Sunday, 29 July 2012

My blueberry mornings

I might previously have mentioned in passing my love of weekend morning brunch. Ok, I admit it's possible that pretty much every second post on this blog is about weekend brunch recipes. Well, this will be yet another recipe for something to indulge in while lazily flipping through the paper of doing whatever else it is you like to do on a Sunday morning. 

I have to admit though that this morning I got up really early instead of enjoying a lazy lie in. And the reason for that was completely self-flagellatory. If you knew what I ate last night, I bet you would be horrified (have you ever heard of "Better than sex cake"? If you have, then imagine "Better than multiple orgasms cake". It was something along those lines, and it also contained about two weeks worth of calories). Anyways, this morning I was up at the crack of dawn for a run. And while I was running, there was one phrase drumming through my head at every step. "You can't outrun a bad diet". So, technically speaking, I should be chewing on a leaf of lettuce for brekkie today. And for lunch and dinner. Not just for today, but for the next three weeks. But...

I realised it's been at least a few weeks since I last had pancakes, so it's about time I try another new pancake recipe. The only problem was to find the perfect recipe. Well, actually it's not a problem, it's what I love to do. Browse food blogs (aka food porn) and pick and mix my favourite recipes. Lately, I have been making a lot of banana and chocolate chip pancakes, so I thought blueberries would make a nice change. And I really wanted to try a buttermilk pancake recipe, because to be honest, I have never cooked anything with buttermilk! And although I fully admit this is not a particularly healthy recipe in itself, I was going to throw in a handful of white choc chips as well, but decided not to in the end. Going to stick with berries and maple syrup. And I think it was all for the best, as they turned out quite delicious and not too sweet. Perfect way to reward yourself for a morning run (although technically the run was to burn off yesterday's cheat meal, and now I have to try to figure out a way to burn this off tomorrow). But weekend mornings should be celebrated, after all, only 2/7ths of the mornings of your life will be weekend mornings. And I was lucky to have some help from a friend to destroy this batch of fluffy goodness.

I found this recipe on Pinterest (go have a look at my newly arranged boards, there is one just for Pancakes and French toast). It's from a blog called Sprinkle Some Sunshine, which looks very lovely. 

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes from Sprinkle Some Sunshine (makes 10 pancakes):
1 egg
125 g (1 cup) all purpose flour (I used 25g whole wheat and 100g AP)
10g sugar (I used light muscovado)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
270 ml buttermilk
30 g (2 tbsp) melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
125 g fresh blueberries

Mix together all the dry ingredients. This can be done on the evening before, if you want to get a quick start for your brekkie. Beat egg with an electric whisk in another bow until frothy, add it with the buttermilk, butter and vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and mix. The batter will be thick. 

Spoon a few tablespoons of batter per pancake on the pan. Add blueberries onto the pancake. Cook until the batter is set and bubbles form. Gently flip over, and cook until golden brown. Serve with berries, maple syrup, honey, butter or any other topping of choice.

The verdict:
This is a really great pancake batter recipe. The pancakes turned out really light and fluffy. I'm definitely making these again. However, I think I should add just a tad more flour to the batter, it was a bit difficult to cook the pancakes as they spread out on the pan a bit too much. This would of course not have been problem if I wasn't trying to squeeze in as many pancakes as I can in my tiny little pan. Alas, I need to get a bigger pan, or one of those griddles for cooking the pancakes. That could help get beautiful, round pancakes. Now I am trying to cram three pancakes onto my small pan, and they spread until they run into each other, and then I have one giant pancake, which I have to cut into smaller pieces, and they never end up round and beautiful, but horrible disfigured blobs. Which of course doesn't affect the taste in any way, but you can't make those pretty stacks of perfectly round and beautiful pancakes which look so great on photos. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

I can make cheese!!!!

Oh the sweet feeling of success when you make something you have never made before. Like when I made my first ever proper Bechamel sauce. Or Hollandaise. Or my first souffle. It's such a thrill to make somthing you didn't even consider possible. And now, I made cheese. Real, honest to the InvisiblePinkUnicorn, cheese. Ok, so it's not like it's cheddar or anything, it's just a very simple and humble farmer's soft cheese, but still. It's cheese! 

It all started a few days ago on Pinterest (do I really need to add that to every blog post? Just assume all my food inspiration these days comes from Pinterest). Talking about Pinterest, I just rearranged all my boards, so go and have a look here. Where was I? Yes, Pinterest and cheese. I stumbled upon a recipe for home made mozzarella and looked through it with a lot of interest but it required scary stuff like rennet and citric acid so I just moved on. However, the idea of making cheese stayed in the back of my mind, and after thinking about it for a few days, I decided that I have followed much more complicated protocols in the lab, so surely I could do this. And off to Amazon I went to get all that cheese making stuff. But by then I was hugely excited about the whole cheese making thing, and totally impatient to get the stuff I needed. So I continued to browse the Interwebs for different recipes for home made cheese. And I found several recipes that required only two ingredients, milk and vinegar or lemon juice. I could hardly wait for the working day to end, and off I went (with a detour to do an hour of pilates first) to get a huge jug of milk . Based on the info from several cheese recipes, apparently you can pretty much use any milk. Full fat, semi skimmed or skimmed, cow, goat, kamel or other animal you happen to have available. The only thing you should avoid is ultra high pasteurised milk. If it says pasteurised on the jug, you should be fine. Also, some recipes suggest to avoid skimmed milk and stick to whole milk or semi skimmed, whereas others say you can use skimmed. As most of the taste in cheese comes from the fat in the milk, I don't see any point in using anything but whole milk. But that's just me. And some recipes even seem to mix in a bit of cream with the milk to make it more fat.

