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A Marriage of Fennel & Carrot

Hallo – hallo – yes, I am back!

But do not worry, I will not bore you with the many stories of WHY I have been away from my computer that long – too many to be told – but just in case there are one or two of you who actually missed me (  and no this is not meant to be in an arrogant manner) the main reason for being off the air for 2 months is quite a simple one – I needed (and wanted) to do some other things around the house, away from the computer desk!!!.

So today I like to introduce you to one of my favourite vegetable dishes. I am not always able to get Fennel here, so when I see it in our Hypermarket I buy some bulbs and make the most of it.

300 g Carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
300 g Fennel, cleaned and sliced thinly
15 g plain oats
15 g butter
50 ml Vegetable Stock, (I use a Knorr Cube)
50 ml Cream (light)
1 small onion, chopped finely
2-3 Garlic (optional) finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter (but do not let it get brown!), add oats and stir for 1 minute before adding all the carrots and fennel, onion and garlic. Mix and stir for another minute or two. Add prepared stock, cover and on medium heat let it cook for 10 minutes or so. Before serving add Cream, spices and bring to your table.

In our house I serve mainly some creamy mash potatoes with this for myself and rice for JS.

That’s it – ready – Guten Appetit!

This is one of my “Speedy-Gonzales” vegetable dishes which is wonderful just by itself or with meat or chicken and ideal for all of us who are “in a hurry” since it can be on your plate in less than 30 minutes.

Namaskaram,
Carina

Late Valentine’s Day

I know, I know – today is the 27th and Valentine’s Day has been here and gone – but for today I still like to share with you one of my family’s favourite pasta dishes ( and like most this too comes attached with very fond memories of our many many visits to Italy).

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No doubt each and everyone of you who has grownup ‘children’ or grand-children received the occasional (and often slightly frantic) telephone call requesting help with a certain recipe for a lunch or dinner in an hours’ time.

And just this did happen to me again exactly 14 days ago.

Our eldest daughter Bianca and her flat mate had decided in the last minute to throw a small impromptu Valentines Day Party for some of their friends. And since both girls were working long hours there was of course not much time left to do shopping, cooking, decorating their flat etc. So Bianca requested the recipe of a quite simple, but delicious, dish she occasionally likes me to cook for her when she comes home to Cochin.

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Not only is this one of her (many!) favourite pasta dishes (see above), but by chance she had most of the ingredients already in her own kitchen, which made it of course so much easier for her and took hardly any time to prepare after work. So off I went to visit my computer and quickly send her the recipe with minute step-by-step instructions……..and her end result is shown in her own ‘whatsup’ picture.

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And the next day a short message arrived back with me “Success!!! Thank you”

Her friends now got hooked on ‘pasta the Italian way’ and I will have to find the time to send some more recipes off to Bangalore.

And since by chance I too had all the ingredients in my kitchen, I decided to make the very same dish for JS – my own Valentine – and for myself. You may want to go back and also look at my Valentine’s Recipe for 2016.

So today I like to share this recipe with you – it is not only for Valentine’s Day but for any day when you just want to enjoy a nice little Italy inspired meal.

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Creamy Mushroom Sauce over a mountain of spaghetti

1. Spaghetti – enough for 2 people –
2. 1 x box of Champignons (button mushrooms) just wiped clean, but NEVER washed. Sliced and kept aside.
3. A handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in halve
4. 3-4 x cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5. Good helping of fresh parsley and thyme
6. ¾ pack of either Coconut milk or cream (I used Coconut milk today)
7. Salt and pepper to taste
8. 2 tsp of Vegetable Oil ( I am rather mean on oil for health reason)

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The ‘cooking’ is so easy and only takes 15 minutes – so ideal for some of us busy people.

Take a large frying pan, add oil and on medium heat sauté your garlic briefly. Add sliced champignons, stir and continue to cook for a few more minutes.
Now add your personal choice of either coconut milk or cream to this, stir again and check your seasoning, add salt and pepper, most of the chopped parsley and thyme. In the last minute add the baby tomatoes.

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Spaghetti should be ready by now, just take them out of their cooking pot with a spaghetti spoon and add to the sauce in the pan.

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Gently mix everything together, sprinkle the remaining parsley over the finished dish and serve – either directly on individual plates or into a large dish or onto a big platter (whatever!)

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Now just sit down and enjoy this pasta with a beautiful chilled white wine and the company of your nearest-and-dearest…. Whoever that may be.
That’s it – all done – enjoy and Guten Appetit.

