I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Pear and maple syrup cake

It was last Sunday afternoon that I decided I must have a cake. I have written about this before: the gloomy Sunday slide into darkness that must be staved off by hook or by crook. I try to go out for a walk through the flower market on Columbia Road -- lined with shops selling furniture and trinkets from India and Thailand, each one a little bit less authentic than the last as they all carry the same bowls and incense holders; the high quality bespoke perfumier; the takeout window selling fried calamari and shrimp for 1.50 per bowl -- where the stall holders are almost Dickensian in their hawking and you can get bunches of flowers for practically nothing if you go at closing time. I try to take a bicycle ride in the country, where the promise of a pub lunch at the end of the road provides more encouragement for the cyclist than wanting to break a personal best. I go to the cinema, take in the latest exhibition at the National, poke around the tables of old prints and maps under Waterloo Bridge. Frequently these are all great outings and distractions from the impending work week. Sometimes, however, only a cake will do.

I read about this cake in Nigel Slater's column for the Observer a few weeks ago. His photo looked mouth-watering: soft pear, fragrant spices, sticky maple syrup. I could almost smell the aroma wafting from the pages of the magazine and filling the flat with warmth and comfort. (Emotional eating? Not me, nah...) It also looked fairly quick to make, and I thought I had all the ingredients on hand. I started to stir everything together, chopping up the pear and setting it on the stove to soften. Alas, my maple syrup was down to the last few sticky drops in the bottle, so I had to improvise by adding some dark brown sugar to the pears in lieu. I think the syrup would have been better, but my substitution was pretty good too. The pears didn't sink the way Nigel said, but made a good top layer. The cake was light and moist and redolent with pear and cinnamon. Warm out of the oven and served with a dollop of cream, nothing could have made life any better.

100g butter, softened
50g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
150g plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
50g ground almonds
3 large eggs
2 Tbsp. of milk
a couple of drops of vanilla extract
450g ripe pears
20g butter (I used hardly any)
a couple of pinches of cinnamon
3 Tbsp maple syrup

Nigel's instructions: Line the base of a deep 20cm baking tin with baking paper. Peel, core and chop the pears. The pieces should be quite small, about 1cm square. Put them into a shallow pan with the butter and cinnamon and let them soften for 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring from time to time so they do not burn. Pour in the maple syrup, let the mixture bubble up briefly then remove from the heat. The pears should continue cooking until they are sticky and deep golden. Set the oven at 180C.

Put the butter and sugars into the bowl of a food mixer and beat till pale and thick. They need to be the colour of milky coffee. Sieve the flour and baking powder together. (I don't normally suggest sieving flour but it is essential when you are incorporating baking powder, to ensure it is evenly distributed.) Add the almonds to the flour. Beat the eggs and milk in a small bowl with a fork then add to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, alternating with the flour and almonds. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Tip the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top. Spoon the pears and any remaining syrup over the cake mixture. It will gradually sink on cooking to make a sticky layer further down.

Bake for 40 minutes or till golden and lightly firm. Serve warm, in thick slices with cream and a little more maple syrup.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Shredded chicken in mole, roast acorn squash and pinto beans

Was this the world's easiest dinner? It seemed like it. It was definitely the easiest leftovers and made a fine lunch the next day.

After I made my mole sauce the first time around, I froze half of it for another use. When we had some friends around for dinner, I knew it was the perfect opportunity. I could whip up an impressive meal with practically no effort (but they didn't need to know that).

I bought some chicken breasts and poached them gently for about 20 minutes in lightly simmering water. I then shredded them and put them back in the pot with my defrosted mole sauce. After heating the mixture through, I served it with rice, pinto beans and acorn squash.

The acorn squash I had cut into wedges along the ridges of the squash, tossed with a little olive oil, salt and a pinch of chili powder, cumin and a dash of cinnamon for good measure. I stuck these in an oven at 350 and forgot about them for 45 minutes while I made the rest of dinner.

Easy? Definitely. Delicious? Oh yes. A perfect meal in all ways.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Butternut squash, roast beets and grilled halloumi salad

In winter, my salad consumption drops dramatically. This is partly because I think winter is for hot cocoa, soups, casseroles, and other foods that warm you from the inside out. Partly, I think it's because we all know that animals couldn't hibernate based on a salad diet, so it seems to go slightly against nature. However, I don't actually want to put on 30 pounds and sleep for 4 months, so sometimes a salad is what's called for.

The secret to winter salads is to base them around heartier, more substantial vegetables, and to make the flavors zing. In my vegetable box this week, I got a butternut squash and a few beets. Roasted, the sugars in the squash become toasty and caramel flavored while the texture goes wonderfully soft, and the beets retain a wonderful density. Both vegetables are on the sweet side, so I dressed the salad with a very lemony dressing to add acidity for balance. To make the salad more of a meal, and to add some needed saltiness, I bought some halloumi to grill.

For those of you who have never had grilled halloumi, you are in for a treat. Everyone loves a grilled cheese sandwich. But halloumi is cheese that can go straight on the grill. It looks like a hard mozzarella right out of the package, but add some fire and it softens, then crisps up and browns. It is indeed something magical.

All in all, this is a great salad for the cool evenings. Also, I might add, it makes a great lunch that does not induce post-prandial hibernation. Sleepiness might be good for bears, not so much for the working stiff.

Butternut squash, roast beets and grilled halloumi salad

Cubed butternut squash, roasted
Wedges of beets, roasted or boiled and peeled
Slices of halloumi, grilled in a nonstick pan until browned on both sides
Watercress, arugula, or other peppery leaf
Dressing made with 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil, dash of Dijon mustard whisked together

Mix dressing in a bowl. Toss all ingredients except beets with the dressing in the bowl and plate. Toss beets in the bowl to coat with remaining dressing, then add to salad. (Or, if you don't mind them bleeding onto the rest of the salad, toss all together at the same time.)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Roast figs with goat's cheese and balsamic-honey glaze

As I'm sure you can all guess, since figs are well and truly out of season by now, this picture is from a dinner more than a few Saturday nights ago. However, I had sort of forgotten that I had taken the photo, so it's now getting its moment of glory (or its second moment, after the original making when -- yes, I will brag -- it elicited great acclaim) until now.

