Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Reward for Clearing out my Pantry

My pantry is finally really looking quite bare, so I decided to treat myself to a nice selection of sushi and tempura from the local Japanese restaurant that thankfully delivers. It was wonderful, partly due to the fact that it required no cleaning up afterward. I really will miss the ease of having sushi delivered to my door on a whim, something I am not sure will be as readily available in Florida, where I am moving. I had a nice sampling of sushi rolls and nigiri, an avocado & crabstick hand roll, some tamagoyaki, and some shrimp and aubergine tempura.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bubbe's Meatballs

Earlier last week, I spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking and baking up food to store in my fridge and freezer, in order to have some home cooked meals to eat while I spend another week in my nearly empty house. This recipe for Sweet & Sour Meatballs caught my eye not only because it was easy and called for very few ingredients (a plus when you are cleaning out your cupboards), but also because unlike many sweet & sour recipes, this version does not contain any ketchup and also does not call for pineapple. Instead, mild chili sauce is mixed with grape jelly to produce the sauce. I know this sounds a bit offbeat, but it really was quite good, if a bit sweet. I think you could likely try other combinations of jelly flavors, such as red pepper jelly. These were really easy and quite tasty, and they do indeed freeze and reheat beautifully.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Credit Crunch: Corned Beef Hash

Well, my entire house has been packed up and shipped back to the US now. Luckily the microwave and the furniture is all part of of the house, so I still can heat things up. And to my great delight, I was brought a huge box of kitchen supplies to borrow with enough basics to fry up eggs and other really simple things like that. Using the borrowed dishes, I whipped up a quick breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs. I didn't really follow a recipe and I certainly didn't measure. It was tasty, easy, and again - was the result of items I had left in my kitchen.

I only had 2 rather large-ish potatoes and few small onions, a tin of corned beef (an ingredient I just never use, it was given to me and just kind of sat there in my pantry), and almost no herbs and spices to season with. I did have some Tabasco sauce and some salt and pepper, and some fresh eggs.

Corned Beef Hash
(4 servings, roughly)

sunflower oil, as needed
1 knob of butter
2 large potatoes, diced (I didn't bother to peel them)
1-2 tsp fresh garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste
1/4 cup of water, approximately
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tin corned beef, diced
4 eggs

Poke the potatoes a few times with a fork and then pop them into the microwave to cook for a few minutes. I didn't cook them all the way, I just wanted them a bit softer to speed up the cooking process and also to reduce the amount of frying oil I would need later.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a bit of oil - maybe 1-2 Tbsp at most, and throw in a small knob of butter. Add the potatoes and saute a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. Add a grind of salt and pepper, and a splash of Tabasco. Add the garlic and the onions and a small amount of water, to help the potatoes cook. and give it a good stir. Continue cooking until the potatoes and onions are almost fully tender. Add the corned beef and stir well, the meat will break up. When the potatoes are tender enough to break with a plastic spoon, and the meat is heated through, it is ready. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove to a serving bowl and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean and then heat it over medium-low, adding a touch more butter. Fry the eggs for a few minutes, then serve eggs along with a scoop of hash. I served it with a slice of my rosemary bread slathered with some olive oil spread.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rosemary Bread

I had a bunch of bread flour left over in my pantry, so I decided to use a lot of it up in a loaf of bread. Yes, I really do love to bake that much that I baked a loaf of bread right before my movers were coming to pack up my house.

I had been flipping through some cooking magazines that caught my eye while out picking up a few odds and ends at the store, and a recipe in one of them jumped out at me. It was a picture of a loaf of rosemary bread, with a very simple and basic list of ingredients. I thought - wow, I actually have everything I need for this in my house still! I even have a huge rosemary plant outside in my garden, just perfect for this recipe. I didn't really want to purchase the magazine at the time, but luckily was able to ask Marie if she had a copy and sure enough, she did.

Fresh Rosemary Bread (thanks to Marie, adapted from Country Kitchen magazine)
(makes one 2-pound size loaf)

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
50 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar

Mix the above together and set aside for about 15 minutes to activate the yeast. It should appear foamy and bubbly.

500 g plain flour (I used bread flour as that was all I had)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (yes, this is extra sugar)
70 ml olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (this did not make it spicy)
200 ml warm water, or as needed

egg wash:
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 pinch salt
1 handful coarse salt, for sprinkling over top (I used Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt)

Grease a loaf tin and preheat your oven to 400 F (205 C).

Prepare the yeast mixture and once it has foamed up, add in the flour, salt, additional sugar, olive oil, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and as much of the water as needed to make a smooth ball of dough that isn't too dry or too sticky. (You may need a little more or less depending on the humidity that day, I had to add a few extra spoonfuls of water when I made mine).

Once the dough has formed into a ball, knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover with lightly greased clingfilm, and let rise 30 minutes.

Give the dough a punch to deflate it, replace the clingfilm, and then let it rise another 30 minutes.

Punch the poor dough a third time (what-did-it-ever-do-to-you-anyway?). Now gently (ironic, huh?) form it into a loaf shape and place it into your greased loaf tin. Cover it as before and allow to to rise until almost doubled in size. No more punching!

