Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas 2008

It's been a while since I added to this blog, and our festive Christmas meal of yesterday seems a good way to start it up again.

We did the 7 course meal that has become traditional since moving to The Netherlands. As there are only two of us, we need something extraordinary to feel festive.

Two amuses to begin: an avocado tartare and a carrot cream brulee. The tartare is very simple, and the secret is in the dressing. The full recipe calls for 1/2 cup of muscat vinegar, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, the zest of two limes and the juice of one lime. You reduce this until it becomes syrupy. I wasn't concerned about the maple syrup, as the amount you use per spoon is so small, it hardly matters. I didn't have any limes so I left out the zest and used juice from a tired lemon.

The carrot cream brulee called for juice from 4 oranges, reduced down, and a small amount of sugar. Once again, the amount per serving is so small I don't think it's worth fussing over.

The soup was a three onion soup, using red onion, white onions and a green onion. Meh, don't bother, it tastes just like normal onion soup. What was interesting was the parmesan crisp instead of the bread and cheese you would expect. They're easy to do, just make little circles of parmesan cheese on a nonstick baking sheet and bake at 180 centigrade until they just start to brown. I would say it takes about 10-12 minutes, I simply watch them like a hawk.

This was a salad of artichoke bottoms (fresh, but you could use canned, green beans and tomato petals. I was supposed to roast the tomato petals but these are fresh: I used centigrade instead fahrenheit when trying to roast them and ended up with tomato crisps. The dressing is the tomato flavoured oil from the tomato crisps and red wine vinegar.

My cop-out: giant garlic and parsley shrimp from the Albert Hein Festive Season selection. I did have to pan-fry them, though.

The main course was venison, a very Dutch choice. In this case, fillet of wild boar, which I just pan fried and serve with steamed broccoli and chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce was from our Cooking Club Christmas dinner. The recipe (for 15 people) asks you to soften 500 grams of shallots and 4 cloves of garlic in 30 grams of butter, with 4 sprigs of thyme, 2 teaspoons of peppercorns and 2 bay leaves. Deglaze with 4 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar, then add a bottle of red wine and reduce down to 200 ml. Add 2 litres of veal stock and reduce down to 120 ml, then strain and season to taste. Just before serving, heat the sauce then add 80 grams of grated extra-dark chocolate. You can't reheat it after adding the chocolate, so either make it for a lot of people, or measure out small quantities of the reduced mixture and adjust the amount of chocolate you add.

These are goat cheese rounds wrapped in bacon that I bought from the organic market. I baked them for about 15 minutes then let them cool to lukewarm. They are served with a port wine reduction: reduce the port down to about a third of the original volume and chill. It's actually wonderful with all soft cheeses, and you need just a little.

This dessert looks spectacular and actually tastes pretty wonderful too. Per person you need a half apple, baked. You can remove the skin after baking. I used some pistachios and dried cranberries in the centre for a festive flair, but you can leave them out and obviously for everyday low-carb eating, the cranberries should certainly vanish! Cover the apple completely with Greek or Turkish yogurt, the 10% fat version. Then scatter grated coconut over it. I used fresh coconut, which I grated myself, but you can use store bought if you can find unsweetened.

Today, it's leftovers!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Trio of Leftovers

Last night I forgot to take a photo of the stunning stuffed portobello mushroom.
However, I have recreated some elements in miniature in this little trio of leftovers we had for lunch.

In the glass is leftover Chicken Avgolemono soup.

Top right is chunks of shrimp mixed with a herbed cream cheese and mayonnaise mix, on top of a slice of avocado. The original dish was portobello mushrooms with the stem removed, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then baked stem side up (well, where the stem used to be) in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes. Then the mushrooms were flipped over and baked another 5 minutes. Leave the oven on while you fill the mushrooms.

