December 22, 2013

Perogies, Pyrogies, Pyroheys!

Just before I left Vancouver in September, I finally got together with my friends Rodney and Sandi for a long overdue cooking session. We had been talking about making perogies together from almost the first day Sandi and I met, but had never quite gotten around to planning it until the clock was ticking rather loudly. Fortunately, we managed to squeeze in an afternoon of cooking a couple of weeks before I got on the plane.

Oddly enough, none of us had ever made perogies from scratch before. I think we had all helped others do so, but had never been in charge of the recipe before. This version comes from Sandi's family, and is a Schmunk-Kilby family recipe. I have adapted the original, very brief instructions slightly to provide more information based on our session.

Please note that there is mashed potato in both the dough and the filling. We used a total of 12 medium potatoes to make the whole recipe, and cooked them up in the morning, so that they would be cooled enough to make into dough in the afternoon. The perogies were cooked up for breakfast the next day, which is why we are all wearing different clothes - it wasn't that messy an endeavour.

This post has two unusual features, compared to my usual blog style: First, not all of the photos in this post are from Always In The Kitchen -- photos marked ©Rodney Gitzel were taken by Rodney or Sandi, and are used with permission. Second, I think this may be the first time I'm actually appearing in this blog (other than as a disembodied hand); that's me in the glasses.


Yield: 6 dozen


3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups mashed Russet potatoes (cold or room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup oil

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, oil and salt together until smooth, and then add the mashed potatoes, combine, and then stir in the flour until it becomes a soft dough. Cover and let stand (room temperature is fine) for 1 1/2 hours. We used a ricer to "mash" the potatoes, which gave them a very nice texture. While the dough is resting, you can make up the fillings (see below).

When ready to roll out the dough, divide it in half, keeping half covered while working with the rest. Use sufficient flour on your work surface so that you can lift the eventual individual circles of dough without distorting their shape (we learned that one the hard way). If the dough starts sticking, sprinkle it with more flour as needed (it was a fairly hot, sticky day, so we needed the extra flour).

Roll out the first portion of dough to about the thickness of a flour tortilla, and use a floured glass to cut out the circles. We used small (emptied, cleaned, of course) Nutella glass cups, which I estimate yielded about two-and-a-half inch diameter circles of dough. Fill each little circle of dough with a tablespoon of filling, folding and pinching the edges to make the classic half-moon shape. Place the formed perogy on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat until you've cut out (and filled) as many circles as possible, and then gather up the scraps of dough into a ball and re-roll them, repeating until all of the dough has been used. The last perogy may be a bit mutant looking, but that's okay. Be sure to lay the finished perogies out in a single layer, and leave a little space between each perogy, so that they don't stick together. The perogies might look a bit irregular or downright messy to begin with, but as you get the hang of it, they will look more uniform. Even the oddly shaped ones ones will be delicious though, so keep going.

Apparently, the perogy dough needed to be subdued at one point, which Sandi handled nicely. We took turns rolling out the dough, just so we could all see and feel the texture of the dough.

Once all of the perogies are formed, you can cook them immediately, refrigerate them, or freeze them for future use. If you want to freeze them, freeze them in a single layer on a sheet or plate until hard, then transfer them to a freezer bag, seal and date.


6 large potatoes (russet)
Aged Cheddar
Cottage Cheese and potato

If you cooked all of the potatoes together, you'll be using all of the remaining mashed potatoes left over from making the dough in the filling. We divided the potatoes in half here, so that we could make both of these classic fillings. There are many other fillings you can make as well (I'm quite partial to potato and onion, for example, or you could forgo the potatoes entirely for stewed fruit, such as cherries or blueberries).

For the cottage cheese and potato version, we used about two cups of cottage cheese, and added a pinch of salt, and mixed them together. Very quick!

For the potato, bacon, and cheddar version, we fried up some of Rodney's home-smoked bacon, and then finely minced it so that there wouldn't be big pieces that would poke through the soft dough. There was about a cup of finely chopped bacon and about a cup-and-a-half to two cups of coarsely shredded cheddar. Stir into the mashed potatoes just to combine, and it's ready to go. You can of course vary the proportions as you see fit.


Drop a dozen or so perogies (don't overcrowd the pot) into a large pot of gently boiling water and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Perogies will float when cooked. Serve immediately or give them a quick toss in a skillet with butter and onions (and/or bacon). If necessary, place in a (buttered) baking dish in an oven preheated to 200 degrees F. and keep warm until ready to eat.

We had ours with Manitoba Mennonite sausage cooked on an outdoor grill before adding to the pan, onions, butter, and more of Rodney's home-smoked bacon.

That's a fine afternoon's labour, right there.

December 07, 2013

Linseneintopf - German Lentil Stew

I enjoy walking through supermarkets, especially when I am in a different food culture. There is a lot of information inherent in the selections available in each market, and even in the variety of markets themselves. Within a couple of weeks in my new town, I had determined a hierarchy of local markets in terms of the quantity and quality of items on offer, as well as the focus of each market - whether it offers more or less in the way of products especially formulated for the health-conscious shopper (such as organic foods, vegetarian or vegan options), or if it emphasizes volume/bulk purchasing, or rock bottom pricing (or any combination of those things).

There are the obvious benchmarks - how much shelf space is dedicated to fresh food, to snack food, sweet or savoury treats, whether or not alcohol is available in the markets (here in Germany one can purchase wine or beer in any grocery store or even the tiny corner market), and then there's the really interesting benchmark of ready-to-eat or heat-and-serve meals.

I immediately came face to face with the dominating presence of lentil stew, or Linseneintopf (also sometimes called Linsentopf). There are an astonishing array of brands from which to choose your lentil stew: in cans (of various sizes), in plastic, microwavable tubs (just peel off the lid), and in clear plastic chubs (snip and pour). You can get standard or organic, with or without sausages, in vegetarian, vegan, poultry, or meat. If you want meat sausages, you can choose between ones with mettenden, bockwurst, wieners, or any number of other meaty bits. No matter how exclusive or low-rent the supermarket is, you will find plenty of lentil stew options for your perusal.

Once I realized how prevalent (if not pervasive) this dish is here, my next stop was the bookstore. Of course, bookstores aren't usually big on the canned goods, and here is no exception, but bookstores do have cookbooks. The cookbooks touting local cuisine, or having names that suggest "Grandma's Kitchen" or tag lines "comfort food" or "childhood favourites" all contained recipes for lentil stew. The most surprising thing is how similar the recipes are. Apart from the wildcard of which lentil (or combinations of lentils) to use, I've really only encountered one truly heterodox iteration - "red" (rote linseneintopf), which includes tomato paste and/or diced tomatoes. I don't think the schism is as significant as the American "clam chowder divide" but I have yet to encounter any strong opinions on the subject.

I've only tried one of the supermarket offerings - it was very salty, which is a common failing of heat and serve foods everywhere, but particularly problematic here, if only because there sadly does not appear to be any labelling requirement for salt. Some products seem to include the salt value, but it is by no means universal. Still, other than the saltiness, I liked the dish quite a bit, so I decided to pursue the recipe. After a lot of label-reading and recipe reviewing, I went with a fairly simple recipe that combined the best elements of the various iterations I discovered. It's very simple, and reasonably quick

Linseneintopf - German Lentil Stew

Serves 4 (makes approximately 10 cups)

250 grams dry brown lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 medium carrots, diced small
3/4 cup diced-small celeriac (or celery)
2 bay leaves
pinch of marjoram
4 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth, or water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon vinegar, or more to taste (I used white wine vinegar)
2 sausages, diced (I used bockwurst)
Black pepper
Fresh parsley (optional)

Wash and pick over the lentils. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, celeriac and carrot briefly. When onion turns translucent, add the bay leaves, marjoram (you can substitute oregano if need be) and pinch of salt. If you are using water instead of broth, increase the salt to a half teaspoon. Add the (washed, drained) lentils, the broth (or water), and bring to a bare simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Stir, add the diced potatoes, and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender (use a fork to test). Add the sausage, and continue to cook until the sausage is heated through. Stir in the vinegar to taste, and if necessary, add a small pinch of sugar to balance the flavours. Finish with with freshly ground black pepper and minced fresh parsley. Serve with bread.