Figs -- I love figs. I couldn't give a fig because when I get a fig I keep a fig. I am a figgy piggy. I love them fresh in salads, baked in cakes, dried and chopped into granola bars. I love how they can be super sweet, oozing with syrup, or just mildly fresh, used as a counterpoint in savory dishes. Figs have a little bit of the diva about them; they are extremely sensitive and prone to sudden changes of mood. Your firm fig will turn to jelly on the inside overnight if you're not careful, and the slightest bruising in the bag on the way back from the market can ruin your fruit for anything but fig jam.

It must have been in September sometime, when I picked up the last handful of figs from Borough Market to have with dinner. I had done one of my classic over-shops so cooked up a frenzy of dishes for our meal, and by the time I got to dessert I really didn't feel like doing anything that required more than 5 minutes. I decided to roast the figs to concentrate their flavors, stuffed with goat's cheese because hey -- everything's better with goat's cheese -- and finished with a little sweet and piquant glaze to tie it all together.

Roast figs with goat's cheese

Figs (3 x person)
Goat's cheese
1 tsp honey plus 1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar per person

Cut off top stem of each fig. Make two cuts at right angles 1/3 way down figs so you can stuff about a teaspoon of cheese into each fig. Whisk honey and vinegar and drizzle over the top. Bake in 325 oven for about 10 minutes, or until figs are hot and softened. Drizzle more glaze over the top to serve.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cauliflower with paprika, tomatoes and chickpeas

I saw this recipe for cauliflower with tomatoes and pimenton in the New York Times earlier this year and it has become one of my go-to recipes whenever I have any cauliflower on hand. The sweetness of the cauliflower, which melts into the rest of the dish as it softens, is perfectly complemented by the sweetness in the pimenton. The tomatoes lend some acidity to the dish and provide a base for the paprika. I love the smokiness of the paprika, so mix hot and sweet so I can up the flavor ante without burning my mouth.

The original recipe was pure vegetable, but I have taken to adding some chickpeas to make it a one-dish meal in and of itself. Below is my slightly amended, but filling and extremely satisfying version.

Cauliflower with paprika and chickpeas

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed
1 T. olive oil
1 mild dried chile, optional
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 can chopped tomatoes plus juice
1 T. sweet paprika (or hot paprika, or a mix)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish, optional.

Chop cauliflower into florets, then place in a covered bowl with a spoonful of water and microwave until soft, about 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan and add onion and chile, if using. Cook until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and let soften, about 2 minutes, then add paprika.

Add tomato, chickpeas and cauliflower and cook, mashing cauliflower a bit, until cauliflower is coated with sauce and chickpeas are hot. Garnish.

Serves 2 as main dish.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Roast duck legs with red wine and dried plums, roast potatoes and cabbage

I had a pair of duck legs in the freezer, a souvenir of a trip to the Blackheath farmer's market where I slightly over-shopped and came back with more food than possible to consume before it all went bad. Luckily, the cooler nights and longer evenings call for something rich and comforting, something a little bit special. A Saturday night in was the perfect opportunity to cook up a duck feast.

I can't give an exact recipe because I improvised as I went along and forgot to write down my exact measurements. However, nothing was so complicated that it can't be figured out or approximated.

I wanted to cook the duck slowly in the oven, making a sauce in the roasting pan as everything cooked together. Though I would be roasting the bird, I wanted to make sure the skin got crisp and some of the fat drained out (I had other uses for it). I cooked the legs, skin side down, in a medium hot non-stick pan for about 5-10 minutes, until the skin was cooked and I had several tablespoons of fat in the pan.

I then transferred the duck to my baking dish and thought about what I would cook with it. I had some red wine from Friday night, some red onions, and decided I would add in some dried plums (yep, prunes), as they do in France. I poured in about a cup of wine and a cup of water, thinly sliced the red onions, and chopped the handful of prunes in half. I popped the dish into a 350 oven and forgot about it for half an hour.

What to make to go with the duck? With the extra duck fat, roast potatoes would clearly be on the menu. I poured off most of the duck fat in the saute pan and mixed it with some cut up potatoes, and in they went to the oven with the duck. All they needed was to be stirred around once or twice during roasting.

And, of course, we needed some greens. I had a head of savoy/Napa cabbage. This I cooked in the same saute pan as the duck, with the last remaining drops of the duck fat, and 1/4 cup of vegetable stock. I put the lid on the pan and steamed the cabbage for 5 minutes until it turned bright green, then took off the lid and let the little bit of liquid in the bottom evaporate.

Finally, when the duck and potatoes were ready, I took out the duck from the oven, removed it to a covered plate to rest for a few minutes. I poured the liquid from the pan into a fat separator, straining out the onions and prunes, then poured the pure liquid back into the pan with the vegetables and fruit.

A little plating up and we were ready to feast.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pattypan squash stuffed with sausage and white beans

Last of the summer squash, those fresh, thin-skinned varieties that (sometimes) grow to massive proportions, forgotten under a large leaf in the garden. I have no garden, but I do have a vegetable box that brings me such treats, often revealing a surprise. Such as the giant pattypan squash that arrived recently.

What to do with two large pattypans? These are the squash that look like they came from space, giant flying-saucer-like vegetables. Being such a fun shape, I wanted to cook something that showed it off or at least made use of it.

I have always loved stuffed squash. (A great example I made last winter: delicata squash stuffed with barley and quinoa) The pattypan variety is great for this because you can get a lot of filling squashed (sorry) into these puppies, and the flavor of the filling transfers to the container. With their soft skin, you can eat everything. Very efficient.

But it's the beginning of November (where did the year go?), so goodbye summer squash, hello butternut, acorn, delicata and other heartier, more wintry varieties. Wrap up warm and enjoy the change.

