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 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!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

V8 Cake

        I guess every cook has a dish that is on top of his “wish-to-prepare” list. For me it has been V8 – a multi-layered cake created by an Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo. It stroke a chord in my heart once I saw it – more than a year ago – in Masterchef TV show. The following day I found the recipe in the Internet but had to admit that for me it was next to impossible to reproduce this pattisserie masterpiece. However, I kept opening the webpage with the recipe and kept studying it avidly – with the hope that one day I will eventually be able to make this cake at my kitchen. Pretty soon I found myself hooked to the idea: indeed, even when I saw a 20cm square tin in a shop half a year ago, I bought it only because I knew that V8 is assembled in such a tin and a few months ago I couldn’t but buy small silver balls as I realized that they would serve as a perfect decoration for my future cake! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lavender Up

        My favourite part of the “Zumbo” book (compiled by a great contemporary pâtissier Adriano Zumbo) is the one called “Gateaux de voyage”. There this Australian pastry chef gives the recipes of bar-shaped cakes which as he claims are very popular in his shop in Sydney. He calls them “traveller cakes” because they are easy to transport and can be brought as a gift when going to somebody’s house to visit. All of these cakes are astonishing (well, as all of Zumbo’s creations, of course!) so it was very hard to decide which cake I should make first. The dilemma was solved when I had to open a can of blueberries (for my signature “Blueberry cosmopolitan’ cocktail) – it became obvious that the following day I would be able to make a pear and blueberry cake from the book. The girl (who helped me to finish my Cosmo) expressed the desire to taste it and I promised to send her a piece.

            However, as I started to make the cake, I became overwhelmed with doubts and hesitations. For me, it seemed to be way too much. First, there’s a coconut caramel (I love coconut milk and cook a lot with it but I hate coconut cream which goes into the caramel!). Second, the pears are poached in saffron syrup (I don’t have anything against saffron, but it imparts its strong aroma to the food, doesn’t it?). Last, the cake batter itself is made with jaggery and contains my not-so-beloved coconut cream and a big heap of grated coconut. Wait, there should have been lavender sugar in it as well (that’s why the cake has such a name) but since I didn’t have any I substituted it with vanilla sugar (made in the same way – combining freeze-dried powder with normal sugar) – for me, even without the lavender, there were too many flavours in the cake already. My husband suggested that we should first try this doubtful cake ourselves before sharing it with anybody.

When the cake was finally cut, we didn’t have to solve the problem “to share or not to share” any more: we simply couldn’t stop eating it! It came out to be so unbelievably good, with all the flavours complementing each other, that my poor friend didn’t have a chance to get even a small piece of it! I guess, I will have to make up for it – with some more Cosmos and a new cake from Adriano Zumbo!

Watermelon, Radish and Rocket Leaves Salad

        Yesterday my mum looked through my last posts in the blog and said: “Wow! That looks so beautiful! But what about the taste?” I was a bit taken aback. Seriously, I don’t think she has any grounds for being skeptical about this issue since I cooked a lot of different things when I stayed at my parents’ place during the vocation and none of them had said a critical word about my food – only the praising ones. Besides, I don’t think it is ethically right to write a post about a dish that turned out to be a failure, even if it looks picture perfect. I guess now you are wondering: “How does it all refer to the watermelon salad?!” Well, this salad was not a failure but, to say true, I didn’t find it to be a “wow-dish” and thus started to consider whether I should put a post about it in the blog. 

            The recipe is by an Indian Chef Floyd Cardoz who won previous year’s Top Chef Masters show. The salad, as he explained, was his take on watermelon chaat. I changed it slightly by omitting that chaat masala that basically gives this continental-looking dish an Indian flavour: for me black pepper and ginger was more than enough for providing the heat. Actually the aroma of coriander and mint and the traditional combination of sweetness coming from the melon, sourness from the lime and saltiness from the capers reminded me more of Thai cuisine. Strange as it may sound, I’m a big fan of Thai cuisine and I absolutely adore watermelon, radish and rocket leaves but for me the whole dish didn’t seem to be balanced and impressive.

            After a thorough consideration of the whole situation I eventually decided to write about this salad. It was not a complete failure after all and the fact that I didn’t like the dish doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who may do. I for one wouldn’t go for it again but – I’m sure – some gourmands will find it quite more-ish and will even appreciate a sprinkle of chaat masala on the top of it!
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