December 31, 2012

Coconut Friands

These were the sleeper hit of the season!

I generally tend to have dried coconut around the house - it's wonderful in a lot of baked goods, perks up a bowl of oatmeal, and makes a nifty sambal or chutney. A spoonful in a choco-banana smoothie almost turns a breakfast beverage into a party single handedly.

For all of that, I don't often feature coconut in all of its glory all that often. Sure, I've made the odd macaroon in my day, who hasn't? People like coconut macaroons. But! I suspect that people would probably like coconut friands even better.

I found this recipe on the delightful Girl Cooks World blog, where she subtitles them "little coconut tea cakes", which is a very good description to highlight the differences between friands and macaroons. She also differentiates them from the potentially related financiers, for which she also has a few recipes (and boy, they look good!).

These are gluten free (Girl Cooks World is quietly, entirely gluten free), which makes them an excellent treat to take to festive occasions where such bounty might be thin on the ground. Your gluten-free friends will be delighted, and so will anyone else who tries them. I halved the recipe, with excellent results (as listed below), but you can certainly "double" it again to get 24 lovely little cakes. Don't worry, they won't have a chance to get stale.

Coconut Friands

Makes 12 mini tea cakes

2 large egg whites
3/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened dried coconut
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons superfine rice flour
1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Spritz a 12-whole mini muffin tin with cooking spray, generously. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until smooth and frothy, but not stiff. Add each of the remaining ingredients, in order, stirring well with a spatula between each addition.

Divide the batter between the muffin-cups. Bake for 17 - 20 minutes, or until the edges are tinged with gold. Remove from the oven, and carefully invert over a rack. A quick tap on the bottom of the pan should remove any stragglers, or you can use a little fork to help lift them out. Re-arrange so they are all right-side-up, and allow to cool at room temperature. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if you like.

Excellent, hot or cold.

Next time I make these, I plan to add a little lime zest in with the sugar. Doesn't that sound delightful?

December 10, 2012

Smoked Tuna Skillet Dinner

I didn't grow up with tuna noodle casserole. My mother didn't buy canned fish, and the only pasta casserole that she made was a (delicious) baked spaghetti. I was highly sensitive to fish when I was young, we considered an allergy even though it wasn't a true anaphylactic risk. It was fairly unpleasant, and when the rest of the family was having fish, I usually had a fried egg instead. Also, I hated peas with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns. I'm over both of those things now, but you can only imagine how shocked my poor mom would be, if she could see me making this dish.

The beauty of not having a childhood tradition to draw on for tuna + noodles is that I don't have any sense of nostalgia forcing my hand in terms of specific ingredients, methodology or presentation in order to get it "right." I just get to mess around with some tasty food, and share the results with you.

This is a grown-up sort of skillet dinner - the smoked tuna is quite strong, so you don't need as much of it as some other recipes might suggest. If you can't get smoked tuna, you may wish to use a little extra of the regular kind, and perhaps add a drop or two of liquid smoke to get a similar effect. This recipe was adapted from Eating Well.

Smoked Tuna Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

200 g broad German egg noodles
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
100 grams cremini mushrooms
2 teaspoons Mushroom Base (I use Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons dry Sherry
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 cups 1% Milk
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
160 grams Smoked Albacore Tuna
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Panko-style bread crumbs

Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat broiler.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened. Add sherry and cook and stir until evaporated. Shake together the milk and flour until smooth. Add milk and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Then, stir in the dry noodles, along with an extra cup of hot water (the pan will be very full). Cook and stir until the noodles have absorbed the extra water, and are tender, and the sauce has thickened. If it starts looking too dry, add a little more water, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Stir in tuna (broken into small chunks), peas and 1/2 the Parmesan until evenly incorporated.

Sprinkle the casserole with panko and the remaining Parmesan. Broil until bubbly and lightly browned on top, 3 to 4 minutes. The broiler does dry the dish out a bit more (the one pictured is actually a little drier than I wanted it to be), so if you think it's just right going in...keep a close eye on it, or add an "insurance" tablespoon of water to loosen thing up.

There's not a lot of vegetables in this, obviously, so a nice broccoli on the side is a good idea (or tossed green salad, or other tasty plant of your choice).

December 01, 2012

Pork Breakfast Sausage

We wanted to have breakfast in, today. However, it was already quite late, and while we had eggs, we had no bread-stuffs (not even tortillas!), no potatoes, no bacon or sausage, and no mushrooms or tomatoes to grill. We had eggs and cheese, but nothing else to round out into omelettes, for example. Last week's "clean the fridge" efforts had been a little too effective.

However, all was not lost! On my way home last night I impulse-purchased a package of fresh ground pork. Because that's the kind of impulse-buying I do - not candy, not chips, oh no. I buy raw meat. And sometimes broccoli, but that's a different story.

We live close to a lovely Italian bakery, so I sent Palle out for bread (to serve as a toast raft for scrambled eggs, as you can see from the picture). While he was gone, I put the coffee on and started mixing up some homemade sausage. It didn't take long at all, and I had a nice ball of sausage meat ready for shaping and cooking when he arrived with a fresh loaf of Tuscan bread.

These have a fairly pronounced fennel flavour - if you do not want fennel to be quite so prominent, reduce the fennel seeds to 1/4 teaspoon. If you are aiming for a spicy sausage, add a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne (depending on the level of heat that you want), and a big pinch of chile flakes to your spice mixture.

If you are watching your sodium, you might want to cut the kosher salt back to 3/4 teaspoon, but these are already lower in sodium than many sausages on the market.

Pork Breakfast Sausage

Makes six patties, or 9 sausages (about 3 servings)

500 g medium ground pork
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Combine the salt, paprika, fennel, granulated onion, and peppercorns in a spice grinder (or molcajete) and grind until fairly smooth (if you like a bit of bite from your fennel and black pepper, stop grinding sooner, so that there are chunky bits). Combine spice mixture with the ground pork, mixing well with your fingers to get it all worked through. The paprika will slightly darken the overall colour of the meat.

You can use this right away (as I did this morning), but it would be even better to make it up the night before, and let the flavours combine in the fridge overnight.

Divide into six pieces, flatten into patties (or roll into sausage shapes) and fry in a medium-hot skillet until cooked through, turning as needed to get a nice golden-brown colour over the whole surface.

So there you have it! Rather simple, and easily made even before the coffee has brewed: delicious sausage without preservatives or bread fillers, just pork and flavour.

We were pretty excited by how well the sausage turned out, and are already plotting and scheming future sausage endeavours. I am planning to make some up for the freezer - after all, sausage is good to have on hand: pizza, pasta, sausage & potato dinners, and skillet dinners of all kinds, as well as the breakfast applications. I think I might make some up as meatballs, too - can you visualize a sausage meatball breakfast platter? I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it!

November 11, 2012

Couscous with Lemon & Mint

This works as either a cold salad or as a hot side dish (add some chickpeas either way, to make it a main-course in itself). It is both very easy to make, and very quick. As you can imagine, the lemon and mint flavours conjure the mediterranean climate, so let that be your guide for choosing something to serve with it - a nice Greek salad, perhaps, or some falafel patties, or perhaps a braised lamb shank or a merguez tagine. Its low effort requirement make it perfect for either summer nights when you don't feel much like cooking (or turning on the stove), or as a last-minute way to round out a bit of leftover stew that seemed smaller than you remembered when you pulled it out of the freezer.

I recommend using any bell pepper except green, here. The red, orange, and yellow peppers are much sweeter, and complement the flavours of the mint and lemon. The green bell pepper would impart a more bitter, vegetal flavour - not necessarily a disaster, of course, but less harmonious for the dish overall.

Couscous with Lemon & Mint
Serves 4

1 cup coarse dry couscous (not Israeli style)
1 yellow bell pepper (or other sweet pepper), finely diced
1 green onion, finely sliced (white and green)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 - 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh mint chiffonade
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 cups boiling water

You need to make this dish in a container with a tight fitting lid - you can either use a metal saucepan (heat the water, remove from heat, add the salt, sprinkle the couscous evenly over the surface, cover, wait), or a ceramic or tempered glass bowl with a lid (heat the water separately, pour into bowl, etc.) but if your lid is not tight-fitting, you may want to drape a heavy kitchen towel over the top. Make sure you allow room for the couscous to expand - allow at least four times as much room as couscous.

