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

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.

April 23, 2016

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Pie is not very common in Germany, and savoury pie seems almost completely unknown, at least not this part of the country. I've had to explain it to a number of people, who seem, frankly baffled by the whole thing. We like savoury pies rather a lot, though, so I'm forced to make my own. To be fair, I tended to make my own even in Canada, where I could pick up a frozen pie in almost any supermarket, so this is no hardship.

This pie, though, is a little different. I should start by saying that yes, this was our Easter dinner. Rabbit is shockingly popular for Easter in Germany, even if pies aren't, and the markets are full of fresh and frozen rabbit. Not just the usual whole-or-parts options (rabbit liver is a special treat), you can also get fresh, boneless, fillet of rabbit at this time of year. It is a bit more expensive, just like boneless fillet of anything else, but for this kind of dish it seemed worth it not to fuss with the myriad tiny bones.

I was originally going to make the pie with just rabbit, but when my eye fell on the smoked duck breast, I couldn't help but think of that Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit Fire" (is it rabbit season or duck season?), and decided to make it with both. The flavour of commercial rabbit is very mild and the texture much like chicken breast, so the smoky notes of the duck, along with its firm texture, created a nice balance in the finished pie filling.

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Serves 6 - 8

Pastry for a double crust pie (such as this recipe)

600 grams rabbit fillet, fresh or thawed
600 grams smoked duck breast, skin removed
500 mL duck broth (or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
one egg, beaten

In a shallow pan such as a small skillet, heat the broth until just bubbling. Place the bay leaves and the rabbit fillets in the liquid, cover tightly, and turn off the heat. Let stand for 20 minutes, after which the rabbit will be perfectly cooked, and very tender.

While the rabbit cooks, dice the smoked duck breast into smallish bite-sized pieces (reserve the skin for another purpose, such as duck skin tacos, or an omelette) and set aside. Peel and finely dice the onion. Strip the leaves from the thyme.

In a different shallow pan/medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions, the white pepper, and the thyme, and sauté until golden. Add 2 tablespoons of the flour, and stir to make a thick roux. Cook and stir the roux, lowering the temperature if necessary, until the rabbit is cooked. Remove the rabbit to a plate to cool enough to dice. Add the broth from cooking the rabbit to the onion-y roux, and stir or whisk until smooth. Continue to cook the gravy until it is very thick. Increase the temperature if you need to, stirring constantly, and let it reduce if it isn't looking very thick. You can also let it simmer, uncovered, on low heat, while you do the rest.

Dice the cooled rabbit to similarly sized pieces as the duck. When the gravy is satisfactorily thick, ie thick enough to coat the pieces of duck and rabbit and not just create a flood of liquid when you cut the finished pie, add the chopped meat to the gravy and stir about. Let stand while you roll out the pie crust.

Preheat your oven to 425 F/ 225 C. Beat the egg very thoroughly in a small bowl and have standing by.

Roll the lower pie crust out and line the pie plate. Before filling the crust, roll out the top crust and have it ready.

Once the oven is preheated, the pie plate is lined with the bottom crust and the top crust is rolled out and standing by, Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat up out of the gravy and into the pie plate. Fill the pie plate evenly, and if there is leftover gravy add a tablespoon or two (no more) on top. Add the top crust, and finish however you like. I use classic crimped edges, because my mother always did.

Use a pastry brush to gently paint the top of the pie crust with egg wash (there will be a lot of egg wash left over. Use it for scrambled eggs in the morning). Cut a couple of vents for steam in the top of the crust, and then place it in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes at the high heat, and then lower the heat to 375 F / 190 C for another 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the top and bottom crust (if you have a glass pie plate) are both golden brown, remove the pie to stand for ten minutes before slicing into six (or eight) pieces.

Serve with a big green salad, ideally one packed with vegetables and with a lemony dressing.

