Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sweet potato, squash, chorizo and goats' cheese tart

Ah, ah... Not only were my last two posts all full of whining (mostly about 2011 misfortunes), but the unluck continues until the end of the year... I'm so happy I'll be rid of it by tomorrow, and hopefully 2012 will be a little wee bit more easygoing... So, what happened now? Well, first Santa (I mistyped Satan, I'm wondering about THAT kind of Freudian slip...) brought my 35-year-old boyfriend chickenpox (YES, chickenpox of all things, for the "little" child!), which meant that all plans for New Year's Eve are cancelled, as he has to be in quarantine so he won't give it to the rest of the world. Luckily I had already had it when I was small, so I won't get it, but I'm not going to leave him in house isolation and go out to have fun on my own... A quiet night it is then. I had again many plans for this bank holiday weekend, and I had booked since months a restaurant I wanted to go to for my Birthday dinner (on Tue, which is also the first day back to work, and therefore a miserable day by definition), but all that will have to wait... I have to say I am now getting quite fed up of cancelling things, especially the ones with no refunds. But as I said, I have high hopes for 2012, and it's almost here!

To continue the misfortune story, since the little chickenpox-ridden one was looking like a sad (Dalmatian) puppy, I decided to make this tart that I had in a list of "cool new things to make during the holidays" since a while, and it was indeed really good and managed to lift both of our spirits a tiny bit. After I made it and we ate it, I went to the kitchen to put the plates in the dishwasher, and when I turned on the light it went "poof!", and the kitchen, bathroom and guestroom lights went out... Thinking it must be the fuse, I went with a flashlight (the joys of it being dark already after lunchtime...) and switched all the fuses between themselves, but no result. At the same time, the oven is also not working, but luckily the hob, the lights under the kitchen cupboards, the sockets and subsequently the fridge still have power, so at least we won't starve to death/have takeaway for New Year's Eve or lose all the nice food we have piled up in there. What a better way to start the year than peeing with a candle...

And when I thought, what more can happen, now it's almost 2012, I opened my nut drawer to get some cashew nuts and found that a mouse had taken affectionate bites off pretty much half the stuff in there, and it must have been quite stupid too, as it had taken bites of all the plastic wrappings, but not of the nuts themselves. Argggggggggh... All these nuts are now in the rubbish, fantastic. The ones that survived (the unopened ones and some that were not to its liking it seems) are now safely inside a tupperware, but I really hate the idea that there might be a mouse lurking around somewhere behind the cupboards...

Anyway, enough now, tomorrow is a new day, a new year and hopefully some new good karma! Happy New Year everyone!

Sweet potato, squash, chorizo and goats' cheese tart
Source: Adapted from delicious magazine

Serves 4

  • 375g ready rolled puff pastry
  • 400g sweet potatoes
  • 350g butternut squash
  • ½ tsp whole coriander
  • 1 tsp whole cumin
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml double cream
  • 100g chorizo, chopped into small cubes
  • 80g goats' cheese, crumbled
  • A few leaves of rocket
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

Line a deep tart tin with the puff pastry, prick the base with a fork, line with scrunched up baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Dry fry the cumin and coriander in a small frying pan, until lightly browned and fragrant, then tip into a pestle and mortar and smash into powder. Peel the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and chop into small cubes. Place in a baking tray, making sure that they are all in an even layer, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, coriander and cumin. Put in the bottom shelf of the oven, and at the same time put the tart tin in the top shelf of the oven and bake both for 10 minutes.

Leaving the vegetables still in the oven, take out the tart tin, remove the baking beans, and bake for another 10 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the vegetables are softened. Beat the eggs and mix with the double cream, then fold in all the vegetables, adding salt and pepper if required. Pour the mixture into the pastry case, sprinkle the chorizo and goats' cheese over it, and then bake for 20 minutes or until set and browned. Take out of the oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes and then garnish with rocket leaves.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Frangiminci pies (Frangipane-topped mince pies)

Remember what I was saying in my previous post? 2011 has definitely not been a good year, and from what I gather from grumbling friends, not just for me... Thinking that the end of the year couldn't bring any more disasters, we had arranged for my mom and aunt to come and stay with us for the holidays (beautiful visions of endless food, shopping together, visiting Christmas markets and favourite exhibitions + throw a show or two in the mix, arise in my imagination...), however a last-minute old relative being hospitalised in critical condition meant that the trip had to be cancelled, one day before they were meant to arrive.

