Tag Archives: appetiser

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.


  • 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.


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.


Stuffed Mushrooms

8 Nov

Cheesy GloriousnessSo, now that I am re-inspired, what do I cook? I thought about it last night, and I knew that some beloved people were coming over for a spot of watching BBC’s Sherlock. We needed some good, hearty hungry people food. And I remembered… one of the first things I ever “made up” inside my head were these stuffed mushrooms. A little twee, I know, and very, very retro. However, classic dishes never ever go out of style, and at the time I first created these, I was on a second hand cookbook kick, and reading books from the 50’s and 60’s – jellied avocado salad and things like that.

The section in these old school cookbooks that really tweaked my interest was the hors d’oeuvres – wonderful things like  puff pastry cheese twists, sour cream onion dip, and mushrooms in just about every form possible. Mushrooms on toast, pickled mushrooms, grilled mushrooms, mushroom jellies. And of course, stuffed mushrooms. Stuffed with everything from spinach to simple breadcrumbs. I have to say here, I adore mushrooms. I think they are fantastic, delicious, easy and incredibly varied. Mushrooms are definitely amongst my favourite things to eat in the world. And I love love love this recipe because it, like mushrooms, is so infinitely adaptable.

I am giving you a basic infrastructure here. This recipe will make 8 large stuffed mushroom caps. If you only have small mushrooms, adapt. If you want larger still – like a big beefy portobello, adapt. If you want to add a certain ingredient (spinach, oven dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, for example), then do so by all means! I would hazard to guess that 8 largish mushrooms might serve 4 rather polite people as a main course – and they are definitely main course material. My nephew turned to me and said, “I wouldnt need meat if I could eat these all the time!” Music to a vegetarian’s ears 😉

Stuffed mushrooms are also fantastic as part of a feast or larger spread – they would be great as a side dish, or the stuffing part of a vegetarian Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years – or any other big celebratory party. They can be made in advance, held up to 2 days in the fridge, and brought to room temperature to serve. You could even warm them up a bit in the oven if you like. The stuffing must be cooked before refrigerating though because it has raw egg in it – and raw egg mixed with bread and mushrooms and other good things, sitting in the fridge, is a bad accident waiting to happen.

To be honest, I usually prep the mushrooms, saute the duxelles, and refrigerate that and prepare fresh on the day. Otherwise, I would be way too tempted to eat them all up before the party! They are that good. And leftovers (if youre lucky) make a sublime breakfast, cold from the fridge even, the next day.

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side dish

  • 12 large mushrooms (Swiss brown or portobello) – very fresh and firm. About 2kg (1lb) or so
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or olive oil and truffle oil if you have it) plus additional for mushroom caps
  • 3 – 4 minced garlic cloves (or minced shallots if you prefer)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar or white wine
  • 2 – 3 tbsp + 1 – 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs – I use Panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs, but use what you like – brown bread is really gorgeous and rustic in this recipe
  • 1/2 – 1 cup roughly grated parmesan plus additional for topping if you want (and I always do!)
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs, minced – I used Italian parsley, rosemary and oregano – but you could add basil, rocket, thyme – whatever you feel like
  • 2 eggs

First comes the preparation of the mushrooms, and you really need to focus here. Examine all your mushrooms, and put aside your favourite eight. These will be the mushroom caps that will be stuffed. Peel and finely chop the remaining four mushrooms and stems. Place finely chopped mushrooms in a large bowl.

Peel your remaining eight mushrooms and stem them. Chop the stems finely and add to the bowl. Slice a thin slice off the top of the mushroom so that it will lay flat on the baking pan. Using a melon baller, scoop out as much mushroom flesh from the interior of the mushroom as you wish. With Swiss browns this tends to be quite a lot. Finely dice the scooped and sliced flesh. Place the scooped out mushroom caps in a small bowl, cover with a cloth and set aside.

You should have about 5 – 6 cups of diced mushrooms. Take a large non-stick frying pan, over medium high heat, and warm the olive and truffle oils. Saute the garlic lightly until it just softens. Add the diced mushrooms in three lots of about 2 cups each. You dont want to crowd the mushrooms in the pan – otherwise they will begin to steam, and wont saute well. Add one lot of mushrooms, and stir well, coating the mushrooms with the oil and garlic. Add salt and pepper, and allow the mushrooms to saute until lightly browned.

Only then should you add the second lot of mushrooms. Stir well, add a little more salt and pepper, and allow to saute again. They will begin to let go of some liquid. This is good. Each lot may take up to five minutes or more to cook through. Once the second lot has been sauteed to your liking, add the final lot of diced mushrooms, stir well to combine, and slice the butter thinly over all the mushrooms. Allow the heat of the mushrooms to melt the butter – this will flavour the mushrooms, encourage a little sauce to form, and add a bit of oil to the pan.

Let the mushrooms cook for a few minutes, and then pour over the balsamic vinegar. Stir well to combine, and then add the cream and Dijon. Stir, taste and adjust salt and pepper. You should have a pile of gorgeously sauteed mushrooms, with a little bit of thick mushroomy sauce.

