Saturday, November 28, 2009

nut bake

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving more than a month ago. But all the talk about American Thanksgiving is making me want to invite round another group of friends and cook up a feast in celebration. We have so much to be thankful for, so why only one day?

My Thanksgiving party always involves a few vegetarian guests. And I count myself when thinking about the veggie food. Although I eat meat, I just love vegetables more. Vegetarian food seems more inventive quite a lot of the time. (I think I might be a vegetarian if I wasn't married to a sausage-loving bloke.) This Thanksgiving I made the nut bake for my vegetarian and vegetarian-at-heart guests.

There are a fair few ingredients, but with a food processor or blender to whizz breadcrumbs and nuts, the preparation was easy. The vegetarian eaters loved it, and even most of the meat eaters enjoyed a portion. I was lucky enough to eat the leftovers for lunch later that week!

Nut Bake
serves 8
adapted from The Kitchen Revolution: A Year of Time-and-money-saving Recipes

Nut Layers:
4 T (1/4 c) butter
1 T oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
450 g (2 1/2 c) mixed nuts (for example, cashews, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds), crushed
4 large eggs
200 g (3 1/3 c) white breadcrumbs (from 6-8 slices of bread)
8 T (1/2 c) milk

Breadcrumb Filling:
1 lemon, zested
250 g (4 c) brown breadcrumbs (from 8-10 slices of bread)
2 sprigs fresh sage, leaves chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves chopped
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
85 g (2 c) watercress, chopped
6 T butter

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F.
Soften the onions and garlic in a pan. Combine in a bowl with the other nut layer ingredients.
Mix the breadcrumb layer ingredients in a separate bowl and season well.
Grease two loaf pans and put a quarter of the nut mixture in each. Press down, then cover each with half the breadcrumb mixture. Finish with the remaining nut mixture. Cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes or freeze to bake later. (If freezing, defrost fully before baking as directed.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

squash scones

Scones (or tea biscuits as we Canadians call them) are a perfect partner for soup, stew or chilli. Earlier this week it seemed like it was time for making leek and potato soup; it's such a reassuring, warm bowl of food for the windy, dark nights we have been having recently. And I had been reading The Urban Spork, a new-to-me food blog, when this recipe for sweet potato biscuits caught my imagination.

I had some leftover boiled squash cubes from dinner the night before. While the soup was bubbling away I pureed the squash with a fork. Like all good tea biscuits, there are not very many ingredients or steps. Just mix them up, cut them out, and into the oven they go. When I make biscuits and no one is watching (or I am not taking photos) I don't even bother with cutting out circles. I just press the dough onto the baking sheet and score it into rectangles with a knife. When they are cooked we just break them apart into scones. At the end of this meal, however, Ant declared that he liked them circular and that's how he would expect his scones from now on!

Squash Scones
makes 20 scones
adapted from The Urban Spork

1 c plain flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
6 T (85 g) butter, cut into small cubes + 1 T melted butter
3/4 c cooked squash, cooled and pureed
1/3 c milk
1 t lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425 F/215 C.
Whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
Add the butter with two knives (or a pastry cutter) until crumbly.
In a small bowl, mix the squash puree, milk, and lemon juice.
Stir the squash mixture into the dry ingredients.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently just until a dough forms. Use a round cookie cutter to cut out circles. Reuse the scraps to make as many circles as possible.
Lay scones on a baking tray and brush the tops with melted butter.
Bake for 10-15 minutes.
Serve warm with butter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

persimmon cookies

Persimmons are a Japanese fruit that are the size of a medium tomato. Their skin becomes bright orangey pink before they are fully ripe, so the key to knowing if a persimmon is ripe is in the feel. My two persimmons were sitting the fruit bowl quietly ripening for two weeks before I knew they were ready. They began to feel like the thin, shiny skin was the only thing stopping the fruits losing their shape. It was as if the insides of the persimmons were thick jelly. The fruit becomes exceptionally soft when ready--don't eat them any earlier.

