zaterdag 31 oktober 2009

Jellied Eyeball Shots and Severed Fingers for Halloween

Well it's that time of year again: Halloween...when it's quite possible and quite acceptable to find a fly in your soup, a body part on your plate or even lumps in your custard!
Yet again I will be dusting off my broomstick and heading off to a friend’s house to celebrate. It has become somewhat of a tradition, maybe because of her Irish origins, after all Halloween did begin as a Celtic festival. It will be a pot-luck or more fitingly a 'cauldron-luck' dinner. I am making dessert. At first I wanted to make jellied eels uh I mean 'worms' but they look so disgustingly realistic I couldn't imagine anyone eating them so opted instead for Vodka shots with you've guessed... lychee original-not! Definitely not for the kids! And I have decided to make severed fingers after last year’s success when I made them with bread dough ('finger food') and a cheesy spider dip. They went down so well, (not even complains about the 'fingernails' in the food) so I have decided to try the cookie dough variant, which will be served with chocolate-fondue-dirt dip (Oreo cookie crumbs sure resemble dirt) and fruit compote which with a little bit of imagination, could well be clots of blood. I have even added an extra element- dirty fingernails yuk. Oh this is going to be fun!
I must admit some of the Halloween ideas I have come across on internet look so gross I have quickly lost my appetite! While achieving the desired shock-effect they have rather gone over the top, after all food enjoyment has a lot to do with appearance. With Halloween food you need to find the balance fun-yes, scary-yes but disgusting-no. Halloween is certainly a time to let creative juices flow, but be careful not dry up digestive juices in the process! While you may think it fun to serve edible puke your guests may well be running to (YOUR!) the bathroom to vomit!
Looking for a finger cookie recipe proved a bit of a hassle. Because it has become such an American influenced celebration I could only find recipes with cup big is the cup??? Do Americans actually have a cup that they weigh their ingredients in? Luckily I soon found a conversion chart.
Here is the recipe I came across more than once it must be good, now translated into grams. These seriously delicious, very buttery and despite being a bit creepy looking 'witches fingers' are sure to bring a smile to the faces of your Halloween guests.
The Vodka shots recipe I came up with myself. I could only find recipes for Jello? it must be American I guess. I used the one remaining English jelly I had left in my store cupboard with a little gelatine. I have never made Jelly shots before and was rather nervous that the alcohol content was going to affect the setting so I adapted my recipe.
Here is what I used:
Vodka Shots with Jellied Eyeballs
1 jelly
5gr gelatine (leaf)
2 tsp sugar
lychees without pip (tinned)
Cherries (tinned)
Vodka (I used extra strength 50% vol)
Food colouring (optional)
Dissolve the jelly in hot water; add water to the jelly pieces up to the 350ml mark of a measuring jug, add sugar and stir. Soak leaf gelatine for 5 minutes in a little cold water. Add to jelly mix. and stir well until everything is dissolved. Leave to cool slightly and add vodka up to the 550ml mark on the jug.
Fill the 'socket' of each lychees with a cherry and place in shot glasses. Pour a little jelly liquid in each glass and refrigerate overnight. Enjoy!
Severed Fingers
225gr butter, softened
110gr icing sugar (I used 1/2 icing/1/2 caster sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp almond essence
1 tsp vanilla essence
275gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I used a good pinch)
I egg white
1 tsp. cacao powder
Whole almonds
Beat butter, sugar, egg, almond essence and vanilla essence. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (I left mine overnight). Working with a quarter of the dough at one time (keeping the remainder cool) shape the cookies. Take a piece the size of a small walnut and roll into a finger shape, making a knuckle and making cuts with a knife and place on a baking sheet with baking paper. Make a paste with about a teasp. cocoa and a little egg white and paint the nail tips. Press the almonds firmly in place. Bake in an oven 160°C. for about 20 minutes. I made 66.

I wish you all a very happy Halloween.

