Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Asparagus and Cheese Tart

I’m not someone who slavishly buys and eats ‘locally’ and ‘seasonally’; if something is in the shops, and I like the look of it, I really don’t care if it’s been flown from Timbuktu or from the Moon, quite frankly.

There are a few things though, that are so much better when they’re grown in season in the UK: strawberries and asparagus spring immediately to mind, closely followed by Victoria plums. I’ll have to wait a while yet for the strawbs and plums, but I found the first of this year’s English asparagus available at the end of last week. Yum.

The timing was brilliant because we had DS, DDIL and Gorgeous Granddaughter coming for lunch on Sunday, so I made this Asparagus and Cheese Tart served with new potatoes and a mixed salad; I have to say it went down very well. It must have done - we ate the entire thing!

I used a 14” x 5” rectangular tin (which I bought years ago in a fit of baking enthusiasm, but had only used once!) but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an 8” round tart tin – the amounts would be roughly the same, give or take.

I'd planned to use soft goat's cheese in this recipe but I couldn’t lay my hands on a vegetarian one for love nor money; yes, I know, you wouldn’t think it’d be too difficult but there you go… however, if you’re luckier than me I think goat’s cheese would work really well. I used a mature cheddar but any well-flavoured cheese would be fine.

Apologies for the slightly iffy pic…it was the result of a lethal combination of a new camera and being in a hurry.

500g block of ready-made shortcrust pastry
300g asparagus, trimmed
100g mature cheddar (or goat’s cheese)
3 eggs, beaten
250ml milk
a few grinds of black pepper
1 tbsp snipped chives

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Roll out the pastry to fit your tin, line the pastry case with baking parchment weighed down with baking beans or uncooked rice and bake for 15 minutes.

Take off the paper and beans then brush the surface of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg. Return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes.

Mix the remaining egg with the milk and a few grinds of pepper. Lay the asparagus spears in the tin, cutting to fit if necessary; sprinkle with the grated cheese and chopped chives then strain the egg mixture carefully over the top.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the filling is puffy and golden.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

5-a-day? 7-a-day? 10-a-day?

Who knows? Who cares?

You must have seen it – it’s been all over the news today. 7-a-day fruit and veg 'saves lives'. Saves lives, eh? I’ll believe that when I see it. The fact is we will all die at some point so the best we can do is extend life, not save it, otherwise the world would be full of decrepit people living forever!

I really feel these stupid pseudo-research projects should be consigned to the dustbin; they come up so often… eat this, don’t eat that, eat more of this, eat less of that. God, it’s tiresome; we’ve heard it all before and we all know the ‘researchers’ are just putting out this rubbish to make sure they get another research grant for next year.
These people would have us believe their ‘research’ is vitally important when, actually, we're bored rigid and we don't believe a word of it anyway. They can't even get their stories straight; some countries say 4-a-day, some go as far as 10-a-day. So which is it? Do you suppose our Grandmothers were told what to eat in such a prescriptive way? Furthermore, do you suppose they would have taken any notice?

Some days I have barely any fruit and veg, some days I have so much of the stuff it’s a wonder I don’t explode. I’m too old to live my life by arbitrary rules made up by people who just want to keep their job, so I’ll stick with what works for me and they can stick their research papers where the sun don’t shine.
Just a thought... I wonder if I could get a grant to prove that the main cause of death is life?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Potato, Red Pepper and Spinach Pithivier

I feel as though I’ve been AWOL for ages! We’ve certainly been eating but I haven’t cooked anything new for a while. To be honest I got into a bit of a rut and just couldn’t be bothered, so I fell back on old favourites and things I could cook almost with my eyes shut.

I’m still not firing on all cylinders yet, but I did drag myself into the kitchen at the weekend to cook this rather fetching Potato, Red Pepper and Spinach Pithivier. It was inspired by a recipe I saw on the BBC pages from the Great British Bake Off.

I have a confession to make here: I have never watched Bake Off! Yes, I know…shocking, isn’t it? I realise Mary Berry is supposedly a national treasure but she irritates the life out of me and, frankly, I think Paul Hollywood is just creepy. I don’t like cookery programmes much at all, really, and I very rarely watch them; I just don’t see cooking as a spectator sport. It’s OK if you think I’m odd – I don’t mind!

