Friday, August 31, 2012

Roller coasters and lemon zest

Storm clouds gathering over Antibes

I am back in France after packing up the island house, then finishing up in the Oslo house, getting back to France, catching up with people and then resting, resting, resting… and no cooking. Tomorrow I start on a three week job on a yacht; getting my camera out or spending time writing is not really going to happen. I still have quite a few photos and recipes from Norway which I want to share and if I get the time, I will. 

Dusk over the Oslo Fjord
But today I want to share the simplest thing. I have never really thought to share it before as I had never realised that so few people know about it or use it.

I love using lemon zest in my cooking. It was only until my boss commented on how much lemon zest I use that I finally realised how uncommon it is. 

In my teaching I have had to demonstrate how to use it many times. Most people think of lemon peel as bitter. And it is. That is why lemon zest is called zest and not peel. The white part is the bitter part. So if you grate, zest or cut off the zest you need to avoid getting through to the white part. Even then you should taste it before you add it to food, as sometimes (but not often) even the zest can be bitter.

The zest has a totally different aroma to the juice. It is not sour but it has a wonderfully lemony aroma. Just smell it and you will understand. This adds an amazing flavour to so many dishes. Dressings, marinades, rice dishes, pasta sauces, desserts, vegetarian dishes and meat dishes alike. I just love it. Oh yes, and the same applies to oranges and often limes (they can sometimes be bitter).

I often have more lemons with all their zest removed than I have need for their juice in my fridge.

If this is a new concept for you. First, you need a good sharp grater or zester. You need the small side of the grater; the one that still looks like a cheese grater but is at least half the size. Not the one that turns everything to powder or pulp. It must be sharp. In the picture above, I have a lemon zester.

Otherwise you can cut the zest off the sides of the lemon, avoiding the white pith. Then chop or slice it. A little goes a long way, so don’t overdo it. Smell and taste it before adding it to food. Then taste the sauce or food after, so you can begin to understand how it affects the flavour. (You should do that with all spices and herbs. Don’t trust the recipe, trust your senses)

And a final note; cooking and eating is personal. I just love lemon zest. Other people love chilli, or sweetness, or salt. There is no right or wrong, it’s just you. Taste, experiment and trust your own palate. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fruit, veggies and herbs are the new flowers!

I was browsing through my photos the other day and noticed that I had taken quite a few photos of the fruit and veggie baskets and herb pots around the house. There isn't really a designated drawer for fruit and veggies in the kitchen here, other than in the fridge. So, I have been arranging them in a way that looks appealing in the collection of lovely bowls and baskets they have. 

I think it looks pretty good. In fact it looks great! I think I am going to invest in some seriously good looking bowls and baskets when I get home. And pots for herbs. And buy loads of fresh herb plants and have those around the house instead of pot plants. And now I'm getting really excited! I can almost smell home... only one and half months to go. 

Don't you think these are so much nicer than a wilting box of herbs in the fridge? 

Even this little guy in the corner by the sink looks great!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A lunch I just loved cooking!

Yesterday my boss was being interviewed for one of Norway’s leading papers by one of Norway’s leading writers and journalists. So naturally I put quite a bit of effort into the lunch menu. As you know, I like to keep things simple and honest and yesterday's menu just unfolded from me with such ease and enjoyment. I just loved cooking it. 

I made a fresh pressed juice of fennel, cucumber, lime, apple, mint and melon as a welcome drink and crudites with home-made hummus to snack on while they got themselves set up for the interview. 

The photographer bonding with Sophia, the sweetest black Labrador I've ever met. 

Lisbet aka Mrs. Herb doing her thing.

 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
2 tsp of fish sacue
1 - 2 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 from 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, fish sacue 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. Arrange the asparagus spears and pile the herbs over the top. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately. 

The main course consisted of - rare pan seared beef fillet with caramelized onion and red wine sauce; new potatoes with herb butter; cooked beetroot in a garlic yogurt dressing; lentil salad with chopped peppers, red onion, fennel and apple with a white balsamic, honey and olive oil dressing. 

For dessert I opted for a simple fruit salad of carefully chosen fruit. The flavors, colors and textures must compliment each other. I chose mango, kiwi, segmented orange, raspberries and blueberries. I served this with my favorite cheese cake sauce.

Cheese cake sauce
Makes about two cups

400g of Philadelphia cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 a cup of castor sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp of vanilla essence
2 tsp of grated lemon zest (just the yellow part, non of the white)
6 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl with an electric cake mixer until smooth. Add a little water if it's too thick. Set aside until ready for use.  

