April 08, 2017

Arancini: Italian Rice Balls


Aranicini means "little oranges", and you can find them in many parts of Italy, often as a bar snack. They can be served hot, or at room temperature. It is a way of upcycling leftover risotto into a dish that feels wholly different, while still packing all the same satisfaction. These arancini were made using leftover Risotto alla Milanese, and filled with fresh buffalo Mozzarella. You can make this with pretty much any leftover risotto, although if there are any large featured ingredients, you will want to remove them and either dice them finely and add them back into the rice, or add them to the filling. You can use any melty cheese you have on hand.

I don't deep fry things very often, partly due to the mess, partly due to general anxiety about deep frying, but I'll make an exception for these. As a killer bonus, once these are made, you can reheat them for 15 minutes in a very hot oven a day later with no loss of quality! Can you say...party food? Look at this one -- it's a day old, reheated, and is still fantastic:


Added bonus: you can make them any size you like.

Arancini

About 6 large or 12-14 small

About 3 cups leftover risotto, such as Risotto alla Milanese
1 egg, beaten
100 grams fresh Mozzarella, such as buffalo
About a cup of panko or other dried breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying

While the oil heats to 175°C / 370°F, loosen the risotto gently with a fork. Add the beaten egg, and stir very gently to thoroughly combine. Turn the mass of risotto out onto a cutting board, and divide into the number of arancini you want to make. I've made 6 larger ones and one smaller one. Dice the mozzarella (or other melting cheese, such as Provolone or Fontina, for example) into at least the same number of arancini you are making. Don't make the cheese cubes too huge, or you'll have trouble closing the rice around them.

Set a clean cutting board or plate as a receiving plate for the completed arancini. Then, pick up the risotto for the first ball, and flatten it in your hands into a rough disc. Place a piece of mozzarella (or two, if you find you've chopped them quite small) in the centre of the disc, and curl your fingers up to start to enclose it. Get your other hand in there to help close the rice completely around the cheese, and shape into a nice round ball. Roll the ball in the breadcrumbs. Set aside on the receiving plate, and repeat until all of the rice has been formed into arancini.


Wash your hands, which will be sticky and coated with egg/risotto goo. Prepare a receiving plate for the fried arancini by lining it with a few paper towels.

When the oil is ready for frying, lower one arancino (singular) into the oil, using a mesh skimmer or spider. Let it cook for about a minute before adding another. Do not have more than four of the larger ones in the pot at the time, or the temperature of the oil will drop too far, and the arancini will not fry as nicely. Let each arancino cook for about five or six minutes, turning them from time to time, and then retrieve from the oil with your spider, and place on the paper towel-lined plate. They should be golden-y, orange-y brown and incredibly tempting. Repeat until all the arancini are cooked, and then serve and devour.


Arancini are often served with a dipping sauce - often a simple basil and tomato pasta-type sauce, but these ones are so creamy they don't strictly need it.

I served these with a lentil soup made from the leftover braised beef shanks that had accompanied the original risotto.

April 01, 2017

Risotto alla Milanese


Risotto (alla) Milanese, also sometimes called Risotto Giallo Zafferano, is a luxurious dish. It is not cheap to make, nor is it vegetarian; alongside its famously expensive saffron, the other signature ingredients include bone marrow and meat stock. The risotto kits that one can find on supermarket shelves tend to include only the merest whisper of saffron (if at all) and rely on turmeric or other colorants for the vivid yellow colour. They may make a serviceable side dish of sorts, but you would be in for a disappointment if you expected it to live up to the magic of a traditional Risotto alla Milanese.

I've made saffron rice dishes before, and while I've always enjoyed the flavour, I'd never achieved the deep, dark golden hue that is one of the signatures of this, one of the most famous Italian dishes. It turns out, it very much matters no only what kind of saffron one uses, but also how fresh it is. After recently making a saffron risotto that was underwhelming in colour, texture, and flavour, I decided to set aside what I've learned making other risottos, and learn how to do this one in all of its traditional glory.

I had used up the last of my good Persian saffron in the previous batch. While that saffron was indeed top quality when I received it, I had been eking it out over a few years, and gradually the remaining strands had greatly diminished in both their pungency and the amount of colour they provided. So I bought a new tiny tube of beautiful, dark red threads, and used them generously. Note that not all saffron is created equal. Don't be deceived by "safflower saffron", Carthamus tinctorius AKA "American saffron" or "Mexican saffron" or even "Dyer's saffron" (it has colour, but no flavour). It's not even from the same type of plant as true saffron. The one you want is Crocus sativus.

