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.

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'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 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 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 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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Miso Salmon with Sesame Salt - IHCC Easy Entertaining!

Donna Hay is all about "Easy Entertaining" with recipes suitable for casual or formal get togethers and everything in between so it wasn't difficult to find a recipe for this week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs.
I really enjoy the flavours of Japanese cuisine but have little experience cooking the food myself so I was drawn to this recipe for Miso Salmon with Sesame Salt, (from the book Seasons, but also available here) served with stir fried garlicky sugar snap peas and one of the suggested sides, rice. Prep time was minimal and involved only blanching the peas and marinating the salmon briefly in miso and rice wine vinegar, and the dish took only minutes to cook.
Sesame Salt
It was delicious! The miso and vinegar were subtle but the salmon was moist and flavourful. And though cutting the fillets into fingers may seem fiddly, it made it much easier to cook the salmon evenly on a high heat. The sugar snap peas were a nice sweet contrast but I would double the amount for 4 people. Crucial to the flavour of the dish was a blend of toasted sesame seeds crushed with sea salt. It didn't look like much but it packed a punch.
I served the salmon with Japanese Mushroom Rice, which I attempted to shape into nori-wrapped onigiri/rice balls (from the book Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu), and the suggested pickled ginger.

Fantastic! Very fast and light and a welcome reprieve from the rich food of the holiday season. Perfect for a dinner with friends.

Visit here to see what other IHCC members cooked for company.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Patyczki (Polish Breaded Meat Kebabs)

If you were to ask anyone in Poland, they'd tell you that patyczki are wooden sticks onto which meat might be threaded, but in the Polish community here, it's the name of a popular dish of breaded meat on a stick that makes an appearance at celebrations.
Originally considered a peasant food, they're often made with inexpensive cuts of pork like pork butt/shoulder, but I prefer to use a leaner cut and trim it of all visible fat - or at least any I can get to while I'm cubing it; marinating and slow roasting the meat ensures that it's tender.

makes 20-24 kebabs

initial prep time: 20 minutes
marinating time: 8-24 hours
breading & browning time: 30-45 minutes
baking time: 1 1/2 hours

2kg/4-4.5 lbs boneless pork rib roast, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm/1" cubes
4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 large yellow onion (200-225g), halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
60ml/1/4 cup milk

20-24 - 15cm/6" wooden/bamboo skewers

110g/1 cup unflavoured dry breadcrumbs
65g/1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

vegetable oil for frying

cubed pork
cubed pork
garlic onions
garlic and onions (for a double batch)
In a large bowl, combine the cubed meat, salt, pepper, paprika, onion and garlic. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the milk and pour the mixture over the meat. Mix well, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8-24 hours. This step is important for both flavouring and tenderizing the meat; because there are eggs and milk in the marinade, for food safety reasons, I don't marinate the meat for longer than 24 hours.
pork kebabs
skewered pork
breaded kebab
breaded patyczki
browned kebab
fried until golden brown
Thread 3 pieces of meat onto each skewer, removing the pieces of onion and garlic clinging to them. Combine the breading ingredients in a dish large enough to hold a skewer of meat comfortably. Roll each kebab in the dry mixture and press lightly to make sure the coating adheres. 

In a large, non-stick skillet, heat 1cm/1/4" vegetable oil over medium heat. Add some patyczki (don't overcrowd the pan) and cook them on all sides until golden brown and crisp, about 4-5 minutes per batch. Transfer them to a rack covered with paper towels to drain. Repeat until they're all browned, adding more oil to the pan if necessary. At this point, they can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day before roasting.
To bake, preheat the oven to 150C/300F.

To keep the coating crisp and to make sure the meat cooks evenly, the patyczki need to be baked standing upright. A 2.5L casserole dish with high sides works perfectly for a single batch. The trick to keeping them in position is to put some loosely crumpled foil in the bottom of the dish and insert the skewers pointy side down. Bake on a rack placed in the lower third of the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is barely pink and the internal temperature is 58C/135F (the meat will continue to cook outside of the oven). Check periodically after 45 minutes of baking and cover the patyczki loosely with foil if they seem to be getting too brown.
Serve and enjoy! They go very well with kapusta, a favourite Polish side dish of roasted cabbage.

It's worth it to make a big batch and freeze the extra. Wrap them well -  I use plastic wrap then 2 layers of foil; they'll keep for 6 months in the freezer. I usually make a double batch before Christmas and freeze half until Easter. And yes, I only make them once a year ; )!

