Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Garlic Sesame Green Beans

Tonight we had these as an accompaniment to a Thai Chicken Curry, and they were such a huge hit with my kids I wanted to share them right away. If you like super soft green beans, you'll need to increase blanching time as these are deliciously crisp. To save time, you could blanch your green beans in advance and store them in the fridge. If you're not much into clean up, you can blanch the beans, toast sesame seeds, and fry the beans all in the same pan like I did.

Garlic Sesame Green Beans
500g/~1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1-2 Tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt to taste

Drop trimmed green beans into salted boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain the beans (using the pan lid) and drop into cold water to stop cooking. Toast the sesame seeds over medium heat in the dry pan until they are crackling, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent burning. Set the seeds aside. Heat the cooking oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, stirring constantly to prevent burning. As soon as you see a little gold, toss in the beans and sesame oil. Fry for several minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally. Add the soy sauce near the end of cooking. At this point you should have crispy brown garlic clinging to the beans. Turn off the heat and toss the sesame seeds into the beans.

Loaded Potato Soup

This is one of those "stick to your ribs" recipes that I have been meaning to post for ages. In fact, I have come to my blog to look it up before cooking on more than one occasion and realized I didn't actually have it on the blog. If you're not familiar with Gina and Pat Neely on Food Network, they are a couple famous in the barbecue world who make "down home" kind of food. This is one of theirs that I have fiddled only slightly with. Serve alongside a green salad.

Loaded Potato Soup
1/4 cup/ ~60g butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 large onion, chopped finely
1/4 cup flour
3 cups water
1 1/2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups light beer (any local beer is light)
500g or 1 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup cheese, grated
Dash hot sauce
Dash Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, carrot, celery, and onion, cooking until they are soft and translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the butter to make a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes then whisk in the water, milk, and beer. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Add in the cheese, hot sauce, and Worcestershire. Taste to adjust seasoning then blend the soup (or just part of it) in a blender or with an immersion stick until smooth. It should be thick and creamy.

Grated cheese
Fried and crumbled bacon
Sliced green onions
Sour cream

Sprinkle any desired toppings over the soup and enjoy!

Healthy Homemade Crackers

Good multigrain or multiseed crackers are something I miss whenever I'm trying to be more healthy here. The choices are quite limited in the whole grain, unsweetened biscuit department, and sometimes we get delicious choices that seem to disappear for good. My body's current blood sugar instability means I have been needing more high protein snacks to feel decent during the day, and let's be honest, you can only eat so much peanut butter or nuts before you feel like loosing your mind. I remembered making crackers when my children were babies, and decided to give that a go again. The beauty of these crackers is that you can make them with just about any grain, add-in, and oil you'd like so you can make them different every time and avoid any allergens your family might steer clear of. These are delicious with cheese, hummus, peanut butter, or just on their own.

Pardon some of the burned ones!
Basic Homemade Crackers
3 cups flour (white, wheat, oat, buckwheat, whatever)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1/4 cup oil
1 cup water

Add-ins (aim for a 1-2 Tablespoons total):
Flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, rosemary, thyme, whole oats, cheese

Combine your dry ingredients into a bowl, making sure they are uniformly combined. If you want the add-ins in the crackers, add them now. Otherwise save them until the end. Mix together the water and oil just before pouring into the flour. Add a little at a time until you get a dough that you can knead without sticky fingers. Roll out the dough (on a floured surface) in small batches to about 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch. Place in a pan. If your dough is gluten-free, it may be easier to just press into the pan directly. Score the crackers into the size you want and dot the tops with a fork. If you want add-ins on top, brush with the crackers with water and sprinkle them over. Bake at 225C/450F until crisp (12-15 minutes). Cool and store in an airtight container.

Note: The crackers at the edges may brown more quickly. I remove those and let the rest of the pan cook longer to ensure all the crackers get browned and crisped. Also, to make oat flour (one of my favorite grains for these), just put quick cooking oats in your blender's grinder jar and blend until you have something resembling a flour. To keep them from sticking, use a good non-stick pan or line with parchment paper before you put the crackers on the pan.


Yes, in our house, we like to model our meals off of children's movies. Actually we recently watched the movie Ratatouille, and it got me thinking about this recipe that is usually comprised of summer's bounty. I realized though that actually all the things you need for this are available here in winter, especially if you prefer the long zucchini to the fat, round variety. I loosely based my recipe off of this one from Emeril Lagasse, but tweaked it significantly to avoid spending lots on the beautiful imported peppers and lack of yellow squash (corgettes). A trick to getting this to cook up nicely is uniformity in the size of the vegetables. Serve this alongside pasta or with crusty bread for a light meal that helps get you further in your five a day!

