FEBRUARY ON THE BLOG
This Sourdough Salmon Loaf is made with homemade sourdough, salmon filet, and creamed spinach spiked with a hint of garam masala for dimension and warmth.
I needed to make something that would quell my deepening craving for a taste of anything approximating regional Italian cuisine. And that’s how this savoury Dutch baby was born.
I first wrote this post on saffron mac and cheese back in December 2014. I’ve since updated the post with new pictures and a slightly modified recipe. Long story short: these flavours belong together.
The concept for this soup is that it can be eaten as is or topped with different things to make it interesting for a dinner crowd or for yourself if you’re eating it over multiple days.
SOURDOUGH LEARNING LAB
After receiving a starter at The Baking Lab sourdough workshop at the end of January, I came home and started experimenting with it.
This month was all about trial and error. I fumbled my way through the whole sourdough thing with very little precision and managed to bake two not-so-bad loaves.
For the first loaf I baked, I used a cast iron Dutch oven with the lid on. It wasn't bad. A crisper crust than I've been able to achieve in the past but also a denser crumb which isn't ideal.
For the second one, I left the lid off and it burned. Oh well. I still scraped off the burnt bits and it was a great accompaniment to a simple white bean soup with smoked paprika and summer savoury.
Sourdough Pizza Crust
I made this sourdough pizza as a quick weeknight meal. Again I improvised on the ratio of starter to flour and water. I used the proportions in my naan recipe for the dough and added about a half cup of starer.
The resulting dough resembled the fresh pizza dough you can buy pre-made at some supermarkets.
It was pretty good but not mind-blowing. I'm still a way off from my ultimate goal: Da Michele like dough i.e. light and crisp exterior with a soft and chewy interior.
Sumac & Herb Sourdough Croutons
Homemade croutons are one of my favourite ways to use dried bread. It's a classic kitchen hack for repurposing leftovers and the resulting croutons are a whole different animal from store-bought. The best part is that you can flavour them however you want: this month I've been very partial to ground sumac, Euroma Mediterranean Spices (oregano, mint, rosemary), salt and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, toss it all together and then crisp up in a skillet. Perfect on a simple Mediterranean salad or as a soup topper.
Sourdough Waffles / Pancakes
Back in December my family was visiting for the holidays so Bogdan and I took them to see the famous Ij Hallen, one of the biggest flea markets in all of Europe. About two hours in I had perused all I could and remained with nothing in hand, until Bogdan came across a vintage looking genuine made in Italy waffle iron for only €2.
I had been flirting with the idea of buying a waffle maker, which we really don't have space for in our already jam packed city apartment kitchen. So this waffle iron was a great compromise and it came just at the right time. Unfortunately, in practice it didn't work out so well with my sourdough discard batter. No matter, if it can't be waffles it can certainly be pancakes.
They didn't rise very much even though I added both sourdough starter discard and chemical leavener. I never really understood the appeal of sourdough pancakes - pancakes already rise enough with the chemical leavener. Maybe it's for the flavour.
Stuffed Zucchini Boats Two Ways: Spiced Beef & Vegan Mushroom Lentil
I made these zucchini boats because I found about 2kg of zucchini on sale for less than €2. I made 6 beef, rice and lentil stuffed zucchinis and 2 vegan stuffed zucchinis filled with mushroom, rice and lentil.
I carefully hollowed out each zucchini and then prepared the filling. I boiled rice and lentils together in a pot (about 2 cups of rice and 3/4 cup of dry green lentils).
In another small sauté pan I cooked down the zucchini pulp to reduce the water content. With the water reduced it became a really luscious and creamy filler ingredient for both the vegan and meat versions. I simply added it to the boiled rice and lentils once they were done.
For the vegan version I sauteed about 250 grams of mushrooms, onion and garlic. For the meat version I sauteed ground beef with onions and garlic. Once everything was cooked I added the rice, lentil and zucchini pulp mixture to both the vegan and the meat filling versions. I seasoned both liberally with smoked paprika, cimbru, salt and black pepper. Fill zucchini shells, add a little water to the baking dish and bake at 180 C / 350 F for about 35 minutes.
Lemony Breadcrumb Crusted Cod with Herb Roasted Root Vegetables
This was a quick and dirty weeknight meal. Cod is plentiful in the Netherlands so I make it quite often. It has a very mild flavour which makes it a blank canvas for a lot of different flavours and preparation methods.
Likewise, since it's so mild it combines with especially robust flavours really well.
Take for example my chorizo crusted cod served over a smokey white bean stew (inspired by our time in Lisbon) and also curried cod stew with coconut and red pepper - a surprisingly fast weeknight meal with all the exciting flavour one would expect of a curry fish stew and it's ready in 15 - 20 minutes.
