Archive for the 'In Season' Category

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Pumpkin, Maple and Walnut Bread

Pumpkin has entered center stage in my kitchen over the past few weeks. I love it in in all shapes and forms, in soups, salads, sides, mains and especially deserts. I have been trying out lots of recipes recently and this pumpkin bread is one of my newest inventions. I had some roasted pumpkin left over from a major Sunday dinner experiment – a whole stuffed and roasted pumpkin. I filled a rather big white (also called “Ghost” or “Casper”) pumpkin with rice, Moroccan spices, chickpeas and apricots and roasted it for 2 hours. As this was an experiment, I had no clue how much time everything would take to cook, which led to an overcooked pumpkin and undercooked stuffing. Aside from that, the pumpkin also ruptured and all the lovely juices escaped. Not good! I salvaged the whole thing by cooking the stuffing with some of the pumpkin and more chicken stock and turned it into a Moroccan pumpkin risotto. Unusual, not overly attractive, but delicious nonetheless. My kids warned me however to not post this one on my blog, which I reckon was good advice.

The left-over pumpkin was delicious, beautiful dark orange in color and very sweet. Perfect for pumpkin bread. I added some lovely spices to it and sweetened it with maple syrup. It turned out delicious and I can’t wait to make it again. It’s great for breakfast with maple sweetened yogurt or afternoon tea with a dollop of whipped cream.

Note: I made this recipe again with roasted butternut squash. The squash was much moister than the pumpkin I used initially and the bread turned out very “soggy”. My advice would be to either drain the roasted pumpkin/squash over a towel-lined colander for an hour or to use less of it. Another option is to use raw grated pumpkin (a food processor does the trick) the same way you use carrots in a carrot cake. I used this method successfully with 3 cups of raw grated pumpkin. Good luck!

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Chicken and Pumpkin Curry

This is a version of my favorite go to curry recipe. The base is so versatile and can be used with fish. shrimp, tofu, beans and yes, chicken. It comes together easily and if you are a quick chopper, will be ready in no time. What makes this taste so good are a few essential ingredients – fresh garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Indian curry powder, coconut milk and coriander (cilantro). For the rest you can add what is already in your fridge or freezer. I try to use many different colored vegetables and herbs, which make this meal just as appealing to the eye as to your stomach.

Bear in mind the different cooking times for the vegetables, particularly if using pumpkin. I added it to the pan roughly 10 minutes before the remaining vegetables. Zucchini usually goes in at the end, as it quickly looses its texture and color. 

As to the chicken, here’s a tip that you might or might not know yet. If you cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces and marinate them in buttermilk for a couple of hours in the fridge, the meat won’t turn tough and dry during the cooking process. It makes such a difference in texture. I can’t stand dry chicken breast and this is what I do to avoid it. Another option is to use a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, especially if you want to cook a whole breast in one piece. If you want to keep this recipe dairy-free, omit the buttermilk, or make your own using 1 cup soy milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or try the lemon juice and olive oil marinade.

You can make this as spicy as you like. I add a chili if I have one, otherwise  a bit more curry powder or cayenne pepper can spice things up. Here’s one last tip for cooking lemongrass. Only the lower 5-6″ (12-15cm) are soft enough to be eaten once you have removed the tough, outer husks. Slice the light green sticks into very thin rounds and then mince. You want them to be as fine as possible, otherwise they might not soften in the pan and you’ll end up with some chewy lemongrass bits in your curry. Use the left-over husks to make delicious lemon grass tea. Add the ginger peel as well, if you like.   Continue reading ‘Chicken and Pumpkin Curry’

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers and Eggplant

The temperatures are still on the warm side at the moment and the markets full of peppers, eggplant and zucchini. So although I am way over summer, I cook what’s in season and continue to experiment with summer veggies. The other day, I remembered a favorite dish from years back – stuffed peppers with ground beef- and decided to try a new less meaty version with quinoa. I scooped out 5 peppers, an eggplant and a left over zucchini half, chopped up the flesh and sauteed it with chili, onion and garlic. I added another zucchini, a can of whole tomatoes, a can of black beans and some fresh herbs, mixed it with the cooked quinoa and stuffed the mixture into the vegetables. Before it all went in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, I topped it up with slices of mozzarella.