Whichever method you choose, prepare the couscous and let it stand, covered well, for about ten minutes, while you prepare your lemon, mint, green onion, and bell pepper.

Combine the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, and cumin, and whisk together as if you were making a vinaigrette. Place the chopped bell pepper into a serving bowl with the sliced green onion, and pour half of the vinaigrette over top. Prepare the mint chiffonade and set aside. When the couscous is ready, remove the lid and fluff carefully with a fork - be patient, and scrape the tines of the fork over the surface, going increasingly deeper, until you have loosened all of it. Add the fluffed up couscous to the serving bowl, and pour in the rest of the vinaigrette. Stir with a fork to combine thoroughly, letting the couscous soak up the liquid from the lemony dressing. Stir in the mint, and serve (hot), or chill for an hour or so to serve as a cold salad.

This dish is tasty whether you are eating it hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If you are going to add chickpeas, add one cup of cooked (drained) chickpeas to the bell peppers and vinaigrette, tossing well to coat. If you are intending to serve the dish hot, you may want to heat the chickpeas up first.

I love having leftovers of this for my lunch - it packs really well, because the couscous absorbs all of the liquid, making for easy, mess-free transportation.

October 14, 2012

Smothered Perogy Skillet Dinner

Aaaaand this is barely a recipe, I know, but the rain has finally started here, and this easy, tasty dish feels oh-so-autumnal. Essentially, this is just a tweaked version of my all-purpose smothering sauce (mostly used for pork chops) re-purposed for perogies. For the hardcore and badass, or (badcore and hardass), make your own perogies (and wieners!) from scratch. Feel better? And then send me a picture, please! You can substitute kielbasa/kobasa for the european wieners if you like.

Smothered Perogy Skillet Dinner
Serves two greedy people

3 European wieners, sliced into chunky coins
18 bite-sized perogies, any filling you like (I used potato/cheddar/onion)
1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup Mediterranee yoghurt (plain)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
3/4 to 1 cup chicken or mushroom stock/broth (at room temperature)

Saute the onions in the butter in a large skillet. Add the wieners and stir and saute until they pick up some colour. Lay the perogies (still frozen is fine) in a single layer throughout the pan.

Combine the yoghurt, mustard, flour, and stock (whisking really well) in a measuring cup, blending until smooth. Pour the sauce over the perogies and wieners, turn the heat to low (or move to an oven at 325F) and cook (covered) for 25 minutes. Stirring occasionally if you are going the stovetop route helps you keep an eye on the liquid level - if it's thickening too much, and not looking "saucy", just add a little water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, and stir it through. Fork-test a perogy (they should be tender), and dish up with plenty of black pepper.

We served this with a big tossed salad chock full of vegetables, to compensate for the lack thereof in the recipe.

Not a fan of wieners OR kielbasa? Fat slices of mushroom would be a great vegetarian switch-out.

October 06, 2012

Carrot & Fennel Soup

This soup has a remarkable, silky texture, even when simply pureed with a stick-blender (no chinoise or cheesecloth necessary). The fennel brings a lightness to the character of the soup, as well as a more complex, sophisticated flavour. The fennel also helps keep the sweetness from the carrots in check. This is one of those rare dishes that feels as healthy as it is, so you can feel comforted and virtuous at the same time.

Whenever I make this dish, I berate myself for not making it more often. It's easy, lovely, and very satisfying. As you can see, it doesn't take long to knock together - most of the total time is unattended cooking time.

Carrot & Fennel Soup
Serves 4 (6 as a starter)

1 fennel bulb, sliced
450 grams carrot, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth (or light chicken broth)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

In a medium-large soup pot, over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic with the spices. Add the sliced carrots and fennel, and stir well. Add the water and the veggie broth, and stir well. Simmer gently, covered for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Puree with a stick blender, being patient to ensure everything is finely pureed. Check seasoning to see if it needs more coriander seed or salt. If your vegetable broth is quite salty, it may not need either.

Serve with crusty bread. If you're not vegetarian, you might want some slices of chorizo on the side or floated on the top, too. For extra fancy presentation use some of the fennel fronds as a garnish instead of the token cilantro shown here. Very fine rings of red chile would also make a delightful finish.

You can also use curry masala instead of the whole spices, for a slightly more curried taste, and you can substitute a cup of the water with coconut milk for a creamier, more luscious effect.

This soup freezes very well, making it a great item to stash in the freezer for an emergency dinner, or as make-ahead lunches. It reheats nicely in the microwave, getting a meal on the table in minutes.

September 23, 2012

Autumn's here: Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls are one of those quintessential comfort foods for anyone with even a passing relationship to the cuisines of northern or eastern Europe, and of course the middle east, central asia, and the eastern mediterranean regions also have stuffed leaf and vegetable dishes with considerable similarities. Did I leave anyone out? Probably. (Sorry.) Stuffing food with other food and wrapping it up, whether you start with dough or a leaf, just seems to be a universal development in almost every cuisine.

If someone tells me that he or she is making cabbage rolls, my first question is "Oooh, what kind?" - closely followed by offers of help eating up any pesky leftovers, of course. In western Canada we tend to favour either the Ukrainian or Polish styles most of all, and the ones I've made here are a sort of unholy hybrid of every cabbage roll that I've ever found to be delicious. These ones are made with meat (beef, specifically) and rice, but there are plenty of options for vegetarian/vegan fillings (I would suggest a rice/walnut/mushroom blend, for starters).

A lot of recipes will suggest that you braise the cabbage rolls in tomato soup. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while already know that I shy away from tinned soup as an ingredient for my casseroles and such, and I am not recommending tins of soup here, either. Rather, I humbly suggest my very own Simple Tomato Soup recipe (expired link removed, please see recipe in the comments section below), made exactly as listed. It comes together really quickly, and you can also make it a day ahead (or stash some in the freezer, and simply thaw it out when you are ready to make cabbage rolls). One recipe of Simple Tomato Soup is perfect for one tray of 12 large cabbage rolls.

I recommend savoy cabbage, which is easier to peel without tearing the leaves.

Cabbage Rolls

Makes 12 rolls
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 3 - 4 hours

1 Savoy cabbage, whole
500 grams lean ground beef
1/2 onion, very finely minced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon water
100 grams (1/2 cup) long grain rice (uncooked)
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon mushroom base (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (to finish)

1 recipe Simple Tomato Soup, made as directed in the comments section below. You could also use a thin, tomato-based pasta sauce, or even simply use beef, chicken, mushroom, or veggie broth, and serve the rolls "dry" with sour cream. You will need about four cups of soup/braising liquid.

Prepare the soup, or, if defrosting, heat the soup until it is serving temperature.

In a small saucepan, bring water and mushroom base to a boil. Add the rice and stir quickly with a fork. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes, then turn off and leave for another 10 minutes. The rice will be slightly underdone - chalky. That's perfect. Combine with the onions and garlic, and let the mixture cool a bit while you deal with the cabbage.

Cut the cabbage deeply, all the way around the core (about half an inch out from the core knob). Peel the outermost leaves, starting from the base of the cabbage, gently pushing up until the leaves come free. You can do this step a day ahead, and loosely bag and refrigerate the leaves (they will take up a lot of room). You will want 12 good, big, whole leaves, plus a couple of spares.

Trim the leaves by shaving down the thick central spine with a paring knife, and cut a small, thumb-tip sized v-shape at the base of each leaf to remove the toughest bit.

Bring a large saucepan of unsalted water to a boil. Add cabbage leaves and cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until softened, and drain. You can also soften the cabbage leaves by dipping them in water and microwaving them, 2 at a time, for about 60 seconds.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the raw beef (broken into tiny bits), cooked rice mixture, egg, salt and pepper, and parsley, along with 1 tablespoon of tomato paste combined with one tablespoon of water. Mix thoroughly, using your impeccably clean hands, until everything is nicely integrated.

Prepare a 9x13" baking dish by ladling about half a cup of the tomato soup into the bottom of the dish, and swirling it to cover the bottom thinly. Some folks like to chop up the core of the cabbage, along with any leftover leaves, and put that in the bottom, too, as a bed for the cabbage rolls. This is a great way to use up the rest of the cabbage, as well as making sure you get plenty of veggies in your dinner.

