May 27, 2015

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Blintzes, either sweet or savoury are ultimately a particular handling of the ever-so-versatile crêpe. They are a bit decadent and a little fiddly to make, but can be prepared a day in advance (or frozen, if you have the freezer space for it), and a wonderful item to look forward to - especially for breakfast or dessert. Their origin appears to be central and eastern European, with the Russians, Hungarians, and Poles (and maybe more) all laying claim (and infinite regional variations). They were popularized in North America by the Jewish population, where they are a holiday favourite (particularly for Shavuot) and are also a Shrove Tuesday classic for Christians.

Because this is meant to be a luxurious, festive dish, I am using my recipe for the egg-rich French-style crêpes, but after consulting a lot of references, I decided to go with what appears to be the standard method, namely cooking the crêpe itself only on one side until the top becomes somewhat dry, and using that as the inside surface of the wrapped blintz.

Living in Germany, quark is the natural cheese of choice for the filling, although ricotta would also work nicely. These are sweet, with both sugar and orange marmalade in the filling, but not too sweet. I've topped them with fresh strawberries that have been warmed in melted marmalade, but you do run the risk of the strawberry flavour dominating. The solution for that would be to use peeled mandarin slices instead of strawberries, so that the orange flavour stays consistent. We were pretty happy with the combination of flavours, although the orange was a little overwhelmed.

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Makes 6 Blintzes


1/2 recipe egg-rich crêpes
butter for frying finished blintzes


250 grams quark
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1/2 egg, beaten
zest of one orange (optional)


2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water (or one tablespoon water, one tablespoon lemon juice)
6-8 fresh strawberries, sliced

First thing: I have not lost my mind when I call for half an egg in the filling. A half-recipe of the crêpes calls for one and a half eggs, and the filling calls for half an egg. I simply beat two eggs until smooth, and then remove 2 tablespoons of beaten egg to use in the filling, reserving the remaining 1 1/2 eggs for the crêpe batter. Easy. Of course, if you decide to double the recipe, you can operate in terms of whole eggs.

You can make the filling ahead and store it in the fridge while the batter for the crêpes rests, and then cook all of the crêpes before you start filling them. You do want to make sure the crêpes have cooled at least to room temperature before filling, though, or the filling will start to melt and slide around, and the rolled-up blintz will be super floppy and hard to transfer to a plate or skillet; I know this from curse-laden experience. Let your crêpes cool! Spread them on a cooling rack until they're all cooked, and then start with the oldest to fill them. By the time you get to the last crêpe, it should be cool enough to handle without melting everything.

Cook the crêpes according to the recipe in the link, but only cooking on one side. As soon as the top of the crêpe is dry looking, remove the crêpe to a cooling rack and start the next one. The dry "top" side of the crêpe will be the inside of the finished blintz.

Fill the blintzes by piling a couple of tablespoons' worth of filling on the lower third of the cooled crêpe. Fold the bottom up just to cover the filling, and fold the sides in, envelope (or burrito) style. Continue to roll up until the blintz is a tidy package. It may take a few tries to get the shape the pleases you most - longer and thinner, or shorter and squarer. Your choice.

Move the filled blintzes to a tray or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill up to one day. At that point you could move the tray to the freezer until they are frozen solid, and then pile them carefully into a bag for longer-term storage. Or, you could fry them up right away.

You can make the sauce ahead, too, but it is best made just before you fry the blintzes. Melt the marmalade and water together and stir until smooth. Add the sliced strawberries (or orange segments) and stir gently until glossy and coated with the glaze. Turn off the heat.

Blintzes should be fried in butter, for the best flavour. They don't take very long, so make sure your attention is not needed elsewhere. If you're also making other items, or you're making a double batch, you can make the blintzes and keep them hot in a warm oven until you're ready to serve.

Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has foamed out, start laying your blintzes in a single layer in the pan. I find my 12-inch skillet works very nicely for 6 blintzes at a time. As soon as the blintzes are golden and starting to crisp on the underside, carefully turn them over using a spatula or flipper - don't try to use tongs, because they are far too delicate. When both sides have browned nicely, transfer to the tray in the pre-warmed oven, or serve immediately.

