April 25, 2015

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

As you can see, I'm still very much enjoying the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. This is, in fact, one of the recipes that leaped out at me while I was still leafing through the book in the store, so it's no surprise that it should make it onto the table as one of the first few recipes tried. We had this with the Kofta B'siniyah from the previous post on the first day, but the leftovers were reheated on their own for a nice vegetarian dinner with a green and leafy side salad to add a bit of fresh crunch.

Barley is a very hearty grain, which is to say that it is quite filling, and it usually takes about 40 minutes to cook (as does risotto, generally). It is not a true risotto, of course, as the liquid is added all at once, but the net effect is very similar.

I decided to use a seasoned Turkish cheese that I can easily get locally in place of the feta, and it went very nicely as a garnish. We had a slightly larger amount of cheese on the leftovers, since it was a main course at that point. It also meant that I could leave out the caraway from the original marinated cheese recipe, which I felt would be too strong for my tastes.

As an editorial comment, I think it could use much less passata next time - maybe 100 ml tops, but I've written the recipe here as we made it, with 300 ml. In that case, with less liquid going in, I would definitely keep an eye on the cooking process to make sure it didn't burn (and might give an extra 100 ml water at the start).

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 4

200 grams pearl barley
30 grams butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 small shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (or a few sprigs of fresh)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 wide strips lime rind (the original calls for lemon)
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
400 grams diced tomatoes
700 ml vegetables stock or broth
300 ml passata
200 grams seasoned feta-type cheese, crumbled
fresh oregano leaves (optional)

Rinse the barley well, and drain thoroughly.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil together over medium heat until hot. Add the celery, shallots, and garlic, and sauté until tender. Add the barley and stir about well until the barley grains are glistening, and then add the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese, the fresh oregano leaves, and the remaining olive oil. Everything else, though, in the pot.

Bring it up to a gentle simmer, lower the heat, and cook for 40 - 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is mostly absorbed except for a bit of sauciness, and the barley is tender.

While the barley is cooking, add the remaining olive oil to the cheese, and stir gently to combine.

Serve it up in a shallow bowl with a dollop of cheese (with the oil!) on top, and finish with a few fresh oregano leaves if you are using them.

Don't remove the citrus rind before serving - try to get one into each bowl. After the long cooking time, they become tender, aromatic, and delicious.

April 17, 2015

Kofta B'siniyah - Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Pine Nuts

This is another fantastic recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. I do wish that my serving platter were a bit bigger, because they're a little crowded-looking here, but this was a spectacular dish that we're very keen to make again as soon as possible.

Do not hesitate to include the tahini sauce that provides the bed for the kofta to lie upon - it goes so beautifully with the kofta that you'll probably find yourself dabbing each bite into a little more sauce.

You can find the original recipe here on The Telegraph's website.

Kofta B'siniyah

adapted from Jerusalem

Makes 10 Kofta

300 grams minced lamb
300 grams minced beef
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
50 grams toasted pine nuts, divided, half roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 large hot red chile pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 tablespoon canola oil

4 tablespoons tahini paste, well stirred
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons water

To Finish
2 tablespoons butter, browned
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Toasted pine nuts (the whole ones, from above)
sweet paprika, to garnish (or you could use sumac instead)

If your pine nuts aren't toasted, do that first, in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Then prepare your mise en place - mince the onions, crush the garlic, mince the parsley and the chile, prep the seasonings - everything but the oil.

If you can buy the meat from the butcher already combined, that will ensure the greatest level of integration of the beef and lamb, but not to worry if you buy them separately. Into a large mixing bowl, break up the meat with your fingers - pinching a little bit off the packet at a time and dropping it into the mixing bowl - so that when it has all been pinched out, you have a fluffy, aerated pile of ground meat(s). Add the prepared mise ingredients for the kofta and mix together lightly with your hands to distribute all of the "bits" evenly throughout the meat. The smaller your onion pieces the better they will integrate (although don't crush them to mush in a food processor, or you will make the mixture too wet).

Divide the meat mixture into ten pieces, and shape each one into an oval or "torpedo" shape.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet, and, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, fry the kofta over medium heat until browned on all sides.

If you want to be doubly sure that they are cooked through, you can pop the pan into a hot oven for five minutes or so after they're well fried, but if you have good quality meat from the butcher, a little rare in the middle is delicious.

While the kofta are frying, stir together the ingredients for the sauce, and separately brown the butter.

