zondag 31 oktober 2010

Dalmatian panna cotta and 'dog' bone cookies- Halloween

We kept up with tradition and this year celebrated Halloween once again at our Irish friends house. And I was, once again, elected to cater for dessert. We decided to add an element of fun and do fancy dress. I decided go as Cruella de Vil and to follow the theme down through the dessert. I already had my inspiration: a few weeks ago I had participated in an Italian Workshop, hosted by Victor Russo. Passione Italia. The dessert was Panna cotta.
It is a traditional Italian dessert, originating from Piemonte (North Italy) but eaten all over Italy. Panna cotta is Italian for 'cooked cream'. It is made from simmering cream and sugar, mixing in gelatine and allowing to cool until set. It is often served with a fruit sauce or topping. It is a very easy dessert with few ingredients. The key to making a good Panna cotta is getting the consistency just right. We are aiming for a soft velvety textured dessert with a slight wobble but certainly not rubbery! It should melt in your mouth but hold its form when taken out of its mould. The gelatine demands good mixing for a smooth even texture.
I decided to opt for Dalmatian panna cotta with dog bone cookies. It is a very simple dish to make especially if you are catering for a large group of people. I made 24 individual desserts.
I heated 1.5 litre cream with 120gr sugar to simmering point and stirred until the sugar was dissolved. I scraped out the seeds from 2 vanilla pods. (by slicing it lengthwise and using a knife to run along and collect the beans/seeds)

Don't be alarmed by the red chopping board- I don't use this one for meat!
You could of course use vanilla essence. I then added the pods and seeds to the cream. In the meantime I took 10 gelatine sheets (one extra than the original recipe, see below, to ensure speedy setting) and soaked them for around 5-10 minutes in a little cold milk (enough to cover them) halfway though the time I turned them around ensuring they were completely submerged.
I mixed the cream mixture to disperse the seeds evenly. I used a whisk but didn't 'whisk' as such but just stirred. I turned the heat off and allowed it to cool slightly.
I squeezed the gelatine sheets one for one and added them to the vanilla cream stirring thoroughly each time until all the gelatine was used. I discarded the milk.
Unfortunately I was running late. The panna cotta needs 5 hours in the refrigerator and it was 15:00! I therefore decided to cheat and speeded up the cooling process by placing the pan over ice cold water, stirring frequently. When it was beginning to thicken I divided the mixture into individual glass/plastic pots/cups. I made 24. Because I didn't have any room in my refrigerator and because of time pressure I decided to place the panna cotta in the top of my chest freezer hoping this wouldn't have any adverse effects on the setting process (formation of crystals or such) I needn't have worried (phew!) the panna cotta was perfectly set in time for the party. Lastly I sprinkled currants on the desserts as a finishing touch, completing the Dalmatian panna cotta.

I used the same recipe as last Halloween to make the dog bone cookies. Last year we had severed fingers.
Dog bone cookies
225gr butter, softened
110gr caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond essence
1 tsp vanilla essence
275gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
a good pinch salt

Beat butter, sugar, egg, almond essence and vanilla essence. I use the Magimix. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (I put mine in the freezer for a short while). Working with a quarter of the dough at one time (keeping the remainder cool) shape the cookies. Use some flour on your fingers and take a small piece and make a roll, making cuts with scissors in each end. Form the ends into bone shapes and place on a baking sheet with baking paper. Bake in an oven 160°C. for about 20 minutes. They should stay as white as possible. I made 42.

We served the panna cotta with a bone in the cups but the traditional way is to 'turn' them out onto a flat plate. You need to loosen the edge carefully with a knife and turn them upside down and they should pop out. Decorate as desired. You could serve with a fruit coulis or a drizzle of Crema di Balsamico. I actually intended to make a wine sauce but had run out of time!

Here is the original recipe:
Panna cotta
0, 5L cream
40 gr icing sugar
3 sheets gelatine
1 vanilla pod

