Tag Archives: Herbs

Generosity and the Art of Gourmet Camping

Campervan in Mackay Creek DOC Campsite, Fiordland, NZ

Camping Kitchen

As you saw from my last post, the Big Guy and I are in New Zealand. I have to tell you, it is spectacular here, although I was very surprised to find that some of the foraging is pretty similar. It’s autumn, and the trees are groaning with rowan, elder, apples, and the fattest haw berries I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t expecting these plants to be so similar, given how far away it is. I also bought a Forager’s Treasury by Johanna Knox  and on looking through, most of the wild edibles are very familiar from a Northern European perspective. Luckily, it seems that most of the poisonous plants are also the same, which is handy.

We have also been bowled over by the people here. Everyone has been friendly, welcoming and have gone a little out of their way to be helpful. The lady in the supermarket told us how to get the best bargains, and went the extra mile to find out where we might buy harissa. The petrol station attendant caught us up on the international news and gave us a free cookie each.

New Zealand Trout

There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch (And Dinner, And Breakfast)!

But by far the nicest thing that anyone has done to date is the fisherman we got talking to. We have a campervan, but in our first days here, we got caught out by jetlag, and simply could not drive onto our intended destination, so we had to book into a motel en route. As is common here, the gentleman in question was friendly and chatty, and we got talking with him over breakfast. It turned out that his parents were both Dutch, so we chatted about the differences in life here and at home. As we were leaving, he tapped on our window and offered us one of his catch. We were stunned, but he very kindly kicked off the gourmet element of our trip with a fresh trout. He had three fresh, and two that were being smoked in a local smokehouse, and he was heading out that day to get some more. This was no small fry, either. He gave us the smallest of his catch, but it still weighed in at just under 3 kg. It really was beautiful.

I spent the entire day thinking about how I was going to cook that trout. My foraging book was helpful, because it mentioned that wood sorrel can also be found here. So, I planned to look for some, and make a cream and sorrel sauce to go with the trout. Unfortunately, where we had chosen to stop for the night, on our way to Milford Sound, offered up no wood sorrel. We had chosen it specifically because we could barbecue there.

Trout and Spring Onion Omelette, with Campers Mayonnaisse

Breakfast, Not at Tiffany’s

Luckily, I had a back up, because I had the foresight to buy some dill when I stopped at a shop for potatoes. So, a plan was born, for a gourmet meal, made with basic equipment, to be served under the Southern stars. We have eaten many gourmet campsite meals since; including succulent lemon and pepper lamb, venison and mushrooms, and even shakshuka for breakfast. But that trout, which served us three hearty meals, plus a little more to pick at was the nicest.

Outdoor Natural Winecooler

Camping Cooler

The first night, we barbecued the trout and served it with a green salad with mayonnaise. Served with a nice local Riesling, that we had cooled down naturally. The the leftovers kept nicely in a couple of ziplock bags in the cool box (which also had a big bag of ice), and made excellent omelette, and went nicely with pasta in a creamy sauce, with more dill.

You can’t get more gourmet, or more generous than that. Thank you very much, kind stranger!

Campsite Trout, Mayonnaise, potatoes  and green salad

Campsite Trout

Recipe: Campsite Trout

Ingredients

1 large trout or salmon

Dill fronds

Lemon slices

2 egg yolks

Juice of half a lemon, plus more to taste

About a quarter of a small bottle of plain oil

Salt and pepper to taste

15 g fennel, finely chopped (I had to do mine with scissors, due to the very blunt knives I was dealing with)

Method

Barbecued Trout

Gourmet Stay

Wash the trout and pat it dry with kitchen towel. Season the cavity of the fish with salt and pepper, and put the dill and lemon slices inside. Barbecue for about 40 minutes on a camp barbecue that is too high off the coals. If you are doing it on the barbecue at home, then you can put the fish closer to the heat source, and so it will take less time. Turn once during cooking, so it cooks well throughout.

Campsite Sauce Equipment

Basic Sauce Equipment

I have previously only made mayonnaise with a balloon whisk, so I was worried the fork would take ages. Now I’m sure this won’t work if you are trying to whisk egg whites for meringue, but the simple fork makes surprisingly speedy mayonnaise.

Whisk together the lemon juice, egg yolks and a little salt. Gradually add the oil. My tip is to add a little, then make sure it is thoroughly whisked into the egg before adding more. This way, the mayonnaise is less likely to split.

Thick and Glossy Mayonnaise

Thick and Glossy Mayonnaise

Once the mayonnaise is thick and glossy, taste it. You may need to adjust for seasoning, and possibly add more lemon juice to get the right balance of flavours.

Finally, chop up the dill. As I said, I resorted to some scissors, because the knives I had were less than sharp, but you chop yours however you like. Add it to the mayonnaise and mix well.

Serve the fish with a nice green salad, some simply boiled potatoes and a lot of the mayonnaise. Best served under the stars, but this is still good, even if you are forced inside by the weather.

 

 

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Under the Milky Whey

Fresh Whey and Vegetables

Chop A-Whey!

A quick look on Pinterest reveals that you can lacto-ferment pretty much anything – from garlic to hummus. I saw fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, beers, mayonnaise, BBQ sauces and even mustard on there. Apparently it is amazing what won’t be improved by bunging in some whey.

As you know, I happen to have quite a lot of whey taking up all the space stored very carefully in my fridge.It is the yellowish liquid in the photo above, and it is the by-product of making your own cheese, or straining yoghurt.

