Friday, December 30, 2011

Pistachio Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Red Capsicum Sauce

        Last year, as I was once looking through the Masterchef website – as usual, in search of something new and interesting to try in my kitchen – I eventually got what I wanted: a recipe of a chicken roulade with pistachio butter filling. Since I love all sorts of chicken roulades (as I have already mentioned in my blog) I couldn’t but pay attention to it. The combination of flavours: the subtle chicken meat, the nutty pistachio and the tangy capsicum – seemed to be quirky but quite promising at the same time. To say true, I hesitated for a while whether I should cook it since the recipe called for rolling up a breast in a cling film and gently poaching it (the technique I’ve never tried before) but as I realized that the dish comes from “Junior MasterChef” series and it was a kid who cooked it, I felt that there can be no excuses for avoiding this kitchen challenge. Seriously, if an 11 year old boy nailed it, what can be the problem? Actually there’s only one pressure point in the dish: rolling up the breast tightly. But it’s a skill that you learn fast, believe me. And I never regret that I gave that recipe a try: I’ve cooked this chicken roulade quite often since then and whether it was served as hors d’oeuvre dish or a main course, it has always been a success!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Red Onion Soup with French Country Bread and Gruyere Soufflé

 Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

            Frankly speaking, it was my first Daring Bakers challenge and since I got registered last month I was anxiously waiting for the beginning of December. I anticipated some sort of a beautiful gateau or a stunning dessert waiting for me at the forum of the Daring Kitchen (it would have been great to create something outstanding right from the beginning of my “daring” journey!). So, can you imagine my surprise and, frankly speaking, frustration when I opened the website only to find out that the task for December is to bake bread? Bread! And not even a usual one, but with sourdough which means using only three ingredient: flour, water and salt to make the batter. It sounded so boring to me! – and, at the same time (let me be honest with you) intimidating because I have never ever made a bread in my life. I seriously thought of skipping the first challenge, but when I told my husband about it (it was right after we had stuffed quails for dinner) he said: “But you’ve never deboned a quail before as well, have you?” And I realized that he’s actually right: it is supposed to be a challenge and, in the long run, what’s the point of the whole thing if you just cook something you’ve always been good at? The idea is to learn, to get new skills by pushing yourself in the kitchen and facing unknown without any fear, but with enthusiasm. I realized that I shouldn’t even think of skipping this month task; on the contrary, I should be grateful to Jessica for the opportunity to learn how to work with sourdough and …to overcome the kitchen fears.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ispahan Yule Log

       I love Christmas time, with decorated trees, carols and, of course, seasonal sweets. The bakery shops and confectionaries and full of Stolen bread, ginger cookies, light fruit and rich plum cakes and, to the top of it, the most beautiful yule logs. In fact, there are two types of yule logs in France: traditional Christmas ones – also called Bûche de Noël – which are made with chocolate and buttercream; and plain yule logs – also called entremets – which resemble a multi-layered ice cream and have no particular connection with any holiday. One of entremets – Ispahan – got my attention a few months back as I was looking for inspiration for my “Golden key” cake. I saw it on “Not Quite Niqella” blog and, to say true, I was obsessed with the idea of making it since then. No wonder, when the question of cooking something special for the Christmas was raised up, I got an answer to it: Ispahan! Trust a cold dessert fanatic not to love the idea of making an ice cream even in winter! And who cares that it’s not a traditional Bûche de Noël? In the long run, when you live in a country with tropical climate, choosing lychees and fresh berries for a Christmas treat sounds quite logical. So, as I eventually got all the ingredients for Ispahan and what seemed to be the right occasion to cook it, I headed to my kitchen to make this rose-scented, lychee-licious miracle. Should I tell you that the Christmas day lunch ended with a showstopper dessert?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fish and Egg Yolk Cakes with Coconut Béchamel

