Snack-Time Salvation

A little while ago, I started buying Bounty bars from the second-floor vending machine at work. It might have been a relatively infrequent excursion, but as any office worker knows, when you sit in front of a computer for several hours on end, you start to crave bad stuff – usually something with high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil – around 3pm. And when you don’t have access to something healthy and sustaining, you sometimes end up scouring your desk drawer for pocket change to plunk into an old vending machine for something that will satisfy your primal brain.

In my case (and to make matters worse), I also had an accomplice. My friend and office mate – we’ll protect her identity by calling her “M” – also loved Bounty bars and, like me, was really good at reducing her dissonance. We agreed that splitting a candy bar between us wasn’t as bad as eating the whole thing by ourselves, and if we didn’t read the spooky list of ingredients and enjoyed it alongside a cup of herbal tea, it didn’t seem like such an unsensible thing to do.

But then “M” went on an eight-month work transfer out of town, and I was still getting Bountry bars out of the machine. One a month became two, then three, then I realised that it had become an almost-weekly habit. No bueno.

The obvious solution was to come equipped to work with snacks. Good snacks. Snacks that would make my mom and your mom proud that they had raised well-adjusted, responsible adults. That’s when I came across a recipe, from French food writer Clotilde Dusoulier, for homemade energy bars. A mixture of dates, nuts, cinnamon and cocoa, they’re sweet and chocolately, and filled with things that aren’t palm oil or high-fructose corn syrup (they’re actually filled with vitamin A, fibre, iron, calcium, antioxidants, and potassium. Thank you, dates!).  I rolled mine in shredded coconut for the “Bounty bar effect”, but if you don’t have any in the pantry, they’re swell without it too.

Here’s to better snacking in front of our computers. Have a good week, everyone x

Date-Coconut Energy Bites

Date-Coconut Energy Bites – adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

    • 50 grams date paste*, diced
    • 100 grams mixed, unsalted nuts (Brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts…)
    • 2 green cardamom pods, seeds only
    • 100 grams Medjool or fresh dates (about 4), pitted
    • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 Tbsp cacao nibs
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (for rolling)
    • a good pinch salt

*Date paste can be found at natural foods stores, or in North African or Middle Eastern shops. It comes as a solid block, so if it seems dry and hard, cut it into slices and soak for an hour in a little cold water to soften. Drain well before using (save the date water – you can freeze it too – to use in smoothies).

Directions

1) In a food processor, combine the diced date paste, nuts, and cardamom, and process in short pulses until the nuts are chopped to small bits and blended with the paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and process in short pulses until the mixture comes together.

2) Pour the shredded coconut into a plate; scoop a teaspoon of the date-nut into your hands and form into balls between your palms. Then roll them in the shredded coconut.

3) Lay the date-coconut balls in a airtight container, with parchment paper between each layer to prevent sticking. Transfer to the fridge to set for a few hours or preferably overnight. They will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for about a week.

Date-Coconut Energy Bites
Date-Coconut Energy Bites

Cast-Iron Love

It’s a thing of beauty, is it not? A cast-iron pot filled with slowly-braised meat, caramelised and falling off the bone, sitting snugly alongside bright veg and pillowy dumplings?  I’ll never tire of that sight – that hot mess, mingling together in a heavy-botoomed pan, like many gifts in one. It might be the extravagant use of meat (which we all know we should be eating less of), but this, to me, is big-time luxury food, regardless of how simple it is to make.

While it might seem late to be posting about braised anything one day shy of May, the weatherman seems to think there are a few more crisp, cool days ahead of us – at least in these parts (I swear I saw a snowflake yesterday) – and so I think there’s still some wiggle room for a few more dishes like these, the ones that require the slow, steady heat of the oven to reach their full potential.

I’m reminded that these are the dishes that make me feel gratified about rescuing that old, blaze-coloured Creuset from the family basement a few years ago, when no one wanted it – for lack of space, or to prioritize lighter, less cumbersome cookware. Over the years, and before its hibernation in the basement, it had become a well-used and well-loved beast, bearing a hefty scar – a deep, cinereal gash right across the lid – from an earlier incident involving a sharp plunge to the tile floor, back in the house I grew up in. Some might have thrown the thing away, but Dad, the industrious Anglo-Saxon that he is, worked his magic with the sodering iron and sealed it back together, to create something of a Franken-Creuset.

IMG_1445

Bequeathed with what is now considered a family heirloom, I try to find ways to use it whenever I can, and as often as I can. And each time, I marvel at how it turns unglamorous cuts of meat into ravishingly beautiful braised dishes that you want to mop up with bread until there’s nothing left on the plate. I’ve learnt to treat the Creuset with care, to pay attention to its scar, as a reminder to not do anything that would make any new ones.

It rewards me in kind, every time.

—–

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

Adapted from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook and Joe Beef for Food 52
Serves 4

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

For the Lamb

  • 2 lb (about 1 kg) lamb shoulder, bone-in*
  • Salt and pepper, to season
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 small leek, white + light green part cut into rings
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 3-4 small turnips, washed and quartered
  • 10 cloves garlic, smashed and skins removed
  • 10 sprigs thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cup beef stock (plus one cup to add at the end with the dumplings)
  • 1 cup frozen or very fresh shelled peas (to add at the end of cooking)

*depending on the size of your baking vessel, you can ask your butcher to cut the lamb shoulder in half.

For the Date-Mint Chutney

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 cup jarred horseradish
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint
  • 1/2 Tsbp Worcestershire sauce

For the Herb Dumplings

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

Directions

1) Preheat the oven to 375° F. MAKE THE LAMB: Season the lamb on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over high heat. Add the lamb and sear for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until you get a nice golden crust. Transfer to a plate.

2) Reduce the heat to medium, throw in the onion, leek, turnip, carrot, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add the thyme, nestle the lamb on top of the vegetables, and pour in the wine and the beef stock. Cover the pan, place in the oven, and braise for 4 hours, basting the lamb every 30 minutes or so with the pan juices. If the pan begins to dry out, add some water.

3) While the lamb is cooking, MAKE THE CHUTNEY: In a small pot, combine the dates and water, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Reduce the heat to medium, add the vinegar, and cayenne, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and the condiment has the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat, add the horseradish, mint, and Worcestershire sauce, and whisk until combined. Let cool before serving. (Leftover condiment can be stored in a tightly capped jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)

4) MAKE THE DUMPLINGS (see instructions below)

5) About 20 minutes before the meat is ready, heat the remaining cup of stock in a saucepan; remove the lamb from the oven and arrange the dumplings around the meat, pouring over the hot stock; add the peas. Cover and return to the oven to cook about 15 minutes longer.

