Sunday, 29 April 2012

Weekend beef stew... Or is it a casserole?

This weekend I have been abstaining from cooking, as I'm visiting my sister up North. That doesn't mean I'm not eating well, as my sister is at least as good a cook as I am. On the menu this weekend, among other things: veggie soup with home baked bead rolls (Sis makes the most amazing bread rolls in the whole wide world, I think they deserve a future blog post of their own), pancakes with chocolate spread and strawberries, meat stew and apple crumble with home-made fro-yo. She even made home-made almond butter which turned out amazingly creamy and much tastier than the store bought one (not to mention cheaper as well). There was a bit of a discussion about the name of the meat dish, is it a stew or casserole? Well. It's a stew, it's cooked in a casserole... Pick your favourite, as I'm typing this on an iPad and typing on the virtual keyboard is a bit of a pain, I'll stick with stew as its quicker to type.

I wonder whether mine and Sis' shared love for cooking is a result of genes or environment. This would be a good tangent to air some thoughts about the whole nature vs nurture debate, but I won't go there. All I can say, in our childhood home almost all food was home-cooked. Both my mum and dad used to cook, with dad cooking if we had pizza, steaks or BBQ and mum cooking the rest. We also cooked a lot with my sister, even as kids. We would plan a three course menu, and then we were allowed to have the kitchen all to ourselves. Our parents always ate everything without complaining, although I'm sure not everything turned out perfect. We had several cookbooks we liked, one was a UNICEF cook book for kids, with recipes from all over the world and drawings of how to prepare the dishes. From that book, one popular recipe on our menu was prawn cocktail and avocado. We also had a Donald Duck cookbook, and our favourite recipe was crumbly raisin cakes that we would make for pudding. We also used to cook Grandma Duck's pork chops, which were oven baked in cream on a bed of sweet corn. And my mum had a black binder full of recipes. Some where cut from magazines, others were just scribbles on a piece of paper. It contained recipes for such 80s classics as mocca squares (I guess only Finns know what these are, they are a bit like brownies, I will most certainly post the recipe sometime) and lime meringue pie. These were often baked and served when my parents would have guests and my mum would cook up a feast. So, we certainly grew up in an environment which encouraged us to learn cooking skills, made us appreciate different kinds of food and above all, think of home cooked food as the norm instead of ready made meals or takeaways.

So, the recipes below are stolen from and cooked by my sister.

Beef stew (serves 6-8):
800g diced beef
Butter or oil for frying
One big lee
3 onions
3 parsnips
One small swede
4 carrots
1/2 bottle of red wine
2 beef stock pots or cubes
Bay leaf
Black pepper

Roughly chop all the veg. Brown the meat in butter or oil in the casserole (or a frying pan if you don't have a casserole that can be used on the hob). Add the veg, and fry for a few more minutes. Add the wine, stock cubes, spices and water to fill the casserole. Bake in a 175 degree oven for at least 2 1/2 hours, but the longer the better. Serve with salad and mashed potatoes or sweet potato mash.

Apple with a hint of rhubarb crumble (serves 6-8):
10 apples
Rhubarb (we only had 1 stalk, but I bet more will be great)
1tsp Vanilla paste
1tsp ground cloves
1tbsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
175g Demerara sugar
150g white flour
200g rolled oats
1tsp ground cloves
1tbsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
200g butter

Peel and chop apples and rhubarb, cook them in a little bit of water for about 10 minutes together with the spices. To make the crumble, mix all dry ingredients and spices. Cut butter into small cubes and use your fingers to make a crumbly dough together with the dry ingredients. Use a big ovenproof dish (26-28 cm), place the fruit on the bottom and spread the crumble on top. Bake in 175 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until a beautiful golden brown. Serve with frozen yoghurt and strawberries.

Frozen yoghurt:
950g organic, full fat Greek yoghurt
3tbsp organic honey

Freeze the ice cream maker over night. Mix yoghurt and honey. Chill in the ice cream maker while the crumble is baking.

The verdict:
After a hike in the Peaks, this was the perfect hearty meal to get warm and make up for the calories we shed climbing Grindsbrook, and almost getting blown away by heavy winds on the way back down.

The stew is heavenly, it was cooked for three hours and then left in the hot oven over night to bake. The veg gets really sweet and tasty after the long cooking, and the meat just crumbles. If you like you veg really crunchy, this is not for you, but if you like full flavours and super tender meat, you should definitely try this out.

I usually wouldn't make a crumble myself, and that's one of the exciting things of eating someone else's cooking, you eat things you wouldn't think of doing yourself. I love the combination of hot and cold, so I loved the crumble. Piping hot apples, the sweet crumble adding crispy texture and then the velvety smoothness of the ice cold yoghurt was heavenly. I think frozen yoghurt was a much better choice for this than ice cream, as it wasn't too sweet, and was a great contrast to the sweet crumble. I'm embarrassed to admit my self control broke down completely, and I not only went back for seconds but even for thirds. I can't wait visit this restaurant again.


