Sunday, 24 February 2013

Thai salmon soup

I usually like recipes with a minimal amount of ingredients. As they say: KISS - keep it simple, stupid. I rarely cook anything Asian because the recipes usually contain a crazy long list of ingredients and spices I don't have lying around at home. After dragging home bags full of pastes, spices and other exotic ingredients, you use a tiny amount of each of them, and a year later you rediscover the jars in the back of your fridge, growing all sorts of exotic moulds. However, there are times when you have a bunch of stuff in your fridge that needs using up, and throwing it all in a soup is a perfect solution to the problem. So I devised a nice soup which contains loads of leftover veggies, and a few simple ingredients to give the soup a thai flair. The only ingredients I had to buy specifically for the soup were coconut cream, curry paste, lemon grass and prawns. And of those four ingredients, the only one I had left over after cooking the soup was the curry paste, which is easy to use in pretty much any recipe. And there is nothing as comforting as a nice bowl of soup when your apartment is so cold that you have to keep running processor heavy tasks on your laptop to make it heat up nice and toasty on your lap. Actually, the best way to keep the laptop hot is to play Civilization. It's not because I would enjoy it, it's just to keep from freezing to death.

Thai-ish salmon soup (serves 4):
1 tsp virgin coconut oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
a piece of ginger root
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
200 g cabbage
250 ml coconut cream
1 veggie stock cube in 500ml hot water
1-2 tbsp thai red curry paste
1 stalk of lemon grass
1 red pepper
250 g salmon
200 g prawns
200 g sprouted beans
150 g rice noodles
150 g spinach
fresh coriander

The howto:
Finely chop onion, garlic, celery and ginger root. Chop the carrots, cabbage and red pepper. Heat the coconut oil in a big pan, and cook the onion, garlic, celery and ginger root until the onion turns translucent. Add carrots and cabbage and cook for a few minutes. Add the coconut cream, stock, curry paste and lemon grass. Let cook for 30 minutes, or until the carrots turn soft. Add the red pepper and salmon, let cook for 5 minutes. Add the prawns, sprouted beans, noodles and spinach and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh coriander. 
The verdict:
I know that the ingredient list for the soup is rather long. However, you can use any veggies you happen to have around. The main thing is having salmon, prawns, coconut cream and red thai curry paste and a mix of veggies. You can leave out whatever you don't like or don't happen to have around, and replace with things that are hiding out in the back of your fridge. 

When the weather gets really cold, there is nothing like a hot steaming bowl of soup to keep you warm. And the curry paste adds some extra heat to make sure you stay warm. The flavour combination of the spicy hot curry paste with the creaminess of the coconut cream and the crunchiness from the vegetables makes a wonderful combination. If you want to be health conscious you could always swap the coconut cream for low fat coconut milk, or even just the vegetable broth. But with this cold winter weather, it might be a good idea to get in some extra calories to keep warm in the cold and the rain. Or maybe that's just me rationalising, but at least there is no arguing with the fact that the coconut cream brings a wonderful soft... well, creaminess... to the soup. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Lo-Lo cookies

This is my kind of math!
Lo-Lo, or Love Lotus! I read the joyous news on The English Kitchen. The thing known as Biscoff spread, Speculoos spread or Lotus spread is finally available in the UK. When I first started food blogging about a year ago, the US food blogs were ablaze with Biscoff recipes. Biscoff cake, Biscoff cookies, Biscoff ice cream, Biscoff macaroons, Biscoff buns, you name it, they had a recipe for it. I had no idea what this Biscoff thing was, and it seemed to be impossible to get hold of it even on Amazon. So I gave up on Biscoff, telling myself it probably wasn't that good anyways. However, last fall I had to fly to San Francisco for work, and I finally had my chance to get some Biscoff spread. There were quite a bit of other things I also needed to fit into my suitcase, so I only brought one jar of Biscoff with me. 

For a while, the jar was just sitting there on the shelf, as I wasn't sure which of the hundreds of Biscoff recipes I should use it for. So I decided, maybe I'll just taste it, just a little bit, to see what it's like. Maybe that would help. So I dipped in my spoon, and had a lick. Oh my god! My taste buds had an orgasm. So I scooped a bit more into my mouth. And a bit more. What the heck, half a jar would be enough for baking, so I just kept spooning the spread into my mouth. Then I quickly closed the lid and put the jar back in the fridge. Only to be back in a few minutes for another taste. I pushed the jar all the way to the back of the fridge. Over the next few days, I had a spoonful here and there, thinking I could still bake something from the last quarter of a jar. However, very soon there was only a sad little spoonful left at the bottom of the jar. So I took pity on that little leftover dollop, and ate it too. And, as I had no upcoming trips across the pond, I thought that was the end of my very short, but ever so passionate love story with Biscoff. 

That is until a few weeks ago, when I read Marie's post. Lotus spread is available at Waitrose. I did a little happy dance! I live a bit away from the nearest Waitrose. Last Friday, I decided not to get my regular bus home from work, but to get on the bus which would drop me off right next to Waitrose. And I marched in there, and got me two jars of the heavenly goo. And happily walked the 45 minute walk home, thinking of all the amazing things I would bake with my little treasures. However, as soon as I got home, it looked like the jars would suffer a similar fate to my first ever Biscoff. Luckily today, when I was browsing the food blogs I follow, and had a look at this lovely Gooey Butter Cake from Brown Eyed Baker. The little section featuring the "Today a year ago" recipe was for no-bake Biscoff cookies.  And obviously, I couldn't resist. I thought maybe I'll make them in the weekend? But then again, why wait. I was going to clean my apartment today, and finally wash the piles of dishes that someone keeps leaving all around. Filthy little bugger... But no, instead I decided to make a batch of cookies. And after I tasted them, I realised I have to immediately share this little gem with you. 

