Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Hole in One!

Osso Buco in Bianco allo Zenzero con Polenta & Cicoria
Osso Buco in White Wine & Ginger, with Polenta and Chicoree

This rustic little feast was my Easter Sunday treat- and doesn't everyone love "Osso Buco"?
You can say what you want... but no expensive cut of meat is as tasty as a cheaper cut that has stewed for longer- especially meat that is cooked on the bone.

I wanted to do something a little different with my osso buco though, so I decided on do without the traditional red wine and tomato sauce and to cook it in a lighter and more flavorful manner- with celery, parsnip, ginger, cloves and garlic, this really WAS something else!

In a very hot saucepan, I quickly browned off the beef shank from all sides and then added the other ingredients- finely chopped onion, celery, garlic and ginger, a couple of cloves, a leaf of bay... and then deglazed the saucepan with a good splash of white wine and then swiftly followed it with a little more boiling water. All of this picked up the flavors from the saucepan wonderfully- so basically all of the hard work was done! I turned down the heat to a low simmer and let it sit for the next couple of hours... mmm!

In the meantime, first I steamed and then sautéed the chicoree in a little olive oil. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg and set it to one side to remain warm.

And then the polenta! I prepared the polenta by bringing just a little water to the boil and dissolving 3 tablespoons of polenta down into a soft paste of sorts. I then added the broth that had been created during simmering the beef shank and stirred it in well... and soon enough I had very flavorful polenta on my hands- as if by magic! Well- after a further 15 minutes of stirring at least!

I served the osso buco on top of the polenta, with a portion of chicoree greens, a sprinkle of pepper and a scattering of freshly chopped parsley. All of the finely chopped ingredients I used for the broth had become by now a fine, golden mince with lots of flavor... so I spooned them over the top of the meat as an extra treat... it was pretty delicious! And I do hope that you all like it!

Oatmeal Fruit Bake

Piccola Torta di Fiocchi d'Avena, Banana & Prugne con Yogurt e Pistacchio
Individual Banana Oatmeal Bake with Plum, Yogurt & Pistachio

This photogenic little breakfast here, happens to be nothing more than oatmeal, with a little fruit, some plain low-fat yogurt and a sprinkle of pistachio. No magic, no tricks- just a little effort with the presentation- but even that was really easy! What a nice way to start your Easter Sunday morning!

This could easily have just been a regular breakfast of oatmeal, with a little fruit and yogurt on the side- and that would have been just fine too. But don't you think this is a lot prettier and so much more fun? I agree! So let me just tell how easy it was to make- its so easy you're going to love it!

I prepared the oatmeal base by simply mashing a ripe banana with a fork, then whipping it up a little as soon as it was soft... it happens quicker and easy than you might think and before you know it, you have a soft banana cream in which you can- and should add, a little cinnamon, a pinch of salt and a little Stevia or sugar to sweeten it to taste. For my taste, banana's are already rather sweet and therefore do not need too much added sweetness- but all I can say is- have a taste! It's the only way you are ever going to know for sure!

Once the banana was flavored, I added oatmeal and worked it in until it had the consistency of a moist but firm dough... because that was what it had become by now. I formed the dough into a ball and rolled it out flat using a rolling pin, to the size of a small saucer, to the thickness of maybe an inch. And then, on a cookie sheet, it went into the oven at 250°F for around 20 minutes... time for it to bake through, dry out and begin to get golden on the outside.

Whilst that was happening, I cut 2 plums into slices and popped them into a frying pan with a little honey, a drop of vanilla essence and a pat of butter. I sautéed the slices at a moderate heat for 2-3 minutes, no longer- but that was plenty of time for them to soak up the honey and butter and all of those good flavors. I then set them to one side until the oatmeal base was baked through and firm. Next, I arranged the plum slices on top of the oatmeal base, added one last light drizzle of honey and then popped it back into the oven for a further 15 minutes, until the oatmeal began to go brown and crisp up and the plum had a lovely glaze... and that was it!

I served it up with a couple of tablespoons of fresh yogurt and a nice sprinkle of grated pistachio- and of course the whole thing was then transformed... but either way you might want to serve it... it is gonna look good!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Miniature Masterpiece

Carciofini con Piselli, Menta & Couscous
Baby Artichokes with Mint, Peas and Couscous

My last dish of the day today, was this delicious combination of tender baby artichokes, on a bed of fluffy, minty couscous- a mix of flavors made in heaven! I always find it hard to resist picking up a handful of baby artichokes when I see them on offer- especially if they are nice and juicy looking as these were... and if you give them a go some time- I am sure you will see why!

