Category Archives: Snacks, Appetisers, Finger food

Fresh Goat Cheese Spread/Dip with Chives

I’ve always loved fresh goat cheese, but it has really become my daily fare since I met a lovely young woman selling her organic goat cheese at my French farmers market. The taste has nothing to do with any shop-bought version (organic or not), the cheese freshest possible (produced the same morning) and the price is so low, I let her fill up a big tupperware and enjoy it almost every single day during the goat milking season, i.e. all year round apart from most of the winter (they became all pregnant – I know there must be a proper word for that in English too… – hence the halt in cheese production until baby goats are born).

Even though I had frozen big amounts of this cheese (the texture changes a bit but they still beat whatever one can find in shops), I ran out of them quite a long time ago and was very impatient to start buying it again. Coming back home the very first thing I did was devouring a whole one with a spoon, but just after that I made this delicious spread that makes me feel springtime is already here and reminds me of my childhood.

Actually, it’s an almost identical copy of the simple fresh cow cheese and chives spread I used to eat often as a child and which is very popular in Poland. In countries where goat cheese is expensive, this goat version would be a luxury, but luckily I live close to France where fresh goat cheese is extremely popular and obviously not expensive. The only personal twist I’ve added to my mum’s recipe is garlic, but chives remain the crucial element that makes this spread irresistible.

I usually have this spread on my favourite breakfast bread (this Finnish super thin “diet” one), not only in the morning but also as an afternoon snack. You can also serve it at a party, as a dip with nachos or raw vegetables and it’s delicious on dark/wholemeal bread canapés (if you like pumpernickel, you will love the combination).

If you don’t find fresh goat cheese (or if it’s expensive where you live or if you simply don’t like it), you can use fresh cow or ewe cheese (often called cottage cheese, but make sure it’s all natural).

Here are some other spreads you might like:

Baba Ghanouj/M'tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Baba Ghanouj/M’tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Tzatziki with Fennel

Tzatziki with Fennel

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

TIPS: While you can perfectly replace goat cheese with cow cheese (the taste is different, of course), I do not advise replacing chives with thick spring onions. They are too aggressive, too “oniony” and at the same time are not as aromatic as chives (I did try once and regretted my experiment). If you have access to the Japanese ao negi (slightly thicker than chives and less pungent), it will be a perfect replacement and you can use more of if, since it’s more delicate.

If you have a source of good quality fresh goat cheese, but it’s far away, buy it in big amounts and freeze it in well wrapped portions. Strangely the texture changes only a bit and the taste is practically the same. It becomes maybe less moist, but I still find it delicious mixed with yogurt and used as a spread. (My experiments in freezing cheese are sometimes surprising: I have always thought hard cheese freezes well, but I recently saw gruyère’s texture become horribly crumbly and dry, while the famous French blue cheese roquefort stayed in perfect shape… though I must say I always vacuum pack my cheese before freezing it, apart from the fresh one which is too soft).

Obviously, if you don’t like garlic, skip it. As I said, fresh cheese and chives are the key to the delightful flavours.

Yogurt is used here only to loosen the texture, so its amount depends on the texture of the cheese.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (makes approximately a 250 ml jar of spread):

300 g of fresh goat cheese

125 ml natural yogurt (cow or goat milk yogurt will be ok), or more/less; see the TIPS above

6 heaped tablespoons chopped chives (or more)

1 big clove garlic

salt (to taste)

Combine the ingredients and refrigerate or eat it straight away.

This spread will keep for several days in the fridge.

Filo Rolls with Buckwheat (Groats) and Mushrooms

If you like Japanese soba noodles and don’t mind a typical coarse texture of certain grains, you might be tempted to test this combination of buckwheat and mushrooms in crisp thin layers of Greek filo rolls. I can only hope you will love the results as much as I did. If you have never tasted buckwheat, forget all the health benefits you have heard about (I know it puts some people off…) and see it as I do: just another delicious fuss-free carb, versatile enough to go with Greek pastry or spicy Korean meals.

I know many people put it in the same bag as quinoa or other recent wonder food discoveries, but in countries where buckwheat groats/grains have been eaten for generations (Ukraine or Poland, for example) it’s simply an alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. The traditional method is to toast the grains before selling them and I advise against the non-toasted version (see the TIPS below). In Poland it’s eaten mainly with meat or mushrooms (or both) in sauce, but sometimes also as a filling in dumplings; I guess there are also some regional dishes I’m not aware of. I grew up eating buckwheat quite regularly topped with meat in sauce and I’m pretty sure my mum never insisted on it as being healthy (the way she did with some vegetables…). This attitude made me appreciate buckwheat the way it is: beautifully nutty scented, strong-flavoured carb that nowadays reminds me at the same time of Polish and Japanese cuisines (a curious and rare coincidence!).

