heated through, add the cubed Corned Beef.  From this point on, it is undesirable to stir the mixture very much, or the cubes of corned beef will dissolve into a mush.  What you want, is to retain the individual pieces as much as possible.

5.  Taste to determine whether any more seasoning is required and season to taste as necessary.

6.  Leave to cool slightly, while you roll out your pastry and line the pie dish with the first piece.

7.  Add the filling mixture to the pie dish and spread out evenly, ideally with a peak at the middle.

8.  Brush a little milk around the edges of the bottom pastry and lay the second piece of pastry over the top of the pie, completely covering it.  Press down around the edges and crimp to seal.  Cut off the extra pastry, to neaten the edges.  Remember to make three small cuts to the surface of the pie, to allow steam to escape, then glaze by brushing on the remaining milk.

9.  Bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

10.  Serve.

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