Pumpkin-Paprika Soup

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

The ingredients: for 6 persons

  • 1 butternut pumpkin
  • 2 red paprika
  • 2 onions
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cubes low fat chicken bouillon
  • 1 bouquet garni (garnished bouquet)
  • 1 tbsp. paprika powder (soft taste)
  • 1 tsp. sharp paprika (spicy)
  • olive oil or other light fat
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Peal the butternut, take out the seeds, and cut the meat in pieces. Clean the 2 paprika’s, take out the seeds and cut them into pieces. Peal the onions and cut them in cubes. Peal the garlic and cut into small pieces.

Put some olive oil or other low fat oil into a cooking pot and simmer the onions, the paprika and the  garlic for a couple of minutes until the onions start to turn glazy. Add the butternut pieces and immediately cover all vegetables with water. You’ll need 1 to 1,5 liter. Add two cubes of chicken stock and the bouquet garni. To strengthen the taste of the soup, add a table spoon of soft paprika and a pinch of sharp paprika (spicy paprika).

Once the soup boils, lower the heat so that the soup boils softly for the rest of the cooking time. The paprikas will need about 45 minutes until they are tender.

At the end of the cooking time, take out the bouquet garni and mix the soup using a mixer or blender. Add some extra water if necessary, to give the soup the right consistency. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

The tip:

My neighbor brought me some smoked garlic the other day. I used this instead of normal garlic, and although i can’t prove nor measure it, but I believe the smoked garlic lifted the paprika taste much more than normal garlic. I’m sure if I would roast the paprika’s and peal them before using them, this would also be very beneficial for the taste of this soup. I really need to try that sometime.

I hate battling against pumpkins, so I in the beginning of winter I buy a bag of frozen butternut cubes. No work, as good!

The Secret:

Yet again the herbs are the secret to this taste. With the bouquet garni and the soft and spicy paprika herbs to the soup it gets a herby flavour and a great paprika ‘bite’.

If you don’t have sharp paprika, you can replace it by chilli. For the bouquet garni I used a dry bouquet which I bought in the shop. It contained: thyme, laurel and rosemary.

Red fruit and yoghurt surprise

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

The ingredients for the coulis:

  • 0,5 bag of mixed red fruit (from the freezer)
  • 3-4 tbsp. of sugar

The ingredients for the surprise:

  • greek yoghurt
  • strawberries
  • raspberriess
  • blackberries
  • mint leafs
  • pepper
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The work:

You should make the red coulis beforehand so that it can cool down before serving. Put the frozen red fruit in a saucepan and add some sugar and little water. Boil the coulis down to the right consistence. It shouldn’t be thick like preserve. It needs to be somewhat runny to have the nice effect on the yoghurt in the glass.

When the red fruit coulis has been boiled down, remove it from the fire and let it cool down. Put the mass through a conical strainer to remove the seeds from the coulis. An alternative would be to mix the coulis with a mixer or a blender. In some recipes they may actually advise you to do both.

Poor the coulis in a squeeze bottle and put it in your fridge for later use.

When it is time to serve desert, use a nice glass per person. Wash the red fruit and dry it with kitchen paper. Cut up some strawberries and add some to each glass, then add some of the other red fruits and some strawberries again. Continue like this to make the fruit mix until the glass is almost full. Remember to leave some space for the yoghurt at the top.

Put some pepper on the red fruit. Now add a couple of spoons of yoghurt on top of the red fruit. Add coulis on top and finish it all off with a mint leaf.

The secret:

Even after a heavy meal, everyone has room for this one. It’s tasty and light, and surprisingly good. Nobody ever refused or skipped our favorite summer desert.

If you are not keen on making red coulis, you can replace the red coulis with elderberry syrup. I would then put the syrup on the red fruit first and then add the yoghurt on top to make the desert more surprising.

The tip:

If you make more coulis than you need – which is often the case – you can put it in the freezer and save it next time.

I’ve made this desert with plenty of other red fruit like currants, blueberries,… I’ve even used the seeds from a pomegranate. Just use what you have in the fridge. Sometimes I’ve even made alternatives with nectarine, blue prunes and dark cherries. The desert wasn’t as red then, but just as surprising.

