Friday, February 28, 2014

East, West, and a Skilletful of Dinner

Thanks to a few posts on Facebook, I'd wanted to try these baked eggs and roasted potatoes for dinner today. My version had bacon in place of sausages, and it tasted absolutely fabulous. That one is definitely a keeper. It's not hard, and is practically foolproof.

But I also had fennel that needed using up, a lemon, some minced beef, and I couldn't find my recipe for Tessa Kiros' Greek meatballs with dill.

So I made it up, with help from Simply Recipes' gorgeous Albondigas Soup, which I used to make all the time a few years back, and one of Tessa Kiros' recipes for Pork with Lemon and Fennel.

It turned out amazingly well. More importantly, it's the first time in a long while that I've had the inspiration and the ability to muck around in the kitchen and create - and it is such a liberating, relaxing thing. This is one recipe I'll be going back to quite a bit for bulk cookery.

Yin’s Greek Style Meatballs with Avgolemono Sauce and Fennel
Inspired by Simply Recipe’s Albondigas Soup and Tessa Kiros’ Pork with Fennel and Lemon

300-400g minced beef (best if it has some fat in it, or the meatballs will be rather dry)
2-3 small handfuls white rice (I used brown sushi rice, which will work but will need much longer cooking)
1 egg
As much dill as you can stand
Salt to taste, about ½ tsp or so

Avgolemono Sauce:
Half an onion, roughly minced
3-5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Finely minced rind of ½ a lemon
½ to 1 bulb fennel, including green bits and leafy tops
A good big bunch kailan or kale (optional)
Vegetable stock or water, around 3-4 cups
Green curry paste (optional)
Salt to taste
Olive oil, a good drizzle

Juice of ½ a lemon
1 egg

1. Combine all ingredients for meatballs and add about ¼ of the finely minced rind of ½ a lemon. Let sit while preparing soup.

2. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, then add onions. Sauté till colour becomes translucent, then add garlic and lemon rind, and sauté together. Keep stirring so garlic doesn’t burn. It may brown a little but that’s ok. Add fennel and fry together until onions look just a little brown. Add vegetable stock and turn heat up to medium high, let it come to a boil.

3. Oil hands and form medium-ish sized meatballs. They shouldn’t be too large as they’ll expand – I have small hands and mine were easy to close my fingers over. Drop meatballs into the pot. The stock will probably come to boil while you’re making the meatballs – that’s ok. Once all the meatballs are in the pot, bring the stock to a boil if it hasn’t done so, then turn down to a simmer. Cover, and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

4. Uncover pot and check on stock seasoning. Add salt if necessary, and if you’re using water like I did and there’s not enough flavor, add some stock granules and green curry paste if you want to. It’s absolutely not Greek, but it’ll do the trick and spice it up nicely. If you’re using white rice, the meatballs will probably be almost close to ready. I used brown sushi rice, since it’s all I had on hand – it took a lot longer to cook through. Check the meatballs by slicing a chunk out of one and tasting it – if the rice isn’t cooked, leave it in the pot to simmer for a while longer. At this point, add the kailan or kale if you have it and want it, stir in, and cover to simmer some more, maybe about another 15-20 minutes. Check on the stock level – you might have to add just a little more water if it’s boiling down really fast.

5. When meatballs are ready – again, test by slicing off a little chunk to see if the rice inside the meatballs is cooked through – turn heat down to very low heat. Beat egg and lemon juice together, then ladle a scoop of hot stock into the egg-lemon mixture, stirring the entire time. Keep stirring and add another two or three ladles of stock. Pour the egg-lemon-stock mixture back into the pot, stirring the entire time so that the egg doesn’t cook into globs. Don’t let the stock boil – it should now have thickened into a sauce. If you see little strands of egg white, remove the pot from the heat at once – that means it’s done, and any further cooking will give you lemon sauced scrambled eggs.

6. Test for taste – I had to add a little sugar to mine to balance out the tartness. Serve in bowls while hot. It keeps pretty well in the fridge; I don't know about freezing because I've never frozen any before. If reheating, do it gently and don’t let it boil or the eggs will scramble.

Sunshine, Song, and Soup

Today had it coming.