Fresh tomatoes would be at least as good, but the organic ones are increasingly hard to get and therefore I went with the canned version. I didn’t use any of the tomato juice left in the can, because I didn’t want my stuffing to get too wet. See how you go, you can always add it towards the end if you feel like you need extra moisture. As for the cheese topping, any cheese you like will be fine, I just happened to have some mozzarella open. If you don’t like any cheese at all, you can easily make this recipe without or sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts over the finished dish.

In case you want to stuff bell peppers only, peel the eggplant the recipe is asking for, chop it up and saute it with the onions, garlic and chili.  This recipe also works with zucchinis. The only downside there is that they flatten out quite a bit when stuffed and baked.

And just to let you know, the vegetarian version was even better than the meaty one I had been thinking about.

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Pear, Date and Ginger Crisp

This recipe came about when I was on an elimination diet a while ago. It doesn’t contain any gluten (as long as you use gluten-free oats), no eggs or dairy (ignore the ice cream…) and is sweetened with agave and maple syrup. Technically maple syrup is not “allowed” in an elimination diet, but one can only live so healthy. I named it “Vegan Pear Crisp”, but didn’t think this would be a very enticing blog title and therefore left out the ‘vegan’ bit. I love to come up with food that is enjoyable to everyone, no matter what food preference or intolerance. I now make this crisp even on diet-free occasions and have successfully used the topping over apples and berries, leaving out the ginger and dates.

I used cold pressed virgin coconut oil for the crisp topping. You can find it at health food stores and good supermarkets. The lauric acid in coconut oil is easily digested and is supposed to have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The coconut taste isn’t detectable when the oil is used for baking. If you are unable to find it or are not in the mood to go dairy free, use melted butter instead of the coconut oil. Three to four tablespoons or 50g will do the trick. Don’t forget the chill time once you have made your topping (see method below).

I am sorry for not posting anything last week, I have been busy baking and cooking. To make up for my absence I’ll post something delicious every day this week. Stay tuned…

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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Super Summer Salad

 

I made this salad for a dinner party last weekend assuming we’d have a typical BBQ dinner. We didn’t, we actually ate wonderful Paella, not exactly a good match to my salad. Nobody seamed to mind however and everybody dug in, young and old. We had a wonderful time sitting outside, eating this wonderful food, drinking sparkling Shiraz and enjoying good company. It really made me appreciate everything summer has to offer and even I didn’t want it to end – at least not on that night.

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Summer Vegetable Lasagna

On the one slightly cooler day in recent weeks, I succumbed to the temptation to turn the oven on again and roast some vegetables for a lasagna. I since discovered that in order to get perfectly roasted vegetables, instead of using the oven, you can grill them on the BBQ, thereby cutting down oven time by half. In my A/C less kitchen, this is a huge bonus… That said, our BBQ is quite big and I can grill all of the vegetables at once, which makes this method fairly straight forward and fast. If you have a smaller one, you can either grill everything in stages, or go back to oven roasting.

My husband was away for business and one day I channeled all my energy, opened the BBQ, which so far has been his domain 100% of the time, and scrubbed it with all my force. That same night I started to BBQ. Since then I grilled fish, shrimp, mushrooms and various vegetables fairly successfully, except for the one time I was chatting and turned the slices of eggplant into coal. Long story short, I am hooked and will make much more use of the BBQ, even if that means that I need to scrub the darn thing every once in a while.

What you need for a roasted vegetable lasagna in peak summer is what you find in great abundance at your farmers market or back yard. Zucchini, red peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. You’ll also need fresh ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, good quality pasta (I used spelt… again) and you’re almost there. No need for any herbs, the flavors of the grilled vegetables speak for themselves. The end result is deliciously summery, not too heavy and wonderfully satisfying.

