Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm back

After my last post I decided to take a break from the cooking challenge. It was getting to be an onerous task to be finished rather than a pleasure, so I took a long break. However, I have continued using my cookbooks more than I did before I started the challenge, which of course was the point of the exercise.

Now I am ready to start blogging about my excursions into new cooking territory again, but I am no longer going to do it as a weekly challenge. Instead I will simply write about whatever new recipes or foods I have tried. This means my blogging will be sporadic, but that can't be helped.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Sushi: Smoked salmon rolls

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
More sushi rolls

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Laden tray

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Proscuitto with melon and cheese on lettuce and toast

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Garlic shrimp

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Puff pastry with gravlax and mustard-dill sauce

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Cod roe (I think) and chutney, on lettuce and toast

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Sweets: Strawberries and choux buns with vanilla cream

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cider sorbet

I love ice cream and I also love flavoured water ices, like sorbet and granita. The problem about making flavoured ice at home is that you either need an ice cream machine or several hours of work to get the ice as smooth as the commercial stuff. When I made this experiment I was not lucky enough to have an ice cream machine (this has since changed), but I had read up on the old method of making dessert ice and decided to test it. I didn't have all of the ingredients for custard ice on hand, so I decided to make sorbet instead. I also did not have access to enough ice to make a salt/ice mixture for freezing, so I used the freezer compartment of my refrigerator.

I cooked up some simple sugar syrup, made from an equal volume of white sugar and water (in this case 200 ml of each). This I dumped into a saucepan and cooked until the sugar was melted. I then quickly cooled the syrup by putting the saucepan into the sink with some cold water. When the syrup was cool, I measured out 200 ml of syrup into a freezer safe bowl (the rest I bottled for later use). To this I added 150 ml of non-alcoholic pear cider and mixed it well. I then put a lid on the bowl and stuck it in the freezer.

After 90 minutes or so I took it out – the mixture had started freezing – and gave it a good stir to break up the forming ice crystals. I then returned it to the freezer. For the next three hours I would go back every 30 minutes and give it another good stir, and every time the mixture was thicker. Finally, when it had got hard to stir and was thick and felt very cold on the tongue, I spooned it into dessert glasses with lids and allowed it to freeze completely. When I taste tested it the texture was a little coarser than that of commercial sorbet, but it was very good, with a rich flavour much better than any commercial sorbet I had tasted. I decided that next time I had guests for dinner I would serve them home-made sorbet. The ice cream machine will make it much easier and less time-consuming.

If you want to try making sorbet, follow the description above and if you want a different flavour, any fruit juice or even fizzy drink works well in these proportions. For pure lemon or lime juice, you need to use less juice or the mixture will be too sour. Lemon sorbet, BTW, is a very good palate cleanser that is sometimes served between the courses of a meal to clear away the taste of the precious dish before a new one is served.

If you have an ice cream maker, made the sorbet mix and follow the instructions for freezing sorbet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Recipe of the week from Sweet Food: Saffron Spice Cake

I chose this recipe because my mother recently came back from the Canary Islands and brought me more saffron than I use in about 5 years of cooking, plus I already had some.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Serves 8.

250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp saffron threads
3 eggs
155 g (1 1/4 cups) icing sugar
250 g (2 cups) self-rising flour (or 2 cups plain flour plus 3 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
370 g (3 2/3 cups) ground almonds (almond flour)
125 g unsalted butter, melted
Icing sugar, extra, to dust
Thick (double) cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), or 160°C if you have a convection oven (or as indicated by manufacturer or your experience).

Lightly grease a 22 cm round cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Mix orange juice, zest and saffron in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat the eggs and icing sugar until light and creamy. Fold in the sifted flour, almonds, orange juice mixture and butter until barely mixed and smooth. Spoon into the cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with a little icing sugar and serve with whipped cream.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Recipe review:

I started by making the ground almonds since I could not find any in any supermarket. I used my handy little electric coffee grinder and ground a little at a time and sifted it to get an even size of almond granules.

There was more dough than I thought there would be, and I ended up using two baking pans, one 20 cm and another 18 cm in diameter, and got two luscious cakes. The baking time was about 45 minutes at 160°C in my convection oven. That temperature was a too hot, as evidenced by the cakes rising a bit too much in the middle.

The cake itself is a lovely pale saffron colour, with a dense texture and a nice orage flavour with undertones of saffron, which is good because too much saffron in food tastes somewhat medicinal to me.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Book verdict:

If you enjoy food porn and great desserts, buy it. It is full of all sorts of desserts, and the three I made during the week were all good.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Serves 6-8.

20 g unsalted butter, melted
2 tbs firmly packed soft brown sugar
440 g can pineapple rings in natural juice
90 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup plain flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 20 cm (8 inch) ring pan and pour in the melted butter to coat the base. Sprinkle in the brown sugar. Drain the pineapple and reserve 80 ml (1/3 cup) of the juice. Cut the pineapple rings in half and arrange them on the base.

