Persimmon, Walnut & Brillat Savarin Salad with a Pomegranate Dressing

Seasonal fruit is a little thin on the ground in Britain during the winter months. It is an austere time of the year when you can be forgiven for looking beyond our shores for a natural sugar hit. Thankfully, our days are brightened by golden globes of various citrus fruit and the lesser appreciated persimmons.

Persimmons in a bowl LRThe persimmons you will most likely find in your neighbourhood supermarket are likely to be the variety grown in Israel. They are also known as Sharon fruit named after the valley in which they grow. These make economical eating (although not in terms of the monetary value ascribed to them) as they can be eaten whole skin, seeds and all. A deep amber in colour they look rather like a sungold cherry tomato on steroids topped with a papery, brown cap. They have a unique flavour but if I were pushed I would say they fall somewhere between a plum and an apricot (although not as juicy as the former).

Their firm texture means they slice well and can easily be incorporated into a salad. I have paired them here with a rich and creamy Brillat Savarin cheese and tossed in some walnuts for added texture. The piquancy of the pomegranate molasses prevents this combination from becoming cloying and the pomegranate seeds are aesthetically pleasing but also add another textural dimension. They’re not essential so leave them out if you like.

Incidentally, a lightly chilled sparkling white or rose wine, such as Ridgeview’s Victoria, is an excellent drinking partner for this dish.

Persimmons & cheese salad LRServes 4 as a light lunch or starter

Ingredients

  • 3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2tbsp walnut oil ( or more olive oil)
  • 2tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic crushed with a little sea salt
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to season
  • 200g Brillat Savarin cheese (not too ripe – it shouldn’t be trying to escape from the fridge) or a mild goats cheese
  • 2-3 ripe persimmons
  • 200g mixed salad leaves
  • 100g walnut pieces (or halves roughly chopped)
  • Pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional – the seeds from one pomegranate should be ample but you can buy pre-packed pomegranate seeds in some supermarkets)

Method

  1. To make the dressing put the oils, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and crushed garlic in a small jar. Replace the lid and shake vigorously until combined. Test a little to check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper according to taste and a pinch of sugar if it’s a little sharp. You can make this up to a day ahead if you like.
  2. For the salad, cut the cheese into 1cm cubes (I don’t bother removing the exterior of the cheese). Wash the persimmons and slice off the end with the stalk then cut into quarters. Cut the quarters into slices (roughly 4-5 per quarter). This stage can be done an hour or two in advance.
  3. Place the salad leaves in a large bowl and pour over 2 – 3tbsp of the well shaken dressing. Toss to coat then divide between 4 shallow bowls or plates. (You can pour the rest of the dressing into a jug and serve separately for those who prefer to drench their salad).
  4. Arrange the persimmon segments in a circular pattern on top of the leaves with the pointed edge facing outwards. In the centre of the fruit circle place some of the cubed cheese. Scatter with walnuts and pomegranate seeds if using. Serve immediately.
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Don’t mention the D word – A review of Gut Gastronomy

We are well and truly ensconced into January now. For most of us the remnants of our Christmas over indulgence (mince pies, cake and alcohol) have disappeared. Your thoughts may be gliding towards eating more healthily or perhaps even a diet.

Diet, closely followed by Detox, are words I have grown to abhor. Diet’s are invariably wacky short term fixes whose results disappear as quickly as a plate of chocolate digestives at a fat fighters meeting. And who seriously enjoys drinking an endless procession of disgustingly gloopy “good for you” juices in an effort to cleanse their digestive system?

That said, there are obvious benefits in eating more healthily particularly after the seasonal excesses of December. When I received the press release regarding Gut Gastronomy I was sufficiently intrigued by the title to find out more about it.

Gut Gastronomy jacket

What is the book about?

In a nutshell, Gut Gastronomy is designed to help revive your digestive system through a series of alterations to your diet, such as the elimination of caffeine, dairy products and alcohol by following a 21 day plan. The aim is to improve your overall health by “cleansing and healing the digestive system to make it more efficient, improving elimination, reducing fluid retention and alleviating bloating and inflammation”.