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups eggplant, diced skin on
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup green pepper, diced
2 cups zucchini (corgettes)
1 can peeled tomatoes (or 1 1/2 cups fresh)
1 Tablespoon fresh basil or 1 tsp dried
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 tsp dried
1 veg or chicken bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. After they begin to turn golden, add the eggplant and thyme. Cook about 5 minutes before adding the peppers and squash. Cook another 5-7 minutes. Then, add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, and bouillon cube. Cook 5 more minutes and taste to adjust seasoning. If it tastes like nothing, add some salt to bring out the flavors more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Peanut Butter Bites

Picture this: You've got dinner guests coming over in a few hours, and you forgot to plan a dessert. Only now the power is off and will be until after they arrive. Yes, you could skip dessert, but who wants to?! In walk these delicious little beauties to your no bake repertoire. You can make them sweeter or saltier according to your taste by interchanging the kind of biscuit you use. That's my own twist on the original recipe from Spoonful. These even work with the local unsweetened peanut butter if you're trying to pinch your pennies. Just a quick note on the chocolate though. Don't try this with the little packets of chocolate chips, as they do not melt easily. Go for one of the generic blocks of "dark compound" chocolate. Your results will be much better!

Peanut Butter Bites
6 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup peanut butter (crunchy, creamy, whatever)
1 cup digestive biscuits or salted "Ritz" type crackers
1 cup powdered/icing sugar
1 cup chocolate for melting

Heat the peanut butter and butter together over low heat until melted. Crush your biscuits or crackers in a plastic zip bag with a rolling pin. A few chunks are okay. To the peanut butter mixture, add the crushed biscuits and powdered sugar. It should be nice and thick. Press the mixture into a greased 8x8 or 7x11 pan. I line mine with greaseproof (waxed) paper to make lifting them out easier. Melt the chocolate (adding about a teaspoon of oil for shine) and spread over the top of the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for about an hour or pop in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Take out about 10 minutes prior to serving to make slicing easier.

Notes: Don't fork out your $$ on Ritz crackers unless you need a very specific flavor. Brands like Monaco and Time Pass salted biscuits work just the same in recipes like this for a fraction of the cost.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Granola Bars

Keeping healthy snack foods around is one of my challenges.  There are seasons when fresh fruit and vegetable options are pretty limited, and there certainly aren't many healthy ready-made snack options to purchase.  I was looking for a low-sugar snack to make when I had a group coming over this week, and I found a great recipe for Grab'n'Go Granola Bars at Southern Distinction.  I tweaked them a bit based on what I had around and what is available here, and I was really excited with how they turned out, so I thought I'd share.

Granola Bars
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans from my stash I had from the States, but I think almonds would also work nicely in these. Any kind of nut you enjoy would work but would just change the flavor a bit.)
1 cup oats (I used the quick-cooking ones, as those are all that is available here.)
1/4 cup flaxseeds (These can be hard to find here but are available.)
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
2/3 cup unrefined sugar (I used a brand of "mineral sugar" that is sometimes available here, and I've included a photo below. Demerrara or even the local brown sugar would work. Really, regular brown sugar would work as well. I was just trying to go for as unrefined of an option as possible to maximize the "healthiness.")
1/2 cup honey
3 Tablespoons molasses (I kind of just dumped a bit in, but I think around 3-4 T.)
50-60 grams butter (3-4 Tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan pink salt because it is easily available here and much healthier than regular table salt.)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups puffed rice cereal (This is sometimes available here but there is also a local puffed rice that would easily work.)
1/2 cup dried fruit (I had planned to use some apricots which are available here now, but they were bad when I took them out, so I ended up subbing dried blueberries that I had on hand. Many options could work well for this, even raisins.)
1/4 cup shredded coconut

(Mainly from Southern Distinction but edited slightly for what I did.)

Preheat oven to 350°F/175C. In a large bowl mix together nuts, oats, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds. Spread mixture onto a baking sheet and bake until fragrant - about 5 minutes. (The quick-cooking oats start to burn if left much longer, but if you are using regular rolled oats, you could leave it a couple extra minutes to give the nuts and seeds a more toasted flavor.) Transfer the mixture back to the large bowl. If you don't have an oven, you can put the mix in a large pan over low heat on the stovetop and shake occasionally until it starts to become fragrant.

