Tag Archives: christmas

Mini Candy Apples

22 Dec

I think I might have candy on my mind! Actually, I kind of do … I am devising a Yee Sang Cake for O’Gourmet Food Hall, and I have been looking at innocuous and innocent fruits with an evil candy-ing glint in my eye. Heheh. I love the candied caramelised oranges I made yesterday, and today, I decided to try another route – candied apples. But not just any apples, mind you, sweet, succulent, fragile miniature apples from Japan. These little babies are just so beautiful – perfect in miniature – that I could not bear to cut them up and cook them.

I remembered growing up in the US, one of the greatest fall and winter pleasures were  candied apples we would get from farm stalls. These candies are the stuff of memory – and the taste of them conjures up cold, crisp weather, puffs of breath, that clean smoky scent in the air, sky blue (or white with coming snow) and immeasurably beautiful. I adore candy apples – for the memory and the joy they represent.

These candy apples – large or small – would make lovely home-made Christmas presents. They are quick and relatively easy, they transport grownups back to the innocent pleasures of childhood, and they can be decorated in all sorts of ways – double dip these candy apples in ground nuts, bits of chocolate, crushed candy cane … let your imagination go wild! Or, serve them as part of a Christmas buffet or dinner. Such pretty pleasures.

Candy apples are not that difficult to make, but you really need a sugar thermometer to evaluate exactly where your candy is going. And you need to be brave (hot sugar is very dangerous), and have a sure hand. Work quickly, surely and have everything at the ready. I love how the hot candy clings to the apple skin – and lightly softens the apple flesh. When you bite into one of these gorgeous beauties, you get crackling shards of cinnamon candy, and then soft yielding apple. Lovely!

Makes 8 – 10 large or 12 – 16 small candy apples

  • 12 – 16 small apples (or 8 – 10 large) – try and get the small ones if you can, but if not, a strong red skinned apple is fine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • A few drops red food colouring (optional – I used India Tree natural food colour)

Line a baking pan or jelly roll tin with parchment or wax paper.

Wash the apples extremely well. I placed all the apples in a large bowl, squirted in some fruit and vegetable cleaner, and covered with water. I let the apples sit for about five minutes before draining and drying the apples very well.

Place the completely dried apples onto the prepared tin, and piece each apple with a skewer. For the tiny apples, I used double toothpicks.

Set the apples aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Stir well to ensure that everything is combined.

Place the saucepan over medium high heat, and bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil, swirling the pan a few times to make sure everything is mixed well. Dont stir – sugar crystals will form, and this is not a great final candy look. Use your candy thermometer, and allow the sugar syrup to come to 149C (300F).

Take off the heat, and have everything at the ready. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, and mix well (a silicone spatula is fine). Add the vanilla and red food colouring (stand back as it will bubble up), and stir well again.

Using an oven mit, pick up the saucepan, and tilt it so that the candy forms a deep well in one side. Pick up an apple by the toothpick, or skewer, and submerge the apple as completely as possible in the candy. As you remove the apple from the candy, twirl it, and place it back onto the parchment paper.

If you are adding another topping, dip immediately before placing back on the parchment paper.

Repeat with the rest of the apples, and allow to air dry for at least a few hours.

Remove the skewers or toothpicks, and serve as is or wrap in parchment paper to give as lovely gifts.

Candied Caramelised Oranges

21 Dec

Are you stuck for a Christmas dessert that you can make without much thought, and which will taste as if you have put in hours of work? These candied, caramelised oranges might just be the thing. I love their jewel-like colour – a deep dark citrine or amber … glistening with orangey caramel syrup that they make themselves. Theyre blowsily sexy – soft, sticky, totally decadent and delectable. They taste like the holidays… and believe me, theyre so simple, its almost embarrassing!

