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Friday, June 19, 2015

An Anniversary Cheesecake to Top All Others

Regular readers will know that this past week was our wedding anniversary. Fourteen years since we said "I do" in a tiny English chapel in front of the wonderfully stereotypically English Father Steptoe.

With our anniversary comes the usual "what to make" panic. This year, I settled on the simple for the main course - a caprese salad, followed by scallops and red peppers on a bed of sun-dried tomato quinoa. Simple and light... which is just as well since I made something akin to the world's largest cheesecake for dessert.

Two and a half pounds of cream cheese.
Seven eggs.

A true monster.
It took much of the day to make, and truly I still didn't leave enough time for it to set up properly, which meant it was much better the next day, and the day after.

If you want to recreate this monster, here's all you need:

Raspberry and Chocolate-Topped Monster Cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbs melted butter

5 packages of cream cheese (2 1/2 lbs), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
3 tbs lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate topping:
7 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 tbs butter

3 6oz packages fresh raspberries
1 cup raspberry jam
Feel free to use a different fruit or topping to suit your tastes.

Wrap the outside of a 9 inch springform pan in foil so that it doesn't leak water. Spray the inside of the pan with nonstick spray. Place about 1-2 inches of water in a roasting pan. Put the roasting pan in the lower part of your oven and preheat to 350F. Hopefully you have brought your eggs to room temperature. If not, switch off the oven, swear a few times, and read a magazine while the eggs sit on the counter. Come back to kitchen, turn oven back on, and continue.

Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter and press into the base of the springform tin.

Now to make the filling with my fab KitchenAid mixer. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and put in a large bowl with the sugar. Mix on medium-high speed until it is fluffy. Lower the speed a little and add the eggs, one at a time, and then the egg yolks. Once they are all blended, add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Pour over the cheesecake base and put the tin in the water bath (roasting pan) in the oven. Leave to bake for about 90 minutes. My oven runs a little hot so it only needed the 90 but you may need up to half an hour more. It should be firm but still a little loose in the center.

Turn off the oven and leave the door open for about an hour with the cheesecake still in the water bath. This lets the cheesecake set up without cracking.

After an hour, remove from the oven to a wire rack where it can cool for another couple of hours before you put it in the fridge.

Leave the cheesecake in the fridge for an hour and then it is time to add the topping. Pulse the chocolate in a blender until it resembles crumbs. You don't have to do this but it makes the mixing quicker. Heat the cream and butter for a few minutes until the butter has melted. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate, stirring until it has melted to form a nice thick sauce. Cool for about 15 minutes before pouring on the cheesecake.

While that is cooling, remove the cheesecake from the fridge. At this point, I removed it from the springform pan, because there was no more space in the tin! Pour the cooled chocolate topping over the cheesecake, allowing it to run down the sides.

Back to the fridge for at least four more hours. I would say longer is better.

When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, mix the berries and jam and spread over the set chocolate. Remind yourself that there is time to diet next week (because let's face it, you'll be eating leftovers for a while).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Moroccan-inspired Scallops on Lemongrass and Chive Risotto

I love scallops. I love seafood, but scallops in particular, with their subtle taste that lends them to an endless variety of flavor additions, and their soft but oh-so-slightly meaty texture.

I'm also very wary of buying fish or seafood because of overfishing, mercury contamination, and so on, which is why I absolutely adore the Seafood Watch app on my phone. Created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the app is my best friend when I am seafood shopping or dining out. Simply plug in the type of fish you are considering, whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised, and the app will tell you whether it is safe to eat, or whether you might want to avoid it. It will also suggest good alternatives. The app is free and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy seafood or sushi, download it today. Stay informed and save the oceans!

Recently I saw nice big sea scallops in the local store. Pulling out my trusty app, I soon learned that sea scallops are generally ok to eat, so off to the checkout I went, feeling happy as a ... clam disguised as a scallop!

With a quite a collection of scallop recipes all waiting to be tried, I settled on this one to go first. It is from the book Moroccan Modern by Hassan M'Souli.

