Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chickpeas with Harissa, Basil and Prosciutto - IHCC Serving Up Salads

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs as we continue to cook with Nigel Slater is "Serving up Salads". I chose Chickpeas with Harissa, Basil and Ham from The Kitchen Diaries, a main course salad that's redolent with Middle Eastern (and other) flavours. The diary entry for this recipe made me smile: Nigel's lament about finding open - and forgotten - cans of harissa that had turned in his fridge resonated with me, but it was tomato paste gone mouldy that plagued me. His discovery of harissa in jars changed his life....tomato paste in tubes changed mine ;)!
Not much cooking was involved in this recipe, especially if you used canned chickpeas (or cooked chickpeas from the freezer as I did), but the eggplants and tomatoes needed to be roasted. I used only half the oil for this step and at the high oven temperature, found that they were done in less time than the recipe indicated. Roasting them with red wine vinegar and then using all of the pan juices for the dressing with added harissa and oil ensured that they were sweet and tangy, with a bit of heat from the harissa. Again, I used only half the oil for the dressing but added extra red wine vinegar and harissa so the chickpeas would be as well seasoned as the vegetables.
The final step was to crisp the ham. I can't seem to cook prosciutto until it's crisp, though I'm very good at making it tough and chewy, so I left it as it was. Tossed with some fresh basil, I served this delicious main course salad on a bed of spinach. The recipe can be found here

Visit IHCC to see this week's salads.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cottage Cooking Club - July 2014

This was another great month at the Cottage Cooking Club, a virtual cooking group led by Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness whose members are cooking their way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes. From this month's selection of ten recipes, I made five.

Panzanella (page 86) 
This recipe for the classic Italian salad wasn't among the ones I'd planned to make originally but I realized I hadn't chosen one featuring tomatoes and I had most of the ingredients for this on hand including half of a stale baguette. The recipe was simple with the extraction of juice from the tomatoes for the dressing the most time consuming part. (I used a stick blender to help break them down before sieving them). I didn't have fresh basil so compensated by using basil infused olive oil in the dressing, and used red wine vinegar instead of cider vinegar. Since my bread was whole grain, I went the rustic route with the other ingredients, leaving the peel on the cucumber and the olives and cherry tomatoes whole. 

This was delicious! The salty and briny ingredients were a great foil for the sweet and tangy, and the stale bread took on new life, becoming moist on the outside and chewy in the centre. A great main dish salad.

Shaved Summer Vegetables (page 100)
I love that this book is encouraging me to make use of my neglected kitchen appliances and gadgets: this month, for this recipe, it was my mandoline.
With it, it took just minutes to transform almost 600g of vegetables into mountains of paper thin slices. I used most of the vegetables listed in the recipe but substituted carrots for beets. The lemony vinaigrette dressing was slightly sweet and very bright tasting and held its own against the more strongly flavoured vegetables, especially the cabbage-y kohlrabi. 

I loved this salad and will be making it often - it looked good and tasted even better. And because of it, my mandoline has earned the right to a more accessible spot in my kitchen!

River Cottage Summer Garden Soup (page 132)
I don't relish standing over a simmering pot of soup in hot weather but with a 20 minute cooking time, this one was perfectly suited to warm weather. Because the cooking time is so brief, there's no opportunity for the vegetables to flavour the stock so you do need to use a good one. I didn't make Hugh's recipe - that's for another day - I just used a store bought brand I like. There seemed to be a lot of vegetables in this recipe for the amount of stock so I reduced the quantity of fennel and zucchini by half (and still needed extra stock!). I made some substitutions as well: baby spinach for chard, (frozen) edamame for fava beans, and escarole was my lettuce of choice. 

In the end, the soup tasted fine but considering all of the beautiful produce that went into it, wasn't very exciting. A squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan gave it a much needed lift.

Bruschetta with Fava Beans and Asparagus (page196)
I chose this recipe because local asparagus was still available but sadly, baby fava beans weren't to be found so I ended up using more mature beans that required peeling. This meant that preparation was a little more time consuming but it was definitely worth it. I was very pleasantly surprised by just how much flavour the topping had: fresh and green with just a subtle hint of onion, and with the tangy goat's cheese a nice complement to the sweet vegetables. I did rub the toasted whole grain baguette slices with garlic, an optional step but one I thought added to the overall flavour. It made a wonderful light lunch. I'll definitely be making this again.

Chocolate-Beet Ice Cream (page 397)
I love beets. My family thinks they taste like dirt. I made this anyway ;)!
This custard-based ice cream flavoured with dark chocolate and roasted beet purée had a smooth, rich and creamy texture and was a pretty shade of burgundy. The recipe called for dark chocolate but I wasn't sure just how "dark" to go. The puréed beets were very sweet and the beet flavour quite strong so I decided to use a fairly intense chocolate with 70% cacao to balance it. The ice cream tasted primarily of rich, bittersweet chocolate with the earthy beets a secondary flavour. Fans of dark chocolate (like me) really enjoyed it but it wasn't for everyone. Strangely, no one noticed or commented on the beet flavour!
It definitely held more appeal when it was sandwiched between Chocolate Pecan Cookies (The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle, by Tom Douglas). No one complained about the bittersweet chocolate flavour then!

