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springcomb

A client, local to Toronto, once joked with me that spring in Ontario was not so much a soft and gentle, new born lamb frolicking in a pretty green meadow, chasing little yellow butterflies as it is a stripper suddenly removing all her clothes.  I know, the image is rather vivid and lewd, but you get the idea and it’s pretty much spot on.  The end of Winter here is a long, shuffling commute of faceless pedestrians huddled into long, dark grey coats walking down an endless road and boarded by tall, dark buildings under a heavy, humourless sky.  Suddenly, through a little break in the clouds, a single ray of watery sunlight shines down on one of those faceless coats and exposes a slither of pretty ankle escaping out past the hem.  The crowd stops.  The shuffling dwindles and every face in that homogeneous, grey sea lifts from the folds of their coat and turns to look at that bit of humanity exposed in the sun.  Then, without warning, the sky breaks open and the woman of the ankle flings open her coat to reveal a body, young and lithe, wrapped only in shimmering, translucent, fuchsia silk.  The coat falls around her feet like a dust cloth removed from a painting and she steps away from that dead, lifeless garment without looking back, her face in the sun, her limbs exposed and dancing now, in slow fluid movements. As she dances on, moving down the street, her joie de vivre infects those around her like a contagious disease and one by one the coats fall to the floor until the street is alive with dancing and colour and sunshine.

Welcome to Toronto, the Caberet of Spring.

And to celebrate a little Quiche, yes?

quiche-mush-leek-ham-combo

Leek, Mushroom and Ham Quiche

For the Pastry:
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp tarragon
¼ tsp thyme
½ cup cold butter, chopped into 1cm cubes
80ml cold water

for the filling:
1Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 large leak, thinly sliced
1 brown onion, finely chopped
150g mushrooms, sliced (I used shitake and portobello)
3 or 4 slices ham, chopped (I used black forest ham)
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
3 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup Gruyer, grated

– to make the pastry: whisk the dry ingredients together

– rub the butter into the flour until it looks like course oatmeal

– add the cold water and mix just long enough to form a dough

– wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour

– preheat the oven to 350˚F

– roll the dough out on a floured surface to line a 25cm quiche tin

– bake blind for 10 mins

– while the quiche shell is cooling, heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and saute the leeks, onions and mushrooms until soft

– Beat the eggs with the milk, salt and pepper and then add the cream

– fill the quiche shell with the onion-mushroom mixture, the ham and then top up with the eggy cream.

– sprinkle the Gruyere cheese over the top

– bake at 350˚F for about 35 mins, until the cream is just set

– allow to cool for 10 mins before serving, preferably with a light salad

quicke-mush-leek-ham1

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tomato-tart-1

Every couple has it’s story; the telling of which makes them look somewhat coyly at each other and smile knowingly and that raise, once again, all those fluttery, buttery feelings of l’amour. The dashing Mr P and I met in a gorgeous little restaurant serving fabulous little meals, and if that wasn’t an omen for a happy future, I couldn’t tell you what would be.  The speciality of that restaurant, the dish we would in the future, on numerous special occasions re-order and be delighted with every time, was, as so many brilliant signature dishes are, a simple, homely affair prepared to simple perfection.  A tomato tart, to tomatoey, so tarty that it seemed, surely, a cinch to whip up at home.  Time and again we’d order that tart, savouring each bite, meditating over each flavour and then I’d go home and try to recreate this seemingly simple delight.  To no avail.  No amount of research, no pugnacious attempt at different ingredients, different temperatures and different seasonings brought that tart out of my oven.  Well, to each chef his secret, and the chef of that lover’s treat will sink his ship with the recipe on board.

However.  That’s not to say I won’t stop trying, and while I’ll have to satisfy myself with the thought that the original tomato tart sits safely in it’s intended home, I’ll keep on whipping up versions of my own.  None of which have come as close, if not in adherence to what the original seemed to be, at least in overall effect to that perfect tomato tart as this one has.  Perhaps it’s the concentrated flavours of the cherry tomatoes, or perhaps it’s the mixture between the sheep’s milk and parmigiana cheeses, which in truth I used simply because I wanted to finish up the last bit of an excellent chunk of sheep’s milk cheese I had lying around in the fridge.  Or perhaps it had to do with the teff flour in the pastry, of which the original surely had none.  Truth is I just don’t know.  I do know, however, that this tomato tart was a dream, a reminiscence, a revival of old memories and caused one or two coy glances on the parts of Mr P and myself.

