zaterdag 28 november 2009

Simple Desserts: 10 minute Tiramisu and a quick Trifle

I've been fancying a lot of desserts recently, many that go as far back as my childhood, some are even school dinners! At the time not something you cared to admit to enjoy, except of course ‘chocolate crunch and chocolate custard ‘ everyone's favourite. But my recent urges are for suet puddings (spotted dick or jam roly-poly), jellies and milk puddings (rice puddings and tapioca) something that I didn’t particularly like at all. And a bit more up market, and things that I have always enjoyed: cheesecakes, lemon meringue pie, and (English) trifles.
Now it's time for a 'pick-me- up' the literal translation of: Tiramisu, an Italian dessert, it’s name referring to the boost you get from the stimulants (caffeine) coffee and (theobromine / phenethylamine)cocoa plus it's high sugar content, giving a burst of energy. Well as I have already mentioned I am a bit ‘egg phobic’. I couldn't even contemplate making an authentic ‘Tiramisu’ which in order to to bear the name, must contain (amongst other ingredients) eggs and Massala (a type of fortified wine). Other ingredients include mascarpone, cream, sponge fingers (savoiardi) strong coffee and cocoa. However I do love this wonderful dessert and have almost certainly (albeit unknowingly) eaten raw eggs before now- and what is more I have survived to tell the tale!
It can be made in individual glasses or in any dish, a glass trifle or even an lasagna dish. It should be made in layers but I wanted to get mine made and in the fridge as quickly as possible, and eaten even quicker! So I choose to make one layer of each ingredient.
I searched the internet for a nontraditional recipe without eggs and a bit less fattening than the usual. I wanted all the taste but as few calories as possible. In the end I based it on a good friends recipe who always makes delicious Tiramisu. I was quite proud of guessing her ‘secret’ ingredient- Vla.
This is a Dutch cold custard and it is ideal for making Tiramisu. It certainly takes all the fuss away. I love cooking but I am all for shortcuts.
The success of a Tiramisu is in the consistency, you have to find the balance between it not being too runny or too dry, you must experiment- oh dear that means it has to be a regular on the menu ;-) The same rule applies to the cookie fingers as flour, they are ’inconsistent’ (different types of flour have different absorptive properties), so the amount of liquid is always very much about 'feel'. Although it is rather a cheat recipe I justify that it is an Italian dessert and Italian cooking is all about simply things, minimum ingredients but maximum taste, and as they say the proof is in the pudding....

Dutch influenced 10 minute Tiramisu
Make a strong cup (about 150-200ml) of espresso coffee (or instant if you prefer)
100ml Tia Maria (or any alcoholic beverage you desire)
250gr mascarpone
250ml vanille vla (Dutch cold custard)
Lady's fingers/ lange fingers/ (about 130gr)
3 heaped tsp sugar
Serves 8

Make the coffee and dissolve the sugar. Add the alcoholic beverage. Dip the cookies one for one and lay them on the bottom of your dish (or individual glasses) a large glass salad bowl is the traditional way of serving Tiramisu. Feel the cookies and drip on extra liquid if necessary.
Beat the mascarpone until smooth and combine with the vla, beat until smooth. Add an extra dash of alcohol to the mascarpone/vla if you wish (I did!).
Ensure the lady’s fingers are completely cool. Pour the mascarpone/vla over the cookies. I made one level but you could make two or more depending on your serving dish.
Smooth the surface over and generously dust with cocoa and/or chocolate shavings.
Add nuts for an even more luxorious look. Unfortunately my photo's were lost but when I make it again I'll be sure to post.
Refrigerate for a few hours. Enjoy!

Tiramisu is also great in the summer with fresh raspberries or strawberries. December 12th 2009: Here is a Strawberry Tiramisu I made today, I used layers and you can see how pretty it can look made in individual glasses. This time I used Kahlua (coffee) liqueur.

A trifle is actually quite similar to a Tiramisu, in that it's a layered dessert consisting of (sponge)cake soaked in liquor (sherry). Normally with fruit/ jelly, custard, cream and normally lavishly decorated. It is great if you have some (sponge) cake to use up. Or you have some frozen fruit lurking in the freezer.
This one is very easy but quite authentic tasting, with just one layer of each ingredient. You could make more layers. An alternative is to set the jelly and then 'chop' it up, this makes layering the dessert much easier.
I love mascarpone and used it instead of cream but you could of course use (whipped)cream instead. Because I used frozen fruit it set very quickly. It certainly doesn’t have to be left overnight, within an hour it had set.

