December 31, 2011

Nasu Dengaku - Miso-Glazed Eggplant

I first had this at a little Japanese restaurant in my neighbourhood, one which is both one of the best in town in addition to being one of the closest restaurants to my house. Vancouver is awash in a sea of sushi joints, often of middling quality, so one that offers dishes that go beyond the California roll are a joy to see.

The restaurant version of this tends to be deep fried, but lightly done, but the home version, simply popped under the broiler, is just as delicious, with a sweet and salty glaze that either revs up your taste buds as an appetizer, or beautifully complements a main course. It's also great in a bento (see below), either at room temperature or re-heated. I went a little light on the sauce, as you can see, and would probably use a little bit more next time. You can also use dark purple, smallish, round eggplants for this, which do tend to keep their colour a bit better, if elegance of presentation is important to you. Really large eggplants are likely too tough for this type of dish, however.

Nasu Dengaku
Serves 4

2 medium-small asian eggplants (thin skinned if possible)
3 tablespoons miso (I like red miso, but any will do)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

Wash and trim your eggplants, and halve lengthwise. Cut a large diamond pattern into the fleshy cut side with a sharp knife, not going down through the skin. Brush the cut side with sesame oil, and roast or broil, cut-side-down, for 10 to 20 minutes. You can also dry-roast the eggplant in a skillet on the stovetop, if you prefer.

Mix up the dengaku sauce of miso, sugar, mirin and sake, until thoroughly blended, and heat in a small saucepan. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the sauce turns glossy, thinning with a couple of drops of water, if needed. Divide the sauce between the four pieces of eggplant, brushing it into the diamond cuts. Broil the eggplant very briefly to caramelize the edges of the sauce, slice into chopstick-friendly pieces, and serve. As you can see, I favour green onion as a garnish, because it looks very pretty, and the mild pungency of the onion is a nice contrast to the salty-sweet of the sauce.

The sauce also works as a lovely glaze for pan-seared tofu, or sauteed or broiled mushrooms.

Like the dinner plate above, this bento contains a layer of thinly sliced sesame beef with beech mushrooms on Japanese rice in the one tier, and nasu dengaku, black sesame carrot kinpira, and a mini cucumber in the other.

Happy New Year, everyone! May your year be filled with deliciousness.

December 30, 2011

Margarita Chicken

This is a great little recipe, which I've only slightly adapted from Cook This! Not That!, and really mostly in terms of adding a few more beans (the two to three tablespoons in the original recipe hardly seemed adequate for a serving), and a side dish of simple red rice.

Now, while the recipe shows you how to easily doctor up a can of black beans (drain, add cumin, heat, add lime juice), if you happen to have some left over Spicy Thick Black Beans, simply use two cups of those, instead - you won't be doing any damage for the extra onion, garlic and pepper in the mix.

Margarita Chicken
Adapted from "Cook This! Not That!"
by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding

Serves 4

Bean Bed
2 cups of black beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
juice from one lime

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4 oz. each)
1 cup salsa verde (warmed up, ideally)
1 cup grated Oaxaca cheese
Salt & Pepper as desired
cilantro, for garnish

If you are serving this dish with rice, get it started right away, and you should be able to easily do the rest in the time it takes the rice to cook (unless you're using instant rice, which I can't recommend). A tasty, simple version of red rice is to just add minced onion and a good sprinkle of ground annatto seed, cumin, and a pinch of salt to your regular steamed rice recipe.

Preheat your oven to 450 F, with the oven rack set to the middle. Heat the drained beans in a small saucepan, with the cumin, until thoroughly heated. Add the lime juice and stir through. Turn heat to low (or off), cover and hold until needed. Preheat your salsa in a small saucepan or in a cup in the microwave.

Salt and pepper your chicken lightly on both sides, and sear in a pre-heated skillet until deep golden brown on the first side - about 3 or 4 minutes - then flip over. As it sears on the second side, for another three minutes or so, gently spoon a little salsa verde over each chicken breast, spreading it with the spoon to just reach the edges of the chicken. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and then place uncovered in the oven for about five minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is bubbling.

To serve, spoon a quarter of the beans onto a luncheon-sized plate, and carefully place a chicken breast atop. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro. Add the red rice to the side of the plate, and a couple of slices of avocado, and serve with lime wedges on the side for extra lime goodness. Leftovers work beautifully for lunch - I recommend slicing the chicken breast before stashing it away in the fridge, so it can reheat evenly (and more quickly!). I also deeply suspect that any leftovers, should you be so lucky, would make fantastic burritos. I intend to double the recipe next time, and find out.

The original recipe clocked in, according to the author, at 330 calories per serving. increasing the black beans to 1/2 a cup per serving, and adding a modest amount of red rice (3/4 cup of cooked rice) and even adding a quarter of avocado, raises the meal total to a mere (approximate) 525 calories for the whole meal (roughly 24% of those calories from fat) - absolutely still qualifying as a terrific, healthy dinner.

Quite a few of the other recipes from the book (and its companion publications) are available over at Men's Health.

November 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies

These are such a classic cookie.

Some months ago, I promised a colleague that I would make peanut butter cookies for his birthday, which is coming up this week. Fortunately, I remembered ahead of time (for once), and so set about finding a recipe.

I looked high and low, and considered all kinds of exciting variations - some of which included chocolate, or oatmeal, or even quinoa (!), some of which were flourless, low-fat, or otherwise dietarily tweaked to suit what people are looking for these days. None of these were what I wanted, so I did what I should have done in the first place: dusted off my childhood recipe box, dug up the recipe that I have been making since I was eight years old (albeit, not recently), and made those.

They're awfully good.

I use smooth peanut butter, but you could use crunchy if the spirit so moves you. I am currently using an organic, unsalted peanut butter from the company "Nuts to You", which I'm finding to be an excellent cooking ingredient, and remarkably tasty just on its own.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes: 36 cookies
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 45 minutes

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup golden sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Those of you who have read other cookie recipes from my childhood will know that the directions actually written down are astonishingly brief. This recipes says "Press with fork and bake 10 minutes @ 350℉".

Here's a bit more detail, for those who want it.

Cream together the butter and peanut butter, either by hand or using an electric mixer. Add the sugar, and beat again. Add the egg and the vanilla, and beat again until nice and smooth. Stir together the flour, salt and baking soda, and add to the peanut butter mixture. Beat until evenly combined and there are no more streaks of flour.

Roll into walnut-sized balls, and place on ungreased baking sheets. Use a greased/oiled fork to press lines or crosses into the balls of dough, flattening them into disks. Bake one sheet at a time at 350℉ for 10 - 14 minutes, depending on your oven (and the size of your "walnuts"). When golden around the edges, remove to cooling racks.

September 25, 2011

Caponata & Polenta

These two dishes make excellent friends. The starch of the polenta creates a filling sense of satisfaction, and its creamy solidness plays counterpoint to the vegetable frenzy that is the caponata.

Of course, you can tell (I'm quite sure) that the polenta rounds in the picture were not from a polenta that I had made myself, but rather from one of those prepared tubes that you can buy. We didn't find it an entirely acceptable substitute, by the way, but once we drowned the grilled-up rounds with the deliciousness of caponata, it sufficed for the evening. Homemade polenta would have made this absolutely heavenly.

The real story here is the caponata. I've been making this for a few years, now, since I first saw a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Caponata Picnic Sandwiches. I've tweaked it a little to reduce the oil, and upgraded it from side dish to feature, although any leftovers certainly do make wonderful sandwiches (particularly if you have some leftover garlic bread and bocconcini). I like a piquancy in my caponata, so I reduce the sugar, but your mileage may vary. More sugar emphasizes its sort of sweet-and-sour character.

Easy Caponata
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4 as a main dish

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium Italian eggplant, diced
1 to 2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon dry white vermouth (optional)
1 medium red or yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 to 2 cups unsalted canned diced tomatoes (with juices)
4 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
4 tablespoons Italian Red Wine Vinegar
1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 - 2 branches fresh basil, stems removed

This dish comes together very easily. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the celery and saute a little, then add the eggplant and continue to saute until it begins to soften. Add the salt, and then the red pepper, and splash with a little vermouth if it is sticking (you can also use water). Stir and saute a little more, and then add the onion. Continue to saute, and once the onions are starting to get tender, add the tomatoes, raisins, oregano. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste (I don't usually add any more salt here). Add the vinegar, one teaspoon of sugar, and the capers (rinsed and drained, please!), and stir through. Simmer very gently for a couple of minutes, then taste again. If needed, correct by adding more vinegar or sugar. Garnish with torn up basil leaves.

