Thursday, 31 July 2008

French Apple Tart

I actually made this last week but I've been a bad blogger recently. I haven't been cooking anything very exciting either, mostly because it has been so hot that I really don't want to be standing over a hot stove for any length of time. The apple crisp I posted about a couple of weeks ago is Blondini's real favourite apple dessert but in the summer who can face a hot apple pie? This, therefore, is our summer version.

French Apple Tart

4oz hard tomor (or other hard fat)
8 oz plain flour
1 oz caster sugar
1 egg
A little water (I fill half an eggshell with water and this is usually the right amount)

7 cooking apples (rough amount - obviously depends on size)
Caster sugar to taste
Cinnamon to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1 teasp of oil or small amount of butter

3 tablespoons apricot jam
3 tablespoons caster sugar

Combine the pastry ingredients together in a food processor or mix by hand until you have a smooth dough. Roll out and press into the pie dish. Cover with baking paper and baking beads (or weigh it down with something else) and put in the oven at 160 or your normal baking temperature for about 30 minutes, or until it has hardened but it not totally cooked.

While it is cooking, peel all of the apples (rub lemon juice over them to keep them from going brown while you work on other apples. Quarter 3 of the apples and cut them into thin slices - these will be the top of the tart. Put these in a bowl with a little of the lemon juice and sprinkle a little sugar over them. Cut the remaining apples into small chunks.

Heat the butter or oil in a saucepan and add the chunks of apple to it, stirring to prevent the apples burning or sticking to the bottom. Cover the pan and let the apples cook slowly. When they have softened, taste and add lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon as required. Keep stirring and cooking (covered) until you have an apple puree.

Spread the apple puree into the pastry case. Layer the sliced apples on top, starting on the outside, overlapping the pieces so that you have rings of overlapping apple. When completed, put the whole thing back into the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes (but check to ensure that the apples on the top are not burning (some may have darkened edges - this is unavoidable) on 160 or your normal baking temperature.

When the tart is out of the oven, take a bowl andcombine the jam and sugar and heat in the microwave (or in a saucepan) until a thick syrup is formed. I do this in the microwave and it is best to heat it for no more than a minute each time, and keep checking on it, as too long can burn it very quickly. It usually takes around 3 minutes, though obviously this will vary for all microwaves.

Using a spoon or palette knife, spread the glaze thinly over the whole tart. Leave to set and then refridgerate.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Red Onion Tarte Tatin

Circumstances have conspired against me so that I have been unable to blog for a while. We have been eating well, never fear, but a cold and then a virus and then a million late nights and crazy days at work have meant that I haven't been photographing and writing about my food.

This week has already been crazy at work (24 hours non-stop in the office on Monday-Tuesday, followed by a 5 hour respite, and then back again Tuesday afternoon) Since I left the office at a relatively civil 7:00 last night I thought I would take advantage of the hour and do some Shabbat preparation, other than the chicken soup which is always made on Wednesday night.

I am about to show you my red onion tarte tatin, but before I do I must tell you that this delicious tarte was also the ruination of my night (and Blondini's) - when I went to take it out of the oven I had one hand in the oven glove with which I grasped the pan part, and with my bare hand I grabbed the handle. This happened at about 10:30. 2 hours later I was still sitting with my hand under the cold tap, and I tried to go to bed by holding onto a bag of ice and then a bottle of vodka from the freezer but I was literally crying out in pain every time my hand slipped off the coldness. I ended up having to put a chair by the sink in the bathroom and just holding my hand under the water there, thinking that perhaps I'd fall asleep like that. Obviously I didn't, and at 3am Blondini called NHS Direct, who said someone would call me back in an hour. A nice nurse called back and asked me lots of questions and then told me to go to A & E because I might have caused some deeper nerve damage. Blondini had fallen asleep so I had to wake him up and then he took me to A & E, where we sat in a waiting room (I sat by the tap again) for 2.5 hours and I was finally seen and given enormous quantities of painkillers and a burn dressing. It feels better now but I am completely exhausted! It is my second all-nighter in 3 days, I am not cut out for this kind of thing!

