The Best of Jane Grigson (Book Review)

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Before I begin this review I should declare that Jane Grigson is probably my favourite food writer of all time. So yes, this review will be a tad biased because there was no way on earth that I was not going to like this book.

Why am I such a fan of Jane Grigson? Unlike many of her food writing peers she never talks down to the reader. At no point when you read her recipes (which are eloquently written) do you feel like you are being barked at by a home economist ready to rap you across the knuckles if you make a mistake. Her familiar tone is more reminiscent of today’s writers like Nigella or Jamie. Many of her books were published in the 1970s & 1980s considered by some a culinary wasteland marred by convenience foods and a general beigeness. Yet Jane’s work demonstrated that food could be colourful and above all delicious. She also had a keen interest in food history and tradition which I also share. To quote Roy Fullick, the compiler of this anthology:

“As Jane herself wrote in the introduction to Good Things: ‘Anyone who likes to eat can soon learn to cook well.’ Her books and articles provide and invaluable guide to achieving that culinary success.’

Enough said.

What is the essence of the book?

Roy Fullick has compiled a book of Jane’s recipes as a tribute to her culinary skills and scholarship. It was originally published in 1992 but has been re-released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death. The recipes have been sourced from her articles as the cookery writer in the Observer and from her numerous books including her first Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, which was the result of four years of research.

About the author

Like so many good food writers Jane did not start out life as a home economist or food writer. She read English Literature at Cambridge and became a picture researcher for a London publisher. It was becoming the owner of a small house in France with her husband Geoffrey that sparked her interest in food. She divided her time between France and England although her recipes are influenced by cultures much further afield.

Following her death from cancer in 1990 an educational trust was set up in her memory. For more information about it visit www.janegrigsontrust.org.uk

Who will like it?

Obviously if you are already a fan like me you’ll love it. However, if you have never heard of Jane Grigson and want to find out more then this book is an ideal place to start. Be warned though that you may end up buying lots more of her books as a result!

Who won’t like it?

Part of the joy of Jane’s work is the way she writes so if you don’t like leisurely introductions to recipes then this book probably won’t appeal to you. Equally, if you have every single one of Jane’s books and articles then you probably don’t need this book. But there again there may be one or two in this collection that you don’t have…

What do I like about the book?

I like the way the book has been set out. It would have been easy to devote a chapter to each of her books. However, Fullick has chosen to collect them by the areas that influenced Jane’s writing. So you have chapters like At Home in England and The America’s. Each chapter includes recipes from across the range of her books. What it has made me realise is that she drew her inspiration from a far broader sphere than I had ever considered before. It makes for an eclectic and fascinating collection of recipes.

What do I dislike about the book?

Frankly, the lack of pictures with each recipe doesn’t bother me. However, I know that many people will find this disconcerting and would perhaps regard the book as being dull as a result. All I can say is that this would be a poor excuse not to buy this book. Jane’s recipes are easy to follow and I have never yet tried one that hasn’t worked. Plus if you don’t have a picture who’s to say the recipe didn’t turn out as it should?

Would I cook from it?

Yes!

Where can you buy it?

The Best of Jane Grigson is available from Grub Street priced £20

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Coq au Bacchus

Serves 4

Coq au Bacchus 1

When the late Christen Monge handed me a glass of Kingscote The Bacchus wine I really didn’t expect to like it. I don’t generally like white wine unless I’m drinking it with food but this was rather pleasant. Dry yet floral with plenty of citrus notes. It was a pleasure to drink.

I also thought it would be good to cook with. At £16.45 a bottle I know this seems a tad extravagant. But there are many chefs who would happily state that you should only ever cook with a wine you are prepared to drink. I think this is particularly true if the wine is to be a prominent feature of the dish as it is here.

This recipe is adapted from Coq au Riesling in Real Food by the wonderful Nigel Slater. It’s deliciously decadent and like Nigel I agree it needs nothing more than a green salad and perhaps some bread to go with it (you absolutely cannot waste this wonderful sauce).