Vol-au-vent

We recommend to make this dish in a larger quantity. Cooking vol-au-vent is rather messy and greasy. Once you’ve done the vol-au-vent, you can easily freeze it in portions per person.

Preperation time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 1:30 minutes

The ingredients: (for 18 persons)

  • 2 chickens
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 – 4 chicken legs
  • 1 kg minced meat
  • 2 kg mushrooms
  • 400 g cooked or steamed ham
  • 3 lemons
  • 4 leaks
  • 6 stalks of celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1l cream
  • 3 cubes chicken stock
  • 250 g butter
  • 250 g flour
  • 4 bay leafs
  • 4 cloves
  • fresh or dried thyme
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Put the cleaned and coarsely cut- vegetables (onion, celery, leak, garlic, carrots), the herbs (thyme, cloves, bay leafs, pepper & salt) and the chicken stock in a big cooking pot and add enough water so that not only the vegetables, but later also all the chicken will be covered with the stock you are now starting to make. Boil the stock until the vegetables are soft.

While your stock is cooking, you can roll balls of the minced meat (2-3 cm diameter). Cut the mushrooms in 4 and stew them in olive oil with pepper and salt. When they are starting to change color and going brown, sprinkle the juice of one lemon over the mushrooms to keep their light color. Turn of the heat when the mushrooms are ready.

Put a couple of spoons from the stock (which is in the making in your large cooking pot) in a smaller cooking casserole to boil the meatballs just for a couple of minutes until they are cooked. This fluid we will not use further because it becomes greasy from minced meat. So use not more than needed.

When the vegetable in the stock are tender, add all the chicken you have and cook for one hour. Check the chicken tenderness; it should be coming of the legs easily.
Now take out all the chicken of the stock and cut the chicken into pieces. If you don’t like bones at all, peal the meat from the bones. We tend to leave in the legs and the skin of the chicken in the stew, but that’s a personal preference. We like the chicken pieces rather large than cut to bite size. The breasts we cut up (or tear-up) a bit smaller.

Choose a new large pot. In this pot you will make the vol-au-vent sauce, so it should be bit enough to take the mushrooms, the meat balls, all the chicken and the ham. Start by making the roux for the sauce. Melt 250 g of butter (make sure it doesn’t burn), add flower gently and stir with a whisk. You will see that the mixture becomes dryer as you add more flower. The roux should smell like a pastry dough, like the French ‘bisquit’ dough. Watch out not to burn the roux. Don’t stop too early with the flower. 250 g of flower will be too much, look at the consistence of the roux while stirring to determine when to stop adding flower.

Use a large spoon to transfer stock from you large pot to the pot with the roux and stir constantly. The sauce will start to tie when the substance cooks. When it starts to thicken, add cream until it is nice and white. Make sure you control the heat, dim the fire if necessary and don’t forget to stir. Add more stock to come to the right thickness of the sauce.

When the sauce is made, add the juice of 1 to 2 lemons. Taste is the key here. The lemon should lift the sauce, but should not dominate the taste. Cut the ham and add the ham, the chicken, the mushrooms and the meatballs to the sauce. Done!

The secret:

Don’t be afraid to spice the stock. Pepper & salt, herbs from the garden, are indispensable to flavor and deepen the taste of the stock.

The tip:

Minced meat is well spiced with salt & pepper in Belgium. If you know the minced meat in your country is not spiced, then make sure to mix it up with enough salt & pepper beforehand.

The rest of the stock you can pass through the kitchen sieve and use as a basis for soup.

Vol-au-vent sauce you can make really thick or runny, depends on how you like it.
Vol-au-vent is often served in a puff pastry, but that’s optional, you either like it or you don’t. You can serve vol-au-vent with cooked potatoes, croquettes,… but for a Belgian it is inevitable to serve with Belgian fries and mayonnaise.

