January 28, 2018

Couscous Lunch Boxes - Lazy Lunch Prep

One Cup of Couscous = 4 lunch boxes.

I admire the folks who assemble beautiful identical lunch boxes on the Sunday evening to set them up for the first four (or five) days of their work week. This doesn't really suit me for a few reasons. One, I'm not inclined to eat the exact same thing every day, no matter how delicious, and two, even if I were so inclined, our tiny German fridge simply doesn't have room for this many packed lunches at any given time - even for one person, let alone two. I also try to use up any cooked meats within three days of cooking (unless it's going into the freezer). My packed lunches need to be cold or room temperature, as I do not have access to a microwave or stove at work.

In the spirit of planning a bit ahead and also using up foods already on hand or leftover from the previous night's dinner (not to mention avoiding the canteen at work), I had the idea that I could prepare a base of flavourful couscous on Sunday night, and then portion it out over the following four days. While you'll see a certain amount of repetition in the ingredients, each box was different enough from its predecessor to feel like a completely different meal.

I started by making my standard fluffy couscous base, which takes about 5 minutes active time, plus 15 minutes inactive:

Couscous Base

1 cup dry couscous
1.25 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika powder (check that it's not stale)

In a large container (preferably one with a tight-fitting lid), add the dry couscous, half the salt, and the paprika. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, and the other half of the salt. Basically, you're making a vinaigrette of sorts. Stir it well until it emulsifies, for the best effect. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous, and stir quickly with a fork until every grain is coated with the lemony oil mixture. Add the boiling water and stir quickly to distribute the grains of couscous evenly, and then cover tightly. Wait for 15 - 20 minutes, remove the lid, and marvel at how easily the couscous grains fluff up when you stir them with a fork. Let the couscous cool, and store in a sealed refrigerator container.

Lunch Box #1 - Monday

Couscous, baked chicken thigh (curry seasoning), finely diced cucumber, tomato, yellow bell pepper, and spiced sweet potato coins with a bit of sliced green onion.

The chicken and sweet potato were leftovers from Sunday dinner. The bone and skin were removed from the chicken. You can't actually see the bottom layer of couscous, but it's definitely there!

Lunch Box #2 - Tuesday

Couscous, Berbere-spiced chickpeas, diced tomatoes, diced cucumber, crumbled feta, sliced avocado.

In the morning, I opened a tin of chickpeas and extracted half of them. The rest were transferred to a refrigerator container, along with their liquid. I rinsed the chickpeas, and then quickly sauteed them in 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and a 1/2 teaspoon of Berbere spice mixture. I spread out the couscous in the bottom of the box, and scraped the seasoned chickpeas into one side before filling in the rest of the ingredients. I let the box cool before closing and stashing in my work bag.

Lunch Box #3 - Wednesday

Couscous, boiled egg, diced yellow bell pepper, avocado, and spiced sweet potato coins.

The egg was boiled up the night before and stashed in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I peeled it quickly with a spoon, and cut it before putting it in the box. The spiced sweet potatoes are continued use of leftovers from Sunday's dinner. You can actually see the bed of couscous in this one!

This box was full of delicious things, but in combination it was a bit dry. A bit of sauce or dressing would have made a big difference, which I will keep in mind going forward.

Lunch Box #4 - Thursday 

Couscous, Caribbean-curry-spiced chickpeas, finely diced cucumber, yellow bell pepper, crumbled feta, spiced sweet potato coins with sliced green onions, and diced dried apricots.

These chickpeas were done quickly in the morning, using the other half of the can of chickpeas I'd opened on Tuesday, and opting for a spicy Caribbean curry powder for the seasoning. The other items we've seen in previous boxes, but the one special ingredient here was the diced dried apricots which lent a wonderful fruity sweetness that went very well with the curried chickpeas. The inclusion of the apricots made this final box feel a bit special.

By Friday, I was ready for something entirely different, and had a homemade bento with Japanese rolled omelette with yakionigiri and gingered carrot coleslaw. But that's another type of lunch, for a different type of post.

This was not a completely effortless scenario - each day I had a couple of small tasks to pull the day's box together - but having the couscous waiting for me did inspire me to make good use of my leftovers, to vary my ingredients, and motivated me to actually do it.