Quick Trifle
1 jelly (or 10gr gelatine and sugar/ fruit juice to taste, avoiding kiwi, pineapple, papaya, these are fruits that interfere with the setting process)
200gr sponge cake
250gr forest fruits (frozen)
250gr mascarpone
2-3 tbsp custard powder
milk 400-500ml
sugar to sweeten (couple of tsp should be sufficient)
vanille vla
100ml sherry
amaretto cookies (optional)
Decorations (nuts, sprinkles)
Serves 8

Dissolve jelly cubes in 250ml boiling water. Top up to 500ml (with ice cubes)
Cut cake into slices and place on bottom of glass dish. Pour over sherry and leave until soaked in.
Spread the frozen fruit (reserving a few for decoration) over cake and spread a little jam. By now the (jelly) liquid should be cold.
Pour slowly over fruit. Place in fridge, it should set very quickly due to frozen fruit.
Make custard, a bit thicker than you normally would. You could use part thick custard and part add Dutch vanilla vla like I did, this would speed up the cooling process. Bear in mind that it will thicken as it cools. If the custard is too thick add a bit more vla.
If your custard is too thin add some amaretto cookies. Leave your custard to cool, 'cover' with cling film to avoid the formation of surface skin which will lead to lumpy custard.
I added some amaretto cookies to give it some more flavour.
When the custard is cool, carefully spread over jelly. Beat mascarpone in a bowl with a little vla (couple tbsp) and spread on top of the trifle . Decorate with the reserved fruit, or nuts, sprinkles as you wish. Refrigerate.

These desserts certainly look impressive, only you have to know just how easy they are!

maandag 23 november 2009

Super Foods- Eat yourself healthy with Pumpkin Seed Oil, Goji Berries and Quinoa

A little over a year ago while leisurely strolling along the *Haarlemmerstraat in Amsterdam I sampled a delightful product in **Meeuwig & Zn. a specialised oil, vinegar and mustard shop.
The sampling itself was rather different, not done by dipping a piece of bread but cupping and tasting from your own hand! Apparently this is true tasting.
Pumpkin seed oil: It was quite delicious, nothing like I had never yet experienced, it had an uniquely extraordinary taste. Unfortunately due to circumstances I was unable to purchase at the time (my friend and I were on our way to a concert) The substance however lingered in my memory, but before I could go back to Amsterdam my friend spotted it on the shelves at- her local Lidl store!
Pumpkin oil from Styria (in German Steieirmark)
It has been popular and highly valued in Austria (and parts of Slovenia and Hungary) for many years. It is only here that the conditions are ideal for producing a perfect harvest. It is as widely in use in this area as olive oil is in other Mediterranean countries. In fact it forms a staple part of their diet. It seems to me they have been rather unwilling to share, almost a well kept secret. But now it seems it has been discovered and is now appearing on the menu in many top restaurants. It is gaining a reputation among chefs worldwide not only because of its unique taste but because of it is highly nutritional values.
It is very organically produced, often on family farms that has been producing quality oils for generations. The seeds are obtained from the Styrian pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo styriaca) and are characterized by being hull-less or 'naked' (having a thin membrane as opposed to the thick husk of conventional pumpkin seeds), they are dark green in colour, they are first roasted and are then easily crushed (cold pressed) to extract the highly prized and expensive edible oil otherwise known as 'Green Gold'.
It takes 2.5 kilo of pumpkin seeds to produce 1 liter oil. Not only is its intensive nutty flavour remarkable also the colour, it has a deep green (which looks red in the light) colour. Because it is expensive it is often mixed with cheaper oils i.e. sunflower oil but in my opinion it is better to enjoy it as an expensive (albeit occasional) delicacy.
Only the pure oil may bear the special markings on the bottle ‘Steirisches Kürbiskernöl’ (Styrian Pumpkin seed oil) the one from Lidl is also authentic, bearing the mark and is 100% pumpkin seed oil. It was 4,99euro for 250ml. Unfortunately it was a limited period product.
It is a wholesome and versatile food and can be used in salads, dipping bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, drizzled on cooked grilled vegetables or a topping on soups or even desserts, particularly delicious on ice-cream, pancakes - a true culinary delight. Beware-it does not tolerate heat well (tends to burn easily- so not suitable for frying!) and should be regarded with care during use in warm foods. Further it contains no artificial additives or preservatives. It should be stored in a dark cool place.
I have used it as a topping in porridge, (pumpkin)soups, salads and with ice cream with balsamic vinegar. Apparently it makes a wonderful scrambled egg, if moderately cooked.
Not only is its culinary qualities that are so valuable, but it is a 'Power food'. It has numerous health benefits. There have been extensive scientific research in all areas where it claims to have beneficial properties. Indeed it has proven to have many therapeutic qualities.
It is extremely rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6), antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It helps to regulate cholesterol levels which can help prevent heart and circulatory diseases.
It alleviate prostate/ bladder problems and urinary/intestinal infections and helps to restore a good hormone balance. Its use for intestinal infections includes parasite elimination!
Furthermore it is linked with having anti-inflammatory properties, relieving chronic rheumatoid arthritis and preventing kidney stones. It is reputed to increase the immune system.
It is excellent for maintaining skin health (dry skin and ageing, help prevents dehydration resulting in wrinkles and reduces scarring, particularly stretch marks)
Try it yourself not only is it a delight on the palate but a benefit to good health- what could possibly be more amazing that eating yourself fit?
Remember a little goes a long way...and experiment- its uses in the kitchen will go as far as your own imagination.

