Monday, April 28, 2014

Summer Rolls - IHCC Rootie Patootie!

I love so many root vegetables, I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favourite, something we've been asked to feature for this week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs. But I can say that my preference is to eat them raw if I can for their crisp, juicy texture and sweetness, characteristics that are lost during cooking.
Nigel Slater's Summer Herb Roll, a recipe that can be found on his website, is the perfect vehicle for root vegetables left in their natural state. I used the carrots called for in the recipe and included some daikon radish - another root vegetable - as well as cucumbers, red pepper, mung bean noodles, chives, mint and coriander.

Light, crisp and refreshing, we really enjoyed these dipped in the accompanying sauce (with a little extra sweet chilli sauce added to mellow it out). Delicious!

Visit IHCC to see what other members made with Nigel Slater, our featured chef, for "rootie patootie" theme week!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Black Rice Salad with Mint and Mango - IHCC What's in Your Picnic Basket?

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs we're having a virtual picnic using recipes from Nigel Slater, our current featured chef. In choosing a dish to bring, portability is always something to consider, but most important of all, is flavour. I like to include a vibrant salad in a picnic meal, especially one that contains more than one food group - it cuts down on the number of dishes to make and transport.
Nigel's Wheat with Mint and Alphonso Mango, from his book Kitchen Diaries 2: a Year of Simple Suppers fit the bill. You can't go wrong with grains dressed with a citrus-y vinaigrette - a non-dairy dressing is a good choice for food safety reasons - and tossed with parsley which replaces much less hardy salad greens. I used black rice in place of the wheat, and limes instead of lemons.
This salad was a hit! Bright, refreshing, colourful and somewhat tropical in flavour with the lime dressing and sweet, juicy mango. We enjoyed the nutty flavour and chewy texture of the rice but it would be delicious with just about any grain, including the original cracked wheat/bulgur.
A variation of the recipe can be found here if you would like to try it.

Visit IHCC to see what others brought to the picnic.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Polish Easter Babka

This traditional yeast-raised cake, named after Polish grandmothers ("Babka" means "grandmother" in Polish) is as at home on a dessert table as it is on the breakfast table, delicious any time of day, really. It's an egg yolk, sugar and butter rich dough that's similar to brioche with its light and airy crumb but it's sweeter and much more flavourful thanks to the added vanilla and almond extracts and citrus zest. Many recipes include syrups or glazes for the finished loaves but we always leave ours plain.
It takes the better part of a day to make (6-8 hours), but most of it is inactive time and the end result - 2 beautiful cakes, one for family and one for sharing - is well worth the effort. I think this will be a catch phrase for every Polish recipe I post but here goes: every family has their own recipe - this one, a hybrid of my mother's and one that was printed in the Toronto Star newspaper years ago, is mine.

Polish Easter Babka
makes 2 large cakes


260g/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
21g/3 pkgs (6 3/4 tsp) instant yeast
520g/2 cups whole milk, scalded and cooled to at least 45C/110F

223g/12 large egg yolks
300g/1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp table salt
1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure almond extract
grated zest of 2 lemons
grated zest of 1 orange
715g/5-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
170g/3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
130g/1 cup dark raisins
Confectioner's sugar (optional)

1. For the sponge, stir the flour and yeast together in a bowl. Add the warm milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 45 minutes-1 hour or until the mixture has doubled in volume and is bubbly.
sponge fermented sponge
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed for 3-5 minutes or until thick and lemon-coloured. Add the salt, extracts, grated zest and sponge and beat on low speed for 1 minute or until well combined. Stir the flour in with a wooden spoon, adding it in 3 parts. Switch to the paddle attachment and mix the dough on medium-low speed scraping the bowl down periodically, until it's glossy and very sticky and elastic, about 8-10 minutes.
shaggy dough kneaded dough elastic dough
3. Drizzle the butter in, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough, occasionally scraping down the bowl. This takes about 10 minutes. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, switch to the kneading hook and knead for another 10 minutes (on #2 speed on my mixer) or until the dough is smooth, silky and shiny and is coming away from the sides of the bowl. Knead the raisins in by hand so that they're evenly distributed. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in volume.
kneaded dough with raisins proofed dough
4. Grease and flour 2 tube pans (10-12 cup capacity). Punch down the dough and divide evenly between the 2 pans. Cover them with plastic wrap and set them in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk. 
babka dough proofed babka
5. 30 minutes before the cakes are ready to bake, set the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 175C/350F. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 160C/325F and bake 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean (internal temperature of 88C/190F). Cool 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto racks to cool completely. Dust with confectioner's sugar if desired.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pizza for Dinner and Dessert - IHCC Potluck

