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!

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.