I’m finding that taking food pictures of dinner in the Autumn and Winter in London is quite a challenge. By 15:45, it starts to get dark and by 16:30, it’s basically nighttime. The early darkness is annoying for our biological clocks, and alters our mood and sleeping habits.
For a food blogger, there’s the added issue of planning or trying to cook a meal around the small window of light hours. I am an awful planner and making dinner at lunch time during the week just to take a picture is not going to happen. However, during the week, many of my more elaborate meals are prepared at night.
Therefore, if I want to share these recipes with my readers, I have to make due with the poor lighting or create fake lighting… this last option, I’m still working on perfecting.
In the meantime, I’m sharing this recipe with pictures from breakfast. Yes, breakfast. I ate leftovers from dinner as my breakfast, something I love to do since going Paleo! It’s a quick and easy way to incorporate some healthy, saturated fats with which to start off my day.
The question today is, what do I make myself for lunch? 😉
LAMB ROAST WITH PUMPKIN, APPLE & CHESTNUT “ROUGH” MASH
Ingredients, for 2:
1 kg leg of lamb
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 800g)
3 medium apples, peeled and cubed
10-12 chestnuts, peeled and halved
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon ground rosemary
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
zest of 1-2 lemons
Preheat the oven to 200C (390F). Toss the cubed pumpkin, apples and chestnuts together. Place them on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Rinse the leg of lamb and place on top of the pumpkin mixture. With a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic. Add the rosemary, sea salt, pepper, zest and olive oil and mix well. Coat the leg of lamb on both sides with the rosemary mixture. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes for medium done or about 15 minutes longer for less pink. About half way through, take the roast out of the oven, and remove the lamb, carefully to not burn yourself. With a spoon, toss the pumpkin mixture and replace the leg of lamb, with the un-cooked side up. Continue baking until done.
PIERNA DE CORDERO AL HORNO CON BASE DE CALABAZA, MANZANAS Y CASTAÑAS
Ingredientes, para 2 comensales:
1 kg pierna de cordero
1/2 calabaza tipo “butternut squash”, como 800g, pelada y cortada a taquitos
3 manzanas medianas, peladas y cortadas a taquitos
10-12 castañas frescas, peladas y cortadas por la mitad
4 dientes de ajo, pelados
1 cucharada grande de romero molido
1 cucharada grande de sal gorda
1 cucharadita de pimienta negra
1/2 taza de aceite de oliva
ralladura de 1 o 2 limones
Como hacer el cordero al horno:
Precalienta el horno a 200C. Mezcla los trozos de calabaza, manzana y las castañas y pon todo en el fondo del recipiente que vaya a ir al horno. Enjuaga la pierna de cordero y coloca la encima de la calabaza. En un mortero, machaca los ajos. Añade el romero, la pimienta, la sal, la ralladura de limón y el aceite de oliva. Mezcla todo bien y embadurna ambos lados de la pierna de cordero con esta mezcla. Hornear como una hora y 15 minutos o una hora y media. A mitad de tiempo, saca el cordero del horno. Retira la pierna del recipiente, con cuidado para no quemarte y ponla en un plato. A continuación, con una cuchara de palo, dale la vuelta a la calabaza y demás. Vuelve a incorporar la pierna de cordero en el recipiente, pero esta vez del lado aún no hecho. Termina horneando.
Since moving back to Europe, we make a point of doing an annual road trip to Sevilla, Spain usually in the summer or autumn. We have three important reasons for driving so many kilometers each year: one, we get to enjoy a lot of quality time together and see many beautiful things along the way, both in France and in Spain; and two, we have the opportunity of seeing family and friends, whom we wouldn’t see otherwise because of where they live, Bayonne and Vitoria; and three, we stock up on Spanish goodies, such as various 5-liter olive oil bottles, whole legs of jamon serrano, and other things we miss, that we couldn’t possibly pack into a suitcase. On the last trip, we even brought back some delicious salted cod!
Now that we live in London, we are in France more often than when we lived in Germany. Now, we must cross the north of France every time we visit the Benelux and Germany. Consequently, we have gotten to know Calais and the surrounding region quite well. During the summer months when we arrive around lunchtime, our first stop in France is always for moules frites in Gravelines at Le 116. Gravelines is a rather sleepy little town on the River Aa; but it does have a beautiful beach, and the historical, hexagonal-shaped bastion, Grand Fort Philippe, is worth visiting. The area can be confusing for the first-time visitor as the culture, the landscape and even the names of towns are a mixture of French and Dutch. The area was part of Flanders and still has many similarities with Belgium and The Netherlands. (By the way, another very interesting and beautiful hexagonal fort town is Bourtange, near Groningen in The Netherlands.)
Eating in France can be a hit or miss experience, we’ve discovered. Arguably one could say that can happen in every country; but when eating in France, we’ve come to expect top quality and cuisine, and it’s not always the case. Aside from our moules frites passion, we have stopped for every meal during one trip or another, and have had varying degrees of satisfaction. And some of the best meals have been when and where we least expected them.
We once had a delightful breakfast in Neufchâtel. We arrived in town just as the farmers’ market was opening; in fact, it was still slightly dark out and the morning air was quite brisk, adding a very pleasant atmosphere with which to start our day. At the market, we purchased some pungent local cheeses (Neufchâtel, of course!) from a very helpful cheesemonger and a large baguette at the nearby boulangerie (France and Spain are the only two countries in which I make an exception to eat bread, and only occasionally), which we consumed with a cafe au lait, before continuing our journey. I love visiting farmers’ markets, and I’ve found the best ones in France, The Netherlands and Germany. The only downside of travelling and visiting markets is not being able to purchase all the fresh seafood, meats and produce!
