Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Finding Nemo, cocktail in hand...

So Blog party 23 hosted by Stephanie has the theme of Sci-Fi mixology. The inspiration I chose for this is perhaps not directly what you think about but somehow I couldn't get this image out of my head that I saw on a poster the other week. So my entry is based ona classic "science fiction" novel: twenty thousand leagues under the sea. Of course the famous captain Nemo was then reimmortalized by Disney a few years ago in the Finding Nemo movie.

So I use a pate brisee as a base, some egg whites flavored with lavender sugar (1 egg white-30g sugar put in a water bath at 100C in the oven for about 30 min) to make the ball and cut little fishes out of slices off peach. They were very easy to assemble and very pretty, if I do say so myself, although I think sweet finger food is perhaps not the best, they were more like petit fours.

The cocktail was based on this recipe made with homemade limoncello, sparkling white wine in stead of rose and I again used lavender sugar in stead of normal. This was really nice and I think, if the weather picks up we will be making this one a lot this summer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A herby Irish breakfast

As I went a bit overboard with planting seeds this year, we have a huge excess of fresh herbs (I know...not a problem) so we've been eating lots of tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil salads, Thai basil stir fries and Japanese sisho with lots of stuff. At the same time we're clearing out our freezer and there was a huge supply of Clonakilty Blackpudding in there (what can you do with an Irish boyfriend but I've grown to love the stuff too). So on Saturday when the weather was looking decidly dreary we had herby potato pancakes with blackpudding for breakfast in preparation for our trip to the green isle next week.

I love potato pancakes! I'd never had them before I moved to Scotland but by the time I left I was totally addicted. Potato cakes with bacon and maple syrup, with sausages, with jam or just with plain old butter. They are all that is stodgy and wonderful in the world and make you feel all warm and happy inside.

Just take your left over potatoes (or often I boil some specially) add salt and pepper and in this case a large handful of fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and chives. Then add flour until it all holds together and if you're really indulging some sour cream or creme fraiche. Fry in a medium hot pan for about 5 min each side and you're in comfort breakfast heaven!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Waiter, there's something in my...Dumpling!

I was so excited when Johanna announced the theme for Waiter there's something in my....dumpling!! I've always loved them but never made them much. So I was contemplating which way to go and on our trip to Prague at the start of the month, I found my inspiration. Just off the Old town square we saw a string with some funny looking rolls around it and as we were in desperate need of a drink and snack after seeing all the beautiful architecture we sat down. They were called Staroceske Trdlo and are made of sweet yeasty dough, rolled around a metal ring and into a mix of ground almonds and sugar. This is then roasted over gas and eaten warm. They were so yummy, and we had quite a few over the weekend to keep the energy up with all the sight seeing.

So I decided to make a dumpling covered in this mixture, but to make it a little bit more special I filled it with half an apricot, a bit of sugar, almonds and ginger (inspired by these tarts that I've made lots). They were a breeze to put together although I was a bit surprised how big they became and we ended up eating way too much but tasted great. I liked the little hint of ginger, the freshness of the apricot and the caramely sugar on the outside. I think I'll be embarking on a dumpling filled summer after this!

Apricot, ginger and almond dumpling (makes 8 fairly big ones)

For the dough
400 g flour
50 gr fresh yeast or 1 sachet dried
1 tsp sugar
about 200 ml milk
pinch of salt

For the filling:
4 apricots
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp roughly ground almonds
1 tsp ground ginger

For the outside:
a mix of 2 part sugar, 1 part ground almonds

Put the flour into a bowl, mix the sugar and salt in and crumble the yeast into it. Add the fluid and work till you have a nice soft, springy dough. Cover and leave to rise for about 1 hour (if in a rush, fill the sink with lukewarm water and leave the dough in that for 30 min) then divide into 8 pieces and roll them out into a circle. Cut the apricots in half and mix the sugar, ground almonds and ginger together. Put half an apricot onto each piece of dough and fill the place of the stone with the ginger mixture. Roll into the dough and leave to rest for 5-10 min. In this time, bring a big pan of water to the bowl. Add the dumplings and boil for about 8-10 min, lift out and roll in the sugar-almond mix. Enjoy whilst still warm.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yeah, my EBBP package finally arrived!! I came home on Tuesday and waiting on the table was this box full of lovely food. Tommy assembled a great variety of British sweets which was a lovely reminder of the UK for us. Barry pretty much devoured the liquorice all sorts and pink wafers and I'm enjoying a lime boiled sweet with a chocolate centre every day after lunch. The crisps also didn't last long as they were a great variation from the usual natural or paprika you get here (I never thought I'd miss the weird and wacky UK flavours). Tomorrow we'll have a BBQ so we can try out the fancy ketchup which looks very good. Another great edition of EBBP hosted by Johanna. I look forward to the next one :-)

