Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Salmon Tartare

        If you ask an average person about tartare he will instantly think of a popular mayonnaise-like condiment, although originally tartare was a dish served with this sauce: some finely chopped raw meat on a piece of bread. It’s a pity that people start to forget about this elegant type of a toast since, if you make it really small it can act as a fabulous amuse-bouche or, if you go for a bigger size, it will be a spectacular entrée. 

            Ideally you should use a slightly cured meat for tartare: marinated in some spices, herbs and lemon juice, vinegar or even wine and other spirits. My favourite type of tartare is the one made with salmon. Slightly cured fish is readily available in many countries but I for one prefer to marinate it myself – especially now, in winter, when there is a fine selection of fresh herbs and you can choose any of them (love dill – the perfect combination with the seafood!), together with spices, to impart any flavour to the meat.

            The authentic tartare should, of course, be served with a raw egg yolk. To say true, I never serve my tartare with it – only for breakfast I can add a soft-poached or a boiled egg to the plate. And don’t get too surprised: I really have sometimes tartare as my first meal of the day. In the long run, if it’s ok to have a toast in the morning, then why should it be wrong to have something very similar to it, just a bit more fancy?!

Pineapple and Ricotta Pie

       Usually when we come to Russia for vocation I indulge in the food that is not available in India – mainly, in all sorts of dairy products that are widely represented in Russian markets in all possible forms and are, unfortunately, not so readily available in India.

            Last year, the first day we returned to Kolkata from Moscow (right after having a few hours of sleep after an exhausting flight) I felt an irresistible urge to have a piece of a ricotta pie. It was strange because I actually had consumed tons of ricotta during the month spent in the native country and had a strong belief that I won’t be able even to look at this product for quite a while. Nevertheless, I was desperate to have that pie – I guess, it was a psychological issue: probably, I felt already homesick for Russia…. Anyway, I needed that pie! The problem was, the only type of cottage cheese you get in India – paneer – is much harder and chewy that the one you normally get in Russia – soft and creamy, much more like its Italian counterpart. The only way out was to make my own ricotta. In fact, I make it quite often myself: you just need to curdle the milk, put it in a slightly warm oven for a few hours and then strain the mixture through a muslin cloth. The process is a bit time-consuming but worth all the efforts. So, it turned out that right on my first day back in India I found myself making cottage cheese at home and – despite the fact that it’s best when eaten fresh – I put the whole batch of it into the filling of my pie. As I got it from the oven and dug into the first slice I instantly felt that life, after all, was not that bad! (Yes, it was just the right remedy for my homesickness!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Crepes with Poached Eggs and Mushroom Duxelles

It’s a common thing in Russia to make a big pile of crepes early in the morning so that the whole family can enjoy them for breakfast. I don’t want to sound too disloyal to my national cuisine but I really find it too boring to serve crepes just as they are – only with some sour cream, honey or jam on the side. Instead of having four or five plain crepes I prefer to indulge only in one or too but cooked in a more elaborate way. I love my crepes to be stuffed, maybe even baked and served with a nice sauce or fruit compote. Yes, I want a complete, mouthwatering dish on my plate – and every time I try to come up with a new one.

Once I read about the so called Breton crepes: you cook one side of a crepe, flip it and break an egg in the centre (!!!), top with sliced ham and grated cheese and fold it before transferring to a plate. I tried to make some but without ham – just with an egg that should ideally become “poached” inside a folded crepe. I really got my soft, gooey egg but I was not quite happy with the whole dish – it definitely lacked finesse. So, as I made this dish some time later again, I poached the eggs in advance and carefully folded them into precooked crepes. Then I went even further: topped with mushrooms, sprinkled with cheese and put under the grill. What I got on the plate was exactly what I was looking for: a tasty and refined dish, full of flavours and looking more than just nice – especially when I cut though my crepe to reveal a bright egg yolk. A sunny surprise inside an ordinary crepe – for a positive start of the day!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sweet Peach Risotto

        Porridge is historically one of the most traditional breakfast dishes in Russia. We use oat, wheat, semolina, millet, buckwheat and rice to prepare diverse types of the same dish. Usually it’s a sweet preparation, with some sugar or honey, cottage cheese, fruits and nuts – to make it a more nutritious meal for the beginning of the day. As I mentioned above, rice, cooked in milk or cream, is often used to make porridge – it’s normally short-grain rice as it’s the most wide-spread variety in Russia. No wonder, when I came across Jamie Oliver’s sweet risotto recipe, I couldn’t but try it for my breakfast – as a substitute for traditional rice porridge.  I seriously doubt that Jamie himself saw his dish as a breakfast option, but, in my view, it was a wonderful dish to start a day with!

