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Whatever happened to Delia Smith? You know who I’m talking about, the bestselling English cookbook writer and renowned television personality. Before there was Nigella, there was Delia. Perhaps she is still big across the pond, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen head or tail of her in this neck of the woods. I remember watching her on the Food Network years ago, instructing in her straightforward and somewhat starchy style. Compared to the razzle and dazzle of the new generation of television chefs, she seems like a throwback. There’s no coyness, no simpering, certainly no cursing and throwing pans across the kitchen. With Delia, it’s all about the food

How to Cook Book One was my very first real cookbook. By real I mean the kind of cookbook that teaches technique, that is focused on real food made from fresh ingredients–the opposite of the land of dump-and-pour Rachel Ray style of cooking that I once inhabited. Using her recipes I made some of the best dishes of my life and realized that I wasn’t hopeless in the kitchen. With a truly good recipe, anyone can make something fantastic. The trick is separating the wheat from the chaff. Delia’s cooking is wheat.

When I turn on the Food Network these days I am almost always disappointed. The lineup is full of shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and The F  Word–insipid reality shows where the food is distant to the antics of the participants. Shows like Delia’s actually taught people how to cook, but it seems that people who want to learn how to cook are no longer the network’s primary audience these days, which I think is a shame. Maybe one day we’ll get bored with the reality tv model and it will all come full circle. But in the meantime, I have Delia’s books.

Delia Smith’s Classic Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

Serves 2-3 (enough for 12 ounces/350 grams pasta)

2 lbs/8 oz/1.15 kg fresh ripe tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed

approx. 12 large leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces

Parmigiano Reggiano, to serve

salt and freshly milled black pepper

Directions:

1) To skin the tomatoes pour boiling water over them and leave them in the water for exactly one minute. Drain and gently peel off the skins. Reserve 3 of the tomatoes for later and roughly chop the rest.

2) Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, then add the onions and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes, until they are a pale gold. Add the chopped tomatoes and about 1/3 of the basil. Season with some salt and pepper.

3) Simmer the tomatoes on very low heat for 1 1/2 hours, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are reduced to a thick, jam-like consistency, while stirring occasionally.

4) Roughly chop the reserved tomatoes and stir them in along with the rest of the basil leaves.

5) When serving the pasta, cook for one minute less than usual. Return it to the saucepan after draining and mix with the sauce, cooking for one minute. Serve with a sprinkling of the parmesan cheese.

In the last couple of years, Vancouver has been home to a proliferation of bistro-style restaurants serving up the kind of rustic fare you might find in a French country kitchen–onion tarts, bubbling gratins, and hearty stews.  Exactly my favorite type of food. When I’m not cooking it, I’m making my way across this fair city, fork in hand, sampling the best these little French-style eateries have to offer.

Enter La Brasserie, bistro cooking with flare. Unlike its cousins Les Faux Bourgeois or Bistrot Bistro, this eatery offers French specialties with a German twist.  Sauerbrauten sits on the menu comfortably next to the steak frites, which shouldn’t be as surprising as it seems. This is exactly the kind of food you would find in Alsace, the region of France that shares a border with Germany. Fittingly enough, Alsace is also where the brasserie originated.

I had been wanting to visit La Brasserie since it opened, and finally rounded up a couple of food bloggers to come with me. It’s a small space, with only 35 seats and does not take reservations, so I met Sherman from Sherman’s Food Adventures and Kim-Kiu from I’m Only Here for the Food right after work, at 5:30. Showing up shortly after opening turned out to be a good idea. We were the first patrons of the evening but the place filled up quickly after our arrival.

I had briefly perused the menu online but as I thought about what I might order, I realized that the starters appealed to me more than the mains. There was an Alsatian onion tart, a truffle poutine, and a French onion soup gratinee–one of my favorite dishes. If you live outside of Canada, you might not have heard of poutine. It’s a French Canadian specialty which basically consists of fries topped with cheese curds and smothered with gravy. I finally decided to order the mussels and frites and pass up an appetizer, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to eat it all if I ordered anything more.