So if you have never stumbled upon this amazing product, what you need to know is that is a spread made out of cookies. It might sound a bit weird, it sure did to me, but don't knock it until you try it. Biscoff is often compared to peanut butter. Why, I have no idea, as it has nothing to do with peanuts. The texture is pretty close, I guess that's why. Other than that, it's made of Lotus cookies, a cinnamon spicy type of cookie, which apparently is often served on airplanes. The recipe for the no-bake cookies is by Brown Eyed Baker, but it was featured as a guest post on Sugarcrafter. I used it without any modification, except I halved the recipe, because somehow eating half a batch of cookies doesn't sound quite as horrible as eating a whole batch of cookies. Tomorrow, I'm going running. Pinky swear.

No bake Biscoff/Lotus/Speculoos cookies from Sugarcrafter/Brown Eyed Baker (makes about 10 cookies):
3/4 cups caster sugar
1/4 cup milk
56 g (1/4 cup) butter
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup Lotus spread
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup oats

The howto:
Measure the sugar, milk, butter and salt in a pan, bring to a boil, and let boil for one minute. Take the pan off the heat, and add the spread and vanilla. Fold in the oats. Dollop onto parchment paper or a silicone mat to form cookies the size you like. I spooned the dough into cookie cutters to make shapes out of my cookies. Let cool until set, for the impatient cookie monsters out there, this can be expedited by placing the cookies in the fridge. 

The verdict:
Ooh my!! These no bake cookies are super decadent. The sugar-butter-milk mixture together with the spread combines perfectly into a fudge like matrix which hold the chewy oats in place. The spicy flavour of the Lotus spread comes through very well (and ever better once the cookies have cooled completely, a state which only about half of my cookies managed to achieve...). The super rich sweetness is held in check by the dry and chevy oats. These cookies are not only ridiculously good, they are also really quick to prepare, and perfect for that late night sugar craving.

Johnsons of Old Hurst had a farm... and a farm shop!

Last autumn, my wonderful culinary consultant took me to visit Johnsons farm in Old Hurst. It was a complete surprise that there is a farm with such a diversity of animals right around the corner from where I live. I love animals. I love watching them but I also love eating them. And I know this is a controversial topic. I can totally understand why some people choose to become vegetarians, as most animals are treated absolutely appallingly. Evolutionally speaking, humans have always been omnivores, and I have chosen to include meat in my diet. However, I also think that eating a balanced diet most certainly doesn't mean you have to eat meat at every meal. There are plenty of vegetarian sources of protein, along with eggs, milk and fish. Also, having followed the whole horse meat scandal has made me once again think about origin of the food I'm eating. Personally, I don't feel like the food scandal has touched me in any way as I only eat food I prepare myself, and I'm hoping it will make more and more people appreciate that ready meals are an inferior option compared to healthy, home cooked food. Obviously I recognise that home cooked food is not automatically healthy, but at least cooking yourself gives you complete control over what goes in there, and make it as healthy or unhealthy as you choose yourself. 
I would love to buy all the meat I'm using directly from a farm where I can see how the animals live, and where they don't have to endure long transports to the abattoir. My mum has always been a big champion of buying local meat. For years and years she has been buying beef from local farms. Sadly, at the moment I have to balance my desire to buy only the best meat with trying to keep my food budget in check. No use of eating top quality beef if I'm eating it while living under a bridge. I realise it's all down to deciding where to spend my money, but with my current salary, I do feel like I have to make compromises from time to time. 
Johnsons farm is a family run farm with a wide range of animals. So far on my two visits, I have seen cattle, pigs, lamb, ducks, turkey, chicken, lamas, ostrich, bison, deer and of course the crocs.  As much as I enjoy watching the animals out in the huge fields surrounding the farm, I also love the farm shop. The website says that 90% of the meat they sell in the farm shop is home reared. In addition to meat, the shop has a wide selection of sausages, cheese, pies, beverages, sweets and some fruit and veg. There is also a selection of frozen exotic meats such as kangaroo, python, camel and reindeer. The price of the meat is somewhat higher than in supermarkets if you compare to the cheapest possible options, but when I did a comparison with some of the Tesco Finest products, the price difference was not very significant for most cuts. Some cuts even turned out to be slightly cheaper, so it's not an incredible luxury to indulge in buying some meat from the farm. This time when we visited, we ended up buying a beautiful venison fillet and I was scared breathless of cooking it. We usually don't buy expensive meats, and I have a very poor track record of cooking red meat in general. I was also eyeing up the huge chicken fillets which looked so much more appetising than the ones sold in the supermarket, but this time I didn't have the opportunity to buy some to take home due to transportation challenges. Next time I will me some chicken filles and also get a good chunk of liver for my oven baked liver casserole.

