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Follow my kitchen experiments, catastrophes and triumphs


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Apricot and Almond Tart

Some of you may have noticed my absence from blogging over the last month or so. Life has suddenly become very busy; we have an impending emigration looming, so I’ve been busy sorting, decluttering and partially packing things. Its very stressful and exciting at the same time, but isn’t leaving me much room for cooking anything decent. We’ve been relying on an embarrassing number of take out meals. Both sad, and boring!

As an added bonus, it has been absolutely freezing cold here. Last week we had a sprinkling of snow, just enough to disrupt everything. And today, at a chilly -4 degrees C, everything is frozen and covered in frost. It looks fairyland beautiful, but is definitely a day for perking myself up with a reminder that summer will be back, eventually.

My chefy friend L over at Colour Me Happy Kitchen, who did some epic jam making with me earlier in the year, came up with the MOST delicious Apricot Almond sunshine tart that just sings of sunshine! Her version is gluten AND dairy free, whereas mine is just dairy free. You could switch out the dairy free spread for butter if you are a butter only cooking snob, but honestly, this tart is delicious and light as is, so you really don’t need to.

This was very simple to make. We had this a few weeks ago as a dessert for a dinner party and while I was putting my kids to bed, my sneaky guests dished it up and gobbled it down so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take any photos of it ready to eat. They were however, nice enough to leave me the barest sliver to eat. Thanks guys!

Apricot Almond TartAdapted from Colour Me Happy Kitchen’s All-in-one Apricot and Almond Sunshine Tart:

Ingredients:

75g dairy-free sunflower spread

100g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 beaten eggs

30g plain flour

75g ground almonds

a tin of halved apricots

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Grease an 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (I used a silicone tart case)

Mix the sugar and sunflower spread together in a bowl until well combined. Add the vanilla extract.

Beat in one egg till well combined, then add the other egg and beat till combined. Gently stir in the flour and ground almonds before spreading over the base of your cake tin. The dough is quite thick and you don’t need to worry about spreading it all the way to the edge.

Drain the tinned apricots and place them evenly all over the mix, rounded side up, without pressing them in.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the almond mixture has risen up around the apricots and turned golden brown. Let your tart cool in the tin for a few minutes before loosening with a knife and lifting out of the tin. You can cool it on a wire rack or on the tin base, but my dinner guests ate it pretty much straight out of the oven.

This goes brilliantly with a dollop of pouring cream or ice cream, but I enjoyed it on its own. A delicious shot of sunshine to brighten up a frosty winter day!


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Fornightly Meal Challenge #4: Sloe Gin Venison Pie

I absolutely love the warm, comforting deliciousness of a decent meat pie on a cold, damp night. On a particularly blustery night, I put together a very special venison pie for one of our holiday dinners. The special ingredient? Sloe Gin! If you don’t know how to make it, check out my handy recipe, so you’re all prepared next year! If you don’t have sloe gin and are desperate for venison pie, never fear, this works very well with lashings of red wine instead.

I’ve found loads of venison pie recipes. I’ve also read that once your sloe gin is ready, the sloes left after decanting go well with venison pie. I’ve never managed to find a recipe for the two together, so decided to try making my own.

The only hot tip when making venison pie is that you must NOT under any circumstances braise/brown the venison. It can make the meat tough and even 12 hours of slow cooking won’t save it. You’ve been warned. To get super melt in the mouth meat, you slow cook this stuff slowly in the sauce. The best method I’ve found is 12 hours in the slow cooker, finished off with an hour in the oven to add some colour before adding that lovely puff pastry topping. My MIL does hers (with kudu and mushrooms) all day in a pressure cooker and it is gorgeous.

While we were away I didn’t have a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, so did mine for 8 hours in the oven before adding the pastry. The meat was just as tender, but slightly drier. Clearly slow cooking does keep meat tender and moist. 
I cheated and used ready rolled puff pastry because I’m absolutely rubbish at pastry. I blame my hot hands. You can use any veg but this works best with winter seasonal root veg like carrots, parsnips and Swede. Mushrooms will also work well, but you should probably cook them in butter before adding them.

For the venison, try to get hold of cheap diced meat. The lower legs are fantastic for flavour and the long, gentle cooking really breaks the meat down into meltingly tender and rich tasting pie. This is one of those dishes where it pays to be friendly with your local butcher.