4) When the lamb is ready, transfer it to a warmed platter with the vegetables and dumplings. Serve the condimint on the side.

To make the dumplings

1) Heat a large saucepan of salted water. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mix in the black pepper and fresh herbs. Rub in the butter untill the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. In a seperate bowl, beat together the egg and milk, then stir into the flour to make a soft, sticky dough.

2) With floured hands, divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and roll into balls. Once the water in the saucepan has reached a gentle boil, drop the dumplings, one by one, into the water; partially cover and cook for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the dumplings and set them in a colander to drain. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney

Method to the Madness

Today I bring to you a recipe from Mandy Lee’s site, Lady and Pups, one of my favourite places to procrastinate on the Web, especially when I should be doing more constructive things, like organising my taxes or folding laundry or emailing the landlady.

It’s easy to fall under the spell of Mandy’s moody photos and acerbic prose; her recipes too, which always sound absurdly good – in that no-holds-barred, debauched, lick-your-fingers-clean kind of way. Take a look at this recipe for hot rice noodles, or the one for this magnificent thing. Couldn’t you see yourself happily staining your face and all your clothes with either of those cradled in your hands?

Of course you can.

However –

If you’ve ever followed a Mandy Lee recipe, you’ll know that they’re not for the weak. They’re not from the dinner-in-minutes-Rachel-Ray school of cooking; they are from the school of hard knocks.(this is, after all, the woman who convinced me – through those moody photos and that acerbic prose – to make ramen soup from scratch with 30 cloves of peeled garlic). This aggressive caveat isn’t meant to dissuade you; I’m just saying that if you’re looking for an easy, breezy, work-week meal that you can throw together right after the pants come off and the wide-stretch leggings go on, this one’s not for you. In fact, it’s the antithesis of that. Making a Mandy Lee recipe is a commitment. There is usually a long list of ingredients and and even longer list of instructions, generally with bits in FULL CAPS so that you don’t screw anything up.

I just want to be clear about that.

Are you still there?

Good. I’m glad! Because like any worthwhile, long-term commitment, Mandy’s recipes will always reward you in spades. Her recipes might look insane, spanning longer than most newspaper articles. But there is a method to her madness.

Breathe deep and just trust it.

A note on the recipe: below is Mandy Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice (with a few small tweaks from me). What’s brilliant about this recipe is that 1) she has you cook the rice in the oven with chicken broth and coconut milk, infusing every grain with luscious, rich flavours; and 2) she has you cook the chicken ABOVE the rice, balanced on a baking rack (I used a metal cookie-cooling rack) over the baking dish. This means that, as the chicken cooks, it’s precious juices and fat drip down into the rice, making it even more delicious. The process itself is a sight to behold – I spent a good minute or so watching the magic happen through the oven door, completely entranced.

A few more liner notes:

1- Mandy Lee has the chicken marinate between 2-6 hours, so keep that in mind time-wise (I didn’t do this, because I’m notoriously bad at following recipes and I missed that piece of instruction. (And it was a Tuesday night. After work. Hahahaha let’s find MORE reasons to make a long day longer!). All said, it worked out fine without marination, but I imagine it would be even better had I followed her advice.)

2- There are three major components here: Consider prepping the chicken and the coconut sauce in advance – the chicken will have time to marinate and the sauce can easily be reheated as soon as you’re ready to use it.

3- Since you’re dealing with raw chicken, it’s best to get all your ingredients and appliances ready before you begin. For instance, not having the skewers ready when you’re done wrangling a raw, buttery chicken is not a pleasant experience. I speak from experience. Have everything ready at your fingertips and I promise that things will go much more smoothly. (This might be another reason why prepping the chicken in advance might be worth it – getting that part out of the way is half the work.)

4 – I re-worked the instructions a little so that it (hopefully) is a little easier to follow.

Ok. Have at it.

Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice – lightly adapted from Mandy Lee’s recipe on Lady and Pups, inspired by Zak Pelaccio’s recipe in “Eat With Your Hands

SPICY COCONUT SAUCE:

  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (usually 1 can)
  • ½ lemongrass stalk, white part only
  • 2 small red chilis
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar (I used this to replace the 2 tsp of yellow mustard in the original recipe, which happens to be the one condiment I never have on hand)
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp (14 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

TURMERIC BUTTER CHICKEN RICE:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 3 lbs)
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 ½” ginger, cut into chunks
  • 3 small red chilis
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp (57 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (usually 1 can)
  • 1 ½ cup chicken stock
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, smashed and cut into segments
  • pinch of salt and black pepper to season

 

Mandy Lee's Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice

Directions

MAKE THE SPICY COCONUT SAUCE: In a food-processor, blend everything under “Spicy Coconut Sauce”, except for the butter and fresh cilantro, until puréed. Add the butter, then bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and cook for about 20 mins until reduced by 1/3. Take off the heat and add the fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside until needed.

MAKE THE TURMERIC BUTTER CHICKEN RICE:

Step 1 – prepping the chicken

1) Rinse and clean out the cavity of the chicken, then pat dry and set aside. In a food-processor, purée garlic, ginger, red chilis, fish sauce, ground turmeric, ground coriander and ground black pepper until smooth. Take out about 2 tbsp of this turmeric-mixture and set aside. Then add the butter to the rest of the mixture and run the processor again until evenly incorporated (this is your “turmeric butter”). Reserve 1 tbsp of the turmeric butter for cooking the rice.

Mandy Lee's Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice

2) With the remaining turmeric butter: Gently insert your hands in-between the flesh and skin of the chicken from the neck-opening at the top of the breasts, separating the two layers to make space for stuffing the turmeric butter. Work slowly and gently so you do not puncture the skin, and make sure you do it all the way to the back-thighs that are attached to the back-bone, evenly distributing under the skin of the whole chicken.

3) Place ½ of the smashed lemongrass stalk inside the cavity, then with toothpicks, sew/seal the skins around BOTH the opening of the cavity and the neck. Now, rub the reserved turmeric-mixture WITHOUT BUTTER, evenly over the whole chicken. Let marinate for anywhere from 2-6 hours.

