Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hot Cocoa Crispy Treats

I've been holding this recipe waiting for a photo far too long so I'll go ahead and release it (adding the photo later). I'm a sucker for desserts of almost any kind. I got the inspiration for these wintry treats from a parenting blog. Who doesn't love hot chocolate in the winter? Now you can enjoy hot chocolate as part of your rice crispy treats. This recipe is for a family-sized batch (8 or 9 good-sized portions) so you don't eat yourself sick like I would if I had a full batch.

Hot Cocoa Crispy Treats
3 cups puffed rice (cheap local one makes these affordable)
1/4 cup butter
14-18 marshmallows (Haribo Pink and White)
3 Tablespoons hot chocolate powder (aka drinking chocolate)

Place the puffed rice on a baking sheet and toast at 120 for 5-10 minutes. I just do this while I'm prepping the rest and take them out when the other stuff is ready. If you have a microwave, melt the butter and swirl around the bowl. Add in the marshmallows and chocolate powder. Heat in 1 minute bursts, stirring in between, until the marshmallows are melted into a chocolatey syrup. If doing this on the stove top, follow the same sequence and stir until everything is melted together. Remove from heat. Stir in the puffed rice until completely coated in the chocolate mixture. Press into a greased dish. It helps to oil the spatula to keep it from sticking as you press. Cool for about 30 minutes, cut, and enjoy the deliciousness!

Note: It really is a good idea to toast the puffed rice. Using the local ones is a huge price difference, but straight from the bag, they taste a bit stale. To me the price difference makes these less of a luxury and something we can enjoy more often. Toasting them makes them taste almost like the real thing in this form. If you use a Miracle Oven, just pour them in to toast for 5-10 minutes over low heat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Meal Plan

I hope you all (at least those of you who celebrate it) had a great Thanksgiving. We did. I ate way too much, and it was glorious. Yes, I am even guilty of packing a couple rubber bands in my pocket to allow for the fact that I might pop a button on my pants after all that eating! We leave for a short trip to the U.S. in a week, but here's what's on our menu for the coming week. Some will be first time experiments, but mainly I've aimed at relatively simple meals that will consume the ingredients we don't want sitting around for a month.

Lunch: Poori Masala from Padhus Kitchen
Dinner: Toad in the Hole (what?!?), Sauteed Greens, and Fruit Cocktail

Lunch: Veg Fried Rice
Dinner: Fried Chicken, Potato Salad, and Steamed Broccoli

Lunch: Egg Curry with Roti from ABCD's of Cooking
Dinner: Vegetarian Chili

Lunch: Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Veggie Platter and Dip
Dinner: Miso Soup, Jasmine Rice, & Korean Pancakes

Dinner: Loaded Baked Potatoes

Lunch: Rice with Lentils and Vegetables (Sounds so appetizing, doesn't it? Ha!)
Dinner: Tacos

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kitchen Staple: Cornmeal

Since I've called for this in a previous post, I thought I'd share how I make it. Here you can get something called corn flour (not to be confused with the "corn flour" name on the corn starch box in the baking aisle). It's flour made with corn and is usually sold near the rice and other grains. In my opinion, it's a little too fine to be cornmeal. There's also something called corn grits here, which is a little too rough to be called cornmeal. So...the happy medium is a balance of the two.

Photo Credit: Louisiana Pride Grist Mill

2-4 cups finely ground corn
2-4 cups corn grits

Place the corn grits in the dry cup that comes with most blenders (or a coffee grinder also works). Grind until it's a medium to coarse consistency. Mix the ground grits with the finely ground corn to get a good cornmeal consistency.

Alternatively, take dried corn to one of the shops that grinds spices and flours and explain what you want. I had a friend do this and get perfect results a couple years ago. I also read that popcorn seeds make cornmeal with a really nice flavor. Try grinding these in the grinding cup to make cornmeal.

Simple Celery Dressing

When I first moved overseas, I thought someone needed to send me a box of Stove Top in order to enjoy stuffing. After some trial and error in India as far as bread types, I figured out it's not so hard to do after all. This recipe makes about 10 servings.

Stuffing before baking

Simple Celery Stuffing
1 loaf day-old bread (we use half white half brown for texture)
3/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped (8 small ones)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
1 cup broth (1 cup hot water + half an Asian bouillon cube)
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)

Lay the bread slices out overnight to dry. Cut into cubes. Preheat oven to 170C/350F. Melt butter over medium heat and saute the vegetables in it. If using mushrooms, cook until mushrooms have given up a lot of their liquid. Add the poultry seasoning and salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Toss the bread cubes in the butter mixture to coat evenly. Moisten with vegetable or chicken broth. If you like tightly bound dressing, add a beaten egg to the broth before pouring over the bread. This will hold it all together. Pour mixture into a greased casserole and press down lightly to pack the dressing together. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until top becomes golden. Alternatively, you can microwave it on high for 6-7 minutes, depending on your microwave.

If you don't have poultry seasoning, this is what I use to make mine:

2 1/4 tsp dried sage, crumbled
3/4 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
3/4 tsp pepper

Works as a rub for the buttered/oil skin of chicken, too. If you can't get sage, try using rosemary instead.

Corn Casserole

Okay. I've never been a huge fan of corn casseroles, but I know some people really like them. Last Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law Pam made one that's really simple and delicious. To be technical, where I come from this is called cawn puddin'. The original recipe calls for a box of Jiffy cornbread mix, which we obviously don't have here. You could probably be lazy and just dump everything into one container without any problems. To be safe, I still mix the Jiffy bread separately in case there's some binding that naturally happens in the box that might be missed.

Corn Casserole
1 can cream style corn
1 can plain corn (or about 2 cups frozen), drained
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Cornbread mix:
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil

Preheat oven to 170C/350F. In a bowl mix the 2 cans of corn, butter, and sour cream. In a separate bowl combine the cornbread ingredients and stir to thoroughly mix them. Mix the dry bowl into the corn mixture. Pour into a greased casserole dish. At this point, some people top with cheese so you can do that if you like. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and it does not jiggle much when shaken.

Note: If you're not so happy about adding another 1/2 cup of butter to your holiday diet, you could reduce the amount to 2 Tablespoons butter and add 2 eggs to the batter. Use the 2 Tablespoons of butter to dot the top of the casserole before baking.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Link Love

Ahhh, just a few more days before Thanksgiving, one of my favorite American holidays. The nice thing is if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, most of the recipes are still perfect for Christmas. I think one of the times overseas workers have the most struggles dealing with being away from home is the winter holiday season. The food isn't quite the same. Often the temperature isn't quite the same. Smells are different. And you're away from your family. Depressed yet?

