Archive for Appetizer

Roasted paprika pesto

Normally I’m not really into the making pesto from other things than the normal basil, pine nuts and parmezan cheese trend, but this recipe caught my eye. Other than being a sauce type of thing, it isn’t related to pesto, it seems more like a romesco sauce (a Catalonian-Spanish red pepper and almond sauce). So why it is called pesto instead of romesco I’m not sure, but in the end a dish should be tasty, whatever its name is. And this sauce certainly is tasty! It has the sweetness from the paprika, the richness from the almonds and because of the smoky pimenton and roasted peppers it has a lovely depth of flavour. It can be served as a sauce for seafood, chicken, meats and vegetables, but it is also delicious as a dip with bread and crudité. Because of this versatility, and that you can keep it for a week in a clean jar in the fridge, it is worth it to make the whole recipe and use it for several different dishes.

Roasted Paprika Pesto

Roasted paprika pesto (makes a large jar)
Adapted from “Annabel Langbein – The Free Range Cook”

6 red paprika’s
4 tbsp extra vierge olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp pimenton de la vera
4 tbsp roasted almonds (use more for a thicker and richer sauce, and roast them for extra flavour)
salt and pepper

Place the paprika’s on a baking tray and roast them 15-20 minutes in a preheated oven of 240C, or until their skins become blistery and black. Take them from the oven and put them in a closed plastic bag, leave to cool for 20 minutes (they will be easier to peel this way).
Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a small skillet and fry the garlic and the paprika powders for a few seconds. This makes the taste more pronounced. Pour in a kitchen machine or blender.
Remove the skin and seeds from the paprika’s, but keep the juices. Add the paprika and juices to the garlic-paprika powder mixture, and add the almonds. Season with salt and pepper and blend to a smooth purée. Serve cold or gently heat it in a small pan to serve warm.

Cheese souffle

Soufflés are known as one of the most difficult things that can be made in the kitchen. Luckily, there are also many people that claim that it isn’t as hard as it seems, for example Harold McGee. So I decided to give it a go myself, to see if I was indeed setting myself up for failure, or for something delicious. Because I had some left-over cheese, I decided to make a cheese soufflé, but you can flavour a soufflé with all kinds of things, and you can make sweet ones as well (which I might give a try soon).
Soufflés are pure science, they rise because the air that is trapped in the bubbles that you created by whipping egg white and enforcing it with something like a bechamel or a custard heats up and therefore expands. Also, water from the bubble walls will evaporate into the bubbles, turning into steam, which occupies more space than the water, making the soufflé rise even further. Because it is confined by the ramekin, it can only go in one direction: up. Unfortunately, the same law of nature (the volume occupied by a given weight of gas is proportional to its temperature) dictates that a soufflé most certainly will sink, because the air will cool down. There are two things you can do to prevent this sinking: the first is bringing the soufflés from the oven to table as fast as possible, because the more time passes, the more the soufflé will sink. And the other thing is to alter the base. A stiffer base will make firmer walls for the air bubbles, which make it harder for the soufflé to rise, but also to sink again. A less stiff base will make less firm walls for the air bubbles, causing a greater rise and a faster sink. An interesting fact: when you put a deflated soufflé in the oven, it will rise again (but will completely overcook, which isn’t tasty) because you heat up the air again. The recipe below is a bit in between, it does sink a bit after taking it from the oven, but will stay nice and airy.

I was pleasantly surprised by these soufflés. You make them with easy techniques like making a bechamel and folding whipped egg whites into something, so if you master those techniques, making a soufflé is not difficult at all. Also, I did not have any trouble with them rising, and they didn’t sink that much after removing from the oven. Furthermore, they were very tasty. They are very cheesy, but in a light way because of the air bubbles. And it makes a perfect luxurious but not too difficult appetizer for a dinner party.

