Sunday food links – 2 October 2016

Each week I start figuring out what to write here by asking myself “what kind of week has it been?” It’s often hard to find a pattern or theme that emerges from the haze of drop-offs, dinners, work, nursery, bedtimes and bathtimes. This week, I think the biggest one has been a slight sense of disorganisation in the kitchen, that has led to some fairly weird leftovers.

The week started fairly well, with a leftovers quiche made with olive oil pastry on Sunday. Then there was a slow cooker adaptation of Ruth Reichl’s pork and tomatillo stew on Tuesday, which only got better through the week.

However, I also made a samosa filling with runner beans and potatoes on Sunday, which never made it out of the fridge and into the (by now, dried out) leftover filo pastry. The second piece of olive oil pastry has been sat in the fridge all week too. And there’s some biscuit dough that I defrosted to bake with E that is also stubbornly lurking in there.

And it’s all nicely symbolised by the sourdough starter that I refreshed on Saturday morning – and then neglected until we got in late on Saturday afternoon. A good intention to use up leftovers, or make something frugal, where ultimately my optimism got the better of me, and I ran out of time and energy to see it through.

It’s too late for the samosas, but the pastry and the biscuit dough can both be rescued today. A tart with the leftover vegetable bake, I think. And a biscuit base for some apples or jam. And so today is a bit better.


Without a recipe:

  • Waitrose pizza
  • Leftover pork stew with avocado and rice
  • Leftover vegetable bake with feta


Friday food links – 17 April 2015

Magnolias everywhere

My last week of maternity leave has now come to an end. I’ve had a brilliant year, but I think the time is right to go back to work, and I’m confident Ellie is going to learn a lot at nursery that I would struggle to offer at home. So there has been a type of reverse nesting this week, preparing to re-emerge into the working world. This involves: a) panicking about being able to get everything done, get E to bed and still manage to get some dinner on the table (answer: buy a slow cooker); and b) very belatedly getting around to all sorts of jobs that require someone at home (sofa to charity – tick!). Fortunately, there has also been a bit of time to enjoy the sun, and do a little gardening.


Without a recipe:

  • Steak and wedges
  • Chicken risotto in the oven


Friday food links – 13 Feb 2015

Cow pie for dinner. @RosieRamsden recipe, @breadahead puff pastry.

Excited to have got my hands on the new James Morton book, ‘How Baking Works‘. This feels like the book I should have written, so very interested to see what he has to say. I also cleared out my cupboards a bit (with a little help from my mum) and unearthed an ancient tin of condensed milk (which can’t go off, right?). This prompted me to make a Dan Lepard chocolate cake, and a tin of no-boil fudge. Unfortunately, the oven decided to break while I was baking the cake, meaning I baked it for twice as long as I should have, the first stint at a very low temperature. So I’ve ended up with something much drier than it should be, and singed around the edges for good measure. It’s a testament to Dan’s recipe that it tastes good nonetheless.


Without a recipe:

  • Sausage pasta
  • Chicken burritos
  • Parsnip risotto (from the freezer)
  • Fish curry (with Spice Tailor sauce)

Reading this week:

Beginning to bake #5: Freeform rhubarb tart

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Shortcrust pastry is one of the most useful baking skills. You can use it for sweet or savoury dishes, make it in any quantity, keep it for a day or two in the fridge or store it for later in the freezer. And the skills are very simple – you mix the flour and butter using the same rubbing in method as for scones.

The recipe today is for a freeform fruit tart, so you don’t need to worry about lining a pie dish or tart tin. You can use all sorts of fruit in the centre, just cut fairly small so it cooks through. Watch out for fruits that give off a lot of juice when they cook – you might want to add some breadcrumbs or cake crumbs underneath the fruit to soak up the juices. But with the rhubarb here, I just didn’t pack it too closely, and it was fine.