Our waitress brought us a couple of selections of bread on a wooden board, accompanied by some butter and a pork and chicken rillette. My table mates were not terribly impressed but I enjoyed it, gobbling down more than my fair share. I’ve rarely met a baguette I didn’t like. My philosophy about bread is … even when it’s not good it’s not that bad. The rillette, had a nice texture but was underseasoned for my tastes. Still, I really liked the idea of serving a rillette with bread.

However, I did sample Sherman’s poutine and Kim’s starter–the steak tartare.  I can say that it was a better than a lot of poutine I’ve had, though I didn’t particularly notice anything even vaguely truffly about it. The cheese curds provided the requisite “squeek” but the amount of gravy on the fries was overkill, leading them to become soggy quickly; this bothered my friends, who also thought the gravy was too peppery. I myself didn’t find this to be the case.

Kim’s steak tartare came with some thin and deliciously crispy toasts. The steak tartare had an overtone of horseradish  that overpowered the beef, and had some chives and onion in it to give it more texture. It was a nice touch, but like the rillette, I felt it was a bit on the bland side.

Our mains came in due time, and we all took turns sampling each other’s orders. Sherman and Kim had focused on the Germanic side of things by ordering suckling pig and lamb cheeks respectively; I felt as though I were dining in a Belgian restaurant with my mussels and fries. My mollusks came in a broth of saffron, white wine and garlic. It is hard to go wrong with mussels, and these were plump and delicious, though I didn’t really taste much saffron in the dish, if any at all. But the fries! Can I just tell you about these frites?  Piping hot and crispy on the inside with a soft, mealy center and a deeply potatoey taste. Dipped in a side of fresh mayonnaise, they were incredible and absolutely worth the price of admission.

Sherman’s pork was served with sauerkraut and schupfnudel–a dumpling that looks (as Kim put it) like oversized gnocchi. As these are staples at the Eastern European table, this dish was not something I would have ordered myself. The dumplings were heavier than they were supposed to be. The suckling pig was slightly dry but had a browned crispy skin–the best part of any pork dish, in my opinion. The sauerkraut, with its tartness, balanced the meal out nicely, which is the point of sauerkraut, is it not?

I sampled Kim’s braised lamb cheeks as well, which came with celery root puree, caramelized vegetables, and a rosemary jus. The vegetables were well prepared, which should be a given but it’s surprising how many restaurants fail in this regard. Although I love lamb, I had never had lamb cheeks before, and found them too gamey.

Overall, I had an enjoyable meal at La Brasserie, though the food was generally underseasoned for my palette. I don’t think my blogger friends will rush to go back to this place, but I see a bucket of those frites in my near future. Plus, I want to try that onion tart.

La Brasserie is open seven days a week from 5:00 pm to midnight.

La Brasserie

1091 Davie Street

Vancouver, BC

(604) 568-6399

All photographs are courtesy of Kim-Kiu Ho of the blog I’m Only Here for the food. Thanks Kim!

For more photos, or reviews of the Vancouver restaurant scene, check out Kim’s blog.

Shermans’ review can be found here and Kim’s here.

La Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Thanks to everyone who commented on their favorite holiday appetizer for the giveaway of the Le Creuset mortar and pestle. The randomly drawn winner of this lovely gift is Kristin from the blog Dinner du Jour.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss any future giveaways, be sure to subscribe to my feed or join my email list.

I hope everyone’s New Year is off to a great start.

Darina

If you think about chicken, it’s quite an interesting bird, wouldn’t you say? I can’t think of any food that is as versatile. There’s chicken soup, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken fricassee, and butter chicken. There’s lemon chicken, chicken teriyaki, stewed chicken–you get the picture.  Look at the All Recipes database and you will find over 3910 chicken recipes. There’s no doubt about it, chicken is definitely one of the most popular global foods, which is why it sometimes bores me silly. There’s something that is inherently limiting in having so much choice. It’s like trying to choose between 100 different brands of cereal at the supermarket. Faced with so many options, I get confused and often walk away with none. This is how I feel about chicken.