Heat the cream with the sugar and cut open the vanilla pod and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes to draw out the flavour.
Soak the gelatine for about 5 minutes in a little cold milk.
Squeeze the gelatine and stir well into the vanilla cream (heat is switched off!). Allow the vanilla cream to cool stirring frequently. Pour the cream into the vanilla pudding molds and allow to cool. Refrigerate for about 5 hours. Serve the panna cotta with balsamic sauce and the wine sauce and three of jams in the range of Passione Italia, Katwijk (organic pears from Tuscany jam, peach jam and strawberry jam. Also vailable from his webwinkel.
Buon appetito

dinsdag 26 oktober 2010

Broccoli and basil soup / Carrot, orange and thyme soup

I hate waste. I rarely throw anything away. Having said that I love eating fresh ingredients. So what do I do with that piece of broccoli that has been left in the fridge for a few days? Well I make soup of course!
In the summer I love salads but once the weather changes out comes my soup pan. Practically every weekend I will have a pan of homemade soup ready at hand. The nice thing about most soups is they can be made in the time it takes to locate a can opener! (since mine is usually jammed up in my overfull kitchen drawer) And think of all that added salt not to mention all the other additives found in tin soup! I admit on occasions I do eat tin soup- but even then I just can't leave it alone- a dash of olive oil here- for great looks, a few chopped fresh tomatoes there- for a fresh taste!
Soup is great way for using up vegetables that are just past their best, as was my broccoli- don't worry, if the broccoli has turned yellow I DO throw it away!
I have a large American side by side refrigerator and sometimes there can be a few 'lost' veggies lingering. Perhaps not quite enough left of any one vegetable to make a complete dish for a family of four, a leek, a few carrots, a piece of cauliflower, a few tomatoes- but ideal to contribute in making a vegetable soup.
There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of steaming soup and a chunk of Focaccia on a cold day. My favourites include mustard, lentil, pumpkin or butternut squash, carrot, and broccoli. The soup I least care for is tomato soup! And I know the Dutch are crazy about tiny meatballs in their soup- but I'm not!
I'm not great at food presentation but I love my soups to look pretty. Toppings include fresh herbs, croutons, a drizzle of flavoured olive oil, or a swirl of crème fraise these all make a difference to appearance as well as taste. These two soups are fairly simple and a splash of flavoured oil really help to lift them.

I eyed my piece of broccoli, I wanted to make a quickie soup. It is often paired with (blue)cheese, mainly Stilton- nothing wrong with that but I wanted something different. I still had some fresh basil in my kitchen and I picked what was left of my home grown basil in the garden and went to work to make my delicious and very healthy soup. Broccoli is vitamin rich (A, B, C & K complex), contains nutrients like potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium, is high in fiber and even has anti-cancer properties. Combined with basil it produces a fragrant but delicate tasting creamy soup.

Broccoli and Basil Soup

Serves 4
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
Approx 750ml water or stock
200ml cream, I used UHT cream which I always have on hand.
large bunch of Basil
small bunch parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil or basil flavoured olive oil ( available at AH- Excellent)

Peel potatoes and chop them into cubes. Chop onion and garlic (don't bother to crush it because the soup will be pureed anyway). Chop the broccoli stalks in cubes and make florets from the broccoli. Boil a kettle of water.

In a large pan heat some olive oil (approx 2 tbsp.) Add the chopped onion and fry for a few minutes. Add garlic and potatoes. Cook slowly for about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli and stir fry for a few minutes. Add approx 3 mugs of boiling water (or stock). Stir and bring to the boil, then simmer until the broccoli is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, add the roughly chopped basil (reserve some whole leaves for garnish), parsley and cream. Blend with the immersion blender. Add pesto to taste (couple of table spoons) Re-heat but do not boil. Serve with a few croutons, basil leaves, a dollop of pesto and a dash of basil/ olive oil. You could add a sprinkling of parmesan and a few pine nuts.

Another all time favourite in our household is carrot soup- you know you are on a winner when you get requests for carrot soup!
I grew up hating carrots, we're not talking about those lovely sweet little carrots like I buy now a days- I mean those big strong 'tasting monsters that are even unpleasant to eat raw!
Because I loathed carrots so much and we were always 'encouraged' to finish our plates, I introduced my own children to small portions. I would offer them each a carrot to eat raw while I was preparing dinner. Later they started expecting one- I was on the right track!
It obviously worked because not only do my two eat their 'greens' they actually enjoy them.
This soup is sweet and fragrant. Cumin and thyme are perfect with carrots. I quickly made it as part of testing out MY NEW Magimix- yes I finally did it! (A Magimix blog will be coming soon) so it is a simple no fuss soup but lovely none the less. Unfortunately my camera let me down on this day so I apologise for the poor quality pics.
I have Thyme in my herb garden. It is a perennial, so winter hardy. It is available all year round, obviously it is at it's best in the summer months. It does stop growing in the colder monthsso should be only harvested lighly.