Friday, 27 April 2012

Beauty is only skin deep

They say if you wait patiently the perfect one will come along eventually. I was lucky enough to find the perfect baking blog already a while ago, and I've mentioned it several times in previous posts. This is of course the brilliant Kinuskikissa. Last week, I also found the perfect food blog, Kauhaa ja rakkautta (this is a Finnish pun on the saying rauhaa ja rakkautta which means peace and love, whereas kauha means ladle so it translates roughly to ladle and love). Usually, when browsing blogs you get one or two ideas from each, but then pretty much ignore the rest. For these two, I want to cook every single recipe. I can't choose. I browse the blogs for hours, and am starting to feel like I know all recipes by heart. I guess when you find the right one, you just know it in your heart. As an additional bonus, I found an old blog by the same person who writes Kauhaa ja rakkautta, which will keep me drooling long after I tried every recipe in Kauhaa ja rakkautta.

Why do I keep raving on about these Finnish blogs? Maybe I should read some blogs from other countries as well? I do. There are so many great food blogs out there. But like I said, the ones mentioned above just feel different. I'm not sure why that is though. Many, if not most of the recipes in the blogs are not traditional Finnish, but a mix of many different places around the world. But they have been chosen by someone who shares the food culture with me, so maybe they have picked recipes that are particularly well suited for the Finnish palate.  Maybe it's easier to imagine how things taste when they are made of ingredients I'm familiar with ever since my childhood (especially true for baking, there are several ingredients I need to have imported from back home if I want to bake something a bit out of the ordinary). I'll probably keep returning to this point every time I cook something using Finnish, imported ingredients. I don't think I am homesick much (apart from missing my family and friends of course) and I don't think the UK is a bad place to live or that the selection of food in the grocery stores would be poor. Not at all, I have discovered many new flavours and ingredients here. But at the end of the day, I love to return to the Finnish food blogs, and often end up cooking things from them, with minor or major modifications.

This little dish is quite simple, but don't let that fool you. It's also not the prettiest dish, but don't let that put you off either. It's quick and easy, and only requires a few minutes of hands on time. It makes a lovely meal on it's own, or as the side for chicken, fish or meat. It has a wonderful, warm flavour to it. As an added bonus, your kitchen will have the lovely scent of coconut milk which feels both exotic and comforting at the same time. The link to the original recipe is here.

Sweet potato and lentil stew (serves 2 or 3):
1 onion
3-4 garlic cloves
a few cm of ginger root
1 tsp virgin coconut oil
1 large sweet potato (about 200g)
2 large tomatoes
120 g dried green lentils
400 ml coconut milk
1 lime
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp black pepper

The howto:
Finely chop the onion, garlic and ginger root. Dice sweet potato and tomatoes. Cook the onion, garlic and ginger root in the oil for a few minutes, add tomatoes and sweet potato, and cook another couple of minutes. Add lentils, coconut milk, juice from the lime and the spices. Cook slowly until the lentils are done, but make sure not to overcook so that the lentils stay chewy. If the stew gets too thick, add water, if it's too runny, cook without a lid for the last 15 minutes or so.

According to my estimates, one serving (half of the recipe above) contains approximately 480 kcal (27g fat, 50g carbs, 11g protein). When it comes to coconut milk, I'm going against my principle of never buying reduced fat products and always go for the reduced fat one as I can't justify the extra calories. I need to get over that, I'm sure the full fat coconut milk tastes much better and the extra calories are nothing compared to the hundreds I ingested in the form of cake, fudge and Belgian waffles over the weekend...

The verdict:
Like I said earlier, don't let the simplicity of this dish fool you. Or the fact that it looks a bit... green. It tastes lovely, the sweet potato and sweetness of the coconut milk go together perfectly, and cooking it all in coconut oil brings the whole coconuttiness to new level. I really recommend making this from green lentils, as red ones would get overcooked and gooey. If you only have red lentils, make sure to add them later, after already cooking the stew for a while as they usually only need 10 minutes or even less. The red lentils would make a more aesthetically pleasing choice, though. But for me, the most important thing is flavour, not looks.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

If it quacks like an orange...

Baking this cake turned out fill a whole evening. Not because it would be hard to make, in fact it is a super quick cake, all you need is a spoon and a bowl. Then how did I manage to spend most of my evening baking it? Let me start from the beginning...

I have never liked citrus fruit. I guess it's because when I was small, I got a rash from them, and my mum decided I shouldn't have any. That way I never got used to the taste, and have always found them repulsive, a bit slimy, sticky and smelly. Recently that has begun to change. It started with orange chocolate. Ok, admittedly still a long step to actual oranges, but I think it's a match made in heaven. And of course you can argue that orange chocolate has nothing to do with actual citrus fruit, it's just an artificial flavouring. True, all true. However, it started to change my attitude towards citrus fruit in general, and I no longer found the smell repulsive. Then, little by little, watching my friend eat loads of satsumas and oranges I started to entertain the thought of maybe trying a pice one day. Not today, but some day soon. And that day came a few weeks ago when I was having coffee with said friend who was eating a satsuma. I bravely asked for a taster, was given one, and after some contemplation decided it wasn't actually too bad. So I even got a bag of satsumas last week and have been learning to enjoy them. Then I stumbled upon this recipe for orange and olive oil cake. With my newfound curiosity about citrus fruit I thought a cake would be the perfect opportunity to explore a new member of the citrus family. And the idea of using olive oil in a cake sounded very exciting and exotic to me. All of this as a background to explain that when it comes to orange coloured round fruit, I'm still a noob.

