Monday, December 30, 2013

Maple-Glazed Chicken - IHCC Suitable for the Spa!

We've been dealing with the aftermath of an ice storm this past week, (we count ourselves among the fortunate who didn't lose power in the sub-zero celsius temperatures), slowly chipping our way free of a layer of solid ice that's coated everything. Spa cuisine, this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme, wasn't really on the menu...hearty, warming comfort food seemed more appropriate. However, I did recall having a wonderful lunch of poached chicken breast during my one and only visit to a spa. Chicken I could work with so I made Maple-Glazed Chicken, a recipe for poached, skinless, boneless chicken breasts that I've had bookmarked since the start of my journey with IHCC's featured chef Donna Hay.
Seasoned with spicy chilli flakes and a slick of maple syrup, the chicken was cooked in a non-stick pan with no added fat. I changed the method slightly by using a grill pan and omitted the water. Donna suggests roasted parsnips and sugar snap peas as sides, but I added radicchio to the pan to grill alongside the chicken and steamed some broccoli. It was a great choice...easy and delicious.
For this week's spa theme, we were to prepare "light and lovely, healthy" dishes. This dish was definitely healthy and on the light/low fat side, (I'll have to work on the lovely part!), but was substantial enough to provide much needed sustenance so that we could continue our outdoor efforts. If you'd like to try it, the recipe is on page 16 of Donna Hay's book Fast, Fresh, Simple but can also be found here.

Visit I Heart Cooking Clubs to see what others made this week.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Beetroot Blini with Goat's Cheese - IHCC 'Tis the Season

Let me start by saying that I love Donna Hay and I love this recipe! Beet dishes are a holiday tradition for me - it wouldn't be Christmas Eve without barszcz, Polish beet soup - and though my immediate family still doesn't appreciate the vegetable, I like to serve them to guests. But they don't make the best finger food. So how ingenious is it to actually embed the beet in a pancake, avoiding that most inevitable of mishaps.....a beet slice sliding off the canapé and taking a tumble down the front of your favourite white party outfit! Can you tell I'm speaking from experience?
The recipe called for canned beets but I used beets that I had roasted and frozen in the summer and though I thought they were fairly small, some of the slices were a little hefty for the dainty hors d'oeuvres I had in mind. I used a 3cm cookie cutter to trim them down and make them uniform in size (and provide the cook with a nice snack of the trimmings).
The blini, Russian yeast raised pancakes made with part buckwheat flour, were very easy to make and tasted great even without toppings thanks to the sour cream in the recipe that provided richness without weighing them down. And the tangy goat cheese topper was a perfect match for the sweet beets.
They were delicious and very easy to make and to eat with nary a wayward beet slice in sight.....perfect party fare.

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is 'Tis the Season, focusing on food and drinks for holiday parties. The recipes for Basic Blini and Beetroot Blini with Goat's Curd are from our featured chef Donna Hay's website.

What did the other IHCC members offer their guests?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Green Lentils, Spinach & Ginger, Gujerati Carrot Salad and Paratha - IHCC Potluck

My vegetarian daughter is the most adventurous of my children when it comes to food and we have a lot of fun exploring new cuisines together so I'm cooking Indian food this week with Madhur Jaffrey from the book Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking for I Heart Cooking Clubs' potluck theme. 
Whole Green Lentils with Spinach and Ginger

Whole Green Lentils with Spinach and Ginger was comfort food at its best: simple and nourishing. With fresh ginger and green chilies included, the flavour was warm and spicy. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I adjusted the recipe a little...or maybe a lot ;). I cooked the lentils for only 40 minutes (instead of the recommended hour) until they were just done, reduced the oil to only 1 tablespoon, and I couldn't bring myself to cook all of that beautiful fresh spinach and coriander for 30 minutes so simmered only half the quantity of each with the chili, ginger and lentils, adding the rest just before serving. The dish had a nice consistency with the lentils adding substance but really taking a back seat to the spinach.
Paratha