Crucially it is not a diet book in the common parlance of the word although the authors do claim that the plan can aid in weight loss by improving the function of your gut.

Who wrote the book?

Gut Gastronomy is based on a food plan devised by Elaine Williams and Stephanie Moore of Grayshott Manor (a spa hotel in Surrey). The book has been written by Vicki Edgson, a practising nutritional therapist and Adam Palmer the Consultant Executive Chef at Grayshott Manor.

Who will like it?

Anyone who feels a bit ‘blear’ post Christmas but who doesn’t want to go on an extreme juice diet will probably like this book particularly if you’re a keen cook looking for some healthy, innovative recipes. It will also appeal to you if you have an inkling that you may suffer from a food intolerance which perhaps is preventing you from losing weight.

Who won’t like it?

Coffee addicts and wine connoisseurs will probably take some persuading to follow the plan as caffeine and alcohol are strictly verboten! Vegetarians are unlikely to be wowed by it as most of the everyday recipes contain meat or fish (although there are some lovely veggie based soups like Red Lentil, Apricot & Preserved Lemon). If you dislike cooking with a vengence then this book definitely isn’t for you (the recipes look quite chefy which is not surprising considering one of the authors is a classically trained chef).

What do I like about the book?

This is the kind of cookbook that makes me salivate. The recipes are beautifully photographed, sound delicious and absolutely don’t read like diet recipes. This last point is greatly helped by the fact that no calorie content is listed for each recipe (which granted isn’t going to be very helpful if you are counting the calories). If I’m going to give up my beloved coffee and wine I don’t want to be reminded of the calorific sacrifices I am making to boot! The authors also provide easy to understand explanations for why the gut may be malfunctioning and clearly outline the benefits of the food items you are allowed to eat and the overall tone of the book is not too preachy. The plan also includes an element of fasting which seems a lot more practical than the 5:2 diet (you fast overnight and skip breakfast rather than lunch on two days a week) and there are follow up recipes provided for after you have completed the initial 21 days (see the Pea, Feta and Sesame lollipop recipe below).

What do I dislike about the book?

If you want to follow the plan in Gut Gastronomy to the letter the you need to make sure you have plenty of time on your hands. A lot of the recipes require lengthy preparation such as the fasting broth which literally takes hours to cook. However, many of the recipes can be made in bulk and frozen for use later on, which is a boon.

Some recipes require specialist equipment e.g. a dehydrator like the Beetroot, Horseradish and Seed Crackers although alternative methods for achieving the same results are provided. You’ll also need to invest in some specialist ingredients such as coconut flour which may not be readily available from a supermarket. This could make following the plan an expensive exercise.

Would I cook from it?

Definitely. The recipes sound and look delicious and actually don’t scream abstinence although I would need to make some adjustments to the suggested plan to make it fit into our lifestyle.

Where can you buy it?

Gut Gastronomy officially releases on 15th January and is published by Jacqui Small (@JacquiSmallPub) www.jacquismallpub.com. Available from Amazon price £20.40.

 Pea, feta & sesame lollipops with mint yoghurt sauce

GG_Pea, feta & sesame lollipops

Serves 4

For the lollipops:

  • 250g (8oz/2 cups) cooked garden peas
  • 125g (4oz) feta cheese
  • 10g (½oz) mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 fresh green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 30g (1¼oz/¼ cup) grated Parmesan
  • 2 organic free-range egg yolks
  • ½ tsp chilli powder 30g (1¼oz/¼ cup)
  • gram (chick pea) flour sesame seeds, for sprinkling
  • 60g (2½oz) coconut oil

For the radish salad:

  • 1 tsp hazelnut oil
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • ½ tsp local runny honey
  • 60g (2½oz) radishes, thinly sliced
  • 10 mint leaves, finely shredded

For the mint yoghurt sauce:

  • 100ml (3½fl oz) Greek-style yoghurt
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • pinch of saffron
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint
  • ½ tsp local runny honey

Use a stick blender to blend the peas, feta cheese, mint, fresh chilli, Parmesan, egg yolks and chilli powder. The mixture does not need to be really smooth – a few lumps are fine. Pour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the gram flour to tighten up the mixture.

