January 27, 2013

Breakfast at home: Arepas (rellenas de queso)

I've been wanting to make these for ages, so I finally decided to get to it. After all, they didn't appear to be terribly difficult, and they are an absolute staple of the cuisines of Colombia and Venezuela (with other corn cakes variants throughout the rest of South America).

Naturally, there are an awful lot of versions out there, but I went straight to one of my favourite recipes blogs, My Colombian Recipes, and chose the one that best suited my purpose: arepa rellenas de queso.

As you can see, I was using yellow masarepa, instead of the prescribed white, but as I understand the only difference to be the colour of the resulting arepa, I wasn't worried about it. In fact, the golden colour of the finished arepa looks quite pretty to me, although if I had been eating white ones all my life it might look a little strange. Still, the very fact that the manufacturer makes yellow masarepa, which is, after all, specifically flour for making arepas, gave me all the permission I needed to go ahead.

This is a very simple recipe. In my online perusals, I found versions that had cheese (and sometimes egg yolk) mixed right into the dough, but I thought that it would be better to go with a "straight up" version, and add the cheese after the fact. I can't give you better directions than Erica does over at My Colombian Recipes, so skip on over to this link to get the recipe.

I made a half-recipe, which was three arepas, because I didn't want to have leftovers. Now I understand that they hold up rather well for a day or two (and can be re-purposed to dip into soup, or split, dipped in egg and re-fried), so I will probably make a full batch next time. I also made a note that I could easily turn a half-batch into four arepas (or a full batch into eight), to portion-control the sizes a little more. They are rather filling! The uncooked dough can also be kept in the fridge for a few days, if well wrapped and sealed to prevent it from drying out.

I note that the middles took a little longer to cook than the recipe expressly indicates, but it may have been that my skillet temperature was a bit low (or my arepas were a little thick). It didn't take much longer to get them to a point where I could split them, although splitting hot corn cakes is a tricky business if you want the result to be tidy. I clearly need more practice in this regard. I also note that other recipes suggest covering with a lid at the end or popping the fried arepas into a hot oven, briefly, to ensure that the middles are cooked. If I'm making more arepas with the same amount of dough next time, I suspect they'll be a bit thinner, and cook a bit faster. There's also the temptation of arepitas, which are little bite-sized arepas. Perhaps a fun party food?

As you can see below, we went the "benedict" route for our arepas rellenas de queso. I filled the arepas with monterey jack cheese, and we topped them with steamed eggs and hot sauce. That's fried garlic sausage on the side - hardly culturally accurate (a nice chorizo would have been preferable) - but we had some that needed using up, and we both gravitate toward fried meats at breakfast. Scrambled eggs would have also made a good topping, or avocado slices. Or more cheese!

January 18, 2013

Winter Salad: Fennel & Radish Salad

Sometimes, I feel an urge to add more vegetables to my dinner. This happens most frequently in the winter, when I'm not gobbling down fruit by the handful, and when summer salad vegetables are both more expensive and no longer at their peak. By late December, I've given up hope on fresh tomatoes until next year.

Salads can feel a little boring, in the winter. The summer vegetables are just too tired to make it through the winter (even if they're available, they have only a fraction of the flavour), and sometimes I forget that there are other kinds of "pure" vegetable salads - that is, without added pasta or grains - than garden, Greek, and chopped.

There are others, sure: there's roasted beet salad (delicious, but which takes quite a bit of time, plus use of the oven), and pear-walnut-blue cheese (costly ingredients, none of which I am likely to have just lying about on any given day), and cabbage slaws (arguably more of a summer salad), and these are all delicious. But this little number here, hand shaved fennel and thinly sliced radishes with an utterly basic vinaigrette - this becomes a winter salad that is fresh, crisp, simple, and something very much to look forward to, during the winter months when fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is at its peak. Quick and easy to make, this plays nicely as a side dish for those winter dinner blues. Since it's January right now, I might as well also note that this is a nifty little number to help bulwark any resolutions about healthy eating that we may be tempted to let slide right about now...

Fennel & Radish Salad

Serves 4

1 fennel bulb, trimmed of stalks and fronds
8 radishes, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

If you have a mandoline or v-slicer, you can make very quick work of slicing the fennel bulb. Otherwise, I recommend trimming and quartering the bulb, removing the v-shaped core, and then slicing very thinly on the diagonal. For the radishes, slice them in half pole-to-pole, then slice them into very thin half-moons.

Toss the vegetables in a salad bowl (or layer them, which is pretty in a glass bowl). In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar and salt, and blend thoroughly. Pour over the fennel and radishes, and refrigerate for 15 minutes (or up to an hour). Decorate sparingly with fennel fronds, if you like. You can eat it right away, of course, but it seems to benefit from a quick chill.

I think making it with sherry vinegar has the best flavour (white wine vinegar was not quite as perky), but it will discolour the crisp whiteness of the fennel, ever so slightly. White balsamic, or champagne vinegars would be good substitutes, if you want to keep the fennel from taking on a beige tinge.

