Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cottage Cooking Club - September 2014

What a delicious month it's been at the Cottage Cooking Club as we continue to cook our way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book, River Cottage Veg. Every recipe was a winner and I made six of them plus a few extra!  

On to the food.... 

Pinto Bean (Black Bean) Chili (page 23) 
This was a huge hit! Chock full of garden fresh end of summer zucchini and sweet bell peppers, this chili was perfect for transition into fall: it looked hearty but with such a large proportion of vegetables, it was much lighter than most and it had a very quick cooking time.
I made some minor adjustments using dried oregano instead of fresh, and black beans I had cooked and frozen instead of pinto. With its combination of aromatics, fresh chiles and dried spices (including allspice!) like most chilies I've made/eaten, this one had big flavour, but the surprising sweet element the vegetables brought to the dish set it apart from others.

I served it in baked whole wheat tortilla bowls with the suggested lemony guacamole and some yogurt to help cool it down. I'll definitely be trying the winter variation of this recipe. 
Lemony Guacamole (page 296)
To serve with the spicy chili, I did a make up of a May recipe, the lemony guacamole, chosen before I joined the group. This was a basic version with just lemon juice, fresh chile and cilantro included, but it had a very zingy flavour and was a favourite with those who aren't fans of raw onion or garlic. I don't usually use oil in my guacamole so omitted it from this recipe; I don't think the texture suffered any. 

This was very fast and easy to put together (I've made it several times now) and perfect for when you need something cool and creamy to help tame the heat of the main dish.

Fennel and Goat Cheese (page 102)
Raw fennel gets a little lift from a lemon juice-olive oil dressing and some tangy goat's cheese in this easy salad. I used one of my (now) favourite kitchen toys, my mandoline, to shave the vegetable, though thinly slicing it would work just as well, and when making the dressing, I included the zest to add more lemon flavour.

I loved this one - no surprise here since I'm a big fan of fennel, raw or cooked, and lemony dressings. The creamy cheese provided great textural contrast to the crisp vegetable and reinforced the tangy flavour of the salad. This would make a great starter salad to wake up the taste buds.

Green Lentil and Spinach Soup (page 162) 
Who knew lentil soup could look this good? And it tasted even better!
I made the River Cottage Garlicky Flat Breads to serve with the soup and had quite a bit of the flavoured oil remaining so used that to sauté the carrots and shallots at the start for an extra garlic hit! Even with just those few ingredients, the nutty Puy lentils, which retain their shape nicely when cooked, and good vegetable stock (I still haven't tried Hugh's recipe!), the soup would have been tasty. Fresh tomatoes brightened the flavour and fresh spinach and the carrots added pretty pops of colour.

Another success!

River Cottage Garlicky Flat Breads (page 176) 
First of all, mine looked nothing like the photo in the book! As thinly as I rolled them, they insisted on puffing up in the pan like a pita! Applying pressure with a spatula kept them at bay but they didn't get the thin crisp edge I was hoping for. They tasted wonderful, regardless, especially eaten with the lentil soup.
I've been experimenting with the magic bread dough recipe, the basis for these breads, gradually using more and more whole grain flour. This time, I used all whole wheat bread flour with great success. After an overnight rest in the fridge, the dough was very easy to handle. 

To finish the flat breads, they were brushed with garlic-infused olive oil and I added a sprinkle of za'atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend of toasted sesame seeds, sumac, oregano and thyme. 

I'll definitely make these again but with a few adjustments: I'd make only half the oil since I had so much left over, and I'd make them a little smaller (at least 10 instead of 8). 

Oven-Roasted Roots Frittata (page 234)
With overflowing baskets of late summer produce, I really didn't have too many root vegetables to draw from to make this frittata, but relying on just my year round pantry staples of carrots and potatoes with some shallots included in the mix, it was simple but still delicious!
Having to roast the vegetables first, this dish did take a little extra time to make, but was well worth it for the flavour that resulted from this step. I loved the economy of using the same roasting pan to bake the eggs in afterwards. I flavoured them with fresh dill, parsley and green onions and topped the frittata with Pecorino Romano cheese before baking.

This was easy to put together and with a simple green salad made a fantastic meal. I'm looking forward to trying different combinations of root vegetables but will always include potatoes since their neutral flavour was a great buffer for the sweeter ones.

Mushroom "Risoniotto" (page 258)
I often serve sautéed mushrooms flavoured with garlic and thyme as a simple side dish. In this recipe, Hugh takes that family favourite and transforms it into a ragoût with the addition of white wine, balsamic vinegar and a little cream and adds some cooked rice-shaped pasta to make a delicious, comforting meal.  

