February 06, 2021

Smothered Pork Chops

Sounds like a fatty extravaganza, but is not actually terrible for you. Pork chops in gravy is a little more accurate, perhaps, but not quite as fun sounding. Recipe can be doubled or trebled - just make sure you've got a big skillet, or sear the pork in stages. While this recipe was designed for pork chops, you can also use shoulder steaks to excellent effect. Heck, you can use chicken, too - I won't tell.

Smothered Pork Chops 

Serves 2 

Total prep and cooking time: 50 - 60 minutes - much of that unattended 

2 6oz. bone-in pork chops, fat trimmed 
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely 
10 mushrooms of your choice, sliced (optional) 
1/2 cup whisky, sherry or vermouth 
1/2 teaspoon dried, powdered sage 
1/2 teaspoon dried, powdered thyme 
sprinkle of salt 
1 teaspoon canola oil 

Smothering sauce: 

1/2 cup water or chicken stock 
2/3 cup light sour cream or Greek yoghurt 
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 

Carefully trim any fat from the edges of the pork chops. Do use bone-in - they're cheaper, and they don't dry out as easily. 

Preheat your oven to 150°C/ 300°F. 

Whisk the ingredients for the smothering sauce together until smooth, and have standing by. Preheat a good, heavy-bottom skillet or frying pan over high heat. Pat pork chops with a paper towel to make sure they are dry. Sprinkle the chops lightly on both sides with salt, sage, and thyme. 

Add the oil to the pan and swirl it around until the oil is hot. Put the chops in the pan in a single layer, and sear over high heat until the first side is a nice, dark, golden brown - about 2 minutes - without peeking. Flip chops over and sear for 1 minute on the other side. The pork is still raw in the middle, but remove it from the pan and put on a holding plate. 

Add the onions and mushrooms (if using) to the emptied pan and sauté for a couple of minutes. As they start to stick, add the whisky (or sherry or vermouth) and stir/scrape the pan while the liquid cooks off and almost evaporates. 

Add the prepared sour cream sauce mixture and stir well. Place the pork chops, browned side up, back in the pan with the sauce, and spoon some of the sauce over them. If there are any juices from the pork on the holding plate, add them to the sauce, too. 

Cover the pan (use tin foil if you don't have a proper lid for your skillet) and place in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. The pork will have cooked through, but remain tender and juicy, and the sauce will be thick and gravy-like. Stir it through, to integrate the sauce.

Serve with rice, egg noodles or mashed potatoes - something that you can spoon the tangy sauce over.

June 08, 2020

Greek Artichoke & Potato Stew

Rereading an old travel diary, I came across an entry from Gythio in southern Greece and was reminded of the absolutely wonderful artichoke and potato stew I had there. I felt inspired to try to make it again. Alas, the diary was quite old, and the notes less than exhaustive, but here is an attempt cobbled together from various corners of the internet, and I was very pleased with the results. It feels light and refreshing and makes a good vegetable side, but is hearty enough to have as a main dish. Be sure to serve with bread to mop up the last of the lemony broth.

You can use artichoke hearts for this, but I like the texture of artichoke bottoms, which I find less fibrous.

The Greek name for this dish is αγκινάρεσ αλά πολιτα (Agkinares a la polita), or, roughly, "City-Style Artichokes".

Greek Artichoke & Potato Stew

Serves 4

Adapted from: Akis Petrezikis

45 mL (3 tablespoons) olive oil
120 grams (1 medium) yellow onion
2 thick or 4 thin spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
400 grams (3-4 medium) waxy potatoes
3 small-to-medium carrots
1 400 gram tin (14 oz/398 ml) artichoke bottoms
1 tablespoon vegetable stock concentrate
600 mL water, boiled and still hot
150 mL water, room temperature
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 large, juicy lemon, zest and juice (use juice of 2 lemons if yours isn't very juicy)
1/2 bunch fresh dill
salt to taste
white pepper to taste

Extra olive oil and fresh dill to garnish

You can use a deep skillet or soup pot to make this, but I used my 30cm braising pan.

