Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day 2010

Today I had 5 people over for dinner, including two confirmed meat eaters and a pisco-vegetarian. I have a freezer-drawer full of beef from highland cattle that graze wild in Dutch nature reserves (ordered from Stichting Taurus) so that determined the meat side of the menu.

Hors d'oevres



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Dinner 2010

The Dutch are not big turkey eaters and they don't tend to eat the same thing every Christmas, although duck, hare, and venison seem to be popular.

Me, I'm a traditionalist and like to have poultry at the center of my Christmas dinner. However, turkey is a bit much for a single person, even with guests, so I'm making chicken. Today's menu:

Mushroom Soup
Dry-brined roast chicken
Bread-potato stuffing
Roasted squash, mashed with butter, salt and pepper
Braised brussels sprouts
Apples in Calvados

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicken with Pomegranate

I recently acquired a new item for the kitchen—a lovely enameled cast-iron cocotte from Staub.

Of course, a new pot requires a new recipe, so I decided to break open a tome that has been sitting on my shelves for years and getting no use.

The Silver Spoon is supposedly the Italian bible of cooking, and it contains a huge number of recipes, but the layout and instructions are not inviting. The instructions are written in one long paragraph, which is a pain to follow when you're half way through and need to check something. Worse yet, instructions can be incomplete, unclear, and quantities imprecise. Even for someone who doesn't always follow instructions and quantities to the letter, this can be frustrating.

But it does seem such a waste to have it sitting there, not getting spattered by water, wine, and sauces. So I decided to make Gallina alla Melagrana. Well, actually, I adapted it. The recipe calls for roasting the chicken whole, but I decided to cut it into pieces and braise it in the oven. I also add the soaking water from the soaking the porcini mushrooms, which the recipe does not call for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Greek Onion-Leek Pie

Last  week I saw a recipe in my daily paper for a onion, leek and feta pie. It sounded really appealing, and it did turn out to be very tasty. The original recipe called for phyllo pastry, but my local Turkish greengrocer didn't have it so I used something similar that they did have. The pastry leaves are less thin and fine but also don't dry out as quickly. You also don't need to use as many layers (2 on the bottom, 2 on the top.)

I think I didn't put quite enough dill in the filling. It really can stand a lot. I also think that this recipe could  do well with one or two eggs added. I reduced the recipe by about one third, but it still ended up being enough for 4-6 servings.

Update: I've now made this recipe a number of times. I've used oval, square, and round dishes, I've made self-contained packets, I've used phyllo dough instead of yufka dejblade (as it's called). I've adopted Kaye's tip of sprinkling sesame seeds between the dough layers. It always works. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Squash Mushroom Risotto

"I'm late, I'm late", as the white rabbit cried. I have to catch up on some recent recipe experiments, and since we're deep into fall, I'll start with some warming comfort food.

This is another story of leftovers. I had a container of squash, some homemade chicken stock that got defrosted by mistake, and some mushrooms that had seen better days and needed to be used up NOW. I've seen recipes for both squash risotto and mushroom risotto, so that was my inspiration. Risotto is such an adaptable base for all kinds leftover variations. I can imagine it for leftover pumpkin from Halloween (maybe reduce the stock, since pumpkin has a higher moisture content than squash, and use fresh sage as a flavouring).

These days I don't actually follow a recipe for risotto, just a technique, but I provide some standard measurements in this 'recipe'. I'm afraid the measurements are approximate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Out of the Kitchen

There haven't been any new posts for the last two weeks because I've been enjoying real Italian cooking in Turin and Liguria, and Provençal cooking on the Cote d'Azur.

Manorola, Cinque Terra
Of course there were a couple of pizzas, lots of pasta, lots of local wine, a real homemade tiramisu, spicy sausage, local olives, and the aperitivo.

