Category: Food & Cooking

Ssamjang Coleslaw (Trust Me!)

Ssamjang Coleslaw (Trust Me!)

Every now and again, you happen across a combination of flavours that is just so delicious you honestly wonder how you made it this far in life with them.  So if you are looking for the extra something to jazz up your palate, look no further than the magnificent Ssamjang.

Ssamjang 600

It is the traditional dipping sauce that most often accompanies Bulgogi but its uses should really know no bounds.  This would be fantastic mixed with a bit of mayo or as a sauce for wings.  I have used it both in its traditional form and them as a dressing for coleslaw and can highly recommend both.

Hot Pepper Paste

The ingredients for Ssamjang are not complicated but may not be available in every grocery store.  The good news is that gives you an excuse to foray deeper into your Asian markets (or order online in a pinch) to get these two essential components of Korean Hot Pepper Paste and Fermented Bean Paste.  They come in these petite tubs and seem to be standard according to colour, so even if you can’t read the labels just get a red one and a tan one.

Soybean Paste

I make quite a lot of vegetarian food and these are both brilliant additions to bring a deep, rich Unami dimension to many meatless foods. They are not terrible expensive and will make you very happy.

Ssamjang ingredients 600

Once you have procured your Hot Pepper Paste and Fermented Soy Bean Paste just add some honey, sesame oil, sesame seeds and garlic.

Ssamjang mixed 600

Mix thoroughly and transfer to a serving dish, garnishing with more sesame seeds.

Bulgogi traditional 600

Place along side a bowl of Basmati rice, lettuce leaves, sliced vegetable and fresh cooked Bulgogi for a traditional Korean treat,

Burrito 600

or mix up with a bit of rice wine vinegar and vegetable oil for a western wrap.  Both are delicious and a great way to try using new ingredients.

Enjoy!

 

Ssamjang Coleslaw (Trust Me!)

Ingredients

  • Traditional Ssamjang:
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoons Fermented Soybean Paste (Doenjang)
  • 15 ml/ 1 Tablespoon Hot Pepper Paste (Gochujang)
  • 15 ml/ 1 Tablespoon Honey (or Golden Syrup)
  • 1 clove/ 5 ml/ 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2.5 ml/ 1/2 teaspoons Sesame Seeds
  • For Coleslaw, make traditional Ssamjang and add:
  • 15 ml/ 1 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 50 ml/ 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 head of cabbage
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/4 white onion, finely shredded

Instructions

  1. Make up the traditional recipe for Ssamjang.
  2. Add the rice wine vinegar & vegetable oil for coleslaw and mix well.
  3. In a large bowl place shredded cabbage, julienned carrot and sliced onion.
  4. Pour the coleslaw dressing over the vegetable mix.
  5. Toss to combine and refrigerate until ready to use.
  6. Warning: Will be totally addictive and will having you make on a regular basis!
http://albaliving.com/2015/08/ssamjang-coleslaw-trust-me/

Bulgogi (Korean Beef BBQ)

Bulgogi (Korean Beef BBQ)

Ok, so after a summer of shockingly bad weather it’s time to try to BBQ.  (Don’t worry if it doesn’t last as this works just as well indoor in a fry pan.)

So to get your taste buds going again, here is my version of the super yummy Korean Beef BBQ or Bulgogi.

Bulgogi traditional 600

Traditionally, it is served in series of components that each individual packs and wraps in a lettuce leaf.  I will show you both this, the legit way and my jazzed up Western version for lazy sods.

The marinade for the beef (or mushrooms if vegetarian, or both if you are me) is very simple.  I will be a stickler on two points however. You must, and I mean must use a pear in your marinade.  Its acidity helps to break down the meat to make it incredibly tender and also adds just the right amount of sticky sweetness.  The other point is that you MUST puree the pear (by fair means or foul) to get it to do its magic.

Bulgogie marinade 600

So just chuck the ingredients into a container suitable for a blender or stick blender and blitz away.

Bulgogi 600

Pour the mariande over your goodies to be grilled and mix thoroughly. Cover and chill until you are ready to cook.  Try to ensure that you have at least 30 minutes but even better several hours to marinate for best results.

Ssamjang 600

Now, while your beef or mushrooms are marinading you can whip up the most divine dipping sauce known as Ssamjang.  It it what is usually served with Bulgogi and perfectly balances the flavours.  For real, this stuff is crazy good so don’t be afraid to make loads!

Bulgogi traditional 600

When it comes close to cooking time arrange the Ssamjang, a bowl of basmati rice, a platter of washed lettuce leaves and some freshly sliced vegetable such as onion and carrot.  Fry or BBQ the meat in batches and present to your family and guests to make their own parcel.

A note of caution: apparently the making of a parcel for another person is seen as a very intimate act, particularly between the sexes.  It is fine for a parent to make one for a child or elderly relative, but under no circumstance should you make one up for another adult unless you are expressly trying to express romantic intent! (Top Tip.)

Burrito 600

And while the wee lettuce wraps are a delicious delight, they are a faff.  So, as I can never leave well enough alone I mixed the Ssamjang with a touch of rice wine vinegar and vegetable oil and used it as a dressing to make a Korean inspired coleslaw.

Now you can pack way more good stuff into a burrito and sidestep the whole social morass of lettuce parcel construction. 🙂

Welcome back BBQ Season, we have all missed you terribly!

Bulgogi (Korean BBQ) with Ssamjang Coleslaw

Bulgogi (Korean BBQ) with Ssamjang Coleslaw

Ingredients

  • 500 grams/ 1 pound beef, thinly sliced
  • 250 grams/ 1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2.5 ml/ 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely crushed
  • 10 grams/ 1/4 cup spring onions (scallions), sliced
  • 1 small pear, de seeded & diced
  • 75 ml/ 5 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 30 ml/ 2 Tablespoons ginger, minced

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl place the beef, mushrooms, sesame seeds & spring onions (scallions).
  2. In a blender or a container for a stick blender place pear, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger & garlic.
  3. Blend until smooth and pour over the contents of the bowl. Mix to combine, cover and refrigerator for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
  4. To cook: heat a large skillet or a BBQ with a vegetable basket until very hot with a small amount of vegetable oil. Working in small batches, add the meat and mushroom mixture to pan allowing to cook for 2-3 minutes before turning and 2-3 minutes more on the second side.
  5. Transfer cooked Bulgogi to a large bowl or platter before adding the next batch to pan.
  6. Repeat in small batches until complete.
  7. Serve with Ssamjang, fresh vegetable and rice.
  8. (Can also be served in a tortilla wrap with my ssamjang coleslaw).
  9. Enjoy!
http://albaliving.com/2015/08/bulgogi-korean-beef-bbq/

Cobb Portable BBQ

Cobb Portable BBQ

It’s cold, it’s dark and it’s January…let’s talk BBQ!

The BBQ you never knew existed to make your life complete.

The BBQ you never knew existed to make your life complete.

