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!
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