13:16 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lemon Tart

Some people are pudding people. The type that can eat a huge meal and still fall upon a plate of their preferred sweet thing with unrestrained passion. I know trifle people, tiramasu people, chocolate brownie people. As a general rule I am not really a pudding person, I normally prefer cheese or a square or two of dark chocolate. This is because I am so greedy that I often eat myself into an uncomfortable food coma when offered too many courses. The exception is lemon desserts. I appear, I now know, to be a a lemon person. Something lemony manages to cut through a big, rich meal and somehow take the edge off the over-full feeling. That's quite clever considering that you're eating more.

This is Heston Blumenthal's lemon tart recipe, recently featured in his Waitrose campaign and currently causing a big lemony argument all over the internet. People have not been happy with this recipe. Apparently there are typos in the recipe itself, the texture of the pie filling is wrong, it doesn't set and leaks all over their fridge and it isn't even really a lemon tart at all.

Hold up. I LOVED this recipe. What's the fuss about? The biggest gripe was the stirring bit. You're supposed to stir the filling for 15-20 mins over a medium heat, not boiling, and then allow to simmer for 5 seconds. My fellow tart makers say this must be a typo, it's not nearly enough time and that's why the filling doesn't set, etc. I think this is the perfect point to illustrate just how hard it is to write recipes, and why you really should get a little more involved with your cooking as opposed to just following a recipe blindly. Right, listen here: You don't want the filling to simmer for too long because the eggs will cook, but you do want your filling to thicken a little, else of course it won't set. So let it simmer for 5 seconds. Is it thicker? No? Let it simmer just a little longer until it thickens slightly. Mine took 20 seconds. I guess it will take less time if you're cooking on gas and longer if, like me, your hobs are electric. Also, bear in mind that this is really a lemon curd tart. It doesn't have a hard set, but it should set enough not to run out of the case completely when you cut a slice.

It isn't a traditional lemon tart, But it is delicious, light and dare I say a little more interesting than the traditional version. Easier too. It's lovely, summery, and seriously lemony but still sweet enough. Here's the recipe, not quite as written by Waitrose.

Heston's Lemon Tart

What You Need:

Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 3-4 lemons, to make 150ml
170g butter (sweet, unsalted) cubed.
4 large or 5 medium eggs, beaten.
I egg yolk
220g caster sugar. The recipe states unrefined, but I only had normal and it was fine.
375g defrosted shortcrust cheats pastry. I used jus-rol, it is my saviour.
Cream to serve I think, and maybe a few raspberries.

What You Do:

Don't juice your lemons before zesting, will you? Silly person. Zest, then rub them around on a hard surface to make them give up more juice. Juice the lemons into a jug, then sieve into a bowl to get rid of any pith and stray pips.

Get a fairly decent sized saucepan, and heat the lemon juice, zest, butter, sugar and eggs (including the single yolk) over a medium heat for 15-20 mins. Stir constantly, allowing the butter to melt and the sugar to dissolve. Don't allow to boil. Stirring isn't so bad. Put the radio on, enjoy the smell of the lemons and allow yourself to be soothed. Turn the heat up just a little, and while still stirring, allow to simmer. Watch carefully, take it off the heat as soon as it begins to thicken slightly, 5-20 secs should do it. Pass the mix through a fine sieve into a bowl, and cover with cling film to stop a skin forming. Pop in the fridge for half an hour-ish. ( I promise it won't be a problem if it hangs around in the cold for an hour while you deal with the pastry).

Preheat your oven, 180c, gas 4. Roll out the pastry between two bits of clingfilm, nice and thin, about 2mm but not so thin it has holes in or it will leak all over your fridge, won't it? Using the rolling pin, wrestle your pastry over a 23cm fluted tart tin and push in to fit the edges. Trim off a bit, but not all of the over hang, you need to accommodate shrinkage in the oven. Prick the the pastry bottom with a fork a few times, then cover with parchment and put a handful of baking beans or coins on top. Chuck into the oven and leave well alone for 20 mins. Remove the parchment and return to the oven for another 10 mins. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool before running a knife around the overhang and very, very gently easing it out of it's tin. Pop it on your serving plate and pour in the lemon filling before returning the whole thing to the fridge, again covered in clingfilm to stop a skin forming. I left mine for hours, the recipe says 2 but I doubt it would set well enough in that time unless your fridge is super cold. I'm not upset about that really, I just think of it as a dessert that I can easily make a day or two in advance.

