Vietnamese – Italian Fusion

  • Recipe(s): The best stew with potato and arugula cushions (page 105)
  • Prep: Moderate
  • Taste: Good

We had quite a few fails during the year that we made every recipe from Jamie Oliver’s, ‘Cook with Jamie…’, however the one that I made on this occasion may have taken the cake.

To make a long story short I tried to take a shortcut and bought, what I thought were, fresh pasta sheets from Save on Foods. Needless to say, while they were ‘Fresh’, they were not pliable at all. I thought I’d be able to mold these sheets similar to the way you can mold fresh pasta dough. I knew right when I opened the package this would not be the case. Of course I’d already started the stew and didn’t have time to make fresh pasta dough, nor did I have all of the ingredients to make dough so I had to improvise…

I scoured the cupboards to find a suitable substitute. Low and behold on the top shelf I found some rice paper that I’d used to make spring rolls in the past. While it’s not even remotely close to pasta dough, it did serve the purpose required and allowed us to make the recipe in full.

So, as you can probably tell, the prep got off to a poor start. Aside from the original debacle of not having pasta dough, the rest of the prep wasn’t too hard. Do be prepared that this recipe will take some time to complete. I mean, you are making a stew and those who have made stew before know that going low and slow is the key. So it’s best to get the stew started, pour yourself a glass of red and sit back while it cooks away on the stove-top.

In addition to substituting rice paper for pasta dough we also substituted bison for veal. In hindsight, we probably should have used beef as we both found the bison was a touch too lean for this recipe. Because of its leanness, it seemed to dry out a lot faster than beef would, which was quite unfortunate. The sauce for the stew was nice and rich. It had the classic flavour that you would expect from a stew and was cooked to the perfect consistency.

Rice paper aside, I actually liked the stuffed dumplings that we made. They resembled more of a spring roll than anything. I guess you could call this meal an Italian/Asian Fusion? Maybe I’m onto something here. Anyway, the filling was very tasty. If you have read any of my other posts you know that I’m a fan of arugula. I really enjoy the peppery flavour that it adds as an ingredient – this, combined with nutmeg, butter, lemon zest and potato was delightful and something that I would definitely try again. I do wonder how it would have been in a nice fresh pasta blanket…

While it looked nothing like the picture from the cookbook, it still tasted good in the end. I would probably try making it again with the proper ingredients because I do think that it could be very good.

Stained Glass Lasagna

Stained Glass Lasagna

  • Recipe(s): Open stained-glass lasagna with roasted squash (page 99)
  • Prep: Moderate
  • Taste: Good

On June 15, 2014 we made yet another lasagna recipe that resembles nothing of a traditional lasagna…well at least what I feel is a traditional lasagna. If you read my previous blog posting you’ll know what I’m talking about. To me, traditional lasagna conjures up an image of noodles, meat sauce and cheese, layered nicely in a pan and baked in the oven. There could be vegetables, such as mushrooms, peppers and onions, added to the meat sauce and a small layer of ricotta may also be included, but for the most part it is very simple. Is it me who has a weird view of what a traditional lasagna is?

Anyway, while this, to me, resembled nothing of a traditional lasagna, it was still pretty fun to make and tasted good in the end.

The prep for this recipe is a solid moderate. Not only do you have to make fresh pasta, which takes time, but you have the added step of creating the stained-glass, which, while laborious, was the coolest thing to do. To make the stained glass you have to roll your pasta out nice and thin and then put your herbs (we used sage, parsley and fennel tops) on one half and fold it over. You then put this back through your pasta roller to create the stained-glass looking pasta. It’s a really cool looking piece of pasta and would definitely impress friends at a dinner party.

In addition to making the pasta above, you also have to roast a squash. This isn’t particularly hard but it does take some time. The nice part about this recipe is that you are asked to keep the skin on the squash. Ninety percent of the time I would remove the skin from the squash before I cook it but in this case it wasn’t required. In hindsight, I think I would’ve removed the skin because it’s a bit difficult to mash up, which is what you have to do with the squash once it is cooked.