To reheat, put the defrosted patyczki in a pan or on a cookie sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Cover loosely with foil and bake at 160C/325F for about 30 minutes or until they're heated through, turning them once after 15 minutes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kapusta (Polish Roasted Cabbage)

Not to be mistaken for Bigos or Hunter's Stew, Poland's national dish, kapusta is a simple roasted cabbage side that's typically served at Polish celebrations. And since we're heading into the season of get togethers and festive meals, it was time to make a batch.

The dish combines ready-made sauerkraut with fresh cabbage and is flavoured with onions only in my vegan version, but bits of fatty pork fried crisp (or bacon as a substitute) or diced kielbasa (Polish sausage) are common additions. The sourness of the sauerkraut is tempered by the sweetness of the fresh cabbage but once they're baked together, they're indistinguishable from each other. The kapusta tastes better the day after it's made and freezes very well so I usually make it well in advance of when I need it. It's one of those dishes where every family has their own recipe - this one is mine.

serves a crowd! (16-20)

prep time: 30 minutes
baking time: 60-90 minutes

2 large yellow onions (approx 400-450g), halved and thinly sliced
60ml olive oil 
1 medium head green cabbage (approx 2kg)
1L jar sauerkraut (in white wine is my preference)
black pepper
reserved brine from sauerkraut

Preheat oven to 170C/325F.
cooked onions
shredded fresh cabbage
In a large skillet, slowly cook the onions in the olive oil over medium-low heat for 17-20 minutes or until they are very soft, translucent but not yet caramelized.
In the meantime, remove the core and shred the head of cabbage by hand or in a food processor using the coarse shredding disc.
drained sauerkraut
Drain the sauerkraut, reserving the brining liquid. Rinse with cold water and press the excess liquid out of the sauerkraut.
ready for the oven
Combine the fresh cabbage, sauerkraut and cooked onions and their oil in a large roasting pan with a tight fitting lid. Stir in 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. Bake, covered, in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes. Stir. The fresh cabbage will start to take on the colour of the sauerkraut and it will shrink in volume. Continue to bake, covered, for an additional 30 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
After 1 hour of baking, the colour and texture of all of the ingredients will be approximately the same. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, and if it's not sour enough, a few spoons of the reserved brine. Return to the oven to bake an additional 10 minutes or so if you've added some of the brine or if the kapusta is not quite cooked; it should be moist but not wet and the fresh cabbage should be the same tender-crisp texture as the sauerkraut. Repeat if necessary.

Serve immediately or cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze for later use. To reheat, place the (defrosted) kapusta in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until it's heated through and any excess liquid has cooked away.
Served with Patyczki (Polish breaded meat kebabs) as part of a celebratory meal.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Golden Root Vegetable Couscous and Turkish Delight Syllabub - IHCC Potluck

This week, for I Heart Cooking Club's potluck theme, where we're able to cook with previously featured chefs, I cooked from How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, Nigella Lawson's first and much lauded cookbook that's much more than a mere compilation of recipes.
Golden Root-Vegetable Couscous is a Moroccan inspired vegetarian dish chock full of seasonal root vegetables, squash and chickpeas and flavoured with onions, garlic and fragrant spices. The dish took a while to prep as there was much chopping of vegetables required but cooked quite quickly. I found the combination of carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi and butternut squash a little sweet so doubled the canned tomatoes for balance. I cooked the vegetables in a tagine, which requires less liquid than a regular pot, so only 1/2 the vegetable stock was needed.
Using the tagine meant that I had to set up a separate pot with some boiling water to steam the couscous (in a cheesecloth lined colander works well for me). I quite often resort to the quicker method of pouring boiling liquid over the couscous but this method of soaking the couscous first, then steaming it results in such an incredibly light and fluffy end product, it's worth doing - sometimes. With some toasted pine nuts mixed in, it was the perfect vehicle for the fragrant tagine.
This dish, with its heady scent of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and saffron and a spoon of harissa for a little heat was hearty and wholesome and utterly delicious. 
The recipe for vegetable couscous appears in the "Weekend Lunch" section of the book, which meant that a dessert was mandatory ;)! So to finish, I made Turkish Delight Syllabub, an Old English dessert of whipped cream thickened (and stabilized) with lemon juice or alcohol - or both as in this recipe - that's been given a Middle Eastern twist with the addition of rosewater and orange flower water and a crunchy pistachio topping. It was light and airy, had lovely floral notes, and served over some fresh orange segments made a nice end to the meal. The recipe can be found on Nigella's website here.

Visit here to see what else is cooking this week at IHCC.