Sunday, December 4, 2016

Seven years + a spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and a vanilla cream cheese frosting


A couple of weeks ago, my blog turned seven.




I had to celebrate the occasion and what better way to do it than with cake. A spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and orange zest, and a vanilla cream cheese frosting.




A moist, soft and fluffy yet substantial cake. A cake that’s deeply aromatic from all the spices —cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cardamom— without being overwhelming to your taste buds. A cake that’s sweet but not cloyingly so. With the pumpkin having a subtle presence, offering that precious moist texture. With the walnuts adding crunch and the orange zest that inimitable citrus aroma.




With a frosting speckled with real vanilla seeds and a creamy, luscious consistency that pairs beautifully with the cake. With the cream cheese adding a bit of sourness to balance the sweetness and the orange zest on top bringing flavor as well as color.




Thank you all for being here these past seven years and I hope you stick around for the next seven.









Spiced pumpkin cake with walnuts and a vanilla cream cheese frosting

I used the classic, orange-colored pumpkin but you can also use a Hokkaido pumpkin (see it here on this post if you’re not familiar with it).


Yield: 1 cake / 16 small square pieces

Ingredients

for the cake
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
175 g caster sugar
2 medium-sized eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
150 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger powder
⅛ tsp ground cloves
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
175 g peeled pumpkin
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
75 g walnut halves, coarsely chopped

for the frosting
200 g cream cheese, at room temperature
125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 g icing sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 fresh vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Special equipment: stand mixer, square baking pan (20x20 cm), baking paper, coarse grater, rasp grater


Preparation

for the cake
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and line with a piece of baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.

Preheat your oven to 160°C.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar, and beat on high speed until creamy and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and then add the flour, baking powder, all the spices and the salt, and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
Grate the pumpkin on a coarse grater and add it to the batter together with the orange zest (keeping some of the grated zest for garnishing the cake). Add the chopped walnuts and mix well on low speed.
Empty the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and even the top with the back of a spoon or a spatula.


Place on the lower rack of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then transfer to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool, for about 15 minutes. Then, lift the ends of the baking paper and transfer the cake to the wire rack to cool completely.

for the frosting
In the clean bowl of the stand mixer, add the cream cheese and butter and beat with the paddle attachment on high speed until they are mixed well and you have a fluffy mixture. Add the icing sugar and the vanilla seeds (or paste) and beat on high speed until you have a creamy and smooth mixture. You should end up with a not too thick frosting, that’s very soft, smooth and creamy.


When the cake has completely cooled, add the frosting on top and smooth it with a spatula. Top with the orange zest and serve cut into squares.


The frosting will be very soft at first and it will become firmer after a few hours. It will never stiffen, but it will remain creamy and soft.

You can keep the cake at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days.


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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pumpkin soup with tahini and sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds

Hello friends. It’s been a while, I know. I missed you too. I missed coming here to share my food and thoughts with you, and I would like to thank all of you who emailed me or left me messages here asking if I am okay. I am okay. I am more than okay. I am great actually. Better than I’ve been in a very long time.




What I’ve been up to these past few months? Well, for the whole of September I was on vacation in Greece having the time of my life. When I returned, my hair still smelled of the Mediterranean Sea, my face was still warm from the Greek sun —with small freckles that I always get and had missed seeing on my face—, and my kitchen smelled of dried oregano, mint, and quince spoon sweet while I savored each precious bite of the walnuts and honey I brought back from the mountains of North Euboea.




I returned to the Netherlands feeling re-energized, rejuvenated and excited for all that life had to offer. Vacation does that to you; makes you see life more clearly, set new goals, find the strength and courage to try new things.
Being with my family and loved ones in Greece made all the difference for me. I needed their kind words, their love and attention. I needed their wisdom and the belief that they have in me.




I had a fabulous time, with ups and downs —it wasn’t a drama-free time, let me tell you— but life happens, you know, life, with all the good and the bad. What you take from any experience and what you choose to keep close to your heart is the important part.
I chose to retain the positive feelings and relaxing mood, and the beautiful images of the places I’ve seen and of the faces I love and cherish.




And then worked happened, too much work to be exact, but the kind that makes you feel good about yourself, about your achievements and capabilities.
A positive vibe, a feeling of hopefulness and sweet anxiousness of what’s to come has been prevalent in my life these past few months and I cherish it.




As for this blog, I have neglected it, I am aware, but life is more important than any blog. Living life out there is what can make this right here more interesting. Not the other way around. So I don’t regret not being here but I promise to return more often and share with you all the delicious things I cook, eat and enjoy, because as I’ve said a myriad of times before, good things need to be shared.


Many recipes that I have cooked and shoot these past few months never made it on the blog because I didn’t have time to sit down and write or edit photographs. I will slowly post them, one by one, so that you can make yourselves some yummy foods to share with your family, friends or significant others.



I’ve made a version of this soup about four times this autumn, and now that winter is fast approaching, I thought it was a good time to share it with you. This is my final version of the soup, the one that for me is the best interpretation of the classic pumpkin soup with deeper, richer flavors.




More spicy, more vibrant, more earthy, more wintery. A soup capable to soothe your soul and comfort your body; warm you up and calm you down. With sweet carrots and leeks, pungent onions and garlic, a few mushrooms for their unsurpassed umami flavor and fresh thyme for its woody, grassy flavor; with creamy, earthy tahini that thickens the soup and adds a wonderfully smooth nutty flavor; with turmeric, coriander and a good amount of pul biber —the Turkish red chilli flakes that you may know as Aleppo pepper— giving a pungency and heat that I adore; with a topping of roasted pumpkin seeds flavored with cinnamon and sumac imparting a slightly sweet, sour, sharp and smoky flavor to the seeds and in effect to the soup.

