Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bachelor's Omelette

This recipe caught my eye while I was leafing through Mrs. Norton's Cook-Book. A little searching showed me that Mrs Norton had pinched it from Mrs. Beeton, almost verbatim. Tsk tsk.

To be fair, Mrs. Norton did improve on Mrs. Beeton to the extent of suggesting that the onion Mrs. Beeton called for should be sautéed beforehand, and I agree. She also omitted the Cayenne, which is entirely a matter of opinion. I would have put it in if I remembered, but I didn't. I would also consider putting in chopped parsley, green onions or chives, or sautéed mushrooms or peppers, depending on what's around - not all of them at once, but in judicious pairs.

Of course I have made some other changes. First of all, 2 ounces of butter is a quarter of a cup; that's 4 tablespoons! Which seems excessive for 3 little eggs. I used a single tablespoon and found it entirely sufficient - generous, even. I also put in pea sprouts instead of onion, and cheese instead of, hmm, nothing. We both agreed that the pea sprouts were a delightful addition, and cheese is cheese, duh.

There's also the little fact that I am one of the world's most inept omelette makers, and the fact that I was able to get this thing more-or-less folded and onto a plate in one piece is quite amazing. I'm not sure if that was a result of adding that bit of flour which is after all what makes this recipe different from others, obscene quantities of butter not withstanding, or if I am finally - after 40 years of cooking - getting the knack. Then I have to admit I made this in a stainless steel pan and not the usual cast iron. I also used duck eggs, which I think have a bit more body than chicken eggs. After I made and photographed this, I made it again, this time replacing the soft wheat flour with potato starch, remembering how well my Cocoa Crepes turned out. It folded even better! Best folded omelette I've ever made! I changed the recipe to reflect that too. 

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

1/4 cup milk or light cream
1 teaspoon potato starch OR if you must, soft unbleached flour
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 small duck OR large chicken eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup chopped pea sprouts OR other prepared vegetable
1/2 cup grated Cheddar OR other cheese of your choice

If you are going to use onion, shallot, mushrooms, or peppers, clean and slice them now, and cook them in a bit of butter. Remove from the pan and set aside. Wash and chop your pea sprouts, or any herbs you may wish to add. Grate your cheese, and have everything standing by ready to go. 

Put the cream in a small mixing bowl and sprinkle the potato starch or flour over it; whisk until free of lumps. Season with salt and pepper.

Break in the eggs, and whisk them in until the mixture is smooth but not frothy.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized skillet. When it is completely melted and bubbling but not browned, swirl it around to cover the bottom and sides of the pan completely. Pour in the eggs. Sprinkle the pea sprouts or herbs over the omelette at once. Cook gently until set about 1" in from the sides of the pan. At this point, sprinkle the cheese and/or cooked vegetables over the omelet.

Continue cooking until the omelette is mostly set. Using a thin, broad lifter, work your way with it under half the omelet, and fold it over on itself. Continue to cook for a minute or so more, until the omelette is sufficiently set. Remove it to a serving plate, or divide it between 2 individual plates.

I find it most effective to centre a plate over my skillet, then flip it quickly to drop the omelette onto the plate. A pair of good oven mitts is not optional here; they are absolutely required.

Last year at this time I made Grilled Cheese à la French Onion Soup.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Red Flannel Salad

Red Flannel Hash is a fine old tradition, but I thought I would make a salad of it. On the way I wandered through a number of Russian salad recipes involving beets and potatoes, and took counsel from them.

I was really very pleased with the final result. It is almost - almost - worth the hassle of cooking the beets and potatoes in advance. If you had some other reason to cook beets or potatoes the day before I think it would bring it right over the line. 

4 to 8 servings
1 hour pre-cooking
20 minutes final prep time

Red Flannel Salad with Beets and Potatoes

Advance Cooking:
2 medium beets
2 medium potatoes

In - I regret to inform you - separate pots, place the washed beets and the potatoes and cover them generously with water. Bring them to a boil and boil until tender. For the potatoes, that will be about 15 to 20 minutes. The beets will likely take 45 minutes to an hour; check the water level when you turn off the potatoes and add more if they are running low.