Apart from the miracle of being the new superfood, due to all the probiotics; you can feed whey to animals, use it as a fertiliser, make various toiletries for skin benefits, and body builders dry it then consume it by the bucket load.

You can also soak beans, or grains in it before cooking, use it instead of the liquid in pancakes, cakes, and bread (or pizza dough). soups, and stock. You can even add it to shakes and use it as a cheese starter in some kind of lactose Inception.

Whatever you do with it, you should not pour it down the sink. Apparently, it can de-oxygenate water systems. So, for this reason, and the fact that I hate waste, I’m going to use mine. Don’t worry, it also freezes really well, so if you can’t get through it all, you can keep it for later.

You may have noticed that I enjoy a nice pickle, go crazy for chutney, and take pleasure in preserves. It is only natural, then,  that I should have a go at lacto-fermenting as a novel way of preserving food, and as a way to use up leftovers. I’ve had a good dig round the internet, including over at the lovely host of Cheese, Please!, who lacto-fermented cucumber and carrots to come up with the following recipes.

For the first, I wanted to be able to make a direct comparison with a pickle that I already know. I make pickled fennel a lot, based on the River Cottage Preserves book, so I used the same aromats and dill here.

The second lot are inspired by a friend of mine who makes amazing pickled cucumber from a mysterious Asian salt. I have no idea what this stuff is, but it is hot, sour and sweet at the same time. I have tried to recreate this with the whey – we’ll see where we get to.

Apparently, lacto-fermenting is pretty long-lasting, but depends on how strong the cell wall of the thing you are preserving is. You can expect the fennel to last between 4-6 months in cold storage, and the cucumber to last up to 3. The fermentation will continue, even in cold storage, so it is something to be aware of, and date the jars well before you store them in a cool, dry place.

 

Lacto fermented fennel and cucumber

Perfectly Preserved

Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

Ingredients

For the Fennel:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
Fronds of dill
100 ml whey
300 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp rock salt

For the Cucumber:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns per jar
1 tsp juniper berries per jar
1 large cucumber, in 3 cm slices on the diagonal
1 red chillies, sliced on the diagonal but seeds left in
Fronds of dill
200 ml whey
600 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp table salt
1 tbsp sugar

3 jam jars

Method

Sterilise your jars on a hot cycle in the dishwasher, or by washing in hot soapy water, drying and placing in a low oven for an hour.

Prepare the vegetables, and boil the water for your fermenting liquid.

To the sterile , still warm jars, add the relevant spices, then layer up the vegetables, making sure to get a layer of dill fronds in between them as you go. Pack them as tightly as you can.

Mix together the whey, water and salt, as well as the sugar for the lacto-fermented cucumber. Fill the now packed jars with the fermenting liquid, up to 3 mm from the top of the jar. Screw on the lids tightly and store in a cool dark place for between 3 days and the maximum time for the vegetables.

I intend to leave these for about a month, before I try them. When I do, I will be sure to let you know what I thought.

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Simple, Cleansing Pork Pho

Pork Pho

A Fantasticaly Fresh TV Dinner

I have eaten rather well lately: at new lunch spots with my ladies; a rich lamb tagine, cooked for me by my friend from the Morning Claret; and a veritable feast of dim sum that I cooked up last Sunday, for the lunar new year. I had great fun doing it, but I did learn that it is probably OK to make some things in advance and heat them through on the day. There are so many intricate little dishes to make for a proper dim sum feast. I made char sui pork, with which I then made sticky rice and char sui bao (as well as chicken and mushroom hom bao). I made crispy seaweed (with curly kale), pak choi in garlic, and braised aubergine. I also made these excellent vegetarian shumai that Petra from Food Eat Love posted the other day. They were delicious, and gave me the courage to try other dumplings too. I’ve never quite understood how to tuck up the dumplings, but Petra’s clear instructions just clicked with me, and so I gave them a go. Unfortunately, I need a bit more practice before they look lovely, so there are no photos.

Encouraged by the success of the shumai, I decided to go all out, and have a go at xiao long bao, or the special pork dumplings, that are filled with mince and pork. Mine were loosely based on the Serious Eats Soup Dumplings. Nothing like a good bit of over-reaching to really show your skill. Or the limitations of it, in any case. More practice needed there, too, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious, but not that soupy, as I managed to put slightly too much meat in the filling, and so the thin and delicate pastry broke. I’m not going to be put off, however. I was very pleased with them, and I will get better, I’m sure.

I made the Serious Eats stock for the bao, but I deviated a bit from the filling. For one thing, I don’t eat prawns, because I can’t really find any that could be said to be produced sustainably. Instead, I grated in ginger and garlic, and I put coriander through the pork mince.

After all that eating, today I was in search of something cleaner, and simpler. The Big Guy was out for dinner tonight with work, so as well as clean flavours, I wanted something simple, but that was comforting enough to settle in on the sofa with to catch up on some TV.

Having feasted so well at the weekend, I was not without leftovers, particularly the very good stock, and some of the xiao long bao filling. Despite needing the practice, I wasn’t in the mood for more dumplings, so I ventured further south for tonight’s dinner. Just like I deviated a bit from the Serious Eats filling, I have deviated a bit from a traditional Vietnamese Pho, but the resulting soup was just as fresh and comforting as I’d imagined it would be.

