Tuesday, August 7, 2018

August Baking - Red Currant Summer Cake

This sweet, light and airy sponge cake recipe has a seasonal topping of juicy, tart red currants and is finished with just a dusting of icing sugar. Serve as is, with crème fraîche or lightly whipped cream and some extra red currants for a delightful summer dessert. August baking at its best.

Red Currant Summer Cake


For the Batter
  • 113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease pan
  • 300g fresh red currants (with extra stalks for decoration)
  • 160g (1 ¼ cups) AP (plain) flour
  • 1 ½ tsps baking powder
  • ½ tsp  teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 100g (½  cup) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 tbsp Cognac or Brandy (you can substitute apple juice)
  • 4g (½  tsp) pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg (L), free range or organic
  • 120 ml (½ cup) milk, room temperature (I use 3.5 % or full fat milk)

For the Topping
  • 2 tbsp sugar, for sprinkling (you can either use coarse or fine sugar – if you choose coarse, you will get a crunchy top)
  • 4g (½  tsp) pure vanilla sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F) degrees.
  2. Grease a 23cmx33cm (9x13in) baking pan and line with baking parchment.
  3. To prepare the red currants, hold each stalk over a bowl, grip the stalk at one end and sweep a fork down its length, making sure that the stalk runs between the fork's tines - all the berries should pop off. Set aside for a moment.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour with the baking powder and salt.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, Cognac or Brandy and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the egg and beat until thoroughly combined.
  7. Add half the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Pour in the milk and continue beating, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined.
  8. Scrape the dough into the pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
  9. Scatter the red currants on top of the batter, in an even layer.
  10. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and vanilla sugar.
  11. Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top of the red currants.
  12. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is light golden brown.
  13. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely
  14. Unmold, transfer to serving platter, dust with icing sugar just before serving. Enjoy with crème fraîche or lightly whipped cream if you like.

Enjoy August seasonal baking with summer berries including red currants, raspberries and blackberries, when they are at their peak and bursting with sweet and tart flavor. It's definitely worth it!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ricotta Tart with Baby Spinach & Garden Herbs

For the first day of August, just a quick post with an easy summer recipe for a colorful and delicous Ricotta Tart with Baby Spinach & Herbs. For this easy summertime recipe, you can either chose to make your own Shortcrust Pastry (for ease of reference I included a recipe in his post) or use a good quality store-bought one. You can either use homemade Ricotta (which is what I like to use) or use a quality Italian brand instead. It is summertime after all and the weather is hot. Spending a long time in the kitchen these days, is not always desirable. The tart will taste wonderful whichever option you chose.

Ricotta Tart with Baby Spinach & Garden Herbs

Ingredients for the Shortcrust Pastry
  • 250g plain (AP) flour
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 150g cold unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk (M), free range or organic
  • 2 tbsps cider vinegar

Ingredients for the Filling
  • 2 tbsps or more olive oil
  • 200g (7 ounces) red spring onions, washed, dried and sliced thinly - you can also use regular red onions, scallions, leeks, or ramps (in springtime) in their place
  • 1 fat garlic clove, finely minced (you can forgo the garlic if you prefer)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (you can also add a few Italian Peperoncini flakes here)
  • 4 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • a small bunch baby spinach, washed and dried (you can leave the small stems attached)
  • chives and Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, washed, dried and chopped OR use other seasonal, soft garden herbs
  • 500g (17.5 ounces) fresh ricotta (either homemade or store-bought)

Preparation of the Crust
  1. For the pastry, put the flour, salt, butter, egg yolk and vinegar into a food processor. Using the pulse button, process until the mix binds. Alternatively mix by hand or with a pastry cutter.
  2. Gather all the ingredients into a smooth ball. Wrap with food wrap. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
  3. Uwrap the cold pastry and place onto a lightly floured work surface, then roll out as evenly as you can. 
  4. Line the base of a 23cm x 2.5cm (9in x 1in) loose-bottomed, fluted tart/quiche pan with baking parchment. Alternatively, you can use a springform pan here.
  5. Ease the rolled out pastry into the prepared tart pan, press the pastry into the flutes, trim the pastry edges, making sure to save the trimmings. The pastry should be slightly above the rim of the tart pan. Lightly prick the base with a fork, then chill again, this time for about 15 minutes or until the pastry case is cold and firm again.
  6. Put a baking sheet in the oven and heat oven to 200° C ( 395°F).
  7. Line the pastry case with crumpled-up baking parchment, fill with dry beans and bake on the hot sheet for 15 minutes - I like to place another sheet of baking parchment under the tart pan.
  8. Remove the parchment and beans and bake for about 5 minutes more until the pastry is pale golden. If you notice any small holes or cracks, now is the time to patch up with pastry trimmings. NOTE: You can prepare the pastry case up to this point a day ahead.
  9. Place the pre-baked pastry shell on a cooling rack while preparing the filling.

