Omissions and improvisations

 

Clearing out the freezer and store cupboards brings surprises and challenges.  This week, a pack of Spanish dried ham emerged blinking into the daylight from a Christmas past.

I confess to using de-frosted bought shortcrust pastry to make the tart.  Don’t bother with the palaver of baking paper and beans when baking blind.  Simply fit the pastry to the tin, prick the bottom with a fork and cover all the pastry (edges included) with a sheet of cooking foil.  Press down firmly to both shape the pastry to the tin and provide masking from the heat.  Cook for 10-12 minutes at Gas 6/200C before removing the foil.  My tip for avoiding a soggy bottom is to paint the inside of the tart pastry with beaten egg and then return to the oven for about three minutes.  Then leave the pastry case to rest for an hour or so.  The residue of the original egg plus three others were beaten with cream to add to the tart.

That ancient ham was finely shredded to cover the pastry.  Meanwhile, six younger leeks were very finely sliced and separated into individual rings before being sweated in a little water in the microwave.  Par cooked and cooled, they topped the ham and the tart went in to the oven for half an hour, minus the eggs and cream which this over-enthusiastic blind cook had completely forgotten.  But the end product was still delicious and so much better for one’s waistline.  The languishing egg and cream mix is in the freezer in the hope it will survive for another day – no net gain on freezer space,

Peppers were charred over the gas before cooling in a plastic bag to make removing their blistered skin easier.    De-seeded and very finely sliced, the peppers were doused with vinaigrette ready to serve with the tart.  I wanted to pep up the flavour and searched for mustard seeds amongst the Indian spices.  Even though I tasted the different little round seeds, I managed to use whole coriander by mistake – and the result was even better.

The left-over peppers went into small jars, clamped with rubber seals: covered with water in a pan and gently simmered for 30 minutes.  I’m attempting bottling them for freezer-free storage in case the power goes off!  They will either be a taste of summer or pent-up botulism!  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Digging out dinner guests

Guests lost in the jungle and bogged down in mud was the drama of my second dinner service at Noam’s HiR restaurant in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Although late, dinner succeeded and you can see how I turned classic Victoria sponges in to more exotic desserts with chilli and coriander https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyAYELsPtgo

In the rainy season, the jungle roads are treacherous with pot holes, mud and torrents of water.  Our missing dinner guests were marooned only a few hundred yards away but their car was stuck in the mud.  Chef Noam dashed out with other guests in tow.    He was as handy with a pick-axe as with his chef’s knife and, within minutes, they soggily joined the party.  This was service with a difference!  As they say in Costa Rica, Pura vida – the answer to everything.

This whole week had been wonderful for discovering new foods growing wild in the jungle:

  • Okinawa spinach – green on one side and purple on the other.
  • Mayan tree spinach – which is toxic when uncooked.
  • Turmeric plants with large leaves – just dig out some roots to use.
  • Ginger plants with thin strap leaves for a light ginger taste and the roots/bulbs of ginger emerging from underground and to be cut.

And every home needs cleaner ants.  They rid houses of other insects and animals.  But they do bite humans too.  They don’t eat our food but will get rid of cockroaches and even something as large as a scorpion.  So you need to know which ant is which and keep the good ones.

Penny