Tag Archives: Foodie Penpals

Thinking Outside the Box

Foodie Penpals Parcel October

Brain Box

It’s Foodie Penpals time again. This will be my last box for a little while, but I look forward to joining in again in the New Year. I will continue to look around for other people’s updates, and blog posts. I really enjoy the scheme, and getting a box of food is like a little Christmas each month. And I have “met” some lovely people too. As always, thanks to Carol Ann of Rock Salt, who organises this so well each month Europe.

This month, I was paired with two readers again. I sent a parcel to Kelly, but unfortunately her parcel seems to be languishing in the sorting office. We are trying to sort this out now, and I hope that she will soon be able to do a guest post about her parcel. As usual, I sent her a few typically Dutch items, so I hope that she likes them, when they eventually get delivered!

I received my parcel this month from Ruth. She is a busy student, so it was especially nice for her to take time out of her first week back at uni to get me some things. Ruth was thinking outside the box both in the fact that some of the items were not edible (though still very much food related), and because this month, I didn’t get a box, but the items came in a bubble wrap bag. Great idea, and it should save a bit in postage. Of course, I have popped all the bubbles saved the bag for another  occasion. Ahem!

Mini Tabasco

Teeny Tabasco

Ruth sent me some really cool things. Not least of which were these cute little Tabasco bottles. They stand about 3 cm tall, but of course, they punch far above their weight in the flavour department. Tabasco with cheese on toast is A Thing, you know.

Rococo Bee Bar Organic Milk Chocolate

A Treat for Me and The Bees

This is a lovely little sweet treat. Apparently, they are called Bee Bars because Rococo uses a bee pattern on their chocolate moulds. I am an inveterate nibbler of chocolate, and can happily make a bar last a month. Much to the Big Guy’s consternation. He feels that chocolate should be consumed all at once. I have hidden this, so I can nibble in peace.

Seaweed Snack

A Crisp Alternative

I received some healthy snacks. I think that Ruth has been reading my latest efforts to eat better, but with lower calories. These Seaweed thins fit the bill perfectly, especially for those times when you know that only a salty snack will do.

Fruit Snacks

Fruit Fooled

In keeping with the healthy theme, I also got some fruit leather and flavoured raisins. I suppose that these are the same as soaking rum in raisins, or similar. I am looking forward to adding the pineapple raisins to my next batch of muesli. I think the orange ones will go well in mince pies and has given me an idea for a slightly different mincemeat, so I may do a little bit of experimenting, so that I have some ready for my annual mince pie and mulled wine party.

Sparklers, Stencils, Spatula

Fun with Food

Last, but not least, I also got some cake sparklers, and a packet of Christmas stencils, both of which will also be a big hit at the mince pie party. And this lovely little gingerbread spatula. It is traditional at this time of year to make parkin, especially for Bonfire Night. We don’t get a Bonfire Night over here, but there is definitely something about autumn that makes you crave ginger and warmer spices. I have a parkin in a tin, developing that lovely sticky richness. Now I am inspired to make some ginger bread biscuits too.

Thanks again Ruth, a really good parcel, and one from which I have also got a bit of inspiration.

Do you fancy joining in? It’s fun, and interesting to see other people’s choices of food.If you do fancy it, here are a few details:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily
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A Box Where Sweets Compacted Lie

Foodie Penpal August

Choc Full

“Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,

A box, where sweets compacted lie”

From Vertue by George Herbert

I thought that the title this month was appropriate for both the parcel that I sent, and the one that I received, as you can see from the photo above, which was jam-packed with goodies, and a recipe for a sweet treat!

This month, I was matched with Emma, and was to receive a parcel from Abbie, neither of whom have a blog (…yet, I believe at least one of them will be joining us soon 🙂 ), but you can go and check out Emma’s gorgeous cakey Facebook page, and you can see what amazing things Abbie has found on Twitter.

