Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Creamy chicken and sweet potato curry

It has been a busy few days. Well, it's been busy in general with the new job sucking all the life out of me, but this week was particularly bad. On Monday I made a round trip to Milan for a meeting, and let me tell you there is nothing glamourous about travelling for work. Getting up at 4.30 to make the train, getting to London to realise the Heathrow Express is not running and having to sit in morning rush hour traffic in a taxi, praying for it to get to the airport on time. Then after a long day of walking (in heels...) you get back right before midnight to face a 45 minute queue to the passport control. Sigh. 

Yesterday was as crazy, trying to finish everything before the holiday and ended up working halfway through the night. This morning my email box was full of messages saying they couldn't access the files I shared with them, so havd to still catch up on some things this morning. But now I'm finally officially on holiday. We went to meet with our mortgage advisor in the morning, and everything should now be set up for the exchange which is a great relief. And I'm hoping we will be able to complete in mid-late July, which is not a moment too soon. As much as I appreciate that I have saved an absolute fortune not having to pay rent while living here, having to stay in the bachelor pad for much longer would probably drive me and the Culinary Consultant insane (ok, it's debatable whether there would be any change for me there, but still, you get the point...). There was hardly enough space here for him when he was alone, and now with all my stuff, there are boxes, bags and various piles of stuff everywhere. We have narrow paths going from the kitchen to the sofa and to the bedroom, but other than that it's just stuff everywhere. It's like the houses from TV programs about hoarders, it really is that bad. We are so lucky to be moving into something bigger soon. Although I dread the amount of housework that will be needed to keep the place running. The first thing I will have to find is a reliable cleaner. But I can't wait to have access to all my clothes and kitchen stuff again.

Right now I'm blogging to try and calm down my stress levels after getting all of the work done, and focus on the trip ahead. I'm going to Hungary for the weeding of a good friend. I'm looking forward to seeing her again after a long time, and I'm also very excited about seeing Hungary. We will be staying in Budapest for a few days, and then travelling to my friend's home town in southwestern Hungary. It will be fantastic, although the weather forecast isn't the most promising. I got me a guide book for Budapest and have made a lot of notes of what I want to do and see, most of them restaurants, coffee shops and chocolatiers. Expect a blog post about Hungarian food when I get back. 

I have not made too many plans for the holiday, as I want it to be relaxing as well, instead of just trying to see everything in a few short days. I really need to let my brain switch off a little bit. My brain has been on overload because of work, and I realised last night I had even forgotten to print my boarding passes for the flight! That has never happened before, I'm really thorough with stuff like that, printing everything days ahead, all hotel reservations, maps and stuff. Now I can't even tell you the names of our hotels, I'm just hoping there will be good 3G reception everywhere we go so that I can look it up as I go along.

I will leave you with a recipe for a curry I made the other night as I had a few leftover sweet potatoes which looked like they might not make it for much longer, and some chicken in the freezer to use up. It is a very mild and creamy curry and I liked it very much. I also made some home made naan breads with it, which I will blog about some other time. This recipe is stolen from BBC good food, and slightly modified.

Creamy chicken and sweet potato curry (serves 4):
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp mild curry paste (I used Tesco Rendang curry paste)
1 onion
2 sweet potatoes
2 chicken fillets
1/2 cup red lentils
300 ml chicken stock (I also added a few tbsp of the juices from last weekend's roasted chicken)
400 ml can coconut milk
1/3 cup soya beans (or peas)

The howto:
Chop the chicken fillets and sweet potatoes to bite sized pieces. Slice onion (or finely chop if that's how you prefer your onion. I felt like going for slices). Prepare the chicken stock. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Add the curry paste and let cook for a minute or two. Add the chicken, sweet potatoes and lentils and coat in the curry paste and let cook for a few minutes. Add chicken stock and coconut milk and let cook until the sweet potato is soft, 20-25 minutes. (add a bit more liquid if your lentils are absorbing too much liquid, depending on how much sauce you like. I like quite a thick curry so this worked out well for me) Add soya beans and cook for another minute or two. Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

