Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Savoury cornmeal waffles

Finally my holiday has begun!!! I got home yesterday evening after my work trip to Bath, and I was exhausted after a really interesting last day and then driving all the way back. I'm not a very confident driver, so the drive was a bit more exhausting than I had expected. But I had a great last day at work with my wonderful colleague, and we got a lot of work done, but we also had time to chat about a lot of things. I got home quite late after trying to finish off a few last things at the office. Then I got home and just enjoyed the incredible sense of relief that the day I have been waiting for so long had finally arrived. And I ended up in bed asleep before 9 pm. So this morning, I woke up an hour earlier than I usually did for work! I had finished my first crafting project before 8 am. I am hoping this holiday will go on and on, but I am trying to focus on enjoying every moment of it instead of worrying about it ending too soon.

After that random rambling, on to today's recipe. I found these savoury waffles on the Kitchenaid blog. As I am very much in love with Claude, my wafflemaker who arrived to our little family a few weeks ago, I am constantly on the lookout for new waffle recipes. And these sounded perfect for a weekend brunch along with some eggs and bacon.

Cornbread waffles (makes 8):
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup cornflour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 tbsp honey

The howto:
Mix all the dry ingredients. Add the rest of the ingredients apart from the egg whites. Don't overmix, only mix until batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form, and gently fold into the batter. Cook according to the instructions of your waffle maker. I cooked on about 75% of maximum heat for 6 minutes and the waffles turned out lovely and golden brown. Serve with bacon and eggs.

The verdict:
These were lovely and fluffy waffles. Super quick and easy to make, the batter only takes a few moments to prepare, so they are perfect for breakfast or brunch. They were nicely crunchy on the surface but soft and fluffy on the inside. I think the cornflour adds a nice crunch compared to using only regular flour.

Waffles are not just a sweet treat, there are so many different variations you can make from savoury waffles. As the recipe makes so many waffles, we enjoyed a few for breakfast, and I popped the remaining waffles in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later date. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Duck crown and plum sauce

As I'm writing this I'm lying on the sofa enjoying a very lazy Sunday. Earlier today, we popped by to the garden centre to stock up on some planting trays and some bits and bobs to plan. Coriander, dill, oregano, garlic, potatoes and wild strawberries. And we already have quite a collection of seeds from earlier, we will be planting courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes and I can't even remember all of it. I only have two more days of work to go, and then I have a week and half of holiday. Everyone keeps asking me what I'm doing for my holiday, whether I'm travelling anywhere. No, I'm not, and I am really looking forward to a holiday at home. I will do a lot of gardening, clear out some of the herbs I don't want and plant some more to replace the ones I will remove. And I'm looking forward to cooking a lot as well, I already have a cooking schedule for the holiday. And I will craft as well. So why on earth would I go away for a holiday when I finally have my dream home with so much to do. Yes, it might make me the most boring person on the planet, but I can't wait for the next 48 hours to go by and when Tuesday afternoon arrives, I am officially closed for business for the next week and a half!!

During my holiday, I am hoping to be able to stock up a lot of recipes to blog about. Sometimes when I plan a menu for the weekend, I force myself to make something new just so that I have something to blog about. But sometimes new recipes get born by mistake, such as the plum sauce in today's recipe. Duck is definitely worth trying, and it goes perfectly with a fruity sauce.

Duck crown with sweet and sour plum sauce (serves 2-3):
1 duck crown about 1kg
salt and pepper
olive oil for cooking

Plum sauce:
3-4 shallots
4-5 tbsp plum jam
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup water
2 tbsp gravy granules
black pepper

The howto:
Take the duck out of the fridge and into room temperature at least an hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper. Make incisions into the skin of the duck over the breasts, about six on each side. Heat a big frying pan, and cook the duck breast side down in oil for 2-4 minutes until the skin is nice and golden brown. Transfer the duck onto a roasting tray. The instructions on the duck said to cook 5 minutes per 100 g, but I ended up cooking my 1kg duck for only 40 minutes instead of 50 as I thought it started to look quite well done. When about 20 minutes remain on the cooking time for the duck, prepare the sauce.

