June 25, 2015

Bacon, Egg, & Mustard Scones

Breakfast muffins and breakfast biscuits have become a very dependable item for casual and fast food restaurants, and I know a surprising number of people who make them at home. Me, for example. It's a pretty easy breakfast that one can make with a minimum of fuss, although items such as bacon will of course add to the dirty dish count. Sometimes, however, you might want the convenience of a homemade biscuit without the need for actually cooking anything right at that minute. If you have a stash of these charming, bite-sized scones - where the bacon and egg and already incorporated right into the dough - you're just that much closer to the grab-and-go breakfast of your dreams.

Okay, okay. These do not fully replace the kinds of biscuits (or English muffins) stuffed with freshly-fried or scrambled egg (plus cheese and/or bacon), which of course have a different character than these scones. But they're quite satisfying, and a nice change from sweet, fruit-studded scones if that's your usual fare.

These are adapted from the Australian Women's Weekly Home Library publication "Muffins, Scones & Breads". As with the Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes, the heavy lifting here was done by my friend James, while I stuck to my moderately autocratic, slightly bossy, kitchen maven routine.

Bacon, Egg, and Mustard Scones
Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly

Makes 16 - 20

4 rashers bacon, fried, drained and crumbled
335 grams cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
90 grams butter
2 hardboiled eggs, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons extra
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon wholegrain Dijon mustard
1 cup (250 mL) whole milk

We made these in a cast iron skillet, which is pretty old school.

Preheat the oven to 450 F / 220 C. Warm your cast iron pan gently on the stovetop to take the chill of it (it should be a little warm, but not hot.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or a fork, or two knives, as you see fit), until the bits of butter are no larger than the size of a small-ish green pea. Add the bacon, egg, Dijon, chives, and 1/4 cup of parmesan, and stir through with a fork, making sure everything is evenly distributed.

Make a well in the centre, and pour the milk in. Stir very rapidly with a fork until it all comes together. If it is too wet, add a bit more flour until it's not quite so sticky (a little bit sticky is okay). Turn it out onto the counter. Mix with your hands, until you can gently massage it into a thick, flat dough.

Use a biscuit cutter to cut out the individual pieces (do not twist the cutter, or you will inhibit the rise of the scone as it bakes - straight up and down is the way to go). Use a knife if necessary to loosen them from the counter so you can move them into the skillet, arranging them so that they're close to each other but not quite touching. You might need to do two batches, depending on the size of your skillet.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little milk (or cream - not listed above), and sprinkle with the remaining bits of grated parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until tall and golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Because these have meat in them, store them in the refrigerator (in a sealable bag or airtight container) after they've cooled completely. They're not a good item to hold at room temperature for long.

If you prefer them warm, pop a cooled one in the microwave for about 15 seconds.

June 15, 2015

Imam Bayīldi - Turkish Eggplant Casserole

Traditional recipes for Imam Bayīldi involve stuffing hollowed out eggplants (or halved eggplants) with onions and spices, and braising them in a surfeit of best quality olive oil until tender. I've made some serious versions in the past, but they've always felt like a lot of work for something that is primarily a side dish to me (although I acknowledge that it makes a terrific main course for lunch). So, naturally, I was very excited to see this streamlined casserole version from Feed Me Phoebe.

The slightly scandalous name, which translates "The Priest Fainted" has entertaining stories as to why exactly, the Imam keeled over - everything from swooning at the deliciousness to fainting at the cost (or sheer amount) of the olive oil. Various other versions abound in the Eastern Mediterranean, varying the spices, or in some cases the vegetables. I assume that there are versions of this that date back to considerably before the introduction of the tomato, but it seems that the tomato-and-onion version is one of the most popular.

Imam Bayīldi

Serves 4

2 small (but not baby) eggplants
Kosher or coarse sea salt
Olive oil (about a third of a cup, total)
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
Dash of cinnamon
Dash ground white pepper
400 mL canned diced tomatoes, with juices
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, divided

Prepare the eggplants by removing the cap and slicing lengthwise into 1/2 centimetre thick slabs. If you cut them into coins, it's much harder to get even coverage of the pan without gaps, so lengthwise is by far the better way to go for this dish. Dissolve a generous tablespoon of salt in hot water, and then add cold water until you have about six cups in a large bowl. Add the eggplant slices and allow them to brine for 10 minutes, or up to 8 hours. Drain, rinse, and press the slices firmly with paper towels or fresh linen towels to dry them out.

