Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea cream

Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea creamDespite the (hopefully sarcastic) pleas of my friends, I have no desire to ever enter Come Dine With Me – the dinner-party-show-cum-torture-device, as (quite apart from the inherent humiliation involved) dinner parties are really not ‘me’ – I simply cannot remember the last time I produced a formal, three-course meal. If I ever WERE to give in however, this is definitely the dish I’d make, being super-easy to make ahead, deliciously tasty and with lots of wow-factor. And if you’re not the dinner party type either, it makes a fabulous light lunch and surprisingly enough even travels well (chilled) for picnics or packed lunches!

Beetroot tartlets with chilled pea cream
Serves 6

350g raw beetroot
2 medium white onions, peeled & finely sliced
Butter, for frying
30g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
a few thyme sprigs
1 x 375g pack all-butter puff pastry
100g frozen peas
100ml double cream
1/2 lemon
75g hard goats cheese

You will also need 6 x 9cm diameter tartlet moulds/tins, lightly greased with butter or oil.

Continue reading for the recipe….

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce

The provenance of this recipe is quite mixed – the leeks are of course quintessentially British, the soy and ginger in the dip are very Chinese (as is my accompaniment of egg fried rice), but I’ve added a touch of Vietnam too with the white peppercorns – a pungent and aromatic spice that is so different from regular black pepper, and which instantly transports me with memories of my honeymoon.  The result is, I think, a very happy fusion and quite unlike anything I’ve had in any restaurant, whether it be Chinese, Vietnamese or any other.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauceMaking these gyoza is super-easy if – like me – you keep a packet of gyoza ‘skins’ or wrappers in the freezer. Commercially sold gyoza skins are so much thinner than anything you can make at home and are perfect for quick steamed dumplings like these (though if you want to pan-fry these you could of course make up a batch of your favourite dough – I like Ken Hom’s recipe). The wrappers take half an hour or so to defrost at room temperature (during which time you can be making the filling and the dipping sauce), but be sure to keep them under a damp cloth to stop them drying out.

Leek and ginger pork gyoza with soy dipping sauce
Serves 4-6

550g minced pork (absolutely NOT the kind sold as ‘lean’ – it’s essential to have fat in there or the dumplings will be too dry)
1 large leek, finely diced
2 tbsp finely diced fresh ginger
1 tbsp white peppercorns, freshly ground
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 tbsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
35-40 gyoza wrappers (I use Imperial Dragon brand, bought from Wing Yip), defrosted if frozen

For the dipping sauce:
125ml rice vinegar
75g caster sugar
2cm ginger, finely diced or grated
2 spring onions, finely diced
1 hot red chilli, finely diced (a scotch bonnet, though not authentic, is tastiest, use a birdseye chilli – seeds and all – for a more traditional flavour)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime

Start the dipping sauce first, as the gyoza are actually very quick to make. Start by dissolving the sugar with the vinegar in a small saucepan over a low heat, then increase the heat and simmer vigorously until it has reduced by about a third and is quite syrupy. Allow this to cool then stir in the remaining ingredients.

For the gyoza, simply mix together all the filling ingredients, then assemble them one at a time (to stop them drying out too much) by placing a heaped spoonful of filling in the centre of each gyoza wrapper, running a wet finger around the edge (this becomes the ‘glue’), then folding over into a semi-circle and pressing together gently to seal, expelling any air as you go. Place them on a baking tray and keep them covered whilst you do the rest. They keep for a day in the fridge, tightly covered with clingfilm, or they freeze well. To cook, line a large steamer basket with a sheet of greaseproof paper and lay the gyoza onto it in a single layer, not touching each other (they stick easily). Steam for 4-5 minutes until the pork is just cooked through – it is important not to overcook them as the filling will become bouncy and tough rather than tender and meltingly soft.

This recipe makes around 35-40 dumplings, a generous 4 portions if accompanied by rice and pickles, or they will obviously serve more if you are having them alone as a starter.  I served them with egg fried rice and some speedy carrot & cucumber pickles, the recipes of which will follow soon…..


