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.

April 22, 2013

Dairy-Free Breakfast Smoothie: Choco-Banana Peanut Butter

Still life with smoothie.

If you've been following my breakfast posts, you'll know that my usual pattern is a quick, simple breakfast on weekdays, and a more comprehensive breakfast on weekends. I am inordinately fond of toast, so a lot of my breakfasts are simply toast with some manner of topping. I don't have cereal more than a couple of times a year (other than my oatmeal at work), and I almost never have sweet things for breakfast (especially not without a savoury side). However, one sweet thing that I've always loved at breakfast is fresh fruit.

Smoothies incorporate my love of fruit into breakfast in a way that makes me incredibly happy. But! The thing about having fruit for breakfast is that I sometimes get quite hungry before I even arrive at work, and have to get into my first planned snack of the day right away, throwing my schedule off. So, I like to add a bit of oomph to my smoothies up front, which in this case is provided by peanut butter, and that usually does the trick of adding enough staying power to keep me in good shape until snack time.

I use an immersion blender for this, which is quick and simple to clean (or to simply rinse and leave for later, if you're that pressed for time). You could use any blender/food processor, large mortar and pestle that you have on hand.

Oh, and the dairy free bit? I have been experimenting with Almond Coconut "milk", and it adds a lovely Caribbean note into this particular version. You could absolutely use dairy milk of your choice, too, or one of the many other drinking-milk substitutes on the market.

Choco-Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie

Serves 1

1/2 medium banana
3/4 cup unsweetened almond-coconut "milk"
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter (smooth)
1/2 - 1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder

Break the banana into chunks and place in your blender cup.

Add the peanut butter, cocoa powder, and then the "milk" last.

Blend until smooth and a little foamy.

Taste, and add sweetener to taste if necessary (may depend on your banana's ripeness).

Decant into drinking vessel, if necessary, and enjoy.

I don't usually sweeten this one, but my suggestions for a mild sweetener would be a teaspoon or so of maple syrup, agave syrup, or honey, depending on your needs. I once used some whiskey syrup that was leftover from weekend pancakes. Your call.

What to do with the remaining half banana, you might ask? I generally just put a cover on the cut end, pop it into my banana keeper and take it to work as one of the aforementioned planned snacks. The short time between slicing it in half in the morning and oh, say, ten o'clock, makes it a perfect follow up. Or, of course, you could just make two servings of the smoothie, and use up the whole banana. You can also add the whole banana to a single serving, although it does make it much thicker, and more...banana-ier(?). I have done this on occasion (usually whilst half asleep).

April 17, 2013

Szechuan Green Beans

This is another one of those restaurant dishes that is so good, and so simple, but seems to be something that I don't make at home nearly often enough. It doesn't take long, but it is very hands-on for the ten minutes of cook time, so plan to have any other dishes that you might also be making be able to withstand a little neglect at this point.

This basic version is vegetarian (vegan, actually, if you substitute the sugar with agave syrup), but you could also easily add in a variety of meaty items: finely diced char siu (Chinese BBQ-style pork) and/or tiny dried shrimp are classic choices, as is a little bit of fresh ground pork that is browned in the first stage of cooking, before the beans go in (be careful not to add too much - any meat in this dish should primarily be an accent, not a focus). For a more protein-rich vegetarian version, go with very small cubes of tofu (or seitan) briefly fried until golden in the oil (and removed to a plate) before the beans go in. Combine again during the seasoning stage at the end.

Szechuan Green Beans

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes

16 oz green beans, trimmed and left whole
2 tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon golden sugar
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 - 2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and sambal oelek in a small bowl and set aside.

Wash and trim the beans, and dry thoroughly (so there is no residual water to spit at you while you are cooking).

Because this dish cools quickly once cooked, it's a good idea to warm a serving dish just before you begin cooking. Although, the beans are perfectly delicious at room temperature -- still there's something to be said for hot out of the pan.

Heat a large iron or steel skillet over high heat until water dances when flicked on it. Put the overhead fan on high.

Add the peanut oil to the skillet, and tilt the pan until it coats the bottom and part of the sides of the skillet. Add the trimmed green beans. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beans are tender, about 8 - 10 minutes. Test one, to be sure. Don't be afraid of the beans blistering and partially blackening -- this is part of the characteristic flavour, and the most delicious ones have some of the black bits. If your beans are really staying tough, add a tablespoon of water to the pan and let the steam help you out (be careful it doesn't cause a splash of hot oil onto you)

Add the garlic and stir through. Give it a moment or two for the garlic slivers to become golden. Add the green onion and the spicy soy mixture. Cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly, (or use two spatulas to toss like a salad until the beans are evenly coated with seasoning) and scrape the whole mass of beans into your serving dish.

April 10, 2013

Breakfast at home: Shakshuka

Shakshuka (aka Shakshouka, Chakchouka) is a dish of eggs poached in sauce, that sauce primarily consisting of a combination of at least any two of onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It is often credited as having originated in Tunisia, but versions of it appear all across Northern Africa, the Middle East, and the eastern Mediterranean, with variations that can include fava beans, artichokes, zucchini, or even diced potatoes. It is almost a wet hash, by North American standards, and is customizable to take advantage of whatever ingredients you need to use up. Serve with bread, for a filling, delightfully comforting meal.

I like versatile. It makes it that much more likely that I'll be able to throw it on the table on a Saturday morning without having to have done any specialized shopping.

