Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Okonomiyaki... Waffles!

This was a bit of an experiment. I was thinking of making an Okonomiyaki - that is to say, a savoury Japanese pancake who's name translates as "grilled as you like it" - when I wondered if I could cook it in my waffle iron. A little searching showed that there are lots of people doing that; and I would think it would cook very nicely on most electric grills. You can always cook it in a skillet instead, but I would allow 20 minutes to cook it, since it will require turning to get both sides done.

This is not the world's most authentic recipe; I put more weight on local ingredients rather than traditional ones. I can't compare it to the real thing, but we enjoyed it very much, and I'll be making it again as long as the cabbage supply holds out.  I didn't put any meat or tofu in mine, I just served a little pan-fried tofu on the side but most recipes call for some to be added. You can switch the vegetables around for other ones too... they call it "as you like it" for a reason.

The actual pancake is fairly plain in flavour; if I was not putting on sauce I would certainly add salt to it. However, the sauce is very salty and it is an integral or at least very traditional part of the dish. You should use it (and the mayonnaise)! I would have served it with pickled ginger, if I could have found any that didn't contain aspartame. Ugh! I guess I need to make it myself. (I've done that before, using the brine recipe and technique for dill pickles.)

I remember there was a restaurant in Toronto that served nothing but Okonomiyaki back in the days I lived there - a long time ago now. I never went there; it was not within my budgetary constraints. I wonder if it is still there? (Yes! A little searching shows that it is. It seems quite inexpensive now; was it always less expensive than I thought, or have their prices dropped or at least failed to rise? I wonder. But now I will have to try to go on my next trip into the big smoke.)

2 servings - 6 "waffles"
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Grilled as you like it... savoury Japanese pancake in the form of waffles

Make the Sauce:
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce OR oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sherry OR mirin

Whisk the above together in a small bowl.

Make the Okonomiyaki Batter:
1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 medium carrot
3 green onions OR 1 medium onion
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot OR corn starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Trim and shred the cabbage, then peel and grate the carrot and trim (peel) and chop the onions. Set them aside. Turn the waffle maker on to heat.

Mix the flour, arrowroot or corn starch, and baking powder in a fairly large mixing bowl - it will end up here at some point - then whisk in the eggs and the stock.

Mix in the vegetables and any optional ingredients. Yes, there is a lot of filling in proportion to the batter. That's fine.

Add Optional Ingredients & Finish:
1 sheet toasted nori (optional)
225 grams (1/2 pound finely chopped chicken, tofu, OR white fish
OR 125 grams (1/4 pound) bacon
a little mild vegetable to brush the waffle iron

I just added a sheet of toasted nori, cut with scissors into shreds. You could also put in finely chopped chicken, tofu, or white fish. If you want to use bacon, I would chop it and partially cook it before mixing it in. I've seen it placed in the skillet then the batter poured over it, but we aren't (or at least I didn't) using a skillet here. I would be dubious about that working in a waffle iron.

Brush the heated waffle iron with oil, and spoon in enough batter to fill the waffle iron, once it is evenly spread out. For me, that was about half of it. Close the waffle iron and cook until lightly browned over most of okonomiyaki waffle, and it should feel fairly firm to the touch - about 15 minutes. Keep the okonomiyaki warm in a 200°F oven while you brush the waffle iron with a little oil again and cook the remaining batter.

Drizzle the ononomiyaki waffles with the brown sauce and with mayonnaise to taste before serving.

Last year at this time I made A Basic Korean Style Marinade.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Irish Soda Farls

Here's another thing that was ridiculously simple to do but awfully good. When the (Northern) Irish talk about soda bread this is what they mean, and there are a lot of instructions out there that make it look very complicated. It isn't really though. If you can make biscuits, and you can make pancakes, then you can make these.

Essentially, these are a kind of low-fat biscuit that is baked on a griddle (skillet) rather than in the oven. I say low fat, but the Irish are sure to remedy that on the other end by applying generous quantities of butter. Me too. On the other hand, these are traditionally made with all white flour, which is not my preference. I thought they worked well with half and half. And yes, soft flour is what is needed - you will need to have a very light hand with them if you use all-purpose flour.

Mine got a little dark - they cooked quicker than I expected, and rose really well too - but unless they are actually scorched a little dark just adds to the experience. 