With your hands, roll pieces of the mixture into 8 equal-sized balls. Flatten them a little and skewer with a lollipop stick. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and arrange them on a plate lined with greaseproof paper. Keep in the fridge until ready to cook.

Make the radish salad: whisk together the oil, vinegar and honey to make a dressing for the radishes. Toss lightly with the radishes and arrange on a plate. Sprinkle with the shredded mint.

Make the mint yoghurt sauce: gently stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Do not whisk them as the yoghurt will break up and become too runny.

To cook the lollipops, heat the coconut oil in a small pan and then shallow-fry them, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown and hot in the centre. Serve the lollipops on the radish salad with the mint yoghurt sauce in a side dish for dipping.

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Generations – A new Brighton Pop Up

I’m not sure I could cook a meal with either of my sons, even when they’re older (they are only 10 and 7 right now). I’m far too much of a control freak. I’m sure such an event would result in the throwing of insults and food with a few sharp knives thrown in for good measure. It wouldn’t be pretty and I doubt our guests would receive any grub at the end of the debacle.

So in my book Andy and George Lynes are brave men. Father and son will be cooking together for their first pop up as Lynes & Co in Brighton next month. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Lynes & Co, Andy is a Brighton based restaurant critic, author and Masterchef semi-finalist. He’s also one of the founders of the Brighton Food Society. It seems son George shares his father’s affection for food, having began his career as an apprentice chef at Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning The Chilli Pickle in Brighton. He’s also had stints at Maze and Chez Bruce, both in London and the Michelin-starred Curlew in Bodiam.

‘I’ve never cooked with my dad in a professional kitchen, so its going to be an interesting challenge,’ says George. ‘I’m really excited to have this opportunity to present some of my own dishes under my own name for the first time.’

With dishes like ham hock, broad bean and Sussex curd served with scorched beer-pickled onions, warm bacon and mustard emulsion and parsley oil in the offing as part of a four course menu it promises to be a good night. The event, titled ‘Generations’ will take place on 6 February at The Marwood Cafe in Brighton’s Lanes in association with Tabl.com.

Will we witness any explosive tantrums as the Lynes’ boys go head to head in the kitchen? I doubt it but you’ll just have to buy a ticket for the event yourself to be absolutely sure…

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New Year’s Nibbles: Rarebit Gougères

You don’t have to use beer here but it adds a different dimension to these cheesy choux puffs traditionally served with an aperitif in France. You can also vary the cheese you use so long as it is a relatively hard cheese, perhaps utilising the remnants of your Christmas cheese board.

Gougeres LR

This recipe makes around 50 – 60 gougères but they freeze really well.

Ingredients

  • 200g 00 flour or all purpose plain flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 285ml light beer, lager or water
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 100g butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 120g mature hard cheese, such as cheddar or comté, finely grated

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220℃ (200℃ fan). Line a couple of baking trays with grease proof paper or baking parchment. Place an empty roasting tin in the bottom of the oven.
  2. Sieve the flour, mustard powder and cayenne pepper onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper.
  3. Put the beer or water, Worcestershire sauce, butter and salt into a large saucepan. Heat until the butter has melted then boil for 1 minute.
  4. Take off the heat then quickly tip all of the flour into the hot liquid. Beat until smooth then return to the heat for a further minute.
  5. Turn the heat off then add the eggs one at a time beating vigorously after each addition to ensure they are fully incorporated. Finally, mix in the grated cheese.
  6. Using a teaspoon place small mounds of the mixture onto the lined baking trays ensuring they are reasonably well spaced apart as they will expand considerably. If you want to be fancy about it you could use two teaspoons to create mini quenelles although they will taste good however they look. When the baking trays are full of cheesy dollops (you may have to repeat this again after the first batch is cooked to finish all off the mixture) pour some boiling water into the empty (and now hot) roasting tin in the bottom of the oven (the steam will help the choux to rise). Bake for 10 – 15 minutes or until golden brown. These are best served warm but can be frozen and reheated at 150℃ in this state for 5 – 10 minutes.
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New Year’s Nibbles: Real Mince Pies

