Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bacon-onion-cheddar quiche

I have an on-again/off-again relationship with quiches. Currently, it's on. This is a bacon, onion and cheddar quiche with roasted red peppers, made on the only afternoon last week when I had time to be in the kitchen. No, it was not tall enough for my crust. Yes, I always have this problem with quiches. No, nothing seems to fix it.

Regardless of height, this was a supremely satisfying quiche both hot on the night it was made and cold the next night. Served with a simple salad and organic Camargue red rice, it became rich enough for dinner: the time spent in the kitchen shone through in the combination and complexity of flavors, and the quiche meshed perfectly with the oncoming winter.

It is the new chef at the Canadian official residence here in Budapest who has turned me on to quiches again. It is a joy to watch him work: he dirties fewer dishes cooking a four course lunch for 10 people than I do making dinner for two. His kitchen, a large room of stainless steel and gas burners, is an oasis of calm. Having recently watched him make crème brûlée, I am again considering buying myself a torch. Perhaps.

Bacon-onion-cheddar quiche

What you need:
  • 1 homemade quiche crust, partially prebaked
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, roasted and julienned
  • dollop olive oil
  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 3 small onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp of your favorite dried herb (thyme, oregano, sage, etc.)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • scant 1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
  • 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 3 large or 4 small eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk

What you do:
  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • Begin by frying the bacon until just cooked. Once finished, transfer the bacon to paper towels (to absorb the grease) and drain the fat from the pan. Be sure to pour this into a jar or directly into your garbage pail; it will clog your sink.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the onion, garlic, herb and black pepper. Cook for approximately 10 min., until the onions are very soft. Transfer to a bowl and add the roasted red pepper, bacon and green onion tops.
  • Sprinkle two thirds of the cheese into the quiche crust. Add the onion mixture.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and milk. Pour gently into the quiche. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
  • Bake for approximately 35 min., until a skewer or knife comes out clean. Let rest for at least 10 min. on a rack before serving.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wild boar roast

I don't cook much meat. I never quite know what to do with it. Give me anything from the sea – whole fish, squid, mussels, octopus, scampi, shrimp, lobster – and I can transform it into something delicious. But meat? It's not where my expertise lies. And when I do eat meat, I like to know a fair bit about where it comes from. While this is becoming easier and easier in North America, Hungarian producers are, for the most part, still opaque. And so we buy from the Jankovich Birtok Estate, where the autumn hunt for wild deer (red, fallow and roe) and boar has opened.

Game? It has a bad reputation – a reputation for being tough, overly lean and, well, gamey. But it needn't be: when cooked properly, it is splendiferous. Plus, as Michael Pollan has argued for years, it matters what the animals you eat themselves have eaten. In this measure, wild game is some of the healthiest meat around. The animals are not fed a diet of corn; rather, they forage and eat a wide variety of grasses and plants.

Lecture over.

Last night: one 1/2 kilogram loin of wild boar.

Marinate, for a couple of hours:
  • With your hands, mix olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, fresh mint, and fresh sage in a small bowl. Rub all over the meat, making sure to work the marinade in to the flesh.

Sear, then roast over low heat:
  • Preheat the oven to 300, and prepare a roasting pan with a small bit of olive oil.
  • Heat more olive oil in a large skillet (enough to coat the bottom), and sear the loin for 1-2 min. per side.
  • Place loin on roasting pan, and cook for 30 min. per pound.
  • When done, remove from oven and place on a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 min. before slicing. While waiting, make the sauce.

  • Place a swig of red wine in a small saucepan, along with a few squares of good chocolate, a bay leaf, a star anise, and 6-8 juniper berries. Heat gently, stirring all the while to melt the chocolate. Add the pan drippings and increase to a light simmer. Serve over the sliced loin.

Yes, we must work on plating. Arg.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn soup

Apples. Butternut squash. Yams. Potatoes. Onions. Garlic. This is the basis for my favorite autumn soup: a soup which is sweet and flavorful and full of color; a soup which reflects the changing colors of the leaves and the crisp autumn air. This is also the first soup I have developed ‘from scratch’. I'm slowly discovering the tricks and intricacies and joys of making my own soups. It's something I hadn't thought much about before last year, but which I now merrily daydream about on the bus.

What you need:
  • a dollop of olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 apples
  • 2 yams or sweet potatoes
  • 4-5 potatoes
  • a large chunk of butternut squash
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (give or take)
  • fresh coriander
  • white wine (for reheating leftovers)
What you do:
  • Peel and chop the yams and potatoes. Cook for 10 min. in rapidly boiling water.
  • Meanwhile, mince the garlic and chop the onion. Peel, core and chop the apples, and chop the squash.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Once hot, add the garlic and onions. Cook over medium heat until the onions are transparent. Add the vegetable stock and the rest of the fruits and vegetables (yams, potatoes, apples and squash). Bring to a boil, and then simmer with the lid on for 20-30 min., stirring occasionally.
  • Once all of the vegetables are soft, blend the soup (using an immersion blender if you have one) until no chunks are left. Serve hot with a sprinkling of fresh coriander.
  • Notes on reheating leftovers: to reheat soup, warm on the stove with a dollop of white wine

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seafood stock

We realized last week that our freezer was full -- full! -- of shrimp shells and tails, fish trimmings, and the like. An hour later, and our freezer was full of seafood stock. This adds to the vegetable, chicken and game stocks already in the freezer. Winter, we are prepared for you! (Although it was quite a shock to see snow in Ottawa on Sunday.)

Seafood stock is perhaps the easiest stock to make, since it takes very little time. The trick is to put your fish and seafood tailings (bones, heads, shells, etc.) in the freezer every time you can. I use a large Ziploc bag, adding to it every time we eat seafood at home. Once you have about 6 cups, you're ready to make stock.

Hint: plan your seafood stockmaking for a time when you are not cooking anything else in the kitchen. While simmering, the stock will smell very strongly of seafood – strongly enough that you will not want to be putting cinnamon rolls in the oven at the same time.