I note that this is much more colourful a dish than it may actually seem from the picture, which I blame on the inordinately, festively coloured (and busy) plate that I served it on.

That's it. Easy, right? And you can grill your polenta while it simmers, or you can make the caponata first, and serve it at room temperature once the polenta is grilled up - it's full of flavour and equally tasty warm or cool - and therefore, excellent picnic fare, as the recommended original application. You could also serve this warm over hot, soft polenta, rather than the firm version.

Now, I haven't mentioned the scruffy looking mushrooms on the other side of the plate, yes, I know. They are simply broiled mushrooms - tasty, but not very glamorous (or photogenic, apparently). Portabella mushrooms cut into slices, tossed with soy sauce and olive oil, and popped under the broiler until tender. That's it! Although, it does lead to another lovely possibility for serving the caponata: brush whole, gills-removed portabellas with a little olive oil and roast until tender, then fill with warm caponata, garnish with basil, and present triumphantly, perhaps with a nice crusty loaf of bread on the side.

September 11, 2011

Greek Shrimp Saute over Orzo

This is beautifully easy, but it's really only half a recipe: the shrimp half. You could serve this over rice, a creamy pasta, garlic toast(!), or baby potatoes, really it's entirely up to you. I chose to serve it over Creamy Parmesan Orzo, which has been a solid workhorse in my kitchen for the past six years, and it worked out just fine.

The recipe is almost embarrassingly easy, although I do need to give credit to Cooking Light's Fresh Food Fast cookbook: This was everything it was supposed to be: fast, delicious, and easy.

Greek Shrimp Saute
adapted from Fresh Food Fast
Serves 3 - 4

454 grams frozen peeled prawns
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
4 tablespoons Greek-style vinaigrette (lemon and oregano), ideally one with less fat*
10 Kalamata olives, sliced
1/4 cup torn basil
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 clove garlic, crushed

Thaw the prawns under running water, rinsing well to remove any fishiness. Pat dry with paper towels. Toss with 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette.

Heat a skillet over high heat. Spritz with a little olive oil. Saute the shrimp for about three minutes, or until just barely cooked through. Remove to a bowl. In the emptied skillet, add the rest of the vinaigrette, the tomatoes, olives and garlic, and saute until heated through, about a minute or two, stirring constantly. Add to the shrimp, and toss to combine. Serve up the shrimp over your choice of accompaniment (in this case, the plated orzo), and sprinkle with basil and feta.

Could you add the rest of the Greek Salad components in here? A little red onion, some green pepper, maybe some cucumber, just for the textural kick? Absolutely. Or, you know, you could just make a Greek salad the way you like it, and top it with prawns sauteed in vinaigrette. I'm just saying.

*Here's a good simple version:

White Lemon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 pinch dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

Combine in a sealable jar, and shake until combined. Or, combine in a measuring cup, and whisk the heck out of it!

September 04, 2011

Pineapple Thai Fried Rice

Summer has finally arrived in Vancouver, just in time for one little wave of sunshine before autumn officially hits. What this means for me, practically speaking, is that I now have a limited amount of time to wedge in all of the summery meals that I feel the need to visit every year, or else it will be as if summer never happened at all.

One of these summer favourites is Thai lettuce wraps, which I have posted about long ago again, strangely, just squeezing it in at the end of the season. While I'm eating it, I marvel that I don't make it every single week. The lettuce wraps are dangerous, in a fashion, because I will eat as much filling as I have made, no matter whether I plan to have some leftovers to take to work. I'm assuming it would travel very well to work, but I've never quite managed it. That notwithstanding, some sort of side dish is absolutely necessary, unless you want to make a filling that incorporates a starch as well, which doesn't exactly float my boat. The last time I wrote about it, I served it with spicy soba and gyoza in a sort of glorious cultural mishmash. This time, as of course you can probably guess, I chose pineapple fried rice.

I've made fried rice before, plenty of times, generally leaning toward the Chinese style that features char siu (barbeque pork), scrambled egg, and sometimes shrimp. I love it. Thai-style fried rice, however, I had never actually made at home, although I enjoy having it when I go out. Boy-howdy, there are a lot of different versions out there in Internet Land! I couldn't find one that exactly fit my needs, so I took the information that I gleaned from reading through a lot of different recipes, and put them to work on a sort of ad hoc basis. We were really pleased with the results, so I'm setting down the recipe for my own future reference, and of course, to share with you:

Pineapple Thai Fried Rice
Serves 2 to (theoretically) 4 as a side dish, or one greedy person as a main

1 cup jasmine rice
3 tablespoons coconut powder
1 large pinch lemon grass powder
water, as needed to cook the rice

Don't use too much water, you don't want the rice to become mushy. A little firm is better. Cook the rice using your usual evaporation method. It helps if you stir the coconut powder into the water and whisk to thoroughly combine. When the rice is cooked, turn it out into a bowl, carefully, and use a fork to gently separate out the grains, being careful not to overwork the rice, which will make it sticky. Allow to cool. If making this part ahead, cover and refrigerate until wanted.

1 tablespoon peanut oil
3 red Thai chiles, seeded and minced
1 Thai chile, seeded and cut into strips
2 green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
5 kafir lime leaves
1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce (omit for vegan version, obviously)
1 to 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (use double soy sauce if omitting fish sauce)
a few fresh Thai basil leaves
lime quarters, for squeezing over top
chopped cilantro, for garnish

In a wok or, failing that, a large non-stick skillet, over high heat, heat the peanut oil. Add the garlic and ginger, and minced chiles, and stir fry for a few seconds, before adding the lime leaves and pineapple. Stir fry until the pineapple starts to caramelize, and then add in the rice. Use a spatula (or wok tool) to fold the rice in the dish, coating all of the rice with the oil and seasonings. Sprinkle with fish sauce, and fold the rice again. Add the soy sauce, and fold again. Add the chile strips, some torn up basil, and the sliced green onions, and fold again. Taste the rice and see if it wants more fish sauce or soy. You want a bit of separation of rice grains, here, so that each grain of rice gets a nice "fried" texture and flavour. In practice, it will still cling gently to its neighbours. Keep gently turning the rice until everything is evenly distributed.

Tweak the seasonings as desired, adding more fish sauce or soy, or a pinch of sugar if that rocks your world, I don't think it needs it with the pineapple, but you choose. Turn out the rice into a large serving bowl, and garnish with cilantro and lime quarters for squeezing over individual portions. The cucumber garnish is of course, entirely optional, but it makes for a nice presentation, and I love eating cucumber slices, so it makes good sense to me.

If this is your main dish, you may want to top it with a crispy-fried sunny egg for each person. If you want to make it hotter, there's always sriracha, or more chiles.

The chile-star garnishes, by the way, are supremely easy. Using those little red Thai chiles, and a sharp knife, slice lengthwise through the chiles in a sort of asterisk pattern, being careful to stop at the top end of the chile. Gently scrape out any seeds. Place the cut chile in a bowl of cold water, and watch it curl open into a star/flower. If it isn't opening up nicely after 30 minutes, check to see if you need to cut down a little closer to the stem. I like to do these up for rice noodle dishes, too - it's the first thing I do when I walk into the kitchen, since they take time to open, and the cold water keeps them fresh until needed.

I didn't have Thai basil at hand, this time, so I made do with Genovese basil, which was perhaps off-profile for Thai cooking, but still delicious. Next time, Thai basil for sure.

August 27, 2011

Cajun Jambalaya with Okra

I am a huge fan of jambalaya, and it's something I almost always make at home, rather than order out. That is solely because I live on the west coast of Canada, where "jambalaya" usually involves pasta instead of rice, and seldom has sufficient seasoning - either in type or quantity, and shockingly often includes cream. When I was in New Orleans, I took great delight in sampling the extensive varieties of jambalaya available - each with a different ratio of ingredients (including seasoning), a different degree of sauciness, and a different notion as to how much one person could/should eat at lunch. Each one was a definitive jambalaya, in its own right.