I imagine it’s common knowledge that the original mince pies, favoured by us Brits at Christmas time, contained meat. What surprises me is that we don’t combine the sweet, spicy dried fruit filling with meat anymore. It actually works really well (think more of a middle eastern tagine flavour rather than a dessert or cake) and is a great way to use up any leftover mincemeat you have lurking in the cupboard. I also think suet pastry is also over looked. It’s possibly the easiest pastry to make as there is no rubbing in involved and it is deliciously crisp when cooked. If you really can’t stand to make the pastry yourself then use a 500g block of puff pastry instead.

Mince pies with port LR

Makes 12 – 16 mini mince pies

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g suet
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ⅛ finely ground black pepper
  • 4-6 tbsp cold water
  • ½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small or ½ medium onion finely chopped
  • 200g minced lamb or beef
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 2 heaped tbsp (about 75g) mincemeat
  • 100ml red wine
  • salt & pepper to season
  • 1 beaten egg to glaze

Method

  1. To make the pastry: Mix the flour, suet, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add 4 tbsp cold water and mix until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Leave to one side while you make the filling.
  2. To make the filling: Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat. Fry the onion until it is starting to turn golden then add the minced lamb or beef and cook until browned.
  3. Add the cumin and mincemeat. Cook for a minute or so before adding the wine. Reduce the heat and allow to gently bubble away until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Season with salt and pepper then transfer to a bowl until ready to use.
  4. To assemble the pies: Preheat the oven to 200℃. Roll out the pastry on a floured board until it is around 3mm thick. Using a 6cm fluted cutter for the base of the pies and a 4cm fluted cutter for the tops cut 12-16 rounds of each (you may need to roll the pastry remnants out again to get the correct number of tops and bottoms).
  5. Place the larger circles in a mini muffin tin then place a teaspoon of the filling in each. Brush the underside of the tops with water then place on top of the filling gently pressing along the rim of the pie to seal the top and bottom together. Make a small hole in the top of each pie to allow the steam to escape. Glaze with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Best served warm but will also freeze when cool. Reheat from frozen at 150℃ for 8-12 minutes.

Mince pies LR

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Recipes from and Unknown Kitchen: Book Review

Tucked away inside an 1894 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book is one of my most prized possessions. It is a delicate, hand bound Almanac for 1871 containing number of cake recipes (which incidentally are little more than lists of ingredients). Some of the text on the front cover has been crossed out but two names remain just about legible: Eliza Anna Anderson and Emma Reader. The latter was my grandmother’s great aunt. Underneath the Eliza’s name it proudly proclaims that it is her “Own Book”. It is my theory that both of these ladies contributed to this book out of a desire to keep the recipes for posterity (although nobody in the family in entirely sure).

E Anderson Cookbook 1 LR

While accusations are frequently slung by social commentators about our fascination with cookbooks in an age where nobody either wants to or is able to cook (supposedly), it’s reassuring to know that cooking intrigued some of our ancestors long before television and social media came to rule the roost. For centuries we have been noting down recipes. Sometimes this has been a record of a recipe previously handed down by word of mouth perhaps by a relative or friend. Other times it may merely have been a quick jotting down of an adjustment to a recipe in an existing cookery book or maybe at the back in its notes section (something you rarely see in todays cookery tomes). During the 20th century as recipes began to appear in magazines these may have been torn out and kept to be made again one day.

E Anderson Cookbook 2 LR

As a cookbook collector, Rita Godfrey, has been privy to many of these culinary secrets. She has gathered some of the recipes she has come across in a new book called Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen. As she says on the back cover

“There is a great joy in finding an old recipe that someone has jotted down and in trying it out – even more in tasting the results.”

