12 March 2017

Nettle Soup

Spring is coming in big strides now and the few spare hours I have at week-ends when it's daylight is to experience some despair in that I stand no chance of getting on top of all the weeds. But I have my special favourites that do get priority - the rhubarb bed is one of them and as I cleared them out, I noticed that there were a lot of nettles around, so decided to try my hand at nettle soup.

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A quick browse, combined with not having potatoes in the house, made me settle for this one, which turned out pretty well, after some adjustments of my own.

Thus armed with a very thick plastic bag and my thick leather gloves (very good for brambles!), I wandered through the farthest and shadiest corners of the garden and took off all the nettle tips and a few of the smaller leaves. Volume-wise, I'd say I had about 3 litres of the stuff, per weight, I barely reached 200 g. But there was no injury involved anywhere.

Ingredients

4 tbsp pearl barley
200 g nettles - tips and tender top leaves only
1 medium onion
30 g butter
1 handful of wild garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
25 g chives
600 ml chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

To serve
Swedish meatballs
Labneh or strained Greek yoghurt

Method

  1. Measure up the pearl barley in a small saucepan, add plenty of water and set to cook as per instructions on the packet.
  2. Wash the nettles thoroughly, then steam for about 10 minutes until they have wilted, but still remain dark green.
  3. Peel and dice the onion coarsely, then melt the butter in a frying pan, let it start going golden, then add the onion.
  4. Stir the onion to get it coated with the butter, then turn down the heat and let fry gently until it goes translucent. Stir occasionally.
  5. Transfer the nettles into a deep casserole, add the garlic, parsley and chives. Pour over the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Remove the casserole from the heat and carefully blend the nettle soup until smooth. Season to taste.
  7. When the pearl barley is ready, drain it well, then stir into the smooth soup along with the fried onions.
  8. Serve with a topping of your choice, like Swedish meatballs and labneh or strained Greek yogurt.
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This turned out quite nice, even if it was a quite un-appetising dark green. I did make one mistake in adding a whole litre of stock, rather than 600 ml and this made the soup too thin for my liking. It combined very nicely with Swedish meatballs and a couple of spoons of the labneh I made the other day. I think more wild garlic would be good too.

12 February 2017

Butter cookies

It's been ages since I've cooked anything new to put on the blog. The long Christmas break I was expecting didn't turn out as long and my to-do list is now shifting to later and later in the year.

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But I have a new job and I'm still working out a routine for everything. I've also picked up two new hobbies - knitting and crocheting. My Sister Bib got me started over the holidays, she's been crocheting for years. I now have several projects on the go, with Lundulph smiling bemused and wondering how long this fad will last.

I also want to start taking something to work, my new colleagues take turns in bringing cakes in to the team meetings. I pushed in last week and brought in some Swedish cinnamon buns, which did go down a treat and a couple of colleagues even asked for the recipe. Following on this success and feeling the urge to use my cookie press, I did a quick search on the internet and found this recipe for butter cookies, which seemed rather good. Here, the amounts converted to metric.

Ingredients

6.32 dl plain flour
¼ tsp salt
227 g butter at room temperature
2.37 dl white caster sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
sprinkles and icing for decoration

Method

  1. Place 2 - 3 baking sheets in the freezer to chill.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour and salt.
  3. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and caster sugar until fluffy.
  4. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract.
  5. Stir in the flour/salt mixture, just enough to combine.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film, then place in the fridge for 1 h to chill.
  7. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C and prepare the cookie press with the pattern of your choice.
  8. Take the dough out of the fridge and fill the cookie press.
  9. Take a chilled sheet from the freezer and stamp it full of cookies. Do not use baking paper or grease the sheet or the cookies won't stick.
  10. Bake in the oven for 8 - 10 minutes until golden brown, then remove and immediately transfer to a cooling rack and replace the sheet in the freezer.
  11. Repeat with the other chilled trays until the dough has been used up.
  12. Decorate with icing and sprinkles of your choice - some sprinkles can be done before baking, some after, in which case they'll require icing to stick.

24 December 2016

Roasted Gingersnap Nuts with Chilli

As in the UK, cookery shows appear to be popular in Sweden too. Having watched some of them, I went to look for the recipes of the stuff that seemed good. Things are organised somewhat differently in this respect though and not entirely to my liking, but it resulted in finding this recipe (in Swedish) that seemed very intriguing.

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Now my family do like nuts, so they are always readily available in the house. I showed the recipe to my Sister Bip and we decided to give it a try.