The verdict:
I'm not a friend of very spicy food. Even small amounts of chilli hurt my mouth, and often make my gums and tongue hurt quite badly, like it has been burned from really hot food. I prefer more subtle flavours, and I absolutely loved this curry. I used a mild curry paste and the coconut milk just gives the dish such a creamy texture and wonderful flavour. I should use coconut milk more often, as every time I do, I love how it turns out. And I like the addition of soya beans, not necessarily so much for the flavour, but I love the look of them. The original recipe had peas, but I wanted something a bit more healthy. But I have to admit, the peas would probably have worked really well. One big problem I have with peas over here is, that if you buy them frozen, the smallest pack you can get is about the size of a small elephant. Back home you could get small packs of frozen peas perfect for using up all in one go, but this pea crazy people are selling them by the tonne. And when you keep them in the freezer for a while, they get all dried up and lose their flavour. So I went for the soya beans as they came in a smaller pack than peas. 

Card of the day:
This is the card I made for my friend's wedding. The invitation had a brown colour scheme, and I know my friend likes yellow, so I settled on that for a colour theme. Other than that I wanted it to be quite natural and I think it turned out quite nice. The cardstock is Tim Holtz Distress collection cardstock, and the colours are Old Paper, Vintage photo and Mustard Seed. The embossing folder is Cuttlebug Birds and Swirls, and the heart stamp is from a Tim Holtz. The sentiment is from the Lawn Fawn critters ever after set (which I only just ordered and can't wait to get to play around with!!). The bow is actually from a chocolate box (don't tell anyone) that I decided to re-use. You can't quite see it on the photo, but I sprayed some Perfect Pearls mist onto the Old paper cardstock, it looks almost like there is some white powder on the card, but it's really the shimmer. I hope my friend will like the card as much as I do.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Chocolate mousse and raspberry cake

Ironically, after writing just the other day how I haven't really had a craving for chocolate cake, I was going through my pins and saw this chocolate mousse and raspberry cake I have pinned ages ago, and all of a sudden I got a crazy craving for chocolate mousse cake. Fortunately my craving hit just before our weekly grocery shop run, so I just added a ridiculous amount of chocolate, some raspberries and whipping cream to the grocery list.

Actually, this cake is perfect to celebrate the fact that our mortgage application was accepted just the other day. It was taking time because of some ridiculous technicalities which there is no point of going into here, but for a while I was slightly worried. Not only is that settled, the survey also came back with no major issues. In addition to being perfect for celebrating, the cake is also perfect as it doesn't need baking. I'm still no closer to figuring out how to get along  with the oven in the bachelor pad.

The recipe is stolen directly and unaltered from BBC good food.
Chocolate mousse and raspberry cake (serves 8)
For the base:
100 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
100 g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
200 g Hob Nobs (I used dark chocolate covered digestives)
For the mousse:
200 g milk chocolate
100 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
4 eggs
300 ml whipping cream
3 x 150g punnets of raspberries (I only had 2 punnets)

The howto:
Using a food processor, crumble the cookies to the consistency of coarse sand. If you don't have a food processor, you can put the cookies in a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Melt chocolate, butter and golden syrup either in a water bath or in the microwave. Mix the chocolate and butter with the crumbs, and spoon onto the bottom of a springform tin. Place in the fridge and let set. 
While the base is setting, prepare the mousse. Melt the chocolates in a waterbath or the microwave. Cool until lukewarm. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Using an electric whisk, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Whip the cream to a soft consistency. Mix the chocolate with the egg yolks, and mix with the whipped cream. Fold in the egg whites. Pour the mousse onto the base, and let set over night. Before serving, add raspberries on top.
The verdict:
I have to admit there was no way I was going to wait over night for the cake to set. The mousse wasn't completely set and the slice didn't turn out very elegant. But it was really delicious. Rich and very decadent. The combination of raspberries and chocolate is so perfect.
If I ever make the cake again, I will make a small change. The base hardened up so hard that it was hard to break with a knife, much less a spoon. So I would halve the amount of butter, possibly even leave out the butter completely and only use chocolate to bind the biscuit crumbs together for a more crumbly base. But it's obviously a matter of taste. The texture of the mousse got a bit grainy, so maybe there would be room for leaving out one of the egg yolks as well. But possibly I just didn't make it right.