Namaskaram
Carina

Celery/Leek Soup with my little twist

According to the Oxford Dictionary Diaries the phrase . . . “warm the cockles of one’s heart” means in plain English “to give one a comforting feeling of contentment”. And sweet Molly Malone from Dublin’s Fair City could tell you a thing or two here.

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Comfort feeling of Contentment’ is what I am looking for if and when I am either down with a flu/cold or just simply feel slightly below par.

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As long as I can remember I nearly always have made my weekly pot of delicious home-made soup, ready to be consumed at any time or portioned off and frozen for later use. It does not matter if now again I live in a hot or cold climate – the aroma from the vegetables, the wonderful spices wafting from my special soup mug gently up my nose immediately tells certain brain cells of mine “get better – and snap out of this negative mood you are in” – and rest be assure it always works like a dream. And yes, this is one of the reasons why I still continue to conjure up soups, not following recipes most of the time either.

I know that a great number of my blogger friends are right now living in colder climate – and that’s one reason why I like to share one of my favourite “winter warmers” with you (never mind we and some other dear friends live in a hot climate) – sitting around your own kitchen table with bowls of hot steaming soup in front of you and either nice thick chunks of granary bread or Arabic hoops on the side for ‘dunking’. Especially for you, who have just come in from clearing snow off your pathway, de-frosting the car, or just came home from a long crisp walk.

So therefore, without long ado – here is last nights “Carina’s Special” for you to enjoy hopefully as well.

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The amount of ingredients you see in the first picture turned out to be a generous four-portion-soup. And here is what I used:

1 x medium onion, chopped
1 x fat leek, washed thoroughly and sliced
4 x cups of celery, well washed, ends trimmed and rest chopped
1 x medium/large washed but unpeeled potato, diced small
5 x garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 x small piece of fresh ginger, finely sliced
2 x heaped tsp of cocopowder
1 x Tbsp Olive oil
1 x Tbsp hot curry powder
Salt, to taste and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ x tsp of turmeric powder
4 – 5 x cup of vegetable stock (I used Knorr cubes)
1 x tsp of dry oregano
1 x tsp of dry rosemary (or a twig of fresh one)
Some celery leaves for garnish and celery seeds (if you can get them)

METHOD:
First of all, have all your vegetables prepared as mentioned above and keep aside on a board.

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Set a large medium high vessel on MEDIUM heat and after a couple of minutes add the olive oil, followed by the onion, leek and the celery, stir, cover and cook gently for app. 10 minutes, stirring half way through again.

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Now add curry powder, stir and gently cook for another 2 minutes only.

Add potatoes, nearly all the stock and the herbs, stir and continuing to simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender. We don’t like them too mushy – so you may have to adjust simmering time.

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When done, switch off heat and let soup cool down slightly (I switch on the Ceiling fan).
10 minutes later I puree the vegetables in my “Mixy” until they are nice and smooth.

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Now check your soup for any possible additional spices needed.
Return all this to your vessel and gently re-heat until piping hot.
Switch off the heat and add your previously prepared coconut milk powder, stirring gently. Do no remove vessel – allow the previous heat deal with the added coconut milk.

Serve in individual soup plates, bowls or cups decorated with a sprig of celery leaves and if you have, a light sprinkling of celery seeds.

You can also do, what I sometimes do, add a few prawns quickly boiled in chilli water! For a little kick.

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You do not need much else, apart from delicious healthy bread or hoops for dunking – little culinary heaven!!!

That’s it – all done – enjoy!

Namaskaram
Carina

Note: The statue shown above has been moved to Suffolk Road while a light railway line is being built in Grafton Road, but is expected to be returned to its original place in 2017.

“. . . a meal for a King – Uppuma”

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Breakfast is unarguably the most important meal of the day.

I was raised in Germany on the old saying “….Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper” – something which I adhered to on and off over the years.

Like most of us I too rushed out in the morning far too often without a bite to eat, just a cup of coffee “on the run”, lunch often was a sandwich or two and come evening it was either a visit to a restaurant or pub, eating food which I should not eat, especially late in the evening. In Germany we normally try not to eat a full calorie-laden meal after 7 pm!

But, over the years, and with gained experience and with accumulated ‘wisdom’ I tried to eat more sensibly and healthy – not always succeeding, mind you!

So living here now, my eating plans simply had to change – and they did. I do not have what we call ‘European’ breakfast any longer, except when I make a small bowl of oats with a few raisins and a small spoonful of honey for myself to see me through till lunchtime. In the last 14 years, I have quite happily adopted to my new eating routine.

I love breakfast – and I so enjoy occasionally starting an often quite hectic day with one of South India’s most common and popular breakfast dishes.

