October 15, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Composed salads like this one are dead easy to figure out without a recipe, so consider the ingredients I've chosen as a mere guideline for your own favourite roasted vegetables and flavours. I like to season one or two of the roasted vegetables each a little differently, to add depth and warmth to the flavours. As a bonus, if you make a big batch they make a wonderful side dish for dinner the night before, which means you get to be virtuous by using up leftovers to make this tasty salad.

I've chosen cheese, nuts, and (optional) egg to boost the protein and give staying power to this salad, but you could definitely omit the egg, sub out the cheese, and go vegan with chickpeas, or maybe marinated tofu. The egg in the ingredient list is purely optional and is not shown here, but was included in the version of this salad that my husband took to work. He also topped everything with a squirt of Sriracha sauce, so there you go.

Beyond the selection of vegetables and accompaniments, the dressing is what brings this sort of salad together. In Germany, yoghurt-based dressings are very popular, so I've been experimenting with them more than usual. This one is Yoghurt & Lime dressing, and we liked it so much that it's sure to appear again very soon. For vegans, I'd switch the dressing for something sesame or tahini based.

Always In The Kitchen Roasted Vegetable Salad

Romaine Lettuce, raw, coarsely chopped

Vegetable Rows:
Purple Cabbage (raw, thinly sliced)
Roasted Butternut Squash (seasoned with cayenne)
Roasted cauliflower (seasoned with cumin or curry powder)
Roasted Beets, diced

Walnut halves, toasted
hard boiled egg, sliced (optional, not shown)

To roast the squash and cauliflower, I cut them into bite-sized pieces, toss with a mixture of a little water, a little olive oil, some kosher salt, and the seasoning of choice. Toss thoroughly, then tip out into a roasting pan in a single layer (include a tablespoon or two of the oil/water liquid), and roasted at about 425 F for 20 to 30 minutes, as needed. I prefer not to mix the vegetables before roasting, but your mileage may vary. For the beets, I top-and-tail them, quarter them, and wrap them, skins on, in a package made of aluminum foil with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. I roast them for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove them from the foil (carefully! That steam is hot!) and the skins should rub right off with a paper towel (or clean j-cloth). Then simply dice them to the size you want. You can also use Orange Flower Glazed Beets instead, if you're lucky enough to have some leftover.

Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Makes 3 servings

150 grams plain yoghurt
1 large clove garlic, pressed/minced
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
zest of one lime

Combine in a small bowl and beat with a fork until well integrated. Taste, and adjust for salt and garlic, as desired.

Place the lettuce in a bowl, and arrange the roasted vegetables, raw cabbage, and whichever accompaniments you choose in rows over the lettuce. Drizzle generously with dressing. Eat as is, or toss first, if you want the dressing more evenly distributed.

Add a drizzle of Sriracha, if that sounds good to you.

October 01, 2014

Cheese Scones

Breads are very satisfying things to make, whether slow-rising yeasted types, batter-style quick breads, or the near instant gratification of the biscuit/scone family. They're a great base for (or addition to) breakfast, the savoury ones pair wonderfully with soups or stews, and any of them can be made into a sandwich or snack with little to no effort. They are infinitely customizable in either sweet or savoury directions.

Coffee shops throughout North America all seem to offer at least one variety, but unless you luck into a place that makes its own (or it happens to be delivery day) you're likely to get something that tastes more of dry flour than whatever the signature ingredient is.

These are tender and not at all dry, and even hold up pretty well at room temperature for a few days, if you can hold out that long.

If you think they look suspiciously like my biscuits - you'd be right. The biggest change is substituting some of the milk for a beaten egg, which is also used to glaze the finished scone. The principals and the principles are otherwise pretty much the same.

Cheese Scones

Makes 8 large, or 16 small

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 large egg, beaten
about 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 - 2 cups grated tasty cheese (I used sharp cheddar and gouda)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the grated cheese, or any other additional flavourings (for example, a pinch of cayenne might be nice) at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork, or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of butter are about corn-kernel sized or smaller. 

In a small bowl, beat the egg. Reserving 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg in the bowl to use as a glaze later, pour the rest into a liquid-measuring cup. Add just enough milk until you reach the 2/3 cup marker.

Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the milk/egg in all at once.  Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly but briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass.  Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until the flour is incorporated.  You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not.  Go cautiously —— too much flour makes the dough tough. It's okay if they're a little sticky. Use a bench knife or dough scraper to lift the dough off the counter as needed.

Pat out the dough into a thick square, and slice into four squares. Cut each of the squares in half diagonally for large scones, and for small scones cut each of the large scones in half again. Try to make sure that your cuts are up and down through the dough —— don't drag the knife sideways out of the dough, or it interferes with them rising later. You can use shaped cutters, of course, if it's important for them to be uniform.

Place the scones on a lightly greased (or silpat) baking sheet, ideally far enough apart that they won't become fused together as they rise. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of each piece with the reserved beaten egg. Be sure to only brush along the tops and not spill down the sides, because that will actually inhibit the scones from rising properly as they bake.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden.

September 14, 2014

Rotkohl, or German Red Cabbage

Germans have three names for one vegetable: Rotkraut, Blaukraut, and Rotkohl all mean red cabbage, and just to make matters even more confusing, all also mean the prepared dish of finely sliced red cabbage, simmered in a tangy vinegar-enhanced sauce. Around our little section of the Rhine, the term is almost always Rotkohl to mean the simmered side-dish.

Cabbage is very popular in Germany. Here it is fermented into sauerkraut, marinated in salads, and simmered into rotkohl as one of the most ubiquitous side dish of autumnal and winter menus. The portions are also enormous, which makes sure you get your daily dose of fibre. It is commonly served alongside Sauerbraten (pot roast), Spießbraten (roast pork), Rouladen (beef wrapped around pickles), roast goose (especially at Christmas time), or roast duck. In fact, it may be the go-to side dish for anything with the word "roast" (or equivalent) in the title.

I've published a recipe for red cabbage with apples before, a leaner, lighter version that is juicy, but doesn't exactly have the kind of gravy that you get here in Germany. You may remember seeing it show up next to leg of rabbit on my Hasenpfeffer post, or alongside Danish-ish meatballs.

There are a lot of variations - some with a combination of red wine and vegetable stock, some with water, some with duck or pork stock, and varying amounts of fat from the lean to the spectacularly rich. Some versions have tiny pork cubes in them, which seems like overkill but in Germany, any addition of pork is considered "just enough". This version is fairly close to the ones available in restaurants here, although the gravy is often thickened even further using flour* instead of cornstarch. It makes a big batch, but it also freezes very well.

Klassischer Rotkohl (Classic Red Cabbage)

Serves 4-6

750 grams fresh red cabbage
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons butter (or lard, or duck fat, or oil)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
dash of white pepper
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
2 bay leaves
3 juniper berries
3 clove buds
500 ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple (eg. Boskop)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Clean the cabbage, removing the stalk and tough outer leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters and slice each quarter into fine strips. Peel the onions and finely dice.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter, sauté onions until translucent, add the cabbage and sauté 5 minutes more. Season with salt, pepper and red currant jelly, and stir through.

Add the Juniper berries, bay leaves and vegetable stock, and continue to cook on medium-low heat (covered), for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel, core and dice the apple. Add the apple to the pan and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Combine the red wine vinegar with the cornstarch, stirring until smooth, and then stir it into the cabbage mixture and bring to a boil. Once thickened, stir in the other tablespoon of butter. Taste and adjust as needed for salt, pepper, and vinegar, and serve.

*If you decide to thicken with flour instead, you will want to add it with the vegetable stock, to allow the flour sufficient time to cook out its raw taste. Simply combine two tablespoons of flour with enough of the (cold or room temperature) vegetable stock before adding it to the dish. In this case, add the red wine vinegar on its own, at the end.

September 07, 2014

Gâteau de Crêpes

Looking for something interesting to do with a batch of crêpes? This is a Gâteau de Crêpes, aka Crêpe Cake or Crêpe Stack. It can be savoury, like this ones (full of mushrooms, herbs, and mascarpone), or they can be sweet (for example, alternately layered with dark chocolate and sour cherry jam). The possibilities are almost endless.

Since I was making only two servings (albeit very filling servings), I used a total of six crêpes, but in order to get a tall and pretty tower of a gâteau, I cut them in half and made a half-moon shaped stack.