December 17, 2017


Pfeffernüsse ("Pepper Nuts") are traditional German cookies that flood the markets and stores during the Christmas season. Light yet dense, sweet but spiced, they are pretty much the taste of Christmas. They really do have pepper in them, along with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, ginger, anise, and cardamom. That's a lot of spices! Fortunately, here in Germany, you can buy sachets of ready-blended "Lebkuchen Gewürze" (gingerbread spices) but you could mix them yourself (or use pumpkin pie spice, plus cardamon and anise, or other gingerbread spice blend).

The cookie-making part is easy and not time-consuming, but the glaze requires a bit more patience. The good news is, these cookies actually get better with age, so you can make them well before you need them. In fact, you should wait at least three days before eating them, as the cookies will be too hard at the start. Don't worry - that's a sign of success! Just box them up and leave them at cool room temperature, and they'll last for weeks.

The texture is partly owing to the old-fashioned leavening power of ammonium bicarbonate (Harzhornsalz) or ammonium hydrdocarbonate (Hirschhornsalz), which I discussed more thoroughly in my Amerikaner recipe. See safety note at the bottom of this post.


Makes 20 good-sized cookies

Adapted from My Best German Recipes

100 grams honey
25 grams Zuckerrübensirup (dark sugar beet syrup (such as Goldsaft) - you could also use treacle, or fancy molasses)
50 grams sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
250 grams all purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Lebkuchen spice mixture (see comments above)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/16 teaspoon salt

125 grams powdered sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1-2 tablespoons cold water, as needed

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F, with a rack in the middle.

In a small pot on the stove, combine the butter, honey and sugar, and warm gently until melted.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, mixed spices, and white pepper. Add the honey mixture and stir through quickly, and then add the beaten egg and mix until thoroughly integrated. You can use a food processor or stand mixture if you like, but I just use a wooden spoon.

Let the dough stand for about 15 minutes to allow it to firm up, and then use a tablespoon or small scoop to form small balls of dough. Roll each ball between your palms to make it round(ish) and place on a lightly greased baking sheet with plenty of space between them (eg 9 - 12 cookies per standard baking sheet). I used a 1 tablespoon-capacity scoop, scant-filled, to get 20 cookies. You could make them a bit smaller, although reduce the baking time if you do.

Bake the first tray about 12 minutes or until golden brown - watch the bottom edges to make sure they don't burn. BE CAREFUL opening the oven! See the safety note below: avert your face from the oven door as you open it.

Transfer the freshly baked cookies to a rack to cool. Bake the next portion first for only for 10 minutes, and then check to see if they're ready. The cookies will be hard as rocks (very light rocks, that is) but don't worry. It's all part of the master plan.

When the cookies have completely cooled - 20 to 30 minutes - it's time to glaze them.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and rum and a bit of water by mixing all ingredients well until smooth, but not too thin. Depending on the thickness of the glaze, you can dip the cookie-tops, or use a knife to spread the glaze over the cookies. You may need to adjust the thickness of the glaze by adding more sugar or water, to get the consistency you need for your environment.

Let the cookies dry completely (overnight should do it), before boxing them up in a waxed paper (or parchment) lined tin. Add a small piece of bread or a slice of apple (ideally, not touching the the cookies themselves - I put it between the folds of parchment). Wait, oh-so-patiently, for at least three days (a week is better, to be honest) before devouring, ideally with coffee.

*Safety note: ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. The heat from your oven causes a certain amount of it to sublimate, which releases it as a gas into the hot air inside your oven. If your face is in front of the oven door when you open the oven to remove the cookies, you will get a face-full of ammonia gas. Don't do it; instead, shield your face whilst opening the oven door, to give the gas a chance to disperse. If possible, open a door or window or use a hood fan for additional ventilation while you are cooking with this chemical. For more information, click here.

December 10, 2017

Potato Stroganoff Skillet Dinner

Stroganoff doesn't have to be served with noodles! This quick weeknight-friendly recipe uses quartered nugget potatoes for maximum speed and a rustic, chunky, satisfying dinner. If you'd rather slice your potatoes into thin rounds to mimic the packaged version, go for it, but it will take a little longer in prep time.

This recipe was developed as a hybrid between my Hamburger Stroganoff Skillet Dinner and my Bauerntopf mit Hackfleisch (Farmer's Skillet Dinner), and it is a saucy, creamy delight. You might enjoy a bit of crusty bread on the side to mop up the last of the sauce. We served this with steamed broccoli for a hearty meal. Leftovers, should you be so lucky, heat up really well for lunch (or dinner again).

