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.