Once the bread has risen, brush it with a bit of egg wash (egg mixed with a pinch of salt), then liberally sprinkle with coarse salt. Get a sharp knife, dust the knife with flour, then give the top of the loaf a few slashes. Grab a shallow roasting tin and place it on the bottom of your oven, then add 1-2 cups of hot water to the tin. Now place your loaf tin in the center over the oven. (Do NOT put the loaf tin into the pan of water!) The idea here is to allow the steam to rise and help crisp up the crust.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden and the bottom sounds hollow when you rap on it. Allow to cool on a rack before slicing. Devour! This is a great choice to use on sandwiches.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stocking the Freezer: Pasta Sauce Two Ways

Moving is always such a stressful busy time for me. You would think after several months of downsizing my pantry that I would have finally run it dry by now, but alas, I still have quite a few things left to use up. Moving house really makes you realize just how much food you really have stockpiled in every nook and cranny of your kitchen.

All of my things will be packed up this week and shipped back to the US, so I will be without my kitchen supplies for a while. I have another week left here before I actually leave, however. Rather than spending every night eating out, I wanted to stock my fridge and freezer with home cooked meals. Not only is it friendlier on my waistline and my wallet, but it also uses up a lot of loose ends of food I still would otherwise have to get rid of.

I gathered up all the remnants of the bags of pasta shapes I had tucked in the cupboards and cooked them all together, which I then bagged up in separate freezer pouches. Then I made a batch of Bubbe's Sweet & Sour Meatballs, popping them in a pouch and into the freezer to eat later in the week with some rice. I also made a half batch of Bolognese Sauce, using this recipe.

I planned to serve half of the sauce with the one bag of my pasta melange and use the other half in some baked ziti. I also packaged up the leftover Jelly Jammies and Chocolate Orange Drizzle Loaf.

Here is what I did with the Bolognese Sauce the first night:

And then meal number two ... a variation of my usual Baked Ziti recipe, with a few changes in order to use up things I had on hand in my not-quite-bare-yet-but-getting-there fridge:

Improvised Baked Ziti

(serve 4-6)

(OK just close your eyes and pretend there was ziti in there .. and not an odd mix of every other shaped pasta except actual ziti.)

Something magical happens when the creme fraiche bakes atop the Bolognese sauce, easily and more than adequately taking the place of a Béchamel sauce or another cheesey filling. I know it may sound weird, but it works so well and it is really quite scrumptious. This is actually something I use in my baked ziti normally, even when I am not trying to use up my ingredients.

2 cups ziti or other pasta shapes, cooked, drained, cooled slightly
extra virgin olive oil
2 cups Bolognese Sauce, heated
1-2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup creme fraiche
2 Tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Preheat your oven to 350 F (190 C) and have ready a medium sized deep casserole dish. I used an oval Corningware baking dish with a lid.

Place the warm pasta into your casserole and then drizzle a bit of oil over it. Give it a good toss to make sure everything is coated. Don't add too much, just enough to make the pasta a little shiny. Next take a good handful of shredded mozzarella cheese and sprinkle it over the pasta. Ladle about half of the warm sauce on top of the cheese, then spread the creme fraiche on top. Add another handful of cheese to cover the surface, then grate a bit of Parmigianno-Regianno over the top, as much or as little as you like. There is no need to add any seasonings, as the sauce already is chock full of them.

Pop the lid on and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Serve with a simple salad and some bread. The Simple Salad was just a mixture of lettuces, some wonderful fresh tomatoes, a small tin of chickpeas which I dressed with an eyeballed mixture of walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar and salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Strawberry Apple Fruit Squares aka "Jelly Jammies"

As I mentioned in my previous post, I tried out a few of the recipes presented in the cooking video demos at Feed Me Bubbe's site. For dessert, I made these tasty little fruit squares - like little fruit brownies, with a layer of flaky pastry on the top and bottom, with a center layer of jam, nuts, and apple. These were incredibly easy to make, and an excellent way for me to use up nearly all of my remaining strawberry jam before I move. I think any jam you like would work well in these, and you could leave out the nuts or use a different nut if you like something else better. Personally, I loved the combination of the strawberries with the walnuts.

And thank you Bubbe for teaching me a great new trick in your video! Crushing the walnuts by placing them inside a zip-top baggie and then rolling a heavy can over them worked much better than I ever would have expected. I will never have to drag out my food processor again just to chop a few nuts. The can method gently ground up the nuts in a few seconds, without any concerns about having them blitzed into dust or mushed into paste, as can sometimes happen with an overzealous food processor.

You can find the recipe here for the Jelly Jammies. I made them exactly as described and highly recommend them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Credit Crunch: Bubbe's Burgers

I recently started watching a series of online cooking videos called Feed Me Bubbe, with recipes prepared by a charismatic and sweet Jewish Grandmother. I have tried three recipes from her show so far: her delicious burgers (recipe here), her meatballs, and her Jelly Jammies, little strawberry jam filled fruit squares. I will blog about the others later, but first.. the burgers.

These were really good! Quite easy to prepare, economical and no complicated ingredients. I think the hardest part was tearing up the fresh bread to make the soft bread crumbs. The burgers came out juicy and quite flavorful. Bubbe doesn't add any salt, but I did add a few shakes of Jane's Krazy Mixed up Salt (a coarse ground seasoned salt blend).

Sweet and Simple Bakes Event: Chocolate Orange Drizzle

The next baking project for Sweet & Simple Bakes is this Chocolate Orange Drizzle loaf. Since I am moving, I needed to bake this a bit earlier since as of Tuesday I will no longer have any kitchen stuff to bake with. Thankfully, this recipe called for a lot of ingredients I had on hand and needed to use up anyway, so it was really a perfect choice for me to make.

