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What I Cooked Today – and an Apology

17 Aug

Yes, I know. I havent posted in literally months. I was so excited about the prospect of blogging Ballymaloe Cookery School – and when I got there, I was quite good … but suddenly … I was just immersed. Its not that I didnt have time – it was just that there was so much going on internally and externally, that I needed a moment, every day, to just be.

And unfortunately, that moment that I took for myself on a regular basis, would be the moments when I would have, should have, blogged instead. Apologies. To you, and to myself, for not having documented this extraordinary experience as it was happening. But it was so deep, so life-changing that … to be honest, I didnt have the words.

However, I took loads of photographs … and over the next few days, I will go over them, and share some of my most special Ballymaloe moments with you.

As for now … I am sitting in Provence, in the golden sunshine, at the home of my dear friend… and I am cooking in a brand new way. I learned so many techniques at Ballymaloe which enriched the way I cook, and also the way I see food. Nothing goes to waste… a grapefruit eaten for breakfast gets considered, and the peel gets turned into candied fruit. Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs. And raspberries, which were fresh yesterday, but might not be utterly perfect today, get turned into raspberry jam.

Simple Easy and Gorgeous

And thats what I made today. Raspberry jam – dark, deep, so delicious slathered on a fresh croissant, perfect and bursting with the sunshine and the fruit. And simple beyond words.

To make this jam, you need equal parts fruit and sugar. And thats it. Yes, its really that simple.

I had 125 grams of fresh raspberries, which I washed quickly under the tap. With the water still clinging to them, I put them in a little pot, over a medium high heat. They began to sizzle and disintegrate, and I helped them along a little with a spoon. As soon as they became a glowing red mush (a matter of a few minutes), I added an equal amount (125 grams) of sugar. The sugar melted into the raspberries, and I boiled this mixture for about 4 minutes, or until it had “set.”

You can tell that jam has set if a little of the jam spooned onto a cold plate sets into a wobbly sort of solid consistency. You can draw a line through the jam with your finger, and the line stays.

I poured the jam into a little pot (gorgeous isnt it? It was a yogurt pot from the supermarche!) and set it down to cool. And then I decided to write.

I am glad to be back. If you have a few berries, consider making some jam today. Fresh jam is like nothing else, and it really takes only a few minutes.

Be well!

O’Gourmet Food Hall Vegetarian Tartiflette

22 Apr

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most surprising sources. I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet recently, wondering what I could make for a tantalising, delectable meal. I saw M. Seb (the cheese and wine maestro) … and stopped to have a chat. We walked into the cheese cave, and I started asking him to tell me about his favourite dishes – something that I (as a vegetarian) could make and enjoy. “Tartiflette!” he said, with great enthusiasm and excitement. This traditional Savoie dish is a layered potato gratin, given unctuousness and warmth from Reblochon cheese, cream, onions and lardons. Hmmmm. Lardons are pork fat, fried until crisp on the outside and melting on the inside .. and decidedly un-vegetarian! (But M. Seb is French, so I forgive him for being confused!) … However, Reblochon is a gorgeous, creamy raw-milk soft cheese made from the day’s second milking (when the milk is said to be creamier and richer). It is nutty and velvety, and has a soft lusciousness that is hauntingly beautiful.

So, I was definitely interested, and I decided to try and think of a new take on tartiflette that would keep all that rich depth of flavour, and at the same time elevate it to new heights. I had some black truffles (also from O’Gourmet) that I decided to use in place of the lardons, and instead of onions (which would overwhelm the truffles), I used delicate and yet sturdy leeks. This is not a vegan dish – it just cannot be – but it is warming, full of love, easy to make, and joyous. You should serve it with a sharp green salad – arugula or young spinach – simply dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. You need the balance of something clean and bright to offset the richness of this meal. But oh, its worth it. Smooth and comforting, imbued with the scent of truffles, this vegetarian tartiflette is an instant classic.

Its as good cold as it is warm, and can easily be assembled the day before, covered, refrigerated and baked a few hours before you want to serve it. Do try and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before serving – this allows the bubbling cream and cheese to solidify a bit and sink into the potatoes. Bake in a large ceramic ramekin or pot, and enjoy. It soothes the soul while pleasuring the senses. Such a wonderful combination!

Serves 6 – 8 (and wonderful as leftovers!)

