Saturday, February 21, 2015

Around the house bread making

So I've posted a few bread recipes here, but this post is more about my technique, since I've gotten it down to enough of a science that it makes less mess than most bread recipes, and the results are always really good. 

I personally do not find "no-knead" recipes to be any less work than "kneaded" recipes - you usually have some step that involves scattering corn meal across half the kitchen, and dish clothes covered in bits of dough. This recipe requires very little kneading, but a lot of time (really, benevolent neglect). However, if you're gonna be home anyway, it doesn't require much effort, so I often make this on a Saturday while grading. I got the basic idea for this approach from a couple books on bread baking. The main thing is that everyone seems to agree that a wetter dough tastes better, has a nicer crumb, etc in the end, and so my approach aims to make a wet bread dough with almost no interaction with it using my hands, and to minimize the amount of counter space that gets covered with flour.

Here's the basic recipe I use to make a really nice, hearty sandwich bread, but hold in mind I mostly eyeball these quantities. This makes 2 two-pound loaves of sandwich bread.


4 cups white flour
3 cups wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
(I also add some flax meal)

1.5 tsp yeast
2 Tbsp molasses
3.5-4.5 cups warm water (approx.)
2 Tbsp oil

2-3 Tbsp salt

2 big bowls
1 strong spatula
More oil for greasing things.

Step 1: Mix
First mix the dry ingredients. If you're worried about the viability of your yeast, proof it with 2 c. water and the molasses. Start by mixing in ca. 3 cups of the wet ingredients (incl. oil) with the dry using a strong, preferably silicone, spatula, stirring really well or else you'll get dry chunks in your final bread.The dough should still be a bit dry at that point - keep adding water until the dough is pretty moist, much wetter than you'd normally let the bread get if you were going to mix it with your hands - it will get drier. Do not add salt at this point. I've tried to take a picture of that here to give you a sense of how wet I normally make it:
Step 2: "Autolyse" 

In theory, 'autolyse' is letting the flour sit mixed just with water, so enzymes start to break things down. In practice, the internets seems to suggest that it works just fine if you mix everything except the salt, and then let the bread sit. Supposedly in blind taste tests, this improves the flavor of the bread, but most importantly for me, the dough absorbs the excess moisture, AND it basically gains the cohesiveness you'd otherwise get from kneading. 

So after mixing the bread, go do something else for 20 minutes. Eat breakfast, whatever. 

Step 3: "Kneading"

Once 20 minutes have passed, sprinkle the salt across the dough and mix it in using just the spatula. I normally leave the salt container next to the bread during the autolyse phase to keep myself from forgetting to add it. To mix, I use a sort of 'folding' motion, and normally it doesn't take more than about a couple minutes before the dough is really pretty cohesive and holds together. 

Can we really be kneaded enough?

Once the bread is decently cohesive, grease up another bowl and move the bread into that bowl, trying to get as much of the dough out of the first mixing bowl as possible. Cover with a wet cloth or a greased piece of saran wrap, or if your wife is awesome and got you a giant tupperware, use that. Soak the used mixing bowl in cold water, since hot makes the dough stickier. Use the spatula to clean it as much as possible - avoid dish sponges for cleaning, since the dough can get stuck in them, especially the scratchy side.

Giant tupperware!

Step 4: Fogeddaboutit

In the books on breadmaking that I read, when talking about whole wheat breads, they say that instead of worrying about getting the dough really kneaded at first, they just let the rising develop the gluten connections in the bread. So I've taken that to heart, and it works just fine. Let the bread rise as many times as you want until you get around to baking it. When it rises about double its volume, smack it around a bit with a spatula, and then go about your business until it rises again. I usually end up letting it rise 3 times or so. I haven't tried letting it rise only once, cause the whole idea of this setup is benevolent neglect - it's not for if you're in a hurry.

Step 5: Shape and bake
This last step is the only one that requires getting flour over everything. If you're REALLY slick, you could avoid that too, but it's more pain than it's worth I find. 