Topless Tart: Roasted baby tomato and pesto tart with a Parmesan crust

Roasted tomato & pesto tart with Parmesan crustIt’s been a long time since I took part in a food blogger event, but I couldn’t resist joining in with this month’s cheekily titled ‘Topless Tarts’ Monthly Mingle, hosted by one of my favouritest bloggers, Jeanne of Cook Sister!

For me, a homemade tart is all about the pastry. There’s no end of clever and tasty fillings for a tart, and shops have sold most of them at some time or another, but where a homemade tart can beat shop-bought hands down is with carefully made, fresh from the oven, tender, crumbly pastry – there’s just nothing to beat it! The key to good pastry is twofold: keep everything cold, and work fast. For the serious cook with time on their hands, I would advise a one-to-one session with an expert, exploring all the nuances of the words ‘chopping in’, ‘pecking’ and ‘frasiering’ – pâtissiere terms for the three delicate manoeuvres used to create top quality pastry in restaurants. For the more everyday, I would recommend a Magimix. The food processor will work far faster than you ever can, and by not touching the pastry yourself you avoid the pastry getting hot and greasy. You can even chill the blade in advance (if you’re that organised!) for even better results.

With most types of pastry, chilling it before rolling, and again after lining the tart tin, protects against shrinking during cooking. The hefty amount of Parmesan in this crust means some shrinking is unavoidable as the cheese melts, so make sure you use a deep tart tin and line it all the way to the top, so when it is cooked it will still be several centimetres deep.

Read on for the recipe…

Seville orange curd tart

Seville orange curd tart

I adore fruit curd tarts, but finding the right balance between creamy unctuousness and tart citrus can be difficult for any but the most experienced pâtissier to achieve. Seville oranges are therefore a novice’s dream, as they are both sharp and bitter – but without too much of the intense mouth-puckering sourness of a lemon – and therefore make the most divine curd.

Sevilles have a very limited season (December-February), but they freeze well, either whole or already juiced, and if you make them into curd you can store them in this form in the fridge for a couple of months and bring a ray of sunshine to any day.  They’re available for just a few more weeks so, having made my annual batch of marmalade, I looked to this tart recipe which is almost word-for-word from Nigella Lawson’s excellent book, “How To Eat“. Pastry making is more of a scientific procedure than any other form of cookery, and it requires precise balances of ingredients, but my inclusion of a little lemon peel in the base is an addition which doesn’t interfere with the balance of the pastry.

Ingredients for the pastry:
120g extra fine plain flour
60g butter (cold from the fridge), in small cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch finely grated lemon zest
Ingredients for the filling:
3 eggs + 2 extra yolks
100g caster sugar
75g muscavado sugar
4 Seville oranges – zest & juice
150g butter, in small cubes

First, make the pastry case by mixing the flour and butter until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs (I recommend using a Magimix, or other food processor if possible, as it keeps the mixture cooler than rubbing-in with your fingers). Nigella recommends freezing the butter & flour for 10 mins before mixing, but so long as the butter is cold and hard, and you work quickly, this isn’t essential. Beat the egg yolk with the lemon juice and zest and add to the flour/butter mix, with the motor running on the processor, or whilst mixing with a fork if doing by hand. Keep mixing until the dough forms a smooth ball – you may need to add a few drops of iced water to bring it all together. Leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour, well wrapped in cling film.

Preheat the oven to 200oC/180fan/Gas mark 6. Roll the pastry out nice and thin, using as little flour as possible (you don’t want baked flour coating the base of your lovely tart!). Use the pastry to line a 20cm fluted loose-bottomed tart tin (the fluted edge isn’t essential, but it looks so pretty and is less likely to show up flaws in a novice pastry-maker). I like to gently prick the pastry base to stop it puffing up, but make sure you don’t plough big holes for the filling to pour out of. If you’re particularly concerned about shrinkage you can chill the pastry again, in the tart tin, for another 30 minutes, but I’m too impatient, and I’ve never had a problem yet. Trim the top edge of the tart with a small sharp knife, and line with a little sheet of greaseproof paper and some baking beans (or dried rice and lentils). A useful tip here is to dampen the greaseproof paper and scrunch it up into a ball before flattening out again, you’ll then be able to neatly line the soft delicate pastry without pressing big rigid marks in it. Put the tart tin on a baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and baking beans/rice and allow the tart to get some colour back in the oven for another 15 mins at the lower temperature of 180oC/160fan/Gas mark 4. Keep a beady eye on it for the second half of cooking – it may not require the full 15 minutes and overly browned pastry is a friend to no-one.