Heat the olive oil gently in the pan, over low heat, while you prepare your vegetables: Peel the yellow onion and slice (pole-to-pole) into 1 cm wide strips. Slice the spring onions into 1 cm rounds, separating the darker green parts from the lighter green and white parts. Peel and slice the garlic, fairly thinly. Peel or scrub the carrots, and cut in half lengthwise. Slice the halved carrots on the diagonal into .5 cm slices. Peel the potatoes and dice into large (but still spoonable) chunks, about 1.5 cm in size. Drain the artichoke bottoms, trim off any hard or woody looking bits (if any), and cut each one into quarters.

Turn up the heat under the pan to medium-high, and while it is getting hot, heat the 600 ml water separately so it is at the ready.

When the pan is hot, add the yellow onion and the white/light parts of the spring onion slices. Give them a stir and sauté until they just start to turn translucent. A bit of colour is no big deal, but you don't want to brown them, really. Add the carrots and garlic to the pan, and stir through. Add the potato cubes, and stir through. Add a good pinch of coarse or kosher salt, and stir that through, too. I also added a good pinch of white pepper at this stage (optional).

Stir and sauté until the vegetables pick up a hint of golden colour, and then add the artichokes. Continue to cook for 2 minutes, and then add the vegetable stock concentrate, the boiled water, and the lemon zest and juice. While this mixture returns to a simmer, combine the 1 tablespoon of plain flour with the 150 mL room temperature water and shake or whisk together until smooth. Add to the pan, and stir constantly (but gently) until the liquid comes back up to a bubble.

Turn down the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid (or tinfoil/parchment cover if needed), and let simmer for 45 minutes. Check whether the larger pieces of carrot and potato are tender, and if not, cook for another 5 - 10 minutes. If they are tender, remove the lid, and use a clean spoon to taste the broth (being careful, of course, because it's very hot). If it needs more salt, add it now and stir through, giving it a few minutes to integrate into the dish.

When the stew is ready, remove (and discard) the stems from the dill and chop the fronds coarsely. Add half the chopped fronds and the remaining green onion slices to the pot and stir through, and reserve the other half to garnish individual bowls.

Ladle into bowls and serve with bread for mopping up the sauce, and an extra wedge of lemon (if you like).

This recipe can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days, in which case hold off on adding any of the dill until just before serving. Leftovers, with the dill already added, will benefit from an extra bit of fresh dill stirred through.

May 13, 2020

Ärtsoppa: Swedish Yellow Pea Soup

Ärtsoppa, a slow-cooked soup made of dried yellow peas, onion, and broth is one of Sweden's classic dishes whose origins reach remarkably far back, as it is claimed to have been documented as a staple from at least as early as the middle ages.

Most commonly, this thick, simple soup is associated with Thursdays, as it was historically served as a hearty bracer before Friday's fast. Even though fasting on Friday is no longer common, this traditional pea soup is often still served at Thursday supper, often in combination with thin Swedish pancakes for dessert (and sometimes with a glass of punsch liqueur). So ingrained is the idea of pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays, that many schools and restaurants serve it for Thursday lunch and even the army continues to serve it on Thursdays. This combination is not exclusive to Sweden, of course, as for example Finland also enjoys this particular duo (although I'm told that Finnish pea soup is usually made from dried green peas). Whether this is due to the complicated history between Finland and Sweden or is simply a Scandinavian favourite across the board, I'm not sure.

Ärtsoppa is available in both vegetarian and meaty versions, with the latter usually featuring either salt pork, ham hock, picnic shoulder, or sausage. I decided to use a fairly simple recipe, culled from the back of the dried pea box (Go Green brand) and various online sources, including Swedish Food and the supermarket ICA.

The traditional accompaniments to the soup itself are mustard (a slightly sweet local mustard called Johnny's is very popular for this) and crispbread. Whether you decide to go full pancake as well, is of course up to you.

Gul Ärtsoppa med Fläsk

Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pork

Serves 6 - 8

500 grams dried whole yellow peas, soaked in cold water overnight (or for 12 hours)
2 litres fresh water, for cooking the peas
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
1 stalk celery, diced small
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (not ground)
1 teaspoon ground dried ginger
pinch ground allspice
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons vegetable bouillon/stock concentrate
250 grams kasseler or other lean ham, diced small

In a tremendous economy of effort, add all of the ingredients except the stock concentrate and the ham in a large soup pot, bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour. Add the stock concentrate and stir through. Using a wooden spoon or potato masher (you could also use an immersion blender, but be careful not to overdo it), crush some of the peas (30-50%, depending how thick you want the soup) and add the finely-diced ham. Simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the remaining whole peas are tender and the broth has thickened.

