June 25, 2016

Moroccan Orange Slices with Orange Flower syrup

This is an incredibly refreshing dessert, particularly after a rich meal, or a meal eaten late at night. It could also be a nice finish to an elegant breakfast. Best of all, it's quick and easy. The trickiest bit is peeling the oranges, and you'll probably master that pretty quickly.

Also, if you bought orange flower water ages ago for a recipe where you used a mere teaspoon, and the bottle has just been sitting in your cupboard ever since, here's a fantastic use for it.

Moroccan Orange Slices in Flower Water

Serves 2 - 4

2 large navel oranges
1/4 cup orange flower water
1/4 cup sugar
Ground cinnamon (to taste)
Mint sprigs

Start by making a simple syrup from the orange flower water and the sugar. Bring it to a simmer, and cook it for about five minutes over low heat. Put it aside to cool. This makes twice as much syrup as you need, so you can put the rest in a small jar or bottle in the fridge until next time (or for pancakes), once you're done here.

Using a good, sharp knife, cut the top and the bottom from the orange. Don't hack the whole top end off, just take enough off the top of it until you're through the pith and can see the top of each section of orange. Stand the orange on end, and position your knife at an angle where the pith meets the flesh of the orange, with the blade facing down and angled out. Gently but firmly saw downwards to remove a strip peel-and-pith off of the orange. Re-angle your blade as you go to follow the shape of the orange. If you lose a bit of orange, that's okay. Turn the orange a quarter turn, and repeat cutting the strip away. Do this twice more, until each "side" of the orange has a strip of peel removed. Then you should be able to remove the remaining peel in four more slices (plus maybe an extra one or two to get little bits of pith that stayed behind). Turn the orange upside down, and remove any bits of pith that stuck to the bottom side. There always seems to be a few. Then, turn your naked orange onto it's side, and cut it into rounds about a centimetre thick. Repeat with the other orange. It's so much easier the second time!

Arrange the orange slices on plates, however you like. I like to remove the centre bit of core-pith, but that's up to you, and if the centres of the slices are a bit fibrous, you can use an apple corer or a sharp knife to remove those bits. Drizzle a tablespoon of syrup over each orange, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Garnish freely with fresh mint, and you're done.

I note that when we finished the orange, we mushed the mint leaves around in the syrup, and ate them too. Urp.

June 19, 2016

Zrazy Grzyczana z Kaszą: Polish Braised Beef Rolls with mushroom stuffing and Kasha

A couple of weeks ago, I made a Lithuanian recipe for Blueberry Dumplings, using a cookbook given to me by my former colleague at the end of my last work contract.

Today, I offer you not one, but TWO Polish recipes, from an entirely different cookbook, given to me by an entirely different thoughtful colleague at the end of my last work contract. I guess my non-stop talk about food is paying off! It was hard to decide which cookbook to start cooking from, so I eventually decided to choose based on which one I received first, but am evening the score by making this a two-for-one.

The book is From a Polish Country House Kitchen by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden. There's a lot of good looking stuff in here, and I can't wait to get my hands on some of these recipes. (Duck and red cabbage pierogi? Yes please!) I wanted to start with something that felt very traditionally Polish, because my greatest association with Polish cookery is Barscz. Now, I love a good barscz, but to be perfectly honest, there is a bit of a blur around the dish in terms of nationality and cuisines - probably because I grew up with the Ukrainian and Russian versions. For the first effort from this book, I wanted something that really identified as Polish.

Now, you could quibble all day on the origins of some of these dishes. What in Poland is called Zrazy is called Rouladen in Germany, Paupiettes in France, and probably a half a dozen things in half a dozen other places. But this version, with the mushroom/bacon/onion filling, doesn't seem to be reflected in any of the other recipes that I've seen. Likewise the kasha recipe, despite all its infinite variations, appears a little differently here than I was familiar with from Russian or Ukrainian versions.

Finally, before we get to the actual recipes, I wanted to note that according to the book, this recipe should serve two people (scaled from the original four). Generous! That was a bit much for the two of us, based on our usual dinner size, but we happily put the rest in the fridge for a quick dinner later in the week. Depending on how hungry you are, or what portions sizes look like to you, well, it could vary a bit. For me, the math of roughly 125 grams of meat per serving seemed perfect. There's two on the plate in the photos because a) it looks nice, and b) we didn't realize how optimistic the serving size was until we started eating, and we promptly agreed to reserve the second zrazy.

Zrazy Grzyczana
Braised Beef Rolls with Mushroom Stuffing
Adapted from From a Polish Country House Kitchen

Serves 2 - 4

2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
225 grams wild mushrooms, chopped (I used chanterelles)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill weed
2 tablespoons bread crumbs (I used panko)
450 grams beef top round steak, boneless, sliced into 4 long, very thin/wide steaks
4 slices raw bacon
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Finely chop the yellow onion and three quarters of the mushrooms. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a skillet, and sauté them until tender and reduced in volume. Combine in a food processor (or turn out onto a cutting board) with two tablespoons fresh minced dill, and two tablespoons breadcrumbs. Chop/pulse until finely chopped, but not puréed. Set aside.

