Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Simple Chocolate Tart

I don't know about you guys, but to me, the sight of a patisserie with shelves full of fruit tarts is enough to make me swoon with pleasure, and want to jump on the first plane to Europe. Crisp tart shell, sweet pastry cream and fruit arranged beautifully on top. This month, thanks to the Daring Bakers, I learnt what the Italian  term is for this: Crostata di frutta fresca. How cool is that? Doesn't it make you want to say it over and over again? Preferably while eating some of said crostata? Also, sweet short crust pastry is called pasta frolla. I don't think I'll say short crust pastry ever again, when I can say pasta frolla.

Easy to make too. Tart shell, pastry cream, or even some sweetened mascarpone, topped with beautiful fruit. Except I've never actually made one. And I'll tell you immediately why not: it's the blind baking bit. I once made a chocolate pecan tart which required blind baking. It turned out absolutely delicious, except it was so fiddly I wasn't keen to repeat the experience anytime soon.

Then I came across somebody called Jamie Oliver. Baby Brother and I were in Amsterdam, taking a break from drinking coffee and looking at Van Gogh, and found ourselves in an english bookstore. The title caught my eye: The Naked Chef. I'm sorry to say I couldn't take the book off the shelf quickly enough. After the initial disappointment of not seeing any beautiful naked men, I realised that the recipes are actually pretty good, and I bought the book. Back home I realised the man is actually world famous, his recipes are great, and I started cooking. One recipe I've always wanted to try, but somehow never got around to, was his Simple Chocolate Tart. Chocolate, pastry, cream. Say no more. And to make things better, he believes that if you put your pastry in the freezer before baking, you don't have to do the whole baking paper-and-beans-thing. I was sold. And when this Daring Bakers challenge came around, I decided to make, among others, this chocolate tart. I also wanted to do the whole mascarpone cream and beautiful fruit tart, as well as a cooked pastry cream one featured in the challenge. Then I sort of lost track of time, and this morning realised with a shock that posting date is today. Hence, I present you Simple Chocolate Tart. And nothing else. Hopefully I'll get round to them sometime soon.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Pasta frolla

1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar, or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.

Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.

Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).

Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.

Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.

Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.

Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Line your tart tin with the chilled dough, making sure it is as even as possible. Wrap the tin in plastic, then put in the freezer for at least an hour.

Bake the tart shell straight from the freezer at 180°C for 15 minutes. Cool.

Simple Chocolate Tart

1 tart shell, baked blind
300ml  double cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
115g softened butter
450g dark chocolate, broken up
100ml milk
cocoa powder for dusting

Place the double cream and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture has boiled, remove from the heat and add the butter and chocolate. Stir until it has completely melted. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, stirring in the cold milk until smooth and shiny. Scrape all the mixture into the cooked and cooled pastry shell with a spatula. Shake tart to even it out, and allow to cool for around 1-2 hours until room temperature. Dust with cocoa powder. Ultimately the pastry should be short and crisp and the filling should be smooth and should cut like butter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jamie's steak

We've had the most wonderful weekend here at the cottage. Our wonderful friend Nick came to visit, and we had a grand old time catching up. He is the new head of some important business, and has been travelling all over the globe the last few weeks. Together with us living with other people and painting every spare moment until just recently, there wasn't a lot of socialising done. A lot to discuss, then.

And with discussion came food. On Saturday night The Fabulous Man and Nick decided they're going to have a braai, ie a barbeque over proper fire, not sissy gas (I know there are fire restrictions and all that, but still). They made beef sausages and a butterflied leg of lamb, and I thought I was in heaven. That wood smoky taste you only get from cooking over fire is second to none, and I felt like crying thinking about home. (Sometimes I still find myself thinking of "home" as South Africa. I'm sorry fellow Australians, I'm working on it). Sunday morning was spent over cups of tea and good old english breakfast, and a lazy walk into town. All in all a great weekend.

Back to normality on Monday night, and I decided to try a recipe of Jamie Oliver I've been saving for a while. It's roast beef cooked half over the coals, and finished off in the oven, served with a capsicum and chilli salsa. It's the salsa that caught my eye initially. I think it's good to have a little something up your sleeve that's easy to make, but jazzes up a normal meal. This sounded the perfect accompaniment to the barbeque that can unfortunately so easily turn into burnt sausages in bread and overcooked lamb chops. We've all been to those.

Of course the recipe is vintage Jamie, which means six hundred different ingredients cooked meticulously from scratch. He suggests you roast red peppers, red onion and chillies over the coals for about half an hour until nicely charred, and then fiddle with them a bit more. Then chop it all up with all the other ingredients. Now, in a perfect world, this is what I would do, but in my world, not so much. Actually, dinner time in our house is turning out to be a bit of a stressful time. The Little Girl is usually tired and grumpy by now, usually still needs a bath, and the Fabulous Man is trying to recover if he's been away during the day. And I'm trying to cook dinner. It sort of works if I feed the girl early, have dinner cooked late afternoon, and then give the girl a bath while the Man catches his breath. Sort of. Mostly not. Hence anything cooked over coals for hours doesn't get done on a Monday night if it can be bought ready made from the shop. My recipe then contains a jar of red peppers from the supermarket, and I slowly cooked my onions in some olive oil in a pan while chopping up the rest of the ingredients. The meat was cooked on the stove. No woodfire either, alas.

