August 10, 2016

International Bento: Guam - Chamorro Red Rice


It's a funny thing, but I've been making this for quite a number of years, thinking that it was Mexican red rice. It is not. I mean, it makes sense, because Mexican cuisine makes good use of achiote seeds, and that is what gives the rice that nice red colour. I'm not even sure at what point I made the decision to make this dish, but it was cobbled together out of solid rice pilaf theory and the vague knowledge of Mexican red rice being a real thing. Which, of course, it is. It's just not this.

So recently, I had an idle moment of wondering how far my red rice differed from classic Mexican versions (taking into account that there are probably a few variations), and was startled to discover that what I was making didn't even come that close. Amused at my assumptions, I did a bit more creative googling, and discovered that what we have been happily devouring for several years now, is in fact a Guamanian dish called Chamorro red rice. The name Chamorro denotes the indigenous people of Guam (the name Chamorro also applies to the indigenous people from the Northern Mariana Islands).

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few different styles of this dish, too, including everything from bacon to peas. While many of the recipes use a very generous amount of oil, mine is more modest, meaning that the rice can go comfortably with a richer dish without feeling too heavy.

The biggest difference that I found between my recipe and most of the others available online, is that I grind the achiote seeds and use the resulting powder in the dish, rather than simply soaking them in water to colour the water, which is then used to flavour and colour the rice.

Chamorro Red Rice

Serves 4

200 grams parboiled rice
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
1 heaping teaspoon annatto seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
375 mL water and 1 teaspoon vegetable base (or equivalent vegetable broth)

Heat the oil in a medium pot (one with a tight-fitting lid). Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, and then add the ground annatto, cumin, and salt. Stir well, then add the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil.

Add the water and vegetable base (or broth), stir, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and allow to cook gently for 15 minutes (covered). Then remove the pot from the heat (don't just turn the burner off) and let it sit for another 5 - 10 minutes before you lift the lid. Fluff with a fork and serve.

So what else is in the bento pictured above? Smokey roasted chicken thigh (bone removed post cooking) and corn seasoned with lime juice, salt, and ancho powder.

I think this dish goes particularly well with Margarita Chicken.

July 17, 2016

German baking: Amerikaner


There are various stories about why this popular treat is called an "Amerikaner", but none are particularly satisfactory. My favourite is that the traditional leavener, ammonium hydrocarbonate (or bicarbonate), could be shortened to "ami-ca", which doesn't make much more sense in German. The German word for the above is either Hartshornsalz (ammonium bicarbonate) or Hirschhornsalz (ammonium hydrdocarbonate) -- literally, "deer horn salt".* The use of either of these ammonia salts gives a unique texture and flavour, and although recipes abound that call for baking powder, it seems generally agreed that those ones are lacking in the special signature flavour created by the Hirschhornsalz.

German baking categories don't include soft cookies in with the firm/hard ones. The soft ones are regarded as a small cake, even though as single portions go, they're dauntingly large. Think of an oversized muffin top with the texture of a velvety pound cake, that has been flipped upside down and glazed on the flat side. Locally, these are most often made with a white glaze, although a couple of places offer half-and-half white and chocolate glazing. They are sometimes compared to American Black-and-Whites -- another possible origin story.

I decided to make smaller ones, for better portion control. The regular ones are twice the size of these. I used a disher to scoop the batter, but in order to get the coveted perfectly round shape, next time I will probably use a pastry bag to pipe the wet batter onto the parchment paper. It's definitely a learning process.

A final note on ingredients - most of the recipes I've seen online call for a package of vanilla pudding powder, which is merely cornstarch with vanilla flavour and a pinch of salt. I've added these ingredients separately.

Safety note: ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. The heat from your oven causes a certain amount of it to sublimate, which releases it as a gas into the hot air inside your oven. If your face is in front of the oven door when you open the oven to remove the cookies, you will get a face-full of ammonia gas. Don't do it; instead, shield your face whilst opening the oven door, to give the gas a chance to disperse. If possible, open a door or window or use a hood fan for additional ventilation while you are cooking with this chemical. For more information, click here.

Amerikaners

Makes about 20 "small" cookies

100 grams unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
100 grams sugar (I used raw sugar, but it wasn't specified)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup minus one teaspoon milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
250 grams cake flour
5 grams ammonium hydrocarbonate/bicarbonate (if you must substitute, try 2 teaspoons baking powder)

For the glaze

250 grams confectioner's sugar
Enough lemon juice and/or water to make a thick glaze

Preheat the oven to 190 C Over/under (375 F) with a rack in the middle.

