Monday, 29 April 2013

Swedish Cheesecake

Swedish baking - cheesecake

When I asked my lovely friend Josephine to share some traditional Swedish recipes with me, one of the two ideas she gave me was for this Swedish cheesecake - along with a warning that I should by no means confuse this recipe with other types of cheesecake.

And it really is quite different. It's far less sweet than British or American recipes, with a very neutral flavour. It goes nicely with jam, and apparently, in southern Sweden it's not uncommon for this to be served as a lunch dish.

This is also the first time I've made cheese. Any recipe which effectively begins with an exhortation to take whole milk and make soft cheese from it clearly has the right philosophy in terms of cooking from scratch, although it did take me by surprise when I started reading the recipe, and it does take a while to do it properly. You could probably take a shortcut by buying a ready-made soft cheese such as ricotta (that's what it looked most like, when I took it out of the muslin)... but that would take half the fun out of it.

Josephine kindly translated this recipe for me from Swedish, for which I'm incredibly grateful, but I've changed it a bit so any mistakes are surely my own. I'm not accustomed to measuring anything (let alone dry ingredients like flour) in decilitres, so I've converted volumetric quantities into weights. I've also added a bit more detail on the first, cheese-making stage, for the benefit of anyone who (like me) hasn't done it before. I found vegetarian rennet at Lakeland.

Swedish baking - cheesecake

Swedish Cheesecake Recipe
Serves 8-10

2½ litres (4 pints 8 fl.oz) whole-fat milk
50g (2oz) plain flour
1tbsp vegetarian rennet
3 eggs
200ml (7 fl.oz) double cream
50g (2oz) caster sugar
20g ground almonds
  1. Mix a little milk into the flour to make a paste.
  2. Warm the remaining milk to 37°C (body temperature) in a large pan.
  3. Remove the milk pan from the heat, add the rennet and flour mixture, and stir well.
  4. Set aside for half an hour. After this time, the milk should be beginning to separate into cheese curds and whey. Slice into the newly-formed cheese mass to break it up a bit, and leave for another 30 minutes for further separation.
  5. Line a large bowl with a big square of cheesecloth (muslin).
  6. Decant the cheese mixture into the middle of the cloth, taking care to keep the edges dry and clear of the mixture.
  7. Pull the corners of the cloth together to form a bundle of cheese; a lot of liquid will drain off immediately that you pick up the cloth. Tie a string around the ends, as close to the cheese as you are able to get it, and fasten tightly. Then, use the string to suspend the cheese above the bowl.
  8. Leave the cheese to drip until the flow of liquid reduces from a steady trickle to an occasional drip - this took another half an hour for me.
  9. Heat the oven to 175°C.
  10. Whisk together the eggs, cream, almonds, and sugar.
  11. Combine the cheese together with the egg mixture, and pour into a large, well-oiled baking tin.
  12. Bake for an hour.
  13. The cheesecake may be quite puffed-up when you remove it from the oven, but it will quickly sink back to a flat level surface.
  14. Allow to cool a little before serving, but it is very nice served while it's still warm, with a scoop of strawberry jam.

I'm submitting this recipe to the Bloggers Around The World - Sweden challenge.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Spaghetti Bolognese, The Veggie Way

A couple of weeks ago, Andy ordered spaghetti bolognese in a restaurant. "You could make this, but with lots of different vegetables," he said as he was eating. "It'd be better."

I'm very fortunate to have a husband who's the biggest fan of my cooking, so I'm always keen to hear and indulge his requests. Andy isn't veggie, but he tends to think most dishes would be improved by more vegetables, so our eating habits mesh pretty well. Of course, being vegetarian, I'd never actually tasted proper spaghetti bolognese so I had to do a bit of online research into authentic recipes. The basics seem to be tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, and sometimes chilli. I love spicy dishes so mine was definitely going to be at the hot end. In place of the meat I used a mixture of lentils, carrots, mushrooms, peas, and red pepper.

This was a particularly easy sauce to cook up, to the extent that I made it in a few free moments in between stages of preparation a different meal, and then popped the sauce in the fridge until I was ready to use it. This had the added advantage of allowing the flavours to mature overnight, for a richer taste.

Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese

Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese
Serves 4

300g spaghetti

For the sauce:
500g passata or fresh tomato sauce
250ml red wine
1 tin green lentils
2 medium carrots
1 large red onion
1 red pepper
6 chestnut mushrooms
A handful of peas
1 dried chipotle chilli
4 cloves garlic (minced)
  1. Finely chop the carrots, onion, pepper, and mushrooms. Fry in a little olive oil until the carrots are softening.
  2. Add the tomato, wine, lentils, chilli, and garlic. (I scraped the seeds out of the chilli, first, but you could leave them in for an even hotter dish.)
  3. Heat the sauce gently, and simmer for 2-3 hours.
  4. Remove from the heat, cool, and leave overnight to allow the flavours to infuse. If you want to freeze the sauce, you can do so once it has cooled.
  5. When you're ready to eat your pasta, reheat the sauce while the spaghetti cooks (according to the packet instructions). 
  6. Serve with a little grated cheese.
Pasta Please is a monthly pasta challenge run by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes, and is hosted this month by Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen, where you can see more chilli pasta dishes.

Jacqueline makes veggie bolognaise by a slightly different method, using soya mince, with white wine in the sauce and without the chilli. I'm definitely going to try her recipe soon.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Patterns in the Sand

Just a few photographs from our recent trip to Wales: I love the way that water, wind, and footsteps combine to leave patterns in the sand. And it's always fun to have an excuse to experiment with light and shadow.






Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Vancouver Biodome

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

The Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver is a geodesic dome housing a lovely biodome and bird sanctuary. It's also surrounded by beautiful parkland, but the day we visited (in January) was so cold and blustery that we didn't spare much time for exploring outside, preferring to spend our time in the subtropical temperatures within.

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada


The first thing that struck me was that we were given a small paper map of the building... with the different parrot and macaw species marked as spots on the map. Now, the first thing I ever remember learning in a geography class was the basic premise of not including moving objects on a map. And as we started our tour, the parrots were indeed in their allocated spaces. I'll confess, I was worried. Had they had their wings clipped, or been fastened down in some way? I was soon reassured - they're just really well-trained, and always fed at their "home" locations to remind them. But we did see one or two take the initiative to flap around the conservatory.

My favourites, though, were the little birds like zebra finches, which fluttered around all over the place. You could get really close while they fed on seeds and fruit, and even a couple of over-enthusiastic young kids barely perturbed them.

A great day out, and a nice way to stay warm and dry during the chilly Vancouver winter.

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Biodome - Vancouver, Canada

Monday, 22 April 2013

Low Calorie Stir-Fry with Sesame Courgette Ribbons (250 calories)

Stir Fry with Courgette Ribbons

I've been doing the 5:2 diet (somewhat intermittently) for a few months now. But I'm still not accustomed to counting calories, and I don't have any kind of instinctive feel for the values associated with different ingredients, except to know that vegetables are good. On the other hand, little things like oil, nuts, and seeds can have surprisingly high values, which means that imaginative cooking takes a little more effort than usual.

For me, ironically, one consequence is that it can feel easier to eat less healthily than usual on a fast day - by grabbing half a pizza or other ready-meal where the numbers are printed on the packet. This is obviously a bad move, and something I've been wanting to address.

So when I saw an opportunity on SocialFabric to shop for a 5:2 recipe, it was the kick I needed to come up with something new. I headed down to Tesco to look for ingredients and started to think about what I could make within the 500-calorie limit without compromising on taste. And, actually, I don't usually want my main meal to take up the whole 500 calories - I'd rather be able to enjoy a slice of toast for breakfast, or a square of (dark) chocolate for dessert.

Fortunately, once you've calculated the magic numbers for a dish, you never have to do it again - just use the same quantities next time, and you know what you're getting. Plus if you keep your notes, you can refer back to check the calorie values for popular ingredients. I'm planning to be a lot more disciplined in future about working out a few basic 5:2-friendly recipes which I can then vary more confidently.

