An update on the previous post for leek and goats cheese tart. Do try this version. It was rather delicious using buttermilk in the filling which went very well with the watercress.

Tart base (see previous post)

2 onions, sliced finely
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
Big handful fresh oregano, finely chopped
60g watercress
1 77g pack smoked diced pancetta
100ml double cream
175ml buttermilk
3 eggs (1 whole and 2 yolks)
25g cheese (parmesan, pecorino Romano, cheddar)
Spring onion to garnish

Pre heat the oven to 190 c
Sauté the onions and pancetta in the oil, grating in the clove of garlic and half the finely chopped oregano. Season well.
Put into a bowl and cool slightly before stirring in the watercress. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk and cream together. Season.
Stir the egg mixture into the filling mix, grate in half the cheese and add the rest of the oregano. Turn into the pastry case and top with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for 18 t0 20 minutes or until just set.
Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before serving. Delicious at room temperature as well.5BC8DC30-3FCA-4AA1-8E64-2EC46B143544

Funny how the word quiche conjures up something slightly dispiriting; replace with the ‘tart’ and suddenly my mouth is watering. Which is unfair, as the classic quiche Lorraine is a wonderful thing if properly made.
There are those that claim not to be able to make pastry and it is true that there are excellent ready made shortcrusts on the market which will work extremely well with this recipe. But actually, it is really incredibly easy to make your own and will always be that little bit better. Also there is the added advantage of being able to add herbs, cheese, mustard or even nuts. You can use wholemeal flour if that is your thing but the important thing is to keep everything cold and not overwork it. It also needs to be thinly rolled out and whilst I am lucky enough to have an aga, those who don’t really will need to blind bake their pastry case before adding the filling. It will otherwise remain fairly raw on the base and that is the last thing you want.
In order to keep my pastry as thin and under control as possible I roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm. It makes it so much easier to handle. If you are blind baking make sure you leave a little overhang of pastry all the way around the tin. If you don’t, the pastry may shrink in the oven and there won’t be space for your filling.
I always seem to have leeks and fennel in my fridge. They are two of my favourite vegetables and both are so versatile. They combine beautifully here in this classic tart, lovely together with the goats cheese and parmesan. I have a huge oregano bush in my garden and so use that a lot. I have learnt over the years that oregano has much more flavour dried, but you just have to use a lot of it if it is fresh; it really is delicious but any herbs would work well.
Always use a metal tin. It will conduct the heat through so much better and it also helps to have a baking tray hot in the oven ready to cook your tart on – that will ensure a properly cooked base.
We enjoy this with a fennel and grapefruit slaw.

Serves 4

Pastry

125g plain white flour
50g butter (cold, cut into small cubes)
35g parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon English mustard powder
1 small egg
Large pinch sea salt

Tart filling

1 walnut sized knob butter
1 tablespoon rapeseed/light olive oil
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 large leek
1 small bulb fennel
50g fresh oregano, finely chopped
75g soft goats cheese
100ml whole milk
100ml double cream
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
Sea salt and black pepper
20g parmesan cheese

First make the pastry. I always make mine by hand but you could use a food processor.

You will need a fluted loose bottomed tart tin (metal) 23cm wide and 2 1/2 cm deep.

