Friday, May 29, 2009

Italian Night: Loaded Pasta Casserole

I seem to have exceptionally poor timing when planning my baking nights lately. I live in London, and on any given day the temperature recently has been fluctuating so greatly that I never really know if it will be somewhat chilly or swelteringly hot. As it turned out, tonight was one of those very hot evenings when the last thing I felt like doing was switching on my oven. Of course, that wasn't really very practical, since I already had all of the ingredients ready to go for tonight's meal, so I toughed it out.

I had been inspired by some droolworthy photos I had seen on Precious Moments of a pasta bake she and a friend had made together one night. There was no recipe posted, so I did my best to interpret the ingredients from the before and after photos on her site. I then added my own ideas and I was very happy with the result.

Loaded Pasta Casserole (inspired by Precious Moments)
(8 servings)

8 ounces spiral shaped green pasta
8 ounces rigatoni
1 pound ground beef
1-2 tsp olive oil
1-2 tsp garlic, minced
1 cup orange sweet pepper, seeded, finely chopped
Lawry's seasoned salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 cups spaghetti sauce, approximately
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, approximately
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, chopped
4 sprigs fresh rosemary

I cooked about a pound of pasta total, mixing two different colored pasta shapes (green spirals and white rigatoni). While the pasta was cooking, I browned a pound of ground beef in a skillet with a touch of olive oil. I used very lean meat, so there really wasn't a lot of fat to drain off. Once the meat was browned through, I added about a cup of finely chopped orange sweet peppers (which I seeded first) and about a teaspoon or two of fresh minced garlic. I also added some seasoned salt and pepper. I let this cook while I drained the pasta and chopped up some fresh tomatoes, about 2 large juicy beefsteak tomatoes.

Next, I poured a bit of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9x13" glass baking dish, then sprinkled the meat mixture on top. I spooned another bit of sauce on top of the meat, then added the pasta noodles. I put the rest of the sauce on top of the noodles, then sprinkled the chopped tomatoes and about a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese all over the top. I tucked in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden and popped the casserole into a preheated 180C /350 F oven for about 30 minutes, uncovered.

Sweet and Simple Bakes Event: Lemon Curd Cupcakes

Although I have had my blog up and running for a year, I really have only started to focus on it with a gusto over the past few months. I am only now getting around to participating my very first blogging event - the Sweet and Simple Bakes Monthly Bake event, which this month is Lemon Curd Cupcakes. I was already in a very lemony mood today anyway and I had a jar of Duchy Originals lemon curd in my fridge just begging to be used up. This recipe seemed just the thing.

I followed the recipe exactly, with one minor exception. I had some sparkly yellow sanding sugar lying around and I thought it would be the perfect compliment to these cupcakes. I might have overdone the sugaring process a just a bit, but they sure looked like beautiful glittering gems when I was finished. The cupcakes were soft and fluffy, with a rich gooey lemon curd filling. Next time I might pump up the lemon flavor even more and add a drop of lemon extract or juice to the batter itself, and possibly some lemon rind too. Overall though, they turned out very nice. Perfect with a cup of tea.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Credit Crunch: Clara's Depression Era "Poor Man's Meal"

How fitting that in today's current economy credit crunch, I came across these charming cooking videos presented by Clara, a sweet 91 year old grandma who allowed her grandson to follow her around in the her kitchen while she cooked recipes and told stories about the Great Depression. All of her recipes in the video series are authentic, economical, and homey.

I decided to try her "Poor Man's Meal" tonight for supper. It was very easy, quick, and filling. It was also really tasty and I will definitely make this again. There was probably enough in the pan to feed about 6 people, but I would plan on them grabbing seconds, as this was really so good. I know I could not resist grabbing a second helping myself.

Here is my interpretation of her recipe:

Clara's Poor Man's Meal
(serves 4-6)

4 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes (roughly, enough to fill a large skillet)
1 small onion, peeled, cut into very thin slivers
1/4 cup sunflower oil, approximately
salt and pepper (I used Lawry's seasoned salt) (my addition)
garlic powder, a shake or two to taste (my addition)
2-3 large spoonfuls of spaghetti sauce
1/4-1/2 cup cold water
1 package of hot dogs, cut into coin shapes (about 6-8)

Note: In the video, Clara didn't really give specific measurements, and mine are just rough guesses based on what I did. She also didn't mention adding salt, pepper, or garlic, but I felt it needed some seasoning.

