Creamy Polenta Tarts

Girl in a food frenzy

There’s an amazing little place where I often go for a little high tea with my friends. One of my favorite things they serve, is the petit polenta tarts, which are literally no larger than the size of a tablespoon (and that’s being generous.)

In an effort to recreate these tarts and make them (ahem) more suitable for a luncheon, I’ve inevitably gone a little OTT (over the top) and decided to share my results with you. It’s the really delicious combination of the creamy polenta tinged with parmesan and the crisp crust of the pastry that gets me every time…

Time: approx 45 mins

Ingredients:
1 cup of polenta,
1 cup of milk,
Generous knob of butter,
Fresh grated Parmesan, (a small handful will suffice)
Olive oil,
Salt and pepper,
Boiled Water from kettle,
2 x sheets puff pastry (cold please)
4 x bambino bocconcini balls, (baby mozzarella)
Salad or garnish to serve (I’ve used watercress)

Method:
Combine polenta, 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt, in a pan

Simmer on a low heat, stirring continuously for a few minutes.

Add the milk and butter again stirring to combine, continue cooking for about five minutes until the grains become smooth and creamy.

When the mixture begins to bubble up again, add a splash more of the boiled water. Finally stir in the pepper, plus grated Parmesan and turn off the heat.

It will be a fairly substantial amount you make (remainder can be used in place of mash or set in a cold container and served in slices)

As the polenta cools, lightly grease a pan/tray and lay the two pastry sheets over the top of each other at the diagonal, (I like to drizzle a little more olive oil between the layers.) Also get the oven going to 200C (392F)

Spoon the polenta into the centre of the cold pastry, when the (semi warm) mixture hits the pastry it should start to congeal and set.

Now begin to fold the edges of the tart, spread the polenta mixture to cover the base and crimp with a fork to decorate the sides,

I like to add some fresh mozzarella at this stage, you can omit or (freely) add any other variety of cheese. I think that Blue cheese would also be superb.

Finally, bake in the oven for 20 mins or so. Once time is up, rest in the oven for another 5 mins. Cut and serve with a suitable garnish or salad, enjoy!

 

The Sunday Roast…recipe for 8hr roast lamb

The Sunday roast is a tradition in many homes. It’s a special occasion dish which requires a good few hours to bring together and it’s equally satisfying to eat as it can take any number of hours to enjoy. How fortunate that I didn’t have anywhere to be other than my kitchen, with a (gloomy overcast day) and a fridge stocked full of delicious contents waiting to be turned into a feast!!! This was partly due to (and thanks) to my friend who I bribed with a bottle of wine to drive me to the shops! Thank you friend!!!

As I’ve tried to perfect this recipe over the last few years, it’s always been a balance of the liquids which ultimately lead to my success. Outlined below is a step by step thought process which indicates the when, where and the what which leads to what I believe is a beautiful, meltingly tender piece of meat which falls off the bone. You can add or omit the ingredients below to suit your needs, or indeed pantry…Happy Cooking!

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Slow cooked 8 hr lamb on Girl in a food frenzy.

Ingredients:
Lamb leg, best left with Shank on,
1 garlic bulb,
3 small brown onions,
Olive oil,
Good handful of Rosemary,
a few Bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Garnish of Assorted herbs to finish the Lamb, I’ve used Thyme, parsley & coriander,
Freshly boiled Water (as needed.)
**Optional glug of red wine**

Puy Lentils & braised fennel are also terrific in the braise.

You’ll also need a Shallow roasting pan,

Time: 6- 8 hours approx depending on your oven temp…this also includes your resting time too.

Method:
Firstly, bring the Lamb Leg to room temperature, for a good hour (at least).

15 mins before that hour is up, preheat the oven to 220C (428F)

Oil a shallow roasting tray and cut the garlic and onions width ways. Add the lamb leg (skin side up) and season with the salt & pepper, generously. Also you can arrange the Rosemary and tuck some bay leaves around the lamb.

I add approximately 1.5 cups of water at this stage and place the lamb in the centre rack of the oven for at least 35 mins, optional add a glug of red wine if you like.

After the first 30 mins are up, spoon some of the juices over the lamb leg.

Reduce temperature to approx 180C (356 F) and now begins the slow cook.

For the next hour & a half monitor the lamb, (basting) the juices over the meat if it begins to look too dry, (alternatively cover with aluminium foil too,)

Once the hour and half are up, check the lamb and (carefully) turn the leg over so the bottom is now up and vice versa. Add another 2 cups of water, as hopefully the stock begins to concentrate and caramelise. You can also begin to mush some of the (softened) garlic and onion over the skin to impart even more flavour.