Spread the sauce onto a serving platter, and arrange the kofta evenly over the surface. Scatter parsley and pine nuts over top, and dust with a pinch of paprika or sumac. Spoon a little of the browned butter over each kofta, and serve.

April 03, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Crossed Buns, or Hot Cross Buns? I guess it depends on whether you prefer a noun or an adjective. I grew up saying "Hot Crossed Buns" but now I find myself saying "Hot Cross Buns" so somewhere along the line I guess I gave way to what I hear around me.

My mother used her classic bread recipe to make these buns (with a little extra sugar), but as I've lamented before, the exact formula for that is now lost to us. Over the years, I've made a few different types, from using Challah dough to plain pizza dough, and they've been fine, but never quite what I wanted. This year, I decided to go with the classic from The Joy Of Cooking, and I'm very pleased with the results (although, next time I would use altogether more fruit, and possibly be a bit more heavy-handed in the way of spices).

In any event, these are a pleasing, not-too-sweet holiday bread that is both a perfect teatime snack as well as a charmingly festive alternative to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (which I say with love, because I adore eggs, of both poultry and chocolate varieties).

Hot Cross Buns

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes 18 buns

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (coarse sea salt would be fine)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit) (next time I would use 1 cup)
1/2 cup candied orange peel (or mixed peel)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (next time I would use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (next time, 1/4 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (not boiling)
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg, separately beaten until smooth (to be used as an egg wash at the end)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (depending on your flour - start with the lower amount)

Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, butter, raisins, peel, and spices. Let stand to become lukewarm.

While the mixture cools, in a large, warmed mixing bowl, prove the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. When it foams up, sprinkle a little flour over it (no more than a half-teaspoon) to keep it "fed" while the milk mixture cools down. Add the now-lukewarm milk mixture to the yeast mixture, and stir. Add the beaten egg, and stir very thoroughly to combine. Add a cup of flour and stir it through. Add another cup of flour, and stir that through. Add 2/3 cup of flour and, if that looks like enough to bring it to being a soft but manageable dough, stop there and knead it for about five minutes. If not, keep adding flour until you have a workable dough. Living in Germany, I find I often need more flour than is called for in North American bread (and cookie) recipes. When your dough has been kneaded until nice and satiny, clean the mixing bowl, oil it lightly and put the dough, covered with plastic, someplace slightly warm to rise (such as an oven with the light bulb on for added warmth).

When the dough has doubled (about an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes), turn it out onto your workspace, and divide into 18 buns. I only got 17 because I wasn't paying attention, but it works better in the pan if you have full rows, as the buns cling together as they rise. I was short one bun, so the two buns on one end didn't keep their rows straight, and they rose a little wonkily. No matter. Shape the buns into tight, smooth balls, and lay them out in either a 9x13" glass baking dish or with sides just touching on a metal baking tray, Cover with plastic, and let rise for about 20 - 30 minutes, until not-quite doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C, and while the oven pre-heats, use a table knife to gently press a cross into each bun. Do each bun separately, rather than trying to score a whole row at a time; each bun deserves individual attention. Don't press too deeply - you're just creating a guideline for adding the glaze later. (Although, in some cultures, the cross lets fairies, or variously the devil, out of the dough before it's baked.)

Brush each bun lightly with egg wash, trying to keep the egg was from pooling in the crosses.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown, and remove to a rack to cool.

When they've mostly cooled, glaze the crosses:

In a small bowl, put 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or icing/confectioner's sugar). Add enough lemon or lime juice to make a thick glaze. Spoon the glaze along the crosses. You can use an icing syringe for nice, smooth crosses, if you like. Be generous enough with the glaze that it flows a little over the sides of the buns on the edge, but no so much that it just runs freely all over the top of the whole batch. Again, glaze each bun individually for best effect.

Devour at will. With some tea, would be nice.

March 15, 2015

Roasted Chicken with Mandarins & Ouzo (Plus: International Bento: Jerusalem)

One of our Christmas gifts this year was the gorgeous cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I've been petting the pages for weeks now, but finally got it together to make something from it. This was a wow-factor recipe, turning simple chicken parts into a feast.

As I didn't have a lot of time to source Arak, the ingredient in the original recipe, I went with ouzo (mentioned as an acceptable substitute, and super cheap in these parts) and have zero regrets. I didn't have true clementines, but the Spanish mandarins were a bit tart, and a surprisingly good substitute.

