February 25, 2017

Black Beans & Rice with Sausage


This recipe takes inspiration from those dry packet mixes for black beans and rice, but using fresh ingredients and a lot less salt. It's a fairly quick meal to make, labour-wise (about 45 minutes, most of which is unattended cook time), and while there's a bit of chopping involved, there's not a lot of clean up: cutting board, knife, skillet, spatula, bowls, forks. It's easy, it's delicious, and it reheats well for lunch the next day.

If you want a more Cajun-y version, replace the seasonings listed below with a Cajun spice blend.

Vegetarians/Vegans could either replace the sausage with a similarly styled plant-based sausage, smoked tofu, or simply increase the amount of black beans.

Black Beans & Rice with Sausage

Serves 4

140 grams Cabanossi sausage (or Kolbassa)
2 medium stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 medium red or green bell pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable base (I use reduced sodium)
2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup parboiled rice
2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste!)
2 dash Tabasco pepper sauce
1 3/4 cups water, from a recently boiled kettle
sliced green onions for garnish (optional)

Prepare the sausage by slicing it once lengthwise and then slice cross-wise into half-coin pieces. Prepare the vegetables by peeling or trimming as needed and dicing into thumbnail-sized chunks. I like to string my celery, if it's particularly tough. Mix the seasoning spices in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large skillet, sear the sausage slices, then push to the sides of the skillet and add the diced onion, garlic in the olive oil until it starts to turn translucent. Add the diced pepper, beans and spices, and stir through gently. Let cook, stirring, for about a minute, and then add the Tabasco sauce, rice, and 1 & 3/4 cups boiling water. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer, stirring, then immediately cover. Turn down the heat to a bare simmer and leave undisturbed (no peeking!) for 25 minutes. When it is done, stir through gently. Sprinkle with sliced green onions and serve.

February 17, 2017

Buffalo Chicken Pasta


There are oh-so-many recipes for buffalo chicken pasta casseroles out there, and they're all surprisingly different. This is not a casserole, however, but a pasta sauce made from chicken and a buffalo-wing-style sauce, layered with blue cheese dressing and onto cooked long noodles, and topped with crumbled blue cheese. As you eat, the sauce and cheese combine to coat the pasta so that each bite is rich, delicious, and extremely satisfying.

If you are using the crumbled blue cheese, I recommend a mild style, such as Danish Blue. I used a German blue cheese called Kornblume, which is similar in flavour profile. I don't recommend gorgonzola or roquefort for this, as delicious as they are. The gorgonzola has the wrong texture and flavour, and the roquefort is a bit strong in this context. Maytag would work well for people who like their blue cheese a bit more intense.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

Serves 2

150 grams dry linguine
1 tablespoon of butter

250 grams chicken breast, poached gently and shredded
125 mL Frank's Red Hot sauce (original style)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

125 mL blue cheese dressing
4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Cook the linguine to your preferred doneness and drain. Toss with a tablespoon of butter, and divide between two pasta bowls. While the linguine cooks, combine the hot sauce, butter, and Worcestershire sauce in a small skillet, and stir to combine. Add the shredded chicken and stir through to ensure that all of the chicken is nicely coated in the hot sauce. Keep it warm over low heat with the lid off, to let the sauce thicken a bit.

Once the linguine is plated, spoon a little of the blue cheese dressing over each bowl, and then divide the chicken between the bowls (use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from any excess sauce). Spoon the rest of the blue cheese dressing over the chicken, and then add the crumbled blue cheese. Add a final drizzle of the hot sauce mixture over the top, and devour immediately.

To keep the buffalo wing theme going, we had this with a salad of finely sliced celery and carrot, topped with another bit of the blue cheese dressing. It made a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pasta, and is highly recommended.

Finally, I should note that if you make a bit more chicken than you need for this recipe, the leftovers make a fairly stunning grilled cheese. Yeah.

February 11, 2017

Kasha Varnishkes: Buckwheat & Bowties


I know it looks as if it might be a ground meat sauce coating those farfalle noodles, but it isn't; those are buckwheat groats. This dish may seem a bit unusual to the uninitiated, but this staple of modern Ashkenazic Jewish cooking is a beloved comfort food favourite for many as either a side dish or a meal in its own right. Meat eating families might have it next to brisket or roast chicken, but it is easily made ovo-lacto vegetarian replacing the chicken schmaltz with butter or vegetable oil, and replacing the chicken stock with mushroom stock or vegetable broth. Even on its own, it is a hearty, filling meal.

According to my *ahem* extensive internet research, this dish is likely a deconstructed take on vareniki, a Ukrainian small, filled dumpling (similar to Russian pelmeni or Polish pierogi). Instead of the time-consuming process of forming the dumplings, the buckwheat filling was just mixed with regular noodles, and a new classic dish was born, with the new name, varnishkes.

Since most recipes start with simply cooking the buckwheat (kasha), I referred back to the successful kasha recipe from a Polish cookbook, then added onions and mushrooms saut├ęd until darkly golden in chicken fat (collected from a previously roasted chicken) to add layers of flavour to the kasha. Once that was done, I quickly stirred in some cooked pasta, and it was ready to go. This did not take very long to make, but it did use a lot of pots and pans, so a fair bit of washing up was required.

Kasha Varnishkes

Serves 4 - 6

225 grams farfalle (bowtie pasta)

2 medium-to-large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 large cremini mushrooms (or equivalent), halved and sliced
2 tablespoons chicken schmaltz
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted buckwheat groats
1 beaten egg
2 cups strong chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt (if your stock is not already salty)
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.

