Saturday, 30 August 2014

Cheese n wine sauvages

On Thursday night, 365things and Lovely Friend rolled up to the second edition of @Axellemnn‘s Cheese n wine sauvages. Due to the frankly monsoon-like weather we gathered at Tarasloft in Ixelles (which, incidentally, is a very nice, bright, light, spacious venue for anything you happen to be hosting). 

The venue was lovely, and about a two minute walk from Pl Flagey. We actually went past the door as it is so inconspicuous. But we found the buzzer and the doors swung open, and we tottered up the path to the invitingly-lit entrance. Walking into the loft is like walking into someone’s (gorgeous) apartment. It is bright and very tastefully decorated.

The gorgeous Axelle greeted us and we were immediately handed a glass of Luxembourgish cremant. The atmosphere in the room was relaxed, and there was a distinct buzz. The people were all beautiful!

The welcome speech and the table heaving under the weight of cheese!

Axelle said that she had the idea over the summer to host these kind of impromptu picnics. The first one was held outdoors in the Bois de la Cambre. Seeing how popular the first one was, she upped the capacity to 60 people and the second session sold out almost immediately.

After a very short welcome speech, Axelle invited us to tuck into the vast array of Swiss cheese and sample the wines. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such hunks and wheels of cheese. People mingled, elbows bumped and the hum of conversation and happiness was the only background noise to be heard. There was also a very large selection of bread to accompany the cheeses, and we ate our fill. Lovely Friend even cried a little at tasting the emmental (it’s a big favourite of hers, and this specimen was rather excellent in her opinion!).

The crowd began drifting out around 8.30, and we followed suit, with happy tummies and happier sprits.

Some of the crusty bread available

The third session of the cheese n wine sauvages will take place on 25 September. Keep an eye on Axelle's Twitter account for more details. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Moules frites

I’ve never cooked mussels before, so here we go. Everyday's a school day. A Belgian classic! I bought two kilos in Carrefour on Monday, today is Wednesday.
I watched a video from the BBC on what to do in order to prepare the mussels for the pot. I also phoned my lovely MiL. She suggested soaking the mussels in salted water for an hour – an hour and a half after cleaning them and before cooking them.
I tipped the packets of mussels into a sink of cold water. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next: they gurgled and fizzed. Kinda freaky. And the smell! They smell of the sea! Lovely!
Mussels from Zeeland, via Carrefour

By the time I scrubbed and debearded them, and then discarded any that didn’t shut, I had about one kilo left. I didn’t want to take any chances on getting sick, so any that were even a millimetre open also went into the bin.
I then put them into a large bowl of salted water and put this into the fridge until I was ready to cook them. My MiL said that this would help them disgorge the last of the sand they’d retained.
I used a lot of salt to make the little blighters feel at home

So, for mussels:
  •          a good knob of butter
  •          1 leek, finely chopped into rings
  •          lots of parsley
  •          a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
  •          a glass of white wine
  •          a dribble of cream.

I have to be honest. I had a glass of wine before starting to steady the nerves. I never drink and cook. I was very nervous about cooking these and about potentially giving Hubs (and I) food poisoning. And cooking something that is alive. eeeeek!
I sweated the leek and garlic in the butter to start off, added the glass of wine and let those get acquainted for about five minutes, before adding the mussels and the chopped parsley. These were cooked for about 3 minutes. I could have cooked them for a minute longer though. At the very end, I added the cream.
The mussels were then plated in a large soup bowl and I reduced the sauce a bit. I served the lot with some oven-cooked homemade chips (chop a couple of peeled spuds into chips, pop them into a sealable bag with a teaspoon of oil, and coat them all. These will cook in about 20 minutes in a very hot oven – like around 210°.

These are all the ones that made it to the table

Only around half of the cooked mussels opened, so of the two kilos I bought, I guess we ended up with around one quarter of them. Hubs and I then had a bit of a confession session: neither of us are big fans of mussels. I can’t stomach the idea of eating the whole lot of anything, like everything. I don’t like offal at all. Regardless of how small it is. And I’m not a fan of all the stringy, rubbery bits that go around the mussel, and the bits that pop out and everything. I think I like the idea of eating mussels and the sense of occasion around them, but I think I’m just not going to cook them again.
But the best news? Neither of us were ill. Result!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Chicken gyros

I got this recipe from Cooking Classy. It was really, really good, and very garlicky. Extra yum!
You can of course use bought flat bread, but I decided to try making my own. I also decided to try using cup measurements instead of converting the ingredients to grams. I used an IKEA coffee cup to measure out.
Chicken gyros

Flat bread
A cube of fresh yeast
2/3 cup of warm water
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk
1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 cups bread flour

Put everything into a bowl and mix them together with the hook attachment, if you have one. If you don’t, use your hands and knead the whole lot. You should keep going for about 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. If the dough is sticky and not forming a ball, add a little more flour.
Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow it to rest in a warm place until double in size, which should take about an hour and a half.
When the dough has proved, knock it back and divide it into 6-8 portions. Work the balls into circles on a floured surface and cook in a hot dry frying pan (so, no oil). I found that the bread shrank a lot on the pan, so I kept an eye on them, and kept them pressed down with a fish slice. When the underside is cooked – this should take about 3 minutes – flip them over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
Flat bread cooking
These are best served immediately, with the chicken, a salad and some tzatziki.

