Saturday, July 31, 2010

Courgette and roasted garlic soup

I have lifted this almost directly from the Painted Garden Cookbook, just adjusting the amount of garlic downwards a little and adding a good splash of white wine.

1 kg of small courgettes
300 g of onions
1 head of roasted garlic
olive oil
1/2 glass of white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock

  1. Peel and chop the onion, top and tail the courgettes and chop into small chunks. Put in a large saucepan with plenty of olive oil and gently sautee until done (about 15 minutes).
  2. Add the white wine, roasted garlic and stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool a little, whizz with a stick blender, check for salt and add more if necessary.

Warm Arbroath smokie, potato and bacon salad

When I got back from Amsterdam I was in the mood for more herring, and I nipped along to my fishmonger (Something Fishy, on Broughton Street in Edinburgh) expecting to find some nice fat herrings waiting for me. Unfortunately they had all gone, so I bought some Arbroath smokies instead. Smokies are hot-smoked, salted haddock which are a north-east of Scotland speciality, and bear no resemblance to herring, but I thought they would still go well in the warm potato and bacon salad I had planned for the herring. If you can't get hold of smokies then you could substitute them with fresh herring fillets, very lightly fried, or just about any other fish you fancy - mackerel, trout etc.

2 Arbroath smokies
750g new potatoes
6 rashers of smoked back bacon
3 pickled dill cucumbers, thickly sliced
white wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
olive oil
Black pepper

  1. Place the smokies in a large saucepan (cut them in half crosswise if they won't fit), cover with boiling water, add a few sprigs of dill and about 50 ml of white wine vinegar, bring to the boil, turn off heat, cover and leave for 5 minutes. Transfer smokies from pan to a bowl, allow to cool and remove the flesh from the smokies with your fingers.
  2. Steam the new potatoes in their skins, allow to cool and then cut into halves or quarters depending on size. Grill or fry the bacon until it is just done, remove from pan, allow to cool, and cut into strips.
  3. Combine the fish, potatoes, bacon and pickled cucumbers in a serving bowl, sprinkle plenty of chopped dill over it.
  4. Prepare a dressing with the olive oil, some wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, and pour over the salad and mix gently.
Memory lapse
I often forget things when I am cooking, and when I was putting this together the pickled cucumbers slipped my mind, which is why you won't find them in the photo, however hard you search.


Amsterdam does not have an image as a foodie destination and, like the cuisines of most northern European countries, Dutch food has a bit of a poor reputation. This is partly the result of old prejudices being slow to die, but mainly I guess because of a circular definition of what constitutes 'Dutch' food. As a result, any new food brought to the Netherlands by immigrants, through contact with former colonies, and as part of the more general process of cultural cross-fertilisation which is a feature of globalisation, is dismissed as somehow not Dutch. As far as I'm concerned, "Dutch food" is just the food people cook and eat in the Netherlands, and on that definition it is excellent. Some of it is 'indigenous' (which just means people have been making it there for a long time), other foods are still identified by their place of origin but are well-established in the Netherlands, and there are plenty of new arrivals too.

Restaurant eating
When I was in Amsterdam with Gemma last week, our three evening meals fell into each of these categories. The first was at the impeccably "Dutch" Moeders Pot in the Jordaan. We had a rijsttafel (or selection) of dishes, including sausage, beef stew, red cabbage and stewed apple. (Rijsttafel, incidentally, means 'rice table' and was originally applied to a selection of Indonesian dishs. I'm not sure how fixed it is outside of the Indonesian context.)

Moeder's Pot

The next day we had another rijstaffel, but this time of the Indonesian variety, at Puri Mas on Lange Leidsedwarsstraat. The street itself is pretty awful - the kind of pedestrianised street full of touristy restaurants which makes one's heart sink - but the food was fine.

Puri Mas

However, for me the highlight of our evening meals was definitely a tiny Algerian couscous restaurant called rainarai on Prinsengracht, which had a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes to be accompanied with couscous or rice.