I served this with an easy version of jewelled basmati rice - cooked basmati stirred through with butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, raisins, and a pinch of salt, and it played very nicely with the flavours of the main dish (and, mixed together the next day with some of the leftover fennel and orange slices (chopped up) it made a fantastic salad, too.

The original recipe calls for a whole, disjointed chicken, but I went with three whole chicken legs, and simply divided them into drumstick and thigh pieces.

Wonderfully, this dish can be prepped in advance, so you just need to tumble the marinated chicken into a prepared (ie. lightly oiled) roasting tray (a BIG one), and cram it into the oven.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Ouzo

Serves 3-4

100ml ouzo (or arak, per the original)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons raw sugar
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed (fronds reserved)
3 whole chicken legs, thighs and drumsticks separated
3 mandarin oranges, sliced (unpeeled) into thin rounds
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, half-crushed
salt and pepper
Fennel fronds, to garnish

Combine the ouzo, olive oil, orange juice (I just squeezed some of the extra mandarins), mustard, and sugar in a bowl, and mix well to combine.

Slice the fennel bulbs (each one into 8 wedges) and the mandarins, and place them in a big bowl with the chicken pieces. Pour the marinade over the chicken, fennel, and orange pieces, and then sprinkle with the crushed fennel and fresh thyme. Turn everything about to get it evenly coated, and then cover and let sit for a few hours (or overnight).

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spread the chicken pieces (skin side up) and the fennel and oranges in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pour the extra marinade evenly over the pan, then sprinkle the whole dish lightly with coarse sea salt (or kosher salt).

Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken and other solid items to a platter, and pour the juices from the tray into a saucepan or small skillet. Cook over high heat until the juices are reduced and become a syrupy textured pan sauce. Serve the chicken with the fennel and orange pieces onto individual plates, and drizzle with the pan sauce. Decorate with reserved fennel fronds, and a good grinding of black pepper. I served this with a slightly fancy rice, but a plain one would be beautiful, too. Couscous would probably also work very nicely.

Reheats wonderfully the next day (it's a good idea to remove any meat from the bones before putting leftovers away), as in this international bento below:

March 08, 2015

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

This wonderfully veggie-packed, one-pan meal was inspired by a number of different online recipes, including Smitten Kitchen's Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad and also generally by the amount of reading I've been doing about tahini (aka tahina)and the growing realization that I really, really like the flavour of sesame.

There's a bit of prep and chopping involved, but you can also do that part in advance and hold the prepared vegetables in the fridge for a day or two, ready to be seasoned and put in the oven. Doing the prep ahead of time makes this a reasonable dinner to make on a weeknight when you might be wanting something both easy and healthy. The above iteration was made using Hokkaido squash (aka Red Kuri), but butternut is also really nice (and a bit less intense).

You could probably describe this as "steam roasted", since there's a bit of liquid in the roasting pan, which hastens the process of the vegetables becoming tender. You could make this without that bit of liquid, also, simply omit the water from the instructions relating to the squash and cauliflower. You may, in that case, require a little longer of a roasting time (ten minutes or so).

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

serves 3-4

1 small butternut squash or Red Kuri/Hokkaido squash
1/2 head cauliflower
400 grams cooked chickpeas (1 small can)
1/2 red onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon your favourite curry powder
coarse salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (not shown)

Tahini Dressing

3 tablespoons tahini
2 big cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
big pinch of salt
Enough water to make a smooth sauce

Prepare the squash by cutting in half, removing the seeds/strings/guts, peeling, and dicing into bite-sized chunks. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

Prepare the cauliflower by cutting into medium-small florets. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

When you are ready to cook, turn your oven on to 400 F/ 200 C, with a rack in the middle. Get a large, open roasting pan prepared with a thin film of olive oil.

Place the cauliflower, cumin, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water into a large bowl, and gently stir until the cauliflower is lightly coated with the oil/water/spice mixture. Carefully spread the cauliflower out on one side of the roasting pan. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the cauliflower.

Rinse out the bowl, and place the squash chunks, curry powder, pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water, and gently stir until the squash is coated. Spread the squash out on the other half of the roasting tray. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the squash.