March 28, 2016

Hot-Smoked Salmon & Fennel Kedgeree

A few weeks ago, we received a care package that contained two tins of hot-smoked wild fish from my home province of British Columbia: one BC sockeye salmon, and one BC albacore tuna. I don't have a huge repertoire of fish recipes - if you check out the seafood tag, you'll see mostly prawns, with only a few non-crustacean offerings. So, I've been thinking quite a bit about what to make with this unexpected bounty. The last time I had smoked tuna, I made Smoked Tuna Noodle Skillet Dinner, and the only salmon recipe I've posted is Salmon Corn Chowder.

I decided to use the salmon first. I did a little research online, asked friends on Facebook for suggestions, and even deliberated reworking previous recipes to use fish, but I wanted to make something new and interesting. Finally I remembered Kedgeree, a dish that had always caught my fancy for not only its interesting name but its entire multicultural history. I knew that most Kedgeree recipes call for smoked haddock or sometimes smoked mackerel, but I reasoned that the flavours should also be compatible with hot-smoked sockeye salmon.

Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish, broadly considered to be descended from the South Asian class of rice-and-legume dishes called Khichri (also spelled Khichdi, kitchiri or khichuri, amongst other spellings), whose other culinary offspring might include Egyptian Kushari. Like its parent, Kedgeree has a lot of built in variability - wet or dry, whether you use ghee or oil, curry powder or separately blended spices, what kind of smoked, flaked fish, whether to include raisins. I went with a somewhat drier style, constructed more like a fried rice than a biryani, rice porridge or paella.

This qualifies as a skillet dinner if you have leftover rice to use.

Hot-Smoked Salmon & Fennel Kedgeree

Serves 3 - 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 20 minutes (if starting with cooked rice)

3 cups cooked basmati rice, fluffed and cooled, grains separated
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and finely sliced (fronds reserved)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 red chile, sliced
1 tablespoon Madras-type curry paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 170 gram tin of hot-smoked wild sockeye salmon
2 boiled eggs
Fresh cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

If you need to cook rice from scratch for this recipe, it takes about 1 cup / 200 grams raw basmati, cooked however you like to cook rice. For optimal length and separation of grains, soak the rice in the cooking water for an hour or so before cooking. Be sure to separate the cooled grains of rice with your fingers (or a fork) before adding to the skillet.

Prepare your vegetables. Open and drain the scant liquid from the tin of salmon. Peel the boiled eggs, and slice them lengthwise into quarters. Tear up the fronds of fennel and put them with the cilantro for garnish.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, non-stick skillet. Once it has foamed out, add the chopped onion and sliced fennel, and stir and sauté until translucent and the onion is starting to brown at the edges.

Add the curry paste and cumin and coriander seed, and stir through. Add the sliced garlic, and continue to sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until it has melted. Add the rice and half the red chile slices, and stir fry until the rice grains are all well coated with the buttery spices.

Add the salmon, breaking it into large and small chunks with your fingers. Stir gently through the skillet, so it doesn't break down entirely (unless you like it that way). When the salmon has been integrated and warmed through, serve in shallow bowls, garnishing with the remaining chile slices, the quartered eggs, the fennel fronds, and the cilantro leaves.
Finally, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each bowl.

We served this with kalonji (nigella seed) studded roti, but this would also be excellent with a bowl of dal on the side (and would feed more people). If I had thought of it in time, I would have served a dollop of curried eggplant chutney, too.

Kedgeree can be eaten hot or cold, and it was reported that this one heated up very nicely in the microwave the next day.

March 13, 2016

Moroccan Shredded Carrot Salad with Lemon Dressing

As I mentioned in the post on Preserved Lemons, we went to Marrakech last December. It is all still in my head, especially the flavours and sounds and scents of the markets and street food, and I am continue to investigate recipes for dishes that we experienced, as well as those that I regret missing the opportunity to experience.

This carrot salad is modelled after the one that was served to us upon arrival in our riad. As we were scheduled to arrive quite late in the evening, our host offered us the option of booking a dinner so that we could relax and enjoy our first evening, without struggling out into a very unfamiliar sort of place late at night after a day of travel. We gratefully accepted, and were sent a menu to pre-order from. The dinner included a choice of three salads from a list of about seven choices, one two-person tagine from a half-dozen compelling possibilities, and a dessert from again, a handful of options. Bread was of course served automatically on the side (Morocco likes to have bread of some sort at every meal) and wine was also available, despite the riad's owners/operators being muslim themselves.

