April 13, 2014

Duck Noodles

Duck Noodles are delicious. But you can already tell that, just from the name: Duck Noodles.

This is partly a recipe and partly a serving suggestion. You probably already know how to stir fry some vegetables and noodles, and your selection of both might vary from mine (although I must put in a vote for both baby corn - fresh, if you can get it - and snow peas, which go so beautifully with the duck). But, at the end of the day, make the noodles how you like best, and top them with this tasty, tasty duck.

Pan Seared Duck Breast for Duck Noodles

Serves 2

350 grams duck breast (skin on)
3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chile oil (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger (grating from frozen is easiest)
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 star anise stars

Combine everything but the duck into a small dish (just large enough to fit the liquid and the duck breast (which will go in later), and stir well to combine, making sure that the honey is all dissolved.

Trim any straggly bits from the duck breast (if necessary) and, using a very sharp knife, cross-hatch the skin (that is, make long, shallow cuts diagonally along the whole length of the skin, and the turn the knife approximately 90 degrees and repeat, so that you end up with diamond-shapes over the whole surface). The closer the cuts are to each other, the better the fat will render during the cooking phase. Be sure when you are cutting to cut only through the skin and fat, and not into the duck meat itself, or the meat may dry out a little as it cooks. It is easiest to do when the duck is very cold, because the fat stays firm as you cut. When the whole surface of the skin has been cross-hatched, place the duck skin-side up in the marinade, and let sit for about 4 - 6 hours. Ideally, the liquid will not cover the skin, but don't worry if it does.

When you are ready to start cooking, prepare all of your mise en place for the noodles and vegetables, so that they are ready to go. Preheat your oven to 400 F, and preheat a steel or cast iron skillet until very hot.

Remove the duck from the marinade, and pat dry, especially the skin. Sprinkle the skin with a little coarse salt, and place skin-side down in the dry, very hot pan. Immediately turn the heat down to medium, and do not touch the duck again for at least five minutes.

If the skin is now golden brown and crispy all the way through (the edges may get a bit darker, especially if they got marinade on them), remove it from the pan. If the skin is not yet ready, wait another minute or two, peeking as necessary. Drain the excess fat from the skillet (reserve it for other cooking purposes) and return the duck breast to the pan, skin-side-up. Place it in the preheated oven and roast until the desired doneness - 10 minutes for very rare, 15 for rosy medium-rare (preferred). Remove from the oven, and transfer the duck to a cutting board to rest before you slice it.

While the duck is in the oven, and then resting, finish preparing your stir fry with the vegetables and the noodles. A spoonful of the reserved duck fat in the stir fry accentuates the duck flavour in the final dish. You can also use some of the marinade from the duck in the stir fry, but be sure to remove the star anise.

Arrange the finished noodles and vegetables on a large serving platter (or bowl), and then thinly slice the duck breast and lay it across the top. Garnish with thinly sliced green onion and red chiles.

April 03, 2014

Turkey & Stuffing Skillet Dinner

A classic turkey dinner is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, however, it's just not in the cards⎯whether it's time or money that you don't have enough of, or maybe it's simply that a full turkey dinner can generate a daunting amount of leftovers. That's where this little "beauty" comes in. Well, actually, as you can see from the picture, this dish isn't really ready for its close-up. Fact is, while I make this several times per year, I just can't seem to photograph it in a way that does it justice. But it is such a tasty little number that I encourage you to try it despite its less than movie-star looks.

Think of it as an innovative pot-pie: silky gravy base with tender chunks of turkey, and a bread stuffing top crust fragrant with sage and thyme. Best of all, it comes together quickly. If you're cooking for just one or two, you'd be hard pressed to find a better stand in for the holiday classic. If you have some chicken gold on hand, by all means use it in place of the same amount of stock for a richer depth of flavour.

