Seafood Tarts

There are more than a few signs that Spring is definitely here. Last weekend we had an impromptu picnic in the nearby park and the weather was truly glorious * And when Spring is the air we chefs start to think about some delicious, lighter lunches and dinner instead of all the hearty soups and stews. I think I have the perfect recipe then, for you today, Seafood Feuilleté, a buttery, puff-pastry case full of sensational seafood in a creamy vermouth sauce.

Seafood Tart

Now before we start I don’t want you to panic at the thought of puff pastry, I’m going to put up my hands up right now and admit straight away few of us are lucky to have the time and patience to perfect the technique of making puff pastry at home. Even after hours of practice, I struggle to get an even rise and perfect bake every time, so my solution, used correctly the bought-in product is practical, versatile and very labour saving. Rich and flaky, ready-made puff pastry can top a rich fish pie, enclose marzipan and fruit for a luxurious dessert or make simple crisp cheese straws to nibble.

Puff pastry can also be used to make savoury hors d’oeuvre or bite sized appetisers. The most famous of these being little-stuffed Vol-au-vent cases topped with a little lid or delicate Crolines, small lattice topped parcels. My recipe today is how to make the third, great little tartlet case that can be used in a savoury starter, light lunch or filled with whipped cream and fruit as a simple, elegant dessert.

*The fog returned Monday morning with a vengeance and it was more than a tad chilly.

Feuilleté Pastry Tarts

Why not try roasted Provençal vegetables topped with whipped Goat’s cheese and a little rocket dressed with sea salt and Balsamic, creamy garlic mushrooms or a seafood medley as well as fruit purées and Confectioner’s custard, glazed poached peach halves and raspberries.

Puff pastry ( ready made or homemade )

Egg wash

For the method please follow this link.

 

For the Filling

6 -8 Gamba’s or large Shell on Prawns

500 gr Fresh Mussels Fresh Clams

500 gr Fresh Clams

12 Scallops

6 large Banana Shallots, peeled and finely diced

3 cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

A small handful of fresh Dill

200 ml thick double cream

50 ml of Vermouth ( White Wine is a great substitute )

25 ml Olive Oil

25 gr Butter

Juice of one fresh Lemon

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan ( with a tight fitting lid ), melt the half of the butter and add half of the oil. Over a medium heat soften the shallots for ten minutes without colouring. Add the garlic and cook out for two or three minutes stirring continuously. Tip in the mussels and clams and add the Vermouth place on the lid add steam the shellfish for five to six minutes. Carefully holding the pan with a heat proof cloth remove from the heat. Place a colander in a large glass bowl and tip in the mussels and allow to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to be used to make the final sauce.

When cool pick the majority of the mussels and clams from their shells leaving a handful for garnishing. Carefully pour the cooking liquid through a fine strainer into a small pan and place on a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the volume by half. Add the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes before seasoning with a generous grind of pepper. Melt the remaining butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the gambas, over a gentle heat, for three minutes before turning up the heat and adding the scallops, turn over the prawns and the scallops as soon as they are brown. After two more minutes remove from heat, squeeze over the juice of one lemon and keep warm.

Heat the mussels and clams gently in the sauce. Take care not to boil or the shellfish will toughen, add the remaining lemon juice and finely chopped dill, taste and add more pepper if required. Place a warm pastry case onto a deep lipped plate and carefully spoon in the picked mussels and clams. Add a couple of scallops then fill with sauce and top with the prepared lids or a large prawn. Spoon around a little extra liquid and the retained shellfish in shells and sprinkle with a little extra dill to garnish.

 

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British Pie Week – Braised Beef and Red Wine Pie

It is nearly the end of National Pie Week*, and some of you may already know what I think of some of these marketing inspired theme days, but in the spirit of things it is not too late for you to roll up your sleeves, don an apron and please whilst not exactly releasing your inner Sweeny Todd, get making some pies.

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Pies date back to pre-Egyptian history, early pies were flat, round crusty cakes called ‘galettes’ containing honey, evidence of which can be found on the tomb walls of the Pharaoh Ramesses I, located in the Valley of the Kings. The Roman cookbook Apicius has several recipes which involve a pie case, with a sweet filling, more like a modern-day cheesecake on a pastry base, which more often than not were used as an offering to the gods.

