I am back from a blissful two weeks in Corsica and I thought there was nothing better to remind myself I am no longer there but in cloudy London than to recount my culinary adventures in the Île de Beauté. Before going there I had images of fresh fish barbecues, relaxed meals by the beach and not much to do. Little did I remember that we would be TWELVE! I don’t know how I managed to forget that my close family (bother, sister and step brother and sisters) includes 7 children plus my parents, with the addition of cousins and grandmas but I wasn’t really prepared to cook for 12 people everyday for a week (we were ‘only’ 8 for the last week) in a house prepared to welcome 7. So I thought it would be a good idea to give some tips on how to cook for big parties, maybe some of you have ridiculously big families too or just want to entertain some your close friends all at the same time…
The first thing I have to say is BBQ! This is your best friend when you are cooking for a lot of people. No need for complicated prep, not a lot of washing, and something that almost everyone will like. Before going to Corsica I was dreaming of fish and seafood barbecues, but due to the amount of people that populate the island in the summer fish was almost always unavailable or ridiculously pricey so we stuck with meats. You don’t want to spend a long time prepping when you could be enjoying the view above with a glass of wine (yes that is the amazing view from the barbecue) so just stick to simple marinades: smashed garlic, salt, pepper and mustard for pork (or pasta de pimentao/pimiento with some oil if you’re in Spain or Portugal), good old salt and pepper for beef (good steaks don’t need more than that) and salt, pepper, garlic and some mint (optional) for lamb. Make sure you leave the meat marinating for quite a long time in the case of pork and lamb and make sure to only salt the steaks close to cooking time.
Your next best friends are starters and sides. If you are cooking for many, especially in a kitchen which doesn’t have enormous pots and pans, the easiest thing to do is to prepare a lot of small different side dishes and starters. Starters can be anything from local charcuterie (coppa and saucisson from Corsica are great), to small vegetable dishes (cucumber salad, tomato and mozarella, mini quiches) or soups (gazpacho is my favourite for summertime) and are great to divide up your meal so you don’t have to cook a big dish. Also make sure you make a lot of different side dishes to keep everyone happy and to make cooking easier. My favourite sides for a barbecue are a big green salad with lots of vinaigrette and oven roasted fries. Other good ideas are grilled vegetables (that you can make at the same time as the meat), baby potatoes blanched and then cooked in butter with garlic, grilled asparagus, coriander rice or sweet potato fries. Just make sure they are easy to cook so you can juggle two or three at a time.
My final tip is to make salads! This might seem like a weak meal at first but we have provided you with many salad meals which are all but weak. My favourite remains the Swedish Meatball’s grape, halloumi and pomegranate salad but this summer my stepsister (merci Philippine!) prepared us a dream salad which consisted of mâche (also known as lamb’s lettuce), roasted pine nuts, melon and feta cheese tossed with classic vinaigrette and might just become my new go-to salad. Salads are easy because they don’t require much cooking and you can actually call your guests and ask them to do some chopping. And with that comes an extra tip: when cooking for big parties, make them cook too (and provide a lot of wine)!
This is a really easy and healthy salad which will make you forget you are actually eating something healthy. The important thing here is the sauce. I mean you could do without the beef (but who would want to?!?) and change up the vegetables but the sauce really just brings everything together. For this amazing sauce you will need:
- Ginger (minced)
- Lemongrass (minced)
- Soy Sauce (half cup)
- Fish Sauce (one big tablespoon)
- Sriracha Chilli Sauce or chillies (as much as you like)
- The juice of one lime (and more if needed)
- Garlic (minced)
- Beef, seared and then sliced finely
- Red Peppers, chopped.
- Spring Onions, chopped.
- Noodles, cooked according to instructions, chilled (I used thai bean vermicelli, but this would be nice with some thicker thai noodles).
- Coriander, chopped finely.
To prepare it..well it’s a salad! So just mix everything up, add as much sauce and you want go eat this amazing tangy,spicy, fake salad.