Basically, you toss the potatoes and onion slivers into a large skillet, add a generous glug of cooking oil (adding a dash of salt and pepper if desired) and cook over medium heat, stirring only occasionally, until the potatoes start to get soft and turn golden brown on several sides. This took maybe 15 minutes or so. Once they are browned, add the spaghetti sauce, water, and the sliced hot dogs and stir. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, if desired. I was pretty generous with the Lawry's. Once the potatoes are tender enough to break with a wooden spoon, the dish is ready to serve.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Japanese Dinner at Home

Tonight I decided to make a full traditional Japanese dinner, making everything myself except for the pickles and the dashi stock. I always feel so satisfied after eating a Japanese meal. Everything feels balanced and there is never too much of any one dish to make you feel like you need to go on a diet for a few weeks. I wanted to stick to tradition somewhat, so I made a typical meal of steamed rice, miso soup, some vegetable dishes, and then some teriyaki salmon and a bit of sushi.

(Note: normally you would probably not serve both sushi and the salmon teriyaki together in the same meal, but I just felt like having some.)

Inside Out California Rolls
(1 roll, 6 slices)

wasabi paste (optional)
pickled ginger (optional)
about 1 cup steamed sushi rice, at room temperature
rice wine vinegar (mixed with a pinch of sugar)
a few strips of avocado
a few strips of seeded cucumber
1 small crabstick, cut into thin strips
1 sheet of Nori (sushi seaweed)
sesame seeds

Ah the ubiquitous California roll. I absolutely love these. I have been making them for years and really, they are a lot less complicated than you might think. I am at the point where I think I could make these while half asleep, they are really that easy.

Squirt a tiny bit of wasabi paste onto a serving dish, add a slice or two of pickled ginger beside it. Set this aside for now.

Sprinkle the rice with a little bit of rice vinegar and toss gently to combine, spreading it out on a small plate. If your rice is still warm, let it cool a bit, unless you like soggy Nori.

Set out a small dish of cold water and lay the sheet of Nori onto a cutting board. Dip your hands into the water to moisten them (this helps keep the rice from sticking to you) and spread the rice over the nori in one flat layer, re-dipping your fingers as needed. The amount of rice is a guess - I usually just steam a bunch of it, and portion out a small amount to make a sushi roll with, saving the rest for fried rice the next day. Leave a tiny strip of Nori showing at one end (this will make it easier to seal the sushi into a log later).

Take some sesame seeds and sprinkle them over the rice. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the rice and then carefully flip the whole thing upside down. Now the plastic wrap should be on your work surface, and the bare side of the Nori should be staring at you, all green and crispy looking (unless you were impatient and didn't heed my earlier warning to let the rice cool down first; if you did, don't worry - I did my first try too and did I learn my lesson!).

Take your thin strips of avocado and lay them about 1 inch from one of the edges. It doesn't really matter which edge - choose the long edge if you like thinner slices, a short edge for fatter slices. Next lay the crab in a line, right next to the avocado, followed by the cucumber. (If you like, you can add a squirt of Kewpie mayo here or a little wasabi, I usually don't use either for this).

Lay another sheet of plastic wrap on top of a sushi rolling mat, or - if you have managed to misplace your mat like I managed to do today - just lay the plastic wrap on top of the sushi roll. It is a lot easier to use the mat and they usually are very inexpensive and pretty easy to find. In fact, consider buying two of them so you too can misplace one and still be able to make effortless sushi rolls. Remember that tiny strip of Nori you left exposed earlier? Dip your finger into the water and lightly dampen that strip. Using the plastic wrapped mat as a guide, start rolling up the sushi roll, staring with the side where you lined up your fillings. Just roll it over once, pressing gently but firm enough to make it stay in place. Continue rolling and pressing until you get to the end, resulting in a log shape. Remove the mat and all of the plastic.

Take a very sharp knife, get the blade wet to prevent sticking, and carefully slice the log into rounds. Place the cut sushi pieces onto the plate you set up earlier with the wasabi and the ginger. Serve immediately, or as soon as possible.

One more important note: I was all out of sushi rice today since I have been cleaning out my pantry of all ingredients before I move back to the US. I had to use Jasmine rice today and although I love the flavor, it really is not an ideal choice for making sushi, as it is very difficult to work with. I really recommend using sushi rice, it really makes things so much neater and easier.