This stew was very hearty, satisfying, and delicious, and is going into our rotation.

November 24, 2013

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch: Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat

So, now that my pots and pans are all unpacked, I can finally get back to cooking. The first few things that I made were pretty much comfort foods for us - pizza, baked chicken, chili (and subsequently, of course, chili mac), which contributed to the normalization process by which our brains slowly become wired to register "oh yes, this is where you live now. I can tell, because of the food." I didn't photograph anything, because you've seen them all before.

So, now that we've made a couple of "old" recipes (and madly buying spices so that I can make whatever I want without suddenly realizing, for example that I don't have bay leaves yet), it's time to explore some German cooking.

Auflauf, which is a German-style casserole, is one of my new favourite words. We learned it at Restaurant Am Gautor, when Palle ordered it for lunch off of their seasonal menu card. We appear to have arrived in the middle of mushroom season (pfifferlingen = chanterelles; steinpilze = porcini) and pumpkin season. Even tiny shops that sell only one or two food items (like the wine vendor down the street from our apartment) boldly advertise "Kürbissuppe", "Kürbiscremesuppe" or "Hokkaido kürbissuppe"on the chalkboard by the door. Seasonal eating is definitely the fashion, here, and some restaurants, like Gautor have a special supplementary menu to reflect the current offerings.

The undisputed champion pumpkin in terms of market shelf-space, restaurant offerings, and recipes that appear in the freebie television guide, is the Hokkaido Kürbis, which I was more familiar with as a Red Kuri Squash, pictured here.

So of course I plunged into a crash-course of reading through online recipes to try to come up with a viable one. Once I had a basic ingredients list and methodology that seemed to represent the dish as we experienced it in the restaurant, I went ahead and changed and streamlined the process to fit my kitchen style. It was a bit of an enterprise, but well worth it. You could do a meatless version with veggie ground, of course, or adding in a layer of brown lentils which have been seasoned in the same manner as the meat (Vegans will want to break out their favourite cheese-sauce analog for the last step).

(n.b. Some of the photos in this post are a little iffy - new kitchen, new lighting, new setting on the camera...will soon get the hang of the new location, though.)

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch
(Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat)

Serves 4

450 grams cooked potatoes, diced (I used leftover roasted potatoes)
450 grams hard winter squash, such as Butternut, or Hokkaido/Red Kuri
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
250 grams lean ground beef (or beef/pork mix)
1 medium tomato, fresh, diced medium-small
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of oregano (dried leaf style)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable stock or broth
pinch nutmeg
90 - 100 grams grated cheese, such as edam, gouda, butter cheese, or other good melting cheese. I used Gouda.

Lightly oil a 7x11" casserole pan (or any shallow 2 litre pan). You could also use 4 individual serving dishes, which would make for a nice presentation.

The primary recipe that I was consulting suggested that the potatoes and the squash be peeled, cubed, and (separately) boiled until tender. However, it seems unnecessary to dirty up that many pans. I used leftover roasted potatoes, and simply roasted the cubed squash, but you could roast it all together, if you had a big enough pan to do it in (sadly, you'd need a bigger pan than the 7x11 casserole in which the dish is assembled). Roast the potato and squash until just tender - don't overdo it, or the squash may turn to mush. Conversely, you could roast the potatoes, and boil the squash at the same time - your call.

Peeling the squash is a bit of a pain, but the skin is not really all that edible (and certainly undesirable), so make sure you get it all off. A sturdy peeler or a good chef's knife should do the trick. Cut the potato and the squash into roughly the same size pieces - that is to say, ideally about the size of a medium-sized red radish. If you're roasting the squash, it will take about 30 minutes at 350 F (180 C), if boiling, not longer than 5 minutes.

Peel the onion and garlic and dice finely. In a medium/large skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the ground meat thoroughly. Then add the onions and garlic. Once the onion starts turning translucent, add the diced tomato. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, a good pinch of oregano leaves, and the smoked paprika and cayenne. Don't go overboard with the seasonings here, or you risk overwhelming the finished dish. You can use regular paprika if you don't have smoked (also called Pimentón de la Vera), but the smoked variety gives a lovely warming quality to the dish. Allow the mixture to cook for about five minutes over medium heat, and then turn off the heat, cover and keep warm.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

In a small to medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and then add the flour all at once to make a roux. Allow the roux to cook, but not darken, until it starts to smell pleasantly nutty. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and then add the broth, switch to a spatula, and continue to stir. When all of the liquid has been added, and the mixture is smooth and thick, remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg. It does not need salt, because it gets plenty from the stock/broth and the cheese. If you are using low sodium versions of those, you may want to add a little pinch, but don't overdo it. Stir until smooth. For goodness sake, don't taste it, or you may end up sitting on your kitchen floor eating the whole lot, instead of making your casserole.

Assembly time! Into your oiled (or buttered) casserole dish(es), put all of the potatoes, shaking them to spread them out into a single layer. They should nicely cover the whole bottom of the dish. If there's too much room around them to make a convincing layer, you are using too large a pan - switch to a smaller one before proceeding.

Next, add the seasoned ground meat mixture as a layer on top of the potatoes.

Arrange the roasted squash cubes over the meat mixture. I could have used a bit more squash, I think - this is a pretty sketchy-looking layer.

Finally, pour your delicious cheese sauce over the casserole, getting as even a coverage as you can, leaving nothing exposed. Place, uncovered in the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until hot, bubbly, and perhaps slightly browned in places on top.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not have nutmeg, but I am convinced of its value in this context, because it always brings good notes to any white sauce. Next time, I will totally have nutmeg, and it will go in as written above.

Serve up and devour.

November 13, 2013

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Quiche

Good news! My kitchen has now arrived from Canada. Some attrition, unfortunately - my mother's ceramic bread bowl did not make it in one piece, my Lagostina Dutch Oven arrived misshapen and with a dented lid, and my 8" square tempered glass pan was shattered into fragments. The spider was bent out of shape (but has now been bent back into shape, more or less), and the plastic smoothie-blending cup was also broken. Sigh. The packers appear to have had no concept of load shift.

So now, I get to reassemble my spice collection, purchase some staple items (flour, cornstarch, yeast, baking powder, live herbs for the window sill in the kitchen, for example), draft some dinner menus, get cooking, and take some pictures!

In the meantime, please consider this delightful quiche as a brunch option:

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Quiche

You will need:

- Your favourite pie crust, lining the pie plate of your choice (this one is a small, six-inch (?) pie plate).
- crisply cooked bacon, crumbled finely, enough to cover the bottom of the pastry
- a layer of grated cheddar
- enough cooked cauliflower to loosely cover the layers below it (make sure the cauliflower is not wet)
- another layer of grated cheddar
- a royale mixture (eggs beaten with milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, any any other seasoning you like)

For a 9" quiche I use a royale made from 3 eggs and 2/3 cup of 1% milk, but you can use any set-custard ratio that pleases you, sized for whatever pan you are using.

Pour the royale carefully over the other ingredients so that they maintain their positions. If you like a golden, glossy crust, dip a brush in the royale and carefully brush a little over the exposed upper portion of the crust.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes (for a full sized quiche, a bit less for a smaller one - start checking at 30 minutes), or until the crust is golden and the filling is slightly puffed and firmly set. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting, for easiest removal.