I think it would have gone very well with rice but I wanted to try my hand at making flatbread. I used whole wheat atta flour, a fine durum hard wheat flour that's traditionally used in Indian flatbreads, in place of the plain and wholemeal flours in the recipe. The dough for the Layered Bread (Paratha), requiring just a little salt, oil and water in addition to the flour, was very easy to make; shaping and cooking the flatbreads was a different story...it's clearly an art form I'm a long way from mastering but I did eventually find the rhythm of cooking one while rolling out the next. With the flaky layers created by brushing the rolled dough with oil, folding and rolling again (twice) before cooking, they were richer tasting than most flatbreads but delicious!
Gujerati Carrot Salad

To round out the meal, I made this easy Gujerati Carrot Salad. Dressed with lemon juice, fried mustard seeds and the oil used to fry them, it was a crisp, cool and refreshing accompaniment to the spicy lentils.
The meal was wonderfully warming and just what was needed on a cold day.

Visit here to see what everyone else at IHCC cooked up for potluck.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with Creamy Tomato Sauce

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan is probably one of the best cookbook investments I've ever made; it's taught me how to make the Italian food I enjoyed eating in Italy and in the homes of Italian friends but could never replicate in my own kitchen. The author's recent passing had me pulling the book from the shelf to delve into once again, something I hadn't done for some time.
I've learned that simplicity is often the key to a good Italian dish....not necessarily in its preparation, though techniques are often quite basic, but in the ingredients. For Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi (page 262), which Marcella describes as being like the tortellini filling without the pasta, cooked fresh or frozen spinach (I used fresh), ricotta and Parmesan cheese are the stars. Combined with a little cooked onion and nutmeg for added flavour, and flour and egg yolks to bind the mixture and the gnocchi dough is done and ready to be shaped.
They take just minutes in a pot of boiling salted water to cook and plump up so you need to have the sauce at the ready. I followed Marcella's recommendation and served them with Tomato Sauce with Heavy Cream (page 155), one of her fantastic tomato sauces, this one made with chopped vegetables (and less butter than the recipe calls for), to which a little cream is added at the end.
Surprisingly delicate, airy pillows of yumminess bathed in a creamy, tangy tomato sauce....delicious! 

These are two recipes that will get repeated often but there are still many more to explore in this book.

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books, hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Black & White Wagon Wheels - IHCC Fill the Tins

Wagon Wheels were a very rare and special treat for me growing up and one I haven't had in many years. When I spotted Donna Hay's recipe for them on her website, vivid memories of fluffy marshmallow sandwiched between cookies and coated in sweet chocolate came to mind.
I simply had to make them! The chance came with this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme of sweets and treats perfect for gift giving.
Of course, Donna has put her own spin on them. The sweet of my memories definitely wasn't made with pure butter cookies, good jam and bittersweet and white Belgian chocolate, and they certainly weren't triple decker!
Comprised of crunchy vanilla sugar cookies made with a of touch of honey, sweet marshmallow fluff and tart raspberry jam filling, and coated with a thin shell of chocolate, they were delicious. But were they as good as the originals?
There was no comparison*. The cookies were far superior; the flavour was reminiscent of the original Wagon Wheel, but a gourmet version without the excessive sweetness. Definitely worthy of being gifted. 

The recipe for Black and White Wagon Wheels can be found here.

* I bought and ate an original Wagon Wheel......strictly for research purposes of course ;)

Additional notes:
- my baking time for the cookies was 7-8 minutes
- I made the cookies a little smaller - 4cm instead of 5cm - and my yield was 104(!!!) single cookies, 34 sandwiches, more than double what the recipe says to expect
- I piped the marshmallow fluff - incredibly sticky stuff!! - and jam onto the cookies rather than trying to spread them on
- I used the amount of chocolate listed in the recipe and even with having over twice the number of cookies to coat, there was enough.

