October 31, 2014

Cornmeal Dumplings

Chili and cornbread is a really classic combination. Cornbread, of course, can take many different shapes and forms, not to mention bonus flavours and the eternal debate between sweet/not-sweet that rages through the Americas. My favourite, growing up, was Southern Spoon Bread, a cornbread leavened with beaten egg whites into a lusciously light accompaniment to almost any meal. But I like all kinds of breads made from corn.

Stew Dumplings are the fastest form of bread that I know. They're quicker to whip up than cornbread, biscuits, or scones. The dough requires no resting period like tortillas or arepas, and because they cook on the stovetop, right on top of whatever savoury concoction you're already simmering, they take very little time to cook. No oven pre-heating, no extra pan(s) to grease. I like Stew Dumplings for beef or chicken stew, but chili feels like it needs a little extra something. So, after looking at my cornbread recipe, I decided to simply swap out some of the all-purpose flour with yellow cornmeal in my classic Stew Dumplings recipe. It worked wonderfully, and the next time I do this I may also add some chile flakes, to make them prettier.

While I used these on top of a simple ground beef and bean chili, I think you could also use them on a chicken stew with great success, especially a green chile chicken stew.

Cornmeal Dumplings

Makes 8 dumplings
(serves 4)
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal (not superfine)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch chile flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons chicken fat or canola oil
1/2 cup 1% milk

In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add the chicken fat (or canola oil), and stir it through – it will give the flour a lumpy appearance, which is fine – keep stirring until the lumps are very small. Add the chile flakes, if using, and stir through.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and pour the milk in all at once. Stir (with a fork) very rapidly and thoroughly, until all of the dry flour is brought into a stiff, sticky, batter. Use a tablespoon to drop eight (8) dollops of batter evenly over the surface of a bubbling, hot stew. Make sure there is sufficient liquid in the stew – the dumplings should just have their “feet” wet, but mostly be sitting on top of solid lumps. If there is too much liquid, the dumplings will sink a bit. They'll still taste good, but will expand downward instead of upward, and be a bit denser and wetter.

Cover the pot tightly, set the burner temperature to low (so the chilli doesn’t burn) and let the dumplings cook for 15 minutes – no peeking! Do not lift the lid until the dumplings are cooked, or they will become dense and soggy. Serve two dumplings per person.

If you're one of those really organized pantry people, you might want to jar-or-bag up premixed dry ingredients, since you only then need to add a dollop of fat and the milk (you could also use milk powder in a mix, for truly hardcore, and just add water and oil).

For classic Stew Dumplings, replace the cornmeal with more all-purpose flour, and add 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley.

October 22, 2014

Breakfast at Home: Rösti (Swiss and German Hashbrowns)

Rösti are essentially a Swiss version of hashbrowns, specific to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and differentiated geographically by an imaginary border called the Röstigraben ("rösti ditch") from its French-speaking and Italian-speaking neighbours.

Rheinisch Germany seems to enjoy rösti most often at lunchtime. These are often called Tellerrösti ("plate rösti") and are almost the size of the plate that they arrive on. To make it a complete meal, the rösti usually has various toppings: ham, mushrooms, and/or cheese are popular choices. Where cheese is added, they're usually popped under the broiler for a few minutes to melt it into bubbly goodness.

If rösti seem a bit similar to latkes or other potato pancakes (especially the smaller ones, or ones that are made with a ragged edge), indeed they are. However, there are some telling differences. The primary discrepancy is that latkes normally call for egg, and often flour as a binder, making it more of a fritter, whereas rösti rely solely on the starch in the potato to hold them together. Here in Germany there is something of an analogue for that, too, which is the deep-fried Reibekuchen (also called Kartoffelpuffer). These potato and onion fritters served with smooth applesauce or ketchup, are popular local festival fare. Not quite a latke, not quite a pakora.

There appears to be much disagreement about the perfect rösti recipe: what kind of potato to use, floury or starchy? Start with raw, par-boiled, or fully cooked potatoes? Should you add onion? Can you add tiny cubes of ham? Do you fry it it butter or oil or pork fat or duck fat? Should you leave the edges natural (ie: ragged) or should you pat them into place, or use a swirling motion with the pan to round the edges out naturally? Pan fry, or shallow fry?