I will start by saying that this recipe is AMAZING and that you need to go and do it now and that the photo really does not do it justice… Also I understand that for students pork loin comes a bit on the pricey side, but you can easily substitute it for pork shoulder or pork belly and just cook it slower. Anyway what’s important here is the marinade! Spicy, sweet, smoky and tangy all at the same time. For a medium size pork loin, you will need:
- 3 chipotle chillies in adobo, with two teaspoons of adobo ‘sauce’ that comes with them. You can buy these at Whole Foods, Borough Market, Cool Chile and other shops/supermarkets that sell Mexican products. These chillies are incredible: not too spicy and very smoky. Once you try them you’ll want to put them in everything you cook… which I do!
- 3 tablespoons of your favourite bbq sauce.
- 1 tablespoon of ketchup.
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed.
- enough salt to season your piece of meat (not much needed if you are using pork belly or shoulder)
- half a lemon’s juice.
Put all of this in a ziplock bag, get your pork loin in there and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Now on to the black beans! You will need (for a generous serving):
- 2 cups of uncooked black beans which you will soak overnight (or buy some canned black beans, but it’s definitely not as good. If you are using canned beans skip to step 2.).
- 2 bacon rashers or pancetta, sliced finely (you can also use spanish spicy chorizo, tastes great!).
- half an onion, finely chopped.
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced.
- one chipotle chili (see here they are again!) finely chopped.
- salt and pepper for seasoning.
- Start by cooking the soaked black beans in their soaking water (adding more if needed) on a medium heat until they are fully cooked. Take them from the stove and reserve (you can do this hours in advance and then start from step one just before you want to eat your beans).
- Now heat some oil in a heavy pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes until it starts to render fat. Add the onions and garlic and fry for a bit until they become soft.
- Add the chilli and the beans and cook on a very slow heat, adding water if needed. The beans should be getting soft and soupy.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. There you go, ready for your tacos!
- While the beans are simmering away take the pork loin from the bag and brown it on both sides, until it’s quite dark. Move it to an oven-proof dish, along with the marinade, cover it with foil and cook it for 30-35 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees.
- After the pork has been cooked, leave it to rest on a cutting board and take out the marinade into a blender. Add some more lemon juice, some coriander and blend it into a sauce.
- Slice the pork into thin slices and serve with the beans, coriander and your preferred salsa on corn tortillas (the best are from Cool Chile – no they don’t endorse me in any way… but if they want to, I’m more than happy with that!)
- Now eat those amazing tacos and curse the time when you didn’t know about chipotle chillies or this marinade!
- A mix of cooked grains and pulses (I used quinoa, bulghur, red rice and Puy lentils).
- Two handfuls of salad leaves per person.
- A mix of crunchy vegetables (all I had were spring onions and celery…).
- Some chopped herbs (here I used coriander).
Mix all the ingredients together, incorporate the spicy sauce so that it’s coating everything and add the cooked pork loin on top.
Since our last post on healthy breakfast ideas was so popular (especially in Sweden for some reason) I decided to write a second post. Breakfast is definitely one of my most important meals: usually I have to either stock up for several hours in a library where it is forbidden to eat, or prepare for a five hour shift with no eating breaks. This means my breakfasts have to be good (how else am I gonna motivate myself to do either of those two things…) and filling… and they also have to comply with beach prep strategy (although I can be flexible on that… a lot of hollandaise would definitely make me forget this strategy). Here are some suggestions, all egg based:
Egg crepes with asparagus
This ‘recipe’ came from the idea of thin egg omelettes used in some Vietnamese recipes. I decided to adapt it and use it as breakfast pancakes or crepes. All you need is: eggs, a splash of milk, a handful of finely chopped parsley, some butter or olive oil to fry and cooked asparagus or your choice of cooked vegetables or meats. Start by whisking the eggs, the milk, and the parsley together. Heat up a frying pan with some olive oil or butter. When the pan is quite hot ladle a small amount of the mixture while rotating the pan (as if you were making crepes) to evenly and thinly spread out the mixture. Cook for a few seconds, add your vegetables and fold over. Serve two or three for a filling breakfast.
Crustless quiche with tuna and watercress
Unfortunately I have no photo for this dish but it’s really easy to make. For a big round oven dish (enough for 4 people) mix 6 eggs, a big splash of milk or creme fraiche, a tin of tuna in olive oil (drained), some watercress (or rocket), salt and pepper. Put in the oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes and voila – easy, effortless and healthy breakfast.
