September 16, 2018

Hummus Kawarma: Hummus with spiced lamb

Think of Hummus Kawarma as the Middle Eastern answer to Tex Mex's Five Layer Dip: the base is creamy hummus, the next layer is fried spiced lamb, further toppings are whole chickpeas, toasted pine nuts, and lemon parsley sauce. (Oh, did you want seven layer dip? Perhaps you could add finely diced cucumber and tomato, although I prefer those on the side as part of a classic Israeli salad.) What about the tortilla chips, you might ask. Well, oven-toasted pita chips make the perfect stand-in, but you could also simply use fresh pita bread cut or torn into pieces as needed. You can serve this as an appetizer or main course, as a communal shared plate or as individual servings.

The recipe for the spiced lamb topping and the lemon sauce is from the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi, and is also available on the Ottolenghi website, although I note that I used ground lamb instead of hand-chopped lamb neck.

So, what am I bringing to you here, since the exciting part of the recipe is elsewhere? Well, aside from cheap analogies to Tex-Mex cuisine, you also get my formula for extremely creamy hummus using an immersion blender. You'll need a kitchen scale to get the exact ratio, but if you don't have one you can still get by.

Immersion Blender Hummus

Makes 400 grams

Serves 4 as part of the above recipe (as a main course)

400 gram (14 oz) can of chickpeas, drained, reserving liquid (about 265 grams /9.3 oz cooked chickpeas))
45 ml (3 tablespoons) tahini (stirred well)
2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Chickpea cooking liquid OR water to make the total weight of all ingredients 400 grams (14 oz). If you don't have a kitchen scale, start with 60 ml (1/4 cup) liquid and add more as needed. You probably won't need more than 125 ml (half a cup).

You can put all of this into the blender cup and blend until smooth, but I find it's easier on the machine if you first make a puree of everything except the chickpeas and extra liquid. Then add the chickpeas, about a quarter of them at a time, blending until smooth between each addition, and finally adding the extra liquid until you achieve a smooth, creamy texture. Devour immediately, or transfer to a sealable refrigerator container. It keeps nicely for at least three days...I've never had it last longer, so after that you're on your own.

If you're completely obsessed with ultra smooth texture, take the time to pinch each chickpea to remove the skin. It takes a while but it's worth it, although I note that this step lowers the insoluble fibre content somewhat.

September 12, 2018

Calypso Potato Salad

Years ago, there used to be a tiny Trini restaurant called Roti Bistro on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver. It was there I was first introduced to soursop punch and peanut punch, and Caribbean lamb and goat curries. One of the things I particularly enjoyed was that they didn't adjust the food to accommodate the northern palate, so everything that was supposed to be hot was indeed fiery hot. Including, unexpectedly, the potato salad. Now, I have a pretty heat-resistant palate myself, and enjoy habaneros and other hot chiles without reserve, but on this particular day the curry was extremely hot, even for my tastes. No problem, I told myself, I'll just have a bit of this creamy-looking potato salad and OH MY GOD! IT'S HOTTER THAN THE CURRY! Thank goodness for that soursop punch.

The restaurant is long gone, sadly, but I was inspired by their blistering potato salad to make a version of it myself. It's not quite as intense as the original, but I think you'll find it to be very tasty indeed.

The potato salad is named after one of the key ingredients, Matouk's Calypso Sauce (which is made in Trinidad & Tobago), but you can substitute that with a fruity habanero sauce and a touch of curry powder. Please note that this is not a sponsored post. The rest of the seasoning for the salad is loosely based on jerk seasoning.

Calypso Potato Salad

Serves 6

3 pounds red skinned nugget potatoes
1/2 cup (125 ml) mayonnaise
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dry mustard
1–2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) fresh chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) turmeric
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled, halved
6 cornichons, chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 habanero or scotch bonnet chiles, minced (seeds removed)
1/4 cup (60 ml) Matouk’s Calypso Sauce
Black pepper

Cut the potatoes in halves, or into bite-sized chunks if you have larger potatoes, and steam or simmer gently in lightly salted water until just tender. Drain potatoes and allow them to cool slightly in the colander.

In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, dry mustard, chopped thyme, allspice, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and Calypso sauce in a medium bowl.