Contents of August Foodie Parcel

A Box of Sweets, Unconsolidated

Abbie was very clever with her box, as well as stuffing it to the gills. And it arrived in 3 days between her tweeting to say she’d sent it, and me receiving it. This is an absolute record.

Swedish Biscuits, Manuka Honey, Butterscothch Chocolate

Some Compacted Sweets

For ages, I was thinking that the chocolate was a new brand called M. I am an idiot, and have just realised that it comes from that famous supermarket. Salted butterscotch chocolate, it is delicious, and you would be right in thinking that I have started this one already.

There is a small pot of manuka honey, which I am dying to try. Abbie also thought of the Big Guy, giving him some Swedish ginger thins. This is the first time we have had something that he can reminisce over, and I think I may not see many of these.

Smoked Maldon Salts, Rice Crackers, Ras El Hanout

Compacted Savouries

This wasn’t just a sweet box, though. I also got savoury goodies. I rubbed the Ras el Hanout on a lamb cutlet, and ate it as part of a meal filled with temptations. The rice crackers will make a great snack, but I have an idea that they will also make a really tasty crust for fish, so I think that will be an experiment that I will be making soon. I have heard of smoked salt, but never tried it. It is actually great, bringing a subtle smokiness to dishes. I am not usually a fan of salting things, but have been getting more into it, as I have had quite a few gifts of salt lately.

Tinkerbell Peppers

A Fairy Plate

It was Abbie who sent me the Tinkerbell peppers. She wrote a little card, to say that she had these every day in Ibiza. This was also the first of two recipes she sent me, along with the ingredients. This is genius, and I wish I’d thought of it myself! Abbie suggested that I grill the peppers, and serve them with a sprinkling of the salt. I took most of her advice, but this is what I did with them in the end.

Rocky Road

Can you Tell What it is Yet?

She also sent me the recipe and ingredients to make up her Guilty Pleasure. She has given me permission to reproduce the recipe on ediblethings, so I will let you know about this next week.

Thank you so much for this parcel Abbie, not only has it been an inspiration for future boxes, and fantastic recipes, but I dread to think how much it must have cost you to post this little treasure trove. I am amazed!

Thanks also to the lovely Carol Anne of This is Rock Salt, who hosts and organises us European penpals. This is no mean feat, I can tell you.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

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Fairies That Can Really Pack A Punch

Marinated Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Fairy Salad

I recently got hold of some small Tinkerbell Peppers, of assorted colours. They are like bell peppers, but smaller. They are officially a dwarf sweet pepper, but it has given me some ideas for what to call those that I grow, which sometimes turn out not to reach their full size!

I jest. I saved the seed, and I’ll be planting some of these to see if I can grow them next year. We’ll see how successful I am. I hope they’re not F1 hybrids.

Tinkerbell Peppers in Perspective

Fairy-Sized

I recommend this variety, they are small, but perfectly formed, and have quite a lot of flesh for such small peppers, and they have much better flavour than the greenhouse varieties that we get from supermarkets. They would be great for stuffing to use as canapés, on the barbecue or even simply in salads.

I always knew I was going to marinate these peppers, which I often do to larger varieties, to serve with homemade burgers and veggie burgers at barbecues. At the moment, I am also trying to find ways of injecting a lot of flavour into salads, without adding too much by way of fat (more on that soon).

I also have some very good smoked Maldon sea salt, which complements the smokiness of the charred peppers perfectly. I usually char the peppers on my hob, but these were tiny little things, and I wanted to add to the salad by charring some ciabatta, so I used my griddle pan. A fairly recently lit barbecue would also be a great way to char the peppers, and the bread can char just before you serve it. The delicate smoke of the salt enhanced the smoky flavour of the peppers.

It struck me that I could use the peppers and the marinade to dress a nice salad. However, the salad would have to stand up to the punchy marinade, so a normal butterhead lettuce wouldn’t cut it (and this would definitely be no place for an Iceberg). I think any of the mustard greens would be suitable, as would watercress, and some of the foraged greens that are abundant at the minute (e.g. wood sorrel, sorrel, fat hen, chickweed). I had rocket, chickweed and parsley in the garden, so I used those. I bulked it up with some baby spinach. The iron and peppery flavours were just what was needed.