Not in a bad way, mind. It's been a long week working through last weekend and my off-day, so now that my NEXT off-day has rolled around, I've decided to rest, recharge, and do absolutely nothing that doesn't promise at least a modicum of pleasure.

It sounds selfish, but I've had to learn the hard way that there are times when nourishing the emotional/mental/creative/spiritual you can't be put off. Something essential dies, when you let that part of you wither and fade. It leaves you in limbo, a metaphysical zombie in some respects.

For today, I decided to make Emily's Carrot Soup for the Tired. I'd attempted it quite some time ago, but without the proper ingredients so this time I was curious to see how it would turn out with everything that was supposed to be in it.

It's fantastic! I didn't have carrot juice so I cut up two carrots and put in 1 cup of coconut water + 1 cup water, before adding everything else on the ingredients list: 1 avocado, some chopped ginger, and some coconut flesh from the coconut I'd taken the coconut water from.

The rest was easy - tossing everything into the blender and letting it puree. There wouldn't be any carrot pulp if I used carrot juice as directed, but I don't have a juicer and besides, I like carrot pulp - it gives the soup some texture which I prefer.

The colour is simply gorgeous, and the taste is refreshing and so very energising. Just look at it! Liquid sunshine, practically.

I was going to attempt albondigas as well, but realised I didn't have all the ingredients on hand. Which isn't a problem - I'm just going to bastardise Greek meatballs with albondigas methods, and come up with a hybrid for dinner. I have a ton of dill in the fridge, eggs, and a kitchen.

What's life without singing in the kitchen anyway? It's the equivalent of sunshine in my soul, as cheesy as it sounds but it's my off-day, there is sunshine spilling through the windows, and I am happy. Good enough.

Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, which is what I'm dancing around to right now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dame Does Sorrel

2014 has arrived in a hurry, and with it some wonderful things, the most important being that I've finally gotten to use my kitchen again. I won't go into details - suffice to say that for a while, due to the situation in the apartment I rent with a few other housemates, I wasn't able to cook a lot, if at all. Now though, I can, and it has been an amazingly wonderful time of adjusting back to the joys of being able to create with food again.

One of the first things that I ended up making was this delicious, beautiful chicken soup from Karina's Kitchen. An entire recipe made enough to freeze, and have a good meal for at least three days. I couldn't find yellow squash - it's a bit of a hit-and-miss commodity here - so I substituted carrots instead. I also didn't have green chillies in a can, so I put in two small chipotle chillies from my freezer stash. It worked a treat!

A few days ago, I managed to pick up something I hadn't seen in a while in the shops: fresh sorrel. It's hard to find, and the last time I'd seen it was a few years ago, so I was excited to say the least. I snapped up two packs of it, bore it home in triumph, and spent the next day or so scratching my head as to what to do with it.

For the past month I've been doing a lot of writing in the noir genre - more specifically, pastiches in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe universe. Wolfe is famous for weighing one seventh of a ton, for refusing to budge from his New York brownstone unless absolutely necessary, and also for the legendary meals created by his chef extraordinaire, Fritz Brenner. One of my prized possessions is a copy of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, and one of the recipes in it is for Germiny A L'Oseille, or Sorrel Soup.

No prizes for guessing what I decided to make in the end.

There is, however, a Moral to today's soup-making adventure, namely: Don't puree 4 cups of hot soup in the blender at one go. The resulting mess takes a lot longer to clean up than the cooking itself. I now have sorrel in my hair, which may take as long to get out as it took wiping the kitchen counter clean.

The colour of the soup itself is pretty insipid, but the taste is fantastic. I made a few substitutions, such as non-dairy cream, using an entire egg instead of just the egg yolk, and omitting the sherry because I didn't have any on hand. It was still delicious, pretty easy to whip up, and I've a feeling I'll be making it again if I can find any more sorrel in the stores this week.

Germiny A L'Oseille
Adapted from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook

1/2 medium red onion, sliced
2 generous tsps butter
100g sorrel (more if you can find it, that's all I had)
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chicken broth/stock (home made is best, but all I had was organic packet broth so I used that)
1 egg
Around 1/3 cup heavy cream or non-dairy cream substitute (I used a rice-based cream substitute)
Salt and white pepper to taste (I totally forgot about the pepper. It was still fantastic.)

