Thursday, 21 January 2010

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Tarts

My flatmates and I hosted a Cheese & Wine Evening a little while back and in all our excitement I think it's fair to say we went a little bit crazy with the purchasing. The fridge is now inundated with blocks of leftover cheese. Smelly. Very smelly.

I hate to see leftovers go to waste so I thought I would whip up some little quiche-like tartlets to use up the tasty slab of gorgonzola. A base of sweet caramelised onions made the perfect match for the strong, earthy cheese and I added some spinach in too so I could pass it off as semi-healthy... ish.

I used ready rolled shortcrust pastry with these as I had some in the freezer and it worked fine but I think if you have the time it's probably worth making the pastry yourself to make it extra special (see the link below for a good shortcrust pastry recipe).

RECIPE (makes 4 tarts)

300g Shortcrust Pastry
3 Onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced
160g Spinach
2 Eggs
2 tbsps Cream
2 tbsps Milk
100g Blue Cheese, left out of the fridge for a few hours to soften
Salt and Black Pepper

(4 x 10cm loose base tartlet tins)

Pre-heat the oven to 180⁰c. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Lay the tart tins on the pastry and using them as a template, cut a circle of pastry about an inch larger all round. Place the pastry into each of the tart tins and mould them into shape lightly using your fingers. Bake these blind in the oven for 10 minutes then bake them uncovered for a further 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the onions on a low heat in a little oil for about 20/25 minutes or so until caramelised, making sure they don’t burn. Pour the onions into a bowl and set aside. Place the spinach leaves in a saucepan with a little boiling water and cook until wilted. Put the spinach in a colander and run cold water over it to stop it cooking. Drain and squeeze out as much excess water as you can. Chop the spinach roughly and set aside in another bowl.

Put the milk, cream and egg into a large measuring jug. Add some seasoning. Cut the blue cheese into small chunks and add half of it to the measuring jug. Whisk the mixture until well combined.

Now on to assembling the tarts. When your pastry shells have come out of the oven, place a large tablespoon of onions into each one. Top with spinach and then scatter over the remaining blue cheese.

Bake the tarts in the oven for roughly 30 minutes or until they have nicely browned and the filling has set.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Guilt-free Pitta Bread Pizzas with Goat’s Cheese and Red Onion

Let's be honest, we all crave a pizza from time to time. Unfortunately, our conscience usually forbids it in January. But fear not, for I have a solution... and it comes in the form of the humble brown pitta bread.

These things make excellent pizza bases. They crisp up really well in the oven, they're really tasty and - best of all - they're so much better for you than the usual thick, doughy pizza bases. By substituting the normal sugary tomato paste and calorific mozzarella/cheddar layers for this mixture of fresh, ripe tomatoes mixed in with a little light cream cheese you have all the flavour without any of the guilt!

Toppings are a personal choice of course. I've used goat's cheese, red onion and basil here, a winning combination to be sure, but feel free to use your imagination - anything works well on these.

RECIPE (2 pizzas)

2 Brown Pitta Breads
3 fresh Tomatoes, finely chopped
1½ tsps Low Fat Cream Cheese
100g Goat’s Cheese, cut into small cubes
1 small Red Onion, peeled, halved and sliced finely
A handful of fresh Basil Leaves
A pinch of Oregano
Black Pepper and Salt

Place a baking tray in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 200⁰. Put the pitta breads in a toaster until they just start to brown and go crispy.

Pour the chopped up tomatoes into a bowl , season generously and stir in the cream cheese. Place the pitta breads on the hot baking tray and spoon over the tomatoes. Top with the cubes of goats cheese and the slices of red onion. Sprinkle with the oregano and a little pepper and salt.

Cook the pizzas in the oven for about 12-15 minutes. Scatter over the basil leaves and serve.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Perfect Balance - White Chocolate, Cranberry and Macadamia Fridge Cake

My blog has been left someone neglected over the christmas and new year period. After the usual December food binge and the piling on of pounds, I suppose I just didn't feel much up to cooking. Thankfully though, that feeling didn't last long.

So January has arrived and we are all... how shall i put it... replete. The urge to diet and detox is definitely upon us. Now I for one am a big believer in the philosophy that the best type of diet is a balanced one. Ergo, healthy nuts and dried fruit should always be balanced by naughty chocolate and biscuits!