Another memorable meal was our stop in Conty for dinner. The area is famous for le Tour de France going through it and the little restaurant at which we ate had a number of cycling memorabilia. But the best part of dinner was the cookery book, Cuisine d’Hiver, laying on a shelf behind me. I took a gazillion pictures of the recipes with my iPhone and later saved them on my computer to never look at them again. I do this a lot. In fact, I take pictures of menus with the intention of using the ideas for inspiration and later always forget to revisit them.
So, when my duck fat arrived in the mail the other day, for some reason I thought of France. And no, I still haven’t used any of the recipes from the cookery book in Conty, although I’ve placed them all in a folder to have them printed. That’s a step in the right direction, I think. In the meantime, I came up with this French-inspired soup recipe to use up the sweet potatoes I had on hand.
I went to grab some quatre-épices and found out I was out of the spice mix. This is another food item I tend to purchase when travelling through France, that and herbes de Provence. The spice mix usually includes pepper (white, black or both), ginger, nutmeg and cloves. For the soup, I created my own combination by using equal parts of black pepper, nutmeg and cloves and adding some freshly grated ginger.
To add some kick, which my husband tends to appreciate, I included some chili powder, as well. And I added turmeric for the health benefits and for a more intense colour.
As the duck fat was not enough fat for my interpretation of a healthy meal, I garnished the soup with some chopped, hard-boiled eggs and pieces of jamon serrano, along with some chopped chives for additional flavour. You can omit these, but if you want a more well-balanced dish, I wouldn’t. (Of course, bacon or ham can be substituted for the jamon serrano.)
The sweet potato and zucchini soup is my homage to our trips through France… if I can’t be in France on a daily basis, I can bring a little bit of France to me by way of the very healthy and delicious duck fat and quatre-épices. I hope you will also enjoy!
Sweet Potato & Zucchini Soup with Quatre-Epices
Author: The Saffron Girl
Makes about 10 servings.
900g (just shy of 2lbs) sweet potato, peeled and roughly cubed
2 medium zucchini, partially peeled and roughly cubed
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup duck fat
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
7-8 cups filtered water, or if you have chicken or duck broth, much better
3 teaspoons coarse sea salt (adjust salt if you use broth and/or to taste, of course)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, optional
For garnish, if desired:
hard boiled eggs, chopped
jamon serrano or bacon pieces
Place the duck fat, onion and leek in a large pot. Poach over low heat, about 8 minutes until the onion is almost translucent.
Add the garlic, zucchini pieces, and the spices and stir well.
Cook about 2-3 minutes.
Add the sweet potatoes and 4 cups of filtered water or stock.
Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Remove from heat and allow to slightly cool, enough to handle safely.
With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
Add 3-4 cups of additional filtered water.
Add sea salt, adjusting to taste.
Add chili powder, if desired.
Heat through over low heat to warm enough to serve, about 5-7 minutes.
Garnish with hard-boiled egg, jamon serrano and chives, if desired.
I woke up this morning with a mission in mind: to finally recreate the pumpkin fudge brownie recipe I have promised my readers. So, the first thing I did was cut up one of my gorgeous and rather large butternut squash and bake it, while I organised things a bit. I used to be one of those people who had to immediately eat breakfast after getting up, especially when I was working in NYC. But since going Paleo, I actually prefer to wait about an hour or more before eating anything. Most days, I first prepare and drink my warm water with freshly squeesed lemon juice, and then after that’s settled, I start thinking about what to make for breakfast.
As I’m working from home now (I am a freelance graphic designer), I tend to catch up on news during this time and settle in to tackle work after I’ve eaten.
Today, since I knew I would have too much pumpkin meat leftover after making the fudge brownies, a thought came to mind: why not have pumpkin pancakes or waffles for breakfast too?! I’m not really crazy about sweet things for breakfast, much preferring savoury dishes with lots of healthy fats to keep me going for hours on end.
But as it’s Sunday, I made an exception. I was planning to use one of my own recipes as guidance, but my computer decided it needed a software update today and I couldn’t access the internet until that update was installed. Frustration was about to set in, when I decided to simply invent a new recipe…
I’m embarrassed to “toot my own horn”, but these are quite good, fluffly, light and delicious. Plus the flavours make it a perfect treat for an Autumn morning. And if you eat them as I did, with some melt-in-your-mouth Kerrygold butter and maple syrup, all the better. 😉
Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes
Author: The Saffron Girl
Makes about 10 pancakes, 2 1/2-in diameter
1/2 cup cooked pumpkin meat
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup almond flour
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
In a food processor, blend until smooth the egg, pumpkin meat, spices, sea salt and baking soda.
Add the almond flour and pulse to mix well.
Add the coconut flour and pulse again to mix well.
Add the maple syrup, if desired and blend well.
Heat a frying pan over low heat and grease with some coconut oil.
Pour the pancake batter by spoonfuls onto the pan. I poured 2 spoonfuls per pancake.
Allow to cook through until the batter starts to bubble. Immediately turn over and cook on other side.
Being an expat can provide the perfect platform for “once in a lifetime” experiences that are interesting, educational, exciting and fun. It’s a privilege that many of us are lucky to have. I mean, who doesn’t want to be in a foreign country, enjoying it with a tourist mentality (you know that eventually you’ll get to go home, whatever that turns out to be, so anything that goes wrong is only temporary, right?), yet living there as a local and taking advantage of things that tourists can never dream of being able to do? And there’s the added bonus to be able to complain about all the idiosyncrasies of the locals, always a humorous conversation starter with like-minded expats. It’s a great combination, the best of both worlds. But it’s not always an easy one to transition into. In fact, it can be for many people quite daunting.