Tagine with lamb and pears

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2-3 hours

The ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 1,2 kg leg of lamb cut in thick slices/pieces
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (4 cm)
  • 3 beef tomatoes
  • 3 pears
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 preserved lemon or lime (2 halves)
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1-2 red chilis
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1,5 tbsp. tajine herbs
  • ½ tsp. saffron
  • Fresh coriander (a handful)
  • Fresh mint (a handful)
  • Fresh leaf parsley (a handful)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

The work:

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Peal and grate the ginger. Chop the onion. Cut the garlic and chili very fine. Make a bundle of the stems of the green herbs.

Heat the oil in a baking pan and bake the meat on both sides until brown, adding salt & pepper. Add the onion and the garlic. After a couple of minutes, add the spices: red chili, cinnamon powder, cinnamon stick, ginger, the bay leaves, saffron, tagine herbs, and stir for about a minute.

Add the content of the pan in the tagine and add tomatoes on top, and the cubes of vegetable stock. Fill the tagine with water until the meat is covered. Dress the bundle of the stems in the stock. Close the tagine and put it in the oven. Check after about an hour how tender the meat is, but it is well possible that you will have to leave it 1,5 to 2 hours depending on the lamb.

While this is in the oven, peel the pears, remove the core and cut them in 4 pieces.

If you have the feeling the meat is just about tender, then take out the bundle of stems, dress the pears nicely on top of the meat. Add the lemon, the lemon juice and the honey. Close the lid again and cook 30 minutes in the oven until the pears are tender.

To serve: sprinkle the leaves of coriander, parsley and mint over the tagines’ content.

The Tip:

Serve with couscous and Harissa. When you serve with couscous it is important to serve enough of the tagine’s juice.

The Secret:

Take your time to ensure the meat is tender. Don’t follow the cooking time; follow the tenderness of the meat. You cannot overcook lamb. If in doubt, add 30 minutes more to the cooking time.

It is difficult to reproduce the same taste twice, all the ingredients (and there are many), especially the tagine herbs are distinctive for the recipe’s taste. But can you ever buy the same constellation twice?

Although I’m personally not a couscous lover, I must honestly confess, this recipe is by far the biggest taste sensation I know.

Thai style mussels

Preperation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The ingredients: 4-6 people

  • 1 kg mussels
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (2 cm)
  • 2-3 fresh small red chili peppers (depends on how spicy you like it)
  • 4 stalks of lemon grass
  • 4 dried lemon leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 large glass of white wine
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Fresh green herbs: coriander, basil, mint
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. trassie
  • 2 cubes fish stock
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Clean and rinse the mussels extensively. Grate the ginger, the garlic, the lemon grass & the red chili’s. Cut the celery and the shallots.

Heat the olive oil in the wok and braise the onions and the garlic. After a few minutes, add the rest of the grated ingredients. When this mix has baked shortly, add the mussels, the white wine, the fish stock, the fish sauce, the trassie, the lemon leaves and season with salt & pepper.

Close the lid and cook until the mussels open (typically 10 minutes). Now add the juice of 1 lemon and the coconut milk and stir to disperse the taste. Add the coarsely chopped leaves of the green herbs, stir and serve immediately.

The secret:

The secret is the trassie (shrimp paste), this Eastern ingredient really lifts the taste of the mussels.

The tip:

We serve these mussels as a starter with some bread to dip in the juice. But us Belgians like mussels in many styles as a main course and then we typically prepare 1 kg mussels per person. Although the standard in Belgium is mussels with frites, these Thai style mussels come out much better with good bread like Turkish pide.

If you don’t like grating ginger, use a small blender to cut ginger, chili, etc.

Turkey roulade

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 60 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 800 g turkey roulade
  • 400-500 g canned pineapple slices (in syrup or in juice)
  • butter
  • peanut oil
  • port wine
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • corn-starch
  • salt & pepper

The work:

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Heat a bit of butter and some peanut oil in a pot, and bake the turkey roulade on all sides nicely brown. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Add the pineapple slices with the juice and a small glass of port wine (shot). Also add a cube of stock. Turn back the heat and close lid. The roulade is cooked when the inside temperature of the meat gets to 90°C. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, the time to cook a roulade will take about 50-50 minutes.

Put the meat aside to cut it in slices. Take out the pineapple slices for a moment and thicken the sauce to your liking using cornstarch. Put the pineapple and the slices of meat back into the sauce to keep them warm.