Ingredients

  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 8 chicken thighs with skin and on the bone
  • 80g smoked pancetta or streaky bacon pieces
  • 8 shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 500ml The Bacchus wine
  • 200g mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper to season

Coq au Bacchus 2

Method

  1. Put the butter and oil in a large, lidded, shallow casserole or frying pan and heat until the butter has melted. Brown the chicken thighs over a medium heat until golden brown. Remove from the pan and reserve until required.
  2. Add more oil if necessary to the pan then add the pancetta or bacon and cook until beginning to brown then add the shallots. Once the shallots start to take on some colour add the garlic and mushrooms. Continue to cook for a minute or two.
  3. Tip the flour into the pan and cook for a minute before adding the wine, stirring as you do so. Once the sauce is bubbling and beginning to thicken return the chicken to the casserole. Cover and simmer for about 25 – 30 minutes turning the chicken from time to time. Once the chicken is cooked remove from the pan then add the mascarpone, chopped tarragon and seasoning.  If the sauce seems too thick for your liking you can always thin it with a bit more wine (assuming you haven’t already drunk it!). Once these have been thoroughly incorporated return the chicken to the pan and serve as described above.

You can make this recipe in advance. Cook the chicken as described above but do not add the mascarpone or tarragon until the chicken has been thoroughly reheated.

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Unnaturally Natural

I borrowed a pen from a friend several weeks ago. It was one of those promotional biros you frequently get given as a ‘free’ gift. There was nothing particularly remarkable about it. The off white, smooth plasticky feeling cylinder felt at ease in my hand and wrote like any other cheap pen. I forget which organisation it was promoting. What I do recall is seeing the words ‘made from recycled cornstarch’ inscribed on the side of its barrel.

Recycled cornstarch.

I mulled those words over before I returned the pen to it’s owner. In my food centric world cornstarch, or corn flour as we call it in the UK, is an edible ingredient. And this pen was about as an inedible an object you could find. How could something I use regularly to thicken sauces become a pen?

Swallow This Cover 2

Around the same time I was sent a review copy of a new book published by Joanna Blythman called Swallow This. It’s taken me some time to get through it. Blythman is a skilled writer and I have read many of her books. Her prose is informative and engaging. The issue lay not with her writing but with her subject matter. In the book she uncovers the truth behind those so called ‘clean labels’ for foods we believe to be wholesome but in reality are anything but. For a food savvy consumer such as myself it makes uncomfortable reading. If you’ve ever had that feeling in your stomach like you’ve swallowed a pound of lead when you realise you’ve been duped then you’ll know what I mean. It’s not pleasant reading.

It turns out that the food processing industry has plenty of dirty tricks up its sleeve to prolong the life of products which they are not obliged to declare on their labels. Take our friend starch. You and I will be familiar with starchy foods like flour, potatoes and rice but starch comes is a myriad of forms. It can be used to replace butter to make products lighter. It can stop ingredients from separating in sauces and soups. It can mimic fat in items like sausages and extend the life of yoghurts. As Blythman sums up:

“Whatever consistency is needed – crisp, crunchy, melting, creamy, succulent, gummy, mouth filling, elastic, smooth, shreddable, jellied, stringy, cuttable, short, cohesive or chewy – multi-tasking starch can deliver it.”

Plus it can be turned into pens.

The most worrying thing about these revelations is how little the manufacturer has to declare on the label. My generation has been brought up to mistrust E numbers. Manufacturers have become wise to this and now use ‘functional starches’ which are perceived as being cleaner, and ergo more ‘natural’, because they are not chemically altered (their structure is changed using things like heat instead). These will simply appear on labels as ‘starch’, ‘dextrin’ or ‘soluble fibre’.

Before you blow a gasket at the duplicitous nature of the food processing industry take some comfort in the fact that even Blythman with 25 years of investigative journalism under her belt didn’t realise the extent of their deception until she began delving into their ways and means. The fact of the matter is that we have all been conned. She even makes an apology in the introduction for dulling our appetite for products we use on a regular basis. It makes you realise that pretty much everything that comes in a jar, packet, can or tube has been tampered with. Nothing is sacred. This book is a testament to the fact that cooking from scratch is the only way to really know what is going into your food (although that also opens up the other can of worms regarding organic vs non organic products).