This is definitely one of my favourites! It’s a pretty flexible ‘recipe’, all you need really are tortillas (corn tortillas are the best), eggs and tomato salsa. I usually add whatever I have in the fridge: sharp cheddar, home-made refried beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus, etc… This is a really filling breakfast and a good way to use up your Mexican leftovers.
Despite the chorizo this dish remains healthy by using it sparingly, simply to flavour the tortilla. You will need:
- 1/4 of a Spanish or Portuguese chorizo, chopped in small cubes.
- 4 medium eggs
- 1 large potato, preferably maris piper.
- Half an onion, sliced finely.
- Two handfuls of parsley, chopped.
- Salt and Pepper.
This dish takes longer than the other ones and so might be better done in advance – as it can be eaten both hot or cold. Start by peeling and slicing your potato. Drop it in salted boiling water and cook for five minutes. While the potato is cooking fry chorizo in a little bit of olive oil to render the fat. After a few minutes add the onions and cook until soft. Reserve the onion and chorizo and keep the pan hot. Now mix the eggs together and incorporate the rest of the ingredients. In the same pan where you fried the onion and chorizo (on a medium-high heat) drop the mixture and cook, slowly, until the top of the tortilla is almost cooked. At this point you will need to get ready for some flipping skills: put a large plate on top of the frying pan, turn it around (dropping the tortilla in the plate) and return the tortilla to the pan to finish cooking the other side (2 minutes). Serve straight away or keep in the fridge to eat cold.
Soft-boiled eggs with asparagus soldiers
This is obviously very simple. All you need to do is to soft-boil your eggs (this hilarious website can help) and to cook the asparagus. I like to cook them in butter for 5 minutes until they are slightly burnt to get a nutty flavour. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy.
Obviously these are also great cures for Euro 2012-induced hangovers.
Two days ago I stopped all my revision plans to go and watch the Portugal-Denmark game. As a good expat (I have lived most of my life outside Portugal) I had to go watch the game in a proper Portuguese café in the local Portuguese neighbourhood. Here in London that’s Stockwell. I watched Portugal win (despite some very dubious moments courtesy of our dear Cristiano Ronaldo) drinking Sagres, eating tremoços and swearing in my mother tongue in the very friendly Bar Estrela.
The well-deserved win after a very stressful game definitely called for celebration and in my book that means food! On the way home I decided to buy some Portuguese ingredients in order to finally present you with a Portuguese dish and recipe, of salted cod no less. So get yourself to Stockwell, stock on some salted cod and enjoy this beauty.
For 4-person dish of salted cod and spinach gratin you will need:
- A 400 gm box of salted cod, already flaked (see photo above)
- 4-5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut in thin slices
- 2 medium onions, sliced finely.
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely.
- 500 gms of fresh spinach
- Milk, butter and flour to make bechamel
- Salt and Pepper
1. Start by de-salting the salted cod by putting it in a bowl and covering it with water for a few hours. You should change the water every two hours, or just leave it to de-salt for a whole day. Reserve some of the water for later, if needed for the sauce.
2. Now you need to cook the potatoes. Typically this would involve some deep-frying but my student house is not equipped with a deep fat fryer (YET….) so I simply coated the sliced potatoes in olive oil and baked them in the oven on a single layer – it worked out fine.
3. Now heat up a big pan with a generous glug of olive oil and throw in the onions and the garlic. Fry for a little bit on medium heat and then add the salted cod, completely drained. Leave to cook for a bit on low heat.
4. While this is cooking prepare the bechamel. Very simple: all you have to do is make a roux (butter and flour) and then slowly add the milk on a very low heat. Make sure there is enough bechamel for the spinach, salted cod mixture, and the top. I usually use half a pint of milk, but you can make the sauce as you go.
5. In a pan combine 1/4 of the bechamel with the spinach, just enough to coat it well. Add another 2/4 of the sauce to the pan with the salted cod, adding a bit of salted water if the mixture is too thick.
6. Now start layering an oven-proof dish: first a layer of spinach, then a layer of salted cod, then a layer of potatoes. Repeat until the mixture is finished and top with the remaining bechamel sauce, breadcrumbs and cheese (if using). You can also skip the breadcrumbs and cheese if you prefer.