Usually the couple or family moves because of the job of one of the spouses. So that leaves the other spouse at home without a job, and if they don’t have children or pets, quite alone. Many of us find ourselves in a tough situation to get used to. From the most ordinary and routine chores, such as going grocery shopping, to finding a new doctor, a new hairdresser, where to buy an eraser perhaps?, to getting the children into new schools, finding the right house to live in, purchasing a new car or learning to drive on the wrong side of the car and road, to maybe even having to learn a new language will of course all be very interesting, but will most certainly also be very stressful and frustrating at times.
For the working spouse, who gets to go to the office and maintain a structure and relatively organised schedule, the transition is always easier. Our company prepared us for the first move by putting us in an expat course. And they clearly told us that if the at home spouse was not happy, it could make or break the work experience. So, they (and we) want happy at-home-spouses of course. Talk about pressure!
When we moved to Germany, I didn’t exactly consider myself an expat. I actually felt like I was coming home, back to Europe after several years in the US. And although that was true and I have German ancestry, Germany is not Spain, nor do they speak Spanish natürlich, and I only knew a few basic words and phrases in German that I remembered from my lessons as a child. And although most people can speak some English if they are hard-pressed or want to be nice, it’s a good idea to learn the language. Therefore, to conquer my first fear and try to integrate, I immediately starting German lessons. (I oftentimes pondered about what life had been like for the immigrants from Spain during the 50s-60s, many without university education, no knowledge of foreign languages, and coming from a precarious economic situation. They were not really expats. Many ended up staying in Germany and made a life there for their children and grandchildren; others returned to Spain because the experience was too much of a hardship and being away from family weighed more than any economic or social opportunities. It’s sadly happening all over again in Spain now; but the difference is that most people today have a higher education and some knowledge of English, which helps. Plus, today we have the internet and Facebook with which to keep in touch. Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily an easier experience than it was for the generation after WWII. I have friends who after 3 years in Bavaria just returned home because they missed their families and Spain too much!)
During my German lessons, I met a lot of interesting people from all around the world, from Afghanistan, Russia, Rumania, Mexico, Bosnia, Czech Republic, the US, and South Korea (most of the Koreans were in Germany to attend classical music training, how cool is that? And one of them was even a well-known opera singer back in South Korea!). Many of those that I met became my friends and we still have contact today, although we have moved away from Frankfurt.
But when my year-long classes ended and I had passed my Mittestuffe Prüfung, I found myself without a daily routine and not knowing many people, especially people with whom I could speak without having to think or get a headache after our conversation in German, which was our common ground. That’s when joining the AWCT (American Women’s Club of the Taunus) came to the rescue. (I did seek some Spanish groups and ironically found none.)
(By the way, if you’re interested, there’s a very witty and accurate article written by Mark Twain about that awful German language. Mark Twain spent about three months in Heidelberg, during which time he also tried to learn the language. It’s hilarious to read, especially if you know German or have ever tried learning it.)
Meeting new people as an expat can prove to be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome to create a healthy and happy expat experience… remember no pressure, right?! Therefore, when we learned we were being transferred to London, I joined the AWCL (American Women’s Club of London) before arriving. The knowledge that this transition was going to be different from the previous one helped me begin meeting people much sooner. For starters, I didn’t have to learn a language (although sometimes it seems like the Brits are speaking something completely foreign), but I also didn’t have the advantage of meeting people via classes. Since my participation in the group in Frankfurt had proven to be so positive, I figured it was a good way to start in this new country that I had visited as a tourist and for work long ago, but was moving to as an expat this time. I have later also joined two Spanish groups, with whom I have a lot of fun and get to converse in Spanish.
The other day at a meeting of the AWCL, one of the speakers said that the Club’s activities gave us reasons to not stay home in our pjs until midday. The whole room giggled, yes, giggled,at this comment because it rang true to most I think…
So when I discovered that Naz from Cinnamon Eats is also an expat here in the UK, without even knowing her, we already had some common ground. And things got better when we learned that we are both Paleo bloggers. (Why is it that we always want to find people who think alike? I guess it makes life easier, no?)
Blogging has become an essential part of my daily life. I love what I do and love to share my stories and recipes with my readers. And I have found that this is true for most other food bloggers; in many cases it has changed our lives, even leading to different career paths. For me, it has also enhanced my expat experience in the UK, even though I think it has encouraged an ever growing habit of sitting in front of my computer in my pjs until midday. 😉 (Shhhh… don’t tell my husband.)
As bloggers, we take great care and pride in how we present all of this information to you. Naz just recently did a major overhaul of her blog, and I’m in the midst of doing the same to mine. Today, I have the pleasure of not only reciprocating with Naz after my experience as a first time guest poster on her site, but also bringing to you Naz’s first guest post after her new site has gone live!
I hope you will become a fan of Cinnamon Eats and enjoy reading her stories and cooking with her recipes, like I do. In the meantime, I leave you with this wonderful seasonal dish, which can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yum!
Hello to all The Saffron Girl readers! First of I want to say how excited I am to be here sharing my recipe with you all! I met Debra online a couple of months back via Instagram and since then we have connected through our common passions of cooking and eating healthy and delicious paleo foods. We also both live in England so I’m hoping that one of these days we can also meet up in person! Debra also recently shared a guest post over on my blog Cinnamon Eats, you can check out that post here. Thank you Debra for having me!