Street herring
Restaurant eating is fine, but I have to admit I'm not all that keen on it, particularly when the waiter service and napkin side of it is being played up. It also gets quite expensive. Fortunately, Amsterdam has some great street food, too, notably its fish stalls. Some of these offer a range of things, including fried mussels, smoked eel and shrimps, but herring is definitely king, served lightly pickled and accompanied by pickled cucumber and some chopped onion. There are stalls dotted around the city and they're all good, but the best I tried was definitely the one in Albert Cuypstraat. If you enter the market from Van Woustraat, keep going past the first fish van on the right (although I should say I had some great fried mussels there), and walk for another 5 minutes until you come to a large stall (also on the right) which sells only herring. You can have it on bread or on its own. Personally, I don't think the herring benefits from being put inside a fluffy white roll, so I chose the solo option.

This, of course, is Jewish food, and in fact my great-grandfather used to have a grocer's in London and made a weekly trip across from London to the Netherlands to buy cheese and herring (among other things, I assume). So, as well as being absolutely delicious, eating this gave me a lovely feeling of being connected. I still remember my great-grandpa, who died when I was 7 years old. We called him "little grandpa" to distinguish him from his son, my grandpa Sam. (We also had a "new grandpa", but that's another story.)

Gember bolus
Continuing with the Jewish theme, we also ate these delicious little sweet rolls filled with candied ginger. I came across them in the cafe of Amsterdam's Jewish Museum but was unable to track them down elsewhere. (I asked in a couple of places but apparently they are only available in Jewish bakeries, so one for my next visit.)

gember bolus

I had a look for recipes on the internet but didn't come up with much (other than the odd item about people choking to death on a 'ginger bolus'). However, I think I know roughly how they are made, and hope to have a try and post the results soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Herring and courgette fishcakes

This is the first recipe I have (more or less) followed from the Painted Garden Cookbook. It's very easy to make and I suspect it could be made even easier by steaming the potatoes and courgette instead of chopping and frying them. I also made a slight tweak to the recipe by replacing the suggested mackerel or salmon with some spanking fresh herring fillets which were just too good to resist.

200 g potatoes
200 g small courgetttes
olive oil
400 g herring fillet
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
50 g fresh breadcrumbs

  1. Set the oven to 200oC and grease a baking tray with olive oil. Peel the potatoes, chop them very small and gently sautee them in plenty of olive oil for 5 minutes.
  2. Chop the courgette finely, add to the potatoes, and continue to sautee for another 5 minutes. Strain off the excess oil from the frying pan, transfer the potato and courgette mixture to a mixing bowl, and mash with a potato masher.
  3. Skin and finely chop the herring fillet, and add to the potato and courgette mixture.
  4. Add the parsley, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix very well.
  5. Put some flour in a separate bowl. With your hands, form the mixture into 8 patties, dredge each with flour on both sides before transferring to the baking tray. Bake for 20 minues, turning over after 10 minutes.

Kitchen help
Once again, I had help with this one. At the risk of becoming boring on the subject of cooking and eating with kids, I think it's good to involve children in cooking even if they are not necessarily going to eat the final product.

Jerusalem artichoke and apple soup

I only realised after I had started making this soup that my blender was on the blink, so I ended up having to use a potato ricer, hence the slightly lumpy appearance of the soup in this photo.

4 small leeks (or 2 large ones)
olive oil or butter
750g Jerusalem artichokes
500g potatoes
2 tart apples
1 litre of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Slice the leeks and simmer gently in a large pan in some olive oil or butter.
  2. Peel and dice the artichokes and potatoes, and add to the pan. Add the hot vegetable stock.
  3. Peel, core and dice the apples and add to the pan. Cook for 30 minutes or so, until the artichoke and potato is done.
  4. Allow to cool a bit, then blend until smooth. Add the thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

Kitchen safety
One of the reasons why most kids' cookbooks are so bad is because you aren't allowed to let kids chop things or handle anything hot. As a result, cookbooks for children are stuffed full of recipes for cakes and biscuits (with mum or dad dealing with the oven), and the odd bit of exotic sandwich making and pizza decoration tacked on at the end. All so that in 10 years' time we can complain that our kids are obese and don't know how to cook. Far better to hand your kids a razor sharp knife and a boiling hot kettle and let them get on with it ...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bread making equipment

I've been baking bread for a few years now, but it is only this summer that I have invested in a bit of specialist bread making equipment. I wish I had done it earlier! The equipment makes a huge difference to the quality of your bread and is not expensive, especially if you use a little ingenuity.