Beat the softened butter and the sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla essence and mix well. fold in the flour alternating with the pineapple juice (the recipe recommends using a metal spoon, but I use the beater on my mixer at the slowest speed). Spoon or pour the batter evenly over the pineapple and smooth the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

I made this cake on Sunday, and it’s very good: moist but still light as a cloud and tastes great. Although there is pineapple juice in the batter, the cake doesn’t have a pineapple flavour. This may be due to me having used cheap canned pineapple with less flavourful juice than the more expensive stuff. Whatever the reason, the cake is still good. Another time I might use condensed pineapple juice.

I don’t have a ring pan, so I used a regular cake pan and baked the cake a little longer than the recipe suggests. I only needed 5 1/2 pineapple rings to cover the base.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Cinnamon Gelato

I bet this is good – and since I have an ice-cream maker, it would be easy work to make.

Serves 8.

1 vanilla bean
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) thick cream (double cream)
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) milk
2 cinnamon sticks
6 egg yolks
100 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar

Split the vanilla bean down the middle and put it in a saucepan with the cream, milk and cinnamon sticks. Bring to the boil, remove immediately from the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until light and creamy. Pour the milk/cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture and whisk quickly to mix. Pour the custard into the saucepan and cook over very low heat (barely simmering) until it begins to thicken, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Do not let it boil! To test for thickness, dip the spoon into the custard, then draw a line on the back of the spoon. When the line stays and the custard does not run into it, it is ready.

Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod and mix into the custard. Strain the custard into a bowl, remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and leave to cool.

To freeze, either churn in an ice-cream maker according to instructions, or pour into a freezer-proof bowl and freeze, whisking every 30 minutes, until the ice-cream is too stiff to stir. The whisking will give the ice cream a creamy texture. Once the ice cream is set, keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sample recipe from Sweet Food: Chocolate Mud Cake

I love a good chocolate cake, and this one looks promising:

Serves 12.

125 g (1 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (= 1 cup flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
60 g (1/2 cup) dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
625 g (2 3/4 cups) sugar
450 g dark chocolate, chopped
459 g unsalted butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
2 tbs oil
2 tbs instant espresso coffee granules or powder
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 160°C (315°F) or a lower temperature as instructed for a convection oven.

Brush a deep 23 cm (8 1/2 inch) square cake pan with melted butter or oil. Line the pan with baking paper, extending at least 2 cm (4/5 inch) above the rim.

Sift the flours, cocoa and baking soda into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar and make a well in the centre. Put 250 g chocolate and 250 g butter and 185 ml (3/4 cup) water in a saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir this mixture into the dry ingredients using a large spoon.

Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, coffee and eggs and add to the mixture, stirring until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan, the turn out onto a serving dish, upside down.

Combine the remaining chocolate and butter in a small pan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Cool to room temperature, stirring often, until it is thick enough to spread. Spread the icing over the cake. Allow the icing to set slightly before serving.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cookbook of the week #22 : Sweet Food, including a recipe for Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

I’m back. I have had a lot going on in my life since I last posted, but now I am ready to pick up where I left off.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

This week’s cookbook was published by Murdoch Books, part of a series of themed books that are in equal measure recipe collections and unabashed food porn. There is a photo of every dish, each one designed to make the reader hungry. The book is divided into chapters for baked goods, desserts and pies & tarts, and other than the chapter divisions, there is no rhyme or reason to the way the recipes are collected, so that for example, the 5 cheesecake recipes in the book are to be found in two chapters and none of them on adjacent pages. This makes for interesting browsing. I have found that I can open this book at random and be almost certain to find something I want to try. I have had to eliminate several recipes I would have liked to try because of hard-to-find ingredients.

Note: The tbs called for are 20 ml tbs, rather than 15 ml ones.

The first recipe I chose is Almond, orange and cardamom biscotti

In Italian “biscotti” means “twice baked”, but according to Wikipedia, in Italy the term is used for any type of cookie. In North-America it refers to twice-baked pastries like the ones in this recipe, which in Italy are called “biscotti di Prato”, “cantoucchi” or “cantoucchini”.

I would like to imagine that when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about lembas, he had something like biscotti in mind.

Makes about 40.

2 eggs
155 g (2/3 cup) firmly packed soft brown sugar
125 g (1 cup) self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising flour, use 1 cup plain flour and add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
90 g (3/4 cup) plain flour
125 g (1 1/4 cups) almonds
1 tbs finely grated orange zest
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F), or lower temperature as indicated for convection ovens. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Sift the flours into the bowl, add the almonds, zest and cardamom and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in two and shape into two loaves, about 5 x 20 cm (2 x 8 inches) in size.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, cut the loaves into 1 cm (2/5 inch) slices with a serrated bread knife. The biscotti will be crumbly on the edges, so work slowly and if you can, hold the sides of the loaves as you cut.

