29.11.13

Terrific Tabbouleh




 Couple of weeks ago my friends and I grabbed a bite at a pub. On the menu was an Ottolenghi style filled aubergine served with tabbouleh. My friend ordered it and I went on about how amazing Ottolenghi is, how we have all the cookbooks, and how delicious tabbouleh is. Said friend had never eaten tabbouleh so I described the pang of parsley with the great texture of bulgur and the hint of mint, upgraded Ottolenghi style with tart little pomegranate seeds. Imagine our surprise when the dish arrived and the tabbouleh was nothing of the sort, it was a dry pale cous cous with what appeared to be the ghosts of  dried fruit. Just about the saddest thing I've seen on a plate for a long time. So here is my interpretation of tabbouleh, not exactly like the Ottolenghi version, nor probably terribly traditional but it sure hits the spot. Healthy, quick and full of flavour, I like to eat it on its own or perhaps served with fresh feta and flat-bread.


Ingredients

  • 1 big bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 sprigs of fresh mint
  • 2 small tomatoes, or 1 big one
  • 1 shallot
  • pomegranate seeds
  • 3 tblps bulgur
  • juice of half a lemon
  • half a tsp ras al hanout, or substitute with some ground cumin or coriander
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt


Step 1


Rinse the bulgur, a parboiled cracked wheat, and set aside in a bowl. Pour over some boiling water and let it steep while you chop the herbs. 




Step 2


Grab your largest knife and go to town on the parsley. You can use a large part of the stalks, just discard the bottom 3 fingers width. You'll need to chop it quite fine so have at it. Add the mint leaves, without the stalks, and chop them through the parsley. 


Step 3


Take a grain of the bulgur and chew on it. Did you break a tooth? In that case it needs a couple more minutes. It is ready when it is still very al dente but chew-able. The bulgur will soften further in the tomato and lemon juice. Drain the bulgur and transfer into a bowl. Take the tomatoes and squeeze the juices out of them over the bulgur. Add the juice of halve a lemon, a pinch of salt, the ras al hanout and the olive oil and mix.


Step 4


Chop the tomato flesh and a shallot finely and add this and the parsley and mint to the bulgur. Mix it up and let it sit for a while so the flavours can combine and the bulgur can soften. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds before eating. 



27.11.13

Extra Chocolaty Fondant




Chocolate fondants, or the more descriptive lava cakes, are certainly one of the more impressive and delicious deserts you can make. Contestants in cooking shows often stumble on them but this is not due to their difficulty, they are quite easy and quick to make. The only thing that can trip these up is figuring out the perfect time for them to spend in the oven. Bake them for too long and there won't be an oozy center, too short and they will simply collapse. Part of getting it right is knowing your oven, which is why it doesn't hurt to do a trial run to get them just right.

The main recipe is based on one of Felicity Cloake's recipe tests in the Guardian. Which is my favourite column there by the way. But adding a little espresso powder and a big pinch of salt enhance the chocolate flavour to dizzy heights. Serving them with lightly salted pistachios, double cream and blackberries gives the cakes the perfect foils. The nuts add crunch and another hint of salt while the acidity of the blackberries and the relative blandness of the unsweetened cream cut through the chocolate. This recipe makes 2 cakes but can easily be doubled or tripled.


Ingredients

  • 60 g sugar
  • 60 g dark chocolate
  • 60 g butter
  • 1 egg and an extra yoke
  • 1 tblsp flour
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 big pinch of salt
  • 1 stick of instant espresso
  • handful pistachios
  • handful blackberries
  • double cream
  • icing sugar


Step 1


Preheat your oven to 200 c. Melt the chocolate together with the butter au bain Marie. Make sure you use a chocolate you enjoy eating. It doesn't have to be Valrhona but it helps if it is a nice chocolate to begin with. Once the chocolate has melted take it off the heat and let it cool down for 5 minutes. 

Step 2


Cream the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. At the end you can add the salt and the espresso powder. 


Step 3


First fold in the chocolate and once incorporated sieve the flour and fold that in as well. 

Step 4


Generously butter your ramekins and dust with cocoa powder. Then pour in the mix. The air in the eggs will make them rise slightly so don't overfill. 


Step 5

And now for the tricky part. Easiest solution is to simply serve them in the ramekins. The structural integrity needed to turn them out means less deliciously liquid middle. Cloak's 12 minutes is woefully insufficient in my oven if I want them out of the ramekins so I had to go with 14 and even that is cutting it close. You can partially go by sight. The top should be dry with no saucy bits showing but the cake should have a bit of a wobble when you give it a gentle shake. Let the cakes stand for a minute before you try to turn them out and a knife round the side won't hurt either. Once turned out dust with icing sugar and serve with shelled pistachios, blackberries and cream, eat immediately. 

