The last week or so has been gorgeous, and we have slowly been settling into London life.
The move into the new place was very hectic, but the appearance of the most gorgeous rainbow in the cab on the way to collect the keys seemed like a good omen to me!
Our final phase of settling in was helped hugely by the arrival of our boxes arriving from Singapore.
Oh, what a familiar sight: the very same boxes that we so carefully packed up in London to take to Asia, finally arriving back in London once again. Well, at least nobody can say that we don’t recycle…
After a few days of unpacking, putting away and generally trying to make the place feel like home, it was finally done.
I can honestly say that I have now become so adept at packing and unpacking our possessions that I am considering putting ‘Packing skills’ on my CV.
Anyway, now that the place was vaguely resembling a home, rather than a box storage facility, we thought that it would be lovely to have a housewarming party of some sort!
Following my slightly ridiculous purchase of a 9-foot extendable kitchen table…..
…..we decided to make good use of it and invite some friends over for a dinner party.
Now, in order to make things easier, I much prefer to put together a menu that can be made the afternoon or even the night before, and simply finished during the evening. This not only minimises your stress on the night, it also means that you can actually enjoy yourselves with your friends, rather than farting around with an oven and getting all red-faced whilst basting the chicken.
So, we had twice-based cheese soufflés to start, which I first discovered courtesy of the amazing Delia a couple of years ago.
This utterly fantastic staple recipe is freaking amazing and an incredibly easy, foolproof way of making soufflés. It also has the added benefit that, as they are twice-baked, you can get the bulk of the messy stuff out of the way before your guests arrive, and then just finish them off and re-plate them whilst everyone is here.
(I have popped my recipe at the end of this post if you’d like to make them yourself – they are gorgeous I promise!)
For the main course, Alex put together an incredibly delicious dish from the wonderful ‘Two Greedy Italians’ book, by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo.
It was a beautifully simple, rustic main course – chicken with artichokes, onions, potatoes and rosemary. We all absolutely loved it; the flavours were fabulous, the chicken was wonderfully juicy, and the smell of the rosemary made all our mouths water whilst we were waiting for it to come out of the oven.
It also had the added benefit of being another ‘prepare ahead’ dish, so Alex just popped it in the oven as soon as we took the soufflés out, and we served them in their baking dishes – easy!
Here’s a picture:
(photo courtesy of Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio & Gennaro Contaldo (Quadrille £20, hardback). Photography © Chris Terry.)
So sorry again for the stock photo – I never remember to take a picture of it until I have finished eating. By which point, of course, the picture-taking exercise is wholly pointless).
If you would like the recipe without buying the book, its available online here free. However, I feel duty-bound to point out that you really ought to buy the book because it’s awesome.
For our final course, I thought we would try something French. This was because Alex’s brother’s girlfriend, who from henceforth shall be known as l’Ange Français as she is actually a French Angel, was in attendance.
We also had a weirdly huge number of apples as a result of me getting horrendouly overexcited at a ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ promotion on bags of apples in Sainsbury’s. (Seriously, we had about six bags of apples).
Thus, what better way to use up a glut of apples and give a nod to our beloved froggy neighbours than making a Tarte Tatin?
(photo Courtesy of http://www.international.stockfood.com).
I have popped the recipe at the bottom for you. It’s a bit of a cheat, but easy. And no, there is absolutely no need to buy frozen pastry – this one is so freaking simple. I promise!
So, in summary – the evening was lovely, it was great to see some of our friends again – and the Tarte Tatin got the French seal of approval.
As evidence, here is l’Ange Français digging in!
I have listed below the recipes fo the soufflés and the Tarte. I hope that you enjoy them – please do let me know how you get on!
Lots and lots of love,
What you will need:
6 Ramekins or small individual non-stick dishes to bake your soufflés in;
A roasting tin large enough to hold all of your ramekins;
Two large, clean mixing bowls;
A whisk, preferably an electric one (unless you have a very strong whisk hand!)
6 separate small oven-proof dishes to serve on, or one large flat baking tray.
