Thursday 17 April 2014

Slow cooking while the rain just keeps coming

Great piles of autumn leaves are forever gathering at our front door. This might have something to do with gale force winds every day of the last week or so. And to say it has been raining here lately is a bit of an understatement. Granted, we needed some rain for our very dry garden but after a couple of weeks of (what has seemed like) constant downpours of the wet stuff, the novelty has somewhat worn off.
The sun finally came out, with a 23C day - crazy weather!
So, at the beginning of this week, we upped the flames on the lovely gas fire and out came the comforting food to cheer us up.
In a busy life, Joan Bishop's NZ Crock Pot and Slow Cooker cookbook is a 'god send'. This little gem was first published in 1985 and has been reprinted 16 times. That's a lot of books! I bought my copy in 2006 and it's often the recipe book I turn to when I want an easy evening meal, one I can prepare in the morning and forget about for most of the day.
With a busy day ahead and rain 'bucketing' down outside I took a look at what I had in the fridge. Most experienced cooks know what goes with what, as some vegetables are well 'suited' to certain meats. I found once I had this knowledge I was able to experiment a bit and create some great recipes, just based on what I had in the fridge and pantry. On this occasion, out came the following.....
6 boned and skinless chicken thigh meat pieces
2 carrots
1 stick of celery
3 courgettes
1 green pepper
1 red onion
a handful of mini tomatoes
Next step... 
I cut each piece of chicken into 3 bits and dusted it with a little flour, browned them in a little olive oil and placed them to one side. (By dusting with flour and browning you add a little cooked thickening to your dish).
I chopped the peeled carrots and onions, sliced the celery and green pepper (seeds removed). These were then placed in the same pan and saute`d for a few minutes. While it adds an extra step to the proceedings, doing it this way gives more flavour to your dish.
Into my slow cooker I added a large tin of passatta sauce. (I like using passatta as it is thicker and denser in flavour). Add the chicken and vegetables and about 1/2 cup water. Add seasonings to taste. (You shouldn't need much as passatta is usually quite salty). Mix together and put the lid on. Set the cooker to High.
Note: The passatta usually contains all the herbs you need but if you are just using a few tinned chopped tomatoes add oregano, basil, and or thyme. You need to be careful with how much water you add. The vegetables break down and add a lot of water to the dish and you do not want it to go too sloppy.
I checked with Joan Bishop's book and figured it would take about 4 hours to cook. About 10 minutes before serving I gave the dish a stir and added the mini tomatoes. It was perfectly cooked and really delicious. I served it with crushed buttery potatoes and green beans.
No photo with this recipe, the camera could not do it justice...
Footnote: This quantity was good for two meals for us. I had quite a lot of lovely 'gravy' and a small piece of chicken left over so poured it all into the food processor and gave it a whizz for a minute. Viola! Tomato, vegetables and chicken soup for lunch, with hot buttered Burgen of course!

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Tomato tarts

Over the past two weeks we've had the most glorious sunny, windless days. It's been great to be in the garden 'beavering away' - without being blasted by the wind. 
The last gasp of sunny weather has also helped ripen my Isle of Capri tomatoes (don't they sound exotic)  restoring my faith that I can actually grow tomatoes. I think the key to their success was my plant placement -  a sheltered flat, sunny spot behind the house away from the blustery wind.
I also treated my little tomato plant like a baby. It was well tendered, fed wonderful 'tomato food' and borage 'magic mix'. And due to some great advice from a super gardener, I was a little more diligent with removing all the laterals.
I love tomatoes and will happily eat them raw, fried in butter and tossed through pasta or served on toast with lots of salt and pepper. And I love them, along with generous slices of avocado, served on toasted Burgen bread.
My first successful tomato - devoured within minutes of picking
Isle of Capri tomatoes. Note the fancy tomato ties!
Meanwhile, my mini tomatoes were planted in the main garden and while it gets lots of sun, the wind whistles through a bit more. Granted there are lots of them on the vine, but they haven't ripened yet. My lovely neighbour has produced a large quantity of red ones in her garden. And she has shared them with me most weeks, which has been lovely. I suspect I planted my mini plants a little too late or maybe all the bees went next door - anyway mine are are a long way off going from green to red! The weather has now turned very wet, overcast and cold. It looks like I might soon be making one (only) jar of green tomato pickle with my crop!
Earlier in the week, I had a large group arriving for (an after work and pre-dinner) meeting. Before we could get down to business they would need some sustenance and I thought it might be nice to make mini tomato tarts. That way I was utilising some of my gifted mini tomatoes and the pastry recipe from my previous blog, this time for a savoury tart.
I was really pleased with the way they came out. I had lots of compliments too!
The ricotta makes for a lighter pastry treat, best to roll your pastry thinly too. And they look much better if you keep all your herbs finely chopped. 
Filling for savoury tarts - you can vary what you add in the way of herbs and quantities of filling, it will depend on how many tarts you need to fill. This was about right for 2 dozen mini tarts plus one small tart for my lunch. These are rough measurements -
1 beaten egg
1 cup of ricotta
1 cup of finely grated cheese- I used my 'grating plane' and a mixture of Edam (Tasty would be better) and Parmesan
1tbsp of finely chopped fresh oregano - add more if you prefer
1 tbsp of finely chopped chives - or spring onions but not onions
Salt to taste
In a bowl add all the ingredients to the beaten egg, add salt to taste. Spoon into prepared pastry cases. Don't overfill. Place a tomato half on top.
Bake about 230 degrees C for about 10 minutes. Check. Then cook for about another 10 minutes watching the pastry doesn't brown too much, while ensuring the filling is cooked and set. Turn the oven down if needed. Some tarts sort of 'erupted' but I just gently pushed the little tomato back into the filling and it was fine when cooled.
I sprinkled a little more cheese on top of the tart, it was just delicious and even better -  I didn't have to share!
My tart ready for the oven
Mini tarts ready to eat