One departure from other risottos that I've made is that this one has you boil the onions in wine before adding the rice. This made the onions virtually disappear into the dish, adding a depth of texture to the sauciness of the dish. I note that Claudia Roden's other The Food of Italy (so, not the region-by-region version from which the below recipe is adapted) has a slightly different recipe given for Risotto alla Milanese, with slightly different proportions of some ingredients and, more importantly, with the wine added after the rice, following the more classic risotto-building method. Undecided at first, I eventually chose to go with the unusual version, which turned out to be nothing short of glorious.

Risotto alla Milanese

Adapted from Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy: Region by Region

Serves 4

300 grams rice for risotto - eg. Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano
30 grams butter
30 grams beef or veal bone marrow
1 litre (4 cups) beef or veal stock, warm
125 mL dry white wine or dry white Vermouth
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (only if your stock is not too salty)
60 grams freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
50 mL hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)

As always, risotto is best (and the cook less harried) when the mise en place, the advance preparation of all necessary ingredients, is done before actually starting to cook.

Risotto needs near constant attention, but it does not require continuous stirring, no matter what you might hear. A stir once per minute will suffice. If you overstir, especially if you are making a drier, non-soupy style, your rice will be half way to congee by the time you've added all your stock. So: stir frequently, and gently, but not continuously.

Chop your onion very finely (try to match the size of a grain of rice), grate your Parmesan, warm the stock in a small pot on the stove, and prepare the saffron infusion: in a small mug or measuring cup, pour the 50 mL hot water from a recently boiled kettle, and crush the saffron over it, letting the dark red dust fall into the hot water. You can crush the saffron with a spoon, a mortar and pestle, or simply use your fingertips. Let the saffron steep in the hot water, which will gradually turn bright yellow.

Melt the bone marrow in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When it has all melted, add half the butter (a tablespoon) and let that melt, too. Next, add your very finely chopped onion, and let it sauté for a few minutes, and then add the white wine. I used dry Vermouth for the wine, which is my usual risotto practice, but you could also use a nice Pinot Grigio or Soave. Let the wine boil almost dry, until the mixture of fat, onions, and wine looks syrupy, and then add the rice. Stir the rice around well, to coat each of the grains with the viscous liquid. Stir in the salt.

Add a ladle of stock to the rice, and give it a few stirs. Let it simmer, lid off, until much of the liquid has evaporated, and then give it another stir, and another ladle of stock. Stir again, and let it be for a minute. Repeat this process, stirring about once per minute or as needed (if you need to stir more often, turn the heat down), until half of your stock is gone, about 12 - 15 minutes in. You may stir more than once between each addition, of course.

When half of your stock has gone in, add the saffron and its steeping liquid and stir it through, marvelling at the abrupt change of colour, and intense fragrance! I like to add a bit of stock to the emptied saffron cup, and swirl it about to make sure I get every last speck of saffron into the risotto. Continue with the stirring and the adding of stock as before, until all of the stock has been added and mostly absorbed, and the grains of rice are just on the verge of being tender. Turn off the heat, and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the parmesan cheese. Partially cover with a cocked-lid and let it stand for a few minutes while you plate any other elements of your dinner (in case of the above, braised beef shank and cauliflower mornay), and then spoon the risotto onto the plate last. If you like a very wet style of risotto, you may wish to use a shallow bowl to serve, instead.


Should you be lucky enough to have any leftover, they make wonderful arancini (Italian rice balls). Coincidentally (cough cough), that is next week's recipe. Stay tuned!


Freezer Burritos (and website news)


Well, it looks like my older website for Always In The Kitchen has finally expired and been taken offline. Don't worry, this blog is still active, and I still have all of the recipes, so I'll begin adding them to the comments sections of various blog posts that formerly just contained the links.

In the meantime, if you find any dead links where the recipe has not yet been added into the comments at the bottom, please let me know. I plan to add all of them, but it could take a while, and any of the older recipes that didn't have a link on the blog will be getting a whole new blog post, like this one.

Freezer Burritos

These are a delicious make-ahead worthy of taking up space in your freezer, ready to be a tasty packed lunch or emergency dinner. The inclusion of rice makes them technically "Mission-style" but, as discussed below, these are highly customizable.

Total prep and cooking time: 45 minutes more or less, depending on how fast you are at filling and rolling.

