Friday, 29 June 2012

Friday choc quickie

 I had such a crappy day today. Without going into detail, I really need to get more involved in the micromanagement of my life, and once again my inattention to detail has screwed me over totally. Do you ever have those moments when you just want to go home, pull the duvet over your head and cry for a few hours? I was also reminded of the fact that the last thing you should do on a crappy day is go grocery shopping. Unfortunately, I didn't have a choice, as I won't have time to do my weekly grocery shopping any other day this weekend. So into Tesco I went, and came out with over a kilogram (yes, scary, and I have no idea wtf I will do with it all...) of cheese (a girl needs her calcium, right??). And some deli meats (well it's kind of healthy, it's proteins. Never mind the fat and salt). And dark chocolate (I mean, it's pretty much health food, it's 70% cocoa dark chocolate). And milk chocolate. Ok, can't rationalise that no matter how hard I try. Maybe some more calcium? All I know is, I just have no self control. Truth is, I had a reason for those choccy chips. It's this recipe from a lovely blog called My Happy Place that I stumbled upon when browsing Pinterest. Ever since I bought my cute little pink ramekins (more about them in an upcoming post soon), I have been obsessed with cute little things that can be cooked in individual portions. And of course the good thing about tiny small recipes is that once you have finished your individual portion, there won't be anything left over to binge on when the craving hits. 

Anyways, this is a single serving choc chip cookie, cooked in the microwave. It is as dangerous as the microwave choc cake I blogged about earlier. The cookie takes exactly one minute to make and another minute (or 50 seconds) to bake. From sugar and fat to belly fat in less than two minutes... This is the reason I can't stock choc chips at home, I would make these every day. Although I'm sure that in desperate times, I could make this with cranberries or raisins if I didn't have any choc chips. Unfortunately the rest of the ingredients are all things I stock at home at all times.

The single woman's choc chip cookie from My Happy Place:
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp dark sugar
1 tbsp melted butter
a few drops of vanilla extract (I used 1/2 tsp vanilla paste, which I like better)
egg yolk
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (40g) white flour
2 tbsp (or more...) choc chips 

Whoops, almost forgot the egg.

The howto:
In a small bowl, mix sugars, butter, vanilla, egg and salt. Add flour, and finally choc chips. I used a generous heaping, 2 tbsp just seemed so... sad and lonely. Put the dough in a ramekin or other small microwave proof bowl, and microwave for 40-60 seconds. I did 60 seconds in 700W, and next time I think I will do 50 seconds. Serve immediately.

Ready to be nuked.
Add a few raspberries, and it's practically health food...

The verdict:
The problem with the single serving goodies: there is just one single serving!! I could have eaten at least three of these (which doesn't mean it's a small serving, it's perfectly adequate, but my sugar craving knows no boundaries). This was even better than I had imagined. You know how cookie dough is always better than the actual baked cookies. But sometimes it can be a bit overwhelmingly... sweet and gooey. Well, this is the perfect missing link between fully baked cookie and raw cookie dough. It's warm and has those great gooey melted choccy bits, but it's cooked enough not to be too overwhelmingly sweet. Ok, it is sweet, it's actually very sweet. Not too sweet for me, but I can understand if people with normal carbotolerance think it is a bit too much.  

I used a very dark brown sugar, because I love the caramel-ly flavour it gives to the cookie. I also used vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract. It's a syrupy dark paste with vanilla bean seeds, and I think it gives a much nicer and more rounded vanilla flavour than vanilla extract. It is rather expensive to buy, but one jar will last you a really long time, and it also doesn't go bad (I think I have had mine for at least six months). 

This recipe is so dangerous. Not only is it quick and easy, there are also endless opportunities to do different variations of it. Orange and chocolate, raspberry, strawberry, lime, nut praline, white chocolate, rum and raisin (of course!!). Make it a bit more healthy by reducing sugar, replace some of the flour with oatmeal and the chocolate with dried berries. Be warned, this is really addictive. It's just too easy to make and tastes way too good. I'm now lying on my sofa typing this, suffering from a very bad carbo-coma. Oh well, it's Friday, and sugar makes me forget all about my worries. And no, I don't have an addiction, but thank you for asking.
The obligatory picture with melted choccy goo.
The end. Which came way too soon.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Healthy ice cream. Yes, seriously!!

This is this summer's best healthy dessert. Hands down, nothing compares. Usually all the healthy dessert recipes look really good when you see the pictures online, but when you make it yourself, it turns out to look like something that has been twice regurgitated, and tastes even worse. But this, it really works, and it is really great. I'm not just saying, I really love this. And I can't believe it contains no added sugar. 

I stumbled on this idea on Pinterest (my new addiction), and it linked to the recipe on Use Real Butter. Well, it's not actually a recipe, since it's pretty much just one single ingredient. All you need is a frozen banana or two, and a food processor. This is just so brilliant, finally a dessert that tastes amazing and can be eaten without any guilt whatsoever. Ok, well it is still high carb, but a banana every once in a while can't be bad. From now on, I will always keep banana discs in the freezer, just in case.

