20 July 2019

Macedonian Salad

On our recent visit to Bulgaria, we stopped at a Black Sea resort for lunch. Always when the weather is very hot, I tend to lose my appetite and live on salads, kyopoolu and tarator, so concentrated on the starters section of the menu. Here I spotted what was intriguingly called Macedonian salad and had to order it to find out what it is. As it turned out, it was roast and peeled green peppers in a garlic/dill marinade. Yummy!

Some googling later revealed that Macedonian salad is very similar to the Bulgarian Shopska salad or a Greek salad and not at all what I was served, however I decided to try and make it for our friends' Summer barbecue at the end of July.

Ingredients

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
0.5 dl olive oil
0.5 dl balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
9 long peppers - any colour

Method

  1. Make the dressing on the day before - mix together the dill, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and press in the garlic. Place in a glass jar in the fridge and give it a shake now and then.
  2. Roast the peppers - ideally on a barbecue or pepper roaster or electric hob - then place in a saucepan and cover with a lid and leave to "stew" for a few minutes.
  3. As soon as you're able to handle the peppers, peel off the skin and remove the stalks, seeds and pith, then rinse under hot water and cut up into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Place in a serving bowl, pour over the dressing and stir through to mix. It's now ready to serve.

If you choose red, yellow or orange peppers, the end result will have some sweetness to it, if this isn't your thing, select green peppers. I'd chosen a mixture of red, yellow and orange, because the colours looked pretty, however after roasting, yellow and orange became indistinguishable. Still, it turned out to be quite a hit and several people asked me for the recipe. In fact, I thought it was nicer than the stuff I got at the restaurant.

There's a bit more work because of the roasting, but it makes a huge difference and it's a very good thing to do for a barbecue and start with the peppers before the other things, so that while meat and such are being grilled, the peppers get to stew in their saucepan. It's well worth doing, this salad tied in very nicely with the red meats.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo.

19 June 2019

Zefir

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I've been working my way through a left-over bag of giant shop-bought marshmallows and wondering how difficult it would be to make them myself. My standard procedure in these cases is to watch videos on YouTube, the site turned out surprisingly helpful and pointed me towards "zefir" or "zephir". This is a Russian type of marshmallow sweet, which looked so beautiful and seemed quite easy to make, so I got on with this, especially since I had strawberries left over from the Rhubarb Dream Cake and a lot of agar agar in the cupboard following my experimentation with jelling liqueurs at Easter. I guess all my recent searches for Russian recipes is what prompted the zefir suggestion. I liked this one best, though I took inspiration from others as well. Below adapted amounts to fit with the strawberries I had to use up.

Ingredients

Makes 20 at 5 cm diameter

265 g strawberries
110 g caster sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 large egg white
78 ml water
212 g caster sugar
2 tsp agar agar powder

icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. First line several baking sheets with paper and make the strawberry puree by trimming, washing and quartering the strawberries and placing in a saucepan.
  2. Add the 110 g caster sugar and lemon juice and simmer for about 10 minutes and stirring occasionally.
  3. Push through a sieve to remove the seeds and get the puree really smooth and let cool down to room temperature, if it's still warm.
  4. Place 150 g of the puree in a large glass or metal bowl, add the egg white and whisk until it goes pale and very fluffy, like meringue.
  5. In another saucepan make the syrup. Place water,212 g of caster sugar and agar agar. Stir together, then place on the hop at medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil while stirring. Let simmer for a further 7 minutes, while stirring constantly.
  6. When the syrup goes a bit gloopy, it's ready. Remove from the hob and slowly pour over the strawberry meringue fluff, while whisking continuously, very much like an Italian meringue.
  7. Once everything is incorporated and well mixed, transfer the mixture to a piping bag with an open star nozzle.
  8. Pipe 40 rosettes of about 5 cm diameter on the lined baking sheets, then leave for at least 24 h to dry out, it may take longer if the air is humid.
  9. Once a skin has formed on the surface, carefully peel from the paper and stick the bottoms together pair-wise. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar, then brush off the excess and store in an air-tight container. If they are still a bit sticky, cut up the baking paper and put between each or place in paper cupcake moulds.

I quite liked both the texture and the flavour, though I think the traditional size was a bit too big, as they are very sweet. So next time I'll aim for bite-size rosettes. Lundulph wasn't too impressed, he thought they were missing something and suggested they'd be better as decoration of a cake rather than to be eaten on their own.

Here they are on the dining table:
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However, I gave a few to my Russian friend Byala and her response was to say it's the best zefir she's ever had and that she'd eaten almost all of them in one go.

