Portuguese Tarts

Portuguese tarts are famous around the world. Creamy custard filling, encased in flaky pastry then cooked in a hot oven until they start to blister on top. They’re best eaten freshly made, but if there are any left over pop them into a moderate oven for a few minutes to crisp up the pastry again.

1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs cornflour
200 ml milk
200 ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
About 350g bought puff pastry (or make your own)

In a large saucepan use a balloon whisk to combine all ingredients except the pastry. Bring mixture to the boil, whisking all the time, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Grease 12 x 1/3 cup muffin pans. Roll out pastry and cut circles to fit the pans. Divide filling between the pastry cases – I managed to get 11 rather than 12. Bake for 20 minutes or until custard starts to brown. If you are able to switch your oven from Bake to Grill, or even better Fan Grill, for the last few minutes it will be easier to brown the tops of the tarts the way they do in Portugal, so they are a bit blackened.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 12

Smoked Haddock Chowder

Inspired by a recent trip to the West of Scotland I decided to make my version of a soup they call Cullen Skink. Doesn’t sound very appetising does it? Well Cullen Skink is the Scottish name for Smoked Haddock Chowder, a chunky, hearty soup made from smoked haddock, known locally as Finnan Haddie and it’s delicious, despite the name! I read through half a dozen different recipes online and came up with this.

If you can’t find smoked haddock, use smoked cod and if you can’t find either why not experiment with hot smoked salmon? It will only need to be gently heated through as it’s already cooked.

50g butter
2 leeks, chopped (use mostly the white part and a tiny bit of green)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunky cubes
Vegetable stock
1 cup cream
500g smoked haddock or cod, skinned and cut into 2 cm chunks
3 Tbs dry sherry (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Chopped parsley
Crusty bread

In a large heavy-based pan melt butter and cook leeks gently for 10 minutes or until soft. Add potatoes and enough stock to just cover them. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add cream, fish and sherry and cook for a few minutes until the fish is done. Test by taking a piece out. You don’t want the fish to disintegrate and it won’t take long to cook. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash more stock or cream if the soup is too thick.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4-6

Chicken with Dates

My friend Ferne passed on an idea for a quick canapé to serve with drinks – dates with blue cheese and sesame seeds. Cut through one side of each date, remove the stone, fill with some blue cheese and sprinkle with the seeds. I used a creamy blue cheese from Aldi which comes in a half moon shaped pack and black sesame seeds rather than white. They were delicious and the leftover dates went into the chicken dish below.

 

2 Tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 kg chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)|
1 can tomatoes (chopped if not already)
1 cup water
3 Tbs sherry
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp cumin
1 cup dates, stoned and halved or quartered
To serve:
Rice, couscous or mashed potatoes
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Heat oil in a large deep frying pan and cook onion and garlic gently, until soft. Cut chicken into chunks, discrding any fatty bits. Add chicken to pan and continue to fry, stirring, until chicken has browned all over. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for  10-15 mins, or until chicken is tender, adding a little more water if necessary.

Serve with rice, couscous or mashed potatoes, garnished with the chopped herbs.

Serves 6

Variation: if preferred use about 1.2kg of whole chicken thighs with bone in and skin on or off.

Rocket Salad with Sweet Potato, Parmesan & Pine Nuts

Whenever we go to our daughter’s in Newcastle we eat lots of rocket. It grows there like a weed. I much prefer the larger flat leafed rocket you can grow to the skinny wild rocket sold in supermarkets.

This salad is delicious with or without the sweet potato.

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 tsp olive oil
Salt
A big bowl full of rocket leaves, washed and spun dry
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Dressing:
½ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix sweet potato chunks with the oil and a little salt, then spread out on a shallow baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until starting to brown. Make dressing by shaking all ingredients in a jar with a lid.

Place rocket, sweet potato, pine nuts and parmesan in a large salad bowl. Add some dressing and mix thoroughly to coat.

Serves 4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato. Use goat’s cheese or feta cheese instead of grated parmesan.

Lemon Curd & Almond Bread & Butter Pudding

When I was growing up in England bread and butter pudding was a popular dessert. My mother made it regularly, using stale bread, butter, dried fruit, sugar, milk and eggs. Nothing fancy, but always one of my favourites. Using up stale bread, rather than giving it to the birds or throwing it away, was something you did automatically if you had lived through the Second World War.