The basic premise of this preparation is simple - combine lemon zest with breadcrumbs and add some black pepper and salt. Bake at 200 C / 400 F for 8-10 minutes.
I served with a sheetpan of roasted potatoes (parboiled so they would cook at the same time as the other veg), sliced carrots, and green beans all tossed in olive oil and Euroma Mediterranean Spices.
'Fresh' Freeze Herbs for Later Use
Last weekend we bought two beautiful bunches of fresh parsley and cilantro from the Turkish grocer. It was too much to use in one go so I washed them, left them to dry thoroughly overnight (with roots in a glass of water) and then froze the leaves in small plastic containers for later use.
Pro tip: keep some masking tape and a pen in the kitchen so you can label things you save.
Frozen Pasta Water
Save Roast Chicken Drippings
Reserved chicken drippings is called schmaltz. It's a free flavour enhancer that stores well and makes a delicious addition as a cooking oil for soups and stews. You can also use it to make delicious chicken roasted potatoes, latkes, or even paella. Just save the rendered fat from the pan when you roast chicken. You can also fry up the discard pieces of excess fat whenever you trim chicken. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge.
I keep a container in the freezer for bones and whenever we eat meat I pop the bones in there after. Whenever it fills up, I make a flavour-packed stock that I usually use for bean soups. It's a great way to get more use out of the meat you eat.
- In a large stock pot fry the bones with some onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and herbs for a few minutes until browned.
- Fill to the top with water, bring to a boil and then simmer on low 6 to 8 hours.
- Top up the water if it reduces below the bones and veg, though it should reduce to about 2/3 the volume.
- Strain and use or store up to 3 days in the fridge or one month in the freezer.
Euroma Mediterranean Spices
I picked up a jar of Euroma Mediterranean spices on a whim one day. I've used Euroma's other spices before (primarily bay leaves and sumac) and I found them to be of high quality.
Although I don't often buy spice blends (preferring to make my own) I gave this one a try and I'm happy I did. It's a flavourful balance of oregano and mint with undertones of dill and rosemary - a versatile blend that I've used for shakshuka, pasta, roast chicken, and white bean soup.
It seems to be widely available in the Netherlands and possibly the benelux region, but if you can't find it where you are then try combining equal 2 parts each oregano and mint with one part each rosemary and dill.
Mysore pak is a new in my world. It's an Indian sweet made from besan (chickpea flour), ghee (clarified butter), and sugar. It has a sweet, buttery and nutty flavour with a rich and slightly grainy texture - a little bit like fudge. I'd never really seen mysore pak before, until Bogdan brought a few boxes back from a business trip to Bangalore recently.
We ate some of it as is, but that buttery and nutty flavour is so lovely I couldn't help think of ways to incorporate it in other recipes. I added a 200 gram block to a sugar cookie recipe that I made into cheesecake crust and also a batch of very soft sugar cookies. If you have an Indian grocer close by it's worth tasting and if you don't you can also try making your own mysore pak.
Peanut Butter Cookie Crust NY Style Cheesecake
One day I made a batch of very simple peanut butter and oatmeal cookies and happened to have a bit of the dough leftover. I didn't want to make cookies again, and also had just enough cream cheese and sour cream in the fridge to make a (small) cheesecake. And so the peanut butter cookie crust NY style cheesecake was born.
It's a really fun combination and I can see it working well with other cookies too (maybe chocolate chip or even snickerdoodles) - the possibilities are endless and it sort of makes me wonder why cookie crust cheesecakes aren't more common? I guess there's a lot to be said for the classic graham cracker crust too though.
Passionfruit Curd Brulee NY Style Cheesecake
This passionfruit curd brulee cheesecake was a major project this month. It took me the better part of a whole Saturday. It all started because my friend Sarah and I finally found a date in the agenda that would accommodate a dinner and (after a few minor postponements) it was actually going to happen.
Sarah is a gourmand, in both the classical and not so classical senses. She makes perfect beef wellington, truly transcendent white ragout and can distinguish between a dizzying array of fine french cheeses, but she also appreciates the sensorial appeal of surimi sticks cold out of the package and canned baked beans on a jacket potato.
A true equal opportunity foodie.
Given the momentousness of finally making it over to Sarah's for dinner, I wanted to bring a dessert that would rise to the occasion. I had already made the Butternut Bakery NY style cheesecake and had it on my mind, but then it occurred to me that it might go really nicely with my homemade passionfruit curd....plus a bruleed top for good measure. It wasn't my most successful cheesecake execution but at least it didn't crack.