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced thinly (white and light green stalk only)
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4 – 6 large waxy potatoes
  • 1 Reblochon cheese, refrigerated (or even frozen for a few minutes), rind removed
  • 2 – 3 black truffles, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper

You can prepare the leeks up to two days in advance. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Slice the leeks thinly, and rinse them under running water to remove any grit. Saute the leeks in the melted butter until they just begin to sweat and soften. Pour over the 1/4 cup white wine, and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow the leeks to simmer / saute, stirring every so often, until they just begin to colour. Raise the heat to medium high, and brown the leeks for a few minutes. Transfer the leeks to a small bowl, and allow to come to room temperature. You can refrigerate the leeks, covered for up to two days.

Peel the potatoes, and slice thinly. Submerge in water as you work so the potatoes do not brown. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and quickly drain the potatoes from their water bath, and tip into the boiling water. Allow the potatoes to soften (but not fully cook) – about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, and let cool for a few minutes.

If you are baking the tartiflette immediately, preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Place your large ceramic ramekin or pot on top of the baking sheet (this will protect your oven should the cheese/cream bubble over – and it will!). Whisk the creme fraiche and cream together, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Ladle about a tablespoon or two of the cream mixture into the bottom of the ramekin. Place a layer of potatoes over this, a scattering of sliced truffles, a few thin slices of Reblochon cheese, and a sprinkling of leeks. Over all, spoon about 2 tablespoons of cream. Repeat these layers until you run out of ingredients – or reach the top of the ramekin – whichever comes first! Reserve about 5 – 6 thin slices of Reblochon to scatter over the top of the dish.

Do note that you can cover the ramekin at this point and refrigerate up to 24 hours. I would highly suggest that you bake the tartiflette at least 2 hours before serving. This will give it sufficient time to set up.

Bake the tartiflette in the hot oven for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 1/2 hours. The tartiflette is ready when the top is bronzed and bubbling, and the potatoes are soft and yielding to a knife. Do not be alarmed if there seems to be an inordinate amount of liquid and cream bubbling up. Remove the tartiflette from the oven, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes (and even up to an hour) before serving. The cream and cheese will settle, and you will have a wonderfully solid potato gratin.

Serve with a bright, sharp salad for a wonderful and loving meal.

Windsor Wedding Cake

11 Apr

A slice of nostalgia ... and deliciousness!

So, just to make clear … I am not a royalist. I am not particularly interested in the upcoming wedding of William Windsor in the UK, nor am I excited to see what dress his bride will wear. But no one could escape the fluffy news pieces about the nursery tea cake that William requested as his Groomsmen Cake for the upcoming nuptials. May be we needed a break from the devastation of Japan or the multiple uprisings around the world. I’m not sure.

But what I do know is this: the cake sounded intriguing. And when my beloved GoddessMoments sent out a request asking for someone to make her the cake, I thought … Ooh, Id love to do that! So I promised her a cake and I got to work doing a bit of research.

This refrigerator cake (there is no baking) was apparently a favourite tea time cake when William was a child, and according to former royal Chef Darren McGrady, is also a special favourite of the Queen. Its a simple cake – chocolate and tea biscuits are its main components, but there are several versions out there which also incorporate fruit and nuts. I have already written about my dislike for mixing the purity of chocolate with fruit and nuts – I find it muddies the waters.

I found online two main recipes – one by Nigella Lawson that incorporates dried fruits and nuts and uses condensed milk as the sweetener. The second is attributed to Chef McGrady, and uses sugar instead, but is pure chocolate. I loved the idea of using condensed milk so I did a bit of a mashup and evolved my own recipe. I think its delicious – simple and satisfying, tasting of tea biscuits and chocolate.

Please do use an organic egg in this recipe – because even though the heat of the chocolate “cooks” the egg, its probably not fully cooked. Use a pasturised egg, or omit entirely if you are worried. Add dried fruits and nuts if its your thing … and give it time to firm up in the fridge before gilding with its final bath of pure chocolate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe – during the wedding of William and Catherine – or to celebrate your own life! 🙂

Makes 1 9-inch cake. Please keep refrigerated.

