Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grilled Squid and Melon Salad



I can't help it. I love squid. Well, really all seafood, but squid in particular holds a special place in my heart. I know, I know, it has a weird texture and it seems natural for us to balk at eating anything with tentacles, but all this ignores the simple fact that it's absolutely delicious.

But, I have to admit, even my boundaries were tested when I decided to attempt a grilled squid and melon salad. I know it's a classic. I know. Maybe it's just me, but they don't seem to be natural friends on a plate.

My courage got the best of me and I ended up trying it, enlisting my roommate and friend to be my co-guinea pigs.

And it was worth it. The marinade for the squid and melon go perfectly together. That sweet fiery taste highlights both in a way that borders on decadent. And then you put another fabulous dressing, made from lime juice and brown sugar on top of that. I mean, squid fan or no, you can't deny the flavor combination in this is anything but magnificent.

So I humbly present the Squid and Melon salad. I dare you, take the squid plunge. It will be worth it.

Ingredients

225g cleaned squid
1/2 honeydew melon, peeled and cut into thin wedges
1 tbsp roughly chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves

for the marinade:
100 ml olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 garlic clove
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. sugar

for the dressing:
2 tbsp nam pia (Thai fish sauce)
2 tbsp lime juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red and 1 green chili, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp brown sugar
optional: 4 kaffir lime leaves (finely shredded)


Method

Slit the squid open, cutting it into large rectangles and score it in a diamond pattern on the inner side. Leave the tentacles in large pieces. (Or, if your squid comes already cut into rings, simply score the inner side of them).

Mix all the marinade together in a large bowl, add the squid and melon and leave to marinate at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

Heat the grill to its highest setting. Remove the squid and melon from the marinade, place on the grill pan and grill for 4-5 minutes. (Or, if you don't have a grill pan, simply use a saute pan on high heat, for no more than 4 minutes).

Transfer squid and melon to a bowl and sprinkle over the mint and coriander leaves.

Put all the ingredients for the dressing into a pan and heat gently. Pour the dressing over the squid and melon.

Leave to cool at room temperature before serving.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Cherry, Cranberry, and Hazelnut Biscotti


This recipe unfortunately indulges my culinary tendencies to throw the kitchen sink into every baking recipe I find. In my mind, if one added ingredient makes the whole thing better, why not add five extra ingredients? Combine that with the peculiar stocking strategies of Tesco and you come up with the above recipe. In my defense, I was originally planning to make this recipe with only cherries and hazelnuts. But then Tesco was out of cherries. So I went with cranberries. And THEN I discovered the glace cherry section. Oh my. Well, when it came down to deciding between the two, my logic was no match for my "kitchen sink" tendencies. And thus: chocolate, cherry, cranberry, hazelnut biscotti. Try saying that five times fast.

(Adapted from epicurious.com, via Bon Appetit, December 1998)

Ingredients 

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
 2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups hazelnuts (about 4.5 ounces), toasted, husked, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup glace cherries
3/4 pounds bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
Unsweetened cocoa powder

Method

Position 1 rack in center and 1 rack in top third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Using handheld electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in very large bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time just until blended. Mix in orange peel, baking soda and salt. Add 3 cups flour, hazelnuts and dried cherries; stir until well blended. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, a little at a time, stirring until well incorporated.

Transfer dough to floured work surface. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Knead each piece until dough holds together well. Form each piece into 5-inch-long by 2-inch-wide log. Place the 2 logs on a large ungreased baking sheet, spacing about 3 inches apart (logs will spread during baking). Bake until logs are golden and feel firm when tops are gently pressed, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, about 55 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheets 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Using long wide spatula, transfer logs to cutting board. Using serrated knife, cut warm logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake biscotti 10 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until light golden, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer to racks and cool completely.

Stir chocolate in large bowl set over saucepan of boiling water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Dip 1 cut side of each biscotti into melted chocolate to about 1/4-inch depth. Gently shake off excess chocolate. Place biscotti, chocolate side up, on baking sheets. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes. Dip pastry brush in cocoa, then lightly brush cocoa over chocolate on each biscotti.

These store well in an airtight containers up to 4 days, or wrap in foil and freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hobnobs


How to explain the curiously British entity that is the hobnob? Well, we could get into the entire "cookie vs. biscuit vs. digestive" argument but that would take far too long and involve way too many footnotes. Needless to say, the "hobnob" is a type of British cookie that is a bit firmer to the touch and has substantially more bite than traditional American cookies. I would on one hand be tempted to call them oatmealy (as there is a significant amount of oatmeal in them) but that wouldn't capture the essence of the hobnob.