So, today I went to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for my cake. With a big bag full of orange goodness I set everything up in the kitchen, got out my grating iron for the zest and a bowl for the juice. Then I cut open the fruit. And there was something wrong with it, it didn't look at all like an orange, it was almost red inside. I took another look at the label on the bag. Grapefruit. Major blond moment, I had managed to buy grapefruit in stead of oranges. I'm still laughing out loud at how stupid I can be from time to time. So, there was nothing to do except set off to the nearest grocery store to hunt for oranges. Which they didn't have. So I continued on to the next one. Incidentally, the second closest grocery store happens to be right next to a big entertainment centre with restaurants, bars, cinema, bowling and all that. So there I am, surrounded by people who are all dressed up to the nines, and I'm wearing my most horrible faded baggy sweats and have a manic look in my eyes with just one thing on my mind. Oranges. To make a long story short, I finally got my oranges, got home, and whipped up this little beauty in no time, as the actual baking process only requires a bowl, a spoon and a few short minutes. No mixing or whipping or blending. Just a quick stir and it's ready to go into the oven. I did get a bit carried away making sugarpaste flowers, so that kept me up half the night.

When it comes to baking, I have never seen the beauty of simplicity. For me, the more stuff you can cram into your cake, the better. I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy a simple cake if someone served me a piece and asked me to eat (I can't imagine *not* enjoying cake, no matter what type). But when I bake myself, I want to make it as rich as possible. I guess the same goes for ice cream, many people love the simple beauty of vanilla ice cream. I love Ben&Jerry's, my favourite is Phish Food which is a chocolate ice cream with caramel, marshmallows and big chocolate chunks (well, technically they are chocolate fish, not chunks). And I'm not making a value judgement here, I have nothing against vanilla ice cream. Just that if I get to choose, I choose something which has as much added extras in it as possible. So, in the original recipe, this cake is served as just a simple sponge cake. To put my own stamp on it, I had to de-simplify it by adding whipped cream and orange curd.

I made a mini-cake, which is one third of the original recipe, and I put the amounts of ingredients for the small cake in parenthesis. To bake it, I use a 12 cm springform cake tin. The cake is a perfect size for two people, or one if you are a professional cake-eater like me.

Orange and olive oil cake:
2 (1) orange(s)
210g (70g) caster sugar
150g (50g) organic greek style yoghurt
3 (1) egg(s)
150ml (50 ml) extra virgin olive oil
270g (90g) white flour
2tsp (2/3tsp) baking powder
pinch of salt

Orange curd (I made my own and will post the recipe later)
Whipped double cream
Sugarpaste for flowers

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Grate the zest of the orange, and squeeze the juice. Mix sugar and orange zest, add 100ml (30ml) orange juice and the yoghurt. Mix quickly. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add eggs and olive oil to the sugar-yoghurt-orange juice mix, and add dry ingredients. Mix as little as possible, only enough to get a smooth batter. Pour in a buttered/oiled springform tin (22-24 cm in diameter for the full recipe, 12 cm for the mini one). Bake the full cake for about 50 minutes, the small one for 20-25 min. You can use a toothpick in the middle of the cake to test if it is done. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Be careful not to overbake, as this will result in a dry cake.

If you want to pimp your cake, let it cool, then cut in half. Spread orange curd and whipped cream onto the cake. Decorate with sugarpaste flowers.

The verdict:
The cake has a lovely mild flavour of orange, and you can't taste the olive oil but I'm sure it adds some flavours which are just hard to identify as the orange is the strongest flavour. The cake ended up being light and fluffy but moist at the same time. I have to admit I mixed the batter too much and the cake ended up puffing up way too much. It's supposed to be level at the top, not dome shaped like mine turned out. But that's just aesthetics, the taste was still divine. Usually I don't particularly care for sponge cake, and was a bit surprised that I immediately fell for this recipe when I saw it. I'm very pleased to say the cake exceeded all my expectations. And, as an added bonus, it only got better after spending the night in the fridge, so a perfect thing to prepare beforehand if you are having visitors.

Monday, 23 April 2012

I don't like Mondays

To get in the right mood, you might want to listen to this... Can we just skip Mondays altogether? Gone is that wonderful freedom of waking up when you want (well as long as it's before gym classes start...) and having a lazy breakfast consisting of muffins or pancakes or whatever other yummy thing you can come up with. Instead, five days of slaving away at the salt mines ahead. 

I was thinking, is there anything you could do to make Monday mornings a little bit less painful? Well, maybe it would be possible to have something really tasty and uplifting for breakfast at least. But it has to be really quick. Of course the leftovers from Sunday's brunch are always a good way to go, give the muffins or pancakes a quick re-heating and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup. But it wouldn't be terribly exciting to blog about leftovers, now would it. Then I came up with the perfect solution. Alcohol! 

Truth is, I have been craving rum raisins for a while, after stumbling upon them in several recipes. Embarrassing fact, but I can actually eat unbelievable amounts of raisins in one sitting, I can't stock them at home as I will immediately destroy a whole big pack. One evening I even ate raisins despite having some chocolate in the house. Not saying I would think raisins are better than chocolate, don't get me wrong here, but sometimes I just have this overwhelming craving for the small, sweet, wrinkly, underrated gems of goodness. 

