Monday, October 18, 2010

Stilton Quinoa Bake - a loosey goosey recipe

It's not unusual for me to make up a recipe out of the necessity to get rid of things in my fridge. In this case, the food in question was a vast amount of quinoa I'd cooked for another purpose, for which only a tiny amount was used. D'oh! Quinoa overload! Little curly-cue bits everywhere! Ack!
Also: we had Stilton cheese. Mmmmmmm...cheeeeese...

(Of note: this recipe is not low-fat)

For those of you who aren't fans of stinky moldy cheese, you can make this bake sans the Stink. But it won't be Stilton Quinoa Bake. It'll be Some Other Cheese Product Quinoa Bake.

As this recipe is totally made up and I've only baked it once, ingredients and cooking times are, at best, approximate. Feel free to substitute at will. Because Stilton cheese is such a strong flavor on its own, I didn't spice this dish up with a lot of extra seasoning - just a little nutmeg and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste. The parsley adds brightness and cuts the richness somewhat. I used these cute little ramekins with glass lids that showed up randomly in our house, but you could use a regular casserole dish - I'd lower the temperature slightly, expect it to take longer to cook, and watch it like the proverbial bird of prey to make sure the top gets browned and the inside is fully heated through.

Leftover cooked quinoa (or rice). I had about 4 cups.
A knob of butter (did I mention this recipe is not low-fat?) - about 2 tablespoons or thereabout
A spoonful or two of all-purpose flour (about 2 tablespoons)
Some cream or milk. Maybe approximately a cuppish.
Some Stilton cheese (or other stinky well-melting cheese) - maybe about 1/2 cup, crumbled, with a little more for the top.
Bread crumbs. I cheat (!) and use the Italian Bread Crumbs that come in the blue cylindrical box. You could be schmancy and make your own, or panko bread crumbs would give some nice extra crunch.
A little paprika, a little salt and pepper, a dash of nutmeg
Parsley. A couple of tablespoons. Preferably fresh. Finely chopped.

  • Preheat oven to 400 or so and grease up a casserole dish or ramekins. 
  • In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour, keeping your spoon moving the whole time, until the flour's all nicely mixed in with the butter and there are no lumps, creating a roux
  • Slowly stir in the milk, again keeping the spoon moving, making sure no lumps are hanging around.
  • Add in a handful of Stilton, a little paprika, a dash of nutmeg, and most of your parsley, stirring until the Stilton's well mixed in with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Fold in the quinoa and stir gently to incorporate.
  • Pour the Stilton sauce-quinoa mixture into your baking receptacle. Sprinkle with a decent layer of bread crumbs - probably about 1/2 cup - and whatever Stilton you have left over.
  • Bake covered with a lid or foil for about 20 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned on top, about 10 more minutes. Because the quinoa and sauce are already cooked, watch your cooking time. You really only need to heat it through and brown on top. 
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining parsley on top. Let sit for a few minutes to settle, then serve hot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lemony Thumbprint Scones

I don't always like Bon Appetit magazine - the recipes tend to be over-inflated with too many steps, ingredients that aren't easy to track down (at least in North Yorkshire, England), and (strangely) weird short-cuts like using pre-packaged or processed foods. It's like their test kitchen doesn't exist on a normal plane of existence - or their editor takes naps at inappropriate times.


The recipe for Double-Lemon Thumbprint Scones in the September 2010 issue is actually pretty wonderful - with the small exception that you really don't need to grate THREE large lemons to get 6 teaspoons of zest. Also: you don't need to cut the scones so big. If you want to reduce the calorie count to something a little more manageable, use a 1 1/2 inch diameter cookie cutter instead of the recommended 2 1/2 inch cutter - or do what I did and use an empty little can from a fruit cup, with the bottom cut out*. As the recipe helpfully suggests, the trick with scones is to mess with them as little as humanly possible. Mix the ingredients just enough to combine; knead just enough to bring the dough together; and pat or roll the dough just enough to get it flat enough to cut into circles. The resulting scone is so light, so fluffy, so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that you'll have trouble not eating the whole pan yourself.

I was lucky enough to have a jar of home-made rhubarb-strawberry jam from Alaska, but if you're not blessed with friends who grow or catch things, squish them into jars, and send them thousands of miles to you in a package along with a pretty card, you can use whatever sorts of preserves you have abandoned in the back of your fridge or cupboard. The husbandface suggested using poppy seed paste next time. Hrm. I think he's just angling for me to make these again...

