Shortbread

We ran out of shortbread yesterday; good grief, you would think the sky had fallen in. It is my job to ensure that we always have a jar of homemade shortbread on our shelves, without a doubt it is the thing that I make most often and though we don’t eat it fast, we do eat it regularly – it is just so delicious. Luckily, shortbread is quick and very easy to make, it is a great thing to make with children, and so my mistake was quickly rectified.

I must have tried a dozen shortbread recipes, and they were all okay but not quite perfect. Then I found Delia Smith’s recipe and my search for perfection came to an end. The trick is to include semolina in the mix, it gives a lovely crunch and beautiful shortness to the finished biscuit.

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RECIPE – makes 24 biscuits

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

75g golden caster sugar, plus a tablespoon for dusting

75g fine semolina

175g plain flour

a small pinch of salt


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/130C fan/Gas 2

Using a stand mixer (just to make your life easier, if not a wooden spoon will do the job) cream the butter and sugar together until fully mixed. Add the semolina and beat again, then add the flour and a pinch of salt and beat until just combined. You do not want any rise in a shortbread biscuit so minimise the amount of beating to ensure you don’t put air into it.

Cut a square of baking parchment, scrunch it up then flatten it out. Turn your shortbread dough out onto it (no need to flour it) and using your hands or a rolling pin pat it into a rough oblong approximately 1 cm thick. Place the dough, on the baking parchment, into a small baking tin and ensure the parchment is pushed well away from the dough. The dough will flatten and spread slightly as it cooks so you need to ensure the parchment won’t impede it. Prick all over the surface of the dough with a fork, pushing right down to the bottom – this will ensure that any air has an escape route.

Bake in the oven for 60-70 minutes until it is a deep rich gold. If you like your shortbread extra crunchy you can safely leave it in even longer, just keep a close eye on it. About half way through it’s a good idea to check that it isn’t rising at all; if it is, just pat it back down with your hand.

When cooked, lift it out on the parchment and place onto a cooling rack. Immediately it comes out, use a knife to score the top of the baked dough, about halfway through, to mark out your biscuits (you can see this in the picture above). Sprinkle some caster sugar all over the top and leave for ten minutes or so.

Run a palette knife between the shortbread and the parchment, then slide the parchment out from underneath the shortbread, leaving the shortbread on the wire rack to cool completely. It will crumble a little at the edges, this is a good sign; just push it back together, as it cools it will solidify. When fully cool, break the biscuits off and store in an airtight jar or tin. They will easily last two weeks (or more) without losing their bite.

Cod Loin with a Fragrant Curry Sauce

This is a very simple curry that packs a huge punch of flavour. The spicing is bold but it isn’t the kind of curry that will have you bolting for a glass of milk to cool your mouth, instead the spices emerge as layers of flavour that queue politely for your attention.

As this is the first proper curry dish that I have posted here I wanted to use an amazing general-purpose sauce, to show how simple it can be to get great flavour and also how versatile a good sauce can be. I have used cod loin here but you can use any firm white fish loin or fillet, salmon, prawns, lobster, chicken and even pork. Quorn pieces go very well with this and if you want to make it for a vegan just omit the fish sauce, substitute the ghee for vegetable oil and use firm textured vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, cauliflower) as your key ingredients.

I have specified using curry powder in this recipe – please note that it is my own recipe for curry powder and the recipe below is linked to the recipe for the curry powder. Please, please, please do not use a commercial curry powder in its place, it will be – how can I put this plainly? – crap.

This goes very well with chapatis and coriander rice.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 – 4 people 

One cod loin per person

3 tbsp ghee

1 tsp black mustard seeds

4 bay leaves

4 banana shallots, finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a big knob of fresh ginger, about 25g, not peeled but rough bits cut off, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely sliced

1 birds-eye chilli, finely sliced (optional, for if you like heat)

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tin coconut milk

small bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stalks separated, stalks chopped finely


METHOD

Prepare all ingredients, combine the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste, set aside.

Tip: Adding a little water to dry ground spice powders to make a paste ensures that they don’t burn when added to a hot pan. It also allows the flavours to begin to develop even before you cook with them.

If you are ever adding powdered spices to a very hot oil (e.g. when cooking stir-fry in a wok) then make the paste using vegetable oil rather than water.