We've figured out that making our home a really inviting holiday place is key in making this home away from home feel more like our real home. That means making lots of fall decorations and eating warming seasonal foods. At Thanksgiving, our house should smell like the real thing. To make Thanksgiving happen with little ovens and iffy power, you definitely need to do prep ahead of days ahead of time if possible. This week I'll be posting some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that work where we live. Today's recipes are some of my go-to links during this season.

Main Dishes
So, unless you're going in as part of a large group, it's not all that economical to get a turkey here. It works out to be upwards of $4.50 depending on the size of the bird. Sooo... in our house it's usually roasted chicken, but you can dress it up to taste like a turkey and not have any of the dryness of a turkey. Honestly, if you've got a lot to go in the oven, it seems worth it to just order out cooked chickens due to limited space.

If you're cooking it yourself, here's my favorite roast chicken-- Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken. Just leave out the fennel since I've never seen that in bulb form here. In lieu of fresh thyme, I rub the outside and season the inside with both dried rosemary and thyme.

Vegetable Sides
Michael Chiarello's Green Bean Casserole
Years ago, I gave up on ever having Cream of Mushroom soup at the right time to make Green Bean Casserole. Then, I saw an episode of Easy Entertaining when Chiarello did remakes of old potluck classics. This spin on the casserole is totally doable in our context. I don't use the arborio rice on the onion rings though, just onions dredged in flour and salt and fried. I just use chicken stock as a sub for most of the liquid.

Other green bean side variations: Bacon Braised Green Beans, Sauteed Green Beans and Mushrooms, Best Ever Green Bean Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole
Okay, so I've tried various versions of sweet potatoes here, none of which come out quite right because the potatoes are white and not very close to the real thing. So...really I just do a fake version consisting of a mixture of pureed pumpkin and carrots or just carrots. I like Ellie Krieger's version (with my subs including also subbing walnuts for pecans) because it's lighter than the traditional gooey sweet version, but still very flavorful. Use roughly 3-4 cups of the puree.

Other takes on sweet potatoes you can make "faux": Carrot Souffle (it's delicious!) and Old School Sweet Potato Souffle

Claire Robinson's Ginger Pumpkin Tart
This is about the easiest pumpkin pie recipe ever--and crazy delicious! If you don't like ginger, just make a regular pie crust or shortbread crust to press into the tart pan. For this recipe's local adaptations, I use a sleeve of the Gingernut biscuits crushed, 1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree, and add some pumpkin pie spices like grated nutmeg, cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves. Follow her directions, but bake at 170 C.

If you don't know Claire Robinson from Food Network, you should check out her recipes. She uses only 5 ingredients or fewer (minus things like S&P) for the recipes. While some have ingredients we don't have, most are ridiculously simple, inspiring, and delicious.

Other takes on pumpkin pie to check out: Faux Pumpkin Pie

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Feeling like it's fall yet? I hope these recent pumpkin-y posts have inspired you. If you hate pumpkin, I promise I'll be done soon! These pumpkin pie bars are designed to give you the goodness of a pumpkin pie without the fuss of a pastry crust. I'm honestly not sure it makes the process any easier, but the end result is delicious. I'll leave the choice to you because I, personally, would prefer these with the pastry crust. I am one who has never really made a great pie crust until I got a food processor so now that I can do it well I don't dislike the process so much. If you do pastry well, go for it. If not, opt for one of the easier crust variations. Also, the pan sizes are relative. Just use whatever you have on hand that it will all fit into or break it into small batches.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

Crust 1: Single Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup cold butter
4 to 5 Tablespoons cold milk/water

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture looks like a coarse cornmeal. Add the water, starting with the 4 Tablespoons and adding more until you get the right consistency. It should look like a shaggy dough and with minimal kneading turn into something relatively smooth. To make rolling easier, wrap in plastic and chill for 15 minutes. Roll the pastry dough to a 9x13 or tart pan size and press into the pan.

Crust 2: Oatmeal Shortbread
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats/porridge, uncooked
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

Combine the flour, oats, and brown sugar. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. Press into the bottom of a 9x13 or tart pan. Use a flat-bottomed drinking glass to press.

Crust 3: Gingersnap Crust
1 1/4 cup gingersnap crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons melted butter

Mix altogether in a bowl. Press into a 9x13 or tart pan.

Preheat the oven to 170C. When preheated, place whatever crust you have chosen into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until just starting to turn golden.

Pie Filling:
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 can evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (omit if using gingersnap crust)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the filling ingredients and pour over the cooked crust. It will sizzle, but it still turns out fine. Bake the filling at the same temperature for 45 minutes.

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 Tablespoon melted butter

Mix ingredients for the crumble and place on top of the bars. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the finished bars at least 20 minutes, cut into squares, and serve.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pumpkin Bread

I've tried many different very successful pumpkin breads, but this one I tried recently from Baked Bree is one of my favorites. She also has an amazing pumpkin butter recipe that I tried out in America, but I've not yet figured out a way to make any of those fruit butters without using up large amounts of cooking gas. There were a few adaptations to make up for a lack of ready made ingredients and high sugar content, but it's still very simple.

Pumpkin Bread
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground or freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
Scant 1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Combine all the dry ingredients except the sugar (considered a "wet" ingredient) and pumpkin seeds in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients, including the sugar. Make sure the contents of each bowl is thoroughly mixed. Add the wet mixture to the dry bowl. Stir just to bring it all together. If the mixture looks a little drier than a regular quick bread, you can add a splash of yogurt or sour milk just to moisten it. Pour into a greased 11x7 baking dish, loaf pans, muffin tins, or whatever you have. If desired, sprinkle the top with pumpkin seeds. I'm too lazy to de-shell the seeds so I just leave them out. Baking times will vary according to the size of the baking dish and your oven's temp. For muffins, check after 20 minutes. For anything in larger pan sizes, 40-50 minutes should be sufficient to bake but not dry out the bread. When done, a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

In my opinion, a bread like this just says "autumn" and is a perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of tea or coffee. If you're really adventurous, some kind of caramel frosting or glaze would probably also be delicious on top, but the bread is flavorful enough to stand on its own.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Creamy Sage Sauce

A couple years ago I tried making a pumpkin cream sauce for pasta, and it turned out nearly inedible. Later I realized that you can't freeze fresh pumpkin and turn it into cooked puree later. Something about the freezing changes the flavor of the pumpkin to something not even remotely enjoyable. A friend's recommendation for a Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage recipe inspired me to give pumpkin another try in the pasta department. When my failure to plan resulted in having no sausage on hand tonight, this was what I came up with instead. And guess what? It was pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself.