Strange as it may sound, the combination of artichoke and peas is indeed pretty much a classic dish in Italian cuisine- and of course the logical thing to do is to serve them up with mint as the main flavoring, as it goes so well with each respectively. Add that to a simple, fluffy couscous and you have a light and delicious meal in next to no time- and a really delicious one at that!

I began by plucking away the outer leaves, until I got down to the tender, dense core of the artichokes. I then cut away the excess stalk, cut them in half gave them a good squeeze of lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown- then sprinkled them lightly with salt and pepper and steamed them for 15-20 minutes until tender. 

In the meantime, I fried a handful of frozen peas, together with a little finely chopped garlic and onion, in just a little olive oil. I seasoned them with nutmeg, pepper and salt and once they were thawed and the onion and garlic were nice and translucent, added enough vegetable broth to cover them and a handful of couscous to soak up the broth and all of the flavors that had accumulated during frying. I stirred the couscous and let it cook for 1-2 minutes, then turned of the heat and let it sit until the artichokes were ready. 

Once the artichokes were tender, I served them up on the couscous and peas and sprinkled everything generously with finely chopped parsley and mint and just a tiny bit more olive oil and lemon juice... and dinner was served! There- I told you it was going to be easy... and delicious too!

Open Sesame!

Insalata di Puntarelle, Portolacca, Ravanello con Salsa di Sesamo
Puntarelle, Portulac & Radish Salad with Sesame Dressing

It was still freezing cold here in Frankfurt today... but for the first time in ages it was also sunny and bright! So despite the cold, I decided to try to make a dish more suited to Springtime than Winter- especially as the first young and tender radishes are in season, the delicious "portulac" lettuce looked excellent- and more than anything, because there were wonderful deep green "punterelle" on offer again at the market hall.

This time, I decided to make a slightly richer dressing than usual, using Tahini, honey and mustard to make it thick and creamy... that combined with some fresh lemon juice was the perfect addition to the slightly bitter puntarelle, the mild but peppery portulac and the crunchy little radishes...

Basically, all that I needed to do here was to wash, dry and arrange the salad ingredients on a plate and then stir together a dressing. For the dressing, I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of Tahini, salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. I added just a little water to these ingredients, stirred it together gently and then shook the jar vigorously, in order to blend together all of the ingredients of the dressing.

And yes, basically- that was all! I poured the dressing over the salad and added a generous sprinkle of toasted sesame for some extra taste and texture. Perfect. Sometimes nature has everything already sorted and all we need to do is assist a little- and of course, more than anything else... to enjoy!

Scramble Siciliano

Uova Strappazzate alla Siciliana
Sicilian Scrambled Eggs on Rye

At last, the weekend- and a holiday weekend at that! Which means for me, finally time to start the day with a little breakfast- something I never have the time to indulge in on a weekday. And this morning I was in the mood for something savory rather than sweet... something with egg... something like this!

I have made a number of dishes based on one of my favorite flavor combinations from the old country (Sicily)- that being egg with mint and sun-dried tomatoes. So this morning I decided to try to use those ingredients in a version of scrambled eggs - something quick, simple and yummy. Paired with a couple of nice, rustic, rye bread rolls, it made a breakfast that guaranteed the day was going to be good and gave me a smile that lingered for a long, long time :-)

This was obviously a very simple affair. I started off by sautéing some finely chopped bacon in a dry frying pan... the fat that the bacon gave off during frying was going to serve to fry the rest of the ingredients nicely. In the meantime, I beat 2 eggs together with a splash of milk and a handful of grated parmesan cheese. I then finely chopped a little mint and parsley and a sun-dried tomato as finely as I could and added them to the eggs. I seasoned with just a little salt, some pepper and of course nutmeg.

