Monday, April 30, 2012

Cold Cannelloni Stuffed with Goat Cheese

Some time ago, I saw in one of the French magazines a recipe for cold cheese-stuffed cannelloni. They were to be served more as a starter rather than a main dish. The whole thing looked very interesting and I always wanted to try this recipe one day.

This past Saturday I was invited for a lunch at our neighbors' place, later my son had a party for his basketball team, and just right after that we were having friends over for dinner. A very busy day and not much time for cooking, so I decided to prepare at least one dish that could be made ahead and served without any last-minute preparation. These cannelloni seemed a perfect idea, as something easy, yet original.

To make them, I used fresh lasagna sheets that my Giant recently started to carry. That was the most challenging part as the sheets should be soft but still keep their shape. For that reason you need to use a large pot to cook the pasta sheets in a large amount of water. If fresh lasagna pastry is not available in your shopping area, I believe that it can be made from the Barilla pasta sheets. Cooked sheets are cooled and stuffed with goat cheese, drizzled with walnut oil and balsamic vinegar, and served with baby lettuce leaves.

It was my kind of dish. I loved it! Simple but well defined thanks to the goat cheese, walnuts, and vinegar. Because of its true simplicity to make this dish right it is important to use best quality ingredients--aged balsamic glaze (or vinegar) of Modena and roasted walnut oil.

I think that no one, especially those who like me love all kind of pasta and Italian cuisine, would resist these cold cannelloni.

Cold Goat Cheese-Stuffed Cannelloni
(Serves six)

12 lasagna sheets, about 2 inches by 4 inches in size,
6 oz goat cheese at room temperature,
1 shallot, very finely chopped,
1/4 cup roasted walnuts, crushed,
12 tsp aged balsamic vinegar of Modena (about one tsp per serving) or if you have available the glaze made with the vinegar of Modena,
12 tsp roasted walnut oil,
freshly coarsely ground black pepper,
3 cups of baby lettuce

1. In a large pot boil water with one tbsp of salt. Put in pasta sheets and cook them making sure that they do not stick to one another. That will take probably about 5 minutes--pasta should be soft but in perfect shape. Drain the cooked pasta sheets and rinse them with cold water. Spread each piece on a large plate to dry.
2. In a medium bowl place the soft goat cheese. Add chopped shallots and using a fork mix it together to create a soft spread.
3. Divide the cheese equally among the cooked sheets, spread it thinly on them and roll them up.

4. On individual plates put a handful of baby lettuce leaves and two cannelloni. Drizzle each portion with balsamic vinegar and walnut oil. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and finish with ground pepper.

Cannelloni taste best in room temperature, so if you prepared them earlier, take them out of the refrigerator two hours prior to serving and add the lettuce at the last moment.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Strawberry Gratin--In Five Minutes

A friend asked me recently if, since I cook so much, I also throw away food. Unfortunately and shamefully I admitted that I do sometimes, although never meat. Most often it happens to the delicate coriander that I love and have to have always in my refrigerator but I am not always able to use. Sometimes it also happens to the bananas that I have to have because my older son cannot live without his daily banana dipped in Nutella. And finally strawberries are a victim of my compulsive shopping. I buy them often but sometimes in the situation "buy one get one free" two pounds are just too much, especially if they are not too sweet. I like strawberries at room temperature and here, they are rather destined for a refrigerator or turn bad very soon. So today I again was left with a box of strawberries just about to turn bad, because no one wanted them anymore that day.

I thought about making a strawberry mousse cake, which I like very much and never shared the recipe for it, but my day was too busy to play with gelatin, which requires a lot of fine tuning. Also, the weather was not too summery anymore and that cake tastes great on a hot day. Then I decided to make strawberry gratin--an easy and nice dessert that I make sometimes with different fruits, but never tried with strawberries. In no time I made custard, and in no more than five minutes a lovely dessert was ready. I think it was a great experiment--we all loved it, still a bit warm.

Strawberry Gratin
(Makes 4-6 servings)

1 lb of nice strawberries, stems cut off,
3 egg yolks,
4 tbsp icing sugar,
1/2 tsp vanilla extract,
1 tsp corn starch,
250 ml table cream,
2 tbsp slivered almonds,

1. Cut strawberries in slices or quarters, if smaller. Arrange them on individual, small and shallow ramekins.
2. In a medium pot, using a hand whisker, mix egg yolks with icing sugar until pale. Add corn starch and vanilla extract. Incorporate into the egg mixture. Add cream and mix.
3. Put the pot on a medium heat and bring it to boil, stirring very often. Let it boil and take off from the heat. Divide the custard between ramekins. Spread almonds on top.

