Archive | February, 2013

Fig Tarts with St. Agur

24 Feb

Have you ever been so proud of a meal you’ve made that you eat it while smugly thinking that some poor head chef must know that something is missing from their menu, but they don’t yet know that it is the very thing you have in your mouth right now?

Well it might just be me and I am exaggerating of course (my ego is miniscule really!) but I was in dire need of a boost in the kitchen and have been for some time – this did the trick!

I’d been planning to make this for months before I finally got round to it (due to my current mindset encouraging an “oh why bother let’s just have pasta” approach to cooking), and my original intentions were to make the pastry from scratch and to use goat’s cheese. I do enjoy making pastry from scratch, especially shortcrust as I don’t tend to have disasters with that, but yesterday was very busy and so I grabbed a pack of ready-made. No crime at all of course, but allowing myself short-cuts is something I have to discipline myself not to discipline myself for… Making sense? Anyway, I was determined to finally make this tart, and thank God I did! I feel that it has given me the motivation to avoid the staple pasta and vegetables which requires no brain effort whatsoever. Another set-back was the goat’s cheese festering away at the back of the fridge. I was so sure the use-by date was longer than that! Luckily, faithful St. Agur saved the day and, while I inwardly mourned for the goat’s cheese, I marched forth to complete the task of the tart!

This was my inspiration: http://tinytearoom.com/fig-and-goats-cheese-tart/ . The tarts are small – I had one with salad (the salad was so good 🙂 I’ll share that too) and I was very peckish afterwards. I am not the kind of person to go fishing around the kitchen cupboards after dinner, but needless to say I couldn’t help myself last night, so yes I’d say these were starter material. The love had two, but I can’t tell you if he was satiated or not because (as is tradition on a Saturday night) I stay up to watch Jonathon Ross and he falls asleep on the settee completely oblivious… If I was to make this as a main meal for 2 I would use 1 larger tart tin instead of 4 little ones. For the latter, you will need four 8-10cm round tart tins.

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Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main meal.

  • 200g ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 60g st. agur or other soft, creamy blue cheese
  • 4 small figs, halved (or 2 large, quartered)
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 100ml milk or cream
  • 1 tbsp garlic chives*
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
  • pinch of salt
  • a few walnuts or pecans, to scatter over the top

For the Salad

  • 2 large handfuls rocket or mixed salad leaves
  • 2 baby cucumbers, sliced thinly with a mandolin (or use quarter of a regular cucumber)
  • about 4 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2-3 figs, halved or quartered
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

For the Dressing

  • 5 tbsp walnut oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c and lightly butter the tart tins.
  2. Roll the pastry out until you have a square measuring approx. 20 x 20cm**, then cut into 4 equal squares. Use these squares to line each tart tin with pastry, making sure it is placed evenly and any excess pastry is trimmed away. Prick the bases of each tart with a fork.
  3. Divide the figs and cheese between the tart cases. In a jug, put the egg, milk (or cream), chives, parmesan and salt and whisk until well combined. Pour this mixture over into the cases, taking care not to overfill – you may have a little left over. Decorate with 2 or 3 walnut pieces dotted over the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the filling is set. Leave to cool slightly in the tin until you can lift it out onto a plate without burning yourself. Like I did. Because I was very hungry and impatient…
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the salad and make the dressing. Plonk all of the salad ingredients into a large bowl, and for the dressing you just need to combine the oil, vinegar and salt and set aside. Only pour the dressing over the salad and toss together when ready to serve to prevent the salad from wilting.

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*I was lucky enough to come across a little tub of garlic chives in my local supermarket for only 50p! They are gorgeous little things and I wholly recommend you use them if you can find them. If not, just use ordinary chives – the tart will not suffer!

**In all honesty, I can never roll pastry into a decent square shape. Any recognisable shape actually, I find hard to replicate. Instead I do my best at rolling it out to the desired thickness, then I tear it apart and squish it into the tart cases 🙂 doesn’t sound as much like professional advice, but it works for me!

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Battenberg Cake and a Remorseful Explanation

19 Feb

Another long absence of recipes, and I do miss the blogging community! But life has been happening in a very unfortunate way lately, and it seems that the way I’m coping is to bury my head in the sand avoiding as many of my responsibilities as I can get away with… More than I get away with in all honesty – it’s a good job I have understanding college tutors put it that way!

