Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Souffle success

You know how food is much cuter if you make it in tiny servings? Individual tiny ramekins, small muffin sized pies and all that stuff (the only thing which is not cuter if it's small is cookies. Cookies are supposed to be huge, tiny cookies are just annoying). Well, I have these adorable pink ramekins, which I originally bought for making souffles. And I have used them quite a bit, but never got around to the actual souffle bit.\

And yes, I know I promised when I moved into this apartment that I would not be buying any kitchenware. My kitchen is so tiny I can't even fit a quarter of all my baking and cooking stuff in there. So the rest are just scattered all over my sofa, desk and floor. And I can honestly say that I have been showing great restraint when it comes to buying kitchenware, so it's rather sad how little I can fit into my kitchen. I only got a crock pot, a big Le Creuset dutch oven, a huge box full of various cupcake and cake moulds (most of which I am yet to use) along with loads of mugs, plates and no less than 50 different cookie cutters. When my contract at work is up in August, I have to get a new job that pays more, just so I can afford a place with a decent kitchen.

I don't even have a proper food processor. That's the next thing on my wish list. I want a Kitchen Aid. Along with a new camera. Oh and the new retina display MacBook Pro. Hmmm, to be honest, I don't need a new job, I need to win the lottery or marry rich.

Anyways, pink ramekins. Tiny cute ramekins have 'souffle' written all over them. I have to admit, I have never made souffle in my entire life. All I know is that it is really difficult, the souffle is a temperamental creature with a mind of it's own. It can fail for the most minuscule reason. One wrong move with that spatula and it goes flaccid like... oh well, that was not a good mental image, so I'll keep it to myself.

I went on a crazy souffle hunt all over the interwebs. How did people cook before google and Pinterest? I would have loved to cook a dessert souffle, but alas, no dessert before I reach my first target weight (I make small targets so that my weight loss feels achievable). So it had to be a savoury souffle. Well, all I wanted was to see if I could make a souffle that would be fluffy and rise above the top of the ramekin, so savoury one would do just fine. A cheese souffle would have been my favourite, but I started adding up calories, and realised I had better settle for something else. So I came across this recipe for bacon and asparagus souffle by Furey and the Feast. Strangely enough this recipe didn't include whipping the egg whites into a hard foam and then gently folding them into the batter. So I decided to modify the recipe and actually do that. Also, the recipe used heavy cream, and I just couldn't justify all those empty calories so I switched to full fat milk instead. Anyways, I was convinced that all these modifications, combined with my souffle-making virginity, would lead to a completely disastrous result. Very surprisingly, it didn't. So I'm starting to wonder if all those stories about the difficulty of making souffle are just a bit exaggerated. All I'm saying is, if I can do it, so can you.

Bacon and asparagus souffle (2 or 3 individual souffles):
3-4 rashers of bacon
1 onion
100g asparagus
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
100ml grated parmesan or other cheese
160ml full fat milk (or cream)
black pepper

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C. Butter two or three ramekins (I used 250 ml ramekins, and this recipe filled three of them to the brim). Cut off the tips of the asparagus, and reserve for garnishing the souffles. Cut the rest of the stalks into coins. Cook the bacon until crispy, and place on a paper towel to cool. In the bacon fat, sautee the onion until translucent, then add the asparagus, and cook for a few minutes. When the bacon has cooled, cut it into small pieces and divide onto the bottom of the ramekins. 
Bacon in the ramekins, whites whipped. Ready for
the most delicate part of the souffle-preparation.
Very gently fold in the whipped whites.
Mix yolks, milk, cheese and pepper, add the onions and asparagus. Whip the egg whites hard, until peaks form and keep their shape. Quickly fold the whites into the yolk batter. Be very gentle and try to use as few strokes as possible, you don't want to beat the air out of the whites. Quickly divide the batter into the buttered ramekins, and add asparagus tips on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, be sure not to overcook so that the souffles stay soft in the middle.
Ready to go into the oven. Whites still fluffy!
And out of the oven, not perfect but not too shabby.
The verdict:
So my souffles didn't quite reach the extreme heights you see in the impressive pictures usually accompanying souffle recipes. But they did rise above the edge of the ramekins, so this was not a total soufflop. For a first try, and given that I made a lot of changes to the original recipe, I would say I did quite good. Eating the souffle from the cute little ramekin made it so much more fun than making one big souffle and then just scooping a serving onto a plate. The souffle had a good texture, soft and gooey in the middle and firmer around the edges. The flavour was rather mild, as could be expected from the combination of onion and asparagus. The bacon at the bottom added a nice savoury touch. 