I have also found apple mint and sumac great for adding a lot of flavour to salad leaves, without resorting to cheeses and too much dressing.  If you have any other tips for creating good flavours, I’d love to hear them.

This entry is part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where they are currently discussing pests. I know Michelle would love to hear from you if you have anything to add about the bane of slugs or other nuisances.

Recipe: Smoky Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

For the marinated peppers:

5-6 Tinkerbell peppers (or one or two large ones)

A little oil for the griddle pan

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar will work, even balsamic if you have to)

1 clove garlic, very finely sliced

Small pinch of dried chilli flakes

Good pinch of smoked salt (or normal sea salt)

Black pepper to taste

For the salad:

4 thick slices of ciabatta

A little extra virgin olive oil

A bunch of rocket

A large handful of baby spinach

Bunch of chickweed, chopped if the stalks are long

Bunch of parsley, leaves only

¼ cucumber, diced

8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method

Heat a little oil in the griddle pan.

Halve and deseed the peppers. Put skin-side down in the hot pan, and leave until the skin chars and blisters. You may need to press them down a little on the rounded bits to get the skin to char evenly. Don’t worry that the skins go black.

When the skins are blackened and blistered all over, place them in a plastic bag, a bowl covered with cling film, or in an airtight container, and seal. Allow to cool for 5 or so minutes, when you will be able to rub the skins off easily.

In another airtight container mix a dressing of the extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes, the salt and a little pepper. The acidity of a dressing tends to be a matter of taste, so adjust this to your liking.

While the skinned pepper halves are still warm, add them to the marinade, cover, and set aside for a while – at least half an hour – to allow the flavours to mingle. At this stage, you can use the marinade peppers as a side dish or relish too, if you like.

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with some olive oil, and put in the warm griddle pan. You should be able to hear it sizzle, as you put them in. You want a nice striped toast to the bread, so once it is in, resist the temptation to keep moving and checking it.

I used ciabatta rolls, cut in half, so I only toasted the cut side. Leave this for at least 3 minutes, until you can smell the bread toasting. If you are using bread slices, then turn it over, and char the other side, again resisting temptation to move it around. The second side will need slightly less time. Leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile wash the salad leaves and prepare the cucumber and tomatoes. When the bread is ready, dress the salad in the peppers and marinade, tossing to mix it well.

Serve the salad over the toasted bread, and pour over any remaining marinade.

You will have a smoky, hearty salad, that does not leave you wanting. The marinated peppers may have a fairy’s name, but they really do have a giant flavour.

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Very Suisse!

Meringue Suisse

A Swedish Childhood Dessert

As you will know when I got my Foodie Parcel last month, I was very excited to receive a broken meringue as part of a lovely package.  I promised Teresa that I would blog the recipe for Meringue Suisse, which I knew I was going to make as soon as I saw the broken meringue.

This is a dessert that the Big Guy had often in his childhood. In Sweden. I am not really sure where the Swiss thing came from, although I could probably surmise something about Swiss chocolate, or the fact that it resembles the Matterhorn or something.

This time, I made the basic recipe, and used good quality vanilla ice cream from the shop. As with most simple recipes, the better quality the ingredients, the better the final dish will be. Teresa’s meringue and chocolate were both of such quality that I didn’t want to mess around with the recipe too much.

The basic recipe I give here is pretty simple, but you can play around with it, if you like. Try adding soft fruits (the Big Guy’s family add bananas, but I’ll be having none of that!). You can make it fancy by making your own ice cream or meringue, or you could even make praline or do a bit of sugar work. Crumbled amaretti biscuits could also be a very good topping.

What other toppings or additions would you choose?