Even made with a very basic mix of cultivated cremini and white button mushrooms, the flavours were harmonious and with the small amount of cream adding richness, reminiscent of a slowly and lovingly cooked risotto, minus the time and effort - but not the love ;)! It was wonderful as is but I can't help but think how much better it would be made with more flavourful wild mushrooms (or at least a more interesting blend of cultivated!). Next time.....

Cauliflower Pakoras with Tamarind Raita (page 318)
The cauliflower haters in the family have been converted, actually admitting that the vegetable tastes good, and this was without trying to disguise it as per my usual methods to get them to eat it. This recipe actually glorifies its flavour, which is mild and sweet when cooked, encasing it in a spicy, nutty, crispy coating.
The batter for these was very easy to put together, just a slurry of chickpea flour (besan), cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and water. I did need to thin it out with some extra water and I added extra cayenne pepper as well. There was enough batter for my rather large (1.2kg trimmed of leaves) head of cauliflower. Cooked in three batches in a deep fryer, these took no time at all to make and were fantastic with the tangy yogurt-tamarind-coriander dip, the perfect cooling accompaniment for the spicy golden nuggets.

They were fun to try and we loved them, but despite how good they were, because they are fried, it's unlikely I'll make them again. 

With such a successful month behind me, I'm looking forward to next month's selection of recipes with the Cottage Cooking Club. Visit here to see what the other members made.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Herb and Barley Vegetable Soup - Ladle it Up IHCC

Our time with Nigel Slater, the featured chef at I Heart Cooking Clubs for the last 6 months, is winding down. Our last official theme before our final farewell is all about soups and stews. Nigel's recipe for A Herb and Barley Broth to Bring You Back to Health was in a category somewhere between the two. Brimming with leeks, onions, garlic, celery, carrots and potatoes, it certainly wasn't a broth.
The cut vegetables, cooked in a little oil until softened, were combined with bay leaves, thyme, sage and partially cooked barley. About one litre of vegetable stock was added to cover and was topped with thinly sliced potatoes. The covered pot was then popped into the oven to cook, a method I've used to braise meat but never to cook soup. Since I had cut my vegetables smaller than instructed - I wanted them more bite-sized - I checked on the soup only 1 hour into its 2-hour cook time. The potatoes, carrots and celery were tender and holding their shape, the onions, leeks and garlic had melted into the stock and the barley.....well, the barley was beyond salvation ;)!  I called it done!
This was a very homey kind of soup with gentle flavours, a bowl of comfort that just needed a slice or so of good bread (multigrain Baguette from Good to The Grain) to be a complete meal.

The recipe is from the Kitchen Diaries and can also be found here. Visit IHCC to see what other members are ladling up this week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Smoky Chicken and Potatoes with Roasted Tomatoes - IHCC Potluck

We - my family and I - have graduated....sort of. When I first made this chicken dish, the first recipe I ever tried from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, I used half the quantity of chiles and we still thought the dish was hot! Two years and several spicy dishes later, I'm adding the full complement of chiles and we find it pleasantly spicy!
Like many of the recipes in this book, this one relies on one of the author's "essential sauces" for most of its flavour; the Quick-Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce, made with toasted dried chipotle chiles and roasted garlic and tomatoes, is the basis for this dish. Apart from making the sauce (which I now do in bulk and freeze), the Smoky Shredded Chicken and Potatoes with Roasted Tomatoes is quite quick and easy to prepare. Skinless chicken thighs - I love that he calls for skinless - are braised in the essential sauce while grated potatoes and sliced onions are cooked in a separate pan.
One way to serve this is to shred the cooked chicken and toss it with the potatoes, onions and sauce but Rick suggests the alternative of serving the whole thighs on the bed of potatoes, the route I went this time around. The dish is then topped with avocado and queso fresco cheese. Prepared this way, the chicken is always moist and delicious and the sauce smoky and flavourful with just a little bit of heat.
With a thought to future meals, I often cook more than I need so the extra chicken I made, shredded and mixed with leftover sauce, became the filling for quesadillas a few days later.
This is potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, a week when we can cook with any of the featured chefs, present or past. Visit here to see what the other members have made.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Baked French Cruller Doughnuts