Finely chop the shallots. In a saucepan, heat about a tbsp of oil and cook the shallots for a few minutes until starting to soften. Add the jam, vinegar, soy sauce, water and gravy granules. Stir and let cook for a few minutes. Taste, and add either more jam, vinegar or soy if you think the flavours aren't balanced. Let cook on low heat until desired consistency.

After cooking the duck, let it rest for 10-20 minutes before carving. Slice the breast meat onto a plate, and serve with the sauce. Duck should not be overcooked, it it best when the meat is still redish, rare to medium rare. I served the duck with this goat's cheese salad, but it would be perfect with some roast potatoes (possibly roasted in delicious goose or duck fat).

The verdict:

Duck makes a perfect change to a traditional Sunday roast. It is as easy to cook as chicken, but even tastier. I was a bit nervous about overcooking the duck but it turned out nice and juicy and perfectly pink. And I am especially proud of the sauce, I just tossed in some random stuff form my fridge and it turned out really good. It was both sweet and sour, just the way I like it, with a nice fruitiness from the plum which went really nicely with the duck. Although I guess part of the secret for the perfect sauce was the lovely plum jam, made by the Culinary Consultant's dad. I will definitely ask him for the recipe to make some from our plums next year. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Goat's cheese salad and vinaigrette

Today I had my last penultimate day at work. As in, the last penultimate Tuesday. Tomorrow I will have my last Wednesday, followed by my last Thursday and so on. And in exactly one week from this moment, I will have started my eight day holiday! I have so much planned for that holiday, I was supposed to have a lazy holiday and do absolutely nothing, but turns out I have already booked a place to a career event, hairdresser, optician, and I will try to clean the house from top to toe, maybe re-organise the kitchen cupboards, and definitely try to sow some seeds in the greenhouse, although it might be a bit too early in the year for that. But I'm hopeful for an early, long and sunny spring. Oh wait, I forgot I live on this godforsaken island, I bet we will have icy hail and subzero temperatures all through to early May just for spite. And one thing I will definitely do during my holiday is cook. I will cook something every day, and try to fill the freezer with homecooked meals we can eat during the weeks to come. I have a bit of a food planner, let's see what happens, maybe I will spend all of my holidays on the sofa playing Civilization and serving microwave meals... 

Of all the salads in all the world, I think I like the goat's cheese salad most. Or maybe Caesar salad. Or possibly a nice tuna and pasta salad with pesto... but the goat's cheese salad definitely makes the top five. It's fresh and crunchy but the cheese brings lovely creaminess and makes it a bit more filling. It's a perfect lunch or light dinner, or a perfect side for a meaty dinner. It's not really a complicated recipe, but sometimes just seeing food ideas is great and will get you eating something you haven't though about for a while. This salad definitely deserves to be eaten every now and then. And today's recipe is not just one recipe, in fact it's a three in one!

Caramelised onions:
1-2 onions
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp sugar per onion
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Goat's cheese salad (serves 2):
Mixed greens (I think goat's cheese salad definitely has to contain rocket)
1/3 cucumber
12 cherry tomatoes
4 tbsp caramelised onions
100 g goat's cheese

Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette (stolen from Martha Stewart):
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
black pepper and salt to taste

Start by preparing the caramelised onions. Peel and chop 1-2 red onions. In a frying pan, heat up about a tbsp of olive oil and a tbsp of butter on medium heat. Add the onions and let cook until starting to soften. Add a pinch of salt, and about 1/2 tsp sugar per onion. Continue to cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and dark. While the onions are cooking, don't stir them too often so that the onions start to brown a little and lightly stick to the pan. If you stir the onions too often, they won't caramelise as well. If the onions become really dry towards the end and stick to the pan, add a few teaspoons of water. When the onions are dark and soft, add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and stir to get the dark sticky stuff from the bottom of the pan to dissolve and add extra flavour.

