December 03, 2016

Chocolate Cherry Bombs: No-Bake Chocolate Drop Cookies

My mother called these "Summer Cookies" because you could make a batch on the hottest day of the year without turning the oven on, but they are equally delicious in colder months (and set up faster, too). These are dense, chewy, sweet little bombs. You can of course vary the fruits as you like. We made these with just raisins when I was a kid, but I really like dried cherries (sweet or sour cherries) either instead or in addition. Dried cranberries would also be delicious.

This would be an excellent recipe to make for a cookie exchange, because it makes a large batch that takes very little time. Oh, and everyone seems to love them, even if they are skeptical at first glance.

This batch is vegan, as I made it for a dietarily-mixed workplace function, but you could replace the coconut oil with butter, and the oatmeal cream for milk to get my mother's original version. The recipe can be halved or doubled to meet your needs.

Note: Because the salt grains are large and added with the dry ingredients, they don't dissolve quite as much as they might otherwise. This means that you'll get an occasional extra little crystalline crunch as you bite into the the cookie, with a burst of extra flavour. I think it's a lovely feature, but if you prefer to have that salty bite less prominent, simply use half the amount of fine grain salt, or add it to the chocolate mixture while it is on the stove so it has the chance to dissolve.

Chocolate Cherry Bombs

Makes about 6 dozen small ones

1 litre (4 cups) raw (or brown) sugar
250 mL (1 cup) cocoa powder
125 grams coconut oil (or butter)
225 mL oat milk (or dairy milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 litres (6 cups) rolled oats (thick cut, not instant)
125 mL (1/2 cup) dried shredded coconut (unsweetened)
125 mL (1/2 cup) raisins
250 mL (1 cup) dried sweet or sour cherries
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt

In a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat, heat the sugar, cocoa powder, coconut oil (or butter), and milk. Let the mixture cook and bubble for about 3 minutes, stirring well.

In a second bowl, combine the dry items: oats, coconut, raisins, cherries, and salt.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract. Then add all of the dry mixture, and stir vigorously with a sturdy wooden spoon until there are no more dry patches and everything is thoroughly integrated.

Use a small disher or a tablespoon to drop cookies onto parchment, waxed paper, or foil lined trays (ideally, something that fits in your fridge or freezer if it's hot out). They don't expand, so you can pack them quite closely. You can make them any size you like, but because they're so sweet and intense, I make them quite small. You can always have more than one.

Let the cookies harden for an hour or so before serving (it might take longer in warm weather, unless you refrigerate them). You can store them in a waxed-paper lined tin in the cupboard or fridge.

November 23, 2016

Moroccan Eggplant Salad/Dip: Zaalouk

One of my favourite dishes from Marrakech was an eggplant salad called Zaalouk (also spelled Zalook, amongst other variations). Moroccan cuisine is very big on salads, both raw and cooked, and this is a particularly popular one. Although you can find zaalouks made from other vegetables than eggplant, it does seem to be the one most commonly seen in the wild. Sometimes it simply showed up unannounced alongside whatever tagine I had ordered, and sometimes I selected it (along with one or two other options), from a menu. Every time it was a little bit different, and every time it was delicious.

It's pretty easy to make although it does take a bit of time, but since it is usually served either cold or at room temperature, you can make it in advance. The preparatory stages up to frying the eggplant are pretty much the same as the Turkish Eggplant Casserole that I was raving about last summer (and still make often), and it's not impossible that both dishes are related to the Afghani dish Burani Bonjon. It's flavour profile is quite different from Baba Ghanoush, the eggplant dip/spread that North Americans seem most familiar with these days, but it can fulfill a similar role.

This recipe was adapted from Fleur d'Oranger, Masala & Co's traditional recipe. I made mine a bit coarser, because that was the way I usually received it in Marrakech, but really you can make it as coarse or as smooth as you like. This makes a small batch, but can be easily doubled.

