Monday, February 24, 2014

Prawn, Lemon and Leek Ristto - IHCC Tropical Delights

Sometimes I have to learn things the hard way, by trying them myself despite everyone's advice to the contrary. Baking risotto is one of them. I usually don't mind giving a pan of risotto the attention it needs but oftentimes, putting something in the oven and walking away while it cooks has its appeal.
So for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme "Tropical Delights", with shrimp as my tropical ingredient of choice, I made featured chef Donna Hay's baked Prawn, Lemon and Leek Risotto from her book fast, fresh, simple, pg 148.
The flavour of this risotto, with its sautéed leeks, lemon zest, shrimp and a final bright squeeze of lemon juice was amazing. However, the texture of the rice, though not over-cooked, was a little gummy, lacking the creaminess one expects in a properly cooked risotto. Lesson learned. Despite the appeal of baking risotto, it's not something I would do again. But this delicious dish is worth repeating, cooked properly on the stove top.

Check out the other IHCC tropical delights here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Catching Up With Avid Baker's Challenge King Arthur Flour Recipes

When I joined the Avid Baker's Challenge (ABC) group in July 2013, its members had already been baking from the King Arthur Flour website for 6 months. Many of the recipes I'd missed looked appealing so I made a few of them. Before I realized it, I'd made 5 of the 6, with only the Boston Cream Pie remaining. Valentine's Day changed that. Here's my round-up:

January - Panettone Muffins
More cake-like than muffin-like in both mixing method and finished texture, these were delicious regardless of how you classify them. Lacking Fiori di Sicilia, the flavouring that gives Italian panettone its distinctive taste, I used a few drops each of lemon and orange oil. Though not completely authentic, these sweet little cakes, bursting with dried fruit (dates and cranberries) and citrus did capture the essence of panettone. 
The other bakers' results can be found here.

February - Boston Cream Pie
boston cake cake slice
The closest I've come to a Boston Cream Pie is the doughnut version made by one of our more illustrious doughnut shop chains. Let's just say it isn't my favourite. Fortunately, this cake was nothing like that doughnut. Homemade vanilla bean pastry cream (I used half of the King Arthur recipe) sandwiched between 2 layers of fluffy vanilla sponge cake and glazed with dark chocolate made a very special cake for a very special someone who happens to be a fan of those doughnuts.
Visit here to see what the other ABC bakers made.

March - No-Knead Cherry-Pecan Bread
I'm relatively new to the no-knead movement in bread baking, having made my first loaf just this past summer, but I've made enough of these savoury loaves since then to know that sweet chocolate has no place in them. So I omitted the chocolate chips. Apart from the addition of dried cherries and toasted pecans, the process was very much like the original Jim Lahey recipe, short on active time but long on waiting time for fermenting and proofing. And the results were the same: a crisp crust and moist, chewy crumb with the whole grain flours, fruit and nuts in this recipe adding an extra flavour dimension. Delicious freshly baked or toasted!
See the other bakers' loaves here.

April - Cheese-Stuffed Crusty Loaves
loaf slice
These were among the craziest breads I've ever made, not just in appearance but in method. Can you imagine trying to shape an ultra-soft, sticky dough after it's proofed without deflating it? You can tell I had trouble with this step by the look of my breads ;). However, their outward appearance belie the deliciousness within. Thin, crispy crust, moist, chewy crumb and oozing with cheese. I spread harissa on the dough for an extra kick before sprinkling with grated mozzarella and Pecorino. Fantastic with a hot bowl of soup.
Check out the other members' results here.

May - English Muffins
These were fluffy and delicious and far superior to any other recipe I've tried (Dahlia Bakery, Bread Baker's Apprentice among them). I used half whole wheat bread flour (by weight) but otherwise made no changes to the recipe. The dough was very wet and sticky but lightly oiling my hands helped with the shaping. Next time, I'll cook them for a little less time in the pan and let them spend more time in the oven since that first phase of cooking is quite time consuming.
See what the others thought here

June - Savoury Cheddar-Chive Scones
I've tried a few recipes for cheddar-chive scones, some spicy, some made with cornmeal, each one slightly different from the others; this one is distinguished by its inclusion of bacon and use of cream in place of some of the butter. I don't bake enough scones to be completely confidant with the technique but I do know that grating frozen butter into the flour mixture seems to result in a tender, flaky scone. I did that with this recipe and was rewarded. They baked up tall and flaky and though they were too salty for me, even with omitting the bacon, they're worth making again with that small adjustment.
If you would like to see the other bakers' results, visit here.

All caught up now! 

