Monday, January 27, 2014

Lamington Slice - IHCC Blondies & Brownies & Bars

When I saw this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme of Blondies & Brownies, I knew immediately that I would make Lamingtons in honour of our featured chef and Australian Donna Hay. A quintessentially Australian "slice" to enjoy with a cup of tea, these little bars, thought to have been named after Lord Lamington, a former Governor of Queensland, have been around since the turn of the century - the last one, not the current one!
Traditionally, the slices consist of little vanilla cakes dipped in chocolate icing and coated with dessicated coconut. But Donna Hay, a master at removing the angst-inducing steps from any recipe - for me it's the dipping of anything in chocolate - has simplified the method.
Before you reach that point, you must first make the cake, an easy vanilla "sponge", or "butter cake" to North Americans. The next step is to make the chocolate glaze, a thin cocoa-based icing. Once the cake is baked, the two elements are brought together: the cake is sliced while still warm and the glaze poured over top. As well as covering the top, much of it seeps down the sides of the cut pieces. A dusting of coconut is the final touch.
Now I generally avoid recipes with flagrant use of coconut as I'm surrounded by coconut haters but I've often wondered if there was anything that would get my family to enjoy it....apparently it's chocolate glazed vanilla cake! The bars I'd intended to share with others didn't make it past the kitchen! And no wonder.... tender vanilla cake, sweet chocolate and chewy coconut...who could resist? 

If you'd like to make them, Donna's recipe for Lamington Slice can be found here.

Additional notes:
- I used a cake & pastry flour blend that's available here in place of plain flour
- shredded coconut was what I had but dessicated would have adhered better to the glaze

Visit here to see what other sweet treats IHCC members have cooked up this week.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Roast and Sautéed Green Beans with Tomatoes

Cooking a roast has always been an easy solution to feeding my family. It may start as the centrepiece of a sit-down dinner, but leftovers are easily recycled into at least one more dinner later in the week and often provide for a few lunches as well. Another part of its appeal is that it requires minimal prep work before going into the oven and minimal attention while it's roasting away. 
Some meats are a little trickier to roast than others: pork loin, a lean cut that doesn't have a lot of flavour to start with and tends to dry out easily is one of them. This recipe from Giada de Laurentiis deals with both of those issues. The boneless roast is first rubbed with a paste of garlic and fresh herbs (I used sage and thyme) then wrapped with thin slices of pancetta (Italian bacon). The bacon adds flavour, but also helps protect the meat from drying out.
Adding a little wine and stock to the roasting pan, which help create the delicious pan juices that will later be served with the roast, and then blasting it at a high temperature (450F) so the pancetta crisps also helps keep it moist. Ultimately, what's most important is not overcooking the meat. Giada recommends roasting it until it reaches an internal temperature of only 135F. I was a little wary of this low temp at first, but the residual heat continues to cook the meat while it rests so that it's barely pink and juicy once carved. The aroma wafting from the kitchen while it roasts is incredible and it tastes even better than it smells!
Sautéed green beans, another of Giada's recipes, are a great way to add colour to the plate and the flavour of these ones complement those of the pork. Blanched green beans are quickly cooked in a simple tomato sauce made with canned tomatoes, shallots, garlic and a little white wine. So good I could eat the entire bowl as my meal! 
Served with Creamy Mashed Potatoes.

Both recipes are from the book Giada's Family Dinners but they can also be found on the Foodnetwork website: Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Roast and Sautéed Green Beans and Basil.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chestnut Pumpkin Soup and Rainbow Salad - IHCC Potluck

I had some roasted (vacuum packed) chestnuts leftover from Christmas and decided I wanted to make a soup with them. Eat Your Books - I love that site - led me to this Jamie Oliver recipe (I had no idea I had so many at my fingertips in the cookbooks I own!). Part of its appeal was that it seemed more interesting than the others, calling for additional ingredients that I happened to have on hand: dried porcini mushrooms, fresh pumpkin, bacon, onions, barley, dried chilli and rosemary.
Chestnut Pumpkin Soup
The method was quite simple, beginning with pre-soaking the mushrooms and cooking the bacon and onions. All of the ingredients were then combined and cooked in the pot for a few minutes before they were simmered in the mushroom soaking liquid and stock. How chunky you leave your soup is personal preference; I wanted it smooth and creamy so took my stick blender to the pot. The flavour was a wonderfully complex mix of earthy and nutty with a touch of sweetness, and the texture, velvety.
Hot Sage Bread
Jamie recommends serving the soup with Hot Sage Bread, a country loaf rubbed with bruised sage leaves, salt and a little olive oil and warmed in the oven. It was a nice alternative to garlic bread and fit right in with the earthy flavours of the soup.

Between the mushrooms and the chestnuts, I knew the soup would be some shade of brown so I had to compensate with something colourful; this rainbow salad with its assortment of seasonal vegetables was the right fit. It was a delicious slaw that included red and green cabbage, beets and carrots but what made it special was the addition of pears, walnuts and fresh mint. Jamie suggests leaving ingredients out so people can create their own dressing. To simplify things, I dressed the salad with those same ingredients - cider vinegar, grainy mustard and grapeseed oil (I left out the mayo).
Shredded Rainbow Salad
It had lovely crunch and zingy flavour, and it served its purpose well, detracting attention from the colour of the soup! Bonus, my family actually ate and enjoyed beets which were hidden in a layer under the other veggies!!! 