*note: I made the pastry using teff pastry, which worked brilliantly, but if you want a blander crust use plain flour one to one for the teff.

tomato-tart-combo-1

Super Delicious Tomato Tarts

For the pastry:
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup plain flour

¼ cup teff flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp dried oregano
½ cup / 1 stick cold butter, unsalted, cubed
¼- ⅓ cup iced water

for the tart:
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 punnet (about 300g) baby cherry tomatoes, halved on the equator
50 grams hard sheep’s milk cheese, like a percorino, finely grated
50 grams parmigiano regano, finely grated
1 cup basil leaves, washed
black pepper

make the pastry:
– combine all the dry ingredients, mixing well.

– rub the cold butter into the dry ingredients until you have a mixture resembling oats porridge.

– add just enough water so that a dough just starts to form.  As soon as it all starts coming together, stop mixing.  Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it a bit, cover it in cling film and refrigerate for about 40 mins.

– in a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, garlic, shallot, vinegar and oil.  Let mixture rest at room temperature while the pastry chills

– preheat the oven to 400˚F

– divide the dough disc into two.  Roll each piece to form a long rectangular shape, about 20cm by 30 cm

– spread half the tomato paste mixture on each rectangle, to withing 1½ inches, 4cm, of the edge

– combine the two cheeses and sprinkle half the mixture over each base on top of the tomato mix.

– now top each base with the basil leaves and then finish off with the tomato halves, skin side down, still keeping that 1½ half edge of raw pastry.  Give each tart a generous grinding of black pepper.

– fold the bare edges of pastry up and over the side of each tart, folding and crimping as you go to secure.  Don’t worry if it looks a little messy, that’s half the charm.

– bake for 25 minutes and then leave to rest outside the oven for about 5 minutes before eating.


tomato-tart-2


tomato-tart-4

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apricots2

I got a little crazy in the baking department this weekend.  There was a baby shower for a good friend of mine planned (god bless her precious little socks) and I got myself up to my elbows in cake for the occasion.  I thought, momentarily, about making the ever-appreciated chocolate cake, a safe bet for people whose tastes you don’t quite know.  And I thought about a Victoria Sponge too for it’s crowd pleasing qualities.  And then I thought about the friend whose baby we were showering and about how I just know, deep down, that these good folks would want their precious bebe well versed in the language of foods, various, exotic and experimental, and I knew I had to offer a few flavours not always found on a party board.  Now, if you haven’t already met her and found out for yourself, there really is only one place to go for inspiration for a splendid, voluptuous, mouth-watering Bake of some kind. Dear Debs at Smitten Kitchen has the trump up her sleeve every time.  Having scoured the ends of the earth and the bottom of every food magazine pile and waded her way through a sea of recipes she finds the best, the most sumptuous, simple the most mouth-wateringly delicious cakes out there.  This time, after an hour or so having to dab delicately at my mouth to keep my salivations from the keyboard I found a masterpiece of baking: a Pistachio Petit Four cake.  My dear friend, Ms A, is of a Persian bend and I thought that the pistachio, apricot and almond trio were a perfect tribute.

Having overwhelmed my senses at Deb’s place, I thought I’d leave some space for some other inspiration and dawdled over to Bea’s at La Tartine Gourmand.  Bea has an ability to wave her magic French wand over everything she does and give it that certain je ne sais quoi. I fell in love, instantly, with her Lemon Yogurt cake for a few reasons, not least of which was that it was her dad’s favourite.  I’m a bit of a dad-o-phile myself here and it tugged somewhat on my homesick/family-sick heartstrings.  Also, it’s kind of like a cheese cake, but much lighter and it comes in a pastry.  Pastry?  I’m in!

For the third plate I stayed a little closer to home.  I did a gorgeous walnut banana bread, which I sliced in half through the body, scooped a little bit out of the bottom half and filled with dulce de leche.  So there you go, ma petite belle bebe S: something from your home, something from my home and something half way between the two.  May your life be beautiful and delicious.

