Monday, February 24, 2014

Duck legs with green olives (and exciting news)

This winter has been extremely mild here in The Hague and in the Netherlands in general. We haven’t seen a single flake of snow, the rain hasn’t been falling as heavily as in previous years, and it hasn’t been very cold at all, at least for Dutch standards.

I have two duvets, one light and one heavy, and this is the first time in more than six years that I have been living here, that I have not switched to the heavy one for the winter. It is unbelievable and I’m saying this in a good way.

I love this weather. We’ve had a lot of sunny days and not those gloomy never-ending ones, and there have been some days that I have actually felt like I was back in Greece.

Spring has not yet arrived though, it is still winter, and throughout the season, I have been making all types of stews and slow-cooked, meat and poultry dishes. This one I made the other day when I was looking to cook something different than the traditional Greek meat stews and braises I usually make.

S and I love duck and even though we mostly opt for the quick-cooking duck breast, this time we chose duck legs. I thought about making duck confit at first, but then the idea of oven-braising the legs popped into my mind.

This is a duck-leg braise with Mediterranean flavors, one cooked very much the French/Italian way, with Greek green olives, bacon, celery, onion and carrot, ground aniseed and tomatoes. The duck legs are first baked in the oven over high heat in order for the fat to render and crisp up and then they are braised in the oven over a low heat along with all the vegetables, olives and bacon.

This dish is exceptional; highly flavorful and aromatic, deeply satisfying and quite unique. Briny olives with succulent, honeyed sweet duck meat, all dark and juicy, with crispy rendered skin; salty bacon adding extra flavor and aniseeds giving a spicy aromatic quality; tender vegetables; earthy sauce perfect for dipping, not too fatty but not for the faint-hearted either; acidity and freshness from the grated orange zest and chopped parsley, balancing the sweetness, brininess and earthiness of the dish. Paired with a creamy homemade potato purée it is perfection on a plate.

Now on other super exciting news, I am a finalist on theKitchn’s The Homies Awards, for the category “Best Blog from Abroad”. Yay! You can’t imagine how thrilled I was when I found out about it yesterday. I’m so honored to be among food bloggers whose work I admire immensely.
Of course I am the underdog and I know I’m not going to win, but it's always nice to be hopeful and it would make me so happy if you voted for me. Please click on this link to do so (until February 27th, 6:00 a.m. Central European Time). You have to be registered with theKicthn to vote, so if you are not yet registered click here first (you can sign in with facebook or twitter too).
I appreciate your support!!

Oven-Braised Duck Legs with Green Olives
Adapted from Bill Granger

I used large duck legs (from male ducks) but you can also use smaller ones (from female ducks). Get a couple more though if you want to feed six people.

I opted to serve the duck legs with potato purée but you can also serve them with fried potatoes.

Yield: 4-6 main-course servings

4 large duck legs with thighs attached (350 g each)
1 Tbsp olive oil
100 g bacon slices, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
¼ tsp heaped aniseed powder
1 dried bay leaf
150 ml dry white wine
400 g canned chopped tomatoes
250 ml chicken stock
100 g pitted green olives (about 30)
Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, for serving
2 tsp orange zest, finely grated, for serving

Special equipment: Dutch oven or other large pan with lid that can go from stovetop to the oven, rasp grater

Take the duck legs out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before you cook them so they come to room temperature. Rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels.

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Place duck legs on a large baking tray and season well with salt and pepper on all sides. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 30 minutes, until the legs are golden brown and a lot of the fat has rendered.
Remove the baking tray from the oven and lower temperature to 160 degrees Celsius.

In a Dutch oven (or other large pan with lid that can go from stovetop to the oven), add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Once it starts to shimmer, add the chopped bacon and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes or until it has crisped up.

Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
Pour the wine into the pan and simmer for 3 minutes until it has reduced by half, then add the ground aniseed and bay leaf and stir well.
Add the canned chopped tomatoes, the chicken stock and the olives and stir well.

