Improvised avocado spread

It’s a shame not to use ripe avocado’s when they’re lying around in the kitchen, waiting to go bad. So after some rather improvised guacamole last night (it’s really not the same without fresh tomatoes and cilantro) I opened the fridge and tried to find something good to spread on my lunch rolls. That’s when I came up with this spread, made from a very ripe avocado and some fridge leftovers.

Ingredients (for about 3 rolls-both sides worth of spread):

1 very ripe avocado
2 heaped tablespoons of fresh goat cheese (the kind from the plastic pyramids is fine, it’s what I happened to have in store)
2 heaped teaspoons of basil paste/pesto (my secret fridge stash that I made from this year’s basil harvest)
salt and pepper
rolls and some extra lettuce/tomatoes

Mix and crush the ingredients for the spread together, season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread them on some delicious rolls and add some lettuce or tomato to the plate for extra vegetables. Enjoy!

Save food from the fridge

Jihyun Ryou figured out how to keep vegetables and fruit fresh without a refrigerator, using traditional oral knowledge. For example: the gas that is emitted by apples, which causes other fruit to ripen faster, prevents potatoes from sprouting. Very cool project, if you ask me. You can find more about it on http://www.savefoodfromthefridge.com/.

What to eat when you’re eating in Italy (1)

Soo, I haven’t been here for a while! My vacation in Italy would be responsible for that. We (that would be, my lovely partner-in-crime and I) toured Italy by train from north (Torino/Turin) to south (Taranto) and back up again, passing by Ravenna. What can I say… I was in culinary heaven for two weeks. So I’m eager to share my newly discovered not-so-secret addresses with you, for those who ever pass by in one of the Italian cities we visited. Some of them were gastronomically advanced, some were very simple fishermen’s restaurants and in some we got really rude treatment from the waiter. But all were great in their own way. Here we go!

Our first stop was Turin, home of the slow food movement. During the day, we encountered a fantastic supermarket-meets-restaurant/coffee bar place called Eataly (apparently it’s a chain in Italy). You can buy some great quality groceries here (pasta, coffee, fresh vegetables…), have lunch downstairs, sip some coffee upstairs… I fell in love with the place at once. We had dinner at L’Oca Fola (the crazy goose). We found this restaurant, which happened to be very near our hotel, through a slow food-guide. We went for a complete dinner menu, which was a little more than we could handle… We tasted some very typical Turin dishes like risotto and gnocchi with heavy cheese sauce, accompanied by local Barbera wine. Breadsticks, which were invented in Turin, were also omnipresent. Let’s say the menu was a bit on the heavy side and reminded us of food you’d want to eat if you were about to go do heavy work all day. We definitely shouldn’t have tried eating all the dishes that kept coming at us, and the free grappa at the end of the meal was very welcome to help digestion! The food was good, but not especially refined. If you’re in Turin for just one day, I’d recommend looking at one of the restaurants more towards the city center, but L’Oca Fola is great to try if you’re there for several days.

Eataly, the fabulous supermarket in Turin

Next, we moved on to Perugia, a cosy little city with a very medieval feel and lots of stairs and elevation (they even have a public elevator in the middle of town!). During the day we came across a restaurant/wine bar called Énonè and decided to try it for the night. It was fantastic. We tried some local cheese with honey and preserved figs as an appetizer. As a first course, we had pasta – simple ravioli in tomato sauce and spaghetti with scampi. My main course was something called ‘Grand Vegetarian’ – a simple collection of grilled vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant which was absolutely delicious. The dessert was something scrumptious with mascarpone and amaretto cookies with grand marnier. As we were sitting at the table chatting away after the meal, the owner brought over some bitter liquor to taste. Needless to say, I’d recommend this restaurant to anyone going to Perugia and we’d absolutely go there again! Another thing to try in Perugia is Sandri, a bar that’s been there for several decennia and looks exactly that way. The waiters wear those traditional uniforms and they have a bar filled with sweets and pastries… It’s great to just sit on their terrace, which is in Perugia’s main street, sipping from a cappuccino, nibbling on some sugary piece of pastry and watching people pass by. Or sipping a bellini cocktail and having some rice ice cream, or downing an espresso with a piece of chocolate pie… You get the point.

Scenic view at Perugia

We went on to Orvieto, where we had a nice but not especially remarkable dinner at Mammaurelia, with some very good wine. We followed the Lonely Planet guidebook to an ice cream parlor called Pasqualetti and had some delicious gelato there with a view on the impressive cathedral. We also took the underground Orvieto-tour, which went past the underground colombaria or dovecotes. These were basements of peoples’ houses carved out to accomodate doves, which were then caught and prepared as a lovely dinner!