While the onions are caramelising, prepare the vinaigrette by mixing all ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and add honey, vinegar or salt to balance the flavours.

Divide the greens onto two plates. Slice the cucumber and slice the tomatoes in half and divide between the two plates. Add caramelised onions and the goat's cheese on top. Drizzle with the vinaigrette.

The verdict:
Fresh greens and creamy goat's cheese, what's not to love. I don't think I there is too much to say, it's a salad, it's tasty and refreshing and really easy to make. The onions take a bit of time and patience, but are dead easy and cook to perfection while you prepare the rest of the salad. I like to serve the salad while the onions are still warm to make it a semi-warm salad.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Black forest cookie bars

I guess we all accept that a person's taste preferences change over time. There are a lot of foods that you don't like as a child, but grow accustomed to. Say red wine, or olives. But how about sweet preference? I always thought there was no limit to my sweet tooth. However, over the last few years, my sweet cravings have changed. These days, I can keep chocolate around the house without immediately inhaling it in one go. I actually have quite an amazing amount of sweets in the house right now. Several very large bars of chocolate, cookies, cake, ice cream just to name a few. And I keep finding forgotten sweets in my cupboards which would never ever have happened before. Currently instead of craving chocolate, I crave fruit candy. And buns. And bread, I can't keep away from bread. And surprisingly, I have had several rather bad crisp craving moments. I never used to crave salty food. Oh, particularly tortilla chips. Mmmmm.... So I have no idea what is going on, and I am still far from getting back on track with my healthy eating, but at least I'm happy that these days my sweet tooth can be sated with a few squares of chocolate instead of a whole bar. Just keep those fruit jellies away from me. I probably shouldn't keep an open pack of fruit jellies in my car, by the way. It's a bit too easy to snack on candy while stuck in traffic and slightly annoyed and bored. So I better finish the pack I have in my car real quickly so I get rid of that temptation, right?

Onto more food related issues. There are no words to describe how much I admire all the food bloggers out there who have the skill and talent to take the most amazing photos of their food. I know a lot of it is down to things like natural light, and it's probably a bad excuse that I'm never home when there is actual daylight. What is a working woman to do? But talking about amazing food photography, I knew I had to make these black forest cookie bars as soon as I saw the photo of them pop up on Pinterest. And I don't even like cherries! (Well, to be more exact, I love fresh cherries, but have never been very fond of the glacé ones). Anyhow, on to one of the most indulgent desserts ever! 

Black forest cookie bars:
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter
1 cup cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (original recipe says semi sweet, I used milk choc)
2 cups mini marshmallows (I used  1 1/2)
1 jar glacé cherries (the original recipe just states 1 jar without defining how big a jar is, the one I got was 200 g and I think that was about the right amount)
397 g (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (350 F). Butter a 23x33 cm (9x13") pan (I lined it with parchment paper instead, as that makes cleaning up much easier). In a big bowl, melt the butter. Mix with cocoa powder, sugar, eggs, salt and flour until mixture is smooth. Spread into the pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips, marshmallows and chopped cherries on top. Pour the condensed milk evenly on top. Bake for 22 minutes according to the original recipe, I baked mine for 27 minutes as the marshmallows hadn't even started to brown by 27 minutes. I'm not sure how gooey the brownie base is supposed to be, but I would be inclined to bake for another extra 5 minutes, but I think it's a matter of taste. Don't under any circumstance even try to cut while warm. Let cool completely (yes, it's hard but trust me on this one) before cutting.