So, back to the tarte tatin! It is adapted from a Delia recipe (and I note that she even reminds you to protect your hands well when removing the pan from the oven) - I have changed the pastry because she uses a cheese pastry which I do not like the sound of, so I have created my own spicy tomato pastry which I think goes very well with the onions. Since I also make this as a non-dairy thing, I have exchanged butter for oil.

Red Onion Tarte Tatin
(serves 4-6)

1.2 kg red onions
1 tablespoon rapeseed/olive oil
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme plus a few small thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

2.5oz hard tomor or other margarine
5oz wholewheat flour
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon tabasco sauc
Salt and pepper
A little water

Begin by making the pastry - blend all the ingredients together in a food processor or by hand, and then when you have a nice orange dough, cover with clingfilm and refridgerate.

Then take the skins of the onions and cut the tops and bottoms off. Cut each onion in half, longways (from stem to root) and then turn the heat on under the pan. When it is hot, add the sugar and oil. I use a Le Creuset frying pan for this as it is heavy and can also go in the oven. Whatever you use, it needs to be usable in the oven and on the hob. When the oil and sugar are combined and really hot, add the sprigs of thyme and then start putting the onions, cut side down, into the pan. You want the onions to be as close together as possible, so when you have no more space start cutting up the remaining onions and fitting bits into the gaps. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle the vinegar over it and add the chopped thyme. Turn the heat down and cook gently for about 10 minutes. Then cover the pan with foil and put it into the oven for about 1 hour.

Protect your hands well (!) and remove the pan from the oven, testing the onions with a skewer (they should be cooked through but not totally soft) to see if they are done. Turn the oven up higher to about 190 and heat the pan on the hob to reduce all the juices in the pan. While this is happening, roll out the pastry, and when the juices are reduced (varies each time but probably 5 -10 minutes), turn the heat off and press the pastry down over the onions, tucking it in at the edges. Put it back in the oven on a high shelf and let it cook for around 30 minutes until the pastry is crisp.

Allow the tarte to cool for around 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a flat plate (cover it with the plate and flip it over, using oven gloves). If onions stay in the pan just lift them out with a knife and put them back in their space. You can refridgerate this tarte to use later and reheat - I just put it in the oven for 10-15 minutes to warm up before serving.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Seabass Fillets with Pesto

I was inspired by Kevin at Closet Cooking to try using pesto, which I love but have only ever eaten with pasta, on fish. Those who know me will know I'm a bit obsessed with meals that are "nutritionally complete" and as much as I like pasta with pesto, it is a bit inadequate since there really isn't any protein. Pesto with fish, therefore, seemed like a great idea. Kevin used tilapia in his recipe but I'm allergic to that (and it's also not widely available in the UK), so I used seabass fillets. It was extremely simple, and extremely delicious - I'll definitely be doing it again.

Seabass fillets with Pesto
(serves 2)

2-4 fillets of seabass (depending on size)
1-2 tablespoons of pesto

For the pesto:

A handful of fresh basil
Large tablespoon of pine nuts (toast these by heating them in a dry frying pan for a few minutes)
1 large clove of garlic
Approx 1 teasp olive oil

Put the pesto ingredients into a food processor (or a pestle and mortar if you are old-school) and blend until they form a paste.

Wash the fish and put it on a sheet of foil or on a tray for grilling. Spoon the pesto onto the fish and spread around. Put the fish under the grill for around 8 minutes, and you're done!

I served this with roasted baby new potatoes and sautéed leeks and mushrooms, which I have to talk about here because they were Blondini's idea. Since we had a sad little leek sitting in the fridge and no plans as to how to use it up, Blondini decided to buy some chestnut mushrooms which he thought would go very well with the leek.

