Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Vanilla glazed rhubarb oatmeal scones

I usually begin my weekend morning by browsing all the blogs I follow. The other week, I stumbled upon a yummy looking Rhubarb Roly Poly recipe from The English Kitchen. Although I had promised myself I wouldn't bake anything that weekend, the recipe got me thinking of the first stalks of rhubarb out there in the garden. However, I felt I didn't want to wait for dessert but wanted something immediately, so I googled rhubarb scones and came across this delicious sounding recipe for Vanilla glazed rhubarb oatmeal scones on the Kitchen Daily blog. I took a liking to the recipe as you can almost convince yourself they are a healthy sort of treat with the oatmeal and whole wheat flour. Well, at least I can, as I'm very good at self deception. So there I was, on a Sunday morning with fresh warm scones by 8.30 in the morning. Good thing our garden faces out to fields. Our neighbours would have thought I was stark raving mad if they had seen me out there in the garden in my pink monkey robe and knife in hand, bending down over the rhubarb plant at 7.30 in the morning. But when a craving hits, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. 

I have used the recipe almost unaltered, although I did halve it as 16 fresh scones in my kitchen on a Sunday morning didn't seem like the safest of prospects.

Vanilla glazed rhubarb oatmeal scones (makes 8, recipe from the Kitchen Daily blog):
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup oats (not the quick cooking type)
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
170 g butter, cubed
1/4 cup buttermilk (I made my own by adding a splash of vinegar into regular milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup chopped rhubarb
1 egg for egg wash and caster sugar for sprinkling on top

1/2 cup icing sugar
2 1/2 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla paste

The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Mix the flour, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bow. Add the cubed cold butter and using your fingers, crumble everything together until the texture of coarse sand. In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, vanilla and egg, and add to the flour and butter mixture. Mix just enough to bring the dough together. Add the rhubarb. Pat the dough to form a rectangle about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Cut into eight pieces (first into four pieces once length- and once widthwise and then across the diagonals so you get eight triangles). Place triangles on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and brush with egg. Sprinkle caster sugar on top. Bake for 20-22 minutes until baked and golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.

While the scones are cooling, mix together the ingredients for the glaze and drizzle onto the scones. You can adjust the proportion of icing sugar to milk depending on how thick you like your glaze. Serve while still warm with a cup of tea or coffee. 

The verdict:
These scones were a perfect treat for a Sunday morning as well as a perfect way to enjoy the first crop of rhubarb this spring. The rhubarb stalks were still thin and tender and really tangy. The scones were wonderfully crumbly inside with a crisp crust formed by the sugar and egg wash. The combination of the sweet vanilla glaze and sour rhubarb was perfect. Also, the oats and whole wheat flour give them a rougher texture than regular scones, along with loads more flavour. Not a completely innocent treat with all that butter, but a great way to treat yourself on a lazy weekend morning.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

White cabbage pie

I meant to publish this yesterday to keep with my blogging schedule, but I had my favourite Sister visiting for the weekend, so I was busy. We had a lovely time celebrating the fact that she finished her final exams for med school last week. We had dinner at the Oak Bistro, which in my opinion is one of the better restaurants in Cambridge, and I also cooked some stuff at home, including a lovely rhubarb and strawberry crumble. We went for a long run, or more correctly Sis did the running and I went along for a bikeride, the only way for me to keep up with her! So when I fell into bed last night blogging was the furthest thing from my mind and I just fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Today's recipe is another dish I made for our vegetarian week last week. The recipe is based on a recipe from the Finnish baking blog Kinuskikissa, although I have made some modifications to it. It is called Georgian cabbage pie, and I have had similar dishes before back home in Finland which consist of cabbage in a tomato puree sauce with gherkins and they have been called Georgian too. And this is Georgia as in the country, not the US state. I have no idea whether this is just a dish that exists in Finland and has for some reason been christened "Georgian" or whether it actually has some Georgian origin. Be it this way or that, it's really delicious, and cabbage is super cheap as well so this is a great dish to make. 