Salmon Teriyaki

(2 servings)

2 salmon fillets
1 Tbsp sake
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin
1 pinch sugar
1-2 tsp oil

I was supposed to be following a recipe from the book Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat but I really didn't pay careful attention at all. I had already accidentally mixed the mirin into the marinade and said the heck with it, closed the book, and went with what I knew. It isn't as if teriyaki is all that hard in the first place. You make a marinade, let the fish marinate in it for about 15 minutes while your pan heats up, then cook the fish in a hot, lightly oiled pan for about 6 minutes, flipping once. You can cook it longer if you prefer, but I like my salmon to be only just cooked through, even a bit undercooked.

The book suggested making a marinade and then a separate sauce as well, but I just combined all of the ingredients into the marinade and cooked the marinade along with the fish. I thought this gave the fish a lovely color.

Quick Miso Soup
(serves 2-4)

400 ml dashi stock (or 1/2 tsp instant dashi powder mixed with 400 ml boiling water)
dried wakame, soaked for 10 minutes in cold water, then drained and squeezed dry
a few chunks of fresh tofu
1 spring onion, chopped finely, as a garnish, optional
1/2-1 tsp miso paste

Simply heat some dashi stock then whisk in the miso until blended. Just before serving drop in the wakame and the tofu, and garnish with some spring onions. Sometimes I don't bother with the wakame, or I add some cooked fresh baby spinach instead or some mushrooms. I have even been known to toss in a cherry tomato.

I don't usually bother to measure this terribly accurately, so I used the measurements from this video demo, since it is essentially the same recipe I use.

Some steamed rice to serve on the side, simply made in a rice cooker.

Wakame, Cucumber & Tofu Salad
(1 serving)

~1 tbsp dried wakame
1/4 cup English or Japanese cucumber, in wafer thin half moons
a pinch of salt
cold water
a few slices of fresh tofu, drained
sesame seeds

1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar

Place the wakame in a small dish and cover with cold water, allow to soak for 10 minutes. Place the cucumber slices in another small dish and sprinkle with pinch of salt, rub the salt into the cucumber lightly with your fingers, then cover with cold water. Let this soakd for 10 minutes as well. Drain each well, squeezing gently to remove the excess water. Set the cucumber, wakame and tofu slices neatly in a bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Mix together dressing and spoon over the salad right before serving.

Note: I very loosely followed a recipe in the Yo! Sushi cookbook for this salad.

Some Japanese pickled vegetables, from the Japanese market. Sorry, it isn't very pretty but it does taste good. It is nice to have a bite of pickle as a palate cleanser between each dish.

What I did with my Leftovers: Chicken Salad Sandwiches

I intentionally set aside some of the breast meat when I boiled my chicken the other day, in order to make this simple but tasty chicken salad recipe. It is one of the easiest versions I make, and also probably one of my all time favorites. I started making it this way after watching an old episode of Calling All Cooks, which used to air on the Food Network, but sadly got canceled after a few seasons.

Garlic Chicken Salad
(serves 4)

2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cooked, diced, and fully chilled
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I like Kewpie Japanese mayo, but use your favorite), to taste
1/2 stalk celery, diced very finely
salt and pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste, be generous
1 small handful sliced almonds, roughly

Mix everything together, being stingy with the mayo and generous with the garlic and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking. I like to sprinkle a few extra almonds on top as well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

American Comfort Classics: Cornbread, Chicken and Dumplings

My daughter has a cold, so I decided to boil a chicken to make some homemade stock and use it to make Chicken and Dumplings. It is my standard knee jerk reaction - someone is sick, make chicken soup! In fact, I have even been known to make chicken soup when I myself am the one sick in bed.

Chicken and Dumplings recipes are pretty easy to come by, but most of them don't go into much detail about how to boil the chicken in the first place. It is really very easy to do and can be used to make other things besides Chicken and Dumplings, such as Chicken Noodle Soup. Here is how I boil my chicken and make my own stock:

Boiled Chicken & Homemade Stock
(makes about 4 cups cooked chicken meat, and 10 cups stock)

1 whole chicken, about 3-4 pounds, giblets removed
water, to almost cover the chicken
2 carrots, peeled
1 large celery stalk,cut in half
1 small onion, peeled, root end cut off
salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken bouillon cube

Take a clean chicken and place it into a deep stock pot. Add enough cold water to mostly cover the chicken. Cover and set over medium-medium high heat and bring to a boil, about 10-15 minutes. Once it boils, skim off any of the white scum that has risen to the top. Add the vegetables and grind some salt and pepper over the chicken itself (about 10-12 grinds each). Add the bouillon cube to the water. Reduce the heat to fairly low, put the cover back on and allow the chicken to simmer for 1 hour. When it is ready, the chicken should easily fall off the bone.