Serve cold, with cream and maybe raspberries or blueberries. It is soooo good.

PS: No picture, sorry. My camera ran out of batteries, and when I suggested that we wait to eat the tart while my camera charged a bit, I was given murderous looks. I can tell you that it was a bit scruffy, but well set and very delicious.

18:04 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Peach Jam makes Peach Jam

It had to be done... It's August, and peaches are ripe and perfect. I've never made jam before, but it seemed fitting that my first attempt should reflect the name of this blog, and the reasons behind it.

Last summer, Steviant and I celebrated 6 years together in Portugal. The Portuguese understand fruit. The peaches particularly are beautiful, velvety globes heavy with nectar and without a doubt the best I've eaten. A street juice bar will blend them for you as you wait, and serve the pulpy juice unadorned in a tall, cold glass. Simple perfection on a hot, humid day.

Our hotel served famously bad breakfasts. It's saving grace was the peach jam. I can't give the hotel credit for it really, as it came in little single servings bought in from elsewhere, but it was my first taste of the stuff and gave me one of those perfect food moments. Tony Bourdain sums up this phenomenon in his fantastic book 'A Cook's Tour'. He puts it down to several contributing factors - food, yes, but also the setting, the company, the promise of what is yet to come. A sort of backwards nostalgia, then. His examples; champagne on a woman's lips, a single wild strawberry, or your grandmothers lasagane, show the simplicity of food that can be transportive. He states wryly that; "No one remembers their best meal ever as being consumed jacketed and tied, in a starched dress shirt, sitting bolt upright in a four-star restaurant."

I think he's right, and that's why I thank that crummy Portuguese hotel for giving me a single perfect food moment, a honeyed, sunset pink morsel atop a stale croissant. The taste of peach jam will forever be connected to gleaming hot days, blue skies and seas, and a picture-perfect week with my favorite person. It reminds me of every other delicious thing I ate and drank on that holiday. It tastes of being in love and of new beginnings.

It was these romantic and rose-tinted notions that decided it, Steviant and I will be celebrating 7 years very soon, and come what may, we will have peach jam for breakfast again!

There is absolutely nothing romantic about jam making. You can rid yourselves of the images of plump, serene women stirring their cauldrons full of syrupy fruit, honeyed wafts floating enticingly through a sunny kitchen. Jam making is boring. It is hot. It is surprisingly dangerous. It is an enormous undertaking for a very small reward (Two tiny jars to be exact). These are things we do in the name of love.

My jam bears little resemblance to the pinky-peachy Portuguese jam. As you can see, it's very dark. While researching I found that peaches are very low in pectin, which is what causes a jam to set. Because it was my first attempt, I cheated a little and used jam sugar, which contains pectin. It also makes your jam very dark, I guess this is fine if you're making strawberry or plum, next time I'll try without to attain that beautiful sunrise colour I remember. I discovered that another contributing factor to darkening in jam is the froth that forms as you cook the fruit. You're supposed to skim it off. My frothed a little, but not nearly enough to skim. Perhaps I stirred too much, or had too little fruit in too big a container.

If you are brave and want to attempt a peach jam of your own, I can offer a few guidelines here. I'm not going to give you a proper recipe, as I don't think mine is good enough, but the basic premise is this:

It's all about ratio. Allow half as much sugar as fruit. Get the ripest peaches you can find. You're preserving their flavour, so you want it to be good to start with. Some lemon juice will help it set (About one lemons worth per pound of fruit) I also added a little good-quality vanilla extract, as I am aware of the difference between the peaches available to me in this country, compared to the super-fresh Portuguese kind. I thought vanilla would help bring out the honey character that my peaches lost in their journey from Italy to my fruit bowl.