* Haarlemmerstraat, Amsterdam is a true culinary paradise, various delicatessens, restaurants, and specialised shops (also non food) offering quality products from around the world. It is very pretty it has an air of old fashioned-ness. I can certainly recommend the little Italian restaurant Scarlet, we had the surprise menu and were not disappointed! In one word: delicious. We also had lunch at the Portuguese delicatessen, officially not a restaurant but they were very accommodating, the wine was fabulous and not expensive.
Others shops include Hollanduz (produce from Spain) Kookboekhandel (cookery books) Caulils (wines, cheese & lobsters) Vlaamsch Broodhuys (breads and pastries) Unlimited Delicious (handmade chocolate in the most unusual flavour combinations) Tampopo (Asian supermarket) Papabubble (see how these specialised and personalised sweets are made)or de-tox at Jay's Juices. Don't forget to visit the weekly organic market at Noordermarkt, if only to experience the atmosphere (it is quite expensive but you do have quality produce):
There is an annual food Fair 'New Food Fair’ when even the streets are full of culinary delights.
Why not plan a Saturday morning at the market, an afternoon strolling along the Haarlemmerstraat and finish your evening with an early dinner in one of the lovely little restaurants. Or even better contact Paola, Mijn Zoete Leven who can take you on a very informative Culinary walk. Her enthusiasm will truly overwhelm and inspire you!

** Meeuwig en Zn offers a wide variety of high quality (olive)oils most of which are purchased on small scale farms (non bottled) from the countries Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece an France. They are stored in large stainless steel tanks in the shop where oil can be tapped for you in bottles sizes of your choice.

Goji Berry
Another super food I recently became acquainted with is Goji berries. These strange little berries that resemble (red) raisins are grown on the vines in sheltered valleys of the Himalayas on evergreen shrubs. The delicate berries are carefully shaken off the bushes (to avoid bruising) and are dried very slowly in the shade to produce the small, brick red dried fruit.
They are native to China and Tibet, and have been treasured for generations for their nutritional and therapeutic qualities, being used to cure various ailments.
Its taste is rather strange, not pleasant nor unpleasant, they are slightly 'salty' sweet and sour.
Like the pumpkin seed oil, numerous claims have been made. Some are very bold claims, since the fruit contains such high levels of antioxidants (more than any other fruit) there are suggestions that they can prevent or even cure cancer!
The Goji berry is very high in vitamin C, iron, beta carotene, polysaccharides, amino acids, and potassium.
They are said to protect the heart, are anti-aging and help protect the skin from the harmful sun, help improve eyesight, are very good for the immune system, the antioxidants help fight cancer and even can increase ones sex drive! (known also as Fruit-Viagra)
In recent years the Goji berry has become popular mostly incorporated in a beverage, (to disguise its unusual taste?) it is expensive and the wide claims that have been made are mostly unsupported.
Is it over-hyped or a super food? Well I think we have to leave it in the middle, take the claims with a pinch of salt. In China ALL food have some medicinal properties. If a fad encourages people to eat more fruit then I think it is a good thing too. Since the Goji berry may interact with certain (anticoagulant)drugs it should be taken in moderation.
All in all they are high in fibre, naturally low in fat as well as high in nutrients so can be included as part of a normal healthy and balanced diet.