Cool both the cooked potatoes and the cooked beets. These can be cooked a day in advance, particularly the beets. 

Make the Salad:
1 small onion
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup thawed frozen peas, optional
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons mayonnaise, light is fine
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon horseradish
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel the cold beets and cut them in fairly fine dice; put them in a mixing bowl. Peel the potatoes if you like, and dice them likewise, and put them in the mixing bowl.

Peel and mince the onion. You can throw it right in, or if you prefer, salt it and let it sit in a strainer while you prepare the rest of the salad to make it milder and more digestible.

Wash, peel, and grate the carrot. Wash, trim, and finely shred the red cabbage. Into the bowl they go, with the peas if you are using them.

Add the vinegar, mayonnaise and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well; taste; adjust seasonings and mix again. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and, er, serve. (Or keep it in the fridge until wanted.)

Last year at this time I made Cucumber Waldorf Salad.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Quick Pan Chicken Gravy with Incidental Chicken Fingers

Pan-fried chicken fingers barely merit a recipe, but to have them with homemade gravy will take them out of the ordinary. Sometimes I just want gravy! Particularly if there is going to be mashed potatoes.

Any bits of barley flour left in the pan will help thicken the gravy, and it adds a very nice crunch to the chicken fingers; rather like Japanese fried chicken in a rice-flour coating. 

If you are reasonably organized this can be on the table in about 20 minutes. Very quick! Especially when you consider that real gravy requires meat to be roasted and provide drippings; normally a matter requiring hours. The "drippings" provided by frying chicken fingers are pretty skimpy, but with chicken stock reinforced with nutritional yeast the results are better than respectable and way better than tinned.

2 to 4 servings
20 to 30 minutes prep time

Quick Chicken Gravy with Incidental Chicken Fingers

Cook the Chicken:
300 to 500 grams boneless chicken pieces
1/4 cup barley flour
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning, savory, or other herb
2 or 3 tablespoons chicken or bacon fat

Cut the chicken into fingers of the size you would like. Preheat the oven to 200°F.

Mix the flour, paprika, salt, pepper and other seasoning of choice in a shallow bowl.

Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken fingers in the flour mixture and fry them in the fat until nicely browned on both sides. It should take 3 or 4 minutes per side, but it will depend on what size you cut them. When done, remove them to a plate and keep them warm in the oven at 200°F.

Make the Gravy:
3 to 5 large button or shiitake mushrooms
1 or 2 medium shallots
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

While the chicken cooks - or before, for calmest working - wash and trim the mushrooms and chop them fairly finely. Peel and finely chop the shallots.

Measure the chicken stock and mix in the nutritional yeast, soy sauce, starch, and mustard. Stand it by until the chicken is done.

As soon as the chicken is done and waiting, add the mushrooms and shallots to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and cooked down a bit, and beginning to brown. Stir up the chicken stock and pour it in, stirring constantly. As soon as it thickens - just a minute or so - transfer it to a serving vessel and pass it with the cooked chicken.

Last year at this time I made Split Pea & Wild Rice Soup.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Endive & Carrot Salad with Hazelnuts & Cranberries

Well, what is there to say about this? Other than that it's lovely to have a crisp green salad in the middle of winter, which can definitely be a bit salad deficient if you aren't careful. I mean, if I'm not careful. You know.

Mr. Ferdzy liked this better than most things I make with Belgian endive (not a fave of his) because there were lots of other strongly flavoured, and sweet things to balance it out. I just thought it was very tasty and hit the salad spot perfectly.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Endive & Carrot Salad with Hazelnuts & Cranberries

Make the Dressing:
the finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons hazelnut OR walnut oil

Wash the lemon and grate the zest into a small mixing bowl or a jam jar. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Set aside. 