The loaf turned out very moist and fluffy - like a very tender American style yellow cake, just slightly crumbly. I know it sounds a bit odd to be both tender and crumbly, but well - it is. (This was not a bad thing). I was very generous with my poking step - stabbing at the loaf with my toothpick until the entire surface was riddled with tiny holes. As a result, the syrup really soaked in well and made it a very moist cake. The flavor is really very good, not too orange-y. Perfect with coffee. I followed the recipe linked above to the letter. The only change I would make next time is to possibly make a true icing, and not just melt chocolate over the top.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pizza Night

Last night I made some homemade pizza. I am pretty fussy about pizza. Since I have moved around a lot, I have sampled many different flavors and styles reflecting regional interests, specialties, and tastes. My taste buds have not always agreed with the style of pizza available at every location I have lived, therefore I started making my own at home. It is incredibly easy to make homemade pizza dough. It hardly takes any time at all to make it, and you can either use your own homemade sauce or just grab a bottle from the store if you really must. One thing I have learned is to use very little sauce. It is incredibly tempting to ladle on gobs of sauce, but really just a thin layer provides plenty of moisture and flavor without making your crust soggy.

Last night I tried two new recipes, and was especially pleased with the sauce. It was fast, easy, and so very flavorful. I think the 5-Spice powder really gives it an edge that I must say was quite lipsmackingly good. The recipe I used came from here, although Marie mentioned that she has changed the recipe somewhat, and I therefore incorporated most of her changes. The only change I made of my own was to use garlic paste in place of minced cloves, as that was what I had in my fridge.

Marie's Pizza Sauce

1 large jar tomato passata (about 2 cups)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp garlic paste (Marie uses 1-2 cloves of minced garlic)
1 Tbsp sugar (using a normal flatware spoon to measure)
1 tsp onion powder, roughly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar & pestle
1 Tbsp dried basil
1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-Spice powder
salt and pepper, to taste (maybe 1/2 tsp of each, I didn't measure at all)

Combine, bring to just a simmer, then lower the heat, cover with the lid slightly ajar, and let cook on low heat for about 15 minutes.

For my crust, I decided to try this recipe for Cornmeal Pizza Dough, since I am still trying to cook my way through the massive bag of polenta I bought a few months ago. It turned out very well, although I am not sure the cornmeal flavor went over as well as my usual pizza dough.

I did have a few mishaps - namely, when adding my last bits of tomato paste to the sauce from my nearly empty tube, the tube decided to twirl in my hand and squirt up and backwards, directly onto my shirt. I also managed to drop not one but two kitchen utensils, both covered with sauce, onto the kitchen floor. So forgive the slightly charred edges of the pizza in the photo, as I was busy rinsing off both the dishes, the floor, and my shirt and didn't quite hear the timer go off. Everything still tasted good, but normally my pizzas are not quite so um.. caramelized.. /blush.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Golden Honey Thyme Corn Muffins

I am in the midst of moving back the US and have been trying to use up as many of my ingredients as possible before I do. One thing I seem to have overflowing in my pantry is cornmeal.. or more specifically, polenta. I eagerly bought a huge bag of it the first time I saw these Italian golden yellow grains sitting on a shelf in, of all places, a small Middle Eastern foods market. I had been missing my American style cornbread and was certain I would make tons of it. Well, I did make plenty of cornbread and muffins, but this was a rather huge bag, so I have quite a bit left.

In my effort to deplete my supply, I decided to make this reliable and delicious sweet corn muffin recipe. This is great as a breakfast treat or with a salad. In fact, the leftovers taste great torn up in salad, sort of like soft croutons. The polenta I have is really no different in texture from coarse cornmeal, so I have not made any adjustments to any of my recipes when I have used it.

These muffins are based on the bones of a recipe found here, but the following includes some changes I made based on my tastes and my peculiar need to stick herbs into things whenever possible.

Golden Honey Thyme Corn Muffins
(makes 12-14)

4 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2/3 cups sugar
1/8 cup honey (I used honey flavored with thyme)
1/8 cup golden syrup (or you can use more regular honey)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
3/4 cup cornmeal or polenta
1/4-1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1/2-1 tsp fresh thyme, de-stemmed)
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
3/4 cup corn kernels (fresh (cooked), frozen (thawed), or canned (rinsed & drained)

Preheat your oven to 400 F (or 200 C). Line at least 12 muffin tins with paper liners. (A tip: you just might want to grease the top of the pan, and also wipe the rims of each muffin tin as well, in case they puff up beyond the paper liners. Tugging corn muffins free of the pan is not fun).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled melted butter and the sugar until blended well. Add the honey and syrup, stirring to combine. Add the beaten eggs and mix well. Set a fine sieve over the mixing bowl and dump in the flour, shaking to sift the flour into the butter mixture. You can now remove your sieve and add the cornmeal and the thyme to the bowl as well. Give it a good stir, but don't be too vigorous unless you like muffins with the texture of glue. You just want to blend everything together and not have any streaks of dry flour. Fold in the corn.

Scoop the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins. If you are patient and like nice full puffy mufins, you really can squeeze every drop of batter into just 12 muffin tins. Really, I kid you not. I know it looks like too much batter, I have been there. This would be why we greased the top of the pans before, remember? Ok fine, if you really want to, you can stretch this batter to make 14, maybe even 16 muffins if you are really stingy with the batter. Maybe you have a bake sale to go to, if so - go for it.