The batter can be made in advance and refrigerated or even frozen, but be sure to add extra oven time if you do. Two extra minutes for cold and four for frozen.




PS.  I finally made a seperate twitter handle for this blog. You can find the link to your left. @cookingwithgifs









24.11.13

Kefir Smoothie





Kefir, the fermented milk drink, has been around for at least 5000 years. It is now enjoying a surge in popularity in the western world because it is just about the best probiotic you can get. Compared to yogurt it contains many more strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast and slowly but surely the scientific evidence is coming in showing the potential health benefits. Once you get hold of the cauliflower like kefir grains the rest is surprisingly easy. While you have to maintain a certain temperature when cultivating yogurt, kefir is perfectly happy doing its business at room temperature. The only downside is that you have to keep your kefir going everyday. The amount of kefir grains will grow steadily each time you ferment milk. With these extra grains you can start making even more kefir, or share them with friends. You can also add the extra grains to a smoothie or eat them as they are for a mega probiotic boost.



The Basics

Making the perfect kefir for yourself is a matter of personal preference. Some will like it lightly fermented, so it is thick, mild and creamy. Other will want to ferment for longer so the kefir gets more sour and noticeably carbonated. You can experiment with how you like it by adjusting one of three components of the fermentation. The first is how much grains you are using in relation to the milk. More grains means more and a quicker fermentation. A good place to start is 1 part of grains in volume to 10 parts of milk. The other component is temperature, the warmer it is the quicker it ferments. The grains do their jobs best at a cozy room temperature but you can slow down or speed up the process by placing it in a cooler or warmer part of the house. The third component is time, people like to ferment kefir somewhere between 12 and 48 hours. 24 is the sweet spot for many, so you can have your daily beverage. So if your kefir has not thickened in 24 hours, up the proportional amount of grains or the temperature. Has it gone too sour for you liking, decrease the grains or your temperature. 




To make a batch place the grains in a clean container. The yeast in the kefir grains will produce gasses so make sure the container has at least a third extra space to prevent hilarious explosions. Pour you milk onto the grains and close the container. You can use any kind of milk, even non dairy, to make kefir. Just know that the grains may need a period of adjustment if you change the milk you are using. If you use a glass container, which is especially handy to keep an eye on the grain growth, cover it with foil or a towel to keep the light out, this protects the vitamins in the milk. Now simply leave it alone for a whole day. 



Now dump the contents of your fermentation container into a plastic sieve. You can use stainless steel but no other metals. It may look really solid but give the sieve a couple of shakes to separate the kefir from the grains. The grains are now ready to start of the new batch, there is no need to clean the grains between batches. The kefir can now be stored in the fridge for up to 21 days. 


You can naturally drink the kefir plain, but it is also delicious mixed with a splash of fresh orange juice. It is also a perfect smoothie ingredient. Blending the kefir grains makes them smooth and undetectable and is a fantastic way to keep your growing colony under control. You can use the kefir and the grains in any smoothie recipe that calls for yogurt or buttermilk. Paired with that other smoothie champion, frozen berries, this is a quick and super healthy start to your day. Serves 3.


Ingredients

  • 500 ml of fresh kefir
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh kefir grains
  • 1 cup of frozen berries
  • half a banana 
  • half a cup of fresh orange juice




Simply blend and drink. This smoothie will live happily in your fridge for another day or so, just give it a good shake or stir before drinking. 





22.11.13

Spicy Sweet Walnuts




Every top chef and their mothers seem to have supermarket product out nowadays. Often these end up being slightly disappointing, but sometimes they are invaluable additions to your kitchen cabinets. Dutch superchef Jonnie Boer has released a broad range of spices and spice mixes that are an easy and delicious way to spice up your meals. No need to use them as intended though, the picadillo mix for instance is perfect for spicing up some nuts. A tasty way of increasing your nut intake, which has recently been found to be very beneficial to your health. 



This mix is filled with paprika, chilli, garlic, cinnamon and more. You don't need a particular spice mix off course but the paprika and chilli, combined with the cinnamon should go well with the sweetness from the maple syrup.



Ingredients

  • 110 g walnuts, unsalted
  • 3 teaspoons of spice mix
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • 1 small teaspoon of salt


Step 1



Add the maple syrup to the walnuts and toss them until they are evenly coated. Then add the spices and make sure the nuts are evenly covered.





Step 2


Place them on some parchment in an oven dish and roast them in a 180 degree oven. Turn them often and keep an eye on them, they will get very dark but you don't want them to burn. They take around 15 minutes.

