Monthly Archives: February 2013

Duck Confit or Souvenirs de Paris

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Musique, ambiance et souvenirs d’un temps qui ne paraît pas si vieux…

What are your most treasured memories with the one you love? I am so fortunate to have many but last Valentine’s Day I chose to re-create the one from our anniversary trip to Paris. Although we have spent the majority of our happy days in much humbler settings I thought it would be fun to reminisce of a few glamour moments in Brad’s and my life together.

Paris shoot by Ophelia Photography
Photo Credit: Lisa Gratton of Ophelia Photography.

We had to start our meal with some bread, pâté and pickles just the way it was served to us in Paris!

Duck Confit

In order to bring the cozy ambience of the French restaurant we spent an evening celebrating 10 years of marriage I decided to duplicate the menu. Sounds ambitious, yes, but to my surprise and delight, it was easy and fun! When we think of French food, we think of  art, sophistication, finesse, in other words- the height of the culinary profession.  All of those qualities are true, nevertheless, there is also pure and earthy peasant food that is just as authentic, if not more, to the French life which is deliciously gratifying and a cinch to make. Duck Confit is one of those dishes that you can only find on the menu of upscale restaurants in North America, while it’s not at all posh in my part of the world.

Duck Confit
Duck and Roasted Potatoes, there is simply no meal more satisfying in the world for my taste. There are several steps to this dish but each of them is simpler than the next!
Ingredients (Romantic Dinner for 2):

  • Duck legs- 2 big and juicy ones
  • Duck fat- 500 gr.
  • Thyme- 3-4 sprigs
  • Bay leaf- 2
  • Juniper Berries- 4 crushed
  • Garlic- 2 cloves split lengthwise
  • Course Salt- 1 tbsp.
  • Potatoes- 4-5 medium

Duck Confit

Method:

The night before. Rub your duck legs with course salt, put your them in a shallow dish with thyme, bay leaf, crushed juniper berries and garlic, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The day of the dinner. Brush the salt off the duck. Don’t skip this step or your duck might be too salty! Put the contents of the shallow dish you prepared the night before into an oven proof dish and cover the duck legs with duck fat. I am not joking, the duck legs should be completely covered, I mean “swimming in the fat” covered! Let me assure you before you run away screaming, you won’t be eating all that fat and the little amount that will end up crisping up the duck is good for you! You see, “confit” (pronounced “confee”) is a french way of cooking and preserving meat in it’s own fat and was used hundreds of years ago before refrigeration was available. I have seen recipes for tomato confit, pumpkin confit, you name it but all of those things are a misuse of the original meaning of the word.

Back to the recipe. Cook the duck in the oven at 250F/120C for 2 hours. At the end of it your meat should be falling off the bone tender and juicy (and will NOT look appetising) but it’s not done yet!

With a pair of tongs take your duck legs out of the dish and pat the excess fat with paper towel. The last step is roasting your duck legs with potatoes. Arrange the duck in a roasting pan on top of sliced garlic cloves with thickly sliced potatoes, brush a bit of that duck fat on your potatoes, trust me nothing works better on them, sprinkle with additional thyme, salt and pepper. Roast at 400F/200C for 30 minutes or until crispy. (Alternatively, you can pre-boil your potatoes to make sure they cook evenly at the same time as duck but I didn’t.)Duck Confit with roasted potatoes
This recipe is a real gem, so simple to execute with very few ingredients. It produced absolutely matchless results – tender and delicate duck meat with crispy full of flavour skin. I have to admit I am glad that the first time I tried this delicacy was in a restaurant and I had no idea how it was cooked. Once I experienced the heavenly taste of old French country I was determined to do anything to have it again. I can’t say enough to urge you to run to your local supermarket, butcher, duck farmer/friend or whatever place you get your food from and buy a few legs (the cheapest and tastiest part of the bird) to roast. You won’t regret. C’est magnifique!

