zaterdag 31 december 2011

Christmas Pudding - New Year's pudding

I must just share this recipe. Perhaps you are still looking for a dessert for your New Year's day celebration dinner? Did you decide on a non traditional dessert on Christmas day and now regret it?
Well its not too late, you don't have to wait another year- all thanks to the Nan of Jamie Oliver!

This year my son had to prepare dessert for Christmas dinner. He was out on a limb cooking for the family of his girlfriend. He wanted to stay traditional with a Christmas pudding. I told him he was way too late deciding just a week before Christmas to make Christmas pudding. How wrong I was...
He had a helping hand in the kitchen- no other than Jamie Oliver.
My son was planning on making this pudding without a trial run on Christmas eve, how laid back is that? I convinced him to make the pudding a few days before Christmas, so we could approve it.(any kitchen activity in this house by others than myself has to be encouraged, since this is not a frequent occurence!) He halved the ingredients and it and knocked it up in no time. Of course, the only hassle is it needs to steam for three hours!
Jamie Oliver Says: "My Nan spent years perfecting this pudding recipe. It's quick, simple, tasty and it's not too heavy so you can eat more. I love it!"
He does admit to tweaking her recipe though! (don’t tell her!) According to Jamie you can make it the week before or the day before. An idiot can make it......No comment...!
It's the breadcrumbs that keep it light. While a traditional pudding is dense, dark, and heavy like a Jamie so eloquently puts it, this one is much lighter and more popular with kids! One downside of the breadcrumbs is the colour, which is also light. It disturbed me but it did taste good. I did miss the nuts though, I'm just a nutty person. In addition, I would spice it up a bit!

The DVD JAMIE'S CHRISTMAS is a great help in planning Christmas dinner, with lots of tips, ideas, a Christmas countdown, and even a shopping list. Also recipe cards for smoked salmon and watercress salad, classic pork and chestnut stuffing, creamed corn, roast spicy squash, pigs in blankets, mashed veg, roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary and parsnips with thyme and honey, my favourite turkey, cranberry sauce, veg with flavoured butters (sugar snap peas with parsley, garlic and lemon butter. Purple sprouting broccoli with anchovy and rosemary butter. Brussel sprouts with bacon, sage and chestnut butter. Carrots with thyme, cumin and orange butter) the best mince pies and my Nan's Christmas pudding. I would recommend it, I actually have a copy over (a double present) still sealed, interested? 5euro.
The only thing is my son now wants a cheesy jumper just like the one Jamie Oliver got for Christmas! Any knitters out there?

The photographs taken are while using half the ingredients. The impressive part of a Christmas pudding is during the flaming. Heat your brandy (or other liquor) over a flame in a metal soup ladle. Pour carefully over the pudding, normally it begins to ignite itself otherwise help it with a match. Enjoy!

My Nan's Christmas pudding
serves 8 to 10 people
1 teaspoon softened butter, for greasing
1 large egg
150ml of milk
400g dried sultanas and raisins
100g dried cherries and cranberries
125g suet or butter
125g plain flour
125g golden caster sugar
125g breadcrumbs
125 dates, chopped up
2 tablespoons of brandy
a pinch of salt
zest of 1 orange
3 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Firstly rub 1.5 litre pudding bowl with butter.
In a separate bowl beat the egg and milk together and put to one side.
In a third bowl, mix all the other ingredients together.
Pour the egg and milk mixture into this bowl and stir or mix with your hands until everything is combined.
Spoon this mixture into the greased pudding bowl and cover with a layer of buttered greaseproof paper followed by a double layer of aluminium foil.
Tie these layers in place around the rim of the bowl using a piece of string. (we didn’t bother)
Place the pudding bowl in a large saucepan and put cold water in the pan until it comes half way up the side of the bowl.
Bring the water to the boil then cover with a lid and simmer for 3 hours.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t forget to check the water regularly making sure that it doesn’t boil dry or the pan will burn and the bowl will crack.
When serving the pudding simply remove the cloth or the foil and turn it out on a plate.
Serve with brandy butter or nice thick custard.

It was a big hit with the girlfriend’s family.
This year I celebrated Christmas with a good friend. We had a lovely traditional English dinner,2 in 1 turkey AND roast beef! On Boxing day I cooked for my family. My Christmas 2011 menu: A salad with rolled ham with date and goat’s cheese stuffing decorated with a quail’s egg mango dressing and balsamic vinegar. Homemade beetroot and carrot crisps. Red onion and balsamic relish.
Roast sage chicken, roast butternut squash with red onion and fennel, roast potatoes and parsnips, cranberry sauce, Brussel sprouts with sage and orange, sage and onion stuffing, sausage and bacon rolls, cranberry sauce with orange and thyme.
Christmas pudding, with custard. Fruit with meringue and poached pear.

zondag 25 december 2011

Eat, drink and be merry!