Another addition that would be quite lovely is thinly sliced green apple - added just before serving to prevent discolouration. I think the sweet-tart of the apple would offset the fennel and radish beautifully, and that's how I intend to serve this, next time around.

January 12, 2013

Khachapuri: Georgian Cheese Bread

There are quite a number of types of khachapuri, and this one is generally referred to as Ajarian (Acharuli/Adjaruli). There are also round Imeruli, kubdari (which also contains meat), Megruli (which has extra cheese on top), Ossuri (also contains potato), and many other intriguing looking variations.

I'd been wanting to try this for ages. As a lifelong fan of all combinations of bread and cheese, and as someone who enjoys a nice eggy filling, in retrospect it's kind of a surprise that it took me this long.

I usually bring freshly made bread to housewarming events. However, I had been eyeing a few recipes with intent* prior to my friend Lisa's housewarming / birthday party, and decided that this Khachapuri recipe (from Everyday Russian) was the perfectly over-the-top bread to bring to the a housewarming party that was also a celebration of a significant birthday.

* When I say "with intent", you can imagine the same sort of intent that a kitty has, when crouched low, eyes fixed on target, and tail twitching with increasing agitation. That kind of intent.

So, in order to prevent myself from chickening out at the last moment, I told everyone that this is what I would bring. And so, I did. Here's the various stages of first-time Khachapuri-making, in pictures:

Mix up the dough (link for recipe) and let it rise - the dough is quite similar to a rich challah dough, full of egg and quite yellow (although, that may depend on your eggs):

Meanwhile, mix up the filling of cheese (I used a combination of grated full-fat mozzarella and crumbled feta), butter, and hard-boiled eggs, mashing everything together into a crumbly mass:

Divide risen dough into four pieces.

Roll out one piece of dough into a large circle, as though you were making a thin pizza crust, and cover the dough with a quarter of the filling, leaving a bare dough perimeter.

Beginning at the near side, start to roll the dough up over the filling, as though you were making a jelly-roll. Stop rolling just before you get to the middle:

Beginning from the far side, roll the dough up over the filling, again stopping before you get to the middle, so that there is a little window of filling:

Pinch and fold the unrolled ends to make a little boat shape:

Place the boats on a foil-lined baking sheet, and let rise for another 20 minutes or so (this step seems to be missing from the original recipe), then brush with beaten egg so that the finished bread will have a shiny golden brown glaze to it:

Bake at 425 F for approximately 20 minutes, or until puffed, golden, and delicious looking.

I failed to take a close up of one of the breads once it was sliced and ready to serve at the party, but I can say with confidence that they were very well received indeed, and definitely take a place of pride as a fun and somewhat unusual (in these parts, at least) item to bring to any event. I'm quite keen to make this again, hopefully soon. I might even devour them all myself!

Apparently, in many places there is a further step of sliding a raw egg into the middles, and putting them back in the oven until the egg is cooked to your liking. This seems to be a breakfast iteration, and is very popular in cafes - which makes perfect sense, as someone else gets to get up early to make the dough. I imagine you could cobble together some sort of advance preparation and hold them in the fridge until ready to cook, but frankly even the idea of that makes me a little nervous, and would take up a lot of precious real estate in my tiny fridge. Perhaps some of the more adventurous bread bakers out there can let me know if they've had success with such a method.

January 04, 2013

Banana Pineapple Muffins

It wouldn't be wrong to say that these muffins are the flavour of my childhood.

I don't know where my mother got the recipe for these, or what she might have done to any original recipe she might have been working from. "A recipe is an excellent place from which to depart" was pretty much her battle cry in the kitchen. We made all manner of variations on this, though. Very strict naming protocols do apply: if you leave out the banana, for example, it becomes Un-Banana Pineapple Muffins. If you decide to make a tea loaf instead of muffins, they become Banana Pineapple Un-Muffins. I even recall a singular day when we had Un-Banana Un-Pineapple Un-Muffins. I think my father might have been suspicious as to what exactly was still in those ones.

These are a homely little muffin - not winning any beauty pageants, but a solid coffee/tea/snack break workhorse and (clocking in at about 200 calories per) for far fewer calories than even the driest of coffee-chain muffins. Pep them up with a 15 second blast in the microwave after the first day.

Banana Pineapple Muffins

Makes 12 regular sized muffins

3/4 cup golden sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher salt)

Mix ingredients in order given, being careful not to over-mix. Spoon batter into lightly spritzed muffin cups.

Bake at 350-375 F for about 20 minutes, and use a toothpick test for doneness (an inserted toothpick should come out clean). If you like, add a little nutmeg or cinnamon to the batter and sprinkle some on top as well, before baking.

My sister reports that adding two (heaping) tablespoons of cocoa powder and a quarter cup of large flake coconut makes a wonderful variation, and I'm looking forward to giving that one a whirl myself.