Seafood stock

What you need:
  • ~6 cups seafood tailings (if frozen, do not defrost)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 large onion, cut in half
  • 1-2 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, roughly chopped (you can use the greens, too)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ~6 whole peppercorns
  • water
What you do:
  • Place all the ingredients in a large pot (heavy-bottomed, if you have it). For the water, use approximately 10 cups (this will of course depend on the size of your pot).
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and let simmer for half an hour.
  • Strain the stock through a sieve into a second pot or container. Place a lid on the strained stock and set outside to cool. Once cooled, the stock can be used immediately or frozen for later use.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The perfect snack

I've been so hungry this afternoon -- this, despite a homemade blueberry-banana smoothie (I'm so glad I froze kilos of blueberries this past summer), homemade granola and half an orange for breakfast, and homemade roast tomato-bell pepper-red onion soup, homemade applesauce and an apple for lunch, and a banana and a homemade chocolate cookie for a first snack. Perhaps it's all of the craziness of this week.

The big guns had to be brought out for my second snack. I grew up eating so much good cheese: practically every lunch, whether packed or at home, was made up of cheese, my father's homemade bread, leverpostej (liver paté) and herring from the Danish delicatessen, and vegetables. Dinners, too, especially in the summer, were often based around cheese. At a conservative estimate, I would say my parents typically had $50 of cheese in the fridge at any given time. It's a habit I've picked up. And so: today's second snack: pavé du nord, a pyramid of raw goat cheese, and sharp cheddar, with Wasa bread.

The only problem is that Richard and I were going to have cheese, bread and olives for dinner. Looks like I've preempted that plan.

Moving to Denmark. It should be brilliant.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Homemade granola

We used to make homemade granola every week in Ottawa. This is a crunchy, unsweetened granola with a satisfying variety of textures and tastes – and it can be altered to meet your own tastes, or as ingredients change with the seasons. We haven't made it for over two years now, since moving to Budapest. The excuse is the same as ever: the ingredients here are expensive and hard to find. But, following another week of homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast, I put my foot down: cinnamon buns are a dessert food for me, not a breakfast food. (Yes, they taste fantastic – they will continue to make regular appearances in our kitchen, but hopefully not before 10 AM.)

With a more open mind, Budapest has proven mostly amenable to my homemade granola. I've had to give up on my four different grains, as well as on wheat germ. But the dried fruit and nuts were more than satisfactory (if expensive), and the result is fabulous: now I remember why I like this granola so much. It is crunchy and textured; it stands up to the milk and doesn't become soggy; it is bursting with flavor and color.

Homemade granola

What you need:
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cups rolled grains (oats, barley, spelt, rye, etc.)
  • 1-2 cups nuts (chopped into pieces if you like) (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (optional)
  • up to 1/2 cup seeds (optional) (sesame, flax, etc.)
  • 1-2 cups dried fruit (chopped as you like) (raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dates, dried apples, etc.)
What you do:
  • Heat the oven to 300.
  • Pour the oil into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Place in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, until good and hot.
  • Add the rolled grains to the pan and stir. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the nuts, wheat germ and seeds to the pan and stir. Bake for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove pan from oven and add the dried fruit. Stir and let cool.
  • Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apple sauce

This is autumn. Three kilos of Ida Red apples, simmering on the stove with lemon, cinnamon, star anise and dark brown sugar. This is heaven.

Apples, peeled and cored, cut into quarters
A cinnamon stick
A star anise
Juice & zest from half a lemon
Dark brown sugar (1/4 cup per 2 kg apples)
Water (1 cup per 2 kg apples)

Pot, stove, heat, simmer for half an hour. Mash with a potato masher until it has the consistency you like.



Be glad it's autumn.

Canadian Thanksgiving in Budapest

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last Sunday with a 14-person, 2-dog potluck at the official residence. The event was a roaring success: pumpkins decorated the entrance, children and dogs chased each other under the table, conversation flowed in three languages, and there was enough food to feed an army. None of us, though, were entirely convinced by the turkey (catered by a local hotel): I am pretty sure it was in fact a capon.

Richard and I brought a tourtière, a lemon poppy seed cake, a chocolate ginger cake, and sugarplum fairy balls.

The tourtière recipe is available upon request. We were very chuffed that one of the French Canadians at the table asked for seconds – this truly defines the pinnacle of tourtière making.

The sugarplum fairy balls are tiny morsels of fruit and nuts, filled with sweetness and a satisfyingly crunchy texture. They are very Christmasy in their name, their appearance, and their ingredients – but I love them at any time of year, and they work well in a potluck setting. Here they are, nestled in a tub and ready to be transported to the official residence:

Sugarplum fairy balls

What you need:
  • 1 cup dried fruit (apricots, raisins, cranberries, apples, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 4 tbsp unsweetened dried coconut
  • 2 tbsp fruit juice
  • 2 tbsp sugar (not superfine)
What you do:
  • In a food processor, mix dried fruit, walnuts and dried coconut until you have a fine, even crumb mixture. Add the fruit juice and mix until moistened.
  • Form into small (1/2 -- 3/4 inch diameter) balls with your hands. Squeeze each ball slightly to make sure that the sugarplums stay together.
  • Roll the balls individually in granulated sugar. Serve as soon as possible.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chard, shrimp and grapefruit salad

A simple salad after a long, long road trip though Hungary, Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia. What a stunningly beautiful part of the world. Chard, grapefruit, white onion, courgette blossoms sautéed in butter, prawns and slivered almonds. Variations on this salad -- different greens, different onions and so on -- are one of my favorite dinners. The dressing is a light olive oil-balsamic vinegar. No mustard, no garlic -- just easy and calm.

Things are not so calm on other fronts.

Late afternoon. Time for a snack. Oranges and fresh figs. I wish I had some mint on hand.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pinto bean & cocoa chili

Yes, you read that correctly. Bean and cocoa chili. The cocoa adds just a hint of bitterness, and a sublime rich flavour. This is my new favorite chili, hands down.

Our guests brought a spectacular Croatian wine straight from the Madirazza winery -- a red which complemented the chili perfectly. I usually go for a cold beer with a spicy meal, but this wine was the perfect accompaniment: deep, strong and full of late-season flavours.

