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RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART – WITH ADDED GIN!

Rhubarb and Almond tart with Rhubarb and Gin Sauce

The end of winter is marked for me by the appearance of two fruits – rhubarb and blood oranges. Recently, winter seems not to have taken the hint and has been hanging around beyond the forced rhubarb season. This tart however, is delicious whatever the weather. And yes, I know that rhubarb is botanically not a fruit, but I would hope you agree that in the kitchen, it tends to be used as if it were. When the first forced rhubarb appears, delicate and elusively fragrant, I like to do as little as possible to it. I poach it gently with the juice of a blood orange and a tablespoon of honey. It is my absolutely favourite breakfast with a good yogurt, the zest of the orange and walnuts. And in a Moka full of Illy coffee and I can face whatever the day decides to lob at me.

Once the forced rhubarb is over and we have the sturdy maincrop stalks, I do like to experiment rather more. Although I have to say that for me, baked mackerel with rhubarb sauce was an experiment too far. More perhaps, I have to say, because I really can’t cope with mackerel and should not have tried (yet again) to get past my dislike. In my defence, at least I do regularly revisit my few dislikes to see if I’ve changed my mind. Still hate sweetcorn, though, in any and all of its manifestations.

A much more successful experiment was when I pottered about with almonds, which I think complement so many fruits, and arrived at this tart. It is an absolute breeze to make and works warm or cold as a dessert and has been consumed here with yogurt for breakfast. No, I am not saying who did that…

Don’t feel you have to make the pastry yourself here; there are excellent ready made, all-butter pastries on the market and resist those people who think using ready made is the eighth sin. I do not, regrettably have my late mother’s gift as a pastry cook and if it weren’t for my Magimix, I would never willingly make pastry. For sweet dishes I now use exclusively the Italian method of Pasta Frotta and so far, it hasn’t let me down; however, feel free to use your favourite sweet pastry recipe here. Should pastry making not be your thing, and if you have access to the French brand “Marie” (available on Ocado) then use that without a second thought.

RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART WITH GIN POACHED RHUBARB SAUCE

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 Cooking Time: 1.5 hours

Ingredients

  • Pastry
  • 250g plain flour or Italian Tipo 00
  • 125g unsalted butter, very cold from the fridge and cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g icing sugar
  • finely grated zest of half an unwaxed lemon
  • tiny pinch of sea salt
  • Filling
  • 125g softened unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the tin
  • 125g golden caster sugar plus 2 tbsp
  • 1 medium free range egg
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • 250g rhubarb, cut into 3cm chunks
  • Poached Rhubarb
  • 150g rhubarb, cut into 1cm chunks
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (or more if you prefer)
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • A buttered 23cm loose bottom flan tin
  • Baking parchment
  • Baking beans

Instructions

1

Set the oven to 170C fan

2

To make the pastry, place the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until fine breadcrumb stage

3

Add the sugar, mix briefly and add the egg, salt and lemon zest

4

Whizz until a soft dough is achieved; tip out of the processor and form into a flattened ball, wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

5

When time is up, roll out to fit the flan tin and press the dough gently into the tin

6

Prick the base with a fork, line with baking parchment then tip the baking beans on top

7

Put in the oven for 20 minutes, after which remove the paper and cook for another 5 minutes until the tart shell is crisp and golden

8

It’s really important to get the shell crisp as otherwise the moist almond mixture will result in the dreaded “soggy bottom”

9

While the shell is baking, prepare the almond filling

10

Beat the softened butter and golden caster sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg

11

Fold in the ground almonds and ginger

12

When the shell is ready, spread the almond mixture and press the rhubarb pieces into the mixture in a cartwheel pattern, or whatever pleases you

13

Sprinkle over the 2 tbsp of sugar

14

Put the tart in the oven and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the tart is golden and puffy

15

Now make the poached rhubarb:

16

Put the second lot of rhubarb in a saucepan with a good heat conducting base, add the sugar and the gin

17

Heat until bubbling and then simmer gently until the rhubarb disintegrates - this doesn’t take long so don’t wander off and start the ironing

18

Bubble more fiercely until reduced by about one third

19

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly

20

If you want the final dish to be more refined, you can at this point, press the mixture through a sieve; I was a bit up against the clock when I made the tart pictured so this sauce isn’t sieved

21

Serve slices with either ice cream or creme frâiche and then drizzle over the gin sauce

Notes

You can change this round a bit too, by putting orange zest in the pastry and orange juice in the sauce - or Grand Marnier, perhaps. The tart can be re-heated and also freezes well for up to about a month.