20.11.13

Semi Raisins





They may not be the prettiest but they sure are delicious. Semi raisins exist on a plane between the fresh juicy grape and the sweet chewy raisin. By slowly baking fresh grapes in a warm oven you concentrate the juices to a dark almost sticky juice. Crucially you don't allow all the moisture in the grape to evaporate away, if you did you would have end up with a normal raisin. You can eat them on their own, whole or just sucking out the amazing inside. Serve them with salty cheeses and use them wherever you would plain run of the mill raisins. They won't have the shelve live of raisins but quite frankly, they don't need it. 


Ingredients
  • grapes
You can use any grape of your choosing. Blue grapes will go a bronze tint and white grapes will go golden. For convenience sake get grapes without seeds. Wash and dry the grapes and put them in an oven dish. Oven temperature should be between 70-90 c. My big grapes took 7 hours to shrink and concentrate but smaller grapes will be ready in 5. 


19.11.13

Sweet Quince Compote







It is quince season again in the northern hemisphere. This fruit can not be eaten raw but makes a fantastic compote, jelly or even fruit cheese. With this recipe you can make all three, all you have to do is vary the amount of water. Quinces have a lot of pectin so even if you make the compote the juices will form a lovely jelly. The flavour is reminiscent of apples and pears but more fragrant. A couple of spoons will elevate a humble apple pie or make a bowl of Greek yogurt exciting, and it is also great with cheese and  savoury dishes. By grating the quince you won't have to bother with peeling or pre boiling.


Ingredients


  • quince 
  • sugar, half the weight of your quince
  • 1 cup of water per quince to start off with, more may be needed
  • squeeze of lemon juice


step 1


Grate your quince, or quinces. Try to be fairly quick because the fruit oxidizes fairly quickly. Discard the core. Weigh the grated flesh and add it to a pan with the water and a squeeze of lemon juice. This will stop the oxidation. Now halve the weight of the fruit and add that amount of sugar. 


Step 2


Bring up to a gentle simmer. Quinces take quite some time to cook. Because it will take between 30 and 40 minutes it is important to keep an eye on the compote as it is very quick to burn on the bottom. Don't be afraid to add extra water if it evaporates too quickly. If you want more of a jam consistency, or make the famed quince cheese you will have to lower the heat at the end significantly to reduce the amount of water without burning. The compote is the easiest option and it will easily take a full 2 cups of water. After 20 minutes or so you can use an immersion blender to smooth the compote. the longer you blend the smoother the end result will be. In the case of this compote I wanted a slightly chunky texture so I only used the blender for a short amount of time.




Once the compote turns a rusty orange it is ready.





 Always do a little taste test to see if you prefer some extra lemon or want to reduce it some more. Transfer the compote to a sterilized jar. The compote is quite sweet which helps keeping it preserved. However it is not a jam because of the higher water content and has a shorter shelf life. You will want to keep it in the refrigerator and eat it within one or two weeks. if you made a jam or fruit cheese by adding less water or letting more water evaporate the shelf life will be considerably longer. 




15.11.13

Spicy Labneh Balls




Labneh, or yogurt cheese is a Lebanese specialty. It is essentially the third evolution of (strained) yogurt. Strain yogurt for  around 4 hours and you get thick unctuous Greek style yogurt, strain it for 2 days and you get labneh. Yogurt that has a thick cream cheese like consistency but still retains all the tangyness of yogurt. Labneh is often rolled into balls and stored in olive oil. In this recipe I spiced up the labneh with harissa and rolled them in fresh parsley and lemon zest. It tastes amazing spread on a bit of crusty bread. You can make this recipe from scratch starting with milk and a small pot of yogurt. Or make it with plain yogurt or even Greek yogurt to cut the straining time. The straining will take about 2 days but the results are worth it.



Ingredients

  • 2.5 liters of milk and 1 small pot of Greek yogurt (cultures still intact)  Or
  • 2 liters of plain yogurt. Or
  • 1.5 liters of Greek yogurt
  • 3-6 tblsp harissa (recipe here)
  • 2 lemons
  • 100 g feta
  • mild olive oil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • big bunch of flatleaf parsley
  • salt




Step 1 (skip if using store bought yogurt)




Making your own yogurt is rather easy and it ensures you have top quality yogurt without any additives. It is also cost effective if you need large quantities. Take your milk (go full fat, it's worth it) and slowly heat it in a thick bottomed pan. You want to scald the milk so bring it up to 82 c (if you don't have a thermometer watch the milk closely, it begins to steam and froth around that temperate). Turn of the heat and let it cool to 44 c (stick your finger in, it's hot but you can tolerate 10 seconds). Whisk through a small pot of yogurt to introduce the bacteria. Now all you need to do is put a lid on that pan and keep it cozy and warm. There are several methods for this (in the oven for instance) but I prefer to wrap the pan in a blanket together with a hot water bottle (you could even have it on an electric blanket). We want the yogurt to be nice and tangy so give it at least 8 hours or simply leave it overnight. The next morning you should find your milk has turned into yogurt and it will be nice and wobbly and come away from your pan like in the GIF above. The yogurt should smell clean and fresh, if not some bad bacteria came in and all your work was for nought. 