Sautéed Leeks and Chestnut Mushrooms

1 leek
approx 200g chestnut mushrooms
A little oil for frying
Salt and pepper

I julienned the leek, for no other reason than I thought it would look pretty and resemble noodles, which would be fun. I cut the stalk bits off the mushrooms and then just cut them in half.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan until it is really hot, and then put in the leeks and mushrooms and stir, coating them all with the oil. Let them fry for a few minutes, and season to taste.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Chicken Puttanesca with Basil Pappardelle

Blondini and I had the most fabulous weekend in France avec les parents. Such delicious food was eaten (organic roast chicken - it really tasted different - and daurade royale, and amazing peaches and other fruit.. and a fantastic peach tart) and lovely wine was drunk and there was swimming and sunbathing and general chilledness. The only bad element was that as soon as we touched down in London on Sunday a cold sprang up out of nowhere. So I went to work on Monday all tragic and sniffling and was told I could leave early, which meant 9:30pm. I felt even worse yesterday so didn't go in, and spent a lovely day in bed with hot drinks, watching films. But since I was home, and since you're supposed to feed a cold (I have been using that excuse since Monday to eat absolutely everything I want - noodles, brownies, jelly tots, etc) I decided to make something easy but tasty and filling for dinner. I therefore present....

Chicken Puttanesca with Basil Pappardelle
(serves 2)

1 large chicken breast, cut into pieces (or however much chicken you think you need for two)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon of sliced olives
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil (a large handful of leaves will make this amount)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
250g fresh pasta (or I think it would be 160g dried pasta) - for this dish my preferred pasta is basil pappardelle

Cut the chicken into pieces, season, and fry in a small amount of olive oil until brown on both sides. Remove from the pan.

Heat a little olive oil in the pan and add the crushed garlic and finely chopped chilli. Fry for a few minutes, and then add the chopped tomatoes. When it is bubbling, add a little water together with the capers, olives and basil. Stir and taste for seasoning. Then add the chicken to the pan and cover the pieces with the sauce. Cook, covered, for about 20 minutes. If the sauce seems too thin (it should be quite thick), then take the lid off and reduce for a few minutes, stirring often to avoid the mixture burning on the bottom of the pan.

When you are ready, cook the pasta (if fresh, it will need only 2-3 minutes but dried pasta will need around 10 minutes). Serve the pasta with the puttanesca on the side or on top, as you wish!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Apple Crisp

I could pretty much post about Apple Crisp any day of the week because it is one of my signature desserts and I make it all the time. Everything here is "Blondini's favourite" but this one really really is his favourite dessert, which is why we have it so often. We also call it Piao, but I won't go into why - it relates to things like Beauty and the Geek (which Blondini wouldn't want to admit he has watched) and Namibia and other hilarious in-jokes.

This is actually an invention of my mum's, and more often now she makes it as a strudel, laying out the filling onto sheets of pastry and rolling them up. This is because my brother claims not to like it as Apple Crisp, but really likes it as Apple Strudel, despite the ingredients being identical. It's one of the quickest and easiest desserts to make, and also one of the most effective. It is a Friday night staple in our house.

Apple Crisp
(serves 8-10 in a dish that is around 30cm diameter)

Filo pastry
4-5 Bramley's (cooking apples)
Raisins (if you like - we love them but some people don't and I once made this half with raisins half without)
A couple of tablespoons of brown sugar (you need to taste to see how sweet/tart the apples are)
1-2 teaspoons of cinammon
A squeeze of lemon
Sunflower or other tasteless oil spray
Icing sugar to garnish

Start by peeling, coring and chopping the apples. I cut them into little rectangles about 1.5cm x 1cm. Put them all into a bowl with a squeeze or two of lemon, to stop them from going brown along with the sugar, cinammon and raisins and mix together. Taste a piece of apple to see how sweet it is and then judge your sugar content from that. I probably use 1-2 tablespoons of sugar for this quantity of apples.