Eggplant (Aubergine) Zaalouk

Serves 2 - 4

1 medium, firm eggplant
Kosher or coarse sea salt
Olive oil (about a quarter of a cup, total)
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon (sweet) paprika
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (or other smoked paprika)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
small handful cilantro leaves (optional)

Prepare the eggplant by removing the cap and slicing lengthwise into 1/2 centimetre thick slabs. Dissolve a generous tablespoon of salt in hot water, and then add cold water until you have about six cups in a large bowl. Add the eggplant slices and allow them to brine for 10 minutes, or up to 8 hours (cover them with a plate or otherwise keep them submerged in the brine as much as possible). Drain, rinse, and press the slices firmly with paper towels or fresh linen towels to dry them out.

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it just shimmers. Tilt the pan to ensure the bottom of the pan is well coated. Have a receiving plate standing by. Brush the first few (dried, pressed) slices of eggplant with olive oil, and fry them in batches, repeating with a little extra olive oil added between each batch, until golden on each side and very soft - about three minutes per side, depending on your heat level. Remove them to the nearby plate as they finish to make room for the next pieces.

Into the empty skillet, heat a bit more olive oil, and add the diced onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add a good pinch of salt, and stir through. Add the tomato paste and stir through. Add the spices and the tomatoes with their juices, and stir through, lowering the heat to medium-low, and continuing to stir, scraping the bottom of the pan clear as you go. Cook and stir for about another five minutes. If you want to add a hot chile pepper or even just a pinch of pepper flakes, now is the time to do that.

Place the fried eggplant on a clean cutting board, and chop roughly. Add the eggplant back into the skillet, along with any accumulated juices/olive oil that might cling to the cutting board or plate. Add the cilantro, if using. Stir everything together and continue to cook, breaking up pieces and mashing lightly with your spoon or spatula. If it looks too dry, add a bit more olive oil.

When everything is nice and tender and any excess water has evaporated, about 10 minutes if you fried your eggplants thoroughly, remove from the heat and scrape into a serving bowl (taste-test a piece of eggplant to make sure it's cooked through with no hint of raw flavour). If you prefer a smoother dip, you can blitz it quickly in a mini-prep or with a stick blender or even vigorous use of a potato masher. Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil to the top, and set aside to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate if not using within an hour or so.

Excellent on flatbreads or crackers, or on any plate-side. I tend to use it almost like a chutney, dolloping it onto my plate alongside other dishes.

November 13, 2016

Salisbury Steak: Hamburger patties in gravy

This was a fairly common meal for us, when I was a child. Easily made, relatively quick to prepare, and tasty. My mother would have had at least one more hot vegetable on each plate (or a salad), as well as a dish of pickles or radishes on the table. She was ahead of her time in making sure we got our vegetables in. Sometimes we'd have mashed potatoes, sometimes merely boiled and left whole (or chopped), sometimes baked.

While there are some ingredient differences between Salisbury steak per se and a simple hamburger patty in gravy (the Salisbury steak is named after Dr JH Salisbury, a proponent of low-carb diets), the method is essentially the same: create a meat patty and fry it up in a skillet, in which a gravy is then built after the patties have browned. There are of course similar dishes all over the world - everything from Japanese hambagu to Russian Koteleta to German Hacksteak, and doubtless many more. Salisbury Steak also holds the perhaps dubious honour of being one of the iconic meals available as a Swanson brand TV Dinner (although it was not the very first offering thereof).

At home in Canada I generally used all beef (or occasionally bison) for the patties, but here in Germany I use either beef or a combination of beef and pork (which is the standard most economical offering of the region). While a certain amount of filler material is apparently acceptable, mine are always just meat and seasoning spices. I make the gravy with either just onions or onions and mushrooms, depending on what I have in the house. The gravy is a bit variable in terms of thickness, because I don't tend to measure the amount of flour that I use. This one is a bit thinner than it often is, but it was equally delicious on the patties and on the mashed potatoes. I use lean meat for these - extra lean makes for a bit of a drier patty.

Salisbury Steaks

Serves 4

500 grams lean ground beef (or beef and pork)
1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 shake of Tabasco pepper sauce
a bit of all-purpose flour to dust the patties
1 teaspoon butter or oil for frying

For the gravy:
1 medium onion, either sliced pole-to pole or diced
6 button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped) - optional
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
pinch of whole mustard seed (optional)
1.5 cups beef broth (or stock from a prepared base, such as Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (shaken together with 60 mL water to make a slurry)

If you're making the family style of dinner above, put the potatoes on to boil first. Once they are going, mix together the meat and seasonings with your impeccably clean hands, and shape into four flat patties. Sprinkle the patties with flour on each side, and shake of any excess. Fry them in a large, hot skillet (in which you have melted the butter or heated the oil) over medium heat until well-browned on each side. Don't worry about cooking them through, they will finish cooking in the gravy.

