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Pancake heaven

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Shrove Tuesday is now gone but I’d like to think that pancakes can return to Lia’s kitchen before the next one in 2014.

Pancakes don’t always have to be overindulgent naughty treats. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I hope this post becomes a quick and easy pancake recipe reference and an inspiration for an alternative savoury filling.

This recipe was given to me by Dan Green who, hat’s off to him, makes the best pancakes I have ever had-he flips them and all that! I just followed his instructions to make the batter, made a filling with what we had in the fridge and watched him put the pancakes together skilfully for us.

Aubergine and fenugreek pancake filling ingredients

1 small aubergine, cubed in 2cm pieces
Half an onion finely chopped
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
Pinch of cinnamon powder
3-4 handful fresh fenugreek leaves roughly chopped
100gr or more grated cheddar

Filling preparation

Stir fry the aubergine, onion and a pinch of salt for five minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and cinnamon, stir and cook for five to ten minutes on low heat until soft and cooked.

Season with some salt and pepper (2-3 pinches of salt suggested).

When nearly ready add the fresh fenugreek.

Add the cheese when filling the pancake in the pan and whilst the second side is cooking.

You can optionally add some fresh baby spinach leaves when filling the pancake.

This is enough filling for four small pancakes.

Pancake Batter ingredients

125gr Spelt or whole meal flour
300 ml milk
1 egg
A pinch of salt
Knob of butter from frying

Pancake preparation

Add all ingredients (not the butter) and whisk to mix well.

Let the batter sit in the fridge for 20 minutes or until you prepare your fillings.

Heat a non stick frying pan on high heat.

Melt enough butter to coat the pan’s surface.

Add about a ladle full of batter in your pan.

Lift and swirl until the batter evenly covers all the surface and almost ‘licks’ its sides upwards. [1]

Lower the heat and cook for a minute or until ready-that’s when it’s easy to flip.

Flip and whilst the pancake is cooking fill with preferred filling and cheese , or fruit and chocolate.

Fold in four in the pan.

This amount of batter should give you six small pancakes and plenty for two people.

Enjoy whilst hot!

[1] This should help you flip the pancake easier.

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Oh sweet grain of Halva

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My mother was here until last Monday, and I kid you not, she made the best halva of her mother career for us. It was one small little change in the simple foolproof recipe that she has been using all her life- she used lime instead of lemon and oh my was that a wonderful deviation.

The halva recipe follows the simple 1-2-3-4 rule, which is fool proof and depending on your unit of measure allows you to make more or less portions of halva. If you use a cup as a unit of measurement you should have enough desert for about six people.

Remember to allow some time for the halva to cool down slightly so that you can mould it into your chosen shape or individual portions.

This desert is easy, quick, cheap and everybody loves it. And the recipe is vegetarian, vegan and dairy free.

Here is how we do Halva in the Moutselou clan although admittedly I prefer to brown the halva a bit more than mom because of the toasted grain smell it releases in the house.

Ingredients

1 measure of olive oil
2 measures of coarse semolina
3 measures of sugar (you can easily reduce that to 2 or even replace with honey)

Peel of half or whole lime or lemon
1 cinnamon stick
A big handful of chopped walnuts
Some finely chopped walnuts for dusting and decoration
Some cinnamon powder for decoration

Preparation

Prepare a syrup adding the boiled water, the sugar, a cinnamon stick and lime or lemon peel to a heat proof bowl or pan.

Stir the sugar until dissolved, cover and let it sit long enough to unleash the lime and cinnamon flavours[i].

Heat the olive oil in a pan (preferably non stick) until it’s almost sizzling.

Add the semolina to the pan and brown, stirring continuously and until it reaches your preferred shade of semolina brown[ii].

Add a big handful of coarsely chopped walnuts halfway through your browning action.

Remove the lemon/lime peel, stir the syrup in the pan of browned semolina and either remove from heat or lower to minimum whilst you continue stirring.

Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.

Let the halva mixture cool down for five minutes or more.

Mould either in a bundt cake tin or a loaf tin or in individual moulds of your choice, e.g. Greek coffee cups for smaller portions.

Dust with cinnamon powder and decorate with finely ground walnuts and.

Let the halva cool down before serving. The halva is delicious cold when left in the fridge overnight.

If you wish serve with grapes and decorate with single (soya) cream


Suggestions

[i] The longer you leave your syrup to sit the more flavoursome it will be but if you are in a rush you can just let it sit whilst you go through the next few steps.

[ii] Many people like to toast the semolina very slightly and until it absorbs the oil- if you prefer this your halva can look very pale and almost beige and could be very light. I love to brown the semolina to a heavier complexion but I would recommend a light tan for most beginners.