In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition, until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract to a 1/3 cup measure, and fill the rest with milk. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and beat well.

In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, ammonium bicarbonate, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, and stir just to combine. Note: ammonium bicarbonate stinks like, well, ammonia. This will disappear as it bakes. Try not to inhale too deeply.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop or pipe about a tablespoon of batter onto the parchment and test-bake for 8 - 10 minutes to see if it spreads out the way it should (if not, you may need to add another tablespoon of milk).

Bake, watching it like a hawk - you do not want these to burn. They should remain pale, but get a bit golden on the bottom. Repeat until you've used all the batter.

If the dough spreads to your satisfaction, lay out six more cookies on the parchment paper (remember to give them lots of room to spread in all directions) and bake until just golden. They will be very tender and a bit fragile. Remove them to a rack to cool, and spread the bottoms thickly with glaze, leaving them glaze-side up to set.

* While ammonium hydrocarbonate was originally harvested from deer horn, amongst other things, this brand is vegan so no deer were harmed or used in the making of this recipe.

July 03, 2016

Harira


I continue to be inspired by my vacation in Marrakech last year, and as you can see I have many more Moroccan recipes still to explore.

Harira is a traditional soup from Morocco, and while it is enjoyed year-round as an appetizer or light meal, it gains particular significance during Ramadan, for many households being a significant dish for iftar, the traditional meal that breaks the daily fasting during that month. Its recipes are as varied as the households they come from, but generally are all based on a combination of tomatoes, legumes, a starch such as rice or pasta, green herbs, and spices. Meat is an optional component, but used in fairly small quantities as it is not the focus of the soup. I've used lamb in this version, because we have such an excellent supplier of good quality lamb that I cook with it as often as I can, but beef or chicken could be used instead or the meat could be omitted entirely. For a meatless, vegan harira, I would double the amount of lentils, and possibly also increase the amount of chickpeas.

The soup is thick and hearty, and always served with bread. As part of iftar, it might also be accompanied by dates, hard boiled eggs, small savoury pastries, even homemade pizza. Iftar is served just after sundown, and although it is Ramadan right now, we are not Muslim so we enjoyed the harira at our usual dinnertime.



This version of harira is pretty close to the one I first tried at the market restaurants that spring up every evening in Jemaa El Fna, the main square of Marrakech. It is adapted from MarocMama's recipe.

Harira with Lamb

Makes 7-8 cups

1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
5 large roma tomatoes
225 grams lamb, diced small (optional)
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 small pinch saffron, crushed between fingers (optional)
400 grams cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup dry green or brown lentils (washed)
30 grams spaghettini or other thin pasta (broken into short lengths)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 cups water

Prepare your mise en place: roughly chop the onion and garlic together, and the tomatoes and herbs each separately.

In a food processor, puree the onion and garlic until smooth (a tablespoon of water may help this process).

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion/garlic puree, and stir and cook for a few minutes. Increase the heat slightly, and add the meat, if using. Stir and cook the meat until it has lost its raw look on all sides.

Add the tomatoes to your now-empty food processor and quickly puree. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped herbs, salt and the spices, and stir well. Add four of the five cups of water, and bring up to a simmer. Add the washed lentils and chickpeas, and stir through. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and let cook for an hour, to let the lamb get tender. This can be reduced to 30 minutes if you aren't using the meat - long enough for the lentils to get tender.

While the soup is simmering, whisk together until smooth the remaining cup of water with the flour. Let it stand while the soup cooks, so that the flour fully hydrates.

When the lentils are cooked and the lamb has had some time to get tender, add the broken pasta and stir through. Then, stirring constantly, add the flour/water mixture in a thin, steady stream. The soup will start to thicken very rapidly, but keep stirring it until all of the flour mixture has been added. This is a very thick soup. Cook and stir for another 20 minutes, to allow enough time for the raw taste of the flour to cook out, and for the pasta to cook. You will need to keep the burner on its lowest heat and stir the soup regularly, to prevent the scorching. Serve as an appetizer or whole meal, with bread and any other accompaniments you like.




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.

Kaszą/Kasha
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

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

Filling
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.

Spargelcremesuppe

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.


May 28, 2016

Impossible Cheeseburger Pie

This recipe (or rather, its "impossible" antecedent) dates back to at least as early as 1971, but really gained fame shortly thereafter when it was printed on the back of the box for Bisquick, a shelf-stable, pre-mixed baking blend of flour, leavener, salt, and fat, intended to make biscuit-making faster and easier. Bisquick itself has been around since the 1930s or so, and its parent company, General Mills, marketed the recipes for various "impossible pies" as a further use for the baking mix. It appears to have been at least loosely based on old Southern recipes for a type of coconut pie, but the addition of the baking mix and the switch from sweet to savoury gave the concept much bigger legs. Tragically, General Mills (via its Betty Crocker brand) now refers to the pies as "impossibly easy" -- presumably because people were put off by the assumed difficulty of an impossible pie.