The verdict:
I wasn't quite sure if I was going to blog about these brownies or not. The first time I had them, they were almost too rich (I feel bad even saying something like that, but hey, what can you do). But then I had them the next day straight out of the fridge, and I actually liked them much better. For me, for some reason they just work better when completely chilled. I also had them together with a bowl of fruit, and that was a really great combo to break the sweetness a bit. Then the Culinary Consultant poured some custard over his brownie and popped it into the microwave until slightly softened, and that worked really well.

The best thing about the brownies is that I have hardly ever come across desserts that don't make me crave more and more and more. Well, these babies will definitely leave all your sugar and chocolate cravings completely satisfied for the foreseeable future. I cut the brownies into really small squares and popped them into the freezer (When I saw the original recipe state that it serves 32, I thought that was a joke. But seriously, cut them small, trust me!). That way I can get a mini treat out whenever I feel like I need one, and it should be enough to satisfy any sweet craving I might have, but at the same time won't mean I will eat a whole cake. Not that I'm saying I would eat a whole cake... who am I kidding here... I probably could eat a whole cake if I had the chance. But the sum total is that these brownies are pretty much the ultimate sweet treat. Consume with caution, but definitely try them out if you enjoy sweet desserts.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Oven baked onion rings

I have been contemplating my life quite a lot lately. After new year, first it was the decision to live more in the moment, to worry less and to enjoy the good things. I have really tried to live up to my word for 2014, 'cherish'. It's just little things, I try to be very aware of the moments when I'm really happy. Like the great feeling I have when I drive home from the gym in the evening, or when I snuggle up to the Culinary Consultant when we are watching something scary on TV and I have to move over from my sofa to his just to feel safe. If anyone told me a year ago I will be blogging about cuddling up with a guy on a sofa I would have told them they need to have their head examined. But that's the beauty of life, you never know what will happen or how the things you experience will change you as a person.

I was thinking about the choices I have made in my life, and how they have led me to where I am right now. Was there one specific point that committed me onto the path that got me here? I don't really think so, I think we make up our future all the time, with all the small actions and decisions we take in life. But the truth is, I wouldn't be where I am today unless I had decided to move to Cambridge. And I would never have moved here unless my supervisor hadn't invited me to come. And I wouldn't have worked with my supervisor if I hadn't applied for that summer job so many years ago. And there are so many other situations where I could have selected differently. I could have joined a different gym. I could have said no when asked out for dinner the first time. I could have told the Culinary Consultant he was crazy even thinking of buying a house together before our first anniversary as a couple. But nonetheless, here we are. In this beautiful house. I don't know whether I will be here in a year's time. Anything can happen. But there is no point in worrying about what is to come. One thing I do know for a fact, in a year's time I won't be in the same job I'm now. And that is a big relief. Actually, in just over a week, I won't be in this job anymore. And that is a thought I cherish. February 24th will come soon. And then there will be new changes and challenges again. I have to admit, I wouldn't mind a bit of smooth sailing for the next few years. No new jobs, but rather being happy in the one I got. No moving house, please. In general, no big changes. Just a bit of cooking, crafting and gardening. And taking time to smell the flowers. I'm not one for big adventures right now. That's not to say I won't wish for big adventures at some point in my life. But for now, I want to enjoy the things I wanted for so long and now have. 

Despite my wish for nothing new and shocking, one part of my life where I don't mind trying new things is in the kitchen. And when I saw these baked onion rings on Sally's baking addiction, I knew I had to try them. They sounded and looked great. And who wouldn't love a good onion ring? Note that you should start the prep a day ahead, so these are not quick, spur of the moment onion rings.
Onion ring production pipeline
Baked onion rings (serves about 4):
1 giant onion (or two large regular onions)
1 pint of buttermilk (or in my case home-made buttermilk)
4 egg whites
85 g (2/3 cup) whole wheat flour
125 g (3/4 cup) ground cornmeal
60 g (1 cup) breadcrumbs (original recipe says Panko, but I didn't have any and neither does Tesco apparently)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
nonstick spray (I used olive oil spray)