Update: 1st Nov. Everyone loved the shots, they tasted great and held up for a couple of hours out of the fridge. Apparently the cookie fingers were even more realistic than the bread dough variant- they scared the kids, but in no time they were happily dipping their 'fingers' in the chocolate sauce!

donderdag 29 oktober 2009

Spot the elephant

Today no food blog but do I want to share my day out in Amsterdam.
Yesterday I was in the city to see something very special...a parade of elephants. Not real ones of course but works of art, very much on public display. 112 elephant to be exact, the number being very significant in representing 1-1-2 the alarm number, raising our attention to the plight of this splendid creature sadly threatened with extinction.
The Asian elephant- I was fortunate enough to meet this animal in Thailand earlier this year. It is an amazing species, I was very much in awe but the setting was less fortunate. The story of the elephant is very tragic.
The elephant population has very much declined in the last years. The reasons: poaching, landmines and unemployment. These magnificent beasts and probably Thailand’s best known national symbol , they have been instrumental in building and defending the country. Now they work either in elephant camps carrying tourists on elephant treks or parade in the cities, illegally begging for money. The elephant do not belong in the towns the one's we saw evidently showed signs of stress. Sadly there are few elephants that haven't been 'domesticated', the number living in their natural environment is rapidly declining. We also visited one of the 'schools' and took an elephant trail. If the tourists stop coming then I do fear for the elephants. I justify while it is not the best environment for the animals to live in, this way they do get daily exercise and fed! You are 'free' but encouraged to buy food, bananas and sugar cane, for the elephants throughout the trek. The intelligent and very comical elephants know only too well and show their protest! If they are not fed they stop and refuse to budge until they see food! And boy do they eat, if we weren't careful the bunch of bananas disappeared in one go and the trunk was constantly ’in search'. We watched a show where to our amazement the elephants were performing amazing tricks. We even witness an elephant painting a work of art!
The Elephant Parade, Amsterdam:
There are various ways of viewing the elephants, cruises, guided tours, by scooter, by step or bicycle, but....we walked. It is largely an open air exhibition, they are scattered around squares, street corners, parks and even shopping centers, parading in full glory where they can be admired by the public. Museum Plein, Leidse plein, Wetering Platsoen, Westermarkt, Konings Plein. see map. You can pick up a booklet with a suggested route (which isn't entirely logical in my opinion) or just plan your own walk.
Each one is an unique work of art, painted by local or international artists, examples are Ilse DeLange, Rob Scholte, Rob de Nijs, Daryl van Wouw, Jan des Bouvrie, each responsible for decorating one elephant. Where the inspiration come from I can only guess. It a mix of colour, design and material showing the creatures in several different poises. They are roughly the size baby elephants. Not only the designs are colourful but they bear interesting names: Gladiator, Communicator, O-Love-Fantje and The Eye of The Believer. My particular favourites were Justice, Maharadja and Obama, an elephant bearing more than a striking resemblance to the American President. Another elephant that has often been spoken about is Florijn, the queens elephant, orange in colour and decorated with real guilders.
One or two of the elephants could tell a colourful story or two. For example one unfortunate elephant from a previous elephant parade failed to make the auction due to damage. He is now standing proudly in front of the Museum shop for promotional purposes. Another elephant 'Dino' was stolen from Frederiksplein. He was missing for several days before he was found and returned. This caused a lot of concern as he was uninsured, had an estimated value of ten thousand euro’s! How could an elephant of 1.60m weighing 60-70kilo go missing I ask myself?! He was found just 50meters away from where he went missing and after spending a few days in the garden of the Police Station he was returned to his 'stomping ground'. One of the more flash elephants 'Reflection' has had to be temporarily replaced by 'Dikkebillboard'. He is made from a kind of mirror-mosaic but has been 'vandalised', apparently the wrong glue was used, my guess is it couldn't withstand prodding fingers.
The very first project was organised in Rotterdam in 2007 and followed in Antwerp in 2008, it proved to be very successful and raised a total amount of over 700,000euro. The 'Amsterdam' elephants are due to be sold at the Westergasfabriek by the auctioneers Christies in November. All proceeds will go to the world's largest Charity fund: 'The Elephant Family'.
In may-June 2010 The London Elephant Parade is scheduled to take place.
I can't help but wonder if the Elephants will get the same freedom in London as in Amsterdam. I know England only too well and I can see little signs in capital letters PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE ELEPHANTS, chains or even security guards. Today I saw the 'free spirited' Dutch children happily climbing the works of art and couldn't help but pity the elephants although overall they were bearing up fairly well. They have been on view since the beginning of September.
We didn't get to see all 112 elephants, as it was we barely had time to stop for lunch. We managed to grab a quick bite to eat at a place called Martinot nearby Museum Plein where I was 'food inspired'. We both enjoyed a very interesting Walnut and Chestnut soup with (goats)cheese. This is one I'll be attempting at home. Watch this space!
I hope you will take time to think about the elephants, you too can help to save the endangered Asian elephant from extinction. Perhaps (like me) you don't have a few thousand of euro's to spare, but you can still visit one of the two stores Elephant Parade shop situated at Kalvertoren Shopping Center and Museum Plein, here you can purchase replica's of nearly every design from the exhibition, ranging in many sizes. They are all handmade and have been handpainted in a limited edition. In doing so you will not only be having a very decorative addition to your house, but you will also be supporting a worthy charitable cause.
If you don't want to miss the Parade please hurry Saturday 31st October is the last day. If you are short of time I suggest you head to Museum Plain, here a herd of elephants are on show in all their glory.

