Category Archives: Starters

The Next Best Thing To A Duvet Day: Velvety Mushroom and Chestnut Soup

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Winter is dragging on, my mood is as gloomy as the weather, and I feel like I am going to be cold forever.

I wish I could just burrow under the duvet and wait for the temperatures to start climbing again before venturing back out, but I can’t do that because I would most probably get sacked. Unfortunately, my job cannot be done from home, and it definitely cannot be done from under a duvet, so like most other people I have to suck it up, leave my bed and wrap up in a lot of layers in order to go to work. And it sucks.

Sadly, taking your duvet to work isn’t normally very practical either. So, what to do? What could make up for having to get out of bed?

In my opinion, the next best thing to a duvet is probably soup. It is warm, comforting and satisfying, and unlike a duvet you can take it to work to enjoy during your lunch break, without having to endure being stared at by your co-workers as if you have suddenly grown a second head. If you agree with me, then this recipe is definitely for you.

This mushroom and chestnut soup is very tasty and warming. The chestnut purée is optional, but the texture wouldn’t be as smooth and velvety without it. Use any mushrooms you want; if you are lucky enough to have access to wild mushrooms then don’t hesitate to use them. I usually go for a mixture of chestnut mushrooms and (rehydtated) dried porcini.

You will need (for 4 servings):

800 g mixed mushrooms (rehydrated weight if using dried mushrooms), quartered
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
30 g butter
3 tbsp olive oil
2 pinches dried thyme
3 tbsp brandy
1 litre hot chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
Salt, pepper
4 heaped tbsp unsweetened chestnut purée

Method:

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and butter together on a medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic and thyme and cook until soft but not coloured (about 3 to 4 min).

Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5 min, then add the brandy and cook for 1 or 2 min to evaporate the alcohol. Add the stock, season, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 25 min.

Transfer about 2/3 of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour it back into the pan with the rest of the soup, and stir in the chestnut purée. Check the seasoning.

Serve with plenty of crusty bread, and crème fraîche if you like.

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Filed under Mains, Soups, Starters, Vegetables, Vegetarian

The Tart, the Party, and the Christmas Tree Dress (Caramelised Onions, Peppers and Chorizo Tart)

 Last weekend, I had a work Christmas party to go to. I know a lot of people would rather gouge their own eyes out rather than attend the work party, but this is not the case here. I am lucky enough to be working with great people who are really, really fun to be around. We all decided a few weeks ago that we would go out and make the most of the happy hour, then head back to our manager’s place for food and a lot more drinks. We also decided that we would be wearing Christmas-themed costumes… it sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

Well, in any case it explains how I ended up going out in Newcastle on a Saturday night wearing a Christmas tree dress. Yes, that’s right, a Christmas tree dress. In my defence, it actually looks a lot better than it sounds. And after a few drinks I thought it was hilarious that I seemed to be leaving a trail of tinsel behind me everywhere I went… 

But anyway, the point of this post is the food, not my sparkly sartorial adventures. I needed to come up with the perfect recipe to bring along to the party. It had to be freezer-friendly, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to make it on the day; I wanted it to appeal to a wide audience, and be easy to transport. A savoury tart seemed like a good option, and after much deliberation I finally settled on a caramelised onions and peppers filling, and added chorizo for some extra flavour.

This tart went down a treat and it was eaten in no time at all. In fact I wish I had made two! Unfortunately, when the tart was served I was a bit tipsy busy, and didn’t get to take a picture. Sorry…

Don’t be put off by the anchovies in the ingredients list if you don’t like them; they are only there to balance out the sweetness of the peppers and onions, and you won’t be able to taste them (Mr Greedy Frog hates anchovies, so I didn’t tell him they featured in this recipe, and he happily ate up the produce of my test runs without noticing a thing…)

You will need (for 6-8 people):

For the pastry:

300 g plain flour
150 g butter
Pinch salt
cold water

For the filling:

4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 anchovy fillets in olive oil
4 red onions
8 bell peppers (a mix of red and yellow looks best but green is fine too)
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150g chorizo
salt, pepper

Method:

Make the pastry. In a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and the butter to the flour. Work the flour into the butter between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to bind, knead briefly then form into a ball (you can of course use a food processor instead if you prefer). Wrap in cling film then chill for 20 min.