In a large pan, melt the ghee over a medium heat then add the mustard seeds and bay leaves, cook for approximately a minute then add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for a few minutes until soft and aromatic then add the curry powder and turmeric paste. Cook for a minute or so, stirring the paste around to distribute it around and coat the other ingredients, then add the tomatoes, fish sauce and coconut milk. Bring to the boil then simmer for five minutes.

Turn off the heat, make sure your fresh coriander stalks are finely chopped and add them to the sauce; stir them in thoroughly and now let the sauce sit for as long as you possibly can. This sauce gets better with time, so try and make it in the morning or early afternoon for the evening meal. If you can make it the evening before it will be even better.

When ready to eat, gradually heat the sauce up and when it reaches a boil add the cod loins (or other fish) and simmer for 5-8 minutes until it is just cooked – it will continue to cook in the sauce, even off the heat. Scatter chopped fresh coriander leaves over the top and serve.

If using chicken or pork it should be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. By the time it comes to reheat it the meat will have slowly cooked through.

If using vegetables they should also be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. Check the vegetables for firmness before reheating to serve and cook on for as long as necessary to cook to your liking.

If using Quorn, that should also be added with the tomatoes and coconut milk.

 

Coriander Rice

Rice is often viewed as a bland accompaniment to strongly flavoured dishes, but treating it that way does it a huge disservice. Like pasta and potato, rice is an excellent carrier of flavour and a little ingenuity with your rice goes a very long way in turning a good curry into an exceptional meal.

I have a large repertoire of rice side dishes, this is one of the simplest but it still packs a punchy, aromatic flavour.

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RECIPE – feeds 4-6 people 

Basmati rice, cooked and cooled

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

2 kaffir lime leaves (dried or fresh), finely shredded

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves


METHOD

First, weigh out your rice. You will probably know how much rice your family and friends will eat, it varies greatly among people so I have avoided giving a defined quantity. As a rough guide, if you need it, a small mug filled with dry rice will easily feed two people with leftovers at my table, as an accompaniment to other dishes.

Cook your rice, tip into a sieve to drain and leave to cool completely.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

When almost ready to eat, make your coriander rice at the last minute.

Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to comfortably hold your rice. When hot but not smoking add the coriander seeds, agitate the pan constantly and when the coriander seeds begin to pop add the shredded kaffir lime leaves. Cook for a minute or two, ensuring that you don’t scorch the seeds or leaves, then add the rice. The pan will be hot so the rice will quickly heat through, stir thoroughly so the kaffir lime leaves and coriander seeds are well distributed, then add the chopped fresh coriander leaves and stir through again until well combined.

Serve alongside any dish where you would normally use plain rice.

Chapatis

A quick and easy way to make a slight dish much more filling, chapatis – an unleavened Asian flatbread – can be on the table 15 minutes or so after weighing out the flour. Traditionally eaten alongside curry, where it is often used as a scoop in place of a fork or spoon, chapatis are also excellent with middle eastern dishes and make delicious vegan wraps.

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RECIPE – makes 4, will feed 2 people as a side dish

125g wholemeal bread flour

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

85ml water


METHOD

Weigh the flour into a bowl, add the salt, make a well in the centre and add the water. Using your fingers in a claw-like grip, pull the flour into the water, pulling and kneading with your fingers to get everything off the sides and bottom of the bowl. The dough should start off sticky but quickly become stiff and silky. At this point take it from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and knead it for 7-10 minutes.

Heat a skillet, or large dry frying pan, until very hot. While it heats up, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll them out into a rough round shape, adding small amounts of flour to prevent sticking as you roll. The chapatis need to be thin, thinner than a penny piece. If you have trouble rolling them out thinly, cut two squares of baking parchment, dust them with flour and roll the dough out between them.

To cook, lay the rolled chapati in the hot skillet and cook on each side for a minute or so. They should scorch and even burn a little; that’s fine, that’s where a lot of the flavour comes from.

Repeat until all four chapatis are cooked, the ones made previously can be kept warm in a low oven under a tea towel.

This recipe is easily scaled up to feed four or more people, just scale all the ingredient quantities up in equal ratios.

Bombay Potatoes

For an amateur cook, there are some seemingly unattainable holy grails when it comes to making curries:

  • getting a curry to taste just like it does in the restaurant
  • making the perfect naan
  • making the perfect Bombay aloo

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is the perfect Bombay potatoes recipe, but it’s the best refinement yet of a great many that I have tried, and it’s as close to perfection as I’m likely to come. Those who have tasted it prefer it to the one that we have in our local Indian restaurant, and theirs is very good indeed.