1 cup (200 grams) uncooked rice
1 (425 gram) can* black beans
1 (525 gram) can* pinto or kidney beans
1 cup (250 mL) frozen corn kernels, rinsed in warm water, drained
1 cup (250 mL) jarred salsa
10 (12 inch) flour tortillas (make sure they’re flexible - warm them if necessary to make rolling easier)
250 grams Pepper Jack cheese, shredded (or cheddar)
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce, or hot sauce of your choice
1 tablespoon ground chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (use parsley or green onions if you're cilantro-phobic)
1-2 minced jalapeño peppers

*Please note that the can-sizes are approximate, based on what was available in my area at the time this recipe was being developed. If your cans are a bit smaller or a bit larger, it will be fine.

Cook the rice in your usual fashion, adding some Mexican or Southwest Seasoning or extra chile powder (1 teaspoon, approximately) into the water. Allow to cool somewhat while you prepare the rest. Drain and rinse beans and corn. Add salsa, and toss to mix. Transfer to a large bowl, and mix in the rice and cheese and seasonings (spices, cilantro, and peppers). Mix very thoroughly. Taste and see if you need to add more spices or hot sauce. Divide the mixture evenly among the tortillas, and roll up. Wrap individually in plastic wrap, place into a large freezer bag, and freeze. Reheat covered, but unwrapped, in the microwave on high for about 3 minutes. Liberally apply extra hot sauce, such as Cholula (ie. a thicker sauce, rather than a thin one like Tabasco or Louisiana).

I usually plan to have these for dinner on the day that I make a batch. Instead of microwaving them, I spritz them lightly with canola oil and bake them on a cookie sheet, in a 400 F oven, or until the edges are crispy and golden. You can also pan-fry them in a bit of canola or peanut oil, using tongs to rotate them for even browning.

For a non-vegetarian version, substitute one of the cans of beans with ½ pound cooked ground beef (season well, and drain off any fat) or ground chicken or turkey for a leaner meaty version. It’s slightly more work, but very tasty.

I usually get 10 (sometimes more) burritos, depending on how big the tortillas are, how much I've tinkered with the filling, and how much of the filling I've eaten while rolling up the burritos.

These are of course highly customizable - just keep an eye on the volume of filling you're making. I've been known to add minced bell pepper, Mexican pickled onions (chopped), leftover mole sauce, leftover roast chicken, (I divide the shredded roast chicken between each burrito rather than mixing it into the filling). Leftover pulled pork would of course also work very nicely. I'm thinking right now that black bean and roasted butternut squash would be an excellent plant-based variation.

March 25, 2017

Poule au Pot: French simmered chicken


This wonderfully easy dish is one of the hearts of French country cooking. There is a bit of prep, and a rather long simmering time - but one that requires little effort from the cook. The end result is incredibly tender poached chicken, an assortment of vegetables, and an outstanding stock that can be served with the dish (pooled around the chicken and vegetables), alongside the dish (in a small bowl or cup), or kept aside for any other use you might have for a large quantity of fragrant, intense chicken stock.

Poule au Pot (Chicken in the pot) is the very close cousin of Pot au Feu (Pot on the fire) which is essentially the same dish by method, but made with beef instead of chicken and slightly different seasonings. There are a lot of variations of Poule au Pot, but I have chosen a fairly classic combination of vegetables. Some versions include a ground meat stuffing for the chicken, but I decided that it would be plenty of food on its own, and instead used the chicken cavity to hold the fresh thyme safely out of the way of the cooking vegetables.

When I was researching the recipe, I discovered a lot of references to a (poorly documented) speech by France's King Henry IV declaring the goal of "a chicken in every labourer's pot" - for certain values of labourer, anyway. A more modern example of the sentiment is found in Herbert Hoover's US presidential campaign in 1928, in the form of a circular promising "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."

There are a lot of ways to boil a chicken; I was honestly a bit skeptical of the long simmering time, given my almost complete conversion to the steeping method for cooking poultry. But the chicken is not cottony or tough. In fact, the chicken falls from the bones so easily that one should pay attention when separating the meat from the bones and what we like to call the grebbly bits.

I chose to serve this one with a white, roux-based sauce which I have seen named variously Sauce Blanche, Sauce Ivoire, and Sauce Suprême, amongst others. It is made with a velouté, using some of the stock from cooking the chicken, an egg yolk, milk, and crème fraîche. Recipe for my version of the sauce follows the Poule au Pot recipe below. We originally draped the sauce only over the chicken, but subsequently added it to the vegetables, too.

