Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fish Checkerboard with Rice Cream and Mushroom Fumet

         Last year Alessandro Pavoni, the chef and owner of a one hat restaurant Ormeggio  in Sydney, appeared a few times on Masterchef Australia Series 3 – mostly to take part in the so called “immunity challenges” where the amateur cooks compete against professional chefs for the right to win immunity from elimination rounds of the show. One of the signature dishes that Alessandro once brought to the Masterchef kitchen was Cuttlefish checkerboard. It looked so impressive that I started to think of the ways to reproduce the dish at home.

            From the very beginning I decided to substitute cuttlefish with plain white fish which is more readily available in the local markets (and enjoyed more in our family!). The question was how to make it black. Needless to say, it’s next to impossible to get the squid ink (which is used in the original recipe) in Kolkata. I wanted to find a black food condiment that could be used for “painting” the fish – just the same way as I did for creating fish “braid” – but I failed, so I had to leave the idea of making Pavoni’s dish for a while.

            This year, however, when a friend from Italy brought me a jar of Tartufona – thick bread spread made with black truffles – I realized that I can eventually make my “checkerboard”. In order to stress the earthy flavour of truffles I substituted the calamari broth with mushroom fumet. Looking at my serving plate I couldn’t but admit that’s it’s totally a fusion dish: pieces of fish marinated in Italian truffle paste, served on a bed of Indian basmati rice cream with traditional French fumet. It is amazing sometimes to see how different elements combine and merge to form a sheer delight on the plate!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cheesecake Ice Cream

         I love cheese (well, this is pretty obvious when you look at the name of my blog!): I love to cook savoury things with it and, needless to say, sweet treats. No wonder, one of the most popular desserts in the world – classic cheesecake – is one of my favourite dishes as well. Whenever I yield to temptation to cook one, I try to restrict myself to having only one or two pieces and the rest of it – in case I don’t have a proper help for consuming it – usually goes into the freezer (luckily, it’s a type of a cake that can be easily frozen for up to one month). The only disadvantage is, if you suddenly have an urge to indulge into a piece of a velvety goody, you will have to wait for quite a while till it defrosts properly.

            Last year, however, I came across a cheesecake ice cream recipe. Wow! I’m actually a big fan of frozen desserts and the perspective of having my favourite cheesecake in the form of an ice cream was very appealing! It was a recipe by the British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. Actually all her recipes are trust-worthy but since I had already tried her Margarita ice cream I was absolutely convinced that this woman is an expert in frozen yummy treats! As I don’t have a special machine at home, I couldn’t make this ice cream in a big container – it would have lost the creaminess in this case; setting it in small ramekins, with a crunchy base (just like a real cheesecake!) saved the situation. Now I can go for a cheesecake any time I want – just restricting myself to having only one piece…or two!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Scone Festival

         Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

I've never made the scones before but they were always on my list of “trying-to-cook-one-day dishes”. It turned out that they are very easy to make, fast to bake and – amazingly – very versatile! These small biscuits can be savory and sweet, with any kind of added ingredients, and can be served as a tea/coffee accomplishments, as a cocktail snack or as a side for a main course.

As Audax provided us not only with the detailed instructions for making the perfect scones, but with the links to the recipes of scone variations as well, I couldn’t resist a temptation to visit my all-time favourite web-resource where I discovered the dishes that use basic scone dough for creating something new. I got really inspired to cook quite a number of different things and it turned out that during this month’s challenge I made a journey around the world!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Polenta Leaves with Zucchini Mille-Feuille and Coriander Fondue

           This week, as I wrote a post about “Trilogy of mushrooms”, I mentioned that I managed to get (quite in a mysterious way) a book featuring vegetarian dishes served at one Indian five-star hotel chain. As I said, the book – or, to be more precisely, simply a huge (more that 400 pages) magazine – is full of mouth-watering dishes. The only problem is – they are vegetarian. So my husband didn’t quite share my overwhelming excitement on getting this source of amazing recipes (when I try to serve vegetarian meal at home, he protests: “Honey, is there a widespread famine? Where is meat?!”) 