But the other way I was trying to think of what to serve at a family dinner. I wanted a one-pot deal, something easy-peasy, requiring few ingredients and little time, but something that would still comfort and satisfy. Although I hadn’t made it in years, chicken and dumplings came to mind and I got out my dusty old Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book–which is exactly the type of cookbook you should have on hand when you want to make good ol’ American comfort food. It goes over all the basics of ingredients, kitchen appliances and equipment, and even includes shopping strategies for shopping, menu creation, and saving time in the kitchen. It’s one of those type of cookbooks that you always forget you seem to bypass for the glossier, high-profile ones, which is really too bad, because it contains a lot of useful information and tasty recipes galore.

The next time you’re wondering what to cook, pull out one of those classic books that are gathering dust on your shelves. You may find something new to add to your repertoire.

Chicken & Dumplings

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2-2 1/2 pounds meaty chicken pieces (thighs, breasts, drumsticks)

3 cups water

1 medium onion, cut into wedges

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 bay leaf

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1 beaten egg

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 cup cold water

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

1) Skin chicken, if desired. Rinse pieces. In a large pot combine chicken, the 3 cups water, onion, basil, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, marjoram, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 25 minutes.

2) Add celery, carrots, and mushrooms. Return mixture to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for ten more minutes or until the chicken pieces and vegetables are tender. Discard the bay leaf.

3) T make the dumplings, combine the 1 cup flour, parsley, baking powder, the 1/4 teaspoon salt, and oregano in a mixing bowl. In another bowl combine the egg, milk, and oil; add to flour mixture. Stir with a fork until just moistened.

4) Drop the batter onto the hot chicken in broth, making 6-8 dumplings. Do not drop the dumpling into the liquid. Return to boiling, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a dumpling comes out clean. Do not lift the cover while simmering. Transfer chicken, dumplings, and vegetables to a serving platter. Keep warm.

5) To make the gravy, pour the broth into a large measuring cup. Skim the fat from the broth and discard. Measure out 2 cups of the broth and return to pot. Combine the 1/2 cup cold water and the 1/4 cup flour. Stir into the broth.

6) Cook and stir until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for one minute more. Serve gravy over chicken and dumplings.

One of my favorite websites is Cookware.com, which features a plethora of products from great lines such as Le  Creuset, Cuisinart, and Rachael Ray. The deals and selection are amazing. I could browse for hours, composing a list of all the bakeware, cutlery, and dishes I want to buy. If I’m looking for something specific, I know I can find it on this site. The array of products is astounding.

When Cookware.com contacted me about doing a giveaway, I was thrilled. Here is what I’ve decided on: a Le Creuset mortar and pestle set in “Caribbean Blue”. Isn’t it pretty? I bet it would look fabulous in your kitchen.

Perfect for grinding spices, making pesto or a traditional French aioli. If you want a shot of winning this little guy, please leave me a comment about your favorite holiday appetizer. The contest is available to Canadians and American readers. The deadline for responses is midnight January 3, 2010.

Don’t miss any upcoming giveaways or delicious recipes! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or email, or follow me on Twitter.

Besides gorging on all the delectable baked goods at holiday time, I also love stuffing myself silly with the fruits of the season–mainly mandarin oranges and pomegranates. In fact, if I had to choose between the former or the latter, I would have a hard time deciding. As much as I love a good linzer cookie, I think life would seem very dull without the rich tang of pomegranate.

Pomegranates have been on my mind since POM Wonderful in California sent me several coupons for their pomegranate juice. If you haven’t tried it, run, run, run to the nearest store and get yourself some. The company grows, harvests and ships their own pomegranates, using practices that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. The juice is one hundred percent natural pomegranate, which is chock full of vitamins and antioxidants.

