Monday, October 28, 2013

Peppery Prosciutto and Mozzarella French Toast - IHCC Sandwich Sensations!

A few weeks ago, when the theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs was breakfast, I couldn't decide between two recipes. The one I eventually chose was Egg, Pancetta and Gruyère Breakfast Bread, but with this week's theme Sandwich Sensations, there was no reason why I couldn't make the second! We're currently cooking with Australian cookbook author and food stylist Donna Hay and though I don't own any of her books, a situation I hope to remedy soon, her website is a treasure trove of great recipes.

Peppery Prosciutto and Mozzarella French Toast
This delicious sandwich included a few twists that set it apart from a typical ham and cheese sandwich.
First there was the bread: the recipe called for brioche buns but I substituted with one of my favourite egg-enriched sandwich breads that I often make as buns. The recipe for BLT Bread (it's the perfect vehicle for bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches) is from A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman.
Then, there was a condiment I'd never tried before: caramelized onion chutney, spread on the bun before piling it high with mozzarella and prosciutto.
After a dip in a peppery egg bath (only 1 egg and 2 tbsp milk are needed for 2 sandwiches), it was cooked as you would French toast. I covered it with a lid to help melt the cheese and make sure the egg on the sides of the sandwich cooked.
This variation of a Monte Cristo sandwich was really very tasty. The onion chutney worked well with the salty prosciutto and added a lot of flavour to the sandwich. I thought it a very smart use of a store-bought condiment. The mozzarella was good but a more strongly flavoured melting cheese would have been even better.

The recipe for Peppery Prosciutto and Mozzarella French Toast can be found here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tilapia with Citrus Bagna Cauda and Broccoli with Lemon Olive Oil - IHCC Potluck

This week is potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, when members have a choice of either cooking with the featured chef Donna Hay, or with any of the previously featured chefs. I'm relatively new to this group - only cooking with my second chef - and I had decided when I joined that I would use potluck week to cook with the chefs I had missed. So this month, I'm cooking with Giada de Laurentiis. I love Italian food and really appreciate her simple approach to it; this recipe for Tilapia with Citrus Bagna Cauda is a perfect example of that
Though (farmed) tilapia is not the most nutritionally sound fish (a little high in omega-6 fatty acids), it's still low in overall fat, easy to cook and its mild flavour makes it very family-friendly so it makes an appearance here for dinner once in a while. Sautéed until cooked through and bathed with a delicious garlic-anchovy sauce flavoured with citrus and fresh basil (you really can't taste the anchovies), this treatment transformed it into something quite special.

In keeping with the citrus theme, I served steamed broccoli dressed with a lemon juice-olive oil blend, the suggested alternative to Meyer lemon flavoured olive oil. Sprinkled with some chopped fresh mint, it was a refreshing change from plain.
The recipes for Tilapia with Citrus Bagna Cauda and Broccoli Florets with Meyer Lemon Olive Oil are from the book Giada's Family Dinners but can also be found here and here (respectively).

Only one chef to go.....Nigella next month!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Babcia's Cherry Cake

Though my mother's baking repertoire was small, she did bake regularly and this is my favourite of all of the cakes she made. I have very special memories of sharing the first piece with her straight from the pan while it was still warm (before supper!) whenever she made it.

I know this as "Mum's Cherry Cake" - even my dad calls it that - but to my children, it's "Babcia's (grandmother in Polish) Cherry Cake".
Getting the recipe for this was no small feat. My mother never wrote it down so it took me several tries to finally perfect it, initially standing by her side trying to quantify the ingredients (she used a fine bone china tea cup to measure flour and sugar and approximated the amounts of everything else!) then baking it repeatedly, making adjustments each time until it was right, which family certainly didn't mind since even the "fails" were delicious!  
The cake is a rich and sturdy coffee cake, but it's moist, not too sweet and has great vanilla flavour - a perfect contrast to the tart cherries. Excellent with a cup of tea.

Babcia's Cherry Cake
yield: 23cm x 32.5cm/9" x 13" cake; 24 pieces
prep time: 30 minutes
baking time: 45 minutes

Ingredients (batter):

390g/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
250g/1 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g/1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
240g/1 cup full fat (14%) sour cream

60ml/1/4 cup milk, at room temperature

Filling:

1 540ml/18.2 fl. oz. can cherry pie filling

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease and flour a 23cmx32.5cm/9"x13" pan or line with parchment or foil first before greasing and flouring. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, measure the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to blend and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high (stand mixer) or high speed (hand mixer) for 5-7 minutes until fluffy and light in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix until blended.

Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Add the sour cream; mix until blended. Add the rest of the flour and mix just until it disappears. The batter will be very thick.