Anyway…. having never seen the programme I have no idea whether my modified effort would pass muster or not, nor do I care, but I think it was pretty good and we enjoyed it. There’s nothing very tricky about it and no fancy ingredients, but the flavours seemed to go together really well and, as a bonus, it was just as good cold the next day.

In making this I'm sure you won’t be surprised to see I’ve used ready-made pastry – I’m making no apologies; life’s too short and I’m far too old to faff about making puff pastry.

250g new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp thyme leaves
150g baby leaf spinach
1 large egg
100g feta
500g puff pastry

Boil or steam the potatoes until tender, allow to cool, then cut into 5mm thick slices.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and fry the onion and pepper until softened and starting to colour; add the garlic and fry for a minute more. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

Add the other tablespoon of oil to the same pan along with the thyme leaves and fry the mushrooms until golden; take the pan off the heat and add the spinach leaves. Stir the spinach around in the hot pan until wilted. Set aside.

Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin and cut out two circles – one of 20cm and one of 25cm – I cut around a saucepan lid and a plate.

Turn the oven on to 220C.

Put the smaller circle of pastry on a baking tray lined with bakewell paper; place the potato slices in overlapping circles on the pastry, leaving a border all round of about 2cm, then cover the potatoes with the onion and pepper mixture.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and add most of it (keep a tablespoon back to use as egg-wash) to the mushrooms and spinach; stir well then pile this mixture on top of the onions and pepper.

Crumble the feta on top then brush the border of the pastry with a little of the reserved egg; cover with the larger pastry circle, smooth down, and press the edges together to seal. Crimp the edges of the pastry with a fork or the handle of a spoon.

Make a small hole in the centre of the pithivier to allow the steam to escape, and poke a few extra holes around the sides, then brush all over with the reserved beaten egg. Make a sunburst pattern radiating from the central hole by lightly scoring the pastry with a sharp knife but DON'T cut all the way through, for goodness sake, or you'll find all the filling on the baking tray!

Bake at 220C for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C and bake for another 15 minutes or so until a deep golden brown.

Place on a wire rack to cool a bit and serve warm.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A Pat on the Back

I just thought I’d give a pat on the back to Linda McCartney Foods for some excellent customer service.

I emailed them last year when their vegemince disappeared off the shelves, explaining that I really missed it and Quorn mince wasn’t a patch on theirs. (I actually said I wouldn’t give it to a dog!) They replied promptly; apparently there was some sort of a manufacturing problem which they hoped to get sorted by Christmas.

Lo and behold, just before Christmas they emailed again to say their vegemince was back in the shops and they’d like to send a small token of their appreciation for my patience. I was astonished to receive a very nice shopping voucher!

I like to give credit where it’s due, so “Well Done” Linda McCartney Foods from a very satisfied customer.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Gratin

I was writing out menus and shopping lists for Christmas the other day when I found myself mulling over the question of what to do with the leftover veg from lunch on Christmas Day. Sure… there’s always bubble and squeak; we’ve all been there and done that. But what about something a little different to have with your cold nut roast next day…such as a roasted root vegetable gratin? Ha, now there’s an idea!

Well, in the interests of research and not having any leftover veg about my person, I cooked a small pile of roasted roots yesterday and made a damn fine root veg gratin which we had for dinner last night. It was delicious; in fact, it was so good that we shamelessly polished off the lot between us before I'd even cooked the sausages that were supposed to go with it! Fact is, this can be used as a one-pot main course or, in smaller quantities, a side dish to a 'main event'.

The veg kept their individual flavours nicely and underneath the crispy topping there was just enough mustardy creaminess to bring the whole thing together; I will definitely be doing the same again on Boxing Day.

Actually, I’m really looking forward to Boxing Day, I always enjoy it a lot more than the whole palaver of Christmas Day – it’s so much more relaxed once all the fevered expectancy of the big day is over. A plate of nibbles, a bowl of nuts and a DVD and I’m a happy bunny. I'm easily pleased.

250g carrots
250g parsnips
200g celeriac
200g small new potatoes
2 medium onions
2tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
ground black pepper
4 tbsp crème fraiche
1 dsp grainy mustard
60g breadcrumbs
75g mature cheddar
25g pine nuts

Peel the carrots, parsnips and celeriac; cut into bite-size chunks. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters if they’re a bit big. Peel the onions and cut into eighths through the root.

