Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Special time

I am sure for many of you Friday or Saturday will be quite important day. Whether you celebrate Christmas as a purely religious thing or just follow the festive feeling as a laic. For me it is a special moment tonight. It is winter solstice and this is magical time.

As Pole I do not celebrate as most Catholics do. It may surprise you but for me pre-Christian tradition is more important. I follow a natural rhythm of season and solstice itself is a special moment of the annual cycle of the year. It is time when light wins over the darkness, the days are getting longer. It is time for change. Old cycle is dying, new one is being born.

For me it is time of reflection and also making plans for a future. When the days are getting longer, for me it is almost like being reborn physically.

We will have a decorated tree (purely pagan thing!), I will prepare tasty food, we will have presents, wishing ourselves health and happiness, and we will welcome any guest with a joy. We hope to remain in this mood until new year perhaps until Spring.

Whatever way you celebrate I wish you happy holiday and all the best for New Year.

I will take a short brake and come back after 1 January 2011. Have a lovely time!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Potato & leek gratin (+ ham version) & review

Thanks to CSN Stores I had the opportunity to test KitchenCraft Master Class Stainless Steel Mandolin Set. It came in a full gift/storage box. Seven interchangeable stainless steel blades - for various slicing, shredding are included. Also it has large safety guard to protect fingers - quite handy for me, as I tend to cut fingers when slicing. Ideal for slicing, chopping and grating and perfect for making quick and easy garnishes, especially for someone who like me does not have a variety of fine or coarse slicing or grating blade within a food processor. With this one I decide how thick the slices should be. The instructions make it clear how to set the blades up and there is a scale on the side of the main unit (in inches and mm) to allow you to set the slice thickness. All the blades come in their own box, quite handy for storage and due to the safety reasons - they are sharp.

Some of the blades you have to use together and unfortunately there are no instructions on how some of the blades must be used together otherwise they won't do the job. However, I believe it is not difficult thing to work out.

It is very stable, has non slip holders, so there is no way it will move on the worktop.

So far I used it to slice potatoes and it work very well, however I have seen some reviews saying that it is not working with softer stuff like tomatoes - instead it squishes them. Quite honestly - my main idea of using mandolin was slicing root veg (mainly for gratins, so the vegetables cook evenly) and so far I am happy with it.

Certainly not as good as the professional, worth ₤200 (or more) but will do the job in a household, I think keen cooks should be delighted. The 25 year guarantee is a bonus. Definitely good value for money.

So today I decided to show you my favourite potato and leek gratin, that can be easily converted to meaty one by adding few slices of ham. Gratins were the main reason of buying this mandolin, as my food processor has a coarse slicing blade which is too thick and it takes ages to cook gratin. I am not a qualified skilled chef therefore I am not able to slice vegetables by hand into even slices. This mandolin came really handy.

Serves 2

5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 large leek, finely sliced (I use white and light green part)
little bit butter
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
150ml double cream
150ml milk
100ml vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 slices of cooked ham (optional)
2 handfuls of grated mature Cheddar (or your favourite cheese)

Preheat the oven to 170 C.
Butter two ovenproof dishes and place potato, leek and ham (skip for veggie option) in even layers, starting with potatoes and finish off with potatoes too. Sprinkle each layer of potatoes with pinch of salt and pepper. Tuck the bay leaf to each dish.

Prepare the sauce. Pour the stock, cream and milk into a small saucepan, add the garlic and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and pour the sauce over layered potatoes.

Place the dishes on a baking tray lined with baking paper to catch any spills (mixture bubbles and tend to runs out the dish whilst baking). Cover loosely with kitchen foil and place in the oven for about 40 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 25 minutes. After this time sprinkle with cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.

Serve warm and remember to remove the bay leaves from the dishes before serving. Very good on its own but it can also complement some meat, as a side dish.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

French? English? Onion soup

It was one of these days when I needed to eat hot, comforting soup. It was Sunday, so there was no way I could go to the shop and get some extra ingredients. Due to… Sunday, distance to the nearest shop and Sunday (lets call it this way) laziness.