Another super food I would like to be acquainted with is quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah). It is a versatile product, the leafy part is eaten as a vegetable, originating from South America. I understand it is rather like Couscous, but not actually a grain at all but a seed. It is high in protein and other nutrients including magnesium and riboflavin , high fibre and gluten free. If anyone knows where it is available (in the Leiden area) please let me know. I am always curious and eager to try new things.

woensdag 18 november 2009

Stew and Dumplings (with speculaas spices and ontbijtkoek)

What is easier and more satisfying than a stew in these cold and windy days? Yesterday I had meat and dumplings but it wasn't just good old British stodge, it was Dutch influenced. Not that there is anything wrong with meat and traditional English gravy but this time I looked around me for inspiration. I have heard that the Dutch sometimes use spiced cake in their (stoofpot) stews and I couldn't resist giving it a go. With 'Sinterklaas' just arriving in the country I thought I would find another use for that delicious mix of 'speculaas' spices that is so widely used in cookies and cakes at this time of year. I didn't add any vegetables apart from the onions because I was serving brussel sprouts separately but normally I would. They looked particularly festive and even the kids love them if you dress them up a bit.
Speculaas stew:
Stewing steak, beef (I used 630gr AH pure en eerlijk scharrel rundvlees)
2 red onions
koek & speculaas kruiden ( a mixture of spices, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
dried red chilies
dried chili flakes
ground cumin
paprika powder
2 cloves of garlic
extra nutmeg & cinnamon
2 slices ontbijtkoek (spiced cake)
1 sachet creamed coconut (50gr) (I used Patak)
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
boiled potatoes
100gr self raising flour (I used plain and 2 tsp baking powder)
50gr suet (if unavailable you could use butter)
desiccated coconut, about a tbsp.
salt, good pinch
cold water
fresh parsley and sage
Makes 8 small dumplings
Brussel sprouts with dried cranberries and thyme:
Handful of dried cranberries
fresh thyme
Cut meat into cubes. Place in a plastic bag with some cornflour (to absorb the moisture) and shake. In a large pan heat some oil or butter and brown the meat. Add the sliced onions, sliced garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, nutmeg, speculaas spices, and a good shake of cumin, cinnamon & paprika powder, two slices of ontbijtkoek cubed and water (I boiled the kettle and used hot water) enough to cover the meat. Put on the lid and leave to simmer for 2 hours on the lowest burner.
Now you have time to peel some potatoes and prepare the dumplings. Put the SR flour (or plain and baking powder) in a bowl with the finely chopped herbs (parsley and sage) Stir in the coconut and add fat (suet or butter) Stir in suet or quickly rub in the butter (the less handling the better) and add enough water to make a soft dough. (about 75ml). Divide into 8 and make little balls, set aside, ideally in the fridge.
Go and relax while the food is cooking itself! Check the water level occasionally and top up as necessary and stir. (keep the meat well covered)
Boil the potatoes as you usually would.
In the last ten minutes of cooking time add the coconut cream and brown sugar to the meat, stir well and add the dumplings. Cook for about 10-15 minutes with the lid on. They will stay on top and rise in size. The gravy is lovely and rich and no need to thicken thanks to the ontbijtkoek (and cornflour). Very easy.
Preparing the sprouts:
Remove the outer leaves of the sprouts, wash and make a cut 'X' n the base (for even cooking). Cook the sprouts (about 8-12 minutes) test after 8 minutes. I like my vegetables with bite. When done drain and put back on heat to steam away excess water. Add a good knob of butter, salt, the thyme (only the leaves not the hard stalk!) and the dried cranberries, heat through. Serve with roughly broken walnuts(dry toasted for more flavour). These would be great with a bit of crispy bacon for Christmas dinner.
I sprinkled some desiccated coconut for a festive look. Roll on Christmas....

maandag 16 november 2009

Something old, something new

This weekend I decided to make pumpkin soup again (perhaps you have seen my Thai inspired pumpkin soup) but this time I used Thai GREEN curry paste. Otherwise I almost kept to the same ingredients.
Since my trip to Thailand earlier this year I have been inspired by Thai food. It is certainly a style of food that has been growing on me. Before my holiday I rarely cooked Eastern dishes and didn't even own a wok! Now I always have two pots of the basic curry paste: green and red on hand. Basically it is a mix of lemongrass, red (for red curry paste) or green chilli (for green curry paste) garlic, galangal, onion, salt, bergamot and coriander. You certainly don't have to feel guilty using paste since it is quite accepted, although you could start from scratch. I use paste and extra fresh ingredients, I will be posting a Thai curry recipe very soon on my blog. Watch this space.
As I didn't have any orange juice on hand I decided to use apple juice, which is quite an unusual combination since I don't recall seeing any apple's in Thailand! I needn't have worried because here is the result- an empty pan, I didn't even get time to get it on picture!
Thai inspired Pumpkin soup 2
1 small biological pumpkin ( or butternut).
1 large onion
fresh green chili pepper (to taste) I used about 1/4
Thai green curry paste (to taste) I used 1 heaped tbsp.
1 clove garlic
Oil (olive)
Coriander (ground, to taste)
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
200ml apple juice
1/2 - 1 tin (200- 400ml) coconut milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
Serving suggestions: pumpkin seed oil (or creme fraiche, knob of butter)
Serves 4
Cut the pumpkin in slices, remove peel, (you can use a potato peeler) 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 green pepper for a few minutes. Add the curry paste (to personal taste). 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. Reheat. Serve with topping of choice. I added some pumpkin seed oil and it was amazing!
(I used just a half tin of coconut milk that was leftover but feel free to add a whole one.)