Pattypan squash stuffed with sausage and white beans

2 pattypan squash, boiled or roasted until tender.
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 sausages, casings removed
1/2 C. small white beans (cannellini, haricot, etc.)
1/4 C. breadcrumbs

Roast at 350 or boil the squash until tender.

Cut off top and scoop out seeds. Any extra flesh, reserve and mix with the stuffing. Cut a small, thin slice off the very bottom just to flatten the squash so it stays upright in the baking dish.

In a skillet on the stove, cook sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up the meat into little crumbles. Add onion and carrot and cook until soft, then add garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add beans and stir through breadcrumbs.

Stuff the sausage mixture into the squash and place into an oiled roasting dish, with any leftover stuffing scattered around the squash.

Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, until everything heats through and the breadcrumbs crisp.

Serves 2.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Pasta with fresh basil and tomatoes confit

This is hardly a recipe, but it's one of my favorite uses for my tomato confit. In the same way that I love a fresh tomato pasta, as the heat of the spaghetti cooks the tomatoes, with maybe just a little garlic and olive oil, the tomato confit makes for a slightly more robust version. In this dish, the intensity of the tomatoes is balanced out by a good handful of fresh basil. Especially in winter, when tomatoes need to be coaxed to release any sort of flavor, this dish still brings back memories of summer.

So there you have it, a simple dish that can't be improved by any addition of any ingredients. I think that's about all that needs to be said. Eat up.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Tomato confit

Most of the time I think tomatoes are one of nature's most perfect foods. Rarely can anything beat a fresh, ripe tomato (sprinkled with a little salt and pepper). Straight from a garden, with that dusty flavor of sunshine, I could eat them like apples. I think it's a shame to do anything to them. However, there are times when cooking is a necessity, or a luxury. Perhaps when tomato season begins to wane, or maybe at the height of it with a bumper crop, it's time to turn the heat up.

Aside from being an amazingly delicious thing to do to a tomato, this is one of those recipes that you can turn into anything. A foundation recipe, if you will, on which to build a food empire. Confit actually refers to a technique of preserving food, either in salt, sugar, oil, or vinegar (so far as I can tell), but most often "confit" conjures up the taste of tender and rich meat slowly cooked in its own fat (or that of a more generous species).

These tomatoes confit are cooked in a bit of olive oil, not enough to drown them, but just enough so that the oil and tomato juices create a nectar-like emulsion as the liquid concentrates in the oven. A few cloves of garlic thrown into the pan never hurt either.

What to do with all this goodness? Toast some rustic bread and top with the tomatoes; stir in some plump cannellini beans; spoon some onto a delicate white fish. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Tomato confit

Tomatoes (cherry tomatoes or quartered Roma tomatoes)
A few cloves of garlic
Olive oil to coat (about 1/4 C. for an 8" pan)
Sprigs of rosemary or thyme if on hand

Toss tomatoes in olive oil in pan. Add in garlic and herbs if using. Bake at 300 for an hour or so, until tomatoes are collapsed and tender.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mark Bittman's Mexican chocolate tofu pudding

Anyone sensing a theme? I seem to be stuck on Mexican food, though this is not a bad thing. Who doesn't like cumin, cilantro, chili pepper, cinnamon? (And is all Mexican food alliterative?) However, after my mole recipe and pico de gallo salad, I thought I should do something for dessert.

I like cooking with tofu. It has a great texture, ranging from silky soft to firm and crumbly. Better yet, it will absorb whatever flavors it snuggles up with like the way I wished I could absorb calculus by sleeping with my textbook under my pillow. I have often used soft tofu to add body and protein to blended soups and firm tofu as the main act in my stir fries. However, I had not, until now, considered the soy product as a potential dessert.

Mark Bittman's article in the New York Times about tofu included this recipe for Mexican Chocolate tofu pudding. I pretty much like anything he creates, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The recipe was easy and produced a great result. The pudding has the deep undertones of cinnamon supporting the high and hot notes of the chili. If you like the flavors of Mexican chocolate, this dish has it in spades. If you like your chocolate a bit less adulterated, it is also a treat without the spices. An extra table spoon or two of cocoa mixed in with the liquid would make it seriously decadent. At the same time, there's something wonderfully guilt-free about eating tofu. Go on.

Mark Bittman's Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

3/4 C. sugar
1 pound silken tofu
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or more to taste
Chocolate shavings (optional).

In a small pot, combine sugar with 3/4 cup water; bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings in a blender and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. Garnish with fruit or chocolate shavings.

Serves 4 to 6 (depending on size of ramekin and appetite)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Pico de gallo and quinoa salad

Hello again. I'm back after another hiatus. September was a busy month: three countries, four time zones, a birthday, a wedding, several amazing dinners out, and (oh yes) crunch time at work. But I'm back now and raring to go with a few new recipes.

First up, a sort of non-recipe that turned out to be inspired (in my humble opinion). I had made fajitas with the required accompaniments, i.e. pico de gallo and guacamole, courtesy of my brother's recipe. Surprisingly, I actually had some left over. The guacamole was easy -- I practically ate it with a spoon -- but the pico de gallo was a little more challenging. Luckily, the fridge provides unexpected inspiration through juxtaposition: another container held some quinoa from an earlier meal, and I had an ear of corn -- the last of the summer -- which came in my vegetable box. After throwing in some pinto beans, also from the meal, this combination made for a tasty lunch. Quick and easy for when life gets to be a bit too hectic.

Pico de gallo and quinoa salad

1/2 C. pico de gallo
1/3 C. cooked quinoa
1/2 C. pinto beans
1/3 C. corn
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together, adjusting lime, salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Holy Mole!

This week's BSI challenge comes from London Foodie in New York, who chose chocolate (what? no one had picked chocolate yet?!). I love chocolate in all forms -- cakes, cookies, bars, beverages -- but today, for once in my life, my sweet tooth was not clamoring for a treat. Plus, I figured there would be cakes and sweets aplenty. Therefore, I thought I'd sneak chocolate into something a little different: a chicken with mole.