The impressive cathedral of Orvieto, barely fitting into the picture
Dovecotes dug in people's cellars at Orvieto

We went on to see and eat at Napels, Salerno and more… will be featured in the next post!

Blackened salmon revisited

One of my first posts was blackened salmon in a mango sauce with pumpkin and sweet potato, a recipe making good use of some great fall vegetables. Today, I’m making blackened salmon again but this time it’s summer-style. The mango sauce has been restyled to a slightly spicy salsa version with fresh coriander, and as accompaniment I picked some lovely Ratte potatoes, currently available. I also added some A. Vogel Herbamare salt to my spice mixture, a natural sea salt that includes herbs and vegetables (you can find it here). My grandmother used to sell it in her natural foods shop and always had it at home, which makes for some nice memories. The balance between fresh coriander, spicy peppers, the full taste of fresh salmon and sweet mango is absolutely great and makes for a wonderful summer combination, so enjoy!

 

Ingredients (serves two):

4 salmon steaks, 150-200 grams each
spice mixture including black and white pepper, A. Vogel Herbamare salt, paprika powder, thyme, basil, rosemary, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, ground dry chili flakes or chili powder, cayenne pepper, allspice (just pick your favorites from the list…)
a small chunk of butter
one or two great ripe mangoes, cubed
juice of one lime, to taste
a small handful of chopped coriander (varies according to taste)
one finely chopped yellow or red pepper, or ground chili flakes/a pinch of spicy chili powder
250 grams of Ratte potatoes (or another tasty firm potato)
olive oil
spice mixture including chili, basil, rosemary, salt, pepper…

How to:

Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender but still firm. Drain, cut into smaller chunks and let them cool down. Combine the mango cubes with the lime juice, coriander, and chopped chili pepper or chili powder. Let this mixture sit for at least half an hour. Prepare a spice mixture for the salmon – mine is usually based on a larger ratio of pepper, salt, paprika, thyme, cumin, etc. with smaller quantities of the spicier stuff.

When the potatoes are cold, heat up some olive oil in a large heavy skillet and add the potatoes. Sprinkle with dried herbs and spices to taste and bake until the potatoes have a golden crust. Meanwhile, heat up another heavy skillet and let a bit of butter melt at low temperature. Sweep the salmon steaks through the butter and then through the spice mix. Turn up the heat, add a little more butter, and bake the salmon to taste – a few minutes on each side if you like it juicy and rosy inside, or longer if you like it more ‘well done’. Arrange the salmon, mango salsa and potatoes on a plate, decorate with a coriander leaf and enjoy!

Poached salmon and potato salad with creamy watercress sauce

Such a terribly Belgian summer we’re having! Lots of rain and dark clouds give the impression of a gloomy fall day and make you want to sink into the sofa with a big mug of hot chocolate. Fortunately, there’s this salmon-potato salad which gives the summery feeling back, if only for a moment. The recipe is out of delicious. magazine. I tweaked it a little as usual, replacing the ingredients I didn’t have available with something else from the pantry and cheating with some fantastic ready-made vinaigrette. Go and pretend it’s summer with this wonderful warm salad, great for lunch or dinner!

Ingredients for 2-3 servings, in order of appearance:

500 grams of new tasty potatoes, cleaned but not peeled
one organic lemon, cut in half
two laurel leaves
A few parsley stems
one shallot, sliced in half (scallions in the original recipe)
6 black peppercorns, crushed with the side of a large knife
half a cube of fish/vegetable stock
300 grams of fresh salmon (count 150-200 grams per person)
3 tablespoons of Oil and Vinegar’s Marc de Champagne dressing (or your own honey-mustard dressing, or a basic vinaigrette, whatever you like to use for the potato salad…)
one shallot, finely chopped
one garlic clove, finely chopped (leave this out if you don’t like smelling of garlic)
60 grams of watercress
2 tablespoons of good mayonaise
3 tablespoons of ricotta (the original recipe calls for crème fraîche)
juice of half a lemon
a handful of fresh parsley and mint
pepper and salt

How to:

Clean the potatoes, cut them in  large chunks and boil them in salted water until done but with bite. Drain them, then let them steam for a few minutes in the pot (be careful that they don’t burn, shake every now and then). Cut the potatoes into salad size-chunks and mix with the dressing, shallot and garlic. Meanwhile, put the lemon, laurel,  parsley, peppercorns, shallot and stock in a large saucepan with one liter of water. Bring to a boil, then take off the fire, add the salmon and let it poach for 8-12 minutes (depending on how well done you like your salmon). Take it out of the liquid with a slotted spoon and let it drain.

