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
3 cloves of garlic
2 green peppers
bunch of parsley
50ml olive oil
25g butter
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp oregano
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, squeeze in the garlic and fry for 5 minutes.

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3. Add butter, salt, pepper, oregano, 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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Kinkku (gammon)

Gammon is the main star of the whole show in the Finnish Christmas table (nothing of course is stopping anyone cooking it other times too). The original one would be gray in colour instead of the pink in the picture, but unfortunately I’ve not been successful in finding a gray salted one in the UK yet. For the pink version, nitrate is added. It acts as a preservative, and gives the pink colour, however it’s considered to be pretty unhealthy. In the gray version, nitrate isn’t added. The key to getting a juicy piece of meat, as anyone practicing slow cooking of roasts already knows, is to cook the gammon at a very low temperature, for a very long time. It then gets taken out of the oven and cooled, coated and put back for a very high temperature for a short period of time. Traditionally, on the Christmas table the gammon is served cold. I tend to cook it the day before, and on the day of cooking have it also for dinner served warm. It’s perfectly fine to serve it both ways, which ever you would prefer.

1. Take the gammon into room temperature. Dry with kitchen tissue. I would recommend putting it in a roasting bag. Cut a small hole at one corner. Put a roasting thermometer in the cold meat, so that the tip is at the thickest part. If your meat has a bone take care not to touch the bone with the thermometer. The ideal inside temperature of the meat for putting it in the oven is 10°C / 50°F.

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2. Place some water at the bottom of an oven pan. Heat the oven to 100°C (fan) / 210°F. The aim is to achieve inside temperature of the meat of 77°C – 80°C / 171°F – 176°F. I tend to try to get to the lower end, for juicier result.

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3. Remove from the oven. Cut the bag off, as well as any strings or net around the meat. Let cool on a rack for half an hour to an hour. After this, Remove the skin, and most of the fat.

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4. Coat with mustard, and breadcrumbs.

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5. Heat the oven to 250°C / 480°F, and cook the gammon for 10 minutes.

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Luxury mac and cheese

As I’ve recently been on a lighter diet, I found this ultimate comfort food very rich and filling. It’s not for faint hearted or those even contemplating on a low calorie meal. This would have to be for your cheat day, I didn’t even bother counting the calories (= ignorance is bliss sometimes). This recipe makes a big batch, for those who have read my posts before know that for certain type of food I like making a big amount at one go. This recipe will probably serve about 10 people. This is a more luxurious version of a standard, simple mac and cheese. During baking the smell is indicating it might be very cheesy, however, surprisingly it actually isn’t.

500g uncooked macaroni
200g bacon lardons
2 medium onions, finely chopped
100g butter (+ a small piece to butter the oven dish)
100g plain flour
1tsp Dijon Mustard
1.2 litres full fat milk
100ml double cream
2 bay leaves
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tbsp ground black pepper
400g extra mature cheddar cheese
75g light breadcrumbs
80g grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the macaroni to be al dente (still with a little bite to it), and drain well.

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2. Melt the butter in a large pan, on a low heat. Add the flour, and mix together. Cook, stirring, for about a minute, then add the mustard. Remove from the heat, and little by little, add milk, whisking the mixture together. Add the cream and bay leaves.

3. Heat the mixture, stirring regularly. I use this period for grating the cheese, however you have to remember to keep an eye on the mixture, and stir or whisk it occasionally. Once the mixture thickens, remove from heat, and remove the bay leaves.

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4. Add the cheddar cheese, and mix until melted. Then add the nutmeg and black pepper, and mix. Also add the cooked macaroni and mix together.

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5. Fry the finely chopped onions and bacon in a frying pan, and mix into the macaroni and cheese.

6. Heat the oven to 180°C / 355°F (fan). Smear your oven dish with a little butter, and put the mac and cheese mixture into the dish.

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7. Mix the breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese together, and coat the mac and cheese with the mixture. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Squid and chorizo salad

This wonderful salad is full of flavour and content. The dried chickpeas need to soaked for 8 hours so this dish will need some pre cooking planning, but apart from that is quite a simple food to make, with not a lot of actual cooking involved.

2dl dried chickpeas
400g squid
1 chorizo sausage (about 60g)
8 plum tomatoes
1 fresh small green chilli
2 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
2 leaves of romaine heart lettuce
25g fresh parsley
juice of one lemon (or 2tbsp)
6 tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper

1. Generously cover the chickpeas with cold water for 8 hours. After the soaking time, drain. Place in a pot, cover with fresh water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40 minutes.

2. Whilst the chickpeas are boiling, chop the ingredients for the salad base. Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Deseed and finely chop the chilli, and also finely chop the garlic cloves, spring onion and parsley. Cut the romaine heart lettuce into thin strips. Mix together, and add the lemon juice and half of the olive oil. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. Place in the fridge. Once the chickpeas are cooked, drain and let cool.

3. Cut the body pouch of the squids open, and score the inside into diamond shapes. Then cut the squid into bite size pieces.

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4. Heat the remaining half of the oil in a frying pan, and put the squid pieces in the scored size up. Fry for about 30 seconds, then turn over and fry for another 30 seconds. You may need to do this is two-three batches. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper, and set aside.

5. Chop the chorizo into small pieces. Fry in the pan for couple of minutes, then add the squid and fry for another minute.