320 ml of milk (full fat is best for flavour, but skimmed will work fine)
225 ml double cream (get a 250ml pot – you’ll use extra for brushing on top)
170 grams of grated or chopped cheese – use whatever you like, it doesn’t have to be St Agur! A good, full-bodied cheddar is wonderful too – try popping in a teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard if you use Cheddar.
65 grams of butter, plus a bit extra for melting;
65 grams of plain flour;
5 small eggs, separated;
Half a small onion;
About a teaspoonful of nutmeg;
Salt and Pepper to season;
A bit of rocket or watercress to garnish.
How to do it:
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees
2. Butter your Ramekins really well, getting into all the edges. (If they are not non-stick, try putting a little circle of baking parchment into the bottom of the ramekin and buttering that, too.)
3. Start by putting the milk, your onion half and the nutmeg into a saucepan, and heating it up slowly and gently (stirring all the time) until it is just beginning to simmer. This lets all the flavours infuse into the milk. Once it’s just starting to bubble, take it off the heat, and strain it into a jug. You can get rid of the bit of onion now.
4. Now, heat your butter on a very low heat in the pan until it is gently frothing. Add the flour, and stir gently until it turns into a smooth paste. Leave this on the heat for a couple of minutes, stirring gently.
5. Very slowly, start to pour in your milk from the jug. Make sure you keep stirring – you don’t want to have lumps! (If lumps threaten, use a whisk). When the milk is all incorporated, keep on the low heat and cook very gently for another few minutes, until you have a lovely thick sauce.
6. Take the pan off the heat. Stir in the grated cheese until it has melted (if you are using St Agur or another blue, don’t worry if you can still see little lumps of cheese in the sauce). Transfer the mixture to a large clean bowl (this helps to cool the mixture down faster)
7. Into your second large bowl, pour your egg whites. Now whisk them – this is why an electric whisk is better! – until they are really good and stiff. How to know when they are whisked sufficiently? Just pop your whisk into the mixture and lift it up gently – if it stays up in a little peak once you have removed your whisk, it’s ready to go).
8. Put the kettle on whilst your sauce cools.
9. Once your sauce is properly cool, very slowly and carefully incorporate your sauce into your egg whites. The key here is to do this very gently – you need to keep the air in the whites, as this is what keeps your soufflé light. The best way to do it is with a palette knife or metal dessert spoon, gently cutting and folding the whites in.
10. When your sauce and egg whites are fully combined, divide the mixture gently between the buttered ramekins, keeping the air in the mixture. You want them to go to probably two-thirds full – remember to give them room to rise. Your kettle ought to have boiled by now, so pop the ramekins into the roasting tin you have prepared, and very slowly and carefully pour the hot water from the kettle around the ramekins, taking care not to splash any into the mixture.
11. Pop them in the oven! Let them cook slowly for 20-25 minutes. And – most important of all – DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR WHILST THEY ARE COOKING, or they will DIE.
12. After 20-25 minutes, take them out of the oven. Remove the ramekins from the roasting tin, carefully, and pop them on a wire tray to cool. Do not worry – your soufflés will drop as they cool, but when you bake them again they will rise up beautifully.
13. Once they are properly cool, take a palette knife, or similar, and gently run it around the edge of each ramekin.
14. Butter your individual ovenproof serving dishes, and turn each soufflé out upside-down onto its dish. If you don’t have individual dishes, pop them all (spacing them out well) onto a well-greased oven tray.
15. Put them carefully out of the way in a cool place until you are ready to serve.
16. When your guests arrive, turn the oven up to 240 degrees c. brush the sides and the top of the soufflés with the double cream, and sprinkle a bit more grated cheese onto the top of each.
17. Just before you are ready to eat, pop them in the oven for about 5-7 minutes until they are golden brown and bubbling, and have risen well again.
18. Serve immediately, with some watercress or rocket on the top.
This foolproof tarte is a sort of cheat – but only in that I am not French, and I bet a proper pastry chef would squawk in horror at this. However, I promise you that the end result is lovely – sumptuous layers of caramalised apple atop your very own homemade pastry.