I really enjoyed the recipes I made this month and am looking forward to next month's selection! Visit here to see how the other members fared with their choices.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spiced Lentils with Mint Yogurt - IHCC Off the Spice Rack

I'm not sure what Nigel's intent was in downplaying this dish, calling it "just something to eat", "understated" and just "fine". Perhaps it's because I don't make or eat curries often that I thought this dish of Spiced Lentils, Mint Labne from The Kitchen Diaries 2 far from ordinary. Spiced with cumin, coriander, garam masala and turmeric and with ginger, garlic, onions and hot chillies included, every bite was incredibly flavourful.
I used Puy lentils since that's what I had and precooked them as directed. In a separate pan, once the onions were cooking, the spices and aromatics were processed to form a paste - I used a mortar and pestle - then fried to release their flavour. Canned tomatoes, water and the lentils were added and simmered until done. A topping of labne/yogurt with fresh and dried mint mixed in added a nice, cooling element.
An accompaniment of rice or flatbread was suggested so I served the dish with Cardamom-Scented Sweet Potato Roti (from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid) whose subtle sweetness complemented the spicy dish.

Quite often I'm drawn to one of Nigel's recipes by its name or the diary entry for the day, this time it was the ingredients, perfect for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme "Off the Spice Rack". Visit IHCC to see what other spiced foods are on offer this week.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Red Snapper with Parsley Vinaigrette, and Green Beans & Snow Peas with Almonds & Orange - IHCC Potluck

It's no secret that I love all things citrus in both savoury and sweet dishes so it's hardly a surprise that I'm once again preparing a citrus-centric meal: Roasted Red Snapper with Parsley Vinaigrette from Giada's Family Dinners and French Beans and Mangetout with Hazelnut and Orange from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.
The fish were easy to prepare - provided your fish monger did the work of cleaning them for you ;): a sprinkling of salt, pepper and paprika, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of onion rings and they were ready to roast. My fish happened to be the recommended size; blasting them in a super hot oven for the time given worked perfectly.
raw snapper roasted snapper
The fish was moist and the onions nicely caramelized (otherwise they wouldn't have made it on to my plate!). The accompanying parsley vinaigrette (parsley, olive oil, Dijon and lemon juice) was bright and zingy and would enliven any fish dish. It would also be great with grilled chicken.
I served the fish with a side of green beans and snow peas. Much as I love Ottolenghi, he's a little heavy-handed with the oil for me so this recipe needed some tweaking. I used only 1 tbsp olive oil and gently cooked the garlic in this, whisking in the orange juice from the zested orange to make a dressing. Since I wanted to serve this warm, I tossed the blanched beans and snow peas with the vinaigrette in the pan to warm through before topping with toasted almonds (I had no hazelnuts) and orange zest. 
This is one of those vegetable dishes that I could eat as a meal it's so good, but I didn't think the rest of the family would appreciate having only fish for dinner so I had to share ;). The vegetables added texture to the plate and their sweetness was a nice foil for the piquancy of the vinaigrette. Both recipes will definitely be repeated.

It's potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs when we're free to cook with any of the featured chefs; visit here to see what the other members have chosen to make.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vietnamese Beef Salad - IHCC Eating Around The Globe

For this month's I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme Eating Around the Globe, featured chef Nigel Slater and I went to Vietnam with his Vietnamese Beef Salad from The Kitchen Diaries.
In the diary entry for this recipe, Nigel warns that the list of ingredients is "as long as his arm" but promises "spectacular" results. He's clearly never seen one of Ottolenghi's recipes ;) because this list wasn't particularly daunting with only sirloin steak, some vegetables, tomatoes and herbs for the salad, and a few dressing ingredients on it. Even less daunting was the task of making it; only the beef needed to be cooked and a few of the other salad ingredients to be chopped so it took no time at all to put together. 
Cool and crisp with the dressing of fish sauce, fresh chilli, sugar and lime providing the characteristic hot, sour, sweet and salty flavours of the cuisine, it was very lively and with the warm grilled beef, very satisfying. The perfect hot weather lunch or light supper to enjoy with an Iced Vietnamese Coffee.

If you'd like to try it, the recipe can be found here. Visit IHCC to see where Nigel took the other members on this week's global odyssey.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Iced "Vietnamese" Coffee

Iced Vietnamese coffee is a perfect hot weather treat that rivals any coffeehouse offering in flavour and is far more budget friendly.
Traditionally, the coffee is made using a French drip filter (cà phê phin); a single serving is brewed directly over a cup containing sweetened condensed milk, stirred, then poured into a glass over ice. I used a recipe from one of my cookbooks that makes multiple servings.