Serve drizzled with mustard and some crispbread on the side. For the full-on Thursday experience, follow the soup with Swedish pancakes and strawberry preserves! (Much easier to do if you already have a few pancakes leftover.)

In acknowledgement of my Canadian heritage, I note that there are strong similarities between this soup and the traditional pea soup of Québec (Soupe aux pois), with the most prominent difference being that the Québecois version usually sautés the fresh vegetables in a little fat, frequently contains carrots, and does not, as far as I know, contain ginger. I have never seen Soupe aux Pois served with mustard before either, but if anyone has, please let me know!

April 20, 2020

Pannkakor: Swedish Pancakes

Pannkakor are less of a breakfast food in Sweden and more often served as lunch/dinner, supper, or dessert. Most famously, pannkakor are served on Thursdays after a bowl of yellow pea soup (with or without ham, drizzled with mustard). They appear on school lunch trays, on hospital menus, and in heat-and-serve portions at the supermarket (complete with lingon berry preserves).

The number of pancakes you get will be determined partly by the size of the pan you use, and partly by the size of the eggs in your batter, partly how much batter you pour.

Klassiska Svenska Pannkakor
Classic Swedish Pancakes

(Translated and adapted from Pannkakor.se)

Makes approximately 11-12 thin pancakes, if using a 28 cm skillet

250 ml (1 cup) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
600 ml milk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter, divided

In a large mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout for pouring, mix the flour and salt. Add 250 ml of the milk, and whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the remaining 350 ml of milk and whisk to combine. Add all three eggs, and whisk again until completely smooth and integrated, with no streaks of yolk in the batter.

Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Close to the end of this time, preheat a 28cm non-stick skillet (or well-seasoned cast iron, if you have wrists of steel) over medium heat. At the same time, set your oven to warm and place a large "resting plate" on the middle or lower middle rack, so it will be ready to receive the pancakes as they come off the pan.

Melt the butter in a small bowl. add 22.5 mL (1.5 tablespoons) of melted butter to the pancake batter, and whisk through. The rest of the melted butter will be used to fry the pancakes, a little at a time between each pancake.

When the skillet is hot, just before you pour your first pancake, use a pastry brush to brush a little butter over the cooing surface of the hot pan. I measure my batter by pouring it into an actual measuring cup first, so that my pancakes are consistently sized If you have a ladle that is the right size, that will work well too. Pour 80 ml (1/3 cup dry measure cup) of batter into the buttered pan, and quickly lift and tilt the skillet so that the batter covers the bottom of the skillet in a thin layer, trying not to go up the sides of the pan.

Let the pancake cook for about 2 minutes - if you try to flip it too soon, it will tear, so be patient. If you are concerned that it is cooking too quickly, reduce the heat instead of reducing the cooking time. When the two minutes are up, slide a spatula carefully under and around the edge of the pancake, and then slide it beneath to quickly lift and turn the pancake. This may take a bit of practise to get a smooth action, but you have a lot of batter with which to practise. The cooked side of the pancake should look a bit lacy and browned in spots, like in the picture above.

Let the pancake cook on the second side for about 30 seconds, or until set, and then slide it onto the resting plate in the oven.

Put the skillet on a unheated burner. Brush with melted butter, add the next portion of batter and tilt to spread the batter, and immediately return the skillet to the hot burner (medium heat). This helps keep the skillet from overheating, and prevents the butter (and the next pancake) from burning. Continue as before, stacking up the pancakes until all the batter is used. You may need to gradually reduce the heat under the burner as you work your way through the batter, so if the pancakes are getting too dark, or dark too quickly, reduce the heat a little as you go.

If there is any melted buter left over at this point, it can be brushed over the top pancake(s) for a little extra luxury.

Pancakes are traditionally served with lingon berry preserves, or fresh berries and whipped cream, but you can also use syrup (maple, birch, any fruit syrup, chocolate) or, of course, any other fillings you choose.