Once the patties have been browned, stack half of them into twos and push them to the side. Add the onions and garlic, and stir through the fond. Add the mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard seeds (if using), and stir and cook until the onions turn translucent and the mushrooms give up some of their liquid. If the pan is too dry, add a tablespoon of water or so at a time until there's no danger of scorching.

Add the beef broth and stir through. Make a slurry of the flour with just enough cold water to make a smooth, thick liquid, and add it to the skillet. Stir it through carefully until it is thoroughly combined with the onions, mushrooms, and stock. It will start to thicken the gravy immediately, but it will take about 20 minutes for the flour to cook through and lose its raw taste, so don't be impatient if it doesn't taste great right away. Spread the patties out in the sauce, lower the heat, and continue to stir periodically, until the gravy has a delicious meaty flavour. You can cover the pan if you like, but I don't usually find it necessary.

If your patties didn't brown very much, your gravy will be pale in colour. It should still taste good, though, but you can get a nicer colour by adding a few drops of dark soy sauce (not regular). This will make it a touch more salty, though, so be aware of that, especially if you're using a salty meat broth or stock.

At this point, the patties can be held for a while if necessary to let the potatoes finish cooking, or to wrangle any other vegetables that you want to include in your meal. Put the lid on if you like to keep to much liquid from evaporating.

Serve up the patties with a spoonful of the gravy over them. These reheat very nicely for lunches the next day, and also make very good sandwiches (I usually slice them horizontally for sandwiches, and add a slice of cheese).

November 01, 2016

German Cream of Chanterelle Soup: Pfifferlingrahmsuppe

Fall is Pfifferling (chanterelle) season. They're all over the farmer's markets in glorious colour and ridiculously low prices. They're also all over the menus about town -- amongst them, pasta with chanterelles, spätzle with chanterelles, salads with warm chanterelle dressing, chanterelle toasts, schnitzel with chanterelles (a slightly fancier version of the old standby Jägerschnitzel) and of course, chanterelle soup.

I was inspired to make this one after having a really excellent version at Zum Goldstein, here in Mainz. I fully expect to eat a lot more chanterelles before the season winds down.

I've now made two versions of this soup - the first one partially thickened with potato, which is a common recipe in these parts, and the second thickened with a bit of flour and use of a stick-blender. The first one was too potato-forward for my taste - it obscured the delicate mushroom fragrance and flavour. The second one was beautiful. Nothing but rich, creamy mushroom goodness.

German Cream of Chanterelle Soup: Pfifferlingrahmsuppe

Serves 3 - 4

300 grams fresh chanterelles, cleaned and chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
300 - 400 mL vegetable broth, at room temperature
300 mL whole milk
100 mL whipping cream

Clean the mushrooms really thoroughly, and slice a few for garnish, chopping the rest roughly.

Melt half the butter in a medium-large soup pot and fry up a few of the nicest looking slices of mushroom until dark golden. Put aside to use as garnish. Add the rest of the butter, melt it, then add the onion and garlic. Cook and stir until translucent, then add the chopped mushrooms, fresh thyme sprigs, celery salt, and white pepper. Cook and stir until the liquid boils off and the mushrooms are tender but starting to catch on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with the brandy, and scrape the bottom if necessary. Add the milk and stir, and bring the temperature up to a bare simmer.

Shake together the water (cold, or at room temperature) with the flour until it makes a smooth slurry. Add the slurry to the soup, stirring it through and continuing to stir as it heats and thickens. Continue to cook the soup on the lowest setting, with the soup bubbling a tiny bit, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes or until the taste of raw flour is gone, and the soup is thick. Add the cream, and stir through again.