IMG_0729

The book is a potted history through 200 years of our culinary history as recorded by regular people who presumably enjoyed these recipes so much that they were driven to write them down. Each section covers a specific period of time and is prefaced with a little bit of kitchen history to put them into context. It’s true that the book is not as slickly produced as other cookery books but this is of no consequence (I think sometimes too much emphasis is placed in food photography, as lovely as it can be. After all, right up until the mid to late 20th century it was rare to have a the obligatory food porn shot for every recipe we have come to expect these days). I love the fact that Rita provides a brief introduction to each recipe such as the explanation of what a flummery is (apparently the word could have derived from a Welsh word meaning empty nonsense). The book makes fun reading and those that I have tried delicious eating (spiced treacle scones – great with toasted cheese on top. Strange but true!).

The recipe I have chosen to reproduce here is for salad cream. I know it’s not a salad time of year but it seemed apt given that it is 100 years since Heinz introduced salad cream to the UK market. Reading around this product’s history I discovered that salad cream was considered to be the very down market (i.e. working class) cousin to mayonnaise. I found this strange as I always thought it added a rather sophisticated element to the classic egg and cress sandwich when I was a child (read into this what you will…). Anyway, I’ve also provided my favourite way to make an egg sandwich just to prove that it can be classy when made with salad cream.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen by Rita Godfrey (£12.99)

Salad Cream

Salad Cream LR

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp mustard (I used Coleman’s mustard powder)
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 heaped tsp corn flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150ml cream

Method

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients then add the egg yolks.
  2. Put into a food processor and add water and vinegar gradually to make a smooth mix then add the olive oil.
  3. Pour into a pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring constantly until it forms a thick sauce.
  4. Cool then stir in the cream. Transfer to a sealable bottle with a wide neck. Despite the addition of cream it will keep in the fridge for up to six months.

Egg Salad Cream Sandwich LR

To make my favourite egg sandwich mix 1 – 2 chopped hard boiled or scrambled eggs with 1 – 3 dessert spoons of salad cream (depending on how hungry you are!). Add to this 3 – 4 sun dried tomato halves which have been finely chopped and mix together. Put a layer of fresh baby spinach leaves onto a slice of bread (my favourite for this filling is ciabatta) the spoon the egg mix over the top. This is quite messy to eat but oh so delicious!

You may also want to try salad cream in a fish finger sandwich like Daniel from Young & Foodish.

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Medlar Tart & Spiced Medlar Vinegar

There has been a lot of interest in my earlier posts about medlars so I thought it was about time I came up with some more recipes using this unusual fruit.

I frequently get asked how to make medlar vinegar. If you don’t live in Sussex then you may find sourcing the fine flavoured vinegars (such as medlar vinegar) produced by Stratta difficult so I have posted a recipe for a simple spiced medlar vinegar below.

I’ve been toying with the idea of making a medlar tart for a while. It struck me that the consistency of bletted medlars is not dissimilar to that of pumpkin so I have taken my inspiration from America pumpkin pie. It seems particularly apt to post this recipe today as it is Thanksgiving in the USA.

If you need help in preparing your medlars take a look at my earlier post here.

Medlar Tart

Medlar Tart LR

Ingredients

  • 320g pack ready rolled sweet short crust pastry (or make your own)
  • 400g medlar puree
  • 397g tin condensed milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 25g caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃.
  2. Line a 22-23cm deep tart tin with the pastry. Prick the base then line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven (also remove the baking beans and paper) and reduce the temperature to 170℃.
  3. Meanwhile prepare the filling. Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a large jug. Pour into the pre-baked case and bake for a further 40 minutes until set. Best served at room temperature or cold.