What you need (6-8 servings):
  • pinto beans, cooked from dry (2 heaping cups) with bacon
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • dollop olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers or yellow paprikas, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • cayenne pepper, hot paprika and/or chili powder to taste (last night, we used just under 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, and the chili was pleasantly but not overwhelmingly spicy)
  • ~ 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa
What you do:
  • Cook up the pinto beans, initially covering them with 1 inch of water.
  • Near the end of the bean cooking time, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Over medium-low heat, cook the onions and garlic until translucent. Once the beans are finished, add the onions and garlic to the bean pot (do not drain the beans!). Over low-ish heat, get the bean pot simmering gently.
  • Add the tomatoes and bell pepper, and stir well. Add all spices and adjust to taste.
  • Stir the cocoa into a small amount of hot water, then add to the chili. Stir well. Taste again and add more spice if needed.
  • Let simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, to let the flavours blend. 
  • Serve with cornbread and rice!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Smoked salmon. Figs. Cream cheese.

Sometimes a simple dinner is best. Richard had a late meeting last night, and I had cinnamon roll dough covering every bit of counter space. The oven was in use, and I didn't feel like putting together a complicated dinner. And so: Wasa bread, cream cheese, organic Norwegian smoked salmon, red onion and fresh figs. We also had homemade bread with a cheese course. Oh joy. This was heavenly. The crunch of the Wasa, the silkiness of the cream cheese and the intense flavor of the salmon -- together with the sharpness of the red onion. 

Budapest has been putting its very best autumn face on: we've had four days of sun and warmth, with crisp air and leaves crunching underfoot. It's such a welcome relief from the rain and gloomy skies which this city does so well. And it's terrific for bird watching: recently, we've been out to the Hortobagy National Park, to Lake Velence (and nearby marshes), and to the Vacratot botanical gardens. Purple herons, great white egrets, nuthatches, lapwings, buzzards, and stonechats galore!

No recipe today -- it's as simple as it sounds. But I'm trying something new with chili tonight (pinto beans and cocoa powder) and, if it works, it'll be up on the blog soon. [It had better work, since we are having guests over...]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fried rice

I like my fried rice to be chock full of tastes and textures; the rice nearly fades into the background and allows the other ingredients to shine through. As well as the necessary rice, egg and onion, I use three key ingredients: edemame, shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. The result is a hot, filling and flavorful dish, with the crunch of the beans, the softness of the shrimp and the firmness of the shiitake. It is quick to make, and good for leftovers. This weekend, we took our extras to our farmstay near Hortobagy National Park. With a quick re-heat, the fried rice was the ideal meal to be eating inside a small cottage kitchen while listening to the pelting rain.

What you need (4 servings):
  • 1 cup rice, cooked (warm or cold)
  • olive or sunflower oil
  • 2-3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
  • scant cup frozen shelled edemame, defrosted (just run them under the tap for a couple of minutes)
  • scant cup salad shrimp (if they are frozen, let them sit in tap water for a couple of minutes)
  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 medium onion, diced
What you do:
  • Place the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with hot tap water. Place clingfilm over the bowl and poke a couple of holes through it. Microwave for one minute. Let the shiitakes rest for at least 20 minutes. Then remove the stems from the mushrooms (keep them for making stock -- they can be frozen for this purpose) and sliced the shiitake caps into long, thin strips. Set aside.
  • Heat a small quantity of oil in a wok or frying pan. Once it is hot, pour in the lightly beaten eggs. Let cook without stirring for 20 seconds, then break apart and scramble with a wooden spoon. Once the eggs are set (no more than one minute), remove to a bowl.
  • At a tiny bit more oil to the pan, and heat over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent. Then add the edemame and shiitake, and cook until warmed through. Add the rice and soy sauce, stirring to break up clumps of rice. Once it is warmed through, add the shrimp and egg and stir to mix well. Serve piping hot!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Roasted plums

These are fresh out of the oven -- steaming hot, goopy, waiting to be cooled slightly and poured over yoghurt. Or ice cream. Or eaten on their own.

We've been eating delicious Italian plums for nearly a week now, but the last bunch I bought weren't quite right: tart, and faintly green between the yellow flesh and purple skin. I doused them in honey and dark brown sugar, and roasted them in the oven until they began to fall apart. Rescuing the juice was a pain -- I didn't use the right size pan -- but the result is sweetness and the taste of warm plums. We've had them over plain yogurt at breakfast, and over vanilla ice cream for dessert. The only problem is that they are now all gone.

What you need:
  • plums
  • brown sugar (1 tbsp per pound of plums)*
  • honey (scant tbsp per pound of plums)*
  • plain yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, for serving
  • slivered almonds, for serving (optional)
*Use a bit less if your plums are completely ripe!

What you do:
  • Preheat oven to 425 F.
  • Cut the plums in halves and discard the pits. Place the plums, brown sugar and honey in a bowl and stir well. Spread the plums in a single layer (more or less) in a Corningware dish (or glass baking dish) and place in oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove when plums are soft but not completely soupy.
  • Let cool until warm before serving.

The plums, with their juice, keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rack of lamb

Traveling in New Zealand last winter (well, it was summer there), we had some truly fabulous lamb -- including as part of our cabin-cooked New Year's Eve meal near Abel Tasman National Park. But then, we were in the hands of experts: good friends, one Canadian and one French, who are posted to Auckland. They are also fully responsible for our ability to cook mussels. And polenta. And ham. Oh, dear.

We finally bought a rack of lamb (New Zealand lamb, no less) from the British Pantry and worked up the courage to cook it. The result? It's easy. It's fun. And it is splendid -- splendid -- to eat. We served it with boiled potatoes (not exciting, I know, but simple), steamed bok choy (rare to find here, and excellent) and rosemary-garlic butter.

This is a fancy meal, and relatively expensive. But it's worth it for the taste, the look, and the wondrous smell of lamb, rosemary and butter.

