It always seems to be so difficult to decide just how much food one needs to buy in for Christmas, I never seem to get it right. Even my most meticulous plans change – late invitations mean that food is relegated to the back of the fridge and the best laid plans are cheerfully ditched to accept a spontaneous invitation. Last week I was sorting through the miscellaneous items still in the fridge and pantry after the festive season, what a jumble. I’ve been making New Year resolutions to use up all those little bits that have been chucked into the freezer in a desperate effort to reduce waste when plans have changed. So what did I find? Several bags of cranberries – they freeze brilliantly and can of course be made into cranberry sauce to accompany a juicy roast pheasant, guinea fowl or chicken at any time, but you may want to try something a little less predictable. Throw a fistful into the dry ingredients when you are making scones, or add them to a muffin mix, the bittersweet flavour is a delicious surprise. We have also been putting cranberries in ice-cubes to use in drinks over the festive season. They look pretty and taste good, particularly if you have time to prick them with a needle and soak the cranberries in a little simple sugar syrup beforehand. A bittersweet cranberry sauce is delicious as a filling in a meringue roulade or in a feather-light sponge with some softly whipped cream. My current favourite though is a pear, cranberry and almond tart. It is rich and intense and keeps well – a little slice is perfect with a blob of whipped cream after dinner. Many houses have a pot or two of mincemeat left over also, most recipes keep well, sometimes even for years, so there’s no great urgency to use it up, but when you begin to feel peckish again try making this mincemeat bread and butter pudding or mincemeat crumble tart. They are both so delectable that it is almost worth making mincemeat specially to try them. A layer of mincemeat is also delicious on the base of a Bramley apple tart. certainly no hardship eating these leftovers. I also found a bag of Brussels sprouts in need of attention, so I experimented with Thai flavours with delicious results. Brussels Sprouts puree is also delicious with a peppered steak. This Christmas I got a present of not one, but two beautiful Pannetone. The rich featherlight yeasted Italian cake wrapped in gold paper and silk ribbon, makes an irresistible nibble over Christmas and leftovers made the best Summer pudding. Its certainly no hardship eating these leftovers. Happy New Year to all our readers!
Festive Pear and Cranberry Tart
This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it keeps for several days. Splash in a little Kirsch if you are using pears.
Serves 8 - 10 3 ripe pears 4ozs (110g) cranberries approximately Shortcrust Pastry 7 ozs (200g) flour 4 ozs (110g) cold butter 1 egg yolk, preferably free range pinch of salt 3-4 tablesp. cold water Frangipane 3 ½ ozs (100g) butter 3 ½ozs (100g) castor sugar 1 egg, beaten 1 egg yolk, preferably free range 2 tablesp. Kirsch if using pears 4 ozs (110g) whole blanched almonds, ground 1 oz (30g) flour To Finish ¼ pint (150ml) approx. apricot glaze 9 inch (23cm) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base First make the shortcrust pastry, Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water. Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust. Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll. Next poach the pears (see Foolproof Food) and allow to get cold. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Roll out the pastry, line the tart tin with it, prick lightly with a fork, flute the edges and chill again until firm. Bake blind for 15-20 minutes. Next make the frangipane. Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour and then add the kirsch or calvados. Pour the frangipane into the pastry case spreading it evenly. Drain the pears well and when they are cold cut them crosswise into very thin slices, then lift the sliced pears intact and arrange them around the tart on the frangipane pointed ends towards the centre. I use 5 halves and eat the sixth, heavenly!! Fill in all the spaces with the cranberries. Turn the oven up to 200C/400F/regulo 6. Bake the tart for 10-15 minutes until the pastry is beginning to brown. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180C/350F/regulo 4 and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden. Meanwhile make the apricot glaze. When the tart is fully cooked, paint generously with apricot glaze, remove from the tin and serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream. Apricot Glaze Apricot glaze is invaluable to have made up in your fridge. It would always be at hand in a pastry kitchen and is used to glaze tarts which contain green or orange or white fruit, eg. kiwi, grapes, greengages, peaches, oranges, apples or pears. It will turn you into a professional at the flick of a pastry brush! In a small saucepan (not aluminium), melt 12 ozs (350g) apricot jam with the juice of 3 lemons, water - or enough to make a glaze that can be poured. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in an airtight jar. Reheat the glaze to melt it before using. The quantities given above make a generous ½ pint (300ml) glaze.
Mincemeat Bread and Butter Pudding
Use up all that leftover bread and mincemeat in a delicious way.
Serves 6-8 12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed 1lb (450g) mincemeat 16 fl ozs (475ml) cream 8 fl ozs (225ml) milk 4 large free-range eggs, beaten lightly 1 teasp. pure vanilla extract 5 ozs (150g) golden castor sugar grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon A pinch of salt 1 tablesp. sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding Garnish Softly-whipped cream 1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish Arrange 4 slices of bread in a single layer in the dish. Sprinkle the mincemeat evenly over the top. Arrange another layer of bread over the mincemeat and sprinkle on the rest of the mincemeat. Cover with the remaining bread. In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence, sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the grated citrus zest. Pour the liquid over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top, cover with cling film and let the pudding stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight. Bake in a bain-marie - the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the warm pudding with some softly-whipped cream. Note: This pudding reheats perfectly but must be served hot otherwise the suet will congeal. Delicious Bread and Butter Puddings can be made using: 1. Barmbrack as a base, add mixed spice or cinnamon. 2. Pannettone – proceed as above. 3. Brioche – proceed as Bread and Butter Pudding or use Apricot jam and lace with apricot brandy.
