20 December 2012

Gifts From Our Kitchen

Well, this year was a big one.

One of the biggest things that happened in 2012? --- My boyfriend and I decided to live together. That's a very big thing. This is our first Christmas together in the home we share, and I'm really excited!

My own family is a continent away - but I have him, and his family, and more people than I could ever imagine I'd have in my life to give Christmas presents to. Many of them, I've never even met before. So, what do you give to people you don't know? FOOD. Give them food! Everybody likes food.

We've decided on three jarred foods to give in Christmas hampers this year. All are tried and tested recipes that we absolutely love. Along with other yummy edibles, like oatcakes, shortbread, and some whisky from our friends at the Benromach Distillery, we have packaged up tons of my Chilli + Apple Jam, and two new recipes as well: an UNBELIEVABLE Caramelised Balsamic Red Onion Chutney, and a completely out-of-this-world Salted Caramel Sauce. With hand-written labels, these make the most adorable, homey, happy gifts!

They're all SO easy to make! If you're struggling for last-minute gifts, put these in your top 3! Particularly the salted caramel sauce, which is pretty quick and hassle-free.

Are you wondering how to make your labels stick like that? It's so easy. Just write them out on paper, brush the back with milk (!!) and let dry. It works just like glue, but comes off easily when you wet them with water. This is a far better method than using glue or stickers, and using a brown recycled-paper envelope really adds to the homespun feel of the jars.

Chilli + Apple Jam
makes 1 jar, plus a little more, depending on your jar size!

4 large-ish apples, any kind will do (I use Bramley or Granny Smith)
6 red chillies (2 de-seeded, chop the rest with seeds & ribs included)
150g (3/4 cup) sugar

Roughly chop up the apples (no need to peel or core) and place in a saucepan with some water.  Simmer gently until the apples are completely cooked through, adding more water if needed.  The water will boil off when you're not looking, and it's ok to add more.  Bear in mind that you're looking for about a cup of liquid in the end.

Allow the mixture to cool completely, then strain out solids using a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. At this point you should have about 1 cup of liquid.  ***

Place juice in saucepan with minced chillies and sugar.  Heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.  Crank up the heat to high and boil away until it starts to turn jammy.  Test a few drops on a chilled plate to see if the jam has firmed up enough. Bottle and you're done!

Caramelised Balsamic Red Onion Chutney
from Fraser Doherty at The Guardian and the SuperJam Cookbook.
makes 4-6 jars

8 red onions
1 red chilli
2 bay leaves
25ml olive oil
200g brown sugar
150ml balsamic vinegar
150ml red wine vinegar

Cut your onions and chilli into short, thin slices and put them into a pan with the bay leaves and oil. Cook gently over a low heat for about 20 minutes.

Once the onions are dark and sticky, add the sugar and the vinegars and simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the chutney is thick and dark.

Pour the chutney into hot, sterilised jars and let it cool. Ideally, you should leave it for a month or more before you eat it, to mature in flavour.

Salted Caramel Sauce with Fleur de Sel
from Lick My Spoon
makes 1.5 cups

1 cup sugar
85g (6T) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup single cream
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (use Fleur de Sel if you're feeling fancy!)

Heat sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to help the sugar dissolve, but stop stirring when the sugar comes to a boil. Swirl if you like - basically you don't want to disturb the mixture while it's caramelising.

When the liquid sugar hits a dark amber color, add all the butter to the pan. The mixture will foam up and thicken. Whisk until the butter has melted. Once the butter has melted, remove from heat and add the cream. The mixture will foam up again - keep whisking and get those lumps out. Add the salt and whisk some more - you should have a very smooth, silky sauce with no lumps or salty grains left visible. Whisk and whisk some more, especially if you're using a coarse sea salt like fleur de sel or maldon. The sauce will thicken as it cools, so don't worry if you think it's too thin at this point.

Pour into sterilised glass jars, and you're done! The sauce may separate a little - just advise recipients to give it a stir before using.