Once the bacon was beginning to brown, I poured over the egg mix and let it begin to set slightly, then began to push and fold, push and fold the mixture, so that all sides of the egg fried evenly. I only let the eggs cook for 2-3 minutes and then let them sit and finish cooking in their own heat and their own time... definitely do not constantly stir the eggs until they dry out completely! I served up the moist and delicious scrambled eggs on crispy rolls, with fresh cherry tomato slices and a tad more black pepper- pretty delicious! You should give it a try too some day!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Rose Rice

Risotto di Barbabietola Rossa, Zenzero, Carota & Finocchio
Beetroot, Ginger, Carrot & Fennel Risotto

It is Friday- Good Friday even- and that means that it is not just a religious holiday here in Europe, but also a Bank Holiday... which means, hurrah- no work! But also means boo-hoo- no shopping! All the stores are closed- so you had better hope you did all of your groceries last night!

As I knew I would be spending the day with family, I didn't fret about groceries too much, as I know I will be able to go to the market hall tomorrow to get fresh fruit and vegetables. What I didn't reckon with, was most of them being ill! So, after enjoying a lovely lunch that my niece prepared today (thanks Gina! <3), I decided to stay for just a little while afterwards, but then to move on so that my sister, brother-in-law, my other niece, her husband and their 3 little boys could all rest and get over their colds- Get well soon everybody!

So I took the train back home and was fine for a few hours... but come evening, I was becoming just a tad hungry again... and with so little left in the fridge, as usual, had to compromise and get creative to come up with an idea for supper!

As I had indeed enjoyed a wonderful and rich lunch, I wanted something that whilst being filling, would also be relatively light and healthy. With a beetroot left over from yesterday evening, a small carrot and a quarter of a fennel, I decided I had all I needed to put together a fun and tasty meal in the form of this risotto. With a few herbs and spices, a little fresh ginger and about 30 minutes of time I turned that thought into an edible reality! And who knew it would taste so good?!?!

I started off by grating the beetroot, the carrot and about 1" of ginger finely. These went into my saucepan with a sprinkle of fennel seeds, the fennel itself, which I cut into a fine dice, half of an onion finely sliced and half of a clove of garlic, crushed. I sautéed everything in just a little olive oil, for 2-3 minutes and then added the rice- just a good handful of Arborio rice was enough for this nice single serving. I seasoned it with just a little salt, then pepper, a hint of cinnamon, a little coriander powder and yes- just a small piece of vanilla (which of course I would pick out later!).

And then I began to add vegetable broth, one ladle at a time... and to stir and repeat, stir and repeat... you know the method- until around 20 minutes later the rice was cooked, but the "risotto" was not yet creamy and good for eating- although the flavor wasn't half bad! It just needed some final "tweaking" :-)

So I added just a little splash of milk and grated it with a little nutmeg... stirred this in, and immediately, the rice began to transform itself into something a little more like a risotto! Somehow I felt that with the ginger and beetroot, cheese and butter would not really go well, so instead I added a little olive oil to give it a nice sheen and a nice pinch of freshly, finely chopped parsley and a hint of lemon zest, to brighten the flavor... mmm! Pretty good even if I do say so myself! I turned off the heat and stirred it through, added a hint of green tabasco for good luck and served it up with a generous sprinkle of fennel greens. And the result was different, delicious and quite delightful! And made for quite a wonderful Last Supper for the week! Hope you like it and hope you stop by tomorrow to see what I pick up at the market for you all!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

To Slice is Nice

Insalata di Lenticchie, Barbabietola Rossa, Finocchio, Carota & Sedano
Lentil, Beetroot, Fennel, Carrot & Celery Salad

Although it is still very cold here in Frankfurt at the moment, Springtime is slowly but surely drawing closer and I am beginning to think of lighter, fresher dishes once more. Having picked up a bag of pre-cooked beetroot last night, I was trying to think of a cool way to prepare it... and came up with the idea of this combination- great flavors and textures, colorful, easy, quick and fun! All that a healthy to boot! What's not to like?!?

Not quite being ready to face a "regular" salad- meaning a completely cold salad, I decided to make this dish instead- a combination of hot, freshly cooked lentils with other raw ingredients- and the result was pretty delicious- I recommend you try it out for yourselves!

The fact that the beets were already cooked, tender, sweet and perfect made this a lot quicker and easier to prepare than would otherwise have been the case- plus I got to nibble on the off-cuts from the beets whilst the lentils cooked- haha! 

But first things first- the lentils needed to boil and simmer away for 20-25 minutes to become tender and I did this in some vegetable stock to give them extra flavor... but otherwise kept them plain and simple. I wanted each individual flavor of each of the ingredients to come into its own later, with just a simple dressing to help them along... but we will get to that shortly! In any case, I measured 2 handfuls for one nice, big suppertime serving :-) ... I was hungry!