Get a 1/2 cup of white flour in a measuring cup. Use the spatula to knead the dough a bit and remove some air bubbles. If you're going for sandwich bread, getting those air bubbles out is important, but if you are going for a more 'rustic' style you can leave more in there. 

Grease/corn meal/etc whatever thing you're going to put the shaped loaves into. I use two metal loaf pans, so I grease them. 

Put a bit of flour on the countertop, flip the dough onto the counter, add more flour on top. Knead briefly to reduce air bubbles. I then cut the bread in half using a sharp knife, and shape it into two loaves, adding flour as necessary. I find that it's best to scrape up excess flour with the spatula before wiping up with water. 

At this point, I set the oven to preheat to 425. Our oven takes almost exactly as long to preheat as it takes for the shaped loaves to approx. double in size, so as soon as the oven dings I put them in - if your oven is faster, wait till the loaves are about doubled in size, preferably a little less. I bake them about 30-40 minutes, or until tapping on the loaves gives a very hollow sound. 

I cool the bread on a rack, and once it's sufficiently cool I usually freeze one of the loaves in a plastic bag. This way, I only really do this once every 2-3 weeks. 

This recipe always turns out well, and I think it's a bit easier than the standard 'flour a counter and knead' recipe that you often find. I also find this recipe less work than 'no-knead' recipes.

Final product

Saving chicken broth

This is a really just a tiny useful technique thing, but we find it really helpful in our house.

Whenever I used to make chicken broth, I would wait till it cooled, then find old tupperware, jars, etc to put the broth in. The problem is, I mostly use broth in small quantities, so it was a pain to thaw just some of that broth for use.

What I do now instead is to pour the broth into a muffin pan, clear some space in the freezer, and then leave it to freeze overnight (got the idea from lifehacker or somewhere online). In the morning, I put about an inch of hot water in the sink, set the muffin pan in the hot water until the broth chunks are loose, and then use a chopstick or butter knife to remove the chunks, which I store in a plastic bag in the freezer. For my muffin tin, they're almost exactly 1/2 cup of broth, perfect for use in sauces and similar recipes.

Here's a fuzzy picture of some of my broth muffins:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lamb Kufta with Eggs

These are meatballs for when your grandmother isn't coming over. They are garlicky and full of spices, with jolly hard-boiled eggs for added satisfaction, providing a great mess of comfort food for a cold winter night. I got the recipe from Cracking Curries, and added the pressure cooker option, which makes the meatballs oh-so tender. The great thing about this meatball is that you don't need to pre-fry them, saving time and mess. You could also stew them in the crockpot (though the sauce-making takes some advanced prep).

Delicious over basmati rice. Orange juice serving suggestion from Dan.

1 lb ground lamb
1 small onion
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 egg, beaten (or less)
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1" knob ginger, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne (to taste)
2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1 c. boiling water
4 eggs, hard boiled and peeled

Chop the onion and cilantro finely in a food processor. If this produces excess liquid, drain some off. Mix with your hands into the ground lamb. Add the cayenne, black pepper, and salt, and half some of the beaten egg to bind it together (not so much that it gets too goopy). Create into golf-ball sized meatballs and place them on a plate. Refrigerate for one hour while preparing sauce.

In a wide-bottomed pan with tall sides (or pressure cooker base), heat the butter and add the onions. Fry on low patiently until they start to brown, but take care not to burn. Add the chopped garlic until that browns as well. Add some of the boiling water to deglaze the pan. Add the tomato paste and stir until combined. Add the tomatoes, ginger, coriander, cayenne, and salt. Increase the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, smooshing the tomatoes as they cook. If it starts to splatter too much, add some boiling water. Use an immersion blender to blend smooth until it has a velvety texture--if too thick, add more water.

Place the meatballs into the sauce and spoon some sauce over. Continue to simmer, occasionally spooning over sauce, for 25 minutes OR pressure cook for 10 minutes. Halve the boiled eggs crosswise and place them yolk up on the serving platter and spoon some sauce over. Garnish with cilantro and serve over basmati rice.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Maqluba With Chicken, Cauliflower and Carrot مقلوبة دجاج وزهرة وجزر

So this is a very traditional, and very delicious dish from the Arab Levant. It is called "maqluba" which means "flipped over" due to the very last step of flipping the pot onto a serving platter. I always laugh because instead of being chicken on rice, it's rice on chicken until that last step, and so a totally different dish than the chicken on rice that's eaten most of the time.

