Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - January 2015

What a delicious month it's been cooking from River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the Cottage Cooking Club. I made seven recipes and I would make them all again!

Kale and Mushroom Lasagne (page 34) 
This dish was a huge departure from my usual meat bolognese and cheese lasagne, which is exactly why I wanted to try it! Not certain who would like it - I wasn't even sure that I would with that super rich béchamel - I made a half recipe, sort of. 

I used the full amount of vegetables and mustard for a half batch of the sauce and it turned out quite flavourful. A bland sauce was one of the things I feared about this dish. Combined with the cooked kale, it in no way resembled creamed spinach. The second of my fears proven baseless! I used a little more than half the pasta, six dried noodles (125g) trimmed to make three layers in a small casserole dish. I've never had much luck baking dry noodles in a lasagne so I pre-cooked them.

With layers of garlicky sautéed mushrooms, tender pasta, and creamy, cheesy kale, this turned out to be a hit. Delicious but quite rich, it's a once-in-a-while sort of dish.

Spelt (Farro) Salad with Squash and Fennel (page 72)
I wasn't expecting very much from this recipe; I've made several grain-based dishes lately from other books, many of them a little bland and boring. I was very pleasantly surprised that this was anything but since it turned out to have one of the better combinations of textures and flavours. The sweet, silky fennel and the roasted squash with its crispy, caramelized bits were a nice contrast to the chewy farro and crunchy toasted hazelnuts. Flavoured with garlic, lemon and Parmesan cheese, this was hearty and delicious. I loved it served warm as a side dish or main.

Cauliflower with Toasted seeds (page 108)
Family really enjoyed the bright and nutty flavours of this raw cauliflower salad, and I loved that I had another use for that jar of sumac in my pantry. It was easy to put together but slicing the cauliflower with the mandoline was a messy business with bits flying everywhere. Fortunately my dog wandered by - actually he was waiting patiently for the "ok" to come in to the kitchen - and did the preliminary clean up of the floor for me. 

The toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds complemented the cauliflower nicely and the lemon-sumac dressing added some zing. The dressed salad held up really well and would be perfect for a packed lunch.

Pasta with Greens, Garlic, and Chile (page 261)
Consisting of pasta, wilted greens and a few choice ingredients for added flavour, this dish came together very quickly and easily. I used fresh spinach, which I added not to the pasta cooking water but to the pan of onions, garlic, and chile just before the pasta went in, cooking it briefly to wilt it. This was a simple dish but it had great flavour and I'll definitely make it again.

Artichoke and White Bean Dip (page 303)
I learned just how well artichokes and white beans went together from the warm salad I made for CCC in October and like that recipe, this dish was very easy to make using pantry ingredients. I was only able to find marinated artichokes which provided most of the flavour, with more coming from cooked onions, garlic, red pepper flakes and marjoram, oregano's milder relation, and with the beans adding body. This was very good freshly made but the flavours melded together and improved over time......something to keep in the fridge for snacks and quick lunches.

Roasted Potatoes and Eggplants (page 351)
A great alternative to plain potatoes, in the roasting time provided, the potatoes were crisp with a fluffy interior and the eggplant sweet and chewy, caramelized almost beyond recognition (a good thing around here!). The garlic slices added part way through roasting cooked unevenly and didn't add much to the dish unless you ate a slice, and then it was a bit too much! I think minced garlic might have worked better, or perhaps whole cloves added at the start of roasting. I added optional lemon zest and parsley with the lemon juice to finish, which I'll do again, but hot paprika sounds good as well.

Big Baked Mushrooms (page 385)
These were really tasty! The roasting instructions worked perfectly and the little bit of garlic was perfect with the portobello mushrooms. Since they were destined for some burger buns, I added extra cheese, Gruyère, a favourite here with mushrooms. With having to drain the liquid from the caps and blot them dry first, achieving a cheese topping that was "golden and bubbling" took a little extra effort. Until grilling weather is once again upon us, this will be my go-to preparation for large mushrooms.

