Monday, October 31, 2011

Black Chicken with Red Grape Sauce

         If you study the general dining statistics at our home, you will find out that we have Asian dishes two or three times a week – not only because sometimes I feel like deviating from traditional continental flavours but because I really enjoy Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. And, strange as it may sound, I feel quite comfortable working with Asian ingredients. Sometimes I don’t even need a recipe for making, let’s say, a stir fry – I simply take a range of bottles with sauces and condiments out of the fridge and start to mix them to develop a flavour. And it’s not so difficult for me to get the right balance of the dish relying only on my instincts, not on cookbooks. Yet, I have a couple of tested recipes that I stick to. One of them is chicken in soy and honey marinade served with red grape sauce. To say true, it’s a bit more complicated than an average Asian dish. But it’s worth all the efforts (all those not-so-massive efforts to make the sauce). So, whenever I discover that the grapes in the fridge are a bit overripe, it comes the time of black chicken. One more point to “the Asian dishes” section for our home dining statistics!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Corn and Ricotta Cakes

        I love those mornings when you don’t have to wake up early (well, who doesn’t like them?). If it’s a weekend morning, I really don’t mind getting into the kitchen and cooking something special. But if it’s one of the weekdays (yes, I’m lucky enough to have an opportunity to sleep late in the middle of the week) I feel somehow lazy to prepare a complicated breakfast – and usually I don’t have to, since I cook something in the evening so that that the following day my husband (who still has to face a necessity of being waken up by an alarm clock) can just pop a plate into a microwave oven before he heads to work. Of course, I normally make two place of something nice – the second one being meant for me, so in the morning I can bother only with making a cup of coffee. One of my favourite options of such premade breakfasts is corn and ricotta fritters. As I’m making them a day before, I’m salivating. I look forward to the next morning when after a few rounds of suria namaskar and a refreshing shower afterwards I award myself with this treat. What a great start of a day!

Duo of Lime Pies

         As it gets colder in Kolkata some of the winter vegetables start to appear at street vendors. Our last visit to the market resulted in buying a huge bag of tangerines – big and flavourful, with a thin skin that cracks slightly as you push your fingers through it, impatient to reach the bright and juicy flesh… On getting home I realized that sweet limes that we had in the fridge looked too pale and unappealing in comparison with those tangerines. It was time to start a rescue campaign for the unlucky fruit. I decided to combine French and American classic dishes (lemon meringue and key lime pies) and to cook my sweet lime meringue pie. Only as I got my limes zested and juiced did I tell my husband about my intentions – and guess what? He felt enthusiastic about a lime pie but he actually wanted another kind of it – a simple traditional pie his mother used to cook. So, I had to make two pies (fortunately, there were lots of limes in the fridge); the first one went to the office while the second one stayed at home. In the long run, everyone was happy and the mission of saving the limes from being neglected was successfully complete!

Asparagus and Olives Stuffed Chicken Breast


         When I feel like cooking something simple yet impressive, I choose stuffed chicken breasts. One may argue that it’s not that easy to roll breasts perfectly: not too loose so that the filling can’t “find its way outside” during the cooking process and not too tight so that it doesn’t “spring out” of the breast at the stage of rolling. Believe me, it’s just a matter of practice to get this fancy type of a dish right. Once you learn it you’ll be able to make versatile options of it as the amount of possible fillings is limited only by your imagination, a range of cooking methods – only by your kitchen skills and the diversity of sauces – only by your personal preferences.

            Let me tell you, the first stuffed chicken breast I cooked in my life was this one – with olives, asparagus and cheese. Since then I’ve tried all sorts of fillings: mushrooms (a classic combination – you can never go wrong with it), pistachio butter (a lovely cold entrée with red pepper sauce) and even pear and couscous (unexpectedly nice balance of flavours), to name a few. In general, it’s not a difficult dish to master and the final result is always worth the efforts!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Banana Walnut Tart

          If you ask my mum what was my favourite fruit in the childhood, she would be quick to give you an answer: banana! Yes, I was a banana-obsessed child. Nowadays, however, I feel rather indifferent to it – probably, I’ve had too much of it (there is a theory that you can consume only a definite amount of a particular edible substance and once you reach your limit, you can’t see it for the rest of your life) or finally realized that it is a rather rich fruit to snack on constantly. In spite of that, you can always find a big bunch of bananas in our fridge – for my husband’s late evening fruit salad and for my early morning oatmeal (yes, I still have this fruit sometimes – haven’t reached my limit yet, only slowed down the pace). And the only problem with the bananas (they ripe fast) is easily soluble – you can make stuffed French toasts, pancakes, muffins, a coffee cake or even a banana bread. Last time I got overriped bananas, I decided to go for a tart with caramelized honey and walnut topping. Luckily, I had some home-made ice-cream at the time which served as a lovely accomplishment to the dessert.