For a filling, I chose duxelles (basically, finely chopped mushrooms, onion, garlic, butter, and brandy that have been sautéed together into an almost paste consistency), and a cheese mixture of mascarpone, crushed garlic, fresh parsley, basil, and sage, a good pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of butter, which functioned as a sort of delicious glue to keep any stray mushrooms from running amok. If I'd done a better job chopping my mushrooms, the glue factor would have been moot, but worth including from a flavour perspective in any event.

If you are making a round Gâteau de Crêpes, simply double the ingredients and leave your crêpes intact.

Gâteau de Crêpes

Serves 2

6 6-inch crêpes, each sliced in half

450 grams mixed mushrooms, finely minced
(I used half chanterelles, half cremini)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 medium onion, finely minced
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons brandy
Kosher salt

If you have a food processor, use it to pulse the mushrooms until they are finely chopped. Otherwise, you'll need a knife and a bit more patience than I have. In a medium skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the butter. Add a pinch of salt, and continue to sauté until the mushrooms start to stick. If you have any fresh thyme, you might want to add a pinch or two. Add the brandy, and stir through. Turn the heat to low and continue to cook and stir until the brandy has evaporated, and the mass becomes a purée.

Savoury Mascarpone
125 grams mascarpone
2 cloves garlic, crushed
large pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, sage)

Mix everything together with a fork until thoroughly integrated.

If your crêpes are cold, warm them up. They won't be spending much time in the oven at the end, and you don't want them to start out chilly.

Lightly butter (or oil) a baking sheet (or pizza pan).

On each crêpe-half, spread a small amount of the mascarpone cream and a tablespoon or so of the duxelles. Be sure to spread the fillings all the way to the edges, to keep the stack from sagging at the sides. Place the first crêpe on the greased sheet, and then stack each "filled" crêpe-half on top of the previous one, until you run out of filling and crêpes. If you like, you can top the final crêpe with some grated parmesan, but it works just fine without, as well.

Place in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes, or until the mascarpone is bubbling slightly and the top appears crisp at the edges.

Slice into two portions with a sharp chef's knife (a serrated knife would be more difficult to slice cleanly). Cut each slice again, to serve as an appetizer. Serve right away, or at room temperature. I served this one right away, with a chopped salad to follow.

Here it is once more, just before it went into the oven.

Flat side:

Round side:

August 28, 2014

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Chile-Basil Butter

These darling little sandwiches were inspired by Madhur Jaffrey's Indian-accented tea sandwiches, which call for chile-mint butter, and don't contain cucumber. I was tempted to add a hint of ground coriander and cumin to the butter mixture, just to elevate the sense of Indian flavours, and I might do that next time. Hers also had a touch of lemon juice in the butter mixture, which I might try as well, as I think the added brightness will work nicely.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Chile-Basil Butter

Makes 8 Tea-sized Sandwiches

4 larges slices of thinly sliced soft white bakery bread
2-3 inches finely sliced cucumber
3 tablespoons soft butter
2 tablespoons minced basil
1 minced green chile
Kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

Mix the butter, basil, green chile, and a pinch of salt (along with any bonus seasonings you'd like to add) until thoroughly combined. Spread the butter mixture thickly on one side of each piece of bread.

On two of the slices of buttered bread, layer as many pieces of cucumber, overlapping, as you can fit onto the bread. Don't worry about peeling the cucumber (unless it has an inedible peel), the dark green adds a nice bit of contrast. Top the cucumber'd bread slices with the other buttered slices of bread, to make two large sandwiches.

Trim the crusts, using a very sharp knife and a single downward slicing motion for each side, to prevent the sandwiches from trying to fall apart. Slice each sandwich into quarters, in whichever way you see fit, or use a sandwich punch or cookie cutters if you want fancy shapes.

Serve right away, so that the bread doesn't have a chance to dry out. If necessary, cover tightly with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

August 10, 2014

International Bento (Mixed): Ham, Cheese, & Walnut Crêpes with Greek Salad

I've been making crêpes fairly often since we moved to Germany. They're a wonderful, multi-purpose flatbread that you can make in advance, even refrigerating for a few days (or freezing...separate each one with parchment, and bag them up) so that you can have them on hand for quick breakfast, lunch, snacks, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, or dessert. It's all about what you fill them with, and how many of them you want to eat at a time, that determines their role.

