Colourful vegetable quiche

vegetable quiche

Continuing with my cookbook challenge: chalk one up to not reading the recipe properly. I read the ingredients for the crust and gaily flung them all into the food processor while thinking that breadcrumbs were quite an odd ingredient in pastry. Then when I’d rolled it out I discovered that the breadcrumbs in the list of ingredients were intended to be sprinkled on top of the pastry before adding the filling.

Oh well. The pastry isn’t baked blind, so I reasoned that the crumbs were intended to stop the pastry going soggy, and instead sprinkled on a little couscous to serve the same purpose.

The pastry is nice, made with butter and quark (40% fat curd cheese) — but overall the quiche was a bit blah. I used what I had, namely leeks, carrots, and a mixture of frozen green beans and sugar snap peas. Unusually, I pre-empted Steve and said “It needs some bacon!” Either that, or some of those lovely caramelised onions, or more cheese, or lots of fresh herbs.

I could only get quark in the form of a huge 1 kg tub, so look out for a follow up in the form of the cheesecake that also features in the book.

Three ways of making rice pudding

ricepudding with caramelised pears 2

My latest effort for my Delicious Days cookbook challenge was little pots of rice pudding. I have to say I have never really understood why people eat cold rice pudding. It’s just not as good as the lovely hot, creamy comfort food we ate as children — the best of nursery food. Nicky suggests toppings of strawberries or caramelised apples. I substituted pears for the apples because that was what I had, and seasoned them with nutmeg instead of cinnamon. This sauce was delicious and went really well with the rice — it just would have been better served hot! I think the leftover sauce will also be rather good poured hot over vanilla ice cream …

Anyway this is my excuse to present three ways of cooking traditional rice pudding. In the old days, you had to bake it for 2-3 hours, but with the advent of pressure cookers and microwaves, it’s become almost an “instant pudding”, to be whipped up if you are still feeling hungry after your main course. Here are three ways of cooking it; if you want proper golden skin, you have to use the traditional oven-baked method, but otherwise the others produce excellent results. Note: theoretically you can cook it in the microwave, but in my opinion it doesn’t produce good results and takes as long as cooking it in a pan, so I haven’t included that method here.

We like it hot with either jam (must be red) or maple syrup, or soft brown sugar. But in future I may well try the caramel sauce again. If you’re not watching fat intake, make it with full-cream milk; otherwise semi-skimmed is OK.
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Chocolate mini cupcakes

chocolate mini cupcake with white chocolate icing

These, from my Delicious Days cookbook, were fabulous. The ultimate test — how quickly they were snaffled at choir rehearsal, and how many people asked me for the recipe.

Mind you they should be good: 200 g each of dark chocolate and butter, 250 g of sugar, and 5 eggs! To be fair this did make 18 little cakes. The mixture is an almost flourless sponge (just 3 tbs of flour) and is intensely chocolatey. Nicky ices them with white chocolate and a sprinkle of chopped pistachios. I didn’t get a chance to do this with most of them (they were eaten too quickly) but in the interests of research I tried it with one of the two that I had saved for photography. I think they are better without: they have a very thin slightly crackly crust over the melting interior which is swamped by the icing.

You can make this as one large cake too, in which case it would make a special dinner party dessert served just warm with a pool of chilled crème anglaise or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

chocolate mini cupcake

Pears in saffron-vanilla syrup

poached pears in saffron-vanilla syrup

My second challenge in two days! These were easy to do, although you have to leave them to marinate for several hours, preferable overnight. I poached the peeled and quartered pears in a light syrup flavoured with lime, vanilla, and saffron, then carefully put the pears in a jar, poured over the syrup, and left them to soak before serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and tuiles (sadly not home-made — it’s been a long time since I was able to take advantage of a rainy Sunday afternoon, nothing in particular to do, and a surplus of egg whites).

This is a light, subtly flavoured dessert which would be nice after a rich main course (like the tipsy duck we had yesterday for example). It would be an excellent idea if you had a glut of pears — although the pears aren’t really “preserved”, I imagine they would keep for at least a week in the fridge, and only improve in flavour.

Tipsy duck breast on root vegetables

tipsy duck with root vegetables

I decided to get serious with my cookbook challenge and try one of the fancier recipes. After a hard day in front of the computer it was quite therapeutic doing all the slicing, stirring, and sieving required by this recipe. Don’t be misled by the photo — it was really delicious, and it’s only my photography skills that are at fault, not my cooking ability.

The recipe is an interesting fusion of European and Asian ideas. The duck skin and meat are cooked separately, with the skin being diced and fried till crispy, and the breast itself poached in a rich red wine broth flavoured with oranges, onions, and balsamic vinegar. It’s then served on a bed of stir-fried leeks and carrots, with the reduced broth poured over and the diced crispy skin scattered on top.

It was quite fiddly to do, but the sauce was fabulous, with a wonderful depth of flavour, and I liked the contrast with the crunchy veg. The duck was nice and moist because of the poaching and resting. I didn’t get my bits of skin quite crisp enough — next time I’ll fry them more slowly to render more of the fat, before raising the heat to crisp them. I think Chinese noodles would have been nice too, to soak up the sauce.

