Monday, September 30, 2013

Goat's Cheese Wontons with Caramelized Tomato and Fennel Salad - IHCC G'day Donna Hay!

For the next 6 months, I Heart Cooking Clubs will be cooking with Donna Hay, well known Australian cookbook author, magazine editor and food stylist whose approach to cooking is fast, fresh and simple food, one that's very appealing to me. I've never had the pleasure of trying any of her recipes and I'm looking forward to it.

To welcome her to IHCC, I made the appetizer Goat's Cheese Wontons with Caramelised Tomato and Fennel Salad, a multi-component dish that takes remarkably little time to prepare. 
The baked wontons were what really drew me to this recipe...who can resist savoury baked pastries after all? Filled with goat's cheese and basil, they came together very quickly and after a basting with some olive oil*, were baked until crisp and golden.
While the wontons baked, I went about caramelizing the tomato and fennel. The method used was easy and worked perfectly: the slices of fruit and vegetable were placed on a bed of brown sugar, then transferred to a hot pan (sugar side down) where the the surfaces became sticky-sweet and golden brown in just minutes. Balsamic vinegar was used to deglaze the pan and was then cooked until slightly thickened.
The components worked very well together on the plate: the wontons provided crunch and creaminess in a single bite; the caramelized tomatoes and fennel were sweet and succulent; the arugula was crisp and peppery and the balsamic dressing, sweet and tangy.

I really enjoyed this dish and was impressed with how little effort it took to make, and I'm definitely going to use that super quick and easy method of caramelizing vegetables in other recipes. It looks like Donna and I are off to great start!

Additional notes:
- * I used olive oil on the wonton packages but the recipe calls for melted butter which actually produces a much better golden brown finish, something I discovered when I used butter on the leftover wrappers that I filled with chocolate-hazelnut spread
- don't forget to salt the tomatoes, fennel and arugula

If you would like to try this recipe, it can be found here.

Visit IHCC to see what other members have made to wish a G'day to Donna Hay.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chocolate Krantz Cake - Oh Ottolenghi! IHCC

After 6 months of cooking with featured chef Yotam Ottolenghi, it's time for I Heart Cooking Clubs to say goodbye. I joined in a little late but I had been cooking from his books for over a year and was already a fan. It was great fun to make the recipes I'd had bookmarked for a long time but hadn't yet tried and those I'd only recently noticed.
For his send off, I baked a cake, and not just any cake, but the Chocolate Krantz Cake from the book Jerusalem which he describes as "the sort of thing everyone hurls themselves at". I concur! I've had many a chocolate babka and made a few myself, but never one like this: layers of tender brioche swirled through with veins of rich chocolate and crunchy pecan filling.
As with most yeast bread, it takes some time to make but it's mostly inactive time. The brioche dough recipe is quite standard and requires an overnight, or at least several hours fermentation. Then there's the shaping, proofing and baking of the loaves. You may be tempted at this point to just dive in (they smell sooo good!) and skip the sugar syrup.... don't. For one thing, it's definitely needed if you use bittersweet chocolate (72% cacao) and dark cocoa powder in the filling like I did, which made it very intensely chocolate-y and not very sweet, but it also transforms the texture of the loaves from bread-like to that of a moist cake.
Chocolate Krantz Cake
It was delicious!

Though IHCC may be saying farewell to Yotam Ottolenghi, I certainly won't be - there are too many recipes still to explore. So, goodbye for now Yotam, I'll see you again soon in my kitchen!

For the next 6 months, IHCC will be cooking with Donna Hay, renowned Australian cookbook author, magazine editor and food stylist whose food philosophy is fast, fresh and simple. I'm looking forward to this new cooking adventure!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bubble & Squeak - IHCC Potluck

For this week's Potluck theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs, where we're invited to cook with previously featured chefs, I decided to cook with Jamie Oliver, a chef I've known about since his Naked Chef days, but whose recipes I've never tried. I chose to make a British classic that cleverly makes use of veggie and potato leftovers. This Bubble & Squeak, so named because of the noises it makes as it cooks, comes courtesy of the book Jamie Oliver's Great Britain.

Bubble & Squeak with Big Beefy Tomato Salad
There are directions for cooking the potatoes and vegetables fresh to make this but I accumulated leftovers over a few days instead. I had boiled russet potatoes, steamed broccoli and cooked carrots and parsnips. Fearing it would be a little heavy on the potato, I cooked up a bunch of kale with a little garlic and red pepper flakes to add to the mix.

Initially I thought this would be cooked like a giant pancake or frittata (cook one side - turn - cook the second side until done) but that's not the case at all since it requires a little more attention than that, at least at the start. The potatoes, vegetables and fresh herbs are pressed into a hot pan, mashed slightly, and cooked until the bottom is browned; the mixture is then flipped, a section at a time, and browned again. This is repeated until the flavourful caramelized bits are mixed throughout before it's finally cooked like a pancake.