So finally I arrived at home (aka the outer circles of hell thanks to the heat wave we have been enjoying for the last few days) with my huge jug of milk and could not wait to get started. I was so sure this would fail somehow, I mean how could little old me actually succeed in making cheese? But a few hours later I had cheese! Real, proper, yummy cheese! And because I made it myself, of course it has to be healthy. So I can eat as much as I want. Right? The recipe I ended up following is from a blog called Homesick Texan, although there are several similar ones, for example this and this.  

Farmers cheese aka My First Cheese aka "It was easier than I thought" cheese:
2 l milk (I used full fat pasteurised milk)
almost 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar (I used cider vinegar as I didn't have white wine vinegar) or almost 1/2 cup lemon juice

The howto:
Start by lining a colander with cheese cloth (or if you for some crazy reason don't have cheese cloth around the house, apparently a tea towel will do also) and place the lined colander in a big bowl. Measure your lemon juice or vinegar.

In a big nonreactive pan (if like me, you don't have a clue what a non-reactive pan is, have a look at this), slowly heat milk to 85 degrees C. Apparently you don't need to worry too much about the temperature, as long as the milk is hot and close to boiling, but not boiling (although some recipes I had a look at said to heat the milk until right when it starts to boil). 
Next, add the vinegar or lemon juice (one recipe said you can also use bicarbonate of soda) to make the milk curdle. That means that the curds (the thing that will eventually become the cheese) will separate from the whey and it all looks grainy and a bit disgusting (think along the lines of milk left in the fridge for a month past it's best by date). Let it gently cook for a few more minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined colander and let drain. By the way, you can use the whey (the thing that is being drained off) for baking or in smoothies. Apparently you can even use it as a hair care product... (see this link for some ideas how to use up that whey). When the curds are drained, add salt to taste (don't be too careful, as some of it will drain off), and twist the cloth tightly around the cheese and hang it somewhere and let drain for at least a few hours, or over night. With the heat wave we are experiencing right now, I thought I don't want it to be left outside the fridge for so many hours, so I let it drain for just a few hours. I kept squeezing it a bit to get as much of the whey out as possible. And voila, your cheese is ready! Apparently the cheese keeps in the fridge for as long as the milk would, so check the best before label on your jug.

High tech cheese draining using a
tea towel, a shoestring and a tap

The verdict:
It's cheese! It tastes like cheese, it feels like cheese, it's cheese!! I am so excited I made cheese (I'm sure you haven't noticed that yet). And it was much easier than I thought. And because there is so much variability in the recipes (how long to cook the milk, the temperature it should be heated to, the amount of vinegar or lemon juice) I think the method is pretty robust. Apparently, if you try to curdle the cheese with too little lemon juice or vinegar and it doesn't curdle, you can just add some more and wait a bit longer. So I don't see how anyone could fail making this. Believe me, it's doable. And worth the (very small) effort.

The cheese tasted great with rye bread and a splash of olive oil. It was also lovely eaten as is. In big chunks. I managed to save a morsel for the next day, as I wanted to know how it tasted cold. To be honest, I liked it better when it was totally fresh and still warm. Although the next day I ate it cold with some raspberries, and that was a surprising, but really great, combo. I have so many ideas for this cheese. First of all, I'm going to make it from goat's milk. Second I'm going to try all sorts of flavours, the first one will be garlic and chives. Or maybe chilli. Or maybe cranberries. Too many choices! It would be great in a salad. I'm going to stuff meatballs with it. I'm going to see how it behaves in a pie. I'm totally cheese obsessed now. I have already looked up how to make Burrata (Mozzarella's creamier cousin) and I'm impatiently waiting for my cheese making stuff to arrive. So stay tuned for more cheesy stuff from the InvisiblePinkKitchen.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Lemon crumble bars

I've had a bit of an obsession to bake with lemons lately. And when I saw this recipe (on Pinterest, of course), I knew I just had to try it. And it's practically health food. Oats - good for you. Lemon - fruit, one of your five a day. Condensed milk - dairy, good for you, your bones need the calcium. So yes practically health food.

Condensed milk is genius. Just like cans of caramel, I can't keep cans of condensed milk at home. I can just pop one open and eat it with a spoon. Throw in strawberries or raspberries. It's gooey and sugary and nauseating and absolutely delicious. Let's just ignore that a can contains pretty much my daily calorie allowance. I also love crumble, so all these oat-y, crumbly things are right down my alley. And I think there are endless variations for these bars, replace lemon with berries or fruit, add cardamom or cinnamon or heck, go crazy and add both. I bet you could mix up small pieces of cardboard in the evaporated milk and this would still be awesome. 

The recipe is stolen pretty much unaltered (apart from the addition of vanilla sugar) from GroupRecipes.