Cheese Souffle

Cheese soufflé (makes 2)
Adapted from BBC Food

15 g butter + extra for greasing
15 g flour
75 ml milk
1/2 tsp mustard
salt and pepper
45 g cheese, grated (gouda, parmesan, cheddar, anything tasty that melts well)
2 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease two ramekins with butter.
Make a bechamel. Melt the butter in a non-stick sauce pan. Add the flour and stir with a silicone spatula until you have a smooth paste. Cook on very low heat for a minute or so. Add the milk splash by splash, stirring well in between each addition to prevent lumps. Add mustard, salt and pepper, cheese and stir well. Taste and add extra mustard/salt/pepper if necessary (it should be a bit overseasoned to compensate for the bland egg whites you will fold in). Stir in the egg yolks and set aside.
Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Take about 1/3 and mix it in with the bechamel. Then take the other 2/3 and fold it in, careful but fast (according to McGee, whipped egg whites will deflate more when you fold slowly). Immediately scoop the mixture in the two prepared ramekins, place into the preheated oven and bake for about 15-17 minutes, or until risen and golden on top. Bring them to the table as fast as possible to prevent excessive deflating.

Courgette soup

Last year the courgette plants in our garden did not that well, but that still meant that they produced 2 or 3 courgettes a week. Maybe this year they will not do it that well again, but they also might be doing great. Either case, we will have lots of courgettes during the summer. So when I came about this recipe I thought I should try it: having more recipes for delicious food that use courgette prevents getting bored of them.
Courgette is quite a mild vegetable, so the soup itself is very mild and summery. Because it has some flour in it, and is blended and passed through a sieve it is very smooth and creamy. You can enhance this creaminess by adding some cream or crème fraîche. You can make the soup a bit bolder by adding something interesting, like blue cheese (f.e. gorgonzola) or crisped ham/bacon, or a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. You could even serve it cold in small glasses as an appetizer.
By variating the kind of herb you use you can completely transform the character of this soup. I used chives and parsley (and would have added some chervil, but I didn’t have it on hand) for a garden style soup, by adding rosemary and sage you make it Italian, adding mint would be perfect when you serve the soup cold, you could even add coriander to give the soup an Asian vibe.

Courgette Soup

Courgette soup (serves 4)
Adapted from Allerhande

4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp flour
800 g courgette, cubed
2 vegetable stock cubes
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp herbs, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion for about 4 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the flour and fry for another 2 minutes (the flour should not get any colour). Add the courgette and fry for another 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 400 ml water and the stock cubes, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the herbs. Take the pan from the heat and puree with a stick blender. Pour the soup through a sieve into another pan. Use a ladle or wooden spoon to push as much liquid through, but take care not to push through the fibery bits as well, because these are what you want to get rid of. Serve immediately, optionally with add-ins.

Dutch Food: Shrimp Cocktail

The Netherlands and the North Sea are famous for seafood specialities, namely mussels, shrimp and herring. Before I wrote about mussels and herring, and now I will write about the famous and delicious brown shrimp, caught in the North Sea. They are always small and brown in colour (hence the name). They are quite different from all the pink shrimp/prawns/scampi/etc;  they smell creamy and sweet, taste nutty and sweet, quite pronounced in comparison to pink shrimp, and they have a firm but tender texture.

Usually the shrimp are washed, boiled and cooled on board of the ship that caught them, so almost all shrimp you buy are cooked. Usually they are peeled as well, unfortunately this does takes some time, which isn’t beneficial for the taste of the shrimp. They also add preservatives that have an effect on the taste.  For the most delicious shrimp you get, you must purchase them directly from the ship or the fishing port, but finding a place that sells shrimp like this can be difficult. Brown shrimp are available through the whole year, but peak availability is in april/may and in autumn. Unfortunately, brown shrimp don’t have an MSC certificate yet, because some important information is not available (the effect of brown shrimp fishing on the ecosystem is being studied at the moment). They aren’t overfished, but there is a lot of by-catch. Fortunately, from a sustainability point of few it is considered acceptable to eat them once in a while. You can use them in hot or cold dishes, but when using in hot dishes, make sure to heat them only very shortly, otherwise they will get tough. The two best things you can make with them, in my opinion, are shrimp cocktail and shrimp croquettes. I’m a firm believer of not messing with the classics, that is why I give you a very classic recipe for shrimp cocktail. Delicious!