Just like with crêpes, there are many ways to finish blintzes. If you've made the strawberry sauce, go ahead and spoon that over the plated blintzes, but you could also go with powdered sugar with-or-without a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or a pile of mixed fruit on the side, for example. A few curls of orange zest would be beautiful on these - I would have absolutely done that, if I had had a fresh orange on hand.


May 22, 2015

Papaya & Camembert Quesadillas

There used to be a restaurant called "Latin Quarter" on Vancouver's Commercial Drive. In its heyday it was renowned as a place with great live music (and dancing on Fridays and Saturdays), cheap pitchers of sangria, and a tasty latin and latin-fusion menu. We became familiar with it really only in its dying days, but there are a few menu items that we ordered over and over because they were so good.

There were three quesadillas on that menu: Shrimp & Cheese (I cannot precisely remember what kind of cheese, but it was a creamy white melting cheese, perhaps Edam), Brie & Mango, and Camembert & Papaya. They were all good, although the fruit ones were my favourites. They came served with a fresh tomato salsa, and while I was happy to eat them plain, the salsa did add a surprisingly nice dimension.

This recipe is so simple that it's really more of a serving suggestion. Realistically, you could just look at the title and decide to make it. The only tip that might not be intuitive is that the papaya should, ideally, be sliced into large, thin half-moons, to ensure it doesn't slide out of the quesadilla while you're trying to slice (or eat) it. I've tried it both ways, and this works best.

We served this with pan-seared cumin and ancho chicken breast alongside, but it could easily have been accompanied by some thick beans and guacamole for a vegetarian option. Or on its own, as a snack or appetizer.

Since the flour tortillas that I have found here in Germany have been the terrible pre-packaged kind with a shelf life of six months, I now make my own. Generally I plan to make a batch of 9 at some point during the weekend, and then use them as needed throughout the week (all at once for enchiladas, of course). Having the tortillas on hand already made this dinner a super fast weeknight option.

Camembert & Papaya Quesadillas

Per person:

2 6-inch flour tortillas
4-6 thin half-moon slices of papaya (enough to completely cover a tortilla)
4 thick slices of Camembert
a little cilantro (optional)
vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350 F (especially if you need to make these in batches) with a baking sheet warming in the oven.

Preheat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat.

Brush the tortillas very lightly with oil on one side each. If you are doing multiple quesadillas, only brush them with oil just before you're going to cook each one, so they don't get soggy.

Place the first tortilla oil-side-down on the hot skillet. Let it crisp a little, and get golden spots on the underside, and remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the second tortilla, but after it has been in the pan for long enough to get a bit warm, lay out the slices of Camembert across the tortilla. When the cheese starts to melt, add the layer of papaya. If you're feeling cheese-crazy, you can add more cheese on top of the papaya. Peek at the bottom of the tortilla by slipping a spatula under the edge, and if it is nicely golden, add the first tortilla back as a "lid" (golden side up) and transfer the quesadilla to the tray in the warm oven. The cheese will continue to melt and the papaya will warm a little as you prepare the next quesadilla.

To serve, remove the quesadilla to a cutting board, and cross-chop into quarters. Serve with fresh salsa (if you have it) or hot sauce on the side. Cilantro garnish is totally optional, but does go nicely.

May 13, 2015

Easy Weeknight Risotto Bolognese

This was inspired by Nigella Lawson's recipe for Risotto Bolognese from her book Kitchen, but to be honest, I didn't really follow it. I skimmed the ingredient list and directions and decided that it was more about the idea, the fact of combining two normally discrete dishes into a delicious juxtaposition, and then I just ran with that. Consequently, my ingredients, ratios and even my method ended up being quite different from hers.

The shortest possible version of this recipe goes something like this: Build a bolognese sauce, and then use that as a base to build a risotto on top of. That of course depends on the cook knowing what normally goes into both of those things, and otherwise being willing to take the rest on faith. Fortunately, that's me. This is a true skillet dinner, without the need to remove anything to a separate plate or pan at any point during the cooking process.

I won't claim that this is a really serious Bolognese (note the use of "Easy Weeknight" as a modifier), but it's a meaningful nod in the general direction, and for this dish, that's good enough for me. Although, if you happen to have some genuine Bolognese tucked away in your freezer that you want to use instead, go for it. It's not a lightning-fast dish to make - risotto takes time, after all, but it's very straight forward, and if you use a chop-and-drop method, it all comes together surprisingly quickly.

Easy Weeknight Risotto Bolognese

Serves 4

4 thin (or 2 thick) slices of bacon, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, very finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
400 grams minced beef/pork blend (or meatloaf mix)
2 teaspoons beef stock paste (such as Better Than Bouillon or Alnatura Rinderbrühe)
pinch dried oregano
big pinch dried basil
big pinch ground white pepper
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vermouth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 400 gram can of finely chopped tomatoes
1 cup arborio (or other suitable risotto rice)
4 cups hot water from a recently boiled kettle
Fresh basil, for finishing and garnish
Freshly grated parmesan

In a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat, fry up the bacon until it is a bit crispy and releases its fat into the pan. Add the olive oil and stir through. Add the onion and garlic, and stir through. Stir and cook until the onion is thoroughly softened and translucent. Add the grated carrot, and stir through, cooking for about five minutes until wilted and starting to become tender, and the excess liquid has evaporated.

Add the minced meat and stir, breaking it up with a big wooden spoon as you go. Fry and stir until the meat is a little browned, and then add the stock paste, oregano, dried basil, white pepper, and the vermouth. Stir and scrape up the bottom of the skillet while until the vermouth has evaporated. Add the milk in two stages, stirring until mostly evaporated in each case. Add the tomato paste, and stir through. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices and stir through.

Let the mixture get completely hot and bubbly, and then stir the rice in. Reduce the heat to medium. Add a bit of water from the kettle, and stir until the extra water is absorbed by the rice. Basically, at this stage you just keep repeating that, adding the water a bit at a time, stirring between additions until the water is mostly absorbed, until you've either used all the water, or the rice is cooked to your liking. The rice will slowly absorb not only the water but the juices from the sauce itself, the grains swelling to full size and taking on a creamy appearance. The combination of the carrots and the tomatoes will give the finished dish a uniquely orange-red tone, quite different from most meat/tomato based sauces, but it coats the rice grains beautifully.

When all of the water is absorbed and the rice grains are cooked to your satisfaction, spoon into shallow bowls and garnish with basil and freshly grated cheese. And maybe some garlic bread.

If you have leftovers of this, it reheats very nicely in a covered casserole in the oven (you will want to add in a bit of water, and poke some holes to allow speedier reheating), and I imagine it would reheat well in a microwave, too. If you must reheat it on the stovetop, try not to over-stir it. While it's stirred to death during the making, after it is fully cooked, cooled, and reheated again, it can get a bit mushy if you stir it too vigourously.

May 07, 2015

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

This recipe is one component of the intriguing multi-step Vampire Slayer Ramen-Express recipe by the wonderful Lady and Pups.

While I wasn't quite prepared to make the entire ramen recipe as written, the pork belly on its own seemed worth trying immediately, and that was exactly correct. It will make your house smell insanely good, and is definitely worth the long wait after it goes into the oven. I note that the original recipe calls for 30 cloves of garlic (and there's another 14 in the rest of her finished dish), but I felt that 20 was plenty given that the ones I was working with were giant mutant German garlic cloves.

Because pork belly is a bit tricky to slice when freshly cooked, it's a great idea to make this ahead, and then simply slice and gently reheat it to serve.

We had this the first night with veggie yakisoba made from homemade ramen noodles (which I completely forgot to photograph, once cooked) and reheated the leftover pork belly to serve over rice with carrot kinpira, a few nights later, to make the donburi above.

The original recipe recommended a cooking vessel just barely big enough to fit the pork, which is what I did. It did mean that I had to be quite careful later on, not to smash to paste the fragile braised garlic cloves. My piece of pork belly fit perfectly into the oval dutch oven when raw, although once it had been seared on all sides, it drew itself up, becoming narrower and taller. I would probably cut it into two chunks next time, for ease of handling and more surface-contact with the braising liquid.

Garlic-Braised Pork Belly

minimally adapted from Lady and Pups

Serves 4

4 whole dried shitake mushrooms (or 16 small ones) + 1/2 cup hot water
400 grams skin-on pork belly
20 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil

Trim any excessive stems from the shiitake, clean them well with a damp cloth, and let them soak in the hot water for 20-30 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Combine the sake, soy sauce, mirin, salt, and white pepper in a small bowl and set aside. Now remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, retaining both separately.

Preheat your oven to 330 F/ 165 C.

In a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan that's not too big for your piece of pork, heat the peanut oil and then carefully sear the pork belly on all sides (start skin-side-down). The pork skin should be nicely blistered and a little freaky-looking, if you're not used to that sort of thing. Remove the pork (browned on all sides, now) and add the whole garlic cloves to the pan. Give them a quick stir about and then scoot them to the sides to make space, and put the pork back in the pan. Add the mushroom soaking liquid (pour it in carefully, and don't let any sludge in the bottom go into the pan) and the sake mixture to the pan, and then tuck the mushrooms in around the pork, submerged where possible.

Cover the pan with its lid, or cover tightly with foil if there's no lid, and put the pan in the preheated oven. Allow it to braise for 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork belly over every 30 minutes, carefully not smashing up the garlic too badly.

Remove the finished pork belly from the dregs of the braising liquid, and let cool. If you are making it ahead, once it is cold you can wrap it up tightly and put it in the fridge. If making ahead is not an option and you want to serve it right away, you will need to be okay with the fact that the slices will be rather messy-looking.

I used the remaining braising liquid and the mushrooms to make yakisoba, with a few of the garlic cloves thrown in for good measure. The slices were a mess, because I sliced it warm from the oven, but the rest was packaged up to make the donburi that you see above, and the slices are much, much neater.

In order to reheat the pork belly, I first sliced it, and then lay the slices in a small skillet with a quarter-scaled version of the braising liquid (minus the mushroom liquid). I then reheated it, slowly, covered, over very low heat on the stovetop. A couple of times I gently swirled the pan to make sure the liquid had contact with the cut surfaces of the pork belly slices.

This is without a doubt the best pork belly dish that I've made yet. I can't wait to make it again.

April 30, 2015

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

These little darlings were adapted (extremely minimally) from Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake. I must confess, 99% of the work that went into making these was my friend James, and I mostly provided the kitchen space, air traffic control, some washing up, and (she said optimistically) engaging banter. Well, and the butter icing recipe. And some bossiness, which was part of the package deal, because I cannot shut up in the kitchen, it turns out.

The cupcakes themselves turned out very nicely, with a good texture - tender, with a nice even crumb and a desirable bit of springiness - and the recipe is quite generous, which meant we got 24 cupcakes out of a recipe originally for a single 10-inch springform pan. And, of course, a shorter baking time.

The icing in the original recipe is a cream cheese version, which I really don't care for at all (despite being a fan, generally, of both cream cheese and icing). There is literally no instance of cream cheese frosting that I think wouldn't be better served by a butter icing, and that includes carrot cake (if you must), red velvet cake, and cinnamon buns. Further, James had brought a bottle of Orange Truffle Bailey's specifically to use in the icing, and so it made much more sense to use an icing recipe whose flavours are conducive to such switch-outs.

Since James had already purchased the Union Jack muffin-tin liners, we went ahead and used those instead of my usual habit of not using liners at all in favour of butter (or canola spritz). This of course made cupcake removal from the tin a much speedier process, which helps when you are making two batches even if you have two tins. One of the cupcakes got a doubled liner, and so the flag didn't darken quite as much under the influence of the dark, wet batter, so that one was extra patriotic, I guess. Certainly a touch more photogenic.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Orange Truffle Bailey's Icing

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake from Feast

250 ml Guinness (or stout of your choice)
250 grams unsalted butter
75 grams cocoa powder
400 grams plain granulated sugar
142 ml sour cream
2 large eggs, beaten well
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275 grams cake flour (405 flour, in Germany)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Orange Truffle Bailey's Icing

This recipe can be halved for smaller batches of cupcakes

500 grams (4 cups) icing sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
125 ml Orange Truffle Bailey's Irish Cream (or regular Bailey's, or ordinary dairy cream with a splash of vanilla, if you prefer)

Obviously, you need a good digital scale to take on this recipe. Start with a large saucepan, because otherwise you will need to transfer to a larger bowl mid-mix, as we did. Learn from our mistake!