For the gnocchi part, follow this Taste of Home recipe up until the point that you cook the pasta. I would, however, make an effort to time the pasta and sauce to finish around the same time. Simply substitute pumpkin puree where canned pumpkin is called for and consider using 1/2 teaspoon of salt instead of the amount called for to give the pasta more flavor. I figured out that it's incredibly difficult to roll the pasta into "snakes" if you have too much flour on the counter and that the rolling with the fork part works much better if you hold each piece in the palm of your hand. Now, for the sauce.

Creamy Sage Sauce
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage, crushed in the palm of your hand
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add the garlic and sage to the pot. Keep the heat low and stir occasionally until the garlic starts to turn golden and the sage is fragrant. Add the salt, pepper, and flour. Stir into the butter and cook on low 2-3 minutes to cook out the flour taste. Add the milk to the pot and whisk until any lumps are gone. Raise the heat to bring the sauce to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and simmer just until the sauce looks thick. If desired, sprinkle in the parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Taste to see if additional salt is needed. Toss the pasta in the sauce and serve warm.

If you need more sauce than this, up the milk content to 2 cups and increase the flour/butter by 1 Tablespoon. If you don't have sage on hand, I think rosemary or thyme would also make a great flavoring for the sauce.

Pumpkin Puree

I realized that with the pumpkin recipes on the blog, I should probably just write a quick note about making pumpkin puree. It's not rocket science, but I have learned a few things in the past couple years.

  • The Asian pumpkin varieties that have a greenish, bumpy outside and look as though someone sat on them tend to have really nice rich orange flesh. Some of the "tannish" varieties we see have a much lighter color inside. I just always ask the seller what color it is on the inside as some of the green varieties can also be white inside.
  • You can make puree in the pressure cooker by cutting the pumpkin into chunks and adding a little water. The skin comes off easily after cooking, but I find that this method leaves the pumpkin quite watery so you have to almost wring it out before storing.
  • The easiest method I've found for making puree is to cut the pumpkin into long slices and laying them on a lightly greased baking dish. Bake at 200 C for 20-30 minutes and test for doneness by poking with a fork. The fork should very easily slide into the flesh. If it does not, continue baking. The skin will peel off readily if it's cooked well. You can mash with a potato masher, puree in the blender with a little water, or cut into small chunks. I find this roasting process yields pumpkin more close to the canned version and caramelizes the natural sugars in the pumpkin to give it more depth of flavor, too. 

A 15 oz. can of packed pumpkin in the U.S. is approximately 1 3/4 cups of puree so it might be helpful to pack it away in preportioned amounts.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Autumn Fruit Salad

For those of you who are salad traditionalists (lettuce+cucumber+tomato=salad), this recipe may seem a bit unorthodox, but it's a delicious way to combine the crispness of lettuce with crunchy cool weather fruit. It goes really nicely with Pumpkin Ginger Soup for a fall evening meal or lunch. This is another adapted recipe from the Simply in Season book using local ingredients. The actual "recipe" isn't much at all. It's all the add-ins that make the salad interesting.

Autumn Fruit Salad
3 cups lettuce greens, torn into small pieces
1 large apple or Asian pear, thinly sliced and tossed with lemon juice

1 packet Honey Almonds or Honey Sunflower Seeds
Handful of soft or salty cheese (feta, goat cheese, parmesan, etc.), crumbled or grated
Dried cranberries or golden raisins
Cucumber, diced

1/3 cup oil
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Place all the dressing ingredients into a jar and shake to thoroughly mix. If you want a really good emulsion that stays for a while, pulse this a few times in the blender. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place the apple slices and whatever add-ins you would like on top of the lettuce. Toss the salad with about half of the dressing, reserving extra for adding directly according to taste.

On it's own, the dressing is nothing magnificent, but something about the combination of that with the sweet fruit and crunchy greens brings it to life. The original recipe has double the salt content of this adjusted recipe, but I found it a touch too salty so I cut back. You can sometimes get the Dijon mustard on B1G1 promos, and the honey-flavored nuts are generally sold with snack foods like chips. I don't often have the precious cranberry stock so I just leave those out. Locally made soft goat cheese really takes this to another level, too. It's one of the cheapest "luxury" type cheeses.

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

Yes, I've made comments about the crazy amounts of soup people tend to eat in their first years overseas, but I really don't have anything against soup, unless it's the only thing I eat all week. When I first moved to India, I went through a period where the most creative thing I could think to do with vegetables and no oven was make soup. Even though that was a rough culinary patch, we do enjoy lots of comforting soup in the winter. It's one sure way to stay warm at least a little while!

This Pumpkin Ginger Soup is an adaptation of a soup from Simply in Season, same series as the More with Less cookbook, but in my opinion, tremendously more applicable to modern life in a place with very seasonal eating patterns. I've owned the book for a couple years, and it has really taught me to think differently and more creatively about the vegetables we have in season. Totally a worthwhile purchase if you're looking for a good "from scratch" type book. Anyway, this soup combines some of my favorite flavors of the autumn season into a bowl of gorgeous orange. A disclaimer on this, though, is that over the few years I've made it my daughter has never liked it. The rest of us love it so take that for what it's worth.

Pumpkin Soup with Honey Butter on Toast

Pumpkin Ginger Soup
1 Tablespoon oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cups pumpkin chunks or puree
1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled and chopped
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
4 cups water
2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and ginger and saute until golden. Add in the pumpkin, apples, water, and stock cubes. Bring to a boil and then cook over med-low heat covered until the pumpkin and apples are soft and mashable. If you use pumpkin that is already cooked, this process will only take 10-15 minutes. Add seasoning to taste. If you want a smooth soup, puree in the blender.

The cookbook suggests having this soup with bread smeared with honey butter. It's a delicious combination. This soup pairs really nicely with the Autumn Fruit Salad, too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is such a delicious comfort food. It's one of those dishes that I like to have regularly, especially in the cooler months. In my husband's home growing up, this macaroni and cheese was a main dish, and it totally can stand its own in that role. We eat it as a main in our house and occasionally add a green vegetable side to it. This time we had it with a side of Savory Greens. I adapted this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook from the 70s. This recipe is a baked version, but it can very easily be adapted for stove top only.

Update: I discovered that the Amul tub cheese (yellow or blue tub) makes this macaroni AMAZING! It's not healthy, but you can substitute one tub for about half of the cheese. 