Merry Christmas everyone!
And no it's not snowing in Holland. The photograph was taken last year!

donderdag 22 december 2011

Panforte, an Italian (Christmas) treat

This is an Italian cake that looks so appetising I was sold the minute I set my eyes on it!
It kind of looks like nougat, come biscotti, come candybar, come fruitcate. Certainly more confection than cake or bread (translates literally as strong bread) It is almost a luxury nutty flapjack without the oats! It looks deliciously tempting.
I did however have one slight problem:it was not available in the shops, I had never before tasted Panforte, could I make one? I knew I had to try.
Panforte is according to wikipedia, a traditional Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, and resembling fruitcake or Lebkuchen....
It contains no butter or eggs, very little flour. This could also easily be substituted for ground almonds, so ideal for those with dietery requirements, eg gluten free. However if you have a nut allergy- forget it!
Apparently, it keeps very well- the chance would be a fine thing in this household!
It is also very easy to make and ideal for those that don't have the time to make a traditional Christmas cake (like me last Christmas). It can be served after dinner (with a glass of sweet dessert wine), or as an accompaniment to cup of frothy cappuccino. Dipped in coffee it is soft and scrumptious. What’s more it is quite acceptable to eat it with your hands!
Originally a Christmas can be enjoyed all year round. I have since discovered it is available at Sligro.
I wanted to make it as part of my Christmas dessert and on standby as necessary. It is very rich so I knew a little bit would go a long way. It is dense and chewy and oh so satisfying. I love it- have you noticed?
Being a chocoholic, I decided chocolate had to be of the party, and cranberries, because they are so festive, as well as having tartness to counteract the sweetness. I liked the idea of using figs, for their well... obvious properties, a bit of ginger (which I adore) and some grated orange- I think I was well on the way to coming up with seventeen ingredients that attribute to making aa authentic Panforte. Of course honey must be present, sugar, nuts. I wanted the full spice mix even a bit of the traditional pepper! I added a bit of Cointreau on a whim- couldn't resist it being the festive season and all that.
I initially searched the internet for a recipe but unable to find one that ticked all my boxes, concocted my own (what's new?) It was bit ominous since I had never tasted/made one before- but what the heck...
Here is what I came up with, feel free to adjust and use different fruits/ and nuts- I know I will. It is very adaptable to what you have available. You don't exactly taste the chocolate/cocoa but it does give it such a lovely dark rich colour. This particular type is referred to as Panforte nero.
You must work very quickly with the mix because it solidifies immediately it starts to cool. A spare pair of hands is a must! I lined my flan case first with a circle of greaseproof paper, oiled. and then with edible rice paper (see photo), and I'm glad I did- I think it otherwise would have been firmly stuck!
I apologise for the bad photos, I had a slight problem with my camera.

265gr toasted nuts ( I used 35gr sunflower seeds, 93gr hazelnuts,27gr brazil nuts,110gr almonds)
225gr dried fruit ( I used 25gr candied ginger peel, 50gr dried cranberries, 150gr dried figs)
75gr dark chocolate
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp all spice, ground
1/4 tsp ginger
5 ground cloves
pinch pepper
grated zest & juice of 1 orange
150gr honey
150gr sugar
75gr plain flour
2 tbsp Cointreau
20cm flan case
Icing sugar for dusting
oops-I exceeded the 17 ingredients! But it is well worth it.
Prepare your 20cm tin see above.
Prepare your nuts.

I prepared my nuts a day or so in advance. I removed the skins from the hazelnuts and almonds. To remove the skins from the hazelnuts I dry roast them in a pan for a few minutes. When they cool slightly rub them. Blanch the almonds- that is, pour boiling water over them and leave them briefly to soak for about 1-2 minutes and 'pop' the skins off. When they are completely dry I dry roast them in a pan
I then dry roasted all the nuts except the brazils. I also roasted the sunflower seeds briefly.
Preheat oven 160°C
Put all the nuts in a bowl. You could roughly chop but I like my nuts whole. I bashed just a few.
Roughly, cut the figs, and finely chop the ginger and add to the nuts with the cranberries. Melt the chocolate (I used a low microwave setting)
Grind the cloves (I used a pestle and mortar)
Remove the orange zest and juice.
Add the spices to the nut/fruit mix. Add the orange zest, flour, cocoa and stir.
Bring the honey and sugar gently to the boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for a few minutes.

Add the melted chocolate and then the sugary mixture to the bowl of fruit/nuts and stir well with a wooden spoon, working quickly to combine all the ingredients..
Stir in the cointreau.
Turn mixture out in the prepared tin and push firmly, flatten with the wooden spoon (or wet hands).
Bake for 40-45 minutes. It should start to bubble but not brown. Allow the cake to cool in the tin because it will be too soft to remove. As it cools slightly you can ease it around the edges and turn out. Dust with icing sugar. It will harden as it cools.
Apparently this cake will store well in an airtight tin. (It just didn't get the chance!)
This really makes make a perfect alternative to Christmas cake or Christmas pudding- I just know it will a regular on my (Christmas) menu.
Update: This is a blog I started writing last year but I never got around to sharing it. This Christmas I have made another Panforte, I used the same basic recipe above. Here and there a few changes in fruit and nuts, a few toasted pine nuts and cocktail cherries. I substituted the alcohol for liquid from the maraschino cherries.