And l’Ange Français loved it so hopefully it cannot be too bad.
What you will need:
A round cake tin or pie dish. If your cake tin is silicon, just butter it lightly. If you are using a metal tin or porcelain pie dish, butter it and add a circle of greaseproof paper to the bottom.A ;arge mixing bowl
A wooden spooon
A metal tablespoon
For the pastry:
165 grams of plain flour
75 grams of butter, at room temperature
A teaspoon of nutmeg
Half a teaspoon of salt
For the filling:
165 grams soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Roughly 1.5 kilos of apples (about 6 standard bags, if from a supermarket)
(Please note: this recipe lends itself perfectly to using up gluts of apples, so don’t worry at all if you don’t have enough – you’ll just end up with a slightly thinner tarte. I am greedy and so like mine thick, with loads of apple, so the quantities reflect this. Also, don’t worry about the type of apple. A mix is fine – Braeburn and Cox, for example, but it really doesn’t matter that much).
How to make it:
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees c.
2. Now make the pastry. Sift the flour and the salt into a good-sized mixing bowl. Try to keep the sieve high to make sure the flour gets a good airing!
3. Now cut the butter into small cubes, and add this to the flour. Gently start ‘rubbing in’ the butter to the flour – so you just literally rub the pieces of butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers. Be patient, and keep at it – when this is done, your mixture will look like breadcrumbs, and will have an even consistency.
4. When your butter is all rubbed in, start to sprinkle about a tablespoon of water into your crumbly mixture. Use a palette knife or metal spoon to incorporate the water, cutting and folding the mixture until the texture is dough-like.
5. Bring the mixture together with your hands and shape to form a smooth ball of dough. If it’s too crumbly, add a little more water – when the dough is done, it will leave the bowl clean when you roll it with your hands.
6. Now wrap your dough in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.
7. Now, the slightly labour intensive bit! (it’s worth it, though, I promise). You want to peel your apples (a potato peeler works fine) core them, and then slice them thinly. The shape doesn’t matter too much, but do try to get the slices nice and thin – this is the secret to a good tarte.
8. Once your apples are all sliced, have a cup of tea, or a cocktail if it is after lunch time. It is imperative that you keep your strength up after all that chopping.
9. Now, cover the whole base of your cake tin or round pie dish with the sugar and the cinnamon. Press it down firmly into the bottom of the tin in an even layer.
10. Start to arrange your apple on top! Remember – the first layer you put in will be the layer on top of the tarte, so try to arrange it nicely and neatly. Use your best slices here!
11. Keep on adding layer upon layer of the sliced apples, trying to keep it dense and any gaps closed (this helps your tarte’s structure). Keep going until you have used up all your apples. Don’t worry if it doesn’t fill the tin, remember you have your pastry to put on top, and even if there is still a gap after the pastry it won’t affect the finished result.
12. When you have filled the tin with the sliced apples, take your pastry from the fridge. Gently and carefully roll it out, on a floured work surface, to the size of the base of your tin (it should be roughly a centimetre thick, but a little thicker won’t hurt in the slightest.) Your pastry might be a little fragile and crumbly, so work with it gently. Neaten up the circle with a knife, and then carefully lift up your pastry circle and pop it on top of your slices apples, patting it down gently and smoothing it down. Trim any overlapping edges.
13. Yay, now it’s ready to bake! The beauty of tarte Tatin is that it is best served cold, with cream, so just bake it now and serve it later on whenever it’s ready. Just pop it in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. When it’s done, take it out of the oven and leave it in it’s tin to cool.
14. When the tarte is properly cold (don’t be impatient and tro to turn it out before this – you will lose the structure!) gently run a palette knife around the edges of the tin, and place your serving plate on top. Carefully, holding the plate firmly on top, turn the tin upside down, and put it back on the surface. Gently lift the tin off the top of the tarte, (and the baking paper, it you have used it) and inspect your offering in all it’s glory.
15. Voilà! Beautiful Tarte Tatin (with homemade pastry – look at you!) Serve it cold with a dollop of cream. Delicious.