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Spelt and Hazelnut Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour (or half white/half whole spelt)
  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter (140g), room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • colourful sprinkles

Method

Sift together flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder and sea salt.

Using hand or standing mixer, whisk together butter and sugar for 3 minutes. Add egg, whisk for another minute, then add vanilla extract.

Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture until well incorporated. 

Turn dough onto cling wrap, flatten into a disk, cover with more cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or over night.

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Roll out dough between 2 large sheets of cling wrap until it is about 1/4″ (0.5 cm) thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out hearts in various sizes. Place cookies on parchment lined baking tray and brush lightly with milk. Top with sprinkles and refrigerate for 10 minutes. If dough gets too soft when cutting the shapes, wrap it up again and refrigerate some more. I always use only half of the dough while the other half rests in the fridge.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating baking trays back to front and top to bottom half way through.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

Share with loved ones!

Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

We are going through gallons of ice cream and popsicles at the moment – that’s how hot it is. As a special treat on Sunday evening, I made ice cream sandwiches. Not a typical dessert in Germany, but one of the ingenious things I passionately adopted once I came across it in the States. Since oatmeal cookies are my absolute favorite, I also use them for ice cream sandwiches. Not the “Oh-So-Good Oatmeal Cookies” I wrote about in an earlier post, but the buttery kind that turn into a flat and snappy cookie when baked. The “Oh-So Good” ones are perfect to eat by themselves, but since they have a lot less butter in them, they don’t go flat when baked and hence aren’t ideal for this type of dessert.

Most recipes I scanned use 2 cups of sugar, usually a mixture of white and brown, white (all purpose) flour, 2 sticks (226g) of butter and varying amounts of dark chocolate, raisins or cranberries. I did see the need for the amount of butter, but used only 1 1/2 cups of sugar and whole spelt flour plus oatbran instead of white flour. I am sure whole wheat and oat-or wheat bran will work just as well. I chopped up one bar (3.5 oz or 100g) of 70% chocolate, but there is definitely room for more, if you like yours really chocolaty. As to the sweetness, we found ours sweet enough, but if you have a sweet tooth, just add another 1/2 cup of sugar. The cookies are quick and easy to make and if you don’t want a large batch of 30 cookies all at once, you can freeze some of the the dough and use is later. Just let it defrost until you can scoop it out and increase the baking time by a minute or two.

I used plain storebought vanilla ice cream for our sandwiches, but chocolate and other flavors will be delicious as well. Hopefully I get a chance to dig out my ice cream maker later this week and concoct some on my own.

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Spelt Pasta with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Cannellini Beans

It’s hot this week and the kids are back in school. Since they are coming home with more and more homework, my new strategy is to try and have dinner (or most of it) ready by the time they come home.  This is easy in summer, when all you really need is a substantial salad and some form of protein. I made a soba noodle salad with pan fried tofu, lentil salad with chard and my Mexican salad just in the past 4 days. For the odd night I didn’t feel like salad, I roasted some really ripe tomatoes, that were starting to look a little dated, 2 red peppers,  zucchini and yellow squashes and a whole garlic. This turned into a delicious, flavourful sauce, which I mixed with cannellini beans, fresh basil and spelt pasta. Roasting vegetables is not my favorite thing to do in an A/C free kitchen in summertime, but I just love the taste of roasted tomatoes.  A mixture of various heirloom ones would be lovely, but any ripe tomatoes, in season and locally grown are great. If you have more than what’s asked for in this recipe, go for it and roast some more. Add them to your sandwich with fresh goat’s cheese or mozarella. Hmmm, heaven.

In case you’re having the same hesitations about turning the oven on when it’s hot outside, use the grill instead, or simultaneously roast some butternut squash pieces, beetroot or chickpeas for tomorrow’s salad. I stuck in some banana bread and muffins, our all time favourite morning tea.

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