Sunday 23 March 2014

Mini lemon tarts using the best short crust pastry

I have acquired a new recipe book, actually it is an encyclopedia - written by the doyen of Australian food writers - Margaret Fulton. A lovely birthday gift from my Wellington family.
When I have time, I pour over it most days. I have uncovered some tremendous ideas and hints to improve my preparation, cooking and presentation of food. In a few words, this bible is an absolute gem! 
One morning I set about making a few lemon tarts for our hard working painter. To my dismay I discovered I didn't have short crust pasty in my freezer, what to do! 
.....I turned to Margaret for inspiration.
Her book has heaps of recipes for short crust pastry. Being an old fashioned sort of girl I chose the simplest one, it brought back lovely memories of 'Homecraft' classes at high school. Yes, there were easier and quicker choices in Margaret's book, but this time I chose not to use them.
This recipe is making pastry the old fashioned way. Unfortunately we don't have a marble top but it explains all the other right steps to ensure the best result for your pastry. And I found this pastry particularly nice as it was not sweet.
Plain Shortcrust Pastry - Margaret Fulton
Can be used for savoury pies, pastries etc.
225g (8oz) plain flour
pinch of salt
90g (3oz) chilled butter (diced)
about 3 tbsp iced water
squeeze of lemon juice
Sift flour and salt into a bowl
Add cold diced butter. Rub into flour using thumbs and tips of fingers ( I used my pastry cutter to get it started), lifting your hands above the bowl to aerate the mixture - until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
Mix water and juice and add a tbsp of liquid at a time using a round ended knife. When dough starts to cling together use your fingers to form into a ball. If needed, sprinkle in a little more liquid to dampen any mixture in the bowl and using the ball to gather up bits of dough. Dough should leave the bowl clean.
Place on floured board and knead lightly using the the heel of your hand to form a smooth dough.
Wrap in gladwrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Roll pastry into the shape you require, cut out tart shapes and place in (lightly greased) tin. Prick bottom of tart shell lightly with a fork.
Chill again for 15 minutes.
Bake in a hot oven 230°C or 450°F for six minutes then check, if they have puffed up just lightly push down with the back of a spoon then bake for a few more minutes until they are cooked and light brown. While still warm place about a spoonful of lemon curd in each tart. (Please see my blog for lemon curd recipe). Allow to cool.
I ended up with about two dozen lovely mini lemon tarts - perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. But the recipe would also make enough dough to line a 20 - 23 cm (8-9inches) pie plate of flan ring.
It was absolutely the best pastry I have ever made (and tasted) and I felt quite pleased with myself.

While mixing the dough I was thinking of my cooking tools. I inherited the pastry knife from my late mother and my daughter rescued an old (but in good nick) pastry cutter from a charity shop, my original one from my 1970's 'hope chest' was no longer useable. It made me wonder who will want my kitchen drawer of useful bits and pieces when I go. I would like to think my family will want to keep some of them. As they say, one woman's junk is another woman's treasure. I think of my Mum every time I use her well worn bone handled knife. I like to think they will remember me in the same way.

rub in butter until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs
make a well in the centre and add liquid a little at a time

The end result - I love lemon tarts!

Sunday 9 March 2014

Parsnip dip

Parsnip might not be everyone's favourite vegetable. But I have always enjoyed eating them. Especially roasted but I love them mashed or mashed with carrots - along with a generous knob of butter and salt and pepper (of course).
Last November I transplanted a large tray of seedlings into my humble garden. Within weeks I had a massive green display of lush parsnip tops - in fact they overtook my garden. Great to see them grow so well but I was a little concerned about the lushness of the greenery - what was happening down below......?
Plan A - this week it was time to see if there was anything worth eating. (I did try this a month or so ago and ended up with a parsnip about the size of child's pencil!).
First step - grab the green bit, next step - pull - I said pull! I wasssss pulling - in fact with such purpose the green bit came out (and I fell back hard on my bottom) and the bit I really wanted, the white parsnip bit - was still firmly in the ground!
At this point (in a sitting position on the path) the man of the house happened along. 'You are not pulling hard enough' - watch he said - like this - pull! and exactly the same thing happened.... point made - but thanks for the demo!
Plan B - a rather serious, really big dig finally got them out! And the reason they were so hard to remove - they had formed into a strange underground triffid shape. Ummm... aren't they supposed to be a simple conical shape he asked!
In spite of their extreme ugliness - after I had finished with them they tasted absolutely wonderful! If you do not like parsnip - really give this a try. 
Kristeen's Parsnip Dip.
Make sure the parsnips are scrubbed well - if fresh from the garden there is no need to peel them.
Toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, place in a roasting pan and cover tightly with tinfoil.
Bake in a moderate oven. They should done in about 1 hour, test by poking a knife through the tinfoil.
Once cooled a little, place the parsnips and any oil and juices left in the pan into a kitchen whizz, and depending on the amount of parsnips, add about one teaspoon of curry paste and seasoning, test to your taste and add more if necessary.
If a little thick, (and with the parsnips still warm) drizzle a little oil into the mix while the whizz is running, this will ensure a smooth texture and make it easier to serve as a dip. Garnish with a few toasted sesame seeds.
We had our (still slightly warm) dip with a new rice cracker we have come to enjoy. We could have easily ate the whole bowl in one sitting but thought it best to save some to enjoy with drinks another night. I hope you enjoy this simple little dish. It is perfect for my vegetarian and vegan friends.

Monday 3 March 2014

What summer and other things?

This blog is about a number of random things - mostly simple things that have made me happy lately.
It has not been the greatest summer here in Welly, and apart from a couple of really hot days it has been mostly warm - ish, along with the odd day or two without any raging winds.
So almost on cue at the end of summer my Isle of Capri tomato plant sprung into action. I picked three lovely ripe tomatoes. We plan to eat them today in a very ceremonious way.
The plant is laden with many more that I am willing on to ripen before it gets too cold and dark.
There are about 20 more tomatoes to ripen - yay!
I planted beetroot in my garden, not a great crop but managed to winkle a few to put into a salad. This recipe is one of those random ones, roast this and that, add a wonderful grain or two, add a bit of parsley, squeeze in some lemon, drizzle extra virgin olive oil and top it off with roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds and viola! You have lunch made for a week.....Yum!
Roast beetroot and parsnip, black rice and quinoa salad
I have blogged before about our lovely old lemon tree. In spite of (some) branches covered in lichen, it keeps on producing. This year we have a bumper crop. And what do you do with them all - you make lemon muffins with crunchy sugar lemon topping, a large roasted lemon cake and of course a jar or two of lemon curd. Wonderful!
Our magic lemon tree

My fav roasted lemon cake - gorgeous with yoghurt
And finally my latest 'find'. Last week I helped move office for a charity I volunteer for. They did not want this old but lovely 1960 - 70's? telephone table. Score! I handed over a generous monetary donation and squeezed the table into my little car before they could change their mind. However, I now have a bit of a problem - we really have nowhere to put it in our house. Every bit of space is already occupied. And hubby does not share my love of such furniture. Clearly I have a lot of work to do to convince him otherwise.
My latest little find