Into the stem side went enough chunks of cook shrimp to fill it generously. This was covered with a sauce made of equal parts of mayonnaise and herbed Boursin (allow about one tablespoon per person), lemon juice (about half a teaspoon per person), and about a heaped teaspoon of parmesan per person. Mix well. The original recipe included some frozen spinach, but I didn't have any so I left it out. On top of the sauce sprinkle some parmesan as well, then pop the whole lot into the oven for about 5 or 10 minutes till the topping is warmed through. It was delicious!

Bottom right is a leftover portobello mushroom sliced in half lengthways (I had to make one mushroom serve two people so that's how I did it.) I baked it as above. Onto each half I put two thin slices of Brie, put some leftover chicken breast on top of that, and covered it with some leftover grated cheese I found in the fridge. Probably Gruyere.

Now if I hadn't told you they were leftovers, you would never have guessed, right?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Chicken Avgolemono Soup

This is a variation on the soup we had at Cooking club on Monday. Well, considering that Monday's soup was made with chicken wings and a special stock, plus basmati rice plus cornflour, I guess it's more based on that soup than a variation.

First I used chicken stock I had ready-made in the fridge. Every time I roast a chicken, and we've been having a lot of those lately, I throw the bones into a slow cooker with whatever vegetable ends I have, like carrot tops and bits of onion, and simmer it overnight. Then I strain out all the bits and reduce the stock to about 1/3 of the original volume. Then I cool it before pouring it into ice cubes and freezing it. In this particular case I had about two cups of jellied stock int the fridge that I hadn't yet made cubes with.

I had a couple of roast chicken carcasses, so I picked all the good meat off those. I would guess it came to slightly over a cup. More would probably have been better. I chopped that finely, added it to the stock and heated it up to boiling point.

Then I squeezed out half a lemon, added that to an egg yolk, and beat the two until foamy. I think 2 egg yolks would have been better, given that I didn't use rice or cornflour as an added thickener. I took some of the hot chicken with stock, about half a cup, and added it to the egg mixture. I did that twice more before pouring all the egg mixture back into the stock. I stirred and stirred while it reheated over gentle heat and thickened, avoiding boiling. And then I served it up with some flat-leaf parsley for garnish.

That's one way of doing it. You could make it from scratch by using a whole chicken leg, thigh and drumstick, with a medium carrot, small leek, small celery stick, 2 or 3 parsley stems, a small onion, a bay leaf, a couple of crushed peppercorns and about a teaspoon of salt. Cover that generously with water, bring it to the boil, then let it simmer for around an hour and a half to absorb all the flavour. Strain and measure the amount of stock you have. Reduce to about three cups, or add water to make it up to three. Remove the chicken from the bones, discarding the skin, chop it finely and add it to the strained stock. Reheat, then do the bit with the 1/2 lemon and 2 egg yolks.

The lemon gives it a nice freshness of flavour.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Pineapple carpaccio

It may be worth embarking on this diet just to eat this dessert. Understand that I don't really like pineapple, and you'll get just a glimmer of how fabulous it was.

You want to start with a nice ripe pineapple. The way to choose pineapple is to sniff the base. Once it starts smelling like pineapple, it is ripe, and the more pineappley, the riper.

Cut the top and base off, and then take off the peel as evenly as you can. Slice the pineapple as thinly as possible, about 1 to 2 millimetres. If you have a mandolin or electric slicer, that is ideal, otherwise just do your best with a really sharp knife and try not to cut your fingers off in the process.

Spread the slices out on a plate.

Now make the dressing. You need one part Kirsch to two parts fruit flavoured oil. I used Clementine. Lemon is more readily available and I think it will work. If you try it before I do, please post a comment and let me know.

Drizzle the dressing over the pineapple and leave it for at least half an hour to soak in. Just before serving, decorate with thick cream or yoghurt, and red berries.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Fennel cream soup

The weather is still glorious, so iced soup for lunch is an option.
This one is easy.

