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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Eggs, eggs, eggs!

One of our Easter traditions that we rarely miss is dying eggs. We even did them when the kids were babies who took naps during egg dying! We have been fortunate in recent years to receive egg decorating kits from America, but unfortunately, today's fancy kits tend to not work very well on brown eggs. In the U.S. you have to pay more to get brown eggs, and the white ones work really nicely with the metallic, pearlescent, and foily type kits. Our work-around is to still dye the eggs the old-fashioned way because brown eggs dye as beautiful jewel tones much brighter than the pastels you get with the white eggs.

Eggs dyed and pearlized
In case you're not sure how to do this, all you need is 1/2 cup hot water, 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the local food coloring (10-20 drops of American-style). Drop the boiled eggs down into the dye for about 5 minutes. Send your kids off to do something else during this process or give them a light colored crayon to doodle on the other eggs with. Pull them out, and let them dry. If you happen to have one of those fancy kits, this would be the time to use it as they will definitely show up now!

Kitchen Staple: Chickpeas

These may or may not be a staple in your kitchen, but after having chickpeas ready to go in the fridge this week, I realize they could really be a time saver... and consequently a staple for me. Since living overseas and getting to know the wonder of the pressure cooker, I have eaten more beans, but cooking them just right has been a challenge. Usually I under or overcook them, never really in between, but a colleague told a group of us how to cook them over lunch recently so I have more know how. I tested her instructions, and they worked.

Gorgeous chickpea photo from Lingo Lunch
To cook them to about the consistency of canned chickpeas, you need to soak them first, either overnight or for 2-3 hours after a 1 minute boil. After soaking and draining, add the beans to your pressure cooker and add a little more than double their volume of water. Snap on the lid and bring the cooker up to pressure over high heat. Once the first whistle blows, turn the heat down to low and cook for about 30 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally and then drain the cooked chickpeas. If you plan on releasing the pressure immediately after turning off the heat, cook for 40 minutes. I packaged mine in ziptop bags in 2 cup sizes. Then, you can pop them in the freezer, toss them in salads, or use them for other things over the course of a week.

Falafel

Sometimes cooking international food with imported ingredients can become quite pricey. I love finding meals that are nearly 100% from local ingredients. Granted, where I live there's not too much that is truly local as most of our "local" products actually come from neighboring countries. Anyway, enter the humble falafel, a recipe that could be completely local and cheap save for one non-traditional ingredient. Even with this additional flavor element, however, it's a super inexpensive vegetarian meal that's easy to prepare. If you make them in advance, you can reheat them in a traditional oven or even Miracle Oven.

Falafel on roti with tzatiki dressing
I found this recipe in my quest for more meatless meals last year and have been tweaking and tweaking the ingredients to get it just right. This week I think I hit the nail on the head. Again, this is my Americanized version so I make no claims of authenticity.

Falafel
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (that's the one...)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 slice brown bread, torn into small pieces
2 eggs

If you have a food processor, place all the ingredients in it and blend until you have a relatively smooth paste. You can also accomplish this in a blender, but you might need a little more liquid (and later cracker crumbs to absorb it). Heat a few tablespoons oil in a pan over medium high heat. Drop batter in large spoonfuls into the pan to make small patties. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side until golden. I really did not time this at all, but the original recipe made the suggestion. Drain on a paper towel and serve warm. Serve with pita bread or thick roti, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and a drizzle of tzatziki (see bottom of this post for recipe).

Note: If you happen to use a can of chickpeas instead of dried ones, reduce the salt added to only 1/8 teaspoon. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gyros

Okay. I promise I'm almost done today! I've had so many recipes backing up due to my busyness at work, but I have a holiday tomorrow so there isn't much planning going on at the moment. Gyros... deliciousness. I don't typically enjoy goat meat or lamb, but I can do it for a gyro. While these are not exactly the real thing, they are a pretty close approximation. I've tried a couple recipes from the simple to the complex, and I think this one from Alton Brown is a good balance between simple and flavorful.

Pita bread is fairly easy to make, but I find that if there is someone in my house who will make rotis for me I can absolutely settle for those.

My gyro, pre-tzatziki bath

Gyros
500g ground meat
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram (can substitute thyme)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Once the onion is chopped, wring it out in a tea towel to remove any water. Pack the onion and the remaining ingredients together like a meatloaf. If you're having trouble with it holding together, you can add 1 beaten egg to give it some "glue." Pack the mixture into a loaf pan all the way to the sides. Preheat the over to 170C/350F. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to one hour. To keep the meat moist, place the pan in a container of water during the baking process. Drain the meat after cooking and place something heavy over it for 5-10 minutes (like a plate with a can on top or foil-wrapped brick). Slice thinly and serve on pita/roti with chopped onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki.

Tzatziki
500 mL plain yogurt, drained over a tea towel for 20-30 minutes
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried dill or mint OR 2 Tablespoons fresh dill or mint
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Mix the lemon, herbs, and garlic into the yogurt. Season to taste and allow to rest at least one hour before serving to bring out the best flavors.

Time Saver: Leftover Chicken

Often when I make casseroles where the chicken needs to be cooked first, I find that a package of chicken is more than I actually need. In those cases, rather than adding more chicken than needed, I put the extras into zip-top bags and pop the small amount of leftovers in the freezer. Over a period of a few weeks, I usually collect enough "extras" to provide all the meat I need for a soup or even another casserole. It cuts down on eating too much meat and provides a shortcut later!