These small faults are however nothing compared with the amazing flavour combination of chocolate and raspberries. I had to leave a lot of mousse in the bowl for licking as well, because it was so good. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Oven baked salmon with olives and feta

When I was a child, I hated it when I had to take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away in the cupboards. I thought it was incredibly tedious. Now I would kill to get to just place all my dirty dishes in a machine which would magically make them clean, and then I would just need to put them back in the cupboards. Oh how I hate washing dishes. It's possibly my number one most hated house chore right now. Last weekend I cooked so many different dishes to have food for us all week. And the cooking part is mostly fun. But the washing up... And apparently "the cook doesn't clean" does not apply in this house. It's the cook who does the dishes, cleans the kitchen, cleans the bathroom, and everything else. I used to frown at the expression "a woman's touch". As in "this place certainly needs a woman's touch". I'm a big believer in equality, and I've always imagined men are certainly as capable as taking care of themselves and their homes as women. It turns out that living with a man for just a few weeks has completely changed my view. Well, enough about that subject. And on to food, a much more fun subject.

When I was working on my PhD, we had a really sub-par cafeteria at the research institute where I worked. The food was absolutely horrible. According to my colleagues who work there, it is still as horrible if not even worse. There was one thing they did well though, a dish called greek salmon. It was simply oven baked salmon with feta and olives on top. The dish had a sad history though, as food prices kept creeping up and the cafeteria wanted to make more profit, they swapped part of the salmon to cod, so it was a strange hybrid fish, half white and half pink under the veil of olives and feta. Then they left out the salmon completely, and then the feta and the olives. And so it was just oven baked cod. But back in the day, that was definitely the best dish they were serving. This recipe is based on that idea, but I have taken it a bit further adding yogurt and fresh herbs to the topping.

Oven baked salmon with olives and feta (serves 6-8):
1 kg salmon fillet
150 g feta 
10-15 large olives (I used green olives in oil with herb seasoning)
2 tbsp olive oil (I used the oil from the olives)
3 tbsp greek yoghurt
1 clove of garlic (or to taste. I used smoked garlic)
a big bunch of flatleaf parsley
black pepper to taste

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6. Place the salmon in an oven proof dish. Grind black pepper to taste on the salmon. In a bowl, mix crumbled feta, chopped olives, olive oil, yoghurt, garlic and herbs. Spoon the topping onto the salmon. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked and the topping is starting to brown. 

The verdict:
Of all fish, salmon might possibly be my favourite. Even if it's crappy quality cheap salmon from the supermarket. Mix that with the massive punch of flavour from the feta, olives and parsley and you can't lose. The salmon is great out of the oven, but it also works cold to have along with your lunch salad. You could tweak the topping to include any leftovers you want to get rid of. Sundried tomatoes, other herbs, capers... so many options. This is definitely my favourite way of cooking salmon. Just make sure you don't overcook it, the topping does help keep the fish all nice and moist. Admittedly, this is not the most beautiful food, but as I have said before, this blog is all about the flavour!
Card of the day:
This weekend I finally got an opportunity to dig out all my crafting equipment from the moving boxes. To be honest, lately the problem has not been restricted to finding time for crafting. It's about finding a place for crafting. The bachelor pad has only one table. And don't be fooled to believe it would be a dining table. No, it's a desk in the bedroom. And on this desk you can usually find... oh, wait for it... a bike! But this weekend, I was lucky enough that the bike was gone from the table temporarily, so I decided to make the most of it. I think that might be the only crafting fix I will get for as long as we are staying in the bachelor pad, so I made the most out of it. I pulled out all my three boxes of crafting equipment and made a right mess. There might or might not be a few ink stains on the desk which didn't come off... The first card I made was a congratulatory card for the Culinary Consultant's uncle whose 45 year wedding anniversary we are attending next weekend. I wanted the card to be simple and elegant. The colour of the cardstock doesn't show very well on the pictures, the top one shows the colour of the cardstock pretty accurately whereas the bottom picture shows the details a bit better. The background is embossed using a Cuttlebug folder, and the thin panel to the left is stamped with black ink and then heat embossed using a silver embossing powder. The stamp is the Hero Arts Flourish background stamp. The sentiment is from my trusty Hobbycraft General Sentimets set, stamped using black ink and heat embossed using silver embossing powder. The matting has been done using a silver paper, and to finish off, three silver gems and a grey bow. Very elegant and dignified.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Lemon and buttermilk bars