Recipe: Meringue Suisse

Ingredients

Good quality vanilla ice cream

1-2 tsp slivered almonds

60 g dark chocolate, broken into chunks

15o ml whipping cream (to be used in 2 parts)

Knob of butter

1 meringue, broken into pieces

Method

Remove the ice cream from the freezer, so it can soften to a scoopable consistency.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan. You will need to watch them carefully, and stir them often, as they catch easily. Once they are a nice golden colour on both sides, remove from the pan, to prevent them from cooking any further.

Combine the chocolate, 50 ml of the cream and the butter in a saucepan. Cook over a very low heat until the chocolate has melted. Don’t stir it at this stage.

Meanwhile, whip up the remaining cream to soft peaks.

Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir the sauce well to combine it. It may look a little grainy at first. Don’t worry, keep stirring it and it will become a smooth and glossy sauce. Allow to cool slightly, so that it does not melt the ice cream immediately.

Scoop enough ice cream for two people into a bowl, and combine with the meringue. You will need to have reasonably soft ice cream for this. Put the ice cream and meringue mix into serving bowls and top with the whipped cream.

Pour over the chocolate sauce and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. The chocolate sauce should go a wonderfully fudgey texture when it hits the cold of the ice cream.

This is a very easy dessert, but one that looks and tastes impressive. The only question is how will you top yours?

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Cracked in the Box

Foodie Penpals July Box

A Box of Treats

It’s that time again when I can reveal my matches for Foodie Penpals. I have to say, I really am enjoying this, from deciding what to send out, and trying to make that as tailored as possible to my penpal; to receiving my own box and thinking about some great recipes to make with the contents.

This month, I was matched with Kay at KayTeasCakes and I got a parcel from Teresa from Rockspring Crafts.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I have just heard from Kay that her parcel has not arrived. I am away at the moment, and don’t have a tracking number, although I am trying to sort something out. I am really sorry that there has been this problem for Kay, but if I have to I will recreate her parcel and send it to her as soon as I get home. In the worst case scenario, Kay will get two parcels next month, but I hope that her parcel will arrive soon. Please go and cheer Kay up by marvelling at the beautiful cakes that she makes for her stall in Harringay, or even popping along and buying some if you are in the area.

I was very lucky to be matched with Teresa this month. She was also kind enough to notice that I am an expat, and ask me if there was anything I needed from home. I am really appreciating these offers from my penpals, it is nice that people think that there will be things I am missing.

Teresa sent me a lovely box of goodies, some of which have really got me thinking. She obviously had a good time finding me unique items.  An added bonus is that she is a fellow Westcountry person, so, it has been great to get products from almost home!

Firstly, was a lovely lamb, with garlic, fennel and chilli recipe. I love lamb, and we can get very good Texel lamb here, so I know this is going to be a winner. There was also some pineapple and papaya. I make my own muesli (mostly because too many shop-bought mueslis have unwelcome banana chips in), and this has already featured as a very tasty addition. I am thinking of doing some baked goods with the rest soon. Of course, I shall blog it when I do. Also included was some onion salt. I have never used flavoured salts before, but this is a great addition to salad dressings, and I am sure it will be in many more things to come.

Foodie Penpal Cayenne Pepper and Nutmeg

Spice and More Spice Make all Things Nice

These spices will certainly come in handy. Spices form an essential part of my store cupboard, and I use both cayenne and nutmeg regularly. I have already grated a bit of nutmeg into some rogue nettles that popped up in my broad bean patch. I wasn’t about to let them go to waste, so I cooked them like spinach, and added butter and nutmeg after I had squeezed out all of the moisture. I love this way of eating nettles, and definitely recommend that you give it a go. They are also fantastic as a spinach substitute in curries and greek dishes, like spanakopita.

Foodie Penpals One Shot Garlic and Marmite Cheese

New For Teresa and Me

Teresa says that she enjoys finding a few new items to include in her foodie parcel. This time it was One Shot Garlic and Marmite Cheese. Originally there were three of these moreish little cheeses, but I think everybody gets one item that doesn’t make it as far as the photo, and this may have been mine this time. Ahem!