Since connecting with Debra I have come to enjoy her recipes and the attention to detail she gives to her blog and the message she shares with her readers and followers. Her recipes prove that eating healthy doesn’t mean eating boring and bland foods, quiet the opposite actually!
The dish I’m sharing with you today is one I made a couple of weeks back and it contains some of my favourite ingredients to cook with… sweet potatoes, apples and fennel, along with warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg make this a great dish for these ever increasingly cold Autumn days.
Sweet Potato, Apple & Fennel Hash – Guest Post by Cinnamon Eats
Author: The Saffron Girl
500gm/1.1lbs grass-fed ground beef
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
3 small-med apples diced. (I used Jonagold apples)
2-3 small fennel bulbs, cored and diced
1 small red onion diced
2 Tbsp grass-fed butter/ghee, divided
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp ground clove
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
Place a pan on medium heat and add in 1 Tbsp of butter/ghee. Once melted add in your sweet potato. Stir to cook for about 5 mins then sprinkle in some sea salt (the salt will help the sweet potato cook faster). After about 10 minutes check the sweet potato for doneness by pricking a fork into one of the sweet potatoes, you want it to be just cooked through but not so much that it falls apart when you touch it.
Remove the sweet potato to a clean dish and set aside. Heat the other Tbsp of butter/ghee in the pan and add in the onion, sauté until soft and transclucent then add in the ground-beef. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat as it cooks.
When the meat is just about cooked through, season with some sea salt. Add in the diced fennel and stir through, cook for about 5 minutes or so before adding in the apples. Cook on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes then add in your already cooked sweet potato.
Add in the rest of your seasonings (cinnamon, allspice, ground clove, ground nutmeg and ground ginger). Stir everything together, turn the heat to low and let everything cook for another few minutes or until the apples, fennel and sweet potato are tender and the meat is cooked through.
Serve as is and enjoy!
A little about Naz:
Nazanin or Naz as her friends and family like to call her is an Australian expat living in England. She left Australia in 2011 with her husband Joe to move to Michigan, U.S.A where they stayed for just under 2 years, before they moved to England. Naz started her journey to Paleo eating in 2011 and now runs her own Paleo based food blog at cinnamoneats.com. She loves to create delicious Paleo recipes to share with others. You can also connect with Naz via her Facebook Page, her Instagram or her Twitter.
I love it when the lack of ingredients provokes a stroke of creativity. This happened to me when making this soup. I was looking for my white wine, of which I didn’t have any left, and saw the limoncello. And it just seemed like a cool flavour to add to this soup. Some friends of ours, who used to live in Italy, brought over a couple of bottles of limoncello when they visited us in Germany. We obviously are not drinkers (since that was over two years ago), and much less of liquors, so both bottles are almost intact.
We keep the pretty bottles in the fridge, as it’s supposed to be served chilled. I sort of see them every day, and they are almost like a decoration inside my fridge. The limoncello is made from lemons and has a beautiful, sunny yellow colour that seems unreal. When opened, the aroma that permeates from the liqour is both refreshing and delicate; but don’t be fooled, it has quite a punch when you drink it straight.
However, in the soup is was undetectable, although I think it may have enhanced the overall flavour, since it turned out delicious. Of course, you can substitute with a white wine, which was my original idea.
It’s very easy to make, especially if you’re in a hurry. Just make sure you either roast the pumpkin first; or I guess canned pumpkin could also work. I garnished it with some finely sliced spring onions and crumbled Stilton cheese; however a little bit of lemon zest would probably bring out the limoncello flavours and be a nice contrast to the pumpkin.
Limoncello Pumpkin Soup
Author: The Saffron Girl
1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin meat
2 small red onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil, butter or fat of preference
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup limoncello, or white wine
2 cups filtered water
spring onions, finely sliced, for garnishing
Stilton cheese, crumbled, for garnishing and extra flavour (optional, but very tasty)
Roast your pumpkin in the oven for about 45 minutes at 180C (350F). I split mine in half and place them in an ovenproof dish. Facing up or down really doesn’t matter much.
In a pot over low heat, poach the onions, garlic and celery with the olive oil or fat of choice, about 5 minutes.
Add the limoncello or white wine and reduce, about 3 minutes.
Add the pumpkin meat, giving it a good stir.
Pour in the filtered water, and cook about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, and with an immersion blender, very roughly blend to puree a bit, but leaving chunks of the celery and other vegetables.
(Alternatively you could puree the pumpkin with the water first and leave the rest of the vegetables whole.)
Return to the stove and heat until warm to eat.
Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
To serve, garnish with spring onions, Stitlon cheese or whatever you desire. The cheese, if you do dairy, adds a delicious flavour, as does the spring onion.
I have been mesmerised for days in the world of other bloggers and websites. One could almost say I have become obsessed; I’m doing research for changes that I want to make to this blog and the more I look, the more confused and overwhelmed I seem to get. My mind is doing summersaults, I go to bed thinking about layouts and wake up thinking about designs…and then there is the price factor. You have choices from a full-design by a web designer (which can be a lot of money but would save me all the hassle and time) or do-it-yourself options that would give me great satisfaction to produce, but that are not free in most cases, as there’s never a perfect template or platform to accommodate my needs. I want it all! A pretty site, a functional site and one that engages all of us, you and me.