Most of the versions that I've seen have been vegetarian ones, with any meats served separately as a side. However, I like a good one-pan dish, so I went ahead and added my merguez right into the pan (although it could have easily been served as links on the side).

The method is delightfully easy, particularly for someone who hasn't yet had their first cup of coffee: essentially, you just chop up the vegetables and saute them in a bit of olive oil until they become a bit saucy, and then crack eggs into little hollows that you make in the vegetable mixture (the back of a serving spoon does a good job at this). Continue to simmer gently until the eggs are cooked to your preferred level of doneness, decorate with parsley, then serve.

For optimal presentation, use a small skillet for each portion, and serve in the skillet at the table. Otherwise, be prepared for it to look a little raggedy as you separate the servings from a single pan.


Serves 2

1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
398 mL diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup parsley
2 - 4 eggs

Heat the oil over high heat in a medium-large skillet. If you're using sausage, brown them quickly and remove to a plate. Stir in the garlic, onion, and bell pepper; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paprika and jalapenos, and reduce the heat.

Stir and cook until heated through, using the back of a spoon to break up the tomatoes, about 10 minutes. If you're going to add sausage, slice up your browned sausages into chunks and throw them in now to finish cooking.

Make a nest for each egg by pressing a large spoon into the mixture in the pan. Add an egg to each nest. Cook until desired doneness of eggs. Finish under a broiler if you want it piping hot with a crisp top. Serve with bread - pita bread makes a great choice, but so does focaccia, sangak, or a nice French loaf.

Some versions use a little salty cheese, as well. I think this is quite a lot of food already, but a little crumbled feta, for example, would be very nice as a finish (especially for a meat-free version).

April 04, 2013

Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshire puddings are essentially a simple popover that has been flavoured with the drippings of the roast that they are made to accompany. They are airy, eggy, and made a perfect vessel to drunkenly cradle a gravy payload, half of which seeps slowly into the rest of your plate (and, if you're lucky), particularly your potatoes.

The batter is remarkably like crêpe batter. The only difference, really, is that instead of putting any fat in the batter, you place it in the cups of the popover/muffin tin before adding the batter. Well, and they're cooked in a very, very hot oven, as opposed to over a medium-ish flame on the stovetop. But enough about crêpes.

Yorkshire puddings are also somewhat terrifying for a lot of cooks - not because they're difficult, but because they require precise adherence to the rules, or they will come out as sad, dense little muffin-pucks. Some cooks claim that it's best to make the batter a bit ahead and let it rest - something about rehydrating the flour, I think - and I always do, simply for convenience. Here are the rules that make all the difference:

1) Preheat the empty popover or muffin tin. Preheat the hell out of it. I like to put mine into the oven 15 minutes before the roast is due to come out, and then leave it in when I crank the temperature up so that it will be ready to cook the popovers. That baby is hot! If you omit this step, all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

2) Preheat the fat. Once the roast is out of the oven, whether you are using roast drippings for a proper pud, or vegetable oil, or some leftover chicken fat that you've got stashed in the freezer (looks at ceiling, whistles to self), get the fat into the blazing hot pan...and put the pan back in the oven, for at least a few minutes, and put the overhead fan on high. If you omit this step, the pan and fat will not be hot enough, and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

3) Add the batter quickly to the hot fat in the cups. Use a pouring jug with a spoon drip-catcher for maximum efficiency (actually, true maximum efficiency suggests that you would have your batter standing by in a squeeze bottle with a large bore opening, but unless you have such a pancake dispenser sort of setup, a jug with a lip (such as a big measuring cup) is your best bet). If you omit this step, the pan will cool down too much, and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

4) Get the tin back into the oven pronto! Do not open the oven door until the puds are cooked - or at least 15 minutes have gone by. If you omit this step, all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

5) Marvel at how beautifully risen and crazy tall your popovers are, and serve right away.

A note about using vegetable oil instead of drippings or schmaltz - for the love of dinner, please use something with a really high smoke point, or you will fill your kitchen with acrid burnt-fat smell, and...and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

So...here's the recipe. I really do measure the flour by weight, but if you don't, it's approximately a scant cup of sifted flour)

Yorkshire Puddings

Makes 12 regular-muffin sized

115 grams flour
3 eggs
285 mL 1% milk
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons fat (roast dripping, schmaltz, or high-smoke-point oil)

Whisk the eggs, flour, salt, and milk together until smooth to make your batter. Pour the batter into a jug, and let it sit for 30 minutes before you use it.

See the critical steps listed above, or this abbreviated version: Turn your oven up to 475F, and place a dry 12 cup muffin tray in the oven to heat up for at least 5 minutes (or however long it takes the oven to get up to that temperature).

Place 1 teaspoon of fat in each muffin hole, and put the tray back into the oven and heat until fat is very hot, at least another 5 minutes.

Extract the muffin tin and carefully (and quickly!) pour the batter into fat in the muffin cups - only half-fill each cup. This bit kind of looks gross, because the fat swirls all around the batter. That's fine; it's supposed to.

Close the door and cook for 15 minutes without opening the oven door, reduce heat to 350 F and bake for another 5 - 10 minutes, or until golden.

If you have leftover puds, try them for breakfast, gently re-heated and filled with jam, or cheese, or even scrambled eggs! If the exterior is a little squidgy from sitting overnight, blot well with paper towels before heating/filling. They lose their crispness, but they are still delicious.