Baked macaroni and cheese with crunchy topping

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
8 oz. macaroni
3 Tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
2 cups milk
2 cups cheese, grated
1/2 roll Ritz-type crackers, crushed (optional)

Boil the macaroni in salted water. If you're going for the baked version, drain it when it's slightly undercooked since it will finish cooking during baking. Otherwise, cook it to al dente. With the pasta in a strainer, melt the butter and saute onions until golden. Add flour to the pot and stir for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour. Pour in milk, stirring to remove any lumps. Add the salt, pepper, and mustard. If you're using a salty cheese, use only 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the sauce up to a boil and drop the heat to a simmer. When the sauce is thick and bubbly, turn off the heat and add the cheese. Stir until melted. Add the noodles to the sauce. If you're going for the stove top version, you're done! For the baked version, pour noodles with sauce into a baking dish. Top with crushed crackers. Bake at 170C for 35 to 40 minutes until top is golden and bubbly.

Baked macaroni with a side of greens
A quick shortcut on crushing the salted biscuits is to just crunch them up in the package. Open and sprinkle over the top.

Savory Greens

I love, love, love dark leafy greens as mentioned in previous posts. I know not everyone does, but they're so incredibly good for you that you really should give them a try. Here's a very basic, adaptable version of savory greens that incorporates vitamin C to give your body the boost to absorb all that good iron. This recipe is portioned to be a small side for 4 people. I would generally make almost double for my family because we all like greens so much.

As a general rule, the smaller smooth-leafed varieties are milder in flavor, and big hearty leaves have stronger, sometimes bitter, flavors. Those happen to be my favorites. Bok choy has a very mild flavor and also tastes great prepared this way. You should note that the more delicate the leaf, the smaller it becomes in cooking so 2 bunches of something small would cook into less than 1/2 cup of greens. So, even if you're not a huge fan, I'd advocate giving greens another chance if only because they're little nutrient powerhouses.

Savory Greens
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 bunches greens
3-4 small cherry-sized tomatoes
1 Tablespoon oil

Clean the greens really well with water. Cut the greens into 1 inch slices. If using a larger leaf green, cut both length wise and crosswise. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the tomatoes into a paste. Heat the oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add in the garlic, careful to keep it moving so it does not burn. Once it starts to change to golden, toss in the tomatoes and cook until they start to look more saucy and less like raw tomatoes. Toss in the greens and saute until wilted. If you're using a thick-stemmed variety, you may want to saute the stems a few minutes before the leaves because they require longer cooking times. Salt to taste.

Best "Box" Brownies

I'm not a huge fan of chocolate, but something about my diet in South Asia makes me want to eat chocolate. I've searched for years for a good from scratch brownie closely resembling boxed brownies at home, but I have not really found anything. If you pay close attention to boxed brownies, they usually have some adaptations for "cake like" and "chewy" brownies. I am one who prefers chewy brownies, that perfect cross between cake and cookie. All of the from scratch recipes I've ever tried result in the more cake like texture, which is okay if it's all you get, but not quite up to snuff in my opinion. I found one that I liked a few years ago, kept adding chocolate chips and peanut butter to make it better, and felt reasonably satisfied with it--even prideful maybe. Then, I ate a brownie at my friend's house that made me feel sad for my brownies. This is the closest thing I've ever made to an out of the box chewy brownie. It's delicious warm or room temp with or without ice cream. The measurements are partly in metric, but I haven't bothered to convert them during cooking since I have a kitchen scale. You can buy the chocolate in big baking bars here or as chocolate chips. I find that the local candy bars don't melt as well.

Also, before giving the recipe, I recently learned from Chuck's Day Off that this is the basic recipe for molten chocolate cakes, too. If you just reduce your cook time and put the batter into smaller baking rounds, you'll get a firm outside and semi-liquid center. Nice to know!

Best "Box" Brownies
150g butter (about 1 Tbsp more than 1/2 cup)
125g chocolate (roughly 1/2 cup)
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Pinch of salt

In a bowl, melt butter and chocolate together. You can use a double boiler or heat in microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring in between, until melted. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar. Add in vanilla. Slowly add the melted chocolate to the eggs and sugar, careful to temper so you don't scramble the eggs. Add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt, and stir just to combine. A few lumps are okay. If you over-mix, the brownies will be hard.

Pour into a buttered baking dish (9x9 or 11x7). Line with baking paper to make clean up easier. Bake at 180C for 40 minutes or until the middle looks risen and a toothpick comes out relatively clean. If it's slightly soft in the middle, it will make for a more chewy cooled brownie.

Note: No, I did not leave the baking soda or powder off the recipe. Somehow it magically rises without any leavening.

If you're in a hurry or feeling lazy, I did find that you can kind of throw everything into the bowl with the melted chocolate and get similar results. The final texture is slightly different, but not enough to notice unless you eat both kinds of brownies back to back. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Missing Milk

During my years overseas, I had come to the conclusion that milk here would never taste like it does at home. If you buy the UHT milk that you don't have to refrigerate until opening, it tastes like it came from a package. If you buy powdered milk, it's bearable when chilled, but not quite right. If you buy the local packet milk, you have to boil it because of potential pathogens and the likelihood that water may have been added to "top it off." That leaves the milk with a distinct cooked taste. While it tastes alright chilled and is by far the least expensive option (almost half the price of the alternative), it's still just not there.

This summer I discovered a farmer was delivering milk to my upstairs neighbors every day, good quality milk that he is very proud of. We started having him bring it to us, too. He quietly arrives in the early morning and pours milk into a pot I have waiting for him outside. I just put the pot out at night so I don't have to wake up. :) From this small operation of only 20 cows that actually eat grass and a man so proud of his delicious milk, I determined to find alternative methods of pasteurization that did not ruin this good milk. I discovered that when you're not concerned about water you can pasteurize more like modern dairies do, albeit with less technology and speed.

So, if you can spot a farmer around your neighborhood or ask someone who might know one, you can pasteurize your milk this way. Over low heat, slowly bring the milk's temperature up to 165F or 74C. I did it a few times with a thermometer, but worked out that this is the point at which tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan and gradually connect with each other. It needs to stay at this temperature for 20 seconds, then you can switch it off. Another trick is to begin cooling quickly so I will put it in a tub in the fridge within about 10 minutes of pasteurizing, that gives enough time for some of the chewy cream to settle at the top so I can strain it. In America, they say that raw milk straight from the farmer that you pasteurize and put in a sealed container will keep refrigerated for about 8 days, much better than the recommended 48 hours we see on packages here. Not that ours ever lasts that long though!