Now, before people scream that this is not a traditional recipe, I know that it's not. I know this because a) it only took me 30 minutes to make instead of 3 hours; b) it only called for two types of peppers; and c) I was making it, which means it was automatically inauthentic. But what it is, is rich, complex, smooth and muy rico.

(Mole, pre-blending)

For the uninitiated, mole -- which means sauce -- is a type of thick sauce (contrast guacamole with pico de gallo) from Mexico, and comes in a variety of combinations. These are differentiated by the types of peppers used, the nuts, spices, absence or presence of tomatoes or tomatillos, and too many other ingredients to discuss. They are unified by the fact that a true mole should have many ingredients and take hours to prepare. For the initiated, you know it's definitely worth the effort.

(A sample of the ingredients; they just looked so pretty)

I based my recipe on this one from Epicurious. It's probably closest to a mole poblano, but again I tempt fate by naming it as such when it's a streamlined version. I only made a few modifications. For example, I couldn't get my hands on the right peppers. But I figured I had several different kinds on hand: some fresh from the pot on my windowsill, some dried, and some chipotle flakes. Good enough for me. Also: I slightly decreased the amount of peppers used for my wee bit more sensitive taste buds. I didn't have Mexican chocolate, so I used a tablespoon of cinnamon which I added with the other spices. Finally, instead of simmering my chicken before shredding it, I browned my chicken thighs before baking them in the mole in the oven. I served them with black beans and rice, and I (almost) didn't miss having chocolate in my dessert.

Roast chicken thighs with mole

4-6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs depending on size

3 C. low-salt chicken broth
2 C. orange juice
1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
1/2 C. sliced almonds
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 ounces dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
1 ounce dried negro chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
1/4 C. raisins
4 3 x 1/2-inch strips orange peel (orange part only)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 3.1-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds, garlic, cumin, and coriander. Sauté until nuts and garlic begin to color, about 2 minutes. Add chiles and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.

Pour chicken stock and orange juice into saucepan with onion mixture. Add raisins, orange peel, and oregano to saucepan. Cover and simmer until chiles are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Let stand until chocolate melts and sauce mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown chicken in a pan, skin side down. Transfer to a baking dish just large enough to hold the thighs, and arrange in one layer, skin side up.

Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree until smooth. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon enough sauce into baking dish so that the chicken is sitting in the sauce, but the skin is still exposed. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Serves 2, with a lot of leftover mole, which will keep in the freezer and is also excellent on other meats and fish or with enchiladas.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Italian job and fresh mozzarella and tomato salad

By popular demand, a few photos and memories of my vacation in Italy. I'm almost loath to post these because it's like reviewing your favorite local restaurant: you want to spread the word because it's amazing, but it's partly amazing because nobody goes there, and if you spread the word you'll never be able to get a table again. But Italy is less easy to get to, so I'm not as worried.

My "discovery" was the little island of Procida, a tiny neighbor of Capri. An archetypal Mediterranean fishing village, the only tourists there were other Italians, or day-trippers from Naples. Nobody spoke English, which resulted in me buying an entire box of nectarines for 2 Euros rather than 2 nectarines as I had tried to communicate.

This serene retreat is bounded on all sides by beautiful, dark, volcanic sand beaches that dip in to the bathwater-warm Mediterranean. We spent a day lying on some lounges, under an umbrella decorated like a giant hula skirt, watching the extremely tanned Italians walk past. I think when Italian women die, they don't go to heaven, they go to Louis Vuitton to be made into luggage.

But ah, the food. from the thin and crispy crackly pizza crust up north (did I mention I also got to go to Tuscany?) to the more robust crust of the famous pizzas of Naples, the perfectly brewed cappucino and the characteristic local (as in, grown the next hill over) wine, the tomatoes reeking of sunshine, the fish so fresh it's practically still swimming. And the paintbox palette of gelato in each cafe's freezer case: pistachio, melon, frutti di bosco, deep dark chocolate, and stracciatella (is there a more fun way to say chocolate chip?). I relax my rule about not having dessert twice in one day because I feel that if I'm not having gelato after lunch and dinner I'm wasting my time.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Now back home, trying to recapture my sojourn on this island, I tried to cook up something quintessentially Italian. Nothing says "Italy" to me like a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad. I know this is hardly a recipe, and more like a collection of ingredients arranged on a plate, but it is so evocative of Italy that I had to post it. In Italy, we were buying tomatoes of all colors because they are sold when still green, even though the flavor has fully developed in the hot sun. Here, to get that snazzy look, I had to buy some different varieties for the color contrast. Red, yellow, orange and purple: how could you not like this? It is almost worth coming home for.

Fresh mozzarella and tomato salad

Fresh mozzarella, torn into chunks
Ripest tomatoes possible, sliced any which way
Handful of basil scattered over top
A drizzle of herbacious olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Oatmeal pancakes with cranberry relish

The story of my Italian holiday will have to wait because of a happy intersection between my Saturday breakfast and Blogger Secret Ingredient. This week's host, Johnstone's Vin Blanc, chose oats as the ingredient of the week. Now, I love oats. I have oatmeal frequently, make my own granola, and have a not so secret addiction to granola bars. Really: they are that good.

But this week, I wanted a classic breakfast of a big stack of pancakes. When I want pancakes, my go-to book is The Pancake Handbook from Bette's Oceanview Diner in Berkeley. They are great recipes, though of course they taste better when Bette's kitchen is cooking them for me. Alas, being based in London, I can't have my pancakes and eat them too...

The recipe I chose was the oatmeal-raisin pancake recipe. This batter makes moist, nutty pancakes that -- due to the oats and whole wheat -- we can smugly feel are good for us. My changes to the recipe are to increase the proportion of oats and add a grating of fresh nutmeg, and also to ditch the raisins. The brown sugar gives these a natural sweetness and the addition of nuts is just gilding the lily.

I served the pancakes with some of my favorite cranberry sauce, which I make by the stockpot-ful and squirrel away to have on toast, oatmeal, or pancakes. Or, of course, with roast turkey. It's a sweet, tart, spicy sauce that goes with just about everything and begs you to eat it by the spoonful.