Preheat the oven to 200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6.

Roll out the pastry to line a 28 cm, loose-bottom, fluted tart tin (re-form any leftover pastry into a ball and freeze for another time). Chill again for 10 min, then line with foil, add baking beans, and bake blind for 15 min. Remove the foil and beans, and return to the oven for 5 min. Reserve.

Make the filling. De-seed and slice the peppers, slice the onions, peel and crush the garlic.
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In a large frying pan with a lid, heat up the olive oil. Finely chop the anchovies, and fry for a minute or two until they start breaking down. Add the tomato puree, cool for 1 minute more.
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Add the onions, peppers and garlic, toss to coat, and fry gently for 2 to 3 min. After this time, add the balsamic vinegar and oregano, cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook gently, stirring every once in a while, until soft (about 10-15 min depending on the size of your pan). If you end up with cooking juices, cook uncovered for a further 2 min to dry out. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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Meanwhile, cut the chorizo into small pieces (about the size of chickpeas), and dry-fry in a non-stick frying pan until cooked (about 10 min). Set aside.

Assemble the tart: If serving straight away, scatter the pieces of chorizo evenly over the pastry case, and top with the onion and pepper filling. Bake for 15 min until piping hot. If you want to freeze it for later, cool all the elements separately then assemble when cold. Wrap in foil and cling film and freeze for up to a month. Bake from frozen at  200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6 for 30 min or until piping hot in the middle.

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Filed under Bakes, Buffet, Christmas, Mains, Savoury Tarts, Starters

Salmon and Asparagus Tart

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I have a thing for savoury tarts; to me they represent comfort food at its best, and conjure up a lot of happy childhood memories. I remember being at my grandmother’s and helping her prepare Quiche Lorraine. I would watch it take on a golden colour through the oven glass, the minutes ticking by very slowly, the smell gradually amplifying until it filled the kitchen; the excitement was almost untenable.

And if my mother announced that she was making a Salmon Tourte, or, delight of delights, Onion Tart for dinner, I would litterally be the happiest little girl on the planet. The mere thought of biting into the buttery, crumbly pastry, and tasting the flavourful fillings had me skipping about excitedly. When, after what felt like hours, the tart finally came out of the oven, and I received my slice, I would invariably burn my mouth in my juvenile haste. And it was worth it every time.

I am now older, and a little bit wiser, and if I still burn my mouth from time to time, I have stopped skipping about. Well, most of the time anyway.

But there is another reason why I love savoury tarts: there is almost no limit to the amount of recipes you can come up with. This one here isn’t a recipe from my childhood: green asparagus isn’t very common in France, and its white cousin doen’t really lend itself to this sort of dish. I came up with it quite simply because I like the combination of asparagus and smoked salmon, and they were both on special offer. 

This tart is unbelievably easy to make, and it doubles up as a stunning centerpiece. Have it on its own as a starter, or serve alongside a salad or buttered greens for a main meal. Go easy on the salt in the egg and cream mix, as the smoked salmon is already rather salty. If you are watching your fat intake, half-fat cream works fine here.

You will need:

For the pastry:
300 g plain flour
150 g butter
Pinch salt

For the filling:
1 bunch green asparagus
3 slices smoked salmon
3 eggs
200 ml double cream
200 ml crème fraîche
Salt
Pepper
Groung nutmeg

Method:

Make the pastry. In a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and the butter to the flour. Work the flour into the butter between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to bind, knead briefly then form into a ball (you can of course use a food processor instead if you prefer). Wrap in cling film then chill for 20 min.

Preheat the oven to 200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6.
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Roll out the pastry to line a 28 cm, loose-bottom, fluted tart tin (re-form any leftover pastry into a ball and freeze for another time). Chill again for 10 min, then line with foil, add baking beans, and bake blind for 15 min. Remove the foil and beans, and return to the oven for 5 min. Reserve.

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus, and cook in salted boiling water for about 5 min until tender enough to eat, but not too soft. Drain and reserve.

Cut the smoked salmon into small pieces and distribute evenly over the pastry case.

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Top with the asparagus, arranging them on the tart like the spokes of a wheel.