The howto:
The day before your big onion ring day, cut the onion into rings and place them in a large shallow dish. Pour the buttermilk (or home-made buttermilk, which you can make by adding 2 tbsp of vinegar to your pint of milk and let stand for a few minutes. It will start to look curdled and slightly disgusting but that's ok, that's what it's supposed to look like) onto the onions and let stand in the fridge over night (or at least 4 hours according to the original recipe, but mine were soaking for about 18 hours). Apparently soaking your onions in buttermilk will make them soft and tender. I should probably have tested this using a double blinded placebo controlled trial, but for now I will believe that soaking really makes a difference.

The next day, start by pre-heating the oven to 220 degrees C. Then prepare the coating. Mix flour, cornmeal, breadcrumbs and the spices. In a bowl, lightly mix the egg whites. Take a onion ring from the buttermilk, coat in egg white and mix in the coating until covered. Place on a oven sheet covered with parchment paper. Before placing in the oven, spray the onion rings with the olive oil spray lightly. Cook for 10-15 minutes, remove from oven, flip the onion rings, spray with olive oil spray and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until your desired level of crispness. 

Before baking.
The verdict:
These onion rings certainly are healthier than your average onion ring. They are good, but I would not dare to say anywhere close as good as the real thing. But they have their own charm, the coating certainly is crisp, and you can taste the flavour of the onion much better than in regular onion rings where most of the onion flavour is completely masked by the taste of oil. They were great served with pulled pork burgers. But they are quite a lot of work, coating all the rings and I ended up with four or five oven sheets full of rings. Good thing I have two ovens! Next time I make them, I won't use the world's largest onion, so that I can fit more of the rings onto the baking sheet, that should make things easier.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Paul's eight-strand plaited loaf

I was watching my hands the other day while I was writing a blog post. I have no idea when or how it happened, but my hands look old. The skin is definitely starting to lose some of it's elasticity and it's no longer smooth like it used to be. This despite the fact that I have always treated my hands really good, I hardly ever go to sleep without giving them a good rubbing with hand cream. And I always keep hand cream in my drawer in the office as well, so I can add a bit during the day if my hands feel dry. Still all these little lines are starting to form. Then I had a look in the mirror, and I could see all these lines around my eyes as well. I still keep thinking of myself as being young, but the fact is I am starting to show my age. I have not been a twenty-something for quite a while. I'm all for people looking their age, but I would just like someone to explain to me when all of this happened? I look around on Facebook, and my friend's children are going to school now (in Finland, children go to school at 7 years old, so much later than here in the UK). How is it possible my friend's kids are growing up at the speed of light when I don't feel any older. Well, at least now I have to face the fact that although I don't feel older, I certainly look it. It just feels so strange. But I guess I have not only changed on the outside, I have changed inside my head as well. I would never want to be in my 20s again. My life has certainly got much better as I have gotten older. I feel much happier and calmer. I am lucky to have surrounded myself with wonderful friends, although many of them I don't get to see nearly as often as I would like to, but they are still there. I am learning to enjoy the things that really matter, and ignore the things that don't.

After this long and completely pointless rant, I will elegantly link the previous paragraph to this one by saying that one of the things I really enjoy is a good loaf of fresh bread. I was watching the Great British Bakeoff Sports Relief the other week and immediately afterwards got inspired to dig out my Great British Bakeoff cookbook. For a long time, I have wanted to try out Paul's eight stranded braided loaf and the other day I thought I should just go ahead and try. 

Plaited loaf:
500 g strong bread flour (I only had all purpose so I added 2 tsp wheat gluten)
14 g (2x7g sachets) dried instant yeast
7 g salt
20 ml olive oil
340 ml water
1 beaten egg with a pinch of salt added, for glazing

The howto:
Weigh the flour into a bowl. Tip in the yeast and the salt but make sure they don't touch. Add the oil and mix. Then add three quarters of the water and mix. Work in the rest of the water. When the dough is coming together tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Place back into an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about one hour. 