Chop the watercress coarsely, and mix with the ricotta, mayonaise and lemon juice using a hand mixer or blender. Add lemon juice, pepper and salt to taste. Tear the salmon into chunks with your hands, then carefully mix with the warm potatoes. Top with fresh parsley and mint and serve with the watercress sauce. Enjoy!

 

Midsommar tian

On the longest day of the year, Swedish people celebrate Midsommar. The party goes on all night (because there’s ‘daylight’ all night long!) and is accompanied by dancing and lots of local delicacies. IKEA celebrates Midsommar with its customers and coworkers, and I’ve created this recipe in the spirit of Midsommar. During the feast, they traditionally eat things like potatoes with dill, smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, cheese… This recipe is based on those ingredients, but with a twist – I’ve combined them in a tian, a traditional French layered oven dish (I discovered the tian through Elizabeth David, you could say her versions are comparable to quiche, without the crust and the cream). Very easy to make with whatever leftovers you have in the fridge/garden and pop into the oven!

Ingredients for four people:

500 grams potatoes
olive oil
five (organic) eggs
a bushel of fresh dill
a handful of leaves of spinach/chard/…
4 stalks of scallion
200 grams of (IKEA) smoked salmon (I used 100 gr lax gravad and 100 gr lax najad, they’re already flavoured with Swedish marinade)
40 grams of grated cheese (e.g. IKEA ost)
pepper and salt

How to:

Peel and cook the potatoes in salted water until tender but definitely not overcooked, as they go into the oven later. In the meantime, heat the oven to 180 degrees. Drain the potatoes and cut into cubes. Put the potatoes in an oven dish with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. While waiting, you can place them into the oven that’s heating up.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Chop the dill, spinach and scallion and cut the salmon into strips. Mix with the cheese into the beaten eggs. Add pepper and salt to taste (be careful with the salt, most smoked salmon is quite salty by itself)

Add this mixture to the potatoes and carefully scoop it around with a spoon. Put the dish in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the eggs are no longer liquid. Serve with bread and some fresh salad!

Mango speculoos no bake cheesecake

This cheesecake is one of the closest things I have to a ‘family recipe’: I remember having it at birthdays and summer parties at home and helping my mother with the preparations. I first made it myself when I was studying abroad in Spain, because it’s such a refreshing and fruity summer dessert. Over time, I’ve created my own version, keeping the basics but substituting the ‘accessories’. The original recipe uses petit beurre biscuits that you arrange on the bottom (no crumbling) and canned abricots as fruit – in fact, I don’t think mangoes existed in the Belgian supermarkets when I was a kid. My version uses speculoos biscuits, fresh mangoes and passion fruit. Basically, you can use any kind of dry and sweet biscuits/cookies (no chocolate chips or any of the sort though) and fruit, I’ve also made it with strawberries for example. The recipe is not complicated, but there are some tricks you can apply to make it succeed, so follow the instructions. It takes about an hour to make and needs several hours to set properly, if possible you can make it a day ahead. Enjoy!


Ingredients for a 26 cm cake tin

8 gelatin sheets (I prefer these to powder, but powder will probably work too. If you’re a strict vegetarian you could use agar agar, but I have no experience with that. 8 gelatin sheets are about 13 grams.)
200-250 ml of (tropical) fruit juice/pineapple juice
juice of one orange
3 passion fruits
200 grams of sugar
500 ml of heavy whipping cream
4 bags of vanilla sugar
500 grams of no-fat fresh white cheese/quark/plattekaas (this is a very basic product in Belgium, but somehow it’s not always available in other countries. Use a fresh, soft, white, unsalted cheese, for example ricotta, if you can’t find it.)
200 grams of dry biscuits of your choice (I used Vermeiren speculoos)
75 grams of unsalted very soft butter (not melted!), use only if you’re going to crumble the bottom
2 mangoes

Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water. Squeeze out the orange into a measuring cup and add the contents of two passion fruits. Fill up with fruit juice (pineapple, tropical…) until you have 300 ml. Heat the juice with the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Squeeze out the gelatin and add into the warm juice, stir well. While this is cooling down, stir every now and then so the gelatin doesn’t set too much yet.

