Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Intensely chocolate pudding

Some of my plans for this spring:

Spent a morning at the Japanese garden, reading.

Eat as many asparagus as I possibly can.

Have cocktails on the balcony, watching the big trees sway.

Visit Amsterdam’s open markets and parks more often.

Look for a new apartment; seriously this time.


Cook without a recipe or without jotting down the recipe of what I’m cooking.

Take my camera everywhere with me and discover beauty in the ordinary through my lens.

Not stress about the small stuff and keep focusing on my goals.

Cook more with alternative grains, sugars, fats.

Learn how to use the espresso machine, finally.

Sing more.

Find time to share more recipes here.

Like this one. Chocolate pudding.

A luscious, velvety, über chocolatey pudding, with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, because a chocolate pudding should never be served without it.

Intensely Chocolate Pudding

If you’re dreaming of the creamiest, most chocolatey and rich pudding, look no further.
I used chocolate with 55% cocoa solids but you can use 70% if you prefer a more bitter flavor. Just make sure the chocolate, as well as the cocoa you use, is of good quality.

Yield: 6-8 servings

120 g caster sugar
25 g corn flour
25 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
380 ml fresh whole milk
100 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
3 large egg yolks
95 g good quality dark chocolate 55% cocoa solids, finely chopped
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
15 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tiny pieces

Freshly whipped cream (unsweetened), for serving

Special equipment: fine sieve, heatproof spatula, whisk

In a medium-sized bowl, add the sugar and sieve in the corn flour and cocoa powder. Add the salt and mix well using a wire whisk. Add 80 ml of the milk to the mixture and whisk. Then add the egg yolks and whisk well to incorporate.

Add the rest 300 ml of milk and the cream to a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat just until the mixture starts to foam up around the edges, stirring with a heatproof spatula so it doesn’t catch.

Add the heated milk-cream mixture little-by-little in the cocoa-eggs mixture, whisking continuously, empty this mixture back into the saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula. In the beginning it may seem like it won’t thicken up but don’t worry, it will. It will take about 6 minutes to thicken. Just be patient and keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan well, so the mixture doesn’t get stuck. Be careful not to over-heat the mixture or it will get burned. When it starts to thicken, it will start to create small lumps; at this point, switch to a wire whisk and continue whisking until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens (as thick as mayonnaise). Remove the pan immediately from the heat and pour into a bowl on top of which you have placed a fine sieve. Pass the mixture through the sieve, using a spatula to help pass it all through. In this way, you won’t have any lumps in your pudding.

Immediately add to the mixture the vanilla, the chopped chocolate and the butter and slowly fold them in using a spatula. Don’t be too aggressive with the mixing because you don’t want it to split.

At this point, if you want to serve your pudding warm, then do so. If you prefer to serve it cold, empty it into a clean bowl and, if you like a skin to form on top, place it in the refrigerator uncovered, but if you’re like me and dislike the skin, then place a piece of plastic wrap over the pudding, pressing it on the surface of the pudding.

When you want to serve the pudding, give it a light whip with a spoon or spatula to lighten it and serve in small bowls. Top with unsweetened, freshly whipped cream.

You can keep the pudding covered in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roasted carrot soup with Puy lentils

Spring is officially just around the corner; unofficially it’s been here since last week. It’s sunny and hot, the birds are chirping and the bugs are going crazy, Dutch tulips are blooming and are prettier than ever, and the Dutch are reveling in the warmth, wearing their flip-flops and t-shirts. I, on the other hand, am still wearing my boots and long-sleeved blouses.

The pain I told you about from the wisdom tooth extraction is still present, however it is slowly fading and I’m heading towards a full recovery. I still can’t quite chew from the left side of my mouth and the right side is getting a real work out these days, so I have been making soups and smoothies and foods that are easy to chew.

To avoid feeling like an old lady, eating just watered down soups and soft rice, I’m trying to cook appetizing and flavorful dishes that will perk me up and put a smile on my face. Food has that effect on me.
This roasted carrot soup with Puy lentils managed to do just that.

Carrots are usually overlooked in favor of other vegetables and rarely take center stage. They lie in the background, enhancing the flavor of other ingredients, and together with vegetables like onions and celery create the base for bolder flavors to stand on and shine.

In this soup, though, carrots are the protagonists and along with a dash of ground fennel seed and some olive oil, they are first roasted in the oven. Don’t think of roasting the carrots as an unnecessary step, it is absolutely worth it as they lightly caramelize, creating a deliciously sweet flavor base for the soup.

Then they simmer for a while together with some onions, garlic, celery, some spicy, peppery ginger and woody thyme, and at the end, after the soup is puréed, the little green pebbles that are the Puy lentils go in and give the soup texture.

This creamy, beautifully orange-colored soup, speckled with the green lentils was enough to make me forget about my pain and enjoy it to the fullest. Hope you enjoy it too.