Rack of lamb with rosemary-garlic butter

What you need (3-4 servings):
  • ~2 lb. rack of lamb, Frenched (get your butcher to French it for you -- home knives won't do the trick)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 3-4 rosemary branches
  • 75 g butter
What you do:
  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Heat an oven-proof skillet over high heat. Meanwhile, season the rack with pepper.
  • Turn heat to medium-heat and sear the rack: place it meat-side down in the dry (do not add any fat) skillet for 2 minutes, and then turn it over for 2 more minutes. 
  • Pour off any fat from the skillet, and place in the oven. Roast for 15 minutes. Here is where the size of your rack matters: for a 2-lb rack, 15 minutes is perfect. For larger racks, up to 20 or 25 minutes will be needed. We had a 1.7 lb rack, and 12 minutes gave us rare-medium lamb.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the garlic slices and the rosemary branches. Simmer very gently as the lamb cooks.
  • Once lamb is done, remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing.
  • Remove the rosemary from the butter, and serve the rack 3-4 ribs per person with butter poured overtop.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chicken with pears, leeks and orange juice

This recipe affords us the opportunity to use our large Wilton stoneware casserole, which guarantees that it looks stunning on the table. Tim and Diane's pottery shop, housed in a mid-19th century limestone school house, is one of my favorite places to visit when I go home. The chicken itself is equally stunning: slowly baked with pear, leeks and orange juice, it is juicy and sweet and altogether satisfying. As Sassy Radish's original recipe notes, it's also deceivingly simple to make -- hence why we chose it for our last large dinner party.

This chicken is best served with rice (preferably brown or three-grain), which serves to soak up the juices, and a simple salad. I should add that it does not reheat that well, so I recommend adjusting the recipe to make enough for a single meal. We've made it for two with great success.

What you need (3-4 servings):
  • 6 chicken legs and/or thighs
  • 2 pears, cut lengthwise into eighths (don't worry if the pears aren't ripe; they will soften and sweeten during the cooking)
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced (white part only)
  • 4 spring onions, diced (white part only) (or other small onions)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • orange juice (at most 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
What you do:
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Place chicken in a Corningware or other baking dish just large enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer. Cover with the pear, leek, onion and garlic. Pour over the olive oil and enough orange juice to coat the bottom of the pan (for a 9x11" dish, you will need it least half a cup). Season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until completely cooked. If it looks dry when you turn it over, add more orange juice. Serve with its sauce.

And -- because I can't resist -- the sun setting behind the hill, from our balcony:

Pinto beans

This is not the world's greatest photo -- I was much more interested in eating these beans than in finding my tripod. By the time we sat down to dinner, the kitchen had been full of heavenly smells for most of the afternoon. It has turned cold here in Budapest (overnight lows of 5°C and daytime highs of 15°C), and we are slowly moving from our summer repertoire of salads and cold meals to our winter repertoire of beans, soups and stews. 

These pinto beans are cooked with (us? vegetarian? not for years!) bacon, which renders them indescribably thick and tasty. You can leave as much liquid as you want in the pot, and serve these as a soup or as beans on their own. 

(The biscuits in the photo? They are Pioneer Woman's bacon-cheddar-onion biscuits. Don't make them. You'll never want to eat anything else again.)

Pinto beans

What you need (3-4 servings):
  • 2 cups dried pinto beans
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut into 1 inch squares
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • sour cream (optional)
What you do:
  • Rinse the beans under cold water, picking out any small stones. Place the beans in a large, heavy pot and cover with 1-2 inches of cold water. Add the bacon. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and then simmer (covered) for ~2 hours (or until the beans are just soft). During the cooking time, stir occasionally and add water if the water level falls below the bean level.
  • Once the beans are cooked, add salt and black pepper to taste. I usually add a pinch of salt and 1 tsp black pepper.
  • Serve with sour cream (optional) and some sort of biscuit or bread.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Black olive tapinade

We've been making this black olive tapinade as a nibbly for guests for ages, and have recently started making it just for the two of us, once in a while, if dinner is far off and we are peckish. It's very simple, and extremely satisfying. You can make it as savory, sweet or salty as you like, and as chunky or smooth as you like. It goes with bread, crackers and toasts (or, if you find yourself home alone, just dig in with a spoon).

What you need (~ 1 cup):
  • 1 cup pitted black olives
  • dash olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp capers (optional)
  • dash salt*

* Only add salt if you are serving the tapinade with bread. If you are serving it with salted crackers (such as the terribly good Carr's cheese table water crackers shown above), you do not need to salt the tapinade.

What you do:
  • Place all ingredients in a mini-blender, and blend until it reaches your desired consistency. Add just enough olive oil to make it pleasantly spreadable.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chickpea salad

Ever since moving to Budapest, we've been cooking our beans from scratch (except, admittedly, when needing to make a bean salad as part of a 20-person barbecue...). It's easy, it's versatile and it adds a tremendous amount of flavor to the beans. Garlic, all manner of spices, bay leaves, bacon, and some vegetables can be used -- anything, essentially, which is not acidic. Tomatoes and the like will prevent the beans from softening.

Chickpeas are one of the simplest beans to cook, since it's nearly impossible to overcook them. This chickpea salad has quickly become a favorite of ours for dinners, packed lunches and even airplanes snacks. Cooked with bay leaves, tossed in an olive oil-balsamic-Dijon dressing, and mixed with some red onion and garlic, it can be made as sharp or as mild as you like. The salad can also be combined with a variety of vegetables -- cucumber, red pepper and tomato being my favorites.

The most common complaint I hear about cooking beans from scratch is that it takes a very long time. It doesn't. It takes, at most, a couple of hours. You do not need to soak beans overnight. You do not need to spend all whole day coaxing them along. You just need one to three hours (depending on the type of bean), during which time you only need to be in the kitchen for a total of 15 minutes. And -- it will bring the most beautiful smell into your kitchen. It's worth it.

