Mince pies with a twist

As it’s practically dark by the time the boys are awake from afternoon naps and we’ve got ready to go out, we can’t go to the park or even in the garden really, so baking and craft activities have been filling our late afternoons and early evenings recently. And as we’re in December, I thought it was time for some Christmas baking.

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I don’t eat loads of mince pies, but it’s always nice to have a few over the Christmas period, and as I’m trying to use up jars and tins in the cupboards, I thought it would be fun to add some stem ginger that I opened a while ago to the mince meat, to add extra favour and spice. I prefer to make mince pies with unsweetened pastry, because the mince meat itself is so sweet, and to add another flavour I decided to put some cinnamon in with the flour. Finally, I added a splash of Amaretto to the filling, again because the bottle I have could do with using up having sat there untouched for a while since we’ve had kids.

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Andrew enjoys rolling out pastry, so that was also a good reason to make pies, and he helped me cut out the rounds and put them in the muffin tins – we went for deep filled pies rather than the little ones you can make in fairy cake tins.

If you’d like to give these a go, here’s the recipe….

Ingredients – makes 10 deep fill pies

Filling

  • 400g jar of mincemeat
  • about 4 chunks of stem ginger, cut into small cubes
  • optional: splash of Amaretto (or any other alcohol that you like)
Pastry
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • cold water

Method

  1. Lightly grease the holes in a muffin tin, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Chop the butter into smallish chunks (make sure it’s as cold as possible) and toss into the flour.
  4. Use your hands to work the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs.
  5. Add a small amount of water at a time and mix until it starts to form a stiff dough, then leave to one side whilst you mix the filling.
  6. Mix the ingredients for the filling together in another bowl.
  7. Take the pastry and roll out on a floured surface.
  8. Cut 10 larger circles and 10 smaller circles to fit the size of the muffin tin holes.
  9. Place the larger circles in the holes, fill with the filling, then places the lids on top, sealing with a bit of cold water run around the rim and the pastry pieces pressed together.
  10. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden.
  11. Leave to cool in the tins, before turning out with the help of a sharp knife to loosen them from the tin.
  12. Eat as fresh as possible, and they can also be frozen.

Tasty veg pie with puff crust – #GBBO inspired

This week the Great British Bake Off was all about pastry. It’s not something I bake all the time, but I’m less afraid of it than I once was (after I’d had a bit of a disastrous apple pie with sweet pastry that just went everywhere!), so I like the opportunity to practice and prove to myself that I can in fact do it!

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One of the challenges on the GBBO this week involved puff pastry. Now proper puff pastry takes a long time to make – as Paul Hollywood himself emphasised, it needs a lot of time to get it right. But there is a quick, cheat’s method that gives puffy pastry (even if not as superior a puff as the real McCoy) in much more manageable time frames. So this is what I decided to do for dinner on Sunday night. For once I didn’t choose a sweet bake (I know, shocking), because we had some lovely veg that I thought would work well in a nice hearty pie, and when I mentioned to Tom that I was thinking of making a ‘hearty pie’, he said ‘Oh yes, I like anything hearty, do something hearty, yes please’. Still veggie, of course, so maybe not hearty as some avid carnivores might think of the word, but nonetheless tasty and perfect for an Autumn evening.

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Here’s the recipe, including how to make the rough puff pastry, which I roughly followed from Delia, just played around with quantities and added pepper.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 450g plain flour
  • black pepper
  • cold water

Filling

  • half a suede
  • about a quarter of a white cabbage
  • 1 onion
  • 4 button mushrooms
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml hot stock
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • few drops of tabasco
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Put the flour into a large bowl and grind quite a bit of black pepper into it (depending on your taste).
  2. Cut the butter into chunks and toss into the flour and pepper mix, just coating them with the flour.
  3. Pour the cold water, a little at a time, into the flour and butter and use your hands to bring it together into a dough. Don’t work it too much, just enough to bring it together.
  4. Shape it into a brick on a floured board, then roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide.
  5. Then fold it into thirds, bringing the left outside edge into the centre and then the same with the right, so that they overlap, and press down with the rolling pin so that the layers stick.
  6. Rest it for a few minutes, probably a good time to chop the veg, then roll the pastry (which should be back in a brick shape) into a rectangle again, followed by the folding into thirds like you did before.
  7. Leave it to rest again, and then do the same rolling and folding as before. After this third roll and fold, place in cling film in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the pie lid later.
  8. To make the filling, chop the veg into chunks (as fine or as chunky as you like, though cooking times will vary according to size of chunk), and heat some olive oil in a large saucepan.
  9. Brown the onion, suede, cabbage and mushrooms in the saucepan for about 5-10 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, hot stock and cornflour.
  10. Bring to a simmer and cook for about another 10 minutes until thickened.
  11. Add some tabasco to taste.
  12. Leave in the pan until you’re ready to assemble the pie.
  13. About 40 mins before you want to eat, transfer the filling to a large rectangular oven dish and spread around evenly.
  14. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to just the right size to cover the filling, and press it down onto the filling gently.
  15. Prick the pastry lid with a fork several times to allow any steam to escape when baking.
  16. Bake in a hot oven 220 C (fan) for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is nicely browned and puffy.
  17. Serve immediately.

