Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cheddar Crackers . . . and early-spring planting starts!

Though dainty in size, these fresh crackers pack a wallop of cheddar. Now these do taste like they descended from the heavens and not from a supermarket packet. But that's not the only reason why I try to make most of what we eat from scratch. Concocting my own is just way more gratifying than opening prepackaged boxes. The sights, sounds, and fragrance of a well-used and appreciated kitchen fosters fun, learning, and accomplishment.

These beauties are both crisp and fondant (tender)!

makes several cups
recipe adapted from here
  • Cheddar, extra-sharp, grated, lightly packed, 473 ml/two 8 oz cups
  • Flour, 237 ml/one 8 oz cup
  • Butter, 57 grams  (4 T or 2 fluid oz)
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Milk, 2-3 T

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Combine flour and salt. Add the butter, tossing so as to coat it. Right in the bowl, cut butter into chunks using a knife. Using your fingertips (clean of course!), work the butter into the flour until the texture is similar to very coarse cornmeal.

I used double the butter by mistake! A bit rich, but still just fine

Add the cheddar. If grated finely it probably will result in crackers less mottled than mine.

Coarsely grated cheddar

Knead the cheddar into the butter and flour mixture which should take less than a minute. Add the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon, while tossing the mixture making sure your fingertips get under the dough to feel for excess moisture. Use just enough milk to allow the dough to form a mass when it is lightly pressed against the bowl. Knead a few times to form a ball, divide into two, and refrigerate at least fifteen minutes.

One ball can be frozen for later use. Or you could roll out both balls and freeze one tray of the squares (once frozen, they can be put in a freezer bag). On a floured board or a pastry silicon mat, roll out to .3 cm (1/8 inch) thick. Using a pizza cutter or knife (a straight edge would come in handy also), cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch squares. Gather any scraps into a ball and roll those out. Dock (to let out steam so they don't get too puffy) each one in the centre with the back of a wooden toothpick.

Shortly after putting them into the oven I realised they weren't docked so out they came.

Bake about ten to twelve minutes. The edges and bottoms should be nicely browned. Let cool. They can be stored in jars and will keep well in the fridge for several days.

Each one was a delight to eat. Before I knew it they were gone.

In the potager, the daffodils are out!

Our nursery order arrived last week. The annual herbs and lettuce are just beginning to poke out in their mini-cold-frame while sweet red peppers have yet to do so in their mini-hothouse. The strawberries have been transplanted into well-hilled mounds in their bed and the Moroccan mint/common thyme in pots. The fifty or so seed-potatoes are soaking up sunshine on the sous-sol's window sill. Once the soil drys out a bit, in goes the peas, spinach, carrots, beets, parsnips, garlic, shallots, onions, and leeks.

Chitting, that is sprouting, takes about a month

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pasta & Potatoes Minestra

The Italian version of mirepoix, a sauteed mixture of celery, carrot, and onion, is called soffritto. Rome-based food blogger, Rachel Roddy, begins her simple but satisfying pasta and potatoes soup with it.

Garnished with Parmesan shavings and rosemary

Our fridge was missing the celery, so the soffritto became subtracto, but was tasty quand même.

A sprig of rosemary fresh from our winter potager puts a smile on subtracto's face

There is lots of olive oil in this soup, enrobing the ingredients in a silky sheath.

My pasta choice was linguine broken into small segments.

serves four

  • Onion, 1 medium, finely chopped
  • Celery, 1 stick, finely chopped
  • Carrot, 1 medium, finely chopped
  • Rosemary, fresh, a sprig (scrape the leaves off, saving a few for garnishing) or 2 bay leaves
  • Potatoes, 2 medium (about 600 grams of any kind  I used all purpose), peeled & chunked
  • Olive oil, extra virgin, 6 T
  • Stock or water (I used homemade chicken broth), 1.4 litres
  • Pasta, 170 g (quadrucci, pastina, farfalle, or broken spaghetti/linguine*)
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • Pecorino or Parmesan

Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Toss in the onions, carrots, and celery. Stir occasionally—soffritto means stir fryover moderate heat for about ten minutes. The veggies need to be translucent and aromatic.

Add the potatoes and the rosemary or bay leaves. Stir for about a minute to coat them with oil.

Pour in the stock or water and cook for about fifteen minutes or until a test potato is soft enough to be crushed. Add the pasta and cook for another ten or fifteen minutes or till the pasta has the desired tenderness. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve in soup plates and garnish with Parmesan or Pecorino shavings and chopped fresh rosemary leaves.

The hot soup melted the Parmesan shavings into a delectable gooey mass

Minestre which are thick Italian soups/stews are named thusly because the soup is dished-out, that is, administered by the head of the household. A lovely soup in flavour and fragrance, I am looking forward tomorrow to administering myself another bowl or two.

I am guessing it will taste better if that is even possible the next day

À la prochaine!