So, in the end, the dish was good. I really liked the cooked pasta and had we just served the stained-glass pasta with a nice brown butter sauce I think it would have been an excellent meal. It was nice and herby, which you would expect from the assortment of herbs used, and also perfectly cooked. It was nice and tender and not chewy, which I find you get with some store bought lasagna noodles. I was not too fussed with the squash. Like I mentioned before, it was difficult to mash the skins up with the rest of the flesh. If we were to make this again we’d definitely remove the skins.

All in all it was an good dish. It definitely looked better than it tasted. I would surely make these noodles again but serve them in a different manner. I don’t think I would use them for a traditional lasagna because the whole point is to see the noodles. Perhaps you could make them into ravioli and serve them with some wild mushrooms and a cream sauce? That actually sounds delicious, I’ll try it and let you all know how it turns out.

Fantastic Fish Lasagna

  • Recipe(s): Fantastic fish lasagna (page 78)
  • Prep: Moderate
  • Taste: Good

So…. life’s been busy lately. It’s been so long since I posted that I can’t quite remember what to do!

Anyway, we ate a lot more fish than is typical for us during our challenge of completing every recipe from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Cook with Jamie…’ There were a tonne of fish recipes in the book. Most of them were quite good but this one, which we made on November 8, 2014, fell a bit short. Perhaps it was because we were expecting it to be similar to a traditional lasagna. SPOILER ALERT…this is not a traditional lasagna.

The prep on this recipe is moderate, due primarily to the time requirement. The thing with this prep is, it’s not the typical things that take the time, such as chopping, peeling, slicing, etc. but rather your time is spent frying, adding, subtracting, simmering. You definitely have to ‘watch the pot’ on this one to ensure you don’t miss a stage or burn something beyond recognition. Once you have made it through all of the steps you can sit back and let it cook in the oven for about an hour or so.

Before I get into how the final dish tasted there are a few things I should point out:

  1. Rasher = A thin slice of bacon
  2. Definitely use a block of Parmesan rather than the pre-grated variety

The reason I point this out is because both can have a pretty big impact on the flavour of the dish. For example, a thicker cut of bacon will not cook down as much, meaning it will not render as much of the nice fat in the dish.

Anyway, the final dish was ok/good. Firstly, you really need to get over the fact that it is not a lasagna, in fact it is nothing like a traditional lasagna. To me, it was more like a fish pie, or something like that. Secondly, make sure you use a block of parmesan. We used the dried, pre-grated variety, because we had it in our fridge, and it just didn’t work that well. I know that parmesan is not generally used in a traditional lasagna, however, as it was the only cheese used in this recipe I feel that a fresh variety would have added more zip and provided a bit of creaminess. The one thing I did like about this recipe was the shrimp. I purchased them fresh from Granville Island – boy were they good. Unfortunately, they weren’t good enough to elevate the dish to the next level.

We would probably not make this again, mainly due to the payoff between the time required and the finished product.

1st birthday party cupcakes

1st birthday party cupcakes

  • Recipe(s): Tea-party cupcakes (page 378)
  • Prep: Moderate
  • Taste: Good

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear…..

On October 4, 2014 our good friends’ daughter had her first birthday, which was a good chance for us to complete yet another from our challenge. After thinking long and hard about which recipe to make we settled on the tea-party cupcakes and the rest is history, sweet, doughy history.

The prep for these little guys is definitely moderate. Not only do you have to make a basic sponge dough, you also have to make two different icings and prepare the fruit that is used as a topping. We also had to make our own self rising flour because we were unable to locate the pre-mixed version at any store we went to. This was a problem throughout the challenge. We never did find a store that sold self rising flour.

Making the basic sponge dough is just that, basic, as is making the chocolate icing. The fruit icing, on the other hand, is a little more involved because you have to mash up the fresh berries and then pass them through a sieve to extract the seeds (you don’t want them sticking in people’s teeth). Are you starting to see now why the prep was moderate for this recipe?