Remove from the heat, remove the now-naked thyme stems, and puree the soup with a stick blender until smooth and golden. Taste and adjust for salt if necessary. If the soup is too thick, thin it with a little extra water or vegetable broth. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the reserved fried mushrooms and an extra bit of fresh thyme, if you have it. I placed a tiny raft of toast under the fried mushrooms to keep from them sinking into the soup, but it's of course not entirely necessary.

For those who aren't vegetarians, I can also recommend the local way of serving this - instead of fried mushrooms, sear small cubes of blood sausage and use that as a garnish. The salty, meaty, soft texture of the sausage goes perfectly with the soup.

Looking for more chanterelle recipes? Check out my post from last year for Chanterelle Risotto.

October 11, 2016

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon: Djaj M'qualli bi Zeitoun

Chicken, lemon, and olives are a delicious culinary trinity that appear together in many iterations from many cultures, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea. If you've tried my sure-fire dinner classic Chicken Sahara, you'll find a version particularly adapted to the North American manner of cooking. If you look into the dish's roots, though, you'll find one of its fascinating grandparents in Djaj M'qualli (transliterations of which also vary quite wildly).

This is a traditional Moroccan dish, with a complex harmony of flavours and a really impressive use of onions. The recipe classically also uses a chicken liver in the sauce, which I wasn't able to arrange despite having had chicken livers the night before, but I'd really like to do it that way next time. Unlike Chicken Sahara, or many of the chicken-lemon-olive tagine recipes out there, this is, as you can see, something of an almost dry dish - the sauce reduces to a thick gravy that drapes over the chicken rather than providing a pool for it to swim in. This recipe was adapted minimally from Fleur d'Oranger, Masala & Co.

One more thing: If you made Preserved Lemons back in January? This is a terrific use for them!

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 chicken leg quarters, whole, skin on
3 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 chicken liver (optional)
1 cup Moroccan purple or green olives
1/2 preserved lemon (or several pieces, seeds removed)
1 tablespoon soft or melted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
pinch of saffron threads, lightly warmed in a dry skillet
Water, as needed

For extra juicy chicken, brine it for four hours or so before proceeding.

Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. Combine the butter and the spices (except the saffron) into a spice paste, and massage all of the chicken parts thoroughly with the mixture. Lay the chicken pieces skin-side up in a single layer in a large skillet, and sprinkle the finely chopped onions and crushed garlic in between the pieces. Add enough fresh cool water to come half-way up the chicken. Turn the heat on high, and bring the water up to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the minimum, cover, and let the chicken simmer very gently until tender, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F.

Remove the lid from the skillet and use tongs to remove the chicken pieces to a baking sheet (I used a pizza pan). Place the chicken, uncovered in the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

While the chicken browns and crisps, turn the heat up to high under the onion/water mixture and start stirring and scraping the mixture, reducing the water and cooking down the onion down to a thick mass. Add the chicken liver now, if using, grating it into the sauce as it cooks. Continue to cook and stir as it reduces. Add the olives, and add the saffron now, too (rub it between your fingers over the pan to crush the threads). Slice away and reserve the peels of the preserved lemon and add the middle parts to the gravy. Continue to cook and stir as the sauce thickens up until it is a thick gravy.

Remove the browned chicken from the oven and arrange on a platter. Spoon the gravy (called a deghmira), including the olives, over the chicken. Thinly slice the preserved lemon peels and decorate the chicken with the resultant strips.

Serve with warm bread and a salad or two.

The lucky person who got to take leftovers to work the next day reported that the sauce was even better on the second day, so it might well be worth making this ahead, especially if you're having guests to dinner.

October 03, 2016

Gingered Plum Crisp

Apple Crisp is one of my favourite homemade desserts. It's good enough to serve to company, yet still relaxed enough for any casual supper. Even better, if there is any leftover, you can easily enjoy it the next day for breakfast. Fruit, oats, right? Practically health food.

This is not Apple Crisp, of course, but it follows the same principles of preparation: pile your fruit into a baking dish, sprinkle with sugar, add a crumbly layer of oat streusel, and bake. The biggest difference between this and my Apple Crisp, in fact, aside from the use of plums instead of apples, is the spicing. Oh, and this one's vegan. Don't worry, though, you can always replace the coconut oil with butter, if that's how you roll. The coconut oil gives it a delicately tropical note that is very pleasant with the ginger and the plums. You could also accentuate that aspect by adding a tablespoon of grated unsweetened coconut to the oat mixture.