Add the browned duck legs to the pan over the vegetables, in one layer, fatty side up (just like in the photos). They need not be immersed in the liquid in order for the skin to stay crispy, besides there’s not enough liquid for this to happen anyway.

Note: Empty the baking tray from the rendered fat and pour it into a bowl. Once it cools, you can keep it in the fridge, covered tightly and use it to cook potatoes or eggs.

Bring to the boil over medium-high heat and immediately put the lid on the pan. Transfer pan to the oven and cook for 1½-1¾ hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove from the oven and serve topped with grated orange zest and chopped parsley. Serve with potato purée or fried potatoes.

The next day, the duck legs will be as delicious, if not more.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chioggia beet salad

Lately, I’m on a quest to eat more of the foods I don’t usually eat a lot. Even though I like the flavor of beets I only rarely put them on my grocery list.

The same goes with other vegetables and fruits but I am now doing a conscious effort to pay more attention to those neglected treasures. Especially when they are at their prime and are being sold at the market way cheaper than other, fancier vegetables.

The other day, purely by chance, I came across this type of beet, the Chioggia beet. I have never eaten it before and was dazzled by the red-fuscia and white rings when I saw it cut open and displayed at the market.

I had to have them. And so I did. As soon as I got home, I did a little research online and realized that if I cooked them, they would lose those cute rings and become pinkish-red instead. I couldn’t have that. I wanted to see those rings decorate my plate. We eat first with our eyes after all and I wanted this to be a feast for the eyes as well as for the appetite.

I decided to make a salad. A full-on delicious salad for Sunday lunch with goat’s cheese, pistachios, rocket leaves, dill and white balsamic vinaigrette. A perfectly balanced salad both flavor- and texture-wise.

Creamy, soft and slightly tangy cheese, raw, crunchy, earthy beets, toasty, nutty pistachios, fresh, bitter rocket, herbaceous dill and a zing from the vinaigrette tingling the palate, with the extra virgin olive oil smoothing all the flavors and making those bicolored beets look even more tempting.

Chioggia Beet Salad with Goat’s Cheese and Pistachios

The Chioggia beet hails from Northern Italy. It has a similar flavor to the regular red beet but it’s a tad sweeter and milder. If you can’t find them, use red beets.
The good thing about Chioggia beets is that they don't stain like the red ones, so you can handle them with less caution.

I chose white balsamic (like in this salad) because I didn’t want to stain the beautiful beets. You can use a champagne or a white wine vinegar instead.

It pairs perfectly with a grilled or poached piece of fish, or you can have it on its own for a light lunch or supper.

Yield: 4 salad servings or 2 lunch servings


for the vinaigrette
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp caster sugar
Freshly ground white pepper

for the salad
50 g rocket leaves
2 large chioggia beets
60 g fresh soft goat’s cheese
2-3 Tbsp shelled, unsalted pistachios
A handful of fresh dill leaves, chopped

Special equipment: mandoline (optional)


make the vinaigrette
In a small bowl, add the olive oil, the vinegar and the sugar. Mix well with a fork or a small whisk. Add some salt and pepper and give the vinaigrette a taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

make the salad
Add pistachios to a dry, small pan and place over medium heat. Toast nuts, stirring regularly so they don’t burn, until they become fragrant. Empty them immediately onto a plate and once cooled, chop them with a knife.

Rinse the rocket leaves under cold running water, drain and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Toss them with 1 Tbsp of the vinaigrette.

Peel the beets and thinly slice them using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Toss them with 2 Tbsp of the vinaigrette.

Arrange the dressed rocket leaves on a plate and arrange the dressed beets on top. Crumble the goat’s cheese on top and scatter the pistachios and dill over the salad. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the salad.
Serve immediately.

Other recipes with beets:
Greek Beetroot Purée with Potatoes and Walnuts
Purple and Golden Beet Chips with Spicy Sour Cream Dip

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate ganache tart with raspberries

I’m not sure how many of you really care about my feelings toward Valentine’s Day so I’m going to spare you the details and just come out and say that I really don’t care about it.