Reduce the oven temp to 140C (284F)

Continue cooking for another two hours (basting again) and after the two hours are up turn the meat right way up again. It should now be a deep, dark hue all over.

Time to add another glug of wine (and) another cup of water. My oven tends to evaporate the steam off rather quickly, so what I’m doing is replacing the liquids lost so the meat is continuously soaking up the moisture and (becoming softer and pliable.)

This process can take anywhere from 6-8hrs and eventually you’ll see the meat shrink right down and expose the bone.

After the first 6 hours or so the roast should be a deep colour. At this point if you plan to eat (in the next hour or so) you can turn the oven off and leave the roast in the residual heat to continue cooking. I might do this for up to an hour and a half.

Without a doubt, any resting time will help to improve the texture of the meat.

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Lentils & Lamb, another great combination,

Finally remove the pan from the oven, mush some more garlic and onion over the lamb. You can begin to shred a few pieces away from the bone (which hopefully melt under the tongs) and finish the dish with your herbs and choice of sides.

Quesadilla to go please…

It was another of those frenzied days, home late the night before, up early, out for most of the day, back to bed and then out early again. I also had to put in 8 hours of school (funny enough) so my kitchen at home hasn’t exactly been my first priority in the last 24 hrs.

Irony being, I did make some very yummo contributions in my student cheffing hours. Aside from more precision cuts with a myriad of vegetables, we got busy filleting some Whiting (fish) pin boning and plating up. That was also a slightly frenzied task as we were given a whole 20 minutes!!! to get the job done & a beurre noisette (with sides which we’d previously made-whew!)

So the lazy option it is. I’ve made these cheesy quesadilla’s at lightning speed with all the yumminess I can muster from the fridge. A handful of spinach here, corn shucked from there and an all too generous sprinkling of cheese and I’m ready to go… Now, where’s that beer…

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What can I say, where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Eton messing about!

Love a big mess!!! An Eton mess that is!

There’s nothing simpler than fluffy clouds of cream, berries (blue in my case) some store bought meringue (crumbled just so) and zingy passionfruit. There might not be much time in the kitchen tonight but it doesn’t mean you have to go without :)

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Crisp Chocolate Cookie thins.

Chocolate goodness and a crisp buttery crumb! That’s how I describe these ultra crisp chocolate thins. They’re almost like a chocolate tuile with as much chocolate chips as you can get into the delicious batter and may I just add that once you’ve had one, it’ll never be enough!

Enjoy!

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Buttery crumbs, laced with chocolate…want more, read on…

Time 0:45-50 approx

Ingredients:
150g salted butter (softened please)
1.5 Tbsp oil (I used peanut)
1 cup caster sugar
1 large egg,
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 Tsp of baking powder
1 Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 cup of mixed Choccy bits, white choc buttons, dark choc chips! Go wild!!!

Baking trays, Greaseproof paper, large mixing bowl, cling wrap,

Method:

Combine butter and sugar in large bowl. Cream together until light and fluffy

Combine egg and oil with the mixture until it becomes smooth and silky.

Add the flour, baking powder, cocoa and all that chocolate goodness (yum!)

Combine to make a light sticky dough (these will be drop cookies so the texture will be buttery and crisp in the end)

Cover bowl with cling film and leave to rest in the bottom shelf of fridge for 30mins. Preheat the oven to 180C or (350F) You can prepare the cookie trays and greaseproof paper too at this stage. Also get a couple of teaspoons handy at the ready for the drop mixture.

When the dough has rested sufficiently, drop a spoonful of the mixture onto the tray at intervals, allow room for them to spread out, (because) this recipe will make some monsters (ie sizes)

Bake for 8-10 minutes, making sure to alternate the trays every few minutes to get even colour on all your trays. They will be super soft when you first remove them so (very gently) transfer to a wire rack and rest for 10 more minutes if you can.

Finally, get an ice cold glass of milk and prepare to devour…

Summer Days…& green pea pesto

Yesterday I spent my summers day indoors, doing precision cuts in culinary class. I Julienne, Jardienere, Macedone and Brunoise my vegetables until I had some perfect (and some not so perfect) delicate specimens. I’d never thought these possible, whilst yielding a gigantic Cook’s knife, but possible they were.