I was curios to get a more or less objective and authentic view on this issue, so I asked my friends from Italy whether it’s a common thing to have risotto for breakfast. “No! Never!” – they exclaimed. I tried to explain that I’m talking about not a savoury, but a sweet risotto, with some real fruits instead of “frutti di mare” and some milk instead of a stock. I was actually a bit afraid that I will be reproached for such a bold and unconventional attitude towards one of the most authentic Italian dishes but as I mentioned Jamie Oliver (they say, it’s a good debating strategy to make a reference to an authority) they got really excited about the whole idea and, with an enthusiastic smile, wondered when they can come to taste the dish. Any time – most welcome. Preferably, for breakfast!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Delice with Salted Caramel

       This smashing multi-layered dessert was created by Eamon Sullivan, an Australian Olympic swimmer who won “Celebrity Masterchef” in 2009. The recipe has been in the “top 5” on the culinary show official website for more than a year bur I never bothered to try it – the main reason for it was that the “Celebrity” series were not broadcast in India and, since I didn’t watch the episode where the dish was cooked (and scored, by the way, the highest marks by the judges), I didn’t feel an urge to cook it. Only recently when Eamon Sullivan appeared in this year’s Masterchef series and brought his stunning dish again – for the challenge where a contestant fought for the immunity pin – I realized that the time for trying the popular recipe from the official website has come. As George Calombaris cut through the Chocolate Delice (with a nice crack that makes you instantly salivate) and revealed all the layers of this pure chocolate indulgence I knew exactly what will be the next dessert I’m gonna cook in my home kitchen!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fish with Sweet Corn Sabayon and Vegetable Stuffed Mini Pasta Shells

             Whenever I eat Italian ravioli (or Russian pelmeni, or Chinese sui mai) my husband makes fun of me because I have a habit of leaving “the edges” on the plate: using a sharp knife, I meticulously cut them off before putting the actual filling with a small piece of dough into my mouth. Even if it comes to homemade ravioli which I make with the thinnest and narrowest edges one can imagine, I still leave them on the bottom of my plate!

            No surprise, when I recently saw a picture of stuffed pasta shells (conchiglioni) in one cooking magazine, I realized that it’s just the perfect alternative of normal ravioli for me: only a thin layer of dough that encloses the stuffing – and no edges whatsoever! The problem is, you can’t get this type of Italian pasta in Kolkata (at least, I’ve never seen it here). The only thing I found in my kitchen cupboard was a pack of mini pasta shells (they are, probably, seven times as little as conchiglioni). Let’s face it: they are not meant for being stuffed! But I can be really stubborn when it comes to bringing my crazy cooking ideas into life. So, having prepared the finest brunoise of my vegetables, I managed to put half a teaspoon of the stuffing into each tiny shell. Yes, it took me quite a while to prepare a few portions (I invited our friends to estimate the results of my cooking experiment) – but it was worth the efforts! I served the shells with fish and sweet corn sabayon (the sauce that I wanted to try to make for a long time) and the whole dish was given the thumbs up!

Asparagus and Chicken Mousse with Orange Butter

          Strange as it may sound, but I’ve never served this typically “entrée” type of a dish as an appetizer – I had it a few times only for breakfast. It might seem too pretentious but I don’t find anything wrong with starting a day with something fancy, delicious and a bit elaborate. And I can really sacrifice half an hour of extra sleep in the morning for getting a sensational dish on my plate.

            To say true, I love asparagus as a side for a savoury breakfast. But since I wanted to transform it into a main ingredient for my first meal of the day, I turned to “Larousse gastronomique”. One of the recipes that I found was perfect for my intentions – a light mousse with an orange butter. Love citrus fruits! So sweet and juicy, they give a boost of flavour to any dish and make the whole plate look vibrant – especially in the first rays of an early morning sun! I guess that was the main reason why I enjoyed having this mousse for breakfast. So….probably I will serve this dish as a starter at a dinner party one day, but right now it’s only on my “breakfast” menu – with a big “star” mark indicating a favourite.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

“Golden Key” special occasion cake

          It was a kid’s sixth birthday and I was entrusted with an honorable task of making a cake. The theme of the party was Pinocchio, or, to be more precisely, the Russian version of this story in which a wooden boy with a big nose gets a magic key that opens a door to the secret room. So, I had a clear idea about the decoration of the cake right from the beginning and only had to make a decision about the cake itself. I didn’t want something ordinary: taking a time-tested recipe and simply making a good version of a traditional cake was not an option for me – I felt like coming up with something new, elaborate, specially created for the boy!