Potato Stroganoff Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

500 grams ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
200 grams mushrooms
Pinch thyme
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
2 cups beef broth (or stock cube & water)
600 grams nugget potatoes
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
200 grams schmand (or smetana, or thick sour cream)

Peel and slice the onion into thin half-moon slices. Brush clean and slice the mushrooms. Wash and quarter the potatoes (if your potatoes are a bit bigger, cut them into wedges). Prepare a slurry by shaking together the cold water and flour in a lidded container. Peel the garlic.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and then fry the ground meat until the water has evaporated and it begins to brown nicely (remember: no-longer-pink doesn't equal browning; take the extra minute or two). Add the sliced onion and stir through, and then add the sliced mushrooms and stir them through. Continue to stir and fry for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and the onion is tender. Add a tablespoon of water to keep it from sticking, if needed. Add the white pepper and celery salt, and stir through.

Add the potatoes to the skillet and stir them through so they get coated in the meaty flavours. Next, gently stir in the beef broth. Crush (or mince) the garlic and stir it in. Let the heat come up to a simmer, and add the slurry (give it a final shake just before adding). Stir the slurry through and return to a simmer, and then turn the heat to low and put a lid on the skillet.

Let the skillet simmer gently, covered, on low for ten minutes, and then stir and let simmer (still covered) another ten minutes, or until the potato quarters are fork-tender. You can stir periodically if you're worried about the potatoes sticking to the pot, but don't lift the lid too often or the potatoes will take longer to cook. Stir in the schmand (or heavy sour cream) until smooth, and let the dish come up to a simmer one final time, and then it's ready to serve.

December 03, 2017

Çılbır: Turkish Poached Eggs in Yoghurt with Spiced Butter

I love a good breakfast, and Turkish culture really knows how to do it up as a feast. Menamen (scrambled eggs in pepper sauce) might be the best known (internationally) egg-based breakfast dish from Turkey, but by golly cilbir should be on everyone's list, too. Cilbir (anglicized somewhat from Çılbır) is pronounced, roughly, as CHILL-ber (like Wilbur, but, you know, chill).

What is it? Well, the beauty-base-zero version is poached eggs in garlicky yoghurt, drizzled with browned butter infused with chile flakes. There are a LOT of variations to be had, though - most of which appear to be placing the basic version on top of an additional element - kıyma, for example (fried seasoned ground meat), or sautéed spinach (like a Turkish version of eggs Florentine). This versatility explains why cilbir is eaten not only for breakfast, but for any other meal of the day.

Between the above description and the pictures, you probably don't need a recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway:

Çılbır: Turkish Poached Eggs in Yoghurt

Serves 2

Yoghurt base

300 grams plain thick yoghurt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or dill, or mint)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

2 - 4 Poached eggs

I'm going to assume you know how to poach eggs, and have a preferred method. If not, go ahead and google it, or even just fry your eggs sunny side up, or soft boil them (I won't tell)

Spiced Butter

2 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 teaspoon - 2 teaspoons Turkish pepper flakes (eg. Aleppo) or paprika, adjusting for the level of heat as desired


Prepare the yoghurt base first, because you want it more room-temperature than fridge-cold. I take the yoghurt out of the fridge as soon as I get up, before I shower or make coffee, to let it warm up a bit. When you're ready to get cooking, combine the yoghurt base ingredients in a small bowl, and beat until everything is well integrated. Set aside for the flavours to mingle while you prepare the rest.

Warm a couple of bowls by filling them with hot water and letting them stand. You probably don't need to do this in the summer.

Prepare the spiced butter next. Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. If you are using unsalted butter, add a tiny pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the butter boil and seethe until the water evaporates and the milk solids start to brown (alternatively, you can use ghee). Remove the butter from the heat, and add the chile flakes. I was using extra-hot oiled Pul Biber (Turkish chile flakes), so I didn't add a lot, but with a milder chile you can add quite a bit more (which does look very pretty). Let the butter and chile flakes infuse together while you prepare the eggs.

Prepare the eggs as you like - I poached mine in a skillet of bubbling water for 5 minutes, but your mileage may vary.

Just before the eggs are ready, take your warmed bowls (drained and dried) and add a generous spoonful of yoghurt base into the bottom of each. Use the spoon to swirl it out to cover the bottom of the bowl. When the eggs are ready, use a skimmer to lift them from the water, and place them in the bowls. Use a teaspoon to drizzle the desired amount of spiced butter over and around the egg(s). Serve at once with warm flatbread, and maybe some nice sliced vegetables and hummus.