Jambalaya is such a wonderfully versatile dish, that more's the pity that so few places up here get it right, and by "right" I mean an acceptable variant of the classic forms (Cajun or Creole), which is most emphatically not merely sausage and bell peppers tossed with pasta. Jambalaya needs to be a one-pot dish, rice based, and incorporating the seasonings of the Cajun or Creole variety. The rest - the protein(s), the wet/dry ratio, the choice of featured vegetables, these are all up to the cook. It can be cooked in a deep pot or a skillet, depending on how much you are making at a time.

I have been leaning toward brown, or Cajun-style jambalayas, lately, which tend not to be tomato based. This variation was conceived because I had picked up a bag of lovely looking fresh okra from the market, and needed something to make with it. As it happened, I also had some ham and a couple of chicken thighs that needed using, so, in fine ad hoc style, into the pot they went. My basic methodology is essentially the same as I previously wrote about, but tweaked to incorporate the okra.

Jambalaya with Okra
Serves 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 medium stalks celery, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 cup orange (or red) bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, diced
1 1/2 cups okra, sliced
8 oz ham steak, diced
175 g boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 2), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
3 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup parboiled rice
1 teaspoon red Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt-free Cajun spice blend (to taste - start with a tablespoon)

Heat a large cast iron frying pan well over high heat. Add oil, and tilt pan to coat bottom. Add ham cubes and sautée until they start to take on a bit of colour. Add cubed chicken, and stir well, but don't allow chicken to brown. Add the onion, celery, green pepper and jalapeño, and stir.

Cook until the onion turns nicely translucent, then add the garlic, Tabasco sauce, and spices. Stir well. Stir in the orange/red bell pepper pieces and the okra until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the (uncooked) rice, making sure that each grain gets well coated by the juices in the pan. Add the chicken stock/broth and stir again, making sure that the rice grains are all submerged. Bring up to a gentle simmer.

Turn heat to very low, cover pan, and cook for 25 minutes, stirring gently once at the ten minute mark. If it seems a little dry, you may wish to add a bit more water at this point, too. If you want to go crazy and add some raw shrimp, this is also the time to do it, at the ten (or, for small shrimp, fifteen) minute mark. Garnish with a little sliced green onion, if you like, and lots of black pepper. Pass the hot sauce.

Obviously, you can switch out the proteins however you like best: smoked sausage, turkey or duck meat, rabbit, venison sausage, shrimp, oysters, alligator, crawfish, or the classic, tasso (spiced ham) for serious points. You can increase or decrease the meat(s) and the amount of vegetables, depending on your taste or what you need to use up - this is a great way to use up extra bell peppers that might be lurking in your fridge.

August 19, 2011

Ham Rotini Casserole

This is one of those dishes that grew out of a sudden desire for a creamy pasta, which is actually a pretty common occurrence in my household. In this case, there was also a coincidental need to use up some yoghurt. For some reason, ham seemed to be the perfect thing to tie it all together, since I wasn't feeling particularly in a stroganoff-y mood. Originally there were supposed to be mushrooms, as well (some creminis which also needed using up), but I completely forgot about them until I was putting the pan into the oven, and it was simply too late.

The sauce is very creamy, and a little cheesy without feeling like a cheese pasta, perhaps because the yoghurt gives it a little tanginess that cuts through the richness. While this is no health food item, with salty ham and rich yoghurt, it is still better for you than most big ol' plates of pasta at a casual restaurant, so that's some additional comfort for a comfort food dinner.

Ham Rotini Casserole
Serves 4

200 grams rotini
125 grams boneless cooked ham, diced
1 2/3 cups 1% Milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon chicken base (such as Better than Bouillon)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese
1 cup plain, thick yoghurt (such as Liberte Mediterranee)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (230 degrees C). Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the rotini according to the package directions (until it is just a little underdone).

In a large skillet, melt butter and stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk, bouillon paste, salt, garlic, and pepper. Stir all together and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat; add ham cubes, cheese and yoghurt. Stir until cheese is melted. Add the drained pasta, and stir through to combine. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Optional topping: Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in saucepan and stir in breadcrumbs and some finely chopped parsley. Sprinkle crumb mixture over casserole before baking. I was totally going to do that, but then (again) completely forgot. Seems to have been my day for forgetting things.

I debated trying to shoe-horn some vegetable matter into the casserole, but in the end decided that it really wanted to be a very simple sort of dish rather than a one pot meal (as fond of those as I am). I decided in the end to make a tossed green salad with rather a lot of chopped veggies in it - cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, tomatoes, etc., partly to make up for the indulgence of the pasta, but mostly to give dinner a little freshness and crunchiness, both things that don't exactly go with the creamy hammy territory.

This dish was immediately voted "into the book", about two bites into dinner. The next time I've got some yoghurt to use up, I'll definitely be thinking of this one.

August 15, 2011

Meatballs: Pork & Turkey edition

I wasn't originally planning to post these, I just wanted some meatballs. However, after they turned out rather well (Palle suggested that they are the best meatballs I've ever made), and since I did kind of scribble down the proportions as I was going along, and since it turns out they are equally delicious cold (hello, bento!), I decided to share them.

I don't make meatballs or meatloaf very often, but I do like them rather a lot, as a main course unto themselves, as part of a pasta dish, as a little protein add-on to a salady sort of meal, or as a sandwich filling. Not to mention the "on a little toothpick" hors d'oeurves application.

The meatball matrix is pretty simple: ground meat(s) of your choice, seasoning, binder, corrector, and featured ingredient (if any). These meatballs are half lean ground pork and half ground turkey breast (hence the pale colour, in case you were wondering), seasoned with salt and pepper, fresh garlic, whole fennel seed, fresh parsley, and ground oregano, bound with egg, corrected with panko, and featuring finely chopped roasted red peppers and green onions.

As with hamburger and meatloaf making, one of the keys to great texture is to avoid over-mixing or over-compressing of the meat, and that means that the best tool for the job is your impeccably clean fingers. Don't be afraid to get right in there - you will have much better distribution of ingredients that way. I am also a fan of putting everything but the meat into a mixing bowl, giving it a bit of a stir with a fork (to break up the egg), and then separating the ground meat into little clumps with my fingers and dropping the bits on top of the rest of the mixture. Once all of the meat is aerated and added to the bowl, I get my fingers in there and toss it like a salad, to avoid the aforementioned over-compression. Once everything is nicely combined, I begin shaping the meatballs. This method works wonderfully for any time you are mixing ground meats.

Pork & Turkey Meatballs
Makes 12 large meatballs

450 grams lean ground turkey
375 grams ground pork
1 large egg
1 whole roasted red pepper (such as Piquillos)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup panko-style bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all of the ingredients as described in the paragraph above, separating the meat into chunks, and then mixing in the rest of the components. Fry up a tiny nub of meat until cooked through, and taste to see if you need to adjust the ingredients - more salt or fennel seed, for example. Correct the seasoning as needed.

Place, spaced out, in a 9x13" glass baking dish. Sprinkle each ball with a little Worcestershire sauce. Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes - they should be just golden brown. Use a spoon to trim any "spill" of liquid into the pan, as you lift them out, once they are cooked through. If you want a slightly browner meatball, you may wish to brush them with a little soy sauce half way through, but note that this does add a bit of extra saltiness, too. Low sodium soy sauce might be your best choice, there.

You can fry these up on the stovetop, too, of course, although the meat mixture is quite moist, and you are likely to get misshapen meatballs for your extra effort. I highly recommend the baking/roasting method - the balls keep their shape, and you can spend the time that you would have been tending to the meatballs to do something else.

As mentioned above, these are great hot (for example, beside a nice polenta, or a potato-and-vegetable salad, or cold, in your bento (beside...a potato-and-vegetable salad, perhaps...)
If you're planning to make a meatball sandwich, you'll want to have a little sauce, I'm guessing. If you have a stash of leftover sauce in the freezer, this is a great use for it. Otherwise, you can either make a simple sauce from scratch, or purchase one. Warm the sauce together with the meatballs, if you are starting with cold, pre-cooked meatballs. You may want to toast up the bun, too, to add to structural integrity of the sandwich, given how damp even a thick tomato sauce can be. If you want to make your bread garlic bread, I'm certainly all in favour of that. I tend to use Portuguese buns, because I can get good ones in my neighbourhood.
These ones don't really look cooked, but they are - they're from the same batch as the bento shown above.. This is a flaw in the lighting/photography rather than the meatballs themselves, though. Of course, pork and turkey are very light-coloured meats, and I didn't do the extra browning step.