For several years now I have been in hot pursuit of grilling perfection.  From Beer Can Chicken to BBQ Pizza to Hot Smoked Salmon, and just about everything in between I have tried gas, charcoal, stove top, electric on just about every kind of device out known to grill-kind.  Each had their strengths and weakness but none met my particular needs.

May I happily introduce you to the Cobb Kitchen in a Bag, all-singing and all-dancing best BBQ for yours truly!  Not only is this just ridiculously marvellous in a multitude of ways, it properly hits the ONE mark that not of my other options did in that it is fully portable!

All the bits to the 'Kitchen in a Bag'

All the bits to the ‘Kitchen in a Bag

It comes all packed together and has well-designed, durable options (some non-stick) for cooking that allows you to make steaks, stews, pancakes, stir frys, bread and even slow roasts all in the this one package!  And did I mention all of these babies can be popped into the dishwasher?! (The design of the bag might drive me to drink, but I am already hard at work on a bespoke replacement.)

One Grill to Rule Them All & to the Dump Consign Them!

One Grill to Rule Them All & to the Dump Consign Them!

So, after my usual OCD levels of research and testing, I can happily say that all of my previous outdoor cooking options are going to the wanted pages or the dump in my spring clean up – really, it is that good.

Gone are the singed arm hair explosions of the gas grill, gone is the routine grease and spider maintenance of the charcoal Weber, gone are the hours of dropping of hot ash from the wee kettle grill, and gone is the super smoky and likely toxic quick-lite packs for my camping BBQ that the moment the coals were grey, didn’t even stay hot enough to heat a hot dog all the way through.  Happy days!

The Wondrous Cobblestone

The Wondrous Cobblestone

Of the many aspects that makes this system so great is the fuel source.  This is called a cobblestone and it is a compressed disk made from recycled coconut husks, impregnated with quick burning paraffin-free lighter fluid, and comes complete with vent holes for even burning.  This bad boy can be easily lit in a windy outdoor setting, smoke for and be ready for use in just two brief minutes, AND stay hot for up to two hours. (Do I hear a round of applause people?)

The cobblestone in its handy basket

The cobblestone in its handy basket

 

It sits in its little basket that is then placed in the stay cool base (more on that later) allowing you to boil water, make chilli and cook burgers all without ever having to reload or shift your heat source.  In one fell swoop you have the speed and consistency of a gas grill with the real smoke-kissed taste of charcoal.  It is also very quick and easy to extinguish.

Basic plate for high heat searing

Basic plate for high heat searing

Another beyond fabby design component is the stay cool base.  The fuel source sits in a moulded insert that has a complete bottom  and a moat which can hold liquid for steaming, can catch the run off fats from cooking or can hold and cook root veggies.  There are vent holes that draw air in through the screen base and direct the flow to the cobblestone but keep the liquid and the ash separate from each other and contained in the base.

This means that if you find yourself on the beach cooking away and the tide comes in, simply pick up your Cobb and walk to to a new location.  You can also use this on a boat, dock or tabletop without fear of singeing whatever may be underneath, but the more likely scenario for me is dashing for cover from a sudden rain shower!

Configuration for stir fry, stews or pad thai

Configuration for stir fry, stews or pad thai

There is also an extender ring that simply lifts your cooking surface away from the heat source so you can simmer as opposed to scorch your stews.

The stacked configuration for pancakes & cookies

The stacked configuration for pancakes & cookies

This is how you would likely stack the bits if you wanted to make pancakes or cookies.  Once the dome lid is placed on top it becomes a groovy convection oven. I should have paid a bit more attention to this option on my maiden voyage of using my Cobb outdoors but hey, live and learn.

Muirs go to Skye

Muirs go to Skye

The Cobb arrived just in time for our October holidays, when every year we pack up the car and head to the Isle of Skye to enjoy the general awesome gorgeousness of the place.

sb 03 400

Aside from stunning landscapes, great food, culture and wildlife, the other main draw of Skye for my kooky bunch is its famed fossil-rich shores.  No, really.

So, as we head to the outskirts of Staffin (Google it, I dare ‘ya) down a long isolated road we reach our day’s destination.

Staffin beach famous for Magladon fossils

Staffin beach famous for Megalodon fossils

A magnificent rocky coast line that has produced some of the best Megalodon fossils in Britain (haud me back)! Perhaps now you can begin to appreciate my obsession with having a cup of tea and a hot meal that I can whip in literally any location or weather.

Cobb goes to Staffin

Cobb goes to Staffin

Anyway, as always the landscape was breath-taking in the clear October sunshine and while the erstwhile fossil hunters and rock pool inspectors set about their business, I could get cracking.

The basic set up with non-stick surface.

The basic set up with non-stick surface.

I wasn’t 100% sure my BBQ would arrive before we left for our trip, so I just went to the market and picked up some ready-made burgers and chicken breast.  Everything was easy to transport, the fuel lit quickly and only smoked for a minute or so as advertised, and I could get cooking with the basic grill plate straight away.  This plate is the one that comes with all the models and has grooves to drain the fat away and to stop flare ups from bit dripping on the coals.

Having swithered about this model or a larger option I was also pleasantly surprised at how much cooking area there actually was on this thing.  I could have easily made 6-8 decent sized burgers at once.

£3 Ikea tools from the kids department

£3 Ikea tools from the kids department

There was an option to buy a set of non-stick mini BBQ utensils from the Cobb website for £35 but as I frequent Ikea way too often I was aware of a complete set of perfectly workable child-sized bundle of tongs, spatula, ladle, whisk and pasta spoon for £3.  I bought these instead which worked fabulously and I can keep in the grill when not in use.

Spare racks come in handy

Spare racks come in handy

Another rookie choice was to bring the entire Kitchen in Bag with me instead of thinking what I just needed, but in the end several of the other racks and plates came in handy anyway.

Fossil hunter's picnic perfection.

Fossil hunter’s picnic perfection.

We were all very happy with the ease, speed and most importantly the flavour of how the Cobb performed on its trial run.  So, I decided to push my luck and maybe show off a bit.

The secret finale

The secret finale

Having read all about the versatility of the BBQ I had secretly packed a chocolate chip cook mix. Seriously, how many fossil hunters have had hot chocolate chip cookies made for them? But hey, that’s just how we roll.

70s Poncho-mama insta-mixing with love.

70s Poncho-mama insta-mixing with love.

I was trying to give the kids a chance to help in the home-made (open a packet and just add water) project, and I was so pleased with my Mama planning skills.  With just a water bottle and a plastic spoon and a spritz of spray oil to the non-stick plate we loaded the cookies up, replaced the lid and waited just 4-6 minutes to flip.

Did I mention how hot it gets?

Did I mention how hot it gets?

Which is when we discovered that they had burnt to a crisp!  It had been easily over an hour since I had lit the coal and it was still hot enough to do this in 5 minutes.  Well, that and the fact I should have put a few stacker plates in between…next time.

