Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Yummy winter warmer - easy caramelised red onion and brie tarts

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to cooking, simple and classic flavour combinations work the best.

If you take basic pairings (ie leeks and potatoes; cheese and onion; salmon and dill) and get the seasoning right, an easy dish can be transformed into something extra special.

This evening I wanted something vegetarian and light that I could have with salad, but something really tasty, warming and satisfying.

This week I have the privilege of having a week off as I prepare to start my new job, so I have a little extra time to think about what I’m going to cook and plan ahead. Funnily enough, this dish didn’t take a lot of planning and preparation at all, aside from taking a block of pastry out of the freezer the night before.

I’m not confident enough yet to make my own pastry, and frankly why should I? Even Jamie and Delia are telling us to use shop-bought pastry nowadays.

For my caramelised red onion and brie tarts (if you can call a square a tart?) I used half a pack of puff pastry because that’s what was in, but you could use shortcrust which would need pricking with a fork and blind baking for about ten minutes before adding the topping.

Serve with a salad
I fried a medium red onion along with a garlic glove, white wine vinegar, brown sugar and thyme, and prepared the pastry, before realising that I needed two onions as I’d forgotten how much they reduce when caramelised.

Once the onions were soft and sticky I piled them onto the pastry and topped each piece with a slice of brie. The tarts should take about 15 to 20 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

In my broken oven, however, they took 30 minutes at 250 degrees which has convinced me once and for all that we really need to get a new oven after Christmas.

Once they were done I was so desperate to try one that I burned the roof of my mouth, but it was worth it as they were very delicious, and Paul agreed, polishing off two each.  

So I’m thinking of doing some mini versions as canapés for a party I’m having in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to try different but simple flavour combinations such as cherry tomato, black olives, basil and feta. Yum yum!

Ingredients (Makes four)
2 tbsp olive oil for frying
2 medium-sized red onions
1 garlic glove, sliced
2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp soft brown sugar
Ready rolled puff pastry
Large piece of brie

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Roll out pastry and cut into even squares. Score a 2cm border on the inside of each piece with a sharp knife and place onto a baking tray.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onions on a medium heat for a few minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for five minutes.
Stir in the white wine vinegar and sugar, season, and cook for a further five minutes on a low heat until caramelised.
Put the onions onto the pastry, keeping within the borders, and add slices of brie and a few extra sprinkles of thyme. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the pastry is golden and risen.   

Saturday, 5 November 2011

In memory of my grandpa Lance Taylor

Firstly can I apologise to those who regularly read my blog – it has been an unbelievable few weeks and I have been rather aloof when it comes to the blogging unfortunately.

But I’m back and I’ll start with the good news, I have an exciting new job!!
It wasn’t easy, I spent a good week or so filling in the application in the evenings after work then another week attempting to prepare for the interview, hence not finding time to blog.

But last Sunday, when I was about to start the real hard work, my grandpa passed away. He’d been in hospital for an operation but I never expected he wouldn’t come out again, he was so strong, but his old and fragile body couldn’t take anymore, and I think he wanted to be with grandma so he left us.

It was a shock, and needless to say the job interview was put to the back of my mind for a while. In between all this I organised a charity day at work which involved baking 40 cupcakes and a carrot cake. We raised £230 for local hospices and my cakes went down a storm.

Tough does not explain how these past few weeks have been, but I believe my grandpa was with me during the interview and he'd be really proud. So I hopefully start in four weeks!!

I wanted to show off my cupcakes, but seeing as a good percentage of my recipes are baking related, I thought I’d better find something else. Plus, according to the Daily Mail today, the sweet treats are now as addictive as cocaine, and grandpa wouldn't want me to promote that!!

Here's a recipe which is really easy to make but it requires patience while the pears cook, it’s a baked pear salad with rocket, gorgonzola, walnuts and crispy pancetta.
The tastes of the sweet pears and the strong cheese explode and mix together on your palette and it’s a zingy, fresh flavour which tastes like a restaurant dish.

As a starter this is perfect for a dinner party to impress friends. I decided to have it as a main course salad one night, and to be honest the strong flavours were too much, so whilst the photo shows a main dish, I would stick to a start portion in the future. Once cooked, the pears and their sauce will save covered in the fridge for up to five days.


Four large ripe conference pears
8 tbsp maple syrup
8 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
200g gorgonzola, broken up with a fork
50g chopped rocket
75g chopped walnuts
Few strips of pancetta, cooked until crisp
Extra virgin olive oil


Set the oven to 160C/Gas 3. Cut the pears in half lengthways and scoop out the core and pips with spoon.
Drizzle over the maple syrup and olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper, and bake in the oven for around 2 hours, or until the pears are shrivelled, soft and browned.
Put the rocket on a plate then add the cheese, walnuts and pancetta and drizzle with olive oil, adding a little pepper.
Lay two or three pear halves on top of the salad and sprinkle with a little extra chopped walnuts.