The aperitivo is a Turin institution featuring a drink and some little bites to eat at around 7:00 pm. In many places, those little bites become a complete buffet of tasty offerings. One of the best places we encountered was at Cafe Roberto where you can pile your plate high and get a drink for the princely sum of 7 euros. It included everything from grilled eggplant, variously flavoured focaccios, fritatas, pastas, and risottos to desserts that incuded tiramisu!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Saag Paneer

I love spinach in all its guises—fresh in salads, with a boiled or poached egg and dried potatoes, in soups, and especially in saag paneer, the lovely curry of spinach with homemade cheese. (Apparently saag is any kind of leafy green and palak is more specifically spinach.)

In contrast to most saag paneer/palak paneer recipes I see these days, I don't believe in using frozen spinach or baby spinach for this dish. It needs to cook for a while with some pronounced spices, and for that you need a sturdy spinach. Besides, I  like the greens to retain some of their structure, not to be a green cream. I like the 'wild spinach' that I can get at my Turkish greengrocer. I doubt that it is really wild—it's just robust.

Paneer is easy to make, but I sometimes wonder if it's worth the effort and time it takes to make—it is so bland. In future, I think I might try it with those mini mozzarella balls or some pressed tofu.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Turkish Lamb Eggplant Stew

I live in a neighbourhood with a lot of Turkish and Moroccan people and that means that there are also lots of grocery store, butchers, bakeries and restaurants catering to them (and the rest of us!). They provide a much better range of produce and meat than the general supermarkets, and you can buy spices in packets instead of little jars. (I still miss the Bulk Store though!)

Occasionally when I don't feel like cooking supper for myself, I pick up an eggplant-lamb stew for take-out from one of Turkish restaurants. However, I do find it too heavy on the oil, so I've been looking for a recipe that I can adjust  to my tastes. This recipe is an amalgam of several that I have found. As is my wont, I've reduced the salt.

Since I'm incapable of making a stew for one, or even two, I make a big pot and freeze it in individual portions.

What to Do with Fresh Figs

You'd think that after living on my own for over 35 years that I would get the hang of cooking for one, I even bought a cookbook called The Pleasures of Cooking for One, which is a pleasant read and has some good sounding recipes, none of which I've made.

So what got into me to purchase a flat of fresh figs, which bruise easily and don't keep well? Of course I ate a few fresh, but that still leaves 14 figs that I had to use up this weekend. Here's what I did.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sun-dried Tomato Focaccia

My newly acquired cookbook, Good to the Grain is providing lots of fodder for kitchen experiments.  One of my faults in cooking is that I rarely follow a recipe exactly, even the first time I try it, and the focaccia made with spelt flour was no different. I followed the flour proportions, but since I had a couple of old dried sun-dried tomatoes lying about that I wanted to use, I incorporated them into the bread as well, and I used the soaking water in the starter.

I am noticing with a number of recipes in this cookbook that the amount of salt required is too high, at least for my kind of salt and my taste. The author, Kim Boyce, always specifies kosher salt, which is really just coarse salt. The brand she uses is Diamond Crystal, which is less salty than Morton's. Since neither of these brands is available in Amsterdam, I just use coarse sea salt. Either this salt is much saltier than her brand, or my taste buds are accustomed to much less salt. Either way, I am now halving all her recommendations for salt, and that is yielding much better results.

Rather than baking one large bread, I divided the dough into 3 after the first rise, reserving 2/3 of the dough in the fridge for future baking.

My New Assistant

I been, 'n gone, 'n done it. I finally broke down and bought a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It is a thing of beauty and I hope it will be a joy forever.

I've been resisting for years because I don't make cakes that often, and I like kneading bread by hand. And it takes up valuable counter space in a small kitchen. I read about all the nifty attachments that turn it into a grater, a grain grinder, a juicer, a vegetable purée-er,  an ice cream maker, a pasta maker. But I've never needed those things before, so why would I need them now? And the cost!

And yet, and yet. Think of all the things I could make that I've never bothered with before. Breads made with unusual flours that I can grind myself, home-made ice cream, pasta filled with vegetable purées.

So I caved, found an online supplier that sold it for way less than cooking stores, and now I'm in love. I love the design, the weight, the power, the sturdiness, the way it's made, and yes, the colour. So far, I've only used it for bread-making, but I really notice that it is giving more loft to the bread.

I've not bought any of the attachments yet, but I will eventually. First I need to bake some more.