Once you have your tins filled, pop them into the oven and bake them for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffed. You can test them with a toothpick - the pick should come out with a few crumbs, but not any goopy batter when ready.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki at Home

Okonomiyaki is one of those cool street vendor foods that you really don't see on many Western restaurant menus. There are several different versions, each reflecting the region of Japan in which they are more popular. The basic concept is a pancake style base with shredded cabbage and other toppings (fish, meat, more vegetables, eggs, etc) and served sort of like a pizza. Some versions mix the cabbage right into the pancake batter, others also include noodles.

The Hiroshima style is a whopper - it has a crepe batter base, a filling of shredded cabbage and bean sprouts, topped with meat or seafood (or both), a layer of noodles, and a fried egg to finish it all off. I have had the simpler type of Okonomiyaki before - with just the cabbage pancake base and some vegetable toppings. I had never eaten the Hiroshima style before tonight, but after watching a few videos of chefs preparing them in Japan, I decided to give it a try. If you want to see the chefs in Japan in action, here is a great video demo, which I used as a guide when making my own version at home.

You will need some basic equipment in order to make this successfully at home - a large flat griddle surface, the kind that takes up two burners is perfect. You will also need two large wide spatulas to flip and move the pancake around easily.

There are also a few ingredients that might be tricky to get your hands on, such as the bright forest green dried seaweed seasoning Aonori and tiny little crispy bits of Tenkasu, (fried tempura bits), which resemble Rice Krispies in shape and texture. Dried bonito flakes (dry shredded fish) are typically added, but I omitted them. The sauce used, Otafuku, is available prebottled, although I have found that British brown sauce (such as HP sauce) is a very acceptable substitute. Many online recipes suggest using Worcestershire for the sauce, which to me is nothing at all like the actual Otafuku Okonomiyaki sauce. The HP is a very close match in both taste and consistency, and it is likely something you might have lying around anyway in a Western kitchen or at the very least, a bit easier to find in your local grocery store.

You will want to have your cabbage shredded very finely and all of your ingredients ready to go before you begin. The crepe batter should be made first and left to rest for about 15 minutes or so while you gather everything else. The batter can be covered and placed in the fridge if needed. Make sure your griddle is preheated and greased well enough to prevent sticking. This is not one of those times when you can get away with a quick spritz of cooking spray. You don't need vats of oil, but your griddle should have a nice sheen to it.

Hiromshima Style Okonomiyaki for the Western Kitchen (adapted from this recipe and the video linked above)

Crepe Batter:
(enough for about 6-8)

2 cups plain flour (all purpose flour)
1/4 tsp dashi powder (dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water) - or use 1/2 cup fish stock or vegetable stock
1 tsp Mirin
2 cups cold water

Mix the above together with a whisk until smooth and lump free. Allow to rest 15 minutes before using.

Cabbage Layer:
(per serving)

1 huge handful of finely shredded Napa cabbage, about 1 1/2-2 cups
1 smaller handful of fresh bean sprouts,about 3/4 cup
Japanese seasoned salt & pepper blend, to taste (enough to dust the crepe)*
1/4-1/2 cup Tenkasu
2 strips bacon (back bacon, belly pork, or streaky bacon - your choice)
bonito flakes, to taste

Noodle Layer:
(per serving)
1 package soft yakisoba noodles, cooked and drained (left unseasoned)
(to do this, simply place the noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit about 5 minutes, drain)
1 Tbsp Otafuku sauce or HP brown sauce

Egg layer:
(per serving)
1/2 tsp oil
1 egg
2 Tbsp Aonori
1-2 Tbsp Otafuku sauce or HP sauce

Now that that seemingly endless list of ingredients is done... time to start cooking! It is really not hard at all. The only slightly tricky bit is flipping the pancake, but it really isn't that difficult to do if you have two nice wide spatulas and if you did a good job greasing your pan.

Preheat the griddle to medium low on the front burner side, and low on the back burner side. Make the pan glisten with a coating of oil.

Using a metal ladle, spread a wide thin circle of crepe batter into the greased, warm skillet (about medium low heat). Spin the batter around in a spiral to get about a 6-8" diameter circle.
*If you have some Japanese seasoning, sprinkle a bit over the crepe, otherwise you can add just a bit of salt, white pepper and ajinomoto (optional). If you are using bonito flakes, sprinkle a bit on now as well. Drop a huge handful of raw shredded cabbage on top of the crepe, followed by a smaller handful of fresh bean sprouts. Next place the Tenkasu in the center and drape the bacon slices on top.

Moment of truth time! .. Grab your spatulas and carefully flip the crepe over. (I found the easy way to do this is the have one spatula under the crepe itself, and the second pressing down the bacon to hold in the cabbage). Press down the top a bit to flatten slightly. Allow the bacon to cook about 3-4 minutes, then using your spatulas again (relax - no flipping yet), carefully scoot the pancake back a bit towards the other side of the griddle. It will continue to cook over low heat while you prepare the noodle layer.

If the griddle isn't looking shiny, take a clean paper towel and wipe a bit more oil on the surface. Stir fry the drained noodles with 1 Tbsp of brown sauce, this should take about 2 -3 minutes. Spread the noodles in a wide flat circle, the same size as your crepe. Carefully stick the spatulas underneath the crepe, lift, and place the crepe on top of the noodles (no flipping yet). At this point, your crepe with its two layers should now be back at the front of the griddle and the back side should be empty.

Add a tiny drop of oil in the clear back space of the griddle, then crack the egg on top, poking the yolk to break it. Once the egg is halfway cooked, grab your spatulas again and lift the whole crepe up and place it on top of the egg. Allow it to cook another 30 seconds, then carefully slide your spatula underneath to loosen the egg, then flip the entire crepe over again.

Using a pastry brush, liberally paint some more brown sauce over the surface, about 2 tbsp should do the trick. Sprinkle Aonori on top. Remove the crepe to a large plate and using a pizza cutter, cut into wedges. You can roll up the wedges a bit to pick them up with your hands, and enjoy the juices messily oozing down your arm. This is street food after all, so expect it to be a bit indulgent and messy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cranberry Feather Steak and Japanese Rare Cheesecake

For many years, I was allergic to cranberries. Yes, I know - a very odd thing to be allergic to indeed. As a kid I seemed to be sensitive to many foods, all of which I gradually outgrew. My cranberry allergy seemed quite stubborn, however, and lasted well into adulthood. Every so often, especially around Thanksgiving time, when cranberries seemed to be present everywhere, I would sneak a tiny bite as a test. And year after year, I still had the same reaction. I gave up trying for a few years and then one day I was suddenly not allergic to cranberries anymore. So, having been deprived of their sweet yet tangy taste for so long, I was delighted to finally get to use them in recipes.

As it so happens, I had a can of whole berry cranberry sauce given to me by another American I knew here, who kindly dropped off her remaining canned foods and pantry staples before moving back to the States. I sought out a recipe in which to use it, and came across numerous variations on Cranberry Brisket. It sounded a bit odd to me, but at the same time, intriguing. The recipe I tried was very simple, so simple I was able to prepare everything and pop it into the oven in about 15 minutes while talking on the phone. Now that is pretty easy!

I was unable to find an actual brisket in the local Waitrose, so I decided to purchase a recent addition to their meat counter lineup, a feather steak, a very economical cut of beef. The butcher said it was excellent for braising and casseroles, so I thought I would give it a try. This cut is usually sold sliced in wafer thin steaks, but the one I purchased was a whole slab, like a flat end of a brisket. It is well marbled, the pattern of white streaks giving it the look a feather, supposedly. I just thought it looked like well marbled meat, and a potentially perfect substitute for the desired brisket. The biggest cut they had only weighed in at just under a kilo (about 2 pounds), which was half the size of most of the Cranberry Brisket recipes I had seen, so I did have to adapt the recipe a bit. It turned out really tender and delicious, something I will want to make again for certain.

Cranberry Feather Steak (adapted from numerous versions)
(serves 6)

1 Tbsp olive oil, as needed
1 (2 pound) slab of feather steak (or brisket)
seasoned salt and cracked black pepper, enough to dust both sides of the meat well
1 small red onion, chopped
sweet paprika, to taste
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce (half a 15 ounce can, roughly)
2 Tbsp dry onion soup powder

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Rub the meat all over with a bit of olive oil, then dust well with seasonings on both sides. Heat a skillet and brown the meat on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Set out a large sheet of foil, draping it loosely over a casserole dish, and place the meat on top, leave the foil unsealed for now though. Add the onions to the same skillet, sprinkle with a touch of paprika, and brown for just a few minutes to soften. Place onions on top of the meat. In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, water, and cranberry sauce, then pour over the meat. Sprinkle the onion soup powder over the top evenly.

Bring the edges of the foil together and seal tightly, keeping in mind that you will need to check the meat later, so make sure you have a way to peek inside. Pop the casserole into the preheated oven and let cook until fork tender. Most of the brisket recipes said 3 hours for a larger cut, but my feather steak took 3 hours even though it was half the size.

Allow to rest for 30 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. Serve with the sauce ladled over the top. I served this with simple salad and some roasted root vegetables.

For dessert, I decided to try a recipe I found here for Japanese "Rare" Cheesecake. I believe that the "rare" part refers to the fact that this type of cheesecake is not baked or steamed, but uses gelatin to set the cake. There are no eggs in the recipe and the use of yogurt gives this a very light and refreshing taste, quite different from the much heavier sour cream laden cheesecakes. I had a can of tinned sweetened Maine blueberries, itty bitty tart berries in juice, so I drained them and served just the berries on top.

One thing to note: My cheesecake pan is a bit larger than the suggested 8" pan, so as a result, my cheesecake came out very low, about brownie height. I recommend using a smaller pan.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mammoth Double Decker Lobster Sandwiches

Lobster is one of those rare treats I like to splurge on every now and then. Since fresh lobster is often quite pricey, I am usually very fussy about how it is prepared. I am a bit of a lobster purist .. I pretty much love it best just steamed with a squirt of lemon. I find it quite satisfying cracking into a whole cooked lobster, laboring to free the sweet, tender meat from the bright red shell, and dipping each gloriously rich chunk into a puddle of golden melted real butter. So delicious! For me, most recipes using lobster end up feeling, in some way, a waste of a great thing. I am usually left disappointed, wishing that instead of Lobster Thermidor or Bisque I had just ordered my simple steamed lobster. Others might enjoy it that way, but I prefer mine plain and simple.