Now, those of you who have made cupcakes before know the prep isn’t finished until the cupcakes are iced and placed neatly on a serving tray. Before this happens you have to make sure you don’t burn them, overcook them, over ice them, under ice them, squish them, etc. etc….I think you get the picture.

So, how did they turn out?

The dough itself felt like it may have been overcooked slightly. They were a touch firmer and a little bit dryer than you would expect from a cupcake. We don’t know if this is because we overcooked them, that our homemade self rising flour didn’t work as it was intended or the fact that we left them out to cool overnight with just a tea-towel covering them. I wouldn’t say they were bad but they could have been better.

The chocolate icing was nice and, well, chocolaty. How could it not be with cocoa powder and sugar mixed together?

The fruit icing was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t nearly as good as we thought it was going to be when we read the ingredients/instructions. Essentially you are taking a bunch of fresh berries (we used blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) and mixing them with sugar. Not only are you getting the natural sugar of the berries but you are also getting added sweetness from the refined sugar, yet for some reason it didn’t work. We did end up having to add a bit more fruit than the recipe called for in order to loosen the icing a touch but you wouldn’t think this would be enough to affect the icing that much.

In the end, they were all consumed at the birthday party so we can’t say they were that bad. As there is quite a bit of prep involved, and neither of us really eat cupcakes on a regular basis, we would probably not try this recipe again.

Squid in the Summer

  • Recipe(s): Super squid linguine (page 71)
  • Prep: Moderate
  • Taste: Very Good

The intro to this recipe in the books says that it is a perfect recipe to have in the summer with a large glass of Spanish wine. Well, on July 12, 2014 (in the middle of summer) we made this dish for a group of friends. I can’t necessarily say that we were drinking Spanish wine but wherever it was from it was very well paired with this dish!

My partner prepped most of the recipe, which is something she’s really quite a pro at – earlier in the day she chopped the parsley and chili, zested the lemon, and got the garlic ready to go into the press etc., after which she placed everything into their own airtight containers and put them in the fridge to be used later. Organization is her thing, if you can’t tell. Anyway, I had picked up the squid and pasta the day before, from Granville Island of course, and prepped it in the afternoon, after coming home from completing the Triple Crown. Why did we do everything ahead of time? Because we would rather have a drink with friends outside in the hot sunshine than be stuck in the kitchen prepping dinner! Anyway, prepping everything ahead of time makes the prep seem light but it is still moderate as there is quite a bit to do ahead of time.

Everyone that was at dinner rated this dish very good and I concurred. It was a very, very tasty dish, which was really made by the fresh pasta. I picked up the pasta from Dusa, at the Granville Island Market. It makes a meal sooooooo much better when fresh pasta is used. It is just that much lighter and not as stodgy as a store bought pasta. To me it actually allows the other ingredients to stand out more because you are not tasting that starchy taste you get from the packaged variety. The chili added with the garlic and lemon zest added a nice zing to the dish and the glass of white wine (the one added to the dish and not the one in my hand) added a nice perfume. There was just the right amount of squid included in the dish, which was cooked to perfection. It was nice and tender, which I was happy about. I was afraid of over-cooking it, which would have made it quite rubbery.

The sign that everyone else liked it was the fact that there was nothing left in the end. It was devoured!

We would definitely make this dish again, perhaps next summer, with another glass (or 5) of wine.

Two More Gnocchi Recipes

Two More Gnocchi Recipes

  • Recipe(s): Gnocchi with mushrooms and sage (page 114) & Gnocchi with braised oxtail (page 117)
  • Prep: Easy & Easy
  • Taste: Ok & Good

One thing that, ‘Cook with Jamie..,’ has is an abundance of gnocchi recipes. In addition to the recipe that shows you how to make a basic gnocchi from scratch, there are 4 other recipes that we made this past year as part of our challenge. This blog will cover 2 of the 4, with the others already covered in other posts.