Remove the chicken to a bowl and allow to cool. Strain the stock through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard all of the now soggy vegetables. Allow the stock to cool, then skim off the fat. Remove skin and bones from the chicken.

If I were planning to make chicken noodle soup, I would at this point use some of the stock to boil some sliced carrots, celery, and skinny egg noodles, adding seasonings and herbs and then some of the chicken meat, heating it all together until everything becomes tender.

For the chicken and dumplings, I decided to try the recipe demonstrated here. I used all 10 cups of the stock I had made, and most of the chicken meat. (I wanted to save some for chicken salad sandwiches for tomorrow). What I liked about this version, and what made me decide to try it, was the use of soft flour tortillas to create the dumplings. I have been making a tortilla soup for years that uses the same idea, so I already knew this trick would work out well. Flour tortillas are made from the same ingredients you normally would use in a noodle style dumpling, so really it isn't that strange. When they boil in the stock, they soften and become very tender.

To accompany the Chicken and Dumplings, I made some cornbread, some stewed squash, and a simple tomato and cucumber salad.

This cornbread is a unique version I picked up years ago, but I am uncertain of the source. It is called WWII Custard Cornbread, and it bakes up very low in the pan. Extra milk is poured over the batter right before baking, which seeps into the batter as it cooks, creating a moist middle. I suppose this is where the "custard" part comes in. I am not quite sure that I would quite call it custard myself, it is really just a moist center. However, it is really quite tasty.

WWII Custardy Cornbread
(8 slices)

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk mixed with a bit of lemon juice)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk (whole works best), for pouring over the batter

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a round stoneware baking dish (I would think a cast iron skillet would work well too) well with butter or oil and pop the dish into the oven to warm up for about 5-10 minutes as the oven preheats.

Mix together the ingredients except the whole milk. Just mix them to combine, it can be slightly lumpy. Pour the batter into the warm pan and then drizzle the 1/2 cup milk over the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool some before slicing into 8 wedges.

This squash is addictive. I wanted to serve some kind of stewed vegetable on the side, but I didn't want to make black-eyed peas and okra as seen in the Chicken and Dumplings video. Since I love squash and wanted to use up some canned tomatoes, I decided to make a version of this recipe. I only used 2 zucchini but kept the other measurements the same. It was absolutely delicious and one of the best new veggie dishes I have tried in a long time. The tomato sauce is rich and very garlicky.

The salad was just some diced English cucumber and fresh diced tomatoes. I didn't really make a dressing; I just sprinkled the veggies with a pinch of salt, pepper, sugar, and a tiny tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I didn't have any fresh basil or I would have added some in, so instead I added just a bit of dried Italian seasoning.

Japanese Iced Tea (Mugicha)

When it is incredibly hot out, my favorite beverage to turn to is iced tea. It is refreshing, very inexpensive to make, and incredibly easy to prepare. I like to use Japanese barley tea bags, which produces Mugicha (unsweetened barley tea). It has a very different taste from other types of tea.. an almost sweet nuttiness. It is really delicious. You can find packages of barley tea bags already perfectly sized for brewing iced tea in any good Japanese market. And it could not be simpler...

(2 quarts)

2 large barley tea bags
2 quarts cold water (not hot or the tea will taste very bitter)

Steep in the fridge overnight (or at least 8 hours). Remove tea bags and enjoy.

Note: This is exactly how I make American style unsweetened iced tea as well, only using 2 family size tea bags.

Here is a picture I took of the package:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What I did with my Leftovers: Spam & Pineapple Curry Fried Rice

I have always been good about leftovers. As a child, leftovers were never something to be feared or ignored. We rarely had mysterious tubs of creepy leftovers lurking forgotten in the back corners of the fridge or frightening foil wrapped packets of scary old frost-bitten meat in the freezer. Both of my parents are really good cooks and either the food was gone the first night it was served, or it was used up promptly over the next few days. Finding a leftover bit of meatloaf was a joy, a treasure to be savored. We wanted to eat our leftovers, and they were gobbled up fast.

As a result, my approach to leftovers has never been negative. I don't dread them, I reuse them, reforming them into something new and often completely different from their original form. In fact, I often intentionally make extra just so I can have leftovers to work with later in the week. Such was the case yesterday, when I made the rice for my Onigiri. I made sure I had extra steamed rice so that I could use up the rest of my spam in fried rice the next day. Fried rice is a wonderful way to use up small amounts of leftover meats and vegetables and usually pleases everyone who eats it.