Swedish proverbs featuring pancakes

Man matar inte grisar med pannkakor.
➔ One doesn't feed pigs with pancakes.

Man är aldrig säker förrän hon ligger i magen, sa pojken som tappade pannkakan i askan.
➔ You're never certain until it's in your belly, said the boy who dropped the pancake in the ashes.

Upp som en sol och ner som en pannkaka.
➔ Up like a sun, and down like a pancake.

April 14, 2020

Tomato, Coconut & Red Lentil Soup

I am a huge fan of soup, as you can probably tell from my collection of soup recipes. Tomato soup has always had a particularly special place in my heart, dating from some of my earliest memories of coming inside for lunch and having a steaming bowl of tomato soup with a toasted cheese sandwich. That combination is still one of my absolute comfort foods.

Much as I continue love classic tomato soup, sometimes I want something a little different. This was the genesis of my popular Fiesta Tomato Soup, which is chock full of veggies and rice, but this time I was craving something both heartier and a little richer. Since I'm a big fan of South Asian flavours, I reached into the cupboard and came up with coconut milk, red lentils, and a spice combination that I felt went with them. This is an absolute new favourite, and another fine reason to always keep coconut milk in the pantry. Remember to remove the bay leaf before blending (cough cough).

Tomato, Coconut, & Red Lentil Soup

Serves 4
Total time, prep & cooking: 1 hour

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 bay leaf
1 small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
30 mL (2 tablespoons) tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon hot or mild curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 400 gram tin crushed or diced tomatoes
60 mL (1/4 cup) dried red lentils (whole or split), washed thoroughly (no need to soak)
250 mL coconut milk
400 mL water or vegetable broth/stock

In a medium soup pot (I use a 2 litre pot), heat the oil and bayleaf over medium heat while you chop the onion and garlic. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and stir about, and let it gently fry until the onions are tender. While the onions are frying, open the tin of crushed tomatoes (do not drain them), open the container of coconut milk and stir if necessary), rinse and drain the red lentils, and measure the water/broth. Measure your spices into a small bowl or plate.

Give the onions a stir, and add the tomato paste. If it starts to really stick and you're worried about burning, add a few tablespoons of water. Stir the tomato paste through, and then add the spices and stir through again. Let the mixture cook, stirring frequently for a couple of minutes or until fragrant and integrated.

Add the tin of crushed tomatoes, the rinsed and drained lentils, the coconut milk, and the water/broth. If you are using water instead of broth, and especially if the tomatoes are not salted, you may wish to add a big pinch of salt at this point, too (about a quarter teaspoon). Give the whole pot a nice stir through, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure nothing is stuck, and bring the mixture up to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Take the pot from the heat and remove bayleaf. Use an immersion blender (or a regular blender, but in stages so the blender is never too full of hot liquid) to thoroughly blend everything into a smooth soup. Serve at once, or cool and store for up to three days in the fridge or, once cooled up to three months in a sealed container in the freezer.

If you want a garnish, a few drops of coconut milk from the bottom of the container swirled through, with or without a sprinkle of garam masala, is a nice touch. Serve with bread (naan would be especially good) or idli.

April 05, 2020

Swedish Hash: Pytt i Panna

Pytt i Panna (AKA Pyttipanna), which translates somewhat literally as "small bits in a pan" is the Swedish version of hash. This is a classic Husmanskost (homestyle cooking) dish, and it is also classic pub food here in Sweden. Swedes don't eat it for breakfast, though - it's a lunch or casual supper in these parts. While it is very easy to make at home, it's made even easier by the vast array of frozen options that you can simply empty into a pan and stick in the oven until it's done (fried egg managed separately, of course). The most common types of pytt I see in the supermarket are Korv (sausage), Ox (roast beef), Bacon, Skinka (ham), Krogar (pub style, usually a mixture of bacon, sausage, and ham), Kyckling (chicken) and vegetarian (mushroom, peppers, and/or zucchini). When served as a supper, it is generally accompanied by diced or sliced pickled beets and/or fermented cucumber pickles on the side.