Peel and chop your peaches into little chunks, mix with the sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit, covered, for 2 hours. Then chuck the mixture into a big, metal preserving pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vanilla if you're using it, and then up the heat to a rolling boil. Allow the jam to boil for about 15-20 mins, stirring regularly to prevent it from catching. to test, put a little bit of jam on a saucer and pop in the fridge for a minute or so and then remove. Push it gently with the tip of your finger. Your looking for it to wrinkle slightly, if it just slides, allow it to cook a little longer to achieve it's set.

When your jam has achieved set, you need to decant it into hot sterilised jars. To sterilise, wash your jars with hot soapy water and rinse. Then fill them right to the brim with boiling water and allow to cool slightly. Empty the water and 'dry' the jars in a warmish oven until you're ready for them. They must be hot when the jam goes in. Once you have wrestled your jam into jars, push a wax circle right down onto the the jam to seal and add a lid or cover and label. You're done!

I haven't tried my jam yet, as it must cool before eating. I understand my jam is unlikely to transport me back to sunny Portugal, but I'm looking forward to another food moment. A celebratory Sunday morning breakfast in bed with Steviant, with hot coffee and my dark, rich and very British looking jam on a warm, fresh croissant. The beautiful thing about cooking for someone who loves you, is that they will smile and eat it even if it isn't that fantastic. Next year I will try again, and we will eat slightly better jam for breakfast. Failing that, there's always Portugal. Happy anniversary Steviant.

14:29 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Lamb Tagine

This recipe is gorgeous. It's one of the few things I cook that regularly provokes "restaurant quality" type comments, which are very flattering to the old ego, especially since this is so easy a chimp could make it.
It's my forever-recipe for tagine. I adore it. The discovery of Ras el hanout spice mix is what makes it, as well as keeping it simple and not chucking in carrots and pomegranates and stuff just because that's what Gordon does. Ras el hanout is a Moroccan style spice mix and a real find. It's a mix of spices like cinnamon, clove, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, pepper, cumin and coriander. You could make your own, or use the Barts spice mix, which I use here. I am so impressed with the Barts version. It also contains ginger, paprika and rose petals making it beautifully fragrant. It gives a tagine or marinade a real depth and gloss.

For four, you'll need:

2 tbsp olive or grape seed oil
500g lean, diced lamb. Leg or neck for preference
1 chopped white onion
2 chopped garlic cloves
2 tbsp Ras el hanout spice mix
400g can chopped tomatoes
200g dried apricots
600ml chicken stock

Lamb Tagine:

Get your oven on high, about 180c/160 fan or gas 4. Then add the oil to a large casserole dish and brown the lamb on all sides. Remove to a plate and add the onions to the casserole, frying until lightly coloured. Add the garlic and cook until you can smell it, before stirring in the spices and tomatoes.

Add the lamb back to the casserole with the apricots (halve these if you prefer) Pour over the stock and bring to a simmer.
Now, at this point you can cover your casserole and pop in the oven, or remove it to a Tagine first, if you're lucky enough to have one. I have a sort-of version. It's terracotta and has a spout for steam so it works in a similar way. I'm entranced by it, so would recommend using your tagine if you have one stashed away somewhere. Either way, chuck it in the oven and leave well alone for one hour. Then you can check it, allowing 20 mins more if the lamb is still a bit tough. Make some couscous while you're waiting and then tuck in.

This is even better re-heated the next day with a warm seeded roll for dunking. Beautiful!

11:52 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category

Chambord French Martini

Delicious and dangerous.

To make four servings from a shaker:

6oz Russian Standard vodka
1oz Chambord raspberry liqueur
1oz Pineapple juice

Add to a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Shake well until condensation forms on the outside of your shaker. Strain into martini glasses with sugared rims and add a raspberry or a twist of lemon peel to each. Sip, and pretend you are Audrey Tautou.