Duck Confit with Roasted Potatoes

Note: The recipe was adapted from “Jamie Does France” by Jamie Oliver

My Honey Valentine, Russian Honey and Cream Cake “Medovik” or Fire and Ice

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Follow my blog with BloglovinHoney and Mascarpone Cream Cake "Medovik" with Caramel Flames

It’s Sunday and Valentine’s Day is long gone, but the leftover cake is still in my fridge and tastes better than ever. I love Valentine’s Day so much and I could care less that it’s been commercialised and turned into a sappy holiday with poorly written cards and tasteless teddies all over the place. I love the day that could be unashamedly ALL about my love for the most amazing man I know. We usually don’t go out on Valentine’s day, we made this pact on a V Day many years ago when we were still students living in Minneapolis and unable to get into any restaurants because of the reservations and waiting and pre-set menus…all the stuff that makes the day uncool. After being turned down by so many restaurants we wound up at the Olive Garden close to 10 pm too tired to enjoy the food, we agreed to never go out on the Valentine’s Day but stay in and still make the day completely out of the ordinary.

This year I decided to re-create our 10th anniversary celebration in France. Everything on the menu was a replica of our dinner in a tiny restaurant in Paris tucked away from the tourist area. We sat outside for hours while the rain kept pounding on the roof of the awning, there was not one person speaking English in view, the food was exquisite, the night was decidedly perfect.

How does my Russian cake fit into this? It doesn’t really but it’s an incredibly tasty treat that I never made for Brad, so there was my chance to rectify the situation.

I am starting with the dessert but there will be more posts, so come back if you like to know what kind of food you get served in France!

Back to the Honey Cake. The Russian name for it is “Medovik” and the first time I made it I was 13 or 14 when this cake was the “it cake”  in Russia. The recipe was being passed on from one household to another. It was impossible to have any sort of celebration without Medovik crowning the meal. It was so common that after a while it didn’t seem special anymore. I am glad I re-discovered this treasure because despite it’s simplicity of ingredients and the method of preparation the end result is far from plain.

Honey and Cream Cake "Medovik"

8 layers of honey goodness with creamy filling in between and adorned with caramel flames, this cake was a perfect finish to our romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day! Caramel flames is not the traditional decor for this cake but I wanted to add a little pizzazz to the special occasion cake and also  try my hand at making caramel. It turned out to be such a fun process, needless to say I was very pleased with the result.

Ingredients for cake:

  • Butter- 5 tbsp./70 gr
  • Sugar 1 cup
  • Honey- 2 tbsp. ( I prefer dark honey as it has richer taste. I used chestnut honey for my cake)
  • Eggs-3 large
  • Vanilla- 2 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1tsp.
  • Vodka (although optional you wouldn’t believe me the cake was Russian if it didn’t call for vodka ;-))- 2 tbsp.
  • Salt-1/2 tsp.
  • Flour- 3 cups

Ingredients for the filling:

  • Creme fraiche- 2 cups
  • Whipping Cream/Double Cream- 2 cups
  • Sugar- 1/2 cup
  • Vanilla bean (seeds scraped out) or vanilla essence-1

Ingredients for the frosting:

  • Mascarpone cheese (cold)-1 cup/250 gr
  • Whipping cream/Double Cream-1/2 cup
  • Icing Sugar- 1 cup
  • Vanilla Bean or essence

Ingredients for the Caramel Flames:

  • Sugar ( I used half brown and half white)-1 cup
  • Lemon Juice- 1/2 tsp.

Method for the cake:

This cake preparation method is quite different from what you might be used to but don’t let it deter you from giving it a go because the result is stunning and you will be able to brag about making this authentic Russian cake to all your friends.

Preheat your oven to 400F/200C and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Set your double boiler or a large pot filled 2/3 with water and a glass or metal bowl over it on the medium heat. Melt butter, sugar and honey in the bowl. In a separate bowl beat eggs and vanilla and pour the mixture in the double boiler while mixing the whole time (I use electric mixer) to avoid ending up with scrambled egg! Then add vodka, baking soda, salt and 2 cups of flour, continue mixing for a few minutes until the dough starts to thicken and come away from the edges of the bowl. Take it off the heat and add the last cup of flour, mix well. Be careful as the dough will be hot. Allow it to cool for a couple of minutes and then knead it with your hands until your get smooth, pasta like dough. What you are looking for is a cookie dough rather than a cake batter.