One of the salads we chose was a shredded carrot with lemon, which arrived neatly domed on a plate. I remarked on how finely grated the carrot was, and how wet the dish overall appeared, as we dug into it. We were delighted with the intensity of the lemon flavour, and it automatically went into my mental "make this!" file. While Morocco is famous for its use of preserved lemon, this recipe uses fresh lemon juice only.

Moroccan Shredded Carrot Salad with Lemon Dressing

Serves 4

3 large or 4 medium carrots
2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley leaves
1 large mint leaf
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (honey would also be fine)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon sweet paprika

Peel and finely shred the carrots, and put them in a non-reactive bowl (note that the carrot juice might stain plastic, so best use a glass or ceramic bowl). I used the fine side of a big box grater to do the shredding, which takes a while. If you have a mandoline or other fancy slicer, do whatever gets you the finest possible cut without turning utterly to mush.

Finely chop the cilantro (or parsley) and mint leaf, and stir through the carrot shreds until well distributed.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice with the olive oil, salt, sugar, garlic, cumin, and paprika. Taste the dressing and add more salt if needed. Pour the dressing over the grated carrots, stir well to combine, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, to give the carrots time to soak up the flavours.

Spoon onto plates, or pack into a teacup or measuring cup (or small bowl) to make a tidy presentation. The juices from the salad may seep out from the edges quite a bit, so be prepared to blot the plate if you want to keep it clean. In the riad, this was served Moroccan style, meaning one each salad was served on a separate plate, from which we served ourselves, rather than the individual portion you see here.

February 06, 2016

Mashed Potato Soup

I don't currently have a blender, food processor, or even an electric hand mixer. Things that need pulverizing get pulverized the old-fashioned way, using one or more of: mortar & pestle, grater, sieve, chef's knife, criss-cross potato masher. There are whole categories of soup that I'm not making these days, because the labour required to give them a smooth texture usually relegates them to non-weeknight status, and there's usually a huge list of time-consuming recipes that take priority. This soup, however, starts with mashed potatoes. If you have some leftover from a previous meal, this will come together very fast, otherwise you'll need to start by boiling up some potatoes. Still manageable on a weeknight.

Mashed Potato Soup

Serves 4

4 cups mashed potato
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
big pinch of salt
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2/3 cup schmand or thick sour cream
celery seed
white pepper
4 European style wieners (eg. Frankfurter Würstchen), sliced
up to 1 cup diced cooked vegetables (eg. carrots)

If you don't have leftover mashed potatoes, you'll need about four good-sized floury (as opposed to waxy) potatoes, peeled, and boiled or steamed until tender. Cut them in half or smaller if you like, to speed the process.

While the potatoes cook, sauté the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of butter, just until golden and soft. Season with a big pinch of salt, and a smaller pinch of celery seed and white pepper. Set aside.

Drain the liquid from the cooked potatoes, saving it to use in place of some of the chicken stock if you like. Return the potatoes to the warm pan and put it back on the warm burner. Use a wooden spoon to break up the potatoes, so that the steam evaporates off of them, drying them a bit. When the potatoes are well-shattered, add the rest of the butter and mash until very smooth.

Add the sautéed onions to the potatoes, and mash some more. Add the schmand or sour cream, and mash until smooth. Add the broth (and/or potato water) slowly, stirring well with a wooden spoon, until all the liquid is added and the soup is smooth. Turn the heat back on under the soup pot, and stir in the sliced wieners and cooked vegetables. Let cook on a low-ish heat just until the wieners and vegetables are thoroughly heated up, and the soup is hot (don't let it boil). Serve with a roll on the side, German style, or just enjoy as is.

January 30, 2016

Toad in the Hole - Sausages in Yorkshire Pudding

No toads were harmed in the making of this recipe.