Makes 4 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time

Irish Soda Farls

1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup soft unbleached flour
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
a little flour to roll out
about 1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil

Mix the flours, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl. Stir in the buttermilk to form a rough dough; when it is mostly together turn it out onto a clean counter, board, or sheet of parchment paper and knead gently to bring it all together - about 20 to 30 seconds or 12 to 20 turns.

As soon as you have a nice smooth dough, pat it out into a circle about 8" or 9" in circumference, and about 1/2" thick or slightly less. You could roll it out with a rolling pin, but it's easy enough to pat out. Sprinkle it with a little flour if it gets sticky, on both sides. Check - turn it once or twice as you pat it out.

Brush a large cast iron skillet with a very thin layer of mild vegetable oil - I dribbled a bit in then wiped it around with a piece of paper towel and discarded the excess, much like when I make crepes. Most recipes don't call for oiling the griddle or skillet, but this kind of griddle baking really sucks the finish off the cast iron and I think this helps to keep that down to a dull roar. They need to not be sitting in any more oil than just a film, though.

Heat the skillet on the stove, over medium heat. Specifically, turn it to the temperature at which you would cook pancakes or eggs, then lower it just a tad, because these are thicker and will need a little longer. Let the skillet pre-heat for a minute or two while you cut the dough into quarters. A pizza cutter is ideal for this. Gently place the farls into the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Lift them gently after a few minutes to make sure they are not browning too fast - lower the heat if they are. Turn them once they are lightly browned and risen, and cook on the other side.

Serve warm, split and buttered. If there are leftovers, they can be split and toasted.

Last year at this time I made Dutch Beef & Onion Hachée.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Rutabaga & Mushroom Soup

I have to admit this looks simple, even plain, but we both thought it was really tasty. Butter-sautéd mushrooms and herbs do great things for good ol' rutabaga. It's simple and plain where it counts - it goes together very quickly. It's also good eaten right away or will keep for a day or two in the fridge for re-heating.

It will serve 2 with some bread and butter or small sandwich for a meal, or make 4 starter portions for a multi-course dinner.

I would have liked to have some green oniony stuff to toss into this, but the weather is not yet co-operating. Soon, I hope!

2 to 4 servings
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Rutabaga & Mushroom Soup

Cook the Rutabaga:
4 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel and dice the rutabaga, and put it in a small soup pot (2 quarts or litres) with the water and salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.

Mix the Spices:
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour

Grind the rosemary and thyme leaves together, and mix them in a small bowl with the salt and flour.

Finish the Soup:
1 large onion
300 grams (10 ounces) white button mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock

Peel and chop the onion. Clean, trim, and cut the mushrooms in thickish slices each way, creating little mushroom sticks.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a minute or two until softened. Add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and browned in spots.

Add the spice and flour mixture (from above), and mix it in well. Let it all cook for another several minutes, stirring regularly, then gradually add the chicken or other stock, stirring constantly. Let simmer a few minutes to thicken.

While it does that, and when the rutabaga is tender, mash the rutabaga well in the pot without draining it. Stir in the contents of the skillet, and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Let simmer over medium-low heat for another 5 or 10 minutes. Stir regularly.

Last year at this time I made the fabulous Red Cabbage & Parsley Slaw... somehow forgot to mention it's also full of parsnip.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Visit to Rolling Ridge Maple Products

Wow, has it ever been a long time since I've paid a visit to anyone, but when we were coming home from Windsor last weekend we drove past Rolling Ridge Maple Products, remembered we were out of maple syrup, and paid a flying visit.

Rolling Ridge is located at 22681 Vanneck Road, just west of Ilderton, Ontario. (Ilderton is about 20 kilometres north-west of London.)

This is a very nice little set-up. In addition to the combined boiler room (refinery? evaporator? sugar shack?) and store, you can walk through the bush from which the sap is collected, reading notes on the production of maple syrup as you go. Although I admit my eyebrows went up at the description of the method of collecting sap as being "invented by the early pioneers". Um, really?

There's the old sugar shack, as well as the original cast iron kettle.

They have a couple of the old collection buckets on display, but as with every modern maple producer, the sap is now directed straight to the boiler via blue plastic tubing.

You can just about spot the tubing in the background behind the old sugar shack.