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RECIPE – feeds 4-6 people depending on what you have with it

3 large potatoes, peeled and halved

a knob of ginger as big as both of your thumbs, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 large tomatoes, one quartered the other cut into thin wedges

3 tbsp ghee

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp nigella seeds

a small handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped


METHOD

In a large pan of slightly salted water, boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain, and when they are cool enough to handle cut them into 2cm cubes. Set aside.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the ginger, garlic and quartered tomato into a smooth paste; set aside.

*Tip: It seems that every time I read a recipe that calls for finely chopped ginger it tells you to peel the ginger first. That is a huge waste of flavour. All I do is cut off any rough and dry bits on the outside and make sure that it is clean, then chop it finely skin ‘n’all.

In a small bowl, add a little water to the ground turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala and hot chilli powder, stir to a paste and set aside.

Heat the ghee in a large frying pan over a moderately high heat, when melted add the cumin seeds and brown mustard seeds. When the cumin seeds start to darken (a minute or so) add the onion, stir thoroughly and cook for a minute longer then add the ground ginger, garlic and tomato mixture, the ground spice paste and a pinch of salt. Gently saute for a minute or two, check the seasoning and correct if necessary.

Add the tomato wedges, and cook for three minutes then add the cubed potatoes and nigella seeds. Cook for a further 3-5 minutes until done to your liking, sprinkle with the coriander leaves and serve.

To make it vegan, simply use vegetable oil in place of the ghee.

 

Faux Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

I hear you ask: what is a faux chicken pie?  It’s a chicken pie without any chicken in it – and before you ask what is the point, let me tell you that when my father and grandfather ate it on Sunday evening they had no idea that there was no chicken in it.

It’s all thanks to the magic of Quorn, a meat substitute that has improved enormously in the past few years. I don’t generally like substituting for the real thing, but when I am cooking for hardened meat-eaters of my parent’s and grand-parent’s generations as well for my vegetarian wife, I have the choice to either carry out a con trick or cook two meals. Well, the con trick will win every time.

When I revealed what they had just eaten there was general amazement and a reappraisal of how good vegetarian food can be. I can prove it too; I was supposed to take a picture of the two pies that I had made before they went on the table, but people were hungry. I ended up taking a picture of the last little piece of the one pie that was left after four hungry people had eaten their fill. The pitiful amount remaining speaks for itself.

I used two smaller 9 1/2 inch oval pie dishes this time, but usually make it in a larger, deep 12 1/2 by 9 1/2 inch oblong dish. Don’t worry overmuch about what you cook it in, just use what you have.

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RECIPE – comfortably feeds 4 people

50g unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced

50g plain flour

300ml semi-skimmed milk

300ml vegetable stock

1/2 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried tarragon)

250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

350g Quorn chicken pieces

75g cheddar cheese, grated

500g puff pastry, block or ready-rolled

1 egg, beaten

 


METHOD

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan and gently fry the leeks over a low heat for ten minutes, until soft but not coloured.

Mix the flour with a little of the milk to make a smooth paste (no lumps!) and when the leeks are soft add the paste to the pan with the rest of the milk and the stock. Turn the heat up to high and, stirring constantly, bring to the boil. Simmer until the sauce is thick and smooth and any lumps that may have appeared are cooked out.

*Tip: Many people are rightfully worried about thickening sauces with flour, having suffered disgusting lumpy sauces in their childhood. Fear not, it is a problem easily avoided if you only take the time to continually whisk and stir your sauce while it comes to the boil. If you leave it while you go and do something else then you will suffer lumpy sauce, so look after it.

Now add the fish sauce (it will smell disgusting but gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour when cooked in), the mustard and tarragon. Add the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes, check the seasoning, then add the Quorn pieces and stir thoroughly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, and put aside to cool completely.

The Quorn should go in frozen but will quickly thaw in the hot sauce, and will cook gently as the sauce cools.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 200C / 180C Fan / Gas 6.

Roll the pastry out until approximately the thickness of a pound coin. Ensure the filling is completely cold otherwise the butter in your pastry will melt and your pastry lid will be a soggy disaster.

Brush the edge of your pie dish with water, lay the pastry on top with an overhang all round. Press and crimp the top and edge all round, trim away any excess pastry, brush the pastry with the beaten egg and pierce a steam hole in the centre.

Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden colour and has risen.

Serve with a mound of smooth buttery mash, garden peas and a smile – don’t tell anyone what is in it until they have finished eating.

 

Linguine with Basil, Lemon and Parmesan

Contrary to popular belief, eating magnificent food doesn’t have to entail sweating for hours in the kitchen preparing Masterchef-style meals. There is a time and a place for that, and for most people it comes on a wet Sunday when you’ve nothing else to do. For most of us our days are full and busy, and when you come home starving but the evening is late what can you cook that is healthy and home-cooked, and will take a mere ten minutes? This is the kind of cooking that Nigel Slater excels at, and I am heavily indebted to him for this recipe.

In these short of time and inspiration situations, pasta is generally the first thing that springs to mind, but what to do with it apart from stir in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto from a jar? My first thought is to add a lemon. Pasta and lemon are a match made in heaven, the bright notes of the citrus lift pasta from a potentially stodgy dish to a light and airy bowl of heaven. The Parmesan used here reacts with the lemon to create a grainy sauce that is not unlike carbonara, only without the bacon, while the basil gently wilts and adds a delicate fragrance.

This is the kind of dish that would cost you a tenner in a smart restaurant but can be made for pennies from a kitchen storecupboard.


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RECIPE – to feed 2

220g linguine

the juice of a large lemon

5 tbsp olive oil

50g finely grated Parmesan

a bunch of basil, leaves only, shredded

Rocket, lettuce and cucumber (for a salad)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Put a very large pan of generously salted water on to boil and when it is bubbling vigorously add the linguine. Set your timer for 9 minutes.

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and whisk together. Tear up the basil and grate the Parmesan, using a microplane grater if you have one, otherwise grate it as finely as you can.

Assemble a simple green salad of rocket, torn lettuce and finely sliced cucumber, drizzle a little of the lemon and oil dressing through it. Light your candles, pour a glass of wine and wait for your linguine to finish.

When the linguine is cooked (it should be al dente as it will cook on), drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Add the lemon and oil, stir thoroughly then add the basil leaves, stir thoroughly again. Now tip in the Parmesan and once again stir thoroughly.

Season in the bowl, relax and enjoy a delicious meal that has taken less than 15 minutes to prepare. A takeaway wouldn’t arrive that quickly…

 

Nettle Soup

My wife and I have developed a keen interest in foraging over the past couple of years, driven by our curiosity about all the plants we saw while out walking our dog. We knew that some were edible, but apart from the obvious – nettles, wild fennel, elderflower, cherries – we didn’t have a clue which would taste great and which might kill us. We now know that there are a fair few that will kill you, and wherever you live you are very likely within half a mile of a common poisonous plant.

Foraging is a huge subject, endlessly interesting and a great way of filling anything from an hour up to a whole weekend (or more), but well beyond the scope of anything I can write. The potential dangers are such that I recommend that you book onto a half- or one-day foraging course where under expert guidance you will learn to find, identify and cook a huge variety of wild food. If you live anywhere near Hampshire, Dorset or Wiltshire, or you are willing to travel, I can unreservedly recommend James Feaver of Hedgerow Harvest who runs excellent courses in seashore, hedgerow and fungus foraging. You can find him here: www.hedgerow-harvest.com

One plant we can all safely identify is the common stinging nettle, and if you want to discover just how good wild food can be then this simple and delicious dish is the place to start.

To gather stinging nettles all you will need is a carrier bag, a pair of scissors, a pair of stout gloves and clothing offering enough protection to ward off the stings. The nettles you are looking for are the young leaves and the tops of the plants, in other words the leaves shooting off thin stems which you will most likely find in the spring – though if you live in an area where hedgerows get cut back then you will probably find new growth throughout the summer. Avoid thick stems and old tough leaves, they are not good to eat. Also avoid nettles that directly border paths where dogs are walked – though it is a brave dog who will cock a leg on a nettle I am sure it happens. Instead, push back a couple of feet where the nettles will be undisturbed by canine activity – that is why you need stout gloves and heavy clothing.

Passers-by may well think you’re mad, but once you’ve gathered your nettles and made this soup you will very probably ignore what others think and go nettle foraging again and again.