Divide the beef mixture into 12 portions, and roll them up: this bit is awesome, but messy: Dip the softened cabbage leaves in the tomato soup/sauce, and microwave them, two at a time, again (unless they are completely floppy) for about 30 seconds. This tomato-dipping of the leaves is optional, but very flavourful.

Lay a limp, tomato-y cabbage leaf on your plate or cutting board, and add a portion of the meat to the lower third of the leaf. Flip the bottom (stem edge) up and over, bringing the points of the "v" closed so that it makes a tight package. Hold that with one hand, while you tuck the sides in (as if you were making a burrito, or an envelope), and then finish rolling up the leaf. A little practice, and this isn't as difficult as it might sound.

Place each roll, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. You should get two rows of six, filling the pan. Pour the tomato sauce (or any other braising liquid of your choice) gently and evenly over each roll, using all of the soup, cover with tinfoil, and place in a cold oven. Set the oven to 325 F, and set the timer for 2 hours. Remove foil, and sprinkle with smoked paprika before serving.

Serve with sour cream (or plain yoghurt), mixed with a little dill. Perogies (pierogies), naturally, make a fantastic side dish, but so do plain boiled potatoes, or roasted carrots. Obviously, if you need to hurry the process up a bit, set the oven to temperature before you start rolling up the cabbage leaves, and bake for 90 minutes.

These freeze excellently, as well. Make your own ready-meals!

For the curious, here's a picture of the cabbage rolls just before they go into the oven (see how perky the cabbage still is!):

September 20, 2012

Meatballs & Polenta

Technically, not new recipes, simply a serving suggestion: the meatballs are my all-beef Italian-seasoned version of these meatballs here, and the polenta is my all-purpose polenta recipe which you previously saw when I was making polenta fries. This is just how easy it can be to get a good dinner on the table, when you have a stash treasures, such as meatballs, in your freezer (I haven't tried freezing polenta, but I imagine the texture would suffer). We had a tossed salad on the side, but you could add any extra vegetable you like to round out the meal (roasted fennel, anyone?)

The meatballs are somewhat smaller than usual, about half the size indicated in the linked recipe, as they were originally made up as part of a big batch designated for meatball subs, and I find slightly smaller meatballs are preferable in that context (so that you can have more of them, of course). I used a two-tablespoon disher (60 mL, or 1/8 cup) per meatball, and baked them in my usual fashion. Leftovers were briefly frozen on a baking sheet, and then tipped into a freezer bag for storage for another day.

The polenta recipe is particularly unchanged, simply necessitating that you pour it into individual serving bowls as soon as it is cooked, and serve it hot. The texture is a little bit like mashed potatoes - the creamy, finely whipped restaurant style, that is. If you have extra polenta (the recipe makes four servings, served in this manner), you can simply pour it into a baking dish or other small container, and let it set up to make fries (or simply re-heat and eat) at a later date. It would work wonderfully in a bento, although I didn't think of that in time to deal with the leftovers in such a way - I simply plunked slab of cooled polenta on top of the remaining meatballs in sauce, in a standard plastic container.

For the tomato sauce, you can use any one you like, of course. This was, again, a "freezer treasure" - the sauce leftover from making the same meatball subs. Essentially, a simple combination of a little onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil, a 398 mL tin of high-quality diced tomatoes (don't you hate opening a tin and finding it full of stem ends?), fresh oregano and basil, and a little simmering time. Your mileage may vary, of course. A few chile flakes wouldn't be amiss, either.

Reheating the meatballs in the tomato sauce saves time and dishes. Adding a little extra fresh basil as you reheat gives a little lift to the sauce, and makes you forget that you're essentially just eating up leftovers. This can happen almost untended while you stir up the polenta.

Parmesan, of course, is the natural finisher. Mozzarella would also be good, or any grating/melting cheese you fancy.

Now, for those of you following the "convertible to vegan" tag, I haven't completely lost my mind! Here's the fix: Instead of meatballs, use roasted cauliflower chunks, and simply toss them in the sauce for a few minutes before ladling onto the polenta. And as for the polenta, with its pesky sour cream and parmesan? Omit those ingredients in favour of a little silken tofu (beaten well until creamy) and a bit of prepared vegan shredded cheese-substitute. You may need to adjust the salt to your taste, depending on the brand you use. Change the chicken broth to vegetable broth (or just use water, as I sometimes do), and presto: converted to vegan.

September 14, 2012

Summer Rolls, While We Still Can

Before I move entirely into my autumnal kitchen habits, here's one more dying-light-of-summer dish that I simply must share with you.

For years, I'd avoided summer rolls (aka salad rolls, aka fresh spring rolls), because the initial ones I'd tried were not really all that good, dry and bland, relying heavily on a giant wodge of unseasoned noodles to make up their bulk, and requiring constant, nay, desperate dipping into peanut sauce simply in order to swallow each bite. When I discovered, years later, that most summer rolls are in fact delightful treats, I felt rather foolish for avoiding them for so long.

Most of the versions you see in my neighbourhood tend to be either vegetarian or, more likely, prawn-centric, with a few veggies, a bit of (seasoned!) noodle, and a smart row of precisely lined up prawns down the centre. The dipping sauces tend to be a peanut affair (spicy if you're lucky), or nuoc cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce made primarily of fish sauce, lime juice and rice vinegar, with some chiles and herbs thrown in. You can really use whatever dipping sauce you like - any Asian-style dumpling sauce is probably going to work fine, or plum sauce, or coconut chutney...even just painting a stripe of sriracha down the side before you dig in is going to work.

What made me actually decide to make these myself was the sudden, thunder-struck notion that coconut-lemongrass chicken would be really quite good in these. However, I've never seen such a thing for sale. The only solution was to get some rice paper wrappers, and start rolling my own. After that, I made some more, minus the chicken and coconut, and with double the vegetables (all nicely seasoned with nuoc cham, prior to rolling).

The following, consequently, is more of a general guideline, than a recipe, really. Vary them as much as you like - you're the one who is going to be enjoying them.

Lemongrass Chicken Summer Rolls

Makes 6 rolls

6 Banh trang rice wrappers
125 grams rice vermicelli, cooked
200 grams chicken breast
60 mL coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon lemongrass powder
1 carrot, shredded
8 centimetres English cucumber, matchstick cut
fresh Thai basil, shredded
fresh mint, shredded
2 tablespoons nuoc cham or lime juice with a pinch of salt

Cook the chicken in the coconut milk with the lemongrass powder. Remove the chicken from the coconut milk, and shred finely. Add the noodles into the coconut milk, and toss well to coat. Toss the cucumber and carrot with the nuoc cham, and allow to drain.

Dip one banh trang wrapper in water (or run it briefly under the tap) and immediately lay it flat on a wooden cutting board. In the bottom third of the circle, lay some of the chicken, some of the noodles, and some of the vegetables, as you would for making a burrito. Top with the shredded herbs. Cilantro is also a nice addition here.

Lift the bottom edge of the wrapper (which will now be pliable) and wrap it upward until it just covers the filling, and hold it there with one hand. Using your other hand, fold the sides inward, and then continue to roll from the bottom up until the roll is complete. Put aside on a plate and chill while you make the rest. Wrap tightly, so they hold together while you're eating them, but not so tightly that you tear the wrapper. A little practice will make them just right.

Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice - more nuoc cham, or peanut sauce are classics, but I prefer a nice, spicy, peanut-butter laced vinaigrette. You can always go crazy and have more than one, sauce, of course. Why decide?

For vegetarian/vegan summer rolls, simply omit the chicken, lemongrass, and coconut milk and increase the vegetables - you might want to add thinly sliced daikon or zucchini, or other crisp raw vegetables of your choice, to round it out. You could also add a julienne of spicy tofu. You may want to season your noodles with a little Nuoc cham (a vegetarian version, of course) if you're going all veggie. You can really put whatever you like in them.

These will keep until the next day, assuming you don't get up in the middle of the night and devour them. I'm just sayin'. Two rolls makes a good, light supper.