Next, I'm definitely going to try a cheese souffle, and I also want to try a dessert souffle. Problem is, there are too many to choose from. Right now this caramel souffle from Martha Stewart's home page is one of my favourites (there is a really helpful video on the web page, in case you are attempting your first souffle). I would also love to try rhubarb souffle as well as a lemon souffle. Again the same old problem, so much to cook but no-one to eat it all. Sigh, I'm going to end up a very lonely and very fat old lady. All because of those tiny little ramekins. And there they are in my kitchen, looking all cute and innocent. They are the devil's doing, that's all I'm saying!!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bacon and cheddar bread

My very one sided love affair with Paul Hollywood continues. I keep browsing through his book and I want to bake every single bread in there. I thought this was a really nice and manly bread, so I baked it for my Chief Culinary Consultant. Come to think of it, I have been cooking loads of things with bacon lately. Like this man pleasing chicken, and these amazing cooked sprouts. Guess that's what happens when you hang out with a guy. No wonder I have put on a buttload of weight. Literally. Oh and a tummyload as well. But much more important than my ever expanding physical presence, this is without a doubt the best bread I have ever made. And after doing proper yeasted doughs a few times, I'm not at all intimidated by them anymore. It's not at all as hard as you would think. And kneading the dough can be quite relaxing.
Manly bread (makes two loaves):
400 g strong white bread flour
100 g strong wholemeal bread flour
30 g softened butter
10 g instant yeast
1 tsp salt (the original recipe says 10 g salt, which would be around 1.5 tsp, but I think with the cheese and bacon, this was more than enough)
330 ml water
6 rashers of bacon
150 g cheddar
The howto:
Mix flour, yeast, salt, butter and three quarters of the water. Mix with your fingers until all ingredients are incorporated. Add more water if needed. You want a soft but not soggy dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5-10 minutes until the dough is soft and forms a smooth skin. Let rise for at least an hour. In the meantime, cook the bacon, let cool and chop finely. Grate the cheese. When the dough has at least doubled in size, punch the air out of the dough, and knead in the cheese and bacon. Form into two loaves and slash deeply lengthwise. Let rise for another hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. When loaves are done rising, bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Eat warm.
The verdict:
This is the first time I think I have managed to make really great bread. The texture of the dough turned out perfect. I didin't use all the water, but the dough was still nice and soft. I took my time kneading it, and actually, it's not all that hard work if the texture of the dough is right. You need to put some effort into it, but it's really enjoyable. Also, the dough didn't stick to the table or my hands at all. And I could really feel the change in the dough as the gluten started to develop, and the dough became more stretchy and smooth. It rose beautifully. This could also be because I bough myself a fresh pack of yeast as I wasn't so sure my previous one wasn't going a bit ancient on me. I'm really bad with throwing away any cooking ingredients, but I guess old yeast is really useless, so give yourself a chance to succeed with yeasted doughs and buy fresh yeast. Also, remember that not all dry yeasts are equal. Active yeast is different from instant (or bread machine) yeast. Active yeast needs to be activated in warm liquid to make it functional, whereas instant yeast can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients. For more info see here

I managed to bake the bread nicely, it got a golden crust, and it was really soft and spongy with a bit of a crust. The bacon and cheddar are both strong flavours, so it was really tasty. I served it with a side of omelette, and it seemed to go down well with the target audience. And I loved it too, I love bacon so much that I often think I should have been born a man. Although I do love my chocolate too... maybe I am some sort of hermaphroditic life form?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Braised cabbage with apple

I should have called my blog Ugly Food. Not only do I not have the time, the patience or the daylight to set up my food nicely for beautiful pictures. I also don't have an eye for aesthetics at all, unfortunately. So I'm guessing you are not reading this blog for the pretty pictures. I have been feeling very guilty about the crappy pictures on the blog. But then I decided I would stop stressing. This is what the food actually looks like in my kitchen. This is what I eat when I desperately need some food, any food, when I get home from the gym and am starving. For beautiful food pictures, there are so many other blogs. And I do appreciate them, oh so very much. But until I live in an apartment where it's at least theoretically possible to take pictures in daylight (and when I have a job which doesn't keep me away from home for all daylight hours and then some), the pictures will be what they are.

Still, even given the horrible quality of the pictures, this food is really not one of the pretty ones. Maybe I should set up a Pinterest board of my most disgustingly looking foods. This sweet potato and lentil stew would be one of the top contenders, as is today's recipe of braised cabbage with apple. But you will have to trust me when I say, whatever all my foods lack in beauty, they most certainly make up for in flavour. Otherwise they would not be here. I have given up so much in the way of food, to try and live a more healthy life. I have (almost completely) given up bread, pasta, rice, cheese, sugar, chocolate, well... pretty much everything good. So one thing I'm not willing to compromise is the flavour of the foods I'm cooking. I'm always browsing Pinterest and food blogs for new flavour combinations I wouldn't think of myself, and this recipe certainly is one of those. I would never think of putting that much cider vinegar into anything I cook. But I had to give it a try, although I was a sceptic. And evidenced by the admittance of this recipe into my blog, you can probably guess that it turned out a winner.