It was a little more sticky this year and less chewy. If anything I would say it was even better! I can't wait to see what I come up with next year!

dinsdag 20 december 2011

Homemade mincemeat

Mince pies and Christmas go hand in hand. I always make my own mince pies but I dont always make my own mincemeat. This year however I did, and I must say it was very easy, the smell was extremely festive and the taste ...quite delicious. When I do buy the jars, at Tuckerbox, Leiden or in the UK, I usually end up adding extra ingredients anyway. Now I know just how simple it is I don’t think I need to, ever again.
Its not too late, hurry into the kitchen, grab your apron! It wont be Christmas without them!
I Kind of based my recipe on a few I found on the internet. I wanted to make mince pies the following day so couldn’t use a recipe that needed to stand for 24 hours. I wanted to use my favourite ingredients. This is what I came up with. It was deliciously moist, therefore the fruit was plump and full of flavour:

2 apples, finely diced, skins on (I only had Royal Gala so that had to do)
110gr suet (I suppose you could use butter)
120gr sultanas
110gr currants
100gr cherries, halved (I only had cocktail cherries but normally I would use glace)
75gr dried cranberries
100gr apricots (or you could be authentic and use candied peel)
175gr brown sugar
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
grated zest and juice 1 orange
1 heaped tbsp mixed spice/ (I used Dutch speculaas spice)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
good pinch nutmeg
50ml cranberry juice
3 tbsp brandy
45gr walnuts, chopped

In a pan combine and mix all (except nuts and brandy) ingredients well. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the nuts and brandy and stir well. When cooled store in a clean pot in the refrigerator.
I reckon this makes enough for about 40 mince pies. I like to fill mine generously.

I actually made two batches this year. I tried the Jamie Oliver ones that are open but somehow my pastry just wasn't as crisp as it normally is and somehow they didn't look quite like right..My second attempt was with 200gr plain flour, &100gr whole wheat flour etc see recipe here and were so much nicer, and healthier.
Traditionally mince pies are served warm with brandy butter or a dollop of cream.

zondag 18 december 2011

A box of goodies

It's hamper time again! Or kerstpakket as we call it. Is it my imagination or are the Christmas staff hampers getting smaller? The enthusiasm is certainly less than in years gone by..... The Albert Heijn staff hamper 2011 contains the following items:

Sweet goodies: cupcake mix (just add milk, egg, butter, oil....what i exactly is in this packet? flour?) cinnamon meringue, chocolate chip cookies (Fair-trade), strawberry- hazelnut chocolates, bar of mocha chocolate.
Savoury: cheesy biscuits, Pumpkin soup (organic), lemon-olive oil, Balsamic vinegar,
Non food: Two cookery books (clever tactics- encouraging the sale of produce), make-up mirror lip-gloss and nail vanish (for the girls) face wash (for the boys!) serviettes and 'kerst' 'Christmas' candles (very colourful).
That’s all folks.

Cheats plum/ Christmas pudding...when a cake becomes a pudding.

No not a disaster in the kitchen, on the contrary....a recipe to save the day.
It is Christmas related, not even strictly a recipe, more a improvisation of ingredients put together to create an almost authentic dish, but please bear with me- if I don't post it now I know I never will. A plum pudding or as many call it Christmas pudding is a rich fruity English dessert traditionally eaten on Christmas day.
It was December 2010 I was in a dilemma, as what to choose for my Christmas dinner.
While I love a traditional British Christmas dinner, turkey with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding, because I live in Holland it is not always possible to come by all the ingredients or they are extremely expensive.
Of course many things you can be made completely from scratch, (my mother always makes her own), but when you are dithering about whether to return to the UK for Christmas or not, time is running away...
I had a small Christmas pudding a la mama (if you make a batch you can have them throughout the year- they only improve with age!) but not nearly enough to serve all my guests. I decided on a trio of desserts but I still wasn't happy that each person would get no more than a teaspoon or two of plum pudding. At Tuckerbox, leiden they were asking 17,50euro for Christmas puddings! No way!....I do see cheaper ones on their website this year.
I'm taking you back to Christmas morning and my brain was working over time. Hmm What if.......
Yes and in minutes, I concocted up a cheats pudding- and what is more, no one would ever have noticed the difference!
I had a fairly stale- well pretty dry fruitcake and some mincemeat (left over from my mince pies) I roughly crumbled the cake added the mincemeat and a good dose of whisky. I stamped the mixture into a glass pudding basin, covered it with greaseproof paper and steamed it for two hours in a large saucepan.
I nervously turned it upside down hoping it would flop out, waiting with baited did. Of course, we just had to flame it prior to serving. Part one of my dessert was ready.

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting...
It was amazing...really. Moist and soft. Perhaps I had added a little too much liquor ;-)
So if you have a fruit cake that no one want to eat- mix it together with some mincemeat, a glug of spirit, and you'll have yourself a winner- all year round!
Poached pears were the second part of my trio of desserts. I favour whole pears for a special dessert simply because they look so elegant. The poached water/wine becomes a thick delicious wine sauce packed full of flavour. The pears balance out the heaviness of plum pudding.

