Thai style mussels

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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.

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Steamed salmon with spinach mash

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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.

Anchovy puff cookies

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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…

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

The Ingredients:

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

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.

anchovy1Bake 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.

Vongole

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • 500 g spaghetti
  • 1 kg clams or cockles
  • olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 small dried chilli
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Make sure your shells are clean. Rinse as many times as you have to, to get them clean. Cut the shallots and grate or press the garlic. Cut the parsley.

Heat a pot of water with salt to boil the spaghetti and cook the spaghetti al dente.

Heat about a half a cup of olive oil in a pan and gently simmer the garlic, shallots and the pulverised chilli in it until tender. If your spaghetti is not ready yet, then take the pan of the heat until about 5 minutes before the pasta is ready.

Add the clams to the pan with the olive oil and shallots and heat until all shells are open. Put the lid on so you steam the shells to open them.

When the pasta is ready, take it out of the cooking water with kitchen tweezers and add it to the pan with the clams. Add parsley and mix everything gently. Serve is a deep dish.

The tip:

P1000315The golden advice is to rinse rinse rinse rinse… and rinse the shells until no sand or dirt is in the water anymore. Hateful it is when you are enjoying these delicacies from the seas and hear the sand grind between your teeth.

Don’t be dispirited if you have difficulties finding clams or cockles, you can surely find some shells to replace them, even mussels will work great.

Olive oils can have a very distinct taste. Taste your olive oil(s) beforehand to see if its taste is not too dominating, since you are using a lot of it in this recipe it can really start defining the dish’s taste.

The secret:

P1000318Less is more! Keep it simple, it will make everything better.

Our secret ingredient is the small dried chilli which we add to give the dish more pit.

Paella

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The Secret:

This recipe is definitely fusion cooking. We will not claim this is real Spanish paella, but it is definitely our Flemish best effort.

Between ‘90 and ’93 we lived in the area of Mons, a city where there used to be a lot of coalmines. Because of the mines, in the area there are still a lot of Italian and Spanish families. It is during that time that we tasted our first paella.

In an attempt to try this at home we looked up the recipe in a Belgian cookbook and tried this in a normal pan. It was disgusting; it didn’t even come close to what we had tasted during our local night out. We weren’t easily discouraged, so we made a couple more attempts, all without success.

So what was the secret?  Why didn’t we succeed?

As I traveled to Spain and to Portugal in my job as a software trainer, my husband said ‘do not come back without a paella recipe’. A good idea it was, but the people I had to train were mostly men. Each time I popped the question ‘Can you tell me how to make paella?’ Each time i got the same answer ‘I don’t know, my mother makes this for my family’.

Finally a friendly guy said ‘I’ll ask mom’ and a day later he handed me a yellow piece of paper with a handwritten recipe. ‘The secret’ he said ‘is to have equal heat under the pan and to get the balance between stock and ingredients just right’

Okay, this definitely gave a new start to our wrong footed paella project. We went out and bought our first paella pan for 10 persons. Later, as we became better at making it, we bought one for 25 and later one for 50 persons.

I don’t remember how close this original recipe came to how we make our paella today, but what follows is the result of many tries to get it exactly right.

Because paella is often made in larger quantities, telling you how much of each ingredient you need is difficult. How many people would you like to feed? 5, 10, 25, 50, 150? So the approach here will be different than in my other food blogs. I will post a recipe list and the ingredients for 5 persons. If you have other quantities, we developed a spread sheet to help you with the shopping list and calculate the cost.

The Ingredients: for 5 persons

  • 400 g round rice
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 1 chorizo sausage (about 30-40 cm long, 1,5-2 cm diameter)
  • 10 drumsticks (front part of a chicken leg)
  • 12 mussels
  • clams (‘venusschelpen’ for the locals)
  • 300 g squid rings
  • 200 g prawns
  • 5 large shrimps (gambas)
  • 200 g green peas
  • 2 red paprika
  • 0,5 green paprika
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • parsley
  • 5 tsps. curcuma
  • 2 small portions saffron
  • 800 ml chicken bouillon (water with chicken bouillon cubes)
  • salt & pepper

The Work:

Make sure ingredients are cleaned or rinsed. Keep all your ingredients separately. Cut the onions. Remove the seeds of the paprika and cut them into pieces. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in small cubes. Cut the lemon in parts. Remove the skin from the chorizo and cut in 1,5 cm rounds.

