Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - April 2015

After the opportunity to catch up on missed recipes last month, the Cottage Cooking Club members are back to exploring new ones from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg. With our rather severe winter finally behind us, one that brought a mid-April snowfall(!) and a delay in the availability of local spring vegetables, I was grateful that this month's selections were more transitional in nature.

Chiles Stuffed with Beans (page 36)
This was a little more labour intensive than most of the recipes in this book, but like most stuffed vegetables, a great make-ahead dish.
Poblano chiles were rather sad looking the day I went shopping so I substituted with sweet bell peppers, and rather than (tasteless) fresh, I used 200g canned, diced tomatoes. The ingredients were quite simple but the roasted peppers stuffed with black beans, tomatoes, aromatics and warm spices were very flavourful. Rather than the Garlicky Yogurt as an accompaniment to temper the sweetness of the peppers and add a cooling element to the heat (I may have added a generous amount of chipotle chile powder to the filling!), I served them with zingy Lemony Guacamole (page 296). With assembly done the night before, this became a quick and delicious weeknight meal that everyone enjoyed. I have my eyes peeled for good poblanos so I can make this again soon.

Red Cabbage, Parsnip, Orange and Dates (page 110)
Isn't it pretty? It also had a wonderful texture and a lot of good flavours but made as per the recipe, studded with candy-like dates and dressed only with the juice from the oranges, this was just a little too sweet for me. Some white wine vinegar helped balance it a bit more but I think next time - and there will be a next time since the combination of cabbage, parsnips and orange is too good not to repeat - I'll use Yotam Ottolenghi's method of marinating the dates in vinegar first as he does in his Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds from the book Jerusalem, to add a little more of that savoury flavour I was looking for.
Creamy Mushroom Soup (page 152)
I was pleasantly surprised by this soup: even with just a regular vegetable stock base, cremini mushrooms and a relatively short cook time, it had great mushroom flavour enhanced by sautéed leeks, garlic and fresh thyme. I puréed the entire batch and the resulting soup was smooth and velvety and definitely lived up to its "creamy" descriptor. Also very rich, it was best enjoyed slowly, in small quantities, to better savour every sip.

Pasta with New Potatoes, Green Beans, and Pesto (page 256)
What a wonderful recipe! I always appreciate when an author helps the cook economize in the kitchen, in this case, using only one pot to cook the pasta, potatoes and green beans. You did have to rely on your own judgement a little regarding cooking times; 8 minutes for the pasta and potatoes with an additional 2 once the green beans were added worked perfectly. Dressed with a vibrant - in both colour and flavour - basil-parsley pesto, this was one delicious dish. I didn't include the optional olives but there was already so much flavour, they weren't missed.

Cannellini (White Kidney) Bean Hummus (page 300)
After last month's Carrot Hummus (page 296), which only my dog and I enjoyed, this recipe offered some redemption. The cooked white kidney beans from my freezer were a tasty alternative to chickpeas and what the dip lacked in nutty flavour, it more than made up for with the drizzle of smoky paprika oil. As with most of these spreads, it was better the second day once the flavours of the ingredients had been allowed to develop and meld. One of the selections for this month, Garlicky Flat Breads (page 176), would have been a good choice to serve with this but I made them back in September and pressed for time, resorted to store-bought lavash crackers.

Celery Gratin (page 380)  
I love celery in so many forms: raw, as the star of a soup, and as a background flavour in countless delicious dishes that would be lacking if it were absent, so I never imagined that I would not like it in any preparation.
In this recipe, the method of oven-braising seemed to concentrate certain flavours in the vegetable that I just didn't care for, flavours that the cream and even the crispy, cheesy topping couldn't mask. Having said that, I should confess that I didn't follow the recipe exactly so it's perhaps unfair of me to judge it. I don't like butter and generally don't use it in savoury cooking but I am aware that it often mellows strong flavours - eg the acid in Marcella Hazan's famous tomato sauce with onion and butter. The butter I left out may have been critical to the success of this dish. I'm looking forward to reading the others' reviews.....I'll take their word for it if they say it's delicious!

Visit here to read more of the cooking adventures of the Cottage Cooking Club.

Coconut Tapioca - Tuesdays with Dorie

It's Tuesdays with Dorie today and this week's selection from Baking Chez Moi was brand new to me: chewy tapioca pearls suspended in a very creamy, subtly flavoured coconut pudding, but it took me two tries to get it right!
After my first attempt, which resulted in pearls that fell apart while soaking and a rubbery pudding that was overcooked in seven minutes, I decided that not all large pearl tapioca is created equal and the brand I had wasn't going to work using Dorie's instructions. 

Discussions on forums I came across online mentioned that some brands disintegrate in cold water but hot water creates a seal. When I found several recipes that called for precooking the tapioca in boiling water, that's what I did, cooking it for almost an hour until the pearls were translucent with just a white dot in the centre.

I followed the book's instructions from there using 120ml of the starchy cooking water in place of the same amount of milk to help thicken the pudding. This method worked.
Puddings are a real novelty for me and my family and everyone really enjoyed this one, even the first, gummy bear-like version! The pudding itself was silky and had a lovely sweet vanilla-coconut flavour, and the chewy tapioca was just plain fun to eat! (We're fans of bubble tea too!)

I served it as suggested with the Spiced Hibiscus Syrup (page 450) and fresh strawberries. The sweet syrup infused with the flavours of cardamom, peppercorns, hibiscus, and vanilla was a perfect complement to the rich pudding.