Running into ideas like this make me so happy I just would want to jump for joy, sing and smile like an idiot.
Banana ice cream (2 servings):
2 bananas
2 tbsp nut butter (I used macadamia butter)
2 tbsp cocoa (I always use Green&Black organic cocoa, it's *the best*)

The howto:
Slice the bananas and freeze until frozen solid (a few hours or over night). When frozen, blend in food processor until they get white and fluffy. According to the original recipe, the bananas first become "like gravel" and you need to scrape them off the sides of the food processor several times while processing. Mine went fluffy and creamy really quickly. Then add nut butter and cocoa, and give another quick blend. Enjoy immediately or freeze first for a more ice-cream than soft ice cream consistency.

One serving contains 251 kcal (13g fat, 34g carbs of which 17g sugar and 4g protein).

The verdict: 
If you didn't work it out from the introduction, I LOVE THIS!! It's one of the best healthy dessert ideas I have ever come across. And I will be making this a lot. With as many different variations I can imagine. Almond butter, berries, maybe caramel (although of course then it won't be healthy anymore), I'll try it with my chocolate, orange and cinnamon balsamic vinegar, maybe a variation with lemon curd and lemon zest. What else... Jam, mango puree, white chocolate cocoa, cardamom. Oh and raisins, rum raisins, that would be brilliant! 
A few mini fudge bites sprinkled on top

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Blushing at Royal Ascot

While my Finnish friends and family spent Midsummer in traditional Finnish fashion at summerhouses by the lakeside or seaside, I spent Midsummer at Royal Ascot. What an amazing event, that most certainly gave the good old summerhouse a run for it's money. I had no idea it was so damned huge. The whole racecourse, the number of people... Walking from the train station to the racecourse was like herding thousands and thousands of cattle. Well, cattle in cocktail dresses and hats, but all the same.
I had an amazing time soaking up the atmosphere (but not the sunshine, as this was traditional British summer at it's "best"), peoplewatching and betting on the horses. The  ladies wore beautiful dresses and the most amazing hats and fascinators, gents in their suits or waistcoats. And the high hats, men should wear high hats much more! Turns anyone into a gentleman. Well, at least looking like one. If everyone dressed like that, the world would truly be a better place. It was like being in an alternate universe. I really would have wanted to stay there forever. Shopping for the right things to wear was already an experience, and to get prettified in the morning and then walking around all day in the most amazing dress, heels and fascinator. There should be more occasions to wear headwear. It's the ultimate luxury accessory, at least to me. 
I love horses, and have been riding since I was seven years old. So I do know a thing or two about our four legged friends. However, this was my first time watching horse racing. I'm a dressage and jumping kind of gal, I used to jump myself back in the days. So the world of racing was totally foreign to me. It became clear very soon that there was one star above all others this year, and she is called Black Caviar. She had flown all the way across the world from Australia to race at Royal Ascot. She even carried the right colours, black circles on a pink background. After being a bit confounded about how the whole betting thing worked, me and friends managed to place some bets. I put my money on Black Caviar, and it turned out to be a success. She did win her race, but only by the width of a nostril, as Midnight Cloud did quite a sprint at the end and nearly caught up. It was so exciting, watching the horses thunder by and then waiting for the close-ups on the big screen of the horses crossing the finish line to see who made it first. 
The winning ticket

You can't enjoy a day at the races without a glass (or in our case a pitcher) of cocktails in your hand. I have to admit, normally I'm not much of a drinker. I have nothing against alcohol, I love cocktails or a nice glass of wine with dinner. But since I have to stick to a rather limited amount of calories per day, I choose to ingest them in the form of food instead of drink. No judgement whatsover for anyone choosing differently, it's just I get more pleasure from a nice piece of chocolate cake than from a drink. However, there are special occasions which just call for a classy cocktail. 
You will have to take my word for it, but the
lady in green is Her Majesty the Queen
I usually stick with the trusty G&T because it's good, low calorie and requires minimal brain activity and imagination to order. However, at the races, I was introduced to my new friend, the Royal Blush. It is the perfect drink for me for many reasons. It is really sweet, it is pink and it has gin in it. It was so good, it tasted like candy. And you could have been fooled to think there was no alcohol in it. Well, that was until you tried to get out of your chair after enjoying this little bad boy. I will certainly get myself a bottle of Chambord to complement my bottle of Bombay Sapphire and make these a few more times this summer. I know this is not much of a recipe as I have no idea of how much of everything went into the drink (and from the way the bartender was just pouring out of multiple bottles at the same time, neither did he). You should just optimize until you find a ratio of Chambord to gin to lemonade that is to your liking. For me it would probably be equal amounts of Chambord and gin to fill about a quarter of the glass, then add lemonade. But experimenting can be part of the fun, and you probably have to go through numerous iterations to be sure you got the perfect mix.