And prior to the discovery of this recipe, the hobnob was also something I thought you could only find in the store. Like Oreos. No one actually made hobnobs. And there again, I was wrong. My roommate showed me this recipe, courteously passed on to her through the wonder that is online recipe swapping. The original website for it is here, delightfully fun and maintained by people who appear to be serious advocates of tea parties. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Now I have to apologize for my frequent (and seemingly random) switches between American and British measurement styles. Believe me,  I share your frustrations in determining what half a stick of American butter means in the metric system. I can only say that I work on both systems, employing both scales and cups at the same time. I do know that there is a wonderfully handy conversion chart at the back of the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking which has saved me time and time again. And, knowing the internet, there's probably some wonderful online conversion chart where you can find out any measurement in terms of any other. If you do know of it, please share the wealth! 


Ingredients

225g self raising flour
225g sugar
225g porridge oats
225g margarine/butter
1tbsp golden syrup
1tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda


Method

Mix the flour, oats and sugar in a bowl.

Add any extra ingredients such as raisins/chocolate chips if you want.

In a pan, melt the margarine, syrup and water
Once melted, stir in the bicarbonate of soda and then add to the dry mix.

Mix well, then make smallish balls (the recipe makes 35 – 50 depending on size), place on a greased tray and flatten slightly.

Bake at 180°c for 15 minutes until golden, then cool for a few minutes on the tray before moving to a rack.

Spread a layer of chocolate on the top (if you’re making chocolate ones)



Greek Zucchini Fritters


Martha Shulman (goddess of the NY Times "Recipes for Health" section) summed up this recipe by calling them "zucchini latkes". And, indeed, that's exactly what they are. A bit messy, and "fall apart-y", and of course fried in oil, they are delicious and only slightly guilt inducing. More than simple zucchini, the taste of the dill and feta conjures fabulous images of the Mediterranean and summertime. Despite frying, mine remained soft and tender inside. I was in zucchini heaven.

The only problem with the recipe is the necessary hour wait time while the zucchini batter...does whatever it needs to do in the fridge for an hour. I'm not sure what would happen if I fried them immediately, but I can only surmise the hour in the fridge did them good.

You'll have to eat these the day you make them, sadly. They don't withstand another visit to the fridge as leftovers, turning into sloppy zucchini messes. But hey, joy is fleeting anyway, right?

Serves six to eight

Ingredients
2 pounds large zucchini, trimmed and grated on the wide holes of a grater or food processor
Salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as fennel, dill, mint, parsley (I like to use mostly dill)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1+ cup fresh or dry breadcrumbs, more as necessary
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup crumbled feta
All-purpose flour as needed and for dredging
Olive oil for frying




Method 

Salt the zucchini generously and leave to drain in a colander for one hour, tossing and squeezing the zucchini from time to time. Take up handfuls of zucchini, and squeeze out all of the moisture. Alternately, wrap in a clean dish towel, and squeeze out the water by twisting at both ends.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the shredded zucchini, herbs, cumin, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste and feta. Mix together well. Take up a small handful of the mixture; if it presses neatly into a patty, it is the right consistency. If it seems wet, add more breadcrumbs or a few tablespoons of all-purpose flour. When the mixture has the right consistency, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or longer.

Heat 1 inch of olive oil in a large frying pan until rippling, or at about 275 degrees. Meanwhile, take up heaped tablespoons of the zucchini mixture, and form balls or patties. Lightly dredge in flour.

When the oil is very hot, add the patties in batches to the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning once with a spider or slotted spoon. Remove from the oil, and drain briefly on a rack.

Serve with plain Greek style yogurt on the side.




Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roasted Fennel with Parmesean


I'm a bit ashamed. Clearly this a work-in-progress photo. But as the end result was consumed in a matter of minutes, I can only be kinda upset that a final version photo didn't happen. Because this also marks a culinary triumph; one in which I was able to convince my roommate that not only is fennel delicious and useful for more than just sprinkling on salads, but that it's also uber-easy to make. Although now that I have accomplished this great feat, it means that she comes home with about 5 pounds of fennel from our weekly farmer's market. At least it's cheap!

