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CamembertMD

Camembert enrobed with puff pastry eaten warm from the oven is delicious, and worse still there is a compulsion to cut another slice until there is no more left.  Eaten plain or with chilli crab apple jelly it makes a good starter or a replacement to a cheese board.

The riper the Camembert the runnier the finished pie.  Try to avoid using a very soft Camembert because when you open the oven door you will find most of it has run out of the pie and flowed all over the baking tray.  I used a young  firm Camembert as I wanted to photograph it.  Photography is not my strong point, and photographing my recipes seem to take longer than actually making them.  I have little idea of what I am doing but have come to the conclusion that if I take enough pictures in an array of positions then there will have to be at least one reasonable picture.

Hence my choosing a firm cheese that would cope with sitting around.  The Camembert didn’t last long and even though it was slightly firmer than I would have liked it was just as delicious and was given a sweet note by the crab apple and chilli jelly.

This simple little recipe was the one that finally won me my father’s praise.  My father adored his food especially cheese.  He would come and stay with us for a week at a time.  Always keen to help with any outstanding projects.  The idea was that he would work away while I stayed in the kitchen cooking up a full English breakfast, mid morning snacks, a full scale lunch, afternoon tea with cake and then supper.  We loved his visits, but the kitchen was under a lot of pressure to produce and impress.

On one of my father’s visits I had been busy baking batches of fairy cakes for the expected afternoon tea slot.  I had left them to cool on wire racks on the kitchen table while I answered the phone, when I returned they had disappeared into thin air.  The wire racks were still there but no cakes.  I rushed out into the garden and asked my father if he had eaten them (it had been known).  No, so where had they gone?  I looked in all the cupboards, where could I have put them?  I couldn’t work out in my mind where I might have put them.  It wasn’t until out of the corner of my eye I saw a tiny piece of cake paper on the floor did I realise who the culprit was – Oscar our Labrador.  He had decided to wolf the lot, maybe in the faint hope that without any evidence he wouldn’t get the blame.  He was sent to his bed and my father’s response was that the dog couldn’t be blamed; I shouldn’t have left them there!

My father ate everything with gusto and enjoyed what he ate but to get a rapturous response was a little more difficult.  It was serving up the baked Camembert that really impressed him, he wolfed it down and was even raving about it on his way up to bed.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  That something so simple would be my crowning glory!    He even made a point of  mentioning it a couple of days later when I waved him off on the train platform.   I think he wanted to make sure it was on the menu for his return visit.  Little did he know it would be on every future menu!

The puff pastry can be shop bought or home made, but as always nothing really compares to home made.

BakedCamembert

Baked Camembert

Ingredients

A round of Camembert (slightly soft)

a little beaten egg

250g/9oz puff pastry

Method

Oven Gas mark 7/220C/425F

Roll out two circles of puff pastry to the thickness of a 20p piece.  Making one of the circles larger by two inches.  Don’t be tempted to keep the pastry thick as it will cook on the outside but leave a soggy uncooked mess on the inside.

Place the Camembert on top of the small circle of pastry and brush the edge with beaten egg.

Place the larger circle of pastry over the top of the Camembert and seal around the base using a fork.  Trim to neaten.

Brush the whole pie with beaten egg and add decorations with any left over pastry if wanted, brush again with the egg and place on a baking tray.

Place in the oven for 20/25 minutes.

Ready when the pastry is golden brown.

Serve immediately on its own or with crab apple chilli jelly.

It is just as delicious cold but really needs to be eaten the same day.

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cheeseandwalnutloaf

I used to make this tea bread without thinking, well, maybe a little bit of thinking was involved but it was a really easy recipe to make, we had it so often it became ordinary and unexciting so I stopped making it and the recipe was forgotten in a drawer and left to gather dust.

When I was going through the kitchen drawer this week I found my little paperback notebook – it is scribbled on and worn but inside is a world of lost recipes carefully handwritten some twenty five years ago. Some of the recipes are just scraps of paper with recipes written on which have been glued in and others are tinted with stains of food long eaten. I can remember a time when I was lost without this little book, it held my culinary world in its grasp.  All the recipes in that little note-book were collected from friends and family, their mothers and grandmothers – some of them were not that easy to obtain and one or two of them I suspect are not complete, they are missing that little extra ingredient,  having the reputation of making the best lemon cake in the village was something to aspire to – you weren’t going to throw that away lightly. When I was a small child, I often overheard many times ‘she makes the most marvelous sausage rolls, but she won’t give the recipe away’ to a gaggle of disapproval and an intake of breaths. How times have changed; a computer and access to the internet reveals all.

Cheese & Walnut Tea Bread

Ingredients

225g/8 oz Wholemeal Flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp celery salt

1/2 tsp mustard powder

50g/2 oz butter diced

110g/4 oz cheddar cheese grated

25g/1 oz shelled walnuts chopped

142ml/1/4 pint milk

1 egg beaten

1 lb loaf tin – lined with greaseproof paper

Turn oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F.