Put all the veg into a large freezer bag with the olive oil, thyme and a few grinds of black pepper; hold the end securely closed and shake to coat the veg all over. Tip into a large roasting tin and roast at 200C for about 25 minutes.

(Obviously, if you're cooking this with leftovers, you can skip the instructions above)

Mix the crème fraiche and grainy mustard together in a large bowl then add the cooked veg and mix well to coat. Tip the mustardy veg into an ovenproof dish; grate the cheese then mix the breadcrumbs, cheese and pine nuts together and scatter evenly over the veg.

Bake at 200C for about 15 minutes until golden and crispy.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Fruit & Nut Christmas Pudding Loaf

It’s the 1st of December! I’ve opened the first door on my Advent calendar and the outside lights are up, although they haven’t been turned on yet. We couldn’t get Jessie J to do our switch-on, she’s too busy apparently (!), so the honour will fall to Mr Simply Veg.

I’m only cooking for the two of us on the big day this year and I’d already decided I was going to do Cranberry and Apricot Sponge Puds for our dessert… then I saw this recipe on one of the regular email alerts I get from GoodFood which threw my decision out of the window. It seems such a good idea to cook a Christmas pudding in a loaf tin that I wonder why I’ve never seen it done before.

I didn’t want to be disappointed so I had a dry run yesterday. I roughly halved the recipe and cooked it in a 1lb loaf tin; I also changed some of the ingredients. I’m not keen on glacé cherries but I love preserved ginger and nuts; I also dropped the amount of mixed spice but added ground ginger and a touch of  ground cloves to warm it up a little bit.

It cut into eight decent slices, six of which were put in the freezer, and we had a slice each with custard after dinner last night. Well, we had to try it out, didn’t we?! I’m pleased to say it was just right, not stodgy and much lighter than the traditional pudding, fresher tasting and really fruity. I have a feeling it will form part of many of our Christmases to come. I didn’t make the accompanying sauce from the original recipe – it would have been a sweetness overload for us but I leave that up to you.

200g dried mixed fruit
2 balls of preserved ginger in syrup, chopped
½ a small Bramley apple (about 75g) grated
grated zest of an orange
75ml apple juice
2 tbsp brandy
70g butter
50g dark muscovado sugar
1 large egg, beaten
45g self-raising flour
50g white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
20g toasted mixed nuts, roughly chopped

Put the dried fruit, chopped ginger, grated apple, orange zest, apple juice and brandy into a largish bowl; give it a good stir, cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.

Next day, cream the butter and sugar then stir in the rest of the ingredients including the soaked fruit and any remaining juice. Put the mixture into a 1lb loaf tin lined with bakewell paper then put the loaf tin into a roasting tin.

Turn the oven on to 180C or 160C fan. Boil a full kettle. Put a foil ‘lid’ loosely over the loaf tin, scrunching up the sides a bit to make it stay put, then pour a couple of centimetres of boiling water into the roasting tin. Place the whole thing carefully in the oven.

Having halved the recipe this is where I had to use a bit of guesswork. I cooked mine for 25 minutes at 160C fan then I turned the oven down to 140C and cooked it for another 55 minutes. No two ovens are the same, so test with a skewer to make sure it's cooked through.

Serve with cream, custard, brandy butter or whatever takes your fancy.

Makes 8 slices

Saturday, 30 November 2013


Just a quick, brief post to show you what we had for dinner one night last week – Champ…god, it was lovely. We had it with Cauldron Lincolnshire sausages and mushroom gravy – although, to be perfectly honest, I’d have been quite happy to have had it on its own accompanied only by a very large spoon!

It was fabulous; one of those things that cheers you up no end when a bit of cold weather comfort food is required.

500g floury potatoes
75ml hot milk
40g butter, melted
1/2 bunch spring onions
black pepper

Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks and steam or simmer until tender; mash well with hot milk and stir in the finely chopped spring onions and a good grinding of pepper.

Pile the potato into a warmed serving dish and make a shallow well in the middle; pour in the warm melted butter. Serve immediately and try to avoid licking the dish clean!

Serves 2.