Related Links

*Pasta shapes and synonyms
Rachel Roddy's blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

3-Ingredient Microwave Molten Mud Cake in a Mug

Hearing about mug cakes for some time now, I was skeptical. OK, beyond skeptical. A paucity of ingredients mixed in the same mug in which you will eat it and then 'baked' in the microwave for a minute irritated my inner cookery snob so much that I wouldn't make one. Then the other day, when my expectation for a slice of Galette des Rois was dashed as The Calm One was unable to bring home some since he and his colleagues understandably ate it all, I thought, oh, a mug cake must be more than doable. Sans microwave, I steamed it on the stove for about ten minutes. The warm, gooey mound of chocolatey goodness was pure eating pleasure, especially with cream spooned over it.

Oh my! And so easy.

makes one serving

  • Egg, 1
  • Sugar, powdered, 4T
  • Cocoa, 2 T

If steaming instead of microwaving, fill a lidded saucepan spacious enough to accommodate the chosen crockery with about 2.5 cm/1 inch of water, and set on the boil. Put all three ingredients in a mug, large cup, or in my case, a café au lait  bowl.

Our smallest wire whisk easily fit into the bowl

Whisk about a minute until mixture is satiny smooth.

Position the cup either in the boiling water, then cover, and steam for about ten minutes or put it in the microwave for one minute. When done, the cake will be mounded a bit, the top surface set, and when gently smacked with the back of a teaspoon, it will slightly quiver. 

I used a pot holder to remove the hot bowl

The gooiest part is the centre. 

Replete with its own hot chocolate sauce

The edges are more firm but still very moist.

What we have here is a variety of textures along with a fabulous depth of flavour.

As the spoon approached the last morsel, my sadness increased and then vanished when I realised that I easily could make another...

Only one bowl to wash!

The logistics of living with a dairy-loving cat:  I had left the mug cake on the table before I poured the cream on it so I could put an enthralling GIF on my office computer screen to take Dirac the Young Cat's mind off anything to do with cream. Ensuring that he was in a state of rapture, I rushed back into the kitchen and had a bit of my own.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

That Other Russian Pancake: Oladi

Unlike the traditional blini, oladi isn't made from a yeasted batter. Its moistness resembles more that of soft cheese than cake and results from the clever combination of acidic kefir and basic baking soda, a chemical commingling causing a creamy texture while retaining an alluring sourness. Frying in oil gives them crisp and slightly raised edges. Presenting as simultaneously elegant and congenial, they must have attended a finishing school somewhere in Moscow. Frozen raspberry and blackberry coulis made from our late-summer harvest were thawed and along with crème fraîche made a wonderful topping.

Raspberry coulis folded into crème fraîche with a sprinkling of blackberry coulis

This was my first attempt at making oladi and they came out much less puffy than those I encountered in my research. I suspect some were made with baking powder. Mine still were fabulous. No kefir nearby? Buttermilk, yogurt diluted with water, or in my case, milk soured with lemon juice, can be substituted.

(makes about 10 small pancakes, the size of the palm of a hand; recipe can be doubled)

  • Flour, all-purpose, white, 9 T
  • Sugar, 1 T
  • Baking soda, 1/2 tsp (small amount of vinegar can be added till a little fizzing occurs--I will try this next time)
  • Salt, 1/4 tsp
  • Egg, 1
  • Whole-milk kefir/buttermilk/well stirred yogurt slightly diluted with water or whole milk soured with 1 T of lemon juice/vinegar and let stand for 15 minutes, 16 T (1 American 8 oz cup)
  • Neutral oil like canola or sunflower

Whisk the milk and egg in the larger of two bowls. In the smaller, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry mixture all at once into the liquid.

Whisk till mostly smooth. The texture should be of heavy cream; if not add flour or liquid to get that consistency. Heat for several minutes over a moderate flame a heavy skillet that's well slicked with oil. If the pan is tipped, there shouldn't be much pooling of oil (a little is OK). The pancake needs just enough oil to crisp around the edges and not be dry. Spoon in two to three tablespoons of batter for each pancake; my pan took three. Lower the heat a bit. Turn them over after a few minutes and cook for a few minutes more or until they are a little springy to the touch, but still soft. For each batch, make sure the pan is hot and oiled enough, and as they cook, adjust the heat accordingly.

The cooked ones can be kept in a low oven as you make the rest. Serve with sour cream and jam/honey. So delicious!

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Oh my, it's 2016!

The arrow of time knows no slowing down, unlike you and me, who most likely are feeling sluggish, what with all those leftovers! Our holiday rack of pork roast was exceedingly succulent. Why? Rubbing it with olive oil and roasting first at a higher temperature for about ten minutes, and then lowering it for the remaining time helped, but the most significant reason is that my life-long programming to overcook pork is dismantled for once and all. If when the roast is pricked, the juice runs out slightly pink, that beauty is taken out of the oven right away. Another way of moisturising it further: wipe clean with a damp paper-towel several large mushrooms, break off their stems at the base and reserve, place the caps stem-end in a skillet with a tablespoon or so of butter, cover and simmer over moderate heat for five minutes, turn them over, put a bit of butter and thyme in every cap, cover, and braise for another five minutes. Each cap which would work also as a first course will have a luscious puddle of mushroom liquor, butter, and thyme. Flip one onto a pile of sliced pork, and voilà, 'instant' gravy!