Heat the chicken stock until boiling.

In a sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high 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 chicken stock, 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.

While the kasha is cooking, heat the water to boil the pasta, and get started on the onions and mushrooms.

In a large skillet, melt the chicken schmaltz and fry the mushroom slices, in batches, until deeply golden brown. Scrape them to the side of the pan, and add the chopped onions and garlic. Continue to fry, stirring frequently now, until the onions are also turning brown. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.

While the onion, garlic, and mushrooms are frying, boil the farfalle until it is cooked to your preference.

Fluff the kasha with a spatula, and add it to the skillet with the onions and mushrooms, and stir through. Drain the farfalle (or use a spider to retrieve them from the water and scoop them directly into the skillet with the kasha mixture. If you happen to have any chicken gold available to you, stirring in a spoonful or two is a wonderful way to add a depth of flavour and sense of luxury to the finished dish. Stir well to coat the noodles with the kasha "sauce" and serve.



We had ours with baked sweet potato coins, and sliced pickled beets.

February 04, 2017

Rice Noodle Rolls: Chee Cheong Fun (and two pan-fried variations)


If you have access to a good Asian grocery store, you might never need to make the noodles from scratch although it's not at all difficult - merely time consuming. Just buy a nice fresh package and proceed below to the serving suggestions. But if, for example, you live in a small European city that doesn't seem to have really figured out yet that Asian cuisines are in fact plural, I hope that you will find this useful.

The time consuming aspect of this recipe lies in the fact that the noodles can only be cooked one at a time, and this makes 13-14 noodle sheets (at least, using the size of pans I have), each of which take 6 - 7 minutes to steam. If you have a better steaming rig than I do, one with stackable layers, you might be able to reduce the time by quite a bit.

Fortunately, you can make these a day or two ahead of when you want to serve them, and just keep them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

Chee Cheong Fun (Chinese Rice Noodle Rolls)

175 grams pyramid dumpling rice flour blend (or 150 grams rice flour plus 25 grams tapioca flour)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
200 mL cold water
300 mL hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon canola oil

Combine the flour(s) and cornstarch with the salt, and whisk in the cold water. When there are no more lumps, add the hot water, and whisk well, until thoroughly integrated. The batter will look way too thin and watery, but it’s fine. Add the oil and whisk again.

Let the batter rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Set up your steamer, and two or three trays that you can use to shape the noodle sheets. I use foil trays, the same kind used for baking or take-out containers. Make sure the trays can lie flat in the steamer, so your noodles are even. Lightly oil the trays, using a pastry brush or similar. Prepare a cold water bath - something large enough to put your steaming trays in, such as a baking dish or larger aluminum pan. Prepare a plate for the finished rolls, by brushing it very, very lightly with oil.

Place the first tray in the steamer (with steam already rising) and (after stirring the batter well) add a very thin layer of batter to the tray. Make sure the bottom of the tray is just barely covered. Cover, and steam for 6 - 7 minutes, or until it looks set. Remove tray from steamer and place it in the cold water bath. Place the next tray in the steamer, and repeat, being sure to stir the batter vigorously before ladling into the tray (it will separate, otherwise).

Let the tray with the cooked noodle rest in the water bath for a minute or two, and then lift it out and use a spatula to free the sides and slowly, with the pan tilted toward you, use the spatula to peel the noodle sheet down from the top, bit by bit, causing it to roll into a tight cylinder. Remove the noodle roll to your resting plate. Brush lightly with oil, especially if you will not be using the rolls until later.

Repeat until all of the batter is used up. How many noodle rolls you get depends very much on how big your trays are, and how thick your noodles. Once they are at room temperature, you can refrigerate them to use later, or even the next day.

As you can imagine, at about seven minutes per noodle, it takes a while to cook all of the batter. Using trays that measure approximately 16x10 centimetres, I got 13 or 14 rolls, and it took over an hour and a half to complete the steaming, because I could only steam one tray at a time. If you have a multi-tiered steaming rig and can handle more trays at a time, that will speed up the process a lot.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with XO sauce

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil until very hot. While the oil is heating, slice the rice rolls into smaller pieces - from the 10 centimetre rolls I made, I cut the rolls into thirds, but you could also do halves or quarters. I cut them on an angle, to make them look pretty.

The amount of sauce here is for 7 noodle rolls (half a batch), so double it if you're going to fry up the whole amount.

Lay the noodle rolls pieces in the hot skillet, and let them sear lightly. Use a spatula or tongs to flip them over to get both sides. If you are frying all the noodles, maybe go through the searing stage in two batches, so to not overcrowd the pan and remove the finished ones to a holding plate while you fry the second batch.

It only takes a couple of minutes to sear the noodle rolls on each side. Use that time to slice some red chiles and green onion, and to make the finishing sauce:

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, pressed

When the noodle pieces have seared on both sides, add of the seared noodles back into the pan just before you add the sauce. Add the finishing sauce and the red chile slices, and gently stir and fry until the noodles have a glossy brown coat. Plate the noodles, and top with green onions and a nice spoonful of XO sauce. Serve immediately.

Pan fried rice noodle rolls with prawns and snow peas

To make a meal of it, simply add some prawns and snow peas. You can sear them either before or after searing the noodle rolls, making use of a holding plate, and then just add it all together into the skillet (or wok!) before you add the sauce.

Proceed as above. Serves 2.