Moussaka

Greek food somehow seems to often get forgotten in my kitchen, as well as when dining out. There is no particular reason for it, but it just doesn’t seem to be an obvious first choice. Apart from moussaka that is, which is a dish I make quite regularly.

3 aubergines (eggplants)
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2 medium onions
2 green peppers
bunch of parsley
50ml olive oil
25g butter
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 dl tomato puree
4 dl water
500g minced lamb
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3 dl milk
2 1/2 tbsp plain flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs

1. Finely chop onions and parsley. Cut the green peppers into small pieces.

2. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent. Add the chopped green peppers and parsley, fry for 5 minutes.

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3. Add butter, salt, pepper, tomato puree, water and the lamb. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the taste, add more salt and pepper if required.

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4. Mix the flour with the milk, and heat until the mixture thickens. Pour the eggs in whilst mixing, and season with salt.

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5. Cut the aubergines lengthwise, to about 1cm thick slices. Use half of them to layer bottom of an oven casserole dish. Add the lamb mixture, and put a layer of aubergines on top. Pour the white sauce over everything.

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6. Cook in preheated oven 190°C / 375°F  for 45 minutes.

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Salmon soup

I would probably go as far as to say this is my all time favourite Finnish food. My husband and I have been together for nine years, however he still hasn’t bought into the Finnish style soups of thin liquid base with chunky pieces. He does enjoy the flavour of this soup, so I’ve added a step to make this soup (step 1) slightly thicker. It does actually make it richer, so this has now become part of my recipe.

500g salmon
5-6 large potatoes
1.5 liters water
100g fine green beans
3 large onions
bunch of dill
celery stick
2 dl frozen peas
2-3 dl double cream
2 tbsp bouillon powder
sea salt
ground white pepper

1. Peel and cut half of the potatoes into small pieces. Put the pieces in a large pan, with 1 liter of water. Boil for about 30 minutes, until soft, and mash the potatoes.

2. Whilst stage 1 is cooking, peel and cut the remaining potatoes. Finely chop celery. Add both ingeriendts to the mashed potatoes.

3. Cut the green beans, and add to potatoes.

4. Slice all onions, and add to the soup. Pour the remaining 5 dl water into the pan, and add the bouillon powder, pinch of sea salt and pepper.

5. Cut the salmon into bite size pieces. I usually use salmon with skin on, so once I’ve removed the skin I have to wash the pieces, to make sure none of the large scales end up in the soup.

6. Add the salmon to the soup with the peas (as long as the potatoes are cooked through). Pour the cream in. The soup won’t need any more cooking after this, as they are pretty much cooked as soon as they touch the hot liquid. Just heat it up (adding cream and frozen peas may have cooled it). Add couple of more pinches of salt and some pepper, to taste, and add chopped dill. I tend to use scissors to cut the dill straight into the soup.

 

Wiener Schnitzel

This dish, one of Austria’s national offerings, is one of my favourites. It’s a thin piece of breaded, pan fried steak, traditionally veal (however I use sirloin steak when cooking at home). The key is you will use a mallet to hammer the beef thin, which will keep the steak tender. The dish should be served with a slice of lemon, however I ran out of fresh lemons so I just drizzled some lemon juice on top.

sirloin steak
1 dl plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 egg
2 dl breadcrumbs
butter
slices of lemon

1. Hammer the meat with a mallet until thin, 5-10mm. I tend to place the steak inside a freezer bag for this, to reduce mess. After this, it’s easy to cut the fat off.

2. Mix flour and the spices on a plate. Beat the egg, and place on another plate/ bowl. On a third plate, pour half of the breadcrumbs.

3. First, coat the steak with the flour / spice mix. Second, coat with the egg. When lifting the steak off, let excess egg drain back onto the plate. Third, place on the breadcrumbs, and pour the rest of the breadcrumbs on top. At each stage, make sure the steak is fully coated.

4. Let rest for 5 minutes on your chopping board.

5. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and fry the steak, 2 minutes each side.

 

 

Marinated pan fried tuna steak with salsa verde

I can’t remember exactly when I had fresh tuna steak for the first time, but what a magnificent find it was. It’s now a regular visitor on our table, and so different from the tinned version, it’s like they are just distant relatives. It is usually served very pink, but even if you want it cooked through, it should still be lovely and juicy. To bring out all the glory it can offer, I would recommend marinating it. I also make salsa verde to accompay it, and it works beautifully with the tuna. I can’t wait until the next time!

Marinade
1 small green chilli
1 garlic clove
1 shallot
1 tbsp capers (in water, drained)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
handful of parsley
salt
black pepper

1. Finely chop chilli, garlic, shallot, capers and parsley. Mix all marinade ingredients together.

2. Place the tuna steaks in a re-sealable bag, and pur the marinade in. Make sure fish is coated with the marinade all over. Close the bag, and place in the fridge for 1/2 – 1 hour. Half way through, turn the bag with the fish inside upside down, so that it’s marinating more evenly.