Divide into 8 equal parts and cover with a kitchen towel to avoid drying out. The cake layers will be baked separately on baking trays and then cut into neat circles using a 7″ cake pan, tart pan or, in my case, a pan lid as a template.

Dust your work surface with flour and roll out a thin circle slightly larger than 7″, transfer on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for 4-5 min. Watch closely as the cake layers burn quickly. Roll out the next layer while the previous one is baking. That is why you need to have 2 baking trays on the go. Remove from the over when golden brown and cut out a circle while still hot as the layers will turn into crisp biscuits in a couple of minutes. (Traditionally the scraps from the cake are turned into crumbs and pressed into cake sides and the top for the decoration. However, I decided to go the different route and use a stunning caramel piece for the top of my cake.) Cool on the cooling rack. Repeat the process until all 8 layers are done.

Filling:

Beat creme fraiche (can be substituted with sour cream) with whipping cream, sugar and vanilla until sugar is dissolved and it’s doubled in volume. Fill all 8 cake layers except for the top and the sides.

Frosting: 

Once again I’ve changed the frosting as in the original cake the above filling is used for the outside of the cake as well and later reinforced with the cake crumbs. Since I decided to go crumb free and wanted my cake to look a dinner date worthy, I’ve used a mascarpone frosting similar to the one I’ve used for Meringue Mascarpone Cake.

Beat cold mascarpone with icing sugar, vanilla and whip cream until stiff. Decorate the sides and the top of the cake with mascarpone frosting.

It needs to be noted that the cake is best served 24 hours after it’s made which is perfect when you are making a big meal as your dessert is already taken care of! A full day in the fridge allows all of those crisp layers to soften and soak all the wonderful flavours from the filling and the frosting.

Russian Honey Cake "Medovik"

Caramel Flames:

Mix sugar with lemon juice in a saucepan, set the saucepan on medium heat and don’t stir until the edges start to bubble up, then start stirring until all the crystals melted, sugar looks clear and deep amber colour. Take it off the heat and put the bottom of the pan in ice cold water to stop it from cooking immediately but don’t keep it there for too long or the caramel will harden before you have a chance to work with it.

Drizzle caramel with a spoon on parchment paper  that was previously sprayed with an oil spray, let it set. Then break up the hardened caramel and decorate your cake in any way you like.

Caramel

Caramel flames are best to be set on the top of the cake right before serving. You can have them made beforehand and pop them on top as you get ready to serve dessert. Russian Honey Cake "Medovik"

Chocolate and Vanilla Bean “Dreaming of Sicily” Cupcakes…

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IMG_8173
The inspiration for these Dreaming of Sicily cupcakes came from this box of chocolates. You see my momma always used to say that life is like a box of chocolates… Oh forget it, I could never pull off Forrest Gump’s wisdom. The truth is on Saturday we celebrated my dear friend Angela’s birthday. I wanted to make her a cake, but unfortunately even after what seemed like an hour of questioning her she wouldn’t tell me what kind of cake she wanted! Angela is Italian and although she loves England with all her heart she misses the sea and the warm sun of her native Sicily. What could be better cupcakes for her than the ones evoking the memories of sunshine, pizza and cannoli!

Angela is a fellow foodie and therefore is easy to please! She will be happy with almost any kind of food as long as it is delicious! On a side note, we are planning to write a joint blog post on wonderful Italian food! I am not going to lie to you, it will be legendary. I am not sure why I am so prone to TV and movie quoting today but I promise to stop.

Back to cupcakes. Not only did they turn out absolutely gorgeous but they were also out of this world delicious. You will love them if you are into cakes, chocolate and silky vanilla frosting type of thing!

Dreaming of Sicily Cupcakes

Convinced yet? If yes, here is the list of…

Ingredients for the cupcakes {Makes 24}:

  • Flour -1 3/4 cups
  • Cocoa- 3/4 cu
  • Sugar- 2 cups
  • Baking powder- 1 1/2 tsp.
  • Baking soda- 1 1/2 tsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Eggs- 2 large
  • Milk- 1 cup
  • Oil- 1/2 cup
  • Vanilla essence- 2 tsp.
  • Strong hot coffee- 3/4 cup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 325 F/160 C and line your cupcake tins with cupcake papers.

Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a separate bowl mix eggs, milk, oil and vanilla essence. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and beat with an electric mixer until well incorporated. Now make your coffee and pour  3/4 cup of it in the ingredients ( enjoy the rest!) and quickly mix everything together. I promise you the cupcakes don’t taste anything like coffee but it is a magic ingredient 🙂

Fill your 2 lined cupcake tins 3/4 full and bake them for 15 minutes, test for doneness with a toothpick.

If your oven is big enough you can bake both tins at the same time but mine isn’t, so I baked them separately.

Dreaming of Sicily Cupcakes

Ingredients for Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  • Egg whites- 6/150gr
  • Granulated Sugar-1 cup
  • Butter- 1 2/3 cup/340gr.
  • Vanilla Bean (seeds scraped out) -1
  • Salt-pinch
  • Blue colour paste- a tiny smidge  (I don’t use a liquid colour as the frosting might curdle)
  • Chocolate sea creatures to use as the cupcake toppers

I have written extensive instructions on Swiss Meringue Buttercream in Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcake recipe, so please follow the link to get the method but skip adding the coffee flavour at the end of the process and add vanilla bean seeds instead.

When your buttercream is done, add a tiny amount of blue colouring paste to tint your frosting light aqua blue which is reminiscent of a sea wave and blend well.

Use a star tip to pipe frosting on the cupcakes and top each of them with chocolate sea shells, seahorses or any other sea creatures you manage to find. Angela’s favourite was this Starfish!

Dreaming of Sicily Cupcakes

Grilled Gouda and Zucchini Panini aka Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Grilled Gouda and Zucchini Panini
As I’ve mentioned earlier I went on a bit of a cooking spree last Monday. I made a few things and one of the them was Warm Zucchini Salad, which is a bit of a misnomer because it has much more in there than just zucchini.
Zucchini Salad
I received an overwhelming response to this little dish. I am so happy you guys love vegetables! This cute sandwich here is not really a recipe, just an idea of how you can make your lunch more interesting and utilise your last night’s leftovers. I used my zucchini salad to give my grilled cheese sandwich healthy and delicious boost.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich is much loved in our family and although my children are still “grilled cheese purists” (bread and cheese only!) we have managed to diversify their taste; they have expanded from plain old cheddar to gouda and edam. I consider it my personal victory. You would understand if you knew how picky my kids are!

Brad and I, however, like our grilled cheese “posh”. Here is one I had for lunch yesterday. The preparation is as easy as the conventional method. Basically, all you need to do is sandwich your salad filling (make sure it’s not too wet or your sandwich will turn into “soggy cheese”) between two slices of gouda or any other favourite cheese of yours and bread, grill it until cheese is melted and bread is toasted. You can use you sandwich maker, panini grill or any other contraption you might have! Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the above, I I used my stove top cast-iron grill and put another cast iron pan on top of it. And here is the result. Not too shabby!

Grilled Gouda Zucchini Sandwich

grilled cheese

Cowboy Cookies

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Cowboy Cookies
After last week’s insane schedule of teaching, being a mom and a wife with a 4 hour daily commute to work thrown into the mix I needed to de-stress. Well, first of all, I needed to sleep and then, I needed to head to my kitchen and get lost in the world of food. The world where everything makes sense. So yesterday’s, today’s and possibly tomorrow’s posts all come from ONE day of cooking!
I love my work, I love being a teacher but every time I am away from my kids I feel so torn up and even anxious about missing out on their valuable life experiences. When my super busy week was over I wanted to spoil them with freshly baked homemade cookies. It might come as a surprise but I don’t bake too often and when I do I prefer making muffins and quick breads, so cookie making is truly special. This Cowboy Cookies recipe came to me via unknown school fundraiser recipe book that I lost a long time ago as a result of our globetrotting tendency but the recipe stayed with me and became a favourite in our family.