            Luckily, one of these days we had our piscaterian friends for dinner. Since I made quite a decent range of seafood starters, I felt that I had the right to prepare a vegetarian main course. My choice was a dish that struck me most when I looked through the book: beetroot and haricot layered zucchini mille fuille with polenta leaves and parsley fondue. I had to change beans for green peas and to substitute parsley with coriander (as I didn’t have the necessary ingredients in the fridge) but overall the dish looked exactly as on the photo from the book. To say true, it turned out to be decisively simple: it actually took me two hours to prepare it (there are quite a lot of elements that go on the plate!) but, needless to say, it was worth it. Even my husband who, to put it mildly, is not a big fan of polenta, finished it off in a few minutes!

            Now I’m waiting for another opportunity to cook a new dish from my “Vegetarian fare” book!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mozart Trifle

          I came across sweet treats called “Mozart” a few times in my life. First, there were world-known Austrian chocolate-coated marzipan candies: I tried them and I realized that I love the combination of chocolate and marzipan. Then, I learnt that the phenomenal contemporary French pâtissier Pierre Hermé has a gateau called “Mozart”: a meringue-based chocolate mousse with apples sandwiched between two layers of a rich cake – made, by the way, with yeast and boiled (!) eggs. And, finally, last year I found a recipe of a dessert layered in individual glasses which had the same core ingredients – apples and chocolate – as Hermé’s creation. Since I was fond of “individual desserts” at that time (there is something romantic and cute about them, isn’t it?) I decided to give it a try. The ricotta cream with three different, yet complimenting flavours, was nice, but overall the dessert somehow missed the mark. After a thorough analysis I came to the conclusion that adding layers of soaked sponge to it would upgrade the whole dish to a different level. Indeed, transforming it into a trifle was a great idea. The resulting dessert was bursting with summer flavours and juicy fruits, together with the moist pieces of sponge, beautifully counterbalanced the richness of the cream. To say true, now when I hear about the traditional English trifle, I instantly think of my Austrian version of it – with a refreshing taste and an elegant look.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Asparagus, Salmon and Pea Risotto Quiche

         Once I felt like making an open tart with asparagus and salmon (I think that the combination of the two is close to perfection: really subtle and clean on the palate). I switched on my computer and opened the website of one cooking magazine in search of a recipe of a quiche with these flavours. As I looked through the results, I chose two dishes that I really loved: one was a salmon tart with pea risotto used as a base instead of a traditional short crust pastry, and the other one – a simple asparagus quiche, with the spears arranged in a spectacular way. I couldn’t decide whether I should go for the first variant and place asparagus on the top of it or whether I should merely add chopped salmon to the filling of the second dish. I was like a Buridan’s ass: completely confused by the two options! After hesitating for a great while, I made a decision to combine both dishes and to come up with something that would feature all the elements. It was a real kitchen experiment! Strange as it may sound, it worked! This quiche has been cooked quite a number of times since then although I realize that the whole idea of it may seem quirky to both a Frenchman and an Italian, I would encourage them to try this dish before being very judgmental! 

Trilogy of Mushrooms

         There is always a story behind any dish: it may be romantic, funny, nostalgic, mysterious and – sometimes – unbelievable. Here is one.

            Once I decided to have a cup of tea at the lounge of a five-star hotel while I was waiting for my husband to come. I headed to the restroom to wash my hands first and as I was about to leave it, I caught a sight of some books and magazines on a coffee table (yes, there was a coffee table in the restroom…and a sofa, by the way). One of the huge volumes was a collection of the best vegetarian dishes served at the hotel chain throughout the country. Of course, I couldn’t resist sneaking peek into it. The book was amazing: full of spectacular pictures and mouth-watering dishes, with the detailed recipes included. My attention was drawn to an appetizer called “Trilogy of Mushroom” – a dish of, probably, the most well-known Indian Chef Hemant Oberoi. I loved the idea of putting three elements together: a stuffed mushroom, a mushroom toast and mushroom crème-brulee. I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem for me to stuff a mushroom and to make a toast but I definitely needed the guidance for a savory crème brulee. As I tool a notebook and a pen out of my bag (planning to rewrite the recipe quickly) a girl walked into the restroom. She misinterpreted the look of an enthusiastic cook with the look of a hungry person and, assuming that my date hadn’t come and I was left all alone, without any opportunity to have a proper lunch, – offered me some help. I realized that I actually looked weird: sitting in a restroom, looking through a cookbook – so I felt that I owe her an explanation. To say true, she didn’t quite believe me when I told her about my food blog – in her opinion, I am too skinny for a good cook. Anyway, we sort of made friends with that girl and even went to have tea at the lounge together (you can’t carry on a conversation in the restroom, can you?).