Step 2 – prepping the rice/cooking the chicken and rice

4) Preheat the oven on 420F. Put the jasmine rice in a sieve, then rinse and gently swish under running water to remove excess starch. Drain well and set aside. In a large, shallow baking-dish (a shallow dish will allow the rice cook evenly), melt the reserved 1 tbsp of turmeric butter over medium-high heat, then cook the rice in it for about 3 mins. Add the coconut milk and chicken stock, then scatter the lemongrass on the top. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for 3 min without stirring.

5) Now, place a baking-rack over the baking-dish, and set the chicken on top, breast-side down first (this gives the thighs a head start and prevents the breasts from overcooking). Place the whole thing in the middle-rack of the oven and roast for 15 min, then gently turn the chicken over so the breast-side now faces up, and roast for another 30-35 min until the chicken is browned. Remove the baking-rack with the chicken on top, and let rest for 10 min. Leave the rice in the oven during this time so it can finish cooking.

Mandy Lee's Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice

Step 3 – serving the chicken and rice with the coconut sauce

6) Remove all the lemongrass from the rice. The best way to cut the chicken is with a scissors, and make sure that you do it right over the rice so it can catch all the precious juice/butter that comes out of the chicken. Remove the lemongrass from inside the cavity, then serve immediately with the spicy coconut sauce (reheated gently over low heat).

Mandy Lee's Turmeric Butter Chicken Rice

One for the pot, one for the cook

Cooking has been fairly perfunctory these days. I’ve lacked that that little kick, that jolt of inspiration I usually get when I see something new – a recipe, an article, a video – that makes me want to roll up my sleeves and get to it. This means that my stovetop has seen a a lot of greens and beans on rotation (roma beans with kale, lima beans with rapini, black eyed peas with spinach…you get the idea), in other words, a mix-and-match troupe of dishes so simple that you could make them even if you’d been lobotomized; I can stand there, mouth-breathing over a pan of frying shallots and beans, letting my mind drift off to wherever it may go, and have a (more or less) wholesome dinner ready within 4 and half minutes. To make it a little more well-rounded, I’ll maybe add a wedge of toast and some canned tuna. But not always.

These are not necessarily the most satisfying of meals – creatively, spiritually, aesthetically – but hey, they do the job.

It’s easy to fall into a cooking funk when your overall motivation feels floppy, sluggish, unharnessed. It usually starts when you catch yourself buying the identical set of groceries week in and week out, then replicating the same meals from the week before (hellooooo roast chicken #578). Greens and beans aside, my fall-back funk foods – aside from the usual bag of tortilla chips and full-fat yogurt (in which to dip them) – include the aforementioned chicken and some type of white fish, usually cod or halibut, which usually gets tossed into the oven with a layer of seasoned breadcrumbs I keep in the freezer, and a drizzle of olive oil. (hey mom, recognise this one?) Roast chicken and panko-crusted cod are great back-pocket dishes. They truly are. But after you’ve had them day in and day out, without so much as a flourish to distinguish them, they start to feel like punishment.

So, a little while ago, I gave myself a nudge to break the pattern. In allegiance to the funk (wow, what a phrase. James Brown, can you hear me?), I still bought a whole chicken and the requisite filet of cod. But this time I wanted – no, needed – to make them look, feel and taste like something outside the repertoire I’d started to cling to. I needed something that was more vibrant than softened pinto beans, lost in a tangle of wilted arugula; more jazzy than a plain, roasted chicken.

I’m happy to report that I found two recipes to lift me out of my cooking slump – the first being a fragrant, anise-clementine chicken recipe from Ottolenghi that is sticky, jammy, crispy and sweet, with a subtle tinge of liquorice flavour from the Pernod; the second being a dish of lemon-scented cod, studded with olives and poached in white wine, then topped with fresh parsley. Both are handsome and delicious and, while definitely an upgrade from beans and greens, they too could be made post-lobotomy if you had to. All you need to do is stick everything in a pan, anoint it with booze* and toss it in the oven. Thankfully, it figures out the rest on its own.

(*it might go without saying, but one of the perks of cooking with booze is that here is usually a little leftover as a “job-well-done” libation for the cook. You might want to bookmark that thought.)

Clementine Pernod Chicken

Pernod-Clementine Chicken – adapted from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

    • 5 Tbsp Pernod (or Arak, or Ouzo)
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange (or clementine) juice
    • 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 2 Tbsp grainy mustard
    • 3 Tbsp light brown sugar or honey
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks)
    • 4 clementines (washed but unpeeled) sliced thin
    • a few sprigs of thyme
    • 3 medium onions (and/or fennel bulbs) cut lengthwise and then into quarters
    • 2 tsp fennel seeds

Clementine Pernod Chicken

Directions

1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Pernod, oil, orange and lemon juices, mustard, brown sugar and salt. Season with pepper, to taste.

2) Place chicken skin side up in large roasting pan with clementine slices, thyme sprigs, onion pieces (and/or fennel wedges) and fennel seeds. Pour sauce over top and gently toss everything together with your hands. (alternately, you can prep in advance and marinate: place chicken with clementine slices, thyme sprigs, onion/fennel wedges, and fennel seeds in a large mixing bowl or ziplock bag. Turn several times to coat. Marinate chicken for several hours or overnight.)

3) Preheat oven to 475°F. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 400ºF and continue roasting until the skin is brown and crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove pan from the oven.

4) Transfer chicken and clementines and onion pieces with juices to a serving platter. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Pairs well with a crisp salad and a knob of bread to soak up the juices.

Clementine Pernod Chicken

—–

Slow-Baked Cod with Lemon, Olives and White Wine – adapted from Real Simple
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lb cod fillets (or halibut)
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup Kalamata olives
  • zest from 1 lemon, cut into strips
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to season
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Directions

Heat oven to 400° F.

Place the fish in a small roasting pan. Add the wine – it should reach about halfway up the sides of the fish. Scatter the olives and lemon zest around the fish. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Roast until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the parsley. Divide the fish among individual plates and spoon the olives and wine sauce over the top.

Cod with Lemon and OlivesCod with Lemon and OlivesCod with Lemon and Olives

Clandestine Food

If I play my cards right, I can sometimes get my hands on a batch of fresh ricotta, made by hand in someone’s converted garage a few neighbourhoods over from mine. It comes in the traditional moulded shape, marked with the tell-tale grooves of the straining basket. It’s not an exaggeration to say that that this is the best ricotta you’ll ever have outside of Italy – it’s pillowy and snowy white, and the flavour is so fresh, it’s almost sweet; you can eat it in its naked state by the spoonful.

