Mushroom tart

Mushroom Tart

I have been meaning to post this mushroom tart recipe for ages. It was given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah, who was an excellent cook; her hand-written recipe has been pasted into my recipe book for forty years now. Although Sarah was vegetarian herself, she also cooked meat and fish for her family and friends, and her food was always perfectly seasoned even though she never tasted the meat dishes.

As the tart uses puff pastry, it is a bit of an indulgence, but it does turn an ordinary punnet of button mushrooms into something special. I sometimes use chestnut mushrooms or a mixture of button and field mushrooms. It is important to cook the mushrooms ahead of time and let them cool down as otherwise the heat can soften the pastry which makes it difficult to manage. Tarragon works particularly well here, but parsley is nice too if you don’t have any tarragon, in which case you could add a crushed clove of garlic to the mixture too.

Sarah recommended Saxby butter puff pastry if you can get it. Rolling the pastry yourself will give a thinner crust, but a ready-rolled sheet is fine if you prefer. This serves 3-4, depending on how many sides you serve with it.

350g button or chestnut mushrooms
50g butter
1 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp sherry or white wine
150ml single or sour cream
huge pinch of tarragon or parsley
200g (or a ready-rolled sheet) all-butter puff pastry
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Slice the mushrooms very thinly. Melt the butter in a frying pan and sweat the mushrooms in the butter over a gentle heat until they are ‘slug-like’, which will take 5-10 minutes.

Mushroom tart 1

Sprinkle on the teaspoon of flour and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the cream, herbs and sherry and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes. Then leave the mixture to cool, preferably for an hour.

When you are ready to bake the tart put the oven on to heat to 210°C. Roll out the pastry very thinly into a large oblong (or unroll the ready-rolled sheet) and place half on a baking sheet, with the other half off the edge. It helps to put some baking parchment on the bench to stop this part of the pastry sticking to it. Paint the edge of the pastry with the egg wash. Spoon the cool mushroom mixture onto the half of the pastry which is on the baking sheet and carefully fold the other half over the top.

IMG_4909

Seal the edges very firmly with a fork or crimp the edges together with your fingers rather as you would for a pasty. As you can see below, my effort was far from neat this time – I had taken the pastry out of the fridge a bit too early and it was not being co-operative. Paint the top with egg wash and make two or three diagonal slashes in the top for the steam to escape.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the oven, until the tart is puffed up and golden brown. Serve with salad or a green vegetable such as chard or broccoli, and new potatoes if you wish.

Mushroom Tart

 

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Lentils with squash and spinach

Lentils with squash and spinach

A new discovery, this lentil dish is both comforting and fresh-tasting, thanks to being flavoured with orange peel and juice. The idea came from the beginning of a Lindsey Bareham recipe in her column for The Times, which Irene found online. The introduction and ingredients made it sound delicious, but the rest of the recipe was for subscribers only, so the method below is our guesswork (and the sage and fresh chilli our additions). So far, we have had it hot with sausages and pan-fried pheasant breast (separately, obviously) and at room temperature with salad and goat’s cheese. I plan to polish off the leftovers with some ham for lunch tomorrow, and Lindsey Bareham also recommends it cold with hard-boiled eggs.

These quantities make enough for 3 servings, or 4 as the accompaniment to something more substantial.

1 large onion
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 oranges
1 cm piece dried chilli
150g puy lentils
1 bay leaf
3 sage leaves (optional)
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
250g butternut squash
100g spinach
1 fresh red chilli to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 210°C. Chop the butternut squash into bite-sized chunks and toss in 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking tray. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until tender. I tend to roast more butternut squash than I need for one recipe, as there are lots of recipes that you can then make easily, such as soup, pumpkin rice, squash with aubergine sauce, salad with mushrooms or risotto.

Softening onions for lentils with squash and spinachCut the onion in half and slice thinly. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions slowly with a good pinch of salt, stirring regularly and reducing the heat if they start to show any sign of browning. After about 10-15 minutes, they should be soft and golden – rapeseed oil gives them a particularly lovely colour.

Add the lentils and stir them in to coat them with the oil. Pare several long strips of orange rind and add them to the pan with the dried chilli, bay leaf and the sage leaves torn into strips. Stir and cook for another minute or two, then add the hot stock to the pan.

Lentils with squash and spinach 2

I used 1 tsp of Marigold bouillon made up with 250ml of boiling water, but found I needed to add a little more water. Bring to the boil, then cover with a lid, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes in case you need to add a little more water.

Wash the spinach and squeeze the juice of the oranges. After 15 minutes the lentils should be nearly tender – if not, give them another few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the spinach to the pan (if you’re using previously roasted, cold squash as I was, add it at this stage to warm through).

