Monday, December 28, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - December 2015

Anticipating that December would be a busy month for everyone, Andrea, our Cottage Cooking Club founder, chose only five recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg for us to make this month. I managed two them:

Mushroom "Stoup" (page 154)
Made with both fresh and dried mushrooms, this hearty "stoup" was rich and meaty - without containing any meat - with intense mushroom flavour. The (optional) herb dumplings that were a recommended accompaniment sounded very tasty and I'd like to try them one day but I had leftover cooked brown basmati rice that needed to be used so that's what ended up in the soup. Brimming with mushrooms, vegetables and flavour, this made a satisfying meal-in-a-bowl.

Spicy Carrot and Chickpea Pita (page 193)
I've said many times that the "Raw Assemblies" chapter was my favourite for opening my eyes to new treatments for raw vegetables but the "Bready Things" chapter has been equally revelatory, showing me just how much of a sandwich rut I was in! Who would think to use spiced, caramelized carrots and chickpeas as a sandwich filling? It's not a combination I would have considered, but it worked extremely well. Hot paprika added some heat, and orange zest and juice gave the ingredients a nice lift. It was delicious on a pita with a little Greek yogurt.

I'm looking forward to what January will bring.....

Until then, I wish everyone much health and happiness in the new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Stained Glass Cookies - Tuesdays with Dorie

I'm ready for Santa with these festive cutout cookies and a cup of white hot chocolate!
These crisp yet tender shortbread-like cookies with tutti-frutti candy "windows" are from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking Chez Moi, made for Tuesdays with Dorie. Check out the rest of the baking group's treats here

Merry Christmas! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Eve Barszcz (Polish Beet Soup)

Our Polish Christmas Eve celebration wouldn't be the same without a cup of steaming barszcz to sip slowly, a prelude to the feast that follows. There are many, many recipes for beet barszcz, with my favourite a summer variation brimming with garden fresh vegetables, but there's something special about the clear ruby liquid served at Christmas that's rich and savoury, with the earthy sweetness of beets and a tangy kick to finish.
My mum made the most delicious version with her flavourful homemade chicken-beef broth that had simmered for hours as its base. My version is much quicker, uses a few shortcuts to cut down on time and includes a few tricks to boost the flavour.
It starts with store-bought vegetable stock. (shortcut #1). You can use beef or chicken stock but Christmas Eve is traditionally a meatless celebration for us. Shortcut #2 is store-bought cooked beets. 
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To boost the flavour, a trio of vegetables - onions, celery and carrots - cooked until golden, add richness, and dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid add meaty flavour without the meat. Since these ingredients are strained out of the soup, I use a mini food processor to do the work of chopping them.

Barszcz Czysty Czerwony
(Clear Beet Soup)
serves 6-8
14g dried mushrooms (I use mixed wild forest)
240ml boiling water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
900ml vegetable stock
500g cooked beets, about 4 medium, coarsely grated
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp lemon juice, plus more to taste 
chopped dill or parsley (optional)
plain yogurt (optional)
uszka (optional)

Place the mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid with a slotted spoon, chop them and set them aside. Pour the soaking liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove the sediment and set it aside.

While the mushrooms are soaking, put the olive oil and chopped onion into a medium-sized pot on medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and turned a pale gold colour, about 6-8 minutes. Add the celery and carrots to the pot and cook an additional minute or two. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the stock, reserved mushrooms and their soaking liquid, grated beets, bay leaf and 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer. 

Pour the soup through a sieve or strainer into a bowl pressing against the solids to release any remaining liquid. Season the strained soup with salt and pepper to taste and add the lemon juice. The soup can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for 24 hours.

When ready to serve, return the soup to the pot and reheat it gently on medium-low heat. Taste just before serving to adjust the lemon juice - its intensity changes with time, heat etc... Ladle into cups and garnish with chopped parsley or dill if desired.

This soup is also fantastic chilled with a little plain yogurt or sour cream stirred in:
or served hot as a soup course with wild mushroom-filled dumplings, uszka (ears):

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chocolate-Chestnut Tart with Chestnut-Vanilla Syrup - Tuesdays with Dorie

A chocolate ganache-filled tart is a classic dessert that needs no help, but this week's Tuesdays with Dorie project included a special ingredient in the filling: roasted chestnuts candied in vanilla-bean syrup. They added extra sweetness, a little texture and a subtle nutty flavour to an already delicious tart. A slice of this was excellent served as is with coffee.
But Dorie didn't stop there, suggesting that it be served with coffee ice cream and a drizzle of the chestnut-vanilla syrup....
Pure decadence!