        As I was once looking through a cooking magazine, I came across a recipe called “Italian sformato” – a baked fish and egg yolk cake. I got very surprised as I have never heard of such a dish before (not that I consider myself an expert in Italian cuisine – yet I read quite a lot about it to have the right to get confused by a dish that is allegedly traditionally Italian). I did some research on the subject and found out that sformato is some sort of a soufflé, but less light and airy as a classic French one. It can be made simply with cheese or with some vegetables and is usually served as a side dish. To say true, I didn’t manage to find any mentioning of “fish sformato” (nothing to say of fish sformato with an egg yolk), so I figured out that there are actually no strict rules for making the dish and there’s no need to follow the recipe precisely. Thus, the first time I cooked it I decided to use chicken instead of fish mince and as my husband and I loved it very much, I kept doing it with chicken from that day on. Recently, however, as I eventually decided to go for the protein the original recipe called for, I suddenly felt an inclination to impart some Asian flavours to it. So, I used coconut milk, coriander and peanuts instead of cream, tarragon and pine nuts, and I seasoned the whole dish with fish sauce and ginger instead of plain salt and pepper. A new version of sformato turned to be great: the spicy notes of the cake made it very more-ish and the sweet undertone of coconut sauce beautifully complemented the dish. Altogether it made me forget about its Italian origin and to make a resolution to keep cooking it the same Asian way from now on!

Pear and Pecorino Risotto

          There was this recipe of a savory risotto with pears and pecorino that I wanted to try for a long time and as I had a small piece of the cheese left in the fridge I figured out that it would be a decent way to use it. As I was going to make the dish for breakfast, I warned my husband that the following day he would have pear risotto in the morning. When he heard about it, he got really enthusiastic (as he always does when he finds out that there will be some sort of a rice pudding for breakfast); then he got a bit confused when I told him that it’s gonna be a savory dish (despite the fact that there’s fruit in it), yet he decided to support my kitchen experiment. We reached an agreement that in case the risotto turned out to be a failure, he would have a piece of a cheesecake for breakfast instead.

            The next morning, as the two plates with oozy rice reached the table, I was very nervous (I remembered what had happened when I made buckwheat pancakes with pear and blue cheese and was aware that my husband could find the taste of pecorino too weird for his palate as well). As I was enjoying every spoonful of my risotto, I watched my husband (who was slowly cleaning up his plate) and I even started to dream of trying even more unusual flavours next time – like, for example, coffee risotto – when my husband pushed his plate aside and asked for a piece of a cheesecake. Ok, I’ve got it – no coffee risotto next time; only traditional, time-tested combinations: rice, milk, some fruits and, probably, chocolate and nuts. And I for one will definitely go for pear and pecorino again!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Apple and Cream Cheese French Toast with Strawberry Coulis

         There was this programme on an Indian TV channel called “Do It Sweet”; it was hosted by a very talented modern chef, the head of the Aurus restaurant in Mumbai and just a very fascinating man Vicky Ratnani. As the name of the show suggests, he was making desserts – beautiful, stunning, yet easy to reproduce at home. Vicky was assisted by fabulous Maria Goretti who, to my mind, with her outstanding appearance resembled Monica Bellucci. Maria used to act more like “a commentator” rather than “a serious helper” in the kitchen (but the Chef didn’t need that much help, anyway) – every time she came up with amazing facts about the ingredients Vicky cooked with. So, the audience learnt about the nutritious value of pistachios, about the benefits of consuming prunes and about the “good fat” and antioxidants in chocolate. And, since Vicky cooked a lot with apples (just think of the fiber content in them!) Maria couldn’t stop praising the fruits. One of the recipes with this wonderful ingredient that got my attention was apple and cream cheese filled French toast. On the one hand, it’s just a stuffed French toast. On the other hand, because of the complexity of flavours in the filling and due to the presentation it is a restaurant type of a dish. I enjoy cooking (and consuming!) it when strawberries are in season: during the winters spent in Kolkata and summer vocations in Moscow. Oh yes, it’s another advantage of having two homes in different parts of the world!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stuffed Quail with Rosemary Jus and Sage Potatoes

         A great advantage of being a home cook, in comparison with professional chefs, is an opportunity to choose the ingredients and cooking mode according to your skills. Thus, if you are not good at filleting a fish, you will ask a monger to do it for you, if you find making a puff pastry to be a troublesome process, you will use a bought one and if working with gelatine reminds you of Russian roulette (one day it sets, the other day it doesn’t) – you will simply stay away from it. Sometimes, however, it’s good to challenge yourself in the kitchen and go beyond your comfort zone.

            Last week I eventually made myself complete a task that I always tried to avoid: deboning a bird. Instead of going for poultry, I decided to start with something smaller – a quail. On the one hand, it has much less bones, on the other hand, since it’s a tiny bird, you have to be delicate with it. It took me a while to debone a first quail but the second and the third ones were less time-consuming (seriously, it’s a kind of skill that you gain amazingly quickly). Stuffing them was also a bit messy process: again, they are so tiny that it’s not quite easy to put a small amount of filling inside and to sew up. The result, however, was worth all the efforts. I should say that since my husband got used to all sorts of elaborate dishes that go out of my kitchen, it’s really difficult for me to surprise him at a dinner table. That day, however, I managed to do it: he was astonished by the fact that he can eat the whole bird (just in a couple of bites) without bothering about the bones. I was pleased to hear his praise and got really inspired to make a step further and to try something similar with the whole chicken next time!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peach Melba Parfait

            One of the secrets of outstanding cooking is using fresh seasonal ingredients. However, usually as I see produce that is available only for a short period of time during the year I can’t but think of the ways of preserving it for future use in my kitchen.

            As the summer was about to be over, with all its vibrant and delightful fruits and berries disappearing in front of my eyes from the shops and street vendors, I desperately tried to consume as much of those yummy goodies as I could. And as one day I brought home a bag of ripe and juicy peaches, it was obvious that these were the last beautiful peaches available this year. I started to think of how I can keep them as long as possible and at first I considered the idea of freezing them (in the long run, that’s what I often do with seasonal vegetables in fruits). But then a brilliant idea struck me: making a peach ice-cream! The prospect of indulging into a dessert with a true summer flavour was so appealing that I immediately headed to the kitchen and started to cook.

            It was, in fact, amazing to enjoy this ice-cream later on in October and even November: such a great way to beat the autumn depression! Of course, the whole batch of ice-cream is gone by now but I really enjoy looking at the photos of it as they instantly bring those summer days to me again!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon

For me eggs benedict is not simply a classic brunch dish (although I seriously can’t understand how people can continue to explore a brunch buffet after having such a rich and nourishing toast) – it’s definitely an ultimate indulgent breakfast. I know that it’s far from being a healthy option but I’m even ready to run another mile in the gym for having an extra spoon of hollandaise sauce!

            Strange as it may seem, but I’ve never had this world famous dish in its authentic form – with an English muffin and ham. Instead, I use plain toasted bread and smoked salmon for my version of it. And, to say true, I never felt like trying traditional “eggs benedict” as I’m more than happy with the subtle taste of mine.

Initially, my husband thought that I take too much trouble preparing such a breakfast on a busy mid-week morning (for him seeing a double boiler on the stove at 7 o’clock in the morning was way too much!), but the thing is, after you cook this dish a number of times, you don’t need to focus on every step of the process anymore: you start to do all the things automatically and all of a sudden you discover an ability to stir your hollandaise sauce with one hand and make a whirl in a boiling water for poaching eggs with another hand (astonishing as it is, but your eyes can still remain half-shut after a short night’s sleep – every move in the kitchen is in your muscle memory!).  So, believe me, it’s a deceivingly difficult dish – once you master it, it won’t take you longer to prepare it than to make some pancakes! And it’s always good to have such a stunning dish in your repertoire – either for dear friends who pay you a visit on a Sunday morning or for beloved yourself, right in the middle of the working week!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Italian Fiesta

            It’s always good to have a recipe of a dish and to keep it in front of your eyes while you cook. Sometimes, however, it’s better to enter a kitchen door with empty hands: no printed lists of ingredients, no cookbooks or culinary magazines – thus no restrictions whatsoever, just an awesome feeling of liberty and a great opportunity to bring some novel ideas into life.

