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!
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