 

Courses/ Desserts & Savouries/ Food People/ Summer/ Tips & Techniques/ Uncategorized

PUDDING FROM PIEMONTE

Amaretti Stuffed Peach served with single cream and a glass of Moscato

My recent trip to Turin for the 2017 Turin Epicurean Conference included an amazing evening at www.quibitorino.it which is a space in Turin under the guidance of the lovely Margherita Frari. The vision for this place is as a restaurant, meeting place and exhibition space, all to encourage the integration of the increasingly multicultural city of Turin. It also serves as a food collection point for customers of local producers rather in the way that www.foodassembly.com does.

During our evening there we were fortunate to be under the expert tuition of Margerita and also Marco Giachello, one of Piedmont’s most well known and charismatic chefs. He works to conserve Piedmont dishes, products and methods and actively seeks to promote those things beyond Piedmont, so that we non-Piedmontese can learn how to create their wonderful dishes in our own homes. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that as the Piedmontese have the advantage of fabulous ingredients, produced relatively locally and in some cases, very locally!

I will probably post about everything we created that evening but am starting (perversely) with the pudding, given that peaches are in season right now. Do please try to buy Italian peaches for this as it does make a difference to the flavour, although Spanish ones can be flavoursome too. It will make life much easier for you if you can get freestone peaches; I have to admit that the first time I made this when I came back to the UK, I had made the mistake of unwittingly buying clingstone peaches. It was only with the help of a very sharp, very narrow knife that this didn’t end up as peach purée, so do check.

This is an easy summer dessert that can be served warm or at room temperature but don’t serve it chilled; it will kill the flavours stone dead. Roero, by the way, is an area of Piedmont to the south of Turin and famous for fruit (especially peaches, pears and strawberries) not to mention some wonderful wine.

I’ve given the option of using either cocoa or coffee as I am not that keen on chocolate, but the original recipe uses cocoa. Ditto with the choice of rum or brandy; I dislike rum so tend to use brandy but again, the original, as I was taught, was with rum.

Amaretti Stuffed Peaches

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 8 depending on appetite! Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh freestone peaches (it is helpful if they are still quite firm but not unripe)
  • 200g amaretti biscuits (preferably not the soft ones but they will do if it’s all you have)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten well
  • 2 tsp caster sugar (optional - I tend not to use it as I find the biscuits sweet enough)
  • 3 tbsp rum or brandy
  • cocoa powder or very finely ground (espresso grind) coffee
  • icing sugar
  • butter
  • extra caster or Demerara sugar

Instructions

1

Set the oven to 180 deg C

2

Line a baking tray with baking parchment (not essential - just helps with the washing up!)

3

Slit the peaches through their “seams” with a sharp knife and twist to separate the two parts

4

(This is where you discover if you really have bought freestone peaches

5

If you haven’t, take a long, thin and very sharp knife - a fish filleting knife is ideal - and gradually work it around behind the pitt until the two parts of the peach come apart

6

This won’t be as elegant a dish as it could be but the flavour will still be wonderful)

7

Slightly enlarge the cavities using a teaspoon; ensure you leave plenty of peach intact ; reserve the extracted flesh

8

Put the peach halves on the baking tray and turn your attention to the filling

9

Bash up the amaretti biscuits until they are crumbs (I put them in a bowl and thump away with the end of my rolling pin)