Recently, I had been reading some posts over at My Kitchen Snippets, in particular her recipe for Thai Pineapple Fried Rice. Taking inspiration from her version, I altered my usual fried rice and here is what I came up with:

Spam & Pineapple Curry Fried Rice
(serves 4)

1 Tbsp sunflower oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp mined fresh ginger
3 slices spam, diced (or about a cup or so of any leftover meat you prefer)
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed briefly in warm water and drained
1 Tbsp mild curry powder
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
white pepper, to taste
about 3 cups cooked short grain rice, chilled overnight (measured after cooking)
1 (15 ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained or about 1 1/2-2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
sesame oil, to taste
hot sauce, to taste

Heat a wok or large skillet with deep sides. Add a little oil to the pan over about medium heat and allow to get hot. Add garlic, ginger, and onions and stir fry until fragrant, just a minute or two. Add the spam and peas and sitr fry until the meat begins to brown a bit, just a few minutes. Add the curry powder, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and a hearty dash of white pepper, stirring to combine.

Add the rice and break up chunks using your spoon, tossing to coat evenly. Make a well in the center and add the drained pineapple chunks. Let them warm up and brown a bit, tosssing them over to brown evenly and stirring the rice a bit as well so it doesn't burn. Mix together. Drizzle with a small amount of sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings (I added another dash of white pepper). Serve, adding a few drops of hot sauce to individual servings if preferred.

NOTE: If your chilled rice is being difficult and insists on clumping up, use a potato masher to gently press the lumps apart. Just don't be over eager or you will end up with mush.

*In case any of you were wondering, I used a US measuring spoon today to carefully measure out the seasonings. I know a lot of people have trouble eyeballing the seasonings for fried rice, ending up with overly salty, soy-saucey rice. I used Usukuchi soy sauce (Japanese light colored soy).

Fried Rice on Foodista

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sometimes easy food is best (Ramen Egg Foo Yung)

I wanted to make something simple tonight for supper and so I turned to an old favorite. I can't count how many times I have made this since I first tried it. It is one of the easiest and most inexpensive dishes. This is great for students or people with tiny kitchens as it requires just a skillet and a water boiler. I got this recipe from Pot Scrubber over on Recipezaar, his original version of the recipe is here.

Here is my adaptation:

Potsy's Ramen Egg Foo Yung
(serves 1-2)

1 package ramen noodles, unprepared
boiling water, to cover

2 large eggs
1/2 ramen seasoning packet (or about 1 1/2 tsp bouillon powder)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 green onion, finely sliced or 1-2 Tbsp minced red onion
2 mushrooms, thinly sliced, optional (sauteed first in a bit of oil)
1 Tbsp butter or margarine, or more if needed
Katsu Sauce, to drizzle

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. While it is heating, drop the dry noodles into a deep bowl. Pour boiling water on top, covering the noodles completely. Cover with a plate or lid and let steep 5 minutes.

Meanwhile whisk together half of the ramen seasoning packet (or use a little bouillon powder), the eggs, sesame oil, soy sauce, and baking powder. Stir in the onions (and mushrooms if using). Set this near the stove along with a pair of chopsticks and a spatula.

Drain the water from the noodles. Heat an 8" skillet over medium-low heat and melt the butter (or margarine). Add the noodles to the pan, allowing them to completely cover the base of the pan. Allow this to brown for about 3 minutes, then pour the egg mixture evenly over the noodles, using the chopsticks to gently move the noodles ever so slightly so that the egg mixture can flow in and around them evenly. Try not to actually stir - the idea is to keep the noodles together to make almost a pancake.

As soon as the egg looks almost set, use the spatula and the chopsticks to carefully flip the noodle pancake over. This may take some practice at first. Once flipped, allow to cook another 30 seconds, then cut into 4 wedges and remove from the pan.

Although the original version states that this is just 1 serving, I personally serve only two wedges, lightly drizzled with some Katsu sauce on top, per portion. It all depends on your appetite :) I like this with a tossed salad on the side.

NOTE: This is a great way to use up leftover spaghetti! About 1-2 cups of cooked spaghetti noodles, refreshed under some hot water and drained can replace the ramen. Then, instead of ramen seasoning, add any flavor bouillon powder.

Japanese Bento Lunch on a Plate

Today I decided to prepare a selection of Japanese Bento items for my lunch. Once again, I turned to one of Francis' excellent cooking demos for the items I made, with some slight variations based on what I already had in my house. Bento meals are very flexible and are often just a great way of using up leftovers. Usually you would use an actual Bento box, which is a container designed to present your lunch in an attractive and often whimsical way. However, you do not actually have to have a Bento lunch box, any sealable plastic container with compartments will do. Or, you can do as I did today, and just serve the items humbly together on a plate.

