Archive for September, 2007

The Perfect Pair

The perfect pear

I bought just the one. Still a little green, I put it gently in a paper bag and, testing it once every day, waited patiently until it was. Just. Perfect. And devoured it slowly, if such a thing is possible, with a hand made, raw milk, sheep cheese.

Just. Perfect.

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Meaty Little Balls

Meat Balls with Maasdam

Growing up mostly vegetarian as I did, it took my Mother-in-law to introduce me to the wonders of Meaty Comfort Foods, such as bolognese, cannelloni and lasagna. I loved when we went to their house for a Sunday dinner and instead of a traditional roast and two veg, there was a juicy, aromatic dish of pasta al fourno bubbling happily away in the oven. These little meat balls, stuffed with a cube of good dutch cheese, went down in a gobble and a gulp from a very satisfied Mr P, half Dutch as he is. The meat balls take a bit (though not much) of fiddling and it’s a good idea to start them a little in advance, say 45 mins before you want to eat, but the rest of the meal is dead simple: just a pot of good pasta on to boil and the simplest of tomato sauces. I made my sauce with a can of whole, peeled, Italian Plum tomatoes, some salt, some sugar and a good dollop of really good Olive oil, just boiled away for 20 mins while I carried on with the meat balls.

Meat Balls with Maasdam, in tomato sauce with penne

Meat Balls stuffed with Maasdam Cheese

450g – 500g lean minced beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Italian Parsley, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten

± 20 ½cm cubes of Maasdam, or other hard cheese

flour for dusting

Veg oil for frying

– combine all ingredients, except cheese, flour and oil, in a bowl and mix well

– roll balls about 1 inch in size and push a piece of cheese into the middle of each

– dunk in the flour and shake the meat ball in your hand to remove excess flour

– fry the balls in batches in the hot oil. Turn frequently to brown all over.

– Serve with pasta and tomato sauce.

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Mushrooms, mixed

We’re still having our love affair with an Indian Summer here in TO. The evenings remind us that the season is changing, but the days are still above 20˚C. Fall is mushroom season, though, and even though it’s warm out, a nice comfort dish at night is in the calling. After all the salads and crisp fruit and veg, it was fun to eat something as soft and warm and aromatic as this. Besides, how could anyone resist such colourful, strange, beautiful and ugly looking mushrooms? Does anyone know what they are?

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto with Many Varieties

1 Tbsp Olive oil
300 g mixed mushrooms, I used shitake, chantrell, Big Orange Ones, and Some Other Wild Type
1 Shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup Arborio or other Risotto rice
4 cups veg/chicken stock
⅓ cup dry white wine
½ tsp sweet paprika
⅓ cup grated Parmesan/parmigiana

– if using Chantrell mushrooms, keep a handful aside, to add right at the end, to preserve their delicate flavour.

– roughly chop the mushrooms. Take half of them and process in the food processor until finely chopped.

– heat the oil in a large saucepan/skillet on a medium heat. Saute the shallot and garlic for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. When the mushrooms are tender, add a bit of lemon juice and taste the mushrooms to make sure they’re good.

– remove half the mushroom mixture from the pan and reserve. Add the rice to the remaining mushrooms in the pan and stir constantly. The rice will start going translucent and might pop a little.

– Now add the wine and stir until it’s all cooked off.

– Turn up the heat a little on the hob and start adding the stock, about a cup at a time, stirring until it’s absorbed. Make sure the last lot of stock is absorbed before adding the next cup. This will probably take 15 – 20 minutes.
– about half way through the stock supply, re-add the rest of the mushroom mix and continue with the stock. Add the remainder Chantrell mushrooms now, if using.

– just before serving, add the Parmesan. Serve with fresh ground black pepper and extra parmesan.

Mushrooms, mixed 2

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Farmers Market 2

Oh, we thought the Autumn was going to arrive early a few weeks back when the temperature suddenly dropped.  But no.  All that did was help to turn the trees, while the temperatures climbed back up to equal the glory days of Summer.  Wonderful!  But who wants to be cooking in this weather?  I’d rather be sitting in the park, sharing a bag of all-too-perfect, sweet and salty and crisp and juicy, baby plum tomatoes with a good friend, watching life go by at the Farmers Market.  There’s a definite undercurrent of excitement at the market.  We all know the days are numbered and that makes each one feel so much more special, makes everyone absorb every minute with the maximum amount of pleasure.  Oh it’s just been the best Summer ever.