In lieu of that, I decided today’s lunch would definitely be frenzy free. The kind of lunch you wash, chop and blitz to yumminess. No I didn’t make soup, but Pea Pesto is not far behind it. With some Roquette, Chorizo, Golden Potatoes and Ricotta it was the nearly perfect, summers day dish…

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Pea pesto, or a very fancy kinda mushy pea…

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Ingredients: makes approx 1.5 cups or so,

1 cup of peas (I’ve used frozen,)
Handful of Basil,
Few sprigs of Thyme,
Few sprigs of Parsley,
2 tbsp Parmesan grated,
Salt & Pepper to taste
3 tbsp Olive oil – approx
Freshly boiled water.
Handful of ricotta (optional)

Simply blanch the Peas in hot water for 10-15 seconds. Refresh under cold water and place in (food processor) or mortar & pestle.

Add the herbs and pulse/grind gently to bring the mixture together. (Very important, don’t mush too far as you want to retain some shape of the actual peas!)

Drizzle in olive oil till it emulsifies and finally season with salt and pepper to taste. As a finishing touch add some ricotta (if you like.)

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24 Hour Party Biga

I like bread…

Well understatement I love bread and I have a secret love affair with my 24 hr Biga starter which will pretty much come up with the goods, all the time! It’s always satisfying to know how wholesome home made bread can be. Sure, without the additives and extra sugar, salt, fat etc it’s not going to last a week like commercial loaves, but seriously, (if it’s that good, do you really think it’ll last a whole week without being devoured!)

Allowing the Bread starter to rise for the 24 hours means the bread can form it’s structure properly. Really, it’s like a little party for all that doughy goodness…

Omit the sugar in lieu for a scented honey base. With the tiniest pinch of salt and a mix of part semolina & plain flour to give an amazing crust (see my earlier post of Sicilian Semolina rolls with burnt orange.)

All that finishes the loaves is a final swish of olive oil to aid the dough and seriously, I’ve had friends who tried this bread simply with fresh tomatoes and anchovies and they didn’t even miss the butter…

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This process of creating a bread with a Biga starter is derived from Italian bread techniques. My methods have been tweaked and it takes approx 16-24 hrs to create a firm bread, with chewy dense holes and a (not quite) sourdough texture.

I’ve revisited this recipe twice (this week) and made 4 successful loaves from it, of course if you have any concerns or questions don’t hesitate to ask.

Time: approx 24 hrs, best to start the night before…

Yield: 2 x Loaves

Ingredients:

2.5 cups of plain flour (plus extra for sprinkling)
1 cup Semolina,
1 tbsp dried yeast,
3 heaped tbsp of honey (extra required if you prefer a strong honey scent)
Pinch of salt,
1-1.5 cups of warm water (gradually add as required)
Small Glug of Olive oil for the dough and the outside of that bowl.

Method:

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine honey, warm water and add in a well. The batter will be incredibly runny, don’t worry as this allows the yeast particles to move more freely (to create a little party in the dough.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave on the bottom shelf of the fridge overnight or 8 hrs at least.

After the overnight rest period, it should have risen slowly but steadily. Divide the Biga mixture into another bowl. You should now have two equal portions. Begin to stir the mixture down with some Semolina (or plain flour if you prefer) to each batch, bit by bit, the dough will slowly become smooth.

Also add a quick glug of olive oil to the bowl to (stop) the dough from clinging to the sides of the bowls.

Next step, add a bit more honey in a swirl to refeed the flour/yeast cells. If you find the mixture a bit flat, stir in a sprinkle of dried yeast, few drops of warm water and then the honey. The dough should feel light, fluffy but still be sticky.

Ok, back into the fridge with the bowls, again on the lower shelf. This next rise might take 6-8 hours or so.

Time to preheat the oven to 200C (approx 392F.) Oil two pans or baking trays, (I prefer a heavy base pan because I find it gives a much better crust.) Also, sprinkle them with semolina (or more flour.)

Begin to shape your loaves, I’ve chosen a classic round and a (ciabatta style) slipper loaf shape. I always score the top with a very wet and sharp knife, with a cross section or in lines running horizontal along the loaf.

Rest the loaves anywhere from (30 mins to an hour,) once you’re happy with the final rise and the volume, dust with semolina or flour (or both) and reduce the oven to 180C (356F).

Bake for 25-35 mins and check within the last 20 mins, swapping the shelves if required.

A tried and true method after baking, is to turn off the oven & leave the door ajar with the loaves (drying on a rack.) This will force the last bit of steam out of the loaves and gives an amazing density to the crust. You can stick a wooden spoon in between the handle & door to keep it open too (maybe for a couple of hours or overnight depending on how hungry you’re getting!!!) Enjoy!