Cooking-with-Herbs-300x252

Since this dish contains herbs (and if I’d have had Vietnamese mint, I’d have added that too), and is Chinese/Vietnamese inspired, I have also decided that it is perfect for this month’s Cooking with Herbs, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. She is also hoping for recipes inspired by romance for this month, in light of it being Valentine’s day soon. I’m not so sure about all the romance, but I do know this soup is a great way to show yourself some love if you have over-indulged, or if you have a night to yourself.

Recipe: Pork Pho

The amounts given here are enough for one person.

Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

100 g minced pork

½ tsp soy sauce

1½ tsp rice wine

A pinch of sugar

A small clove of garlic, finely grated

A 1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated

Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

For the Pho

400 ml good stock – I used chicken and pork from Serious Eats. Just chicken stock is also fine, but please don’t use stock cubes

½ tbsp fish sauce

½ carrot, cut into thin batons

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 cm ginger, cut into thin batons

40 g rice noodles

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

20 g mange tout, sliced on the diagonal

1 chilli, seeds in or out, whichever you prefer, sliced thinly on the diagonal

3-4 sprigs of coriander, leaves whole and the stalks finely chopped

Pinch of salt

Juice of about a quarter of a lime

Method

First, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, then roll them into small balls. You want them to be about marble size. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to help them to keep their shape.

Cook the stock with the fish sauce, garlic, ginger and carrots. Add the pork balls, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles. When cooked, drain, and add them and the vegetables to a deep bowl. Sprinkle  the herbs on the top.

Season the soup with salt, as required. Pour the soup over the noodles and the vegetables in the bowl, and squeeze in lime juice to taste.

Serve immediately, in front of the TV, and enjoy in peace.

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A Summer Soup for Winter, Mostly From a Cupboard

Winter Vegetable Soupe au Pistou

A Staples Stand-By

The Big Guy has been worrying about our plants. More specifically, he has been fretting over a rather leggy basil plant, that really was on its last legs. After the third day of him agonising, I decided that we should use up the whole plant. Whilst mulling over winter uses of basil, I kept coming back to the thought of soupe au pistou; the Provençal summer soup.

Try as I might, I kept returning to the pistou, which is like pesto, but without the pine nuts. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything else, so I gave in. Instead of courgettes and peas, it had to be about what I had knocking about. Between the fridge and the garden, I knew that I could come up with the goods.

Despite the name, the original recipe is more like a summer vegetable stew;  thick with beans, squash, tomatoes and alliums, as well as vermicelli. I could easily substitute most of these for suitable winter vegetables, so I went on a domestic forage.  As well as the basil, I grew thyme, garlic, carrots and cavalo nero (amongst other things), so these were definitely going in. The fridge yielded half a butternut squash, some aging tomatoes and a leek. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have substituted these for half a tin of chopped tomatoes. That’s the brilliant thing about store cupboard soups – you use what you have.

I was also excited to experiment with cooking dried beans in my new pressure cooker. I’m dying to test the assertion that you can cook dried beans without a pre-soak, which will be amazing for someone who can forget to do the little things, like me. However, when I went to look, the cupboard was bare of dried beans, apart from some kidney beans I have, which wouldn’t have tasted right in this soup. I am still reluctant to forego the pre-soak for these beans, due to the toxins they contain. With a sigh, I added dried beans to my shopping list and went for tinned instead. I generally prefer dried beans for taste and texture, but I always have a tin or two on stand-by, because I am also a realist about my lack of foresight. Since this was a root-around, use-up, make-d0 type of soup, I wasn’t going to go shopping for beans, so I made use of what I had.

The classic soupe au pistou always contains starch. I used vermicelli, because I had some. Other pasta shapes (especially the small ones, such as ditolini, risoni, or stellini) are fine – or you could break up spaghetti into small bits and use those. You could add rice to this soup, in case you don’t have any pasta, or you can’t eat wheat. If you use rice you’ll need to add it much earlier than I suggest adding the pasta, or use pre-cooked rice.

This soup may be a winter version of a summer classic, but the intense smell as you mash the pistou is like a shot of glorious summer in a winter kitchen.

Since this is a winter warmer, and definitely comforting, I’m entering it into this month’s Cheese Please, over at Fromage Homage. There are some really great recipes there this month, so do come over and have a look.

Cheese Please blog badge

Recipe: Soupe au Pistou du Placard

Ingredients

For the Pistou:

1 fat garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

30 g basil leaves

About 60 ml extra virgin olive oil

About 40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated (or mature vegetarian cheddar, since parmesan is not vegetarian)

1 tomato, peeled and de-seeded (optional)

For the soup:

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme

1.5 l vegetable stock

400 g butternut squash, or pumpkin, diced

100 g cavalo nero

400 g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, diced; or half a tin of chopped tomatoes

100 g vermicelli noodles, rice or any other small pasta shape

Method

Make the pistou. I like to use a pestle and mortar, but you can also use a small food processor. If you are using the food processor, either mince the garlic first with a chef’s knife and the salt, or grate it on a microplaner before adding it to the processor.

Whichever method you are using to make the pistou, add and blend the ingredients in this order: garlic and salt, basil, some of the oil and cheese. Be sparing with the both the oil and the cheese. You must taste as you add these, because all basil will vary. You want  fairly thick pesto, but it still needs to be flavoursome. Once the pistou is to your liking, stop adding things.

Make a concasse of the tomato and stir it through the pistou. Traditionally soupe au pistou has tomato flesh gently crushed into the pistou with a pestle and mortar, which you can also do if you prefer. If you are using tinned tomatoes, omit the tomato from the pistou, or you risk diluting it too much.