            As far as the dish is concerned, I recreated it that same week. I had just got a blow torch and was eager to use it in action! So, a savory brulee was made, together with simplified versions of a toast and a stuffed mushroom (Hemant Oberoi used different types of mushrooms while I had an access only to one). 

            The story, however, does not end here. A few weeks later, without any explanation, that book was sent to our office on my husband’s name (do they have cameras in the restrooms?!). Well, probably, one shouldn’t act so weirdly at a five star hotel. By saying that, I’m more than happy to have this incredible book now – with the original recipe of the dish and much more!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Apples and Caramel

           In Russia we celebrate New Year twice: on the 1st and on the 14th of January (according to the Julian calendar used by the Orthodox Church). There are a few good things about it: first, we are still in a holiday mood when everybody else are already stuck in the routine; second, we can keep a Christmas tree for three weeks in our house (decorating it before the Western Christmas) and, finally, we have much more opportunities to create a feast on a dining table.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Salmon, White Fish and Prawn Terrine

Terrines produce a really strong impression on people: they are beautiful, flavourful and more-ish. But when it comes to cooking one, the perspective usually scares even the most adventurous cooks away. No wonder: it is quite a difficult dish to make since it usually has lots of ingredients and requires a thorough mise en place, a fine technique of assembling in a mould and a high precision when it comes to actual cooking (using a hot method – baking in the oven, usually in a bain-marie; or a cold one – setting in the fridge with the help of the gelling agents). I for one feel a thrill when I see a perfectly made terrine and look with awe at a person who managed to nail such a complicated dish. I tried to make a few terrines at home and, believe me, it’s always been an exciting moment when it came to cutting them. I held my breath and accurately sliced it – to see whether the layers are distinct or not. In general, it’s always a nerve-wrecking experience!

            Once, however, I got really surprised when I found a recipe of a terrine which promised to be quite easy to handle. I had some left-over salmon and white fish in the fridge and I turned to my best reference book – Larousse Gastronomique – is search of cooking ideas and came across this recipe. Strange as it may sound, but there was no fuss about this dish at all! It was rather quick and easy to make and tasted absolutely amazing! And as I cut the first slice, I saw a few, but really nice distinct layers – which added points to the ‘wow’ factor of the dish!

Beetroot Risotto with Apples, Walnuts and Brie

          When I was working on my post about Apple and Cream Cheese French Toast I made some research about Vicky Ratnani, an Indian celebrity chef (whose recipe I used) and accidentally came across another dish of his – beetroot risotto with apples and brie. Quite a quirky combination, I know, but that’s what usually makes any dish so appealing to me!

            Since it is a vegetarian risotto I decided to make it for breakfast (with a carnivorous husband at home a meal containing not a single piece of meat is a strict no-no during lunch or dinner time). So, as my husband walked on a weekend morning in the kitchen and saw a purplish something simmering in a pan he frowned and asked: “Honey, what are we gonna have for breakfast?” “A beetroot risotto. With some apples and walnuts.” “Oh….Wow…Ok…” (poor thing! as if  he had a choice!) But as he tried a spoon of it he quite liked it! And as far as I am concerned I came to the conclusion that it was probably the best risotto I’ve ever had (or was I way too hungry that morning?) Anyway, it’s definitely a winning combination and I will be happy to cook and to have this dish again!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tanzanie Cake

         A couple of months ago I have accidentally learnt that Adriano Zumbo, an extraordinary Australian pâtissier, had released a book. A recipe book, with his Willy Wonka style creations inside! The whole day I was trying to figure out how to get this magical book and (lucky me!) in the evening I was at the party where I met a friend of mine who was going on a trip to Melbourne. I told her about my new obsession and she saved me from loosing a good night’s sleep by promising to bring me the book.