Hence, depression ensues = time to make sweets descends upon me. I am a quite strong proponent of the Como agua para chocolate theory (if you're sad, you'll make sad food, if you're happy your food will taste amazing and bring happiness to those who eat it), so I'd rather just cheer up and make sweets, than have my feelings ruin a good bowl of dough. And since I've never made mince pies before in my life, and I was planning to anyway (I had found a "alternative" inspiring recipe in delicious magazine and had already made the mincemeat a month ago in anticipation), I quickly set to make these. Having never tried it, I was a bit sceptical, but they were a resounding success, and people told me that they were even the best ones they've had (my answer was "it must be the alcohol"). Since they are not covered with the typical pastry on top, but with a frangipane-like almond mix, I decided I shall call them "frangiminci pies"!

I guess everything can be looked at optimistically. I've had a bloody cold of some sort or other since the 19th of November, which kind of goes away only to "dress up" as something else and come back with a vengeance, culminating in a recent fever, and a few days spent working from home. Dangerous thing this working from home. While normally you wouldn't go to the office and work with a fever, being at home kind of gives you the idea that "oh, well, yeah, maybe, it's just a little bit of work", which eventually ends up in hours spent sitting in front of the PC. However, if my mom and aunt HAD come, things could potentially be worse, I could have given them the cold, we could have all be sniffling during Xmas, plus I wouldn't have stayed to work from home, and made these mince pies. On a day that really no work from home could be done. Because the Internet and all systems in my company were down. Just for the irony of the matter, may I add that we are an "online" company. Giggles ensue + mince pies are made during working hours = that's the spirit of Christmas!

Frangiminci pies
Source: Adapted from delicious magazine

Makes around 30

For the mincemeat

  • 2 green eating apples
  • Zest and juice of 1½ lemon
  • 500g dried mixed fruit (I used one from Tesco, should be a mix of raisins, currants, sultanas and candied citrus peel) 
  • 25g chopped almonds
  • 130g vegetable suet
  • 500g soft brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 60ml cognac or brandy
  • 50ml Cointreau

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Core the apples and bake them in a lidded dish for 1 hour. They are ready when they are soft and the peel has sort of exploded around them. Scoop out the flesh of the apples and place in a big bowl to cool. When in room temperature, add the lemon zest and juice, and then the rest of the ingredients, mixing well with each addition. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to rest in a cool place, stirring every few hours. It can be used on the same day, but ideally you should allow it to "develop" over a month, so after a couple of days of stirring move it into sterilized jars and seal, making sure there are as few air bubbles as possible. I allowed it to rest for 25 days, and it was yummy.

For the mince pies

For the pastry
  • 350g plain flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g butter, cold from the fridge
  • 3 eggs (2 whole and 1 yolk)

For the frangipane
  • 150g butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp rum

For topping
  • Flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar

To make the pastry put in a food processor the flour, sugar, salt, butter and pulse until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. With the processor running, slowly add the eggs until a dough is just formed. Take the dough out, knead it a bit, wrap it with cling film and cool in the fridge.

To make the frangipane topping, beat the butter in a food processor or mixer until soft. With the processor/mixer running, slowly add the sugar, almonds, eggs and rum, until well incorporated. Move to a bowl and chill for at least 15 minutes.

Butter the holes of a muffin tray (I had a 12-hole tin, which I used 3 times to make all the pies). Roll out one third of the pastry on a well floured counter, until it is 3mm thick. With a fluted cookie cutter cut out 8cm rounds, and push them lightly into the muffin tin holes. Chill the whole muffin tray for 15 minutes, before filling with a big spoonful of mincemeat, and topping with a heaped teaspoonful of frangipane. Preheat the oven to 180°C, sprinkle the mince pies with the flaked almonds and bake for 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned.