Arrange the slices on baking trays in one layer and return to the oven for 10 minutes on each side. If the slices look like they are not completely dry when removed from the oven, don’t worry – they will become crisp when they cool. Allow to cool before serving.

Great with coffee.


Recipe review:
I made this recipe yesterday after I posted it. The dough was EXTREMELY sticky, so sticky that I ended up just forming it into one rough loaf and then I went to scrape a thick layer of gluey dough off my hands. Next time I will wet my hands before handling the dough. The raw loaf looked like a misshapen lump of lava, but it baked up smooth and when I sliced it it looked like biscotti should. In the instructions it says to cool the loaf – I would just let it cool for about 10 minutes and then slice it, because fully cooled it was hard to cut because the crust was so hard. The biscotti are very good, with a mild orangey flavour and just a hint of cardamom.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Recipe of the week from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Challah bread

I apologise for not including recipes from all the chapters, but to tell the truth, all the really interesting ones are quite long and involved and I am simply too lazy to type them up (but not to cook them…).
Challah is a type of braided white bread, traditional to the Jewish people. There have been some long and interesting discussions on Challah-making on my favourite food discussion forum, which made me curious, so I chose Challah as recipe of the week. In the book, the recipe and detailed instructions take up a whole page, obviously so that an inexperienced baker can make the recipe. I am going to assume some expertise on behalf of my readers, and have therefore abbreviated the instructions somewhat, and mixed them with instructions gleaned from other challah recipes and my own experience in bread-making.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
A baked loaf of challah. The egg wash gives it a dark, shiny crust

3/8 pint (12 tbs) lukewarm water
2 oz. (ca. 55 g) fresh yeast or 1 oz. (2 tbs + 2 tsp) dried
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. (565 g to 680 g) plain flour
1 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 oz. (3 tbs) + 1 scant tsp vegetable cooking fat
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 1/2 tbs water

Put half the lukewarm water into a small bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for a coupe of minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Set aside in a warm place for about 5 minutes, until the mixture has almost doubled in volume.

Put 1 lb. (450 g) of the flour in a large bowl with the sugar and salt and mix well. Make a well in the centre, add the yeast, the remaining water, eggs, and 2 tbs of fat.

Stir well together until all the flour is absorbed, then add up to 1/2 lb (225 g) flour, a little at a time, to form a dough that holds its shape as a soft ball.

Turn out unto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes, or as long as it takes to form a smooth, elastic dough.

Shape into a ball and put into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise, until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The dough, risen and unrisen

Punch down the dough and knead for a few minutes, then set aside for 10 minutes.

Grease a large baking sheet with the remaining tsp of fat. Divide the dough into as many equally sized pieces as you want in the braid (recipe calls for 4, but I used 3). Roll out into long sausage shapes, a bit longer than you intend the baked bread to be, narrowing at the ends.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The strands of dough

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The braided loaf

Press one end of each of the strands together and braid tightly (don’t pull on the strands!), pressing together the other ends and tucking the ends under the loaf. Carefully place the loaf on the greased baking sheet and cover it with a cloth. Let it rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The risen loaf with egg wash applied.
At this stage the loaf had risen to "oh, my goodness! This is going to take over the oven!" proportions.

Heat the oven to 400°F (about 200°C, 190°C if you have a convection oven). Mix together the egg yolk and water and brush the top of the loaf with it. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F (190°C, 180°C for convection ovens) and bake for about 45 minutes longer, until the challah is golden brown and crusty. Cook on a wire rack.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Note the difference between the areas where the wash was applied and the ones where it was not

Notes and review:
I made the bread exactly as instructed, except I used oil instead of fat. The outcome was a gorgeous-looking loaf, which was fluffy and rather dry. I don’t know if challah is supposed to be this way, or if I perhaps over- or under-kneaded it or baked it for too long, but the texture is consistent with other leavened breads I have eaten that include eggs in the recipe (such as panettone). It was not very flavourful but tasted good with butter, cheese and/or jam on top. I took some to friends of mine who liked it and their kids loved it.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Cookbook review:
I got this book at the local flea market last Sunday and since I wanted to read it right away I decided to make it cookbook of the week. It is not just a cookbook, but an attempt to describe the cuisines and culinary traditions of the region, with a short chapter on food history added for good measure. It’s part of a series from Time-Life, published in the 1960s and 70s. All the books originally consisted of a large-format book about the food of the chosen country or region and a small spiral-bound recipe booklet, kept together in a slipcase. I have the set of slipcase and two books for Scandinavia, but in this case I only got the large-format book, which only has a few recipes.