Fish “Braid” with Red and Green Pesto

As I was once looking through a cooking magazine, I got mesmerized by a photo of a very spectacular dish – a three-coloured fish “braid”. I desperately wanted to have an opportunity to enjoy the look of it on my plate at home but I had a few obstacles to overcome. First, the recipe called for using salmon, halibut and zander and since not all of these types are available here it meant that I would have to go to a market in search of three fish with different shades of a flesh. That didn’t seem like a very big problem. But had I found all the types, I would instantly have faced the second – more insurmountable – problem: I would have had to fillet it! Let me make a confession here: being not ultimately perfect at knife work (I guess I need a good course of it under a strict and uncompromising supervision) I’m especially not very good at filleting a fish (the word “massacring” seems more appropriate here).

So, I was obsessed with the idea of cooking this dish for a while but I had to figure it out how to get the same spectacular result (as on that picture from the magazine) but in a more suitable for me way. Eventually I got the solution – I decided to “colour” a plain white fish with green and red pesto. To say true, I generally love fish baked with pesto and it has always been a no-fuss-yet-delicious dinner option in our house, so I knew that the flavours of the dish would be awesome. And they really were! And, most importantly, it was a great pleasure not only for the palate but for the eyes as well!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

“Olga” – Inspired Gateau

            There’s a cake with a wonderful female name Olga. It consists of two layers of an apple cake which embrace the filling – cherry jam, marshmallow and whipped cream; the cake is covered with melted chocolate and decorated with cherries. I remembered about it as I rummaged through my home pantry and discovered a box of marshmallows. Yum! I instantly felt like opening it and grabbing a piece of a light and spongy treat. The problem is, if you don’t finish the whole box straight away (which, I figured out, would be an impossible task even if I recruited my husband as an assistant in accomplishing it) the marshmallow pretty soon becomes unpleasant to eat. So, I’ve made a decision to disguise it in a cake and recruit half of the office as assistants for finishing it the same day (believe me, it’s easier to talk people into eating a good-looking cake rather than a box of plain marshmallows). So, the cake was made (with some not-so-little derivations from the original recipe), decorated (to make it more appealing than a carton box of marshmallows) and – eaten the same day. There was only one question left to be sold – how should I name this cake now? Ann? Helene? Or probably Mary?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stir-fried Lamb and Fried Rice

If I eventually make it to Mumbai, even for a day, and will have to choose only one restaurant for dining out, I would, no doubt, pick Busaba. Nikhil Chib, its chef and owner, has been a big inspiration for me since I came to India. Due to his TV show I became fascinated by a versatile Asian cuisine – with its variety of rather simple, yet flavourful and pungent dishes; I have learnt about such condiments as oyster and fish sauce, yellow and black bean paste, rice paper and cellophane noodles – which, in the long run, earned a place in my home pantry; I discovered that there are actually two types of soy sauces – light and dark – but it’s not such a big deal to figure out the difference between them; I seized to believe that there should be a misprint in a recipe that calls for using sugar in a savory dish – now I can easily put a generous spoonful of it into my soups and curries and enjoy the hint of sweetness in them.

            One of my favourite recipes that I learnt (and slightly adapted) from Nikhil is stir-fried lamb with fried rice. I guess I cooked this dish a dozen of times since then (which is, believe me, a good characteristic for a dish produced in my kitchen considering the fact that I try new recipes more often than stick to the old ones).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chocolate Croissant Pudding

         Last year a few contestants of Masterchef Australia were lucky enough to come to Paris to spend a day in the culinary capital of the world. First they had to shop at the local market loaded with fresh and beautiful produce and then they had to cook some French-inspired dishes on the bank of the river Seine. Fantastic, isn’t it? Callum – a young boy who, by the way, eventually made it to the finals of the competition but, alas, got only the second place – was among the winners that day. Being good at pastry in general, he made a fabulous dessert using a classic French croissant. Even though he combined it with the English classic – pudding, – his efforts were highly praised by a chef from Le Cordon Bleu who was a guest judge for the show. I was eager to try the recipe but I couldn’t find a good croissant in Kolkata. So, when Bauli appeared at the local shops, my enthusiasm got over the roof. I should confess that even back in Moscow I used to indulge in them (in general, I’m more “gateaux” and “ice-cream” rather than “biscuit” and “croissant” type of a sweet tooth but whenever I saw those lavender-coloured wrappers with Italian treats I knew that the only way to overcome the temptation was to yield to it). So, I finally got my croissants here and even managed not to eat them straight away but to save for the puddings. And when they came out of the oven, I could only wish I were in Paris so that I could enjoy them, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Brazilian Chicken Pie