I decided to make them because I am working on a Chinese New Year cake that uses candied and dried fruits. I love those little tiny oranges you can get this time of year  – mini mandarins from China. You could also use kumquats. They are the main component of the recipe, so make sure you get good ones. Everything else you need, you probably have in your pantry. Its really up to you what flavourings and essences you use – most of the time, I just add sugar, water and a touch of juice.

How I can call this a recipe, Im not sure. Its so simple, but its gorgeous. Lush with the oranges’ own caramel, the little tiny orange balls go translucent, and then a deep dark hue that has a richness and beauty all its own. Serve warm (you can make ahead and reheat, or just stick it on the stove in the morning, and let it go) with some vanilla ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream, and youre done. Heaven. Sweet, bitter, astringent, caramel, citrus, smoke – such a complexity of flavour, and so so easy. In the stress and mess of the holidays, sometimes that is a gift in and of itself.

To serve 4 – 6 people, you will need:

  • 2 cups light brown or caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup juice (or even wine)
  • Spices if you want – cinnamon is great here, as are cloves, star anise, nutmeg – but be gentle!
  • 4 cups of tiny mandarin oranges

Place a large pot, with lid, on stove top. Add sugar, water, juice and any spices. Bring gently to the boil, over low-medium heat, stirring every so often to dissolve the sugar. The sugar will boil up eventually, and then become clear. Turn the heat right down so the sugar syrup is just bubbling – little tiny plops.

Wash the little oranges well, ensuring that the little stem is removed, if needed. Poke each orange several times with a toothpick.

Place the oranges in the sugar syrup, gently gently. Give everything a stir, make sure the heat is very very low, and cover.

Simmer the oranges in the syrup for at least 1 – 2 hours, longer if you like. They will turn translucent and go very dark. Its almost like youre making marmalade, but with whole oranges.

Everything will caramelise, the oranges will leak their juice and essence, and the syrup will also turn a gorgeous burnt sticky orange.

Serve warm, with a bit of ice cream, mascarpone, or heavy cream. Heaven.

O’Gourmet Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

6 Dec

I love macaroni and cheese, the beautiful pasta, coated with a creamy blanket of cheesy indulgence. The crispy top, making way for a melting interior. Whats not to love? Well, some varieties of mac and cheese are plainly unappetising, made from over processed, pasturised ingredients that have all the life and soul taken out of them (once youve seen that orange glow, you will never forget it!). I wanted to make a different kind of macaroni and cheese – a sensuous, indulgent meal, ripe with scent, taste, texture and balance. This macaroni and cheese is slightly wicked, a tad naughty, and very memorable. It can be served at a celebration – birthday, New Years, holidays of every kind – or just because you want to say I love you. Honestly, they will get the message!

A dish like this needs to be in part based on thought and consideration, and in part on pure inspiration. So I wandered the O’Gourmet Food Hall to see what might present itself. First under consideration was the pasta. I decided on La Collina Toscana pasta, made in Italy, and rather than macaroni, a conchiglie shape – like a small conch or sea shell. Gorgeous, naturally dried, hand crafted pasta, with a shape that has the same benefits of macaroni (the curved tubular shape catches and holds sauce well), and yet has a more elegant look to it. But of course, I dont want to be proscriptive, so use whichever pasta strikes your fancy!

I feel that macaroni and cheese can sometimes be a tad overwhelmingly rich, and I noted some gorgeously fresh organic baby spinach, so I decided to include a surprise nestled in the depths of the pasta – bright clean spinach, sauteed with white onion, and candied, caramelised garlic. I wanted to make the garlic a little differently from the original Ottolenghi recipe I used, and so decided that instead of water, I would use wine! But then, I saw Fre wines – alcohol-removed wine. Yes, honestly!