Whip up the cream with the vanilla sugar in a large bowl until stiff. Mix in the fresh cheese in large round motions, using a spatula or spoon. While the juice is still cooling down, crumble the biscuits, using a mortar or in a food processor. They don’t have to be completely crumbled, you can leave some small chunks. Mix with the soft butter and spread out over the bottom of a 26 cm spring cake tin. Cut a mango and one half into wedges and cover the biscuits with them.

When the juice is sufficiently cooled down (it can still be a little warm but not hot), add it slowly into the cream mixture. Start with a few spoons, mix well, and continue like this. It is really important to mix in the liquid very well, or you will have jelly-like inclusions in your cake later on (which are also yummy, but not very pleasing to the eye). Now comes the most crucial part: pour the cream-juice mix over the mangoes, but do this very slowly, or the mango wedges will come floating up (once again, just as tasty but not the intention!). Slowly keep pouring until you have poured out all of the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap or a cover if your cake tin has one and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours.

To test if the cheesecake is ready, wiggle the tin a little bit. The white top part should move as one solid mass. You can decorate the top with leftover mango wedges and the extra passion fruit. Carefully cut around the sides with a sharp knife and then remove the sides parts of the tin. Don’t keep the cake out of the fridge for too long, or it will start to get wobbly again, and possibly collapse. Enjoy!

(the pictures below are my first version of the cheesecake and the one I made for my bake sale party, as you can see they’re always a little different)


 

Pineapple upside down cake

Ever since Bree Van de Kamp made this wonderful cake in Desperate Housewives (there’s quite a funny scene about Gaby and Bree making the cake, watch it here), I’d been wanting to try it myself. I finally had the opportunity at my charity bake sale last Sunday. The cake turned out quite well and was a lot of people’s favorite! My most important advice: if you have a regular cake tin instead of a spring cake tin, use it – the caramel on the bottom will run a little during baking, no matter how good of a spring cake tin you have. I didn’t have a full bottom cake tin and the cake still came out fine, but who knows, it might have been even better…

Ingredients (for a 26-cm cake tin), serves at least 8 hungry people:

One can of pineapple slices in juice (not syrup)
100 grams of butter, melted
100 grams of light brown sugar (or dark brown)
7 red sugar cherries (maraschino)
150 grams of butter, at room temperature
210 grams of sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
280 grams of flour, sieved
10 grams of baking powder, sieved (a bag of Dr. Oetker is 16 grams, you can also take one large tablespoon)
45 grams of ground coconut

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Pour the melted butter in a closed cake tin and brush the sides of the tin with butter as well. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter. Let the pineapple drain and keep 150 ml of the juice. Spread the pineapple slices over the bottom of the tin in the butter-sugar mixture (one in the middle and the six others around it) and put a cherry in the middle of every slice.

Beat the butter soft in a big bowl (either by hand with a wooden spoon or with a hand mixer). Beat in the sugar and keep going until the mixture is fluffy and creamy. Add the eggs one by one and mix well. Add the vanilla extract. Now slowly add in the flour and baking powder, the coconut and the leftover pineapple juice. Stir with a metal spoon until the batter is smooth, stop when it’s all mixed well.

Scoop the batter out over the pineapple slices and smooth the top of the cake, which will later become the bottom. Make a bit of a hole with the back of a spoon in the middle, to prevent it from rising too much in the middle.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean of the middle. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it over on a large plate to cool down. Enjoy!

Italian-style dinner

The sun is shining! Finally! As usual, my mood turns completely must-have-some-Italian-style-sun-ripened-food at the sight of the first shiny rays of sun. As one of  my classes was moved, I had some time to cook a more elaborate dinner tonight, which I did! Healthy (veggies!), Italian (eggplant!), vegetarian… All you need is a lovely glass of wine to enjoy it with!

It was my first time making artichokes that didn’t come out of a can. I love artichokes, but frankly, I’ve always been a bit intimidated by them. They appear so… rugged. So today, as I got off the bus and towards the grocer’s, I overcame my fear and bought some, remembering I had a step-by-step recipe from delicious. magazine. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? They require a little work but it’s really worth it, and not that hard at all!

The second dish is a classic eggplant-tomato-pasta. I’m a big eggplant fan and so I tried this recipe, which came out of ‘Una Bella Spaghettata’ – a book about Neapolitan pasta I’ve had for quite some time but haven’t really used so far. I changed some things (you’re supposed to add in a lot of mozzarella but I left that out) and it came out exactly as it shoud – a tasty, light Italian pasta dish. Give it a try!