Oatmeal pancakes adapted from The Pancake Handbook

1 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. quick-cooking oats
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 C. milk (also good with buttermilk)
2 T. melted butter
1/4 C. chopped walnuts or pecans

In a small bowl, combine the oats with 1 C. milk and let soak for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nuts. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then pour them into the oat and milk mixture along with the remaining 1/2 C. milk and the melted butter, then fold the wet into the dry ingredients in the larger bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Heat a pat of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop batter onto skillet, about 1/4 C. per pancake. Cook until small bubbles cover surface of the pancake, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about 16 4" pancakes.

Cranberry relish (adapted from Sunset Magazine)

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly slivered, or minced finely
1 cup orange juice
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a 3 1/2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes or until some cranberries begin to pop and all sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container until ready to use. If using slivered ginger, remove before serving or avoid eating the pieces!

Makes 3 1/2 C.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mid-summer ratatouille with polenta

I have been on vacation in Italy (just to gloat a little) and had intended to set something up to publish automatically while I was away, just in case everyone missed me, but in the pre-holiday craziness I forgot. Better than forgetting to turn off the oven, but I apologize to everyone who pined away for my posts in my absence.

More about Italy soon, but having just flown back in this afternoon (and boy are my arms tired) I am busy doing laundry, making sure nothing major happened at work, and reconciling myself to the fact that my vacation is over. I don't think I have anything in the fridge right now -- I made sure to pour out the dregs of the milk before I left (I have made that mistake before and it is a really smelly welcome home gift) -- so will have to hit the store to see what I can whip up. As much as I have been enjoying my pasta and pizza, I'm thinking tonight might be something more along the lines of a curry or a stir fry just for some variety.

But for now, though the cupboard is bare, I have a little something waiting in the wings to be posted. A few weeks ago, I went on a vegetable shopping spree at Borough Market because summer is all too short and I felt like I needed to lay in a supply, just because it was available. What to do with the bounty, besides put it in my vegetable bowl and admire my still life (which I think sounds much nicer than the French "nature morte", though I suppose the French is technically more true)? Thinking French, I decided a ratatouille -- or at least my interpretation of one -- would be perfect. I could have served it with crusty french bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with olive oil, but instead I decided to make some polenta. It was a perfect way to celebrate the season.

And now to try to find something for dinner tonight...

Mid-summer ratatouille with polenta

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, halved & quartered lengthwise, then chopped
1 medium zucchini, halved & quartered lengthwise, then chopped into 1/2 inch thick pieces
1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
fresh basil

In medium sauce pan, heat oil and saute onion until soft. Add garlic, cook for a few minutes. Then add carrot and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and bell pepper, cook until soft but not falling apart. Add chickpeas and heat through. Serve with fresh basil leaves torn over the top, with polenta.

1/2 C. polenta
2 C. water
1 tsp. salt

Boil water. Add polenta to pan of water, whisking to remove clumps, then stir through while polenta thickens and cooks. Polenta is supposed to cook slowly for 30 minutes or more, with the cook stirring all the while. I find I make very tasty polenta in about 5 minutes, just stirring so it doesn't burn.

Serves 2

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Zucchini "spaghetti" with broad beans, pancetta and lemon cream

Growing up, a favorite dinner was zucchini spaghetti, which was a clever way of getting us kiddies to eat our vegetables. Zucchini grated into pasta and cheese was not only palatable, but popular. I still crave it to this day. But this day, with zucchini on my hands and spaghetti on my mind, the cupboard was bare. No pasta to be had. What was I to do?

I decided to make my zucchini my spaghetti, and tart up the creamy element with some lemon and creme fraiche. Naturally, what goes with cream is bacon, so some pancetta I had wrapped up in the freezer had its moment. For a little textural contrast, a handful of broadbeans, and I finished the dish with some lemon zest.

The result was a soft but snappy base of vegetables with a decidedly adult sauce. The saltiness of the pancetta, lemony cream of the sauce, and refreshing zucchini base was more than the sum of its parts. I'm not sure I would have liked it as a child, but I certainly ate it up now.

Zucchini "spaghetti" with broad beans, pancetta and lemon cream

1/4 C. pancetta cubes
1 zucchini, cut into long, thin strips
1/3 C. broad beans
2 T. creme fraiche
1 tsp. lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon

Trim excess fat off pancetta and cook in a splash of olive oil until any remaining fat is rendered and pancetta browns.

Add broad beans and zucchini strips and cook until they soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Stir through creme fraiche and lemon juice, then heat through. Stir through lemon zest. Add a grinding of black pepper and any extra salt to taste.

Serves 1

Monday, 17 August 2009

Chocolate cake with mocha buttercream

Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Unless you have a great day out planned, or you really, REALLY love your job and can't wait to go into work on Monday morning, Sundays have the potential to be one really long afternoon of dread.

In my case, a very long and stressful previous week, coupled with my partner in crime being called into work (yes, I know -- working on a weekend beats my sitting-at-home dread hands down) and therefore plans going down the drain, added up to one very unhappy me.

Luckily, I belong to the Marie Antoinette school of self-medicating: eating (and baking) cake. Whenever I have a funk to get out of, I like to get out my mixing bowls, baking pans, chocolates creams coconuts chips you name it. Better than a stiff drink, though (with apologies to Sex & the City) I do worry sometimes about ending up in the Betty Crocker clinic. Probably unfounded as no one has staged an intervention yet, but mid-bowl licking, with batter all over my hands and face, I probably look a step away from a support group.

Anyway, today's blues called for the hard stuff: chocolate and coffee. I needed a rich chocolate base for a frenzy of mocha frosting. That meant cocoa, and lots of it. The cake stays moist without being overly fudgy -- distinctively cake, and with a good crumb -- and also without suffering, as many chocolate cakes, from drying out too much. The frosting is a classic buttercream, but with coffee cutting the sweetness and the chocolate rounding out the flavor.

I decorated the cake with little chocolate buttons, but as it was only made for me the finished product didn't last long. And yes, I had two pieces: so apart from a little bit of a stomachache, I felt much better.

Chocolate Cake (Recipe from June 2009 Bon Appetit)

Butter and flour for dusting
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mocha buttercream frosting
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tbs. milk
1 C. (8 oz.) butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
4 C. powdered/icing sugar

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with parchment paper, then butter and dust pan and paper with flour, tapping out any excess. Sift 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Sift cocoa into another medium bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over cocoa; whisk to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add butter to egg mixture and beat until blended. Beat in cocoa mixture. Add buttermilk and vanilla; beat to blend. Add dry ingredients and beat on low just to blend. Transfer batter to prepared pans; smooth top.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pan on rack. This cake can stand to be slightly underbaked.

For buttercream:
Either melt chocolate in a double boiler or in microwave (put chocolate in small, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds; stir. If pieces retain some of their original shape, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until melted. Cool to room temperature). The former is traditional, the latter is much easier.

Beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Dissolve instant coffee in milk, then beat into buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency is achieved. Add more milk if necessary.

Invert one layer onto cake dish. Spread thick layer of buttercream over top of the layer, then set second layer, right side up, on top of filling. Smooth buttercream over top and sides. Decorate as the muse takes you, or leave plain for a classic look.

Serves 12 happy people, or 3-4 depressed people

Friday, 14 August 2009

Curried chicken with rhubarb and lentils

In June, in the height of rhubarb season, this recipe appeared in the "A Good Appetite" column in the NY Times. I didn't get around to making it right away, but kept it in mind as I laid away some rhubarb in the freezer for its eventual use in this dish. Rhubarb season is too short, I think, and I love it so much in crumble, pie, and compote that I would hardly dare to use it in a savory dish.

Nevertheless, I decided to try to something different, and this looked like just the dish. Melissa Clark was inspired to substitute rhubarb, with its natural astringency, for vinegar in a curry sauce. She used duck legs, but I had chicken pieces. I also changed the proportions slightly, and forgot the onions in the main dish, so my adaptations are below. The end result was a beautiful, heady dish. The smaller pieces of rhubarb melted gloriously into the sauce, while the larger pieces managed to retain their shape.

I also decided to serve it with some gently spiced lentils, using the same flavors as in the main recipe. I could almost have eaten them straight, forgetting about the main dish. That's the hallmark of the best side dishes (does anyone else choose what to order in a restaurant based on the side dishes?).

While I'm not sure that rhubarb crumble could ever be knocked off its pedestal as the zenith of rhubarb recipes, next time I make some I will save some stalks for this dish. I was amazed at the chameleon-like flavor of rhubarb, how it can be so different with sugar and with spice (but always definitely nice).

Curried chicken with Rhubarb by Melissa Clark

2 pounds whole chicken legs (2 or 3) or chicken pieces
Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 4-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C. unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced 1/2 -inch thick (2 cups)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Chopped fresh cilantro or chives, for garnish.

Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add as many pieces of chicken as fit easily. Brown on one side, about 7 minutes. Turn and brown other side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat if necessary.

While chicken browns, combine 1 C. onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, vinegar, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water in a blender, and process until smooth.

When chicken is done, spoon out all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet (if necessary). Add ginger-garlic paste and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.

Add coconut milk and 2 cups water, and bring to a simmer. Add rhubarb, brown sugar, chicken and any juices that may have accumulated in bowl. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, turning chicken pieces halfway through. Uncover pan, turn chicken again, and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Spoon any accumulated fat off sauce and serve right away or, better, chill overnight and degrease sauce before reheating all on a low flame. Serve garnished with cilantro or chives.

Yield: 4 servings.

Lightly spiced lentils (by moi!)

1/2 Tbs. oil
1/2 C. finely chopped onion
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 C. brown lentils
2 C. water
salt to taste

Saute onion and ginger in oil until soft. Add spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant. Add lentils, water, and vinegar and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but still retain their shape.

Serves 4

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Lime & coconut panna cotta with blueberries

This week's BSI challenge, hosted by My Kitchen Addiction, is lime.

The lime is certainly a good challenge ingredient: a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, but with an alluring (if elusive) flavor and scent. What to make to capture both? I first thought about the key lime pie, imagined lime squares, paused briefly on some lime-based ceviche, but finally decided I was going to make a creamy, zesty, lime panna cotta. I could almost taste the flavors and almost see the beautiful little wobble it would make when inverted onto a serving plate. Also, it's incredibly easy and quick to make (aside from the chilling time).

Alas, it was not to be. I realized I had no gelatin, and no stores in South East London (ok, within a 15 minute walk of my flat) stocked anything.

Then Plan B came to me, or more specifically, "Plan Coconut Milk Pudding which is sort of like Panna Cotta but doesn't need gelatin." (And, hey! is vegan.) I have made very successful chocolate puddings with milk and cornstarch, so I thought I'd try it here with some coconut milk (to give it a little extra flavor, plus: lime & coconut = culinary perfection). I warmed the coconut milk, added the lime juice and some sugar -- enough of both to give a pretty good dose of lime flavor without completely overwhelming the poor tastebuds -- and then stirred in my thickener. I added some blueberries to the coconut mixture when I poured it into my ramekins. I briefly contemplated making a blueberry and lime sauce instead, but decided I liked the fresh blueberries better.

And you know what, it came out pretty well. Lesson learned: always do what the song says and put the lime in the coconut. Here's a picture (post-digging in) so you can see the beautiful blueberries hovering in the coconut cream.

Lime & coconut panna cotta with blueberries

2 C. coconut milk (regular or light or a mixture of both)
3 Tbsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1 lime
handful of blueberries

Arrange 4 ramekins with a circle of baking parchment to line the bottom of each. This will help the panna cotta to release when ready to serve.

