Thursday, November 22, 2007

On Snow, Parsnips and SHF

How fitting that my 100th post is about one of the most perfect days I've had in a long time! Last Sunday I went to the mountains in my friends new camper van. After an early start we arrived in Lauterbrunnen, took the gondela up and walked to Mürren. This is why I moved to Switzerland!

The weather was perfect, sunshine, blue skies and the most amazing snow I've ever seen! About 70 cm deep and covered with a layer of crystals several cm big, they were like little Christmas trees. We made a beautiful walk, played in the snow, built mini snowmen and ate lunch in the sunshine.

When it comes to walking food, I'm just not one for sandwiches. I always find that by the time you get to eat it its squashed, cold and often tasteless. Therefore, I prefer home baked lunches, preferably with nuts and cheese for lots of flavour and energy. For this walk I used parsnips as they are back in season! I developed quite a liking for this root vegetable whilst living in Scotland. Before that I'd never even seen a parsnip as they are very hard to come by. However, this year the local supermarket has started selling them as an "ancient vegetable" so we'll hopefully be eating a lot more of them. I know parsnips mostly as a savoury vegetable but they also go well with sweet (think honey roasted) flavours and I'd heard that they can also be used in cakes, like carrots, but that this somehow fell out of fashion after the WWII.

I adapted this recipe (a firm favourite for summer walks) as I wanted to make a savoury and a sweet version to take along and use some of the walnuts from my parents garden. They were a great success. For the savoury I used gruyere, walnuts and fresh herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme), whereas the sweet ones had raisins, nuts, nutmeg and ginger. Both yummy and with lots of energy to keep me going on the walk, hopefully the season will be good, there will be many trips and I can make them loads. This post my entry for this months sugar high friday - The Beta Carotene Harvest - hosted by Definitely not Martha

Sweet or Savoury Parsnip Muffins (makes 6)

1 cup flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 eggs
2 parsnip - grated
1 tbsp creme fraiche
1/2 cup vegetable oil

60g raisins
60g walnuts - chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

60g gruyere - grated
60g walnuts - chopped
2 tbsp fresh herbs
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the over to 180°C, in a large bowl, mix the creme fraiche, oil and eggs. Then stir in the flour and grated parsnip. Finally, add the extra fillings and the spices. Or at this point you can divide the mix in two and make both (make sure to halve the amounts given above). Pour the mixture into buttered molds and top with either raisins or walnuts. Cook for 30 min or until a needle comes out clean. Leave to cool and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nigella's express mousse

I'm not sure if you've been watching the most recent Nigella Lawson series? Titled Nigella Express she promises you ideas to make good food fast with her usual "fantabulous" style. Don't get me wrong, I watched every episode but can't help feeling a bit cheated after every show. Yes, the recipes she shows are fast and no doubt tasty but a lot if somehow pre-made or bought and for me it takes the joy out of cooking a bit. Plus all the hair-flicking, flirting with the camera and vocabulary seems a little out of place to me.

Not that I want to slave over a hot stove every time but when having a dinner party, it's nice to make a bit of effort. But I appreciate that I can be a bit of a masochist when it comes to these things and she definitely has some nice ideas. I've become pretty addicted to her bean mash and when she made her no worries chocolate mousse, I knew I had to try it as I had the perfect occasion/audience.

A friend of mine has been organizing girlie weekend get-togethers in the Lake District for the last 4 years. They are weekends to catch up with her friends (and mine both from before and through this) and they are always fabulous. How often do you get the chance to spend a weekend with up to 20 women your own ages from all backgrounds, nationalities, professions in a wonderful setting?! Most make it every year and we chat lots, walk, have been known to treasure hunt and eat and drink lots of nice things. On Friday night it's casual pizza but on Saturday night all the stops are pulled out for a pot luck dinner. Everyone always makes a real effort and there is always to much food.

And this year was no exception, as I was traveling from Switzerland this year, I didn't want to make something very complicated but still wanted it to shine and I figured these would do the trick. And indeed they are a breeze to make (although I was a bit worries about pouring the hot chocolate mix into the beaten cream which totally deflated of course), set very fast and tasted lovely although it was incredibly rich and perhaps a bit too much after a 4 course meal! I paired them with some wafers inspired by the Essence cookbook I bought recently (fantastic! a definite recommendation and will blog about it soon!). These are very easy to make and look spectacular. The perfect dessert for another perfect weekend, I already look forward to the next one.

Rice paper and cocoa nib tuiles
50 g sugar
50 ml water
rice paper (from Asian supermarket;the white ones for making fresh spring rolls)
handful of broken cocoa nibs (or anything you want to use)

Boil the water and sugar together to make a syrup, then leave to cool. In the mean time line a baking tray with parchment paper, cut the rice paper into pieces and dip one into the syrup. Place it on the tray and sprinkle with some cocoa nibs. Repeat this process till you run out of rice paper. Dry these tuiles in the oven at 80°C for 3-4 hours, they will keep in an airtight container so are easy to make in advance.

And for the people who wanted the flat bread recipe:
Flatbreads (±15)
2 tsp dried yeast (or 30g fresh)
450-475 ml water
750 g strong white flour
2tsp fine sea salt
black pepper freshly ground
50 ml olive oil
extra flour for rolling

Start about 2-3 hours before required and you need quite a bit of space to make these. First mix the flour, salt, pepper and olive oil then add in the yeast and mix well. Finally stir in the water bit by bit to make a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Knead for about 10 min till elastic - you can do this by hand or with a mixer, whatever you prefer - cover the bowl with a lid/moist towel and leave to rise in a warm place. to speed things up you can partially fill the sink with lukewarm water and place the bowl in there. Alternatively, heat the oven to 50°C, turn it off and place the bowl inside. When the dough has doubled in quantity, knock it back and divide in to 15 pieces. Roll each piece out on a floured surface shaped like a large pita bread. Cover loosely and leave to rest for 3 min. Barbecue over fresh hot coals for 1-2 min each side (the bubbles that pop up are great!). You can also try making them in the oven as it's not really barbecue weather, I would guess at 225°C for 4 min each side. If you can use a pizza stone that will make them puff up nicely.