September 09, 2012

Greek Night: Briam and Gigantes

Briam, or Greek-style roasted vegetables, is another entry into the family of mediterranean mixed vegetable dishes, keeping excellent company with French ratatouille and Italian caponata. Each one has its own flavour profile and different texture, born of both seasoning and cooking technique. Each one is highly flexible in terms of which vegetables you choose to include, but is also just a truly excellent way to put that eggplant on your counter to good use. Briam works when served hot, room temperature, or chilled, depending on your needs. It makes a lovely little sandwich/pita filling, and I bet it would make a pretty good omelette filling, too.

The standard cooking method for briam is roasting, and most traditional recipes that I found use a breathtaking amount of olive oil. Now, I'm a big fan of olive oil, both for its culinary and health-related aspects, but recipes that call for a half (or even a whole) cup for a single pan of vegetables do make me shudder a little. Fortunately, you don't actually need that much; you can enjoy your vegetables without drowning in oil.

Some recipes also include potatoes, but I elected not to use them in light of the fact that I was already planning to serve beans on the side. The combination of briam and gigantes turned out even better than I expected, and I will definitely be turning to this combination again. It takes a whole lot of chopping to make this dish, so clear your cutting board and pre-heat the oven.

Serves 4 - 6

250 grams eggplant
250 grams zucchini (green or yellow)
4 roma tomatoes
1 red onion
6 cloves garlic, whole
100 grams tender green beans
1 red bell pepper (orange or yellow are also good)
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 cup dill weed, minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Dice the eggplant into large-ish chunks, and salt heavily. Let stand for 20 minutes, then rinse well (I actually submerge the chunks in cold water), and drain, and squeeze dry with a nice clean towel. Which will then need washing.

Peel and chop the tomatoes; mince the dill and parsley.

Dice the zucchini and all of the other vegetables into similar size pieces to the squeezed-dry eggplant chunks. Leave the garlic cloves whole (add more if you like).

Combine the vegetables in a large roasting pan (I use my 9x13" rectangular pyrex dish). Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper and the fresh herbs, and drizzle with olive oil. Combine well (use your clean hands) until everything is well coated and evenly distributed. Cover the dish lightly with tinfoil, and bake at 400 F for 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir, and bake for another 30 - 40 minutes uncovered, or until liquid is all evaporated and vegetables are nicely roasted and starting to caramelize. Serve hot or cold.

Quick & Easy Gigantes
Serves 4 - 6

This recipe feels a little like a cheat, because you start with canned beans. Want to start with dry beans? Soak 3/4 cup of butter beans overnight, cook (unsalted) very gently for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender, drain, and proceed as follows:

4 cups cooked butter beans (or other large white beans)
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced dill weed
1/4 teaspoon sugar or honey
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salted canned beans).

Drain and rinse the beans.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and garlic and salt, and saute over medium heat until translucent and tender. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook and stir for about 30 seconds, and then add about a quarter cup of water, and stir until it becomes a nice little sauce. Add the sugar and the ketchup. Stir again and add the beans. Stir until the beans are all nicely coated, and add a little more water.

Bring to a very gentle simmer and let cook on the lowest setting, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes. Add the dill. Stir through and taste. Adjust for salt if necessary. Continue to cook very gently for another 10 minutes or so.

At any time the dish starts to look dry instead of gently saucy, add a little more water, and stir it through. If the dish looks too wet, increase the heat slightly, and leave uncovered until it has thickened.

These two dishes also bento very well, as I discovered the following day, probably because they are both good hot or cold. I stuffed my leftovers into pita pockets, topped with a little feta (tzatziki would have been good, also), and had a wonderful, filling lunch.

September 02, 2012

Khoresht e Gheimeh: Persian Lamb & Yellow Split Pea Stew

The first time I had this dish my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Well, that's what it felt like, at any rate. The rich flavour of the slow-cooked lamb, the thick, savory tomato gravy plus the wonderfully tart notes of lime seemed so very right that I knew I was going to want to eat this again and again and again.

I first tried a version without sourcing the all-important dried limes (lemons, actually, it turns out), using the internet-suggested substitution of lime juice added at the end of the cooking time. It was tasty, but it didn't taste right. I shelved the dish, mentally speaking, until I could find the proper ingredient.

So, when I discovered an unassuming-looking bag of "dried lemons omani" in my local eastern mediterranean deli, a little research showed that this was exactly what I had been waiting for. I set about the internet once more, looking for likely recipes. In the end, I synthesized my own out of several offerings, and was really happy with the result (and thanks to my co-worker Laya, who assured me that putting fried potato on top was important). This recipe is slow food, so it may not be great for weeknights, unless you like to eat a little later (or you do the prep ahead of time), although we made it mid-week and thought it well worth waiting for.

I used a lot less oil than most of the recipes I could find, but the recipe didn't seem to suffer for it. I made up for it by frying the potato in oil, although you could oven-bake them for a healthier option. The stew itself is quite healthy, especially if you use lean, trimmed lamb, and go with six servings.

Khoresht e Gheimah

Serves 4 - 6
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 120-150 minutes

500 grams lamb stew meat
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dried yellow split peas
2 cups canned diced tomatoes (no salt added)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 dried lemons / black limes / limu omani
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups shoestring or thin-cut fried potatoes

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and cook the onions (sprinkled lightly with the salt) until softened and just starting to brown. Add the lamb chunks and stir frequently until some of it is browned, and the lamb has lost its raw appearance.

Add the turmeric and tomato paste, and stir through, scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula or wooden spoon, adding a tablespoon or two of water, if necessary to prevent sticking. Stir for a minute or two, and then add the tomatoes and enough water to cover the surface by an inch or so, stirring well and scraping up the bottom of the pot so that nothing burns. The dish will have turned quite red. Lower the heat to the lowest setting. You can use lamb vegetable broth instead of water, but watch the salt content, if you do.

Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes. Add the yellow split peas (washed and drained), and enough water to cover by an inch (if necessary). Stir well, and add the cinnamon, and the dried lemons. For the lemons, crack them in half with a hammer, and drop them into the stew (the insides of the lemons should be black or dark brown). Simmer, covered, for another 45 minutes, or more, until lamb and peas are both tender. Remove the lemon peels (some of the insides will now be floating in the stew, that's fine). Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with fried potatoes and serve with rice and yoghurt on the side.


I should probably confess that I put the peas in right away, in the picture above, rather than waiting the 45 minutes. However, while the overall dish was excellent, I felt that the peas got softer than they should have, and lost their shape, which is part of the reason that you can't really identify them visually in the photograph. The next time I make this, which will probably be in about a month, I'm going to do the 45 minute delay, because yellow split peas only take about 30 - 40 minutes to become tender, and I'd like to have more of their texture in the dish. If your yellow split peas take longer to cook, add them before you start simmering.

The rice that I served with this was a rice-cooker adapted version of Bhagali Polow - a dill-and-fava rice with a tadig, a recipe that I am still developing. Plain rice is probably more traditional to accompany this khoresht, though.

August 19, 2012

International Bento (China): Chicken wings bento

My last post reminded me that I've really fallen down on posting my bentos, so here's another one: Chinese-inspired chicken wings ("Beijing Wings" from Cook This, Not That!), pork fried rice, and baby bok choy with spicy vinaigrette.

The pork fried rice is much like pork fried rice anywhere - a bit of egg, a bit of bbq pork from a Chinese butcher, some onion, leftover plain long grain rice. There's an art to a great fried rice, but this one was just a quick, cobble-together: tasty, but not truly a classic of its kind.

The bok choy in vinaigrette did not enjoy waiting in the fridge until morning, and it looks as though I may have over-steamed it, too, as it's usually a bit brighter green. The vinaigrette is a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sambal oeklek, minced ginger, and minced garlic. I don't use measurements when I make this up, but I don't use much oil. It's more like a dipping sauce than a real vinaigrette, but it goes beautifully on steamed or stir-fried bok choy, gai lan, or other strong greens.

The wings are fairly simple to make, and are baked instead of fried, so, theoretically a bit healthier for you, even though the skin's still on.

Beijing Wings
Adapted from Cook This, Not That!

Serves 3 - 4

1 kilo chicken wings, jointed (freeze the tips for making stock)
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar (or honey)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 - 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (half a lime)
toasted sesame seeds
1 green onion, sliced

Combine the soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the wing sections (you can also buy just paddles or drumettes) and stir them around until they are well coated. Cover the container with its lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, four or eight hours being better (ideally, do this after breakfast to be ready for dinner).