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#slowcooked turkey and leeks with crunchy crust

Wow a meaty recipe, can you believe your eyes?! It is true that I don’t cook or eat a lot of meat (and when I do it’s only chicken or turkey), but as Joel is starting solids, I want to give him the opportunity to taste meat along with all the other foods he is trying as part of a very varied introduction to food. So I bought some turkey last weekend and cooked a dish in the slow cooker that was suitable for him to eat with us – most of what we eat is baby-friendly anyway.

turkey leek Collage
Mummy/Daddy-sized, toddler-sized, and baby-sized portions

The turkey went lovely and tender as it was slow cooked, so this was perfect for him who has no teeth quite yet. The vegetables were some of those that we got in our box that week. The ‘crunchy crust’ is a basic suet pastry that I baked separately in the oven as pastry doesn’t work in the slow cooker – it’s not hot enough to get it crunchy rather than soggy. I assembled the turkey and leeks with the crust on our individual dishes when serving the meal. Joel enjoyed munching on some turkey, mushroom and pastry (which went soggy after he gummed it for a while), though he wasn’t sure about the leeks – they are a bit weird to it without teeth I think.

Here’s the recipe, which was a bit more time-consuming than some of my ‘chuck it in the slow cooker’ recipes, but still only took about 20 minutes to prep then 7 hours to cook in the slow cooker plus a quick shove of a baking tray into the oven half an hour before it was ready.

Ingredients – serves 4

  • 250g turkey
  • Olive oil
  • 3 small leeks
  • 3 large mushrooms
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400ml hot stock (I use low salt)
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 60g vegetable suet
  • mixed herbs
  • cold water
Method
  1. Fry turkey for a few minutes in olive oil to seal it.
  2. Chop the leeks and mushrooms and put in the slow cooker pot.
  3. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the pot.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stock.
  5. When the turkey is sealed put it into the pot and stir.
  6. Cook on low for 7 hours.
  7. Mix the flour, suet and herbs together, and add just enough water to form a dough.
  8. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut out four large squares.
  9. Place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and chill until about half an hour before the turkey mix is cooked, then put it in the oven at 180ºC and bake for 20-30 minutes until it is crisp and lightly golden.
  10. Assemble the pies individually in bowls by spooning the turkey mix in and placing the pastry on top.
  11. Eat straight away!

Bakewell flapjack

The blog has become quite a foodie one recently as I seem to have done quite a bit of baking both with and without Andrew, and of course there was the Shrove Tuesday pancake fest! Last week we went to our local National Trust house and gardens, Anglesey Abbey, for the umpteenth time since we’ve lived here. We never tire of its beautiful gardens, where Andrew can run around or ride his bike, and the spacious cafe never fails to entice us in for a cuppa and cake. It wouldn’t be a NT location without a gorgeous selection of cakes – the only trouble is you have to decide which one, and that inevitably leads to me holding up the queue of other cake pilgrims awaiting their turn to deliberate as I um and err and um again and err a bit more! And I can’t forget the kids’ play table, a veritable treasure trove of books, toys, crayons and other random paraphernalia that keeps Andrew amused for hours, and there are even two, count them TWO, toy Brum cars from his favourite TV programme.