4. Preheat the broiling spiral in the oven for a few minutes. Put ramekins in the oven and let the custard broil until slightly brown. Remove them from the oven, let the custard cool a bit and serve.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, and Black Beans Salad

These days, even more than ever, I am into salads . Maybe because we had no winter this year, spring is already in full bloom and on hot days salads taste best. I always loved them. They are my favorite lunch--easy to assemble with no strict rules to follow and a welcome scope for experimenting. And on top of that the next day I still weight the same if not less.

Today, I prepared spinach, cherry tomatoes, and black beans salad. I often make it for weekend brunches when I have guests house. Everyone so far has enjoyed it very much, trying to guess what was so special about that salad beyond the basic ingredients that you could easily see. I think the secret of this salad is in its dressing which makes it taste unique. It is sweet and spicy and has a strong taste of onion and fresh coriander. It blends nicely with the taste of beans and fresh vegetables.

Because beans are rich in proteins, this salad can be the whole meal in itself or be served with bread and cold cuts.

Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, and Black Beans Salad

1/2 lb cherry tomatoes,
15.5 oz can of black or red beans,
5-6 oz bag of baby spinach,
1 medium red onion,
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander,
1 garlic clove, chopped,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1 tbsp white vinegar,
1 tsp brown sugar,
1 tbsp running honey,
1 tsp mustard,
3 tbsp olive oil,
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Open a can of beans and rinse them under the running cold water. Drain them on a colander and place it in a large bowl.
2. Cut cherry tomatoes in halves and add to the beans. Add baby spinach leaves and chopped onion.

3. To make a dressing, in a medium bowl mix together garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, honey, mustard, cayenne pepper, black pepper, salt and olive oil. Add chopped coriander and mix again.

Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix everything gently together.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kumquats and Dates Chutney

A few weeks ago, I had a pleasure of being invited for a dinner at our friends' place. The hostess is an excellent cook and I am always very excited to eat at their place. This time she prepared an Indian dinner. I love and cook the Indian food often myself and I am a demanding judge but, as always, all the dishes were exquisite--light, not too oily, and nicely but not overly spicy. But there was one dish that I enjoyed most of all, so right away I asked for the recipe. It was a chutney, served with poppadoms as a starter. She made four different chutneys, all very good, but all the others were more familiar to me than the one made from kumquats and dates.

I have always loved good chutneys, especially those home made, which are not so greasy. There is something very intriguing if not addictive in their strong and often spicy taste, which I cannot resist until the small bowl in which they are served is empty.

That particular recipe for kumquat and dates chutney comes from Bon Appétit and was shared by one of my favorite chef Joan Weir, whose light and aromatic cuisine I have always admired and often adopted.

I follow the recipe almost exactly, just recently I replaced the crystallised ginger with the fresh one--the chutney did not suffer on that at all. I also do not add fresh coriander since usually at the same time I also serve a coriander chutney. While making poppadoms I do not fry them in oil, which saves some calories, but heat them for 50 seconds in the microwave.

Kumquats and Dates Chutney

1/2 cup orange juice,
2 tbsp( about 1/4 cup) chopped shallots,
3 tbsp sugar,
2 tbsp crystallised ginger(but the same amount of thinly sliced fresh ginger will do as well),
1 tbsp white wine vinegar,
1/8 tsp red pepper, crushed,
1/4 tsp ground cloves,
1/4 tsp salt,
16 dates pitted and chopped,
10 kumquats sliced,
fresh coriander chopped.

1. Put the first eight ingredients in a medium pot and bring them to boil. Simmer for about three minutes on a medium hit.
2. Add chopped kumquats and dates. Add to the pot with juice and spices and bring to boil. Simmer again for about two minutes.

Turn off the heat and add chopped coriander. Cool down. Chutney will thickens when it is cold. Serve with poppadoms.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Beet Salad with Walnuts--This Time from Georgia

Most of the beet dishes are about beets only. Their delicate taste can be enhanced by spices but cannot be overshadowed by them. So whenever I post a beet recipe I usually place a picture of beets at the top of the post. But I already shared so many beet recipes that I am running out of ideas how to show them in the most appealing way. After all, they are just regular beets, nothing more.