I picked up a few bottles at my local market and promptly made myself a pomegranate martini–probably not what POM Wonderful had in mind when offering me to try their healthy drink. Now if you’re anything like me, the more you have something you love the more you want it, and pomegranates are no exception. Soon I was looking for recipes to feed my pomegranate cravings. With a bit of sleuthing, I unearthed this recipe for Pomegranate Pound Cake, which is just as lovely as it sounds. Who would have thought of putting pomegranate seeds in cake? Not I. The addition of buttermilk to this recipe creates a moist cake that is surprisingly light–a perfect foil to tantalizing crunch of the pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Pound Cake

Adapted from Cooking light, November 1999


Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons butter

2 large eggs

1 large egg white

3/4 cup buttermilk

grated zest of one lemon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 large)

cooking spray

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Spray pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2) Beat sugar and butter at medium-high speed with a mixer until well-blended. Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3) Combine buttermilk, lemon rind, vanilla and baking soda. Mix flour and salt, stirring well with a whisk.

4) Add flour mixture to sugar and butter mixture alternately. Fold in pomegranate seeds.

5) Spoon batter evenly into the pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on the wire rack.

Notes:

* yogurt may be substituted for the buttermilk in the same amount

* you can use a 9 or 10-inch bundt pan or an 8×4-inch loaf pan for this cake


fishing

It’s been a few days since I posted and it will be a few more until I do again. I’m on holiday and will back next week with new recipes and photos from my excursion into the Canadian wilderness.

See you next week, dear readers!

cacakes

Baking, I’m starting to realize, is a lot like good looks. Either you have it or you don’t. In fact, when it comes to baking, it’s all about the pretty. Who amongst us hasn’t whipped up a cake that tasted scrumptious but was a little lopsided? Or made a tart that shrank coyly away from its shell, leaving an uneven, unfillable mess. If you haven’t, then you are a talent, indeed. But if I struggle with anything in the kitchen, it’s baking.

Some people are naturals, others need a little extra help. There’s a reason most French women would never dream of doing their own baking, besides the fact that in France the accessibility of excellent bakeries can make it seem pointless. The fact is, baking is hard.

Most of the time, my creations fall short of my vision for them. Yet sometimes a recipe comes along that is simple, requires no complicated techniques or ingredients, yet turns out beautifully enough to make you look like a baking rock star. I feel like that about these little chocolate cakes. Served up individually, there are no worries about lopsidedness. Topped with a rich chocolate glaze, there’s no chance of crumbs marring the icing. If you have some little brioche tins kicking around to bake them in, even better–for they will look unbearably elegant just topped with a sprinkling of icing sugar and and a few raspberries on the side.

Does the applesauce in this seem strange? The fruit taste in this is so subtle; what the applesauce really does is give the cakes an easy slicing texture and a moisture that keeps them fresh for days. Adding applesauce can also be a great way to reduce sugar or fat in baked goods, if that’s your thing.

This recipe is adapted from two recipes: Anna Olson’s “Applesauce Coffee Cake” and “Chocolate Applesauce Cakes”, both from her wonderful book Another Cup of Sugar.

Chocolate Applesauce Cakes

chocapplesauce

Serves Six

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (125 ml)  vegetable oil

1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar

1/3 cup (75 ml) light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened applesauce

1 2/3 cup (400 ml) pastry flour

1/2 cup (125 ml) Dutch process cocoa

2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla

1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder

3/4 teaspoon (4 ml) baking soda

1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground ginger

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Grease 6 brioche tins or large muffin cups.

2) Whisk vegetable oil, both sugars, whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in applesauce.

3) In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and ginger. Incorporate cocoa and stir gently into applesauce mixture.

4) Spoon batter into prepared tins and bake for 18-20 minutes, until cakes spring back when pressed. Allow cakes to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

5) Just before serving, drizzle with chocolate glaze. Se

Chocolate Glaze

1/2 cup (125 ml) whipping cream

6 ounces (175 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup (60 ml) unsalted butter, room temperature

1) Heat cream to just below a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute, then stir to smooth out. Stir in butter to melt and thicken glaze. Pour over top of cakes and allow to drip down the sides.


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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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