When I started this blog, everything was looking beautifully rosy and I was fit to burst with the need to share that with everyone. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many things I have to be thankful for, but unfortunately the bad seems a lot more prominent than the good at the moment. I won’t go into any detail because it is personal and family related, but I am outlining the current atmosphere alla Anna to ask you most pleasantly, “Please will you bear with me on this one?” I will even share a recipe for Battenberg cake with you? 🙂

This is me anyway (just to show I’m alive – it’s not flattering in the slightest, I look tired and bug-eyed, but then maybe I am bug-eyed and I am probably tired. That is fine by me! The background is cool though I think):

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And this is Martin, because he too is alive and well, although really, I wish he would eat some of my Battenberg. He refuses to eat his lizard food after all! Oh, and the back of the love’s head. Also alive:

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On a more practical note, it has been difficult for me to post as everything I touch seems to break at the moment. The love had lent his camera charger to a friend so I couldn’t upload photos and my laptop decided to develop one tiny little issue that cost me £126 to repair today. So if I really am going to get back in the posting saddle now, you can expect recipes I created before I was conned out of a ridiculous amount of money, or meals including Spam. Just for a while of course 😉

Wouldn’t you know that my phone has been on the blink for weeks now too? “Life doesn’t happen in ones”, as my wise and wonderful friend Hayley once said, “that would be too easy”…

Now, for the cakes –

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– it really is worth making 2 because it is not much more effort than making 1, and making 1 is quite a lot of effort! 😛 Well worth it though, as it tastes just perfect, just like ‘the real thing’, and it is always so fulfilling to create something that you normally only ever buy processed. Did I mention you can freeze one of the cakes for up to a month as well? So there really isn’t much to complain about 🙂

What I like to do is prepare the batter for each cake in a separate mixing bowl, just so I can relax while the first cake is in the oven. I wouldn’t bake them both at the same time to avoid uneven cooking and all that. In any case I only have one appropriate tin. So that’s why I’ve put 2 times all of the ingredients, rather than write the list out twice. I would like to make one thing VERY clear: Almond extract goes in the PLAIN cake, NOT in the PINK cake. PINK food colouring goes in the PINK cake, NOT almond extract. You would think this was straightforward, but if you’re anything like me…

If you follow my bossy rules you will find that the process of actually making the cakes is easier than you could imagine! The difficult part (for me at least) lies in assembling the damn thing, but that is because I am a caggy-handed monster who tends to balls things up when it comes to making them look neat and beautiful (have you seen my gingerbread house!?). I am sure you will be much more adept than me 🙂 

Makes 2 Cakes, Each Cuts Into 10 Slices

  • 2 x 175g softened unsalted butter
  • 2 x 175g golden caster sugar
  • 2 x 140g self-raising flour
  • 2 x 50g ground almonds
  • 2 x 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 x 3 eggs
  • 2 x 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (for the PLAIN sponge mixture!!)
  • 1/2 tsp pink food colouring (for the PINK sponge mixture!!) – you may need more or less depending on the intensity of the paste. Don’t attempt to use red thinking it will pass off as pink. It really doesn’t, and again you may think this is common sense. But if you’re anything like me…