This month at TWD, we can bake and post the two December recipes from Baking Chez Moi in the order we want. Next up for me will be the Stained Glass Cookies on December 22. Visit here to see which recipe the other members chose to make this week

Monday, December 7, 2015

For "The Carnivores"

With a family of five, it's hard to please everyone so I sometimes plan a meal around someone's favourite foods, particularly if their preferences have been overlooked - some might say "ignored" - for a while. After a string of meatless meals, fish, and pasta dishes, it was time for my husband and son, devoted meat and potato fans, affectionately known as "the carnivores", to have their turn.

The menu:
Steak Florentine, strip loin steaks rubbed with garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper, and finished with olive oil and lemon. Simple is often best with a nice cut of beef.

The recipe calls for grilling the steaks outside. It was -1°C. "The carnivores", who have graciously bestowed the title of family "grill-master" upon me (actually, hubby lost it to me when he tried to serve burgers that were burnt on the outside and raw inside!!!), did offer to help bundle me up against the December chill, that is, so I could cook outdoors. I declined and opted to use a cast iron pan in my warm kitchen.
Baked Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese and Bread Crumbs, a decadent dish of creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes topped with a crisp panko crust. This is a "special occasion" dish for us that makes great company fare since it can be made in advance and reheated when needed. It's always a hit.

And because the rest of us needed something to eat: 
Arugula and Orange Salad with Basil Vinaigrette, peppery greens with a balsamic-shallot-basil dressing. Whatever you do, don't leave out the oranges, they're what make this salad so special. I even add the zest and the juice squeezed from the membranes to the dressing to ramp up the orange flavour. It's very bright and refreshing, especially important with rich foods on the menu.
Herb-Roasted Root Vegetables, a medley of winter vegetables, baked with mixed herbs until tender and caramelized. This is a great recipe to have at hand because you can use whatever is available in your crisper or cold storage. I made it with Brussels sprouts and carrots this time, and fresh rosemary and thyme since I had some. Roasting always brings out the sweetness and intensifies the flavour of vegetables but this recipe is particularly flavourful because of the herbs.
"The carnivores" were very happy.....and the others didn't complain either!

I wasn't a member of I Heart Cooking Clubs when Giada de Laurentiis was featured chef but I cook with her recipes often and these are among the family favourites. They're from her books Everyday Italian and Giada's Family Dinners but I found them (or variations of them) online as well:

Steak Florentine
Baked Mashed Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese and Breadcrumbs
Arugula and Orange Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
Herb-Roasted Root Vegetables (the book doesn't include the potatoes)

Giada is featured chef again this week so be sure to visit IHCC to see more of her dishes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Pumpkin Favourites

I've recovered from the pumpkin overload that is Thanksgiving - mid-October here in Canada - so I'm ready to dive back into those ginormous cans of vegetable purée that are available here to cook up some pumpkiny goodness. There are so many great pumpkin recipes out there, they're actually pretty easy to use up. I managed to do it with just three, each one using about one-third of the can.

For a weekend breakfast, these Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes are a sure winner. They're light and fluffy like a typical buttermilk pancake and spiced with the warmth of ginger. To make them extra special, I sometimes serve them with Maple-Cream Cheese Drizzle
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
makes 24 - 10cm pancakes
adapted from Dietitians of Canada

130g/1 cup whole wheat flour
130g/1 cup all-purpose flour
40g/3 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp table salt
1 egg
600ml buttermilk
240ml pumpkin purée
2 tbsp flavourless vegetable oil plus more for the pan/griddle 

In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. 

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, pumpkin purée and vegetable oil. Add to the flour mixture and stir until all of the dry ingredients have disappeared. The batter will look a little lumpy.

Heat a griddle or non-stick skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with oil. For each pancake, pour about 45ml batter onto the pan/griddle and cook for about 2-3 minutes or until bubbles start to appear on the surface and the edges start to look dry. Flip and cook until golden brown, about another 2 minutes. Repeat, oiling the pan and adjusting heat as necessary between batches.

Maple-Cream Cheese Drizzle

125g cream cheese, at room temperature
60ml real maple syrup, preferably grade "B"

With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, slowly add the maple syrup, mixing until incorporated. It will be the consistency of a thin spread. Microwave for 20-30 seconds or until slightly warm and pourable or add more maple syrup for a thinner consistency.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins, adapted from a recipe in one of my new, favourite cookbooks, Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig, is another favourite for breakfast or snacks. I replace the chocolate chips with chopped walnuts but otherwise follow the original recipe to make these delicious muffins.
Flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg, they're relatively low in fat, owing most of their moistness to the pumpkin. I like to top them with a little turbinado sugar for an extra, sweet crunch. They're best served the day they're baked but they do reheat nicely in the oven or microwave.