Prepare all of the vegetables for the soup. I decided to cook the cavalo nero stalks separate to the leafy greens. So, I stripped the greens from the stalks, and sliced both. Slice the stalks into 1cm chunks, like the rest of the vegetables. Slice the greens thinly, and keep them separate.

Sweat  the leek, carrot and the bay leaf in the olive oil in a deep pan, until the leek turns a vibrant green. Add the garlic and thyme and sweat off for another minute or so.

Add the stock, and simmer for a few minutes, or none at all, if you prefer your carrots crunchy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the pumpkin and cook until you can just pierce it with the point of your knife. The time required will depend on the size of your dice. It took me about 5 minutes, based on 1cm dice.

Chuck in the beans, chopped tomatoes, and cavalo nero stalks, and allow them to simmer for five minutes, before adding the vermicelli and the greens.

Allow the soupe to cook until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning, and serve in deep bowls, topped with a large dollop of the pistou.

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From the Last Food of Christmas

Easy, handmade mandarin and dill sorbet

Edible Things Gave to Me
A Sorbet From the Mandarin Tree

I bet a few of you still have some things knocking about after the Christmas holidays. Especially mandarins.

As you may have noticed, last year was the year that I discovered the joys of combining desserts with herbs. People have been putting things like mint, basil and lemon balm in desserts forever. Last year, I mostly branched out into fennel, with my Rhubarb Foolish and Fennel and Strawberry Tarts. This year, I see no reason to stop experimenting.

I got inspiration for this dish from taking a quick break from the Christmas prep and sneaking off for five minutes with a mandarin. I must have still had some dill on my hands from the Gravad Lax. What I ended up with was inspiration. This is a great combination, as if they were made to go together. The dill is actually pretty subtle in this, it somehow seems to enhance the mandarin flavour, making it really sing on your tongue.

Easy way to juice mandarins

Top Tip!

Mandarins can be a little bit hard to juice by hand. Well, hard on the hands anyway, as I found out last year when making marmalade. Their skins are so soft and thin, that if you have any number to juice, it becomes uncomfortable very quickly.

If you have a fancy juicer, all well and good. If not, and you ever have to juice a few mandarins, this tip will save you from feeling that you have juiced more of your hand than you did the fruit. Peel them, then bung them in a jug and juice them with a stick blender. Pour the resulting juice through a square of muslin. You can either leave it to drip through for a few hours, if you want a very clear juice; or you can squeeze it through straight away if you don’t mind a cloudier juice.

Tips for using clumped sugar

Rock Sugar

In fact, I’m full of top tips today. When cleaning out the cupboards recently, I came across half a bag of badly-stored sugar, that had got a little damp at some point. As you know, I hate to waste food, so I kept this, knowing that I would find something that it would be suitable for. This recipe is just the thing, because it requires a simple syrup. I just put it in a ziplock bag, wrapped it in a couple of tea towels, and bashed out the lump with a hammer. It wasn’t fine sugar, but I could get the right amount out to melt gently into a syrup. Obviously, it would have been better not to abandon it to its fate in the first place, but I feel good that it didn’t go to waste.

And talking of not wasting food, this recipe also uses another the things that I always have knocking around in my fridge or in the freezer – egg whites. I absolutely love sweet and savoury egg-based sauces, and make all manner of custards, hollandaise and fresh mayonnaises on a regular basis. I am always in need of recipes for egg whites. If you have more suggestions, please do share.

As well as using up all the leftovers, this clean, bright and refreshing sorbet is the perfect antidote for the heavy and rich Christmas foods we have been eating recently. It is also a really easy recipe, to make, even if you don’t have a ice cream maker (which I don’t).

Cooking-with-Herbs-300x252

Coincidentally, this recipe really fits the brief for this month’s Cooking with Herbs, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, so I’ve entered it on her blog. There are always so many great recipes there, so hop over with me at the end of the month to have a look.

Recipe: Mandarin and Dill Sorbet

Ingredients

8 mandarins, preferably unwaxed

200 g granulated sugar

300 ml water (and maybe a little more)

about 25 g dill

1 egg white

Method

Wash and zest six of the mandarins, and juice all of them, using the handy method I outline above.

Put the zest, sugar, water and dill in a saucepan. On a gentle heat, melt the sugar, and then bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, cook the syrup for a further five minutes, then leave to cool for ten minutes.

Taste the syrup. At this point, you should be able to taste the dill quite well, but it does come after the less-subtle mandarin punch. If the dill is enough for you, set the syrup aside to go cold. If you are having trouble tasting the dill, add a few more sprigs to the syrup, before you set it aside.

Once the syrup is completely cold, strain it through a fine sieve, add the juice, and make it up to a total of 600 ml with cold water, if it falls short.

Pour the entire mix into a shallow container with a lid. An old ice cream tub is ideal. Freeze it for about 4 hours, until the sorbet is thick and syrupy.

Whisk the egg white to form soft peaks. Put the sorbet mixture into a mixing bowl, and whisk it thoroughly to break up the ice crystals.

Add a little of the sorbet to the egg white, and mix it in thoroughly. Fold the rest of the sorbet to into the egg white.

Return to the container and freeze again. Check it after a couple of hours to see if the egg white has separated a little. If it has, re-whisk it.

The sorbet will be ready after seven hours from when you added the egg white, but stores well for longer. Remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving.

This should be easy enough to make in an ice cream maker, too. I guess you will need to churn it for a bit, then add the whisked egg white, then churn again. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions for the rest.