I have posted a recipe for Crêpes before, showcasing one of the wonderfully tender and silky French styles of crêpe. I still make those (they are especially good as dessert crêpes, with a sweet filling), but I also have another, slightly less eggy-and-rich go-to recipe for an everyday crêpe that can be used in exactly the same way.

These crêpes are the ones you want to use if you want the emphasis to be on the filling slightly more than the crêpe itself (don't worry, they're still delicious!), if you want a slightly lower fat/calorie version, or if you go to make crêpes and discover that you only have two eggs on hand. If you are planning breakfast crêpes with an egg filling, you probably want to use this recipe rather than the other.

The ratios are from Cook This Not That! but with better (I think) mixing directions.

You can easily halve the batch, or double it, as you see fit.

Everyday Crêpes

Makes 10-12 6-inch crêpes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1-2 tablespoons melted butter

In a medium mixing bowl (or food processor, or blender), mix the flour and salt. Separately, combine the eggs, milk, and water, and beat well. Add the liquid mixture to the flour, and whisk (or process with a cutting blade) until smooth.

If you are mixing by hand and cannot get rid of a few lumps, simply pour the batter through a sieve, and push-through or discard any lumps left behind.

Stir in the melted butter, and then let the batter rest for about 15 minutes so that the flour fully hydrates. If you're planning to fill the crêpes right away, you might want to get your filling(s) ready while the batter rests. Otherwise, just pour yourself a glass of something pleasant - might I suggest wine? - to sip at during the cooking process.

To make a six-inch (15 cm) crêpe, I use an eight-inch (20 cm) non-stick skillet. The skillet is usually measured by the width of the top of the pan, but the base is usually somewhat smaller. The base of my skillet is just over 6 inches. You can use whatever size skillet you like, for whatever size crêpes you like, but I find this to be the best all-purpose crêpe size.

Just like in the previous recipe:

Heat the skillet over medium heat until a drop of water dances. Spritz with canola oil, or brush very lightly with mild oil of your choice. You only need to do this for the first crêpe, if you're using a non-stick pan.

Using a ladle or scoop that holds 3 tablespoons, measure your first crêpe's worth of batter. Lift the skillet off of the heat (I hold it in the air) and quickly pour the batter into the middle of the pan. Drop the ladle back into the batter-bowl and rapidly tilt the skillet in a circular motion, to spread the batter until it evenly covers the base of the pan. Return the pan to the burner, and allow the crepe to cook until lightly golden, and the edges release from the pan, about a minute or two.

Slide a silicone spatula under the crêpe (or grab the edge carefully with your fingers) and flip it over. Let it continue to cook for a minute, and then slide the crêpe onto your work surface for filling.

Repeat until all of the crêpe batter has been cooked. This does take a little bit of time, unless you've got multiple skillets going and are multi-tasking like a champ, which is (well, one reason) why I suggest having a beverage on hand to sip while you cook.

The crêpes in the bento above have a filling of Tilsit cheese (you could substitute Havarti), very thinly sliced ham, and chopped toasted walnuts. I find that it's important when considering crêpe fillings to ensure that there is something that will act as a sort of "glue" to keep the filling together while you're eating. A filling of only dry items, such as dice chicken, chopped almonds, and asparagus will simply fall apart into its discrete components once you cut into it. A small amount of cheese, or scrambled egg, or thick sauce (or paste) of any kind will help keep the filling together.

The other compartment of the bento above has a Greek-ish salad chopped cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, feta, radishes and an oregano lemon dressing, and the little dark item is a miniature Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip muffin, as a tiny little dessert.

July 27, 2014

Caribbean Curried Chicken Skillet Dinner

It's been a while since I made a rice-based skillet dinner, so I thought it was time. You can easily adapt this recipe to use boneless chicken thighs, if you prefer, simply by shortening the cooking time and finishing the cooking solely on the stovetop. However, you won't get quite as pretty an effect, and of course, you won't get the crispy, delicious chicken skin.