I made rum raisins a few months ago for some chocolate pralines (which turned out to be a horrible disaster but are on the list of things that just need a bit of R&D) and had some rum raisins left over. So I had them for pudding together with yoghurt, and that was an absolutely divine combo. I decided to throw in some other dried fruits in addition to raisins (well, the truth is I didn't have any raisins at home, but some leftover raisin-berry mix). I acknowledge that this is not the most nutrient rich breakfast, but hey, it's Monday morning... 

Rum and raisin-cherry-cranberry yoghurt 
Greek style, organic, full fat yoghurt (yes, don't even think of using any of those bland low fat horrible watery concoctions for this)
raisins and/or dried berry mix
dark rum

The howto:
Make sure you read through the instructions very carefully before you begin as preparation of this dish is very complicated. Take raisins/berries and put in a container, add a splash of rum, put on a lid, give a vigorous shake and marinate in the fridge overnight (shake the container a few times before you go to bed if you remember). In the morning, scoop some yoghurt onto a plate, pour over the marinated yummyness. Finish off with chopped nuts or as I did, some leftover orange curd I made on Friday.

Well, you can guess that estimating nutritional info for this is a bit hard, as it depends on serving size, type of berries, and type of yoghurt among other things. I use 100g of full fat, Greek style yoghurt and 25 g dried berry mix and about 1 tbsp of rum. This comes to approximately 230 kcal (9.6g fat, 24g carbs and 5.0g protein).

The verdict:
When my alarm clock went off on Monday I jumped out of bed with a big grin on my face thinking of my brekkie. Ok, so maybe not quite, but the thought of it got me through my morning workout. And it is heavenly, the almost too sweet berries, the kick of the booze and the velvety softness of the yoghurt. Too bad this is high on carbs, otherwise I wouldn't mind having it every morning. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mayo - it's an oily business but somebody's gotta do it

After reading the recipes on my blog, I'm sure it's hard to believe that I actually try to eat very healthily. It's just, in general my food during the working week is really boring, so there is not much to blog about (unfortunately I will do that when I have time though, just to prove my point). Incidentally most of my blog entries are from the weekends, when I give myself the freedom to go crazy and cook and bake all sorts of sinful treats and even including my arch enemies wheat, sugar and dairy. I'm sure that makes much more interesting reading than endless iterations of "prepare meat/fish and eat with spinach, cucumber, tomato and sweet pepper.

I've spent quite a bit of time online, doing research on the most healthy way to eat. Also, I have tried to lose quite a bit of weight during the last 6 months, so I needed to find ways to eat which were healthy and promoted weight loss. I know few things get people as passionate (and sometimes outright rude and agressive) as discussions on diet and what to eat. For me personally (and at some later stage I will throw in my thoughts about how I believe we are all unique and different in our response to our diets) a low carb diet has worked wonders. With "worked wonders" I mean that I lost over a third of my body weight in 5 months or so (and this is a good thing, there was plenty to lose).

One thing I have not been able to figure out despite loads of online research is fats. One person thinks virgin coconut oil is the only oil you should ever use for cooking, whereas others swear in the name of olive oil. As rapeseed is a very big business back home, we have been brainwashed from little kids to believe rapeseed oil is the most healthy option. Others still use nothing but butter believing all oils are the creations of the devil. Depending on the source, butter is either not bad at all for you, or really bad. The only thing most people (apart from the official health recommendations of government research institutes apparently) is that margarine is bad bad bad. So in the crossfire of all of this info, I have created my own philosophy for fats. First of all, I never use margarine. For baking, I use butter. For cooking, depending on what flavour I'm going for, I use either organic virgin coconut oil or rapeseed oil, these two should be the more thermostable fats. For salads, i use extra virgin rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil. Then I got some other oils, like macadamia nut and sesame seed that I sometimes use in cooking for their distinct flavours. So a mix and match, aiming to minimize the use of fats in general and heavily bias it towards the omega-6 and omega-3 rich oils. Whether this makes any sense or not I don't know, but that's how I roll. And last time I checked my blood lipid levels, they were all better than fine, but I'm keeping an eye on them regularly. 

So, now I'm finally getting to the actual recipe part. Mayonnaise is something we have learned is unhealthy and should be avoided. And yes, again in general I agree as the calorie content is huge. But sometimes you just get a craving for it. And of course the only place to get your mayo is to get the industrial, preprocessed, full of additives stuff that keeps good in the fridge for a year. Because we all know that making mayo is difficult, you have to have a magic touch to get it to emulsify (you know, when it gets all thick and gooey). That is what I have always believed and what most recipes will have you believe. WRONG!!! Making mayo couldn't be easier, I have made it several times, and it has turned out perfect every time. So please, please, please give it a try next time you need mayo for something. Yes, it's a bit of an extra hassle, and yes, you will be cleaning up oil splatter from your kitchen walls, but you know it wont have any extra additives, you can make it from free range eggs and the best quality oils. I have used both macadamia nut oil and extra virgin rapeseed oil, both turned out very good. The macadamia nut oil has a bit of a sweeter taste and requires a bit more salt, whereas the rapeseed oil has a nuttier taste. Next time I might try olive oil, although I'm suspecting the taste of the olive oil might be a bit too strong. I also recently bought some flavoured extra virgin rapeseed oils which I'm excited to try out at some point. And finally, thank you for reading so far if you have (I'll try to keep my ramblings shorter in the future) and here we go (this is where is stole the recipe from)...