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Pytt i Panna – Swedish Ways With Leftovers

Pytt I Panna

Leftover? Not Any More

Happy New Year to you all, I wish that you’ll get what you need this year.

I rang in the New Year with friends old and new, and some fantastic food made for me by my friend who writes the Morning Claret. As you might expect, this was accompanied by some excellent wines.

I usually start the year with a few resolutions. As the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I didn’t have the best year in terms of regular blogging last year, I decided that this year, I would settle for simply committing to at least one blog post a week for the next 52 weeks. I already have a few that I want to share with you, and I have some great ideas for recipes that I am going to be testing for you in the near future.

If I get this done this year (with some much improved photography this year, thanks to my new camera the Big Guy bought me), then I will consider this a resolution well met. However, if you made any resolutions, I’d love to hear about some of yours.

Regular readers will know how much I love leftovers. To me they are ingredients to make delicious new dishes from. Pretty much everything can go to making new edible things. I use scraps in my stock, make trifle when life hands me leftover panetone, and even make ice cream from leftover mincemeat (which I think is an idea I got from Nigel Slater, so I won’t be blogging about that). If all other inspiration fails, there is always soup, which is often the best when you tinker about to use up the contents of your fridge.

There is always one dish that you can rely on to use up all the bits and bobs left over from a large meal. For Brits, it is Bubble and Squeak. The Chinese might fall back on a fried rice dish. If you are Swedish, you make Pytt i Panna – literally translated as “pieces in the pan”.

Since many of their meals rely on meat, vegetables and potatoes, this staple is as versatile as bubble and squeak. If you can fry it, it will go in. You can use up leftover cooked veg, or you can use up those sad old specimens that you’d intended to make something with, or the knobbly ones from the veg box that you have run out of inspiration for. You can also use a mix of both, if that is what you have. I would personally not recommend that you use tomatoes in this dish, but they would be rather good, well-grilled and served on the side.You should always have the onion for real pytt i panna, sweating it until it starts to colour, the caramelised bits are what makes this dish so good.

This time, I used up the last of the Christmas ham, made from a wild boar, again because that is what I had. I’ve also made this with beef, pork, leftover sausages, chicken, and a pretty excellent vegetarian version with a nut roast I’d made. I’m sure it would be equally good with turkey, and especially with goose, if that was your Christmas dinner of choice – especially cooked up with the rest of the bits and pieces in some of the lovely goose fat.

As you can probably tell from the description above, the following recipe does not need to be adhered to strictly, it is more of a guideline, based on what I had available on the day. The only two essential ingredients are the potato (sweet potato also works here, as would Jerusalem artichoke and celariac), and the onion, and you must allow both of them to colour, but apart from that just put pieces in a pan, as the name suggests.

This dish is lovely with a fried or poached egg on top. I had it with a side of slow-cooked red cabbage, which was also great.

I hope you made the most of your Christmas leftovers, let me know what you did in the comments.

Recipe: Pytt i Panna

Ingredients

5 medium potatoes or leftover boiled potatoes
About a quarter of a cauliflower that was past its best
2 onions, roughly chopped Leftover Christmas ham – I had about 150 g
1 tbsp cooking oil
Knob of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
A small bunch of dill that needed using up

Method

Dice everything into roughly 1 cm sized pieces. Break the cauliflower into small florets and dice the stalks.

If you are using raw potatoes, parboil them until they just allow a knife tip. Blanche the cauliflower in a separate bowl, and drain after 3-4 minutes.

In a large frying pan, cook the onions in the oil until they are starting to colour. Add the potatoes, again, cooking until they have some colour all over.

Add the knob of butter, ham and the cauliflower to the pan, then cook through. If the cauliflower also takes on a little colour,  so much the better.

Season well, and sprinkle with dill before serving.

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Gravad Lax: Buried Treasure

Gravad Lax with creamy dill sauce

A Christmas Cracker

I love trying food from different cultures, especially as a different take on Christmas food, such as our Aussie Christmas dinner. I guess that by now, Swedish food isn’t so different for me, but I thought I’d share a favourite recipe of mine.

A traditional Swedish julbord, or “Christmas table” is a pretty meat-heavy affair, eaten at 4pm on Christmas eve, after the nation has sprung to life again following their Disney favourite; “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck And His Friends Wish You Happy Christmas”. It is always the same clips, and this is one Christmas tradition I’m not overkeen on, but when in Stockholm…

Anyway, back to the julbord; it groans under a ham, which for me this year was a wild boar one, because the out-laws know I don’t like to eat factory farmed meat; various kinds of inglagd sill ; cold cuts; sausages; lutfisk; spare ribs; and Janssons Frestelse.

In my family, we also often have gravad lax. Also known as gravlax, gravlaks, graavilohi, or graflax depending on where you are in Scandinavia. In any country, it means buried salmon. In times before refrigeration, especially in northern European countries where snow covered the ground for a good part of the year, curing and burying meat was a great way to preserve it. Originally, people would use spruce or pine needles in the cure, but the balance needs to be perfect if your fish is not to end up tasting of a certain kind of disinfectant.

These days, everyone can make this easy recipe; you don’t even need a spade! In fact, you still have time to make it in time for a new year’s gathering, if you are having one. It looks impressive, for relatively little effort, and it is a big hit.