  • 1 packet McVities Rich Tea biscuits
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3/4 can (about 1 cup) sweetened condensed milk, thickened and cold from the fridge
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces (6 + 8) best quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 72%)
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt

Prepare a 9 inch cake tin (if you have a spring form pan it is best, but not absolutely necessary) by lining it with parchment paper and buttering well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, crush the Rich Tea Biscuits with your fingers. You want an interesting mix of almond sized pieces and crumbles. Set aside.

In a stand mix, whip the butter until it is light and fluffy, and then whisk in the sweetened condensed milk until fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla until just combined. Set aside.

Pour boiling water into a saucepan, and set a small metal bowl over. Melt 6 ounces of chocolate in the small bowl, until completely liquid. Using a fork (and with the bowl still set over the hot water), whisk in an egg. The chocolate mixture will “seize” – this is OK, just work very quickly.

Pour the chocolate and egg mixture into the butter, and whisk well to combine. Pour the butter-chocolate mixture directly over the biscuits, and fold well. Pour the cake “batter” into your prepared cake tin and refrigerate, covered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Once the cake has had time to mature in the fridge, melt the remaining 8 ounces of chocolate, and allow to cool for about ten minutes.

Once the cake has solidified, use a sharp knife to loosen the edges, and turn out onto a cake rack. Set the rack over a baking sheet. Remove the parchment paper from the top of the cake and use a spatula to smooth any rough edges.

Pour the melted chocolate over the cake, and smooth the sides with a spatula. Refrigerate (either on the cake rack or transfer to a serving plate) for at least another 2 – 3 hours.

Serve with a very sharp knife to hack the cake to pieces!

Note: You can flavour this cake with all sorts of things. Whisky comes to mind – or peppermint essence. Fruit and nuts would also work if youre so inclined.

Enjoy!

A Rainbow Birthday Cake for Ms Yangie!

9 Apr

AngelKitten has been a regular helper, co-cook, co-conspirator and dreamer in my kitchen. It started out as an expression of interest on AngelKitten’s part to learn how to cook … but it has evolved into a friendship forged by food, and a sisterhood defined by how we balance each other. She is a perfectionist – specific and exacting, designing the most delicate and beautiful visual elements for my food. I am a little more … Aries in my approach. I cook with great passion, and my food is usually delicious – but I have been known to be a tad disorganised and messy. AngelKitten records everything I do (many of the recipes on this blog come from her handwritten notes), and when we brainstorm, she is the one who designs, sketches and keeps notes.

One of the cakes that AngelKitten has always wanted to make was a rainbow cake – thin layers of vanilla cake, coloured in the seven shades of the rainbow. We were considering it for our Princess Doll Cake, but ended up deciding it would be just too complex. For that cake, we stayed with the pink (!) theme, and divided the vanilla cake in half and flavoured it with fresh raspberry puree. But the idea for a rainbow cake always stayed with AngelKitten, and when her Mum’s birthday came around, she asked if we could make it.

 

Ms Yangie's Birthday Rainbow Cake ... but where is the rainbow?!

 

We adapted the recipe for the vanilla cake for this rainbow cake. You need a little more batter, so instead of doubling it, I made one and a half times as much (with a touch less baking powder). You also require loads of bowls because you will need to divide the batter into seven. We followed the colours of the rainbow as exactly as possible – purple, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. We used Wilton gel colours because we wanted to achieve a very bright rainbow, though I think, with a little care, you could easily create a more pastel, but just as beautiful rainbow with IndiaTree colours.

You also need a lot of time. This cake takes seven bakings of 10 minutes each, and we only used two cake pans – so there was quite a bit of washing, cleaning, and cooling in between. We iced the cake with a vanilla bean cream cheese icing and AngelKitten made a chocolate ganache to pipe the decoration and birthday wishes. Yangie (AngelKitten’s Mum) had been wanting a rainbow on her cake, and when she received a pure white iced cake, kept asking, where is my rainbow? When she cut into the cake, and found this gorgeous rainbow, she was thrilled. And I was delighted with being able to help AngelKitten create such a wonderful gift for her beloved Mum.

Ahhh there it is! Rainbow Cake reveals itself!

Rainbow Cake

Makes 1 9-inch rainbow cake (7 layers)

  • 4 1/2 cups superfine or cake flour
  • 3 1/4 tsp baking powder1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbsp (or more) vanilla (I used 3 large vanilla beans and 2 tbsp vanilla essence)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat your oven to 165C (325F) and line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Spray the cake tins with non stick spray or use some softened butter. Set aside. Have seven bowls at the ready, along with gel or liquid food colour, and toothpicks.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

In an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the vanilla. You should have a creamy batter, but dont worry if it looks a bit curdled – it does that sometimes!