dinsdag 27 oktober 2009

Striving to become a (domestic) goddess but just ending up with egg on your face

This weekend the kitchen worktop was scattered with a variety of ingredients: Avocado, banana, honey, oatmeal, lemon, cocao and yoghurt. Was this a Ready Steady Cook challenge when the chefs compete to cook a meal out of ‘a bag’ of goodies in just ten minutes? No. We were having a beauty evening and these were our face mask ingredients.
Who doesn't want to be seen as a (domestic) goddess?
One of my favourite TV personalities is Nigella Lawson (note I say TV personality because she has no professional training as chef or cook). To me she is THE (Domestic) Goddess. I watch in awe as this gorgeous, charismatic woman prepare lavish dishes often overdressed for the occasion (not an apron in sight) hair flowing gracefully around her shoulders. Or she is under-dressed: I was amazed to watch a video of her preparing Christmas dinner in a beautiful satin (or silk?) dressing gown! If I followed her approach in the kitchen I would be a walking fire hazard, my dressing gown would be scorched, stained and ruined, and it would be horrific to watch someone remove a strand of hair from their plate/mouth... So be it…I resign myself to falling somewhat short of being a domestic goddess. Practical clothes, check. Hair tied back, check. I do however own 'a little black dress' apron, that's as glam as it gets.
Nigella has such a passion for food and more importantly a passion for eating, especially rich and indulgent food. Seemingly with little regard for her figure, which is fantastic. With her shapely curves she is seductive and flirtuous, also gaining the title queen of food porn. She is like Marmite, you either love her or hate her; she awakens something in all of us whether it is jealousy or admiration.
Has this glamorous, stunningly beautiful woman of 49 years old (in 2009, yes, it is amazing!) stumbled on the fountain of eternal youth? I wonder if she is sharing her recipes but keeping her beauty secrets close to her voluptuous bosom. Perhaps she has accidentally discovered the benefits of using certain food for nourishing her perfect flawless skin. It seems that the same things that are good for the inside are also good for the outside. It must be more advantageous to cover your skin with something containing no chemicals, additives, preservatives or colouring... Ancient beauties like Cleopatra bathed in milk and honey, which at the time was considered very extravagant.
Today the cost of ingredients for face masks is minimal, compared to the cost of most ready-made beauty products. I think we all have some concerns about parabens and microbeads. Furthermore they are quick and simple to make. Our little mixes looked quite delicious too... in fact almost good enough to eat!

We used ground oatmeal (ground in a pestle and mortar), which works as an exfoliant and absorbs impurities, mixed with yoghurt, which also cleanses and hydrates the skin together with honey which is effective as an antiseptic, and a healer of minor skin damages, allergies or skin rashes as well as being a skin brightener, revitalising its texture.
Oatmeal face mask:
1/2 cup/100gr Oatmeal, ground.
1/4 cup/50gr Yoghurt
2 tablesp. honey.