The recipes for Chestnut Pumpkin Soup, Hot Sage Bread and Shredded Rainbow Salad are from the book Jamie Oliver's Great Britain; together they made a delicious soup & salad meal.

I'm sharing this post with I Heart Cooking Clubs for potluck week, where we can cook with previously featured chefs. Visit here to see what everyone else brought to the potluck party.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Simple Thai Fish Cakes - IHCC Passport to Asia

I love Thai food with its characteristic flavour profile of hot-sweet-salt-sour but I could never hope to capture all of its nuances in my own kitchen, which is why I enjoy recipes like this one, that rely on a Thai product, chilli jam, for most of their flavour and manage to satisfy that craving for Thai food.
Living inland, I cook with frozen fish regularly and fish cakes are a great end use for it. The recipe called for firm white fish so I used cod, not a particularly Asian fish, but a good one for this dish. I really appreciated that the patty was all fish with no filler and just a little egg white as binder.
The chilli jam used in these fish cakes provided the hot-sweet-salt elements and fresh lime juice, the sour. The spiciness was tempered by a refreshing salad of shaved cucumbers and fresh herbs dressed with a flavourful blend of fish sauce, sugar and lime juice.
We really enjoyed these crisp cakes and bright tasting salad; it's a recipe that will definitely be repeated.

If you would like to try them, the recipe can be found in Donna Hay's book fast, fresh, simple on page 134 but is also available here.

I'm sharing this post with I Heart Cooking Clubs for this week's theme "Passport to Asia" as we continue to cook with featured chef Donna Hay. Visit here to see what Asian delights were made by other IHCC members.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans

One of the benefits of my daughter becoming a vegetarian a few years ago was the discovery of kale, a dark green, leafy vegetable that seemed to be a common ingredient in many meatless dishes. It has a milder flavour than its relatives broccoli, Brussel's sprouts etc (genus brassica), but like its relatives, is packed with nutrients. I cook with it regularly now but am always looking for new ways to prepare it. Eating it raw in a salad is a great way to enjoy it.
Containing crisp radishes, tart dried cherries, crunchy toasted pecans, with a scattering of goat's cheese nuggets, and dressed with a bold honey-Dijon vinaigrette, this salad is a delicious mix of contrasting flavours and textures.
It's much heartier than a lettuce salad, perfect for this or really any time of year. We loved it!

The recipe for Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans is from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman and can also be found here.

Additional notes:
- I used curly kale which is easier to find here
- the salad can be dressed hours in advance - the texture of the kale actually improves - but the nuts and cheese should be added just before serving

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Butternut Squash and Feta Muffins - IHCC Time for Tea

I was very excited by the concept of this recipe, which I thought well-suited to this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme of sweet or savoury tea time treats. I loved the idea of a yeast-raised bread chock-full of roasted squash and feta, flavoured with fresh rosemary. 
butternut squash and feta (& onion) muffins
It wasn't particularly labour intensive but some of the ingredients required some prep work: the squash had to be roasted and the onions were to be puréed and added raw to the dough. This last step gave me pause. I have a peculiar relationship with onions; apart from the occasional sliver of spring onion or pickled strand, I don't eat them raw and in my experience, adding them raw to a dish with a short cooking time doesn't cook them thoroughly enough for me. Do I follow the recipe or my own instinct, which was to roast them with the squash first? I decided on the former, but it was with some trepidation and great faith in Donna Hay - but not enough to use the whole onion ;) - that I added raw onion to this bread! 
with some mango-chilli green tea
This turned out to be a very easy, no-knead bread recipe that required only 1 hour to proof before the roasted squash and feta bits were stirred in and the batter was baked. The recipe was for a loaf that serves 8 but since I wanted small, individual servings suitable for tea time, I made 16 muffins instead. The batter rose tremendously during baking and smelled very strongly guessed it, onion.
The texture was dense but soft, more like a quick bread than a yeast-raised bread, and the flavour? Unfortunately, it tasted of raw onion to me. But that was just me....everyone else enjoyed them and didn't think the onion was overpowering. I still love the idea of this bread with its bites of sweet squash and salty cheese and will definitely make it again, but next time, I'll follow my instincts.

The recipe for Butternut Pumpkin and Feta Loaf is from our featured chef Donna Hay's book Seasons on page 174.

Visit here to see what everyone else at IHCC served for tea.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies - Avid Baker's Challenge

The ABC bakers are ringing in the new year with a decadent chocolate-cheesecake treat as we continue to bake from the King Arthur Flour website.
The chocolate portion of the recipe was an easy cocoa-based saucepan brownie loaded with chocolate chips and the cheesecake layer, a simple vanilla flavoured sweetened cream cheese blend that included eggs and flour.
The brownie mixture was far more dense than the cheesecake so tended to sink to the bottom; marbling the two was a bit of a challenge. I made a half recipe and baked it in a 20cm/8" square pan; it took about 10 minutes longer to bake than the longest time given in the recipe.
They were moist and very rich - I'm glad I cut 36 small pieces - with the overall texture that of a soft, fudgy brownie. I didn't think the cheesecake portion balanced that well with the brownie; it was far too sweet so the characteristic tang of the cheese was lost and it was overpowered by the intensely chocolate-y brownie. Having said that, they certainly disappeared quickly enough from an assorted holiday dessert tray so what do I know? ;)

If you would like to try them, you can find the recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies here. Visit the ABC bakers here to see what variations they baked up.