1 egg (free range organic of course)
a squeeze of lemon juice
a few crushed mustard seeds (although I use whole, they do get crushed in the process if you use a hand blender for mixing)
220-240 ml oil
salt and pepper for seasoning

The howto:
Mix egg, lemon juice and mustard seed in a blender or high jug (it is a bit messy, so I recommend you use a big bowl or jug). Get your blender going (I use a hand held blender as you can see in the pics) and start adding oil. Just remember that you should start by adding small amounts, maybe one or two tablespoons at a time, and you will do fine. I do this by measuring the oil in a glass or cup or whatever (something with a pouring nozzle might be good and reduce the mess quite a lot), and using the blender with one hand, keep it constantly going, and pour a small amount of oil at a time into the jug all while keeping the blender going. If you accidentally happen to splash a bit too much, don't worry, you haven't ruined your mayo. At some point, a bit before halfway through the oil, the mayo magically starts to emulsify. Then you think, maybe I shouldn't add more oil, because it becomes too runny, but just keep adding, by some chemical reaction magic the mayo will get thicker the more oil you add. Towards the end, you can add bigger amounts of oil at a time (a few tbsp or so is ok). When all oil is added, season with salt and pepper. 

The verdict:
Like I said before, I had always believed that making mayo requires superhero powers or magic skills. I'm glad I tried it, as this is obviously not true. The result of your efforts will be a really creamy and smooth mayo, and you can make any variation you like by adding flavourings. I want to try garlic mayo by adding a bit of garlic and partly using garlic flavoured oil, same for chilli, maybe add some vinegar and then I have a 'smoke' flavoured olive oil, which I'm very interested in trying. I guess it would make some sort of BBQ-y flavoured mayo. Maybe try one with herbs like parsley or chives, or maybe sundried tomatoes. I read somewhere that homemade mayo keeps in the fridge in a container for about a week, but I usually run out of it long before that, so I don't know.

Pay it forward

Maybe you remember the movie Pay it forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt. Spacey plays a social studies teacher who gives the pupils in his classa humble little project to change the world. Osment plays a boy who launches a good-will movement, with the idea that you should help three people with something really big without asking anything in return apart from them helping out three other people. The idea is of course, if everyone does a favour for three others, by the laws of exponential growth, soon the movement would affect a huge masses of people. 

So why am I going on about a sappy feel-good movie? Well, first of all, Kevin Spacey is really great in it. But to get to the point, I recently bought three of Jamie Olivers books: Jamie at Home, Jamie's Great Britain and Ministry of Food. I love them all (of course, it's Jamie, who wouldn't love his quirky, fun and unbelievably delicious recipes), but I particularly like the introduction to Ministry of Food. Jamie talks about how we are living in the middle of a horrible epidemic of bad health with the rise of obesity. The problem is that people perceive themselves to be too busy to cook proper, healthy food, and instead live on takeouts and preprocessed food which is lacking in nutrients and full of empty calories. His plan is similar to that in Pay it forward, and he calls it (very cleverly) pass it on. The idea is that you learn a few good recipes, such as those in Ministry of Food and then teach them to at least two people, again creating an exponentially growing tree of people teaching each other good recipes and basic cooking techniques.

I know it sounds idealistic and silly, but the truth seems to be that many people today really don't know how to cook. That is a harsh contrast to others, who are passionate about food, cooking it, planning it, sourcing the freshest and most ethically produced ingredients. And it is important to show those who aren't passionate about cooking at least how easy it can be. Cooking healthy and delicious food doesn't have to be hard or time consuming.

Of course you can now see where I'm going with this. I made something from Ministry of Food for dinner today, and I'm hoping someone else will enjoy the recipe, and they will in turn teach it (or at least pass on the link) to someone else. This recipe only takes a few minutes to cook (12 minutes according to Jamie's recipe) and can be done by anyone who can use a knife to cut an avocado and know how to heat a frying pan.

Jamie's Prawns and avocado with an old-school Marie Rose Sauce (serves 2):
1 or 2 ripe avocados
1 or 2 punnets of cress
plain flour
220 king prawns, peeled and ready to eat (I used raw prawns, that just adds a few minutes to the cooking time)
olive oil (I used coconut oil for frying the prawns as I think it gives such a lovely flavour that goes well with prawns)
2 cloves of garlic
1 heaped teaspoon of paprika
extra virgin olive oil

Marie Rose sauce:
4 tbsp mayonnaise (I made my own, and will post the recipe soon)
1 dessertspoon tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp whisky
1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The howto:
To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients. Only use the juice from half of the lemon, then taste, season with salt and pepper and add more lemon juice if you think the sauce needs it. Otherwise cut the remaining half of the lemon into wedges for serving.
Halve the avocado, remove the stone and peel off skin. Place on plate together with cress and drizzle sauce over.
Put flour on a plate and toss prawns until they are coated with flour. Heat olive oil (or coconut oil) in a pan, bash and break up your garlic with your hand and add these to the pan (still with their peel on by the way) and immediately toss in the prawns. Season with salt, pepper and a good dash of paprika. Cook for a few minutes until crisp and golden (or until done if using raw prawns), divide onto plates and serve immediately with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Using my own mayo, I got a calorie count of about 600 kcal per serving (38g total fat, 15.4g carbs, 22.3g protein). Of course that will vary depending on what mayo you use and how much you drizzle olive oil onto your plate, as usual I suggest you do your own calorie calculations if you count your calories. 