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail (serves 4)
Sweet Dutch prawns with a lovely, creamy sauce on a bed of lettuce.

200 g Dutch brown shrimp (peeled and cooked)
few leaves of lettuce (shredded or whole)
4 small lemon wedges (optional)
½ tbsp chopped parsley or a pinch of paprika powder

3 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 drop tabasco
2 drops Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
4 tbsp sherry or whisky
salt and pepper

Place lettuce on 4 small plates.
Top lettuce with shrimps.
Make the sauce by combining all ingredients (fold whipped cream in to keep it airy) and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Dollop sauce on top of prawns.
Garnish with lemon and a sprinkling of parsley or paprika powder.

Feta dip

A smooth, creamy and bold-flavoured dip that is very easy to make and keeps for days. It is perfect to use as a dip, either to take with you for snacking, or on parties. Eat it with all kinds of vegetables or bread and personalize it by adding flavourings (like herbs and spices) you like.

This dip also works great as a salad dressing (I used it for greek-ish chopped vegetables). I find that the downside of putting cubes of feta in a salad is that in some bites you have too much feta and in other bites you don’t have enough… I never seem to get them distributed evenly throughout the salad. Using the feta as a dressing is a great solution for that.

I do have a bit of a quirk, I like to use the Danish white salad cheese instead of real feta, because real feta tastes like sheep, and I don’t like the flavour of sheep in cheese (on the other hand, I do like goat’s cheese). Just use the one you like. I used low fat cream cheese without a problem.

Feta dip
Adapted from the Kitchn

100 gram feta, room temperature
50 g cream cheese, room temperature
a splash of milk
salt and pepper
Optional flavourings: zest and juice of a lemon, 2 tbsp chopped chives or flat leave parsley
Optional garnishes: olive oil, sumac, cayenne

Blitz the feta in a small food processor until it is in small pieces. Add the cream cheese and blend for about 5 minutes, adding the milk to make it a smooth mixture. Alternatively, mash the feta with a fork in a bowl, then add the cream cheese and mix very well with the fork (this will give you a slightly coarser result).
Taste the mixture and add salt (probably not needed) and pepper to taste. Mix in the flavourings you are using, then scoop the mixture in a serving bowl (or put it in an airtight container and keep in the fridge). Garnish and serve.

Cream of mushroom soup

Making your own cream of mushroom soup is very easy, and much more delicious than the stuff from a can. There are two important things to keep the soup as white as possible, instead of dull and brownish. First, use the freshest mushrooms you can find, because they will be very white and the spores (dark part of the mushrooms) are still small. Older mushrooms tend to be darker with larger spores. And second, cook everything on very low heat, so that it doesn’t colour. And, as is important with all soups, make sure you serve the soup really, really hot. Lukewarm soup is just disgusting.

Mushroom Soup

Cream of mushroom soup (4 plates/bowls)

knob of butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
250 gram mushrooms
1 glass of white wine
500 ml vegetable stock
100 ml cream
salt and pepper
optional: ham or bacon
optional: chopped chives

Melt the butter in a cooking pot on medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, cook on low heat until soft and translucent. Don’t let it colour!
Put aside a few slices of mushroom. Add the rest of the mushrooms, cook on low heat while stirring occasionally until soft. Add the wine, leave to boil for a minute to cook of the harsh taste of the alcohol. Then add the stock. Boil for a few minutes to completely cook the mushrooms.
Turn of the heat and use a hand-held blender to blend the soup until smooth.
Turn the heat back on and add the cream and the slices of mushroom you put aside. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat until everything is warmed through.
Scoop into plates and garnish with the ham or bacon, and chives (if using). Serve immediately in warmed soup plates or bowls.