Preheat the oven to 450F, and line a baking sheet with foil. Spray the baking sheet with a thin layer of canola spray (or brush lightly with peanut oil). Drain the wings from the marinade (discard the marinade). Lay out the wings in a single layer on the foil, and bake for about 15 minutes. The skin should start to get crispy. Turn the wings over and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.

In a large skillet, melt the butter and Sriracha, stirring to combine. Remove the wings from the oven, and quickly add them to the skillet. Toss the chicken around in the hot sauce, and saute for a couple of minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter, and garnish with sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onion.

August 04, 2012

Ethiopian Beet & Potato Salad (and Bento)

Ethiopian cuisine has wonderful salads. The cool lemony character of this one is quite refreshing, and the two-tone pink and purple appearance is pleasingly cheerful. This recipe is adapted from Meskerem Restaurant (Washington, DC), by way of Epicurious, as well as local versions of the dish as served here in Vancouver. It is vegan, gluten-free, and great for picnics, bento, or any other packed meal.

Ethiopian Beet & Potato Salad

Serves 8 - 10
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 1 hour

450 grams yellow potatoes
450 grams red beet roots
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons peanut oil*
1/2 onion (yellow or red), finely diced
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely diced
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
Pinch ground fenugreek seeds

Wash and trim the beets, and simmer in a medium saucepan for about 35 - 45 minutes (depending on size), or until tender. Remove the beets from the liquid, and slice in half. Use a paper towel (or three...or a dexterous use of spoons to be waste-free) to remove the skins from the beets – they should just rub right off. Dice into bite-sized pieces. You may want to protect your cutting board from the pink dye in the beets – a couple of layers of waxed paper, or waxed paper over newspaper should work. Protect your hands, too, or you will have pink fingers/nails, although it comes off in a day or so. (Note: you can also roast the beets in foil or parchment instead of simmering them, especially if you happen to have oven on for some other purpose.) Wash all cutting boards etc. right away to minimize stains.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, gently simmer the peeled and bite-sized diced yellow or white or red-skinned potatoes for 20 – 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes, and let them dry out a little in the warm pot.

While the beets and potatoes are cooking, dice the onion and jalapeño, and place them in a large serving bowl with the lemon juice and peanut oil. When the potatoes have dried off a little, add them (still warm) to the onion mixture, and gently combine. Add the beets, and stir through until everything is a lovely pink shade. Toast the yellow mustard seeds just until they start popping, then pour them over the salad, along with the salt and fenugreek powder. Stir well to combine. You can make this ahead by a day or three. Keep tightly covered in the refrigerator.

* For peanut allergies, substitute the mild-flavoured vegetable oil of your choice. Canola works well.

My International Bento: Ethiopian edition, contains Berbere-baked chicken drumsticks, Ingudie & Yellow Peas Wat, and Beet & Potato salad. Hearty, and delicious!

July 29, 2012

Breakfast at home: Breakfast Dog!

Okay, okay. Not a recipe, more of a serving suggestion, really, but in the spirit of the recent spate of breakfast-at-home posts, I couldn't really resist.

Here we have basic bakery hotdog buns filled with European wieners, scrambled eggs, grated aged cheddar, and green onions. You could use ketchup, be we chose sriracha for a little extra kick. Of course, you could tweak the contents to your heart's delight.

For optimal results, I suggest gently steaming (or microwaving) the buns briefly just before filling, which makes them tender and pliable enough to grip all of the fillings.

This was embarrassingly delicious. I would make it again in a heartbeat, if I had the buns and wieners at hand.

July 27, 2012

Breakfast at home: Blintz-ish Casserole

I was looking for an at-home breakfast to make that stepped outside our regular fare, and stumbled across this recipe for a baked casserole that somewhat resembled a giant blintz. Since our breakfasts are usually savory, except for the odd pancake here and there, it was definitely outside our repertoire. Just to be safe, we added some bacon on the side to ensure we didn't collapse from an all-sweet breakfast.

The casserole was pretty easy to put together - it was ready to go into the oven by the time the oven had finished pre-heating. Essentially, you mix up a crepe-like batter, and layer it in a greased casserole dish with a ricotta-based creamy layer baked right into the middle. On its own it is mild and perhaps slightly bland, but with fresh raspberry sauce spooned overtop (and some bacon on the side), it's both unusual (for us, anyway) and kind of fun.

Now, I think a true "blintz casserole" would involve making up individual blintzes and baking them in a sauce, but the name does sort of capture the spirit of the ingredients, if not the labour-intensive work ethic.

Blintz-ish Casserole
Adapted from The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt
Serves 4

70 grams cream cheese (light is fine)
200 ml ricotta or drained mild cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup orange juice

Fresh Raspberry Sauce
1 cup raspberries*
1 tablespoon sugar (or simple syrup)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon brandy (or orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier)

Prepare an 8" square baking dish by buttering it, or spritzing it lightly with canola oil. Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Mix together the filling, using an electric mixer, and set aside. If you want an extra bump of flavour and you have a lemon lying about, stir the zest into the filling. A touch of nutmeg might also be nice, but don't go overboard.

In a medium bowl, mix the butter, sugar and eggs and beat well. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and orange juice, and beat until smooth. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Gently spoon the filling over the batter, in small dollops, smoothing together gently into a single middle layer. Pour the remaining batter over the top, making sure all of the filing is covered. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Cut into squares, and serve with raspberry sauce spooned over.

To make the raspberry sauce, mash half the berries with the sugar in a small saucepan. Combine the orange juice and cornstarch, and mix until smooth. Add to the crushed berries. Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until bubbly and thick, and the cloudiness from the cornstarch is gone. Remove from the heat, and stir in the whole berries and the brandy. Allow the sauce to cool while the casserole cooks, and serve in a dish or sauceboat for people to serve themselves. Leftover sauce makes a great smoothie base, too.

*Obviously, you can pretty much substitute the berry of your choice here: blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, huckleberries - peaches or nectarines would be nice, too.

July 02, 2012

Breakfast at home: Biscuits & Gravy

One of my favourite breakfast foods from the USA is biscuits and gravy. Not a lot of places up here offer it, and of those that do, well, they tend to do it fairly badly - gluey, gloppy stuff, usually without much in the way of sausage meat, sometimes with unanticipated and unwanted alternative seasonings. This is a pity, because anyone ordering biscuits and gravy is not likely to want to be surprised by avant garde seasonings - certainly not without warning.

Biscuits and gravy is a hot, filling breakfast, it's also comfort food at its finest. It doesn't need to be lethally rich, either, especially if you're serving alongside eggs. Easy on the fat - there's plenty of flavour to go around.

I like the name "Sawmill Gravy", but while most people seem to accept pretty much any white sausage gravy as "sawmill", I understand that name belongs more properly to the lumbercamp style of gravy, conditions of which necessitated the use of tinned, evaporated milk. I've also heard "cream gravy", but since I use milk, I'll just stick with "White Sausage Gravy". It's pretty simple, and very delicious.

Make up biscuits according to whatever biscuit bible you adhere to, and make the gravy while they bake up in the oven.

White Sausage Gravy
Serves 4

225-340 grams pork breakfast sausage
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 1/2 cups milk (I use 1%)
sprinkle granulated onion
black pepper to taste

Remove casings (if any) from the sausage and break it up into little chunks (chop it with a chef's knife, if you like). In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook and stir the sausage until it's turned the lightest shade of gold, and rendered its fat out. Continue to break down the sausage pieces as you go. Modern sausage can be quite lean, but if you have richer sausage, spoon out all but about a tablespoon. If your sausage was quite plain, you may want to add a tiny pinch each of leaf oregano or marjoram, ground sage, and ground thyme but don't go overboard. The pork should be the star of this show.

Sprinkle the flour over the sausage, and stir it through, scraping the bottom of the pan, until it starts to turn light butterscotch in colour. Then, while stirring constantly, add the milk a little at a time, working the sauce to keep it smooth and lump free. If free-handing makes you nervous, switch to a whisk. Don't pause in moving your spatula or whisk until at least half the milk is incorporated, and then you'll have a little more leeway.