White cabbage pie (serves 6-8):
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 head of white cabbage
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
300 ml sour cream
2 eggs
2 tsp mustard
1 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tbsp tomato puree
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup chopped gherkins
black pepper (and salt if desired)
100 g mature cheddar
1 shortcrust pastry (I used store bought as I was feeling lazy)

The howto:
Finely chop the onion, garlic and cabbage. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the onion for a few minutes. Add the garlic and cabbage, and let cook for a few minutes while stirring. Add about a cup of water and put a lid on the saucepan. Let cook, and stir a bit every few minutes, until cabbage starts to soften, about 10 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Line a deep pie tin with the pastry. Mix all the remaining ingredients apart from the cheddar. When the cabbage is done, let cool for a while (about 10-15 minutes), drain and mix with the rest of the filling. Pour onto the pastry. Top with grated cheese. Bake for 40 minutes until the filling has set and the top is golden. 

The verdict:
I know a combination of white cabbage and gherkins sounds really weird, but it actually tastes great. It also works really well as a stew, but here I have encased it all in crumbly shortcrust pastry and topped it with sinful amounts of cheese to make it seem less healthy to the other half of the household who didn't think vegetarian week was the best idea ever. The pie freezes really well, and was great for lunch at work.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Veggie lasagna

This week I decided to be a vegetarian. Not for any other reason that just because. I came across this post about being vegetarian for a month on A Cup of Jo, one of the blogs I'm following. I think the Culinary Consultant would rebel if I tried to introduce a month of vegetarianism in this house, but I decided he can put up with it for a week. 

I don't have an ethical problem with eating meat. I believe we need quite a bit of protein in our diet to cut out carbs, and meat is great for that. That should of course include a variety of white meat, fish and some read meat as well. Of course buying meat from animals who have lived a happy life and whose lives have been ended in the most humane way possible is always preferable over meat from intensely farmed animals. But it's also a balancing act with the financial constraints. Not a question I want to go into too much detail as I know I don't always practice what I preach or at least what I would prefer.

So this week, just to challenge myself to make new recipes, I went veggie. I tend to make the same old things over and over, and it was time to get new flavours into my food. And eating more veggies can never be bad for you. So I started with this delicious vegetarian lasagne which was an amalgamation of some recipes I've seen online and my own imagination. It does involve a bit of work with preparing sauced and veggies, but it's definitely worth the effort! Also, I would love to know how all the "real" food bloggers always manage to cut up their lasagne into these perfectly symmetrical square pieces which looks so great on the plate. Mine just ends up in a big sloppy pile no matter what I try to do. Oh well, it tastes great nonetheless.

Veggie lasagna (serves 6-8):
Tomato sauce:
about 20 tomatoes (or 2 jars of tinned tomatoes)
2 cloves of garlic
one sprig of rosemary
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 dried chilli (or more, depending on preference)
1 bay leaf
a pinch of sugar
salt and black pepper

Bechamel sauce from 1 litre of milk, see here for instructions

For the filling:
4 sweet peppers
4 onions (1 used 1 red and 3 yellow onions)
2 cups curly kale
garlic shoots (you know the greens that grow when you plant garlic cloves in the ground. If you don't have garlics growing in your garden, substitute with chives)
lasagna sheets
150 g mature cheddar

The howto:
Start by preparing the tomato sauce and Bechamel. The instructions can be found here. For the tomato sauce, if using fresh tomatoes, blanch and peel. If using frozen tomatoes (like I did), let them semi-thaw, at which stage it's easy to take out the hard green bit and peel off the skin. Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan and cook until desired consistency (i.e. not too runny), with my frozen tomatoes this took about 40 minutes of cooking without a lid.

While the sauces are cooking, chop the sweet peppers into large chunks, lightly coat in olive oil and roast in a 225 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes. Slice the onions and cook in a bit of olive oil in a frying pan until starting to soften. Grate the cheese.