Francis' video included several different items - Onigiri (riceballs), which are made from freshly steamed and slightly cooled short grain rice, molded with your hands into shapes (balls or triangles usually), then dipped into Furikake (riceball seasonings, available in Asian markets in small packets). You then take some Nori (the green crisp seaweed used in making sushi), cut it into strips that will fit around the base of your riceball, and wrap the riceball. The Nori is not only there for looks, it also makes the riceball a bit easier to hold.

This may seem tricky to get the hang of at first, but really they are incredibly easy and quite delicious. Keeping a dipping bowl of cold water handy will help keep sticky rice from turning to glue on your fingers and kitchen shears are perfect for cutting the Nori into a more manageable size. You can also poke a hole into your riceballs and stuff them with small amounts of fillings such as grilled salmon or terijaki chicken.

Another item I tried today was Honeyed Pumpkin - thinly sliced pieces of pumpkin (I used butternut squash today) briefly fried and then drizzled with honey. I also briefly marinated some chunks of skinless boneless chicken breasts in some hot sauce, then dusted them with a bit of potato starch (you could also use cornstarch), then fried along with e pumpkin. Frying might be the more traditional method, but next time I will simply roast the pumpkin and the chicken.

One of my favorite things was the Spinach Tamagoyaki, simply a scrambled egg cooked in a square skillet and rolled up around some freshly steamed spinach. I used baby chard, since I was all out of spinach, although I think any green leafy vegetable would work beautifully in this. After blanching the chard briefly in boiling water, I dropped it into ice water, drained it well, then drizzled with a touch of soy sauce. Cook the scrambled egg as if you were making an omelette, dropping the cooked greens on top while the egg is still slightly undercooked, and then rolling the egg over the filling. Francis also made some cute sausage octopus creatures and a rabbit shaped apple; I skipped the apple and just cooked a few slices of spam that I had cut into chunks.

The remaining dish I made was Japanese Style Potato Salad, which was just a bit of thinly sliced carrot and potato boiled together and lightly crushed, then mixed with some cucumber, a tiny tiny bit of rice vinegar and Kewpie mayo, a pinch of sugar, and a bit of pepper. I actually made this first and let it chill in the fridge while I prepared the other dishes.

Everything turned out really delicious, even if I made a huge mess in the kitchen trying to cook everything at once.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Finally Accepted!

It took a few weeks, but finally today I received notification that I am now a member of the Foodie Blogroll. If you want to check it out, there is a widget on the lower right side of this blog. It is basically a place for other food bloggers to get together and find other food blogs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chicken & Rice and Strawberry Filled Hazelnut Roll

I wonder if every blogger starts out by wandering through blog after blog the way I do, joyfully discovering a seemingly endless path of new recipes to choose from. Each new recipe I find links me to yet another, and another. My Mastercook cookbook is bulging with new finds and my favorites list now looks like it is a few miles long.

Tonight's dinner was the result of a few blog hops .. the first a chicken and rice dish that was so very easy and so flavorful. I am sure to make this one again. I used a recipe I found here.

The flavor of the marinade was excellent. I used about 1 kilo of chicken legs, the large ones with the thigh and drumstick still attached to each other. One change I did make was that I skinned the chicken before browning it. I also roasted it a bit longer - 15 minutes with the foil, then 20 minutes more after removing the foil. Because I had skinned the chicken beforehand, it was very simple to chop up the meat once it was cooked without having the mess of skin to deal with.

I had been reading some older posts over at Anne's Food and was immediately drawn to the Raspberry Nutroll her friend, Anna, had made one day. Ok I wasn't just drawn to it.. I was drooling over it. Anne was kind enough to track down the recipe for me and share it despite not having tested it herself yet.

This was my first ever nutroll and I had my share of usual kitchen mishaps but the end result was really quite delicious, if a bit sloppy looking.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Leftovers: BBQ Chicken Pizza

This pizza used to be very popular on the Cooking Light forums. Try it and you will see why it caused such a stir. I can't count how many times I have made this since I first tried it. The original version can be found here.

Although the original version calls for grilling the pizza, I instead make my own pizza crust and just bake the pizza at whatever temperature and time the pizza crust recipe I happened to use that night suggests.