Guess what I just did? For the first time in weeks, maybe even months, I sat down and made a proper shopping list for our weekly grocery shopping trip tomorrow. Back in the day when I was eating healthily, I only went to the grocery store once a week. I planned the meals for every day of the weak and on Friday evening after work I headed off to tick off all those things on my shopping list. And then carried a huge backpack and two bags full of food the whole 40 minute walk home. That experience has made me appreciate having a personal chauffeur and grocery carrier with me on my shopping trips these days. Makes things much easier. Said person also wants to pick out the biggest chicken to roast, and the biggest carrots and parsnips to go with the roast. Guys are so funny sometimes.

But more importantly, creating a shopping list means life is starting to get back into the routines I love so much. I know I'm a really boring person, but I need stability in my life. And even though all the changes in my life have been really positive, I have noticed I have been incredibly stressed about it all. But now life slowly seems to settle down. The biggest things that have made me nervous are all behind. The new job is not a complete disaster. I'm still adapting and learning so much new things each day, and it's tough, but for the most part I enjoy it very much. And the whole thing with the new house has again moved a nudge in the right direction. I'm starting to adapt to living in a mancave, and have learned to accept that there is no way I will be able to clean this house to the standard I would like. But living here will only be temporary. Trying to find a way around and between all the boxes is getting more tolerable as there is almost an end in sight. Walking home from work the other day I was suddenly feeling incredibly calm and happy, something I can't remember feeling for such a long time. About six months ago, before there was a new job or house in sight, I remember thinking I really wish the next phase in my life would be something I could entitle "the calm years" in my hypothetical autobiography. And I realise saying it will probably mean there will be a major disaster looming somewhere around the corner, but for now I feel like life is good. And I think I will finally be able to make a little bit of time for cooking and blogging again. 
So, on a Friday night, what do you do when you have a craving for something sweet, half a cup of buttermilk in the fridge and two lemons? Google "lemon buttermilk" of course. And after sifting through the hits, you will end up with the perfect recipe, requiring only ingredients you have at home avoiding the tedious business of having to actually put your shoes on and walk all the way across the street to the grocery store (I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts, as there will be no grocery shop in sight once we move). Anyhows, even better if the whole recipe can be made using only one bowl and an electric mixer. The recipe is from Williams-Sonoma and I have modified it only slightly.

Lemon and buttermilk bars (serves 8):
85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60 ml) plus 2/3 cup (160 ml) granulated sugar
2/3 (160 ml) cup plus 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 eggs
finely grated zest from two lemons
1/3 cup (80 ml) fresh lemon juice (I used two lemons worth)
1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
Icing sugar for dusting
The howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4. Using an electric mixer whip butter and 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and mix on low speed. Press onto the bottom of a buttered pan (8 in (20 cm) square, I didn't have one so I used a 20 cm round one, and ended up with a little bit of filling left over). Bake the crust for 15-18 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Grate the lemons and squeeze the juice out of them. Using the electric mixer, whip together the eggs and 2/3 cups of sugar. Add zest, lemon juice, buttermilk and mix until smooth. Pour onto the crust and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling has set. Let cool, dust with icing sugar and cut into squares of sections.
The verdict:
I haven't been baking very much lately, not only because most of my kitchen stuff is packed away in boxes and the bachelor pad kitchen lacks the most basic kitchen necessities, but also because the bachelor pad oven is a nightmare. I just can't bake anything in it without burning it. It's an oven which has a mind of it's own, and I'm pretty sure the inside temperature doesn't correlate in any way with what it says on the dial. Last week I baked a rather disastrous rhubarb and strawberry cake (but it turned out super delicious. I used this recipe here but added strawberries, and you can see the picture here). The cake was burned on the top (i.e. the bottom of the cake) and not baked all the way through. It was eaten nonetheless, and it was delicious and moist, but not presentable in any way. This time I decided I won't take any chances, so after the cake had been baking for the time stated in the recipe, but the filling was still jiggly, I covered it with foil to avoid it from getting too dark. I assume using a regular oven keeping to the right temperature, you won't need to extend the baking time. But the main point is, finally I managed to bake something without burning it in the oven from hell!