I added a couple of ingredients, but you can stick with the original five-ingredient recipe if you don't feel like rummaging through the cabinets or trekking to the store.

2 or 3 large lemons
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy whipping cream (double cream in the UK)
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange flower essence (optional)
2 tablespoons (about) cherry, raspberry, or strawberry preserves

  • Preheat oven to 425F.
  • Line large heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Finely grate enough peel from lemons to measure 6 teaspoons. Squeeze enough juice from 1 lemon to measure 1 tablespoon (do something creative and interesting with the other denuded lemons).
  • Whisk flour and 1/2 cup sugar in medium bowl to blend. Add 1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon almond extract and 1 teaspoon orange flower essence (if using), plus 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel. Stir gently to combine all ingredients.
  • Gather dough together and turn out onto lightly floured work surface (this will be a little tricky, as it really doesn't stick together very well. If the ingredients are totally not coming together, add a little ice water, just a wee bit at a time (like, maybe a teaspoon) until you can form a very loose, scrappy dough.
  • Knead briefly - 4 to 5 turns only. Pat or roll out dough to 1 inch thick round (if you're going to cut smaller scones, pat out a little thinner - like, 3/4 inch or so) and cut out rounds using a 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inch diameter cookie cutter or biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Re-roll dough scraps gently and cut out as many scones as you can get out of what's left. 
  • Transfer all your little dough rounds to that baking sheet, spacing about 1 inch apart. Now for the fun bit (this would be good to do with kids): using your thumb or the back of a melon-baller, push down center of each scone to make a deep indentation. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves into indentation of each scone.
  • Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel in small bowl to blend. Brush top of scones generously with lemon glaze. Bake scones until golden and a toothpick poked into one comes out clean - about 18 to 20 minutes.
  • Transfer thumbprint scones to rack and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature (if they last that long).
*Cutting the bottom of your impromptu cookie cutter out (as well as the top) stops suction from forming from the trapped air and makes it easier to pop your little dough rounds out. Make sure you use a can opener that leaves smooth edges, or be very careful with any sharp edges created. This is kind of a one-use trick, as cans can and will rust if you're not really careful when you dry them, and Whiff of Rust is not really a flavor you should strive for.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Best Roast Chicken Ever. Ever!

Seriously. Ever.

I don't remember my first roast chicken, but I haven't done all that many. Maybe a handful of fowls have met their ultimate end in my roasting pan. Modern American cooks are not as likely as their forebears to choose a whole chicken in the grocery store or butcher. The lure of the ready-made is too appealing - the slick packaging of neat pink slabs of boneless skinless chicken breasts, injected with hormones antibiotics and water and artificial colouring, are hard to resist. I still buy the occasional pack myself. And there's no guarantee that buying a whole chicken is any better for either you or the chicken. There is something to be said, however, for less processing of the chicken's mortal remains. Even though it means subjecting the thing to further indignities (detailed below), at least a human hand is doing it, rather than a machine. It certainly puts you more in touch (literally) with your food.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

I get a hankering for this soup every once in a while, which is a good thing, since it's a) healthy; b) cheap; and c) really easy and quick. Easily vegan-able, even, for those of you who lean that way! Spice it up or add extra cream - either way,it's a wonderful light dinner with some crusty bread and maybe a little green salad. There are hundreds of recipes out there for this soup - whatever you do, RUN SCREAMING from any that suggests you use half and half! Nastiness.
Makes 6-8 servings, give or take.
2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
4 leeks, washed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
6 cups (1.5l) chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 1/4-pounds (600 g) potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
2 tablespoons per bowl (give or take) of light cream, for swirliness
  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the slices leeks and season with salt. Cook the leeks over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until they’re completely soft and wilted.
  • Add the thyme and chili powder, and stir for about 30 seconds, cooking them with the leeks to release their flavors.
  • Pour in the water or stock, whichever you're using, and add the potatoes and bay leaves.
  • Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when poked with a sharp knife. Depending on which potatoes you used, it could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Pluck out the bay leaves and puree the soup with the white pepper, seasoning with more salt if necessary. I use an immersion (stick) blender, but if you use a standard blender, be sure not to fill it more than half-full and secure the lid, and cover it with a tea towel when blending, to avoid hot soup or steam for causing problems. Don’t use a food processor as that will make the potato purée gummy.
  • If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water, until it’s the desired consistency.
  • Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with a little fresh chopped thyme or parsley, and swirl a little light cream in (if you're feeling fancy).