Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cottage Cooking Club - December 2014

This month's Cottage Cooking Club had me delving into my freezer pantry for vegetables to make some of the recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg cookbook, something I'd yet to do. I have no prejudice against frozen vegetables; they're picked and frozen at their peak and are far better quality than some of the "fresh" produce in my grocery store that's come from thousands of kilometres away. I do find that the texture of some is compromised by the process so I don't buy very many, but the few that were needed this month are staples for me: spinach and corn. Other ingredients that came from my frozen pantry were: puff pastry, pine nuts, chickpeas (that I cooked from dry and froze), and chickpea flour. Now on to the recipes.....

Corner Shop Spanakopita (page 54)
Spanakopita is a favourite around here. My go to recipe hails from the book The Olive and the Caper and is flavoured with green onions, parsley and lots of fresh dill, and made with phyllo dough. But I was game to try any variation, including one that used the rather non-traditional puff pastry. I cooked off the defrosted spinach in the pan with the onions rather than steaming it and went with the fennel seeds and feta to flavour the filling. I made this on a day of crazy family schedules where a sit down dinner wasn't going to happen so I baked them as turnovers, an easy grab-and-go meal with a salad, Greek of course, packed separately. 

These were really good - not as fresh tasting as the recipe I use with all of those herbs, but still perfectly delicious. I'd love to see how it turned out baked as a pastry-topped pie.
Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Cheddar (page 108)
Cabbage/Brussels sprouts + apple = delicious; apple + cheddar = delicious; the three ingredients combined with toasted hazelnuts and lemon vinaigrette = fantastic! This was a great lettuce-free salad that fulfilled my craving for fresh and crisp foods with bright flavours, one that doesn't go away even though the weather is cold and snowy and slow-roasted and braised foods are the order of the day. I will definitely be making this again.

Bruschetta with Curly Kale (page 200)
The kale lovers including myself really enjoyed this quick open-faced sandwich of toasted garlic bread topped with barely cooked garlicky kale and cheese. We so enjoyed the kale and cheddar pizza topping from October's CCC, that that became our cheese of choice. But that ingredient was secondary; this was a recipe where the kale was allowed to shine. I used curly since that's much more readily available here than Tuscan/lacinato, and good though this was prepared as per the recipe, it was fabulous after a stint under the broiler that crisped the kale and melted the cheese! 

Quick Chickpea Pasta (page 246)
A dish that definitely lived up to it's name in that it was very quick, not taking much longer than it did to bring water to a boil and cook pasta. It was a little dry but some pasta cooking water I had rescued from the pot before draining the pasta and chickpeas solved that issue, and combined with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, Thai bird chile and Parmesan, made a light but flavourful sauce for the dish. This was tasty and quite satisfying and something I would definitely make again.

Leek Risotto with Chestnuts (page 270)
This was a lovely seasonal risotto flavoured primarily with leeks, some wine and good vegetable stock finished with the crunch of some crumbled, fried chestnuts. I used the author's method of adding one-quarter of the stock at a time, one that seemed less fiddly than adding it by the ladle-full but still produced good results. This was a simple, comforting dish which I quite enjoyed...for family who complained that it was too sweet, there was a bowl of grated Parmesan on the table!

Sweet Corn Fritters with Cilantro Raita (page 325)
These crispy fritters reminded me of the cauliflower pakoras we made in September with a similar spice profile and the rather distinctive flavour of chickpea flour. A little hot, spiced with warm earthy flavours, and pops of sweetness from the corn, they were a taste of summer in the depths of winter. The dipping sauce of yogurt and goat's cheese had lots of flavour and tang to complement the fritters.......the perfect accompaniment.

This was a very delicious month at Cottage Cooking Club and I'm just sorry I didn't have time to try more of the dishes (especially the salsify!). I can't wait to see what everyone else made! Visit here to find out....

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gingerbread Bûche de Noël - Tuesdays with Dorie

This week's TWD choice from Baking Chez Moi was a recipe I approached with some trepidation; there were multiple components to this dessert, some involving some rather tricky (for me) techniques. But at the same time, I looked forward to the challenge...improving my baking skills was one of my reasons for joining this group after all so I forged ahead.

Well, it seems I needn't have worried since Dorie managed to guide me through the steps that concerned me most. I didn't burn the caramel for the pralines, I didn't deflate my sponge cake batter (too much) while trying to incorporate all of those pesky flour pockets and though it was perhaps a tad over baked at 13 minutes in my oven, the cake didn't break apart when I rolled it. Dorie told me not to worry about the cracks so I didn't, and armed with my trusty instant read thermometer, even the dreaded marshmallow frosting (that I made with only three egg whites) turned out. 
The result was a delicious Bûche de Noël made of a moist, lightly spiced cake, filled with a tangy, creamy filling and decorated with an ethereal whipped frosting studded with crunchy pecan pralines. I took a torch to the frosting since I think marshmallows are at their best toasted - actually just an excuse to play with one of my kitchen toys ;)!

This was my contribution to a dessert buffet and it was very well received, one of the first to disappear. Many commented that it wasn't overly sweet with the tangy filling a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the other elements and that it was quite light. Dorie says to serve it chilled, but it ended up served at room temperature. It held up well and I actually preferred it this way with the filling and cake a softer texture and the spice flavours a little more pronounced. I would definitely make this again.

Visit TWD to see everyone else's lovely cakes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lemon-Soy Sauce Braised Chicken - IHCC Potluck

It's Mark Bittman's turn in my kitchen for this month's IHCC potluck with the very flavourful Chicken Braised in Soy Sauce and Lemon from his book How to Cook Everything.
Relatively quick to make, chicken pieces were braised in a mixture of soy sauce, water, lemon zest, garlic and cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes as I used. You have the option of first browning the chicken pieces, but this step takes time and adds unnecessary fat to the dish; I used skinned chicken thighs and as you can see from the pictures, the soy sauce gave them a lovely burnished look without frying. 
Finished with some fresh lemon juice, the dish was quite lemony in flavour with the soy sauce doing what it does best, adding that indefinable umami flavour. Despite it not being particularly Asian, I served it with stir-fried Shanghai bok choy and mushrooms, and steamed brown rice for a weeknight meal that was easy on the cook and a hit with family.

I'm  also sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books hosted by Joyce. Visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and Kitchen Flavours to see what everyone else made this month!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beet & Carrot Fritters with Dill-Yogurt Sauce - IHCC Party Pleasers

I've written before about the importance to me of beets during the holiday season with barszcz (Polish beet soup) the opening course of our family Christmas Eve feast. Potato pancakes, latkes, or placki kartoflane as I know them are also a family tradition, one of our favourite suppers on meatless Fridays growing up. It was a given that I would make a beet dish for this week's IHCC theme of "party pleasers" and in my search for one, I came across Beet and Carrot Fritters from A Change of Appetite, a recipe that combined these two important-to-me foods. A creative take on potato pancakes, they included shredded carrots and beets, with sautéed onion and garlic for added flavour.
With the help of a food processor that did the shredding for me, these were easy to put together. The cooking instructions seemed a little complicated with constant turning and heat adjustments required; I just patted the mixture of vegetables, aromatics and eggs out into thinner pancakes and cooked them a few minutes each side on medium-high. They were golden and crisp and fully cooked in the centre. Sour cream was a traditional accompaniment to the pancakes of my youth but I switched to Greek yogurt years ago - garlic and fresh dill were delicious additions.
These were fantastic! I was very pleased that the beets didn't overwhelm the other ingredients, allowing the flavour of the potatoes and carrots to come through. They would be perfect as a starter for a festive dinner party or as one of the offerings at a latke party during Hannukah!

Visit IHCC to see the rest of the party menu!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Rugelach That Won Over France - Tuesdays With Dorie

This week's TWD choice from Baking Chez Moi is rugelach, a popular Jewish cookie with a cream cheese-rich pastry rolled with a fruity, nutty and often chocolatey filling. 
The cookie is no stranger to me since it's graced my Christmas cookie trays for many years. In fact, Dorie's dough recipe is exactly the same as the one I've been using, but all resemblance to my recipe ends there. The differences are primarily in the techniques of making and shaping the dough, leaving pieces of butter and cream cheese in it and rolling it very thinly to help create flaky layers during baking, and shaping it into a cigar-shaped roll that's sliced and baked, producing cylinder-shaped cookies instead of the crescent shape I make.

I followed these instructions and the other tips provided, and having made them before, used a few tricks of my own, finely chopping the filling ingredients in the food processor which does it far more efficiently than I, and rolling the dough tightly around the filling to minimize filling loss during baking. I sliced the chilled rolls and froze the cookies before baking. 375F worked better than 400F in my oven, browning but not burning the exterior while cooking the dough all the way through.

Dorie's method resulted in a superior cookie with each little bundle of deliciousness comprised of multiple layers of flaky pastry and sweet, chewy filling. And lets talk about that filling....who can resist chocolate and cherries with crunchy pecans and chewy coconut? Well, apparently the coconut-haters among my tasters can! 

I and many others thought they were fantastic and worth repeating, perhaps sans coconut next time! And while I did love the texture and flavour of the cookie, I really missed the crescent shape, so I'll definitely be returning to that.

Do visit the other TWD members' posts for these delicious Rugelach That Won Over France here.  

We're not publishing the recipes from the book but I encourage you to buy it, you won't be sorry.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Farro and Oat Porridge with Pomegranates and Pistachios - IHCC December Mystery Box Madness!

Mystery Box Madness at I Heart Cooking Clubs is here again! I love this theme where we're provided with a list of ten ingredients from which we are to use at least three in a dish from any of the featured chefs. The ingredients this month were: chocolate, cherries, cinnamon, oats, couscous, pomegranate, curry (powder/paste), coconut milk, lentils, hot peppers/chillies.
I needed a reprieve from all of the sweets and rich foods that have started to appear during this festive season (some of which I've been guilty of making!) and made Spelt and Oat Porridge with Pomegranates and Pistachios, from Diana Henry's book A Change of Appetite. This was a warming bowl of hot cereal made with farro used in place of spelt and oats, and topped with pomegranates and pistachios. Not included in the original recipe, and as my third "mystery box" ingredient, I added a cinnamon stick to the farro cooking water and again to the farro-oat-milk mixture so the porridge would be infused with its flavour.

The steel-cut oats* took twice as long to cook and needed twice as much liquid as the recipe indicated, which was actually more in keeping with the package directions, and I added a little salt to the porridge along with the sugar. Not a quick cooking cereal, I made it on a Sunday to enjoy during the week adding just a splash of milk while reheating it to restore its original creaminess.

Perked up with tart pomegranate arils and crunchy pistachios, who wouldn't want to start their day with this nourishing bowl of goodness. 

* in my North American edition, this ingredient is listed as "steel-cut rolled oats", a form that doesn't exist; the cooking instructions in the recipe would have worked for rolled oats

I'm looking forward to seeing how everyone else used the Mystery Box ingredients

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sugar-Crusted Lime Loaf Cake and Lime Curd - Gifts From the Heart IHCC

For this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme "Gifts From The Heart", I turned to Diana Henry's book Plenty which provided me with the perfect recipe for gift-giving in the Sugar-Crusted Lemon Loaf Cake. I made the lime variation flavoured with both the zest and juice of the fruit and glazed with a zingy lime syrup, the source of the sugar crust. A moist, dense pound cake redolent with lime, it baked up beautifully tall and golden and lovely.
And what better to accompany it than Raj Nimboo Curd from the book Salt Sugar Smoke, a tart lime curd with just the right amount of sweetness and a very smooth finish. Silky in texture thanks to the butter (twice the amount of my regular recipe!) it was quite rich and luxurious and perfect for gift-giving. A special treat for someone's afternoon tea! 

Visit IHCC to read about the other gifts.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dark Chocolate Éclairs - Avid Baker's Challenge

Our two years of baking from the King Arthur Flour website are at an end and for our final recipe, the Avid Baker's Challenge members have baked an über chocolatey treat, Dark Chocolate Éclairs!
Made from classic French Choux Pastry, the light, crisp shell of these delicious pastries was merely an excuse to indulge in a silky, rich chocolate pastry cream filling and a smooth, creamy, bittersweet chocolate ganache glaze. A chocoholic's dream dessert!

If you would like to give these decadent sweets a try, click on the recipe names for the links to KAF. And visit ABC to see the other bakers' creations. 

Next month ABC begins a new challenge, baking from the blog Scientifically Sweet. It looks as though there will be new, fun baking adventures ahead!