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RECIPE – to feed 6

 

1/2 a carrier bag of young nettle leaves and tops

50g unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 litre vegetable stock

1 large potato, diced into 1cm cubes

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

The standard unit of measurement for nettles is the carrier bag; you don’t need to be accurate, but the more you gather the more flavour you will get. When you get them home, wash them thoroughly, pick out anything that doesn’t belong and leave to drain. As long as the stems are thin then you don’t need to strip the leaves off, it will all blitz up and every part of the plant gives you flavour.

Gently sweat the onion, carrot and garlic in the oil and butter, in a large heavy-bottomed pan, with the lid on. After 10-15 minutes the onion should be soft but not coloured, and the carrot should be softening. And the stock and the potato, then pile the nettles on top and carefully push them down; they will wilt and lose volume, and as soon as they start to cook they will lost their sting. Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.

Leave to cool for a few minutes, just so it is a little safer to handle, then add the nutmeg and blitz until it is perfectly smooth using a stick blender, or pour into a jug blender – you will need to do it in several batches if using a jug blender.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with a little creme fraiche or double cream, some chopped chives (wild if you can get them) or similar foraged plants such as crow garlic or wild leeks (see, you’ll need to get onto a foraging course now!)

You can also make this using wild garlic in place of the garlic cloves, though the season is very short – just a few weeks in early spring. If you do manage to gather some wild garlic then add a dozen or so leaves to the nettles and use the wild garlic flowers as a garnish – they are quite crunchy and taste like delicate garlic, quite delicious.

To make it vegan just use olive oil and omit the butter.

 

Bakewell Tart

It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world, that’s all I really need to say.

Like all baking, it’s a bit of a faff to make: you have to make pastry – and it needs to be as short as you can make it so that it crumbles and melts in your mouth, and that means it can be difficult to handle – you need to blind-bake that pastry and then you have to make a frangipane. But really, once you’ve tasted it you’ll be rushing to make another one, I promise.

At 30cm, this is a big, deep tart, easily big enough to feed a crowd at a birthday party – which is the reason I made the tart pictured below. The recipient was my mother-in-law, an amazing cook with very high standards, and she was insistent that she wanted this as her birthday cake – high praise indeed!

If you don’t want your tart to be quite as big then reduce the quantity of each ingredient – just be sure to keep everything in the same ratio and amend your cooking time accordingly, like all baking it always pays to keep your eye on it in the latter stages of cooking.


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RECIPE – to fill a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin

 

For the pastry case:

275g plain flour

80g ground almonds

75g caster sugar

110g vegetable shortening (Trex) – fridge cold, cubed

115g unsalted butter – fridge cold, cubed

3 egg yolks


For the filling:

1 whole jar of raspberry jam

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g butter, room temperature

300g caster sugar

200g ground almonds

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 medium eggs, beaten

A handful of flaked almonds


 

METHOD

Heat your oven to 190C / 170C Fan / Gas 5 when ready to blind-bake your pastry case. You will need a 30cm loose-bottomed flan tin.

Make the pastry:

Put the flour, ground almonds and caster sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. Add the cold butter and Trex and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then gradually add the egg yolks, pulsing once or twice with each addition. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. When fully combined empty it out of the food processor and form into a ball but do not knead it. Wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you are old-school and like to work your pastry by hand then you don’t need me to give you instructions for that. I seem to have fingers that are too warm to make pastry by hand so I always do mine in the food processor – if anyone would like to give me a masterclass in making pastry by hand then I would welcome it!

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

*Tip: As mentioned earlier, this is a very short pastry which can be difficult to pick up; one way to alleviate this is to roll the pastry out between sheets of baking parchment, another is to lay the loose base of the flan tin on your work surface, lightly dust it with flour and then roll out your pastry over it. If the latter, to put it into the flan case fold the edges of the pastry in on each other and drop the base into your case, then unfold the edges and press in to the flutes, using a small piece of pastry to gently push into the sides and bottom.  At this time you may need to make a few small repairs to rips and tears, just take a small amount of pastry and press in to any problem areas – it doesn’t matter if it is a bit rough and ready, nobody will see it, the important thing is to ensure that the pastry case is completely sealed otherwise your frangipane will leak out.

At this point you can trim the pastry to the level of the flan-case, by rolling a rolling pin across the top. There should be no shrinkage of the pastry case when you bake it because there is no water in the pastry; the presence of too much water is the most common reason for shrinkage.