This has been a fantastic start to Cottage Cooking Club's new year. Let's see what Andrea of the Kitchen Lioness, intrepid founder and leader of the group, has in store for us in February!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

The antithesis of last month's multi-component, technique-driven Gingerbread Bûche de Noël, the Brown-Butter Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake, so named because it will last all weekend without compromise to either texture or flavour, was this week's selection for the TWD group baking from the book Baking Chez Moi.  

Requiring not much more than two bowls, a whisk and a few minutes of time, it was a simple cake made with basic pantry ingredients. Between the heady aroma of the browned butter and the fragrance of the vanilla bean sugar wafting up from the bowl, I knew I was making something good. The gorgeous scent of the baking cake didn't change that impression.
And it did taste good. As recommended, I let it sit overnight to let the flavours develop. Like a good vanilla pound cake, it had a pleasant vanilla flavour (and a nice crunch from the seeds) but I can't say I detected the nuttiness of the browned butter. It had a fine, tight crumb, and though it wasn't at all dry, it was a very sturdy cake. Much as I enjoyed the flavour and the ease of making it, I prefer a softer, more tender texture so I don't think I'll revisit this recipe.

As an aside, a most peculiar thing happened during baking. Out of habit, I lined my loaf pan with parchment and the cake rose very strangely, with the batter on the sides rising first and rather dramatically, then collapsing onto the cake....I've never seen that. It was nicely browned and evenly baked so I wasn't too concerned in the end but I did wonder about it. Any thoughts?

Mediterranean Vegetable Gratin - IHCC Veggie Variations

Veggie-filled, meatless dishes from Diana Henry are the theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Mediterranean Potato, Tomato and Goat Cheese Gratin from her book Plenty fit the theme and appealed to me for a few reasons, the most important being that with just a few tweaks, the whole family would eat it!
Assembled like a lasagne with layers of roasted eggplant, sautéed onions and garlic, tomatoes, and cheese, with thinly sliced potatoes replacing the pasta, it came together quite quickly. I used roasted cherry tomatoes that I'd prepared and frozen in the summer instead of the current "fresh" crop from my grocer and keeping family preferences in mind, substituted mozzarella for goat's cheese and omitted the olives. 

Based on the assembly instructions, I was supposed to have only two layers of potatoes, top and bottom, but based on the mound of slices my mandoline produced, I had three, which may explain the additional 15 minutes cooking time needed!
This dish really exceeded my expectations. It was light and very fresh tasting with the brightness of the tomatoes more than compensating for the absence of olives. The eggplant and potatoes added body without heaviness and the small amount of cheese wasn't enough to drag it down. Family enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to making this again, particularly at the end of summer with garden fresh produce.

Visit here to see the other "Veggie Variations" at IHCC.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Buttermilk Roast Chicken - IHCC Potluck

I buy buttermilk regularly for two reasons: to do a little baking and to make this dish, Nigella Lawson's The Tenderest Chicken from the book How To Eat. The first recipe I ever made from the book, it's long since become a family favourite. It's easy, flavourful, and it lives up to its name.
Poor bird, such an undignified position.
You do need to be a little organized to make this since the best flavour is achieved if the chicken has a chance to marinate in the buttermilk-garlic-mustard-soy mixture for several hours - overnight is best - but the buttermilk will work it's magic in tenderizing the meat in as little as four hours. The recipe calls for chicken pieces and that's what I've always used, but I decided to try it with a whole spatchcocked bird this time. I omitted the butter and just rubbed the skin with a little olive oil before roasting.
Garlic Potatoes, a recipe from the same book and suggested side dish consisting of potato pieces and whole garlic cloves coated with a little olive oil, roasted alongside the chicken.
The recipe worked with the whole bird as well as it did with pieces: the skin was bronzed and the meat was juicy and flavourful, and the garlicky potatoes were crisp with a fluffy centre. Another great chicken dinner!