Spatchcock chicken to go

Spatchcock chicken to go

A night or two later we had great luck again as we made a spatchcock chicken with roast potatoes (in the moat beneath) and grilled asparagus.

Spooky camp fire stories

Spooky camp fire stories

And the best part was that after we finished our meal we could gather sticks from the beach for wee camp fire for s’mores and spooky stories.

Guess the Prezzie...

Guess the Prezzie…

I was so pleased that I added lots of extra bits to my Christmas list to even further my outdoor cooking enjoyment. Can you guess what one of my favourite gifts pictured here might be?

Santa's Gourmet Prepper :)

Santa’s Gourmet Prepper 🙂

Why, a collapsible silicon kettle of course, to go with the ultimate camping pot complete with clamping lid!

Well, that is just about everything you could ever want to know about my new BBQ.  But when you live in a country with beautiful landscape, a family with a thirst for outdoor adventure and changeable (often pretty chilly) weather, I hope you can share in what a momentous discovery this has been for me.

Maybe a post with sledding, hot cocoa and beef stew might even be arriving soon?

Stay warm!

Saffron Scones with Lime Cream

Saffron Scones with Lime Cream

Whoop, whoop…Swedish Linn of Cardamom Buns fame is back in the house!  This time she is here to share a fantastic contemporary treat inspired by a Swedish Christmas classic. This recipe comes from chef Cecilia Vikbladh from her book Cecilias Fikastunder, which roughly translates to ‘Cecilias Coffee Brakes’ but it actually means much more.

The partaking of ‘fika’ is an institution in Swedish social life and a core concept in their hospitality – which they take seriously and deliciously. ( I personally have a theory that the more extreme your climate the higher the priority hospitality plays in your culture – just saying.) It can be as simple as a coffee break at work, but it is more often a social gathering usually associated with some baked sweet treats.  It holds a similar place in Swedish society as a High Tea would in British, but is much more frequent in occurrence.   However, If you invite someone to your home for fika, be sure to serve a minimum of at least three different goodies so as not to offend your guest.  Linn puts even that to shame as she thinks a proper fika, particularly when hosted between Christmas and New Year, should have at least SEVEN different baked goods with flavours including saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, nuts and dried fruit.  As I said, serious and delicious business is this fika hospitality!

cecilias-fikastunder-3790075_new

Unfortunately, the source of these wonderful treats is not available in English as far as I could find, so we will have to rely on Linn and the other Swedish speakers in my life to share these and other glories!

I first encountered these golden-hued delicacies at a friend of Linn’s named Jenny Foley, who is also from Sweden.  As there was lots of chat going on I wasn’t entirely paying attention to what I was eating.   As the first bite of saffron hit my palate, only to be chased with a tart ever-so-slightly sweet cream, my head began to spin.  In term of taste reference,  up to that moment my taste buds had always associated saffron with seafood!  As far as I knew saffron was the flavour of bouillabaisse, paella and spiced garlicky aioli to accompany shrimp.  But not to the Swedish, to them the taste of saffron transports them straight to Christmas time, especially in traditional St Lucia Buns that feature on the 13th of December.  So after a quick re-calibration of the idione-like medicinal undertones shifting from savoury to sweet, I was in heaven!

So why is saffron associated with Christmas time in Sweden?  Whilst saffron was available throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, it was so horrendously expensive (as it still is today), that it was only used sparingly at very special occasions such as Christmas.  St Lucia Day became popular in Sweden after the reformation as the rise of Protestantism moved what had been the Christmas or Yule celebrations to the 13th of December, which was believed to be the Winter Solstice in the old calendar.  The celebration focuses on St Lucy who is represented by a young girl bearing lights and sweets. While the holiday is nominally saint-based, it is believed to incorporate many elements of  pre-christian mid-winter and Yule celebrations.  The modern interpretation of St Lucia Day is over 200 years old and is held very dear to Swedes all over the world.  Christmas is also a very big deal once again so December is one yummy party in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia.  Whichever you are celebrating, get ready to break out the saffron.

The technique for making these scones is a bit different from the basic scone method in both British and American baking, so once again I went overboard in my pictures.  It is quite straight forward once the different steps are explained, but I don’t think it would be very intuitive, so here we go…

As seems the norm in Linn’s baking, start by pre-heating the oven to 220 c/ 430 F/ or in general a really hot oven.

1. saffron scone

In a mortar and pestle place 1 Tablespoon of sugar and add your saffron threads or powder.  Apparently most saffron in Scandinavia is sold as powder, so you really are just using the sugar to help break it down a bit more to help to infuse the whole scone.

saffron sugar copy

The image on the left is what you start out with and the image on the right is what you are aiming to achieve.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle just put the sugar and saffron in a bowl and grind with a smaller bowl on top.

Saffron Milk

Next warm your 200 ml / 4/5 cup of milk gently until is it just warm to the touch.  Add your pulverized saffron sugar, mix and remove from the heat to cool completely.

5. Saffron Scones

In a large bowl mix your flour, salt and baking powder and stir or sift to combine.

Saffron Butter

Weight out and cube 75 g of super chilled butter and rub it into the dry mixture, leaving small little seed-sized  lumps.

Eggy Mix

Now, once your milk & saffron mix has cooled completely, crack a medium egg into the mix and whisk to combine.  Bring the mix over to your bowl of dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Dough The mix will turn this fantastic yellow ochre colour from the saffron and smell just heavenly.  It is really quite a wet mix, but turn it out onto a floured surface and just bring it together incorporating a little flour at a time until it just comes together as a workable dough.  Be gentle and work quickly as you don’t want to overwork the dough or melt those little bits of butter that it help it to rise in the oven.Shaping Scones

Add a bit more flour to your work surface and roll out the dough to about 3/4″ or 20 mm thickness.  Cut into whatever shape might sing to you and place on a baking sheet lined with oven proof paper.

Toppings

Now you are in the home stretch, so simply brush your cut out scones with milk and top with a generous pile of sliced hazelnuts and demerara sugar for extra post-baking sparkle and crunch.  Place into the super hot oven (which was too messy to photograph) for approximately 12 minutes.

Sweet Lime

Those 12 minutes should provide ample time to whip up this lime cream which is positively sublime (get it ?!), that is sure to become a fast favourite for all sorts of culinary needs.  I am already eyeing it up for a smoked salmon bagel canape with my pickled fennel, mmmmmmm.  Anyway, simply place a small tub of softened cream cheese into a bowl, add the zest of 1 lime and 2 Tablespoons of icing/powdered sugar.  Add the juice of half a lime and stir to combine.  It should become a super thick cream and not be too runny, so only add the juice from the other half of if you think it can take it.

19. Saffron Scones

Serve the warm wonderful scones with the chilled lime cream – don’t forget the coffee like I did – and transport yourself to a cool, hip Swedish fika.  The flavour combination will seem unexpected and exotic at first, but will quickly unite into a new classic for sure.

