December 31, 2016

Holiday Yams (Sweet Potatoes)

For some reason, in Canada (and in parts of the USA) we called orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (Convolvulaceae) "yams" even though they have no relationship to the true yam (Dioscoreaceae). Technically, this dish should be Holiday Sweet Potatoes, but so far the change hasn't really stuck. I am apparently a prisoner of my childhood lexicon.

I dreamed this recipe up years ago, and we've had it for Christmas dinner every single year since, whether we're having turkey, ham, duck, goose, or anything else. You can cook them in the oven with the other dishes, if you have room, but you could also cook them on the stove-top if that works better for you.

Holiday Yams

Serves 4

2 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
1 cup orange juice (or a mixtured of citrus juices)
4 slices fresh ginger root, peeled
1-2 star anise stars
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamon pods
small pinch of salt (optional)

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes. You can cut them into larger, stew-sized chunks, or smaller dice, however you prefer. You should have about 4 cups' worth of cubes.

Pour the orange juice over the cubes, and tuck the spices around them, being sure to submerge the spices into the juice, so that the flavour is carried throughout.

Cover the pan and bake until tender - the timing will depend on the oven temperature, so if you've got other items in the oven that require a specific temp, you'll need to work around that. For small dice, such as the one you see here, 40-45 minutes at 325°F/170°C should suffice, but if your oven is hotter, it could take as little as 30 minutes (you'll need to check).

Drain the orange juice or use a slotted spoon to remove the cubes of sweet potato from the juice and remove the spices (I leave the ginger in) to serve. If you have leftovers, they can be stored as-is in a refrigerator container, and gently reheated on the stovetop either in fresh orange juice, a little water (steaming), or fried in a little oil or butter.

December 27, 2016

Breakfast: Eggs baked in Bell Peppers

This was taken pretty much directly from a Buzzfeed Tasty video. I've adjusted things to our tastes and the current state of the pantry, but the method is solid.

Essentially, this is what you do:

Halve the bell peppers lengthwise, and remove the stem, veins, and seeds. Transfer pepper cups (cut side up) to a baking tray lined with aluminum foil. Season each pepper with salt and pepper, and bake for 15 minutes at 375°F/190°C, until peppers are softened.

Stabilize any peppers that look extra floppy (see below).

Sprinkle some grated cheese and chopped green onion or chives evenly among the four pepper halves. Crack an egg into the centre of each pepper. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, bacon (if you're using it), and more cheese on top of the eggs. Back into the oven it goes; bake for 15-20 minutes, until egg whites are set.

I note that next time I will create rings of aluminum foil to stabilize the peppers and ensure that they don't tip over as the eggs are added. This happened with one of my peppers, but it wasn't the end of the world. After baking just long enough to set the bit of white that lay on the pan, I was able to scoop the egg up and pile it back into the pepper shell with minimal hassle and no real deleterious effect (other than cosmetic, and a bit more grated cheese fixed that right up).

Definitely something I will make again.

December 17, 2016

Khoresht Loobia Sabz: Persian Green Bean and Lamb Stew

Persian cuisine is full of delicious, slow-simmered dishes that are very satisfying on cold winter nights - even more so if you've had the foresight to put a stash in the freezer. This tomato and green bean stew can be made with lamb, beef, chicken, or meatless, and is generally served with rice.

I made this recipe first due to a sudden abundance of fresh green beans that needed using. Normally, I prefer very fine green beans, which are sometimes also called French or filet beans (Prinzessbohnen, or Nadelbohnen in German), which are stringless and supremely tender, but on this occasion I found myself with a rather large bag of somewhat larger diameter green beans, and wanted to find a recipe that would do them justice. Although these beans are stringless they are also quite firm, but this dish simmers until the beans are truly tender, absorbing the flavours around them as they soften. The resulting texture is luscious rather than overcooked, and helps the dish stand up to freezing very well.