Cut the cleaned squid into rings. If you have frozen fish, make sure to defrost them before cooking starts.

Clean the mussels by removing the beard and any dirt on the shells and rinse them several times. Put the clams in a bowl of water with some salt, afterwards rinse them several times. Throw away all clams and mussels which are open.

Put the garlic with some olive oil in a blender and blend until you have paste.

Prepare the stock adding the cubes to the water, adding the parsley, curcuma and saffron. Gently boil this in a separate cooking pot in order to mix all flavors. We like to add some extra salt, pepper and dried chilly to give the stock some punch. When all ingredients have blended together, you can put the stock aside until you need it later.

Now the prep work is done, we can start with the real job.

P1000297P1000300P1000304Heat up the olive oil and bake the chicken legs until they are browned, also add the chorizo. When done, move the chicken and the chorizo to the outer circle of the pan, and turn down the heater for that outer area. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how big the pieces of the meat are. If the chorizo starts to brown too quickly, move them to the outer circle. In this stage you can spoon out some oil and chicken fat out of the middle area, keep it to be used later.

Now you have an open space in the middle. Put the garlic paste and simmer for a while. Do not let it brown! Add the onions and paprika and let these soften gently while stirring from time to time. Move this to the outside, and let the water evaporate until you have only oil.

The following step is to add the rice in the center and let it glaze in the oil. At this point you can add some saved up oil again if necessary.

P1000305Add the peas, tomatoes, the squid and the stock and mix all. Always stir and mix gently in order to keep the ingredients in tact as much as possible. Put all burners equally on the lowest position. From now on don’t stir anymore. Just check from time to time that nothing is burning at the bottom of the pan

Put on top of the paella the clams, the mussels, the gambas and the shrimps and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Let it all cook gently P1000307just checking that it does not burn.

After about 10 minutes you are allowed to stir everything once and check again that it does not burn. Reduce the heat if needed by cutting it completely for a while. Cover again with aluminum foil and let it cook gently for another 10 to 20 minutes until the rice is done and the mussels are open and all shrimps are nicely P1000310red.

Serve with a piece of lemon on top.

The Tip:

Anyone can make paella. It is not difficult; just stick to some simple rules.

In all stages of the cooking process it is important to control the heat well. P1000312Ideal is a paella pan heated with a burner with different circular sections. Make sure your pan is a 100% level. Nowadays every smart phone has a level app you can download free of charge to check. The biggest danger is wind, as this will make the heating less controllable. If you need to cook in an open area, wrap some aluminum foil around the pan so the wind cannot play with the flames.

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Mussel packets on the BBQ

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Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

The Ingredients: for 4 persons

  • aluminium foil
  • 1 kg mussels
  • 2 onions
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 small glass of white wine
  • 1 cube fish stock
  • leaf parsley (optional)
  • 0,5 clove garlic (optional)
  • 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Wash and clean the mussels. It is very important to wash the mussels in plenty of water multiple times to make sure all sand and dirt is gone. As you poor the fresh mussels in a basin with ample water to rinse them, the mussels which do not sink to the bottom or remain open are the ones which are bad. So throw those away. After cleaning the mussels, leak them out for a short moment in time.

Fold a long leaf of aluminium foil double lengthwise. The idea is to make bags for the mussels, so you need a length of about 30-40 cm.

Add a handful of mussels in the centre of the foil. Fold the foil as if you will close it as a bag, so that a pit is formed to capture the ingredients and liquids which you will start adding to the mussel-bag.

In each mussel bag sprinkle some onion, some celery, some leaf parsley and optionally some garlic. Poor in the bag some white wine – a bottom will do since the mussels contain enough water in their shells to cook them.

Sprinkle some of the crunched fish stock cube in each bag and add salt & pepper.

Now close the bags smartly. The bags should be easy to grip with the barbecue tongs and all the moisture should remain in the bag until serving. It’s a challenge the first time, but once you’ve thought about it, I’m sure you’ll fold your own favourite bag shape.