Step 2


Now it is time for the yogurt to drain. Place a sieve above a bowl and line it with cheesecloth, or a dishtowel, even a clean t shirt works. Place the yogurt in the sieve and place this all in the refrigerator. The first couple of hours a lot of whey will leak out so do check the bowl intermittently to see if it needs to be emptied. Once it has reached Greek yogurt consistency (6-8 hours), add a teaspoon of salt to the yogurt. This will help it to release even more whey. You can easily let the yogurt drain for 2 days but what you are looking for is a firm consistency that will allow you to form balls without any problems. 


Step 3



You could off course eat your labneh plain, or maybe spread on toast with some jam. But I'm going to spice it up a little bit, using my homemade harissa. Now I was quite frankly flabbergasted by how much harissa the labneh can take. Believe me that is some very spicy sauce, but the labneh needs a lot to let that heat shine through. It also takes quite a lot of salt, so just keep adding harissa and salt until you are happy with the amount of heat. Also add the zest of a lemon for some brightness. As a finishing touch finely crumble 100 g of Feta and add that to the mix.




All this mixing might have loosened the labneh a little too much. If this is the case return it to the cheesecloth and let it drain a little longer. 


Step 4

You could serve the labneh now, in a bowl. If so pour over a some good quality extra virgin olive oil. But if you want to preserve the labneh, roll it into balls. Take a tablespoon of the labneh and roll. Place the balls on a plate covered with kitchen towels. This way you can coax some more moisture out of the labneh. Put absorbent kitchen towels underneath and on top of the labneh balls and keep in the fridge for a bit longer. Replace the towels when they are wet. 


Step 5



Finely chop the parsley (do include some stems) and zest the lemon. Now roll the labneh balls through this mix. Serve the balls in shallow pool of olive oil. If you want to preserve the balls pack them into a  glass jar and top with olive oil (mild). This way you can store them for several weeks. 





12.11.13

Harissa




Hot sauces have the tendency to sprout intense cult followings. Harissa may not yet be as hyped as Sriracha sauce but it deserves to be. The combination of red hot chillies with garlic and spices make for a perfect condiment. You can use it as a marinade, like with these lovely shrimp', put a dollop on your cous cous or what about these spicy labneh balls . As with many things it pays to make it yourself. This way you can adapt it to your own tastes and you won´t have to use any filler ingredients. Stored in a sealed jar in the fridge with an extra layer of olive oil it will keep for weeks. Though it is unlikely to survive that long.



Ingredients
  • 5 red chillies
  • 2 red peppers (the pointy ones if you can find them)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground caraway
  • half a tsp cumin
  • 3 tblsp olive oil
  • big pinch salt
  • squeeze lemon juice


Step 1


I like to blacken the fresh chillies and peppers for an extra smokey hint. Just pop them on the open flame, turn them a couple of times until there are black patches all over.



Let them cool down a bit and cut them open. Remove the seeds (or don´t, if you want it scorching hot') and scrape off most (but not all) off the blackened skin.

I once again forgot to wear gloves while handling those hot bastards so now my hands are on fire.
Don´t be like me.

Step 2

But the chillies and peppers in a blender with the rest of the ingredients and blitz. Pour into a jar and seal it with an extra layer of olive oil. 

9.11.13

Thor And Loki Cocktails




In honour of the recently opened Thor : The Dark World (which I naturally loved), I made two fitting cocktails. The Thor cocktail is unapologetically strong and quite sweet whereas the Loki cocktail is deceptive (hmm nice mild cocktail....and you're seeing green fairies) and a tad bitter.




Thor
. Whiskey
. Sparkling Apple Cider
. Honey
. Squeeze of lemon

Mix a spoonful of honey with a large measure of whiskey until it is dissolved. Top of with ice cold sparkling Cider (the alcoholic kind...naturally). Finish with a squeeze of lemon. Make an icy Mjolnir by sticking a coffee stirrer in a yet to be formed ice cube and freeze). 


Loki
. Absinth 
. 2 cups of fresh pineapple
. 2 sprigs of mint
. Tonic



Blitz the fresh pineapple and the mint in a blender. Transfer to a cheesecloth lined sieve and let the juices seep out naturally. This will give a relatively clear liquid. Mix this with a good measure of absinth.  Mine is 70 % proof. Add plenty of (Jotunheim) ice and make two horns from lemon peel. The pineapple and mint do a good job of masking the alcohol so be careful. 



Now get ye to the cinema.


Do also check out my Tesseract shots