Fold in (dont beat in) the flour mixture, alternating with the milk.

Divide the batter evenly into the seven bowls. Begin dying the batter, starting with the violet/purple hue. As soon as it is dyed to your liking (and remember it does get a little darker in the oven), pour the batter into a prepared baking tin, and smooth with a spatula. The layer will be very thin. Bake for ten minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, and it springs back lightly when pressed. Remove the layer from the oven, cool on a cake rack for about ten minutes, and then remove from cake tin by turning onto cake rack. Keep the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake as it cools. Repeat with the remaining six layers, prepping your pans as you go.

When the first layers have cooled sufficiently, begin to ice the cake (you will be icing and baking all at the same time! Multitasking is fun!). Centre the first layer of cake on a cake plate. Use the parchment paper to help you move the cake layer around – lift the layer into your hands by turning the cake rack over, and shift the layer over to the cake plate by carrying it on the paper. Use the first of your seven bowls of frosting, and frost the top of the cake, and the sides lightly. Repeat with the remaining layers, using the parchment paper to help you centre the cake layers on top of each other.

Once you have iced all the layers, frost a thin layer of icing along the top and sides. Place in the fridge for ten minutes (this is called the crumb icing – and helps you achieve a smooth final layer of icing), and then finally ice a thicker layer of vanilla cream cheese frosting over everything.

Serve to the delight of your family and friends!

Gorgeous and Dramatic

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting / Icing

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla essence or 1 – 2 vanilla beans

In an electric stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Make sure the two are completely combined and no lumps or bumps remain – this may take up to five minutes.

Remove the bowl, and sift the icing sugar over the butter-cream cheese mixture. Beat again until fully incorporated, adding the vanilla to taste as you go.

Divide the frosting into seven bowls (we reused the batter bowls) and ice the rainbow cake as above.

Ms Tina’s Gluten-Free Granola

4 Apr

Since I decided to take a pause in my life – and yes, thank you, I managed to turn 40 very successfully with the help and love of some dear friends – I havent been cooking a lot. Other life issues demanded precedent. I needed something to get me moving again, and of course, I do love a challenge. My dear friend, Ms Tina gave me a challenge that was intriguing and exciting. She asked me to create a truly tasty and delicious gluten-free granola for her.

Gluten-free is basically a diet that is completely free of any gluten containing cereals, specifically wheat, spelt, barley, and rye – and ensuring that no ingredients used have any gluten based cereals as an additive or filler, and even that non gluten flours / ingredients have not been processed on machines which also are used for wheat. This is a moment which calls for vigilance in shopping! I am lucky in that I have O’Gourmet Food Hall as a wonderful resource for hard to find ingredients that are also natural, not overly processed, and organic.

While the recipe is very open to interpretation, you must make sure that all ingredients are gluten-free – and the best way to do that is by reading the small print. I found some rice flour for this recipe, but I did not read the small print. When I got home, I found that the rice flour had been processed on machines that were also used for wheat flour – so I ended up using gluten-free buckwheat flour instead. I had to search quite hard to find gluten-free ingredients, but the effort was worth it!

This makes about 10 cups of granola. Its not labour intensive, but it does take quite a bit of time in the oven, with checking and turning every 20 minutes or so. Bake it in the still of the night, or on a lazy Sunday. Please also do feel free to chop and change ingredients. You may not like nuts in your granola as much as I do – add raisins, cranberries, apricots, etc. I could not find gluten-free oats (and remember, not every oat is gluten free!) so I used gluten-free muesli instead – it already had raisins and apricots, so I decided not to add any more. You need about 11 cups of mixed granola ingredients. I also tried to add as little oil as possible to the granola – but the result was a granola which did not clump together as much as I would have wished it to. Add up to 1/2 cup more oil to really bind the mixture together.

With a bit of care and creativity, you will find that this granola is well worth the effort – delicious, gluten-free and vegan to boot!