Souper Simple Chicken Soup

Hardy, har, har... I know that was a joke my dad might come up with. Given the number of respiratory problems that come as a result of living in a place where the air is almost always polluted, chicken soup is one of those dishes that our family likes to have at regular intervals. It’s one of those classic pick me ups from childhood, and research shows you still get benefits even if it’s from a package! It’s nothing fancy, but I thought I’d share this really simple way to make a classic chicken soup.
Little Girl wanted to make her contribution to the photos.
If you’ve recently had a whole chicken, you can make your own stock by boiling the carcass with onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. Honestly, I don’t even bother to peel the onions or carrots, and just chop them into halves or quarters. Add enough water to cover the bones and your favorite herbs (thyme, sage, etc.). Bring it to a boil, and then simmer the bones over low heat (just a slight bubbling in the middle) for about an hour. Strain, season, and you’ve got stock.


If you’ve not got the time to deal with that, here’s my quick version:

Souper Simple Chicken Soup
1-2 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, whatever has some meat), chopped finely
6 cups water
3 chicken cubes (love some sodium)
1 carrot, chopped finely
4-5 small ribs celery, chopped finely
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 large garlic clove, chopped finely
2 Tablespoons butter
8 oz. pasta (roughly half a standard package), cooked separately
Pinch of dried herbs (sage, thyme, mixed herbs..whatever you like)

In a soup pot, melt the butter and sweat the veggies with a pinch of salt. You need roughly equal proportions of carrots, celery, and onion. Once the vegetables soften, add the water, chicken cubes, chicken, and pepper according to your taste. If you’re using precooked chicken, your cook time will be significantly less. After the soup comes to a boil, add the cooked pasta and heat until the chicken is fully cooked. Season to taste, and you’re done!

Note: I cook the pasta first so I doesn’t absorb all the soup. You don’t have to do this, but I think it makes the soup have more liquid. 

Scallion Pancakes

Today at lunch I was talking Korean food with a Korean colleague and remembered these delicious little treats I meant to write about earlier. In our quest to go vegetarian at least half of the week, this is one of the recipes I used to change things up. One of the highlights of my visits to Korean restaurants is the scallion pancakes they give you. The only caveat? You usually only get one for a whole table of people! For a light and easy weeknight dinner, these are super simple, and you can have as many as you'd like.

Given that I'm not Korean, I can't make any claim as to the authenticity of this recipe except that it tastes pretty close to what we get in a restaurant. I adapted this recipe from Kimchi Mom to suit my taste and the amount of work required. Mine don't look as beautiful as hers, but that does not negate the fact that you should try these. Pair this with a little dipping sauce and some Miso Soup, and you've got a delicious dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes. A serious accomplishment in our neck of the woods!



Korean-Style Scallion Pancakes
2 bunches green onions, sliced diagonally
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups cold water
Oil

Mix all the dry ingredients except the onions together in a bowl. Add the green onions and stir to coat evenly with the flour. Add the cold water and stir until the batter is relatively smooth. Heat oil over med-high heat and ladle some of the batter into the pan. I swirl it around a bit to get the pancake thinner. Flip once the edges begin to get some color and cook the other side through. When fully cooked, slice into little pie wedges perfect for dipping!

Note: If you're looking for extra protein in the meal, you could add an egg to the batter without altering the taste or texture too much.

Dipping Sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Splash of water

Mix thoroughly to dissolve the sugar. Adjust the amount of water to accommodate the saltiness of your soy sauce.

Sloppy Lentil Joes

Please don't run at the sound of that name! I promise they are actually worth a try. If you're looking for a vegetarian option that even serious meat eaters would say is pretty good, look no further. I first tasted these at my friend Hilloree's house. She is a busy mom trying to feed her growing family of 6 without breaking the bank. I was impressed by how well these sandwiches accomplished that.

Tonight when we ate these it took my skeptical four-year-old a few minutes to get past the less-than-appealing look before she realized how much actually she liked it. It's a cheap meal that cooks up quickly compared to other labor-intensive meals, probably even shorter if you took time to soak the lentils. I've adapted the recipe from About.com's Busy Cook to make it work for here. The adaptation uses two kinds of lentils for texture: the ordinary local red one and the whole version of that dal which you can in shops that sell organic dals.

No, they don't look beautiful, but they are good!


Sloppy Lentil Joes
1 Tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cups red masoor dal (tiny and orange/red)
3/4 cups whole black masoor dal
3 cups water
1 vegetable broth cube (Knorr)
1/3 cup prepared barbecue sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
Buns
Butter

Over med-low heat, saute onion and garlic in oil. Once softened, add the two kinds of dal, water, and the vegetable cube. Bring to a boil, drop the heat to a simmer, and cook covered for 20-25 minutes or until lentils have softened. In a separate bowl mix together all the other ingredients. Once the dal is tender, pour the sauce into the pot and continue to cook on low another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. The whole dal will still have some bite and the red will have lost its shape. If you find it too soupy, cook it a bit longer uncovered until the extra liquid cooks off.

Serve on top of toasted buttered buns. Because of the issue of crumbling we face with most buns here, I either make my own or use the long skinny loaves of bread to serve as buns.

Note: If you don't want to shell out for packaged barbecue sauce, the recipe below from Emeril Lagasse is my absolute favorite homemade barbecue sauce. The list of ingredients is long and might not be things you always have (they are things I do always have), but it is one of the best barbecue sauces I've ever used. I always get positive comments from dinner guests when I use it. It's a dream on my shortcut of barbecue chicken pizza, but I'll save that for another post! If you're short on ingredients, look up barbecue sauce online, and there are loads of really simple recipes.

3 cups ketchup
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoons chili powder (American version)
1 tablespoon ground mustard
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (plus a splash)

Just combine everything into a bowl and mix thoroughly. I usually only make a half recipe because it is a lot. Refer to the original post on Food Network if you want more specifics.