I used the remaining micro-poached chicken I had made earlier in the week. This recipe is really a great use of leftovers and is easy enough to make when you want something in about 15 minutes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dark Cherry Muffins

Years ago, when I used to live in Kansas, I had a house with a cherry tree. It had been left untended for who knows how many years when I moved in, yet was still producing an abundance of wonderful, fresh tart pie cherries. My freezer was packed full of tiny bags of cherries portioned out to easily grab out and thaw to use in this recipe.

But alas, after a short time, I moved again and have not had the luxury of having my own private cherry tree in my back yard since then. If you can find real, tart baking cherries, they are amazing in these muffins. However, most grocery stores seem to only sell sweet cherries or baking cherries that have already been soaked in a sweet sticky syrup. I tried using dark sweet frozen cherries this time and they turned out really quite good anyway, if an odd hue of purplish blue.

Here is the recipe:

Dark Cherry Muffins
(makes 12 muffins)

2 1/2 cups frozen unsweetened cherries (590 ml)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (112.5 grams), at room temperature
1 cup sugar (225 grams)
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour (or 220 grams British Plain flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk or single cream (120 ml)
demerara sugar, to sprinkle on tops, optional

Cut cherries into halves while still frozen, then thaw completely, draining well. Portion out 1/2 cup of the cherries and mash them; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the extracts and the eggs until smooth.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Using a spoon, stir half of the flour mixture into the creamy mixture, then add half of the milk, stirring just to combine; repeat with the reamaining flour and milk, being very careful not to overmix. Fold in the cherries.

Spoon into a 12 hole muffin tin pan that has been lined with paper liners. You can of course grease them instead and hope they don't stick but having tried this myself, you are far better off with the pretty paper liners. If you wish, sprinkle each with a tiny bit of demerara sugar.

Bake in a preheated 375 F (190 C) oven for 20-30 minutes or until puffed, golden, and no longer goopy when you stick a toothpick into the centers.

Allow to cool no matter how much they cry and beg you to eat them NOW. Molten hot cherries are painful.

NOTE: This recipe is a prime example of why weighing ingredients can be quite helpful, and in some cases, downright essential, especially when baking. Sugar weighs more than flour, hence the head scratchingly disparate numbers in grams for what at first glance would appear to be some strange measurements.

I originally posted this same recipe here in case you would like a printer friendly version.

Blog Hopping: Comfort Cooking with Oak Cottage

Ah, the humble chicken casserole. I had been dreaming of this dish ever since I first saw Marie's recipe for Chicken Crumble on her blog. For something so very easy to prepare, and so frugal and versatile, a chicken casserole packs a huge comfort pay-off. Rich, warm, filling, and delicious.

I had picked a somewhat warm evening to prepare this recipe and had decided to drag my laptop into the kitchen with me while I cooked. You see, I was in the middle of an important conversation with my best friend, and decided to risk powdering my pc with flour to continue chatting while whipping up my culinary comfort feast. Now really.. would you turn down the prospect of having both your best friend in your kitchen (albeit virtually) while you cook and cry over the days woes and also get to eat chicken casserole? Surely not!

Well, the filling for the casserole was quite easy. I started with micro-poaching some chicken breasts. I suppose a recipe would be somewhat helpful for that so here it is:

Micro-Poached Chicken Breasts (adapted from a recipe here)
(4 servings)

4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth
white pepper, to taste

Place the chicken breasts in a ring around the edges of a microwave safe baking dish, pour the liquid over the chicken, and dust lightly with the pepper. Cover, leaving some edges vented (I used plastic wrap with two corners turned up) and cook about 5-7 minutes, or until the chicken feels somewhat firmer but not rubbery and the juices in the dish are not pink. Leave in the microwave, still covered, for 20-30 minutes to rest. This resting time is important, don't skip it! The chicken finishes cooking and absorbs moisture as it rests. Remove from the liquid and dice or slice as needed for your recipe.

Note: This is supposed to be quite bland, as the finished chicken is meant to be added to recipes, so don't be tempted to add salt or other flavorings unless you are planning to eat this as is.

Now about that casserole.. everything was working without a hitch until I got to the crumble topping. Marie's recipe calls for rubbing butter into the floury topping ingredients with your fingers. I had one hand in my floury bowl of butter and kept my other hand free to occasionally reach over to type on my laptop. The crumble was looking crumbly and everything was fine and carefree. Then we got to the egg part. Adding the egg to the topping required a bit more attention than I was willing to give at the time and I overmixed it, turning my crumble into paste. I probably should have added a sprinkle of flour at this point but I did not. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, I suggest grabbing a spoonful of flour.