        There was this episode in TopChef that threw the contestants into an elimination challenge where they had to cater for a diplomatic event. Each of the chefs had to represent a traditional cuisine of a certain country (which was determined by the draw) and one of the participants got confused when he had got Brazil. At that point I questioned myself what do I know about Brazilian cuisine? Frankly speaking, absolutely nothing. During my not so long-term culinary journey I came across only one recipe of a dish that claimed to be Brazilian. Although, I somehow doubt it that it’s a truly authentic dish often cooked in the houses somewhere in Rio de Janeiro or San Paolo, nothing to say of the rural areas of the country. I guess when I eventually meet someone from Brazil, my first question will be about this pie (ok, it will be the second question, right after the one about the national obsession with several-hundred-episode TV series). 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Orange and Chocolate Chip Muffins


          Once I’ve read that chocolate and orange is considered to be a gourmet combination. Well, chocolate and mint can probably claim the same title but…it is so frequently exploited that it is a bit dull and boring (think of once so popular “After eight” sweets). To my mind, orange nowadays has also become a usual accompanier to cocoa and lost its originality as well. I would rather think of more elaborate combinations as truly “gourmet”, like chocolate and basil, chocolate and avocado or chocolate and beetroot… By saying that, I can’t but admit that I really love the bitterness of cocoa against the sweetness of the orange juice and I would never mind to put some orange zest in my chocolate mousse to give it that real punch!

            When it comes to baking, I have this recipe of orange and chocolate chip muffins that I would never trade for any other. Whenever I come across a new recipe of orange and chocolate cake, I never bother to try it (although I’m a type of a cook who tries similar recipes in search of that perfect combination and proportion of the ingredients) because I’m more than satisfied with the one I already have. It’s simple, maybe way too simple (I reckon even a child can make those muffins) and not time-consuming at all. So of you feel like indulging into that “gourmet combination”, there’s now an easy way to do it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Asparagus and Cheese Roulade

I should confess that when we are expecting guests at our house, I pretty often start trying new things in a kitchen instead of sticking to old, time-tested recipes (which, no wonder, end in additional stress for me on those days). I try hard to get rid of this bad habit, I really do. And I know exactly where my problem comes from – I just hate cooking the dish (even if it’s ultimately delicious) for the same people twice. It’s like a strict no-no for me when it comes to formal dinner parties. Thus, I figured out, in order to be more organized  and disciplined on such days in the kitchen, I have to try the recipes of “special occasion dishes” long before those special occasions come up.

This week as I got my bunch of asparagus from the shop and wondered what I should do with it, my inner voice had an immediate answer: “The usual stuff – side for a savory breakfast or a garnish for a fish dish”. But then the reasonable part of me (the one that struggles with the above mentioned bad habit) reminded me of a spectacular picture of an asparagus roulade that I had once seen in a Russian cooking magazine and forced me into giving this dish a try. Well, it turned out to be much easier to do than I anticipated and as delicious as I expected (seriously, how can asparagus and cheese taste bad?) so I certainly added the recipe to my repertoire of fancy dishes.

Apple Upside-down Cake with Orange Sabayon

One of the most popular cakes in Russia cooked for family get-togethers is a simple apple upside-down cake which by a mysterious reason is always referred to as Charlotte. The actual Charlotte the rest of the world is familiar with is made of pieces of Swiss roll or ladyfingers that are used to line a mould and a thick fruit mousse as a filling; and even its variation – Charlotte russe – has nothing to do with apples. But never try to explain it to any Russian – they will still call their favourite tea-time cake with a fancy French name.

…This year during the first pressure test the contestants of Masterchef Australia had to cook a trio of Maggie Beer desserts: a frangipane tart, a lemon curd tart and an apple rosemary cake. The amateur cooks were given 2 hours to prepare the dishes and I was a bit surprised to see that some of them ran out of time, while others struggled a lot. I thought: it can’t be that difficult! – and decided to challenge myself and to see how long it will take me to make the cake (the tarts wouldn’t have probably been a problem). So, I took the recipe from the Internet and went to the kitchen. 20 minutes to prepare and cook the apples, 20 minutes for the batter, 20 minutes for sabayon. The cake, of course, was still in the oven but theoretically I had this second hour which, I reckon, would be enough to make a shortcrust pastry, frangipane (while the pastry rests in the fridge) and lemon curd (while the tarts bake). Anyway, this post is a praise not to how disciplined I was that day in the kitchen but to how flavoursome Maggie Beer’s cake was! Of course, I can’t compare it to my mum’s “Charlotte” (which is strongly associated with waking up on Sunday morning with the sweet cinnamon smell!) but it’s definitely worth making! Again and again!
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