Chickpea salad

What you need (4-ish servings):
  • 1 heaping cup dry chickpeas, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar (be sure to use good quality balsamic)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 1 cucumber and/or 1 red bell pepper and/or 2 tomatoes
What you do:
  • Place the chick peas in a large pot, and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add more hot water if the water level falls below the chickpea level (don't forget -- if there isn't enough water in the pot, the chickpeas won't soften). The chickpeas are finished when they are soft, but still have bite. I recommend checking them after one hour, and every 10 minutes afterwards until they are done. Depending on the humidity and temperature in my kitchen, mine usually take between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes. Drain, remove bay leaves and set the chickpeas aside in a large bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature (or slightly warmer).
  • Use the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard to make a dressing. I don't like too much dressing, so I typically use 2 tbsp olive oil, a couple of drops of balsamic and a heaping 1/2 tsp mustard.
  • Mix the minced garlic and red onion with the chickpeas, and then stir in the dressing.
  • Before serving, mix with cucumber/red pepper/tomato. The salad can be served on its own or over lettuce.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I love fruit. And brown sugar. How better to combine them than in crumbles? Fruit crumbles (or crisps) are homey, warm and just sweet enough. Plus, they are the perfect way of using up end-of-season fruit. I can still buy raspberries and blackberries here -- berries which look terrific but taste flat. Combine them with a bit of sugar, some rolled oats and heat and, presto, they come alive!

Crumbles and crisps are versatile: fruits can be combined at will, and the topping can vary depending on the contents of your pantry. The only trouble is if you want your crumble to crumble, or your crisp to be crisp. Mine always come out slightly less than crumbly, and definitely less than crisp -- but I don't let it bother me. In fact, I prefer it this way: this is, after all, supposed to be a simple, homey dish, not an extravagant creation to be labored over. The only rule I regularly follow is to add cornstarch to juicy fruits (see berry crumble recipe, below). Non-juicy fruits (see apple crumble recipe, even further below) don't need the same encouragement to cohere.

Berry crumble

What you need:
  • berries, enough to nearly fill a round or square 8" or 9" pan (recently, I've used combinations of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 to 1 stick butter, cut into very small pieces and very cold (stick it in the freezer)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • scant 1/4 cup sugar
  • up to 1/2 cup of rolled oats, slivered almonds, crumbled walnuts, etc.
What you do:
  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Place the berries in a large bowl and gently stir in the cornstarch, the 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, and the vanilla.
  • In a food processor, mix the flour, brown sugar, scant 1/4 cup sugar, and oats/nuts until just combined. Sprinkle the butter over top and pulse in five second bursts until the butter is evenly distributed.
  • Place the berries in a baking dish, and cover with topping. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.
  • Serve with lots of vanilla ice cream!

Apple crumble

What you need:
  • crisp baking apples, cored and cut into chunks (enough to fill a square or round 8" or 9" baking dish) (don't bother peeling the apples -- it's a lot of work, and the peel adds taste and sweetness to the crumble)
  • heaping 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 to 1 stick butter, cut into small pieces and very cold (stick it in the freezer)
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats, slivered almonds, chopped nuts, etc. 
What you do:
  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Combine all topping ingredients except the butter in a food processor. Mix until just combined. Scatter the butter on top and pulse in five second bursts until the butter is just incorporated.
  • Place the top topples in a baking pan, and cover with topping. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.
  • Serve with lots of vanilla ice cream!

(Why are there no photos? Autumn has fallen on Budapest, and it is gray and overcast and raining. There is no good light in the house. I need to do something about this.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Grill 'em! Sausages, corn and potato salad

We haven't used our BBQ nearly enough this summer -- between the lack of good fish and beef in Budapest, the distance between the BBQ in the kitchen (around five corners and up two flights of stairs), and the unrelenting heat, we just haven't been tempted. It took this sweet corn to turn us around. Budapest's markets do not offer the wonderful variety of sweet corn available in Canada -- but, for a few weeks of the year, they do sell large, bright yellow and very tempting ears.

Having bought corn and taken David Wilkinson's sausages out of the freezer, I realized this meal provided the perfect opportunity to try a new potato salad recipe. I have never liked mayonnaise-based potato salads. The taste, the color, the texture -- none of it does anything for me. But once in a while I make olive oil and lemon-based potato salads, and they come out cool, refreshing and full of flavor. This one adds cumin to the mix, which elevates the potatoes to a level where they can compete with David's spicy sausages.

Lemon-cumin potato salad (adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches)

What you need:
  • 1 lb baby potatoes, halved (or, depending on time of year, large potatoes cut into baby-potato-half-sized pieces)
  • scant 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • fresh herbs (optional) (parsley, mint, tarragon, ...)
What you do:
  • Boil the potatoes until tender (but not overcooked!)
  • Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small, heavy pan (I use my Le Creuset lid). Adjust heat to medium-low and add the cumin seeds and red onion. Cook, stirring gently, until fragrant -- about five minutes.
  • Combine cooked potatoes, oil/cumin/onion mixture, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice and herbs in a large bowl. Toss gently until thoroughly combined. Serve warm (not hot) or cold. This also keeps well for packed lunch leftovers.

As per grilling corn? Just brush it with some olive oil and place it on the grill for 8-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until the kernels are deep gold/light brown (do not let the kernels burn!).

Curry galore!

Tamarind-chickpea curry and vegetable curry

Despite the continued summer heat, we've been eating plenty of curries over the past few weeks. Curry is intensely satisfying to make, and provides leftovers for packed lunches (always high on my agenda). Only two things can go wrong: the curry can be too wet or too dry, and it can be too hot or too mild. For the first, remember that vegetables release plenty of water as they are cooked -- do not be tempted to add water to vegetable curries. Otherwise, only add water in small amounts as necessary to keep the curry from burning to the bottom of the pot. For the second, I try to make several curries at once -- I aim to have some hot and some mild. It usually all works out.

Chicken korma, vegetable curry and tamarind-chickpea curry

What follows are recipes for three curries: a mild tamarind-chickpea curry, a hot vegetable curry, and a medium chicken korma. This chicken korma is truly spectacular -- is a perfect reproduction of the korma served at Curry Original -- a heavenly blend of curry, yogurt and almonds. The first time we made it, this dish knocked my socks off -- this is always the type of meal I have assumed cannot be made in a home kitchen. But it can. Oh, it can. Naan, on the other hand, is still on my worth-ordering-in-restaurants list.