            Once as I was heading towards my kitchen (the lunchtime was approaching and I had to prepare at least anything for my husband) I didn’t have an exact notion of what I was going to cook that day. I looked at a piece of fish, fresh vegetables and button mushrooms – and instantly decided that I wanted to go Italian: baked fish with mushroom sauce and gremolata, mashed potatoes with red pesto and – pasta! – some home-made egg yolk ravioli on a bed of rocket leaves. The final dish was bursting with flavours and looked stunning on a plate (it perfectly corresponded to the image I had in my mind when I started to cook). Believe me, you don’t need a recipe to bring a real fiesta to your dining table on an ordinary weekday: just follow your culinary intuition and a call of your gourmet heart and you will produce a meal that goes beyond any expectations!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Margarita Ice-Cream

        In Russia we have a saying: “One can’t spoil porridge with butter”. For me it’s an arguable statement but I’m absolutely convinced that “one can’t spoil a dessert with liquor”.

            One of the spirits that I extensively use in my kitchen is Cointreau. I find it to be very versatile and I like the way its tangy flavour adds a zing to any sweet dish, so I never mind putting a splash of this orange liquor into a batter for my cupcakes, my chocolate mousse or a sauce that goes with a warm pie.

When it comes to desserts, I’m a real fanatic of ice-cream (and all sorts of frozen goodies in general), so when I once saw Nigella Lawson in her TV show “Forever Summer” putting Cointreau in home-made Margarita ice-cream (yes, an ice-cream which tastes like the world famous cocktail!), I instantly realized that it was a perfect recipe for me (should I mention that Margarita is one of my favourite cocktails, together with Cosmopolitan which (no surprise) has the orange liquor in it as well?). Bonus: it’s a no-churn ice-cream, so you can rustle it up in a jiffy and the following day you’ll be able to scoop it in a martini glass and serve it to your friends (a dessert that, no doubt, will be a showstopper of the dinner party) or to enjoy it yourself – simply by eating it with a big spoon, straight from a container. Yes, that’s how I usually indulge in my Margarita ice-cream - and I’m absolutely unapologetic about it (actually Nigella confesses that she does the same)! Try to make your batch at home and you will understand why it’s so hard to stay generous enough to share such a yummy treat with anyone else!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chicken Meatballs in Tomato Coconut Sauce

           It was actually supposed to be chicken korma but I didn’t have a special paste. I know that for the one who lives in India it would be a lame excuse to say that I couldn’t find it; I should better be honest from the beginning: I didn’t even bother to try. The thing is, one day as I was wondering what I should do with the chicken mince that I had in the fridge (and I definitely wanted to try something new) I remembered that I saw a recipe on one website. As I noticed the korma paste in the list of ingredients, I got a bit confused but then decided to try to make a dish without it. And it actually turned out to be so delicious and jampacked with flavours that from then on I kept cooking it without any korma paste whatsoever.  I have a strong suspicion that if I get the paste and try to make the dish according to the original recipe my husband would no more be happy to have it for his dinner as in general he’s not a big fan of the Indian cuisine, to put it mildly. And I for one, most probably, would also prefer a simpler, not so spicy sauce. There’s no denying that my dish cannot by any means be called “chicken korma” any more, so it’s just “chicken meatballs in tomato coconut sauce” – a comforting stew with a touch of the Asian flavours.

