Saturday, June 27, 2009

Breakfast buns with hazelnuts

Fresh, soft buns for breakfast? Slightly warm, with hint of hazelnut and lemon? You want? I tought you might. This is a recipe I bookmarked ages ago at papilles et pupilles, when I had bought a jar of almond purée out of sheer curiosity and was looking for things to do with it. I finished the jar without ever making the buns but the bookmark stayed put. Thank god it did! Those buns are fantastic! And apart from the resting time overnight, they're finished within minutes! I can't believe this recipe hasn't travelled around the world like the no-knead bread. Go make them! Now! And spread the word!

Breakfast buns with hazelnuts (makes about 12)
  • 500g plain flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 plain yoghurt
  • milk (the eggs, yoghurt and milk have to add up to 425ml)
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut purée (the plain kind without sugar)
  • 80 powdered sugar
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1 packet dried yeast
  • peel of half a lemon (the original recipe uses combava)
In the evening, combine all the ingredients to make a shaggy and wet dough. Cover and put it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, tip the dough onto well floured surface and shape it into a roll that you cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll the dough pieces into balls and put them into a buttered muffin tray. You can cut a roughly nut-sized piece off each piece of dough and put a little ball on top of each bun to get the typical brioche shape. I did, but they flattened out during baking. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise on the kitchen counter for about 1-2 hours. Bake for 15 minutes at 200°. Remove from the oven and brush with a little milk (or eggwash before baking). Let cool on a wired rack for a few minutes. They are best eaten fresh with butter and marmelade - I thought lemon was a particulary good match.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Udon noodles with sweetheart cabbage, mushrooms and sriracha sauce

Two noodle recipes in a row, I know. It's a total coincidence, though. We do eat other things than noodles.

Part of the charm of the subscription to a vegetable delivery is that you get vegetables you wouldn't normally buy or that may not even be on sale at the greegrocer's or supermarket. Like the sweetheart cabbage (gotta love it, if only for the name!) I found in this week's bag. I can't remember having eaten it ever and I have most certainly never cooked it so far. I fancied noodles so without doing any research on the stranger in my vegetable drawer, I decided to stir fry it with some onions, button mushrooms and bacon. Why bacon? Cabbage loves a little pork, I reckoned and really - you can't go wrong with bacon, can you? A spritz of soy sauce and a liberal dousing with sriracha sauce (be a liberal as you dare) finished the dish off. I ate it by myself in the balmy evening air in the "company" only of the neighbours, also out on their balconies or rooftop terraces.

Udon noodles with sweetheart cabbage, mushrooms and sriracha sauce
(serves 1 or 2 , depending on greed)
  • 80g udon noodles
  • 0.5 tablespoons rapseed oil
  • 0.5 onion, in strips
  • 1 tablespoon bacon in small dice
  • 1 sweetheart cabbage 1, finely sliced, tough parts removed
  • 8 button mushrooms, quartered
  • soy sauce
  • sriracha sauce
Cook the udon noodles until soft, drain and refresh quickly under the cold tap. Set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or large nonstick frying pan. Fry the onion and bacon for about 2-3 minutes, then add the cabbage and mushrooms and stir fry over a high heat until the cabbage is done. Sesason to taste with soy sauce and sriracha sauce. Add the noodles and toss for a minute until everything is evenly mixed and the noodles are heated through. Serve immediately with more sriracha sauce for those who like it hot.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Soba noodle salad with coconut dressing

Last year, my employer invited a nutritionist to give talks on what to eat in order to stay healthy during the colder months, hoping, of course, that less people would have to call in sick. A clever little plot, somewhat less radical and obvious than the free flu jab. There was a lot of talk about vitamins, minerals, free radicals and their friends and relations. Very interesting but not much has stuck, to be honest. And after reading "In the Defence of Food: an Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan, I'm not sure it even matters. I thought the greatest tip we got was to make your plate as colourful as possible as, apparently, a variety of colours (vegetables and fruit, not gummy bears) pretty much equals a variety of nutrients. Nutritional value aside, it looks and tastes great. If all the lectures on vitamins, good fats and bad fats definitely turn out to be complete bogus, you at least had a lovely meal. What more could you ask for? Get that chopping board out!

Soba noodle salad with coconut dressing (serves 2)
  • 160g soba noodles
  • 1 scallion, white part finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 zucchini, julienned
  • 1/4 head red cabbage, very finely chopped
  • 1 small handfull sprouts (rocket, onion, alfalfa)
  • 6 radishes, quartered
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • a dash of soy sauce and lemon juice
Cook the soba noodles until soft. Drain, refresh under cold water and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a wok or a large frying pan. Stir fry the onions and carrots for one minute, then add the zucchini and cook for another minute. Add the cabbage and toss. Remove from the heat and put the vegetables into a bowl. Let cool slightly. Add the cold noodles, sprouts, radishes and tomatoes. Stir the coconut milk, sweet chili sauce and sesame oil together and season to taste with soy sauce and lemon juice. Pour over the noodles and vegetables and toss until everything is evenly coated.