Inside, our purchase is rung up by Jamie Robson, a member of the family behind Rolling Ridge. There's maple syrup, maple syrup, and more maple syrup - oh, and little maple sugar patties in the form of maple leaves, maple "butter", and if you are there at the right time apparently maple cotton candy, which sounds to me like genius or at least about the only thing that would induce me to eat cotton candy. They opened up in late February and will go until some time in April at this location, although their products are available all year in other places.

Barrels of maple syrup sit in the boiler room. This years season has been early, long, and odd; with temperatures all over the map, making the process somewhat trying. However, spring approaches and the sap rises and the outcome is maple syrup. 

As the syrup is decanted from the boiler, it passes through a serious series of filters. Jay Robson, Jamie's brother, oversees the process.

Maple syrup grading names are in a period of change. From my point of view this will have advantages and disadvantages. What is now being called Very Dark is my favourite, and it used to be somewhat hard to get but often cheaper when I could find it - not always! I think I am not alone in preferring it now (it used to be that the lightest in colour and flavour was at least officially the most highly regarded) so I will find it easier to get but no less expensive than any other kind. Of course, the exact proportions of each kind produced will continue to depend more on weather conditions than on the demand for them.

Our gallon of syrup came in a big plastic jug. Since it takes us quite a while to go through that much, we will re-can it into smaller glass canning jars. It will keep up to 3 years in our cold cellar that way, although I doubt it will take us that long to use it.

I Think They're Back!?

The red-winged blackbirds, that is. I'm pretty sure I heard one last Friday morning, and last Saturday morning, but only one so I didn't count it as "they're back" - just one crazy dude determined to get the very, very best nesting site.

Sunday we headed down to Windsor for the weekend, and as we drove we quickly spotted half a dozen before we had gone very far. "THEY'RE BACK!"  I squealed, and then spent the next few days thinking about other things. This morning it is bloody cold (this often happens - up they come on a warm day, then they spend a couple of very cold, miserable days, if not weeks) and I have not heard anything more from them. I got up and shut the window at 4:00 am though. It was too cold even for me.

In other signs of spring, I spotted a couple of male wild turkeys on top of a small pile of logs at the edge of a wood, doing their display dance for a small but presumably interested audience. They looked very strange as we whizzed by. Are those empty, black metal spools? I wondered, or giant black mushrooms on their sides? - NO! Dancing turkeys!

And also we just bought a gallon of this years maple syrup, so there's that too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Baked Apples with Cheesecake Filling

If there is anything more Ontarian than apple desserts, I really don't know what. This is lighter than eating a slab of cheesecake but still makes a pretty rich and solid dessert. Serve it with a lighter meal; it makes a fine finish to a soup, salad or sandwich supper.

I used rum and thought it made an excellent combination with the discreet touch of cinnamon. Some chopped raisins added to the filling might have been nice, but I was lazy and tend to like a smooth textured filling anyway. If you like them they would be good, though.

Depending on the size of your apples and the degree to which you hollow them out, this amount of filling might do 4 to 8 of them, but in general I think 6 will be about right.

6 servings
1 hour and 45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
allow time to cool

Baked Apples with Cheesecake Filling

Make the Filling:
250 grams (1/2 pound) cream cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rum
OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Put the cream cheese into a small mixing bowl and work it until it is easy to stir. Mix in the egg, sugar, rum or vanilla, and cinnamon.

Prepare & Stuff the Apples:

6 medium-large baking apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup water OR apple juice or cider
2 tablespoons honey

Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut out as much of the core of an apple as possible (you will remove a cone-shaped piece) then use a grapefruit spoon to hollow out the apple to within about 1 cm of the skin or slightly less. Don't break through the bottom of the apple. Peel a thin strip of peel off around the equator of the apple (if you like - this makes it a little easier to eat, and helps avoid splitting while baking but is not strictly required).

Have the lemon juice and water or apple juice or cider mixed together in a small pot; use this to swish the apple around in, covering all the cut sides. Drain it back into the pot and place the apple in a shallow baking dish (approximately 8" x 10"). Repeat with the remaining apples.

Chop all the material removed from the apples roughly and add it to the pot of water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer until quite soft. Add the honey and mix in until well dissolved. Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding anything that won't go through, and spoon it around the apples in the baking dish.  Add a little more water or juice if the amount does not seem sufficient to cover the bottom of the pan to the depth of about 1 cm.