Medieval pies could be easily cooked over an open fire, the earliest pie-like recipes refer to coffyns ( meaning basket or box), with straight sealed sides and a top. The pastry was an effective airtight seal and used to prolong the life of expensive meat and was a handy carrying case when traveling on horseback.

Pies remained as a staple of traveling and working peoples in the colder northern European countries, with regional variations the locally available meats. The Cornish pasty is an excellent adaptation of the pie to a working man’s daily food needs.

*March 6th– March 12th

Shin is an inexpensive cut of meat, which is big on flavour, and is full of gelatinous sinew which cooks down to make the most excellent gravy. It is easy to stew, you can also cook in the oven at around 350 F / 180 C / Gas mark 4 and it really lends itself to batch cooking in the pressure cooker and freezing down until required. You can substitute the red wine for a strong tasting beer for beef and ale pie and adapt the recipe further adding chestnut mushrooms, sautéd kidneys or if you are feeling indulgent a dozen oysters just before you finish cooking.

Shin of Beef and Red Wine Pie

1.5kg Shin of Beef, bone removed, meat cut into chunks

( Ask you butcher to do this as you need a really good knife to cut shin

and ask the butcher to give you the bone )

2 large White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 large Carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 sticks of Celery, washed and finely chopped

1 ltr quality Beef Stock

250 ml good Red Wine

100 ml quality Olive Oil

100 gr Plain Flour or 3 tablespoons Beef Dripping

2 tablespoons Tomato Puree

Bouquet garni; Celery stick, Bay leaf, Parsley and Thyme

A generous pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg

salt & pepper to taste
Ready-made puff pastry (use an all-butter one if you can) or shortcrust
1 egg, beaten

Place the beef, flour, and seasoning into a plastic bag and shake. Meanwhile, heat the oil or dripping in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the beef shin in batches until browned all over and set aside. In the same pan, adding a little more oil necessary, sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until soft for about ten minutes. Add the tomato puree and leftover flour and cook out for another minute, stirring continuously, before adding the red wine and beef stock. Add the beef shin back to the pan, stir everything together and place the marrow bones and bouquet garni, tied with string, on top.

Reduce the heat and place a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for about two hours then remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce for another hour. When the beef is cooked, remove from the heat and thoroughly cool. When cool remove the bones and the bouquet garni.

To serve, pre-heat your oven to 350 F / 180 C / Gas mark 4 and on a floured surface, roll out the half of the pastry to fit an oven-proof pie dish.

Carefully place the pastry into the greased dish and add the beef shin filling. Brush the edges with egg wash and top with remaining rolled out pastry, crimp the edges and brush the top with the rest of the beaten egg. You can decorate with any pastry offcuts if you want. Place the pie in the oven for thirty to forty-five minutes until the pastry is golden and cooked.

Allow to stand for 5 minutes after baking and serve with horseradish mash and buttered peas.

Beignets and Mardis Gras

Beignets and Barbecues

As a family, we certainly get into the mood on Pancake Day and eat pancakes for England. Next year as Honey gets older I think I will have to invest in a second pancake pan to keep up. Number one daughter Lilly is a dab hand at pancake batter and can now measure out the ingredients pretty much by eye so at least some of the work is shared. But as a treat this weekend I made us all Beignets, which are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is traditionally square-shaped and without a hole. Beignets are considered the forerunners of the raised doughnut and are a favourite during Mardis Gras.

mardis-gras Mardis Gras / New Orleans  @ AmemericanSky

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras and the world famous Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans are festivals which developed from the Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before…

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National Toast Day and the Best Ever Hangover Cure

Wholegrain Toast with Bacon Jam and Fried Egg

It is National Toast Day so I want to share with you one of my favourite recipes. When you read the title, you might think I’ve lost the plot ( again ) but there is definitely something very, very moreish* about the combination of sweet onion, salty bacon with just a tickle of chilli heat. You will also probably think that this is quite an expensive dish to make with a lot of bacon** but rather like marmite this is something to use sparingly on your toast, and unlike marmite there will be no polarisation, I’m sure everyone who tries it will LOVE it.

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This recipe for bacon jam is my adaptation of any number of American recipes, each perfectly wonderful, reflecting the availability of ingredients and my own personal preferences. You can try substituting Maple syrup for the honey and adding more chilli if you want more kick in your finished jam. Other recipes I looked at substitute a cup of ground coffee or beer for the water. Next time I am going to use Guinness and I’ll let you know about the result.