Who doesn't love a good pizza? I know my family does and though take-out is sometimes the way to go, I find making my own very satisfying and the results usually better than anything we can find close by in suburbia. I turned to Mark Bittman's book How to Cook Everything for the recipes for our latest pizza night.

The Building Blocks:

the crust:
Suitable for a topping-laden pizza, Mark Bittman's Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (p178-179) came together quickly in a food processor, was easy to work with, and baked into a crisp crust. However, it lacked flavour, was a little too salty and a little too dry. It was okay in pizzas where the toppings were the stars, but given a choice, it's not a recipe I would make again. Family had no complaints about it. 1.5x the recipe made 3 - 30cm/12" pizzas.

the sauce:
An onion, a can (796ml) of Italian plum tomatoes and 20 minutes on the the clock produced this delicious, fresh tasting Fast Tomato Sauce (p502). Key to the short cooking time was the use of a large skillet (large surface area) and medium-high heat to soften the onion and cook the liquid off quickly. Far superior to anything you could buy ready-made, it's definitely something I will be making regularly.

the toppings:
pepperoni pizza broccoli pizza
Fewer toppings means wider appeal in my house with basic pepperoni a favourite with the meat-lovers. Replacing the pepperoni with broccoli and adding a few pieces of roasted red peppers on a second pizza for a meatless variation satisfied everyone else. With the exception of the amount of sauce - we like a little less - the amounts of topping ingredients in the recipes for Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Pepperoni (p182) and Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Broccoli (p182) worked very well. I used a half recipe for each 30cm/12" pizza.
Despite all of topping suggestions the author makes in this book, he neglects a very important category of pizza: dessert! So I had to wing it. Sauced with creamy peanut butter and topped with peanuts and chocolate chips, a drizzle of Mark Bittman's Chocolate Sauce (p921) made with bittersweet chocolate was this pizza's crowning glory. 

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Dessert Pizza
10-12 slices

1-30cm/12" pizza crust, baked and cooled
130g/1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (regular, not natural or homemade that may separate during baking)
50g/1/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
45g/1/4 cup mini white chocolate chips
45g/1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Chocolate Sauce

Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F.
Spread the peanut butter on the prepared crust. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts and chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake* on a rack in the middle of the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the peanut butter appears melted, the semi-sweet chocolate is softened and glossy (the chips won't lose their shape), and the crust is warmed through. Place on a serving plate, drizzle with chocolate sauce and let sit 3-5 minutes before slicing.
* Pizza can be baked on a pizza stone, pizza pan or placed directly on the oven rack.

It's potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs and I'm bringing Mark Bittman's pizzas to the party. What's everyone else making? Visit here to find out!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oven-Baked Potato and Red Pepper Tortilla

This take on a traditional Spanish tortilla was a recent life-saver for me when I was faced with some leftover potatoes, eggs and not much else in the fridge. It had the added advantage that it could be cooked in advance and eaten rewarmed or at room temperature - perfect for a day when family was scattered and eating at different times. Better still, it contained ingredients that everyone in the family likes - a rare occurrence in my home.
The recipe called for cooking some Yukon gold potatoes, but my leftover boiled russets worked just fine. They were fried until golden on both sides and sprinkled with smoked paprika - it added such a special flavour - then topped with sautéed onions, garlic and sweet red peppers and a mixture of eggs, milk, Parmesan cheese and herbs and baked in the oven.
I discovered that there was even more to like about this recipe: it was made in 1 pan, the baking instructions worked perfectly and it was a hit with family. They loved the yummy distinct layers of fried potato, sautéed vegetables and cheesy eggs. I thought the ratio of eggs to potatoes and vegetables worked well and the recipe can easily be adapted to use whatever is at hand so I will definitely be making this again.