To Assemble

  • 200g apricot jam
  • 1 x 500g block marzipan (white or golden)
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  1. Firstly, line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 180°c. 
  2. Literally plonk 1 times the first 7 ingredients each into 2 mixing bowls, adding the almond extract to 1 and the pink colouring to the other. Mix it aaaaall up until it is nice and smooth!
  3. Scrape one bowl of mixture into the tin, spreading it out to the corners, and bake for 25-30 minutes while you lazily scroll through Tumblr (I’m not speaking from experience of course)… The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.
  4. Re-line the tin and proceed as above with the second cake! While this one is baking, I would prepare the jam and the marzipan. Heat the jam in  a saucepan until runny, then sieve. Lightly dust a work surface with icing sugar, then roll out the marzipan as thinly and as oblong-y as you can, remembering that you need to be able to cover 2 rectangular cakes with it. This is easier said than done, so you can, if you like, buy 2 blocks of marzipan to save on stress. This does cause an awful lot of waste though, and once battered about on a work surface and dotted with specks of icing sugar, there isn’t really a lot to use the leftover marzipan for! It is a shame to chuck away such celestial almondness… Moving on, I find it best to lift the marzipan up off the work surface from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick.
  5. Assuming that both of your cakes are now cool, slice a sliver of cake off three sides of the square, purely for neatness. Then substantially trim the remaining un-trimmed side of each, creating 2 rectangular Battenberg-sized cakes. Roughly measure the height of the cakes, then use a ruler to cut 4 slices the same width as the height on each cake. So you’ll have 4 pink and 4 plain long rectangles, with equal hight and width. Again, this can be very wasteful, but people tend to be more willing to eat scraps of cake than scraps of mauled marzipan.
  6. Brush the marzipan with the apricot jam. Lay one pink and one almond slice next to each other at one end of the marzipan, leaving about 5cm clear marzipan at the end. Brush jam in between the slices to stick them together. Brush more jam on top of the sponges, then lay a pink slice on top of the almond slice, and an almond slice on top of the pink slice. You know what you want, a checkerboard pattern! Trim the marzipan to the length of the cakes, then lift it up over the cake, smoothing it as you go. Crimp the edges with your fingers and thumb, or use the prongs of a fork. Repeat with the remaining cake!

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As mentioned previously, the cake can be frozen for up to a month. Otherwise, keep them in airtight containers/covered in cling-film for 3-4 days.

This has got me thinking of all sorts of exciting flavour combinations you could use! I keep thinking lavender and something… Maybe lemon? It will have to be done.

And may I leave you with a stunning but entirely unrelated picture of flowers courtesy of the love?

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Steak with Red Wine Sauce

7 Feb

You know when you want something to look as incredible as it tastes so others believe you of it’s wondrousness? Well this is one of those times, but unfortunately my photography skills have let me down here.

I don’t know if I’m right in saying that most people get cravings for things like chocolate, chips, fast food… but I don’t tend to get those. That’s definitely not to say I don’t get cravings! But mine tend to be for things like eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, red wine and a nice, big, juicy steak… I like to think it’s my body telling me what it needs 😛

I have recently eaten this, but I am salivating at the thought of it nevertheless. And yeah, I’d say this was special enough for a Valentines dinner!

Serves 2.

  • olive oil
  • 3-4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • about 5 white mushroom, sliced
  • good splash of sherryvinegar (about 3 tbsp)
  • even better splash of red wine (200ml)
  • 300ml hot beef stock
  • 2 sirloin steaks
  • gnocchi and little gem lettuce, to serve
  1. First, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the mushrooms and shallots. Fry on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until golden and caramelized. Pour in the vinegar, then simmer until almost evaporated, then do the same with the wine. Add the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce by 2/3. 
  2. Rub the steaks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat another frying pan until very hot, then put the steaks on it. For a rare steak, cook for 3 minutes each side, 4 minutes for medium and 5-6 minutes for well done. While it is cooking you could be boiling the gnocchi and chopping the lettuce! Put it aaaaall together on a plate for the most flavoursome, enjoyable dinner EVARR!

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Black Bean Chilli

2 Feb

Black bean chilli? Yes please thank you very much to you sir please and thank you kindly.

This is the dish that has transformed my opinion of avocado AND radish – I am a double convert, and it is also the first recipe I have used to highlight my love of the flavourful black bean. Over to you recipe…

Serves 2

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 2 tsp smoked/sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp vinegar (white wine or cider would work well)
  • 1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • approx 200g black beans, rinsed and drained
  • to serve: your choice of… chopped coriander, sliced radish, diced avocado, cheese, sour cream, spring onions, lime wedges…
  • and rice! or sweet potato. that would be delicious.
  1. Heat some oil in a saucepan over a medium-low heat and add the onion. Fry for about 5 minutes until softened a little, then add the garlic and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer, then add the next 7 ingredients (paprika through to chopped tomatoes) with some seasoning. Cook for about 10 minutes, until reduced a little. Add the beans and cook for 5-10 minutes longer. Serve with accompaniments of your choice! 

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It is so easy and it feels like a real feast 🙂

I would also like to add that the choice of blue cheese was the love’s. I went for feta. Admittedly I used up the last bit and blue cheese was really all he was left with but still… each to their own I suppose 😉