6. Add the cooled chickpeas to the salad base, and mix together. Plate the salad, and add the squid and chorizo on top.

Mixed bean cassoulet

I’m not entirely sure what the true, authentic way of making bean cassoulet is, but the good thing with any this type of food is that you can easily make it your own. You can go from vegetarian version to a hearty, meaty one, or anything in between. This is what I went for this time, using my homemade chicken stock (click here for recipe), and I’m already looking forward to the next time, to make one perhaps with sausage. I would categorise this dish as hearty winter meal. I’ve never been a big bean lover, but this dish is a great introduction to tasty ways of cooking them, and my husband loves this dish. One thing that requires some organisation with this is soaking the dried beans beforehand, but otherwise the steps to making this food are pretty simple. I use a 10 bean mix of black eyed beans, black turtle beans, butter beans, haricot beans, lima beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, rose cocoa beans, alubia beans and mung beans.

500g dried mixed beans
2 medium sized carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can of chopped tomatoes
4 dl chicken stock
dash of vegetable oil

1. Place the beans in a bowl, cover with cold water and soak for 12 hours. After the soaking time, drain. Place in a pot, cover with fresh water. Bring to boil, and on high setting boil for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer, and boil for 1 hour 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 360°F.

3. Place the oil, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme in a casserole dish. Fry on the hob for about 5 minutes, stirring, until onions start getting softer.

4. Place all the remaining ingredients in and mix everything together thoroughly. Cover with a lid, and place in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes.

 

Finnish pea soup

This is one of the soups I’ve really been missing from my native Finland. Ask anyone what food is served on Thursdays, and they should all say it’s this pea soup, followed by pancake for dessert. I found it difficult to find dried marrowfat peas traditionally used, so I decided to try a soup mix of pearl barley, green split peas, haricot beans, marrowfat peas, red split lentils, yellow split peas and brown rice, and was absolutely delighted at how close it came to the real deal! I was organized and planned my roast pork which literally fell apart (click here for recipe), for the weekend before making this soup, and it was perfect.  You will need to be a little bit organized when making this soup even if you haven’t planned to cook the meat in advance, because you need to soak the dried pulses for 12 hours. This recipe will make a big soup.

500g half soup mix of dried pearl barley, green split peas, haricot beans, marrowfat peas, red split lentils, yellow split peas and brown rice, half dried green split peas
~300g pork shoulder meat, pulled to threds
4 litres water
2 beef stock pots
salt
white pepper

1. Place the dried pulses in a large bowl, and cover with plenty of cold water. Leave to soak for 12 hours.

2. Drain and discard the soaking water. Place the pulses in a large pan, together with 4 litres of water. If your pan isn’t large enough, start with 2 litres, and add more after some liquid has evaporated. Bring to brisk boil, and boil for 10 minutes, unvovered.

3. If using uncooked meat, place the piece in the pan, skin removed. If you are using already cooked meat, leave until later. Bring the mixture to a softer boil, add the stock pots and cover with a lid. Boil for 2 hours. Stir a few times during the cooking.

4. If you cooked the meat with the soup, remove the piece, pull apart to shreds and add back to the soup. If you are using pre-cooked meat, add it in now, and heat through, stirring occasionally.

5. Season with the salt  and pepper to taste. You should have a nice, slightly thick soup. Also, it will taste even better when reheating it again the following day. As a serving suggestion, do also try it with a little bit of mustard mixed in.

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Seafood and chorizo paella

Just like with risottos, I’ve never liked paella – until I made my own. I’m also not great friends with seafood with shell on in the food (I know it’s supposed to make it tastier, however I don’t like having to remove shell whilst eating), so I’ve used a way around it.

serves 4

600ml water
200g shell-on tiger prawns
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
400g cooked mussels with shell on
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2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion
1 small green finger chilli
10 plum tomatoes
1 red pepper
200g cooking chorizo
150g raw king prawns
200g raw squid
100ml white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
1 lemon, juice squeezed
2 dl frozen peas
250g Bomba paella rice
pinch of saffron
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. As I don’t like seafood with shell on in my food, I use the shells for the stock separately. Pour the water in a pan, and heat to boil. Remove the heads and shells from the tiger prawns, and add to the water (keep the actual prawns aside for later). Add the sea salt and boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the mussels, and simmer, covered, for 8 minutes. Once done, pour into a jug through a sieve (I also use a piece of muslin). Whilst prepping the other ingredients, let cool. Once cooled, remove the mussels from the shells.

2. Whilst the shells and mussels are boiling, I tend to prep all the other ingredients before starting the cooking. Finely chop the onions, garlic and chilli. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Fry the onions until softened, and add the garlic and chilli. Also add the saffron and half the paprika powder.

3. Chop the chorizo and squid, and add to the pan with the raw king prawns. Fry for 5-10 minutes, until the prawns and chorizo are cooked.

4. Add finely chopped tomatoes and pepper, mixing everything together.

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5. Add the paella rice, and stir together. Pour the wine, and let bubble. Once almost reduced, add the stock liquid. Stir, then boil uncovered and undisturbed, without stirring for 12 minutes. During this time, sprinkle the salt and black pepper on top.

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6. Add the peas, mussels and tiger prawns, and stir until warmed through. Add the remaining half of the paprika powder and the lemon juice.