Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cottage Cooking Club - May 2015

Spring has definitely sprung here with locally grown produce readily available now at grocery stores and markets. Andrea, the founder and host of the Cottage Cooking Club, encouraged us to be creative with this month's chosen recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg and use as much of this vegetable bounty as we could. I did make some substitutions but not many since most of the recipes were wonderful as is.

Spinach, Penne (Fusilli) and Cheese "Spoufflé" (page 43)
Described as a "one-pot" dish, I was very excited to think that I could toss ingredients into a pot willy nilly and have it emerge from the oven as a fluffy soufflé.
That is actually what you do in this recipe....maybe without the "tossing willy nilly" .....but only after first cooking pasta, making a béchamel sauce, cooking spinach, grating cheese and whipping egg whites, finally combining these components to put into the baking dish. I don't have much experience with soufflés - this one's a "spoufflé" because it includes pasta - so I'm always thrilled when they work out. And this one did, puffing up beautifully in the ramekins. Everyone loved it and thought it well worth the sink full of dirty dishes (which they didn't have to wash!). I really enjoyed it but thought the onion flavour didn't come through and would steep it longer in the milk or perhaps mince and sauté it next time - what's one more dirty pan after all!

Herby, Peanutty, Noodly Salad (page 71)
This is what I want to be eating on a hot day. Light and fresh tasting, this Thai-inspired salad was bursting with lime and herb flavours. The author makes some ingredient suggestions so I went with rice vermicelli, and mint and coriander were my herbs of choice. My own not so very creative substitution was Chinese long beans/snake beans for the green beans. I loved that the components could be made in advance and assembled just before serving, making it an excellent choice for a packed lunch. This dish is destined to be made often during the summer months.

Kohlrabi "Carpaccio" (page 116)
I'm quite happy to eat plain pieces of kohlrabi as a snack so if I'm going to go to the trouble of making a salad with it, it has to be worth my while. I really enjoyed the goat's cheese and thyme with it but dressed with just a dribble of lemon juice and olive oil, I didn't think this one was worth pulling out the mandoline for. I had enough kohlrabi for a second salad so I made it again but used the honey-mustard dressing from the shaved summer vegetables recipe (page 100). Now that was worth the effort.

Pearled Barley Broth (page 160)
There was no wow factor here, just the pleasant flavours of a simple, homey soup with barley, an assortment of vegetables, herbs and spices. Since mushrooms and barley are such a natural pairing, I made the alternative garnish of sautéed cremini mushrooms. Served with a simple salad, it made for a very family friendly meal.

Asparagus (Fiddlehead) Pizza (page 185) 
I know spring is really here, not when I spot the first local asparagus or discover pea shoots or ramps, but when fiddleheads start popping up at markets and in grocery stores.
They're treated like a vegetable, but they're actually ostrich ferns picked during the bud stage, before they unfurl into feathery fronds. They grow only in the wild, are harvested by hand and have a very short growing season. I'm lucky to live in an area where they abound but they're still a rare treat. 

Since Andrea invited us to be creative with spring produce this month, I decided to use fiddleheads in a dish from this book but I wanted to choose one that would showcase them. As she pointed out in the p's and q's, they are similar to asparagus in flavour and can often be used as a substitute. Unlike asparagus, they shouldn't be eaten raw or even partially cooked, only fully cooked. 
I decided to do a make-up of a recipe chosen last May that met with rave reviews, the asparagus pizza. Apart from the substitution, I made one change which was to precook the fiddleheads and toss them with a little olive oil and garlic for extra flavour before putting them on the pizza.

Hugh's Magic Bread Dough turned out well again, providing a crisp and chewy base for the sautéed onions, mozzarella, Parmesan and fiddleheads. Fabulous! And worthy of this delicacy.

Spicy Merguez Oven Fries with Yogurt Dip (page 225) 
I could probably put anything on a fried potato and it would get eaten here, but this spice mix of cumin, fennel, coriander, caraway and smoked paprika happened to taste fantastic.
I made a mistake while measuring it out and doubled the cumin, doubling the entire recipe in the end to correct for it. But no regrets, it was worth making extra to have on hand for the next batch. After parboiling the potatoes, they were oven-fried (in only 3 tbsp oil) so they were crisp with a fluffy centre. I think I would have had similar results without pre-cooking so I'll skip that step next time. 