November 19, 2017

Garlic Naan

Naan is so delicious when one has it in a restaurant, I always thought it would be difficult to make. It turns out, however, that it's quite straight forward to make at home. If you can make pizza dough, you can make naan. Just a little tweak of the ingredients, and a change in cooking method, and boom! Naan at home, no tandoor oven required. I made mine in my cast iron skillet, popping each one into a warm oven as it came off the skillet while I finished cooking the rest.

Garlic Naan

Makes 8 small naan

175 mL warm (not hot) water
7 grams active dry yeast
2.5 cups flour (plus extra for shaping)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
160 mL plain thick yoghurt
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
canola oil
Nigella seed and/or dried fenugreek leaves (methi) to garnish

Melt the butter and add the crushed garlic. Set aside. Have a pastry brush at the ready for the final stage of cooking.

In a large (2 Litre) mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water, and let it activate - that is, come alive and start forming foamy islands on the surface of the water. Add about a cup of flour and the salt, and stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Add the yoghurt and half the garlic-butter, and beat again until smooth. Start adding the rest of the flour and stirring it in until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto the counter, and knead until smooth. You might need a little less or a little more flour than indicated here, depending on your baking conditions. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky.

Clean the mixing bowl and lightly oil the inside. Form the dough into a ball, and place it in the bowl, turning it to oil all surfaces of the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warmed oven (with the light on is perfect) for about 45 minutes, or until doubled.

Start preheating a big, heavy skillet (preferably not non-stick - I used my cast iron skillet) over medium high heat. Place a baking sheet or pizza pan in the oven and turn it on to the lowest heat-setting to keep warm.

Turn the dough out onto the counter, and press the air out of it. Divide into 8 equal pieces, and shape each one into a loose ball.

Add a pinch of methi to the remaining garlic butter, if you wish.

Sprinkle a bit of nigella seed on one side of the work surface.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the non-nigella side of your work area, and use your fingers to press the first ball into a thinnish round (not too thin, or it will tear) on the floured surface. Gently place the pressed-out dough over the nigella seed, and gently press down so that some of the seeds adhere to the surface of the dough. Lift the round of dough carefully, and transfer it seed-side-up to your hot skillet. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then carefully flip to its other side. I used tongs, which is a bit tricky in that the top part isn't really cooked yet. Cook for another minute or two, watching closely, and when brown patches show, flip it again. Brush a little garlic butter on the side with the seeds, and transfer it to the sheet in the oven to rest while you cook the remaining 7 naan in exactly the same way.

That's it. You're done. Serve with a nice wet curry, maybe something like Bengali Dal or Kali Dal.

November 12, 2017

Khichdi and Kheema

Khichdi (aka Khichri, and a number of other variations, खिचड़ी in Hindi) is a rice-and-pulse dish from India that is not only a vegetarian (vegan, in fact) staple, but also very likely the ur recipe for Kedgeree and possibly even Middle Eastern Koshary. It's been around for a long, long time, and is considered to be a very balanced meal on its own - even better, if you can serve it with condiments such as yoghurt or raita, chutney, or go all out for the famous Hyderabadi combination of khichdi, kheema, and khatta.

Kheema (aka keema, कीमा in Hindi) is essentially a simple, loose, ground meat gravy seasoned with accent vegetables and vigorous application of spices as pleases the cook. My kheema tends to vary quite wildly depending on what I have on hand, but is usually at least a bit spicy. Kheema is not generally by nature a vegetarian dish, but one could make it so by using the ground-meat substitute of your choice, or even simply finely minced vegetables. This one has a mixture of ground lamb and beef, as prepared by our local Turkish butcher. The recipe is below the recipe for the khichdi.

I didn't have the necessary sour ingredients on hand to make khatta, but we enjoyed the khichdi and kheema together.

There are different styles of Khichdi, ranging from the dry, pilau-like separate grains you see here to a more risotto-like dish, more of an extremely thick soup or congee than its drier pilau cousin. Because I was using a lentil that holds its shape very tenaciously, I decided to go with the drier style.