I checked my freezer and found some real beef stock that I’ve made especially for classic French onion soup. Suddenly I felt this overwhelming feeling – I had to eat this soup. I have checked the list of ingredients: onions, butter, white wine (from a box, but what a hell!), piece of two days old baguette, some fresh thyme. Cheese… No Gruyere in a fridge… There is plenty of… Cheddar, typical English cheese. Ooops!

Everyone who knows little bit about the history realises what for centuries were the mutual feelings between English and French people. However not many people knows that English people have their own way to disrespect others - lets compare it to the American obscene gesture performed by showing the back of the hand, extending the middle finger. English one looks little bit different and is performed by showing back of the hand and extending two fingers – an index and middle one. Did you ever think where it comes from? In the earlier part of the millennium, when England and France were frequently at battle, the French would cut-off the English archers’ (taken as prisoners) fingers necessary for shooting an arrow. After this became known to the English archers, they would flash this gesture to the French in the battlefield, showing them that they still had their fingers and could still cause lot damage in the battle.

In my kitchen – I decided – there will not be such quarrels! I will make this classic French soup and finish it off with a crouton with most famous English cheese.

Serves 2

25g butter
about 500g white onion, peeled
tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp sugar
about 125ml dry white wine
about 600ml beef stock
2 slices of baguette
few drops of olive oil
garlic clove
some grated cheddar
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a large pan and gently cook the onion, sugar and thyme until the onion is softened but not browned - about 25 minutes. Increase the heat and cook until the onion becomes dark golden, sticky and caramelised, stirring now and again to stop it catching. Add the wine and simmer for a minute or so, until most of the wine evaporates, then add the stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drizzle the bread with some olive oil and place under hot grill. When one side is golden, remove from the oven, rub each with peeled garlic, turn up side down and sprinkle with the cheese. Grill until golden and chesse is melted.

Serve the soup with the cheese croutons on top and you can garnish with some fresh thyme.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Rosemary & mint salt - Christmas gifts vol. 5

I have gone crazy. I have made another flavoured salt. I simply could not resist especially when I smelled fresh rosemary the other day. Also because I knew there is some leftover fresh mint in my fridge, which I bought for a dinner (this pasta). Therefore next day I prepared another flavoured salt which in my opinion will go very well with lamb. I had the opportunity to taste it last weekend and it is perfect with roast potatoes. It smells lovely and look at this colour!

about 8 tbsp rock sea salt (or flaky)
about 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, leaves picked
about 2 tbsp fresh mint, leaves picked

Place all of the ingredients in the food processor and grind until herbs are finely grinded but salt still remains bit coarse. You can make a fine salt if you like.

It happens that I had oven reheated to 175C because I just finished to bake a cake, so I turned the oven off and placed salt sprinkled over a baking tray lined with paper inside. Shake it every 10 minutes , two or three times so the salt dries out evenly. Leave it to cool down in the oven. Then place in clean, sterilised jar.

It might be my last flavoured salt, but perhaps something will inspire me again... Who knows?

Monday, 13 December 2010

My first interview in English is now on!

I am extremly happy to annouce that last week I had my first interview in English and today it is on. I am glad that English speaking readers can get to know me better, as my previous interview was published in Polish only.

To read it please follow this link.

I hope you will enjoy it!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Cranberry & orange jam with vanilla and cardamom - Christmas gifts vol. 4

I have just finished my lazy Sunday breakfast and still in my mouth I have this lovely taste of the best jam I have ever made. It is not too sweet, but kind sour-bitter with this lovely hint of cardamom. I think the orange marmalade lovers would like this jam because it has this nice bitterness coming from the orange peel.

When fresh cranberries still in season I will have to make more of this lovely jam because those jars I prepared yesterday will have to be a part of my Christmas hampers for my colleagues. Cranberries again? I simply cannot resist them in the winter season and they are so Christmassy, aren't they? Besides I am so proud of this jam that I have to share it my some other people!

Makes 5 x 190ml jars

500g fresh cranberries
1 large orange
500g sugar
beans of one vanilla pod (or tsp of natural vanilla extract)
3 cardamoms
juice of half lemon
125ml pectin (optional - if you do not use it the jam will be more runny, I preferred it more jelly like; alternatively you can use jam sugar with added pectin)

Pell the orange with veg peeler, thinly and then cut into thin strips.