Update on 2019-07-20: During our recent trip to Bulgaria, we found a shop selling Russian food and I bought a packet of pink and white zefirs - I'm pleased to say that I did get them right for texture and sweetness, though of course in the humid UK air, I needed 2 days for the drying and they were still rather sticky. I think Sweden in deepest Winter might be ideal, with its super dry air. My parents weren't too excited either, my Dad didn't like the texture much. I'm wondering if these could be piped on a plain and not too sweet biscuit to offset all the sugar. I must experiment.

16 June 2019

Rhubarb Dream Cake

My Mum is well aware that we have surplus rhubarbs and whenever she comes across a recipe with rhubarbs, she sends it over. The latest crop is called "Rabarberdröm", which translates to rhubarb dream. I made this for a family barbecue at brother-in-law Roger's place for Father's Day. It didn't turn out pretty, but was very yummy.

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Ingredients

Cake sponge
2.5 tsp baking powder
2 dl plain flour
100 g soft, unsalted butter
2 dl granulated sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 dl semi-skimmed milk

Almond meringue
5 large egg whites
2 dl granulated sugar
1 dl blanched almond flakes

Compote
250 g rhubarbs
250 g strawberries
2 dl granulated sugar
4.75 tsp vegegel

Decoration
3 dl whipping cream
large, pretty strawberries
lemon balm leaves
blanched almond flakes

Method

  1. Butter and flour two cake tins of 20 cm diameter. Alternatively butter and line with baking paper.
  2. In a bowl, sift together the baking powder and flour.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk to a light and fluffy consistency.
  4. Add the yolks and incorporate well, then add the remaining ingredients and whisk to a smooth batter.
  5. Distribute the batter between the two cake tins, level and set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 150 °C.
  6. Clean the whisks thoroughly, place the egg whites in a clean glass or metal bowl and whisk to soft peaks.
  7. Add the sugar, a little at a time while whisking to stiff peaks.
  8. Spread the meringue over the cake batter and sprinkle almond flakes on top.
  9. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, the meringue should have a nice golden brown colour.
  10. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool down completely in the tins.
  11. Wash and cut the rhubarbs and strawberries for the compote. Place in a saucepan on high heat and bring to the boil while stirring.
  12. Once some liquid has been released, add the sugar and the vegegel, stir in thoroughly and let simmer according to the instructions for vegegel.
  13. Remove from the heat and leave to cool down completely.
  14. When you're ready to put together, whip the cream to stiff peaks.
  15. Carefully take out one of the sponges from the cake tin and place on a plate.
  16. Spread half of the whipped cream and more than half of the compote over.
  17. Place the second sponge on top, followed by the remaining cream and compote.
  18. Wash the pretty strawberries, cut if very large, and decorate the cake, along with lemon balm leaves and more almond flakes.
  19. Serve immediately.

Instead of mixing regular sugar and vegegel, jam sugar or preserving sugar can be used - it already contains a jelling agent, so should work similarly. The amounts for the compote result in a lot of it, not everything needs to be used and also, the sponges and the compote can be made a day in advance and stored in room temperature.

I only have one spring form for cakes and an adjustable cake ring, so I used that. However, I hadn't thought things through very well, so couldn't quite fit both in the oven at the same time and ended up tilting the spring form slightly. This transferred to the finished sponge and so when I built the cake, it barely stayed upright.

I also suspect the oven temperature might need to go down a little, the meringue ballooned, but luckily it sank down again.

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Still it was very intriguing to bake a sponge with a meringue on top and in one go, I've not come across this before. It makes for an extremely sweet, light and moist cake.

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9 June 2019

Svekolnik

I have a lovely colleague from Russia, Byala, and one day on the train home from work, we compared traditional summer foods in Russia and Bulgaria. It seems Bulgarians aren't the only one partial to cold soups like tarator, Russians are too and Byala told me about two of them, svekolnik or holodnik and okroshka.

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I've been waiting for a hot day to try these out, but after the lovely Easter week, it looks like we won't be getting any of those for a while, so I decided to make the holodnik, since I had a couple of beetroots in the fridge screaming to get eaten.

I didn't spend much time in researching recipes, but I found this one that seemed quite appealing and put together my shopping list for the other ingredients last Saturday.