Grilled Scallops on a Bed of Lemongrass and Chive Risotto
Serves 2 (with a large amount of risotto left over)

5 c fish stock
1 c dry white wine
2 sticks lemongrass, sliced into rings
2 tbs olive oil
2 c Arborio rice
3 tbs lemon juice
1/2 c chopped chives
1/2 c Parmesan cheese

10 scallops
6 tbs melted butter
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbs finely chopped cilantro

Place stock, wine and lemongrass into a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Strain to remove lemongrass. Heat oil in large saucepan and fry rice for 1 minute.

Add stock a bit at a time to rice, stirring as you go. Cook, stirring and adding stock, for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender. Stir in lemon juice, chives and Parmesan. Cover and keep warm.

Mix scallops with butter, pepper and cilantro. Pan fry for a couple of minutes each side until opaque, taking care not to overcook.

Place risotto onto plates and pile scallops on top. 

We had this with a nice side salad and, as I mentioned above, there is a lot of risotto so you could easily double the amount of scallops and serve four people with the same amount of rice.

Now I shared the recipe with you as it is in the book. We had no complaints and ate it all quite happily. The flavors are very subtle. And that is where my palate's liking for strong flavors has a few suggestions for next time. If you like the recipe as is, by all means ignore what I am about to say. On the other hand, you might want to add some mint, either to the side salad or to the risotto itself (perhaps as a garnish) to kick up the Moroccan flavors a little. Alternatively, I can't help but admit that chili flakes are my current culinary best friend and I think a dash of chili flakes would add a satisfying spiciness to the dish.

Whatever you choose, bon appetit!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: A Life of Spice

It's not very often that I write a book review here at CrazyEnglishwomanCooks, and it's even less often that I write a review for a book that doesn't include any recipes.
But when food writer Monica Bhide asked if I would like to see a review copy of her latest book, A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture and Life, I jumped at the chance.

I have been an admirer of Monica for several years now and have been delighted to get to know her a little through an online writing group. I highly recommend her books on Indian cooking. Her anthology, In Conversation with Exception Women, is one that I refer to time and time again whenever I feel in need of a little inspiration.

Now, in A Life of Spice, Monica shares a collection of essays tying together personal recollections and treasured memories of food described in beautifully rich language, accompanied by the stunning photography of Simi Jois.

Just one of the many vibrant photos by Simi Jois

A Life of Spice opens with an excerpt from Monica's upcoming food memoir, what she describes as "the beginning of our story. A story about finding yourself and your destiny when you have lost the very thing that defines you most: your homeland." The tale sets the stage for the remainder of the book, where it becomes clear that when you have lost your homeland, food remains as a means of knowing yourself, your culture, and your past.

One thing I have always loved about Monica's writing is her honesty. She is not afraid to hide her flaws. Her failings as a cook are openly acknowledged, celebrated even, as a step along the path to success. Who among us has not failed miserably in an attempt to make a dish? Yet all too often, we are faced with food writers who present only the successes, who seem to run from revealing that a dish has flopped, as if it somehow makes them less than perfect. Not so with Monica. Her essay Why We Are Afraid to Cook charmingly recalls her attempt to make pad thai. By her own admission, the results tasted abysmal. When she shared this tale, some readers responded with horror that she, a cookbook author, should publicly admit her shame. I, for one, relish such honesty about failing. It is what allows me to laugh at my own failures in the kitchen.
The wonderfully vivacious Monica Bhide. Photo by Lucy Schaffer.

But back to the book.

A Life of Spice is filled with personal tales, memories, family, and food. If you are a cook, you may find yourself picking up nuggets of inspiration, or perhaps taking an extra moment to sniff that cardamom before you put it in tonight's curry. But even if you are not a cook, you are an eater. And your mouth will water as you read, as you conjure up the aromas and tastes that Monica brings to life with words.

I have not yet finished A Life of Spice, but it will be on my e-reader as I travel to New York this week. And when I return, hopefully my hardcopy will have been delivered. Because - and trust me on this - as nice as the e-copy is, you will also want to appreciate the images that accompany the book.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Like Ice Cream? Like Creme Eggs? Then Combine the Two!