When I see the word "spicy", I think "hot". But unless you went wild with the cayenne, these potatoes were just very flavourful. The accompanying tangy yogurt dip, to which I added an entire clove of garlic, complemented them perfectly. Needless to say, these were a huge success.

Grilled Asparagus Spears with Lemon Dressing (page 339)
Young asparagus, grilled until tender and dressed with a little lemon juice and a sprinkling of fresh herbs is a delicious but not particularly revolutionary recipe. However, Hugh's technique of threading the spears on wooden skewers that had first been soaked in cold water was absolutely brilliant. I tried it with blanched broccoli as well and it worked perfectly. I grill vegetables all the time and didn't think I needed a recipe for them, but I'm so glad I tried this one. No more vegetables lost to the grill ever again!!!!

I can't wait to see what the other members did with the recipes this month. Visit here to find out. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rhubarb Upside-Down Brown Sugar Cake - Tuesdays with Dorie

I love rhubarb so I was looking forward to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection from Baking Chez Moi, and it didn't disappoint. 
The rhubarb was sweet-tart, and the ratio of caramelized vegetable to butterscotch flavoured cake was perfect. The cake was a little dense, but I had reduced the sugar by 1/3 the recipe so that may have played a role, but it was also very soft and moist and held together even after absorbing all of the juices released by the rhubarb while it baked. 
Apart from a red currant jelly glaze that provided a glossy finish, I didn't include any of the optional ingredients or accompaniments, but the cake didn't need them; it was delicious served as is. 

Visit Tuesdays with Dorie to see everyone's wonderful cakes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Salmon Tartare - IHCC Potluck

I decided to bring hors d'oeuvres to this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs Potluck, elegant but deceptively simple little canapés made with Jacques Pépin's Salmon Tartare from the book Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, comprising fresh (raw) salmon, shallots, lemon, parsley, olive oil and hot sauce served atop marinated cucumber and pumpernickel bread.
This recipe represented a few firsts for me: my first time cooking with Jacques Pépin, not just for I Heart Cooking Clubs, but ever, and my first time making tartare of any type. I was surprised at how easy it was and pleased that despite the other ingredients, the salmon remained the star. I liked Jacques's suggestion of mounding the tartare on a nest of cucumber ribbons so I just minified it to create these delicious little nibbles.
I usually welcome a chef new to IHCC with a starter or an appetizer which is why I chose this as the first recipe to try from my new-used Jacques Pépin cookbooks, which finally arrived after being held up in customs for weeks (if you'd seen the way they were packaged, you would have been suspicious of the parcel too!). I'm looking forward to exploring more of his recipes with the other IHCC members over the next few months.

Visit here to enjoy all of the other potluck fare.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Coconut-Ginger Basmati Rice

Are you looking for an easy rice dish that has more oomph than plain steamed rice but takes no more time to make? With fresh ginger stirred into a pot of subtly sweet, perfectly cooked basmati, this one delivers. 
The recipe comes from the Essential New York Times Cookbook and it works perfectly as written, but I've converted the ingredients to measurements I prefer to use, and made a few changes based on family preferences and packaging (I like to use up the whole can of coconut milk once it's opened).

Coconut-Ginger Basmati Rice
serves 6

prep & cooking time: 30 minutes

400g basmati rice
398ml unsweetened coconut milk
440ml vegetable or chicken stock
2 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
1-1/2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger 
salt to taste

The original recipe and cooking method can be found in the book but it's also been published here.

This rice is delicious with just about everything. I've served it with Chilli Pork with Snake Beans and Garlicky Chicken and Shrimp Kebabs.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Salmon and Lentils with Herb Relish - For Deb

One of the wonderful co-hosts of I Heart Cooking Clubs recently suffered a heart-wrenching loss with the passing of her mother. If you're familiar with the cooking group, you'll know that each week we cook a dish with a particular theme from a featured chef. Party fare with Jacques Pépin was on the original schedule but we've been asked instead to offer up a dish of comfort from any of the featured chefs in honour of Deb. Gladly.
I remember reading once on Deb's blog how concerned her mother was about her health and well being when she decided to change the way she ate, eliminating red meat and poultry among other things from her diet. So I made something that was packed with nutrients (and included a complete protein) so her mum would be reassured she was eating well, and featured Deb's favourite fish and some flavours I know she likes: Diana Henry's Salmon on Lentils with Herb Relish, from the book Plenty
A dish to nourish the body while the heart heals. This one's for you Deb, and your lovely mother.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nutella Buttons - Tuesdays with Dorie

Our Tuesdays with Dorie project this week was a sweet little treat that was as cute as its name implied: Nutella Buttons from Baking Chez Moi.
Made from a batter lightened with whipped egg whites, these were tender vanilla mini cakes that hid a Nutella surprise. I skipped the ganache and dipped some in melted milk chocolate and others in white with the white chocolate the clear favourite.....too easy to make and too good to eat not to repeat.