Preheat your oven to 350 F/ 180 C. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Place liners in the muffin wells of your 12-cup tin, or, grease the tin thoroughly if you are not using liners.

Warm the Guinness in a large saucepan, and slowly add the butter until it is all melted. Remove from the heat.

To the warm Guinness/butter mixture, whisk in the cocoa powder and the sugar, and whisk until smooth. It's a lot of sugar, but don't be scared: it's making 24 cupcakes.

Separately, mix the eggs and sour cream together until smooth, and then add the vanilla extract and beat that in well, too. Yes, it's a lot of vanilla extract - it has to stand up to some pretty intense flavours, so just go with it.

Also separately, combine the flour and baking soda, and whisk together. There's no salt in this recipe, and it doesn't appear to need it. This seems weird to me, but it turned out just fine.

To the Guinness/butter mixture, add the eggs/sour cream/vanilla mixture, and stir until just combined. Then add the flour and baking soda mixture, and carefully whisk that in until just combined, preferably using a folding motion to minimize any unnecessary gluten development. When there are no longer any streaks of flour (the mixture will be a bit bubbly from the combination of stout and baking soda, but don't worry about it), spoon the batter into the waiting liners. Don't fill them completely to the top, just about 3/4 full is perfect. You should only get half way through your batter for the first batch. If you have a second muffin tin, you can prepare it while the first tin is in the oven. If not, you'll have to wait until the first batch comes out and the cupcakes are removed before you can proceed to get the remaining batter spooned out.

Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes. If your oven is a bit slow, they might need a smidge more - you can always test them for doneness with a strand of spaghetti or a toothpick. Or, you know, a cake skewer. If they are ready, pull them out of the oven, and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, remove them from the tin and place them on a cooling rack.

When all the cupcakes are cooked, and all have cooled to room temperature, it's time to make the butter icing.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the icing sugar, the butter, and the Bailey's (or cream and vanilla). If you have an electric mixer, use it on high until the mixture becomes a thick, spreadable icing. If you are using manpower, as we were, we found using a wooden spoon far better than a whisk for thoroughly combining everything. If the icing is too stiff, you can add a bit more liquid of your choice - more Bailey's, or more cream, until it reaches the desired consistency.

When the cupcakes are cool, cover the tops with frosting in whatever manner you like. I don't currently have a piping bag, so we simply used table knives to sort of spackle the icing onto the top of each cupcake. We probably could have added more Bailey's and made the icing a little smoother and swirlier, but these were going to be transported, and a stiffer icing seems to hold up better under those circumstances, I feel.

April 25, 2015

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

As you can see, I'm still very much enjoying the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. This is, in fact, one of the recipes that leaped out at me while I was still leafing through the book in the store, so it's no surprise that it should make it onto the table as one of the first few recipes tried. We had this with the Kofta B'siniyah from the previous post on the first day, but the leftovers were reheated on their own for a nice vegetarian dinner with a green and leafy side salad to add a bit of fresh crunch.

Barley is a very hearty grain, which is to say that it is quite filling, and it usually takes about 40 minutes to cook (as does risotto, generally). It is not a true risotto, of course, as the liquid is added all at once, but the net effect is very similar.

I decided to use a seasoned Turkish cheese that I can easily get locally in place of the feta, and it went very nicely as a garnish. We had a slightly larger amount of cheese on the leftovers, since it was a main course at that point. It also meant that I could leave out the caraway from the original marinated cheese recipe, which I felt would be too strong for my tastes.

As an editorial comment, I think it could use much less passata next time - maybe 100 ml tops, but I've written the recipe here as we made it, with 300 ml. In that case, with less liquid going in, I would definitely keep an eye on the cooking process to make sure it didn't burn (and might give an extra 100 ml water at the start).

Barley & Tomato Risotto with Marinated Cheese

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 4

200 grams pearl barley
30 grams butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 small shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (or a few sprigs of fresh)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 wide strips lime rind (the original calls for lemon)
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
400 grams diced tomatoes
700 ml vegetables stock or broth
300 ml passata
200 grams seasoned feta-type cheese, crumbled
fresh oregano leaves (optional)

Rinse the barley well, and drain thoroughly.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil together over medium heat until hot. Add the celery, shallots, and garlic, and sauté until tender. Add the barley and stir about well until the barley grains are glistening, and then add the rest of the ingredients, except the cheese, the fresh oregano leaves, and the remaining olive oil. Everything else, though, in the pot.