“These days, cooking is a powerful political statement, a small daily act of resistance that gives us significantly more control of our lives,” concludes Blythman.

Swallow This is uncomfortable yet compulsive reading. Just don’t pick it up right before you eat dinner.

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Swallow This by Joanna Blythman (4th Estate) is currently available on Amazon priced £10.49

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Brewing Britain Review

Brewing Britain

Before I launch headlong into this review, I should state for the record that I am not a beer drinker although I have watched the growth of craft breweries in recent years with interest. The variety of beers available now means that everyone should be able to find a beer to their liking. So whilst I am not a copious consumer of the stuff I do enjoy a glass of beer which has a bit more about it than a freezing cold pint of lager. As a cook I am naturally drawn to the process behind making it. As someone with an interest in history I’m eager to learn the story behind this process. So I hoped that Brewing Britain would fulfil both of these quests.

What is the essence of the book?

Brewing Britain is a comprehensive guide to how beer is brewed and how best to appreciate it. It wisely sidesteps away from being overly technical but remains incredibly informative. From how to taste beers, brewing your own (including gruit ales) and identifying the best beer festivals and brewing shops in the country, Brewing Britain pretty much covers it all.

About the author

As a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and CAMRA plus a host of drink accolades to his name, Andy Hamilton is definitely the right man to pen this book. As well as writing about it he also makes the stuff from farmed and foraged ingredients. Among his brewing recipes you will even find one for a hangover tea, which contains pine needles and calls to mind loo cleaner but having never tried it who am I to comment?

Who will like it?

Beer lovers (naturally), particularly those intrepid enough to want to make their own. If you are fairly new to the world of beer and want to learn more then this book would be a great place to start.

Who won’t like it?

If you can’t abide the stuff then you are unlikely to give this book space in your Amazon basket. Conversely, if you love drinking beer but really couldn’t give a fig about they whys and wherefores of its production then you’re probably not going to waste your valuable drinking time reading it.

What do I like about the book?

I like Andy’s informative style. He does a great job of conveying the technical information in an entertaining and easy to understand manner. I also love the fact that you can dip in and out of this book at leisure so there’s no reason to get technical beer overload.

What do I dislike about the book?

This is one is very personal to me but I would have loved to have seen a stand alone chapter on the history of beer. Andy does include snippets of historical information here and there (such as the use of herb bennet by the Benedictine monks in flavouring beer) which, for me, are really fascinating. As it stands Brewing Britain is a very good book it just didn’t quite tick all of my boxes.

Would I brew from it?

Yes, one day I would love to. I’ve tried fruit wines and now feel ready to progress onto beer. With Andy as my guide I’m sure it would be a breeze.

Where can you buy it?

Brewing Britain (Bantam Press) is available on Amazon from 18 June 2015 priced £9.99

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The Royal Heritage Cookbook Review

Royal Heritage Cookbook

I have to confess to being a little disappointed when I initially received The Royal Heritage Cookbook. On the smallish side it seemed fairly lightweight for something which took the author, The Honourable Sarah Macpherson two years to research and write. Given that it’s subtitle is ‘Recipes from High Society and The Royal Court’ I expected something, well, altogether grander particularly as the book carries the princely retail price of £15.

But then I took myself to task realising that perhaps I had spent too much time in the company of glossy cookery tomes with their exquisitely seductive photographs. After all, if you are a cook what really counts is the content of the recipe book not how pretty it looks.

What is the essence of the book?

The Royal Heritage Cookbook is a collection of recipes from the 17th century onwards from Lacock Abbey, Castletown House and Thirlestane Castle. Sarah Macpherson discovered more than 1500 recipes during her research, a small proportion of which she has adapted so that they may be successfully cooked in our 21st century kitchens. She even suggests menus so that you can recreate regal meals at home.