Royal Blush:
Fill a high glass with ice cubes. Add Chambord and Bombay Sapphire, and fill glass with lemonade. Enjoy responsibly (if you insist).

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The mysterious crescent dough

I have mentioned my obsession with Pinterest quite a few times. All I'm saying is, type 'weekend breakfast' in the search, and see what happens. To me, that is what heaven looks like. Time stood still for several hours while I browsed through the results. And I swear, my keyboard was getting sticky from me drooling over all those amazing pictures. I had such a hard time to decide where to begin.

One ingredient that seemed to come up over and over again was Crescent dough. I had never heard of the thing before, but apparently it's something you buy ready made in a can in the US, and it seems to be everybody's favourite dough for everything from Nutella stuffed crescents to Crescent wrapped chicken casserole. So I got very curious, and tried to find out if you can get it over here in the UK. No luck, and nothing even resembling it. Thankfully the interwebs are full of recipes on how to make it yourself, so I just had try it out for this weekend's lazy brunch. I have no way of telling if it turned out the way it is supposed to. Next time I'm over on 'the other' side of the pond, I have to go and get me some of that dough just to try it. 

So this is basically a recipe where you take everything that is unhealthy in a breakfast, and stuff it into a bread. I have baked similar things before from one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks using regular bread dough. I love the idea of stuffing your breakfast into bread (and yes, I'm allowing myself another cheat here, but I am also going out for a run later...). There is absolutely nothing healthy about this recipe, which is probably why I loved the idea so much. The crescent roll dough recipe is from The Home Cooking Adventure I only made a quarter of the recipe and it turned out to be the perfect amount. I also had to guesstimate the amount of dried yeast as the original uses fresh yeast which I can't seem to find anywhere in grocery stores here. The dough rose nicely, so I think I got the amount of yeast  about right. The bread idea from Baking Time With the Hungry Hypo and The Kitchen Life of a Navy Wife.

Bacon and eggs in Crescent dough (6 servings, at least in theory...)
80ml milk
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
140g white flour (I used bread flour)
1/2 egg
pinch of salt
15 g (1 tbsp) butter, softened

6 rashers of bacon or pancetta
2 1/2 egg, scrambled
60g cheddar, grated

Heat up the milk until warm (not hot, see the instructions for your yeast for details), mix sugar and dried yeast and add the milk. Let stand until frothy. Add flour, eggs, salt and butter, and work into a soft dough. Let rise for an hour. 

While the dough is rising, fry the bacon, scramble the eggs and grate the cheese.

When dough is done rising, preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Divide the dough into six parts, roll them into the shape of triangles and place in a star shaped pattern. Add the bacon onto the stars, and add the eggs and cheese to the base of the star. Fold the points of the triangles over to form a round bread. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

One serving contains 210 kcal (11g fat, 17 g carbs and 16 g protein). To be fair, I found one serving to be a rather small breakfast, so I had two servings in one go... I did use rather thin rashers of pancetta, so you might want to redo the nutrition content estimates if you are using more sturdy bacon.

The verdict:
So what was my first impression of the mysterious crescent dough? Let's just say I didn't fall in love with it. It was easy enough to make, and it was very nice to work with, it had a really great texture. But to me it was nothing special, just a basic white flour yeast dough, a bit boring really. Not saying it was bad, just that maybe my expectations were a bit too high after seeing it in all those recipes on Pinterest. I guess the reason people like to use it is mostly out of convenience if you can just get it right out of a tin (although I don't even want to think of all the horrible vegetable fats and preservatives that go into it...) To be fair, I did overcook my bread a bit, so it got a bit dry, and I will definitely give crescent dough another chance some other time. And of course, I need to get my hands on the real deal someday to be able to compare.

Other than that, this is carbs and fat for breakfast, so what's not to love! Haven't had any other cheese than feta for quite a while (not counting the huge ball of mozzarella I had on Friday of course...), so I would have loved this just for the cheddar alone. Add eggs and bacon, and it's brekkie genius. Also much more convenient and less messy to take away than a normal sandwich, in case you are one of those people who eat your brekkie on the go.

By the way, I needed to get an early start and knew I wouldn't have time to go through the whole dough making process in the morning, so I did everything the night before. Prepared the dough, made the bread and then just left it in the fridge over night and popped it in the oven in the morning. Worked perfectly!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Midsummer Friday Quickie

And so it's here again. The most wonderful of days, Friday. The moment you leave work on Friday, and know it's over two whole days before you have to return... Bliss! This week is a bit special, or at least would be if I was back home. In Finland, Midsummer (or Juhannus) is one of the biggest holidays. For many it's the start of the summer holiday month. Everyone packs family and food into their cars and head out to the summerhouse by the lake. Helsinki is almost deserted and even those who don't have their own summerhouses have rented one or are forcing themselves on friends or family who have one. Then you are stuck in endless traffic jams for hours. But when you finally arrive at the summer house, after hours of sweating and swearing, unpack, get the fire in the sauna going, and then have a dip in the lake or the sea... It's all worth it. For an expat, Midsummer means reading endless Facebook updates about how everyone is celebrating. Me, I went to work. Then for my weekly grocery shopping, cooked a bit, went for a run and cooked some more. And now finally I'm sitting here on the sofa, feet up, enjoying my Friday quickie. Friends have stopped updating Facebook as they are probably starting to get a bit tipsy. Lucky bastards! And now days will start getting shorter. It will be Christmas in no time.