This did not result in disaster... just a bit more work on my part. I carefully plucked off tiny pieces of my topping paste and dropped them on top of the filling. This took ages to do, but it worked. Finally. the casserole went into the oven. I broke one bowl and chipped another in my haste to clean up my kitchen while still chatting away. I do not recommend trying to wash dishes and chat on a laptop in your kitchen at the same time. In the end though, both the conversation and the delicious casserole were worth it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently the victim of a crime. All of my money vanished in a span of a few hours to some thieves who had managed to obtain my debit card information illegally and not only cleared out my entire balance, but also dipped into my overdraft protection. I am still climbing out of that mess, so there hasn't exactly been much cooking for pleasure going on around here. Not only was I faced with a dire lack of funds, but I am getting ready to move back to the US in a couple of months, so I have been trying to use up my pantry staples and the contents of my fridge and freezer.

Luckily, I had some frozen Bubba Burgers in my freezer, left over from a party a couple of months ago. I had some bits of veggies still lurking in my fridge.. a bit of somewhat dodgey looking cos lettuce, a bit of onion, and a tiny and slightly over ripe tomato sitting on my counter. Oh! and a small chunk of Cashel Blue. The one thing I did not have was any bread or rolls.

Since I love to bake, and normally have an abundance of flours and other baking essentials, I dug deep into my pantry and found that I did indeed have enough wheat flour remaining to produce a small amount of buns. I did not have all day to sit around waiting for bread to rise, however, so I searched around the web for something I could make in a short window of time.

I was unable to find a recipe that had both the speed of preparation I needed and called for the ingredients I had on hand, or more importantly.. did not call for any ingredients I would have to run out to buy with my empty wallet. So I combined a couple of versions and was happy with the results. I think I am still on a quest for perfection, but that can be done when I have a bit more freedom of choice in my ingredient selection.

Honey Wheat Buns
(makes 12 medium sized hamburger buns)

1 1/8 cup lukewarm water
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup honey (mine was thyme honey)
2 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1 cup plain flour (all-purpose white flour)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp butter or margarine, melted (for brushing bun tops)
sesame seeds, for sprinkling buns, optional

In a mixing bowl, combine water, oil, honey, and yeast granules using a whisk, blending well until the yeast granules appear to be fully dissolved. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes; it should foam up heavily.

Add the salt and egg, mixing well. Then stir in the flours, mixing until well combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, dust your hands with some flour, and knead until the dough is soft and pliable, about 5-10 minutes, adding tiny amounts of extra flour only if needed to prevent sticking. (Try to avoid adding too much extra flour).

Form dough into 12 balls and set onto lightly greased baking sheets, leaving large spaces between each and pressing them ever so slightly so they look more bun shaped and not dinner roll shaped. Cover with greaseproof paper (or a clean tea towel) and allow to rest for 30 minutes. This does not require a long rise and they will not grow too much while resting.

Preheat your oven to 425 F (220 C) while the dough is resting and melt a small amount of butter. Brush the tops of each bun with a small amount of butter, then sprinkle seeds on top, pressing if needed with your fingers to keep them in place. Bake for 10 minutes, or until they are golden, puffed, and sound hollow on the bottom when you tap them. Allow to cool on racks.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Credit Crunch: Cupboard Cooking

I am getting ready to move back to the US in a few months, so I have been trying to use up ingredients I have stashed in my cupboards. There can be no greater incentive to actually do this as when you find out that you have been robbed of every dime you have. Thieves managed to get ahold of my atm card info and wiped me clean. So until that mess is all taken care of, I am pretty much stuck with whatever I already have in the house. Digging around in the cupboards, I found a couple of sample size jars of Indian curry sauces, a packet of Tilda basmati rice, some canned chickpeas, some canned tomatoes, 2 lonely medium potatoes, some chutney, and a few chicken breasts. So I made a curry sampler meal.

I used a recipe I found here for the chickpea recipe. It was pretty good, although for some reason the canned chickpeas were a bit too firm; perhaps simmering longer would fix this problem. The sauces I used for my chicken were from the premium line from Patak's, "Meena's" and were quite good really.. the bottles were only enough for 1 serving each. I cooked up the diced chicken first, then divided it into two pans, using Creamy Korma for one and Tikka Masala for the other half. I have not seen this line in grocery stores yet, which is a shame as it was not as salty & heavy as some of the regular line can sometimes be. I don't tend to buy prebottled curry sauces normally, but I would consider buying this one line if I ever did see it.