I have been very much dreaming of desserts lately which is very unusual for me, since normally I am quite satisfied with some yoghurt at the end of a meal. I very much hope to make a Tiramisu soon and a good old English Trifle. But because the Kwark-Cheese cake was so good I decided to make another one. In my opinion a little bit of what you fancy does you good; Food cravings could well be a sign of deficiencies in specific nutrients- well that's my excuse ;-)
This time I made it easier by replacing the cottage cheese (which needed to be sieved) with Philadelphia cheese ( I used ‘light’). I think it was even better! My craving has been satisfied.

Lemon Kwark-Cheesecake 2
10 digestive biscuits (180gr) Last time I used Verkade, this time I used AH brand and needed more than 10 to get the same weight.
85gr butter
2-3 tsp brown sugar
500gr kwark (low of high fat to choice) I used organic kwark, low fat
185gr Philadelphia cheese (I used light)
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
10gr gelatine, 6 sheets
1 spring form, lined. 20cm (last time I used 24cm)
Compote (topping)
Break up biscuits in a plastic bag with rolling pin (or pestle, which I prefer to use). Heat butter in a small pan until melted. Add biscuit crumbs and brown sugar (optional). Press in the base of a spring form with the back of a spoon. Cool in refrigerator. Beat the kwark until smooth. Add the Philadelphia 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 (drained) 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 mine with baking paper. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Add topping just before serving. I used a mix of compote and jam.

Today I lost track of time needed to come up with a meal in minutes, so it just had to be a 15 minute pastaThis recipe was based on a quiche I made years ago. The combination of butter, mushrooms and sherry is very satisfying.
Smoked chicken pasta in a mushroom and sherry sauce
300gr pasta of choice
200gr smoked chicken pieces (or pre-cooked chicken breast)
2 small spring onions
250gr chestnut mushrooms thickly sliced
2 celery sticks, chopped
White sauce (40gr butter, 40gr cornflour, 400ml milk)
Salt Pepper
fresh parsley and celery herb, finely chopped
sherry 2-3 tbsp (to taste!)
butter/olive oil
carton creme fraiche 200ml
Serves 4
Boil a large pan of water.
Heat a good knob of butter (or olive oil) and gently cook chopped celery. Remove celery and set aside. Cook pasta for time indicated on packet.(al dente- with a bite)
Make a roux sauce with butter, cornflour and milk. Add mushrooms, cook gently for a few minutes. Add celery, seasoning, sherry, chicken, creme fraiche and lastly spring onion and herbs. Heat thoroughly.
Serve with a fresh mixed salad, and walnuts. I added a dash of pumpkin seed oil. Delicious! This wonderful oil, known as 'green gold' deserves more than a mention and I will be addressing this very soon.

woensdag 11 november 2009

Eat your greens and pressure cooking!

You are what you eat.
While I cannot stress the importance of healthy and varied eating you must find a balance that suits everyone. Compromise rather than force-feeding may result in harmony around the dining table but it may well lead to 'pressure cooking' in the kitchen...
I was brought up on fruit and vegetables. I am a country girl and we were practically self sufficient. In my area you lived off the land and what we didn't grow in the garden we bought at local farms or on the market. And as long as I remember my grandparents have always kept chickens. Everything was plentiful, fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat.
I grew up on vegetables like swede, turnip, parsnip, (it's great that they are becoming popular here now although to be honest I didn't actually appreciate them at the time) carrot and cabbage. What is more we were expected to finish our plates whether we liked it or not! We were always served huge portions and thinking back it was rather unkind what was expected of us.
My Dutch husbands eyes were opened as he was introduced to English vegetables he had never seen before, especially the root vegetables! Today he often rather cruelly comments about the size of English produce. Peas the size of sprouts and spouts the size of cabbages...

