Last year, as I was once looking through the Masterchef website – as usual, in search of something new and interesting to try in my kitchen – I eventually got what I wanted: a recipe of a chicken roulade with pistachio butter filling. Since I love all sorts of chicken roulades (as I have already mentioned in my blog) I couldn’t but pay attention to it. The combination of flavours: the subtle chicken meat, the nutty pistachio and the tangy capsicum – seemed to be quirky but quite promising at the same time. To say true, I hesitated for a while whether I should cook it since the recipe called for rolling up a breast in a cling film and gently poaching it (the technique I’ve never tried before) but as I realized that the dish comes from “Junior MasterChef” series and it was a kid who cooked it, I felt that there can be no excuses for avoiding this kitchen challenge. Seriously, if an 11 year old boy nailed it, what can be the problem? Actually there’s only one pressure point in the dish: rolling up the breast tightly. But it’s a skill that you learn fast, believe me. And I never regret that I gave that recipe a try: I’ve cooked this chicken roulade quite often since then and whether it was served as hors d’oeuvre dish or a main course, it has always been a success!
Friday, December 30, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!
Frankly speaking, it was my first Daring Bakers challenge and since I got registered last month I was anxiously waiting for the beginning of December. I anticipated some sort of a beautiful gateau or a stunning dessert waiting for me at the forum of the Daring Kitchen (it would have been great to create something outstanding right from the beginning of my “daring” journey!). So, can you imagine my surprise and, frankly speaking, frustration when I opened the website only to find out that the task for December is to bake bread? Bread! And not even a usual one, but with sourdough which means using only three ingredient: flour, water and salt to make the batter. It sounded so boring to me! – and, at the same time (let me be honest with you) intimidating because I have never ever made a bread in my life. I seriously thought of skipping the first challenge, but when I told my husband about it (it was right after we had stuffed quails for dinner) he said: “But you’ve never deboned a quail before as well, have you?” And I realized that he’s actually right: it is supposed to be a challenge and, in the long run, what’s the point of the whole thing if you just cook something you’ve always been good at? The idea is to learn, to get new skills by pushing yourself in the kitchen and facing unknown without any fear, but with enthusiasm. I realized that I shouldn’t even think of skipping this month task; on the contrary, I should be grateful to Jessica for the opportunity to learn how to work with sourdough and …to overcome the kitchen fears.
Monday, December 26, 2011
I love Christmas time, with decorated trees, carols and, of course, seasonal sweets. The bakery shops and confectionaries and full of Stolen bread, ginger cookies, light fruit and rich plum cakes and, to the top of it, the most beautiful yule logs. In fact, there are two types of yule logs in
: traditional Christmas ones – also called Bûche de Noël – which are made with chocolate and buttercream; and plain yule logs – also called entremets – which resemble a multi-layered ice cream and have no particular connection with any holiday. One of entremets – Ispahan – got my attention a few months back as I was looking for inspiration for my “Golden key” cake. I saw it on “Not Quite Niqella” blog and, to say true, I was obsessed with the idea of making it since then. No wonder, when the question of cooking something special for the Christmas was raised up, I got an answer to it: Ispahan! Trust a cold dessert fanatic not to love the idea of making an ice cream even in winter! And who cares that it’s not a traditional Bûche de Noël? In the long run, when you live in a country with tropical climate, choosing lychees and fresh berries for a Christmas treat sounds quite logical. So, as I eventually got all the ingredients for Ispahan and what seemed to be the right occasion to cook it, I headed to my kitchen to make this rose-scented, lychee-licious miracle. Should I tell you that the Christmas day lunch ended with a showstopper dessert? France
Friday, December 23, 2011
As I was once looking through a cooking magazine, I came across a recipe called “Italian sformato” – a baked fish and egg yolk cake. I got very surprised as I have never heard of such a dish before (not that I consider myself an expert in Italian cuisine – yet I read quite a lot about it to have the right to get confused by a dish that is allegedly traditionally Italian). I did some research on the subject and found out that sformato is some sort of a soufflé, but less light and airy as a classic French one. It can be made simply with cheese or with some vegetables and is usually served as a side dish. To say true, I didn’t manage to find any mentioning of “fish sformato” (nothing to say of fish sformato with an egg yolk), so I figured out that there are actually no strict rules for making the dish and there’s no need to follow the recipe precisely. Thus, the first time I cooked it I decided to use chicken instead of fish mince and as my husband and I loved it very much, I kept doing it with chicken from that day on. Recently, however, as I eventually decided to go for the protein the original recipe called for, I suddenly felt an inclination to impart some Asian flavours to it. So, I used coconut milk, coriander and peanuts instead of cream, tarragon and pine nuts, and I seasoned the whole dish with fish sauce and ginger instead of plain salt and pepper. A new version of sformato turned to be great: the spicy notes of the cake made it very more-ish and the sweet undertone of coconut sauce beautifully complemented the dish. Altogether it made me forget about its Italian origin and to make a resolution to keep cooking it the same Asian way from now on!
