Monday, March 31, 2014

Salmon and Spinach Tarts - IHCC A Welcome Toast to Nigel Slater

For the next 6 months, I Heart Cooking Clubs will be cooking with Nigel Slater, well-known British cook and food writer who really doesn't need much of an introduction. As I did with our last featured chef, I'm welcoming him with a starter...or at least small tarts I made from a recipe intended to make a full-sized tart...but that's what Nigel's all about, providing the guidelines but encouraging the cook to do what he or she will with them!
The recipe for A Salmon and Spinach Tart comes from his book The Kitchen Diaries 2: A Year of Simple Suppers. In the diary entry for this recipe, Nigel describes how "there are days when my heart sinks at the thought of making a tart". He wasn't having one of those days when he made his tart, but I was. Frozen filo pastry to the rescue. 
Filled with roasted salmon, steamed spinach and custard, this dish was delicious, perfect for brunch, lunch, a light supper or made as minis, an appetizer. I added some sautéed garlic to the spinach and minced spring onions to the custard for extra flavour and replaced the salmon with shredded cheese in some of the tarts for a vegetarian variation. They were a big hit so will be made again but maybe next time, I'll feel like making the pastry.
additional notes:
- I used 3/4 of the recipe for the salmon (9 tarts) and custard filling (about 50ml per tart) and 350g spinach (it looked like 2 large handfuls to me!)
- the tart shells were made with 4 layers filo (6 sheets brushed with olive oil and cut into 8 pieces) 
- baking time was 20 minutes

See what other dishes the welcoming committee at IHCC made for Nigel this week!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Maple Pear Tarte Tatin - IHCC Catch Ya Later Donna Hay!

This is our last official week of cooking with I Heart Cooking Clubs' featured chef Donna Hay. I welcomed her with an appetizer, so what better way to say goodbye than with a fabulous dessert. For this very special occasion, I made a very special Maple Pear Tarte Tatin.
I chose this particular recipe since this month happens to coincide with our maple sugaring season, which began late this year because of the unseasonably cold weather. But with the recent thaw, the sap was running freely last week in southern Ontario and Quebec and there's hope that this year's yield of liquid gold will be better than last when the winter was too warm!  
I'd never made a tarte tatin before this, a French pastry that could best be described as an upside down pie. Before assembling and baking the tart, the fruit filling was partially cooked in caramel, for this recipe, a maple caramel made by reducing maple syrup and a little butter. Donna's recipe makes a dessert for 2 people; I needed it to serve at least 5 so I used a 30cm cast iron pan, doubled the maple syrup and butter and used 4 medium pears, peeled, cored and quartered. Puff pastry was rolled out and used as a lid for the partially cooked fruit. I used the recipe amount (375g) of this homemade quick puff pastry and rolled it thinner than specified since I prefer a higher fruit to crust ratio.
Since it became the base of the tart and needed to contain all of the juice-infused caramel and pears, I made sure to tuck it in around the fruit before baking. Once the pastry was puffed, golden brown and crisp and the fruit tender, it was time to remove it from the oven and invert the tart with all of its fruit and hot caramel goodness onto a serving plate.
It was fabulous served warm on its own.......
.....but a little vanilla ice cream didn't hurt ;)!

The recipe for Maple Pear Tarte Tatin is from Donna's book Seasons but can also be found here.

I'd never made any of Donna's recipes before starting this IHCC challenge, but I quickly learned to appreciate her approach to food, selecting a few choice ingredients that transform a simple recipe from the mundane into something memorable. I've acquired 2 of her books during these last 6 months: Seasons and fast, fresh, simple which haven't yet made it onto a shelf they get used so often! We start cooking with Nigel Slater next month, but I won't be abandoning Donna any time soon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sole Bundles with Spinach and Brown Rice Risotto - IHCC Potluck

After last month's experiment with baked risotto, it was time to return to the traditional method of making it. And to go with the rice, a lovely, saucy filet of sole dish. For this month's potluck theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I cooked with Tessa Kiros, one of the earlier featured chefs. The recipes for Brown Rice Risotto and Sole Bundles with Spinach are from her book Apples for Jam.
The recipe for the risotto didn't specify the type of brown rice but I had short grain which I thought would yield better results than the basmati, long grain or Calrose that was also in my pantry. As you can imagine, the rice took much longer to cook and required more liquid than a risotto made with white rice but I did find that it was very slow to absorb the stock at first so needed just the occasional stir and liquid top up during the first 30 minutes of cooking (it took just over an hour total). Flavoured with garlic and Parmesan, the rice ended up creamy with a subtle nutty flavour and a pleasantly chewy texture.
risotto sole bundles
While the rice cooked, I prepared the stuffed sole. I really liked the presentation of this recipe in the book and thought it would go well with the risotto. My filets were on the small side (11 in a 400g package) and required a few toothpicks to hold them together but the spinach filling, made with a 300g package of frozen, chopped spinach that didn't need to be precooked, was easily pressed into compact shapes making the job of rolling quite easy. The bundles were cooked in a quick and easy tomato sauce made with canned tomatoes, garlic and basil.
Both dishes were simply flavoured but delicious - very family friendly fare - and something I would definitely make again. 