I read the taste tests, and while there is definitely something missing (the alcohol!), there is a unanimous agreement that the taste is still there… somewhat! I thought that it might be very interesting to try cooking with this non-alcoholic wine. Would you get the same taste, roundness of flavour, haunting notes of fruit and honey and sunshine, as with regular wine? I decided I would use the Fre premium white wine in the sauce, and the Fre premium red wine in creating the caramelised garlic (in place of water in the original recipe). I found that there was certainly a hint of winey flavour to the sauce and garlic, but that depth of flavour, the resonance of the wine, the layers of scent and taste, were not as fully realised. I think the next time I make this pasta, I will use regular wine, but when I am cooking for those who have issues with alcohol in their food, I would most certainly go back to the Fre. And again, if you prefer cooking with wine, please, go ahead and give in to the urge 😉

And finally, truffles. I felt that truffles added to the cheese sauce would elevate this dish into a celebratory, special meal. I looked around, and decided to layer the different truffle tastes – starting with the amazingly hedonistic truffle oil from Vom Fass, which I used to permeate everything from the spinach to the garlic to the cheese sauce. I seasoned everything with truffle sea salt, and finally, I found Himalayan truffles (tuber indicum), an inexpensive (relatively) jar of black truffles from the Himalayas. I loved these truffles. They were easy to work with, and imbued the pasta with their own truffled scent – not quite as all inclusive as European truffles, which seem to have the reach and depth of durian, but with their own nutty, dark, rich flavour.

And when I spoke to M. Sebastien in the cheese room, he suggested that I use a Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream, soft, brie-like cheese) which had been layered, and thus completely permeated, with truffles. I used organic white cheddar and a beautiful aged crumbly parmesan as well, but I promise you, when I sliced open that Brillat-Savarin, and saw the thick soft melting consistency, and smelled that unique combination of cheese and truffle… well, I wanted to rub it all over me! Incredibly luxurious and such a beautiful addition to the pasta.

This dish looks like a lot of work, and it certainly will take a couple of hours of cooking. But a lot can be done ahead of time – the garlic can be candied and caramelised in about half an hour or so, and can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks. The spinach can be sauteed and kept, covered, in the fridge for 3 days. Even the cheese sauce can be made the day before (though I would whisk in the egg at the last minute), and combined with the pasta just before baking. I served the dish with a simple salad of bitter arugula (rocket) and ribboned organic carrots, with a dressing of balsamic, truffle oil and soy sauce. It was a bright counterpoint to the luxury of the main course.

This truffled macaroni and cheese is worth the work and the care, the loving sourcing of beautiful ingredients. The result is a gift to the people you love, and to yourself.

Serves 6 – 8 people

Candied Caramelised Garlic (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 2 cups Fre premium red wine (or a good red wine)
  • 1 1/2 cups garlic cloves (about 2 heads – 30 cloves or so)
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp best quality balsamic vinegar (I used a 25 year old balsamic from Vom Fass – it was astonishing!)
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence or mixed Italian/French herbs
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt (if you have it – otherwise a good sea salt is fine)

Combine the red wine and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium low heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Drain the red wine from the garlic cloves, reserving the red wine for later. Clean the saucepan well and dry it, and place the garlic cloves and the truffle oil into the saucepan together.

Saute the garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes or so, on medium high heat, or until the garlic has softened, released its intrinsic garlic scent, and become lightly browned.

Measure out about 1 1/2 cups of the red wine, and combine with the sugar, balsamic, herbs and salt. Pour over the garlic in the saucepan. Be careful, because it will splatter a bit.

Simmer on medium high heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the liquid has almost completely reduced, and the garlic is dark red, sticky, candied and caramelised. Take off the heat, and pour over the remaining 1 tsp of truffle oil.

This candied garlic will keep in the fridge, covered for at least 2 weeks, but you will probably eat it before then! It can be an astonishing addition to salads, soups, risottos, pastas, sandwiches – just about anything you can imagine!

Sauteed Spinach

  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (1 small onion or 1/2 large)
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 cups organic baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped

In a medium sized pan, over medium heat, combine the 2 tbsp of truffle oil and the white onion. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onion goes glossy, soft and shiny. You dont want it to burn, but you do want it to reach that moment just before it caramelises!