Another mask included banana, which is anti-age, good for wrinkles, or skin damaged by the elements (sun-burn/sore winter weathered skin) and helps to moisturise the skin, suitable for sensitive skin. With honey and oatmeal.
Banana face mask:
1 banana, mashed.
1-2 tablesp. honey
Add a little ground oatmeal to thicken but keep a good spreading consistency.

Another mask we used was avocado, highly hydrating, mixed with honey and yoghurt particularly suitable for dry skin types. I choose this particular mask and was left with soft, fresh and smooth skin, no tightness at all.
Avocado face mask:
1 avocado.
1-2 tablesp. yoghurt
1-2 tablesp. honey

Then we had a luxury looking chocolate mask, with cocoa, high in antioxidant (Note: not the chocolate-drink mix with sugar!), yoghurt and honey and a little ground oatmeal to get a good consistency. This is an anti-age mask; the antioxidants absorb 'free radicals' (by-products) which can cause cell and tissue damage.
Chocolate Face mask:
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp. yoghurt
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp ground oatmeal

These were the basic mixes which we then personalised by adding 2-3 drops of (essential) oils:
Vitamin E oil for its healing (reduces scarring) and calming properties which helps to prevent skin eruptions and essential oil in this case Tea Tree Oil good against acne and helps heal cuts and burns.
DO NOT use tea tree oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Tea tree oil (and lavender) can simulate the effects of the female hormone oestrogen and cause an imbalance!

Other natural ingredients that I have done some research on, but have beneficial properties in homemade face masks, and perhaps will use next time include:
Tomatoes- for oily skin types.
Strawberries- cleanses and exfoliates the skin...but - I would sooner EAT mine with cream!
Kiwi-exfoliant & cleanser especially suited for oily skin.
Lemon juice- is helpful for greasy skin types as is a mixture of yoghurt and yeast. Lemon is a bleaching agent and can lighten the skin and reduce freckles.
Tumeric- helps to reduce skin blemishes and give a glowing skin.
Olive oil- helps to replenish dry skin types, normally combined with egg yolk (hydrates, suitable for dry skin type), honey and oatmeal. Egg white- is great for oily skins, tightening pores. As I have a raw egg phobia,I would pass. I try to limit the use of raw eggs.
Cucumber refreshes the skin, cools and relaxes tired skin.
Ground coffee- high in antioxidants.
Pumpkin- with properties for skin healing & antioxidant. Use on environmentally damaged or sensitive skin.
Apples- high in antioxidants.

Pre-application TIPS:
Examine your skin and determine your type of skin and decide what type of treatment you require i.e. a scrub/exfoliant, a hydrating, an anti-age/firming, a deep cleansing, or a calming/ soothing facial. Don't use ingredients on you face that you have an allergy for!
Blend the ingredients together. Cleanse your face first removing all traces of make-up and dirt; apply the mask, avoiding the area around the eyes. But you needn't forget your eyes altogether, use (moistened) teabags, slices of cucumber or failing that even water moistened cotton wool pads will effectively relieve and help to reduce puffiness. Sit down for 15-20 minutes and unwind. Remove with warm water (not too hot especially if you use egg otherwise you WILL end up with scrambled egg on your face!). Finish with a good splash of cold water and apply a moisturiser. Admire your glowing skin! You have become a goddess.

Most of these ingredients are basic ingredients so its not even necessary to rush off to the supermarket for special purchases. Instead rush into the kitchen and get mixing, not only your inner self but also your 'outside' needs nourishing.
It is time for pampering, in today’s busy lifestyle we often need to be reminded to stop and relax, say goodbye to the environmental stress affecting the areas that are exposed day after day.
Get together with a group of friends as we did, we combined it with an Italian home cooked meal, foot spas and foot massages. (and some other activities that I won't divulge)
It will give you a psychological boost; re-rejuvenate the skin and you'll have great fun too!
Guaranteed to lift your spirits- if you sit back with a nice glass of red wine and some Quality Street as we did! (It is however not recommended to eat or laugh as the mask is drying)

Go back to basics... do a bit of DIY and reap the benefits. Join the many beautiful women that have gone before you over the centuries...Within twenty minutes you too will be feeling like a goddess as nature works its wonderful magic.