Foodie Penpals Meringue and Chocolate

The Makings of a Great Dessert

Teresa took a chance and sent me a meringue. Unfortunately, this was the cracked in the box that I refer to in the title. However, I am really pleased, because the two of these ingredients are the basis of a great dessert that I first had in Sweden. It is called Meringue Suisse, and I will make and blog that soon. It requires broken meringue, and I am lazy, so the Foodie Parcel has saved me a job.

A Hand Made Mug Rug

A Hand Made Mug Rug

To help pack things together, Teresa included a mug-rug that she made herself. . I am always in awe of people that can make their own things. I did roughly six weeks of needlework at school, and the teacher made me unpick and re-sew everything that I ever made. I caught her out once, when I just returned to my seat, and didn’t unpick nor re-sew anything, returning for her approval a little later, and she passed it. I found that really discouraging though, and have never attempted to make things with textiles again.

I really love my mug rug. Teresa makes them from scraps leftover from quilting and other projects that you can see on her blog, and of course, I love leftovers! She says that the idea is to have something bigger than a coaster & smaller than a placemat to hold a cuppa with space a couple of biscuits or treats. And look, that is exactly right.

Mug Rug, Tea and Biscuits

My Mug Rug in Action

Thank you so much Teresa, for such lovely treats, and to Carol Anne for organising Foodie Penpals in Europe.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

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Birthday Brownies

Choc and Orange Brownie

A Birthday Treat

The other day was the Big Guy’s birthday. He loves chocolate, and I had some extraordinarily good chocolate with orange pieces that was given to me by my Foodie Penpal. I had been saving that chocolate for a special occasion, and what better than to make a birthday cake?

JD Gross Premium Equador Chocolate

Fit for a Birthday Brownie

I decided that a Brownie would be right up the Big Guy’s street. And that I would use the extraordinarily good chocolate as the chocolate chips inside. I used JD Gross Finest Chocolate Ecuador. It has very good candied orange in it, the pieces are still chewy, and spike the chocolate throughout. I boosted the orangey hit with a tablespoon of marmalade, but you can just use the marmalade if you can’t find the chocolate. Or you could use some chopped candied peel, if you prefer.

The first and last recipe for making brownies that I learned came originally from Nigel Slater. I just adjust the things I add, but always use this method and it has never let me down. If you make this you will understand why I go back to it time after time.

Recipe: Chocolate Orange Brownies

Ingredients

200 g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces

300 g golden, unrefined sugar

250 g butter

3 large eggs, beaten

1 tbsp marmalade

60 g plain Flour

60 g cocoa powder

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

100 g JD Gross Finest chocolate, very roughly chopped

100 g almonds, roughly chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a tin with baking paper. I use my roasting tray for this, and it is the perfect size. A largish square cake tin will also be fine.

Make a bain marie from a saucepan, with a little boiling water in the base (not more than 3 cm deep) and a bowl over the top. Don’t let the water touch the bowl. On a low heat, melt the chocolate in the bain marie. Don’t stir it too much, just let it sit, or you risk it going grainy. If there are floaty lumps of chocolate , just push them under the molten bits, and they’ll soon melt.

While the chocolate melts, start beating the butter and sugar together. I have a hand-held electric whisk. The butter & sugar must be softer than a gentle whisper, so I’d recommend this as a minimum, unless you are Geoff Capes.

What the butter & Sugar should look like for the birthday brownie

Pale and interesting

Keep going until the butter and sugar is almost as pale as consumptive Victorian. Please don’t skimp, because you are incorporating air, and it will help produce the most amazing consistency when you eat it later.

As soon as the chocolate has melted, add the marmalade. Once this has just melted, remove the bowl from the bain marie and leave it aside to cool a little.

If your butter and sugar is not quite ready, go back and whisk it some more. You need it to be almost runny, but not actually runny, there won’t be a lot of air in that, but trust me, you’ll know because it gets very creamy.