While the apple sauce cooks, use the prepared cheesecake filling to fill the apples. Once the apples are filled and the sauce distributed around them, bake them at 350°F for approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until they are soft and the cheesecake filling shows slight signs of browning. 

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Last year at this time I made Baked Spring Rolls.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Duck & Wild Rice Salad

And finally, the last dish made from our one little duck. The legs are roasted with 5-spice powder, and tossed with wild rice, pumpkin seeds, apples, and slightly sweet vegetables, then tossed with an orange and sesame dressing. Delicious!

Four servings assumes you are not serving much else - put it on a bed of hydroponic lettuce, and pass some nice bread and butter - but for this to stretch to six servings assumes that other dishes are on the table; a couple of other light and complementary salads, perhaps.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time
not including the advance cooking

Duck & Wild Rice Salad

Cook the Duck, the Sweet Potato & the Wild Rice:
the legs from a 2.25 - 2.5 kg (5 pound) duck
2 teaspoons 5-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large sweet potato
1 cup wild rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the duck legs in a snug, shallow baking tray and sprinkle them with the 5-spice powder and the1/4 teaspoon salt. Poke the sweet potato with a fork in several spots.

Put both in the oven and bake until done; at least an hour to an hour and a quarter. Such are the vagaries of life that the duck legs are likely to be done before the sweet potato. Let both cool and refrigerate until wanted.

Meanwhile, put the wild rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water into the rice cooker; turn on and cook. Alternatively, you could put them in a pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low; cook for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool and refrigerate the wild rice as well. 

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo or other mildly hot pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon 5-spice powder

Squeeze and strain the Meyer lemon into a jam jar or small mixing bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients. Whisk or shake well.

Finish the Salad:
1/2 cup finely diced peeled celeriac
OR 1 stalk celery
1 large carrot
2 medium apples
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Trim and dice the cold cooked sweet potato. Debone the duck legs, and chop the meat. Toss the sweet potato, duck, and wild rice in a mixing bowl.

Peel and finely dice the celeriac, or trim and finely chop the celery. Peel and grate or finely dice the carrot. Peel, core and dice the apples. Toss the celeriac, carrot, apples, and pumpkin seeds into the salad. Drizzle the dressing over and toss again; transfer to a serving bowl or individual dishes.

Last year at this time I made Braised Guinea Fowl with Carrots & Prunes.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup

Here is a nice mushroom soup made a little unusual by just a few tweaks. The duck is the most obvious one; and you could revert to chicken if you really can't do the duck, but the duck is delicious and really goes with the mushrooms. Try to use at least a mix of the regular white ones with some shiitakes (don't forget to remove the stems), but if you can get a few other varieties to throw in there so much the better. Paprika, caraway, and dill (like duck) are popular Hungarian ingredients and continue the theme. 

This can be made somewhat in advance (you will need to make the duck stock a day ahead at any rate) and can be reheated and served as needed.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup

300 grams (10 ounces) mixed mushrooms
1 large leek
OR 2 medium onions
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons duck fat
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 to 6 cups unsalted duck stock
1/2 to 1 cup chopped cooked duck meat, if possible
sour cream to top the finished soup (optional)

Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms. Peel and chop the leek or onions. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the duck fat in a large soup pot. Cook the mushrooms and leek or onions over medium heat, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced in volume.

Mix the flour, paprika, crushed caraway seed, dill weed, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle this and the garlic over the mushrooms and leeks or onions, and mix in well, cooking for several minutes more. Slowly add the duck stock, mixing well to avoid lumps. If you have any bits of meat that you pulled from the carcass after making the duck stock, chop them finely and add them to the soup now.

Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga with Parmesan & Rosemary

Monday, 13 March 2017

Duck Terrine Roasted in the Duck Skin

This is, admittedly, a rather time-consuming and elaborate dish, and there is much wrestling to be done with the duck. The advantage is that it allows a single fairly average sized duck to serve 4 to 6 people, with leftovers for Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup and Duck & Wild Rice Salad. That's some extreme duck frugality.

I put the liver into mine, with the result that this had a certain resemblance to haggis. You may or may not wish to do that. Note that the duck stock is not used in this recipe; it's just that you might as well make it when you are doing your preliminary duck preparation.