Here it is "in the raw", just before it went into the oven:

November 07, 2013

Heart & Blade Burgers

These were intensely, astoundingly, beefy. I got the idea from Jennifer McLagan's book "Odd Bits" where she exhorts the reader to make burgers entirely of heart, but for my inaugural attempt at cooking beef heart I decided to go with her further suggestion of cutting the heart 50/50 with non-organ muscle meat. She suggested brisket, but, based on the availability of the day, I went with bottom blade. For four patties, I used 250 grams trimmed heart, and 250 grams bottom blade, making each patty roughly a quarter pound.

I do not have a meat grinder, which is the only reason that it took me this long to make these. However, I cribbed from Alton Brown's instructions for making ground meat using a food processor, and that worked incredibly well:

Heart & Blade Burger Patties

Prepare the beef heart by trimming any muscle sheath, silverskin, tendons, or veins that may be clinging to the outside. Using a chef's knife, dice the meat into short, thick strips about 5 centimetres long. Next, trim and dice the blade meat into the same sized pieces.

Place the meat in a metal pan in the freezer for about 20 minutes, so that the meat begins to freeze and stiffens, but is still somewhat pliable.

Scrape the meat off of the pan into a food processor fitted with a metal blade, about 250 grams at a time - you don't want to overload the machine. Pulse the processor's blade repeatedly until the mixture begins to look like ground beef. Empty the processor, and repeat until all of the meat is chopped.

At that point, I put all of the meat together in the processor, added a tiny dribble of olive oil, and gave it another few pulses, simply to integrate it into a single mass and make sure there was enough fat to keep the meat from drying out.

Remove the metal blade and season to taste. We wanted to go with simple, almost stark burgers, so that we could really taste the meat. We used only a good pinch of kosher salt, but you could season these any way that you like to season your burgers.

Next I turned all of the meat out onto the counter, and shaped the mass of fluffy meat into four patties, which we fried over medium-high heat in a little butter (you could also use olive oil, of course). I worried that the patties might not hold together nicely, but they did. I was struck by how dark a red they were - lots of iron, for sure. These patties are quite lean, because heart meat is inherently lean. I patted them out quite thinly, because I wanted good bun coverage, but a thicker patty would work fine, too. If you're making them very thick, you might want to poke a hole through the centre to speed up and even out the cooking process, but that's up to you.

Now, I won't lie to you: there is a faint trace of gaminess, of "organ meat flavour" that one gets from the heart, but it is quite mild compared to, say, liver or kidney, and the overall effect is so overwhelmingly meaty tasting that the general impression that you get when biting into your burger is simply that of beef (and rightly so). I suspect that the all-heart burgers would be a little gamier, which would certainly be fine with me, but these were a wonderful introduction into cooking beef heart. Piled up onto a bun with all of the fixings (not pictured, sadly, because we fell on the finished burgers ravenously, and I forgot to take pictures), it made a delicious dinner.

So, what's next? All-heart burgers? Heart Loaf? "Heart"y Meatballs? There seem to be an awful lot of options, and I'm looking forward to further experimentation.

October 25, 2013

Gigantes & Briam Burgers

This is really more of a serving suggestion than a recipe, per se.

Remember the Briam that I enthused about last summer? Well, I started with the notion that I would make a veggie burger, using ground chickpeas in a sort of falafel-inspired patty, but when I realized that I also had leftover Gigantes, I thought I'd make the patties with those, instead.

The Gigantes are rather soft, so, in the absence of any aggressive thickener, such as chickpea flour (and with the vague notion of keeping the patty gluten-free, although the bun pictured here is not), once I mashed the beans up, the resultant patties were very soft, almost bordering more on hummus than on falafel. However, they were delicious, and they added a nice hit of protein to this sandwich to make it more satisfying to eat, and of course to add staying power. You could, of course, replace the bean patties with any patty-like interior that you like - keeping the Greek theme, ground lamb would be fantastic.

The Briam is also fairly soft, but retains enough texture to keep the pieces (mostly) in the bun, and so that you get at least some textural experience from the specific vegetables as you bite your way through the sandwich. This particular batch of Briam was a bit more eggplant-intensive than my usual, so the softness is an asset (leathery eggplant doesn't make good sandwiches, oddly enough). I highly recommend toasting the bun, not only for flavour, but to add much needed structure to the whole enterprise.

Because the patty was so soft that it practically became a spread on the bun, and because of the generous amount of olive oil already in the Briam, no other spreads or dressings were needed for this sandwich. I added some slices of feta to the bottom half, simply because I had it available, and the sharp, salty taste contrasted nicely with the mellow vegetables.

It's always good to make more Briam than you need; it keeps well for a few days, is delicious hot or cold, and can be pressed into service as a side dish, condiment, or sandwich filling/garnish at will. Next time I have some leftover, I'll definitely be thinking about this sandwich, and scheming to build an even better Gigantes patty, or perhaps a nice, crispy flat disc of falafel.

October 18, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Bacon Fat Biscuits

I'm not sure, but this might encompass all of the above principles: reduce the amount of groceries purchased (no extra purchase of solid fat for baking); reuse the fat drained from cooking bacon; recycle the fat into an entirely different dish. Okay, those last two are kind of similar, but I'm giving it points because the re-use is not for the same dish or type of cooking, and because it's actually incorporated into the recipe as opposed to simply being a cooking medium (the usual fate of reused fats, if I'm not mistaken). It's economical and delicious!

The biscuits shown above were made with unstrained bacon fat, which is why they are a bit flecked in appearance. To get a less speckled effect, you can strain the fat through a fine sieve (or possibly cheesecloth) to get a more homogenous, lard-white colour. I also was using (solid) bacon fat that was a little on the soft side, which actually seems to inhibit rising a bit; these could be taller.

You can do a straight-up substitution of whatever butter/lard/shortening etc. that you currently use for biscuits, but if you don't have a biscuit recipe, here's one to try:

Bacon Fat Biscuits

Makes 9 biscuits, or tops an 8 - 12 inch pot pie, depending on how thick or thin you want your topping.

Total prep and cooking time: 25 minutes

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup rendered bacon fat, in solid form (chill until firm)
3/4 cup milk - I use 1% milk

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Add raisins, herbs, cheese, or any other additional flavourings at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience) cut in the bacon fat until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized. If your bacon fat is frozen hard, you can do this step in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

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

Pat out the dough into a rough rectangle, and slice into the size of biscuits that you want. Place them on an ungreased cookie-sheet and bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden.

If you are using the biscuits as a topping for pot pie, pat out the dough into the shape and size of your stew-pot. Stab the biscuits with a fork to make a few air-holes, and lift the entire thing (no cutting necessary) onto the bubbling hot stew. Place in the 450 F oven, and bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. It does take longer when the biscuit is cooked over a stew.

Bonus Tip: freeze your bacon drippings in a spare measuring cup until you have enough, or create a form out of tinfoil wrapped around your 1/3 cup measure, and store it (covered) in the freezer until it is full.

These would be awesome for Biscuits and Gravy, don't you think?

You can use the same technique to make pie crust, of course. Some of my friends will remember the potluck to which I brought sour cherry pie with a bacon fat crust, the leftovers of which were served with my friend Rodney's homemade gelato for breakfast.

October 08, 2013

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano

So! We've found a place to live, and will be moving in on November 1. My kitchen should be arriving shortly thereafter, and I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to cook once again. Seriously, boiling eggs in an electric kettle may technically count as cooking, but crikey! What I wouldn't give for a simple skillet dinner right now...

In the interim, I've found a couple of photos in my archive from dishes we cooked earlier this summer, and so I plan to trickle those out until I'm cooking again. This one is from late June.

I apparently need to get more iron into my diet. I do take iron supplements - as much as my poor system can handle, but it's not enough to correct the serious deficit that I'm running, so I am finding ways to squeeze more red meats and offal into my diet. Yes, I know that there are plenty of vegetable sources of iron (I'm eating those too); I simply need all the iron I can get.

Liver is a rich source of easily absorbed iron, even poultry liver, so it seemed obvious to me that we should take a crack at a classic Venetian recipe for chicken livers with fettuccine. My husband was the cook this time, and I was the lucky person who simply had to show up and eat. This dish comes together very quickly, so make sure your prep is done before you start cooking.

Venetian Chicken Livers - Fegato di Pollo alla Veneziano
Adapted from Claudia Roden's Food of Italy

Serves 2

Fresh fettucini (2 servings)
225 grams fresh chicken livers, cleaned and sliced into medium-large chunks
1 - 2 shallots, sliced pole-to-pole into strips
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch white pepper
3 tablespoons red (or dry white) wine (approximately)
¼ cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Prepare the pot with water for the pasta, and get it ready to drop the pasta (fresh pasta only takes about three minutes to cook). If you must use dry pasta, obviously start the pasta first, and adjust the timing accordingly. Warm some pasta bowls and have them standing by.

Clean and slice the livers, removing any grotty bits of sinew or connective tissue, and set aside. Slice the shallot(s) and garlic and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and subsides, and then add the livers in a single layer. Sprinkle with the salt and white pepper, let them sear briefly to get a tiny bit of colour on them (about a minute). During that minute, drop your pasta into the boiling water, and make sure there's a colander or sieve ready to receive it. Give the livers a quick stir to flip them over, and push them to the outer edge of the skillet. Add the shallot strips and garlic into the bare centre of the skillet (you can add another bit of olive oil if it looks dry). Sauté briefly, and then gently stir the livers through the onion mixture. Add the wine (or a splash of vermouth) to deglaze and create a bit of a pan sauce, scraping up the bottom of the skillet. Continue to cook gently until the pasta is ready (in the other pot), and then turn off the heat under the livers.

Drain the pasta and portion into the warmed pasta bowls. Spoon the livers mixture over the pasta, being sure to pour any collected juices from the pan over each serving, and top with parmesan and parsley. Enjoy with a nice glass of wine.

If I recall correctly we utterly failed to remember to add the garlic, but it wasn't missed so it's clearly an optional ingredient (a Venetian may disagree with me). I do think that the next time I make this I might top it with a lemon gremolata, rather than just the parmesan and parsley, because I think it would beautifully - the sharpness of the lemon zest and raw garlic cutting through the richness of the dish. I'll be sure to report if that's the case.

October 03, 2013

Minor Update

I am in Germany!

My kitchen, however, is still afloat somewhere in the Atlantic (more or less) until we manage to find an apartment to rent.

I hope to be cooking again soon...

Wish us viel Glück; we could use it!


September 08, 2013


Dear friends, readers, and subscribers:

Please note that there will be no new content for a little while, as my kitchen is in the process of being shipped to Germany. For now, I am always in other people's kitchens.

Once I am up and running again, I expect to resume posting, but there may be a little bit bigger of a gap than usual.

Please do check back for updates - I'm looking forward to getting back into the kitchen, and cooking up great food in a completely different environment!

Until then...

Guten Appetit!

August 19, 2013

Breakfast at Home: Orange Breakfast Polenta

This is something a little different, for those looking for a hot breakfast cereal that isn't oatmeal-based. The polenta is soft and creamy (vegans could use almond yoghurt or coconut cream instead of yoghurt), but if you make extra, it sets up quite firmly and can be sliced and fried, for a different effect, the next day. It is a little bit sweet, but not very. If you want it sweeter, you may wish to increase the honey a bit.

We served ours with bacon, because we like bacon, but broiled grapefruit halves would also make a great side. Next time I make this I might use half water and half orange juice, just to bump up the orange flavour without using the extract.

Orange Breakfast Polenta

Serves 2

1/2 cup peeled mandarin orange segments, in juice
2 cups water
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup plain Greek (or Mediterranee) Yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon real orange extract (or orange zest)
1 tablespoon honey or sweetener of your choice

Bring the water and the juice from the mandarins to a gentle boil. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a whisk, and then lower the heat to medium; continue to stir and cook for ten to twelve minutes. (Start with a whisk, then switch to a silicone spatula or wooden spoon 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.

While the polenta cooks, somewhere around the half-way point, add the orange extract or zest, the salt, and the honey. Stir as continuously as possible, being careful that it doesn't bubble up and splash you - hot polenta clings and burns!

After 10 minutes, remove from the heat. Add yoghurt and stir until smooth. Pour into 2 bowls and arrange orange segments on top. Dust with cinnamon or clove if you like.

Pretty, easy, and delicious!

August 11, 2013

Jamaican Tomato Relish

Unlike most of the recipes in my Jamaican repertoire, this is not spicy. Of course, you could change all that by adding a seeded, minced habanero along with the green bell pepper, but that's entirely up to you. It's a snap to make, requiring only a little chopping, a little simmering, and a non-reactive container to store it in.

This relish is great on burgers, hot dogs, cheese sandwiches, savoury pies, as a dip for tortilla chips (or crackers!), and as a bruschetta topping - pretty much anywhere you might otherwise use a salsa. It also keeps for a few weeks in the fridge without loss of quality. It's sweet and tangy and wonderfully summery.

I note that you can use a food processor to dice your vegetables, but the finished effect is much nicer if you chop them by hand.

Jamaican Sweet Tomato Relish

Makes 2 cups

1 medium yellow or red onion
1/2 large green bell pepper
5 medium Roma tomatoes, seeds removed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Allspice

Finely dice the vegetables, and place them in a medium sauce pan with the sugar. Bring up to a simmer (don't add water - the sugar and the juices from the vegetables will provide ample cooking liquid), and let simmer, covered, over a low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, salt and spices, and simmer another 20 minutes (uncovered) over medium heat, to thicken. Allow to cool slightly, and store in a glass jar. Store in fridge and use within 6 weeks.

Note: The first cooking stage smells kind of off-putting, because green peppers cooking in sugar is not the nicest smell in the world. Wait it out, it gets better. Also, try not to breathe in the vinegar when you pour it into the dish - the fumes are choke-inducing. Use your kitchen fan, if you have one.

This has become my favourite sweet relish. I often scoop some up with crackers as a snack.

August 01, 2013

Breakfast at Home: Huevos en Cenotes

This is too good an idea not to try, especially if you find you need to use up a bunch of corn tortillas. For smaller families, those packages of 50 small corn tortillas can take a while to go through. Sure, there's the tacos, and enchilada casseroles, and other classics like migas, or chilaquiles. But this...this is a keeper. It's easy enough to do on a weekday, if you're just doing up one quickly for yourself, and it's a hearty, filling breakfast that will carry you through your morning.

I made a couple of minor tweaks to the Pioneer Woman original recipe that in spired this, the most significant being a tiny pinch of cheese between the layers of tortillas, which acts as an anchor to keep the bits from sliding around as you flip them. If you're feeling really feisty, tuck a little minced chile into the cheese mixture between the layers of tortillas. Another minor difference is that I use four tortillas per stack, because I generally stock large eggs in my kitchen. Of course, multiply these instructions by however many people are at your table.

Huevo En Cenote

adapted from Pioneer Woman's "Huevo In The Hole" recipe

Serves 1

4 corn tortillas (4" size)
1 egg
1/4 cup grated cheese, such as Edam (or Cheddar, or Jack, or Mozzarella)
1/2 tablespoon butter or corn oil (or similar, for frying)
freshly chopped cilantro and green onion (optional garnish)
Fresh Salsa (or hot sauce) to serve

Cut out the centre of the tortillas (I used a biscuit cutter, so I had to do them one at a time). Put the middles aside for another use - mini tortilla chips perhaps? Layer the tortilla rings with tiny pinches of cheese (too much, and it will run out the sides and be a bit messy). Preheat a smallish skillet over medium-high heat. Melt a bit of butter right in the area that you're going to place the stack, let it melt and foam out, and then add the tortilla stack. Swirl the stack around a bit (while holding it down firmly) to make sure that the bottom layer of tortilla all gets a little bit of butter on it. Crack an egg into the hole in the stack, and let cook until it is set on the bottom, and starting to turn opaque in the middle. Adjust the heat down to medium, so the tortillas get crisp rather than burned.

When you judge that the egg is about half way cooked through, slide a spatula underneath the stack and flip it over. As with pancakes, a quick, confident, controlled motion is best, but the cheese melted between the tortilla layers does help hold things together.

Once the egg is cooked to your satisfaction, plate and serve. I recommend using a sharp knife to slice through the firm layers of crispy and soft tortillas.

Garnish however you like. Hot sauce, avocado, fresh salsa, cilantro, pickled red onion, bacon, more cheese...really, it's customizable to the nth degree.

This is every good as bit as you suspect it might be.

July 25, 2013

Refrigerator Triage: Salsa Pie

You know when you have that bit of salsa left over, but no tortilla chips or even tortillas? Sure, you might just throw it on a cheese sandwich, make an omelette, or even just pop it into the freezer, but you should also know this: it makes a wonderful ingredient for savory pie.

So, this is one of those lazy posts where I'm really giving you more of a serving suggestion than a recipe.

You will need pastry for a double crust pie - such as this tried and true pie crust recipe:

Double Pastry Crust
for a 8 or 9" pan

1 1/2 cups all purpose (unbleached) flour
1/2 cup butter
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vodka
4 tablespoons cold water

Place the flour in the bowl of a small food processor fitted with a metal cutting blade. Add the pinch of salt and the butter (cold is best) in chunks, and pulse until well mixed, and the butter is in pieces no larger than a piece of confetti. Add the vodka and the water, all at once, and pulse again, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together and pulls away from the edge of the bowl. If the dough won't come together, try adding a tiny extra spritz of water. Dump the dough onto your lightly floured work surface, and, as quickly as possible, shape it into a couple of flat discs. Chill the dough for 10 minutes, then roll out as needed.

For the pie filling, this is my usual method:

Fry up some finely diced onion and protein of your choice - here I've used lean ground beef, but you could use any ground meat or analogue you want. Add a little stock to enrich the taste if you like, otherwise just use a bit of water (about a quarter cup). Season the meat to taste with cumin, garlic, oregano, and ground chiles. If your salsa is not very salty, and if your beans are unsalted, you might want to add a little bit of salt now, too.

Add about 400 mL cooked beans - here I've used black beans, but you could use kidney, canellini, pinto, even re-fried beans, if that's what you have. If you mash about a third of the (whole) beans, that helps hold the filling together at the end, when you're slicing the pie. You could also sprinkle a little flour over the meat mixture as it fries, to thicken it (or use a slurry - I won't judge). In goes anything else you think would be good. We always have chiles, so in go a few chopped chiles, we usually have frozen corn, so in goes some of that, and at last, the salsa goes in to tie everything together. A cup of salsa is a good amount, but if you don't have that much, don't worry.

Once everything is well combined, and you've tasted it and adjusted the seasonings to your preference, set it aside and roll out your pie crust. Put the filling in (it doesn't need to cool down) and make sure it's evenly distributed (a low dome in the centre is nice), cover and seal the edges in the manner you like best, slit the top in a few places, and then bake at 450 F for 25 minutes, turning it down to 350 F for another 10 minutes or so, until the crust is completely golden top (and bottom, if you're using a glass pie plate, it's easy to check).

Let the pie stand for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. While the pie rests, you can make a nice salad to go with, like the purple cabbage buttermilk slaw in the picture.

Still got extra salsa left? Serve it on the side!

PS: Want a vegetarian version? Use your favourite vegetarian pie crust, and use brown lentils in place of the ground beef (the same method as you would use for lentil tacos, for example), or a combination of brown lentils and barley or bulgar wheat. You may want to mash a few more of the beans, to ensure the filling holds together in the end (rather than spilling all over the plate, leaving a sad, deflated crust).

July 11, 2013

Shrimp & Grits

Grits take a while to cook, it's true (even "quick" grits...and let's not even consider instant grits, which are par-cooked and more finely ground to speed along the cooking, but which suffer texturally), but shrimp take almost no time at all, so it balances out, more or less. Can't get grits? Make your favourite cheesy polenta recipe instead (like the one previously showcased for making polenta fries and Meatballs & Polenta). It won't have the same texture, but it will be a lovely bed for the shrimp to sprawl upon.

The shrimp portion of this dish comes together pretty darn quick, so make sure that your grits (or polenta, if you're going that route) is pretty much ready to serve before you fire up the frying pan.

For two servings:

250 grams peeled shrimp (31-40 count, or 20 shrimp)
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into matchsticks (or thin lardons)
2 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1-2 jalapenos or serranos, or green chiles, finely diced

Fry up the bits of bacon over medium-high heat until they start to crisp. Spoon off some of the fat, if necessary, so you just have a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Add the shrimp, and give them 30 seconds without disturbing. Flip each shrimp over, and add the peppers and onions. Let them cook for 15-20 seconds undisturbed, then stir and sauté until the shrimp are pinkly opaque instead of grey and translucent, and the vegetables are softened and crisp around the edges. If you like, you can add a good pinch of your favourite cajun-style spice mixture, or just a quick hit of cayenne (or Tabasco sauce). You shouldn't need additional salt, because the bacon is salty enough to season the whole dish.

Serve up the polenta into shallow bowls, and tumble the shrimp and vegetables over top. Top with freshly ground black pepper, and serve.

July 01, 2013

Turkey Enchilada Casserole

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Now, "enchilada" may not be the most Canadian thing you've ever heard of, but we do seem to enjoy a good casserole, and we love adopting other cuisines into our own. This is a very tasty recipe that takes a bit of time to put together, but is very satisfying.

This is Palle's recipe. It is at its best when eaten fresh, but can be packed for lunch the next day. It can also be frozen, but the texture suffers a bit on re-heating (the tortillas are softer). In that case, add a healthy dose of salsa, or a Mexican-style hot sauce, such as Cholula to pep it back up again.

Turkey Enchilada Casserole

Serves 6 - 8

1 teaspoon or so of lard or oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
675 grams ground turkey meat
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 cups red enchilada sauce (see below)
425 grams corn tortillas (12 to 16, depending on size)
1 cup soft goat cheese (or feta), crumbled
1 cup cheddar, shredded

Heat the lard or oil. Add onions and fry over high heat. Add turkey, garlic, oregano, and cumin until turkey is crumbly and no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Stir in one cup of the enchilada sauce. Add salt to taste.

Cut tortillas in half, if they are large (even if they are small, you may wish to cut some of them in half to ensure good coverage of the casserole dish). Spray or brush a shallow 3-quart casserole dish with a little oil. Dip the tortillas into the enchilada sauce just before they are added to the casserole, but don't dip them faster than you are layering them into the dish, or they may get soggy and fragile. Using tongs greatly speeds up the dipping/layering process.

Arrange one fourth of the tortilla halves evenly over the bottom of the casserole, overlapping to ensure coverage. Sprinkle a fourth of the cheese evenly over the tortillas, then top with a third of the turkey mixture and a cup of the enchilada sauce, spreading until level.

Repeat to make two more layers of tortillas, cheese, turkey mixture, and sauce. Top with another layer of tortillas, sauce and cheese.

Bake at 425° until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot in the center, 18 to 20 minutes (30 minutes if you are starting with a made-ahead, chilled sauce). Serve with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Note: the number of tortillas you need will depend on the size of your casserole, and the size of the tortillas. Likewise, you may need more or less cheese.

Red Enchilada Sauce

Makes 5 cups

4-6 large dried chilies (such as ancho, pasilla, guajillo)
1 small onion chopped into 4 chunks
4 garlic cloves
6 Roma tomatoes
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
brown sugar

You can use any dried Mexican chilies, but ancho is my preferred chili for this. As always, a blend of two or three chilies is best. Toast the chilies in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant and turning colour (most chilies will turn red), but before they smoke too much. Keep turning the chilies so they do not burn. Put the toasted chilies in a bowl of water, and let them soak for about 15 minutes. When soft, tear off the stems and pull out the seeds.

Toast the onion and garlic in a dry pan over medium heat until there is a good amount of black on the outside, turning occasionally. Remove, then toast the tomatoes in the pan over medium heat until they blacken, turning occasionally. Always blacken the tomatoes last as they tend to burst and so add moisten to the pan.

Bring six cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add all of the chilies, onion, and garlic. Reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes, uncovered. The chilies will float to the top, so push them under from time to time.

Transfer the tomatoes, the oregano, cumin, and the saucepan with all its contents (including the water, but add the water after you've started pureeing) into a food processor. Blend until the mixture is very smooth. Be careful because the mixture is very hot.

Return the contents of the food processor back to the pan by forcing the mixture through a strainer with the back of a spoon to remove the bits of chili and tomato skin that remain. Don’t skip this step as it greatly improves the texture of the finished sauce.

Heat the strained enchilada sauce and simmer for 15 minutes to blend the flavors and reduce it a little. Taste, and add salt and sugar as needed. Sugar will balance out the acridity of the chilies, but add a little at a time, as it shouldn’t take too much.

June 27, 2013

Orange Flower Glazed Beets

Beets have a bit of that love 'em or hate 'em thing going on. Judging by the lingering trend of beet salads in restaurants along the west coast, I'm guessing a lot more people love them than not - although I'm betting certain vegetarians I know are a little tired of beet-salad-as-token-veggie-item on the menu.

Happily, there are other things you can do with beets other than salad-izing them (although this recipe would be awesome as part of a salad. I'm just saying). Borscht is a perennial favourite, of course, and pickled beets are still a very good plate-finisher, for those times when you just want a little extra splash of colour and another vegetable on the plate. While technically still a salad, Ethiopian Beet & Potato Salad is a very different creature from the leaf-based beet salad offerings in these parts, which may or may not sport feta, gorgonzola, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or all of the above.

Orange flower water gives this a slightly exotic, yet hard to define quality that feels quite elegant. Orange flower water can be found at most Middle Eastern groceries, and some regular supermarkets, too. It is usually stored right next to the more commonly known (around here) rose water, so if you ask for it and get a blank, ask for the rose water, and then look to see what else they have. Come to think of it, these might be pretty good with rose water, too. Hmm.

These are pretty easy to make, and best of all, they are delicious hot or cold, so go ahead and make a full batch.

Orange Flower Glazed Beets
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 pounds red beets, small or medium in size
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange flower water
pinch of white pepper

Wash your beets and peel them. I recommend using a good vegetable peeler or small sharp knife, and peel them under running cold water, collecting the peels in a sieve or colander. Then, simply shake the excess water off of the peelings, dump them into your compost bucket (or a bag to go into your garbage, or however you dispose of such things).

Slice your beets into wedges, and lay them out on a big sheet of heavy duty foil that has been lightly oiled with olive oil. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, and fold the foil sheet into a pouch, sealing the edges well. put the pouch on a big baking sheet (if you're clever, you might start with the baking sheet already under the foil), and pop it into the oven for 45 minutes at 400 F, or until the beets are tender. Test them at that point by sliding a knife into one (right through the foil) to see if they're done. If not (unlikely) let them cook another fifteen minutes, and try again.

When the beets are done, take them out of the oven and peel back the foil so that they start to cool down. Be careful about the steam when you open the foil - it can burn you quite badly. I use a long handled fork to tear my foil open.

While the beets are resting, put the vinegar, sugar, orange flower water, a pinch of salt, and white pepper in a skillet, and cook over high until it becomes thick and glaze-like. Turn off the heat, and add the beets to the skillet, stirring them gently around until they are completely coated with the glaze. Taste, carefully, because liquid sugar is really darn hot, and adjust for salt if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm, or allow to cool, and chill until needed.

June 18, 2013

Khoresht e Gharch: Persian Chicken & Mushroom Stew

I've been wanting to make this for ages, but somehow just haven't found the time, until now. The egg yolks make for a luxurious tasting sauce, sharpened slightly by the lemon juice and deepened by the brewed saffron. Do take the time to brew the saffron as indicated rather than simply throwing in a big pinch of the threads. It diffuses the flavour more thoroughly through the rest of the dish, and makes for a more even golden tone throughout.

Khoresht e Gharch
Persian Chicken Stew with Mushrooms
Adapted from My Persian Kitchen

Total Prep & Cooking Time: 65 minutes
Serves 8

8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
½ cup water
600 grams mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
Large pinch of saffron, brewed
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 large egg yolks

Dice the onion fairly finely, and mince or crush the garlic. In a large pot, such as a dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in a half-tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat, until golden and translucent.

Season the chicken pieces with kosher salt. Scrape onion to the sides of the pot, and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, then add ½ cup of water, stir well, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

While the chicken and onions cook, brew the saffron and prepare the mushrooms. To brew saffron, grind it (along with a pinch of salt) with a mortar and pestle until powdered. Put the powder in a small bowl or measuring cup, and add a couple of tablespoons of hot (recently boiled) water. Let it stand until you are ready to use it.

To prepare the mushrooms, clean and coarsely chop the mushrooms of your choice (removing any woody bits). Sauté the mushrooms in a half-tablespoon of oil over high heat, until their juices come out, and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir well, continuing to cook, and continue to stir and cook until it is well combined.

Add brewed Saffron and lemon juice to chicken and stir thoroughly. Add the mushrooms, and continue simmering (uncovered, now) for about 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and carefully temper them with a bit of the hot liquid from the stew. Add the tempered egg yolks to the pot and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve over rice.

June 13, 2013

Persian Carrot & Apple Salad

I found this recipe online whilst looking for a side dish to serve with a Persian chicken and mushroom stew. It is very quick to make, and falls somewhere into coleslaw territory. It is a little sweet, from both the natural sweetness of the main ingredients plus a little added sugar, but it balances a savoury meal beautifully. Using a vegetable peeler to shred the carrots is surprisingly time consuming and fiddly to do, as you get down to the last bit, but it makes such pretty strips of carrot that it is hard to resist doing it that way. Do not be tempted to add salt to the dressing or salad, as it will pull all of the moisture out of the carrot and apple, pooling into a soggy mess.

Persian Carrot & Apple Salad
adapted from Persian Style Carrot Salad recipe on

Serves 3

2 carrots, peeled and shredded with a vegetable peeler
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and shredded
30 grams slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Peel the carrots with a vegetable peeler, then continue to use the peeler to take long thin shavings of carrot until the carrot is completely shredded. Peel the Granny Smith (or other tart, green apple) with a knife or peeler, and shred on the coarse side of a box grater.

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon and sugar. and pour over the carrot and apple mixture. Toss well with a fork (or two) to ensure that all of the strands are coated with the seasoning mixture.

Toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant. Sprinkle over the salad, and serve.

If you are making the salad a few hours ahead, reserve the almonds until you are ready to serve, so they maintain their crisp texture.

June 05, 2013

Rolled Oat Bread

I love the smell, taste, and texture of fresh bread. I also love the satisfaction that comes with the dramatic transformation of water, grain, salt, and oil into a glorious new form that somehow connects us back through generations untold. Sure, we have some fancy equipment to make the process easier, now, but if you want, you can still easily do the whole process old-school; the satisfaction is there either way.

This loaf of bread uses wheat flour, but also relies heavily on rolled oats for its mass. This makes for a bread that is a bit lower on the glycemic index than a straight wheat flour bread, if that interests you. It also makes for a heartier, more filling bread, which is excellent either for toasting in the morning (or whenever you toast your bread), or for sandwich making. It's sturdy enough to provide a mighty raft for baked beans or fried eggs, or whatever else you might like to pile on it. It's delicious enough that it can be eaten purely on its own (or, for those inclined, with a skim of butter). The crumb is airy and tender, but with a little chew from the oats. It also has a slightly dark note from the use of walnut oil. You can make it even healthier by using stoneground whole wheat flour in place of the unbleached white.

There is a lot of rising time for this bread, which is part of the reason for the wonderful flavour. So plan to make it on a day when you don't need to be out and about (although you can dash out briefly, if needed, in some of the rising phases). You will note the fairly small amount of yeast required to make two big loaves - this is because "the longer the rise, the less yeast you need". Economical!

Rolled Oat Bread
Adapted from Breadtime Stories by Susan Jane Cheney

Makes 2 Loaves
Time commitment: 6 - 7 hours

3 cups water
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or toasted sesame oil)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 1/4 cups unbleached wheat flour

Boil 2 cups of water and pour over the oats. Stir in the salt and oil, and let cool to room temperature while you make the sponge.

Heat 1 cup water until lukewarm, and place in a big preheated mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and mix well. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and wait 15 minutes for the yeast to prove.

If/when the yeast proves, add a cup of the flour and beat the mixture at least a hundred strokes. Set in a draft-free area, covered, and let a sponge develop - about 50 - 60 minutes. I put it inside the oven (with the oven light on, if it's a chilly day).

Combine the oat mixture and the sponge. Add the rest of the flour (or as much of it as needed to make a dough), and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a large ball, and place in a large oiled bowl to rise for about 2 hours. (this is your one opportunity to run out of the house, should you need to). Press the air out of the dough, and let it rise again, this time for just 1 hour. Press the air out again, shape into loaves, place in oiled bread pans, and let rise until the dough has not-quite doubled (about 45 minutes). Let the bread rise on the countertop, during which time you can pre-heat the oven to 350 F with the rack in the middle. If you like, brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash, or rub them with a little of olive oil.

Bake the loaves for about 60 minutes, until the loaves are brown, with firm sides, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. De-pan the bread onto racks and let them cool completely before bagging up to store. Leave the loaves for at least 15 minutes after they come out of the oven before slicing (I'm assuming that you won't be able to resist having some warm, fresh bread, because I never can).

May 28, 2013

Coconut Lime Muffins

I won't lie to you - these are essentially a superficial retread of my Lemon Ginger Muffins. Because I was kind of bored, I also added some soaked zereshk (barberries) to these, which works really well with the Lemon Ginger ones. It was okay, but was ultimately a distraction from the coconut-lime combination. I'll leave 'em out, next time. Also, next time I will probably add a topping of toasted coconut, too, for pretty's sake.

Coconut Lime Muffins

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

2 limes, zest and juice
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup coconut yoghurt (I used Liberte's Mediterranée Coconut, but you could use plain Greek-style yoghurt)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

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 coconut milk, yoghurt, and lime juice, and let stand. If your limes are particularly large and/or juicy, you might only need the juice of one. You want about 3 tablespoons of juice, optimally.

Peel the zest from the lime using a vegetable peeler (long strips). Put the 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 coconut milk mixture, processing after each addition until smooth.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, shredded coconut, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 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 or toasted coconut over each muffin before baking (not pictured here).

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".

May 22, 2013

Lapin à la Dijon: Bunny in Mustard Cream Sauce

There are an awful lot of recipes out there for rabbit in mustard sauce. A LOT. And, a lot of them are fairly awful, in my opinion - heavy, trudging things where both the rabbit and the sauce have been assaulted with unnecessary use of flour, or which involve multi-staged cooking in that various bits must be fried before baking (almost guaranteed to make a tough bunny, in my opinion).

This is the first recipe for Lapin à la Dijon that I ever made, and after trying a few other iterations, I can safely say that it is the best - easiest to execute, and most delicious. There are plenty of other wonderful recipes out there that involve rabbit (another favourite is Lapin aux Olives, from Les Halles Cookbook, and Rabbit in Saffron Sauce from Jennifer McLagan's Bones, but for mustard cream sauce, this one is my winner. I'd love to credit the source, but unfortunately that has been lost in history. It's been written on my little recipe index card for too many years, for me to have noted its origin.

If you have a very cooperative butcher, you can probably get your bunny fully prepped and ready to go, making this dish ridiculously simple to make. If, however, you are on a budget and own a sharp knife and an extra hour or so of time, you can easily do it yourself. I followed the directions in James Pederson's Essentials of Cooking for how (and where!) to cut. Front and back legs are each removed at the proximal joint, and then the spine and ribcage are carefully sliced around with a boning knife until you can lift the bones right out of the meat. Then, simply (ha ha, I crack myself up) roll up the remaining boneless meat, which is called a "saddle", and consists of the tenderloins and the thin flaps from the side and breast of the rabbit, and tie with butcher's twine into a tidy package (as if you were trussing a roast). Even if you accidentally cut through the skin over the spine, and have two separate halves when you are done (cough), thanks to the miracle of twine, you can still make a lovely, tidy looking roulade of the rabbit saddle. Of course, you can also just chop the rabbit into parts, and cook them all bone-in. It's quicker to make, but fiddlier to cope with at the table.

Okay! That's the tough part out of the way - the rest is clear sailing.

Lapin à la Dijon

Serves 4

1 rabbit, jointed, liver and kidneys removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup room-temperature white wine (dry riesling is an excellent choice)
2-3 finely minced shallots
1 cup crème fraîche
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon (or fresh parsley)

Place the rabbit pieces in a baking dish (one with sides). Rub the pieces with olive oil, sprinkle sparingly with kosher salt, and dot with butter.

Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes. Remove dish from the oven, and add the shallots, and white wine. If your baking dish is made of glass, such as Pyrex, it's a good idea to pour the wine gently over the rabbit pieces themselves, rather than directly onto the glass, to avoid shocking the glass (a rapid change of temperature can cause breakage).

Isn't this pretty? The minced shallots look like fallen cherry blossoms. It seems like it would be perfect for a sakura festival.

Bake for another 45 minutes.

Combine the crème fraîche with the Dijon, and spoon into the pan (it might be easier to remove the rabbit pieces first, so that you can integrate the creamy mustard mixture into the liquid in the pan. Reduce the heat to 350 F, and return the pan (and the rabbit, if you removed it) for another 15 minutes. Stir the tarragon (or parlsey) into the sauce.

Serve with rice or egg noodles or something to take advantage of the creamy, saucy goodness. The roulade can easily be sliced into beautiful little rounds to share about, since not all of the legs are created equal, and because it's nice to have a bit of rabbit where you don't need to work around the bone.

If you have leftovers, for example, say you were only feeding two people with this dinner, the leftover meat can be made into absolutely delicious crêpes or even used as a pizza topping (using the leftover Dijon sauce instead of tomato, of course). In that case, be sure to take the meat off the bones (if necessary) before refrigerating, as it is much, much easier to do.

You'll note that I didn't tell you what to do with the liver and kidneys which may have come with your rabbit. Here's what you do: Saute those bad boys in a little butter with a sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper, chop very roughly, and serve them on fried bread or toast points to your delighted guests. Or, devour them yourself, as a much earned treat.

One final note: If you are feeling particularly hardcore, having deboned the rabbit saddle and now being faced with a bunch of bones, go ahead and make them into stock for the freezer. Because, at some point in the future, you may want to make bunny pie, or some sort of fricassee, and this will be your absolute treasure at that nebulous point in the future.

May 15, 2013

Kali Dal (Curried Black Lentils)

You can use a variety of different lentils to make this - the version shown here is made using whole urad dal (aka black gram), which is traditional, but you can also use black beluga lentils, and even mung beans. You can also make it with or without rajma (red kidney beans). I enjoy including the rajma for the contrast in size, texture, and colour.