This version is slightly more complicated with the addition of cream, nuts and lemons. Home made lemon curd provides an added zing, but if you don’t have time buy a jar from the supermarket. If you do find time to make a couple of jars it will keep in the fridge, unopened, for a couple of months and is a useful addition to a number of easy desserts such as Blueberry Parfaits.

1 loaf brioche bread
About 1 cup lemon curd
2 cups cream
½ cup milk
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 eggs
4 heaped Tbs sugar
Flaked almonds
Almond Butter:
150g blanched almonds (whole or slivers)
60g butter at room temp
1 heaped Tbs sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
To serve:
Fresh cream or crème fraiche
Icing sugar

Make or buy the lemon curd. Make the almond butter: place almonds in food processor and process till fine, then add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Slice brioche into 1 to 1.5cm slices. Use a cookie cutter to cut rounds as big as you can from each slice. Butter a deep 8-10cm pudding tin or dish. Place all the cut offs from the brioche in the bottom then spoon about half the lemon curd over the brioche. Spread one side of each brioche slice with some almond butter and arrange over the surface, nut butter side down and slightly overlapping, if you have enough slices to do so.

Place cream and milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. In a bowl whisk eggs, sugar, lemon juice and rind – just enough to combine, using a hand whisk. Pour in the hot cream and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture evenly over the brioche. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and set aside for an hour or more. Dessert can be made several hours ahead or even the day before and kept refrigerated and covered. A shower cap makes a great cover!

Preheat oven to 170°C. Bake dessert for 30-40 minutes or until puffed and golden. If it starts to get too brown, cover loosely with a piece of foil and/or turn the oven down a bit.

When cooked, spoon remaining lemon curd over the top, dust with a little sifted icing sugar and serve with cream.

Serves 8

 

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Walnut Cake

This is an adaptation of a recipe I’ve had for decades. To make it gluten and dairy-free, for a friend who can’t eat either and who was coming for afternoon tea, I used oil instead of butter and walnut flour instead of flour. It was just as good.

 

4 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable or coconut oil
2 Tbs cocoa
4 tsp baking powder
1½ cups walnut flour (see note below)
2 generous cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Syrup:
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 Tbs rum or brandy (optional)
To serve:
2-3 Tbs icing sugar
Fresh berries (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk with electric beaters until thick and pale. Whisk in the oil, then fold in the sifted cocoa and baking powder, the nut flour and the chopped walnuts.

Scrape into a round 25cm (9″) cake tin, greased and bottom lined with paper. Or use a silicone pan which you don’t need to grease or line. Bake for 25-30 mins or until firm to touch when pressed in the middle, but don’t overcook. Spoon the hot syrup evenly over the hot cake then leave to cool in the tin. Remove cake from tin and dust with icing sugar just before serving. Keeps for 3-4 days in a sealed container.

Syrup: place sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat till sugar has dissolved, then boil for a minute or two. Add rum or brandy.

Note: make walnut flour by blitzing walnuts in food processor until fine. Measure after blitzing.

Variations: use pecan nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias or pine nuts instead of walnuts. This recipe is a good way to use up leftover small amounts of various nuts.

Fish with Lemon and Broccolini

This very simple fish dish allows the flavour of the fish to shine through. Choose very fresh firm-fleshed fillets. Roasted broccolini may not look very appetising, but it’s delicious.

¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 600g fish fillets (in one piece or several), skin on
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1-2 bunches broccolini, ends trimmed
To serve:
2 Tbs capers

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix oil, garlic, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Arrange fish fillets skin side down on the paper. Arrange lemon slices over the fish and the broccolini around the fish. Brush fish and broccolini liberally with the oil and lemon juice mixture, using it all.

Place in the oven and cook for 8-10 mins or until fish is cooked through (test with a sharp knife) and broccolini has started to char around the edges. If broccolini is ready before the fish take it out of the oven and put the fish back for a few minutes.

Serve the fish sprinkled with the capers. Boiled or steamed new potatoes go well with this dish.

Serves 3

Zucchini, Goat’s Cheese and Pea Tart

Cleaning out the freezer I found a ball of shortcrust pastry I had forgotten about. Once thawed I looked in the fridge to see what I could find to make a savoury tart, without going shopping, and came up with this. Leftovers heated up well for lunch the following day.