4 to 6 servings
allow 1 hour to prep the chicken stock
 - plus 3 to 4 hours to cook it
2 1/2 hours to finish and cook the terrine - 45 minutes prep

Duck Terrine Roasted in the Duck Skin

Prepare the Duck & Make Duck Stock:
a 2.25 to 2.5 kilo (5 pound) duck
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 star anise pod
3 to 5 juniper berries
6 to 8 black peppercorns

Carefully cut the wings and legs off the duck, leaving the remainder of the skin as whole and undamaged as possible. Put the legs aside in a small roasting pan and cover and return them to the fridge for now. Put the wings into a stock pot with the seasonings.  If your duck came with a neck, add it to the pot as well.

Cut the skin down the backbone of the duck, and carefully peel it off, keeping it in one piece. Wrap it up and return it to the fridge. Cut the breast meat off the duck, and indeed any other bits of meat that you can find. Wrap them and return them to the fridge. Break up the carcass of the duck and put it in the stock pot along with 2 litres of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 3 or 4 hours, until you have good stock. Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and cool the stock.

This can and should be done a day in advance. The duck stock is not used here; it goes to the Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup.

Make the Seasoning Mixture:
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel
1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo or other mildly hot pepper
3 allspice berries
6 to 8 black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon salt

Grind the spices together and set aside for the moment.

Make the Duck Terrine:
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup finely diced peeled celeriac
OR 1 stalk of celery
2 small onions
1 tablespoon duck fat
2 large eggs
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
2 medium potatoes

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and finely grate the carrot. Peel and finely dice or grate the celeriac, or trim and mince the celery. Peel and mince the onions.

Heat the duck fat in a medium skillet, and gently cook the vegetables until softened and reduced in volume; add the garlic last and just for the last few minutes of cooking. Add the seasoning mixture at the same time. Transfer the cooked vegetables into a mixing bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, finely chop the breast and any other bits of meat. You can add the heart and liver or not, as you like, although duck liver is fairly strong so keep that in mind. Mix the chopped meat in with the vegetables once they are cool.

Mix in the eggs and the bread crumbs. Wash and trim the potatoes, and grate them finely. There should be about 1 packed cup once grated; add them to the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut 3 pieces of kitchen twine to tie up the terrine. Lay the duck skin, outside down, over them. Form the filling mixture into a long sausage shape over the skin, then wrap it around the filling to cover, as much as possible. Tie it closed with the twine.

Put the terrine onto a metal rack over a pan to catch the drips with the seam side up, and roast it for 45 minutes. Carefully turn the terrine over so the whole skin side is up, and roast for a further 30 minutes to 45 minutes, until the skin is brown and crispy. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into slices and serving.

You should roast the legs at the same time; they will be ready a bit quicker. See the recipe for Duck & Wild Rice Salad for more details. 

Save the drippings and fat; put them into a small but deep container and refrigerate. This will allow you to remove the fat and keep it for cooking - the other drippings can be added to soup. 

Last year at this time I made Cheese & Carrot Barley Casserole.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Cumberland Sauce

Cumberland sauce, named for the Duke of Cumberland, is - it will not surprise you, given the name - an English sauce from the Victorian era. Unlike an awful lot of Victorian English cooking it is not difficult, overly elaborate, or bland. This is actually quite zippy, even zingy.

Believe it or not I have reached the ripe old age of 56 without previously tasting Port. It's more like sherry than I would have supposed, given its' reputation as a purely masculine drink. A good robust sherry would probably make a respectable replacement for it, if you liked. Likewise, instead of half each of a lemon and an orange, I used an entire Meyer lemon - my first ripe one of the season.

Cumberland sauce is traditionally used with just about any kind of red meat; I made mine to go with a duck recipe. Next week is going to be duck week - stay tuned.

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time

Cumberland Sauce on Duck Terrine

zest of 1/2 of a lemon
zest of 1/2 of an orange
the juice of 1/2 of a lemon
the juice of 1/2 of an orange
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup Port

Zest the lemon and oranges into a small pot, then squeeze out and add the juices. Add the remaining ingredients, with the exception of the Port. Stir well to be sure the starch is completely dissolved.