When I was planning my weekly menu, I was totally at a loss of what to cook this Friday. Thankfully, Pinterest came to the rescue. I'm totally obsessed with Pinterest these days, it's a foodporn addict's heaven!! I am in agony every time I browse people's food boards, as there are so many amazing things to cook in this world, and so little time to cook them. And then the added complication of the ever expanding derriere, which puts some limits on the cooking as well... Anyways. I had decided that since I have been (almost) good with my eating for the last two weeks, I could award myself with something yummy, this time I ended up choosing a lovely fluffy white ball of mozzarella as my treat. And I was going to cook these oven baked courgettes from Proud Italian Cook, as I had a poor lonely courgette in my fridge that needed to be eaten sooner rather than later. I know it's not terribly new and exciting after the whole aubergine post last week. What can I say, you need some sort of vessel to pile the mozzarella on, be it aubergine or courgette. I also had a sudden craving for prawns earlier today, so I decided to add some on. And when I was browsing the seafood isle, I ran into some lovely mussels as well, and inspired by a wonderful dinner I was treated to last night, also decided to add mussels to the recipe. How decadent, by the way, to eat mussels two days in a row!! So I ended up with this concoction, which turned out absolutely amazing. Then again, even a piece of cardboard would taste heavenly if it had some garlic and mozzarella on it. The cherry on top was having fresh cherries for pudding. Bought myself a whole kilogram of cherries, and am working my way through them very efficiently. My guess is, there are none left after tomorrow.

Seafood courgette thingys
1 courgette
5-10 cherry tomatoes
1/2 tbsp oil (I used a lovely garlic infused rapeseed oil)
juice from 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
garlic pepper spice mix (regular black pepper will do fine, too)
100g prawns
50g mussels
125g good mozzarella

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Halve the courgette lengthwise, and cut off a little bit from the bottom so that the halves are stable in a oven proof dish. Mix the oil, lemon juice, pepper and finely chopped garlic, and drizzle half of it on the courgettes. Cut tomatoes in half, and place on courgettes, drizzle on some more oil. Save a little bit of the seasoned oil for later. Bake for about half an hour. Add seafood and mozzarella, finish by drizzling still more of the oil on top, and bake until mozzarella melts and turns lovely golden brown. 

Step 1: courgettes and tomatoes ready to go
into the oven for about 30 min. 
Step 2: courgettes and tomatoes looking
hot and lonely, waiting for some company
Step 3: Still looking a bit naked although courgettes
 and tomatoes are joined by prawns and mussels
Step 4: It's the mozzarella that makes it all perfect.
Come and get it while it's hot!
The verdict:
This is again a lovely example of how cooking amazingly good food doesn't have to take many minutes of your time. The preparation steps only take a minute or two. With the rather large amount of mozzarella, this is admittedly not the most healthy of dishes, but some Fridays a girl just needs a treat. It could of course be debated how badly that treat is needed after said girl stuffed her face with mozzarella, garlic pasta with mussels and dreamy chocolate ganache dessert with ice cream and biscotti... But hey, that was yesterday, and this is today. Like I said before, you cannot go wrong with a combination of mozzarella and garlic. 

Monday, 18 June 2012


It should be fairly obvious from some of my previous posts that I love chickpeas. And let me tell you, I really love hummus. The cumin, lemon, garlic and tahini. What's not to love. However, I have struggled to find a really good hummus recipe. And funnily enough, my new favourite one is not even proper hummus. It doesn't have any tahini or lemon in it. And it's modified from a recipe for chickpea burgers from the wonderful blog A Cosy Kitchen. I made the burgers a while ago, and when I was tasting the mixture for the burgers, I realised this is like hummus but much better. So with a few changes it became my new pseudo-hummus. It's so darn yummy it became yummus. 

Yummus (serves 3):
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp harissa paste
1tbsp ground cumin
1tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 can (230g) chickpeas
30g unsalted pistachios
2tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Finely chop the onion and garlic, and saute until onion is done, about 5 minutes or so. Add harissa paste, cumin, paprika and cinnamon, and fry for another minute. Add about 2tbsp of water so that a paste-like texture forms. Combine the onion-spice mix, chickpeas, pistachios and olive oil and blend to a paste. Add water if needed. Season with salt to taste. Serve with carrot, cucumber and sweet pepper sticks.

One serving contains 260 kcal (17g fat, 21g total carbs of which 3.0g sugars, 8.5g protein)

The verdict:
Well, I guess it should be obvious from the above that I absolutely adore this. My only problem with it is that when I make a batch, I plan to eat it as a snack for the next few days. Often, it tends to just disappear right out of the bowl where I make it. Fancy that, disappearing yummus. 