Ingredients

2 beetroots, washed and trimmed
a little oil
1 cucumber
1 bunch salad onions (7 - 8) with good green bits
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 litre kefir
1 tbsp horseradish sauce
salt & pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 eggs
cold water
100 g sour cream
1 kg salad potatoes

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C, rub a little oil on the beetroots and wrap in aluminium foil and bake for an hour. Check with a skewer if they're done, it should go straight through them.
  2. While the beetroots are baking, peel and dice the cucumber, wash the onions well and cut relatively finely, but keep a handful of the green bits for decoration.
  3. Hard boil the eggs and cool down quickly under the cold tap, then peel and chop three of them. Keep the others for decoration.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the cucumber, oniols, kefir, horseradish sauce, salt, pepper, lemon juice and chopped eggs. Cover and put in the fridge.
  5. When the beets are ready, remove from the foil and let cool down a bit, then peel off the skin, preferably wearing gloves, or your fingers will go bright pink.
  6. After the beetroots are peeled, grate coarsely and stir into to the the mixture and the soup will go bright pink. Put to chill until serving time. If the soup is too thick, add some water.
  7. Just before serving, wash, dice and boil the potatoes.
  8. Serve the soup with an egg halve, a tablespoon of sour cream and sprinkle with green onions. Add a small bowl of warm potatoes next to it.

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During the baking of the beetroots, the most wonderful smell spread through the house, Lundulph said it reminded him of the smell at his Nan's when they went there for Sunday roast dinner. I did waste a lot of energy running the whole oven for two beetroots, I think it should be possible to do a tray of them, covered with aluminium foil and use for other things. My sister Bip said they would be really nice with goat's cheese.

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A couple of notes - the website said to put in 1 tbsp of horseradish sauce, but the embedded video said 1 tsp. I thought I'd err on the safe side, so just put a tsp in, but I think a tbsp would have been OK. I also think capers or fresh tarragon would be rather nice.

We started out by having the warm potatoes on the side, but soon Lundulph tipped the potatoes into the soup and it combined very nicely too. It was surprisingly filling, but if you want even more protein in the soup, you can add some diced ham.

The only thing is that it isn't as quick to make as tarator, but it's a nice alternative.

13 May 2019

Cauliflower Bang Bang

This is a recipe I found ages ago and put on my to do list, but it kept slipping down and down and it got to the point where I forgot about it. Then I bought a lot of cauliflower and wondered what to do with it, so I dug out this recipe and got going. The interesting bit is that I got to try out tapioca flour, I've never used that before.

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Ingredients

The cauliflower
1 large head cauliflower
1.2 dl ground almonds
1.2 dl tapioca flour
2 tbsp coconut flour
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
2.4 dl sparkling water
lettuce and salad onions for serving

The Bang Bang sauce
1 dl + 1 tsp white wine vinegar
0.6 dl water
2 cloves of garlic
0.6 dl clear honey
2 tsp pepper flakes
¼ cayenne pepper
1.8 dl mayonnaise
0.6 dl Sriracha chilli sauce

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 °C. Trim and wash the cauliflower, then divide into florets.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ground almonds, tapioca and coconut flours, paprika, salt and sparkling water to form a batter.
  3. Add the cauliflower pieces into the batter and stir around until all the pieces are well coated.
  4. Spread the cauliflower onto a baking tray in a single layer and bake for 25 minutes, making sure to flip after half the time.
  5. In a small saucepan, mix together all ingredients except the mayonnaise and sriracha, then place on medium heat and bring to a boil
  6. Leave to simmer for 5 - 10 minutes to thicken the sauce, then remove and leave to cool down.
  7. Once the sauce has cooled down, stir in the mayonnaise and sriracha.
  8. Shred the lettuce and the spring onion, but keep separate. Place the lettuce on a large plate. Drizzle the bang bang sauce over the cauliflower, then spread it on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle the spring onion over the cauliflower and serve.

To be honest, reading the recipe made it seem good, but the result didn't correspond to my expectations at all. Maybe the proportions of things were wrong somehow or the amount of cooking wasn't enough, I'm not sure, but the cauliflower wasn't crispy at all and the batter itself was almost lost in the baking, it was barely noticeable. I also got the impression that the sriracha sauce would be quite hot, but it wasn't and both Lundulph and I ended up adding a lot of extra to give this dish a kick. It was edible, but it's not something I'll do again. Just roasting cauliflower with some oil and Vegeta salt is so much nicer and easier to do.

6 May 2019

Asparagus Soup

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When I made the fabulous Osterpinze, there were a lot of recipes for asparagus soup on the various Austrian websites I read. It seems very much like I experienced in Bavaria, there is almost an asparagus obsession in Spring. I read through several recipes, but I didn't like them much and instead settled on this English one as it seemed to have the highest asparagus content of them all and made my way to the local Pick Your Own, to get some fresh asparagus.