*Everyone I know who’s tried it, and I’m a bit of a bacon jam evangelist, always asks for more. It is the ultimate hangover cure on thick toast topped with a fried egg.

**Ask your local butcher if he has any bacon and gammon offcuts this will help with the price.

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Bacon Jam

500 gr quality dry cure Smoky Bacon ( this is better if it is quite fatty )

2 large Spanish Onions, peeled and finely sliced

2 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

200 ml White Wine Vinegar

100 ml Water

250 gr soft Brown Sugar

100 ml runny Honey

1 medium Red Chilli Pepper, finely diced

2 dried Bay leaves

10 – 12 Coriander Seeds

3 – 4 Cloves

½ teaspoon freshly picked Thyme

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

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Slice the bacon into half inch thick strips ( any smaller and they tend to burn ). Put the bacon strips into a large, heavy-bottomed, pan and place over a medium to high heat. Fry the bacon stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning until the bacon is nicely brown, caramelised and crispy. The bacon will cook in its own fat which will melt down, this process is called rendering. When the bacon is cooked remove it from the pan and strain to drain off the excess fat. This can be stored and used for cooking*. Once the bacon is cool, chop very finely into very small pieces.

cooking-bacon-bits

Add the onions to the pan in sufficient bacon fat to allow them to fry. Cook over a medium heat, for ten to fifteen minutes or until clear. Add the garlic, stir well and cook for another two minutes. While the onions are cooking blitz the spices in a coffee grinder ( you can, of course, use a pestle and mortar ). Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the bacon and reduce the heat until the jam is simmering. Stir frequently and cook until the onions are meltingly soft and the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup. Be careful due to recipes high sugar and honey content you must keep stirring to prevent the mix sticking and burning.

Remove pan from the heat and allow the mix to cool for fifteen minutes. Process the jam using the pulse setting in a food processor to help break up the onion, If the result is still quite liquid return to a pan and bring back to the boil. Simmer to reduce the liquid further stirring all the time. Using a funnel transfer into sterilised glass jars and seal tightly. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for a month. Served warm or hot on toasted bread or breakfast muffins and top with a fried egg.

*I’m unashamedly old school just as you cannot have too much butter, cream, alcohol or garlic in your cooking, pretty much anything tastes better fried in bacon fat. Pour the melted bacon fat through a piece of muslin cloth and keep in the fridge in an airtight container.

Valentines Ruby Red Velvet Cake

Ruby Red Velvet cake is an American classic but easily adapted for a special Valentines treat. A traditional velvet cake has layers of moist deep red crumb cake with white vanilla buttercream or frosting. In the recipe below I have included a cream cheese frosting recipe. Ruby Red Velvet cake was made famous at  New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and in fact was named Waldorf-Astoria cake*, it is, however, a Southern recipe and is popular at restaurants such as the soul food based Amy Ruth’s in Harlem**. If you have ever seen the film Steel Magnolias the Armadillo shaped groom’s cake is a red velvet cake.

The Science Bit

Most modern recipes use red colouring but the traditionally the acids in the vinegar and buttermilk reacted with red anthocyanin in the cocoa and developed its colour. The buttermilk also helped keep the cake moist, light, and fluffy. Modern chocolate has often undergone Dutch processing, which prevents the colour change of the anthocyanins.  When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beetroot juices to enhance the colour of their cakes. Sugarbeets are still found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also add sweetness and help to retain moisture, rather like the carrot in carrot cake. Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited with bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the Great Depression era, by being one of the first to promote the use and sales of red food colouring use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards.

I like this cake because if you follow the recipe it is light and moist and tastes delicious. The frosting is very rich but addictive, all in all, this is a real heart pleaser.

*Rather like the illustrious Savoy hotel in London the Waldorf-Astoria had a tradition of the Chef’s creating dishes for their guests, Thousand Island Dressing is another creation from the hotel’s kitchens that we still use today. At the Savoy the famous hotelier César Ritz and his Maitre de Cuisine  Auguste Escoffier created dishes like Pavlova and Omelette Arnold Bennett for their illustrious clients and for the famous Australian opera singer Nellie Melba both Peach Melba and Melba Toast.

**So Harlem is about as far from the deep south as physically and politically possible but it is where I first tried Velvet cake it’s on the menu as Inez Bass, named after the founder’s Mother. 

