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.

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.

Victory Dinner

  • Recipe(s): Overnight slow-roasted pork (page 174)
  • Prep: Easy
  • Taste: Good

We made it!

On December 28, 2014 we completed the 158th recipe from, ‘Cook with Jamie…,’ bringing an end to our challenge of completing every recipe in the book before 2014 came to a close. It has been quite the ride, as those who have read some of these posts can probably attest to.

I have yet to blog about some of the recipes that we made, so this will not be the last post about our challenge, nor will it be the last post on this site. We will continue to make new recipes in 2015 from the various other cook books we have at our home. They may not be as frequent but I hope they will be as entertaining or maybe even educational.

Overnight slow-roasted pork
Some may think that because this is a slow-roasted dish the prep would have ranked as moderate. While the dish does take time to cook, the actual prep is quite easy. All that you need to do is chop up a few veggies, bash up some fennel seeds, put everything into your roasting pan and place it into your pre-heated oven. Very easy indeed.

While the roast is cooking you have some time to prep the rest of your meal. On this occasion, as we had no other, ‘required,’ dishes to make, we made some good ol’ mashed potatoes, peas, beans and our dinner guests brought some carrots.

After 4 hours in the oven the pork was ready to come out. I should mention that we purchased a piece of pork shoulder that was substantially smaller than what the book calls for. This is why we were able to have the roast done in 4 hours rather than the 9-12 called for in the book. Anyway, as the pork was resting on the cutting board I made the gravy. Now, here the book says to use a potato masher to mash up the vegetables, while this would have created a nice chunky gravy I decided to pour everything into the Kitchen Ninja and blend it for about 30 seconds. This created a nice, smooth, easy pouring gravy.

The finished dish was good. To me the stand out was the gravy. It was very intensely flavoured from the combination of vegetables (onion, fennel, carrot), thyme, white wine, vegetable stock, and pork fat. It was completely different from gravy I’ve had in the past. Normally you simply mix your pork fat, wine, etc. with some flour and cook until it’s thick. In this case you didn’t need to add flour because the blended vegetables create the thickness.

The pork itself was good but a little dry in spots. The roast pulled apart nicely but was not as moist as I would’ve expected. Some pieces were very nice but others needed the gravy. I would definitely make gravy this way again and will probably slow-roast another pork shoulder in the future.

Peas…two ways

  • Recipe(s): Cheesy peas (page 324) & Buttered peas with crunchy bacon (page 320)
  • Prep: Easy & Easy
  • Taste: Good & Good

Peas are such a versatile vegetable. They can be cooked many different ways, from boiling to frying, they can be served on their own or as an ingredient in a larger dish and they are always super easy to prep. If you buy frozen peas you really only have to heat them up and if you shell them yourself you only have to cook them slightly to soften the insides. They are actually one of my favourite vegetables. I was happy to see 4 recipes in, ‘Cook with Jamie…’ that were dedicated to the pea.

This blog will cover off two of those recipes, with the other two covered in previous blogs.

Cheesy Peas
We made this recipe back on March 23, 2014. It was one of the easiest recipes I have ever made. The prep is insanely easy and super quick. We used frozen peas, so all we had to do was remove the peas from the freezer, add 4 handfuls to a pot of water, boil until they’re tender, drain them, put them back in the pot, add parmesan and butter, crack some pepper over the top and serve. All in all it took approximately 10 minutes to complete the entire dish!

The dish is definitely good. It didn’t quite make it to an excellent rating as there wasn’t anything extra special about it. Yes, it had parmesan cheese and butter, but that was really it. The squeeze of lemon over the top at the end definitely helped bring some additional flavour but wasn’t enough to elevate it up a level. We would make it again though due to the fact that it was easy and good.

Bacon Peas
This recipe contains bacon, which, we all know, makes everything better. I mentioned earlier that peas are one of my favourite vegetables, so adding bacon to them seems like a winning combination right? Well, this recipe certainly didn’t disappoint. We made it on April 15, 2014 and, like the Cheesy Pea recipe, this one is also super easy to prep. Some may argue that there’s an added step of frying bacon but really, who doesn’t like to fry bacon? It smells so good when you’re cooking it that you forget it’s part of the prep!

Anyway…you will notice that we rated the finished dish as good. You may ask, ‘if you like peas and bacon so much why isn’t it excellent,’ which is a completely valid question. The reason it’s not excellent is because there was nothing in the dish that took it to the next level or surprised us. I think that because my partner’s Mom often makes a variation of this dish, and I like bacon so much, that we held this version to a higher standard. If I’d never had anything like this before I probably would have rated it excellent. I would definitely make it again and will continue to make it again, possibly with a few variations in the future.

Birthday Party Bonanza

  • Recipe(s): Minted peas under oil (page 323) & The best whole-baked carrots (page 312) & A rather pleasing carrot cake with lime mascarpone icing (page 387) & Poached salmon steak (page 220) & Crispy fragrant jumbo shrimp (page 262) & Scotch stovies (page 301)
  • Prep: See below
  • Taste: See below

On April 11, 2014 we hosted a birthday dinner for my partner’s Mom, at which we served 7 dishes from, ‘Cook with Jamie…’. I will cover off 6 of the dishes in this blog as I already did the Tomato Salad as part of another blog, titled, ‘5 Different Salads’.