Roast the veggies for 20 minutes. You can prepare the chickpeas and onion while the vegetables are roasting:

- Drain and rinse the chickpeas
- Peel the red onion, and slice into short lengths (I slice thinly in one direction, and then cut into thirds, crosswise)

After the vegetables have roasted for the 20 minutes indicated above, scatter the chickpeas and red onion evenly over the cauliflower and the squash. Put the tray back into the oven and roast for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower pieces are tender, the chickpeas are heated through, and the sharp edge is off the onions.

Once everything is in the oven for that last 10 minutes or so, make up the dressing. Crush the garlic (or press, or pound with a mortar and pestle), and add it to the tahini. Add the lemon juice, the olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Stir well. You will notice that the mixture starts to become thick and then appears to separate. Do not panic! Simply add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, as needed, stirring until the mixture become smooth and silky. Taste, and decide if you want to add more salt or lemon juice.

Once the vegetables are out of the oven, drizzle a third of the dressing over the pan, and gently stir to (partially) coat the vegetables with the dressing. Dish up into bowls, and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Scatter a few toasted sesame seeds over the top for texture and visual appeal (not shown, sadly).

Leftover reheat very nicely in the microwave.

March 01, 2015

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage

Sometimes really great dishes come simply out of the desire to avoid wasting food. I can't remember quite what I was cooking last week, but I do know that I turned my back on it for a moment, and the butter I was melting turned nutty and golden brown. Which was exactly what I didn't want. While inventing new curse-words, I poured the hot, browned butter off into a shell of tinfoil, wiped out the pan, and started again. Then later, when I was cleaning up, I looked at it and thought - there's got to be a use for that.

There's rather a lot of browned butter recipes flying around on the internet - everything from muffins to frosting to ice cream, but I wanted something simple - something I could do on a weeknight, when I get home at seven o'clock, starving and wanting easy answers. Pasta naturally sprang to mind.

Pasta with brown butter sauce (and sage) is a classic Italian dish. In my experience, it is almost always long noodles that are served this way, and that was my original plan, too. Then I realized that I had a half-head of cauliflower that was quietly aging in the crisper, and decided to go for a short, chunky pasta instead.

It's a pity you cannot see the sage in this - it seemed to mostly drift to the bottom of the skillet (probably because I shredded it), and what didn't hide beneath the pasta and roasted cauliflower, quickly got snowed under with a thick blanket of parmesan. If I had been less hungry, I might have arranged it more attractively, but nope.

This was a dish that used up leftover cauliflower (freshly roasted), accidental brown butter, and a weird pasta shape that I had already lurking in my refrigerator. The fact that it was also delicious made it into end-zone dance category.

I also served this with lamb cutlets (not pictured), because it seemed like a nice combination. They were delicious, but probably unnecessary. If I were serving this as a a vegetarian entree, I think I might add a few toasted pine nuts, as well, for heartiness (and delightful crunchiness).

Pasta & Cauliflower with Brown Butter and Sage

Serves 2

100 grams short pasta
2 tablespoons browned butter
1 small handful fresh sage leaves, in chiffonade
1/2 small head of cauliflower (freshly roasted with olive oil and a good pinch of salt)
parmesan cheese for finishing

Cut up the cauliflower until the pieces are just slightly chunkier than the pasta you are using. Toss well with a little olive oil and a big pinch of coarse salt, and roast at 400 F for 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork (and ideally, golden brown where they touch the pan - a metal pan works best for this).

While the cauliflower is roasting, heat up the water to boil the pasta, and warm the browned butter (or, starting from scratch, brown the butter) in a medium skillet. Add the sage leaves to the butter once the pasta is almost cooked.

Cook the pasta to your preference (remembering to salt the water), and then, using a wire skimmer/spider spoon it into the brown butter and sage. Stir well. Add the roasted cauliflower to the pan, stirring gently but thoroughly to get everything coated with the browned butter. Dust thoroughly with freshly grated parmesan, and serve.

Leftovers reheated beautifully in a microwave.

February 23, 2015

Pita Bread

My Ful Medames post included home made pita bread as a serving suggestion, so it seems reasonable to follow it up with a recipe.

Pita bread tends to be either a thick, soft, solid-piece flatbread, or a thinner bread with a pocket created by steam pressure. You could of course use either style quite handily for serving with your Ful, but this version is for the pocket-style. It is tremendously fun to watch through the door of the oven as the breads slowly inflate before your eyes into bread balloons. When you pull them out of the oven, they immediately start to deflate, leaving behind the pocket created by the ballooning effect.