In a medium sauce pan combine sugar, butter, honey, molasses, and salt. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Simmer until sugar has dissolved and a light brown caramel forms - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour caramel all over oat-and-nut mixture. Stir in puffed rice, dried fruit, and coconut and mix until evenly coated.

Line an 9x13 baking pan with foil, extending a bit over the sides. Lightly oil the foil with a bit of cooking oil so that the mixture doesn't stick. Scrape granola mixture into the baking pan in an even layer. Use a second sheet of lightly oiled foil (or waxed paper would work well, I think, but I didn't have any), and press down to compress the mixture. Let it stand for 2 hours or until firm. Using the overhanging foil, lift out the cereal square and transfer it to your counter top or work surface. Cut into bars or squares. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lip Smackin' Ribs

Now I know this is not an everyday meal for most of us, but when you want to do something special for your family or guests, it’s an easy knock-your-socks-off main dish. So few ingredients to produce something incredibly delicious and tender! I had been planning on experimenting with my rice cooker as a slow cooker for making ribs, but an extended nap in the afternoon left me with less than 2 hours for braising. Most recipes I came across suggested a minimum braise of at least 2 hours so that was out of the question. Out came my pressure cooker to the rescue, and in an hour I had mouthwatering, fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs. You’ve seriously got to try this! I bought my ribs from a cold storage meat supplier, but they are the local ones—not the crazy expensive imported ones. I would imagine you could just point to your own ribs at a local butcher and get the same thing, too. It might just require some trimming of skin and excess fat at home—from the pork, that is, not you. 

Barbecue Pork Ribs 
1 slab pork ribs, cut into smaller sections of 2-3 ribs
2 Tablespoons oil
¾ cup brown sugar
2/3 cup barbecue sauce (homemade or bottled)
1 ½ cups liquid (broth, red wine, beer, etc.)
Salt and Pepper

Once you cut the ribs apart, lightly cut an X into the back of them to keep them from curling during cooking. Heat the pressure cooker over medium heat and add the oil. You’ll need to vent your kitchen as this next part may get a little smoky. Sprinkle the ribs with a small amount of the brown sugar and season liberally with salt and pepper on one side. Lay the ribs sugar side down (do two batches) into the pan, allowing them to get some brown searing. Seasoning the other side while they are in the pan. When the ribs lift easily from the bottom, flip them and sear the other side. Remove from pan and sear the second batch. Once you’ve removed all the browned ribs, add your liquid to the bottom of the pan. As it heats, scrape the browned bits off the bottom to flavor the sauce. I used ½ cup red wine for this deglazing and 1 cup chicken stock. Add all the remaining brown sugar, barbecue sauce, and liquid. Keep on medium heat, stirring until the brown sugar has dissolved. Add the ribs to the pan, and clamp on the pressure cooker lid. Bring the cooker up to pressure on high heat, and after the first “whistle” or reaching of pressure, reduce the heat to low. That’s it! Wait 1 hour with it on low, release the pressure, and enjoy. The sauce will thicken some on standing. Serve with something that can soak up all that delicious sauce like roasted or mashed potatoes, rice, or bread.

Massaman Curry

This curry is one of my favorites in Thailand. Typically, restaurants or stalls run by Muslim families would have this curry as an option. Though the curry part has a long list of ingredients, it really is simple and produces delicious results using things you probably already have in your kitchen if you eat the local food. Try putting everything in your pressure cooker to speed it up or add tenderness to any tough cuts of meat. Fresh lemongrass is becoming more available locally, but if you don’t find it, the pure dried lemongrass tea works just fine. Also, you may notice from my picture that I made the mistake of allowing the dried lemongrass to float freely in the curry. While it tasted great, I would not recommend this unless you want stab wounds in your mouth! It would be good to wrap it up in a small bit of cloth that you later remove from the curry. 