Don’t like pastry? No problem, you can just serve this as a casserole with a root veg and potato mash, dumplings or rice.

Ingredients (for 8 hungry hunters):

800g diced venison off the bone

2 large white onions, chopped

A tablespoon of chopped fresh garlic

Olive oil

A small glass of sloe gin (roughly 125ml)

2 cups (tins/cartons) of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

large sprig of fresh rosemary

large spring of fresh thyme

A good quality beef or vegetable stock cube

Assorted veg, just use what you have. I had six carrots, four parsnips and a couple of courgettes

250g ready rolled puff pastry, or make your own!

A beaten egg or a couple of tablespoons of milk to wash the pastry

Method:

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C.

Coat the base of a large pan with olive oil and put onto a medium heat.

Saute the chopped onion then cover the pan and turn down the heat to let them sweat until translucent. It should take about 10 minutes. Give the pan a shake now and then so they don’t stick and burn.

Add the garlic and turn up the heat again for one minute. Add the sloe gin and sauté off the onions and garlic for a few more minutes until the sloe gin fumes stop giving off their alcohol fumes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Add all the other ingredients, top up with some boiling water if necessary (you want everything to be just covered with sauce) and transfer to a covered oven proof dish and pop in the oven. You may need to fiddle with the oven temperature, but you’re looking for this to have a gentle fizzle of bubbles at the edges so that it cooks really slowly. I did mine for eight hours, stirring once after four hours. Remove the lid for the last hour so that it can get some extra colour.

Roll open your ready rolled pastry, or roll out your own. Cut to fit your pie dish. I usually use a new dish so that I can measure the pastry nicely, and to ensure I dirty up some extra dishes for my long-suffering spouse to wash. Remove the venison and turn the oven up to 200 degrees C.

Transfer the venison filling to the pie dish. You shouldn’t need to thicken it up, but you could do with cornflour if you really want. Brush the rim of the dish with your egg/milk to glue the pastry lid down. Top with pastry, embellish as desired, poke in a few holes to let out the steam and brush all over with egg/milk. Pop it back in the oven at 200 for 40 minutes.

Serve and enjoy! You can serve it with boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and parsley with some fresh steamed beans or broccoli, but as you can see, we didn’t bother and enjoyed it just on its own.

What are your favourite meat pie fillings?

 


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Easy Easy Rosemary Pull-Apart Bread

Nothing knocks the socks off dinner guests like home made bread. The wonderful taste of fresh bread is just so much scrummier than anything from a shop. Add to that the “straight out the oven” warmth and you’re onto a winner. An added bonus, as well as wowing your guests, most bread is actually ridiculously easy to make

This bread is one of those super easy types and will impress even your most severe critics. I even got it right in an oven not my own,  always a risk when baking. Its also pretty adaptable. You can mix and match your flours, although don’t go more than 50% wholewheat or you may end up with a brick rather than a loaf. You could replace the rosemary with caramalised onions or thyme and grated parmasan, drool! You can bake this as a standard 2lb loaf, solo rolls, plaited loaf, the options are endless. The olive oil adds flavour and moistness as well as helping the loaf to last a little longer. Good luck with that though, mine lasted all of 30 minutes, followed by requests for, “More please!” and that is no exaggeration.

Using just seven ingredients, and a fair amount of hands off time,  I’ll explain how to make this so that you can still go out for the day and have it ready to pop in the oven for dinner.

Ingredients:
600g bread flour. I used a mix of half strong white bread flour and half a whole wheat malted seed flour. You can use whatever mix takes your fancy,  as long as roughly half is strong and white.
1 sachet of dried yeast (roughly 7g or a rounded teaspoon)
1 rounded tablespoon sugar (or honey)
A large pinch of salt (also have a course salt grinder on hand)
A tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves chopped (dried is also fine)
Olive oil
380ml of warm water (about a cup and a half)

Method:
First thing in the morning, put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and tip in the sugar and yeast. Add the water and start drawing the flour into the center. At first it will seem like you don’t have enough water and then,  you may end up with what seems like a just too wet dough as it all comes together. Add more water or flour right at this beginning stage until you get one ball of dough that’s slightly sticky.