Fresh Ricotta

Then there are the eggs. A couple of times a month, I get a batch of eggs from a separate supplier who, when they’re not at their day job, tend to a flock of free range chickens. The chickens are different, so their eggs are too – some are robin’s egg blue, others are deep orange or light brown with a smattering of freckles. I’ve gotten into the habit of opening the carton before I get home to catch a peek of what’s inside. There’s something about a motley crew of eggs – big next to tiny, freckled next to blue – that puts a smile on my face. It’s a reminder that this is the kind of stuff that makes me really, dorkily, happy.

004

This ricotta and these eggs are part of a handful of familiar, clandestine foods that have made their way into my kitchen (there are under-the-radar cured meats too, but that’s another blog post altogether). They’re not luxury items in the classic sense; they’re not chic, or expensive, or novel (in fact they’re a lot cheaper than the fancy, artisanal products you might find at the store). But they are luxury items in the sense that it’s impossible to take them for granted. They are special by default. And I love them.

Below you’ll find two recipes I made at Easter – both using eggs and ricotta (and lemon, in the spirit of Sicilian tradition) (and, possibly unconsciously, in the spirit of my trip to Sicily this summer). The first is a version of gnocchi that, instead of potato, is held together with egg, ricotta and a bit of flour. They’re called dunderi and are apparently an Amalfitan specialty, but I discovered them by watching this video on Tasting Table with Portland restauranteur Jenn Louis. I’d never made a non-potato gnocchi before, so I was a little nervous that they’d fall apart in the simmering water. But they turned out perfectly – soft, tender little dumplings, tossed in some browned butter with a little parmesan and lemon. They are a dream to eat. The second recipe is a simple, southern Italian-inspired cake that is perfect with coffee or tea. It’s hard to explain, but this for me is the prototypical Italian cake – no frills, not too many competing flavours, not exactly light, but not heavy either. Lots of lemon flavour. The leftovers from Easter were cut into wedges the next morning and dunked into espresso. (how any good Italian – and you – should eat your day-old cake).

Have a happy weekend everyone x

Dunderi with Lemon, Butter and Parmesan – recipe from Jenn Louis,via Tasting Table
Serves 4-6

Note: the measurements are in grams to yield more consistent results. If you don’t have one already, an electric scale is an indispensable tool when it comes to European recipes and baking. I only spend about $20 on mine and my only regret is that I didn’t get one sooner.

Dunderi with Lemon and Butter

Ingredients

For the Dunderi:

  • 480 grams whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 45 grams finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, using a microplane
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 160 grams, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • Semolina flour, for dusting

For the Sauce:

  • 110 grams (about 1 stick) butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Directions

1) In a large bowl, mix the ricotta and egg yolks until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and flour until the dough just comes together.

2) Sprinkle the work surface with a generous dusting of flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface and sprinkle with a little more flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

3) Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with semolina flour.

4) Using a pastry cutter, divide the dough into 6 equal portions. With floured hands, roll each piece into a log about a ½ inch in diameter. Cut the log into ½-to-1-inch-long pieces. Place the dunderi on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Make sure the dunderi pieces are not touching, so they don’t stick together. Make ahead: The dunderi can be made, covered and chilled in the fridge for up to 2 days or frozen on the baking sheet and transferred to a resealable plastic bag. (if freezing, use within one month.)

Dunderi with Lemon and Butter

Dunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and ButterDunderi with Lemon and Butter

When ready to cook: 

1) Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the dunderi and simmer until they begin to float to the surface, 1-2 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until the butter becomes golden brown and toasty (6 to 8 minutes). Add the lemon juice and zest, and season with salt. Add the dumplings and toss to coat. Spoon each serving into a bowl and top with Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Dunderi with Lemon and Butter

Dunderi with Lemon and Butter

—–

Lemon-Ricotta Cake – adapted from Eat My Kitchen
Makes one 8″ cake

Ingredients

    • 80g butter, softened
    • 150g sugar
    • 80g ricotta
    • 3 eggs, separated
    • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 200g all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • pinch of salt
    • icing sugar to dust the cake

1) Set the oven to 350°F and butter the cake pan. Combine the flour and baking powder. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt till stiff.

2) Beat the butter and sugar till fluffy, add the ricotta and mix for a couple minutes. Add the egg yolks and continue mixing for 2 minutes. While still mixing, add the lemon juice and zest followed by the dry ingredients, mixing well for another minute. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the stiff egg whites into the dough before you carefully fold in all of the egg whites.

3) Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown or when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool and dust with icing sugar.

Lemon-Ricotta Cake

Muffin PSA

I’ve long held the belief that muffins are more or less just cake disguised as breakfast food. Most muffins I’ve come across in bakeries and cafés have an ultra-sweet crumb, studded with the usual flecks of fruit and nut, but more often than not, chocolate too (in different variations of the same theme – chocolate/banana, double chocolate and chocolate chip are the first ones to come to mind). The most confusing kinds have things like “cheesecake” centres, or grainy strusel toppings that are ninety-nine percent sugar. In a lot of ways, muffins have become the antithesis of sensible eating. Because if something like this can be called a muffin, clearly we’ve derailed somewhere along the way.

When I think of the ideal breakfast muffin – the Platonic ideal – it has to be a bit brawny – something nutritious that will sustain me for the better part of the morning when paired with whatever fruit is in the fruit bowl.  The Platonic Muffin incorporates a type of flour that has some substance, some oumf (whole wheat, for instance) and a few octogenarian-approved ingredients like oat bran and dried fruit. The crumb shouldn’t be too sweet, and while nuts are welcome, chocolate and candy are not invited to the party. In other words, I want the kind of muffin that will lift me in the morning, when my eyes are half-mast in front of the computer, and the synapses in my brain aren’t yet at full throttle; I want it to give me a boost and make me feel productive; I want a muffin I can rely on.

Flipping through my cookbooks a few weekends ago, I came across Sara Forte’s Multigrain Muffin – a simple, but sturdy-looking thing that combines carrot, dates and buttermilk into the batter (ding ding ding!), along with different types of flour (ding ding ding!). Her cookbook, The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods, is what I would call a book of healthy recipes – for the better part vegetarian, some raw, and (as laid out explicity in the title) all containing whole, unprocessed ingredients. Now, while I can get behind all of that, I sometimes have concerns about baked goods being labelled “healthy”, because it often means they taste like cardboard and have a mouthfeel akin to dry soil. But thankfully, this isn’t the case with these muffins- the use of different flours results in a balanced texture, the carrots and dates add sweetness without it tasting saccharine, and the buttermilk makes the whole thing moist and melt-in-your-mouth. It’s the kind of breakfast food that pushes all the right buttons.