Poached pears:

1 kilo cooking pears (try to pick ones out with the stalk intact)
250ml red wine
lemon juice
lemon peel strip x3
Star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp. brown sugar
Scrub the lemon and cut three strips of peel.

Peel the pears and cut the bottom off so they will stand. Rub in lemon juice (to prevent browning- I just squeeze and rub the lemon halves over the pears).
Place in a pan, add the wine and top up with just enough water so they are almost covered. Add the cinnamon, star anise, lemon peel and sugar. Bring up to the boil and simmer for just over one hour. (test the pears for tenderness or continue to simmer until done).
Remove the pears and lemon strips, cinnamon and star anise and boil the remaining liquid until it is substantially reduced. It will be a thick delicious sauce.
Serve the pears warm or cold with the wine sauce.

I wasn't very organised last Christmas (haha am I ever?) and didn't know if I would be here in Holland for Christmas, the thought of making a traditional English Christmas Cake hadn't even crossed my mind. This is a rich fruit cake with lots of dried fruit, nuts and spices, made well in advance (before November) usually stored upside down and regularly moistened or 'fed' with brandy or other liquor before being covered in marzipan and icing.
So there I was a week before Christmas without Turkey, Christmas pudding or Christmas cake- what kind of cook is this you may well ask yourself! I wracked my brains once again and came upon a wonderful idea-
I would make a Panforte, a traditional Italian fruitcake. It is a beautiful spicy, nutty cake. According to wikipedia The original name of panforte was "panpepato" (peppered bread). This was to become the third element in my trio of dessert.

Only a very slight problem- I had never tasted one let alone made one! This would be rather a challenge! One I was prepared to take though.
I don't particularly make things easy for myself either- instead of using an existing recipe- I made one up!
The recipe will follow….soon. HERE!

dinsdag 23 augustus 2011

Caraway seed cake

It is summer- hard to believe I know, as I am writing I can hear thunder and lightning, I see rain and I feel cold! It is not even a summer storm!
Around ten days ago we braved the elements and carried on with the planned BBQ organised by my friend Breda. Dutch weather was not going to spoil our evening!
The theme was Eastern European and I while I wanted to make Dillisk (Irish seaweed) soda bread (recipe to follow) I also wanted to keep within the theme. I did a quick Google search and came up with caraway seeds. Hmmm
The thought of caraway seeds stirred memories- of years ago...of my humble beginnings in Holland. The time of no luxuries, I am not going to tell you I had no running water but I certainly didn’t have a fully equipped kitchen- heck I didn't even have a kitchen! It was a time when it was not common for the average Dutch household to have an oven. I was surprised (and horrified) that almost everything went in a pool of fat in een braadpan on the gas hob! I was, however, lucky enough to get hold of a Tefal mini grill-oven. It kept my sanity. I was able, when urge arose, (remember I am English!) to cook a traditional roast! The oven was small, not everything fitted in at the same time mind, and I remember (now in amusement, then it was pure frustration) how I used to partially cook the food and keep it warm on top of the oven covered in silver foil and then rotate everything! I got it to a T! I also remember having to 'hammer' baking tins to size in order for them to fit in with the oven door closed! I also remember how my baking, on more than one occasion, awoke my sleeping husband! Haha those were the times!
When I had family visitors I also used this oven to bake a cake, I kept it simple, one cake I remember regularly baking is the Seed Cake.
The recipe came out an old Marguarite Patten cookery book: Every Day Cook Book, one I no doubt ´borrowed´ from my mother. It is a book filled with, as it suggests, basic recipes, 1,000 to be exact!
I love caraway seeds and I use them in many dishes savoury (Pak Choi) and sweet alike.
This seed cake is based on the Traditional Madeira cake simply with the addition of caraway seeds. The measurements are lb and oz but I have translated. I used a 20cm cake tin but the recipe calls for a 18cm, in the old days I used a loaf tin which also worked fine.

Seed Cake
Cooking time 1 1/2hours
Oven temperature 325-350F, gas mark 3, 170C
(6 oz) 175gr butter
(6-7 oz) 185gr castor sugar
3 large eggs
(8 oz) 250gr flour, preferably plain
1 teaspoon baking powder with plain flour
approximately 2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (a little more or less according to personal taste)
To decorate: 1 tablespoon sugar. (I find the coarser the better- roughly bashing sugar cubes work well for a crispy top)

Cream the butter and sugar until soft and light, the larger amount of sugar helps to give a very fine texture. Beat the eggs and add gradually to the creamed butter mixture. Should this show signs of curdling, fold in a little sieved flour. Fold in sieved flour and caraway seeds, then the milk. Pour in a greased and floured 7 inch (18cm) cake tin, sprinkle the sugar on top. Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours in a very moderate oven. Cover if necessary with a piece of greaseproof paper to prevent it becoming dry or burned. Test the cake with a small skewer, if it comes out clean it is ready. Cool on a wire rack. 12- 14 portions.
I served it as a dessert with marinated(Balsamic)strawberries and cream.
This blog is especially for the BBQ guests that requested the recipe- always a sign of success!
Other interesting dishes included Russian 'sunflower' salads, Ukraine Shashlick, pickled tomatoes! Cheers!