Toad in the Hole is a rather off-putting name for a really tasty comfort food from the UK, namely well-browned sausages baked into a Yorkshire pudding. It's classic pub food, both hearty and surprisingly simple, and doesn't take too long to make. You can use any kind of sausage you want, really, but since I live in Germany, I've gone with a fairly neutral bratwurst. A good English banger would be perfect, but you wouldn't go wrong with Cumberland links or Lincolnshires, if you can get them.

In fact, you can use almost any bits of cooked meat and it would be within your rights to call it Toad in the Hole, although the standard that has arisen is for sausages. I wouldn't recommend spam, but apparently that was sometimes used during wartime rationing. You can use big or small sausages, as you wish. Smaller sausages make for easier portioning and serving, of course. There are plenty of vegetarian versions out there, too, featuring field mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Your mileage may vary.

As a quick aside, I followed Various Internet Instructions™ to lay the sausages on top of the batter, but I think next time I will lay the sausages down first, and pour the batter around and partially over them, to get a more classic look.

This recipe uses two skillets, because the gravy is made separately while the "Toad" is in the oven.

Toad in the Hole with Onion Gravy

Serves 2 - 3

400 grams fresh sausage links (I've used large pork bratwurst)
1 medium onion, sliced (I've used red)
2 cups beef (or vegetable) broth
2 tablespoons flour


3 eggs, beaten really well
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 good dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard, to grease the skillet

The first thing to do is mix up the batter, so that it can rest and fully rehydrate the flour. This is an important step, if you want a nicely risen pudding. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs really well, and slowly add in the flour, continuing to whisk until smooth. Add the salt, Worcestershire sauce, and grainy mustard, and whisk until thoroughly integrated. Finally, slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside at room temperature while you get everything else ready.

If you have a cast iron skillet, that's the thing to use. Preheat your oven to 220 C. (425 F.), with the skillet on the middle rack, so that it preheats nicely, too.

While the batter rests and the oven and skillet are preheating, cook the sausages and start the onion gravy. In a large, skillet, brown the sausages on all sides (I use a little cooking spray to get them going). Let them build up a little fond on the bottom of the pan, which will provide flavour for the gravy. When the sausages are nicely browned, add the sliced onion to the skillet, and stir it all about, so the onions start cooking.

When the sausages are ready, pull the pre-heated skillet out of the oven, and add the bacon fat to the hot skillet. Put the skillet back in the oven for a minute to fully melt and heat the fat. Pull the skillet back out of the oven, and lay the sausages (but not the onions) down in the hot fat. It will spit at you, so be careful. Working quickly and carefully, pour the rested batter (give it one last quick stir) around the sausages, partially covering them (I did this in the reverse order, putting the batter down and then laying the sausages, which is also fine, but makes the sausages float on top of the batter at the end).

Put the skillet back in the oven as quickly as possible, so that it doesn't cool down at all, and set your timer for 15 minutes. It will probably take 20 minutes, but depending on your oven you will want to at least look at it at 15. Don't open the oven if you can avoid it - this is a popover, and they notoriously won't puff if the oven door gets opened too soon.

Meanwhile, add the broth to the onions cooking on the stove top, and stir well, scraping up any fond. Depending on the quality of your broth, you might want to add an extra shot of Worcestershire sauce, too. Your choice. Make a slurry by shaking together the flour with a half-cup of water, and slowly add it to the pan, stirring. When the mixture comes to a full boil, it will be nicely thickened from the flour. Let it continue to cook, stirring frequently, so that the raw taste is cooked out of the flour. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

At the 15 minute mark, check your Toad in the Hole's progress. The batter should have risen up nicely, but it might still be rising at 15 minutes. It will also start becoming a rich golden brown. There should be no liquid in the centre of the pan. Unless it looks in danger of burning, leave it in the oven for another five minutes, then remove, admire, top generously with gravy and serve without delay.

We served ours with English-style baked beans in tomato sauce, which is a classic pairing. A bit of salad would not go amiss, and peas are also a frequent side in the UK (not so much in our house, though). Leftovers heat up surprisingly well in the microwave.