If you would like to try any of these recipes, clicking on the recipe name will take you to it on the King Arthur Flour website.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lamb & Bean Braise and Clementine Cake - IHCC Potluck

This month for I Heart Cooking Clubs' potluck theme, I'm cooking again with Nigella Lawson, a natural choice when you're looking for comfort food that's not too taxing.
This dish featuring lamb, beans and vegetables simmered in red wine, is a good example of that. Though not a weeknight dish as Nigella suggests, it's perfect for a day when you have a little more time and can appreciate the lovely fragrance wafting from the kitchen as the lamb, beans and vegetables bubble away.
Some advance planning is needed for this recipe since the meat and vegetables must marinate and the beans soak for several hours. I set these up the night before. On cook day, once the chops and vegetables are browned and the beans partially cooked, everything is combined with the marinating liquid and left to simmer slowly for 1 1/2 hours. Definitely not taxing!

Served as suggested with some good bread, Hazelnut Currant Boule from the book Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World (by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid), this was just what was needed on yet another cold day!
For dessert, a little light and citrus-y brightness in the form of a sweet clementine cake, a recipe that uses the entire fruit, rind, pith and all, served with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.

The recipes for Lamb and Bean Braise  and Clementine Cake are from Nigella's book How To Eat; the recipe for the cake is also on her website.

Additional notes:
- lamb neck is not easy to find here so I used shoulder (blade) chops, and white kidney beans in place of cannellini beans
- the dish served four generously (it's in the chapter on cooking for 1 or 2)
- a half recipe of the clementine cake made 8 small cakes (90ml) that baked in 25 minutes

Visit here to see what everyone else at IHCC made.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Matcha Chiffon Cake

I love a good chiffon cake with a texture and flavour that matches its name: light, delicate, even ethereal. Unfortunately, I've made too many that are dense and rubbery and far too sweet. It was time to try again. I chose the Orange Glow Chiffon Cake from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, having every faith in this author that the recipe would turn out well.
Armed with my trusty scale, stand mixer, and 10 eggs(!!!), I proceeded with the mise en place for the recipe. Part way through, I decided to switch it up a bit: I added 1 tbsp of matcha powder to the dry ingredients, replaced the orange juice with milk and the orange zest with the zest of one lemon, and before I knew it, I'd created a green tea flavoured cake.
Not very pretty....
....until you slice into it!

I was right to trust this recipe: the cake baked up tall and moist with a light and airy texture; it tasted of green tea with just a hint of lemon - lovely! If you would like to try it, the original recipe and videos of the author herself making the cake can be found here.

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books, hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Stop by to see what everyone is cooking this month.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Coffee Almond Cakes and Double Hot Chocolate - IHCC Raise Your Glass

For this week's theme "Raise Your Glass" at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I'm celebrating some of my favourite flavours: coffee and chocolate. In a little play on the theme of coffee with dessert, I give you our featured chef Donna Hay's Coffee Almond Cakes with Double Hot Chocolate.
Easy to make, these coffee flavoured cakes, a mix of ground almonds, butter, sugar, egg whites and coffee, finished with a Kahúla glaze were delicious, moist little bites that went perfectly with a cup of hot chocolate.
For this cup of chocolate-y goodness, made with just a little hot milk and cream poured over top of some chopped chocolate to melt it, make sure to use your favourite chocolate. Very rich and creamy.
The recipe for the hot chocolate is from Donna's book Seasons but a variation of it is also on her website. The recipe for the cakes can be found here.

Additional notes:
- for the cakes, I used half the quantity of espresso powder instead of instant coffee and topped them with truffled coffee beans I had on hand 
- I added good vanilla extract to the hot chocolate in place of vanilla beans and doubled the amount of milk as it was just a little too rich

Visit IHCC to see what everyone else stirred up!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Creamy Mashed Potatoes 101

The ultimate comfort food. They're not difficult to make but there are a few things to consider.

The Potato:
yukon gold
Yukon Gold
The russet potato is a popular choice but it's the Yukon Gold, a variety that was developed practically in my backyard at the University of Guelph, that's my potato of choice. It's a yellow-fleshed, waxy potato that has a creamy texture when cooked and a slightly sweet and naturally buttery flavour. Mashed potatoes made with this variety are not quite as fluffy as those made with the starchier russet, but have a lovely, smooth, velvety texture. Lacking availability of Yukon Gold, another yellow-fleshed potato will do.

The Prep:
You want the pieces fairly uniform in size so that they cook evenly. After peeling, removing any brown spots/eyes and rinsing the potatoes, slice them crosswise into 2cm/3/4" thick slices, cutting the larger pieces in half. 

The Pot:
Use a pot with a tight fitting lid that's large enough to accommodate the potatoes: they should fill no more than 2/3 of the pot. You won't realize how important this is until you over-fill your pot one time and then have to scrub away the starchy water overflow that has cooked onto your stove top ;)!