Rhubarb tart

Making shortcrust pastry is surrounded by a dense thicket of rules and myths:

  • Cold hands make better pastry
  • You should roll out the pastry on a marble slab
  • You need to use ice water
  • All butter pastry is best
  • You should always use lard for the best pastry

So why all the rules? What’s with keeping everything cold? For pastry, you really need the waterproofing effect of the fat to make sure the pastry ends up ‘short’, which means crisp and crumbly, like shortbread. Butter is made of only about 80% fat (depending on the brand). The rest is a mixture of water and milk solids (seriously. Check the nutrition panel on a packet). This means that anything you do to warm the pastry up risks melting a little bit of butter and releasing some water into the flour, and you want to keep that to a minimum.

Another reason for keeping things cold is to preserve some pieces of fat in the pastry. When the dough is rolled out, these pieces will form thin layers of fat, separating layers of dough. As the pastry cooks, the fat melts and separates the layers, making the cooked pastry flaky as well as crumbly. If you want a more flaky pastry, leave more large pieces of fat in the dough. When you roll it out, if you can see big streaks of fat, you can gently fold it like a business letter before proceeding. This will gives you some of the characteristics of rough puff pastry. If you want it more crumbly, rub the fat in until all the big pieces disappear. For a really shortbread-like crust, you can use softened or melted butter, along with sugar, which also interferes with the gluten.

Similarly, you want to handle it as little as possible. Rolling it out or stretching it many times will make it tough not crisp, as it develops the gluten.

Why use lard or shortening?

Those who swear by lard or vegetable shortening for their pastry do so for two reasons. One is that both are 100% fat, so there’s no risk of releasing water into the pastry as it melts. The other factor is that both melt at a higher temperature than butter, meaning you can use warm hands with less risk of melting the fat. The down side of both is that the flavour isn’t as nice as butter, so a common compromise is to use half butter and half lard.


  • Bowl
  • Knife
  • Baking sheet or tart tin

Basic recipe:

The phrase to remember is ‘half fat to flour’ – you always start with a ratio of half the weight of butter or other fat to the weight of flour. Richer shortcrust pastries can use more butter, and can use eggs as well, but this is the basic recipe, and a good place to start.

  • 200g flour
  • 100g cold butter (or half butter and half lard)
  • 4-5 tbsp cold, cold water
  • Big pinch of salt

For a rhubarb tart:

  • 3 sticks of rhubarb
  • 1 clementine or orange
  • Brown sugar


Weigh the flour into a bowl, add the salt, and add the cold butter, cut into chunks. Using a dinner knife, cut the butter into smaller pieces in the flour. Aim for the largest chunks to be about the size of a large pea. This will make it easier to rub the butter in.

Butter pieces cut in

Using your fingertips, rub the flour and butter together to integrate them, as in the scones recipe. Here, it doesn’t matter if the butter doesn’t disappear completely – you can leave some small lumps. Keep everything as cold as you can.

Once the butter is rubbed in, add about 3 tablespoons of fridge-cold water (about 45g if the bowl is on the scales).  Use the knife to mix it around and try to get everything equally damp. You’re not trying to get it wet enough to form a ball on it’s own, like with scones. All you need is enough dampness that when you squeeze the crumbs together, they stick to each other and don’t crumble apart again. Try that test to see if it’s ready. You will probably need another tablespoon or two to make sure it’s damp enough all the way through, but try not to use too much more than you need. The more water you use, the tougher the pastry will be, and the more likely it is to shrink when it is baked.

Use the knife to start sticking the damp crumbs together (the more you can use a knife or a scraper to push things around, the less you will have to use your hands, and the cooler everything stays).

Tip everything out onto the counter and pat and push it into a single disc of dough. Put this into a small ziplock bag or wrap it in clingfilm, and stash it in the fridge. Leave it for at least 30 minutes and up to a day.

Pressing down

Remove from the fridge, put it onto a floured counter and start to roll out with a rolling pin. If it’s too cold and stiff for the rolling pin to make an impression, leave it out for a while.

The trick when rolling out pastry is to roll it only in the middle – don’t roll off the front or the back. Just roll a little, then turn the pastry gently by about 1/8th of a turn, and roll again. This stops you making any part of the pastry too thin, and turning it helps to keep it roughly round and makes sure it is not sticking.

The pastry will probably start to crack at the edges as you roll it out. You can push these together, so that they don’t spread and get bigger as you roll further. Just push the edges of the crack together with your fingers, or pat the edges to seal it up.