Knock back the dough (knead it a few times to remove the air). Divide into 8 equal parts (use a scale to make it easier and more exact). Roll out to strands about 40 cm (16 in) in length. Attach one end of the strands to the work surface. Number the strands from left to right 1-8. Every time you move any strand, you need to renumber all the strands, so that the one most to the left is always number 1, the next one is number 2 and so on. 

Plait as follows:
1) 8 under 7, then over 1
2) 8 over 5
3) 2 under 3, then over 8
4) 1 over 4
5) 7 under 6, then over 1

Repeat from step 2 until you get to the end of the strands and tuck the ends under the end of the loaf. I couldn't find a youtube of Paul doing the plaiting, but here is another video of how to do it if you are struggling with the instructions.

Leave the loaf to rise at room temperature on a baking sheet for about an hour. Towards the end of the hour, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. Brush the risen loaf with the glaze, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a hollow sound is heard when you tap the underside of the bread. Cool on a wire rack.

The verdict:
I was surprised that the plaiting was much easier than I thought it would be. It's just a few simple steps which are repeated over and over. The thing that was much harder though was to keep the loaf a constant thickness throughout as my strands would get thinner and thinner towards the end of the strands as they got stretched from all the action. So that is definitely something to work on next time. Other than that, it's a rather simple bread dough, just give it a good kneading and it should be fine. I think I should have kneaded mine a bit longer as the top of the braid was splitting a bit when baking.

The bread itself is a basic white loaf, tasty but the real wow factor is more in the shaping of the bread. I love the sheen it gets from the egg glazing. I ate the bread for breakfast simply toasted with a bit of butter, and we made some pulled pork sandwiches with it as well.

If you want to see how your loaf measured up with the Bakeoff loaves, have a look over here to see the British Bakeoff bakers get judged on their plaited loaves. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Viva Veggies

The other night we had a power cut at home. It followed a very short but rather extreme winter storm with high wind, pouring rain and some loud thunder and lightning. First we thought it would be really quick, as we were assured engineers were already on site when we called the electricity company. But it started to get dark, and still no sign of electricity. It was rather nice and atmospheric to have the house lit with candles, and the Culinary Consultant soon started snoring on the sofa. But I started worrying about what would happen with all the stuff in the fridge, not to mention the freezer in case we would have a longer power cut. And then I realised we have an even bigger problem - the snakes! They are dependant on electricity to keep their tanks warm. So we started to plan for what we could do in case the power cut would be long. Over the Christmastime, I know there were households without power for days. Luckily the power came back on after about six hours, several of which we actually spent at a friend's house enjoying wonderful Cosmopolitans. But after the incident we made a contingency plan for future power cuts. We will buy hot water bottles and get some equipment so that we can boil water even without electricity to keep the little ones warm comfy in case of an emergency. Things I never thought I would do: make plans for snake re-heating.

The power cut was a great reminder that it is always good to keep some emergency food at home you can eat even if you don't have any electricity at all to heat things up. Crackers, jams, tinned food... Although I guess we could have driven off to the nearest Tesco in case of an emergency, but you never know. It could be extreme weather, or something else weird. We already learned last summer during some problems with the water supply that having a few gallons of drinking water always stocked in the garage is a great idea. And there are probably a few other things we should stock up on, such as a few flashlights and batteries for them. So remember to keep safe out there and plan for unexpected emergencies. Particularly, we are so dependant on electricity that it becomes quite hard to imagine life without it, but extended power cuts do happen. 

Well, after the above public service announcement, on to more interesting subjects. Such as today's yummy dish. Looking back at my food diary from the last few years, I used to eat much more veggie dishes than I do now. I guess having a dedicated carnivore in the house has shifted my cooking to include meat or fish at almost every meal. I'm not sure I'm happy with this, I would love to eat more vegetarian. The Culinary Consultant will eat anything I put in front of him, but I know he prefers a meal which contains something from the animal kingdom. 