The older I get, the more I realize that tastes do indeed change with age. Tomatoes were something I couldn't stand when I was a teen; now I will happily consume a punnet of red cherry toms as a snack. Goat cheese, olives, avocado - all things that now are must-haves for me, but which I once couldn't stand to be near.

My palate has also moved away from sweets toward a preference for savory. With a choice between a hunk of cheese and a piece of candy, the cheese would win nine out of ten times.

But I still occasionally get cravings for sweets and when I do, there are usually only two things that can ease the yearning: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and good chocolate. Oh, and Culver's frozen custard. But that's not a sweet, right? It's an essential calcium fix!

Now our good friends the Blyths, like us, have adventurous palates. We've all lived in Japan. We've all traveled extensively. And we all have enjoyed the food wherever we go. So when we get together, we usually do something fun with food - anything from salsa tastings to Thanksgiving-themed pizza to the oddest combinations we can find. Last week, since we were getting together over Easter, the theme was set for a good old-fashioned candy binge. There was a spiral ham and some marvellous cheese, but the highlight of the table was dishes piled high with malted robin's eggs, candy floss, marshmallows, and more.... which is how we learned just how much our tastes had changed. It didn't take very long for us to all feel the effects of so much sugar (although I did reason that alternating with chunks of cheese was an excellent method of cutting the effects).

But we still had my contribution for the evening.

I have mentioned before the wonderful Christmas gift from my mother, My Cuisinart ice cream maker is a dream. Within 20 minutes, I have soft-serve ice cream and it makes just the right amount for a small household. So without further ado, I give you...

Chocolate Creme Egg Ice Cream

3 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs agave nectar
pinch salt
4 tsp flour
4 oz milk chocolate chips
8 oz mini Creme Eggs, chopped up
1 tsp vanilla extract

Over a low heat, combine 2 cups cream, the cocoa, sugar, agave and salt. Add the chocolate chips and half of the mini eggs. Continue stirring over a low to medium heat, taking care not to let the mixture scorch. Stir until the chocolate has completely melted. Remove from the heat.

Mix a little of the remaining cream with the flour. Add this, along with the rest of the cream and the vanilla to the melted chocolate mix and stir well.

Put into a freezer bag and leave to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours, resisting the urge to drink it down now!

Once it has cooled, pour into your Cuisinart ice cream maker and run the machine for about 20 minutes. Pour in the rest of the chopped mini eggs and run for one or two more minutes so that they are nicely mixed in.

Now you have nice soft-serve ice cream, but I like to put mine in a Rubbermaid (BPA-free) container and leave in the freezer for another few hours to firm up a bit more.

The resulting ice cream is thick, rich, and oh so chocolatey!

Sadly, hubby and I spent much of Sunday recovering from the after-effects of our candy binge - once the sugar high had worn off, we were little better than extras from The Walking Dead. From now on, I'll enjoy my sweet stuff in moderation... and ice cream.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Turkey Spinach Loaf and Banana Bread Pudding

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

After a hectic month of being on a film set, I am back home and caught up enough to be able to spend some time in the kitchen again. (One of the things I miss most when I'm away from home is cooking in my own kitchen.)

By Friday, I was caught up on sleep, work, laundry, and grocery shopping to get me to the stove!

Whenever I have ground turkey handy, I always seem to end up making some sort of turkey burgers. Now don't get me wrong, a nicely spiced turkey burger with some roasted red peppers and melted Provolone is all well and good, but sometimes you want something else. While hubby loves meatloaf, I am no always as enamored and I was craving spinach. I could chop the spinach into the ground turkey but that always feels like a cheat to get other people to eat it. I like my spinach loud and proud. So why not a type of meaty Swiss roll creation, with spinach wrapped inside?

