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!