Massaman Curry
500g beef or chicken, sliced thinly
2 cups water + 1 stock cube
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium potatoes, cut into small chunks
Fresh coriander, optional

Curry Sauce:
1 thumb fresh ginger, appx. 1 inch by 2 inches
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons lemongrass, fresh or dried
1 dried red chili (more or less to taste)
¼ cup peanuts or cashews
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cardamom pods, opened
1 teaspoon tamarind paste or lemon juice
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
¾ teaspoon shrimp paste (sub: tom yum paste)
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 can coconut milk
Chop the ginger, garlic, nuts, and black seeds from the cardamom pods as finely as you can. A mortar and pestle does this really well. Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large saucepan and add all the curry sauce ingredients except the coconut milk. Fry in the oil about 1 minute until the curry paste smells really fragrant. Add the water and stock cube stirring until the curry paste has evenly spread out into the liquid. Add the meat, onions, potatoes, and coconut milk to the pot. Bring to a boil then lower the heat, and simmer covered for about 30 minutes. If you like the curry sauce thicker, then remove the lid after about 25 minutes and allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Check that the potatoes are fork tender. If not, continue cooking a few more minutes. Remove the lemongrass pouch, and serve over rice.

Herb and Pomegranate Salad

I promised this little Mediterranean salad back when I posted the Moroccan Chickpea Stew, but I never got around to posting it. If you have a very narrow definition of what constitutes a salad, this may not be for you, but I found it to be so refreshing alongside a Mediterranean-spiced main. This recipe first caught my eye while I was reading BBC Good Food (Oct. 2013, Asian ed.), my favorite magazine, over the holidays. It was part of the front page picture, and it looked gorgeous. Having given it a try with a few tweaks, I think it's a winner. Vary the amounts of herbs according to your taste to get something that works for those at your dinner table.

Another high-class paper plate dinner

Herb and Pomegranate Salad
1 cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
Arils of 1 pomegranate
3 medium tomatoes, diced finely
1 small bunch of each fresh parsley, mint, and dill
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp sugar or honey

In the bottom of the salad bowl, combine the lemon juice and zest, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and sugar. Whisk until you get a loose emulsion. Here you can also add a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. To this mixture, add all the other salad ingredients and toss until the dressing coats everything. Taste again to adjust seasoning. If it does not taste like much, increase the salt to bring out the other flavors more.

Note: I thought the dill might overpower my salad so I only used parsley and mint. You can experiment to see what you like.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Greek Style Yogurt

So this is the sound of silence, huh? I so apologize for being so long without posting anything. Thanks to Rachel for not making January a totally quiet month! The good news is that I have been cooking and taking pictures all along. I just have not been able to get posts written and put up. Anyway, let's get this ball rolling again.

Looks like an egg, doesn't it?
If you’ve lived in a developing country for any length of time, you may have at least once considered how people make yogurt. I’m a weirdo so I’ve researched and dabbled in yogurt making with varying degrees of success for years. Sometimes it’s easier to settle for just okay yogurt rather than doing it yourself. Recently, my body has been in a rebellion against sugar and sweets so I have been on a quest to find a yogurt that is somewhere between the super sweet local yogurt and its super sour watery counterpart. Over the years, I’ve also tried a number of different incubation methods, but think I finally found one that is pretty brilliant—the hot case for tortillas and roti! Easy yogurt that only takes about 10 minutes of hands on time and won’t give you diabetes or a sour puss face. Make this about midday or in the morning so you can pop it in the fridge before bed to have it cold for breakfast. Just pick up a little cup of sweetened or unsweetened yogurt from your local dairy to get you started.

Greek Style Yogurt
1 liter milk
1 heaping Tablespoon yogurt
2 heaping Tablespoons powdered milk

Heat milk to a boil. Switch the heat to low and let it boil for about 5 minutes. This ensures the milk reaches at least 200F so the proteins in the milk begin to denature. You don’t want to drink milk that has been pasteurized like that, but it is perfect for yogurt. Allow the milk to cool, stirring to avoid hot spots, until you can stick your pinky in and still feel it warm, but not too hot. Try to keep it in for about 10 seconds without it burning you, and that is the right temp. So technical! Place the scoop of yogurt and powdered milk into the hot case. Pour in the warm milk and stir to dissolve the milk powder. Cover the mixture and place in a warm area where it will not get jostled. I then put a hot water bottle on top of the hot case. Give the yogurt a taste test around the 4-6 hour mark, looking for coagulation and how tart you like it. 

Yogurt Making Tips: An oven or microwave is a good spot to park your yogurt during incubation because they are less drafty than the counter. Less time incubating equals sweeter yogurt, but you need enough time for it to solidify. This time of year it takes about 6 hours to reach the flavor I like. Drain the yogurt for several hours over cheesecloth or a towel in the fridge to enjoy a nice thick yogurt. Use a whisk to whip the yogurt to a smooth consistency, and dump off any whey that comes to the top. Flavor your yogurt with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and some fruit.