August 11, 2011

Garlic Scape Pesto

Ah, the special treats of summer that truly are still seasonal! Seize them when you can, or wait a full year for another taste.

I encountered garlic scapes last summer, in my friend Willie's garden. He had us over to dinner, and, after remarkably little slave labour helping to pick the scapes, served us some of his famous handmade fettuccine with garlic scape pesto. He also gave us a giant bag of garlic scapes to take home and play with ourselves.

Unfortunately for all of us, the scapes had gotten a bit on the large size, with the attendant increase in fibrousness. We had to discard a certain amount of each scape, and had to sieve the two dishes that we made - a simple pesto to top pork tenderloin pintxos, and a cream soup. The flavour was wonderful, but lordy, was it work.

This year, we were fortunate to receive scapes again, younger ones this time, from our bacon-curing friend, Rodney. They were much thinner and shorter, and considerably more tender, despite having spent some quality time in the fridge before we got around to using them. We went with pesto on fettuccine, because we liked it so much the first time. This pesto recipe was likely a bit different from the first one we had, but it turned out very well. We used fresh fettuccine from The Ravioli Store, because it is lovely stuff.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Serves 4 - 6

1 cup garlic scapes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground almonds
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese

Place the finely chopped scapes into a blender or small food processor, along with the almonds and basil. Pulse a couple of times, then add the salt and olive oil. Pulse and then puree until smooth. Taste it, and see if it wants the lemon juice. If so, add the juice and pulse it through. If you are going to freeze some of the pesto, put that portion aside now. If you are using it right away, stir in the cheese and you are good to go: Add to freshly cooked, drained pasta, dab onto any savory appetizer, really, or use as a pizza sauce (that's the likely fate of the bit that's in the freezer, actually). You can also stir it into a soup (white bean, for example...ooh, now I want to try that!), or as a sandwich spread, or use it pretty much as you would use any other pesto.

August 07, 2011

Sour Cherry Soup (Hideg Meggyleves)

Revenge is not the only thing that is best served cold.

When I was visiting Hungary in 1995, I fell in love with Sour Cherry Soup. It was late July, and it was about 40℃, and I was playing air-conditioning bingo on my excursions around Budapest. I ate a lot of ice cream, and tried to figure out ways to stay cool.

Fortunately for me, I was able to connect with a former co-worker and his wife, both Hungarian Canadians, who had come home for a visit at the same time I was there. With the bonus of interpreters of both language and culture, I found myself in destinations I might not have otherwise found (caving, for example, and also some peculiarly situated wine bars), and eating and drinking things that might not have otherwise caught my eye. Sour cherry soup was a revelation for not only deliciousness, but also for its cooling properties. It was served primarily as an appetizer course, but I imagine it would do just fine for dessert, as it is on the sweet side.

I am sad to report that I misplaced my original recipe for Meggyleves - I've been making it ever since I got back to Canada, although not necessarily frequently. I've consulted the internet extensively, and cobbled together from (prompted) memory just how the version that I first made goes. I do put in less sugar these days - and I may like it all the more. I'm pretty happy with this version, so it's going in the black binder, so I don't lose it again.

You do need good sour cherries, Morellos for preference. Fresh, also, for preference. I'm given to understand that pitting or not pitting is up to the cook, but I generally pit mine (unless the cherries are likely to fall apart). When I saw these at the Farmers' Market last week, I knew just what to do:

Hideg Meggyleves (Cold Sour Cherry Soup)

Serves 6 - 8 as an appetizer

1 lb. fresh morello cherries, pitted
1 cup good red wine*
3 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
2 clove buds
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached flour, shaken with 1/3 cup water
3 - 4 strips of lemon zest
1/2 cup whipping cream

Bring the cherries, half the wine, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, lemon zest, and water to a boil, and allow to simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add the slurry of flour and water, and stir through, heating until the soup just starts to boil a little (this will thicken the texture slightly). Add the rest of the wine, bring back to a gentle simmer, and let cook over a gentle heat for another 20 minutes.

Remove the spices and lemon zest, and allow the soup to cool before refrigerating. You can force-cool it by adding an ice pack (sealed in a bag) straight into the soup. This works even faster along with a cold water bath, and moving the soup out of the cooking pot to a large bowl or soups tureen.

Once the soup is cool enough, refrigerate until quite cold.

Stir in the cream, and serve. If you like, you can also add a splash of brandy or sherry before serving. In the picture above, I've sprinkled the soup with cinnamon, but frankly, it doesn't need it.

I'm told by a Romanian-born co-worker that a similar soup is also made using tart apples. I can only imagine how good that must be - in fact, I may need to try it. I think I would use Granny Smiths and a crisp white wine with floral notes, which would make it a little bit similar to a pork tenderloin dish from Normandy.

* A brief note about the wine: You don't want a tannic Shiraz here, or a jammy Merlot. Go for brighter wines, such as a nice Zinfandel (such as Cline or Ravenswood), a Chianti, Barbera d'Alba, or Carmenere. You don't need a fancy wine, but you want one that you will enjoy, because the flavour comes through quite strongly.

August 06, 2011

Azifa - Ethiopian Lentil Salad

Last year, I was surprised and irritated to discover one of my photos (from the era before I labeled them) was being reproduced all around the internet. Half of my irritation was at the (uncredited) misappropriation of my photo, and half was that it was being wrongly used - it wasn't Azifa at all. The photo had been taken from my old website (linked here)(Update: link has now expired, but you can find the original recipes in the comments below); there are two recipes on the original page - one for the delicious Ethiopian lentil salad called Azifa, and the other was an also fabulous Turkish lentil salad (which I believe translates as yeşil mercimek salatasi). There was only one photo, though: the Turkish salad. The photo had been mercilessly hijacked and propagated with the wrong recipe attached (or versions thereof). I figured the tomatoes in the original photo would be a dead giveaway as to which salad was pictured, but no - it turned up on a number of recipe collection sites and even once on the menu of an Ethiopian restaurant. To the best of my knowledge, those copies have now been taken down.

So now, years after posting the original article on two versions of a green lentil salad, and while I'm in a sort of mood of re-addressing old favourites, I thought I would finally give Azifa a photograph of its own. It may not be the prettiest or most colourful salad, but it is delicious! Do check out the comments of this post for the recipe - it's a fine summer dish, especially with a glass of crisp white wine, or a hoppy IPA. It also packs well for lunches (and bento!) and makes a great pita stuffer, but it also pairs beautifully with grilled salmon, or lemony yassa.

Here's a different picture, from a different batch, with different lighting:

July 31, 2011

Mango Chile Lime Paletas

Unlike the rest of North America, Summer still hasn't really arrived in Vancouver. We get occasional days where it feels like Summer is actually here, but for the most part, we are having cooler than usual temperatures, frequent rain, and even more frequently, cloud cover. Today has started off with cloud cover, and will apparently become at least partially sunny, with a whopping 21 degrees by later today.

Yesterday, however, was the real deal. Hot, sunny, and gorgeous blue skies. Perfect for a day of taking in the local festival in the park, going to the Farmer's Market (early, because I'm no fool), and lounging around on a patio eating barbeque. Also, a perfect day for Mexican popsicles, or paletas.

Paletas are essentially frozen fruit bars. They are easy to make, and they put to shame any sort of frozen juice on a stick that seems to be the mainstay of the homemade popsicle above this latitude.

Mango Chile Lime Paletas

2 medium to large Ataulfo mangos
2 tablespoons agave syrup/nectar (or honey)
1 Lime (juice only) - use two if your limes aren't very juicy)
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 cup cold water

Peel, pit & dice the mangos. In a blender or food processor (I use my mini-prep bowl that came with my immersion blender), add all of the ingredients and blend until perfectly smoothly pureed. Add a little more water if you need to. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze for a minimum of 3 hours.

I am currently thinking about experimenting with adding coconut milk, because I think that would be awesome. If successful, a report will follow...