I had some grilled paneer with it. Tofu would be nice, too and more "authentic".

Friday, May 15, 2009

Salt-kissed buttermilk cake as seen on 101 cookbooks

Are there any foods that irresistibly draw you towards a dish on a restaurant menu or in a recipe? I for instance will order almost anything with tarragon. Or make any cake that features yoghurt or buttermilk. For rasperries I have such a deep-founded love, I can easily polish off a whole punnet on my own, anytime, anywhere. It's no suprise then, that the salt-kissed buttermilk cake with rasperries Heidi Swanson wrote about on 101 cookbooks last year ticked all the right boxes for me. I changed a few things, using only half wholewheat flour and half plain and a little more sugar than indicated. It's a delicious cake, not to sweet, which I love and perfect with for afternoon tea or coffee. Heidi recommends serving it with whipped cream, I wouldn't, though, I found it quite rich as it is, even if it's not high in fat.

Dos and dont's:

Don't: misread 1 teaspoon of salt for one tablespoon, think that Heidi Swanson must be mad to use this much salt, use a lot less and still too much.

Do: make this cake, eat it and love it.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Risotto in the speed of light

Purists, avert your eyes, cover you ears. The method for cooking risotto I'm writing about in this post is so unorthodox, it'll have you throw your hands up in horror.

I use my pressure cooker for making risotto, There, I said it. I never dreamt of making risotto any other way than patiently stirring it for twenty minutes or so until I read this post in Sigirid's beautiful blog cavoletto di bruxelles. I reckoned that she knew a thing or two about cooking and if she considered the pressure cooker method to be ok, I'd give it a try. And I haven't looked back, to be honest. I wouldn't say I'd never make risotto the traditional way again, but the pressure cooker method is so fast, you can have a perfectly good risotto on you table in roughly ten minutes, preparation time included. What's not to love about that?

Pressure cooker risotto (serves 2)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 160g risotto rice
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 5dl boiling broth
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 1 small knob of butter
  • freshly grated pepper
Remove the steaming device from the bottom of the pressure cooker. Heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent. Add the rice and cook for a minute or two until it is shiny, then add the wine and let evaporate. Add the broth, stir and put on the lid. Heat until the valve hisses, turn down the heat and cook the risotto on level two of you pressure cooker (for mine, it's when two red rings show on the valve) for six minutes. Place the pan under the tap and run cold water over it in order for the steam to be released. Open the pan, place it back on the stove and stir for a minute or two until the remaining liquid is absorbed. Stir in the butter, parmesan and black pepper (I also added some chopped spring onions and parsely at this stage), cover and let rest for five minutes. Serve immediately.

I have made this with excellent results using carnaroli. I was given a bag of rice called avorio and tried it, too. The end result was even better but it takes longer, I'd say ten minutes. I don't know what this avorio rice is about, it looks like it's been parboiled but I'm not sure. Does anyone know? All I know is that I want more of it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I can't wait

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lunch, anyone?

What's your lunchtime personality? Do you grab a sandwich at the cafeteria and eat at your desk? Devour a huge plate of pasta that will have your blood sugar crash in a major way by 3 p.m. or do you prefer something light like sushi, a wise point from a nutritional point of view but maybe less so from a financial one? A square of chocolate, an espresso, two cigarettes and back to work? Or do you maybe take a carefully prepared packed lunch every day? I am a little bit of everything (except for the coffeine-nicotine-sugar "lunch", but I swear I didn't make that up), only if I'm honest, the packed lunch doesn't feature on the menu as often as I would like it to. Which is crazy because the amount of money I spend on mediocre restaurant lunches and ridiculously overpriced sandwiches is seriously very crazy! I have therefore come up with a plan. I am queen of plans as you might have noticed reading this blog. I will take a packed lunch every time I go to yoga at lunchtime, i.e. usually three times a week. In four weeks, that will save me enough money to buy another ten-class ticket at my yoga studio. How cool is that? Double health factor! I'm starting tomorrow and brimming with optimism with this brightly coloured bulgur wheat salad.

Bulgur wheat salad with chickpeas and vegetables (serves 1)

  • 60g bulgur wheat (I used the coarse variety)
  • 0.5 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 large handfull chopped vegetables - whatever you fancy
  • chickpeas (roughly half a can)
  • 3-4 chopped mint leaves
  • juice of half a lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
Cook the bulgur wheat for seven minutes in double the volume of salted water to which you've added the turmeric. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let the bulgur steam for about five minutes. Let cool a bit. Toss with the vegetables (I used red cabbage, carrots, radishes, spring onions and rocket), the chickpeas and the mint. Stir together the lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the bulgur and mix thoroughly.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ricotta cake

There is no need for me to lose many words about this ricotta cake. It is simple, unpretentious and delicious. I love it for breakfast, as a snack, with my tea in the afternoon and at any other time of the day, and I think you will, too. There are only two things you should know:

1 - You have to be serious about creaming eggs and sugar or the cake won't rise. To be on the safe side, you might want to separate the eggs and fold the whipped egg whites into the batter alternating with the flour. Then again, you might not, because why dirty two bowls if you can get away with dirtying one and anyway, you live live dangerously. I do, and I'm no friend of washing up, which is why my cake is just a tiny bit on the soft side on the bottom as you can see in the picture.