Salsa verde
1 small green chilli
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1 tbsp capers (in water, drained)
large handful of parsley
large handful of basil leaves
tarragon leaves ( from 3-4 stalks)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
pinch of sea salt
pinch of black pepper

1. Mix all ingredients in a blender.

Tuna steak

1. I don’t add any oil onto my griddle pan for frying the tuna steaks, as the marinade have oil in it.

2. My steaks were quite thick. If you want them pink I would recommend frying them 4-5 minutes on each side on medium to high temperature. Alternatively, if you would like them cooked through about 6 minutes on each side should be enough.

Cinnamon buns

This very Finnish bake (some might say Nordic) brings back many memories of cold winter days, steaming cup of hot chocolate with a big cinnamon bun. I don’t make them very often, but have been thinking about them for a while now. I’m so glad I decided to make them, this batch is the best I’ve ever made!

5 dl milk
2 saches of quick action dried yeast or 50g fresh yeast (I used dried)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 dl caster sugar
1 tbsp coarsely ground cardamom
1 kg wheat flour (400g plain flour / 400g strong white bread flour / 200g self-raising flour)
200g butter, melted
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soft butter
cinnamon
caster sugar
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egg

1. Measure 900g of the flour in your mixing bowl. I use food processor for mixing the dough, but if you’re mixing by hand use a large wooden fork, as it’s important to get air in the dough mixture. Save the remaining flour until later. I have to confess I found the perfect mix of flours by accident. I have normally mixed plain and strong white flour half and half, but run out just a little bit, so had to finish with self raising, which turned out to be the best situation.

2. Heat the milk until lukewarm. Add the yeast, salt, sugar and cardamom, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add slightly beaten egg.

3. Pour the liquid mixture to the mixing bowl with the flour in, whilst mixing.

4. Knead for 5 minutes, then start pouring in, little by little, the melted butter. At this stage, it’s a good idea to add spoons of the remaining flour, to help the butter to be incorporated with the rest of the dough. Knead for another 5 minutes. During this time, if the dough keeps sticking to the bowl, add some more flour until it doesn’t stick anymore.

5. Cover the bowl with cling film and a cloth,  and place the bowl in a sink with hot water in. Leave to rise for an hour.

6. I then knead the dough again in the food processor for 30 seconds (or alternatively, you can of course do this by hand too).

7. As this is quite a big dough, I then cut it in half, and do the following steps in each half. With a rolling pin, roll the dough onto a flat plate. About 5-10 mm thickness should be good.

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8. Spread on soft butter, followed by ground cinnamon, and then sugar.

9. Let rest for 15 minutes, then roll the dough, and cut into desired size pieces with a knife.

10. At the top part of the bun, using your fingers bring the edges of the outer layer of dough to the middle part of top of the bun and press down, so that they stick. Let rise for 30 minutes, covered.

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11. Heat oven to 200°C (fan) / 400°F. Just before baking the buns, brush them with slightly beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes. Depending on your oven, keep on eye on them whether you need to turn your tray half way.

Restaurant review: Launceston Place, London

There are few restaurants in London my husband and I tend to gravitate towards again and again, more than others. Michelin star restaurants (and fine dining in general) is our hobby, and we’ve been to about 40 starred restaurants around London and abroad.

One of our more regular restaurants used to be Launceston Place in Kensington (London). However, during a visit that turned out to be the last one for a long time, we anticipated loss of a star for this restaurant, which subsequently happened.

Since then the restaurant has undergone major changes, including renovation, and more importantly, change of the head chef. Since taking over, Ben Murphy of course has a difficult task of bringing back customers that were lost in the highly competitive high end food industry. He for sure can boast impressive experience in top restaurants. It’s now time for him to fly solo, and we will be keeping on eye on his development and journey.

I do have to say that the restaurant is absolutely magnificent value for money. For three-course-lunch on a Sunday, which with all surprises turns out to be much more than three courses, you only pay £35 per person. We booked our table through Open Table, which for the same price, also included a glass of bubbly each.

First thing to mention straight away is that we arrived 10 minutes late to the last seating, and were still greeted in a very friendly manner. The ambience is wonderful and luxurious.

First arrived appetizers of smoked haddock ravioli and polenta cake with herbs. I’m not a great fan of polenta in general, so I have no strong opinion on them. The herb flavour however made them taste nice. I wasn’t too keen on the actual ravioli texture as it was hard / crispy rather than normal soft pasta ravioli, but I thoroughly enjoyed the filling of smoked haddock.

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After this we got candy floss sprinkled with crushed aniseed. To be honest, I think this would’ve been better suited as pre-dessert than an appetizer before food. I’ve not had candy floss in ages so the thought of it was bringing back childhood memories. The floss itself was well made, fluffy texture and not overly icky-sweet.