Turkey-Spinach Roll

1 1/4 lbs ground turkey (or beef)
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
salt and pepper
bag baby spinach
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic
Italian seasoning
pizza sauce
2 slices Provolone

You could use frozen spinach for this if you prefer, but I always find it to have a rather unpleasant chemically aftertaste.
First things first. Find a cookie/baking tray and line it with parchment paper. You don't want a huge tray. I think mine was about 11x14.
In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, egg, and some Italian seasonings of your choice. Dump the turkey mixture on the parchment paper and, using your hands, spread out to cover the tray.
If you are using frozen spinach, skip the next step, but I am assuming you are using fresh, in which case... Place the spinach (about 10 oz) in a large pan with the crushed garlic, seasonings, and about 1 tbs water. Cover and leave over a low heat until the spinach has wilted. Leave the spinach to cool and drain it in a sieve to remove some of the liquid.
While your spinach is cooling, preheat the oven to 350F.
Squeeze any remaining liquid from the spinach and spread it over the turkey mixture, leaving some space at either edge. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the spinach.
Use the parchment paper as a guide to help you roll it up, as you would a Swiss roll.
Carefully transfer to a baking rack and cook over a baking sheet at 350F for 50 minutes.
When the roll is cooked, spread a few tablespoons of pizza sauce over the top, followed by the slices of Provolone. Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese in melty and bubbling.

Serve with additional warmed sauce.

Is it a meatloaf? A pizza without dough?
Your guess is as good as mine but there were no complaints from either of us.

The bread pudding for dessert came about because I had a lot of bread left over from various shooting days (PBJ being a popular on-set snack). My ever brilliant mum suggested making bread pudding and so I ended up making two batches of this, one as a surprise for my father-in-law.

Not a bad surprise to come home to.

You can find the recipe for this Bananas Foster Bread Pudding over at the Brown Eyed Baker.

If you're not a fan of rum, leave it out of the sauce or just use a smaller amount and some vanilla extract. Personally, I'm loving the rum.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Beef Shanks and Red Cabbage

Occasionally I'll find myself in the grocery store staring at something and thinking, "I've never used one of those before. I must have it." It's how I came to try Buddha's Hand and chicken livers. Most often, this happens as I'm browsing the meat department.

So that's how I came home recently with a bag of beef shanks.

If you're not familiar with them, here's one of the thick slices of shank I prepared. Notice the large bone running through it, along with the lines of muscle. This is not a piece of beef that you can throw in a skillet for a few minutes and enjoy.
This is a tough piece of meat, but that doesn't mean you can't cook it into something deliciously tender.

The secret to a good beef shank is slow cooking, giving the meat and tissue a chance to soften and break down. Slow cooking also allows the marrow in the center of that bone to break down and add an extra dimension of meaty tastiness to your dish. It is perfect when served with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, as below:

You don't need a whole heap of ingredients to make this dish but you do need plenty of time (slow-cooker) and some preparation.

Slow-Cooked Beef Shanks
The following amounts made enough for the two of us to enjoy dinner two days in a row, plus some left for me to enjoy on the third day.

2 lbs beef shank
salt and pepper
oil of your choice, personally I like a little coconut, bacon grease, or good old butter
a head of garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
herbs of your choice - I used oregano
1 bottle red wine
4 cups beef broth
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
about 6 oz mushrooms

Grab your cast iron skillet and heat it over a fairly high heat. Add a little oil. When the oil is hot, add your beef shanks, sprinkled with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Sear the shanks until nicely browned on each side.

They'll look pretty tasty at this point but remember what I said - this is a tough meat and needs more cooking. 
Put the browned shanks in your slow cooker.
In the same skillet, lower the heat and cook the garlic, onion, and celery until it's softened and golden. Add the herbs, along with the broth and wine. I had a box of Cabernet handy and used some of that. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Pour it over the meat, add a splash of balsamic, and leave to cook in the slow cooker, on LOW for about 8 hours. 
When there was about an hour left, I sauteed some mushrooms and added them in for a bit of extra flavor, not that the meat needs it.
I mentioned that I served this with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, so let's talk a little about the cabbage.
Red cabbage is a truly under-rated and highly mistreated vegetable.
It adds a fabulous crunch and color to dishes. I first encountered it while I was working in Bavaria. We would cook it in apple juice with juniper berries. 
Sadly, people had a tendency to boil it until it takes on a most unappetizing grey hue. No wonder no one wants to eat it then!
Don't mistreat your cabbage. First, don't boil it. Why this obsession with boiling vegetables until they are mush? Simply chop it up and braise it on the stove top with a little butter, seasoning, red wine or water, and caraway seed (if that is to your liking). But also add a splash of vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will help it keep its color. Apple cider, red wine, balsamic - whatever you like - just add a tablespoon or two.