If you would like to try this recipe for Christopher's Oven-Baked Potato and Red Pepper Tortilla, it's from Joanne Chang's book Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes For The Cafés Most Loved Sweets and Savories, but it can also be found here.

I'm sharing this post with cook-your books, hosted by Joyce at Kitchen Flavours. Check out what everyone else made this month from their cookbooks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Apricot Cardamom Chelsea Buns - IHCC Fit for a Brit!

This week, our second cooking with featured chef Nigel Slater, I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme is all things British. I made Chelsea buns, a sweet, yeast-raised bread that's been around since the 18th century and is a relation of the much more decadent North American cinnamon bun. 
Traditionally, these sweet buns are filled with dried currants and cinnamon but Nigel's version was made with dried apricots and cardamom. This recipe had me ignoring my baking shelf where the ground cardamom resides and looking to my savoury spices for the green pods I normally use in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. I enjoy the flavour of the ground spice in sweet baked goods though it's not widely used in North American recipes, but nothing compares to the fragrance and flavour of seeds you've crushed yourself. 
proofed buns
proofed and ready for the oven
baked buns
freshly baked....
Since Nigel had already messed with the traditional recipe, I thought I would put my stamp on it as well and use half (by weight) whole wheat bread flour. The dough, enriched with a little sugar, butter and egg, was soft and sticky but easy to work with after fermentation. I decided to make 12 smaller buns so rolled the dough out into a larger rectangle. I had added what little apricot jam I had to the filling of softened dried apricots and had none left for the final glaze, so used an egg wash before baking to give the buns a shine followed by a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.
My oven makes charcoal of sweet breads baked at high temperatures so I baked at a more moderate 190C. They were beautifully golden and baked through in 25 minutes.
Delicious! The roll was soft and just a little chewy and not very sweet...fabulous with the tangy apricot filling perfumed with cardamom and topped with crunchy sugar. They were wonderful with an afternoon cup of tea as Nigel recommends but just as good rewarmed the next day as a breakfast treat to enjoy with a morning coffee!

The recipe for Apricot Cardamom Buns can be found here. Visit IHCC to see other dishes that are "Fit for a Brit".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread - Avid Baker's Challenge

During these past several months baking from the King Arthur Flour website along with the other ABC bakers, I've not been using King Arthur Flour (nor any of their other products), relying instead on flour produced here. Like King Arthur Flour, Canadian flour is high in protein and up until now, always weighing the ingredients, my substitutions have worked well with the end product seeming to have the correct appearance, crumb and texture. This recipe recommended using white whole wheat flour and there's no equivalent for that here. But I did have a few whole wheat flours from which to choose; I went with the higher gluten whole wheat bread flour I usually use in yeast-raised breads.
A 2-day bread, this enriched dough started with a simple sponge that rested overnight. It was then added to the remaining ingredients and kneaded. I'm glad I used a stand mixer since the dough was very sticky and had I been kneading by hand, would certainly have given in to the temptation to add more flour. The dough required over 90 minutes each time for fermentation and proofing before being popped into the oven to bake.
I didn't get the dramatic oven spring I expected based on this blog post, but the loaf had a soft, fluffy crumb and the orange juice in the recipe, intended to eliminate the bitterness of the whole wheat flour, did its job. The bread had a pleasant nutty flavour and with its sweet cinnamon swirl was delicious.
Though it may not look anything like the KAF loaf, it was still a big hit here - very good eaten freshly baked and fabulous toasted the next day.

The recipe for 100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread can be found on the King Arthur Flour website. If you'd like to see the other bakers' results, visit ABC.