January 16, 2016

Preserved Lemon

We spent last Christmas in Marrakech, and returned with a reignited love of North African flavours. The single most notable ingredient in Moroccan cooking, from my perspective, is the generous use of preserved lemon that occurs in everything from tagines to tangia, couscous to zaalouk. It is a key component of many of the signature dishes of the region.

I've talked about the wonderful depth of flavour one can get with preserved lemon in my Lemon Risotto recipe. Historically, I've made an Indian version of preserved lemon, namely a modified Nimbu Ka Achar (not the sweet version), which has the additional flavourings of a smidge of cayenne and turmeric, giving the finished condiment a deeply burnished yellow appearance, and a lightly spicy fragrance from the additional seasonings.

Today, I decided to make a more classic version, because I've planned a lot of Moroccan recipes in the next few months. The lemons will take about a month to cure before I can use them, and will continue to get better and better after that.

Preserved Lemon

1 sealable 500 ml canning jar with a clean new seal

4 organic, unwaxed lemons
3 tablespoons coarse salt

Wash the lemons really well. If you have the misfortune to have access to waxed lemons only, you can clean them thusly: In a colander, pour boiling water over them to heat/loosen the wax. Immediately place them in a cool vinegar water bath. One lemon at a time, rub the wax off using a scrub made of baking soda and coarse salt on a damp, clean kitchen cloth. Rub and scrub and rinse under cool water, until the skin squeaks (like tupperware) when you rub it. Dry well and set aside. Or, you can google for a different wax removal system that suits you.

Fill your clean canning jar with boiling water, and let it stand. Let some of the water run over the inside of the lid, too, so it's best to do this in a clean basin or handy kitchen pan.

On a clean cutting board, slice three of the lemons lengthwise into eighths. Traditionalists leave the lemons joined at one end, that is to say, not cutting the whole way through, but I find it's quite hard to fit them all into the jar that way. So, I do one the traditional way, and the others I just slice into eighths. Discard any seeds.

Empty the boiled water from your jar. Sprinkle a little of the coarse in the bottom, and start layering your lemon wedges and salt into the jar, using all of the salt. If you are doing traditional lemons, connected at one end, pack some of the salt between the slices and into the middle. The lemons should just nicely fill up a 500 ml jar. Finally, take your last lemon, and squeeze the juice out. Discard the empty husks, and pour the juice over the salted lemon slices, and seal the jar. The juice will not cover the lemons, but rather will fill about half-way, depending on how juicy your lemons are.

That's pretty much all the work. Put the jar on a counter where you will see it every day, and once per day turn it upside down and back again, to make sure all the lemon gets bathed in the juice. After about four weeks, you can move it to the fridge, and you don't have to turn it anymore. Over time, the lemons will start to break down a bit, releasing more juice into the jar, and dissolving some of the pulp.

To use, unseal the jar and use a clean fork to extract however many segments you need. Re-seal the jar, and return to the fridge. I've kept one as long as a year and a half, with no signs of deterioration. The combination of salt and the extremely acidic environment seem to keep it from growing mould or unfriendly bacteria. That being said, food safety, folks. If something does go wrong with yours, and it starts growing something or smelling funky (in a bad way, because it does smell a bit funky in a good way already), use your judgment. I've never had one go bad on me, but I'm not ruling it out.

29 days to go...

December 31, 2015

Nanaimo Bars

Much like the recipes for Kalte Schnauze and shortbread, this was one of the required Christmas baking items of my childhood. They are a quintessential Canadian treat named after the city of Nanaimo ("Nan-EYE-mo") on Vancouver Island, and these days are available year round in bakeries across Canada (sometimes in disconcertingly large serving sizes). You can get them with non-traditional flavours added to the filling - orange or mint or caramel, for example - but I've always preferred the standard version.