Knead for a good 10 minutes to develop the gluten. There are some great videos on You Tube for kneading techniques for slightly wetter bread dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour unless it’s really not holding its shape. The dough will lose its stickiness as the gluten develops.
Once the dough starts feeling nice and elastic,  do the window pane test to check that it stretches thin rather than tears. If you’re happy with the gluten development,  form it into a ball and leave to rest on the counter.

Scrape any chunky bits out of the original mixing bowl (it must be a large bowl with room for the dough to more than double in size. Add a swirl of olive oil to the bowl and make sure it coats the base and sides. Add in your dough and flip it over once or twice so it’s all coated in olive oil. Cover with oiled cling film and pop into the fridge. Go to work, or the beach in our case.

When you get home in the early evening,  take the bowl out of the fridge and leave somewhere to come to room temperature. I did this while I fed the kids. An hour later,  get the dough out of the bowl,  it should have more than doubled in size after 8 hours in the fridge. Gently flatten it on the counter. It may feel pretty rubbery if still cold,  that’s just fine. Sprinkle the surface with rosemary and coarsely ground salt. Fold into thirds. Flatten gently and repeat twice more. Form into a sausage shape and cut into 9-11 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a roll. There is a great video here on You Tube to show one way to do it. Place each of the rolls into a pre-greased, 28cm round cake tin. Once all the rolls have been crammed into the tin,  sprinkle on some more rosemary and sea salt before gently covering with some oiled cling film and placing in a warm spot to prove. An hour and a half should do it. Get those kids bathed and into bed.

Heat your oven as hot as it will go (260 for mine) and place an empty baking tray on the bottom rack. If you have a baking stone,  pop that on the middle shelf. If you don’t,  a Pyrex dish sans lid that will fit the cake tin will also work well. I did mine with neither and it turned out just fine. Boil your kettle.

Once the oven is nice and hot you need to do two things really quickly before GENTLY closing the oven door again. 1) pour the kettle full of water into that nice hot baking tray on the bottom shelf (be warned it will be very steamy) and 2) slide your bread in its cake tin gently onto the middle shelf. Close that door gently. Turn the oven temperature right down to 180. Bake for 30 minutes. Do NOT open the door.

After 30 minutes,  take out the bread,  turn straight out onto a rack and leave to steam while you get your soup poured into bowls etc.

Serve on a chunky wooden board and pull apart to get your piece. Delicious with a thick smear of butter or with soup. Enjoy! !!


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Classy Leek and Potato Soup

At the moment I’m lucky enough to be sitting overlooking the sea. We’ve dragged ourselves down to the Isle of Wight for a family holiday, and its definitely been worth the trip.

My lovely friend (and cousin-in-law) and I are sharing the cooking duties. Actually competing for them, because the kitchen here is amazing and we both enjoy it. We are spoilt with a walk-in pantry, extra wide range cooker, every utensil we’ve ever desired (except for a Kitchen Aid) and the most fabulous prep butcher’s block on wheels. The butcher’s block is a little OTT but we ‘re enjoying it anyway.
Emily’s speciality is fish. And the fish here is super fresh. In London you can get day old fish if you know where to look. Here we have made friends with the owners of the local fishing fleet and buy it minutes old and eat it hours old. Amazing!!!
I’m not very good with fish, but as the weather is truly pants, I’ve been sticking to hearty staples. I’ve also been trying to do justice to the amazing kitchen by giving them a little something extra now and then.
First up, a very old fashioned leek and potato soup!


With simple dishes, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of making them boring. I gave mine the xfactor with one teeny tiny tweek. Remember my post a few weeks back? Sometimes it’s a good idea to cook with wine! Well I drank a glass of white wine and braised the onions with it too. Delicious. I also snuck it an extra onion and loads more garlic than I normally would. Some classy garnish and the family were blown away. I dished it up with home made tear-apart rosemary bread, fresh from the oven. I’ll post the bread recipe another night.
Ingredients:
For 6 adults I used
2 extra large white onions chopped
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 generous glass of decent white wine
4 large potatoes cut into small pieces.
6 small fresh organic leeks chopped (you could use 2 extra large ones). Set aside some neatly sliced rounds from the green ends
Roughly a litre of hot home made chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you’re going vegetarian/vegan)
Some splashes of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Roughly half a cup of cream (or almond milk if going vegan)