I have talked about food kismet before. That feeling of the world just klicking into place when you happen upon a recipe for something you have all the ingredients for in your kitchen. And I'm on a mission to try and use up as much of my stockpiled food as possible.  I don't want to end up in three years time with a truckload of tins which are out of date. I hate wasting food. That's what I learned at home. Don't throw food away. Ever. Leftovers can always be re-used in some dish or another if you are clever. So I absolutely hate it if I have to throw away anything that has once been edible. It just takes a bit of planning ahead. I feel like I've failed badly in my planning if things go to waste. Obviously, if I had a somewhat bigger freezer, things would be much easier as most food freezes quite well. I like to cook big batches of food, and freeze individual servings, so that they are easy to take away to work for lunch or leave in the fridge in the morning for a quick home-cooked microwave dinner. Anyway, my point, which I almost lost in all that pointless jabber, was that this recipe was really the right recipe at the right time. It seems like a head of white cabbage has lived in my fridge for way too long, and I have been meaning to use it up but never quite found the right thing to cook. Then bang! There it is, in my blog feed. Braised cabbage with apple from Little B Cooks. I even had a left over Granny Smith apple, which also needed to be used up asap. And I had a can of apple cider which has lived in my kitchen so long I almost tend to think it has always been there. I wouldn't dare drink it anymore, but figured it would still do for cooking.

This recipe is copied almost unaltered from Little B Cooks, so please head on over there to see the much prettier picture, and to check out the great blog. The original says this recipe serves four, which maybe it does when it comes to normal human beings, but for me this was only enough for two sides. And also, half of the recipe only contains 170 kcal, so I say, go for it.

Braised cabbage with apple from Little B Cooks (serves 2):
10 g butter
1 big onion
1 big apple (I had a Granny Smith lying around)
1/2 medium head of cabbage (I ended up with 266 g of cabbage in the pan)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper for seasoning

According to my estimate, one serving (half of the recipe) contains 170 kcal (4g fat, 28 g carbs (of which 17 g sugar) and 2.6 g protein).

The howto:
Finely slice onion, apple and cabbage. Heat the butter in a big skillet or saucepan, and cook onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the apple slices, and cook another minute or so. Add the cabbage, and give it a good stir and let cook for minute, and then add the apple cider vinegar and cider. Let cook until cabbage is softening, and almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For me this took about 20 minutes, as I had sliced the cabbage quite fine. To finish, add balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, and let cook for a final few minutes. 

The verdict:
I was a bit sceptical about the whole thing when I chucked in the entire quarter of a cup of cider vinegar. I was certain the dish would turn out weird and vinegary and a bit bitter. But I was so very, very wrong. When I had my first taste, I was completely sold. I love the sweet and sour combination, and that was certainly what this dish was all about. The lovely sweetness from the onions, apples and the cider, and the tang from the vinegar. It was really good. If, for some crazy reason, you happen not to be a huge fan of cabbage, I think this is a great recipe to get into cabbage. It doesn't taste very cabbage-y, so it's a bit of a soft start into the world of cabbage. Cabbage is so great, it has beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber, and it's really cheap and low calorie food. Just remember to cook it properly to avoid problems of the windy persuasion. 

I served the cabbage as a side with fruity pulled pork. And felt very German, eating pork and cabbage. But it is a great combination. And my fruity pork is rather sweet too, as it has pineapple in it. It's a bit like this recipe for fruity pork, but I left out the raisins, and instead of cooking pork cutlets, I used a big chunk of pork loin. Then everything gets to hang out in the crock pot over night, and out comes this amazingly delicious and super tender pork.  I thought the combination was really good, if I say so myself. But I am a big fan of sweet food. And I like it that I can cook lots of sweet dishes without adding any sugar, but just by using the natural sugar from the fruits. This is a dish I will most certainly make again, probably pretty soon as I still have the other half of that cabbage in my fridge...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Almost healthy enchiladas

I've enjoyed the wonderful crisp winter weather up North this weekend. It just wasn't cold and snowy enough in Cambridge. I was keeping my fingers crossed, as my train journey on Friday evening coincided with the worst part of the snowstorm, so I was worried about missing any of my three train connection. Luckily, despite the second train being 15 minutes late, I made the connection with at least 20 seconds to spare. All thanks to some newfound sprinting skills. On the way back, I got delayed by one cancelled train, which luckily was the last leg of the journey. So I spent a lovely 45 minutes in Stevenage right before midnight on Sunday. Luckily, I found an electric heater which was blasting out hot air, and spent my time rubbing up to it to keep warm. Getting home and into my bed with my hot water bottle was very relaxing after that little adventure.