Fortunately I had waited long enough. The flesh was bright orange and pink and slid out easily with a spoon. It only took a single pulse of the blender to make a runny pulp. Simply in Season said they would make a nice smoothie, of which I have no doubt. The pulp was very sweet and would be lovely with a banana, some nutmeg, and maybe a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. But these persimmons were for cookies.

Simply in Season (World Community Cookbook) is a cookbook arranged by the seasons. It was commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee, the same group behind More-with-Less Cookbook, an environmentally conscious cookbook well ahead of its time (it was published in 1976). More-with-Less and Simply in Season are two of my most used and trusted cookbooks. The persimmon puree provided a sweet base for these moist autumnal cookies, which had more dominant flavours of nutmeg and cloves. The crunchy pecan pieces and soft raisins make each bite interesting.

Persimmon Cookies
adapted from Simply in Season (World Community Cookbook)
makes 3 - 4 dozen small cookies
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter or margarine, softened
1 c persimmon puree (from 2 persimmons)
1 egg
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 c pecans or other nuts, chopped
1/4 c raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C.
Cream together the sugar and butter.
Blend in the persimmon puree and egg.
In a second bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Add gradually to the persimmon mixture, blending well.
Stir in the pecans and raisins. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking trays.
Bake for 7 - 9 minutes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

creamed spinach

Nigel (we are now on first name terms) recently inspired me to try a dish I hated as a child: creamed spinach. At school dinners, creamed spinach was cold, slimy, and tasteless. But with a huge bag of really fresh, local, spinach arriving in my veg box, I decided it might be time to try this easy side dish.

Isn't it amazing how spinach shinks when cooked? I started with a massive amount. I decided to use the whole bag--good thing, too. Although it filled my biggest pot, it cooked down to just a fraction of this.

And then you blend up (or finely chop) the cooked spinach, and squeeze out a bit of the excess moisture. And look at how much was left! This is the full amount of creamed spinach at the end of the process. Ant and I had no problem eating it all with our dinner. The spinach didn't taste at all bland, and the slight creaminess and the nutmeg warmth balanced the earthy spinach. Now that I have created some good memories of creamed spinach, I can imagine eating it, and loving it, regularly.

Contemporary Creamed Spinach
serves 3 as a side dish
adapted from Tender: v. 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch

750 g spinach
25 g (2 T) butter
3 T creme fraiche of sour cream
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper

Roughly chop the spinach. Wash it and put in it a large pot, with the water still clinging to the leaves.
Heat over medium high heat with the lid on for three or four minutes, until thoroughly wilted.
Squeeze out the excess water and blend (or chop) very briefly. Add the creme fraiche, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Serve immediately, since the spinach cools very quickly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Edible Gift: Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Last year at Christmas I made about fifteen of my colleagues and neighbours peppermint bark as a gift. I made dark chocolate and white chocolate bark, with Tawnya's help.

It took one evening to make and another to package. The wrapping and ingredients cost me less than £20 in total, as I recall. It was so fun for the two of us to do something together and it really impressed my colleagues. Making peppermint bark involved melting good quality chocolate, mixing in a few drops of peppermint flavouring, then pouring onto baking sheets. We popped them in the freezer briefly to half set, then scored the lines and sprinkled over some crushed candy canes. Finally, we let the bark completely harden in the freezer. The next day I wrapped up a selection of bark in pretty packages with cellophane and ribbons.

I'm on the lookout for more edible gifts this year. Earlier today I saw a selection of recipes for barks and brittles from The Kitchn (a favourite place of inspiration for me). I plan to make some hot chocolate mixes as one idea (stolen from an Australian food magazine I got in the summer), but I'm also thinking of a few other ideas. Any suggestions or plans of your own?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mum's best ever meal

My parents go to a little beach resort in their province when they want to get away together and leave the city behind. They rent a cottage on the beach, and even if it's blustery outside, there are walks to go on, and a fireplace to snuggle up in front of each evening.

They were there for a night last week and ate in the resort's restaurant: a gleaming crystal and silverware affair, with a menu to match. My Mum told me on the phone that during their most recent visit she ate what had to be described as the best meal of her life.

