Easy and Quick Pea and Ham Soup

pea and ham soup - photo by simon c bennett photographer

I don’t often tell anyone that my recipes are easy and quick – largely because I believe a lot of the best food is something which has had a bit of time spent on it. That said, there are exceptions and this recipe is one of them.

I large onion
1 large potato
1l ham stock
Small handful of mint to chop
500g petits pois
200g diced smoked ham
4 tblspns of creme fraiche
pea and ham soup

Dice the onion and soften in a saucepan in a knob of butter. Add the potato and pour over the stock. I sometimes use a 50/50 mix with water to dilute the saltiness if the stock is very salty. Simmer the onion till soft.
pea and ham soup

Meanwhile chop the mint finely and add to the peas.

Once the onions and potato are soft add the peas and boil for a couple of minutes.
In the meantime get your blender out and plug it in! I used a hand blender which I just stuck in the soup!
pea and ham soup

Pulverize the peas, onions and potato and add four tablespoons of creme fraiche and stir in.
pea and ham soup

Pour into the bowls required, add some chopped mint and some diced ham. If you’re feeling naughty then another dollop of creme fraiche as it never hurt the postman. Mind you my postman has a nasty habit of leaving “we called and you were out” cards even when I’m in and I can tell you that irritates the vajazzle out of me!

Frangipane and Filo Apricot and Cherry Tart

For the frangipane

• 250g ground almonds
• 200g granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 200g soft salted butter
• 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Pour the ingredients into a mixer and whir away until a fine paste has formed. This is frangipane. Try not to eat too much of it raw like I did.

This is enough frangipane to make a few tartlets or indeed a larger tart. And there’s nothing I like more than a large tart. Don’t snigger.

For the tart in todays recipe:

• A sheet of filo pastry
• Stewed apricots
• Fresh cherries marinaded in cherry brandy
• A handful of dessicated coconut
Take your sheet of filo pastry and place it carefully in a greased flat tin.

frangipane and filo apricot and cherry tart

Add your fruit filling.

Layer on the frangipane
frangipane and filo apricot and cherry tart

Sprinkle over the dessicated coconut

Cook at 150° for 30 minutes

frangipane and filo apricot and cherry tart

Serve with cream or a lovely coulis as shown.

frangipane and filo apricot and cherry tart

Frangipane and Pastry Moments

Do you have any idea what it’s like to house an immigrant with special needs? I know Brenda was born here, but she left to marry some Australian muscle boy who unfortunately had a roving eye. Having been expelled from Australia after an acrimonious divorce  that included all the seamier aspects of society’s many ills, she ends up back here, homeless, and frankly a drain on my most benevolent resources.

Still that’s what happens in middle age. All those cool friends that go off when they’re young and leave one enviously wondering if paying the mortgage is such a good idea then come back to haunt you when you have achieved independence. Then they need to be given jobs to do! Rather less cool, and frankly rather more wrinkled.

And so on that subject I have made Brenda investigate the pleasures of filo. Well, after her recent exploits with the custard tarts I felt she should learn how to work with pastry so I went to the supermarket and got her some beginners ready made filo to work with while I went out and attended some gorgeous celebrity ridden cocktail party. I’ve had quite enough of experiencing her thick stodgy pastry so something had to be done.

So to my pleasant surprise she actually made quite a reasonable job without burning the house down. Photos will follow.


How to shoot yourself in the foot

You may remember that in my last posting re the soup making that I said we were making soups based with vegetable stocks. This wasn’t a complete lie I can tell you, but as ever the minute you commit yourself to an absolute, you find that someone helpfully points out that you’re talking total rubbish. In this case it was Fanny who politely said something along the lines of “are you completely stupid you witless amnesiac?”. I’ve been paid nicer compliments I can tell you. To put matters right here indeed is one of the many exceptions to my last blog – the mushroom soup made with home made chicken stock which I have to say was absolutely delicious.

fanny and brenda's mushroom soup

20g butter + 30g chicken fat *
700ml of chicken stock
350g sliced mushrooms
1 fat clove of garlic
glass of dry white wine
Sprig of thyme or lemon thyme
Creme fraiche or double cream (volume to your taste)
(* the top of the solidified/jellied chicken stock).