Organic Farmed Salmon

Organic Farmed Salmon

One thing I must urge you is to source your fish well. The increase in popularity of salmon in the last decade or so is concurrent with fish farming, most of which causes horrible environmental damage, due to over feeding and routine, excessive use of antibiotics. At the same time wild stocks are seriously dwindling, due to overfishing, ocean acidification and habitat destruction. In my opinion, salmon should be a treat, eaten very occasionally, so that we can afford to eat the best organically farmed salmon we can, meaning there is no unnecessary antibiotic use, and better care is taken to ensure that the fish are not over fed. This cure also works well for other types of fish, so you could still enjoy the recipe with cheap and plentiful fish, such as mackerel, or herring, so do feel free to experiment.

I made this amount of salmon for a large party, so you can also reduce the amounts of fish you use, but you must have enough cure to really cover the fish, so make a little more of that than you think you might need for the amount of fish that you have.

Recipe: Gravad Lax With A Creamy Mustard Sauce

Ingredients

For the Salmon:
100 g demerera sugar

75 g sea salt

100 g dill

1 tbsp juniper berries crushed

1.5 kg salmon fillet, halved

3 tbsp brandy

3-4 bay leaves

For the Sauce:
250 ml crème fraîche

2-3 tbsp finely chopped dill, depending on how much you like it

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1 tbsp runny honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Gravad Lax mix

A Fitting Salmon Send Off

Mix together the salt and sugar until really well combined. Remove the stalks from the dill and chop the rest finely. Mix into the cure with the juniper berries. The cure needs to look pretty green and herby, because you want to get a lot of flavour in there.

In a shallow dish, get some cling film or a cheesecloth, and coat with about a quarter of the cure. Press one half of the fish down well into the cure, skin side down. Rub the cure into the skin, and leave skin side down on the wrapping.

Then you need to load the flesh with the cure. Do this by brushing the flesh with half the brandy and laying about another quarter of the cure over the flesh. Lay a few bay leaves over the fish.

Repeat the brandy and cure on the flesh of the second fillet. Once it is well covered, then lay it on the first fillet, so they are flesh to flesh. If the cure falls out, tuck it back between the fillets.

Rub the last of the cure into the skin of the second fillet. Wrap the fillets tightly together. If you are using cheesecloth, bind it with a series of butcher’s knots, as tight as you can get. The fish will lose liquid as it cures, so it is best to keep it in the shallow dish, unless you really like cleaning the contents of your fridge.

Weigh down the fish, by piling a load of tins on top of a baking sheet on top of the fillets, and placing the whole lot into the fridge. Leave it to cure for 3 days, turning once each day. Rinse off and pat dry with kitchen towel before serving.

What Gravad Lax Should Look Like

The Finished Product

To make the sauce, simply mix together the crème fraîche, dill, mustard and the honey. Season to taste.

Serve with the thinly sliced gravad lax on bread, melba toast or knäckebröd, as a delicious starter or hors d’oeuvre.

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A Picnic on Public Transport

Asparagus and Potato Tart

Tarted Up Leftovers

The Big Guy and I are seasoned travellers. If you live in a different country from either of your families, you have to get used to the rhythm of packing, transport, and departure times. Where we can, we take the train; it has a much better rhythm – with a continuity of movement, both in terms of the motion of the carriages, and because there is no hanging about in a departure lounge, or being forced through an array of harshly lit shops. The train gets you where you need to be without fuss; you have space to sit comfortably and to move around.

One of the things that we haven’t got the rhythm of is taking our own food. Although, I do know exactly where all the best places to buy food along the journey are. We have recently returned from one such trip abroad, although this time, we had a leg of the journey on a coach. It was OK, but I will be glad if they ever sort out the troubles on trains run by a certain rail company, which has been unable to run for far too long now.

We decided that we should be better prepared for this journey. Since our usual rhythm was interrupted, I could not guarantee getting to my favourite pit stops. I also had a few ingredients in the fridge that wouldn’t last until we returned. So, the obvious choice was to make something to take with us. A picnic, of sorts.

I had a little of the salad, some cream and some eggs that needed using up from the dinner I made for friends, and a few last sprigs of chervil. As so often happens, the day before I was leaving I woke up and knew that these would be perfect in a tart, with some goat’s cheese. We could have some for dinner that evening, and then we could take the rest as a picnic for the coach the next day.

Like many of the best laid plans, the idea for a nice goat cheese went a bit awry. It was a bank holiday, and none of the usual shops were open, so I had to dispatch the Big Guy to the supermarket. Unfortunately, all they had in the way of goat cheese was some presliced stuff, that could have been any generic cheese. It certainly never has the tang of goat that I was looking for in this dish. Fortunately, he returned with some sharp, crumbly feta instead. This was a much better option, it needed to match the asparagus.

The tart was tasty, filling and survived the journey. So did the salad we had with it, because we dressed it en route from a small jar. This is my top tip for picnic salads – if you dress it before you travel, the salad will cook in the acid, and you will be left with a container full of flaccid disappointment.

Cheese Please blog badgeFour Seasons Food Challenge Chez Foti & Delicieux

I know I have entered my dishes into a lot of blog hops lately, but I couldn’t resist entering this recipe into the inaugural Cheese Please Challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. Then I heard about the inaugural Four Seasons Food, dreamed up by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Chez Foti. This dish is so apt for both.

This was my perfect public transport picnic, and I didn’t waste anything in my fridge. I’d love to hear what appears on your picnic blanket, or even coach seat when you make food for on the go.