I have nothing against it but I find it’s more important to be aware of your feelings towards the ones you love and share these feelings with them as often as possible, preferably every single day, rather than wait for that one day in the middle of February to do it.

Granted, February is a bleak month and it could benefit from a little love-showing but you will never see me making heart-shaped cookies or cakes for my beloved partner on Valentine’s because I reserve that kind of thing for our anniversary. Ha!

The only thing I can say that I love about Valentine’s is that I have an excuse to eat more chocolate, not that I need one. It’s nice to have a legitimate reason though, right?

I haven’t decided yet on what I’m going to make tomorrow, and let’s not pretend it will be this tart, because we have eaten this already over the last few days. I am a last-minute kind of person on these things and will probably decide tomorrow morning, but you, well you should definitely make this.

This is my idea of a perfect dessert. A chocolate tart with a pâte sucrée base and a chocolate ganache filling.

The tart is not too sweet, with the raspberries adding a pleasant acidity and freshness. The base is biscuit-like and buttery with a subtle vanilla flavor whereas the ganache is silky smooth and supremely chocolatey. It is delightful in every possible way, it looks pretty and it tastes fantastic.

Have fun!

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Raspberries

Pâte sucrée (sweet pastry crust) is a sweet and rich pastry with a crisp, biscuit-like texture. It is made with flour, butter, icing sugar and eggs, and it’s used as the base for sweet tarts whose filling don’t need baking.
I have made another version of pâte sucrée previously for this fresh berry tart that contains three egg yolks rather than two whole eggs and is made and baked in a slightly different way, yet I can’t discriminate between the two. They are both very good. Stick to this one if you’d rather use fewer eggs.

Decorate with some fresh raspberries, or alternatively and if you can't find fresh raspberries, with a sprinkling of icing sugar. Both will look and taste great on top.

Yield: 6-8 pieces


for the pâte sucrée (pastry)
250 g all-purpose flour, sieved
100 g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
100 g icing sugar, sieved
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or the scraped seeds from 1 fresh vanilla bean
2 medium-sized eggs, at room temperature

for the chocolate ganache filling
250 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
200 g good quality dark chocolate (55-60% cocoa solids), cut into small pieces
30 g glucose syrup (or golden syrup or light corn syrup)
60 g unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
Pinch of salt

Fresh raspberries, to decorate the tart

Special equipment: fine sieve, large food processor, rolling pin, plastic wrap, fluted or straight tart pan (22 cm in diameter) with removable bottom, baking paper, baking weights or dried beans


for the pâte sucrée
• with a food processor
In a large food processor, add the flour, butter, icing sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste or seeds and process, tilting and gently shaking the bowl until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs or almond meal. Then add the eggs and process until just combined and you have a very soft and pliable dough. It will be a little sticky.

• by hand
In a large bowl, add the flour, icing sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste or seeds and stir with a spatula. Add the cubed cold butter and, using two knives, a pastry cutter/blender or your fingertips, cut it into the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs or almond meal. Then make a well in the middle, add the eggs and mix with your hands, working quickly, until just combined and you have a very soft and pliable dough. It will be a little sticky.

Empty the pastry dough onto a lightly floured work surface, lightly flour your hands and knead very lightly the dough for 5-10 seconds, just until it comes together into a ball. Place the dough ball in a large piece of plastic wrap, form a disk, cover it and place it in the refrigerator to chill and firm up, for 2 hours.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of your tart pan.

Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap and place dough between two large sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry to a thickness of 0.2-0.3 cm.
Remove the top sheet of baking paper, slide your hand underneath the bottom baking paper and carefully and gently invert the dough onto the tart pan, allowing it to fall little-by-little onto the pan base. Remove the baking paper from the top and carefully and gently again line the pan with the pastry, pushing it into the curved sides of the pan if you’re using a fluted tart pan. If it tears, don’t fret; just use the overhanging dough to cover those tears. Using the back of a knife, cut the excess dough that's hanging around the edges of the pan.
Place the tart pan in the refrigerator and chill the dough for 20-30 minutes.