Tamarind-chickpea curry (mild)

What you need:
  • heaping cup chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated or chopped ginger*
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp tamarind purée
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered (or 1 cup canned cherry tomatoes, drained)
  • fresh mint
* To prevent ginger from going off, keep it in your freezer. When you need it, use a microplane to grate it -- the outer peel will stay on the outside of the microplane and the ginger will fall through. This tip brought to you by our former bonne in Yaounde.

What you do:
  •  Rinse the chickpeas and put them in a large pot with 3 inches of cold water. Add a bay leaf to the pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 -- 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas are soft. Drain.
  • In a heavy pot (I always use Le Creuset), heat the sunflower oil. Add the red onion and cook until soft. Then add the ginger, spices, sugar and the chickpeas. Stir together, and then add the tamarind purée, tomatoes, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat until the sauce has thoroughly thickened (~10 minutes). Only add more water if the sauce is burning to the bottom of the pot. Serve with fresh mint.

Vegetable curry (hot)

What you need:
  • 1 large onion, cut into largish chunks
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil (be sure to not cut down on the oil, since this is the only liquid added to the curry)
  • 1 large garlic clove, diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 5 baby potatoes, cut into large but bite-size pieces and boiled
  • 1 kg vegetables, cut or sliced into largish pieces* (red, yellow and/or green bell peppers, snap peas, patty pan squash, string beans, mushrooms, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, ...)
* Make sure to cut the vegetables into large but bite-size pieces or slices. The vegetables should not be diced into small pieces. The only exception are carrots, which need to be thinly sliced.

What you do:
  • Heat the oil in a heavy pot and cook the onions until soft. Add garlic, ginger and all spices (and carrots, if you are using them) and cook until fragrant (~3 minutes). Add all the vegetables. Lower the heat, stir thoroughly, and cook until vegetables are just soft (15-20 minutes). Be sure not to overcook the vegetables -- they should still have a crunch to them when served.
  • Just before serving, add the boiled potatoes and stir thoroughly.

Chicken korma (medium)

What you need:
  • 2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, cut into large bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 small hot pepper
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • scant 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 75 g creamed coconut
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
What you do:
  • Combine the chicken with the yogurt, garlic and ginger. Allow to marinate for at least three hours and up to 24 hours.
  • Using a mini blender (oh, how I love the mini blender that comes with this house -- we will have to buy one once back in Ottawa), liquidize in the onion and hot pepper. Add a tiny bit of water if necessary. You should end up with a smooth, moist paste.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy pot (this is where making three curries falls apart for me -- I only have two Le Creuset pots). Add the spices and cook for 1 minute over medium-low heat, while stirring.
  • Add the onion/hot pepper paste, turn the heat to medium, and cook, while stirring, for 10 minutes. It will already look heavenly.
  • Add the chicken and all the marinade, and cook (don't stop stirring) for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the creamed coconut and enough water to just cover the chicken, and bring to a boil. Continue stirring until the coconut is completely dissolved. Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Before serving, stir in half of the slivered almonds. Scatter the other half over the dish as it is being served.

Serve curries with lettuce or jasmine rice. Finely diced cucumber stirred into plain yogurt also makes a welcome side dish, especially for hot curries.

Spice mixes prepared in espresso cups

Fish en papillote with stewed tomatoes

Opening these packages is a beautiful surprise: the sweet white fish, the bold red and yellow of the vegetables, and a steamy, comforting aroma. We had fallen into a habit of poaching fish -- it's simple, quick, and lends itself to many variations -- but, this night, we were looking for something different. Fish en papillote is nearly as simple, although sealing the parchment paper can be an exercise in frustration.

The stewed cherry tomatoes served on the side are our new favorite way of dealing with tomatoes-that-don't-taste-like-tomatoes (that is, the tomatoes available 11 months of the year). Heating these up with just a touch of olive oil makes them plump and juicy and full of flavor.

Fish en papillote (for two)

What you need:
  • 2 white fish fillets (halibut, John Dory, tilapia, ...)
  • a selection of vegetables cut into long, thin strips (carrots, zucchini, leeks, string beans, fennel, bell pepper, ...)
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • fresh herbs (optional) (dill, parsley, tarragon, ...)
  • parchment paper
What you do:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 (Mark 5) and cut two large squares of parchment paper.
  • Place half of the vegetables in the middle of each square of parchment paper. Place the fish over the vegetables, and sprinkle with 1 tsp olive oil (per package), fresh herbs and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Fold the paper as if you were wrapping a gift, and be sure to seal the ends as well as possible.
  • Place packages on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. If your fillets are thick, the packages will need up to 15 minutes.

Stewed cherry tomatoes

Simply heat some olive oil in a nonstick pot or pan, and add cherry tomatoes (and sliced red onion if desired). Cook over medium-high low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chocolate truffles with fleur de sel

Here, perhaps, is proof that anything can be made in a home kitchen: on Saturday, we produced a (rather large) batch of chocolate truffles. These can hold a candle to the best of Belgian efforts. With a dark chocolate interior, milk chocolate exterior, and topped with Slovenian fleur de sel, these are truly wonderful. And truly easy to make. Our biggest challenge was the heavy humidity which has been stifling Budapest for weeks -- but regular breaks in the refrigerator (and occasionally the freezer) kept the truffles-to-be in good shape.

The next biggest challenge was not eating all 40+ truffles on Saturday evening.