I'm bringing this dish to I Heart Cooking Clubs' potluck and Kitchen Flavours' Cook-Your-Books this week. Visit here and here to see what everyone else made.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Granola Energy Bars - Tuesdays with Dorie

This week's chosen recipe for TWD from the book Baking Chez Moi was not only a delicious reprieve from the rich foods of last month but a great way to use up the detritus of holiday baking. With a base of old-fashioned oats, any combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit could be added to make these tasty little bars.
I used the suggested ingredients since I had everything on hand, adding my leftover apricots and cranberries to the mix of toasted oats, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and unsweetened coconut, bound and sweetened with brown rice syrup.

Sweet - but not too sweet - with a wonderful crunchy-chewy texture and studded with colourful fruit, they were easy to make and far better than anything you can buy. I'll definitely be making these on a regular basis but I think chocolate-cherry-almond will be my next rendition...or maybe pistachio-apricot-orange with a little cardamom......

With so many creative bakers in the group, I think you'll find as many variations of these granola bars as you will TWD members! Check them out here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Apricot Compote with Yogurt and Saffron Syrup - IHCC Along the Spice Trail

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is exotic spices. Yogurt with Honeyed Saffron Syrup, Almonds and Apricot Compote from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite, featured two such spices: saffron and cardamom.
An easy, make-ahead dessert, it started with a simple compote, a slowly simmered mixture of apricots, juice (lemon, and orange in place of apple), agave syrup and water that helped to plump up the dried fruit and filled the kitchen with the heady aroma of cardamom. Honey, saffron water and orange flower water made up a sweet syrup. Both components were made the day before, allowing the flavours to develop overnight.
All that remained next day was assembly. Since a bowl of yogurt with fruit passes for breakfast around here, I changed the proportions of the dish making the juicy, spice-infused apricots the star of the dish. Served with a spoon of creamy Greek yogurt, a drizzle of saffron-honey syrup, and a sprinkle of toasted almonds, it made a light dessert with an exotic fragrance and lovely flavours. I will definitely make this again.

Visit here to see the other spiced dishes.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Kale and Bulgur Pilaf with Glazed Figs - IHCC Mystery Box Madness!

Mystery Box Madness at I Heart Cooking Clubs is here again! I used five of the ingredients in the dish I made from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite: onion, leafy greens and honey were included in the base recipe, feta was a suggested addition, and I substituted lemon for orange.
Delicious and surprisingly family friendly, though the sautéed onions and fennel had to be finely diced and the figs served on the side in order for it to be so, the pilaf of steamed bulgur and boiled kale was a very tasty and hearty dish. But it was the figs slowly roasted in honey and balsamic vinegar that made it truly special.
Sweet and sticky, a little tangy and juicy, they were fantastic, and went so well with the other ingredients! Not everyone agreed. I envisioned the extra figs on my morning oatmeal.....someone else was clearly a fan of them since there were none left next day! I will definitely make this dish again, with double the figs.

The five mystery box ingredients I didn't use were flour, buttermilk - sounds like the start of a yummy baked item, no? - prawns, potatoes and paprika. Visit here to see what everyone else made!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cod with Ginger, Soy and Scallions - IHCC Happy, Healthy!

From Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite comes this simple steamed fish dish with big flavours for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme of Happy & Healthy dishes.
A quick mix of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar formed both fish marinade and sauce for the finished dish. Fresh ginger was added to the marinade for an extra punch of flavour and the fish was steamed in this mixture. To keep the dish low fat, Diana suggests steaming the garnish of fresh ginger, scallions and red chiles rather than frying them. I compromised by using a small amount of oil and rather than pouring it over fish, used it to stir fry some savoy cabbage for a side dish while the fish steamed. 
Pretty to look at and delicious to eat, this recipe was very healthy and made everyone very happy (especially the cook who put it on the table in less than 30 minutes!)....a great way to start the new year!

Visit IHCC to see what other healthy dishes were brought to the table.