In a medium skillet (this one is a 24 centimetre steel skillet), heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it just shimmers. Tilt the pan to ensure the bottom of the pan is well coated. Have a receiving plate standing by. Fry the dried-off eggplant slices, in batches, with a little extra olive oil added between each batch, just until golden on each side - about one or two minutes per side. Remove them to the nearby plate as they finish to make room for the next pieces.

Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F) with a rack in the middle.

When all the eggplant has been fried, start building the sauce in the same (now emptied) skillet. Start by adding a little more olive oil (this is the last addition of olive oil), and then add the onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt (not much, especially if your canned tomatoes are salty) the chile flakes, the cinnamon, the white pepper, and half of the parsley. Sauté until translucent and tender, and then add the diced tomatoes and their juices, and the tomato paste. Cook altogether until it starts to resemble a sauce, about four or five more minutes. Then remove about 2/3 to 3/4 of the sauce to a nearby bowl, wipe down the edges of the skillet, and start layering the eggplant into the skillet, on top of the bit of sauce that should nicely coat the bottom of the pan. Alternate the layers of eggplant with the layers of tomato sauce, and try to stack the eggplant slices in so they cover the surface of the pan in a neat, jigsaw like fashion. Make sure the top layer is sauce (ideally a thin layer of sauce so you can admire the prettiness of the eggplant slices), and place it, covered, in the preheated oven. If I use small eggplants, I only get two layers from them, but that works nicely with the amount of sauce.

Bake covered for 25 minutes, and then remove the cover and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool somewhat before serving. Garnish with remaining parsley.

This dish is often served at room temperature or even chilled, so it makes a surprisingly good picnic dish (or take to work dish). Paired with a nice chickpea salad, it's a beautiful, satisfying lunch.

June 08, 2015

Ayam Pedas Asam - Indonesian Sour Spicy Chicken (and International Bento: Indonesian)

Although there is a version of this dish called Ayam Goreng Asam, Sour Fried Chicken, where the chicken is first fried in oil before the sauce is added to the pan, this one has zero added fat. This suggests to me that I can pair it with a richer side dish without the overall meal feeling heavy, but in this case I was in a hurry to use up some cauliflower, so I just roasted that with some curry powder (and a bit of oil) instead.

The butchers and supermarkets here don't offer boneless chicken thigh, for some reason, and it turns out I'm too lazy to bone them out myself, so I've made this with breast. Thigh would be juicier, of course, so if you can get it, go for it.

While this dish is essentially just a meat-and-gravy dish, I think that a bit of Asian eggplant would go beautifully with the other flavours here, so I may try that next time.

Ayam Pedas Asam

Serves 4

500 grams boneless chicken thigh or breast
2 lemongrass stalks
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate (soaked, pulp squeezed & pureed, or prepared)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon palm sugar (or date sugar, or raw sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 star anise stars
3 Makrut lime leaves (fresh or frozen)
1-2 hot red chiles (such as Thai bird chiles), sliced or minced (or sambal oelek to taste)

Cut the chicken into large chunks, and set aside in a stain proof, non-reactive bowl.

Trim the ends of the lemongrass, and remove the outer tough layers. Slice one into thirds, and cut a vertical slit down to the core along their whole lengths,. Chop the other lemongrass up fairly finely, and put it in your blender or mortar.

If you are using a blender, add the garlic, salt, water, and sugar to the lemongrass, and blend until as smooth as possible. If you are using a mortar, grind the lemongrass with the salt. When mostly smooth, add the garlic, and continue until you have a smooth paste.

In a bowl, mix the lemongrass/garlic paste with the tamarind concentrate, coriander, turmeric, white pepper, chile(s), and anise stars. Scrape the mixture over the chicken, and stir well to thoroughly coat each piece. If you used the mortar method, add the water and sugar at this stage, too.

Let the chicken marinate for 20-30 minutes, or overnight, covered, in the fridge.

Place the chicken and marinade into a large skillet over medium heat, and add the lime leaves. Continue to heat until the liquid is quite bubbly, and then reduce the heat and let cook very gently, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.

If you still have a lot of liquid in the pan, remove the chicken pieces to a plate, and vigorously boil the sauce until it has thickened and reduced. Add the chicken pieces (and any accumulated liquid) back into the pan, turn the heat off, and gently stir around so that the thicker sauce now nicely coats each piece of chicken.

Serve over scented rice or basmati, with the vegetable side dish of your choice.