Monday, December 30, 2013

Last but not least

And while some of you are probably still looking for recipes for New Year’s Day ham or small desserts and canapés for your New Year’s Eve party, I already know exactly what I’m making.

At last, and perhaps for the first time ever, I have come up and finalized a menu, unlike previous years when I always waited for the last minute to make my mind up about what to cook.

On New Year’s Eve, I’m making braised quails with chestnuts and fresh sage (for those of you who don’t know me well, I should tell you chestnuts are my favorite nut, even when it’s not the holiday season), and on New Year’s day, I’m making oven roasted pork shoulder with juniper berries and wild mushrooms.

Unfortunately I don’t have photographs or recipes to share as I haven’t cooked these dishes yet, but what I can’t wait to share with you is this chicken dish with saffron, shallots, lemon and Jerusalem artichokes (that are neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem but are a sweet- and earthy-tasting tuber).

I have made this two-three times before, with the last one being for a festive dinner, and it was greeted with enthusiasm. I personally find it extremely tasty with a combination of flavors that is quite interesting.

You start by boiling the Jerusalem artichokes in water until tender, then add all the ingredients in a large bowl, give them a good toss and you leave the chicken to marinate overnight or at least for a few hours.

The following day, you empty everything into a large baking pan and place it in the oven to cook. Your house fills with intoxicating aromas and after a little less than an hour, out comes a golden-hued dish full of delicious flavors.

The slightly metallic notes of saffron, the sweet shallots without that audacious oniony bite, the caramelized sharpness and sourness of the lemon, the liquorice-y nuances of the tarragon, the sweet, buttery Jerusalem artichokes soaking up all the lovely juices from the sumptuous, well-cooked chicken, they all conspire to create a dish that is absolutely stunning.

I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year filled with love, patience, perseverance and lots of laughter! Have a great time wherever you are and whatever you do!

Marinated Roast Chicken with Saffron, Shallots, Lemon and Jerusalem Artichokes
Slightly adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Jerusalem artichokes also go by the name sunchokes. For those of you reading from Holland, they are called aardperen (singular: aardpeer).
If you can’t find them you can substitute with small round potatoes.

We usually have this with a green leaf salad but you can also serve it with a simple steamed/boiled rice, preferably an aromatic basmati.

I used a mandoline to thinly slice the lemon. Use it if you have one, otherwise a very sharp knife will do an equally good job.

Yield: 2-4 main-course servings

600 g Jerusalem artichokes (400-500 g peeled), peeled and cut into wedges about 1.5 cm thick
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 chicken, about 1,200 g, cut into 6-8 pieces*
7-8 banana shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 small lemon, sliced very thinly lengthwise
1 good pinch of saffron threads
60-70 ml (4-5 Tbsp) olive oil
130 ml cold water
3-4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
3-4 fresh tarragon sprigs, leaves picked, plus extra for garnishing
Freshly ground black pepper

*I always cut the chicken into six pieces; legs, wings and breasts. You can also cut it into eight pieces, separating the legs into thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer not to because they remain juicier.

Special equipment: colander, large barking tray, plastic wrap or plastic bag appropriate for storing food

In a medium-sized pan, add the peeled and cut Jerusalem artichokes along with the lemon juice and cover them with water. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the Jerusalem artichokes are tender but not soft because they will continue cooking with the chicken in the oven. Drain in a colander and leave to cool completely.

In a large bowl, add the Jerusalem artichokes, chicken pieces, shallots, garlic and lemon slices, saffron, olive oil, water, thyme and tarragon leaves, salt and pepper. Mix well and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or alternatively, place all the ingredients in a plastic bag suitable for storing food and seal it. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 2 hours.

Take it out of the fridge 20 minutes before you put it in the oven, to allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius / 390 Fahrenheit.
Place the marinated chicken, skin-side up, in a roasting tray large enough to fit all the pieces in one layer, and arrange the rest of the ingredients between the chicken pieces. Drizzle the juices on top.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken for about 50 minutes, until it takes on a golden brown color and the skin becomes crispy and caramelized. Also, if you insert a knife or skewer in the thickest part of the chicken pieces, the juices should run clear and not be reddish in color. Don't cook for longer because the chicken will dry out and become tough.

Serve in dishes, sprinkled with some chopped fresh tarragon leaves.

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the second day

Hello, friends. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with lots of good food and company.

My Christmas was indeed delicious, with roast turkey, rice with chestnuts, pine nuts and soultanas, duck fat roast potatoes and lots of traditional Greek Christmas sweets, like kourabiedes and diples.

On the second day of Christmas I made this cake. It wasn’t really that I needed another sweet around the house, but I wanted to use up the fresh cranberries I had in my fridge. They were going to spoil if I didn’t do anything with them and I hate to waste food.

