October 11, 2016

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon: Djaj M'qualli bi Zeitoun

Chicken, lemon, and olives are a delicious culinary trinity that appear together in many iterations from many cultures, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea. If you've tried my sure-fire dinner classic Chicken Sahara, you'll find a version particularly adapted to the North American manner of cooking. If you look into the dish's roots, though, you'll find one of its fascinating grandparents in Djaj M'qualli (transliterations of which also vary quite wildly).

This is a traditional Moroccan dish, with a complex harmony of flavours and a really impressive use of onions. The recipe classically also uses a chicken liver in the sauce, which I wasn't able to arrange despite having had chicken livers the night before, but I'd really like to do it that way next time. Unlike Chicken Sahara, or many of the chicken-lemon-olive tagine recipes out there, this is, as you can see, something of an almost dry dish - the sauce reduces to a thick gravy that drapes over the chicken rather than providing a pool for it to swim in. This recipe was adapted minimally from Fleur d'Oranger, Masala & Co.

One more thing: If you made Preserved Lemons back in January? This is a terrific use for them!

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 chicken leg quarters, whole, skin on
3 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 chicken liver (optional)
1 cup Moroccan purple or green olives
1/2 preserved lemon (or several pieces, seeds removed)
1 tablespoon soft or melted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
pinch of saffron threads, lightly warmed in a dry skillet
Water, as needed

For extra juicy chicken, brine it for four hours or so before proceeding.

Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. Combine the butter and the spices (except the saffron) into a spice paste, and massage all of the chicken parts thoroughly with the mixture. Lay the chicken pieces skin-side up in a single layer in a large skillet, and sprinkle the finely chopped onions and crushed garlic in between the pieces. Add enough fresh cool water to come half-way up the chicken. Turn the heat on high, and bring the water up to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the minimum, cover, and let the chicken simmer very gently until tender, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F.

Remove the lid from the skillet and use tongs to remove the chicken pieces to a baking sheet (I used a pizza pan). Place the chicken, uncovered in the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

While the chicken browns and crisps, turn the heat up to high under the onion/water mixture and start stirring and scraping the mixture, reducing the water and cooking down the onion down to a thick mass. Add the chicken liver now, if using, grating it into the sauce as it cooks. Continue to cook and stir as it reduces. Add the olives, and add the saffron now, too (rub it between your fingers over the pan to crush the threads). Slice away and reserve the peels of the preserved lemon and add the middle parts to the gravy. Continue to cook and stir as the sauce thickens up until it is a thick gravy.

Remove the browned chicken from the oven and arrange on a platter. Spoon the gravy (called a deghmira), including the olives, over the chicken. Thinly slice the preserved lemon peels and decorate the chicken with the resultant strips.

Serve with warm bread and a salad or two.

The lucky person who got to take leftovers to work the next day reported that the sauce was even better on the second day, so it might well be worth making this ahead, especially if you're having guests to dinner.

October 03, 2016

Gingered Plum Crisp

Apple Crisp is one of my favourite homemade desserts. It's good enough to serve to company, yet still relaxed enough for any casual supper. Even better, if there is any leftover, you can easily enjoy it the next day for breakfast. Fruit, oats, right? Practically health food.

This is not Apple Crisp, of course, but it follows the same principles of preparation: pile your fruit into a baking dish, sprinkle with sugar, add a crumbly layer of oat streusel, and bake. The biggest difference between this and my Apple Crisp, in fact, aside from the use of plums instead of apples, is the spicing. Oh, and this one's vegan. Don't worry, though, you can always replace the coconut oil with butter, if that's how you roll. The coconut oil gives it a delicately tropical note that is very pleasant with the ginger and the plums. You could also accentuate that aspect by adding a tablespoon of grated unsweetened coconut to the oat mixture.

I made one larger baking dish (16-centimetre round baking dish, not pictured), and these two little gem-sized (perfect for bento, might I add) to take to work to share with a colleague. I forgot to take any pictures of the larger one, but here are the little bitty ones.

Gingered Plum Crisp

Fruit Layer
500 grams prune plums
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 inch fresh ginger root, coarsley grated

Crisp Layer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
3 tablespoons solid-state coconut oil

Wash the plums and slice them in halves to remove the pits. Chop them into small bite-sized chunks (not too small, or they will lose too much texture). Toss with sugar and ginger, and put them evenly into an baking dish. They should come up about three quarters of the height of the dish. If you are using silicone cup moulds, put them on a tray or inside another baking dish for stability. Fill them 3/4 high, too.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients of the topping with a fork. Add the coconut oil last, and stir very thoroughly with a fork or pastry blender to ensure that the oat mixture gets thoroughly coated. There should be very little dry and no floury-looking bits, so keep stirring until it all comes together. If you absolutely have to, add another tablespoon of oil (you shouldn't need to). If you press a bit of the topping between your fingers, it should clump together in a crumbly sort of way.