Whilst the lentils simmered away, I sliced 2 beets and 1 carrot with a vegetable peeler to get them nice and thin... this ended up making the beets taste soft and silky smooth and the carrots light and crunchy. Next, I sliced up a quarter of a fennel bulb as thinly as I could too.
Basically, that was all the prep work except for a little dressing for the lentils- which I was ready to add after 20 minutes of cooking!

For the dressing, I added 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of honey to the hot lentils. I let them sit for 5-10 minutes in order to soak up these great flavors and then began to assemble my salad- starting with a few nice leaves of mint and then building up the layers as I went, a little at a time. I finished off by adding a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle fresh oregano leaves, a little white pepper and just a pinch of salt... and let me tell you that the combination of flavors and textures together was just amazing!

I hope you like this as much as I did!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Stalking the Beans

Tagliatelle di Grano Saraceno con Semi di Soia, Zenzero, Scalogno e Salsa di Ostriche
Buckwheat Noodles with Edamame, Ginger, Scallions & Oyster Sauce

Well believe it or believe it not- this was my first dish using Edamame! Soy beans, in their natural state, are something that we do not get and do not recognize soy beans in their natural state over here... which is such a shame! I first tried edamame in the USA, in the traditional way- steamed in the pod and sprinkled with coarse salt, to pop in your mouth and out of the pod as an appetizer... and I loved them!

So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover them at an Asian supermarket here! I picked them up about a month ago and somehow never got around to preparing them... but this evening, home late from work and hungry- I wanted to make something quick, easy and satisfying... and I remembered my little green treasures and decided their time had come!

You can't get much quicker and easier than this folks- I am talking 10 minutes at the most here! Pay attention now... if you blink you might just miss something!

I started off by bringing a saucepan of water to the boil and adding the noodles... which softened up really quickly- as buckwheat noodles do! As soon as they softened and I was able to stir them, once the water had come back up to a steady, rolling ball, I added the edamame, straight from frozen into the water. As frozen edamame are already pre-boiled, they only need 4-5 minutes at the most of cooking time... so as soon as the water began to boil again, I reduced the heat to a low simmer and let the noodles and beans continue to bubble away...

In the meantime, I finely chopped about a 1" slice of ginger and a small clove of garlic and finely sliced a shallot. I sautéed them in just a couple of drops of sesame oil in a hot frying pan, stirring constantly and added a tiny pinch of sugar, so as to caramelize them just a little. 

In the meantime the noodles and edamame were finished, so I drained them and rinsed them with cold water to cool them right down and stop the cooking process. I then pinched the edamame pods slightly and popped out the beans, straight into the noodles. And sure, I could have boiled or steamed the edamame in another saucepan... but that would be "me", would it? one tip is- if your squeeze the beans towards the direction of the stem and not towards the tip, the bean will pop out easily :-)

Once the beans were shelled, I set the crisply fried shallot ginger and garlic to one side and passed the noodles straight over into the now vacant frying pan. Vacant- but with lots of good flavors fried into the base! I added a drizzle of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce and a couple of tablespoonfuls of oyster sauce... and that was all of the seasoning this dish needed. Once everything was heated through nicely, I served up the noodles with a little finely chopped parsley (I had no cilantro at home... which would also have been nice) and topped off my dish with the crisp and golden shallot, ginger and garlic. A last drizzle of soy sauce, a drop or two of sesame oil and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley and sesame seeds and supper was served!

Easy but good, this is a perfect solution for something quick, light and fantastic! What's not to like!?! Give it a go and see for yourself! And whatever you do... enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Raising the Ramps

Focaccia Rustica con Finocchio, Pancetta, Olive & Erba Orsina
Rustic Focaccia with Fennel, Bacon, Olives & Ramps

It has taken it's time in arriving... but finally, slowly but surely, Springtime IS just around the corner! How do we know? Well, despite the freezing temperatures... little glimpses of blossom are appearing in the trees here and there... the odd daffodil is raising itself from the cold soil... and out in the woods, the bears have begun sniffing out the young and tender ramps as they begin to sprout...