Okay, I promise that this is the last catch-up-on-summer post I’ll put out here.  It’s nearly December, for goodness sake, and I’ve a plethora of Autumn cooking to catch you up on and I really don’t want this to end in the Summer next with me still waffling on about Christmas baking.  But how, I ask you with cake in my mouth, could I not tell you all about this?  Look at it, don’t you just want a piece?  And, to be honest, with the November rain-snow-yuck glooming down all around us at the moment a little bit of sunny coloured apricotiness can’t do too much harm.

apricot-almond-pie

Apricots are something I actually seldom buy, perhaps only once in the season.  The reason is that they are such a sensitive, delicate little fruit that by the time they get from the tree to the store they always seem to have lost their lovely, translucent glow and their flesh turns to powderiness or mush far quicker than is convenient.  Growing up in South Africa meant, among other things, having access to very fresh, delicious fruit and I can’t help but compare the apricots I’ve bought here with the firmer, juicier ones I remember from childhood.  Nonetheless, there are times when, luck in hand, I run into a crop of apricots so blushing, so sunny and full of optimism that I simply Must Have Them.  This particular lot were simply lovely, a rare treat in a rainy summer.  And having bought far more than I knew we’d manage to eat before they tipped over on to the other side of ripe I knew the best way to use them up would be in a tart. I thought a great compliment to the tartness of the apricots would be the delicate fragrance and flavour of almonds  I achieved this not only by using almond flour in the pastry, but also by fashioning new stones for the halved fruit out of marzipan.  It not only looked quite precious, it tasted, let me tell you, Delicious.

apricot-almond-pie3

Almond Apricot Tart

For the pastry:
1 cup plain flour
⅓ cup quinoa flour (or use more plain four to the same value)
¼ cup almond flour (ground almonds)
⅓cup demmerara sugar
¹⁄⁄₈ tsp tumeric powder
big pinch salt
⅓ cup canola or vegetable oil
⅓ cup cold water

12 apricots, halved and stoned

60g marzipan

2 Tbsp honey
¼sp ground cardamom

– mix all three fours and the sugar, tumeric and salt.

– add the oil and mix until the mixture is crumbly and looks like oats and wet sand

– add the water and combine to form a dough.

– rest at room temperature for one hour

– preheat the oven to 375˚F

– roll out the pastry and line a greased pie dish with it, trimming the edges.

– arrange the apricot halves, skin side down, in the pie base

– pinch of marble size pieces of marzipan, roll between your palms to form a ball and place in the centre of each apricot.

– warm the hone a little over a low heat, add the cardamom and drizzle over the apricots.

– Bake for about 35 mins until the pastry is golden and the liquid from the fruit and honey is bubbling.

apricot-almond-pie-comb

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chocolate-cherry-pie1

Oh, don’t shoot me.  Another recipe I diligently wrote down while making and have since misplaced somewhere in the maelstrom of my kitchen notes over the last few months.  Listen, people, do as I say and not as I do.  If you’re going to be making up recipes and fabricate wonderful new concoctions in the kitchen, keep a whole notebook, bound and sturdy and without loose pages in which to write said culinary experiments.  Do not, as I do, keep a post-it pad in the cutlery drawer on which to scribble, somewhat illegibly and often covered in some un-named sauce, your moments of cuisinary Eureka.  So bear with me here as I try to back track in my mind and remember what went into this little morsel of yumminess you see before you.

The shell, I remember well, is a simple shortcrust.  No difficulty there.  If you need a recipe, this is a good one, but make only half the required amount as you don’t need a lid for this pie.

The filling was a pint, at least, of dark, almost black, Bing cherries; pitted and halved, or halved and pitted whichever order you like to do that in. 

Next would have been a little bit of flour and a little bit of sugar.  Again, I can’t give you exact measurements, but I’d estimate ⅓cup sugar and a ¼cup plain flour. 

Then a generous amount of dark chocolate, cut into chunks.  Hmmm.  Lets guess at 100g, 70% cocoa.

Of course, the rest seems fairly simple.  Preheat the oven to, oh, 375˚F.  Line a springform cake tin with the pastry and chill in the fridge for 10 mins.  Fill the shell with the cherry/chocolate mix and bake for about 30 mins, or until the pastry is turning a golden brown and the filling is bubbling merrily away.

Chill for about 10 mins outside the oven before removing from the springform.

Brilliant eaten still warm with a good dollop of vanilla ice-cream.