Visit here to see the other variations of these irresistible confections.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Garlicky Shrimp and Chicken Kebabs with Tomato-Kumquat Salsa

This recipe was my introduction to homemade salsa (and kumquats as well) and I've been making it for years. Both the kebabs and salsa are nice and quick to prepare and easy enough for cooks of any skill level. You can make this any time of year by popping the kebabs under the broiler, but it's also fantastic cooked on the outdoor grill. Serve with rice and a bright green vegetable for a delicious meal.

Garlicky Shrimp and Chicken Kebabs with Tomato-Kumquat Salsa
adapted from Canadian Living Magazine
serves 4

prep time: 30 minutes
cooking time: 8-10 minutes

16-20 large shrimp, about 300g, peeled and deveined, with tails intact
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 400g, trimmed of visible fat, cut into 2.5cm pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
grated rind of 1 small lime, about 1 tsp (you'll use the juice in the salsa)
2 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt & pepper

8 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water at least 1 hour

4 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
8 kumquats, seeded and diced or thinly sliced, or 1 small orange, peeled, supremed and diced
1 Thai bird chile, seeded and minced
2 green onions, green parts only, thinly sliced
juice of 1 small lime, about 3 tbsp, or to taste
1 tsp sugar
small bunch of coriander, finely chopped, about 4 tbsp
salt & pepper

If you haven't already, put the wooden skewers on to soak.  

With the top rack in the highest position in the oven, preheat the oven on the BROIL setting. Have ready a broiling pan or a lightly greased rack and baking sheet large enough to hold the 8 skewers.

For the kebabs, place the chicken and shrimp into separate small bowls. Make the marinade by whisking the garlic, lime rind, coriander and vegetable oil together in a small dish. Divide the mixture between the bowls of chicken and shrimp, season both with salt and pepper, and mix well. If you're not cooking immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Make sure to bring to room temperature before cooking.
For the salsa, in a small bowl, combine tomatoes, kumquats, chile, green onions, lime juice, sugar and coriander. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This can also be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. Bring to room temperature and give it a stir before serving.
Thread the chicken pieces onto 4 of the skewers, and the shrimp onto the remaining 4. Place the chicken skewers on the broiling pan or on the prepared rack on a baking sheet and broil 4-5 minutes or until the top starts to brown. Turn the skewers over and cook another 4-5 minutes or until golden and the meat is no longer pink in the centre. The shrimp will take only 3 minutes per side to cook, so add them to the broiling pan just before you turn the chicken over. The shrimp are cooked through when they're pink on both sides and opaque in the centre. Serve with a generous spoon or two of the salsa.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberry-Raspberry Maple Syrup

From the book The Very Best of Recipes for Health comes this easy pancake recipe that uses basic ingredients and produces a light and fluffy pancake that tastes great even without toppings, the true test of a pancake or waffle in my home.
Made with two parts whole wheat flour and one part all-purpose, the recipe uses buttermilk and a little oil to add moistness and flavour. The batter comes together in less time than it takes to heat the griddle, just a quick mix of dry with wet ingredients. Martha Rose Shulman, the author of this book, writes a regular column for the New York Times so the recipe can be found here.
I omitted the blueberries from the pancake and made one of my family's favourite toppings instead, blueberry-raspberry maple syrup, which can be whipped up as you cook the pancakes. It's barely a recipe, but these are the proportions that I use:

Blueberry-Raspberry Maple Syrup

120ml pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
140g/240ml fresh or frozen blueberries
60g/120ml fresh or frozen raspberries

In a small saucepan, bring maple syrup and blueberries to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes or until the fruit has started to soften. Add the raspberries and bring back to a simmer for an additional 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the fruit steep in the syrup for a few minutes. Serve warm. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 week.