Caribbean Curried Chicken Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

8 bone-in chicken pieces
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
2 — 3 tablespoons Jamaican-style curry powder*
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup parboiled rice
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 1/3 cups water
3 tablespoon shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
2 large carrots, shredded
30 grams sultana or golden raisins
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
1 — 2 Scotch Bonnet Chili peppers, minced

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Combine the flour, curry powder (and salt, if you are using an unsalted curry powder) in a shallow bowl, and toss the chicken pieces to lightly coat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the peanut oil and add the chicken pieces, skin side down, working in batches if you need to. Sear the chicken until darkly golden brown on the skin side, about six to eight minutes, and then flip over to brown the other side, too (for about five minutes). Set the chicken aside on a clean plate.

While the chicken is browning, combine the coconut milk, water, and the remaining curry powder/flour mixture, whisking until smooth, and have it standing ready.

When all of the chicken is out of the pan, drain most of the fat (and any loose browned curry powder) leaving only a thin layer of oil in the pan. Add the shredded carrots, green onions, scotch bonnets, and raisins. Stir and fry for a minute or so, before adding the rice and toasted coconut. Stir around until the rice is thoroughly coated, scraping the bottom of the skillet with your spoon or spatula so that everything is evenly integrated.

Add the coconut milk mixture to the rice and stir well, to ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of your skillet.

Return the chicken to the pan, placing each piece skin-side up in a single layer so that the skin is not submerged in the liquid. Place skillet uncovered in the hot oven, on a middle shelf for 30 minutes. (check at 20 minutes to see if more liquid is needed).

Remove chicken pieces from the skillet onto serving plates, and spoon up the rice with a big serving spoon. The rice will be creamy-textured rather than pilaf style. If I have leftovers, I take the meat off the bones before cooling and refrigerating, to make re-heating in a skillet or microwave easier.

This dish can be pretty fiery and intense, so a fresh green salad will help provide a cooling counterpoint.

*Use a Jamaican-style curry powder if possible. Also, check to see if your curry powder contains salt; if not, you may want to add a half-teaspoon of kosher salt (or coarse sea salt).

July 20, 2014

Käsespätzle: Germany's Macaroni & Cheese

This is German comfort food, as evidenced by its remarkably frequent appearance on menus here. It sometimes has different names - for example, one of my favourite places for German classics calls their version of this "Brauerspätzle" (Brewer's Spätzle), but when you read the description, it's the same dish. You can even buy it frozen in bags in the freezer section of supermarkets, although I can't imagine the quality is that impressive.

There's a lot of room for personalization here. Käsespätzle can be served vegetarian or with tiny ham cubes, the latter being the most common one I've seen (Germany loves its pork, after all). It can be short, stubby spätzle, or longer, more uniformly thin ones. It can have crispy onions on top, or finely diced sautéed onions throughout. You can use Emmenthal, Gouda, Bergkäse, Edam, or a blend of whatever grated/grate-able cheeses you have hanging about in your fridge. I used a pre-shredded combination of Gouda and Tilsit, which was advertised as "cheese for gratin".

This took me about 70 minutes, start to finish, and makes a bit of a mess (but one that is mercifully easy to clean up).

Pro Tip: Have a sink or basin of cold water standing by for you to put the batter-goopy tools in as soon as you've finished the stove-top phase.


Serves 4-6

4 eggs
400 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 - 1 cup water (or more, as needed)

For assembly:
150 - 200 grams grated tasty cheese
125 grams tiny ham cubes (Schinken Würfel, bacon, or similar)
3 tablespoons cream
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine flour and kosher salt in a medium-large mixing bowl or food processor. Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of water together, and stir into the flour mixture. Add additional water until you get a thin batter, that falls in ribbons from the spoon or whisk. Beat/whisk/blend until smooth. If you can't get it completely smooth, pour it through a sieve and push any lumps through, otherwise you risk clumps of uncooked flour in your finished noodles. Let stand 15 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate.

Next thinly slice an onion, and set it to fry over low heat in the olive oil (with maybe a pinch of salt), until deeply coloured and crispy. This will take a while, and is low maintenance. It can finish crisping up while you're cooking the spätzle.

Preheat your oven to 400 F while you cook the spätzle.