Khichdi can be made with any lentil, but this one is made with whole black urad dal - the same pulse that I use to make Kali Dal (black dal), and this dish is therefore Kali dal ki khichdi. Because the lentils give off a lot of dark colour when boiled, I discard the water used to boil the lentils, but if you don't mind a grey dish, you can certainly use the cooking water to also cook the rice.

Kali Dal Ki Khichdi

Serves 4

150 - 180 mL whole black urad dal, picked over and rinsed well
approximately 6 cups cooking water for the dal
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons oil or butter or ghee
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
1-3 dried red chilies, left whole OR 1 long fresh chili, seeded and chopped.
200 grams basmati rice
310 mL water for the rice, rinsed well

You don't need to soak the dal, but you can if you want to. You do need to wash them well, or your dish will be gritty.

In a moderately large pot, bring six cups (or so) of water to a boil. Add the well-rinsed dal, the cumin seeds, the chilies and the minced ginger, and let simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring from time to time. The water will be very dark and murky looking. If your dal is a bit old, or you're not convinced of its freshness (mine was rescued from the back of the cupboard), a small pinch of baking soda can be added to the water to encourage the dal to soften nicely as it cooks.

When the dal is tender, drain through a colander, and set briefly aside while you get the rice going: in a medium pot, bring the rice-cooking water and the well-rinsed rice to the barest of bubbles rising to the surface. Add the oil or butter or ghee, the salt, and the drained dal, stir through, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Turn the heat immediately to the lowest setting, and cook undisturbed (no peeking!) for 15 minutes. Transfer the pot to a cold burner (or pot holder) without lifting the lid, and set the timer again for 15 minutes. When the timer goes, you may open the pot and fluff up your rice with a fork or rice paddle.

You'll notice that the dal have congregated in the top third of the dish, so give it a nice fold with a paddle or spatula to disperse them throughout the rice. If you want to serve it in a tidy shape, you can pack it into a small bowl or measuring cup and upend onto the plate or bowl. Otherwise, just spoon it into a bowl and enjoy - with or without accompaniments.

Plain yoghurt is a very common side, and if the khichdi is being eaten on its own, you may want to consider a tempering made from heating a little mustard oil (or butter or ghee) in a small pan, and adding some chili flakes, swirling them about until fragrant, before pouring over the khichdi. Because we were serving this with kheema, we didn't do that extra step.

* * * * *

A note on kheema vegetables: One of the most popular and traditional vegetables to add to kheema is green peas. If you're not using the peppers and/or tomatoes.

Simple Kheema

Serves 4

500 grams ground beef and lamb (both or either)
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about a cup's worth)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt
3-4 roma-type tomatoes, cored and seeded, sliced into strips
1-3 red or green hot peppers, cored and seeded, sliced into strips
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Water, as needed
1 teaspoon cornstarch or 1 tablespoon flour as a thickener (optional)
Cilantro to garnish (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil) over medium-high heat, and when it has melted and foamed out, add the ground meat. Stir and cook the meat, breaking it up with your spoon as you go (it can be as fine or coarsely broken up as you like) until it is thoroughly browned (not just no-longer-pink, you want some golden, flavourful searing on about half of it). Add the salt and the spices (except the garam masala) and stir through again. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger, and continue to stir and fry until the onions are translucent.

If you want a thicker gravy, choose either the cornstarch or wheat flour option (see instructions below) add it now and simmer for about 15 minutes. If you want a thinner gravy, simply add an extra half cup of water now simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the hot peppers and the tomatoes (if it looks like it needs more water to be a nice gravy texture, go ahead and add a little more), and cook a few minutes longer, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender. Garnish with cilantro if you like.

Thickener Options:

Cornstarch: mix the teaspoon of cornstarch with a half-cup of room temperature or cold water, stir until smooth, and then add to the pan. Stir throughout, and watch it thicken the gravy as it comes up to a simmer.

Wheat flour: mix the tablespoon of flour with a cup of room temperature or cold water by shaking together in a tightly lidded cup. Pour the liquid into the pan and stir throughout, and watch it thicken the gravy as it comes up to a simmer.

November 05, 2017

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

Pumpkin puree brings a wonderful tenderness (not to mention some vitamins) to this loaf. Glaze it if you must, but it really is perfect just on its own. Great for lunch boxes or as a deluxe side to a cup of tea or coffee. Or brandy.

While I'm a big fan of pumpkin spice, and there are some components of that in this loaf, the chocolate is the main star here.

