The Cooking Chronicles: More with Donna Hay

I hadn’t touched Donna Hay’s No Time to Cook for some time, but when I needed some inspiration for a few quick meals, I knew I would be able to find a dish or two that would pique my interest.

Polenta with Mushrooms and Goat’s Cheese

I clearly haven’t mastered the ratio of water to corn meal yet, as I learned from making a recipe for polenta with mushrooms and goat’s cheese. Instead of the desired creamy consistency, I hadn’t included enough water, so the polenta turned out almost solid in nature.

Thankfully, topped with some sautéed portobello mushrooms in balsamic vinegar and Smoky Valley St. Maure goat cheese, my poorly-made polenta was made somewhat more bearable.

Polenta with mushrooms and goat's cheese

Polenta with mushrooms and goat’s cheese

Still, both Mack and I were left wanting something else – either an additional textural element, or another protein of some kind.

Fennel-crusted Pork

We had better luck with the fennel-crusted pork. We used an Irvings Farm Fresh tenderloin (Mack thinks the word is much more amusing than it should be), sprinkled with fennel, rosemary, salt and pepper and seared until cooked through.

To accompany the pork was some shredded Kuhlmann’s cabbage and green apple cooked with butter, white wine vinegar and brown sugar.

Fennel-crusted pork

Fennel-crusted pork with cabbage and apple

We really enjoyed the dish – the pork remained perfectly moist and the fennel, as expected, complimented the flavours well. The cabbage was also surprisingly tasty from such quick preparation, and is definitely something we’ll make again, even apart from the pork. On any other day, I would have also added a starch of some kind – potatoes or a side of rice – but that night, I knew we would be heading out to the carb-laden Christmas fete at the Queen of Tarts, so the meat and vegetables were enough.

Thanks to Donna Hay for rarely letting me down!

The Cooking Chronicles: Something Fishy

While fresh fish is great, because we tend to do most of our grocery shopping on the weekend, flash-frozen fish is the better alternative for us because we can keep it in the freezer until we are ready to use it. In our case with the vacuum-sealed packages from Ocean Odyssey, the fish is already filleted, making it easy to thaw the night before and incorporate it into a weeknight supper. And though it was super-convenient to have Pat and her stall at the City Market over the summer, it’s just as easy to stop by her shop (10027 167 Street, 780-930-1901) year-round to stock up for a few weeks.

We used Ocean Odyssey filets for the following two recipes – they’re one-pot or one-pan deals!

Garlic & Tomato Fish Stew

Donna Hay’s No Time to Cook recipe for a garlic and tomato fish stew was fast and easy, and made for a tasty weeknight supper. We used sole filets, which meant flakier, smaller pieces of fish were in the cards instead of large chunks. I also liked the inclusion of potato.We served the dish with some toasted ciabatta buns from Sobeys, to be dipped into the broth of white wine, stock and tomato juice.

Fish stew

It’s something we will definitely make again!

Pan-cooked Grated Celeriac and Crunchy Fish

We were definitely in a rush the night of the final mayoral forum, but handily, Mark Bittman’s recipe for pan-cooked grated vegetables and crunchy fish did not take long. While Mack took care of grating the Greens, Eggs and Ham celeriac, I sautéed some onions and garlic with curry powder, then added the root vegetable to be cooked until browned. Then in the same pan, we seared up some cod filets that had been dredged in a mixture of corn meal and flour.

Pan-cooked vegetables and crunchy fish

Crunchy cod over pan-cooked grated celeriac

This wasn’t my favourite way to eat celeriac (I much prefer the pureed soup), as the cooking time didn’t really allow the celery root to soften much at all – grated potato would have fared better. The fish, on the other hand, was delicious – crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside, it was a healthier alternative to the deep-fried filets it reminded me of.

The Cooking Chronicles: Two Pot Meals

Donna Hay’s a bit misleading in her section on “one pot meals” in No Time To Cook. In actuality, some of the dishes require two pots – the first for the main and the second for the accompanying starch – whether it be a rice cooker or a pot to boil pasta. I know it’s not a big stretch – it’s just one more dish to wash, after all – but for whatever reason, it’s a bit of a disappointment to me when I realize that the recipe isn’t a true one pot meal.

Chicken Poached in Coconut Curry

This was one such dish that required two pots. While I’ve poached chicken in coconut milk before, this was the first time I threw in potatoes and snap peas for a whole meal. It was also the first time I used kaffir lime leaves (the recipe I linked to leaves them out). I picked up a whole bag at Lucky 97 for just 99 cents – and given how they come back to life simmered in hot liquid, and actually do lend a tangible citrus tang to the curry, they are worth seeking out.

Chicken poached in coconut curry

Sausage and Arugula Penne

A pasta recipe from Ricardo Larrivée also caught my eye (and yes, required two pots) – I loved that there were less than ten ingredients called for. And we’ve cooked often with white wine, but not red, so this was a good opportunity to experiment with a red-wine based sauce.

Sausage and arugula penne

We had ended up using the remainder of a bottle of red we had sitting around, which Mack thought probably wasn’t the best choice of wine variety – he thought it overtook everything else in the dish. I didn’t mind it so much – between the tomatoes and wine, the thin but flavourful sauce was a nice change of pace from the hearty, chunky tomato sauce we make more often.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before another two pot meal sneaks into our rotation!

The Cooking Chronicles: I Heart Donna Hay

I was lucky enough to receive two Donna Hay cookbooks for Christmas this year – Instant Entertaining and her newest, No Time To Cook. When I first started browsing cookbook shelves a few years ago, her volumes immediately caught my eye – the full-colour photographs were unlike any I had encountered before. Simple, elegant and beautiful, Hay’s food stylist could make anything look good.

I was particularly drawn to No Time To Cook, which focuses on quick meals – whether assembled, thrown together in one pot or baked in a single dish. I’m still working my way through the book (many a recipe are bookmarked), but I’ve had a chance to try two thus far.

Hay’s crunchy parmesan-crumbed chicken recipe was, in Mack’s words, “like Shake and Bake”. Chicken breasts were topped with a mixture of melted butter, dried herbs, parmesan and breadcrumbs, then baked at 390F. We made the mistake of not first filleting the breast in half to reduce the baking time (and further prevent the chicken from drying out), but we know now!

Crunchy Parmesan-Crumbed Chicken, with Rice and Vegetables

Hay’s recipe for baked risotto was chosen as much for convenience as it was to use up the leeks I had in the fridge. As I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the living room (the Canadian Men’s quarter final hockey game was on), once the prep was done, the dish finished itself in the oven. Of course, somewhere in between, I forgot to add the butter, but it didn’t seem to affect the final product too much, after I stirred it in at the end. While there is a definite textural difference between the baked rice and lovingly-stirred, creamy stovetop risotto, with the addition of two crunchy leeks, the rice was decent (and even better served with salty prosciutto, Hay’s suggestion).

Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables and Prosciutto

I’ve earmarked several more recipes to try – no doubt this cookbook won’t sit idle on my shelf for long!