I enjoyed the weekend with my sis very much. We had time to talk about everything and nothing, obviously we went to the gym. And we cooked some great food. I'm still trying to eat healthily and lose as much weight as possible before my holiday in a few weeks time, and sis is a very healthy eater. But at the same time, I thought a weekend with both of us in the same place is a rare treat, and needs to be celebrated in some way. So we decided a bit of carbs and even cheese was in order. I think we ended up with a really delicious meal despite still being reasonable with the calories. And there was a couple of servings left for sis to have for dinner later in the week. Seeing someone enjoy your cooking is almost as good as eating yourself!
Enchiladas sis&sis (serves 4):
8 whole wheat tortillas
225g beef steak or other low fat cut in thin strips or diced
1 huge onion (or 2 small ones)
1 green pepper
125 g button mushrooms
15 g fajita seasoning mix (half of one of those ready seasoning mix pouches)
1 clove of garlic
390 g tomato passata (we used one with chilli and pepper for added flavour)
90 g reduced fat cheddar or other cheese of choice

One serving (2 enchiladas) contains 511 kcal (19 g fat, 45 g carbs and 29 g protein)
The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Thinly slice the onion, and chop the pepper and mushrooms. Finely chop the garlic clove. If you want to, add some oil in a frying pan, we used a non-stick pan so no extra fat needed. Saute the onions for a few minutes until translucent, add the steak, peppers, garlic and mushrooms. Season with fajita seasoning. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until meat is no longer red.

Take 1/8 of the filling, and wrap inside each tortilla. Line the tortilla wraps in an oven proof dish, spread the passata on top of the tortilla rolls and top with grated cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden. Serve with avocado and organic yoghurt. Oh, and check out that nifty little gadget my sister has for removing the avocado flesh. It's manufactured by Fiskars. And if you didn't happen to know, Fiskars is not just the name of the brand, it's also the name of the village where the company was founded. And I lived right next to it when I grew up!

The verdict:
Obviously we cut quite a few corners. We used ready made fajita seasoning, which has all sorts of nasties in it. There are plenty of recipes out there in cyberspace for fajita seasoning mix, so you are obviously more than welcome to make your own. Also, we used ready made tomato passata, whereas you could of course cook your own. But we came home after a day at the gym, doing some shopping and dragging back bags full of groceries, so we just wanted food on the table. Something hot and filling and delicious. And this dish most certainly fulfilled those criteria. Also, you can sub the beef for chicken if you prefer to. Or even tofu or some other vegetarian protein, if you believe in that kind of stuff. 

This is the epitome of comfort food. On a cold, snowy winters day, after exhausting yourself at the gym, this is exactly what you need. A good serving of protein, some carbs, a bunch of veggies to help you with your five a day. A bit of heat from the chilli in the tomato passata, combined with the cold fresh yogurt and the creaminess of the avocado. And that glorious golden brown cheese to top it all off. Can you tell I'm excited by the cheese? I haven't had any cheese for over two weeks (ok, I know it's not very long to go without, but it feels like an eternity), so it really tasted good. Nothing like depriving yourself of something you really love to make you find a totally new level of appreciation for it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Emergent lentil and tomato soup

Emergence. That phenomenon where the whole is more than the sum of it's parts. Like putting together two people who are used to be alone. In my recent opinion, that is certainly emergent. Or maybe an emergency?

This post is obviously about something much more important than relationships. It's about a truly amazing soup I just created. Or maybe it's more correct to say the twisted recesses of my brain gave birth to this soup. It's basically the love child of my two favourite soups, lentil curry soup and Moroccan tomato and chickpea soup. I so love lentils. And chickpeas. And although I'm not a big fan of spicy food, I do like the somewhat sweeter hotness of harissa compared to chilli paste. And I love tomatoes. So I thought, why not try to marry these two soups into a over the top, everything you could ever want, tomato-chickpea-lentil-harissa extravaganza. And it turns out the result is very much more than the sum of it's parts.