Method

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and mustard in a large bowl.  Add butter and rub it in between your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (being lazy I put it in the food processor and whizzed for about a minute).

Stir in cheese and walnuts and then mix in milk and egg to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the loaf tin, level the surface and make a slight hollow in the centre.

Bake for 40-45 mins till golden brown. (I baked mine for 50 mins which I believe is down to my oven).

Take out and cool. When cool slice.  My preferred way of eating this is to spread a thick slice liberally with butter. This isn’t a moist tea bread.  It has a more wholemeal texture, but the smell and taste  is lovely and morish.

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I love making choux pastry.  To me its quick and easy and I usually have the ingredients without buying anything in.  Like most things I cook over and over again, I have strong memories attached to choux and it always reminds me of the day I got my grandmother’s adoration.

My grandmother, who lived in Athens, would spend a couple of months every winter with us in England before we joined her in Greece for the summer.  Born in Athens, she was one of nine children.  Her parents were very keen on education and sent her away to a French convent until she was eighteen.  I don’t think they did home economics because she couldn’t even boil an egg but did do the most fabulous embroidery.

She married and set up home in Athens and employed an Arab cook who she let run the kitchen.  She was very interested in food but had no interest whatsoever in cooking.  After the war, life changed and she was left in the house alone with only her maid and housekeeper.  It was only after a nasty burglary that she decided to shut up the house and move into the swishest hotel in central Athens, famous for its roof top restaurant and there she stayed for more than sixteen years until she died.

Whilst she loved good food she also had a rather unfortunate reputation for sending things back to the kitchen, for she had a very keen eye and would know if the vegetables were over cooked, or if they were old, or the meat was tough.  She was known to pay a visit to the kitchen to inspect the catch of the day before choosing the fish she wanted cooked.  God help them if they ruined it.  She was known as a very generous tipper.  Even though her regular waiter was a nervous wreck when she appeared in the restaurant, he insisted on serving her for more than twenty years, being very protective of her custom.  Many years after her death I ate in a restaurant where she was remembered fondly with respect.  We laughed at her strict ways and how nervous her waiter Spiro would be when she arrived.   Praise was something given by my grandmother only when it was earned.

So, many years ago when I returned home from school economics with a Tupperware box full of choux pastry éclairs filled with cream and covered with chocolate – she was impressed, so impressed that when I went into the kitchen to sample my delights I found she had eaten the lot.  From then on, every Tuesday when I returned from school she would be eager to know what I had cooked and would remind me how fabulous my chocolate choux éclairs were.  Sadly, nothing matched the heady delights of those first choux éclairs.  The choux éclairs  may be long gone but her praise is still remembered and cherished.

Gougères make an impressive canape without too much fuss.  I have made them plain with just the cheese folded in and a pinch of cayenne or with the addition of a filling of smoked trout pate.  Sometimes I make double the quantity of choux and split the mixture, with one half I fold in the cheese and with the other I bake plain balls which I then fill with cream and top with caramel and toasted almonds.  Savoury and sweet in one recipe.

Gougères

Choux Pastry

Ingredients

Makes about 24 balls

125 ml of half milk and half water

50 gms unsalted butter

75 gms plain flour

2 whole eggs

pinch of salt

60 gms finely grated cheese (I use gruyere)

large pinch of cayenne pepper

Method

Sift the flour and salt twice onto a plate.

Pre heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

Put the water, milk and butter into a saucepan and heat slowly, you don’t want the water to boil before the butter melts.

Once the butter has melted bring the water to a brisk boil, remove from the heat and tip in all the flour and pinch of salt at once.  Using a wooden spoon beat the mixture until it forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.  At the beginning it doesn’t look like it will ever thicken up but within seconds there should be a ball of paste.  Return the pan back to the heat and roll the ball around for a minute or two to dry it out.

Remove from heat.  Don’t put your eggs in immediately, as they will scramble.

When the pastry has cooled a little start to add the eggs, one at a time, no prior beating necessary.  At this stage I use an electric mixer, once the egg has been combined add the next one and beat again.

Beat the mixture for a minute or two more, it will slightly thicken and become glossy.

Add the majority of the cheese and cayenne pepper and mix well with the wooden spoon, holding back a little cheese to sprinkle over the top of the balls.

Put into a piping bag and pipe small balls onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  This can also be done by using two teaspoons – the results will be a little more rustic but they will taste just as good.  If there are little peaks dab them down using a wetted finger.

Cook for 20-25 minutes.  At 20 minutes I check to see how they are colouring, at this point they should have risen and should be firm to the touch.  I leave them in the oven until they have all got an overall golden brown colour. Usually another 5-10 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Serve either warm or cold but they need to be made and eaten on the same day.  Sometimes I serve them as they are or sometimes I fill them with smoked trout pate using a icing bag and making a small hole in the side of the ball I pipe in some pate.

I sometimes double up the quantity and fill a second piping bag that is left until the oven is free for the next batch.

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