It's not exactly a statistic I'm proud of, but Canadians consume more doughnuts and have more doughnut shops per capita than anyone else in the world! Somebody must be eating my share because my visits to a shop are quite infrequent. I will however, admit to a favourite indulgence of mine on one of those rare occasions that I do go: the French Cruller. Sweet, light and airy even though it's fried, it tends to be a little too easy to eat and disappears all too quickly.
You can imagine then how excited I was to find a recipe for a baked version of this sweet treat in one of my cookbooks: A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. Made of pâte à choux, usually used to make cream puffs and éclairs, this simple dough is made with just water, butter, flour and eggs, and in this recipe, enriched with milk, a little sugar and vanilla.
cruller dough baked cruller
Once the dough is made, it's piped onto baking sheets in concentric circles and baked. I made a half recipe of the dough and made my doughnuts just a little smaller than suggested, about 8 cm across instead of 10, so my yield was 16. Unlike a cream puff, you're not really concerned about baking until the interior is fact, you do want it to be moist.
While still warm, the doughnuts are dipped into a vanilla glaze made of melted butter and icing sugar thinned out with warm water. I used warm milk instead and had to add double the amount to get the right consistency for a thin, barely-there coating. 
Sooo rivals the best doughnut shop's offering.

I'm sharing this post with cook-your-books hosted by Joyce of Kitchen Flavours. Please visit to see what everyone else is cooking up this month.

Monday, September 8, 2014

(Very Good) Chocolate Brownies with Chipotle-Caramel Peanuts - IHCC Lentils, Legumes and Pulses, Oh My!

When I saw fellow IHCC member Joyce's and then Kim's posts for their variations of the recipe for Spiced, Caramelised Pecans, my first thought was that these crunchy treats would make an excellent dessert garnish. Since our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is legumes, I made the recipe with peanuts. And the dessert they garnished? Nigel Slater's Very Good Chocolate Brownies!
The peanuts I had were already roasted, but unsalted, so I just tossed them in the pan with the sugar and 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder, the only spice I used, and then sprinkled the hot caramelized nuts with some sea salt instead of additional sugar. These were really, really good. I mean, really good. Half the batch was used to garnish the brownies, and the rest, well, it simply vanished....;)!
With the garnish made, it was on to the dessert. Unlike the saucepan method of most of the brownies I make, these ones were assembled like a butter cake beginning with the creaming of (lots of) butter and sugar, then continuous beating while eggs, (lots of) melted chocolate etc were gradually added in. I saved myself a few bowls to wash up by adding the eggs from the shell to the butter-sugar blend and weighing the flour and cocoa powder directly into the mixing bowl. Not losing sight of our theme this week, I included 80g/1/2 cup coarsely chopped legumes in the batter. These took 40 minutes minutes to bake in my oven (to reach an internal temperature of 85C/185F).
The brownies were super rich, fudgy and intensely chocolate-y. The recipe says it serves 12; I cut the 23cm square pan into 49 pieces! Topped with the salty-sweet spiced peanuts, every bite was pure decadence.

The recipe for the brownies is from the Kitchen Diaries. Or click on the recipe names above for internet links. Visit IHCC to see what the others made for this week's theme.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Burrata Salad with Tomato Crumbs - IHCC Bread Ahead

With layers of salty prosciutto, creamy burrata cheese, sweet and tangy roasted tomatoes, and a topping of crisp, cheesy breadcrumbs, this has to be my favourite Nigel Slater recipe.....and I've made many while cooking with I Heart Cooking Clubs with Nigel as featured chef and long before that!

And it's so easy to put together:
Arrange prosciutto on individual serving plates, top with burrata, basil, and parsley, and drizzle with olive oil.
Toss garden fresh tomatoes with basil and roast them with a scattering of fresh breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
Add the tomato crumbs hot from the oven to each plate and enjoy!

The recipe for Mozzarella Salad with Tomato Crumbs is from the Kitchen Diaries 2 but can also be found here. Be sure to stop by IHCC to see what other dishes featuring bread members have made.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Almond Tart - Avid Baker's Challenge

I love it when a recipe surprises a good way, of course. This Almond Tart from the King Arthur Flour website, the Avid Baker's challenge for September, did just that. I don't recall now what I was expecting when I saw this month's selection, but it certainly wasn't an easy recipe that used only pantry staples, nor was it an elegant tart with a tender shortbread crust and moist filling redolent with almond.
The first step was to contend with the almond cookie crust which was perfect for the pastry challenged like me: no rolling required! There was some chilling and pre-baking needed, but it didn't involve much time.
The filling, with (more) ground almonds, sugar, butter and eggs was even easier to make, taking just a few minutes to put together. Both crust and filling called for almond extract, a flavouring I find quite potent and best used rather judiciously, so I used only half. 
Coming out of the oven, the tart was quite plain looking but with a few garnishes (I skipped the glaze in the recipe) was easily made company-worthy. Some vanilla poached peaches finished it nicely. This was a huge crowd-pleaser and something I will definitely make again.

Visit ABC to see what the other members thought.