After much deliberation, last week I went for a Bakewell flapjack as my cake. It was, as you might guess, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a flapjack – a pastry base with jam on, but for the filling there was an almond flavoured flapjack instead of an almond flavoured sponge. I wasn’t disappointed, it was amazing (not that a NT cake has ever failed to deliver for me). So this week, instead of baking one of my usual flapjack recipes (blogged about here and here) to replenish my snack box – all in the name of breastfeeding of course – I made my own Bakewell flapjack inspired by the NT one. The base is a basic crunchy suet pastry, which I filled with strawberry jam and almond flapjack. It was simple to make and turned out really well; dare I say it, was good enough to rival the one that inspired it. Not that I’m planning on competing with the NT – I would surely fail.

Here’s the recipe if you fancy having a go yourself…..

Ingredients

Base

  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g vegetable suet
  • cold water

Filling

  • jam
  • 90g margarine
  • 90g sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 120g oats
  • 2 tsp almond essence

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan) and prepare a round cake tin or tart dish by greasing it.
  2. First make the pastry, by mixing the flour and suet together in a bowl, then add some cold water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together into a dough ball.
  3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to just a bit bigger than your tin/dish, and put the dough circle into the tin/dish, pressing it into the corner where base meets side.
  4. Spoon some jam onto the base and spread around until evenly distributed and generously thick.
  5. Then make a start on the flapjack, by melting the margarine, sugar and honey in the microwave.
  6. Add the oats and almond essence and stir until well combined.
  7. Pour the flapjack mix onto the base and spread around until it’s all covered.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting into slices.
Link up your recipe of the week

Father Christmas mince tartlets

When I bought a 24-piece biscuit cutter set a while ago for Andrew to use with play dough, I noticed that there was a Father Christmas cutter included. As there aren’t many weeks of the year that you can get away with baking in such a festive shape, I thought I’d give it a go this week. I also had some marzipan left over from the star cupcakes that we made last week, so I came up with something that used it – mince pies with marzipan lids in the shape of Father Christmas. But because you can see some of the filling, they are really tarts rather than pies, and their small size means I’ve called them tartlets.

I’m not a massive fan of shop-bought mince pies, mainly because the pastry isn’t great unless you buy the really expensive ones. I actually prefer a plain unsweetened shortcrust pastry rather than a sweet pastry, because it tones down the highly sweet filling. Obviously the marzipan lids of these pies add sweetness, but at least it’s marzipan, which I LOVE – it’s one of the best tastes of Christmas in my foodie opinion. But the bases are unsweetened pastry, to which I added a dash of cinnamon, just to spice things up a little and make these tartlets a real twist on a classic bake.

I don’t usually bake mince pies in cake cases, but I have had times when they have stuck to the tin a bit, so I was pleased when I came across the idea of using paper cases on the website of Holly Bell, Great British Bake Off finalist 2011 – recipesfromanormalmum.com. We gave it a try, and it worked well.

Here’s how we made them. You could use whatever shape cutter you have for the lid, it doesn’t have to be Father Christmas (or Far Kissmas as Andrew is calling him 🙂 )! As there were two lots of rolling and cutting out dough , Andrew was very impressed, so I’d recommend it for toddlers who like that sort of thing. I’d also be interested to hear about other mince pie recipes, especially if they’re a bit unusual like this one – please leave a comment if you have one.

Ingredients (makes a dozen)

  • 110g plain flour
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 55g butter
  • cold water
  • mincemeat (I used about half a 454g jar)
  • ready to roll packet of marzipan (I used about a quarter of a standard supermarket packet)

Method

  1. First make the pastry. Chop up the butter into chunks and add to the flour and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Rub the butter chunks into the flour and cinnamon until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Add water, small amounts at a time, and combine with the butter-flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. Don’t overwork it.
  4. Leave to rest in the fridge overnight, and get it out an hour or so before you want to roll it out, to get it to room temperature again.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and put paper cake cases into a fairy cake tin.
  6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 3mm thick.
  7. Cut circles out for the base of the tartlets using a circle cutter, and press them lightly into the cake cases.
  8. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat to each base.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.
  10. Meanwhile, roll out the marzipan on the same lightly floured board, to about 3mm thick.
  11. Cut out Father Christmas shapes, or whatever festive shape you have a cutter for!
  12. When the tartlets are ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  13. When they have fully cooled, place a Father Christmas on top of each tartlet and press down lightly.