Farmers Market 1


Farmers Market 3


Farmers Market 4


Farmers Market 5

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white chocolate tart with blackberries 1

I’ve been using Mr P’s camera for the last while to take blog photographs, seeing as how I’m still a poor and starving artist. Wait. Did I just say ‘starving’? Well, hardly, but I’m still holding out for the camera I long for and in the interim I’m a Borrower. On Sunday I did something I’ve never done before, trained as I am with the reflexes of a cat (ahem) and dropped Mr P’s appropriated private possession, destroying the focus and retraction on the lens. Not wanting to beat about the bush for too long I ran out at first light, well 10am when the shops opened doors you must be a stickler for detail, and purchased a replacement model, which is shiny and new, with bells and whistles (the old one just had the bells) and fits in to the hand like it was born to be there. The proof of the pudding, as always in this house, is in the eating, so we’ll have to wait and see the first foodie photo’s it takes before we judge.

In the mean time, perhaps I could interest you in a little something something for that sweet tooth. A little derivative from Sylivie, who somehow always leaves me feeling a little breathless and under qualified in the baking department.

*note: this recipe needs about 6 hours in the fridge, preferably overnight. It’s great for entertaining as you can make the shells and filling the day before and just whip up and decorate the tarts before your guests arrive.

white chocolate tart with blackberries 2

White Chocolate Tarts with Black berries

for the pate sable:
200g butter, softened
pinch salt
⅓ cup icing sugar, sifted
¼ cup almond flour
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp + 1½ cup flour

for the filling:
70g white chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp + 60 ml Cream

1 punnet black berries, washed

make the pastry:
– beat the butter with the almond flour, salt and sugar until creamy.

– add the egg, vanilla and 1 Tbsp of the flour and beat until smooth.

– add the rest of the flour and combine to form a sticky dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour

– roll out and line greased and floured tart tins, refrigerate for a few mins

– heat oven to 360˚. Blind bake tarts (using parchment paper and legumes/lentils/etc) for 10 mins

– remove from oven, remove paper and legumes, bake empty tart shells another 7 – 10 mins until pastry is coming away from the sides of the tins and is “singing”.

– cool tart shells to room temperature.

make the filling:

– in a bain mare, melt the chocolate with the 2 Tbsp cream

– when the ganache is smooth, remove from heat to cool a bit. Add the rest of the cream and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

– whip the chocolate cream until it’s stiff. It whips up really quickly.

– fill the baked tart shells and top with black berries.

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Mini stuffed peppers 1

The weather is starting to turn now and I’m reminded every week at the Framers Market in the park that the days of fresh, local produce are coming to an end. Which was one of the main factors behind my decision to cook a whole meal with this fresh produce last week for friends, and these little, plump globes of fun colours were just too tempting to ignore. Such a lovely, fun thing to start an evening off with, too. A little plate of amuses bouche over the first bottle of wine while everyone exchanges greetings and catches up on tidbits of news. They went down a treat, still hot from the oven, oozing and juicy and super scrumptious. Don’t expect the the unwritten rule of nobody-eat-the-last-one-on-the-plate to be observed with these tasty morsels.

Mini stuffed peppers 2

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mini Peppers

A dozen or so mini peppers
100g ripened, soft goat cheese
½ cup ripe cherry tomatoes
handful basil leaves
½ Tbsp pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

-preheat oven to 350˚F

– cut the tops off the peppers, de-seed, rinse and dry on paper towel. Reserve tops.

– put basil, pine nuts, garlic and oil in a food processor (or mortar and pestle) and process to form a pesto consistency. Add olive oil and mix well.

– halve the tomatoes and pulse in a processor a few times to pulp some of them. Chop up any big pieces that stand out.

-mix cheese, tomatoes, pesto and salt and pepper to taste.

– fill each pepper, replace top and bake 20 mins. Allow to cool a bit before serving.

Mini stuffed peppers 3

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Chocolate and Pear tart

I’m a tart for a tart, if you know what I mean. It seems to me that not that many people make tarts and pies in their own homes because they perceive making pastry as too much work and trouble to bother with. Much easier to make a cake, non? Well, the truth is that I love making pastry. And I don’t just mean in the eating thereof. I mean the whole shoopshebang of it. I love getting my fingers involved in a pate brise, I love having the ball of dough shaped in my hands before it goes in the fridge and I love, love, love rolling it all out on a floured work surface. It seems such an elemental thing, one of the simple pleasures in life, the antithesis of the rush and grind of everyday chores and work loads. When I’m in a bit of a grump, sometimes there’s nothing for it all but a bit of dough therapy. Of course, there’s an infinite amount of satisfaction in eating a freshly baked bit of pastry, filled with what-have-you, don’t you agree? Oh, and when you’re cooking for friends, who doesn’t love a bit of an after dinner tart?

asian pears

*note: the pastry for this tart is a Pate Sable, which needs to be worked with really cold or it’ll be to soft to roll, so make sure you refrigerate the dough for at least an hour. I had mine in the fridge overnight and then let it sit at room temperature for just under 10 mins before using.