There are a variety of typical styles of this dish. The style here is with chicken, cauliflower ('zahra' in Jordanian Arabic) and carrots, also optionally featuring potatoes. Meat and eggplant is another style, featured here.  Another tradition style, especially in spring or early summer is with fresh fava beans and meat (here's a recipe in English).

2-3 pounds chicken (whatever cuts you want)

1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
3-4 carrots, cut into large chunks (I do this by cutting at a diagonal to the carrot)
3 medium waxy potatoes, diced (optional)

2.5 cups white short grained or jasmine rice, rinsed
Water or chicken broth (approx 4 cups)

2 tsp Arabic spice mix (buy, or see below)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 Tbsp salt
Oil for cooking

You also need a deep, heavy bottomed pot and a large serving platter or pizza pan.

The veggies are traditionally fried, but I hate frying cause it's a pain, and luckily I live in American where we have ovens. So, preheat oven to 450 or use broiler, chop veggies. Coat veggies in a bit of olive oil, add about 1/2 tsp of the spice mix and some salt. Roast about 10 minutes - you want them getting a bit crispy around the edges, but not totally cooked into submission. You can skip this step if you prefer but you'll lose some flavor- you might want to put the potatoes in the microwave for about 3 minutes though.

In a large, deep heavy bottomed pot (I use my pressure cooker), heat about 1 Tbsp oil. Sprinkle chicken parts with some of the spice mix and brown. Toss in the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Add all of the veggies above the chicken in a layer. Add remaining spice mix and salt. Then, add the rice as a final layer. Use the back of your hand to push the rice into any crevices so it makes a smooth layer.

Add water or chicken broth to just cover the rice (it should be covered though). Bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 20-30 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Once cooking is finished, wait a few minutes for everything to stick together a bit better. Loosen from the sides of the pot using a butter knife. Put your serving platter over the top of the pan and invert the pan. Carefully remove the pan - if you're lucky, it'll retain its shape and you'll have an elegant column of deliciousness with a chicken and cauliflower capital.

Serve alone, or with a side salad if you like.

Here's a fuzzy picture. Mine did NOT retain its shape.

Arabic Spice Mix:
I've taken to making my spice mix every time I make Middle Eastern foods which calls for it, which isn't that often, so it's fresher this way - the allspice especially benefits from being ground fresh. The following should make about enough for this recipe - you can make more if you like and save it. You can also purchase it from Middle Eastern grocery stores - it's often called 'baharat' which literally just means 'spices.'

Grind the following in a mortar and pestle:
1 tsp whole allspice
3-4 whole cloves

Mix the freshly ground spices with:
1/2 tsp ground cumin (unless you have a spice grinder, it's not worth trying to get this sufficiently ground in a mortar and pestle)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp (freshly) ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Dash cayenne

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lentil Loaf

A friend of ours had us over for dinner one night and served us an amazing lentil loaf - it was cooked in a pie pan, and had a nice solid consistency. He claimed it was a British wartime recipe, a meatloaf substitute in a time of scarcity.

I kept bugging him for the recipe, but he never ended up giving it to me, and so I decided to just make my own version. It's pretty quick and easy and makes lots of leftovers.

2 cups red lentils
Water or chicken broth
Oil for cooking
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
8-10 mushrooms, cut into chunks
2 jumbo eggs

1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)

Tasty white cheese to garnish (feta or queso fresco)
(Weird but tasty: salsa)

Pre-heat oven to 375. Boil lentils in unsalted water or chicken broth while you prep the veggies - I use about 3 cups liquid, 1 cup chicken broth and 2 cups water, but sometimes have to top it off. You're trying for a thick consistency, like a daal, not like lentil soup.