Allow the tart to cool whilst you make the filling. Off the hob, in a smallish heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and both sugars together (I recommend using a metal coil whisk, in which case don’t use your best non-stick pan!). You want it to be well mixed without any discernible traces of sugar granules, and definitely no lumps. Try not to get the sugar up the sides of the pan or it will stick. Whisk in the juice and zest of the Seville oranges, and then the butter cubes. Now put the pan on a medium hob and stir constantly and evenly whilst the mixture melts, seethes and starts to bubble. I’d switch to a wooden spoon at this stage, preferably one with a corner to it so you can get to all edges of the pan. Once it comes to the boil take it off the heat and pour straight into the tart shell and leave in the fridge to cool and set. When ready to serve, I recommend lightly glazing the top with a blowtorch (extra sugar should not be required, unless you’re going for a glass-like finish). Don’t use a grill as the heat will not be direct enough and you’ll end up with scorched edges on your pastry. Serve as it is or with a spoonful of creme fraiche.

Makes 1 x 20cm tart – enough to serve 4 greedy people, or 8 with a more restrained slice each.

Divine cheese and ham pie/tart

This isn’t a recipe so much as a formula, designed for leftovers. We still have a whole fridge shelf full of cheese from Christmas, plus the last of the Boxing Day ham, so I put them together in this super-indulgent tart/pie/turnover which is the absolute antithesis to the defacto January health food and diets. Yes it’s rich, but how often will you eat something like this? A little of what you fancy does you good……….

Cheese & ham tartTake 1 block all-butter puff pastry and roll out to a large rectangle (to fit your baking sheet), about 4mm thick. Brush the border of the pastry with milk, then brush with Dijon mustard all over the centre, up to the milk border.

Cover the bottom half of the pastry with a layer of finely grated cheese – I used Ossau-Iraty and Emmenthal – then top with shredded ham. Dollop small blobs of creme fraiche (if you have it in the house), or mayo (more likely!) at intervals, all over the ham. Grind pepper over generously. Top with slices of brie and any remaining grated cheese.

Fold the pastry top over the bottom half, and seal the edges with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes if you have time, then brush with more milk and bake at 200C/Gas 6 for 25 minutes or until golden all over.

Serve with a little something to cut through the richness – some tomatoes and pickles, or a fresh green salad with sharp vinaigrette.

Serves 4 people.

Oven-dried tomato and Blue Vinny tart

Oven-dried tomato & blue vinny tart There are many myths revolving around the making of arguably Dorset’s finest cheese – the Blue Vinny. Tales abound of orders placed by moonlight, deliveries made in secret and (rather less palatably) – the use of old horses harnesses being dragged through the milk to give it its characteristic flavour. Whatever the history, Blue Vinny is now a well-renowned cheese, quite hard and crumbly, with a beautiful mellow blue flavour. It is one of my favourite cheeses (much better than Stilton!) and as much as I love to eat it on its own, I also love to cook with it.

My two favourite recipes for Blue Vinny are both inspired (or taken from) TV chefs. Sometime back when River Cottage was still a small holding dream, rather than the enormous enterprise it is today, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a little competition with a local cheesemaker’s daughter to see who could come up with the best Blue Vinny accompaniment to some purple-sprouting broccoli. The two sauces they chose as the victors – and took to the local farmer’s market – were a creme fraiche, honey & thyme one, and a hot blue cheese and bacon one. The hot sauce won overall victory in the end, but it got me thinking – why not combine the flavours? After a little kitchen experimentation I came up with a delectable hot sauce – crispy bacon lardons fried with thyme and seasoned with honey, stirred together with handfuls of grated Blue Vinny and a dollop of cream. The result is divine, but as it is clearly so calorific merely writing about it has made me gain a pound or two, I save it for special occasions, and only make it when I have an obscene glut of purple sprouting broccoli on my hands.*

My other favourite recipe for Blue Vinny comes from Mr Rick Stein. Continue reading for a yummy recipe of tomatoes and Blue Vinny….