This recipe is really very close to my pizza dough recipe, and you can in fact use that one (just follow the instructions here for rising and baking).

Pita Bread

Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Rheinhart

Makes 4 large pocket-style pitas

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup room-temperature water (plus extra)

Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the honey and the olive oil over the flour. Add the water gradually, stirring with a big wooden spoon (depending on your flour, you might need less than 1/2 cup or you might need more - I needed a couple of tablespoons more). When the flour and water come together into a fairly firm dough, turn it out onto a counter and knead for about ten minutes, or until smooth and silky feeling. If it is too wet (ie. sticky), add a bit more flour as you go.

Return the dough to your cleaned and lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for about 90 minutes - the dough should double in size.

Put a large, clean, dry baking sheet in the middle of your oven, and preheat to 500 F. The pan must be very hot for the pita-pocket effect to work properly.

Turn the dough out onto the counter, and gently press the air out of it. Divide into four portions, and roll each one into a ball. Flatten each ball into a thick disk, and cover three of them loosely with the plastic wrap.

Take the remaining piece of dough, and gently roll it out until it is very thin - not paper thin, but no more than 1/4 inch thick (a bit thinner is better). This means a round of dough that is about seven or eight inches across.

Carefully peel the disk of dough from the counter, slip on an oven mitt, and place the round of dough on the oven mitt. Open the door and slap the dough onto the hot baking sheet, quickly closing the door again.

Watch through the window of your oven in astonishment as the dough rises before your eyes, becoming fully inflated in about two minutes. When it is fully inflated, let it continue cook for the slow count of ten, and then remove from the oven (using a spatula). Place the hot, puffy (and rapidly deflating!) pita on a rack to cool. If you like a bit of colour on your bread, you can simply use a spatula to flip it onto its other side instead of pulling it out right away, and let it stay in the oven for an extra ten seconds or so.

Prepare the next round of dough, and repeat, until all four pitas are cooked. Once all the pitas are done, wrap them loosely in a clean kitchen towel so that they stay soft.

Serve right away, or allow to cool completely. When completely cool, pop them into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out. If you want to use them as pockets, cut them in half, and gently pull the two sides open to fill as you wish.

February 15, 2015

Ful Medames

Ful Medames (also transliterated as Foul Mudammas, or Fuul Medammes, amongst other spellings), commonly referred to simply as Ful (pronounced "fool"), is a middle-eastern bean dish that deserves broader recognition in the western world. It is a popular breakfast dish in Egypt, but its reach extends easts through Saudi Arabia, north throughout the eastern Mediterranean countries, and south into the horn of Africa. It is cheap, filling, and delicious.

As can be expected from a dish that reaches through so many disparate cultures, there are countless iterations. The essentials appear to be fava beans, olive oil, cumin, and lemon juice, but there are variations that include any of (or a combination of) garlic, chopped onion, parsley, tahina, and even chopped tomatoes.

Ful is most commonly served with flatbread, which is used as a utensil to scoop up the beans. The type of flatbread used is going to vary by whichever culture you're in - the good news being that you can safely use whatever flatbread you've got on hand. I served mine with freshly made pita bread (because it was Sunday and I had no choice but to make it if I wanted it), but you could easily use lavash, Somalian canjeero, or heck, even tortillas or chapati. You can also spread it on toasted sandwich bread.

Ful is often served on its own, but equally often as part of a larger, tapas-style meal, especially at lunch or dinner.

While sometimes other beans are used to make Ful, depending on culture and geography, the fava appears to be dominant. Fava beans are a bit more intensely flavoured than chickpeas. They are quite earthy tasting, and therefore pair really well with cumin, and stand up very well under the pungency of fresh garlic and the sharpness of lemon.

You can store it in the fridge for a few days without ill effect, simply adding a little more water to loosen it up as you reheat it. I find that I can make a double batch on Sunday, and have it for breakfast for the rest of the week.

Ful Medames

Adapted from Serious Eats

Serves 2 - 4

2 cups cooked fava beans (or a 400 gram can)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, lightly smashed
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons tahina (aka tahini, aka sesame paste)

In a small skillet, toast your cumin seeds until fragrant, and then carefully pour them out onto a cutting board (or into a mortar).

Into the emptied, unwashed skillet add your beans (with their liquid if they're canned, otherwise with about 1/3 cup water) and heat over a medium flame.

