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.