While I was patiently waiting for it to come, I saw a post at a popular Russian food blog niksya.ru with a recipe from it - the girl from Saint Petersburg somehow managed to get the book and had already started to replicate Zumbo-ish creations in her kitchen!  As I looked through the recipe (11 pages long, by the way…ok, 10 without the introduction part of the blogger) I told my husband: “I know what we are gonna have this New Year for dessert!” He estimated the size of the folder with the printed recipe and gave me a skeptical look: “Are you sure?” “Totally!” – I tried to sound as convincing as possible…

No doubt, it was not that easy: there are nine elements in the cake, after all, and the assembling is quite tricky as well. At the same time, I wouldn’t label this dessert as “impossible to make”. It’s just…time-consuming. However, it’s great to spend time in such a way: as you work with chocolate gel and salted chocolate flakes, you can’t but feel enthusiastic about expanding your culinary horizons and stepping into unknown, other-worldly realm.

Master Stock Poached Chicken Breast

          If you compare European and Asian culinary traditions, you will see that they differ a lot in the use of ingredients and in cooking techniques. Even preparing a piece of lean meat by one of the simplest methods – poaching – will yield to different results if accomplished by chefs with dissimilar backgrounds: one will most probably use court-bouillon as a poaching liquid while the other one will go for something that is called Master stock.

            Master stock originated in Chinese cuisine and, no wonder, it has all the typical Asian flavours: soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, ginger, citrus peel and a number of spices – cinnamon, star anise and black peppercorns being the main ones. No wonder, in winter I prefer this aromatic broth with a very strong, sometimes even pungent taste, to a more subtle European style consommé. There is something very comforting in such a stew; and what I love most about it is the fantastic aroma from the mélange of spices that fills the whole house when the stock is simmering on the stove.

Recently I read that theoretically master stock should not be transformed into a soup: it is strained and kept refrigerated for future use as a poaching liquid. They say, some stocks in China are hundreds of years old and are highly praised as they have been accumulating the flavours and developing their rich and complex taste for such a long period of time. For me, however, the temptation is way too big: I can’t imagine leaving such an aromatic substance out of the plate! Believe me, it makes a perfect treat: light and fragrant, with a sweet note of cinnamon, a spicy touch of ginger and tangy undertone of a citrus peel. What else do you need on a winter day?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast

           I don’t know why, but peanut butter is not a popular ingredient in Russia…or, probably, I never paid attention to this condiment when I lived in Moscow – as I’ve mentioned, I was not interested in cooking and exploring grocery stores at the time. So, as I moved to India and discovered this product (as I caught a sight of it sitting on a shelf in a supermarket, I remembered that it was mentioned in the Western movies and decided to give it a try) I didn’t know exactly what to do with it. I was wondering how to incorporate it into our home menu and eventually decided not to invent a wheel: in the long run, most of people around the world simply spread it on a toast and top with banana to get a quick, healthy and nutritious breakfast (it has even got a special “code name” – PB&B toast). Later on I transformed it into a bit more elaborate dish – a stuffed French toast – and added chocolate sauce to it. I realize that the question of it being a healthy breakfast became arguable since then, but…it is so undoubtedly good that, I guess, I will definitely cook it for my friends in Russia – in order to popularize this condiment and yummy things one can make with it!

Lamb and Ratatouille

           There is a similar dish in a French, Italian, Georgian and, probably, come other cuisines which consists of stewed tomatoes, aubergines and, sometimes, courgettes. It is called ratatouille in France, caponata in Italy and adjapsandal in Georgia.