The style of the writing reminds me strongly of certain old National Geographic articles, as the author chattily describes his and his wife’s journey through the region in search of dining experiences and recipes.

Verdict: A very satisfying read. I think I will be on the lookout, not only for more books in the series, but also for a copy of the missing booklet.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Baba ghannoj (cold aubergine purée with lemon juice)

I love the sound of the name for this dish, just as I love aubergines.

First, however, is the recipe for Taratoor, a sesame sauce that is used in this Baba Ghannooj recipe:

3 medium-sized garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup tahini (sesame paste)
3/4 to 1 cup cold water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 scant tsp salt

Mash the garlic to a paste with a pestle or wooden spoon. Stir in the tahini. Beat in 1/2 cup of water, the lemon juice and the sale with a whisk or spoon. Still beating, gradually add more water until the sauce has the consistency of thick mayonnaise and holds its shape almost solidly in a spoon.

Baba ghannooj:

1 medium aubergine (about 1 lb./450 g)
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbs taratoor sauce
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 scant tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 oz. (ca. 55 g) finely chopped onions
1 tbs finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaved

First, roast the aubergine: prick it in 3-4 places with the prongs of a long-handled fork, then impale it in the fork and turn over a gas flame until the skin chars and begins to split, OR pierce the aubergine, place it on a baking sheet and grill about 4 inches (10 cm) from the heat for 20 minutes, turning it to char evenly all over [alternatively, use a crème brûlée torch].

When the aubergine is cool enough to handle, skin it, cutting away any badly charred spots of flesh. Cut it in half lengthways and chop finely. Then mash it into a smooth purée, beat in the lemon juice, taratoor, garlic and salt. Adjust taste if necessary.

Serve in a bowl, garnished with olive oil, chopped onions and parsley.

To eat, scoop up with pieces of khobz (Arab bread) or pitta bread [or eat with a spoon].

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Kadin Göbeği (“Lady’s Navel” fritters)

Here is a Turkish dish with an unusual name. I usually find sweets that are steeped in syrup too sweet, but the cream should alleviate that.

1 lb. (ca. 450 g) sugar
3/4 pint (425 ml) water
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Put the sugar, water and lemon juice into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook, uncovered, until the syrup reaches 220°F (105 °C). Set aside and let it cool to room temperature.

5/8 pint (355 ml) water
1 1/2 oz. (40 g) butter
1/8 tsp salt
8 oz. (225 g) sifted plain flour
3 eggs
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/2 tsp almond essence
3 tbs chilled double cream, stiffly whipped

Put the water, butter and salt in a saucepan and bing to the boil at high heat, stirring until the butter melts. Add the flour all at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until well mixed into a smooth mass. Make a well in the center of the dough and add one egg. Beat well until well mixed. Repeat with the remaining eggs. The dough should be thick, smooth and shiny.

Heat 3-4 inches (7,5 to 10 cm) of oil in a large deep-fat frying pan or electric deep-fryer, to a temperature of 360°F (180°C). To prepare the fritters, pinch off about 1 1/2 tbs of dough and roll into a ball 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Dip your thumb into the almond essence and press it into each ball to make a “navel” 1/2 inch (ca. 1 cm) deep. Deep fry, 5 at a time (or as many as will fit into your pan/frier with good space for turning), for about 10 minutes, turning them for even browning. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain briefly, and dip into the syrup to steep for 5 minutes. Transfer to a dish and let cool to room temperature. Just before serving, drop a teaspoon of whipped cream into the “navel” of each fritter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sample recipe from The Cooking of the Middle-East: Dolmates Yemistes me Rizi (baked tomatoes stuffed with rice)

This looks like a great starter:

1/2 pint (285 ml) water
3.5 oz. (100g) uncooked rice (long or medium grain)
6 firm ripe tomatoes, each about 3 inches (7,5 cm) in diameter
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs olive oil
2 oz. (55 g) finely chopped onions
3 x 2 1/4 oz. (ca. 65 g) cans tomato purée (6.75 oz. or 190 g or 9 tbs)
6 tbs finely chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf
5 tbs finely cut fresh mint or 2 1/2 tsp dried
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/4 tsp oregano, crumbled (how much is that in fresh?)
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 3/8 pint (about 210 ml) to the boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the rice, stir a couple of times and cook the rice for about 8 minutes, or until softened but still firm (i.e. not fully quite cooked). Drain and set aside.

Cut a 1/4 inch (1/5 cm) slices off the stem end of the tomatoes and set aside. Hollow out the tomatoes, remove the inner pulp and discard the seeds. Chop the pulp and set aside. Sprinkle the tomatoes with 1 scant tsp of salt and drain them, upside down, on kitchen paper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). while it is heating, make the stuffing: heat the oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat and cook the onions for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and transparent but not brown. Add the rice, tomato pulp, 6 tbs of the tomato purée, the parsley, mint, garlic, oregano, the remaining salt and a few grindings of pepper. Stir fry until the mixture is almost dry (the mixture holds its shape almost solidly in the spoon).