Wow, that's high praise! Can you pinpoint the best meal of your life? I can think of two (restaurant) meals that might currently qualify. Both were memorable and extremely tasty. I was eager to hear what Mum had eaten. The food blogger in me was quietly taking notes as she waxed eloquent about her food.

Starter: spinach salad with blue cheese, pecans, apples warmed with cinnamon and maple dressing

Of course, this sounds delicious. And easy to make at home. I bet the pecans were toasted and gave the perfect crunch, the spinach was dark and fresh, while the maple dressing wasn't overpoweringly sweet. It sounds like a great mix of health and indulgence, doesn't it?

Main course: pan-fried haddock with a creamy lobster sauce, served with roasted smoked potatoes

Fish and lobster in the same main course? What an idea. She said the lobster was in chunks, not loads of it, but enough to add the touch of luxury to the dish. The smoked potatoes were wonderful, she reported. She had never tasted anything like them before; nor have I ever heard of it. I did a bit of reading, and saw that smoking potatoes can be done in a double boiler. Put oak chips in the bottom (no water) and the boiled potatoes in the top with the lid on. Open a bunch of windows and turn the heat up to high. Let it smoke for five to ten minutes. (So I suppose you could do this at home, but I have a feeling I'll leave it to the professionals for now.)

My Dad talked about his dessert, but Mum didn't say if she had any. I guess the first two courses were enough for her to sit back with a contented sigh and update the list of great food she has eaten.

I'm interested to hear about your best ever meals. I reckon there should be a separate category for best restaurant meals and best home-cooked meals. Over to you!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

eggs mimosa

I am now the proud owner of I Know How to Cook, a cookbook just published for the first time in English. It's been the best-selling French cookbook for generations and it's been adapted by Clotilde Dusoulier, of Chocolate & Zucchini. I read C&Z all the time and really enjoy Clotilde's cooking and writing.

I Know How to Cook is massive! There are 52 recipes for eggs! I thought I knew how to cook eggs, then I read about Italian-Style Eggs (with tomato and Gruyere cheese), Eggs a la Royale (with bechamel sauce), Cinderella Eggs (with ham, foie gras mousse, and creme fraiche), and Eggs Mimosa.

I picked Eggs Mimosa because I wanted to make my own mayonnaise. After hard boiling the eggs, I hollowed them out and mix the yolks with mayonnaise, then place it back into the whites.

I have to be perfectly honest.... I had to have two tries at the mayonnaise before I succeeded. The instructions in I Know How to Cook were clear, but I didn't realise how "gradually" I was meant to add the oil to the egg yolk. I ended up consulting my old battered copy of The Joy of Cooking and it said to add the oil half a teaspoon at a time. The second time the oil and the egg yolk thickened up straight away and made the most delicious mayonnaise I have ever tasted. (Ant and I had to restrain ourselves from digging in with the toast rounds we were making.)

Making mayonnaise is surprisingly easy, if a little hard on the arm muscles. You put an egg yolk in a bowl (make sure it is at room temperature), then beat in 1/2 c (125 ml) to 3/4 c (175 ml) oil, one half teaspoon at a time. The mayonnaise should thicken up. Season with salt and pepper, and lemon juice, Dijon mustard, or white wine vinegar.

Eggs Mimosa
adapted from I Know How to Cook

Hard boil 6 eggs. Cut them in half, then hollow out the yolks. Mash two thirds of the yolks with 200 ml of mayonnaise (the amount made with one egg yolk and 1/2 c - 3/4 c oil). Fill the whites with the mayonnaise mixture and sprinkle the remaining yolks over top. Garnish with basil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Parsnip Whole Grain Cookies with Maple Glaze

Sneaking veg in anywhere and everywhere; my modus operandi! Not only does this cookie involve grated root vegetable, there are also two whole grains, as well as whole wheat and white flours. But these cookies doesn't taste anything like a healthy biscuit. They were devoured by Ant's colleagues and I wish I had kept a few more back for us!