I tried to make everyone in the photograph as unrecognisable as possible, I think I have achieved ;-)

maandag 26 oktober 2009

The trials and tribulations...and fun of being a recipe tester

Last year I was set my biggest culinary challenge ever: I agreed to be a recipe tester. I answered the request of a foodie, fellow blogger and a very talented lady who was working on a cookery book. The recipes quite simply needed to be tried and tested.
Now while I often choose a recipe and start cooking with my cookery book open, by the third ingredient it is always firmly shut and pushed aside in search for more counter space to litter!
Everyone has an own cooking style. I am a normally a fairly tidy person but I admit: I cook in an absolute mess…no workspace would be big enough! My husband is always surprised I am able to work in such a 'chaos', like a mad scientist and very occasionally as I become verbal, I may even sound like Gordon Ramsay, but The proof is in the pudding and I don't get many complaints! And I do always tidy up afterwards.
I don't often measure ingredients but work to 'feel', a pinch of this and a handful of that. Often in a recipe salt and pepper is added to taste, well I firmly believe that this applies to many other ingredients too. Everyone’s taste buds are different and can tolerate and/ or desire a lesser or higher degree of spiciness or sweetness. While I am guilty of spicing things up, I often reduce the amount of sugar. Ok baking is an exact science and a cake recipe a scientific formula and should therefore be accurately adhered to. But mainly I cook with reckless abandon...I am the boss in my kitchen and I love it!
But now I had an assignment, it was necessary to follow the recipe to the letter. Could I succeed? The requirement was simple to cook the food and provide good honest feedback in the form of a questionnaire.
Well I can be strict and I take my commitments very seriously. The exact ingredients had to be purchased, no substitutions possible, this itself proved quite a challenge. For some products I needed to search much further a field than Katwijk. Halloumi cheese was an example, practically no one had heard of it! Another example is smoked (Spanish) paprika (and now I wonder how I ever lived without this wonderful natural flavour enhancer!) and dried lavender (suitable for consumption)
Many ingredients I had purchased for my recipes needed to be 'protected' (I live with three hungry eaters...all male!) so I my ingredients were labelled with the writers name on and DO NOT EAT! This resulted in a very comical sight, both in the refrigerator and in the cupboards.
I had full faith in the writer and set about the challenge before me as I dusted off my scales! I started with great expectations but soon discovered this was going to be more difficult that I realised! Not that I had difficulties following the instructions, which were very clear and precise. But sometimes I almost had to physically contain myself to stay on the path. And honest feedback... hmm it is very difficult to be critical of someone else’s own creations. My family didn't completely appreciate the change of diet. Having said that we do eat varied and I am always willing to try out new ingredients on my hungry guinea pigs. But to be fair the dishes I started off with included ingredients that they are not too fond of, namely pulses. Secretly I was quite enjoying it, the relief often on their faces when they asked if it was a test recipe or one of mine was clearly an indirect compliment to me! And then I started getting direct compliments, this was interesting, I was at last being appreciated for all my slaving away in a hot kitchen! Their reactions were very amusing but at the same time it was unfortunate that they were judging dishes on a preconceived conception. As I reeled the recipes off they became more open and started to appreciate and enjoy the new dishes. And some were true masterpieces.
I must just add I do take it all very serious, I have signed an agreement, so I am sorry but I am unable to reproduce any of the recipes or divulge the finer details of the cookbook. I did take photographs so I have given you a sneak preview to whetten your appetite ...I hope your interest has been awakened enough to want to buy the book. Watch this space, I am sure it will be available very soon.