You can add melted butter and/or cream or yoghurt to finish this dish (making it, in effect, a Dal Makhani), but it is delicious as is - and vegan, to boot. Perfect for entertaining your vegetarian friends. Make lots - it freezes well and reheats wonderfully for a future lunch or dinner. It thickens slightly once it cools, so if you like a wet dal, you may wish to add a little bit of water to loosen it up (wait until it is reheated before adding any water, as warming it up will also loosen it a bit). You can also make this very wet (simply by adding more water) and serving in small bowls as part of a thali, or as a first course.

Be sure to wash your urad dal very well, in lots of fresh water. A bit of grit will make the whole pot disappointing.

Kali Dal

Serves 8 (with rice or bread)

1 cup black lentils (urad dal or similar)
1/2 cup red kidney beans
6 cups water
1 thumbs-length fresh ginger, minced (divided)
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pick over lentils and kidney beans to remove misshapen, discoloured or otherwise irregular lentils and any foreign matter (little rocks, plant stems, stray bits of grain, etc). Rinse thoroughly, with several changes of water to remove any grit or dust.

Place lentils in a heavy pot with the water and the cayenne and half the minced ginger, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer, and skim any foam from the top. Allow the lentils to simmer gently, covered, until kidney beans and lentils are tender – 45 minutes or a bit more, if you have older lentils. You can do this ahead, and let it sit overnight or for a couple of days in the fridge, before proceeding to the next step. At this stage, the lentils look pretty unappealing (and kind of grey-ish), but their appearance will improve greatly with the next step.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds, giving the pan a shake to distribute. As soon as the cumin starts to pop, add the onions and garlic and the rest of the ginger, and fry gently until the onions have softened and started to brown. If you like your food very spicy, you can add extra cayenne to taste at this point. Next, add the diced tomatoes and salt, and stir until they give up their liquid - often they turn the onions a pretty golden colour - and scrape the mixture into the lentil pottage. Use a spatula to get every last bit. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add garam masala powder and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. If you are adding dairy, add up to half a cup of half-and-half (or plain yogurt) and let simmer for another five minutes (or until heated through). You can keep this warm, on the heat, for a long time, as long as you stir it once in a while to make sure it doesn't scorch on the bottom.

Taste and adjust for salt to your preference.

May 08, 2013

Breakfast at home: Breakfast Tacos

This was inspired by the existence of Eating Well's breakfast taco, despite being quite a different creature entirely. I disapprove of using reduced fat cheeses in most contexts, so that's gone, and I generally see no reason to add chunky salsa to eggs (because either the eggs get cold, or you have to prewarm the salsa, which is an undesirable extra step) so I use hot sauce instead. I don't generally use egg substitutes, myself, but your mileage may of course vary.

So, this is what I do.

It's less of a recipe, and more of a serving suggestion, really.

Warm up some corn tortillas in a dry skillet on the stove, while you quickly fry some bacon (cut into lardons). Remove the bacon to a plate, drain some of the fat as necessary, and scramble up some eggs in the remaining bacon drippings. Serve up the eggs into the warmed tortillas, sprinkle with freshly made bacon chunks, and garnish with cilantro and sliced green onion. A quick sprinkle of cheese - Panela in this case, but feta or soft goat's cheese would also be good - a shot of hot sauce, and down the hatch it goes! Two of these babies should set you up for a busy weekend day, no problem.

If you're not having bacon, a few black beans (ideally, tossed with lime juice and some pickled red onion) add a little extra oomph. Conversely, if you have some leftover chorizo, you could use that, too.

May 04, 2013

BBQ Pork Fried Rice

Fried rice is a culinary wonder. How else can you take a few bits of meat, an egg, some scraps of vegetables, and leftover rice, and make a meal worthy of a feast? But...what if you have no leftover rice? Fried rice is the valedictorian in the argument for making more rice than you need to. Still, I've been known to fire up the rice cooker first thing in the morning, to make sure I have "leftover" rice for dinner in the evening. As I did, in fact, this time.

Fried rice can be an intensely personal dish - we all have a favourite version (or versions) that define it in our minds and in the expectations of our stomachs. One of the most delicious ones I know is a dried scallop and egg white fried rice prepared by a local restaurant. It is incredibly pale, with only coins sliced from (I think!) gai lan stalks to relieve the otherwise monochromatic rice-scape. One day, I'll take a crack at making that one, too.

My at-home go-to fried rice, however, is very simple. I pick up some char siu from a Chinese market (or restaurant) on the way home and, if I have successfully avoided simply eating it all straight out of the container, into the skillet it goes.

I make this in a large non-stick skillet, as opposed to a wok, but feel free to use a wok, especially if you have a gas burner that can get it hot enough. As you can see, this goes wonderfully with Beijing Wings and blanched gai lan with oyster sauce (or choy sum with hoisin sauce).

BBQ Pork Fried Rice

Makes about 4 cups

150 grams Chinese barbeque pork
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 small (yellow) onion, finely diced
1 rib celery, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon slivered fresh ginger
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cups steamed rice, cooled
1-2 finely sliced green onions

Dice pork into small cubes and set aside. Separate the cooled rice gently with your fingers (a quick spritz of cooking oil can help) so that no large chunks remain.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in hot skillet and stir-fry yellow onion, celery and ginger for 30 seconds. Add the pork and stir-fry for a further 30 – 60 seconds. Stir in soy sauce and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If you want to add snow or snap peas (a very nice optional extra), add them now, and stir fry for another 30 – 60 seconds. Push everything to the edges of the pan, leaving a bare space in the middle. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil, and pour the beaten eggs into it. Let the eggs set for a minute, and then add the rice, spreading it quickly around the pan. Stir-fry for a minute or two, using a spatula to break up the eggs into small pieces. Lastly, add spring onions and stir-fry for a further 30 seconds or until well combined and rice is heated through.

Transfer rice to a platter and serve with soy sauce and hot chile oil on the side.

April 26, 2013

Greek Lemon Potatoes

These are so very, very delicious. They were fantastic as dinner, and they were a miracle fried up as hashbrowns the next day at breakfast. They are unabashedly lemony, with all the crispy-edged goodness of a good roasted potato.

We started with Martha Stewart's recipe, and tweaked it to suit ourselves. Since this was a trial run, and we were only feeding two people, we halved the recipe (which provided four servings). Next time, I'd be tempted to make the full amount, just to have lemony potatoes left over for breakfast, or as a cold potato salad. We added garlic, because we love garlic. We reduced the amount of oregano, because oregano can be quite bitter, and we figured we could always bump it up with a little extra sprinkled over the top at the end of cooking, if it seemed necessary.

Greek Lemon Potatoes
Adapted from Martha Stewart (Click here for original recipe)

Serves 4

4 medium russet or other baking potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water
6-8 cloves garlic, whole
Big pinch dried oregano leaves
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
a few "grinds" of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 - 500 F.

Peel potatoes and cut lengthwise into quarters. Lay potatoes in a single layer in a metal baking dish (with sides), and sprinkle lightly with dried oregano. Toss the garlic cloves in there, too. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and water, and pour over the potatoes and garlic. Stir around to make sure everything is evenly coated, and lying in a single layer in the dish.

Bake in the very hot oven for 25 minutes, and then remove pan from oven to allow you to turn each potato slice over onto its other side, still keeping the pieces in a single layer. Handle carefully, the potato slices can be a little fragile at this stage, and may try to stick. Gently does it. If the liquid has all disappeared (evaporated and absorbed), add another half cup of water to the pan after the potatoes are turned, and return the dish to the oven for another 25 minutes. The potatoes should now be golden brown with crispy edges, and the garlic nicely caramelized. Remove potatoes carefully, using a spatula. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold.

Enjoy them with a side of Gigantes and Briam - or maybe alongside a nice braised lamb shank or moussaka.