            With the strongest confidence in my creativity, I took a piece of paper and a pencil and started to draw a sketch of my cake. After looking through a few cookbooks and magazines (well, when it comes to pastry, you cannot merely rely on your own talent – you need a solid support of trustworthy selection of basic recipes) I got really inspired by Ispahan French Yule Log which is a multi-layered cake consisting of rose-scented dacquoise biscuit, lychee mousse, crème brulee, ganache, feuillete crisp insert and icing. Having taken it as a starting point, I gave full freedom to my imagination and pretty soon I got the draft of my future cake in front of me:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Italian “French Toast”

        The first time I cooked this hot sandwich with cheese it was quite a challenge for me since it happened in the dark times when my kitchen skills were limited to basic ones and even frying a piece of bread without burning it could be a problem. Gone are those shameful days of my culinary ignorance! But, surprisingly as it is, this simple, unpretentious type of breakfast has become one of the options in our family - and, of course, I don’t struggle any more while making it! There’s only one unsolved problem left: whenever it comes to naming the dish, I get confused since, on the one hand, technically it’s a French toast but, on the other hand, because of the ingredients that are used it may easily be called “Italian” as well.

            No doubt, it tastes best when it comes straight from the pan onto your plate, with a hot and crunchy parmesan crust and a gooey mozzarella filling. However, once I cooked a batch of these toasts for a big family breakfast and my brother, who was too sleepy and apathetic in the morning and showed no particular interest in these toasts, eagerly munched on them cold during lunchtime. Indeed, they can be served not only as a breakfast dish but as a nice snack or a picnic option as well (the two slices of bread get “glued” to each other with melted cheese so it’s easy to eat the sandwich even if you don’t have a fork and a knife). 

            And don’t think too much about naming these toasts correctly: whether you should call them “French” or “Italian”. “What’s in a name?” after all? It’s the taste that really matters!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amaretto Parfait

        When I first made my own ice-cream at home it was not, strictly speaking, an ice-cream but a parfait. As I saw the recipe in the Internet and then looked at a bottle of the Italian liquor in our bar, I decided to give it a try. As I tasted the parfait the next day, I actually thought that it was the best dessert I’ve ever tried (and cooked so far) in my life – I guess I had such an emotional respond to the dish either because I have always had some sort of “a crush on” Amaretto so that anything that has this almond liquor in it seems to be divine, or because I was incredibly proud of myself for making my first, deliciously creamy and irresistibly luscious ice-cream. No doubt, the name “parfait” (which means “perfect” in French) was given to this type of frozen desserts not for nothing. 

            Since then I always have a few portions of Amaretto parfait in my freezer. Even when we came to Russia for vocation this year I made it for a big home party and it was a huge success with all of our friends (girls were desperate to know the recipe but as soon as they heard that there’s “a double boiler” involved in a cooking process, their enthusiasm had somehow evaporated). I also made a big batch of parfait for my parents while I was staying at their house for a few days and, a month later, when we were already back in India, it was pleasant to receive a praise from the guests who came to visit my mum and dad, tasted my dish and got very impressed!

Polenta Round with Smoked Tuna and a Poached Egg

          One of the most popular versions of a continental breakfast is a toast with a slice of ham and an egg. If you look at it from a different angle and turn your imagination on, you can use this classic dish (which is not very exciting in its original form) as a starting point for creating something new. You should basicly “deconstruct” the dish in your mind: divide it into parts and think of the way to alternate them. For example, you can use a hushbrown or a vegetable fritter instead of a slice of bread for the base of your toast, you can substitute ham with a piece of tofu or a roundel of grilled aubergine, you can choose a fried egg or a scrambled one, and pick any sauce, chutney, relish or condiment to go with it. 

            Today I substitute bread with a polenta round: crispy outside and soft inside, with a hint of parmesan. A nice piece of smoked tuna goes next; I top it with a poached egg (using a special egg poacher to get the perfect shape) and there’s only thing left to add – a teaspoon of pesto. My breakfast stack is ready and, let me tell you, it has a much more refined look and a more exquisite taste that the original dish!

