Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Mushroom Croustade - an easy-to-make favourite

Croustade is a general French term for a savoury pie. They come in various forms, most commonly a topping on a baked bread base and in individual servings. My version is like a straight veg tart but with a more interesting base I think, and of course toppings can be varied. 

The recipe would take 35-40 minutes from start to serving, and makes one croustade to serve two. The base should come out a little crispy and the topping soft and luscious. I'd recommend prepping all the ingredients at the start, then switching on the oven (to 180C) once that's done.

A medium bowl, a medium saucepan and a baking sheet lined with parchment are needed. I'm not a great fan of 'rubbing in' flour and butter, and using a mixer with whisk attachment at lowest speed seems to work just as well.
by Rae Allen
Mushroom Croustade


60g plain flour
30g + 10g softened butter
30g flaked almonds, chopped finely
1 tbsp fresh basil, finely snipped
1 medium egg separated
200g mushrooms, sliced coarsely
2 tbsp white wine, sherry or veg stock
1 tbsp double cream
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely snipped
20g Cheddar cheese, grated

1  Place the flour and 30g of the butter in the bowl and mix to breadcrumb consistency
          with fingertips or a slow beater.
2  Add the almonds, basil and egg yolk and use fingers or a blunt knife to blend the
          ingredients together to a dough consistency. (It it's still crumbly, add 1 tsp water.)
3  Either roll out thinly and place on the baking sheet, or put the dough directly on the
          sheet and press down by hand until thinly spread. Pinch up the edges to about
          15mm all the way round to make sure the filling won't spill over. Use a pastry 
          brush to make a very thin coating of egg white over the base.
4  Place in the middle of the heated oven for 8 mins, then remove but leave the oven on.
5  Meanwhile, melt the remaining 10g of butter in the pan and fry the mushrooms gently 
          for 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Stir in the wine/sherry/stock, cream and parsley
          and simmer for a further 5 mins. Use a slotted spoon to place this mixture on the
          base (so as to leave out any remaining liquid) and spread it evenly. Sprinkle the
          cheese over the croustade and bake for another 8-10 mins until the base is
          browning and the top sizzling.

Good 'sides' would be a green or mixed salad, battered onion rings (baked at the same time as the croustade), honey-roasted parsnips, or buttered Chantenay carrots tossed in dry-toasted pine nuts. Wine: could be a dry white or indeed a light red. For the Spanish touch, serve with a dry nutty fino sherry!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

10 Facts About Sharon Fruits

This lovely orange-coloured fruit is currently my second favourite (after raspberries). It's available in most large supermarkets, occasionally sold loose but usually prepacked in twos or threes. Prices, per fruit, as I write vary from £1 each to three or four for a pound.

Not sure why they are used less often than pomegranates in restaurants or published recipes. Interestingly, at least according to Asda, sales of both are increasing at a great rate, and each outsells both mangoes and pineapples (although this is quantity rather than weight it seems).

The names Sharon fruit and persimmon are often used interchangeably. However, there are various kinds of Persimmon, so while a Sharon is a persimmon, the reverse is not always true. (Rushes for a primer on basic logic.) Anyway, here are ten facts about the luscious (when ripe) Sharon fruit.
by yellowcloud via flickr.com
 1  It's actually a berry (as are tomatoes), and can vary in diameter from tiny to about 
        9cm. Those in UK shops are very roughly between 5 and 7cm.

 2  Persimmons are native to China, which is the world's largest producer, turning out
        about ten times the amount from Korea, the second largest.

 3  Sharons are named after the Sharon plain in Israel as they were cultivated there

 4  They usually contain no seed, and have no core. 

 5  They're relatively rich in potassium, magnesium and dietary fibre. They also have
        useful amounts of lycopene (like cooked tomatoes), thought to help lower

 6  There are two types of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. Sharons are the
        former, characterised by looking ripe before they are, and needing to be soft
        before being eaten. The non-astringent type can be eaten while firm and crisp.