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

Makes one 9x5x3" loaf pan (23x13x8 cm)
Total Prep & Cooking time: approximately 60-70 minutes

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 cup (250 mL) mashed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cake flour (dip and sweep method)
1/2 cup (125 mL) dutch processed cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher or other coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 175°C/ 350°F with a rack in the middle (or lower middle) slot. Prepare your loaf pan - either lightly oil (or spritz) or line with parchment paper. I oil the ends, and create a parchment "sling" that covers the long sides of the loaf pan, and helps me easily remove the loaf from the pan once it's cooked. The parchment can then be peeled off (or used to help keep the loaf moist, once it's cooled and put away).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beaten eggs, canola oil, sugar, and milk, and stir well with a whisk or mixing spoon. Stir in the mashed pumpkin and vanilla extract and stir again, until smooth.

In a second, smaller bowl, combine the cake flour, sifted cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Whisk to thoroughly mix these dry items.

Add half of the dry mixture into the wet mixture, and stir gently but thoroughly with a fork or large whisk. Add the rest of the dry mixture and stir through just until there are no more dry spots streaking the batter. Handle gently, so as to not overmix and toughen the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf tin, and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (or with a couple of crumbs). Test it at 50 minutes, and then monitor if it needs more time. The top may form a craggy surface, like the one you can see here, or it may rise smoothly, depending on whether your oven has hot spots.

Let the loaf stand in its pan on a cooling rack for ten minutes after you take it from the oven, and then remove the pan and let the loaf finish cooling on the rack. If you are using parchment, leave the parchment on the loaf until it has completely cooled enough. Wrap well once completely cooled, and store in the fridge after a few days (if you still have any left!).

October 29, 2017

Lamb Ribs

I'd never really seen lamb ribs for sale until I moved to Europe, and discovered the Turkish grocery store in our small city. I imagine one could get them in Canada from a butcher, but it would likely need to be a special request item, as I've never noticed them on display. Happily, I can get them here any day that I happen by the Turkish grocery - which is also where I get my other lamb cuts - usually cutlets and ground, but they also have whole neck, neck slices, front shoulder, and hind leg. The quality of their lamb is superb, and our intake has gone up significantly since we came here.

Lamb ribs, though, I had no idea what to do with, but I knew that I wanted to try them. The first time I made these, I spread wild garlic leaves (ramsons, or Bärlauch (Bear garlic) in German) and over the ribs, seasoned the meat with salt and pepper, and wrapped them in foil before cooking them in a slow oven for three hours. They were amazing. So, of course I decided to do it again. Wild garlic isn't in season, though, so I went with rosemary. We roasted an extra rack, too, just so that we'd have leftovers to make into sandwiches. I'm so glad we did.

This is easy - quick prep, and little to do but sit around and drink wine while the oven does all the work. It's barely a recipe, and more of a procedure.

You might want to ask the butcher to cut the lamb ribs into two chunks each, for ease of serving later.

Oven-braised Lamb Ribs

serves 2 - 4

1 - 2 slabs lamb ribs, skin on
Fresh herbs - wild garlic, ramps, rosemary, thyme (your choice)
2-4 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 165°C/300°F with a rack set in the middle. On a large baking sheet (with sides, in case of leaks) lay out enough aluminum foil to enclose the lamb ribs and seal all the edges into a large packet. If you are doing two slabs of ribs, it might be easier to package them separately, depending on your equipment.

Place half of the fresh herbs and a couple of the bay leaves on the foil.

Pat the lamb dry if necessary, and brush lightly with olive oil. You don't need much, because the lamb is a bit fatty and will release quite a bit of fat itself as it cooks. Season each side with salt and pepper (I use ground white pepper) and lay them on top of the herbs laid upon the foil. Add the rest of the herbs to the top of the lamb, and seal the packets - crimping the foil edges as neatly as you can to seal the packet tightly.

Transfer the lamb packets on their baking sheet into the oven, and let cook undisturbed for three hours. You will start to smell the lamb after the first hour, which is your cue to add a tray of veggies to the oven, if that's your plan. Mashed potatoes also go very nicely with lamb ribs.

When the three hours are up, pour yourself a nice glass of wine. Then, take the tray from the oven, and carefully slit the foil open (carefully! The steam that will be released is extremely hot and will burn you if you don't take steps to protect yourself. Use an oven glove, or position your hand away from where the steam will come out).