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I do like ‘to ring the changes’ when it comes to our meals and therefore I find it a little bit difficult to talk about my favourite choice for a good Indian breakfast – after all I do like nearly all varieties of dhals, potato curry, Idlies with chutney and sambar, masala dosa etc etc and of course then there is UPPUMA – made from Wheat rava (semolina) with a few items added to suit our own personal taste bud. There are of course once again numerous slight variations on the same theme – but what I present to you today is, as usual, what we would serve you if you happened to join our breakfast table.

All measurements given are for 2 portions.

I like to buy pre-roasted Rava (Semolina) – so no need to fry this in your own kitchen any longer.

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1 x cup pre-roasted Rava (semolina)
½ x cup of Ullis (shallots) – sliced
2 x long green chillies, cut into 2-3 pieces, seeds not removed!
4 x cloves of garlic, sliced
1 x Tbsp Cashewnuts (or shelled Almonds)
1 x Tbsp Kismis (Raisins)

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½ x tsp of black mustard seeds
½ x tsp of black pepper
½ x Tbsp of Uppu (Salt) (you may want to adjust this)
2 x sprigs of Curry leaves
1 x Tbsp of vegetable oil
2 x cups of water (boiled)

Method:
Heat up a large wide vessel, add oil, when hot add mustard seeds (remember – those little sneaky ‘bullets’ will fly all over your stove – so keep pot covered for a couple of seconds), when they have stopped ‘popping’ add chillies, Ullis, garlic, raisins, nuts, curry leaves, salt and black pepper. On medium heat stir all this and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

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Now turn down heat even more and add Rava in a stream all over this mixture, stir again and again for another 2-3 minutes before adding the water.

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Mix well – making sure nothing sticks at the bottom or the sides of the vessel. Keep stirring before covering with a lid for another 3 minutes.

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This is usually the time when I have a quick sip of coffee!!

Switch off your flame, using a fork I break up any possible little lumps.

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Since I make Uppuma this way, I never ever have burnt bits at the bottom or sides of my vessel, just beautiful fluffy delicious Uppuma.

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This is normally served with a steamed banana.

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That’s it – all done – enjoy!

Namaskaram
Carina

A V I A L – അവിയല്

(A little healthy vegetable shopping trip at the local market)

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For the time being and in fact only for a very short while some of our many wonderful multi-cultural and multi-religious festival days are over.

My own birthday this year fell right into the middle of Diwali, and Halloween and this is one main reason why I did not post anything regarding those two festivals.

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But I just want to say a big thank you to you who did write to me – I am only sorry I cannot share this huge cake with you which JS had especially ordered. As always he surprised me at midnight (which is a sort of tradition here) with this cake, a huge bunch of beautiful yellow roses (I am not very keen on red ones for a reason) and some lovely gifts – our girls telephoned me at that time as well and so I was very happy indeed.

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Now, since I came to India I have always liked a vegetable dish called AVIAL which is a dish originating from South India and is in fact quite common in Kerala and is of course part of the Sadya, the famous Keralite Vegetarian Feast, especially during the sumptuous feast of Onam. But recently I have developed such a yearning for this healthy dish that I now make it for us on average three times in a week.

There are as usual many many variations of the same theme here and what I show you today is my own basic Avial. Sometimes, depending what I have in my fridge and what is available in my little local market, I might exchange one item for another – one can be pretty flexible. The standard vegetables used in Avial are Eggplant/Aubergine, Drum sticks, Snake Gourd, Plantain, Pumpkin, Carrots, Beans and Elephant Yam. The only thing to remember is not to use “soft” vegetables like tomatoes etc.

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This is not a hot – as in chilli hot – dish, but JS and I like to throw in a couple of Kashmiri Chillies, for colour and taste really, not so much for heat. We also like to include a fresh green mango, but if not available, don’t fret; just add some slightly beaten, slightly sour, curd/yoghurt.

As you might have gathered by now, cooking to us is not as much as sticking to the original authentic recipe, but bringing something to our table we like to eat, and anybody else who happens to join us.

For a large pot I normally use approx.:
1 x cup of Ash Gourd, washed
1 x cup of Cucumber, washed and peeled
3 x Carrots, washed and peeled
1 x whole Drum stick, washed and peeled (like you do with beans)
12 x green Beans, washed and ‘topped and tailed’
2 x raw Plantains, hard skin removed
1 X BIG Eggplant/Aubergine, washed
1 x ‘fat’ slice of Elephant Yam
1 x largish Potato, peeled and washed
10 x Lovoka, washed and cut into half lengthwise
1-2 x medium sized green (cooking) Mangos, peeled and stone removed
2-4 x Tbsp of slightly sour curd/yoghurt (optional)

How to prepare everything ready for cooking:

I like to chop up my vegetables to the sound of some nice music – anything good, but depending on my mood of the moment!
So sit down as well and cut all your vegetables into nice uniformed pieces, like fat match sticks.