This post isn’t sponsored by Sara or her cookbook; it’s just that since these muffins have been on heavy rotation at our house over the last little while, I felt it was my duty – as keeper of this blog – to share them with you instead of keeping them all to myself.

You can see this as a muffin PSA, from your local food nerd.

I hope you’ll give them a whirl.

Multigrain Carrot-Date Muffins

Multigrain Buttermilk Muffins with Carrot and Dates
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods
Makes 12 muffins

  • 1 cup (250 ml) low fat buttermilk*
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped, pitted Medjool (or fresh) dates
  • 1 1/2 cups loosely packed grated carrots**
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup oat bran
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup muscovado sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

* to make 1 cup of buttermilk, simply pour whole milk almost to one cup, topping up with about 1/2 Tbsp white vinegar. Let sit for a minute (it will curdle a bit), then it’s ready to be used in your baking.

**use the smaller holes of your box grater for this; the carrot will blend better into the batter.

Multigrain Carrot-Date Muffins

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl whisk together the first four ingredients. Add the dates and carrots and stir until combined. In another mixing bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the carrot-date mixture into the dry and stir until combined. Let the batter sit for 5 minutes to poof up a bit.

Line muffin pan with baking papers. Fill the papers 3/4 way up with batter. Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and transfer muffins to a cooling rack. Can be stored for 3-4 days in an airtight container.

Multigrain Carrot-Date Muffins

 

Easy Cooking – Pulses

I come to you today with an extension to the previous post on “easy cooking” to talk about pulses. Yes, pulses – not the ones that emanate from the heart, but rather the kind that make up that sub-set of legumes (comically pronounced ley-gooms) which includes beans, lentils and dried peas. It’s perhaps not the sexiest of subjects, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. Not only has the UN declared 2016 The International Year of the Pulses but, ever since Ottolenghi‘s books hit the mainstream and sustainable eating has nearly become a water cooler topic, our humble friends the bean, lentil and chickpea have become de rigeur in the food world. Luckily for us, they’re delicious as they are hip, and since pulses have a long history with food cultures across each continent, the recipe repertoire is vast and versatile.

I’ve slid pulses under the banner of “easy cooking”, simply because once you’ve made a few batches, it’s easy to incorporate them into different meals for the week, without overthinking it. On Sundays, when the kitchen becomes my workhorse, at least three of the four burners of the stove are on, cooking beans and chickpeas. I’ll soak them under cold water the night before so that they’re plump and rehydrated the next day. Then they just have to cook – usually anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending. Beans aren’t fussy. You bring them to a boil, lower the heat, let them bubble away on low until the timer goes off. No need to hover over the stove; you can more or less ignore them and tend to other things (Skyping, reading, lip-synching…) while they cook. Lentils are the same, except they don’t need soaking and are ready in even less time (20 minutes or so).

It goes without saying that you can use always canned beans and chickpeas in your recipes (there’s a supply stationed in my cupboard right now) (because none of us are 19th-century homesteaders that make everything from scratch, all the time), but if you have a little time, cooking beans from dried is a nice alternative – they retain a nice al dente bite and their flavour is a lot more neutral/natural than the canned versions.

If you’re new to cooking pulses, here are some practical tips to keep in mind:

BEANS:

  • most require pre-soaking before cooking; however certain beans, such as mung or adzuki, and split peas don’t require pre-soaking
  • they will not cook properly if you add salt to the boiling water (reserve salt and add when they’re almost done cooking, if using)
  • when cooking, add enough water to cover them by about an inch, bring to gentle boil, then leave the lid on but slightly ajar.
  • cooking time can range between 30-60 minutes, depending on the type of bean (see more info in the links below)

LENTILS:

  • do not require pre-soaking before cooking
  • need to be picked over and rinsed before cooking
  • will not cook properly if you add salt to the boiling water (reserve salt and add when they’re almost done cooking, if using)
  • cooking ratio: 2 parts water, 1 part lentils 
  • red lentils are not the same as green, brown of Puy lentils; they cook faster and become softer and don’t need advance prep. Two of my favourite recipes for red lentils is this one, for Turkish red lentil soup and this coconut dhal.

CHICKPEAS:

  • require pre-soaking before cooking
  • should be rinsed after soaking
  • will not cook properly if you add salt to the boiling water (reserve salt and add when they’re almost done cooking, if using)
  • when cooking, add enough water to cover them by about an inch, bring to gentle boil, then leave the lid on but slightly ajar
  • take about 1 hour to cook

For more information, visit these sites:

Combinations: during the week, I like having a variety of cooked lentilsbeans and grains (quinoa, farro, brown rice) in separate containers in the fridge. That way, they’re ready to be thrown into soups, stews, salads, pasta, etc.

Freezing: whatever won’t get used up in the next couple of days can be packed and frozen. Lay the cooked beans flat in one layer (e.g. on a baking sheet), allow them to freeze, then transfer to freezer bags or containers before putting them back in the freezer. The pre-freezing in one layer will prevent them from sticking together (same goes for dumplings, meatballs, etc.)

Quantities: if you’re going to spend the time cooking beans, go all the way. The idea isn’t to make apocalyptic portions, or more than you can consume within the next few weeks (freezer burn is a real thing), but make enough to have a small stockpile in the fridge/freezer of different pulses that you like. That way, you’ll only have to set aside that time to cook beans about once a month/month and a half.

Below are some of my favorite recipes that use pulses – one with brown lentils, one with mung beans, and the last with chickpeas. They might even become your new back-pocket recipes.

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Classic Lentil Soup – makes 6 servings; freezes well

Note: this recipe does not require any pre-planning (soaking/cooking). The lentils cook in the soup.

Classic Lentil Soup

 

Ingredients

  • 300 grams dried brown lentils
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 celery stick (about 1 cup), finely chopped (reserve some celery leaves for garnish)
  • 1 medium carrot (about one cup), finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 1 ½ cups, finely chopped)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peel removed and smashed
  • 14 ounces diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups water or vegetable broth
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: olive oil and sherry vinegar for serving

Directions

1) Rinse and pick through the lentils (sometimes you can find tiny stones); set aside to drain.