2 - This cake looks very innocent but you don't want to get fresh with it, adding apples, chocolate chunks or nuts etc. A small handfull of raisins is all that it can handle. Otherwise, the cake won't bake but turn into a sorry, solid, doughy block. The Husband ate a large piece of solidified cake batter with chocolate once and said he liked it, but his judgement is clouded when it comes to food containing chocolate.

Ricotta cake

  • 190g sugar
  • 1 tub soft ricotta (250g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • some vanilla extract or grated lemon peel
Preheat the oven to 180°. Cream the eggs and sugar together for a few minutes until the mixture is very thick and lightly-coloured. Best use one of those nifty hand-held blenders with whisks for that or get ready for a little workout. Sorry, but this step is vital, see point 1 above. Add the ricotta and yoghurt and mix well, then mix in the vanilla extract or grated lemon peel. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together and fold into the ricotta mixture. Add a little more flour if the batter seems too thin. Pour the batter into a small baking tin (roughly 23 cm diameter round or a 20x20cm square tin) which you've buttered and lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for about twenty minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Turn onto a wired rack to cool.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spaghetti with rocket or how not to go shopping

I subscribed to a vegetable delivery service, similar to the neighbourhood CSAs in the US, only my vegetables don't come from a community garden in the city but from a farm nearby. Every other week, I get to collect my bag at the drop-off point in our neighbourhood. I love the fact that the vegetables are organic and haven't travelled around the world before they reach my plate. The killing of a live lobster during a theater performance witnessed by my very dear friend M. sparked a heated debate between a group of friends as to how we treat animals and more generally - how we feed ourselves. I considered the killing - and possibly torturing - of the poor lobster for the sake of theater to be completely inacceptable while M. argued that surely it didn't matter whether lobsters were killed at restaurants or on a theater stage and what about slaughtering chickens, cows, pigs - why wasn't I opposed to that? I'm not going to replay the whole lobster debate here but it did get me thinking about what food I buy and how I handle it. (Which will make M. happy as it proves just how powerful theater can be and because it might mean that the lobster didn't die in vain.) Enough about seafood though, back to the veg. Here's what I got in my first delivery:

  • a huge bag of spinach
  • a somewhat huge bag of baby salad leaves
  • a relatively huge bag of fiercely peppery rocket
  • a fennel bulb
  • a cucumber
The spinach I polished off right away. For the next dinner it was going to be salad (obviously) and rocket-something. Pizza with parma ham and rocket? I had my shop for pizza dough, mozzarella, canned tomatoes and parma ham all planned out when it hit me: I go food shopping all the time, way too often, always buying new ingredients rather than putting together what I already have. I decided there and then to stop. There was food for many meals in the cupboards and I was going to use it. The result of this new mindset (let's hope I can keep it up - it will not only save me money, but time, too!) were spaghetti with béchamel sauce, ham and chopped rocket*, generously topped with grated parmesan. My grandmother used to make this with peas instead of rocket and bake it in the oven. Quintessentially unitalian. It was a good dish, not something I would want every day, but still good. The real revelation? Not going shopping - every so satisfactory.

* Make a béchamel sauce, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the ham and some grated parmesan. Add the cooked pasta and the chopped rocket and mix carefully for a minute or two over a low heat, maybe adding some reserved cooking water if needed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tuna and avocado tartar

I salute the people from the posh supermarket for making my life so much easier by selling small jars of toasted sesame seeds. They also make me quite a bit poorer but I'm very willing to pay the price! So much better than buying a huge bag of the stuff, at least half of which will have to be tossed because it turns rancid long before I could use it up. (As it happened in this household very recently.)

This tuna and avocado tartar is somewhere in between Jamie Oliver's, my very dear friend M.'s version (who learnt to make this from a friend and a talented chef but using salmon and not tuna) and the one I sometimes eat for lunch at a japanese restaurant. Except I don't go there now because tuna tartar and a bowl of rice require a 45-minute wait. The avocado makes it velvety-smooth and quite filling which is great when you make this as a meal but you may want to leave it out when serving the tartar as a starter.

Tuna and avocado tartar
Serves 1

  • 100g sashimi grade tuna
  • half an avocado
  • juice of 1 lime
  • rice vinegar
  • grated ginger
  • sesame oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • chives
Using a very sharp knife, dice the tuna and the avocado into 1cm-cubes. Put into a small bowl and carefully toss with the lime juice. Add all the other ingredients and taste as you go along until you're happy with the result. It think it's best to go easy with the sesame oil and the ginger, they can be overpowering. M. suggested using coriander and yes, I'm getting used to it but I wasn't feeling brave tonight. Rinse a small bowl with cold water and fill in the tartar, pressing down carefully. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about twenty minutes. Upturn onto a plate and sprinkle a little more sesame seeds on top. Serve on its own or with a bowl of japanese rice.