Thinking back, I don't think being force-fed vegetables has actually done me any harm, on the contrary I am always looking out to try new vegetables and create different ways of preparing them. However I did decide to take a rather a different approach with my own children. I introduced them at an early age to many different vegetables but always very small portions and I think it has worked. I was open for compromise, vegetables they loathed were 'banned' from the menu. Each member of the family was allowed to 'blacklist' one particular vegetable. For hubby (yeah-men are almost like children and need to be treated as such!): Chicory. Eldest son: Beetroot. Youngest son: varying over the years between Zuurkool (Sauerkraut), aubergine and courgette. (I think he is always trying to outwit me by confusion- but I am on to him ha-ha)

It certainly seems to have worked because my boys expect a balanced meal. On the occasions when we have eaten quick meals of convenience (YES- guilty as charged!) they have often asked: “but where are the vegetables?” But quite possibly this was down to an unfortunately event when I discovered to my horror the 'forgotten' pan of vegetables on the stove when the meal was finished! "Cold broccoli anyone?" I think we have all been there...oops!
Nevertheless I do feel guilty if I try to get by with not providing the daily vegetable requirements and I don't get away with it- it never goes unnoticed. Should I see it as kind of punishment for being too strict? What goes around comes around- and often bites you on the butt! Another example is being literally dragged out of bed by nagging teenagers.....when I've been sleepily watching a film in my bed gradually dozing off- Mum, Have you cleaned your teeth?...GET UP, GO AND CLEAN YOUR TEETH! Now... ha-ha
I know I have achieved success because not only do they eat most vegetables, they now have their favourite types and way of preparation. We not only ‘chip’ potatoes but also pumpkin, celeriac and sweet potatoes.
One of the all time favourites is spinach with pasta sauce, another stir fry, even cabbage but in particular Paksoi. or Pak Choi as it is known in English. I am ashamed to admit I actually had to google to see what it is in English my mother tongue!
I cook it is many different ways but one that has stuck is very simple,
Pak Choi with caraway seed.
pak choi
1 small (red)onion, chopped
few tsp. sugar
large knob butter
caraway seeds, heaped tsp
salt and pepper
Optional: vinegar and cornflour, chili flakes
Firstly I caramelize some sugar. I use a dry saucepan, and add a few teaspoons of sugar, heat gently and watch in amazement how it will turn liquid. Keep stirring (do not leave!) until all the sugar is dissolved and it has a nice brown colour. Cool slightly then add a large knob of butter (I love butter- I never use margarine, though I suppose you could). When melted add one finely chopped onion, and cooked for a few minutes, then add one heaped teasp. of caraway seeds a good pinch of salt and pepper (and chili flakes if desired), the white pieces (sliced) of the pak choi. Stir fry for just a few minutes. Lastly I add the roughly chopped green tops and stir until wilted. Serve.
This is based on a Viennese Pak Choi (Weense Paksoi) recipe. You could thicken the sauce by making a paste with a little cornflour and some vinegar (I used organic cider vinegar)add it at the end and bring to the boil. Enjoy!

We also thoroughly enjoy our salads. We actually grow a little home produce, herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, celery, coriander with less success, rocket, aubergine, tomato, bell peppers, fruits. I have also grown pumpkins in previous years.

So no pressure cooker in sight, (I don't even have one anymore) the referral in the title is because we ate salmon steaks today...
Because I have been rather too lenient and don't force feed I have made a rod for my own back. My boys have always refused to eat fish and unlike vegetables which are necessary for good health, fish doesn't fall into that category so I have never made an issue of it, encouraged yes- without success. I am left with a choice: forfeit fish myself or make double meals: so I prepare meat for them. So yesterday it was a juggle with the many pans! A juggle on the stove and a juggle in the dishwasher! Hopefully time will change because yesterday they were willing to taste one mouthful of salmon.
We also ate boiled potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with coconut milk. Fruit salad for dessert, and a swimming pool cocktail for good measure. I had some left over coconut milk. (my excuse)
It sure was chaos in the kitchen or 'pressure cooking' but more important we not only ate our greens but we actually enjoyed them!

