Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mushroom Cabbage Galette

I have had Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cookbook on my shelves for a number of years but barely cooked anything from it. It's considered a bible for vegetarians, but somehow very little actually appealed to me. I already know about lentils and risottos, legumes and pastas, and the recipes seemed too basic. The one bread recipe I tried had very odd proportions so I had to make a lot of adjustments to get it to a kneadable state.

But I recently decided to make the effort to try more recipes from this book, no matter how simple sounding,  and I have now struck gold.

This is essentially a vegetable pie, but instead of the familiar quiche, it uses a combination of mushrooms, cabbage, and herbs that meld together really well. A hard-boiled egg adds some protein and texture, a bit of quark and vinegar some tang. It's a new favourite in my house, and it is actually very easy to make, especially if you have a dough or pastry already available.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Glut of Plums? Cake!

The purple Italian prune plums are available in abundance right now, at least at the Middle Eastern groceries in my neighbourhood. Last weekend I bought a huge bag for €1.50 a kilo, which I think is incredibly well priced.

Coincidentally, the blogosphere is awash with recipes  for German yeasted plum cake (Pflaumkuchen). Who am I to resist?

I've tried several recipes, all good, although not equally successful. I've had trouble with getting the dough to rise, which I first attributed to old yeast, but have now concluded is due to using the wrong kind of flour. I only had cake flour (patent bloem, in Dutch) and it's low gluten content just doesn't work with yeast. When I used ordinary flour, success!

This cake is an amalgam of several recipes, producing a fresh, not-too-sweet cake that goes well with the morning coffee. I think you could serve it for brunch or as part of luxurious breakfast. It also freezes reasonably well.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Waldkorn Crispbread

When I was in Denmark recently with my sister and brother-in-law we stayed at a wonderful B&B (Dalsgaard B&B) on a small farm 20 minutes from Århus. The accommodation was in a separate building, with separate living room (including fireplace), and two bedrooms. There was no kitchenette or WiFi  but these inconveniences were completely compensated by the fabulous breakfasts featuring homemade bread rolls and preserves, lovely cheeses and sliced meats, and what our hostess Karin called Swedish crispbread (also homemade). These were seed-filled, nutty, crunchy and utterly satisfying.

She very generously gave me the recipe, and I made it almost as soon as we got home to Amsterdam.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On Poached Eggs and Shakshuka

Have I ever mentioned how much I love eggs? I love eggs—poached, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, fried, in omelettes, egg salad, as accents in other salads, not to mention their essential use in baking.

I think my favourite egg dish is eggs benedict, but I always have trouble with the poaching. The egg white just drifts off and I can't get it to go around the yolk in that lovely oval nestling way that proper poached eggs should have. I have tried all kinds of techniques: creating a gentle vortex, adding vinegar in the water, precooking the egg in the shell fo 30 seconds first.

I think the biggest problem is that supermarket eggs are just not fresh enough. In Europe they believe that eggs should not be chilled, so that they are sold at room temperature, which does not help in keeping them fresh. They should read Harold McGee.

In my recent visit back home I picked up some silicon egg poachers that I hope will help me in my quest for better poached eggs. I have tried them once and they were OK, but I needed to peel the eggs out of them. Next time, I'll try a bit of oil spray.

But another variation on a poached egg is to simmer it in a sauce. So today I tried that Middle-eastern favourite, shakshuka, which are eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Charred Eggplant Soup

I have acquired new cookbooks! Both are by the London-based Israeli chef Yottam Ottolenghi, who is famous for his restaurants and catering shops in London. I've never been to one, but he's also well-known for his eclectic and original recipes, often featuring vegetables in the starring role.

So my first recipe to try was using one of my favourite vegies—eggplant. He has a number of recipes that call for burnt aubergine, which means cooking them over a gas flame until they are charred  on the outside and soft and smoky-tasting on the inside. One of them is this soup.

This recipe is a bit labour-intensive but it a delivers a rib-sticking soup with a smoky, earthy, sweet and sour flavour that is really unusual. I liked it a lot, but the immediate hit of charred eggplant flavour might not be to everyone's taste.

The recipe also calls for a type of giant couscous that is difficult to obtain. None of the stores in my neighbourhood carried it under the names provided, but I did find some nameless pasta that was shaped  a bit like little balls, so I used that, since couscous is really a form of pasta. The soup would work very well without it, but it adds that extra heft needed for a main course soup.

Charred Eggplant Soup

Adapted from Jerusalem
(I reduced the amount of oil and increased the chicken stock.
I also didn't bother skinning and seeding the tomatoes.)

