Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ginger Cheesecake

I have a new love. For years I've been true to Susan Mendelsohn's Lemon Cheesecake, but this year I saw Mary Berry bake a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake. It was love at first sight, and with a few tweeks, I made it as dessert for our Christmas meal. The general consensus was that it was one of the best cakes we've ever had, so you are forewarned!

This recipe is for a 20 cm spring-form pan, which I don't have. Instead I made it in an 18 cm pan, and used the extra to make a 10 cm tart.

If you have leftovers you will notice that the ginger flavour gets more pronounced after a day or two. I baked it on Christmas Eve and served it Christmas Day and the balance between ginger and white chocolate was perfect then.

Ginger Cheesecake

Based on a recipe by Mary Berry, I didn't use chocolate in the crust or decorations, Instead, I added dry ginger and ginger syrup in the crust, and increased the amount of stem ginger in the cheesecake itself. If you have access to ginger snaps, you could try using those for the base instead of digestive biscuits.

I had the oven a bit too hot with the result that the cheesecake browned a bit at the edges. Surprisingly, it didn't crack, but to produce a more attractive finish, I whipped some cream cheese and ginger syrup and spread that over the top before finishing it off with slices of stem ginger.

For the base
150 grams  digestive biscuits (or ginger snaps)
50 grams softened butter, plus extra for greasing
30 ml ginger syrup

1/2 tsp ground ginger

For the filling
300 grams white chocolate
330 grams  cream cheese
150 ml  sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 pieces of stem ginger (in syrup), finely chopped

For the decoration
100 grams cream cheese
30 ml ginger syrup
1 tablespoon fine sugar
2 balls of stem ginger, sliced
pearl sugar

  1. Grease the base of a 20cm/8in spring-form pan and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  2. Put the digestive cookies in a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin to crush them, then add the 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger. (If you uses ginger snaps, don't add the ginger.)
  3. Mix in the softened butter and ginger syrup. I find it easiest to use my hands.
  4. Add the crumb mixture to the cake pan and press into the bottom with your fingers to make an even layer. Chill in the fridge for a half hour or so.
  5. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F while you make the filling.
  6. Break the white chocolate into pieces and melt them in a microwave oven or in a bain-marie (a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, without touching the water), stirring occasionally.
  7. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until smooth, then stir in the melted white chocolate. Fold in the chopped ginger.
  8. Pour the mixture onto the crumb base in the spring-form pan and spread out evenly. 
  9. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until firm around the edge and just set in the middle.
  10. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, before loosening with a knife and releasing the spring. Let cool completely, then chill in the fridge.
  11. For the decoration, mix the cream cheese, syrup, and sugar until smooth, then spread over the top of the cheesecake. Thinly slice the ginger balls and arrange attractively around the edges and center of the cheesecake. If you can find it, at a piece of pearl sugar or other type of decoration to the slices.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spatchcocked Turkey

This year, after detours to ham and venison in the past couple of years, I returned to tradition for the Christmas dinner, so a small free-range turkey was on the menu.

Some years ago I discovered the technique of dry brining turkey to completely season the meat. This year I discovered spatchcocked turkey for more even and much faster cooking. (Isn't spatchcock a wonderful word?) I've done this with chicken so I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to do this with turkey before.

My turkey was just over 6 pounds and I dry-brined it with about 2 tablespoons of sea salt, three days before it went into the oven . On Christmas Day, I removed the wishbone, removed the backbone and flattened the turkey. Then loosened the skin and tucked herbed garlic butter under the skin of the breast and over the sin of the legs. It roasted for 20 minutes at 250 degrees and another half hour at 200 degrees, then rested for 20 minutes before I carved it following the directions here. It was easy to do and looked great.

I like to make my version of Jamie Oliver's make-ahead gravy a couple of days in advance. I find it hard enough to juggle the timings for appetizer, oven room and vegetables, so not having to make gravy reduces the stress. This year I included a chopped fennel bulb and only one carrot.  It was good!

As usual, good company and good food made for a memorable meal.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple Muffins

I have a new favourite muffin recipe. It's a bit more work than my Madrigal Muffins, but sooooo yummy.

This is an adaptation from a recipe that appears in our family cookbook, but I've dialed down the sugar, upped the fiber, replaced butter with oil, changed the spices, and simplified the method.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time-Life: Scandinavia

I've gotten somewhat behind with the the Time-Life books cooking schedule. Part of it was the interruption caused by my holiday. The good part of that was that I was able to pick up the rest of the Time Life set that I purchased last year. It had been languishing at my sister's since then.

Another part of the interruption is perhaps how uninspiring I found the Scandinavian book. Traditional Scandinavian cooking seems to be just as plain as Dutch cooking. The baked goods looked the most interesting of all, but I really don't feel like making Danish pastries (which are of course, Viennese pastries.)