Compared to the other recipes for (proper) hummus I have tried, I think the key to success here is that the frying somehow softens up the taste of the garlic, the onions add a wonderful slightly sweet taste, as do the pistachios. I'm usually not big on using salt in any food, but I would say, in this recipe, just give it a good pinch of salt. It somehow brings out the sweetness of the onions and pistachios to a whole new level. I think next time I'll try to throw in a bit of tahini as well, see if it gets even better or if it will mess up the perfect symphony of flavours.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


For a long time I thought I didn't like aubergines. I thought they were bitter, soggy and a bit horrible really. Sure, when in Italy (or an Italian restaurant), I enjoyed the occasional oven baked aubergine with loads of Parmesan or Mozzarella on top (even cardboard would taste great if smothered in Parmesan or Mozzarella), but I never used any it in my kitchen. I guess it all stems back years and years to one unfortunate incident with some ratatouille-type thingy, which turned out horrible. However, I switched to a low carb nutrition plan about a year ago, and had to find a substitute for one of my food loves, lasagna. The closest you get without all those nasty carbs (and all that cheese and milk) is moussaka. Based on my few attempts of cooking with aubergines, I was expecting something barely edible and borderline disgusting, wet and soggy. However, it turned out not only tolerable, but even delicious. After finding the perfect moussaka recipe, I realised I actually really enjoy aubergines. So I have started to use them when I roast veg, and also to replace another of my carb food craving, pizza. Surprisingly, the combination of tomato puree, ketchup and oregano creates a very pizza-esque taste, especially if you treat yourself and add some cheese on top. Not saying this beats the real thing, and in a perfect world I would not have to stick to substitutes. However, until someone comes up with calorie free pizza, this is what I'm stuck with, and rather happily stuck to be honest. I also thought I would chuck in a third recipe I stumbled upon in Voisilmäpeliä, one of my favourite food blogs. It's almost the same as the pizza, but I guess it's different enough to warrant it's own recipe.

Moussaka (serves 6):
4 big aubergines
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (I love to use my garlic or lemon infused rapeseed oil)
juice from 1 lemon
1 onion
2 carrots
4-5 cloves of garlic
2tbsp tomato puree
1tsp ground cinnamon
a bunch of fresh oregano, chopped (can be substituted with 1tbsp dried oregano)
600g minced lamb (or beef or turkey if you want make it a bit healthier)
1 veggie stock cube
black pepper, salt
big bunch of flat leaf parsley
400g can of chopped tomatoes 

2 eggs
200g full fat Greek style yoghurt
100g feta cheese

Finely chop carrots, onions and garlic. Sautee in 1/2 tbsp oil for a few minutes until onions turn translucent. Add the minced meat, cinnamon, oregano, black pepper and tomato puree and sautee for another few minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, the stock cube and about half of the parsley. Leave to cook slowly for at least 40 minutes stirring every now and then. If it turns very thick, add some more water. While the meat is cooking, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Slice the aubergines into about 1cm thick slices lengthwise. Mix the remaining 1.5 tbsp oil and the juice from the lemon, and brush onto the slices. Season with salt and pepper, and bake in one layer for about 15 minutes. You need to do this in a few batches, or on several baking trays if you have a fan oven. Let cool. When meat has cooked, add in the rest of the parsley. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and start with a layer of aubergine slices. Add the meat and top with another layer of aubergines. Mix the eggs and yoghurt, and spread on the aubergines. Crumble feta (or other cheese of choice) on top. Bake for about 45 minutes in 200 degrees, cover with foil if aubergines turn too dark (which, as you see from the picture below, I couldn't be bothered to do).

Aubergine pizzas (serves 1-2):
1 aubergine
1tbsp oil
salt, pepper
tomato puree (or ketchup if you don't mind the sugar and other nasty additives)
basil and oregano (fresh and chopped or dried)
tuna and tomatoes, or whichever other pizza filling you fancy (roast peppers, salami and chilli, ham and pineapple, let the world be your oyster or prawn...)
feta (or some other cheese, I would happily use cheddar, blue cheese, maybe brie)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Slice the aubergine lengthwise into about 1cm slices. Drizzle some oil (I like to use a silicone brush to brush a very thin layer of oil on the slices) and lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill in the oven for about 10 minutes. Add tomato puree, herbs and pizza topping of choice and finish off with cheese on top. Bake in oven for another 15 minutes or so, until the cheese is golden. Serve with a fresh salad.

Sad detox pizzas with no cheese.
Happier cheat pizzas with tuna, tomato and feta.
Aubergine steaks (serves 1-2):
1 aubergine
salt, pepper
1 ball of mozzarella
fresh basil

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Slice the aubergine into round discs about 1cm thick. Drizzle some oil, season with salt and pepper and grill in oven for about 10 minutes. Add a slice of mozzarella, some basil leaves and a slice or two of tomato on half of the aubergine discs, put the other half on top to make stacks, and top off with a bit of mozzarella. Bake for about 15 minutes or so, until cheese turns golden. Serve with a fresh salad, or as sides for a main meal.