Carmelize onions in a pan, preferably an oven-safe skillet using about 2 Tbsp oil. Once the onions are getting close to done, add the mushrooms, sprinkle with some salt and cook until both are nicely cooked.

Add the spices and eggs to the cooked lentils and whomp thoroughly. Since I use a cast iron pan to cook the onion and mushroom, I just pour the lentil mixture directly into the cast iron pan and place in the oven. Alternately, you could pour the veggies into the lentils and from there into a grease pie pan.

Bake about 15 minutes, or until the loaf is firm. Serve with cheese. It feels a bit 'dry', but Melanie solved that with a bit of salsa that we had around and it was remarkably delicious. Alternatively, you could make a gravy as you might with a meatloaf.

In the pan

On the plate

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

Some recipes are so elemental that I do not think of including them on this blog. However, our family keeps growing and we must spread the basic cooking knowledge that we Magidows take for granted to the newer members of our flock. Hence, a step-by-step recipe for fluffy mashed potatoes, which Dan has been called upon to supply for his family's Thanksgiving in my absence. There are many ways to make mashed potatoes, but this is my way.

This makes a LOT of mashed potatoes.

1 5-lb. bag of russet potatoes
1 stick of salted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp. pieces
~1/4 to 1/3 c. half & half
Lawry's seasoned salt
Ground white pepper (note to Dan: in the brass pepper grinder)
Ground nutmeg (optional)

  • Peel the potatoes. Keep the peeled potatoes in a bowl of water while you are working so that they don't turn brown.
  • Quarter the potatoes--they should be big chunks that can still fit into the potato ricer. 
  • Place into a large pot and fill with cold water until the potatoes are just submerged. Starting them in cold water allows them to cook thoroughly without falling apart at the edges or becoming watery before the centers are cooked.
  •  Do not add more water than needed, or you will unnecessarily increase cooking time.
  • Place the lid on the pot, but leave it ajar so that steam can escape.
  • Bring to a boil, and as soon as it boils, remove the lid and lower the heat so that it stays at a low boil (otherwise the pot will boil over).
  • It is hard to predict how long they will need to cook, but at 20 min, check them and see if they are tender. It will probably take 30 min or so for a large pot.
  • How to tell if they are done: 1) the edges of the potato chunks will start to become indistinct 2) when you pierce the potato with a knife, it encounters no resistance and the chunk will crack apart.
  • Note: if they completely fall apart, then you have overcooked them and the mashed potatoes will be watery and less delicious.
  • Drain the potatoes.
  • While they are still hot, squeeze them through the ricer with the insert with the smallest holes.
  • Rice them into the biggest bowl, because you will need the space to mix them later.
  • While you are working, add in the butter, cut into chunks, so that the butter is melted by the hot potatoes as you go.
  •  Do not question  the amount of butter--for a Thanksgiving dinner this will give you the most decadent result.
  • Gently mix the potatoes so that the butter is mixed in, but do not overmix or they will become gummy.
  • If the potatoes are too dry, add in small amounts of  half and half. You may only need a couple of tablespoons--don't overdo it! This amount is hard to predict because potatoes vary in their moisture content, and the cooking method has an effect, and also the butter will add a lot of liquid.
  • Taste and decide if they need more salt (this will depend on how salty the butter is). If it needs more salt, add Lawry's seasoned salt. Also add a generous amount of ground white pepper.
  • The key is to mix as little as possible so you can keep the fluffy texture. Don't pack it down solid when you place it in your transit/storage vessel.
If you need to reheat, microwave for 2-3 minutes.

For gravy, I find that unless you can pull off a true pan gravy from the turkey drippings, you are better off with packet gravy. The liquid stuff in jars or cans doesn't seem to be as good as good ol' packet gravy.

Solyanka Russian Soup

This hearty soup can miraculously turn bits and bobs from your winter larder into a satisfying, savory meal. This is one of the few examples of cooking with pickles--don't turn your nose up! Their zingy flavor blends pleasingly into the soup and adds some delightful crunch. The soup is made with a variety of meats, especially cured ones such as ham, smoked turkey, bacon, mild salami...whatever you have on hand. You can also add uncured pork, beef, or chicken.