Speaking of the vegetables, I only cooked enough vegetables for two servings, which is why the mise en place looks a little light in the pictures below. Increase the number of vegetables as needed (or as your cooking pot allows).

Poule au Pot

Serves 4 - 6

1 whole chicken
water, enough to almost cover the chicken in a dutch oven
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus extra salt to exfoliate the chicken
1 medium onion
4 whole cloves (spice)
3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 medium potatoes
8 small carrots
4 small turnips
2 small leeks
2 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic

Step 1: exfoliate the raw chicken. This is a technique I learned from Singaporean cuisine (specifically, Hainanese Chicken). First, remove any pinfeathers or feather debris from the chicken skin. Take a handful of salt (preferably smooth-surfaced coarse salt, such as pickling salt, to avoid tearing the skin), and massage it thoroughly into the chicken. All over. This is best done over a sink, so you can let the salt fall freely down the drain for easy clean up. When the chicken skin is smooth and tight-looking, rinse the salt from the chicken, drain and place the chicken in a large cooking pot (I used a dutch oven).

Step 2: Stuff the thyme into the cavity of the chicken, and tie the legs closed. Wash all of the vegetables thoroughly, and peel or trim where needed. Remove the dark green parts of the leeks and tuck them (and the feathery tops from the celery) around the chicken. Peel and quarter the onion, and stick the outer layer of each quarter with a clove. Add the onion quarters to the pot. Add the bay leaves to the pot. Gently pour cold water over the chicken until it is almost covered, with just the top of the breast above water.


Step 3: Turn the heat on high, and cover the pot until the water starts to just barely boil. Remove the lid and skim away any grey scum that may rise to the surface (there will be a lot less scum if you have exfoliated the chicken - I only needed to wipe the inside edge of the pot with a towel). Turn the heat to low, cover the pot again, and let simmer very gently for 80 minutes. Check it from time to time, and it if is bubbling too vigorously on the lowest temperature, leave the lid cocked to release some of the heat. You can use some of this time to peel and trim the vegetables.


Step 4: Use tongs or a slotted spoon to removed the leek tops from the pot. You can discard them (they are fibrous and have given up all of their flavour to the stock already). Raise the heat under the pot, and carefully add the raw vegetables to the pot, tucking them around the chicken if possible. If you really need more space, you can lift the chicken up (carefully!) and put the raw vegetables underneath it. More of the chicken will stick out of the water, but that's fine. If you need to remove some of the liquid to avoid the pot from overflowing, scoop some of the broth out with a measuring cup into a clean bowl or mug. The raw vegetables will cool the broth, which is why you've turned the heat up. When it begins to bubble once more (gently!) turn the heat back to minimum and cover the pot. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes (35 minutes if your potatoes are as large as these ones).


Step 5: While the vegetables finish cooking, and make the Sauce Suprême (see below). Warm some shallow bowls or plates, if necessary.

Step 6: Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork, and if they are not ready, continue to cook for another five or ten minutes, as needed. When they are cooked through, use a slotted spoon and/or spider to gently remove the vegetables and the chicken from the stock, being careful not to crush them.


Arrange on a platter if serving at the table, otherwise, divide the vegetables between the individual bowls. Carve the chicken into quarters (or sixths) and distribute amongst the bowls. You can add a little of the chicken stock to the bottom of each bowl, if you like. Spoon a little sauce over the chicken, and garnish with freshly ground black pepper. Serve with extra sauce on the side, if you like.

Accompany with a crisp white wine.

Sauce Suprême

Serves 4 - 6

30 grams salted butter
30 grams flour
400 mL chicken stock (or a combination of chicken stock and whole milk)
1 egg yolk
200 grams crème fraîche

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook and stir over medium heat for about five minutes, but don't let the roux darken. Add the chicken stock to the roux, slowly, whisking constantly, until smooth, and then turn the heat to low. Add a spoonful of the crème fraîche to the egg yolk, and stir to combine. Add the yolk mixture into the sauce, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Add the rest of the crème fraîche, and stir it through. Keep the mixture on low heat, stirring, and let it heat thoroughly, but do not let it boil. If you see any bubbles at all, remove the pot from the burner entirely. The sauce can stand while it awaits the chicken and vegetables to be ready.