Emergent soup (serves 4-5):
15 g extra virgin coconut oil
1 tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp harissa paste (gives a rather mild hotness, can be increased depending on taste)
2 onions, chopped
1 clove of garlic finely chopped (can be increased)
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 can of chickpeas (380 g, 230 g drained weight)
500 g tomato passata with garlic and herbs (you can use regular passata or chopped tomatoes, but in that case add 2 more cloves of garlic and a teaspoon (each) of dried oregano, basil and parsley)
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 vegetable stock cube
120 g (3/4 cups) split red lentils
500 g diced turkey thigh (can be replaced by chicken, or omitted)

One serving (a quarter of the recipe, which results in a rather generous serving with lots of meat) contains 513 kcal, 40 g protein, 37 g carbs (of which 9 g sugars) and 20 g fat. Ok, so that's quite a big serving, but feel free to have a smaller one, and don't judge me please. I'm still sticking to my 1200 kcal diet even when eating this!

The howto:
Chop and slice the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. In a big saucepan, heat up the coconut oil. Add the ginger and harissa and cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Reduce heat to medium, and add onions and garlic. Mix with the spices in the saucepan, and let cook for a few minutes, until translucent. Add carrots and celery, mix and let cook for five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients (the chickpeas with the liquid included), cover with a lid and let slowly cook for 45-50 minutes.

The verdict:
I'm not very good at creating recipes of my own, I like to steal other people's ideas and then slightly fine tune them to fit my tastes. Maybe I'm not a very imaginative person. And I'm pretty sure there will be another lentil, chickpea, tomato and turkey soup out there, but I don't want to google it because I will think of this as my very own recipe. Which I'm immensely proud of! It turned out to be one of the best soups I've ever had. I might obviously be a bit biased in my evaluation, but trust me, it was really, really good.

The harissa brings a nice warmth to the soup, and the tomato passata a wonderful smoothness along with the taste of oregano, a herb I haven't used in a long time, and almost forgotten how good it is. And the chickpeas. Oh, the chickpeas. I love biting into one of those babies, they are just so incredibly good. And that smooth texture feels so lovely as well. 

I decided to use turkey instead of chicken simply because the turkey thigh was quite cheap, only £2.50 for a 500 g pack and it looked nice. And letting it slowly simmer makes the meat nice and tender, and it is more flavourful than chicken fillet. Which you can obviously use in the recipe if you prefer. But I was positively surprised with the turkey leg, and will definitely use it again for something else. So all in all, I think this soup is quite a winner. Even if I say so myself.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Hummus 2.0

I have been using an app called My Fitness Pal ever since I started my weight loss journey in September 2011. Or I guess I should call it my new life. I really like the app. It has a huge database with nutritional information on food items, and it allows you to create your own recipes and calculates the nutritional content of them. It's really easy to use, and it even has a barcode scanner, which has identified the majority of food items I have used it for. Basically you tell the app your weight, and how much weight you want to lose per week (1 lb, 0.5 lb, stay at current weight etc) and it will calculate your calorie allowance. You can also add workouts, there is a database of approximate calorie burns for many sports, although I always wear my heart rate monitor when I work out to get a more exact count. It's a really nifty little app, I have it both on my iPhone and iPad, and you can use it online as well, although the few times I have used it online, I have found the user interface to be much inferior to the apps.

Anyhows, although in general I have mostly good things to say about the app, I was bitterly disappointed last week. I thought the app would save your data indefinitely. However, I wanted to go back to my data from 2011, to the time I was losing weight really quickly, to check on things like daily carb amounts I was eating, but there was no more data left!! I was so disappointed, as on of the reasons I started using this app was to find something that would form a lasting database of my eatings and sports. Seems like I didn't eat anything before March 2012. Which makes me so sad. I would really have wanted that data. But other than that, I still really like the app for keeping check on my daily calorie intake, and to keep an eye on carb and protein levels. Below are a few screenshots from one day last week. I'm currently on a really calorie restricted diet, just to kick start my weight loss. I'm also aiming to reduce my carb intake a bit more than I have for the last few weeks, again just as a kickstart. I seem to quite comfortably get into the 100-150 g carbs per day range, which is quite ok as I work out a lot, but thought I would aim for 50-100 g for the next few weeks, just to be extra strict and hopefully get some booming results during January.