So now you have beautifully colored red cabbage, with the most tender meat. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Tasty January Round-Up

Given that the month has flown by, and I have not blogged at all, I decided to do a round-up of some of my favorite foodie news from this month.

1. Siggi's yogurt. (Full Disclosure: I am a Siggi's brand ambassador which means I do get free yogurt. However, I became one because I love the yogurt so much.) 

I'm kind of picky when it comes to yogurt. I like my yogurt in the morning for breakfast, I but I don't want a ton of added sugars and colorings. If you read the ingredient lists of some yogurts, you'll be absolutely horrified. As a result, I have a few specific brands that I stick to, and Siggi's is my latest discovery.

Siggi's is an Icelandic-style yogurt, made in a dairy up in New York state. I know - you've had Greek yogurt; you may have even had Australian yogurt; so what the heck is Icelandic yogurt? Skyr, as it is known to those in the know, is a very thick, strained yogurt. It is high in protein, low in sugar, from happy hormone-free cows, and free of any artificial additives. It also comes in a great range of flavors, including vanilla, coconut, blueberry, and more. I'm hoping to convince my local store manager to start stocking some of the more unusual flavors so I can give them a try. Mango-Jalapeno anyone?

Now because it is so thick and quite tart, it is not for everyone. I've had some friends who love Greek yogurt try this and find it not to their liking at all. But it is now a regular in my fridge. 

I've also discovered it is useful in cooking too. Its super-thick consistency makes it a perfect substitute for sour cream. I recently used the vanilla when making sugar cookies, and can you imagine the mango-jalapeno in tacos? (Can you tell I really want to try that flavor?)

I have a bunch of coupons, so if you have seen this in your local store and want to give it a try for free, drop me a line and I'll mail you a coupon. 

2. Ice-cream. I may have to try some Siggi's in my next batch of ice-cream. Years ago, my in-laws bought us an ice-cream maker, but it was huge. We never used it because we could never justify the time and effort needed, messing with ice and rock salt, let alone the 5 quarts of ice cream it would make for just two of us. 

Then one of my friends told me about her awesome new machine from Cuisinart. Simple to use, with soft-serve ice cream in 15-20 minutes, and it makes up to 1.5 quarts. My wonderful mum bought me one for Christmas and this week I made my first batch - vanilla with a few leftover spoonfuls of chocolate Nutella ganache from a baking project. It made just the right amount for the two of us to indulge two evenings in a row. The flavor was wonderful - a delicate hint of chocolate and hazelnut in vanilla. Thick, creamy, and so easy to make. Expect more ice cream recipes in the coming months!

3. Butternut+maple+bacon=delicious! 

A recipe for a yummy evening risotto with a perhaps-unexpected flavor combination. I came across a recipe for farotto from Bob's Red Mill, but fancied a more straightforward risotto. No pics, but here's the recipe and I highly recommend it.

1 cup Arborio rice
4-5 cups chicken broth (Luckily, I had roasted a chicken just a few days earlier and had saved the carcass to make my own broth.)
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups butternut squash, cubed (If you like, you can roast this in advance and toss in at the end, but I added mine raw to cook with the rice.)
3 tbs maple syrup
salt and pepper

Fry the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove from the pan, but keep the bacon fat in the pan and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and rice and stir for a minute or so. Add the white wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the squash and a few ladlefuls of the broth. Continue to simmer, adding more broth as needed. 
Once the rice and squash are cooked to the consistency of your liking, stir in the bacon and maple syrup.
Season with the salt and pepper. 
If you like, you can also add some parmesan.

So that's it for this month. Hopefully, you won't have to wait until the end of February for my next post, especially since I'm planning something awesome with beef shanks tomorrow. On the other hand, I will be involved in making a movie, so I can't make any promises!