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Since the various chosen vegetables take different times to cook, some people prefer to cook them in separate stages – I don’t!!! (and I do not use a pressure cooker either). I just start off with those veggies which take the longest and then just a few minutes later I add the others. Just watch and take care – you do not want to end up with a mushy dish.

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Also add only very very little water when starting to cook (you can always add a few drops later if and when needed) – followed by salt and pepper (optional) and some turmeric powder. Stir very gently and let simmer for 5 x minutes on the lowest heat possible (with the lid on)

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GRINDING THE COCONUT

In your Mixy quickly grind appr. 1 – 1.5 cup grated coconut, 3-5 x green chillies, and 1 x tsp of Cumin seeds coarsely. Do not add any water!!

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Check ‘the bite’ on your vegetables and add all your coconut paste to the vegetables, check salt once again, stir gently and continue cooking for another 5-8 minutes. Let it cool down just a little bit before adding 2 or 3 (or if you like, more) Tbsp of yoghurt/curd, mixing it in briefly.

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If liked, use 1 x Tbsp of Coconut oil over the top and decorate with some curry leafs. Serve it with rice, chapattis or, have it on it’s down. Delicious.

And that’s it! Guten Appetit.

Namaskaram
Carina

A FISHY TALE . . . . .

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So that’s it – ONAM (and all the other combined Festivals which come up every year around this time) is now over and everything in our beautiful State of Kerala, where the people are blessed with an abundance of Coconuts, Spices and most of all with the Treasures of the Sea, has returned to the usual normality.

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This year we did not make our own Sadhya of 18 delectable dishes – instead we went out visiting!!!

But when JS went out to our little local market ‘around the corner’ to visit his ‘friendly fish man’ – you know the kind who quietly lets you know of some special kind of fish coming in, when the price of prawns will go up or down! Who takes trouble in cleaning your order etc. etc. – in order to maybe get some extra treats for the long ONAM week, he not only succeeded in getting some lovely looking Karimeen (Pearl spot)

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which he and the girls love fried with just the right amount of his ‘secret’ masala massaged into the fish, but he returned home with also a special surprise for me!! A whole THIRUTHA (Grey Mullet).

This is a fish extremely popular especially with the visiting Tourists, who love to order this fish whole so it can be shared amongst two to three people.
Thirutha is available normally in abundance, but because of its very delicate taste any catch gets snapped up by Hotels, Restaurants and even certain vendors, especially in places like Fort Cochin, where domestic and foreign tourists can choose their own fish, have it grilled right there and then and enjoyed ‘al fresco’ mainly along the seafront by the famous “Chinese Nets”.

But now I have to confess something here to you – when it comes to fish I am just a little bit squeamish. I am certainly not a female Rick Stein, the seafood master himself, and so looking at and handling a large fish, head, eyes, etc, does not come easy for me. But surely . . . one is never too old to learn, right!?

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And so, with JS’ help and under his guidance, I set about in tackling this nice, fresh, slippery ‘friend’. This being my first attempt of cooking Thirutha I decided to keep it simple and just steam the fish in foil with some vegetables (after all – it’s healthy, too) – and here now is the result!

It turned out to be a really delishes meal and now I want to think up a different recipe using the same kind of fish– there is of course always a curry!!

This fish may look big for you – but in the end it was just enough for the two of us. Unfortunately I did not weigh him, just as a matter of interest.

And here is what I did:
1 x whole Thirutha, scaled and gutted by “Friendly Fish Man”
At home washed and dried thoroughly.

I made 5 incisions into the back of the Thirutha and then rubbed a mixture of salt, pepper and 1 tsp of dried Dill all over the fish (including the inside).
Sprinkle fresh lemon juice over the whole fish incl. the inside.

Prepare vegetables: I used carrots, leeks, onion slices and parsley
I blanched the three vegetables in photo for just 2 minutes, not more!! Drain well.

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Preheat oven to 180/200 C
Put fish onto a double layer of foil, drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil around fish, add blanched vegetables incl. a couple of half cooked potatoes.

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Now make the foil into a parcel and leave in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes – check!!! Ovens vary in temperature.

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When done open foil carefully, averting your face – steam is really hot! Taste and when cooked (fish should not be dry) keep fish parcel open on top of oven in order to cool down slightly.

Carefully take the fish off the bone from one side first and put on a plate with the vegetables and just a few plain boiled potatoes.