I'm actually off on holiday the first week of February, so it would be nice to have shed at least a little bit of the wobbly bits before that. Also, I know from experience that staying on a really restricted calorie diet and working out 1-2 hours a day is really tough. It's ok as long as you have quite a bit of fat to burn off, but later weight loss has to slow down and I have to get in a bit more calories if I want to keep up this amount of sports. Which I'm totally ok with. One and a half year ago, when I started my new life, I decided not to think of this as a diet, but as a permanent lifestyle change. And I'm still doing that. I know I failed in the latter half of 2012 and put on some of the weight I had worked so hard to lose, and I am incredibly disappointed with myself. I did keep up with my exercises, but my eating just got out of control. Too much chocolate, and way too many mince pies. But I also know I have two options, to dwell on that and keep on eating like a pig because I feel like nothing I ever do will make a difference. Alternatively I can admit that I strayed, payed the price, and will now be strict and work hard to get back to the healthy me I was last summer. And I am happy I don't have anywhere near as much weight to work off as I did back a year and a half ago. I also know I will stray again, and put on weight, but I hope the next time I will catch myself a bit earlier so that there is less to work off. Carboholism is a tough thing to live with.

Anyways, that was quite a long detour to today's recipe. The point is, I enjoy having fruit for snacks, but decided that for the moment, I need to control my sugar intake a bit more. So I needed another snack instead of the fruit, and decided to make hummus my snack for next week. I have made more and less successful attempts at hummus in the past, and I have posted one of my favourite variations on the snack here. As yummy as that variation is, I still wanted to master the original hummus as well. Also, the other recipe contains pistachios, which firstly are too expensive for every day use and secondly add quite a bit of calories to the recipe.

I stumbled upon this recipe of ethereally smooth hummus on Smitten Kitchen, one of the great food blogs I follow. Apparently, the secret to really smooth hummus is to peel the chickpeas. Fair enough, lets peel. In the comments section to that post there was a link to another food blog called Coffee and Quinoa for something called extra creamy hummus. The author of the blog had wondered how to get that really light and fluffy hummus consistency, and discovered that there are over 3 million google hits for the search term 'creamy hummus'. Apparently, the secret is in the order you add the ingredients, you need to emulsify the tahini with lemon juice and water before adding the other ingredients. That should take care of the textural aspects. However, I am still also in search of the exactly right proportion of ingredients for my palate. And I think one of the secrets is that you need to add a bit of salt to enhance all the flavours. I'm usually not a big fan of using salt when cooking, and have gotten used to quite a small amount of salt in food. Which is one of the reasons I have to make my own hummus, I find the store bought one way too salty. But here, I have admitted defeat and use a bit more salt than I would optimally like to, as it's the only way to get the taste just right. Also, I added a bit more tahini than I have used before, and lastly, reduced the amount of garlic quite a bit. Raw garlic is a bit too bitter for my tastes, and I always make my hummus as a snack for the next few days, so the garlic taste really has time to develop while the hummus hangs around in my fridge. A little goes a long way in this case. Of course, you can easily change the amount of garlic to fit your palate. Also, I would love to roast my garlic before adding it to the hummus. But I just can't be bothered, especially since I usually make my hummus on a Sunday night which for me is not a time to be very fancy with my cooking. Using all these small changes, I think I have finally arrived at a recipe I'm happy with. Both textually and flavourly (yes, I know it's not a word, but nonetheless...)

Hummus 2.0 (serves 3-4 as a snack):
1 pack (1 cup) of chickpeas (net weight 380 g, drained weight 230 g)
3 tbsp tahini
juice from 2 lemons
1 tbsp water
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp ground cumin
0.5-0.75 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

One serving (a third of the recipe, as that's what I consider a large enough snack, contains 233 kcal, 16 g fat, 18 g carbs of which 1.2 g sugars, and 7.3 g protein)

The howto:
Peel the chickpeas. This is easily done if you place the chickpea between your thumb and index finger and gently pop the chickpea out of it's shell (see pictures below). It's a bit tedious, but worth it, although probably not absolutely necessary. Put tahini, lemon juice and the water in a food processor, and mix for about 20-30 seconds until the tahini becomes white and fluffy. Then add the garlic, cumin, salt (maybe start with a smaller amount, and add more later if you think it's needed), olive oil and chickpeas. Mix until you have a creamy paste, I needed to add about 2 tbsp of water (or the liquid from the chickpeas, if you aren't an idiot like me and drained it all away) to get a nice texture. Serve topped with some olive oil and smoked paprika.
The verdict:
Finally a hummus that tastes exactly the way I think hummus should taste like. It is so much better than the store bought, it has lots of flavour and a nice tang from the lemon juice. And like I said, it might seem like there is quite a bit of salt, but it really brings out the rest of the flavours. I think it's garlicky enough with one clove, especially after an overnighter in the fridge, but if you are fond of garlic or are serving it right up, then another clove or two might be a good idea. Ideally, I would love to use roasted garlic, but as I said above, I can't be bothered. Which in itself is a bit ridiculous, it's not like it takes long. Well, the baking time is rather long, but the prep takes all of five seconds. But the hour long wait is usually too much for me.