zaterdag 13 augustus 2011

My 7 Links:

I was quite surprised to be tagged for the meme My 7 links since I’m not a very active blogger. I started with all good intentions (as we all do) I rather naively thought blogging would help organise my chaotic collection of hand written recipes as well as sharing my latest finds. It is harder work that I ever imagined and unfortunately, I am still left with masses of illegible recipes, (unfinished blog)notes, plus hundreds of photo’s to boot!
Paola is the person that actually inspired me to start blogging. I was in awe of her knowledge, and her enthusiasm was overwhelming! She has developed by leaps and bounds, not afraid of following her heart, believe me, she is one talented lady!
Blogging certainly makes the world a smaller place! We are able to unite across the miles, distance posing no boundary. This is an excellent link-building project and I am happy to participate. Yeah I did at first have my reservations- I don't do chain letters/ emails but this is harmless fun. I say lets blow new life into old forgotten posts.

Here are my 7 links:

1. My most beautiful post:

Global artichoke- getting to the heart of things

photo, courtesy of wikipedia
The artichoke is a beautiful creature, unfortunately one that is never able to reach its full potential- if our appetites are to be satisfied. I am tempted to grow artichokes in my own garden in order to see the vivid purple flower in all its full glory. But... I know it would remain a dilemma: would I feed the stomach or could I wait and feed the soul...? mmm temptation...

2. My most popular post:

Banoffee pie with dulche de leche

I have had been inundated with requests to make this time after time. What is the matter with you guys- too scared yourselves?
Whether it is served as the traditional English dessert or with chocolate genache it is always a winner!

3. My most controversial post:

Simple Desserts: 10 minute tiramisu and a quick trifle

I am not a particularly controversial person, hmm, I guess the nearest I come, would be my post on my 10 minute Tiramisu.
A great deal of controversy still surrounds the issue of whether it’s safe to eat raw eggs.

I am (raw) egg phobic. It does not matter how fresh the eggs are I just cannot get around eating them raw!
Shame on me, I know I am denying myself. I came up with a cheats Tirimasu, and also eggless Cheesecake.
Of course, an egg-free Tiramisu should not even bear the name. I do NOT apologise since I love my egg free 'cheats' Tiramisu!

4. My most helpful post:

Thai themed dinner party
one of my first Thai curries
I not only managed to convince myself to appreciate Thai cuisine, but I have taught my friends how to knock up a delicious Thai curry in just minutes! They are very appreciative, now realising just how simple it is.
How was it not always a favourite of mine I now ask myself weekly, but for me it was certainly an acquired taste. Try it!

5. A post that surprised me:

From sticky rice to perfect risotto

one of the many risotto's I can now make problem free!
This posting more than anything surprised the people immediately around me but mostly myself! I have had a rice issue for as long as I care to remember. This was all about conquering my culinary fears!

6. A post that didn’t get the attention it deserved:

Fig and brie toast

This lunch recipe is simple but quite delicious. Since no one has commented, I presume it has gone unnoticed- a grave injustice! I initially re-posted it from Sara Mae. Try it, you will not be disappointed!

7. The post I am most proud of:
Surprise sponge pudding

Like mother like daughter, Mums dessert/ surprise pudding.
This one isn't out the archives but what the heck. I couldn't pick anything else!
It will be no surprise to hear where my love of cooking comes from. As a child, my sister and I were encouraged to mix, beat, bake and generally cause havoc in the kitchen! My father is a food traditionalist- so only good British ‘grub’ for him, with the emphasis on 'meat-and-two-veg'! It will therefore be no surprise to hear my mother is a no nonsense cook. She however has had her limitations over the years, with numerous food allergies / intolerances but still comes up with the goods! Well done!

I would now like to invite and encourage 5 other bloggers to dig into their archives and refresh us with a blast from the past. Choose to accept the challenge if you wish, no pressure at all.
Dutch Girl Cooking
Claudia's Kitchen Creations
My Little Expat Kitchen
Cooked by Sara Mae
The Dutch Baker's Daughter

woensdag 6 juli 2011

Surprise sponge pudding

I love surprises, who doesn’t?
This old-fashioned dessert is an all round winner. Not only is it popular with everyone in our family, it also features in the charity cookery book Pie in the Sky.
The recipe, a self saucing lemon sponge was submitted by my mother for this fundraising cookery book to support the East Anglian Air Ambulance in 2010.

The first section is for the generously donated recipes from some celebrities oa the hairy bikers thus using the same formula as here. Another section is dedicated to the local people, in form of a competition, entrants were encouraged to come up with a dessert using local produce, and lastly recipes were collected from the local chefs of some of the best eating places in the East Anglian region.
My mother was a lucky prize winner receiving a copy of the book containing numerous delicious desserts. A couple of months later she was most surprised to see her entry featured in the local newspaper helping to promote sale of the book!
It has a very unusual method requiring boiling water to be poured over an uncooked sponge pudding! It yields a surprisingly good dessert- resulting in a light cake like topping and a 'surprise' tangy sauce. So good in fact, my mother and I cooked it two consecutive days during her recent stay with us! Not only is it delicious, it is also very easy to prepare, the ingredients easy to remember, and furthermore can be popped in the oven with a roast. The first day she prepared it in a round glass 18cm dish, the second day I largely prepared it, this time in an oblong dish 17 x 25cm.

