Healthy AND Good: Lentils and Parsnip Salad

Technically, we have to eat to compensate the loss of calories from our daily activities. Which means we could eat just anything to have our energy, but where's the fun in that? And even if the idea of having 400gr of Nutella a day, to get about our 2000 daily calories, can sound appealing in the first place (especially on a day like today) it might not be the best way to go.

I don't subscribe to the idea that healthy food is necessarily boring, and that on the other hand, all the food that people generally enjoy is bad for your health. Let's take for say... Chocolate (what an unsual choice on my behalf).
Yes, munching down a whole pack of chocolate bars isn't going to do you any good, but 10 to 30gr of a good black chocolate is recommended everyday, it's a natural mood elevator, it is good for high blood pressure, it will stimulate your brain... etc.
The thing is to have fun with it, instead of just eating those 30gr of black chocolate, I could melt it down with a little bit of milk, and pour it over a pear for dessert. All the sudden it turns into something more appealing (at least to me), and with the added bonus of eating a fruit.

Now that I've talked about chocolate, the main ingredient of the day might be a dissapointment: it's lentils. Not very sexy, I give you that, but as a former vegetarian, it is a standard in my kitchen, because it is a good source of iron, full of protein and fibers. It's also considered as one of the healthiest food.
Still not very sexy... Well this recipe propose the lentils "al dente", which brings a different texture to what you might are used to.
Even if "winter salad" always sounds a bit like a paradoxe to me, this one I particularly like. The crunch of the lentils and the seeds, the soft parsnips, the savory bacon, the sweet honey... This recipe has all it takes to get you thru a cold winter day.

Lentil salad with Parsnip (adapated from Saveurs magazine Number 189)

Serves 2

100gr of Lentils
1 Parsnip
50gr of Bacon, diced
3 Tablespoons of Sunflower Seeds
1 Tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon of Honey
4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons of Fresh Chives, chopped
Salt, Pepper

Weight 100gr of lentils in a glass, pour them in a pan, and add twice the volume of water. Season with salt and pepper and start cooking on a medium heat, for about 30 minutes, the whole water needs to evaporate, a bit like a risotto if you want. Stir every now and them, have a try, as said, they must be "al dente", set aside.

Using a non sticky frying pan, roast the sunflower seeds without adding any fat, they need to be golden and pop a little. Set aside.
In the same pan, after you removed the sunflower seeds, put the diced bacon, again with no fat, and let it cook to a nice golden color. Tip the bacon on some paper towel, so it will absorb the excess of fat.

Peel and cut the parsnip into thin stripes, in the same frying pan, add a little bit of olive oil and on a high heat, cook the parsnip for about 4 or 5 minutes, before lowering the heat and cooking them until they are soft. Tip them on a paper towel aswell, to absorb the oil.

Make the dressing with the balsamic vinegar, the olive oil and the honey, using a whisk to combine all ingredients well.

In a bowl, combine all you have prepared: the lentils, the parsnip, the sunflower seeds and the bacon. Pour the dressing on it, and preferably leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Before eating it, sprinkle over the chopped chives.


An old fashionned kind of cake

I don't know much about fashion, I don't follow it especially, I don't get it when people say things like "Pink is the new Black". I still have some sweater or t-shirts from my colleage years, that I wear around the house (because they are too big now), and I buy the clothes that I like and that I believe fit me, no matter what the last trend is. Because let's face it, whatever is "in" one day, will be "out" some other day. So I have no problem being "old-fashionned".

The same works for music, nothing like a good old Beatles album or an Aretha Franklin CD to make me sing along and cook in rythm (yes I do use my spatula as a microphone when I'm particularly chearfull, and no one is around to witness it, of course). I wasn't even born when those singers were big, and not that I don't like some of today's music, I don't listen to it because it's "trendy", specially if I'm wondering if the singer actually swallowed the computer, because it sounds so fake.

In the kitchen, some cuisine can be considered as "old-fashionned". Just watch a 70's cookbook, or the movie "Julie and Julia", to see all the aspics that are suggested. Who would serve an aspic at a dinner party today? Probably no one, though I actually like them. Now for this cake, a candied fruit one, it has a bit of a "dated" side to me, maybe because the kids don't really like it around here, but when I did it for some "older than me grown ups" last week, they loved it.