This cake was the perfect thing to make on the day. Easy, quick and thoroughly enjoyable. A cake made up of three layers. A thin cake layer flavored with Grand Marnier, a layer of plump, fresh cranberries and a crumble topping with demerara sugar, cinnamon and halved blanched almonds.

When it came out of the oven it was difficult to hold off from trying it right then and there. The aromas were torturing us but we had to wait unless we wanted scorched lips.

Crunchy from the almonds and the buttery, almost caramelized crumble, with hints of cinnamon and orangey Grand Marnier, notes of toffee from the demerara sugar and a pleasant sourness from the softened, juicy cranberries bringing balance, a good dollop of thick crème fraîche, and moments later, it was gone.

Cranberry Crumble Cake
Adapted from The Guardian

You can substitute the fresh cranberries with frozen ones that you have thawed before using, however fresh cranberries have superior flavor and texture.

Yield: 6-8 pieces


for the cake
90 g all-purpose flour
90 g soft light brown sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
60 unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus extra for greasing the pan
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier (or Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 large egg

for the topping
150 g fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
for the crumble topping
90 g all-purpose flour
90 g demerara sugar
50 g halved blanched almonds
65 g unsalted butter, cold, cubed
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Crème fraîche (or whipped cream), for serving

Special equipment: electric hand-held mixer, round 18cm springform baking pan, baking paper

Butter your cake pan and line the sides and bottom with baking paper.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

make the cake
In a medium-sized bowl, add all the ingredients for the cake and beat with an electric hand-held mixer on high speed for about 1 minute, until you have a smooth and somewhat stiff batter.

Empty the batter in your prepared baking pan and level it off using the back of a spoon or a spatula.

Scatter the cranberries evenly over the top.

make the crumble topping
In a medium-sized bowl, add all the ingredients for the crumble topping and using your fingertips, rub in the butter until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Scatter evenly over the cranberries.

Place the baking pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer inserted in the middle of the cakey base comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Then remove the cake from the pan. Be careful as it might break. (Or you can wait until it cools completely before removing it from the pan.)

Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraîche or whipped cream.
You can also serve it at room temperature.

Keep the cake covered at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Parmesan biscuits

After the sweet cookies I shared with you this past week, I think it is time to change things up for the last post of cookie week.

I’m more of a savory kind of person than sweet, so making these parmesan biscuits and most importantly eating them, was extremely enjoyable.

I’m a huge cheese fiend and Parmesan is one of my favorite cheeses. Its mature, intense, peppery flavor is incomparable and adding it to anything from tart bases, custards to soufflés, guarantees success and a scrumptious result.

There’s nothing better than a small savory and buttery biscuit filled with the umami flavor of parmesan, crispy and flaky, paired with a glass of champagne when you arrive at someone’s home for a festive dinner.

Served with a small dollop of cranberry chutney or raspberry and onion chutney, anything having a sweet and sour taste really, it’s a perfectly balanced little hors-d’oevre, a great alternative to the same old crackers or toasted bread with cheese, and much more elegant.

Happy baking and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!!

Parmesan Biscuits

You can also serve these biscuits with fig jam or quince jelly, and a chilled dry white wine.

Yield: about 40 biscuits

180 g all-purpose flour
115 g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
125 g parmesan, finely grated
1 large egg
¼ tsp sea salt
Pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper, 3-4 grinds of the pepper mill

Special equipment: rasp grater, large food processor, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking paper, 1-2 baking sheets, round cookie cutter (5 cm diameter)

In a food processor, add the flour and the butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add the parmesan, egg, salt, cayenne and black pepper and process until the mixture becomes a very rough and crumbly dough. It will not come together into a ball, but the mixture will firm up.
Empty it onto a clean work surface and bring it together with your hands, kneading for a few seconds until you have a smooth and firm dough that is a bit crackly.

Shape it into a flattened disk and wrap it with plastic wrap.
Place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it and place it between two sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to 0.7-0.8 cm-thickness.

Line your baking sheet(s) with baking paper.

In a small bowl, add some flour and use it to dip in your cookie cutter. In this way, the cookie cutter won't stick to the dough.
Remove the top baking paper from your rolled-out dough and using your cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough and place them on your prepared baking sheet.

Place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to firm up and preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

Note: Gather scraps of dough, roll out again, place in the fridge to firm up and then cut out cookies. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Take baking sheet out of the refrigerator and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake biscuits for 15-17 minutes, until they take on a golden color.
Keep an eye on them so they don't catch because they will have a bitter taste.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the second one in.

Transfer biscuits to a rack to cool.

They are best eaten the first and second day when they’ll be most crispy, but you can keep them up to 4 days in a biscuit tin.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Zeeuwse Speculaas

Unintentionally, cookie week took on an international character. I wasn’t planning on doing that but it turned out that way which is rather interesting, don’t you think?