Put the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Whisk well to break up any lumps. Add the butter and rub in using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the parmesan and mustard and stir to combine. Whisk the egg and add about two thirds of it. Using a knife, cut and fold until you have clumps of pastry forming. You may need to use a little more of the egg, depending on how big it is. Keep any leftover egg as you will need it later. It will take a few minutes but this cutting with a knife will help keep the pastry light. Once it has combined (it must not be sticky) knead very briefly until it is a smooth ball. Put into a plastic bag and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.
Make the filling. Chop the onion and finely slice the leek and the fennel, discarding any part that might be tough or fibrous. Heat the oil and butter and add the vegetables. Add half of the finely chopped oregano. Sauté very gently over a low heat until softened. Add the rest of the oregano. Season well and put into a bowl to cool.
While your filling is cooling, take your pastry out of the fridge. Roll it out thinly and line your tart tin. If you have an aga you can skip this step but if not, blind bake the pastry at 180c. You will have to line it with baking paper (easiest to scrumple this up first) and add baking beans. Prick all over with a fork. After ten minutes or so remove the baking beans and allow the base to turn a light golden. Allow to cool.
Whisk the egg, egg yolks, milk and cream together and add lots of seasoning. Grate in half the parmesan. Spread the cooked vegetables into the tart case. Add little chunks of the soft goats cheese. Pour over the cream/egg mixture and top with the rest of the parmesan and then bake in an oven at 190c for about minutes until just set and a light golden colour. It should still wobble but be cooked through.
Leave to sit for a few minutes before serving, or allow to cool and eat at room temperature.5CB9A75D-BC3F-4521-B5FB-64B776308A84

A friend brought round a lovely big bunch of lovage the other day. It is apparently very easy to grow and further investigation taught me that it has a wonderful flavour reminiscent of celery with a hint of parsley and aniseed thrown in for good measure. It does in fact make a good substitute for flat leaf parsley and I particularly like the tender, hollow stems which mean you can chop the whole lot up and use it all, especially if it is going in a casserole or soup. I use a kallo gel stock cube if I don’t have any fresh stock available and find it excellent, as is the marigold bouillon powder. That needs to be added with care though as it can be very salty.
I’m told that lovage makes a wonderful addition to a cheese soufflé but things have been rather more basic in our house this week. Some of the leaves were put to good use over a roast sweet potato and orange salad but the rest made a delicious soup and I have since ordered a plant so that I can make this again. Just right for a spring lunch and made a little be more special with a quenelle of creamed feta garnishing the centre, although that is certainly a very optional extra. Worth doing though, if you happen to have feta or goats cheese available.

Serves Four

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 walnut sized knob of butter
3 stalks celery, stripped of any tough strings and finely chopped
1 large or 2 small leeks (about 250g) chopped
1 medium potato (about 125g), peeled and chopped
125g washed lovage, stalks included
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
1 – 2 tablespoons double cream (don’t worry if none available)
Sea salt & black pepper

Melt the oil and butter together and add the onion and garlic. Sauté very gently until beginning to soften and add the celery. Continue cooking until soft and then add the leeks and potato. Stir around a bit and then add the chicken or vegetable stock.
Simmer for about fifteen minutes or until everything is very soft. Add the lovage and simmer for a couple more minutes before blending everything together until very smooth.
Add the double cream, if using and check the seasoning.

Creamed feta

4” piece feta cheese
2 tablespoons double cream
Black pepper

Mash everything together until very smooth and creamy. If you like you could add some chives. Check seasoning and use teaspoons to make quenelles of this to put on top of the soup.

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Soup is very quick to make and very forgiving. Cooking can be a precise art but not here – a few hundred grams or millilitres here and there won’t make much difference and it is so easy to adjust the thickness, creaminess, flavour etc. The only absolute cast iron requirement is some sort of onion; at a pinch you could probably get away with using a leek or two but there really is no substitute for a common brown or white onion unless making a bright and fresh summer soup in which case a spring onion or shallot will be an excellent choice.

Otherwise, play with what vegetables you use to your hearts content. There are, of course the tried and tested recipes that have stood the test of time. But you really can’t go wrong with any combination; just stick to common sense – fennel seed and coconut milk for example is never going to work but use a little Thai curry paste in the base of a butternut squash soup and the coconut milk suddenly makes perfect sense.