I absolutely loved this tart. Or bars if you prefer to call them that. It's like a lemon meringue pie without the meringue so it's much quicker and easier to make. It's very sweet though, so this is only for the true carboholics. The flavour of the lemon comes through very nicely, and the crust caramelises around the edges of the pie tin. I absolutely love that all you need is one bowl and an electric mixer, the dough for the crust will come out of the bowl cleanly, so you can just continue making the filling in the same bowl. Minimum dishes, minimum time needed in the kitchen and maximum yummy flavour.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Steak ciabatta

Cooking hasn't been very strongly on the menu lately (if you excuse my pun). I spent last week unemployed. Well, if you can call a week of vacation between jobs unemployment. I spent my week cleaning out my old apartment and then cleaning the Culinary Consultant's bachelor pad. And more often then not, while scrubbing walls/floors/bathtubs/sinks (you get the drift) I felt like moving in together might not have been the best decision. And I'm still worried about the exponential increase in housekeeping and gardening time when we move into the new place. But worrying about it won't help. And this week has been a bit easier as I haven't had any time to either clean or worry. First week at the new job. Immediately on the first day there was so much to do. So much new things to learn. I hardly notice when lunch-time comes around. I was worried that after my last job which was moving at the pace of a snail in glue, I wouldn't be capable of working ever again. But seems like the more there is to do, the more I get done. And I realise it's still early days, and I'm getting away easily working on only one project, I am looking forward to really getting my claws into the work.

Possibly the most monumental change is still coming. I have realised this week there is now way I can keep going to my old gym. I was determined to make it work somehow, but after not getting home before nine pm any night that I have been going to the gym, I have realised that I simply have to give it up. I can't spend several hours a day travelling to or from the gym. I am devastated about having to give up my instructors, they are just the best in the world. It is a bit of a comfort that the new gym will have significantly lower membership fees than my current one. And a really cool spa with different saunas, foot baths and scented showers (yes, I was like 'wooot?' too!). So maybe it will work out (again, sic). 

In the spirit of I have hardly spent any time awake at home this week, this isn't really a recipe. It's more like a quickie dinner idea. It turned out rather delicious so I felt I shouldn't keep it from you. 
Steak and pesto ciabatta (serves 2-3):
1 ciabatta (I used one with olives)
3 tbsp tomato pesto (or any other pesto you happen to have around)
6 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp mayo (I used 1 tbsp herb and garlic mayo and 1 tbsp regular)
1 gigantic rump steak the size of your ciabatta
butter and olive oil for cooking the steak
salt and pepper for seasoning
The howto:
Heat your frying pan until really hot. Add butter and olive oil onto the pan, and add the steak. Cook for one minute, turn and cook for another minute. Season. Wrap in foil and let rest for five minutes. While the steak is resting, half the ciabatta lengthwise and add pesto and tomatoes to one side and mayo to the other. Add the meat (I poured the cooking juices onto the ciabatta as well). Cut into slices and enjoy immediately.

The verdict:
Well, this isn't exactly haute cuisine. But it's quick, easy and rather tasty. Nothing like a big slab of red meat every once in a while when you drag yourself home exhausted after the gym. And after paying quite a lot for my slab of meat, I was very relieved I managed to cook it to a perfect medium. I don't have the best track record of cooking meat. But this time I had really good advice from the nice gentleman at the meat counter at Waitrose. We got to chatting, and turns out he used to live in Helsinki for a while! It's a small world after all.