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.

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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.

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.

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.

Carrots
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.