Yes, here in Germany, ramps go by the name "Bärlauch", which roughly translated means "bear leeks". Because yes- this plant is an alium, like onions or garlic- and indeed, it is the first thing that a bear will be attracted to in the woods- despite what many people may think! Haha!
With it's mild and pungent, garlic fragrance, this lovely, large-leafed herb is a truly wonderful seasonal gem and while it is only available for a short while, an absolute must for any cook!

I decided to make something simple this evening- something quick and easy and something that would bring out the flavor of the ramps and put them to a really good use. Using a store-bought "fresh" pizza dough, I made this tasty flatbread/focaccia with sweet and juicy fennel, salty bacon and olives and mild, crispy cheese. Combine all of those good flavors, with a mild garlic flavor and you have an evening snack that is going to be a winner all round!

I started off by popping my thinly cut fennel wedges in just a hint of water in my frying pan for 2-3 minutes from each side, until they became transparent and the water had basically evaporated away. I then added a handful of finely chopped bacon and let both the bacon and the fennel brown nicely together. Whilst they were sizzling away, I finely chopped 4-5 black olives and picked 3-4 nice leaves from the ramps for later... but not much later... I was almost ready to go!

I set the fennel wedges and pre-cooked bacon to one side and began to assemble the pizza directly in my frying pan (as soon as it was cool enough!). Once I had sprinkled the pizza base nicely with grated Emmentaler cheese, I laid out the fennel wedges evenly. I then added the chopped olives, bacon and the ramps in-between. I seasoned it with a little salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg and gave it a final sprinkle of grated cheese... and then I folded-over the outer edges decoratively to give myself a lovely crispy border.

I let the pizza/focaccia first "bake" on my stovetop for 5 minutes, until the base was crispy and golden brown, let my oven warm up to maximal temperature in the meantime and then popped the hot frying pan inside for the focaccia/pizza to bake and become a wonderful golden brown... which only took around 5 minutes!

So all in all this was quick and easy... but it was also fun and delicious! Time for you to go out and find them-there ramps... and for you to enjoy them for yourselves! 

Monday, 25 March 2013

A Supper So Sweet!

Gnocchi di Patate Dolce con Pomodori Ciliegini & Origano
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes & Oregano

Even on a Monday evening, after a tough start to a new week... or maybe even ESPECIALLY on a Monday evening... it is nice to treat yourself to something nice occasionally- don't you think? Especially if you can make a dish as lovely as this with products so simple- you know you deserve to make that extra bit of effort for yourselves I hope! It's a little bit of work, but a whole lot of joy and pleasure in return!

Actually- this was not THAT much work- and didn't even take that much sweet potato! Believe it or not, this single serving took just 1/3rd of a medium sized sweet potato to make! With a little flour and 1 egg yolk the gnocchi were taken care of- and with 3-4 cherry tomatoes and a little fresh oregano, they became transformed into something really delicious! I really love cooking!

Normally, the best way to prepare sweet potatoes is to bake them, as they tend to be much softer in their consistency than regular potatoes and the baking helps to maintain a decent consistency and keep them from becoming to moist and soft... but as I was using such a small quantity, I decided to risk a different method. Instead, I grated the sweet potato finely and steamed it for 10 minutes... also not a bad idea!

I let the sweet potato cool off for 10 minutes or so, until it was just lukewarm, then added a couple of tablespoons of flour- just enough to soak up a little of the excess moisture in the potatoes and enough to cool them down a little more, so that I could add an egg yolk without it curdling. I worked the egg yolk in with a fork briskly, and once the mixture was smooth, added more and more flour, little by little, until the mixture became firm enough to form a dough that did not cling to the edge of the bowl anymore. I seasoned it with a good pinch of salt, a little pepper and a sprinkle of nutmeg in advance... definitely a good idea with this sweet potato version.

Making gnocchi is a matter of your own judgement at the end of the day- as there are always variations in the varieties of potatoes or flour, the size of the eggs and so on and so forth. Just stay calm, use some common sense and your own judgment after reading these rough guidelines... and you will be fine!

The important thing is to not overwork the dough and to no knead it too much. Once the dough "comes together" nicely, but is soft like a pillow, stop working it, or it will become too dense and your gnocchi will be heavy and cloying and no fun to eat. Make sure to get plenty of flour on your hands, spread some on your work surface, and make rolls from the gnocchi dough of about the thickness of your thumb. 

