May 27, 2015

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Blintzes, either sweet or savoury are ultimately a particular handling of the ever-so-versatile crêpe. They are a bit decadent and a little fiddly to make, but can be prepared a day in advance (or frozen, if you have the freezer space for it), and a wonderful item to look forward to - especially for breakfast or dessert. Their origin appears to be central and eastern European, with the Russians, Hungarians, and Poles (and maybe more) all laying claim (and infinite regional variations). They were popularized in North America by the Jewish population, where they are a holiday favourite (particularly for Shavuot) and are also a Shrove Tuesday classic for Christians.

Because this is meant to be a luxurious, festive dish, I am using my recipe for the egg-rich French-style crêpes, but after consulting a lot of references, I decided to go with what appears to be the standard method, namely cooking the crêpe itself only on one side until the top becomes somewhat dry, and using that as the inside surface of the wrapped blintz.

Living in Germany, quark is the natural cheese of choice for the filling, although ricotta would also work nicely. These are sweet, with both sugar and orange marmalade in the filling, but not too sweet. I've topped them with fresh strawberries that have been warmed in melted marmalade, but you do run the risk of the strawberry flavour dominating. The solution for that would be to use peeled mandarin slices instead of strawberries, so that the orange flavour stays consistent. We were pretty happy with the combination of flavours, although the orange was a little overwhelmed.

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Makes 6 Blintzes


1/2 recipe egg-rich crêpes
butter for frying finished blintzes


250 grams quark
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1/2 egg, beaten
zest of one orange (optional)


2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water (or one tablespoon water, one tablespoon lemon juice)
6-8 fresh strawberries, sliced

First thing: I have not lost my mind when I call for half an egg in the filling. A half-recipe of the crêpes calls for one and a half eggs, and the filling calls for half an egg. I simply beat two eggs until smooth, and then remove 2 tablespoons of beaten egg to use in the filling, reserving the remaining 1 1/2 eggs for the crêpe batter. Easy. Of course, if you decide to double the recipe, you can operate in terms of whole eggs.

You can make the filling ahead and store it in the fridge while the batter for the crêpes rests, and then cook all of the crêpes before you start filling them. You do want to make sure the crêpes have cooled at least to room temperature before filling, though, or the filling will start to melt and slide around, and the rolled-up blintz will be super floppy and hard to transfer to a plate or skillet; I know this from curse-laden experience. Let your crêpes cool! Spread them on a cooling rack until they're all cooked, and then start with the oldest to fill them. By the time you get to the last crêpe, it should be cool enough to handle without melting everything.

Cook the crêpes according to the recipe in the link, but only cooking on one side. As soon as the top of the crêpe is dry looking, remove the crêpe to a cooling rack and start the next one. The dry "top" side of the crêpe will be the inside of the finished blintz.

Fill the blintzes by piling a couple of tablespoons' worth of filling on the lower third of the cooled crêpe. Fold the bottom up just to cover the filling, and fold the sides in, envelope (or burrito) style. Continue to roll up until the blintz is a tidy package. It may take a few tries to get the shape the pleases you most - longer and thinner, or shorter and squarer. Your choice.

Move the filled blintzes to a tray or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill up to one day. At that point you could move the tray to the freezer until they are frozen solid, and then pile them carefully into a bag for longer-term storage. Or, you could fry them up right away.

You can make the sauce ahead, too, but it is best made just before you fry the blintzes. Melt the marmalade and water together and stir until smooth. Add the sliced strawberries (or orange segments) and stir gently until glossy and coated with the glaze. Turn off the heat.

Blintzes should be fried in butter, for the best flavour. They don't take very long, so make sure your attention is not needed elsewhere. If you're also making other items, or you're making a double batch, you can make the blintzes and keep them hot in a warm oven until you're ready to serve.

Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has foamed out, start laying your blintzes in a single layer in the pan. I find my 12-inch skillet works very nicely for 6 blintzes at a time. As soon as the blintzes are golden and starting to crisp on the underside, carefully turn them over using a spatula or flipper - don't try to use tongs, because they are far too delicate. When both sides have browned nicely, transfer to the tray in the pre-warmed oven, or serve immediately.

Just like with crêpes, there are many ways to finish blintzes. If you've made the strawberry sauce, go ahead and spoon that over the plated blintzes, but you could also go with powdered sugar with-or-without a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or a pile of mixed fruit on the side, for example. A few curls of orange zest would be beautiful on these - I would have absolutely done that, if I had had a fresh orange on hand.


May 22, 2015

Papaya & Camembert Quesadillas

There used to be a restaurant called "Latin Quarter" on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. In its heyday it was renowned as a place with great live music (and dancing on Fridays and Saturdays), cheap pitchers of sangria, and a tasty latin and latin-fusion menu. We became familiar with it really only in its dying days, but there are a few menu items that we ordered over and over because they were so good.