Scrape the topping out of the bowl onto the fruit. Spread it out to evenly cover all of the plums, and press lightly with your fingers to help create a surface-crust when it bakes. Don't press too hard, or you'll compact the topping and it will be a bit tough. Note that you can fill your dish right up to the edge, since it will "settle" a little as it bakes. If your plums are very juicy, they might bubble up a bit over top of the oat mixture in places. This is fine, if not quite as tidy looking.

Bake uncovered at 375 F/190 C for 40 minutes (25 for the little ones), or until the topping has taken on a dark golden hue and has sunk down in the dish slightly. It might be a bit darker on the edges - that's okay. Allow to cool at least a few minutes before serving (but it is plenty delicious at room temperature, or chilled, too). Serve on its own, or with a topping of your choice. Whipped coconut milk, perhaps?

Adorable, aren't they? Just perfect for dessert, breakfast, bento, or a tea-time treat.

September 25, 2016

Oyakodon: Japanese Chicken & Egg Rice Bowl

Oyakodon, or "parent-child rice bowl" (in reference to the use of both chicken and egg in the same dish) is a beloved Japanese comfort food. It is simple food, quickly and easily prepared, packed with protein and satisfaction. It is also cooked without any additional fat, which means it doesn't taste or feel heavy.

It can be a wetter or drier dish, but in all the different oyakodon I've eaten over the years, the biggest point of variation that I've encountered is the amount of onions used. But, like many recipes that are based on loose formulae, you can really make your own decision about the relative levels of pretty much all of the ingredients, so once you know the basic formula and general ingredients, you can make it however you like. I like a moderate amount of onions and I add fresh ginger to mine, which isn't exactly canon, but goes beautifully.

This dish can also be halved for a simple supper for one.


2 servings

2 cups hot, cooked Japanese rice

1 uncooked chicken breast or 2 chicken thighs
1 small-to-medium yellow onion
3 coins of fresh ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-2 tablespoons less-sodium Japanese soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons sake
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup vegetable stock (you can also use dashi, kombu stock)
1 green onion
Togarashi pepper blend, to taste

Peel and halve the yellow onion, and slice thinly lengthwise. Stack the ginger coins, and slice them into thin slivers. Clean the green onion, and slice it thinly on a steep angle. Slice the chicken breast horizontally into two filets, and slice those crosswise into strips.

In a shallow skillet over moderate heat, heat the stock with the sugar, mirin, saki, and soy sauce. Add the sliced yellow onion and the ginger slices, and push them down into the broth. Once the onions are translucent and a little of the broth has cooked down, add the chicken strips, and push them down into the broth. Cook the chicken for about five to seven minutes or until just cooked through.

Add the beaten eggs in a thin stream, pouring them evenly around the chicken in the skillet, pop the lid on for about 30 seconds until the eggs are just set, during which time you can divide the rice between two bowls. Using a large serving spoon, slide the chicken, onions, and eggs out of the skillet overtop the rice. Pour a little or a lot of the broth around the edges of the bowl to bring extra flavour to the rice.

Top each bowl with green onion and a sprinkle of Togarashi, and serve (I also added some toasted sesame seeds).

Traditionally, the egg is added at the very last minute (into the individual bowls, even), and cooked solely by the heat of the broth, chicken and rice, but I prefer to let the eggs set a bit more. If you're not sure how safe your eggs are to consume raw, definitely cook them through.

September 17, 2016

Biscuit Brats

Germany doesn't seem to have much in the way of sausage rolls, despite their willingness to incorporate sausages into almost every other part of the cuisine. There are various bread-y Stangen ("rods" or "poles") which might contain a more wiener-style sausage as a sort of topping, and the less common Geflügel Rolle ("Poultry Roll"), which actually comes closest, I guess, while also managing to be completely different.

Normally when I make sausage rolls, I use puff pastry. While that is definitely an option here - either housemade rough-puff or purchased from the refrigerator section of the supermarket, I wanted something that I could knock together at a moment's notice without a trip to the store. Since I frequently have some bratwurst on hand, and almost always have the necessary components for making biscuits, I found it logical to combine them. These are the results of my first foray.

I note that I started with wide, uncooked bratwurst, but I would either switch to narrower sausages or pre-cook them next time to avoid oven-time past the point of the biscuit being cooked, to avoid any toughening of the exterior.

Biscuit Brats

500 grams fresh bratwurst
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (eg. Kosher or sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 220 C/ 450 F.

Take a sharp knife and run it down the length of each sausage, slicing just through the casing. Carefully peel the cases away and discard. The sausages should retain their shape and integrity. If you're going to precook the sausages (probably a good idea if you're using thick ones), you can do it now, by sautéing them gently over medium heat until barely cooked through. Put them aside to cool while you make the biscuit dough.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients - to be fair, I don't really sift, I aerate them with a whisk, but do whichever pleases you most. Using a pastry-blender or a fork (and a lot of patience), cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly and the little lumps of fat are about corn-kernel sized.