zaterdag 24 oktober 2009

Lemon Non-Bake Kwark-Cheesecake

From unpleasant to plate licking good!
This is a very intriguing product, what exactly is kwark? Well actually it's a soft curd cheese (in French it is Fromage Frais, in English Quark) with a slightly grainy texture, a little bit similar to Ricotta. It is low in calories and cholesterol, sounds very healthy but how does it taste? Hmm well actually…very strange indeed.
During my weekly shopping trips I have often wondered who actually buys 'kwark' and what on earth they do with it. (Until today coincidentally), I have never seen a person with plain French kwark (low or full fat) or in their shopping trolley, or in their fridge come to that. Yet surprisingly it has remains on the shelves of the supermarket, (practically in the same packaging) for decades. One day my curiosity got the better of me and my first purchase remains grafted in my memory forever, oh boy what a surprise! It tasted horrible, sour and very unpleasant. Now I generally like natural yoghurt and never add sugar, but with kwark it was necessary to add heaps of sugar before it was even palatable (and it still remained unpleasant). I have hardly ever come across it in recipes; it remains very much a mystery.
Incidentally it must not be confused with Creme Fraiche which I would compare to sour cream, with the benefit that it heat tolerant, it never separates. If you buy a very good one, it can be almost compared to Mascarpone and is delicious with fresh fruit.
Last weekend I decided to put together a recipe with kwark. In the supermarkets you can buy packet mixes for 'kwarktaart' by Oetker. Since I never use mixes, as they seem to contain absolutely nothing judging by the list of ingredients you need to add yourself! I created a recipe, my twist on a kwark come cheesecake, and do you know I think it worked!
I chose to make a non-bake cheesecake, without eggs (unfound or not I still worry about eating raw eggs no matter how fresh they are!). It is lighter than a normal cheesecake; you could substitute the cottage cheese for Monchou or Philadelphia for a richer taste with more calories.

Lemon Kwark-Cheesecake.
10 digestive biscuits (180gr)
85gr butter
2-3 tsp sugar (optional)
500gr kwark (low of high fat to choice) I used organic kwark, low fat
200gr cottage cheese, sieved
1 small carton cream (200ml)
80gr castor sugar (or more for a sweeter cheesecake)
Juice and grated rind of 2 small or 1 large lemon
Gelatine, 6 sheets (about 10gr, more as desired, depending on how firm you prefer)
1 spring form, lined.
Compote (topping)

Break up biscuits in a plastic bag with rolling pin (or pestle, which I prefer to use)until they resemble breadcrumbs. Heat butter in a small pan until melted. Add biscuit crumbs and sugar (optional). Press in the base of a spring form (mine was 24cm) with a spoon. Cool in refrigerator. Beat the kwark until smooth. Add the sieved cottage cheese, sugar and lemon rind, mix. Soak the gelatine in a little water for 5 minutes. Heat the lemon juice (do not boil!) stir in gelatine and mix until everything has dissolved, heating if necessary but do not boil. Leave to cool slightly. Whip the cream until stiff, being careful not to over whip! Add cooled gelatine to kwark mixture and stir carefully but thoroughly. Fold in cream. Pour into baking tin. I lined the sides of mine with Teflon foil but you could use baking paper. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Add topping just before serving. I used a mix of compote and jam.
Apologies for the poor photograph. I was anxious to tuck in!

donderdag 22 oktober 2009

Thai Inspired Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkins are relatively new in Katwijk where I live. I remember several years ago, cycling around searching for a pumpkin to carve but to little avail, just when I had given up all hope I spotted one in the window decoration in a florist shop! The lady was very surprised at my request but nonetheless very accommodating and I excitedly went home to do the dirty deed!
I used to remove as much flesh as possible and incorporate this in a soup or a pie, however not always with good results. I was clearly making a big mistake, in my opinion there are fundamentally two types of pumpkin (but many different sorts) those especially suitable for carving and those better suited for consumption. Obviously the larger pumpkins are great for carving but the flesh is generally pale in colour and watery. The smaller ones de biologische pompoen (small organic pumpkins that are readily available here) and also the butternut squash are particularly good, vibrant in colour and very sweet. The organic one can even be roasted/grilled successfully without losing its structure. It is quite delious with a mixture of spices and a sprinkling of olive oil.
Since then I have grown and harvested my own pumpkins but find they are rather overpowering in the garden and luckily they are now readily available in supermarkets.
In my opinion pumpkins are very underrated, they so much more than a Halloween prop. They are sweet and healthy and I hope you will be tempted to try my Thai inspired soup.
It is sweet and spicy. A lovely soup perfect for welcoming the colour of Autumn into you kitchen.