Once I had made my 2-3 rolls of dough, I lined them up together and cut them into slice of around 1". I then sprinkled these again with flour and rolled them over my groovy little wooden board to give them a nice ridged pattern... but of course you can always get the same effect using a fork. And then it was time to cook them... so exciting!

I brought my well-salted water to a very gentle, rolling boil and dropped the gnocchi carefully in... it took them just 3-4 minutes to cook and come floating up to the surface... and they came out just perfectly as you can see!

Whilst they were gently simmering away, I sautéed the cherry tomatoes, with a little crushed garlic, in a little olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Once they had begun to caramelize and turn a nice toasty color, I deglazed the pan with just a tiny splash of vodka- as I was eating alone this evening... but had I been making this dish for a family and children, I would have just used plain water.... the main reason was to pick up all of the good flavor from the base of the pan! 

As soon as the gnocchi floated to the surface of the water, I took them out with a slotted spoon and dropped them into cold water to stop the cooking process. I know we always get told it has to be ice-water... but nah! Cold is cold enough! As soon as they were cool, I let them drip dry and then popped them into a frying pan just briefly with a little olive oil to bring them up to temperature again and give them a nice glaze. Being as I had interrupted the cooking process whilst they were boiling, the gnocchi had now become more firm and stable and held up to a brief toss in the frying pan with no problem and without falling apart.

Once they were warm again, I served them up with the simple but delicious, caramelized tomatoes, a generous sprinkle of fresh oregano leaves and a dusting of coarsely ground black pepper and finely grated parmesan... and my Monday evening feast was ready! And boy was it ever tasty! I hope you try it for yourself some time and hope you enjoy... buon apetito!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Goethes Gold

Torta Salata di Patate & i Sette Erbe da Francoforte
Frankfurter 7-Herb Potato Cake

I wonder if Goethe used to shop at the market hall in Frankfurt, way back when? If he did, he would have bought his Frankfurter Grüne Soße herbs there in any case- and apparently it was indeed his favorite dish. But how on earth is one to eat all of the herbs, if you buy them pre-packed and sorted. It certainly makes a lot more sense than having to go out and search for parsley, chives, pimpernell, borage, chervil, sorrel and garden cress individually... but wow! These parcels are easily enough to make green sauce for a family of four!

So... what happens is that you have plenty left over! I mean- really plenty! But being as I hate to be wasteful, I decided to try to use up more of them in this evenings meal. In fact, I also had a couple of potatoes left over too- so this little idea here certainly made a lot of sense!

So, obviously, the first thing I had to do again was to get busy chopping all of those herbs- which I actually really enjoy doing! Use a machine if you must- but when it comes to that kind of thing, I am pretty "old-school" I have to say! Next, as the potatoes from yesterday were very firm, I decided to peel them, chop them up a little and heat them up again with just a little milk in my saucepan, which made them much easier to mash. I added the herbs and a little chopped onion to the hot potatoes as I mashed them, which allowed them to blend in nicely and to soften up a little. 

And then I let them cool off for 5-6 minutes, as I needed to add the other ingredients, including egg and cheese... and you can imagine how difficult that would have been with red hot potatoes- ugh! Nope- this was one of those times in life where I actually was patient!

As soon as the potatoes were cool, I added a good pinch of grated salted ricotta cheese and 1 tablespoon of "Quark" or a similar cream cheese- with quark being a very German ingredient, you may want to use a low-fat Philadelphia. I stirred these in thoroughly and then added 1 whole egg. I stirred it in well and added the seasonings of salt, pepper, nutmeg and an optional pinch of cayenne, then spooned the mixture into a small frying pan that had been lightly coated in olive oil. I turned on the oven to 400°F and turned on my stove top- which was where I began to put my savory potato cake together.

Onto the stove top it went for 5 minutes, until it was beginning to brown nicely, at which point I added a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg and scattering of grated Emmentaler cheese and then into the oven it went for a further 15 minutes at around 350°F to finish baking and to become wonderfully crisp and golden brown... mmm! Delicious!

I enjoyed mine with just a little plain yogurt, which balanced out the rich, herbal flavor and a couple of cherry tomatoes for a little added color and freshness- and yum, yum, yum! This was one to be filed under "simple but delicious"... and to be enjoyed immediately! So that is exactly what I did- and I recommend you do too!

Pretty Pink Pie!