If you want to try it our yourself just follow the NY style cheesecake recipe on Butternut Bakery and made a batch of passionfruit curd. Layer the curd onto the crust before adding the cheesecake batter and bake as usual.
Mysore Pak Sugar Cookies & Crust
Back in January Bogdan had a short business trip to Bangalore and brought back two boxes of mysore pak, an Indian sweet made of chickpea flour, ghee and of course sugar.
I decided to experiment with it a bit this month by combining it into the sugar cookie recipe I used to make a crust for the passionfruit curd cheesecake.
Since I had a little bit of dough left after making the cheesecake crust, I also made a batch of sugar cookies.
Bread Pudding Muffins with Rum Soaked Raisins, Mascarpone & Mysore Pak
Mysore pak made yet another appearance this month in these bread pudding muffins. I had two dry baguettes sitting around and I decided a very sharable batch of bread pudding muffins was the best way to dispense with the old bread and also make my coworkers happy.
I started by soaking about a cup of raisins in a combination of 1/2 cup Stroh Rum (my absolute favourite way to add rum flavour) and 1/4 cup melted butter.
While that soaked I cut up the bread (about two dry baguettes worth, diced into small cubes) and soaked it in a pre-blended mixture of 8 eggs, 2 cups oat milk, 100 grams of mysore pak (you can also substitute 1/2 cup brown sugar) and vanilla extract.
I then mixed the raisins (rum, butter and all) with about a cup of mascarpone in skillet and heated until it was all melted and then added that to the bread and egg mixture and let it soak for about 20 - 30 minutes.
Matcha Pound Cake
This was easily the winner from my kitchen experiments this month. I adapted the recipe for Sour Cream Pound Cake in Taste of Home's 201 Recipes You'll Make Forever. I didn't have everything called for in the recipe so I replaced the sour cream with 3/4 cup mascarpone and 1/4 cup of Turkish full fat yogurt, used 5 eggs instead of 6, and reduced the sugar to 2 cups because I thought it would be too sweet with 3 cups sugar. The resulting cake (made in a silicone bundt mold) was moist, buttery, and indulgent with a hint of intrigue from the matcha powder.
My bundt cracked in the edges which wasn't the end of the world but this is a recipe I'll have to work on a bit before sharing. If you want to try it in the meantime then just add 2-3 tsp of matcha powder to your favourite plain bundt cake recipe and prepare to be wowed.
OTHER PEOPLE COOKING
There were some great eats outside my kitchen this month. Highlights include dinner at Sarah's place where we enjoyed champagne oysters to start and a homemade beef wellington that surpassed all my expectations. Bianca's Brazilian cheese bread was another highlight of the month. It came in an unassuming tupperware one day and blew me away. Super flavourful little morsels with a perfectly crisp exterior enveloping a pillowy soft center of cheese flavour. Working on getting the recipe and will share if I do.
We also ate at Restaurant First at AFAS Live this month and I have to say it was the most impressive musical venue meal I've ever had. Four courses fixed price (€37.50 per person) isn't bad and although some of the flavour pairings weren't to my taste (like chocolate and quince jam for example) the veal was perfectly done and everything was thoughtfully executed. Restaurant First menu here.
A not so great eating experience this month was at Primi Cucina by Vondelpark. While our starter was good, my tortellini in brodo was really really salty and Bogdan's papardelle were congealed and falling apart. We went for Valentines Day though and I've gathered from asking around that most people had so-so experiences eating out on V-Day. Since their reviews are overall stellar, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and try again on a not-so-busy day.
FEBRUARY READS & RESOURCES
The Pasta Grannies Official Cookbook
I just got it the mail and I’m so excited to dig in. What a beautiful concept and heartfelt execution.
It's a thick book with a red checker pattern reminiscent of old style tablecloths. It's full of beautiful photos, stories and recipes spanning the different regions of Italy.
On the cover it says “the secrets of Italys best home cooks” and it's such a perfect and accurate title.
Many of us have had the experience of asking a mother or grandmother for a recipe for a dish that they make that’s extra special only to get a very vague guideline. But then if you actually watch them cooking there are a ton of different little things they do that add to the final product and the they don’t even realise they’re doing. Those are what I’ve often referred to as kitchen secrets and that’s why think its so special that the cover says explicitly that it's the secrets of Italy's best home cooks...secrets that I happen to want very much. I highly recommend this treasure of a cookbook.
That's it for this month. Thank you for following along, I hope you enjoyed seeing what I got up to in the kitchen and beyond in February 2020.
In early March Bogdan and I are heading off to Mauritius for a 10 day holiday so next month I'll be sharing experiences with Mauritian cuisine and hopefully some cookbooks and recipes I find along the way.
Until next time,