22 December 2011

Almond & Orange Shortbread Bars

Christmas is here, people.

The stockings are hung, the gifts are wrapped, and everything seems to be enveloped in a soft, warm glow. It's a damn good thing Christmas doesn't last all year or else we'd all get fat and drunk and never accomplish anything. But jeez, what a fab time of year it is.

Giving cookies is a holiday tradition, and I just love sharing my favourite things with my favourite people. I have my standard, go-to treats like buckeyes and these cranberry-studded oatmeal gems. This year, I tried something new, and it's delightful. If you got some of these chocolate-dipped shortbreads, you are not on the naughty list. Just so you know.

Adding a unique flair to this shortbread is an ingredient of my own concoction. Allow me to introduce to you: roasted orange peel.

After making roasted lemon peel for this bread, I was inspired to try other citrus. If using an orange for anything else, simply cut away the very outside layer of peel, leaving all of the white pith behind. Let it sit out for a couple of days to dry out. Then roast it in the oven (I typically do this while preheating the oven for something else). Grind it to a powder -- this takes some muscle if working with a pestle and mortar, but it's worth it. The scent alone is worth the effort, warm and earthy, knee-buckling and exotic. It tastes like what I imagine caramelised oranges taste like.

I had a bunch of this powder sitting around, waiting for the perfect thing to add it to. I'd often open the little container and give it a whiff, savouring that beautiful scent. I'm pretty sure I forced my boyfriend to smell it when we first started dating - he probably thought I was insane.

I wanted a recipe where it could really shine, and not get lost among other prominent flavours. It marries beautifully with the almond and fresh orange in these shortbreads, and I couldn't be happier. Simply replace it with fresh orange zest if you don't want to go to the effort of making roasted peel. 

Almond Shortbread Bars
adapted from The Guardian

170g butter
50g light brown sugar
50g caster (granulated) sugar
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1 tsp roasted orange zest
Melted chocolate -  I use a mixture of milk and dark choc, plus a little vegetable shortening so I don't have to temper it. Plus a pinch of sea salt.
Chopped nuts - I used pistachios and almonds. Do what you want!

Set the oven at 160C/gas mark 3.

Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Stir the nuts, flour and zest into the mixture. Knead a little with hands to make sure the mixture is uniform. Divide dough in two, flatten into disks, wrap and refrigerate 20 mins.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1cm thickness, cut into 1"x2.5" bars. Prick with the tines of a fork and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 13 minutes, until the edges turn golden.

Dip in melted chocolate and sprinkle with chopped nuts of your choosing.

20 December 2011

Brussels Sprouts Hash with Gruyère

There is no light in my flat. The sun literally never shines into my windows. The shortest days of the year are here, and the sun doesn't get high enough in the sky to crest over the hill I live on and illuminate my living room. The good news is that I've been so busy in the last few months that I didn't even notice that the sun was setting at 3:30 until two days ago. So, I haven't had a chance to get depressed about it, and in one (short) day, the days will begin to grow longer again, spring will come, and I'll have enough sunlight in my flat to take decent photos. Then, before I know it, we'll all be wearing skirts and sandals and getting some serious freckles. Being crazy-ass busy is the only way to get through the winter, in my mind. All of this has nothing to do with the recipe - I just thought you should know.

People generally don't like brussels sprouts. I didn't like them for years, until I decided that I should. As a vegetarian in an omnivore's world, I don't really have license to push many veggies aside. I've tried various methods over the years, but never hit on anything spectacular - until now. This is so good.

The trick is to never, ever boil those suckers. Don't even think about it. Get them nice and browned. Crispy. Delicious all over.

Another trick: don't miss the vinegar. You need a little acidity to break through the strong flavours here. I wanted to use lemon juice, but I discovered too late that I was actually out of lemons. White wine vinegar does the job nicely. It really brightens everything up and rounds out the flavour profile.

Brussels Sprouts Hash with Gruyère
original recipe by me!

250g brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
3T olive oil
1 medium potato
small knob of butter (about 1.5T)
1 small leek (or half of a normal-sized leek)
splash white wine vinegar (about 1 tea)
25g Gruyère, grated
sea salt and pepper to taste

Sauté brussels sprouts in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, tossing occasionally to brown on all sides. Season with salt and add diced potato. You'll think the sprouts might be burning, but it's ok. They need to get really brown. Don't stress.

Once potatoes have begun to brown, add butter and chopped leek. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Cook until potatoes are done and leeks have begun to brown. Add a splash of white wine vinegar, toss to incorporate. Grate over gruyere and allow to melt in the skillet, serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a side (or 1 as a main - this was totally my whole lunch).

15 December 2011

Moravian Spice Cookies

Christmas is coming.  Time to bake cookies!  It might be more of an American tradition to bake loads of cookies around the holidays, but my mates over here don't seem to mind.

Might I suggest some soft oatmeal cookies with fresh cranberries?  Or, perhaps, some homemade oreos?  Snickerdoodles?

This Moravian spice cookie is amazing, like super-thin-snappy-wafers-of-awesomeness.  The flavours are strong and perfect at this time of year.  It's not easy to find molasses in Britain, so I've used black treacle, which might make them even better. They're crispy and crunchy, and amazing when eaten with coffee and vanilla ice cream.

What are your favourite Christmas cookie recipes?

Moravian Spice Cookies
modified from Gourmet
This makes a ton of cookies, over 100, if cut in 2-inch rounds.

1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup black treacle (traditionally, molasses is used, but good luck finding that outside America)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pulse shortening, brown sugar, and treacle in a food processor until smooth.  I don't have a food processor, so I used a spoon.  It wasn't fun.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add to processor and blend just until combined.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead briefly, allowing dough to absorb a little more flour if sticky. Divide dough in half and form each half into a ball. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 day.

Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll out a bit of dough, 1/2 or 1/3 of a ball, on a piece of foil until very thin (less than 1/16 inch thick). Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and stick in the freezer for 2 minutes.  This will allow you to get the thin, sticky discs off the foil with ease and without allowing them to become misshapen.  Arrange about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets.