Crostata di Rabarbaro & Cocco
Rhubarb & Coconut Pie

Sunday morning and time for something sweet again everybody! Well, actually, this story began last night when I prepared the rhubarb- not quite sure of how I was going to actually end up using it as usual! But also as usual- I thankfully became inspired this morning... maybe it was the unexpected sunshine, maybe just wishful thinking of the onset of Spring, but in any case I decided it had to be something pretty for all you ladies (and lads!) out there... and here it is!

I was a bit tired of the same-old same-old rhubarb with strawberries... very nice I'm sure, and a great way for faking the pink color (which is obviously much diminished after peeling the rhubarb of it's pretty pink skin), but just so... ordinary! I decided to make something unusual instead- and I was inspired to use the coconut when I saw just how much juice the rhubarb had developed after a night or relaxation... what better way to use it than to soak it up into a moist, sumptuous coconut layer? Pretty, tasty and smart I'd say! And this is how I made it...

As I already mentioned, I prepared the rhubarb the other night in my fool-proof, no fuss, tried and tested method. I peeled 3 stalks for this small pie (it is only about the size of a saucer and would serve 2 people generously) and chopped them into bite-sized chunks. I put these into an oven-proof dish and sprinkled them with a little Stevia- you can use sugar or honey if you wish. I added a little vanilla- I had a pod handy, but essence would also be fine, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, a little water and a teaspoon of cherry preserves- just to help maintain the color a little. I stirred these together and popped my dish into a HOT oven (400°F at least), for 10 minutes... then turned off the heat and went to bed. Seriously! The remaining heat in the oven does all the rest of the work for you... in the morning the rhubarb is cooked but firm and there is lots of delicious pink juice into the bargain! Best way to make it! And other way and all you end up with is slimy pink fibers... ugh!

I then drained the rhubarb and added enough coconut to the remaining juice, until it was all soaked up... and then indeed, squeezed out the excess juice from the now wonderfully pink coconut, so as to not make the base become too soggy.

The next step was to prepare my pastry base... and again, I decided to use my trick of using a frying pan instead of a pie dish, so as to begin "baking" the crust on the stove top, so that it is pre-baked from below before the moist topping has much time to seep through. Still, I assembled the whole thing first before turning on the heat... you can't bake puff-pastry blind! You have been warned! Don't try it! The butter melts, everything softens and let me just say... you'll be sorry!

So- I started off with a circle of pastry of course, and then using strips of around 1" width, created a slightly raised edge around the outside- this helps avoid any spillage as well as the fact that it puffs up much more decoratively. I then added my layer of coconut, spreading it out evenly, and spooked the rhubarb pieces on top of that. The little lattice top is of course optional- but I found it pretty today- plus, it used up all of my leftovers! Haha! That was the real reason!

To bake the pie, I turned on the oven to 350° and whilst it warmed, popped my little frying pan onto the stove top and turned up the heat to high too. As soon as the base changed color and became translucent from the butter melting, I turned down the heat and then let it sit for a while longer, until it became white again- the sign that it was almost baked through. Then into the oven it went, for 15 minutes, and a final 1-2 under the broiler at the end to give it a nice golden tan. And what can I say? It really was delicious, really was different... and really was as easy as pie!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

I Bought You Flowers... and Ate Them!

Fiori di Zucca ripiene di Couscous, Erba Orsina e Feta
Zucchini Blossoms with Couscous, Feta Cheese and Ramps

Zucchini blossoms again! Well, what do you expect??? Springtime is still refusing to rear it's head- and these were the prettiest flowers I saw at the market hall today! Especially as they each had these lovely little miniature zucchini attached- they really did look great! So I thought if I have no one else to buy flowers for, I will just go ahead and buy them for myself! ;-)

One of my favorite fillings for zucchini blossoms, after having tried a few, still has to be couscous. It is so versatile and easy to flavor as well as being light and yet filling- a good combination methinks! 

Alas, there are no other blossoms yet over here this Springtime... but lo and behold, ramps are popping up everywhere and were in-season and in-abundance at the indoor market. Though much milder than garlic, they still give a wonderfully pungent garlic aroma to many a Spring-dish. I thought they would be perfect for this, in combination with the last piece of Feta cheese and a little mint and parsley. So that was it! I now had a plan... all I needed to do was to get started on it... like this!