Like any good old recipe, it keeps great, and I even think it's better the day after. You can play on which kind of candied fruit you are using, depending on your taste, aswell as the tea you are using for the raisins. Even when flouring the candied fruits, mine always drop to the bottom, so if anyone has a better trick, I'd be glad to hear it.

Candied Fruit Cake (based on "les Cakes de Sophie" de Sophie Dudemaine)

3 Eggs
125gr of Icing Sugar
125gr of Butter
160gr of Flour
1 Tablespoon of Baking Powder
1/2 a Teaspoon of Salt
100gr of Dried Raisins
170gr of Candied Fruits (cherry, orange, lemon...)
2 Tablespoons of Rhum
1 Bag of Tea (Apple/Cinnamon for me)

Preheat your oven to 240°C. Butter a cake tin.

Hydrate the raisins with hot water and the bag of tea, add the rhum and let them sit for about 30 minutes. Dice the candied fruits and roll them into flour.

In the bowl of a standmixer, cream the sugar with the butter, than add the eggs one after an other. Add the flour mixed with the baking powder and the salt, combine well for a few minutes.

Drain the raisins (but keep the tea/rhum aside), dry them in a kitchen paper and flour them too. Add the raisins and the candied fruits to the cake batter, combine with a spatula this time, not to much, and pour it into the cake tin.

Place in the oven for 5 minutes at 240°C, and than for 40 minutes at 180°C. When it comes out of the oven, pour some of the tea/rhum on top of it and let it cool completly before taking it out of the tin. You can have some when it's cold, but it's better one day after.


The Unwanted Vegetables

We all know what it's like to be or feel unwanted (and if you don't, frankly I don't want to talk to you). Being the last to be picked for teams in sport, being the only single one at a table full of couples or realising your number of facebook friends is decreasing, we all have our emotional bagage to carry.
No, don't you worry, this is not a cry for love, just a way to introduce you to the vegetables of the day, who are not "in" with the popular crowd (aka tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce and onion), those would be more seated at the "geek table".

It is surprising to me, that brussel sprouts have such a bad reputation, first of all because they are very cute! It feels like you are 8 years old again, playing the shop keeper with tiny plastic vegetables. Plus I don't have a childhood trauma with them, I actually remember that I always liked them. I know that cabbage in general has a strong taste when you cook it in water, but just add a slice of bread in it and it will improve greatly.

Now for the Jerusalem artichoke (or topinambour as we call it here), this is the first time I've bought some. It is one of those "old" vegetables that they are trying to bring back in the spotlight. From what I know, it has it's bad reputation from the second world war, those and rutabaga where one of the few vegetables available at the time. I guess not only did people get fed up with them, but also linked them to those difficult times, so once there was more variety to choose from, they got left aside.
Let's bring them back on the table, they both deserve it!

Jerusalem Artichoke Purée and Brussel Sprouts with Chesnuts, Bacon and Parsley (adapted from Nigella "Feast")

Serves 1

400 of Jerusalem Artichoke
1 Tablespoon of Butter
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Chive, chopped
Salt, Pepper

1 Mug of Brussel Sprouts (about 12)
1/2 a Mug of Bacon
1 Mug of Chesnut
1 Tablespoon of Porto Wine
1 Tablespoon of Butter
1 Tablespoon of Parsley
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper

Let's start with the purée. Clean and peel the jerusalem artichoke and cut them into cubes. In a pan, on a low heat, give in the butter and the artichoke, cover with a lid and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Stir every now and then. Once it's cooked, using a fork or a potato masher, making it into a purée. Season with salt and pepper, and before serving add the freshly chopped chive.

Clean the sprouts and cut about 3-4 millimeter of the bottom of each, and cut a cross into it aswell (that's how Nigella does it, so I'm doing it too).
Heat up a pan with salted water, when it's boiling, cook the sprouts for about 5 minutes, a little more if they are bigger. If the smell bothers you, place a slice of bread in the water. When cooked, drain them and set aside.

In a pan with a bit of olive oil, cook the bacon until it has a nice golden color. Add the butter at this point with the chesnuts, and with a wooden spoon break them down a little bit. When everything is warm, turn the heat up a little and add the porto wine, it needs to bubble away.
Now turn the heat down again and add the sprout with the parsley. Stir to combine the flavours and check for seasoning, pepper should be needed, but maybe no salt, considering the bacon is already salty.