Bake cookies 10 minutes (or less if your oven is fan-assisted, like mine -- they took 4 minutes). Let stand 1 minute on sheet, then loosen with spatula and transfer to cooling rack. If first batch isn’t crisp, bake 1 minute more (on baking sheet), minute-by-minute until they are crisp.  Careful not to burn, since they are dark cookies it's hard to tell so watch closely.

Re-roll scraps and repeat until you have enough cookies to feed an army.

06 December 2011

Baby Greens Salad with Orange & Fennel

So, it's winter again.

I know this because I had to switch back to my lighter foundation. Also, it's snowing. Brrr. I just want eat potatoes and cheese and hot sauce. Am I the only person who does this in the winter?

Soooo [subject change] we just got through Thanksgiving, and I was lucky enough to host a meal for my friends. I introduced 9 of my favourite people to traditional American things like pumpkin pie, cornbread, green bean casserole, and sweet potato soufflé. The dinner was quite a success in the end, but DANG. I'm ready to not do that again for another whole year.

But this salad? I made it again almost immediately. I served it as part of my first course, and it wasn't the biggest hit of the day - but I could hardly expect it to be, since it sat on a plate next to homemade herbed cheese (recipe soon!). But it stuck with me. The flavours (and colours!) were crisp and bright and intense. It was the perfect way to get a bit of a detox after the big holiday/before the next big holiday. And it makes me feel just a little less guilty about my potatoes-with-cheese-and-hot-sauce habit.

Baby Greens Salad with Orange & Fennel
from Shutterbean, with a few small changes -- for example, I found the dressing lacked something. Doubling the sugar fixed it beautifully.

90g mixed baby leaves (such as red chard, rocket, spinach)
1 orange, segmented - Don't know how to segment an orange? Here's a video.
abt 1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice (from your segmented orange)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Assemble salad. Mix up dressing. Pour dressing over salad. Eat it up. The end.

Serves 2.

01 November 2011

Chickpea & Cardamom Rice with Carrots and Za'atar Oil

Busy, busy.

I know we're all busy, and I usually shy away from using it as an excuse. After all, we make time for the things we care about. But really. There's *normal* busy, and then there's or busyy, or bizzy, or bizzay. I've been bizzay. Truefact.

One of the million things I've done recently is move into a new flat. It took me ages to settle in. Between other things keeping me occupied (wedding festivities, research, teaching, friends, dating), I haven't really had a moment to spare. I'm not complaining - I have a very full life, and I wouldn't trade any bit of it! But, I lived in my flat for three whole weeks before it felt like home. And until I settled in here, my kitchen mojo was nowhere to be found. I ate cheese and crackers for lunch the entire first week. It felt like I was cooking and eating in a stranger's house - except that all my stuff was here. Weird.

Finally, finally. A good meal. I'm back, baby!

This, incidentally, is a great meal if you're busy. It's got it all - carbs to keep you going, protein in those pulses, vitamins in the carrots, and some healthy fat in the yogurt. It's a one-dish, working lunch kind of thing. It's food that works just as hard as you do.

I found za'atar, after a long search, at a local foodie deli here in town. Za'atar features in Middle Eastern cooking, and it's a blend of sumac, thyme and sesame seeds. It's amazing. It tastes really earthy, with a sweet-salty combination that makes me very happy. I imagine it could take just about anything up a notch.

Chickpea & Cardamom Rice with Carrots and Za'atar Oil

250g white basmati rice
some olive oil to sauté
1/2 small onion, sliced
vegetable stock
2 medium carrots, grated
8 cardamom pods
200g cooked chickpeas
2 tea za'atar
2 tablespoons olive oil
full-fat greek yogurt, for serving

Place uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse until water runs clear; set aside to drain. Saute onion in a little olive oil, about 2 tablespoons, until beginning to soften. Add rice and continue to cook, stirring, until rice has begun to gain a little colour. Meanwhile, smash cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle, remove seeds and discard pods. Add vegetable stock to the pot along with grated carrots and cardamom seeds. Steam/cook until rice is done. Set aside to steam an additional 10 minutes before continuing.

While rice is steaming, prepare za'atar oil by mixing za'atar with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Add cooked chickpeas to the rice and toss together. Serve with a dollop of greek yogurt, drizzle za'atar oil over top.

The end. Serves 4.

11 September 2011

Plum Frangipane Tart in a Spelt Crust

I've lived in Britain now for two years. Two years! I can hardly explain how quickly it's gone by, how different my life is, or how much I love it here.

I'm still an American, though, and my foray into British food has been slow-coming. First was a world of curries, which I've only just begun to understand (and love passionately). Puddings were even slower to get on my good side. Maybe it's because the word "pudding", to an American, means something different than it does here, where the word is used as a generic term for what I would call dessert. I'll never forget ordering a "chocolate pudding" in the first few days after I moved to England... which came to me as a piece of soggy chocolate cake. This is the traditional, accurate usage of pudding, a steamed or boiled cake, and I still haven't tasted one I like.

I'm so familiar with American baking that British flavours and styles took a lot longer for me to get my head around. I'm proud to say that I've finally scratched the surface with this plum tart! While I have a suspicion that the tart itself might be Italian (or French?) in origin, to me it is a standard British dessert (ahem, pudding).

Oh, success, I love you!

I decided to use a spelt crust instead of a plain crust, for no other reason than that I love spelt. It has a rich, nutty quality that is so flavourful, and I think it adds a nice touch to this tart. Also, this isn't your typical pastry crust method, and is a favourite of mine because it's so easy! The filling is almond-y and rich and beautiful. Yum.

Spelt Crust
adapted from David Lebovitz
90g (6.5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
75g plain/AP flour (just over 1/2 cup)
75g wholegrain spelt flour (just over 1/2 cup)

Frangipane Filling

adapted from Gordon Ramsay
6-8 Victoria plums, stoned and sliced into quarters.
120g unsalted butter (8.5 tablespoons), softened to room temperature
120g ground almonds (4.25 oz)
120g caster sugar (just over .5 US cup)
20g plain flour (1/8 US cup)
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (DiSaronno)
1 medium free-range egg (if using a large egg, add 5g weight to each ingredient)

Preheat the oven to 210ºC (410ºF)

Combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in a glass oven-proof bowl (e.g. Pyrex)

Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.