So that being said, for me to love a lobster sandwich, it has to be something pretty spectacular and can't detract from the natural lobster taste. I have enjoyed the New England style lobster rolls, with just a toasted bun mounded with lobster meat, lemon, and maybe the tiniest bit of mayo (which I happily will do without). Usually anything else mingling with my lobster meat just doesn't work for me. That is, until I tried this wonderful combination. I originally shared the recipe here, which I adapted from an article in Gourmet magazine. Since making it the first time, I have made even more changes to make it a bit less fussy. If you can get your hands on some fresh lobster, and want something new that doesn't disappoint, give this a try. It is simply fabulous and really, not hard at all to make.

I was incredibly lucky and got a fully cooked lobster on markdown today in Waitrose. I try my best to pop in late Wednesday afternoons to snatch up the marked down seafood items, still fresh, but discounted to move fast.

Lobster & Mango Sandwiches
(adapted from Gourmet magazine and The Mezzanine Restaurant)

(2 huge sandwiches)

6 slices of crusty delicious bread that never set foot in a plastic bag
4 slices pancetta or bacon, your choice, cooked until crispy and cooled
1 tsp honey
1/2-1 small mango, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup English cucumber, diced
meat from 1 steamed lobster, cooled (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp good quality mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup lettuce, shredded (I like little gem, but any type is fine)
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, drained, cut into small strips
8 basil leaves, shredded (or you can use rocket or arugula or mizuna or watercress instead)
lemon slices, as garnish, optional

Toast the bread and set aside. If you are a mayonnaise person, spread a tiny bit onto each if you wish; I do not. Brush each bacon piece with a bit of honey and set aside. In a small bowl, combine mango, cucumber, lobster meat, the 2 Tbsp mayo, and salt & pepper to taste. In another small bowl, mix together the lettuce, sundried tomatoes, and basil.

Lay a slice of toast onto each plate, top with half of the lobster mango mixture, then place another slice of toast on top. Top that piece of toast with the lettuce, then place 2 slices of bacon on top of each, followed by the final pieces of toast. Poke a wooden skewer or long toothpick through the left and right sides of each sandwich (otherwise they will fall apart when you try to cut them) then use a serrated knife to carefully slice each in half. Serve with some lemon on the side, if desired.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chicken Fried Rice

Yes, another post about rice. I make rice a lot, in case you haven't already noticed. Since I usually like to make extra rice for leftovers, I end up making a lot of different versions of fried rice. I have already blogged before about my pineapple fried rice, which is more of a sweeter version that I make when I want to use up shrimp or pork. When I make chicken fried rice, it is more savory, and I like to include egg.

I really don't measure much when I make this, and you can really use whichever vegetables you prefer or need to use up. I guess the most important recommendation I can make is to not use too much soy sauce. Too much and you end up with brown, overly salty rice. You can always add more at the end if you like.

Chicken Fried Rice
(serves 4)

1 Tbsp cooking oil, approximately
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, diced
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1-2 cups mixed vegetables (shredded carrot, cabbage, snap peas, bok choy, anything really)
1 spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic, approximately
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger, approximately
sesame oil, to taste
2-3 cups leftover cooked rice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
Ajinomoto, optional, to taste (or Accent)

Beat eggs and have them ready near the stove. Also have a dish of chopped veggies ready.

Heat a wok or deep skillet over medium-high heat and add a bit of oil. Add the eggs and swirl around with your chopsticks until the egg is almost fully cooked, this only takes maybe a minute. Remove to a plate and keep nearby.

If needed, add a touch more oil and allow to heat. When the oil is hot, stir fry the chicken, seasoning with a bit of salt and white pepper to taste, until the chicken is almost fully cooked. Add in the garlic and ginger (and a bit of minced fresh chili if you want a spicy version). Stir fry about 1-2 minutes, until you can really smell the aroma of the garlic and ginger.

Add the vegetables and stir fry a few minutes until they start to soften a bit, but still retain their crunch (NOTE: if you are adding greens like spinach or bok choy, wait to add those or they will overcook).

Add the rice to the pan and drizzle in a bit of sesame oil, as well as the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Chop up the egg a bit and add that to the pan as well. Once everything has been tossed around in the pan for a few minutes, taste and adjust seasonings, adding more white pepper and tiny bit of Ajinomoto (if desired). If it is too dry, add a bit more sesame oil, and if you like more soy or oyster sauce, add a bit more.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Cake with no Flour : Sunken Chocolate Cake

I have been thinking a lot about chocolate cakes lately. For some reason I can't seem to get them out of my mind. When I think of a chocolate cake, I want something moist, rich, and truly decadent. I want to splurge and not care at all about calories or fat or any of the other horrible things we are all taught to fear. This cake is full of chocolate, rich, deep dark chocolate .. with only a bit of sugar... enough to be sweet but not cloying. A dollop of freshly whipped cream, sweetened, is all you really need to counter the richness. Perhaps add a few berries if you want a burst of color.

I originally posted this recipe here, but I will share it here again:

Sunken Chocolate Cake (adapted long ago from Woman's Day)
(serves 10-12)

10 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate (70-80%) (such as Lindt), broken into pieces
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar, divided into two portions
4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
2 Tbsp brandy or coffee liqueur (or strong cold coffee)
powdered sugar, to garnish
frehsly whipped cream, sweetened with a bit of sugar

Set your oven rack to its lowest position, preheat to 300 F (150C). Grease an 8-9" springform pan and line with parchment.

Set a large bowl near your microwave and heat some water in a kettle. You will find out why in a moment. Have ready 3 more bowls, one for your chocolate, another to beat your egg whites in, and yet another to beat your butter & yolks in. Yes, it sure is a lot of bowls - but this chocolate cake is worth a bit of washing up in the end.