Serve both the purée and the brussel sprouts in a hot plate, you can springle them with some more fresh chive on the purée, and a bit more parsley on the sprouts.


On the list: Garlic Chicken and Double Baked Sweet Potatoes

I'm a proud list maker, I have them all over the place: real post-it sticker here and there, virtual post-it on my computer, 2 different apps of list making on my phone, a stack of pieces of paper left from my printer, a file on wordpad with the recipes I want to try, a chalkboard sticker to write my holidays on...etc.
But my favorit one is old-fashionned, I have a small notepad to make my lists: one is for my next shopping trip to IKEA, one for the things I want to buy when I go back to Lisbon, one with books and CDs I would like to get or the more commun one for the grocery (though I have one for each shop I go to).

Today we need to process so many informations and multitask all day long, that it's nice to have something to rely on, not to mention the satisfaction of "checking" the things you have done already, I believe in the greatness of small achievements, because that's what everyday life is about.
That is why, when I do something that was not on the list, I tend to write it down anyway, just for the pleasure to check it off (yes, I know, I should get a life, which is on one of my lists too, see the picture below).

My kitchen is still not a place for the meat lovers, but in my attempt to "mix it up" a little, I am trying to include it sometimes in my recipes. So when I found those lovely organic chicken thighs, I though I should give it a try, along with some sweet potatoes.
Well, I'm enthoustiastic about the potatoes, making the "double baked" version was on a list somewhere for a while. I choose a Nigella recipe to marinate the chicken, which is super nice, but only the sweet potatoes are going to end up on the "let's do that again soon" list!

Garlic Salt and Pepper Chicken and Double Baked Sweet Potatoes

Serves 1

1 Organic Chicken Thigh
1 Tablespoon of Salt
1 Tablespoon of Sechuan Pepper
2 Cloves of Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice
1 Sweet Potato
1 Shallot
10gr of Butter
2 Tablespoons of Mascarpone
2 Tablespoons of Bread Crumbs
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Chive, chopped

In a mortar, crush the garlic cloves with the salt until you have some sort of a paste. Add the pepper and crush the corns a little, before adding the olive oil and the lemon juice, combine all ingredients. Check the marinade for seasoning, if it seems good to you, pour it in a plastic freezer bag with the chicken thigh in it, rub it on the chicken and leave it in the fridge for severel hours (preferably overnight). Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you'll put it in the oven, it should be at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Clean the sweet potato thoroughly under the water, prick it with a fork a few times, for the steam to be able to come out. Place them in an oven dish and bake them for about 40 minutes, check if it is done by (carefully) pressing it, it should be soft to the touch.

Dice the shallot finely. In a pan on a medium heat, put the butter, the shallot and cook them until they are soft. Put it aside, off the heat.

Set the oven to 180°C.

Place the room temperatured chicken thigh in an oven dish, with a bit of marinade on top, and place it in the oven for about 40 minutes.

Cut the sweet potato in two, lenghtwise, and carefully with a spoon, take out the flesh, without breaking the skin. Add the flesh to the shallot and butter, and using a fork or a potato masher, make it into a purée. In a bowl, whip the mascarpone and add it to the sweet potato purée with the bread crumbs, combine well. With a spoon, place the purée back into the potato skins and place them in an oven dish.

The potatoes will need about 20 minutes, so half-way thru the chicken is done, put them into the oven (that is at 180°C) and let them finish cooking together.
Check both for coloring, if it's getting too dark, just place a aluminium foil on top of either one of them (or both) to finish cooking.
When it comes out of the oven, spinkle the fresh chive on top of the potatoes, place on a serving dish and enjoy!


Going with the flow: an English Brioche

Even though my passport should suggest otherwise, based on history aswell as childish rivalries (if you ask me), I'm quite found of the brits. My favorit band is scottish, my favorit food book of 2011 was written by a welsh chef and who can resist to english slapstick or sense of humor, just watch an episod of Ab Fab to see what I mean.

It just happens that the last weeks have been very british, first book wise. After finishing Jane Austen, I'm reading Virginia Woolf at the moment, and next one waiting on my nightstand is Charles Dickens. Not to mentionned that a very nice bristish Santa has offered me "Feast" from Nigella, and as it was with the other Nigella book in my possesion, it's a delight to read.

My tv show addiction is mostly american, I must admit, but I have been watching the BBC serie "Sherlock" that has been adviced to me. Now when I heard the pitch, Sherlock Holmes in today's world, I was rather sceptical. Liking the books a lot, I was afraid it just wouldn't work. I'm so glad I was wrong, because it's really brilliant so far.