Lemon bars (16 servings):
1 can (395g) sweetened condensed milk
3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

185g (1 1/4 cup) flour
95g (1 cup) oats
100g (1/2 cup) light muscovado sugar
100g (1/2 cup) butter (slightly softened) 
2 tsp vanilla sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Mix condensed milk with lemon zest and fresh lemon juice. The mixture will thicken a bit. Mix the rest of the ingredients in another bowl. Press half of the crumbly mixture into a square (approximately 20x20 cm) baking tin, and bake for about 10 minutes. Spoon on the condensed milk and lemon mixture, and crumble the rest of the oat mix on top. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let cool, and cut into 4x4 squares.
The verdict:
In case you didn't catch my enthusiasm from the intro, I loved these bars. To be honest, I particularly loved the mixture of condensed milk and lemon. I'm thinking that could make a perfect dip for strawberries or biscuits as is. And this ended up being a problem, because I sampled the mixture quite a bit before the crust was baked, so the filling layer of the bars turned out a bit too thin to my tastes. And that might be why the bars turned out to be just a tad dry. Next time I might throw in a can and a half, so that there is enough to make a really thick layer and there would be some extra to spoon straight into my mouth. Also, I could have reduced the second cooking time a few minutes, now I baked the bars for 20 minutes, but I think 15 would be enough. If you can manage to wait, the bars tasted best when completely cooled (eaten pretty much straight out of the fridge). I made these for a friend, but ended up sampling pretty much half the batch myself. I just had to make sure they were up to standards to feed to someone else. And yes, they were. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Friday quickie aka the avocado that never was

Today, after work, I was supposed to clean my apartment. Vacuum, do the dishes, scrub the ladies room. I was going to do laundry and then read a few papers and edit the book chapter I'm writing so that I could finally send it off to my boss (it's only four days late so far...). And above all, I was supposed to eat healthily. I have been trying to be good all week, but on Tuesday I baked chocolate-courgette bread (which I will post about soon), and yesterday I got a lovely lovely parcel from back home with all sorts of goodies I couldn't keep my hands off. Particularly, I got rye bread, which I have been eating for two days now (with butter, of course!) and Dominos. Dominos are the best biscuits ever! They are like Oreos, but much better. And this year there is a new Domino, the Domino Super, which has more of the white creamy dreamy filling than the traditional one. So of course I asked my mum to ship some over ASAP. And they were pretty much gone at the speed of light.

Anyways, when I got home from work (after biking 10 miles, and doing my weekly grocery shopping and cycling home from the store in the pouring rain for 15 minutes) I ate a Domino, two tablespoons of jam straight out of the jar, dates and a piece of banana cake. Dates are evil! Almost as addictive as raisins. I don't know what evil came over me today at the grocery store to make me buy some. I know I can't keep my fingers off them. Sigh. Oh well, after this, surely I cleaned and ate healthily? Oh, are you kidding me. I did pop a sweet potato into the oven, but they take like... forever... to cook. So meanwhile I just whipped up a batch of creamy lemon bars (which I will blog about next, I promise). Not that I made them for me, I'm seeing a friend tomorrow who likes all things lemony. And surely I won't touch them tonight. Of course not! Well I do have to taste a little bit. But not because I would want to, but just to make sure they are good enough to give to someone else. That might or might not require me to sample half of the batch. But it's important to get samples from all over the baking tin, so that I can be assured the pieces from the middle are as good as the ones on the sides. Anyone know where the closest carboholics anonymous meeting is? And do they serve coffee and doughnuts there? Which reminds me, I really want a doughnut pan, there are so many lovely recipes for baked doughnuts on Pinterest, it's driving me doughnuts!

Ok, so that was today's random ramblings over and done with. So, onto todays quickie. It's just something my twisted mind thought up because I had some left over sweet potatoes that needed to be used, as well as an over-ripe avocado. So I thought a nice oven baked sweet potato with tuna-avocado salad can never go wrong. And because I recently made a lovely soup with roasted cauliflower and roasted garlic (once again something for a future post), I thought while I have the oven all fired up, why not roast an onion in there as well to throw in the tuna salad. Of course the avocado turned out to be so over ripe it wasn't edible anymore (which is so annoying as they are crazy expensive). But this crazy concoction still turned out pretty amazing. And it's quick to whip together, the only thing that takes time is to bake the sweet potato. But you can use the time wisely, like I did  by baking something. Or maybe even clean if you are a better person than me. 

Baked sweet potato with tuna and roasted onion salad (serves 2):
2 sweet potatoes
1 onion
1 tin of tuna
2 hard boiled eggs
1/2 sweet pepper
2 spring onions
(1 avocado)
black pepper
cayenne pepper
dried coriander (or whatever other herbs you like, dill would probably be great too)
fresh basil leaves or some other herb
(possibly some olive oil if you are not using tuna in oil and not adding the avocado)

The howto:
Wrap the sweet potatoes and onion in foil individually, and bake in 175 degrees for an hour. Meanwhile boil the eggs. When sweet potatoes and onion is baked, unwrap the onion, but keep the sweet potatoes wrapped to keep them warm. Make the salad in a food processor. Start by adding the onion, eggs, sweet pepper, spring onions and spices, and grind until smooth. Add tuna and quickly pulse. If you happen to have an avocado which is still the proper avocado colour and does not collapse into itself when you touch it, add it to the salad, and pulse quickly, just enough for everything to be mixed. Serve immediately.