10

I like a mixture of crumb size but nothing bigger than about 2 ml in diameter

11

Add the peach flesh and mix well

12

Add the caster sugar, if you want to use it and mix well

13

Add 2 - 3 tsp cocoa powder or coffee and again, mix well

14

Add a couple of tablespoons of your chosen spirit, adding a little more if the mixture is too dry

15

Add as much beaten egg as will achieve a firm mixture

16

Taste and add more of whatever you think is lacking but try to avoid the mixture becoming sloppy

17

Fill the peach cavities with the mixture, heaping it up well; I like to cover the entire peach

18

Add a few flecks of butter over the top and sprinkle with Demerara sugar; this will create a slightly crackly top to the finished dish

19

Bake for about 25 minutes until they are bubbling and smelling wonderful

20

Leave to become warm or room temperature (but please don’t serve them from the fridge)

21

I like to then sprinkle them with a mixture of cocoa or coffee and icing sugar

Notes

They are wonderful if served warm with a scoop of good ice cream to match either the cocoa or coffee, or vanilla Good also with creme frâiche but I tend to find double cream a bit too rich

 

Courses/ In My Kitchen/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Techniques/ Uncategorized

CHICKEN À LA CHLORINE

You might reasonably expect this post to provide a couple of chicken recipes. No, sorry, no recipes. Instead I am talking about something that concerns me deeply and about which I am alternately enraged and anxious.

How does the idea of eating chlorine-washed chicken appeal to you? How do you like the idea of not being able to identify that the chicken you’re about to buy for Sunday lunch has been treated in that way? To immediately allay your fears, if you are presently buying said chicken in an EU country, you won’t be eating chicken à la chlorine.

Once the UK has left the EU and is possibly left without the protection of its highly developed Food Safety and Animal Welfare regulations, it is likely that a trade treaty will be entered into with the USA. For many items, that may well be good but food? Not so much. Animal Welfare and Food Safety Regulations in the USA are remarkably less protective than in the EU. That is good for neither man nor beast and my absolute number one concern is American – produced chicken.

I must state that United States Department of Agriculture organically reared and certified chicken is honourably excepted from the remarks below, as indeed are EU certified organic birds.

Chicken not produced under that certification are reared in sheds of up to 30,000 flocks from a few days old to the ripe old age of 42 days. The sheds are not cleaned during that time so the creatures live on increasing layers of ammonia which burns the animals and renders human breathing so compromised that it is almost impossible to enter the sheds safely. At 42 days they are either slaughtered for the food chain or ground up alive and made into fertiliser. During their short, miserable lives those creatures will have been routinely fed antibiotics and inorganic arsenic (this latter is NOT legal in the EU) in order to prevent disease and give the illusion of a healthy bird. They have also been pumped full of growth hormones to accelerate their development process and produce an anatomically deformed creature that has huge breasts and spindly little legs (any relation to Barbie dolls is unintentional), that disposition of flesh apparently being what the consumer wants.

At this point – if you are still with me – I must say that this equally applies to intensively reared chicken in the EU, too. Nothing in the paragraph above is illegal in the EU (except the inorganic arsenic part), shocking though those conditions are.

What is however, strictly outlawed in the EU and with good reason, is the washing in a chlorine solution of chickens. In the USA, once the bird is slaughtered and eviscerated, they are routinely washed in a chlorine solution approximating the concentration used in public swimming baths. This is alleged to diminish the risk of E.coli and Salmonella being present in the bird. Some processors shower the birds, others literally bathe them so the water is cross contaminated by being used for multiple birds, which release particles of blood and faeces into the bath. There is no reliable evidence that this process reduces the possibility of the consumer contracting either E.Coli or Salmonella. It is the rearing process which protects against that; chlorine bathing is shutting the henhouse door after the chicken has flown.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP has been quoted as saying that “Americans have been eating it safely for years”. Really? Is America a healthy country? I’m happy to leave you to make that judgement but my own experience of watchful cooks and consumers in the USA is that they only buy and eat organic chicken and eat it less frequently in order to balance their budgets. They avoid commercially processed food and only buy with full traceability. To not take these precautions exposes them to birds raised and chlorine treated as described above.