Make the Salad:
1/3 cup hazelnuts
2 medium-large carrots
1 or 2 heads Belgian endive
1 1/2 cups chopped pea shoots or other micro greens
1 1/2 cups chopped hydroponic lettuce
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking or stirring regularly, until fairly evenly showing toasted spots all over. Tip them onto a clean but not elegant tea-towel, and let cool. Rub them in the towel until most of the skins have come off. Discard the skins.

Wash, peel, and grate the carrots, and put them in a mixing bowl. Wash, trim, and chop the endive. Wash and drain well the pea shoots and lettuce, then chop them and add them to the bowl with the other ingredients. Add the cranberries and hazelnuts. Toss well.

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or individual serving dishes. Drizzle the dressing evenly over them and toss gently. 

Last year at this time I made Ham, Cheese & Belgian Endive -bwahaha - in Buckwheat Crepes with Mushroom Sauce.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Turkey or Chicken Cutlets Cordon Bleu

I came up with the idea for these thinking they would be easier than classic Chicken Cordon Bleu, what with not having to mess about with getting the chicken evenly pounded thin in order to stuff it. (I'm also having a bit of an obsession with Russian-style chopped cutlets at the moment, so there's that too.)

The answer is maybe; these are a little delicate to handle. I've made them a couple of times and keep thinking I should try them with a bit less milk, but then they keep cooking up so nicely that I persist in putting in the amount listed. They may be somewhat sloppy when raw but they cook up to be tender and moist, and you can press them back into shape as soon as they go into the pan if they are inclined to go wobbly on you. In particular the ham and cheese need to be completely covered.

The flour I use to dip them is barley flour which I think gives a particularly nice grainy crust, but you can use regular wheat flour if you prefer. Sliced ham from the deli is fine, indeed much the easiest choice. If you use peameal bacon, be sure to sauté it before you use it to make sure it isn't sitting in the middle in a state of uncookedness.

6 servings
40 minutes prep time

1 stale dinner roll (100 grams; 3 or 4 ounces)
1/4 cup milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon savory or other herb
1 large egg
500 grams (1 pound, plus) lean ground turkey or chicken
 1/2 cup flour
1 to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
100 grams (1/4 pound) Cheddar or other melty cheese
100 grams (1/4 pound) thinly sliced cooked ham or peameal bacon

Crumble the roll into a mixing bowl and soak it in the milk or cream. Season with the salt, pepper, and herb of your choice.

Once the milk is absorbed by the bread, break in the egg and mix it in. Mix in the ground turkey or chicken. This is a fairly wet mixture so be prepared for that.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and put the flour on a plate. Put the oil in a large skillet and heat it over medium heat.

Measure out half the mixture into 6 equal globs on the parchment paper, and form each of them into a neat, flat circle. Lay a bit of cheese and ham on each - they should be cut so that they cover the patty to within about 3/4" of the edge. Divide up the remaining mixture and form a small patty in your hand to go over each prepared cutlet on the parchment paper. Pat them sealed. One at a time, lift them with a large, thin lifter and put them in the plate of flour. Turn them to coat, or just lift and sprinkle some of the flour over the top until evenly coated. Lift out and place in the pan to cook.

Cook the cutlets for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until well browned. You may need to add a little more oil to the pan when you turn them. A spatter guard will avoid spatters and also help hold in the heat to cook them through. If you don't have one, put a lid on with just  little sliver of air to let the steam out.

Last year at this time I made Caramel Apple Pudding.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Za'atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes

There isn't much to this, but that's fine. It's a nice variation on the theme of roasted sweet potatoes. 

And since I think that's the shortest introduction I've ever written, I'm going to take a moment to rant about the quality of dried thyme that's been commercially available for the last few years, since that's commonly an ingredient in za'atar. You'll note there isn't any called for here.

For a while I kept buying thyme, measuring it out to cook with, and then tossing it because it had neither scent nor flavour. First I thought mine sat in the cupboard too long. Then I thought the stock I was getting from the store was not fresh. But several stores later including ones which really should have decent turnover of a foundational herb like thyme, I concluded that the problem was further back in the supply line than that. Next year I am going to make a point of planting, growing, and drying thyme myself because it seems to be the only way to get any that's even halfway usable, never mind good!