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In a large jug, lightly beat the eggs, add the double cream and crème fraîche and mix well. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Pour the egg and cream mix delicately over the pastry case. Bake for about 20 min, or until golden all over and just set.

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Filed under Bakes, Buffet, Mains, Savoury Tarts, Starters

The Real Quiche Lorraine (Warning: No Cheese or Onions Allowed)

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I am a self-confessed Quiche Lorraine bore.

You see, I am from Lorraine, and therefore consider my recipe to be the definitive one. And I do not tolerate for any liberties to be taken with it. Only shortcrust pastry, lardons, eggs, cream and seasoning are allowed. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because the beauty of Quiche Lorraine resides in its simplicity.

Which is why to me, the addition of cheese is just pure heresy. I pour scorn on the use of onions. And if you dare add mushrooms, peppers, or, horror of horrors broccoli, I shall track you down and force you to listen to Celine Dion’s back catalogue in a loop until you see the error of your ways and promise never to do it again.

Ok, rant over.

Quiche Lorraine is meant to be shared, and perfect for an informal party. It can be made ahead, is delicious hot or cold, and everyone knows that it tastes even better if you ditch the cutlery.

You will need:

300 g plain flour
150 g unsalted butter, cold, diced
200 g lardons (or diced bacon, or pancetta)
3 eggs
250 ml crème fraîche
150 ml double cream
Salt
Pepper

Method:

Make the pastry. In a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and the butter to the flour. Work the flour into the butter between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to bind, knead briefly then form into a ball (you can of course use a food processor instead if you prefer). Wrap in cling film then chill for 20 min.
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Preheat the oven to 200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6.

Roll out the pastry to line a 28 cm fluted tart tin (re-form any leftover pastry into a ball and freeze for another time). Chill again for 10 min, then line with foil, add baking beans, and bake blind for 15 min. Remove the foil and beans, and return to the oven for 5 min.
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While the pastry is in the oven, heat up a non-stick frying pan, and dry-fry the lardons for a few minutes. They should colour slightly, but make sure they don’t get crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

In a large jug, slightly beat the egg, then mix with the creams. Season, being careful not to add too much salt, as the lardons will be quite salty already.
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Scatter the lardons over the pastry base, pull the oven shelf partially out of the oven, and place the tin on it. Carefully pour the filling, stopping just below the edge of the pastry. Push the shelf in gently, and bake for about 20 min until golden on top and soft in the middle.
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Filed under Buffet, Mains, Savoury Tarts, Starters

Baked Eggs with Chorizo, Tomatoes and Peppers

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I love eggs in every guise, but baked eggs are among my absolute favourite things. This is only one of many ways to have them, and you can vary the recipe depending on what you like, or what you have in your fridge.

You will need (serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main):

6 small tomatoes
1 pepper (any colour you like)
1/2 a red onion
About 40 g chorizo
Olive oil
1 clove garlic
Dried oregano
Salt
Pepper
20 g Parmesan

Method:

Preheat your oven to 220 C/ fan 210 C/ gas 7. Butter 4 ramequins.

Peel and finely chop the onion. Put the tomatoes in a large bowl, pour enough boiling water on them to cover, and leave for a few seconds until the skins start to split. Drain.

Grill the pepper, or spear it with a fork and hold it above the flame of the hob until the skin bubbles and blackens. Wrap in two plastic bags.

When cool enough to handle, peel, quarter, de-seed and dice the tomatoes. Peel, de-seed and dice the pepper. Cut the chorizo into hazelnut-size chunks. Peel and thinly chop the garlic.
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Heat up a frying pan on a medium heat, add about 2 tbsp olive oil, and when hot, add the onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic. Stir, then leave for 1 min.

Add the chorizo and a sprinkle of oregano, fry for about 3 min or until the vegetables are soft. Take off the heat.
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Spoon the vegetables into the prepared ramequins, reserving about 4 heaped tbsp . With your spoon, create a slight hollow in the mixture, and break an egg in each one. Top with the reserved mixture, grate the Parmesan on top and put the ramequins on a baking tray.
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Put the tray in the oven and bake for 6 min for a runny yolk, 8 min if you like your eggs more cooked.

Serve with some nice, crusty bread to dip.

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Filed under Eggs, Mains, Starters