A tablespoon or two of double cream can add a wonderful silkiness to soup but here I am using a spiced butter and it is just so delicious swirled on top the fragrant combination of root vegetables, fennel and cumin seed. A touch of luxury to an otherwise everyday staple but worth its weight in gold in terms of nutrition, taste and culinary contentment. This soup freezes well.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons rapeseed or light olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large stick celery, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 butternut squash, chopped (no need to peel)
2 medium beetroot, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
2/3 good quality chicken or vegetable gel stock cubes
11/2 to 2 litres boiling water
Salt & black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, leek, garlic and celery. Cook until beginning to soften over a low heat. Add the fennel and cumin (chilli if using) and cook for a minute or two, then add the sweet potato, squash, beetroot and red pepper. Stir around for a bit and then add the stock to cover. You may not need it all. Season and then cover with a lid. Simmer for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are completely soft.

Blitz either in a liquidiser or use a hand held blender. Check seasoning and adjust thickness with any remaining stock. Serve with the spiced butter swirled over.

SPICED BUTTER

50g butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Cinnamon stick
Black pepper

Crush the cumin and coriander seed in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter and add with the cinnamon stick, pepper and mustard seeds. Heat until foaming and drizzle over the soup.
7F6FA85F-E272-4AE8-A533-AD1B658EECEC

Probably the favourite treat in our household is a tray of chocolate tiffin and I have made it over the years in a variety of forms. This is our latest favourite combination and although you can’t go wrong combining chocolate, butter, golden syrup and biscuits, a few judicious additions can elevate the delicious to the sublime.
This is one of those recipes that you really can play around with to your hearts content. If you don’t want to use alcohol then a dash of vanilla, strong coffee or a grating of orange rind would be ideal but I find it is good to add some sort of flavouring. Vary your nuts, or leave them out altogether; try apricots instead of prunes or perhaps put both in! Those who don’t love ginger can just leave it out. It is probably one of the most forgiving recipes you can do and one thing is for sure, it won’t last long. Some people use rich tea biscuits but I prefer digestives. The amaretti add a lovely flavour but again, use whatever you have or whatever you like. Hobnobs?!! You can’t ever go wrong with a hobnob.

Here is my recipe; feel free to ad lib at will.

Line a tin approx 9” square with baking parchment

350g dark chocolate
140g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
Good pinch maldon salt
100g raisins
50g stoned prunes
3 balls stem ginger
1 tablespoon ginger syrup from the jar
25ml brandy/rum/amaretti
50 – 100g pecan nuts (toasted) how nutty you want it is up to you
125g digestive biscuits
75g amaretti biscuits

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over barely simmering water. Once just beginning to melt, add the syrup and salt. Stir until all all blended and smooth.

Meanwhile, soak the raisins in the alcohol if you are using it. (Best left for about 20 mins). Chop the prunes and ginger (make ginger quite small). Crush the biscuits using a bag and a rolling pin. Chop the nuts into small pieces.
Once the chocolate mixture has begun to cool add the dried fruit and stir to blend. Then add the biscuits, nuts and ginger syrup. Stir it all together well and put into your prepared tins, smoothing the top. Put in the fridge to set for at least four hours. Dust with icing sugar and/or cocoa and cut into squares.

Best kept in the fridge, hence the term fridge cake but we like to call it tiffin!!
4BDDFB07-0F11-47F5-95D0-400B98C1806C

Serves Four

Four pieces of boneless cod (about 150g each)
50g butter
Four tomatoes
One red pepper, chopped.
Olive oil
Thyme
Two tablespoons good quality black olives, pitted and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
A little balsamic vinegar (white if possible, or sherry vinegar)
Fresh basil
Two tins cannellini beans
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Clove garlic (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
100ml chicken/veg stock
Lemon juice
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C (top aga)

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the core. Sit on a baking sheet with the peppers, drizzle over olive oil, season and sprinkle with thyme. Roast for about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and roughly chop. Put into a small saucepan with the olives and add enough extra virgin oil to make a sauce. Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar to taste and stir through some shredded basil. Set aside while you cook the fish.