On the cutting board, add your garlic cloves and a pinch of salt, and run your knife through a couple of times until the garlic is finely chopped (or, in a mortar, pound the garlic and cumin together until the garlic is a smooth paste). Scrape the garlic/cumin mixture into the beans, and stir through. If you like things spicy, feel free to add in a few chile flakes, too.

The beans should be gently bubbling away at this point. Once the garlic and cumin have been stirred around a few times, add the tahina and olive oil, stir through, and continue to cook, stirring. At this point, you can mash up some of the beans against the side of the skillet, to make a thicker gravy, or if your skillet is looking a bit dry, you can add a little more water to thin it out. Add a tablespoon or two of the lemon juice and stir through. Taste, and decide if it needs more salt (if you use canned beans, probably not, but if you cooked them up from dried, probably yes). Stir and mash the beans as needed until everything looks well heated and the texture is somewhere between baked beans and thick soup. I know, that's a lot of leeway, but you really do get to choose how thick or thin you want this to be. This shouldn't really take more than about five minutes total cooking time.

Pour/scrape the beans into a bowl. At this point, you can add any final finishing touches that you like (an extra drizzle of olive oil, Egyptian style, or a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, Syrian style, for example, or maybe some carmelized onions, or some parsley).

Serve with warmed flatbread.

February 07, 2015

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto

This is the traditional Hallowe'en dinner in our household, but really, you can make it all winter long when the winter squashes are cheap and plentiful. I've used a butternut squash here, but you could of course use any cooking pumpkin with firm, dense flesh (acorn or muscat squash might not be at their best here, because they would likely turn to mush with all the stirring). The final colour of the dish will depend greatly on which squash you decided to use, but usually ranges from an intense yellow to a vibrant orange.

For the shrimp, please check out this Oceanwise resource page for prawns/shrimp if you need help making an informed choice about sustainable harvesting.

If you're vegetarian/vegan, or just not a fan of seafood, you can omit the prawns and still have a beautiful, delicious side dish. Either way, don't drown in in cheese at the end - it really doesn't want or need it.

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 4

4 cups diced-small pumpkin or winter squash
250 grams risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, or similar)
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
250 grams raw prawns or large shrimp (frozen is fine)
Hot water from a recently boiled kettle (just in case)

If you've read my other risotto recipes, you will know that I am extremely particular about the size of ingredients in my risotto. My theory is, broadly, if it's not a featured ingredient, it should be no bigger than a (cooked) grain of the rice that you are using. Basically, onions, I'm looking at you. Because the squash and prawns are features, they get to be bigger, but I do find having a small dice for the pumpkin here makes a more visually and texturally pleasing choice.

First step, as always, is get your mise en place ready: Peel, clean, and dice your pumpkin, and set aside. If you have a little less pumpkin than 4 cups, it's still fine, although 4 cups gives the best result. Finely dice your onion, and mince your garlic. Warm up your broth and keep it on a low flame on the stove, so it's ready to be ladled into the rice. Clean the shrimp, removing shells (if necessary) and veins. If frozen, rinse them in a sieve under cold running water until they are mostly defrosted. Basically, get all ingredients prepared, measured, and standing by, because you get no further time to prep once you've started cooking. Be sure to boil a kettle, and have the hot water standing by in case you need it later.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat until quite hot, and then add the shrimp and quickly sauté them until they just barely change colour. Remove to a nearby plate/bowl to add into the risotto later.

In the same saucepan, without cleaning it, add the onion and garlic, and sauté just until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add the salt and white pepper, and stir through.

Next, add the rice and stir well, to get a nice, thin coating of fat on the rice grains. Add the tomato paste, and stir through until it is completely integrated and there are no streaks of red running through the rice. Add the diced squash, and stir it through gently. (You can also reverse the order of adding the rice vs. the squash, no biggie as long as everything is nicely coated in the end. I find it easier to add the tomato paste before adding the squash, though, to get it evenly distributed.)

Add all of the wine/vermouth at once, and stir, carefully scraping up the bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks. Lower the heat to medium-low, and begin to add the warm vegetable broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring gently but pretty much constantly in between each addition until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more. It should take about 25 - 35 minutes to add all of the liquid, and that variable is based on how hot your burner is.

If you get to the end of your broth and find that the rice is not quite cooked enough to your taste, add a little of the hot water from your recently boiled kettle, and continue until the texture is just right - a little bite to the rice, but not crunchy. Next time, you might want to lower the heat a bit more.