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Ruby Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake

250 gr Plain Flour

60 gr Cocoa Powder

150 gr soft Unsalted Butter

260 gr Caster Sugar

2 large free-range Eggs

200 ml Buttermilk

1 tablespoon Red Food Colouring ( approximately )

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon Distilled Vinegar

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

¼ teaspoon Salt

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

250 gr soft full fat Cream Cheese

250 gr Mascarpone Cheese

100 gr Icing Sugar

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

175 ml Double Cream

For the Cake

Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C / Gas mark 3, then butter and line two twenty-centimetre cake tins with baking parchment. Into a large mixing bowl sift the flour and salt. In a second large bowl beat the butter until very soft, add the sugar to the butter and beat until light and aerated. Whisk the eggs together and slowly add to the butter and sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Should the mix start to separate and curdle, beat in a little flour before adding more egg, when finished beat in the vanilla extract.

Whisk the buttermilk together with the red food colouring, you may need a little extra depending on the depth of colour. Fold in the buttermilk and flour to the creamed eggs, sugar and butter in three batches using the edge of a large metal spoon. In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to begin to fizz up and then fold into the cake batter. Quickly divide the batter evenly between the two prepared tins and tap to remove any large air bubbles.

Bake in the oven for around twenty-five minutes until a metal skewer inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool totally. At this stage, you can freeze the cakes or wrap in cling film to store overnight.

For the Frosting

In a large mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese and mascarpone until smooth. Sieve in the icing sugar and add the vanilla, whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly add the cream, whisking until a thick but spreadable consistency is achieved.

Using a large serrated knife carefully cut each cake layer in half. Spread three cake layers with a layer of frosting. Place all four layers of the cake on top of each other and frost the top and sides of the cake. The cake is traditionally garnished with fresh or desiccated coconut.

Bramley Apple Week and the Perfect Apple Crumble

As we are in the middle of Bramley Apple Week, you knew that didn’t you, I wanted to give you a failsafe recipe for that most English of desserts the apple crumble, and you cannot make an apple crumble without a Bramley apple. In 1809 a Southwell* resident, Mary Ann Brailsford planted some apple pips one of which still bears fruit to this day. In 1846 her cottage and garden were sold to one Matthew Bramley and apart from shelling out the cash that is his total contribution. A local nurseryman admired the quality of the apples and asked to be allowed to take some grafts to develop more trees capable of producing the fruit. Matthew Bramley agreed to this on the condition that if the apples went on to any commercial success they would bear his name. The Bramley is now famous and cooks love it for its flavour and excellent cooking qualities. It remains one of the most widely grown British culinary apples.

bramleys

The crumble is a quick and easy pudding that can be adapted to suit the seasons and the different fruits available often partnering softer fruits with apples or pears and enhancing the flavour with the use of spices. Apple crumble is the most popular version of the dish and due to the keeping quality of apples traditionally a staple throughout long winters when very few fresh fruits were available. Apples such as Bramley’s would have been stored in a loft or attic to provide a valuable source of vitamin C from November to February. Today your apples are shipped into supermarkets from around the world to overcome seasonality.

However, if you want to go seasonal and reduce your carbon footprint here are a few ideas spring is when rhubarb comes into its own, I pre-bake mine with brown sugar, ginger orange juice, and zest to help keep the shape and prevent the crumble becoming soggy

During the summer there is an abundance of produce, tart gooseberries with plenty of sugar, cherries, or then raspberries, strawberries, and blackcurrants and that all liven up the last of the previous year’s apples when baked together. Spiced plums, pears, apples, and blackberries are the staples of autumn and on into winter.

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Crumbles are best enjoyed hot, with liberal dollops of custard, clotted cream or a scoop or two of ice cream. You can change the basic recipe for the crumble topping by mixing in oats or a sprinkling of chopped nuts and adding spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

* Now in passing most people will know Southwell for its pretty minster and horse racing track but now you dear reader know Southwell is the home of the English Bramley cooking apple. The town holds an annual festival each October to celebrate the Bramley.

