Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tomato & Chilli

I think if I could add chilli to almost every dish, I would. Just a hint of heat. I stop myself because a) that would be weird and b) I cannot eat anything hot without an ice cold glass of wine or beer, and as I am trying to cut down on mid-week alcohol, it would not be prudent….Then I spotted this recipe in Harry Eastwood’s ‘A Salad for All Seasons’  and as I had a lonely fat chilli slowly withering in the fridge, along with a surplus of cherry tomatoes, I decided to give it a go. I have also just had some ‘pantry’ shelves installed in my utility room, which are crying out for rows of home-made jars of deliciousness. And delicious it is. I have popped it on practically everything I have eaten since; crunchy cheddar cheese, left over roast chicken, smoked salmon, omelette, jacket potato and stirred into creme fraiche for a dip for chips. A bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon has also disappeared. Oopsie.

I adapted Harry’s recipe a bit as I knew my chilli was fiery, (she recommends 5) but go with what is available and how hot you like it.

It’s so easy to make – and looks stunning on the table.

INGREDIENTS – makes 1 x 350ml jar

300ml wine wine vinegar

300g caster sugar

One large or two small red chillis

6-7 cherry tomatoes

METHOD

– Warm the vinegar and add the sugar until melted

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– scoop out the cherry tomatoes (you could easily use normal tomatoes actually)

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– chop the chilli (I don’t have a photo of this, but I think you know how it looks!)

– add to the pan and simmer for 15 mins (look, I’ve made up for it with two more pics of the pan!)

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– pour into a sterilised jar (put it in the oven on 180 for 15 mins, then cool)

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– cool, add a wax seal if you’re thinking of keeping (sure about that?) along with a smug, hand-written label!

Obviously if you have a surfeit of chillies (as we inexplicably did one year in our tiny veg patch) make a large batch and give some away to friends. This will mean you can then greedily but shamelessly help yourself whenever you eat at their place…

Apple & Blackberry

Blackberries are one of the few foods for me that really are still truly seasonal;  their flavour has the effect that strawberries used to – transporting me immediately back to the last few days of summer, and blackberry picking walks, collecting as many bramble scratches on my forearms as fruit in my soft-scoop carton.  Their inky shine and spicy mustiness is almost too exotic for an English fruit, but English it is, and as such it is most commonly found in crumbles, puddings and pies come September, often combined with its soulmate, the Bramley apple.

The cultivated variety, sold in supermarkets look fabulous – prodigiously bursting with juice, but lack the intensity of the wild blackberries, grown at the mercy of our unpredictable weather. So, imagine if you will, my excitement last August when, while walking a golf course with my family, we spotted berries with the same magnificent looks, but hanging proudly off a large clump of bushes (beneath a heavily laden apple tree – you couldn’t make it up). In a state of slightly embarrassing excitement, I commandeered every improvised receptacle in sight to collect the bounty. Several baseball hats and gathered golf towels did the trick, and we returned the following day with Tupperware to do the job properly.

There was so much fruit that I was able to make several pots of jam (combined with cherries also found on the same walk) and a couple of blackberry and almond tarts before squirrelling the remainder away in the freezer. I have been chucking the odd handful into milkshakes ever since, but pulled the rest out last week to combine with the last of the my father’s Bramleys in an apple traybake. This is really versatile as it can be served with coffee or as a dessert with custard. This is just as well, as it can’t hang around – the sugar loses its crunch indecently early – after about a day, so although it’s still good, immediate gobbling is recommended!

INGREDIENTS – makes about 10 – 12 pieces

450g cooking apples (such as Bramley)

Two good handfuls of blackberries

juice of ½ lemon

225g butter, softened

280g golden caster sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

350g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp milk

demerara sugar, to sprinkle

METHOD

– Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line a traybake tin (approx 27cm x 20cm) with parchment paper.

– Peel, core and thinly slice the apples and squeeze over the lemon juice.

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– Remove your blackberries from the freezer if you need to – they don’t need to be completely thawed.

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– Place the butter, caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and mix well until smooth, adding the milk as you go.

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– Spread half the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange half the apples and blackberries over the top of the mixture, then repeat the layers.

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– Arrange blackberries and slices of apple on top and sprinkle over the demerara sugar.

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– Bake for 45-50 mins until golden and a skewer come out clean. Leave to cool for 10 mins, then turn out of tin and remove paper. Cut into bars or squares.