When the rice is ready, stir the prawns gently into the risotto. If you want an especially luxurious dish, add in another tablespoon of butter or olive oil, but it's not strictly necessary. Cover the risotto, and remove from the heat. Let stand for five minutes, and then spoon into shallow bowls and serve. Feel free to add a garnish of parsley if you like, but steer clear of the parmesan.

January 31, 2015

Cajun Chicken Fricassee

It's no secret that we love the food of New Orleans. Cajun and creole dishes are slowly but steadily seeping into our rotation, from the very first Jambalaya through Smoked Duck Étouffée, and of course further versions of Jambalaya, and all points in between, many of which I have yet to share with you.

The real trick is learning how to make a roux (some patience is required), and not balking at the amount of fat that goes into it. I do confess, though, that I often use less roux in my versions of recipes than is called for, to no discernible detriment to texture or flavour. Once you've got the roux down, the possibilities expand significantly. As an important public service announcement, I'm here to tell you that bacon fat makes a really delicious roux. So, if you like to save your bacon fat, this is a fantastic dish to squander it on.

This is a luxurious tasting dish, and seems more closely related to Étouffée than to its French cousin, also called Fricassee, a creamy, somewhat more subtle dish. Garnish with sliced green onions (not shown here) for maximum traditional bonus points.

Cajun Chicken Fricassee
Adapted from "Cajun — Creole Cooking" by Terry Thompson-Anderson

Serves 4 (with gravy leftover for another meal)

8 pieces of chicken (bone in, skin on, legs/thighs are optimal)
seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne
1/2 cup cleaned bacon fat* or lard
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced or diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (less, if powdered)
OR 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
3 cups hot chicken broth or stock
4 green onions, sliced (garnish)

*If you keep salvaged bacon fat in a jar in the fridge, it usually ends up with stria of little burned flecks and lumps. Once you have a full jar of fat, it's easy to warm up it up until it becomes liquid again, and the impurities settle to the bottom. Then you can carefully pour off what you need, leaving the nasty bits behind. (Pour any extra into a clean jar to store in the fridge until needed.)

Once you start cooking, you will have no time to prep. Therefore, prepare and measure out everything that you need in advance, including heating your stock. This is your only warning.

Season the chicken pieces on both sides with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Open a window, if possible, so that the smell of frying chicken does not haunt you for days.

In a large dutch oven, heat the fat until it is shimmering (but not smoking), and fry the chicken briefly until golden on both sides (but not cooked through). I work in batches, browning the thighs first, then the drumsticks, removing the pieces to a paper towel-lined plate as they are done.

When all the chicken has been browned, turn the heat down to medium-low and sprinkle the flour over the hot fat, and get right in there with a whisk to smooth it into a roux. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir, pretty much continuously, scraping the entire bottom surface of the pan to prevent catching and scorching, for about 25 minutes, or until the roux becomes caramel-coloured. If the roux is really catching on the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down further, or remove it from the heat altogether (for a few minutes). Using bacon fat instead of lard gives you a jump start on colour, but don't trim the time, as it is necessary to cook the flour through properly and develop the flavour.

Once the roux is caramel-coloured, add the onions, garlic, and celery, and cook and stir for about four minutes, or until the vegetables are wilted and the onions have turned translucent. The roux will thicken rather a lot as this happens, so constant stirring is necessary. Add the remaining dry seasonings - bay leaves, cayenne, black pepper, thyme - and stir them through.

Add the stock, slowly, stirring constantly, until it is all integrated, and the gravy is bubbling nicely. Return the chicken to the pot, stir through, and once the dish is gently bubbling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and let cook for an hour. If you are anxious, you can peek at it now and then, and give it a little stir. No biggie.

In the meantime, while the fricassee cooks, you have a chance to clean up a little, and make any side dishes. Rice goes wonderfully, but so do noodles, mashed potatoes, biscuits, or dumplings. Your choice. Shown here is Cajun Spinach Rice (adapted from the same book), and Ukrainian pickled tomatoes (because they are delicious).

When the hour is up, stir the dish through (there may be some chicken fat settling out on the surface, just stir it back in), and garnish with sliced green onion.

This recipe makes a lot of gravy, so after dinner I set aside the extra in a freezer container, ready to become a fast weeknight dinner by adding boneless chicken breast, and serving over biscuits, with some sort of extra vegetable on the side.