January 28, 2017

Pumpkin Muffins


These were actually made with Hokkaido squash (aka Red Kuri, amongst other names), rather than what we might usually think of as a pumpkin in Canada, but the net effect is the same. You could also use butternut squash. I made this recipe because I had a cup of mashed, roasted squash to use up, but you could also use canned pumpkin. The raisins are optional, but if you like raisins at all, they are a delightful little burst of extra sweetness in a muffin that isn't trying to be a cupcake. Cranberries might be nice, too.

Great for the lunchbox, if that's a thing you do.

Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from Muffins & More, by Jean Paré (Company's Coming)

Makes 10 - 12 muffins

1.5 cups (375 mL) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (125 mL) raisins (optional)

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup (90 mL) canola oil
1/3 cup (90 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) pumpkin or squash puree
1/4 cup (60 mL) milk

Pumpkin seeds for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle. Lightly oil or grease the wells of a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with paper or silicone muffin liners.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices, and raisins in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg, and the sugar and the oil and beat again. Add the pumpkin, beat until smooth and, finally, add the milk and stir until combined.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and pour the alarmingly coloured wet ingredients into the well all at once. Use a spatula or broad spoon to fold the mixture gently together, until there are no more dry patches. Be careful not to mix too vigorously, or you will get tough muffins. Be gentle.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, coming just barely to the top of each cup. Don't smooth the tops or press the batter down, just let it be lumpy. I got 10 muffins out of this, but the original recipe claims to get 14, so your mileage may vary.

Top each muffin with a few pumpkin seeds, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick (or strand of raw spaghetti) comes out clean.

Let stand for 5 minutes in the tin, and then remove to a rack to cool. These keep well at cool room temperature for a couple of days. After that, put them in the fridge or freezer (well wrapped, of course).

January 21, 2017

Matar Paneer


This is my version of the famous northern Indian vegetarian curry featuring peas (matar or mutter, amongst other spellings) and fresh cheese (paneer). It is a little less rich, and a little less complex than a lot of the versions out there, but that just makes it easier to put on the dinner table on a weeknight.

Obviously it is much more time consuming if you make the paneer yourself, but since I was able to find some in a shop here (hurrah!) I've gone the easy route. You can make the paneer cubes any size you want, although if they're much smaller than sugar-cube, it will be more troublesome to fry them. The cubes shown here are actually a bit on the large side, and probably could have been halved. The recipe works either way. You can also skip the frying stage, but it does lose some of the flavour and texture that make the dish special.

I think it's one of the better things you can do with frozen green peas.

Matar Paneer

Serves 4

350 grams paneer, diced
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 inch fresh ginger root, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons garam masala, divided
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-2 hot green chiles, minced
250 - 325 mL water
200 grams green peas, rinsed under warm water if frozen
3 tablespoons heavy cream

As usual with Indian cuisine, I find it essential to complete all of the prep before starting cooking. Mise en place is peace of mind.

In a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the cubes of paneer, quickly placing them one at a time rather than dumping them all in at once, and sear until slightly browned. Use tongs or a fork to turn the cubes over to brown the other sides. I confess to being lazy, and that I only browned three or four sides for each piece, so that works, too. Remove the finished cubes to a holding plate.

In the emptied skillet, still over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and also add the whole cumin and coriander seeds. Stir them around a bit, and let them toast in the hot oil for a minute or so before adding the onion, ginger, garlic, and salt. Stir and fry until the onion bits are well browned, and then add the turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander seed, and half of the garam masala. Stir the spices through, and then add the tomato paste, and stir that through, also. You can add a tablespoon or so of water if it's really getting difficult to stir. Add the diced tomatoes, and stir and cook for about ten minutes or so, or until the oil starts to separate out from the mass of vegetables. Slowly stir in 250 mL water, and stir and cook until it is a grainy gravy.

If your pan is deep enough, you can use an immersion blender right in the skillet, but if not, remove the coarse sauce to a blender-cup or food processor and process until it becomes a smooth gravy. Return to the skillet (I don't bother to wipe the skillet out in between), and let it return to a gentle bubble. If the mixture is too thick, you can add the extra water but go slow, just adding a bit at a time until you get a gravy consistency you're happy with.

Add the peas to the skillet and stir through. Add the fried paneer cubes, and gently stir through. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low, and let simmer for about ten minutes, or until the peas are cooked and the paneer cubes are heated through. Remove from the heat and stir through the heavy cream. Garnish with cilantro if you wish. Serve with or over basmati rice.

A note on recipes calling for only a tablespoon or two of tomato paste: if you normally buy tomato paste in cans, you might want to consider picking up a tube of tomato paste instead - unlike the cans, they can be stored in the fridge once opened and are perfect for dispensing only a small amount of tomato paste at a time. You can usually find tomato paste in large tubes in Italian delis or specialty shops, if they're not on your usual supermarket shelves.