There was this recipe of a savory risotto with pears and pecorino that I wanted to try for a long time and as I had a small piece of the cheese left in the fridge I figured out that it would be a decent way to use it. As I was going to make the dish for breakfast, I warned my husband that the following day he would have pear risotto in the morning. When he heard about it, he got really enthusiastic (as he always does when he finds out that there will be some sort of a rice pudding for breakfast); then he got a bit confused when I told him that it’s gonna be a savory dish (despite the fact that there’s fruit in it), yet he decided to support my kitchen experiment. We reached an agreement that in case the risotto turned out to be a failure, he would have a piece of a cheesecake for breakfast instead.
The next morning, as the two plates with oozy rice reached the table, I was very nervous (I remembered what had happened when I made buckwheat pancakes with pear and blue cheese and was aware that my husband could find the taste of pecorino too weird for his palate as well). As I was enjoying every spoonful of my risotto, I watched my husband (who was slowly cleaning up his plate) and I even started to dream of trying even more unusual flavours next time – like, for example, coffee risotto – when my husband pushed his plate aside and asked for a piece of a cheesecake. Ok, I’ve got it – no coffee risotto next time; only traditional, time-tested combinations: rice, milk, some fruits and, probably, chocolate and nuts. And I for one will definitely go for pear and pecorino again!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
There was this programme on an Indian TV channel called “Do It Sweet”; it was hosted by a very talented modern chef, the head of the Aurus restaurant in Mumbai and just a very fascinating man Vicky Ratnani. As the name of the show suggests, he was making desserts – beautiful, stunning, yet easy to reproduce at home. Vicky was assisted by fabulous Maria Goretti who, to my mind, with her outstanding appearance resembled Monica Bellucci. Maria used to act more like “a commentator” rather than “a serious helper” in the kitchen (but the Chef didn’t need that much help, anyway) – every time she came up with amazing facts about the ingredients Vicky cooked with. So, the audience learnt about the nutritious value of pistachios, about the benefits of consuming prunes and about the “good fat” and antioxidants in chocolate. And, since Vicky cooked a lot with apples (just think of the fiber content in them!) Maria couldn’t stop praising the fruits. One of the recipes with this wonderful ingredient that got my attention was apple and cream cheese filled French toast. On the one hand, it’s just a stuffed French toast. On the other hand, because of the complexity of flavours in the filling and due to the presentation it is a restaurant type of a dish. I enjoy cooking (and consuming!) it when strawberries are in season: during the winters spent in Kolkata and summer vocations in
. Oh yes, it’s another advantage of having two homes in different parts of the world! Moscow
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
A great advantage of being a home cook, in comparison with professional chefs, is an opportunity to choose the ingredients and cooking mode according to your skills. Thus, if you are not good at filleting a fish, you will ask a monger to do it for you, if you find making a puff pastry to be a troublesome process, you will use a bought one and if working with gelatine reminds you of Russian roulette (one day it sets, the other day it doesn’t) – you will simply stay away from it. Sometimes, however, it’s good to challenge yourself in the kitchen and go beyond your comfort zone.
Last week I eventually made myself complete a task that I always tried to avoid: deboning a bird. Instead of going for poultry, I decided to start with something smaller – a quail. On the one hand, it has much less bones, on the other hand, since it’s a tiny bird, you have to be delicate with it. It took me a while to debone a first quail but the second and the third ones were less time-consuming (seriously, it’s a kind of skill that you gain amazingly quickly). Stuffing them was also a bit messy process: again, they are so tiny that it’s not quite easy to put a small amount of filling inside and to sew up. The result, however, was worth all the efforts. I should say that since my husband got used to all sorts of elaborate dishes that go out of my kitchen, it’s really difficult for me to surprise him at a dinner table. That day, however, I managed to do it: he was astonished by the fact that he can eat the whole bird (just in a couple of bites) without bothering about the bones. I was pleased to hear his praise and got really inspired to make a step further and to try something similar with the whole chicken next time!
Friday, December 16, 2011
One of the secrets of outstanding cooking is using fresh seasonal ingredients. However, usually as I see produce that is available only for a short period of time during the year I can’t but think of the ways of preserving it for future use in my kitchen.
As the summer was about to be over, with all its vibrant and delightful fruits and berries disappearing in front of my eyes from the shops and street vendors, I desperately tried to consume as much of those yummy goodies as I could. And as one day I brought home a bag of ripe and juicy peaches, it was obvious that these were the last beautiful peaches available this year. I started to think of how I can keep them as long as possible and at first I considered the idea of freezing them (in the long run, that’s what I often do with seasonal vegetables in fruits). But then a brilliant idea struck me: making a peach ice-cream! The prospect of indulging into a dessert with a true summer flavour was so appealing that I immediately headed to the kitchen and started to cook.
It was, in fact, amazing to enjoy this ice-cream later on in October and even November: such a great way to beat the autumn depression! Of course, the whole batch of ice-cream is gone by now but I really enjoy looking at the photos of it as they instantly bring those summer days to me again!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
For me eggs benedict is not simply a classic brunch dish (although I seriously can’t understand how people can continue to explore a brunch buffet after having such a rich and nourishing toast) – it’s definitely an ultimate indulgent breakfast. I know that it’s far from being a healthy option but I’m even ready to run another mile in the gym for having an extra spoon of hollandaise sauce!
Strange as it may seem, but I’ve never had this world famous dish in its authentic form – with an English muffin and ham. Instead, I use plain toasted bread and smoked salmon for my version of it. And, to say true, I never felt like trying traditional “eggs benedict” as I’m more than happy with the subtle taste of mine.
Initially, my husband thought that I take too much trouble preparing such a breakfast on a busy mid-week morning (for him seeing a double boiler on the stove at 7 o’clock in the morning was way too much!), but the thing is, after you cook this dish a number of times, you don’t need to focus on every step of the process anymore: you start to do all the things automatically and all of a sudden you discover an ability to stir your hollandaise sauce with one hand and make a whirl in a boiling water for poaching eggs with another hand (astonishing as it is, but your eyes can still remain half-shut after a short night’s sleep – every move in the kitchen is in your muscle memory!). So, believe me, it’s a deceivingly difficult dish – once you master it, it won’t take you longer to prepare it than to make some pancakes! And it’s always good to have such a stunning dish in your repertoire – either for dear friends who pay you a visit on a Sunday morning or for beloved yourself, right in the middle of the working week!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
It’s always good to have a recipe of a dish and to keep it in front of your eyes while you cook. Sometimes, however, it’s better to enter a kitchen door with empty hands: no printed lists of ingredients, no cookbooks or culinary magazines – thus no restrictions whatsoever, just an awesome feeling of liberty and a great opportunity to bring some novel ideas into life.
Once as I was heading towards my kitchen (the lunchtime was approaching and I had to prepare at least anything for my husband) I didn’t have an exact notion of what I was going to cook that day. I looked at a piece of fish, fresh vegetables and button mushrooms – and instantly decided that I wanted to go Italian: baked fish with mushroom sauce and gremolata, mashed potatoes with red pesto and – pasta! – some home-made egg yolk ravioli on a bed of rocket leaves. The final dish was bursting with flavours and looked stunning on a plate (it perfectly corresponded to the image I had in my mind when I started to cook). Believe me, you don’t need a recipe to bring a real fiesta to your dining table on an ordinary weekday: just follow your culinary intuition and a call of your gourmet heart and you will produce a meal that goes beyond any expectations!
Monday, December 12, 2011
we have a saying: “One can’t spoil porridge with butter”. For me it’s an arguable statement but I’m absolutely convinced that “one can’t spoil a dessert with liquor”. Russia
One of the spirits that I extensively use in my kitchen is Cointreau. I find it to be very versatile and I like the way its tangy flavour adds a zing to any sweet dish, so I never mind putting a splash of this orange liquor into a batter for my cupcakes, my chocolate mousse or a sauce that goes with a warm pie.
When it comes to desserts, I’m a real fanatic of ice-cream (and all sorts of frozen goodies in general), so when I once saw Nigella Lawson in her TV show “Forever Summer” putting Cointreau in home-made Margarita ice-cream (yes, an ice-cream which tastes like the world famous cocktail!), I instantly realized that it was a perfect recipe for me (should I mention that Margarita is one of my favourite cocktails, together with Cosmopolitan which (no surprise) has the orange liquor in it as well?). Bonus: it’s a no-churn ice-cream, so you can rustle it up in a jiffy and the following day you’ll be able to scoop it in a martini glass and serve it to your friends (a dessert that, no doubt, will be a showstopper of the dinner party) or to enjoy it yourself – simply by eating it with a big spoon, straight from a container. Yes, that’s how I usually indulge in my Margarita ice-cream - and I’m absolutely unapologetic about it (actually Nigella confesses that she does the same)! Try to make your batch at home and you will understand why it’s so hard to stay generous enough to share such a yummy treat with anyone else!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
It was actually supposed to be chicken korma but I didn’t have a special paste. I know that for the one who lives in
it would be a lame excuse to say that I couldn’t find it; I should better be honest from the beginning: I didn’t even bother to try. The thing is, one day as I was wondering what I should do with the chicken mince that I had in the fridge (and I definitely wanted to try something new) I remembered that I saw a recipe on one website. As I noticed the korma paste in the list of ingredients, I got a bit confused but then decided to try to make a dish without it. And it actually turned out to be so delicious and jampacked with flavours that from then on I kept cooking it without any korma paste whatsoever. I have a strong suspicion that if I get the paste and try to make the dish according to the original recipe my husband would no more be happy to have it for his dinner as in general he’s not a big fan of the Indian cuisine, to put it mildly. And I for one, most probably, would also prefer a simpler, not so spicy sauce. There’s no denying that my dish cannot by any means be called “chicken korma” any more, so it’s just “chicken meatballs in tomato coconut sauce” – a comforting stew with a touch of the Asian flavours. India
My father always could (and as far as I know still can) cook only one dish (let’s make a remark here: by cooking I understand something that goes beyond topping a piece of bread with a slice of cheese and involves, at least, heating oil in a pan) – that is fried eggs. And, I should give him the credit, he took the process of cooking his dish quite seriously (it was so cute to watch him breaking the eggs into a pan and then keeping an eye on them so that they wouldn’t burn) and even managed to diversify his dish from time to time: he used to chop some additional ingredients and throw them in the pan together with the eggs. He loved to add some bacon or salami to his final dish, and what he got on his plate eventually even resembled a substantial meal.
Only later on I learnt that my father was not a pioneer of the smart idea of adding yummy things to fries eggs – almost in every cuisine you will find a version of this dish. To my mind, Italian frittata is the most outstanding example of it. I love the fact that it’s a dish that leaves a lot of space for creativity: basically, you don’t need a strict recipe for making it; you can treat it as an opportunity to use leftover food to create a new meal. Thus, you can put chicken, vegetables or even pasta in it. And although I prefer to treat it the same way, I cannot but confess that there are a few combinations of flavours that make the best frittata for me. One of it is ricotta and zucchini. Soft and juicy in the middle, with a nice parmesan crust on top, it is one of my favourite breakfasts. It’s healthy and delicious, irresistibly tantalizing and ultimately easy to make!
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
“If you write the word “stressed” backwards, you’ll get “desserts”. Coincidence? I don’t think so” – this quote of an anonymous smart man got my attention in a newspaper. Indeed, what is a better comfort food than the one that gives you a sweet pleasure of forgetting all the bad things in the world? And, as the winter begins, the best way to fight a melancholic or sombre mood is to indulge in a dessert that tastes fresh and looks sunny and bright – like a fruit tart that instantly reminds you of warm days and brings back the memories of a recent vocation. Luckily, all sorts of exotic fruits are now readily available throughout the whole year. So, why not to gift yourself with a piece of summer on a plate and to boost the spirits with a fruity and creamy treat?
To say true, I had a baked tart case in my freezer (the one that was left after the final assembly of the Gingerbread house that I made for a Halloween party). So, I figured out that the best and the easiest way to use the tart would be simply to fill it with cream and to decorate with fresh fruits. And it turned out to be just the perfect treat for the beginning of a cold season!
Recently I fell into conversation about barbeque with some of our friends (yes, people in India talk about barbeque in winter – when, as it gets colder outside, the season starts) and they recollected the summer days in the USA when they used to have barbeque parties and to grill all sorts of meats, vegetables and even fruits – pears, served with the blue cheese sauce, was a favourite. My husband was a bit confused by the “gourmet” twist that the conversation took and I realized that I should actually introduce him to this combination of flavours – just in order to broaden his gastronomic outlook.
The other day, when I was almost ready to go to bed and was thinking about the following day’s breakfast, I remembered about the conversation and decided to make some buckwheat pancakes with pears and blue cheese. I turned to Larousse Gastronomic for the recipe of buckwheat blinis (I had the idea of making them of a big size – more of a breakfast rather than hors d’oeuvre type) and oops! – I discovered that the recipe required the use of yeast! The perspective of getting up one hour earlier in the morning (just to wait for the dough to rise) was not so appealing. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like having anything else for my breakfast! So, I checked a trust-worthy website and got a “cheat’s” yeast-free recipe for the buckwheat blinis and, promising myself that the next time I will definitely go for the original type of dough, I printed down the list of ingredients. To say true, the pancakes that I made the following day turned out to be so good that I started to think of a decent excuse not to use yeast next time as well – in the long run, if I’m happy with the recipe, what’s the point of making life more complicated?! And my husband…well, he also loved the pancakes. However, since he has definitely got a less adventurous palate than me, he didn’t enjoy the blue cheese and asked for some sour cream and honey instead. Well, I didn’t mind to get extra cheese on my plate, though!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
If you ask an average person about tartare he will instantly think of a popular mayonnaise-like condiment, although originally tartare was a dish served with this sauce: some finely chopped raw meat on a piece of bread. It’s a pity that people start to forget about this elegant type of a toast since, if you make it really small it can act as a fabulous amuse-bouche or, if you go for a bigger size, it will be a spectacular entrée.
Ideally you should use a slightly cured meat for tartare: marinated in some spices, herbs and lemon juice, vinegar or even wine and other spirits. My favourite type of tartare is the one made with salmon. Slightly cured fish is readily available in many countries but I for one prefer to marinate it myself – especially now, in winter, when there is a fine selection of fresh herbs and you can choose any of them (love dill – the perfect combination with the seafood!), together with spices, to impart any flavour to the meat.
The authentic tartare should, of course, be served with a raw egg yolk. To say true, I never serve my tartare with it – only for breakfast I can add a soft-poached or a boiled egg to the plate. And don’t get too surprised: I really have sometimes tartare as my first meal of the day. In the long run, if it’s ok to have a toast in the morning, then why should it be wrong to have something very similar to it, just a bit more fancy?!
Usually when we come to Russia for vocation I indulge in the food that is not available in India – mainly, in all sorts of dairy products that are widely represented in Russian markets in all possible forms and are, unfortunately, not so readily available in India.
Last year, the first day we returned to Kolkata from Moscow (right after having a few hours of sleep after an exhausting flight) I felt an irresistible urge to have a piece of a ricotta pie. It was strange because I actually had consumed tons of ricotta during the month spent in the native country and had a strong belief that I won’t be able even to look at this product for quite a while. Nevertheless, I was desperate to have that pie – I guess, it was a psychological issue: probably, I felt already homesick for
…. Anyway, I needed that pie! The problem was, the only type of cottage cheese you get in Russia India – paneer – is much harder and chewy that the one you normally get in – soft and creamy, much more like its Italian counterpart. The only way out was to make my own ricotta. In fact, I make it quite often myself: you just need to curdle the milk, put it in a slightly warm oven for a few hours and then strain the mixture through a muslin cloth. The process is a bit time-consuming but worth all the efforts. So, it turned out that right on my first day back in India I found myself making cottage cheese at home and – despite the fact that it’s best when eaten fresh – I put the whole batch of it into the filling of my pie. As I got it from the oven and dug into the first slice I instantly felt that life, after all, was not that bad! (Yes, it was just the right remedy for my homesickness!) Russia
Sunday, November 27, 2011
It’s a common thing in
to make a big pile of crepes early in the morning so that the whole family can enjoy them for breakfast. I don’t want to sound too disloyal to my national cuisine but I really find it too boring to serve crepes just as they are – only with some sour cream, honey or jam on the side. Instead of having four or five plain crepes I prefer to indulge only in one or too but cooked in a more elaborate way. I love my crepes to be stuffed, maybe even baked and served with a nice sauce or fruit compote. Yes, I want a complete, mouthwatering dish on my plate – and every time I try to come up with a new one. Russia
Once I read about the so called Breton crepes: you cook one side of a crepe, flip it and break an egg in the centre (!!!), top with sliced ham and grated cheese and fold it before transferring to a plate. I tried to make some but without ham – just with an egg that should ideally become “poached” inside a folded crepe. I really got my soft, gooey egg but I was not quite happy with the whole dish – it definitely lacked finesse. So, as I made this dish some time later again, I poached the eggs in advance and carefully folded them into precooked crepes. Then I went even further: topped with mushrooms, sprinkled with cheese and put under the grill. What I got on the plate was exactly what I was looking for: a tasty and refined dish, full of flavours and looking more than just nice – especially when I cut though my crepe to reveal a bright egg yolk. A sunny surprise inside an ordinary crepe – for a positive start of the day!
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Porridge is historically one of the most traditional breakfast dishes in
. We use oat, wheat, semolina, millet, buckwheat and rice to prepare diverse types of the same dish. Usually it’s a sweet preparation, with some sugar or honey, cottage cheese, fruits and nuts – to make it a more nutritious meal for the beginning of the day. As I mentioned above, rice, cooked in milk or cream, is often used to make porridge – it’s normally short-grain rice as it’s the most wide-spread variety in Russia . No wonder, when I came across Jamie Oliver’s sweet risotto recipe, I couldn’t but try it for my breakfast – as a substitute for traditional rice porridge. I seriously doubt that Jamie himself saw his dish as a breakfast option, but, in my view, it was a wonderful dish to start a day with! Russia
I was curios to get a more or less objective and authentic view on this issue, so I asked my friends from
whether it’s a common thing to have risotto for breakfast. “No! Never!” – they exclaimed. I tried to explain that I’m talking about not a savoury, but a sweet risotto, with some real fruits instead of “frutti di mare” and some milk instead of a stock. I was actually a bit afraid that I will be reproached for such a bold and unconventional attitude towards one of the most authentic Italian dishes but as I mentioned Jamie Oliver (they say, it’s a good debating strategy to make a reference to an authority) they got really excited about the whole idea and, with an enthusiastic smile, wondered when they can come to taste the dish. Any time – most welcome. Preferably, for breakfast! Italy
Monday, November 21, 2011
This smashing multi-layered dessert was created by Eamon Sullivan, an Australian Olympic swimmer who won “Celebrity Masterchef” in 2009. The recipe has been in the “top
5” on the culinary show official website for more than a year bur I never bothered to try it – the main reason for it was that the “Celebrity” series were not broadcast in India and, since I didn’t watch the episode where the dish was cooked (and scored, by the way, the highest marks by the judges), I didn’t feel an urge to cook it. Only recently when Eamon Sullivan appeared in this year’s Masterchef series and brought his stunning dish again – for the challenge where a contestant fought for the immunity pin – I realized that the time for trying the popular recipe from the official website has come. As George Calombaris cut through the Chocolate Delice (with a nice crack that makes you instantly salivate) and revealed all the layers of this pure chocolate indulgence I knew exactly what will be the next dessert I’m gonna cook in my home kitchen!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Whenever I eat Italian ravioli (or Russian pelmeni, or Chinese sui mai) my husband makes fun of me because I have a habit of leaving “the edges” on the plate: using a sharp knife, I meticulously cut them off before putting the actual filling with a small piece of dough into my mouth. Even if it comes to homemade ravioli which I make with the thinnest and narrowest edges one can imagine, I still leave them on the bottom of my plate!