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Za'atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Make the Za'atar:
2 teaspoons rubbed savory
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
3 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Mix it all in a small bowl.

Roast the Sweet Potatoes:
1 kilogram (2 pounds; 4 medium) sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash, trim, and chop the sweet potatoes into slightly larger than bite-sized chunks. Toss them with the olive oil in a shallow 8" x 10" baking (lasagne) dish. Sprinkle the za'atar over them and toss them again.

Roast the sweet potatoes for about 1 hour until soft, giving them a stir in the middle if you can.

That's it... don't burn your mouth!

Last year at this time I made Three Sisters' Stew.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Spring Roll Salad with Chicken

It seems I've gotten a bit out of the habit of making salads, so I am trying to do more of them this winter, which is never the easiest time for salads but it can be done. It helps that I've been really quite impressed with the greenhouse lettuce I've been getting this winter. There is a lot more variety of types than there used to be, and the quality seems better too - more substantial. The price is still higher than imported lettuce, but given how the droughts down south have been driving up prices, the differential is better there too than it used to be.

At any rate, this salad has been a regular this winter. All the flavours of a Vietnamese fresh spring roll in a salad, with a little grilled chicken to make it a meal. You could replace the chicken with beef, pork, or tofu for a change if you liked.  

1 hour prep time
4 servings

Spring Roll Salad with Chicken

Make the Dressing: 
1 clove of garlic
the finely grated zest of 1/2 lime
the juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce

Peel and mince the garlic and put it in a small bowl or jam jar. Wash the lime, and grate the zest into the container with the garlic. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

Make the Salad:
2 bundles cellophane noodles
2 cups bean sprouts
1 medium carrot
2 mini greenhouse cucumbers
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
500 grams (1 pound) skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon bacon fat or mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts (optional)

Prepare the cellophane noodles according to instructions, or soak them in boiling water for about 10 minutes, until there are no white bits left and they are completely translucent. Drain well, and cut them with scissors into manageable pieces. Put them in your salad bowl.

Wash and drain the bean sprouts very well.

Peel and grate the carrot. Trim and grate the cucumbers. Trim the cabbage and shred it finely. Rinse and drain it well.

Wash, dry, and chop the mint and cilantro.

All these vegetables go into the salad bowl, being sure to leave the sprouts and cabbage until well drained. Toss well and divide amongst individual plates.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized strips. Heat the fat or oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring regularly, until done; about 5 to 7 minutes. Let them cool for a few minutes before arranging them over the salads. Drizzle over the dressing, sprinkle with chopped peanuts if desired, and serve.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Rye & Potato Bread

I first saw a version of this recipe in The Toronto Cook Book (page 15); published in 1915. Later I saw more modern versions, all of which described it as a (Czecho)Slovakian recipe. I tend to think of oldish Canadian cook books as being irredeemably Anglo-Saxon, so that was a bit of a surprise. Admittedly, it didn't have the caraway seed and I suppose you don't have to put them in, if you don't like them. I must say I think them pretty indispensable.

Most loaves of bread will go with either sweet or savory things, but this is quite firmly in the savory camp, although I suppose it is all a matter of taste. My taste is for butter and cheese with this.

2 loaves
1 hour the night before - 20 minutes prep time
3 hours the next morning - 30 minutes prep time

Slovakian Rye & Potato Bread with Caraway Seeds

The Night Before:
1 cup grated raw potato (1 medium-large)
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups rye flour
1/2 cup warm filtered water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dry active yeast

Wash the potato and peel it if you like. Grate it and put it in a fairly generously sized pot with the water and salt. Bring it to a boil and boil steadily (covered) for 10 minutes.