You may ask why I’m seeking out other sites when I’m also a graphic designer. But as we say in Spain, «en casa de herrero azadón de palo», which translates to “in the house of the metal-worker, a wooden hoe is used” because he either doesn’t have the time to attend to his own matters or doesn’t have the creativity to do so. Well, I’m way too subjective and am having trouble deciding on so many items, that I needed to do the research and also reach out to other designers.
In the midst of all this information overload and what I am sure is driving a number of designers and people crazy with all my questions and indecisions, I haven’t been taking care of myself in the Paleo way. I feel like an artiste on a mission, who forgets to eat, wash or comb his/her hair… I can just envision myself like a Jack Pollock or a slightly entranced Da Vinci… thankfully, my husband is travelling and not witness to any of this!
However, on this journey through cyberspace, I’ve discovered some blogs that are simply gorgeous. And I don’t just mean their look, but the content. One of these such blogs is Mimi Thorisson’s Manger. Over the past few days, I’ve come to know Mimi and her life, which is truly enviable. Her stories are enchanting, soothing and have a “je ne sais quoi” about them.. maybe because she’s half-French, is living in Medoc in the countryside, and everything seems so idyllic.
Her husband is a professional photographer and apparently takes all of the photos for the blog. They are impressive and inviting. And her recipes are simply delightful. One in particular caught my eye because of the title: Icelandic Fish Soup. Mimi’s husband is Icelandic.
I have been to Iceland twice, but I think I sort of travelled there before then as a child in my dreams. My father used to go there often because of his job, and brought me back a hand-made cloth viking doll, which I treasured for years. It’s still somewhere to be found at my parent’s house, I’m sure. Reading Mimi’s post brought back childhood memories and real memories of my trips to this island-country.
I always imagined the “land of fire and ice” to be a cold place, up in the northern hemisphere with inhospitable people… but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, partially wrong. It is a cold place. But it could be colder actually if it weren’t for the currents of the gulf stream, which bring warmer air from Africa up to Iceland.
The two times I visited were in November; so it was dark most of the day. The sun rises about 10:30 in the morning, although it really never goes far above the horizon, and it goes back down around 3:30 or 4:00pm. The play of light is surreal and magical, just like Iceland itself.
There’s so much I could write and describe about my experience in this intriguing country, one where people do not really have last names. Okay they do, but in order to find them in a phone book, you need to know the father’s first name, then know if the person is a man or a woman which determines the ending of the “last name”, plus they are listed by first names! For example, Thorisson is the son of Thori, but Thori’s daughter’s last name would be Thorisdottir (with a little accent on the “o”). It’s a country to which I’d love to return, this time during the warmer months to see the different colours of summer.
Whilst reading Mimi’s blog, I came across this recipe for Icelandic fish soup and felt like it was just the right thing to bring me out of my artistic reverie and trance.
Below is my version of the soup, which has warmed up my tummy and brought me back to life….
Not Quite Icelandic Fish Soup
Recipe Type: Main
Author: The Saffron Girl
4-5 tablespoons butter (I used Kerrygold)
2 medium red onions, julienned
3 cloves garlic, quartered lengthwise
1 celery stalk, finely sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup moscatel or sherry
6 cups filtered water
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped (about 1-inch pieces)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon saffron powder or a few sprigs of saffron, plus a few additional sprigs for garnishing
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, or sea salt to taste
some freshly ground pepper
6 hake steaks, cubed (I used frozen fish, about 4 cups cubed)
thyme for garnishing, optional
In a large pot over low heat, melt the butter with the onions, garlic and celery. Poach (cook on very low heat) for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Add the white wine and moscatel/sherry and reduce about 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, filtered water, saffron, vinegar and parsnips. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the parsnips are tender.
Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I added 1 teaspoon of salt, but needed a bit more on my plate later.
With a potato masher, very slightly and roughly squash the soup a bit, so that the parsnip pieces are not whole. But do not puree the soup.
Add the fish pieces and cook 8-10 minutes until the fish is done.
Serve immediately, garnishing with some saffron sprigs and thyme, if desired.
Living in the United Kingdom gives me the possibility of exploring the countries which are part of it, enjoy the unique opportunity of experiencing London as a local, and also have the chance to try what for me are new vegetables and fruits… quite a comparison contrast, but all three are high up on my list.
For me, trying new food is always interesting and fun. Such has been the case with the swede, or rutabaga. Before arriving in England, I believe I had never even seen or heard of it. In fact, I remember the first time my husband, who many times does the shopping, brought it home. I had to take a picture of it and send it to a friend, who had already been living here longer and is an avid gardener and foodie, to see if she knew what this strange white and purplish thing sitting on my counter was!
The inspiration for this recipe came to me last night, as I was trying to fall asleep… I am starting to feel slightly obsessed! 😉 This actually has an explanation that is more logical: the turnips were starting to go soft and I needed to use them. So what better than a creamy soup for a chilly and wet day?
I purposely kept the soup’s flavour a bit neutral, not adding too many spices so that it would pair well with the kale-cashew pesto I had planned. The addition of the scallops came a bit later to me, as I wanted to include some protein in my dish.
I’m in love with the combination and hope you will be too! If not, I hope you are at least inspired to come up with your own mix.
Cream of Swede & Turnip Soup with Kale-Cashew Pesto & Scallops
Author: The Saffron Girl
Soup serves 6.
For the soup:
1 swede/rutabaga, about 600g (1.3lbs), peeled and cut into cubes
2 turnips, about 400g together (1lb), peeled and cut into cubes
1 large leek, peeled and cut into large pieces
3 cups filtered water
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups filtered water
2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
For the pesto:
1/3 cup cashews
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups kale, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For the scallops:
2 scallops (or more if desired), per bowl
fresh thyme sprigs, as garnish
For the soup:
In a large pot, place the swede, turnip and leek pieces with 3 cups of filtered water.