There are a lot of impossible pie iterations out there: taco, enchilada, and lasagna versions (and many more) all have their fans. It is an easy dish to put together, and hits all the comfort food buttons from the first time you ever try it. It is potentially closer to being a quiche than a pie in terms of structure, but arguably a quiche is a kind of pie, too, so it becomes circular. The important thing is that you don't need to make a separate crust; the crust forms itself from the flour, creating both a thin upper and (usually also) lower crust while the pie bakes. This is the impossible bit. Or the amazing bit. Or at the very least, the easy bit.

I don't keep baking mix on hand, so this version is done without Bisquick or any of its competitors. Really, all you need to do is scale your own biscuit recipe to a half cup of flour, and you're good to go. But just in case, I've written it right into the recipe below.

Impossible Cheeseburger Pie

Serves 4 - 6

250 grams lean ground beef
250 grams lean ground pork
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon beef base (such as Better than Bouillon)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
150 grams aged cheddar, grated (divided)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk

Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F, with a rack in the middle. Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with cooking spray, or lightly grease.

Sauté the ground meats over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned, and then stir in the diced onion, garlic, the beef base, pepper, ground mustard, Worcestershire sauce and powdered onion. Continue to stir until it is well-integrated, and the onion is soft. Spread the mixture in the prepared pie plate, and sprinkle with 3/4 of the cheese.

In small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, ground mustard seed, salt and baking powder, and cut in the butter with a fork or pastry blender. Combine the beaten eggs and milk, and stir into the flour mixture with a fork or whisk, beating vigorously. It will be alarmingly wet. Pour evenly over the meat and cheese in the pie plate. Hold onto the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, then top with the rest of the cheese and return to the oven for a minute (if necessary) to let it melt. Let the pie stand for five minutes before slicing and serving. It cuts and lifts quite neatly. Serve with pickles and sliced tomato to enhance the "cheeseburger" effect, and a green salad for some extra vegetables.

Leftovers, should you be so lucky (or have a small household), reheat very well, and a squiggle of Sriracha sauce (or ketchup, to fit the theme) on top freshens it nicely.

May 22, 2016

Porc Normandie


Despite the deliciousness of roasted asparagus, this post is actually about the lovely slices of pork tenderloin peeking out from behind the wall of green.

Technically, this should be Porc à la Normande, in the original French, or Pork Normandy, in English. Somewhere along the line, however, I started calling it Porc Normandie, and that's how it remains in our household. A linguistic abomination, but a delicious and somewhat unusual plat principal. Either way, it's pork tenderloin that has been simmered in wine and served in an apple cream sauce.

Because apples (and the products thereof) are an extremely important crop in Normandy, there are a lot of potential variations on the apple theme in this dish. The apples in the sauce are non-negotiable, but the braising liquid could be wine or apple cider, and many versions add Calvados as a finishing touch. There's a lot of room to customize for your personal preference.

There are two points of interest in the following recipe that fly in the face of most of our assumptions about European food: First, there is no onion or garlic in any form. Secondly, there is no added salt (although I do use salted butter for browning). Of course, you can either or both of those things to the side dishes - mashed potatoes certainly like a bit of salt and usually enjoy a bit of garlic or chive, too, and I always sprinkle a little salt on my roasted asparagus. But the main dish itself does not call for these things as an ingredient (although there are other versions of Porc à la Normade that do - it isn't necessarily a hallmark of the dish). In all the times that I have made this, I have never found it wanting for either.

This recipe has been minimally adapted from French Cooking Made Easy by the Australian Women's Weekly.

Feel free to double the quantities.

Porc Normandie

Serves 4

1 large pork tenderloin (about 700 grams)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup dry white wine (or dry apple cider)
1 apple
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon red currant jelly
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Juice of half a lemon

Select an apple that holds its shape, unless you want the pieces to melt during cooking. I use a granny smith, but that might be a little too tart for some tastes. A Gala should also work nicely. Peel and core the apple, and cut it into thin slices. Place the apple slices in a small saucepan with the wine (or apple cider) and minced rosemary. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat and let cook for ten minutes. Strain, reserving both the apple slices and the liquid separately.