I hope you enjoy it.
I am so glad to be back!









Pumpkin soup with tahini and sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds

I used the classic, orange-colored pumpkin but you can also use a butternut squash or even a kabocha squash.

The spicy, roasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten on their own as a snack.




Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

for the soup
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion (150 g), roughly chopped
1 leek (150 g), white and pale green part only, sliced thickly
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper (20 grinds of the pepper mill)
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp pul biber (aka Aleppo pepper / Turkish chilli flakes)
600g peeled pumpkin, cut into pieces
2-3 carrots (300 g), peeled and sliced thickly
100 g fresh white or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
3 small sprigs of fresh thyme
750 ml chicken or vegetable stock
350 ml hot water
⅓ cup (90 g) tahini, well stirred before measuring

Fresh lemon juice, for serving, to taste
Grated lemon zest, for topping the soup
Sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds, for topping the soup (see below)

for the pumpkin seeds
80 g whole pumpkin seeds (retrieved from the pumpkin you use for the soup)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp sumac
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
Salt

Special equipment: immersion or regular blender, medium-sized, rimmed baking sheet


Preparation

for the soup
In a large, heavy bottomed pan (I use an enameled cast-iron pan), add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and leek and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, ground coriander, turmeric and pul biber, and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring continuously.
Add the pumpkin pieces, the carrots, the mushrooms and the thyme, and stir well. Cook stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes, so that the vegetables are coated with the spices and oil.
Pour in the stock and hot water and stir well to mix. Bring to the boil over high heat, then immediately turn heat down to low and cook for about 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

While the soup is bubbling away, roast the pumpkin seeds (see instructions below).


When the soup ready, remove from the heat, let soup cool for a while, remove the thyme sprigs and add the tahini. If you’re using an immersion blender, blend the vegetables in the pan until smooth and creamy. Then, if you have a regular blender, transfer the vegetables little by little to it and blend until you have a smooth and creamy soup. Return soup to the pan, give it a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve in soup bowls, top with the roasted pumpkin seeds, grated lemon zest and add lemon juice if needed.

As with all soups, it will taste better the next day.

for the sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Use the seeds from the pumpkin you are using in the soup.
Scrape the seeds from inside the pumpkin with a spoon and pull away any strings that are attached. Rinse the seeds well under cold, running water to remove all the pumpkin strings and place them in a bowl.


Take a medium-sized, rimmed baking tray and spread the seeds on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle the sumac, cinnamon and a generous amount of salt on top. The amount of salt depends on your taste; I add about 1 tsp for this amount of seeds. Mix the seeds with the olive oil and spices using your hands and spread them evenly on the baking sheet.
Bake on the lower rack of the oven for 6 minutes and then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 6 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and crispy, being careful not to burn them.

Leave them to cool completely on the baking sheet and then put them in a clean glass jar with a lid (or other airtight container).
You can keep them at room temperature for a week.




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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cucumber, blueberry and feta salad with lettuce, almonds and a honey vinaigrette

I’m not a professional blogger, food blogging is my hobby, so I wouldn’t share with you anything other than what I cook for us to eat at home. And these days, this is it. All sorts of light dishes in sync with the summer vibes and super hot days we’ve been having here in Holland.




What I cook daily, apart from seasonality, is largely determined by our appetites and what I have available in my fridge and cupboards. I use up everything and I never let anything go to waste. I believe it’s a shame to throw away food and ingredients, so I regularly go through my cupboards to see what is close to its expiration date (flours, dried legumes, rice) and go through my fridge looking for any forgotten nuts, seeds, cheeses, dried and fresh fruits and of course vegetables that I can use in my dishes.




It always happens that I have cucumber in my fridge. All. the. time. Mainly because I make tzatziki every other day, but also because I add it to horiatiki (Greek) salad, which during the summer I make almost every day. But still, we never seem to eat it all. So, this salad was the best way to use it up, together with blueberries that can be found in abundance this time of year at the Dutch markets.




This salad is so refreshing and light yet deeply satisfying and fulfilling with a balance of flavors and textures that play off of each other.




Crunchy, fresh cucumber and nutty, earthy, whole almonds, juicy, sweet and acidic blueberries, crisp lettuce, tangy, creamy feta, refreshing mint. The dressing is made with rich, extra virgin olive oil and sharp white-wine vinegar, to add a much welcomed acidity, and with some honey to sweeten things up. It could be a meal all on its own, for all you vegetarian souls out there, and it can accompany meat, chicken and fish dishes.









Cucumber, blueberry and feta salad with lettuce, almonds and a honey vinaigrette

I have also made this salad with grapes instead of blueberries and it is equally delicious, so use whichever fruit is available were you live. If you use grapes, you can substitute the honey in the vinaigrette with petimezi (grape molasses).

Serve with fresh bread or rusks (Greek barley ones if you can find them).




Yield: 4 salad or appetizer servings

Ingredients
300 g fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
1 cucumber (about 200 g), thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
10 large butter lettuce leaves (or other kind lettuce), chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
A big handful of fresh mint leaves
2 big handfuls of whole, unsalted, raw almonds
200 g feta, crumbled or cubed

for the vinaigrette
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 tsp runny honey (I used Greek wild thyme honey)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, 5-6 turns of the pepper mill


Preparation
Whisk in small bowl all the ingredients for the dressing.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the salad and toss with ¾ of the vinaigrette. Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve immediately in a big salad bowl/platter or on individual plates, and add more vinaigrette to taste.




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