Chicken ragout

I love to make bouillon in weekends or holidays. The long, slow process has something relaxing, and as a bonus you end up with a lovely smelling house and a delicious meal. Because were only with 2 at home, I either have to make several things with the bouillon, or I have to freeze some. This time I used part of it for a lovely chicken soup, and part of it for a ragout. I don’t think there are many people making this at home, because you can buy tins of it in the Netherlands, but it is delicious to make it yourself and fun as well. This time I served it in vol-au-vents (shopbought) but it is also delicious served over rice.

Important for a good bouillon is a good, flavoursome chicken. In the past I used to use chicken legs from the supermarket or the market, but those are from young chickens, so they don’t have a strong flavour. Buying a real soup chicken, which is old, tough and not suitable for anything other than cooking it for a long time to make bouillon, gives you a bouillon with lots and lots more flavour. It’s worth it to look for it, but shop around for it a bit, because at some spots soup chickens are extremely expensive, and at some places they are insanely cheap.

Chicken bouillon, soup and ragout (serves 2 people twice)

1 small soup chicken
1 large onion, peeled and chopped in large chunks
1 leek, cleaned and chopped in large chunks
1 medium carrot, washed and chopped in large chunks
3 ribs celery, washed and chopped in large chunks
2 bay leaves
12 pepper corns, crushed
piece of mace
1 clove
few sprigs of thyme
few sprigs of parsley
2 tsp salt (this is not enough, but you can always add more later in the process)

1/2 of the meat from the chicken
300 g soup vegetables

4 vol-au-vents
1/2 of the meat from the chicken
60 g butter
50 g flour
250 ml bouillon
250 ml white wine (can be substituted by more bouillon)
50 ml cream
salt and pepper
lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped herbs (like parsley, chives, chervil)

Place all the ingredients for the bouillon in a large pan and cover with 2 liter cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for a few hours.
Take out the chicken and set aside. Pour the bouillon through a sieve into another pan, press the liquid from the vegetables (not too much, that will cloud the bouillon), then throw away. I usually boil down the bouillon a little further to intensify the flavour.
Take a clean tea towel and rinse under cold water. Wring out and use it to line a sieve. Pour the bouillon through the towel and sieve into another pan. This will filter out the fine sediment and most of the fat. The bouillon is now ready to use.

Set aside the amount of bouillon you need for the ragout and use the rest for the bouillon.

Peel the skin from the chicken and discard. Pick all the flesh from the chicken and discard the bones, sinewy bits and other bits that are not nice to eat. Shred or slice the meat into chunks, mix up the dark and the light meat and divide in two.

For the soup, bring the bouillon to the boil, add the vegetables and cook for a few minutes (until tender but still slightly crisp). Season with salt to taste. Add the chicken and cook for another minute to heat through. Serve hot.

For the ragout, prepare the vol-au-vents according to package instructions. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan and add the flour. Stir well. Cook on low heat while stirring for a few minutes. Gradually add the stock and wine, while stirring to prevent lumps. Cook to heat through and thicken for a few minutes. Add the cream, stir well. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste and the green herbs. Add the chicken and cook for another minute to heat through. Serve immediately with the vol-au-vents.