The basic recipe is from Pioneer Woman. The complete recipe, with my (very slight) variations, is here:

What you need:

  • 1 lb. good bittersweet dark chocolate (do use good chocolate -- it is, after all, the basis of the truffle)
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk*
  • 1 tbsp vanilla (or substitute your favorite liqueur)
  • 10 oz milk chocolate
  • fleur de sel
  • brown sugar crystals

* If you are in Budapest, sweetened condensed milk can be bought at Artosz (Pasareti ter)

What you do:

  • Place the bittersweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler and begin to melt over gently simmering water. While it is melting, pour in the sweetened condensed milk. Stirring constantly, continue melting the chocolate and folding in the condensed milk. The mixture will take on a marshmallow-like texture.
  • Once melted, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Let sit on the counter for ~15 minutes, and then chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
  • In the meantime, prepare for truffle-making! Line two cookie trays with wax paper, place the fleur de sel and brown sugar crystals in small bowls, and gather together a bunch of forks and toothpicks.
  • Remove chocolate mix from fridge and let warm up at room temperature until pliable (~10 minutes). Roll into small balls, and place on a cookie tray. Once all truffles are rolled, place tray in the freezer for 15 minutes to prevent them from getting too soft.
  • Meanwhile, melt the milk chocolate in a small bowl (I used the microwave).
  • To form a truffle, drop a truffle centre into the melted milk chocolate. Using a fork, roll it around until coated. Lift it out with the fork, and let the excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Use another fork to help this process. Using a toothpick, gently slide the coated truffle onto a fresh wax-paper covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle with a few grains of fleur de sel.
  • Once all truffles are made, store in the fridge. Attempt not to consume all at once.
  • Variations: instead of a milk chocolate coating, you can simply roll the truffle centres in brown sugar crystals.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tofu, the battle

I've never been a huge fan of tofu, but the time has come to embrace it. My reluctance to date is not so much the blandness it too often has, but the texture. I don't do well with cottage-cheese-type textures -- and this is precisely what soft tofu reminds me of. I've been avoiding it for nearly a year and a half.

But that's it -- the avoidance is over. There's a 385 g block of extra firm tofu on my counter. By the end of the day, it should be in my tummy.

The meal to conquer all fears: Pan-fried tofu with wine marinade, udon noodles, and slow cooked shiitake

Pan-fried tofu with wine marinade (2 people)

What you need:
  • 1 block extra firm tofu (300-400 g)
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp butter, at room temperature, cut into three equal pieces
  • 3 spring onions (green and white parts)
  • 3 tbsp sweet wine
  • 3 tbsp dry wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
What you do:
  • Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels, place it on a plate, and put something heavy on top. A large recipe book works well. Leave for about half an hour, changing the paper towels as necessary, to ensure that all excess liquid is removed from the tofu. This is especially important if, like me, you want your tofu to have some bite.
  • Make the marinade: dice the spring onions and mix with both wines and soy sauce in a large shallow bowl.
  • Cut the tofu into pieces approximately 1 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches. Soak them in the marinade for at least 15 minutes.
  • Heat the oil in a pan, along with one piece of the butter. Over medium heat, cook the tofu pieces for 10-12 minutes, turning them over halfway through. The edges should be browned when they are finished. Don't forget to reserve the marinade.
  • Meanwhile, cook the udon noodles in rapidly boiling water for eight minutes. At the same time (yes, this is a four-burner meal), gently simmer the marinade as the tofu is cooking.
  • To serve, place the udon noodles in a deep bowl. Top with tofu, reduced marinade, and one slice of butter.

Slow cooked shiitake

What you need:
  • 10-12 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • scant tablespoon sesame oil
What you do:
  • Place the shiitakes in a small bowl and cover with hot tap water. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and use a knife to make several small air vents. Microwave for one minute. Remove from microwave and let sit until mushrooms are soft (5-10 minutes).
  • Drain the shiitakes and cut out the stems. Reserve the liquid.
  • Heat the oil in a wok and fry the mushrooms over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring continuously. Do not let the mushrooms burn.
  • Reduce heat to low, and add 1/3 cup soaking liquid, soy sauce and sugar. Simmer until the liquid is nearly all gone. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil.
  • Leave the shiitakes to cool, and serve with a bit of salad.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prawns and salad, with zing

I love prawns. I could eat prawns and cherry tomatoes every day -- especially now that my miniature cherry tomato patio plant is turning out fruit like there's no tomorrow. Occasionally I would want crisp apples, ice cream and raw scampi, but prawns and cherry tomatoes are a pretty good start.

Last night a celebration was in order, and we broke out the prawns. The zing? It's provided by the hot peppers and blue cheese.

Garlic-hot pepper-ginger prawns

What you need (2 people):
  • 14-16 prawns, shelled and deveined (keep the shells in the freezer for stock)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 small hot peppers, finely diced
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • olive oil
What you do:
  • Heat a small quantity of oil in a heavy bottomed pot. When hot, add the prawns and cook for one minute. Turn the prawns over, add all other ingredients and cook until done. Do not overcook. When serving, place the garlic, hot peppers and ginger on top of the prawns.

Blue cheese salad

What you need:
  • mesclun mix
  • a handful of green grapes, halved and seeded
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • good quality olive oil
  • raspberry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
What you do:
  • Toss the mesclun with a small quantity of olive oil and vinegar. Top with green grapes and blue cheese. Add walnut pieces if desired.

Monday, August 2, 2010

BBQ chicken pizza

On the weekend, we turned a stray chicken breast into a topping on a terrific pizza. Marinated with maple syrup, Dijon mustard and hot peppers, and cooked on the grill, this chicken is delicious. Combined with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and sautéed red onions, it makes for a perfect summer pizza.

The crust

Here, finally, is a pizza crust which is quick to make, does not require kneading, and does not cause undue agony when rolling out. It makes enough for one cookie tray-size pizza.

What you need:
  • scant teaspoon yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • dried herbs (oregano, basil, marjoram, etc.)
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
What you do:
  • Proof the yeast with the sugar in 1 cup + 1 tbsp warm water. Meanwhile, combine the flour, dried herbs and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mixing on low speed, drizzle in the olive oil. Once proofed, add the yeast mixture and mix until the dough forms a ball.
  • Place the dough in an oiled bowl (turning once to coat) and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
  • To use the dough, do not try rolling it out. Simply drizzle some olive oil on a cookie sheet and stretch/pull/prod the dough until it covers the sheet. It does not have to be prebaked.