Garnished with capers and jalapenos. Also suggested are: olives, lemon slices, pickled mushrooms, smetana/sour cream.
Use 3 lb of a variety of smoked and fresh meats, such as:
  • Cubed pork shoulder
  • Bone-in stew beef cut, such as round or chuck
  • Slab bacon
  • Smoked turkey
  • Ham hock
  • Smoked sausage (Krakovska from Kramarczuks is good for this)
2 medium onions
3 large carrots
1 c. dill pickles, chopped
1 c. frozen green beans (optional)
4 roma tomatoes, or 1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. pickled mushrooms, or fresh mushrooms cooked down to make 3/4 c.
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. paprika
1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
+ parsley stems (for stock)
1 Tbsp. fresh or dried dill
3-5 Tbsp. pickle juice (from the jar)
2 bay leaves
5 allspice berries
3 whole cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for saute

Garnish ideas:
  • Capers
  • Olives (any kind you like)
  • Lemon slices
  • Hot pepper slices
  • Green onions
  • Smetana or crème fraîche or sour cream
Begin by making a ham broth.  Place the ham hock, bacon, and stew meat in a large pot of water, and add one onion cut into wedges, one carrot roughly chopped, and the parsley stems. Add the bay leaves, allspice, and cloves, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour or until everything is tender. Drain through a sieve. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, including the ham from the ham hock.

Meanwhile, dice the remaining carrots and onions. Dice any pre-cooked meats such as the smoked turkey or smoked sausage. Saute the onions and carrots in a heavy soup pot in some oil until they begin to get tender. Add the chopped pickles and mushrooms, and cook 1-2 minutes,  Add the tomato paste and paprika and continue to cook while stirring so it coats the veggies. Add the tomatoes or tomato puree and simmer for 5 minutes.

 Add 4-5 quarts of ham broth, as well as the cooked, chopped meat to your cooked veggies. Add the green beans, dill, and parsley, and simmer 5-6 minutes until the green beans are tender. You can also add the olives and capers at this point, but if you have picky eaters, leave them as a garnish. Add the pickle juice and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve with garnish and fresh, hearty bread.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lillian's Fail-proof Chicken Kebabs

 I cannot believe that I have not posted this recipe, even though I have probably made it a hundred times. Now you too can know the secret of how to make killer chicken kebabs, every time. This recipe will impress friends, endear you to in-laws, please picky eaters, and perhaps even make you more attractive.

The key is using dark meat, i.e. chicken thighs. This is also good with lamb. Multiply the recipe to make more (I usually make about 12 thighs).

Unfortunately I do not have any good pictures, but this captures how tightly you should pack the chicken onto the skewer for maximal juiciness.

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
~1/3. c. full-fat plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. salt
additional seasonings* (optional)

Cut the chicken thighs into large-ish chunks that will stay on your skewers. Combine the remaining ingredients in whatever container you want to marinate the chicken in, then and add the chicken thighs. There should be just enough yogurt to coat the meat generously--it shouldn't be swimming. Allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.

Place the meat onto the skewers and really pack it on tightly. This is key to keeping the meat from drying out. I recommend the sword-type skewers. Heat your grill to high initial heat, then place the skewers on the grill and lower the heat to medium. Turn 3-4 times, allowing to cook through without burning (allow 25-30 minutes, but it may go faster).

Slide the meat off the skewers and serve with various mezze; there are a ton of ideas listed under Middle Eastern on this blog.

 *Note: you can add more seasoning, such as cayenne, cumin, a pinch of allspice, or a generic "kebab seasoning" mix. However, I think it turns out best if you keep it simple.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mulligatawny Stew

It's not every day that I post a130 yr old recipe! I found this one from 1885 for Mulligatawny Soup while perusing a site that houses vintage cookbooks and recipes. I am calling it a stew because I overdid it on the rice, and it's kind of nice that way. Scale back the rice if you want it to be soupy and/or are planning to have leftovers, as it will thicken considerably as it sits. Boiling a whole chicken will make more chicken stock than you need for the recipe, which is great if you want to make extra to freeze.

