Rhubarb and Custard Tart



There are two ways to make this thing of loveliness. The easy way or… the hard(er) way… [dramatic music]

It combines two of my favourite things – sweet pastry and essentially panna cotta. If I’m honest, I’d stop right there. But a lovely friend gave me a shed load of rhubarb, so here we are.

The easy way is reasonably quick to assemble, uses top quality ingredients from your local super market and involves a bit of soaking, some gentle stirring and *bites lip* oven poaching…

The hard(er) way involves making things and chilling and the risk of curdling. But hey. Using shortcuts is never a crime.

I used Sniff The Difference ready-made custard from the supermarket, the ‘posh’ one (allegedly) with Madagascan vanilla – the pale looking one, not the bright yellow one. It is in fact quite a nice product so don’t feel guilty about not making your own custard. If you would rather make your own I will put a recipe and method at the end of this blog*.

I also used a ready-made sweet pastry case. Mainly because I was away from home and didn’t have my own familiar tins available. But also because I may have mentioned that I’m quite lazy and when there is a viable alternative I will use it. If you would rather make your own, then again, I will put a recipe and method at the end of this blog*.


1 sweet pastry case from the supermarket
300ml of good quality ready made custard
1 sheet of gelatine
4 sticks of rhubarb
100ml cranberry juice
2 tsp cornflour

Put the pastry case on a baking sheet and pop it in a 180ºc oven for about 10 mins to perk it up a bit.

While the pastry case revives put the sheet of gelatine in a bowl of cold water and leave to soften for 10 mins.

Remove the pastry case and put on a rack to cool.

Heat 3 tbs of custard in a jug in the microwave until beginning to boil. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out any excess then drop into the hot custard and stir until dissolved. Whisk in the rest of the custard. Put aside but stir briskly occasionally as it cools.

Put the fruit into a small roasting tin and scatter lightly with some sugar. You really don’t need to bury it in sugar, I know it’s tart but you can add sugar if you need to afterwards. Pour over the cranberry juice and cover the tin with foil. Roast for 15 mins at 180ºC and check to see if the rhubarb is tender by poking it with the tip of a sharp knife. In truth it will probably be obvious because some pieces will look like they have been blown up and some will still be whole but tender. If you want to place whole pieces on your final offering, now is the time to carefully remove them.

Drain the rest of the rhubarb into a sieve and save the juices.

The custard should be setting up quite nicely now. Spoon it into the pastry case and level the top.

Heat the juices from the roasted rhubarb, slake the cornflour in a little bit of water and whisk in. Once the glaze has thickened and come to a boil, set it aside.

Decorate with poached rhubarb.

Spoon over the glaze then chill for an hour or so.

Serve with a little pouring cream, if liked.



*When I get round to it.


Right Sides Together



If you are feeling lazy (yep I know, I will stop doing those wry looks to camera. Eventually…) then I am your saviour. Sometimes all you need is some simply cooked protein – steak, fish, chicken, tofu etc. – and vegetable dishes like this.

The potatoes are a riff on dauphinoise, very rich and therefore should be served with caution. No one should be sitting alone with a big spoon, scraping the crusty bits off the edges of the dish and thinking that all the wine previously drunk will turn the fat element into some sort of magical arterial-scrubbing vinaigrette. I would never do that.

Plus the best dauphinoise hack ever.



Stilton and Potato Gratin

You will need:

Enough thinly sliced King Edwards potatoes or Maris Pipers to fill your non-metal dish.
Some crumbled Stilton for scattering between the layers
Double cream

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. A food processor is the tool you need here, or a mandolin. I know that I will remove my fingerprints on a mandolin so I use a food processor. A sharp knife and patience also works. I rarely bother to peel the potatoes, they are so thinly sliced and the skins on your average KE or MP are not exactly choke-inducing. However, if you are using spuds with a thickish skin then by all means consider peeling first. There’s no real need to lay the slices out neatly, just shovel them into the dish and build the layers.

Layer potatoes with a scattering of cheese, some seasoning and a slosh of cream. Finish with a layer of potato.

Dot with butter, season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with clingfilm and microwave for 10 mins on full power. Yep. Trust me. Also works with any other kind of dauph.

Remove the clingfilm and pop into a 220ºc oven until the top is beginning to brown and the edges are bubbling.

Allow to stand for 10 mins. Serve.


Courgettes and Wilted Salad


The veg dish is genius if you hate salad. Honestly. A massive bag of salad leaves becomes about 2 tbs of green. And it serves FOUR PEOPLE. Anyone can eat 1/2 tbs of wilted green. Even Claire.