Iced "Vietnamese" Coffee
makes 3 servings

300ml strong hot coffee
60ml-75ml sweetened condensed milk to taste

I don't own a French drip coffee maker, but I do have an Italian Bialetti Moka Express which makes excellent coffee.
a little battered from years of use but still loved ;)
To brew the coffee in a 6-cup Moka Express, you'll need:
approx. 300ml cold water
4 tbsp/20g coffee, medium-dark roast, medium grind (finer than for drip but not as fine as for espresso. I use Lavazza, an Italian brand).

water coffee
Fill the lower pot with water to the fill line or to just below the valve, place the filter on top and measure the coffee into it.
level coffee assembled tightly
Pat it gently just to level it - you're not trying to compress it as you would for espresso - and screw the top of the pot on tightly. This is really important for creating the pressure in the lower chamber that's needed to brew the coffee. On my model, the pour spout lines up with the valve if I've done it properly.
start of brew continued brew
Place on high heat (on my stove) with the lid open. After about 4 minutes, you'll start to see the brewed coffee filling the pot. 
partly brewed brewed
When the pot is about half-full, close the lid and turn the heat down to medium. Once it's started, the coffee takes less than a minute to brew. You'll know it's done when the percolating noises have stopped.

Meanwhile, add about 1 1/2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk to each of three glasses. Fill with ice.
When the coffee stops percolating, pour it immediately into the prepared glasses. Stir and enjoy!

Or, measure out 60 ml - 75ml sweetened condensed milk into a heat-proof container. Add hot coffee, stir until blended and serve right away, or cover and refrigerate to enjoy later. 
I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Visit here to see what else is cooking this month!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mozzarella with Grilled Fennel - IHCC Starters & Nibbles

For this week's theme of appetizers and small plates at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I made Mozzarella with Grilled Fennel from featured chef Nigel Slater's book The Kitchen Diaries.
I love fennel prepared by just about any method but grilling is a particular favourite; it retains its sweetness and licorice flavour and the charring adds another dimension. That's all the cooking that's required for this dish before topping the vegetable with olives, buffalo mozzarella and a dressing of olive oil and parsley. I made a half recipe with a fairly large bulb of fennel and 125g buffalo mozzarella cheese for 4 small plates. 
This was a great start to a summer meal....delicious and so easy to put together. The ingredients went together beautifully with the briny olives playing an important part in cutting the sweetness of the fennel and the creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella. The recipe can be found online here.

Visit here to see the other starters & nibbles IHCC members made this week.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Strawberries 'n' Cream-Filled Angel Food Cake for Canada Day! (and Avid Baker's Challenge)

This month's ABC challenge was very timely: not only did I have a freezer full of egg whites left over from this Easter baking project, but our beautiful local strawberries were ready and I needed a special strawberry dessert for our July 1st Canada Day celebrations, something that's a tradition in my family.
I've baked my share of angel food cakes over the years since they are a favourite around here but King Arthur Flour's recipe for Strawberry-Filled Angel Food Cake was quite different from the one I usually use: it called for all-purpose instead of cake flour, and more of it, and for both confectioners' and granulated sugars, and a lot more of them! I usually follow cake recipes as written; I understood the need for the all-purpose flour since it would add structure to a fragile cake so it could withstand the manhandling that was to come, but I just couldn't bring myself to use all of that sugar, so reduced the granulated by 100g (1/2 cup), not a large amount, but enough to make me feel a little better about this dessert! The cake came together easily and baked up tall and even.
We had a great strawberry harvest this year with the local berries sweet and very flavourful so my fruit mash for the filling was fantasic. To keep the dessert vegetarian-friendly, I skipped the gelatin and added powdered agar agar to the fruit and cream filling as I whipped it.

Tunneling into the cake, which was a thing of beauty, seemed almost sacrilegious but in the name of the challenge, had to be done. Once I'd filled the cake to bursting, I used the rest of the strawberry cream to frost it. I made the cake the day before it was needed, stored it in the freezer and served it from frozen; it sliced beautifully and defrosted quickly so we enjoyed room temperature cake with a chilled filling.
I loved the idea of this cake - slicing into it to reveal the surprise within garnered all sorts of well-deserved oohs and aahs. It had a lovely texture but was still a little too sweet for me, and despite how good my berries were, there wasn't enough strawberry presence. I would definitely make this dessert again but I would reduce the sugar in the cake even further and use only half the amount of cream for the filling.

This was a great challenge for me....I'd never done anything special with an angel food cake before and I really enjoyed making this, and despite my little criticisms, it was a hit!

Happy Canada Day to all Canadians!