23 December 2013

Natasha's Big Comfort Tart

I am very happy to hand over today’s entry to Natasha Carrasco Stillman currently in New Zealand, who I met when she was in Switzerland thanks to the fact that she needed a bass guitar and I had one that was not being used. Anyway, she posted a photo of the following recipe on FB, which looked mouth-wateringly tasty, so I asked her if she wanted to put it up. Fortunately, she did! So over to Natasha:

What do you do when the weather outside is frightening?  Why, make comfort food, and what could be better than a sweet dessert that you can whip up that tastes heavenly with relatively little effort on your part!  I present the Big Comfort Tart:  cinnamon/Grand Marnier stewed berries on a bed of lemon curd custard.  It is certain to be a crowd pleaser!  And the best thing is, you can make up most the measurements to your taste as you go along!


  • ready to bake sweet short pastry sheets
  • Grand Marnier (or a like liquor of your choice)
  • mixed frozen berries (or any fresh or frozen berries of your choice)
  • vanilla custard
  • vanilla extract
  • cinnamon sticks (or powdered cinnamon)
  • lemon curd (FAM: if you haven’t got any ready-made, it’s quite easy to prepare:
  • Raspberry cordial (or strawberry)
  • brown sugar
  • grapeseed oil


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200° C – make sure shelves are one level lower than the middle.
  2. Examine the size of the pan you chose (it should be ideally a bit on the deep side), and defrost enough pastry to cover pan and over lap over  the edges – then brush grapeseed oil all over the inside of the pan. Also examine the size of the pan to decide how many berries you’d need to layer it once 
  3. Stew the berries over medium heat with a generous pour of the raspberry cordial and a splash or two of Grand Marnier.
  4. Add cinnamon sticks (or cinnamon powder), one or two capfuls of vanilla extract, and brown sugar – start small, adjust to your taste, but make sure the berries end up sweetened enough – keep stewing for about 20 minutes – keep watching, and stirring occasionally – the large amount of liquid you’re going to have is fine...
  5. Decide on the amount of vanilla custard – it should make a layer at least an inch thick to cover bottom - pour vanilla custard in bowl, mix in with a spoon generously lemon curd to taste  – however, make it nice and tart. (it should counter effectively the sweetness of the berries).
  6. By this time, your pastry  sheets should be defrosted. Layer the pan with them.  Leave an overhang around the edges.  What you want to be able to do (which I did not do quite adequately, but it doesn’t matter so much in the end) is curl the edges over in a curve.
  7. Brush pastry with grapeseed oil.
  8. Pour custard/lemon curd mixture in and spread thickly over the bottom.
  9. Spoon in berries (you will need slotted spoons for this part), taking care to leave most of the liquid behind in the pan. Do not press the berries into the custard. Cover the custard layer with a berry layer.
  10. It should look like this, just like a container. (By the way, do NOT discard that pan full of spiced berry juice!)
  11. Cover loosely with tin foil. You do not want to burn the pastry before it is cooked.  Put it in the oven for approximately 15 minutes.  Then uncover for approximately 10 minutes or so.  Just keep checking.  It will be done when the pastry is nice golden brown.
  12. Take out and cool.  (When it is cool, you may chose to sprinkle powdered sugar over the edges of the pastry or not.) Keep in mind, the structural integrity is not important. It WILL be a bit of a mess, but a TASTY mess, to be sure!!

NOW, what to do with the leftover berry juice?  Why, simmer, add more spices and wine and whatever else you think should go into your glühwein (mulled wine), of course!

21 December 2013

Beetroot Soup for a Cold Winter Evening

It is around the shortest day and we’re coming up for the inevitably heavy-duty feasting around Christmas. This is a relatively light, but filling, and, most of all, warming soup with the typically seasonal root vegetables. And it doesn’t take too long to make either.




What you need

  • 1 good-sized beetroot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • ¼ cabbage, cut into small squares
  • 1 level tblsp ground cumin (jeera)
  • a dash of dry sherry
  • vegetable broth or miso broth
  • salt and pepper, optionally a dash of soy sauce
  • for serving a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream per plate (unless you want to do this vegan)

What you do

  1. Sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of oil (rape seed) until glassy.
  2. Roast the cumin/jeera until it is a little darker than when you added it (30 seconds)
  3. Add the diced beetroot, carrots and cabbage and sauté as well, then add the potatoes.
  4. Stir for about 3 minutes, then add the dash of sherry. You can also add some pepper at this stage.
  5. Cover with veggie broth and allow to simmer until the vegetables have reached the degree of tenderness you like (mine should still be a little crunchy).
  6. Season to taste.
  7. Put a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream into each soup plate and fill up with soup.
  8. Serve with a slice of fresh wholemeal bread or toast. 