Surprise Sponge Pudding

25gr soft butter
25gr soft brown sugar
juice and flesh of one lemon

Sponge Topping:

110gr butter
110gr caster sugar
110 gr self raising flour, sifted (I used plain flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder)
zest of one lemon
full cream milk (I needed about 2 tbsp)

to serve, plenty of cream


Take an oblong ovenproof dish and grease well.
Preheat oven to 180c.
Dot the butter over the dish, sprinkle in the lemon juice and flesh as well as the brown sugar.
Fill an electric kettle and put on to boil.
Using an electric food mixer (or hand as I did) to make the sponge topping, beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Next beat in the eggs a little at a time. add in the flour and zest, folding in well. Finally drizzle in sufficient milk until it becomes a thick dropping consistency.
Put spoonfuls of the topping over the base of the dish gently and level out. Slowly and very carefully pour over a half pint (240ml) of boiling water.
Cook for 30 minutes or until cooked- the top will look browned and bounce back when gently pushed. Served with your choice of fresh cream, perhaps clotted or Chantilly (whipped up with icing sugar).
Serves 6 dessert portions.

woensdag 1 juni 2011

Lime ginger scallops, Ginger asparagus with cashews and Coconut 'panna cotta'

When I was invited for scallops and prawns- I couldn't have been happier- but I was also quite intrigued, since I have never before cooked or even eaten scallops! The host is a California 'girl' (she will love me for that- but really, we are all young at heart!) with Italian roots and also happens to be a great cook!
I offered to make dessert-, which was rather a challenge because it had to be a low-carb dish! One of the guests was following the infamous Atkins diet. What ? A low carb dessert where even fruit is taboo. How's that possible? I put my thinking cap on and came up with a panna cotta made with coconut milk and buttermilk. I used very little sugar- the barest minimum, and combined coconut milk with buttermilk for a nice fresh, light taste.
We had a brilliant evening. We did a bit of prep. work beforehand, the cooking itself was very quick and we were soon enjoying a delicious feast! It all seemed very luxurious! Scallops, prawns, asparagus, coconut milk....mmmm

This was our menu:
Prawns, with a hot and spicy dipping sauce
Lime ginger scallop sauté (the recipe serves 2 so double up as you wish)
Ginger asparagus with cashews (serves 4)
Coconut 'panna cotta'

Lime ginger scallop sauté
For the Scallops (serves 2)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound sea scallops, patted dry
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons Lime Ginger Butter (recipe follows), chilled
1/3 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
For the Lime Ginger Butter
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the scallops and stir until golden, about 2 minutes. Pour off the fat.
2. Stir in the lime juice and cook 1 minute. Lower the heat and stir in the Lime Ginger Butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook just until a thick sauce forms. Stir in the walnuts, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.
Lime Ginger Butter Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. Shape into a cylinder 2.5 inches in diameter, and wrap in foil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Makes: About 5 tablespoons

Ginger asparagus with cashews.

1 tablespoon peanut or safflower oil
1 pound asparagus about 16, halved
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
1/2 cup chopped cashews, toasted in a dry skillet
Grated zest of one unwaxed orange
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Serves four
Heat the oil in a wok, add the asparagus and ginger and stir-fry for 4 minutes.
Add the cashews, orange zest, soy sauce and sesame oil and continue cooking for one minute. Transfer to warm plates and serve immediately.

We actually added some courgette, which also worked well.
This combined great with a lovely fresh salad and the prawns with was served with a delicious home-made spicy, dipping sauce. It was divine.

Coconut-buttermilk 'panna cotta'
Of course not a true 'panna cotta', which actually means'cooked cream', but a much lighter version of the Italian classic.

400ml coconut milk (I used Fair trade)
250ml buttermilk (I used Arla organic buttermilk)
30- 40gr palm sugar- the pale kind (30 is the barest minimun)
4 gelatine sheets
1 vanilla pod (I used one Indonesian vanilla)
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
1 tbsp brown sugar
optional sauce for serving see below.

Heat the coconut milk in a pan. Add sugar and vanilla pod (scrape out the inside).
Do not boil; we don’t want to risk curdling the milk. Allow to ‘just’ reach simmering point. Let the vanilla seep for more flavour, I'm afraid I was out of time so to be fair I can't judge the quality of the Indonesian vanilla based on this dish.
Soak the gelatine in the buttermilk for 10 minutes.
Cool the coconut milk slightly, romove the pod and add the gelatine one at a time mixing (or whisking) thoroughly.
Add the buttermilk and stir well. Pour in the dishes. I made 8 small desserts.
Cool and place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.
Toast the coconut in a dry pan. Add brown sugar.
Sprinkle this mix over the 'panna cotta'.