Stuffed artichokes

Ingredients:

4-5 artichokes (depending on size)
half a lemon
50 grams of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, some ground dry old white bread will work too)
50 grams of parmezan cheese, (freshly) grated
2 eggs
handful of basil, torn into small pieces
1 big tablespoon of capers

Place a pan of salted water on the fire. First, you have to ‘clean’ the artichokes. This is not as hard as it seems, but you need a good sharp knife (preferably a bigger chef knife). Start by cutting off the upper side of the artichoke, more or less at the widest part, cutting off a good part of the upper artichoke. Then, cut off the stem, including the base and cutting off the outer hard leaves. Now, take a spoon with sharp edges and remove the inner parts of the top, you will notice that this is a bit ‘hay’-ish. Keep trimming the leaves and taking out the dry inner part until you have a shape that’s somewhat like a ‘finger bowl’ with all smooth sides, then quickly brush the sides with a half lemon to prevent it from oxidizing. Repeat this with all the artichokes (you will notice, it gets easier as you get more practice) and then but them into the (by now boiling) water. Cook them for about 15 minutes, until they’re al dente but not completely soft (they will continue in the oven later).

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare the stuffing by mixing all the other ingredients. When the artichokes are out of the water, let them cool down slightly, place them on a baking tin with parchment paper and then fill them up with the stuffing, mimicking the ‘artichoke/pyramid shape’. Now, place them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the tops turn golden brown (I turned the temperature up a bit at the end and turned the grill on to reach this effect). Before serving, you may need to remove some extra outer leaves that have become hard in the oven. Enjoy!

Eggplant tomato pasta

Ingredients for 4 servings:

2 eggplants
salt
olive oil
4-6 tasty tomatoes, depending on size, chopped (I used a mixture of more fleshy tomatoes and yummy cherry tomatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
400 grams of good quality pasta, rigatoni or penne or another shape that will soak up the tomato sauce well
80 grams of Parmezan cheese, freshly grated
a handful of fresh basil
Cut the eggplant into thick slices (about 1,5 cm), sprinkle with salt on both sides and let them sit in a colander for at least 30 minutes. (Note: I love eggplant, but it took me a long time to figure out how to make it the best way. You really need to do the salting beforehand, because the eggplant will lose some water in the process and soak up less oil later. I also find that it becomes rubbery if you don’t do this. You can then either let it fry quickly in hot oil until the sides are becoming brown, or let it simmer quietly – my preferred style, when it starts falling apart and mixing itself into the sauce… yum! Anyway, back to the recipe.) Then, squeeze as much liquid out of the slices as possible, and pat with paper towels. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet, let it get really hot and then add the eggplant. Fry, turning until its sides are golden brown. Take the slices out of the skillet and put on paper towels to drain.Leave a few tablespoons in the skillet and reduce the heat.

In the meantime, cook the pasta as directed in salted water. When done, drain and then put the pasta back into the pan. Now, add the garlic to the skillet and let it fry a bit. Then, add the tomatoes to the skillet (I tend to add a little white wine here for the sauce, but this is optional of course). Let the tomatoes heat and simmer, when they’re starting to fall apart add the eggplant back into the sauce and let it simmer on a low fire for a while, until the eggplant starts to fall apart and you have a consistent sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the fire really low and add in the pasta and parmezan cheese, turning over and under until all the pasta is sufficiently mixed with the sauce. Sprinkle with basil leaves and serve!

 

Liebster Blog Award

A while ago, Hot Cuisine de Pierre gave me a Liebster Blog Award, an award for blogs with less than 200 followers. I was very honored, promised to hand it out to others right away, and then of course I waited a few months before actually doing it. The truth is, I just haven’t had much time the last couple of months to visit and find other people’s blogs, however much I like doing so. But anyway, here we go, my favorite blogs that deserve a Liebster Blog Award (even though I’m not sure all of them have less than 200 followers, so I don’t mean to insult anyone!)

My thoughts on food, another foodie from Brussels with interesting recipes ánd thoughts on food! (and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and tasting her creations in person!)

The Yummy Blog Sisters, two Flemish sisters who share their food experiences – great to see two sisters sharing a passion.

Jonge Sla, for her great vegetarian recipes and because I really enjoy reading her articles in print (De Standaard) as well!

Three (actually, four) women with lovely culinary writings, keep on blogging ladies!