Additional notes:
- I used vegetable stock for the risotto, and omitted the butter added at the end of cooking
- next time, I'll skip flouring the fish bundles since it didn't help them to brown in the tomato sauce; the flour wasn't required to thicken the sauce; I broke some of the delicate rolls trying to turn them during cooking (I'm glad I used all of those toothpicks!), a step that wouldn't be necessary without the flour

Visit IHCC to see what everyone else made.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tabouli - IHCC Eating of the Green!

I recall a time when every restaurant dish served was garnished with an obligatory sprig of parsley, usually of the curly variety. I discovered later that this much maligned and abused herb was actually an ingredient that had flavour and was worthy of attention. What better way to appreciate it than to make it a focal point of a dish. Tabouli, a middle eastern salad does just that.
Donna Hay, our featured chef at I Heart Cooking Clubs, offers a simplified version, Couscous Tabouli, in her book Seasons. As you can tell by the recipe name, this was supposed to be made with couscous. I used medium bulgur instead which didn't involve any more active time than the couscous, but did take longer to soften (~20 minutes). I also substituted less peppery arugula for the watercress.
Lacking the traditional tomatoes and cucumbers but not flavour, this dish of steamed bulgur, garlicky lemon-olive oil dressing and Italian flat-leaf parsley tossed with some arugula made a gloriously green dish, in keeping with this week's theme "Eating of the Green".

Fabulous and refreshing!

Visit IHCC to see what green the other members are cooking up.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Quick Puff Pastry (& Cheese Straws)

Embarrassingly easy - and I say embarrassing because that's how I feel when I receive high praise and many compliments for it -  this cheater's puff pastry is no more difficult to make than regular pie pastry. This recipe comes from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
dry ingredients chilled butter
The ingredients are basic: cake flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, salt, unsalted butter and water. A higher-fat, European-style butter is recommended, but I used a good quality Canadian butter.
mix in butter shaggy dough
After the dry ingredients are whisked together, chilled butter is added to the bowl and mixed until the pieces are flattened. I used a stand mixer but the dough can be made by hand of course. Next add the water. You want to mix enough to create a shaggy dough while keeping the pieces of butter the same size.
dough rectangle 1st fold roll out
Pat the dough into a rectangle on a well-floured surface. With the help of a bench scraper, fold the dough business letter style: the bottom third up, the top third down. Give the dough a quarter turn counter-clockwise so the final fold is on the left. Scrape the work surface clean and lightly flour again. Press down with a rolling pin to flatten slightly. 
rolled dough 2nd fold 3rd fold
Roll the dough into a rectangle and repeat the folding-turning-rolling steps 2 more times. The dough requires less flour and becomes easier to work with with each consecutive fold or "turn" as it's called.
4th fold ready to rest
Give the dough a final "turn" (that's 4 now) and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 40 minutes or up to one day.
roll dough 5th fold 6th fold
Repeat the rolling and folding steps 2 more times for a total of 6 "turns". 
final fold ready to use
It's ready to use now or freeze for later use. 

Of course I had to test it out. I decided to make a little snack with a portion of the dough, Cheese Straws from the same book.
cheese straw dough before baking cheese straws
The dough is rolled out to 3mm/1/8", brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with a mixture of paprika and grated Parmesan cheese on both sides. After cutting into narrow strips, the dough is twisted, placed on a baking sheet, and after chilling in the fridge, baked until crisp.
It worked! Can you see all of the layers? They were perfectly crisp and golden and made a delicious pre-dinner snack (though they could have used a little more cheese).
I don't publish recipes that aren't my own, so if you would like to try these recipes for Quick Puff Pastry and Cheese Straws, I encourage you to buy the book!

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

If you're wondering what happened to the rest of the dough, it went into making this fabulous Maple Pear Tarte Tatin.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lemon Chicken Pasta - IHCC Noodles, Noodles, Everywhere!