Served with parathas (frozen section at Indian grocery).

1 whole chicken, cut into breast and legs
1 package beef or veal stew bones
6-8 c. water
2 Tbsp. oil

2 red onions, diced
3 Tbsp. curry powder**
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. butter 3/4 c. basmati rice
1/2 c. frozen peas (optional)
1/2 lemon

* if you are making a large batch of chicken stock, use aromatics such as yellow onion (including the peel), celery, bay leaves, etc...
**you can keep the seasoning simple and just use curry powder, or doctor it up by adding some freshly crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, and minced ginger, as I did

Brown the beef stew bones in hot oil in a large stock pot, then add the chicken and aromatics. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 1.5 hrs, skimming any gunk off the top. Strain the stock off and set the chicken aside.

In another pot, heat the butter and fry the onions until they begin to get tender. Add the curry spices and toss over heat to release the fragrance. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the onions. Add as much chicken stock as you would like to turn into soup and simmer for 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend the onions about 80% smooth to thicken the sauce. Add the rice and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender.

Shred the chicken and add it to the soup. You may add some frozen peas for color. Add in the juice of one lemon and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with lemon slices and green onions, if desired.

If you are curious, here is the original text of the recipe:
Divide a large chicken into neat pieces; take a knuckle of veal, and chop it up; put all into a large saucepan, and add one gallon of water; salt; boil for three hours or until reduced one-third. Put an ounce of butter in a hot frying pan, cut up two red onions, and fry them in the butter. Into a half pint of the stock put two heaping tablespoonfuls of curry powder; add this to the onion, then add the whole to the soup, now taste for seasoning. Some like a little wine, but these are the exception and not the rule. Before serving add half a slice of lemon to each portion. Many prefer a quantity of rice to be added to the soup before it is finished; the rice should be first well washed and parboiled.

Szechuan Peppercorn Chicken with Eggplant

Ages ago I bought some szechuan peppercorns for a recipe, and haven't tried many recipes with them since. They're very strange - they have what can only be described as a floral, citrisy taste, a bit like lychees (but less floral). In this dish, based loosely on authentic szechuan chicken recipes, they lend a really nice counterpoint to the chilies, but you don't want to add too much and overwhelm things. Note that this is a fairly dry stir fry.

I made this with Japanese eggplants, but if you only have normal eggplant, cutting it into cubes might actually be nice, since they'd be a similar shape to the chicken chunks.


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (breasts reheat better for leftovers), cubed
5 Japanese eggplants, in slices
3+2 cloves garlic, sliced
1.5 teaspoons peeled sliced fresh ginger
1 heaping tablespoon szechuan peppercorn
3-8 Chinese-style dried red chilis, seeds removed
3 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine
2 tablespoons oil + more for cooking
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt to taste


At least 1 hour before cooking: Over very low heat,  warm the szechuan peppercorns until they start to get fragrant, but without burning them. Crush 2/3 of the peppercorn in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and pour over chicken chunk. Add dry sherry, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 chili peper, mix, and let marinate in fridge at least one hour.

After chicken has marinated, start warming a pan until good and hot - I used a wok, but actually think a frying pan would have been a better choice, since we're not trying to make something saucy. While warming the pan, you can heat the chili peppers for more flavor if you like, but be careful not burn them.

Add oil to the hot pan, and briefly let 3 cloves of garlic and ginger sizzle before adding the chicken and chilis. You may need to cook the chicken in shifts if you want it to brown nicely. Cook until chicken is browned on the outside, it may not be fully cooked inside. Remove chicken from pan.

Add more oil, sizzle the remaining 2 cloves garlic, add eggplant. Let cook a minute or so before adding remaining (whole) szechuan peppercorns, let cook another minute or so before adding returning the chicken to the pan and adding soy sauce. Cook until chicken is cooked through and eggplant is tender.

Since this dish doesn't have much soy sauce, you may need to add salt. Serve on fluffy white rice.

