Cheese Tartlets

Fancy a little tart?

Picnic season is upon this household and I have been making mini tarts to pack away into the picnic hamper. Here is a fantastic cheese tart recipe from my Grandmother’s repertoire complete with a complimenting pastry. There is a perfect balance of sweet and salty in every bite. When you’ve got the hand of one batch you can start to experiment with the different fillings.

Ingredients:
For the pastry:
 225g plain flour
115g soft salted butter
1 small egg
3 tsp. sugar
A dash of cold water

For the filling:
200g Gruyere grated
1 cup milk
2 eggs beaten
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. tomato purée

(Quantities make about a dozen)

Method:
Start by making the pastry.
Cream the butter to a soft paste and add the sugar, salt and eggs. Mix until smooth. Combine the flour a bit at a time and using a fork, bring the mixture together to make a firm dough. Don’t over mix it.  Add a sprinkle of cold water if the dough is too dry and not coming together. 

If you have time, let the pastry rest for an hour. This allows for more elasticity when it comes to manipulating the dough. When you are ready to bake, roll the pastry out to no more than half a centimetre thick. Use the pastry to line your chosen baking tins – I used some different shapes and sizes for variety – a tart tray (or rather, a large Yorkshire pudding tray) and a muffin tin. You can use anything but just remember the idea is to keep them small and picnic-sized.

Tip: If you cut a square of baking parchment and slip this into the moulds first then line the pastry over it, you will find it easier to pull them out by lifting the paper at the corners. This is especially helpful if you want to serve them warm and they feel a little too delicate to just tip over and knock out.  This is also a good idea if you are using deeper containers like a muffin tin instead of a tart or flan dish.

Now for the filling.
Warm the milk in a pan. Combine the paprika and tomato pureé and whisk in the two eggs. The milk should not be so hot as to make the eggs curdle, so allow the liquid to cool a little if necessary.

Fill the centre of each tart with grated cheese and top it up with a little of the hot milk mixture. The cheese will collapse into the hot milk, so finish with more cheese if you have any left over.

Bake in a moderately hot oven – about 180° for around fifteen minutes or until the custard has just set and you can see the filling wobble a little.  The residual heat in the tart will finish the cooking to a perfect consistency.

Serve warm or allow them to cool for serving later. They can be stored in an airtight container and will keep for a couple of days if refrigerated.

You can have a straightforward Gruyere cheese filling, or mix it up by adding diced onion and tomato. My other tried and tested suggestions are aubergine and pepper, mushroom and asparagus or spinach and artichoke hearts. Leftover roast chicken, crispy bacon or even salmon are nice too. The choice is entirely yours.

Bon Appetit!   ~


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Scones for Tea?

Crispy just-baked shells of cloud soft warm doughy sweetness. With raisins or with cheese. I’ve even seen treacle and herby ones too. Are they scary to make? No. Do they need that shop-bought perfection shape of approval? No. You could be sitting on a sunny croquet lawn in the West Country, or you could be in your front room with the rain pouring off the window pane – but I’m telling you now, there’s nothing nicer than a freshly baked scone with clotted cream and your favourite, well made pot of English tea.

The secret? Sorry – the secret is they’re just too easy to make! You’ll end up with a pile like these.

Ingredients:
230g self raising flour
A tsp salt
25g unsalted cold butter
120ml ice cold milk
55g caster sugar
A handful of raisins

Sift the flour into a bowl, add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut the cold butter into small cubes – the colder the butter, the easier this is. Then, with your hands, rub the butter through the flour to make a crumbly mix. Add the raisins and then the milk, a little at a time, and using a knife stir it in, combining the liquid with the flour to bring together a cold dough. When you can form a small ball, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for no longer than a minute or two. You don’t want the dough to get too warm, just smooth enough to roll with a rolling pin or push out with your hands. Flatten the dough to no thinner than 1.5cm and using a pastry cutter (I used a 5cm diameter one) cut out scones and lay on a greased baking tray. Be sure that when you press the cutter into the scone dough, press evenly around the edges – this will help the scone rise more evenly and you wont get overly lopsided ones.

You should be able to get between 10 and 12 from the dough, but you will have to re-roll the dough trimmings out after the first five or six.