Recipe: Asparagus and Potato Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold salted butter

Really good grinding of black pepper

1 egg yolk

For the Filling:

100 ml cream

4 eggs

small bunch chervil, very finely chopped

100 g of leftover asparagus salad, or 3-4 small salad potatoes and 5 asparagus spears cooked until just tender, and cut into 5 cm chunks

2 spring onions, sliced finely

90 g feta cheese

Method

Season the flour. I wanted this pastry to taste peppery, the rest of the tart can hold its own. Don’t be afraid of adding  more pepper than you think.

Rub the cold butter (it needs to be fridge temperature) into the seasoned flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolk and bring together into a dough. If you need to, you can add a little bit of cold milk to make it all come together. Add a splash at a time.

Form a disc with the dough, and cover it with cling film or foil, and leave it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Roll the pastry out thinly on a floured surface. Carefully line a greased flan case with the pastry, and press into the sides or fluting with a small offcut of pastry in a ball, to avoid any tears or holes, you don’t want the filling to leak and burn on the bottom.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, and add a good layer of blind bake – this can be ceramic beans, dried beans or rice – to give some weight help keep it flat and thin. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and is beginning to brown on the sides. Remove the blind bake, and put back in the oven to allow the pastry to cook all over to a light golden colour.

While the pastry is browning, whisk together the cream, eggs, and chervil.

Once the tart case is cooked, remove and turn the oven down to 180°C.

Pick the salad over to remove any leftover capers and cornichons. Scatter the rest over the tart case, so that you get pretty even cover. Then scatter over the spring onions and crumble the feta around, again, so that the coverage is quite even.

Pour the eggs and cream over the rest of the filling, shaking the case a little, to ensure even distribution. Return it to the oven and bake for a further 30-40 minutes, or until the centre is just set, but still has a little wobble if you shake it.

As with all quiches, this is great served hot or cold, but if you want to serve it warm, let it rest for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven, so that the filling does not ooze all over the plate.

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First in, Best Dressed

Asparagus Salad, Chervil Dressing and Asparagus Mousse-Stuffed Chicken Ballotine

Made for Each Other

I may have already mentioned how inspired I was by the Rollende Keukens (only once or twice…). I ate so many good things there, that I am now experimenting with.

Nestled in amongst the stalls, was the Bar d’Asperge, which sold all manner of brilliant dishes with asparagus; from the Dutch classic – white asparagus with ham, egg and a bechamel sauce, to grilled green asparagus, pasta salad and all manner of other things. I was in search of something on the healthier side to counterbalance all the barbecued goodies that the Big Guy was queueing for. We were both also hungry, so I wanted something substantial, too.

Asparagus Salad with a Delicious sour cream & chervil dressing

A Healthy Option – Fresh Asparagus Salad

I came across this lovely salad, which contained potatoes, white and green asparagus, mushrooms, capers and cornichons. As the lady served it to me, she smothered it in a dressing, casually mentioning it was home-made. It was good – creamy, rich and spiked with chervil. Asparagus and chervil: if ever a herb were meant to go with a vegetable, it would have to be these two.

I tried many things at the Rollende Keukens, but to be honest, I don’t remember much else from the first day that I went there. This salad, and this sauce have consumed the rest of my memories. I knew I had to recreate it, and I knew that I would need to do a bit of research first. A lot of the sauces I looked at were stock based, and thickened with cream. This dressing certainly had sour cream, but was sharper and fresher than that.

I thought that you would need the thickness of a mayonnaise to give the sauce its consistency. I also knew that a shop-bought mayonnaise would make it too claggy. Then I remembered that it was perfectly possible to make mayonnaise yourself, and I could make it at the thickness that I felt appropriate. And so, a homemade mayonnaise with a neutral-tasting oil was my starting point, and it went really well from there.

This salad, and the sauce went perfectly with the chicken ballotines that I stuffed with asparagus mousse. I am not a fan of white asparagus, so I left it out. The original salad also had silverskin onions in. I am not a huge fan of these, either, as I prefer the sharp tang of a home-made pickled onion to the sweetness of these tiny alliums.

I hope that you have a go at this sauce, I know a lot of people are put off by making a mayonnaise, but with this amount of oil, there shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you add the oil in very small amounts, and whisk it well in between so that it all of the oil is incorporated into the emulsion before you add the next lot.

Herbs on Saturday Blog Badge

As this dish makes use of one of my favourite herbs, I’m entering it into Herbs on Saturday, by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, which is being hosted this month by Anneli at Delicieux. You probably won’t come across chervil in the supermarkets, so look out for it at markets and farm shops. Or, even better, get hold of some seeds; it is one of the easiest of all of the herbs to grow from seed, the flavour is more intense, it has beautiful white flowers that are also tasty and will seed itself quite happily – if you don’t eat all the flowers first.

Asparagus Salad and Chervil Dressing

This recipe serves 4 people

For the Dressing:

1 egg yolk

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Lemon juice to taste

100 ml sunflower oil

100 g sour cream

15 g chervil, finely chopped

salt

For the Salad:

The proportions that I mention here are approximate. You can also adjust or add to your taste, things such as silverskin onions, hard-boiled egg, different mushrooms (Morels would be great if you can find them), spring onions, and probably many other things.

250 g small salad potatoes

100 g chestnut mushrooms

400 g asparagus (white, green or both)

2 tbsp capers

50 g cornichons

Chervil leaves to garnish

First make the dressing. Start with an egg yolk in a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and whisk together well. I did this by hand, because the heat from a food processor or stick blender is enough to scramble one egg yolk. You need a little lemon juice, because the you are essentially making an emulsion, and the acid helps to stabilise it, and stop it splitting. Don’t worry if you don’t think it is enough, you can add more later.

