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!