2) Put a large casserole or soup pot on medium heat and add the 3 Tbsp olive oil. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook until soft and the onion is beginning to turn golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Add the bay leaves and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Then add the tomatoes with their juice, stir and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.

3) Add the lentils and cover with the water (or broth). Cover and cook about 30-45 minutes over low-medium heat until the lentils are tender (check from time to time to see if you need to add a bit more water/broth). When they’re almost done cooking, add salt to taste.

4) Add salt to taste; serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar and some of the reserved celery leaves. When reheating any leftovers, add some water to loosen the lentils.

Classic Lentil Soup

Classic Lentil Soup

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Mung Bean and Carrot Salad with Feta – lightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4

Note: this recipe does not require any pre-soaking. Mung beans are ready to be cooked from dry.

Mung Bean and Carrot Salad

Ingredients

  • 140g dried green mung beans
  • 60ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm batons
  • ½ tsp honey
  • small handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 140g feta, crumbled

Mung Beans

Directions

1) Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, add the beans and simmer for 20 minutes, until they are cooked but still retain a bite. Drain, shake well and transfer to a large bowl.

2) About three minutes before the beans are done, heat two tablespoons of oil in a small frying pan and add the seeds. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until they start to pop – about three minutes – then pour, hot oil and all, over the beans, along with the vinegar, garlic, chilli and half a teaspoon of salt.

3) While the beans are cooking, lay the carrots in a pan large enough for them to form a shallow layer on the bottom. Pour over anough water to nearly submerge them, plus two tablespoons of oil and half a teaspoon each of honey and salt. Bring to a boil and keep on a high heat for eight minutes, by which time the water should have evaporated and the carrots become slightly caramelised but still crunchy. Drain some liquid, if needed.

4) Add the carrots to the bean bowl, along with the fresh coriander, and stir gently. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl, sprinkle over lemon zest, dot with feta and drizzle with olive oil.

Mung Bean and Carrot Salad

Mung Bean and Carrot Salad

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Spiced Eggplant with Chickpeas and Yogurt – adapted from Molly Wizenberg
Serves 6; freezes well

  • 3 large eggplants (about 3 ½ lb)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeded (or not) and finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • 1½ tsp curry powder
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (or canned)
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro
  • ½ cup whole-milk plain yogurt
  • Salt, to taste
  • Garam masala, for serving

Directions

1) Preheat the oven to 450° F. Put the eggplants on a rimmed baking sheet, and pierce them all over with a knife. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until the skins are blackened and the flesh feels very soft when pressed. Let cool slightly, then slice them open lengthwise and, using a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin into a large bowl. Mash the flesh coarsely and set aside (this part can be done a day ahead and refrigerated).

2) Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they begin to sizzle and pop, about 10 seconds. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the jalapeño, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, paprika, curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and stir well. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

3) Add the eggplant, stir to combine, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the cooked chickpeas, and warm through. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the cilantro, half of the yogurt, and salt.

Serve hot or warm, with remaining yogurt and sprinkled with garam masala. Partners well with basmati rice or naan bread.

(this photo was taken in bad lighting, under a tungsten bulb; in real life, the colour is deeper richer, and less pink.)

Spiced Eggplant with Chickpeas and Yogurt

Easy Cooking – Garlic & Chili Pepper

I recently came across an article by Elizabeth Dunn, published last fall in The Atlantic called The Myth of ‘Easy’ Cooking. It’s basically critique of the “easy cooking” empire that has proliferated in recent years over every media platform known to man (newspapers, magazines, TV, online tutorials, books, blogs, vlogs…), touting super simple! stress-free! meals made faster than you can say Rachel Ray. Reading it from the perspective of someone who likes making things from scratch – to the point of actually seeking it out – I felt conflicted. On one hand, it felt transgressive to agree with someone that cast such a critical light on home cooking. (It is, after all, the backbone of this blog and the thing I’m most enthusiastic about when it comes to food); on the other hand, I felt that she had a point – one that not many food enthusiasts or people working in the field of food media (like herself) would be eager to lay bare so candidly.

She’s calling bullshit, and I like it.

Because I think that the crux of what she’s saying is true – “fast and easy” recipes in the world of modern home cookery are often presented as more straightforward and simple than they actually are. It’s become very fashionable to sell the idea that an entire meal – from starter to dessert – can be effortlessly whipped up in under twenty minutes. And this, after a heavy day at work, bookended by two frenzied commutes, plus the discovery that, while you were away, your bathroom flooded, or the fridge broke down, or that your child has inexplicably lodged a Lego block deep into their nasal cavity. (I don’t speak from parental experience, but I have it on good authority that kids do these kinds of things. Bless them.) All this to say that on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday night – even without anything out of the ordinary happening – you’re likely not jazzed about the idea of assembling Piri Piri chicken, with two-type mashed potatoes, arugula salad, and natas tarts for dessert (as boldly suggested on page 120 of Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes).

Elizabeth Dunn has, very articulately and succinctly, hit the nail on the head about how today’s cooking empire (the books, the shows, the magazine articles and all the rest of it) has hijacked the principle of “simple cooking”. Simple cooking isn’t tossing some iceberg lettuce with oil and vinegar anymore – it’s topping it with freshly roasted chicken, toasted nuts, homemade croutons and some esoteric dressing that requires three different oils. (Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of that salad; it’s just that on most weekdays, who’s making that whole thing from scratch?). So, in that sense, I agree with her – in making cooking a fashionable commodity, we’ve built this unrealistic, unattainable image of what simple cooking is supposed to represent; in falling under the spell of pretty pictures in gauzy magazines, we’ve lost sight of what real, simple, day-to-day cooking actually looks like.

In all this, it’s worth mentioning that “easy” cooking means something different for everyone. My time, energy, and money constraints are not identical to yours; same goes for our interest in cooking, which not only varies from person to person, but also from day to day. There are days when I’m full of vim and vigour and have no qualms about making a 3-course dinner from beginning to end. But then there are days when stove-top popcorn and a glass of fizzy water sounds like a reasonable dinner. (to the chagrin of every nutritionist out there.)

All that said, I still really do believe in the importance in making food at home – in whatever way, shape or form that comes to be. And so, in defense of home cooking, I will say this: easy can still stay easy. On days when I don’t feel like pulling together a meal, often I’ll give myself a little nudge, and – after thinking about how much that hip, third-wave, stone-oven pizza next door is going to cost me after tax and tip – I’m usually able to scrounge together something decent, without much time and effort.