15 December 2013

Fresh Pasta with Watercress, Spinach, Radicchio and Prawns

Once again, this is not entirely veggie, right? But it makes use of the last of the water cress from our garden, but also a number of other leave vegetables. And it is easy and quick. Of course, it works also if you leave out the prawns.

What you need

  • 500 g fresh pasta
  • 1 medium sized shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 or more cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 goodly slug of olive oil
  • 1 colander of assorted leave veggies (radicchio, watercress, spinach), washed but still wet
  • 300 g cooked prawns (if you use raw ones they need to go in with the onions and the garlic)
  • ½ chopped chilli (depipped if it is not to be too spicy)
  • optionally: roasted pine kernels and chopped sundried tomatoes

What you do

  1. Do the pasta in quite salty water, making sure they are still quite al dente. Drain, saving the cooking water.
  2. In the meantime heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and the garlic until the latter are slightly crunchy.
  3. Add the chillies and the prawns and make sure they are hot but not overly cooked (prawns become really rubbery that way).
  4. At the very end, add the leaves and sauté until they are wilted. (If you use them, add the pine kernels and the tomatoes now.)
  5. Add a little (a tablespoon or two) of the cooking water if it is too dry. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Mix in the pasta, stir to mix and serve immediately. 

29 November 2013

Salmon in Foil with Wild Rice and Steamed Veggies

Last weekend I spent looking after my father and as a treat did him, a little improvised because of what I found in the fridge, this salmon with steamed carrots and broccoli and wild rice mix. It is dead easy and will take about 15 minutes max, but it needs to be done and served straight away. The amounts below serve 2.
Oh and apologies to veggie friends: salmon is hardly a vegetable…

What you need

  • tin foil
  • 300-400 g salmon fillet, ideally without skin
  • herbal salt
  • Bombay or Cajun spice mix
  • 3 to 4 cherry tomatoes, halved,
  • some flakes of butter
  • a generous dash of dry white wine

What you do

  1. Fold a piece of tin foil big large enough to hold the salmon so that the sides stand up and keep in any liquid.
  2. Put in the salmon fillet seasoned with herbal salt, then sprinkle with the spice mix.
  3. Cover the top of the fish with the halved cherry tomatoes. Add the butter flakes.
  4. Pour in a generous dash of dry white wine, to moisten the bottom but not enough to reach up further than the edge of the fillet.
  5. Put under the grill and allow to sit for between 8 and 10 minutes.
  6. Serve immediately.

Wild rice and steamed veggies

I would do this first, perhaps along with steaming the veggies. Sauté a tablespoon of chopped onions and garlic in a dash of olive oil, then add the rice and stir till glassy. Add the same volume of white wine, then  the same again in vegetable broth. Allow to simmer gently until the liquid is soaked up and the rice is dry (about 15-10 minutes). After adding the liquid I steam the veggies until they still have plenty of bite. I then put them in an ovenproof dish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with some high quality olive oil. This can be kept hot in the same oven as the salmon if necessary. Alternatively, I use some pumpkin seed oil, which I add just before serving.

15 November 2013

Watercress and Spinach Cream Soup

We have quite a lot of spinach and watercress in the garden at the moment. This and the following recipe make use of this. The basis of this recipe Caroline found online, but with what we had in the garden and in the house, I have made a few changes. Caroline’s online recipe used ice cubes, I decided to use chilled sparkling water. The effect is the same, to shock-cool the wilted leaves, but, even though I have read of chefs who use it amongst other things in risotto, I would never have believed the claim that it makes the dishes “airier” or “fluffier” – but sparkling water really does seem to do this…

What you need

  • 400 g spinach and watercress leaves
  • 2 small shallots, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 generous nob of butter
  • 750 ml chilled sparkling mineral water
  • 1 tbsp veggie broth powder or 1 – 2 veggie stock cubes
  • 150 – 200 ml crème fraiche
  • salt if needed


What you do

  1. Sauté the shallots and garlic in butter until they are glassy.
  2. Wash the water cress and spinach, but leave plenty of water on the leaves.
  3. Wilt the watercress first (less than a minute) then add the spinach and stir until the leaves are soft, splashing with a little water if the pan goes to dry.
  4. Take off the heat, put in a liquidiser and quickly pour in the mineral water and get the leaves to the desired consistency. (I quite like them to be still a little leafy, others like them finely puréed.)
  5. Put back in the pan, add the stock powder or cube(s) and warm up (don’t boil) while blending in the crème fraiche.
  6. Serve with some freshly baked bread for a light supper.