Monday, June 18, 2007

London eats and summer noodles

Ok, it's been a while ago but at the end of May I went to London to meet up with two close friends, we had traveled together through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and India two years ago but hadn't seen each other for ages. It only took about 2 min and we were back to our normal chatting, tea and cake routine! We had a great weekend full of shopping food and musea starting on Friday with Portobello road, books for cooks and the spice shop (a true treasure trove). Books for cooks was amazing, first we had lunch in their cafe part, then I spent about 2 hours browsing (whist the girls were chatting) and they had to stop me from buying too much as I had to carry it all back in the handluggage. On the way back, we stopped for afternoon tea (we were in britain after all) at the Tea Palace. It was amazing, I had lovely kuchicha tea with an almond and blood syrup cake with Chai Masala ice cream. It was lovely, moist from the syrup and crumbly from the almonds. The ice cream was rich, creamy but not too sweet. After this, we went back to Sharon's flat where she cooked us our favourtite dinner, potstickers and buddah's delight.

On Saterday we went to Borough market, again the buying had to be stopped due to weight restrictions but we did sample lots of nice things. Then we walked along the Thames to the Tate modern, spent a few hours in there and visited the Japan centre where I stocked up on lots of foodstuffs that I just can't get here. In the evening we reminised about our travels over a great Vietnamese meal at Cay Tre (301 Old Street, London). We had many old favourites, fresh spring rolls, Bun Cha and Fish in Caramel sauce that came complete with flaming plate!

Sunday morning, we said hello to the dinosaur at thenatural history museum, visited the V&A where we saw the Kylie exhibition. This was great fun, lots of dancy happy music, nice costumes and more, which was just what we needed as we were getting a bit tired with all the trips. Had lunch in their beautiful cafe, walked past Harrods, Harvey Nicks and met up with other friends at a great wine bar. Finally we had a quiet night in and went to bed early as we had to get up at 5 to catch our planes. All in all a great weeked and I came back with lots of nice foodies to eat. One of them were these beautiful pink somen noodles. The first time I had these was when I was living in Japan taking a cooking class with Elisabeth Andoh in Tokyo. It was a focus on cold noodles for the hot summer and these were one of them. As the weather picked up drasticaly this weekend it was the perfect opportunity to make them. The dipping sauce is very easy to make, keeps well and can be used for all sorts of things. We enjoyed them on the balcony with their dipping accompaniments (the shiso were the first harvest from the balcony)...but as i was telling Barry, now that they're finished I just might have to go back to London to get some more :-)

Thin noodles on Ice serves 4

For the sauce
3 tbsp seasoned soy concentrate (see below) thinned with 1/2 cup dashi (also see below)
200g thin noodles
Ice cubes
For the condiments:
1 tsp peeled and grated ginger
4-5 shiso leaves, finely shredded
2 tbsp freshly toasted white sesame seeds, coarsly ground

Bring a large pan of water to the boil but leave room for more. When boiling, add a cup of water and repeat this step. Test if the noodles are cooked. Drain and rinse them under cold water. Place ice cubes in a bowl. Put the noodles on top and add water till they are barely floating. Divide the sauce over 4 small, deep bowls and add condiments to your liking. Lift noodles out of the ice water, then dunk them briefly in the condiments and sauce mix before slurping them.

Seasoned soy concentrate makes about 2/3 cup

5-6 large iriko (dried small sardines)
8-10 square inches kombu (preferably a high glutamate variety)
1 dried shiitake mushroom or stems from 3-4 mushrooms
1/4 cup dried thick bonito flakes or 1/2 cup tightly packed katsuo-bushi (fine bonito flakes)
2/3 cup soy
1/3 cup sake
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp mirin

Remove the black internal organs of the fish. Place iriko, kombu shiitake, kombu, bonito (only think ones, if using fine ones add later) and sake in a small deep saucepan and leave to infuse for 1-24 hours. Add the sugar, water, mirin to the pan and place over low heat. When the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to keep it from boiling too vigorously. As the sauce simmers, it becomes quite foamy, rising in the saucepan. Keep from overflowing and reduce by about 1/4 till it becomes syrupy. Remove from the heat and if using the fine bonito flakes scatter them into the pan now. Wait 2-3 min for them to sink, thin strain the liquid through a paper lined strainer. Reserve the solids and leave the concentrate to cool naturally, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Put the soy-drenched bits of kombu, fish and mushroom into a pan with 2-3 cups of cold water, bring rapidly to the boil, strain immediately and discard the solids. This will make the dashi.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunken fudge