Sieve together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. This is also supposed to incorporate air, but I often don’t bother with just flour. I have never tested this, by baking one with and one without sifting, but I also don’t get flat cakes, either. However, when cocoa is involved, I always sift it, because cocoa can get a bit lumpy, and it will make your cake feel gritty, until you bit through a lump and get raw cocoa in your mouth.

Incorporate the beaten egg into the butter and sugar, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well mixed before adding more. You can also increase the speed at which you beat each time you add some egg.

Fold in the melted chocolate, chopped chocolate and nuts, using a metal spoon. You don’t want to knock all the air you took ages adding, so only mix until the moment there is no more pale butter streaks.

Fold in the flour and cocoa, and again, only mix until you see no more flour. Be gentle, this is time spent with your cake batter, not a sprint race.

Pour your batter into the prepared cake tin, and use a spatula to get the sticky bits from the bowl. Or if it is your Big Guy’s birthday, you can also let him take the rest of it with a spoon, or his finger.

Smooth the top of the batter in the tin, and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. The cake will sink slightly in the middle, this is perfectly acceptable (I’m not Mary Berry), and is because of the rich, gooey consistency.

Pierce the centre of the brownies with a skewer. In this recipe, unlike many cakes, you want the skewer to be a bit sticky. It should not have any raw cake mixture on it though. Again, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the difference is obvious. If it is not quite done, bung it back in the oven, but beware that the difference between raw cake mix and sticky is small, so it should take less than 5 minutes, check it after 3.

If you are going to eat this warm, and it really is tempting, leave at least an hour after it comes out of the oven, or it will be too liquid. These brownies solidify a bit as they cool. Divide them into 12 brownies after the hour.

Rich Choc & Orange Brownies

Everything a Good Brownie Should Be

The brownies are gooey and rich as a warm dessert, for sure. But they really are very, very good served cold, because they have that perfect combination of the crisp shell and rich, soft centre, studded with the nuts and chunks of that extraordinary chocolate.

Eat them on their own, if you must, but they are better with cream or a good vanilla ice cream.

These brownies also keep well in an airtight container, and remain moist and fudgey.

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The Queen of Tarts

Asparagus & Lancashire Cheese Tart

The Knave of Hearts, He Stole the Tart

When I got some Lancashire Cheese from my foodie penpal, I knew I had the start of a great dish. When the Big Guy brought home what was likely the last bunch of local asparagus that we will see this season, I knew exactly what that dish would be.

Lancashire cheese and asparagus are a marriage made in heaven. The sharp flavour of the cheese would be perfect to go with the chlorophyll hit that you get from seasonal asparagus. Add to this fresh herbs, and put it in a tart, and you really are onto a winner.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but as well as the negative environmental impact, I think that asparagus that has been flown across the world has lost a lot of it’s green flavour. For these reasons, I won’t buy it. Maybe it is also the anticipation of this short-lived season that makes it taste better,  who knows?

I made my own pastry for this. Any offcuts will freeze well, wrapped in greaseproof paper, or you can be economical with the oven, and make a few jam tarts, or even unseasonal mince pies with the offcuts. This is something that I learned from my mother. We would rarely have a pastry dish without her baking some little sweet treat to use it up.

I used chervil and parsley in this recipe, because I grow them both, and I love chervil. If you have difficulty finding chervil, then you can substitute them both for a good bunch of chopped dill.

This quiche was actually better cold, when the cheese really sang out against the asparagus. Making this dish great for a picnic. You know, for when the summer actually arrives…

Asparagus & Lancahshire Cheese Tart

Forget the Knave, Watch out for Teddy Bears…

Recipe: Asparagus and Lancashire Cheese Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold butter

Pinch of salt (or just use salted butter)

Cold water, less than 30 ml

For the filling: 

1 bunch of asparagus

100 g shelled weight broad beans

8 eggs, beaten

100 ml cream (or milk)

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper (to season egg mix)

100 g Lancashire cheese, grated

Method

Rub butter into flour, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water until it forms a dough. You may not need it all.  It must be cold, not tepid, so it’s best not to measure out the water and let it sit while you rub in the butter. When it has formed a dough, you don’t want to work this too hard, so just shape it into a ball.

