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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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.

More home grown produce…

A QUICK UPDATE.

It could be considered a poor excuse but the past few weeks have been hectic: weekends taken up with lengthy travelling, visiting Home, weddings and birthdays to boot.

This weekend’s travels involved a brief trip back to home, where upon I dug up a patch of potatoes with my Mum and a had a five minute fight with a garlic bulb. I tell you now, they are stubborn things to get out of the ground and I advise the use of a trowel when the time comes. But the reward is worth it. The smell is earthy and fresh. I believe you can even eat the garlic stalks.

This brief post was also brought to you buy my new 50mm camera lens  bought today on the way back from a wedding in Essex; purchased just in time for the Caribbean Carnival in Leicester next weekend where,  no doubt, there will be much food-orientated inspiration to take photos.

Also, hopefully much more cooking to follow in the next week….pomme dauphinoise perhaps…

From my Mother’s Garden

I LOVE helping out in the garden. A weekend back in Norwich included the harvesting of some garden peas. I also brought back with me some home grown red onions.

My Mum cooks the most amazing things, and for the past decade has also produced the most wonderful fruit and veg with her green fingers in the garden. This year: peas, beans (runners, green and mangetout), red onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, swiss chard and even pak choi and lemon grass. There are strawberries mid-harvest, as well as gooseberries and tayberries to follow in the autumn.

Not to mention the roses. ~

Risotto ai Funghi

It was a quiet night in tonight with just me, which means a little time for some experimentation! This evening’s ingredients pointed towards a vegetable risotto. In fact, due to the vast amounts of mushrooms that I have absent-mindedly bought this week the result was a mushroom risotto with a broccoli and beetroot topping.

INGREDIENTS: 2 cups of  risotto rice, a punnet mushrooms, 1 onion and two garlic cloves (finely chopped) 1 cup of white wine, 1 pt chicken stock, salt and pepper for seasoning. For the salad topping: lightly stir fried broccoli, spring onions and beetroot (chopped).

Fry together the onion and garlic in some olive oil until soft but not brown. Drop in to this the mushrooms and toss lightly before adding the rice. Stir to cover the rice in the mixture, then add the wine and stock. Stir, cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 20mins occasionally giving the mixture an extra turn to make sure the rice grains do not stick to the pan.

Serve with any sort of salad you fancy really.  Tonight I garnished the rice with diced beetroot, broccoli and spring onions for a fresh taste that complimented the earthy mushrooms.