There were three quesadillas on that menu: Shrimp & Cheese (I cannot precisely remember what kind of cheese, but it was a creamy white melting cheese, perhaps Edam), Brie & Mango, and Camembert & Papaya. They were all good, although the fruit ones were my favourites. They came served with a fresh tomato salsa, and while I was happy to eat them plain, the salsa did add a surprisingly nice dimension.

This recipe is so simple that it's really more of a serving suggestion. Realistically, you could just look at the title and decide to make it. The only tip that might not be intuitive is that the papaya should, ideally, be sliced into large, thin half-moons, to ensure it doesn't slide out of the quesadilla while you're trying to slice (or eat) it. I've tried it both ways, and this works best.

We served this with pan-seared cumin and ancho chicken breast alongside, but it could easily have been accompanied by some thick beans and guacamole for a vegetarian option. Or on its own, as a snack or appetizer.

Since the flour tortillas that I have found here in Germany have been the terrible pre-packaged kind with a shelf life of six months, I now make my own. Generally I plan to make a batch of 9 at some point during the weekend, and then use them as needed throughout the week (all at once for enchiladas, of course). Having the tortillas on hand already made this dinner a super fast weeknight option.

Camembert & Papaya Quesadillas

Per person:

2 6-inch flour tortillas
4-6 thin half-moon slices of papaya (enough to completely cover a tortilla)
4 thick slices of Camembert
a little cilantro (optional)
vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350 F (especially if you need to make these in batches) with a baking sheet warming in the oven.

Preheat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat.

Brush the tortillas very lightly with oil on one side each. If you are doing multiple quesadillas, only brush them with oil just before you're going to cook each one, so they don't get soggy.

Place the first tortilla oil-side-down on the hot skillet. Let it crisp a little, and get golden spots on the underside, and remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the second tortilla, but after it has been in the pan for long enough to get a bit warm, lay out the slices of Camembert across the tortilla. When the cheese starts to melt, add the layer of papaya. If you're feeling cheese-crazy, you can add more cheese on top of the papaya. Peek at the bottom of the tortilla by slipping a spatula under the edge, and if it is nicely golden, add the first tortilla back as a "lid" (golden side up) and transfer the quesadilla to the tray in the warm oven. The cheese will continue to melt and the papaya will warm a little as you prepare the next quesadilla.

To serve, remove the quesadilla to a cutting board, and cross-chop into quarters. Serve with fresh salsa (if you have it) or hot sauce on the side. Cilantro garnish is totally optional, but does go nicely.

May 13, 2015

Easy Weeknight Risotto Bolognese

This was inspired by Nigella Lawson's recipe for Risotto Bolognese from her book Kitchen, but to be honest, I didn't really follow it. I skimmed the ingredient list and directions and decided that it was more about the idea, the fact of combining two normally discrete dishes into a delicious juxtaposition, and then I just ran with that. Consequently, my ingredients, ratios and even my method ended up being quite different from hers.

The shortest possible version of this recipe goes something like this: Build a bolognese sauce, and then use that as a base to build a risotto on top of. That of course depends on the cook knowing what normally goes into both of those things, and otherwise being willing to take the rest on faith. Fortunately, that's me. This is a true skillet dinner, without the need to remove anything to a separate plate or pan at any point during the cooking process.

I won't claim that this is a really serious Bolognese (note the use of "Easy Weeknight" as a modifier), but it's a meaningful nod in the general direction, and for this dish, that's good enough for me. Although, if you happen to have some genuine Bolognese tucked away in your freezer that you want to use instead, go for it. It's not a lightning-fast dish to make - risotto takes time, after all, but it's very straight forward, and if you use a chop-and-drop method, it all comes together surprisingly quickly.

Easy Weeknight Risotto Bolognese

Serves 4

4 thin (or 2 thick) slices of bacon, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, very finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
400 grams minced beef/pork blend (or meatloaf mix)
2 teaspoons beef stock paste (such as Better Than Bouillon or Alnatura Rinderbrühe)
pinch dried oregano
big pinch dried basil
big pinch ground white pepper
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vermouth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 400 gram can of finely chopped tomatoes
1 cup arborio (or other suitable risotto rice)
4 cups hot water from a recently boiled kettle
Fresh basil, for finishing and garnish
Freshly grated parmesan

In a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat, fry up the bacon until it is a bit crispy and releases its fat into the pan. Add the olive oil and stir through. Add the onion and garlic, and stir through. Stir and cook until the onion is thoroughly softened and translucent. Add the grated carrot, and stir through, cooking for about five minutes until wilted and starting to become tender, and the excess liquid has evaporated.

Add the minced meat and stir, breaking it up with a big wooden spoon as you go. Fry and stir until the meat is a little browned, and then add the stock paste, oregano, dried basil, white pepper, and the vermouth. Stir and scrape up the bottom of the skillet while until the vermouth has evaporated. Add the milk in two stages, stirring until mostly evaporated in each case. Add the tomato paste, and stir through. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices and stir through.