Turkey & Stuffing Skillet Dinner

Adapted from Eating Well's Stuffing-Topped Chicken

Serves 4

3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 slices bread, diced into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
pinch celery seed
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 1/2 cups turkey (or chicken) broth at room temperature, divided
700 grams boneless turkey breast (or chicken thighs)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups quartered cremini mushrooms
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Add the celery, onion, and garlic. Sauté over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown at the edges. Add the bread and dry seasonings (except the salt) and continue to cook stirring, until the celery has softened and the bread begins to crisp up, about two to three minutes more. Empty the bread mixture into a bowl, and stir in 1/3 cup of broth (stir like crazy with a fork to get it all evenly distributed). Set aside while you prepare the rest.

Trim any excess fat from the turkey, and slice into medium chunks, as if for a stew. Toss the chunks with salt and fresh sage.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the room temperature broth and the flour until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler of your oven.

To the emptied skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of oil until it shimmers. Add the diced turkey (or chicken) and the fresh sage, and let cook for about 1 to 2 minutes without stirring. Add the mushrooms, and continue to cook, stirring as needed, until the turkey is cooked almost through, about 5 minutes.

Increase the heat under the skillet to high; add the wine (or vermouth) and cook, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, until almost all is evaporated, about two minutes. Stir in the reserved broth-flour mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly, about 5 minutes more, and then turn down the heat to low and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes, to ensure the rawness is cooked out of the flour. Spoon the reserved stuffing mixture evenly over the turkey mixture. Spritz the top of the stuffing with a little canola oil, and transfer the skillet to the oven and broil until the stuffing begins to crisp and brown, about 4 minutes, depending on your broiler (keep an eye on it).

Use your largest serving spoon to dish it onto plates or pasta-bowls. Serve with roasted brussels sprouts or baked yams on the side, and a dollop of cranberry chutney on the side for maximum festive flair.

March 23, 2014

Breakfast at Home: Savoury Breakfast Polenta

This post barely qualifies as a recipe - it's more of a serving suggestion. Remember the Orange Breakfast Polenta from last August? I've been wanting to do a savoury version, and sausage with egg seemed the perfect solution.

At it's simplest, the recipe is this: Make up your favourite soft polenta recipe, top with crumbled sausage and a poached (or fried, basted, or steamed) egg - or two, ideally cooked soft or medium-soft. Season according to preference - hot sauce, fresh herbs, black pepper, really, there's a lot of options. You could even dust a little parmesan over the top, although it's not strictly speaking necessary. I should note that it's easier to make if you are starting with loose sausage meat, rather than the kind pressed into casings. If you can only get the kind in casings, slit them open to remove the meat before you get started - there's a bit too much going on at once to muck about trying to squeeze sausages out of their skins while preparing the polenta and/or eggs.

For a vegetarian or vegan version, you would need a veggie ground sausage, of course, or perhaps avoid the processed option with a sauteed mixture of seasoned mushrooms, walnuts and brown lentils (and maybe a bit of green onion), plus whatever tweaks you prefer to remove the dairy from the polenta (remove entirely, or replace with non-sweet almond milk or soy milk, or even pureed silken tofu). Egg or not, depending on which way you roll.

For the traditional version, break open your soft-cooked eggs so that the yolk escapes into the rest of the dish. Each bite brings you a mouthful of hot, creamy polenta, savoury sausage, and a bit of soft egg yolk. Your bowl will be empty, and your tummy full, in no time.

March 16, 2014

Hot, Sweet, & Sour Eggplant

This is fantastic hot or room-temperature, and just as good the next day. I use bulbous dark purple eggplants, as those are the ones available to me, but you could also use the longer, light purple Chinese varieties.

The combination of vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and sambal oelek give it that classic hot, sour, salty, sweet harmony of flavours that make you want to eat the whole pan at once. The texture of the eggplant becomes meltingly soft, just firm enough to maintain its shape, and is a nice counterpoint to a classic stir fry. If you like, thinly slice some garlic and add it along with the chiles.