At my home we eat a lot of beets and we eat them often. We love them so much that sometimes I just roast them and add to green salads, drizzled with pomegranate vinegar and oil. Recently I have been making a beet salad which I discovered not so long ago. I make it for lunch and serve just with bread sandwiches with ham or the Italian mortadela.

I think it comes from Georgia and it is a bit different than we serve it in Poland, because of the added walnuts. It also has mayonnaise, which I hardly eat these days, but it is really a tiny amount just so the beets get kind of slightly smothered in it but it does not make the whole salad too heavy or too greasy. Finely chopped walnuts are almost undetectable and just give a bit of crunchy texture to the smooth beets. Because in Poland we eat a lot of beet salad for Easter and we add beet-horseradish preserve to meats and sausages, I thought about sharing this recipe today.

Beet Salad with Walnuts

4 medium beets roasted or cooked, peeled off,
2 tbsp walnuts, finely chopped,
1 garlic clove, minced,
2 tbsp mayonnaise,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Grate the beets on a grater, preferably the julienne style.
2. In a medium bowl make the sauce: mix mayonnaise, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add beets and mix with the sauce. Add finely chopped walnuts and mix again.

Serve with cold cuts, roasted meats, or just good, rye bread.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Orange Tart--Otherwise Polish Mazurek

There are always two cakes served during Polish Eastear--yeast babka and mazurek--a tart on a delicate short crust. I love both of them but since I moved out from Poland I more often make mazurek. And there are several varieties of it. Last year, I already shared a recipe for my favorite mazurek with hazelnuts and chocolate. Today it will be a mazurek with citrus fruits, about which I heard a lot from my aunt. It is the one she makes most often and they like most.

I was always very curious to try it, but only last week when I saw beautiful oranges it came to my mind to make it. I was intrigued even more because I love all fruit and citrus desserts but at the same I am not a big fan of orange preserves. They are just too strong for me. For that tart I bought oranges and lemons and both of them organic.

The base is made from a short crust with eggs, which I use most often to make my desserts, and also those fruit tartellets that you see on my blog's title picture. The crust is baked completely and the top made separately and only at the end they are put together and finished with almonds.

Although the cake has a bit of that bitterness which sometimes is overwhelming in orange preserves, the sweet crust and crunchy almonds on top make it all a very nice dessert.

Easter Orange Tart--Mazurek

The Crust

1 and 1/2 sticks of butter, room temperature,
2 egg yolks,
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra 1/3 cup (to clean hands with),
1/2 cup sugar,
2 tbsp sour cream,
1 tsp baking powder.

1.In a large bowl mix flour and baking powder. Add butter to the flour and working with fingers make lumpy dough.
2. In a medium cup mix two yolks, sugar, and cream. Mix well with a small whisker until the mixture becomes lighter.
3. Add the egg mixture and butter crumbles to the flour and form quickly a dough--use the rest of the flour to clean hands and knead it into the dough.
4. Wrap it in foil and chill for a minimum 30 minutes. A dough at that stage can be stored for two weeks in a refrigerator.
5. If I make a cake the same day I usually roll out the dough on the baking form and let it chill already in the form.
6. Preheat oven to 370F.
7. Before rolling up the dough should be taken from the refrigerator at least 15 minuets earlier. Dust a working surface and roll the dough to the size of a medium size cookie tin.
8. Grease the tin with a bit of butter and transfer carefully a dough on a tin using a rolling pin. Poke it a couple of times with a fork so it will not form bubbles and bake it for 25-30 minutes, until gold. Leave in the tin and let it cool down.


2 large oranges,
2 medium lemons,
2 cups sugar,
1/4 cup water,
1/ 2 cup slivered roasted almonds.

1. Wash the fruits, place them in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Drain the fruits and cut in small cubes, removing all the seeds as you do it.

2. Place the fruits in a food processor and run it until they are puréed.

3. Transfer the fruits to a medium pot. Add sugar and water, mix and bring to boil. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the fruits become transparent.
4. Transfer the hot fruit pulp on the crust, spread evenly.

5. Sprinkle with almonds and let it cool. Cut into rectangular pieces before serving.