Chocolate and Pear tart 2

Dark Chocolate and Pear Tarts

makes 3 or 4 small tarts, or 1 medium one

for the pastry:
1 cup flour
2 Tbsp Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
110g butter, softened
100ml icing sugar (about 55 g)
1 egg, beaten

for the filling:
3 or 4 small Asian pears, peeled cored and chopped to 5mm pieces (to make about a cup of fruit)
60 ml cream
1 Tbsp Caster sugar
1 tsp butter

100g good dark chocolate (I used 70%)
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp whiskey (optional)
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites

Make the pastry:
– whisk the flour and cocoa together until well combined

– beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and 1 Tbsp of the flour mix and beat until smooth.

– add the rest of the flour and combine to form a sticky dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour

– roll out and line greased and floured tart tins, refrigerate for a few mins

– heat oven to 360˚. Blind bake tarts (using parchment paper and legumes/lentils/etc) for 10 mins

– remove from oven, remove paper and legumes, bake empty tart shells another 7 – 10 mins until pastry is coming away from the sides of the tins and is “singing”.

– cool tart shells to room temperature.

Make the filling:
– chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place in a double boiler with the spices and butter and allow to melt slowly.

– heat the cream and sugar for the pear over a low heat until sugar has dissolved. Add pears and increase heat. Bring to a simmer and cook pears for about 15 – 20 mins, caramelising the pears. remove from heat and allow to cool.

-When choc is melted and smooth, add whiskey and egg yolk and mix well. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

– whip egg whites until stiff. Vigorously stir in a big spoon of the egg white to life the mixture then gently fold in the rest of the egg white in 3 or 4 goes.

– carefully add pear, reserving some for a garnish, and incorporate well, being careful not to flatten the chocolate mousse.

– divide between tart shells, garnish with remaining pear and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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Beetroot and bluecheese tart

I have a confession: I love beetroot. I steam them whole, peel them and eat them like an apple. I love them raw, grated or chopped into a salad. I love them hot, cold, salted, honeyed, mashed, sliced, boiled, grilled, red, golden, candy striped and even pickled in a summer salad. My Mr P, though, as wonderful as he is, is no big fan of the beet. Thus, in my sneaky, sly way, I have to disguise them as something other than a beet-plucked-from-the-ground if I’m going to get (a) him to eat them and thereby (b) have them for my own dinner too.

We had friends over for dinner last night, an occasion that happens far too infrequently in my opinion, and I found out that one of the guests has a slight aversion to beets as well. Digging deeper I found that the reason for this is because he thinks back on beets as the dish served with coleslaw in dodgy take away restaurants. Now, is that a challenge or what? How could I not try to win over two people with one tart? It’s so much better on the beet side of life. Oh my, well personally I loved this tart. I have no idea if the other oh-my-gosh’s were genuine or subtly faked, but I didn’t really care. The crust was thin and super crisp and the fennel and caraway popped up now and then to mingle with the stronger cheese and beet flavours. The walnuts warmed the whole thing up in the mouth and I think this is one to make again, serve hot, cold or maybe ,because the crust is so light, on a baguette the next day.

The pastry is made with oil, not butter, so has a great, light flavour. I’ve been wanting to make an oil pastry for a while now. They’re all the rage, don’t you know. I’ve yet to try a sweet one.

*the trick with this rather crumbly pastry is to roll it out on one of those thin, flexible, plastic surface protectors (or a well held down piece of parchment) and then put the pie dish upside down on the rolled pastry, flip and voila.

Beetroot and bluecheese tart 2

Beetroot, Bluecheese and Walnut Tart

for the pastry:
⅓ cup quinoa flour
⅔ cup plain white flour
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
pinch salt
½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
½ tsp caraway seeds, also crushed
⅓ cup walnut oil
1 egg white

4 medium beets
1 large red onion
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or veg oil)
80 g blue cheese (I used Bleu d’Auverne)
⅓ cup walnuts, coursely chopped

Make the pastry:
– combine all the dry ingredients and blend well

– add oil and egg white and mix until a dough just forms.