Hot, Sweet, & Sour Eggplant

Serves 2 - 3

225 grams eggplant
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or black vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (or other hot chile paste)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger or 1 tablespoon finely minced peeled, fresh ginger
1 - 2 long red chiles, seeded
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon coarse salt
5 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

Slice the eggplant lengthwise into quarters, and then slice the quarters crosswise to make triangular-ish slices that are about 1/2 centimetre wide. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with coarse salt, and set in a colander over a plate for at least half an hour. Rinse the salt off thoroughly, and drain well. Pat dry to remove any remaining water from the surface of the pieces.

Finely slice the chiles, into either rings or strips, as you prefer.

Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sambal oelek, cornstarch, and ginger in a small bowl, and stir until smooth (or at least as smooth as anything containing sambal oelek is going to be).

Working in several batches over high heat, heat the peanut oil in a skillet. Lower the heat to medium high and, working in batches, stir fry the eggplant pieces for a few minutes, until they are golden in spots but not cooked through. Remove eggplant pieces to a waiting plate as they are done, and repeat until all of the eggplant is done, and the skillet is empty. Be sure to reserve a tablespoon of oil for the sauce.

Lower the temperature to medium, and add the final tablespoon of peanut oil to the skillet. Stir the soy sauce mixture again, and add to skillet. The mixture should bubble up immediately, but if it instantly caramelizes into a solid mass, your heat is too high. In that case, add a little hot water (a couple of tablespoons - best to have it standing by, really, just in case) and stir until smooth, before proceeding. Otherwise, immediately add the sliced chiles (and garlic, if using) and quickly stir until they are coated, and then add the eggplant pieces back to the pan. Lower the heat and stir and cook until the eggplant pieces are tender, and coated with a thick, sticky glaze. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sometimes when I make this it turns out lighter, sometimes darker, so no worries if it doesn't look exactly like this. More often, I would say it turns out a touch darker, because I often have my pan a little hotter than necessary.

March 09, 2014

Vietnamese-inspired Lemongrass Pork Meatballs

What do you do when you have a surplus of lemongrass? Well, you could make meatballs, of course.

Living in this small city in Germany, access to Asian cuisines is rather limited, and often quite different from my previous experience of those cuisines in Vancouver. There are some tasty options, but there are also some notable absences, and much less variety than I've been accustomed to. I've taken on the challenge of making some of the things that I miss from Vancouver, and my list grows bigger every day.

That being said, I don't believe this to be any kind of authentic Vietnamese dish; rather, it is me playing with the flavours of Vietnamese cuisine and having fun while I do it. If you are looking for the springy sort of meatballs that one gets in Phó, you'll need to look elsewhere, as these are more in the Italian meatball school of texture (if not flavour). But if you want a tasty Vietnamese-inspired meatball treat - lordy, check these out! Bursting with flavour.

As I slowly build up my pantry, each new ingredient opens another door to new items to cook. My latest ingredient is fish sauce - essential for Vietnamese and Thai cooking. Because my fridge is a tiny German bar-sized fridge, shelf space for bottles is at an absolute premium, so I looked for the smallest bottle of fish sauce that I could find. That turned out to be a brand that also has red chiles in it. At first I balked - I tend to stick to the more neutral versions of basic ingredients, especially for cuisines outside my own - but as I turned it over in my head, I realized that I never use fish sauce without also adding chiles, so it was probably going to be okay. And it was. There's something about the chiles that actually takes the edge of the odour of the fish sauce, and that's kind of a relief, actually. It means that I get that all-important flavour that is so necessary in a lot of the dishes, without flinching my way through the adding of it.

Vietnamese-inspired Lemongrass Pork Meatballs

Makes 20 meatballs

500 grams finely ground lean pork
2 stalks lemongrass (preferably young)
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fish sauce (with chiles)
1 long red chile pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ cup minced cilantro
4-5 basil leaves (preferably Thai or Vietnamese basil), minced
¼ cup panko-style flakey breadcrumbs

Into a large mixing bowl, grate the tender, white part of the lemongrass using a microphone grater. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the pork) and mix well with a fork. If the mixture seems quite dry (it should look crumbly but a bit moist), add up to another tablespoon of the fish sauce. I use fish sauce with chiles, because there's simply no application that I have for fish sauce that doesn't call for chiles, and I find the added chile flavour takes some of the edge of fish sauce, while still allowing it to contribute its essential fish sauce qualities to the dish.