Cook over low heat, for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Set aside to slightly cool.
With an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
Add 3 cups of filtered water (or more if too thick for your taste) and stir well.
Add the salt, turmeric and mustard and place over low heat to warm up.
In the meantime, make the pesto:
Roast the cashews in a dry skillet until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Stir frequently so they do not burn.
Combine the cashews and garlic in the food processor and process until very finely ground.
Add the kale leaves, sea salt and pepper and process again until well chopped.
Continuing processing, while adding the olive oil in a steady stream, until you have a creamy paste. (You can refrigerate or freeze, if not using all of it.)
For the scallops:
Place about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 4 scallops, in a pan. Over medium heat, cook the scallops, until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes each side.
Pour two ladles of soup into each bowl.
Drizzle with the kale-cashew pesto (the amount desired) and place two (or more) scallops into each bowl on top of the pesto.
I originally created this recipe for my first and only guest post to-date on another blog in October of 2013. It’s been over two years! And so much has changed in my life, and also in that of Naz’s, the author of Cinnamoneats where this post was originally featured. Back then, we were both living in the UK and now we are both ‘back’ in the US.
Naz is making big changes to her blog, rebranding it and in the process she’s doing away with guest posts. Coincidently, I was looking for this recipe to make again this week and went to her blog only to find it ‘under construction’ (she’s working diligently to have it ready soon!). Thankfully, I had the recipe saved in email and am now adding it to this post so we all have it readily available.
Original post, now with recipe included
Welcome to my first guest post on another blog! Naz, from Cinnamoneats, and I follow each other on Instagram and Facebook and have discovered we have quite a lot in common, aside from both being expats (she’s from Australia) living in the UK and being Paleo bloggers! I love her site and her delicious recipes and interesting posts; so it’s an honour to be featured on her blog today.
Naz originally asked me to share a traditional Spanish dish, but as I don’t have anything planned in the near future, I didn’t want to keep her waiting indefinitely… Therefore I thought something Moroccan would be suitable, as that’s very close to my heart and culinary interests as well. I’ve spoken about my passion about the Maghreb cuisine and how I have a ton of Moroccan cookery books… and this recipe is adapted from one of those books, which I purchased on my last trip to Spain.
Cocina Marroqui, by Ghillie Basan, is a great resource for recipes of tagines and couscous, as well as spice blends and tips on how to prepare delectable Moroccan meals. Ghillie even discusses odd bits about the culture and the people of this colourful country.
(mise en place and the lamb/mouton meat mixture)
(on the left is the base for the tagine; on the right are the vegetables poaching)
Tagines are very easy to make and usually encompass combinations typical of the local cuisine, such as spicy with fragrant or sweet and savoury. In this particular recipe, ras-el-hanout is the star. Once you take your first whiff of this spice blend, you’ll either be totally enchanted or possibly really dislike it (although I doubt that). The combination of spices and edible flowers plus chili and turmeric make it quite unique and aromatic, as well as healthy.
And although lamb is used in this recipe, you could very well make the tagine with beef or a beef/pork combination. It’s a great dish to make ahead and then heat up on the stove top. In fact, the longer you let it sit, the better it tastes as the flavours really permeate into the meat.
You can accompany the dish with some green vegetables or a fluffy “cauliflower couscous”…
Lamb Kefta Tagine with Zucchini
Serves: 4 Prep Time: 10 Cook Time: 30
For the Meatballs/Kefta
500g ground lamb
2 small red onions (finely chop 1 1/2 of the onions; julienne the remaining 1/2 onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons Ras-el-Hanout
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
3 cups filtered water
For the vegetables
2 medium zucchini, roughly peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium aubergine, roughly peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Tagine:
1 tablespoon ghee
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small red onion, julienne-style
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 to 2 cups water from cooking the meatballs
coarse sea salt, to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt)
fresh mint leaves, chopped, for garnishing
Mix the ground lamb with the onion, garlic, mint leaves, ras-el-hanout, chili powder, and the sea salt. Mix until everything is well incorporated. Scoop out balls with a measuring tablespoon and with your hands create the meatballs. Set them aside on a platter or clean surface.
In a deep, but wide pan, place about 3 cups of filtered water, over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, carefully add the meatballs. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they cook on all sides and do not stick to the pan or together. (I stir, moving from the bottom of the pot so I don’t break the meatballs.) With a slotted spoon, remove from the water and place on a plate or in a bowl. Set the water aside.
In a large saucepan, over low heat, add the zucchini, olive oil and garlic. Poach uncovered for about 10-12 minutes. Stir frequently. Add the aubergine and cook an additional 7-8 minutes. Stir frequently.
In the meantime, in a tagine (ceramic pot or another saucepan), sauté over low heat the 1/2 julienned onion and the cumin seeds in the ghee and olive oil, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the 1 1/2 cups of water from cooking the meatballs. (Add the remaining water only if necessary.)
Place the meatballs/kefta inside the tagine, along with the poached vegetables. Stir well. Add coarse sea salt, to taste. I used about 1 teaspoon. Cook covered for about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then uncovered and cook an additional 12-15 minutes, or until liquid is partially reduced.