Even with all of the handling, the texture was quite light and almost fluffy, and the flavour was amazing; you would never guess that it was made from leftover cooked vegetables. This is traditionally served as part of a large breakfast but with a side of Big Beefy Tomato Salad, chunks of garden fresh beefsteak tomatoes simply dressed with a garlicky red wine vinegar vinaigrette, (a recipe from the same book), it was a delicious lunch.

Visit IHCC to see what everyone else has cooked up this month.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No-Knead Bread

I'm not sure what I was was doing in 2006 when the No-Knead Bread craze took over the blogosphere but I certainly wasn't baking this bread - or any bread. I decided to finally try the recipe when I came across it in the Essential New York Times Cookbook recently.
Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
Jim Lahey's recipe, made famous by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, apparently started a bread baking revolution of sorts. I can see why. You don't need to be an accomplished bread baker, or any kind of baker at all to turn out a loaf of this great tasting bread, you just need to plan ahead a little.
bread ingredients mixed dough
First, stir flour, water, salt and a very small amount of yeast together to form a shaggy dough. I used bread flour and included 1 cup of whole wheat.
risen dough shaped dough
Left to their own devices for 18 hours at warm room temperature, these most basic of ingredients are transformed into an elastic dough that's bubbly and very sticky. Turn it out onto a floured board and following a brief rest, with wet hands, shape it as best you can into a ball.
parchment prepared pan
Rather than transferring it to a tea towel, I use a helpful tip that was suggested and place it in a fry pan lined with parchment paper instead. To get a close fit, crumple the parchment becomes softer and more drapable, much better for clinging closely to the sloped sides of the pan. Make sure to use a pan that's slightly smaller in diameter than the pot you're using to bake the bread. Sprinkle the bottom with a little cornmeal before adding the shaped dough.
rested dough risen dough
Cover and let rise for 2-2 1/2 hours until more than doubled in size. Use the parchment paper as a sling to transfer the dough to the pot that's been pre-heated in a 450F oven.
baked bread cooling bread
Bake 30 minutes covered and an additional 15-30 minutes without the lid. I rely on my trusty thermometer to confirm when the bread is done. (The internal temperature was actually 204F when I took the bread from the oven but it continued to rise for a few moments after that). Again, the parchment liner makes transferring the bread from the hot pot to a cooling rack simple and releases easily from the loaf.
You'll want to dive in immediately because it smells sooo good, but you must have patience and allow the loaf to cool before slicing. The crust is thin and crispy (at first), and the crumb is chewy with a slightly tangy, sour dough-like flavour. So easy, anyone can make it.

The recipe for No-Knead Bread can be found here.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pumpkin Soufflés - IHCC You Made Me Love (or at Least Like) You!

I didn't taste winter squash until I was in university and the watery, tasteless mash the cafeteria served didn't impress. It was a few years before I tried it again, properly cooked this time, and started to appreciate its merits. As with most vegetables, Yotam Ottolenghi, the featured chef at I Heart Cooking Clubs, has a very special way with winter squash. I decided to challenge myself with Halloween Soufflés from the book Plenty, a recipe I've had bookmarked for a long time but avoided making since soufflés are rather intimidating to me. 

They turned out to be much easier to make than I expected. The recipe began with the roasting and puréeing of fresh pumpkin.... more on that later. The next step was to make a basic béchamel sauce. I cooked some minced garlic in the butter before adding the flour for the roux, then added the finished white sauce to the pumpkin purée along with egg yolks, cheese, herbs and seasonings. The egg whites were whipped to stiff peaks, folded in and the mixture was baked in the prepared ramekins.

I made a few changes to the recipe, the most notable of which was to use this: 

What can I was too early to see fresh pumpkins in the grocery store and the kabocha squash were simply not calling to me that day!

The other changes were governed by what I had on hand: I used Parmesan cheese instead of strong goat cheese, fresh thyme instead of marjoram, and I coated the buttered baking dishes with toasted ground walnuts left over from a baking project instead of hazelnuts.

These did not disappoint. They puffed nicely in the oven, had a light, airy texture and the flavour was well balanced with the sweetness of the pumpkin coming through. And coating the dishes with nuts was a nice touch...the bites with the walnuts were the best. With the tangy sour cream-chive topping, a great foil for the pumpkin, these were delicious.

If I hadn't already liked winter squash, this recipe would have made a convert of me!