And to finish off the can, "Real Pumpkin Spice Latte", from Bon Appetit. The recipe for the latte base starts with a spicy concoction made with cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, fresh ginger and water, which is then cooked with the pumpkin purée, and enriched with sweetened condensed milk, maple syrup and cream. 

It makes a large amount but it keeps well in the fridge and can also be frozen. Just heat it up and stir it into freshly brewed espresso and add some hot milk to finish.
Pure pumpkin indulgence you can enjoy any time.
It's all gone now...time for a new can and some new recipes!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - November 2015

November has come and gone very quickly and once again, our lovely Cottage Cooking Club founder and leader Andrea chose a great cross-section of recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book, River Cottage Veg. Some were quick and easy, some were more involved, but all featured a variety of seasonal produce. I made eight of the ten, plus one I wasn't supposed to. I was clearly a little distracted that day, which may also explain why my soup didn't turn out that well! 

Chile, Cheese and Rosemary Polenta with Tomato Sauce (page 58)
I love cheesy polenta and pairing it with tomato sauce seemed an excellent idea. I was right - this dish was a hit! I use instant polenta in baked goods calling for cornmeal when I want the corn flavour and some texture without the grit but I've never actually cooked it. It didn't seem as creamy as the regular but for the end purpose it worked very well, firming up nicely in the fridge and keeping its shape while I grilled it. It was wonderfully flavourful and the simple garlicky tomato sauce was the perfect complement. 

Celery, Orange, Pecans (page 116)
This was the last recipe to be made from my favourite chapter in the book, "Raw Assemblies", and we ended on a high note with this one. Incredibly, it took only three ingredients (and no dressing) to produce this lovely, bright and fresh tasting salad. A definite keeper!

Parsnip and Ginger Soup (page 157)
This recipe came as a surprise. I expect cream soups to be quite mellow but that was not so with this one. It was robustly flavoured with alliums, spices and ginger, and had a strong parsnip presence. I ended up adding extra milk and stock, not to intentionally thin the soup though that was one of the effects, but to dilute the flavour a little so family would eat it. I did like all of the spices and ginger with the parsnip but if I were to make this again, I would replace some of the parsnip with potato to subdue the flavours a little while retaining the soup's texture.

Squash and Walnut Toastie (page 204)
I had some leftover roasted squash and fennel and remembering that a squash dish from the "Bready Things" chapter was one of my choices for this month, I made these toasties to serve with the parsnip soup, only to realize later that it was the wrong recipe. We enjoyed these open-faced sandwiches of roasted herby veg, melted cheddar cheese and crunchy walnuts (added after the photo was taken because I forgot them) nevertheless. A tasty way to repurpose leftovers.

Hot Squash Foldover (page 189) 
This was the recipe I was supposed to make but having already made cheesy squash toasties, I changed it up a little. I roasted the squash with garlic and added hot chiles as per the recipe but finished with green onions, coriander and a squeeze of lime instead of cheese. Delicious as I'm sure the original recipe was, we loved this bright version.

Kale "Speltotto" (Spinach Farrotto) with Goat's Cheese (page 280)
Cooked like risotto, this dish wasn't nearly as creamy but it did have a nice texture and great flavour. The recipe seemed quite involved, with each of the components cooked separately, so I changed the method a little and cut back on the number of dirty pans produced by cooking the leeks with the onions and using fresh spinach added directly to the pan towards the end of the cook time. Hearty and delicious, especially with the goat's milk cheddar cheese I used, it was perfect fall weather fare.

Beet and Walnut Hummus (page 300)
This beet hummus was as vibrant in flavour as it was in colour. Made with roasted beets, it had a few unexpected ingredients along with the usual lemon juice, garlic and tahini: toasted walnuts and stale bread! As with most recipes for hummus that I've tried, I found that the flavour was better the next day. It became more savoury than sweet with the lemon and garlic receding to the background and the walnuts added a pleasant nuttiness. I did find the cumin to be a bit strong so would reduce that next time. I halved the recipe and enjoyed it over a few days for lunch and snacks.

Roasted Potatoes with Two Mojo Sauces (page 358)
What a fun way to dress up roasted potatoes! Both uncooked sauces complemented the roasted Yukon Gold wedges but one was a clear winner for us. 