The meal ended with a cheese board. The cheeses were mature Parmesan, Comte and Gorgonzola. Served with spelt seed crackers, fig jam and mango chutney. The fruits I chose to serve with this were grapes, raspberries and blueberries.

I pretty good meal I think. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Old faithful vanilla cake

A few weeks ago we had guests staying with a whole bunch of kids. I wasn't going to have the time to cook meals for the adults plus a special menu which the kids would enjoy too, so I just focused on good wholesome family food. The one dish I made which in my mind was ultra simple but ended up looking and tasting really great was the vanilla cake. 

We had bought raspberries which were just amazing. Huge, sweet and juicy. I mashed some up with xylitol (a lower GI sugar substitute) to fill the cake and kept a few on the side to decorate with. I cut the cake in half width ways and spread the mashed raspberry over the bottom layer and let the juice soak into the cake. Over that I spread a thick layer of softly whipped chantilly cream (cream with a little sugar and vanilla) and put the top half of the cake back. 

To decorate, I dusted the cake with icing sugar and arranged the remaining whole raspberries and some mint springs on the top. It was devoured in seconds with great enthusiasm. 

I have made this cake dozens of times before and had to learn the hard way (four very flopped cakes worth on one of my trips to Joburg) that when baking at altitudes you need to adjust the raising agent, temperate and baking time. I found this website very helpful, click here

Vanilla Sponge Cake with raspberries and cream

250g Butter, just melted but not oily
250g (1 ¼ cups) castor sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
225g (1 ½ cups) cake flour
25g (2 Tbsp) corn flour
2 tsp baking powder (adjust this accordingly if baking at altitudes) 
A squeeze of lemon juice
300g of fresh raspberries
250ml of whipping cream
Castor sugar and vanilla to taste
Icing sugar for dusting the cake
Sprigs of mint (optional)

Heat the oven to 180 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

With a cake mixer, whisk the melted butter and sugar until light and fluffy, slowly beat in the eggs, vanilla and lemon. Gradually sift in the flour, corn flour and baking powder.

Line and grease a 23cm round cake tin. Pour the mixture into the the tin and bake until golden and springy for about 25 - 30 minutes.

Remove from the tin when cooled a little and allow to cool completely before icing or filling the cake. 

Set aside some of the best looking raspberries for decorating. Mash the rest with sugar or a sugar substitute until they mixture is as sweet as you like it. Whip the cream with a little castor sugar and vanilla essence. Do not over whip the cream. You want it to be a little oozy. 

Cut the cake in half width ways and spread the mashed raspberries over the bottom layer and let the juice soak into the cake. Spread the chantilly cream over that and put the top half of the cake back. 

To decorate, dust the cake with icing sugar by shaking the icing sugar through a sieve, to get it light and powdery. Arrange the remaining whole raspberries and some mint springs on the top.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Keeping you posted...

The view from the Oslo house. Bliss!
This is a post to explain why there have been so few blog posts. What there has been is food glorious food, fabulous guests from all corners of the globe. Rain rain rain and then sunshine. Parties, serious business meetings, luncheons, lazy brunches, spontaneous dinner gatherings and most of all laughter and sharing.

So, I have load of stories to tell and recipes to share, but sadly not the time to write about them - just yet. If you don't subscribe to my posts by email - there is a field you can do that in just under the logo on the right hand side of the page. A friendly email will let you know when I next get the chance to sit and pour over the fabulous photos and recipes I have been taking down over the last 2 weeks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Great gadgets and almond milk cappuccions

Even though I am on a remote island in a fjord in Norway, I have some fabulous gadgets to play with here. One of them is a Nespresso machine which makes the milk foam right in the machine and you just need to press the cappuccino button and hey presto, in a few seconds, there it is. So, suffice it to say, I've been drinking gallons of coffee... we all have.

In general I have been substituting dairy wherever I can but this little addiction has lead to a significant increase in my milk intake. The man I work for is a doctor of nutrition and has done extensive research on what happens to proteins when they are heated, and it's not good. In fact its really bad. Most milk substitutes are made using extreme temperatures, so they were not keen on me getting store bought rice or soy milks. So I looked into making my own raw almond milk.

I did a little research online and discovered how ridiculously easy it was, and I got to use another amazing gadget they have here... the thermomix. To read more about this fantastic machine, click here. I am so getting one when I get home, and am sure I will write allot more about it. But not now.

Back to the almond milk. All you need to do is soak the raw almonds for between 12 - 24 hours in water, then put them in a blender with water, a pinch of salt and some form of sweetening (I have tried agave syrup and dates - the agave syrup tasted best). Then blend it to a fine pulp and strain it through a colander lined with clean jcloth (or muslin or nut bags - but jcloth is easy, cheap and accessible). You then return the pulp to your blender, add more water, blend it again, and strain it again. You can add as much or as little water as you like making the milk creamier or lighter. Here is video I found online which illustrates the method (if not my recipe) really well, click here.