Anyway, this recipe is an old favorite of mine. When I lived in Toronto, a friend of mine introduced me to Giada de Laurentiis. I was a bit skeptical a first (I mean, she smiles an awful lot) but when I tried some of her so-called "easy" Italian, I was hooked. Her brilliance is often due to how simply she treats her ingredients. I give the woman full props for this recipe, but seriously, this is just sliced, baked fennel. You just slice fennel, sprinkle it with olive oil, pepper, and salt. Roast it in the oven. Add parmesan to it. Roast it some more. And you're done! Well, now that I've given you the entire recipe, I feel foolish posting it but nevertheless...

Serves 4-6 (or just 2 if you're feeling fennel-y)

Ingredients

4 tbsp olive oil, plus more for baking dish
4 fennel bulbs, cut horizontally and into 1/3 inch slices, fronds reserved
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


Method

Preheat over to 375F. Lightly oil a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the fennel in the dish.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with the oil. Bake until the fenel is fork-tender and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Chop enough fennel fronds to equal 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle over the roasted fennel and serve.


Roasted Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Grits/Polenta


Any Southerner who would have read the above title is probably in a wonderful position to shoot me now. I know, I know. You fundamentally can't confuse polenta with grits. Yes, they're both made from corn. Yes, they both can have a wonderful porridge-like consistency. But there is no way on heaven or earth that you can call one the other. I'm sure there's an actual fundamental difference between them (well, actually, even Wikipedia says they're darn similar), but when in England, grits are nowhere to be found.

Yes, this is sadly correct. Despite having adopted many a questionable item of American cuisine (like Poptarts, for example), grits remain an absolute unknown in the English food palate. Tell them about polenta and they're on board. Talk to them about grits and you get a blank face.

So, when I found this recipe (thanks to the NY Times Temporary Vegetarian), my heart yearned for the American original, yet I contented myself with the British equivalent. Which meant polenta. I was a bit nervous about using polenta instead of grits with the amount of water and milk that it called for, but it turned out beautifully. Just creamy enough to balance with the mushrooms and cheese and sticky enough to hold itself together in the bowl. I also had some leftover dried porcini mushrooms that I used with the recipe and used the water I rehydrated them with (infused with a wonderful mushroom-y taste) to blend with the milk in the recipe. An absolute win.

Grits may be off the menu for a little bit, but at least with this recipe, I have a fairly decent imitation. 

Serves six

Ingredients

For the mushrooms:
1 cup chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and hard stems discarded
1 cup oyster mushrooms, cleaned and hard stems discarded
1 cup porcini mushrooms, rehydrated
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig thyme
4 cloves garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the grits (if you're lucky enough to have them) or polenta:
2 cups milk
1 jalapeño, split and seeded
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup organic grits/ 1 cup polenta or fine cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces fresh goat cheese

Method


1. For the mushrooms: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, creminis, olive oil, thyme and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a sheet pan, and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, discard thyme and garlic, and cover to keep warm. While the mushrooms are roasting, prepare the grits.

2. For the grits/polenta: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, 2 cups water (here I used the porcini mushroom "juice"), jalapeño, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary and salt. Bring to a simmer then remove from heat. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into a heatproof bowl, and discard the solids.

3. Return the liquid to the saucepan, and place over high heat to bring to a boil. Add the grits, lower the heat to medium, and stir constantly until fully cooked and smooth, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add butter and mix well.

4. Add the goat cheese immediately before serving and mix well. Divide the grits/polenta among six plates, and spoon the roasted mushrooms over the grits/polenta.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Flat Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Herbs

I rarely cook chicken. No, wait, scratch that. I almost never cook chicken. I'm afraid of it. And with good reason, might I add. It's a culinary minefield. If it's underdone, there's the danger of life-threatening illness. If it's overdone, it's dry and horrible. For years I have found every conceivable way of cooking sans chicken. But finally, that period is long long gone. For I present to you not only the easiest chicken recipe that you will ever find, it's also amazingly delicious. Oh yes.

The recipe, adapted from February's Delicious magazine, advocated a meat-based way of having a good yet healthy dinner. Well, it might be healthy, but what won points was its ease of preparation. The recipe advocated butterflying the chicken. Hell no. Why turn a perfectly nice recipe that takes little to no time to prepare and ruin it with a horribly complex butchery instruction? No way jose.

Anyway, there's little else to say except that it's delicious and if you eat meat, you'll want to eat this.  Serve it with leeks and you have yourself one fine looking dinner, if I don't mind saying so myself.


Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1.6kg chicken, boned and butterflied (bah! I bought bone-in chicken pieces from the store and never noticed the difference)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice, plus 1 lemon, sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 red chili, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp thyme (if you have sprigs, use them)
8 artichoke hearts, tinned in water, rinsed and drained
200 ml dry white wine


Method
Preheat the oil to 220C. Put the chicken in an oiled roasting tin. Drizzle with the rest of the oil and the lemon juice. Scatter with the lemon slices, garlic, chili, and herbs.
Season, then add the artichokes and wine.

Roast for 30-35 minutes until the skin is golden and the juices run clear when you pierce the meat in the thickest part (turn the oven down to 200C if the skin browns too soon)

Transfer the chicken to a board, then cut into pieces. Tip the juices from the tin into a jug. Serve the chicken pieces with the artichokes, drizzled with the cooking juices.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Roquefort and Red Cabbage Salad


Ok, so the title might be a tad misleading. Technically this salad is supposed to be made with red cabbage, which is sweet and wonderful and photographs beautifully. Sadly, the local Tesco has not stocked red cabbage in months, if not years. So, alas, white/green cabbage it was.

Now, this is not to say that this wasn't delicious. I dare you to find me any salad that isn't made infinitely better with the addition of either bacon or cheese, but still, I feel a bit of the fraud by posting a red cabbage recipe which prominently features nothing of the kind. But ah well. If you are so lucky to live in a region with the rich bounty of red cabbage, please, do partake, and think of me when you do.


Roquefort and Red (ahem, white) Cabbage Salad

Ingredients
1/4 red (or white) cabbage, central core removed, thinly sliced
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
50g caster sugar
600ml water
100g streaky bacon (normal bacon for the Americans out there), cut into 2cm dice
2 slices of white bread, cut into 1cm cubes
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 heads of chicory (endive)
1 small head of radicchio
150g Roquefort (or any blue cheese) crumbled

for the Vinaigrette 
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp walnut oil
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp walnuts, roasted and broken into chunks
salt and pepper

Method

Put the cabbage in a bowl. Bring the vinegar to the boil, add the sugar and, once dissolved, pour it over the cabbage and stir well. Boil the water and pour that over the cabbage too. Leave to soak for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander and leave to cool.


Heat a frying pan over a high heat, add the bacon and cook it until it is crisp and the fat has been released. Add the bread and fry until golden, then stir in the garlic and fry for 1 minute.

Remove from heat.

Put the red cabbage in a salad bowl with the chicory and radicchio leaves, scatter over the bacon and croutons and the Roquefort cheese.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and pour it over the salad.

Toss well, adjust the seasoning and serve.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Braised Leeks with Goat's Cheese


I know, I know, this is the second braised leeks recipe I have posted. And since I swore that the first one was so delicious, why on earth would I try another one? Because this is just as delicious, that's why. This recipe is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, who is known for doing all sorts of good and right things with food.

I was intrigued by this recipe because it seems to do the exact opposite of the other braised leeks recipe: simmering the leeks in liquid before braising them. The result is a softer, much sweeter leek. The sauce that is made from all the leftover juices is decadent and makes the dish. Unfortunately, the nice charred taste you get from roasting the leeks first before simmering them is lost, but still, this recipe is wonderful as a chicken side dish (see next post) and hey, who are you to turn down anything with goat's cheese? I certainly can't.

Note: The original recipe called for goat's curd. Now, you may live on a farm and have easy access to this. I don't. So goat's cheese it was, and it scrumptious. The curd will just have to wait.


Ingredients

8 long, thin leeks
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
200ml dry white wine
3 tbsp olive oil
250ml water
Salt and black pepper
½ small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
20g currants
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2½ tsp sugar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
100g goat's cheese

Method

First prepare the leeks. Discard the green part, then cut each leek widthways into two, each about 10cm long, and wash.

Lay the leeks in a large, shallow pan, add the bay leaves and garlic, and pour in the wine, olive oil and water, so the leeks are half-covered in liquid.

Season, then simmer gently for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour (I did this for no longer than 30 minutes), turning the leeks a few times during cooking, until a knife can be inserted through the middle without any resistance.

Once tender, use a slotted spoon to transfer the leeks to a plate and set aside. Strain the liquid into a small pan and reduce over a high heat until you are left with two tablespoons of sauce. Remove from the heat, add the onion, currants, vinegar and sugar, and season. Set aside so the onion and currants soften in the residual heat while you finish off the leeks.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan and fry the leek pieces for a couple of minutes a side, until lightly golden. Place on a plate and leave to cool to room temperature.

To serve, divide the leeks between four plates. Top with small chunks of goat's curd, followed by the onion and currant dressing.

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