Monday, November 25, 2013

Maple Roasted Pumpkin

About this time of year, pumpkins begin flooding our vegetable stalls in various stages of ripeness. The classic thing to do is turn them into puree that you can use to make cakes, pies, and nutty breads, but if you’d like to showcase pumpkin another way, give this a try. The recipe includes the combination of thyme and allspice, but if you don’t have access to allspice, try substituting nutmeg or swapping for a sage/nutmeg combination. If you don’t have those, just sprinkle on some cinnamon and leave out the herbs. Anyway you do it, these will give you another way to enjoy pumpkin. I think this would look gorgeous if you roasted some beets with the pumpkin for an orange and red combo. 

Maple Roasted Pumpkin 
3 cups pumpkin (or other winter squash), cubed
2 Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt (more to taste afterwards)

Place the pumpkin cubes in a baking dish. Sprinkle over all the ingredients and rub with your hands to coat evenly. Bake in a 200C/400F oven for about 20-30 minutes until they have golden edges and are fork tender. 

Note: If you use brown sugar rather than maple syrup, I would suggest placing a sheet of foil in the bottom of the pan for easier cleanup after roasting.  

Faux Sweet Potato Casserole

Ah, the week of Thanksgiving—quite possibly one of my favorite weeks of the year! I dream of all the delicious food I get to consume. Last year, I was just a little too busy to do much posting around the end of November, but I did a quick roundup linking you to some of my favorite recipes for this time of year. This time, I’m going to attempt to share a few in advance to hopefully give the American readers some inspiration for turkey day and others some ideas for Christmas dinner.

Sweet potatoes (the orange-fleshed ones) are a classic this time of year, especially in the Southern U.S. where I come from. I went a number of years going without them and other years trying to make the white sweet ones work for this dish. Finally, I came up with a pretend sweet potato solution that involves blending other vegetables that look and taste similar to sweet ‘taters. This is the result of that experimentation!

“Sweet Potato” Casserole 
3 pounds (or about 1.5 kg) pumpkin and carrots, cooked and pureed
½ cup milk
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup/64g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, or both)
½ cup marshmallows (optional)
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)

For the puree, you can either steam, pressure cook, or roast the vegetables. Use about half of each kind to make the total amount. Once pureed and cooled, add the milk, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and beaten eggs to a bowl with the puree and stir to combine. Pour into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle chopped nuts over the top. Bake uncovered in a 170C/350F degree oven for about 25 minutes. If you’d like, you can stop there. For that extra gooey, marshmallow goodness, cut marshmallows into smaller pieces to make mini-marshmallows. Sprinkle marshmallows (and coconut if desired) on top of the nuts, and bake another 5-10 minutes until the marshmallows melt and begin to brown.

This is the PERFECT holiday side because it gives you the excuse to eat dessert twice. After all, this is made of vegetables, right?! Thanks for your inspiration Neely's!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fireside Coffee Mix

My sister-in-law Natalie makes this coffee mix around the holiday season for gifts, and it's perfect for a cozy afternoon drink that feels slightly more grown up than hot chocolate. It uses hot chocolate as its base with a kick of coffee and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Dress it up in a pretty glass jar with a ribbon, and you've got a great hostess gift if you're into that sort of thing. Enjoy!

Fireside Coffee Mix
1 cup hot cocoa mix
1 cup powdered creamer or whitener (like Everyday)
1/2 cup instant coffee
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or more!)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all the powdered ingredients in an airtight container or jar. Start with 2 teaspoons per cup of hot water and adjust to taste.

Ranch Party Dip

Ahh, the classic crudite platter with ranch dip. That is a party food staple that could mean reliance on imported ingredients from home, but have you ever taken a look at how little there is in ranch dressing? It's incredibly easy to make, and not terribly expensive either. One thing you do have to have is good mayonnaise to make this taste right--none of that stuff that smells like sour sugar or straight oil--so don't skimp in that department.

Ranch Party Dip
2 small boxes fresh cream (made into sour cream)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried dill (2 Tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoon dried parsley (2 Tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Chill and let meld a few hours before serving.

Note: You could also do this with plain yogurt if you'd like more of a buttermilk ranch type flavor. Just drain the yogurt over a cheesecloth overnight in the fridge. The key here, whether using yogurt or sour cream, is to keep the main dip base thick and not watery.

Hot Cocoa Mix

I'm feeling festive. Can you tell? I've been transforming my house into a haven of all things fall and cool weather. One of the things my children--not to mention the adults of the house--love this time of year is hot chocolate. While I don't mind making hot chocolate from the local "drinking chocolate", it involves heating milk, not just adding some hot water. Since it's so easy to whip up a batch of your own that is the "just add water" variety, I'd much rather have that on hand for warming up guests or squirmy kiddos on the fly than having to fiddle with milk I may or may not have. Hopefully, you'll enjoy this convenience, too. Plus, you can use some of the mix to make the upcoming Fireside Coffee recipe. Now to earn yourself the parent of the year award, get some wonderful relative to send you a container of those teeny tiny cocoa marshmallows to add to the mix. Or just plop in some big weird pink ones like we did!