The verdict:
The whole idea with the tuna salad was supposed to be the avocado, as I thought it would bring a nice creaminess without having to add mayo. However, now I will never know. Well at least not until I make it again. Because I certainly will. Just the baked onion and eggs did add quite a bit of creaminess, and I think next time if I add the avocado, I will only use one egg. I could also imagine replacing tuna with chicken would work quite well. Maybe add some curry in that case to the spices. Not too shabby considering that all ingredients are pretty much things I always keep stocked at home anyways. I think my traditional Friday night lentil soup has got some serious competition. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cheat lemon and meringue pie

If you read my last post, you will know that I cooked a three course meal last weekend. Sometimes it's just nice to have a nice long eating feast, with proper china, wine and nothing that is being microwaved. However, managing three courses in the world's smallest kitchen also requires some cheats here and there. Although this is not much of a recipe really, I still thought I would post it, as it turned out so great. And maybe a useful tip on how to make a minimum effort pudding.

The whole idea was that I needed a pudding that had lemon in it, could be prepared well ahead, and then just served right out of the fridge. I made the pastry crust the night before, and then just popped it in the oven on the morning of the dinner party. Adding the filling and whipping up the meringue only takes a few minutes, and after another round in the oven, the pie can be left to itself in the fridge. And actually, it was still perfect the next day, so you could even make it the day before. 

The pastry crust is really not even a pie crust at all, it is from a recipe for a Finnish sweet pastry called Alexander's cakes (sorry, recipe in Finnish but I'm sure Google translate will help if you want to check it out). I'll be writing a post about them sometime in the future, as they are possibly my favourite sweet pastries ever. For some reason, the pastry turns out better with Lurpak organic butter than any other butter (and no, I'm not getting paid a penny to say that, and I have no idea why, but for this specific recipe it makes a world of difference). The only problem I had with pre-making the pastry the night before is that I had to have a few tasters as the dough is just so yummy. Good thing it was a generous serving for my 23 cm pie tin, so there was still enough left the next day for the actual pie. In fact, all recipes should have a 30% excess in them to account for the cook eating part of the dough unbaked. Everyone knows that's the best part of baking anyways...

I also have been sampling different lemon curds, as lemon curd is one of the culinary geniuses of British cuisine I had never tasted before moving over here. First of all, you do get what you pay for, so stay away from those horrid cheap 'value range' concoctions which have no resemblance whatsoever with real lemon curd. For this pie, you want a nice, tangy curd with lots of flavour. Again, unfortunately I'm not sponsored by anyone and don't get any perks from saying this, but my favourite lemon curd of the ones I've sampled so far is Tesco Finest. But I have to admit I haven't had a double blinded placebo controlled study, which I'm actually rather looking forward to doing, maybe next weekend I should take a tour through all the major grocery stores as well as the market place and systematically test which is the best lemon curd. Only, then I would be left with oodles of lemon curd in my fridge, and I'm afraid I'd eat it all up, just straight out of the jar in one sitting. Not very helpful when trying to get back on track with eating as I have been slipping way too far from my usual rather good nutrition plan. And I can feel it too, my body is quite upset, and I'm feeling a bit fluish. I don't think it's a coincidence I perform much worse when doing sports and get flu-like symptoms as soon as I slip back to eating carbs, sugar and other horrible things. I need to take better care of myself, my body certainly deserves it. Just ran into a pin of a image saying "Nothing tastes as good as fit feels". Have to keep that in mind. Which of course is the perfect bridge to a horribly unhealthy, but oh so delicious recipe for...

Cheat lemon and meringue pie (serves 8-10):
For the pastry crust:
125 g butter
70 g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
200 g white flour
1 tsp vanilla paste

For the pie filling:
1 jar (around 300g) lemon curd
100 g white chocolate (my favourite is Green&Black's)

For the meringue:
4 egg whites
100 g caster sugar 
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (can be omitted)

The howto:
To make the pastry, use an electric whisk to mix butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Add the yolk, vanilla paste and flour, and give a quick mix. The result will be a slightly crumbly dough (which is at least as good as cookie dough to just eat as is...). Wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge until you are ready to bake the crust. Bake in 175 degrees C for about 15-20 minutes or until the crust starts to turn a bit golden. Let cool.

With lemon curd and white choc,
still waiting for the meringue topping

Fill the crust with the lemon curd, melt chocolate and drizzle on top. For the meringue, whip the egg whites until they form soft tips, then add sugar and cream of tartar in three or four batches. The result should be a soft and glossy meringue. Spread on top of the pie filling, making swirls with a spatula as you spread the meringue. Make sure you spread the meringue all the way to the edges of the pie. Bake in 175 degrees C for about 30 minutes, or until meringue is golden. Let cool for at least an hour in room temperature and another two or three hours in the fridge. 

Made some flowers from sugar paste for decoration.