What did other IHCC members fill their tins with?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake

I'm not sure why, but my children always choose candy bar flavours when asked what sort of cake they'd like for their birthday - whatever happened to plain old vanilla...or chocolate? This year, my son asked for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cake so that's what I made. Like the treat that served as its inspiration, this cake is chocolate on the outside  and peanut butter on the inside. I used recipes from some of my favourite baking books to put it together.
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake
The Peanut Butter Birthday Cake was from the book Joy the Baker Cookbook. It baked up light, fluffy and quite moist, wasn't too sweet and really delivered on peanut butter flavour. I made one-and-a-half times the recipe to have enough batter for the 23cm/9" and 15cm/6" tiers.

The cakes were filled and frosted with Joanne Chang's Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting (from the Yellow Birthday Cake recipe) from the book Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery & Cafe. This recipe combined an American buttercream (butter & icing sugar) with ganache (chocolate & whipping cream) and had the best qualities of each: the light, fluffy texture of the buttercream and the intense chocolate flavour of the ganache. I didn't need any for decorating so again made one-and-a-half times the recipe in the book.
The final touch, the "glue" for the Reese's chocolates, was peanut butter Italian meringue buttercream made from equal weights (200g) of vanilla buttercream (Mousseline Buttercream from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum) and regular smooth peanut butter, which made approx 360ml/1 1/2 cups.
It was a bit of work, quite manageable spread out over a few days, but well worth the effort.....it was delicious! Birthday boy - and everyone else who had some - raved about it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chilli Pork with Snake Beans - IHCC Fast & Fabulous

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is Fast & Fabulous, dishes that take 30 minutes or less. With two quick cooking ingredients, ground pork and snake beans (called Chinese long beans here), I knew that Donna Hay's recipe for Chilli Pork with Snake Beans would fit the bill.
This recipe is an example of how clever use of a single pantry item, chilli jam, combined with a few fresh ingredients creates a flavourful meal, something for which our featured chef is well known. 
The pork, seasoned only with the chilli jam, fried until crisp and finished with lime juice and fresh coriander, was a delicious blend of hot, sour, sweet and salty flavours with water chestnuts for added crunch. Served over steamed beans, this dish actually took only 15 minutes to make. With so little to do, it was easy to put on a pot of coconut rice (Basmati Rice with Coconut Milk and Ginger, The Essential New York Times Cookbook) which was done within the 30 minutes. The dish served 3 generously with the added rice.
The recipe appears in the "Simple" chapter of the book Fast, Fresh, Simple, page 146 and is definitely one I will make again.

See what other "Fast & Fabulous" dishes IHCC members have made this week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Soft Pretzels, 2 ways - Avid Baker's Challenge

I'm no connoisseur of soft pretzels having had them only a few times during visits to New York City so I went into December's ABC challenge with few expectations. 
The recipe for Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels comes from the King Arthur Flour website, from which the Avid Bakers have been baking throughout 2013. The dough was easy to make, soft and slightly sticky, and after a brief rest was ready for shaping. As usual, the King Arthur blog provided excellent photos of the whole process. I was happy to see that the pretzels needed only a brief soak in a baking soda solution rather than a dip in a pot of boiling lye!!
Soft Pretzels
Though my memories of pretzel eating are rather foggy, I do recall enjoying one filled with (American?) cheese so I decided to make a few, flattening the long ropes of dough, sprinkling grated sharp cheddar cheese down the centre and pinching the dough closed around it before the final shaping.
Cheese-Filled Soft Pretzels
I sprinkled all of the pretzels with a little coarse sea salt and added sesame seeds to the plain ones before baking. Since I have an aversion to adding butter to cooked foods - I know.....my family thinks I'm strange too ;) - I skipped that step when they emerged from the oven but wished I had used an egg white wash before baking to give them a nice, glossy finish....next time. 







The pretzels had a very fine, dense crumb with a nice, chewy texture but were still incredibly soft. They were really very good, especially dipped in some maple mustard.











I was quite impressed that it was only about one hour from start to finish before we were enjoying, warm, freshly baked pretzels, practically instant gratification for a yeast-raised item ;).


Visit here to see what the other ABC members thought of them. 
The members have voted and the results are in: we will continue to bake from the King Arthur Flour website in 2014. Can't wait to see the recipe selection for the new year.