Adding spinach and squash to the lentils

Put the lid back on and cook gently for another 3-5 minutes until the spinach has wilted. By now, the squash should be ready to come out of the oven. Stir the spinach into the lentils, add the orange juice and the squash if you are  haven’t already done so. Give it a final stir and check the seasoning, then serve hot, warm or cold. It may not look elegant, but it is delicious!

Lentils with squash and spinach

Proper Porridge

Proper porridge with apple compote, blueberries, nuts and seeds

This is a public service post for everyone who hasn’t yet discovered that what you need to start the day on these cold dreary mornings, especially when you have a persistent dreary cold, is a big pot of proper porridge. By this I mean porridge made from oatmeal, which is no harder to make and has a better texture than any porridge made with ordinary porridge oats.

We first started using oatmeal to make porridge regularly after staying with our friend Pat in Pennsylvania. Her beautiful old Quaker kitchen has tall carpenter-made cupboards which, of course, house a big tin of local steel-cut oatmeal. Oatmeal porridge was also the regular breakfast on walking holidays in Scotland, but I rarely had to wield the spurtle myself. When I got back from the States, with a smart new set of American cup measures, I investigated available brands of oatmeal; some are distinctly pricy and not all supermarkets stock it. Working out the right quantities of oatmeal and water to give our preferred quantity and consistency, took a certain amount of trial and error too.

So these instructions come with a caveat – this is how we like our porridge so you may need to adjust the quantities or the proportions, if you like yours thicker or thinner – and two discoveries that make cooking porridge much easier. The first, learnt from my friend Luc in Glasgow, is to start the porridge the night before. It takes 5 minutes to measure oats, water and salt into a pan and bring it to the boil, and saves time and hassle in the sleepy morning. The second is to leave the pan of porridge to sit with the lid on for 2-3 minutes before you serve it, before giving it a good stir with a silicone spatula or spoon to mix in the thicker layer at the bottom of the pan. Use the spatula to serve the porridge then quickly run the pan under the cold tap to rinse off any remaining scraps and you will never have to soak gluey porridge from the bottom of a pan ever again.

No doubt you can do all of this in the microwave, but it just doesn’t conjure the same comforting atmosphere of home as a pot of porridge steaming on the stove. Besides, putting the porridge on at night reminds me of staying with my grandmother, who used to set the breakfast table before she went to bed every night. So, for me, cooking porridge on the stove is definitely worth the extra few minutes it takes. You can still have breakfast on the table in little over 10 minutes.

We use Mornflake medium oatmeal, and our favourite porridge toppings are apple compote, a handful of blueberries and some nuts and seeds to add crunch. A drizzle of maple syrup on top, and a banana sliced into the bottom of the bowl add extra fuel when facing particularly miserable mornings. I add yoghurt, which I realise is a bit weird, but we don’t often have milk in the fridge and cream would definitely seem too indulgent. Quantities are for two – if multiplying up you’ll find you don’t need quite as much but, as any Scot will tell you, leftovers can easily be heated up for the morrow so you may want to cook up enough for a few days anyway. A reminder that these are American cup measures, though it doesn’t matter if you don’t have them, as the key thing is to use the same measure for oats and water, so that the proportions stay the same, and to find a cup that produces the right amount of porridge for you.

½ cup medium oatmeal
2½ cups water
a pinch-½ tsp salt, to taste
Optional toppings:
apple compote
blueberries
chopped nuts
mixed seeds
drizzle of maple syrup

Putting porridge on the night before

Measure the oats and water into a medium saucepan and add salt to taste. I am trying to cure myself of a tendency to under-salt everything (see previous post about the influence of Samin Nosrat) but how salty you like your porridge is a matter of personal taste. At this stage it will look far too thin and as if it will never turn into porridge. Stir with a spurtle or wooden spoon and bring to the boil. Then turn off the heat, clamp on the lid and go to bed.

IMG_4891In the morning, you will find it has thickened and looks much more promising. Gently bring the pan back to a simmer, stirring diligently. Don’t forget to stir the porridge when you put it back on the heat, or it will, I promise you, stick and burn (I made this mistake – once!). Then put the timer on for 6 minutes, and busy yourself with making coffee or apple compote (see below), turning back to stir the porridge every couple of minutes. You may need to turn the heat down so that it stays at a steady simmer and doesn’t erupt into an angry impersonation of the mud baths in Rotorua.

When the pinger goes, give the porridge a good stir and decide whether you think it is the right consistency or needs an extra minute or two. Once you are happy, put on the lid, turn off the heat and leave it for 2-3 minutes, while you prepare your toppings.