The verdict:
Well, I basically ate half a pie all by my onesies. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, when it comes to sweets, there are no limits to how much I can eat. It's unreal how good the combo of the tart lemon curd is with the crumbly pastry, the sweetness from the white choc and the fluffy meringue. And it was as good the next day, the meringue stayed nice and crunchy on top despite being in the fridge, and I had no problems with the meringue "sweating". I read somewhere that you should always spread the meringue on a hot pie filling, but I couldn't be bothered to heat the lemon curd. And seems like I was lucky with this recipe, as it turned out great despite me being too lazy to do things properly. I have also wondered about the amount of sugar in meringue. The recipes seem to range from just a small amount (25g or so) to several hundred grams. I took the middle ground here and used 100 grams, and it seemed the meringue turned out very nice and crunchy so I think I'll stick to this recipe, but I'm sure any other would work great as well. I also think the recipe would work great with lime or orange curd, maybe I'll give one of those a try in the future. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Lucky coincidence seafood lasagna

Putting together a three course menu always requires a bit of thought. I usually start with an idea for a main course and then build around that. It's a bit of a puzzle to put together a nice balanced menu trying to somehow tie together the dishes while still keeping a balance. If there is cheese in the starter and main, it might not be a good idea to bake a cheese cake for pudding, that sort of thing. I finally managed to settle on a nice combination of dishes, and headed off to the grocery store. Only to realise there is no way I would be able to cook what I planned as I couldn't get the main ingredient. Sob. Happened to me last Saturday. There I was in the grocery store, trying to come up with an alternative. I had settled on a bit of an Italian theme, melon with parma ham and Burrata with tomatoes and basil for a starter, mussels in white wine and freshly baked cheese bread for the main and then lemon and meringue pie for pudding. Turns out there were no fresh mussels. Panic!!! And you know how your brain always shuts down when you need it the most. There I was, the person who could list a dozen of dishes I want to cook in a minute, not coming up with anything. Ok, so Italian theme. Pasta. No mussels, but maybe sticking with sea food. Salmon! Salmon pasta. Then I remembered Best Friend talking about a smoked salmon lasagna she had made and it turned out great. Breakthrough! Smoked salmon and king prawn lasagna with sundried tomatoes and a lovely Bechamel sauce made from scratch. Lots of parmesan and mozzarella. Problem solved!

I have to admit this was the first time I have ever made proper Bechamel sauce, and I'm happy to announce that it was a success. The secret is to boil everything slowly enough so that you won't burn the milk or the flour so that the sauce stays nice and white. And to use a lot of onion and pepper. I managed to get a wonderful, creamy and delicious sauce using this recipe.

Seafood lasagna (serves 6-8):
For the Bechamel sauce:
1 l milk
a couple stalks of parsley
1 shallot
2 bay leaves
20 black peppers
80 g butter
40 g white flour
salt and black pepper

300 g fresh lasagne
200 g smoked salmon
200 g king prawns
300 g mozzarella
100 g grated parmesan
1 jar sundried tomato paste (finely chopped sundried tomatoes in olive oil)
white wine

The howto:
Start by preparing the Bechamel. Finely chop the onion, and add the onion, parsley, bay leaves and black peppers to the milk and bring it slowly to a simmer (yes the secret is to do it very slowly, and stir every once in a while to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan). Then strain the milk. Melt butter in a pan, and when melted, add the flour. Make sure to keep a low or medium heat so that the butter doesn't brown. Stir rapidly to make a gooey paste. Add milk in very small amounts while stirring rapidly to the butter and flour to make sure no lumps form. After adding half of the milk, you can start adding the milk in slightly more at a time, and keep whisking with a ballon whisk. Bring everything slowly to a simmer and let simmer for about five minutes, or until the sauce is thick and shiny. Season with salt and pepper. Go light with the salt, as the smoked salmon will bring quite a bit of salt to the dish.

Line an oven proof dish with lasagna, spread tomato paste on the pasta and add smoked salmon, grated Parmesan and a quarter of the Bechamel sauce. For the next layer, use prawns and mozzarella instead of salmon and Parmesan, and make the third layer identical to the first. Top with a layer of pasta, and pour Bechamel sauce and white wine over the top, and finish off with the rest of the mozzarella. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the lasagna is bubbling and mozzarella is golden brown. 

Ready to go into the oven, with mozzarella
and creamy dreamy Bechamel on top.
The verdict:
Sundried tomatoes and salmon. And lots of cheese, and a creamy dreamy Bechamel. A splash of white wine, and more of the same in a glass to accompany the food. Admittedly not health food in any way, but amazingly good. And it was as terrific re-heated the next day. And the day after. I ate way too much of it. And will be making another batch very soon, as this was one of the best things I have eaten in a long time, even if I say so myself. I'm actually happy I didn't end up getting any mussels as it resulted in this amazing dish. Talk about lucky coincidences.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Banana chocolate bread

Well it's been one of those weeks. Work interfering with life way too much. In general, I tend to enjoy my job quite a bit, apart from a bit of a slump lately. But this week, I've been sitting around in meetings most of the week, essentially getting no work done. Admittedly meetings can be very important too, but three days in a row is a bit too much. And then there is the added horror of meeting food. I still can't believe I've survived three days on sandwiches, the most vile of foods. Empty calories with carbs, mayo and other disgusting things. My body is back in full sugar craving mode, and I decided that for one more day, I will allow myself something horribly unhealthy and from tomorrow it's back on track again. 