Bring it up to a gentle simmer, lower the heat, and cook for 40 - 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is mostly absorbed except for a bit of sauciness, and the barley is tender.

While the barley is cooking, add the remaining olive oil to the cheese, and stir gently to combine.

Serve it up in a shallow bowl with a dollop of cheese (with the oil!) on top, and finish with a few fresh oregano leaves if you are using them.

Don't remove the citrus rind before serving - try to get one into each bowl. After the long cooking time, they become tender, aromatic, and delicious.

April 17, 2015

Kofta B'siniyah - Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Pine Nuts

This is another fantastic recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. I do wish that my serving platter were a bit bigger, because they're a little crowded-looking here, but this was a spectacular dish that we're very keen to make again as soon as possible.

Do not hesitate to include the tahini sauce that provides the bed for the kofta to lie upon - it goes so beautifully with the kofta that you'll probably find yourself dabbing each bite into a little more sauce.

You can find the original recipe here on The Telegraph's website.

Kofta B'siniyah

adapted from Jerusalem

Makes 10 Kofta

300 grams minced lamb
300 grams minced beef
1 small red onion, very finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
50 grams toasted pine nuts, divided, half roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 large hot red chile pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 tablespoon canola oil

4 tablespoons tahini paste, well stirred
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons water

To Finish
2 tablespoons butter, browned
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Toasted pine nuts (the whole ones, from above)
sweet paprika, to garnish (or you could use sumac instead)

If your pine nuts aren't toasted, do that first, in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Then prepare your mise en place - mince the onions, crush the garlic, mince the parsley and the chile, prep the seasonings - everything but the oil.

If you can buy the meat from the butcher already combined, that will ensure the greatest level of integration of the beef and lamb, but not to worry if you buy them separately. Into a large mixing bowl, break up the meat with your fingers - pinching a little bit off the packet at a time and dropping it into the mixing bowl - so that when it has all been pinched out, you have a fluffy, aerated pile of ground meat(s). Add the prepared mise ingredients for the kofta and mix together lightly with your hands to distribute all of the "bits" evenly throughout the meat. The smaller your onion pieces the better they will integrate (although don't crush them to mush in a food processor, or you will make the mixture too wet).

Divide the meat mixture into ten pieces, and shape each one into an oval or "torpedo" shape.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet, and, working in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan, fry the kofta over medium heat until browned on all sides.

If you want to be doubly sure that they are cooked through, you can pop the pan into a hot oven for five minutes or so after they're well fried, but if you have good quality meat from the butcher, a little rare in the middle is delicious.

While the kofta are frying, stir together the ingredients for the sauce, and separately brown the butter.

Spread the sauce onto a serving platter, and arrange the kofta evenly over the surface. Scatter parsley and pine nuts over top, and dust with a pinch of paprika or sumac. Spoon a little of the browned butter over each kofta, and serve.

April 03, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Crossed Buns, or Hot Cross Buns? I guess it depends on whether you prefer a noun or an adjective. I grew up saying "Hot Crossed Buns" but now I find myself saying "Hot Cross Buns" so somewhere along the line I guess I gave way to what I hear around me.

My mother used her classic bread recipe to make these buns (with a little extra sugar), but as I've lamented before, the exact formula for that is now lost to us. Over the years, I've made a few different types, from using Challah dough to plain pizza dough, and they've been fine, but never quite what I wanted. This year, I decided to go with the classic from The Joy Of Cooking, and I'm very pleased with the results (although, next time I would use altogether more fruit, and possibly be a bit more heavy-handed in the way of spices).

In any event, these are a pleasing, not-too-sweet holiday bread that is both a perfect teatime snack as well as a charmingly festive alternative to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (which I say with love, because I adore eggs, of both poultry and chocolate varieties).

Hot Cross Buns

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes 18 buns

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (coarse sea salt would be fine)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit) (next time I would use 1 cup)
1/2 cup candied orange peel (or mixed peel)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (next time I would use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (next time, 1/4 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (not boiling)
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg, separately beaten until smooth (to be used as an egg wash at the end)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (depending on your flour - start with the lower amount)

Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, butter, raisins, peel, and spices. Let stand to become lukewarm.