I chopped 2-3 ramp leaves very finely and added them to the couscous- I only needed a couple of handfuls of couscous to have enough to stuff all of these little beauties. I added parsley and mint- just a little of each and just enough to bring a little freshness into the flavor, a little finely grated lemon zest to add a little more- and a squeeze of juice just to be sure!

I poured enough boiling water over the couscous to cover it, added salt, pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg and let it sit for 5 minutes... after which time it was almost twice it's size and nice and fluffy. Whilst it was still warm, I added the crumbled feta cheese and stirred it in well, so that as it melted slightly, it blended together nicely and evenly with the couscous.

Next, I prepared the blossoms. What you need to do here is to gently fold back the petals so that you can open the blossom up and than take out the stamen, as they can taste bitter and just ruin your meal... and you know you don't want that! I then spooned in the cheesy, garlicky and minty filling into each blossom- it only took a teaspoonful of filling as the zucchini were so small. I carefully pinched the ends of the finished blossoms together and then laid them on a baking tray- almost ready to go! All I needed to do now was to pre-heat the oven and pop them in for 6-7 minutes from each side. And this is where some "learning by doing" comes in... I forgot to drizzle them with olive oil- and 6-7 minutes later was delighted to find that the little flowers not only looked good- but also tasted much better than if they had been soaked in oil- which happens really quickly if you are not careful!

So after 6-7 minutes and a little bit of attention, my blossoms came out perfect- with a light crunch and with lovely tender and steaming couscous inside! delicious- even if I do say so myself! Great as a little appetizer or an elegant side dish- I am sure you will wow your friends with this... to be quite honest- they wow me again and again each time I make them!

Enjoying the Greenery

Frankfurter GrüneSoße mit Kartoffel & Ei
Frankfurt Green Sauce with Boiled Potatoes & Eggs

Having lived in Frankfurt for 25 years now, I think it is about time I should show you something that is absolutely THE most typical regional favorite dish here... albeit of course in MY version.
It is not that different I suppose (well, actually it IS), but the traditional one is already of course online in it's myriad incarnations... I am sure you will prefer mine anyway!

"Grüne Soße" is made of a traditional mix of 7 herbs... fortunately for us living in Frankfurt, we can buy them already rinsed, sorted, pre-packed and ready to go at the market or my beloved indoor market. The 7 herbs you will need for the classic version are: parsley, chives, pimpernell, borage, chervil, sorrel and garden cress.

Getting the exact mix of each herb just right for your own particular taste is going to take some trial and error- the mix of essential oils in the herbs is what gives the sauce it's slightly pungent, earthy flavor. My best advice is to go easy on the ingredients like sorrel and borage the first time around- or to maybe add those little by little after making a "base sauce" of parsley, chives and garden cress. Me on the other hand- I just opened the parcel and jumped straight in!

Ok- I did start out with a good handful of parsley for my single serving and about half as much each of the chives and cress- as for the others, I would say a good pinch of each is enough. It is not rocket science and there is no magic formula- it is absolutely and always a case of trial and error, as herbs also differ in their strength of flavor. So be brave! And get chopping- as fine as you can! You can of course use a food processor- but I prefer to do things the old way :-)

Once the herbs were finely chopped, I prepared a bowl to mix the sauce in and rubbed it with a half clove of garlic- just to have a slight garlicky note- but a very subtle one at that. It is not a part of the original recipe... but I like it! I then added the herbs and as opposed to many versions which use cream or even mayonnaise, I used plain low-fat yogurt for mine... I see no good reason why not to! I also saw no reason to not "be me"- and added a small drizzle of olive oil to mine- definitely not in the traditional Frankfurt recipe- but then I am not originally from Frankfurt- I am Sicilian and was born in England- haha! I seasoned with salt, pepper and the tiniest hint of nutmeg, then added a half teaspoon of mustard powder and a snall squeeze of lemon juice... and that was that! I stirred it together well... tasted it, loved it and popped it into the fridge for the flavors to intensify even more whilst the potatoes and eggs cooked...

I am sure I don't need to tell you how to hard-boil and egg or how to boil a potato... so suffice to say, the egg was ready after around 6-7 minutes and the little potatoes after 10 or so. Which is not too long to wait... not really... although I WAS really hungry today! In any case, a little salt and a good pinch of coarsely ground pepper was all the eggs and potatoes needed and together with the refreshing, light green sauce, it was an absolute delight and no wonder it is Frankfurt's favorite dish. So simple and so good... so, Guten Appetit!