Thai inspired Pumpkin soup
1 small pumpkin ( or butternut).
1 large onion
Fresh red chili pepper (to taste) I used about 1/4
Thai red curry paste (to taste) I used about 1 tbsp.
1 clove garlic
Oil (olive)
Coriander (ground, to taste)
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
200ml orange juice
1 tin (400ml) coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Serving suggestions: sour cream, creme fraiche or a knob of butter. Fresh coriander if desired but it is so delicious and vibrant in colour it needs very little.
Serves 4-5 (good sized portions)

Cut the pumpkin in slices, remove peel, (you can use a potato peeler for a butternut) stringy parts and seeds, discard. Chop the flesh in pieces. Dice the onion. De-seed the pepper and finely chop. Heat a little oil in a large pan. Fry the onion and red pepper for a few minutes. Add the curry paste. Stir and add the pumpkin, garlic (chopped) and fry for a few more minutes. Add salt, black pepper and coriander to taste. Add orange juice and coconut milk and heat through. Add stock and bring to boil, simmer for 15- 20 minutes (until pumpkin is soft, a little longer if you are using a butternut). Cool slightly and blend. Serve with topping of choice.

woensdag 21 oktober 2009

Inspired by a Fridge magnet

My love for food and cooking go way back. My mother was always busy in the kitchen and we were encouraged at a young age to get our hands dirty. As I grew up I went through many fads and phases like becoming a vegetarian or following a low calorie diet but my interest for food never left, in fact it almost became my career.
Later, I was introduced to Dutch food with great interest, I was taught to cook authentic Indian food and I started to find my own style. I like to try new things, I tend not to stick to recipes but to cook with reckless abandon.
Today the food choice is much wider, there is so much on offer, and you don't just have to flick though cookery books or buy a food magazine for ideas. The amount of food related programmes on TV is overwhelming so many different approaches and concepts and Internet is amazing. It is certainly no longer regarded as stuffy and old fashioned to cook!
Today I get much inspiration from our holidays. A few years ago we had a holiday chalet in a quaint little place called Porlezza in Northern Italy on the lake of Lugano. The food was amazing. I learnt a lot from their approach to food; less is more. Where fresh, quality but few ingredients are beautifully combined and cooked with passion.
Further I have been inspired by other holidays, in Egypt I discovered desserts, in Greece, on the island of Crete to be precise, I tasted the best olive oil and olives in the world and in Thailand I became more open to Asian food.
In fact I get little inspiration from restaurants here, more than often I come away disappointed. Not that I am difficult to please but I do expect a certain quality and sadly this is not always the case.
Funny enough I got my inspiration for my blog title from a fridge magnet! Live, love, laugh only and eat was missing which I added with a bit of help from my friend Paint.
The purpose of my blogspot is to share ideas, tips and perhaps review new kitchen equipment or gadgets. I hope to share photographs of things that have worked for me and perhaps discuss new products, unlikely or unusual combinations. To write hopefully with enthusiasm and passion about my own creations or apdaptions or my tried, tested and all time favourite recipes and who knows maybe I will inspire someone to run into the kitchen!