Method:
Heat a large pot with some olive oil to a medium heat. Add the onions, stir quickly, clamp on the lid and turn down the heat. Sweat the onions for a good 10 minutes until they’re translucent and soft. Add the garlic and turn up the heat. Once sizzling, add your wine and keep stirring until the fumes have mostly burned off.
Pour in half your stock and all the potatoes. Add enough of the remaining stock to just cover the spuds. Clamp on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. If you’ve cut yours into big pieces, they may need a little longer.
Once the spuds are just soft all the way through, toss in the leeks, keeping some nice green slices aside for garnish. cover the pot again and simmer for another 10 minutes. You want the leeks to be soft but still green. There is nothing worse than grey soup!
Remove the pot from the heat and blitz with an immersion blender or in a liquiser. Season to taste. Stir through a half cup of cream or almond milk and pour into bowls.
For a swanky presentation, swirl through a small amount of cream or the almond milk, add a drizzle of decent olive oil, a crack of black pepper and a sprinkling of raw leek slices. Enjoy with fresh crusty rolls or my rosemary pull-apart bread. Bon appetite.


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Plum Clafoutis

Ages ago, Wendy over at Chez Chloe made the most delicious plum cake. Now I make plum cake all the time, but hers was different, and her photos so delicious looking that I felt inspired to make something else with my plums.  I was planning on a nice scrummy plum clafoutis. The little Toddler has a great love of plums and kept eating them, so I never had enough to make the dessert. Eventually, about 10 days ago, I was frantically using up ingredients before we headed off on a little holiday. And I had a GLUT of plums that even the Toddler couldn’t finish in time. We enjoyed this with my in-laws who were out for a visit.

Clafoutis is a fantastic French recipe that is based on a simple egg custard. You can make it as a sweet dessert or a savoury light meal. The dessert version was traditionally made with whole cherries (presumably stoned), but it is equally delicious with blueberries, apricots or of course, plums. Supposedly you should chop up larger fruits into cherry sized pieces, but I’ve honestly never bothered. Halved plums with stones removed work really well. If you’re keen on savoury, I can really recommend adding a little sharp grated cheese and asparagus! Remove the sugar from the custard for the savoury version of course.

Ingredients:

3 eggs

2 and a 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons plain flour

200ml of milk or milk alternative (I used Almond milk)

Enough of your fruit of choice (stoned) to cover the base of your pie dish in a single layer. Tightly packed is ideal. This will be roughly 400g of cherries or about 8 plums, halved.

A tablespoon of icing sugar

Method:

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C

Grease your pie dish and place your fruit in a single layer on the base.

Beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.

Gently fold in half the flour and milk and then the other half of the flour and milk to get a smooth batter.

Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for roughly 45 minutes until set.

Dredge with icing sugar while still hot and serve the clafoutis warm.

It goes really well with icecream!


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Gingerbread biscuits – for Hallowed Eve

My lovely friend at Isn’t Life Grand suggested I use my ginger biscuits from last week to make Halloween cookies. Genius, because I can’t stand plain flavoured cookies. Dodgy because I’ve never done anything remotely near that fancy in terms of cookie decor.

I found a set of funky Halloween cookie cutters at my local Sainsburys. I do love cookie cutters, and I’m sure a ghost, a pumpkin, a witch and a bat will be very useful at other times of the year. I’ll look for any excuse to buy new kitchen implements, so the £1 price-tag was no deterrent.

Delia’s gingerbread men recipe from last year worked well with the cutters. I popped the cut but unbaked biscuits in the fridge before baking to try retain as much of the detail as possible. The ghosts were my favourite because slightly rearranging the fall of the “sheet” edge gave them each a slightly unique look.

Once baked came the icing. Now gingerbread men are so easy; I just use coloured icing pens to draw features and glue on suitable sweets. I decided to be a little braver here and tried flooding them with royal icing; something I’ve never done before. I had none of the right equipment, the wrong kind of colouring and did some seriously dodgy improvisation with a syringe more commonly employed in administering Calpol to unwilling patients. The results were ok. Not professional cookie decorating standards by a long shot though.

The main problem I had was that the biscuits absorbed loads of fluid from the icing and went quite soft. Maybe this is what happens to the typical sugar cookie that is iced this way too. I’ve no idea. They still tasted great despite the loss of crunch and my cleaner and I gobbled them up over the ironing before any little witches, goblins or skeletons could get their mucky little paws on them. Yum!