I've decided to go with Korv for my first from-scratch attempt, and found the whole process very straight-forward with delightful results. I'm using Swedish Falukorv, for which you can substitue by using bologna sausage, German Fleischwurst (or Fleischkäse, for that matter), Lyoner sausage, or even European (Frankfurter) wieners and get a very similar effect. In practice, of course, you can use any sausage you like, including vegetarian or vegan options, or indeed, any of the items listed above.

Pytt i Panna

Serves 2

1 tablespoon canola oil
80 grams yellow onion
150 grams Falukorv (or other sausage, see above)
500 grams waxy potatoes
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Start by warming a large skillet on low heat while you chop vegetables. Also preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F with a rack in the upper middle slot.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Part of the goal is to have all of the pieces approximately the same size, so keep that in mind when you are dicing. The onions will shrink a bit as they cook, but that's fine.

Remove casing (if any) from the Falukorv, and finely dice the meat, keeping in mind that the pieces should be roughly the same size. Go smaller than you think, because what looks small on the cutting board suddenly seems much larger in the skillet.

Add the oil to the pan and turn up the heat to medium. When the oil is hot, add the diced onions and sausage to the skillet, and spread them out a bit. While they sizzle and start to cook, prepare the potatoes. You can stir the onions and sausage a few times while you're chopping potatoes.

Peel the potatoes (or not - you can just wash them if you prefer) and remove any ugly bits. Chop into fine dice (I like to slice each potato into vertical slices, then make piles of the slices to slice again into baton shapes, and then turn to slice into dice, but you can use whatever method you like). It is especially important to keep the pieces small, so that they cook quickly, and so they match (roughly) the size of the sauasge pieces. We're talking smaller than a standard sugar cube, for scale. Perfect dice is not required, but making an attempt at general uniformity makes a more attractive dish. Just think of it as an excuse to practise your knife skills.

One the potatoes are diced, add them to the skillet andd give everything a thorough stir-through. Sprinkle with salt and white pepper (go easy on the salt if you are using a salty meat), and stir through again. Cook, stirring occasionlly for about 10 minutes, and then place the skillet in oven, uncovered, and leave it for 10 minutes. You do not need to use the oven, though. You can also continue to cook on the stovetop, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes as needed. Test one of the larger potato pieces to be sure it has cooked through, before serving.

While the pytt finishes cooking in the oven, you can use the time to tidy up and lay out any sides (such as pickled beets or cucumbers), and also to fry an egg for each portion. Sunny-side-up is pretty, but poached is another good option. In fact, you can do the eggs any way you like best.

Spoon the pytt from the skillet onto the serving dishes, top with the eggs, and add any pickles you might like. Some folks put a little parsley on top, too, but I don't bother. Boom! Beautiful breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Freezer: You can make your own Freezer Treasure version, by spreading the diced, uncooked cubes out on a sheet, freezing until firm, and then bagging. You can cook this entirely in the oven, stirring a few times, for about 40 minutes instead of the stovetop method.

March 29, 2020

Panfried Eggplant with Harissa & Rose

This was supposed to be an Ottolenghi/Tamimi fish dish from the cookbook Jerusalem, but since we're currently staying at home and cooking what we have in the pantry, I decided to use eggplant instead. It turned out beautifully. To make it a one-pan meal (aka Skillet Dinner) I added pearl couscous right into the pan (with extra cooking liquid for the couscous to absorb), which brought the meal together. I also made some other changes and substitutions based on what I had on hand, and the decision to keep the dish from being overly sweet for my tastes.

I get that not everyone has dried rose petals in the pantry, and to be honest, I've been lugging these from place to place over the last year looking for an excuse to use them. You can omit them, if you like, but they're awfully pretty.

A word on eggplant selection - you want one that is a classic bulb shape, not too fat because they'll be quartered lengthwise into "fillets" and all of them need to (eventually) fit into your pan in a single layer.