Heat the mixture gently over medium to low heat, stirring regularly, until the currant jelly has dissolved and the starch has cooked and thickened the sauce very slightly. This is a thin sauce; the starch is just sufficient to give it a little body rather than to thicken it substantially.

When the sauce is ready, stir in the Port and remove it from the heat. Strain it through a sieve into a serving pitcher or gravy boat. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made A Late Winter Salad with Avocado.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Thai Style Peanut & Sweet Potato Soup

In spite of the long list of ingredients this is pretty easy to put together, especially if you purée it instead of rubbing the sweet potatoes through a sieve which is what I did. What was I thinking? Washing the food processor would have been so much faster and easier.

Anyway, in spite of this being pretty easy to put together, it isn't super fast, what with having to cook the sweet potatoes in advance and also simmering the soup for a bit. I also thought the leftovers were even better than the first time around, and this should keep in the fridge for up to a week, so I would definitely say it's a thing to make in advance.

It's a very substantial soup; either serve small portions or don't serve too much else with it. I used the chicken stock, but the simple substitution of vegetable stock would make this vegetarian. I'm saying the keffir lime leaves and the lemongrass are optional, but do try to have at least one of them and both if you can get them. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
not including roasting the sweet potatoes

Thai Style Peanut & Sweet Potato Soup

Roast the Sweet Potatoes:
750 grams (1 1/2 pounds; 4 medium) sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the sweet potatoes and prick them with a fork; roast them until soft, about an hour to an hour and a quarter. Let cool enough to handle. This can be done up to a day ahead.

Make the Soup:
3 or 4 large shallots
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 cup coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 to 8 keffir lime leaves (optional)
the pared rind of a lime
1/4 cup chopped lemongrass (optional)
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
2 to 4 teaspoons finely minced pickled Jalapeño chile
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
the juice of 1/2 lime
chopped cilantro to garnish
chopped roasted peanuts to garnish
lime wedges to garnish

Peel and mince the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until lightly browned throughout; at least 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic and mix in well but let it cook for just a minute or two.

Add the coconut milk and stock to the soup pot and reduce the heat to low.

Put the lime leaves, pared lime rind (avoid the white pith as much as possible), the chopped lemongrass and the sliced ginger into a large spice ball, or tie it up in a bit of muslin and add it to the pot of soup. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Peel the sweet potatoes, and press them through a sieve or food mill into the soup. Alternatively, you can just chop them up and add them, then purée the soup before serving for a really smooth texture.

Measure the peanut butter in a large measuring cup. Ladle some of the soup in with it, and mix well before stirring it all back into the pot. (Although if  you are puréeing the soup, you can just dump it in and break it up as best you can first.) Season with the salt.

If you have opted to purée the soup - probably a smart move in retrospect, yeah I didn't - now is the time to do it.

Reheat the soup to serve, with the lime juice mixed in first. Pass it with chopped cilantro, chopped roasted peanuts, and wedges of lime to squeeze over.

Last year at this time I made A Late Winter Salad with Avocado.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Etta Ferguson's Oat Cakes

Last summer we spent 2 weeks in Nova Scotia, scattering Dad's ashes and visiting relatives. My aunt from Pennsylvania also came up, and she spent a little time chasing after oat cakes. That got me interested in them too, and before I left I asked my cousins if they had a good recipe. "Etta Ferguson's" they all replied in a chorus. So, I got it and here it is.

I don't know who Etta was but her oat cakes are terrific. She used shortening, which I replaced with half butter and half lard but for once I did not meddle beyond that. I thought it looked like a lot of salt and a lot of sugar, and yes it is. However, as I sat there eating the first cookie and thinking, hmm, too much salt? too much sugar? everyone else was saying OMG OM NOM NOM. The salt and brown sugar does give them a salted caramel quality that is very appealing.

I used Sucanat, which is a very unrefined brown sugar and probably quite similar to the cheap brown sugar originally used in the recipes from the Maritimes that call for brown sugar. Now, of course, you pay considerably extra for it, but I do think it makes a difference. You can use large or small flake rolled oats; I prefer large flakes for making oatmeal but for baking I tend to prefer the small quick-cooking ones, and that's what I used here.