Remove from oven and add the flour quickly, stir it fast until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23 cm) tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula. Allow to cool a bit before handling.

Pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough for patching any cracks.

Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown. I didn't feel the need to use pie weights, and it was just fine. While crust is baking, prepare filling.

Place all filling ingredients together in a bowl (except plums) and blend together using an electric mixer. Stop when mixture is just uniform -- don't overwork it.

Remove tart shell from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes if you've patched anything.

Turn the oven down to 150ºC (300ºF). Let the shell cool before filling.

Spread frangipane mixture into the baked tart shell and smooth with the back of a spatula. Arrange sliced plums on top of the mixture, skin-side up, pressing down gently so that they are embedded in the frangipane. Sprinkle top with granulated or caster sugar.

Bake 30-35 minutes until golden, and the middle is just-set. Cool 10 minutes in the tart ring, then remove ring and slice at will!

07 September 2011

Butter & Garlic Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

This is real life.

I got home from the office today and just stared into the refrigerator. Do you do this, too? I love cooking, but every day is not a masterpiece kind of day. Today especially. After staring into the fridge for a while, I gave up on that and then started staring into cupboards. Braindead.

Usually I know exactly what to make. Usually I think about it the whole way home, and stride into the kitchen with purpose. Not today.

Brain-dead me ended up making a super-easy pasta dish.. And it was amazing! After the first bite, I said, out loud, "why haven't I eaten this before?" This is nothing new. I didn't hit upon some long-forgotten secret. This is easy stuff. Because this is real life.

Cooking the tomatoes in the skillet (instead of just adding them raw) concentrates their flavour. They lose some water and become something really wonderful. If you wanted to, you could roast them in the oven instead, but why dirty another pan? Why turn on another appliance? There's no need for all of that. One tomato-ey bite lifted the fog from my brain and I was suddenly back among the living.

For the pasta, I used the angel hair variety. Next time, I want penne. Anything will do! Get crazy and try bowtie pasta. Yeah, do that!

Butter & Garlic Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

knob butter
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
8-10 cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced (not too small - I occasionally like a bigger chunk)
sea salt
pasta of your choosing, cooked al dente
handful black olives

Saute onion in butter until it begins to brown. Quarter tomatoes and add to the pan, then add garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in cooked pasta once tomatoes are shriveled. Top with black olives. Eat up!

Serves 2

30 August 2011

Simple Courgette & Basil Pesto Gratin

Courgettes (zucchinis), for me, are another favourite summer food. An unsung hero, really, and a master of versatility. You can bake them into cakes and bread. You can batter and fry them. You can toss them in couscous or quinoa. I've even been known to slice them thinly and eat them raw, with a tiny dab of greek yogurt and a sprinkle of salt on each one. And then, there's this:

I love dishes that make a vegetable the star of the show, and this gratin transforms the courgette to a diva with the most comfortable ease. Tossed with a little basil pesto, speckled with a light-flavoured cheese and topped with glorious, crispy breadcrumbs, this gratin is all I ever wanted. The cheese I had on hand today was wensleydale, but feta, gruyère, or even a mild cheddar would make excellent additions, too.

Courgette & Basil Pesto Gratin

2 medium courgettes
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
100g cheese, cut in small bits (I used Wensleydale)
small knob butter
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 heaping tablespoon basil pesto

Thinly slice courgettes and toss in a big bowl with salt, rest for 30 min to draw out excess water. Drain using a colander, pressing down a bit to extract as much water as possible.
Heat oven to 190C. Put the butter in a glass baking dish and melt in the oven until it starts to brown. Pour over breadcrumbs and toss.
Place courgette slices in a bowl with wensleydale & pesto. Toss. Put in glass dish (same one) and top with breadcrumbs. Bake 20 minutes, being careful not to overcook the courgettes to a mush.

The end.

28 August 2011

Roasted Tomato Bread, and a sandwich

I suck at baking bread. It's really not my strong suit. I'm good at quick breads, but yeast, oh crap. We're not friends. But surprise of surprises, I made a loaf that wasn't too dense, too dry or too wet. Victory is finally mine!

I have such a passion for the tomato, and since the good stuff only comes around once a year, I just buy and buy and buy them whenever I see them! My kitchen is experiencing a tomato explosion, so I'm looking for new ways to enjoy my favourite fruit. Enter: tomato bread. Oh my. It warms my heart.

After I made a whole bunch of salsa, I had a big bowl of tomato guts that I didn't really want to throw out. I figured there had to be a good use for them. For sure I could use them as the liquid in a bread, right?? It worked! I added a few roasted tomatoes because I wanted some additional tomato flavour in the loaf. It was an all-day-long adventure, but totally worth it. If you don't want to use tomato guts, just scale back the flour a bit in the recipe. Easy stuff.

The bread is really nice and so good for sandwiches! I coated some tofu slices in plain breadcrumbs using a vegan egg substitute of cornflour* + neutral oil + a splash of water. This totally worked and is my new favourite stick-breadcrumbs-to-stuff-without-wasting-an-egg trick. I pan-fried the tofu with a little olive oil, then stuck it in a sandwich with a sliced tomato, cream cheese (not vegan, oops) and wholegrain mustard. Perfect!

*note to American readers: "Cornflour" is the British term for "cornstarch". Same thing, different name.

Roasted Tomato Bread
I was inspired by this recipe, but ultimately adapted a sandwich bread recipe from Scraping The Skillet instead.

175ml (3/4 cup) water
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup white bread flour
1/2 cup malted brown flour

3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup white bread flour
3/4 cup malted brown flour
3 roasted tomatoes + leftover tomato juice/guts/seeds (I had about 1/3 cup)

Stir together first 6 ingredients and allow to ferment at room temp for 3-4 hours. While you're waiting, roast your tomatoes in a little olive oil.

Stir down (air will come out) and add remaining ingredients.

Knead 5 minutes on floured worksurface. My dough was really sticky so I added more white flour as needed. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Knead 5 minutes more (I forgot this part, oops. Still good!).

Place in oiled bowl, turn over to coat, cover with tea towel and rest in warm place for 1 hour to rise. Dough should double in size.

Remove from bowl, push air out and flatten into a rectangular shape. Fold in thirds, pinch ends together, and place in bread tin (or on a baking sheet) seam-side down. Allow to rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake at 175C (350F) for 45-50 minutes, until a tap on the top sounds hollow.