Separately, in a medium bowl, combine celery, cornichons, habaneros, and green onion. Separate the egg yolks and whites. Mash or sieve yolks finely, and mince the egg whites. Add both to the chopped vegetables.

Add the warm-but-not-hot potatoes to the spiced mayonnaise and immediately add the chopped vegetables and egg mixture on top of that. Fold gently with a spatula until the potatoes and vegetables are evenly coated. Garnish liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and extra green onion, if you like. A sprinkle of paprika or cayenne makes a pretty finish.

Allow the salad to rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving, to give the flavours a chance to meld.

September 09, 2018

Curried Egg Breakfast Sandwich

When I lived on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, we used to quite enjoy weekend brunch at Fets Whisky Kitchen. My favourite order was the breakfast egg sandwich named the "Woodford Handheld" which consisted of a ciabatta bun, crispy bacon, cheese, and just a hint of curry in the generous amount of scrambled eggs. As to why they called it the Woodford, I can only imagine that there might have been a little bourbon in the mix somewhere, which wouldn't be a shock from a place known for its whisk(e)y and bourbon selection. Over the years their menu has changed, and they have moved on from the Woodford. But I haven't.

Fortunately, it's a really easy thing to make, although it does take a bit of organization. The important thing is to get the amount of curry powder just right. It should be noticeable, but not jarring or interfering with the flavour of the eggs, bacon and cheese. You can opt not to toast the buns, but I think it's much nicer if you do. It's a departure from the original, but hey - why not use garlic butter while you're toasting them?

Curried Egg Breakfast Sandwich

AKA "The Woodford" (more or less)

2 Sandwiches

2 ciabatta-style buns (or equivalent), split
1 tablespoon butter, or garlic butter
4 - 6 strips of bacon, to taste
Monterey Jack, young Gouda, or melting cheese of your choice, enough to cover the bottom half of each bun

4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons cream
pinch of coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon hot Indian-style curry powder

Start with the bread. Spread cut sides of the buns with butter (or garlic butter) and place butter-side down in a preheated skillet over medium heat until lightly toasted. Remove buns to serving plates, and lay the slices of cheese on the bottom pieces. The heat will cause the cheese to soften slightly, which is fine.

Wipe out any crumbs and add into the now-empty skillet the strips of bacon. Cook the bacon until slightly crispy, but not too hard, turning as needed. Prepare the eggs by beating them together with the cream, salt, and curry powder. If you plan to use a different skillet to scramble your eggs, get it preheating now.

Remove the bacon from the skillet and distribute between the two cheese-dressed buns.

Scramble the eggs as you please. I use medium high heat with a bit of butter to get it going, and stir frequently to get loose, soft curds. It only takes about a minute. When the eggs are just about to set, take a large serving spoon and serve the eggs on top of the bacon. Close the sandwiches with the toasted bun tops, and devour right away.

It was every bit as delicious as I remembered.

August 26, 2018

Phad Kaphrao: Thai Holy Basil Stir fry

Until really recently, I thought that Thai Holy Basil was the same as the ubiquitous "Thai basil" which one receives in so many Southeast Asian dishes in Vancouver. However, they are indeed quite different. I was buying ingredients for summer rolls from my local Asian grocer, and grabbed a packet labeled Holy Basil without really looking at the leaves. Unsurprisingly, given that the owners of the shop are Thai, it turned out to be the real deal Holy Basil, and that was not what I had been looking for at all. Undaunted, I went online to learn a bit about the plant and how it differs from the Thai basil I was familiar with (which turns out to be a varietal of cinnamon basil).

This is the dish that I decided to make, once I understood what I had got my hands on: Thai Holy Basil & Pork Stir-fry, very lightly adapted from Woks of Life.

Holy Basil Stir fry (ผัดกะเพรา) is a popular dish across Thailand, and can be made with the protein of your choice. Recipes for chicken or pork abound, but I've also seen them for beef and for tofu, so I guess it's really up to you. Serve it over fragrant rice, maybe with a fried egg for the most common traditional presentation.

It is quick, it is easy (provided you can source the Holy Basil of course), and most importantly, it is delicious!