zaterdag 7 november 2009

201 Meals in Minutes- Pasta Fantasta

Sometimes you just need a quick meal, one that can be literally made in minutes. A dish that can be put together in a shorter time than it would take to order a pizza (and have delivered) to pick up a take-a-way. Pasta fits the bill perfectly- it is very handy food and can be very adapted into many dishes, it is very satisfying and it doesn't need peeling! I can be eating within 20 minutes!
You could fall back on a store bought sauce or even worse a packet, but it is no comparison with fresh, contains far too much salt and a homemade sauce is almost as easy anyway not to mention cheaper!
What are the options: You could go for an all time favourite: macaroni cheese but it does get a bit monotonous after a while. You could go for Dutch macaroni but that is way over the top- an Italian nightmare! They are obviously out of their comfort zone because packet mixes are very popular. It is a tomato based sauce with way too many ingredients to have any particular flavour and how ever short you cook the pasta it always ups up mushy!
When I'm in a hurry and that happens a lot due to business commitments. We run a flexible company and sometimes accommodating to other people’s needs means I am often left with little time in the kitchen but hungry mouths to feed!
Just before I reach for the pasta pot I open my fridge.
I glance around (the joys of having a well stocked fridge) for what I have on hand for inspiration to put together up a delicious pasta with sauce. Now the Italians eat a lot of pasta and little sauce but I prefer a good heaping of sauce. I do adhere to the Italian concept and choose out a few ingredients and not too many flavours like in Dutch Macaroni!
An example is a few weeks ago when I was time limited and needed to come up with a healthy dish and quick. I had some left over pesto sauce in the fridge so I decided to make:
Pesto pasta
Pasta 300gr
1 bell pepper red
2 large tomatoes (sliced)
1 courgette (cubed, not too small)
1 clove garlic
salt pepper
white sauce: 40gr butter 40gr cornflour Note: plain flour will do but cornflour (maizena) will give a much better result 450ml milk
bacon cubes about 250gr
1 large onion chopped
red pesto sauce (fresh- very easy to make or jar will do fine)
paprika pepper
chili flakes
fresh basil leaves and pine nut kernels.
Parmesan cheese
Serves 4

Toast pine nuts (dry in a pan). Keep to one side.
Boil large pan of water.
Depending on the leanness of your bacon you can add a little frying fat (I always use mild olive oil) to the pan. Fry bacon pieces with onion until cooked but not overdone. Remove from pan with slotted spoon. Set aside in a dish. Heat the same pan and add courgette, garlic, bell pepper and stir-fry, lastly add tomatoes and a sprinkling of ground sweet paprika cook briefly until vegetables are al dente.
Add a large knob of butter, make roux with cornflour. It's very easy melt the butter add the corn flour and stir with a wooden spoon, Cook for a few minutes, you should have a smooth paste. Add milk, all at once or in parts whatever you feel comfortable with. Heat gently- keep stirring ( the lumps will disappear as the sauce becomes warm)and DON'T leave the pan! Boil to thicken, keep stirring for a few minutes. Add pinch chili flakes, pepper (salt if necessary). Add onion/bacon mix heat. Add pesto (to taste a good couple of tablespoons), extra parmesan if desired and roughly ripped basil leafs. (I also had a half a carton creme fraiche leftover so I added that)
The pasta needs careful timing and should be added to the boiling water be ready simultaneously with the sauce. Obviously each pasta sort has its own cooking time. Cook al dente (with a bite) Drain and add vegetables, mix carefully.
Serve pasta-vegetable mix on plates, pour on sauce, add pine nuts and whole basil leaves.

Pasta with Fennel and leek
2 small Leeks
1 large Fennel
250gr diced bacon
White sauce (see above)
Diced cheese of choice
Salt Pepper, Nutmeg
(Olive) oil
Serves 4
Yesterday I had to prepare a quick meal for my working son-you have guessed it- Pasta.
I glanced in the fridge and came out with leek and fennel. That was the basis for my sauce.
I had some diced bacon.
I proceeded as above. I set the bacon/ onion mix (this time two small shallots) aside and cooked the fennel in the bacon juices with a little more olive oil, added the leek and cooked for a few minutes, added a good grind of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper. I love re-cycling my pans, even though I have a dishwasher.
I made the basic white sauce and added some diced cheese, don't worry about grating it will melt sufficiently, I prefer having cheesy lumps when it adds to the enjoyment. It was delicious, in particular the fennel a pleasant aniseed taste still with enough bite.

One of our all time favourites is fresh spinach. A bit like Spinach Lasagna with less than half the cooking time! Just add the cooked, well drained and chopped spinach to the basic sauce with your choice if cheese. Cover with extra grated cheese and flash it under a grill if you require the crispy topping associated with lasagna.
The kids will love it! Sauces are a sure good way of getting children to eat their vegetables and to drink their milk at the same time!
You will feel clever using up ingredients that are (almost) past their best, that blue cheese that is rather too strong than is pleasant will make an excellent pasta sauce.
You not only have a satisfying meal but also a relatively healthy one with protein, carbohydrate and vegetables.