Serve some slices of meat with some pineapple on top.

The tip:

Turkey is very light meat. So if you want this dish to be almost completely calorie free, then use pineapple in juice instead of syrup and serve the dish with a  cooked potato .instead of potato croquettes.

The secret:

Two secrets this time for novice cooks…

Always mix corn-starch in a small amount of water first before adding it slowly to the boiling sauce (e.g. 1 table spoon of corn-starch in a 3rd of a glass of water). This way you avoid clotting and you can control the thickness of the sauce you’re making exactly to your liking. Always stir while you add the corn-starch. The same process applies if you use potato starch instead of corn starch.

If you have to bake meat for a longer time then it is important to choose fat which can stand heat. This is why we use half butter half peanut oil. The peanut oil can resist heat much better and the meat browns but doesn’t burn.

Steamed salmon with spinach mash

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

The Ingredients: for 2 persons

  • 2 pieces of salmon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 cube of fish stock
  • 1 cube of meat stock
  • 6 medium sized potatoes
  • 500 g baby spinach
  • 1 clove garlic
  • olive oil
  • milk
  • nutmeg
  • salt & pepper

The work:

First prep the salmon dish.

Take an oven dish and lay the pieces of salmon in it. Peel the onion and cut it in fine rings. Peel the carrot and cut in in fine slices. Sprinkle the onion and carrots over the fish. Season with salt & pepper. Put a small bit of water in the oven dish and sprinkle the crumbled fish stock in the water around the fish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Puncture some holes in it with a knife. Voilà, the fish dish is ready, but we wait until our potatoes are almost done to cook it in the micro wave.

Peel the potatoes and cook them in water with salt, as you normally would do before making a mash.

In the meantime, peal the garlic and stab it to the end of a fork. Heat some olive oil or margarine in a large cooking pot and stir with the garlic clove in it while the oil is heating up, the oil will take the aroma of the garlic. Once the oil is hot, put in the rinced baby spinach leaves and stir from time to time. Season with pepper and salt and crumble some meat stock over the spinach. About 10-15 minutes later your spinach will be done.

Put the salmon in the micro wave for 5 minutes. Take out the oven dish and tilt it in different directions to mix the crumbled stock with the water. Put the fish back in the micro wave for another 5 minutes. Check from time to time how far the fish is cooked and add some more minutes each time if you are afraid to overcook  it. In my experience the fish is exactly right as soon as you start smelling the aroma in the kitchen.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and make a mash. Add the cooked spinach. Add some extra seasoning like nutmeg and optionally some milk if the mash is too dry. This depends on how much fluid was in the spinach.

The tip:

Yes, there is neither butter nor cream used here. The whole idea is make a light meal which is tasty. But if you must you can make the mash richer.

The vegetables with the fish are there for seasoning really, since the cooking time is often too short to have them ‘well-done’. I tend to add onion and a carrot because I always have some in the house, but plenty alternatives are possible to add extra taste to the fish like tomatoes, rosemary, lemon, etc. Feel free to share your favourite flavors. You can  also add some white wine instead of water. But hey, this post was supposed to inspire your light calorie cooking.

Currysauce

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

The ingredients:

  • 1 apple (preferably Granny Smith)
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • 1 to 1,5 l milk
  • 1 onion or 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsps. curry powder
  • 1 tsps. celery salt
  • 50 g butter
  • 50 g flour
  • salt & pepper

The work:

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Peel the apple, remove the core and cut in in small pieces. Peel and grate the garlic, peel the onion and cut small. Braise the onions in the butter. Add the apple and the garlic and braise for 4-5 minutes making sure not to burn the mix, make sure it does not get brown.

Sprinkle the curry powder with the celery salt and the flour over the onions. Braise for another short time, 2 minutes or so, continuously stir slowly now since this will burn fast.

Add 0,5 milk and the chicken stock. Bring the milk to boiling while stirring. When it cooks, add milk to get to the right sauce thickness. Let the sauce simmer until the apples are soft.

Mix the sauce and add pepper to your liking. Most of the times, no salt is needed because of the herbs and the chicken stock.