Place broken chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 1 minute, stir, then heat again for 30 seconds. Repeat in 30 seconds intervals until the chocolate is fully melted and smooth. Place the bowl of chocolate into the slightly larger bowl you set aside earlier. Carefully pour some hot water into the larger bowl - be careful not to get any water inside your chocolate bowl. Let your chocolate rest in its warm nest while get the eggs ready.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and they looks shiny, like a satin sheet; gradually adding 1/4 cup of the sugar If you turn off your mixer and pull the beaters up, the whites should make pretty white peaks that stay put without dripping.

Place the butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar into another bowl and beat (using the same beaters) until the mixture is smooth, just a couple of minutes. Add the yolks and continue beating another minute. Add the ground nuts and the liqueur or coffee and beat another 2 minutes, until the mixture is light, creamy, and a soft pale yellow color.

Remember your chocolate sitting in its warm bath? Give it a stir; it should still be warm and melted, but no longer burning hot. Spoon a bit of the chocolate at a time into yellow butter mixture, mixing with a rubber spatula, until all of the chocolate has been added.

Fold just about 1/4 of the chocolatey butter mixture into the egg whites. Be gentle!

Next, take the now chocolatey egg whites and add them carefully to the butter mixture, again folding the mixture gently with a spatula. (All of this bowl juggling may seem tedious, but it is essential in order to prevent the chocolate from scrambling the eggs and also to keep the eggs from getting crushed back down into a weepy messy liquid).

Once everything is blended, pour mixture into the prepared springform pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes for an 8" size pan, or 35-40 minutes for a 9" pan. To test, stick a toothpick into the cake - the cake is ready when the toothpick comes out with thick, moist but NOT wet crumbs stuck to it- it should NOT come out clean.

Let cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes; it will sink - this is normal. Remove the sides and invert onto a plate. Remove the parchment and invert onto a serving plate. Dust with some powdered sugar and serve with sweetened whipped cream.

You will want to keep any leftover cake in the fridge, where it will keep well for a few days.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blog Hopping: Curry Night with Eat, Drink, Wash Up

When I noticed that Karen of Eat, Drink, Wash Up had posted this recipe for her favorite Chicken Korma, I knew I had to give it a try. One of the eating pleasures of living in London these past two years has been getting to sample so much wonderful Indian food. Curry houses are on nearly every high street, sometimes several are side by side. Chicken Korma (a fairly mild, creamy curry) is very popular and seen on most menus here. Karen's version was tasty and really quite easy to prepare. I only had to purchase one special ingredient, the fenugreek, which Karen says can actually be omitted. I did pick some up, since it was a mere .69 at the local Indian market.

I served this with some plain steamed Tilda basmati rice and somehow managed to forget all about baking some Naan bread to go with it. I was very true to the recipe this time, although next time I might try swapping yogurt for the cream and using a bit less salt.

Oh.. and when Karen warns you about removing the bits of whole cardamom pods, cinnamon stick etc at the end, before serving your guests...please listen. Don't be like me and completely forget about this step until after your diners are choking down water after biting forcefully into a whole clove.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Experiments in my Kitchen: Popcorn Chicken

Popcorn chicken is one of those treats you find versions of in many American restaurants, fast food places, and little shacks selling lunch snacks by the sea or at amusement parks. Sometimes this is called "chicken in a basket" and comes in a little plastic basket surrounded with French fries, although sometimes you end up with bigger chicken strips (fingers) or chunks (nuggets). Popcorn chicken comes in itty bitty pieces. This is a classic guilty pleasure food, yet finding a recipe that matches this style typically is surprisingly hard. I found plenty of versions using coconut or panko, oven baked varieties, healthy varieties, Buffalo chicken wing flavored style, even Asian style. But laying my hands on a home made version of just the simple basic crispy mild flavored mini chicken bites version was nearly impossible. I decided to try to come up with something of my own. They are still what I classify as treat food - but at least if I am going to eat this not-particularly-healthful dish, I may as well know what is going into it and have some control over its calorie content.

I decided to marinate my chicken in some buttermilk and a bit of hot sauce, a trick Paula Deen made famous with her fried chicken. After about an hour and half of marinating, I dredged the chicken pieces into some seasoned self-rising flour (for the seasonings, I used poultry seasoning, Lawry's seasoned salt, black pepper, marjoram, thyme, garlic powder) and then fried the chicken bites for a few minutes in sunflower oil until golden.

This all sounds very simple, although as usual, I did have a few mishaps along the way. My first problem was completely forgetting to pre-snip my chicken breasts into mini pieces before marinating. Do you have any idea how incredibly messy it is to cut chicken pieces into tidbit sized pieces after they have been coated in wet gloopy buttermilk? It wasn't pretty, although my hands did appreciate the buttermilk soak so maybe it wasn't such a horrible mistake after all ;)

My next problem was my pesky no-name plastic baggie with a slider top. Yes, you guessed it - the obvious happened here - the slider top tore and sent flour shaking across my floor. So once again, I had another mess to clean up, and by now, I was in a bit of a hurry, as I already had my oil heating up and my chicken was only partially coated in batter. I hastily threw in some extra flour, another shake of good old Lawry's, and dumped the contents of my torn bag into another baggie, holding this new bag closed tightly with my flour coated fingers. In the end, the chicken turned out tasty, although I still need to perfect the seasonings and work on a thicker batter.