July 26, 2011

Chicken Gold

This isn't a recipe, it's...well, it's kind of a secret. But, oh! It shouldn't be! It didn't used to be.

This is the dripping from a roast chicken. I roast my chickens in a cast iron skillet, and after the chicken comes out of the pan to rest (before carving), there's a lot of fatty liquid left behind. After the chicken has rested, and been carved, and after dinner has been finished and the plates cleared away, I do two things:

1) I take any remaining chicken meat off of the bones, and stash it in the fridge for future uses (I usually have at least a couple already in mind). The bones themselves generally go in the freezer, wrapped, to make chicken stock, if I have the room to store them.

2) I pour the liquid from under the chicken (on its carving plate) into a small, lidded container, and pour the dripping from the skillet on top of that.

The container sits innocuously on the counter until I have finished cleaning the skillet and tidying up, and by then the liquid will have magically separated out into the two layers you can (kind of) see above. I put a lid on it, label it with a sticky note, and pop it into the fridge.

Within a couple of hours, the fatty layer, which has risen to the top, becomes solid. This can be scraped off and discarded, if you are the sort of person who is frightened of a little chicken fat, or it can be used culinarily to make the best darn stew-dumplings you've ever had, or to roast up a gorgeous pan of Brussels sprouts, or even simply to fry up potatoes. But I digress. The fat is a valuable culinary ingredient, although I know not everyone in this fat-wary age is inclined to make use of it.

Underneath that layer of fat, however, is the true chicken gold. This is the distilled chickeny goodness that contains a wonderfully dense chicken flavour, as well as a rich, collagen-heavy texture. It sets up like aspic and, since the fat has risen to the surface where it can be removed, it is virtually fat free.

Think of it as a sort of chicken demi-glace. You can add it to darn near anything that needs a little punch of chicken flavour. You can save several chickens' worth and make the best chicken gravy you can possibly imagine (great with fried chicken), or dole it out by the spoonful to add a little fabulous to each soup, stew or pot pie. Diluted with a little water, it makes a beautiful, cloudless chicken broth.

Most excellently, you don't have to use it up all that promptly. The fat perfectly seals in the chicken gold and protects it from freezer burn as you stack up the little containers in the freezer (assuming you haven't just decided to use it the very next night). Once frozen, you can also slice the fatty part away from the concentrated juices, but I find it easier to just let it defrost, and scrape away as needed.

Even a generic, supermarket-type of chicken gives off excellent chicken gold, but it you go the extra mile and get a tasty organic or naturally raised bird, the results can be truly exceptional. Don't let it go to waste: you'd be pouring gold into the trash bin.

July 22, 2011

Sesame Peanut Noodles

I've made this dish before. I've even posted about it before (see post). Hmmm, that must mean that it's actually summer, not that you can tell from the weather. Still, this salad is delicious no matter what the weather.

This is a Nigella recipe, and it really only needs minor tweaks to suit my needs. You can see the official version of the recipe here, and my version below.

The first time I made this dish, I added some chicken to round it out as a meal, but in all honesty, it doesn't need anything added to it. It does make a lovely side dish, though, so if you've got a few skewers of shrimp on the grill and you're looking for a low-maintenance make-ahead side, this is definitely a great place to start.

Sesame Peanut Noodles
Adapted from Nigella Express, by Nigella Lawson

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (or sriracha)
100 grams smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey (use agave syrup for vegan)

125 grams snow peas, sliced thinly, diagonally
1 red pepper, julienned
125 grams zucchini, julienned
2 green onions, finely sliced
500 grams Chinese-style steam noodles

Toasted sesame seeds

Directions are almost superfluous, here. Slice the vegetables, cook the noodles, and drain them, shocking them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Combine the dressing ingredients and beat until smooth, and then toss the noodles, the vegetables, and the dressing together.

You can vary the vegetables, of course. I replaced the bean sprouts in the original with julienned zucchini, and now I can't imagine making it any other way. Using a variety of peppers might add an extra splash of colour, too - combine red, yellow, and orange pepper strips for a little extra visual punch. Radish or jicama strips might also go nicely in here.

Having made this a couple of times, it should be said that you simply must use your hands to effectively combine everything. in the final assembly stage, otherwise, no matter how big your bowl and how dextrous your fork-handling, you will not get the dressing and vegetables properly integrated throughout the noodles. With fingers, though - quick business.

Another note is regarding peanut butter: use the very best tasting peanut butter, please. This is not the way to use up what my family calls "dried up wrinkly old" peanut butter, aka the desiccated natural peanut butter in the bottom of the jar, which I did in my last posting of this recipe. I'm currently raving about Nuts to You smooth organic peanut butter, which is by far the best I've ever tasted (plus, it has an awesome ingredient list: peanuts). Everything I make with that peanut butter is somehow amazing!

The salad travels well for lunches, too, although it seems to like a little extra soy sauce to perk it up a bit.

July 18, 2011

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese: smarter than the box

When Kraft came out with its plan to add cauliflower to boxed Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, to my non-Canadian readers), it seemed like a good idea, even if I'm not a big supporter of Kraft generally. It's nothing new, in one sense, as clever parents have been pureeing vegetables and hiding them in pasta dishes for a very long time. Plus, cauliflower and cheese go so very well together, and macaroni and cheese go so very well together, so getting all three into the pot together seems fairly sensible.

The Kraft Canada website advises that there is a half-serving of vegetables in each helping (ie. recommended serving size of 50 grams, or 3/4 cup prepared) of "KD Smart." The vegetable content therefore seems pretty minimal, for all of the fuss - Yoni Freedhoff at Weighty Matters does a nutritional comparison of the "smart" version against the original product, with scathing commentary highlighting (amongst other things) the extra sodium, saturated fat, and sugar that it apparently takes to make this product.

To revisit the idea that cauliflower, cheese, and pasta should all get along, you don't need to go with a heavily processed product. You need cauliflower. It's even easy! You simply add (finely) chopped up cauliflower to the noodles in the last few minutes of their cooking time, whatever recipe you are using, and carry on. If you are determined to use a boxed macaroni, you can still add cauliflower yourself, for much lower cost and greater benefit. The absolute minimum benefit is that you can add a lot more cauliflower to each plate without having to increase the amount of cheese sauce you're using (try it - unless you're adding an entire head of cauliflower, there should be enough sauce). You can certainly make sure you're getting more than a mere half-serving of cauliflower.

Yeah, you can see (and, to a degree, taste) the cauliflower. Cauliflower is good! It's even better with cheese! You can have a larger portion of the dish because it has a lot of vegetable mass mixed right in. Because cauliflower's white surface picks up the colour of the cheese, it's a very satisfying plate to look at - even though you know there's cauliflower in there, it looks - to the quick glance, if your pieces are small enough - just like a big ol' plate of cheesy pasta.

I made this using an all-cheddar version of my Skillet Macaroni & Cheese aka "Evapomac" recipe (see recipe here). It made four generous helpings - one each for the two of us at dinner, with roasted asparagus for bonus veggie points, and one each for lunch the following day. I used about four cups of finely chopped cauliflower (half a large head), so it was well over a "serving" of cauliflower in each portion. I didn't add extra cheese or milk or anything to stretch the sauce, and I didn't need to.

This version is not really all that sneaky. You can see the cauliflower, and you can taste it, although the cheese is the dominant flavour. If you really hate cauliflower, this is not going to work for you. You could also use broccoli, but because broccoli is a little bitter, you might want to blanche it separately first, which is more work, albeit not by much. You could also use some leftover roasted cauliflower, which would likely be a little sweeter from the roasting process, and might taste a little less like the brassica vegetable that it is. If you're sensitive to the somewhat bitter aftertaste of the cabbage family, that might be the way to go.

So, thanks for the idea, Kraft. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to try adding cauliflower to my mac and cheese before. I'm not going to buy your product, but I'm going to totally run with this idea. I may not add cauliflower every time I make my macaroni and cheese, but I'm definitely adding it to the options.