Phad Kaphrao Moo Sab: Holy Basil Stir Fry with Pork

Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small yellow onion
7 cloves garlic
5 Thai bird chiles, or equivalent hot red chilies
500 grams ground pork
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons mushroom sauce (or oyster sauce)
⅓ cup chicken broth or water
1 bunch Holy Basil leaves (about 1 1/2 cups packed)

This dish comes together fast, so do all of your prep in advance. This is no time for chop-and-drop. Start by preparing the rice, which takes the longest to cook. While the rice cooks, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients, and when there is only about 15 minutes left for the rice, start cooking the stir fry.

Preheat a large skillet over the lowest heat setting.

Slice the onion (pole-to-pole) into moderately thin strips. Slice the garlic thinly. Slice the red chiles finely, first removing seeds if necessary. You can measure the sugar, fish sauce (I use one with added chiles), soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and mushroom (or oyster) sauce into the same prep bowl. Efficient! Measure out the water/broth. Strip the Holy Basil from its stems, but do not chop the leaves, not even the big ones.

Turn up the heat under the large skillet to medium, and give it a few seconds to come up to temperature. Add the canola oil and the sliced onion, garlic, and red chiles, and stir and fry them until the onion starts to turn translucent, about three to five minutes. Add the pork (I used a pork/beef blend, which is common in these parts), and break it up with your spatula/wooden spoon. Stir and fry the meat for a few minutes, but don't stir it quite constantly, so that the meat picks up a bit of golden colour from contact with the hot pan. This will take up to about five minutes, maybe a few minutes more depending how hot "medium" is on your stove. Once the meat has been lightly browned and there are no longer any pink showing, add the sauce mixture and the chicken broth (or water) and stir through. Continue to stir and fry until the liquid is evaporated/absorbed by the meat, and then add all of the Holy Basil leaves at once to the skillet.

Give them a moment to wilt, then stir them through. Stir and fry for about 30 seconds, and then serve with the hot fragrant rice (and a fried egg, if you've planned ahead that far).

August 19, 2018

Poulet Basquaise: Basque Chicken

This recipe takes a bit of time, but it's absolutely worth it, and about half of the total prep time is hands-off cooking.

It is more of an interpretation than a 100% authentic recipe, using the same techniques and ingredients, although it is reimagined into a one-dish meal as opposed to the traditional Basque progression, which has the beans as a separate dish before the main course. It's in fact a fusion between several recipes for Basque style chicken and also a rabbit recipe. Its defining ingredient that I'm hinging the title upon is Piment d'Espelette, a specialty ground red pepper from the town of Espelette. Perhaps it should more correctly be called Poulet à la Piment d'Espelette.

I had fresh tomatoes and peppers to use up, so I went hard-core with roasting and peeling the peppers, and blanching and peeling the tomatoes, but there's no reason you couldn't use tinned tomatoes (small dice, if you can get them, or regular dice but chopped up a bit more), and jarred roasted red peppers that have already been peeled (and possibly seeded, depending on brand). I am using canned butter beans (any large white bean will do), but of course one could cook those separately from scratch, too.

The chicken braises in the flavourful liquid and becomes incredibly tender and luscious, adding its own fat and juices into the sauce as it cooks. Pushing bread into that rich sauce is one of the great joys of this dish.

Poulet Basquaise

Serves 3 - 4

3 chicken legs, separated into thighs and drumsticks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 teaspoons piment d'espelette
200 grams chorizo (4 links small tapas-style chorizo)
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled, deseeded and chopped
200 grams fresh tomato (eg. 7 Campari tomatoes) peeled, deseeded and chopped (with juices)
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 bay leaves
225 grams butter beans (eg. 400 gram can, drained, 1 1/2 cups)
250ml dry white wine
250ml chicken stock

Heat a large skillet or braising pan (I use one that is 30cm/12"), slowly, over low heat while you prepare your mise en place: Peel, deseed and chop the tomatoes, collecting as much juice as possible in the bowl, OR use about a cup of diced tomatoes with juices. Set aside. Blacken the red bed peppers all over (over a flame, under a broiler, on a grill, or on a rack over a conventional burner), and then peel, remove the seeds, and chop into large dice, OR use two whole jarred large roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed, patted dry, deseeded and chopped. Set aside. Finely dice the onion and the celery, and set aside (together is fine). Slice the chorizo. Drain and rinse the beans. Measure the dry white wine and the chicken stock. Press or mince the garlic. Measure out the remaining ingredients. Finally, clean and trim the chicken legs and separate them into thighs and drumsticks. Season the chicken with salt and white pepper.