Arrange the tomatoes, hollow side up, in a baking dish. Fill with the stuffing, packing it in firmly and put the reserved slices on top. Mix together the remaining 3 tbs of tomato purée and 3 tbs of water and pour around the tomatoes. Bake uncovered in the of the oven for 20 minutes, basting once or twice. Cool and serve directly from the baking dish.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cookbook of the week # 21: Foods of the World: The Cooking of the Middle-East

This book is part of a series of gorgeous Time-Life books about the foods of different regions and countries of the world. This is more than just a cookbook: it describes the foods and food history and offers various food related tidbits and photographs of the foods, people and landscapes of the 9 countries the author visited. The countries were Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran. As I have mentioned before, I love North-African and Middle-Eastern food, so this will be an interesting read. Unfortunately the recipe booklet that came with the book has been lost, so I only have the recipes included in the book to choose from.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Recipe of the week from Hollt og gott: Banana bread

It may seem a bit mundane to choose banana bread, but I have been looking for a good recipe for it for years. The recipes I have tried have either been too sweet, not sweet enough, too crumbly or didn’t have enough banana flavour.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

3 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chopped nuts (may be left out)

Mix together flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Peel and mash the bananas thoroughly. Lightly whip the eggs until well mixed and just beginning to froth. Mix in the mashed bananas and then the dry mix, little by little until well mixed. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at medium temperature (I used about 160°C but 175°C would be suitable for a non-convection oven). Ready in about 1 hour. When a pin inserted into the thickest part of the loaf comes out clean or only slightly sticky, the loaf is fully baked.

Notes and review:

I made the recipe exactly as instructed. For nuts I used walnuts, but pecans would also be good and possibly hazelnuts.

The bread/cake has just the right amount of sweetness and a nice, tasty banana flavour. It is nicely moist, but not too much, and tastes great either plain or slathered with butter. I think I may finally have found the right banana bread recipe for me.

The cookbook itself has maybe about a dozen recipes I would like to try. I will probably end up culling this book, but will copy down the interesting recipes first.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sample recipe from Hollt og gott: Pancit Bijon

According to the book this is a Phillipine recipe, but I don’t know how authentic it is.

2 eggs, scrambled
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup celery, sliced
1/2 cup finely grated carrots
1 cup grated white cabbage
1/2 tsp salt
4-5 tbs soy sauce
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup rice (raw)
1 cup bean sprouts

Cook the rice according to packet instructions.

Fry the eggs in 3 tbs. of the oil. Set aside. Cook the onion, celery, bean sprouts and mushrooms for 2 minutes in the oil. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cabbage, soy sauce and water. Then add the rice and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the eggs. Serve.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


The challenge for this week is cancelled due to a stomach bug. I will pick up where I left off when I am better.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sample recipe from Hollt og gott: Vegetarian lasagna

Lasagna noodles, enough for two layers in the pan you intend to use.
Cook the lasagna until al dente and drain.

1 to 1 1/2 cup grated cheese
1 can mushrooms (it doesn’t say which size, but I think it’s probably a small one), drained and the liquid set aside for the sauce

Cheese and egg mixture:
1 1/2 cup cottage cheese
3 eggs

Stir the eggs well and mix with the cottage cheese.

1 can tomato purée (1 small can, about 142 g)
1 mushroom can of water plus the mushroom liquid
1 can tomatoes with juice (again, no size given, but probably a standard can)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp onion salt
1 cup fine soy mince

Dump into a saucepan and cook together for 5-10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Arrange the ingredients in the lasagna pan as follows:

Lasagna noodles (I'm no lasagna expert, but isn't the sauce usually on the bottom?)
Cottage cheese and egg mixture
Grated cheese

Repeat once. Bake for 1 hour. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

If I make this recipe, I would use fresh mushrooms instead of canned: sliced, lightly fried and simmered in water for 2-3 minutes to make mushroom broth to use in the lasagna.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cookbook of the week # 20 : Hollt og gott (Healthy and tasty), and the first sample recipe: Lentil soup

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

This is one of the self-published cookbooks in my collection. In this case the publisher was a religious group, the Adventists. This spiral-bound cookbook is full of meatless recipes (some vegan, others ovo-lacto vegetarian), many of which have the contributor’s name beside it. It came from my mother’s collection, and I think she got it from my aunt who in turn got it from one of her in-laws, who has a number of recipes in the book.