7. Now put it in the oven under the grill for a few minutes until it is bubbling and becomes golden at the top.
Melanzane a la Parmigiana or aubergine parmigiana for us non-italians is one of my favourite dishes. While it is made solely of vegetables and may seem fresh and healthy it is every bit as decadent as its sister meat lasagna. Typically you deep fry the sliced aubergine before layering it in a casserole dish with tomato sauce, grana padano, and mozarella. Some even add a tad of bechamel sauce to thicken up the layers. While I love almost everything which is deep fat fried (I lived in Belgium for almost ten years…) during the week I have no desire or patience to deep fry aubergines! So I looked online for different parmigiana recipes and came up with a combination of all of them which results in a healthier and easier to make parmigiana.
You will need:
- 3-4 big purple aubergines, sliced.
- 1 can of chopped marzano tomatoes (or the best quality chopped tomatoes/passata you can find – it really makes a difference and they are not that much more expensive).
- 1 small onion, chopped finely.
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped.
- Fresh basil
- 2 mozzarella balls.
- 200 grams of grana padano (similar to parmigiano but milder and cheaper), or a mix of grana padano and parmiggiano.
1. Start by slicing and washing the aubergines and sprinkle them heavily with salt. Put in a container and let it rest for a while to get rid of the bitterness. While they are resting start preparing the sauce.
2. Fry the onion and the garlic in olive oil until translucid. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook in a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer for half an hour. Finish the sauce by adding the basil and wizzing it in a mixer or smoothie machine. Now it’s time to start layering!
3. Start with a layer of tomato sauce, add a layer of aubergine, another layer of sauce, a layer of grana padano and a layer of mozzarella. Repeat in the same order until you have used up the ingredients. Make sure to add extra cheese on the last layer so it crisps up on top.
4. Cook at 180 degrees in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes. Let it rest for a bit before you cut into it.
Enjoy a healthy parmigiana which is as good as the time-consuming, deep fried version!
If you know me, you’ll know that I have a love/addiction relationship with sushi. I am not really sure when this started, but for a few years now I have been completely in love with Japan’s most famous export. While there are many good places for sushi in London, Birmingham, where I lived for three years, was a bit of a no-sushi-land. Since I couldn’t really afford (or justify) coming to London every weekend to get my sushi fix, I had to learn how to make it at home.
It might seem complicated at first, impossible even (and you might end up eating sushi at 2AM when you started at 7PM like when I first made sushi), but with a little preparation making sushi at home is not that difficult and is definitely worth it. So prepare yourselves, and embrace the sushi chef in you*
What you will need, for two people :
For the rice (double the recipe if you want to stuff yourself with sushi like me):
- 250 grams of sushi rice (you can find this in most supermarkets these days and in all Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown).
- 340 ml of cold water
- 60 ml rice vinegar (again available at most supermarkets and at all Chinatown supermarkets).
- 30 ml Sugar
- 5 ml Salt
- 250 ml of water
- 30 ml of rice vinegar
- 5 ml of salt
- Sheets of Nori (available at some supermarkets, the Japan Centre, and most supermarkets in Chinatown).
- Sushi rolling mat (same as above).
- Your choice of very fresh fish: I am using 200 grams of tuna and one small mackerel (the easiest one to cut and use is salmon). It is essential that the fish is fresh, otherwise you are going to get tasteless and weirdly textured sushi.
- Your choice of vegetables/fruit: I am using avocados, but cucumber or mango are great too.
- You choice of condiments: I am using sriracha chilli sauce and mayonnaise for the spicy tuna rolls and spring onions.
- Wasabi (you’re not going to get the real thing outside of Japan so just buy any you can find).
- Soy sauce
I hope I have managed to turn everyone into sushi addicts by the end of this post! And please feel free to ask any questions – I am always happy to help a fellow sushi lover.
*I do not in any circumstance consider myself a sushi chef or a master in the art of sushi making..If you are either Japanese or a sushi chef please do not feel insulted by my attempts. It might not be the perfect recipe and might not follow every tradition you’re supposed to, but I really really like sushi and this is the way of making it at home.