About the author

Sarah Macpherson is a historian and writer who happens to be the daughter of Lord and Lady Carew. She was raised in Castletown House, Ireland’s largest private home, and can trace her heritage back to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Kings of England and Scotland, and the ancient Princes of Ireland. Given her pedigree it’s fair to assume she is well acquainted with stately homes and their kitchens.

Who will like it?

Anyone with an interest in culinary history who perhaps wants to learn a little more about how our grander ancestors ate will like this book. If you are looking for an introduction to historical cookery that is neither daunting in it’s language (the recipes are in modern English) or ingredients then this book is ideal. The recipes are surprisingly and reassuringly familiar like the Chicken, Cream and Leek Pie (a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I).

Who won’t like it?

If you prefer a more modernist approach to cooking and are a fan of foams and skid marks on plates then you are unlikely to be impressed by this book. You’ll probably be disappointed to learn that Charles II’s favourite dish was Roast Sirloin of Beef or that Queen Victoria was partial to trifle. Equally, if you are a serious food historian who enjoys reading old cookery books with all their quirky olde English spellings and terminology then you may find the recipes somewhat dumbed down (but then again this isn’t a academic book).

What do I like about the book?

I love the inclusion of a chapter on curries in the book which demonstrates that these dishes date further back than many people would expect. The images of the original text make you appreciate what a monumental task it must have been to decipher it. It’s wonderfully reassuring in a way to realise that our former kings and queens had what today would be regarded as rather conservative tastes. But of course in their day meat for the masses was scarce and what we now consider as every day fare was viewed as being extravagant in previous centuries.

What do I dislike about the book?

OK I know I said that you should judge a book by it’s content but I really do believe the photography lets this book down. Frankly it looks rather dated. Having a keen interest in food history myself I would have liked to see more information about the sources of the recipes and perhaps more detail on how they were created.

Would I cook from it?

Yes I would. I’m definitely intrigued by the Raj curry powder and some of the desserts like sack posset. For an experienced cook a lot of the recipes for pies and casseroles are run of the mill. That said it would be fun to recreate the Kings or Princes menus for a historical dinner party.

Where can you buy it?

The Royal Heritage Cookbook (History Press) is available from Waterstones priced £15 (although Amazon have it listed as £6.15).

 

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I’d Love a Babycham…

Babycham original 75cl Bottle - version A

By rights I shouldn’t really have fond memories of Babycham from the 1970s given that I was a child during this decade. But I do recall an aunt giving me a small glass of Babycham at Christmas time (presumably when my mother wasn’t looking). If truth be told I was more in love with the playful fawn on bottle than the drink itself but it did make me feel terribly grown up.

I’d always assumed that Babycham was a sparkling wine. It was some years later (once I was able to drink legally) that I discovered it is, in fact, perry. Perry is the fermented juice of perry pears, a bit like cider. Although it’s appley cousin has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity (including those vulgar fruit cider concoctions) I was alarmed to hear on the Food Programme that we are in danger of losing perry forever. For this reason it has been added to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. Sadly, perry is not so easy to come by as cider but it is worth seeking it out particularly the sparkling varieties which are exceedingly refreshing served chilled on a balmy summer’s day.

Now, I know a lot of people scoff at Babycham. It has a reputation for being a bit girly and naff. However, it is actually very drinkable and heck of a lot cheaper than the over hyped prosecco. It’s also very versatile in the kitchen and prompted me to create the recipes below. So I hope you will join me in raising a glass of this iconic drink which has endured since the 1950s and help save perry from extinction.