Back home with my beautiful venison fillet, I did a thorough google on how to prepare it. There is actually very little info on how to cook a venison fillet, there was plenty of info on how to cook venison steaks. Venison is low in fat, so you really don't want to overcook it, as it gets tough. I was particularly trying to find cooking times and temperatures. Good thing the culinary consultant bough a meat thermometer a while back when we started experimenting with roasted chicken. The info I had to go on was this conversation thread on the Jamie Oliver discussion forum which said to sear the fillet and then bake in a 200 degree C oven for 10-12 minutes. To me that sounded a bit too short. I also had the added complication of the oven I was using, which usually requires about 20% longer cooking time than stated on recipes, as it's kind of... temperamental. So I wanted to also find some information about the appropriate temperature to cook the meat to. I found a link saying the appropriate temperature for venison fillet is 63-65 degrees C, but I can't seem to find the link anymore. So armed with this information, off to the kitchen I went, praying to the meat gods that I wouldn't make a total mess of the venison.

Venison fillet (serves 3-4):
600 g venison fillet
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
salt and pepper for seasoning

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (gas mark 6). Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. Heat a pan until hot, and add olive oil and butter. Sear the meat on all sides. I only used about 45 seconds for each side of the meat, just enough to give it the dark, streaky look. Insert meat thermometer into the tickest part of the fillet. Ours was clearly a middle piece of the fillet, as it was relatively even in thickness, which helps cook it evenly. Cook until 63 degrees. For this specific fillet it took about 23 minutes. After removing from oven, immediately wrap in foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes. Season to taste.

The verdict:
After I popped the meat in the oven, I just went "oh sh..." thinking I should probably have marinated the meat somehow. I was so focused on cooking it right, it hadn't even crossed my mind to do anything else to it. To make a long story short, I am really happy I didn't marinate the meat in any way. Because beginners luck would have it that the meat was cooked to absolute perfection (in my humble opinion), it tasted absolutely wonderful just as it was. It had that slightly game-y flavour of venison, which came through perfectly. The meat itself was really tender and succulent. When my culinary consultant sliced the fillet to be served, his first words were "It feels exactly like the ox I had", referring to the perfectly cooked fillet of ox he had on our holiday. And the meat was pink all through, but not too red. Moist, tender and exquisite. I was so relieved to see it looked so good, and tasting it just confirmed that for once I managed to get things just right. This experience really has encouraged me to cook fillet or some other expensive cut of meat another time as well. The important thing is to use the thermometer rather than cooking time, as every oven seems to have it's own individual personality, whereas the thermometer is a very objective way to judge how the meat turns out.

The venison was part of an elaborate three course dinner my culinary consultant cooked me for V-day. He cooked everything else apart from the meat, which I was responsible for. I was treated to a starter consisting of a smoked salmon, king prawn and avocado salad with Marie Rose sauce and cheesy garlic bread. All this with a bottle of sparkling pink wine. Incidentally I happen to love smoked salmon, king prawns, avocado and cheesy garlic breads. For the main course, the venison was served with a plum sauce (completely the culinary consultan's own creation, and it was delicious!) and oven grilled sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, onions and courgette. For pudding, I was served peaches in brandy and fruit compote with dulce de leche ice cream. All in all, I felt thoroughly spoiled. Food always tastes so much better when it's cooked by someone else. 


Friday, 15 February 2013

Friday quickie - cheese and puff pastry wheels

This is one from the archives. I was actually preparing another post, but got distracted, so I thought I might as well finally get this one posted as it has been waiting for it's turn for such a long time. It's a true Friday quickie. It's so quick it's technically not a recipe at all. And it might not have been the healthiest recipe ever. But oh so good...

I was writing up a post about soft pretzels, and fear not, it's still coming. But after getting halfway through writing that post, for some obscure reason I decided to finally get back to tweeting again. That turned out to be a bit of a project, as I had to have my password reset for my twitter account. My last tweet was from June last year, you can't expect me to remember what my password could have been. When I finally figured out my twitter username (@pinkunicornfood by the way, please feel free to stop by and say hi, I feel so lonely out there in twitterspace), I realised I had connected that account to a really old email I no longer use. So I tried to swap it to my unicornmail, but Twitter told me that email was already linked to another account. Which I thought was odd, since my other twitter account is linked to my main email account. After a bit of detective work I figured out that my unicornmail was actually linked up to a third twitter account, a really ancient one I set up ages ago when I first tried out twitter. I haven't used it for a few years at least. So I realised I have three twitter accounts (but a total of six or so tweets between all of the accounts...) and three emails. I needed to swap the emails around, but because twitter won't let you make up a fake email address, I actually had to go and create a fourth email for myself so that I could switch the really old twitter account to that new email address which I have no intention of ever using. Then I was finally able to swap my food twitter account over to my unicornmail. This whole thing is getting slightly ridiculous, with so many accounts and passwords to remember. And on top of that there are all the gazillions of passwords to remember for work. I'm all for some sort of fingerprint or retinal scan or DNA based identification method to grant access to all the electronic devices and accounts we use. That way we wouldn't have to remember a thing. That would just be so convenient. Do you have some great tips how to remember your various passwords?

Cheese puff pastry wheels:
500 g puff pastry
250 g grated cheddar or other cheese of choice
2 tbsp garlic pachadi, or you could substitute by finely chopping 1-2 cloves of garlic and mixing with 2 tbsp of olive oil
The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out puff pastry to a rectangle. If you roll it out really thin the puffs get more flaky and crunchy, whereas a slightly thicker pastry stays softer (the way I like it, just a bit gooey in the centre) Spread cheese and pachadi (or garlic oil) on top. Roll together like a swiss roll, and cut into chunks. Brush with egg wash or milk and bake until golden on top and cheese is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.
The verdict:
What is there to say. Wonderfully flaky puff pastry and cheese. Make sure you buy the good, all butter puff pastry because it makes a huge difference. The cheese puffs look so tiny and innocent, but you can't walk past without popping one into your mouth. Then another when you walk past again. And then you are making up excuses to walk past them some more. And then magically they are all just gone. 

These are great to serve as an appetizer or late night snack with some wine and grapes. Endless opportunities for variation by using blue cheese, goat's cheese, feta or whichever cheese strikes your fancy. Best friend made some really tasty cheesy wheels using a strong cheddar with ground black pepper, and they were really tasty. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Last minute Valentine's fudge

V day is just a few hours away. It's a day you either love or hate. Or like me, really don't give a toss about. Last year, V day turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Although I didn't know it at the time, it turned out to be my last date with someone I thought I was going out with. So I decided me and V are done.

However, I made the strategic error of going into HobbyCraft a few weeks ago. I just love all sorts of crafts, back in the day when I still had a real life and a home, I used to make fusion glass jewellery, like the ones in the picture below. I also love to knit. And in HobbyCraft, I got that crazy overwhelming feeling that I really want to be creative again. What better to create than Valentine's cards. Back home, Valentine's day is not branded quite as strongly as a lovers day, but more of a Friendship day, you give Valentine's cards to your friends and actually the Finnish word for Valentine's day is Friendship day. In theory I like that thought much more than the whole lovers day it is in the UK and US. Obviously I realise that ultimately, it's just a day for selling us cards, chocolates and roses we neither need or can afford. But I decided instead of buying stupid ready made cards, I'll make my own! Never mind the fact that it probably ended up costing me at least twice the price of ready made cards, but I really enjoyed getting to do something with my hands. Obviously, the cards didn't turn out quite as elegant and sophisticated as they were in my head. To be quite honest, my cards looked like they were made by a three year old. But when it comes to anything hand made, be it cards, confectionary or cakes, it's always the thought that counts. That's what I keep telling myself. So I'm very proud of my cards and I sent off some to my family the other day, hoping they will arrive in time.
Some fusion glass jewellery I made a long time ago.
I couldn't quite stop with the cards though. I thought, for my best friends I would also make some home made sweets. Nothing too elaborate, just some simple recipes I pinned ages ago but haven't gotten around to try. One of them was a two ingredient fudge, which takes all of about two minutes to whip up. Seriously, this is one of the easiest things I have ever made, so if you feel like you really should make something for Valentine's, but can't quite make yourself put any effort into it, this recipe, which I stole lovingly borrowed from Cookies & Cups, is super simple and quick. If you have a cute little heart shaped cookie cutter you can make sweet little fudge hearts in no-time. Obviously, if you don't have a cutter, you can make fudge squares, it's still home made fudge, and that's what counts.

Two ingredient easiest fudge ever (from Cookies & Cups):
1 jar (16 ounce, 450 g) strawberry frosting
12 ounces (340 g) white chocolate
heart shaped or any other sprinkles

The howto:
Melt chocolate either in the microwave or in a water bath. Mix with strawberry frosting. Spread in an oiled or clingfilm lined pan and allow to set in the fridge (anything from half an hour to over night). Cut using a cookie cutter or knife. Give away in a pretty box, along with a note of why you think the recipient is lovely!

The verdict:
If there ever was a recipe that can't fail, this is it. Well, as long as you are patient and don't melt the chocolate too fast so that it burns. I have to admit, this was the first time in my life I bought ready made frosting, and I can't say I found it all too appealing. But once mixed with the white chocolate, it turned into a nice fudge to my surprise. The fudge is really sweet though, so if you are not a world class carboholic, consider yourself warned. One of the nice things about this recipe is or course that you can easily adapt it by replacing strawberry frosting with vanilla or chocolate frosting to make different flavoured fudge very easily. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Holiday food

Street food at it's best.
Sun, glorious sun. I had almost forgotten what the sun looks and feels like. Luckily, I recently spent a week on Tenerife, and got a good glimpse of the golden warm godess. But hey, who really cares about the weather. Everyone knows that the point of a holiday is to learn about new food culture. And that I certainly did. Consider yourself warned, there will be no recipe at the end of this post. It is just an extended ramble about the things I ate. You would think this is an exhaustive list of everything I ate during the week, but it's not even close! I have added all the places I mention on a map which can be found here, as clearly most restaurants and cafés are not too big on having web pages.

Originally I wasn't quite convinced the Canary Islands would make a very interesting holiday, as to me they have always just been a tourist trap full of drunk Brits and Finns and lobster red Gemans. So me and the Culinary Consultant decided to aim our holiday to the estern side of Tenerife, which according to the guide books is the least touristy part of the island. We stayed in Santa Cruz, the capital, which was refreshingly low on tourists, and big enough to have a very nice selection of bars, restaurants and shops. It was also a nice base for exploring the northern and eastern parts of the island as bus connections were very good (and running very exactly on time, I was pleased to discover). 