There are quite a few variables to making good hummus. First you need to find chick peas to your liking. One option is also to buy dried ones and cook them yourself. My favourite brand is Tesco's Organic chickpeas in water, they seem to be cooked to perfection, usually every single chickpea is whole and not mushed up at all, and they are very easy to pop out of their skins. Another variable is the tahini, I used to have another brand, now I'm using Al'Fez Natural Tahini, which I like better than whatever it was I had before. Although tahini is usually something you don't have a choice on, there is just one brand (if that), and you should just thank your lucky stars your grocery store stocks any brand. I got the one I have now at the Co-op. Then of course there is the lemon juice, which will vary from lemon to lemon, and some garlics are more potent than others. Which is why it's good to sample the tahini, and possibly adding some lemon juice or salt if the flavour is not quite perfect. And I guess it goes without saying, you want a good extra virgin olive oil. I usually keep two different olive oils at home, one cheap for cooking, and then an expensive, really good one for things like dressings, dipping and hummus.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Year, New Waistline

And so the misery of yet another year has begun. No more holidays in sight (well, to be honest, I'm jetting away to the Canary Islands in the beginning of February but it's still a lifetime away...), no sugar, no chocolate, no fun. Well, apart from going to the gym. Which is great fun! I just have the best instructors ever, they make me come back again and again, because working out and sharing some of their amazing positive energy is the best thing ever. Healthy life is obviously a balance between eating healthily, enjoying some goodies every once in a while, and being physically active. For me the hard thing isn't the exercise. I really enjoy it, honestly. Well, at least 90% of the time. Sometimes dragging yourself out in the rain and the dark to get to the gym is a bit uninspiring. Especially now that I switched to another gym which is not around the corner like my old gym. But it's totally worth it, the classes are much better, and the instructors are amazing. 

Clearly my problem with the healthy lifestyle is eating healthy. Well, not even that is such a problem really, I like healthy food. I'm lucky that I really love fresh veggies in all forms. It's the part about enjoying goodies within reason that I struggle with. I just can't keep it to a small treat every once in a while. If I told you what I have eaten over the last three or four months, you would not believe it. You would think it would be impossible for a human being to gob down so much food. But trust me, my friends, it is. And that is why I am currently wearing only skirts, as I cannot get the zip done on my jeans. Not even on my fat jeans! The only way to try and lose weight for me is to go cold turkey on sugar in all it's forms. No treats until the jeans fit again. It worked for me a year and a half ago when I got rid of almost a third of me. Part of that has been creeping back, and now I'm taking action again. I'm not going to quite the extremes I did back then (I don't think months of doing three hours of exercise every single day is really a good idea in the long run) but I have to get rid of my sugar addiction. I did it once, so I can do it again.

To keep on the straight and narrow I have decided I will have to give up one of my favourite hobbies. No more browsing Pinterest or food blogs. Looking at pictures of all those wonderful cakes and cookies and chocolates and bars and pies and whatnots is just too painful. Except of course, I have already slipped. However, I can proudly say that what I found was NOT this Oreo cookie bark from Cookies and Cups, but this really yummy looking lentil stew from Chocolate Covered Katie. And this was a great find today as I was going to make a lentil soup. But that was just the same old lentil soup I always make, so I was really happy to run into this recipe. And I had almost all of the ingredients at home. The only thing I didn't have was mushrooms. And having just got home from work, I really couldn't be bothered to go out mushroom hunting, so I decided to finally use up the bag of dried mixed mushrooms that has been living in my kitchen for way too long. And I threw in a handful of dried black trumpets as well, lovingly hand picked straight out of the clean Finnish forests by my Mum. I'm currently trying to use up all the food I have stocked in my kitchen, I have such a bad habit of buying more and more without using up the old ones first, and with a kitchen the size of a shoebox, it might be a good idea to try and keep the food stocks to a minimum. It's not like I'm going to starve, with six (!) grocery stores within a five minute walk. Truth be told, there are a few things I absolutely must have stockpiled in my kitchen. As long as I have onions, chick peas, tuna and tinned tomatoes, I'm ok. I know that's enough to survive on if there was a crisis. Not that I know what kind of crisis that would be, but still. Better safe than sorry.

Well, after all that rambling, I guess it's time to finally get to the good part. This recipe is not only healthy and colourful, but it is also great for using up any left over veggies from the fridge. The list of ingredients may seem long, but at least for me, almost all were things I already had at home. Fresh mushrooms will work as well as the dried ones, the original recipe used fresh mushrooms.