Makes 10 cups

  • 4 cups gluten-free oats (or gluten-free muesli if you cannot find pure oats)
  • 2 cups quinoa flakes
  • 1 cup sunflower / sesame seeds
  • 1 cup raw whole macadamias, roughly smashed
  • 1 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly smashed
  • 1 cup raw pistachios
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • 3/4 cup best quality honey (I used a mix of leatherwood and manuka)
  • 3/4 – 1 1/2 cups canola or sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup organic juice (I used an organic raspberry and pear juice)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 – 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • Large pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 115 C (250F). Line your largest baking tin with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix the oats/muesli, quinoa flakes, sunflower/sesame seeds, macadamia, hazelnuts, pistachios, and cashews together in a very large bowl. Use your hands, and really ensure everything is mixed well. Sprinkle over the rice flour, and combine again.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, juice, vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients, and using your hands, mix well to combine. The granola should be quite soggy. Sprinkle sea salt over, and combine again with your hands. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Turn the granola out onto your prepared baking sheet, and pat it into a very large, well packed rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for up to three hours, removing it every 20 minutes or so, and turning the granola over  in sections to make sure it crisps every where.

After about 3 hours, remove the granola from the oven, and pat and pack the granola down quite well, and switch the oven off, but return the granola back to the cooling oven. Leave, undisturbed for at least another 2 hours, or even overnight.

Break the granola into large chunks, and store in air tight containers, for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy!

O’Gourmet Food Hall Chili Chocolate Mousse

3 Apr

Chili and chocolate is a wicked, wanton pairing. Chocolate is deep and dark; spicy notes with a bass pounding beat. Chili is bright and spicy – a spark of fire like the river of sound from a sharp sexy saxophone. Together, they play off each other and intensify their own qualities to create an extraordinarily beautiful fusion.

This mousse was created as the last dish in a Spanish red wine tasting at O’Gourmet Food Hall. It was paired with a Humiliat 2008 – a red that is complex, with a depth of flavour and contrast. The pairing of chili and chocolate brought out the various notes in the red wine, and deepened its complexity even further.

Do note that I used organic eggs for this recipe – and this is crucial because the egg white is not cooked. If you have concerns, use pasturised eggs if possible. And do balance the amount of chili to suit your taste. I used Kashmiri chili from O’Gourmet – which is full of fire, and yet smooth and gorgeous. The thing I love about this chili is that in sweet dishes (I used it in a vanilla ice cream before as well), it really allows for stages of flavour – the first hit you get is chocolate, and then suddenly, fire. Its very more-ish, and brings about a flush of passion in those who consume it.

This is not a diet dessert by any standards – chocolate, lashings of cream, butter and eggs. Its rich, but the chili somehow adds a fresh, wild note. And as laden as it is with calories, it uses very simple ingredients – and if you make sure they are top quality, the taste will be sublime. You also cant have huge bowlfuls of this dessert – it is best served as a delightful, delectable taste, may be with a dark cup of coffee.

Do please note that I made this mousse to feed about 20 – 30 people (albeit in tiny little cups). You could probably feed 8 – 10 people with leftovers. Make in little individual serving pots, or one large, luscious bowlful – its up to you. But do make sure you add the whipped cream on top (and a few chocolate shavings or nuggets) – its all about the contrast and layers of flavour.

Makes about 4 – 5 cups

  • 10 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 72%) broken into chunks
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 + 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 3 + 3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 + 1 cups cream
  • 2 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
  • Chocolate chunks or curls to decorate

Fill a saucepan with boiling water, and place a small metal bowl on top. Melt the chocolate in the small bowl, and add the butter. When the butter is melted, whisk in the egg yolks (they will stiffen the mixture), salt, and vanilla. Stir well, and take off the heat. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl, and set aside.

Whip the egg whites, adding 3 tbsp of light brown sugar, until the egg whites are very stiff, and hold high peaks. Fold about 1/3rd of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then gently fold the rest in. Cover the bowl, and place in the fridge.

Whip 2 cups of cream until stiff, and then remove the chocolate mixture from the fridge. Fold the cream in gently. Sprinkle the chili over the mousse in 1/2 tsp portions, and fold until completely incorporated. Taste and keep adding until to your taste. I like it hot!

 

Chill the mousse for at least half an hour. If you are serving it in individual portions, spoon or pipe into cups. If you are serving in a large bowl, spoon into the bowl and cover.