Pear, Blue Cheese & Walnut Stuffed Pork Fillet 

Stuffed Pork Fillet 1

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 50g dried pears
  • 50g walnut pieces
  • 100g blue cheese e.g. gorgonzola
  • Black pepper
  • 4 x 150g pieces of pork fillet or 4 chicken breasts
  • 8 slices prosciutto crudo
  • 25g butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 250ml Babycham, perry or sparkling cider
  • Sprig thyme

Stuffed Pork Fillet 2

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  • To make the stuffing roughly chop the pears and walnut pieces. Add to a bowl and crumble in the cheese and a grinding of black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • Using a sharp knife make a deep insertion lengthways in each piece of pork fillet or chicken breast to create a cavity. If using pork open out the cut fillet and cover with clingfilm. Take a rolling pin and bash the fillet to flatten slightly (it shouldn’t be wafer thin). Take a quarter of the stuffing and place in on one half of the pork fillet then fold the other half over to enclose the stuffing or push it into the chicken breast cavity. On a piece of cling film place two slices of prosciutto then place the pork or chicken at one end of the ham and roll it up (as you would a swiss roll cake) to enclose the stuffed meat. Repeat with the remaining pork fillet/chicken breasts.
  • Melt the butter over a gentle heat and cook the shallot until softened but not coloured. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two before adding the Babycham and thyme. Transfer to a large casserole or baking dish into which the stuffed chicken breasts will fit in one layer. Add the chicken breasts, cover with foil and bake for around 20 – 25 minutes  for the pork or 25 – 30 minutes for the chicken until the meat is cooked through. Cut each portion into thick slices and serve with some sauce drizzled over the top and with vegetables of your choice.

Babycham Jellies with Cinnamon Syllabub

Babycham Jellies

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 100ml water
  • 75g sugar
  • 5cm cinnamon stick
  • 5cm strip lemon zest
  • 4 leaves gelatine
  • 500ml Babycham
  • 150ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Fresh berries to decorate

Method

  • Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 mins (or according to manufacturers instructions). Remove the cinnamon and lemon zest then add the gelatine leaves. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved then allow to cool (but not set).
  • Reserve 2 tbsp Babycham. Stir the spiced syrup into the remaining Babycham and pour into 4 wine glasses (they need to be able to accommodate around 200ml in volume. Place in the fridge to set.
  • Just before you are ready to serve, beat the cream, icing sugar, brandy, ground cinnamon and Babycham until thick but floppy. Spoon over the jellies and decorate with fresh berries of your choice.
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Saving the best until (almost) last

It is the measure of a good chef when he can assess just how to pitch each dish in a multi course menu. Each plate should pique the interest of the palate so that it eagerly anticipates the next offering. Wow the tastebuds too early in the meal and it can make subsequent courses seem like the dowdy wallflowers at a ball filled with beautiful debutantes. Fail to grab the diner’s attention early on and they may simply lose interest in the entire experience (or is that just jaded restaurant reviewers?).

Chef Felix Zhou (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Chef Felix Zhou (Photo: Julia Claxton)

One of the joys of dining at Terre à Terre in Brighton is the playful words used to describe each dish on the menu. I take great pleasure in the often confounding descriptions not always entirely sure of what I will be served but secure in the knowledge that it will be good. Chef Matty Bowling sets the bar very high particularly if you are taking over his domain for an evening as part of the International Chef Exchange. This pleasure fell to Felix Zhou of The Parker in Vancouver during National Vegetarian Week. By contrast the language of his menu was pared back although his dishes were far from simple.

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Blackdown Black Cherry Sour (Photo: Julia Claxton)

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Radish & Olives (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Shortly after a dangerous drinkable Blackdown BlackCherry Sour we received an amuse bouche of radish and olives. I’m not a fan of radishes but these delicate peppery slices served with olive ‘soil’ were very pleasant (this lack lustre description reflects my antipathy to this particular vegetable rather than the skill of Chef Zhou). The following roasted cauliflower served with a ketchup-sweet, red pepper puree was much more to my liking. Char grilling is one the finest treatments for fresh asparagus and Felix served his with the classic poached egg enveloped in a velvety mustard emulsion scattered with edible flowers. A true picture on a plate where the vibrancy in colour was equalled in taste. So good was the sauce our table requested some bread to mop up the remnants.

