Monday, February 27, 2012

Leek and tomato salad

This is a rich and tasty salad, one of our favorites for winter. It is created for the cold months when all the fresh tomatoes have bland and undeveloped taste, but you miss the sweetness of good ripe tomatoes. The oniony taste of leek is by far slighter than the one of onion and garlic, despite they all belong to same family of vegetables and the velvety texture of the chopped canned tomatoes adds softness to the dish. The salad brings summer colors to the table - bright green and white of the leek meets red vibrant color of good quality canned tomatoes. 
My mother-in-law prepares it when she wants to please her hubby. So do I.

A little health info: With its high fiber content and low calories amount leek is a good part of a healthy diet plan. Eating fresh leek reduces the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease and many other health problems. It supports the healthy digestion. 
Canned tomatoes are more beneficial than the fresh ones because they contain more lycopene - carotenoid responsible for the red color of tomatoes which helps to decrease the risk of hearth disease.   
But the taste of the salad does not need additional reasons to enjoy this simple salad - it is a spicy salad for those who like the heat even into cold dishes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Vichyssoise (Leek and potato soup)

Vichyssoise is a thick soup, prepared from the white parts of leek, potatoes and heavy cream. If you call it a French soup, it will be a mistake, although you have to twist your tongue in a really French manner to pronounce its name. The soup was created in the kitchen of Ritz-Carlton in New York in the beginning of the 20-th century. By a french cook. But still american creation.
Originally is was intended to be served cold in the hot summer days in order to provide some relief from the heat, but it is very tasty and warming served hot. 
The most refined member of the onion family provides the soup with delicate sweetness.
Creamy and velvety in texture, vichyssoise has a tender and delicate taste, so you can enjoy it even for lunch in a busy day without worrying about your breath. You can play with the amounts of heavy cream you add and you can substitute apples for potatoes if you want to make it lighter and fruitier.
The flavour of the soup is even better the next day, so you can prepare it a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge. 
Potato soup cream

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nettles soup

Stinging nettles. 
The name suggests why many people do not prepare nettles at home - who will dare to clean nettles with bare hands? Many otherwise brave men and women won't. I remeber the wild swans fairy tale Granny read me when I was little. I still remeber how I sympathised with the little girl who had to spin and weave eleven coats with long sleeves to break the spell made to her brothers. The pain caused by the stinging nettles was described as a burning fire. Pure little girl, I thought, only a great love and the desire to safe somebody's life can make me handle nettles. But time changed, I grew up and my unsatiable appetite makes me brave enough to prepare stinging nettles soup many times a year. 
For me nettles is a symbol of spring, I really wonder who and where has found nettles in this cold February - everything around is covered with snow, but anyway, I saw some packages of fresh nettles in the greengrocer's store and I took them. 
Nettle is rich in minerals and very, very rich in Vitamin K, it also boosts the immune functions of the body and is accepted as a remedy for rheumatism. I really like foods, which are tasty and healthy, they do not make me guilty when I pour myself a second serving. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stuffed vine leaves (Sarma or Dolmades gialantzi)

Stuffed grape leaves are popular dish across the Balkans. Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece - every one of these countries has own variety concerning the stuffing mixture. The two main categories concern the stuffing, which could be meat mixture or rice mixture. The meat varieties are eaten warm and the vegetarian ones - at room temperature. In Bulgaria this dish is called sarma or sarmi, which has Turkish origins - sarmak means 'to wrap' in Turkish. 

In Greece dolmades are part of the Meze platter, in Bulgaria Sarmi is a main dish. The stuffing includes different ingredients - rice, minced meat, pine nuts, raisins, mint and some others. The following recipe is a vegetarian version which includes lemon juice and mint. It could be served cold or warm and is good either ways.  In late spring and summer you can find fresh vine leaves, which should be first boiled for 5 minutes into a salted water.  Choose grape leaves that have very thin veins, which will make the taste less stringy. In February on the Balkans you can only use preserved vine leaves. So did I. This dish reminds me of summer, it is light and tasty. My only regret was I did not prepare twice as much.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Grilled asparagus

We are orthodox Christians in our family and we do not have the tradition to celebrate Saint Valentine's day. But I think, some romance is good for every couple and this is a good opportunity to celebrate love. So I wanted to serve for dinner something light and easy to prepare, but it was supposed to bring festive touches to the table. 