Salads Galore

I know the beautiful summer is long behind us and we should be thinking about comfort foods but my newly found enthusiasm for salads is not yet ready to be tossed aside. I still have fresh basil in my garden and while that remains the case I will still be happily tossing my salads long into autumn...
And I don't mean that side salad that merely serves as one of the '5 a day', necessary for good boring does that sound?! I know because I’ve been there…At one time my average salad was a humdrum chunk of iceberg lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrot covered in loads of high calorie dressings but I have discovered there is so much more: rocket, watercress, spinach, chicory/endive, fennel, avocado, spring onion, red onion, and fruit yes it really does work, don't be afraid of that sweet and savoury scare.
Try grapes, apples, oranges, grapefruit, plums, apricot, mango, fresh or dried figs. Not forgetting dates, or a handful of raisons or dried cranberries.
The addition of fresh herbs, for example basil, parsley, coriander or mint makes the salad come alive.
Why not add a couple of slices of meat, salami/parma ham or smoked chicken/ salmon and make that salad a meal on its own. Or a few slithers of cheese: Cheddar or perhaps Grano Padano, goat’s cheese, Brie, blue cheese, Feta or Mozzarella balls. Or be daring and try some grilled Halloumi cheese, perfect with plums or citrus fruits, mint and red onion.
Make regional salads and let the ingredients follow through: for an Italian salad use sun dried tomatoes and capers.
A Capri salad can consist of only tomato, basil and Mozzarella.
A Greek salad can consist of cucumber, green pepper, red onion, Feta, Kalamata olives (black) and dried oregano.
Or for a Japanese salad try bean sprouts, spring onion, sesame seeds, dried seaweed with a sesame oil/ soy sauce dressing.
For a Thai salad use (green) mango, coconut, coriander, bean sprouts and peanuts.
Forget that handful of MSG croutons as topping and those awful jars of sweet dressings…aren’t salads supposed to be good for you?! Instead try crispy bacon pieces, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts/ cashews, a sprinkling of Parmesan, olives or capers and a chunk of freshly baked bread.
The only limit is your own imagination!
The secret is to find the correct balance, find ingredients that compliment one another, an example is that match made in heaven: tomato and basil but there are many unusual combinations that truly work and stick to just a few ingredients not everything listed above! I tend to like simple foods and very much agree with the Italian concept 'less is more'. Back to basics and experience food as it was meant to taste.
And don't forget the dressing, in my opinion nothing compliments better than a simple splash of extra virgin olive oil (Cretan is my favourite) and a dash of Balsamic vinegar. Not forgetting a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and salt.
You'll find you will be so satisfied on your starter you will only want a tiny portion of the main course.
Don’t just order these wonderful salads in restaurants but make them at home! They are so easy and delicious. Try!

Typically Dutch

The Dutch cuisine can be symbolised by one of the famous van Gogh paintings...The Potato Eaters. They are very much a meat-potato -vegetable nation. And they love to mash potatoes with all kinds of combinations of vegetables.
If you ask a Dutch person what they are having for dinner they will generally answer cauliflower, broccoli, or green beans whereas if you ask a Brit it will more likely be chops, chicken or steak. Are the Dutch as obsessed with vegetables as the English are with meat? Well there is an abundance of vegetables growing in Holland and the the Dutch are very proud and fond of their produce but naming a vegetable gives a good indication of what dish is being served. There are certain 'rules' in Holland, for example certain vegetables must accompany certain meats! It is very baffling and I still haven't quite got the hang of it. But I don't really go 'Dutch' too often.
As I mentioned they are very fond of mashed potatoes often combined with vegetables, stamppot, traditionally served with cubed bacon, smoked sausage, or a meatball with a rich jus gravy. It is simple food and can be very satisfying on a cold winters day. I am not a great potato lover, but there is however one dish that is regularly to be found on our menu: Brown beans bruinebonen, potatoes (not mashed), cubed bacon pieces served with fat juices, piccalilli, and onions. It’s simple but delicious.
Bruinebonen soup is also popular but at number one is Erwtensoep (pea soup).
The Dutch are also famous for their dairy products (especially for their cheeses) and generally dessert consists of a dish of yoghurt, kwark (fromage frais/quark) or vla ( cold custard).
But they do have sweet tooth's, they love their cookies / pastries / cakes and I don't just mean the famous 'space cake'! A firm favourite is a piece of apple tart or a stroopwafel which often accompanies a cup of tea or coffee. Their fondness for sweet dishes is also is reflected in the abundance of pancake restaurants (also available with savoury fillings), market vendors selling poffertjes, sweets especially drop (liquorice) and bread toppings for both breakfast and lunch ie hagelslag (chocolate flavoured pieces). Another popular bread topping is peanut butter.
The Dutch are also food junkies, there are numerous snackbars selling many snacks ie frikadel (sausage), bitterballen/kroket (meat ragout) accompanied by patat french fries. Shoarma is equally popular as is coming across a street vendor selling Vietnamese lompias (spring rolls).
A step upwards from a snack bar is an Indonesian/ Chinese-takeaway/restaurant. Holland has a colonial past and have therefore acquired a taste for the exotic, in particular Indonesian cuisine. Indonesian ingredients are readily available in most supermarkets and many have found their way into mainstream cookery. An example is sate (Satay, meat on a skewer with peanut sauce).