Friday, 27 June 2008

Apricot cream tart, My best dessert ever?...

Last week I made what I think is my best ever dessert, I didn't set out to make it but I couldn't resist a whole bagful of fresh apricots for £1! there was probably 4lbs of fruit which is way more than we could eat so... My Dad made some jam which is really good, and I made an Apricot tart.
The recipe is loosely based on Rick Stein's redcurrant tart that was in Sainsbury's magazine. I changed the redcurrants for apricots and made an almond pastry as it goes so well with apricot, the filling is a custard filling made with double cream, eggs, icing sugar and a real vanilla pod. First I made the pastry, it's a simple all butter shortcrust recipe to which I added a little sugar and almond extract, this was blind baked to make the case.
The filling is made from half a pint a double cream, 2 eggs, 5oz sugar and vanilla. The apricots were stoned and halved, placed in rings in the pastry case, I then poured in my custard mixture and baked it in a low oven for about an hour.
The result is a dessert that not only looks brilliant but tastes great, the flavours were perfectly balanced and it was just the right level of sweet and a contrasting sharpness from the fruit, the pastry was crisp and delicious. Overall it was perfect!
This would be fantastic to take to a bring and share lunch which is what I plan to do.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Gooey cheese and cranberry turkey burgers

Last week I decided to finally clear out our cupboard of sauces and pickles. We have everything in there from mustard in a variety of different types to ketchup and curry sauce, the problem was it was so full opening the door meant running the risk of serious injury as bottles and jar come pouring out! wearing some kind of hard hat would have been advisable.
So I cleared some space on top of the freezer and put a load of stuff there. During my clearings (if that's a real word) I made some interesting finds, one of them was shocking, a jar of enchilada sauce with a best before date of 1995! I couldn't believe it (no I didn't eat it!). One thing I did find of use however was a jar of cranberry sauce, I had some turkey mince in the fridge and I had an idea for cranberry and turkey burgers made by mixing the two. Apart from the classic combination of cranberry and turkey, I love cranberry sauce with brie (makes a great sandwich), and so the plan was to make turkey cranberry burgers with a piece of brie in the middle. The idea being that it would melt out as a gooey cheesy centre when you bit into it (I love melted cheese!).
The burgers were really delicious and I am definitely making these again. Turkey burgers have a reputation for being dry and tasteless but these were delicious and juicy, I think the cheese helped to stop them drying out and the cranberry gave a good flavour. I served them with a broad bean salad with roasted peppers and onions and also some potato wedges, I served a sauce made by mixing Thai sweet chilli sauce and mayonnaise.
I am thinking of trying an Italian version next with sundried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Sounds good to me!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine (Kefta mkaouara) and a book recommendation

A little while ago I made a bit of an impulse buy of Rick Steins Mediterranean Escapes, a cookbook to accompany the TV series. I had just been watching the TV programme and went and bought the book straight after.The book has recipes from all over the Mediterranean, places such as Sicily, Corfu and North Africa. Rick Steins passion for the food of the region really comes across, his words inspire me to get into the kitchen and cook! The recipes themselves on the whole are easy to cook at home although there are a few more challenging recipes thrown in.
One of the great things is, these are authentic recipes he has collected from his tour of the area. I think what I like best about this book however is the fantastic photography, both of the food and the area it comes from, if the words don't inspire you the photos will!

On to the recipe! A North African dish of spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine, or as it's properly called Kefta Mkaouara (try and pronounce that!). I was particularly drawn to this recipe as I love meatballs and this puts a different spin on my usual Italian style meatballs and pasta. These meatballs which can be beef or lamb (I used beef but I guess lamb is more authentic) are flavoured with cumin and paprika and are cooked in a tomato sauce flavoured with the same spices, they are traditionally served with flatbread.The meatballs are left to simmer in the sauce and then a few minutes before serving, another unusual twist, eggs are cracked over the top and left to cook! This seemed strange to me but good at the same time.
I served this with pitta bread and vegetables and thought it was fantastic, it looks great too and is so easy I will be doing this again.

The recipe is available here: spicy egg, meatball and tomato tagine

Friday, 6 June 2008

Easy as... Paella

Paella is perhaps one of the most controversial of foods, almost every Spaniard has the perfect, original and absolutely authentic recipe. Yet every one is different! the subject can spark heated debates in homes across Spain. Should a paella contain seafood? rabbit? chicken? there are plenty of recipes around containing these ingredients, I've even seen a recipe that contained snails!After a bit of research it seems that there is no original recipe, Paella started out as a labourers dish originating in the province of Valencia in southern Spain, this is where the rice was grown, a special short grain variety called Calasparra or Bomba which is similar to the Italian Arborio risotto rice.
As the labourers were poor it would have contained whatever was to hand, usually cheaper meats such as rabbit or snails from the fields, as well as a selection of vegetables. It is cooked in a similar way to Risotto although the stock is added all at once rather than gradually. One thing the Spanish do agree on is that it should never be stirred as this prevents a crust forming on the bottom of the pan. This is called a socarrat and is considered a delicacy.
Paella is in fact the name of the large round pan in which the meal is cooked, the meal is named after the pan in much the same way as a casserole is actually named after the pot In which it is cooked.
This meal was ideal for labourers working in the fields as large amounts could be cooked over an open fire and be shared, eaten from the same pan with spoons.
It is unlikely that the first paellas would bear much resemblance to those eaten today as the ingredients would have been to expensive. A typical paella now would usually contain a mixture of seafood, some kind of meat often chicken, and the essential ingredient of Spanish Saffron, this is what makes it really special as it is the most expensive spice in the world.
Last year we had a continental market come to town, there were stalls from all over Europe selling specialities from their different countries, such as German sausages, French crépes and delicious waffles with chocolate I think from Austria. One of the stalls was selling kitchen equipment and they had Paella pans, needless to say I bought one! I've used it a couple of times and last night I gave it another try. My version of paella included mixed seafood (mussels, squid and prawns), pork and some Chorizo sausage. I also added tomatoes onions, lots of garlic, red bell peppers and a pinch of saffron.Contrary to what you may have thought Paella is extremely easy first I fried the sausage and meat, then added the vegetables, then the rice and saffron and finally chicken stock and a splash of white wine. A Paella pan is not essential and there are plenty of recipes around, this is one of my favourite meals and I urge you to try it. One of the good things about it is you can make it extravagant with lots of expensive ingredients for a special occasion, or like the original labourers, make it with whatever you have...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

At last I made a Cheese Souffle!

There are some recipes that scare me, usually they are recipes that seem far too complicated, or I have heard horror stories of it all going horrendously wrong. One such recipe was Choux pastry, even though I really wanted to try it, I could see myself making a complete mess and throwing it all in the bin!! But I overcame that and found it to be really easy.
Another recipe that has me shaking with fear is Souffle, I can just see it collapsing the second I open the oven door, or simply not rising at all.
Well after thinking "I really should try it" for over a year I finally got the courage to give it a go. The recipe I used is by Keith Floyd for a cheese Souffle, I served it with Jersey Royal potatoes and a salad.Contrary to popular belief souffle is very simple to make, it comprises a simple bechamel sauce into which egg yolks and the flavour of choice is added, to this fold in stiffly beaten egg whites and bake in the oven. For a sweet souffle it is exactly the same except a sweet custard base is used.
I am pleased to report that my souffle was a success, while it didn't rise quite as much as I hoped, it did rise and tasted really good, next time I might add chopped bacon and some leeks or mushrooms for more flavour. This makes an excellent light summer meal.

The recipe can be found here: Cheese souffle
Note: it is crucial that you eat this as soon as it is cooked as it starts to collapse immediately!