Preheat the oven to 165°C/325°F with a rack in the middle or upper middle slot, and turn the heat up under your skillet to medium.

When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and tilt the pan so that the oil covers the bottom. Give the oil about 15 seconds to heat, and add the seasoned chicken pieces, skin side down, and let them cook without disturbing for about 8 minutes or until golden brown. Flip pieces over (I use tongs) and cook a further 5 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches, if the thighs are particularly large (or if you're using all thighs). After the 5 minutes, remove the chicken pieces to a clean plate. It won't be cooked through yet, so handle according to safe chicken-handling procedures. Add the flour and stir through with a spatula or wooden spoon, dissolving it into the fat and scraping up any dark bits from the chicken-frying stage. Add chorizo and bay leaves to the pan, and sauté lightly for a minute or two until the chorizo colours just slightly, then add the onions, garlic, and celery and sauté lightly for about 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the celery has started to soften. Add the bell peppers and tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes or so, until integrated, then add the beans and stir gently through. Add the wine and the stock and stir again, and then add the chicken pieces on top, arranging them skin-side up in a single layer in the pan. Be sure to include any juices that accumulated on the chicken-holding plate - just pour them in, no need to stir again. Place the fully assembled pan in the oven, and bake uncovered at 165°C/325°F for 1.25 hours.

Spoon a piece of chicken (or two) into a wide, shallow bowl, and serve with plenty of crusty bread, a crisp salad, and the rest of the bottle of wine.

If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, it reheats beautifully.

July 30, 2018

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This is from my mother's recipe collection. It's handwritten on a scrap paper, so I have no idea whence the recipe came, but there are quirks and notes that show her particular adaptations. I do remember that we started making this cake when I was about 10 years old, and that we never put walnuts in it, despite their presence as written. Instead, my mother was known to use chocolate chips (including one time, memorably, orange chocolate chips) or just omit the nuts entirely. There may have been an ill-advised attempt to use pumpkin seeds, about which we will speak no more.

As you can see, this is a big cake. It keeps well on the counter, better in the fridge (if you have room), but is delicious enough that it probably won't have to wait around for very long.

A note on grating zucchini: I find that short strands are much easier to work with than long strands, so I recommend slicing the zucchini in half lengthwise almost to the stem, and then holding the two halves together to grate across the cut. This gives very short strands that are easy to use, whether you are making fritters or cakes.

My mother always used soft "golden" brown sugar, but plain white granulated sugar also works fine.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

fills a 10-12 cup Bundt pan/Bundform/Gugelhupfform

125 ml (1/2 cup) canola oil
300 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
3 large eggs
200 grams (2 cups) grated zucchini
6 grams (1 heaped tablespoon) orange zest
10 ml (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
300 grams (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
65 grams (1/2 cup) cocoa powder
12.5 ml (2 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
7.5 ml (1 1/2 teaspoons) baking soda
5 ml (1 teaspoon) kosher or coarse sea salt
5 ml (1 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
125 grams (1 cup) chopped walnuts (or chocolate chips) - optional
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk

My mother's ever-cryptic instructions are: Pour into bundt pan, bake at 350° 1 hr. Cool in pan 15 min, then turn out and glaze: mix 2 cups icing sugar, 2 tbsps milk, 1 tsp vanilla

For those who didn't grow up with these astonishingly abbreviated instructions, try this:

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F, with a rack in the lower-middle slot. Prepare a 10-12 cup ring-shaped cake pan by spraying with cooking spray, oiling lightly or greasing lightly with butter.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil and sugar and beat with a wooden spoon or whisk until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat again. Add the grated zucchini and the vanilla extract, and stir through.

In a separate, medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder (sifted), baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and optionally walnuts. Add these combined dry ingredients to the wet mixture and start to gently stir together. After a few rounds with the spoon, add the milk, and then continue to gently stir until just combined and there are no more dry streaks in the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and place it in the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick or spaghetti strand poked into the centre comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, before turning out of the pan. Glaze, or let cool completely.