I have to admit that this was impromptu decision to make this recipe… I had promised my readers to once again tackle the pumpkin fudge brownies, which I’m working to perfect. But sometimes I really am not into sweets; and making them means eating them and I still have a bunch of the first batch left. By the way, they are very fudgey, not cakey, which I’m really liking. Nonetheless, the pumpkin layer needs work to intensify the flavour. So I will make it again, but possibly not until next week…
In the meantime, I’ve used up my butternut squash for this hash recipe! We bought some deliciously ripe figs the other day and aside from eating them, I just wanted to create a recipe. This hash can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I ate it as accompaniment to lamb chops… but the flavours go well with red meat, game and eggs of course!
I still have more figs… maybe I will indulge in a sweet treat after all.. hmm it’s tempting for the challenge alone! Freezing is always on option I suppose. 😉
(part of my mise en place)
(lamb chops with the pumpkin hash)
Fig, Jamon Serrano, & Butternut Squash Hash
Author: The Saffron Girl
1 small (800g/approx 1.7 lbs) butternut squash
2 ripe figs, quartered or cut in eighths if large
2 medium leeks, sliced
2-3 tablespoons lard
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/3 cup jamon serrano, diced (bacon bits can be used instead)
freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Peel and cube the butternut squash. Spread out evenly onto an ovenproof dish.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, no longer. Set aside.
In a skillet over low heat, melt the lard with the pumpkin pieces already in the pan.
Cook about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. But be careful as the pumpkin cooks not too mash it.
Add the leeks, figs, rosemary and thyme, and cook for 1 minute, then add the jamon serrano pieces.
Cook for 2 minutes longer and turn off heat. Allow to sit about a few minutes so the flavours become more intense.
If needed, adjust for salt. (I didn’t add any because the jamon serrano can result saltier when cooked.)
Sprinkle with a few turns of the pepper grinder and serve.
We visited Vietnam last year. I think it’s one of those places that does not leave you indifferent on many levels. The clash of modernisation with colonial vestiges from Chinese, French and even American influences and the native culture are sometimes perplexing. One example is that we were driven from the Hanoi airport to our hotel in a car that had wifi onboard, while on the side of the main highway, we drove past people with traditional clothing – and yes, the Vietnamese hat – working on the rice fields, had to avoid cattle crossing the road, and nearly missed a few accidents with mopeds carrying two, three people and sometimes even a whole dining room table! To see a glimpse of our time in this beautiful country, please view my travel log on Vietnam.
This incredible experience, from which I learned a lot about human history and how things are perceived depending on whose perspective we are looking upon something (French and Americans are called invaders in northern Vietnam, and the Chinese are also considered such but on a different level) left me with a lasting impression and a need to return that I hope to fulfill one day.
Part of the richness of our adventurous time in Vietnam was trying all the delicious food available and visiting the markets. Breakfast in the Asian countries I’ve visited consists mostly of a warm soup, such as Vietnamese Pho. Hanoi came to life each day we were there with everyone preparing and eating Pho or some other form of street food, while the shops slowly but energetically opened up, women balancing baskets on their shoulders headed to the market or were selling their wares on the street, and the silence of the night was thoroughly disrupted by an incessant noise that lasts until very late in the evening.
(grating the green papaya with the kitchen utensil that the Hanoi Cooking Centre gave me)
(Vietnam, although a one-party Communist country, is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. In fact, if you were unaware of the political regime, you would think you are in a Capitalist nation, since it seems that everyone owns their own shop. Stores occupy the bottom part of almost every building in Hanoi and even in many areas of the countryside.)
Pho is one thing I need to make at home, but haven’t yet because I need to find a butcher that will sell me really good quality, grass-fed beef and have it very thinly sliced. I plan a visit to the London Borough Market soon… so I’ll be shopping for my ingredients, making Pho and sharing the recipe with all of you.
Ah.. the recipe! Well, while in Hanoi, I took a cookery course with the Hanoi Cooking Centre. I had just started my blog and had never done anything like this, while on vacation. So, the idea was exciting and intriguing. I took a taxi to the school from our hotel, thinking I couldn’t manage the streets… one must cross the street through traffic! It turns out it’s not as hard as it first seems, although a bit nerve-wracking for the newcomer, and I ended up walking back to my hotel after the course.
The course I took was called “Street Food”. And since taking it, I’ve had on my agenda making all of the recipes.. but haven’t gotten around to it until now. However, I’ve made great use of the grater the school so kindly gave me!
Some of the ingredients are not easy to find, such as good quality green papaya or banana blossom. I bought a banana blossom sometime last year at an Indian store, but was thoroughly disappointed when I cut into it and it was rotting. ;(
(these are the dried, salted anchovies that I used)
But on our excursion to the Asian market this past week, we found green papaya and a whole plethora of other goodies! Therefore the first recipe I share with you from our Vietnamese adventure is Green Papaya Salad. I made a few alterations to keep it Paleo (no sugar and no peanuts) and added a couple of ingredients of my own, such as pomegranate seeds and created my own “fish sauce”.
I hope you enjoy!
Green Papaya Salad (Nom Xoai Xanh)
Recipe Type: Salad
Author: The Saffron Girl
1 green papaya (pawpaw), peeled and grated or spiralised
2 green onions, finely sliced julienne style
1 long Vietnamese chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (be careful they are very hot, so it’s wise to use some sort of gloves)
3 cloves garlic, minced or cut julienne style
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
seeds of one pomegranate
3 tablespoons cashews, roasted and crushed*
1 small red onion, very finely sliced
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
olive oil or other fat for frying
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons dried, salted anchovies or dried shrimp, fried
Peel the green papaya and with a spiraliser or grater, grate all of it until you’re getting close to the seeds. Place in a large bowl.