Two appetizers

I love tuna salad, because it is very versatile. You can scoop it on top of all kinds of (toasted) bread or crackers, pile it on vegetables like tomato and cucumber or serve it over lettuce as a salad. It works as a lunch, a snack or even as part of diner. And it’s healthy… at least the tuna. Most people don’t eat enough fish and this is an easy way to add some more, and tuna is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids as well. Make sure you buy MSC certified sustainable tuna, because cans of tuna that don’t have the MSC stamp usually contain tuna from places where this fish is almost extinct… when the tuna is gone, it is gone, and we can’t eat tuna any more. There are all kind of other certifications (usually invented by the companies themselves), but MSC (for wild fish and seafood) and ASC (for farmed fish and seafood) are the only ones that really mean something.
I’ve been on the hunt for a good tuna salad for a long time. Buying a tub of tuna salad of course is the easiest way, but not the tastiest. Usually it has only a little bit of fish in it, and it is quite runny. So I started to experiment making my own. I always use cans of tuna on water, not on oil, because the salad would get to greasy with the latter variant. I started with only using mayonnaise, but that lacked some freshness. Adding lemon juice helped, as did adding yoghurt. But finally I found that using 1 can of tuna, 1 tbsp yogonaise and 1 tbsp (light) cream cheese worked the best. It is fresh and creamy, and very thick (so that it doesn’t fall of your sandwich). And because both the yogonaise and the light cream cheese are lower in fat than their regular variants, you keep the fat/calorie count in check as well. I season my salad with salt and pepper, and sometimes a pinch of garlic powder and a drop of worcestershire sauce.
You could add some finely chopped (spring) onion, gherkins, celery, cucumber, mustard, (dried) fruit or curry powder to the recipe (these are some of the things I found when I was looking for recipes), but that really doesn’t work for me. You can substitute the tuna with a can of salmon, steamed mackerel or even cooked chicken. And tuna salad is also very delicious to fill eggs with, just make the basic recipe, add the cooked egg yolks and pipe the mixture in the cooked egg-white halves.

And then the other appetizer. I love endive (white heads with a light green top, not the lettuce-like green stuff… there is some name confusion sometimes) and I usually eat it as a salad or a gratin, but some variation now and then is nice as well. Endive works really well with creamy, sharp cheeses, sweet things and nuts. So for very a very nice appetizer, separate the heads of endive in separate leaves/spears and fill them with fresh goat’s cheese, a drizzle of honey and some toasted walnuts; or blue cheese (I like St. Augur) and walnuts. Delicious!

Cured Salmon with Pancakes and Beetroot

Tom Kerridge is an amazing chef. He elevates British pub food to very high standards in his gastropub with two michelin stars. He regularly cooks in Saturday Kitchen, after participating as a candidate (and winning) he judges Great British Menu, and recently his own programme was shown on the BBC. His combinations are surprising, sometimes even weird, but always delicious. The downside, his recipes are always very rich, and sometimes lack vegetables. This recipe (cured salmon and pancakes, the addition of beetroot was my own idea) was the first one I cooked from his book, and I was very happy with it. The salmon tasted amazing and very intense, and the pancakes were lovely and fluffy. The maple syrup gives it a hint of sweetness and the cream cheese adds creaminess and a little acidity. Together it works brilliant. We ate this as a main, but by stacking the pancakes with some salmon, a dollop of cream cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup, they would be great posh appetizers for parties. And the pancakes are also great for breakfast and brunch. I will certainly make this recipe again!

Variations for the cured salmon: juniper berries and gin, or dill and wodka. Remember, you have to start this dish 48 hours before you want to serve it!

Cured Salmon

Cured salmon with Pancakes and Beetroot (serves 4)
From Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food

175 g brown sugar
165 g sea salt flakes
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 x 300 g salmon fillet (with skin)
150 ml whisky

125 g flour
40 g sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
300 ml buttermilk (I used 4 tbsp greek yoghurt and a few drops of lemon juice combined with milk to get 300 ml in total)
50 g butter, melted
1 egg