If you need an addition veggie, I put some rice vinegar, a few szechuan peppercorns, and a grind of black pepper over sliced persian cucumbers.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tom Kha Thai Soup

Accompanied by my illustrious photographer and culinary muse, JiJY, I present to you: Tom Kha. This fragrant soup is made with chicken and is bursting with flavor from the aromatic spices (and no curry powder/paste at all), and brought together with coconut milk and lime.

Finished product, garnished with Thai basil and an egg. Photo by JiJY Thanwalee.


  • 1 chicken
  • 4-5 quarts water
  • 1 chicken boullion cube
  • 3-4 stalks lemon grass
  • 1 galangal root
  • 6-8 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 large shallots or 1 red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 Thai chilies

Simmering the broth. Scoop off the scummy bits so you get a nice clear broth. I accelerated the process by using a pressure cooker. Photo by JiJY Thanwalee.
Place the chicken, aromatics, and water together in a large pot or pressure cooker. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 hour (or 35 min in pressure cooker). Drain the broth for use in the soup and discard the aromatics. Remove the chicken and when it is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bone. Use half of the meat in the tom kha (use the rest of the meat in some other recipe such as chicken laap salad).

Coconut Milk & Veggies:

  • 1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 bunch Thai basil (reserve some for garnish)
  • 1.5 c. oyster mushrooms (or 1 can straw mushrooms)
  • 6-8 green eggplants, stems removed and quartered

NOTE: other vegetables are possible, such as long beans, tomatoes, or bamboo shoots, but I recommend restraint so that the other flavors shine through


  • 1-2 Tbsp. palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 large lime

In a separate large pot, simmer down the coconut milk for 10-15 minutes to concentrate it. Add the broth and veggies and simmer until they are tender. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice and adjust seasonings to taste.


  • Thai basil
  • Cilantro
  • Thai chilies
  • Green onions
  • Beansprouts
In some ways, garnishing the soup is the best part...other than eating it, of course! Photo by JiJY Thanwalee.

Enjoy the amazing flavors of the soup, along with the crispy garnish. I froze some, so I'll let you know how well it works as leftovers.

Sometimes the chefs get hungry, so I recommend a meaty snack with a spicy kick: Hmong sausage and a chili pepper. Photo by JiJY Thanwalee

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Braised Shortribs

Sometimes you just want a pile of hot beef, and you don't want to chew. This is the recipe for you. It can be made in the pressure cooker or slow cooked. The onions, carrot, and celery cook down and make a delicious gravy, which you could blend if you want it to be smooth.

Fortunately, my cooking is much better than my photography. This is the short ribs served over potato gnocchi, with a side of turnip greens. I kept the onion/meat juice mixture chunky and used it as a sauce for the gnocchi.

3 lbs short ribs
1 large onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
2 carrots, grated
3-5 shallots, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/3 c. dry sherry or 1 c. dry red wine
1 large bundle fresh thyme, or 1 tbsp. dried
1 pkg French onion soup mix
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 c. cooking oil
~3 c. water

Sprinkle the short ribs with salt and black pepper. Heat the oil until very hot and brown the short ribs in a few batches, to avoid overcrowding the pot. Do this in the base of your pressure cooker (if using that method); if you are using a slow cooker, use a separate pan. Remove the short ribs from the pot. Add the onions to the hot oil and stir until they begin to brown. Add in the celery and carrots and stir to cook for 2-3 min. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is well-distributed. Add the sherry and onion soup mix. Stir the short ribs and any meat juice they produced back into the pot. Tuck the bundle of sage into the pot, and then add just enough water that the short ribs are partially covered.

If you are using a slow cooker, bring the liquid to a simmer and then pour it into the cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours or until fall-apart tender.

If using a pressure cooker, bring to a boil and then put the lid on and take it up to high pressure. Cook for 45 minutes and then off the heat allow the pressure to escape naturally from the pot.