Mix in the rye flour and let the mixture cool in the pot for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar and yeast into the warm water. Let sit 10 minutes. When the yeast has foamed up nicely, stir it into the warm but not hot rye and potato mixture. Cover the pot and let it sit overnight at room temperature.

I like to measure out all the dry ingredients for the next morning while this is going on, and leave them in a mixing bowl with a plate on top to keep anything from getting in.

The Next Morning:
3 cups hard unbleached flour plus a bit to knead
1 cup hard whole wheat flour
1 cup rye flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup warm filtered water
a little mild vegetable oil

 Measure out all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Mix the warm (but again, not hot - it should feel just warm to the touch. A microwave is your friend here) water into the rye and potato mixture until reasonably smooth. Mix this into the flour, as much as possible, then turn it out onto a clean counter top and mix and knead until the dough is very smooth and elastic in texture; about 10 minutes. If it is sticky - and it will be - dust it with flour as you work, until it isn't. I find it works well to dump the flour right onto the counter top and do my mixing there.

Clean out the mixing bowl and put in a teaspoon of mild vegetable oil. Put in the dough and turn it to coat it in the oil, then cover it with a clean tea-towel and set aside until doubled in size; hopefully about 1 hour.

Push the dough down and shape it into 2 loaves. Put them in oiled pans and cover with a clean tea-towel. Let them rise for another half to three-quarters of an hour, until doubled in size again. About 10 minutes before they are ready pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the loaves for 1 hour, until they sound hollow when tapped.

Last year at this time I made Gado-Gado.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Updated the Seed Catalogue List

The post 8th Annual Seed Catalogue Review has been updated, for The Cottage Gardener and Hawthorn Farm Seeds. Go get 'em...

Friday, 9 February 2018

Skillet Chicken "Döner"

Is this Döner? Or do I mean Shawarma? I'm not sure there is much difference but no doubt someone can enlighten me. Although in reality, it isn't either of them because it is not cooked on a vertical rotisserie and shaved off into a pita.

Of course, there is no döner or shawarma joint within reasonable driving distance of my house or even within unreasonable driving distance. Fortunately this is an easy substitute. I'd say quick too, but for that necessary period of marination. Note that the chicken will cook in about 10 minutes. I'm saying 20 because you will need some time to get the greenery and sauce organized. I used hydroponic lettuce, cabbage, and carrots, but in season tomatoes would be appropriate. A slice of dill pickle is surprisingly authentic, and Torshi Lift is also classic, if you happen to have some.

4 to 6 servings
15 minutes prep time - 20 minutes cooking time
4 to 24 hours marinating time

Chicken Skillet

Marinate the Chicken:
1 medium shallot
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup thick yogurt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme or savory
2 teaspoons rubbed mint
500 grams (1 pound) skinless, boneless chicken

Peel and mince the shallot; peel and mince the garlic. Place them in a container with a cover, in which the chicken can marinate.

Add the yogurt, tomato paste, and lemon juice. Add all the seasonings. Mix well.

Slice the chicken into thin strips. It is easiest if the chicken is semi-frozen, but if you are able to slice it 1/4 inch thick or less when it is not frozen, it isn't required. Add the chicken strips to the marinade, and mix them in well. Cover and refrigerate from 4 to 24 hours.

Finish the Dish:
2 cups mixed salad greens
1 tablespoon olive oil
the juice of 1/4 lemon
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon tahini
the juice of 1/4 lemon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 to 6 pita breads

Wash and coarsely chop the greens, and dress them with the oil, juice of 1/4 lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the tahini with the remaining lemon juice in a small bowl until very smooth. Thin with a little cold water if it is still too thick; it should be about the thickness of cream.

Heat the butter in a skillet over high heat. As soon as it is melted and bubbling, dump in the chicken with all of the marinade. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked and the marinade has thickened and coated the chicken. Once it is fairly dry and starting to brown in spots, remove the chicken from the burner.