The good news is that the lack of a definitive recipe means that you can lean toward your own preferences, without feeling like you're doing it wrong. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they can make their own rösti.

That being said, I like to use cold, fully cooked potatoes for my rösti, for three reasons: 1) I don't have to squeeze liquid out of the raw potato shreds; 2) the potato shreds are easier to compress into a cohesive mass; and 3) the cooking time is shorter. I just make sure to boil a few extra potatoes the night before.


Makes 1 (6-inch rösti)
Total Prep & Cooking time: 15 minutes

1 medium* potato, such as Yukon Gold, cooked and cooled completely (overnight in the fridge is great)
large pinch kosher salt
1 - 2 tablespoons grated onion (optional)
1/2 - 1 tablespoon butter (duck fat is also nice, if you have it)

The potato can have the peel on or off, it's entirely up to you.

In an 8" skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, dry your potato well with paper towel, and grate it on a medium-large-holed grater onto a cutting board. If you are adding onions, grate them separately.

When the butter is hot, add the potato strands all at once into the pan, and spread them about loosely and evenly. Sprinkle with salt, and add any onions (you can also use finely sliced green onion here).

Using a spatula, pat the potato mass into a nice, rounded shape, pressing down from time to time to ensure good contact with the bottom. Do not "stir" the potatoes. You want the ones touching the bottom of the pan to crisp up and get beautifully golden, and that takes a little time. If you have a lot of potato, it will be a thicker cake, and may take a little longer.

Continue to press the potato cake from time to time, both around the edges and across the top, to compact the potatoes into a cohesive cake. Use firm, but gentle pressure - you don't want to mash the potato strands, but you do want them to hold together. Check the temperature and make sure that the potatoes are sizzling, but not burning. Reduce the heat, if necessary.

When the bottom has developed a golden brown and delicious crust (this takes about 5 to 7 minutes, I find), you are ready to flip it over. Use the widest turning spatula that you have and move fast, if you're confident. If you're not confident, or if despite your best efforts, the potato isn't holding together as nicely as you would like, slide the rösti out of the skillet onto a plate. Cover the rösti with an inverted plate, and flip it over so the crisp bottom side is now on top. Slide the rösti back into the skillet with the crisp side up, and continue to cook for about another five minutes. The thicker the rösti, the longer it takes to cook through, especially if you're adding raw ingredients into the mix.

Slide the rösti onto your plate and you're ready to go - add a layer of ham and cheese and give it a quick broil, or top it with poached eggs and hollandaise for a fantastic breakfast.

You can make your rösti quite large, with multiple potatoes, in which case the inverted-plate method of flipping it over is pretty much essential. The finished rösti can then be sliced into wedges or quarters, as you like. For a thick rösti, you might consider finishing it in the oven, especially if you have eggs to poach or hollandaise to stir.

I realize that none of the above tells you how to pronounce "rösti", and the pronunciation itself is somewhat regional. The tricky bits are the ö which is pronounced somewhere between the "o" in 'dog' and the "oo" in 'good'. The s is pronounced "sh". So... rushti is not that far off, while still not being all that close. I'm sorry.

*How big is a "medium" potato? I use one about the size of my fist, but your mileage (and your fist) may vary. That's about 200 grams raw weight.

October 15, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Composed salads like this one are dead easy to figure out without a recipe, so consider the ingredients I've chosen as a mere guideline for your own favourite roasted vegetables and flavours. I like to season one or two of the roasted vegetables each a little differently, to add depth and warmth to the flavours. As a bonus, if you make a big batch they make a wonderful side dish for dinner the night before, which means you get to be virtuous by using up leftovers to make this tasty salad.

I've chosen cheese, nuts, and (optional) egg to boost the protein and give staying power to this salad, but you could definitely omit the egg, sub out the cheese, and go vegan with chickpeas, or maybe marinated tofu. The egg in the ingredient list is purely optional and is not shown here, but was included in the version of this salad that my husband took to work. He also topped everything with a squirt of Sriracha sauce, so there you go.