Apple pie (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 5)

As we were away last weekend, I missed a week of baking inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO). The desserts the contestants made last week were very impressive, and I think I would have gone for baking a torte if I’d have had chance to do some baking myself (that was one of the things they had to bake). This week it was all about pies. For the first bake they had to make a Wellington (with whatever filling they liked), for the second – the technical challenge – they had to make what looked like an incredibly difficult chicken and bacon pie with a hand-molded, hot-water pastry (a bit like a pork pie really), and for the third they had to bake a sweet American pie (with whatever filling they liked).

mmmmmmm apple pie 🙂

As I’m not into cooking meat at all at the moment, I thought a sweet pie would be my best option. I was particularly interested in the short clip that was shown as part of the programme, telling us all about the history of the apple pie in America, as that was one of the first sweet American pies to really make it big, even though none of the GBBO contestants chose to make something that simple – their flavours were along the lines of pumpkin pie, squash pie, sweet potato pie, Key lime pie, and peanut butter pie. I haven’t had apple pie for a long time, so I decided that this simple but effective pie would go down well with my boys and me. Andrew’s Aunty Jenny was even with us on the day I made it, so I had an extra taster this time; the adults approved, but Andrew wasn’t too bothered – I think he was too tired by the point we ate it.

An Andrew-sized slice - the first slice is always the hardest to cut nicely out of a pie, but I think this isn't bad, even if it did collapse a bit at the side. The next ones came out more in tact!

I went for a simple shortcrust pastry with no sugar, and a caramelised apple filling. I didn’t want to make the pastry sweet, because I don’t like pastry too sweet and think that it’s actually nicer to have the contrast of a plain pastry with the sweetness of the apple filling. (Maybe Paul Hollywood would approve? He didn’t seem to like the sickly sweet American pies that some contestants came up with, but preferred more mellowed-down British versions!) Plus I’ve found it hard to make sweet pastry in the past, whereas plain shortcrust is easier in my experience. I found a great page on Delia Smith’s website, giving tips on how to achieve good shortcrust pastry, which points out some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I have to say it turned out very well and I found it pretty easy to make, even without a food processor – the main thing is making sure everything is at the right temperature when you need to use it.

Here’s my recipe, which has very few ingredients, but the outcome is a yummy, good classic apple pie.

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 8oz plain white flour
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • cold water

Filling:

  • 2 large Bramley apples
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 20g flour

Method

  1. First make the pastry so it has time to rest whilst you’re doing the other bits (or leave it for a few hours or overnight). Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften to room temperature. According to Delia, you should just be able to cut through it easily with a knife, but it should still be quite solid.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, working quickly and lifting the flour up as you rub, to keep it light and aerated. Don’t overdo it, but stop when you have a rough breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Gradually add small amounts of cold water, like a couple of tablespoons at a time, and mix with a knife to bring the mixture together into a dough. Once it gets wet enough, finish bringing it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Stop handling it, put it into a food bag, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more – overnight is good.
  4. Then make the apple filling. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks.
  5. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan on a moderate heat. Add the apples, and cook for about 5-10 minutes until lightly golden and a bit squidgy. Just before you finish cooking them, add the flour and stir in until the caramel sauce thickens. Take the pan off the heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
  6. When the pastry is well chilled, take it out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before rolling it. Getting the temperature right is key in making successful pastry, so don’t try to rush it. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  7. Once warmed up enough (but not too warm!), cut the pastry into two pieces: about one third of the whole for one piece and two thirds for the other.
  8. Roll the bigger bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your pie dish, with a small overhang.
  9. Line the pie dish with the pastry, and cut off any excess bits of pastry beyond the small overhang.
  10. Pour the cooled apple filling into the pastry-lined pie dish.

    A glimpse of the yummy filling before the lid went on!
  11. Roll the smaller bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to cover the top of the pie dish. Place this pastry on top of the filling. There should be enough room in the dish after the filling has gone in so that there is a lip of pastry that can join with the lid pastry.
  12. Press the lid pastry together with this lip of pastry from around the side, using a fork to squish them together and make a nice pattern at the same time. Use the fork to make several pricks in the pastry lid, to allow steam to escape when cooking.
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and eat as fresh as possible – hot apple pie is so much better than cold apple pie! 🙂

    Spot the shadow from the photographer! You can tell I'm no professional. Must get round to putting into practice the tips I got from Britmums!