 7  The fruits are a good source of antioxidants.

 8  Calorie figures vary quite widely, but I'd estimate the average Sharon fruit we'd
        buy in the UK would have maybe 100 or so calories.

 9  One sizeable fruit would contain about 80% of daily Vitamin C requirement and 19%
        of the iron. They are also quite rich in betacarotene (a hydrocarbon and a primary
        source of Vitamin A, that gives the fruit its colour).

10  They grow on trees, which are developed from rootstock. The trees are of the
        genus Diospyros, apparently Greek for 'food of the gods'.

Lots of reasons there to adopt a Sharon habit, but the main one is that once ripe, they are absolutely delicious. The leaf bit has to be removed, then I like to cut them into 6 or 8 wedges and eat 'just like that'. If the skin's a bit tough, the top can be sliced off and the inside eaten with a spoon, leaving the skin. Reminds me of eating kiwi fruit. Which are as pretty as they are gorgeous.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

How to Lose Weight - My Positive System

This article, my own idea, appeared originally on suite101 and was heavily viewed. I go back to the system about once a year if the scales 'go wrong' and record too much weight, and I have to say it always works for me if pitched at 1600 calories per day. Secret Eaters would be proud.
So many people try formal diets, and many do lose weight on them. Thing is, many regimes are boring – they forbid this or that, suggest far-too-small portions of diet meals, and avoid all the things the dieter really likes. Then you feel rotten if you fall for something you're not supposed to have. A recipe for failure.
Weight Watching and Weight Loss Could Be Fun
Preparation is the key here. Everyone knows that cream cakes have more calories than cabbage. But how many more? For this plan to work, it's necessary to make a note of the approximate calories in everyday, convenience, and sometime-treat foods. The information will be on the pack, often quoted in cals per 100g. For most fresh fruit and veg, served without added fat or sauce, the count will be low (more detailed information is available on sites such as www.caloriecounting.co.uk).
For example, a medium pear may have 65-70 calories, a medium slice of wholemeal bread 80-90, and a medium tomato 12-15, but 12 Brazil nuts could have 275, a 70g Danish pastry 280-290, and 100g of mature Cheddar cheese 420-430.
Then check the quantity of a food in a realistic serving. For example, commercial cereals give a calorie count for 'a portion', but pouring your usual amount onto the weighing scales could give a surprise result – probably more than expected. Cheese may have the calorie count per 30g, which is equivalent to around one ounce, but it's a smaller amount than would usually be in a hearty sandwich or on a decent pizza.
Armed with the knowledge of the weight of a portion or item, its equivalent in calories, and a target intake (such as 1600 for a woman, 1900 for a man – check with the doctor or health clinic if there's any doubt), it's time to make a start.
Using Home-Made Tokens To Manage the Calories
It's a bit like playing shops as a child, but with calorie tokens instead of money. Design a set of tokens of different value and colour, the size of various coins, and mark them as 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 to add up to your total. Find two different small pots, one for cals used, one for cals still available.
At the start of each day, put the planned max value of tokens into the calories available pot. As the day goes on, each and every item should be calorie counted (approximately), and tokens transferred to the calories used pot. The aim, of course, is to make the tokens last all day and all evening, and if any are left over, that's excellent. However, any extra can't be carried over to the next day!  
Advantages of the Calorie Token Method
1  The preparation itself means that the calorie count of food in everyday meals becomes known.  More occasional food and drink can be researched as needed.
2  Knowing values means that some substitutions can be made. If there's an attack of the munchies, a biscuit or chocolate can be substituted by a desirable savoury snack which is greater in volume but has fewer cals.
3  Using the tokens shows where the bulk of calorie intake is coming from, which may be a surprise and something which can be addressed.
4  No food is therefore off limits, as long as there are tokens available for it.
5  There is no 'punishment' element, and no guilt since everything is paid for.
And I have just noticed that, over a whole day, I could polish off two Soreen malt loaves in slices spread with Flora Light, and still finish off with a small glass of Pinotage. Cheers!