A big thank you to Linn, Jenny and of course Cecelia Vikbladh, who may have single-handedly inspired me to start learning Swedish!

Enjoy!

 

Saffron Scones with Lime Cream

Saffron Scones with Lime Cream

Ingredients

    For Scones:
  • Saffron - 1 teaspoon/ .5 gram
  • Sugar (Regular) - 1 Tablespoon/ 15 ml
  • Milk - 4/5 cup / 200 ml
  • Egg - 1 medium
  • Flour (Plain or All Purpose) - 2 cups/ 500 ml
  • Salt - 1/2 teaspoon/ 2 ml
  • Baking Powder - 2 teaspoons/ 10 ml
  • Butter - 75 grams/ 5 1/2 Tablespoons VERY COLD
  • Sliced Hazelnuts - for garnish
  • Demerara or Turbinado Sugar - for garnish
  • For Lime Cream:
  • 200 grams/ 1/4 lb or 1 small tub of soft cream cheese (Philadelphia).
  • Zest & juice of 1 small lime
  • Icing Sugar (Powdered Sugar) - 2 Tablespoons

Instructions

    To Prepare the Scones
  1. Preheat an oven to 225 c/ 430 F/ Gas Mark 7/ Very Hot
  2. Place 1 TB of regular sugar and saffron into mortar & pestle (or small bowl), grind to combine.
  3. Warm the milk in a pan until just warm (about 70 C/ 158 F).
  4. Add saffron & sugar mix, stir and leave to cool.
  5. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder & salt.
  6. Cube up the cold butter and combine with dry ingredients .
  7. Add 1 egg into the cooled saffron & milk mixture. Whisk to combine
  8. Add the whisked milk mix into the dry mix, stir to combine. (Mix will be quite wet)
  9. Turn scone mixture onto a floured surface & knead gently until it comes together in a workable dough.
  10. Gently roll out to roughly 3/4"/ 20 mm/ 2 cm thickness and cut with cutter of your own choice.
  11. Place onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper/ wax paper/ baking parchment,
  12. Brush scones with milk and top with sliced hazelnuts and Demerara sugar.
  13. Place scones into the hot oven and bake for approximately 12 minutes.
  14. For the Lime Cream
  15. In a medium bowl add 1 small tub of soft cream cheese
  16. Add 2 Tablespoons of icing/powdered sugar.
  17. Add zest 1 lime and juice if 1/2 - 1 small lime.
  18. Stir to combine - mix should be consistency of very thick cream, not too runny.
  19. Enjoy!
http://albaliving.com/2013/11/saffron-scones-with-lime-cream/

Banana Muffin Breakthrough!

Banana Muffin Breakthrough!

First things first, I HATE baking.  Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate baked goods per say,  just any personal involvement in the act of baking.  Here is my beef with the whole thing: I can not stand how baking requires you to dirty multiple bowls, utensils, instruments & pans to generate an expensive and labour-intensive item that you feel guilty about eating anyway.  Sure they are tasty and pretty to look at, buy I would so much rather disgrace myself with an antipasto platter than a passion fruit pavlova (or apple pie depending where you are from).

However, faced with a surplus of seriously rotten bananas (and some fairly old milk) I was forced to devise a few sneaky techniques that may just help overcome my baking aversion.  It is early days yet but I am already leafing through some long-lost baking recipes that may – if able to be adapted – see the light of day in this household. (Particularly since if my kids don’t see them at home, they are highly unlikely to ever encounter such delicacies as Snickerdoodles or Boston Cream Pie in Scotland.)

rotten bananas

So, returning to the rotten bananas that required my attention.  I had a real dilemma as not only as I am averse to  wasting food, but I am also in possession of probably the best Banana Bread Recipe known to human-kind…known in our house as Laura Is Bananas Bread (Laura’s for short) after my sister who made this endlessly in our youth.

toolsl & tricks

Now, in my youth Banana Bread was always..bread, as in baked in a loaf pan.  It took a month of Sundays to cook and absolutely required the full treatment of greasing & flouring the tin (plus extending cooling on its side whilst still in pan ?) if you had any hope of averting disaster in the unmoulding process.  So, here are my tweaks & tricks: 1) remake as muffin for faster cooking time, easier clean up & portion control, 2)  do away with anything electrical for general bother and noise pollution, 3) only use ONE bowl & 4) optional use of hand-held sieve & ice cream scoop to speed things up ( but it can all be accomplished without these last two bits).

I need to take just a second to apologise for the dramatic decrease in photo quality for the images in this post.  A few nights ago I was out trying to photograph the annual Beltane Celebration in Edinburgh and dropped the lens to my snazzy camera.  It was cold, dark, hilly & crowded and I had to contend with a whole lot of this…

beltane

so you can see I was not just being careless with my things!  Fret not, a replacement part is in the post and future images will be more delectable I assure you.

Back to our streamlined baking.  As previously stated it is crucial to anyone feeling skittish toward baking that you only use ONE bowl for the project.  Get a big one and fling softened butter, sugar, bananas & vanilla together.  Smoosh, fold and mix until thoroughly combined.  If this takes more than 30 seconds or requires any real exertion the butter is just not soft enough, so you need to put the spoon down and go have a cup of coffee.

Wet mix combo


Now you just need to add two eggs and a half a cup of milk that is either sour & chunky because you are a bad housekeeper, or because you have added a wee glug of vinegar to curdle.  This is important to the overall flavour and texture so don’t skip this step!

Dry Ingredients

Now here is where  my serious lazy bones ingenuity kicks in, avoid using a second bowl by laying out a large piece of wax/greaseproof paper to save having to clean up either a bowl or your counter top.  Whack all the dry ingredients in the sieve together and shuggle until fine.  Pick up the whole piece of paper and happily dump it into the bowl with the wet ingredients.

cups & cleanup

Avoid even MORE prep and clean up by using paper baking cases in a muffin tin, and for the truly lazy use a self-cleaning ice cream scoop for speed and even portions.  Now you can see the bowl on the far right is all you have to clean up for the whole of the baking process! ( All three pieces can easily go into the dishwasher if you were so inclined.)  Additionally, if you are careful filling the muffin tins a simple wipe with a damp cloth post baking and they are cupboard ready friends.

Banana Muffin

And it has to be said, these really are absolutely delicious.  They are good on their own, topped, they freeze well and basically just rock.  In fact, at last count THREE separate people I have shared this recipe with,  turned around and started selling it as their own!  They however did not have to chance to benefit from this new aerodynamic strategy, so you will have one up on them:).  So the next time you have rotten bananas, curdled milk and very little time,  just remember something delicious could be right around the corner.

Happy Bank Holiday Weekend, Cinco de Mayo or Generic Sunday wherever you may call home!

Laura's Banana Muffins

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (175 g ) Unsalted Butter, Softened
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g ) Sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (apprx 3 medium) Bananas, mashed (Best Rotten)
  • 2 medium Eggs
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) Milk (Best Soured)
  • 2 cups (500 g ) Flour All Purpose/Plain
  • 3/4 tsp (4 ml) Salt
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) Baking Soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/ 180 C
  2. In a large bowl place butter, sugar, bananas, eggs & vanilla.
  3. Mash and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
  4. Curdle 1/2 cup of milk with a teaspoon of vinegar & add to wet mix.
  5. Place a large piece of wax/greaseproof paper on the counter top.
  6. In a large sieve place flour, salt & baking soda and sift onto wax/greaseproof paper.
  7. Mix dry ingredients into the wet mixture in bowl - mix thoroughly.
  8. Place paper cases into a baking tray and fill each no more than 3/4 of way to top.
  9. Bake for 18-22 minutes until golden brown in top and a toothpick comes clean from muffins.
  10. Cool on a rack.
  11. Once cooled can be frozen and thawed for easy snacking.
http://albaliving.com/2013/05/banana-muffin-breakthrough/

The Beauty of Brisket

The Beauty of Brisket

I owe the lovely owner of this next shop a huge apology for my tardiness in posting this blog, but it is still tres au courant given recent events.

As I am a relatively superstitious person, part of my New Year’s preparation is to make sure everything in the house is fresh and clean by the time the bells ring (or the ball drops depending on where you are).  Part of my preparation involved dropping my big ‘ole duvet off at Aulde Sox my local laundromat.  As luck would have it, due to my always snazzy parking I finally found myself right outside this establishment, which I took to be the rumoured ‘really good butcher’ not far from my home.

T. Johnston Store Front – Abbey View

One of the many cultural impasses that you can encounter when living in a new country is that the cuts of meat are often very different, not just in name but in preparation.  I have really been hankering for some BBQ Beef Brisket and for years have been unsuccessful in getting decent information from any of my Edinburgh-based or local supermarket butchers as to the availability of that cut.

 

So, I entered the shop…bright, clean, fresh…so far, so good. I could spy the butcher/owner but as always I was a little nervous, not only to ask my eternally annoying question but also as I am always a little unsure how a honking American accent will be greeted in new circumstances such as the present one.

Well, happy days prevailed as the butcher, Derek O’Niell was not only lovely but a  fan of the Food Network, Man v Food and The Barefoot Contessa in particular, and he too was curious about the difference in the cuts of meat!

(Please appreciate that this next bit happened wayyyyy before the current horse meat scandal (like last year) so this next bit was all just business as usual.)

Derek and I chatted about the importance of animal welfare and traceability to the overall quality of meats, and he was even able to show me a picture of all the local farmers who raised the beef that he carried in the shop. Just to bring the point home these were not  just Scottish farmers, these were the specific farmers in a 10 mile radius to me in Dunfermline that supplied his shop.

And not only did he know each farmer, each piece of meat that comes into his shop is tagged with these babies, that specify the date, farm and animal that you are purchasing.  Now THAT is the way is should be done folks. Of course beef is not the only product that Derek carries but everything in the shop has a great pedigree of quality – and the sausage rolls which are made on site won best in Scotland 2010!  http://www.craftbutchers.co.uk/index.php?ID=144

Vegetarians look away now because it all gets quite meat-tastick for the next few shots.  

So, on to the brisket.  Derek said he had a fresh ‘delivery’ and that he could show me and would prepare a brisket for me.  Now, I am not sure what I was expecting, but I was most definitely NOT expecting him to pop into the fridge and emerge with a quarter of a cow!

I was so stunned I don’t even think I realised how far I was pushing my luck to ask him to pause for a little longer holding a huge, freezing carcass…so that I could get a nice snap. 🙂

I finally got out of his way so he could heave this beast onto his bench and reveal the exact location to what in Britain is known as brisket.  That would be the lovely tear-drop shaped muscle between the leg and the ribs.

In a few deft movements that took just second he removed the brisket and trimmed it of all remaining fat.

For reasons neither of us could readily explain, brisket is always sold rolled up and served Pot Roast Style as in this recipes that I pinched from the BBC website. (Please cut me a bit of slack on the original recipes as of late, but I am a) stuck at home with Scarlet Fevered children and b) deep in development trails for my future cookbook.)

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3139/potroasted-brisket-in-beer-with-parsnips-and-mushr

I of course had to satiate my BBQ brisket craving which was so very appreciated thanks to my local butcher Derek O’Neill at T. Johnston Butchers in Abbey View. Happy Happy Days.

(I made this just before heading out to my weekly support meeting of   “I Make Too Much Brown Food”, really –  hurry up Spring!)

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/busy-day-barbeque-brisket/

If you choose to eat meat you really should make every effort to support your local farmers, butchers, fishmongers, etc, and if you need any more reason to do so,  the recent horse meat extravagant should be enough to convince you. Just to be clear, the issue is not the origin of the animal but if suppliers and processors can’t be bothered to make they are even working with the proper animal for their food, you can pretty much toss notions of standards of safety and handling out the window as well.

So everybody, get out there and give your custom to your local food purveyors and know that you are doing you part in helping to ensure the safety and quality of your diet.  For you local folks get yourself over to T. Johnston’s Butchers either in Abbey View or on the High Street in Dunfermline, or do a search for local butchers in your area.

It is nice to have confidence in the quality and safety of  what you feed your family. Happy Monday!

T. Johnston – Abbey View

 

 

 

 

Old Skool Xmas 2012 - The Wonderbag

Old Skool Xmas 2012 – The Wonderbag

Well contrary to popular belief, apparently I was very good this past year! I have been itching to share my excitement over the lovely things Santa brought me this year and have finally found a quiet moment to do so, so sit back & relax as this is sooooo cool!

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From left to right let me introduce you to the super exciting Wonderbag, a new 9 cup (Stovetop) Espresso Maker, and my 5 Level Food Dehydrator with adjustable temperature controls. Can you tell I might have made my Christmas list during Hurricane Sandy when many of my nearest and dearest were without power for up to 10 days?  For the sake of brevity (my signature strength) I am only going to focus on The Wonderbag in this post, but fret not as subsequent adventures of espresso on the BBQ and home-made jerky will follow soon.

Now, onto the Wonderbag.

Metro Article

I first heard about this marvel just about a year ago when my husband brought this article home from his commute (he’s good like that).  This write up told the story of very enterprising woman based in South Africa named Sarah Collins, who after experiencing a frustrating round of power cuts and subsequent half-cooked meals in 2007 remembered her grandmother packing cushions around her pots to keep them hot.  She tried it, it worked and once she partnered up with friend and poverty activist Moshy Mathe in 2008, *SHAZAM* the Wonderbag was born.  At the time of my reading the article these were not yet available in the UK (as it is now) but my interest had been piqued.