Season with truffle salt and pepper, and add the baby spinach. Raise the heat a little, and saute quickly. The spinach will turn bright green, and will release some of its liquid. This is perfect. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and pour over the final teaspoon of truffle oil.

You can reserve this spinach for up to 3 days, covered in the fridge. It also makes a sublime side dish!

Truffled Three Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Truffles – as much as you want or can afford! I used a 100 g jar of Himalayan truffles plus 2 tbsp of truffle oil plus 1/2 tsp of truffle salt
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 + 1 cup Fre premium white wine (or regular white wine – or even sparkling wine!)
  • 1/2 tsp (or less – to your taste) English mustard powder or Dijon mustard
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) grated white organic cheddar
  • 200 g (about 7 oz) truffled Brillat Savarin
  • 1/2 cup grated best quality parmesan
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste

In a medium large saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Grate over the truffles (I used a Microplane zester to shave the truffles very small and fine), and add the truffle oil and truffle salt, if using. Over low heat, warm the cream/milk/truffle mixture until it is just steaming – about 75C or 165F. Stir often. Once the mixture reaches the steaming stage, remove from heat, and let steep for at least an hour. This infusion step is important! It makes sure that the taste of the truffles is all over that sauce.

In a medium large saucepan, melt the butter and truffle oil over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted completely, add the flour, and stir well. This roux will form the basis of your sauce, so make sure that you take your time and cook it well. You want it the colour of light teak – keep your nerve. Dont burn it, but dont let it stay too pale either. I would cook for at least 5 minutes, up to 10, depending on the heat source.

Once the roux has cooked to your liking, lower the heat a bit, and add 1 cup of the white wine, whisking constantly. The mixture will immediately seize up and become very thick. Whisk in all of the steeped milk/cream/truffle mixture, and continue to whisk well. Taste. Add the remaining 1 cup of white wine, tasting every 1/4th cup or so. You dont need to add it all if the mixture becomes too heavily winey.

Sprinkle over the mustard powder or the Dijon mustard, and whisk well to combine.

Bring the heat up to medium low, and sprinkle over the cheddar. Continue whisking the sauce as you incorporate the cheddar into the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings again.

Slice the bottom rind off the Brillat Savarin, and using a teaspoon, scoop it out of its rind. Add to the sauce, and whisk well to combine.

Sprinkle over the parmesan, and whisk well, until the cheese is melted and well mixed.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool to tepid bathwater heat. Whisk in the egg yolks to enrich the sauce, and adjust for seasoning.

The cheese sauce can be made up to a day of time, before adding the egg yolks. Keep tightly covered in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before whisking in the egg yolks and assembling the main dish.

This sauce would be wonderful served as is, not baked, with angel hair pasta or linguine!

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese – Assembly

You can serve this in individual small ceramic baking pots, bake it in loaf tins (it will fill three tins), or a large enameled baking dish. Your choice – I think it depends on how and who you are going to serve! Individual pots are a very elegant presentation, but loaf tins or a large baking dish bring a casual luxury to the meal.

  • 500 g macaroni, elbow, conchiglie, or other tubular pasta
  • Truffled Three Cheese Sauce
  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Sauteed Spinach
  • Handful of Italian parsley, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • A few teaspoons of truffle oil to finish

Preheat the oven to 160C (325F), and have your baking pans ready.

Prepare macaroni or other tubular pasta according to the packet directions, in a large saucepan or pot, over high heat, in heavily salted boiling water, but taste a few minutes shy of the time indicated on the packaging. I cooked conchiglie pasta, and the packet said 15 minutes. I cooked it for 11 minutes, to just before al dente.

Drain the pasta, and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour over about three quarters of the cheese sauce and stir well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Place about half of the pasta in your baking pots/tin/dish. Press down to ensure that the pasta is snug. Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the pasta. Using your hands, squeeze out the liquid from the reserved spinach, and place it in an even layer over the pasta, leaving about 1/2 inch rim free around the edge of the dish. Stud the spinach with the caramelised garlic – as much or as little as you wish, though i went easy on it. I wanted a spark of intense flavour, but I did not want to overwhelm the delicacy of the pasta. Add the rest of the pasta to the dish, and ladle over the remaining sauce.

In a small bowl, mix together the Italian parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pasta is bubbling and hot, and a crisp, golden crust has formed.

Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with the truffle oil to really bring out the scent.

Enjoy the love.

Raspberry Tart

28 Nov

With purple pansiesThis raspberry tart is dramatic, beautiful, romantic and outrageously delicious. Its such a perfect combination of flavours and textures, and its so pretty that people smile when they see it. I love this tart, and I must give credit where it is due – it was inspired by Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio’s amazing raspberry tart, but enlivened with a few of my own happy pleasures. Specifically, dark bittersweet chocolate – and instead of a cookie crust, a pistachio crust inspired by her pistachio ice cream.

This tart is easily made (in its various components) ahead of time, and put together a few hours before serving. The combination of pistachio biscuit crust, dark bittersweet chocolate cream, light vanilla whipped cream and tart fresh raspberries is just outstanding. Crunchy, slightly bitter and nutty, creamy, chocolatey, tart, fresh, cool, bright – decadent, sumptuous, and totally sensual. Can you tell by all the superlatives how much I loved this tart? 😉

The element which brought drama and a really natural beauty to the tart were the flutters of sweet purple flowers adorning the top. My local supermarket sells edible flowers in a little packet – all different colours and they are beautiful. I picked out the purple ones – pansies I think – and together, they made for a stunningly lovely presentation. You can find information on edible flowers at the Cook’s Thesaurus and also some very pretty photographs here and here. Flowers are a wonderful way to make food look visually appealing and beautiful, and after this result, I definitely need to start using them more often!

This tart will serve 10 – 12 people. Its very rich, so you dont need huge slices.

Pistachio Crust

  • 1 cup whole pistachios
  • 2 tbsp powdered/icing sugar
  • 5 tbsp flour (plus additional if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 egg + 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Using a coffee grinder, processor, your immersion blender – or even a plastic back and a rolling pin to smack them into submission! – grind and pulverise the pistachios with the powdered sugar. The sugar will ensure that the nuts dont go over into a paste – but watch them carefully. I usually grind the pistachios in two batches of 1/2 cup each plus 1 tbsp of powdered sugar.

Put the ground pistachios and sugar into a bowl. Add the flour and salt and toss to combine. Grate the cold butter over the pistachio mixture, and using the tips of your fingers, combine very gently. You could even use a fork left in the fridge to mix everything up. This mixture can be exceedingly delicate so be careful!

Beat the 1 egg and vanilla together, and add to the pistachio-butter mixture. Combine gently and quickly until the mixture comes together into a dough. If its really sticky, add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time until it comes together, but be gentle and work quickly.

Shape the dough into a ball, and refrigerate, covered for at least half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 175 C (350F). I used a 11″ tart pan with a detachable base and non stick surface for this tart. If your tart pan is not non-stick (and really, it should be if it has a detachable base), butter the pan well. Remove the dough from the fridge, and centre it on a the tart pan. Using your fingers, quickly spread and knead and push and prod the dough so it completely covers the pan. Line the tart with parchment/baking paper, and pour in some pie weights. I use dried beans – theyre much cheaper, and they work just as well!

Bake your tart for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the baking paper and pie weights/beans, and place the tart crust back into the oven for a further 5 minutes or so, or until the shell has lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 3 minutes or so. Whisk the egg white with a fork in a small cup or bowl. Brush the interior of the shell with the egg white. This is a great trick to ensure that the tart crust is “water proof” and does not become soggy when you add the pastry cream!

Set aside to cool completely before assembly.