Good luck!  And please, if anyone can see a major blup in my thinking here, shout shout shout.

chocolate-cherrypie-2

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strawberry-pistachio-tart-combo1

On a balmy, sensual, early summer night in the season now past the dashing Mr P and I were invited to a dinner, eaten out doors in the charming garden on a very good friend.  She asked for a dessert for 6 and, it being the season of all things fresh and lovely, what better than an ensemble exploding with fresh strawberries.  Now, I’m not going to give you an ingredient by ingredient recipe for these little tarts. It’s simply a version of a typical little fruit tart, not dissimilar to these, or these, using a pate sable and a type of nut custard, like frangipane but with pistachios instead of almonds in both cases.  I love including a fruit in puddings, as you’ve no doubt noticed.  I tend to keep the sugar content a bit lower on the rest of the dessert and rely a lot on the sweetness in the fruit instead.  I think the ultimate difference with these tarts is that the tart shell is baked with the pistachio-cream, then when the tarts are cool the fresh strawberries are added on top.  Somehow, a fresh strawberry is infinitely better than a cooked one on a hot summer evening, don’t you agree?

*note: if you’re battling to get the strawberries to stand nicely on the cool tarts, heat a little strawberry jam and use as a type of glue between the fresh strawberry pieces.

strawberry-pistachio-tart-52

Strawberry Pistachio Tarts

for the pate sable:
200g butter, softened
pinch salt
⅓ cup icing sugar, sifted
⅓ cup shelled pistachios
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
400ml plain flour

for the pistachio cream:
½cup shelled pistachios
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar
60 ml unsalted butter, softened

Punnet fresh strawberries
3 or 4 Tbls strawberry jam (preferably an all fruit jam)
¼cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped

– first, grind or blend or process the pistachios, in two separate batches for the pastry and the creme, until they are very fine (think ground almonds)

make the pate sable:

– beat the butter with the ground pistachios, 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

make the pistachio creme:

– beat ground pistachios, egg, sugar and butter until smooth. Refrigerate 10 mins until firm.

– preheat the oven to 375˚F

– grease and flour 6 individual tart tins (about 5″ diameter) or, alternatively, one large 9 or 10 inch dish.

– when the pastry is well chilled, roll it out on a floured surface to about 5mm thickness.  Line each tine with pastry, trimming away excess. Keep combining and re-rolling the scraps of dough until all the tins are lined.

– prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork a couple of times.

– divide the pistachio creme between each tart Shell and smooth out.

– bake for about 20 mins until the pastry and the top of the pistachio creme is a lovely pale gold.

– allow the tarts to cool for 10 mins before removing from tins.

– wash, hull and halve the strawberries. Gently heat the strawberry jam.

– when the tarts are completely cooled top with halved strawberries.   Brush a little jam onto the berries of each tart. Top with a sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

strawberry-pistachio-tart-combo2

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Pizza rustica 1

Hello? Why, Hello! It’s been such a while since I last saw you, have you changed your hair? Yes, as you’ve no doubt guessed, life has been busy. But when isn’t it, and is that ever excuse enough for complete and utter neglect? I think not. Be that as it may, I have been somewhat distracted by other tasks, though here I am again, cooking it up and sharing what I can. Right! Lets get this year on the road! Lets finally, three weeks in, Whoop it up for 2008. Hope it’s cooking.

As a little make-up kiss, I give you a dish that sets my mouth to watering every time I think about it. It’s a dish that’s rich and warm and comforting and the perfect meal for that lazy, hazy, feet on the couch time between Christmas Feasting and New Year Bashing. Also, note to self for next year, would be perfect as a New Year Day Bash Recovery Unit. The recipe is from that Matron of the Mixing Bowl, Nigella, though I tinkered here and adapted there to come up with something better suited to a Dutch Father-in-law and a bacon-loving Mother-in-law. Also, I might add with a pat on my own back, I had enough foresight to pre-make the pastry during my initial Christmas Baking Bonanza in mid-December, which took a lot of the effort out on the day. Handy when you’re trying to keep guests vaguely entertained at the same time as cook up a brunch.

*Use a 23cm Springform Pan to make the pie.