Zucchini and Ricotta Frittata

            My father always could (and as far as I know still can) cook only one dish (let’s make a remark here: by cooking I understand something that goes beyond topping a piece of bread with a slice of cheese and involves, at least, heating oil in a pan) – that is fried eggs. And, I should give him the credit, he took the process of cooking his dish quite seriously (it was so cute to watch him breaking the eggs into a pan and then keeping an eye on them so that they wouldn’t burn) and even managed to diversify his dish from time to time: he used to chop some additional ingredients and throw them in the pan together with the eggs. He loved to add some bacon or salami to his final dish, and what he got on his plate eventually even resembled a substantial meal.

            Only later on I learnt that my father was not a pioneer of the smart idea of adding yummy things to fries eggs – almost in every cuisine you will find a version of this dish. To my mind, Italian frittata is the most outstanding example of it. I love the fact that it’s a dish that leaves a lot of space for creativity: basically, you don’t need a strict recipe for making it; you can treat it as an opportunity to use leftover food to create a new meal. Thus, you can put chicken, vegetables or even pasta in it. And although I prefer to treat it the same way, I cannot but confess that there are a few combinations of flavours that make the best frittata for me. One of it is ricotta and zucchini. Soft and juicy in the middle, with a nice parmesan crust on top, it is one of my favourite breakfasts. It’s healthy and delicious, irresistibly tantalizing and ultimately easy to make!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fruit Tart

       “If you write the word “stressed” backwards, you’ll get “desserts”. Coincidence? I don’t think so” – this quote of an anonymous smart man got my attention in a newspaper. Indeed, what is a better comfort food than the one that gives you a sweet pleasure of forgetting all the bad things in the world? And, as the winter begins, the best way to fight a melancholic or sombre mood is to indulge in a dessert that tastes fresh and looks sunny and bright – like a fruit tart that instantly reminds you of warm days and brings back the memories of a recent vocation. Luckily, all sorts of exotic fruits are now readily available throughout the whole year. So, why not to gift yourself with a piece of summer on a plate and to boost the spirits with a fruity and creamy treat?

            To say true, I had a baked tart case in my freezer (the one that was left after the final assembly of the Gingerbread house that I made for a Halloween party). So, I figured out that the best and the easiest way to use the tart would be simply to fill it with cream and to decorate with fresh fruits. And it turned out to be just the perfect treat for the beginning of a cold season!

Buckwheat Pancakes with Pear and Blue Cheese

            Recently I fell into conversation about barbeque with some of our friends (yes, people in India talk about barbeque in winter – when, as it gets colder outside, the season starts) and they recollected the summer days in the USA when they used to have barbeque parties and to grill all sorts of meats, vegetables and even fruits – pears, served with the blue cheese sauce, was a favourite. My husband was a bit confused by the “gourmet” twist that the conversation took and I realized that I should actually introduce him to this combination of flavours – just in order to broaden his gastronomic outlook.

            The other day, when I was almost ready to go to bed and was thinking about the following day’s breakfast, I remembered about the conversation and decided to make some buckwheat pancakes with pears and blue cheese. I turned to Larousse Gastronomic for the recipe of buckwheat blinis (I had the idea of making them of a big size – more of a breakfast rather than hors d’oeuvre type) and oops! – I discovered that the recipe required the use of yeast! The perspective of getting up one hour earlier in the morning (just to wait for the dough to rise) was not so appealing. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like having anything else for my breakfast! So, I checked a trust-worthy website and got a “cheat’s” yeast-free recipe for the buckwheat blinis and, promising myself that the next time I will definitely go for the original type of dough, I printed down the list of ingredients. To say true, the pancakes that I made the following day turned out to be so good that I started to think of a decent excuse not to use yeast next time as well – in the long run, if I’m happy with the recipe, what’s the point of making life more complicated?! And my husband…well, he also loved the pancakes. However, since he has definitely got a less adventurous palate than me, he didn’t enjoy the blue cheese and asked for some sour cream and honey instead. Well, I didn’t mind to get extra cheese on my plate, though!
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