Crumble or tear the pork into little bits, allowing the bits to fall onto the seasoning mixture. When all the pork is added to the bowl, use a fork, or your impeccably clean hands, to gently work the seasoning mixture through the pork until it is evenly distributed, but try not to overwork the mixture - you're not kneading bread here, just trying to combine the ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Use about a teaspoon of peanut oil to grease the bottom of a 7x11" glass baking dish or a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the meat mixture into twenty golf ball sized meatballs (a 1-tablespoon disher is what I use; I scoop all of the meatballs out, and then go quickly back over them to make sure they have a nice, round shape all the way around, since the disher tends to make them a bit flat on the bottom). Bake uncovered for 25 - 30 minutes. Serve hot, or allow to cool and freeze on a plate until firm before bagging them up for a future meal.

I've served these over a plain version of Coconut Ginger Noodles, with a marinated vegetable salad - essentially, fresh shredded carrots, julienned cucumber, minced chiles, green onion, cilantro, basil, with a (chile) fish-sauce vinaigrette (if I'd had daikon on hand, or even any other radish, I'd have thrown that in, too). Given the added chile in the fish sauce, it was quite spicy, but added a wonderfully fresh crunch to contrast against the soft noodles and luxurious textured meatballs.

Since there were only two of us for dinner, we restrained ourselves at consuming half the batch and the rest were stashed in the freezer for a future dinner - very likely a banh mi choose-your-own-adventure meal within the next week or so. I can hardly wait.

February 28, 2014

Quick-Pickled Red Cabbage

This is an easy, refreshing pickle to add colour and texture to a meal. It is not, however, a German recipe, despite a prodigious reliance on cabbage here in Germany; cabbage here tends mostly to be served as sauerkraut (fermented) or braised with apples, in my experience (such as was shown in my Hasenpfeffer post).

Rather, this recipe was inspired by some marinated cabbage that I had as part of a salad in a Croatian restaurant. Applying similar principles to those in the Mexican Pickled Red Onions from a couple of years ago. I did a quick search online, and found that Gluten Free Girl has a version as well which is also very similar.

Quick-Pickled Red Cabbage

Makes 4 cups

4 cups finely sliced red cabbage
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 very small piece of cinnamon stick or 1 star anise (optional)

Mason jar or other sealable glass or pottery vessel that can fit in your fridge (I used a tempered glass bowl that has a plastic lid)

Make sure that your vessel is spotlessly clean, and rinse well with boiling water to be sure.

Toss the cabbage with the coarse salt and let it sit in a colander to drain for a few hours. Make sure that there's a plate under the colander (or it is in over the sink) because purple juice will be rendered out during this time, and it stains like a sonofagun. Combine the remaining ingredients and bring them to a simmer in a non-reactive saucepan. Cover and let cool while the cabbage drains in the colander.

A few hours later, rinse the salt off of the cabbage, and pack it into the clean glass/pottery vessel. Strain the spices out of the vinegar mixture, and bring back to the boil. Pour the vinegar over the cabbage, covering the cabbage completely with liquid. If you need a bit more liquid, you can add a little more water at this point.

Cover loosely, and let cool to room temperature before covering tightly and storing in the fridge. Allow a day or two for the flavours to meld before eating. It makes a lovely, crunchy garnish to a dinner, or adds interest to a salad (use sparingly if adding it to a salad, or it will overwhelm everything else). I've also been known to eat a small bowl of it (as shown) as a snack, but that may just be me.

If you really dig a spiced flavour profile, you can leave the cinnamon/star anise and bay leaves in the vinegar, but you may want to remove the black peppercorns (or some of them) because they're not all that pleasant to bite on accidentally. If you leave the spices in the vinegar, the spices' flavours will continue to intensify as it sits in the fridge.

This keeps for a couple of weeks, up to about a month, stored covered in the fridge.