Place a portion of the chicken in each pita bread, along with salad and tahini sauce in proportion. Fold or roll the sandwich into a cylinder for easiest consumption. I am only half joking when I suggest wrapping it in foil or waxed paper - dripping is a definite hazard.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Sesame-Ginger Red Cabbage

Oh good, something plain and simple on the vegetable front. Seems like it's been a while since that's happened.

It seems like every time I cook red cabbage I end up using a combination of sweet and sour flavours, so I was determined that this time I would do something different. So I did.

That's pretty much the story of this dish. That, and we actually managed to get a couple of decent red cabbages in the garden this year.

You could do it with green cabbage too, I'm sure. I might throw some carrot in for colour in that case. I'm sure you could use a little carrot with the red cabbage too; why not? 

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Sesame-Ginger Red Cabbage

3 to 4 cups shredded red cabbage
2 tablespoons finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Wash, trim, and shred the red cabbage. Peel and mince the ginger.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and ginger, and sprinkle the sesame seeds over them. Cook, stirring regularly, for 5 to 7 minutes until the cabbage is wilted down and just about done. You may want to add a tablespoon or two of water to help it cook, but be sure it is evaporated before you add the soy sauce.

Add the soy sauce and sesame oil, and continue cooking and stirring until the soy sauce is absorbed or evaporated and there is no liquid in the pan again. Transfer the cabbage to the serving dish at once, and serve.

Last year at this time I made Pasta with Mushrooms & Dried Tomatoes.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Polish Chocolate Babka

Well, someone will be along in a minute to tell me this isn't a proper babka; a proper babka is raised with yeast. Noted. But I will say I have eaten quite a good few baking powder raised babkas from Eastern European bakeries in Toronto in my day, and I am very happy finally to be able to make one myself.

The recipe from which I adapted this appealed to me as looking like it would be neither dry and crumbly, nor excessively gooey and sugar-laden. It has cocoa applied with a heavier hand than most chocolate babkas seem to, but that's because the hand was mine. "Less sugar, more chocolate" is definitely one of my mottoes.

Now let's talk about the pan. I used a kugelhopf type pan, which holds about 5 cups of water - but keeeep reading. I think this is a better way to measure these pans than inches or centimetres, because the shapes do vary and a little bit of difference this way or that way can change things quite a bit. Now before you rush out and get a 5 cup pan, I had better tell you that mine overflowed. Not desperately, and whoever designed it cleverly made the top of the chimney a little lower than the outer edges, so it all dribbled down the centre and left me with a squiggly little sample cake. (Which is in the photo, as I didn't want to cut the cake at the time I was photographing it.) Quite convenient, actually! But there is no guarantee you can reproduce this at home so I would say your pan needs to hold 6 cups of liquid. The good news is that my pan is fairly old. I think newer pans tend to be a bit larger. Otherwise, next time I make this I intend to make a couple of little bonus cupcakes with the batter in addition to the main event.

Apart from having to break out the electric mixer, this is a very easy cake to make. The glaze is a little fiddly, but you could replace it with a dust of icing sugar if you can bear to give it up. This is also, apart from the butter in said glaze, a dairy-free cake. (Providing the chocolate is also purchased carefully, but easily done.)

This is probably my platonic ideal of chocolate cake, and also it kept well for almost a week. After that, it wasn't that it wasn't keeping - it was that it was gone.

12 to 16 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
plus 30 minutes to glaze

Polish Chocolate Babka

Make the Cake:
1 1/3 cups soft unbleached flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
a little oil and cocoa to dust
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder, and stir in the baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Brush the inside of a bundt pan or other pan with a tube in the centre (chimney) with oil. Dust it in cocoa powder until it looks dry - so be thorough but light with the oil. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the kettle on to boil.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and vanilla. Beat for about 5 minutes, until very light and creamy looking. Beat in the oil, then the boiling water. Beat for about another minute, then start beating in the dry ingredients, about 1/4 at a time, until well incorporated. You will likely need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl in the middle of the process.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, scraping it out well. Place the pan on a baking tray (not required but advised!) and place it in the oven. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before unmoulding.