So this worrying situation may be coming to the UK sometime after 2019. Even worse, any repealing of Animal Welfare and Food Legislation originating in the EU could leave unscrupulous producers in the UK open to utilising chlorine washing as a so-called safety measure. So there is now every possibility that the quality of food in this country will diminish; industrial producers, who have the loudest voices, deepest pockets and the ear of the politicians will rub their hands in glee at the prospect of spending less on rearing and production, thus compromising animal welfare and – let’s not forget this – flavour.

Not only the chickens will suffer: we will too. I do not want antibiotics that aren’t prescribed by my GP, nor do I want to support a hellish industrial process that plays on my conscience. I am happy to eat less chicken but pay more for an organically reared bird. I am happy to buy a whole bird and use all of it, right down to the bones. The more of us that do the, the smaller the market for the industrialists and bigger the opportunities for organic farmers.

I for one, have no intention of chicken à la chlorine with a side order of inorganic arsenic being on my table any time soon.

Autumn/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Uncategorized/ Winter

#SUPERMARKETSIESTA 2 AND A HALF

The idea for this blog came when I realised, after leaving my corporate life, how much food I was throwing away, if I had over-provisioned (that happened SO often). It was therefore a stark reminder of my old life when towards the end of last week I was faced with leeks, feta cheese, an astonishingly pretty striped aubergine, a couple of San Marzano tomatoes and the dregs of the carton of creme frâiche. A rummage in the dry goods drawer also revealed a sad, almost empty bag of pearl barley. This post therefore, is not quite episode 3 of Supermarket Siesta which follows later this week, but I felt did talk to the origin of this blog.

The weather had begun to feel more like autumn, although not yet cold enough to trigger my soup-making (although enough to make me feel like Kanga counting Roo’s vests). So what to make? When in doubt, consult Elizabeth David is my motto and after half an hour in her company, and an espresso, I had inspiration, although I have to say I made most of this up as I went along.

So here are two simple recipes that are quick, reasonably priced and can be dressed up and down to suit either a solo lunch or supper at home, or serve as starters or main courses. I have a number of vegetarian friends and these work well for them, although I’m still working with a limited repertoire for vegans. I don’t seem to be able to get past using eggs, cheese and butter; my fault I know and I probably need to find the time to do a whole lot more research.

I think the stuffed aubergines will be a regular through the autumn and winter and I’m looking forward to playing around with the flavours.

Stuffed Aubergines

Print Recipe
Serves: 2 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g uncooked weight pearl barley
  • 2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped (I don’t always bother to chop as I don’t mind seeing the little leaves in the finished recipe)
  • 0.25 tsp ground cumin
  • finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 dsp capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 40 - 50 g feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • A greased oven tray

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees C/180 degrees fan

2

Set the pearl barley to cook over a moderate flame until al dente then drain

3

Cut out the flesh of the aubergine, chopping it into 1cm dice. Leave a slim shell of aubergine skin and set aside.

4

I find an old grapefruit knife remarkably useful for this operation. Try your best not to pierce the shell as it will leak horribly.

5

Heat the oil in a thick based pan and soften the shallot and garlic, without letting them colour

6

Add the aubergine flesh and cumin and cook until the aubergine begins to soften

7

Add the tomato, thyme and barley and mix well

8

Allow to simmer until the mixture is quite dry - the tomato juices must evaporate to stop the mixture being sloppy and also to intensify the flavours

9

Add the grated lemon zest and capers and check the seasoning

10

Fill the two aubergine shells, packing the mixture quite firmly

11

Crumble over the feta cheese and finish with the breadcrumbs

12

Cook for 25 - 30 minutes until the stuffing is hot, cheese melting and the aubergine shells a bit wrinkly

Notes

I prefer to eat this warm rather than hot and like it with either a simple green salad or buttered savoy cabbage. Feel free to experiment with the spices here; I can imagine cinnamon being good and to shake things in a different flavour direction, ground cardamom and/or fennel seeds. Just thought - dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and finely chopped could be good too.