Create a well in the middle of the mixture and pour the milk in all at once. Hold the bowl steady and, using a fork, stir rapidly and briefly until the dough comes together in a ragged mass. Quickly dump it out onto a clean counter, and knead very lightly and briefly until all the flour is incorporated. You may need to add a little extra flour, but probably not. Go cautiously - too much flour makes tough biscuits.

Pat out the dough into a rectangle, and then roll with a rolling pin or bottle to get a dough that is about a centimetre thick. Lay one of the sausages along the edge to mark the length, and slice the dough accordingly. Roll the sausage along the dough to see where to cut it to make an exact cylinder of biscuit dough to surround the sausage. Cut the dough, and either use it as a template for the other sausages, or repeat with each sausage. If you have any leftover dough, you can simply cut it into rough biscuit shapes, and cook them alongside.

Lay the sausages in the middle of the squares of biscuit dough. If you want to get fancy and add some additional seasonings - a bit of curry powder, or cayenne, perhaps? - sprinkle it over the sausages now. Wrap the dough carefully around each sausage, pressing the seam gently to make sure it doesn't separate while cooking.

(You can see which one has cayenne, here)

Place the rolls on an ungreased cookie-sheet and bake for 15 minutes (may need 10 min longer if starting with large, raw sausages), or until they have gotten tall and golden. Serve with a bit of mustard, or ketchup (regular or curry) if that's your thing.

These are very filling, and make an excellent lunchbox item.

September 03, 2016

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns

This dish is essentially a hybrid other recipes, which came together as I was fondly recollecting the kind of curried pasta that was always on the menu of a certain kind of casual Canadian-Italian restaurant in the late 1980s. That said, this one owes most of its technique to Nigella Lawson's Lone Linguine with White Truffle Oil, although my proposed serving size is smaller than hers by half. So by all means, go ahead and add a couple of slices of your favourite garlic toast.

You could also use fresh spinach in place of the arugula, of course, but I like the peppery bite of the arugula against the richness of the sauce. A glass of Pinot Grigio goes remarkably well with this, too, if you're so inclined.

It's really fast to make. Basically, in just the amount of time it takes to boil the water, cook the pasta, and toss it all together, dinner is ready. Perfect weeknight fare.

You can use whatever kind of curry powder you like, or blend your own. I’ve used a hot Indian curry powder, but Madras would be nice, or even a Caribbean curry blend.

Curried Spaghetti with Prawns

Serves 2

112 grams spaghetti
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
225 grams raw prawns or large shrimp, deshelled
1 1/2 cups arugula

Set a pot of water (for pasta) to boil over medium-high heat.

For the prawns, rinse them well under cool water and let defrost in a bowl of cool water until they regain their flexibility. Drain thoroughly, and pat dry with a paper towel (they should not go into the skillet wet).

Salt the now-boiling water and add the pasta. Cook al dente or to taste. That's about 10 minutes for the spaghetti I have at hand, but check your packaging. If you're serving garlic bread, make sure it's already underway by this point.

While the pasta cooks, whisk together the egg, cream, Parmesan, and curry powder in a small mixing bowl. If your curry powder is salt-free, you may wish to add a pinch of sea salt.

Wash the arugula and shake off excess water; no need to spin it dry.

Just before the pasta is ready, heat a large skillet over high heat, and add a tablespoon of the butter, swirling until it foams out and the pan is thoroughly hot. Note: Don’t put all the prawns in the skillet at once, or they will steam, not sauté. Add half the prawns to start, scattered around the pan, then wait a few seconds before adding the rest. Sauté the drained and dried prawns briefly over high heat until just opaque, and then lay the arugula overtop to wilt. Turn off the heat under the skillet.

When the pasta is ready, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve (you won’t need all of it, though). I use a glass measuring cup to do this, but a clean mug will do. Drain the rest of the water.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet, on top of the arugula, and then add the remaining half-tablespoon of butter. Toss well with a pasta fork and a spatula, or a couple of forks.

Add about a tablespoon of the reserved, hot pasta-water to the egg mixture, and whisk it well. Then add the egg mixture to the skillet all at once, and stir and toss until that the pasta becomes lightly coated with the sauce, and the sauce becomes smooth (because the Parmesan will have melted, and the egg thickened). This takes only a couple of minutes, max. Taste to see if it needs any salt and adjust as needed. It is important to do this off the heat, or you will end up with scrambled eggs instead of a silky sauce. Still tasty, but *shrugs* not quite as good texturally.

Transfer to plates or bowls and serve immediately.

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.


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


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.

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.