July 16, 2011

Butter Chicken Revisited

I first posted about butter chicken a few years ago (see link). Butter chicken is probably the single most popular dish in Indian restaurants in Vancouver, which is actually a little bit sad, because it means that almost every restaurant (don't worry, I do know there are exceptions) feels the need to keep one on the menu, however indifferent to it they might be. I've had a fair number of wretched ones, and almost never order it out, anymore. The good news is that it is a very easy dish to make, although the recipe looks a bit daunting. Some of that is the list of ingredients, but in all fairness most of those are spices.

I've updated and streamlined my recipe since the original one was posted on my old, non-blog recipe site (here).

Butter Chicken (2011)

Serves 4 - 6
Total Prep & Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes

8 boneless, skinless raw chicken thighs
2 tablespoons hot tandoori masala
14.5 oz / 398 ml can diced tomatoes, with juices
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 bay leaves
1 inch of ginger root, peeled
3 large cloves of garlic
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons natural cashew butter (unsalted)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
cilantro to garnish optional

Sprinkle tandoori masala evenly on both sides of the skinless chicken pieces and let them rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare and measure out all ingredients ahead of time: this is not a chop-as-you-go endeavour. Use little bowls or plates to get organized. Items that are added at the same time can be put in the same bowl.

Ginger, garlic and onions can be finely ground together in a blender or food processor. You want them very finely minced, but not completely pureed. Scrape down the sides as necessary, to ensure a fine texture. Remove to a bowl, so they're ready to add when needed. Puree the tomatoes separately, with their liquid, and put them in a separate bowl (an immersion blender works well for this.

Heat the butter and oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat, until the butter is melted and the pan is hot. Add the bay leaves, the onion/ginger/garlic paste, and fry, stirring often, until golden brown and all water has evaporated. Don't let it burn. Add the tomato puree, chile powder, salt and sugar, and fry until the water has all evaporated and the oil separates out into shiny orange-y droplets. This can take up to 10 minutes, so be patient and stir a lot. The mixture will be quite thick, almost dry.

Add the cashew paste and continue to stir and fry another few seconds, and then add the milk and water slowly, stirring the whole time, and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. The sauce should be thick and almost custard-y in texture. You can always add more water later, if needed.

When the sauce has come to a boil, turn the burner to low. Shake any excess tandoori masala from the chicken, and slide the pieces gently into the pan, and spoon the sauce over each piece. Cover and simmer very gently for 25 minutes (you can also do this in the oven at 350℉, if you need the stovetop), stirring half-way through. Remove the chicken pieces carefully from the sauce and roughly chop the meat into large bite-sized pieces. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and stir into the sauce. Over medium heat, add the cream and garam masala, and cook for a further 5 minutes, until heated through. Garnish with cilantro, if you like.

I should also note that the sauce freezes beautifully, should you have any left (or if you only have a smaller amount of chicken - you can still make the whole recipe of suace, and then freeze the leftover). When you want to use it, simply defrost and heat in a skillet, slide more masala-rubbed chicken into it, simmer, and serve. Just like one of those ready-to-use sauces, but at a fraction of the cost, and much, much better.

The sauce on its own would make a pretty awesome pizza sauce, don't you think? Leftover chicken can also be mixed with rice and vegetables (curry-roasted cauliflower, for example) and wrapped in a roti or tortilla as a freezer-friendly stash of homemade goodness.

While not strictly correct, I've also had good luck substituting quality peanut butter for the cashew butter. I'm currently very impressed by the Nuts To You organic smooth peanut butter (unsalted), which may be the best I've ever had.

June 26, 2011

International Bento (India): Cauliflower & Green Bean Korma

It's bento time again! This is a big bento box for a big appetite. It's sleek, matte black, and has a built in storage compartment for your chopsticks as part of the lid in the airtight top section. We call it the Ninja Bento Box, for obvious reasons. This bento was packed after the curry had cooled, so the sauce looks thicker than it really is when it is freshly made or re-heated.

I was surprised to realize that I hadn't actually done an Indian bento yet. While this is one of the simplest types of bentos imaginable - an inelegant arrangement of leftovers, really: some rice on one side (basmati, of course - not only appropriate to the cuisine, but also our default rice), and vegetable korma on the other.

The korma recipe is one that I have posted previously here, back in 2006. I haven't changed it much, except that I now often remove the cardamom seeds from the pods before throwing them into the pan, so that I don't need to fish them out later, and I puree the sauce before adding the featured ingredient. This korma was simply trimmed and sliced green beans, and cauliflower florets, thrown in at the point where one would usually add chicken or tender lamb. You can use any vegetable you like, of course, such as this version here from 2007, which included chickpeas, broccoli, bell pepper, carrots, and homemade paneer. The sauce is just that versatile - it can be meaty, vegetably, or some combination depending on your whim (or the state of your fridge).

Cauliflower takes to curry like the proverbial duck to water. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of curry, perhaps because cauliflower is such a mellow flavour to begin with, but it soaks up any sauce you put it in like it was especially designed to do so, and it doesn't suffer from significant texture loss when you re-heat it, which is a real bonus for packing up the leftovers as lunch.

I was a little startled to discover that I've been making this recipe regularly for five years now. It's my go-to when I want a homemade curry but don't have the energy or adventurousness to try something new or tricky, or if I'm just in the mood for something dependably comforting.

June 22, 2011

Mango Chili Chicken

This was one of the best dishes so far out of Cook This, Not That!, which I reviewed on my other blog at the end of last year. It has earned its way onto rotation, in fact. I've tweaked a few things: added garlic, changed the cooking order - no one wants overcooked peas, and even moments count.

This comes together pretty fast, so set the rice to cook before you get started. Alternatively, you could also serve this over flat, wide rice noodles, in which case simply get a pot of water on the boil so that you can quickly cook the noodles once the dish is ready.

Mango Chile Chicken

Serves 4
Total Prep and Cooking Time: 20 minutes

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Ataulfo mango, peeled and diced
1 inch fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium red onion (sliced or diced, as you prefer)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
2 to 3 cups sugar snap peas
2 garlic cloves

Combine soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch in a medium mixing bowl, and stir until smooth. Trim any fat from the chicken, and cut into large chunks - usually two to three pieces per thigh. Add the chicken to the soy mixture, stir well, and allow it to rest while you prepare the vegetables.

Peel and dice the mango, and set aside. Chop the onion and the ginger, and clean the snap peas. Dry the snap peas thoroughly, and remove their strings and tails. Leave the pods whole, or cut in half on a steep angle.

In a large, non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add half of the chicken to the pan in a single layer. Let cook without moving the pieces for 30 seconds, then add the remaining chicken in the spaces around the first pieces. Allow to cook for a further 30 seconds undisturbed, then stir through. Let cook undisturbed again another 30 seconds to a minute, depending on the size of the pieces. If there is any marinade left in the bowl, throw it into the pan now.

Add the dry pea pods and stir fry for a minute or two. Push the chicken and peas to the sides of the pan, and add the onion, ginger and garlic to the middle Stir fry the onions briefly, then stir throughout the chicken pieces, and continue to stir fry until the onion starts to become translucent (a couple of minutes). Add a splash of water if it starts sticking (at any time). Add the diced mango and the sambal oelek, and stir just until the mango is warmed through. Serve over rice.

If you happen to have a few of those feisty little Thai chiles, you can add a minced chile to the initial sesame-soy marinade, too. Or, you could slice one into a pretty star shape and let it curl up attractively in a bowl of cold water and use it as a garnish. Hey, I'm just sayin'.

June 09, 2011

Quick Pickled Red Onions

I fell in love with these in Mexico. They came with tacos, on tortas, with meltingly tender cochinita pibil, and elegantly draped over poc chuc. It seems, in fact, to be an essential condiment in the Yucatan, nearly as ever-present as the fiery fresh green salsas (oh, if only we had a source for fresh green habaneros, here).

We discovered just how easy it is to make this dish last summer, just in time for our friend Rodney's barbeque. We got rained on a little that evening, since it is Vancouver, after all, and the weather delights in being contrary, but we had some wonderful food. Our grillable of the evening was a red recado-rubbed pork tenderloin and some buns to make ad hoc tortas. And the onions, of course: a great massive jar of them.

The recipe comes from Daniel Hoyer's lovely book "Mayan Cuisine". The first time we made it, we followed the recipe as slavishly as possible, to wonderful results. The most recent batch was adjusted based on both past experience (there is rather too much red onion mass for the amount of liquid, although that may be partly due to the vagueness of calling for three "large" onions). I also had some orange habaneros in dire need of using, so I sliced one up. All in all, I was really pleased with the pantry-ready version that I put together based on Mr. Hoyer's more traditionally authentic recipe.

