November 18, 2011

Clementine Tarts with Chocolate & Physalis

Clementine Tarts with Chocolate & Physalis
I don't make dessert very often, so when I do, I like it to be special. Something that's worth the effort and calories.  And today's dessert is just that, only it's lacking in effort and calories.  Score!

Here's what we have: A rich and creamy filling consisting of quark, creme fraiche and sweetened condensed milk, flavored with the juice and zest of seasonal Clementines, nestled in a buttery biscuit (cookie) style crust. Sort of like a cheesecake, if you will.

Quark is a soft cheese, slightly tangy in flavour with a texture that is somewhere between thick yogurt and cream cheese.  It is very popular in Germany and Eastern Europe and is used in everything from dips and pasta to cakes and crepes.  It naturally has a very low fat content, making it a healthy alternative to cream cheese.

The addition of sweetened condensed milk in this recipe adds extra creaminess as well as sweetness to the tarts, eliminating the need for additional sugar.  A rich, dark chocolate drizzle adds a touch of bitter sweet and a chocolate covered Physalis lends a wonderfully elegant touch.


Clementine Tarts with Chocolate & Physalis
Makes 4-6 (depending on the size of your tart pans)
Note: I used some oaty German biscuits for the tart crust, similar to Hobnobs, but really any plain biscuit will do.  For best results, chill tarts overnight.

200g biscuits (cookies) such as Graham crackers, Digestives or Hobnobs
50g butter, melted
250g quark
150g creme fraiche
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Finely grated zest and juice of one large Clementine
4-5 squares of good quality dark chocolate
6 Physalis (Cape Gooseberries)

Preheat oven to 350F/175C

Pulse the biscuits in a food processor until finely ground. Pour in melted butter and pulse to moisten.  Firmly press the biscuit mixture into the base and sides of individual loose-bottomed tart pans.  Bake in the oven for about 5 mins, then cool while you make the filling.

Clean the blade and bowl of the food processor.  Add the quark and blend for 5 seconds or so, add the sweetened condensed milk, clementine juice and zest and blend for a few seconds more.  Add the creme fraiche and blend until smooth and creamy. The mixture will be quite runny at this point, but it will set once it's baked.

Pour the cream mixture into the tart pans and bake in preheated oven at 350F/175C for 5-7 minutes. Be sure NOT to brown.  Leave to cool.  Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Pour into a piping bag or small freezer bag and snip off the end.  Drizzle onto the tarts then top each with a chocolate dipped Physalis.  Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

November 7, 2011

Warm Sausage, Sweet Potato & Puy Lentil Salad

Warm Sausage, Sweet Potato & Puy Lentil Salad
I love Autumn.  The beautiful crisp air and rich, golden colours.  The earthy scent of fallen leaves. The comfy boots and chunky knits.  The irresistible pumpkin spice lattes.  The alluring smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and freshly baked apples...

This season has my name written all over it, at least until Spring arrives anyway.

I think today's dish captures the essence of Autumn wonderfully.  Earthy Puy lentils, honey-mustard glazed pork sausages, roasted sweet potatoes, and crisp red onion - complimented by a light and tangy balsamic vinaigrette.  Comforting.  Hearty.  Delicious.

It has to be said that quality ingredients are key here. Choosing the best sausages you can find will really make a difference.  I recommend a meaty Cumberland or Toulouse style sausage.  As for lentils, the Puy variety are the way to go.

Feel free to substitute pumpkin or butternut squash for sweet potato, they are equally delicious.  Enjoy!

Warm Sausage, Sweet Potato & Puy Lentil Salad
Serves 3-4
1 large sweet potato, cut into triangular wedges (or substitute 1 small-medium peeled seeded butternut squash or pumpkin)
150g Puy lentils
1 Bay leaf
6 good quality pork sausages
1 red onion, finely sliced
4 handfuls salad greens such as lamb's lettuce or baby spinach
2 tbls runny honey
2 tbls wholegrain mustard
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper

4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
2 tbls balsamic vinegar
A few good pinches sea salt
A good pinch or two of sugar

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Place the sweet potatoes on a roasting tray.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 25-30 minutes or until tender.  While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the sausages and lentils.  Tip the lentils into a saucepan and cover generously with water or stock.  (The water will need to be at least 1 inch above the lentils). Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes or until al dente.  Drain the lentils, then drizzle with a little olive oil and season if necessary.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the sausages, turning frequently, until golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool slightly. Once cooled, cut at an angle into thick slices.

Mix together the mustard and honey and set aside.  Whisk all dressing ingredients together, then taste and season to your liking.

When the sweet potatoes are soft and golden remove from the oven. Add the sausage slices to the pan and gently toss the potatoes and sausages with the honey/mustard mixture.  Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until everything becomes deliciously sticky.

Layer plates or bowls with salad greens, lentils and the sausages and potatoes.  Top with thinly sliced red onion and drizzle with balsamic dressing.