I substituted the beef with sirloin steaks, as suggested by Jamie, however, I am keen to try the rib-eye next time I make this. And there will definitely be a next time. This dish was sensational. We loved the marinade for the beef, and the salsa lifted the whole meal from the ordinary to the divine. Highly recommended, dear readers.

Seared herby beef with spicy capsicum salsa
Serves 6

Bunch of thyme
3 garlic cloves
olive oil
1kg piece rib-eye (on or off the bone), or 4 250g sirloin steaks
3 red chillies, seeds removed
4 red capsicums, halved, seeds removed (or a jar of ready-roasted capsicums)
1 red onion, cut into wedges
50g capers
6 anchovy fillets (or, if you're anchovy-shy like I am, only one)
small bunch of basil, leaves picked, smaller leaves reserved
red wine vinegar
1 lemon

If you're using a gas barbeque, preheat it to high heat, otherwise light the fire. If you're in South Africa the men will take care of this. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Pick leaves from half the thyme, then pound in a pestle and mortar with garlic and some salt. Mix in some olive oil until marinade-conistency, then massage into the meat. Leave for at least 30 minutes. Use the remaining thyme sprigs as a brush. You can tie them together with string if you could be bothered.

Meanwhile, for the salsa, chargrill your chilli, capsicum and onion on a medium barbeque for 20 minutes, turning occasionally until slightly charred all over. Alternatively, use bottled chargrilled capsicums, and caramelise the onions on the stovetop. Put in a food processor with the capers, anchovies and basil and process until finely chopped. Add a generous splash of vinegar and some olive oil until you've got a good dipping consistency. Taste, and season if needed.

Put a roasting pan in the oven to get hot. Put the beef on the barbeque and cook for 10 minutes, turning every minute to give a good colour. Use the thyme brush to brush with any remaining marinade. Transfer the meat to the roasting pan and cook in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until done to your liking.

Alternatively you can use 250g sirloin steaks. Marinade them the same way, then barbeque for 7 minutes, turning every minute. They will cook through on the barbeque or in the pan.

Serve the meat sliced with some rocket dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, and the salsa on the side.Yum!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Cottage

I was about to apologise for my very long absence, and then remembered that my name is not Julie, and I don't delude myself into thinking people are having sleepless nights in front of their computers just to see what I'm up to next. Coming up is a story, then. Not an excuse.

The Fabulous Man and I bought a house. At last. We looked for ages, and couldn't find exactly what we wanted where we wanted. Then we stumbled across a lovely little house called The Cottage in the foothills, rather than on the mountain itself. It's about a quarter of the size of our previous house, but we loved it, and our very first offer was accepted. We were, and still are, very happy with our purchase.

The Cottage

The Cottage was built in 1890, and luckily for us maintained very well. There were no major problems at all, but it still needed some paint and a few other small things. The walls were horrible. You know that very course sandpaper-like stuff you find on the outside of some houses? This was what covered our inside walls. So, before painting, the walls needed sanding, and we couldn't find one painter who was willing to tackle the job. They all said that they're sure the stuff is there for a reason, and the reason is probably that the walls underneath are in pretty bad shape.

The Fabulous Man decided to do it himself, and with the help of our lovely uncle Andrew, accepted the challenge. Together they spent the next few weeks, in-between day jobs, sanding and patching walls. Yes, the walls underneath were less than perfect. Wonky, to be kind. We bought buckets and buckets of plaster-like stuff from the hardware store to patch them up. My poor husband returned home every night covered with dust. I did my bit, and had paint under my nails for weeks. I'm happy to say I can also now use the words "caulking gun" in a meaningful sentence.

In the meantime we lived with my lovely mother-in-law. It was great. We took turns making tea for each other. The Little Girl had a fabulous time exploring new horizons and playing with her cousins on a daily basis. I even cooked a few times. No blog cooking, I'm sorry to say. Every time I try something new, there's always the very distinct possibility that I at the very least wreck something, possibly even burn down the kitchen. I didn't want to do this to her. Hence, no posts for months.

The kitchen. Yes, that is an open fireplace. And yes, that is a very tiny oven. No twelve course dinners, I'm afraid.

The end result is a dream. We are both very impressed with how it turned out. It is by far the friendliest house I've ever lived in, and the garden is full of beautiful shrubs, some roses, and, to my delight, a lemon tree. Opposite the house is a little french deli, for which I had grand plans of visiting each morning for coffee and croissants. Alas, the prices are higher than heaven, and the people are unfriendly. Hence, the Little Girl and I walk into town each day, talking to anybody and everybody. I am amazed every day by how friendly everybody is here. We love it.

I am almost fully back into cooking mode, and will try my best to come up with lovely recipes for you to drool over. In the meantime, I hope everybody is having a great week.