Canarian food is different from mainland Spanish food, with Latin American and Arabic influences introducing more spices to the food. The main animal protein is goat, and potatoes (called papas) are very common. Obviously, also sea food is eaten a lot.  It turned out that finding real authentic Canarian food was not always very easy, as a lot of restaurants are Spanish style with tapas similar to mainland Spain. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, I love tapas, but I was hell bent on finding me some goat, and that took a few days.

So, lets start with the tapas. I love being able to eat a little bit of everything, and I could eat tapas every day. We arrived in Santa Cruz tired and hungry, late in the evening. We decided to head right to Tasca Tagoro (Rambla de Santa Cruz, right opposite Plaza de Toros), a tiny restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. We were greeted by a very friendly water who spoke very little English (something I consider a very good sign). He recommended we get the mixed tapas for two for €12. I thought that was €12 each, but turns out that was actually the price for the whole deal, including two beers! And the food was exquisite. The starter was a small slice of Spanish omelette, followed by a selection of deep fried prawns, seafood filled peppers, two different cheese tapas and a green soup type of thing which I think was made out of peas and a Parmesan type of cheese. The absolute highlight was a deep-fried small parcel of cheese, served with what I think was date syrup or sauce. I would have loved to just lick the sauce out of the bowl and the worship the empty bowl for the rest of my life. 

The other really good tapas place in Santa Cruz that we stumbled upon more or less by mistake was called Taberna el Cambullón (on Calle Alfonso Bethencourt, right off the Plaza de España). The lovely, hand written menu was in Spanish, so we ended up ordering random stuff as neither of us speaks a word of Spanish. Nothing like combining good food with the element of surprise. We started off with some cheesy croquettes, which were nice, and went on to have something called Morcilla de Burgos which I had no idea what it was and only ordered because the word caramelizada was on there. It turned out it was black pudding with rice and a crispy, caramelised top. It was absolutely delicious, possibly one of the most exquisite things I ate on the whole trip. When the little black bundles were brought out I was extremely suspicious, but any doubt I had about the choice of dish disappeared as soon as I had my first mouthful. It was a combination of not having any idea of what it was I was eating, together with the experience of eating something absolutely heavenly and very different from what I am used to that really elevated that gastronomic experience to new hights. I can't recommend the place enough. The service was also extremely friendly, and the other tapas we had were very good as well. Our meal, including very good bread, a glass of wine, a beer and four different tapas (of which one was whole meat) was just under €50 with tips.
The lovely Taberna el Cambullon.
The heavenly caramelised Morcilla de Burgos.
Then onto the more traditional Canarian cuisine. As I mentioned before, I had read about goat and potatoes. It turned out the potatoes were easy to find. More specifically papas arrugadas, the traditional Canarian way of serving potatoes. The small potatoes are boiled with their skin on in heavily salted water, which forms a salt crust on the skin. They are then served with a Canarian sauce called mojo which can be either green or red. The red one is made of peppers and the green has garlic and herbs, such as coriander. We had papas for lunch one day at a restaurant called Tapas Árcon (Plaza Concejil, Puerto de la Cruz). The papas and mojo were delicious (I'm running out of superlatives here...) but the prawns with mushrooms and garlic were rather uninspiring. As we didn't end up eating mojo anywhere else, I can't say whether the mojos were extraordinary or if they are similar everywhere (although my culinary consultant just informed me he thought the mojos at Árcon were better than at GOM, another restaurant we ate at). We also brought half a suitcase full of mojo to eat at home, so I will have a more extensive opinion on different mojos later.
Papas arrugadas with mojo at Tapas Arcon in Puerto de la Cruz.
We ate traditional Canarian fare at a restaurant called Mi Jardin (Calle del Valle Menéndez, Los Cristianos). I was convinced we wouldn't get anything but mediocre touristy food in the most touristy corner of the island. Los Cristianos is a place where restaurants advertise their cheap beer with the slogan 'even cheaper than ASDA'. Sigh. I didn't doubt for a second there had to be some good restaurants as well (after all, the locals have to eat somewhere...) but the trouble was finding them. So after chasing down the last reasonable suggestion in the guide book, which looked very disappointing, I was hungry and cranky. Luckily, the restaurant next door to the one I had just rejected turned out to have the two signs of a good establishment: real, green plants and a hand written menu. And on top of it all, they served goat! After a very good mojito, we enjoyed figs wrapped in cured ham and king prawns with garlic for a starter. Those prawns just might be the best damn prawns I have ever had, and they can't have been many hours out of the sea. For the main course I had goat stew and the culinary consultant had sea bream. My goat stew was very good, the goat was cooked for a long time and the meat, which I'm sure would be rather tough if not cooked correctly, was very tender and flavourful. The stew had a lot of herbs and tomatoes in it, along with good chunks of meat still on the bone, no doubt giving the stew a lot of extra flavour. I hadn't planned on having dessert, but we were talked into trying a local variety of creme caramel, which was delicious, and not too sweet. The whole meal, including a very good mojito each, ended up being a tad under €50 for two people, which I was more than happy to pay for excellent food, a very pleasant ambience and really friendly service. Conveniently, the restaurant was only a few blocks from the bus station, so it was with a very happy full belly we travelled back to Santa Cruz that night.
Amazing king prawns with garlic at Mi Jardin.
Goat stew. It took a few days to find, but it was worth the wait.
The last night of our holiday we decided to splurge a bit and dine in style. I squeezed into my little black dress, and we headed for Restaurante GOM (Calle Dr Guigou, 29), an establishment described in my guide book as 'one of the more upscale places in Santa Cruz'. The online reviews for the place were all positive, so we decided to go for it although technically it was a bit over the budget. And spoiler alert - I'm very, very glad we did. The restaurant serves traditional Canarian food with a modern twist. The atmosphere is elegant but relaxed. I'm glad I wore my LBD, but the culinary consultant, wearing a smart t-shirt and jeans was not out of place either. The menu was exciting and surprising. I ended up having gofio soup for a starter and black pork cannelloni with palm syrup sauce for the main. The culinary consultant had a selection of local cheeses with corn mousse and mojo for a starter, and ox with a sweet potato purée and black mushrooms for main. Before the starters, we were treated to small cheese croquettes as a greeting from the chef, as well as some delicous bread with three different toppings served in small containers looking like paint tubes. The contents were a olive oil based spread, a fish based pâté and a very spicy rabbit pâté. No need to say, the culinary consultant enjoyed himself playing with the food, squirting the pâtés from the tubes onto the bread. I really found this little extra surprise very classy and obviously tasty as well. I have to say, as good as my food was, this time the culinary consultant really hit the jackpot with his choices. The cheeses were exquisite, and the ox was cooked to absolute perfection. My meal was very good, but not quite at the same level of perfection. I did win with my dessert choice though (at least in my very humble opinion). That is for taste, but not for entertainment value. I ordered French toast with rum jelly and hazelnut ice cream which was perfection. The French toast was more like caramelised doughnut and the rum jelly was a pure shot of booze. Together with the sweet ice cream they formed a very balanced combination of flavours, textures and temperatures. The culinary consultant had prickly pear sorbet, which was prepared using liquid nitrogen right there next to our dining table, and the boiling liquid nitrogen mixing with the prickly pear juice was quite a performance. All in all, excellent food with some fun entertainment both in the form of painting with pâtés and boiling liquid nitrogen made the meal the perfect ending to our holiday. Admittedly the bill ended up at almost €80 (including a glass of red wine each) but the food (and the entertainment value) was definitely worth it.
Local cheese and the cool little tubes of mojo and pâtés.
Ox, cooked to perfection.
This is what you get if you mix prickly pear juice and liquid nitrogen. 
The end result, prickly pear sorbet.
The Canarians seem to like sweets. And my guide book informed me that the Canarian way of life involves snacking between meals. When in Rome... Snack we did. And there was no lack of places to do this. Ice cream, churros, cakes, pastries, fruit, candy. One thing I have missed while living in the UK is proper pick and mix. No problem in Santa Cruz, there are lots of candy shops. The ones I visited had a really big selection of candy. Not so much chocolate. In general, I didn't find any proper chocolatiers, but I guess the hot climate is not very compatible with chocolate. One thing the Canarios do right though is hot chocolate. Forget the bland milk and hot chocolate powder thingy, Canarian hot chocolate is so rich it's almost like melted chocolate. It's unbelievable!! And often enjoyed in the morning with churros, deep fried strings of batter which are kind of like the long and skinny cousin of doughnuts, but not quite. I thought churros were sweet, but in fact the batter doesn't seem to contain any sugar. They are served with caster sugar which you can sprinkle on them while they are still piping hot. Or just dip in the hot chocolate, which is thick enough to serve as a dipping sauce between sips.