Since I am a little late in posting this, here is the first recipe:

Lentil soup:

1 1/2 cups lentils (it doesn’t say which kind, so I am assuming any type can be used)
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped parsley
3/4 cup white cabbage, torn into pieces
2 litres vegetable broth/bouillon
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tbs soup herbs (this is a mixture of dried herbs and vegetables that is sold in shops here. I don’t know if it is available in other countries, but you can replace it with chopped kale)
1 bay leaf
The juice of 1 lemon

Cook the lentils in the veggie broth until soft. Add the rest and cook until the vegetables are tender.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recipe of the week from The Book of Thai Cooking: Fried bread

I would love to know what all these recipes are called in Thai, but all that is given are strictly descriptive names for them. The recipe I chose as recipe of the week is a variation of an international recipe, that for fried bread:

175 g lean pork mince
55 g cooked shrimps, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbs chopped chilantro
1 1/2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp fish sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of day-old bread
1 tbs coconut milk
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Whole chilantro leaves, narrow rings of fresh red chilli pepper, and cucumber slices, to garnish

Mix together the pork mince and shrimp in a bowl, using a fork. Then add garlic, chilantro, spring onions, 1/4 of the egg mixture, fish sauce and pepper and mix well. cut the crusts off the bread and divide the meat mixture between the slices, spreading it to cover the whole top of each slice. Mix the remaining egg and coconut milk and brush over the meat mixture. Cut each bread slice in four parts.

Heat the oil to 190°C in a wok. Put 3-4 bread pieces into it ant once, mince side down, and fry for 3-4 minutes or until crunchy, turning once about halfway through the process. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, and then keep them warm in the oven. Check the temperature of the oil between rounds of frying to make sure it isn’t too low. Serve the bread hot, garnished with chilantro, chilli pepper rings and cucumber slices.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I made the recipe exactly as given, except the red chilli pepper got lost on the way from the shop (probably left behind at the check-out counter), and I shortened the frying time. The bread was crisp and golden brown after only 1 minute in the oil, and the filling was cooked through after 90 seconds. I found that about 2 minutes at about 175-180°C was enough to cook it through. At that time and temperature the bread turned out crisp and the meat mixture was cooked though and juicy.

Recipe review:
The dish tasted somewhat as if the pork mixture used in home-made English breakfast sausages had been smeared on bread and then fried. Only the sage was missing and instead there was a lovely flavour of shrimp and a hint of chilantro mingled with the pork flavour. It was quite good. I think this would make good finger food, cut into even smaller pieces, as it can be eaten either hot or cold. Another time I might leave out the bread and make meatballs out of the stuffing.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Book review:
The book has just over 100 recipes. Since I have not experienced Thai food in Thailand I can’t really tell if they are a representative sample of the entirety of Thai cuisine, or if they mostly come for one region or if they are possibly westernised. What characterises the recipes above all else is their freshness and how quickly they can be put together and cooked. Thanks to the Thai expat community in Iceland the ingredients for these recipes are, if not exactly readily, then at least not impossibly, found here, some exclusively in Asian markets and others in regular supermarkets.

I feel it is a sad omission not to have included the Thai names of the dishes, but other than that, in the absence of expert advice, I think this is an interesting insight into Thai cuisine, and I look forward to comparing it with my other two Thai cookbooks and the chapters on Thai food in some of my mixed-cuisine cookbooks.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sample recipe from: The Book of Thai Cooking: Stuffed aubergine

I really like aubergines, and this looks like a tasty recipe.

Serves 4.

2 aubergines (eggplants), each weighing about 225 g
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks lemon grass, chopped
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
175 g chicken breast meat, finely chopped
2 tsp fish sauce
25 leaves of Thai basil (holy basil)
Freshly ground black pepper
Thai basil leave for garnish

Preheat the grill in your oven. Grill the whole aubergines for about 20 minutes, turning frequently, until they are evenly charred all over.

While the aubergines are cooking, grind the garlic and lemon grass together in a mortar. Set aside. Heat the oil in a wok, add the onion and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add the garlic/lemon grass paste, fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the chicken. Stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce and basil and plenty of pepper.

Cut each aubergine in half lengthwise. Carefully scrape most of the the flesh from inside the skins and put in a bowl. Keep the skins hot. Cut the flesh into pieces with scissors. Put in the hot wok and stir-fry with the chicken mixture for about 1 minute. Put the aubergine skins on a hot serving platter and divide the chicken mixture between them. Garnish with basil leaves.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sample recipe from: The Book of Thai Cooking: Spicy fried rice

There are several fried rice recipes in the book, all of them worth trying, so I made a random choice.

First, here is a basic recipe for a spice paste that the rice recipe calls for:

Red curry paste:
1 tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 coriander roots, chipped (or use stalks if roots are not available)
8 dried red chillies, deseeded and chopped
2 stalks lemon grass, chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 kaffir lime
3 cm piece galangal, chopped
2 tsp shrimp paste

Heat a wok and roast the coriander and cumin seeds until they begin releasing their scent. Grind in a mortar or food processor with the pepper.