You can make the tart crust up to 1 day in advance, and store in the fridge, covered until needed.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups cream
  • About 150 grams (1 1/2 small slab bars) best quality bittersweet chocolate – I used Lindt, broken into pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt until well combined. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream in a small bowl, and whisk into the sugar-flour mixture until you get a smooth paste.

Place the saucepan over medium low heat, and bring slowly to the boil, whisking all the while. This will take you about 10 minutes – about 5 minutes into this time, stick your thumb in the mixture. It should be like quite hot bathwater. Add the chocolate now, and continue whisking for a further 5 minutes or so. The mixture will start to steam, and bubble, and will have become noticeably thicker.

Check that the mixture will hold a line when it coats the back of a spoon and you run your finger through it. If not, continue to cook for a few minutes further, whisking all the while. It should not take that long to get there, so be vigilant! And remember, the pastry cream will thicken as it cools, so the consistency at which you take it off the stove is not the consistency it will be when you finally assemble the tart!

Remove the saucepan from the heat, and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve, and allow to cool to room temperature.

The pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance, and stored, covered (with parchment paper spread over the surface for preference), in the refrigerator until needed.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream – 2 tbsp of cream removed from this amount
  • 1 1/2 tsp agar agar
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split, and beans scraped – or 1 tbsp vanilla essence/paste

Measure out 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. From this amount, measure out 2 tbsp, and remove to a small bowl. Sprinkle agar agar over the 2 tbsp of cream, and set aside for a few minutes to allow the agar agar to dissolve into the cream.

Whisk the remaining cream (by hand if youre macho – with a stand mixer or handheld electric beaters if youre me!) until it just begins to hold soft peaks. Add the reserved cream and agar agar mixture, the icing sugar and the vanilla, and whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks.

The agar agar will ensure that the cream holds its shape for about six hours.

I would prepare the whipped cream just before assembly.

Assembly

  • Pistachio Crust
  • Bittersweet Chocolate Pastry Cream
  • Vanilla Whipped Cream
  • Raspberries – About 1 1/2 pints (1 1/2 small packets)
  • Pretty edible flowers for additional decoration (optional)

Place the tart crust/shell on a good working surface. For the kind of pretty decoration that I created here, I actually centered the crust (in pan) on a small lazy susan that I had from Ikea – this helped move the tart as I was placing raspberries and piping cream.

Pour in the bittersweet chocolate pastry cream, and using a palette knife or even a spoon, ensure that the pastry cream is evenly covering the tart shell, and is smoothed on top.

For this tart, I placed half the vanilla whipped cream into a piping bag with a small round tip (and topped it up when needed). If you want to get extra fancy, you could use a star tip, but that for me would be gilding the lily!

GorgeousPipe a border of whipped cream around the edge of the tart. Now take the raspberries, one at a time, and using the small tip, fill the raspberry with whipped cream, and pipe a small circle of cream at the opening of the raspberry. Place the raspberries onto the pastry cream in circles – working your way from outside in.

Once the tart has been covered with raspberries, begin placing the flowers. Pipe small circles of cream between the raspberries, working from inside out, and on each small circle of cream, place a single flower. You could cover the entire tart with raspberries and flowers, or, as I preferred to do, leave the outer edges with the decadent chocolate cream peeking out.

Refrigerate the tart until ready to serve. Assemble no more than 6 hours before consuming!

When you are ready to serve, remove the tart from the pan, leaving the bottom intact.

Enjoy the pleasures of this most lovely of desserts.

Maple Soy Roasted Butternut

27 Nov

MmmmmMy friend GoldenOro once prepared roasted butternut by slicing it thin, leaving the skin on, and putting it in a high oven. It was gorgeous – caramelised from the butternut’s own sugars, sweet, soft, sticky, stunning. When making Thanksgiving dinner, I decided I wanted to prepare the butternut like that too – but of course, I wanted to put my own little spin on it.

I decided to marinated the sliced butternut for a few minutes in a lovely mixture of maple syrup, sesame oil and soy (and a few other things!), before roasting it in a hot oven. It turned out beautifully, and could easily be a component of an amazing salad – think sweet sticky butternut, crisp bitter arugula leaves, and salty creamy feta. A perfect lunch salad any time of the year! But of course, this butternut is gorgeous served as is – as a side dish it perfectly complements savoury dishes by adding a golden sweet counterpoint.

I also love this side dish because it can easily be prepared a day or two before hand – just cover it up, refrigerate, and bring to room temperature an hour or so before serving. It doesnt need to be hot – in fact, I think that room temperature brings out its complexities of flavour. If you want, pour a little olive oil over just before serving to bring out the orange glow of the butternut. Superb!

Serves between 8 – 10 as a side dish (or more depending on how many dishes you are serving!)

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp roasted sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • Good grinding of pepper
  • 1 tbsp ginger powder
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 large butternut (about 1 1/2 kg – 3 lbs)

Preheat your oven to 400F (210C). Line a large baking tray with parchment/baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, roasted sesame oil, soy sauce, molasses, pepper, ginger powder, olive oil, balsamic and fresh sage. Whisk together, and taste. Adjust the flavours as you prefer – may be some more soy for a bit more saltiness? A touch more sesame oil for that rounded nutty taste? Its up to you – follow your own sense of taste and balance.

Prepare your butternut. Wash the skin exceedingly well, scrubbing off any dirt. Pat dry. Halve the butternut from top to tail and scoop out the seeds. Slice the butternut finely (about 1/4 inch) and place the slices into the bowl with the marinade. Once all the butternut has been prepared, use your hands to toss the butternut in the marinade and leave to soak for about ten minutes.

Take the butternut out of the marinade, and place in a single layer on your baking sheet. Use a brush, and coat the top of the butternut with the left over marinade. Reserve the rest of the marinade for later, and roast the butternut for about 15 – 20 minutes. It will start to smell absolutely delicious!

Remove the butternut from the oven, and flip over every piece. It should be pretty well cooked – the flesh will yield to a fork. Brush the now flipped butternut slices with more marinade, and reserve any additional marinade for later. Roast the butternut for a further 15 – 20 minutes or until darkly burnished, with crispy bits, and edible skin. Watch it closely because you dont want it to burn, just turn almost into a sticky candy caramelised butternut.

Remove from the oven, and let cool on the baking tray for at least 10 – 15 minutes. Serve at once, with the remainder of the marinade drizzled over, or place in a container, covered, with the remainder of the marinade drizzled over, and refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving at room temperature.

Thoughts on Cooking + Celebrating

27 Nov

YUM!Yesterday was our Thanksgiving. What a wonderful night – and all my favourite F’s in one place: friends, family and food! We had a great time, and it was truly a moment to sit, laugh, love, eat and be thankful. And it was a day to truly indulge in the pleasures of cooking. I was thinking about it, and while some of the dishes were specific to an autumn feast, most of the guidelines and the menu structure are applicable to just about any celebration.

When making a big meal for a group of people, I like to think about what I will cook, and then go shopping. I try and shop and cook according to these few guidelines:

  • I try and make sure that I wont be completely bound by my initial menu ideas. If something at the shops strikes me as being particularly beautiful and fresh, then I adjust, change tack, re-imagine. Flexibility is all. If I want to make a raspberry tart, but the blueberries or strawberries look much better, well then, I just change the recipe!
  • I look for a certain flavour and richness balance when I am cooking many dishes – sweet, savoury, light, creamy, indulgent, healthy. Making everything with cream and butter for example just makes a meal in which people cant really enjoy it all – too rich everything cancels out the pleasure. But a few really rich dishes counterpointed by sharp, savoury, fresh – now thats something special!
  • I try and find a colour balance – browns and beiges need to be tempered with green, red, purple, orange. Fruit and vegetables come in such a gorgeous array of colours and texture. Big meals are the perfect time to take advantage of such variety.
  • I make sure to make enough – but not too much. One of my biggest problems as a cook is that I used to make such immense amounts of food that people got overwhelmed. Now, I try and make enough so that people can go back for seconds, but not enough so they will be uninterested in dessert. We had about 15 people at dinner. I made garlic mashed potatoes with 9 large spuds instead of 15 – because there were so many dishes, each person had a good amount of the mash, but there wasnt a huge amount left over.
  • I like to have what I consider a taste thread running through the meal. This might mean one component which I add to most dishes – sometimes as a highlight, other times as a flavour enhancer. Most of the time people dont spot the taste thread, but I know its there, and I know that it really connects all the disparate elements of the meal. In the case of our Thanksgiving Dinner menu, I caramelise-roasted about 7 heads of garlic. And I used that garlic in just about everything! I also added maple syrup to quite a few dishes as a sweetener, but also as a secondary taste thread. It worked for me!
  • I pay attention to where I am – when cooking here in Malaysia, I look to make some things with a little nod to our Asian tastes. So the cranberries were made into a chutney with a healthy dose of chili. And the butternut was roasted in a soy sauce-sesame oil marinade tempered with maple syrup. Context is important.
  • And finally, for me, the number of dishes is important. I always try and present an odd number of dishes. I dont know why this is important to me, but it is. Its part of how I imagine a meal and I always try and cook an odd number of things. May be its Malaysian custom – I know when making traditional meals with rice and curry and accompaniments, we always try and make an odd number of dishes. When getting married, the gifts the bride and groom give each other have to have an odd number. Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, it works for me!

So given those guidelines, here is what I prepared for Thanksgiving Dinner.

  • Mushroom pot pie – three different kinds of mushrooms, parsnips, leeks, caramelised garlic, red wine, quark/cream, covered with a home made puff pastry
  • Wasabi mustard cream – a savoury whipped cream with wasabi, mustard, and spring onions instead of a gravy – the sharpness and brightness of the wasabi and mustard giving a kick to the rest of the meal, and was inspired by my amazing horseradish quenelle with the mushroom pot pie at Per Se
  • Roasted Butternut – a whole butternut, skin on, halved and sliced thinly, and tossed in a marinade of soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, fresh sage and olive oil. Roasted until darkly caramelised and gorgeous.
  • Rocket Salad – A fresh simple green salad of rocket leaves and avocado. A refreshing breath of clean green.
  • Cranberry Chili Chutney – cranberries cooked thick and jewel like with chutney spices, a touch of maple syrup, an onion, and a few caramelised garlic cloves
  • Braised brussels sprouts – from my earlier recipe – I used 5 cups of brussels sprouts, halved, with 1/2 cup of cream and a tablespoon of maple syrup. The sweetness of the maple syrup elevated the rich creamy nuttiness of the brussels sprouts beautifully!
  • Caramelised Garlic Mashed Potatoes – unabashedly rich and creamy – a stick of butter, cream, half a cup of caramelised garlic, creamed with three different kinds of potato. Lots of salt and pepper, and the final dish was probably the best mash I have ever made!
  • Cornbread Stuffing – the cornbread was made with maple syrup instead of sugar, and combined with sauteed leeks and spinach, toasted pine nuts and a small handful of chopped caramelised garlic. Combined with eggs, milk and grated parmesan and baked in a large shallow pan. The gold green combination was very pretty.
  • Cheddar Cheese Scones – because I love them so much, and couldnt resist. Such a quick delicious bread.
  • Passion Fruit Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream – refreshing and yet creamy – a wonderful end to the meal
  • Raspberry Tart – gorgeous lush tart with a pistachio crust, bittersweet chocolate cream, raspberries and a vanilla whipped cream. Decorated with pretty purple edible flowers. It was, if I may say so myself, really stunning

And there you have it… 11 dishes, prepared over the course of two days. A wonderful feast for beloved friends. I hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving too. Much love x