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.