Rub a baking sheet with some of the butter and sit the cod on it. Season the fish and dot with the remaining butter. Add a tablespoon of water to the pan and put into the oven for six to ten minutes. The cod is cooked when the tip of a knife that you have pierced through to the centre feels warm. It will continue cooking after you have removed it from the oven.

Meanwhile, fry the shallot for the mash. Add the garlic if using and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the drained beans and half the stock. Heat through and then season and mash with a hand held blender or potato masher. Add the rest of the stock if you need it.

Remove the fish from the oven and rest for a couple of minutes. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it. Heat the tomato and olive mixture. Serve the cod on the mash with some of the sauce spooned over.

What a relief that the days of mayonnaise laden, traditional coleslaws are largely a thing of the past. A 21st century slaw is far more likely to be made with the merest hint of a dressing, relying instead on herbs, spices, nuts etc to provide interest and contrast to the vegetables. Cabbage and carrot may well still feature but are more likely these days to be partnered with arguably more interesting vegetables such as fennel, mangetouts, broccoli or whatever it is that fires your enthusiasm.
Gorgeous with anything from pulled pork, salmon fillets, chicken or just a bowlful on its own, I love making this fennel and snow pea version and although a few hours in a cool place will improve it enormously it rarely lasts long in our house – guilt free pleasure that those on a strict diet can make even more virtuous by reducing the olive oil content and leaving out the dates and pecans.
This is a recipe to play around with according to whatever you have available in the vegetable drawer. Or add in some finely shredded crisp apple. The dressing can be adjusted – a little buttermilk whisked in will render it a little more creamy or even a couple of teaspoons of double cream. I like this simple lemon and olive oil version but if you prefer, use cider vinegar. I discovered the other day that if you dissolve a little sea salt (never table salt) in the vinegar before adding the rest of the dressing ingredients it takes away a lot of the harshness and mellows it nicely.
Add the herbs to taste the amount doesn’t really matter. Just chop and add until to your liking. Seasoning is very important!

Serves 4 (or 2 greedy people)

1 medium bulb of fennel
1 chunk of Savoy cabbage, freshest and greenest bit about size of the fennel
12 snow peas (sugar snaps)
1/2 to 1 shallot, depending on how big it is
1 or 2 pitted medjool dates
30g pecan nuts
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Very small squeeze honey
1 lemon
2 teaspoons sumac
Fresh mint (Small handful, chopped)
Fresh dill, finely chopped
Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Remove the tough outer layer of the fennel and remove the core. Save any fronds. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin finely shred and put into a bowl. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon.
Finely shred the shallot, snow peas and cabbage. Add these to the fennel with a good amount of sea salt and black pepper. Toss well.
Finely chop the dates and toast the pecans. Chop these and then toss these into the slaw.
Add the olive oil, a tiny squeeze of honey, all the herbs and the sumac. Add any fennel fronds, chopped. Toss all together well and then adjust with more lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, seasoning. Finish with an extra sprinkling of sumac.
Leave for an hour for all the flavours to make friends although that is not entirely necessary. It will keep well for a day or two.

Serve as a side dish with chicken, salmon or pork. Or just have on its own.

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Mince Pies are, for me one of the joys of the Christmas season. 1st December heralds the green light to start baking batches both for the freezer, ensuring that we won’t run out over the big day but also for myself and anyone who shares what could be described as a minor addiction to something not entirely healthy but oh so delicious.

If you are going to go the trouble of making your own then please do make your own mincemeat. Nothing in the shops can ever compare to the flavour and fragrance of a good homemade; I find the commercial brands far too acidic and faintly unpleasant in comparison. Mincemeat is surprisingly easy to make; some recipes call for it to be gently heated before storing in sterilised jars. Some simply stir all the ingredients together. I favour the heating option; I feel the flavours combine better and the mincemeat stores better due to the fat clinging around all the fruits. A good dollop of alcohol will help with the preserving but it is not absolutely necessary. If you prefer not to use brandy or rum then just replace with extra orange and lemon juice; the former is less acidic but I like the tang that lemon adds and so tend to hedge my bets and add some of both, in my case along with a good soaking of both brandy and amaretti liqueur.