I made one larger baking dish (16-centimetre round baking dish, not pictured), and these two little gem-sized (perfect for bento, might I add) to take to work to share with a colleague. I forgot to take any pictures of the larger one, but here are the little bitty ones.

Gingered Plum Crisp

Fruit Layer
500 grams prune plums
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 inch fresh ginger root, coarsley grated

Crisp Layer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
3 tablespoons solid-state coconut oil

Wash the plums and slice them in halves to remove the pits. Chop them into small bite-sized chunks (not too small, or they will lose too much texture). Toss with sugar and ginger, and put them evenly into an baking dish. They should come up about three quarters of the height of the dish. If you are using silicone cup moulds, put them on a tray or inside another baking dish for stability. Fill them 3/4 high, too.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients of the topping with a fork. Add the coconut oil last, and stir very thoroughly with a fork or pastry blender to ensure that the oat mixture gets thoroughly coated. There should be very little dry and no floury-looking bits, so keep stirring until it all comes together. If you absolutely have to, add another tablespoon of oil (you shouldn't need to). If you press a bit of the topping between your fingers, it should clump together in a crumbly sort of way.

Scrape the topping out of the bowl onto the fruit. Spread it out to evenly cover all of the plums, and press lightly with your fingers to help create a surface-crust when it bakes. Don't press too hard, or you'll compact the topping and it will be a bit tough. Note that you can fill your dish right up to the edge, since it will "settle" a little as it bakes. If your plums are very juicy, they might bubble up a bit over top of the oat mixture in places. This is fine, if not quite as tidy looking.

Bake uncovered at 375 F/190 C for 40 minutes (25 for the little ones), or until the topping has taken on a dark golden hue and has sunk down in the dish slightly. It might be a bit darker on the edges - that's okay. Allow to cool at least a few minutes before serving (but it is plenty delicious at room temperature, or chilled, too). Serve on its own, or with a topping of your choice. Whipped coconut milk, perhaps?

Adorable, aren't they? Just perfect for dessert, breakfast, bento, or a tea-time treat.

September 25, 2016

Oyakodon: Japanese Chicken & Egg Rice Bowl

Oyakodon, or "parent-child rice bowl" (in reference to the use of both chicken and egg in the same dish) is a beloved Japanese comfort food. It is simple food, quickly and easily prepared, packed with protein and satisfaction. It is also cooked without any additional fat, which means it doesn't taste or feel heavy.

It can be a wetter or drier dish, but in all the different oyakodon I've eaten over the years, the biggest point of variation that I've encountered is the amount of onions used. But, like many recipes that are based on loose formulae, you can really make your own decision about the relative levels of pretty much all of the ingredients, so once you know the basic formula and general ingredients, you can make it however you like. I like a moderate amount of onions and I add fresh ginger to mine, which isn't exactly canon, but goes beautifully.

This dish can also be halved for a simple supper for one.


2 servings

2 cups hot, cooked Japanese rice

1 uncooked chicken breast or 2 chicken thighs
1 small-to-medium yellow onion
3 coins of fresh ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-2 tablespoons less-sodium Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons sake
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup vegetable stock (you can also use dashi, kombu stock)
1 green onion
Togarashi pepper blend, to taste

Peel and halve the yellow onion, and slice thinly lengthwise. Stack the ginger coins, and slice them into thin slivers. Clean the green onion, and slice it thinly on a steep angle. Slice the chicken breast horizontally into two filets, and slice those crosswise into strips.

In a shallow skillet over moderate heat, heat the stock with the sugar, mirin, saki, and soy sauce. Add the sliced yellow onion and the ginger slices, and push them down into the broth. Once the onions are translucent and a little of the broth has cooked down, add the chicken strips, and push them down into the broth. Cook the chicken for about five to seven minutes or until just cooked through.

Add the beaten eggs in a thin stream, pouring them evenly around the chicken in the skillet, pop the lid on for about 30 seconds until the eggs are just set, during which time you can divide the rice between two bowls. Using a large serving spoon, slide the chicken, onions, and eggs out of the skillet overtop the rice. Pour a little or a lot of the broth around the edges of the bowl to bring extra flavour to the rice.

