Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cottage Cooking Club - February 2016

The Cottage Cooking Club may be close to the end of cooking its way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book River Cottage Veg but some fabulous recipes still remain. I tackled four of them this month.  

Rutabaga and Potato Pasties (page 52) 
My family is usually quite receptive to hand pies regardless of their filling but these were not among their favourites. Of course, if I'd followed the recipe, they might have felt differently!
I thought Hugh's method of finely dicing vegetables and cooking them raw inside a turnover was an interesting one, but having neither the time nor the inclination to brunoise over a half kilo of root vegetables, I cut them into a much larger dice and partially cooked them in the microwave instead. 

Potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, onions, thyme and a bit of sharp cheddar in a flaky pastry package sounded delicious but I failed in my execution of it: having omitted the powdered vegetable boullion and butter, I think I omitted much of the flavour as well so these ended up a little bland. The consensus was also that they were too large and quite heavy - smaller pasties would have been preferred.

Mushroom Ragout with Soft Polenta (page 57)
This ragout more than made up for the vegetable pasty "fail". The ingredients were simple but the dish was incredibly flavourful thanks in part to the red wine and mushroom stock at its base. I served it over instant polenta and though it was a good vehicle for the saucy mushrooms and did make for a fairly quick meal, I think I'll stick to regular polenta in future as the instant didn't seem to retain its creaminess for very long.

Apple and Blue Cheese (Cheddar Cheese) Toastie (page 204)
Since apple and cheddar is a favourite combination here, and apple and blue cheese is not, I substituted sharp cheddar for the recommended blue. Mounded on crispbreads and slipped under the broiler until the cheese was bubbly and the fruit was slightly softened, this made a quick and delicious snack. We loved the salty-sweet topping with the crisp rye cracker.

DIY Pot Noodles (248)  
This was a cinch to make, easy to customize, and better still, could be assembled the night before for a quick school/work lunch next day. Best of all, with only a 10-minute "cook time" in boiled water, it resulted in a wonderful meal of al dente noodles and tender-crisp vegetables in flavourful broth.
The first time I made it, I used the ingredients listed (those pictured) but since then, I've discovered that the pre-cut vegetables in grocery stores, especially the vegetable slaws, reduce the prep time and work equally well with just a few extra ingredients: hot chiles, green onions, edamame.... 

My daughters in particular were quite taken with these so they are now in regular lunch rotation.

Visit here to see what the other group members made this month.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hot Chocolate Panna Cotta - Tuesdays with Dorie

Delicious and easy to make, this dessert was another excellent chocolate-y choice for February from Dorie Greenspan's latest book Baking Chez Moi. 
It was cool and silky (I think I'm finally getting the hang of this agar-agar business!) and the milk and cream mellowed the bittersweet chocolate and cocoa so the flavour approached that of a comforting mug of rich and creamy hot chocolate. My family and I enjoyed this lovely dessert topped with dulce de leche whipped cream and grated chocolate. 

Visit here to see what the other Tuesdays with Dorie members made this week.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blood Orange Slices - Cookbook Countdown

For my final recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, the book I'm cooking from this month for Cookbook Countdown, I delved into the desserts chapter. I was in the mood for something fruity and Marcella offered many options.
I finally chose Macerated Orange Slices, a super-simple treatment that involved sprinkling sliced oranges (rind and pith removed) with the zest and juice of a lemon, sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice and allowing the ingredients time to meld.
It seemed appropriate to use Italian blood oranges, which I was fortunate to have tasted for the first time in Italy many, many years ago. Apart from being shocked by their colour - at the time, I didn't know they even existed - I thought them the best oranges I'd ever had....incredibly juicy and flavourful, and sweet with a hint of bitterness that made them all the more refreshing. This dessert approximated that experience for me as no other has.
And so ends my exploration of this book, for now; there are still many more recipes I need to try. (Can you believe I cooked from an Italian cookbook and didn't make pasta?!!). Thank you Emily and Joyce for starting this challenge, motivating me to cook through my books.

I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms & Warm Cauliflower Salad - Cookbook Countdown

Cookbook Countdown, a cooking event conceived by fabulous food bloggers Emily and Joyce, has been a great incentive for me to cook from my long-ignored cookbooks. I'm focusing on Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking this month. Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine, and Tomatoes and Warm Cauliflower Salad are the most recent recipes I tried.
Julia Child describes a fricassee as "halfway" between a sauté and a stew: the chicken pieces are first lightly cooked in a pan, then some liquid is added and the meat is braised. Wine and the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms made up the liquid portion in this recipe and the rehydrated mushrooms and some tomatoes were also included. The lid was kept slightly ajar during cooking so the liquid reduced to make an incredibly flavourful sauce. 
The chicken was moist and tender but really derived most of its flavour from the wonderfully rich mushroom sauce. I had planned to make the polenta recipe from the book as a side but after noticing the paragraph on "cleaning the pot", which involved an overnight soak and a vinegar-salt scrub, I decided to make the instant polenta I had in my pantry instead. All I can say is thank goodness for the mushroom sauce ;)! Next time I'll use the regular and try Marcella's recipe.
The cauliflower dish was a big success and a reminder that a lightly cooked vegetable seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with good olive oil and red wine vinegar is as delicious as it is simple. 