The verdict:
As I wrote above, I love the moussaka. Sure, it's a bit of work, but it's definitively worth it. And there is no doubt about it, lamb mince is much better than beef. For taste at least, not necessarily for nutritional profile. 

The mini pizzas are great for a pizza craving, it is surprising how little you pay attention to the fact that the crust is just aubergine. Like I said before, the combination of tomato puree, ketchup and oregano (and cheeeeese) makes it surprisingly pizza-esque. And it's convenient if you cook for many people, everyone can have their favourite topping on theirs. No more debates about garlic vs. no garlic, tuna vs pepperoni or cheddar vs. mozzarella. 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Late Friday quickie and a rant

I know it's not Friday anymore, but yesterday evening when I was writing this up, I managed to fall asleep on my sofa. At 9.30pm on a Friday night. Yes, my life is thoroughly exciting. 

So, this lentil stew is the ultimate Friday comfort food, the one that started my obsession of cooking something quick and easy (and sometimes even healthy) on a Friday night. About a year ago, I realised I need to lose some weight. Well, I had actually realised it long ago (like 10 years ago or so...) but last September I finally reached the point where I decided I have to do something about this disaster *now*. And it wasn't enough to lose *some* weight, but actually quite a lot. By coincidence I happened to stumble upon an advert for bootcamp on the for-sale email list at work. I emailed the personal trainer, who offered me a free trial month of bootcamp. Which is probably the only reason I went, I certainly did not believe the promises they made on the website. "Lose a stone the first month or your money back". To me that screams hoax from the start. However, I thought I might as well do the free month, and then figure out what to do next. 

Well, here I am, ten months later, and over five stone lighter. Actually, I got there in about six months, so I did lose about a stone a month. I still can't believe that has actually happened. And yes, it has involved blood, sweat and tears. Well at least sweat and tears, can't remember any blood along the way. The bootcamp involved a total diet change for me, and workouts three mornings a week (at 6.30 am!!). Well, getting up was really hard. Until the weight just started falling off in big chunks. After the first two weeks I had already lost several pounds. That is all the motivation you need. 

So that was a bit of a detour, but I did have a point. In addition to the early morning workout sessions, the bootcamp included a diet plan. I always thought I was pretty tuned in to healthy food. I knew sugar was bad, and fats were bad. Back home the nutritional guidelines are presented as a "plate model" where you will half your plate with veggies and greens, a quarter with meat, fish or some other protein and a quarter with potato, rice, pasta or some other carb. In addition you should eat low fat dairy products and bread, preferably rye bread with "healthy" fats such as margarine (yuck). I had been trying to eat like that, but I just couldn't seem to shift any weight. Sometimes I would lose weight if I just dropped calories to absolute minimum, but it would all come back, and I would feel hungry and horrible. And of course I'm not denying that I love my sugar and chocolate, I'm a carboholic and baby I was born that way, so stuffing my face with doughnuts did play a role at times. An important thing the bootcamp made me accept (not realise, as I have realised it years ago, but to accept that it's the only way forward) was that I'm not on a diet. This is not something that will end. This is a total, and (hopefully) long lasting change.

The bootcamp nutrition plan pretty much was based on two ideas, detox and the idea that "fats don't make you fat, sugar makes you fat". And it's not one of those things where you can just replace carbs with lard, bacon, butter, cheese and cream. It's basically built around the idea that you should prepare your food from fresh, high quality ingredients which don't include things that are bad for your body, such as sugars, alcohol, caffeine and additives. You can have pretty much unlimited greens and veggies and reasonable amounts of lean protein. No refined carbs, no dairy (apart from full fat yoghurt), no starch carbs except post workout (in the form of quinoa or sweet potato). Obviously no sugar or alcohol. And nothing that comes in a jar or tin which contain ingredients you cannot pronounce, or know what they are. Basically just plain good home-cooked food, made from fresh (and preferably organic) ingredients, with all the bad stuff left out. I was a bit worried about some aspects of the nutrition plan, such as the high amount of eggs and the types of fat that were used. We have all learned eggs are bad and increase your cholesterol levels, and coconut oil is the most horrible fat possible. Well, after six months on the bootcamp nutrition plan, I did a health check which included things like blood cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, enzyme tests for liver function etc. And while I've never had problems with high cholesterol, my LDL (the "bad cholesterol") was even lower than it used to be, my HDL (the "good cholesterol") was also in a very good range, as were all the rest of the tests. So while I will probably redo the blood tests in another six months or so just to keep an eye on the situation, I think I'm genuinely healthier than I have ever been. And I certainly wasn't able to run 20k ten years ago! (Not that running distance necessarily is the best measure for fitness, and in the end 20k is not that much, but for me it's better than I've ever done!). 