As you can see, the glaze in my mother's instructions is for a standard white glaze, although you could exchange some of the icing sugar for cocoa powder to make a cocoa glaze if you like. You can use pretty much any glaze or frosting/icing you fancy. I've gone a different route here and used a chocolate ganache made from melted down Easter bunnies with added butter and cream. Your mileage may vary.

July 22, 2018

Black Pepper Tofu

There are an awful lot of recipes out there for Black Pepper Tofu, it turns out. So why not one more? This version is adapted from a variety of internet sources, but primarily from Lazy Cat Kitchen. It is intense and delicious, with wonderful textures. Serve over rice or noodles, maybe with a nice bright green on the side (gai lan would be an excellent choice).

Black Pepper Tofu

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 45-60 minutes

For the fried tofu cubes
600 grams firm tofu, diced and pressed
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
Cornstarch, as needed for dusting
4 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil, divided

Sauce & Assembly
1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce, plus extra to make 3 tablespoons (including the leftover from the tofu stage above)
1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (depending how tart you want the sauce)
2 tablespoons honey (brown rice syrup or coconut sugar for vegan)
125 mL (1/2 cup) water
2 level teaspoons cornstarch
4 large garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 tablespoons of minced ginger)
1-2 hot chili peppers, sliced thinly
4 small green onions, sliced thinly
1 rounded tablespoon ground black pepper
Sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

The following instructions are for frying the tofu cubes, but you can bake them instead if you prefer.

Cut the tofu into large or medium dice – bite sized – and press between paper towels under a weighted cutting board for 15 minutes. Pour off and discard any liquid, and place tofu in a shallow bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons soy sauce over the tofu and very gently stir to coat. Drain the excess soy sauce and set aside to use in the sauce.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, quickly and carefully roll about a quarter of the tofu cubes in cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Place them in the hot oil, well spaced out, and fry gently, turning each piece with tongs as needed to get a crisp golden brown crust on all sides. As each piece is done, (they basically finish in the order they were placed in the pan, remove it to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat (in the same oil) with the remaining tofu cubes, in batches, until they are all done. Remove the pan from the heat, pour off any remaining oil, and wipe the pan clean (carefully, because it’s hot) with a paper towel. Put the pan aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

If you are using whole peppercorns, grind them now (grinder or mortar and pestle), because it takes too long to get the amount you need at the point where you need to add it. Put the tablespoon of ground black pepper in a small dish and set aside.

Mix in a separate bowl or 500ml/2 cup measuring cup: soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and 125 mL (½ cup) of cool or room temperature water. Add the 2 teaspoons of cornstarch and stir until smooth. Prepare, in separate piles on your cutting board, the garlic, ginger, chilies, spring onions, and black pepper, and have them ready to go.

Return your skillet to medium-high heat, and add a tablespoon of oil along with the white parts of the spring onions, the ginger, and sliced chilies. Lower the heat to medium and fry for 2-3 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the garlic and stir through for about 20 seconds.

Carefully stir the sauce bowl, because the cornstarch will drop to the bottom and you want it integrated. Once it is smooth, add the cornstarch slurry to the the vegetables in the skillet, and let it come to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. A flat-bottomed wooden spoon or wok tool is really good for this It will thicken almost immediately. Add the black pepper and then the fried tofu cubes and stir them through until the tofu cubes are coated in the sauce. Add the green parts of the spring onion and stir through quickly to integrate. Serve over rice or noodles, garnishing with sesame seeds if you like.

July 15, 2018

Mapo Nasu

I'm a big fan of Mapo Tofu, a Sichuan dish that integrates small cubes of tofu into a spicy (think Sichuan peppercorn) flavourful minced pork sauce (or, if you want to get old-school, integrates spicy pork sauce into cubes of tofu) and served atop rice. Whether you lean more heavily to the meat-side or the tofu-side, it's a delicious meal. But wait! There's more.

While classic Chinese Mapo Tofu is very popular in Japan, Mapo Nasu is a localization that substitutes the tofu with eggplant. As with the original, there are a lot of versions vying for position as the ur-recipe, but that just means you can be very flexible in your approach.