The Mashing Tool:
potato masher#1
potato masher#2
These are not created equal. Potato masher #1 is fine if you like a lot of "texture" - ie lumps - in your potatoes. Potato masher #2 does a respectable job of removing lumps but it's easy to overwork the potatoes with this one. It is the one I used for years before discovering the ricer, which gives superior, lump-free results and requires less handling of the potatoes.
riced potatoes (medium setting)

The Flavouring:
I've never been one to add much fat to food in my everyday cooking and mashed potatoes are no exception. I use 1% milk and only a small amount of butter and let the natural deliciousness of the potato take care of the rest.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
                                                                               serves 4

prep time: 15 minutes
cooking time: 30 minutes
finishing time: 10 minutes


700 - 750g/4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (or potatoes of your choice), peeled,  rinsed and cut up
120 - 160ml/1/2 cup - 2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Place the potatoes in the pot and add cold water to barely cover them. Bring the water to a rolling boil on high heat. Add ~1 tsp salt, cover and reduce the heat to low-medium-low, so that a gentle boil is maintained. Cook 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender and can be broken apart easily with a fork. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot off heat. Let them sit uncovered for a few minutes to dry a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Place the milk and butter in a small pot and warm over medium heat until the butter is at least partially melted. Do Not boil. Alternatively, place the milk and butter in a microwave-safe container and heat on high for about 30 seconds.

If using a potato ricer, settle it in position in a medium bowl and rice the cooked potatoes. Once they're done, sprinkle with ~1/2 tsp salt and pour the warmed milk and butter over top. Stir gently with a large spoon using a folding motion. You don't want to overwork the mixture or the potatoes will become gluey. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Add more warm milk if a creamier consistency is desired.

If using one of the potato mashers, after draining and allowing the potatoes to dry for a few minutes, mash them in the pot in which they were cooked until every piece has been broken up. Add the salt and the milk and continue mashing until desired smoothness has been reached. As with the ricer, don't overwork the mixture and stir in any additional salt or milk that may be required at the end. 
Always make your potatoes a little softer than you think they should be as they will firm up even in the few minutes it takes to transfer them to a serving bowl and get them to the table. The mashed potatoes will stay hot for ~20 minutes if kept covered in the pot in which they were cooked.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crispy Pancetta and Chilli Pasta - IHCC Getting Saucy

When I saw this week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs of sauces and dressings and the foods that love them, the first foods that came to mind were pasta and salad.
The dish I chose combines elements of both: hot pasta, roasted squash and crisp pancetta sauced with an olive oil-lemon juice dressing and some fresh greens tossed in before serving.
It was easy to put together and the flavours were very good: sweet and salty and a little spicy, with the lemon juice and greens adding brightness and freshness to the dish. But what really stood out was the deliciousness of the squash roasted with pancetta and finished with the lemony dressing. I'll probably make this dish again in its entirety but I think the squash is very likely to make a frequent appearance as a side dish.

The recipe for Crispy Pancetta and Chilli Pasta is from our featured chef Donna Hay's book Seasons, pg 174 but can also be found here.

Additional notes:
- I used butternut instead of kabocha squash
- the beet greens I had were a little tough to be eaten raw so I used arugula
- I replaced half the olive oil with pasta cooking water

Visit IHCC to see what sauciness the other members have been up to this week.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tuscan Coffee Cake, A Tale of Two Breads - Avid Baker's Challenge

I must say that this month's ABC selection from the King Arthur Flour website was very timely - after all of the holiday baking in December, I wasn't yet ready to face another sugar and butter-rich concoction but this enriched yeast-raised "cake" fulfilled my need to bake.
The recipe was easy but did span 2 days since the first step was to make a sponge that fermented overnight. I used a stand mixer to knead the dough, which was quite soft and sticky but manageable after the first proof. Dried fruits and nuts were kneaded in before the final shaping, proofing and baking of the loaf. I used the remains of Christmas baking, dried cranberries and currants instead of the required dates and raisins but did include toasted walnuts. Waiting for the correct internal temperature to be reached, my baking time was almost 20 minutes longer than stated in the recipe - time to calibrate my oven perchance? ;)
Freshly baked and barely cooled, the bread was fabulous: moist and soft, bursting with sweet-tart fruit and crunchy nuts with a crackly sugar topping, completely worthy of its "cake" moniker.
However, its character changed considerably by the second day. It was still moist but the fluffiness of the crumb was replaced with a slight chewiness, desirable in many breads but not necessarily in one that wants to be a cake. Where on the first day, the bread was merely a medium in which all of the lovely fruits and nuts were suspended, on the second day its flavour, which seemed to have matured overnight, was strong and decidedly on the savoury end of the spectrum. It wasn't sweet or flavourful enough to complement the fruits - it actually had a slight sourdough tang - but it had a sugary crust, now sadly out of place, and too many fruit add-ins to be savoury. A little vanilla and orange zest in the dough might have helped or perhaps it was important to use the recommended dried fruit combination of dates and raisins for their sweetness. All was not lost though.... like many other breads that linger in my kitchen, it was re-purposed into a very delicious batch of French toast.
The recipe for Tuscan Coffee Cake can be found here. Visit ABC to see what the other bakers thought of it.