Start by spreading a bit of Bechamel in the bottom of a oven proof dish, and top with lasagne sheets. Add a layer of Bechamel, half of the tomato sauce, half of the onions, peppers and kale. Add some chopped garlic shoots and some cheese. Add another layer of lasagne sheets and build an identical layer to the first one. Top with a final layer of pasta and pour the rest of the Bechamel on top and sprinkle grated cheese on top. Cook in a 200 degree oven for an hour until golden and bubbly.
The verdict:
I am so happy this lasagne turned out to be full of flavours and really delicious. The Culinary Consultant thought it wasn't too bad given the circumstance (i.e. the lack of dead animal). I have no qualms about making this again, to me it was at least as good as a regular lasagne, possibly even better. If you are going to make home made lasagne, it's without a doubt worth making your own Bechamel and tomato sauce, it just brings that extra flavour to it and is worth every extra minute you spend on cooking. Seriously, you have to try this. I suspected it would be a decent meal, but it was just amazing, the favours were so good. I rarely get completely overwhelmed by my own creations, but this was seriously good. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Garden update

I can't believe it's been a week since my last garden update. Lots of stuff going on in the garden. I never get tired of looking at my little seedlings, and will therefore expose you to more seedling pictures. 

It hasn't been very sunny for the last week, but the good thing is that night temperatures have been higher than the weeks before, and not quite dipping down close to zero anymore. It's usually been around 6 degrees when I have left the house in the morning, and you don't experience that horrible cold front hitting you when opening the door in the morning. 

The weekend has been cloudy but not too cold, this morning when I went out at 7.30 am to harvest some rhubarb for my rhubarb scones it didn't feel too cold. And I can see everything in the garden picking up on the fact that spring is here and it's time to grow. Forecasts for next week are unfortunately a bit colder than this week, but here's to hoping it won't be too cold as many of the seedlings would probably not be too happy about a sudden chill. Next year I really need to pace myself and not plant in March, but wait until April which will probably give me better odds to keep things alive.

Garlics have grown so quickly you
won't believe it!
Seedlings from the tomato seeds we saved
from last year's crop. Too bad I didn't keep the
different cultivars separate, it will be a
total surprise what we will get.
Only one courgette seedling out of about ten
(which is pretty close to what I was expecting)
has survived so far, but it's looking good!
A courgette being born!
Sweetcorn is growing strong. It's a funny
multi-coloured variety, I hope it will survive to
produce an actual crop, if for no other reason
that to see what the cobs look like!
The first cherry blossoms!!! 
I will never get tired of the miracle of asparagus.
Looks like we are having some asparagus with our
burgers tonight! 
The rest of the pictures are of pretty
flowers in the garden. Yes, that's as
much as I have to say about them,
as I have no clue as to what they
are, but that doesn't stop me from
enjoying them! If they are weeds,
please don't tell me, and let me keep
believing they are supposed to be there.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

On the difference between Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian anchovies

Yes, of course it was a stylistic choice to photograph the dish
 after part of it was removed. It's not like I was eating a serving
 of it and suddenly realised I had forgotten to take a photo...
Not at all, I assure you.
The other day I got a big parcel from the homeland. My Mum sent me some beautiful Finnish design glasses and some Finnish delicacies, like cloudberry jam and Dominos (Finnish Oreos, and they are much better than Oreos by the way). Along with all of the other goodies, she also sent over a few Pirkka magazines. It's the monthly magazine for one of the big grocery store chains, and it always has great recipes for easy, everyday meals. Think along the lines of the free magazines you can pick up in Tesco. So I was browsing through the magazine (ok, to be honest I pretty much read every single word of it, including the advertisements) and was reminded of this great and simple dish I haven't made in ages. 

The name Janssonin kiusaus (Finnish) means Jansson's temptation. Apparently Jansson might have been a Swedish opera singer who lived in the late 19th century, or alternatively the name might have come from a movie called Janssons frestelse (which is the Swedish name for the dish) from 1928. I also learned, when I looked up this dish on Wikipedia, that it is originally made from sprats (I had no idea what sprats were, I had to Wikipedia that too, and it's a small fish). Apparently, the Swedish word for sprats pickled in sugar and spices is anjovis, which has lead to confusion when the recipe has been translated. The thing called anchovies in English is called sardell in Swedish. I'm amazed at all these things you learn when you have to research things you thought you knew.