Not a dish for every day, but great for a special occasion. Bonus — we now have a jar of rendered duck fat for frying potatoes.

stir-fried leek and carrot

Gorgonzola risotto

Gorgonzola risotto

One more recipe for the cookbook challenge. I had just one question about this: would it be as good as Rossella’s fabulous pear and gorgonzola risotto? Answer: not quite. It’s a plain risotto with gorgonzola and parmesan melted into it and a garnish of fried onions and apples. We felt there wasn’t really enough gorgonzola, but I liked the slight crunch of the apples in contrast to the creamy rice. Nicky managed to take a presentable photo of hers; I tried, but I can’t say the same. Well, I’ve already established that risotto is not photogenic!

Kaiserschmarrn

Kaiserschmarrn

This is my second recipe from Delicious Days — a Viennese classic reworked by Nicky. I don’t think I’ve ever made it before, but it is recognisably a clafoutis in a different guise. Yes, mine looks a complete mess, but I think that’s part of the idea.

You make a large pancake using whisked egg whites to give it lightness. Normally it’s cooked in the oven, but Nicky cooks it in a non-stick pan on top of the stove. I think my pan was probably too small, because by the time the bottom was cooked, the top was still quite liquid. At this point, without turning it over, you pull it apart into bite-sized pieces using two wooden spoons, resulting in the mess you see above. Then you add a bit more butter and some flaked almonds, sprinkle lavishly with icing sugar, and stir it around to caramelise the pieces. Serve at once; it should be served with plum or apple compote. We had it with maple syrup, but I think it needs the sharpness added by fruit.

A good quick, filling dessert at the end of an arduous week, just don’t serve it as the finale to an elegant dinner party!

Mushroom crostini

mushroom crostini

… aka mushrooms on toast.

Don’t let it be said that I’m a procrastinator! Here’s my first dish from Delicious Days, my cookbook challenge for this year. Supplies were low and dinner improvised, but I found some mushrooms in the fridge, so while the “real” dinner was cooking I opened a bottle of wine and made Nicky’s mushroom crostini: a 10-minute job.

We didn’t have any chives, which would have made them look prettier even with my poor photographic skills. We didn’t have any Marsala either, but we don’t do things by halves in this household, and Christmas comes but once a year — in went a glug of Warre’s excellent vintage port, bought at the airport last week. Well, it was only a couple of tablespoons. The completed sauce was poured over a few slices of my home-made 5-minute bread, and we enjoyed them with a glass of wine by a cosy log fire.

The mushrooms and sauce were delicious. Nicky says the bread should be fried, which I did, in olive oil, and then drained on kitchen paper, but some of it was a bit greasy. Next time I’ll toast or bake it.

The Cookbook Challenge

Delicious Days

The friendly group of foodies in the Open University’s food and drink online conference has been talking for some time about a “cookbook challenge”; each person chooses a cookbook and then cooks their way through it during 2009, trying every recipe and blogging about it. I have been on-again, off-again about this project; I like the idea, but time for cooking and blogging is short at present, and the constraint of having to choose a recipe from a specific book two or more times a week seemed an impossibility.

But then I looked at my beautiful Delicious Days cookbook, a coffee-table ornament from which to my shame I have not yet cooked a single recipe, despite being a fan of Nicky’s equally elegant and enticing blog (from which I have cooked some recipes!). Everyone who has visited and picked up this book has oohed and aahed over it, so I really have no excuse. The book is short and eclectic, and I really want to cook some of the recipes from it, so I did a quick count. Only 76 recipes, quite a few of them small and simple. That’s only one and a bit a week; this seems do-able with a bit of discipline.

So my plan is to cook everything by the end of 2009, at least everything I can get the ingredients for; as I do them, I’ll blog about them, including if possible a less-than-wonderful photo. I’ll tag all the individual entries as “delicious days”. Nicky’s blog doesn’t need any more publicity I’m sure — it’s already one of Time Magazine’s 50 coolest websites — but if even a few people discover her creativity via my blog then I shall feel I’ve repaid some of the pleasure I get from reading hers.

Of course I will not be publishing the recipes themselves here; if you are tempted by my descriptions, then hop over to Amazon and buy the book (available in English and German). I think virtually all of the recipes are exclusive to the book, i.e. they are not published on Nicky’s blog. So if you want them, and her beautiful photos, you have to buy the book!

Other bloggers taking up the challenge so far (with different books):

Maggie on Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries — this is sure to be a winning combination!
Dilly on not one, but two Jamie Oliver books: Cook with Jamie, and Jamie’s Italy
Sunny, on Rosemary Conley’s Slim to Win.
Ellie, on Gill Holcombe’s How to Feed Your Whole Family a Healthy Balanced Diet, with Very Little Money and Hardly Any Time, Even If You Have a Tiny Kitchen, Only Three Saucepans … – Unless You Count the Garlic Crusher…Yes, really — that’s the title of the book!
Rachel on Sarah Bounds’ Seasonal Vegetarian (this is an out-of-print Marks and Spencer book).