            My mum cooks this ragout quite often, especially in summer when one tends to opt for lighter vegetable meals. This dish, however, has a non-vegetarian version (at least in Georgia where both versions have the same name). My mum used to cook something very similar to it as well but she used beef (a more likely choice for a Russian) instead of mutton  (which would be more traditionally Georgian) and she called the dish “Meat à l’arabe” (yes, I know, lamb is more typical for Middle Eastern cuisine as well!). Anyway, I really loved the combination of flavours and since whenever we have ratatouille at home, my husband feels disappointed by the fact that there’s no meat in it, I started to cook non-vegetarian version of it for him – with lamb. Of course, it is far from what my mum used to cook and more similar to a Georgian adjapsandal or French ratatouille with meat, but I’m really grateful to her for having me inspired to make a dish that always makes my carnivorous husband happy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fraisier Gateau

          The name “Fraisier” comes from a French word which means “a strawberry bush”. Indeed, this classical gateau is all about these bright and juicy fruits. And since the strawberry season is at full swing in India now I’ve got a strong resolution to make the most of it by cooking as many yummy and versatile dishes as possible, making “Fraisier” seems to be more than logical (I would even say “inevitable” in this case!).

            Actually this cake has always appealed to me: not because of any complicated technique involved in its preparation but because of its simple yet elegant look. In fact, it’s quite an easy cake to make since there are only two elements: a sponge and a mousse – and it is possible to squeeze the preparation even into the busiest schedule. The result is a stunning dessert: a “crown” of ruby strawberry halves embracing an airy mousse, with the layers of light, orange-scented sponge on the bottom and on the top. Gorgeous, isn’t it? A piece of delight with a true French flair!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mimosa Salad

        There is a common belief that there is only one salad in authentic Russian cuisine (potato, carrot and peas with mayonnaise) – which, respectively, bears the name Russian salad (in our country we call it Moscow salad, by the way). But one should not underestimate the tradition of salads in our cuisine. When holiday time comes, the dining tables are overladen with different sorts of them and, apart from “Moscow Salad” a great range of multilayered salads are served. I don’t know whether you can find the same idea of layered, not mixed salads, in any other cuisine – I for one tend to believe that it is a Russian (or, probably, Eastern European) speciality.  
             The layered salads usually consist of boiled vegetables, eggs, fresh herbs, cooked protein (chicken, fish or beef) and even nuts, with some mayonnaise thinly spread between the layers. The salads are made at least one day in advance so that the flavour can develop and the layers hold together when cut through (just like multi-tier cream cakes!). Although usually such salads are assembled in big and deep serving plates or bowls, I prefer another way of serving them – individually portioned, in a form of a stack (it adds finesse to the dish, doesn’t it?). One of my favorite multilayered salads is Mimosa – it has a subtle taste of a poached salmon, which is complimented by fresh dill and spring onions. It’s definitely “a special occasion” dish which makes it easy to impress even the greatest gourmets!

Crepe Suzette with White Chocolate and Orange Ice Cream

Last year I was at a party which, to say true, was quite boring until I found a person who shared my passion for food and was eager to talk about it. It was a middle aged woman who traveled a lot in her life and, therefore, was familiar with different cuisines. As I mentioned France, she noticed that this country has always been associated for her with a simple, yet very traditional dish – Crepe Suzette. At that point it suddenly occurred to me: how did it happen that I had never ever cooked this classic dessert? It was definitely a gap in my culinary knowledge to be filled. So, that same week I was making the orange sauce and flambéing my lacy crepes for the first time.

Actually this dish turned out to be a perfect breakfast for our family since my husband loves oranges (there was even a period of time in his life when he started every single day with this fruit) and, well, show me a Russian who would refuse to have crepes for breakfast! Of course, it’s a bit abnormal to indulge in an ice-cream at 8 am, but I can repeat it again and again: I don’t see anything wrong in giving yourself a treat at any time of the day.

Last time when I made Crepe Suzette I had a homemade white chocolate and orange ice-cream which amazingly complimented the dish (in a much more stunning way than a traditional vanilla one). I guess from now on I will always place a scoop of this tangy ice-cream next to my flaming crepes!
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