26 August 2011

Creamed Corn is Amazing

Yep, another Mexican-ish thing. I need help.... can't stop..... actually if you try to get me to stop, I'll probably cut off your hand and try to make fajitas out of it. That's how hooked I am on Mexican right now.

So, I'm moving into a new flat soon, and I've got a confession to make, besides of course my addiction to green hot sauce and tomatoes and tortillas. I'm a food hoarder. Wait, "hoarder" seems like a bad word. Collector, maybe? I'm a food collector. My pantry is exploding. Please don't look in my freezer. The thing is, I don't eat a lot of food. I'm just one small person. But, I grew up on a farm, where I learned to put some of the year's bounty away for the inevitable lean years. I'm also hooked on cool ingredients for cooking and baking, and every time I see something new and exciting, I just can't help myself. I also don't want to go to the grocery store every time I get a craving for... well, anything, and I like being able to make a nice cake at a moment's notice if I have friends pop round for a chat and a cup of tea. These things combined mean that if the apocalypse does come, then I am totally set. (Sorry, Harold Camping, I didn't die a horrible death like you hoped I would, jerkface.)

With my move impending (4 weeks!) I am determined to eat the contents of my freezer. Today's mission: use that bag of frozen corn I bought three months ago and never opened.

This is amazing even using frozen corn. We really don't have good fresh sweet corn in Britain, compared to what I'm used to as an Ohio farm girl. So frozen is the way to go. If you have fresh... I'm so jealous.

Creamed Corn with Lime & Chilli
adapted from Shutterbean

abt 500g corn
knob of butter
50g cream cheese (about 1/4 of one of those little packages)
30-40 ml whole milk
juice of 1/2 lime
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste

Sauté corn in the butter in a big skillet over medium heat. Let it get a little brown. Yum.

Remove from heat and put the corn in a big bowl. Add in milk, cream cheese, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Toss toss toss. 

Using a handheld stick blender, pulse a few times to break up some kernels. Don't overdo it because it's all about texture here - I left lots of kernels whole while blasting the crap out of others, and it was perfect. This step also gets some starch out of the corn and will thicken the milky stuff. Mix it up some more and season with salt to your own taste.

23 August 2011

Pineapple & Lime Paletas

Do you know what paletas are?

They are sort of the same thing as popsicles. They're Mexican summertime treats, made with full-on, unabashed, refreshing fruits. They're nothing like the fake-flavoured, fake-coloured things I grew up on. Nono, these are way fantastic-er than that.

When I was in college, my marketing professor had a guest lecturer in from a local Nashville business called Las Paletas. Her place was famous (infamous?) for not having any signage, and I guess it worked, because everyone wanted to know where the secret popsicle shop was. The product really had to be awesome, since having a brick-and-mortar where you sell only popsicles and manage to make a profit, sign or no-sign, is quite an impressive feat.

After our class, we were led us on a caravan to the upstart little shop, where we sampled flavours inspired by her childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was like being shown through a secret passageway into a world of flavour which my young heart had not yet dared to imagine. I tried hibiscus for the first time in my life that day. It was like nothing I'd ever tasted before... sweet and piquant and addictive. I've never forgotten it.

I wonder if she ever got a sign for her place.... a quick google search tells me the place was still open as of last year, but their website sadly appears defunct. Though, I did find this blog post which includes a couple of nice photos (particularly of the menu, which I would love to devour in its entirety). There also seems to be an internet rumour that she and her sister were challenged to a Bobby Flay throwdown, and beat the crap out of him. Awesome.

I'm now looking forward to next summer, so I can try my hand at more flavours, like cucumber-chilli, pineapple-chilli, and chilli-chocolate (can you sense a theme here?)... in the mean time, I've got a freezer full of these pineapple-lime treats left over from this summer's festivities, and I intend to eat them no matter how cold it gets, because they are delicious.

Pineapple & Lime Paletas
adapted from Bon Appétit

3/4 cup sugar
2 cups pineapple - I used canned pineapple (in juice) and included the juice. I know, tinned?... don't judge.
Juice of 1/2 lime

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Chill syrup until cold, about 1 hour.

Purée syrup and pineapple in a food processor until smooth. Stir in lime juice and divide among molds. Freeze until firm.

21 August 2011

Sweet & Smoky: Chipotle-Pineapple Tomato Salsa

Every now and then, I go through a Mexican phase that lasts about a week. It's all I can think about eating. Does this happen to you?

The Mexican phase I'm in currently has gone on now for no less than three weeks. This is one hell of a bender. I'm going through so much hot sauce that I've decided to make my own. But that's a story for another day.

While living in Nashville during undergrad, one of my favourite places to eat was a local staple called Baja Burrito. Having just booked a flight home with a Nashville reunion on the agenda, I started fantasizing about all the places I want to eat, and this one floated into my top 3 (along with Solario, a fancy Mexican restaurant run by a good friend of mine, and Las Americas Taquería, a very un-fancy Salvadoran pupusería attached to a bodega).

I fondly recall Baja Burrito's seasonal fruit salsas, which are so refreshing and un-ordinary -- wintertime gave us a cranberry salsa, while summer greeted us with a cheery pineapple version. I realised with horror that I am travelling in the winter, and thus, will miss out on the pineapple salsa, by far my favourite of the two. I had to have it - like, now - and we happen to be in the middle of tomato season, so, I made some. They don't use chipotle chilli and I don't claim to know their salsa recipe (oh, if I did!!), but this is darn good in its own right. It's got a great balance of sweet + heat, with smoky chipotle chilli, brown sugar and lime juice in there for good measure. I'm in love.

You know you want to make this now, in the middle of the tomato glut, and give it to people for Christmas. If it lasts that long. I jarred up a bunch of it, and it's seriously cute with hand-written labels. I ended up making this recipe twice because it was so good the first time!

Chipotle-Pineapple Tomato Salsa
adapted from myrecipes.com

1/2 large white onion, small dice
250g (1/2 lb) pineapple, small dice
300g  (2/3 lb) tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) pineapple juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chilli (this could get hot -- use your own judgement)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice (about half of one lime)
1/4 teaspoon salt
handful chopped coriander leaves

De-seed and chop tomatoes, set aside.