Ingredients

20 gingersnaps
¼ tsp hot chilli powder
1 dl aquafaba or 2 egg whites
4 dl mixed whole raw nuts

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 175 °C or 165 °C fan.
  2. Crush the gingersnaps into crumbs with a pestle and mortar or food processor. Mix in the chilli powder.
  3. Place the aquafaba or egg whites in a glass or metal bowl and whisk to stiff peaks stage.
  4. Stir in the nuts into the foam, then add the crushed crumbs and stir around to coat the nuts well.
  5. Spread the nuts out on a large shallow baking tray and roast for no more than 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove and leave to cool down before serving.

Now I managed to burn these slightly unfortunately and I also added some salt as per the original recipe and the result wasn't very good. I used shop-bought gingersnaps and they were perhaps a bit on the mild side, spice-wise. I'll try with my own gingersnaps to see if it works better. Or even just the spice mixture I use.

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The really interesting bit of this recipe was the aquafaba. I thought it meant waterbean and indeed a quick google confirmed this - it is in fact the liquid from a can of beans or chickpeas. Weird.

What's even weirder is that it can foam up like egg whites do and seems to be a viable alternative for vegans and people allergic to eggs.

My Sister Bip hadn't heard of this before and she's well into her experimental foods, so we played it safe and used 2 egg whites that Mum had in the freezer. They whipped up very nicely.

But I kept on googling about this curious aquafaba, especially since I've always felt bad about draining it in the sink every time I open a can of beans. The wikipedia entry is here.

I've yet to try this out, I found this recipe for meringues, which also helpfully indicates that some brands of canned chickpeas give better results than others and mentioned Lidl in particular, so I've bought one to try out on meringues or macarons. But when I made chilli con carne the other day, I couldn't resist saving the liquid from both cans of kidney beans. I whisked them up while the chilli was cooking and although there was a lot of liquid, so took ages to reach the soft peak stage, reach it it did! it was reddish-brown like the kidney beans, and Lundulph thought it smelt like beans, so really not suitable for anything sweet, but the fact that it whipped up was amazing and I was sorely tempted to just add sugar and go ahead with the meringues.

16 October 2016

Muhammara

On my trip to Sweden in October, I met up with some of my dear friends at a Lebanese restaurant, which was new to me and turned out to be a fantastic experience. The food was fabulous, and the chef/owner was well aware about it, so on the first page of the menu there were two taster options - one with 16 small dishes, one with even more.

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I'd made sure not to eat too much during the day, but I was still not able to do my order of 16 dishes justice. There were 8 cold dishes and 8 hot dishes. The waiter brought the cold ones first, along with pieces of toasted pita bread and promised to return with the warm dishes in 20 minutes. Well, he didn't come back for perhaps an hour and we were still dipping away, asking ourselves how on Earth would we be able to fit in 8 more dishes. The only dish I didn't go for was the one with prawns, there's no way I'll eat those things.

One of the dishes that I particularly enjoyed was "mhmhmhmhmh-a" as I managed to explain to my parents the next day. Some research corrected this into Muhammara, a mixture based on roasted peppers that hasn't been adopted in Bulgaria. After some clicking around, I settled on Ottolengi's version, original found here.

Sadly I wasn't able to get hold of Aleppo peppers as he recommends, but I did manage to get hold of pomegranate molasses. I've bought this before and tasted and hated and thrown away. Turns out, I just didn't know what to do with it. It's not to be eaten straight from the bottle.

Ingredients

Makes not enough, it's that tasty.

3 large red bell peppers
50 g large breadcrumbs, preferably panko
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
1 clove of garlic
50 g walnuts
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Method

  1. Pre-heat the grill on medium-high. Wash the bell peppers and place on a tray.
  2. Bake the peppers under the grill until the skins blacken and the peppers go soft and collapse in. Turn to get them roasted evenly. This can take about an hour.
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  3. In the meantime,mix together the breadcrumbs, molasses, cumin and chilli flakes together in a large bowl.
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  4. Peel and press in the garlic. Chop and add the walnuts along with the olive oil and salt.
  5. When the peppers are roasted, place in a lidded, heat-proof dish and let cool for a few minutes, so they can be handled.
  6. Peel the pepper skin and remove stalks and seeds. Rinse the peppers if needed and pat dry with some kitchen tissue.
  7. Finely chop the peppers and stir into the walnut mixture.
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    Add more salt and molasses if needed.
  8. To make it easier for dipping, process to make smoother.

Next time I'll add more walnuts. I liked the texture when everything was chopped, but the flavours mixed a lot better once I'd run the muhammara through the processor. It wasn't the same as at the restaurant, but it was very yummy indeed. I hadn't realised that roasting the peppers would take so long in the oven. I'll use my pepper roaster next time, it's much quicker. Here's what a Bulgarian pepper roaster (чушкопек, chushkopek) looks like.

9 October 2016

Sea buckthorn

While watching Den Store Bagedyst (Danish Bake Off) a few years ago, it seemed that there is a bright orange berry that was highly appreciated by the Danes. I'd not come across it previously, but some looking up on the various language versions of Wikipedia gave the impression that this is a berry used in Sweden too. It's called havtorn in both Swedish and Danish, which would translate to sea thorn. But the English common name appears to be sea buckthorn or sea berry.

