Rhubarb and Strawberry Cordial

This year seems to be a great year for rhubarb and strawberries. The plot is awash with bright red berries, and the rhubarb is looking more and more like its giant cousin, Gunnera. As the weather hots up, its always good to be able to turn to a homemade thirst quencher, with the sweetness of the strawberries contrasting with the tart rhubarb.

You will need (Makes about 1.5 litres)

1kg rhubarb (chopped into large chunks)
1kg strawberries
Granulated sugar
1 tsp Citric acid (if you want to keep coridal for long time)

Place your rhubarb & strawberries in a large saucepan.  Add 200 ml of water to the pan. Bring slowly to the boil, crushing the fruit gently with a wooden spoon or, as I did, a potato masher, as it heats. Continue to heat gently until the fruit is soft and the juices flow. Scald a jelly bag or muslin square and suspend over a large bowl or pan.  Tip the fruit into it and leave to drip overnight in an undistrubed place. t

The next day, take the juice and pour into a clean pan. For every 1 litre of juice add 700g sugar (or to taste). If you want the cordial to last for a long while, then add a tsp of citric acid at this point. It prevents fermentation occuring in the bottle, ensuring you don’t have any exploding bottles later in the year. Heat the mixture gently to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat. Pour immediately into warm, sterilised bottles, leaving a 1cm gap at the top. Seal. Once cool, I like to enjoy my cordial with ice cold sparkling water.

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A Little Rhubarb and a Portuguese Custard Tart (pastéis de nata)

When I visit cafés, I often look longingly at the pastries and wonder whether I could produce something similar in my own kitchen. One of my favourites is the Portuguese custard tart – Pastéis de nata. So, when this week I was left with a half a block of puff pastry and a grey day in which to bake, I set about having a go. Bought puff pastry is so easy to use, and it wasn’t too long before a mini batch of these luscious, egg custard filled, crispy tarts.

What you will need
Butter, for greasing
150ml double cream
250ml milk
Zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp of vanilla bean paste
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornflour
125g caster sugar
150g chilled ready-made puff pastry
Flour, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5 and grease a 12-hole mini muffin tin. The mix is enough for 24 mini tarts, so you could make a dozen larger muffin size ones instead. Put the cream, milk, vanilla bean paste and lemon zest in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then take off the heat and set aside. Next whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar in a bowl until it comes together in a paste. Pass the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl of egg paste. You need to be quick and thorough at mixing the cold egg paste with the warm milk mixture to prevent you creating a sweet scrambled eggs. once mixtures are combined, pour back into the saucepan and heat over a moderate heat until it thickens – do not let it boil.

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The custard made, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface as thin as you can manage (the thinner you mange it, the more crispy the pastry). Roll the pastry up into a long sausage shape and cut it into 24 discs. Roll out each disc to about 6cm in diameter and press them into the holes of the muffin tin. Before filling with the custard mix, use a fork to prick the bases with a fork and fill with the custard mixture until half full. Finally, place the tarts in the oven for about 18-20 minutes until browned on top.

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As a child we often had rhubarb with our custard tart, so as we still have a bit if rhubarb at the plot, I decided to serve the little tarts with a bit of roasted rhubarb. To sweeten it I used a combination of a bit of sugar and some runny honey, roasting the chopped rhubarb for 20 minutes until soft, but not falling apart. The sharp taste of the rhubarb contrasts well with the silky sweet custard, but the tarts go equally go well with an espresso.