White Chocolate, Cranberry and Macadamia Fridge Cake.

Keep this tasty little treat in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days and cut a cheeky slice off whenever you need a little pick me up!


300g Dark Chocolate
220g Butter, cut into small chunks (plus a little extra for greasing)
1 tbsp Golden Syrup
225g Digestive Biscuits
1 tbsp Orange Zest
75g Macadamia Nuts
75g Dried Cranberries
75g White Chocolate Buttons

Grease a loaf tin (or alternatively a large round cake tin) with a little butter. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place it in a small heatproof bowl. Add the butter and golden syrup then place the bowl over a pan of boiling water and leave to melt, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, break the digestive biscuits into small, bite-sized pieces and place them in a large mixing bowl. Cut the macadamias in half and add these to the biscuits, along with the dried cranberries and orange zest.

When the chocolate mixture has melted, stir to blend and then add it to the biscuit mixture. Mix thoroughly so that everything is coated in the chocolate. Now that the mixture will have cooled a little, throw in the white chocolate buttons and stir again to coat. Transfer the mixture to your loaf tin and place it in the fridge for at least 3 hours or until properly set.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Festive Feast - Sausage and Cranberry Plait

Imagine a sausage roll. Now quadruple it in size. Twice. Whoever invented the sausage plait was a freakin' genius. Either that or he was just really, really greedy. Either way, I believe it's about time this old chestnut made a comeback.

This was not to be just any old sausage plait though. Oh no. I wanted to add some festive cheer to the dish. This is where the humble cranberry came in to play. I made a deliciously tangy cranberry sauce and grated in a little apple to sweeten it up and compliment the sausage meat.

Now I have become well acquainted with recognising the stages of reaction on people's faces when I tell them that i'm going to make a fruity sausage roll. At first, complete horror. Followed closely by confusion. Then a little contemplation, gradual acceptance and then, finally, a feverish excitement.

Look at it though. Tasty, peppery sausage meat smothered in a sweet, tangy cranberry sauce, wrapped up in a gorgeously crisp, flaky pastry served with a bed of cheesy creamed leeks. You know it makes sense.

RECIPE (serves 4)

For the Cranberry Sauce
150g Cranberries
90g Sugar
90g Water
½ sweet Apple, grated

Place the cranberries, sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have all popped and collapsed. Add the grated apple and stir to blend. Leave the sauce to cool.

For the Plait
A small knob of Butter
A dash of Olive Oil
1 small Onion, peeled and finely chopped
10 good quality Pork Sausages
500g Puff Pastry
1 Egg, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 200⁰c. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan. Add the chopped onions and heat through on a low heat for about 8-10 minutes so they go lovely and caramelised. Set them aside to cool. Remove the skins from the sausages and discard. Place the sausage meat in a large mixing bowl and add the onions. Mix throroughly with your hands.

Roll the pastry out to about 12" by 10" (you want it to be about he same thickness as a pound coin). Place the sausage meat in a thick vertical line down the centre of the longer stretch of the pastry. Spread the cranberry sauce generously over the top of the sausage.

Cut indents 1cm away from the sausage meat at a 90⁰ angle, about 3cm apart down both sides of the uncovered pastry. Brush the pastry with egg. Fold the top and bottom part of pastry neatly over the meat. Take the first strip of pastry from left hand side and fold it over the meat and then take the top strip from the right and fold that over the top.

Repeat this process working your way down the rest of the strips overlapping each one as neatly as possible. Take a look at this video if your slightly confused by my directions! Brush the finished plait with the beaten egg.
Transfer to a baking tray and cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Turn the temperature down when it reaches a nice golden colour.

For the Creamed Leeks
4-5 Leeks
1 tbsp Flour
1 tbsp Butter
150g Cheddar, grated

Place the leeks in a saucepan and pour over enough milk and water (at the ratio 2:1) to cover them. Bring to the boil and cook until just tender. Drain the leeks in a sieve over a measuring jug and set the leeks aside, covered with a tea towel to stay warm.

Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and whisk in the flour and butter until the mixture thickens. Stir in the grated cheese. Place the leeks back in the pan, stir, and cook for a few minutes to heat them through.