Calculating calories
My notes from calculating calories for this meal.

Every other blogger seems to be using courgette (zucchini) "noodles" as a replacement for pasta these days (check out this gorgeous raw salad for a completely different approach), so I thought that might be a fun thing to try out. Please note: courgette ribbons are nothing like pasta. They're very nice in their own right, but if you go into it expecting a pasta-substitute you will be disappointed. They are, however, tasty and very low in calories - even after you douse them in sesame oil (which more than doubled the calories, in my calculations).

I also decided to do a stir fry, and finally face up to calculating the calories in soy sauce. I only use a small amount, anyway, so it's really not very much. I have a really good non-stick pan, so I don't add any extra oil - the water from the mushrooms (in particular) should soon come out and stop it sticking. Following on from this exercise, I'll feel much more confident throwing in a few seasonings and not worrying about going over the limit.

In fact, this dish works out so low in calories that you could eat it twice and still be in bounds. I bet you couldn't, though - it's quite filling.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
This recipe contains approximately 250 calories per serving.

Spicy Vegetable Stir-Fry with Sesame Courgette Ribbons
Serves 2
Approx. 250kcal per serving.

For the courgette ribbons
2 large courgettes (zucchini)
2tsp sesame oil
2tsp sesame seeds

For the stir-fry
100g mange tout (sugarsnap peas)
125g baby corn
2 red pointed peppers
150g beansprouts
150g chestnut mushrooms
1 large red onion
2tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic
½tsp ground ginger
1tsp chilli flakes
  1. Make courgette ribbons by running a potato peeler from top to bottom of the courgettes (stop when you reach the seeds in the middle). Set aside.
  2. Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, and the peppers into strips. Halve the baby corn. Finely chop the red onion and garlic.
  3. Stir-fry the vegetables (except the onions/garlic) for 5 minutes, until soft.
  4. Add the onions, garlic, spices, and soy sauce. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the courgette ribbons by microwaving in a suitable bowl for 2-3 minutes. Drain the liquid from the courgettes, and toss in the sesame oil and sesame seeds.
  6. Serve immediately.

Raw courgette ribbons
Raw courgette ribbons.

Vegetables ready for stir-frying
Plates of raw veggies ready for stir-frying - it looks like it could be too much for the two of us.

Stir Fry
Cooked down, it looks a much more reasonable quantity.

I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias®. Opinions, photos, and recipes are my own. #CBias #SocialFabric

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Picturesque Toll Bridges in Wales

Two of my favourite bridges in Snowdonia were old toll bridges, charging a few pennies a time for the privilege of taking a shortcut across a river instead of having to drive around.

It's always a slight surprise to me, in modern Britain, that these little private bridges endure. The prices aren't high, and a toll bridge needs an operator to collect the charges, whose wages must be offset against any profits (although one of these two was actually unattended when we visited, the toll booth closed for the off season, and therefore we could cross for free).

But they must make enough money to remain viable, and so we have the pleasure of driving across tiny, slightly rickety, single-track bridges.






Monday, 15 April 2013

The Nova Scotia Coastline

Nova Scotia

Something about Nova Scotia reminded us of Cornwall, with its rugged coastline and charming coves. Even the old concrete fortifications reminded us of home - although in the UK, all the metal has long since been stolen for its scrap value.

But we visited in January - and the deep freeze gave a very alien feel to the landscape. We don't usually get winters cold enough to freeze the sea, whereas every damp rock on the Halifax coast seemed to quickly become coated in a sheet of ice.

We didn't have long on Canada's Atlantic coast - just enough time for a bright and bracing walk - but I hope I'll have chance to return for longer to this beautiful area.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sun Yat-Sen Park, Vancouver


There's something about the Chinese method of garden design that just speaks to me. I've always loved the combination of trees, water features, and pagodas. The Sun Yat-Sen Park in Vancouver is a charming example. Although we visited in the depths of winter, when there were dead leaves on the ground and ice on the pools, there is still something peaceful about the design which works in any weather. As you meander along the paths, every corner turned gives a new perspective on the same features - a metaphor for life if ever there was one.







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