I Heart Cooking Clubs is heading into the final month of cooking with featured chef Donna Hay - so sad that it will be over soon. One thing I will miss about this chef is her knack of transforming simple ingredients that can be somewhat bland on their own into something special. Case in point: cooked chicken breast and pasta do not an exciting dish make. Add the juice and zest of a lemon, some spicy chilli and fried capers and you've got this flavourful Lemon Chicken Pasta.
The recipe called for cooked chicken breasts so it's a great use for leftover chicken or a store-bought roasted chicken but knowing that I was making this dish later in the week, I grilled a few extra breasts for dinner one evening. It took just minutes to fry the garlic, capers and chilli and then heat the chicken before adding the hot, cooked pasta and remaining ingredients.
Sauced with just lemon juice and olive oil infused with the flavour of the capers, garlic and chilli, I did find that it was a little dry. Fortunately, I'm in the habit of saving some of the pasta cooking water for occasions such as this and used a few tablespoons to moisten it.

Easy and quick to make even if you have to cook the chicken first (I would just cut it up and stir fry it quickly with the garlic etc) and something I will definitely make again.

This week's theme at IHCC is noodles; check it out to see how other members used their noodles!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Naleśniki (Polish Pancakes)

Naleśniki are thin, crêpe-like Polish pancakes and the first of my mother's recipes that I learned to make. Served for breakfast, dessert, or even supper on meatless Fridays, these were a staple growing up. The choices of fillings are endless, but the one I had most often and the one my family enjoys is just a light sprinkling of sugar that melts into the warm, rolled pancake. Simple and delicious!
The batter in this recipe is made without added fat so the pancakes are a little less tender than some crêpes but also much less fragile and easier to handle. You don't need a special crêpe pan, but a good non-stick is recommended. I've scaled down the recipe to a more manageable size, but it can easily be halved (or doubled and tripled).

makes 8, 20cm/8" naleśniki, plus one for the dog

360ml/1 1/2 cups milk 
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla*
2 tsp sugar*
1/8 tsp table salt
130g/1 cup all-purpose flour

oil or melted butter for the pan
sugar to taste for the filling

* omit the vanilla and sugar for savoury pancakes

blender, or medium bowl and a whisk
25cm/10" non-stick skillet**
non-metal spatula

** any size of pan can be used, just adjust the batter quantity for each pancake accordingly

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Whiz for 15 seconds on high. Scrape down any flour clinging to the sides and whiz again on high for 15 seconds or until completely blended. The batter should be lump-free and the consistency of heavy cream. Refrigerate covered for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.

If making by hand, place all ingredients except flour in a bowl. Whisk until combined. Slowly pour in the flour, whisking the entire time; using this method avoids flour lumps. The batter should be lump-free and the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
edges are curling - time to turn it over
Preheat a non-stick pan on medium heat. Brush with a little oil or melted butter. Lift the pan from the heat; pour in a scant 80ml/1/3cup batter, tilting the pan and swirling the batter to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 - 1 1/2 minutes or until the top of the pancake looks dry and the edges are golden and starting to curl up. Slip the spatula under the crepe, lift and flip over. Cook an additional 20-30 seconds or until golden spots appear on the bottom. Don't worry if the first one isn't perfect - that one's for the dog ;)! 

Transfer the pancake to an oven-proof dish, cover loosely with foil and keep warm in a 150C/300F oven; repeat with the remaining oil/butter and batter, stacking the pancakes as you go. Sprinkle with sugar - or anything else you like, roll and serve immediately. These can also be made in advance and kept well-wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 days to be re-heated in the microwave or in a preheated 175C/350F oven.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mushroom Cheddar Tart - Avid Baker's Challenge

Much as I like mini versions of baked goods, they usually take me longer to make than the full-sized version, and since I had no occasion for which to make cute little savoury Mushroom Cheddar Tarts for this month's Avid Baker's Challenge, I made just one large.
I needed only half of the cheese pastry recipe for my rectangular tart pan and I probably could have used even less but then I would have been deprived of the tasty baked scraps which were like flaky, savoury cookies. The dough came together quickly in the food processor and was quite easy to work with as well. I didn't have the King Arthur products of hi-maize natural fiber and cheese powder (this one sounds scary) and just used the suggested substitutes of AP flour and Parmesan cheese. I did include the cayenne pepper - yum!
The filling was made with ingredients my family enjoys so I made few changes just adding a little minced shallot to the mushroom-red pepper mixture and using milk instead of cream and fresh instead of dried thyme. I made the full recipe for the was a little too much for the tart pan so I had a little overflow ;).
It was a hit with family! The cheese-y crust was a great addition and really set the flavour of this quiche apart from most others. The only issue I had was with my own execution: I didn't think the crust would bake properly in the short baking time so I partially baked it before adding the filling. The bottom wasn't as crisp as it should have been, so for a full sized tart with a greater filling to crust ratio than the mini, I would bake the crust fully before filling it next time.
The Avid Bakers are baking from the King Arthur Flour website this year. If you would like to try the Mushroom Cheddar Tarts, the recipe can be found here. See the other bakers' results here.