Roast pork, braised mushroom cap, potatoes dauphinoise & Brussels sprouts

The meaty pork bones along with a bouquet garni, black peppercorns, mushroom stems, the rest of the Medoc wine, and onions were simmered for a few hours. The strained, reduced broth, now frozen, is ready for when a bowl of it, with added garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, broken linguine, pork slivers, and a poached egg would be the perfect way to warm oneself on a wintry night.

The pork broth can be mixed with homemade chicken broth

We, indeed, had the planned apple pie; hefty slices pitched-hit for breakfast the next few days. My favourite part of the preparation is tossing the sugar, freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and a bit of flour into the sliced apples. Ah, the fragrance of apples and spice! Recipe is here. (For the crust, omit the cheddar and add a few tablespoons of sugar.)

Smaller bowl holds the sugar/spice mixture & the larger one, sliced apples

What a lovely baking accessory is our new non-stick silicone mat! If flouring is necessary at all, it is only a tiny bit hence there isn't the usual farinaceous mound up to my ankles. Also, the mat stays put when kneading or rolling dough. Since measurements for various diameters are right on it, rolling out the correctly sized dough becomes a cinch. The dough along with the mat can be rolled, and then unrolled right over the pie plate. After use, a dunk in soapy water is all that is needed. I see way more baking in the future!

The mat can be stored wrapped around the rolling pin so it always will be handy

Several tablespoons of sugar were added to the dough making the crust more tender than flaky and very nicely browned.

What to do with that gorgeous sticky juice that oozes all around the baking dish? Before it stiffens, spoon it into the crust's slits.

Choosing accompaniments for the pie, we dutifully followed Julia Child's dictum, if you're afraid of butter, use creambillows of whipped cream, rivulets of liquid cream, and mounds of coffee ice cream.

What! Plain pie? Yes, but there is a lot of cream in the coffee

The garden is brightened with orange-red hips which makes me glad that I didn't dead-head all the roses.

Eight of the eleven annual veggie beds are spaded and mulched with oak leaves. If the remaining three get done before the nursery order arrives which will be in a few weeks, I'll be chuffed.

A nearby copse of mostly oak trees provide leaves that will become leaf mould in a year

Dirac the Young Cat was very happy that holiday cooking involved a lot of cream of which some wound up in his bowl.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Holiday Greetings 2015/16 . . . and a litany of festive recipe links

The Calm One, Dirac the Young Cat, and I, all wish you and yours a very happy holiday! Souped-up Garden will return in the New Year. Light a few candles, throw some red bows/tinsel about, and fill a vase with fragrant herbs which will also fill your home with a bracing scent especially if you remember to crush a few leaves and stems when passing.

Bay leaf branches & their flower buds, rosemary, ivy & their dark blue berries

Since Dirac has been too busy shopping for our presents to pose, here's a photo of him as a kitten.

Wonderful kitten grew up to be a wonderful cat

I'll be trying out some new menu ideas during my break from blogging, but until weekly posting resumes the following links to recipes suitable for winter festivities hopefully will add some cheer. Cuban Hot Chocolate, made by melting bittersweet chocolate, adding cream, and sloshing in some salted caramel sauce, is potent. In fact, it's amazing, sensual, and unctuous beyond belief. A demitasse cup is an elegant way of offering it to your guests as an after-dinner treat. 

Not a demitasse serving; this amount sufficed for lunch!

Date Walnut Bread is a nice addition to the holiday bread basket. A bit of salted caramel spread on a slice works very well.

It also makes a great cream cheese sandwich

Crespelle en Brodo is a gorgeous Italian recipe. A stack of crepes are layered with Parmesan/freshly ground black pepper and steeped in strong chicken broth. As a first course, it is splendid.

A truly elegant version of chicken noodle soup

Polish-style Borscht with Beef Dumplings (this old post has some corrupted photos but the instructions remain correct) boasts of a clear, ruby-coloured broth. This recipe which was given to me by my mum-in-law may be labour intensive, but it does make a delicious Christmas Eve supper.

The family tradition chez nous embraces HUGE dumplings

Burek, i.e., Balkan Spinach Cheese Pie, is made with dough first soaked in clarified butter and then stretched by hand until it resembles the thinest silk. Its finished texture is closer to strudel than filo.

Dusting with paprika complements the green nicely

Stirring in some halved radishes while briefly sauteing the aromatics when making Lettuce, Capers, and Garlic Braised in Olive oil would add flavour, but also colour befitting the season.

What? You don't keep a jar or two of capers in your cupboard chez vous

Lemon Curd Almond Shortbread is halfway between a cookie and a tartlet. Having a nice supply of homemade lemon curd better known as sunshine in a jar comes in handy...

Baking them in muffin tins gives them a tapered contour

. . . for instance, to fill a Quick Coffee Cake

Dusting with cinnamon sugar before baking gives a toffee crust that locks in moisture

Joyeuses fêtes!