Chicken Cacciatore

When it comes to cooking, one cannot underestimate the importance of mise en place. Often enough it even determines the level of complexity of a dish you are going to cook – chicken cacciatore is a good example of this point of view. Indeed, if you prepare everything properly beforehand, all you have to do is just to throw certain ingredients into a pan at a right moment and watch them transforming into a beautiful stew. And if you are not so organized, you will find yourself rushing to the refrigerator/ kitchen shelves in search of a necessary thing and it will be a really stressful experience.

Usually, as I chop all my vegetables and arrange them in separate bowls, I’m anticipating the moment when I can start the actual cooking. It reminds me of culinary shows where at the beginning of the programme all the ingredients, thoroughly cleaned, neatly sliced and meticulously arranged on the table, are ready to be used by a celebrity chef who tries to convince the audience that cooking is not a rocket science and it’s ultimately easy to prepare a quick and delicious meal – and you have a strong suspicion that he wouldn’t have such a relaxed and joyous look in front of the camera if he had to make all the mise en place himself. I for one don’t mind doing all the “hard work” myself – I find the process of preparation very calming and I can almost meditate while practicing julienne or brunoise cut of my vegetables. And I believe that it pays off: as you feel more involved in the ritual of making a dish, it’s much more pleasant to dig your spoon into the final result!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

“Manqué” with Bailey’s Crème au Beurre

          There is a French gateau called “manqué” (“failure”). It was created by a pastry chef who made a mistake while whipping egg whites for his sponge and decided to add almond flour and butter to save the mixture - which ultimately resulted in creating a new cake.

            Once I’ve cooked my “manqué” as well. However, it was not an almond cake. I just decided to name it so because initially I was planning to make another type of gateau as well but, because of some flops, ended up having a completely different dessert on a serving plate.

            It all started with the idea of making a soufflé-stuffed cake. And, as my sponge was already cooling down on the wire rack and my custard was cooked almost to perfection, I was about to proceed to my next step: dissolving gelatin for the cream and – oops! I discovered that there was no gelatin left! Actually it’s not very typical of me to run out of ingredients as I tend to keep an eye on my home pantry and to refill it when it is necessary. Anyway, after rummaging twice through all the cupboards and kitchen shelves I had to admit that I should change my cooking plans.

Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup

          When I dine out and go for buffet instead of a la carte, I seldom come to the counters where soup is served. Having an access to a lavish spread, I would rather prefer to try as many options of appetizers and main course as possible (not forgetting about dessert, of course!) so filling up with some soup first, whether it is rich velouté or light consommé, does not seem to be a good choice for me.

            However, once I was having a lunch with my friends and since everyone were praising the soup, I decided to go against my own rules and get a bowl for myself as well. And that was a right decision, I should say! The dish had a delicate taste of cauliflower and a pungent hint of gorgonzola (oh yes, one of my favourite cheeses!), so I felt that I could actually forget about all the other dishes in the buffet. Indeed, the soup was insanely good, and I couldn’t but remember this stunning combination of flavours.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Apple Delight for Weekend Breakfast

          One of the things I love to do in the kitchen is to use different sources and recipes in order to create a new dish. It’s quite exciting for me to imagine how the flavours will work together and, if all the elements on the plate compliment each other, the final result can become a real hit.

            For quite a long time I felt like trying to combine three different dishes that have the same core ingredient – apple – in order to create a bright and flavourful, fiber-rich meal for breakfast. One of the elements was a toast (something that I actually make quite often in the mornings), another one was a soufflé - omelette (I cooked it once and was impressed by its subtle taste and delicate texture), and the third one was a mousselin (I wanted to try the dish since I saw the recipe in my “Larousse Gastonomique” dictionary). The first two elements seemed to be more or less traditional options for breakfast while the third one was definitely more of a dessert type, so I figured out that I should better make the whole dish on a Saturday or a Sunday, when the first meal of the day can be of a brunch type and you can afford having something really sweet and fancy.  Besides, I wouldn’t have managed to cook all the three parts on a busy morning in the middle of the week, so I had to wait for a weekend anyway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Asparagus and Rocket Leaves Salad with a Poached Egg