It might be seen as a step too far by some of my dear visitors, but I see buckwheat most of all as a nice change from rice in many Asian dishes. After many experiments I realised it’s more versatile than I thought! I find it perfect with spicy Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or the Chicken Simmered in Gochujang Sauce. It’s also delicious when replacing… rice in fried rice! Because of its nutty strong flavours, it pairs perfectly with mushrooms, such as in this Japanese-inspired eringi and teriyaki version.

When experimenting with buckwheat never forget a sauce (either served on top, aside or mixed into the dish) because buckwheat is very dry. I have served these rolls with the spicy Gochujang and Sour Cream/Yogurt sauce and it was just perfect:

Gochujang and Sour Cream Sauce

This Greek Yogurt with Caramelised Onion would be fantastic too:

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

or this Bulgarian cousin of tzatziki:

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

I have posted two other buckwheat recipes, both very easy, so in case you want to explore other options…

Eringi and Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: If you have never had buckwheat, make sure you buy a toasted version (the colour is medium to dark brown, while the non-toasted is light greenish), which is the traditional one and which has these unique wonderful nutty flavours. The non-toasted one is bland, softer and, just like many people who grew up with toasted buckwheat, I hated the non-toasted form when discovered accidentally in a health food aisle in Switzerland.

Cooking buckwheat is not difficult, but follow the below instructions because it quickly becomes mushy and inedible. The result should be dry and crunchy.

Do not omit fresh parsley! It suits perfectly the mushroom and buckwheat mixture.

Make sure you have another sheet or two of filo pastry just in case… The mushrooms might lose more or less water and you might want to put more or less filling in each roll.

If, on the other hand, you have leftover filling, you can add some vegetables, even some meat leftovers, and prepare it like stir-fried rice, adding some soy sauce, putting a poached or fried egg on top…

The soy sauce is not obligatory. You can add some more salt to taste or nothing.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with a salad as a main course):

6 – 7 sheets of filo pastry (make sure you have one or two more, just in case you have more filling to use up)

250 g (about 1/2 lb) button mushrooms 

200 ml (about 6.8 oz) uncooked toasted buckwheat groats + 1/2 teaspoon salt

6 big European shallots (or 2 medium onions)

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 3 tablespoons normal soy sauce (I use Japanese soy sauce, but if you use Chinese, choose the light coloured one)

a handful of chopped fresh parsley

ground pepper

thick creamy sauce (such as the above gochujang sauce)

oil for stir-frying and for brushing the rolls (you can use melted butter to brush the rolls)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leaving the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.

As soon as it’s absorbed, don’t uncover the pan and put it aside keeping it warm, for example wrapped in a blanket, though in this dish you use the buckwheat cold, so simply don’t lift the cover and prepare the rest of the filling.

Chop the shallots and the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and stir fry the shallots at medium heat.

Put the shallots into a big bowl.

Stir-fry the mushrooms in another tablespoon of oil until they start losing volume, season them with salt and add to the shallots.

Finally add the buckwheat groats, the soy sauce and the chopped parsley.

Season with freshly ground pepper and combine all the filling ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of the filling (5-6 heaped tablespoons per sheet).

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

(You can also cut the filo sheets in two and make smaller rolls; this is what I did obtaining the tiny size of rolls you see above).

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Since the filling is dry, make sure you don’t forget a sauce!

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish).  Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as dangerous as fenugreek (in my opinion).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat.

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

Foie Gras (Fat Liver) with Sake and Chilli

foiegras_sake2pNo matter if we have guests or not, fat liver (foie gras) terrine is the only item I cannot imagine my Christmas without. Undisciplined and messy cook that I am, I never manage it to look as good as I’d like,  the shape is never neat and, in general, it’s far from being perfect. I’m sure professional chefs would consider it unacceptable, but I love my homemade terrine and never even think of buying it already cooked. Now is the best moment to plan a trip to a good duck liver supplier, so I thought I’d share with you my most recent seasoning variation, successfully tested and planned for this Christmas too.

Probably because foie gras is expensive, most people (also in France) think it’s very difficult to prepare a terrine, i.e. seasoned half cooked whole liver. There are different methods, such as poaching it rolled into a piece of fabric or cling film, but I’ve always practiced the most popular one among home cooks: hot water bath baking in a rectangular terrine dish. Seasoning options are endless, though most cooks use only salt or some dry spices and/or aromatic alcohols. The first time I made it I was surprised how easy it was, though I had been scared to spoil the whole liver. It doesn’t require any skills (apart from a bit of patience if you have to remove the veins, but nowadays the liver is often sold deveined) and most of the process consists in… waiting, since you need to prepare it several days in advance.

Apart from those who love cooking and experimenting, people often decide to make this terrine at home because the price is about three times lower (and it’s still costly!), so if you have access to the raw or good quality but frozen liver, do not hesitate (I have no experience with goose liver, so I cannot give any advise on it). Disciplined, meticulous cooks will obtain a beautiful visual result even the first time, but since I’m clumsy and don’t care for the visual improvement that much, I only pay attention to the flavours; good taste is all that counts and it’s very simple to achieve.