In many ways, I have Nonna to thanks for this. She’s taught me a lot about simple cooking, including the holy trinity of olive oil, garlic, and peperoncini. When combined with care, these three ingredients can elevate more or less anything in your fridge. Toss in an anchovy, and you’re well on your way to gold standard of peasant food.

Below you’ll find three recipes that incorporate olive oil, garlic and peperoncini – one for sautéed rapini, another for braised Savoy cabbage and the last, an improvised pasta dish with Romano beans. This is true easy cooking – no fireworks or esoteric ingredients. Just a couple of things from the crisper or freezer that you can toss together in between the time you get home and your child decides to see how far a Lego will go up their nose.

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RAPINI SAUTÉED IN GARLIC AND DRIED CHILI
(Rapini aglio e olio con peperoncini)

Having a little stockpile of cooked rapini in the freezer is one of the best gifts your past self can give your present self, on those days when all you can do is stare into the depths of fridge, mouth-breathing.These are some of my favourite ways to use this rapini:
• as-is, with a chunk of crusty bread to soak up the garlic oil
• swirled into pasta, with a generous dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano
• on top of polenta
• on top of pizza
• alongside roasted chicken, spicy sausage, or meatballs
• in a curry

Rapini

Makes about 3 cups

  • 1 bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe)
  • 3-4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes (peperoncini)
  • 3 Tbsp good quality olive oil (or 1-2 Tbsp more, if you’re adding this rapini to pasta)
  • sea salt (or flaked salt, such as Maldon)

Directions

1) Put a large pot of water on to boil. Rinse the rapini under cold running water and pat dry with a dish towel.

Rapini

2) Trim the stems (if they look a little rough), then run a paring knife along the inside of the stem to make a cross-section at the bottom, like so (this will help the stems to cook evenly, along with the more delicate leaves):

3) Once the water has boiled, add the rapini and blanch for about 3 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and drain in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, gently squeeze out as much water as possible, then roughly chop the rapini into pieces (manageable enough the eat). (note: at this point you can freeze portions of the rapini that you aren’t using right away – just make sure to drain really well, then transfer to small freezer bags)

Rapini

4) Meanwhile, heat up the olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Once hot, add the sliced garlic and fry until just beginning to turn golden. Add the pepperoncini as fry for 10 seconds further. Add the blanched, chopped rapini and a good pinch of salt and cook for about another 5 minutes, stirring every so often. Check the seasoning, then serve as desired.

Rapini

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BRAISED CABBAGE WITH GARLIC AND DRIED CHILI
(Cavolo stufato)

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, centre rib removed and cut into 1″ slices
  • 3-4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (pepperoncini)
  • 3 Tbsp good quality olive oil
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock
  • sea salt (or flaked salt, such as Maldon)

Garlic-Braised Cabbage

Directions:

1) Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook until golden (almost golden-brown). Add the chili flakes and stir, allowing them to flavour the oil (about 10 seconds).

2) Add the sliced cabbage and stir to combine. Season with salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the water or stock.

3) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and allow the cabbage to cook and break down (about 20-30 minutes). Serve with crusty bread, on pasta or with fish.

Garlic-Braised Cabbage

Garlic-Braised Cabbage

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SPAGHETTI WITH GARLIC & DRIED CHILI WITH ROMANO BEANS
(Spaghetti aglio e olio con fagioli)

Makes 2 servings

I like to cook big batches of beans and lentils all at one time, then either refrigerate them for the week, or freeze them (more on prepping pulses and legumes in an upcoming post). If freezing, lay the cooked beans in one layer on a baking sheet, freeze, then transfer to containers of freezer-proof bags (this prevents them from sticking together). They’ll keep for a couple of months. If you’re short on time, just used canned.

  • 200g spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3-4 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (peperoncini)
  • 1/2 cup cooked romano beans (or canned)
  • 1 anchovy filet
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 1/3 cup Parmagiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • zest from 1/2 lemon
  • optional: pesto (I try to make some in the summer/early fall and freeze them in individual portions. More on that here.)

Spaghetti with garlic, dried chillis and romano beans

Directions

1) Boil the water for the spaghetti. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook until golden (almost golden-brown). Add the chili flakes and stir, allowing them to flavour the oil (about 10 seconds).

2) Add the whole anchovy and stir; it will melt on its own. Add the beans, stir,and allow to cook for couple of minutes. Then add about 1/4 cup of water to help them break down a bit and form a sauce.

3) When the water comes to a rolling boil, add a small handful of coarse salt and then add the spaghetti; cook until al dente. (If the bean mixture looks a little dry, add some of the pasta water. The starch will help bring the it together.

4) While the beans are warming through and the pasta is cooking, set a dry pan on medium heat and toast the breadcrumbs, shaking the pan every so often to avoid burning them (2-3 minutes). Set aside.

5) Strain the pasta and then return to the pot. Add the garlic and bean mixture and stir to coat. Add the Parmigiano and stir to combine; serve in bowls, adding a little lemon zest, the toasted breadcrumbs and some additional Parmigiano to taste.

Spaghetti with garlic, dried chillis and romano beans

Party Patties

I’m possibly the furthest thing from a sandwich enthusiast there ever was. That said, I’ve never come across a falafel sandwich I didn’t like – even the cheap ones I used to inhale between classes or late at night in my undergrad days, from the small Lebanese take-out places around the downtown campus. The best ones had a crunchy exterior that gave way to a soft, crumbling chickpea interior; they were slathered in garlicky tahini sauce, fresh parsley, bright pink pickled turnip, and wrapped in soft flatbread. Compared to what else was on offer around school – 99¢ pizza, McDonald’s, dubious-looking panini at the Coffee Depot – these falafel sandwiches were often a student’s best option for a cheap, quick, tasty bite.

Since then, and after a few attempts of my own, I’ve come to realize that while falafels are great take-out food, they can be tricky to make well at home. I suspect that it’s because the best ones are made with a deep-fryer (surprise, surprise…) and since I don’t actually have a deep fryer – which, for my overall health, not to mention exposed extremities, is probably a good thing – it means that I don’t ever really find myself trying to make falafel from scratch. Instead, I usually end up picking up one from that well-loved vegan spot in my neighbourhood, because it’s good and close-by and they can have that thing ordered, dressed and wrapped up in five minutes flat. But since I’m not made of money and can’t take on the role of La Panthère verte’s most valuable patron, I’ve been looking for alternatives I can make at home – where my pocketbook can stay clear from any cash registers and 8$ organic sandwiches.