I have never been a big fan of banana bread. I didn't use to think banana went very well with cakes or bread, I preferred to have it on it's own. However, for some strange reason, I have been having a massive banana bread craving for quite a while. I was very worried that I'm low on potassium or B6, so of course I have to give my body what it is craving. And then I ran into the idea of chocolate banana bread on Pinterest. And the rest is history. I browsed through all chocolate banana bread recipes I could get my hands on. Most of them required milk or soured cream, and I wanted to make something right there and then without having to go to the grocery store, so I settled on this recipe from Evil Shenanigans (a blog with the motto "sometimes it's good to be bad" has to be amazing, right?). I liked it because it only required ingredients I have at home, as well as the fact that it was based on oil instead of butter. Not that I mind using butter (as you should have discovered by now), but after making my orange-olive oil cake, I have started to enjoy the moistness that oil brings to a cake. Not that this is cake, of course, this is bread. Doesn't that make it sound much healthier? Oh and by the way, did you know that people with latex allergies can have an allergic reaction to bananas? I didn't either before today. At least that's what it said on the Interwebs. And we all know everything on the webs is true.

I only had two bananas, so I ended up rescaling the original recipe a bit, as well as adding in cardamom, which wasn't part of the original recipe. I just love cardamom in everything, and I think it goes very well with banana. 

Banana chocolate bread (makes one loaf):
200 g brown sugar (I used 60g light brown muscovado, and 140g dark Muscovado)
75 ml oil (I used rapeseed oil)
2 eggs
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
170g white flour
1/3 cup (about 30 g) cocoa powder (I used my trusty Green & Black's organic)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup strong coffee (I used about 1.5 tbsp instant coffee)

The howto:
Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Mix together oil and sugar. Add eggs and beat until slightly fluffy. Add bananas, and the rest of the ingredients and give a quick mix. Pour into a bread tin or smaller baking tins, or a cake tin, or any other container you like. For a loaf, bake 45-55 minutes. Depending on your preferences, if you like a bit of goo in the centre of the loaf, make sure not to overbake. Let cool in the tin for half an hour, and then transfer onto a wire rack.

Then for the bad news... 1/8 of the recipe (about 2 slices of a loaf) contains 300 kcal, 12 g fat, 48 g carbs and 5 g protein. It certainly is no health food, but the good thing is it doesn't taste like health food either. 

The verdict:
My craving for banana bread is most certainly satisfied. I've had way too many slices, and it was especially delish with a bit of butter on top. It could also work rather well with lemon icing on top, although that might be a bit too sweet maybe. The flavours blend together wonderfully, and for some reason, although you can't taste the coffee really, it does bring out the chocolate flavour very nicely. However, note how I didn't downscale the amount of cocoa from the original recipe. And yes, I know baking is an exact science, and you should always scale all ingredients of a recipe. Otherwise you will change the ratios of ingredients, and the result might not turn out as it should. Call me a rebel. I rescaled several things in the recipe. And it did turn out yummy nonetheless. The cake is incredibly soft and moist.

I especially love the flavour of the dark muscovado, that lovely rounded flavour of molasses. Next time I think I'll use only dark sugar. And another thing to try could be using a nut oil instead of rapeseed. Maybe macadamia oil. Or maye even throw in some chopped pecans or walnuts. And if you want to be really really bad, why not throw in some chocolate chips as well. Not that this cake (yes, there is no way of getting around it, it is a cake, not  bread) isn't sweet enough as it is, there is quite a lot of sugar in it. For me, that is perfect. For someone with a somewhat more normal carbotolerance, it could border on the line of being too sweet. 

One thing to notice is the baking time could have been a bit longer. This might be a result of rescaling some of the ingredients from the original recipe, but as I was making my way to the middle of the loaf (yes, I fully admit to now having eaten half a loaf of banana bread. I'm disgusting. But I did run 12 k this morning, so I kind of pre-burned off some of it) I realised it's a bit undercooked in the middle. Not that I minded, it's like mud pie but with banana. It's great! But you might want to cook your bread a tad longer than than the 40 minutes I did. Unless you enjoy chocolate-y goo. If you don't, what's wrong with you???

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Brilliant quinoa pie crust

So no Friday quickie this week, sorry about that. I did a long run yesterday (my trick to get the long runs done is to run home from work, that way you get closer and closer to home for every step and on a Friday evening that is quite motivating and keeps you going). Then after that I had to dash off to do my weekly grocery shopping, and when I finally got home, all I could do was to open a can of tuna followed by a chocolate bar. Not too much to blog about (and ashamed of the chocolate bar). 

However, what I have in store for you today should totally make up for it. This is again one of those moments when you go "oh my god, I can't believe I haven't thought about that, the person who came up with this deserves the food Nobel prize". I love pies, and for a long time now I have been trying to perfect a nice, relatively healthy pie crust. And I'll do a post about that some time, but this idea was way too good not to share immediately. I'm not saying this makes pie health food, it's still high carb, and usually there is a lot of empty calories from cheese. But at least this cuts out the extra empty calories from butter and wheat four in the crust. And adds a nice bit of protein as well. 

Again, I stumbled upon this idea on Pinterest (it really is food-porn at it's best). I could spend all day browsing, mostly you get the same standard american chicken casserole or cheese dip recipes, not to even mention all sorts of peanut butter cakes, cookies, brownies, ice cream and whatnots (the obsession Americans have with PB will always remain one of the big mysteries to me. It is certainly not that good...). Anyways, this one recipe caught my eye immediately because of the beautiful pictures. It's from a blog called Closet Cooking, which seems to have quite a range of recipes that fit in with my nutrition plan (talking about following a nutrition plan seems like a bit of a joke after munching my way through a giant chocolate bar yesterday, but I'll try to get back on the wagon. Tomorrow. As I have a dinner party planned for tonight...). Anyways, the recipe is for a courgette and feta pie, and as so happened, I had leftover courgettes and feta which both needed to be used up ASAP. And when I started reading the recipe, I discovered that the crust is made of brown rice. This was such a great idea! However, I'm not a huge fan of rice either, so I decided to try if it would work with quinoa. And it did, it actually turned out pretty damn good. So from now on, I can make (almost) guilt free pies whenever I want. This time I used some blue cheese as I had some left over from last week's crazy cheese and carb binge, but next time I will try to replace the cheese with yoghurt and see if the crust still comes together nicely.