03 July 2012

Keshke Salad - Wheat, Courgette and Walnuts

I just love middle-eastern food. It seems kind of weird to be saying that as a formerly-Midwestern farm girl who grew up on corn and potatoes and cows (usually our own). But I feel as though it's a remarkably well-rounded diet, where whole grains and legumes play key roles, and meat features much less heavily than in western diets.

Bf and I are on a bit of a health kick lately, and I'm trying to make meals for us that are less oily, buttery, carby, cheesy. Maybe coming home with a 5kg sack of dried chickpeas, and another of cracked bulgur wheat, was not what he had in mind. But when he asks me to health-it-up in the kitchen, well, this is what he gets. Instead of rice or potatoes, we'll have this - which pulls carb-duty while being much higher in protein (whole grains, broad beans, walnuts) and vitamins (pretty much everything in there). The unrefined grains will keep us fuller for longer, too, so we are less prone to snacking.

This salad is really tasty, simple, and the textures really work lovely together - a crunch of toasted walnut, slightly bitter, is met with a fresh green broad bean, and pulled together with just a touch of creaminess from the yogurt. Gorgeous. This isn't the first time I've made it, and it certainly won't be the last!

Keshke Salad
adapted from Taste of Beirut

1/2 cup of cracked wheat (bulgur wheat)
a handful of fava beans (broad beans) - I used frozen
1 small courgette (zucchini), diced
some chopped chives (I used dried, for shame!)
one big spoonful of full-fat greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
sea salt to taste
juice of half a lemon
handful chopped walnuts, toasted

Wheat: place in a glass bowl and pour over plenty of boiling water. Cover with a towel and let sit 15-30 minutes until soft. Drain in a seive and return to bowl.

Fava: boil in water for 1-2 minutes, drain and run cold water over. When cooled, peel the beans by nicking the end with your fingernails, and squeeze the other end of the bean to pop it out of its thick skin. Add these to the bowl of wheat.

Courgette: dice and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat. Let it get brown, but be careful to not overcook it. Soggy is no good! Add this to the bowl.

Toast the chopped walnuts in the same pan and add these, along with remaining ingredients. Give it a good toss and check your seasoning.

Eat it up! Will serve 2 as a side dish, or 1 hungry girl for a solo, one-bowl lunch.

[I forgot to add chopped parsley and tahini to the dish, which the original recipe includes. I have them both in my fridge, and I'm gutted that I forgot about them - I will definitely include them next time!]

30 June 2012

Feta Bruchetta! (I know you want to say it out loud)

I've been spending a lot of time away from home lately, to the recent extreme of being in my own place just two nights a week. This is not a complaint. Just so we're on the record. No complaints here!

When I come home from my days upon days away, my fridge is empty. My milk is sour. I've been living out of my freezer, mostly, and what few random groceries I bring back with me. So, meals made from just a few ingredients are the way forward, since I am only ever here for a few days anyway - no need to stock the fridge when I'm off again so quickly. This is one such success, simple and so pretty to look at. And tasty, too! That's the trifecta we're after, for real.

Feta Bruchetta
This is more of a rough guide than a recipe, because that's the nature of making bruchetta. Try other herbs and flavour combinations, such as oregano, feta and lemon for a more Greek spin, or harissa, feta and pine nuts for something more Moroccan.

Crusty bread
Plum tomatoes, chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled
Basil leaves, torn
sea salt
olive oil
balsamic syrup

Assemble tomatoes, cheese and basil on toast and top with salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of balsamic syrup. Toast under the grill/broiler at 200C for about 15 minutes, until cheese has browned. Gobble it up!

29 April 2012

White Bean & Basil Spread on Garlic Toasts

Meet my seriously delicious lunch.

This is a very easy recipe for a nice white bean spread. Just a few ingredients come together beautifully. My favourite recipes are the easy ones, where simple, wholesome foods really get a chance to shine. No fuss, no fancy foods - just really good, yummy, healthy stuff.

I had a really nice garlic loaf from the bakery, and the pairing was fantastic. Recommend!