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As the berry picking season in the Stockholm area seemed to be coming to a close, my Mum mentioned that she'd seen people picking some orange berries from the shrubs along the promenade and wondered if I knew what they were. She'd taken a somewhat fuzzy photo of them, but they were quite easy to recognise as sea buckthorn and I got excited. How about that - the promenade is part of the estate and the shrubs were planted as decoration, not for picking. So I asked her if she could pick a few so we could try them out. And not only did she do that, she even got my Dad to help out and they picked over a kilo of these and froze. My Mum even tried them fresh and said they were extremely tart.

So when I went to visit them in October, I took the opportunity to try one of the Danish Bake Off recipes that I'd saved - Macarons with curd from sea buckthorn. For the macarons, I used my usual recipe, but swapped the almonds with sesame seeds.

Ingredients

1 leaf of gelatine
100 g juice from sea buckthorn (~150 g whole berries)
4 yolks
150 g granulated sugar
75 g unsalted butter, diced

Method

  1. Place the gelatine in some water to soften it up.
  2. Make the sea buckthorn juice by placing the berries in a sieve over a bowl, then with a fork or a spoon mash them and squeeze out the juice.
  3. Place the juice with the yolks, sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat up at a medium heat, while stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.
  4. Remove from the heat when the cream is thick enough to stick to the spoon when you try to pour it out.
  5. Squeeze out the water from the gelatine and stir into the cream.Let cool completely.
  6. Pair up the macaron halves to matching sizes, place the curd into a piping bag with a small round nozzle, then sandwich each pair with the curd and serve.

The sea buckthorn was interesting, but not entirely to my taste, there was something about it that gave the feeling that I'd used a flavouring usually used in savoury dishes. Admittedly, the berries I used had been frozen and I'm not sure in what state they were when my parents picked them. But they have this wonderful, vivid orange colour, which just makes you smile when you see them. Once the juice has been squeezed out, it looks like carrot juice.

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The all sesame macarons were a bit in the hard side, freshly made, but I think sandwiching them and leaving overnight would have made the texture quite good. The sesame flavour was a bit intensive, I think I'll try a mixture of sesame and sunflower seeds next to make it more neutral and get more focus on the filling.

I now have a large bag of sea buckthorn in the freezer and I might try it as stuffing for a roast bird of some sort. Or maybe one of my muffin recipes. The Swedish Wikipedia states the berries are used for juice, jelly, marmalade and liqueur. The last one of which I'm tempted to explore, that might work rather nicely.

24 September 2016

GBBO Jaffa Cakes

I'm aware of Jaffa cakes and what they mean to a lot of people in the UK. I've eaten them and failed to understand this meaning. But watching this year's version of the Great British Bake-Off, I started looking at them in a somewhat different light - the home-made ones look so much nicer and inviting, so I decided to move them high up on my to-bake list.

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I watched the GBBO episode carefully and noticed that the recipe seemed quite wasteful with regards to the jelly, something I think is a bit out of character for Mary Berry. I also thought the amounts for the sponge were so tiny, I'd struggle to actually make it, so I doubled the sponge, but kept the jelly as per the recipe.

Not everything worked out as seen on TV, so I've tried to adjust for this in the recipe below:

Ingredients

Makes around 24

Jelly
2 x 135 packets orange jelly
150 ml boiling water
juice and zest from half an orange

Sponge
unsalted butter for greasing
2 large egg
50 g caster sugar
50 g self-raising flour

Topping
200 g dark chocolate

Method

  1. Starting with the jelly, break up the jelly. Bring the water to the boil and remove from the heat, then add the jelly and stir until it's completely dissolved. Stir in the orange juice and zest.
  2. Line a shallow 30 x 20 cm tin with aluminium foil, taking care to keep it as flat as possible. Pour in the jelly liquid, it should form a layer of about ½ cm. Place the tin in the fridge until it has set.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 160 °C fan and grease very generously a 12-hole mini tartlet/mince pie tin. Very generously!
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk for 4 - 5 minutes until it's really light and fluffy, almost on its way to a meringue.
  5. Sift in the flour and fold it in gently, then pour about 10 ml (2 tsp) into each hole. Smooth the tops, then bake for 7 - 9 minutes, until they have risen nicely and are pale golden brown.
  6. When the cakes are done, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes. Then carefully remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  7. Wipe the tin clean and grease well once more for the remaining batter, then repeat the procedure.
  8. When the cakes have cooled down, break up the chocolate and melt over a water bath. Place a piece of baking paper under the wire rack with the cakes.
  9. Take the orange jelly out of the fridge. Take a round cookie cutter with diameter about 1 cm smaller than the cakes and cut out circles from the jelly.
  10. Place a jelly circle in the middle of each cake, then carefully spoon some chocolate over, up to the edges of the cakes. Use a knife to spread the chocolate, so the layer stays as thin as possible.
  11. Place the cakes in the fridge so the chocolate sets. Once it's set transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge.