Wonderbag

The Wonderbag itself is basically a super-insulated bean bag that acts as a slow cooker.  You cook your stew, curry, casserole, chowder or pasta bake up to a boiling temperature for anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes depending on the dish, you remove it from the heat, cover securely and place it in the bag with its hat and pull the drawstring tight.  The food will continue its cooking and stay hot for up to 12 hours without any additional energy,  allowing you to create deeply flavoured, healthy meals that are flat-out impossible to burn!

instructions

Not only is this just great kit but depending where you are in the world (such as Africa), it can help reduce the average family’s fuel consumption by up to 30%, which is not nothing when you consider many families need to spend up to a third of their income on fuel.  Worst still the fuel available to those same families is often in the form of paraffin, wood or dung which may require huge amounts of time to gather and often forces them into places that are not so safe.  When burned these fuel sources can produce nasty toxins in the home for all to breathe.  The Wonderbag actually works on the same principle as burying a pot in the ground as humans have done for thousands of years (think cowboy baked beans &  New England clambakes but with portability) and in more modern usage in the ‘hay boxes’ in Britain during WWII.

According to Oliver Thring writing in the Guardian newspaper, “Collins calculates that a family of four using the Wonderbag two or three times a week will save $80 a year on fuel. (Zimbabwe, for example, has a GDP per capita of $471.)”.  For every Wonderbag purchased in the UK, another is donated to a family in Africa, so the £30 price tag doesn’t sting so much. They retail for about £14 or $22 in South Africa or at a reduced price (or even free) for those in need.

The company founded by Collins is called Natural Balance and in 2011 it presented the Wonderbag to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.  After impressing the likes of Ban Ki-Moon and Microsoft, the product was picked up by global distributor Unilever.  The Wonderbag is now in over 150,000 homes in South Africa, has created over 8,000 jobs and Unilever has placed an order for over 5 million more bags to begin world-wide distribution. Not too shabby, eh?

I have left a few messages and emails as to when this will be available in the States & Canada and will post the information accordingly. The Wonderbag website is here http://nb-wonderbag.com/ if you want to check it out.

Wonderbag with pot

Right then, that is the Eco bit – let’s get down to how super cool this can be for absolutely everybody, not just those experiencing fuel poverty.  Now, I have been loving my slow cooker for the past several years, but it does indeed have a few drawbacks.  Firstly, I am not entirely keen on leaving it plugged in overnight or when I am not at home for great lengths of time (I am a Nervous Nelly I can’t help it).  Also, I do not have a massively spacious kitchen where power outlets and counter space can accommodate 6 litres of simmering hot stuff for extended periods, and finally I have had some experiences with larger stews that can burn on the bottom imparting a bitter taste if it gets mixed into the dish.  I have also found that conventional slow cookers are not terribly flexible as to the amount of  food you would like to cook, so you are kind of stuck with very large or very small amounts depending on your unit.

The Wonderbag solves all these issues in a one go as demonstrated by my Cuban Black Bean Chili.  (It is really Black Bean Soup but I renamed it for my British friends for whom it makes more sense to call it “Chili”.)  On Christmas Night I put a 500 g (1 pound) packet of dried black beans in a pot with a few bay leaves tucked in, covered with water and brought it to a boil for about 5 minutes and reduced to a simmer for 5 minutes more.  I removed it from the stovetop and packed it into its bag.  Now, here it where it gets good…

Resting

I could stick it in an entirely different room, away from harm’s (and turkey sandwiches’) way and leave it fire-hazard-free all night!  And it did just what it said it would, 12 hours later it was still hot and the beans had soaked up to perfection.  I removed the pot from the bag, sautéed up some veggies, spices and a garlic sausage that I dumped into the pot – brought it all back up to the boil for 5 minutes and simmer for 15 – back in the Wonderbag until we felt like eating our a wonderful post-Christmas lunch!  I have included the recipe below which can be made with canned/tinned beans but there is a difference in the overall flavour when they are soaked warm overnight.  Apologies for the over exposure of this image, but it is hard to make black bean look yummy at the best of times – but trust me it tastes divine.

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This is the obvious way to use this bag, but think of heading out for a long car ride to a holiday or ski home.  After several hours you reach your destination in the dark, cold & tired – but clever you stuck a big pot of Beef Stew, Veggie Chili or even Mac & Cheese into your Wonderbag before heading out and now have a hot home cooked meal upon arrival instead of a rubbish takeout!  What about hot pulled pork sandwiches at the soccer game or ice rink and just think about what you could do at a tailgate!  It is also great for camping or fishing trips and since it can keep food cold as well as hot it would be fabulous for big summer salads for picnics, reunions or a trip to the beach (without getting waterlogged in a regular cooler and/or squashed by your drinks).

My next trial is to pour some hot milk over oatmeal with maybe some cinnamon & raisins as I hear you can wake up to perfect oatmeal every time even on a school day – will let you know.

wonder bag cookbook

The Wonderbag comes with a handy little cookbook to get you started which included roasted meats (once seared) and even some sweet dessert recipes.  However,  when I was first getting started in slow cooking I had great luck with this next baby.  The reason being I wanted to be THOROUGHLY convinced of the science and safety of slow cooking and also of how to adapt many of my favourite recipes to the slow cooking process.  This book provided all and has become a fast favourite.

Slow Cookers for Dummies

The one single negative I have come across about the Wonderbag is that some reviewers are quite sniffy that it currently uses recycled, but non-biodegradable polystyrene (Styrofoam) beans as the insulator, even though they are working to develop a biodegradable polyurethane.  My thoughts are, “Hey, we just had Christmas and if any of that polystyrene that is still heavily employed in packing can stay out of the ground as landfill and be put to work as an Eco Cooker and reduced carbon emission – rock on babe”.

And finally, I wish you could all have seen the look on my Scottish Mother-in-Law’s face when I unveiled each of these Santa treats, but then again she did give me a live plum tree for my Christmas and even snuck into my yard with her gardener to plant it, so maybe she’s getting a kick out of all this as well. 🙂

Wishing Everybody a Happy & Healthy ( & Reduced Emissions) New Year!

Cuban Black Bean Chili

Ingredients

  • 500 g dried black beans soaked overnight OR 3 cans/tins ready made black beans with liquid.
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large mild pepper, red or green is fine
  • 2 stalks celery,
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 can/tin of chopped tomatos
  • 2 cubes of beef boullion dissolved in 1/4 cup water or Brewers Yeast if veggie
  • 1/3 cup (or one big glug) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup or 50 mls of jarred/tinned jalapeño peppers with some liquid, chopped
  • 250 - 300 grams or half a pound of cooked smoked ham, or smoked pork sausage, diced.