Churros and chocolate.
There is no lack of cakes, pastries, buns, cookies and any other sort of baked goodies. My two favourite bakeries were Panderia Paraiso in Puerto de la Cruz and Pasteleria Diaz in Santa Cruz. Both had so many cakes I could spend a week there eating a new cake or pastry every morning, noon and night. But unfortunately there are so many cakes and so little time. Luckily the culinary consultant helped dispose of any left over cake so that I could pretend that I only had a little taste of everything... I think my favourite cake was a hazelnut and chocolate cake from Panderia Paraiso, as well as the small super cute pastries from Pasteleria Diaz which always disappeared before I managed to get my camera out to take a picture. Pasteleria Diaz also had a selection of flavoured olive oils, salts, jams, marmelades and chocolate pastes, a few jars may or may not have forced their way into my suitcase. I was helpless, trying to keep them out of my bag, but I think they snuck in there none the less. One jar might even have been dulce de leche, possibly the best thing on earth. In theory I bought it for baking with, but in practice I know all I need is a spoon and maybe an episode of Downton Abbey and that dulce de leche is but a memory.
Talking about dulce de leche, I have to mention leche y leche, coffee the Canarian way. A shot of espresso with a small splash of regular milk, and then a good helping of sweetened, condensed milk. Oh my god! I have never been a coffee drinker, but I have finally discovered how I like my coffee. Short and sweet. In my future home, which I will buy as soon as I win the lottery, there will be an espresso machine making those tiny shots of strong, bitter coffee, and a jar of condensed milk next to said espresso machine.
Pasteleria Diaz and a small fraction of their cakes.
Hazelnut and chocolate cake at Panderia Paraiso.
Ice cream. It's not like I only had cake. And buns. And pastries. I also had ice cream. With and without crepes. The place for crepes and ice cream is definitely Romana (Calle Villalba Hervás, 19), a garishly orange ice cream shop in downtown Santa Cruz. The lovely lady who seemed to own the place served us some super indulgent crepes with ice cream. Mine with dulce de leche and dulce de leche ice cream, the culinary consultant's were dripping with hot chocolate sauce and served with chocolate ice cream. As good as that was, our favourite ice cream place in town was Latte (Calle de Pilar, right on the edge of Parque García Sanabria). Not only was the artesan ice cream absolutely delicious, it was shaped as a flower with lovely ice cream petals around the cone. We sampled choclate (very rich) and Oreo (nice crunch) ice cream, as well as lemon (very tart, in the best way possible), strawberry (real strawberry, both in taste and colour) and mojito (with a good kick from the booze) sorbet. All were extremely good, I think my favourite was the strawberry sorbet which was dreamy soft and tasted like real strawberries. The one I should have tried but didn't get round to was a garishly blue smurf flavoured one. Having never tasted a smurf I'm not quite sure what flavour that was though.
Crepes and ice cream at Romana. 
Ice cream flower from Latte.
After such a long list of amazing places to eat all around the island (and there was quite a few more, including the most squid I've ever seen in one serving, the biggest loaves of bread I've seen, some awesome paellas from a street corner, and one or two glasses pitchers of Sangria), I have yet to describe my favourite food place. The food market. Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África. This is how everyone should buy their food. The meat from the butcher, the cheese from the cheese maker, the bread from the baker and the fruits and veg from the fruiteria. Right next to the butcher with everything from whole chickens and rabbits to pig's heads, trotters and huge red mountains of beef there is the spice store selling all sorts of herbs and spices imaginable. And the fruit stalls overflowing with ripe, huge red peppers, juicy sweet peaches and ripe bananas exploding of flavour just won't let you pass by without grabbing something. And the seafood section downstairs... All the fish you could imagine, and lots that you couldn't dream up in you wildest dreams. All sizes, colours and shapes. Tanks of crabs, lobsters and eels. If I only had a kitchen and could try them all out. We just walked around and around the food market, staring at all the food and spying on what people were buying. Then stopped by a stall to have a cheese covered pretzel to keep up the energy to people watch some more. Pop by the stall with dozens of different olives, sample a few and then take away a little box of green olives stuffed with whole cloves of garlic. Get a few slices or chorizo, and sit down to enjoy some instant tapas (take olive, take slice of meat, wrap olive in meat, shove it all in your mouth while sitting on a bench in the sun). Pop by the spice store to buy some honey, mojos and paella spice to take home. Pop by the bakery and buy a huge custard filled donut. Enjoy the custard drip down your chin while stuffing your face with said donut. People watch some more. 