Ingredients

350 g trimmed and washed green asparagus
3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
100 g baby spinach
700 ml vegetable stock - stock cube is fine
25 g butter
1 tsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Keep about 5 cm of the asparagus tips and cut up the rest of the stalks into chunks.
  2. Peel and finely slice the shallots, peel the garlic and wash the spinach if required.
  3. Make the stock.
  4. Heat up the butter and oil in a deep frying pan until it bubbles, then fry the asparagus tips for a few minutes to soften and give them colour and set them aside.
  5. In the same pan, add the asparagus stalks and shallots and press in the garlic, then fry for 5 - 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the spinach and stir through to wilt it, then add the stock and bring to the boil.
  7. Remove from the heat and blitz with a stick blender. Season to taste and add more water if it's too thick.
  8. Serve the soup with a couple of asparagus tips on top.

This was a very nice soup, but really not enough for a meal in itself, a starter at best. I think it would also benefit from toasted pine kernels as a topping and possibly a drop or two of Tabasco sauce. The amount of asparagus can easily be increased and possibly a potato or two would provide more bulk. A nice fancy sourdough bread would probably be good too, like the original recipe recommends.

28 April 2019

Rhubarb Compote

The second thing I made with the first rhubarb harvest this year is a rhubarb compote from Delia Smith. The simplicity of the recipe is what drew me to it. Lundulph had asked for a spicy chutney, but I didn't have all the ingredients, so that'll have to wait until I've been grocery shopping.

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Ingredients

700 g rhubarb stalks, trimmed and washed
75 g caster sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C (160 ° fan).
  2. Cut the rhubarbs into 2 cm chunks and arrange on a shallow baking tray.
  3. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over them and bake for 30 minutes until they are soft.
  4. Remove from the oven and let cool down somewhat, then carefully transfer to a glass jar and let cool down completely and store in the fridge.

This turns out very nice, sweet and sour at the same time. Possibly I baked the rhubarbs a bit too long, because they wouldn't keep their shape in the transfer to the jar. I think combined with custard, mascarpone or pannacotta would be really tasty and sprinkled with some crushed up ginger nut biscuits for a bit of crunch.

I made two batches because I had rhubarbs to spare and the 1 litre jar I transferred the compote to was only half-full after the first batch. As it happened, I couldn't quite fit everything into the jar, so had a few of the chunks with some raspberry liqueur jelly for dessert. Yummy!

I think a little maple syrup would also be quite nice to drizzle over the rhubarb before serving.

Rhubarb Cordial

About 3 weeks ago, I managed to sprain my ankle and have been almost entirely housebound since. Very annoying as I had the days before Easter off in order to do some serious gardening. One thing I did do yesterday was to very carefully make my way up the garden to the rhubarb patch to harvest them, as they have gone rather large once more and I think in fact we have a record on the thickness of the stems this year. I pulled out the thickest ones, and left the really thin ones to hopefully grow fatter in the coming weeks.

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But what to do with them? There are still bags of last year's harvest in the freezer. Then I remembered that my good friend Dr Cutie makes rhubarb cordial, which is extremely popular in her family. So a quick search on the internet gave a few relatively easy recipes and I opted for the one that had the highest reader rating. The original is here (in Swedish). Otherwise they all followed the same principle, the difference was in the quantities of each ingredient.

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Ingredients

1 kg rhubarb stalks, trimmed and washed
3 dl water
4 dl granulated sugar per litre of juice

Method

  1. Slice the rhubarbs into ½ cm wide chunks.
  2. Place in a large saucepan and add the water.
  3. Put the lid on, bring to the boil, then turn down and let simmer until the rhubarb pieces disintegrate. Stir occasionally to make sure everything cooks evenly.
  4. Place two layers of cheese cloth over a colander, then place the colander over a large bowl, so that it is well away from the bottom.
  5. Carefully transfer the cooked rhubarb into the cheese cloth and leave to filter through for an hour or so. At the end, twist the cheese cloth around the rhubarb to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to its highest setting (mine goes to 200 °C on fan). Measure up the amount of juice and calculate how much sugar you will need. Prepare clean glass bottles for the juice, then place in the oven to heat up and sterilise for 20 minutes at least.
  7. Place the juice in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then stir in the sugar and bring to the boil again and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, this shouldn't take too long. Switch off the heat and skim off the foam on the surface.
  8. Transfer the cordial to a jug and carefully pour into the hot bottles. Leave to cool, then close and keep in the fridge.
  9. The cordial can be frozen as well.

From the comments under the recipe, dilute 1/6 or 1/7. I had 1.1 kg of rhubarb this time, so I increased the amount of water for boiling to correspond. After draining the stalks, I ended up with 9 dl of juice, so the amount of sugar I used was 3.6 dl, again in proportion to the given amounts. This filled up 2 half-litre bottles.

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I also didn't have the heart to throw away the remaining stalks, but scraped off as much as I could from the cheese cloths and put in a plastic bag in the freezer, this came to 360 g and will be used as cake filling.