Porridge with apple compote, blueberries, nuts and seeds

You can make a quick apple compote while the porridge is cooking. Just chop an eating or Bramley apple into dice, rinse and simmer it in the water clinging to the apple for 5 minutes. As you can see, if I’m using eating apples I leave the skin on, but generally peel Bramleys, to get that distinctive, fluffy consistency. You can add a teaspoon of sugar to the Bramleys if you like, but I like their tartness – especially if you’re going to add some maple syrup. The compote can, of course, be made in a batch at the weekend, or the night before, if you find the mere thought of chopping apples in the morning tiring.

Wash some blueberries, chop a handful of nuts and you’re ready to scoop the porridge into bowls, add the fruit and nuts, scatter over a teaspoonful of seeds and add dairy (or a vegan equivalent), if you wish. Finish with a drizzle of maple syrup and enjoy your proper porridge. You can almost feel it setting you up for whatever the day holds.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup

When the weather is cold and grey my thoughts turn to comforting bowls of soup, as I discussed in my earlier post Top six soup to banish the winter cold. It’s that time of year again and, although I still cook those soups on a regular basis, I am always on the look-out for new favourites. This recipe from a Waitrose recipe card has shot straight into the list. It has the bonus of being vegan if you serve it with a non-dairy yoghurt.

I love parsnip soups, and although this soup won’t displace Pastenak and Cress Cream in my affections or our Christmas menu, adding carrots and kale and roasting the roots  gives a heartier soup with deep flavours lifted by the zing of cumin and lemon. Zing seems to be a favourite word at the moment, probably due to the fact that I am deeply immersed in reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and watching her series on Netflix at the moment. She uses it to describe how you know when you have got the seasoning of a dish right and it zings in your mouth. And that is what struck me about this soup when Irene made it the first time: it was spicy and lemony and deeply savoury all at the same time.

So we made it again! This time with some tweaks – and an instructive mishap. The tweaks include adding some dried chilli flakes to give an extra kick of warmth, and adding more liquid as we found it was too thick and gloopy with the quantity of water suggested. However, you may like your soup thick in the Italian fashion, and you can always adjust the consistency by adding some water after blending. I  prefer the texture of those classic, light, creamy soups that Elizabeth David describes as being so typical of the French dinner table.

The mishap was with the kale crisps, which we found tricky to get right. The first time they weren’t crispy enough and the pieces of kale too large to eat easily from a spoon. So I tried making them smaller, but didn’t let the oven cool down enough before I put them in and ended up with crisps that were brown and charred, albeit very crispy. We found that making crisps with all the kale leaves made way too many, and having some kale in the fridge is no hardship (but see below). There are lots of great recipes for it, in a salad with quinoa, as a gratin with potatoes or just steamed as a vibrant green side dish. Here’s our version, which will make enough for 4-6 people, depending on how big a bowl of soup you need to lift your spirits in this gloomy weather.

500g parsnips
300g carrots
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp olive oil
150g kale on the stem
½-1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
500ml vegetable stock
juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp yoghurt (or non-dairy alternative)

Set the oven to heat to 200° C. Trim the kale leaves from the stems, which is much easier to do when you buy the kale on the stem, rather than ready chopped. Set half the leaves aside for making the kale crisps, put the rest back in the fridge for another meal, and finely chop the stems, trimming off any scraggy ends.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 4
Peel and trim the carrots and parsnips and cut them into 3cm pieces. Toss them with the maple syrup and 1 tbsp olive oil and put them into a roasting tin (if you’re thinking this doesn’t look like 500g parsnips, you’re right – second time round we made a half batch.) You can line the tin with baking parchment if you want to make the washing-up easier, but I don’t see that it makes much difference. Season with salt and black pepper and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes – use the smaller quantity unless you want to taste the heat. When the oven has come to temperature put them in to roast for 20 minutes.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 2Roughly chop the onions and crush the garlic. Put another 1 tbsp of oil to heat in a large pan. When it is warm add the kale stems, onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt. If you don’t have another use for the excess kale leaves, you can shred them and add them to the pot at this point to give a stronger flavour. I added a few leaves as the quantity of stems looked rather meagre.

Cover with a lid and cook gently – and I mean gently – for 10-12 minutes, stirring from time to time until everything is soft and looking golden. If it shows any signs of sticking or browning add a splash of water to slow things down a bit. Don’t skimp on this slow cooking, as I was tempted to do, as it helps develop the flavour of the soup. Then take off the lid, add the ground cumin and cook for a further 3 minutes stirring regularly.