Spiced Medlar Vinegar

Makes approximately 4 x 350ml bottles

Medlar Vinegar LR

I used the pulp left over from pureeing the medlars for the recipe above. However, you can use whole bletted medlars for this recipe. Just lightly squash them before you add the remaining ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 600-700g medlar pulp or the equivalent weight of whole bletted medlars
  • 1 litre white wine vinegar
  • 450 – 750g granulated sugar
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 10cm piece cinnamon stick

Method

  • Steep the medlars in the vinegar for 3 to 5 days in a non metallic container. Pour the contents into a jelly bag and allow to drain. This will take several hours so leave overnight if possible. DO NOT SQUEEZE the bag to get more liquid out otherwise your vinegar will be cloudy.
  • For every 600ml vinegar add 450g sugar (basically you need 75% sugar to the quantity of vinegar). Put the vinegar, sugar and spices in a saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil then simmer for around 5 minutes removing any scum that floats to the surface. Allow to cool then remove the spices and bottle. Use for salad dressings.

Other Medlar recipes you may enjoy

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A Pear of Tarts

Pears LR

When is a tart not a tart?

I think it is fair to say in Britain a tart is generally considered to have a pastry base but no lid. However, that which passes as a tart in Britain would be classified as a pie in the US. Then there is the filling. Does a ‘tart’ or open pie with a savoury filling automatically become a quiche (as in Quiche Lorraine) leaving sweet fillings involving fruit and/or custard to claim the name tart? Alan Davidson points out that tarts in Medieval times, such as those listed in the Forme of Cury, usually contained meat albeit often mixed with spices, dried fruits and sugar (think of the original mince pie).

For the purposes of this post I am using the word tart in both the savoury and the sweet recipes below. The first contains blue cheese, walnuts and pears. It’s most definitely a savoury recipe although the sweet pears compliment the metallic tang of the cheese beautifully (and perhaps harks back to a time when sweet and savoury fillings were intertwined). But what of the second sweet recipe? To all intents and purposes many people would consider this a pie as it includes a pastry lid. However, I am more than happy to go along with the original authors’, the Caldesi’s, description as a tart (it sounds far more elegant than pie in my book). I love the way the cinnamon pastry embraces the sliced pear giving it more of the appearance of a tart than a pie in any case.

Pear, Blue Cheese & Walnut Tart

Pear, blue cheese & walnut tart LR

Serves 4 as a main or 6 to 8 as a starter.

Ingredients for the walnut pastry

  • 125g walnut halves
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 40g parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg

Ingredients for the filling

  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 300ml creme fraîche
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100g strong, blue cheese, such as Stilton, crumbled or roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp snipped chives
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 50g walnut halves
  • 2 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place the walnut halves for the pastry in a food processor. Blitz until finely ground then add the flour, butter and cheese. Process again until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs then, while the motor is running, add the egg a little at a time (you will probably need just over half an egg) until a soft dough forms. Refrigerate for an hour or so.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Roll out the pastry the best you can to line a 23-25cm deep, loose bottomed tart tin. This pastry is very crumbly and it will crack and break very easily. It will inevitably be necessary to make some repairs so make sure you roll the pastry out so that it is larger than the tin you are using. This way you will have sufficient pastry to make the repairs. Roughly trim the pastry so that you leave some over hanging the edges of the tin (you can tidy it up later). It doesn’t matter how ugly the inside of the tart case looks (you won’t see it after it is filled) but it is imperative that there are no cracks otherwise the filling will leak out. Lightly prick the base of the pastry case then line it with grease proof paper and baking beans (or rice). Bake blind for 10 minutes then remove the baking beans. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and trim the case so it is level with the top of the tin.
  3. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 150℃. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a gentle heat then add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent (about 5 to 10 minutes). Meanwhile, mix the eggs (plus any extra left over from making the pastry) and the creme fraîche in a jug. Stir in the blue cheese, chives and cayenne.
  4. Keep a few walnut halves aside (about 5 or 6) then roughly chop the rest. Sprinkle the nuts and chopped pears over the base of the pastry case then pour over the cheesy ‘custard’ filling. Place the reserved walnut halves on top of the custard then put the tart in the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes until just set (it’s fine if it still a bit wobbly after this time) and golden. Serve warm or cold with a little dressed salad on the side.