While the mixture cools, in a large, warmed mixing bowl, prove the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. When it foams up, sprinkle a little flour over it (no more than a half-teaspoon) to keep it "fed" while the milk mixture cools down. Add the now-lukewarm milk mixture to the yeast mixture, and stir. Add the beaten egg, and stir very thoroughly to combine. Add a cup of flour and stir it through. Add another cup of flour, and stir that through. Add 2/3 cup of flour and, if that looks like enough to bring it to being a soft but manageable dough, stop there and knead it for about five minutes. If not, keep adding flour until you have a workable dough. Living in Germany, I find I often need more flour than is called for in North American bread (and cookie) recipes. When your dough has been kneaded until nice and satiny, clean the mixing bowl, oil it lightly and put the dough, covered with plastic, someplace slightly warm to rise (such as an oven with the light bulb on for added warmth).

When the dough has doubled (about an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes), turn it out onto your workspace, and divide into 18 buns. I only got 17 because I wasn't paying attention, but it works better in the pan if you have full rows, as the buns cling together as they rise. I was short one bun, so the two buns on one end didn't keep their rows straight, and they rose a little wonkily. No matter. Shape the buns into tight, smooth balls, and lay them out in either a 9x13" glass baking dish or with sides just touching on a metal baking tray, Cover with plastic, and let rise for about 20 - 30 minutes, until not-quite doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C, and while the oven pre-heats, use a table knife to gently press a cross into each bun. Do each bun separately, rather than trying to score a whole row at a time; each bun deserves individual attention. Don't press too deeply - you're just creating a guideline for adding the glaze later. (Although, in some cultures, the cross lets fairies, or variously the devil, out of the dough before it's baked.)

Brush each bun lightly with egg wash, trying to keep the egg was from pooling in the crosses.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown, and remove to a rack to cool.

When they've mostly cooled, glaze the crosses:

In a small bowl, put 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or icing/confectioner's sugar). Add enough lemon or lime juice to make a thick glaze. Spoon the glaze along the crosses. You can use an icing syringe for nice, smooth crosses, if you like. Be generous enough with the glaze that it flows a little over the sides of the buns on the edge, but no so much that it just runs freely all over the top of the whole batch. Again, glaze each bun individually for best effect.

Devour at will. With some tea, would be nice.

March 15, 2015

Roasted Chicken with Mandarins & Ouzo (Plus: International Bento: Jerusalem)

One of our Christmas gifts this year was the gorgeous cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I've been petting the pages for weeks now, but finally got it together to make something from it. This was a wow-factor recipe, turning simple chicken parts into a feast.

As I didn't have a lot of time to source Arak, the ingredient in the original recipe, I went with ouzo (mentioned as an acceptable substitute, and super cheap in these parts) and have zero regrets. I didn't have true clementines, but the Spanish mandarins were a bit tart, and a surprisingly good substitute.

I served this with an easy version of jewelled basmati rice - cooked basmati stirred through with butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, raisins, and a pinch of salt, and it played very nicely with the flavours of the main dish (and, mixed together the next day with some of the leftover fennel and orange slices (chopped up) it made a fantastic salad, too.

The original recipe calls for a whole, disjointed chicken, but I went with three whole chicken legs, and simply divided them into drumstick and thigh pieces.

Wonderfully, this dish can be prepped in advance, so you just need to tumble the marinated chicken into a prepared (ie. lightly oiled) roasting tray (a BIG one), and cram it into the oven.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Ouzo

Serves 3-4

100ml ouzo (or arak, per the original)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons raw sugar
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed (fronds reserved)
3 whole chicken legs, thighs and drumsticks separated
3 mandarin oranges, sliced (unpeeled) into thin rounds
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, half-crushed
salt and pepper
Fennel fronds, to garnish

Combine the ouzo, olive oil, orange juice (I just squeezed some of the extra mandarins), mustard, and sugar in a bowl, and mix well to combine.

Slice the fennel bulbs (each one into 8 wedges) and the mandarins, and place them in a big bowl with the chicken pieces. Pour the marinade over the chicken, fennel, and orange pieces, and then sprinkle with the crushed fennel and fresh thyme. Turn everything about to get it evenly coated, and then cover and let sit for a few hours (or overnight).