I recommend long, narrow East Asian type eggplants, here, rather than the Mediterranean type, as they are generally less seedy and less bitter. The ones I used here were super skinny Japanese eggplants, the diameter of bratwurst, but wider ones work just fine (and are a bit less fragile). You can choose to sauté the eggplant strips in hot oil instead of broiling them, if you prefer, but they do tend to fall apart a bit more that way.

Mapo Nasu

Serves 2-3

Total prep and cooking time: 20 - 30 minutes

1/2 lb. lean ground pork or beef
2 tablespoons dry sherry or vermouth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
300 grams Japanese eggplant
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Sauce ingredients
1 tablespoon fermented chile bean paste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon white pepper OR ground Sichuan pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup water

If you're serving this over rice, get it started first, as it can wait patiently if need be. Preheat the broiler with a rack set 15cm/6inches from the burner.

Combine the meat, sherry, 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine sauce ingredients up to the white pepper and set aside.

Slice the leafy ends off the eggplant(s) and quarter the eggplant lengthwise. Slice the long spears of eggplant into finger-lengths, and brush with sesame oil. Place skin-side-down in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil for 7 - 10 minutes or until slightly browned and blistered. Remove from oven and keep to one side.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook the meat until evenly browned, breaking up any large clumps. Add the onion and cook until the onion turns translucent. Stir in the spicy sauce mixture until the meat is evenly coated. Add the eggplant and stir gently (you don't want to mash the tender pieces). Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and cook, stirring constantly but gently, for a couple of minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Serve over steamed rice with a green vegetable. May I suggest Kale Gomaae?

July 05, 2018

Z-Balls - Zucchini Polpette

These delicious veggie-packed Z-Balls can be everything from a pakora-like appy (pass the chutney), to a sandwich filling, to a stand-in for traditional meatballs on a big plate of spaghetti (or spaghetti squash, if that's how you roll).

This recipe was developed from my classic Zucchini Fritters recipe, but has a bit more body to better withstand the round(ish) shape without getting doughy. I'm using classic Italian flavours for these ones, since they'll be topping spaghetti, but you can of course customize the seasoning profile to your taste (Old Bay-type seasoning would be awesome for sandwich-filling Z-Balls, for example).

It's zucchini season! What are you waiting for?

Z-Balls (Zucchini Polpette)

Makes 24 Z-Balls
Total prep and cooking time: 45 minutes

5 cups grated zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups fluffy breadcrumbs ~ such as panko
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher/coarse sea salt
1/4 cup flour
oil for shallow-frying

Make sure that the strands of grated zucchini are not too long - cut a slice into the zucchini lengthwise (stopping before you hit the stem) before grating, and then position the zucchini against the grater so that the grated strands will be short. You could also grate the zucchini normally, and then give it a quick chop-through with a knife. Either way, Squeeze the grated zucchini by the handful (over a colander in the sink, to catch escaped strands) to release extra liquid. Place the shreds in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the flour and stir with a fork to thoroughly distribute the flour throughout the zucchini strands. Add the eggs, melted butter, bread crumbs, minced onion, salt and herbs. Mix well with a fork, so that all ingredients are evenly distributed. The batter will be quite wet, so you will need a scoop to shape the balls. A disher with a release mechanism works best. The one I use a no. 18-8 disher, which has a tablespoon capacity, which makes a nice sized ball, whether it's a meatball or z-ball. Without a scoop, I would use two tablespoons, and the quenelle method.

Pour frying oil into a skillet to make about 5mm deep. Heat the oil over medium heat, and be patient until it gets hot enough to fry, about 190°C/375°F. You don't want it too hot, or the balls will burn before they cook through. Also, if you overheat the oil, it will begin to break down and smell fishy (especially canola oil), so never let it get so hot it smokes. You can test the oil by putting a strand of zucchini in the pan. If it starts to sizzle immediately, the oil is ready. If it browns immediately, remove the oil from the heat, because it's too hot. Let it cool off the heat and try again. You can also use other methods to test the oil temperature if you don't have the right kind of thermometer.