The chilled version of this might vary in flavor according to the cow's daily diet, but it tastes much more like plain ol' milk than anything I've ever had in this part of the world. And I'm a serious milk drinker.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kitchen Staple: Molasses

Well, this isn't really a kitchen staple for me, but it's one I like to have on hand during this season. I am a huge fan of gingerbread and molasses cookies so it's really nice to have this. It begins with a local ingredient called chaaku or gud. Most little shops that sell a variety of dry goods will carry it, although there seem to be special times (like January) when it becomes easier to find.

1 small block/ball chaaku
2-4 Tablespoons water

Place the block into a pot and add 2 tablespoons water. Over low heat, stirring occasionally, heat the mixture to melt it. If it seems too thick, add additional water. The trick is to add enough water that the mixture will remain a syrup rather than returning to a block state. It does not usually take more than 1/4 cup, but you want it to look watery enough that you know it could never be solid again so add whatever you need to accomplish that. Once it is sufficiently thinned and melted together, pour through a strainer into a jar and store at room temperature. Mine usually lasts for months without going bad.

Note: You may find sticks, stones, and all kinds of other weird stuff when the block melts. Molasses is near the very end of the sugar making process so it's the bottom of the barrel so to speak. It's loaded with minerals so I find I can look past the weirdness. Just strain it before you jar it.

Kitchen Staple: Cottage Cheese/Ricotta

I am not a person who likes to just eat cottage cheese or ricotta on its own, but I do like to use both of these in cooked applications. In a pinch, you could buy paneer and crumble it into small pieces, but making this is fairly straightforward.

Cottage Cheese
1 Liter milk
2-3 Tablespoons vinegar

You can use regular dairy milk for this application because it will be pasteurized in the process and is much cheaper than the UHT or powdered milk. Bring the milk to a boil. It should be kept at 165F for about 20 seconds, but without measuring it's around the point at which the little bubbles around the pot connect. Switch off the heat and add 2 Tablespoons vinegar. Lightly stir and allow to sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, stir the curds. If you still see milky liquid, add another Tablespoon. That should finish separating the curds from the whey. Pour the mixture through a cheesecloth or fine strainer. If you notice a strong vinegar smell, rinse the cheese with drinking water. Strain until it reaches the consistency you like.

To make paneer, place a heavy plate or can on top of the cheese overnight, slice, and cook. To make cottage cheese, you may need to add a little cream to the cooled curds to get the right consistency. A little salt will also help boost the flavor. This works great in lasagna, ravioli, Mexican casseroles, etc.

Kitchen Staple: Sour Cream

I was thinking this week when I used a few very basic kitchen staples that a series on how to make them via cheater versions could actually be helpful. So...without further adieu here are some not super exciting recipes that will hopefully make you realize you really can have some of those tastes of home in the kitchen.

Sour Cream
1 small box fresh cream (technically not fresh since it's in a box)
1-2 capfuls white vinegar or lemon juice
Pinch salt

You can easily adapt this recipe for the 1 liter box, but I am not sure when I would ever need that much sour cream. First, place the box in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This will help the thick cream and the liquid in the box more easily separate. I find the fridge does not work as well for this. Pull up the corner tabs on the bottom end of the box. Sip off a corner and dump over the sink. An almost clear liquid should pour out. If it does not, you might try snipping from the other end. I can never tell which side it will settle at. If it's frozen, just scrape off the more icy looking bits which would have been more like water. Finish cutting the whole top of the box open and scrape into a bowl. Add 1 capful white vinegar and a pinch of salt. Stir to mix thoroughly and taste to see if the sourness is enough. If not, add up to another capful and stir again. Chill until ready to serve.

No, this is not technically sour cream. I think it's more along the lines of creme fraiche, but it works great in place of sour cream both as a topping and in cooked applications.

Apparently, the process for making real sour cream involves mixing cream and buttermilk and sitting out at room temp for 24 hours. I'm going to give it a try in the next few weeks so I'll let you know how it turns out!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Caramel Apples

We have had a wonderful problem in our home here lately--loads of apples! Our neighbors pass through areas where apples are in season right now so every few days we seem to be another bag of good apples. Before I share this recipe, I wanted to share a little trick I have found when it comes to selecting apples. Aside from looking for the more obvious bruising on the outside of the apples, the main thing I look for is the blossom end of the apple. It should be tightly closed rather than open. This is an indicator of the length of time the apple has spent away from the tree. Generally, if I only choose apples with closed blossom ends, I end up with crisp apples.

Now, on to more delicious things.  I wanted to make an apple pie, but didn't have enough flour. I decided to make apple crisp only to realize I had no oatmeal. Baked apples it would become. I like caramel. I like apples. I like caramel apples. I don't like sticky messes. This recipe combines the apples and caramel in a less messy way. If you have an ovenproof dish that also works on the stove, then you could only dirty one dish. I'm willing to wash an extra pot for caramel goodness though.

Pre-baking: Apples are covered with caramel and dotted with butter.

Baked Caramel Apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
 4 large apples, chopped (peeled or unpeeled)
2 Tablespoons butter, for dotting
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place the brown sugar, water, butter, flour, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Do not leave this or you risk burning the caramel. Once the caramel begins to thicken to a gravy-like consistency, remove from heat. Place the apples in the bottom of a baking dish. Pour over the warm caramel and dot the top of apples with the butter. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Bake covered for 30-40 minutes in a 175 degree oven.

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

I often use the pressure cooker for making pot roasts, but to make it seem more fall-like I decided we should something more like a stew. This one inspired by Emeril's Beef Stew turned out really nicely and also has very little clean up as a one-pot meal.

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew
1 Tablespoon oil
1 Tablespoon seasoning salt
1 Tablespoon flour
500 grams beef or buff, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced (omit if you don't have access to this)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
2 cups broth (1 chicken cube + 2 cups water)
1 1/2 cups red wine
Carrots, diced
Potatoes, diced

Mix the flour and seasoning salt in a bowl. Lightly toss the meat cubes in the flour mixture. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker and sear the beef cubes until brown. Remove the meat from the pot. Saute the onion, garlic, and celery until translucent. Add the beef back to the pressure cooker and add in the salt, pepper, mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, broth, and red wine. You can substitute more broth for the red win, but omit the added salt. Clamp the lid on the cooker and raise the heat to high. When the pressure cooker whistle blows the first time, reduce the heat and cook 20 minutes. Release the pressure, open, and toss in the vegetables. Close the cooker again and cook an additional 20-30 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Ranch Dressing

I made this for lunch today and was reminded that it's definitely a recipe worth sharing. Several years ago, a local friend of mine was asking me how to make ranch dressing without packets. She had worked for foreigners most her life, and her kids had developed a particular taste for it. With foreigners the only source of the occasional imported dressing packets here, that means those packets are guarded as precious treasures for only the most special occasions. I find that often I guard those so much they expire before I get to use them! I did some digging for my friend back then and found this recipe. Having had packet dressing this week the night before making this one, I could really do a good comparison. Honestly, they taste very similar. So, here's a quick and easy ranch dressing with local ingredients. It takes literally about 3 minutes to make if that much.