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spread the chicken pieces (skin side up) and the fennel and oranges in a single layer in a large roasting pan. Pour the extra marinade evenly over the pan, then sprinkle the whole dish lightly with coarse sea salt (or kosher salt).

Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken and other solid items to a platter, and pour the juices from the tray into a saucepan or small skillet. Cook over high heat until the juices are reduced and become a syrupy textured pan sauce. Serve the chicken with the fennel and orange pieces onto individual plates, and drizzle with the pan sauce. Decorate with reserved fennel fronds, and a good grinding of black pepper. I served this with a slightly fancy rice, but a plain one would be beautiful, too. Couscous would probably also work very nicely.

Reheats wonderfully the next day (it's a good idea to remove any meat from the bones before putting leftovers away), as in this international bento below:

March 08, 2015

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

This wonderfully veggie-packed, one-pan meal was inspired by a number of different online recipes, including Smitten Kitchen's Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad and also generally by the amount of reading I've been doing about tahini (aka tahina)and the growing realization that I really, really like the flavour of sesame.

There's a bit of prep and chopping involved, but you can also do that part in advance and hold the prepared vegetables in the fridge for a day or two, ready to be seasoned and put in the oven. Doing the prep ahead of time makes this a reasonable dinner to make on a weeknight when you might be wanting something both easy and healthy. The above iteration was made using Hokkaido squash (aka Red Kuri), but butternut is also really nice (and a bit less intense).

You could probably describe this as "steam roasted", since there's a bit of liquid in the roasting pan, which hastens the process of the vegetables becoming tender. You could make this without that bit of liquid, also, simply omit the water from the instructions relating to the squash and cauliflower. You may, in that case, require a little longer of a roasting time (ten minutes or so).

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Tahini Dressing

serves 3-4

1 small butternut squash or Red Kuri/Hokkaido squash
1/2 head cauliflower
400 grams cooked chickpeas (1 small can)
1/2 red onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon your favourite curry powder
coarse salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (not shown)

Tahini Dressing

3 tablespoons tahini
2 big cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
big pinch of salt
Enough water to make a smooth sauce

Prepare the squash by cutting in half, removing the seeds/strings/guts, peeling, and dicing into bite-sized chunks. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

Prepare the cauliflower by cutting into medium-small florets. Store in the fridge in a bag or freezer-type carton if not using immediately.

When you are ready to cook, turn your oven on to 400 F/ 200 C, with a rack in the middle. Get a large, open roasting pan prepared with a thin film of olive oil.

Place the cauliflower, cumin, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water into a large bowl, and gently stir until the cauliflower is lightly coated with the oil/water/spice mixture. Carefully spread the cauliflower out on one side of the roasting pan. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the cauliflower.

Rinse out the bowl, and place the squash chunks, curry powder, pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of water, and gently stir until the squash is coated. Spread the squash out on the other half of the roasting tray. Pour any liquid in the bowl over top the squash.

Roast the veggies for 20 minutes. You can prepare the chickpeas and onion while the vegetables are roasting:

- Drain and rinse the chickpeas
- Peel the red onion, and slice into short lengths (I slice thinly in one direction, and then cut into thirds, crosswise)

After the vegetables have roasted for the 20 minutes indicated above, scatter the chickpeas and red onion evenly over the cauliflower and the squash. Put the tray back into the oven and roast for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower pieces are tender, the chickpeas are heated through, and the sharp edge is off the onions.

Once everything is in the oven for that last 10 minutes or so, make up the dressing. Crush the garlic (or press, or pound with a mortar and pestle), and add it to the tahini. Add the lemon juice, the olive oil, and a good pinch of salt. Stir well. You will notice that the mixture starts to become thick and then appears to separate. Do not panic! Simply add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, as needed, stirring until the mixture become smooth and silky. Taste, and decide if you want to add more salt or lemon juice.

Once the vegetables are out of the oven, drizzle a third of the dressing over the pan, and gently stir to (partially) coat the vegetables with the dressing. Dish up into bowls, and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Scatter a few toasted sesame seeds over the top for texture and visual appeal (not shown, sadly).

Leftover reheat very nicely in the microwave.