One final note - you can of course customize the vegetables, and even the seasonings, to your taste. I've seen versions with green cabbage (blanche, before adding to the pot, to defeat the infamous "cabbagey smell"), rutabaga, parsnips, fennel bulb, tarragon, parsley, and shallots. Sweet potato might be nice, too. Essentially, any vegetable you'd like in a stew, you can pretty much use here. If you are not a fan of potatoes, feel free to omit them from the recipe and instead cook up some rice on the side (or do both if you just really like carbohydrates). Plain rice or mushroom pilaf both appear to be popular choices.

March 18, 2017

DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln: East German Sausage Stew (with potatoes)



This is a classic dish from the days of two separate German states, using cheap, variable ingredients and single pot preparation. The type (and amount) of sausage used depended on availability and one's position in society, and the tomato-y base could be anything from fresh vegetables, to ketchup, to tomato paste mixed with water, to letscho (AKA lecsó in Hungarian and leczo in Polish, amongst others), a prepared sauce made primarily from tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Availability of such things was unpredictable, although it should be noted that wartime East Germany's tables didn't suffer quite the same extreme shortages common in the Soviet Union or economically squelched areas like Romania. For those who had it, this was one of its uses.

This recipe is both filling and strangely satisfying, and I imagine that for folks raised on the stuff it is either a slightly guilty comfort food, or a horrifying memory of childhood. Possibly both.

There are a number of recipes online, most of which have a very similar basic recipe, with whatever additions the author fancies, from mushrooms to eggplant. I've chosen a minority version of the dish that incorporates potatoes, to make it a one-pan meal. More commonly, the dish without the addition of the potatoes would be served over noodles (a classic school lunch version), or over mashed potatoes.



DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln

Serves 4

4 Frankfurter Würstchen (aka European Wieners in North America) or equivalent sausages, such as Bockwurst, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced (optional)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup letscho OR canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1 tablespoon butter, vegetable oil, or bacon fat (margarine or bacon fat would be classic from the era)

If you are using larger sausages, you will want to dice them rather than just slicing them.

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil, bacon fat, or margarine) over medium-high heat and gently fry the sausages, onion, and bell peppers until the onions are softened and the sausage pieces are at least a bit browned, and then add two or three tablespoons of water, and stir through. Let cook for a couple of minutes until the water is mostly absorbed/evaporated, and the mixture is still a bit loose (not sticking to the pan).

Add the tomato paste and ketchup, and stir through, adding a bit more water if you like to achieve a sauce consistency. If you are using the letscho or tomatoes, add them now and stir them through. Add the diced potatoes (if using). Continue to cook and stir until the letscho is bubbly and integrated into the sauce (about 10 minutes without potatoes, 20 minutes with potatoes), or the tomatoes have cooked down. Tomatoes will take a bit longer than letscho to cook down. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. If it is too thin (should be unlikely), add a slurry of cornstarch and water (1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a tablespoon of water) to the dish and cook until thickened. Test the potatoes for doneness, and when they are ready, it's time to serve.

If you are making the non-potato version, you might serve this over short noodles (school-canteen-style) or over mashed or separately boiled potatoes.

A final optional ingredient is finely sliced or diced sour pickles (cucumbers), whose sourness give the dish a bit of a Soljanka flavour - perhaps the Soviet influence? Some recipes include the pickles with the letscho, and other add them at the end, so if you want to use them, take your pick. Of course, they would be a bit softer in texture if cooked into the dish.

Most recipes for this dish are merely a list of ingredients without proportions, as it is based on affordability and would be customized by what one had on hand at the time, in whatever quantity was available.

March 11, 2017

Dutch Pannekoeken


Let's start by clarifying that this is not at all the same as a "Dutch Baby" pancake. This pancake is cooked entirely on the stovetop, and has more in common with the French crêpe than the puffy, popover type of pancake. It is notable for its silky texture, which is derived from beaten egg and not a chemical leavener, and famous for the variety of fillings and/or toppings, both sweet and savoury.

Yes, fillings and/or toppings. At it's most simple, the pancake is topped with the ingredients of choice after cooking, but there are other versions that require you to cook the fillings right into the pancake. The ones with fillings are accomplished by laying the (paper thin) filling ingredients in a single layer on the raw side of the pancake while the first side cooks, which then sink a bit into the batter until the pancake is flipped, and they cook right into it. Some recipes call for adding a little extra batter once the fillings have been laid, but this makes a much thicker pancake, and you don't get to see the various toppings at the end.