I can't believe you are still reading. But thanks for sticking with me to the end. There is no doubt touristy destinations are full of bad, overpriced food. But with a little bit of research as well as some luck, you will find absolutely divine food at reasonable prices, served with a smile. I think I have a much more positive picture of the Canary Islands after visiting than I used to have. Goes to show you should never judge anything before you have tried it.
Instant tapas. Meat and garlic filled olives, enjoy in the sun.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Oven poached eggs

This is a really old post I wrote ages ago, but then never got around to posting. I'm not quite sure why it never made the cut,mad this is one of my absolute favourite egg breakfast/brunch recipes. Seeing it now, I also realise I haven't been cooking it for a long, long time. After I get back from my holiday (more about that in the next post), I will be making this for brekkie. As much as I love having bread and cheese and sweets for brekkie, my body is screaming for protein. I can't wait to get some eggs in me. And chicken and salad. I can't believe I just wrote that. But this whole paella-ice cream-churros-cheese and bread diet is quite tough to be honest. I love it tha my body is finally craving the right things.

It should have become quite obvious that I love me a good old breakfast. Proteins, fibre and at least one or two of your five a day. And this works just as well as vegetarian lunch, its quite hearty. The recipe is stolen from Epicurious, and only modified minimally.

Oven poached eggs with chickpeas (serves 2):
1tbsp oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 medium chili
piece of fresh ginger root
1 tbsp dried cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
chopped flatleaf parsley
chopped coriander
4 eggs
100g feta

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Chop onion, garlic, chilli and ginger root and saute in the oil. When the onion is starting to get soft, add spices and fry for another minute or so. Add tomatoes, chickpeas and herbs, and let cook for 10 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken a bit. Transfer to a oven proof dish, make indentations in the tomato sauce, and break the eggs in them. Sprinkle feta on top, and bake in the oven until yolks are the consistency you like (about 6 minutes for runny yolks).

According to my estimate, which was dine using MyFitnessPal, one serving contains 513kcal (25g fat, 30g carbs of which 6.7g sugars, 22g protein).