Let the mixture get completely hot and bubbly, and then stir the rice in. Reduce the heat to medium. Add a bit of water from the kettle, and stir until the extra water is absorbed by the rice. Basically, at this stage you just keep repeating that, adding the water a bit at a time, stirring between additions until the water is mostly absorbed, until you've either used all the water, or the rice is cooked to your liking. The rice will slowly absorb not only the water but the juices from the sauce itself, the grains swelling to full size and taking on a creamy appearance. The combination of the carrots and the tomatoes will give the finished dish a uniquely orange-red tone, quite different from most meat/tomato based sauces, but it coats the rice grains beautifully.

When all of the water is absorbed and the rice grains are cooked to your satisfaction, spoon into shallow bowls and garnish with basil and freshly grated cheese. And maybe some garlic bread.

If you have leftovers of this, it reheats very nicely in a covered casserole in the oven (you will want to add in a bit of water, and poke some holes to allow speedier reheating), and I imagine it would reheat well in a microwave, too. If you must reheat it on the stovetop, try not to over-stir it. While it's stirred to death during the making, after it is fully cooked, cooled, and reheated again, it can get a bit mushy if you stir it too vigourously.

May 07, 2015

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

This recipe is one component of the intriguing multi-step Vampire Slayer Ramen-Express recipe by the wonderful Lady and Pups.

While I wasn't quite prepared to make the entire ramen recipe as written, the pork belly on its own seemed worth trying immediately, and that was exactly correct. It will make your house smell insanely good, and is definitely worth the long wait after it goes into the oven. I note that the original recipe calls for 30 cloves of garlic (and there's another 14 in the rest of her finished dish), but I felt that 20 was plenty given that the ones I was working with were giant mutant German garlic cloves.

Because pork belly is a bit tricky to slice when freshly cooked, it's a great idea to make this ahead, and then simply slice and gently reheat it to serve.

We had this the first night with veggie yakisoba made from homemade ramen noodles (which I completely forgot to photograph, once cooked) and reheated the leftover pork belly to serve over rice with carrot kinpira, a few nights later, to make the donburi above.

The original recipe recommended a cooking vessel just barely big enough to fit the pork, which is what I did. It did mean that I had to be quite careful later on, not to smash to paste the fragile braised garlic cloves. My piece of pork belly fit perfectly into the oval dutch oven when raw, although once it had been seared on all sides, it drew itself up, becoming narrower and taller. I would probably cut it into two chunks next time, for ease of handling and more surface-contact with the braising liquid.

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

minimally adapted from Lady and Pups

Serves 4

4 whole dried shitake mushrooms (or 16 small ones) + 1/2 cup hot water
400 grams skin-on pork belly
20 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil

Trim any excessive stems from the shiitake, clean them well with a damp cloth, and let them soak in the hot water for 20-30 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Combine the sake, soy sauce, mirin, salt, and white pepper in a small bowl and set aside. Now remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, retaining both separately.

Preheat your oven to 330 F/ 165 C.

In a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan that's not too big for your piece of pork, heat the peanut oil and then carefully sear the pork belly on all sides (start skin-side-down). The pork skin should be nicely blistered and a little freaky-looking, if you're not used to that sort of thing. Remove the pork (browned on all sides, now) and add the whole garlic cloves to the pan. Give them a quick stir about and then scoot them to the sides to make space, and put the pork back in the pan. Add the mushroom soaking liquid (pour it in carefully, and don't let any sludge in the bottom go into the pan) and the sake mixture to the pan, and then tuck the mushrooms in around the pork, submerged where possible.

Cover the pan with its lid, or cover tightly with foil if there's no lid, and put the pan in the preheated oven. Allow it to braise for 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork belly over every 30 minutes, carefully not smashing up the garlic too badly.

Remove the finished pork belly from the dregs of the braising liquid, and let cool. If you are making it ahead, once it is cold you can wrap it up tightly and put it in the fridge. If making ahead is not an option and you want to serve it right away, you will need to be okay with the fact that the slices will be rather messy-looking.

I used the remaining braising liquid and the mushrooms to make yakisoba, with a few of the garlic cloves thrown in for good measure. The slices were a mess, because I sliced it warm from the oven, but the rest was packaged up to make the donburi that you see above, and the slices are much, much neater.

In order to reheat the pork belly, I first sliced it, and then lay the slices in a small skillet with a quarter-scaled version of the braising liquid (minus the mushroom liquid). I then reheated it, slowly, covered, over very low heat on the stovetop. A couple of times I gently swirled the pan to make sure the liquid had contact with the cut surfaces of the pork belly slices.

This is without a doubt the best pork belly dish that I've made yet. I can't wait to make it again.