Ranch Dressing
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 Tablespoon fresh, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley or 1 Tablespoon fresh, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk to get out any lumps. Keep refrigerated up to a week.

A few notes about this recipe. First, make sure you get a decent mayonnaise as it will really affect the flavor of the dressing. American Garden seems to be fairly priced for a quality mayo. Fun Foods....not so good. Adapt the second ingredient to the thickness you like. For a more thick dressing, you might even drain yogurt over a cloth first. I like dips thicker and dressings thinner so I actually use almost 1/2 cup yogurt and add a little water to top it off. Lastly, if you want a classic ranch flavor, use the recipe as is or even cut back on the dill. If you want a dilly dip, omit the parsley and up the dill. The flavor will increase over time too so don't go overboard. I never have parsley on hand so I just use dill. This time of year, most of the people who sell a variety of leafy greens will also carry dill. Just sniff, and you'll know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meal Plan 3

Yes, we've had some silence in blog land thanks to hubby wishing I might apply my efforts elsewhere...such as writing more important blog entries pertaining to work. Since it only takes a few minutes to give you a meal plan and some links, I thought I'd share what's on our plate this week. With the changing of the weather, I wanted to take advantage of that fall feeling as long as I can so I've added a few more hearty recipes until the pumpkins get ripe enough to have truly autumn-inspired meals.

Loaded Potato Soup and Salad - This soup from Gina and Pat Neely is fantastic!

Pasta Agli e Olio and Garden Salad - Cut back on the parmesan to make it affordable.

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

Poppy Seed Chicken, Rice, and Steamed Vegetables

Homemade Takeout: Vegetable Fried Rice

Apps Night: Hot Spinach Dip, Deviled Eggs, Crudite with White Bean Dip

Pigs in a Blanket with Green Bean Salad in Mustard Dressing

For recipes with no links or the crescent roll dough called for in the Piggy recipe, I'll post as I use them.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rotini with Greens and Beans

I grew up in the South where cooked greens were a part of most social gatherings. A lot of people I know don't seem particularly fond of greens, which I think is sad considering how packed with nutrition dark leafy greens are. I also know many others who only eat greens raw in salads. Thankfully, I live in a place where a variety of greens suitable for cooking are in plentiful supply and grow almost year round. I am always looking for more ways to use what grows locally and to think about vegetables in different ways than I already know. If you can get yourself to eat greens, this is a nutrition-packed easy weeknight dinner.

Rotini with Greens and Beans
8 oz. or 1/2 pack rotini
Olive oil
8-10 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 cups cooked white beans (or 1 can rinsed and drained)
3/4 cup water
1 veg stock cube (I stock up on MSG-free cubes when they're available)
2 bunches leafy greens, washed, trimmed, and chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. To make this truly a one dish meal, I cook the pasta, drain it into a colander and continue with the rest of the recipe in the same pot. Saute the garlic cloves in olive oil until just beginning to turn golden. Add the leafy greens and stir to get the garlic off the bottom of the pan. Once the greens begin to wilt, add 3/4 cup water and the veg bouillon cube. Allow the greens to cook down in the broth for about 5-10 minutes or until a lot of the liquid has evaporated. Add the beans and pasta to the greens and stir to combine. Salt generously and add pepper. If you're not using canned beans, you will need more salt. Sprinkle each dish with parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Balancing Act Plus a Meal Plan

In the course of a week here, I try very hard to create various balances: cost/variety, vegetarian/meat, electricity/no electricity, time required/payoff for time, and healthy/less healthy. That often means thinking a lot more about food than I would necessarily like to, but hopefully underscores your feelings that making and preparing for food in South Asia takes a lot of work. Here's this week's meal plan for dinners:

Italian Chicken Chowder with Crusty Bread
If you don't already follow Sara Beth at Market2Meal, you totally should. She's got loads of wonderful recipes that are practical to make here. 

Spaghetti with Garlic Bread

Moroccan Chickpea Stew with Rice and a Mediterranean Salad

Hamburger Helper - Don't be hating...

Veg and Tofu Stirfry with Noodles

Tuna Rice Casserole

Eggplant Melanzane, Pasta, and Leafy Green Salad

Just a few comments if you're thinking something sounds gross, and you're wondering why I'd eat that if I like food. Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about weird foods that we missed--his Hamburger Helper, mine tuna casserole. He's not a big fan of the casserole, but we've never had it in the 11 years we've been married so it deserves a chance. I'm not a huge fan of Hamburger Helper, but I recently stumbled across a Make Your Own version that seems to be fast enough to work with our busy Saturday night Skype schedule. Will let you know how they turn out!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pork Breakfast Sausage

I had lived in South Asia for about 5 years before I ever had breakfast sausage at someone's house. The woman had been making it for years and acted as though it was a cinch to make. Turns out, it is if you have access to ground pork. Pork was hard to come by where I lived in India so I guess that's why I never even looked into it. If you make sausage in America, you need to grind in extra fat because pigs are engineered to be more lean these days. In the less developed world where fat is not on everyone's radar, most ground pork comes with a hefty portion of fat, more than enough to make a good sausage. One ingredient, sage, is not so easy to find in South Asia, but some organic herb growers do sell it. That's one that I definitely bring from the States for holidays anyway, but it also grows really well here if you can get your hands on it. This is my adaptation of Alton Brown's Breakfast Sausage to make it a little more practical for every day use.

Pork Breakfast Sausage
500g pork mince (choose a pack with lots of fat)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp red chili powder, optional
1/4 tsp red chili flakes (thank you, Pizza Hut packets!), optional

Combine all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Add the pork and mix by hand until the spices have been evenly distributed through the meat. Cover the bowl and pop in the refrigerator for about an hour or up to over night. At this point, you can either form into patties or use it as crumbled sausage and fry as you would any other breakfast sausage. If making patties, I like to make a small "test patty" first and adjust the seasoning for the whole batch based on that one.

I find that the red chili powder (not American chili powder) and the flakes really boost the sausage flavor to another level so I sometimes add a little more. Enjoy!

Breakfast Casserole

I love breakfast--all the time. One of my favorite breakfasts is the kind of casserole people make for holiday mornings. Why they only make them for those occasions, I totally don't get so I make them whenever. Since I only needed half a pack of ground pork last night, I mixed the rest up to make sausage. This made a large round casserole dish worth, more than enough for our small family for dinner and breakfast leftovers.