Nevertheless, I found one recipe that sounded interesting and that was the Norwegian fish pudding, which can also be formed into balls and added to a soup. So I decided to try my hand at Bergen fish soup with fish balls, but with a twist from Louisiana (hello Creole and Acadian Cooking!).

I made the fish stock following the recipe but found it very bland. Since I was also making jambalaya, I had some shrimp shells, so I added them to the fish bouillon, which ended up being more flavourful, a bit more colourful, and perhaps a less delicate match for the fish balls. Ah well, the resulting soup was good.

The fish balls were an interesting addition. They added a soft and fluffy texture that complimented the delicate flavour and texture of the soup. I can imagine children enjoying this soup.

Norwegian Fish Soup

My adaptations to these recipes were to and shrimp shells to the stock for the fish soup. I used the last of my parsnips for the fish stock so didn't have any for the vegetables in the soup, so substituted celery. Given how sweet parsnips can be, I suspect that this was a good idea anyway. And I used fresh dill to garnish.

Fish Pudding /Fish Balls
The following ingredients make a small fish pudding and about 25 fish balls.  Or you could just make one or the other.
600 grams1 1/2 poundscod filet
30 ml2 tablespoonsmilk
60 ml1/4 cupcream
10 ml2 teaspoonssalt
20 ml1 1/2 tablespoonscorn starch
freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. For the fish pudding, butter a small loaf tin and dust with bread crumbs. (A mini tin is good if you are making a half recipe fish pudding.) Preheat the oven to 175 C/325 F
  2. Mix the milk and cream. Cut the fish into chunks, making sure to remove any bones that may still be in the fish fillets.
  3. In a food processor gradually add the fish pieces with some of the cream mixture, pulsing them to form a smooth puree, and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the salt, corn starch, and any cream mixture that hasn't been used yet.
  4. For the fish pudding: Press and smooth the mixture into the prepared loaf tin so that no air pocket remain, then cover with some buttered aluminum foil. Place the tin a roasting pan and add boiling water until it reaches three-quarters up the side of the tin. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes. The pudding is done when the top feels firm and a cake tester comes out clean. Turn the pudding out onto a serving plate.
  5. For the fish balls: Place the fish puree in the fridge for a half hour or so to stiffen up. Scoop out using a tablespoon and roll into balls using your hands. You can put the balls back into the fridge until ready to cook in the fish bouillon or water for 2-3 minutes. After cooking, drain them and add to the fish soup just before serving.
Fish Stock

2 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium parsnip, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 parsley stalk
6 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
4 liters water
900 grams / 2 pounds white fish remnants, such as white fish bones and heads (I can get this free from my fishmonger)
Optional: shells from about 20 large shrimp

Put all the ingredients except the shrimp shells into a soup pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
Drain the broth through a fine sieve into a large bowl or another large pot. Press the solids with a spoon to get as much of the moisture into the broth as possible. Discard the solids.
Rinse or wipe the soup pot and return the broth to the pot. Boil the broth until it has reduced to half the volume (about 2 liters).
Now add the shrimp shells, if using, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Drain the stock  into a large saucepan through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Fish Soup

25-30 fish balls, or 1 pound of fish filet such as cod or halibut
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill

  1. Bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer and add the fish balls. Cook them for 2 to 3 minutes, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. If you are using a fish filet, simmer it whole until the fish flakes. Then remove to drain.
  2. Add the carrots and celery to the fish broth and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped leek and simmer for another 3 minutes.
  4. Beat the egg yolks and gradually beat in about 1/2 cup of the hot broth, a few tablespoons at a time.
  5. Gradually add the egg yolk mixture to the soup, stirring all the while.
  6. Return the fish balls to the soup and heat through, but do not bring the soup to the boil. If you are using fish fillet, cut it into pieces and return to the soup.
  7. Garnish the soup with dill and serve.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Time-Life: Cooking of India

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I adore Indian cooking. What I have learned about Indian cuisine to date comes mostly from Madhur Jaffrey, who has introduced the English speaking Western world to the delights of Indian home cooking. I also had a little recipe booklet from the Time-Life Foods of the World series but it provided no background information.

But that's changed. Through the wonders of the Internet I was able to order the Cooking of India from the Time-Life series, and am learning more about the background and cultural differences between North and South India, at least as they were in the 1960s. The world, and India, have changed a lot since then, but it's still an interesting read. I'm lucky to also have young Indian colleagues with whom I can discuss both food and Indian traditions. I'd love to get their perspective on the world depicted in this book.

Cooking of India was written by Santha Rama Rau as part of the Time-Life Foods of the World series and tackles the almost impossible task of providing an overview of Indian cooking for a Western audience with limited or no experience with Indian food. She has an interesting background with one parent coming from the north of India and the other from the south. It was a progressive, Brahman, middle-class (not to say wealthy, by Indian standards) background.