Push aside the spent herbs, and lift the meat out of the pooled juices. The meat is so rich, you'll want to give it a moment to drain a bit of the fat away before serving, so pile it onto a warmed plate to rest for a couple of minutes while you sip your wine and possibly organize the rest of the meal. Careful, though, the meat will be practically fall off the bones. Divide the lamb chunks between plates, and you're ready to go.

October 22, 2017

Cottage Pie

Cottage pie, in case you're not familiar with it, is a casserole of meat stew with a rich gravy, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Whereas shepherd's pie is made from lamb, cottage pie is made with beef. In this case, it's made with a mixture of beef and pork, the all-purpose German ready-mixed ground meat, but you can use all beef or pork (or even ground turkey or chicken).

I had some Lilac potatoes from the market to use up, which is why the potato topping is purple, but you can use any good mashing potato. Yukon Golds are one of my favourites for this dish.

Cottage Pie

Serves 6

Stew with gravy

500 grams ground beef and/or pork
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
2 stalks celery, diced medium
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 large carrot, diced medium
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2-3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch dried thyme leaves
1-2 teaspoons beef stock base
1 1/2 cups water, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup frozen peas (or corn)

Mashed Potato Topping

1 kg potatoes, boiled and peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
pinch ground white pepper
pinch ground nutmeg (optional)

Put the potatoes on to boil or steam first, however you like to do that. I generally simmer my potatoes in an inch of water (starting from cold), for about 25-30 minutes over medium-low heat in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Then I peel them, add them back into the warm (drained) pot, crush them with a spoon, add the other ingredients, and mash them until smooth with a steel masher. If you make mashed potatoes differently, go ahead and make the however you like them best. It's helpful to make them a bit loose (ie, adding a couple of tablespoons more milk), because if they are too stiff they will be difficult to spread over the gravy.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the ground meat. Stir and fry, breaking it up with wooden spoon or cooking spatula as you go, and giving it a few minutes undisturbed between stirring to brown properly. If you don't allow the meat a chance to fry, rather than simply turning greyish as its moisture boils away, it won't develop a good deep flavour, so make sure you see a bit of golden brown on the meat before you add the other ingredients.

While the meat fries, you can busy yourself dicing the vegetables. Once the meat is properly browned, add the onions, celery, carrot, and garlic. Stir well, add the salt, and stir again. Add the bayleaves, and cook and stir for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir through again. Add the Worcestershire sauce, dark soy sauce,
black pepper, and thyme, and stir through. Add the beef stock paste with about half a cup of water, and stir through. Let simmer for a few minutes.

Combine the flour with the final cup of (room-temp) water, and shake it together to create a smooth slurry. Add the slurry to the skillet, and stir it through, watching as it magically thickens the gravy. Add the peas and wait until the temperature returns to a gentle simmer, and then turn the heat to low and let it continue to simmer until the potatoes are ready.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200°C / 400°F, and have a 28x18cm (7x11") baking dish standing by (you don't need to grease the dish). It's also helpful to have a tray or pizza pan to put under the baking dish, because this recipe has a tendency for a bit of gravy to bubble up and escape the dish.

When the potatoes are ready (by which, I mean mashed and ready to go) it's assembly time: Spoon (or pour) the meat gravy into the bottom of the baking dish, and smooth it out evenly. Use a tablespoon to dollop small mounds of mashed potato evenly over the gravy, and then use a fork to spread the mounds together into a single surface. I like to leave the ridges from the fork tines showing, because it makes for crispy bits of topping once it's baked.

Place the casserole into the oven, and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the ridges of potato are golden, and everything is satisfactorily bubbling. Depending on how thick your gravy is, you can serve with either a lifter-type spatula or a large serving spoon (or both, as you like).

This is quite a filling dish, so it quite easily serves six people, especially if you have a salad on the side. If the people you are serving are particularly ravenous, it would serve four.

It also reheats well! Be sure to poke some holes in the mashed potato topping for even heating, whether you're using a microwave or conventional oven.

October 15, 2017

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

There are a lot of turkey thigh recipes out there, but most of them don’t envisage a single thigh that weighs over a kilogram. This is specifically for those big, huge, gigantic turkey thighs, and yields crispy skin, succulent meat, rich gravy. It takes a long time because it is rather dense meat with a big bone in the centre, and therefore benefits from a low-and-slow braising technique, finished with a higher-heat, skin-crisping. The slow braise allows the meat to cook very gently, but thoroughly, melting potential toughness into delicious, unctuous texture. The meat slices well, but also shreds very easily, making this recipe an excellent choice for pulled turkey applications - from sandwiches to salads to tacos, to meal prep bowls and more.