Pickled Red Onions & Habaneros
adapted from Mayan Cuisine, by Daniel Hoyer

1 cup apple cider vinegar
Juice of one lime
Juice of one orange, plus water to make 1/2 cup (if needed)
1 clove garlic, quartered part-way through
1 teaspoon allspice berries
2 teaspoons black pepppercorns
4 cloves
1 2" stick cinnamon
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups finely sliced red onion
1 to 2 sliced, deseeded habaneros

Pack the onions, garlic and habaneros in a clean glass canning jar (sterilized would be best, otherwise, microwave half-full of water for a couple of minutes, and then carefully empty).

Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, and allow to simmer (covered, to prevent volume reduction) for seven minutes. Pour the hot liquid, spices and all, over the onions, making sure that all of the onions are covered with liquid. Cover loosely, and allow to cool until room temperature, then cap tightly and refrigerate. As they cool, the onions and the liquid slowly turn a bright, festive pink. They will be ready to eat in a few hours. Use up within a few weeks.

Please note that this is a "fresh pickle", and not a preserved pickle. While the acidity and salt should help slow down any unfriendly biological growth in your refrigerated pickles, it is not designed for long storage. Please look up canning safety information if you wish to put up these pickles in a pantry shelf-stable manner.

These also made a super topping for a veggie burger recipe that I'm working on (hopefully more on that soon), and a pretty good hotdog garnish, too.

June 06, 2011

One Pan Chicken Dinner meets Cholula Chili Garlic Sauce

This dinner really needs another name. Maybe a fancier name. One Pan Chicken Dinner is tediously descriptive - you only need one pan, and it has chicken in it, along with the other components that make up the dinner. It really is good, solid, everyday cooking, though, so perhaps it should keep its workman-like name.

Clean up, it should be said, is fairly easy. In fact, the whole darn thing is easy! Choose the flavour profile you want to base your dinner on, and then season up your chicken parts accordingly (and your vegetable parts, too). Mexican flavours are always a good choice, but so are Indian, Italian, and Moroccan. Place your (bone in) chicken parts in the corners of your dish (you can line the dish with foil for even easier clean up, but any large baking dish or edged cookie tray will do. The more you're making, the bigger the tray you will need, obviously.

As I am continuing to work my way through the Cholula Hot Sauces that were sent to me, it was time to give the Chili Garlic variation a try, and push the dish slightly Mexican. Love chiles, love garlic, love both on chicken, so it was a good bet that I'd like the sauce. I was also pleased to see that the ingredient list didn't have any unexpectedly peculiar additions.

Tasting the sauce straight up, I found it to be flavourful, and very simple. It's fairly mild, as hot sauces go, certainly milder tasting than the classic Cholula. This makes it rather multi-purpose - I can see it being used to zest up all manner of dips and sauces - where I add chile, I'm also liable to add garlic, so there are likely many uses for this one, both in the cooking stages and the finishing stages.

In this instance, I painted the chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) with the Cholula Chili Garlic sauce before putting the pan in the oven. At that point, there was really only the chicken, the chunks of sweet potato, and the mushrooms in the dish. The chicken is baked at 400℉ for 45 minutes, so more delicate vegetables, such as the cauliflower and zucchini, were added later. The cauliflower was tossed with a little vegetable oil, salt, and ground cumin, which played nicely with the hot sauce. It was added half way through the cooking process, at which point I also re-lacquered the chicken with Cholula.

At the end, when the chicken came out of the oven, it got a final coat (each additional coat was from a fresh brush, of course; I have no desire to court cross-contamination in my kitchen). The zucchini could have used a turn part way through, but that didn't happen; what you can't see, though, is that bottom sides of those pale zucchini chunks were all golden brown and delicious. The excess chicken fat runs off of the thighs and spreads through the bottom of the dish, touching each vegetable with a rich kiss of chicken-y goodness. You can use whatever vegetables you like, of course, providing they are good roasters. I frequently use yellow potatoes, brussels sprouts, whole garlic cloves, carrot chunks, fennel bulb quarters, and even turnips or parsnips. Whatever roasting-friendly veggies you have in your crisper will do. Add them based on the required cooking time, of course.

The chicken was very tasty, in its crisp, crackling armour of hot sauce. It retained enough of the garlic flavour to be noticed, and went beautifully with the cumin-y cauliflower and the chunks of sweet potato. I would definitely do this one again.

June 01, 2011

Polenta Fries

A revelation in the side dish arsenal! Not a potato fan? To lazy to clean up the mess from deep-frying? Sure, they take a little advance planning (you need to make the polenta ahead, and let it chill) but they are deliciously different from the usual burger and barbeque accompaniments. The outside turns delicate brown (or striped, if you're patient enough to use a grill or grill pan), and the insides are creamy and delicate. Plus, unlike french fries, you can make extra and re-heat them without feeling sorry for yourself. If you're not keen on the inherent finger-food qualities of the fry/soldier shape, feel free to leave your polenta servings in large squares and grill them up that way.

Parmesan Polenta Fries

1 cup yellow cornmeal (coarse)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
90 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream (light is fine)
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
dash of ground white pepper
canola or olive oil spray

Bring water and stock to a boil. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly for ten minutes. (Start with a whisk, then switch to a silicone spatula as it thickens). When you set your whisk aside, it helps to be able to soak it in water right away, for easy clean up later.

After 10 minutes, remove from the heat. Add sour cream and stir until smooth. Add chives and pepper, and stir again. Add the grated parmesan in small handfuls until it is all mixed in, stirring all the while (I use the coarse side of a four-sided grater to grate all that cheese - it's faster and works nicely). Pour immediately into a 9 x 13 pan sprayed lightly with cooking spray, and spread to make an even layer (quickly, before it sets up). Refrigerate until cool and firm (or overnight). Make sure you don't cover it with plastic until it is completely cold, or condensation will wreak havoc on the texture.

Once ready to make the fries, lift the polenta block out of the pan and onto a sheet of waxed paper. Cut the block into thirds, cross-wise, then cut lengthwise into 10 equal slices (so you have a total of 30 fries). Spritz the pieces lightly with cooking spray. In a pre-heated grill pan (or a non-stick skillet), lay the fries down with a little room between each. Grill until they have nice grill marks, then flip to the other side, and repeat until all sides are done.

May 30, 2011

Lemon Ginger Muffins

Muffins are a very rewarding thing to make. They don't take very long to mix up or to bake, they don't generally have a long list of ingredients, and they deliver a satisfying portable munchable that works for breakfast, lunches, snacks, etc. Best of all, they don't require a sophisticated technique in order to turn out great.

These Lemon Ginger Muffins were developed because I had some milk to use up, and a lemon that was starting to soften. At the very last minute, I remembered that I had some extra Apple Crisp topping in the fridge, so I decided to sprinkle it over the unbaked muffins to make a streusel-type finish.

Lemon Ginger Muffins

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

1 lemon, zest and juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup 2% milk (minus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup pure canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons light sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Grease the bottoms only of a 12-cup regular sized muffin tin (or spritz with canola spray).

Mix the milk, sour cream, and lemon juice, and let stand.

Peel the yellow zest from the lemon using a vegetable peeler (long strips). Put the lemon zest pieces into a food processor with the sugar, and pulse until the zest is finely chopped into the sugar. Add the egg, oil, vanilla, and milk, processing after each addition until smooth.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ginger. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the contents of the food processor in all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until any dry bits are gone. Don't worry about small lumps, though, the batter doesn't need to be smooth. Divide the batter between muffin cups. If you like sprinkle a teaspoon of streusel topping over each muffin before baking.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes. Let stand in pan for five minutes, then run a knife blade around the edges to loosen each muffin so that you can remove them to wire racks for cooling.

Store cooled muffins in a sealable container in the fridge to keep them fresh. You can also wrap them individually in plastic and freeze. Reheating a muffin for 10 seconds in the microwave works beautifully, and makes them taste oven-fresh, or as we say "freshly killed".

This was a definite winner. I'll be making them again.