Apple and blackberry tarte tatin (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 3)

Another week has passed in the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) competition, and yet again it has inspired me to have a go at baking something myself. This week was all about tarts – the contestants had to bake a tarte tatin of their choice, a treacle tart following Mary Berry’s recipe, and a decorated fruit tart worthy of display in a patisserie window. There were some amazing bakes. At the end of the program I turned to Tom and said: ‘Would you prefer it if I baked a tarte tatin or a treacle tart?’ His immediate response was ‘tarte tatin’, which I was hoping he’d say, because I’m not a massive fan of treacle tart (which incidentally has no treacle in it, but lots of sweet golden syrup and I don’t like baking with that very much).

Crunchy puffy corner

I have to say that pastry is not something I’ve had loads of experience with. On the occasions that I have made it, rather than going for the easy option of buying ready done stuff, it’s turned out well about half the time, and I’ve had problems the other half. I think the biggest problems have been getting it too warm and overworking it. And I’ve never thought about making puff pastry – all the times I’ve wanted to make it I’ve done shortcrust, either sweet or savoury. (I found out on the GBBO this week that sweet shortcrust is hard to make because the sugar does something to the dough that makes it harder to work with – maybe that could explain some of my mishaps when making sweet pies?) Puff pastry is what you need to make a traditional tarte tatin, so I decided this would be a good chance to have a go and see whether it would be added to my list of pastry success or pastry failures. I’m glad to say that it turned out to be the former 🙂

As blackberries are just in season now that we’re into September, I thought that it would be nice to try an apple and blackberry tarte tatin rather than just the traditional apple flavour. I was aware, however, that using a soft fruit like blackberries would potentially cause problems with it being too wet, just like one of the GBBO contestants who used plums and cherries found. So I used mainly apples, which I know work well for this, plus some blackberries to add to the main apple flavour. The blackberries were quite tart, so perfect to go with the sweet caramel that goes on the top (or bottom to start with before you turn it the right way up). The basic idea is that you make it the wrong way up, by putting the caramel sauce in the dish first, then the fruit, then the pastry, and when you turn it the right way up once cooked and cooled completely, the tart has a pastry base and fruity topping with caramel.

The finished apple and backberry tarte tatin. I love the colour that the blackberries have given it, so much more appealing than a light apple colour with a bit of browning from the caramel.

I’m happy with how it turned out. The pastry actually puffed up quite well and was properly crispy all over (no soggy bottom – that’s a success in itself!) I think if I did it again I’d make the pastry slightly thinner though, because although it was all cooked, the inside bit of the pastry was more like shortcrust (i.e. not so puffy) than the outside layers that puffed up well. The fruit combination worked really well and wasn’t too wet or too sweet for me. I love the way the blackberries have given it a deep red colour, which is more inviting than an insipid apple colour with some browning from the caramel. So overall a great tasting and looking tart in my opinion! My tasters, who this week featured my parents too, agreed. Here’s the recipe I came up with if you’d like to have a go yourself.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 250g butter
  • 250g strong white flour
  • 150ml water

Filling

  • 6 small apples – I used Braeburns because that’s what was cheap in the supermarket when I went!
  • blackberries (about 100g)
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml water

Method

The recipe I used for the rough puff pastry was from the BBC good food website – it’s Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Check out that website to get the method for the pastry – make this first as it’s best done in advance and left to chill for quite a while – I left mine overnight.

This was after the first rolling out of the dough. Notice the marbled effect with streaks of butter in amongst the flour and water dough.
This shows the dough folded into thirds so there are three layers (see the above website for the exact method).
  1. Start by preheating the oven to 200ºC (fan) and lining an oven-proof dish with greaseproof paper. Traditionally it’s a circular dish that’s used, but I decided to be a bit different and use a square dish.
  2. Then prepare the fruit. Wash the blackberries and keep them whole. Wash and peel the apples, then remove the core and cut into quarters. The apples I bought were very small, perfect for cutting into quarters here, but if yours are bigger, maybe eighths or sixths would be better – they just need to be not too thick so they don’t take ages to cook as you’ve only got the length of time that it takes the pastry to cook otherwise that will be overdone.
  3. Then make the caramel. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan (a plain metal one, NOT non-stick is best) and place on a medium heat. Stir briefly until the sugar is dissolved, but once it has, don’t stir it any more otherwise the sugar will crystallise and the caramel will be no good. Let it bubble away on the heat for about 10-15 minutes until it starts to thicken. Leave to cool slightly and it will thicken some more, but don’t leave it too long otherwise it will be hard to spread across the dish.
  4. Spread the caramel over the base of the dish on top of the greaseproof paper.
  5. Position the fruit in an attractive pattern on the caramel. I went for apples around the outside and in the centre, with a line of blackberries between the two (square) rings of apple.
  6. Roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick and cut to the size of your dish.