Instructions

  1. - If soaking the beans from dry, put them in a large lidded pot with a few bay leaves tucked in the beans. Cover with water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes and simmer for 5 more minutes. Cover and turn off heat for 2 - 10 hours OR if using the Wonderbag, cover, remove from heat and place in bag for 4+ hours but 10 hours or overnight is best. (If using an electric slow cooker please follow instructions for your appliance.)
  2. - In another pan sauté/ fry diced vegetables (not including beans) in a bit of oil for 3-5 minutes.
  3. - Once softened, add vegetables to the large pot with the beans.
  4. - Add remaining ingredients to the large pot, stir to combine and bring back up to the boil.
  5. - Reduce to simmer until ready to eat or place in a Wonderbag for 1- 4 hours or longer until you are ready to eat.
  6. - Garnish with grated cheese and spring onions/scallions.
  7. - Serve with rice, cornbread or simply a butter roll - Super Yum!
http://albaliving.com/2013/01/old-skool-xmas-2012-the-wonderbag/

My Fish Van Man

My Fish Van Man

We are blessed with the most ridiculous variety of world-class foods right here in my nook of the woods.  In fact, in my county of Fife alone you can get not only local farm produce and grains, but also dairy products,wild game, beef, pork, chicken and of course spectacular fish & shellfish.  So in an effort to seek these goodies out (and make you all super envious in the process), I am going to task myself with tracking down and highlighting as many local farmers, producers & mongers as possible.

To that end, let me introduce you to my fish van man George Hay.

(OK I took these pictures a wee while ago, but he still works year round.)

Thursday are great days for me because that is when my mobile fish merchant comes to town.  He arrives at your door in his kitted out  van which is actually a super snazzy mobile shop that you can conveniently step into (and out of the weather) to peruse his lovely wares.

George’s day begins at about 4.30 am (eek) when he arrives at the St. Monan’s Fish Market which is where the local boats from the East Neuk of Fife unload their catches.  By about 7:00 am, after acquiring his ridiculous fresh fish he prepares it by filleting and possibly smoking.  Once the fish is all set he packs it all on ice and prepares the van for the day travel and ready to hit the road by about 8 – 8.30 am. He travels four days a week with one office day for paperwork and follows a set schedule all around Fife.

 His customers are the general public and well as several local restaurants and hotels.  He only sells the freshest fish and can guarantee that nothing is more than 24 hours off the boat. In fact his fish is so fresh he has a “sell or return” agreement with the purveyors at the fish market that he can bring back any unsold stock that can be resold by another fish monger.  Not only is all his stock local, it is also only available is season (i.e. never frozen).

For some extra convenience he stocks farm fresh produce, eggs and sometimes baked goods.  For those of you out there that still think that hours off the farm strawberries or eggs don’t taste different that what you get in the supermarket, well…your just going to have to try it for yourself and you’ll never go back.

 While it is not the easiest job in the world (the hours alone would kill me), George loves chatting to his customers all day long.  He is a one man shop on wheels and loves the freedom and flexibility that being a mobile fishmonger affords. Even in these tough economic times he is able to personally explain to his customers if there is a price increase and likewise can adjust for any bargains to be had.  He is so committed to his business that short of being drafted to play rugby (his other passion) in New Zealand, he will be bringing fresh fish to us lucky pups in Fife for years to come.

George’s schedule is : 

Tuesday: Kinghorn & Burntisland

Wednesday: St. Andrew’s

Thurday: Dunfermline, Rosyth, Kinghorn & Burntisland

Friday: St. Andrews

and he can be contacted on 01333 311 521.   Additionally, he is happy to provide any special orders that you might have.  I can highly recommend his products and his services, and maybe fish day will be your favourite day of the week soon.

Enjoy!

 

Poutine - Canadian Comfort Food

Poutine – Canadian Comfort Food

I think I may have recovered from this trip just enough to share this journey with you.  The setting is relevant so bare with me a moment…

I was returning from the most fun family reunion ever at Mont Tremblant, about an hour north of Montreal, Canada.  As per usual, I seriously kicked up my heels during our stay and may have scarred a few nieces &  nephews as a result – hey ho.  So on this, our day to return to Boston to board a flight back to Scotland (via Ireland) we were facing a 7 hour car ride…with two small children,  a 20-something year old nephew who strongly advocates a survivalist lifestyle, and three very tired adults – at least one (me) with a whopping hangover.

As we prepared to leave the hotel just after 11:30 am, after lots of packing & tearful goodbyes, we jumped into the car, only to be cut off by a rogue driver on our way out of the underground garage.  At which point we promptly smashed into the wall of the garage…in a rental car. (I wasn’t driving if you were wondering).  Well, we like to think of ourselves as being made of tough stuff, so we assessed the damage, took a deep breath and even though rattled were on our way.

As you do when you are a tired parent facing a long ride in a freshly dented car, we bribed our children with lunch at McDonald’s if they could just behave until we had driven past Montreal in about an hour’s time.  And it was just about there that we stopped cold…for well over an hour…with every sign in French, looking like this.

And we were stuck behind this guy… freaking fabulous.

As it was closer to 2.45 pm when we finally started to move again (remember we still have at least 6 more hours in the car from this locale), we found ourselves slightly lost in the suddenly very rural Quebec.  No McDonald’s was presenting itself to our now very, very hungry and increasingly agitated small children.

In desperation we took the first exit that we were able and began randomly seeking out any place that we could quickly and easily eat and get back on our way.  And that it when things began to greatly improve.

Even though we drove past it at first, the group was drawn to the intriguing outdoor décor and all thoughts of McDonalds happily vanished. And so we entered La Belle Province – Retro d’Iberville and our visit quickly became a Quebecois version of Diners, Drive Ins & Dives.

It was as snazzy on the inside as it was on the out and it was clear that quite a lot of effort had been made to create a fun, retro space replete with lots of shiny chrome details.

But the magic of this adventure lay with these guys.  As our rag-tag fleet approached the counter they were ridiculously warm & welcoming.  Listening to my very Scottish sounding kids and husband try to order Fish & Chips from French Canadian speakers was very entertaining to all involved.  While I neglected to get the proper names of  the lovely woman and the tall guy, I can tell you the middle guy was named Campbell…but he didn’t speak any English so the cultural connection was a bit lost.  And while my group happily ordered the standard fried fish & burgers, I had my prize in sight.  I was finally going to sample the mythic and up until now elusive – POUTINE!

Poutine is the Canadian version of  what folks in Britain might call “Chips, Cheese, Gravy”, but it is very different in texture and flavour. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity as I was about to cross over the border and leave the first of  four countries I had to venture through in the next 48 hours.  Now my only choice was Reguliere or Italienne – presumable with Bolognese-type sauce atop.  I opted to keep my first experience a classic, plus the Italian looked a bit too much like what would be Chili – Cheese Fries in the States of which I have had dubious experiences.

And here is how my trophy appeared upon its arrival!  Hot, crispy fries piled high with fresh cheese curds and a rich beef gravy with strong accents of pepper and lemon.  The signature element is the mild, fresh cheese curds (cheddar I was told) that make an unexpected but not unpleasant squeaking noise upon your teeth when eating.