[iii] You will see the semolina expand.

Back to a classic: tomato sauce

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I can think of a few things as comforting as a tasty tomato sauce poured generously over spaghetti. So for your convenience here is the quick recipe that has received top hits from all of Lia’s Kitchen readers in 2012.

https://liaskitchen.com/basic-tomato-sauce/

And if you fancy a variation don’t forget another favourite: Lia’s Kitchen carrot and tomato red sauce.

Enjoy!

Large Portabella mushrooms with beans and puy lentils

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This is a recipe for my beloved Lydia who I can’t wait to see soon. Enjoy your veggie-ventures!

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Vegetarian cooking is fun and offers itself to great experimentation and variation. This is a hearty but easily digestible recipe that makes it easier to fast, reduce your meat intake or move to a meat free lifestyle. For me there have been as many variations as the times I have cooked it by using different cheeses, fillings, spices…I wonder what you could do to change it? Let me know won’t you?

This meal is easy to prepare and is yet another one of my recipes that stacks up different ingredients in a tower of flavours and textures. It combines a crusty top with a soft, flavoursome filling in a firm but pre-grilled mushroom base. Serve with a crunchy sunflower and pumpkin seed salad dressed in balsamic and honey vinaigrette for a great light meal or starter.

You can replace the mushrooms with half pre-grilled peppers. And if you don’t like using pre-cooked pulses in cans you can cook your own beans and lentils.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 red or yellow pepper sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or mashed
  • 6-10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can precooked cannellini beans (drained weight about 200gr)
  • 1 can precooked puy lentils (drained weight about 200gr)
  • 200gr baby spinach leaves
  • 1 pack soft Welsh cheese (125gr)
  • 8 large portabella mushrooms
  • 150-200gr parmesan cheese
  • A handful of breadcrumbs
  • 1 small bunch of basil
  • Mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Mixed salad leaves

Preparation

  1. Sauté the onion with a pinch of salt in a generous splash of olive oil for two to five minutes on low heat.
  2. Add and sauté the pepper for another two minutes.
  3. Then add the cherry tomatoes and after another couple of minutes the garlic.
  4. Add another pinch of salt (or not) and a bit of pepper.
  5. Stir fry for another couple of minutes or until all ingredients are softened.
  6. Drain your precooked beans and puy lentils well and add to the mixture, stirring and frying until all juices evaporate and the mixture binds.
  7. Add the spinach leaves and stir, cover, stir on low heat until they wither in the mixture. Depending on your preference you can add more spinach.
  8. Turn the hob off and crumble the small pack of soft Welsh cheese in the mixture last. If you cannot get hold of soft Welsh cheese use feta or other salty white cheese instead. This dish tastes better with goat’s or ewe’s cheese though!
  9. Stir until the whole mixture is creamed by the cheese.
  10. Put the mixture aside.
  11. Pick large and firm mushrooms as they shrink in size when grilled.
  12. Remove the stem from the bottom of the mushroom by cutting flat with a knife.
  13. Peel the skin of the mushroom if you wish but if your mushrooms are really fresh dry clean well before grilling.
  14. Brush with a little oil and either grill on the hob in a non stick pan turning regularly or under the grill for ten minutes. Your aim is to pre cook the mushroom so that they are soft enough to eat but not to make them so soft as to break.
  15. Prepare your breadcrumb topping by blitzing the cubed parmesan cheese, chopped basil and the breadcrumbs in a kitchen chopper (mixer) until crumbly but not fine.
  16. Whilst assembling the dish preheat the grill until quite hot.
  17. Place the mushrooms top down in a baking tray alongside each other.
  18. Separate the bean and lentil mixture evenly between the mushrooms.
  19. Top with the parmesan breadcrumb.
  20. Grill for ten minutes maximum.

Serve the dish with seasonal fresh salad leaves, in balsamic and honey vinaigrette and topped with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

For the vinaigrette use :one unit of balsamic, two of olive oil, and half of honey as well as a pinch or two of salt (depending on the size of your salad and your units). Put all ingredients in a small jar, close the lid firmly and shake joyfully whilst dancing to a favourite tune!

Toast the seeds in a pan in which you have melted a tiny bit of butter, just enough to coat your non stick pan. Naughty but nice!

Inspired by Hannah Briggs and Dan Green.

Made in Aberaeron: Vegetarian red ‘carrot’ pasta sauce

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We found the main ingredient for this new red carrot pasta sauce at the roadside between Temple Bar and Criblyn villages in Ceredigion, Wales.

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A compulsory stop to find our bearings and the way to the little thatched cottage that would be our home for the weekend revealed a roadside stall with bunches of fresh organic carrots, homemade jams and eggs. This was still one of those places where you are trusted to pick what you want and leave the money.