The verdict:
As usual, Jamie has put together a pukka mix of flavours (yes, I know, very subtle, but when it comes to Jamie's food, I'm running out of adjectives...). When I made the sauce, I wasn't sure about it, I thought it had a bit too much Worcestershire sauce and was a bit too sharp, but mixed with the creaminess of the avocado and prawns, and the peppery cress, the flavours just came together perfectly. The whisky gives it a nice smoky and distinct flavour, I would never have thought of adding whisky to a sauce for prawns, but then again I'm no genius like Jamie. And the dish even looks perfect with the green of the avocado and cress against the red of the paprika on the prawns and the pinkish sauce. The only downside is that this is no light meal, with the avocado, olive oil and mayo it ends up having quite a bit of calories. Of course, the fats in the avocado and olive oil are good fats. I made my own mayo from extra virgin rapeseed oil (a longer rant about my love for rapeseed oil when I get around to posting the recipe for mayo) so that should be packed with those good omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (and yes I know there are plenty of people out there with a negative attitude to rapeseed oil, but there are plenty of alternatives if you happen to be one of them). 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Super quick cheesy "bread"

Apart from rye bread (which I'm having imported from back home), I try to stay away from bread. Especially white bread, which essentially is just fluff carbs (white flour which has a high glycemic index (GI) meaning that it is essentially metabolized to pure sugar really quickly). However, from time to time, I get an overwhelming craving for fresh bread. And I believe that if you bake it yourself, at least it's a little bit less unhealthy, as you can control what goes in it. Baking bread can be a bit of a hassle. It's well worth it, as home made, hand-baked bread eaten almost straight from the oven with some olive oil or butter is one of the really simple food delights, but I also like to have a quick fix that can be easily whipped up when the craving hits. This recipe takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. 

This recipe is another gem from the Finnish baking blog Kinuskikissa. The cheese used in the original recipe is a creamy type of aged cheese (similar to Danish Havarti). The taste is creamy and buttery, but still has a bit of character. A bit off target, but click here for a summary of some common Finnish cheeses. Especially note the oven cheese, which is hopefully something I get around to doing a blog post about when I go back home for a visit.

I really want to try this using the cheese suggested in the original recipe, but I have to wait until August when I go back home to be able to do that. In the meantime, I have used several different substitutes and they have all turned out excellent. I have used a strong cheddar and a hard goat's cheese. I think pretty much any cheese would work, maybe not the really mild ones like mozzarella or Wensleydale. I feel like the cheese needs to have a bit of a kick for this one. Feta might be interesting to try, or some black pepper flavoured cheddar. Wonder how a blue cheese like stilton would work? Hmmm, now I'm getting carried away with my ideas again.

The original recipe contains a Finnish variety of sour cream. The Finnish variety has less fat than the ones sold in the UK, but I don't think that's a problem for the recipe. If you want, you could maybe leave out the oil. I have substituted with sour cream or full fat, Greek style yoghurt and both have worked very well.

Ok, so finally on to the actual recipe. This makes about 16.

230 g cheese
220 g wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
200 ml sour cream or yoghurt
1 tbsp oil

Preheat oven to 200 C. Grate about 2/3 of the cheese. Mix grated cheese, flour, baking powder and salt, add sour cream and oil. Knead the dough quickly and pat or roll to about 1/2 cm thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out round (or any other shape) breads. If you don't have a cookie cutter or rolling pin, just divide the dough into 16 pieces, roll to balls and then flatten out with your palm. Cut the remaining 1/3 of your cheese into 16 squares and place on top of the breads (see here). Bake for 8-10 minutes, be sure not to overbake the breads.

One cheesy bread contains 147 calories (total fat 8.6g, total carbs 11.0g, protein 6.2g). The calorie content will vary quite a lot depending on which cheese you use. These calculations are made for a hard goats cheese with 29% fat.

The verdict:
In my kitchen these disappear as soon as they come out of the oven. I make them as a side for soups, salads, mussels, pretty much anything you can think of. Admittedly, the cheese makes these quite rich, but me and a friend had no problem destroying a batch of them in one evening. I think they are at their best straight out of the oven, but they are still very good the next day, especially if you toss them in the oven or microwave to re-heat. 

There are endless variations you could make adding different cheeses, and maybe some herbs or garlic. Actually, garlic would work really well, or maybe just garlic flavoured olive oil... Have to try that next time I make them. For a healthier option, you could reduce the amount of cheese, and substitute some of the white flour with full grain or rye. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Easiest ever roast veg soup

I love veggie soups, although technically they don't go very well with a low carb diet. However, post workout I sometimes indulge in hot soup and bread. Of course with some chicken added in, it would probably make a bit more of a balanced meal. I just try to balance by eating plenty of protein at other meals the day I'm having soup. 

I usually make my veggie soups by just chopping up all ingredients in a large saucepan with chicken stock and cooking it all until veggies go soft and then puree the whole lot. To mix it up a bit, I was excited to find this recipe where the veggies were first roasted. The recipe that gave me the idea is from Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). The original soup is served with whipped cream with marjoram, which I omitted for obvious reasons. It does sound delicious though, so if you don't need to count your calories, it is probably worth a try (and a swirl of white cream in the orange soup looks very beautiful). Also, the original recipe uses much more oil for the roasting, again sounds very delicious if you don't mind the added calories.