No surprise, when I recently saw a picture of stuffed pasta shells (conchiglioni) in one cooking magazine, I realized that it’s just the perfect alternative of normal ravioli for me: only a thin layer of dough that encloses the stuffing – and no edges whatsoever! The problem is, you can’t get this type of Italian pasta in Kolkata (at least, I’ve never seen it here). The only thing I found in my kitchen cupboard was a pack of mini pasta shells (they are, probably, seven times as little as conchiglioni). Let’s face it: they are not meant for being stuffed! But I can be really stubborn when it comes to bringing my crazy cooking ideas into life. So, having prepared the finest brunoise of my vegetables, I managed to put half a teaspoon of the stuffing into each tiny shell. Yes, it took me quite a while to prepare a few portions (I invited our friends to estimate the results of my cooking experiment) – but it was worth the efforts! I served the shells with fish and sweet corn sabayon (the sauce that I wanted to try to make for a long time) and the whole dish was given the thumbs up!
Strange as it may sound, but I’ve never served this typically “entrée” type of a dish as an appetizer – I had it a few times only for breakfast. It might seem too pretentious but I don’t find anything wrong with starting a day with something fancy, delicious and a bit elaborate. And I can really sacrifice half an hour of extra sleep in the morning for getting a sensational dish on my plate.
To say true, I love asparagus as a side for a savoury breakfast. But since I wanted to transform it into a main ingredient for my first meal of the day, I turned to “Larousse gastronomique”. One of the recipes that I found was perfect for my intentions – a light mousse with an orange butter. Love citrus fruits! So sweet and juicy, they give a boost of flavour to any dish and make the whole plate look vibrant – especially in the first rays of an early morning sun! I guess that was the main reason why I enjoyed having this mousse for breakfast. So….probably I will serve this dish as a starter at a dinner party one day, but right now it’s only on my “breakfast” menu – with a big “star” mark indicating a favourite.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
It was a kid’s sixth birthday and I was entrusted with an honorable task of making a cake. The theme of the party was Pinocchio, or, to be more precisely, the Russian version of this story in which a wooden boy with a big nose gets a magic key that opens a door to the secret room. So, I had a clear idea about the decoration of the cake right from the beginning and only had to make a decision about the cake itself. I didn’t want something ordinary: taking a time-tested recipe and simply making a good version of a traditional cake was not an option for me – I felt like coming up with something new, elaborate, specially created for the boy!
With the strongest confidence in my creativity, I took a piece of paper and a pencil and started to draw a sketch of my cake. After looking through a few cookbooks and magazines (well, when it comes to pastry, you cannot merely rely on your own talent – you need a solid support of trustworthy selection of basic recipes) I got really inspired by Ispahan French Yule Log which is a multi-layered cake consisting of rose-scented dacquoise biscuit, lychee mousse, crème brulee, ganache, feuillete crisp insert and icing. Having taken it as a starting point, I gave full freedom to my imagination and pretty soon I got the draft of my future cake in front of me:
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
The first time I cooked this hot sandwich with cheese it was quite a challenge for me since it happened in the dark times when my kitchen skills were limited to basic ones and even frying a piece of bread without burning it could be a problem. Gone are those shameful days of my culinary ignorance! But, surprisingly as it is, this simple, unpretentious type of breakfast has become one of the options in our family - and, of course, I don’t struggle any more while making it! There’s only one unsolved problem left: whenever it comes to naming the dish, I get confused since, on the one hand, technically it’s a French toast but, on the other hand, because of the ingredients that are used it may easily be called “Italian” as well.
No doubt, it tastes best when it comes straight from the pan onto your plate, with a hot and crunchy parmesan crust and a gooey mozzarella filling. However, once I cooked a batch of these toasts for a big family breakfast and my brother, who was too sleepy and apathetic in the morning and showed no particular interest in these toasts, eagerly munched on them cold during lunchtime. Indeed, they can be served not only as a breakfast dish but as a nice snack or a picnic option as well (the two slices of bread get “glued” to each other with melted cheese so it’s easy to eat the sandwich even if you don’t have a fork and a knife).
And don’t think too much about naming these toasts correctly: whether you should call them “French” or “Italian”. “What’s in a name?” after all? It’s the taste that really matters!
Sunday, November 13, 2011
When I first made my own ice-cream at home it was not, strictly speaking, an ice-cream but a parfait. As I saw the recipe in the Internet and then looked at a bottle of the Italian liquor in our bar, I decided to give it a try. As I tasted the parfait the next day, I actually thought that it was the best dessert I’ve ever tried (and cooked so far) in my life – I guess I had such an emotional respond to the dish either because I have always had some sort of “a crush on” Amaretto so that anything that has this almond liquor in it seems to be divine, or because I was incredibly proud of myself for making my first, deliciously creamy and irresistibly luscious ice-cream. No doubt, the name “parfait” (which means “perfect” in French) was given to this type of frozen desserts not for nothing.
Since then I always have a few portions of Amaretto parfait in my freezer. Even when we came to Russia for vocation this year I made it for a big home party and it was a huge success with all of our friends (girls were desperate to know the recipe but as soon as they heard that there’s “a double boiler” involved in a cooking process, their enthusiasm had somehow evaporated). I also made a big batch of parfait for my parents while I was staying at their house for a few days and, a month later, when we were already back in India, it was pleasant to receive a praise from the guests who came to visit my mum and dad, tasted my dish and got very impressed!