Add the sliced green onions, the minced garlic, the Vietnamese chili, cilantro leaves, and pomegranate seeds. Toss and set aside.
In a pan, add about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil over low heat.
Fry the cashews until golden brown. Scoop them out and place on a plate with paper towels to soak up any extra fat.
In the same remaining oil, fry the dried anchovies or shrimp. Scoop them out and also place on a plate with paper towels to soak up the extra fat and stay crispy.
Clean the pan, when slightly cooled, with a paper towel and add new coconut oil or olive oil, enough to “deep fry” the sliced onion. Heat over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, coat the sliced onion pieces with the arrowroot powder. Dust off any extra arrowroot powder with your hands.
Once the oil is hot, carefully place the floured onions into the pan. Make sure to separate them before putting them in, or they’ll clump up.
Allow to fry on one side before stirring/flipping to fry on the other side. (If you have a deep fryer, it’s easier to use that than a pan.)
Scoop out of the pan and place on another plate with paper towels. Set aside and turn the oil off.
In a mortar, place the fried anchovies/shrimp and grind with the pestle.
Add the lime juice and coconut sugar and mix well. Set aside.
Place the cashews on a flat surface, such as your counter top, and with the back side of a bowl, press into them, breaking them up into pieces. Scoop them up and place into a bowl. Set aside.
When you’re ready to serve the salad:
Toss the papaya mixture with the dressing and cashew pieces.
Serve in individual plates or a large bowl and top with the fried onion pieces.
We eat a lot of sea creatures in Spain. Yes I said “creatures” and not seafood because we eat almost everything that comes from the ocean. Maybe only Asians beat us in terms of culinary adventurers.
So this weekend when we visited the Asian food market Loon Fung, I couldn’t resist buying a lot of seafood, including these gorgeous red snappers. And I just knew I had to make them soon…
(Poaching the potatoes and onions)
My first intention was to bake them inside banana leaves. But both snappers would not fit properly in my oven dish with the banana leaf wrappings. Therefore, I had to resort to the unplanned Plan B, and baked them the regular, traditional Spanish way.
Baking fish with a bottom layer of vegetables, especially white potatoes, onions and tomatoes is very typical in most homes and restaurants in Spain. The flavours of the fish are soaked up by the vegetables and hardly any spices or herbs are necessary to make this dish taste wonderful.
I did, however, add some choi sum leaves to get some greens into the dish. You can omit these if you like of course. And I also added some Vietnamese basil, which I also had purchased at the Asian market. I just couldn’t resist to use it. But regular basil also works well to add a nice aroma.
As for poaching the potatoes and onions: the reason for this is that they take a lot longer to bake than the fish does. If you put everything in the oven at the same time, you’ll end up with raw potatoes. However, if instead of poaching you prefer to simply roast it all, place the potatoes and onions with some olive oil in the oven proof dish and bake about 30-35 minutes before adding the fish on top. Most fish are done very quickly, in about 20-25 minutes at the most, so be careful not to overcook it or it will turn out dry.
PS: For those of you who cannot deal with fish eyes starring out at you or looking at the head, simply ask your fish monger to cut the heads off or cut them off yourself at home. Fish heads can make great fish broth, so don’t throw them away and use them for this!
Oven-Baked Red Snapper, Spanish Style (Pargo Rojo al Horno)
Recipe Type: Main
Author: The Saffron Girl
2 red snappers, about 500g/1 pound each
some sprigs of Vietnamese basil (optional)
lemons slices, halved
4-5 medium white potatoes, thinly sliced (about 2mm thick)
2 small red onions (or equivalent), sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
choi sum leaves, from about about 4 choi sum stalks (optional)
1 cup olive oil
additional olive oil
1-2 tablespoons white wine
coarse sea salt
Rinse and cut off the fins of the fish. (I purchased my fish scaled and gutted.)
Make two or three diagonal cuts on each side of the fish. Set aside.
In a large, shallow pan, add the 1/2 cup of olive oil, the sliced potatoes and sliced onions.
Over low heat, poach the vegetables for about 12-15 minutes, until softened.
Every few minutes, carefully flip over with a spatula, so they cook evenly. Be careful not to mash the potatoes as they cook.
While the potatoes and onions cook, preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
In an oven proof dish, large enough for the vegetables and the fish, layer the choi sum leaves, the poached potatoes and onions, and the tomatoes, starting with the choi sum leaves.
Don’t pour the potatoes and onions into the dish, but instead scoop them out with some of the olive oil, but not all of it.
Sprinkle the garlic and some sea salt over top the layered vegetables. (I didn’t measure the salt, but used about two pinches.)
Place the fish on top.
Place the halved lemon slices inside the cuts in the side of the fish.
And stuff the basil leaves/sprigs into the gut of the fish.
Drizzle with some olive oil and the white wine.
Sprinkle some additional coarse sea salt over top (about another two pinches).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish are done.
What happens to pumpkin that is about 1 month old? not much really.. it’s still usable and edible! At least mine was. Before our USA/Mexico trips, I had cleaned out the fridge and frozen some vegetables in preparation. But some other things I had left out, like the butternut squash on the counter and carrots in the fridge. The carrots were limp, but still good enough for making soup. So, that’s what I did.
I roasted both the squash and the carrots together; and I used half the squash to make waffles (a recipe I want to remake before I share) and used the other half for the soup.
The curry mix can be used for any of your favourite recipes, and if you don’t like the seasoning, simply use your preferred spices to add flavour to this soup.