Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long lazy summer lunch

Yesterday we had guests for lunch. Lisbet and I were bubbling over with ideas. We wanted the dishes to be simple and summery but we just couldn't decide which to include and what to leave out. So we just did it all! 

We started with a tomato, mozzarella and basil pesto tart. For the recipe, click here

For the second course, Lisbet made a dish she is famous for - an Asian style salmon salad. I have recorded the recipe below and can't wait to make it myself. It was simply sensational and the guests raved about it! 

The massive pile of chopped coriander, mint and rocket going on top of the salmon and asparagus.
The final touch - black and white sesame seeds from Renee Voltaire.
The final product, ready to get flattened in a matter of minutes to sighs of delight. 

Asian style salmon salad
Serves 6 – 8 starter portions

600g of best quality sashimi grade salmon (we used salma salmon which is fantastic) 
12 green asparagus spears, ends trimmed 
Juice from one and half limes 
4 Tbsp of soya sauce (or to taste) 
1 Tbsp of the juice from the pickled ginger
1 tsp of wasabi or horse radish
30g of coriander, roughly chopped
30g of mint, roughly chopped
30g of wild rocket, roughly chopped
6 Tbsp of pickled sushi ginger, roughly chopped
60ml of sesame oil
30ml of olive oil
Black and white sesame seeds for garnish (Renée Voltaire Japanese mix)

In order to make this dish you need to plan ahead and do all the preparations accordingly. Then it will be easy to serve and enjoy with your guests.

Freeze your salmon in order to make it easier to cut. You may need to let it to thaw a bit if it is frozen too hard. Cut it into very thin slices and lay these slightly overlapping on a platter and allow this to defrost completely.

Cover the asparagus spears with boiling water for the kettle for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water, setting them aside for later. Drizzle them with a little olive oil and some salt to taste. 

Mix up the dressing ingredients – the lime juice, soya, wasabi and ginger juice (check the flavours and adjust where necessary) and set aside for later. 

Wash, drain and roughly chop up the herbs. Add the chopped ginger and set aside for later. 

When you are ready to serve, heat the sesame and olive oil until smoking hot. Drizzle the hot oil over the salmon, pour over the dressing. Scatter the asparagus spears and pile the herbs over the top. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately. 

A pot of fresh mint adding a touch of colour and decoration to the kitchen counter. 

My avo and boiled egg Caesar salad waiting for the final touches of fresh chives and Caesar dressing. I forgot the Parmesan shaving but it was still delicious. For my Caesar salad recipe, click here

My potato salad which I am busy enjoying the left overs of while I type. Yum. Even though the recipe is pretty much the same as always, it tastes totally different as the ingredients I have used are different. The vinegar I used is Oliviers and co. and infused with honey. The stock is Renee Voltaire who's products I am crazy about. I also added a touch of truffle salt to the stock which added a soft earthiness to the taste. The pesto I used is alla genovese which is far cheesier and creamier than the one we get in South Africa. That is the great thing about traveling, it makes you see the world in new and exiting ways. For my potato salad recipe, click here

The Lamb we made for the second time, as Lisbet was craving it. It also gave me the chance to write down the recipe and take a few more pictures. I will blog about it in more detail soon. Just need to find the time to get it all down in black and white first.

We ended with my good old favorite, Devils food cake. I don't think it turned out that well. I had to substitute baking powder with the bicarb in the original recipe and I it just wasn't as light and fluffy as it usually is. But everyone still loved it and I just love how the berries and mint looked all over it. For the original recipe, click here

Such a gorgeous day, still basking in the after glow.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wooohooo, online on the island!

Sunset last night. This picture is taken at 22h30, it is only dark from midnightish. 
We finally got wifi on the island! I feel like a new person. The lack of contact with the outside world can get a bit much after three weeks...

We have loads to do and get prepped as the next wave of guests is due tomorrow, my bosses wife is also not feeling well so we decided to have a very light, simple lunch.  Soft poached eggs on gluten free seed bread with fresh chopped herbs. It was perfect!

This way of eating eggs is a staple in my mothers home. We have grown up with it and are sad if we don't get it when we visit her. The secret is in the herbs. You need loads of herbs, a combination of  which ever of the following you have available is good; using the first few listed as the bulk and the last few sparingly as there taste can be overwhelming - basil, parsley, chervil, thyme, oregano, sage, mint, dill, coriander. To this you add some fresh chopped garlic, salt, pepper and a pinch or two of curry powder. Add some chilli if you like a zing. Spring onions are good to add too. Chop it all roughly and pile it onto of your poached egg.