Take the pan off the heat and transfer the mushrooms back to the large bowl. You should have about 2 – 3 cups of cooked duxelles.

Stir the mushrooms well and add the breadcrumbs immediately. Stir well, and allow the breadcrumbs to soak up all the wonderful mushroom juices.

Add the parmesan and stir well again. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Mince your herbs of choice very fine, and add to the bowl, mix to combine.

Whisk together the eggs and a further tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Pour this mixture over the mushrooms and stir lightly to create a stuffing. You really dont want to make a dense stuffing – just use the eggs and cream as a binder to get everything nice and cohesive. If you want to add anything else (a bit of spinach, some roasted peppers, a few shards of sun dried tomatoes), you can do so now. Set the stuffing aside for a moment while you prepare the mushroom caps.

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.

Take the mushroom caps, and pour a teaspoon or so of olive oil into your hands. Using your hands, rub each mushroom cap well, and place it on the baking sheet. This will ensure the mushroom caps bake through and dont dry out in the heat of the oven. You may need to add a bit more oil to your hands to really oil all eight mushroom caps.

Still using your hands, divide the stuffing between the eight prepared mushroom caps. Dont over stuff, and dont let the stuffing overflow too much. As the mushrooms bake, the caps will shrink, and the stuffing will fluff up – you dont want a huge difference between the two in the end product!

Grate a bit of parmesan and sprinkle over the stuffing – I used about half a cup in total. Bake the mushrooms in the hot oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking pan about 15 minutes into the baking.

Allow the mushrooms to cool down a little bit once removed from the oven, or serve at room temperature.

Beyond delicious. Enjoy!

Port Wine Poached Figs Oven Roasted with Cashel Blue

25 Jul

Figs roasted in port wine with Cashel BlueAs I have written before, I am being inspired by things all around me. Recently, I read a post on Facebook about oven roasted figs with a gorgonzola sauce and thought, hmmmm, I want to do that! But of course, I wanted to work with what I had, and I wanted to make it perfect for my taste. This dish seems to be “high-falutin gourmet food” (as my friend Jobby said), but actually, its so easy to make, and so dramatic and beautiful to present. I adore figs – they have a luscious, sensual earthy appeal. They are perfect just as they are, but add port wine, a touch of spice, and some deep oven roasting and you get ambrosia. These can be served as starters or main courses, and one per person with a bitter green salad is perfection. Though the greedy ones in your family might demand more, so be prepared!

You could actually make these with dried figs, especially because of all the poaching in wine. But I prefer fresh figs… there is something so inspiring about these deep purple swollen fleshy fruits. And obviously, something downright sexy. I used to really dislike figs, but as I grew older, they somehow just grew on me. I am still not a fan of dried figs – the intensity of all that flesh and sugarsweet is just not for me. But fresh figs have a unique place amongst fruit, and they are surprisingly good for you too – a rich source of potassium, dietary fibre, and manganese. That, and they are yummmmmmy.

This recipe is really easy. You dont even need measurements, though if you are a stickler, I have given you some broad strokes. Work with what you have. Port wine for me, juice for you and red wine for someone else. Add or subtract things you like and dont like. Figs are precious. Make them as YOU want them, not someone else!

For 4 people you will need:

  • 4 – 8 figs
  • 4 cups (2+1+1) port wine (you could make this up in a variety of ways – port wine + red wine + a berry based fruit juice or use all of one or a mix)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (or cinnamon or nutmeg)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp old balsamico vinegar
  • 1 tsp Cashel blue (or other blue cheese) per fig

In a large saucepan or frying pan, over medium-high heat, poach the figs in 2 cups of port wine and 1 cup of water for about 20 minutes. You want the figs to plump up and the port wine to reduce by at least half. If you are using dried figs, add about half an hour of poaching time, at a slightly lower heat. You can leave them largely unattended, though it is nice manners to go over a few times, and bathe them in juices 🙂 About 10 minutes in, sprinkle over the mixed spice.

When the figs look lovely and thick and plump, take them out, and transfer to a heatproof serving pan. Try and get the figs to fit just nicely in the pan – something too big will make the gorgeous juices dissipate and possibly burn. Leave to cool for a moment.

Meanwhile, pour another cup of port wine, or some juice, into the bubbling thickened juices from the poaching. Boil this down to a very thick jammy sauce. As it thickens, stir in the butter to give more body, and taste – you might want it a bit peppery or slightly more spicy. If so, adjust accordingly. Set aside to serve with the figs.

Using a kitchen scissors, cut the figs open from the top. I usually cut them with one “half” bigger than the other, and then split this “half” in two, so I have a three petaled fig. Open up the fig, and drizzle some very old very delicious balsamic vinegar in the centre. Pour the remaining port wine into the pan, and oven roast the figs for about 30 minutes, in a 180C preheated oven.

Take the figs out of the oven, and switch on the broiler. Stuff the figs with a teaspoon (or more if youre feeling wealthy!) of Cashel blue (or Stilton or other blue cheese), and broil for 5 minutes or so or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Serve with a walnut and rocket salad, with the port wine sauce on the side.