January 14, 2017

Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing


Ginger salad dressing is so fresh and delicious tasting that it can make even the saddest pile of limp iceberg lettuce palatable. It turns out that it's even better when homemade and you can control the sweetness, so you may need to forcibly restrain yourself from just drinking it down like a smoothie.

I find a lot of the ginger salad dressings I've a had in restaurants to be a bit too sweet for my taste, so I've put very little sugar in this one. If you like your dressings sweet, you might want to taste it after it's made up and then add a bit more sugar and give it a final blitz. This recipe was synthesized from myriad online sources, but none in particular. There are some surprising ingredients, but go with it.

Japanese Ginger Salad Dressing

Makes 2/3 cup

1/4 cup peanut oil*
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 - 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root (or finely minced)
1/4 cup sliced green onion - white parts only (about 3-4)
2 tablespoons finely grated carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of ground white pepper

*If you don't use peanut oil, for whatever reason, be sure to use a neutrally flavoured vegetable oil. Strong-tasting oils like olive or walnut are out of place here.

I used a microplane-type grater for the carrot and the ginger, and everything else was just finely chopped by hand. I like a strong ginger flavour, so I used the full 2 tablespoons, but you can scale it back to one if you're feeling mild.

Place everything in the order given in a cup suitable for an immersion-blender (or the cup of your blender or food processor), and blend on high until mostly smooth. This dressing has a lot of body for a vinaigrette, so it will still have a little bit of texture, but that's fine - it's how the dressing is usually served in restaurants, too.

Cover well and refrigerate for a couple of hours before use if possible - but use it up within three days.

To use, simply give it a stir (or a shake, if it's in a jar) and spoon over your composed salad. It can also be used to dress thinly sliced cucumber on its own, or plain, finely shredded cabbage to make a sort of gingery coleslaw.

January 07, 2017

Turkey Congee


Congee (also called jook in Cantonese, amongst many other names worldwide) is a rice porridge popular throughout Asia, and there are many different ways to have it. At its most basic, it is a blank canvas for your favourite flavours, whether you need it to be soothing and restorative, or something a little more lively. It is almost infinitely customizable to what you already might have available in your kitchen. It can be meat-based, or vegetarian, or vegan. Congee isn't always made from rice (millet, mung beans, barley, and sorghum are some of the other variations), but rice is by far and away the most common version. It is a popular any time of day - from breakfast to late night, post-pub snack. Every time I make congee, I remember how much I love it, and vow on the spot to make it more often.

This version came from my desire to make something with the strong turkey stock that I made from the bones of our Christmas turkey. Since I'm generally pretty well stocked for Asian condiments and garnish-ingredients, I was able to make this with what was on hand.

It does take a while to cook, but it's fairly low effort, even so: stir it every so often, and it takes care of itself.

Turkey Congee

Serves 2

100 grams (about 1/2 cup) long or short grain rice
1 litre (4 cups) water
250 mL (1 cup) strong turkey stock
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup diced or shredded cooked turkey meat

Garnishes

1 clove of fresh garlic, finely slivered
1 inch fresh ginger, finely slivered
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
cilantro leaves
slices of red chile pepper
a few drops of sesame oil

You can garnish lightly or heavily, depending on what you have on hand:

Other typical congee garnishes might include:

Youtiao (Chinese doughnut/cruller)
hot chile oil
soy sauce (not too much, or it will overwhelm)
peanuts
pork floss
fried shallots/shallot oil
preserved duck egg
lettuce (stirred in at the end)
sliced mushrooms
preserved greens
...and many more (and that's not even counting featured ingredients, such as the turkey in this version.

Wash your rice well in cool water. Meanwhile, bring the litre of water listed in the recipe to a boil in a medium-large soup pot, and once it is boiling, add the stock and the rice. Reduce the heat to medium-low until the mixture is bubbling enthusiastically, but not at a rolling boil, cock a lid half-on the pot (to let steam escape, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Feel free to stir occasionally.

When the timer goes, give everything a good stir, making sure there's nothing stuck to the bottom of the pan. I like a wooden spoon for this. Taste the broth, and add the salt. Start with 1/2 teaspoon (especially if you are using a salty, commercial turkey stock, or will be adding soy sauce later), and add more later if needed. Stir well and leave it to cook, uncovered, this time, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes on the timer.

When the second timer goes, check on it again. It should be much thicker (and more likely to start sticking to the bottom of the pot), but still not completely at congee-texture. These things take time. Stir it really well, and put the timer on for another 20 minutes, uncovered. At this time, you can chop or shred the turkey meat and have it standing by, and you can start to prepare the other garnishes.

When the timer goes for the third time, add the turkey meat to the congee, and marvel at how much thicker it has gotten. If it is too thick, feel free to add a half-cup of water (or more, but add only a little at a time) until it reach the consistency you like. Let the mixture cook, stirring frequently for 15 - 20 minutes, and then ladle into bowls. Top with the garnishes of your choice, and devour.

The below picture shows the finished congee, just before the garnishes are added. You can see a little of the turkey peeking through, but you can also see how thick the porridge itself is.