Wednesday, January 31, 2007

World Nutella Day 2007 - Nutella Sugar Stars

If at first you don't succeed... try changing the recipe.My participation in this event can be chalked up to coincidence and good timing. Nutella is one of my favourite things in the world, and I have been looking for a tasty way of incorporating it into a recipe, and I finally found one.

After my first unsatisfying experience making sugar cookies back before Christmas, I wanted another crack at them, so I adjusted the recipe slightly by adding a bit more flour and reducing the cooking time from 10 minutes to 6 minutes (and didn't roll the dough quite so thin), and they turned out beautifully. Buoyed by this success, I decided to tweak the recipe further by replacing the almond extract with orange extract, and adding chocolate. Ahhh chocolate. For my first attempt I used cocoa powder, which was good, but I thought that Nutella would be an ideal addition and would add another dimension of flavour to the cookies. So I did. Unfortunately, the cocoa and Nutella completely clobbered the orange flavouring, so I left it out the next time.Not only did I add Nutella into the cookie dough, but sandwiched two cookies together using more Nutella as the filling.

And it was good. Oh my, was it good.

All of this brings me back to the fact that at that point I still didn't know about this event, and just happened to be talking to my friend Rob from Hungry in Hogtown. When I mentioned that I had just made some Nutella cookies, he said, "Oh, are they for the World Nutella Day event?" I promptly replied, "They are now!" Click the picture on the right to view the World Nutella Day website, and the event wrap-up on February 7.

What a great idea for an event. Despite knowing a few lost souls who actually dislike Nutella, and for whom I have nothing but pity, everyone I know who likes Nutella, LOVES Nutella. In my opinion it has supplanted ambrosia as the Food of The Gods. One of my favourite things in the world is a thick layer of Nutella and raspberry jam on warm whole wheat toast. Pure joy.

Chocolate Sugar Stars
makes about 8 dozen

1 C granulated sugar
1 C softened butter
1/3 C cream cheese, softened
½ tsp salt
1 tsp orange extract
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk (reserve white)
2¼ C all-purpose flour
¼ C cocoa powder
1 big (OK, huge) spoonful of Nutella (about 2 tbsp)
colored decorative sugar (I used white for these ones)
more Nutella for spreading

In large bowl cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese.
Add the salt, extracts, egg yolk, cocoa powder and Nutella; blend well.
Stir in flour until well blended. Chill dough for 2 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
On lightly floured surface, roll out dough one-third at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with lightly floured cookie cutter (I used a star-shaped one). Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave cookie plain, or brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for about 6-7 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks.
After the cookies have cooled completely, thinly (or thickly) spread some Nutella on one cookie, then cover with another, sugar sides out. Press together lightly so that the cookies adhere. Chill in the fridge in a sealed container until ready to serve.

Friday, January 26, 2007

RSC#23: Maple Pork Roast with Raisins and Dark Chocolate

Pork and chocolate. Two of my favourite things, yet they are not normally used in the same recipes. For last week's Ready, Set, Cook! event, instead of the normal three feature ingredients, Anne provided a selection of five ingredients, from which the participants could choose two or three for their recipe. The five ingredients were: salmon, maple, pork, tomatoes and chocolate. As soon as I saw that, I knew that I had to try making something with both pork AND chocolate, because no-one else likely would and because I love a challenge. Now, I did a bit of searching on the internet for any recipes that used these two ingredients because I didn't want to blindly throw something together if it was just going to taste like crap. You see, from past experience, I have come to realize that there are some combinations of ingredients that just don't work. At this point I will reference my teenaged experiments with omelettes, and just what was possible to mix with eggs in a fry pan. Keep in mind here that I was around fourteen and had no finesse in the kitchen, and when I say "omelette", I mean I cracked a couple of eggs into a pan and threw some other stuff in with them. There was no whisking, or blending or even measuring (although that's not necessarily a bad thing), but I found that the combination that I hated most was eggs and chocolate. Looking back, I'm still not sure why this didn't work, but it sucked sure enough.

I wanted to avoid that this time.

I found a neat recipe for a sauce that involved red wine vinegar, sugar, raisins and dark chocolate. The best part was that this sauce was meant to be used with meat, and in this case, pork. I think that the secret to this sauce was that there really wasn't that much chocolate in it, that it wasn't a 'chocolate sauce'. It was a very nice reduction using chocolate for a flavouring rather than a base. It worked really well with the roast I cooked, and I will definitely be keeping this recipe on file.

The recipe I originally created can be found here in the wrap-up for Ready, Set, Cook #23. As normally happens, it got modified slightly when I actually attempted it. The recipe I actually used can be found below.First of all, I bought a cheap pork shoulder roast for about six bucks from the grocery store a few blocks from my house, along with some red wine vinegar and some maple syrup. I already had the raisins and the chocolate from my recent cookie-baking explosion from before Christmas. The original recipe also called for roasted pine nuts, and I went to the trouble of buying some, but when I cooked the roast, I completely forgot about them and left them out. Didn't really make much of a difference, as the pork was unbelievably tasty even so, but it irked me to have forgotten.