    Pastry rolled out ready to go on top of the fruit. It was slightly too wide, so I cut the edges off one side and made some pastry twists out of them, a bit like cheese straws but I wanted to keep them plain.
  7. Place the pastry on top of the fruit and press down lightly. Pierce the pastry in a few places to let the steam that comes off the cooking fruit out from the tart and stop the pastry going soggy.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
  9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

    Nice crispy puffy pastry just out of the oven. Waiting for it to cool down completely before turning the right way up.
  10. Turn the dish upside down onto a plate, so that the tart comes out with the pastry on the bottom and the fruit on the top. Remove the greaseproof paper and the tart is ready to devour! Enjoy 🙂
    A slice of yummy tart. You can see that the pastry isn't as puffy inside nearer the fruit, but it is cooked, it's just got the texture of shortcrust rather than puff.

    I know this is out of focus, but I was trying to capture the lovely crispy puffy bit of pastry that came out around the edges of the tart.

Traffic lights tart with home-made rocket pesto

Here’s a quick Saturday night tea that I made last weekend. Partly inspired by pizza, which I can’t currently eat due to my bread fast for Lent, and partly inspired by my love of pesto, which is pretty high in salt when you buy it from the shops, but if you make it yourself you can reduce or leave out the cheese which usually makes it so salty. Using rocket for the pesto gives it a really strong flavour so the salt is less necessary for flavouring purposes. If you haven’t guessed from the picture already, I called it ‘Traffic lights’ because it has red, yellow and green things on it!

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (you can make it yourself if you have time, but I’ve had bad experiences with pastry before so I only make it when I know I’m not in a hurry – which is hardly ever these days. A decent food processor would help me too)
  • 1 bag of fresh rocket
  • olive oil
  • 1 tin of pinto beans
  • half a tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 large tomato (I wanted to use sundried tomatoes, but when I opened the pot that had been in the fridge, I discovered it had gone mouldy! It hadn’t even been opened long. I’m considering taking it back if I have time.)

Method

  1. Roll out the pastry onto a lined baking sheet. Prick it with a fork several times all over the rectangle of pastry, leaving a border of about 2cm around all the edges.
  2. To make the pesto, whizz up the rocket with a decent glug of olive oil in a blender until you get a smooth paste.
  3. Spread the pesto over the pastry, leaving that 2cm border.
  4. Spread a mixture of sweetcorn and pinto beans all over the pesto until it is almost covered with a few green patches poking through.
  5. Cut the tomato into slices and add to the topping.
  6. Finish the topping by pouring a splash of olive oil over the top to keep it moist and brown the beans.
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°c for about 20-25 minutes, until the border is puffed and golden.
My boys loved it....here is Andrew tucking into his
My boys loved it....here is Tom coming back for thirds to finish it off!

Ruth’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along quiche

Having noticed recently that all the recipes I bake are in fact my own adaptation of someone else’s, I decided that I really should be brave and just take the plunge into coming up with my own stuff. I’m also aware that copyright is a grey area here – how do you decide if an adaptation is ‘significant’ enough to be able to reproduce it? I hope I’ve not crossed any lines so far, always crediting where necessary and always adapting in a way that I believe is significant. So my future baking posts will be coming from a more personal perspective, which will inevitably include some disasters and hopefully more than a few successes.

To start this new era off, I thought this quiche recipe would do the trick. We had one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round for lunch last weekend (the postponed date mentioned in a previous post). After a busy week in which I was barely organised, I was looking for inspiration one evening. Seeing my stressed searches through books, Tom asked if I could do one of my ‘lovely quiches’ (his words not mine). Perfect, I thought, and as I opened the fridge I saw that there were a few bits and bobs that needed using up and would go together well in a quiche – I could just make it up as I went along. Here’s what we ended up with….