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Next up was the Amuse Bouche, served together with bread. It was all about potato in different forms: potato consommé jelly, potato mousse, and topped up with crispy potato crumble. This was an absolute star of the whole meal for me, I absolutely loved it. For wine we had decided to go for something we don’t often have; white Rioja Sierra Cantabria 2015. It had interesting complexity you wouldn’t always get with white wine. We both enjoyed the wine and would have it again.

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For starters I had chosen crab, and my husband went for the beetroot with goats cheese mousse. It turned out my starter was actually a risotto. Had I known this when choosing, I’m not sure whether I would’ve gone for this option. The flavours were nice, however the risotto was a little bit too al dente for my liking (and yes, I do know risotto should be firm).  For those who are not used to having crunch to their beetroot might not want to go for that option. This was no issue to my husband however, who thoroughly enjoyed his starter.

For the main I had sirloin beef with rosco onions (scooped to the plate from inside an onion), beef jus, beef bonbon, pear and stilton. The beef was cooked exactly to my requirements (medium rare), although it wasn’t as succulent as I would like my beef. The bonbon was lovely. My husband’s cod was cooked perfectly. Menu only said cod / coconut / broccoli. Don’t let this scare you from choosing this dish, as the flavours were not overpowering the delicate fish, and everything worked really well together. Smoked eel was also included. We both had potato pave, and both thought it was amazing. My husband’s description is ‘it’s like a huge chip’, even though it’s very finely sliced, layered potatoes.

Next we had a cheese course (this is additional, with an extra payment attached). We are always very pleased with the Launceston Places’ cheese trolley, some cheeses introduced to us in this place have then become as some of our favourite cheeses (for example Stinking Bishop). To accompany the cheese we had Graham’s Tawny port, which was very good. The staff had very good knowledge of the cheese, and a big plus was seedless grapes.

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We both had a rice pudding soufflé with passion fruit and yoghurt ice-cream for dessert. We all know that soufflés are difficult to make. To top that, it had rice pudding running all the way through. A great show of skill there. Overall a pleasant dessert.

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To end it all, we were served with petit fours of lemon swiss roll, plum and rum cornetto and dark chocolate square, which was decadent and rich.

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During the week, you can lunch at the Launceston Place for £23 for 2 courses, or £28 for 3 courses. You can also get Pre-theatre dinner for £30. On Saturday evenings only menu option is the Tasting Menu.

For overall rating I would give 3 out of 5 for now, with a great promise for things to come. I would like to point out that is a good marking, as 5 is reserved for the few best ones, and 4 is the one most really good places would get. I can see we will now start going to Launceston Place more regularly again.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Homemade chicken stock

I take great pride for making most things from scratch. I would say a general rule is that homemade is always much tastier and healthier, whatever it is. Please don’t be put off making your own chicken stock even though it does take quite a while to make; after the initial steps it won’t need much attention from you, and you can use the remaining cooking time doing other things. The absolute key to a good, flavoursome stock is bones. You must, must, must use chicken on the bone, and for richer flavour you do also want to ensure you have some meat. I usually use chicken legs, drumsticks and wings. Once the cooking of the stock is finished, you can  remove the meat off the bone and use it for other meals. Once cooled, I freeze the stock in portion sizes. Since I started making my own stock, I hardly ever use shop bought ones anymore, those are now in my cupboard merely for back up for when I’ve run out of my own. I often make a double batch of the recipe, as it does take quite a long time to make.

1 chicken leg
475g chicken wings
500g chicken drumsticks
3 liters water
1 celery stick, chopped into big pieces
1 carrot, chopped into big pieces
1 medium onion
~15 black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tsp sea salt
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I sometimes make a Chinese variation, and replace the celery, carrot, onion and bay leaves (use the other remaining ingredients) with

1 thumb size piece of root ginger, sliced
4 spring onions

1. First, place the chicken and water in a large pot, and bring to simmer. Bare in mind that for the best results, the stock shouldn’t boil at any stage, only simmer.

2. ‘Scum’ will start coming to the surface of the stock. Keep skimming this away, however don’t stir or disturb the stock otherwise. I use a slotted spoon for this. At this stage, it’s important to give the stock attention.

3. Once there is no more scum rising to the top (this can take about half an hour), you can add all other ingredients. Then cover with lid, and set the temperature to a low simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil. Cook for 3 hours.

4. Strain the stock through a sieve. I tend to also use muslin, to get rid of even finer impurities.

5. If freezing some of the stock, let it cool. Portion into containers, and put in the freezer. Work through all the wings, legs and drumsticks (by hands) to remove all the meat. If not using straight away, freeze in portion sizes. You will get quite a lot of meat out of them, don’t waste them!