Hot Cocoa Mix
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar (icing sugar)
1 cup cocoa powder (100gm local bag)
2 1/2 cups powdered whitener (like Everyday)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornflour

Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and carefully stir with a whisk until uniformly combined. Keep in an airtight storage container. Use two heaping spoonfuls for 1 standard sized mug of hot cocoa.

Recipe adapted from here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fall Fruit Chutney

I've been wanting to post this recipe for a long time, but I never got a picture of the cheese I wanted to go with it. Since it's perfect for this time of year, I'm going to post it anyway, and you'll just have to imagine the delicious locally made cheeses it can pair with! Last year I found a recipe in BBC Good Food magazine for a ploughman's lunchbox. The idea of a chutney with cheese and crackers piqued my interest, and this is the result of my tweaking. I love this chutney because you can change it up with different fruit according to the season. Make this with apples, pears, mangoes, or a combination of some of those fruits. A-mazing!

Fall Fruit Chutney
1 kg fruit, peeled and roughly chopped 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup cider or red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped finely
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or even garam masala)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

Simmer the first 6 ingredients ingredients covered over medium low heat for 20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook uncovered until liquid evaporates. Put into glass jars and keep refrigerated. This keeps for about 2 weeks. Serve warm or cold with cheese and crackers.

For a quick, and delicious appetizer, cut a baguette into small toast rounds. Sprinkle or spread some soft cheese like farmhouse cheese, goat cheese, cream cheese, or even feta, over the toast, and top with a dollop of the chutney. Pop into a warm oven and toast just until the chutney is warm and the cheese is melted.

Kitchen Staples: American Chili Powder and Taco Seasoning

Okay. This one won't have a picture, but there are loads of recipes out there calling for chili powder of the American sort. That is not something that's available here, and often my stash runs out before I have a replacement. So, if you've got some that's almost empty, don't toss the spice container so you can fill it back up with your own mix! You can then use this to make your own taco seasoning, too, which you can use in the Green Enchiladas. After cooking with homemade mixes like these, I find the commercial ones to be really salty. This gives you some flexibility in choosing how salty you'd like things and can make you less reliant on imports if you can't buy these things ready made.

American Chili Powder (makes 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder (adjust to your liking)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons garlic powder (local one)

Mix all the ingredients and pour into an airtight container. Make in small batches as garlic powder tends to harden if kept on the shelf for too long.

Taco Seasoning
1/4 cup American chili powder
3 Tablespoons cumin powder
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 Tablespoons coriander powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 Tablespoon cornstarch (optional)

Mix all the ingredients and pour into an airtight container. To use this seasoning, add 2-3 Tablespoons of the mix to a pound of browned ground meat and stir in 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. If you like your seasoning to really cling to the meat, you can also add the optional 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch to the batch of seasoning.

Green Enchiladas

As you probably know, I'm pretty crazy about leafy greens. For several years, I have owned this fabulous cookbook called Simply in Season, which in my opinion is a must have for people living where food is very seasonal. I like just about anything I cook from that book, but I've always been a bit nervous to try to the Chard or Kale Enchiladas in the book, just sounded a little too veggie! I finally gave them a go last night, and they were pretty delicious, especially if you're looking for more vegetarian oven meals. My husband ate the leftovers for breakfast so that was a good sign! I've added a few of my own twists to make it easier to make here, but it's very similar to the Spinach Lasagna I posted earlier this year with a Mexican twist.

Super high class on paper plates, eh?
Green Enchiladas
2 tsp oil
2 onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb or 500g leafy greens (2-3 large bunches), chopped with stems separate
1 tsp cumin powder
Pepper, to taste
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups paneer (or 1 500g block)
1 can tomato puree or sauce
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning
10 tortillas or thin rotis
1 cup cheese, grated

In oil, saute onions, garlic, and the chopped stems of the greens until onions begin to turn translucent. Add the leaves of the greens, cumin powder, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium low heat until the greens are wilted. You may need to add a few spoons of water to keep them from scorching. Remove from heat and set aside. Crumble paneer into the greens mixture and taste for seasoning, making sure the filling is salted to your liking. Combine the tomato puree, taco seasoning, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a container and pour about half of the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Fill each tortilla with some of the paneer/greens mixture, roll, and tuck ends under, placing seam side down in the baking dish. The tortillas need to be a little warm to be flexible enough to do this. Pour remaining tomato puree over the top, cover with foil, and bake in a 350F/180C oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Bake uncovered for another 10 minutes to melt the cheese.