Because this dish is so super-crunchy, I think I might try a version where the cabbage has been blanched first, just to see what the effect is on the texture. My guess is that it will remain crisp and somewhat crunchy, but might have a gentler texture. I'll be sure to let you know.

February 16, 2014

Hasenpfeffer (plus International Bento: Germany)

As any Bugs Bunny fan knows, Hasenpfeffer is a delicious German rabbit stew (probably best made without cartoon rabbits). This dish can be made with a whole, cut up rabbit, or with just hind legs, which makes for big, meaty pieces for each serving. In Germany, rabbit is a popular enough meat that it is available in the grocery stores either whole or in a variety of cuts (and even as pre-made frozen dinners, actually), so it is simple and affordable to purchase only the hind legs, which is what I've used here.

It is essential that the rabbit be marinated, although different regions vary significantly in what exactly constitutes the correct marinade - everything from red wine, to white wine, to vinegar, or even some of each. The stew is well seasoned with onions, bay leaves and peppercorns, and simmered slowly for a rich, luxurious flavour. Some recipes also called for dried fruit (most notably plums) to add a subtle sweetness to the gravy. My recipe is a hybrid of many different recipes that I encountered in my research.


Serves 4 - 6

1 kilogram rabbit pieces (hind legs are best)
2 cups dry red wine (I used a Spätburgunder, which is essentially a German Pinot Noir)
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
12 Juniper berries
10 black peppercorns
3 large bay leaves
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups diced celeriac (stalk celery is also fine)
kosher salt to taste
2 tablespoons peanut oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup unbleached wheat flour

If you want to make it an all-in-one meal, you can also add some diced carrots and potatoes, but be sure to add them towards the end of the braising time, or they will turn to mush.

In a non-reactive bowl (glass (eg. Pyrex) works well), marinate the rabbit pieces overnight in the red wine, along with the cinnamon, Juniper berries, bay leaves, and black pepper. Turn the pieces once or twice as necessary, to ensure it marinates evenly.

Remove the rabbit from the marinade (reserving the marinade), and dry the pieces well. Toss them in the flour, shaking well afterward to ensure that there isn't too much flour on each piece (I give each piece a little spank to shake off the excess). Fry the rabbit pieces (in the peanut oil) in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until well browned on both sides. Work in batches if necessary. As the pieces are finished frying, remove them to a dutch oven. When all of the rabbit pieces are fried and standing by, add the onions, garlic, and celeriac to the skillet, and sauté briefly. When the onions have started to turn translucent, add the sautéed vegetables to the rabbit.

Into the emptied skillet, pour the wine and spices (the reserved marinade). Bring up to a simmer, and let reduce by about a third. Make a slurry of about a tablespoon of the leftover flour from the rabbit-frying stage, and a little water (about 1/2 cup). Add the slurry to the reduced wine, and stir well until it begins to thicken. Remove the spices (a sieve works best). Pour the wine mixture over the rabbit and vegetables, and put the dutch oven over medium heat. Try to arrange the rabbit pieces and vegetables as compactly as possible, so that it takes as little liquid as possible to cover the meat. If the meat is not completely covered, add some broth or stock (chicken, vegetable, or game is all fine) or water until the meat is just covered.

Bring the dish to a gentle simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover, and allow the dish to braise slowly for about one and a half hours (you can do this in the oven, if you like).

Remove the rabbit pieces from the sauce onto a platter and keep warm. You can serve them on the bone, or with the bones removed - I chose on the bone, simply for the presentation, but after dinner I removed the bones from the leftovers that would be used for the bento (see below).

Press the sauce-liquid and vegetables through a sieve to make a smooth sauce (you could also use a stick blender). Taste, and correct for salt if necessary. The sieved vegetables will add body, but if the sauce is a bit thin, you could choose to thicken it at this point.

If you are serving the pieces on the bone, simply plate and ladle some sauce over top. If you are serving boneless, remove the bones from the meat, and return the meat to the sauce before serving.

We served this on homemade spätzle with braised red cabbage and apples, which is a fairly classic combination, all of which also went into the next day's bento lunch.