Cracks at the edge
Push the cracks together

Once you have a thin sheet of pastry, transfer carefully to a baking sheet. It’s easiest to move it by draping it over the rolling pin, or by folding it gently in half and then sliding it over. Using a piece of baking parchment to line the baking sheet will make it easier to move, and will also stop any juices from the fruit sticking the tart to the baking sheet when it’s baked.

Move to baking sheet

Spread it out on the baking sheet, and move the whole thing into the fridge while you prepare the fruit. This will chill the pastry back down, and also give the gluten that was stretched out by the rolling pin a chance to relax.

Meanwhile, chop the fruit into small pieces and combine with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and some clementine zest here.

Cut rhubarb and mix with sugar

Remove the pastry from the fridge. Arrange the fruit over the pastry, leaving a wide border around the edge. Leave any juices that have collected in the bowl. Fold the edge of the pastry over the fruit, and pinch it together to hold it in place.

Crimp edges

Crimp it all the way around, then if there are some sugary juices still in the bowl, use a pastry brush to brush them over the edge of the pastry. This is not essential, but will make it sweeter and help it brown.

Bake at 200C/180C for about 20 minutes until the pastry is brown and crisp.


  • You can cut the pastry into pieces when it comes out of the fridge, and roll each piece out separately to make individual tarts. The ones below are actually made with a rhubarb-apple compote and roasted rhubarb pieces on top.

Small rhubarb tarts

  • French apple tart – use the same pastry to line a tart tin. Peel, halve and core about 6 or 7 medium apples. Slice thinly and arrange on the pastry. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the pastry is deep golden and the apples are all cooked and starting to colour. Brush the top with warmed apricot jam. This one adapted from a recipe in Saveur magazine.

Apple tart

  • Use the same pastry on top of a dish of beef stew or chicken to make a pot pie. Brush the dish with water or milk to make it stick, and crimp it to the dish. Cut a couple of holes in the top to let the steam escape. Brush the top with milk or egg to get a lovely golden colour. Try replacing the puff pastry in this Jamie Oliver recipe for beef and Guinness pie with your own homemade pastry.

There’s something about pastry

Edd Kimber, a.k.a. @theboywhobakes linked to this article on twitter not once, but twice – and I’m very glad he did. It’s a fascinating article from the New Yorker about the evolution of the modern dessert, a “quest to find out what desserts really [are] and where they [are] going”.

It’s a great read, although leaves you wanting more detail in a number of places. However, I found the distinction between dessert and not dessert somewhat false. As the article describes, the line between the two is quite blurred, because the techniques straddle dessert and main course cooking, and sweet and savoury flavours can appear in both. Ultimately, the only good definition of dessert is that it comes at the end of the meal.

But for me, the more interesting separation is not about dessert, but about pastry. I found the most interesting part of the article Ferran Adria’s description of the two major revolutions in French cooking coming from chefs originally trained in pastry – Carême codifying French cuisine and Michel Guérard and nouvelle cuisine. I’ve always found it interesting that Gordon Ramsay trained in pastry as well, and his Just Desserts book is, I think, one of his better ones. Pastry, in this context means a set of techniques in manipulating flour, sugar, butter and eggs to create a set of new materials – a set of skills which perhaps can equip you to imagine a new type of cuisine.

I definitely prefer pastry, mostly baking, to cooking – something that’s very obvious from the archives of this blog. It is something that I have thought of as a bit of defect, and have tried to correct (at least on the blog). I have thought of myself as  preferring pastry because I have a sweet tooth, and when I was at cooking school, because it was a calmer task than line cooking. These preferences are part of it, but this article also starts to get at something else which marks pastry apart from the rest of cooking. It is learning the techniques you need, and understanding the science behind the transformations in baking that really fascinates me, and draws me back to repeat, refine, adapt and develop.

The idea of constructing something new – creating new textures and materials out of raw ingredients – is fascinating. This is what Alice Medrich calls ‘a basic wardrobe for designing desserts’ and the part that appeals to ‘the engineer and architect’ in her. Armed with these techniques, and the ratios that make them work, you can create anything you care to dream up.  And because these are confections, they lend themselves to imagination and creativity. There’s no ‘meat and two veg’ target to hit, no nutritional points to count, no need for ‘food as fuel’. It is pure escape, like couture, the concept car or the Turner prize. (High end dining occupies a similar place, regardless of the courses.)