Hurrah...the second browniebabe of the month is here! I was gutted to miss the first one hosted by Myriam but have made it in time for this one. Brownies have always been a permanent fixture in my family. I've been making them since I was little, they would be the cake I would bring to school on my birthday for the class (Dutch tradition), bake on holidays and pretty much any occasion I would get the chance. The original recipe came from a German colleague of my Dad and the proportions are etched into my memory. Sometimes I would add some walnuts or perhaps some crystalized orange but in general I was a purist brownie person. Why change the best recipe there is?

Then about a year ago, I had to eat my words and another brownie. One of the girls in work brought some in and they were delicious! So I got over my pride and asked her for the recipe. It was an old news paper article with many vairations. I moved it around, put it in different folders but never quite got myself to make them. Then I figured this would be the perfect event, I would experiment and use this basic recipe. To feel a bit less like a traitor, I opted for a blondie variety. I decided on a lemongrass blondie with fudgy bits inside, a great idea in my head but it still needs some tweaking. The taste was great but they were a bit too springy. Probably something to do with too much baking powder as I only had plain flour. In addition all the fudgy bits sunk to the bottom making it tricky to get them out of the pan. Next time I will add these halfway through the baking process along with some of the lemongrass. I grated 5 sticks (with my amazing new microplane grater!!) and even though it tasted lemony I think I would like the taste to be a bit more pronounced. So all in all, a good first attempt, but not quite enough to make me leave my old and trusted recipe :-)

Lemongrass blondie with fudgy bits
100g white chocolate
100g butter
225g sugar
130g flour
1 level tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
tube of sweetened condensed milk (300g)
salt to taste
5 stalks of lemongrass, grated

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, when hot, pour in the sweetened condensed milk along with the salt (depending on how salty you want your caramel-I used 1 1/2 tsp to counteract with the sweet white chocolate). Stir continuously until it becomes a caramel colored ball that comes clear from the sides. Test a little bit on a plate to see how solid it is, if too hard, add a bit of water. Allow to cool and cut into pieces. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Boil water in a pan, take off the heat and put the butter and chocolate in a bowl over the pan and stir to melt. Stir in sugar, sift flour and baking powder on top and add 3/4 of the lemongrass. In a seperate bowl, beat the vanilla extract with the eggs and stir this in. Pour into a greased tin and bake for 15 min, then add in the fudge and bake for another 15-25 min. If necessarry, cover the brownies with parchment paper when they get too brown. Take out of the oven and after 10 min, turn out onto a cooling rack

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The perfect pot

LIfe has been hectic recently....with stomach flus, midnight work and Barry's parents visiting, there has not been much time for cooking. I did however manage to cook in my new addition to the kitchen: this beautiful red cast iron pot! I'd seen it a few weeks ago at our local flea market . My eye was caught by a glimpse of bright red. Closer inspection showed it was a beautiful oval pot, the enamel was in pretty good condition with only a few chips missing at the edge and on the bottom was logo of a capital R with a crown.

But I thought I should be sensible, we have a small kitchen, I didn't really need another pot, specially as I already had one that's a similar size. So I walked away, went on with my shopping and tried not t think about it. But I kept thinking about it, regretting I left it and dreaming about the casseroles and stews I could make in it. And then after three weeks I went back and it was still there! I couldn't believe my luck. So I thought, I'd have to check how much it was, the owner would tell me it would be really expensive and I could walk away. But it wasn't! 10 chf = £5 = €7 so I had to take it home and I'm so glad I did as it's great. Every morning I'm greeted by the beautiful red glow and brimming with ideas of what to cook in it. As it's summer, and the weather has picked up again it's not really stew weather so I opted for this French summery stew. It's lovely and creamy but the Cider and vinegar still keep it light. It tastes great with pasta and some blanched summer vegetables.

Pork meat in Cider sauce
serves 4
500g pork meat cut into cubes
10 shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 bottle French cider or white wine
1 dl white wine vinegar
thyme and bay leaf
1 tbsp creme fraiche
salt and pepper

Heat half of the oil and butter and brown the meat quickly. You might have to do this in several goes. Add the rest of the oil and butter and brown the shallots. Add the cider and vinegar and deglaze the pan. Add the meat back in along with the herbs and seasoning and simmer for 1h 15 min. Reduce the sauce and add the creme fraiche.