Once all of the milk is in, continue to cook over medium low, so that everything is bubbling gently until the sauce is thickened. Sprinkle the granulated onion over, stir it through, and then taste for salt. I never add extra salt, because there's enough in the sausage, but your mileage may vary, as they say. Grind some black pepper over the pan, turn the heat to low, and continue to stir occasionally. Give it a final taste to adjust the seasonings, split your hot biscuits open, spoon the gravy over, and serve right away. A little extra pepper on top never hurts, either.

June 30, 2012

Lentil Walnut Salad, and new book review!

I've finally written another diet book review - this time for "Slimmer - The New Mediterranean Way to Lose Weight" by Harry Papas, over in my Much Ado About Diet blog.

Go check out the lovely Lentil Walnut Salad recipe!

Gluten-free tag disclaimer: obviously, leave out the croutons, or choose a gluten-free version, and otherwise label-read as usual.

June 16, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie, Biscuit Top

I love chicken pot pie. I don't love it when it comes with too many peas, or a leathery, greasy pastry top, but if it has a quality pastry (which hasn't been allowed to get soggy), or better still, a biscuit topping, then it has got to be right up there with my favourite comfort foods.

It's also pretty easy, really. You make a creamy stew with chicken and vegetables of your choice, add the top, and pop it into the oven for a good 25 to 30 minutes on high heat, and voila! What could be better?

Well, I suppose it could be healthier than some of the versions out there, but there's loads of tricks to make the filling lower in fat, and if you use a slightly thinner layer of (lean) biscuit or scone dough over the top, you're setting your setting yourself up nicely to have a guilt-free wallow in a delicious dinner. Or lunch. Or supper. Whatever you want to call it, really.

The biscuit pie methodology works pretty much the same for any filling. Beef stew, chicken stew, vegetable stew - pretty much anything that can take the hit of being in a hot oven for half an hour makes a great biscuit pie. And, if you're the sort of cook who likes convenience and buys packets of biscuits instead of making your own, well, that works too. So really, it's all about the filling.

I like my chicken (or turkey, or pheasant) pies to be creamy, and I like to use kernel corn instead of peas. I also like to have uses for leftover roast chicken, although, to be fair, I have plenty of those already (but another is always welcome). The pie at the top of this post came about after eyeing the recipe in the Cook This, Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide, which I've posted about before. For example, in my last post, Gyoza Stir-Fry. I've made some minor seasoning changes to suit myself, and of course the use of biscuit instead of puff pastry is not from CTNT's receipe.

Chicken Pot Pie, with a Biscuit Crust
Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups pearl onions (recipe calls for frozen, which I couldn't find, so I used fresh)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 garlic cloves
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1 cup frozen corn kernels
meat from 2 roasted chicken legs with thighs, skinless, diced
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon chicken base (Better than Bouillon)
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup 1% Milk
1/4 cup half & half
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

Make up the water and chicken base into a hot broth. Rinse corn kernels with hot water, in a sieve, so they drain instantly, and set aside.

Heat the butter in large skillet over med heat. When melted, add the onions, carrots and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent and carrots begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and mustard seeds, and stir well. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and the flour, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir well, so that veggies and meat are evenly coated with flour.

Slowly pour the warm broth in, either using whisk to help avoid clumping, or stirring well with your spoon/spatula while you pour. Once the broth is incorporated, and the sauce is smooth, add the milk (does not need to be warmed, but can be) and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Stir in corn. Season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Mix up your biscuit dough and roll out to fit the top of the casserole dish you will be using. Slice the biscuit into quarters, or leave it as one big sheet (if so, use a fork to poke some steam-release holes).

Heat over to 400 F. Pour chicken into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish, and cover with the biscuit dough. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. If your casserole is really full, place a tray under to catch any drips, or you will need to spend some of your evening cleaning your oven floor!

June 08, 2012

Gyoza Stir-Fry

This recipe is my version of the Chicken Pot Stickers in the highly useful Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding. It is fast, tasty, and relatively healthy. It makes a light meal, so if you want something more substantial, you might consider serving it over rice or noodles, but it's also good simply on its own.

To be sure, it's more of a recipe concept, since it revolves around a pre-made ingredient (the pot stickers themselves), but you can easily outfox that by making your own dumplings. I've gone with my favourite recipe for pork gyoza, a Japanese-style dumpling that is kissing-cousin to the Chinese pot sticker, making up a batch of 36 dumplings. The stir-fry recipe calls for 24, leaving me 12 to stash in the freezer. If you don't want to do that, there's always the ones from the freezer section of the supermarket, totally up to you.

The stir-fry, then, is pretty much self-explanatory from the photo above:

You start by par-cooking the frozen dumplings for a couple of minutes in boiling water (you could also steam them), although if you're using freshly made non-frozen dumplings, you can skip this step and just add a couple of minutes to the stir fry time.

Next, heat a small amount of sesame oil in a large non-stick skillet, and add some sliced shittake mushrooms, a couple of cups' worth. A few shreds of fresh ginger are great at this point, too, but not necessary. Stir fry those for a minute or two, then add the dumplings, cooking for 2 or 3 minutes per side until browned.

Add a couple of cups of trimmed snap peas (or snow peas, if you prefer) for one more minute of cooking, then remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice vinegar, and however much sriracha you fancy (more sriracha can be used as a condiment, of course).

Stir it all through, and divide between four bowls. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds (I use a combination of black and white sesame seeds, because I like the effect) and throw a sliced green onion on top for a burst of fresh flavour. I totally forgot the onion in the above picture, as you can see - it's not necessary, it is tasty.

Easy, yes? If you have the dumplings already in the freezer (one way or another), it only takes about 15 minutes to make, including waiting for the water to boil for the dumplings, and prepping the vegetables.

June 02, 2012

Aloo Matar (Dry) and Samosa Pie

My generalized dislike of green peas is almost legendary in my family, even though by age 10 or so I had conceded that peas in the context of a dish that was not only about the peas was entirely acceptable. I fell for snap peas and snow peas early and hard, as most kids do, but the pyramid of naked green peas as the vegetable du jour remains on my least beloved list. Split peas, however, were never on my bad list, as I've always categorized of them more as a lentil than anything else.

When I cook with peas, I tend toward using snow peas or snap peas, and I like them equally well (slightly) cooked or raw. I don't usually buy frozen peas, because I have so little use for them. However, I can think of a few uses for peas where they really shine, and the dish wouldn't be the same without them: 1) My mother's Spring chicken noodle soup, 2) raw in a salad or straight out of the garden (shelled, of course), and 3) potato-pea samosa filling.

Lately, I've found myself eyeing every restaurant listing for samosas that I can find. I prefer to know ahead of time what style of samosa is available, so I usually need to ask questions. Phyllo is not my favourite pastry for the samosa oeuvre, nor is puff pastry - the first being too shattery (or leathery), and the second being too rich and too thick. Since I am both fundamentally lazy and afraid of frying things, I decided that I should simply make one big samosa - i.e. a pie - using my usual all-purpose pastry shell, and make up my own filling: potato and pea, of course - my favourite samosa.

Having never made samosas before, I started looking at recipes for fillings and concluded that they were simply a dry aloo matar (mattar, muttar, mutter), and simply made up my own recipe as I went along. I was thrilled with the filling, and happily mounded it into the pie crust to bake in the oven.

The samosa pie was quite pretty, I think, and absolutely delicious - with one caveat: the peas were overcooked. Now, this wasn't the end of the world (although overcooking peas is a kind of tragedy) largely because I have an aggressive hand with the seasoning, which concealed some of the sins of overcooking. Now that I've considered the problem (and re-heated leftover pie a few times) I think I have the solution. Cook everything but the peas, allow the filling to cool, stir in frozen peas, mound into pastry shell and bake. As I was starting with a hot filling, and then baking it at 425 F for 45 minutes, of course the peas got overdone. But with a pre-cooked, cool or cold filling, and frozen peas, the outcome should be much better. I will be sure to report back when I try it again.

If you are not making pie, however, and just want a delicious, substantial dry curry, follow the directions for the peas below.