Lentil stew, slightly adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie (serves 6):
40 g dried mixed mushrooms
2 onions
1 tsp coconut oil
2 cloves of garlic
4 big carrots
3 stalks of celery
2 bell peppers (I used one yellow and one red for the nice colours)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 cups dried red lentils
400 g tinned tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth (i.e. 2 cups of water and a veggie stock cube)
100 g spinach
grated zest from one lemon (original recipe says 1 1/2 tbsp, but I only had one small lemon at home, so I ended up with a bit less)

According to my estimations, one serving contains 209 kcal (2.7 g fat, 43 g carbs of which 7.9 g sugars and 14.7 g protein).

The howto:
If using dried mushrooms, rehydrate the mushrooms in boiling water for 20ish minutes. Chop onions, finely chop the garlic, and chop the carrots, celery and bell peppers. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook onions for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic, carrots, celery and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, vinegar and spices and let cook for another 5 minutes (15 if you are adding fresh mushrooms). Add the lentils, tomatoes and broth, and cook until the lentils are done (for me this was about 40 minutes, and I had to add another cup of water during the cooking, so keep an eye out). Right before serving, add spinach and lemon zest, and cook for 2-3 minutes. 

The verdict:
Food with lots of veggies in different colours is always tasty. It's nice to eat because it makes you feel so healthy. This was a bit different from my usual lentil stew, which was really great, I need to stop cooking the same old things over and over. This stew was nice and warming on a cold evening, and with plenty of lentils it's nice and filling. Also, letting it all slowly cook together really brings out the natural sweetness in the veggies, I think the addition of tomato paste and lemon really enhances this aspect. 

One thing I have always wondered about, is how all the "real" food bloggers always get their food to look so nice. Just have a look at the photos on Katie's blog, the stew looks so beautiful and colourful and appetising. Mine, despite tasting absolutely wonderful, turned out to look like a bunch of red goo. Oh well, beauty is only skin deep. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Blueberry french toast and the new year

Happy New Year to everyone! Once again it's the time of year when you need to concentrate when writing the date, as it's impossible to get the year right. It's so very ingrained just writing 2012. I don't know at what point in the new year you finally start getting it right, but it seems like it's right before you need to learn to write yet another new year. 

This year I decided to start the new year with a delicious breakfast. Well, it was more like brunch, as it wasn't exactly morning anymore when I finally dragged myself out of bed. I don't usually drink much (well, any...) and I was again reminded why. I just don't like that achy and nauseous feeling you get afterwards, so why bother. This New Years Eve I did feel like I needed it though. Lately, life has just painfully reminded that most things in life don't last and that you should enjoy the things that really make you happy. Like good food. So, to start the new year off in style, why not try blueberry french toast. The recipe is from Allrecipes, and I have modified it slightly to fit with the amount of ingredients I had access to. Also, the original recipe suggested to soak the bread in the egg and milk mixture over night, but I had no room in my fridge, so I just made it in the morning and popped into the oven immediately.

Blueberry French Toast (serves 4):
6 thick slices of white bread
100 g cream cheese
100 g blueberries
7 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp maple syrup 

1/2 cup sugar (I used light muscovado)
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp cornstarch
100 g blueberries

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Cut the bread into cubes, and place half in an oven proof dish. Sprinkle with blueberries and cubes of cream cheese (I used a spoon to drop the cream cheese in small spoonfuls over the toast). Top with the rest of the bread. Mix the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and maple syrup and pour over the bread. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Take off the foil and bake for another 25-30 minutes.

While the French toast is baking, prepare the syrup. Add sugar, water and cornstarch into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Gently cook for 4-5 minutes, until the syrup has lightly thickened, and add blueberries. Let simmer on low heat for about 10 more minutes until the blueberries burst. Let cool slightly and serve on top of the French toast.
The verdict:
I think this was the first time I have made oven baked French toast, and I have pinned this recipe ages ago, but haven't gotten around to making it until now. And I'm very sorry it took me this long, because this was so delicious. I used a basic white loaf of bread, and it worked really well. The cream cheese brings a lovely soft creaminess to the dish.

I didn't go for quite the full 3 tbsp of maple syrup, which I think was nice as the blueberry syrup is quite sweet. The syrup would probably look a bit prettier if you would use caster sugar instead of brown, but I like the more intense taste of muscovado sugar so I decided looks be damned. The syrup was really easy to make and turned out really good. I'm not sure if you really need the cornstarch, as you can just cook the syrup for a bit longer to make it a bit thicker. All in all, this was a really great breakfast, and I will definitely make it again, maybe in the summer with raspberries. Or rhubarb and a handful of white chocolate chips. Maybe bananas and caramel. I bet the chocolate cream cheese would work great with bananas as well. Or replacing the cream cheese with nutella. And again, my imagination is running wild...