Brussels Sprouts with Thai Flavours
1lb (450g) Brussels sprouts, cut in half, blanched and refreshed in boiling salted water 400ml (14fl oz) coconut milk 1 tablespoon green curry paste 1 Thai green chilli, pounded (optional – if you like a hotter curry) 175ml (6fl oz) chicken stock 2 kaffir lime leaves 1/2 tablespoon palm sugar or a little less of soft brown sugar 2 tablespoons fish sauce (Nam Pla) 20 basil leaves 1 large red chilli, pounded 1 tablespoon soya sauce Heat the wok on a low heat. Pour 110ml (4fl oz) coconut milk into the wok. Add the green curry paste and a pounded green chilli, and mix well. Then add the stock, remainder of the coconut milk, Brussels sprouts, kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar and fish sauce, half the basil leaves and pounded red chilli. Stir constantly on a medium heat until the sauce boils and foams up. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, otherwise the sauce may separate – it should be cooked in about 10 minutes. Add the remainder of the basil leaves, taste for seasoning, add soya sauce if necessary. Serve hot with steamed rice.
Classic Parmesan and Gruyère Cheese Soufflé
Guests are always wildly impressed by a well risen soufflé and believe me its not rocket science so don’t imagine for one moment that you can’t do it - a soufflé is simply a well flavoured sauce enriched with egg yolks and lightened with stiffly beaten egg. Soufflés are much more good humoured than you think and can even be frozen when they are ready for the oven. The French do infinite variations on the theme, both sweet and savoury. I love to make this recipe with some of the best Farmhouse cheese eg: Desmond or Gabriel or a mature Coolea, you will probably find that you have bits of various cheese in the fridge since Christmas. It would also make a nice change from rich meat dishes.
Serves 8-10 For the moulds: Melted butter Souffle 15g (½ oz) Parmesan cheese (Parmigano Reggiano is best) - optional 45g (1½ oz) butter 30g (1 oz) flour 300ml (½ pint) milk 4 eggs, preferably free range and organic 55g (2 oz) Gruyere cheese, finely grated 55g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) Pinch of cayenne pepper Freshly grated nutmeg Salt and freshly ground pepper 8 individual soufflé dishes, 7cm (2¾ inch) diameter x (4cm)1½ inch high or one large dish 15cm (6 inch) diameter x 6.5cm (2½inch) high. First prepare the soufflé dish or dishes: brush evenly with melted butter and if you like dust with a little freshly grated Parmesan. Preheat the oven to 200º C/400º F /gas mark 6 and a baking sheet. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes. Draw off the heat and whisk in the milk, return to the heat, whisk as it comes to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Separate the eggs and put the whites into a large copper, glass or stainless steel bowl, making sure it’s spotlessly clean and dry. Whisk the yolks one by one into the white sauce, add the cheese, season with salt, pepper, cayenne and a little freshly ground nutmeg. It should taste hugely seasoned at this because the egg whites will dull the seasoning. Stir over a gentle heat for just a few seconds until the cheese melts. Remove from the heat. (can be made ahead up to this point) Whisk the egg whites with a little pinch of salt, slowly at first and then faster until they are light and voluminous and hold a stiff peak when you lift up the whisk. Stir a few tablespoons into the cheese mixture to lighten it and then carefully fold in the rest with a spatula or tablespoon. Fill the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish or dishes (if you fill them ¾ full you will get about 10 but if you smooth the tops you will have about 8). Bake in a preheated oven for 8-9 minutes for the individual soufflés or 20-25 minutes. For the large one you will need to reduce the temperature to moderate, 180ºC / 350º F /gas mark 4, after 15 minutes and a bain marie is a good idea. Serve immediately. Foolproof Food
½lb (225g) sugar 1 pint (600ml) water a couple of strips of lemon peel and juice of 2 lemons Bring the sugar and water to the boil with the strips of lemon peel in a non reactive saucepan. Meanwhile peel the pears thinly, cut in half and core carefully with a melon baller or a teaspoon, keeping a good shape. Put the pear halves into the syrup, cut side uppermost, add the lemon juice, cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the pears are just soft - the tip of a knife or skewer should go through without resistance. Turn into a serving bowl, chill and serve on their own or with homemade vanilla icecream and chocolate sauce, in which case you have Poires Belles Helene - one of Escoffier's great classics. Top Tip: If you fill the soufflé dishes to the top smooth off with a palette knife then run a washed thumb around the edge of the dishes before they go into the oven to help to get the ‘top hat’ effect when the soufflé is well risen. Individual frozen soufflés can be baked from the frozen but they will take a few minutes longer to cook. Cheese Soufflés with salad leaves: Just before the soufflés are cooling, toss a mixture of salad leaves and divide between the plates. Hot tips www.thecheeseweb.com Created by one of the world's leading authorities on cheese, Juliet Harbutt, the Cheese Web has tons of information about cheese, cheesemakers, cheese sellers and cheese events around the world. It also gives you instant access to information about the British Cheese Awards and Great British Cheese Festival and Juliet's internationally acclaimed cheese books, workshops and masterclasses and tells you how she can help with marketing and merchandising your cheese, train your staff or simply answer any queries you have about cheese. The Food Map www.find.mapmuse.com/interest/category/Food_and_Drink About 6 months ago, Mapmuse.com began to develop maps of interest for people who like to cook. They now have nationwide maps for the following topics: 1. farmers’ markets 2. pick your own fruit and vegetable farms 3. cheese farms 4. farms where you can get fresh and heritage turkeys 5. wineries 6. wine shops 7. cooking schools They initially researched and populated these maps ourselves, with the idea in mind that cooking enthusiasts would subsequently add to, and enhance, the information we provided. They mapped each place, and provided space for a written description, photo, and link to a website. Worth a look if planning a foodie trip.