Preparation of the Filling
  1. In a medium skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the sliced onions and garlic (if using), season with a bit of salt and pepper, cook until tender and cooked through. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the fresh baby spinach leaves, stir and let cool to room temperature. NOTE: the spinach leaves will wilt with the residual heat from the onion mixture.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200° C (400°F).
  3. Separate 2 of the eggs, keep the egg yolks separate, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of sea salt until soft peaks form. Set aside for a moment.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta until reasonably smooth, then mix in the 2 egg yolks that you kept separate and the 2 whole eggs, add a bit more salt and pepper (and peperoncini if using) along with the onion/garlic/baby spinach mixture.
  5. Fold the chopped, fresh herbs into the ricotta mixture.
  6. Scrape the filling into the pre-baked tart shell and bake until just set and slightly-browned on top, 25 to 30 minutes or until it just feels set in the center.
  7. Let the tart cool briefly, then serve either warm or at room temperature. 
  8. Scatter fresh basil leaves and edible flowers (if using) over the top of the tart before serving - it is nice to serve a fresh tomato salad alongside.

Enjoy this delectable Tart either warm, fresh out of the oven or serve at room temperature. It also keeps well for a day or two - if you have any leftovers, maybe bring a slice to a summertime alfresco lunch or dinner....

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Summertime Zucchini (Courgette) and Herb Kuku

A Kuku (also called Arab Eggah) is the Middle Eastern answer to an Italian frittata. It is thick and fluffy and this one is filled with onions, scallions, garlic, softened batons of zucchini and yellow summer squash, chunks of feta, and heaps of fresh dill and Italian (flat leaf) parsley.

It gets its very agreeable savory flavor from the onions and the addition of sliced scallions and its gorgeous golden color from turmeric. As I noted in the recipe below, if the taste of tumeric isn't your thing, feel free to use saffron instead. And if zucchini aren't available, you can easily use three medium eggplants (aubergines) instead.

Kuku tastes equally good served warm or at room temperature, topped with a little yogurt or crème fraîche. It also makes perfect summertime picnic fare. You can cut it into fingers, squares or pie slices. You can bake it in a springform pan (which is what I like to do for ease of un-molding) but you can also bake it in a cast iron skillet, or your favorite pie dish and bring the whole thing to a party. Easy. Uncomplicated. Utterly delicious.

Summertime Zucchini (Courgette) and Herb Kuku 
(recipe inspired by Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, by Leah Koenig)

  • vegetable oil (I like to use sunflower or olive oil suitable for cooking)
  • 2 onions, (M), halved and thinly sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 zucchinis (courgettes), 250g (about ½ pound), cut into batons ( 2.5cm or 1in) - you might want to use a mix of green, white and yellow zucchini/summer squash or use only one color)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7 eggs (L), free-range or organic (eggs marked 'L' in Germany weigh between 63g and 73g each)
  • 2 tbsp AP (plain) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ a bunch (½ cup) chopped fresh, Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • ½ a bunch (½ cup) chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (if tumeric isn't your thing, you can use 1½ tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 1 tbsp of hot water)
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 200g (1½ cup) crumbled feta (I used locally produced goat's cheese)

  1. Brush a 23 cm (9inch) springform cake pan with vegetable oil. 
  2. Line the pan with baking parchment - cut out a circle of parchment for the bottom and a long strip to wrap around the sides, then brush the parchment with oil. Set aside. 
  3. Heat some oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add onions, season with a little salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the zucchini and squash batons and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until zucchini softens and browns in spots, 8 to10 minutes. At the end of the cooking time add the sliced scallions and chopped garlic and sauté for a further 1 to 2 minutes, just until the garlic is fragrant and the scallions are translucent. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Preheat the oven to 190°C  (375°F) degrees.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, parsley, dill, oregano, garlic, turmeric, red pepper flakes, ½ teaspoon salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
  7. Fold in the zucchini mixture and feta.
  8. Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake until golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.
  9. Set aside to cool on a rack for about 15 minutes. 
  10. Carefully remove the sides of your springform pan and slice into wedges or squares.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Kukus are traditionally made on the stovetop, but this oven version is much easier. A fresh herb kuku such as this one is a traditional New Year's dish in Iran. The green herbs symbolize rebirth, and the eggs, fertility and happiness for the year to come. But we like this in summertime, as a light lunch or appetizer - if time permits, I serve this with a lovely side of Fattoush or Tabbouleh salad.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Eggplant (Aubergine) Schnitzel with Chive Yogurt Dip

Deep burgundy, summer eggplant (aka aubergine) slices are wonderfully paired with chive yogurt in this fun and flavorful vegetarian dish. If you follow the recipe, you will be rewarded with slices that are crispy on the outside and delightfully soft on the inside. A lot of recipes for fried eggplant slices call for herbs to be added to the breading mixture, I opted to add herbs/chives to my yogurt dip instead. Other recipes ask for Parmigiano Reggiano to be added to the breadcrumbs, I opted for white and black sesame seeds as well as Za'atar, a the Middle Eastern spice mixture. If you unable to get Za'atar at the store or online, you can mix it yourself, I included the recipe in this post.