The verdict:
This is one of my all time favourite egg brekkies. It combines so many things I love. Tomatoes, cumin, chickpeas, eggs and feta, all delicious. Obviously if you want to be super-healthy, you could always skip the feta, but I like the savoury touch together with the tomato. And the chickpeas, oh the chickpeas. I love the combination of chopped tomatoes and chickpeas. First you have the sweet tomatoes, and then the silky smooth chickpeas to bite into. And make sure not to over-cook your eggs, the yolk should be nice and runny so that the lovely, golden goo spreads all over the tomato and chickpea yummyness.
I should never write a blogpost when I'm hungry, this is pure torture. So I better stop, as I'm very unlikely to get food anytime soon... Sigh, one of those (many!) times when I decide being single is so much better than the alternative. At least you get food whenever you want. Can you see I have some pent up negative energy here? Well, I get very grumpy if something comes between me and my food, and if that something happens to be football, that just makes me outright furious. Well, if you don't hear back from me, I perished of hunger in a hotel room. Otherwise I'll be back soon to blog about my holiday food experiences. Expect a lot of sugar highs!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Finnish pancakes

The Finnish pancake (sometimes I've also seen it referred to as a Dutch pancake in recipes, what's up with that?!?) is very different from the US pancakes. The Finnish pancake has less flour and more eggs, it's not fluffy at all but more dense and a bit gooey (and I'm using the term gooey very lovingly here). And it's much less high maintenance compared to its American cousin, as it's baked in the oven and doesn't require anyone to slave at the stove flipping pancakes while watching the rest of the people eat them faster than you can get them off the pan opand onto a plate.

I know this is entirely a matter of taste and preference, both which are heavily influenced by what you have gotten used to and grown up with. But as much as I love a good stack of American pancakes (with butter and maple syrup) the Finnish pancake just has that special place in my heart which is only reserved for things which make me remember happy moments of my childhood.

When we were kids, me and my sister always spent Tuesday evenings at the stables, as that was the day of our riding lessons. Or maybe it was Wednesday... Anyways, it was the best day of the week, no doubt. My sister had her riding lesson first, and me and my friends had ours after that. And obviously we would sit out there in the riding hall to watch each other's lessons. Which in the winter got really cold, as there was no heating. As long as you were on horseback you were ok (riding really is a physical sport which gives you a good work out, just take my word for it if you haven't had any hands (or legs) on experience). And I still remember that penetrating cold, your thighs would start to tingle and you lost all feeling in fingers and toes. And still it was really sad when my mum or dad would come and pick us up from the stables, as that meant it would be another week before we would get to spend time with the horses again. But when we got home, the sauna was hot for us to warm up our frozen limbs. The fingers and toes would tingle when you had a warm shower before entering the sauna, and then warmth would slowly start spreading over your body until after sitting there for a while, it just got too hot and you had to slip back out to take a cool shower. I still love that feeling of anticipation when you are really cold, but know that soon you will be warm again. Unfortunately I don't get to enjoy that often enough these days, especially as the sauna at the gym is a disgrace and nowhere near warm enough to get to that blissful state of overheating. What has this all to do with pancake you ask? Well, obviously that was what my mum had cooked for me and Sis for supper after the sauna. It was always baked in a large black oven sheet, and the best bits were the edges which were drier and crispier than the gooey middle. It was usually enjoyed with berries and my mum's home made strawberry jam (well it wasn't proper jam, it was more like mashed up strawberries frozen with a bit of sugar, and it was so much better than jam because it tasted more of strawberries and less of sugar). Every time I have Finnish pancake, that is the memory it brings to my mind. And that is why it will always taste better to me than any other pancakes.

Because the crispy edges of the pancake are much better than the middle, I though the idea of making mini pancakes in muffin tins or moulds was a genius one. This gives a perfect ratio of crispy edge and soft centre. I saw this pin on Pinterest, and it immediately went in the 'has to be tried' pile. And now I had the perfect excuse as I needed some practical take away brekkie for a morning on the go. I decided to reduce the amount of sugar a bit, and add some berries for extra flavour and vitamis. These pancakes only take a minute or two to prep, and can be baked the previous day for a grab and go in the morning. The are nice to eat cold, but I think pancake is best if eaten fresh, not hot out of the oven, but still warm after letting it cool for a while.


Mini pancakes (makes 6-8):

1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat)

15 g sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk

100 g frozen mixed berries


According to my estimate (made using MyFitnessPal) one pancake (1/6 of the recipe) contains 90 kcal (2.9 g fat, 12 g carbs of which 3.5g sugar and 5.2 g protein).


The howto:

Preheat oven to 200 deges C. Mix flour, sugar and salt. Add milk and eggs and mix with a fork or wooden spoon. Distribute batter in individual muffin moulds (or pour in an oven proof tin to make one big pancake). Sprinkle frozen berries on top. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

The verdict:

I loved them. Loved, loved loved. Also the culinary consultant seemed to enjoy them enough to have two, although he found them a bit tart. I don't think the whole wheat flour made them taste any healthier than regular all purpose flour would as the main flavour comes from the berries, but of course you are free to use any flour you want. I think I will experiment with using some other flours as well, maybe quinoa or spelt, why not even rice flour or some other gluten free variety. And you could add any flavouring you wanted, blueberries, cranberries, chocolate chips, raisins, pineapple, or whatever your heart desires. The traditional Finnish pancake doesn't have any topping at all, and it's really tasty on it's own as well, although for that I would probably add some more sugar. Overall, add more sugar if you find my variation with unsweetened mixed berries too tart, or leave it out completely (or replace by maple syrup or agave) if that's your preference. Or mashed ripe banana would also work perfectly to bring some flavour and sweetness. Ooh, that's my next attempt. Banana and chocolate chip pancake.

I baked my pancakes in my flower cupcake silicon mould. In the picture I turned two of the pancakes with the pretty flower side up, and left the other two upside down so you can see the berries and the puffy golden brown edges of the pancakes.