Panfried Eggplant with Harissa & Rose

Adapted from Panfried Sea Bream with Harissa & Rose
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Serves 4

2 medium slender Italian eggplants, topped and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons kosher salt plus water for brining (details below)
3 tablespoons harissa paste, divided (I used rose harissa)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
a little plain flour, about 2 tablespoons
4 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1.5 cups)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125 mL condimento bianco**
.5 teaspoon ground white pepper
700 mL water
250 grams moghrabieh (giant pearl couscous) (or substitute orzo)
1 tablespoon rose water
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or parsley)
2 teaspoons dried rose petals

A couple of hours before you want to start cooking, brine the eggplants. Dissolve the 2 tablespoons of kosher salt in a little hot water, and then dilute it with a litre of cold water. Remove the green tops from the eggplants, and quarter them lengthwise into wedge-shaped fillets. Submerge them in the salted water with a plate or bowl to keep them under the water, and let them sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. When you are ready to cook, drain and rinse the eggplant fillets, and gently squeeze them on clean kitchen towel (or paper towels) to remove excess liquid.

Preheat a 30 cm (12 inch) skillet or braising pan on a large burner over low heat.

Prepare a paste by mixing half of the harissa paste (1.5 tablespoons) with the cumin and half the kosher salt (.5 teaspoon). Use the back of a spoon to smear it over the cut surfaces of the eggplant, laying each fillet skin-side down/cut sides up on your work surface to rest while you prepare and measure out the rest of your ingredients.

Peel and finely chop the onion, and set aside.

Combine the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of harissa paste with the teaspoon of cinnamon, the half teaspoon of white pepper, and the half cup of condimento bianco/white wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a small sieve, dust the eggplant fillets lightly with flour.

Increase the heat under the skillet to medium, and add 2 tablespoons of oil. When the pan is up to temperature and the oil is hot, carefully add four of the eggplant fillets, cut-side down, to the pan, and fry for a couple of minutes. Turn the fillets to fry on the second cut side for another couple of minutes, and when both sides are golden, remove to a clean plate. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, and repeat the frying steps with the other four fillets. The flour and spice paste mixture may stick a little, but as long as nothing is burning, don't worry too much about it. Fond is good, and it will help flavour the dish. If you're worried about burning, turn the heat down a little.

When all the eggplant is golden, add the final tablespoon of oil to the (emptied) skillet, and add the chopped onions. Stir and fry the onions until tender and translucent. They will pick up a bit of colour from the fond in the pan, which is fine. If they are really starting to stick, you can add a couple of tablespoons of water or vermouth to loosen them back up, but be careful to let any added liquid boil off.

Once the onions are tender, add the seasoning mixture of harissa, cinnamon, white pepper and condimento bianco to the pan and stir through, scraping up any stuck-on bits with a spatula or pan-safe scraper. Next, add the pearl couscous and water, and stir through again. Bring up to a gentle simmer, and turn the heat to medium-low. Lay the eggplant fillets, skin-side down, in a single layer on top of the couscous/onion mixture. They might be partially submerged to start, which is fine.

Let the pan simmer gently, on the lowest setting that keeps it bubbling gently, and let cook uncovered for 20 minutes. I used a spatula to carefully scrape the bottom of the pan a couple of times, to keep the couscous from welding itself to the pan. At the end of 20 minutes, test the couscous, and if they are tender, remove the pan from the heat (if not quite tender, try another five minutes). Drizzle the eggplant with the rose water, and sprinkle with cilantro and rose petals. Use a big serving spoon to lift 2 eggplant fillets (and however much couscous is clinging to them) onto each plate, and divide up the remaining couscous amongst servings.

**Condimento Bianco is a white balsamic-style wine vinegar with added grape must. It's a little sweet, and also very useful for adding a bit of brightness to soups and stews, and making salad dressings and switchel. You can substitue white wine vinegar with a little sweetener added. For the amount in this recipe, half a cup, I would add a half tablespoon of agave syrup or honey (for non-vegans) orother mild sweetener of your choice.

February 24, 2020

Silky Butternut Squash Soup

I love soup. This is an easy-to-make, one-pot, puréed vegetable soup that is so satisfying, you'll look forward to the next bowl even while you're finishing the first one.

The curry powder is optional, but does not give a pronounced flavour and complements the soup very nicely. You could substitue a Thai red curry paste, if you wish, for a different character.

If you don't want any potato in the soup (for whatever reason), you can simply use more squash instead. I note that the potato does contribute to the silky texture of the soup.

The croutons made from a toasted cheese sandwich are of course also optional, but such a good idea!