Sauté onion and pineapple over medium heat until browned - this could take a while, but be patient.

Add tomato and garlic and let go for a minute or two, then add pineapple juice, brown sugar, vinegar and chilli powder. Heat through and let simmer for about 5 minutes - more than this and the tomatoes will start to break down, and you'll be left with an unattractive goopy mess instead of a nice, fresh, chunky salsa.

Remove from heat and stir in coriander, lime juice, and salt. Purée (just a little) with a hand blender, to smooth out the salsa while still leaving plenty of chunks. At this point, I jarred the salsa for later use. Serve chilled or at room temp.

Makes two 300g jars.

19 August 2011

Guacahummus = Guacamole + Hummus = Delicious

I saw this all of two days ago on Shutterbean's blog and absolutely had to make it, post haste! It reminded me instantly of the Guacamame (guacamole-edamame dip) of my beloved Trader Joe's. Can't we please get TJ's in the UK?

I already had all these ingredients on hand... so my brain was already halfway to this guacamole + hummus marriage. All it took was a little nudge.

The verdict? It tastes like guacamole, with the texture of hummus. It's awesome. I ate half of it for lunch and the other half for dinner. Yes, it's the only thing I ate all day. Please don't judge. And it was dead easy. I just threw all the ingredients in a bowl and whirred it around with my hand blender. Am I the only person who finds food processors entirely too inconvenient? Really, why do I want to take it apart after every use and clean all those little parts? No thanks. Stick blenders are the way forward.

I'll have to introduce this to the ladies soon. Each Friday night ("wine night"), us girls get together and drink wine and giggle and eat grown-up foods like hummus and crudités and olives. This is the perfect thing to share with them. You should make it for your friends, too!

Guacamole Hummus (Guacahummus?)
adapted from Shutterbean

two big handfuls fresh coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 garlic clove
abt 100g dry / 225g soaked, cooked & drained (or one 15-oz can, drained & rinsed)
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
sea salt

Soak chickpeas for 8 hours or overnight in cold water with a little bicarb in the water. Drain and rinse, then boil in fresh water, again with a little bicarb, for about 40 minutes or until fully cooked and soft. (Adding the bicarb helps those pesky outer skins break down and makes your hummus nice and smooth.) Drain and allow to cool.

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and puree with a hand blender, or use a food processor. Season to taste with salt - you might need more than you'd think. Don't be shy.

The end. Easy!

15 August 2011

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

Well, that's it... summer is over in Scotland. We had a good run. The days are getting shorter, it's raining more, and my freckles are disappearing. I had to switch back to my lighter foundation today and put the heavy duvet back on the bed. I must admit, I'm a little sad... I'm having a hard time letting go.

This soup is like summer and autumn rolled into one - hearty and filling and warm, yet sprightly and exciting and fun. Just perfect for these cold and rainy days when I'm refusing to knock on the heating, because holy smokes, it's still August after all.

The colours are amazing, especially against the grey hue of the day. Beware - it's got one hell of a kick - which means it's right up my alley, but others might find it a little overwhelming. If that's the case, scale back on the chillis and you'll be fine. If heat's not your thing, but you still want that lovely bright green, crunchy garnish, you might use some diced green bell pepper in its place.

Chipotle Sweet Potato & Yogurt Soup
adapted from dairygoodness.ca

1 knob butter
1 large sweet potato, peeled & diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
700ml veg stock
1 teaspoon dried chipotle chilli flakes, or 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
100g greek yoghurt
sea salt to taste
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 green jalapeño chilli, very thinly sliced

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add sweet potato and onion, and cook until onion goes soft, about 10 minutes.

Add stock and chilli flakes, simmer about 20 minutes to allow potatoes to cook completely and chilli to infuse and soften.

Remove from heat and puree until smooth with hand blender. Pass through a fine seive to remove any chunks. If soup is too thick, thin with water or milk to desired consistency. Stir in greek yoghurt and season to taste with sea salt.

Serve hot, topped with chopped tomato and green chilli.

11 August 2011

Blueberry Buckle: a true story about the best cake I ever made

I am reminiscing. I found these pictures on my hard drive and remembered a moment... so, if you would, humour me?

I've been baking since I was very little. My first scar, still visible, just above my belly button, was obtained by anxiously leaning over a baking sheet. I have no idea how old I was. Clearly, I was young enough to run around the house with my shirt off and not raise any eyebrows.

My mother, bless her, does not share my passion for the kitchen. As soon as she figured out that I could make my own food, she happily scaled back her efforts and let me pitch in. I remember cooking my first family dinner at around age 7. Sure, it was a box of Hamburger Helper... but to me, it was a big deal.

I always felt a little sorry for my dad, having a wife who didn't really like to cook or bake. Grandma was always baking cookies and cakes and pies and doughnuts, and I imagined my grandpa really liked that. So, when she died, I took over those duties for my family. It was never a conscious effort - it was just something I did because I wanted to do it.

Then, more than 10 years later, after college and career and a good bit of growing up, my parents came to visit me in Atlanta. They were helping me pack up my life and move it into a storage unit, so I could embark on this crazy dream of mine in Europe. The last thing I ever baked in my oven in my apartment in Atlanta was this blueberry buckle, which we ate while having coffee and packing and moving and painting. When it was all said and done, we stood outside my apartment, now empty and white-again, my father holding tupperware which contained the leftovers of this cake. He said, plainly, that it was the best thing I'd ever made (though, to be fair, my father says everything plainly, to avoid the awkwardness of being misunderstood). It felt like quite an accomplishment, and the moment was a little emotional for me -- but that might have had more to do with my impending terrifying/exciting/omg-what-am-I-doing move to another continent than it did with this cake. But this will always be that cake, my farewell to Atlanta cake... the best cake I ever made.

Oh, right, I haven't actually described the cake! If you have a bunch of blueberries, you should definitely make it. It's really fluffy, lightly ginger-spiced, with a softly delicate crumb. The top is crunchy and differently-spiced than the cake (nutmeg, ooh!), which is super cool. It's awesome. Trust my daddy when he says so.

