The Best of 2016

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

I always enjoy and look forward to reading “the best of” posts written by my blogging friends, and yet I’ve never considered doing the same myself. This is probably due to my regular end-of-the-year blues and reluctance to analyse the past twelve months where I tend to see only the empty half of the glass… Anyway, this week I decided to break this bad habit (or rather lack of it) and share with you a small selection of the most thrilling culinary adventures and discoveries I have experienced this year. Happy New Year, my dear visitors!

Indian Coriander Chutney

Indian Coriander Chutney,
the most delicious thing I can imagine made with a bunch of coriander (and also the quickest weekday meal basis I know)

Eazy Lazy Eggless Chicken Katsu

Eazy Lazy Eggless Chicken Katsu
because I was so happy to discover an easier and lighter version of this fantastic Japanese dish

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit,
one of the easiest & quickest & lightest desserts I can imagine

Aubergine with Nigella Seeds

Aubergine with Nigella Seeds ,
the only two-ingredient Indian dish I know (and it’s a delicious one of course!)

Egg Molee

Egg Molee ,
because I cherish every single new egg recipe, especially if it’s Indian

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses
which triggered my numerous adventures with the amazing pomegranate

Grilled Razor Clams

Grilled Razor Clams
because I finally dared buying them and they proved so easy and delicious!

 

 

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.

Homemade Savoury Edible Gifts

driedgFirst of all I would like to apologise to all my dear visitors for such a long silence (some have probably thought I’d stopped blogging…) due to long holidays. Just like every year, I had planned writing at least one post in advance and… just like every year, somehow it didn’t work…

Coming back from my holidays, I started to panic realising it’s time to think and start buying Christmas presents. I still haven’t decided on bigger ones, but I thought maybe this year, for the first time in my life, I might make and offer some edible gifts, at least as a small addition to the more “serious” stuff…

I know cookies, biscuits and jams are often offered, not only for Christmas, so I tried to list here some more unusual savoury edible gift ideas you might find inspiring (if you know my food preferences a bit, you will not be surprised by the abundance of chilli-based products….). All of these are easy to prepare, some can be made in almost no time at all, and all the ingredients are available in December, at least in Europe (fresh imported chilli is available all year round, I hope in the rest of the world too).

Made in less than 30 minutes

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Requiring more time but equally easy (or even much much easier)

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Powdered Garlic

Dried Powdered Garlic

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Dried Apples

Dried Apples

For those who are not afraid of preserving

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Time-consuming and requiring more efforts but a rare treat for Thai food lovers…

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

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).

 

Indian Aubergine with Sesame, Tamarind and an Egg

indian_sesame_aubIn which part of the world do you look for inspiration when looking for new aubergine recipes? For me India is a definite number one (Japanese cuisine comes in second position), so whenever in search for new aubergine ideas, I usually start with this part of my culinary library, especially if I have a new cookery book to play with! The recipe I chose contains a generous amount of sesame seeds, not what I’d expect in an Indian dish. Moreover, the presence of tamarind announced a slightly tangy dish… The result is fantastic, but the sesame seeds transform the other – less surprising – ingredients to the point where, I must admit, I’d never guess the origins of this dish. As a lazy cook, I simply topped it with a poached egg and had it with bread, transforming it into a delicious, creamy full one-bowl meal. The dish was memorable because it was the first time – I think – I had an excuse to sprinkle an Indian dish with my beloved roasted sesame seeds!

The new book I’ve mentioned above is Fresh India, a second recipes collection by Meera Sodha. I love her Made in India, but I hesitated a lot before buying this one because it is vegetarian. I am an avowed pisci- and carnivore, so I was worried it might even be vegan… but when I saw eggs are also featured here (luckily there’s Amazon’s “look inside” option), I was relieved. The pages are of course filled with meatless dishes (but I already visualise those topped with an egg, enriched with sliced chicken breast or shrimp…) and, most of all there are some mushroom and egg-including recipes that don’t need any other proteins, even for me.

This aubergine dish comes from Anhdra Pradesh, apparently known for a combination of tangy and fiery flavours. As usually, apart from the addition of an egg, I have transformed the recipe, for example replacing half of the sesame seeds with white sesame paste (I was afraid my blender wouldn’t transform the sesame into a smooth paste and I was right : the result was creamy with some tiny bits of sesame seeds). In short, whether you are a vegetarian or just an Indian cuisine fan, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Fresh India and check the original recipe for this delicious aubergine dish.

TIPS: Don’t skin your tomatoes. It’s absolutely unnecessary and mixed skins add more flavours anyway.

If you find poaching difficult, you can fry the egg too.

If you don’t own a “magical” Indian blender and aren’t sure if yours will crush sesame seeds to fine powder, add half sesame seeds and half sesame seed paste or grind the seeds in a spice/coffee grinder. By the way, if you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly recommend buying a cheap coffee grinder you shouldn’t use for coffee (cheap ones have blades and not burrs and cuts coffee instead of properly grinding it). It’s perfect for freshly ground spices and the difference is huuuge!

The recipe suggests serving this dish with cracked wheat and yogurt. I haven’t tested either, but,  maybe because of the poached egg, the dish was great simply served with bread.

I suggest warming up your individual bowls in the oven (at the lowest temperature; don’t go above 50°C if they aren’t heatproof) before serving this dish. It might take some time before fried/poached eggs are ready and this way your aubergine dish will keep warm for longer.

Preparation: 1h – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 3 as a side dish or 2 as a main course  with a poached egg):

2 medium aubergines/eggplants, cut into 3 cm thick sticks

1 medium onion (I have used two big shallots)

fresh mint or coriander leaves (or chives/green onion)

1 tablespoon oil (I have used coconut fat)

(toasted white sesame seeds)

(yogurt)

Sauce:

2 medium tomatoes (or 1/3 small can of tomatoes)

2 heaped teaspoons white sesame seeds or 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame seeds + 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame paste (see the TIPS)

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a block of tamarind and hot water)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder (I have used here Kashmiri chilli)

Place the sauce ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until light brown.

Add the sauce and, when it’s warmed, the aubergine pieces and about 1/2 glass of water (they will absorb water, so the sauce must be more liquid).

Simmer, covered until the aubergine pieces are soft.

Add water if necessary.

Heat the water for poached eggs.

Divide the aubergine dish into individual bowls.

Poach 3 eggs, one by one, and place on top.

Sprinkle with chopped mint and, if you like, toasted sesame seeds.