Personally, I like to serve these Eggplant Schnitzel as a seasonal summer appetizer or side dish. But they are also delicious in a bun (think veggie burger here, maybe with some avocado slices on top), on a salad, or on their own for lunch or dinner.

And they are much easier to make than you might think if you remember one important detail: first you fry, then you bake. So, once you have fried the eggplant slices in your pan to golden deliciousness, place them on kitchen paper to get rid of some of the excess oil and THEN place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a hot oven for a good 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how thick your slices are - until delightfully soft and silky on the inside. Voilà.

Eggplant (Aubergine) Schnitzel with Chive Yogurt Dip

Ingredients for the Chive Yogurt Dip
  • 200g (7oz) plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • chives (I like to use chives here but pls feel free to use other soft herbs that you might have on hand, dill is amazing here as well), make sure to keep some chives/herbes for the topping
  • olive oil (about 2 to 3 tbsps, to taste)
  • large pinch of sea salt
  • black pepper

Ingredients for the Eggplant Schnitzel
  • 100g (3½oz) plain (AP) flour
  • ½ freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 to 3 eggs (M), free range or organic
  • 150g (5 ½ oz) breadcrumbs
  • about 1 tbsp Za’atar (NOTE: depending on the brand of Za’atar you use, this might vary, you might want to use less or more here)
  • 2 tbsps black and white sesame seeds
  • 2 eggplants (aubergines), cut crosswise into 1.5 to 2 cm ( 0.6 to 0.8 in) thick slices
  • vegetable oil, for shallow frying
  • ses salt for sprinkling the finished eggplant slices (optional)

Ingredients for the Za'ater Spice Mixture

  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. sumac
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  1. To make the Za'atar (if making): combine all the ingredients and keep in a spice jar. Any leftover are fabulous if added to olive oil for a terrific dip.
  2. To make the yogurt dip: in a medium bowl add the yogurt and combine with the remaining yogurt ingredients. Place in the fridge while preparing and cooking the eggplant slices.
  3. Preheat oven to 200°C (395°F).
  4. For the eggplant schnitzel: mix the flour, pepper and salt in a medium bowl. In a second bowl beat the eggs. In a third bowl mix the breadcrumbs, Za’atar and the sesame seeds.
  5. Dip the epplant slices in the four mixture and shake off the excess. Then dip into the egg and shake off any drips and finally coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside but do not place in the fridge.
  6. Heat 3cm of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  7. Cook the eggplant slices, in batches, turning halfway, for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden.
  8. Place on a large, parchment lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
  9. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
  10. Take the yogurt dip out of the fridge, taset for seasoning and if need be, add more pepper and salt. Finish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil, additional chopped herbs/chives.
  11. Just before serving, sprinkle the slightly cooled eggplant slices with your favorite coarse sea salt (optional) and serve with the chive yogurt. Serves 4.

If you have herbs growing in your garden, like red or white bush basil, sage, rosemary etc. pick a few herb blossoms and add them to your dip as this adds another delightful flavor component and looks very pretty if you ask me.

And remember these are equally delicious served piping hot, fresh out of the oven or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Impressions from my Visit to the Artisans Market in Alt-Kaster, Bedburg (Germany) "Ricarda-Markt"

Following are a few impressions from my visit to the Artisans Market in Alt-Kaster, Bedburg, Germany, called the "Ricarda-Markt" (Ricarda Market).

The Ricarda Market is a market that takes place every year, on the first weekend of July in Alt-Kaster (Old Kaster) a district of the town of Bedburg in the Rhineland area, a beautiful and peaceful location, not far from the cities of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). Alt-Kaster is known for its well preserved historic townscape which serves as a perfect backdrop to the offerings of the yearly market that combine arts and crafts as well as culinary delights.

In the historic old town, there were about 110 exhibitors and artisans that showed and sold their creations. Woodwork, jewelry, clothing, fine art, leather, body care products, and much more were on display. Vintage, new and unusual things could be discovered. There were craftsmen like brush makers, milliners, and carpenters. You could also enjoy coffee, cakes and savory treats like potato pancakes and other regional specialties. And some of the residents of Alt-Kaster even invited you into their homes and gardens. A very worthwhile visit.