We ate ours without anything else, but they would probably taste great with a little sour cream on top!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

Are you scared? You should be because I love beans, but let's just say they don't always love me. Nor does anyone else after I have eaten them. How's that for brutal honesty? Seriously, though, the dietary benefits of legumes are undeniable, and we eat tons of small lentil-type legumes several days a week in our house without a hitch. It's those other larger beans, however, that are so great if you're trying to eat more meatless meals that wreak some record-breaking havoc on the intestines...even if you eat them all the time. Yes, theoretically, your body is supposed to better tolerate them the more often you eat them, but I've eaten a ton of beans over the past 8 years overseas and my family would argue that nothing has changed. :) So, if you're like me, do you cut out this economical, power-packed nutrition altogether? I haven't given up, and I think I've finally found a solution that everyone around me can live with--sprouting. Not horns, but miniature plants.

Beauties sprouting in my kitchen
There is a ton of very technical research on the internet about the benefits of sprouting which people can get a little cuckoo about, but here's the reason I tried it: The body breaks down sprouts more like a vegetable so it reduces the war that happens in the body afterward. Other research suggests that not pairing beans with meat sources can also help, which I have found to be true. The verdict is that after we tried sprouting in our house this extra step in bean prep seems to make a significant difference. I ate a massive amount of mixed beans in chili and felt great the next day!

Here's how:
  • Soak your dried beans overnight then drain them. 
  • Place them on a cookie sheet lined with a lightly dampened towel. 
  • Cover the beans with another lightly dampened towel.
  • Every evening and morning, give the beans a good rinse in a colander, redampen the towels, and put everything back on the cookie sheet. If your house is hotter than 75F, give them a midday rinse, too.
  • Keep letting the beans go through this cycle until they have tiny tails.
  • To cook them, start with about half your usual cooking time and check them, as they will cook a good bit faster than other soaked beans.
My vegetarian chili with mixed larger beans took about 3 days from the start of the overnight soak. Smaller lentils and dals will take only about a day or so. With short (1/4") sprouts, you get the benefits of sprouting, but your kids won't look at you like you've fed them a science experiment. Given the type of water we have here, I would not recommend eating sprouts raw as some people in other places can do. Happy sprouting!

Change It Up!

Just a quick post to say that the day I tried Megan (and Liz's) Chickpea Curry, I had the thought that it might also work with lots of other vegetables and beans. Of course, other beans are a "no brainer" so you could use whatever you have: kidney beans, brown chickpeas, mixed beans, etc. Today, I decided to try one of my least favorite vegetables--cauliflower. I don't love cauliflower because how could such a white food possibly be good for you?!? I know, I know, it does actually have some nutrition which is why I decided to use it today. It turned out to make a great Cauliflower Curry to have with a mixed veg pulao, plain rice, or even whole wheat roti. You can also use fresh tomatoes, like I did, but extend cooking time until you have them really soft. Experiment! This is one of the quickest, easiest curry bases I have used. Thanks for sharing, Megan!

Just a smidge left of this delicious adaptation

Hot Spinach Dip

Yay! I'm back. I took almost two weeks for some mental recovery, but I've been itching to post some recipes, oldies but ones I've realized I never posted in the past. Before I get to that, however, a HUGE thank you shout out to Megan and Rachel for their posts while I was away! I will say that I have already tried almost everything they posted, and the results have been great on all of them. One more to go this week! I'm so thankful for these wonderful friends who have been in my life at various points during my time overseas.

So, now that the weather has begun to turn cool here (a little later than some of you on other continents), 'tis the season for parties and warming foods. With all the little get-togethers, I like to have some appetizer recipes up my sleeve, but I realized in the history of the blog I haven't actually posted any. This Hot Spinach Dip is probably my favorite appetizer to make here because having something warm as an app just makes it feel extra special and it actually tastes like something I might get at home. This is my adaptation of this recipe from Skinny Taste--since I'm not counting calories and since our local mozzarella clumps terribly in sauces-- but I am quite jealous of those little pretzel-cracker things she's got in the photo! Serve this with tortilla chips, crusty bread dippers, hearty crackers, or even a fresh veg crudite. The measurements do not need to be exact so just go for it.

Hot Spinach Dip
2-3 big bunches spinach, chopped, steamed, and squeezed until somewhat dry
1/2 cup sour cream (here's how)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Parmesan or other salty cheese
1/4 cup onion or green onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup grated cheese
Pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Pour into an ovenproof dish, or if you're lazy like me, just mix the dip in the baking dish to save on washing a bowl. Bake at 375F/190C until everything is melted and the edges just begin to turn golden. Serve hot.

Note: If you're not up for spending the extra $$ for the parmesan, I have done this using 100% local cheese, and it has still tasted fine. It just needs a tiny sprinkling of extra salt if you do that.