Carrot, Orange and Thyme Soup

Serves 4
8 small carrots/ Dutch worteltjes (Approx 400gr)
2 small red onions
olive oil
1 red pepper (capsicum)
2 garlic cloves
200ml orange juice
1 tbsp. ground cumin
a shake of chili flakes
salt and pepper
2 tsp honey (or sugar)
several sprigs of thyme
small bunch of parsley
approx 750ml water/stock
large knob of butter
Olive oil/ chili oil ( AH excellent) to serve

I grated the two red onions and garlic in the Magimix You could of course chop manually. Hear the olive oil in a large pan and add the onions/garlic.
Grate the carrots and grate/slice the red pepper. After a few minutes add this to the pan together with the cumin, chili flakes and thyme- stripped from their woody stems.
Add your sweetener (honey or sugar), the water/stock and bring up to the boil. Simmer the carrots until tender- they won't need long because the carrots are grated.
Turn off the heat, add the orange juice and roughly blend with an immersion blender- I personally like some bite in my soup. Bring up to the boil, add the chopped parsley (gives a fresh taste), a large knob of butter, seasoning and serve with a sprig of thyme and a drizzle of (chili) olive oil.

Albert Heijn 'Excellent' flavoured olive oil.
These flavoured olive oils are an excellent addition to any dish; risotto, soup, pasta, omelette, or simply over vegetables. Available in bottles of 250ml.

donderdag 7 oktober 2010

Fig and Brie Toast

I have had a whole month to be angry at the thoughtless thief that invaded my space. I have felt extremely down which has resulted in me taking my frustration out on others, namely my telephone provider Vodafone. I can assure you I have sulked and even mourned about the loss of precious photo's. My appetite suffered. But enough is enough. My passion for food was back the minute I spotted fresh figs on the shelves of the supermarket.
Figs: Food of the gods. Simply delicious. It is even suggested that the fig was the 'forbidden fruit' in the garden of Eden, which would make sense since Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their...well...'nakedness'.
On the outside they are not exactly the most attractive 'fruit', in fact rather dull looking, but cut them open to reveal a hidden exotic beauty- a luscious pink fleshy centre which actually happens to be an inverted flower! I love edible flowers.
If you have never tried fresh figs then I urge you to try them- they are nothing at all like dried figs. Give them a chance- forget the 'laxative' stigma (who else remembers 'Fig Rolls' as a child ;-) ) often associated with figs- just enjoy. The flavour is unique, delicate, sweet but not overly so. They 'marry' well with the salty taste of raw cured ham and many types of cheese like brie and goat.

The 'fruit' is packed with fiber and a good source of potassium, calcium, and iron.
Furthermore they couldn't be easier to prepare- no peeling or de-seeding necessary. Versatile too, use them as a starter, dessert: Or a salad on the side. I personally love my figs in salads.

This particular recipe is one I spotted about a year ago on the blog of Sara Mae, New York (isn't internet wonderful?). I couldn't wait to try it- and I wasn't disappointed.
A good friend spotted my photograph and couldn't wait to try it too. We had to be very patient and wait for figs to come into season by which time Sara Mae's blog was offline! Luckily the recipe was simple and thus easy to remember. Yesterday was the big day:

Fig and Brie Toast:
per person
2 thick slices of bread, I used AH Liefde & Passie Pain Tradition
1 fresh fig
extra virgin olive oil
drizzle of honey
handful mint leaves

Preparation: Wash and pat dry the mint. Slice fig(s), Slice bread. Slice brie.
Rub extra virgin olive oil on one side of bread and toast under grill, turn and repeat. When the bread is nicely browned turn off the grill. Place the slices of brie on the toast. Place under the (still) warm switched off grill for a couple of minutes- the heat will be enough to slightly melt the brie. Top with slices of fig, the mint leaves and a drizzle of honey. I served mine with a small salad, Enjoy.

Thank you Sara Mae- you created something very special. I hope you will forgive me for 'stealing' your recipe. I would be committing a crime not sharing this recipe on internet! It really does melt in ones mouth. I categorise this as 'simply delicious' (simple & delicious) I would even go as far to say that this combination would win a person over who doesn't normally care for Brie.
Figs can be found at the supermarkets for just a limited time. Can you believe the girl at the checkout didn’t even know what they were!
Before you know it, the fig season is over so hurry up. They are very perishable so handle them with extreme care.
They don't store well (don't refrigerate them) so buy only up to one day before you actually intend to use them.
So if anyone wants to buy me a bunch of flowers- I'll have the fig variety thank you- but please don't be offended when I eat them!