Assembly:
thick batter batter base
Dollop ~2/3 of the batter on to the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, spread it evenly. It helps if you dip the spatula in cold water from time to time so the batter doesn't stick to it. Create a lip of batter around the edge of the pan to hold the fruit in.
cherry filling cherry filling2
Distribute the cherry pie filling over the cake base and spread evenly with a spatula.
batter topping batter topping2
Add the milk to the remaining batter and beat by hand or with a mixer until smooth. Spoon the batter over the top of the cherries, starting with the outer edges of the pan, working your way towards the centre. With a wet spatula, use short, light strokes to spread the batter, sealing the edges first, then sealing all of the fruit inside. Too much pressure and the batter will start to mix with the fruit filling and you don't want that.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and firm.

Allow to cool completely in the pan and cut directly from it or, if you've lined the pan with foil or parchment, lift the cake to a cutting board by the foil/parchment handles, cut and serve.
As with most cakes, it's best eaten the day it's made but this one does keep well in the refrigerator in an airtight container; make sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Egg, Pancetta and Gruyère Breakfast Bread - IHCC Up & At 'Em!

Most days, breakfast is eaten on the run around here, but when everyone's home and I have extra time, I do like to make something special. And what could be more special than freshly baked bread topped with bacon and eggs! 
The first step was to make the bread dough. The amount was too small to warrant pulling out the heavy machinery for kneading; 5 minutes by hand did the job. While the dough rested, I prepped the topping ingredients, which included crisping some cubes of pancetta because I didn't have pre-sliced.
I divided the dough into serving size portions so I could customize the toppings according to the various likes and dislikes of family members. While the bread baked, another opportunity to get things done presented itself: clean up, make coffee - actually, I did that before I even started so that I could function ;) - prepare fruit, set the table....
These were delicious...I loved the combination of the gruyère and pancetta with the richness of the egg yolk, and the hot pepper flakes were a nice touch. This is definitely worth repeating but I think next time, even though the dish took less than an hour to make, I would use ready made (homemade or store-bought) pizza dough to save a little time.

This Donna Hay recipe for Egg, Pancetta and Gruyère Breakfast Bread can be found here.

I Heart Cooking Clubs is cooking with Australian chef Donna Hay for the next 6 months. This week's theme of "Up & At 'Em" is breakfast dishes. Visit here to see what everyone else made to start their day.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Whole Roast (Spatchcocked) Chicken

Roast chicken is a favourite of mine to cook and a family favourite to eat, so I was very happy to discover a method years ago that got it to the table faster and with more consistent results than roasting it in its original form.
Spatchcocking is an easy method of preparing a chicken, or any bird, for roasting (or grilling) that allows it to cook more evenly and produces tender and juicy meat with crisp, golden skin. This technique involves simply removing the backbone from the chicken, opening it out and flattening it so all of the parts are of similar thickness.

Whole Roast (Spatchcocked) Chicken
serves 4-6

preparation time: 10 minutes
cooking time: 45-50 minutes 
Ingredients:

1.5-1.6kg fresh chicken, neck and innards removed 
*salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

*The chicken can be seasoned with any flavourings you like: chopped fresh or dried herbs (thyme, sage or rosemary are particularly good), minced garlic, the juice and grated zest of a lemon, your favourite seasoning blend etc.....the possibilities are endless.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C(400F). Line a shallow baking pan at least 23cm x 32.5cm (9"x13") in size with parchment.  

Rinse the chicken under cold, running water and pat dry. Don't forget to rinse and dry the cavity. 
raw chicken inverted chicken
Make sure you use a dedicated meat cutting board, one that's used for raw meat only, and one that's dishwasher safe. Disinfect all surfaces that come in contact with the raw chicken as you go to avoid cross-contamination (don't forget the sink you've rinsed it in). Place the chicken breast side down on the cutting board.
remove backbone trim skin
Using sturdy kitchen shears and starting at the tail, cut beside the backbone towards the neck of the bird. Repeat on the other side and remove the backbone. Open the chicken up and trim any excess skin and fat from the thighs and neck area. 
butterflied chicken flatten chicken
Invert the chicken so it's breast side up. You'll notice that the breast is still raised. To flatten it, place the heel of your hand on the breast and press down firmly. You'll feel the breastbone give and the chicken will be more level.
seasoned chicken roasted chicken
Transfer the bird to the prepared pan. Season both sides with *salt and pepper (and anything else of your choice) and arrange it breast side up. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and rub to distribute it evenly. Make sure to tuck the wing tips under the bird so they don't burn. Roast 45-50 minutes on the middle rack in the oven, basting with the pan juices after 30 minutes. The chicken is done when the juices run clear when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the pan from the oven, cover loosely with foil and allow the bird to rest 5-10 minutes.
To serve, using a sharp knife, remove the legs; this really just involves cutting through skin. Separate the drumsticks from the thighs by cutting through the joint. Cut between the breasts and then cut each one in half. Arrange the pieces on a platter, drizzle with some of the pan juices and serve!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Butter Tarts in Phyllo

