Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scallop and avocado salad

Oh, spring is here. It is glorious: sun and crocuses and acolytes and miniature daffodils and even hyacinths. And a cat which gets up from sunning itself on the path and runs to me to be scratched every time I walk through Nordre kirkegaard. And at the grocery store, yams and topinambours and winter squash have been replaced by strawberries and spring onions and young courgettes.

I needed a quick lunch today, something I could make and eat in under a quarter of an hour. Work calls. A few scallops, sautéed in butter with a bit of fleur de sel and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon – lettuce from a pot – spring onions – fresh basil – and half an avocado. A touch of olive oil and balsamic, and ta-da: a light and sumptuously simple lunch.

No recipe is needed. Just a few hints:
  • use both the white and green parts of the spring onions
  • to sauté the scallops, get your butter very hot (but not burning), and just show the scallops the pan: 1 to 2 min. per side will be enough. Season them in the pan with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Baked herring with tomatoes and yams

It sounds like a winter dish – but the basic idea comes from the new spring edition of Mad (Food), the Danish-language cooking magazine I have bought in an effort to improve my Danish. [Admittedly, my reading of Danish isn't the problem; it's the speaking I'm having trouble with. Comparatively, Hungarian was so easy to learn.] The entire issue is devoted to fish – not surprising here, but still immensely satisfying.

As various of the food blogs I read have been reminding me recently, small oily fishes (sardines, mackerel, herring) are not known quantities in North America, unless they come from a tin or a jar. But fresh sardines, mackerel, herring are plentiful here, and beyond delicious. I've been looking for ways to prepare them other than grilling, and ways which do not fill my miniscule flat with the smell of fish for days. Mad provided a basis to work from, and with a bit of modification, the result is a keeper.

This dish bakes the fishes in layers of tomatoes, onion, garlic, yam, and lemon – with large quantities of fresh basil. The result is a hot (thermodynamically, I mean) meal, and filling one: indeed, not your typical spring dish. But it is currently pouring rain here, and quite cool, and I will be making this again tonight.

What you need (per serving; scale up as needed)
  • 3-4 small oily fishes, cleaned or filleted (sardines, mackerel, herring,…)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes with juice
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 small yam, very thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • fresh basil

What you do
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • In a Corningwear or other oven-proof dish, coat the bottom with olive oil. Spread the diced tomatoes and juice over the bottom of the dish, and then add the onion and garlic. Mix it up a bit with your fingers, and add a generous quantity of fresh basil. Place the thinly sliced yams on top of the tomato mixture, and press them down gently. Then place the fish in a single layer on top of the potatoes, and finish by topping with the thinly sliced tomato and lemon.
  • Bake in the oven for about half an hour, until the yams are just done.
  • Serve with another generous helping of fresh basil on top, as well as crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lemon cheesecake bars

I had wanted to make something lemon-y for a group get together last Friday night, but decided not to risk the Joy of Cooking lemon bars since they have a disturbing tendency to not set. Two times out of three, I end up scooping the Joy lemon ‘bars’ over ice cream as sauce. Delicious sauce, mind you – but not what I had in mind for last Friday.

A quick scouring of the Internet led me to several variations of lemon cheesecake bars, all of them written with North American grocery stores in mind. Translating them into Europe-speak [sour cream? what is this sour cream you speak of?], I gave it a shot – and the result was more than excellent. The crust was too thick, but other than that, the lemon curd set beautifully and the taste was divine.

(Just to make sure that they had set, I cut myself a slice on Friday morning. Then, I decided I couldn't bring a cheesecake with one slice removed to the get-together, so I had to slice the remainder into squares before leaving home. Hence the photo.)

What you need:
  • approximately 70 g of the closest thing you can find to graham crackers (or enough to cover the bottom of your pan to the thickness you want for the crust)
  • 6-8 tbsp butter
  • 225 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

What you do:
  • Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line the bottom of a 8 x 8" baking pan with aluminium foil [it doesn't matter if your pan is square or round]. Butter the foil.
  • Crush the graham cracker substitutes until fine (suggestion: put the crackers in a plastic bag, seal it well, and stomp on it. very satisfying.). While you're doing this, melt the butter.
  • Remove the butter from the heat and add the cracker crumbs. Stir briefly and then press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12-15 min., until golden. Let the crust cool while you prepare the filling. 
  • For the filling, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and crème fraîche, and then the lemon juice and lemon zest. Spread the batter over the crust as evenly as you can.
  • Bake for approximately 30 min., until set in the center. The cheesecake will puff slightly in the other.
  • Cool the baked cheesecake completely on a rack, and then chill for at least two hours before cutting. Keep the cake in the fridge.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fish coconut curry

March 10? Really? I'm not quite sure where the past three weeks have gone. One and a half of them went in Copenhagen, I suppose, which gives me a feeble excuse for not having posted here.

Fish coconut curry. I love this dish. It's simple [so long as you remember to make the rice before the curry is finished; oops]. It's versatile. It has fantastic taste. And it can be made as spicy as you like. The dish has three key ingredients: fish, coconut milk and vegetables. For the first, I use whatever white fillets are available. Today, it was plaice. For the second, the only necessities to make sure that your coconut milk is precisely that: it shouldn't have any added preservatives, artificial colors, or artificial flavors. For the third, something crunchy and green usually works best – today I used string beans, but snap peas are also a good option.

Photo? No photo. Don't ask. Instead, here's one from my excuse:

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

I've been wanting to make something spicy since Friday night, when a colleague made a spectacular – spectacular – Indian dinner featuring duck varaval. Luckily it's the first Sunday of the month, so there was some hope of finding a grocery store open in Århus today. I had to buy a small jar of curry paste. It's one of the very few ingredients I don't make on my own (sorry, Chez Piggy, but your recipe intimidates me).

What you need (three servings):
  • rice
  • olive oil
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice from 2 limes
  • 1 large or 2 small boxes coconut milk
  • 2 tsp red curry paste (or to taste)
  • 1 cup string beans or snap peas
  • 3 small white fish fillets
  • 1 generous cup cherry tomatoes

What you do:
  • Don't forget to make the rice. Put it on before you start making the rest of the curry.
  • Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Once it's hot, add the onions and red pepper, and cook for about 5 min. Then add the ginger and lime zest, and heat through (but don't let it burn).
  • Add the coconut milk and stir, bringing slowly to a boil. Incorporate the curry paste. Once it is simmering, add the green vegetable, fish, cherry tomatoes, and lime juice. Cook until the fish is finished (5-6 min. should do it).
  • Serve over rice with a slice of lime.