I cooked the meat in my handy-dandy cast-iron dutch oven (I love my dutch oven), with the veggies, the chicken broth, the wine and the maple syrup. I was expecting more of a maple-y taste from the roast, but I guess it got overpowered by the wine. As you can see from the picture above, the meat came out beautifully. It was falling off the bone, and was easily shredded with two forks. While the meat was resting (before I shredded it), I made the sauce.

I have to mention here that boiling vinegar is not one of my favourite smells. In fact, it is probably one of my least favourite food-related smells, along with boiling beer (that's a story for another day), and frying liver. My mother would always try to fool my brother and I by cooking bacon with it, but we knew, oh we knew... waitaminnit... where was I?... oh yes, the boiling vinegar. I DON'T LIKE THE SMELL.

The dark chocolate (I used chopped-up dark chocolate chips) melted nicely into the sugar-vinegar mixture, and gave it a rich taste that I really liked. The raisins also added some more depth of flavour, and a bit of texture, and of course raisins always go well with pork.

This is a good recipe, and one that I will actually consider cooking for other people. I have somewhat of an eclectic palate, and as some of my friends are not as culinarily adventurous as I am, I have to take this into consideration when I say "Try this!".

Maple Pork Roast with raisins and dark chocolate
Preparation time less than 30 mins
Cooking time over 2 hours
Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1½ kg (3 lbs) pork shoulder roast
2 medium onions, sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 C red wine
1 C chicken stock
½ C maple syrup
salt and freshly ground black pepper

¾ C red wine vinegar
¼ C sugar
2 tbsp dark chocolate, chopped
½ C raisins
enough rice for 6 people

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Place a large saucepan, or dutch oven on high heat.
When very hot add the olive oil and brown the roast on all sides. Remove the roast from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion and stir on heat for a minute until the onion is slightly golden.
Add the roast back into the pot, then add the sliced carrot, red wine, chicken stock and maple syrup, and bring to the boil.
Season with salt and pepper, cover, and place in the pre-heated oven.
Cook for 2 – 2.5 hours, until the meat is tender and falling apart, basting every 20-30 minutes. Make sure the liquid does not completely boil away, adding some more chicken stock or wine if necessary.
While the meat is cooking, place the red wine vinegar and the sugar in a small saucepan, stir till the sugar dissolves and then boil for two minutes.
Add the chopped chocolate, stir it, add the raisins and then set aside to allow the raisins to plump up in the liquid.
When the meat is cooked, shred with two forks and add the chocolate/raisin/vinegar mixture.
Serve with rice.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

WCC #13: Coconut Chicken Curry

When I decided to participate in this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, I felt a bit daunted. The theme this time around is to cook a recipe from a recently acquired cookbook, and the one I acquired most recently is The Joy of Cooking - the 75th Anniversary Edition. Which has 4500 recipes in it. This thing is huge, and to work my way through it will take quite a while. Not that I'm complaining.I got it for Christmas from my parents, and I had been meaning to leaf through it anyway, but to choose just one recipe out of so many would take forever, so I took a shortcut. The old 'recipe lottery' approach. I closed my eyes, flipped open the book at random, and dropped a finger to the open page. Why not? My finger dropped on the recipe for "Coconut Chicken Curry" on page 431. Yum. I am a big fan of curry, but have not actually cooked many curry dishes, so this seemed an ideal choice.

This is really a pretty straightforward recipe, but of course it required a trip to the Grocery Palace for supplies, and to the Bulk Barn for a can of coconut milk, which I don't normally stock in my pantry.

One change I made to the recipe was to make my own curry powder. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of 'curry powder' but I thought instead that I would try out another new kitchen gadget acquired at Christmas (also from my parents); a really cool stone mortar and pestle. I took a tablespoon of cumin seeds and a tablespoon of coriander seeds, placed them on a baking sheet and cooked them for a few minutes at 400F until they darkened a couple of shades. Then, I removed the tray from the oven, placed the seeds into the mortar along with a teaspoon of asafoetida, and bashed it good. So aromatic, especially with the asafoetida, which smells like a combination of garlic and onion, although a bit more pungent.

Everything else was a breeze. Some of you may be thinking that this was perhaps not much of a 'challenge' for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, but it was nice to cook something that didn't have me tearing my hair out for a change. And the payoff was that I ended up with enough tasty chicken for two more meals.

Coconut Chicken Curry
from The Joy of Cooking – 75th Anniversary Edition

2 lbs chicken thighs or breasts
salt & pepper
2 tbsp oil
1 C chopped onions
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
½ C peas, thawed (if frozen)
2 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced (I used 4)
1½ C (or 1 can) unsweetened coconut milk
½ C golden raisins
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt

Heat oil in large skillet. Add chicken and brown on both sides. Remove from pan.
Add onions, carrot, peas, green onions, jalapeno, ginger and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, raisins, curry powder and salt, and bring to a boil.
Add the chicken, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes for breasts, or 25 minutes for thighs, or until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked.
Serve with rice.