One of the most popular versions of a continental breakfast is a toast with a slice of ham and an egg. If you look at it from a different angle and turn your imagination on, you can use this classic dish (which is not very exciting in its original form) as a starting point for creating something new. You should basicly “deconstruct” the dish in your mind: divide it into parts and think of the way to alternate them. For example, you can use a hushbrown or a vegetable fritter instead of a slice of bread for the base of your toast, you can substitute ham with a piece of tofu or a roundel of grilled aubergine, you can choose a fried egg or a scrambled one, and pick any sauce, chutney, relish or condiment to go with it.
Today I substitute bread with a polenta round: crispy outside and soft inside, with a hint of parmesan. A nice piece of smoked tuna goes next; I top it with a poached egg (using a special egg poacher to get the perfect shape) and there’s only thing left to add – a teaspoon of pesto. My breakfast stack is ready and, let me tell you, it has a much more refined look and a more exquisite taste that the original dish!
When it comes to cooking, one cannot underestimate the importance of mise en place. Often enough it even determines the level of complexity of a dish you are going to cook – chicken cacciatore is a good example of this point of view. Indeed, if you prepare everything properly beforehand, all you have to do is just to throw certain ingredients into a pan at a right moment and watch them transforming into a beautiful stew. And if you are not so organized, you will find yourself rushing to the refrigerator/ kitchen shelves in search of a necessary thing and it will be a really stressful experience.
Usually, as I chop all my vegetables and arrange them in separate bowls, I’m anticipating the moment when I can start the actual cooking. It reminds me of culinary shows where at the beginning of the programme all the ingredients, thoroughly cleaned, neatly sliced and meticulously arranged on the table, are ready to be used by a celebrity chef who tries to convince the audience that cooking is not a rocket science and it’s ultimately easy to prepare a quick and delicious meal – and you have a strong suspicion that he wouldn’t have such a relaxed and joyous look in front of the camera if he had to make all the mise en place himself. I for one don’t mind doing all the “hard work” myself – I find the process of preparation very calming and I can almost meditate while practicing julienne or brunoise cut of my vegetables. And I believe that it pays off: as you feel more involved in the ritual of making a dish, it’s much more pleasant to dig your spoon into the final result!
Thursday, November 10, 2011
There is a French gateau called “manqué” (“failure”). It was created by a pastry chef who made a mistake while whipping egg whites for his sponge and decided to add almond flour and butter to save the mixture - which ultimately resulted in creating a new cake.
Once I’ve cooked my “manqué” as well. However, it was not an almond cake. I just decided to name it so because initially I was planning to make another type of gateau as well but, because of some flops, ended up having a completely different dessert on a serving plate.
It all started with the idea of making a soufflé-stuffed cake. And, as my sponge was already cooling down on the wire rack and my custard was cooked almost to perfection, I was about to proceed to my next step: dissolving gelatin for the cream and – oops! I discovered that there was no gelatin left! Actually it’s not very typical of me to run out of ingredients as I tend to keep an eye on my home pantry and to refill it when it is necessary. Anyway, after rummaging twice through all the cupboards and kitchen shelves I had to admit that I should change my cooking plans.
When I dine out and go for buffet instead of a la carte, I seldom come to the counters where soup is served. Having an access to a lavish spread, I would rather prefer to try as many options of appetizers and main course as possible (not forgetting about dessert, of course!) so filling up with some soup first, whether it is rich velouté or light consommé, does not seem to be a good choice for me.
However, once I was having a lunch with my friends and since everyone were praising the soup, I decided to go against my own rules and get a bowl for myself as well. And that was a right decision, I should say! The dish had a delicate taste of cauliflower and a pungent hint of gorgonzola (oh yes, one of my favourite cheeses!), so I felt that I could actually forget about all the other dishes in the buffet. Indeed, the soup was insanely good, and I couldn’t but remember this stunning combination of flavours.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
One of the things I love to do in the kitchen is to use different sources and recipes in order to create a new dish. It’s quite exciting for me to imagine how the flavours will work together and, if all the elements on the plate compliment each other, the final result can become a real hit.