Once the ribs are cooked, you have options with how to serve them. I recommend putting them over wide noodles or gnocchi, but would also be very good on top of polenta or mashed potatoes.
1. (for picky eaters) Remove ribs from pot and, slip out the rib bones and chop up the meat (it's up to you if you want to get rid of the connective tissue, but it should be very tender and delectable at this point).
2. OR For more adventurous types, leave on the bone
3. Either use a slotted spoon to strain out the veggies and use these as a chunky sauce for your starch.
4. OR once you have removed the meat from the pot, use an immersible blender to make a smooth sauce with the meat juice and veggies.
5. Either mix the meat back into the sauce, or serve it on top of everything.

Now you are probably confused. However, if you have a big batch of these savory, tender ribs, I am sure you will figure out a satisfactory way to serve them!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Easy Berry Tart

I was invited to a dinner party with rather short notice, and asked to make dessert, which isn't really my specialty. Luckily, I got this ginormous, very British cookbook "1000 Classic Recipes" for $2 at a book sale. Being British, probably half the recipes are for cakes, pies or tarts, and flipping through I found this recipe which was ludicrously easy and required very few ingredients. It's low fat (for the gallbladderless among us), it could probably be made with gluten free flour, it takes maybe half an hour to make from start to finish, and it's really tasty - a nice, light summer dessert. The one caveat is that it's best to serve fairly soon after making, otherwise it gets a bit mushy from the berry juice. Also, it doesn't make a huge amount - I'm not sure how amenable it would be to doubling, though it sufficed for six people for a light dessert. 

It's best served with vanilla ice cream.

2 c. worth of berries (I used raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, but your berries may vary)

2 eggs
1/4 c. superfine sugar (you can just put granulated sugar into the food processor and blast it a few times)
1 Tbsp. flour
1/4 c. ground almonds
Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 375.

Grease the inside of a pie dish, and line it with parchment paper (which you may have to cut into a circle to fit into the pan easily). The grease mostly serves to hold the paper in place. Cut any berries that need cutting (e.g. strawberries) and place those and the other berries (blueberries or raspberries for example do not need to be cut up) into the bottom of the pan. If you think the berries will be too tart, toss a little sugar on them.

If you don't have superfine sugar, since you'll be using the food processor anyway for the almonds, you can just blast normal granulated sugar a few times and it'll be fine for this recipe. Grind the almonds in the food processor once you're done with the sugar.

Crack both eggs into a bowl, add the sugar. Here's the only weird part - you're trying to get as much air as possible into these eggs, but since the yolks are still included, it won't make stiff peaks like it would with normal egg whites. Beat it until it is pretty stiff though, to the point where beaters make short-lived trails in the eggs.

Mix the flour and almonds, then fold them into the eggs. Try not to lose too much of the air during that process. Pour the batter over the berries. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough part is golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from oven, wait until it has cooled off a bit, then invert onto a serving plate and carefully remove parchment. Cut into slices and serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hearty Lentil and Weiner Soup

Hot dogs and lentils are a match made in heaven and are also extremely cheap! You can keep it basic and use regular hot-dots, or get fancy ones from Kramarczuk's or another meat market. I used their coarse-ground weiners with great results. Use green or brown lentils, not the red ones. I added orzo pasta to thicken it up, but you could also use rice or potatoes and adjust cooking time accordingly.

4 weiner links
1 c. green lentils
1 c. orzo pasta
1 qt. beef or ham broth
2 qt. water

1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 sage leaves, sliced (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. dried coriander
2 Tbps. Crystal or Tobasco hot sauce
2 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. black pepper
handful of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
salt to taste

Slice up the weiners and saute them in the oil in a heavy soup pot until they brown slightly on the edges. Add the onion and half of the celery and saute until the onions begin to cook through. Add the tomato paste, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and toss to coat. Add the broth, sage, bay leaves, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer 20 minutes.

Add the remaining celery and carrots and the orzo and increase the heat to boil the orzo, carrots, and lentils until just tender (~10 min). Add the hot sauce and parsley and adjust the seasonings to taste.

NoneMoreBlack pointed out that this recipe is similar to Cotechino con Lenticchie, an Italian dish traditionally served at New Year's Eve. If you are somehow able to source the specialty cotechino sausage, please make the Italian recipe and tell me how it is!