I got this recipe from a friend and she said this was the best vegetarian dish she had ever had. So obviously I had to try it out. And tell you all about it!

Viva Veggies (serves 4-6 as a side):
1 bunch broccoli
1 bunch cauliflower
2 tbsp butter
225 g (1/2 lb) mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tomatoes, sliced
55 g (1/4 cup) butter, melted
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

The howto:
Precook broccoli and cauliflower until tender crisp. Sauté mushrooms in 2 tbsp butter. Grease a 20x20 cm (9x9 in) dish. Mix mayo, sour cream and parmesan and mix the sauce with the veggies. Transfer to an oven proof dish and cover with tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix melted butter with breadcrumbs and sprinkle over tomatoes. Although not in the original recipe, I sprinkled some additional grated parmesan on top. The original recipe instructs to cook for 20 minutes at 160 C (325 F), I cooked for about 30 minutes at 180 C to get to my desired result.

The verdict:
As my friend suggested, this was a rather tasty meal. I'm not sure I would go quite as far as calling it the most delicious vegetarian dish ever, as there was a oven roasted aubergine I had in an italian restaurant once which is pretty hard to beat. But this was definitely delicious. I particularly liked the topping with the cheese and buttery breadcrumbs. I also liked the combination of mayo and sour cream, it was tasty and yummy but at the same time refreshing because of the slight sourness. And the Culinary Consultant ate it without complaining, so I think it had to be quite good as he prefers things from the animal kingdom.

I made this as a light (well, light as in no meat, but not necessarily light as in low calorie) lunch and served it with bread. This makes a good lunch or veggie main on it's own, but both me and the Culinary Consultant agreed that it would also make a wonderful side to any meat or fish dish. This will definitely go on the list of dishes I will make again. The only change I will make is to add a bit more mushrooms, but I guess the proportion of mushrooms to cauliflower and broccoli depends on the size of your bunches of veg. Mine were rather big so there was a lot of cauliflower and broccoli compared to the mushies, but that is of course easily remedied. I very warmly recommend you try this, it's very yummy!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Korvapuusti - Finnish cinnamon buns

Bring on the weekend! I spent Friday as I usually do, hitting the gym after work, and then getting home, getting in my PJs and having dinner and resting my poor aching bones and muscles. Then I snuggled up in bed while waiting for the Culinary Consultant to finish pudding. And I fell asleep (well, it was close to midnight, so you can't blame me). Then I was served warm rhubarb crumble and custard in bed. I ate it while reading a book, and then went back to sleep. That is what I call a perfect start to the weekend. Today I have been very domestic, cleaning the house and cooking. And I had a very productive crafting session in the morning. I can't believe this is what my life has come to. Cooking, cleaning, crafting and sleeping. And I'm loving it! My friends go out to party, seeing movies and being social. I don't know when I turned 75, but clearly that happened sometime in the last year or so. But I'm not complaining. We go through phases in our life, and clearly I'm going through a very peaceful and domestic phase. Instead of worrying about it, I will enjoy it wile it lasts. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, so do whatever makes you happy right now!

Talking about what makes you happy, let's talk about cinnamon buns. But not just any cinnamon buns, Finnish cinnamon buns. I think I have posted a recipe for Finnish cinnamon buns before on the blog. But I'm not sure. When I was reading food blogs, I always laughed at blog authors who said they weren't sure whether they had posted a recipe or not. I thought how can you not remember what you have posted. Well, here I am, with less than two years of blogging behind me, about 150 blog posts, and I have no idea what I have blogged about in the past. So no wonder others who have been blogging for years and years cannot remember what they have posted. But the upside to all of this is, if I can't remember, I doubt anyone else can either. And to be honest, these buns are so incredibly good that I can't write enough about them anyways. So either for the first or second time, Korvapuusti, or Finnish cinnamon buns. I have taken the recipe from Kinuskikissa, the most popular Finnish baking blog, and I think the recipe for bun dough is the best I have ever used. I also used the instructions here from the same blog for the filling. 

