Spinach and walnut parcels are easy to make with frozen pastry squares. Image Credit: Supplied

I have a lot to thank my grandmother for. Not just for the fantastic summer getaways over long hot summers, but also the kitchen skills she passed onto me. From her classic Victoria sponge recipe, which I still use today, to pastry skills and crumble techniques, this knowledge gave me the upper hand in home economics lessons at school, thanks to Nan’s extra tuition.

Pastry making is a real skill; Nan always said to me the best pastry chefs have ‘cold hands and warm hearts’, and she certainly did.

Back then we didn’t have food processors, but we did have the good-old-fashioned method of ‘rubbing in’, a process that requires using your hands to crumble the butter and flour together. This was also the same method we used for making fruit crumbles, which is still one of my favourite ‘puddings’. Fruit crumbles became popular in Britain during the Second World War; the crumble was an economical alternative to pies due to a shortage of pastry ingredients due to rationing. Everything from breadcrumbs to oats was added to reduce the use of flour, fat and sugar.

Here is an easy crumble recipe Nan wouldn’t mind me sharing. In a large bowl add 225g of plain flour, 90g of caster sugar and 115g of unsalted butter with a pinch of salt. Using your fingers break-up the butter, rubbing it in to form breadcrumbs. A fruit crumble is a great way to use overripe fruit. Stew 5-6 peeled and cored apples or pears with 100g of sugar and 100ml of water over a low heat for 30 minutes, until soft. Add ½ teaspoon of mixed spice for extra flavour. Pour the stewed fruit into an ovenproof dish, top with the crumble mix, sprinkle over some sugar, and bake at 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Allow the crumble to cool, then serve with fresh cream, or even better, custard.

A skill I never mastered is puff pastry. It’s a lengthy process. The relentless turning, rolling and folding isn’t easy. As I’ve said before it’s OK to use shop products, and I’m sure Nan wouldn’t mind. I recently stumbled across a genius time-saving frozen product, puff pastry squares. Grabbing a couple of packs on the way home, I thought what could be done with these puffy wonders? In the kitchen, I got experimenting with a few savoury combos, something cheesy maybe, or folded to hold in a tasty filling. These are the perfect size to serve at a weekend get-together, oven tray to a soirée in minutes. These cheat eats are great as a snack or even in the kids’ lunch boxes. Puff pastry magic that Nan would definitely approve of.

SPINACH & WALNUT PARCELS

Makes 12, prep time 15 minutes, cooking time 20-30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

12 squares of puff pastry
4 bunches of spinach
8 tbsp of cream cheese
1 red onion diced
Fresh black pepper
1 beaten free-range egg
Black sesame seeds

TO SERVE

50g of chopped walnuts
1 spring onion chopped

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cook the spinach and squeeze out as much water out as you can. Then chop the spinach finely and leave it to drain. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Arrange the pastry squares evenly on the tray, combine the spinach with cream cheese and season with black pepper. Add the chopped red onion, then a spoonful of the mixture to the centre of each pastry square. To close the parcels pull each corner to the middle, stretching the pastry if you need to. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the parcels are golden. Finally, top with chopped walnuts and spring onion, and serve.


TOMATO & FETA CHEESE SQUARES

Makes 8, prep time 10 minutes, cooking time 25-30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

12 squares of puff pastry
1 beaten free-range egg
3 tbsp of pesto
3 large beef tomatoes sliced
1 large block of feta cheese
3 tsp of dried mixed herbs
Salt & pepper

TO SERVE

Balsamic gel
2 chopped spring onions

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Arrange the pastry squares evenly on the tray and brush with egg. Add a teaspoon of pesto to the centre of each square and top with sliced tomato, sprinkle over some dried herbs. Crumble over half the block of feta. Season and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Remove the squares from the oven; top with the remainder of feta and spring onion, allow to cool for five minutes. Add a drizzle of balsamic gel and serve.

— Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield, follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix