Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Orange Foaming Cookies and Cappuccino Cookies with Chocolate


        Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us.

          I decided to wait for December to try all the recipes while making sweet gifts for my family and friends. Meanwhile, I chose a chose a recipe of Peta’s mother-in law – foaming cookies, and a recipe of Pierre Herme – cappuccino cookies – for completing this month’s challenge. So, I ended up having gift packs with two types of cookies (“black” and “white”)– similar in shape, but so different in taste!

          I loved the recipe of foaming cookies as it leaves a lot of space for creativity! Peta claims that one can make them with milk, water or juice, and use any kind of flour like rice or almond one. Besides, any spices, nuts, dried fruits and chocolate chips can be used for developing a flavor. I guess I will be experimenting a lot with this recipe from this moment on!

         Pierre Herme’s cookies turned to be softer and richer – probably, because of chocolate chunks and a good shot of espresso in them. I added crushed macadamia as the recipe called for but I guess any other nuts will work brilliant as well. The cookies are good in their own and sinfully awesome after being put for a quick while in a cup of morning coffee and eaten – almost at the edge of falling apart!

         A great challenge and a great way to feel the atmosphere of the upcoming holiday season!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blueberry and Lime Millefuille

   Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it! I was happy to learn that this month’s challenge is Mille-fuille because I’ve never actually made a real puff pastry myself – I only had an experience of making the soc called “quick puff pastry” which does not require laminating the dough a lot. My huscband was also very happy to learn that this month I’m gonna cook a mille-fuille – “napoleon” slice was his favourite dessert from the childhood! We even argued a bit because of it: I wanted to go creative with this challenge and he wanted to have a classic version of the cake!
   We reached a compromise: I made a classic French mille-fuilee instead of making traditional Russian Napoleon. For those who do not know the difference, let me explain: in Russia the slice is made with lots of thin layers of puff pastry and cream (which is usually not cream patisserie but more like a buttercream – a combination of butter and condensed milk) and is covered with crushed pieces of puff pastry (no icing – never!); the cake is left overnight in the fridge so that it becomes soft. Well, you see, that is what my husband always loved – and I wanted him to taste an original mille-fuille, French-style! So Ive made a custard-based cream and three layers of puff pastry and even an icing with strips of chocolate!

   One week later, however, I felt like doing something more. I remembered “Milena” – a beautiful slice by Pierre Herme consisting of raspberry jelly, dacquiouse biscuit, mint mousse and two layers of puff pastry. Taking it as an inspiration I decided to cook something similar – an idea of blueberry and lime ice cream mille-fuille came up! 

    Was it better than French millefuille or Russian napoleon? It was - just because it was different and it had more complicated textures and flavours: crispiness of puff pastry and softness of a sponge, sweetness of ice cream and sourness of jelly, zing of lime and freshness of blueberries. 

    Don't you like a fresh touch on a traditional dish?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Empanada Gallega


     Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favorite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!

     Empanada traces its origin to Galicia and Portugal. Traditionally they are made in a form of a pie which is afterwards cut in pieces. Nowadays, however, other variations exist – like “calzone-style” big pies or individual “turn-over style” small pies (which – when made in on oval shape, looks similar to Russian “pirozhki”!). 

       The fillings of empanada usually include tuna, chorizo or sardines but it can also contain cod and pork loin. Since my husband is not fond of tuna and pork and since we had brandada with salted cod the same day, I decided to choose ground beef for my pie. I wanted the filling to have “a Spanish hint” so I added bell pepper, tomatoes, black olives, paprika and lots of parsley. I wish I had some anchovies in my cupboard – they would have made the whole thing “undoubtedly Spanish”!

     Anyway, the pie was very good: a juicy, hearty filling wrapped in bread-like paprika-scented dough.  What a great way to create Galician atmosphere at home!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Choux Puffs with Orange Chantilly Cream

     Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

     To say true, I really wanted to make swans…or  at least some sort of Paris-Breast gateau with an unusual filling. But – oh, yes! There’s always “a but” – I was so-o-o-o-o-o busy in August (with some baking, by the way!) that I had to leave the idea of making something massive.  I just had to go for an easier option (which does not always mean “worse”!) – and I simply made some prifitroles filled with orange-flavoured Chantilly.

     Oh yes, I had such a hectic time that I couldn’t even complete the challenge on time! Feeling a bit guilty, however, I managed to find another half an hour to make sugar decorations for assembling my dessert!

     The result was elegant and seductive, with a comforting sweetness of sugar strands and a refreshing zing of orange zest.

     It was not a Swan lake but it was a “Choux ballet” of mine – much simpler, yet pleasant and charming as well.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Seedy Crisps and Cheese Hazelnut Tarragon Crackers

      Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

      This month I was so busy with my work that I had almost forgotten about DB challenge. At the beginning of this week, however, one of my colleagues mentioned it in a conversation that recently she had stopped buying crackers since their quality nowadays leaves much to be desired. It suddenly occurred to me that I am actually provided with some good recipes for making crackers at home!

       Since Dana asked us to make two different types of crackers, I’ve decided to make seedy crisps (a more healthy variation) and cheesy hazelnut and tarragon icebox crackers (more of a comfort food type). Which one did I like more? Well, shame on me, but whole-wheat crisps didn’t seem so appealing to me as herby Gouda crackers were. My colleagues (who were lucky to taste both types today) shared this opinion with me. 

      Ironically, my co-worker whose remark on the crackers stimulated me for completing this month’s challenge was on a leave today. She always is when I bring some homemade pastry items to the office.  That’s her bad “confectionary” luck! I’m sure she will be upset on Monday when she finds out that once again she has missed the opportunity to try some of my dishes which – let me tell you – were definitely “cracker ones”!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Strawberry and Orange Battenberg Cake – Daring Bakers June 2012

        Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

        This cake – especially its traditional yellow and pink checkered pattern – looks very girlish and (as Mandy has noted) makes one think of Alice in Wonderland. Despite its “cartoonish” appearance the cake was actually created in 1884 as a wedding cake for Princess Victoria and Prince Louis of Battenberg; the yellow and pink squares representing the four princes of Battenberg.

         I was impressed by the look of the cake and decided not to change it. I only played a little bit with the flavours – added some orange zest to the batter and “glued” the stripes of sponge with the strawberry ganache. The outer part of the cake is covered with orange jam and wrapped in home-made edible “cover”. A few pieces of decoration – and here’s a cake from the Wonderland. Welcome to tea at Madhatters’!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Armenian Nazook and Nutmeg Cake


          The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.
           When I studied at the university in Moscow, my parents who lived in the south of Russia used to send me parcels every month. I always looked forward to getting them: I knew that among other goodies I would definitely find a sweet treat from my mom: home-made gata. She spent her childhood in a house in the centre of the city where they had Armenians as their neighbours. No wonder, she learnt a lot about their national cuisine and gata was one of the things that she cooked quite often for my brother and me.

            When I saw a foto of this month challenge, I was astonished: it seemed we are gonna be making gata! On reading the instructions, however, I realized that it was another Armenian dessert which looked exactly the same: nazook. There is a small difference between them: nazook has yeast in yet, while gata is made simply with buttermilk; the filling for nazook is just mixed, in case of gata sugar, butter and flour are cooked over low heat before being spread over the rolled-out dough. Anyway, both types of Armenian “cookies” are very flavourful and serve as a great tea-time snack.

            Armenian nutmeg cake was also a good accomplishment for our tea (and coffee) break! Actually I’ve never heard of this dessert before (neither did my mom despite the fact that she had a profound Armenian culinary background!) and was eager to try it. The walnuts that I sprinkled on top sank during the baking time and I had to add a handful of some more before serving the cake. Nevertheless, the cake was very moist, with a good hint of nutmeg and although I found the crust too sweet for me, it had a good texture and caramel flavor provided by the brown sugar.

            All in all, it was a great challenge since it brought back my childhood memories and gave me an impetus to broaden my (as well as my mum’s) gastronomic outlook on Armenian cuisine!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blue Mondays

            When I first looked through "Zumbo" book with an amazing collection of his creations, I especially loved a chapter dedicated to bar-shaped cakes, and one of it – a chocolate cake with raisins, walnuts and blue cheese (!) stroke a core in my heart. I wanted it to be the first recipe that I would try from the book; it turned out, however, that I cooked almost a dozen other Zumbo-ish things before I finally made this “gateau de voyage”.  There were a few reasons for the delay; one of it was that my husband is not a big fan of cheese and he especially hates those pungent varieties with the blue veins. No wonder, when I finally made this extraordinary cake, I suggested we should take it to the office and share with our colleagues who are more tolerant to this dairy product.

               So, the box with the cake got into the office (should I say that it was Monday or is it pretty obvious anyway?) and my husband took the first piece during the coffee break.  The cake smelled delicious and the blue cheese insert together with the chocolate custard made it look mouth-watering. “Honey, – can we take it back home? It’s way too good and should be eaten by me alone!”

               Of course, we couldn’t take it back home – other people were quick to help themselves to the cake as well. Which was too good – my husband was absolutely right about it. Probably, he’s gonna change his attitude towards blue cheese now…at least when it is served in a form of a dessert!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fish Ballotine

            Wow! It is the hundredth post in the blog. Quite a big number, isn’t it? Initially I was thinking of cooking something special for this occasion but then decided to dedicate the “anniversary post” to the dish from which everything basically started.

            It was a late August weekend and we were waiting for our friends to come for dinner. I literally cooked my heart out that day: prepared a range of salads and hors d'oeuvres, and took all the pains to make an amazing main course – fish ballotine (quite a challenge for any home cook, isn’t it?) I was very happy with the results of my work in the kitchen and was looking forward to entertaining in the evening when – suddenly – our friends called to cancel their visit. On top of that, my husband rearranged his plans for the rest of the day and decided to meet an old friend of his for a drink. So, I was left all alone, with my overwhelming disappointment and a range of prepared dishes. It was Saturday (which meant there was no Masterchef show on TV) and it was raining heavily outside (which perfectly corresponded to my gloomy mood) and I started to think of the ways of spending the evening. A sudden idea crossed my mind – taking the pictures of the food that I’d cooked…

            It was a great surprise for me to discover that I actually enjoy styling food! Then there was an album on the Facebook with the pictures of my dishes and I was pleased to get a very warm and emotional feedback from my friends. When a number of people who kept asking me to hold culinary master classes became too high, I found a solution – I started this blog. It was – and still is! – a great way to put not only the photos but the recipes of the dishes, together with some stories that hide behind them.

            So, today I told you one of these stories. And the photo of the fish ballotine, mentioned in it, always reminds me of that great day when I expanded the borders of my “hobby sphere”: from pure cooking to food photography and blogging. Ironically, now I’m grateful to the friends who didn’t manage to come that day: if it were not for that fact, I wouldn’t be writing this post now!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ricotta and Jam Tart

            I love cooking with ricotta and all other sorts of cottage cheese – especially making desserts! Once I was lucky to find an amazing recipe of ricotta and jam tart which, as the cooking magazine claimed, was authentically Italian – it was even called “Crostata di ricotta e marmellata”. I tried the recipe and instantly realized that I should find a place for it in my cookbook: it was so good that it became obvious that I’m gonna be making it again and again!

            When I told my Italian friend about this tart (should I use the right word here – ‘boasted” about cooking this fantastic dessert?) she was confused. She explained to me that in Italy they put either ricotta or jam in the filling of a pie and never mix them together. I tried to make a point by saying that the tart with both of them is absolutely delicious (which can be confirmed not only by me but by a dozen of readers of that magazine who highly praised the recipe). “I can assume that it might be delicious; but it cannot be called an Italian dish, anyway!” – she concluded.

            Well, what’s in a name? And who cares about authenticity when there’s a piece of a warm pie on a plate, with soft vanilla-scented ricotta, gooey jam and fragrant crumble? Especially when it is served with orange curd that complements the flavour of the jam!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Deconstructed Caesar

          One of the modern gastronomic trends that I like is food deconstruction: decomposing a dish, rearranging its elements and coming up with something new which may look simpler that the original dish but in fact be much more sophisticated in terms of cooking methods and techniques. I strongly believe that in such a way any dish can get a second life; sometimes I get carried away by my culinary fantasy as I start thinking of how I can deconstruct this or that classic dish. (By the way, if you feel like organizing a blogger’s community that will have fun in the kitchen by deconstructing traditional dishes, please, let me know – I’m totally in!)

Classic Caesar salad became one of the objects of my experiments. It was rather simple to work with it. Just think of it: you normally mix all the ingredients to make a salad; thus, for a deconstructed version of it you need to put all the elements on the plate separately. So, what do you see on the plate? A toast with grilled chicken and parmesan crisp, an egg with anchovy filling, tomato fondue and fresh lettuce sprinkled with olive oil. What will you feel once you start eating the dish and all the flavours will come together? I guess you will realize that it is something more that just a chicken sandwich with the salad leaves and, probably, the concoction of the elements will remind you of the original dish. That is basically the whole idea of a funny trend of deconstructing food!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pan Seared Salmon with Beetroot and Ricotta Canelloni

           “Fresh doesn’t always mean better; a self-respected Italian housewife doesn’t bother to make pasta at home since she can get good one in the shop” – an article “Things you’d know if your nanny was Italian” stated. Well, there is a point here, no doubt. But what about ravioli?! I do not mind buying ready-made ravioli with meat, mushroom or cottage cheese filling but what would you do if you crave for a more sophisticated flavour inside the pasta shell? There’s no other way but to put an apron, dust the table with some flour and get into making your own dough!

            I had an absolutely amazing recipe of beetroot and ricotta ravioli from one cooking magazine; I’d made the dish a couple of times – each time it was a great success. Recently, however, as I had already prepared the filling and rolled the dough to the necessary thickness – I stopped for a moment thinking how I can change the dish a little bit (just for fun, you know!). At that moment I remembered Chef George Calombaris who once showed how to make fish mousse cannelloni to the contestants of Masterchef Australia. He put the mousse into a culinary bag and piped it onto strips of fresh pasta dough which were then rolled around the filling and cut into tubes to form cannelloni. I decided to use the same technique to make cannelloni with my beetroot filling.

           Wow! The result was beyond any expectations: it was basically the dish that I was familiar with  – but in a new form. A piece of a seared salmon with creamy dill sauce served as a great accompaniment to the cannelloni which had a distinct sweetness of beetroot and a pungent scent of parmesan. All in all, it was a beautiful dish and I will definitely bother to make it again. In the long run, I do not have an Italian nanny who would try to talk me out of making fresh pasta at home!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Asian Burger with Brown Rice Tiger Bread

          Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

         As soon as I learnt about the challenge for this month, I made up my mind to cook an Asian burger – I guess, the rice flour that is used for the crunch topping, gave me an impetus to go in this direction. Can you imagine my surprise when I found out that Dutch Crunch bread (also called Tiger bread after the tiger-like shell) was initially made with sesame oil?! It seemed that my idea of using Asian flavours was more than appropriate!

       I loved the recipe of the brown rice bread the girls provided us with: I figured out that it would be a perfect base for my dish. However, I decided to make bread rolls instead of a loaf and they turned to be much better than plain burger buns, with a sweetness of honey, earthiness of a brown rice and a scent of sesame oil.

       Instead of beef I used prawns, chicken and fish to make meat cakes for the burger: I simply adapted the recipe of Chao Tom that I had in my cooking book. Chao Tom is basically a Vietnamese dish – an entrée made with prawns grinded to a paste, wrapped around the sugar cane sticks and grilled. Of course, I didn’t use any sticks and changed the shape of the dish in general but it was still packed with flavours: the use of different types if meat and Asian condiments made it a lip smacking treat!

      An Asian cole slow was served as a side to the dish: Chinese cabbage, apple, capsicum and carrot with soy and honey dressing and toasted sesame seeds – can you think of a better accompany to the chaw tom cakes and brown rice tiger bread?

     Thanks to Sara and Erica for an opportunity to have fun in the kitchen and to come up with a new, fusion, delicious dish!

Summer in March: Chocolate Hazelnut Gateau with Strawberry Jelly and Creme Brulee

         They say, dessert, being the last course of the meal, can be of a crucial significance: a bad one ruins the whole dining experience while a good one transforms even an average meal into a memorable one. No wonder, when I was preparing the menu for the farewell party that we organized for our collegues, I paid a special attention to the dessert.

         I didn’t want to use a recipe from a cookbook; instead, I felt like creating something new that would reflect both my attitude towards Kolkata and the experience (mainly – the culinary one) that I’d gained there. An idea of a multi-layered gateau came by. Indeed, I started to make such sophisticated desserts only about a year ago (thanks to the influence of Adriano Zumbo and other pastry chefs – professional and amateur ones) and it was a time to demonstrate what I’d learnt. When I thought of the flavours, I decided upon chocolate as the main one, with a hint of vanilla (can you do without it in a good dessert?). Then I choose strawberries – simply because they were still in season and I wanted to include a fresh, juicy, a bit sour element in the cake. Hazelnuts was not a very obvious choice since they are way too difficult to find in Kolkata; ironically, that was the reason why I bothered to take them as well: I wanted to create a flavour profile that would be a bit surprising and not so conventional for the people who had been living in the place for a long time.

         I was very happy with the result (and so, it seems, were our colleagues). There was only one question left: how I should call this chocolate and hazelnut gateau with strawberry jelly and crème brulee? At this point I remembered the conversation I had with one of my Indian friends about a year ago:

 – Are you going away from the city this summer? – I asked her.
 – No, – she replied. I have exams till the end of May. But in June I’m planning to travel abroad.

        The thing is, I have forgotten that in India the seasons are different; you have summer from March to May, and monsoon from June to August. It is very unusual for a European!

        My gateau was very unusual as well (you have fresh, not imported, strawberries there and hazelnuts which, as I mentioned, are not so readily available in Kolkata) that’s why I decided to name it Summer in March. I guess, each time I will be looking at the photo of it, I will feel the warmth of that days and the amazing time I had during my stay in that country!

Post Scriptum: the Farewell Party

– We can order a takeaway from a restaurant. – My husband said when we were discussing the farewell party that we were to arrange for our collegues.
– No way! – I replied. – I’ll take care of everything myself!

– Are you gonna set a new record? – one of the colleges asked when she learnt that I’m gonna cook for a few dozen people. – Maybe you need some help?
– No, thanks, I’m ok.

– How much or should I say – how little – did you sleep for the past few days? – the wife of a collegue wondered when she saw the whole spread at the serving table.
– Well... I actually managed to get a few hours sleep.

            It was hard, no doubt, but I don’t regret that we hadn’t ordered a takeaway. I actually managed to pull this off – with the help of that girl, my husband and some other people; and it was definitely worth all the pains and the sleepless nights spent in the kitchen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Farewell to Kolkata

– Do you have almond flour?
– Wheat flour?
– No, almond. It’s like ground almonds.
– Take whole almonds.
– No, I need almond flour! It is also called almond meal.
– Take oatmeal.
– Ok, forget it.

            That’s a typical conversation when you are trying to find just a little-bit-beyond-ordinary ingredient in Kolkata.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sticky Tape the Date

         One of the most popular Australian desserts is date pudding. It’s a delicious treat, especially when served with some butterscotch sauce or plain caramel. What happens, however, when a whimsical pastry chef (as Sidney-based Adriano Zumbo is) takes this combination as a starting point for creating a new delight, can be described only by the most enthusiastic words. 

        “Sticky tape the date’ – when I saw this cake in “Zumbo” book, I was impressed by the way it looked – a row of date logs, covered in coconut “snowflakes” and a glimmering caramel glaze. And! There is much more inside the gateau: the strips of date gel and caramel chew which compliment the overall flavour of the chocolate cake batter, enriched with dried apricots and dates. The chocolate caramel (!) which goes in the bottom of the baking tin, has a beautiful aroma and that mouth-watering caramel maison that covers the whole cake is sinfully more-ish.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prawn Cocktail

          One can speak of fashion not only when it comes to clothes, shoes, accessories and smart gadgets but to food as well. Indeed, there are tendencies in the food industry: some dishes are classic, others are associated with particular epoch, while the third ones – which become popular overnight – either leave a trace in the gastronomic world or vanish forever from the memories of demanding gourmets. 

         If you asked me to name a retro dish two years ago I would most probably stumble with the answer. Nowadays, however, one dish instantly comes to my mind: prawn cocktail. The thing is, I learnt about this hors d’oeuvre (that was popular in Great Britain from the 1960s to the 1980s) only when I came to India: here in Kolkata there is a good range of seafood and prawn cocktail is on the menu of most of the  “continental” restaurants. My husband appreciated the dish as soon as he came here so I bothered to get a recipe in order to be able to cook it for him at home.

        At that time the source of culinary information that I broadly used was a TV channel featuring the recipes of local chefs. I was lucky to get Sanjeev Kapoor’s version of the prawn cocktail. It was the first recipe of a cocktail sauce that I had ever tried to make in my life and it turned out to be absolutely fantastic! It received the highest praise not only from my husband but from my friends in Moscow as well: I used it for the prawn tartlets when I throw a party during the vocation and they were the winning dish on the table. The secret ingredient? Alcohol! Sanjeev Kapoor suggests using brandy but I prefer to make it with some dark rum: the Indian Old Monk, with a rich caramel flavour, works best.

        Recently, when I served this easy to make appetizer to our local friends who are well familiar with my range of very sophisticated dishes, asserted that I had outdone myself with that prawn cocktail. I was a bit astonished since the dish is way too easy to make and it takes no pains and absolutely no effort to pull it off. I guess, the key to success is rum. I haven’t actually mentioned to them that there was alcohol in the sauce. But you should expect it to be there, shouldn’t you? Otherwise why would it be called “a cocktail”?!

Caprese Salad

           If you look through my blog you will most probably think that I prefer elaborate, sophisticated dishes to more effortless ones. True. Sometimes, however, I keep the food simple: whenever I deal with exceptionally fresh, high quality produce, I let it speak for itself and do not overload the dish with unnecessary elements. Indeed, it needs a little, if any, assistance of spices and condiments to be transformed into a beautiful meal.

          One of the examples of a very easy dish which can become a stunning part of a meal is Caprese Salad. No wonder, this dish that consists only of a few elements – tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil – has become so popular all over the world. When I’m at a supermarket, I check the shelves with dairy produce and if I spot a pack of good mozzarella or bocconcini (which, unfortunately, is difficult to find here) I grab it and head to the grocery department to pick the freshest bunch of basil and a few ripe and juicy tomatoes. I’m salivating as I slice the soft balls of cheese and arrange them on top of the bright tomato rounds at my home kitchen. A few tangy basil leaves and a touch of a home-made basil oil – and I’m ready to indulge into a very simple, yet delicious dish.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


            To say true, I’m not a big fan of exotic flavours in desserts. I prefer simple ones: chocolate, orange, vanilla. Too simple? But you can always spike it with some liquor or rum! Any additions? Why not – I love honey, caramel and nuts. And what about fruits? Well, I choose something more conventional for my palate: apple and pear, strawberry and banana… As far as all those tropical fruits are concerned, I don’t mind eating them on their own, but if you make me choose between a sophisticated gateau garnished with lychees, star fruits and kumquats and a simple apple pudding, I would go for the latter one.

            No wonder, when I saw Barbados cake in my “Zumbo” book, I initially decided against cooking it. Mango, pineapple, coconut – it’s not “too” exotic for me but not too appealing at the same time as well. After giving it a thorough consideration, however, I came to the conclusion that I should definitely give this recipe a try before I leave India. In Russia, I figured out, I would most probably face the problem of finding all the necessary ingredients (like kaffir lime, jaggery, coconut milk powder and cream, nothing to say of fresh tropical fruits) and even if I do I would have to pay much more for them! It became obvious that it would have been stupid “to skip” the recipe.

Reuben Sandwich

          My husband extremely loves meat: he can eat it for lunch, for dinner and even for breakfast. And if making a soup with slices of chicken and grilling fish late at night is not a problem (you can make it in dozens of ways to produce different types of dishes for mid-afternoon snack and for after-work meal), incorporating it into breakfast can be a bit challenging; that’s why I’m always happy to find new recipes of toasts, crepes, frittatas and wraps with meat – I know that my hubby will be more than happy to have a piece of it for the first meal of the day!

         Recently I cooked a new “meaty” version of breakfast for him: Reuben sandwich. To say true, I have learnt about it only a year ago – which is hardly surprising as this sandwich, being a New York specialty, is a popular dish in North America but is hardly known beyond that continent. There are a few versions of the story of its origin. One of it claims that it was invented by Reuben Kulakofsky who was a regular poker player at the Blackstone Hotel where this dish was featured later in the menu. Another story holds that it was created by Arnold Reuben, the owner of Delicatessen in Broadway, first served it to the actress Anna Selos who once came to his restaurant. Yes, ironically, this absolutely “manly” sandwich was created for a woman! 

          Another funny thing is, this American specialty is full of typical “Russian” flavours: rye bread, beef, sauerkraut and something which in the Western countries is called “Russian” dressing. Of course, my husband couldn’t but love his breakfast. I should admit that I enjoyed the sandwich as well; I guess the truth of origin lies within the second story – the one where a woman is involved!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pea and Mint Soup

          Pea and mint is a marriage made in heaven. I have heard about it an enormous amount of times and I do not have any reasons to disagree with this statement. On the contrary, it is a combination of flavours that I use quite often in my kitchen. I mix peas and mint to make a simple stuffing for tomatoes, I garnish zucchini and pea omelette with fresh mint, I blend the two ingredients together to make a creamy puree (which is a perfect side dish for honey glazed salmon) and, finally, I use them to make a healthy and flavourful soup. It is quick and easy, light and refreshing. In February when peas were in great abundance, I made sure that I always have a bunch of mint in the fridge: it meant that I could rustle up a lunch in a jiffy! A bowl of this delicious soup (which can be served both hot and cold) and some salad or a toast or any other small appetizer (I usually go for seafood as, in my mind, it beautifully compliments the flavours of the dish) – and I’m in heaven; in that gastronomic heaven where the marriage of pea and mint was formed!

Toasted Lammyjammit

             When I think of typical Australian dishes, only a great range of desserts comes to my mind: sticky date pudding, light Pavlova, anzac biscuits and lamingtons. The latter ones are actually small cakes coated in toasted coconut; I have heard about them for the first time when I was watching Masterchef two years ago.

         Two months ago, however, as I finally got my “Zumbo” book from Melbourne, I saw an extraordinary variation of a traditional dessert: a big bar cake coated in what seemed to be chocolate coconut. The cocoa coconut and a sleek strip of chocolate on top were so appealing that I couldn’t but decide to make this cake at home!

Gratin Dauphinois with Fish Mousse and Vegetable Macedoine

         It is amazing sometimes to look at a dish that comes out of your kitchen and to try to analyze what inspired you to create it. It can be a childhood memory, a dining experience at a posh restaurant, a photo from a magazine or a book…

         I have always been impressed by a modern way of presentation of complex desserts; especially I love it when things of different colours and shapes are put together in a complicated yet organic composition. Imagine a rectangular piece of pastry (or a sponge cake) with a quenelle or a “tube-shaped” mousse on top and some fruit compote or coulis around. Isn’t there a beauty in its elaborate yet laconic look? Recently, however, I got obsessed not only by the general appearance of such a sweet dish but by the idea of making a savory dish that would look the same. Do you think it’s crazy? But doesn’t creativity sometimes border on craziness?

        When I finally got the courage to implement my weird idea, I thought thoroughly about every element of the dish. Eventually I decided to make gratin dauphinois as a base of the composition and fish mousse as the element that goes on top. Simple sautéed vegetables and tomato coulis served as accomplishment to the dish.

        As my husband saw the whole construction on the plate he tried to find out what the name of the dish is. I explained that the whole thing consists of different dishes and does not have a common name (at least for now). Needless to say, we both liked not only the look, but the flavour and texture of the dish. Rich and creamy potato gratin was counterbalanced by a light mousse and chunky vegetables with fragrant tomato sauce. The caviar contributed to the colour profile of the dish making it more sophisticated, elegant and versatile – just like those elaborate desserts I took my inspiration from!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Trio of Melons with Lemon Curd and Mango Coulis

           Eventually it’s March! And it is the beginning of mango season in India! A week ago I yielded to temptation to buy the first hardly ripe, a bit pale and not so sweet mangoes (which tasted good anyway!) and today I was in gastronomic euphoria when I was enjoying every succulent bite of Alphonso for breakfast!

           Mango… The king of fruits…. There are so many amazing things one can make with it! Sauces, salsas and glazes for the meat, fillings for the crepes, toppings for the cakes, garnishes for mousses and parfait, nothing to say of enjoying this juicy fruit on its own. Blissful delight – we are up for it for the following couple of months!

           Last year one of the most amazing desserts that I’ve managed to make with mango was called “Trio of melons”. The recipe was found in Elle magazine – in one of the last pages which I usually look through first (a weird habit, I know, but I believe I’m not the only one who “reads” women magazines in such a way!). Since I had just got my parisienne scoop (a cute piece of kitchen equipment I was craving for) and was in a mood of making scoops out of everything, the dish was a perfect choice.

           The dessert turned out to be very delicate and light: juicy melon balls, refreshing touch of mint, tangy kick of curd with subtle flavour of vanilla and – the hero of the dish: Alphonso coulis, irresistably delicious and more-ish, that brought all the elements of the dish together and made them transform into a beautiful unforgettable combination. I’m looking forward to making the dessert this year again!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Smoked Salmon, Strawberry and Celery Salad

           In order to sparkle up my gastronomic experience, I love to try exotic ingredients and to combine usual ones in a new, sometimes a bit weird way. No wonder, when I saw a recipe of a salad with smoked salmon and strawberry, I couldn’t but give it a try. The experiment was to be held on a weekend morning. I usually wake up earlier to prepare the breakfast – so that my husband can get up and find a meal waiting for him at the table. That day, as I was washing the rocket leaves for the salad, I started to doubt whether my hubby would agree to taste my new creation (I had a back-up plan in this case – some simple toasts with smoked salmon and aragula on the side). Before tossing all the ingredients in a bowl, I decided to ask his opinion about the perspective of trying such an unusual dish – and right after saying “Good morning, darling!” I told him about my kitchen plans. I guess, he was still in gastronomically adventurous mood (after being delighted by a chocolate cake with cherry tomatoes and raspberry caramel that I cooked the day before) as he agreed to have the dish for the breakfast. 

          At the dining table, when he dug into the salad and I asked him about his opinion on it, he said: “I haven’t figured out yet”. I kept asking and he kept saying the same thing until he finished his whole serve (which already was a good sign). Eventually he admitted that despite all the quirkiness of the combination, he found it to be very good. And despite his uncertainness at the beginning I was glad that in the long run he appreciated the dish – which meant that I could include it in our home menu!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rice Vermicelli with Coconut Milk and Tropical Fruits

         When I was a small child, one of the dishes that my mum used to cook for my breakfast was vermicelli with milk. It was not a thick, creamy, unbearably sweet pudding as a traditional kheer; instead of it, it was more like a light soup with small pasta “worms” in a liberally sweetened “milk stock”. I was not the only kid who used to enjoy this dish for breakfast: it was (and, I reckon, still is) quite a popular option for the start of the day. 

         Since I grew up and left my parents’ house I have never had vermicelli for breakfast again – I have strongly associated the dish with the childhood and, thus, considered it to be too “childish” to go for it again. I guess I should make a remark here: my husband still sometimes has his vermicelli for breakfast and – no, I don’t find it to be “infantile” about him (it’s actually quite cute, isn’t it?).

         Last year, however, I came across a recipe of a similar dish: rice vermicelli with coconut milk and tropical fruits. It was like a twist on a traditional “school-days” breakfast; quite an exotic twist, I should say. Ironically, I found the recipe in a Russian cooking magazine (no kidding – with all the list of extraordinary ingredients!). Since I was in India at the time and had an access to those rice vermicelli (to be honest with you, I use it more at home than plain rice or traditional wheat pasta) and – luckily! – to all sorts of fresh tropical fruits, I couldn’t but give the recipe a try. From that day on it became a dish that I cook regularly for breakfast. With a zing from ginger and lime, with a sweetness of coconut milk and silkiness of rice vermicelli and – with an appealing vividness of fruits – it is now strongly associated for me with Asia and, at the same time, I can feel a warming connection with the childhood which makes the dish even more enjoyable for me!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Open Beef Lasagna

           Six months ago I had a lunch at a restaurant where they served lasagna in a very interesting way: the vegetable ragout and the lasagna sheets were not baked together as a casserole dish; instead of it, the pasta squares, with the sauce in-between, were arranged on a plate in a criss-cross manner.

           To say true, I didn’t quite like that vegetable lasagna (it was ok but not more-ish as you expect a pasta dish to be) except the top layer which had some pesto in it. I am head over heels in love with this condiment and I can eat an unlimited amount of anything that has this green cheesy and nutty delight in it (in the childhood the same “addictive” element for me was ketchup). Despite the fact that I was not impressed by the dish in general, I found the unorthodox presentation quite appealing and decided to use the concept at home.

           Recently as I was stewing the meat for the pasta, I remembered about that extraordinary looking dish and instead of mixing the sauce with spaghetti or making a macaroni gratin I boiled a few lasagna sheets, cut them in halves and – voila! – made my open beef lasagna. My husband loved it a lot. I for one got another proof to the theory that sometimes a twist on the presentation gives you an illusion of enjoying a new dish!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pineapple, Coriander and Coconut Bar Cake

      The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

     When I learnt that we are supposed to make either a sweet or a savoury loaf this month, I was more than happy. Since I got my “Zumbo” book in January, I got absolutely addicted to it, especially to the chapter dedicated to “Gateaux de voyage”– the bar cakes, or the loaves, or whatever you want to call them. I started to cook a new cake before we finished a previous one; and despite the fact that there are posts only about two of them in the blog – Lavender Up and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – believe me, I have cooked much more from the book!

      I felt like making another amazing loaf from Zumbo collection for the challenge but there were two major problems. First, Lisa stated that it shouldn’t take us more than an hour and a half to prepare the cake and bake it through. All cakes from Zumbo, however, have a lot of  “surprise” or hidden elements (like gel, caramel or custard) which, of course, need extra time to prepare. The second problem was, I realized that I won’t be able to share the recipe from the book – there are restrictions on copying the material without the publisher’s permission.

     I found the solution when I remembered that one of the members of our Daring Kitchen –  Lorraine Elliott from notquitenigella.com had once attended a masterclass with Adriano Zumbo where they cooked quite a simple “gateau de voyage” – pineapple and coriander bar cake. It was a perfect opportunity to test the recipe in my kitchen!

     The loaf was really quick and easy to make and turned out to be not as sweet as I expected (well, more like some sort of a bread, really!). I have put some pineapple rings at the bottom of the tin – just for presentation, and increased the amount of pineapple pieces in the cake itself. I have also added shopped cilantro stems to the batter – their freshness beautifully counterbalanced the tanginess of coriander powder and sweetness of shredded coconut. In general, it was more than a nice loaf and I am happy that I managed to try yet another recipe from Adriano Zumbo – at the Daring Kitchen this time!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Strawberry and Mint Risotto with Pistachios and Chocolate

         A few moths back, when I fell into conversation with my friends from Italy about the possibility of making sweet risotto, I mentioned two dishes that I cook regularly at home: peach risotto (an amazing recipe from Jamie Oliver) and strawberry and mint risotto (a not less successful recipe I managed to find in one Russian cookbook). For me it’s difficult to say which of the two creamy, fruity and chocolaty dishes I love more: they are both outstanding and irresistibly good. Since that conversation, however, I was anxiously waiting for the strawberry season to start: I was salivating each time the thought of indulging into this treat crossed my mind! And as soon as these juice berries appeared on the shelves of the grocery stores in December, I could eventually include this dish into our home menu.

         What I love most about this risotto is that it makes a perfect breakfast: a bowl of rice with succulent berries and nourishing nuts gives you the energy for the whole day, and the rich and velvety chocolate boosts the mood. And, of course, I like to play with the presentation of the dish and to come up with something new each time. Believe me, this dish will look impressive anyway: whether you simply spoon the rice into a plate and garnish with chopped pistachios and grated chocolate or whether you make it more sophisticated by using moulds, templates and piping bags. There are a lot of different elements that contribute to the colour profile of the dish making it spectacular. Tell me, can you think of a better start of a day? 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

        When I brought my “Zumbo book” home, it turned out that I didn’t have an opportunity to study it properly and my husband, who came home for lunch, was the first one who looked through all the recipes featured there. One of the desserts that really stroked him was the one called “Attack of the Killer tomatoes” – a chocolate cake with cherry tomatoes and raspberry caramel. After making “Lavender Up” I asked him what I should cook from the book next and he remembered about this quirky cake. To say true, I was quite skeptical about it – mainly because of my husband who is very conservative when it comes to food. But since he himself expressed the desire to taste it, I could but find enough culinary courage to put tomatoes in the caramel! 

        When the cake was cooked and I tried the first slice of it, I was really astonished as it came out to be beyond any expectations! The tomatoes softened after baking and imparted their flavour to the caramel which was beautifully counterbalanced by a very rich, yet extremely moist, chocolate cake that had a tempting raspberry aroma. My husband’s verdict on the second “traveler cake” from the book was: “Zumbo rocks! And so do you, honey!”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pollo Ripieno Bollito

        In December, when I wrote about my successful attempt of making stuffed quails, I claimed that the next time I will try to debone a bigger bird. Since it was around the Christmas time, there were lots of special holiday recipes in all the newspapers and magazines – including those of stuffed chicken. One of it – by Davide Cananzi, Executive Chef of Hotel Hindustan International in Kolkata – got my attention because there was an amazing story behind it: Davide shared the warm memories of his childhood in Tuscany where they used to make a traditional Christmas treat – Pollo ripieno bollito (stuffed chicken poached in aromatic stock). I saved the article from the newspaper but since it was a very hectic time before the New Year, I didn’t find an opportunity to make the dish.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mushroom Cappuccino

        A couple of weeks ago, as I finally made the recipe catalog for my blog, my husband – on looking at the page with the soups – frowned: “And where is mushroom cappuccino?!” There was a good reason for his bewilderment: I cook this dish pretty often, probably, even once a week, because, first of all, my husband really loves it and, second, it’s very easy to make. This second reason in fact has always stopped me from putting the recipe in the blog: it seemed to be too simple and too ordinary.

         On giving it a thorough thought, however, I came to the conclusion that this soup can’t but appear in the blog. It is a fool proof variant of a beautiful dish that can be served as a starter at a very formal dinner party or as a light yet nourishing lunch on an ordinary week day. It is the dish that can be found on the menu of most of the restaurants – whether you will go to a small eatery or a posh place at a five-star hotel. It is the meal that is cooked in almost all home kitchens – experienced grandmothers and even not very strong amateur cooks manage to nail it. It is a creamy treat with earthy aroma that is enjoyed by lots of people around the world – both by unpretentious foodies and demanding gourmets. Does it mean that I can’t put a recipe of “yet another mushroom soup” here? I don’t think so! On the contrary, I feel obliged to share the recipe of one of my favourite soups – and a warm garlic and parmesan toast – that always accompanies mushroom cappuccino at our home!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alaska Crepe Stack with Orange Curd and Strawberry Jelly

        Last year, right in the beginning of the finals week, the producers of the show set an amazing contest for the contestants of the Masterchef Australia: they asked them to cook any dish they wanted and to dedicate it to their beloved ones. The stakes were high: the winner was allowed to spend a whole day with the family – that was a kind of a boost that anyone in the show needed before stepping into the most important stage of the competition! 

            The challenge was one by Alana who missed her husband a lot during the project. She decided to cook one of his favourite dishes – crepes with lemon curd – but to make it, as she put it, “masterchefy”, or more of a restaurant style. Basically she complicated the dish by cutting rounds out of the crepes and layering them with the lemon curd and raspberry jelly. Alana covered the prepared stacks with Italian meringue and browned them afterwards – just like the Alaska dessert is usually made. 

            There is no recipe of the dish on the official Masterchef website but, to say true, in this case one doesn’t need any. It is just the general idea of the dessert that should be taken. I made my crepe stack with strawberry jelly and orange curd and – of course – I also dedicated the dish to my beloved husband! Needless to say, he appreciated it a lot. He has even excused me for smashing his Alaska – I just had to do it in order to take a picture of all the layers inside!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smoked Salmon and Goat’s Cheese Tortellini with Prawns and Green Peas

      A special St.Valentine’s Day survey in one magazine showed that on a romantic date most people prefer to order pasta – no doubt, the Italian food can put one in a necessary mood! But what about a candle-light dinner at home? Boiling fettuccini and tossing them with cream is too simple – to the point of being inappropriate for a special meal. Making your own pasta, on the contrary, will allow you to express your feelings through the dish.

            Don’t yield to temptation to stop reading the post right here: home-made pasta is only deceptively difficult to make! You need to have just basic culinary skills to prepare the dough and a creative touch to make a complimentary sauce. I for one enjoy making ravioli most of all as there’s no limit to the variety of stuffing you can put inside.

            Last year when I needed to prepare a special meal, I searched the Masterchef website and found an amazing recipe of smoked salmon and goat’s cheese tortellini. After one hour of preparations (you see – it doesn’t take that much time and effort!) I ended up having one of the most beautiful and flavourful dishes I’ve ever cooked: the subtle taste of smoked salmon and the pungent aroma of goat’s cheese, together with a zing of a lime and a refreshing touch of dill couldn’t but make the dish a success. Prawns and peas, surprisingly, didn’t seem to be “over-the-top” elements on the plate: they added the depth to the taste and to the colour profile of the dish.

            I encourage you to make this stunning pasta at home: your special one will definitely appreciate it!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Almond Omelette

           If you are interested in cooking and read a lot about different cuisines, methods and techniques, eventually you come to the point when it’s difficult to find an innovative recipe: you realize that there’s a similar dish in another culture or it is just a traditional treat with a modern twist.

            Once, however, I got really surprised when I read a review of a book written by Madeleine Pelner Cosman who did some research on the English medieval cuisine. One of the dishes presented in her book was Amondyn Eyroun – an almond omelette. As I looked through the list of ingredients I had to admit that it’s difficult to imagine how the final dish will taste. Just think of it: you mix chopped almonds with ricotta, raisins and honey, you add rolled oats and (no kidding!) boiled eggs to it and then you bind it with raw eggs and fry in a pan. I’m actually a very open minded person when it comes to frittatas: I believe that you can put whatever you want in your morning omelette. But this seemed to be too much! Of course, I couldn’t but give the dish a try – just to form an opinion about it, you know. Surprisingly, the combination of ingredient worked really well! This big pancake-like omelette turned out to be a breakfast that I really enjoyed. So now I don’t have to decide whether I should make pancakes or frittatas in the morning – I go for this medieval in-between version of the two breakfast options!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Caesar Salad

         A few years back when my cooking skills could be given 10 points (out of possible 100) the centerpiece of my culinary repertoire was Caesar Salad. Indeed, it’s difficult to screw up such a dish: just throw everything in a bowl, pour a dressing over and toss. Needless to say, I used plain mayonnaise with the addition of grated parmesan for it. Later on, however, as my palate developed, I started to opt for more elaborate dressings and pretty soon I realized that for me this salad is actually all about that special dressing, with an anchovy zing. I know what you’re gonna say now: “But there were no anchovies in the original recipe of Chef Cardini!’ True. But I for one strongly associate Caesar with that “fish kick” so even when I buy a ready made dressing, I choose the one with anchovies in it and even if I make a low-fat, yoghurt-based dressing at home, I put some finely chopped anchovies in it as well.

            As I said, I cooked this salad for the first time pretty long ago. And since for me, with my poor kitchen experience, it was easier to make French toasts rather than to toast bread in the oven (I felt that I have more control over the process in the open pan rather than in the closed oven) I topped the salad with egg-and-milk soaked slices of bread, soft inside and crunchy on the outside. My husband loved it so much that even when I tried one day to serve the Caesar Salad with the authentic croutons, he asked for his French toast instead! So it became some sort of a signature mark of my home-made Caesar Salad!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beggar’s Purse

           I love crepes! Not only because of the pleasure I get when I smell the wonderful aroma that the batter releases when it hits the hot pan, or when I see those lacy rounds on the serving plate or when I eventually take a first bite of a warm treat – crepes, from the culinary point of view, are very versatile. You can serve them plain – with butter, crème-fraiche, honey or jam, - and you can stuff them as well. There are dozens of fillings you may put inside and not a less amount of ways you can present the dish.

            One of the tricks that makes ordinary stuffed crepes look spectacular is gathering them around the filling and tying the ends with a blanched chive. Since the dish resembles a drawstring purse it is usually called “beggar’s purse” (or “aumoniere” in France). It is an elegant-looking, yet easy to make appetizer, which can be prepared with vegetables, meat or even with a sweet filling (in which case “the purses” are tied with the blanched citrus zest). Any sauce that, in your opinion, compliments the filling, would make the dish wholesome – it can even be some sort of a puree or a salsa that will add the texture to the dish. Last time I made the beggar’s purses with vegetable filling and I decided to make asparagus fondue to go with it – it was a beautiful, well-balanced dish which we both (my husband and me) enjoyed on a weekend morning!
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