Now cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 190C for 25 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

While your cooked pastry case is resting, turn your oven down to 150C / 130C fan / gas 2 and make your filling:

Cream the butter and sugar together using a whisk if at all possible, if you don’t own a stand or hand mixer you can do this using a wooden spoon, but it’s hard work. Now add the vanilla extract, ground almonds, plain flour, baking powder and beaten eggs and beat well until thoroughly combined.

Spread the jam over the bottom of the baked pastry case in a thick and even layer. Pour the filling over the top and gently even it out using a spatula or pallet knife. It should sit at a level slightly below the lip of the pastry – as it cooks it will rise and expand to form a gentle dome.

Now bake your tart for 30 mins. After this time, take it out of the oven and you should see that it has domed and is starting to go golden; sprinkle the flaked almonds all over the top and return to the oven for a further 20-30 minutes. The tart is cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave it in the flan-case to cool completely, after which you should be able to remove it cleanly.

Black Bean Chilli

We are largely vegetarian in our house; I will happily eat anything but my wife won’t eat meat – though she will eat fish. The challenge then is to come up with meals where the absence of meat is not an issue, and the secret to achieving that is to concentrate on flavour and texture.

We both love the heat and flavour of spices, so we have spent a great deal of time testing and refining recipes for chilli. Quorn mince has been a godsend; it is so good now that when we have friends and family over for dinner they often don’t realise that they haven’t had ‘real’ mince. Using a meat replacement always feels like a bit of a cheat to me though, one I’m happy to indulge in, but it is so much more satisfying to have a recipe that stands on its own ingredients rather than pretending to be something else. The black beans used here add a rich, thick texture that works perfectly with chilli.

This black bean chilli recipe is universally loved, and the reason for that is the bold spicing. It isn’t blow-your-head-off spicy, instead it is deeply-flavoured and comfortably warming. It has a lovely umami feel as well, thanks to the addition of a little fish sauce – fish sauce is my favourite seasoning ingredient, adding not only a layer of salt that accentuates the other flavours, but also a layer of ‘mmmmmm’ that you can’t quite put your finger on. It smells disgusting when you open the bottle, but once cooked in it takes all the other flavours to another level entirely.


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RECIPE – to feed 4

250g dried black beans (or 2 tins)

1 onion, halved

1 orange, halved

2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole


2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 large onions, finely chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp smoked paprika

3 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp cyder vinegar

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

2 tsp fish sauce

1 tin of kidney beans

1 lime, zest and juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

 

The conventional wisdom is that you should soak the black beans in plenty of water, the evening before you use them. However, after much back-to-back testing it is plain that not soaking them makes them blacker, more beany and flavourful, at the cost of having to cook them for a little longer. How long? Around 90 minutes or so, until they are soft but retain bite and texture – the older your beans the longer they will take. To cook them, use a big pan and plenty of water, into which you have put an onion – halved but otherwise intact – an orange, again halved and gently squeezed, and then put both halves in the water, and a couple of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Bring to the boil then simmer until ready. If you have a pressure cooker then life is much simpler, follow the guidelines for your device but cook them for around 20-25 minutes. When cooked, remove the onion, orange and garlic and set the beans aside.

You don’t have to do all this, but for some reason using dried beans adds more flavour, and when cooked using aromatic ingredients the flavours are amped up even higher; tinned beans are fine though, no need to feel guilty.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onions until just softened, then add the garlic and chilli flakes. Cook gently for a minute or two, taking care not to burn the garlic.

Put the paprika and cumin in a small bowl, add the cyder vinegar and sugar and mix to a paste – you may need to add a little water. Doing this prevents the powders from burning and means the flavours cook out more evenly. Add this paste to your onion mixture and cook on for another minute or so before adding the tinned tomatoes and the fish sauce. Simmer gently for ten minutes, then add the cooked (or tinned) black beans and the kidney beans. Bring back to a boil then turn the heat off. Ideally, leave your chilli to sit for a few hours so that the flavours can develop, the longer you can leave it the better it will be. This really works, but if you eat it straight away it will still be delicious.

Just before serving, finely grate the zest of the lime into it and squeeze in the lime juice, stir thoroughly and check and adjust the seasoning.

This goes extremely well alongside guacamole, and can be garnished with chopped spring onions, soured cream, grated cheddar, chopped coriander leaves, crumbled feta, sliced radishes, chunks of avocado and, of course, is best served with fluffy rice.

To make it suitable for a vegan, simply omit the fish sauce; it can be replaced with 4 teaspoons of Marmite which has a similar umami nature.