For quite a long time I felt like trying to combine three different dishes that have the same core ingredient – apple – in order to create a bright and flavourful, fiber-rich meal for breakfast. One of the elements was a toast (something that I actually make quite often in the mornings), another one was a soufflé - omelette (I cooked it once and was impressed by its subtle taste and delicate texture), and the third one was a mousselin (I wanted to try the dish since I saw the recipe in my “Larousse Gastonomique” dictionary). The first two elements seemed to be more or less traditional options for breakfast while the third one was definitely more of a dessert type, so I figured out that I should better make the whole dish on a Saturday or a Sunday, when the first meal of the day can be of a brunch type and you can afford having something really sweet and fancy. Besides, I wouldn’t have managed to cook all the three parts on a busy morning in the middle of the week, so I had to wait for a weekend anyway.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I’m one of those weird people who eat all the salad leaves served as garnish of a dish at a restaurant and who swipe them off the big plate with appetizers at a formal dinner party. In fact, I always have a bowl of ready to eat leaves in my fridge so that I can start munching on them any moment I want, most of times without even bothering to pour some dressing over. I love all sorts of salad leaves but my favourite type is aragula (rocket leaves). Whenever I come to the market in season, the vendors – who are now aware of all my food preferences – usually offer me a big bunch of it straight away and are even ready to fetch it from their colleagues if they don’t have it in stock at the time…
Saturday, November 5, 2011
There is something about home-made ice-cream that makes you prefer it over a bought one. It’s not only because you are in charge of the ingredients you put in it (you can control the amount of sugar, change the fat content, balance the flavours according to your taste, nothing to say of choosing only high-quality products) but also because you generally add your love and care to that custard before putting it into the freezer. Indeed, this desert is not so easy to make (since you have to bother with cooking it in a double boiler for a while, with a heavy mixer in your hands) but it has a great advantage over other custard-based desserts: once you make it, you can keep it in the freezer for as long as three months (in fact, it keeps that long only if you don’t tell anyone about it), so you can enjoy it anytime and, besides, it will serve as a great “saving dish” in case of unexpected guests.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
There is a common belief that the best accompaniment to fish is potato. Well, I wouldn’t dare to argue with this statement. If it wasn’t true, the English-favourite “fish’n’chips” wouldn’t have conquered the hearts of millions of people throughout the world. Yet, when it comes to such a delicate type of fish as salmon, I definitely prefer something more exquisite and subtle to go with it. I’ve recently discovered that there’s nothing better than a pea puree for putting a good accent on a refined taste of a beautifully cooked piece of this fish.
This time I’m making a nice glaze on my salmon, with some honey which is counterbalanced with mustard and balsamic vinegar. The puree that has got some sweetness from the peas as well, is surprisingly refreshing, with a good punch from fresh mint. I choose to make risotto as a side and to put as much vegetables in it as possible. Of course, it feels strange to cook risotto primavera in November but it turns to be a beautiful dish, with a delicate flavour of seasonal produce. Home-made sun-dried tomatoes leave a hint of sourness on a palate and contribute to a rich variety of colours on the plate. I can only ask all the fans of “fish’n’chips” to forgive me, but I will never ever prefer their favourite to my dish!
Breakfast for me is the most important meal of the day. If you think of it, it literally means “breaking the fast” after a good night’s sleep. That’s why it should be packed with things that boost your metabolism and give you energy that will help to stay on a track throughout the day (well, at least, till lunchtime!). Ideally it should include some protein, grains, dairy products and vegetables or fruits. Let me give you a perfect example of a combination of these groups of food – a French toast: slices of bread soaked in eggs and milk and served with some veggies or fruits. I have a number of recipes for different varieties of toasts (both savoury and sweet) that I often use when I want to serve something nutritious and delicious for breakfast. The last one I tried was a blueberry and cream cheese stuffed. Yes, I know, mentioning it definitely evokes the image of a luscious cheesecake topped with blueberry compote. Well, the French toast actually tasted very much like the all-favourite dessert but, of course, was a more suitable option for the start of the day: full of vitamin-packed and rich in antioxidants blueberries, slowly baked in the oven with as little butter as possible, it was definitely a guilt-free indulgence!
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
As soon as we got an invitation to a Halloween party, I instantly knew who I wanted to be this year – a chef, of course! In the long run, I’ve got this wonderful white hat in my wardrobe (that looks huge but is somehow a bit narrow for me) and a long white apron (which, on the contrary, is way too big for me), so I bothered to order a chef’s jacket (wow, my own one! with the title “Executive Party Chef” written in italic font) to pair with the hat – let the apron wait its time on the shelf! There was one more element of the costume that had to be made: it would be natural for guests at the party to ask: “Where is the food, chef?” – so I couldn’t show up with empty hands. I wanted something cute and impressive, tasting delicious (of course!) and at the same time spooky and scary, fitting the mood of the party. A haunted edible house seemed to be the perfect choice. To say true, making a cake in the form of a house was in my “things-to-do-list” for a while (I even had this crazy idea of replicating Taj Mahal once) so I felt that the right time for it has come.
Monday, October 31, 2011
If you study the general dining statistics at our home, you will find out that we have Asian dishes two or three times a week – not only because sometimes I feel like deviating from traditional continental flavours but because I really enjoy Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. And, strange as it may sound, I feel quite comfortable working with Asian ingredients. Sometimes I don’t even need a recipe for making, let’s say, a stir fry – I simply take a range of bottles with sauces and condiments out of the fridge and start to mix them to develop a flavour. And it’s not so difficult for me to get the right balance of the dish relying only on my instincts, not on cookbooks. Yet, I have a couple of tested recipes that I stick to. One of them is chicken in soy and honey marinade served with red grape sauce. To say true, it’s a bit more complicated than an average Asian dish. But it’s worth all the efforts (all those not-so-massive efforts to make the sauce). So, whenever I discover that the grapes in the fridge are a bit overripe, it comes the time of black chicken. One more point to “the Asian dishes” section for our home dining statistics!