For a bit of extra taste (for those not following the Atkins diet):
I thought the dessert was lacking somewhat- especially because I had keep the sweetness down. I dissolved 2 tbsp. sugar in a little boiling water, allowed to cool befire adding 2 tbsp. Malibu. This time I turned out the dessert, (by carefully running a knife around the edge and turn upside down)
Pour the Malibu mix over the dessert before sprinkling with coconut/sugar. Enjoy.

zondag 17 april 2011

The Globe Artichoke- getting to the heart of things

Everyone knows my love for inverted flowers (figs) now time for edible flower buds- artichokes.
These vegetables, or should we call them 'immature thistles' can seem quite intimidating- how one cooks and eats an artichoke is not at all obvious from its appearance. The truth is, they are actually quite easy, if rather time consuming, to prepare.
I tasted my first artichoke as a teenager, and I have been eating them sporadically ever since, getting my 'fix' whenever I feel the urge. During visits to Italy I eat them as often as possible, even be it as Pizza topping.
Due to its unusual appearance, an artichoke has certain wow factor. I served them to my children a few years ago when my husband was at work knowing he would not appreciate artichoke. They were very interested and amused by the content of their plates.
Of course preparing an artichoke is a little more time consuming than throwing a bunch of vegetables together in a stir-fry. Look at it as a labour of love. Underneath it's thorny exterior is a delicious soft and delicious centre- it’s heart. It has a delicate taste difficult to describe, a mix of avocado, asparagus and pea...?
A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me four artichokes. She asked me to cook them and write a post.
The best way to eat an artichoke is of course the simplest method. Cook it whole and peel away its petals one by one (dip them in melted butter, mayonnaise, hollandaise or vinaigrette) and scrape the leaves against your lower teeth until you reach your reward- its heart.
Artichokes can be roasted or grilled, though they tend to be less tender and moist. Alternatively, they can be stuffed and steamed. (Or finish off in the oven)
Artichokes discolour rapidly, if you're going to keep them for any length of time before cooking, soak in water with a couple of lemon slices.
You can remove the hairy choke before or after cooking, I prefer afterwards.
1. Soak the artichokes to clean thoroughly.
2. Slice about 2cm of the top off with a sharp knife.
3. Take a pair of scissors and remove the spiky ends.
4. Remove the inedible, smaller leaves off the base.
5. Leave a short stem on the artichoke. You can peel the remainder stem and cook it along with the artichokes. It is however more fibrous, some people discard it, but I do not like waste.
6. Rinse the artichokes and sprinkle or rub with lemon juice. (I used fresh lemon and placed this on top of the artichokes)

Basic cooking:
Place in a large saucepan stalk side down, with several cm of water, (add a little salt and sugar) and boil for 25 - 45 minutes depending on the size. (Mine were done in 30min)
Artichokes are ready when you can easily pull out a leaf.
Turn the artichokes and drain to remove any extra water and serve warm.
Pull off the outer petals one at a time and dip them in your sauce of choice. Turn the petal dip side down in your mouth and remove the flesh by scraping along your lower teeth. Discard the petal. Continue until all petals are removed. You are now left with a hairy 'choke' and the heart. The choke should be removed by cutting and scraping away. Cut the heart in pieces and continue dipping.

I rifled through my cookery books and found a classic artichoke recipe with a selection of dipping sauces. It was from the book Topkoks voor Thuiskoks 2. It is part of a serie of four books discussed here
I omitted the mashed potatoes.
The recipe is rather vague with no measurements, so it is up to you find what suits you taste. I was rather intrigued by the east meets west combination of balsamic vinegar and sambal.

Artichokes with vinaigrette, garlic mayonnaise and parmesan cheese- Ronald van der Donk
to serve four:
4 large artichokes
1 lemon
garlic, crushed
chives, finely sliced
grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
red wine vinegar
soy sauce
chopped onion
chopped shallot
chopped red onion
garlic, crushed
parsley, chopped
mashed potato

Cut the artichokes at the base and remove the outside leaves. Cook them in water with the lemon pieces until tender. (I removed the zest and used it in my main course)
Allow them to drain and serve them with mashed potato.
Mix the mayonnaise with the garlic and chives.
Make a dressing with the olive oil,the two types of vinegar, sambal, soy sauce, onion, shallot, garlic, and parsley.
Serve the artichokes with the dips and cheese.
Wine suggestions:
Viognier Lés Gres,
Vin de Pays d'Oc, 2006,
mild and ripe with white fruit,

I served as main course a Mediterranean mix of sausages, vegetables and couscous, adding the artichoke stalks at the end. As we were eating our appetiser, the couscous was soaking.
Hubby looked rather bemused- he was this time of the party. He stated that he had more on his plate than when he had started! It certainly works well as an appetiser- he was ready for the main course! He cannot understand why one would go to so much trouble when they are available in jars!
Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region. My artichokes came from Italy- a friend is able to order them. They are quite a nutritional powerhouse, so as long as you do not overdo the fat level in the dips they should be healthy too!

Unusual facts:
Artichoke lover: Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean at the time, was crowned Castroville's (California, USA) first Artichoke Queen in 1947. The city itself is known as the "Artichoke Center of the World"
Wine killers: Artichoke has the peculiar property of altering the taste buds in most people .This natural chemical change causes food and drink consumed after artichokes to taste sweeter- ruining the true flavour of your chosen wine! This can be easily be taken into consideration by selecting an acidic wine. This is only true of fresh artichoke and it does not apply to the jars.