When the bags are closed you can put them on the BBQ. Since no BBQ has equal fire everywhere, you should move the bags half way through the cooking time. Move the bags on the outside of the fire to the inside and vice versa. A mussel only needs 10 minutes to cook. Out of experience we know it takes a bit longer on the BBQ, but it will depend on your BBQ on how long they will need before done. Cooking time may easily go up to 20-30 minutes, depending. The solution is to peek from time to time. Take a bag from the fire, open it carefully and look if all the mussels are open and they don’t look glazy anymore. If some of the shells are still closed, close the bag and put it back on the fire for 5 minutes and repeat the sneak peek process.

Put the bag on a plate and serve with a piece of lemon on the side and brown bread. Let your guests discover the content of the bags themselves. The aroma escaping of such a bag is delicious. The cooking juices are great for dipping a good piece of brown bread.

Be careful, if you serve with bread some of your guests will turn this starter into a main course. In summer time this makes a great light lunch.

The secret:

Don’t look for the largest mussels. The small French Bouchot mussels are much more tasteful and are often less expensive than the larger ‘jumbo’s’ which are reserved for restaurants.

The tip:

Handle the aluminium bags always by lifting them up vertically. Don’t shove them over the grill; this will damage the bottom of the bag and let the cooking moisture escape. It is exactly that juice in the bag which steams and flavours the mussels.

Do not be tempted to put too many mussels in a bag!

You can develop many nuances to this recipe flavouring the mussels to your personal or regional taste. For instance you can add a slice of lemon in the package, or a drop of Ricard (anisette), or add some extra spices or herbs, or replace the wine with beer…these are only a handful of ideas.

Cleaning up after a mussel diner is not the nicest job. If everyone closes the packs again after eating, you can punch some holes in the bottom of the bag to leak out the left over juices. After some time, press out the bags and put them in the bin.

Trout ‘Sunny-Style’

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When preparing the trout like this, it just makes me feel i’m in a sunny country. So yes, i invented the name.

Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 20-45 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.

The ingredients: for 2 persons

  • trout (2 small or 1 big)
  • 5 tomatoes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • lemon juice
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • salt & pepper

The work:

Preheat the oven at 200°C.

Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut them into small pieces.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the grated or pressed garlic for a short while. Add the tomatoes with pepper, salt and almost all of the rosemary. Leave just enough rosemary to decorate the oven dish later on. Cook until the tomatoes melt into a sauce. Pieces may still be visible; the sauce should not be overly done. Taste the sauce and add lemon juice and extra seasoning to your liking.

Wash the trout’s and put them in an oven dish. Add some salt on the fish’. Cover the trout(‘s) with the sauce.

Certainly working with winter tomatoes in our country, we sometimes boost the tomato colour & taste by adding some extra halved cherry tomatoes on top. Add the left rosemary on top of the fish.

P1000277Put the dish in the oven. For small trout’s you’ll need about 20 minutes. For a larger trout like our rainbow trout in the picture, you’ll easily need 30-40 minutes. You’ll have to keep an eye on them.

Once done, sprinkle the cut parsley on top of the dish to add extra taste and colour.

The Secret:

Only one secret here, my husband caught the fish this time all by himself.

The Tip:
Serve this with jacket potatoes, boiled potatoes or rice.

Anyway, this makes me think of summer in the sun.

Scampi “Diabolo”

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Aka spicy prawns

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

The ingredients for 2 persons:

  • 8-10 scampi (prawns, langoustines)
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 250 ml cream
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-1,5 fresh chili peppers
  • 0,5 cubes fish broth
  • tomato paste
  • oil
  • pepper and salt

The work:

Cut the shallots, garlic and peppers very small and braise them in some oil. Add a glass of white wine and let this boil down a bit.
Add the fish broth and a bit of water. Let sauce reduce.
Add the cream and let reduce some more.
Season with salt and pepper and add a small bit of tomato paste to colour the sauce orange.
Peel the scampi’s and remove the intestines (=black thread in the length of the scampi). Bake the scampi in some oil in a separate pan. The baking time is very short, make sure you don’t leave them too long, or they will become hard and chewy. Add the scampi to the sauce and you’re ready to serve.

The tip:

Chili peppers are unpredictable in their spiciness. Be careful not to overdo, certainly if you double the recipe to for instance 4 people.

Served with fresh French bread this is one of our favourite Sunday evening dishes in front of the telly. Some last hours of quality time together before everyone leaves again for a week on early Monday.