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking time: 4 hours (mostly unattended)

1 jumbo turkey thigh (1 to 1.3 kg, bone in, skin on)
1/2 tablespoon canola oil or chicken fat
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2-3 celery stalks
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
1 clove garlic
300 - 400 mL turkey stock or broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cold water (or cold stock)

You will need a Dutch oven or similar pot with a tightly fitting lid for this dish. It should be big enough to allow you to add the turkey stock without covering the thigh. It should come up 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh.
The thigh must be fully thawed to start. Rinse the thigh and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the paper towels and place the thigh on a clean plate. Season the turkey with the salt on both sides. If you want to get fancy, you can add a tiny bit of ground sage or thyme or white pepper – or all of the above.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.

On the stove top, heat the empty Dutch oven, and add the canola oil or chicken fat. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan with the fat, and give the fat a moment get hot. Add the turkey thigh skin-side-down, and sear until golden brown, turning the thigh with tongs every few minutes to ensure the whole surface of the skin gets nicely golden. Next, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the turkey to a clean plate.

Place the celery stalks in a single layer in the bottom of the Dutch oven (I cut mine into halves to make them fit nicely). Lay the turkey thigh, skin-side-up, on top of the celery. Add the bay leaves, garlic, and onion slices around the sides of the turkey. The pan will still be hot, so be careful to avoid clouds of steam as you pour the turkey stock around the thigh, only coming 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh. Place the Dutch oven back on the heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Turn the burner off, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the preheated oven. Let the thigh cook for 2.5 hours, and then remove the lid and turn the heat up to 180°C/350°F and cook for 30 minutes more. Use this time to clean up every dish, tool, or surface that touched the raw turkey, and then have a nice relaxing beverage. You’ll still have plenty of time to prepare some vegetables or other side dishes, if you like.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and place it on a stove top burner. Carefully lift the thigh from the braising liquid and place it on a clean plate for carving shortly. Cover loosely with foil if you think necessary, but don’t cover it too tightly or it will steam away the crispy skin. The meat will be much easier to slice once it has rested for twenty minutes or so.

Gravy: Remove the bay leaves and the limp celery stalks from the braising liquid. You can leave the onions, if they haven’t fully melted, and in fact you can use a fork or a potato masher right in the pot to quickly turn them into a tasty puree to further flavour and thicken the gravy. Turn the heat on under the pot and bring the liquid up to a simmer.

Make a slurry of the cold water (or stock) and flour, and shake/whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the slurry to the simmering braising liquid, stirring (or whisking) constantly, as it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to let it simmer, lid off, stirring periodically, for twenty minutes to half an hour – just enough time to roast a tray of vegetables to go alongside your turkey. The gravy will thicken fairly quickly once the liquid comes back up to a boil, and will thicken further as it simmers. The simmering time is necessary to thoroughly cook the flour, which otherwise has a bit of a raw aftertaste. Taking the time to cook it through will make your gravy at least twice as good.

The finished gravy should be a light colour – more tan than brown, but if you want it darker, you can add a couple of drops of dark soy sauce (don’t go overboard: in this case, more is not better). It won’t make the gravy taste like soy sauce, but it adds a little extra flavour and deepens the gravy slightly.

As the gravy finishes its simmer, go ahead and carve the turkey thigh in the same direction as the bone. The meat should be very tender, almost falling apart (it makes excellent pulled turkey, of course). When you’ve carved all you can manage easily, turn the thigh over and grasp the bone. It should come mostly away from the meat on its own, but it may leave a bit of cartilage or sinew behind, but that can be easily cleared away with your impeccably clean fingers. Set aside the bone to make stock for the next time around. The remaining piece of meat can be turned skin-side up once more, and sliced further if necessary.

This thigh was 1.2 kg and, despite the big bone running down the centre, gave us three generously sized dinners-for-two, plus a big lunch for one: Roasted and sliced with gravy and vegetables on the first night, then Stuffing-Topped Turkey Skillet Dinner (which further yielded the (big) lunch), and finally, the last bit of meat was chopped up and made into a quick creamy pasta with turkey and sautéed zucchini.