400 g precooked beetroot, sliced
125 g fresh goats cheese
salt and pepper

cream cheese or creme fraiche, to serve
maple syrup, to serve

Line a non-metallic dish large enough for the fillets with clingfilm, leaving enough overhang to wrap around the fillets later on. Mix the brown sugar, sea salt and coriander. Spread a layer on the clingfilm and place a salmon fillet skin side down on top. Pour the whisky over it. Spread a layer of the salt-sugar mix onto the salmon, then place the other salmon fillet on top skin side up (flesh sides of the fillets facing each other). Put the remaining sugar-salt mix on top. Wrap it tightly in the clingfilm. My clingfilm immediately seemed leaky, so I placed the parcel into a ziplockback, pressed the air out and closed it, to make sure the fish really was tightly wrapped. Place in the fridge for 24 hours with a weight on top, then turn the parcel over, place the weight back on and leave for another 24 hours.
When ready to serve, unwrap the salmon, rinse and pat dry.
To make the pancakes, mix flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together. Mix buttermilk, butter and egg together. Add about half the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and give it a whisk. Then fold in the rest of the wet ingredients. Don’t overmix! It should be quite thick and a little lumpy. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the salmon (discard the skin) and arrange pretty on a plate.
Then cook the pancakes. Heat a frying pan over low heat with a little oil. Add spoonfu1s of the batter and fry for about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer to a plate (if you like you can keep them warm in a low oven) and cook the rest of the batter.
Mix the beets with salt and pepper and arrange the goats cheese on top.
Serve the salmon with some pancakes, a dollop of cream cheese, a drizzle of maple syrup and a scoop of beetroot salad.

Petit choux aux fromage

This dish was inspired by one of the recent episodes of Masterchef: the Professional on BBC. In this show, professional chefs battle to win the title of Professional Masterchef 2013. One of the first tests the chefs have to do (after an invention test and a technical challenge) is cooking a classic recipe from the hand of Michel Roux (a great chef and one of the presenters of the show). Usually the recipe is not very detailed and the chefs have to use their own knowledge and instincts to come to a good result, but for the viewers at home there usually is a recipe available on the BBC website. These choux were part of one of the classic recipes, but unfortunately the recipe is not available (or not yet) online… so I had to improvise myself, with great results. These choux are delicious, little, savoury, flavoursome bites, perfect as snack or appetizer. You can sprinkle some cheese on top of the choux before baking, but I always find it very messy and not adding much to the choux. You can also add some herbs or spices if you like.

Petit choux au fromage

55 g butter
125 ml water
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp sugar
70 g flour
2 eggs

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
250 ml milk (can be a bit less or more, depending on the desired consistency)
100 g cheese, grated (I used gouda, but something like parmesan, cheddar or emmentaler would work well too)
100 g jamon serrano, very finely chopped (you need to be able to pipe the mix into the choux, so the bits need to be small enough to not clog the piping tip)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 220C. Combine the butter, water, salt and sugar in a sauce pan (I like to use an anti-stick one). Bring to the boil. Take off the heat, add the flour and stir well. Place back on low heat and keep stirring for 3 minutes. Take off the heat, pour over into a bowl and add the eggs one by one, stirring well until incorporated in between. Scoop into a piping bag fitted with a round tip and pipe small blobs (about 1/2 tbsp) of batter on a lined baking sheet. Use a wet finger to press down any pointy bits, otherwise they will burn. Place in the preheated oven, bake for 10 minutes at 220C, then turn down to 190C and bake for another 15 minutes (because these are very small you don’t need to prick a hole in the bottom and dry them out on a very low temperature to prevent collapsing). Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the cheese filling. Melt the butter in a sauce pan (I like to use an anti-stick one). Add the flour and stir until a paste forms and cook, while stirring, on low heat for about 1 minute to cook the flour. Gradually add the milk, bit by bit, while stirring, to get a smooth sauce. It should be quite thin, because the cheese will make it thicker and when it cools it will be thicker as well. Add the cheese and stir until incorporated and melted. Immediately take off the heat, and add the jamon serrano. Taste, and add some salt and/or pepper if necessary.
To finish, scoop the cheese sauce into a piping bag fitted with a small, round tip and pipe the sauce into the choux (use the piping bag/tip to make a small hole in the bottom of the choux). Serve immediately. You can make the choux and the sauce in advance and do the piping just before serving.