 

Whip  the remaining 1 cup of cream, 2 tbsp vanilla extract and 3 tbsp light brown sugar together and pipe or spoon over the prepared and chilled mousse. Decorate with chocolate and cool in the fridge for 2 hours minimum, or up to 24.

Serve with joy!

Twice Baked Caramelised Onion Cheese Tarts

27 Feb

This is a complex, work intensive dish, but the results are nothing short of spectacular, if I might say so myself. The rich buttery puff pastry holds a wonderful creamy base laden with succulent deeply wine-y caramelised onions. Topped with melted raclette, the tart is complicated, delicious and very satisfying. These were created as a tapas for the O’Gourmet Food Hall Spanish red wine tasting, and were paired with a beautiful, organic Crianza 2005.

The onions were caramelised in an entire bottle of Crianza 2005, and cooked down into a thick jammy muddle for four hours. The puff pastry is simple, if you an find an all butter prepared puff pastry. If you cant, there are some amazingly easy recipes for foolproof puff pastry made with your food processor available online. Dont, under any circumstances, use puff pastry that is made with vegetable fat – it ruins everything!

Part of the problem with tarts of this kind is that even though the top bakes up gorgeously, the bottom is often underbaked. I solved this problem by baking the tarts as per normal, letting them cool for a few minutes, taking them out of their muffin tins, and flipping them over onto a baking sheet. I then baked them again in a very hot oven for about ten minutes, until the bottoms were golden and crisp, and just as delicious as the tops! We must always have balance in cooking…as in life.

I used raclette in this tart – a smooth very creamy melting cheese, often added to fondues. The cheese is rich and salty, yet mild. It compliments the onions, without overwhelming them. Baked into the tart the raclette melds with the onions and savoury custard into a molten cheesy joy.

You can serve this tart warm from the oven, or at room temperature within 24 hours. The recipe for the onions makes more than you need. Any extra can be used as the base for a magnificent pasta, a grilled cheese sandwich, or to spark your cooking imagination!

Makes 20 medium sized tarts. Do adjust for your own crowd!

Twice Baked Caramelised Red Wine Onion Tarts with Raclette

Caramelised Red Wine Onions

  • 1 cup (2 sticks – 16 tbsp) butter
  • 8 cups (approximately 8 – 10 medium) yellow onions, sliced in fine half rings
  • 1 bottle red wine (I used QV Crianza 2005)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (organic if possible)
  • Pepper and salt

In a large, heavy pan, over medium low heat, melt the butter. While the butter is slowly melting, prepare the onions. Peel, cut in half (from stem to root), and slice thinly. I always keep root intact to hold the onion together while I slice it.

Once the butter has melted, add the onions, and toss so that they are covered completely by the butter. Add about half a bottle of wine, the red wine vinegar, balsamic, sugar and a lot of pepper and a bit of salt. Stir well to combine, and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Reduce the heat a tad, and allow the mixture to simmer, stirring every ten minutes or so for about an hour.

By the end of an hour or so, the onions should be stained dark red with the wine, and quite soft. Remove the lid, add the remaining wine, stir well, and allow to cook down for another three hours or so, stirring every half an hour to make sure the onions dont burn. You can judge when you feel they are ready, but do try and give them as much time as possible. They will turn a deep dark wine red.

When the onions are ready, take off heat, and allow to cool to room temperature. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

These may be kept, covered, in the fridge, for up to 3 weeks.

Assembly

  • 5 to 6 sheets all butter puff pastry (enough for 20 squares to fit muffin tins)
  • Caramelised onions
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300 gm raclette or other melting cheese, sliced thinly

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Spray a muffin tin pan with non stick spray (I used an organic canola oil). Line a large baking sheet with parchment or baking paper.

The puff pastry should be quite cold, yet malleable. If you have made fresh puff pastry, make sure you pop it in the freezer for about 5 minutes before cutting it. Cut the puff pastry into squares larger than the width of the muffin tin and place one square in each. I like the squares with the edges rough and untamed. I tend to like these tarts look rustic, but if you prefer an ordered tart, by all means cut big rounds.

Pierce the pastry with a fork all over (particularly the bottom), and bake in the oven for about 10 – 15 minutes until light golden.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and cream, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and place in a pouring jug.