Aloo Matar

Serves 6—8

4 large yellow potatoes (about 2.75 lbs / 1300 g) peeled and diced medium
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil or mustard oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon masala of your choice (garam, tandoori, madras, etc.)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or more)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or equivalent fresh)
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (less if your masala contains salt)
pinch of turmeric if you want a yellow-y colour boost (not pictured)

Set the peeled and diced potatoes to cook until tender - about 10 minutes for simmering. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until translucent. If you want, you can add some finely diced hot chiles here, too. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, and about half the rest of the seasonings (you can mix all of the ground seasonings together beforehand). Add the frozen peas, stir and saute until the peas are all nicely covered with the oily spices, and either turn off the burner or set on a very low flame until the potatoes are ready. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them in a colander and spoon them into the skillet. Sprinkle the rest of the spices evenly over the potatoes and, using a spatula, carefully fold the potatoes through the peas mixture until everything looks evenly distributed. Serve with mango or tamarind chutney.

As always, feel free to tinker with the spices to best suit your tastes.

For Samosa pie, make the filling as above, omitting the peas. Cool the potato filling, stir in the frozen peas, and mound into the pastry shell of your choice. Bake at 450 F for 40 - 45 minutes, checking periodically, or until the crust is a lovely golden brown. For gluten free and/or vegan, you will need to accommodate those factors in your choice of pie crust, naturally, but the filling meets both requirements on its own.

May 27, 2012

Miso Halibut Cheeks

I know this looks like yet another pasta recipe, but really it's about the lovely bit of fish perched on top of the gingered noodles. The noodles could easily have been a bowl of Japanese rice, and possibly will be, next time.

You may have noticed that I do not tend to post a lot of fish or seafood recipes, and when I do they are usually for prawns, which is hands-down the most common type of seafood cookery for me. There is a reason for this: When I was a child, I had an allergic/food sensitivity reaction to finned fish. Shellfish were fine, but rare in our household, so I learned to like them without any adverse effects intruding. For finned fish, however, I grew to hate even the smell in the air, raw or cooked, however fresh. I would try to hold my breath in disgust, as I angrily ate my fried egg while the rest of the family had fish. When I eventually grew out of the physiological reaction to fish, I had no idea how to cook it, and little desire to learn, because the smell was so off-putting.

Sushi was the thing that broke the barrier for me, in the late 1980s. I started with the predictable California rolls, and eventually worked up my courage to try the others. The Japanese preparations tended to control the objectionable fishiness quite excellently. From there, I found myself eating fish as part of elaborate tasting menus at places like (the now-defunct) Lumiere, where elegant little morsels of sablefish might be cooked with sake and maple foam, for example. Tiny portions just right for sampling and exploring, which opened the door to other cooked fish preparations. When I started ordering fish in fine dining restaurants during departmental lunches for work, it was a real eye-opener in terms of how skilled preparation and bright flavours can make all of the difference. I even learned to like fish and chips (although I am particular about what fish it is, preferring mild, creamy white fish).

So, finally, when I saw the Miso Cod recipe in Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide, I was intrigued. I prefer halibut to cod, so that's what I hand in mind when I went to my local fish monger, The Daily Catch. They had halibut fillet, no surprise, but they also had halibut cheeks, and I knew in a blazing flash that they would be perfect for this dish. Halibut cheeks are boneless, which is part of the appeal, but they also possess a sort of delicacy of texture that appeals to me.

The recipe also included the marinated cucumbers shown to the side of the fish, which were a simple preparation of salt, sugar, rice vinegar and chile flakes that I enjoyed, but found overly salty. The spinach and sesame salad (goma ae) was thrown together to use up some spinach.

Miso Halibut Cheeks
Adapted from Cook This Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide
Serves 4

4 medium halibut cheeks (about 4 oz. each)
1/2 cup white miso (shiro miso)
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Combine the miso, mirin, sake, and sugar in a non-reactive bowl that is large enough to also hold the fish. Rinse and pat dry the halibut cheeks, and add them to the miso mixture, turning gently to ensure that each piece is well coated. Cover well, and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Preheat your broiler with a rack set at 15 cm (6 inches) below the flame, and prepare an edged baking sheet by lining it with foil and misting with cooking oil. Remove the halibut cheeks from the miso, and place, evenly spaced, on the prepared sheet. Brush a little extra miso mixture over the top of each cheek, to ensure it is evenly coated. Broil, watching carefully, for about 8 - 12 minutes, depending on your broiler, removing when the miso glaze begins to caramelize, and the fish begins to flake under gentle pressure. Garnish with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.

Halibut cheeks may be a little pricy, depending on where you live, but fillet, such as in the original recipe, or any other mild, creamy white fish should work nicely - check out Ocean Wise for any other fishies you might want to use. My fish monger is an Ocean Wise partner, and only uses sustainable seafood, which is reassuring because I don't need to do in-shop analysis before I pick my fish.

May 21, 2012

Meatball Macaroni with Chipotle

This dish brings together two things I adore: meatballs, and pasta. I did not grow up with spaghetti and meatballs, although I was aware of the dish as a matter of cultural immersion. Our spaghetti was always a baked affair, made in a deep pot (using soy noodles, although I didn't learn that was abnormal until I was older), and slabbed with cheese for the last few minutes in the oven. That dish is one of the first things that I learned how to cook, in fact, and I still have the laboriously written out recipe card from noting down each step as I watched my mother in the kitchen. There was plenty of beef in the recipe, but no meatballs.

Most of the pasta dishes I make these days are not baked (although there are certainly some exceptions). My macaroni and cheese is strictly stovetop, and I'm a big fan of vegetable-strewn fresh pasta using raw (or barely cooked) ingredients as an ad hoc sauce. Meatballs, on the other hand, are almost always baked. It frees you up to do other things (make a salad, drink some wine, whatever you want to do) and it guarantees beautifully round shape to the finished meatballs. So, if I am going to have meatballs with my pasta, I suppose it was a no-brainer to combine cooking methods, eventually.

Essentially, it's a two stage process. Mix up the meatballs of your choice, such as the always-popular-at-our-house Pork & Turkey Meatballs (also used to make meatloaf) and space them out in a larger-than necessary casserole dish to bake. While the meatballs are baking, mix up the pasta. In this case, I went with a Chipotle Macaroni Casserole dish that I hadn't made in a while, although I've tinkered with the settings thusly:

Chipotle Macaroni

Serves 4-6 (with meatballs)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 60 minutes

1 onion, finely minced
2 roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1-2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves
398 mL canned diced tomatoes
1 cup milk (1% is fine)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
3 cups grated tasty cheese
2 cups uncooked macaroni, small shells, ditali, or similarly sized pasta

Sautee an onion with a couple of roasted red peppers (rinsed, seeded, and diced), until the onion is softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.

When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Add a little water if it's sticking, to loosen it up. Next, combine a cup of milk with a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg, and beat until smooth. Add to the tomato mixture and stir well. Add the tomato paste and stir again. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until everything is well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Pepper Jack and edam went in here - and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, and hot sauce (chipotle or ancho are best here).

Stir in hot, cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent, such as the ditali shown here. Spoon the pasta over the cooked meatballs in the casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes to half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.

May 03, 2012

Horiataki, Horiatiki, or Greek Salad

If you've ever had one, you don't need me to provide a recipe for a Greek salad (unless you're from Toronto, where I understand they add lettuce, of all things!).

It's a pretty simply process, essentially being a large-particle chopped salad, generally constructed from cucumber, bell pepper, red onion (or white), tomato, kalamata olives, and feta. The quantities of the foregoing are up to you, but I like a nice balance of the vegetables, perhaps leaning slightly light on the onions if they are particularly fierce.

A sprinkle of oregano is lovely, and if you need a salad dressing, I recommend either a lemony or a red wine vinaigrette. Even just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a glug of good olive oil will do it, and in some places in Greece, this salad is not dressed at all. If you are cheese-free, a pinch of coarse salt to finish the dish will tie everything together nicely. On the other hand, if you are seriously pro-cheese, you might consider serving the feta in a magnificent slab across the top of the vegetables, and drizzling the olive oil over that. I had it served that way in a taverna in Greece, and was suitably impressed.

So, consider this not so much a recipe, as reminder of an excellent way to get your vegetables, round out a meal, and have a really fantastic salad.

April 29, 2012

Cincinnati Chili

I've never been to Cincinnati. My only points of reference for the city, I confess, are watching WKRP on tv and Cincinnati Chili (only the former of which I've experienced first hand). So, as you can see, this will be a bold adventure down chili avenue, and at the end I won't really know whether I've succeeded or not in creating an at-home version of "Cincy/Cinci Chili"; all I'll know is if I've made a tasty dinner. To be fair, that's usually my primary goal, so I'm not too worried about it.