Top each bowl with green onion and a sprinkle of Togarashi, and serve (I also added some toasted sesame seeds).

Traditionally, the egg is added at the very last minute (into the individual bowls, even), and cooked solely by the heat of the broth, chicken and rice, but I prefer to let the eggs set a bit more. If you're not sure how safe your eggs are to consume raw, definitely cook them through.

September 17, 2016

Biscuit Brats

Germany doesn't seem to have much in the way of sausage rolls, despite their willingness to incorporate sausages into almost every other part of the cuisine. There are various bread-y Stangen ("rods" or "poles") which might contain a more wiener-style sausage as a sort of topping, and the less common Geflügel Rolle ("Poultry Roll"), which actually comes closest, I guess, while also managing to be completely different.

Normally when I make sausage rolls, I use puff pastry. While that is definitely an option here - either housemade rough-puff or purchased from the refrigerator section of the supermarket, I wanted something that I could knock together at a moment's notice without a trip to the store. Since I frequently have some bratwurst on hand, and almost always have the necessary components for making biscuits, I found it logical to combine them. These are the results of my first foray.

I note that I started with wide, uncooked bratwurst, but I would either switch to narrower sausages or pre-cook them next time to avoid oven-time past the point of the biscuit being cooked, to avoid any toughening of the exterior.

Biscuit Brats

500 grams fresh bratwurst
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (eg. Kosher or sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 220 C/ 450 F.

Take a sharp knife and run it down the length of each sausage, slicing just through the casing. Carefully peel the cases away and discard. The sausages should retain their shape and integrity. If you're going to precook the sausages (probably a good idea if you're using thick ones), you can do it now, by sautéing them gently over medium heat until barely cooked through. Put them aside to cool while you make the biscuit dough.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience), cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized.

Create a well in the middle of the mixture and pour the milk in all at once. Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly and briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass. Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until all the flour is incorporated. You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not. Go cautiously - too much flour makes tough biscuits.

Pat out the dough into a rectangle, and then roll with a rolling pin or bottle to get a dough that is about a centimetre thick. Lay one of the sausages along the edge to mark the length, and slice the dough accordingly. Roll the sausage along the dough to see where to cut it to make an exact cylinder of biscuit dough to surround the sausage. Cut the dough, and either use it as a template for the other sausages, or repeat with each sausage. If you have any leftover dough, you can simply cut it into rough biscuit shapes, and cook them alongside.

Lay the sausages in the middle of the squares of biscuit dough. If you want to get fancy and add some additional seasonings - a bit of curry powder, or cayenne, perhaps? - sprinkle it over the sausages now. Wrap the dough carefully around each sausage, pressing the seam gently to make sure it doesn't separate while cooking.

(You can see which one has cayenne, here)

Place the rolls on an ungreased cookie-sheet and bake for 15 minutes (may need 10 min longer if starting with large, raw sausages), or until they have gotten tall and golden. Serve with a bit of mustard, or ketchup (regular or curry) if that's your thing.

These are very filling, and make an excellent lunchbox item.

September 03, 2016

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns

This dish is essentially a hybrid other recipes, which came together as I was fondly recollecting the kind of curried pasta that was always on the menu of a certain kind of casual Canadian-Italian restaurant in the late 1980s. That said, this one owes most of its technique to Nigella Lawson's Lone Linguine with White Truffle Oil, although my proposed serving size is smaller than hers by half. So by all means, go ahead and add a couple of slices of your favourite garlic toast.

You could also use fresh spinach in place of the arugula, of course, but I like the peppery bite of the arugula against the richness of the sauce. A glass of Pinot Grigio goes remarkably well with this, too, if you're so inclined.

It's really fast to make. Basically, in just the amount of time it takes to boil the water, cook the pasta, and toss it all together, dinner is ready. Perfect weeknight fare.

You can use whatever kind of curry powder you like, or blend your own. I’ve used a hot Indian curry powder, but Madras would be nice, or even a Caribbean curry blend.