While the batter is resting, get your onions and ham cubes (if using) cooking and set up your spätzle cooking rig. If you have a spätzle Hobel or spätzle Brett and know how to use it, carry on however you see fit. If not, here's my method:

Half-fill a tall saucepan with water. Ideally, the width of the saucepan will allow you to rest a four-sided grated over the top in a way that you won't need to hold onto it (although I do usually use one hand to keep it steady while I'm working). The batter is going to be pushed from inside the grater through the "large holed" side straight into the boiling salted water. You're going to want to lightly oil the grater (just the one side), inside and out, to help the batter fall more smoothly through the holes.

Place the grater over the gently boiling, salted water, with the largest round(ish)-holed side facing down. Use a large spoon to add a scoop of batter inside the grater. The batter will start to drip through the holes.

Using a flat-ended wooden spoon (you can use a spatula, but is easier to use a rigid tool), gently but firmly scrape the dough back and forth along the inside the grater, repeatedly, until all of the dough is pushed through.

Remove the grater from the top of the pot, and start using a spider-tool or other skimmer to remove the floating spätzle to a near-by waiting bowl. I like to use a large mesh colander over a plate, but a large bowl also works fine.

Return the grater to the pot and repeat the dough scooping and scraping, spoonful by spoonful, removing the cooked spätzle regularly with your skimmer, until all of the batter is gone. Remove the grater and any other batter-crusted tools immediately to a basin of cold water, and allow them to soak while you complete the next steps.

Loosen the spätzle with a fork, to de-clump it. In a 10 or 11-inch skillet (cast iron is terrific), rub a little butter or vegetable oil over the bottom, and then add a layer of spätzle. Top with a handful or two of grated cheese, and some of the ham cubes. Repeat until all of the spätzle are in the pan, ending with a layer of cheese or cheese-and-ham. I got about three layers of noodles, but your mileage may vary. Scatter the fried onions evenly over the top of the last cheese layer, and gently pour a couple of tablespoons of cream over all.

Place uncovered in the preheated oven for 15 - 20 minutes. Serve with a nice big salad (or at least some sliced fresh vegetables).

Spätzle also reheats quite well the next day, either in the microwave, or in a foil-covered dish in a moderate oven.

July 13, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake

There are generally two camps for Strawberry Shortcake lovers -- the biscuit camp and the sponge cake camp. As you can see here, I clearly fall into Camp Biscuit. In fact, it was not until I was in my late teens that I learned about the sponge cake variation. It sounded good, but was a little disappointing when I tried it. Sponge cake gives you a much softer overall dessert -- easily made in advance, and easily sliced and portioned for a crowd, for sure -- but the firmer, yet still tender, biscuit gives each serving of this dessert an individual, more impressive character: each biscuit becoming a small work of art assembled for each guest. The crisply sweet finish on the golden top crust, the squish of the top of the biscuit descending into the tender interior of whipped cream and macerated berries, feel more decadent to me.

The biscuit method for Strawberry Shortcake is almost laughably easy: make your favourite drop-biscuit dough with an extra teaspoon of sugar per cup of flour, and before baking brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with a little more sugar.

If strawberries are not your thing, plenty of other fruits also work beautifully: raspberries, or peaches, or my all-time favourite, the tiniest possible blackberries.

Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 4


3 - 4 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar

Toss the strawberries with the sugar and refrigerate, covered, for a couple of hours, stirring once or twice.

Shortcake Biscuits:

1 cup pastry flour
2 teaspoons sugar, plus extra to finish
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cream

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or use your usual method, if different), and set aside until you're ready to bake the biscuits, say... just after dinner.

Preheat the oven to 450 F, and lightly grease a baking sheet. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the milk all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until it becomes a sticky dough without streaks of dry flour. Drop in four equal spoonsful to make four biscuits on your baking sheet. Lightly press the biscuit into shape, flattening the top slightly if necessary. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before assembling, so that the whipped cream doesn't melt.

Whipped Cream:
Whip 3/4 cup of cream with a teaspoon of sugar and a quarter teaspoon vanilla extract (or use vanilla sugar), until you have stiff peaks.

To assemble:

Use a fork to separate the biscuits into top and bottom halves. Spoon whipped cream onto the bottoms, top with berries, then another dollop of whipped cream before perching the lids on top. Serve immediately.