Remove the cardamom seeds from their skins and smash into a powder using pestle and mortar,

Place cranberries, sugar, orange peel and whole orange juice, lemon juice, cardamom and vanilla in a big pan. Bring to the boiling point, turn the heat down and simmer until most of the cranberries burst. (I love the sound they make!).

Remove form the oven and stir in the pectin (if using) and place hot jam in warm, sterilised jars. Seal, turn up side down and let them to cool down completely.

To be quite honest I don't know how long it will last in a dark cool place, but I think at least 3 months. However I do not think it will last that long - it is so delicious that it disappears quickly ...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Szechuan pepper, lemon, chilli & fennel salt - Christmas gifts vol. 3

My first Christmas gifts post turned out to be quite popular, so I decided to make another flavoured salt. I did not realise how easy is it and it is only your own imagination that limits you, and obviously the herbs and spices in your cupboard.

So if you liked my thyme and lemon salt I hope you will like this one, which perhaps is more interesting for people who like more intense flavours and aroma of spices rather than herbs. Also it makes nice set together with a previous salt. This one should go nicely with pork, fish and vegetable dishes. It has a bit of a kick.

I hope you will enjoy making your own salts. Certainly his is not my last one, but I am not sure if I will manage to show another one before Christmas, so use your imagination and create your own and have fun at the same time.

about 10 tbsp of rock sea salt (or flaky)
rind of one lemon (try to peel it quite thin, the white bit could e bitter)
1 whole dried chilli
2 tbsp Szechuan (or Sichuan) pepper
2 tbsp fennel seeds

Preheat the oven to about 100 C.

Cut the lemon peel into small squares and place onto a baking tray. Place in the oven, set the temperature to about 100 C and bake for about 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the lemon rind closed in the oven until completely cold.

Roughly chop the lemon rind and all the spices in mini chopper or using pestle and mortar. Next add salt and grind - again roughly or finely. I decided to make fine salt so all the flavours mix together and the salt is ready to use.

Place in dry, clean ,airtight jars.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cranberry & apple chutney - Christmas gifts vol. 2

Today another Christmas gift idea as the time is running like mad and there is less than three weeks left now! I have seen similar recipe in "Good Food" magazine, December 2010 issue, but I have made something similar in the past which I did not place in the jars but used immediately with some roast meat. Inspired by magazine I decided to place this chutney in a jars and leave it to matire for few weeks before Christmas.

Click here for lemon & thyme salt - another exciting Christmas gift idea.

Makes about 4 x 200ml jars

3 large, cooking apples
1 firm pear
1 large, white onion
350g fresh cranberries
piece of fresh ginger, walnut size
about 150g sugar
about 100ml cider of white wine vinegar
few whole black peppercorns

Peel and core the apples and pear, then dice it into small pieces. Peel the onion, cut in half and into slices. Peel and finely chop the ginger.

Place all ingredients except cranberries in a heavy-based pan, then gently heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring regularly until the apples and onions are tender and there is no watery juice remains.

Then add the cranberries and stir gently. Keep on the heat for another 10 minutes until cranberries are softened but not all of them are burst.

Spoon the hot chutney into sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool dark place. It will keep up to 6 months. It taste the best after 2-3 weeks of maturing.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Lemon & thyme salt - Christmas gifts vol. 1

Few weeks ago I was bit concerned with the fact that I probably will not be able to show you some exciting Christmas recipes this year. First of all I do not have much spare time to cook complicated and time consuming dishes and in addition I probably would not be able to buy some of the ingredients required to cook some Polish festive recipes. Also, when I am away from home and dishes that my Mum cooks the best, I am not bothered about cooking any special dishes for Christmas, especially there will only be two of us, so there is no point going crazy with the amount of food.

However I didn't want to disappoint you, My Dear Readers so I managed to prepare two things so far, that can be lovely Christmas presents for food lovers. In my opinion most people appreciate handmade gifts. What better could you wish for foodie?

Bad weather certainly helped me - since Tuesday I finish work earlier and fitness centre cancelled classes and closes much earlier, so I spend more time and home.