Make & Apply the Glaze:
150 grams (5 ounces) dark semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoon rum, kirsch, or other liquor
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate, rum, and 1 tablespoon of the butter together in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Stir frequently. Remove from the heat as soon as melted, especially if it shows signs of starting to thicken up again. Stir in the remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time, until the butter is melted and the chocolate is thin enough to flow - just. It may help to reheat the chocolate very gently by placing it back over the hot - but removed from the heat - water.

Have the cake placed on a loose wire rack over a tray lined with parchment paper, and gently spoon the glaze over the cake. The object is to have as much as possible land on the cake, covering it completely. It is inevitable that a certain amount will slide off; hence the parchment paper. At some point you may need to scrape the parchment paper and recycle the glaze. I also found myself using the back of the spoon to spread it around, which worked reasonably if not glamorously well. 

Last year at this time I made Bean & Carrot Salad with Lemon-Mustard Dressing.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Russian Mushroom Cutlets

The Russians make about a thousand (my estimate!) versions of cutlets; things chopped up, formed into patties and fried in a skillet. Most of them are variations on the theme of meat, but these mushroom cutlets are a happy exception. Serve them with potato pierogies (or pelmeni, if we are staying strictly Russian), sautéed cabbage and sour cream for complete meal, or make them smaller and serve them as an appetizer or first course. These may not be meat, but they are pretty rich so keep that in mind.

Most of the recipes I saw called for boiling the mushrooms and chopping them almost to a purée, but I kept in mind that most of the recipes were probably assuming an assortment of wild-foraged mushrooms. By all means, try to use several different kinds if you can - you want about 4 cups mushrooms in coarse pieces before you start slicing and chopping. I, however, assumed the use of domesticated mushrooms, which I expect to be considerably softer in texture, for the most part.

I was also of two minds whether to call for just one egg, or two. I used just one and had a little trouble getting the patties to stick together - although they did well enough in the end - and I was definitely running out egg white as I dipped the last cutlet. I think next time I would try it with two and see how it goes - I suspect the worst that will happen will be that I have a small amount of leftover egg white. 

6 to 8 cutlets
2 to 8 servings
45 minutes prep time, plus cooling and chilling times

Russian Mushroom Cutlets

Make the Mixture:
100 grams (scant 1/4 pound) fresh shiitake mushrooms
150 grams (5 or 6 ounces) fresh button mushrooms
1 small (100 grams; scant 1/4 pound) potato
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
1 or 2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon flour

Remove the stems from the shiitakes and discard them... the stems, of course. Chop the roughly... the caps, of course. Clean, trim, and slice the button mushrooms. Wash and trim the potato, and grate it coarsely. Peel and slice the onion.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the prepared vegetables, and cook, stirring regularly, until wilted down and browned in spots.

Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. When the mushrooms and all are well softened, add the garlic and seasonings. Mix in well and remove the pan from the heat. Let cool for about 5 minutes then transfer the mixture to a food processor.

Add the egg yolk and flour to the mixture, and process until fairly finely chopped. Stop and scrape down the sides a couple of times. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover well, and refrigerate until you wish to proceed... anywhere from half an hour to 8 hours.

Form & Fry the Cutlets:
2 tablespoons flour
1 or 2  large egg whites
6 to 8 crackers, crushed to crumbs
3 to 4 tablespoons of mild vegetable oil to fry
sour cream ad lib

Put the flour on a small plate, the egg white on another small plate, and the crackers crushed to crumbs on yet another bloody small plate, and line them up in the order given. Mark out the prepared mixture into 6 or 8 even portions and flour your hands.

Scoop out the first portion and press it into a firm ball, insofar as such a thing is possible. Gently roll it in the flour, then the egg white. Finally roll it in the crumbs until evenly coated. Press gently to flatten into a patty and lay it on a plate. Continue forming the cutlets until they are all done and on the plate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer the patties to the pan with a lifter and fry gently on each side until well browned; about 3 minutes per side. Serve with sour cream.

Last year at this time I made Coffee Brownies