July 06, 2014

Smoked Duck Étouffée with Artichokes

I love Cajun food, which probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know how often I use chiles (and how many, and how hot) in my cooking. That said, there is a wealth of Cajun and Creole dishes that are not hot at all. They are often intensely flavourful without necessarily using loads of chile peppers.

This dish is one of those. The combination of a caramel-coloured roux, smoked duck breast, and artichoke hearts, along with the Cajun trinity of onion, celery, and green bell pepper and typical Cajun herbs and spices makes this Étouffée recipe decadent, richly flavoured, and incredibly satisfying, and is a unique dish in its own right rather than simply replacing seafood with duck in a Shrimp or Crawfish Étouffée. It does have the tiniest bit of cayenne in it, and you could add a drop or two of Tabasco sauce if you insist, but this recipe doesn't even remotely qualify as spicy.

Do not mess around when you are making your roux. It takes a bit of time, and patience, and stirring - generally around 25 minutes of stirring, but it's easy to do and your patience will be rewarded. Make sure you have completed all of your mise en place before you begin the roux. You can cook the rice separately during the simmering stage, which only requires intermittent stirring.

If you do not have access to duck fat to make your roux, use lard. If you cannot source duck stock, a strong brown poultry stock (such as roasted-bone chicken stock) will do, but do note that without duck fat and duck stock in this dish, you will be reducing the luxurious duck flavour significantly. If you've never made roux before, here are some links you might want to check out: Making Roux Step by Step (Allrecipes), and Master the Art of Making Roux (The Daily South). Making a roux is not difficult, but it must be done correctly -- no shortcuts or cowboy moves until you've mastered the basics -- at which time you'll understand why cowboy moves simply shouldn't be applied to roux.

Smoked Duck Étouffée with Artichokes
Adapted from Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson-Anderson
Serves 4

1/2 cup duck fat
1/2 cup flour

1 large yellow onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced/crushed
600 grams smoked duck breast, diced (largish)
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
dash Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 cup duck stock (room temperature)
3-4 canned artichoke hearts, cut into sixths
2 green onions
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Before you begin, prepare all ingredients so that they are ready to add to the dish. If your duck breast is skin-on, remove the skin and set aside for another dish - perhaps turn it into cracklings to garnish a pasta or an omelette or risotto, or tuck it into the freezer until you know what you want to do with smoked duck skin. Measure out your spices (they can all go into a single mise dish).

In a large Dutch oven, prepare your roux by melting the duck fat over high heat and add all of the flour at once (you can use all-purpose flour or cake flour). Whisk like mad for about a minute, to make sure you don't get any lumps. Then reduce the heat, change your whisk to a spatula, and stir over medium-low heat until it is all smooth and gently bubbling. Continue to stir relentlessly, regularly scraping the entire surface of the bottom of the pot, for about 25 - 35 minutes, or until the roux passes "peanut butter" (light brown) colour and moves on to "caramel" (medium-brown). The darker the roux, the easier it is to burn it, so be increasingly vigilant as you go along. Once the roux begins to darken, the process accelerates: you need to pay attention.

As soon as the roux reaches the right colour, add your onion, bell pepper, and celery (the "Cajun trinity") and the garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until they have started to soften. You don't need to turn the heat up - it's plenty hot already.

Add the spices (note there is no added salt in the recipe - there's quite enough from the smoked duck and the duck stock). Stir the spices through and allow to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the diced duck breast. If you are adding Tabasco sauce, add it now.

Add the duck breast, and stir until it is thoroughly coated with the roux.

Pour in the duck stock in a steady stream, stirring constantly, until it is all integrated. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this time, you can put your rice on to cook. We've used parboiled rice here, but long grain white or brown rice would also be fine.

At the end of the simmering time, add the artichoke heart pieces, the green onions, and the parsley, and cook for a further 5 or 10 minutes. Taste the Étouffée and add salt if needed (you probably won't need any, but it's good to check). When the artichoke heart pieces are heated through, you're ready to serve.

To serve, place about 3/4 cup rice in the middle of individual serving bowls, and spoon the Étouffée in around the rice. I like to use a round measuring cup (lightly buttered) to shape the rice --just pack the rice into the cup and turn it over into the middle of each bowl-- but it's certainly not necessary.