Etta says to roll the cakes thin, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°F to 375°F. I think that 375°F is the proper temperature, and I needed to bake mine for closer to 15 minutes even so. Perhaps I didn't roll them out thin enough, but they were still rolled thinner than the commercially baked versions I saw. Mine ended up a bit chewy rather than really crisp but no complaints. I would happily eat them either way.

makes 32 to 40
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Etta Ferguson's Oat Cakes

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lard
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cream the butter and lard in a large mixing bowl until soft and fluffy, then beat in the egg and the vanilla extract.

Mix together the dry ingredients, and stir them in until evenly and throroughly combined, and no dry bits remain.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper to fit on your baking sheet. Pat it into a neat flat rectangle, then roll it out as evenly as possible. You can trim and patch the edges without much difficulty. The finished rectangle should be about 1/4" thick and fit onto your baking tray.

Use a pizza cutter to cut it into 32 (4 x 8) or 40 (5 x 8) pieces, but no need to move them apart. Put the sheet of parchment with the cakes onto the baking sheet, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until set (no longer shiny) and slightly browned.

Re-cut the lines with the pizza cutter and let the cakes cool. Lift them from the parchment with a thin lifter, and break them gently apart. Store in a tin, in a cool dry spot for as long as you can keep people out of them - not long.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Cheese French Toast

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Spicy Chinese Style Noodles

This is not an outstandingly authentic Chinese recipe; it's more in the line of making-do with what you can find in small-town grocery stores where there is not much if any Chinese population. I had seen a few Chinese noodle recipes that called for cucumbers and since I still had some to use up from the packet I bought last week I decided to give it a go, using just what was already in the house. We thought it was pretty good actually!

Cooked cucumbers end up much like cooked zucchini, only more bland. I'm not really excited by them. These go in so close to the last moment though, that although their flavour becomes milder, they still taste like cucumbers and they have a little crunch. Do be careful not to overcook them - they should be in the pan for just a minute or two. 

As ever, the correct amount of noodles to cook is the amount you intend to eat. I have broken the list of ingredients into 2 sections according whether they get boiled and/or added to the skillet at the last moment, or whether they get cooked in the skillet longer. Both these things need to be happening at the same time though, so do read the whole recipe before starting (always a good plan...)

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Spicy Chinese Style Noodles

Cook the Meat Etc.:
2 large chicken thighs
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced peeled fresh ginger
4 to 6 large shallots OR green onions
100 grams (1/4 pound) shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons chicken fat or mild vegetable oil

Cut the bone out of the chicken thighs (if it is there) and chop them into smallish bite-sized pieces. Put the meat into a bowl to marinate in the soy sauce, vinegar, and bean paste while you prepare other things; about 20 minutes.

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger, and put it aside in a small bowl with the garlic. Peel and sliver the shallots, or trim and julienne the green onions. Remove the caps from the shiitakes and discard the stems. Dice the caps.

When there is approximately 10 minutes left for the noodles to cook (which, depending on the noodles may actually be once the water boils but before they go into it,) heat the fat or oil in a large skillet over high heat. Dump in the meat with the marinade ingredients, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the shallots and shiitakes. (If you are using green onions hold off adding them until the last few minutes of cooking). When they have softened, browned and cooked down some, add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Cook the Noodles Etc.:
150 to 200 grams (5 to 6 ounces) wheat noodles
1 medium-large carrot
3 to 4 small greenhouse cucumbers
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 handful of chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce
OR hot pepper flakes to taste

Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the noodles and cook them according to the package instructions. You can throw the carrots in for the last 2 minutes of cooking if you prefer them not to be too crunchy; you may wish to allow an extra minute to cook the noodles, to cope with the fact that they cool the water down some.

Peel the carrot and cut it into julienne. Wash and trim the cucumbers, and cut them into julienne. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, dry, and chop the cilantro, if wanted.

When the noodles are done, drain them well. As noted, the carrot can go in with the noodles or add them now, with the noodles and cucumbers, to the pan of chicken and sauce. Mix in well and cook for a minute or two, until the noodles are well coated in the sauce and everything is fairly evenly distributed. The carrots and cucumbers should be just wilted. Sprinkle the garlic, sesame oil, chile-garlic sauce or hot pepper flakes over the noodles and mix in well.

Serve the noodles up at once, sprinkled with a little chopped cilantro if you like.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Cheese French Toast