I think my favourite chapter is the first one, in which she describes her grandmothers' kitchens (probably in the 1940s), one in nothern Allahabad, the other in south-western Mangalore.

The heat of these recipes has been radically reduced to accommodate Western tastes. However, Northern Indian cooking is much milder than that of the south. Not that long ago I ate at the home of an Indian colleague, and her cooking was very mild, and she hadn't adjusted it for me. She said it was a very typical meal for them (a cauliflower curry, eggplant bharta, rice, and chapatis).

I think most of the recipes have been stripped down to their basics, but they are accessible and tasty. You'll find more elaborate recipes and more complex spice mixtures in other books and the internet, but I will be forever thankful to it for introducing me to baingan bharta.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Time-Life: Spain and Portugal

The Spain and Portugal volume of Time-Life Foods of the World was a much more satisfying read than the Quintet of Cuisines. The writer Peter S. Feibleman actually lived in Spain, knew the people, and could write great descriptions of landscapes and cultural events. I think I'd like to read some of his other books, such as his biography of Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a long friendship.

I found the recipes I tried less successful, whether it's because they were simplified too much or whether the food itself is less appealing, or perhaps just poor technique on my part.

I've been to Andalusia and had wonderful home-cooked meals with fresh produce at a lovely B&B (Villa Matilde near Anjar), but I found eating in restaurants frustrating. Oily, mass-produced paella, monotonous salads of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, boiled eggs, tuna, and ham. The overwhelming emphasis on meat, the lack of vegetarian meals, or even vegetables that were not served in oil, made lunches particularly unappealing. It's hot, you want a light lunch and the only vegetable choice is that same old salad! The consequences of mass tourism, perhaps. However, I do remember a delicious supper of sea bass baked in salt in Malaga, and I loved Seville and would like to go back there.

Anyway, back to this book. In general, they call for at least 2 times as much olive oil as I would use, and I cut the amounts whenever I thought it appropriate. Ingredients are simple with very few extra flavourings beyond salt and pepper. In some case, I adapted a couple by adding some hot peppers to give them a bit more kick.

I've not provided the recipes, but will be happy to post if anyone wants them.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Time-Life Qunitet of Cuisines: Summary

The  Quintet of Cuisines volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series is such an odd grab bag of cuisines! Switzerland, Benelux, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, and North Africa

Overall, I found it a disappointing book in terms of a description of the food and culture--too much about the writer and his gourmandizing lifestyle and not enough about the people. Oddly enough, the chapters about Eastern Europe were better because he hadn't been there and was basing he information on other sources, including the government. In the time this book was published, they were Communist countries, hence the travel restrictions.

The recipes, on the other hand, were fine and I have made a number of discoveries that are worth revisiting:
  • I like veal! It tastes like beef but it is milder, more tender, and more refined. My only experience with it before was as a schnitzel, which I still think is a terrible thing to do with such nice meat.
  • Flounder is a wonderful fish, with a sweet refined flavour and soft texture.
  • Rubbing fish with some lemon juice 15-30 minutes before baking is a very good idea
I wanted to make a recipe from each of the five cuisines, but have yet to to do Poland and North Africa. However, in the past I've made the Polish borsht with dumplings, Moroccan bastila (not very successfully), and numerous tagines. There are lots of good looking recipes in this book, so I will want to continue to dip into this volume. As I do, I'll update this blog to maintain a record.

  • Switzerland: Emincé de veau, Rösti , Zwiebelwähe (Onion and cheese tart)
  • Netherlands: Schol uit de oven (Baked flounder)
  • Bulgaria: Kiopoolu (Aubergine and pepper spread)
  • Romania: Ghiveciu National (Veal and vegetable Stew with grapes)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time-Life Quintet of Cusines: Bulgaria and Romania

Romanian stew after adding the last vegetables
On January first, restrictions were lifted for Bulgarians and Romanians who want to work in the Netherlands, Great Britain, and other European countries. Of course, they've been here for years already, working in all kinds of industry, including IT which is where I've met them, but now they don't need special work permits. The Poles are also here and if it weren't for them, you wouldn't be seeing fresh produce from Holland, because Dutch agriculture relies on the pickers that come from Eastern Europe.

Fortunately, these cuisines are touched on in the Quintet of Cuisines, the cookbook I cam currently concentrating on. So in their honor and giving pride of place to the vegetables they help to bring to our tables, here are a couple of recipes from Bulgaria and Romania.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Time-Life Quintet of Cuisines: Netherlands

When asked, I can be a bit disparaging about typical Dutch food. It seems to be so dominated by variations of stamppot, which is mashed potatoes mixed with some other vegetable and served accompanied by a piece of meat. The classic is boerenkool met rookworst, which features kale as the vegetable and a smoked Dutch sausage as the meat. And there's hutspot (potatoes, carrots, and onions), and hete bliksem (potatoes, apples, and onions), and endive stamppot, and spinach stamppot, ... you get the idea. Of course, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, so it's certainly very nutritious, and it is classic comfort food for many.