Roast Cauliflower with Textures and Red Pepper Puree (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Roast Cauliflower with Textures and Red Pepper Puree (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Char-grilled Asparagus, Mustard Emulsion, Poached Egg & Edible Flowers (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Char-grilled Asparagus, Mustard Emulsion, Poached Egg & Edible Flowers (Photo: Julia Claxton)

So far, so good. Each course had superseded the last in terms of expectation and delivered on the flavour front. Next up was the succinct Gnocchi with Broccoli, the former being another of my rare food foes. My initial fear of stodgy lumps was thankfully not realised. Served with a broccoli puree as well a florets the seared gnocchi were feather light pillows scattered with fresh peas and purple fronds (micro basil perhaps). Chef Zhou called on his far eastern heritage for his final savoury course of Aubergine Dumplings with Spring Onion and Pine Nut Thai Curry. Like the gnocchi the dumplings were far from heavy. Airy pockets filled with a light mousse considerately doused in a carefully spiced, fragrant green curry sauce with just the right amount of heat. Billy said it was one of the best things he has ever eaten (high praise indeed coming from a confirmed carnivore). Frankly, I could have eaten it again for dessert and the following morning for breakfast.

Gnocchi with Broccoli (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Gnocchi with Broccoli (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Simply the best- Aubergine Dumplings, Spring Onion, Pine Nut Thai Curry (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Simply the best- Aubergine Dumplings, Spring Onion, Pine Nut Thai Curry (Photo: Julia Claxton)

And so on to dessert. The dumplings were a hard act to follow. Despite the lightly whipped not too sweet quenelle of soft cheese, the melt in the mouth soft crumb of the shortbread and the surprisingly good endive jam with it’s pleasant bitter undertones, dessert just couldn’t top the previous course. Those dumplings will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully, long enough to lure me to Vancouver and search out Chef Zhou at The Parker.

Cheesecake, Endive Jam, Shortbread (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Cheesecake, Endive Jam, Shortbread (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Terre à Terre was participating in the return visit of International Chef Exchange, an on-going initiative delivered by the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival team and supported by Travel Bag to promote gastronomic tourism, share best practice between chefs and create a platform for the export of artisan food and drink. The meal was accompanied by artisan silver birch gin cocktails from Blackdown Sussex Spirits, the distinctive Okanagan style BC wines from Summerhill Pyramid Winery and also acclaimed organic English wine from Davenport Winery

Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. This was the first time Summerhill Pyramid Winery exported to the UK, the beginning of a new and wonderful journey for them. (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Cipes Brut from Summerhill Pyramid Winery. This was the first time Summerhill Pyramid Winery exported to the UK, the beginning of a new and wonderful journey for them. (Photo: Julia Claxton)

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Caramelised Spiced Onion & Olive Tart

Makes 8 slices

Onion Tart 1

This tart has a dough base rather than a pastry case and contains no animal fat. Think of it more of a vegan version of pissaladière than a quiche. This can be served hot or cold.

Ingredients

900g onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp each ground coriander and ground cardamom
1tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
300g strong plain white flour
1 tsp fast action dried yeast
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 tbsp tahini
200ml luke warm water
90g jar chopped black or green olives
10 – 15 pitted black or green olives
3 tsp sesame seeds