The quality and freshness of your dried fruits is imperative. Old bags of stuff that have been open for a while won’t really cut it – like spices, best to buy just before you make your mincemeat or use from unopened packs!

Mincemeat should keep well for at least six months and improves with keeping. I often use jars that I made the year before and have never experienced any problems; on the contrary these left over jars tend to have even better flavour and a lovely mellowness about them.

Makes about 4 or 5 jars

5 sterilised jam jars

200g currants
200g plump raisins
200g sultanas
125g good quality mixed peel
125g chopped apricots/dried figs/prunes/dried cranberries/sour cherries
1 Bradley apple, peeled and finely chopped
250g dark brown sugar (or a mix of light and dark)
75g blanched almonds, finely chopped
150g suet (vegetarian or beef)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons mixed spice
Grating nutmeg
Dash of vanilla extract
2 lemons, rind and juice
1 orange, rind and juice
50ml amaretti liqueur
150ml brandy

Mix everything together in a saucepan except the brandy and amaretti. Heat gently and then cook, stirring every now and then for about fifteen minutes. The fat will melt and coat all the other ingredients. Leave to cool.

Add the brandy and amaretti, or whatever alcohol you prefer and then spoon in to sterilised jars and seal. Store in a cool place until you need it.

When ready to use, add another good grating of orange rind and some more amaretti or brandy.

A fresh apricot is one of the joys of summer, especially if you happen to be somewhere properly hot and can rely on them being consistently flavoursome and ripe.
In this country it is a bit more hit and miss and I find myself more often than not roasting, poaching or using them, as here in a cake or tart. Cooking them really does intensify the flavour and turns even the most insipid into something special.
This easy cake makes a lovely finish to a summer lunch. It is extremely quick to make and although is something of a one day wonder can be very successfully refreshed in a hot oven in the unlikely event that there is any left over.
Those who are gluten intolerant can just use all almonds.
Serves six

140g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar
70g ground almonds
70g self raising flour
Rind of an orange
Dash of vanilla extract
2 large eggs
About six ripe or almost ripe apricots, roughly chopped and stones removed.

Line a rectangular baking pan (approx 35cm X 12cm) with baking parchment.
Pre-heat oven to 180 or 170 fan. Or baking oven of an aga.

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the orange rind and vanilla. Whisk the eggs and beat them in one by one taking care not to curdle the mix. A little flour/almond added at the same time will help.

Whisk the flour and almonds together and fold into the mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared tin and sprinkle the apricots over the top.

Bake for about 40 – 45 mins until golden brown and springy to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack. It is easiest to just leave it on the baking parchment but I take it out of the tin.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with cream, Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. 91B507F7-D1B2-47E1-9C05-B28C5A1C31D9

GRATIN DAUPHINOISE
Serves six to eight

1.2 kg potatoes (maris piper, desiree or saxon)
300ml whole milk
400ml double cream
Clove garlic
Good grating fresh nutmeg
Knob butter
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.

Peel the potatoes and slice very thinly. A mandolin is useful for this. Heat the cream and milk in a pan and add the potatoes, seasoning very well. Add a grating of nutmeg and a clove of garlic made into a paste or very finely chopped. Simmer very gently for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, rub butter around the base and sides of a gratin dish (about 9” square or equivalent).

Put the potatoes into the prepared dish, pouring over any remaining cream. Bake in the oven for about an hour or until cooked and golden.

Either serve immediately or allow to cool. Then stamp out rounds of potato with a pastry cutter or cut into squares. Put onto a baking tray to heat up when required or put into a freezer container and freeze to use at a later date.

Heat at 180C for about 20 minutes or longer from frozen (about half an hour or so).

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