Blueberry Buckle!
recipe by Alton Brown

For the cake:
Nonstick cooking spray
255g cake flour, approximately 2 cups
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
55g (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
150g sugar, approximately 3/4 cup
1 large egg
120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
425g (15 ounces) fresh whole blueberries, approximately 3 cups

For the topping:
100g sugar, approximately 1/2 cup
45g ounces cake flour, approximately 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
55g (2 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Grease a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger. Set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until well incorporated, approximately 30 seconds. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated and then add 1/3 of the milk and beat until incorporated. Repeat, alternating flour and milk until everything has combined. Gently stir in the blueberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl combine the sugar, flour and nutmeg. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients using a fork to combine. Continue until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the cake. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes or until golden in color. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

07 August 2011

Tomato Tart with Chèvre and Honey (Tomato Tart No. 2)

This is another tomato tart. This is my rainy Sunday paradise.

Tomato Tart No. 1 was a cheddar-y, onion-y variation on David Lebovitz's recipe, which was awesome and decadent in its own right. The one I made today is more true to the original, with goat's cheese and honey, and I'm so glad I tried it! It's so fresh and delightful, and I wish I had company to share it with... actually maybe they'd better stay away, because I am still in my jammies.

There might be no better way to spend a rainy Sunday morning than rolling out handmade dough as the rain pelts your kitchen window. Not to get too poetic or anything.

The trick here, I think, is good tomatoes. Don't try this with crap ones. Don't try anything with them, actually. It's ok to be a tomato snob.

Now, I'm not usually a honey snob, but I recently was gifted some microclimate honey from a beekeeper friend of mine, and wow. Just, wow. I can't believe how good it is, and I have a hard time describing it. It doesn't really seem as sweet as 'regular' honey, the flavour is just more complex and wholesome. I am really, intensely in love with it.

If you can find local honey, I say, grab yourself some - just don't waste it on tea or honey mustard dressing. Save it for special things... like a warm buttered scone, or a tart like this one.

Tomato Tart with Chèvre and Honey
adapted from David Lebovitz

200g flour
80g butter, cold
1/2 tea salt
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

6 medium tomatoes (abt 320g)
small log goat's cheese
sea salt (I used fleur de sel)

Whisk together flour and salt.  Shred cold butter on a box grater (large holes) into the flour.  Toss to coat butter in flour mixture, then rub together using hands until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg with water, then add to flour mixture using a butter knife.  Finish with hands, adding more cold water if dough does not come together.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1/2-cm thickness.  Transfer to tart pan, pressing into sides of pan with fingers.  Dimple bottom with your fingers and trim excess dough from the edges of the pan.

Preheat oven to 220C (400F).

Spread a layer of dijon mustard on the dough. Don't be shy, cover the whole thing.  Then, layer on thickly-sliced tomatoes. Top with goat's cheese. Drizzle generously with honey and finish with sea salt.

Bake tart in oven for about 30 minutes, until top of tart is browned.  Tent with foil if the top browns before the dough and tomatoes are cooked.  Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, then carefully remove from tin and serve.

03 August 2011

Israeli Couscous with Charred Veg & Other Stuff

I'm so going to win Summer this year. Yesss.

It's paradise here. We're having lots of barbecues. The scenery is breathtaking...

...and a cute baby bunny is chewing on stuff outside my window. Does life get any better?

So I guess it's time for summer food. Yes!! Are you ready for this?! For some reason, it feels like all the rest of the year is a warm-up for glorious summer, where we pull out all the stops. We have more veg in the shops, more sunshine, tinier clothes, more work, more friends, more travelling, more parties... and we'd better balance it all. My favourite thing about summer is that it's kind of like getting to the Olympics. The Olympics of life.

Yeah, bring it, Summer! I'm gonna suck all the life right out of you! (Some of you might be discovering, at this very minute, that I have a competitive side. Sorry 'bout that.)

Take this to your barbecues, because while meat-wrapped-in-bread takes centre stage at these things, it really does need supporting acts. I've never had Israeli couscous before, but have long been entranced by its sheer size (say what you will about me for that, go ahead).

Um, anyway... it's also known as "pearl couscous" or, as I found it rather uncreatively labelled in my local deli, "giant couscous." I got very excited and started talking very quickly to my cheese-tasting companion, "OMG Israeli couscous, I've been looking for this for ages!" The cheesemonger behind the deli counter must have thought me strange, a weird American girl in Scotland freaking out over Israeli couscous.

Little does he know, that's kind of my "normal".

I decided to make it as I normally make couscous (the normal-sized kind), in a nice salad with sauteed veg, lots of fresh coriander, lemon juice, goats cheese and pistachios. It's a winner, for sure!

Israeli Couscous with Charred Veg & Other Stuff
original recipe by me!

100g (uncooked) Israeli couscous
veg stock
handful frozen broad beans
1 yellow pepper
1/2 yellow onion
1 small courgette
2 tablespoons olive oil

handful fresh coriander - chop stems finely, in addition to leaves
lemon juice - a good couple of squeezes from 1/2 a lemon
sea salt to taste (I used fleur de sel)
small handful pistachios
1/2 small log goats cheese

Get some stock boiling in a saucepan and add your couscous. Set your frozen broad beans in a sieve and place over top of boiling water, and cover with lid of saucepan. Let go for 10 minutes or so until couscous is cooked. Run beans under cold water and set aside for shelling. Drain in a sieve (the same sieve, even) or fine colander and set aside to cool down.

Meanwhile, chop up the pepper and onion and sauté them in olive oil over medium-ish heat. After they've softened a little, turn up the heat some and add chopped courgette to the pan. Don't stir too frequently or they won't char properly.

While that's going, shell your broad beans into a large bowl. Add couscous to the broad beans. When the veg is finished, add that in as well and let cool for a little while, maybe 20 minutes.

In the mean time, chop up your coriander. The stems should be chopped really finely but the leaves can be a bit bigger if you like. Chop pistachios as well.

When everything's cooled, add coriander and pistachios to the big salad bowl and give it a good mix. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add salt to taste. Just before serving, add crumbled goats cheese.

The end! Mmm, delicious!

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side.