Gently heat coconut milk, lime juice and sugar (adjusting the proportions of the lime and the sugar depending on the sweetness and acidity of your lime). Scoop out 1/4 C. of the coconut milk and whisk the cornstarch in before returning the mixture to the pan. Keep whisking while it heats and thickens. It should thicken nicely before getting to a full boil, at which point remove from heat.

Let the mixture cool slightly, then pour into ramekins, mixing blueberries in. Chill for at least 2-3 hours. To serve, dip ramekin into hot water for 5 seconds or so, then invert onto a plate. (At least this is what should happen. I had to run a knife around the edge of mine to get them to slip out.)

Serves 4

Friday, 7 August 2009

Pasta primavera

Pasta primavera means springtime pasta, but pasta estate doesn't sound quite so appetizing, if more seasonally appropriate. This is high summer pasta -- when the tomatoes start to burst open, the summer squash is in full swing, and you can smell a basil plant a mile away. Yes, and the living is easy: this dish can be made in 10 minutes, provided you can chop quickly enough.

The beauty of this particular recipe is that it is not really a recipe at all, but more of a suggested line of inquiry. Any vegetables will do, in any combination, and any quantities. Feta, goat's cheese, mozzarella -- the world is your oyster (am I mixing my foodie metaphors here?). And on a long, warm evening, watching the world slide into dusk, with a glass of a good pinot grigio from Orvieto, or a vernaccia from San Gimigniano, you couldn't ask for more flavor from less work.

Pasta primavera

1/2 lb pasta
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large or 2 small green onions
10-12 plum tomatoes
Handful peas or frozen soy beans
1 medium zucchini, cut into batons
2-4 Tbsp. Fresh basil, chiffonade
crumbled feta

Cook pasta according to instructions. While pasta is cooking, saute garlic in a little olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini and cook until soft, but still crisp. Add peas and green onions, then heat tomatoes through for just a minute. Once pasta is drained, mix with vegetables, basil and feta.

Serves 2

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Pico de gallo, guacamole and fresh fruit smoothie

Family guest post part deux:

Growing up in my family, we always sat down for dinner together. Barring softball or baseball practice, gymnastics or Tae Kwon Do, we pretty much always ate, talked, laughed, sulked, tried to leave early to read my book, or otherwise spent time together. We don't have so many family meals now, living in three different cities on two continents, but we still manage to connect around dinner. These days, often in the form of sharing recipes and ideas. Last week was a contribution from my mother. Today, one from my brother. (I'll never have to blog again!)

In September, my little brother will be getting married. Yes, my baby brother is all grown up: and someone has come along to take him off our hands! But seriously -- and I suppose this is what it must be like to have children -- I have watched him go from a little boy to a grown man. Nowhere is this more apparent (and important, clearly) than in his eating habits. For years, Lil' Bro subsisted on an all-white diet. Rice, pasta, chicken breast, pancakes: the four food groups (though he reminds me he rounded out his diet with cereal). Nevertheless, he managed to avoid rickets and scurvy, and has turned into someone who emails me about the best technique for cooking risotto or the particular peppercorn needed for a pasta and pecorino recipe.

This week, he sent me some pics and recipes. He said, "Feel free to elaborate, pontificate, or re-write as you desire. Actually, any re-writing would probably be an improvement since you have more practice at this." I have to disagree -- I think he does it very well on his own. Aw. Anyway, here you have it: a trio of recipes for a hot summer day. Chips, salsa, guacamole, and a holy moly fresh fruit smoothie: I am so proud.

Pico de gallo

4 fresh, ripe tomatoes - peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 C. finely diced onions
2 cloves minced garlic
3 T. diced cilantro
Juice of 1-2 limes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin

Preparation is fairly straightforward. Just takes a bit of patience and chopping. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds, dice, and deposit into a medium sized mixing bowl. Chop the onions, garlic, and cilantro and add them to the tomatoes. Add the lime juice and mix. Sprinkle the salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin into the mix to disperse and mix again. Finally add the cilantro and give it a final mix. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to bring out the flavors.

The ingredients you use and the amount in which they are used is rather flexible. You can use more or less of any ingredient to suit your tastes better. The key is to use the best produce you can find to keep a fresh and flavorful salsa.


I have to give credit for the basic recipe to the Momster. Indeed her recipes are what my cooking experience is founded on. A lot of this preparation is done to taste (as you will see in the directions) and I will modify it based on who I am preparing it for.

4 ripe avocados
1 tomato, diced
Juice of 2-3 limes
1 T. diced cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Halve the avocados and remove the pit. Using a fork, scrape the meat (meat? flesh? yummy green stuff?) of the avocado into a mixing bowl. This will make the mixing easier. Add the lime and salt and mix with a fork using the tines to smush any large pieces until you have a fairly even consistency. Taste and add lime or salt as desired. Mix in cayenne pepper and cilantro. Check taste. Finally mix in the chopped tomato and serve.

Again, the ingredients can be modified but having nice, ripe avocados will make or break the guacamole. Some people will add onion to their guacamole but I find that the powerful flavor detracts from the avocado. Similarly, with the cayenne pepper, I add just enough to give it a subtle kick at the end but not enough to overpower the other ingredients.

Fresh Fruit Smoothie

Earlier in the summer my fiancée went berry picking and the abundance of berries inspired me to try my hand at smoothies using our stick blender.

1/2 cup+ of fresh mixed berries (I use blackberries, raspberries, and a few blueberries)
1 scoop of: fresh vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet, your choice
Roughly 1/2 cup apple cider

Add the berries and your frozen medium to the mixing beaker for your stick blender and compress slightly with the blender. Add enough apple cider to submerge the end of the blender and blend to the desired consistency. Pour into chilled pint glass and enjoy. This can likely also be done with a regular blender but I haven't tried it myself.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Blueberry and peach galette

Another post from guest chef Momster. (Yes, that would be my mother.) My regular calls home are on the weekends due to the 8 hour time difference. Every Saturday afternoon in London, I call home to California and, depending on the time, I either catch her before or after the Farmer's Market. During the summer, she comes back with varieties of peach, plum, pluot; blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries; and everything else from apricot to, erm..., zucchini! I always listen, trying not to drool, filled with food envy. There are fantastic markets in London, but I have never been to one where I could pick from 10 different varieties of nectarine.