– wrap in cling film and let rest in the fridge for a half hour

– pre heat oven to 350˚ F ; roll out (on a loose board, see note above recipe) and line a 9″ tart tin

– cover with parchment, fill with beans or rice and blind bake at 350˚ F for 15 mins. Let cool.

Make the filling:
– steam the beets for about 20 mins. When cool enough to handle, remove skins and slice thinly

– peel and thinly slice the onion. Heat oil on a medium to low heat and saute the onion gently until soft and caramelised ; about 20 – 30 mins ; allow to cool a bit

– spread onion over base of tart ; dot with bits of cheese ; arrange beets on top ; add remaining cheese and walnuts

– bake for 20 mins at 350˚F

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Blueberry tea cakes

I’m feeling a little tender this morning and in need of a culinary hug. I’ll think back to this cheery little tea I had with my darling Mr P last week, and perhaps slip off with a girlfriend to find something similar at the Red Tea Box. For these little cakelings I whipped up a simple, slightly heavy cake batter, added a pinch of ground cardamom and a whole, oozing cup of wild blueberries (I only made just enough batter for two, so they really were packed with the little globes of blue) then topped each filled ramekin with a fat disc of Marzipan and a big handful more of the berries. Nothing shy about these babies. Eaten still hot from the oven, soaked with fresh cream and a cup of tea, like snuggles in the duvet on a Sunday morning.

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Chocolate Orange Cake

I don’t know what it is, there must be something in the air, but there seems to be a bit of a theme running around a few of my favourite food blogs at the moment. Perhaps it’s that subtle changing of the season, that slight chill in the morning air and the whisper of Autumn on the wind. Like a lot of people, I love the Autumn, but at the same time I’m a little sad to be thinking of saying goodbye to the Summer. And when one’s feeling a little bit sad and perhaps a little insecure at the thought of the long Winter ahead, what better comfort than a fresh, home-baked cake. Something about baking a cake reminds me of home and Mum and the time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about anything past homework and making mix tapes from the radio. Well, and glitter hair gel.

It’s not often I bake an entire cake. There are only two of us, after all, and it seems such an extravagance when you know most of it isn’t going to be eaten. So other than Birthdays and fancy holidays I tend to stick to little things which can be frozen or sent off with Mr P to work to be shared around his office. But I haven’t been feeling the greatest the last couple of days, like having an almost-cold, where your head feels too heavy for your neck and all you want to do is sit and, well, Sit. And all I really wanted, in the whole world, was Cake.

When in the mood for an edible hug, you don’t want to go getting all fancy and frilly, you just want a good ol’ fashioned something, so I baked up a quick but delicious Victoria Sponge, dolloped a whole lot of Kumquat jam in the middle and smothered it in a rich Chocolate Ganache. Oh, and not only was it super yum-ti-dum, but the art of making something great in the kitchen magically lifted my mood. I hardly even cared about eating it in the end! Okay, I’m lying now.

*note: I learned from Nigella Lawson to put a little cornflour in with the flour. It lightens the cake a lot.

Chocolate Orange Cake 2

Chocolate Orange Victoria Sponge

for the cake:
200 g unsalted butter, very soft
150 g caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200 g Flour
20 g corn flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 – 4 Tbsp milk

for the ganache:
100 g dark chocolate, chopped (I used Calebaut 70%)
60 ml cream
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch ground cinnamon

Kumquat jam or orange marmalade

– preheat the oven to 350˚ F

– beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy

– beat in the vanilla

– add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each with a 1 Tbsp of the flour

– mix the flours and baking powder together and fold into the cake mix

– lighten the mixture with as much of the milk as you need

– bake in 2 greased, lined cake tins at 350˚F for 20 – 25 mins

– let the cakes cool completely before making the ganache

– put the all the ganache ingredients in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring continuously until the chocolate is melted.

– when the choc mix is smooth, bring to the boil for not more than one minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool and thicken a bit before icing the cake. You want it to pour over the cake, but not just run right off.

– when the cake and ganache are ready, place four strips of paper in a square on the plate you’re serving the cake on, leaving the middle bare. Place the bottom layer on the plate, spread a generous amount of jam on it and put the second layer on top. Cover with ganache, letting it run here and there down the sides. When the ganache has set and stopped running, remove the strips of paper and your plate will be clean and neat!

Chocolate Orange Cake 3

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