Garlicky chicken
For 2-3 people:
2 chicken breasts, sliced finely
a few crushed cloves of garlic
the juice of a lemon
a dribble of olive oil
3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

Mix all of these together and leave them to marinade in the fridge for as long as you can. I used a large grill-proof dish, so that the chicken could lie in a single layer. When you’re ready to cook, take them out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature for a bit before grilling the whole lot for a few minutes. Stir the whole lot and grill them again until they are fully cooked.
Grilled chicken pieces to go into the gyros

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1 crushed clove garlic, or more if you like it garlicky
salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki traditionally contains dill, but I’ve so far never managed to grow this, and I don’t ever use a whole packet or plant before it dies, so I only buy these when I know I’m going to use it all, so I don’t always use dill.

Put the grated cucumber in a sieve over a sink and let it drain – give it a squash with the back of a large spoon to encourage the water to drain out. If I’m rushed, I’ve been known to pat at it with paper towels. When you’re ready to make it, combine all the ingredients and enjoy!

My food rules!

As I’ve said before, I am not a nutritionist. I have no training in this topic. I am simply interested in food and how what we eat can impact on our lives. Since I’ve started eating less sugar, I’ve also started thinking a little more about what me and my very small family eat. With this in mind, these are some simple guidelines I use when setting our menus.
  1.  Eat full fat foods!
    I reckon that low-fat or diet foods register in your subconscious as you depriving yourself of something and so somewhere in there, your brain is going “feeeeeed meeeeeee” and you will not feel satisfied. Fat fills you up – or it makes you feel full – so eat that full fat yogurt! Add a bit of avocado to your salad! You will feel fuller for longer.
  2. Eat full fat foods; part 2.
    When manufactures remove the fat, they replace it with sugar (amongst other things). Sugar is fat free, but rich in nutrient-free calories.
  3. Find ways to cut calories when you are cooking.
    For example, if your recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of oil, use one tablespoon and see how it goes.
  4. Try new things.
    Quinoa? Meh. Wheat germ? Yes! Almond paste? MMMmmmm. Lentils? Yum! I used to think that only tree huggers ate these foods. Now I eat them regularly, and I’m not a hippy. Soon-to-be-tried foods include pomegranate molasses and kale. Although I’m not looking forward to this last one.
  5. Processed food.
    I don’t eat processed food (well, not at home anyway; I (naively) trust that cafes and restaurants prepare or cook the food they serve their paying customers). My main reason is for not eating processed food is that manufacturers tend to use a lot of salt and sugar, as well as additives. And I am a bit of a control freak. I like knowing what goes into my food. If I cook it myself, I have a much better idea of what I’m eating. I’m lucky in that I love cooking, so it’s not a chore to cook after coming home from a hard day in the office. I do the tried-n-tested quick stuff during the week and I leave the experimenting to the weekends. That saying, we get take outs the odd time, and sometimes we go to McD’s, although after every McD, we resolve never to go again.
  6. Cutting out sugar.
    You can read about what I’ve been up to
    here and here. My main reason for cutting out sugar however is that I don’t want to develop diabetes or heart disease in the future. And unfortunately, the over-consumption of sugar is liked to these.
  7. Bread.
    I’m not a big bread fan, never was and I doubt I ever will be, particularly of the bought stuff. I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich for lunch. When I do eat it – usually at home – I eat brown bread (or as brown as I can get in Belgium; my success with making brown bread here is limited, and I have to go very much out of my way to get to Jack O’Shea’s butchers for theirs). I eat other types of bread happily and fairly regularly though, but I make them from scratch:
    pizza, flammkuchen, or these chicken gyros I made this weekend.
  8. Which leads me on to other carbohydrates.I don’t like pasta. There. I’ve said it. If it’s cooked for me and put in front of me, I’ll eat it, but I don’t cook it at home, and I’d rarely order it if I were eating out (lasagne is the exception). I eat rice, potatoes, couscous, quinoa (although I haven’t replaced the box I used up a few months ago, so I maybe I don’t eat this as regularly as I’m alluding I do), oats and Weetabix. And Wasa crackers.
  9. Fruit n veg!
    Yay! I try to eat two portions of fruit a day, usually at breakfast time, and then veg for the rest of the day, usually in a soup or salad at lunchtime and veggies with dinner. I try to vary the types of vegetables we eat, and try new ways of cooking them, but I don’t get hung up on counting what we eat daily. And I don’t drink fruit juice.
  10. Meat and dairy.I’m going to quote Domini Kemp, from the Irish Times this weekend: “I love cheese. Along with bacon, it’s the big reason I’m not vegan.” 

Weight* a minute! Is that the end of the food rules? Yes, kinda. Have I noticed a difference in myself? Well, my skin is fine, and my hair is healthy, my nails grow like weeds. I been sick once this year; I think I took 3-4 sick days in each of the last two years (2012-13), and I feel good. So that’s all good, right?
Butt*, you’re all reading this far to see if I’ve lost any weight, right? Well, after nearly five weeks off sugar, the short answer is no. The longer answer is still no. I am eating more nuts than I used to, which are quite high in fats – good fats, but still fats nonetheless – so therein probably lies the answer.

* omg! D’y see what I did there??? I’m so funny! Lolz.