Venetian Pear Tart

Venetian pear tart LR

Serves 8

This recipe is taken from Venice: Recipes Lost and Found by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Hardie Grant, £25.00, Helen Cathcart) who run the Cucina Caldesi and Caffe Caldesi in London. It’s a fascinating look at how the cuisine of this famous Italian city has been shaped by some intriguing influences over the centuries. Definitely one to put on your Christmas list if you are a fan of Italian cooking and food history.

Ingredients for the pastry

  • 300g ’00’ or plain flour
  • 160g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients for the filling

  • 5 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly sliced
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum (optional)

Method

  1. To make the pastry sift the flour into a large bowl and rub the butter into it using your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, egg, cinnamon and salt. Mix well until you have a ball of dough (alternatively you can use a food processor for this stage). Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200℃ and butter and lightly flour a 25cm loose-bottomed tart tin. After 30 minutes (if you chilled your pastry for longer, let it warm up a little for 20 minutes at room temperature) remove the pastry from the fridge, divide in half and roll into 2 circles. Line the tin with one of the circles of pastry.
  3. Layer the sliced pears into the pastry case, sprinkle over the sugar and rum (if using) and top with the pie with the second circle of pastry. Using a fork make some holes in the pastry to let the steam escape. Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

VENICE_COVER_FINAL.indd

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Jack O’Lantern Soup

Pumpkin Soup LRThe Independent reported this week that we throw away over 18,000 tonnes of pumpkins after Halloween. After reading this article it seemed churlish to add our jack ‘o lantern to this pumpkin waste mountain so I’ve turned ours into soup.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pumpkin
  • 1 jacket potato, weighing around 175g – 200g uncooked
  • 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 400ml water
  • 2 tsp Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder
  • 1 – 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste (or more, depending on how spicy you like your food)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
  • Thai fish sauce or salt & pepper to season

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Whilst it is heating up cut your Jack O’Lantern into wedges removing any fibrous bits and seeds that may have escaped the scooping out process. Wash and place on a baking sheet ready to go in the oven.
  2. Bake the pumpkin wedges for 40-60 minutes until tender (this will very much depend on how large your wedges are and on the type of pumpkin). You can put the jacket potato in the oven at the same time (prick the skin first). Alternatively, cook the potato in a microwave until tender (microwaves differ in wattage so refer to the manufacturers instructions for timings).
  3. Remove the pumpkin and potato from the oven (if you’ve decided to cook it at the same time). Leave the pumpkin until it is cool enough to handle then scoop the flesh away from the skin and place in a bowl. Using a stick blender puree the pumpkin flesh.
  4. Remove the cooked potato from it’s skin and pass through a potato ricer into a different bowl.
  5. In a large saucepan place the coconut milk, water, bouillon powder, curry paste, riced potato and 500g of the pumpkin puree (any remaining puree can be frozen for use in other dishes). Stir using a balloon whisk then heat until it reaches boiling point then simmer for a minute or two until piping hot. Just before serving stir in the lemon juice and peanut butter. Season with a little Thai fish sauce or salt and pepper if you prefer according to taste.

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Name Your Poison

A conversation shortly before bedtime earlier this month…

Billy: “What are you reading?”

Me: “Just flicking through a couple of books I was sent recently.”

Billy picks up one of the slim volumes by Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland and reads the title.

“‘Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs‘. Which one will I be getting?” he muses a little perplexed at the thought that one of the first two will be on the menu.

Fortunately, for Billy I have no sinister plans to do away with him. I was looking in this book and it’s sister volume, Cocktails, Cordials and Elixirs (also by the Duchess) for inspiration. I was about to embark on a month of sobriety in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support’s Go Sober campaign.