28 July 2011

Tomato Pasta Sauce with Lotsa Secret Veggies (aka Cheeky Sneaky Sauce)

I'm not a snob. Right? But sometimes I am.

I'm a food snob. I definitely turn my nose up at pre-packaged food. Especially pasta sauce, because (come to find out), it's not hard or expensive to make your own. And, bonus, it's delicious and so much healthier. Come on! Saving money is a no-brainer, here. So being snobbish about pasta sauce is actually saving me money and making me healthier. That's like closed-loop, circular, inverted snobbishness. Snobbishness with its own life force? Um, maybe?

Then there's that other kind of food snob. The one who won't eat vegetables. What's that about? Either you're a 3-year-old or you're, y'know, acting like one. I'm not gonna lie. You're dumb. I think I can get away with saying that since anyone who disagrees with me is probably not reading a vegetarian food blog. But if you have these people in your life - children, 30-year-old children (men) - then this sauce is totally for you. The veg is all there, but no one would ever know -- you can't see them, and it just tastes like a basic pasta sauce. Serve it up and watch in glee as those suckers eat more veg in one sitting than they've had in a week.

This is actually really easy. Probably the most time-consuming part is the chopping, but that's really no biggie. I always thought making a super-good, versatile, perfect sauce would be much more difficult than this, but it's basically down to four easy steps:

That's it. You should make a double or triple batch and jar it up to save for a rainy day. I gave some away, too, as part of a nice little homemade housewarming gift. Or, you could just eat it all yourself. No one will ever know.

Tomato Pasta Sauce with Lotsa Secret Veggies
original recipe by me!

1 red pepper (diced)
1 red onion (diced)
1 carrot (grated)
abt 1/3 aubergine (diced)
1 clove garlic
1 knob butter
glug red wine
500g tomato passata
splash balsamic vinegar
sea salt to taste

Sauté veg in butter until soft and browned.
Remove from heat.
Deglaze with a glug of red wine.
Transfer to saucepan.
Add tomato passata, puree with hand blender.
Stir in a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Salt to taste.

Heat through and use for whatever purpose you wish. Bring to simmer for at least 5 minutes if canning.

Makes about 3 cups sauce.

21 July 2011

Summertime Split-Pea Soup with Veggies and Chipotle Chilli

Um, hi. I know it's summer, but it's kinda cold here. It rains a lot. I have a theory that there's a little man in the sky with a watering can just waiting for me to come outside and get on my bike. It's always fun for about 30 seconds until rain gets in my eyes and I realise that wet jeans don't move so well when you're cycling. But I digress.

I decided to make soup today. I know you don't want to eat soup when it's hot. If anything, your wildest fantasy is to fit your entire body inside of your fridge. I know it's like a million degrees in my hometown in America right now (yea facebook peeps, I see you!), and I totally get that none of you want to eat hot soup on your picnic blankets. That just won't do.

But if you happen to live far enough north that it's sometimes cold in the summer - here you go. Or maybe your office is air-conditioned? Anyway, if you're here in the UK, I know you totally feel me right now.

The flavours in this soup are really summery, which I lovelovelove, but the packaging is all hardy and wintry - perfect for a chilly day like today. The texture of the pea soup bit is so silky and thick and then POP! -- there's a crunchy bit of summer veg! There's the down-homey, rustic texture of polenta. And oh my, the smoky chipotle chilli bounces in on it, too, reminding you you're alive with real working tastebuds. Pardon me for waxing lyrical on this soup -- I love it!

And, um... happy summer!

Summertime Split-Pea Soup with Veggies and Chipotle Chilli
inspired by this recipe on 5-Second Rule

1/4 cup yellow split peas (dried)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and roughly chopped
vegetable stock

1 green pepper, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 courgette, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/8 cup polenta
1/2 tea chipotle chilli flakes
salt & pepper to taste

Greek yogurt for serving

Simmer split peas and potatoes in stock until both are tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute pepper and carrot in olive oil until beginning to brown. Add courgette and continue cooking until the courgettes are almost cooked but still crisp - this will happen pretty quickly. Remove from heat.

Add chilli flakes to peas & potatoes, puree with hand blender. Mix in polenta & continue to cook for a few more minutes. Add more water if things are getting too thick.

Season with salt & pepper to taste. Depending on the salt content of your stock, you might use more or less (I used more). Ladle into bowls and top with sautee'd veg. Garnish with additional chilli flakes.

Not pictured - I totally swirled in some greek yogurt before digging in. Yum.

19 July 2011

Giant Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie (a story of drunk baking)

The other day, I got drunk and made a giant cookie. It seemed, of course, like it was the best idea in the world.

I made it in my new cast iron skillet. I named him (the skillet) Angus. Immediately after taking the above photo, I burned my hand on Angus like a drunken dumbass. It was not my finest moment...

The photos below? Taken by my partner-in-drink, who I shall call "Coronatastic". Coronatastic's pictures are a little blurry... I wonder why?

Two days later, I cut the cookie up into bars and took it with me to help my friends move house. They were supposed to be for feeding the worker men who carried the big heavy stuff. Maybe the girls ate them all instead. Sorry, guys.

It was, shockingly, better after sitting there for two days. Or it could have just been because my taste buds were no longer paralysed by alcohol. Either way, it keeps well.

If you don't have an Angus of your very own, no worries. I imagine you can use a cake pan... anything over 2" deep should do the job.

Giant Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
adapted from 101Cookbooks

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
225 g (2 sticks) room-temp unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup (200g) white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
225g (8oz) plain or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. The original recipe says to butter your cast-iron skillet, but I drunkenly missed this instruction... so I didn't do this but it worked fine. So, use your own judgement here but I don't think it's necessary, since cast iron is brill.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In another large bowl, Mix together the butter and the sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low speed (I used a spoon) until the flour is barely combined. Add chocolate and mix until all flour is combined. Dump into your cast iron and level out with a spoon.

Bake the giant cookie for 35-45 minutes, or until until the dough is a deep golden brown along the edge, and the center has set. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before slicing.

17 July 2011

Greek Yogurt Fudge Popsicles

Dear Summer, I love you. I love your midnight sky and how you never let it get completely dark. I love the silhouette on the hills outside my bedroom window, better than the skyline of any city. I love how on your hottest days here in Scotland, it is never too hot, never unbearable. I love your weddings and barbecues and bunnies and flowers, and how you let me cycle to work wearing only spandex without freezing my bum off. You, Summer, are perfect.