Did anyone else have the same problems? If you're as curious as I am to find out how everyone else fared with this recipe, visit here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy

My mum made fabulous meatballs, flavourful and so tender they would almost melt in your mouth. I didn't take note of the recipe while I had the chance but I think this one captures the essence of the ones she made. Simmered in a simple mushroom sauce, they're perfect for serving to family and friends for a casual meal and they reheat beautifully so can be made in advance. Extras, if there are any, can be frozen, just defrost before heating.

Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy 
Serves 6
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes


2 slices sandwich bread 
80ml milk
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil*
1 small or 1/2 large onion, minced*
2 cloves garlic, minced*
700-750g ground meat, a mix of lean beef, pork and veal
2 large eggs
1-1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
2 tbsp chopped parsley
25g/60ml grated Parmesan cheese 

*minced onion and garlic can be substituted with 3/4 tsp onion powder and 1/2 tsp garlic powder respectively; omit the oil if you use them

Mushroom Gravy:  
250-300g cremini or white button mushrooms, whole or sliced
1 tbsp butter 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
480ml low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock 
120ml water
1 sprig fresh thyme 
120ml cold water
3 tbsp all-purpose flour 
Salt and pepper to taste

broiling pan or baking sheet with a rack
large skillet with a fitted lid


For the Meatballs:
Preheat the oven on the Broil setting.  Have ready the broiling pan or baking sheet with a lightly oiled rack on top. 

Tear the bread slices into pieces and place them in a small bowl. Pour the milk on top and set aside to soak.

Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the minced onion and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent, but not brown. If the onion starts to brown, reduce heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute or until fragrant. Remove from heat to cool.

Put the ground meat, eggs, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese into a large bowl. Mash the soaked bread and milk together and add to the bowl. Add the cooled onion and garlic. Mix together, preferably with your hands, until all of the ingredients are combined.  If the mixture is a little wet and loose, let it sit for a few minutes.

Shape the mixture into 2.5cm meatballs, about the size of a walnut (a cookie scoop is an easy way to measure the mixture out) and place them on the broiling pan or prepared baking sheet and rack.

Broil for 5-7 minutes in the top third of the oven or until golden, turn and broil an additional 3-5 minutes or until golden brown all over. The meatballs won't be cooked through - they'll finish cooking in the gravy. 

In the meantime, start the gravy.
If using whole mushrooms, wipe them clean with a damp paper towel. Trim the stems and slice the mushrooms to desired thickness.

Wipe out the skillet you used to cook the onions and garlic and add the butter and oil. Heat over medium-high until the butter is foaming. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir quickly to coat them with the fat. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until most have started to brown. Add the stock, 120ml water and thyme. Bring to a boil. Add the browned meatballs. If the meatballs aren't yet ready, cover the pan and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. 

Once the meatballs have been added, bring the mixture back to a simmer, cover and simmer 20-30 minutes on low to medium-low heat until the meatballs are no longer pink in the middle.

Remove the lid and let the bubbling subside (reduce heat to low if necessary). Pour 120ml cold water into a small measuring cup. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until flour is completely dissolved and no lumps remain. Add the mixture to the skillet in a slow stream, whisking constantly. 

Once incorporated, raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a low boil. Stirring constantly, cook for 3-4 minutes or until thickened and the taste of raw flour is gone. Remove the sprig of thyme. Taste for seasoning.
Serve with cooked broad egg noodles or Creamy Mashed Potatoes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Limoncello Cupcakes - Tuesdays with Dorie

Sweet and lemony like the liqueur, these pretty little cupcakes were made to herald the (very late) arrival of (almost) spring weather, and for Tuesdays with Dorie as the group continues to bake its way through Dorie Greenspan's latest book, Baking Chez Moi.
The cupcake batter was a variation of a French yogurt cake, took only minutes to mix together by hand and baked up with perfect, domed tops and a moist, light crumb. I made eight regular sized and eight mini cupcakes which baked in 18 and 10 minutes respectively.

The American-style butter and icing sugar frosting - one I was surprised to see in this book - was, as expected, very sweet and applied "French-style" was double what was needed. I tripled the lemon juice in the buttercream to introduce the tartness of the fruit into the dessert; the optional lemon marmalade or even a lemon curd filling would also have been a good addition.

Lemon cakes are among my favourites and I enjoyed this easy recipe; I would make it again but with a different buttercream. Visit here to see the rest of the group's lovely little cakes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Twinkie Bundt Cake

I've never had a Twinkie but if my tasters are to be believed, the combination of this delicious vanilla cake and fluffy cream filling is far better.
Made with cake flour, butter, oil, buttermilk and lots of eggs and yolks, the pretty golden yellow cake was sturdy but very moist. The cake was cooled completely in the pan before being filled with a gooey marshmallow crème-butter mixture.
I used a cupcake corer to bore the initial holes into the cake and then a spoon to dig a little deeper and to create the tunnel that connected them.
I had leftover filling, so I probably could have dug a little deeper into the cake.
The recipe doesn't say to, but I plugged the holes with cake remnants before inverting it onto a plate.
A dusting of powdered sugar is suggested to finish the cake, but I didn't think it needed anything else. It was enjoyed amidst rave reviews so I suspect I'll be making it again.

If you would like to try the cake, the recipe is from Shauna Sever's book Pure Vanilla. The recipe can also be found here and if you would like to try your hand at making the marshmallow crème, the author's recipe (and how-to video) has been published here.

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books, hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Stop by to check out all of the delicious dishes shared this month.