When you're ready to start frying, use the scoop/disher to shape the ball, and release it directly into the hot oil in the skillet. Add a few more balls, well spaced to avoid over-crowding the pan, and fry for a few minutes on each "side", until dark golden brown. These are pretty soft, so you may need to gently re-shape them as you turn them - tongs are the best tool for the job, but two forks works well, too. Or you could learn to love the slightly irregular, rustic shapes they form naturally, like the ones shown here.

Finished balls can be kept warm in a warm oven. Continue to cook the z-balls in batches until you've used up all the batter.

Top a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce with these crisp, flavourful nuggets for Spaghetti & Z-Balls - sure to make anyone smile from their sheer deliciousness!

Leftover Z-Balls can be reheated very nicely on an ungreased baking sheet (or pizza pan) in a hot oven (200°C/400°F) for 10-15 minutes (flip halfway through) to restore the crisp exterior. Perfect for wraps!

June 27, 2018

Chicken-Bacon-Jalapeño Popper Pasta

Whew, that's a mouthful! Really, it's just an extra fancy macaroni and cheese, because adding chicken, bacon, and peppers to tasty basic recipes is almost always a good idea. Best of all, the leftovers heat up beautifully for an indulgent lunch.

This recipe doesn't use actual jalapeño poppers, but it does use all the ingredients for them. Much easier than deep frying though! You can use any small pasta shape - elbow macaroni, mini bow-ties, mini penne (pictured), or small shells, but don't use the really tiny ones, such as stars or alphabets, as they need to be able to stand up to the chicken chunks.

Chicken-Bacon-Jalapeño Popper Pasta

Serves 4

15 grams (1 tablespoon) butter
300 grams (10 oz) chicken breast, cubed in bite-sized pieces
125 grams bacon lardons
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2-3 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
200 grams (.75 cup) evaporated milk, divided
500 mL (2 cups) water (preferably, recently boiled and still hot)
200 grams (1.5 cups) elbow macaroni (or similarly small pasta shape)
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
3 shakes of Tabasco sauce
200 grams (1.5 cups) grated sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
100 grams spreadable cream cheese
6-10 pickled jalapeño pepper rings, roughly chopped
6 buttery crackers, such as Ritz or Club crackers, crushed into crumbs

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F with a rack in the middle. Lightly butter, oil, or grease a 2 litre (2 quart/11x7") casserole dish and put to one side.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter, and add the cubed chicken breast. Give it a couple of stirs to lightly brown the outsides, and then remove the chicken pieces to a clean plate to stand by (the chicken won't be cooked through, but it will finish cooking in the oven). Without cleaning the saucepan, add the bacon lardons (this is just short, chunky pieces of bacon - feel free to chop up some thick-cut if you can't find lardons or slab bacon to make lardons from). Let the bacon sizzle and stir it about a for a couple of minutes until it renders about half of its fat, and then use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan (you can add them to the chicken plate).

Next, add the finely chopped onion and the garlic, and sauté until the onion turns translucent. You'll want to keep stirring so the onion bits don't stick to the fond left behind by the chicken and bacon, and turn the heat down if the edges start browning. Add the minced fresh jalapeños, and stir them for about 30 seconds. Leaving the onion, garlic, and peppers in the pot, add the water and 125 mL (1/2 cup) of the evaporated milk and bring to a boil (you can turn up the heat to medium high, once the liquid has been added). Add the salt and the macaroni, and cook (stirring frequently) until the macaroni is tender and the liquid is reduced to a small amount burbling up between the pieces of pasta. This should only take about 7 or 8 minutes.

Put the remaining 60 mL (1/4 cup) of evaporated milk in a small bowl with the Tabasco and the cornstarch. Stir until smooth. Add to the cooked macaroni and stir until the sauce begins to thicken – no more than a minute or two over high heat. Turn off the heat and add the 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, one handful at a time, stirring it in each time, and adding a tablespoon or two of room-temperature water if it gets too thick to comfortably stir. Once the cup of cheese has all been added, stir in the cream cheese and stir until it melts smoothly into the sauce.

Add the chicken and bacon back into the pasta pot, including any juices that might have pooled in the bottom of the plate. Add the minced pickled jalapeños now, and stir them in, too. Scrape the pasta mixture into the prepared casserole dish, and cover with the remaining cheddar cheese and then top with the crushed cracker crumbs.

Place in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.