Slice the onion and shred the sorrel. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan and cook the onions in it slowly for about 5 minutes. Do not allow them to brown. Add the sorrel, reserving some for garnish. Salt and cook, covered, for 5 minutes more. Add the chicken broth and when it comes to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and puree in a blender. Season to taste. Keep the soup hot over a low flame.

In a mixing bowl combine the egg and cream / cream substitute. Beat with a whisk or fork, and slowly add in a cup of the hot soup, beating constantly. Gradually pour the mixture into the soup in the saucepan, beating with whisk or fork. Reheat for a minute or two, but do not allow soup to boil. Garnish with the leftover slivers of sorrel and serve hot.

Note: I added some leftover quinoa to the soup to give it a little bulk. It was surprisingly good!

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Taste of Burma

Life has been a freight train and roller coaster all mixed up into one happy conglomerate rush for several months, which has meant a lot less cookery, and hardly anything worth blogging about for a while.

Discovering the joys of Myanmar food however, and in particular, Shan tofu, is definitely something worth sharing and so I am.

My introduction to Myanmar cuisine comes by way of Naomi Duguid's excellent cookbook, Burma: Rivers of Flavor. As with her previous writing collaboration with Jeffrey Alford in Beyond The Great Wall, this is more than just a book about cookery - it gives a great deal of insight into both country and culture, and how the culture has shaped the cuisine of the region.

Shan tofu, or tohu, differs from what we normally know as tofu, in that it's made from chickpea flour instead of soybeans. It is extremely easy to prepare at home (basically it's chickpea flour, salt, and water), and is incredibly tasty and nutritious. And, of course, gluten free!

I made my batch of Shan tofu from Naomi's recipe, but this one I found online is pretty much the same in terms of ingredient quantities and instructions. I cut my quantities down to half the recipe (and the second time around I made it, I didn't even bother to grease a pan, I just poured it into one of those disposable, microwaveable plastic containers for easy storage, and it didn't stick at all so I may go with that from now on.)

Traditionally, Shan tofu is used to make tohu thoke (Shan Tofu Salad) or tohu byawk (Silky Shan Soup), but I just slice or scoop it into whatever salad greens I have, season it with a little soy sauce and rice vinegar, and have it as a light meal. If I happen to have any leftover meat, I'll put that in too, and that day I happened to have some poached chicken on hand, so it got cubed and tossed in as well.

Definitely a quick meal I suspect I'll be whipping up quite often in the days to come.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Strapped Cupboard Blues and Zucchini Noodles

Kitchen inspiration usually seems to strike when there's practically nothing - or at least very little - in the fridge or the pantry. After about a month of being extremely busy at work and alternating between tuna-corn salad and not-so-healthy food, I desperately wanted to get something healthy into my system to facilitate starting to workout again.

This would have been a noble undertaking, except all I had in the fridge veggies wise was one zucchini.

I wanted to make raw zucchini noodles, but what to have them with was a bit of a puzzle.

And then I remembered I had tahini, and I'd seen something about tahini sauces and dressings in my web meanderings at some point. I also had garlic, lemon, cold water, herb salt, a pot of rosemary, and Clothilde's Simple Tahini Sauce recipe.

Bonus: I also had frozen baby peas, and sundried tomatoes.


Zucchini Noodles with Peas, Sundried Tomatoes and Tahini Sauce

1 medium zucchini, sliced into thin ribbons
1-3 sundried tomatoes in oil, diced fine
1 quantity frozen baby peas
1 quantity Simple Tahini Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice zucchini into long fine ribbons or matchsticks. If you have a mandoline or grater, even better, but I did it with a knife. Put into a large bowl and set aside.

2. Snip sundried tomatoes into little dice, or cut them into strips. Use however much you like; if you’re fond of them use more, if you’re not so fond of them, use less. Mix them into the zucchini.

3. Put baby peas into a small pan of boiling water, and boil them just enough to get them to thaw out – about a minute or two, till they turn bright green. Drain, but reserve a little of the boiling water. Pour the peas, including the little bit of boiling water, onto the zucchini strips and sundried tomatoes. Mix together well – the hot water will wilt the zucchini strips a little so they won’t be so difficult to toss with the sauce.