Personally I blame Calvinist Protestantism, which long dominated Dutch society. It's serious, dour stuff with no tolerance for frivolities like fancy cooking and the pleasures of the table. I'm not sure how the delicious baked goods like speculaas fit into, but most of those were originally Christmas treats.

But I could be entirely WRONG! Because tonight I prepared baked flounder (Schol uit de oven) and it was super—both simple and refined in flavour. It is not complicated to prepare, but the result has a lovely balance between soft white fish, crunchy gratin, and a hint of acidity from the lemon that was applied to the fish a half an hour before it went into the oven. This is definitely going into regular rotation!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time-Life Quintet of Cuisines: Switzerland

The Quintet of Cuisines volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series has got to be the weirdest assortment of kitchens, ranging from Northern Europe to North Africa: Switzerland, the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, and North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria).

I haven't read the whole book yet so I think I'll defer the big review in hopes that the last three chapters will be better than the first two. This has less to do with the recipes than with the nature of these chapters. They concentrate on meals eaten with friends in restaurants, hotels, or at home, and seem much more about the writer and his wife than about the culture of the countries. And the sense of a whirlwind, breathless visit to each of the countries gives such a sense of afterthought to this volume.

The recipes are much more appealing. Tonight, I tackled two classics of the Swiss kitchen: Emincé de veau (Veal strips in wine and cream sauce) and rösti (Fried shredded potato cake).

Update 2014-03-15: I've also made the Zwiebelewähe, a rich cheese and onion tart made with Gruyere and Emmental. If anyone wants the recipe, I can post it.

Cooking Project: Time-Life Foods of the World

My friend Kaye recently started a two-year quixotic project to read and cook from the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series that was published in the late 60s and early 70s. Each of the 50+ books was an exploration of the cooking of a country or regional cuisine, with discussions of culture, history, recipes, and lots of photos. And it was accompanied by a spiral bound booklet of recipes.

Not surprisingly given the times and the origins, the series has a strong American emphasis. No fewer than 8 of the books deal with American cooking (!), with only one volume each for China and India, and none for Turkey, all cuisines with a rich heritage and strong regional differences. But it was part of a movement that opened the kitchens of Americans (and Canadians) to the world. What we now eat and what can now buy in an ordinary supermarket bears no comparison to what was available in 1969. And this series was part of that shift.

Along with some other interested crazy cooks, I'm joining Kaye on this project. We plan to read, comment, discuss and cook our way through as many of the 25+ books as we can in a monthly to 6 week cycle.

One problem: I didn't have the books. I did have the recipe booklet for Cooking of India, picked up in a second-hand store in PEI, but that was it. So I started ordering a few of the books via Amazon, but it was hard to tell whether I was ordering the hard-cover book or the recipe book or both. The complete sets were available but only in the States and the shipping costs to Europe were astronomical. But I then found a Canadian supplier that had almost the complete set and could ship to Canadian addresses for a reasonable price. My sister now has them in her custody and I will bring them back the next time I visit Halifax. I know, it's crazy, but cooking is my hobby. And as we all know, hobbies give us permission to be a bit crazy.

In the mean time, the few books I had already ordered have arrived and I can start cooking. Watch this space!

(And if you want to join us, let me or Kaye know. Kaye can invite you to the Facebook group she started for this project.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Corn Bread Tamale Pie

Joy of Cooking is probably the essential American cookbook (just as heavily used by Canadians, of course). Before the Internet made it easier to find out how long to cook turkey, or what to do with cauliflower, Joy of Cooking was giving us the low-down. It has appeared in many editions since 1931, not all of them equally popular. I have two radically different versions--one dating from 1975 and another from 1997.

I really like the 1997 version, which featured recipes influenced by many other cultures, as well as vegetarian dishes. But there are downsides. Gone are the boldface headings that made scanning the index so easy, and the sans-serif typeface that made the text so legible. Now I have to peer at fractioned quantities to see whether it is 1/2 cup or 1/3 cup of flour or sugar. Apparently in the wider world of middle-American cooking this edition is not popular--too chef-y, pretentious, and time-consuming. No shortcuts like using canned soup for a casserole sauce instead of making your own (!).

But I still like the older edition too and apparently the recent edition has moved back to this model. I regularly turn to it for inspiration and information, as evidenced by the broken spine and the index that is falling apart. I recently returned to it for a vaguely remembered meat pie with a corn bread topping that I wanted to adapt for vegetarian use.

This recipe is definitely not pretentious. It is a simple, tasty supper dish that looks attractive and freezes well.