The pizza

What you need:
  • 1 recipe dough
  • 1 large ball of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 small chicken breast, marinated, barbecued and sliced thinly
  • 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced and sautéed in olive oil
  • olive oil
What you do:
  • Preheat the oven to 500°.
  • Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the pizza dough. Assemble toppings as desired. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges of the crust turn a golden brown.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Halibut with leeks and saffron; crispy potato roast

It has turned cool here (relatively speaking; the high for today will be 30°C), which has allowed us to turn the air conditioning off and the oven on. It gave us the perfect chance, midsummer, to try two recipes we've been hanging our noses over for a while now. The first is poached halibut with saffron-stewed leeks, and the second is She Eats Bears' crispy potato roast. The fish is sweet (almost overly so), the leeks tender and bursting with flavor and color, the potatoes truly heavenly (it's the garlic. oh, and the butter), and the vegetables hot and still a touch crisp.

Halibut with saffron-stewed leeks
  • Poach the halibut in dry white wine for ~10 minutes, or until done.
  • Meanwhile, chop up the leeks and stew them, along with two pinches of saffron, in a small quantity of white wine.

Crispy potato roast
  • You'll need potatoes, butter, onion and garlic -- the recipe is here. Roasted in a ring, these potatoes look as good as they taste.

Vegetables sautéed in olive oil
  • Heat a small quantity of olive oil in a wok or frying pan, and add vegetables (in our case, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper and zucchini). Sauté for 5-10 minutes, tossing every once in a while.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Camargue rice salad

While in the south of France last month, we bought some organic Camargue rice -- two packages, one red and one black. Driving through the rice paddies was long and hot (39°C, according to the car thermometer), but full of surprises from wild horses to massive bulls to pink flamingos. Regional food is easily my favorite souvenir of any trip -- albeit a souvenir which is typically consumed in short order. This cold salad, which combines the black rice with red, white and yellow vegetables, puts on quite a show.

What you need (6 servings):

  • 1 cup black rice
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 sweet paprika (or another bell pepper)
  • a handful of black olives
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • olive oil

What you do:
  • Cook the rice as directed with the bay leaf (for Camargue black rice, cook in a large pot of boiling water for 25-30 minutes). Rinse in cold water and drain well.
  • Meanwhile, quarter the cherry tomatoes and chop the rest of the ingredients.

  • Combine all in a salad bowl and toss with olive oil.
This salad keeps well in the fridge for several days, and makes perfect packed lunches.


Or not. Sertes oldalas translates as 'pork side'. They looked like ribs at the butcher, and we cooked them as if they were ribs. Regardless of their exact provenance in the pig's anatomy, they were delicious -- ribs without the bones, full of tender, juicy, flavorful meat.

The recipe we used is a combination of two I have been salivating over for weeks: Sassy Radish's oven barbecue ribs and Pioneer Woman's best oven roasted ribs. I have pared both down to their basics, and recombined into a simple, pleasing and delicious rib recipe. All right -- it still takes a minimum of six hours, but you only have to work for approximately 10 minutes.

What you need:
  • 1 large rack of ribs (or, in my case, a cut of pork which looks remarkably similar to ribs)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons eros (hot) paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tablespoon salt
What you do:
  • Mix together the sugar and spices in a small bowl.
  • Line a roasting pan with aluminium foil. Smear the ribs with mustard, and then coat with the spice mix. Be sure to rub it in well, getting into all the cracks and crevasses. Cover pan and let the flavors develop in the fridge for at least three hours.

  •  Bake at 250° for 2-3 hours, until meat is tender. Let sit for five minutes after removing from the oven before cutting into ribs.

For two people who went years without eating much meat, the past week has been an adventure: pork tenderloin, ribs, and (oh dear) pork sausages. For the foreseeable future, our dinners will revolve around fish, seafood and vegetables. And beans. Don't forget the beans.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Covered fruit pie

This, from Joy of Cooking: "We urge you not to judge your fruit pies against the picture-perfect specimens shown in magazine photographs. Under real home conditions, fruit pies often bubble over during baking, brown unevenly, stick to the pan, and yield somewhat runny slices. And no matter what you do, the undercrust always turns out slightly soft on the side facing the fruit. None of this should deter you. Fruit pies are simple, homey desserts, meant for eating, not display. And they are indeed delicious."

I'd never made a covered fruit pie -- at least not with homemade pastry dough.

I can take a challenge.

The result is very much as Joy of Cooking promises: it bubbled over during baking (which gave us the perfect opportunity to test our self-cleaning oven), it browned unevenly, the slices are somewhat runny, and it looks rustic rather than picture-perfect. But it does not stick to the pan! And, most importantly, it is beyond delicious.

Covered fruit pie pastry

What you need:
  • 250 g butter, frozen
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp very cold water (place cold tap water in the freezer for ~15 minutes)
What you do:
  • Mix dry ingredients in a food processor until well combined.
  • Cut frozen butter into 1/2 inch cubes, and scatter over the dry ingredients. Pulse in two-second bursts until butter lumps are the size of peas.
  • Pour the water evenly over the dough and pulse in five-second bursts until the dough begins to clump into small balls. You will notice a change in the food processor noise as this begins to happen.
  • Press dough with your hands until it coheres. Divide dough in half, form each half into a flat disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour, or up to two days.

Covered fruit pie filling

What you need:
  • 5 cups fruit (I used peaches, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)
  • heaping 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (not from a bottle)
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
What you do:
  • Peel, chop and mix together all the fruit. Do not mix in the other ingredients until required by the recipe.

Covered fruit pie recipe
  • Preheat the oven to 425 and place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. On the rack below, place a large cookie sheet to catch drips.
  • Working with one piece of dough at a time, pat out each go round and roll into a ~10 inch circle. Use as much flour is necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

  • Drape one dough round into a 9 inch glass pie dish. To lift dough from the counter, gently lay it over the rolling pin. Patch any holes with extra bits of dough. Be sure to leave enough overhang to seal the pie crusts together.

  • At this point, mix the filling ingredients together (except for the butter). Let sit for 10-15 minutes (no more). During this time, keep the pie crusts in the fridge.

  • Pour the filling into the pie crust base and dot with the butter. Then place the top crust over, seal the edges, and cut vents. Do this step quickly so that the crust does not become soggy.

  • Bake for 30 minutes at 425, and then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for approximately 30 more minutes, until juices start coming out of the vents. Allow to cool partially before cutting.