A glug of oil
1 banana shallot, finely diced
4 courgettes, sliced
1 bag of salad – I used one with bits of beetroot in it
Juice of half a lemon

Heat the oil in a shallow pan.

Add the shallot and soften for a minute or so.

Add the courgettes and fry until golden on both sides.

Dump in the bag of salad and stir for roughly 15 seconds until every thing has wilted.

Squeeze over the lemon juice and sprinkle with salt.


Versatile Meat Sauce

One Christmas Eve many years ago my mother-in-law made a pasta sauce from a recipe given to her by an American friend. It involved the usual minced meat and tomatoes which you made into the sort of thing we often refer to as ‘bog sauce’ in our house. The difference was that once the sauce was made you plonked a joint of pork in the middle of it and then slow cooked everything until the pork was butter soft and delicious. The pork was then removed and served separately and the sauce was used to dress pasta. 
I have never forgotten the moment I tasted that utterly delicious meal. Up until that point my only real encounter with ‘bolognaise’ was my mother’s version which involved boiled mince, a packet of Knorr minestrone soup mix and some powdered garlic puffed out of a plastic garlic bulb. 

In recent years I’ve tried Heston’s version although not, I confess, the full three day effort which has more than a whiff of over-gilding imo. Judicious corner cutting is employed but it does result in something really very tasty. 

However, lying in bed yesterday morning and musing over what to eat I remembered the MIL’s pasta sauce. Now, when she made it there were about 10 of us so a big lump of pork seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to cook for eating as and when over Christmas. Clearly this wasn’t going to be practical for two of us. After a bit of pondering I reckoned that belly pork would work and it did. Deeply savoury and quite delicious – and I much prefer the flavour to that you would get with bacon. I use some (possibly) unconventional ingredients but end result is lovely and I’m not claiming this is authentically Italian, it’s just authentically mine. I start this in a large pan and then chuck everything in the slow cooker, around 2 hours on high and 6 or so on low. You could also make this in a casserole or ovenproof pot in a low oven or even on the hob in a large pan. Just remove each step to a plate and then put it all back into the pot, pan or casserole and cook it long enough and gently enough so that the pork is lovely and soft and the sauce is thick. 

There is one thing I do have to confess though, I’m not much of a pasta fan. But luckily this would be fantastic on a baked spud or with some steamed courgettes. Or with chips. Or mash. Or in a pie. Ooh… or in a toastie…

Don’t make it just for pasta. 
Versatile Meat Sauce

500g beef mince

250g (2 good slices) belly pork, any rind removed, sliced into small chunks

1 carrot

1 large banana shallot

1 celery stick

2 star anise

100ml red wine

100ml milk

2 tins of chopped tomatoes 

Freshly grated nutmeg – about a quarter

A slosh each of Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce

1 heaped tbs chargrilled pepper purée 

1 heaped tsp garlic purée 

Pinch each salt and sugar

Ground black pepper
Finely dice the carrot, shallot and celery and fry over a medium heat in a little oil until softened. Tip into the slow cooker. 

Turn up the heat, add a little more oil and brown the pork really well on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the vegetables. 

Brown half the mince and add to the pot. Then begin to brown the other half. Once this is looking about done pour in the wine and bubble furiously until almost gone. Add to the pot along with all the other ingredients. 

If slow cooking leave on high for two hours then switch to low and cook for another 6 hours, stirring occasionally. 

Otherwise follow the instructions given above. 

Raspberry and Sour Cream Cake

A quick end of the week cake to see you through the weekend. This came about because I had one of those ‘I need to use up this 3/4 of a pot of sour cream’ moments. Using light soft brown sugar and sour cream makes this a lovely fudgey textured cake. I happened to have raspberries but you could use any berries you have or fancy – blueberries would work well and I’d mix the granulated sugar with a little cinnamon before scattering over the top if using them instead. 

This would also be very nice served with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. 

You will need a greased and base lined deep loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin

Raspberry and Sour Cream Cake

200g softened butter

300g light soft brown sugar

250g self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

200ml sour cream mixed with 50ml water 

2 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

150g fresh raspberries

Granulated sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 

Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the sour cream mixture. 

Mix the salt into the flour. 

Add half the flour and half the egg/cream mixture to the creamed butter and sugar and whisk briefly until combined. Repeat with the rest of the flour and eggs/cream. Fold in about half of the raspberries. 

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. 

Decorate the top with the remaining raspberries and scatter with granulated sugar. 

Bake on the middle shelf at 160°c (fan) 170°c conventional oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until the cake is risen, golden brown and the middle has just set. 

Allow to rest in the tin for 10 minutes then removed from the tin and place on a wire rack until completely cool.