Once the pastry has been baked to golden brown, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Place a tablespoon or more of the caramelised onions in each tart, and pour over the custard mixture. Bake again in the oven for about 1o minutes, and then remove and top the tarts with the sliced raclette or other melting cheese. Bake again for a further five minutes or so, or until the cheese has melted and is starting to bubble, and the custard is just set.

Remove the tarts from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the muffin tins, and place onto the prepared baking pan upside down. Bake in the hot oven for a further 5 – 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are crispy and browned.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature within 1 day.

Enjoy!

Red Wine Poached Figs Baked with Fourme D’Ambert

27 Feb

I could eat these figs all day. They are sensuous, sweet, sticky, salty, just a little burnt… totally delectable. I created them for the O’Gourmet Food Hall wine tasting, and they were paired with (and poached in) a Luberri 2009. The figs interacted extremely well with the wine, opening it up and accenting its unique properties.

This is an easy dish to prepare, as long as you take your time, and are aware of the quality of ingredients. I used large, soft Turkish dried figs to start with, and slowly poached them in a bottle of red wine until they were succulent and very soft. I then drained them, and allowed them to cool for a few hours.

When they were ready, I split them sideways, and stuffed them with a dream of a cheese: one of the oldest French cheeses, Fourme d’Ambert. This blue is nutty, semi-hard and complex. Its manufacture dates back to Roman times, and it has an ageless grace and elegance. Baked stuffed in the figs, the cheese goes soft and slightly burnt around the edges, capturing and contrasting with the sticky sweetness of the figs. Fourme d’Ambert also has wine notes, so it also picks up and amplifies the flavours of the wine the figs have been poached in.

These gorgeous babies can be prepared a few hours in advance, and still be incredibly delicious. I must admit though, they are phenomenal straight out of the oven, with the Fourme d’Ambert bubbling away, and the scent of wine and cheese tantalising. I would serve a few with a bitter salad as a starter.

I made 20 figs for the wine tasting. Do adjust to your own crowd 😉

Red Wine Poached Fig baked with Fourme d'Ambert

  • 20 large, soft dried Turkish figs
  • 1 bottle Luberri 2009 (or other complex red Spanish wine)
  • 300 g Fourme d’Ambert (or other semi-hard blue cheese)

Place the figs in a large saucepan. Cover the figs with wine, and bring to the boil over medium high heat. As soon as the wine is boiling, turn the heat down to medium low, and poach / simmer the figs for at least 20 – 30 minutes or until very soft and yielding.

Drain the figs out of the wine (reserve the wine for the optional sauce below), and leave to cool for at least 2 – 3 hours, or even over night.

Preheat the oven to 180C (360 F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a scissors or very sharp knife, split the figs in half side ways – though if you really want to do it top to tail, who am I to stop you?

Stuff about a tablespoon of cheese in the centre of each fig, and place the fig on the baking sheet, stem side up.

Once you have stuffed all the figs, bake in the hot oven for 5 – 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted, and is bubbly and starts to burn just around the edges. The wine soaked figs will also become shiny and sticky.

Serve hot, or at room temperature.

These figs will keep for 2 – 3 days, covered in the fridge. To serve, bring to room temperature.

For optional wine glaze:

If you are serving the figs as a starter, you could glaze them with a reduction of red wine.

  • Remaining wine from poaching figs
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp balsamic

In a medium saucepan, combine the wine, cinnamon, honey and balsamic. Simmer over medium low heat until reduced to a thick shiny glaze. Taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle over figs just before serving.

Marinated Red Peppers with Feta + Smoked Paprika

26 Feb

These marinated red peppers with feta and smoked paprika were the second tapas served at the recent O’Gourmet Food Hall Spanish red wine tasting. They were paired with a Gotes 2009, and the sweet-salty combination of the peppers and feta served to deepen and highlight the wine. The smoked paprika added depth and flavour without overwhelming the lush combination.

While this seems to be an easy dish, if you are preparing the peppers from scratch, it can be time consuming. When using fresh pepeprs, I blister them in a very hot oven, or over the fire on the stovetop. However, I have found that jarred or canned peppers work just as well – as long as you ensure an overnight marination in spices and herbs. I also feel that this is best assembled just before serving – the creaminess of the feta can leech into the peppers, and you end up with a scraggly looking mess. Put it all together a maximum of an hour before you serve it, and it stays gorgeous and clean. And as with the tapenade, a little fresh herb (in this case an oregano leaf) adds a pretty texture and taste to the final presentation.