I scoured my resources for recipes to get a sense of the variations of this dish (also spelled Khoresht Lubia Sabz), and eventually made a version very closely modelled on Khoresht Lubia Sabz by My Persian Kitchen, although I note that I used much less water than the original recipe.

Khoresht Loobia Sabz: Persian Green Bean and Lamb Stew

Serves 4

500 grams lamb stew meat, diced medium-small
1.5 tablespoon canola oil (divided)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
400 mL diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups water
400 grams green beans
3 tablespoons lemon juice

In a medium-large soup pot over medium heat, heat one tablespoon of the canola oil and add the onion and garlic. Stir and sauté until the onion is translucent and just starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, and then add the lamb. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon (if using), and continue to sauté until the lamb colours slightly. Add the water, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cover, and then simmer for an hour and a half, until the lamb is tender.

Add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste, and stir thoroughly through. Let the stew continue to simmer while you prepare the beans.

Wash and dry the beans, and trim the ends. Cut the beans into short lengths (each bean cut either into halves or thirds, depending on length). In a separate skillet, heat the remaining half tablespoon of oil until it shimmers, and then add the cut green beans into the hot skillet. Stir fry the beans until they are bright green (add an extra pinch of salt as you fry them), about 3 minutes. Pour the beans into the stew, and add the lemon juice. Stir through, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about an hour, until all of the flavours permeate the beans.

Serve over plain rice, such as chelow or kateh, or even a polow if the mood takes you.

December 03, 2016

Chocolate Cherry Bombs: No-Bake Chocolate Drop Cookies

My mother called these "Summer Cookies" because you could make a batch on the hottest day of the year without turning the oven on, but they are equally delicious in colder months (and set up faster, too). These are dense, chewy, sweet little bombs. You can of course vary the fruits as you like. We made these with just raisins when I was a kid, but I really like dried cherries (sweet or sour cherries) either instead or in addition. Dried cranberries would also be delicious.

This would be an excellent recipe to make for a cookie exchange, because it makes a large batch that takes very little time. Oh, and everyone seems to love them, even if they are skeptical at first glance.

This batch is vegan, as I made it for a dietarily-mixed workplace function, but you could replace the coconut oil with butter, and the oatmeal cream for milk to get my mother's original version. The recipe can be halved or doubled to meet your needs.

Note: Because the salt grains are large and added with the dry ingredients, they don't dissolve quite as much as they might otherwise. This means that you'll get an occasional extra little crystalline crunch as you bite into the the cookie, with a burst of extra flavour. I think it's a lovely feature, but if you prefer to have that salty bite less prominent, simply use half the amount of fine grain salt, or add it to the chocolate mixture while it is on the stove so it has the chance to dissolve.

Chocolate Cherry Bombs

Makes about 6 dozen small ones

1 litre (4 cups) raw (or brown) sugar
250 mL (1 cup) cocoa powder
125 grams coconut oil (or butter)
225 mL oat milk (or dairy milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 litres (6 cups) rolled oats (thick cut, not instant)
125 mL (1/2 cup) dried shredded coconut (unsweetened)
125 mL (1/2 cup) raisins
250 mL (1 cup) dried sweet or sour cherries
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt

In a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat, heat the sugar, cocoa powder, coconut oil (or butter), and milk. Let the mixture cook and bubble for about 3 minutes, stirring well.

In a second bowl, combine the dry items: oats, coconut, raisins, cherries, and salt.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract. Then add all of the dry mixture, and stir vigorously with a sturdy wooden spoon until there are no more dry patches and everything is thoroughly integrated.

Use a small disher or a tablespoon to drop cookies onto parchment, waxed paper, or foil lined trays (ideally, something that fits in your fridge or freezer if it's hot out). They don't expand, so you can pack them quite closely. You can make them any size you like, but because they're so sweet and intense, I make them quite small. You can always have more than one.

Let the cookies harden for an hour or so before serving (it might take longer in warm weather, unless you refrigerate them). You can store them in a waxed-paper lined tin in the cupboard or fridge.