I like experimenting with new flavours, but since I’m never sure of the results, I always do it with only a half of my liver (or just one, if I buy two). Last year I prepared half with “safe” Armagnac (see below) and half with a slightly risky mixture of sake and powdered chilli, which reminded me a bit of Korean cuisine. The result was moderately spicy and the delicate sake aroma was still recognisable, so this year I’ll repeat this version, but I have already planned a new experiment for the other half of my liver….

If you prefer a more traditional version of foie gras, you might like the Armagnac seasoning:

foie_gras_a

TIPS: 

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones. Try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course, the fresher it is, the better and even famous French chefs recommend frozen product if one is not sure about the raw liver’s freshness because livers are normally frozen the same day the animals were slaughtered. Obviously, it’s better to buy liver from a local producer and if it’s imported, but some countries don’t have the same level of hygiene/quality/medicine use regulations (or simply don’t respect theirs). The difference in taste will be huge. I always try to look for free-range birds, which are force-fed only during last weeks of their lives.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All my tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

The terrine must spend 48 hours in the fridge before being served. This is obligatory: I once tasted foie gras about 12 hours after cooking and it was awful. I already thought I had spoilt it, but it was just too early to eat it…. Both the texture and the taste really improve with time.

Since it’s a half-cooked product, you should eat it in four-five days after you cook it. If you see you won’t be able to finish it, freeze the remaining part whole or in small portions.

Remember, even if you forget a step, even if you overcook your liver or you make any other mistake, don’t despair. It might prove totally edible! You will be able to learn it only after 48 hours in the fridge. I once forgot mine in the oven and was surprised it was actually quite good.

How to serve it? 

Foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. For me the simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as damson jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast/brunch is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, actually prefer it with red wine).

If you don’t like the shape of your cooked terrine or if it falls into pieces, serve it on small toasts as canapés.

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should be ok too)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but it’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver, weighing max. 500g (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons sake (I have used here really cheap sake I use for Japanese cooking – though not the sweet mirin! – and it was perfect)

5 flat tablespoons (or more) powdered medium hot chilli (I have used here Kashmiri chilli) or sweet paprika, if you prefer it mild

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (you can add 5 if you use low-sodium version)

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (10 g/about 2 teaspoons per kilo, since there is also soy sauce)

(some more medium hot or sweet chilli powder to sprinkle just before serving)

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, chilli, soy sauce and half of the sake (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

You may sprinkle it with some more chilli powder just before serving.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Grilled Razor Clams with Garlic and Parsley

couteauxpI love razor clams for their delicate taste, still recognisable in the presence of strong seasoning, and, most of all, for their texture: soft, but slightly al dente. For years, imagining they were tricky to prepare and/or clean, I was too scared to buy them and ruin the whole big bunch (they are sold in bunches here). Last weekend I finally dared cooking them for the first time and… they turned out to be the best razor clams of my life! I still cannot believe such a simple process yields such outstanding results. You can easily serve them as a starter, as a light main course with a salad or simply have them as a gourmet snack (which begs for a glass of chilled rosé!).

For this first experience with razor clams I didn’t use any particular recipe. I simply chose the most popular French way to serve this shellfish, i.e. grilled with a mixture of parsley, garlic and butter. Some recipes also add some breadcrumbs for an additional crunch, but I chose to skip them this time. There is also a choice between seasoning the clams before the grilling process and after. I preferred to add parsley butter before. As much as I didn’t search a precise recipe, I did look well for best ways to clean the clams. Luckily salt water soaking was cited everywhere as the best way to get rid of sand (the laziest seafood cleaning method I can imagine).

TIPS: You can use only olive oil in the parsley mixture and skip the butter.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking

Ingredients (serves two as a main course or four as a starter):

500 – 600 g razor clams

several tablespoons salt

extra virgin olive oil

(freshly ground pepper)

Parsley and garlic butter:

2 tablespoons softened butter

about two handfuls of roughly chopped parsley leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Place the razor clams into a big bowl filled with cold salted water (count at least two tablespoons per litre) and leave them for one hour. This way they will get rid of their sand (hopefully!).

In the meantime prepare the parsley butter, mixing the garlic, the butter, the salt and the parsley leaves in a food processor.

Wash the razor clams in cold water and rinse well.

Place them in an empty pan at medium heat and warm until all of them open up (you can put a lid to accelerate the process, but usually it takes about 3 minutes).

Do this in several batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. (Don’t worry if some of them fall completely out of their shells, you will put them back into their homes afterwards).

Remove the upper shell’s part (it’s not necessary, but this part is completely useless and takes space on a baking tray). Place the open razor clams in a baking dish/tray on their shell’s lower part and brush with garlicky butter.

Heat the oven grill/broiler and grill them until the garlic bits start becoming golden (this should take about ten minutes). Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown too much; it will become bitter.

You can also grill them in a normal grill and spread the garlic butter juste before serving.

Sprinkle them with olive oil while they are still hot and serve them simply with good quality bread or baguette (you can also season them with ground pepper).