Which two whole grains are used, you ask? Oats and quinoa! This is the first time I have used quinoa in a baked good. What an idea. I got the recipe from an interesting blog I discovered last week, A Crafty Lass. This fantastic cooking and crafting blog is full of unique and tasty ideas.

The cookies themselves are not very sweet (especially because I cut the sugar amount) but the maple glaze is a perfect decadent addition.
Parsnip Whole Grain Cookies with Maple Glaze
adapted from A Crafty Lass
makes 40 small cookies

1/2 c (1 stick or 100 g) butter, softened
1/3 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 c plain flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c cooked quinoa (about 1/3 c uncooked)
1 c oats
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t allspice
1/2 c buttermilk
1 c grated parsnip

2/3 c icing sugar
3 T maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 375F/180C.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.
In a second bowl, mix the flours, quinoa, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with adding the buttermilk.
Mix in the parsnip.
Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 11-13 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Meanwhile, mix the icing sugar and maple syrup to make the glaze.
Spoon over cooled cookies and allow to set.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nigel Slater's luxury cauliflower cheese

Nigel Slater, my new found cookbook friend, is a big fan of dairy products. Suits me, since dairy is a close second to vegetables in my "favourite food groups" stakes. So cauliflower cheese is a natural choice for Nigel and for me.

The recipe for Luxury Cauliflower Cheese from Slater's new cookbook started with these two absolutely beautiful romanesco cauliflowers. They came in my veg box. I took these pictures only partly for this blog--the fractal patterns in the florets may feature in an upcoming maths lesson.)

The sauce is a dairy-lover's dream. It starts with milk warmed with onions, cloves, and a bay leaf, and also includes butter, cream, and two types of cheese.

Luxury Cauliflower Cheese
adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender: v. 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch
serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

a small onion, peeled
2 cloves
1 L milk
a bay leaf
50 g (about 1/4 c) butter
50 g (1/2 c) flour
4 T cream
100g (1 c) grated cheddar cheese
1 large or 2 medium cauliflowers, chopped
some Parmesan cheese, to serve

Stud the onion with the cloves. Heat the milk with the bay leaf and onion. When it reaches the boil, turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
Melt the butter in a heavy pan. Add the flour and stir until it is light golden and nutty smelling.
Add the warm milk gradually, whisking until smooth. Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil the cauliflower cheese for 3-4 minutes and then drain.
Add the cream and cheese to the sauce and season well. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

minty hearts

Over the summer I was introduced to Assamese food with the help of my friends Pari, Sutapa, and Bipro. I'm proud to say that I ate the rice, dal, and fish curry with my fingers in the traditional way. And Sutapa showed me a food blog she reads regularly: Sunita's World. Sunita is an Assamese blogger who shares her family and food on her beautiful website. The first post I read was about Minty Babies, and I immediately added Sunita to my feed reader. These not very sweet snacks seemed perfect for me.

I finally made a batch this week. I used my heart shaped cookie cutters to show some love to my colleagues (and Ant's). I made a few changes to the recipe and I'd recommend serving them with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, or jam.

What caught my eye about this recipe is that it only uses whole wheat flour and no sugar, really. They are not biscuits, actually, at all, but more like minty crackers.

The mint is blitzed with plain yogurt and cashew nuts before adding to the dough and rolling out. (The tiny green post-it has my recipe scribbles so that I don't have to refer to the laptop while baking.)

Minty Hearts
adapted from Sunita's World

1/2 c mint leaves
5 T plain yogurt
3 T cashew nuts
3 T mild oil
1/4 c water
2 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 t cinnamon

Put the mint leaves, yogurt, nuts, oil, and water in a food processor and pulse.
Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.
Add the mint mixture and form into a dough.
Roll out to about half a centimetre thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters and place on baking trays. Reroll leftover dough and continue cutting hearts until all the dough is used.
Bake at 180C/350F for about 13 minutes until lightly browned.

I made a double recipe so that Ant and I could each take a bag of hearts to our colleagues. They are great dunked in tea; yum. And I'm tempted regularly by Sunita's ideas, so have a look. Apart from delicious-looking baked goods, she also write about Assam main meals in a very accessible way.


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