Put the stock on to simmer in a pan
Fry the mushrooms in the butter and fat
Let the mushrooms expel their juices then add the garlic
Once the mushrooms are soft and cooked (but not browned), then add them to the simmering stock
Add the (lemon) thyme and white wine to the pot
Simmer for 20 minutes
When all is thoroughly tender, then blitz in the liquidiser
Pour into a clean pan
Swirl in creme fraiche or double cream to your taste
Add chopped parsley, and serve with some hot buttered sourdough bread/toast

We are soup making

It is early summer and for once we have summery weather. It hasn’t improved Fanny’s face much – leathery, wrinkled and now red, but at least it has brought about some cheer. We will be uploading a couple of lovely soup recipes later in the week and these will have  vegetarian appeal. We felt that if there is any time to appreciate this country’s  fresh produce, now is that time and accordingly we will want to share it with all of you – and to ensure that we have made the stocks vegetable based. So what have we learnt so far? Well we have tried a recipe or two and vegetables do not do well en masse- they need to be appreciated for what they are. It’s different if you add meat or fish to the complex, but when they are purely vegetable we think you have to allow the flavours to have their own prominence, which in short means not drowning them in lots of herbs, or mixing them up with too many other vegetables. And why? Well this morning we finished one really rather complex  (and frankly very labour intensive) recipe that had originated from a very established source and it tasted like wet weeds. We tried this recipe twice to be sure that we had got it ‘right’ . Needless to say we are subsequently rather amazed that it had ever been published. We also tried another recipe from the same source that was a effectively a mush of vegetables too. We didn’t need to re-try that one. It is fascinating when award winning chefs put their name to recipes that either don’t work or are just plain miserable, but given that that does happen, it makes us more determined to bring you the best recipes we can.

I know that I am am bound to be questioned on my love of the likes of Gazpacho after a posting like this -there will always be exceptions to the rule. However, that said, give your vegetables the room to allow their own flavours to come through – they are more subtle than meat or fish so recognising that basic difference will help.
fanny and brenda soup making

Portuguese style custard tarts

When I first tried one of these style custard tarts in a Portuguese cafe in London I was blown away. Until that point a custard tart was a custard tart, but after it was Portuguese and nothing else. You see, it makes the ones that I was used to (the English ones) feel dull, flabby, and soggy. And I’m sorry but I’m right about this fact.  This is all due to these Pasteis de Nata. They are something else, and I was recently reminded of their allure on a fleeting visit to Lisbon.
portuguese custard tarts - pasteis de nata
Like so many good things in life, they are surprisingly simple. However I have come across ‘easy’ to make versions of these incorporating shortcuts that mean the final result isn’t quite as expected. They really aren’t that difficult so just give yourself some time.

Preheat the oven to 180°

You want 1 (buttered) muffin tray with 12 servings.
Preparation Time: 25 minutes, plus cooling time and 5 minutes standing
Cooking Time: 40 minutes

• 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
• 115g /4ozs  caster sugar
• 2 tbsp cornflour
• 400ml (full fat) milk – not the semi skimmed varieties!
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 320g/10.6 ozs rolled puff pastry (1 sheet)

For the tarts
Place the sheet on a surface with a plain flour dusting so it doesn’t stick.
Take your sheet of rolled puff pastry and roll it up like a Swiss Roll.

Cut it into 12 slim strips
Take each one and roll it out so it is flat

Take each one and place in the buttered muffin tray.
When all 12 are in the tray, place in the oven and blind bake for about 8-10 minutes. (please see our previous post re blind baking).

Meanwhile for the custard:
Put the eggs, sugar, and cornflour in a pan on the hob and whisk together. Add the milk and keep whisking. As it starts to thicken add the vanilla extract and keep whisking until it thickens. Take off the heat.
At this stage I then pour the custard into the pastry cases.
Place in the oven until the custard starts to brown.

Once the custard tarts have started to brown get them out and put them somewhere to rest. They are best eaten cool.
portuguese custard tarts - pasteis de nata
These are really luxurious and marvellous with a strong black coffee.

To bake blind or not?

Very soon I will publish the recipe of some tarts that I have been working on. I have seen several recipes for them and tried them. However strangely, given the filling is cream based very little was mentioned about baking blind or pre baking. Do not underestimate the value this will bring to your pie or tart. Accomplishing that “gosh that was delicious how did you do that?” reaction in your friends can sometimes be something as simple as a quick pre bake before the filling is added. In the photo you see two tart cases that I made with puff pastry, one that had used baking beans and the other which hadn’t. You can see that the one on the left, which was left au naturel, shrank while the one with baking beans kept its shape and size.

The end result is quite different; it looks different and it chews differently. To some extent this will be a matter of taste, but for that crispier pro finish, I recommend the added step of baking beans.

More on the subject click here

blind baking, pre baking, baking beans for tarts pic by simon bennett

Fanny finds a delicious use for her chicken stock

After a heavy week in my stillies I needed to relax. So what better than to wake up and descend the stairs in my divine floral nightie to find Fanny’s irritated face at the stove. Apparently she’d been there all morning and she was very very stroppy. A face like utter thunder.

“All rather different from the sort of fungus you give people, I think you’ll agree” she said referring to her mushroom soup in a rather sniffy voice.

However she’d seen fit to use the marvellous chicken stock that she’d made from the remnants of a delicious lime chicken dish which we will be showing later on and I have to say that the soup and the wine were a marvellous tonic for a Sunday lunchtime.

delicious white wine for a light summer lunch

summer delicious mushroom soup