5 small eggplants (about 1.3 kilos in total)
3-4 tablespoons oil
1 onion
1 tsp freshly-ground cumin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4-5 medium tomatoes (350 grams), or used canned tomatoes
4 smashed garlic cloves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1.5 teaspoon salt
400 ml chicken stock
400 ml water
1 tsp freshly-ground pepper
100 grams pearl pasta (as I call it)
fresh dill for garnish

  1. Line 3 gas burners with tin foil to catch the juices and keep the stove-top clean. Place one eggplant on each burner and set the flame to medium or high (depending on the size of the burner). Cook for about 15 minutes, turning regularly until the outside is charred and the inside is limp and soft. The skin will burst and some juices leak out. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then scoop the flesh out or peel the charred skin off. Place the flesh into a colander, rinse to get the last charred flakes off, and allow to drain.
  2. Cut the remaining 2 eggplants into about 1.5 cm cubes.
  3. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Add the diced eggplant, stirring thoroughly to distribute the oil over the eggplant. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the eggplant browns and turns soft. At first the eggplant will absorb the oil, but as it cooks, it will release it again. If it is not browning at this point, turn up the heat so that at least some of the cubes get some nice colour on them. If necessary, add a bit more oil.
  4. When the diced eggplant is brown and cooked, remove it from the pot and set it aside in a colander to drain, and sprinkle with some salt. Keep any remaining oil in the pot or top up to about 1 tablespoon.
  5. Now add the onion and ground cumin and sauté for 5-7 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another minute.
  7. Add the tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, sugar, salt, stock, and water. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, cook the "pearl" pasta until al dente. Mine took about 10 minutes.
  9. Add the charred eggplant into the soup and purée using a hand-held blender. If the soup is too thick, add some more water or stock. Then add most of the cubed eggplant and most of the pearl pasta, reserving some of both for the garnish. Heat through for about 2 minutes and adjust the seasoning (sweet, sour, salt, pepper).
  10. Serve the hot soup in bowls garnished with the remaining diced eggplant, pearl pasta and fresh dill.
If you plan to freeze the soup, it might be worth omitting the pasta and only adding it just before serving, since pasta tends to expand and go mushy when left to sit in soup.
I think this soup would also be great with a bit of heat and might consider adding some chilli flakes the next time I make it.
If you don't have gas burners, put the eggplants under the broiler for about an hour, turning regularly. I haven't tried this; it's the author's advice.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Holland has good bakeries, but the Dutch are not home bakers. Flour and sugar are only available in 1 kilo packages, baking powder comes in small envelopes, baking soda is not sold at all, and the rest seems to be box kits. And chocolate chips are unknown. On the plus side, you can buy ready-made  amandelspeis (somewhere between marzipan and frangipane), the almond filling used in a lot of baked goods here.

For chocolate chip cookies you need to either chop a chocolate bar in pieces (we do have good chocolate here!) or rely on visitors from across the pond. So when one of my colleagues emailed me from Vancouver that he could pick something up from the grocery store, I asked for chocolate chips.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Shortcuts are Good, or The Thrifty Cook

"Shortcuts are good" and "who's got time for that?" These are common expressions adopted from a friend of my sister. She must be a practical, busy woman.  I use it to explain why, despite my cooking hobby, I do not make everything from scratch. I use commercial pasta sauce,  canned beans, bagged salad greens, frozen potato croquettes, bouillon blocks, jarred fond, and lots more convenience foods.

But I also make some of my own convenience foods, usually just trying to be less wasteful. Or I try to prepare things in the weekend ready for lunches and quick suppers in the rest of the week.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vegetable Pie

One of the standard recipes in my repertoire is Greek Leek Onion Pie, but I'm always left with half a package of phyllo dough left over. Its long skinny shape doesn't fit into my small freezer, so I've been thinking of ways of using up the remnant. And I have to say, I think I've come up with a winner.

I made it with one of my favourite combinations of vegetables and some aged goat cheese, but I think you could make it with a wide variety of vegetables as long as the moisture level isn't too high.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Strawberry Cake

This is the story of a very forgiving, easy cake, and I have the photos to prove it. I discovered this recipe last summer and made it twice, with different, equally delicious results.

Today I discovered the strawberries I had sitting on the counter had to be used today, with no further delay, and this recipe came to mind again. Only this time, I mis-read the recipe and used 50% more flour than I should have. And it still turned out fine. Denser, but still delicious.

June is the time that local strawberries come on the market, and there is no point in buying them any time that they are not local.  Since this recipe uses fresh strawberries, it is an ideal summer cake.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Bread

The number of over-ripe bananas accumulating in my freezer had reached critical proportions (8!) so I thought it was about time to do some baking.

I have 2 favourite recipes for banana bread, but I've made them so often I decided to look for some new inspiration, and naturally came to think of peanut butter.

Peanut butter and bananas are a great combination. For breakfast or dessert, I've been known to just slice a banana in half length-wise and smear peanut butter between the two layers. And of course toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches are classic, so I thought a PB riff on banana bread would not be misplaced.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lemon Almond Cantuccini (Biscotti)

In North America, we call them biscotti, in Italy and the rest of Europe they're called cantuccini (or cantucci). There was recently a recipe for them in one of the local papers which inspired me to try my hand at them.