With Mushrooms and Sage
We completed this recipe on April 16, 2014 and it was fairly easy to prep. We didn’t make the gnocchi on this occasion, which greatly reduced the prep time. Aside from chopping a few herbs, your mushrooms, some garlic and a chili pepper (don’t touch your eyes after) all you need to do is heat up some stock. Well, I suppose you also have to boil your gnocchi but that really takes no time at all.

We thought this version was ok. The sage seemed overly dominant in this dish, which is probably because it was uncooked. Nowhere in the recipe does it tell you to fry it or anything but then the last line says to ‘serve with crispy sage leaves.’ Had we read the recipe in full before putting it all together we would have noticed this and this could have possibly altered the flavour of the dish. As it was, the sage took away from the earthiness that you get from the mushrooms, which was unfortunate. We also found that there was too much gnocchi for the number of mushrooms.

I would probably try this dish again, making sure to fry the sage leaves and either add more mushrooms or less gnocchi.

With Braised Oxtail
Made on July 10, 2014, this version of gnocchi was much better than the previous version with mushrooms and sage. As with the recipe above, we also used store bought gnocchi on this occasion. The difference is that we bought it fresh from Whole Foods, which is the way to go if you don’t have time to make a fresh batch yourself. I would say always make it fresh if you can though, as it is still better than the fresh store bought variety.

Anyway, this recipe essentially requires you to make an oxtail stew, which definitely makes this a lengthy dish to complete but one which can be left unattended for quite a while. What I mean by this is that once you have everything in the pot you just let it cook. What I actually did was prep everything the night before and put it in the slow cooker. The next morning, before I left for work, I pulled the slow cooker pot out of the fridge, put the timer on the slow cooker, turned it to low and let it go. This was ingenious. The oxtail was done just before my partner and I get home from work. All we had to do when we got home was cook the gnocchi quickly and we were ready to eat!

Speaking of eating, the finished dish was good. It had a very intense flavour, which is typical of oxtail. If you have never cooked this cut of meat before I would definitely try it sometime. Combined with the richness of the oxtail meat you also get a tonne of flavour from juniper berries (think gin), white wine, leeks, carrots, onion, etc. You can tell this is really just like a stew. The gnocchi that we bought was the perfect vehicle for getting the stew into our bellies!

Cooking the majority of this dish in the slow cooker definitely helped but we may not make this again due to the time commitment involved. Perhaps in the future we may make this on a rainy weekend, which we all know will happen in Vancouver!

Just a peachy salad

  • Recipe(s): Warm grilled peach and frisee salad with goat’s cheese dressing (page 51)
  • Prep: Easy
  • Taste: Good

Peaches in August…yes please!

On August 22, 2014 we made the warm peach and frisee salad with goat’s cheese dressing. Peaches are one of our favourite fruits. I love; peach pies, peach jam, plain peaches, peach juice…you get the picture. We’re also fans of goat’s cheese, so you can probably guess the expectations that we had for this dish…

The expectations were still high once I’d prepped and sampled the goat’s cheese dressing. It is a fairly simple dressing to prep, with minimal ingredients and limited chopping requirements. It’s also a very tasty dressing. The Parmesan adds a nice salty sharpness, which helps to cut the two oils (olive and walnut), while the lemon strips away some of the goat’s cheese creaminess. So I was really looking forward to adding this to the warm peach and frisee in the next step.

Unfortunately, this is where the expectations were brought back down to earth. When I cut into the peach I was disappointed to see a blackness around the pit. Fortunately the entire piece of fruit wasn’t bad so we could still make the salad according to the recipe but it definitely effected the final dish.

Even with the imperfect peach we ranked this dish as good, knowing that it could be very good with the ideal piece of fruit. We really enjoyed the combination of mint and peach, which gave me a good idea for a fusion mojito next summer! Grilling the peach brought out some of the sweetness, which combined well with the tartness of the frisee. All in all this is a very nicely balanced salad and, like I said before, one that we would make again.