Firstly - it tastes delicious! In fact I think it might taste better than cows milk. Secondly, once adding it to the nespresso machine it frothed up exactly the same way as the regular milk does. There has been much excitement around this and we all feel way less guilty about drinking so many cappuccinos and lattes now! It also makes a great dairy free white sauce and is delicious on cereal.

The milk keeps well in the fridge, even though it does separate over time and you need to mix up before using it. One of our guests thought the milk had gone sour and threw it out... oops!

I used 250g of raw almonds (then soaked them), to that I added 3 Tbsp of agave syrup, a pinch of salt and three litres of water divided into two batches for the double blending mentioned in the method above. But experiment with the quantities and make it the way you like it. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bircher muesli

I have blogged about bircher muesli before but I simply have to blog about it again. Now there's not much more I want to say about it other than that I must have made at least 10kg of it over the last month as the family and their guests have been wild about it. It must be the recipe which has been most requested so far. Now if that's not a good enough reason to try it, then what is?

If you want to read what I wrote about it before,
click here.

The only real deviation to the ingredients in the recipe below is that I have been adding lots of cinnamon rather than vanilla and recently I have been making fresh pressed apple juice in the juicer rather than using store bought juice. 

I think I may just pop over the to fridge and get myself a bowl right now! 

Bircher Muesli

Makes about 5 cups and lasts for 2 – 3 days in the fridge

2 cups of oats (raw rolled oats is the best)
2 - 3 cups of fruit juice (I like to use apple or berry juice)
½ - 1 cup of coconut milk or yogurt
1 pinch of salt
1 cup of chopped nuts of choice
½ cup of omega mix seeds (sunflower, sesame, lin, flax and pumpkin seed)
1 tsp of vanilla essence or equivalent vanilla extract

1 cup of fresh (or frozen) berries of choice
1 cup of grated apple or pear

In a sealable container combine all ingredients except the fruit and allow to soak for a few hours or overnight. Add extra apple juice or water if you feel the mixture is getting too dry at any point.

Stir for a bit to build up a creamy texture, then add the grated fruit and berries and combine lightly.

Can keep for a few days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The perfect Sunday brunch dish

It has been a family tradition for decades to have Sunday brunch together. The main dish served at these brunches is usually an egg dish which has become know as an egg pan or egg bake. It is something like a Spanish omelette but not really. Suffice it to say it consists of various goodies covered with egg and cooked until set. The variations have been many but the the recipe below sums up for me the most simple and reliable version. 

I have now made this dish three or four times for the family I am working for. They and their guests are huge fans and I can see this starting to become a Sunday tradition here too. 

Egg pan
Serves 4 - 6

2 Tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, top and bottom sliced off, then cut in half widthways
2 tsp of sugar
1 pepper, yellow, orange or red, cut into large pieces
6 large eggs
Salt and pepper
Additional seasoning of choice (if desired) 
½ a cup of crumbled feta cheese (or grated parmesan)
½ a cup of fresh chopped herbs, like parsley, basil, thyme, chives

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil for a few minutes, in a medium sized non-stick pan with an oven proof handle. Add the tomatoes to the pan and scatter the sugar over the tomatoes, try not to get any in the pan and only on the tomatoes. Fry for a minute or two. Add the peppers and feta to the pan, drop the heat to low heat and cover the pan with the lid. 

In a bowl, crack your eggs and season with salt and pepper and any other herbs or spices of your choosing. Lightly combine with a fork. Pour the egg mixture over the veggies and cover with the lid. Allow this to cook on low heat for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the egg has begun to set at the bottom of the pan. It is really important to get the heat right. Hot enough to cook the egg, but not so that it burns the eggs at the bottom of the pan.

Pre-heat your oven on grill. Place the oven rack quite close to the element. Once the egg has begun to set at the bottom as described above, remove the lid and transfer this into the oven. If the whole pan with handle and all don’t fit into the oven, leave the door open a crack. Allow the eggs to set on top. Remove from the oven, scatter with the fresh herbs and serve immediately. 

In my opinion the fresh chopped herbs is a vital part of this dish, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you or your family are not huge herb lovers I would suggest that you try introduce this slowly by adding some into the eggs before you bake them and then placing a bowl of herbs on the table when you serve the eggs. Encourage everyone to have some and I feel sure that before you know it that bowl will be empty. Choose mild herbs like basil and Italian flat leaf parsley, then later perhaps add thyme, oregano and chives.