Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pear & Chocolate Tart

While the ins and outs of my day job are fairly far removed from my passion for cooking and my home life, I am not the only food obsessive I have come across in the private security sector.  One of my immediate colleagues (and expert in Middle East Security) hails from the Isle of Mull where his family run the local chocolate shop; another, a former member of the SAS, runs a gastro pub when not deployed on deeds of daring do; and my director of kidnap response (formerly of the CIA) first communication with me was to send a booklet on where to get a good steak in Scotland – the cheek of it! Indeed, food is such a morale booster for my colleagues deployed to places such as Baghdad and Kabul that we now employ local chefs at our compounds in both cities, and reports suggest that the food is excellent. I hope to share some authentic recipes with you soon.
Anyway, over the last few years I have witnessed a pattern emerge and it transpires that the busier I am at work, the more I hit the kitchen in an attempt to transport myself back to mummy mode. The result is a steady stream of cakes into the office for my colleagues to taste; a small apology to those who have to work with me during such times! The good side of this is that the tireless consumption of cakes and bakes by my workmates has proven very helpful for the development of my recipes.  Unfortunately, as I’m currently on maternity leave my usual audience for trying new “fancy pieces” is unavailable. Today’s recipe fell on my husband and one of my best friends to try.  They approved.
Today’s recipe: Pear and Chocolate Tart
Although not seasonal, my eldest daughter’s declaration that she liked pears (a fruit – woo hoo!) sent me running to the shops to buy some, whereupon she declared that she only liked pears at nursery, not at home (Agghh).  After a few days of looking at a fruit bowl full of pears, combined with my Aberdonian hatred of waste, I felt the need to do something with this glut of imported fruit. Inspired by Rose Prince’s recipe for a quick apple tart in her fabulous book Kitchenella, I thought I’d try something similar with pears... and chocolate!

500g slab of ready made puff pastry
6 Pears
15g dark chocolate chips
3 tablespoons apricot jam
1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 220 oC (200 oC fan). 
Thoroughly grease or line a large baking tray – I use my grill pan as it is the perfect size.
Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle and transfer to the baking tray.  Pierce the pastry base all over with a fork to prevent it bubbling up when cooking.
Peel and core the pears and slice them thinly.  Place them on the pastry sheet, overlapping them to cover all but approximately 1cm around the edge of the pastry base.
Scatter the chocolate chips over the pears and put the tart in the oven until the edges of the pastry are golden brown and the pears are slightly singed at the edges.
To glaze, melt the apricot jam and water together, strain and, using a pastry brush, paste the border and entire surface of the tart with the apricot glaze.
This is delicious served warm with a good vanilla ice cream, or as I discovered to the detriment of my post-baby weight loss plan, just sliced and served patisserie style, cold and unaccompanied.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Well, here I am sitting in hospital, having gone into labour early and having our little boy four weeks before his due date, and three weeks before my scheduled caesarean!  Unfortunately, after a few days in neonatal and a couple at home, we are in the sick children’s hospital as my wee man has a chest infection!   I’m so looking forward to getting home with my boy to my girls and to some decent food!
My husband has brought me my notes from home and I thought I’d take the opportunity of being cooped up in an isolation ward with my darling boy to post another recipe.
This time a North African recipe for a lovely cooked aubergine salad called Zalouk.    Although having spent some time in the Middle East and North Africa both with work and for pleasure, this is more of a culmination of attempts to recreate flavours experienced both there and in one of my favourite North African restaurants in London.  For those of you from the region, please don’t take offence at my deviation from tradition, but hope you will agree this is a tasty version.
Serve Zalouk warm with pitta as a starter or dip when entertaining – yum (much better than the macaroni and cheese with boiled, cubed mixed veg I was just served here in the hospital!)
1 large (or two small) aubergine
3-4 tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons of parsley
1 medium chilli (deseeded) or 1 teaspoon lazy chilli
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
60ml olive oil
80 ml water
This is really simple but very tasty! 
Peel and dice the aubergine and peel and deseed the tomatoes (and chilli if using).  Put all the ingredients into a food processor (I use a magimix) and blend together.   Add an extra splash of olive oil to a deep pan and add the blended mixture to the pan.  Simmer the mixture over a medium heat for around half an hour ensuring the pan is covered.  Stir occasionally and season.  Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes until there are no liquids remaining.
I often serve this with warmed pitta as a starter before a main of my lamb and prune tagine – the recipe for which will follow on a later post.
My first post – I can’t believe I have actually done it!
I spent most of my last maternity leave in Florence, Italy where my husband was conducting research at the European University Institute in Florence.  Somewhat ridiculously in hindsight, my daughters and I travelled out to join my him when my youngest daughter was only four weeks old.
One of my favourite foods ever, is one of the simplest staples of life in Florence and Italy in general – Foccacia.
A daily staple, I bought this from the local pizzicheria  -  a deli selling cheese and cooked meats but also home made pasta, sauces and anti pasta.  Back in Aberdeen, however, good focaccia is not easy to come by.  My cravings for this glorious salty, oily, chewy bread only increased with pregnancy.  I made my own...
Focaccia all’olio
500g 00 flour
2 Tablespoons of olive oil & extra to drizzle
7g sachet instant yeast
300ml lukewarm water
Pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons cooking salt
Sea salt to top
To a wide bowl, add the flour and 2 teaspoons of cooking salt.  Add the sachet of yeast and stir in with your hands or a fork. 
Add the two tablespoons of olive oil bringing the mix together and add the 300ml of water. Knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.  You can add more water and flour if necessary.  (I usually keep a little of extra at my side as you will inevitably need one or the other.)
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for about 90 minutes (I use the airing cupboard)  – it should double in size.
While this is happening lightly grease a large baking tray with some olive oil.  I actually use my grill pan as this is the perfect size for a loaf – approximately 30 x 40 cm.
Transfer the dough to the baking tray and spread it out with your fingers.  Gently rub some olive oil over the dough and sprinkle with sea salt.  Cover again and put it back in its warm place for another half hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 200oC (180oC fan).
Drizzle a little more olive oil and salt over the dough  and bake for 30 minutes or until crusty and lovely and golden.  You can also sprinkle with dry or fresh rosemary just prior to baking or even add some finely sliced onion at the second rising stage. I love it simply with the salt and oil.
Amazing eaten with extra virgin olive oil and a good balsamic or make a sandwich with a good prosciutto cotto and cheese!
Note: for those of you from the Aberdeen area – when in Italy, I missed rowies (butteries) a lot and this bread was the nearest thing to this Aberdonian delicacy.  In fact, now back in Aberdeen my eldest daughter calls rowies – “Aberdeen Focaccia”

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