Onion Tart 2

Method

  1. Heat the oil over a medium to low heat in a large frying pan. Add the onions and gently cook stirring from time to time until they begin to caramelise and take on a lovely chestnut colour. This will take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes so I often do this the day before I intend to make the tart. As the onions begin to brown you will need to stir them more frequently to prevent them from burning. Once the onions are nicely coloured add the ground spices and cook for a further minute before adding the sugar and vinegar. Stir to deglaze the pan and allow the vinegar to evaporate then transfer to a bowl until required.
  2. To make the base, place the flour, yeast, salt, onion seeds and tahini in a food mixer with a dough hook attached or a large bowl. Stir briefly then gradually mix in water. If you are using a mixer you will need to knead the dough for 5 – 8 minutes. If kneading by hand this will take around 10 – 15 minutes. The dough should be firm and springy. Return to a bowl and allow to prove in a warm place for 60 – 90 minutes until doubled in size.
  3. Grease a 20 x 30 cm rectangular loose bottomed flan tin. If you don’t have a tin like this you can just use a baking tray which is large enough to accommodate a rectangle of dough of roughly the same size. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured board then roll it out into a rough rectangle that will fit into the tin (or on the baking tray). I’m sure there is a knack to creating a perfect rectangle but I have to confess I haven’t discovered what it is (please feel free to enlighten me if you know!). As this is a fairly rustic tart personally I don’t think it matters if the shape is a little haphazard. Spread the chopped olives over the base of the tart followed by the caramelised spiced onions. Scatter with whole pitted olives and sesame seeds then leave the tart to prove further while you preheat the oven to 200℃. Bake for 20 minutes until well risen and the edges are golden brown.

Variation

If you are not vegan this is also good topped with some thick rounds of goat’s cheese. Add them 5 – 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to ensure they are just melted when the tart comes out of the oven.

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Smoked Trout and Watercress Frittata

Serves 1 as a hearty brunch or lunch

Watercress & trout fritatta 2

Ingredients

  • 15g unsalted butter
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 100g cooked, new potatoes (e.g. Charlotte), diced into 1cm cubes
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 40g soft goat or sheep cheese (or 2 tbsp crème fraîche)
  • 1 smoked trout fillet, about 60g broken into flakes (or use hot smoked salmon instead)
  • 25g watercress, washed and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a small frying pan or cast iron skillet. Gently fry the spring onions until softened (about 2 minutes). Add the potatoes and continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently.
  2. Combine the eggs with the soft cheese or crème fraîche. Add the trout flakes and chopped watercress then season with a little salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the pan and stir until all the ingredients are combined and you can see the frittata beginning to set. Reduce the heat and cook until you see bubbles forming on the surface. Transfer to a preheated grill to finish cooking the top of the frittata. Delicious eaten hot or cold.

Watercress & trout fritatta 1

 

 

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A Simple Watercress Sandwich

Watercress sandwhich

Peppery and pungent watercress deserves it’s super food status. It’s a potent source of iron, calcium, beta-carotene, vitamin E and boasts more vitamin C than oranges. Popular in the Victorian era bunches of watercress were eaten like ice cream cones, the original “food on the go”.

Although it’s popularity waned in the 20th century fortunately the days when watercress was relegated to the side of the plate as a garnish for a piece of steak are gone. It’s mustardy flavour goes well with fish, particularly salmon. Try it as a sandwich filling with mild goats cheese on sun dried tomato bread or in a simple frittata (I’ll be posting a recipe for the latter soon). If you’re a fan of this spicy vegetable then you may want to head over to Hampshire for the Arlesford Watercress Festival on Sunday 17th May 2015.

Sun dried tomato loaf

Sun Dried Tomato Bread

  • 600g strong white bread flour
  • 7g packet of quick action dried yeast
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 60g sun dried tomato puree
  • 380ml warm water
  • 50g sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place the flour, dried yeast, salt and sun dried tomato paste into the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook attached. (If you are using a bread machine follow the manufacturers instructions).
  2. Using a low speed (I use setting 2 on the Kitchenaid) slowly add the water. Once the ingredients have combined “knead” for around 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 minutes or so if you are doing it by hand. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 1½ – 2 hours.
  3. After the dough has risen place on a floured board and knead again for a few minutes this time incorporating the chopped sun dried tomatoes as you go. You could shape this into a free form loaf or put it in a greased and floured 900g loaf tin as I have done here. Leave to rise again in a warm place for 30 – 45 minutes.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C and continue to cook for a further 25 minutes. Allow to cool before making the sandwich.
  5. For the sandwich I usually allow around 50g soft goats or sheep cheese (I particularly like Sussex Slipcote from the High Weald Dairy) and a small handful of watercress per sandwich although the quantity you use of each is entirely up to you.
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