Roasted Carrot Soup with Puy Lentils
Adapted from Dutch Delicious

Puy lentils or lentilles du Puy as they are called in French, are lentils from the volcanic region of Le Puy-en-Velay in south-central France and they are the only lentils in the world that are identified by area of cultivation. They are small, green-black lentils with a blue marbling that have a very rich flavor and a superior quality, and they hold their shape when cooked, retaining their firmness.

You can use beluga lentils instead of Puy, or even regular small brown lentils, just make sure that you don’t boil them for too long as they need to have a bite to add texture to the dish.

It goes without saying that the best accompaniment is a good loaf of bread; I made a no-knead loaf.

Yield: 6 servings

1½ kg carrots, peeled and sliced 2cm thick
1½ tsp ground fennel seeds
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, chopped
6cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnishing
1½ liter vegetable stock
200 g Puy lentils, rinsed well
Freshly ground black pepper

Lemon, to serve

Special equipment: large baking tray, baking paper, grater, immersion or regular blender, colander

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper and add the sliced carrots. Sprinkle with the ground fennel seeds, drizzle with 3 Tbsp of the olive oil and season with salt and ground black pepper. Mix everything well with your hands and place the baking tray on the middle rack of the preheated oven.
Roast carrots for 30-35 minutes or until slightly softened and lightly caramelized.
Remove from the oven and keep in the baking tray until ready to add to the soup.

In the meantime, heat the remaining 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onions and sauté them, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Add celery and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.

Then add the grated ginger, the thyme, the vegetable stock, the roasted carrots and the juices accumulated in the baking tray, a little salt and pepper, and bring to the boil.

Put the lid on the pan, turn heat down to low and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced a little and the carrots have softened.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the lentils. In a medium-sized pan, add 1 liter of water and bring to the boil over high heat. Add the lentils and ¼ tsp salt and boil over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until tender yet still al dente. Drain them well in a colander.

Once the soup is ready, remove from the heat and then, if you’re using an immersion blender, blend the carrots in the pan until smooth and creamy. If you have a regular blender, transfer the carrots little by little to it and blend until you have a smooth and creamy soup. Return soup to the pan.

Add the cooked lentils to the soup and stir well. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve hot, garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh thyme leaves.
Have some lemon at hand to squeeze over the soup; it benefits from a hit of acidity to counterbalance its sweetness and earthiness.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cavolo nero bruschetta

As I’m writing this, I’m in pain. I had one of my wisdom teeth removed yesterday and it hurts like hell. I had never been to the dentist for anything other than a teeth cleaning and I have always been bragging about my healthy and good teeth. Not even one filling.

A month ago though, when I visited my dentist for a routine cleaning, she announced that my two lower wisdom teeth needed to be removed. I was terrified.

I have been through major operations and have endured a great deal of physical pain but never in any parts of my head. Not on my face, not in my mouth, not involving teeth!

I tried to be calm about it at first, but as the day of the extraction drew closer, I became agitated. S kept telling me it was nothing, my mom the same, but I knew it was going to be painful, if not during the actual removal of the tooth, but the anesthetic injection and afterwards.

Now, it is afterwards, and I’m in pain. I don’t like it. So to take my mind off the pain, I’m writing instead about these bruschette that I had when I could still chew without my jaw hurting. (It will pass, I know, bear with me, I’m in pain).

When I saw the last bunch of cavolo nero (Italian kale) at the super market the other day, I jumped on it before anyone else could snatch it. I love cavolo nero and its slightly bitter flavor reminds me a lot of the Greek wild greens zohos.

So what I did was simply boil it until its leaves became tender, removed the middle white vein and tossed the chopped leaves with good Greek olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. I sliced a baguette and toasted it in the oven, I rubbed some garlic on one side of each slice, drizzled with some olive oil and arranged the kale on top. I topped the bruschette off with shaved Grana Padano and a final drizzling of olive oil, and it was the best lunch eaten on a sunny day. Simplicity in all its glory, and we needed nothing more.

PS. I’m removing the second wisdom tooth next month. Wish me luck!

Cavolo Nero and Grana Padano Bruschetta

If you can’t find cavolo nero, substitute with another type of kale.

Grana Padano is a delicious Italian cheese, similar to Parmesan but with fewer “crystals” and a milder and less salty flavor.

Yield: 14 small bruschette for 4-5 people

300 g cavolo nero (or other type of kale)
Juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
1 baguette (14 slices)
1 large garlic clove, peeled
Grana Padano, shaved
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: colander, vegetable or cheese peeler

Preheat your oven to 220ºC.

Fill a large pot with water and add some salt. Bring to the boil over high heat.
Rinse cavolo nero well under cold running water and trim the bottom very hard stems.
Add it to the pot and boil for about 6 minutes until the leaves are tender. Drain it in a colander and immediately run it under cold running water to stop it from cooking further.

Using a knife, cut off and discard the central hard white vein of each cavolo nero leaf (don’t remove it all the way up, it’s not that tough towards the tip of the leaf). Place leaves on paper towels to absorb the moisture and then chop them roughly (it’s easy to lay the leaves on the paper as the keep their shape when boiled). Add them to a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and half of the lemon juice, add salt and pepper and mix with your hands. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning, olive oil and lemon.

In the meantime, place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Toast until they are crispy and crunchy and have taken on a golden brown color. Remove them from the oven and let them cool a bit, enough to handle. Take the garlic clove and rub it on one side of each slice of bread and drizzle with a little olive oil. Top with some of the dressed cavolo nero and add a piece of shaved Grana Padano on top. Drizzle a little olive oil over the bruschette and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Feta saganaki

Living in the Netherlands, it often makes it difficult to remember some of the Greek holidays. For example it was only yesterday that I suddenly realized that this Monday will be Kathari Deutera (Clean Monday). Here, it is a working day so unfortunately I won’t be able to make lagana (traditional Greek flatbread consumed on Kathari Deutera) and prepare various seafood dishes. I will most probably have only time to make some fried calamari and mussels, hopefully.

At the beginning of this week though, I remembered that it was the week of Τυρινή / Tyrini (Cheese week), the third and last week of the Greek Carnival, when cheese, dairy products and pasta is traditionally consumed. Tyropita (cheese pie), galatopita (milk pie), galaktoboureko (semolina-based custard in phyllo), and all type of pasta dishes with a good grating of cheese like myzithra are the dishes of choice for us Greeks during Tyrini.

In keeping with tradition, I have been using cheese in different dishes throughout the week, something that admittedly I don’t need to try too hard to do since I am a cheese fiend, and if you have been reading my blog for a while you are surely familiar with my undying love for the tastiest Greek cheese of all, feta. So yesterday I made feta saganaki. (You can read here about what is the Greek saganaki).
I don’t normally use feta for saganaki, I prefer kefalotyri or graviera, but trying it after a long time, I realized how incredibly delicious and unique it is.

The saltiness of the feta with the creamy and crumbly texture, and the crispy, golden-brown crust that is formed around it, is strongly reminiscent of tyropita (cheese pie). The fastest-made tyropita that is, since it is made in less than ten minutes. Served with a good squeeze of lemon, or if you prefer a slightly different flavor profile with a drizzle of good Greek thyme honey, it is a first class mezes to have with a glass of ouzo.

Those of you Greeks out there who have forgotten the week of Tyrini, you still have time to make this saganaki. As for those of you who will fast during Lent, this is your last chance to have a proper cheese dish. Go for it.

P.S. I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart all of you who voted for me on theKitchn awards. I may not have won (I was third, which is awesome since I expected to be the last) but that is really unimportant because I am delighted and truly grateful for all your supportive comments and kind words.
Being happy for someone you don’t even know on a personal level requires generosity of soul, something that unfortunately these days is extremely rare, and you all have made me feel very special. You are the best!

Feta Saganaki (Fried Feta Cheese)

Use hard or semi-hard Greek feta in order for it to hold its shape during frying. Also, the double coating of the cheese with flour creates a thicker and crunchier crust.

Yield: enough for 2 people

1 piece of feta (170-200 g), not too thick (1½-2 cm)
1 cup all-purpose flour
Freshly ground white pepper
Virgin olive oil, for frying

Lemon, to squeeze on top

Special equipment: saganaki (small, round frying pan with two handles) or small frying pan

In a wide and deep plate, add enough water to fill it. In another wide plate, add a cup of flour and a little freshly ground white pepper and mix. Don’t be tempted to add salt to the flour, because feta is a salty cheese.

Take the piece of feta (it should be moist but if it’s not, dip it to the plate filled with water for a couple of seconds, to moisten it) and then place in on the flour. Dredge the feta in the flour on all sides, making sure you coat it well. Gently tap the excess flour off.
Immediately place it in the plate filled with water and moisten it again, and then dredge it again in the flour on all sides. Gently tap the excess flour off.

Pour enough olive oil in your saganaki or small frying pan to completely cover the bottom and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer and it has gotten really hot, add the feta.
Fry the cheese on one side for about 4 minutes or until it has taken on a golden-brown color, then turn it over carefully on the other side and fry it for another 4 minutes, or until it has taken on a golden-brown color.

Turn the heat off and take the cheese out of the pan using a spatula very carefully so it doesn’t break up. Place the cheese saganaki on a plate covered with paper towels in order to absorb the excess oil and then onto a serving plate.

Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

If you want to serve the fried cheese in the saganaki pan, then pour out the oil and serve.

Oh, and before I forget. Here are some dishes for Kathari Deutera:
Lagana (Greek Lenten Yeasted Flatbread)
Greek Fava (Yellow Split-Pea Purée)
Greek Braised Octopus with Short Pasta or "Htapodi me Makaronaki Kofto" and How to Clean Octopus
Htapodi Ksidato (Greek Octopus with Vinegar, Olive oil and Dried Oregano)
Sautéed Shrimps with Tahini and Garlic Sauce
Greek Mussel Pilaf or "Midopilafo" and How to Clean Mussels
Greek Beetroot Purée with Potatoes and Walnuts
Melitzanosalata - Greek Smoky Eggplant Dip

And more Lenten recipes

Enjoy and have a good Kathari Deftera!