I made these popsicles after seeing a normal (non-yogurt) recipe for them on SmittenKitchen, but I craved the tanginess of Greek yogurt. And having just returned from a conference in France, I couldn't resist using my newly-acquired fleur de sel.

Because I used a very thick Greek yogurt, I had to thin it out a bit with semi-skimmed milk and water. But if you opt for regular yogurt, or something labelled "Greek-style" - which gives you the tangy flavour without the thickness of real Greek yogurt - you should probably use 200ml of the yogurt and 100ml semi-skimmed milk.

These taste like frozen chocolate mousse. For real.

Summer Yum.

Greek Yogurt Fudge Popsicles
Adapted from SmittenKitchen

20g (~3/4oz) plain chocolate
65g (1/3c) caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch to Americans)
1.5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
big-ish pinch sea salt (I chose fleur de sel)
100ml greek yogurt
100ml semi-skimmed milk
100ml water
1/2 tea vanilla extract
small knob of butter (half a tablespoon)

-In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, cornflour, cocoa powder, salt, yogurt, milk and water.
-Melt chocolate in the bottom of a saucepan over low heat. When chocolate is melted, add the milk mixture and raise heat to medium-low, whisking whisking whisking, until mixture just reaches a simmer, whereupon it will thicken. This should take about 5-10 minutes.
-Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter.
-Pour into moulds and freeze!

11 July 2011

Chana Masala (what my curry dreams are made of)

I've mentioned before that I once had a curry fear.

So, so silly. Really. I made one curry - my first curry - and the rest was history. Hello, brave new [curry] world!

This is maybe the best thing in the world. Ok, that might be, possibly, maybe, a little dramatic. Whatever. Make it and you'll agree!

Don't be afraid of curry, it's your friend -- especially if you are a vegetarian. This was so super easy, and really packed full of flavour. Maybe the best part is that it's DIRT CHEAP. Come on! My little curry heart died and went to curry heaven.

The garam masala turns this into a warm, comforty dish. Don't skip it! If you don't have any on hand, don't fret... just use some ground cinnamon and nutmeg in its place.

Serve with basmati rice, greek yogurt and chopped coriander:

Mix it up and it becomes a creamy orange wonder!

Chana Masala

abt 150g dried chickpeas (alternatively, use 1 can tinned chickpeas)
2/3 medium white onion, chopped
splash sunflower oil
1 bay leaf
3/4 tea cumin
1/2 tea ground coriander
1/2 tea garam masala
1/2 can good-quality cherry tomatoes (these are my favourite!)
1/4 tea chilli powder
1/2 tea turmeric
splash white wine vinegar
sea salt to taste - more or less depending on salt content of your tinned tomatoes

Soak chickpeas overnight in plenty of water - they will triple in volume so make sure to use a large bowl. They need to soak for at least 8 hours, so you could also set them on the counter in the morning before you leave for work if you want to cook them that night.  Drain and rinse, then place in a saucepan with fresh water. Boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until chickpeas are fully cooked. Drain and set aside.

In a saute pan over medium heat, heat up the sunflower oil. Add onion, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and bay leaf. Saute unil onion is soft and browning.

Add tomatoes to the onion mixture. If using cherry tomatoes, you may want to halve them with a knife first - for me, this a more desirable texture. Add chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt. Stir to make a uniform mixture, then add chickpeas. Simmer until heated through. Remove bay leaf.

Serve with basmati rice, a dollop of greek yogurt and some chopped coriander. I like to mix the yogurt through the chana masala to yeild a nice, creamy curry.

Serves 2.

17 June 2011

Fava & Ricotta Toasts

So I recently went to Greece.  It was a long time coming -- I've wanted to be on a Greek island for at least 15 years.  I started teaching myself Greek about 7 years ago.  I was a woman obsessed.

Why was I so obsessed with Greece?  Maybe it had something to do with something I saw on General Hospital when I was about 14.  Ok, it definitely had a lot to do with that (anyone else remember the Luke/Laura/Stefanos drama??).  Whatever.  I grew up and got over soap operas... but I never got over Greece.  The water, the sun.... the food.

Fast forward to three years ago when I became a vegetarian.  Greek food became even more precious.  I love hummus, halloumi is amazing, and dolmades might be my favourite thing in the world.  Greek food rocks.  And don't even get me started on the desserts.  If I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, this might be it.

Fortunately, I can still read (some) Greek, and at a restaurant in Kefalos, I encountered something on the menu called simply, 'fava'.  I was intrigued.  I knew that fava was a bean, and I knew that I liked it... and that's where my knowledge on the topic ended.  For all my experience with Greek food, I've never heard of fava (the dish).  So, with an adventurous heart, I ordered it.  I'll skip to the end: it was everything I love about food.  It was, in my best estimation, simply smashed fava beans with a little salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Simple, delicious, and easy... kinda hard to beat that, right?

Here's what it looked like on holiday -- mine is much greener, which I find very appealing... I have no idea why this one is more yellowy, but it was paradise on a plate, and was awesome when paired with grilled tomatoes and halloumi:

So I came home with a mission: make this mysterious 'fava' happen. It really isn't difficult at all - go to the shop, buy some frozen broad beans (aka fava beans), boil them for a few minutes, drain, shell, smash, and viola! Fava.

I spread this on a homemade spelt and honey loaf with some ricotta cheese, then sprinkled with sea salt, cracked pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Two small slices made a perfect, delicious, and filling lunch.

Greek Fava
original recipe by me!

broad beans
garlic paste, just a little depending on your taste/future-kissing-options
splash olive oil
splash cold water - to thin out the smashed paste-like consistency
lemon juice (just a little)
sea salt to taste

Boil broad beans (aka fava beans) for a few minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water.  Pop each bean out of it's tough grey-ish shell - just nip a little corner off the end with your fingernails and the bean will pop right out.  Then smash beans in mortar and pestle with the remaining ingredients.  Easy!

Serve atop warm crusty bread or toast with a little ricotta cheese, or greek yogurt, or on some pitta bread... delicious.

The end.