When you buy the beef, if you can ask the butcher to cut it for rouladen, it will save a lot of headaches. Use a meat-mallet or rolling pin or even a small skillet to pound it (gently, that is) into a long thin strip. Lay a strip of bacon along its length, and add a quarter of the mushroom filling. Season well with salt and pepper. Fold the sides in just a little bit (as if you were making a spring roll or a burrito) to help contain the filling, and roll the steak up lengthwise into a tidy roll. Secure the roll with butcher's string or toothpicks and set aside. Repeat until all four steaks have been made into rolls.

Melt another tablespoon of butter in a small skillet, and brown the zrazy on all sides. Remove the zrazy to a plate, and deglaze the pan with the wine and the broth. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and place the zrazy back in the braising liquid, along with the reserved mushroom pieces. Braise the rolls for an hour, or until very tender (now you can start preparing the Kasha, if you like). Remove the rolls to a plate, and remove the strings or toothpicks from each piece. Take 2 tablespoons of cold water and dissolve the cornstarch in it (or you can harvest a bit of the braising liquid in advance, at let it cool first). Add the cornstarch mixture back into the braising liquid and bring to a boil. Let it simmer and reduce, stirring frequently, until thick and sauce-like. Put the zrazy back into the sauce, and spoon some over each roll. Serve with Kasha and some vegetables - I've chosen pickled beets and a cucumber-sour cream salad with dill.

I won't lie to you - the inclusion of beaten egg in the below recipe seemed kind of optimistic. But it all turned out wonderfully! Apparently the egg gives it a sort of fluffiness, and it certainly was fluffy. Sometimes it pays to follow instructions.

Adapted from From a Polish Country House Kitchen

Serves 4

1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1 beaten egg
2 cups boiling water
1/4 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper

If your buckwheat groats are not toasted, you can toast them yourself in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until they smell lovely and toasted. Let cool before proceeding with the recipe.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg well. Add the cooled, toasted buckwheat groats, and stir until very well integrated.

In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium heat, add the buckwheat/egg mixture. Stir continuously, until the grains start to separate themselves from the mass of eggy/buckwheat goo. Then, add the boiling water (having a kettle on standby for this is helpful), the salt and pepper, and give it one last stir before turning the heat to low, covering, and letting cook for ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove the pan from the heat (leave it covered) and let stand on a cool burner or other safe place for another ten minutes. Fluff with a spatula, and serve as though it were rice.

It turns out that the Kasha likes the beef and wine sauce from the zrazy quite a bit.

June 07, 2016

Šaltanosiai: Lithuanian Blueberry Dumplings

Yes, these are essentially the Lithuanian version of pierogi. Lithuanians like to make savoury versions as well, using pretty much the same dough wrapper, in which case they are called Kolduny (or Kalduny). Šaltanosiai means "cold noses" perhaps because the blueberries pressed against the dough look a bit like cold noses pressed against a frosted window? No? Then I've got nothing, sorry.

This recipe comes from a cookbook called Taste Lithuania by Beata Nicholson which was a farewell gift from a lovely colleague, at the end of my last work contract. Given that when we met I pretty much pounced on her right away and demanded information about Lithuanian food and cooking, this was not only a delightful surprise, it was a continuation of many conversations that we've had. Even more touching, she took the time to go through the book and add little sticky notes with personal and cultural commentary about quite a few of the recipes. This recipe was the first marked recipe in the book; she noted that her family's recipe was lost when her grandmother passed away, and recalls the dangers inherent in the hot blueberry filling, in the form of "blue surprises on white t-shirts".

It is with great pleasure that I selected this as the first of what I'm sure will be many recipes to come from this book.

Šaltanosiai: Lithuanian Blueberry Dumplings

Adapted from Taste Lithuania by Beata Nicholson

Makes: approximately 46 - 48 dumplings

380 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 large egg, beaten
2/3 cup water
pinch of salt

2 cups blueberries (wild, if you can get them)
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar

The recipe had some problematic equivalences written out - the first of which was that the amount for the flour in the dough was given as 380 grams OR 1 pound. Since these are not really equal, and given that I have made these kinds of doughs before, I decided to start with the lesser amount, because I could always add more flour if needed. This was the correct approach, as I didn't really need to add much more flour (and certainly not so much as would have equalled a pound).

To make the dough, put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and beat the egg and water together separately. Add the liquids to the solids, and stir until it all comes together into a rough dough. Let it stand (in the bowl, or turned out onto the counter) for ten or 15 minutes to make it easier to deal with. Once it has relaxed, knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour if necessary to keep it from sticking. The finished dough should be satiny and smooth. Set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling, combine the ingredients in a bowl, and toss well to ensure the blueberries are coated.

To make the dumplings:

Lay a piece of parchment paper on a plate or baking sheet to receive the finished dumplings.

Cut the dough into half, and roll out quite thinly -- to about 3 millimetres' thickness. Use a biscuit cutter or an upturned glass to cut out small rounds. The glass I used was just under 7 centimetres across.