Well, this was a very pleasant surprise, these home-made jaffa cakes were scrumptious. Unfortunately I over-filled the first bake a bit, so they were a bit too big to eat, I thought. The second bake was a better size. I thought I'd been generous with greasing the tin, but there were still a few bits that stuck. Again, I did better in the second round, by greasing the tin almost to the point where I couldn't see the colour of the tin.

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Also another "unfortunately" - the jelly didn't set throughout the pan, so only about half of it could be cut into neat circles with the cookie cutter. The other half, I had to sort of scrape off and spoon onto some of the cakes. In hindsight, I should have tried to level it out - there's so much the chocolate can hide. So in the above list of ingredients, I've doubled the jelly packets.

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A third "unfortunately" was that I spooned the chocolate too thickly at the start. But I rescued the situation in that I completed two of the cakes only and served one to Lundulph. He's the one that established that the chocolate was too thick. Thus, all the other cakes were done with a thin layer of chocolate. I think also it's probably worth tempering the chocolate, even if Mary Berry doesn't specify this. And when I finally suss how to temper chocolate, I'll give it a try. As it was, some of the jaffa cakes stayed in the fridge all night and there were still spots of melted chocolate, i. e. not set, the next day. Bah!

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Finally, Mary Berry says to cross over the chocolate with the back of a fork. I tried this on a few of the jaffa cakes lucky enough to get a jelly circle. It didn't look pretty at all, so I recommend skipping this bit.

13 September 2016

Lundulph's Birthday Cake 2016

We were away for Lundulph's birthday this year, so his cake couldn't be anything fancy at all. I've been wanting to make lemon drizzle cake for some time now and after fining Mary Berry's recipe here, I thought it was simple enough to do while coping with a massively outdated and insufficiently furnished kitchen in the holiday flat where we stayed.

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There were no scales available, so I went to my trusty website for cookery conversions and converted as much as I could into volume. There were no spoon/decilitre measures either, so I sort of guessed at those as well using the mad selection of odd cutlery available. We even had to buy a baking tin, luckily these come cheap. So below are the amounts I believe I used.

Also to add, Mary's recipe called for one and a half large eggs. I find this to be an unreasonable thing to state. Although this was briefly mentioned by Ghalid Assyb at the patisserie master class I attended a few years ago, if a recipe calls for half an egg, use just the yolk. I disagree, not good enough. But the eggs we had were medium size, so I guessed that 2 medium eggs would correspond to one and a half large ones, so problem solved.

Ingredients

2 medium eggs
12 tbsp self-raising flour
7 tbsp caster sugar
6 ¼ tbsp salted butter at room temperature + butter for greasing
¾ tsp baking powder
finely grated zest from one small lemon
4 ½ tbsp caster sugar
juice from one small lemon

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C and grease a 1-pound loaf tin and line with baking paper.
  2. Beat together eggs, flour, caster sugar, butter, baking powder and lemon zest until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and shrinking away from the sides.
  4. While the cake is still baking, make the lemon drizzle by mixing the second lot of caster sugar with the lemon juice.
  5. when the cake is done, remove from the oven and use a fork to make holes over the top surface.
  6. Give the drizzle a stir, as the sugar will sink to the bottom, then spoon as evenly as possible over the cake and leave to soak in.
  7. Once the liquid has soaked in, lift the cake out with the baking paper and once completely cooled, remove the paper as well and serve.

In addition to not having ways to reliably measure the ingredients, there was also another thing missing - an electric whisk or mixer. Luckily Lundulph very kindly volunteered and whisked the whole caboodle by hand and did a massively fine job of it too! The cake turned out really fluffy and light, wonderful texture. Annoyingly the lemon drizzle didn't quite work. Perhaps I poured it too soon after removing the cake from the oven, I don't know, but it was very sour and I don't think the syrup was enough, it didn't feel like it anyway. In fact, I think an orange drizzle cake would work a lot better. Lundulph and his Mum both reckon there should have been additional icing on top - the slightly see-through thin stuff. We didn't have icing sugar, so skipped this and it wasn't mentioned in Mary Berry's recipe. Perhaps it would have made a difference, I'll have to do more research. But would be great if I can achieve this level of fluffiness in the future too, it was so nice.

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I'm not sure what that slightly darker spot in the middle is, it didn't taste differently to the rest of the cake and I'm pretty sure the cake was thoroughly baked through. Still, I must have hit the measurements relatively well, because I did end up with a cake.