We arrived ravenous at the cottage with a bunch of fresh small organic carrots, and fettuccine pasta, tinned plum tomatoes, the basics of garlic, salt and pepper, and the luxury of cinnamon in our travel cook box.

The recipe came together in my mind when I remembered an interview of Anna del Conte, the Italian food writer who raised awareness of Italian cuisine in the UK in the late 70s, and her mention to finely chopped carrots as a main ragu ingredient.

I coarsely grated the carrots for my recipe to infuse the sauce with the bright orange colour and the organic carrot flavours of this star ingredient. The result: a pure delight and a fool-proof vegetarian ragu sauce that is guaranteed to please and comfort. Yum!

Ingredients

  • 7-8 small and fresh organic carrots, coarsely grated
  • 2 tins of plum tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Half a pack of fettuccine or other dried pasta (120g)

Preparation

Coarsely grate the carrots after you have washed them well. No need to peel really fresh and young carrots.

Finely chop the onion.

Sweat and sauté the onion on low heat for a few minutes. Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Add the grated carrots and a couple of pinches of salt, and sauté in low heat for another ten minutes or so.

Add the two tins of plum tomatoes and a teaspoon of sugar.

Mash with a wooden spoon; add another pinch of salt or two, one or two teaspoons of cinnamon, stir and cover.

Simmer on low heat for thirty or fourtyfive minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the sauce has reached a thick ragu consistency.

Cover and let the sauce rest for at least fifteen or more. This helps the sauce bind and the flavours come out, patience is a key.

Serve with half a pack of fettuccine, strong crumbly cheddar and coarse pepper (we used Barbers cruncher, a West Country mature, sweet and crunchy cheddar) .

This recipe makes two very generous portions but you can share between three or four.

Petra and a Chickpea and Kale curry recipe

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How did Petra and her recipe enter my life? How do you summarise a friendship?

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I will never forget the first time I saw Petra’s smiley face in the corridors of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, when she came over to Wales as a visiting researcher. I remember long nights with emotional conversations and loud laughter. I remember dancing at the Toucan on St Mary Street and Journeys on Clifton Street.

In August 2011, I found Petra again. Crete returned to me a friend, as well as serenity and a sense of home. But then again that is also what a good friend gives. I hugged Petra tightly after 5 years during which our individual journeys were coinciding and sometimes merging in the ether, without us knowing: searching, coping, understanding and finding.

In Crete, the land that generously offers good food and sun, we met and talked about food, love, life and dreams again. It’s good to be reminded of all that bonds you deeply with another person.

My friend Petra loves food, cooking and life. She is also a rural sociologist who is passionate about sustainable food and approaches the subject from a cultural angle: understanding cultures and consumerist patterns, and changing attitudes. She teaches and researches at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands and build a ‘Food Cultures and customs’ course in 2010. And last year Petra was also a part-time organic farmer for the growing season. What a woman!

Petra writes for a couple of blogs: the rural sociology group blog, university of Wageningen and Pure Food links, a sustainable food network blog. Recently, she visited Brasil and, in a couple of entries at the end of October and November 2011, she tell us about national school food programmes, and particularly Dos Irmáos School ,the Rio Grande do Sul, which she visited. Legislation requires that 30% of fresh produce used in school food comes from local farms: shortening the supply chain with various possible good impacts for the environment, economy, etc. springing to my mind at first glimpse.

Apart from the curry she recommended this month, when I think of Petra and food two dishes spring to mind: garlic and chilli prawns served with fresh bread, and roast lamb. I remember a roast lamb dinner when suddenly it dawned on us that everyone around the dining table was a Libra, with the exception of me who was born on the cusp: what a strange coincidence that so many of us hanging out regularly, making lasting friendships, were born within a month of each other either in the same year or a couple of years apart either way.

I adapted Sarah Raven’s chickpea curry recipe recommended by Petra and whilst cooking her felt presence in Cardiff once again.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 -2 cups of brown rice
  • 3-4 cups of boiling water
  • 2 onions
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Approx 500 gr of green and purple curly kale
  • 2 tins of cooked chickpeas (drained well)
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 small sweet potatoes peeled and diced
  • 2 tspns, spice of life curry mix
  • Approx. 50 gt grated ginger
  • 1 red chilli pepper
  • Approx. 250gr mixed mushrooms (portabella and chestnut in this occasion)
  • 1 stick lemongrass
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander
  • A pinch of shrimp paste
  • Some paprika
  • Salt and pepper to season if required
  • Put the rice on to simmer: its preparation should take as long as cooking your curry.