For the pan, I always use my 7x11" Pyrex glass baking dish, but I note that the original recipe called for a 9x9" pan, so either would do. Of course, the area of a 7x11" pan is 4 inches smaller, so the bars will be a tiny bit thicker. We always used a 7x11" pan, and I don't think I ever noticed that it was technically the wrong pan size.

Did I mention that these are no-bake? You do need a stove top, but not an oven.

Nanaimo Bars

Makes a 7x11" pan

Prepare your pan. For easy removal, a strip of parchment paper works well. Grease the sides with a thin skim of butter.

Base layer

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs*
1 cup unsweetened, dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and beaten egg in a bowl (or the top of a double-boiler), and set the bowl over hot water, stirring until the butter has melted and the mixture resembles a thick custard. If your butter is very cold, chop it into small bits to facilitate the process.

Remove from the heat, and add the crumbs, coconut, and walnuts. Stir rapidly and thoroughly (I find a fork is the best tool here), to incorporate all of these dry additions into the mixture, until it becomes a damp, crumbly mixture without any dry spots. Turn it out into your prepared pan, spread it evenly across the bottom, and then pack it down tightly with your hand (as evenly as possible). Don't be afraid to press firmly - that will help it hold together later, when you're slicing it. Set aside, and make the filling.

Filling layer

1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups (500 grams) icing sugar
2 tablespoons custard powder (We always used Bird's Custard Powder)
3 tablespoons whole milk

Put all of the filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and mix until smooth. A hand mixer is really the easiest tool for this, and if your icing sugar is really old and clumpy, you might want to sift it first, for best results.

The result should be a thick, stiff butter icing, slightly yellow from the custard powder. Dollop the icing onto the chocolatey base, and spread and smooth it until it evenly covers the base layer.

Let the filling harden for at least 15 minutes at normal room temperature, 30 minutes is better (gives you time to clean a few dishes, or make a whole different recipe).

Top layer

200 grams dark/bittersweet chocolate (75%)
1 3/4 tablespoons butter

Melt the chocolate and the butter together, stirring until smooth. You can use the double boiler, a pan directly on the stove over low heat, or the microwave, however you prefer to melt chocolate. Just don't burn it. I just use a small pan directly on the stove.

When the butter and chocolate is melted and smoothly combined, pour it evenly over the surface of the filling layer, using a spoon or a spatula to spread the chocolate quickly and evenly over the whole surface, before it begins to set. I always pour the chocolate so that it falls onto the spoon, held right above the filling layer, so it sort of floods over the edges of the spoon and doesn't hit the filling from a height. That's possibly an unnecessary precaution, but that's my method.

Now the difficult part: The whole thing needs to set, preferably at cool room temperature (pantry, root cellar, that sort of thing) before you can slice and serve. Once it has cooled completely to room temperature, we normally slip a plastic bag over it to keep dust etc. off, and put it aside at least overnight. Far better if you can bring yourself to wait an extra day or two (my mother would try to hide it in the pantry for a couple of weeks when we were small). We've never kept it in the fridge -- it usually disappears far too fast to worry about it getting stale anyway.

When you're ready to serve it, run a sharp knife along the un-papered edges, and then lift the parchment ends straight up to lift the whole thing out at once. Transfer to a cutting board, paper and all, and slice as you wish. I find that quite tiny squares, the size of large truffles, are perfect, although as a child I always wanted much more than that. You can also leave them in the pan, and just slice and lift squares as you go, but I'd usually rather free up the pan.

Below is our family's original recipe, in my mother's handwriting. You will note a couple of differences - mostly in the somewhat expanded directions, and a thicker layer of chocolate for the top layer (which makes it easier to spread evenly over the surface). Of course, you could make it the more frugal way with only 4 ounces/114 grams chocolate and one tablespoon of butter, but that does result in a very thin layer of chocolate on the top. I note that the adjustment from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs was my mother's correction to prevent the base layer from being too dry and crumbly.

*Living in Germany, it was a challenge to find an appropriate substitute for graham crackers - crumbs or otherwise. I eventually settled on Leibniz Vollkorn Kekse, and used my chef's knife to finely crumble them. It turned out really well, and I would use that substitution again.