Don't get fancy and add stuff to this. Just enjoy the magic that happens between the egg and the herbs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some food highlights

I am going back to the island tomorrow. As much as I love it there and am happy to go back, it means I leave the wifi behind... so no more blogging. I will however keep taking photos and will roll out the stories as soon as I am able.
It is also late now and I have had a long two days behind me so I am going to keep my writing short and sweet. If anyone is so overwhelmed with the need to know a detailed recipe, send me a mail and I'll work on it for you.

A week ago we had some guests and the weather was pretty chilly so we decided to make a more warming wintery meal. Norway is famous for its lamb so we decided to roast a leg of lamb. I marinated it with warming rich flavours - studded it with garlic, coated it with cumin and garlic yogurt and sprinkled dried herbs and tandoori spices all over it. I created a sealed foil parcel around it in which I had put chopped onions, tomatoes and lemon wedges.  I roasted it in the oven at 180 C for an hour and dropped it to 140 C for a further one and a half hours. I opened the sealed foil parcel and allowed the lamb to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it up, using the cooking juices to make a very basic gravy. 

It was so tender, moist and flavoursome. The accompanying dishes were baked aubergines, saffron rice pilaf and cucumber raita. My guests were beside themselves and ate until they all had to go for a long walk before dessert, to ease their tummies. 

For dessert I made an apple and berry crumble served with vanilla ice cream. I substituted xylitol for the sugar in the recipe which I have been doing a lot lately. It tasted just the same! I just loved the above picture as I had poached the apples so they were warm and topped that with the frozen berries which then started smoking like dry ice. I thought it look pretty cool. 

Our one guest brought with her a basket full of chanterelle mushrooms which she had picked in the forest by their house in Sweden. I was so excited, as I just love chanterelles and can only buy them dried in South Africa.

We had them for breakfast the next morning. I fried up some lardons and finely chopped onion in a little butter, then added the mushrooms and fried them slowly until all the moisture had cooked away. I seasoned this with a little salt, pepper and dried thyme and served it with soft scrambled eggs and a mountain of chopped fresh herbs. It was out of this world.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My first Norwegian Risengrynsgrøt!

What? You haven't heard of Risengrynsgrøt before? Me neither, but rice pudding pretty much sums it up. I have always despised rice pudding. My mom always used to make it with left over rice and somehow it was always just stodgy and gross (sorry Mom, you know how much I love your cooking!)

So when the daughter of my boss begged to have this for lunch one day, I took a side step and let her Dad make it for her. I had to try some as I always try things I don't like in the hopes that one day I'll come around to it. Well, in this case, it worked. It was frikkin delicious!

It is more like a sweet risotto. The rice looks like a smaller rounder arborio rice grain and you cook it the same way allowing the liquid, in this case milk, to soak up slowly as you stir the simmering dish. Once cooked through and creamy in texture, you eat it with heaps of cinnamon, sugar and a dollop of butter. Seriously addictive stuff!

Apparently there are much fancier versions of this dish which are traditionally eaten at Christmas - with vanilla, almonds, cherry compote and cream... YUM!!! I want to try that.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Greek salad my way

So I mentioned that I have been trying (mostly) to keep the menu very healthy, fresh, raw and light. Salads have been a focal point as the whole family loves them and so do I. It has been fun tweaking some of my old favorites using the locally available ingredients and also trying some recipes which my bosses wife has been sharing with me.

I loved the way this Greek salad turned out. The look of it really appeals to me. Naturally there isn't a recipe as I am not cooking with my note pad and measuring equipment around me, while on this job. But I will try to explain some of the steps which I felt made this salad such a success.

How you cut up the veggies which form the body of the salad is vital if you want it to look great. The way I like to handle the veggies is as follows. Look at the photo of the salad to see what I am trying to describe if it is not clear.

Cucumber - cut the cucumber in half length-ways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Try to create an even semi circle when doing this so that when you slice it each slice looks perfect. Then cut the top and bottom off and slice the cucumber into 1/2cm slices.
Tomatoes - if using big tomatoes slice them into quarters and with a paring knife remove the seeds leaving only the flesh. Then slice that in half length-ways creating little crescents. Removing the seeds also prevents the salad drawing too much water.
Peppers - choosing the right colour here is important as your cucumber is green and your tomatoes are red so I would go for a yellow or orange pepper to keep the colours vibrant. I would try to cut this into pieces around the same size as the cucumber and tomatoes. I usually cut the top and bottom of the pepper off leaving me with the straight sides of the pepper. Then I cut that up into manageable pieces and slice that into 1/2cm wide sticks.
Onion - I like to use red onion for the colour and I cut the onion in half length-ways cut off the top and bottom and slice up the onion into 1/4cm slices creating half moon shaped slices. I pour boiling water from the kettle over them, to remove the sharp taste and then rinse them in cold water.