Note about butternut squash: butternut squash has an enzyme just beneath its skin that has a peculiar effect on the skin of your hands when you handle it, leaving your hands feeling very tight and dry afterward. This feeling is not solved by simply washing and moisturizing; to avoid this unpleasantness, I recommend that you wear rubber gloves (such as for washing dishes) while you peel. I use a sturdy Y-peeler, which has no difficulty tearing through the tough skin.

Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 4

15 mL (1 tablespoon) canola oil
1 small onion, chopped (about a cup/250 mL)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 small dried bay leaves (or 1 large)
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, or two sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
500 grams peeled butternut squash, diced
150 grams waxy potato, peeled and diced
750 mL (3 cups) vegetable broth/stock or water
250 mL (1 cup) coconut milk
salt if needed (1/2 teaspoon coarse salt if using water)

Start by peeling and chopping the onion, garlic, butternut squash, and potato. You don't need to worry much about the size of the chopped vegetables, because it will all be pureed in the end. Prepare the broth - I used a bouillon concentrate - (or measure out the water), and open/measure out the coconut milk.

In a good-sized soup pot (a 2 litre pot works great), heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and stir. Cook the onions and garlic for about three minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the onions are tender and translucent. If they start to turn brown, lower the heat slightly. Add the bay leaves, white pepper, thyme, and curry powder, and stir through. If you are using water instead of stock or broth, add the salt now. Add the chopped butternut squash and potato, and stir around to coat them with the seasoned onion mixture. Add the coconut milk right away, and stir again. Add the vegetable broth (or water), and stir through to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Everything should now be in the pot.

Turn up the heat and bring the proto-soup to an almost-boil, and then reduce the heat and cook at a gentle simmer (with the lid off) for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom. Adjust the heat as you go, if necessary, to keep the liquid bubbling gently. Test the potato and the squash to make sure they are soft. Remove the soup pot from the heat.

Use a ladle to remove at least half of the liquid (no chunks!) to a separate bowl, and reserve. Remove the bay leaves from the pot entirely, and discard - their work is done. There should be just enough liquid left in the pot with the vegetables to help purée everything to luscious smoothness. You can use an immersion blender right in the pot itself, or you can transfer the vegetables and remaining liquid to a blender or food processor. Blend/process until very smooth. Return to the pot (if necessary), and add back in the reserved liquid, stirring to integrate. Taste the soup, and add salt if needed. If the puréeing process has cooled the soup down too much, return the pot to a medium-hot burner, and reheat gently until ready. This would be an excellent time to toast some sandwiches or cut some slices of crusty bread.

Serve immediately, or remove from the heat and allow to cool, before storing in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze in an appropriatee container for up to 2 months.

February 17, 2020

Sausage & Butternut Pearl Couscous

This is an intensely fragrant supper dish with a unique and heady spice signature. It's not quite a one-pot meal, because you roast the vegetables on a tray before adding them in the final cooking stage, however, it is still a simple and delicious meal and the leftovers reheat well. The roasted vegetables lend a subtle sweetness that balances out the spices really beautifully.

Sausage & Butternut Pearl Couscous

Adapted from A Little and a Lot

Serves 4 - 6 depending on hunger and whether or not there are side dishes.

Note about Pearl Couscous: this recipe uses moghrabieh, the largest version of pearl couscous (sometimes called Lebanese Couscous). If you are using a smaller pearl, such as ptitim (aka Israeli couscous), the cooking time for the couscous can be reduced to about 6 or 7 minutes. Test as you cook, to be sure!

Note about butternut squash: butternut squash has an enzyme just beneath its skin that has a peculiar effect on the skin of your hands when you handle it, leaving your hands feeling very tight and dry afterward. This feeling is not solved by simply washing and moisturizing; to avoid this unpleasantness, I recommend that you wear rubber gloves (such as for washing dishes) while you peel. I use a sturdy Y-peeler, which has no difficulty tearing through the tough skin.

750 grams butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into large dice (about 3 cups)
2 large or three medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice*
30 ml (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
300 grams sausage, such as Andouille, Krakauer, Kielbasa, or any pre-cooked grilling sausage
30 ml (2 tablespoons) butter
250 ml (1 cup) minced shallot (about 1 big banana shallot, or a small onion)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine or dry vermouth
420 ml (1 3/4 cups) chicken broth or water
12 dried apricots, chopped into six pieces each
225 grams Moghrabieh pearl couscous (if using smaller pearl couscous, reduce cooking time)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) degrees with a rack in the middle position.