Add the remaining ingredients and grind into a smooth paste. Keeps for 4 weeks in an air-tight container stored in a refrigerator.

Enough to make 4 tablespoons.

Spicy fried rice:

175 g long grain (fragrant) white rice
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 fresh green chilli peppers, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tbs red curry paste (see recipe above)
55 g lean pork, very finely chopped
3 eggs, lightly whipped to mix yolks and whites
1 tbs fish sauce
55 g cooked shrimps

For garnish: finely julienned red chilli pepper, torn chilantro leaves and “feathered” spring onions (cut leaves in half where they start to turn green. Cut into fine strips, about halfway down the stalk, using scissors. Put the leaves into a bowl of cold water to make the strips curl up (a few seconds)).

Steam the rice according to instructions on the packet. Heat the oil in a wok, add onion, garlic and chilli pepper and fry until the onion is softened, stirring occasionally. Add the curry paste and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the pork and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Then add the rice and stir to coat in the other ingredients. Push the rice aside in the pan and pour the egg mixture into the center of the pan. When the mixture begins to cook, stir it into the rice to coat and immediately add fish sauce. Stir in the shrimps. Put on a heated serving platter and decorate with the red chilli, chilantro and spring onion “feathers”.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sample recipe from: The Book of Thai Cooking: Chicken with lemon grass

Serves 4-6.

1 chicken, about 1,5 kg, split into 8 parts
4 thick stalks of lemon grass
4 spring onions, chopped
4 black peppercorns, crushed
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 fresh green chilli pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
4 tbs water
2 tsp fish sauce
1 fresh red chilli pepper,cut into narrow strips, for garnish

Make a couple of shallow cuts into each chicken piece with a sharp knife. Arrange the pieces in one layer in a shallow dish.

Bruise the top part of the lemon grass stalks and set aside. Chop the lower halves and then grind them in a mortar with the spring onions and peppercorns. Spread over the chicken pieces and into the cuts. Cover and let stand for 2 hours.

Heat the oil in a wok, add the chicken pieces and cook for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add the green chilli, the bruised lemon grass pieces and the water. Put a lid on the wok and simmer slowly for about 25-30 minutes, until cooked. Stir in the fish sauce. Put the chicken pieces on a heated serving platter and sprinkle the red chilli strips on top.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sample recipe from: The Book of Thai Cooking: Fish with coconut and galangal

4 tbs vegetable oil
1 shallot, chopped
4 cm piece of galangal, finely chopped
2 stalks lemon grass, finely chopped
1 small fresh chilli pepper, seeded and chopped
125 ml coconut milk
2 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
5 chilantro (leaf coriander) twigs
About 350 g fish fillets, for example from a small flounder or sole or other flatfish
1 small onion, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tbs oil in a wok and add shallot, galangal, lemon grass and chilli. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until the stuff begins to brown slightly. Put into a food processor, add coconut milk, fish sauce and the stalks from the chilantro and blend (purée?) well. Put the fish into a heat-proof, shallow bowl that fits into the mouth of a saucepan, and pour the sauce over it. Cover the bowl, put on top of a saucepan with boiling water, and steam for 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in the wok at medium heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Put the chilantro leaves in the wok and fry for a few seconds. Remove like the onion and drain on kitchen paper. Serve the fish with the chilantro leaves and onion sprinkled on top and plenty of ground black pepper on top of that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sample recipe from: The Book of Thai Cooking: Chicken and mushroom soup

Many Asian soups are brilliantly simple and fresh, with a multitude of flavours. Some of my acquaintances claim they don’t like Asian (by which they mean “Chinese”) soups, because they are, to quote one of them “just flavoured water”, i.e. they are nothing like the thick, stew-like soups and the creamy French-style concoctions they are used to, but of course these soups are not meant to be meals in themselves, but merely appetizers. I must admit that I have eaten Chinese soups that were basically stock with some egg in them, but this looks like a slightly more filling soup.

It has three ingredients I have never used before: Chinese mushrooms, fish sauce and spring onions. I have eaten all three, but never used them in cooking.

Serves 4.