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml soured cream
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • couple of handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • ball of mozzarella, chopped into cubes
  • 5 slice pack of good quality cooked chicken, chopped
  • shortcrust pastry…..I used 1 pack of ready rolled (about 300g I think) – I had little time and I’ve had bad experiences making pastry so don’t like to do it in a rush
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Lay the pastry into a quiche/tart dish, making sure you push it firmly down into the edge at the bottom, and leave a good couple of centimetres spare overhanging at the top as it will shrink slightly.
  3. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper and a heavy-ish object like a cake tin (that fits inside the dish) on top of the pastry (I don’t use baking beans). Bake blind for about 20 minutes, removing the paper and cake tin about 5 minutes before the end, until there are no raw parts showing on the pastry case.
  4. Meanwhile heat some oil in a pan and fry the leek and mushrooms until the leeks ar golden and the mushrooms are darker.
  5. Mix the leek, mushrooms, chicken, egg, soured cream, milk and black pepper in bowl.
  6. Once the case is ready, pour in the filling, and scatter mozzarella over the top. It’s also possible to get the case and filling ready ahead of time, chill them, and put them together once you’re ready to bake (I did this at the weekend so that I could go for a swim before our guests arrived).
  7. Return to the oven and bake for around 35-40 minutes until the filling is cooked solid and the top is nicely golden.

Our lunchtime was completed with some roasted carrots, parsnips and potatoes (olive oil and some dried mixed herbs). Everyone enjoyed it, particularly the little ones around the table. Anyone got any good ideas for what to put in a quiche/tart like this? I think it’s a great way to put a few ingredients together that are lurking in the fridge and cupboard waiting to be used up.

Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut tart

We have a great cook book called Cooking For Friends by Gordon Ramsey. It’s where I always look first when (funnily enough) we have friends round for a meal. This weekend we were supposed to have one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round, but unfortunately she was sick and they had to postpone. As I’d bought the ingredients for this tart anyway, I thought I might as well carry on and make it for the 3 of us, and freeze half for another day. It’s a vegetarian recipe which has lots of flavour and really fills you up. I adapted it slightly from the original recipe (of course!), by putting yoghurt and milk in instead of double cream, because I thought it was rich enough with the pastry, feta and parmesan, and because we always have lots of milk and yoghurt in the fridge these days. I think Andrew’s not supposed to have pine nuts just yet (choking hazard?) so I just sprinkled them onto three quarters of the tart and gave the pine-nut-less bit to him. As I thought I was running out of time before our friends came, I forgot to take pictures of every stage, though in the end I should have just looked at my phone earlier and I’d have seen a text to say they wouldn’t be able to make it. Anyway, here goes with what I did manage to capture…

Ingredients

  • 320g ready-rolled shortcrust pastry (I didn’t have time to make my own)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 400g spinach leaves, washed and drained
  • nutmeg, to grate
  • 200g feta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • 100ml milk
  • 50g toasted pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

Method

  1. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface and use it to line a 23-25cm tart tin (Ramsey says to use one with a removable base, but I don’t have one of those, so I used a solid pyrex-style one). Press the pastry into the edges of the tin and leave a little excess dangling over the sides. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion with a little pepper. Stir frequently over medium heat until soft but not browned: about 6-8 minutes. Then wilt the spinach leaves in the same pan as the onion. Stir them over a medium-high-heat just until they’ve wilted, then transfer to a colander set over a large bowl. Press down on the spinach with the back of a ladle to squeeze out the excess water, then cool slightly.
  3. Put the onion and spinach in a large bowl and grate over a little nutmeg. Add the feta, eggs, yoghurt, milk and a generous grating of black pepper. Chill until ready to use.

    Spinach, onions, feta, egg, yoghurt and milk mixed together to make the filling
  4. Heat the oven to 200°c. Line the pastry with foil and fill with baking beans. Bake blind (i.e. without any filling) for 15-20 minutes until the sides are lightly golden. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes until the base is golden and there are no more uncooked patches left. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 170°c.

    Blind baked pastry case - except I noticed when taking this photo that it still had uncooked patches on the bottom, so I put it in uncovered for a bit longer)
  5. Spread the filling over the pastry shell, then sprinkle the parmesan and pine nuts over the top.
    Grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts, ready to sprinkle on top

    Tart ready to go into the oven (pine nuts delibertely only sprinkled on 3/4 of it)
  6. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling is set. Cool slightly before serving.
    Half eaten tart - forgot to take photo when it came out of the oven (probably because Andrew was clearly keen to eat it and was letting me know this!) I think I could have done with squeezing out more of the excess water from the spinach, but it tasted yummy anyway.

    Tart in process of being consumed - served with roasted parsnips and carrots and some couscous salad