While I do believe people have different metabolisms and what works for someone doesn't work for someone else, this was exactly what my body needed. Everyone needs to find the nutrition plan that works for them. But for me, the excess weight just fell off, and I have felt amazing ever since. I do have my bad days, weeks, and lately even two bad months where I have been stuffing myself with sugar, and I can feel it. I got my first flu in ages after being sloppy with my diet, and my workout performance has gone downhill. So it was time to get myself back into gear, and that is what this soup represents. I'm back on the strict bootcamp nutrition plan, and this is my favourite recipe from the bootcamp recipe book. I used to cook it almost every Friday last winter, my ritual after coming home from my weekly grocery shopping trip. I would let the stew cook while I put away my groceries, and then snuggle down on the sofa with my stew and enjoy the feeling of hot comfort food and the joy of not having to go to work for two days. 

I know I won't keep to the super-strict diet for the rest of my life. Once I get my few extra pounds off, I will add a bit of luxury here and there, a weekend brekkie of decadence, some cheese once or twice a week, and some rye bread. And chocolate, of course (although hopefully in smaller servings than before). I am being positive about being able to eat pretty much according the the nutrition plan for the rest of my life, I have once again become passionate about cooking, and love the food I'm eating. Of course there will be some cheats thrown in, but if you are good 90% of the time, being a bit bad every once in a while won't destroy the balance.

Well, I've kept rambling on for way too long, and will now finally get to the good part. Sorry about the soapbox type of attitude, it's just I'm really passionate about this, as I never ever in my whole life thought I would be able to lose that extra weight. I thought I would be carrying around my extra stones of lard for the rest of my life. So all the rambling is just about being relieved that wasn't true, and there are things out there that actually work. Of course they need determination, willpower, sweat and tears. Oh, and about the recipe. I know this looks very simple and unassuming, but be assured, it's yummy. 

Curried lentil stew (serves 4):
1 onion
a few cm of fresh ginger root (or 1 tbsp ground ginger if you don't have any fresh around)
1 garlic clove
15g (about one tablespoon) virgin coconut oil (or your favourite oil)
1-2tbsp of your favourite curry powder (I like to use a mix of Tandoori and mild curry)
2 cups (5dl) lentils (I like to use red ones as they cook the quickest)
4 cups (1l) veggie stock
5 tomatoes (or a tin of chopped tomatoes if you don't happen to have fresh ones)
100g yoghurt (I use full fat organic Greek yoghurt)

The howto:
Chop the onion, ginger and garlic, and fry in the oil until onion turns translucent. Add the curry powder and let cook for a few more minutes. Add stock and lentils, and cook until lentils are done, about 25 minutes for red ones, longer for green lentils. Add chopped tomatoes, yoghurt and chopped coriander and serve.

One serving contains 300kcal (11g fat, 50g cabs of which 4.5g sugars, 17g protein).

The verdict:
Like I said, I cooked this almost weekly last winter, and haven't since, until yesterday. And I was again reminded why this is my favourite recipe from the bootcamp cookbook. I love lentils in any form, and the combination of lentils and curry just works. I guess you could use a stronger curry mix to spice it up if you like, but I think you need to have some of the mild curry in there to get the right flavour. The yoghurt adds a lovely creaminess, while the tomatoes and coriander add freshness. I admit, this isn't the prettiest food, so probably not something to serve if you have guests, but if you need something healthy and soothing for a lunch or dinner, this is definitely your choice. Also, it is brilliant because all the ingredients are things I always have in stock at home, so this is perfect to cook if it's towards the end of the week, and you don't have time to go grocery shopping. In that case, I often replace the fresh tomatoes with tinned ones. The soup also freezes well, so if you are lucky enough to have a big freezer, just double up the recipe and freeze in individual servings. If you have a shortage of containers for freezing, a brilliant tip I saw somewhere is to line a container with a freezer bag, pour in the stew, let freeze in the container so it keeps a nice square shape, and after overnight freezing, just remove the container and use for something else. This way you get nice, stackable, single servings of food without having to own loads of freezing containers.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

On strawberries, french toast, pinning and being a bit of a geek

I woke up at 5.45 yesterday, and thought that was bad. Before heading off to the gym at 9.30 I had already cleaned up my kitchen, including washing the dishes from pretty much all of last week (yes, I'm horrible at doing any cleaning during the week, and yes it's disgusting, but what can you do). Well, I was looking forward to sleeping in today. I woke up at around four am. I did manage to fall asleep again, but only slept in short intervals, and finally gave up and got out of bed at 7.30. It's almost midsummer, so it's as light as it gets, and the sunrise is around 4am, so I guess my body is just reacting to all the light. But I bet come Monday, I will sleep like a log when my alarm clock goes off at 5.45.