I started with American cookies, went on to Italian and now it’s time for Dutch.

I have mentioned many times before how much I dislike some of the Dutch culinary traditions, but at the same time how impressed I am by their confections and pastries.

I constantly discover new Dutch sweet treats to love and they are so incredibly delicious they can become addictive. In the summer of 2012, when S and I traveled to the southwestern province of Zeeland, I discovered some more; the Zeeuwse bolus, the kruidkoek and the Zeeuwse speculaas.

I shared the recipe for Dutch speculaas cookies three years ago, along with pepernoten and gevulde speculaas (speculaas cake filled with Dutch almond paste). I gave you a glimpse of the Zeeuwse speculaas in this post (go all the way down to the last picture) and I promised to share a recipe. Well, better late than never.

This version of Dutch speculaas appealed to me because the cookies didn’t have that intense taste of spices of the common speculaas. They were milder without lacking in flavor and when I made them myself, I was thrilled that they were exactly how I remembered them to be.

Zeeuwse speculaas are crispy, with a crunchy exterior from the raw caster sugar that covers them. Made with cinnamon, light brown sugar and only a pinch of nutmeg, their flavor is mellow yet unbelievably deep and that is because as soon as the dough is made, it is placed in the fridge for twenty-four hours. During this time, the flavors get to know each other, mature and intensify, creating the most aromatic and flavorsome speculaas cookie there is.

Happy baking!

Zeeuwse Speculaas (Dutch Cookies from Zeeland)

These are traditionally made with Zeeuwse bloem, a type of flour from Zeeland which has a low percentage of gluten (8-9%) that gives cookies a soft and light texture. You can substitute with pastry flour or you can do as I did and use all-purpose flour along with some corn flour.

These are traditionally shaped into wind-mills or clogs using speculaas molds but since it’s Christmas, I opted to use Christmas tree- and star-shaped cutters. You can make them any time of the year, giving them the shape you prefer.

If you don’t have caster sugar, which is finely granulated white sugar, then in a small food processor, add white granulated sugar and process it for a few seconds until it becomes fine. Be careful not to overprocess because it will turn to icing sugar.

Yield: 26 tree-shaped cookies (10 cm x 6.5 cm)

230 g all-purpose flour
20 g corn flour
11 g baking powder
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of sea salt
150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
125 g soft light brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Icing sugar, for the cookie cutters

Caster sugar, for covering the speculaas

Special equipment: sieve, food processor, plastic wrap, rolling pin, 1-2 baking sheets, baking paper, tree-shaped cookie cutters

Sieve the all-purpose flour together with the corn flour two times in a bowl. Add the baking powder, the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and sieve all the ingredients together. Transfer dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and add the butter pieces, sugar, and lemon juice.
Process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Empty it onto a clean work surface and start bringing it together with your hands and kneading it. At first, it may seem like it won’t come together into a smooth dough but after 3-4 minutes, as the butter will be incorporated and dispersed throughout the mixture, it will. Knead until you have a smooth dough that holds together perfectly, yet cracks ever-so-slightly.

Shape dough into a disk and wrap it very well with plastic wrap. Place it on a plate and in the fridge for 24 hours.

Remove the dough from the fridge 1 hour before you roll it out, because it needs to be pliable. If you try to roll it out straight from the fridge it will be too hard and it will break into pieces.

Place the disk of dough between two sheets of baking paper and with the help of a rolling pin, roll it out to 0.5-0.7 cm-thickness. Place the rolled-out dough in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to firm up.

Line your baking sheet(s) with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, add some icing sugar and use it to dip in your cookie cutter. In this way, the cookie cutter won't stick to the dough.
Remove the top baking paper from your rolled-out dough and using your cookie cutter, cut out tree shapes and place them on your prepared baking sheet, spacing them 1.5 cm apart.
The dough will spread very little.

Note: It's best if you transfer the cut-out cookies from the baking paper to your baking sheet using a small offset spatula. This way you ensure the shape of the cookie remains intact. You need to work fast because the dough becomes warmer and softer as time passes.
Note: Gather scraps of dough, roll out again, place in the fridge to firm up and then cut out cookies. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake the cookies for 12-13 minutes, until just set in the middle and they have taken on a golden color. Be careful not to burn them.

Note: If you choose a different cookie cutter, either smaller or bigger, or even of a different shape than the one indicated, the baking times will change. Keep a close eye on your cookies while baking so you avoid any surprises.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the second one in. Allow the cookies to stand for 2-3 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large plate or baking pan, add plenty of caster sugar. Transfer the cookies directly from the baking sheet onto the sugar, a few at a time, and coat them well on all sides.

Then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Store them in a cookie tin for up to a week.

Before you eat them, brush off some of the sugar from the speculaas.