Sunday, 20 November 2011

FAVOURITE THINGS NO. 6: PASTEIS-DE-NATA

PORTUGUESE CUSTARD TARTS
I  first discovered these delicious little confections at the old café at the Victoria & Albert Museum. A friend and I used to visit regularly for exhibitions or simply to drift around the galleries, taking in the treasure trove of decorative art from Medieval metalwork to swords of the Samurai. Our visit would always begin with coffee and custard tarts at the cafe. Imagine our disgruntlement, then, when the café was taken over by another franchise, tarted up (forgive the pun) and relocated in a different part of the museum. Despite offering a fair to middling patisserie counter, the Portuguese Custard Tarts were no more.

Fortunately, my disappointment was short-lived, as a local café, which I frequent with girlfriends for coffee after school drop off (for those friends with kids still at primary school) and before the gym, now stocks them. They are just as delicious as the ones at the V&A, and a perfect small cake to have with a big mug of coffee.

I wanted to make these lovely tarts but every recipe I found seemed overly complicated, and required far too many eggs for my liking. Then Lovable Jamie did his '30-Minute Meals' series and included a quick recipe in an episode featuring that other Portuguese classic Piri-Piri Chicken. I'm not sure one could comfortable make the chicken, the tarts and the smashed sweet potato with Feta in 30 minutes: you would need to be very well-organised, but I did have a go and was pleased with the results. Find the recipe for the tarts, together with the rest of the recipes, via this link



Wednesday, 16 November 2011

FAVOURITE THINGS No. 5: JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

No relation to the more sophisticated Globe Artichoke, these knobbly roots make a delicious, nutty winter soup and are great with potatoes in a gratin, or even as a pizza topping.

My father used to grow Jerusalem Artichokes, and when I was little, I liked to help him dig them up. We'd shake the dirt off them, place them in a colander and take them in for my mum to turn into something delicious. They are neither from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes, but they are easy to grow and push out all sort of lush green growth up top while the gnarly roots develop underground. Their flavour is nutty, strangely redolent of oysters and the merest hint of soil. When pureed, their texture is an unparalleled silkiness. Peel them if the skin is really tough; if not - and these days they come helpfully pre-washed - keep their skins on for added flavour and roughage.

Treat them as you would potatoes: boil them or roast them, slice them and put them in a gratin with lemon, and cook until their skins are crisp and their innards are soft and sweet. But my favourite use for them is in soup. Chop a small onion and fry it until soft. Add a punnet of chopped artichokes, season and cover with water, with a little vegetable stock. Cook until the artichokes are soft and then puree. Add a spoonful of creme fraiche or double cream for added creaminess - not really necessary but it lends a certain sophistication! Sometimes I add parsnips, which makes the soup sweeter. The only down side are the well-documented unsociable after-effects...... I'm not sure I would eat this soup and then teach piano afterwards!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

BIRTHDAY SUPPER WITH FRIENDS

To celebrate my entry into "middle middle age", I cooked a Thai-inspired supper for good friends. My son cleverly sourced gyoza (Japanese dumplings "like we have at Wagamama, mum!") and spring rolls in the oriental supermarket in Kingston, and I bought prawn toasts from Waitrose. The only canape I made myself was Chinese pancakes filled with smoked salmon and cucumber and, as we found, a rather too generous helping of wasabi.

The main course was Thai green curry and green papaya salad, fragrant and lime-infused, simple yet delicious. But the culinary piece de resistance was undoubtedly pudding - Indian ice-cream or kulfi - served with homemade brandy snaps.

I remember making brandy snaps as a child with my mother. I loved the way the mixture spread and bubbled in the oven, taking on a lovely burnished chestnut colour as it cooked. We'd take the sheet of mixture out, let it cool for a few moments, before shaping the brandy snaps on a wooden spoon. They are very easy to make, bar a few dicey moments when I burnt my finger on the baking sheet! If you don't want to go to the trouble of shaping them, leave them flat; they are just as delicious! I used this recipe from the BBC Food website.


As for the kulfi, this is definitely a cheat's version. Kulfi is traditionally made with milk that is slow-cooked until its volume is decreased by half and its lactose and fat content is increased. Fortunately, tinned condensed milk saves a great deal of time, and the only other ingredients are double cream and flavourings, in this case ground pistachios and saffron. With such a simple base, you could easily add other flavours, such as rosewater or almonds, mango or even avocado. This recipe comes from the Ocado website:

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch Saffron Threads
  • 60g Pistachios
  • 450g Condensed Milk, can
  • 300ml Double Cream
Soak the saffron threads in 1tbsp boiling water in a small bowl for 2 minutes. Chop the pistachios roughly, reserve a few to scatter on the top, then continue with the rest until very finely chopped.

Tip the condensed milk into a bowl, and add the nuts. Stir in the saffron threads and liquid.

Whip the cream until it holds its shape, then fold it into the milk mixture until well combined. Divide the mixture between the holes in the ice-cube tray, and place in the freezer until frozen. Once completely frozen, place the ice-cube tray in a freezer bag, and store in the freezer until needed.

To serve, remove from the freezer, pop the kulfi portions out of the ice-cube tray, and serve on plates, sprinkled with the reserved chopped pistachios.


I used Nigel Slater's Green Thai Curry recipe, and you can find the recipe for Green Papaya Salad in an earlier post on this blog - here.