This is a really easy and yet visually pleasing starter. You could serve it with, or even atop some french bread toasts, or you could add a salad and serve a few plated for a pretty starter.

I made approximate 20 individual tasters, but you could make as many as you please, by adjusting the amounts of peppers and feta.

Marinated Peppers with Feta and Smoked Paprika

 

Marinated red peppers

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (organic if possible)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 – 2 tsp mixed Italian herbs
  • 5 – 6 garlic cloves, sliced thickly
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 – 6 jarred / canned / blistered red peppers

In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, salt and pepper, herbs, garlic, smoked paprika and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Prepare the peppers. They should be slick and soft. If you have blistered/roasted them from fresh, ensure that all seeds have been removed, as well as the skin. I use scissors for this next step. Cut / slice the peppers into long strips. You want something that will wrap itself around a cube of feta.

Place the strips of pepper into the olive oil mixture, cover and allow to marinate for at least 2 – 3 hours, preferably overnight.

To serve:

  • Marinated red pepper strips
  • Goat’s milk feta (approximately 2 cups), cubed
  • Fresh oregano
  • Toothpicks
  • Additional smoked paprika

Choose your prettiest red pepper strips. Wrap a strip of red pepper around a cube of feta, and place an oregano leaf on top. Skewer with a toothpick, and arrange prettily on a serving plate. Just before serving, sprinkle with additional smoked paprika for a deep bass note.

Tapenade with French Bread Toasts

26 Feb

I made this tapenade for a wine tasting at O’Gourmet Food Hall. It was paired with a Santanegro Syrah 2008 – a light red wine. I think tapenade is one of the most delightful of the vegan/vegetarian starters – its so easy to make, and yet has such complex flavours, particularly if you get the balance right. Because its so simple, its important to ensure that all the components are beautifully presented.

I used a really good quality french bread for the toasts – sliced on the diagonal, and then brushed with a mixture of virgin olive oil, Maldon salt and a few cloves of garlic. Baked in the oven until golden brown, they were then covered with the tapenade, and a small sprig of parsley. Obviously, the parsley isnt neccessary, but it makes it look so pretty and elegant.

I love the lemon in this tapenade. It brightens the dark complexity of the olives and oil, and brings a freshness and clarity to the taste of the paste. You could use this as a starter, or in so many other things – a few tablespoons mixed with angel hair pasta gives you a quick and satisfying dinner; a teaspoon or so spread on bread is the basis for a sandwich with intriguing depth, and as a dip for crudites, this is strong and delicious.

This recipe makes about 2 – 2 1/2 cups. I made 20 appetisers and had enough left over for a snack later!

Tapenade with French bread toasts

For the Tapenade

  • 2 cups black olives (drained and pitted if needed)
  • 1 cup green olives (drained and pitted if needed)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (organic if you can find it)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 – 3 tbsp caper berries

In a large bowl, combine the olives, about half the olive oil, the grated zest of the lemon (I use a Microplane lemon grater), the garlic cloves cut in half, and the caper berries. You can use a food processor to blitz everything, but I actually like using my immersion blender. It gives much more control, and you can decide when the tapenade is of the consistency that you prefer. I personally like it a little chunky, but you can process until almost smooth.

Squeeze the juice of half the lemon into the mixture, and stir well. Taste and adjust flavourings. You shouldnt need salt as the the olives are usually quite salty, but if you really want it, add. I usually adjust the lemon a little, or the caper berries.

Cover the tapenade with the remaining olive oil, and set aside for at least 2 hours, or overnight to let all the flavours meld.

For the toasts and to serve

  • 2 small (or 1 large) loaves fresh, crusty French bread
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • large pinch of Maldon Salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thickly
  • Small bunch of Italian parsley

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment or baking paper.

Slice the loaves on the diagonal, and place the sliced bread on the baking sheet.

Mix the olive oil, salt and garlic together in a small bowl, and using a pastry brush, brush the bread with the olive oil mixture. Add extra olive oil if needed, but you dont want it too oily.

Bake the toasts in the oven for approximately 5 – 10 minutes until light golden.

Can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.

To serve, spoon about a tablespoon of tapenade on each toast. Top with a small sprig of parsley, and serve.

Enjoy!