So when I stumbled upon the "english brioche" recipe in one of my grandma's book, it sounded only fair that I should give it a try. I don't know what's really english about it, it must but the jam/raisins/almond filling, because otherwise it's a regular brioche, with a dense but delicious dough, that would go perfectly with a cup of tea.

English Brioche (from "Betty Bossi Back Buch")

For one Brioche

350gr of Flour
20gr of Fresh Yeast
3 Tablespoons of Sugar
50gr of Butter, at room temperature
125ml of Milk
2 Eggs
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
5-6 Tablespoons of Jam (raspberries in this case, but you  canchange)
2 Tablespoons of Raisins
3 Tablespoons of Almonds (slivered)

Put the flour in a bowl (I've put it directly in the bowl of the kitchenaid) and make a well in it. Add the salt, the fresh yeast broke into small pieces and bit of the sugar. Pour the tepid milk in the well and combine it with the yeast, leave it like that for about 15 minutes.

With the dough hook, start mixing slowly, add the butter, 1 egg that you have beaten lightly and the rest of the sugar. Increase the speed as you go, it should form a soft and homogenous dough. Bring it back into a ball, dust it with a bit of flour and cover it with a clean cloth. Place it close to a heat source, like a radiator, and leave it to double in size. This should take about an hour.

On baking paper, roll out the dough to about half a centimeter in a rectangle shape that will fit, lenghtwise, the tin you will bake it in.
Now separate it, still lenghtwise, in 3 equal parts. In the middle one, spread out the jam, the raisins and and the almonds. With a sharp knife, cut on both sides stripes of about 2 cm pointing downwards so you can overlapse them. See the picture below to make it clearer.

When the brioche is formed, lift the baking paper carefully to place it into the baking tin. Once again place it near a heat source and leave it rise again.

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Before you put the brioche into the oven, make an egg wash with the egg that is left (you can add a bit of milk in it if you wish), and brush the brioche with it.
Place it in the oven for 30 minutes, it should be a nice golden color. Leave to cool a few minutes in the tin, then on a rack.


A cartoon's inspiration: Tuna Patties

Welcome 2012! In the spirit of seeing what the new year has to offer us, I've switched on the news, which is something I rarely do. Well, now I know why: hello crisis, hello economical problems, hello apocalypse!
No rainbow, no unicorns in sight... *sigh*. So I switched to a different channel, for something more uplifting, and there it was: Spongebob squarepants!

Some might say I'm a little too old for spongebob squarepants, but I think it's important to keep my inner child alive, at least until I find out where my adult-self is!
Plus I believe inspiration can come in many forms and from many places, and there it was, in the middle of a cartoon: the krabby patty!

I'm still working on my "perfect pantry", but one essential element in it, is the tuna can. I always have different brands, different sizes, even from different countries. So when the patty idea came to mind, I know I would use one of those.
Although I normally have my tuna cold, in a salad for instance, I really enjoyed this recipe. It gives a winter twist, to an ingredient I mostly use in the summer.

The combination of whole grain mustard and tuna is always a winner in my book, and even warm it still works. And for this, apparently, very tough year ahead of us, this is great comfort food (you can switch the green salad for roasted potatoes for a better effect) but it's also very budget effective, and it looks like we are going to need this during the year.

Tuna Patties (based on a recipe from simplerecipes.com)

For 2 patties

1 Can of Tuna (about 120gr)
1 Tablespoon of Whole Grain Mustard
4 Tablespoons of Bread Crumbs
1/4 of a Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon of Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Chive, chopped
1 Tablespoon of Parsley
3-4 Drops of Piri-Piri (or Tabasco)
1 Egg
Salt, Pepper
Olive Oil

Drain the tuna and crumble it into a bowl with a fork. Add all ingredients, except the olive oil and combine well together. Use your hands in the end to check the consistency, if it's too moist, add some more bread crumbs, if it's too dry add a bit of olive oil.

Form both your patties with your hands, place them a baking sheet and leave them in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Heat up in a non-sticky frying pan some olive oil, on a medium flame, and place your patties in it. Leave them to cook 4 to 5 minutes on each (depending on the size) until they have a nice golden color.

Serve them with a salad and some lemon wedges to sprinkle over.