What to do with this bounty? Obviously some gets eaten straight, fresh and ripe, not even making it out of the basket. Some makes its way into fruit salads, unadulterated or mixed with a sweet and tangy poppyseed dressing. But the very luckiest fruit gets baked with pastry and eaten with ice cream.

I love a pie as much as anyone, and always enjoy a rumble with a crumble. But sometimes I like something a little less structured, a little more rustic: the fruit galette. A free-form pie, like a tart but without the tart tin or blind baking, the galette is more like a fruit pizza, but so much better. And so much easier!

Bonus points for arranging the fruit in a nice pattern: I think my mother did well.

Fruit Galette

1 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 oz. unsalted butter
ice water

2-3 Tbsp. flour
6 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)

Combine flour and salt and cut in butter until pieces are pea-sized. Add water 1 Tbsp. at a time until the dough is moist but not sticky. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 15 minutes or so. Roll out to 12" diameter, and transfer to a (parchment lined - optional) pizza pan or baking sheet. Cover with plastic and refrigerate.

Pre-heat oven to 400 (200C) and prepare fruit (pit, slice, etc.).

Leaving a 2 inch border, sprinkle dough with 2-3 Tbsp. flour and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Arrange fruit on top and sprinkle with remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste. Fold dough over the fruit about 2 inches to form a rim. Make sure there are no cracks where the juice can leak out.

Brush the rim of the dough with melted butter and sprinkle with final 1 Tbsp. sugar.

Bake until well-browned and bubbly, about 30-40 minutes (maybe less, depending on your oven). Brush fruit with its own juice to glaze it. Serve warm, preferably with ice cream.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Broccoli with peanut sauce two ways

At the last minute, I found this week's Blogger Secret Ingredient on Chaya's Comfy Cook Blog. Being somewhat of a working stiff these days, I don't always discover the BSI in time to ponder, prep and post an appropriate recipe. This week, I found out Sunday morning of the closing date. That meant I had some time to cook and lunch to think about, so I did what any blogger in my position would do: I went out to buy some broccoli.

I know it's not everyone's favorite vegetable, but I love broccoli. I like to think it's because of the emerald green colour, the sweet taste of lightly steamed florets, and some sort of sub-conscious/pyscho-somatic appreciation for the vitamins and anti-oxidants. But really, I think it's because of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, a favorite cookbook in my house when I was young. What child wouldn't want to think of her vegetable as home to a magical land?

Sadly, said favorite cookbook is still in my parent's house, so I had to use a more recent favorite broccoli recipe. I decided to post two versions because the basic recipe usually gets turned into the second variation (and, well, why not?). Broccoli is the perfect vehicle for strong flavors. When lightly cooked, its inherent sweetness provides balance to garlic and chili. The vegetable is a great side dish and ingredient itself, but is also hearty enough to be the main attraction. Plus, both recipes are dead easy.

So, without further ado, here goes:

Broccoli with peanut dipping sauce

Steamed or blanched broccoli

¼ C. smooth peanut butter
1 T. oil
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. minced ginger
1 T. lime juice
1 tsp. mirin
1 T. soy sauce
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes

Blend or just mix well. Serve with broccoli.

Broccoli and soba noodles with peanut sauce

I like to eat this dish cold, but it is very tasty warm. I also like to make broccoli the star ingredient, so it's more like a broccoli salad with soba noodles rather than the other way around. Depending on the consistency of the peanut sauce, you may need to thin it slightly with a teaspoon of water (or more soy sauce/lime juice/whatever your taste buds fancy).

Cooked soba noodles
Steamed broccoli florets
1-2 T. peanut sauce (see above) per person
1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan

Mix broccoli and soba with peanut sauce, thinning if necessary. Top with sesame seeds. Eat!

Serves as many as you have broccoli to cook.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Beet and goat's cheese risotto

Part deux of my quest to use up my beets:

Election day 2008 was one of the great days in recent memory. I am a big fan of our new president for many reason, including but not limited to the fact that on the following day no fewer than 15 people of varying British and European origins in my office came by to congratulate me, as though I personally had something to do with it (in a larger-than-my-absentee-ballot way). I could go on about his attributes, but instead I will turn to something I consider to be a major drawback in him: Barack Obama does not like beets.

I can sort of understand people who don't like beets. Many of them are victims of canned or pickled beet induced childhood trauma. Those would certainly be enough to spoil my beet appetite for life. I personally think they should be banished to fall-out shelters and labelled "Eat last". But beets in general -- fresh, newly picked, boiled or roasted or shredded raw, these garnet gems of the vegetable crown -- clearly they make me wax poetic, but they also make me want to eat them. And with the new White House garden which could supply fresh beets, I think there is really no excuse. For shame, Mr. President

So my point, and I do have one, is that despite my taste for the roots, I have more beets than I know what to do with. Last recipe was a fresh and flavorful salad. This week, something a bit heartier. One of the pleasures (and dangers) of beets is that they turn everything bright pink. Well, who doesn't like bright pink food? Risotto is a great vehicle for beets because not only does it blush beautifully in their juices, but it also complements their inherent creaminess. I like some sharp counterpoints, so goat's cheese and arugula (which, I have on good authority, the Prez does like) are the ways forward there. A good grinding of black pepper finishes the dish. Hail to the beets.

Beet and goat's cheese risotto

1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup arborio rice
2+ C. vegetable stock
2 medium or 1 large cooked beet, peeled and chopped
2 T. soft goat's cheese
handful of arugula

Saute onion until soft. Add garlic and cook gently for a few minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring, for another few minutes. Start to add warm stock, 1/2 C. at a time, waiting between each addition for the rice to absorb the liquid as it cooks. Stir frequently (or just enough).

When rice is nearly cooked, stir through the beets so they warm through. Then mix in the arugula so that it just wilts. Dot the cheese over the top.

Serves 2
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