In scouring the Internet for ways to use up the zucchini that were starting to wither away in the crisper drawer, I came across this recipe from Martha Stewart, which reminded me a little of falafel sandwiches (because of the chickpeas and the pita), but looked more home-kitchen friendly. (in truth, my eagerness to try the recipe may be chalked up to the fact that I mistakenly read it as “Zucchini Party Sandwiches” and my curiosity got the best of me. They weren’t in fact “party” sandwiches, but patty sandwiches – though, since making them, I would have no qualms calling them “party” sandwiches, given how colourful and flavourful they are.) (like a party in your mouth, har har…).

They’re something of a cross between a zucchini latke and a falafel – more toothsome than the former, less complicated than the latter. I tweaked Martha’s recipe slightly, using canola oil to fry them in (because, again – unlike Martha – I’m not made of money) and incorporating some curry powder, cayenne and a small amount of olive oil to the mixture for some added oumf. I highly recommend that you do the same, as the flavours mingle really well together; like people do, when the party goes from good to dancing-on-the-tables (!) great.

Have a good week, everybody x

Curried Zucchini-Chickpea Patty Sandwiches

Curried Zucchini-Chickpea Pa(r)tty Sandwiches – adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 8 (a half-pita each)

Ingredients

  • 1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 small red onion, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil – for flavour
  • ¼ cup canola oil (or sunflower oil) – for frying

To serve:

  • 4 whole-wheat pitas, halved
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cucumber, thinly sliced
  • A handful of lettuce leaves, and/or arugula and/or radicchio

Directions

1) Mash chickpeas in a bowl until more or less smooth (with a few nubs left in-tact). Stir in breadcrumbs, grated zucchini, onion, egg, curry, cayenne, salt and pepper. Form into eight 4-by-1/2-inch patties and set aside.

2) Put a pan on medium-high heat and warm the canola oil until hot, but not smoking. Fry the patties until golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

3) Meanwhile, warm the halved pitas in the toaster on in a dry pan, just to warm through.

4) Stuff the pita halves with the cooked patties, some cucumber, lettuce, mint and yogurt.

Curried Zucchini-Chickpea Patty Sandwiches

Curried Zucchini-Chickpea Patty Sandwiches

One-Bowl Wonder

I have been dutifully plugging away at a post about “the myth of easy cooking” in the twenty minutes each morning before work, from the time I stumble out of bed (or tumble, depending) to the time I finish my coffee. But for some reason, the things (important, opinion-laden things!) I’d like to tell you just. aren’t. coming. There’s been a lot of typing, deleting, typing, deleting. So I’ve put that one aside for a little while, in the hopes that with a little time to percolate, the words might come more easily.

In the meantime, there’s the backlog of stuff I’ve wanted to share with you, one of them being the chocolate chip cookie recipe I recently discovered from Christina Tosi’s cookbook, Milk Bar Life: Recipes and Stories. If you haven’t heard of her, Tosi is the wonder-woman behind NYC’s Milkbar, the sister bakery of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant empire. If you’re seen her segments on The Mind of a Chef, you’ll know that she is a mensch in the world of sweets. If there is anyone I would trust with a recipe for cake or cookies or pie, it’s certainly this woman.

Now, chocolate chip cookies might seem fairly straightforward, but as any amateur baker can tell you, they can be capricious little buggers. A slight imbalance in gluten, sugar and fat can turn them into a liquefied mess or make them as hard as stone. I always thought that the key to the perfect chocolate chip cookie was extensive chilling and the use of fancy gear (the stand-mixer being the most coveted piece of machinery), but it turns out I’ve (we’ve?) just been overthinking things. Tosi’s recipe doesn’t require any special gadgetry or preternatural baking skills; the whole thing is done the old-fashioned way – in one bowl, with a wooden spoon (and no overnight chilling). With this recipe, there is nothing esoteric or complex to contend with; with this recipe, there is simply no mucking about. 

What you end up with is the Platonic ideal of the chocolate chip cookie – chewy in the centre, golden and crispy around the edges, and a not-too-sweet, buttery flavour where chocolate reigns supreme. While I hesitate using superlatives when it comes to recipes, this might just be the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

I hope you’ll give it a whirl.

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Special mention: I’d like to thank my cousin Liza for the handmade, Roisin Fagen tea towel that serves as the saucy backdrop to these photos. Along with these cookies, it’s one of my new favourite things.

Chocolate Chip Cookies – lightly adapted from Milk Bar Life: Recipes and Stories by Christina Tosi
Makes about 15 cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Before we get started…

  • The recipe calls for quite a bit of chocolate (a whole 12 ounces! This woman means business!), but it’s all part of the perfect balance, so don’t be tempted to skimp.
  • The only ingredient that is a bit novel is the non-fat milk powder, but you can find this at most run-of-the-mill grocery stores. The powder deepens the flavour and lends to their chewy texture, so best not to skip it. If you’re worried that the rest of the bag is going to slowly perish in your cupboard until next year’s spring cleaning, rest assured that you’ll be making these cookies more than once, and before you know it, you’ll have successfully chipped away at that bag of milk powder. These cookies freeze really well too, so tripling or quadrupling the recipe is not a bad idea either.
  • Instead of using dark chocolate chips, I used a mix of dark chocolate and white chocolate pastilles, which I chopped into pieces, because that’s what I had on hand.

Ingredients

    • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and just warm to the touch
    • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
    • ½ cup granulated sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons nonfat milk powder
    • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
    • ½ teaspoon baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    • 12 ounces chcolate (I used a mix of 70% dark + white chocolate), roughly chopped

Instructions

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2) With a wooden spoon, mix the sugars together in a large bowl and add the melted butter. Stir vigorously for about a minute or more. Mix the egg and vanilla in the measuring cup you used for the sugar and add to the mixture. Stir until the mix has a glossy sheen, about one more minute.

3) Mix in the flour, milk powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

4) Lightly form dough into balls about the size of a golf ball (or if you have a mini ice-cream scoop, you can use that for a more uniform result) and place on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 to 3 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown around the edges but still soft in the middle. The cookies will fall as they cool. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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