This is a super easy and quick dish to make, all you need is to roughly chop up the veggies, toss them in oil and spices and leave to roast while you can go about with your business. Finishing up the soup after roasting only takes another 5 minutes or so if you use boiling hot chicken stock (boil the kettle, pour hot water in a saucepan and add in chicken stock and the roast veggie puree and you should have your soup bubbling away in no time). If you really want to minimize preparation time, pre-roast your veggies the day before and just leave the finishing touches of pureeing and heating to when you get home at the end of the day. And as other soups, this freezes very well, so make a big batch and freeze as single portions for a quick and easy lunch or dinner some other day. 

Ingredients (serves 4):
3 sweet potatoes
3 parsnips
6 carrots
500 g celeriac
2 onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 l chicken (or veggie) stock
1-2 tsp Harissa paste 

Chop up the veggies, onions and peel cloves of garlic, toss in the oil and cayenne pepper on a roasting tray. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until nice and soft with edges charring lightly. Puree with some of the chicken stock. Add the rest of the chicken stock and Harissa paste, bring to a boil. Taste and season if needed. Serve piping hot with rye bread.

One serving contains approximately 350 kcal (9.8 g total fat, 64 g total carbs, 6.4 g protein). I use MyFitnessPal to calculate nutritional information, and these should be regarded as approximations only.

The verdict:
I love the idea of roasting the veggies before pureeing, it gives the soup a nice, distinct taste. It's definitely worth the extra hassle (and to be honest, there really isn't a hassle at all). Of course it brings in some extra calories in form of the rapeseed oil. I guess for that reason I will mainly stick to my method of cooking the veggies in chicken (or veggie) stock, but will probably make this one from time to time for some variation. 
For variation, you could also use any veggies you like, next time maybe I'll add some butternut squash or maybe swede. Celeriac is a root I don't usually use very much, but I liked it very much in this soup. Also, the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potatoes contrasts really well with the sharpness of the Harissa paste. And the crispiness of the toasted rye bread goes so well with the smoothness of the soup, it not only tastes, but also feels great to eat.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Friday quickie

To celebrate the fact that nothing too bad has happened to me on this Friday the 13th, I decided to whip up some quickie comfort foods and curl up on the sofa to enjoy them (yes, I do lead such an exciting life...). For me, Friday food has to be something quick and simple, with only a few ingredients and not too much fuss, but it also has to be something yummy. Funnily enough, it also seems to contain cumin very frequently.

I had a cauliflower lying around in my fridge which needed to be used up, so I decided to make roasted cauliflower with yoghurt and pomegranate, a recipe I stumbled upon at Epicurious and have made semi-regularly. Mint is one of my favourite herbs, but I hardly ever use it for some strange reason. Here, I love the freshness of the mint and yoghurt combined with the warm softness of the cauliflower. And it's really quick to prepare (apart from seeding the pomegranate, which is a bit of a messy task, but well worth it when you taste the result).

I also wanted something sweet for dessert (I *will* get back to my "no sugar, no wheat, no dairy" nutrition plan next week, I promise...). The perfect excuse to make this dessert was that I wanted to use up the last quark and cream which were left over from my Easter baking bonanza. This quark dessert is something I can remember all the way back from my childhood, so it truly counts in the category of comfort food. 

Quark is a soured milk product, basically a type of soft and velvety cheese. The taste is very mild, a bit like cream cheese, but a bit more sour and fresh. Back home you can buy all sorts of flavoured quarks, which is something I really miss. Berry quark, vanilla quark, white chocolate and lime quark and many more. In the UK, it seems like you can only get fat free, natural (i.e. non-flavoured) quark. Quark makes a nice, fresh and not too sweet dessert which is great on it's own like served here, or amazing served on meringue nests with a bit of chocolate sauce. There are endless variations you can make by substituting other berries or fruits. A great mix is strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, or mango and banana. If you want to make it more healthy you can completely leave out the whipped cream and mix quark with berries or fruits and maybe a drollop of honey.

And finally, the actual recipe for the roasted cauliflower (serves 2):
1 large cauliflower
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
sea salt flakes, pepper
100 g organic, natural, full fat yoghurt (I prefer Greek yoghurt)
1 pomegranate
a few mint leaves

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 C. Break the cauliflower up into florets, toss with oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the florets look a bit darkened and crispy. Meanwhile, deseed the pomegranate, and mix pomegranate seeds with yoghurt, a pinch of salt and pepper and finely chopped mint. 

One serving contains approximately 280 kcal (13.6g fat, 35.5g total carbs and 9.6g protein). I use MyFitnessPal to estimate nutritional content, and take no responsibility for the accuracy of the estimates.

Ingredients for quark dessert (serves 3-4):
250 g quark 
150 ml double cream
40 g Whittard Rhubarb White Hot Chocolate (or 3 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
200 g strawberries
100 g raspberries

Quark howto:
Mix cream and hot chocolate (or sugar and vanilla extract) and beat until peaks form (the quark is pretty thick so don't overwhip the cream to get a nice smooth texture of the dessert). Mix cream with quark, and add berries. Try to refrain from eating the whole batch in one sitting. Or just overindulge...

One serving (a third of the whole recipe) contains 400 kcal (28g fat, 23.6g total carbs, 13.5g protein).