The good thing about getting up early is of course having ample time to prepare a great Sunday brunch. And today, I decided to try something I stumbled upon on Pinterest the other day. I'm totally obsessed with Pinterest these days. I haven't much used it before, but on my sick-day the other day I was browsing the Pinterest board of one of my favourite food bloggers, Annalise from Completely Delicious. And many many others as well, and got inspired to set up my own Pins as well. So now the Unicorn is on Pinterest too! It's still very much a work in progress, and I will update as I have time. The problem of course is not finding things to pin on there, it's just that I tend to get a bit overwhelmed when I start to browse baking blogs and pictures... I can spend hours and hours just browsing. I'm an incurable carboholic, and need help.

The point  of this rant was that I stumbled upon this amazing recipe for roasted strawberries on a great blog I've never seen before, called A Cosy Kitchen. And now, I did it again, I got totally distracted from writing this. I was supposed to just test that the link I added to the blog works. And of course I couldn't resist browsing a bit more on the blog. And I ran into yet another recipe I just have to try, avocado hummus. How genius is that, I love hummus, I love guacamole, and this kind of combines those two loves in what looks like a really great and delicious way. Good thing I have an avocado in the fridge, and was planning to make hummus for my afternoon snack on Tuesday anyways. Yay!

And again, after my distraction, back to today's brunch. So I found this recipe for roasted strawberries. And had to try it straight away. I would never have thought of making roasted strawberries myself. I just eat them fresh, right out of the box. At most, I toss them into my breakfast smoothie. But to cook them? The thought has never crossed my mind. Good thing I had strawberries at home. I actually have half a fridge full of strawberries, as they were really cheap this week when I went for my Friday evening grocery shopping trip (one of the highlights of my week, going grocery shopping. I know, my life is very, very sad). Another fact, that is almost too geeky to admit is that ever since the start of the year, I have kept an Excel sheet of all the food I buy from the grocery store. I was inspired to do this when I read that the average American buys over a thousand kilograms of food a year. To me that sounded crazy, so I had to see how I compare. I realize only keeping track of the food I buy from the grocery store will be a bit of an underestimation as it won't account for the times when I eat out. But I actually eat out very little, I prepare pretty much all of my food myself, so I think it will give a nice overview of what it is I'm eating. Anyways, the point I was making, is that the Excel sheet tells me that so far this year I've bought 11kg (!) of strawberries. And strawberry season is only just starting, so I will be increasing my consumption as prices drop. I just love strawberries. Love, love, love. Back home, I never used to eat strawberries in the winter, maybe some frozen ones from time to time, but the fresh ones were way too expensive. Here, although admittedly a bit pricy in the winter, I still buy a pack or two almost every week through the year, just because they are available and semi-affordable. The imported ones don't much resemble real strawberries taste wise, but even bad strawberries are better than no strawberries!

A while ago, I made some chocolate and rum raisin French toast bread pudding for breakfast, and still had one piece of it left in the freezer to enjoy with the strawberries. So after a long rant, this week's Sunday brunch is French toast bread pudding with roasted strawberries.

French toast pudding (serves 4):
4 hot cross buns (I used the chocolate and orange ones...) or some other bread
5 eggs
180ml (3/4 cup) milk
1tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking powder
1cup (2.5dl) raisins
dark rum
100g (1/2 cup) light muscovado sugar
1tbsp cinnamon
50g dark chocolate chips

The howto:
Start preparing the the french toast the evening before, or at least several hours ahead. Mix eggs, milk, baking powder and vanilla extract. Cut bread into slices or the buns in half. Pour mixture over bread, and let soak for a minimum of a few hours, preferably over night in the fridge. Turn over the bread over once while it's soaking. Also, pour a generous helping of rum over the raisins, and marinate over night in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 225 degrees C. Sprinkle chocolate chips, raisins, cinnamon and the muscovado sugar on the bottom of a greased oven proof dish, and add the bread on top. Cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, and let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with butter, whipped cream, ice cream or the world's most amazing roasted strawberries. 

Roasted strawberries:
225g strawberries
2tbsp maple syrup
1tbsp olive oil (I used lemon infused rapeseed oil)
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used my fancy 12 year old pomegranate flavoured vinegar)
1/4tsp salt
1/4tsp black pepper

The howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Hull strawberries and cut in half or quarters if big. Combine all the other ingredients, pour over berries and lightly toss to cover. Cook in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes, until the juices have started to caramelise but not burn. While still warm, scrape berries and caramelised juices off the pan into a small bowl. If you can resist putting them straight into your mouth that is.

The verdict:
 The roasted strawberries come with a warning. And please, take this seriously. If you cook them, you will never view strawberries the same, ever again. It is without a doubt one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked. And I don't say that lightly, I mean I bake a lot of stuff and I say it's good, or really good (because it usually is). But this. I'm speechless. As soon as they came out of the oven, I could have just scraped it all off the pan and eaten in 10 seconds. Having to wait the one minute it took to heat up the French toast in the microwave was torture. Lessons to learn is that the single serving of the recipe is not nearly enough, next time I'm making it at least double. And that's only if I'm cooking for myself. Triple or quadruple if I'm serving for someone else as well. On my death bed I will dream of these strawberries. Oh and the French toast is nice too. But did I mention the strawberries?