Remove from the muffin tray while still hot and cool on a rack. I prefer my mince pies warm, so when you want to eat them put in an oven preheated to 160°C for 10 minutes, and then dust with icing sugar.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Kourampiedes (Traditional Greek Christmas sweets)

I know, I know. It's been a long time, no post. Oral spank spank. But I haven't given up, oh ye who worry and pester me! It's just sometimes takes up time. Like, ALL OF IT. In the last few months a few hundred thousand distracting things happened, which took me away from blogging and pretty much from humanity, a few among which are:

  • Buying a house (well, ehem a flat-sort-of-thing, only it's not flat, it goes up into the attic, and then down, and then up the stairs again into the garden, I should probably say "buying an up-and-down not-so-flat")
  • "Fixing" the house (including creating a super-wow kitchen from a "meh" kitchen, finally I have some counter space that is bigger than a postage stamp!)
  • Moving house (that takes a normal person one day, it took us 2 weeks and the unpacking and putting things in place 3 months...)
  • Getting fired from my job (the politically correct term, I believe, is "made redundant") while all of the above was happening (and then rehired in a slightly different role, as it turned out I was not really THAT redundant, minus my whole team which is now represented by a big empty space in my office, sad frowny face...)
  • Doing DIY (the volume of IKEA boxes we recycled was about the same as that of our dining room. That probably says a lot about our new dining room = 2 m²)
  • Travelling (Paris - to avoid the Royal Wedding frenzy, Greece - to join the family frenzy, Greece again - for the funeral of a very dear, young, talented friend who died pointlessly at 32, Japan - last-minute opportunity that could not be missed etc.)

So, now that things have sort of (just sort of) quietened down a bit, it's time to quickly dish out some Greek sweets for Christmas, just in case I tempt any late-Xmas-sweet-makers with these inspired, tree-shaped beauties!

I usually make these traditional sweets with my mom's recipe (passed down through generations) but this time I wanted to try something a bit more alternative, so I looked around and got inspired by Stelios Parliaros, who adds pistachios and rum to the mix, a sacrilege that probably would be met with some great ass-whooping by my elderly female relatives, but which surprisingly worked quite well. Since traditionally kourampiedes are sprinkled with orange blossom water, I thought of using Cointreau instead of rum, and I also mixed and smashed pistachios and almonds together which in the original recipe are left separated (some kourampiedes with one, some with the other), but if you can have the best of both worlds why not mix and match?

Have a great Christmas, and I hope 2012 brings a bit less panic, sorrow, hecticness and unexpected chaos in all our lives!

Kourampiedes (Κουραμπιέδες)
Source: Adapted from Stelios Parliaros

Makes around 30

  • 100g almonds (not blanched)
  • 40g pistachios (not blanched)
  • 300g butter
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 600g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 30ml Cointreau
  • 300g icing sugar (for coating)

Preheat the oven to 180°C, place the almonds in a tray and roast for 6 minutes then add the pistachios and roast all the nuts for a further 6-7 minutes. When cooled, chop or smash into small pieces (I used a plastic bag and a rolling pin, but be careful, don’t turn them into dust, you need to have some bite there!)

Mix the butter with the 110g of icing sugar in a big food processor or mixer until light and fluffy. Add one by one the flour, baking powder, vanilla extract and Cointreau and mix well until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Stir in the chopped nuts, and shape into rounds, or cut out different shapes with Christmassy cookie cutters. Place on a tray lined with baking parchment, making sure there is a 6-7 cm distance between them, as they tend to spread, and bake for 30 minutes (or until browned).

Take out of the oven, and before they have a chance to cool, turn them upside down and sprinkle with icing sugar. Immediately turn them the right way up, sprinkle with sugar again, and rest until cool. After they have cooled down, you can move them to a serving plate and sprinkle them with the rest of the sugar, for that genuine Greek Christmas overdose!

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