The verdict:
Cauliflower: yummy. Quark: yummy. Could I have some more, please?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

First ever lamb roast

There is something inherently satisfying with a big piece of meat (with apologies to any vegetarians out there). I happen to think that if we were meant to eat only veggies (and don't get me wrong, I think we are supposed to eat *a lot* of veggies), meat wouldn't taste so good. I have tried every possible soya and quorn based substitute, and they just don't do it for me. I don't believe you need to have meat at every meal, and also that you should vary white meat and red meat and mix it up with a lot of fish. But from time to time, your body just screams for red meat. And this Easter, I finally braved cooking the traditional leg of lamb roast. Apparently UK lamb season only starts around late May, so my leg of lamb had travelled across the world all from New Zealand. 

As I said, this was my first attempt ever at cooking such a big chunk of meat, so I had no idea what I was doing. However, it turned out to be really simple in the end. Rub lamb down with seasoning, put in oven, wait, wait, wait, wait and finally enjoy. So if you haven't tried roasting lamb before, I'm encouraging you to try, it's well worth it and not even much of an effort. I studied a few recipes online for inspiration (and to get some idea of the cooking time), here are the links for those if you don't like my approach. Also, if you don't want to go with gut feeling for cooking time like I do (I love the excitement of seeing if I got it right or not... I know, I live a very boring life to find things like this exciting...) you could consider investing in a food thermometer.

Roast lamb with garlic
Roast lamb with mint
Roast lamb with redcurrant glaze

Ok, so finally on to the actual recipe
Leg of lamb with the bone still on (the one I had was around 1.5 kg total)
30 g mint
30 g flat leaf parsley
one whole garlic
half a jar of green pesto
25 g butter
salt and pepper for seasoning

(I would also have thrown in onions if I hadn't used them all up the day before)
red wine

For the gravy:
Beef stock pot (I used Knorr Rich Beef)
200 ml red wine
100 ml double cream

Start preparing the meat a few hours before roasting. Take meat out of fridge and let set to room temperature (at least 30 min) while preparing the seasoning. Chop herbs and garlic cloves, mix with pesto and butter to make a gooey paste. Make cuts a few cm deep all over the meat and rub the whole leg with the herb butter mix (I love this part). 

Leave for a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge. Cut parsnips and carrots into large chunks and put in a roasting tray with the meat. Pour red wine over the whole shebang, season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 220 C, roast the meat for 30 minutes, then turn down oven to 175 C (all cooking was done in a fan oven, probably use 10-20 C more in a regular oven). I read a rule of thumb to roast 40 minutes for each kg of meat plus 20 minutes extra, whereas Jamie (as in Jamie Oliver to whose wisdom I often bow when it comes to cooking) recommends 90 minutes for a 2 kg roast. My roast was in the oven 70 minutes, and was slightly pink at the bone and very succulent. With lamb, I would rather go for a bit undercooked than overcooked, but that is of course a matter of taste. When the lamb is cooked, take it out of the oven and wrap in foil to rest while you prepare the gravy. 

Put any juices that have collected in the roasting tray into a saucepan, bring to a boil, add beef stock and red wine. Taste, and possibly add more red wine (and enjoy a glass or two while cooking), let sauce thicken. When satisfied with the consistency of the gravy, add cream. 

Apparently there is no one right way to carve the leg roast, so just start cutting thin slices, and rotate when hitting bone. Serve and enjoy!

The verdict:
If I had known how easy it was to cook lamb like this I would have done it ages ago. It will certainly become a recurring favourite, and there are so many different variations to do. To get a more balanced meal I would throw in some green veggies, maybe broccoli and sprouts (which I actually added when eating leftovers the days after Easter). Also, there are so many ways to spice up the gravy, I definitely will try adding something sweet in it next time, maybe currant or cherry jam. I guess it might have been beginner's luck that I got the roasting time exactly right, with the meat still a bit pinkish near the bone, next time I would maybe even cut down the cooking time with a few more minutes, but not much.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Breakfast effins

To keep on the muffin theme for one more post, this is a brilliant breakfast (or light lunch) idea. Easy to take with you, eat on the go or (as I do) while reading the emails at work in the morning. Also, these muffins (or egg muffins aka effins...) are more along the lines of what I usually eat, compared to the previous three posts. I prefer to use fresh, free range, organic eggs. You can already see from the colour of the eggs they are different from the non-organic ones. Also, I think the organic ones make a more fluffy omelette, and taste better. But I'm not sure that observation would withstand a double blinded, placebo controlled study. But it won't stop me from buying organic.

Also, there are endless variations you could make of these. Next, I think I will try a Mexeffin, with onion, tomato salsa, black beans and koriander, or maybe a Italieffin with sundried tomatoes, oregano and parma ham.

Makes 12 effins

6 eggs
1 onion
30 g dill
1/4 stalk of broccoli
1 leek
50 g smoked salmon

Chop onions, leek, dill and broccoli. Stir fry onion and leek quickly on a non-stick pan (or a regular pan and use some coconut or rapeseed oil). Add the finely chopped broccoli to the pan for a short while. Beat eggs with a fork, add in the dill and the stir fried veggies, mix and divide into 12 muffin moulds. Slice salmon, and add a few slices on top of each effin. Bake in 175 C for 10-15 minutes, or less if you like your eggs soft.

Each effin contains around 60 kcal (fat 2.8g, carbs 2.2g, protein 4.8g)