4. Drizzle on a quantity of tahini sauce, toss everything together well, add salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve up and enjoy.

Note: I made a much smaller quantity of Tahini Sauce - about 1 tablespoon's worth of tahini, and just eyeballed the snipped rosemary. It was just enough for about one to two servings, depending on how sauce-drenched you enjoy your noodles.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sunshine for the Blahs

When life gets mentally and physically exhausting, sometimes all one wants is a good dose of something to take away the blahs. For me today, it was a bowl of liquid sunshine in the form of this delicious, raw carrot soup inspired by Emily of Emily Eats. It's a gorgeous colour, and even without the ginger and coconut flesh that the original recipe called for, the taste was fresh and clean and divine.

Just what was needed to kick the blahs to the curb today.

What’s-At-Hand Raw Carrot Soup for the Blahs
Inspired by Emily's carrot soup

1 large carrot, cut into rough chunks
1 ripe avocado
2 tbls or more lemon juice (or lime juice, in the original recipe)
1 good knob ginger (I didn’t have this)
Grated nutmeg and allspice or salt to taste (optional)
1-2 cups water or more (I eyeballed it, depends on how thick you want the soup)

Put carrot into blender. Cut avocado, scoop out flesh, and put into blender as well. Add the ginger, if you’ve got it – I didn’t, and I think it would have added some zing if I did have it on hand. Add 1/2 a cup to 1 cup water, enough to get everything blended together nicely. If it’s too thick, add some more water. Add in the lemon juice to taste – I like my soup a bit more tart as I think it brings the flavours of the carrot and avocado out more, but you may like less. Add the nutmeg and allspice if you want, or not at all – I happen to love the warm taste of allspice, but I know people who don’t like it either. Blend soup together again, adding more water if it’s still too thick for you. If you want to add salt, up to you, but I didn’t.

Serve up immediately, but I think it would be lovely chilled as well. I had mine with a big scoop of quinoa, and it was really good.

I had this chilled after coming home from work. It is divine. And it doesn't separate either!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sumer Is Icumen In (But Then It's Always Summer Here)

With the onset of Crazy Life, my brother's wedding, and being sick for a month, very little in the way of cookery has actually happened in the past couple months. The last was Chinese New Year with the huge batch of gluten-free bread, and the annual 36-Hour Chocolate Chip Cookies, and since then it's been go go go and mad rush.

Today however, I decided it was time to just get some home-cooked food on the table. Not least because it's comfort food and I've missed it, and it tends to make me feel better.

So here it is: my tribute to perpetual summer and artichokes. I'm crazy about artichokes. Even if they're canned since it's impossible to get the fresh ones here. Whatever works, I say, but if you don't like artichokes you can always substitute them with other vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, corn or even cauliflower. It'd work just fine I bet. The important thing is to make sure there's some measure of water covering everything so it won't scorch, and you're set.

Yin’s Slow Cooker Pesto Artichoke Chicken

1 medium jar pesto (mine was 190g of rocket pesto but any kind of pesto ought to do)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can artichoke hearts in brine or water
Half a small cabbage, red or white, shredded (I had red so I used red)
Frozen green peas, as much or as little as you want
Half a can corned beef (optional – I had it so I added it)

1. Lay chicken breasts down in crock pot. Add the shredded cabbage. Add the entire jar of pesto, then fill the pesto jar with water to get all the remains of the pesto out, and pour it onto the chicken and cabbage. Do this two or three more times, stir the pesto a little bit to get it all diluted.

2. Drain the artichoke hearts, but reserve about half to a quarter of the can of brine. Add artichokes and remaining brine on top of the chicken-cabbage-pesto mix.

3. Turn slow cooker to high and let it sit for 2.5-3 hours.

4. When slow cooker is done, turn it off. Shred the chicken breasts in the crock and mix it up well with the gravy and the artichoke hearts. Add the peas, cover the slow cooker and let it sit for 5 minutes. If you have the corned beef, add it at this point and stir it all up.

5. Dish up and serve hot with rice or pasta.