Spray the dish with the oil spray and then lay out sheets of filo pastry. You need to cover the whole dish and the sides (it's easiest just to leave a few centimeters hanging over the edges) and it should be about 2 layers thick in all parts. Give it another spritz of oil, and then tip in the apples and raisins. Level it out and then tear up pieces of filo pastry and scrunch them up and cover the apples with these. You'll probably get through 8 or 9 sheets of pastry like this - the whole area needs to be completely covered so that you can't see any apple. Spritz this again with oil when done, and then put in the oven and bake at 160 or your normal oven baking temperature (not too high) until it is golden brown - it will probably take about an hour. Remove and before serving, sieve some icing sugar over the pastry. We like to heat this in the oven whenever we serve it - you can of course eat it cold but the pastry tends to get soft and it tastes more strudelly than crispy, though it is still yum.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Lemon Fairy Cakes and Chocolate & Fresh Mint Tart

It's time to catch up on a couple of things from last weekend. We had friends staying with us, and those friends like to eat (no judgement - so do we!) but as always, preparation time was short. Obviously I made proper meals with chicken and vegetables, all nutritionally balanced - I will post about the Moroccan Baked Chicken with Chickpeas and Brown Rice another time - but what was also required was snacks and sweet things. I decided that fairy cakes make a good snack as they cook so quickly and therefore don't occupy my oven for very long, which is important when it is 7pm on a Friday night and you need to get a whole dinner in there. I also really like these fairy cakes as they are like the ones my grandma used to make - I really remember picking the delicious lemon icing off and eating them in tiny bites.

Lemon Fairy Cakes
(makes about 20)

4oz butter/margarine
6oz caster sugar
6oz self raising flour
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons cold water
Pinch of salt

Juice of one lemon
Approx 6oz icing sugar, sifted

Beat all the cake ingredients together and spoon into fairy cake cases (I put my cases inside fairy cake tins, to help them hold their shape). Cook for about 15 minutes on 160 or your normal baking temperature. They are done when you can stick a fork into the centre cake and it comes out clean, and they should be spongy to the touch and lightly golden.

When they are cool, put the lemon juice in a bowl and rest a sieve on top of it. Push the icing sugar through it, stopping every now and then to stir the mixture, so that you can see when you are at the desired thickness (this is quite thick, nearly opaque, so that it is spoonable but not too liquidy) - it is impossible to be more precise because of course each lemon will yield a different amount of juice. Spoon this icing onto your cakes, leave to set.

For dessert on Saturday, I made a chocolate tart. As we were having meat for lunch (cf rules of keeping Kosher), the dessert needed to be non-dairy. I used a recipe I had from a chocolate tasting class at Maison du Chocolat for the chocolate ganache, but the quantities in that recipe were somewhat imprecise, so it was really improvisation.

Chocolate and Fresh Mint Tart
(in approx 20cm diameter pie dish)

2oz hard tomor/other hard fat
4oz plain flour
1 egg
0.5oz caster sugar
A dash of water

500ml soy cream (I imagine it is the same amount of real cream (single cream) if you prefer the dairy version)
200g dark chocolate - I used Lindt 70% (I should probably take out shares in Lindt, I use it so much)
Handful of fresh mint leaves (easier if you use stalks with leaves, as you have to remove them later)

Begin by mixing all of the pastry ingredients together. If it is too soft, leave it to chill in the fridge first, and then roll it out. I like to put a piece of clingfilm down on the surface, sprinkle with a little flour and roll it on that. Then you can pick the pastry up all in one piece, fit it into the pie dish and peel off the clingfilm with no mess or breaking pastry. Put a piece of baking parchment on the surface of the pastry and use baking beads or something else to weigh it down for cooking. Bake the empty pie case at 160 or your normal baking temperature for 30-40 minutes or until it is golden and hard.

When it is cooled, prepare the filling. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put it in a large bowl. Then put the cream into a saucepan with the fresh mint and bring to the boil. When it is boiling, remove the mint leaves (you may need to sieve this, or just take them out with a spoon), and then pour it over the chocolate in the bowl. Leave to stand for 30 seconds, and then stir - the chocolate will melt into the cream this way. When you have a thick, smooth chocolate cream, simply pour it into the tart case and you're done.