Ok, so without further ado, let get pie-in'! 

Courgette and feta pie with quinoa crust (serves 4-6):
1 cup (160g) quinoa (dry weight)
1/3 veggie stock cube
60 g blue cheese (next time I'll try to replace this with yoghurt) 
1 egg
2 courgettes
2 cups (5 dl) spinach
4 scallions/spring onions
a big bunch of your favourite herbs (I used basil and flat leaf parsley)
2 eggs
black pepper
100 g feta

The howto:
Cook quinoa in water and the stock cube according to the instructions. Add blue cheese and egg and mix until smooth. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Spread the mixture in a pie dish (I used a spoon as the batter is quite sticky and stuck to my hands). Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the crust turns golden.

While the crust is baking, grate courgette, and chop herbs, scallion and spinach finely. Mix with eggs and season with pepper. When crust is baked, spread the filling in the crust, and crumble feta on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the filling has set and feta gets a nice golden colour.

One serving (1/6 of the recipe) contains 246 kcal (12 g fat, 21 g carbs and 12 g protein). 

The verdict:
This is absolute food genius, finally a healthy(ish) pie crust. This feels a bit like the holy grail of pie crusts. I have a range of fillings I like, a salmon one, a tuna one and a white cabbage one so I will definitely be making this often. The courgette and herb filling tasted very summery and fresh, and the feta adds a nice bit of flavour, as the courgette needs something with a stronger flavour to complement the mild creaminess. But although the filling is nice, for me the genius of this recipe is the crust. I salute the genius who first thought of this!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Pan Asian prawn soup

As probably has been very evident from the last few posts, I had a major pig-out weekend (and there are still one or two recipes left unposted from the carb binge). Now it's time to work off all that wobble that went straight to the derriere. I have ran, cycled, pumped, bootcamped and combatted. But the most important thing to remember is, you can't outrun a bad diet (ironically, a sentence that often plays on repeat in my head while I'm running). 

My go-to trick when I'm trying to cut calories is soups. I can't eat a tiny bit of food, no matter how much calories it would have I feel hungry unless I get to dig into a big portion. And with soup, you get to eat a huge bowl and it's still possible to keep it relatively low calorie, especially if you don't add any starch carbs like root veg. 

I got the inspiration for this soup when browsing Pinterest (quelle surprise), and it's from a lovely blog called Food and whine. I did end up changing the recipe a bit, especially since coconut milk is a luxury of several hundred kcals that I can't afford right now. But I think it did turn out pretty nice anyways. If you didn't binge on unhealthy stuff last weekend and can afford the calories, I'm sure the coconut milk would make it all that extra bit more creamy and dreamy. If you want to be really strict with your carbs, leave out the noodles. The rice noodles I was using actually had some corn starch in them as well, but it was the only type of rice noodles I could find when I went grocery shopping. I guess I should go and have a look in some Asian food markets, I'm sure there has to be all-rice noodles somewhere. I would have left out the noodles, but I'm planning a long run on Friday, so I rationalised to myself that I really need the extra carbs (I'm very good at self-deception, I'm sure you have noticed by now). 

Prawn and noodle soup (serves 2-3):
1 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
1 onion
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot
1 sweet pepper
piece of ginger root
2 cloves of garlic
180g sugarsnap peas
4 scallions
1-2 tbsp curry or chilli paste (I used Rendang, a Malaysian medium spicy curry paste)
1-2 tsp Tamarind paste
1 lemon
150 g rice noodles (I used the ready-to-wok type, which are pre-cooked)
180 g king prawns (cooked and ready to use)

The howto:
Chop onion, celery, carrot and pepper finely. Fry in oil for a good few minutes, and meanwhile, chop up ginger and garlic. Add them to the pan, and fry for another minute or so. Add 2 cups (500 ml) of water and bring to a boil. Cut pea pods in half and chop scallions, and add. Add curry/chilli paste and Tamarind to taste. Grate some lemon zest into the soup, as well as the juice from the lemon. Let cook for about five minutes. When ready to serve, add prawns and noodles, give them a minute or so. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve immediately.

One serving (half of the recipe) contains 360 kcal (9.4 g fat, 46 g carbs of which 18 g sugar and 16 g protein).