Canada doesn't have a national dish - yet - but whenever the topic arises, the Butter Tart is always among the top contenders for the title. What constitutes the perfect butter tart is a contentious issue and there are probably as many opinions about this as there are Canadians! Personally, I prefer a crisp and flaky all-butter crust and a slightly runny filling made without raisins, pecans or worse, chocolate(!!!).
In A Taste of Canada: A Culinary Journey, by Rose Murray, the author puts her own spin on it and offers a recipe for the pastry challenged that uses store-bought phyllo. 6 sheets are buttered, layered, cut into squares and used to line a standard muffin tin. The filling takes just minutes to whisk together. Since the phyllo pastry took these into the realm of very non-traditional, I included the pecans.
They turned out much prettier than a traditional tart, almost like little flowers, and they were quite delicious. The pastry was crisp and buttery and the sweetness of the filling was tempered by the pecans. Including baking time, these took only 30 minutes to make.
But above all, the filling was the perfect consistency....

If you would like to give them a try, the recipe for Butter Tarts in Phyllo can be found here.

I'm sharing this post with cook-your-books, hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lemon and Dill Smoked Salmon Pasta - IHCC Pantry Magic!

One thing I always have in my pantry is dried pasta of all different shapes and sizes so deciding what to make for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs "Pantry Magic" theme wasn't very difficult. We're currently cooking with Donna Hay and settling on a final recipe was an entirely different matter....so many from which to choose!

The recipe for Lemon and Dill Smoked Salmon Pasta caught my eye. The no-cook sauce combined a few more pantry items (olive oil, capers) with some fresh (lemon, green onions, dill, mint and smoked salmon). It was very quick to prepare - so quick, in fact, I had it made before the pasta water even came to boil!
I really enjoyed the bright, fresh flavours of this delicious dish and thought it special enough to be company-worthy.
The recipe for Lemon and Dill Smoked Salmon Pasta can be found here.

Additional Notes:
- I used whole wheat linguine
- I replaced 1/2 the oil with pasta cooking water
- I used only 150g of salmon (wild pacific coho) which was plenty
- the recipe served 3 generously  

If you'd like to see what the other IHCC members used from their pantries, visit here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cream of Tomato Soup with Rosemary Polenta Madeleines

Creamy and comforting with mellow tomato flavour......this is the tomato soup for non-tomato eaters (and everyone else as well!).
Cream of Tomato Soup
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham 

Serves 6
Time : 30 minutes

Ingredients:

4 tbsp/56g unsalted butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
720ml vegetable stock
240ml cold milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 dried bay leaf
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 680ml bottle passata (fresh tomato purée)
1/2 tsp baking soda
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir it quickly into the butter until combined. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until it is a light golden yellow colour. Do not allow it to brown.

2. Slowly add the stock in a steady stream, whisking vigorously the entire time. Add the milk the same way. Once the mixture is smooth, add the salt, bay leaf and onion. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring periodically until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

3. In the meantime, pour the passata into a bowl and stir in the baking soda; the mixture will foam. The baking soda neutralizes the acid in the tomatoes preventing the milk from curdling and takes the sharp edge off the tomato flavour.  

4. Add the passata to the thickened milk/stock mixture. Bring the soup back to a simmer. Remove the onion and bay leaf with a slotted spoon and discard. Season to taste with salt and (optional) pepper and serve.
If it's not being served with a sandwich, I like to include a cheese-y nibble to go with the soup. Delicious Rosemary Polenta madeleines, tender little savoury cakes flavoured with Parmesan cheese and fresh rosemary from the book We Love Madeleines, was the side of choice with this batch.
Rosemary Polenta Madeleines

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Crusty Apple Pie - Avid Baker's Challenge

I love the smell of cinnamon and baked apples in the fall and with the cooler weather finally here, I was ready for this month's Avid Baker's Challenge selection of apple pie. 
The chosen recipe was quite different from pies I've made before: it was more of a crust lover's pie with a high ratio of crust to filling; the crust included cream cheese; the pie was assembled and baked on a 12" pizza pan!
I loved the pastry! It was easy to make and even easier to work with; it was smooth and supple and rolled out beautifully.

The filling consisted of thinly sliced apples arranged in a single layer over a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar. I reduced this spiced sugar by half since it seemed far too much for what amounted to only 3 apples (by weight).
Even though I used crisp Granny Smith apples that retain their shape when baked, these ones really didn't stand a chance of that: 45 minutes of baking to ensure that the crust was done resulted in a soft fruit filling. However, with the decrease in sugar, the apple's tart flavour still came through. The crust baked up crisp and flaky and was definitely the star of this pie.
Served warm with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, this was a delicious autumn treat.

The ABC bakers are currently baking from the King Arthur Flour website. The recipe for Crusty Apple Pie can be found here.

The recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream, Philadelphia-Style is from 
The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz.

Visit here to see the versions the other ABC members have baked up this month.