Do you have a major time limit: substitute bacon for ham or (smoked) salmon. Or even smoked chicken or tinned tuna. Prawns or white fish is delicious, unfortunately two persons here refuse (as yet) to eat fish.
I hope you are beginning to see the versatility of pasta.
You can add virtually any kind of vegetable; leek, fennel, celery, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, courgette, chicory, spinach. Or tinned artichoke.
Add anchovies, capers, olives or (fresh) herbs; parsley, basil, sage or particularly good is dill (add fresh herbs just before serving). I am sometimes extravagant and use saffron.
Another favourite is mustard. Wholegrain mustard not only tastes great but looks good.
Walnuts are also delicious in a pasta sauce, add towards the end, toast lightly for better results.
Don't just stick with milk but try adding (substituting part of the milk) some cream, creme fraiche, coffee milk works well too, mascarpone or ricotta or a small tin of tomato puree for a lovely pinky/orange pasta. Or what about some white wine?
I think I will try using Dutch kwark one of these days.
Mushrooms are also a favourite with pasta and don’t need long cooking times.
Try all sorts of cheese, adding at the end. Gorgonzola is particularly good.
Don't overdo the ingredients, I can't emphasize enough the idea is to have few ingredients for full flavour. As with the salads less is more.
Keep the pasta dishes looking great by serving them with some fresh green salad on the side, a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and you'll be on to a winner. What's more the variations you will come up with will amaze your family. The array of different types, shapes, colours, and tastes of pasta will keep the fun who wants to go back to boring old macaroni cheese?

woensdag 4 november 2009

The secret to perfect mash

My intention when I started this blog was largely to share recipe's. Since I work a lot to 'feel' it has proven very difficult to put recipes to paper. I hope you will bear with me.
Today I don't actually have a recipe but more a tip.
Mashed potatoes is the ultimate comfort food. Simple but simply delicious.
I think it is one of the nicest ways of eating potatoes but unfortunately hubby disagrees and he is Dutch! I think perhaps he has been brought up on too much Dutch 'stamppot'- mashed potatoes/veggies.
I too have childhood memories of eating mashed potatoes- feeling under the weather and my mother enticing me with a little mash.
Despite my husband’s resistance I continue to put mash on the menu- for three of us, his portion of potatoes sits forlornly on his plate and what do you think he does? - Yeah he mashes them on his plate, men! Maybe he has some childhood trauma of being forced to eat lumpy potatoes I don't know, but I always makes sure he has a forkful of just what he is missing hoping one day to win him over. As yet to no avail.
Of course you can go many ways with flavour, adding a number of tastes to compliment the mash; garlic, mustard, horseradish, pesto, (cream)cheese, mayonnaise or creme fraiche but in my opinion butter, nutmeg, milk/cream, butter and salt and pepper will suffice. But I digress… the 'perfect' mashed potatoes has nothing to do with taste but everything to do with technique!

Until just recently I have always been more than satisfied with my mash but a couple of weeks ago I discovered something that I just must share. Many thanks to celebrity chef, Simon Rimmer (BBC 2 Something For The Weekend)
You don't even need to rush out and buy a ricer (utensil resembling a large garlic press) I try to avoid too many cooking helps and try to avoid gadgets that has just a single use because all they end up doing is jamming up kitchen drawers! Further you need no electronic devices- which is strictly taboo as far as mash is concerned as this will cause over beating, resulting in the spuds releasing the starch and you will be left with a gluey mess. (I think we all have been there at some stage- I remember making baby food with a blender-it’s a wonder it’s not my son that is the mash-hater)

I won't go into detail about types of potatoes and cooking etc. Just ensure your potatoes are well cooked (they cook more evenly if sliced length ways) and bear in mind if they are are underdone then it's a lost cause, there is no way lumps can be avoided.
Reheat the pan of drained, cooked potatoes for a few moments to steam away any excess water.
Turn the heat off. Don't add any liquids or butter at this stage but first mash the potatoes with your masher until the lumps have gone (but not any longer), don't over work them.
Now you can add any cream/milk/ liquid preferably warmed, with butter, seasoning and proceed further with a good old wooden spoon and whip. As the butter emulsifies you end up with a nice smooth and glossy mix and the potato no longer stick to the pan, it's amazing.
You will get perfect light and fluffy mash, the texture will be perfect. Heat briefly if necessary. Serve. Mmm delicious!

Something very funny happened this evening and now I am even more encouraged to persevere with my mission to convince my husband to eat mash. We were eating Moussaka and my son asked where the olives were! Well I was dumbfounded and very nearly fell off my chair, because up until recently he claimed to detest them! My husband is the same, in the last year he has started not only to eat olives but admits to positively enjoying them! Funny enough he now eats olives fervently, black or green alike, as if catching up for all the years he has avoided them!