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Fortnightly Meal Challenge #3: Classic Roast Butternut Squash Risotto

Is risotto one of those dishes that absolutely terrifies you? It used to scare the bejeebers out of me, but after a few goes, I’ve discovered its actually REALLY easy. There are recipes where you can just pop your risotto rice straight into a pot of chicken casserole and leave it to do its thing and…gasp….it turns out JUST fine. I’ll post that another time though. Today, inspired by the monthly recipe challenge over at the Modern Home Kitchen, I’ve decided to make a classic autumnal risotto. An oozy risotto is the perfect comfort food for those chilly, misty days. It is also incredibly versatile. Try a fresh pea and mint combination for spring, beans in summer or chicken and mushroom for winter to ward off the sniffles.

For autumn though, and with the challenge ingredient of SQUASH requested by team over at the Modern Home Kitchen, I’ve plumped for a classic roast butternut squash risotto. The beauty of this dish is that you can adapt it to suit what ingredients you have at hand. I strongly recommend teaming it with fresh sage, which works beautifully with butternut. Roasting the butternut causes some caramalisation and you get a super sweet, smoky depth of flavour that you can’t achieve by steaming or baking your squash at a low temperature. I made this to serve two adults, a toddler and a baby so had to tone down the flavours somewhat for the youngsters. We added seasoning and some other extras once I’d dished up for the kids.

Ingredients:

1 litre of stock (chicken or veg stock is great). If you don’t have enough stock, you can always increase it with some hot water

Olive oil

1 butternut squash, skinned and diced into small bitesized cubes. You can also leave the skin on if you like it that way

Fresh rosemary (Sage is also a fantastic option)

A large white onion or 4 shallots, finely chopped

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

a tablespoon of crushed/chopped garlic

pinch of cinnamon

3 heaped handfuls of risotto rice (I used arborio rice)

a small glass of white wine

A block of parmesan cheese

Method:

Toss your butternut chunks in olive oil with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary and roast for 30-45 at 200 degrees C. Keep an eye on them after the 30 minutes are up and take them out when the edges start to blacken and caramelise.

Put two large pots on your hob. Put your stock into the smaller pot and keep warm on a low simmer. In the largest pot, heat some olive oil, and gently cook the onion and celery. This should take about ten minutes. You want to do this on a low heat so the onion stays translucent and doesn’t crisp up. I like to sweat my onion for the last 5 minutes with the lid on, so it softens up really gently. Once its soft, turn up to a medium heat and add the garlic and stir to prevent burning. Add the cinnamon.

Turn up the heat a couple of notches and add the rice, it should sizzle. Stir until the sizzling dies down and the rice starts to turn translucent. Add in your small glass of wine, keep stirring. Inhale the heady alcohol fumes. Once the fumes start to die down and the wine has been sucked up by the rice, start adding the stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Keep stirring as it gets absorbed. Every risotto recipe I’ve ever read helpfully tells you not to cook your risotto too fast (cooked outside, raw inside) or too slowly (claggy, smooshy risotto) but they don’t tell you how to achieve that. What you want is a moderate temperature. If its bubbling rapidly, your temperature is too high. If it emits about one slow blub every second, then its probably about right. I keep turning mine down until its JUST not simmering around the edge. Keep on with adding a bit of stock and stirring while it gets absorbed. It should take about 20 minutes. The rice grains will suddenly turn big and puffy looking, give it another 5 minutes, then bite into one to check if they’re done right the way through. You don’t need to be a slave to the risotto. I changed Toddler clothes, folded a big pile of laundry and unloaded and reloaded my dishwasher between ladlefuls.

Once the rice is just cooked through, add in your roasted butternut chunks and a splash more stock. Stir stir stir. Some of the butternut will ooze off, and the caramelised bits will stay as they are. Add a good couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese and stir through. Check your seasoning. I usually need to add salt, because my stock is salt free. You can add a squeeze of lemon juice to cut the flavour a little. Garnish with any of butter fried sage leaves (highly recommended), crisp bacon bits, torn parma ham, some fresh rosemary leaves.

Enjoy with a glass of wine in front of the fire.