This cookie is reminiscent of a morning granola or so I tell myself when I am tempted to grab it and eat it first thing in the morning. All joking aside, each cookie is chock full of earthly goodness-oats, walnuts, raisins, dark chocolate and coconut! In fact, as soon as I am done writing this I will indulge in a hot cuppa and one of those tasty delights!

Cowboy Cookies

Ingredients:

  • Flour- 2 cups
  • Old Fashioned Oats (not quick or instant)- 2 cups
  • Baking Soda- 1 tsp.
  • Baking Powder- 1/2 tsp.
  • Salt- 1/2 tsp.
  • White Sugar- 1/2 cup
  • Brown Sugar- 3/4 cup
  • Butter- 1 cup/250 gr
  • Eggs- 2 large
  • Vanilla- 1 tsp.
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips- 1/3 cup
  • Walnuts- 1/3 cup
  • Raisins- 1/3 cup
  • Coconut- 1/3 cup

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350 F/180 C. Line your baking trays with parchment paper.

Mix first 5 ingredients- flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Beat butter and both sugars until blended, add eggs and vanilla continue beating for 2-3 more minutes. You can use electric mixer or an old fashioned wooden spoon. Both work like magic.

Add dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture and mix well, now add all the yummy things that make this cookie so great-chocolate chips, walnuts, raisins and coconut. At this point I just get right in there with both hands as I find mixing a cookie dough with a spoon nearly impossible but if you mastered it go for it!

Scoop each cookie with a spoon, using 1/4 cup of dough and drop it on your baking tray spacing them 2″ apart as the cookies will get bigger as they bake. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.

Cowboy Cookies

Warm Zucchini Salad

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Warm Zucchini Salad
Do you love vegetables or do you merely tolerate them? When Brad and I met I quickly learned that one of his favourite quotes was borrowed from Homer Simpson, the infamous “you don’t make friends with salad”. I am happy to report that a few ‘properly’ cooked vegetable dishes changed his opinion, and now he happily gobbles up a plethora of salads that I make. I can eat vegetables in any form or shape, I will even eat the majority of them simply boiled with a pinch of salt and pepper or raw but if I am completely honest with you I could not be inspired to write about them. Salads are too often associated with dieting, and therefore pain, and it’s completely unfair! Vegetables could be so vibrant and lively if put together with a little bit of thought and care. This Warm Zucchini Salad shows up in our house regularly and with many variations. It could be served as a side dish to your meat for dinner or on it’s own for lunch. It could also be served warm or cold.  You can also add a few chunks of fresh mozzarella for a balanced veg + protein meal. The flavours that all the ingredients produce together is like a beautiful melody. It’s so tasty and comforting especially on a cold winter day, the type of meal that will transport you from winter in London to the seaside  by the Mediterranean. I tell you this salad is pure magic!

Ingredients:

  • Zucchini-4 small
  • Grilled Red Peppers (prepared from a jar or your own. Recipe here) 1 or 2 large
  • Tomatoes (red and yellow cherry tomatoes or regular)-1 large or 5-6 cherry tomatoes
  • Marinated mushrooms(Italian anipasti or saute your own)-1/2 jar
  • Garlic (minced)- 1 clove
  • Basil (fresh or dried)-a small bunch
  • Balsamic Vinegar- 1 tbsp.
  • Olive Oil- 1 tblsp. for cooking zucchini
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Ingredients

Method:

Slice your zucchini 1/4″ thick , sprinkle them with salt and pan fry them in a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat-2-3 minutes on each side until golden.

Warm Zucchini Salad
Remove your zucchini from the pan and put them in the salad bowl, squeeze 1 garlic clove directly on them and tear a few basil leaves into the salad bowl to allow warm zucchini absorb the flavours.

Slice grilled peppers and tomatoes and add them to the bowl.

Grilled Peppers
Now throw in your mushrooms, drizzle a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, mix everything carefully taking care not to mash up your delicate vegetables. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Warm Zucchini Salad
Done! This wonderful dish is as quick and simple as it sounds but there is nothing “simple” about the taste! It’s complex and involved. The sweetness of basil and zucchini balance the tanginess of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar while a slight taste of garlic adds a refreshing zing to the whole ensemble!