Sausage Breakfast Casserole
1/2 pound sausage
2 cups bread, cubed
1 cup cheese
5 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Brown the sausage in a frying pan and drain. Preheat over to 160C. Butter the bottom of your baking dish. Add the bread cubes. Personally, I prefer a heartier bread for this so it doesn't get soggy and has some bite to it. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, milk, mustard powder, salt, onion powder, and cheese. Pour over the bread. Top the dish with the sausage. Place in a hot oven and bake for about 1 hour. If the top begins to brown too fast, you can cover it with foil.

I do have a confession after making this tonight though. I just don't have the patience to wait one hour for eggs. So... if you're at all like me, considering electricity/gas consumption and not just being impatient (not!), bump up the heat to 180/200. Check it after 30 minutes to see if the eggs have set. If not, give it another 10-15 minutes. That's how I always do quiche so I assume it should work here as well.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Goma Ae

One of my absolute favorite Japanese sides is goma ae. It's made either with spinach or green beans, both of which are delicious! Pairing this with a bowl of miso soup and some rice is a wonderful light meal in my opinion. Just think about all those great probiotics you can be getting from the miso soup, too! Very handy for the ol' digestive tract when you're living in South Asia.

Goma Ae
200g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
5 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dashi stock (this is why it works with the soup, just scoop it from the stock)

Steam the beans with a little salt until crisp tender. Drop into an ice water bath immediately after cooking. Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan until fragrant. Grind the sesame seeds and sugar into a paste in a blender (dry grinding attachment if you have one). Add the soy sauce and dashi stock (or water) to the dry. Toss the green beans and sesame sauce together.

You can also substitute spinach for this. You can boil a bunch of spinach in salted water, plunge it into cold water to preserve color, and chop it into 1 inch pieces. You do need to squeeze the spinach in a towel to reduce the amount of water. Either way this is a gorgeously tasty little side "salad" of sorts.

Miso Soup

Japanese food lies at the very top of my all-time favorite cuisines. I'm not a huge fan of sushi, but Japanese food has so much more than that. Their little bite-sized salad selections just make me happy. Miso soup is something I love to have at restaurants, but is also incredibly easy to make at home. Yes, you can do it without the dashi stock (or as close as I can get here), but it's so much more delicious with it!

Miso Soup (for 4 bowls)
1 Tablespoon kelp flakes (this REALLY expands)
4 cups water
1 small block tofu
2 green onions, green and white parts sliced
4 Tablespoons miso paste

Fill a pot with 4 cups water. I do this with cold water, but in a pinch you could heat it to speed up the process. Add the kelp flakes to the water and let it sit for 30 minutes. That's your stock. Place the block of tofu on some folded up paper towels and place a weight on top to absorb excess moisture. Let it sit about 20 minutes before cutting into small cubes. Bring the soup stock up to a boil. Add the tofu, and for the sake of making sure all germs get killed, add the green onions and boil a few minutes. Scoop some of the hot stock into a bowl and add the miso paste to the boil. Stir to dissolve the paste in the water. Do a thorough job or your soup will be missing a lot of flavor from an undissolved chunk. Add the paste/water mixture to the pot. Stir just to heat through and turn off the heat. Technically, I think you should not boil the soup once the miso paste is added.

Note: If you've never made miso soup before, it separates as it cools so don't make it too far in advance. You just have to stir it up again to get it mixed when you eat it. Also, if you don't know where to get miso and kelp flakes, there's a shop called Uttam here that caters to East Asian customers. They've got all that stuff, but you could also try Japanese restaurants as many of them sell at least the miso paste quite cheaply. A lot of vegetable sellers carry tofu IF you buy in the morning. It gets sold fast, but it's ridiculously cheap for a block so its no wonder.

Chana Masala

I do not like to be a creature of habit when it comes to food. I love variety in my diet. Even if I'm eating from the same region every day, I still would like some variety. Chana Masala is one of the ways I like to change up our lunches from the traditional lentils and rice. Padhu over at Padhus Kitchen has some of the best, easy-to-follow Indian recipes I've ever used. This is one of hers that we use interchangeably for both chickpeas and kidney beans. Generally, I'm too lazy to do the whole blanching and grinding of tomatoes for lunch dishes so I've adapted this one slightly.

Chana Masala
1 cup dried chana or rajma, soaked overnight
2 onions, diced
1/2 to 1 cup tomato puree, depending on how much "gravy" you want
1 green chili, sliced and seeds removed
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1 Tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (adjust according to your tolerance for spice)
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon chana masala
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf (tej patta)

Cook the chickpeas in the pressure cooker until soft. This can take up to 45 minutes, but if they are soaked it should be more like 20-30 minutes. Mix the ginger-garlic paste, chili, and onion into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Heat oil in a pan. Add the cumin seeds and bay leaf. Once the cumin seeds are blackened and stop crackling, add the paste and cook until browned. This browning is an important step not to skip. It gives so much more depth of flavor. Add the puree, masala powders, and salt. Cook the mixture on low until the oil begins to pull away from the tomatoes. Add the cooked chickpeas, 1/4 cup of water, and cook another 3-5 minutes to heat through. Add fresh coriander leaves to the top for a garnish. Serve with rice or roti.

After lots of failed attempts at cooking Indian food, Padhu's site really got me interested to try again. I have not disliked anything I made from that site so give it a try if you like Indian food.

Brown Rice Salad

In the next few weeks, I hope to brush up on my food photography, but in the meantime, we're still working with unphotographed food. This salad is one of my quick lunch favorites. First, I'll give you the trick to perfect brown rice, and then the way to make this healthy ingredient a little not-so-healthy, but oh-so-delicious!

Perfect Brown Rice
2 cups brown rice
3 cups water

After rinsing the rice, turn on the heat and bring it to a boil uncovered. As soon as it begins to boil, put the lid on the pot, and drop the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the lid closed for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

I prefer my brown rice with a slight chew so 10 minutes is just right, but if you want it softer, you could leave it for the final steam longer. You can also vary the amount of rice, but the ratio should be 1 rice to 1.5 water.

Brown Rice Salad
6 slices bacon (how can we not love that?!)
1 medium red onion, diced
1/2 cup white or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 piece chicken cube
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (sub regular if you don't have it)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cups cooked brown rice

Cook the bacon until crisp and browned. Set aside to drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the grease. Saute the onion in the bacon grease until translucent. Add the vinegar, water, chicken cube, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the rice and crumbled bacon. Cook the rice on low until all the liquid is absorbed. This will take 7-10 minutes. Stir in the dill and cool slightly before serving. At this point, I also like to toss in some cold chopped vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers just to give a cool contrast to the warm salad.