This version uses no butter, which means the cookies become very hard and are best eaten dunked is some sweet wine, coffee or tea. They also keep well (if they last so long!).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bakewell Tarts

It's a stupid reason to make tarts, but I was looking for a recipe that uses jam in it. I had some mediocre jam that I wanted to find a use for, without having to put it on my toast. So I thought of a Bakewell Tart, which has a layer of jam under a frangipane filling. But there's a reason for that old adage of using the best ingredients you can. In the end, I just couldn't bring myself to ruin a lovely pastry with jam that lacked any kind of decent flavour. Unless I'm struck with a brilliant idea soon, I'm going to throw the stuff out. (Mea culpa, mea culpa!)

I was surprised by the variety of recipes out there for Bakewell tart, especially the number of eggs required. Some of them have so many eggs, it must be more of a custard. I ended up using a recipe from one of my most reliable sources—Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fish Pie

Fish pie is a classic English dish of the comfort food variety—a mashed potato topping over fish in a creamy sauce. As with any classic dish, there are innumerable variations, ranging from the type of fish and type of sauce, the choice of vegetables (if any) and herbs, to the technique (to pre-cook the fish or not).

Most recipes also call for part of the fish to be smoked white fish of some sort, something that is difficult to come by here. You can easily get smoked mackerel, smoked herring, and smoked salmon, but these are oily fish and have such a distinctive flavour (especially smoked salmon) that I don't think they work properly for fish pie.

Fish pie is prone to a number of problems, such as overcooked fish, bland flavour, and colourless appearance, so I've been on a quest for a fish pie that tastes great, uses sustainable and obtainable fish, and retains its character as down-home comfort food.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Salmon Croquettes

Say "salmon croquettes" in my family and you see faces lift, eyes light up, and virtual tails wag, like a dog that has scented a rabbit. Salmon croquettes are one of my mother's specialties and a universal favourite on the supper table. They are also a "company's coming" dish—unusual, attractive, comforting, and delicious.

They are easy to make, but require some time in the fridge to stiffen up, so it's ideal to do most of the preparation earlier in the day (or the night before) so that all you have to do is deep fry them for a few minutes just before serving. And they are frugal, stretching one can of sockeye salmon to feed four people.

I've tweaked it a bit, adding onion, celery, and dill to punch up the flavour a bit, but this is essentially my mother's recipe.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bundt Cakes

I have a new plaything—a lovely bundt cake form from Nordic Ware. It's an American company with a generous variety of such playful, heavy-duty cake pans that I understand the people who like to collect them!

My pan's crisp swirls are tempting me into the new repertoire of bundt cakes, and my colleagues are very grateful. I'm providing two cake recipes here, one for a vegan chocolate cake using a quickbread method, the other for lemon cake using the traditional cake method. Both cakes feature an unusual ingredient—beets in the chocolate cake, white pepper in the lemon cake.

Vegan cakes need something to provide the moisture and tender crumb that eggs contribute to ordinary cakes; fruit or vegetables can help bridge the gap, so I was not surprised to see recipes that involve applesauce or beets. Chocolate cake with beets is something I've known about for years and forms the basis of our family recipe for Black Forest Cake, so a vegan variant is a logical step.

The lemon cake recipe is even more interesting because it calls for 1-2 teaspoons of white pepper. This results in a sophisticated cake that leaves your tongue tingling long after the cake is gone. In fact, you barely even notice the pepper in the first bite or two, and then the tingle begins. I find it enchanting, as did my colleagues.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beets are Best!

This winter I have been reveling in beets, those sweet earthy vegetables with the fabulous color, great flavour, and many uses. I've used them in soups, salads, and cakes. I've grated them, puréed them, quartered and diced them.

You can often buy them already cooked, and even diced, which is handy, but I also buy them raw and roast them.

I especially like them paired with slightly bitter greens like kale or chard. I've served this warm winter salad a couple of times now, and love the colours and flavours.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vegan Baking

In Holland it is traditional to celebrate your birthday by treating others to cake, tart, borrel, or dinner. For example, on your birthday you bring in something like vlaai, appeltaart, or cake (usually purchased from the baker) for your co-workers. I always bring in homemade cake, quickbread, and/or cheesecake.

One of my colleagues is vegan, and doesn't  normally get to enjoy the treats people bring in, so I went hunting for some recipes that would work for him too. I started with the basics—banana bread and chocolate cake.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dulce de Membrillo

I've seen them in the Turkish grocers and wondered what they were, and only recently discovered that they are quinces (kweeperen in Dutch). A South African colleague said he used to eat them sliced with a bit of salt, and apparently the Chinese and Turks also eat them this way. The Spanish and Portuguese, however, make them into dulce de membrillo. This is a firm, jelly-like paste that is traditionally sliced and served with a good cheese, such as the Spanish sheeps cheese manchego. The sweet and salt combination really works for me!

I recently acquired a new cookbook called Comfort Food by Janneke Vreugdenhil, which despite its name, is in Dutch. This recipe comes from her, but I've also seen recipes that call for some lemon juice and/or rind, a vanilla bean, and lots more sugar.  Although I like the idea of the lemon rind, I can't imagine using more sugar. This is plenty sweet enough.

Apparently membrillo is supposed to be a very rosy pink or red color. For whatever reason, my mebrillo turned out to be a caramel colour. It tastes fine, but I'm sorry it didn't turn pink. I wonder if it has to do with the variety of quince.