Korvapuusti (Finnish Cinnamon Buns), makes about 36 buns:
500 ml milk (any level of fat, but I like whole milk the best)
15 g instant yeast
2 dl sugar (200 ml or 3/4 cup plus one tbsp)
1 1/2 tbsp ground cardamom
2 tsp salt (I usually use less, about 1 tsp)
1 egg + 1 egg for glazing
200 g butter, melted
about 15 dl (i.e. 1.5 litres or 6 and 1/4 cups)

For the filling:
150 g butter, room temperature
200 ml light muscovado sugar (3/4 cup plus one tbsp)

The howto: 
Mix the milk and the yeast. Add the sugar, cardamom, salt and egg. Add about 3/4 of the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon and later with your hands. Add the melted butter, mix more and add the rest of the flour. The dough is a bit more sticky than regular bread dough, but it should be possible to knead it without too much sticking. I usually use a dough scraper to help me. Knead for about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film, let proof in a warm place (I like to place the bowl on top of the boiler) until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours. 

Take the dough out of the bowl and knock it back (knead gently to knock the air out of the dough). Divide into two halves and work one half at a time. On a lightly floured table, roll into a rectangle, the dough should not be too thick. The origin for this recipe suggested about 25x85 cm rectangle, I never measure mine, it's not that important I think. Except if you are on the Great British Bakeoff and are being judged on each bun being the same size. But my buns are all individuals, and celebrate their wonky appearance.

Spread half of the butter onto the dough. If it's too hard to spread, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds. Sprinkle half of the muscovado sugar on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. Then roll into a tight roll (roll along the long side of the rectangle so that you get the longer possible roll). Divide roll into bun sized chunks, to me about 16 made a nice sized bun, it's not too big so you can eat at least two in one go. Do the same to the other half of the dough.
Shaping of the Korvapuusti is a personal decision every baker has to make on their own. You can cut straight down the log, giving you neat chunks. These can be placed on the baking sheet either with the cutting side up (this is the Swedish way of baking them), or in the same orientation they are when you cut them off the roll. But the traditional shape of a korvapuusti is to cut them at an angle as you can see in the picture below. They are then placed on the baking sheet with the wider part to the bottom (so every second piece needs to be flipped upside down compared to the orientation they are in when cut). Using your finger, press to make an indentation at the top along the length of the bun. This will allow the buns to spread when baking, giving them the traditional look of ears, which is where the buns get their name. Korvapuusti is the Finnish word for "slap around the ear".
Traditional korvapuusti are cut at an angle.
The cut pieces are placed on a baking sheet with 
the wide part facing down and an indentation
 is made on top to push the sides out and give 
the buns their ear shape when baking.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Let the buns rise on the baking sheet for another 10-15 minutes. Then brush with egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar. I don't know if you can get the pearl sugar outside Scandinavia, I always export some with me when I leave Finland. Pearl sugar is the only correct sugar to use on buns, but if you don't have access to it, regular sugar will do as well. Bake for 10-15 minutes. The buns should have a golden colour, but I like mine rather a teeny tad underbaked than overbaked.

The verdict:
My Grandma always says that "Children should have pulla (Finnish word for buns)" and I think cinnamon buns are the best. AndI might be a bit biased, but I think this is the best way to make Cinnamon buns. I love any bun, including the American ones with all the glazing and stuff, but the Finnish simple buns will always be the best. They are pretty and taste amazing. They are best eaten on the day of baking, I like them best while still warm, and just might or might not have eaten four of these babies almost as soon as they came out of the oven. If you eat them the next day, give them 20-30 seconds in the microwave and they will be perfect again. The buns freeze well, and can be frozen either before or after baking.