If you have fresh peas in the garden by all means use those instead of frozen peas.

1 batch home-made shortcrust pastry (or substitute shop bought)
4 eggs
½ cup cream or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs chopped mint
350g coarsely grated zucchini (courgette)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
100g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
To serve:
1 cup frozen peas, extra
Mint sprigs

Preheat oven to 180°C. Use pastry to line base and sides of a slice pan, about 20/25 cm by about 30cm. Place zucchini in a sieve and mix in a teaspoon of salt. Leave to drain, then push down on it to squeeze out excess liquid. Beat eggs with cream or milk and lemon rind. Add zucchini, peas and lots of pepper then pour evenly into the pastry case. Scatter cheese over the top then bake for 25-30 mins or until set.

Meanwhile pour boiling water over the extra peas. Leave for a minute then drain. Cut the tart into squares and garnish with the extra peas and mint sprigs.

Serves 6

Variations: use asparagus spears, thinly sliced on the diagonal, instead of the zucchini.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, Herbs and Chilli

Looking for a different way to roast a chicken? This easy but delicious recipe uses a combination of flavours that works well. The skin goes crispy thanks to the lemon juice and any leftovers are nice cold.

A loaf of crusty bread and some roast potatoes or boiled new potatoes will pad this meal out (as my mother used to say) and ensure there’s enough for a family of six.

1 whole chicken
¼ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Rosemary
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Sage
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ to1 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
To serve:
Fresh herbs
Lemon wedges (optional)
Vegetables such as buttered spinach and glazed carrots

Using poultry shears, remove backbone from chicken and discard. Place skin side up in roasting pan and press down hard with your hand so it flattens out. Mix remaining  ingredients and spread over both sides of the chicken, rubbing it in. Leave chicken to marinate for half an hour at room temperature, or up to several hours in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roast chicken for between an hour and an hour and a half. It’s ready when a skewer is inserted into the thigh and juices run clear and skin is crispy and brown. Time will vary according to the size of the chicken. Baste halfway through cooking time with pan juices.

Carve chicken and serve with lemon wedges and seasonal vegetables, such as buttered baby spinach and honey-glazed carrots.

For the spinach, stir fry a packet of fresh baby spinach leaves (or shredded larger leaves) with a knob of butter until thoroughly wilted, then season to taste.  For the carrots, cook them in boiling, salted water until tender, then tip off the water, add a knob of butter and a teaspoon of honey and shake the pan over the heat until glazed. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds – I used black ones.

Serves 6

Notes: if you don’t have fresh herbs use dried, but fresh are best in this recipe.

Caramelised Eggplant with Tahini, Pine Nuts & Lentils

As I’ve said before, if I were to become a vegetarian I would eat a lot of eggplants. They’re filling and there are so many different ways of using them.

Here’s a delicious recipe for you to try. As a main course, half a large eggplant is enough for most people. If you want to serve this as a side dish, buy smaller eggplants so you get more halves.

More delicious ways to use this versatile vegetable can be found in the Recipe Index under Vegetables. Do you have a great eggplant recipe you would like to share with Cafe Cat readers?

Base:
2 Tbs olive oil
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
350g dry lentils (Puy or similar)
4 cups vegetabe stock
2 tsp vinegar (any kind will do)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Eggplants:
2 large eggplants or more smaller ones (about 1kg or a bit more)
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
To serve:
2 Tbs lemon juice
½ cup Tahini paste
Water
2 Tbs chopped parsley
1 Tbs chopped rosemary
¼ cup pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the base heat oil in a large heavy-based pan and add all the vegetables. Cook gently for 10-15 mins, stirring regularly, until softened. Add the lentils and stock then simmer for half an hour or until the lentils are just tender. Add a little more water as necessary. When lentils are cooked and most of the liquid has disappeared add the vinegar and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring. Season to taste.

While lentils are cooking pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and arrange them in a baking tin. Slash them all over with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Brush the cut surfaces generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with rosemary. Bake for 25-30 mins until soft and browned.

Mix lemon juice into the tahini, then add enough water to give a thick pouring consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Place pine nuts in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until golden.

Spread hot lentil mixture in a large serving dish (reheat if it’s got a bit cold) and arrange eggplants on top. Drizzle with the tahini sauce and sprinkle with the parsley, rosemary and pine nuts.

Serves 4 as a main course