For now, here is the recipe from test #1:

Homemade Popcorn Chicken, Take 1
(serves 2-4)

375 grams skinless boneless chicken breast tenders (the really skinny strips)
250 ml buttermilk
1 Tbsp Tabasco (don't worry, this won't make it spicy)

for flour dredging:
1 cup self rising flour, or more as needed
Lawry's seasoned salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste
dried herbs of your choice (I tried poultry seasoning, marjoram, thyme)

sunflower oil, for frying

Snip the chicken into very tiny pieces about the size of large pieces of popped popcorn. Combine chicken bits, buttermilk, and Tabasco in a dish and mix well, then cover and let marinate in the fridge at least an hour or longer if you have time.

Heat up enough oil to fry the chicken. Mix together flour and seasonings in a reliable zip-top type bag. Drain off the excess marinade and drop the chicken pieces into the bag. Seal bag and shake to coat chicken evenly. Drop about 10 pieces of chicken into the oil at a time, cooking just a few minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove with a mesh strainer to a wire rack set over a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Serve with dip of your choice, I like honey mustard personally. Sometimes, I skip the mustard and just dunk them in honey.

*Updated with a better photo

Experiments: Coconut and Lime Shrimp Sushi Roll

The other day I happened upon a new-to-me blog called Coconut & Lime. The name alone made me smile, as I love both ingredients with a passion. So, when I noticed that Rachel (the creator of said blog) was hosting a special event honoring those ingredients, I had to jump right in and give it a stab.

The very first thing that popped into my mind was how unique and delicious a sushi roll made with coconut shrimp and lime might be. Yes, I am really quite a fanatic about sushi rolls. I gathered some ingredients together and started creating. When I create a new recipe, I really tend to just go for it.. no lengthy plans, and very often, no serious research or testing. Either my creations work or they don't, I don't really worry about it. I generally make things with ingredients I love and so even my failures turn out ok enough to eat. Loving the components of a recipe is a huge step in the right direction.

I started my usual sushi prep work .. steaming rice in my handy rice cooker, rice vinegar seasoned with a pinch of sugar handy to add when the rice is ready. I spread my rice out into a shallow dish, seasoned with my vinegar mixture and allowed it to cool while I prepared my fillings.

I decided I wanted to make a sort of coconut shrimp version of a tiger roll. A tiger roll is usually an elaborate sushi roll with tempura prawns sticking out of the ends with a leafy garnish. I marinated my raw shrimp in fresh lime juice and lime zest with a bit of mirin and sake, and a splash of soy sauce. I may have added a pinch of sugar too. I only let it marinate about 15 minutes, while I sliced up some fresh mango and sweet red Romano pepper into thin strips.

I mixed up a batter of milk and an egg - wishing I had had the presence of mind to pick up some coconut milk to use instead. I laid out a dish of flour, a dish with my milk mixture, and a ziploc baggie of shredded dried coconut. I dredged the shrimp in the flour, then dipped it into the milk mixture, and dropped it into the bag of coconut, giving it a good shake to coat. I then fried the shrimp until golden, just a couple of minutes, and let them drain and cool.

To make the Coconut Lime rolls, I laid out a sheet of Nori, spread my cooled vinegar doused rice over most of it, then laid ribbons of mango, red pepper, some rocket leaves, and some coconut shrimp. Next, I tucked a little gem lettuce leaf out of the ends of each side of the roll, with a tail piece of shrimp and a pepper strip sticking out the side. When cut, the end pieces have the lettuce and shrimp tail sticking upwards attractively and the center pieces look like more typical sushi slices. Overall, I really liked how it looked, although I would make a few changes next time.

First of all, I wished I had made some sort of slightly zippy sauce - perhaps something as simple as a bit of Kewpie mayo with some sweet chili sauce and lime - and added that to the filling, just a tiny bit. Or perhaps made instead a boiled shrimp filling, marinated in lime juice, cilantro, and flecks of minced fresh red chili. If I had gone the marinated un-fried shrimp route, I probably would have made this an Inside Out Roll (rice on the outside), and rolled it in toasted coconut.

In any case, it was a fun experiment and made for a tasty dinner.

Coconut & Lime Shrimp Rolls

about 1 cup cooked cooled sushi rice per roll (seasoned with a bit of rice wine vinegar mixed with a pinch of sugar)
2-3 raw shrimp, per roll
the juice and zest of 1/2 lime
1 tsp sake
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
flour, for dredging
1 egg
1/2 cup milk or coconut milk
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 sheet Nori
fresh mango, cut into thin strips
fresh red Romano pepper, cut into thin strips
3-4 rocket leaves
2 little gem lettuce leaves

Marinate shrimp about 15 minutes in a mixture of lime juice, zest, sake, soy, and a pinch of sugar if desired. Dredge shrimp in a bit of flour, dip in a mixture of egg and milk, then coat in coconut. Deep fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden; drain on paper towels over a rack.

Spread enough rice to cover a sheet of Nori, leaving a small rim at one end exposed. Lay ribbons of fresh mango, rocket leaves, red pepper, and chopped coconut shrimp on one side. Place lettuce leaves sticking out of each end, topping with a piece of pepper and a shrimp with the tail attached - they should be spilling out the sides of the Nori. Roll sushi into a log, then slice into rounds, standing the two ends with the lettuce leaves sticking out upwards decoratively.