Then slowly add the oil, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well incorporated into the egg before you add more. Keep doing this until the oil is finished, or you think that you have a fairly thick mayonnaise. The exact amount that you’ll need will depend on the size and the age of the yolk.

Once you have a thick mayonnaise, whisk in the sour cream. Stir in the chervil. Season with salt, and taste to see if it is sharp enough for your tastes. If it isn’t, squeeze some more lemon juice into the mix. Set aside to allow the flavour to develop.

Boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

Cut the mushrooms into quarters, grind over some black pepper and salt, and fry in a little oil or butter until the mushrooms have given up their moisture.

Break off the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut into 5 cm chunks. Blanche in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes, you want the asparagus to retain some bite. Refresh in iced water, or by running the pieces under a cold tap. Drain, and add to a salad bowl.

Cut the potatoes in half. I did mine on the diagonal for interestingly shaped salad. Add to the salad bowl, along with the mushrooms, capers and asparagus. If the cornichons are really tiny, add them whole. If they are slightly larger cut them in half lengthways, or into large chunks. Stir well.

Serve garnished with chervil leaves and with a generous helping of the dressing.

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A Mousse Ate In a Windmill (In Old Amsterdam)

Asparagus Mousse and soft poached egg on sourdough toast

Twist on a Breakfast Classic

This year is the first year that I have been able to harvest my own asparagus. As you must, I planted four crowns two years ago, and it has been an agonising wait. I also thought that I’d been a little over zealous with the first harvest. I waited until I had a good few stalks, and before they got too long, then I plucked them all with the eagerness of a beaver who had just been presented with his own river that runs through a hardwood forest. I had the first batch simply steamed, and accompanied by a soft-boiled egg.

And then I waited. And waited. And the anxiety rose. And I started to worry that, having waited so long to crop them, I had been too impatient or greedy and that I would have to plant more crowns and wait another 2 years.

Asparagus Shoots Coming Anew in My Garden

Hope Springs Eternal

And then I went into the garden this morning, and was delighted to find this stalk poking its way through the soil and mulch. I will have more home-grown asparagus again this year, after all.

I had a few friends round to dinner at the weekend, which coincided with my panicky dearth of my own asparagus. But, I really wanted to  make asparagus the star of my main course, given that it is only with us for such a short time. So I dreamed up a main course that consisted of an asparagus salad, and a ballotine of chicken, stuffed with asparagus mousse. I have to admit, the food was lovely, seasonal and fresh, but my ballotine-making skills definitely require honing. They were not the most beautiful, and one or two lost some of the stuffing. But my guests enjoyed them, so I guess that is what matters.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Asparagus Mousse

A Total Farce!

I also made far too much mouse for the number of chicken breasts (and, indeed, guests) I had. So, the next morning, I cooked up the rest in a water bath, and had it for breakfast on some sourdough toast and topped with a poached egg. It was a great breakfast. I can also imagine this mousse served as a starter, with crayfish, or maybe even lobster, if you want to push the boat out.

Simple and in Season Blog BadgeOne Ingredient, Asparagus How To Cook Good Food Blog Badge

I can’t get enough asparagus at this time of the year, and of course, there is never any waste, because I always use the woodier ends to make soup. I can eat them simply, or in recipes. But I’m always looking out for new recipes to make and to inspire. We have a few more weeks of the season left, so if you have some great asparagus recipes, link them up in the comment section. I’m also entering this into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season, since there is nothing more seasonal than asparagus right now; and into One Ingredient, hosted this month by Laura at How To Cook Good Food since it is really appropriate right now.

Recipe: Asparagus Mousse

Ingredients

700 g asparagus

2 small shallots, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, sliced thinly

1 tbsp oil

100 ml cream

2 eggs

20 g chervil

Plenty of salt and pepper

Method

Remove any woody ends from the asparagus, by gently snapping them. As I have mentioned, no need to waste this bit, it may not be good to chew in a dish, but makes a great soup, or you can add it to vegetable stock, for an additional chlorophyl hit.

Cut the asparagus spears into 3-5 cm lengths, and blanch in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the width of the stalks. Refresh immediately under a running tap, or in iced water. You don’t want them to continue cooking, as they do cook for longer later in the process.

Soften the shallots and the garlic in the oil, until they are translucent. Keep them moving, so they do not catch. I always find that shallots will burn much quicker than onions. Once they are done, blend up with the asparagus, and the roughly chopped chervil. If you want to be really cheffy, you’d blend them then pass them through a drum sieve or something similarly fine. I am less cheffy, and was perfectly happy to have a bit of texture in my mousse, so I blended it up as fine as I could get it in my food processor.

Asparagus mousse of the right consistency for stuffing

Stuffing Thick

Beat the eggs and cream together, and stir in the asparagus mixture. The mixture should be pretty thick for a stuffing, but you could thin it with a little more cream if you intend to make a mousse. Season it really well. It will need it.

Then you can either use it to stuff meat, which should be poached gently in water or stock; or you can put it into greased ramekins or dariole moulds, and cook it in a bain marie until it is just set. The time you need will depend on the size of your mould. It took me about 20 minutes, but I was using pretty large ramekins.

If you have greased your dish well enough, you should be able to turn it out. I did this, but decided that I wanted to serve it on toast, and you’ll find it also spreads nicely.

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