As an edition I served separately some dill-lemon-butter-sauce.

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There is a saying in German, my mother tongue, which goes:

……Uebung macht den Meister”. (Meaning: Practice maketh the Master) – so now I will try and make fish more often!

But for now, THAT’S IT!

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Guten Appetit!
Carina

VEGETABLE ROULADE

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This is a beautiful Vegetarian dish – delicious and stunning to look at when gracing a buffet table or served as (maybe) first course at a dinner party and perfect as a main course for a light summer lunch! I know in many parts of the world at this time, ‘Summer’ is slowly saying good bye for now, but…….

Despite what many people may think, the “job” of being the wife of an Ambassador (or that of a very Senior Diplomat) abroad does not mean GLAMOUR 24/7 with an unlimited Official Budget to spend on Entertainment. Far from it – first of all those budgets are as tight as they come and if you could listen to the talks away from strangers, you would quickly find out, that this applies to more or less all diplomatic representatives. Here is where the “job” of a wife comes into full force – she will have to be able to come up with a wonderful menu plan suited for each of their many many dinners and luncheons – and since frequently the same people will/have to attend any of those functions, the menu of course cannot be a repetitious one.

And so, since I always enjoyed having people around, serving them nice food, good wine, trying to make them relax, laugh and be happy, this part of my then ‘job’ was not too difficult to deal with. I was also fortunate to have during all those years met a great number of kind and wonderful people who helped me to learn and gain the necessary experience which was needed for me to become a good representative of my own country – a very good Hostess.

But what do you do when you are in a country where most of the (food-) items you need are not available and your Government will or cannot fly them in (i.e. West Africa)– you simply improvise!!! And you would be surprised to find out, how very much the simple but delicious “home cooking” for example, is appreciated by most of those guests who often get ‘wined and dined’ on Beluga Caviar and Vintage Champagne.

Yes, of course, I too like Caviar and Champagne, but not every day, lol – lol!!! Give me a delicious sandwich and a cup of home-made vegetable soup or just a bowl of ‘Spaghetti e limone’ any time.

So, enough of this for the time being. I just like to bring you a few recipes of dishes which over the years have appeared on one of my buffet tables and for which I had a ‘repeat order’ by the same guests, who tasted it for the first time in my house.

Today’s Roulade has always been and still is, one of my great easy Buffet Stars. Occasionally I made 3 separate sheets of Spinach but for the actually filling I used 1 x red, 1 x yellow and 1 x green capsicum and laid the finished slices out in alternate fashion – looks very attractive.

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Ingredients:
This once again is for 2 people plus some left-overs.
At least ½ kg spinach (or green jeera – 4 x bunches) – picked, well washed, kept aside and left to drain.
1 x large red capsicum ( sweet pepper), all seeds taken out, slightly cooked for a few minutes, drained, kept aside.
Some grated nutmeg
A good dollop of unsalted butter
4 x Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese (or sharp Cheddar)
4 Tbsp of double cream
Salt, pepper and some sprinkling of paprika
Garlic bread seasoning
2 eggs – separated and kept aside –
250 g of cream cheese or better Quark (I used my own home-made Quark – for recipe look at Quark-Glorious Quark of 16.08.2016 – mixed with garlic bread seasoning, salt, pepper and paprika)

Method:
Heat oven to 200 C
Cut grease proof paper to size of your Swiss roll tin (or any other).
Cook Spinach just for a few minutes.
Take off flame and let cool slightly.
Take clean Tea-towel, put spinach in middle and now ‘wring’ as much water out as possible – and then chop spinach finely.
Now mix this with nutmeg, softened butter, parmesan cheese, cream and some seasoning. Beat in the egg yolks.

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Separately whisk egg whites into soft peaks and gently fold into your spinach mixture. Spread this onto the prepared tin, smooth out and bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes or so until firm (but not hard!)

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When done, turn spinach upside down on another clean tea towel and let it cool, without removing tin, for maybe 30 minutes.
In the meantime ‘blitz’ capsicum lightly (do not make it into purée).

Mix with cream cheese or better, Quark!! – season well.

When spinach is cool, peel off paper. I find this is the only tricky part – so do it very slowly.

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Spread this with the earlier prepared capsicum and Quark mixture.

Now carefully, using the towel to lift baked spinach etc. up, turn this into a fairly tight roll.
Let it rest for 20 minutes or so, cut (best with a serrated knife) into thick slices and serve.

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That’s it – enjoy!
Namaskaram, Carina

PS. This keeps well inside your fridge, and is also delicious used just as a spread on toast, crackers, stuffed inside Hoops (Arabic bread) etc.