Sweet Potato and Almond Tarts

It's Thanksgiving in the US today - happy happy day if you're celebrating! As it's not a holiday here, I'm celebrating on Sunday, at which point I'm cooking the whole traditional meal with all the trimmings, so I probably won't be blogging. But it's a tradition of mine - and many - to start listening to Christmas music for the year while starting on the Thanksgiving baking, and I couldn't wait three more days, so here we are. I made this one up based on too many different recipes to mention - it's on the less sweet side, so adjust accordingly for taste. 

(Makes 24 tarts)
2x 365g rolls of shortcrust pastry (if you know how to make your own, you're way ahead of me)
Three sweet potatoes (approx 500g)
2 eggs
1x 170g tin of evaporated milk
50g ground almonds
50g sugar
Vanilla essence
Mixed spice (cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, clove, ginger)

Preheat oven to 200c
Grease muffin/cupcake/tart tin (or whatever you call that thing with the dents in it)
Cut the pastry in 24 discs - should use almost all of it - I use a large coffee mug.
Put the pastry in the dent thingies.
Blind bake for 20 minutes.
Repeat if working in two batches.
Turn the oven down to 125c.

Peel and finely chop sweet potatoes.
Cover with cold water in a pan, bring to the boil, simmer until breaking apart (approx twenty minutes).
Drain, mash. 
Leave to cool for a few minutes.
Mix in evaporated milk, sugar, ground almonds, vanilla, spices, eggs. Stir thoroughly. 
Spoon into pastry cases, leaving room to rise.
Bake for  an hour, checking regularly. Adjust heat if pastry is browning too fast. Filling should be golden brown and firm.


My new Best Friends Forever

I suppose everyone goes through phases in which one cannot get enough of a certain foodstuff or method of cooking and develops a sudden passion, like those of adolescents for a temporary crush.

This week (or possibly month, for it has already lasted some time), my two special best friends forever-ever-ever are kale (or chard, if I can't find kale) and a new cooking pot called Gastrolux Biotan (registered trademark and don't you forget it). I even took a picture of the two together (and for those who know me, this has got to be a first-ever event).

What you see here is an unremarkable weeknight dinner, with a mix of brown and red rice, ground pork, onion, red and yellow peppers, zucchini (courgettes), and kale, in my wonderful new skillet.

The skillet is amazing because nothing burns and nothing sticks, and it doesn't flake like Teflon. You can throw any meat into it, without adding oil, and it will cook beautifully with whatever fat is already in the meat.

And kale is amazing, because you can heat it and wilt it and yet it remains robustly green and frilly, whereas spinach turns to slime under the same conditions. And I say this as someone who loves spinach.

I hasten to add that I am not being paid by the Gastrolux people or the Kale Kouncil of America to make these claims. I am honestly in thrall to my skillet and to greens that were once of only mild academic interest.

I sometimes use the skillet to do a quick stir-fry of kale (or chard) with a bit of olive oil and garlic; this then becomes a bed for any available protein (chicken, fish, steak).

I daresay that my crush will wane, as these things do, but for now it's me and my skillet, my bunch of kale, and my gas stove. We are invincible.


Courgette and potato cakes with mint and feta

My poor blog.  It should be suing me for neglect and emotional distress.  It's been a very busy summer, moving house and moving jobs, and I haven't had much time for culinary experimentation lately.  However, as the days grow shorter and colder and Christmas draws near, it is time to spend more time at home in the kitchen.   I hauled the slow cooker out for the first time in months today, and look forward to trying out some new stew recipes over the next few months.  No stew in this post though.  Instead, a Delia Smith recipe I've been meaning to try out for a while: courgette and potato cakes with mint and feta.  I'm a fairly recent feta convert, but now I use it in every dish that I can (and even some that I probably shouldn't).  It was perfect for these potato cakes though.  On their own they might have been a little bland, but the feta gave them a lovely sharpness and accompanied the mint and the courgette nicely.  So, without further ado:

Courgette and potato cakes with mint and feta cheese

6 medium courgettes (weighing about 700g)
4 medium Desirée potatoes (weighing about 700g)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
450g feta cheese, crumbled
4 spring onions, finely chopped
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons plain flour
50g butter
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly milled black pepper

First, grate the courgettes coarsely (leaving the skins on) and put them into a sieve. Then sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons of salt to draw out some of their excess moisture and leave them to drain for about an hour. While these are sitting, scrub the potatoes and place them in a large saucepan. Pour enough boiling water over them to just cover them, then simmer gently with a lid on for 8 minutes. When they are slightly tender, drain them and leave them aside until they’re cool enough to hold. Then peel them, grate them into a large bowl and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.

When the courgettes have sat for an hour, run them under cold water.  Squeeze as much moisture as you can with your hands, then put them on a clean tea towel and roll it up to wring out the remaining water.  This was a neat trick - I'd never thought of doing it before, but it did help to get rid of the juices and prevented the cakes from ending up as soggy messes.  Add the courgettes to the grated potatoes, along with the spring onions, mint, feta and beaten eggs and toss the whole mixture together.

To prepare the cakes, divide the mixture into about 16 (or as many as you can get with the quantities you use), shape them into small rounds about 1 cm thick and then lightly dust them with flour.  The important thing is that they stick together.

To cook them, pre-heat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Melt the butter and oil in a small saucepan, then brush the cakes on both sides with it. When the oven is ready, place the cakes on trays, returning one to the top shelf and the other to the middle shelf for 15 minutes. After that, turn the cakes over, using a palette knife and a fork, swap the positions of the trays in the oven and cook them for a further 10-15 minutes, or until they are golden.

The recipe calls for them to be served hot, but I can confirm that they work well as cold leftovers too.  I think they were intended to be a side dish, but two of them make a lovely light lunch, accompanied by a green salad.