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 3

By this time the carrots and parsnips should be tender and golden too. Turn the oven down to 160°C straight away. Tip the roasted roots into the pan and add the stock and 750ml-1 litre of boiling water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tear the reserved kale leaves into smallish pieces for the crisps; the original recipe suggests 4-5 cm pieces but we found these a bit big, so I would aim for 3cm. Toss with the remaining 1 tbsp oil, a little lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Spread on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Then check and turn them over and cook for a further 5 minutes. They may need a little longer, but do check them regularly if you want to avoid incinerating them as I did.

Meanwhile blend the soup in batches, adding more water if necessary. Put back into the pan to reheat, and season with lemon juice. We used more than the suggested 1 tbsp, but you may want to start with that and adjust to your taste. Serve with a good dollop of yoghurt (or a dairy-free alternative to keep it vegan), some freshly ground black pepper and the kale crisps. And forget about the January weather for a bit!

Roasted parsnip and carrot soup 1

 

Asian fish parcels

Lunch today was this simple yet special dish of fish with rice and pak choi. It tasted really zingy, fresh and light after all the rich festive food we’ve been indulging in over the last couple of weeks. It is probably the recipe we have used most from Lindsey Bareham’s excellent cookbook The Fish Store, which not only contains great recipes for fish, but also lots of her family’s other favourite dishes for chicken, lamb, vegetables and puddings – do treat yourself if you haven’t already got it.

Asian fish parcels served

This is a great recipe to have in your repertoire if your New Year’s resolutions include eating fish more regularly for a healthy diet. It works with any white fish – we usually use haddock or hake – and the foil parcels can be prepared ahead ready to pop into the oven 15 minutes or so before you want to eat, so it’s perfect for entertaining. With rice and pak choi already in the parcel with the fish, it is also really easy to serve – and as Lindsey Bareham points out, there is very little washing up!

Irene tends to cook this for us, and has adapted the original recipe, blanching the pak choi first to bring out its flavour, adding some fresh chilli and tweaking the seasonings. Like her mother, she follows the Indonesian tradition of not salting the rice, so that it acts as a plain foil to the strong flavours of the sauce served with it. If you don’t have ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) in the cupboard then just use 4 tbsps of ordinary soy sauce. You can use left-over cooked rice for this, in which case you will need about 250-300g, and if it is cold when you start, the parcels will need an extra 5 minutes in the oven. These quantities are for two; you will need two pieces of tin foil about 65cm x 35cm for the parcels.

150g basmati rice
2 small cloves garlic
pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3.5 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
½ tbsp ketjap manis
5cm knob of garlic
1 green chilli
2 small pak choi (about 150g)
2 white fish fillets (about 300g total)

Preheat the oven to 230° C. Put the rice into a small pan, rinse under cold running water, drain and add enough water to come to the first joint of your index finger above the rice. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, when you should be able to hear that the water has been absorbed, there will be little holes in top of the rice and you won’t be able to see any water. Once it has reached this stage, turn off the heat and leave the pan covered on the cooling hotplate so that the rice absorbs the last of the moisture to give you dry, fluffy rice.

Trim the pak choi and slice across into three. Put into a steamer and blanch the stems for 2 minutes and the leaves for 1 minute. Run briefly under the cold tap to stop it cooking, and leave to drain. We find the pak choi tastier if it is cooked through, but you can omit this step if you like your veg a little crunchier.

Peel the cloves of garlic and crush with a pinch of salt. Whisk together with 1 tbsp of the sesame oil and the soy sauce(s). Peel and grate the ginger. Trim, deseed and slice the green chilli.

Lay out your two sheets of foil, and drizzle the remaining sesame oil over the centre of each. You can put both portions into one (slightly larger) parcel if you want to save foil, as we did today, though individual parcels are nicer, especially if you are cooking for guests. Sprinkle a quarter of the sliced chilli over each piece. Then divide the rice between the two parcels, fluffing up the grains with a fork if necessary. Add half the ginger and the pak choi.

Asian fish parcels 3

Then top with the fish fillets, the rest of the ginger (including any juice from grating it), and the rest of the sliced chilli. Finally, whisk the sauce again and pour it over.

Asian fish parcel 3

Fold the edges of the parcel and seal carefully, avoiding pulling the foil tight.

Place the parcels on a baking sheet and cook in the hot oven for 15 minutes (or 20 minutes if you have used cold cooked rice). If you make one larger parcel it will need an extra 2-3 minutes to cook. You can open a parcel and check that the fish is opaque through to the bottom of the thickest part of the fillet to be sure that it’s cooked through.