I’m one of those weird people who eat all the salad leaves served as garnish of a dish at a restaurant and who swipe them off the big plate with appetizers at a formal dinner party. In fact, I always have a bowl of ready to eat leaves in my fridge so that I can start munching on them any moment I want, most of times without even bothering to pour some dressing over. I love all sorts of salad leaves but my favourite type is aragula (rocket leaves). Whenever I come to the market in season, the vendors – who are now aware of all my food preferences – usually offer me a big bunch of it straight away and are even ready to fetch it from their colleagues if they don’t have it in stock at the time…

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chocolate Ice Cream with Baileys

             There is something about home-made ice-cream that makes you prefer it over a bought one. It’s not only because you are in charge of the ingredients you put in it (you can control the amount of sugar, change the fat content, balance the flavours according to your taste, nothing to say of choosing only high-quality products) but also because you generally add your love and care to that custard before putting it into the freezer. Indeed, this desert is not so easy to make (since you have to bother with cooking it in a double boiler for a while, with a heavy mixer in your hands) but it has a great advantage over other custard-based desserts: once you make it, you can keep it in the freezer for as long as three months (in fact, it keeps that long only if you don’t tell anyone about it), so you can enjoy it anytime and, besides, it will serve as a great “saving dish” in case of unexpected guests.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Honey and Balsamic Glazed Salmon on Minted Pea Puree with Spring Vegetable Risotto

             There is a common belief that the best accompaniment to fish is potato. Well, I wouldn’t dare to argue with this statement. If it wasn’t true, the English-favourite “fish’n’chips” wouldn’t have conquered the hearts of millions of people throughout the world. Yet, when it comes to such a delicate type of fish as salmon, I definitely prefer something more exquisite and subtle to go with it. I’ve recently discovered that there’s nothing better than a pea puree for putting a good accent on a refined taste of a beautifully cooked piece of this fish. 

            This time I’m making a nice glaze on my salmon, with some honey which is counterbalanced with mustard and balsamic vinegar. The puree that has got some sweetness from the peas as well, is surprisingly refreshing, with a good punch from fresh mint. I choose to make risotto as a side and to put as much vegetables in it as possible. Of course, it feels strange to cook risotto primavera in November but it turns to be a beautiful dish, with a delicate flavour of seasonal produce. Home-made sun-dried tomatoes leave a hint of sourness on a palate and contribute to a rich variety of colours on the plate. I can only ask all the fans of “fish’n’chips” to forgive me, but I will never ever prefer their favourite to my dish!

Blueberry French Toast


           Breakfast for me is the most important meal of the day. If you think of it, it literally means “breaking the fast” after a good night’s sleep. That’s why it should be packed with    things that boost your metabolism and give you energy that will help to stay on a track throughout the day (well, at least, till lunchtime!). Ideally it should include some protein, grains, dairy products and vegetables or fruits. Let me give you a perfect example of a combination of these groups of food – a French toast: slices of bread soaked in eggs and milk and served with some veggies or fruits. I have a number of recipes for different varieties of toasts (both savoury and sweet) that I often use when I want to serve something nutritious and delicious for breakfast. The last one I tried was a blueberry and cream cheese stuffed. Yes, I know, mentioning it definitely evokes the image of a luscious cheesecake topped with blueberry compote. Well, the French toast actually tasted very much like the all-favourite dessert but, of course, was a more suitable option for the start of the day: full of vitamin-packed and rich in antioxidants blueberries, slowly baked in the oven with as little butter as possible, it was definitely a guilt-free indulgence!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gingerbread house – Halloween style

As soon as we got an invitation to a Halloween party, I instantly knew who I wanted to be this year – a chef, of course! In the long run, I’ve got this wonderful white hat in my wardrobe (that looks huge but is somehow a bit narrow for me) and a long white apron (which, on the contrary, is way too big for me), so I bothered to order a chef’s jacket (wow, my own one! with the title “Executive Party Chef” written in italic font) to pair with the hat – let the apron wait its time on the shelf! There was one more element of the costume that had to be made: it would be natural for guests at the party to ask: “Where is the food, chef?” – so I couldn’t show up with empty hands. I wanted something cute and impressive, tasting delicious (of course!) and at the same time spooky and scary, fitting the mood of the party. A haunted edible house seemed to be the perfect choice. To say true, making a cake in the form of a house was in my “things-to-do-list” for a while (I even had this crazy idea of replicating Taj Mahal once) so I felt that the right time for it has come.
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