The mojo picón, made with roasted peppers and dried chiles, (lots of) garlic, cumin and smoked paprika was quite complex with its layers of flavour: smoky, sweet, tangy. I used a Spanish sherry vinegar in this recipe, which I think produced a mellower tasting dip than intended. We loved this one.
I stuck to the recipe for the mojo cilantro sauce and used white wine vinegar. It was sharp and vinegary and dominated by the raw garlic so a very small amount went a very long way. I think if you like vinegar on your fries, you would be a fan but it wasn't a hit here, at least not with the potatoes. In considering the ingredients, I decided to use the leftover as a marinade for some boneless chicken breasts that were to be pan-roasted. Now they were a hit! 

Jerusalem Artichoke Frying Pan Gratin (page 382) 

I do like sunchokes as they're known here but they're quite expensive despite being indigenous to this part of Canada (they're considered more of a nuisance to farmers than a cash crop), so I don't cook with them as often as I would like. But this luxurious dish was worthy of the expense. Sautéed onion and thyme added lots of flavour to the thinly sliced tubers, and homemade crème fraîche and grated Gruyère added the decadence. Easy to make and fairly quick-cooking, this was company-worthy fare that the family enjoyed.

I'm now looking forward to December's choices. Until then, I'll enjoy reading about what the other members made this month.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pear-Cranberry Roll-Up Tart - Tuesdays with Dorie

One of my favourite fall crisp recipes includes sweet, juicy pears and tart cranberries so I was very excited to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection from Baking Chez Moi.  
The fruit filling for this tart was encased in galette pastry, a dough I've made a few times now and one that's easy to work with. I added sparkly sugar for a little crunch and made candied cranberries, Dorie's recipe on page 451, to adorn the plate.

The flavour was fantastic, especially with ginger adding its warmth to the already delicious filling, but the tart had a very high pastry to fruit ratio. I wanted more fruit. Next time, I'll dispense with trying to shape it into a roll and just make it as a free-form galette with twice the amount of those fabulous gingery pears and cranberries.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Baba Julka's Chicken & Potatoes

I'm very late to the braising game. The first time I ate a braised dish, I didn't even know how it was prepared. All I knew was that the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the potatoes were unlike any potatoes I'd ever had, infused with incredible flavour. 
That was a meal of many firsts: my first braised dish, my first time meeting my future grandmother-in-law, and for Baba Julka, it was her first encounter with someone who doesn't eat chicken skin (I did try to that time!). My husband doesn't remember much about that lunch but he does remember Baba's reaction to that! Everyone remembers it, or variations of the story that came later that I'll never live down ;)!!!
Years later, cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi's book Jerusalem, I rediscovered the flavours and textures of that meal in his Chicken Sofrito. The Sephardic dish, seasoned with paprika, onion, garlic, a little earthy turmeric and some lemon, uses an interesting braising-steaming method of cooking that produces melt-in-your-mouth tender meat without much liquid. The recipe calls for frying the potatoes and garlic before adding them to the chicken. I did that the first time but have since switched to browning them off in the oven at a high temperature with just a small amount of oil.
As a side, I made Charred Okra with Tomato, Garlic and Preserved Lemon from the same book. The quick cooking method adds a wonderful smoky flavour to the vegetable and avoids the sliminess of some preparations. I didn't have preserved lemon this time but the tomatoes and lemon juice alone were enough to add zing to the dish.
Though simple, the chicken and potatoes are very rich and need something bright and breezy to go with them. I usually serve a green salad but the okra-tomato side made a nice change. It provided fresh flavours and a crunchy texture to complement the main.

Since Yotam Ottolenghi is a former I Heart Cooking Clubs featured chef, and this week's theme is potluck where we're allowed to cook with them, I'm linking this post to IHCC. Visit here to see what everyone else has made.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chocolate-Banana Bundt Cake

This beautiful bundt cake holds a wonderful surprise. It looks like a deliciously moist, über chocolatey, fudgy cake - you can see the melted chocolate chips in every slice - surprise! It's equally rich in banana flavour.
I happen to love the banana and chocolate combination but find that in most recipes the fruit is overwhelmed by the chocolate. This cake manages to find that perfect balance. 
It's very easy to make and uses basic baking pantry ingredients, even relying on cocoa powder for the intense chocolate flavour. And I really like the fact that the author provides the weights of all of the ingredients including the bananas. Too often, I've found that my idea of a small, medium or large banana doesn't agree with the author's so I end up with a too wet or too dry cake. Not so with this one. It's perfect every time.
It's a large cake so it's wonderful for feeding a crowd and on top of that, it keeps well for several days. I'm so happy to have found this recipe; it's in the fantastic cookbook Modern Jewish Cooking, by Leah Koenig. 

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books, hosted by Joyce of kitchen Flavours.