Item 1: baking stone

The purpose of this is to simulate the effect of baking on the floor of a traditional oven. It heats up and retains heat, giving a better crust and helping your bread to rise and cook. If you buy a specialist baking stone it will set you back around GBP30 or more. However, I bought this nice solid granite chopping board (about 1.5cm thick) for GBP10 via Amazon from a company called Betterware. This one came with rubber pads stuck to the bottom, but they came off very easily with the help of a sharp knife and a quick scrub with a pan scourer. I was worried that it might not have great heat retention, but 2 hours after I had turned the oven off it was still pretty hot. The stone should be put in the oven before it is is turned on, and should be left in until it has coolled fully, otherwise it may crack.

Item 2: proving basket or banneton

These can be lined with cloth and made from cane, wicker or artificial materials. As the name suggests, you place your bread in them while it proves, thus preventing the bread from spreading at this stage. I bought this one from a company called Bakery Bits.

Item 3: timer
Okay, it's actually a mobile phone, but it has a timer application on it too, so that's good enough for me. There's nothing worse than going through the whole process of making bread, only to ruin it by taking your eye off the clock at the end.

Item 4: lame or grignette
This is basically a razor blade mounted on a long handle, and is used for slashing the top of the bread just before it is baked. In addition to helping the bread develop a nice, crunchy crust, this also controls where the gas escapes from the bread.

Item 5: peel
A peel is a wooden board or paddle used to transfer the risen loaves smoothly into the oven. If you are transferring wet dough directly onto a baking stone, then it's well worth investing in a super-peel. Otherwise, you may find it's okay to use a combination of stone and baking sheet.

Item 6: water spray
Not sure what was in this one before, but it does the trick. Use this to create a humid environment in your oven by giving it 15 to 20 very quick squirts just before putting your bread in the oven.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sourdough ferment

Now that I am back in the land of working ovens, I am looking forward to a summer of intensive breadmaking and other baking. I started by treating myself to a new book, Crust by Richard Bertinet.

There's a lot of mystique about sourdough, and I think part of the problem is that people think of the first stage as part of their bread recipe rather than just a little kitchen experiment. If you approach it in the latter frame of mind, then you are really just helping something to go mouldy on your kitchen shelf, and checking from time to time to see how long it is taking. What could be easier than that? Hell, I do that all the time without even trying. Anyway, here is the method lifted pretty much straight from Bertinet's book.

Stage 1: two days

200g strong white flour
20g honey
150g warm water

Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, mix very thoroughly with a spoon until they come together to form a soft dough, place the bowl inside a plastic bag, leave in a warm place for two days. (I use my boiler cupboard.) Your mixture should now have little bubbles on the surface, showing that it has started to ferment.

Stage 2: two days
300g strong white flour
150g warm water

Add the flour and water to the ferment, mix well with a spoon, return bowl to bag and leave for a further two days in a warm place. The mixture should now have begun to expand, and should smell slightly yoghurty and alcoholic.

Stage 3: two days
400g of the ferment
225g warm water
375g strong white flour

Measure the warm water into a mixing bowl, add 400g of the ferment to it, break the ferment into small pieces, and mix very well so that there are no dry chunks. Add the flour, mix very well, return bowl to bag and leave for 12 hours in a warm place. Transfer to the fridge, and keep there for two days before using to make bread.

I have unwillingly become a bit of a bread techie, so for anyone out there who knows or cares about these things, the hydration percentage of this starter is 60% (300g water/500 g flour).