White Bean & Basil Spread on Garlic Toasts
Inspired by love & lemons, a newly-discovered gem

one cup dried butter beans, soaked overnight and cooked (alternatively, one can will do)
2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
torn basil leaves, however much you prefer
1-3 tablespoons water, to thin the mixture
1 clove smoked garlic (regular garlic is fine, too)
a pinch of sea salt of choice (I used fleur de sel)
scant 1/2 teaspoon honey
freshly cracked mixed peppercorns
4 pieces toasted garlic bread

Purée all ingredients in a food processor or using a stick blender. Put on toasted garlic bread and finish with a touch more fleur de sel, cracked pepper, and olive oil.

Makes about a cup of spread, enough for two people as a starter or light lunch (two small-ish toasts each).

28 April 2012

Lemon, Courgette & Pea Risotto

It's still pretty cold in Scotland. Spring is here, apparently, as evidenced by baby animals of all sorts. They're cute. I want to steal them. Boyfriend says that keeping a little lamb as a pet is not a good idea. He's probably right, but I think he's underestimating their cuteness factor.

Despite the birdies, and the longer days, and the lamb-stealing desire that is deep in my soul, it doesn't feel like spring. It's cold and rainy and I still have to wear my winter coat. What's up with that, Scotland? 

Another thing that this supposed-Springtime has brought is a glut of delicious veggies. This time of year is a favourite of mine because I get to stop eating the same old blah winter stuff. My palette just starts to crave really fresh, bright flavours.

So today, a lazy(ish) Saturday, I made this risotto to celebrate Spring. The sun even popped out for a while while I was in the kitchen - hopefully a sign of amazing things to come.

Lemon Risotto with Courgette, Green Peas & Basil
adapted from Love & Lemons

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped
big pinch of sea salt (I used Maldon)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1 small lemon
750ml (3 cups+) veggie stock
1/2 cup peas, frozen is fine
1 medium-sized courgette (zucchini), quartered and choppped
1 egg yolk, beaten
salt & pepper
shaved parmesan or pecorino
8 basil leaves, chiffonade

Put veggie stock in a pan on the stove and keep warm.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat butter, oil, onion, garlic, and a bit of salt. Cook until onion is soft, 4-5 minutes.

Add rice, stir together, and let the rice toast for about 1 minute.

Add white wine and half the lemon juice and let it cook, stirring for about 2 minutes until the wine is somewhat evaporated.

Add stock, one ladle full at a time, stirring continuously. When stock becomes mostly cooked down, add the next ladle full. This process should take about 20 minutes. Add more stock or water if necessary. During the last few minutes of this process, add in courgettes and peas.

Remove pan from heat. Mix in remaining lemon juice, beaten egg yolk, and cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings (I found it best to add more salt here). Add more hot stock or water, if necessary, to reach your desired consistency.

Plate and garnish with basil, grated cheese, and some freshly cracked pepper.

Serves 2 as a main dish.

21 February 2012

Perfect Carrot & Coriander Soup

My dad says that I "attack life."

For my 16th birthday, I got a puppy. He was this really happy, sweet little dog that was full of kindness and excitement. That is, however, until he would smell some kind of chaseable/eatable animal, whereupon he instantly turned into a hunting machine. He'd dive into a river chasing a beaver into it's den, dig up the earth persuing a rabbit down it's hole, and torment raccoons who were twice his size. He dreamed big. He'd go running off after something, and we'd shout to call him back to us - to protect him. But the switch had flipped in his brain and he was no longer our sweet little pup. He was a predator on the attack. He was fearless and absolutely insane when it came to getting what he wanted. Dad says that this is what I am like.

I can't really argue with his logic.

I've been off on my own trail lately. My goals have grown and changed with time -- but mostly just grown ever bigger. First it was my MSc, then PhD, and I've become rather used to my personal goals increasing at an alarmingly exponential rate. The last time I told my dad about everything I'd been up to recently, he laughed HARD. I could hear the smile and sparkle in his eyes as he asked me, "Jeez, Kristen, who ever made you think you could have it all?" I laughed, too, but more softly than he. "Um, you did, don't you remember?" We laughed a moment more and then changed the subject, since this was the closest thing we've had to a serious conversation in about 10 years, and it was all getting just a little too awkward.