Lay the pork tenderloin out on the cutting board, and trim away any excess fat or silverskin (the shiny coating of connective tissue that often forms a partial sleeve on the outside of the thick end of the tenderloin). Here is a resource for how to remove the silverskin, if you're not sure.

Cut the tenderloin into two or three pieces, so that it can fit in your skillet.

In a medium or large skillet, heat the butter and the canola oil over medium-high heat until a drop of water will dance on the surface of the pan. Place the tenderloin halves in the pan, and lightly brown on all sides. Add the reserved liquid from simmering the apples, bring to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for ten minutes. The pork will still be slightly pink in the centre, but that's fine. Remove the pork to a plate and set aside.

Increase the temperature to a brisk simmer, stir the red currant jelly into the simmering liquid, whisking or stirring until it is fully dissolved. Add the cream, and stir through. Allow the sauce to bubble while you combine the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Stir the cornstarch/lemon mixture into the sauce, and continue to cook and stir until it thickens into a gravy.

Pour the juices that have collected on the plate under the resting pork into the sauce, and stir through. Reduce the heat to low, and leave uncovered. Slice the pork into thick medallions, and lay it into the sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over the pork, and then add the apples back into the sauce. Allow the pork about five minutes to finish cooking in the sauce, periodically spooning more sauce over the slices.



Serve with something that can take advantage of the beautiful apple-infused sauce - such as the rosemary mashed potatoes shown above, or buttered egg noodles, and a seasonal vegetable of your choice. And maybe a dry Sauterne, if you used wine, or more cider, as you like.

If you have leftovers, they reheat quite beautifully. Simply remove the pork slices, scrape the solidified sauce (with apples) into a small skillet and reheat until bubbling. Turn the heat to the lowest setting, slide the pork slices into the hot sauce, and cover, giving it five or ten minutes to heat through, stirring or turning the pork pieces over mid-way.




May 16, 2016

Smoked Tuna Melt


Tuna Melts show up on a lot of people's comfort food lists. They are a cultural phenomenon that I grew up hearing about, but not eating. My mother didn't buy canned fish (for a variety of reasons, including worries about mercury content), and the fresh fish that we had occasionally was never tuna. Plus, I couldn't really eat fish when I was a kid, so it wasn't served very often. But I heard people talking about them rather a lot. My classmates often had tunafish sandwiches (as an aside, I never understood why these sandwiches were always described as tunafish, rather than just tuna. Is there any non-fish kind of tuna?), which they evidently enjoyed a great deal.

So now that I can eat fish, all these years later, when I find myself in possession of a can of fish, I think about these classic dishes that are comfort food for so many people, but outside of my realm of experience. Today's can of smoked albacore tuna (like the hot-smoked salmon from my recent Kedgeree post) came as part of a care package of local products from my family on the west coast of Canada.

Tuna Melts evoke strong opinions on such points as amount and type of mayonnaise, presence of pickles in or on the sandwich, shredded or not shredded cheese, open- or closed-face, tomato or no tomato. I decided to go open face (to be eaten with cutlery), with tomato but no pickles (mostly because I was out of pickles, to be honest - add some if you like). These sandwiches are very substantial, and one piece would have been completely sufficient for each of us. We were both in a bit of a food coma after eating these.

Smoked Tuna Melt

Makes 4

4 slices bakery bread
4 slices tomato
4 bread-covering slices of cheese (or equivalent shredded)
Fresh ground black pepper
Smoked paprika

Filling
170 grams boneless smoked tuna, drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's)
1 celery stalk
1 green onion
1/4 cup shredded Gouda or Edam or Jack cheese
splash Worcestershire sauce
splash Tabasco sauce
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon
black pepper

Preheat your broiler.

In a medium mixing bowl, slice the celery stalk into quarters lengthwise, and finely chop. Finely slice the green onion, including the dark green part. Flake the tuna on top of the vegetables, and add the rest of the filling ingredients. Stir well with a fork until nicely combined. Taste, and add salt if you think it needs it (mine didn't, but it will depend on both your choice of mayonnaise and the tuna itself).

Toast the bread lightly in a toaster (or under the broiler, as you like). Lay out the toast slices on a baking sheet or pizza pan. Divide the filling mixture between the slices, spreading evenly to the edges. Add a generous amount of black pepper. Top with the sliced cheese, or some of the shredded, if you're going that route. Top with a tomato slice in the centre of each piece, and a final layer of cheese on top of the tomato. Sprinkle with a restrained amount of smoked paprika (not shown).



Broil until cheese is bubbling. Serve with potato chips (for tradition's sake), and a green salad, for balance.