Preparation:

  1. Remove the stems from the kale and chop the leaves in strips. Blanche or Steam them for 5 minutes, drain well and set aside.
  2. Peel, chop, dice and steam the carrots and sweet potatoes for 10 min. Drain and set aside.
  3. Fry the onion gently in the oil until soft. Add the curry powder, fresh ginger, chili, salt and pepper and stir.
  4. The Spice of life curry powder I used is mixed in house by Gareth, in house, and contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, paprika, turmeric, pepper, curry leaf, asafetida, ginger, chilly, mustard, cassia, cardamom, mace & bay.
  5. Next, add the garlic and then the mushroom, lemongrass and lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse tinned ones), coconut milk, mushrooms, shrimp paste and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Finally add the kale to the chickpea mixture. Sarah Raven’s sauce adds soy and fish sauces at this stage, but I replaced this with just a bit of shrimp paste, the size of a very 2 peas.
  8. Scatter with coarsely chopped coriander, over a good portion of rice.

Tip: I froze a couple of portions of the curry and save for yummy lunches this week. This dish was as delicious when defrosted and consumed two weeks after I cooked it.

The lighter Aubergine bake

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This recipe is dedicated to Denise, an extraordinary lady, working at the PDSA in Cardiff.

If you are looking for a simple and light recipe that satisfies your winter cravings in a guilt free manner, I think you are at the right blog.

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Our household is on a health buzz this January, probably like you are, and we feel a lot better for it. The recipe below is the lighter alternative to aubergines recipes like Melanzane al Parmigiano or Moussaka and it is a lot quicker to prepare too.

Many people mistake me for a vegetarian! This is because I don’t normally eat meat more than once a week or every week: there are just too many food groups to choose from! I grew up eating red meat once a week and our family fasted/detoxed a few times a year for 2-3 weeks, gradually giving up different food groups: staring from meat, chicken, fish; moving to dairy; then giving up seafood and sometimes even giving up oils, fats and spices.

It is fascinating that various cultures and denominations incorporate at least one period of cleansing and self discipline in their calendar year. Whatever your way of going through such a process may be, most of you who have will agree that it is worth it.

And why not go a step further this year: why not commit to eating good healthy food all the time? Why not eat less and better sourced meat for ethical, environmental and health reasons? Why not eat less but buy better quality ingredients? And then we can talk about our energy levels and fitness: you might even shed a couple of kilos or more, and maintain that loss in the long term.

The Part-time carnivore campaign, which offers you some options for reducing your meat intake as well as an online quiz that might help you figure our the best option for you is at the moment.

Thanks to Dan Green for the fantastic photos, as ever! And for teaching me technicalities and how to select images!

Aubergine bake recipe, feeds 4-6
Ingredients for a 25cm x35cm baking tray

For the first layer

3-4 large meaty aubergines
Salt
Olive oil

For the second layer
1 ½ portions of basic tomato sauce, with parsley. Click on link for recipe.

For the third layer
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, one red and one green
1 tin of pre-cooked puy lentils
6-8 chestnut or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
A couple tbspns chopped parsley
A handful of ground pimento berries
Salt
Olive oil

For the third layer
300gr grated cheddar or parmesan cheese OR a mixture of the two

Preparation

  1. Prepare and start cooking your basic tomato sauce. I suggest you use parsley for this recipe. 25min
  2. Start by cutting off the stem and ‘nose’ of your aubergine. Slice thickly: 2-3cm slices. Each aubergine should give you at least 3 slices. 2-5min.
  3. Salt the aubergines and let rest in a large bowl for 20min whilst your tomato sauce is cooking. This process removes excess water from the aubergine and makes the grilling faster. You can skip this step as your aubergines will grill anyway. 20min, optional
  4. Coat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil and grill the slices in high heat, pressing down firmly with the spatula to quicken the cooking process (removes excess water). For each grill batch you can coat the pan with some olive oil. 15min.
  5. Layer your baking tray with the cooked aubergine slices, snugly and leaving no gaps.
  6. Prepare layer 3: sauté the onion, pepper and mushroom is a tiny bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes. Season with some salt. Drain and add the precooked puy lentils. Grind a small handful of pimento berries in a pestle and mortar and add to your mixture. Once all juices are absorbed, a coupe of minutes after adding the lentils, remove from heat. Season to taste, if needed. You can prepare this layer as you are grilling your aubergines. 15min
  7. Preheat your grill! 10min.
  8. Add Layer 2, the tomato sauce, which should be cooked by now, evenly to your baking tray on top of the aubergines. Seconds.
  9. Add Layer 3 evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Seconds.
  10. Grate your cheeses to finish off. Seconds.
  11. Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden. 15min.
  12. Cool down for 10-15 minutes and enjoy! 15min.