My Apple Crumble

1kg Bramley Apples

3 tablespoons of Apple Juice or water

2 tablespoons Caster Sugar ( approximately )

Juice of half a Lemon

½ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

120 gr Self Raising Flour

100 gr Caster Sugar

75 gr Butter

Optional

40 gr Rolled Oats

40 gr Demerara Sugar

Preheat your oven to 200 C / 400 F/ Gas 6. Wash the apples, peel and cut them into quarters. Remove the cores and slice each piece of apple in two. Put the apple pieces into a medium sized, heavy bottomed pan with the apple and lemon juice and cook over a low heat for about five minutes, until the apples start to soften. I like the apples to start to break up leaving some bigger pieces for texture. Taste the apples for sweetness, sprinkle with sugar as required and carefully stir in. Add the nutmeg and gently stir again. Transfer the apple mixture to a shallow ovenproof dish.

In a bowl blend the flour and butter together by rubbing with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, alternatively you can pulse together in a food processor for a few seconds. Blend in the caster sugar thoroughly ( at this point stir in the oats and the brown sugar if required ) and then loosely sprinkle the mix over the cooked apples in the dish. Place the crumble in the oven to bake for thirty minutes or until crunchy and golden-brown on top.

Serve with custard, cream or ice cream.

National Yorkshire Pudding Day and My Perfect Yorkies

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Let’s call Yorkshire pudding
A fortunate blunder:
It’s a sort of popover
That turned and popped under.

Ogden Nash

The Yorkshire pudding it is said can only successfully be made by someone from that august county of England. My mum is from Yorkshire and makes wonderful Yorkshire’s and perhaps the skill is inherited because I am pretty proud of most of my attempts. A Yorkshire pudding is made from a milk, egg and flour batter which was originally poured into a tin set under the roasting joint. The pudding cooked in the hot meat fat and absorbed any juices from the roast. A large slice was served to each dinner with meat gravy before the main course. The meat and vegetables then followed usually served with a parsley or white onion sauce.

In 1747 in ‘ The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy ‘ by Hannah Glasse, one of the first English female cookery writers, there is a recipe for Yorkshire pudding. This is the first time a batter or dripping pudding is recorded with the name, although a flatter less aerated dish had been cooked for many years previously. Traditionally any leftover pudding could be eaten as a dessert with sugar and perhaps orange juice.

The Yorkshire pudding recipe popped over to America ( excuse the pun ) and the first recipe for a Popover is recorded in ‘ Practical Cooking ‘ published in 1876 by M. N. Henderson. Popovers may be served either as a sweet, topped with fruit and whipped cream for breakfast or with afternoon tea or with meats at lunch and dinner. Popovers tend to be individually baked in muffin tins and often include herbs or garlic in the recipe other popular variation replaced some of the flour with pumpkin puree. The name popover originated from the fact that the cooked batter swells or pops over the top of the baking tin.

You can fill your fancy popovers or Yorkshires with just about anything that takes your fancy, here are a few ideas from some I made in Jersey today; Chicken Liver Parfait and Red Onion Marmalade, Goats Cheese, Rocket and Balsamic, Vanilla Ice Cream, Raspberries and White Chocolate Shavings and Apple Crumble and Custard.

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In 2008 the Royal Society of Chemistry held a competition carried out to create a vouchsafe Yorkshire Pudding recipe and decided that a true Yorkshire Pudding cannot be less than four inches tall. They examined the effects of temperature, ingredients and even altitude in the search for perfection. My knowledge of chemistry is limited to an ancient ‘ O ‘ level but quite simply the heat causes the two raising agents, the egg and beaten in air, to expand the batter mix. My tips for success are simple are make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature and get the fat in your baking tray smoking hot.

Individual Yorkshire puddings can be cooked after your joint while it is resting before carving.

Perfect Yorkshire Puddings

90 gr Plain Flour

1 Fresh free-range Egg

240 – 270 ml half Milk / half Water

¼ teaspoon Salt

A good pinch of freshly ground White Pepper

1-2 tablespoons of Beef Dripping

Preheat your oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7. Place a damp cloth on your work surface to stop your mixing bowl slipping. Sieve the flour, pepper and salt into your bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg. Start to beat together then gradually add the milk / water. Continue adding the milk/ water until the batter is smooth and the consistency of pouring cream. Leave the mixture to stand for ten minutes. While the mixture stands divide the beef dripping into Yorkshire Pudding tins and place the tins in the oven until the fat starts to smoke. Give the batter a final stir and pour quickly into the tins. Put them back in the oven and cook until well risen and golden brown, this will take about fifteen to twenty-five minutes depending on the size of your tin.

For the full Royal Society of Chemistry press release

http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2008/PerfectYorkshire.asp