The secret:

Definitely the secret to the recipe is the pinch of celery salt.

The tip:

We started to mix the sauce for our daughter, when she was young she didn’t like onions. When you mix the sauce, the apples make it kind of velvety. We love this sauce with white Tai rice and ‘chicken in the pot’ from an earlier post or grilled chicken.

I dedicate this recipe to my dearest friend who reads my blogs so carefully and kindly points out all my spelling mistakes.

Anchovy puff cookies

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

The Ingredients:

  • 1 roll puff pastry
  • anchovy in olive oil
  • herbs de Provence

I know it has been a while since the last post. The last months before summer holiday are typically extremely busy, just as the last month before Christmas. But from the evening terrace here in the South of France, we’re back.

If you want to impress your guests on summer eve, this will make a great tapas, appetizer, cookie, whatever…

The work:

Open the roll of puff pastry half an hour in advance. Roll it open on the paper it sits on.

Preheat the oven at 200°C.

When the pastry has rested, lay the anchovy on the pastry in parallel stripes, about 3 cm apart (1,5 inch). Don’t worry about the olive oil, you can spill it on the pastry while dressing the anchovy on it.

When you’ve laid out the anchovy, sprinkle the herbs all over the pastry.

Now cut the pastry horizontally in between the rows of anchovy – the carving doesn’t have to go all the way through the pastry. Also make vertical cuts to form rectangular shaped ‘cookies’. It is important to make cuts beforehand to easily crack the pastry when done. You can also use a pizza wheel to make the carvings.

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Bake the pastry for 45 minutes in the oven.

When gold brown, take it out, let it cool down for a couple of minutes and crack into finger-food sized cookies. Serve in a basket.

It’s salty yes, exactly what you need on a sultry eve like tonight…

The Secret:

No secret, no tip… plain, simple, tasty, salty, simple, summer.

Pasta dish

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 1h30 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 500 g minced meat (half beef, half pork)
  • 6 tomatoes (at least 500 g)
  • 1 onion
  • 2,5 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp. flower
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ l milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
  • 75 g grated cheese (Emmentaler)
  • 250 g pasta (fusilli)
  • salt & pepper

Don’t be misled by the ‘simple’ name, this is anything but a simple dish, but absolutely worth the effort.

The work:

Cook the pasta al dente in lightly salted water. Follow the timing instructions on the package. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to avoid that the pasta sticks.

Cut the onions into small blocks. Peal the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Cut the tomatoes in large portions.

Preheat the oven at 225°C.

Melt the butter in a pot, don’t let it brown, and mix with the flower. Add a third of the milk and bring this to a cooking point while stirring slowly. At the cooking point, add extra milk to get the correct sauce density. Turn down the heat a bit. Add the thyme and the bay leaf and cook the sauce gently for about 15 minutes. Keep your eye on the ballgame. Sauce on a milk base easily sticks to the pan or overflows, so don’t stop stirring, don’t leave.

Sieve the sauce and mix the grated cheese with the sauce.

Take an oven dish and put in a layer of pasta. Distribute the onion, the tomato and the minced meat on top. Season with salt and pepper. If the dish is not full yet, add the rest of the pasta and cover it with sauce. In case you have some leftover grated cheese you can sprinkle that on top.

The tip:

There are many different pasta kinds you can use for this: fusilli, spirelli, farfalle, penne, macaroni,…

We often replace the fresh tomatoes by canned tomatoes to save time and it has little effect on the end result.

All together this dish takes quite a while to cook. You wonder if it is really necessary to stir in that sauce for 15 long minutes. Believe me, it is exactly that herb-flavoured cheese sauce which lifts this dish from being ordinary to being incredibly fantastic.

If you do make the effort of cooking this on your busy week day, bear in mind that you can easily prepare some extra dishes and put them uncooked in the freezer for later use.

The secret:

I will confess that this recipe comes from a very old ­ actually our very first ­ cook book which came for free with our very first micro wave after we just got married. Because this is a recipe I never came across ever again I felt I should make an exception to my rule not to blog recipes from other cooks. Just to make sure it gets some extra exposure. I can’t leave it to disintegrate with the book.

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