Go-Sober-Poster-Portrait-V2-Wine-Glass

The books form collections of recipes from the archives at Alnwick Castle (famous for its poison garden). They are fascinating insights into the ‘cures’ and remedies available hundreds of years ago for various ailments and libations. Cocktails contains a lot of recipes  for cordials involving alcohol, a reminder of a time when water was unfit to drink (and clearly these were not appropriate for my forthcoming mission). The Duchess herself confesses to being rather partial to cocktails and has given her name to four concoctions which are served in the Treehouse Restaurant at Alnwick Castle. This includes the Deadly Jane which is aptly served in a poison bottle (the recipe, which involves rum, apricot brandy and fruit juice, can be found in the book).

Drink books LR

It’s easy to laugh at the largely herbal remedies in Poisons but some of them actually sound quite soothing if not curative.

For a Bathe

Take rose leaves, Mallowes, Lavender, Alacampana seethe all these in water till they be tender and then put in milk. So let the patient sitte in it as hote as he maye suffer it and after go to a warme Bedde and sweate.

From Edith Beale’s Book of Recipes 1596

Others like Oyle of Frogges (yes, it really does include frogs and earthworms to boot) not so much. It’s fair to say that many of the recipes in the books contain ingredients that are not readily available to most people and are required in quite large quantities (think gallons rather than litres). Nevertheless, they are both great little books which would make perfect gifts for anyone with an interest in historical food and drink.

Cover High Res

I still needed inspiration for my sober month so I turned to another recent arrival, Artisan Drinks by Lindy Wildsmith. This covers everything from homemade soft drinks (cordials, syrups, teas and fizzy drinks) to alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, perry and cider) with suggestions for cocktails and mocktails using some of the above. What I really love about this book is the fact that each of the recipes I tried makes a realistic quantity of the given drink. So rather than making dozens of bottles of a particular cordial, most of which will wind up languishing at the back of your cupboard, you can make just one or two. Most of the non alcoholic recipes I tried will keep in the fridge for three to six months. Lindy also provides instructions on how to pasteurise cordials to extend their shelf life (outside of the fridge) although I didn’t try this method myself. So here’s a quick run down of the recipes I tried.

Italian lime siroppo

Lime cordial LR

Based on a recipe by Pellegrino Artusi (who in turn based his on a recipe from the Medici cookbook). This looked a gorgeous fresh green in the book but my version was not as impressive (one son asked if someone had peed in a bottle!). I also found it too sweet for my tastes. Perhaps the limes I’d chosen were at fault. Probably not a recipe I would try again.

Ginger cordial

Ginger cordial LR

If the lime siroppo looked like wee then this looked like something entirely different but more unappetising. However, as the adage goes, looks can be deceiving. This was by far my favourite cordial. If you’ve ever enjoyed ginger tea in the far east then you’ll love this. It really is an ‘uplifting and warming’ drink (as described by Lindy) when served hot and was excellent in the Heatwave mocktail.

Rose hip syrup

Rose Hip LR

I have fond memories of drinking this cordial as a child. It takes a bit more effort than some of the other recipes I tried (you have to pick the rose hips for a start) but it is worth it. It looks stunning in the bottle and tastes great hot or cold (and not in the least bit like roses which was a plus for my boys).

Ginger beer

Ginger Beer LR

This is so ridiculously easy to make you will wonder why you ever bothered buying it from the supermarket. It was a huge hit in our house so much so I had to make a double batch of ginger beer second time round. Lindy advises you to drink it within a few days after opening before the sparkle subsides but I found that it stayed fizzy even after opening for more than a week.

Trio of cordials LR

Artisan Drinks contains some great classics (like lemonade) plus some more unusual drinks like fennel flower ‘prosecco’ (which I’m looking forward to trying next summer). I can’t comment on the alcoholic recipes but given that her recipes are easy to follow I’m confident they would work just as well as their non alcoholic counterparts. It’s also beautifully photographed and certainly made my sober October far more interesting than it could have been.

Cheers!

Artisan Drinks (Jacqui Small) £25

Little Book of Cocktails, Cordials and Elixirs (The History Press) £9.99

Little Book of Poisons, Potions and Aphrodisiacs (The History Press) £9.99

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