The name of the Ricarda Market has a historical reference. In the 13th century, the Countess Ricarda made the case for the reconstruction of the Kaster Castle after it had been destroyed as a result of a feude with the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. Emperor Rudolf von Habsburg granted the reconstruction of the castle. To celebrate the completion of the castle, a market was held. And today, the annual market is meant as a reminder of that historical event. A lovely story.

You enter the Ricarda Market through the historic town gate...

For for information about the Ricarda Market, you can go (here)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Roasted Tomato Soup & Pita (Turkish) Bread

This subtly spiced Roasted Tomato Soup recipe is at its most delicious made in summertime when tomatoes are at their best. To further intensify the flavor of the soup, it is a good idea to take the time to roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet together with red onions, garlic and thyme before cooking the tomatoes further with some stock. That way, you get all the ingredients cooked down and caramelized before you simmer them with your stock and then purée them.

As far as the stock is concerned, either go vegetarian and use a vegetable stock or use chicken stock here. If you can, use a homemade one or chose a good quality storebought stock. If you use homemade, you might have to add a bit more salt in the end as homemade stocks tend to be less salty than the ones you buy ready made.

It is also worth noting that adding roasted red onions will add a very nice touch of sweetness here while the chili flakes add a bit of brightness and punch. Summer in a bowl.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients for the Roasted Tomatoes
  • 10 to 12 ripe plum (or use regular) tomatoes, halved widthways – if you use regular tomatoes, they will excude more liquid while roasting, making the soup a bit less concentrated
  • 2 red onions, peeled, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper and some chili flakes (optional)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, plus more for thinning

  1. For the roasted tomatoes, preheat your oven to 220°C (450°F) degrees.
  2. In a large bowl toss together the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili flakes (if using) and olive oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Then arrange the vegetables in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (roasting tray), arrange the thyme sprigs amongst the veggies and bake until most tomatoes and onions are wrinkled and brown in spots, about 35 to 40 minutes. NOTE: it does not matter if the baking sheet is crowded.
  4. Lift the baking sheet from your oven, rest on a cooling rack and remove the thyme sprigs.
  5. Carefully transfer the cooked vegetables including all the pan juices to a large dutch oven or heavy pot.
  6. Add stock (homemade if you have some) and bring to a rapid boil. Then turn down the heat and continue to cook, uncovered, until slightly reduced and the tomatoes are really soft, about 25 minutes.
  7. Puree until smooth – I like to use an immersion blender here - (use caution when blending hot liquids).
  8. Season with salt and pepper and if necessary thin with additional stock.
  9. To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls.
  10. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil leaves or some avocado (diced, mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, freshly ground black pepper, olive oil and some julienned soft herbs).

Pita Bread

Ingredients for the Pita Bread
  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 350ml tepid water
  • 30g fresh yeast (or use 14g instant yeast instead)
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 egg (M), free range or organic
  • 4 tbsps white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp nigella seeds or black onion seeds

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
  2. Add 350ml lukewarm water and the crumbled yeast to a small bowl, stir until the yeast has dissolved.
  3. Add the yeast-water mixture and 2 tablespoons of oil to the flour mixture. Mix until you have a very sticky, soft dough. Place the dough into a large, clean, oiled bowl. Cover with food wrap and then a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
  4. When the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto your work surface dusted generously with flour. Knead by hand for about 5 minutes. The dough will be wet in the beginning but will form a smooth dough once kneaded.
  5. Place the dough into a large, clean, oiled bowl. again. Cover with food wrap and then a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size, about another 40 minutes.
  6. Split the dough into two equally sized balls. Roll each ball into an round shape about 25 cm (9.8 in) diameter. Cover loosely with your tea towel.
  7. Preheat your oven to 250° C (475° F) regular or 220°C (430 °F) convection and place a clean baking sheet (or use baking stone) on the middle shelf.
  8. In a small bowl mix together the egg, with the remaining sugar (1 tsps) and oil (1 tbsp).
  9. Remove the hot sheet from the oven, dust with flour and place the pita bread on it. (You will have to bake them one after the other, keep the other one covered while baking the first one).
  10. Just before baking them off, brush with beaten egg mixture plus sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds.
  11. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden. NOTE: after 5 minutes of baking time, pour a bit of cold water into the hot oven (to raise humidity) and close the oven immediately.
  12. Once baked and golden, remove them from the oven and cover with a clean cloth until they are cool.

This velvety soup makes for a simple and elegant meal. Enjoy as is, make ahead, freeze some or chill it and serve it cold – and if you feel up to it, make some Pita Bread to serve alongside.