2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 chilantro (fresh coriander) stalks (with leaves)
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, ground
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 litre chicken stock
5 dried black Chinese mushrooms, soaked on cold water for 20 minutes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tbs fish sauce (nam pla)
116 g chicken, cut into strips
55 g spring onions, finely sliced
Some coriander stalks with leaves for garnish

Purée the garlic, chilantro (stems and leaves) and pepper in a food processor or grind with a mortar and pestle. Heat the oil in a wok, add the purée and stir fry for 1 minute. Add stock, mushrooms and fish sauce and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the chicken strips, lower the temperature so the liquid is barely simmering and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the spring onion slices on top and garnish with chilantro.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cookbook of the week # 19: The Book of Thai Cooking by Hilaire Walden

There are a number of Thai restaurants in Reykjavík and I occasionally treat myself to some Thai food. This book, which is part of a series of ethnic cookbooks, is illustrated with photographs and most of the recipes seem to be simple and easy, although some of the ingredients must have been hard to come by back when it was first published in Iceland in 1993. Since then, at least three Asian markets have opened in Reykjavík, and one of the supermarket chains has added many oriental ingredients to its shelves, so it should not be hard to get galangal, lemon grass or fish sauce or most of the other unfamiliar ingredients.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

More cookbooks

I have acquired some more cookbooks since I started the challenge. They came from various sources: bought on sale, from the charity shop, through BookMooch, and one was a Christmas present. I was going to wait to publish another list until I had 10 more cookbooks, but I chose one of them as cookbook of the week, so here they are.

Here are the new additions:

The Book of Thai Cooking by Hilaire Walden. Yet another Thai cookbook. Probably the last Thai cookbook I buy. I think three is probably enough.

Italia: The recipes and customs of the regions by Antonio Carluccio.

Ítalskir réttir Hagkaupa. One of a series of cookbooks published by a local supermarket, one book a year. This one is about Italian cooking, written by Leifur Kolbeinsson, an Icelandic chef who runs one of Iceland’s finest Italian restaurants. Full of mouth-watering recipes.

A Little Taste of Tailand by Oi Cheepchaiissara. My first Thai cookbook.

Malaysian Favorites by The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Modern Spanish Cooking by Sam & Eddie Hart.

Oriental Dinner Party Cookbook by The Australian Women’s Weekly. This book has recipes from China, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sheila Lukins All Around the World Cookbook, by Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate fame. A trip around the world in recipes. I got this lovely, heavy cookbook from a BookMooch member in Canada who had to pay so much postage to send it to me that I felt really bad about mooching it when I saw the postal sticker on the package.

Step-by-step Thai Cooking. A beautifully illustrated Thai cookbook.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tested recipe: Coconut-cashew lamb curry

I have returned from my long holiday and an unintentional absence from blogging. The challenge will resume next weekend, but until then, here is a recipe I tried yesterday:
A slightly altered version of Kid Josh: Curried lamb with cashews and coconut milk, from a cookbook I have already reviewed: Charmaine Solomon's Indian Cookbook.

This is originally a Maharashtran Parsi recipe. I have written it down as I prepared it, i.e. with half the meat of the original and a nearly full recipe of sauce. The original serves six, but this should make a nice meal for 2-3 persons. The original is very hot, using 10 green chillies, but all I could get was a large green chilli that turned out to have hardly any heat at all, and as I didn’t feel like running all over town in search of hotter chillies, I used that and added some cayenne powder.

The recipe:

3 tsp chopped fresh ginger
5 tsp chopped garlic (about 5 average cloves)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground loves
1/4 tsp powdered cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
500 g meat from a leg of lamb, fat trimmed off and cut into large cubes

4 tbs oil
1 1/2 cups water

200 g raw cashew nut kernels, finely ground
1 1/2 cups coconut milk

4 large potatoes, quartered and fried
100 ml uncooked rice for each person

Purée the ginger, garlic and chillies in a blender. Add the spices and salt and mix briefly. Divide this mixture in two and marinate the lamb in one half for about 30 minutes. Set the other half aside.

Heat 2 tbs oil in a large saucepan and brown the meat in it. Add the water, cover and simmer on low until the meat is tender and the stock has been reduced to about 2/3 cup. In this case the meat had been in the fridge since Thursday, so it was nice and tender to begin with. Getting it fully cooked and to nearly the “melt-in-your-mouth” stage only took about 40 minutes, but it took another 15 or so minutes of rapid cooking in an uncovered pan to reduce the stock. Separate the meat and stock and set both aside.

Now is a good time to start cooking the rice and frying the potatoes. No instructions are given, as I assume no-one would tackle this recipe unless they knew the basics first.

In a saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tbs of oil to medium heat and fry the other half of the spice purée until it changes colour and starts to stick slightly at the base of the pan. Add the coconut milk, stock and ground cashews, mix well and simmer, stirring, for a few minutes. Add the meat, mix well and let it simmer without stirring until oil rises to the top. (Note: this has to happen at low heat, as the sauce is so thick that it will burn at higher temperatures). Do not cover the pan. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Serve hot with the fried potatoes and hot rice.

Another time I would not serve the potatoes, as the rice is starchy enough by itself.

This is a nice dish with a lovely mingling of flavours and since I made it mild, I could taste both the coconut milk and the cashews in it. However, I would never, ever serve it to guests. Why? Well, it doesn’t look very good, even for a curry. In fact it looks like brownish lumpy porridge (and I am being charitable by likening it to another kind of food). This is why there is no photo.