So, because life keeps getting bigger and busier, and because I might not actually know how to slow down, it's easy for me to forget how passionate I am about cooking my own food. I have a job which requires not just my working hours (there are 20 of these in a day, right?), but also a good heaping of stress and tears and possibly also my soul - and sometimes I just plain forget to eat. Then, I look up and realise it's 4pm and there's a hole in my stomach because I haven't eaten since the previous evening. I just get a bagel out of the freezer and go to town since it's the fastest thing to do, and if I try to stand in front of the stove and cook something, I'll likely fall over and burn my face on the skillet on my way to the floor.

The solution? Soup. Soup is fast and low-maintenance. Soup is healthy. It'll feed my brain and keep me from passing out during my workaholic benders.

I was reminded of why I love to cook with my first bite of this soup. Delicious, comforting, easy and nutritious - these are some adjectives that describe this stuff. Another one: balanced. All the flavours are just right, and while carrot & coriander soup is a classic, it's not boring. It's incredibly far elevated above the stuff you've eaten from a can. It actually made me feel good to eat it. I even slowed down for a while, stopped working, and savoured it.

I have great things in my life, and I am a thankful lady. I wouldn't trade any of it... I can't help it, I just WANT IT ALL. Totally do-able.

Carrot & Coriander Soup
Adapted from Delia

25g butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tbsp ground coriander
900g chopped carrots
700ml vegetable stock
sea salt (I used Maldon) + pepper to taste
chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
greek yogurt or crème fraîche for serving

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and coriander, cook until foamy and fragrant. Add carrots and cook in the butter mixture until they are beginning to soften. Add stock and 2 big pinches of salt. Simmer until carrots are cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and purée with hand blender - I like to leave some chunks but you can do this to whatever consistency you prefer. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix chopped coriander into soup, leaving some aside for garnish. Serve with a spoonful of greek yogurt or crème fraîche and the reserved coriander.

15 February 2012

Individual Chocolate Soufflés for two!

Valentine's Day is over. Did you survive? Whether you have a valentine or not; whether you got mushy and romantic or bitter and cynical - I hope you at least ate some chocolate.

Me and bf had a great night. We stayed in and had a lovely meal without having to dodge wedding proposals at the table next to us. Because there was no table next to us. There was only us, dining slowly, for hours on end. It was kind of perfect.

Once we finished our meal proper, we made dessert. That's we, as in, we made dessert together, the pair of us. It was easy. It was delicious. And it was SO MUCH FUN!

And yes, those are heart-shaped ramekins. Cue eyerolls right about now.

I know it's late for Valentine's Day. But maybe you're waiting for the weekend to celebrate? If so, consider making these soufflés for you and your love. Even make them together. Steal a kiss while they're in the oven. Definitely do that.

Rich Chocolate Soufflés
Recipe by Gordon Ramsay
This recipe actually makes 3 soufflés, which is really perfect. After all, who wouldn't like a bit with coffee in the morning?

10 g unsalted butter for greasing dishes

Crème pâtissière:
10 g cornflour
100 ml whole milk
100 g dark chocolate 70% cocoa solids, chopped
2 egg yolks

Egg white mixture:
3 egg whites
75 g caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C/gas 4/350°F

Coat 3 small-medium ramekins (8cm in width, 4-5cm in height) with the softened butter & set aside.

Make the crème pâtissière:
Slake the cornflour with a little of the milk, then gradually add the rest of the milk until you have a smooth mixture. Pour into a small saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Boil for 30 seconds then off the heat, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Beat in the egg yolks until smooth before transferring to a bowl to cool.

Make the egg white mixture:
With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually start to add in the sugar, whisking well in between each addition. Once all the sugar has been added, continue to whisk until you have a thick and glossy mixture.

Add one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and mix well. Now add in the remaining egg white and gently fold into the mix. Do not over work the mixture as it will become too hard and stiff.

Divide the mixture between the ramekins, filling each completely full. Bake for 6-15 minutes, depending on the size of your ramekins. The souffles are done when they are well risen and have a slightly wobbly centre. Serve with pouring cream, custard, or vanilla ice cream.