Note: In case you have left-over dough, you can keep it in the freezer, wrapped in cling film or in a ziploc bag, for up to a month. Thaw it and use it to make smaller tarts or biscuits.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Take the tart pan out of the refrigerator and prick the base of the dough with a fork all around. Line the bottom and sides of the dough with a large enough piece of baking paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Place the pan on a baking sheet and on the middle rack of the oven and bake the pastry for 20 minutes.
Take the pan out of the oven and remove the baking paper along with the pie weights. Turn heat down to 180 degrees Celsius, return pastry to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until the dough has taken on a slightly golden color. Be careful not to over-bake otherwise the pastry will be too hard.

Remove tart pan from the oven, place onto a wire rack to cool completely and then remove the pastry from the pan.

for the chocolate ganache filling
Once the tart base has cooled, start making the ganache.
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream and bring to the boil over medium heat. Remove pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate and glucose syrup. Leave for 1 minute and then whisk until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Immediately add butter, one small piece at a time, whisking continuously yet softly until all the butter has been incorporated into the mixture and you have a smooth and creamy ganache.

Note: Don’t whisk vigorously because air will be incorporated in the ganache resulting in little bubbles that will be visible on top. I didn’t follow my own advice and whisked a little harder than I should, that’s why tiny bubbles are visible on top of the tart.

Assemble the tart
Place tart shell on a plate.
While the ganache is still warm, pour it into the tart shell, all the way to the top but being careful not to spill it. If you have any leftover ganache, pour it into a glass bowl and place it in the fridge to eat as some sort of chocolate pudding.
Place the tart carefully in the fridge and allow the ganache to set completely before serving. It will take 3-4 hours for the ganache to set.

Once ready, decorate the tart with some raspberries and have some extra to serve alongside the tart, or alternatively you can sprinkle the top with icing sugar.

You can keep the tart in the refrigerator, uncovered (or lightly covered with a piece of plastic wrap) for 2 days.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No-knead bread

Making bread is perhaps the most fulfilling act of “cooking” I do in my kitchen. I have described it many times before and this one won’t be any different. It gives me an utter sense of accomplishment when a good loaf of bread comes out of the oven, when that intoxicating smell of warm bread fills my nostrils and the sound of its crust cracking fills my ears.

The kneading, that sometimes soft and at other times hard rocking movement, almost meditative, makes me get lost in my thoughts only to be awakened by a soft dough underneath my fingers.

The shaping, the tucking of the dough, gently laying it on a warm towel and then waiting for it to proof, to become airy and light and plump. And then the final shaping, the punching of the dough, the degassing, where you can almost hear it puffing and huffing the air out.

The baking, the aroma, the anticipation, the warmth, the memories. When it comes out, it looks all puffed and scorched in the most gentle of ways, or like it has been through hell, all misshaped and yet beautiful.
That’s what bread is all about.
Yeast, flour, water.

On some occasions, it’s even simpler than that. It’s just mixing it quickly yet attentively, and then letting it do its thing, what it is meant to do all along; rise and become alive. That’s the no-knead bread. It’s when you make bread by skipping some of the steps, for some cumbersome, for others essential. Me, I’m in the middle somewhere. I love everything there is to love about bread. At times I want it all, I can afford to go through every single step and nurture it to the great loaf we will enjoy with our dinner or in the morning, with butter and jam. And at other times, I need the whole process to be quick, I don’t have the time to spent nurturing it, I need it to be independent and yet I need it to be delicious and all that it can be. At those instances, I choose the no-knead bread.

This is a recipe that I have been playing around with for years, almost ever since it came out. It is a glorious recipe and one that allows you to mess around with it and find the version that you like most.

I have made this with whole wheat flour, spelt and rye flour, with fresh yeast, with instant yeast, with my own sourdough culture. It always comes out good; with variations in flavor depending on the flour and yeast used, and in texture depending on the humidity levels (Holland is notorious for its humidity thus affecting bread-making a great deal).