Anyhow, this whole thing of sprats versus anchovies explained why the things I bought over here called anchovies tasted different from what I thought were anchovies back home. Apparently I have been eating sprats all the time and thinking they are anchovies. And Mum, since you are going to ask anyway, sprats are kilohaili in Finnish and skarpsill in Swedish. It's picked in spices including cinnamon, black pepper, bay leaf, cloves, oregano, cardamom, allspice and sandalwood. So no wonder it just didn't taste quite right when I used UK anchovies.

One thing I do know for a fact is that Janssonin kiusaus is usually served as night food. You know, the type of thing which is served way past midnight when the party is at it's best and everyone is drunk and need something really salty and flavourful to soak up the alcohol. I have often seen it served at New Year's parties, or at weddings which have gone on into the wee hours. But it makes a great lunch or dinner, and above all, it is both super easy to make and really cheap as well. And obviously it scales really easily to serve more people.

Janssonin kiusaus (serves 4):
5-6 potatoes
1 big onion
1 tin of pickled sprats or alternatively anchovies if you don't happen to be in Finland or Sweden (mine was about 120g including the oil)
1.5 dl single cream
1.5 dl milk
black pepper

The howto:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into thin strips (first cut into slices, and then into strips). Mix the onions and potatoes, and layer half of them in an oven proof dish. Layer the sprats (or anchovies) next, and cover with the rest of the potato and onion mixture. Mix the brine/oil from the sprats/anchovies with the cream, milk and pepper and pour over the potatoes. Cook in the oven for about 50-60 minutes, until the potatoes have softened. 

The verdict:
One thing I have learned today is that not all anchovies are created equal. The Finnish/Swedish variety, which isn't even anchovies in the first place, is much tastier than regular anchovies. However, you shouldn't let that keep you from trying out this dish. It has a bit of the right flavour, it's not just as intensive as it would be if it was made from the right stuff. It's still a nice hearty meal. And most of us should include more fish in our diet, and this is a great way to include a fish you don't usually eat (at least I assume most people don't regularly eat anchovies, but please correct me if I'm wrong). And last but not least, Mum could you send over a few tins of Finnish anchovies the next time you are sending over a parcel so I can make the dish properly. Thanks!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mary Berry's carrot cake

Why is it that men come with a huge collection of all sorts of doodaahs? I get the fact that you might need a DVD player and a satellite decoder (I had to ask the Culinary Consultant what the thing is called, I knew it had something to do with satellite...). And cables! Boxes and boxes of the most obscure cables which never seem to be needed, but have to be stored nonetheless. Had I only measured the length of cables I shoved into moving boxes when we vacated the Bachelor Pad. I would say there were miles of them, possibly enough to reach to the moon and back. Twice. What they are needed for is beyond me, but when it comes to men, it seems to be all about who has the longest cables. We also have a number of silver/black/white boxes located in the shelving unit underneath our gigantic TV (another mine is bigger than yours device). Not sure what they are needed for as several of them have never been used. But hey ho, apparently men just come with all this baggage. And the other day, Man Friend (a friend of the Culinary Consultant) brought yet another doodaah into the house. It's one of those game console things, and apparently we have to have it. Not sure why, as the Culinary Consultant spends all his free hours in front of his computer playing games. Again, I don't need to understand it, it's yet another box with yet more cables. However, if I ever meet the person who decided that all games that go with said console have to be packed in bright neon green covers, I will give them a piece of my mind. Seriously, they are the ugliest things I have ever seen! And now there are stacks of said fugliness all over our living room. I have decreed that we now have to buy a new storage unit to the living room, one with doors, so that I don't have to constantly look at those neon green horrors. All you women out there, let me know how you cope with all of this? I'm sure I can't be the only one facing this male behaviour.

Don't get me wrong, despite all these horrors the men in our lives sometimes have good ideas as well. Like the other day when we were in the grocery store and the Culinary Consultant was picking out carrots for our Sunday roast he thought the carrots looked unusually good so he asked whether we could make a carrot cake. I assured him that would not be a problem. When have I ever refused to bake a cake? Although obviously we in this case meant me. I hate grating carrots.

I don't have a "tried and tested" carrot cake recipe, and I tried one last fall that was supposed to be "the best carrot cake ever". Sadly it turned out rather dry and not that good. So this time I turned to Queen Mary Berry for a carrot cake recipe. Don't tell anyone, but I added some raisins which weren't in the original recipe. I wonder if she would disapprove...

Mary Berry's carrot cake (serves 8):
250 g sunflower oil (I didn't have sunflower so I used rapeseed)
4 large eggs
225 g light muscovado sugar
200 g carrots, coarsely grated (this was about 2 carrots)
300 g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice and 1 tsp ground ginger (I didn't have any mixed spice so I used 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cloves and 1/2 tsp nutmeg)
75 g chopped walnuts
(I also added 1/2 cup sultanas as I think a carrot cake should have sultanas or raisins)

50 g butter at room temperature
25 g icing sugar
250 g cream cheese
a few drops of vanilla extract

The howto:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease two 20 cm round cake tins and line the bases with parchment (to be honest, I don't have two 20 cm round cake tins, so I used one xx by xx pyrex ovenproof dish and did not bother to butter it). Add the oil, eggs and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk (using an electric whisk) until lighter and noticeably thicker. Gently fold in the carrot, and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Divide evenly between cake tins and bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean from the middle of the cake. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool. I obviously transferred the entire batch of batter into my one dish and baked for about 50 minutes, until a cake tester came out clean from the middle of the cake.

Prepare the icing by combining all ingredients in a bowl and mix using an electric whisk until well combined and smooth. Spread half of the icing on one of the cakes, add the other on top and spread the rest of the icing on top. Decorate with walnuts. 

Note, I had a 300 g tub of cream cheese so I increased the amounts of ingredients for the icing as follows: 60 g butter, 30 g icing sugar and 300 g cream cheese.

The verdict:
This was a great and moist carrot cake. And I think the raisins were a great addition. Personally, I could live without the nuts, but they were put in by request from the Culinary Consultant and I'm not complaining, just saying that if I would be making the cake just for myself, then I would have left them out. But it's a question of personal preference. One thing I do have to say though is that I didn't find this cream cheese icing nearly as good as the one I made for my red velvet cake. Next time I will use that on the carrot cake. Also, if making a two layer cake, where you would need frosting both for the middle and top of the cake, I think using 250 g cream cheese would be a bit stingy. But again, both me and the Culinary Consultant think there is no such thing as too much icing, whereas you might prefer a different icing-to-cake ratio. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Garden update

It's the end of another week, and that means it's time to see what has happened in the garden during the last seven days. The weekend was absolutely lovely and warm, Saturday was sunny and today was ok and warm although not sunny. We spent quite a while both today and yesterday in the garden, I was mostly weeding and cleaning up the borders and the Culinary Consultant was busy in the greenhouse turning the soil and improving it. I'm actually surprised I enjoy gardening as much as I do, I used to hate weeding, whereas now I get such satisfaction from seeing a nice and clean, weed-free bed in the garden. I did my bit in the garden today and thought I had been outside for a bit more than an hour, but turns out I had been out there for over three hours! Time just flies. And there is so much to be done, it's just never ending. This year will just be a year of discovery, to see what grows where and the slowly starting to make decisions of what to keep for next year, what works, what we like, and what will end up going. And seeing the garden change almost every day now that the growing season is in full swing is just magical.

The plum tree is in flower, and I swear the flowers
 appeared over night. Previous day nothing, next day
a tree full of beautiful flowers. 
Can anyone say rhubarb pie!?!
Raspberries are growing strong, and I
spent a good while weeding out things
from the undergrowth to give the raspberries
maximum access to all the nutrients in the
soil. Hopefully that means more berries when
 that time comes around.
Not long before the pear tree is in bloom. 
Basil seedling are going strong. Hopefully I will be able to
keep them alive and will have a load of basil this summer.
I think basil is my all time favourite herb.
These pretty fellows turned up in the flower bed.
The mint is starting to grow, I really need
 to come up with ways to use it as we have
 an almost endless amount of mint.
Looks like we will be having asparagus
 this week as well, and this time more
 than just two spears.