I'll be checking out the "Desserts" chapter for my next recipe.
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Layered Crespelle with Tomato and Cheese - Cookbook Countdown

This entry in Cookbook Countdown, a cooking event that's encouraging me to cook from my growing stash of much neglected cookbooks, revolves around a European style pancake, thin and crêpe-like. I know them as (Polish) naleśniki, but in Italy, they're called crespelle. I've always made sweet variations but the author explains that in Italy, they're used as a pasta wrapper stuffed with savoury fillings.
For my adapted version (sans prosciutto) of Layered Crespelle with Tomato, Prosciutto, and Cheese from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, the cookbook I'm cooking from this month, they were stacked with fresh tomato sauce, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses separating the tender pancakes. Marcella describes this as a "pie" but it reminded me of a crêpe cake.
It was like a lighter, less decadent version of lasagne and an unusual way to enjoy pancakes. Loved it!
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Italian Braised Beef and Sautéed Swiss Chard - Cookbook Countdown

Sunday roast is a tradition in my family. It takes a bit more time to prepare but is usually the source of at least one more family meal and, hopefully, a few lunches during the week. This past Sunday, I turned to Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan for some new ideas.
I chose to make Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine, a recipe that helped transform a tough but economical cut of beef into tender, juicy meat through a slow simmer in a flavourful liquid, a blend of wine, broth and vegetables. Happily, there were plenty of tasty leftovers for a few extra meals.
I had a beautiful bunch of Swiss chard to serve as a side and used the author's recipe for Sautéed Swiss Chard Stalks with Olive Oil, Garlic, and Parsley. At a glance, it looked like it used the typical blanch and sauté method but it actually involved first cooking the stalks in water for a fairly long time. This really brought out their sweetness and made them very tender and almost silky. I included the leaves since I had no other plans for them, but I would have gladly eaten the stalks alone.

As has been my experience so far, Marcella and the book I've decided to cook from this month for Cookbook Countdown did not let me down. Both recipes were delicious and will be made again. 
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Soft-Centred Chocolate Teacup Cakes - Tuesdays with Dorie

This month, Tuesdays with Dorie is celebrating chocolate with two recipes from Baking Chez Moi. When I saw the direction voting was taking, I made sure to stock up on my favourites and that's what Dorie advises using for this recipe, chocolate you enjoy eating "straight up".  
I'd never made a molten cake before and my family and I quite enjoyed this decadent dessert comprising a spongy cake surrounding a pool of dark, liquid chocolate with a white chocolate surprise hidden in its molten depths

Rich and delicious, it would be ideal for special occasions, but as someone who prefers make-ahead desserts, I do wonder if this batter can be mixed in advance and baked when needed....

Did anyone in the group try that? Visit here to find out.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sfinciuni (Sicilian Stuffed Pizza) - Cookbook Countdown

Our family pizza night sometimes includes homemade, sometimes take-out, but is always a chance for me to indulge in one of my favourite foods. Cooking this month from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for Cookbook Countdown, I chose an unusual (for me) recipe for sfinciuni di San Vito, described as "two thin, round layers of firm dough that enclose a stuffing - called a conza - which are sealed all around".
The yeast-raised Sfinciuni Dough was a very basic recipe made in a food processor and though quite elastic when first made, was quite easy to roll out after it had fermented. 

I chose the Broccoli and Ricotta Conza comprising layers of fresh ricotta cheese, garlicky cooked broccoli, Parmesan cheese and some breadcrumbs to absorb any extra liquid. Once assembled, the sfinciuni was baked immediately, no need to proof a second time. The crust was thin and crisp and the layer of flavourful filling was just the right amount. A fun addition to pizza night!
For those who like things spicy, there was a little bomba sauce, a fiery, mixed vegetable and hot pepper Italian condiment, and as a special treat, a glass of my favourite soda, bittersweet Italian chinotto.
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.    

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Poached Shrimp with Olive Oil and Lemon - Cookbook Countdown

This is the second recipe I've made this month from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, the rarely used book I've chosen to cook from for Cookbook Countdown hosted by Joyce and Emily.
This recipe drew me in because I've never poached shrimp before and trying a new cooking method is always appealing to me, but more than that, I couldn't resist the author's description of this dish, "as sublime in taste as it is in simplicity". 

The poaching liquid was flavoured with celery, carrot and wine vinegar, and the shrimp, still in their shells, were cooked very briefly in it. After they'd been drained, cleaned and steeped in good olive oil and lemon juice, they were ready to serve with crusty Italian bread.
They were incredibly sweet and succulent with no hint of the sharp vinegar of the poaching liquid, just the fruity olive olive oil and lemon. The dish was as simple and sublime as the author promised and made a delicious starter.
I'm linking this post to Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray

Monday, February 1, 2016

Frittata with Zucchini and Basil - Cookbook Countdown

Joyce of Kitchen Flavours and Emily of Emily's Cooking Foray have started a new cooking challenge, "Cookbook Countdown", perfect for cookbook collectors like me whose bookshelves are groaning with never or barely-used cookbooks. The premise is simple: choose any one of those books and cook as many or as few recipes as you like during the month and share your results on your blog. An excellent idea don't you think?
The project started in January and initially I couldn't decide which book to focus on (I have sooo many) until I made Lentil Soup last month, a recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I do sometimes cook from this book but it's the same handful of recipes over and over again. 
Look at all of those flags! Those are the recipes I've wanted to make for years(!) but never have. That's about to change.

First up is Frittata with Zucchini and Basil. The author describes a frittata as an "open-faced Italian omelette", the most basic of which is made with eggs and cheese. This one includes onions and zucchini that are cooked slowly until soft and golden, not a quick step, but worth the time involved to develop the flavours of the ingredients. It seemed like a very large amount of zucchini for the number of eggs, but it all cooked down nicely.
Marcella gives a few options for cooking the frittata, thankfully, none of which involve flipping it in the air or sliding it onto a plate to invert it back into the pan. I chose to bake it and used the oven-safe cast iron skillet I'd used to cook the onions and zucchini.
This was a particularly delicious way to add vegetables to a meal and was fantastic hot and at room temperature. I will definitely make this again.

I'm linking this with Cookbook Countdown hosted by Kitchen Flavours and Emily's Cooking (Makan2) Foray.

Won't you join in?