Do you wonder where I have found an inspiration for this? Few weeks ago I have found a salt grinder by Jamie Oliver on a sale. It was thyme and lemon salt and I went absolutely crazy about it. I add it almost to everything - meat, fish soups, vegetables. I am not sure if I can manage to get some more so I decided to make my own. This is how it turned out:

Nice, isn't it? And so tasty! So place this lovely salt in a fancy jar and you have pretty Christmas gif. Perhaps you will manage to buy nice grinder and make a lovely set? I think somebody will appreciate your work and hand made gift. This is all you need:

about 10 tbsp of rock sea salt (or flaky)
about 30g fresh thyme (or lemon thyme)
1 bay leaf
rind of one lemon (try to peel it quite thin, the white bit could e bitter)

Preheat the oven to about 100 C.

Cut the lemon peel into small squares and place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper together with bay leaf and thyme. Place in the oven and bake until the thyme is completely dry, turning once or twice.

Remove thyme and bay leaf from the tray, return the lemon to the oven and turn the oven off. Leave it closed in the oven until completely cold.

Shake the leaves off the thyme springs. Crush bay leaf into a salt and mix with thyme.

Remove the lemon peel from the oven and mix with the rest of ingredients.

You can obviously grind your salt in a grinder or food processor and you will end up with fine flavoured salt.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Fennel & squash tart Tatin & review

Thanks to CSN Stores I had the opportunity to test Le Creuset tart Tatin dish. I do not think there is need to tell you how good this range is, so I will keep my review short.

This 25cm, 4cm deep cast iron, heavy based dish came with a booklet informing that it is suitable to use on the hobs, gas ovens, electric, fan etc. Also it contains few interesting recipes, not for Tatin tarts only and use and care instruction in six different languages.

What I love about this dish (except from stunning look - I love "volcanic" line) is the position of the handles. They are set lower than the top pf the dish so it is much easier to turn the dish upside down and flip the contents over. It was not that comforting when using an ordinary pan for making tart Tatin.

After use it is easy to clean, dishwasher safe. I am sure you can use it for other dishes and I am certainly going to do it in the future (roasting potatoes? making gratin? you name it!). Worth it's price, will last for ages. Definite must have for all tart Tatin lovers.

Today I am going to show you another tart Tatin, but again - not a classic one. Again it is going to be veg Tatin and this is my absolutely number one when butternut squash in season. It is quite controversial - people either love it or hate it. It is vegetable although quite sweet and it has this specific star anise flavour thanks to a fennel. I have to admit I couldn't stand the stuff till I was in my twenties and I "blame" the fennel for loving or heating this tart. I love it.

Recipe inspired by "Vegetarian Christmas" by Good Food magazine, December 2008 issue.

Makes one 25cm tart

piece of butternut squash, cut into few long strips (it is important to cut them so they can fit into dish, arranged into a flower like shape)
fennel bulb, sliced
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
small handful of dried cranberries
ready rolled puff pastry, big enough to cover the dish
salt (I used thyme & lemon peel salt)
black pepper
tbsp freshly grated parmesan
fresh thyme to decorate would be ideal I forgot to buy it, so used fresh mint instead

Heat the oven to 180C.

Place the squash, fennel and garlic on a baking tray lined with some baking paper, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile place the tart dish on the hob and add sugar with about 30ml of water. Leave it to boil, do not stir. When it starts to bubble and changes the colour to golden remove from the hob add vinegar and stir thoroughly.

Remove the veg from the oven and turn the temperature up to 200C.

Arrange alternately the fennel and squash into flower like shape. Squeeze the garlic out of its skins and chop roughly. Arrange onto the veg. Place some cranberries in the spaces between veg. Sprinkle with parmesan and cover with the puff pastry. Gently push the edges down to the dish. Prick the top of the pastry with a fork few times so the steam can easily go out.

Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and leave it to rest for few minutes. Place a big plate on the dish and turn up side down. Do not worry if anything stocks to the dish, as the caramel is quite sticky. Gently remove it from the dish and place on the tart.

Decorate with few fresh thyme springs (instead there is a mint on my picture). Serve hot or cold.

Interested in up side down tarts? Click here for my other Tatin recipe.