Pizza rustica 2

Pizza Rustica a la Paesi Bassi

For the Pastry:
250g plain flour
1 stick (125g) butter, cold, cut into 1cm pieces
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp iced water
1 heaped tsp salt
1 Tbsp caster sugar

For the filling:
75g Luganega (Italian Pork Sausage)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
250g ricotta, drained
50g smoked provolone, diced
125g dutch Gouda, diced
50g freshly grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Italian Parsley, finely chopped
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
100g mortadello, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
1 heaped Tbsp dry breadcrumbs

For the glaze:
1 egg yolk
2Tbsp milk

large pinch fleur de sel

Make the pastry:
– put the flour and butter in a dish in the freezer for 10 minutes. While this is chilling, mix the egg yolks, water and salt in a small bowl.

– When the butter is thoroughly chilled, add the sugar to the bowl and rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles something between damp sand and oats porridge. Little lumps of butter are a good thing, you don’t want to overwork the butter into the flour.

– Add the egg/water mix and gently mix with your hands until the dough just comes together. It should still be a somewhat loose and crumble.

– Tip the pastry out and work it together with your hands to form one lump, more or less. Divide the dough into two parts: one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in cling wrap and refrigerate.

Make the filling:
– Place a baking tray in the oven and pre-heat it to 400˚F

– Skin the Luganega, heat the oil in a skillet and fry the sausage meat for about 5 minutes, breaking it up as you cook it. Allow to cool

– Mix all the ingredients, including luganega, except the bread crumbs in a large bowl until well combined.

Assemble:
– Roll out the larger of the pastries to line the bottom and sides of your greased springform pan, allowing for an overhang. Sprinkle the bottom of the pastry wit the dried bread crumbs, then add the rest of the filling mixture.

– Roll out the smaller pastry large enough to cover the tin with an overhang. Roll up the two overhangs to seal the pie and press with prongs of a fork.

– glaze with the eggy milk mix and stab here and there with a fork to make air vents. Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel.

– bake for 10 minutes at 400˚F, then turn the oven down to 180˚F and bake for a further 45 minutes.

– Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before serving, although it’s excellent cold as well.

Pizza rustica 3
 

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basler brunsli

These little hearts of joy were a new thing for my cookie collection this year. This is traditional Swiss cookie-making at it’s best, if you ask me. Chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and almonds, what’s not to like? And with no butter or other fat in it, it’s a conscience-soothing nibble at this cookie-glut time of the year. Goodness, it doesn’t even use the yolk of the egg, so you have a great excuse to make real custard for your Christmas pudding this year as well. I’m just so in love with these cookies, I made two batches instead of one and intend to extend their seasonal allocation right past Christmas Nibbles on to Spring Snack and Summer Ice-cream Garnish.

A friend gave me lovely gift of fair-trade cocoa and vanilla sugar, which I used to make the second batch. Just too yummy.

basler brunsli 2

The dough can seem a little tricky the first time you make these, not being quite so doughy as crumbly, but just keep the batches you work with small, the rest in the freezer, and keep working the crumble, nutty, chocolatey mass together one cookie at a time if need be.

*note: I used turbinado (Raw) sugar for the top sprinkling because I like the slightly golden colour and the texture, but you can get large sugar crystals in all sorts and colours so don’t feel limited.

**note: for the first batch I used Callebaut Couverture, chopped up and on the second batch I got a little lazy and used Callebaut Choc Chips. I found the chips a little harder than the couverture and ended up having to warm them, along with the cocoa and spices, over a bowl of warm water until just before the chocolate started to melt in order to grind the chocolate up.

***note: if you don’t want to use the alcohol, substitute water or apple juice. Although, the actual alcohol will evaporate during cooking, so it’s perfectly fine for children. Also try using Kahlua for some fun.

basler brunsli 3

Basler Brunsli

250g good dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
2 egg whites
¼ cup icing sugar
3 cups ground almonds
3 Tbsp Brandy or other
Course sugar for sprinkling (about ¼ cup)

– blend the chocolate, cocoa and spices in a food processor until finely ground

– add almonds and mix well

– in a large bowl, whip the eggwhites until frothy. Add the icing sugar in two batches, whipping well between additions, until firm peaks form

– fold in the chocolate-almond mix and the brandy

– form into two logs, wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 mins

– preheat the oven to 325˚F

– working with one batch of dough at a time, sprinkle your pastry board with sugar and roll dough out carefully over sugar until 1cm thick. Cut shapes (traditionally 2″ hearts are used) and place on a cookie tray. Sprinkle each cookie with sugar crystals, pressing slightly on each cookie to embed the sugar a little.

– bake in the oven for 18 – 20 mins

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