May 21, 2011

Hot Sauce! (Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner)

Oh, hot sauce. At any given time, my fridge holds anywhere from six to thirty hot sauces. It's really my go-to condiment (closely followed by mustard), and it can be used in oh-so-many different applications, from deep in the cooking process to the finishing flare, to the rescue of deeply questionable take-out.

The four lovely hot sauces that you see above were sent to me recently by the good folks at Cholula, who either stumbled upon my blog post in '06 for our Hot Sauce Tasting Party, which featured Original Cholula as the third sauce in the line-up, or they saw my back-in-the-day essay extolling the virtues of hot sauce. Either way, a quick glance at this blog undoubtedly suggests that I'd be interested in trying the new flavours, and rightly so! I was pleased to accept the offer, since I already like and buy the original Cholula hot sauce.

One of the reasons that I stock Cholula Original in my fridge is that it is a very versatile sauce, adding a little zip (it's not too hot) and has a pleasantly peppery, yet neutrally "Mexican" taste, without significantly changing the flavour profile of whatever you are adding it to. It's very good for a quick quesadilla, or to jazz up some chicken wings (or legs...), or even just on top of cheese-and-crackers, and it sometimes adds just the right note to a simmering pot of chili that wants a little something. It's perfect for making buffalo-wing pizza. But, I already knew all that. That's why I buy it. The other flavours were launched throughout North America last year.

First up: Cholula Chili Lime - a no-brainer for someone like me, who loves citrus almost as much as hot sauce.

Straight up, Cholula Chili Lime tastes just as you would expect it to. The same basic flavour profile as Cholula original (the same pepper blend, in fact, of pequin and arbol chiles, plus guajillo and paprika), punched up with lime flavour which leaves more citrus-y aftertaste. The lime flavour comes from "natural flavor", I assume, as there is no mention of lime in the ingredients. The bad news (and there is some) - the somewhat odd choice to put sugar and dried tomato into the sauce, in combination with the unspecified natural flavor/lime, gives a faintly metallic tone and aftertaste to the sauce. A lot of folks I know aren't affected by that (whatever it is that creates that particular sensitivity), but if you are someone who really dislikes lime-flavoured tortilla chips, this may not be the sauce for you. For me, it just means that I am more likely to use it as an ingredient, where that faint aftertaste can be burned away by other flavours, than as a finishing sauce for something delicate, such as scrambled eggs.

I did crack it open in time to use with a recipe that I am currently developing - Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner. The "Hot" in the name is from the two habanero peppers in the recipe, and they nicely blast away any aftertaste. The Cholula Chili Lime was used in the recipe itself, and as a finishing garnish.

Hot Orange Pork Skillet Dinner

Makes 4 servings
Total Prep and Cooking Time: 45 minutes

1 lb pork sirloin steak
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups diced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 habañero peppers, 1 minced, 1 whole
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice (I used Cholula Chili Lime)
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
200 grams parboiled rice
2-3 cups diced zucchini*
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 cup hot chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup cold water

Cut the pork steaks into 4 equal pieces, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper on each side. In a 12" skillet, quickly sear the pork, and remove to a separate plate as soon as it is golden. Add the oil to the emptied skillet, and once the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, cumin, and habañeros, cooking and stirring until the onions are softened and a bit translucent. Add a splash of water (or tequila!) if needed to prevent burning.

Add the zucchini and the bell pepper and stir again. Add the rice to the skillet, and add the hot sauce, orange juice and lime juice. Stir well so the rice grains get thoroughly coated and loosen any stuck-on bits. Add the hot water and chicken base and stir again. Stir the cornstarch into the cup of cold water, until smooth. Add to the skillet and stir carefully (your skillet will be quite full) until thoroughly incorporated and bring to a simmer.

Top with the pork in a single layer over top of the rice, cover tightly, turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 25 minutes. Garnish with extra hot sauce, and maybe some cilantro, if you like.

Serve with a sliced avocado, or maybe a jicama salad.

Estimated Nutritional breakdown (via online calculator) per serving: Calories: 445, Fat 10.76g; Saturated Fat 2.98g; Cholesterol 73mg; Sodium 312.57mg; Total Carbohydrate 59.77g; Dietary Fiber 5.14g; Sugars 6.03g; Protein 26.66g; Est. Percent of Calories from: Fat 21%, Carbs 54%, Protein 24% Please note: your mileage may vary.

*If you are wondering what the heck kind of zucchini is in the photo, I actually used a chayote squash, instead. Big mistake. The pieces were too large, the texture too much like apple, and the flavour contribution almost non-existent. Zucchini, my first thought, should have been the way to go. Maybe corn. I'll keep you posted.

Next up: Cholula Chili Garlic. Looking forward to it!

Are you a Cholula fan? Check out their Facebook page for contests and recipes.

May 09, 2011

Caldo Verde

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we're used to equating Spring with rain. We're not so used to it being so ridiculously cold, however. So, maybe soup is just the thing, to warm us up and tide us over until the nicer weather finally arrives.

Caldo Verde is the quintessential Portuguese soup, and considered by some to be the national dish of Portugal. Potatoes, onions and kale provide a hearty base, and often a touch of pork (in the form of sausage, sliced on the side or diced in the soup pot) to add a little extra something on those days when the soup is the whole of the meal. Add a nice chunk of bread (or, in these parts, a grilled cheese sandwich), and you've got a peasant meal that's fit for a king.

There's a lot of versions and variations, of course, from the fundamental to the fancy-pants. In its simplest form, it's often served as a starter course, both in restaurants and in fancier celebratory meals. It freezes well, although the greens lose their emerald brightness. The flavour is still delicious, though, and you can always add a little more greenery to perk it up again if you like.

Caldo Verde

You can make this creamy-textured, dairy-free soup in advance, right up to just before adding the kale. Simply prepare the kale and hold it in a sealed plastic container in the fridge until you are ready to finish and serve the soup.

Serves: 2 - 4
Total Prep and Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large potatoes*, peeled and sliced
100 - 200 grams linguica or chouriço, sliced into half-coins
4 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste
100 - 150 grams kale, cleaned, stem removed, sliced into chiffonade
Dry sherry, to garnish

In a medium soup-pot, over medium heat, cook sausage slices until the oil is released, but do not allow to dry out). Remove sausage to a plate and reserve. Drain most of the fat from the pot, and the olive oil (obviously, start here for the vegetarian/vegan version). Over medium heat, cook onion and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes more. Pour in water, add the salt, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until potatoes are very soft.

Mash the potatoes in the pot or puree the potato mixture with an immersion blender. Stir the reserved sausage and the pepper into the soup and return to medium heat. Cover and simmer 5 minutes on a medium-low heat. Taste and add more salt if needed. Stir in the kale and gently simmer 5 to 10 minutes more, just until kale is tender. Serve with bread, garnishing individual bowls with a sprinkle of sherry.

A very popular way of finishing this soup is to drizzle extra virgin olive oil into the soup in its last few minutes of cooking (or with the kale). I haven't tried that myself, yet, but I think the next time I make this soup I definitely will give it a try.

*Yukon gold potatoes work very well, as they puree to a very smooth and creamy consistency with an immersion blender.

April 27, 2011

Halved-Apple Crisp

What is the absolutely laziest way that you can make apple crisp?

Slice an apple in half and scoop out the core (I use a melon baller), cram dried cherries into the hollow, and press some crumb topping onto the cut surface of the apple. Bake on a sheet (or in a dish, to catch any juice), at 375℉ for about 25 minutes.

Dead easy (and almost terse enough to be a Twitter recipe)!

If you're one of those compulsively organized types, you can always make batches of the crumb topping and freeze them in small containers so that they're ready to go when you are. Me, I just had some leftover bits to use up. My freezer is too small to contemplate stocking such things with any regularity.

For the recipe for the crumb topping (and instructions for a more traditional apple crisp), check out my Apple Crisp post from last November.

Now that Spring is (theoretically) here, I'm loving the greater variety of fruit that has become available, but apples are available year round (at least in these parts), and this is a dish that you can have easily, anytime. For example, as breakfast. You've got your oats and your fruit, both classic breakfast components. Add a cup of coffee, and what more do you need? (Oh. Bacon, you say? Well, sure. Maybe on the weekend...)