My interest in Cincinnati Chili is based on two things: a deep appreciation of American regional cuisine, which I explore whenever possible, and a recollection of a pastitsio I once ate in Mykonos, which contains a similar combination of pasta, meat and spices, albeit without the cheddar cheese, kidney beans, or oyster crackers. I loved that dish so much, that I've tried to make a version of it before.

Ah, oyster crackers. You can't really get them here, I've discovered (unless you have an account with Sysco Restaurant suppliers, I suppose), so unless I want to visit one of the local oyster bars and clandestinely make off with a packet (or, you know, ask them nicely for an extra packet) I'm forced to either a) make my own from the dubious recipes floating around the internet (not happening today!), b) substitute soda crackers/saltines, despite numerous websites cautioning me against doing so, or c) use the also-dubious looking oyster crackers available from Carr's in the entertainment 9-variety pack.

I've opted for c) and the scant offering of suspiciously flat oyster crackers it is. For the purists, I apologize that I'm not easily able to meet the simple standard, but perhaps I can gain a little credit for not just using goldfish crackers?

My starting point was this recipe from Allrecipes, which is claimed (by a commenter, not the original poster) to be the very recipe for Skyline Chili as was posted in the newspaper in the 1970s. It seemed like a pretty good place to start. Yes, I did my reading, and understand that Empress is widely recognized as the first cincinnati chili, but at the end of the day, after all the reading, I couldn't find a version of that one available. Skyline seemed just the thing. When I eventually make it to Cincinnati, I will have to taste test Skyline, Empress, and Gold Star, just to truly understand the differences. I read a lot of recipes, and a lot of comments, and am impressed by how passionately Cincinnati folks love their chili. Food that is subject to hotly debated opinion, contested between strangers and friends alike in the quest for the perfect representative version, is always worth investigating.

I halved it, because I wasn't feeding 10 people, and I have finite freezer space, so I hope that doesn't compromise the flavours and/or textures. I also found it necessary to substitute dark cocoa powder for the chocolate (not going to the store again today), and upped the cinnamon. I use an unsalted tomato sauce, so this will likely be a bit less salty than other, more accurate versions.

So, the only remaining question, two-way, three-way, four-way, or five-way? Which, of course, isn't a question at all; five-way, hands down. For those completely unfamiliar with this dish, it breaks down like this: one-way is just chili in a bowl. Two-way is served on spaghetti. Three-way is served on spaghetti with cheddar cheese. Four-way is three-way plus chopped onions (raw). Five-way, the ultimate version as far as I can tell, is all of the forgoing plus beans, either in the form of chili beans or kidney beans, warmed separately and added either on top of the spaghetti, or on the bare plate before the spaghetti. Well, how could I opt for anything less than the full experience? Five-way it is.

Cincinnati Chili
Adapted from Allrecipes
Serves 5

454 grams lean ground beef
4 cups filtered water
200 mL unsalted tomato sauce
1 medium yellow onion, finely grated
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1/2 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin (ground)
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 bay leaf

The night before, break up the meat into a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and cook for about a half-hour, or until the meat is finely broken down and cooked through. Top up with more water as needed - it should be a bit watery. In fact, it looks kind of awful. That's okay, it gets better tomorrow. Cool it down, and then refrigerate overnight, in the same pot.

The day of, skim the solidified fat from the top and discard. Or make candles, or bird feeders, or whatever it is you do with tallow. Re-heat the meat and water mixture, and add everything else. About half-way through grating the onion, I couldn't hold it without risking grating my fingers, too, it was all so slippery with tear-inducing onion juice, so I wimped out and tossed the rest into the min-prep and let the sharp blades finish mincing it for me.

Simmer over a low heat for three hours, to allow time for all of the flavours to develop, adding water as necessary to keep it from drying out. The texture should be more along the lines of a pasta sauce, so it needs to stay "loose".

For five way, drain and rinse your beans, and reheat them separately in a little water. Cook up however much spaghetti you want to use - we go for smaller portions here, so a half-pound (225 ml) spaghetti gives me 4 servings, leaving one "serving" of chili leftover to make a "cheese coney" in the middle of the night. Ahem. So, beans, spaghetti (in which ever order you want to put them), topped with a full portion of the chili (1/5 of the pot), topped with finely chopped onion, and finished with a whole lot of cheddar cheese (I used sharp cheddar, because that's how I roll). Oyster crackers on the side, to be added by the various diners.

I didn't have a grater that would give me the kind of long, fine strands of cheese that I wanted, so I simply went with a fine shred. The overall effect is not the same, but it seemed a better option than using a coarser shred.

So, the verdict: The two-stage meat cooking yielded a texture that was very silky, almost fluffy, and I cannot imagine a way to get that without the lengthy cook time. The combined seasonings were incredibly tasty, although for my tastes I could have upped the allspice and clove (perhaps with a little pinch of ground spices, instead of whole), and I could have easily upped the cocoa to a full tablespoon, too. However, even exactly as written above, it was fragrant, rich, and satisfying, and a dish I'd be happy to have again. A tasty dinner, indeed.

Now I just need to get myself to Cincinnati, and check out the real deal.

April 19, 2012

Pork & Turkey Meatloaf

If you're thinking that you've seen this combination of meats from me before, you're right: Pork & Turkey Meatballs is the exact same recipe, so check it out if you would like to make this. The only change is that you're making one big meatball, so to speak, and it takes longer to cook.

I use lean ground turkey thigh and lean ground pork, and cut the meatloaf into 12 slices, effectively making each slice the same food value as one of the meatballs (approximately 133 calories* per slice, if you're counting). It makes a great dinner centrepiece, and the leftovers make predictably delicious sandwiches. In fact, I urge you to make a grilled cheese sandwich in which a very thin slice of this meatloaf is placed between layers of cheese; you will doubtless eat it dangerously fast, if my experience is anything to go by.

For cooking the meatloaf, preheat your oven to 350 F, and shape the meat mixture into a loaf with your hands before placing it gently into a loaf-pan. Bake the meatloaf, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Paint with a little soy sauce or worcestershire sauce, bump up the temperature to 400 F, and bake for another 15 minutes. Carefully remove the meatloaf from the pan (I use two flipper-type spatulas, one on each end) to a warmed plate or a cutting board.

I recommend letting the meatloaf stand for ten minutes when it comes out of the oven before slicing, for optimum slice cohesion. You can tent it with foil if you're worried that it will cool down too much. Slice only what you need right away, and let the rest continue to cool until dinner's over. Then slice the rest, and store how you wish. You'll find the completely cooled meatloaf slices much more neatly and tidily than the first ones.

One of the great things I discovered about this recipe is that it freezes incredibly well. We had a few slices left over after the dinner that you see above, and the aforementioned sandwiches, and I wrapped the slices all together in plastic wrap, which I then bagged up in a freezer bag with the air squeezed out. Two weeks later, we hauled out the bag, defrosted it, reheated the slices on medium power in the microwave, and had a yummy dinner that took very little effort. Somehow, that sort of thing always makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.

What kind of sides you serve with meatloaf is entirely up to your preference. I don't usually go for mashed potatoes, because I don't put a sauce or gravy on the meatloaf. In the picture above, the potato-half you see is a very simple twice-baked potato, wherein the insides of a baked potato were scraped out and mixed with a little monterey jack or edam cheese, some smoked paprika, and a dollop of sour cream. The filling was smoothed back into the baked potato shell, and briefly broiled, topped with a tiny bit more sour cream, and some green onion. You could also go with a nice rice pilaf, or even macaroni and cheese, a creamy orzo side dish, or even french fries. The other side, broccoli, is a no-brainer in our household. Need a veggie? How about broccoli?! We eat a lot of it, either plain steamed with a pinch of kosher salt, or drizzled with a little toasted sesame oil (especially for an Asian-flavoured dinner). In asparagus season, that makes a great choice too, but any veggie side will do: crisp green salad, corn on-or-off the cob, green beans, spicy carrot coins...even green peas, if that's your thing (but I'll pass, frankly). And the end of the day, you know what you like; serve it with this meatloaf.

*calorie information from an online calculator, the accuracy of which I cannot vouch for.