The rest were ingredients I found in the fridge (ie - I hadn't bought them myself). The feta came in blocks pre marinated in herbs and olive oil. The olives were from what looked like a Turkish mix with various types of olives and some kind of bean too. I used the oil from the marinade to drizzle over the salad as it looked particularly well spiced. I had fresh thyme, basil and oregano at hand so I decided to use them all. I topped this off with a light grating of lemon zest, a drizzle of lemon juice and rose peppercorns which are light, crispy and sweet with a lovely peppery zing.

The family and their guests loved the meal. I served the salad with a home baked quiche, fresh bread and a platter of smoked salmon with horseradish and capers.

In Norway when you buy fresh herbs at the supermarket, you buy the whole plant. I just love this concept.
It keeps the herbs fresh while you use them and decorates the kitchen at the same time. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nor fricken way, man!

Arriving in Oslo after the chaotic Cote d’Azur was a true breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. France is swelteringly hot at the moment and by comparison dirty and hostile. My last day in France was totally chaotic and almost catastrophic as the officials in the airport made our lives hell, in French. After my boss made a phone call to the owner of the airline (god bless contacts), we finally managed to get hurried onto the, by now, very delayed plane but our luggage was then lost. I am sure the disgruntled ground staff played no small part in this happening.

Arriving in Oslo airport was the complete opposite of our experience at Nice Airport. The staff were friendly and efficient and without much delay, our bags were returned to our doorstep.

Now back to the air again. The air here is fresh and cool. The water from the tap tastes like the best mineral water. Strangers smile and greet you. People are honest and caring and almost everyone speaks fluent English. Those who don’t, still try to be as accommodating as possible. I feel safe and welcome here.

I spent two days on a peninsula in Oslo called Bøgday before leaving to a small privately owned island just off of a town called Tjøme. The house here had been closed all winter so I came with a team of workmen to get the house and gardens ready for the family to spend the summer. 

View from the terrace.
View over the water

View over the fjord from the hill top
The island is a paradise. Remote without feeling isolated. Perfectly groomed and cared for property but surrounded by unspoiled nature. The house is simple but tasteful and all the modcons one needs to lively comfortably. All except internet… horror… I have been offline for three weeks! I am only able to post this blog because we will be back in Oslo at the end of the week and I am writing in anticipation of being back on the grid! Can’t wait!!!

Now over to the food. The food has been fabulous. One of the main reasons I decided to join this family in Norway for the summer is because my boss is a doctor of nutrition and his wife is hugely into healthy living and eating. We have had a fabulous balance of healthy and decadent. There have been guests most of the time we have been here so we have been trying to keep the menus healthy but have thrown in a few treats and celebratory dishes.

My bosses wife and I seem to have a very similar palate and have enjoyed sharing recipes and chatting endlessly about ingredients, recipes and food experiences. We have been working with as many fresh raw meals as possible, keeping things as sugar, gluten and dairy free as we can too.

The one noteworthy exception was a special request from the kids of a New Yorkan family who wanted pancakes (what we would call crumpets or flapjacks). 
I have blogged about these before but this time I think I have perfected the recipe. I have made them a few more times since then, as the kids here keep requesting them.

The recipe is simple with the main version coming in the method. The whites of the eggs are separated and the whites are whipped until stiff and folded into the remaining mixture. This adds the lightness which I seemed to have been missing before.

The Americans ate their pancakes with maple syrup, the Norwegians with raspberry jam and crème fraiche and I had them the way I always do, with butter and honey, just the way my granny taught me. Heaven! 

American Pancakes (Crumpets as my Granny called them)
Makes about 20 medium sized pancakes
3 large eggs, separated
125g of plain flour
1 ¼ tsp of baking powder
150ml of milk
2 Tbsp of castor sugar
½ tsp of vanilla essence or equivalent vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Into a small mixing bowl separate the egg whites. Add the yellows into a medium sized mixing bowl. With an electric cake mixer whip the whites until stiff.

Add the remaining ingredients to the yellows and whip with the cake mixer until pale and creamy. With a spatula or wooden spoon gently fold the egg whites into the mixture being careful to keep the air in the mixture. If you are unsure about this take a look at this youtube link.

Heat a large non stick frying pan. Add a little oil if needed but if the quality of the non stick is still good you should not need to add oil. Gently drop heaped tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. Flip them once you see largish bubbles appear in the mixture. The bubbles should not be breaking but just appearing before you flip the pancakes. They should be golden in colour.

It is best to gather your guests around the stove for the pancakes to be eaten as soon as they come out the pan. But if this is not possible keep them warm and serve them as soon after preparation as possible.

Each person has their own favourite way of topping pancakes. It is best to have a few alternatives of jams, honey, nutella, berries, cinnamon etc. and let your guests decide how they would like them.

The traditional American way of having a stack of large pancakes eaten with a knife and fork doesn’t appeal to me at all. But this is totally up to you. I was raised with hand eaten honey and butter dripping crumpets and this still makes me very happy.