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns

Serves 2

112 grams spaghetti
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
225 grams raw prawns or large shrimp, deshelled
1 1/2 cups arugula

Set a pot of water (for pasta) to boil over medium-high heat.

For the prawns, rinse them well under cool water and let defrost in a bowl of cool water until they regain their flexibility. Drain thoroughly, and pat dry with a paper towel (they should not go into the skillet wet).

Salt the now-boiling water and add the pasta. Cook al dente or to taste. That's about 10 minutes for the spaghetti I have at hand, but check your packaging. If you're serving garlic bread, make sure it's already underway by this point.

While the pasta cooks, whisk together the egg, cream, Parmesan, and curry powder in a small mixing bowl. If your curry powder is salt-free, you may wish to add a pinch of sea salt.

Wash the arugula and shake off excess water; no need to spin it dry.

Just before the pasta is ready, heat a large skillet over high heat, and add a tablespoon of the butter, swirling until it foams out and the pan is thoroughly hot. Note: Don’t put all the prawns in the skillet at once, or they will steam, not sauté. Add half the prawns to start, scattered around the pan, then wait a few seconds before adding the rest. Sauté the drained and dried prawns briefly over high heat until just opaque, and then lay the arugula overtop to wilt. Turn off the heat under the skillet.

When the pasta is ready, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve (you won’t need all of it, though). I use a glass measuring cup to do this, but a clean mug will do. Drain the rest of the water.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet, on top of the arugula, and then add the remaining half-tablespoon of butter. Toss well with a pasta fork and a spatula, or a couple of forks.

Add about a tablespoon of the reserved, hot pasta-water to the egg mixture, and whisk it well. Then add the egg mixture to the skillet all at once, and stir and toss until that the pasta becomes lightly coated with the sauce, and the sauce becomes smooth (because the Parmesan will have melted, and the egg thickened). This takes only a couple of minutes, max. Taste to see if it needs any salt and adjust as needed. It is important to do this off the heat, or you will end up with scrambled eggs instead of a silky sauce. Still tasty, but *shrugs* not quite as good texturally.

Transfer to plates or bowls and serve immediately.

August 10, 2016

International Bento: Guam - Chamorro Red Rice

It's a funny thing, but I've been making this for quite a number of years, thinking that it was Mexican red rice. It is not. I mean, it makes sense, because Mexican cuisine makes good use of achiote seeds, and that is what gives the rice that nice red colour. I'm not even sure at what point I made the decision to make this dish, but it was cobbled together out of solid rice pilaf theory and the vague knowledge of Mexican red rice being a real thing. Which, of course, it is. It's just not this.

So recently, I had an idle moment of wondering how far my red rice differed from classic Mexican versions (taking into account that there are probably a few variations), and was startled to discover that what I was making didn't even come that close. Amused at my assumptions, I did a bit more creative googling, and discovered that what we have been happily devouring for several years now, is in fact a Guamanian dish called Chamorro red rice. The name Chamorro denotes the indigenous people of Guam (the name Chamorro also applies to the indigenous people from the Northern Mariana Islands).

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few different styles of this dish, too, including everything from bacon to peas. While many of the recipes use a very generous amount of oil, mine is more modest, meaning that the rice can go comfortably with a richer dish without feeling too heavy.

The biggest difference that I found between my recipe and most of the others available online, is that I grind the achiote seeds and use the resulting powder in the dish, rather than simply soaking them in water to colour the water, which is then used to flavour and colour the rice.

Chamorro Red Rice

Serves 4

200 grams parboiled rice
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
1 heaping teaspoon annatto seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
375 mL water and 1 teaspoon vegetable base (or equivalent vegetable broth)

Heat the oil in a medium pot (one with a tight-fitting lid). Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, and then add the ground annatto, cumin, and salt. Stir well, then add the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil.

Add the water and vegetable base (or broth), stir, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and allow to cook gently for 15 minutes (covered). Then remove the pot from the heat (don't just turn the burner off) and let it sit for another 5 - 10 minutes before you lift the lid. Fluff with a fork and serve.

So what else is in the bento pictured above? Smokey roasted chicken thigh (bone removed post cooking) and corn seasoned with lime juice, salt, and ancho powder.

I think this dish goes particularly well with Margarita Chicken.