This week's IHCC theme is You Made Me Love (or at Least Like) You!, focusing on foods we didn't like as children that we enjoy now. Visit to see what dislikes other members have overcome.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pasta "No-Brainer"

Can you tell that a teenager had a hand in naming this dish? My son came to the rescue when I didn't know what to call this 1-pot pasta. He called it "No-brainer" because it's so easy, you'll never need to refer to the recipe again after making it the first time. It doesn't require a kitchen that's well-stocked with either ingredients or equipment, nor does it require much time. Great for a new cook or someone who's trying to feed a hungry family, fast.
The original recipe is based on using the can from the tomato sauce to measure the other ingredients so in addition to 454g/1 pound of ground meat, all that's needed is 1 can tomato/pasta sauce, 1 can of water, 1 can of smallish pasta and 1 can of cooked vegetables.

I prefer to start the dish with some sautéed vegetables and skip the ones added at the end though if you have leftover cooked broccoli, cauliflower, peas etc, this is a great vehicle to help use them up, mixing them in just before serving to heat through. This is my version:

Pasta No-Brainer
preparation & cooking time: 45 minutes 
serves 4
adapted from Kraft


1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, cut into 6mm/1/4" dice
1 medium carrot, cut into 6mm/1/4" dice
2 large cloves garlic, minced
454g/1 pound extra lean ground beef (12-15% fat)*
1 tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 tsp dried basil
680ml/23 fluid ounces tomato sauce
680ml/23 fluid ounces water
680ml/2 7/8 cups or a 375g box whole wheat macaroni**
2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
4 tbsp grated Parmesan for serving (optional)


Heat the olive oil in a large pot (4.7 - 5.6 litre) with a fitted lid on medium-low heat. Add the the onion, stir to coat and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots and garlic. Cook an additional 3 minutes.

Raise the heat to high. Add the meat and brown, breaking up the clumps as it cooks. When the meat is no longer pink, add the salt, pepper and basil. Mix to combine.

Stir in the tomato sauce and water, using the can to measure the quantity of water. Cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil (this may take about 5 minutes). 

Add 1 can/1 box of macaroni to the boiling mixture. Allow it to return to a boil, mixing occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once boiling, cover the pot with the lid and reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring once at the halfway point. Test the pasta for doneness - you want it al dente - and adjust the seasonings to taste. Add the parsley if you're using it and serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, also optional.

Additional notes:

*I prefer to use extra lean meat as there's no opportunity to pour off excess fat. The meat can be cooked in a separate pan and drained before adding to the pot with the vegetables if higher fat meat is used.

** The 375g box of macaroni is a little too much for the can but I use the entire box anyway; the dish ends up a little less saucy this way. Macaroni is the perfect size; if using a smaller shape, use a little less than 1 can, if it's a slightly larger shape, use a little more than 1 can. Whole wheat pasta works best since it retains its shape and texture even sitting in the sauce for a day.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Burnt Eggplant and Israeli Couscous Soup - IHCC New To Me!

I've burned a few foods in my kitchen through the years, but never deliberately. Until now.  

In cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi, his love of eggplant is apparent with entire book chapters devoted to the vegetable, and burning it is a technique that features prominently in many recipes. Dishes that use this method have received such positive reviews from fellow IHCC members, I knew I had to try it so Burnt Eggplant and Mograbieh Soup from the book Jerusalem was on the menu.

Before proceeding to the soup, a tomato broth made with vegetable (or chicken) stock and tomatoes, and flavoured with onion, garlic and toasted cumin, the eggplants in the recipe needed to be dealt with. Three of the five were to be burned. Instructions are given for two methods, stove top over an open flame, or under the oven broiler. I used neither, putting the eggplants close to the bottom element in the oven while it preheated to 250C for a bread baking session and leaving them in while the bread baked. In just over an hour, the eggplants were completely burnt with the peel black and paper-like, breaking off in shards. Success!

The soft flesh of the burnt eggplants was added to the tomato broth base and the soup was puréed. The sweetness of the eggplant took the edge off the sharpness of the tomatoes and added a subtle smoky flavour, and the added lemon juice and sugar enhanced the sweet-sour notes in the soup. I could have eaten it just as it was, but there was more to prepare.

The two remaining eggplants were to be cubed and fried in a fair bit of oil. Knowing just how much oil this sponge-like vegetable is capable of absorbing, I stir fried the cubes in small batches on high heat instead, using a non-stick pan and minimal oil - less than 2 tbsp in all; they were golden brown and cooked through in just minutes.  

Topped with the stir-fried eggplant cubes, cooked Israeli couscous, (instead of mograbieh), and fresh dill, this hearty soup was fantastic. And burnt eggplant? It was as delicious as everyone has said!

This week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme is New to Me. See what other ingredients, cuisines or techniques IHCC members have discovered cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi.