I recently read quite a cheesy, self-helpy book called "The Happiness Project". Don't judge me! I'm not a self-help person, normally - I've never read any of those "Why Men Don't Fall In Love With You (It's Not Them, It's You)" books. But I'd heard good things about this particular one, so I downloaded it for free through my local library (which also allows you to download audio books for free - it's one of the wonders of the modern age). And as you'd expect, I Learnt Something. It's that kind of a book.
One of the main nuggets that stuck with me was that, in order to be happy, people need to feel as though they're growing in some way. That is, you're happier if you're getting better at golf (but still quite rubbish overall) than if you're amazing at tennis, but gradually getting worse. So the happiest people in real life tend to be those who are developing their skills, learning something new and getting better at it - not just stagnating, sitting around on the sofa and watching telly. See, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?
I think that's one of the best things about this blog. In a trivial, tiny way, I can see that I'm getting better - mastering caramels, learning to make custards, even a fancy bread. I'm even getting better with the camera - god, some of the photos in the early posts make me cringe more than you would believe. But overall, if I flick back over the last year or so, there's progress. Even if I'm starting from a low base, it's encouraging.
And I can also see how I'm training myself to like things I used to shy away from - how I'm forcing myself to become a bloody grown up, in other words. As I've said before, I was a ridiculously picky child and the list of foods I disliked was looooooooong. But now, there's barely anything left on that list. Goat cheese, yes. Still don't like tea. And there will never be any excuse for fennel, so don't even try to persuade me otherwise. But everything else is gradually moving over the line from disdain, to indifference, to outright enthusiasm. It's progress!
Take beetroot, for example. Despite declaring (in its first appearance on this blog) that I just didn't like it, a quick skim of the archives shows all sorts of beetroot recipes, recipes which I genuinely like and I still make often - salad with cottage cheese, salad with smoked mackerel, risotto with smoked mackerel (spot the theme), and a rosti with celeriac and red onion. I think I can officially say: Beetroot Appreciation, Job Done. To celebrate, here's the best beetroot recipe yet!
This tarte comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day" (yep, told you we were obsessed with it) and it was absolutely DELICIOUS. I make no apology for the all caps. DELICIOUS. Honestly, we went straight out and bought more of everything so that we can make it again, as a matter of urgency. It might be my new favourite way to cook beetroot - and as we now know, that's saying something.
The beetroot itself is tangy and sweet, the pastry is the perfect mix of flaky and squidgy, and the vinaigrette on top just brightens and livens it all up with something sharp, sour and savoury. Hugh (we're on first name terms) also suggests crumbling feta over the top instead of the vinaigrette, which sounds fantastic - and a good way to make it more hefty, if you're worried this won't fill you up. But honestly, try it this way too. I'll get out the all caps again. It's DELICIOUS.
Baby Beetroot Tarte Tatin
From Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day
For the tarte tatin
- a pack of ready made, all butter puff pastry
- butter and olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of soft brown sugar (in fact, I think I used demerara)
- three or four small beetroots, scrubbed and halved (he suggests 300-400g in total)
- salt and pepper
For the vinaigrette
- 2 spring onions, trimmed
- a teaspoon of English mustard
- a tablespoon of cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil (he says rapeseed but tough, we don't have any)
- pinch of sugar
- handful of finely chopped, fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 190 and roll out the pastry. Get out an ovenproof frying pan, or a tarte tatin dish, or whatever you propose to bake it in, and place on top of the pastry. Cut around the pan, then wrap the pastry circle in clingfilm and put in the fridge until you need it. Turn the leftover pastry into cheese straws or something.
Melt a knob of butter in the frying pan with a splash of oil. Add the vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper, stir well then chuck in the beetroot. Stir it around a bit, then cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender (this can take bloody ages, so be prepared to give it longer).
When you think the beetroot's done, take out the pan WITH AN OVEN GLOVE and shimmy the beetroot halves around until the cut sides are all facing up. Lay the pastry on top and fold the edges down over the beetroot as if you're tucking it into bed. Put back in the oven for 20 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.
While it's cooking, make the vinaigrette. Finely chop the spring onions (or shallots, if you'd rather) and shake together with everything else. Or be lazy like us and just blitz it all in a food processor - slightly less attractive but a hell of a lot quicker.
Ideally, leave the tarte to cool in its tin for a quarter of an hour before you flip it out onto a plate. However, realistically you'll be starving by now, and you won't want to wait another sodding minute, ok?? So hold a plate over the top of the pan, then confidently flip it over. Make sure you scrape out any juices from the bottom of the pan over the beetroot. Then drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and eat nownownow.