The verdict:

This literally only took a few minutes to whip up, I think chopping up all the veg took more time than the actual cooking. I particularly liked the sweetness when you bit into a sugarsnap pea. And the prawns stayed lovely and juicy because they only warm up a bit but don't have time to cook at all so that they would turn that horrible rubbery texture that prawns easily get if over cooked. The tamarind sauce added a nice sweet and sour taste that went well with the prawns and veggies. Like I said before, probably even better with coconut milk, but very good like this as well. And very healthy, this goes a good way towards your five a day. I was actually going to throw in some spinach in the soup also, as I have some in the fridge that need to be used up very soon, but in my haste to get some food in me after my workout, I forgot all about the spinach. I'll add it in next time. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Carb overload weekend continues

I've been a very, very bad girl this weekend. There honestly seems to be no limits to how much I can eat. Oh well, my theory is that the body can only absorb a certain amount of calories per day, so if you plan to overdose on guilty food pleasures, you might as well have them all in one day rather than spread out over many days (and I *don't* want to be corrected on this little theory, thank you very much. Denial is a good place to be). Hopefully that also will result in such a horrible food hangover that you have no problem staying on the straight and narrow for a long time to come. So yesterday I went for lovely afternoon tea at Kettner's with Best Friend, and then binged out on a crazy bread and cheese overload at home later that evening (and that was followed by a light dessert of caramel and raspberries, but that was just an afterthought so it doesn't count). And today, I'm trying to haul my wobbly bits out for a run, but have been unsuccessful in all attempts so far. 

Anyways. My second worst food craving (after chocolate, duuh!) is bread. I know a lot of people on low carb diets particularly miss pasta, but for me, that's something I could imagine living without. My carb daydreams consist of fluffy white bread dripping with melted cheese (go and have a look at my Cheat Meals Pinterest Board to get an idea). So I have been really working hard to stay away from all sorts of bread. However, I happened upon a pin on Pinterest for the most amazingly looking bread from Simply so good and after trying to coyly avoid it for a few days (I don't want to seem too eager, you know how it is...) I succumbed. I mean, just look at the pics!! Can you imagine anything dreamier?? There was one teeny tiny little problem though. I don't own a cast iron pot. Well, I didn't want a minute detail like that stand in the way between me and the new love of my life. So I improvised a bit. I used a regular ovenproof dish, and covered the bread with baking foil instead. It didn't turn out quite as pretty as the bread on the blog (which of course makes sense as the cast iron pot probably creates some kind of special conditions that make the bread extra crusty), but it was not bad at all this way either. Not a pretty round shape as you can see from the pics, instead a horrible alien looking blob. But it did have a nice crunchy crust. And when you find your one true love you shouldn't worry too much about looks, and focus more on the substance. And I'm so getting myself a cast iron pot. Maybe not a LC, as being a scientist doesn't pay enough to buy fancy cookware, but I'm sure there are cheaper options out there. Although I love the LC:s, they are just so perfectly pretty. I want a purple one. Too bad my birthday just passed. Mum, this is a tip for a Christmas pressie, *wink wink*. 

Simply so good bread: 

3 cups (7.2 dl) unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water

The howto:
Depending on your yeast, prepare it according to the instructions. For me that meant mixing it with a teaspoon of sugar and adding warm water. When the yeast-water mix has started to get frothy, add the salt and flour. The original recipe instructs to mix flour, yeast and salt, and add the water. I guess this depends on your yeast, and I suspect any method would work. Oh, and use a big bowl, the dough will expand quite a bit. Then let the dough stand for 12-18 hours in room temperature. Mine actually waited around for almost 24 hours, and it still worked perfectly. The dough will be really gooey and runny.

When baking, preheat the oven to 230 degrees C. Warm your cast iron pot for half an hour in the oven. Or in my case, I just warmed up my heavy oven proof dish. Transfer your dough from the bowl onto a heavily floured surface. This is no joke, use a crazy amount of flour, the dough is really gooey. Form into a ball and cover with plastic wrap (and make sure there is plenty of flour between the dough and the cling film, otherwise all of your bread will stick to the film). My "ball" didn't keep it's shape at all, next time I might try to add just a touch more flour to the dough. When the pot is hot, dump the dough in there. Make sure your hands are heavily floured too, otherwise your bread will get stuck on your hands at this stage. I think baking it in the round pot would cause the bread to get a nice, regular round shape, but I don't have a round pot so I cooked it in a square dish and it turned out to look like an alien. But don't worry about how my bread looks, just look at the original pics!! Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on (or in my case, covered with foil) and then another 15 without the lid/foil. Cool on a rack. And you have delicious, crunchy crusty bread.  

The verdict:
Like I said, I didn't expect this to turn out quite as good as the original, as the cooking conditions weren't perfect. It still turned out really nice and fluffy, although not as pretty as the original. And just cooking it in a normal oven proof dish which was covered with tin foil still resulted in a nice crust, so I can only imagine how great it would turn out in the cast iron pot. I can't wait to get myself one of them to be able to try this out. Maybe I need to go visit my sis and her flatmate's LC to try this out properly. I'm so excited about this bread, as it's so simple to cook. Yes, the dough is really gooey and a bit difficult to work with, but I'm sure after a few iterations to optimise the amount of flour to suit the specific type of flour I'm using (I used Tesco strong bread flour) it will be great. Simply So Good also had a few suggestions for different flavours: rosemary, lemon and Gruyere and another one with cranberry, orange and almond. And the comments section has so many more suggestions, and I can imagine quite a few myself.

I had to really restrain myself from eating the whole loaf in one go. There is nothing more heavenly than warm bread straight out of the oven, eaten with butter. I know it will be quite a while before I can have bread again, but I'm sure of one thing. The next time I'm having bread, it will be this bread again. Baking it is great fun, and I warmly suggest you try it too. Especially if you happen to own a LC, you lucky bastard.