Beyond the selection of vegetables and accompaniments, the dressing is what brings this sort of salad together. In Germany, yoghurt-based dressings are very popular, so I've been experimenting with them more than usual. This one is Yoghurt & Lime dressing, and we liked it so much that it's sure to appear again very soon. For vegans, I'd switch the dressing for something sesame or tahini based.

Always In The Kitchen Roasted Vegetable Salad

Romaine Lettuce, raw, coarsely chopped

Vegetable Rows:
Purple Cabbage (raw, thinly sliced)
Roasted Butternut Squash (seasoned with cayenne)
Roasted cauliflower (seasoned with cumin or curry powder)
Roasted Beets, diced

Walnut halves, toasted
hard boiled egg, sliced (optional, not shown)

To roast the squash and cauliflower, I cut them into bite-sized pieces, toss with a mixture of a little water, a little olive oil, some kosher salt, and the seasoning of choice. Toss thoroughly, then tip out into a roasting pan in a single layer (include a tablespoon or two of the oil/water liquid), and roasted at about 425 F for 20 to 30 minutes, as needed. I prefer not to mix the vegetables before roasting, but your mileage may vary. For the beets, I top-and-tail them, quarter them, and wrap them, skins on, in a package made of aluminum foil with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. I roast them for about an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove them from the foil (carefully! That steam is hot!) and the skins should rub right off with a paper towel (or clean j-cloth). Then simply dice them to the size you want. You can also use Orange Flower Glazed Beets instead, if you're lucky enough to have some leftover.

Yoghurt & Lime Dressing

Makes 3 servings

150 grams plain yoghurt
1 large clove garlic, pressed/minced
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
zest of one lime

Combine in a small bowl and beat with a fork until well integrated. Taste, and adjust for salt and garlic, as desired.

Place the lettuce in a bowl, and arrange the roasted vegetables, raw cabbage, and whichever accompaniments you choose in rows over the lettuce. Drizzle generously with dressing. Eat as is, or toss first, if you want the dressing more evenly distributed.

Add a drizzle of Sriracha, if that sounds good to you.

October 01, 2014

Cheese Scones

Breads are very satisfying things to make, whether slow-rising yeasted types, batter-style quick breads, or the near instant gratification of the biscuit/scone family. They're a great base for (or addition to) breakfast, the savoury ones pair wonderfully with soups or stews, and any of them can be made into a sandwich or snack with little to no effort. They are infinitely customizable in either sweet or savoury directions.

Coffee shops throughout North America all seem to offer at least one variety, but unless you luck into a place that makes its own (or it happens to be delivery day) you're likely to get something that tastes more of dry flour than whatever the signature ingredient is.

These are tender and not at all dry, and even hold up pretty well at room temperature for a few days, if you can hold out that long.

If you think they look suspiciously like my biscuits - you'd be right. The biggest change is substituting some of the milk for a beaten egg, which is also used to glaze the finished scone. The principals and the principles are otherwise pretty much the same.

Cheese Scones

Makes 8 large, or 16 small

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 large egg, beaten
about 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 - 2 cups grated tasty cheese (I used sharp cheddar and gouda)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the grated cheese, or any other additional flavourings (for example, a pinch of cayenne might be nice) at this time. Using a pastry-blender or a fork, or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of butter are about corn-kernel sized or smaller. 

In a small bowl, beat the egg. Reserving 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg in the bowl to use as a glaze later, pour the rest into a liquid-measuring cup. Add just enough milk until you reach the 2/3 cup marker.

Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the milk/egg in all at once.  Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly but 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 the dough tough. It's okay if they're a little sticky. Use a bench knife or dough scraper to lift the dough off the counter as needed.

Pat out the dough into a thick square, and slice into four squares. Cut each of the squares in half diagonally for large scones, and for small scones cut each of the large scones in half again. Try to make sure that your cuts are up and down through the dough —— don't drag the knife sideways out of the dough, or it interferes with them rising later. You can use shaped cutters, of course, if it's important for them to be uniform.

Place the scones on a lightly greased (or silpat) baking sheet, ideally far enough apart that they won't become fused together as they rise. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of each piece with the reserved beaten egg. Be sure to only brush along the tops and not spill down the sides, because that will actually inhibit the scones from rising properly as they bake.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they have gotten tall and golden.