Artichokes were in abundance at the Leiden market two weeks ago. It was a beautiful day, the first real warm sunshine in Holland this year. The miss match of winter coats and short skirts were a result of this period of transition. The terraces were filling, the market traders were busy and smiling, love was certainly in the air and on the canal you could even spot the odd boat passing by.

BTW It was me wearing the winter coat ;-) and very much regretting it!
Ending on a rather thoughtful note- what was that first person thinking who decided to eat this thorny creature? And how sad that artichokes are never allowed to reach their full is strange.

dinsdag 29 maart 2011

Souvenirs from Java / Bali, Indonesia

I guess the perfect holiday is to relax and explore the beautiful country you are visiting. Finding a balance is very important to the success of a holiday. Our latest holiday, while being very enjoyable, left us with the feeling of needing a holiday to recover! OK jetlag was a major factor, crossing 7 time zones really has a negative effect on one's body, and the fact that we had two stops also took its toll.
We took a round trip starting in Jakarta, Java ending in Sanur, Bali. We have seen and experienced many things- with increasingly widened eyes. Travel is certainly a teacher- our knowledge and awareness considerably expands with each new holiday destination. A review will follow.
We usually favour round trips, ending with a couple of relaxation days on the beach but this time it was not enough. It was a case of planes, trains, buses, a ferry and a motorbike! I hardly had time to sunbathe let alone visit the local supermarket!
In a quick dash I raced around a supermarket and grabbed just a couple of cooking souvenirs:

I love fresh vanilla and since Indonesia is the second largest producer I couldn't resist buying a packet. It looks pretty impressive, the pods are long and they certainly feel good, now I only have to sample the quality and from what I've been told, it is of particularly high standard.
I coudn't resist palm sugar / gula melaka, after seeing it being collected from the trees. This will be explained in the review. It seems darker in colour than the Thai palm sugar. It certainly tastes heavenly. Shame I couldn't bring more but I knew I was pushing the weight limit (next time I am going to reduce the clothes I take by half! Who needs four bikini's? Three cardigans, four pairs of shoes…)
Luckily I had already purchased kemiri nuts (candlenuts) from the local market. These nuts have a high oil content, they are used mostly ground as a thickening and stabilising agent in curries and taste/ look similar to the macadamia nut.

They are mildly toxic however, if eaten raw. Various parts, bark/leaves/oil have been used in traditional medicine in most of the areas where it is native. To name two: The oil produced had many beauty properties, ie hair conditioner. It can also be used a laxative.
The candlenut, due to its high oil content, was used as a measure of time. Each nut burns for 15minutes. I tried it!

While coffee is available is numerous types and enticing packaging we did not appreciate the Indonesian coffee and left it on the supermarket shelf!
Oh yes, a bottle of Pepsi Blue jumped into the trolley, just for novelty value. Apparently, it was an enormous flop in the US (2002-2004) and I am not surprised at all- it tastes awful!
Also some delicious Cassave crisps- well everyone likes to snack- even I do!

Although I was overall rather disappointed in the Indonesian cuisine/ restaurants, I was inspired by one or two dishes. Thailand/ Greece remains jointly at nr 1/2.
Everyone must be familiar with Sambal and know its potency, but Sambal does not need to be overly hot. One of my best holiday meals was a dish served with two different types of Sambal. One was moderately hot, the other mild.
Today I tried to reproduce it by what I tasted. It was pretty damn good. Look it as being a kind of Asian pesto. You could of course use this same paste as a basic to cook with in a chicken/ shrimp dish.

Lemongrass Sambal- Asian Pesto:
approx 6 kemiri / candlenuts
3 rawit peppers (1 green, 2 red) with or without seeds
1 lemongrass*, finely chopped (fresh) or pureed
1 small piece fresh galangal*
1 small piece fresh ginger*
1/4 tsp salt
small piece palm sugar
lime juice
olive oil
Of course you could add shallot, trassi/shrimp paste, garlic….whatever you fancy.

Gently dry roast the candle nuts for a few minutes.
Finely chop the inner part of the lemongrass discarding the dry outer leaves. Finely chop the galangal, ginger and peppers.
Grind the toasted nuts in the mortar and pestle, add the galangal, ginger, peppers, salt and sugar and continue to blend, allowing all the juices to come out of the peppers.
Add a tbsp limejuice and olive oil. Add more olive oil until the required texture has been reached. Taste and add more lime/ salt/ sugar to personal taste.
I served mine on the side with noodles but it is equally delicious for dipping.

* Of course you can buy jars of galangal and lemongrass and that works fine but I prefer to use 'fresh', or frozen in my case. I buy sticks of lemongrass, galangal and ginger from the Toko. It can successfully be stored in the freezer until use. (You can actually buy lemongrass in the freezer section at the Toko) lemongrass need no special instructions just pop it in the freezer and take out as required. As for the galangal and ginger, I remove the skin and chop in varying sized pieces and store in a plastic bag/ container. It can be removed and directly chopped while still frozen, and used immediately.