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, foil or a plastic bag, and put in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.

Arrange the asparagus. First, snap off the woody bit at the end of the stem. The point at which it breaks naturally will be where the tender, edible part of the stem starts. This will vary according to how long the asparagus has been cut. Don’t discard these  tough ends, they make a great soup.

Arranging the asparagus spears

Power Arrangement

Cut the asparagus stems to size so that you can arrange them in a wheel around your flan dish. Cook the asparagus spears in boiling salted water for about 3-6 minutes, depending in the width of the spears. Cook the offcuts of the asparagus with the broad beans, in boiling water for a maximum of 2 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Drain all of the cooked vegetables and run under cold water as soon as they are done. you want them slightly underdone for this dish, as they will cook a bit more in the tart later.

Double-pod the beans, which may seem like a pain, but will be worth it later.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grease a flan dish. I have a silicone one, but you may prefer a metal one with a loose bottom, either are good.

Roll out the pastry evenly, to about 1mm thick. Carefully slip it over the rolling pin, and line the flan dish with it. Cut a bit of the excess pastry from over the edge of the dish, and form a ball with it. Use this to gently press the pastry into the corners, and any fluted edges that you may have on the flan dish. This is thin pastry, and  will be using a liquid filling, so you want to avoid  putting holes in it, or the filling will leak, and burn. Using the dough ball, and not your fingers (especially not the nails) will help prevent tears and holes.

You can either trim the pastry to the edge of your flan dish, or leave a bit of an overhang. Pastry will shrink when it cooks, so I prefer to leave an overhang, which I trim off after the blind bake.

I sometimes coat the warm pastry trimmings in a light dusting of icing sugar and serve as a sweet snack. I can’t bear to throw away any of the edible things!

If you choose to trim the pastry, then you will need to gently pinch it up between your thumb and forefinger, to raise it above the sides of the flan dish, thus compensating for shrinkage (difficult to accomplish if your pastry is thin enough).

Now you need to blind bake the pastry case. Gently prick all over the base with a fork, as evenly spaced as you  can, without going through the pastry. Cut some greaseproof paper so that it overlaps the pie dish by about 3 cm each side. Scrunch up the greaseproof, as if you were scrunching up a piece of paper that you were about to put in a wastepaper basket. This will help the paper to line the pastry case and get into the corners and fluting better. Put an even coating of blind baking materials in the pastry case, on top of the spread out grease proof paper. Both the pricking and the blind bake will help prevent the pastry from rising, during the initial baking process.

You can get special ceramic beads for your blind bake, but these are expensive. It is cheaper to use dried beans from your store cupboard,or at a push a thick layer of rice. Beans are better, because you can still cook with them after they have been used as blind bake, and  they are heavier than rice. Once the rice has been used as blind bake, it can’t be cooked, so re-use it as blind bake.

Put the tart shell, with the blind bake into the oven and allow to cook for at least 10 minutes, or until the pastry case is crisp, and does not have any “damp” patches. Remove the blind bake, and put the tart case back into the oven for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to brown.

If you need to, trim your pastry case at this point. Or leave it, if it doesn’t look too scruffy.

Pastry Case Sealed with Egg Wash

Glazed and Confused

Since you are using a liquid centre, it is a good idea to seal the pastry case, to help prevent leaks. To do this, brush the case with a little of the beaten egg that you are about to use for your filling. Put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the egg wash has given the tart case a shiny, browned finish.

Add the cream, chopped herbs and the cheese to the beaten egg, and mix well. Season with a little salt (because the cheese is also salty) and a good grind of pepper.

Sprinkle the beans and asparagus offcuts onto the base of the tart, then arrange your larger spears over the top in your desired design.

Pour over the filling, and give the tart a shake, to make sure that the filling is evenly distributed in the case.

Place back in the centre of the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160°C. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the filling is just cooked, but retains a little wobble.

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