We're big fans of savoury toppings, so that's my usual go-to, but you can of course also deploy syrup or even the classic combination of a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

If you're making them filling-style, you should precook any fillings that will take longer than a few minutes in a hot pan to cook, or they might still be partially raw when the pancake is finished. Thinly sliced mushrooms don't need to be precooked, but bacon probably should be.

This recipe makes two large pannekoeken, which is perfect for two people. Double, or even triple the recipe if you're cooking for more (and keep the finished ones warm in the oven until ready to serve).

It's a good idea to pre-warm the plates so that the pancakes don't go cold the instant they're plated.

Dutch Pannekoeken

Serves 2

1 egg, beaten
250 mL milk
1 cup flour
pinch of salt

butter for frying

Toppings of your choice (sausage, mushrooms, cheese, in this case)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg until very frothy. I use a whisk, but you could use a food processor or blender, too. Slowly add in the milk, continuing to whisk, and then slowly whisk in the flour and salt. Unlike most pancake recipes, where you need to be careful not to overmix or risk toughness, you can beat these ones until your arm tires, if you like, as long as you add the ingredients in the right order.

You can make the pannekoeken right away at this point, or you can let the batter rest a bit (good time to take a shower, for example, or even just use the time to prepare your toppings).

When you're ready to cook, heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a little butter (a couple of teaspoons or so is fine) and swirl it around to slick the bottom of the skillet. Add half the batter, and swirl the pan again to distribute the batter to the edge of the pan.

If you are filling your pancakes, as opposed to topping them after they're cooked, now is the time to lay your ingredients in a single, sparse layer over the wet surface. Continue to let the pancake cook a few minutes until the bottom is nicely dark golden brown, and then flip to cook the other side. When the second side is also done, flip the pancake onto the plate so the filling is showing. Here's one made filling-style, with ham, mushrooms, and green onion. It's not quite as pretty, but it's just as delicious (cheese was added post photography):



Otherwise, simply slide the plain pancake out without flipping it again and, if topping, arrange your topping ingredients immediately.



Serve, or keep warm whilst you cook the other pancake.

Update! These also make an incredible base for fried chicken and gravy...like chicken and waffles, but without the need for a waffle iron.




March 04, 2017

Zhajiangmian: Beijing-style "Fried Sauce Noodles"


This is a delicious and simple dish (炸酱面, zhá jiàng miàn) that appears in a variety of styles within China, as well many iterations and similar dishes in other parts of Asia, from the almost black Jajangmyeon in Korea to the dry-style ramen dish Ja Ja Men in Japan.

It's easy to make if you have a well-stocked Asian pantry, and it's good enough to warrant picking up any ingredients you might not already have on hand. I like spicy food, so I've added a bit of heat that may or may not appear in restaurant versions (some will serve it either way, and some will simply bring you a jar of chile oil if you ask). The amount of umami in this is ridiculous.

The uncooked vegetable garnishes are an important part of this dish, bringing a fresh crunch and brightness to the dark heat and intensity of the sauce. The use of dark soy sauce instead of regular brings depth to the colour of the fried sauce.

This serves two generously.

Zhajiangmian

Lightly adapted from The Woks of Life

Serves 2

175 grams thick wheat-based dry noodles

250 grams ground pork
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices ginger, minced finely
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely grated
6 fresh mushrooms (shiitake, if available), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoon chile bean paste
2 tablespoons yellow soybean paste
1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek or 1/2 - 1 teaspoon chile oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 cup water

Garnish
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumbers
1/2 cup julienned scallions

In a mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, salt, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, and white pepper, and stir well until completely integrated. Set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine the Hoisin sauce, chile bean paste, yellow soybean paste, sambal (or chile oil), and dark soy sauce, and mix well.

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium or large skillet, and add the meat mixture. Fry and stir, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the meat is well browned, and then add the chopped mushrooms. Continue to fry over medium high heat, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning. When the mushrooms have softened and shrunk a bit in size, add the sauce mixture and stir through until the pork is thoroughly coated. Add the water, stirring it in slowly, and simmer gently until the sauce is thick. While it simmers and the noodles are cooking, prepare the fresh vegetables - julienne the carrots, cucumber, and scallions.

When the noodles are cooked, drain them divide between two bowls. Spoon the meat mixture over the noodles, and garnish with the julienned fresh vegetables.

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 sautéd 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.