You can serve the parcels just as they are, but we find it easier to eat if you scoop the contents onto the plate – they slide out easily with the encouragement of a large serving spoon.  The rice absorbs the delicious flavours of the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and the fish stays beautifully moist – it is really delicious.

Walnut biscuits

Try these light walnut biscuits if you can’t face another mince pie or chunk of Christmas cake but still want something sweet with your coffee or alongside a fruity or creamy dessert. They went down well with clementine salad and clementine semifreddo at a friend’s New Year’s Eve dinner.

This started as a recipe for Hazelnut Crescents given to me many years ago by the Hungarian mother of a Canadian friend. The original hazelnut biscuits are possibly even more delicious than this walnut version, but I had ground walnuts that needed eating and the substitution was a success. I increased the amount of ground nuts and reduced the quantity of flour to make them nuttier, which improves the taste at the expense of making them slightly more fragile. I think this is an acceptable trade off (especially as the cook gets to ‘tidy-up’ any broken ones) but if you prefer a more robust biscuit, then revert to the original ½ cup of nuts to 1 cup of flour (US cups, so 60g and 140g respectively). I’ve dialled down the sugar and vanilla a bit too – use the larger quantity of vanilla if you are fond of it. The original recipe used half-and-half butter and lard as the fat, which makes for a shorter biscuit, but I never have lard in the house these days so have defaulted to using only butter.

These are half the original quantities and, as you can see, still made around 36 biscuits – enough to feed a crowd, especially as I think the biscuits are supposed to be smaller and more crescent shaped, so this could make more: I clearly need to perfect my shaping technique. The biscuits keep well in an airtight tin, though they are very more-ish.

115g butter
85g sugar
½-1 tsp vanilla
110g ground walnuts (or hazelnuts)
90g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
icing sugar to serve

Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper, and heat the oven to 150° F. Cream the butter with the sugar until it is light and fluffy. Making these is quickest in a stand mixer but easy enough with a hand-held mixer or a good old wooden spoon too. Add the ground walnuts (or hazelnuts) and then the flour bit by bit. Finally add the salt and vanilla and mix until it all comes together. Turn out the mixture onto a floured bench and knead into a fat log.

Then divide the biscuit dough, first into four and then cutting each quarter into 9 or even 12 pieces. Shape each little piece into a crescent by rolling it into a thin torpedo shape between your palms and then curving the ends together as you place it on the prepared baking tray. Leave space between the biscuits as they expand in the oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are golden brown, switching the trays round after ten minutes so that they cook evenly. Leave them to cool a little on their trays before moving them to a cooling rack and dusting with icing sugar.

Spicy peanut and vegetable stew

Here’s an easy and tasty vegetable stew for supper on a cold weeknight. It started life as Maafe tigidigi, a recipe from Timbuktu, which was adapted by Alicia Weston of Bags of Taste, an inspiring initiative that provides free cookery courses to people who need to learn how to eat well on a low budget. I saw an article about the organisation in Delicious magazine, and thought it was a great idea – and I liked the sound of the recipe too.

The original recipe uses okra rather than courgette, but I am not fond of okra, and using courgettes instead worked fine, though they are less authentic and don’t have quite the same texture. I’m sure you could ring the changes on the other vegetables too. The peanut butter makes it really tasty and satisfying. I guess you could serve it with some roasted peanuts sprinkled on top for crunch, but to be honest it doesn’t really need anything extra.

These quantities serve 2 – or provide two comforting suppers for one person (it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge) – with rice.

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp tomato purée
350ml hot water
175g courgette
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground fennel
good grinding of black pepper
½ tsp chilli powder
1 bay leaf
1 stock cube or 2 tsp Marigold bouillon
150g sweet potato
100g carrots
½ red pepper
1 celery stick (about 60g)

Measure the peanut butter and tomato purée into a medium saucepan and gradually mix in the hot water using a wooden spoon until they are well blended. Halve the courgette lengthways (unless it is small), and slice it fairly thinly.

Put the pan over medium heat, add the courgette with the spices, bay leaf and stock cube or Marigold powder, stirring well. I used a mild chilli powder and the stew was spicy enough for me, but you can up the heat if you wish by using hotter chilli or a fresh red chilli if you have one. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While it is simmering, peel the sweet potato and carrot and cut them into large chunks. De-seed the red pepper and cut it into chunks. Trim the celery and cut it into 2 cm slices on the diagonal. Add the chopped vegetables to the sauce, bring back to a simmer, then cover and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cook some rice – I used wholegrain basmati, which I find takes about 20 minutes – and serve with the stew.