Something I’ve done before is to map out techniques or recipes, to see how learning one can lead you on to the next. This seems to work particularly well for pastry, where the same few ingredients can be combined in a huge number of different ways.

This diagram is an illustration of where these techniques can take you. A diagram of how to navigate the materials and techniques, and what you can access with each of them. This is a start – I would like to develop this further. If you can see anything that’s missing, or have any good ideas on how it could be used or developed, please let me know.

What about you – do you prefer pastry or cookery – and do you know why?

A tale of two beef dishes

I was in an English Food mood this weekend, partly due to Sam’s ‘English Food is not a joke’ challenge (and see previous post for more on that). I had bought a couple of packets of braising beef last week, with a vague plan to make some stew over the weekend that would act as an easy ready meal this week when I knew there would be a couple of late nights. In the end, I split the packets up and used them two different ways, both very satisfying and highly English. First on the agenda was pasties – good lunch food for those painting and decorating all weekend. The second packet went into a version of Jamie Oliver’s dark sticky stew, a basic beef stew enriched with Guinness and marmite – highly flavoured comfort food for a Sunday night.

I also made a batch of scones with the heat from the same oven as the pasties. It’s easy to forget how easy scones really are, with their connotations of an elaborate Victorian tea. But it took only 30 minutes from deciding to make them to taking them out of the oven. The finishing touch to a very English weekend (even if we did eat them with Creme Fraiche and jam).

Cornish Pasties
I adapted this from Gary Rhodes’ recipe in ‘New British Classics’, my only significant aberration being to substitute carrots for the traditional swede (which I didn’t have any of). I also substituted some strong white bread flour in the pastry, to help make it a little tougher and more robust. This only partly worked – my pastry was still a bit fragile. I have also specified a smaller sized pasty – Gary suggests only 4 from this mixture, but I found these too large, and therefore tricky to eat in one go.

For the pastry:
200g strong white bread flour
200g plain flour
100g butter
100g lard

450g braising beef (chuck, flank and rump could all be used), cut into 1cm cubes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
2 carrots, peeled, halved and sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped

Make the pastry. This is made as normal shortcrust pastry – make sure you season the flour well. My preferred method is to put the fat and flour into the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes, then use the food processor to cut in the fat, and add cold water to bring the pastry together in the processor. Turn the dough out and knead it lightly to make a stronger pastry, then wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up the meat and season well with salt and pepper. Prepare all the vegetables, and divide each type into 4 piles.

Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the pastry from the fridge. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, and, taking one piece at a time, roll each one out into a circle about the thickness of a pound coin (around 3mm). Arrange 1/8th of the meat and vegetables in layers down the centre of the circle, first the potatoes and carrots, then the meat and finally the onions. Season well with salt and white pepper (if you have it). Brush the edge of the circle with water all the way around, and bring the edges together. Press the edges together and then crimp the top to seal it well. Place on lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces of pastry dough.

Chill for 20 minutes, then bake at 180C for 1 hour. Allow to cool a little before eating.

A Dark Sticky Stew
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Dark Sticky Stew in ‘Jamie’s Kitchen’.

450g braising beef steak
2 tablespoons flour
2 sprigs thyme, finely chopped
2 small onions, chopped
3 large carrots, cut into batons
8 – 10 mushrooms, quartered
1 rib celery, finely chopped
125ml Guinness
500ml chicken stock
1 teaspoon Marmite

Preheat the oven to 170C. Combine the thyme and flour and toss with the beef until it’s coated. Heat some olive oil in a casserole dish, and brown the beef really well in two batches. Remove the beef and put to one side. Soften and brown the vegetables in the same pan. Then add the Guinness, reduce and add the chicken stock, Marmite and add the beef back in. Cover with a lid and put into the oven for 1 hour, or until the beef is tender. Serve with boiled potatoes (or even better, mash) and some cabbage or broccoli.