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If you can you get hold of blackberries where you are, let me know how you cook with them!

Rhubarb & Vanilla

My internet has been playing up over the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been able to post. I know this is a cardinal sin when you are setting up a blog, so yes, it’s annoying. However, it’s also heresy not to market your blog via every social media platform going, and I’ve so far failed at that too.  I haven’t been lazy tho’ – I have three flavour pairings to post, which I will endeavour to do this week, and I am also determined to up my views and comments, as this blog was conceived in the spirit of sharing…

This weekend I was invited to lunch with one of my dearest friends and family, and as I had some deliciously pink rhubarb in the fridge, I offered to make a rhubarb tart. I was also ridiculously excited about using my new long tart tin, so it made perfect sense to combine the two.  Forced rhubarb is in season here and I love its deep crimson colour and exotic floral flavour. I confess however, to usually only making crumble. I think one of the main reasons I haven’t experimented more is the fact that it is so polarising.  So many people claim to dislike rhubarb that whenever I have cooked a crumble for guests I am minded to also knock up an alternative dessert, and it’s almost always surprising who does and doesn’t choose the crumble. ‘It’s the stringiness’ they say, but if cooked properly it should never be stringy, just satisfyingly smooth and silky. Or ‘It’s sour!”. I agree, it is, and it does need a careful balancing with sugar to take the edge off while still retaining that sophisticated tartness.

Of course it’s most known for its pairing with vanilla, mostly in the form of custard (which was my inspiration for this tart) but it’s also fabulous with orange (which I also made use of here) and spices – although I prefer it without, as I feel the flavours tend to fight each other rather than complement. It’s also rather wonderful with almonds, which is why I put some in the pastry, but it’s really not necessary. I also really like this sweet pastry recipe – sometimes I find sweet pastry just too rich, but this was perfect.

INGREDIENTS – serves 8

FOR THE RHUBARB

700g forced rhubarb

50g caster sugar

Juice half an orange

1 tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE PASTRY

225G plain flour

25g ground almonds

2 tbsp icing sugar

140 unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk

FOR THE CREME PATISSERIE

250ml whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 large egg yolks

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp flour

25ml double cream

METHOD

–  First make the pastry by putting the flour, sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor and blitz.

– While the motor is still running, add the egg yolk and enough iced water to combine and tip out, form very gently into a ball, wrap in cling film and pop in to the fridge for half an hour

– Now make the ‘creme pat’. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flours in a largish bowl.

– Heat the milk and vanilla until just simmering.

–  Whisk in the hot milk and strain through a sieve back into the pan on a low heat, and stir until thickened.

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– Transfer into a bowl and cover. Chill for at least an hour.

– Remove the pastry from  the fridge and roll out 2mm thick. Line your fluted tart tin (12 x 35xm). leaving the edge overhanging. Make sure you press carefully into the corners.

– Bake blind for 15 mins in an oven 200c/gas 6. Remove the baking beans and bake uncovered for another 8 mins. Keep a sharp eye on it so it doesn’t get too brown on the edges.

– Saw off the overhanging pastry (and shove in mouth!) and with a pastry brush, brush egg white over the bottom surface for extra proofing against leakage! Leave to cool.

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– Lastly, cut your rhubarb into batons which will fit snuggly inside your pastry case.

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– Melt the sugar in the water, vanilla and orange juice. Strain to get rid of any orange bits, and poach the batons in a  shallow pan for no more than 5 mins at a simmer. It’s important that you cover the rhubarb with water, so add more if you need to.

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–  After 5 mins, take the pan off the heat and cool. Every now and then spoon some of the warm liquid over the tops of the batons to ensure they are all evenly cooked. Do not try to turn them over as they will fray!

– Add the cream to the creme pat to loosen it and make it spreadable. Add a bit more if you need to.

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– Spread the creme pat over the base of the pastry case and carefully line up the batons on top all the way down the tin. Be very cautious when you lift the batons out as their delicate fibres can spoil – use a pallette knife.

– Reduce the poaching liquid down to make a syrup and glaze the fruit (and pastry if it’s a nice thick syrup) before serving.

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Isn’t the pink stunning?I like the fact that the golden custard peaks through at the edges, and is especially cheering at this time of year.

True to form, I made an alternative desert – apple meringue – using the left over egg whites, which was actually more popular with my lunch companions! This was no problem for the rhubarb lovers however, as second helpings were unsurprisingly easy to accommodate…