Minted Peas
This was an extremely easy dish to concoct. All you have to do is put some frozen peas into water with mint and bring them to a boil, easy right? It doesn’t get any easier than this in my books. The finished product was like nothing I’d had before. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best dish. There was so much oil it almost overpowered the rest of the ingredients. It could be that we aren’t used to large amounts of oil in our dishes or that we didn’t use high enough quality olive oil but none of us really enjoyed it. This recipe may work though if you just cut back substantially on the oil. In the end we rated this as an ok dish.

Super easy to prep with an excellent taste. People at that dinner have subsequently asked for the recipe…enough said.

Carrot Cake
This was a very good carrot cake. It had some interesting flavours that most of us at dinner had never had in a carrot cake before. For instance, there was a hint of lime flavour, which was very unique. We used the juice of one lime and the recipe called for 2 – the crowd was split on whether a second lime would have enhanced the dish or not. The one nice thing about this version of carrot cake was that the icing didn’t seem too heavy, which was very welcome. Often, with store bought carrot cake the icing is so heavy that it overpowers everything. This one allowed you to taste the rest of the cake. My partner doesn’t normally like carrot cake and she thought this was the best one she had ever tried.

There is a lot to do in the prep so it is definitely moderate. You could cut down on the time requirement by purchasing grated carrot instead of grating it yourself, like we did. However, if you are making a carrot cake you may as well go whole hog on the prep.

Salmon Steak
Poaching has never been my favourite method to cook salmon. I find that the effort required is not justified in the final product. Yes, poaching probably produces the moistest fish but I never really find that the poaching liquor permeates the fish, which is the point. This dish was no different. The salmon tasted like salmon and the vegetables tasted like fish. The salmon was definitely good but, to me, it would have been good bbq’d or whole roasted in the oven as well. The vegetables on the other hand were not so good. Perhaps in the future, if we were to poach a fish again, we wouldn’t eat the vegetables from the poaching liquor?

Jumbo Shrimp
This was an absolutely brilliant dish! I think it actually earned 5 out of 5 stars from everyone who had one, meaning it is ranked as excellent. There is a bit of prep involved, such as; prepping the shrimp (butterflying and de-veining) and putting together the seasoned flour, but it is definitely worth it. I would say the prep is still easy though. I actually used the largest prawns I could find as I couldn’t find shrimp. I think this dish would have worked well with either jumbo shrimp or jumbo prawns. To make the seasoned flour we used a general seafood seasoning, which worked really well. Make sure you bake these long enough to have a nice firm crust around the shrimp but not so long that you over cook the shrimp/prawn on the inside. We cooked them perfectly, leaving a nice crispy outer layer with a soft/semi firm inside. Delicious!

The only think I didn’t like about the dish was the arugula on the plate. While it added a nice visual it didn’t contribute to the taste so in the future I may leave it out.

Scotch Stovies
This dish required quite a bit of prep and didn’t turn out like we hoped. In the end, the final dish was a touch too mushy and lacked a bit of flavour. We think that we could make this again with much less water added. We did use russet potatoes in this version so perhaps we will try and find a, ‘drier,’ potato if we make it again. The dish has potential but we were unable to unlock it on this attempt so it is ranked as good.

Final Verdict
All in all I would say the birthday party bonanza was a success. There were a few dishes that we would definitely make again and some that we would try with a few tweaks to the original recipe.

Pavlova Party

  • Recipe(s): Coconut, banana and passion fruit pavlova (page 397)
  • Prep: Easy
  • Taste: Good

Back on May 24, 2014 my partner was heading to a dinner party at a friend’s house. Her contribution to the party was a homemade pavlova. I had nothing to do with this dish as I was out of town, so below I have attempted to tell her story from what she’d told me/annotated in the cook book…

Pavlova is a classic dessert that’s light and fluffy and this recipe was just that. The differences here were the toppings/fruit that were required and the layering. The dish is started by making your basic meringue, which is easy and super delicious. You bake two separate rounds of meringue (top and bottom layer), then you make whipped cream and add a layer to the first meringue round with the addition of a layer of bananas and passion fruit seeds. I feel like you don’t normally see pavlova with passion fruit seeds or banana, so this was a bit different. Anyway, then the second round of meringue goes on top and to finish off, coconut shavings are sprinkled on top. ┬áThe fresh coconut shavings proved to be the most difficult part – my partner was by herself when she was making this and wasn’t able to get the fresh coconut opened. I’m told she watched several You Tube videos and tried imitating them but couldn’t get it to work. She even went out to buy a second coconut to try, but her efforts were in vain as she never was able to crack it. So in the end, she made a third trip to the store and bought dried shavings. This has been a reoccurring theme this year with this challenge – having to make multiple trips to the grocery store when we realize either we’ve forgotten something, bought the wrong item or screwed up and have to start again…I guess that’s why we’re calling it our ‘2014 challenge’.

This was a good dish but I’m not sure we’d make it with the coconut, banana and passion fruit seeds again (mainly because my partner doesn’t like coconut and neither of us are huge on passion fruit). I think we’d go for different fruit, like berries. Overall this is an easy recipe┬áto make. The two layers of meringue made it stand out a bit from other pavlovas but in the end, I’m not sure it really enhanced the dessert. Also, a single layer (i.e. meringue on bottom and fruit on top) makes for a more colourful presentation. Regardless, it was good and we’d definitely try making it again but just with different toppings.