I have never been disappointed with this bread and even though you may find this recipe in a billion other places around the internet, here is my very own version with just a few tweaks that slightly alter the flavor of the bread to better suit our tastes. For those of you who haven’t yet discovered it or for those of you who need to be reminded of the beauty that is the no-knead bread, here it is.

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey

The only thing that makes this recipe potentially difficult is the fact that you need a Dutch oven (or a clay or ceramic pan with lid) to bake the bread in. I have explained before in detail why and how this process works (in this post).
Also, I’m not sure if this bread could be baked on a pizza stone (with the help of ice cubes to create steam as explained in the same post), but I plan to try it in the future. I’ll keep you posted.

The more hours you leave the dough to proof the better. Lahey suggests 12 hours but I have the best results when I leave it for 18.

The flavor of this bread is reminiscent of sourdough. The addition of a small amount of sugar takes away that intense sourness which is something I prefer, but you can always omit the sugar if you want. The texture of the crumb is light and airy, with many large and smaller holes (one of the most enticing characteristics of this bread), whereas the crust is super crunchy and stays that way for a couple of days.

I have used many types of white wheat flour to make this bread and I have had the best results, better crust and flavor, with 00 flour with a high gluten content, about 12% (Italian 00 flour for pizza) (you can read detailed info about this type of flour in this post). A good alternative is strong white bread flour.

Yield: 1 loaf (about 700 g)

430 g strong white bread flour (or “00” flour for pizza)
¼ tsp instant dried yeast
1¼ tsp sea salt
½ tsp caster sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil
345 g water (from the tap)

Extra flour for flouring the work surface ant the dough

Special equipment: large bowl, long wooden spoon, plastic wrap, baking paper, cast-iron or ceramic pot with lid

In a large bowl, add the flour, yeast, salt and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the water and olive oil and mix intensely with the wooden spoon for about 1 minute, until it comes together into a wet dough. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature to rest and proof for preferably 18 hours, but you can leave it anywhere from 12-20 hours.
I usually leave it in my living room where the temperature is 20-22 degrees Celsius / 68-71 Fahrenheit.

After 18 hours have passed, the dough should have more than tripled in volume and appear with a lot of tiny holes on top. Lay a large piece of baking paper on a clean work surface, dust generously with flour and empty the dough on top. Lightly flour the top of the dough, flour your hands and fold the dough four times (once from each side). Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Note: Having made this bread numerous times, I have to say that almost every time, the dough is different. Sometimes it's very wet, others not so much and at other times firmer than usual. This is due to environmental changes (like humidity) rather than the recipe itself which always remains constant. So do not worry if your dough turns out more wet than mine. It happens. This time that I took photos, it actually turned out quite firm.

Take a baking sheet and lay a large clean kitchen towel on top (no fluffy kind of towel). Dust the towel well with flour, or you can also use cornmeal.
Flour your hands and fold the dough again four times (once from each side), stretching it if needed, turn it upside down (folds should be underneath) and try to shape it into a rough ball. It will be sticky so don’t worry if you can’t really shape it well. Place it (seam-side down) on the floured kitchen towel. Flour the top of the dough lightly and fold the towel on top. Leave the dough to proof and almost double in size for 2 hours.

Thirty minutes before the 2 hours have passed, place your cast-iron or ceramic pan with lid in the oven and preheat to 225 Celsius / 435 Fahrenheit.
When the oven has preheated, remove the pan from the oven and quickly add the dough, seam-side up, into the pan and close the lid. Place pan immediately in the oven and bake the bread for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for a further 17-18 minutes, until the bread has a nice golden-brown crust.

Remove the pan from the oven, allow the bread to stand for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer it on a wire rack to cool. I can never restrain myself and I always break a piece off as it is still warm.

You can keep the bread covered with a clean kitchen towel for a couple of days.

Use it for a nice lunch with poached eggs on top, eat it with your dinner or for breakfast with your favorite jam.

Enjoy and do let me know if you try it!