Take yesterday's leftover fennel salad and blend it with equal volumes of yesterday's poaching liquid. Stir in some whipping cream, chill well and serve in glasses for eye appeal.

If you want to make it from scratch, because you don't have any leftover fennel salad from yesterday, here's what to do. Allow about one smallish fennel bulb per person.
Take a slice off the base of the bulb, cut the bulbs in half and cut out the hard centre core. Leave the top green bits on. Poach the bulbs in water to cover, with about half a cup of white wine as well as a teaspoon or so of salt. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the bulbs to become tender. Let them cool a little so you don't burn yourself blending them.

Put the bulbs in a blender with an equal volume of the poaching water. This doesn't have to be exact. Add 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of olive oil per bulb, and about a teaspoon of parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth, stir in some whipping cream, a tablespoon or two per bulb, and chill.

You could serve this hot as well, in which case you would stir in the cream just before serving.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Steak kebabs with fennel salad

It's been gloriously sunny for a week, and not much incentive to stay inside and cook. That's why I used steak for these kebabs, it cooks very quickly. Adding vegetables means you can serve more people with less steak, which is also a win.

I used mushrooms, courgettes and red pepper because that's what I had in the house. It looked pretty, anyway.

You need three kebab sticks per person, and you should soak these in a bit of oil and vinegar for about ten minutes. That helps prevent them from burning when you cook, but only if you cook quite soon after assembly.

While they soak, cut your steak into cubes of about an inch, and then cut the other vegetables to match. Put everything into a bowl and toss with some olive oil and spice mix. Use any spice mix you like, I used a sun-dried tomato mix.

Thread it onto the skewers, then cook in a grill pan till done, about 5 minutes for a mediumish steak. Turn the kebabs several times so they cook evenly.

The fennel salad needs more forethought, so you should actually do that first. Cut the tops off the fennel and set them aside. Cut a thin slice off the base as well. Those you can discard or throw into your stockpot. Cut the bulbs in half and remove the hard middle bit, then slice into manageable wedges.

Poach these wedges in water to cover, with salt and about half a cup of white wine added. They will be tender in 15 to 20 minutes. Lift them out of the water, drain them and arrange them on a plate. Make a vinaigrette with one part white wine vinegar to three parts oil and drizzle this over the fennel. Now chop up the green leaves from the tops and scatter that over the fennel with a tablespoon or two of parmesan.

Don't throw the poaching water away. It makes a nice soup base.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Veal with asparagus and red pepper dressing

The dressing for this dish was awesome and I can't remember exactly how I made it.
I will buy some more red peppers and try it again to get the quantities exact and put that in the comments.

The main part of the dish is very easy. Per person you need one veal schnitzel, 2 spears of asparagus (use white or green, whichever you prefer) and 2 spring onions.

Start by preparing the asparagus. Bend the spears lightly so they break naturally. The bottom half is the woody part and you can discard that or add it to a stockpot.
Trim the top parts neatly. If you're using white asparagus, peel the outer skin off with an apple peeler if you're not handy with a knife. Then steam them until just done, which is not more than 10 to 15 minutes at most. You want them still a bit crisp, not soggy.

While they steam, pound the schnitzels as flat as you can with a meat pounder or the back of a heavy knife. Trim the edges so you have a piece as rectangular as possible, then cut them in half. You want two short pieces, not two long pieces. Trim your spring onions to about the same size as the asparagus spears.

Season the schnitzels lightly with salt and pepper. Then place an asparagus spear and a spring onion across each half, and roll the schnitzel around them. Fasten with a toothpick or two.

Heat some cooking oil in a pan that's big enough to hold the little parcels. I use cooking grade/non-virgin olive oil or coconut oil usually. Put the parcels in toothpick side down to seal them, and pan-fry them for about 5 to 7 minutes, turning regularly so that they brown evenly.

You need a stick blender for the dressing, which is one part wine vinegar, three parts extra-virgin olive oil and and unknown quantity of deep red pepper.