Once arranged on the tray, brush any left over milk over the tops.

Place on the middle shelf of a pre-heated oven on 220° for fifteen minutes or until nicely golden brown. Just keep an eye one them during those last few minutes – blackening edges make for ugly looking tops.

For cheesy scones, omit the sugar and raisins and grate about 100g (two heaped handfuls) of cheese into the flour before you rub the butter in. For a nice colour use something like Red Leicester. In actual fact, I also used some extra mature cheddar as well.

Chicken, Red Cabbage and Kale Stuffed Conchiglioni

In an attempt to experiment with more vegetables, here is a healthy starter, full of anti-oxidants and high in iron and other minerals in the kale and red cabbage. Not two of the most interesting veg – but the punch of garlic and the smooth cheese sauce balances out the slightly bitter qualities of the kale and the sweet red cabbage gives added crunchy texture.

Ingredients:
1 chicken breast
Kale
1/4 head of red cabbage
2 shallots
4 cloves of garlic
10g salted butter
10g plain flour
1/2 pt milk
50g cheddar cheese
About 40 Conchiglioni shells

Start by preheating the oven to 180°C.

Fry together the garlic and shallots in a small amount of oil until soft. Dice the chicken breast into small pieces and add to the mix, along with finely sliced red cabbage and kale. Stir together, cook until the chicken is cooked through and draw off the heat.

Melt the butter in a pan and stirring the flour in to form a smooth paste. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.  Once consistent and smooth, return to the heat, melt the cheese into the sauce. The result should be a runny but smooth cheese sauce.

Cook the over sized pasta shells (Conchiglioni) in a pan of salted water until al-dente. Drain and stuff each shell with the chicken and vegetable mix. Lay in rows in a oven-proof dish, and pour over the cheese sauce, covering all shells equally. Finish with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden.

Meats and Cheese and Cheese and Cheese

Manchester German Christmas Markets: Nov 17th ~ Dec 21st. It’s a seasonal foodie haven bathed in crisp winter sunlight and wrapped up in an invisible fog of spiced mulled wine and roasting hog smells.

And of course, I couldn’t help myself. Diving straight in, I bought a multitude of European cured meats; Chirizo, Kabanos and the like before standing about at the next stall like a 70’s punk-rock groupie, salivating fanatically over cheeses and firing question after question at the Frenchman selling them to me. I’ll have one of everything please.

So tonight’s dinner was a calorific Smörgåsbord of meats and cheese with an crusty artisan loaf, a simple tomato and onion salad, garlic roasted in Greek olive oil and thyme as well as fruits to accompany those amazing cheeses.




Followed by Macaroons and an espresso.  A chance to play with a new toy – a present from Ollie on his business trip last week to Rome. I love my kitchen gadgets ~

Cheesy Mushroom Winter Comfort

 

Ingredients:

3 large mushrooms, thickly sliced
A handful of chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced/diced
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh thyme (3-4 sprigs)
Sherry (a dash)
Black Pepper (freshly ground)
Nutmeg (freshly ground)
3/4 pint of Milk
2 medium potatoes
A handful of grated Gruyère
100g Blue cheese
Danish Blue, Dorset Blue or Gorgonzola are quite nice for this.

Serves 2

Slice the potatoes thinly, and par-boil gently for 5 minutes in the milk.

In a frying pan, begin by by frying off the sliced onion and garlic in the butter. When soft, add the mushrooms and gently turn through the butter. When the mushrooms are getting brown, add a healthy dash or two of sherry and season with generous grinds black pepper and the thyme.

Drain the potatoes but do not throw away the milk, stir it into the mushrooms. The sauce will thicken, with the potato starch. Remove from the heat and crumble in the blue cheese. Keep some bits chunky.

Add the cheese and mushroom mix into an oven proof dish, leaving enough room at the top to carefully layer over the softened potatoes.

Scatter over the nutmeg and grated Gruyère cheese before placing in an oven at 180° for ten minutes or until the top is crispy and golden.

Serving suggestion:
Perhaps plate up with a fresh Spinach salad. Or even offer these mushrooms as a different backdrop to a nice steak for something of a more substantial dinner.