This is a great make ahead salad that keeps well in the fridge, too. It's perfect for days like today when we decide to come home for lunch after church.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pasta Sauce

A few years ago, I found an ad for Del Monte tomatoes in a magazine. In the sidebar there was a recipe for a basic tomato sauce. It has been my go-to sauce since then because it's so incredibly easy. I have had to adapt it because seasoned canned tomatoes are not available here. You could use fresh tomatoes, but I really like the richer flavor of canned tomatoes.

Basic Pasta Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can peeled, whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Pour in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Use a potato masher or wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes (or just squish them in your hands first). Stir until the tomato paste is evenly distributed.
  3. Add the dried herbs. If you are using fresh herbs, do not add them until the end. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Taste the sauce and add salt/pepper accordingly. If the sauce is missing the sweetness of jarred sauces, add a little sugar. If the sauce seems to acidic, add one or two pinches of baking soda. Do this slowly though because once you lose the acidity of the tomato, you can't really recreate it. 
I find that step 4 is different for every batch of sauce because the tomatoes in the can are different every time. No, this sauce does not rival Western jarred sauces, but it's economical, tasty, and almost as fast as pouring sauce from a jar. For an easy meatless weeknight meal paired with pasta, garlic bread, and a sprinkling from the cheese stash, I can't beat it.

Note: When I lived in India, you could not find tomato paste or canned tomatoes. If that is still the case, you could substitute a few boxes of tomato puree or a box of puree and fresh tomatoes.

Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce

My husband bought a clump of weird-looking leaves, and I wasn't sure what to do with them. Turns out, they were pumpkin leaves so I did some searching for Thai pumpkin leaves to go with our Thai Cashew Chicken. I found this recipe on a Thai food website and had surprisingly good results with this interesting food! You could probably do this with just about any type of green leafy vegetable.

Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce
  • 2 cups pumpkin leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, less if you're using something like Kikkoman
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  1. After rinsing the pumpkin leaves, tear them and their stems into small pieces 1-2 inches. Anything that is too difficult to tear or snap with your fingers will probably be too fibrous to eat. I didn't like the idea of the little spines from the pumpkin in my throat so I also scraped the stems with a knife briefly to get some of those off. 
  2. In a wok, heat the oil over high heat. This dish cooks in about 3 minutes so have everything ready. Toss in the garlic and stir constantly to prevent burning.
  3. As soon as you notice the color beginning to change, throw in the leaves and stir to get the garlic off the bottom of the pan.
  4. Once the leaves begin to wilt, add the soy sauce and fish sauce. It might smell weird, but it tastes great.
  5. Stir for about a minute until the leaves have really shrunk and the liquid in the pan has evaporated some. 
  6. Stir in the oyster sauce and remove from heat. Add additional soy sauce if necessary. I found using the full amount of Kikkoman soy sauce was too salty so if you are using good quality soy sauce keep that in mind. 

Thai Cashew Chicken

The next few posts may be a bit boring because I didn't take any photos. I started the blog after eating them, but they are good recipes nonetheless. This recipe is one of my favorites in Thailand, but I wanted to adapt the recipe to something a little more kid-friendly in terms of its level of spiciness for my two little ones.

Thai Cashew Chicken
  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil 
  • 500grams/1.1 lbs chicken breast, sliced thinly (partially frozen makes it easier)
  • 11/4-21/2 Tablespoons Roasted Red Chili Paste (I used True Thai, but whatever you can find works)
  • 1/4 piece of a chicken cube like Knorr or Maggi
  • 1/2 cup hot water (drop the cube in this & mix)
  • 1 cup vegetables (peppers, carrots, broccoli--whatever you like)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 dried chiles, ends snipped and seeds shaken out
  • 1/2 cup cashews, toasted (4 minutes in microwave)
  • 1 small bunch green onions, snipped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • Steamed rice or flat noodles
  1. Start by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan or wok and cooking half of the chicken until it lightly browned. Set aside, and add another tablespoon of oil. Cook the rest of the chicken, and place with the other chicken.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the chili paste. You may need to temporarily drop the heat and cover the pan with a lid because the oils in the paste really make it splatter. Fry the paste for about 3 minutes until it is fragrant and not in one clump.
  3. To this add the water with the dissolved chicken cube, vegetables, onion, sugar, and oyster sauce. Once this comes to a boil, drop the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened.
  4. Lastly, add the chiles, cashews, and green onions. Simmer covered until heated through. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
Recipe adapted from Cooking for Love

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting Started - Meal Planning

From my 7 years in South Asia, I've learned that planning can be both your best friend and worst enemy. When it comes to food with longer preparation times, planning tends to be your friend. In an effort to keep both myself and my husband from a million grocery trips each week, I plan all of our meals for a week at once. We buy all the main ingredients once a week so we only have to run to small fruit and vegetable sellers near our house over the remainder of the week. I don't really like planning breakfasts except for special occasions so I just keep random makings of breakfast in my pantry.

Honestly, getting creative in the kitchen with limited ingredients does not take a lot of magic tricks, just some know-how in terms of finding good recipes and adapting them. Here's what's on for this week:

Lunch: Rice with Lentils and Mixed Vegetables
Dinner: Thai Cashew Chicken, Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce, and Steamed Rice

Lunch: Leftovers from Monday
Dinner: Spaghetti or Eggplant Melanzane with Garlic Bread

Lunch: Rajma Masala and Roti
Dinner: Taco Salad and Southwestern Corn

Lunch: Vegetable Biriyani
Dinner: Miso Soup, Japanese Cucumber Salad, and Jasmine Rice

Lunch: Palakura Pulusu, Radish Curry, and Rice
Dinner: Chicken Nuggets, French Fries, and Steamed Vegetables

Lunch: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (Yes, we adults do still like them!)
Dinner: Pizza and Salad

Lunch: Brown Rice Salad
Dinner: Out at a cheap neighborhood dive

Lunch: Rice with Lentils and Mixed Vegetables
Dinner: Thai Noodle Soup with Minced Pork

Lunch: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Dinner: Breakfast Casserole and Fruit Salad

 I'll try to provide or link you up with the recipes I've used over the next week.

Good Food

This is the start of a new blogging experience. I love food. So does my family. We live in a place where creativity in the kitchen can be a challenge so I hope this blog will inspire others in similar situations. It is possible to enjoy good quality, mostly healthy international food even in a place where less is available. Enjoy!