For each dumpling, give the little round of dough an extra pass with the rolling pin, to make it oval. Add a teaspoon of filling, fold in half, and crimp the edges closed. You can use a fork to help seal the edges, but be careful not to pierce the dough over the filling, or they will leak when you cook them. Lay the dumpling on the parchment paper, and take up the next round of dough, repeating until finished.

To cook the dumplings, gently boil them in lightly salted water for 7 minutes. Lift out with a spider or slotted spoon, and transfer them to serving plates. Top each plate with a bit of sour cream, and a few extra blueberries (if available). If you like your desserts a bit sweeter, sprinkle a little sugar over before serving.

For dumplings that you are not going to eat right away, just like with gyoza you can simply put the tray of uncooked dumplings to the freezer for a couple of hours, until they're frozen stiff. Then transfer them to a freezer bag, removing any extra air if possible, and seal. You should be able to store then, frozen, for up to three months without any loss of quality.

Confession time: I absent-mindedly cooked up enough for three or four servings, when I only needed two. I let the extras cool on a plate, and then stored them in a sealed container in the fridge for a couple of days. Then I fried them up in butter, sprinkled a little extra sugar on top, and ate them for breakfast. I...I think I might like them even better that way (hopefully any Lithuanians, ahem, who might reading this are not too disappointed in me!)

June 04, 2016

Spargelcremesuppe: German cream of (white) asparagus soup

May is Spargelzeit (asparagus season) here in Germany, and the farmers' markets are heaped high with piles and piles and piles of asparagus. Most of it is white asparagus here, with only a few options for the green asparagus that is more commonly available in Vancouver.

It is on all the restaurant menus around town, many of which have an entire special menu devoted to this beloved vegetable, which takes top billing. It's not uncommon to see asparagus with hollandaise (or Grüne Soße, Frankfurt's famous green sauce), for example, which comes with a side of schnitzel. Where else are you going to see schnitzel as a side dish? But even the restaurants that don't go all-out, will often feature an asparagus soup. Sometimes smooth, sometimes chunky, almost always creamy, and always delicious.

This recipe is adapted very slightly from the Dr. Oetker Heimatküche cookbook, our first German-language cookbook. The book notes that you can also make this with green asparagus, but that the cooking times for both the broth-making and the asparagus pieces should be reduced by two to three minutes (reduced by five minutes for really thin green asparagus).

It is a bit shockingly minimalist in its ingredient list - no onion, no garlic, no potato, no prepared vegetable stock (you make your own asparagus stock by boiling the trimmings, for enhanced asparagus flavour), while still feeling a bit involved, process-wise. It was easy, despite the multiple steps, and I will happily make this again.


Serves 4

500 grams white asparagus
1 litre water
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
200 - 300 whole milk (see below)
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Salt, white pepper, nutmeg to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish

Wash the asparagus very thoroughly, as it can be surprisingly gritty. Use a strong vegetable peeler or a sharp knife to aggressively remove the skin/outer layer of the stalks, keeping the heads intact. Chop off the bottom two or three inches of the stalks, and split the butt-ends lengthwise. Place the peelings and the butt-ends into a 2-litre sized saucepan with the water, salt, sugar, and one tablespoon of butter. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Strain peelings and ends out of the stock (to be discarded, once cooled), and return the stock to the saucepan.

Bring the stock back to a simmer. Slice the asparagus stalks into rounds, leaving the heads slightly bigger pieces. Add the asparagus to the stock, and simmer uncovered on medium-low for 15 minutes. Strain the asparagus pieces from the stock, setting them aside to be added back into the soup later.

Measure the stock, which should be a bit less than a litre. Add sufficient milk to bring the total amount of liquid back to one litre, and keep the mixture standing by in a pitcher.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the emptied saucepan. Add the flour and stir or whisk well, cooking until the mixture is a rich yellow colour. Slowly and steadily add the stock/milk mixture, whisking furiously to prevent lumps. When all the liquid is added, stir periodically over the next 15 minutes while the mixture thickens slightly. Do not let it boil, or the texture will become grainy.

Return the asparagus to the pot, and allow the mixture to continue to cook, over low heat, for another five minutes, stirring periodically. Do not let it boil.

Whisk together the egg yolks and cream until smooth. Using a ladle, add a little of the hot soup to the yolk mixture in a thin stream, whisking steadily, until you've added about a quarter of a cup of hot liquid. Now add the yolk mixture into the soup pot, stirring to ensure smooth integration, and let cook, still on low, still stirring a bit, for another five minutes.

Taste the soup, and add salt, white pepper, and nutmeg (just a dash - not too much!) to taste. Ladle into bowls, and garnish with chopped parsley.

This soup also purées beautifully. We had it "as is" for dinner, but the bit leftover was puréed the next day to make a starter course. I used a stick blender to puréed the cold solids (with a very little of the soup liquid) just until smooth. Then the purée was added back into the rest of the soup, stirred well, and heated through.