Asparagus. Simply grilled. With a smoky flavour and crispy texture. Just with a soft boiled egg and some Parma ham for everybody. Really good idea. Well, outside is - 20° Celsius, so it had to be indoor grilling. My grill pan is good enough to give the foods grillmarks we love, so in less than 10 minutes I was ready. 
We wanted to enhance the joy and used our fingers instead of silverware. 
A good beginning of a long night. 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Trippa alla Fiorentina (Florence-style tripe)

Can you put in one sentence sophisticated words like Renaissance, paintings and architecture and a humble ingredient like tripe? Yes, if you describe the landmarks of Florence. There are lots of stalls and stands around this city, where tripe is prepared accordoing to various recipes and you will miss part of the Florence experience if you don't taste it.
Trippa alla Fiorentina is a specialty of preparing tripe with vegetables and tomato sauce. As most of the Tuscan dishes, it is simple and tasty, nutritios and unexpensive and could be easily prepared at home. Little pretence, deep and satisfying taste.
Patiency is the key word when talking about tripe - the more you cook it on medium heat, the more tenderness you will get at the final dish. The spongy honeycomb part of the tripe is the most tender and so my favourite. It is a good idea to buy a pre-cooked tripe,  this will save you 3 hours of preliminary boiling. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Flourless chocolate cake

About 10 days ago I had a birthday and, predictably, I prepared a cake with lots of chocolate included. Every day is chocolate day for me, but, of course, there had to be a lot of it for my special occasion. It has intense chocolate flavour and smooth buttery texture. I will keep on searching for the best chocolate-including recipe, but this recipe is close to perfection. 
For the cake:
  • 300 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200 g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
For the ganache:
  • 100 g heavy cream
  • 200 g bitter sweet chocolate
  • 40 g butter
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 190°C (370°F) . Butter the bottom of a 20-cm pan. Set aside. 
Cut chocolate into small pieces to enable it to melt quickly and evenly. Put into a small metal bowl, add the butter, cut also into small pieces and melt together in a double broiler, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from heat and let the mixture cool for 5-10 minutes. 
Beat the egg yolks, adding slowly 1/2 cup of the sugar until mixture triples in volume. 
Add the melted chocolate. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with clean beaters, adding slowly the second 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites get thick and white. Add slowly egg whites to the chocolate mixture and spoon into the battered pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes and let cool for 15 minutes before inverting it onto a plate. 
Prepare the ganache. Heat the heavy cream on medium heat and add the chopped chocolateq butter and sugar. Stir to incorporate well. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes and spread over the cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts or a colorful decoration. 
This cake tastes better one day after prepared.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Chicken soup for my body and soul

It is not enough to say I don't like winter, I really hate it. 
And I have my good reasons for that. There is a lot of snow outside, streets are slippery, people wear at least 5 kg of clothes, which makes them look heavy and clumsy. 
There are so many restrictions in winter. For instance - it is not a good idea to talk in the street (the cold wind will cause you a soar throat), to walk fast or run (you will fall onto the ice), to wear your new boots, produced again in a country where people haven't seen snow for years (of course, the boots are elegant, but they let in water, have no lining and their smooth soles makes you more unsure than while figure skating). 
But these are only the weather/fashion limits of winter. For me the main problem with it is the drop in my immune system. I don't know why I am so hospitable to all the viruses and bacilli all around, but every winter I have my bad days, when I take lots of pills and there are piles of used handkerchiefs around me. The last ten days were that kind. I took a sick-leave, but instead of using this opportunity to cook or shoot I could only keep the bed grumbling everything was unfair. 
What helps me to recover when I feel so low? A cup of chicken soup. Hot, comforting, restoring health. 
One of the simple things of life, which create miracles with the way I feel. Here is my recipe.