Place diced carrot and butternut squash in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, and toss gently to coat. Spread them out on a large, rimmed baking sheet, and roast uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, slice the sausage into chunky bites. After the carrots and squash have been roasting for 15 minutes, add the sausage slices. Give the pan a shake if necessary to even everything into a roughly single layer, and return to the oven to roast for another 15 minutes. Test one of the larger pieces of squash and carrot to make sure they're tender (if not, roast another five minutes, but they should be fine). If the vegetables and sausage are ready before you need them, simply leave them on their tray on a cooling rack until you're ready for them.

While the vegetables and sausages roast together, combine the spices: cinnamon, star anise, ground ginger, turmeric, smoked paprika, and pepper flakes, together in a small bowl. Heat a large skillet, braising pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the butter and, once the butter has melted, add the minced shallots and stir through. Once the shallots are starting to soften, add the pearl couscous. Stir and cook until the onions are translucent, and the pearl couscous is picking up a hint of colour. Add the spices to the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour in the white wine or vermouth, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until much of the wine has evaporated. Stir in the broth or water, bring to a gentle simmer, then add the chopped apricots. Lower the heat enough to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and let cook for 10-12 minutes (a little less for smaller pearls - test a couscous pearl for doneness, and if necessary, continue to cook until tender). There should still be a little liquid in the pan when the couscous is ready, enough to dress the roasted vegetables once they're added. If your liquid is disappearing too quickly while the couscous cooks, be ready to add a little more - preferably hot water from a recently boiled kettle, so to not disrupt the cooking process.

Once the couscous is tender (or even while it's still a little bit al dente) add the sausage, carrots, and squash to the skillet with the couscous and stir to combine. Let cook gently for another 2-3 minutes to meld the flavours. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cilantro, reserving some to garnish plates.

*Large dice = chunky bite-sized pieces.

February 09, 2020

Apricot and White Chocolate Blondies - Small Batch

This is a slightly different take on a popular lunchbox treat. An electric beater helps make this batter very smooth and well-aerated, which helps keep these blondies from being too dense. There is also a very small amount of baking powder to help offset the weight of the melted white chocolate, so some folks might not consider these properly blondies at all, but I'm not that picky about nomenclature here.

This is a small batch recipe, so it makes only eight blondies (or fewer, if you like 'em big) and you can bake it in a loaf tin. I note that I used an electric beater to mix this rather thick batter, but you could also whip these up by hand, and develop some nice Popeyesque muscles.

Apricot & White Chocolate Blondies
Small Batch

Makes 8 squares

1/2 cup white chocolate chips (80 grams)
1/4 cup butter (56 grams)
1/2 cup lightly packed golden brown sugar (90 grams)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (2.5 mL)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour (160 mL, dip & sweep method)
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
6 dried apricots, cut into eighths
extra white chocolate chips for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C /350˚F, with a rack in the lower centre position. Line a large loaf pan - 24x14 cm (9.5x5.5 inch) - with parchment paper, leaving the edges overhanging enough that you can grab them to lift the finished blondies out of the pan. I usually leave the short sides bare of paper, but rub a little butter along the bottom inside edge to help prevent sticking. This means that I can simply fold a standard sheet of baking paper in half, and slide it into the pan without having to meaure or cut.

Melt the white chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from the stove and transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, and then beat in the brown sugar. Beat in the egg very thoroughly, and then add the vanilla extract. Continue beating until the batter is light in colour and thick. Add in the flour, salt, and baking powder (I dump them all together into a sieve and quickly shake it over the wet batter) and beat again, but just until combined. Stir in apricots pieces with a spoon or spatula.

Pour the batter into the parchment-lined loaf pan and sprinkle extra white chocolate chips over the surface. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean or with a few crumbs (but not wet). Using the overhanging parchment paper, lift the blondies straight up out of the pan, and transfer to a cooling rack. You can leave the paper on until the blondies have cooled for about ten minutes or so, and then gently peel it away. I like to use the clean part from the underside to line the storage tin.

Let the blondies cool completely before cutting into squares and storing.