OK, I realise the term “hot mess” does indeed come to mind, but this was just what my sore head and rattled nerves required.  Additionally, I actually went to university about an hour or so  south-west of this location and could well appreciate how welcome this hot, satisfying, savoury extravaganza could be to combat the shocking cold of the northern New York/ Canadian winter.  As a final bonus, it kept me full for the next  7 1/2 hours which was the actual remainder of the rest of the trip to Boston – but that’s another story.

Whilst you can get poutine just about anywhere, I just have to give a shout out to these guys who were so fun and so bemused to have a random woman come to rave about their food and take their picture.  So if you find yourself anywhere in the area, I can recommend the food, the service & the atmosphere of:

La Belle Province –  Retro D’Iberville 494, boul d’Iberville, Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, QC J2X 3Y7  450-741-7313.

In term of recipes, even a good search of the internet turns up “oil for frying potatoes and a can/tin of beef gravy” and it all seems more of an assembly job than something requiring a home-made recipe.  I would note that of course you can substitute fresh mozzarella or regular cheddar cheese for the curds, but I would opt for some halloumi, cubed fresh from the pack to replicate the rubbery & squeaky characteristics of the dish.
As an homage to my treat of hot assembled comfort food, I have devise a Poutine Escosse – a hot mound of oven fries, topped with haggis and a whisky, cream gravy…mmmmmmmmm.  
So as all of you bordering the North Atlantic are preparing to stay warm and dry as Hurricane Sandy approaches, you might want to stock up on a hot & hardy treat.
Stay Safe!
Quick update: My friend-in-law who resides in Montreal has now gently informed me that not only does La Belle Province  refer to the nickname that Quebecois refer to their region – the place where we stopped is actually a chain – so you can sample my meal just about anywhere in Quebec.  Funny how none of the employees mentioned it in my interview – oh well, just shows you what I know!
Crispy Kale Chips

Crispy Kale Chips

Now I know that these have been quite the rage amongst the healthy folk of North American in the past few years, but let me tell you a bit about the role of kale in the Scottish diet…’cuz we like own kale babe.

For a quick refresher, kale is a member of the cabbage family but is also very closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout & collard greens.  Kale is often classed according to leaf shape and size but for us of the short & curly variety we favour Scots Kale.

Kale has been a tremendously important part of the Scottish diet, and is usually served in soups or as a hot side dish.  It is also great as a salad but that is not so traditional in the cold and misty climate.  It grows best in the winter months with a good bit of frost (of which we have a-plenty) it provided an essential link between the autumn harvest and spring vegetables. It was so prevalent that the name for a kitchen garden in Scotland is the ‘kale-yard’ and the word is often synonymous with the word for food, as in ‘to be off one’s kale’.  It also lent its name to a school of writers in the early 20th century  know as the ‘kaleyard school’ which included Scottish writers such as J M Barrie of Peter Pan fame.

Kale as seen 'in the wild'

One of the celebrated ‘superfoods’ of recent health claims this lovely packs a serious punch nutritionally in essential vitamins A, B & K, whilst providing major doses minerals including iron & calcium and a whole host of anti-oxidants and cancer fighting flavonoids.  For those who want to know even more, you can check out some more benefits here http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/kale.html.

Washed & Cut Kale from Tesco 206 g

For those looking for a tasty & healthy alternative to potato chips/crisps, this is how you might find kale in your local shop.  You can just take this bag home, whack the oven to 180 C/ 350 F get a baking sheet or two and spread the leaves out.  Drizzle with a teaspoon or two of olive oil and (I have had luck with a sprinkling of soy sauce OR balsamic for a bit of extra taste) a sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and after about 20 minutes you have the crispy, yummy, dried leaves in autumn sounding pile of goodness.  Upon my first batch of making these crisps I must have been a bit low on my green & leafies as I stood over the baking trays and proceeded to polish off about a kilo of the stuff!

Big on flavour, low if fat – I like ’em, my husband likes ’em and even my picky vegetarian and dairy-free children like ’em, so they are now a staple in our household.

Hopefully this fun and easy modern twist on yet another of Scotland’s fantastic ancient staples will bring some yummy and super-nutritious nibbles to your everyday life!

 

Balsamic Bacon Chutney

Balsamic Bacon Chutney

Due to an unforeseen miracle of changing Freeview boxes I now (after 10 years mind you) get a few precious hours of the Food Network a day.  That is the good news – the bad news is that the window in which this miracle occurs is limited to between 8-10 pm so I have been watching the same two shows of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives and Cupcake Wars non-stop for a two-week span. Well, I will take what I can get.

This beauty was originally described as “Bacon Jam” sold from the Skillet Street Food, a gourmet burger van in Portland Oregon, but I tweaked it quite a bit to create the wondrous thing below. I am so pleased to introduce you my new Balsamic Bacon Chutney –  and oh heavens,  do you all need this in your life!

Tastes so good it should be bad for you…but it’s not!

Firstly, I had to rename it straight away due to the universal facial reaction of Brits when you say “Bacon Jam”.  It would be similar if you went up  to an average American and said with great enthusiasm that you were going to make a “Fish Pie” – go on and try it and see what happens…it will be fun I promise!  Then after reviewing several versions, I was not in love with the finely ground texture of most recipes and of course had to combine ALL my favourite hints of smoky, salty, sweet & spicy all in one go – and viola, bliss on a spoon.

For a final flourish I had to take it through a few test trials as to the best application of such an accompaniment.  Here is how I have had it so far:

– On a turkey burger topped with crumbled blue cheese

– On a salmon fillet as a crust

– In a turkey sandwich with sliced granny smith apples & mature cheddar cheese

– On a piece of toast topped with a poached egg

– On top of pancakes (for that bacon & syrup blast of flavour)

– And of course with cheese & biscuits/crackers

All of which I am happy to report are flaming delicious!

Now here is the best part…with the upcoming bikini season fast approaching I have been counting my Pro Points like a good girl.  A serving of this chutney – and we are talking a serious heaping TABLESPOON (22 grams) is only 1 measly point in Weight Watcher world.  That is less that 2 weensy teaspoons of low-fat mayo!  I have also made it with turkey bacon/rashers which is totally yummy as well, but be prepared to add an extra dash of maple syrup & balsamic vinegar at the end if it gets too dry.

Here is the very simple recipe for what I hope will become one of your new favourites in your condiment world.  This recipe  makes a pretty modest batch of  325 – 330 grams or a little more than half a pound (depending on how much of the cooked bacon you eat along the way).  As we have gone through 3 batches so far this week, I can recommend doubling or tripling it soon.

Please let me know of any new additions or ways in which you have found it to work for you – ENJOY!

Balsamic Bacon Chutney

Ingredients

  • 250 grams or half pound of bacon
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Maple Syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chilli flakes

Instructions

  1. Cook bacon in a large fry pan until well done, remove from pan to drain
  2. In the same pan fry the diced onion on low heat until very soft
  3. Cut up or dice cooked bacon and return to pan with onion
  4. Add sugar, vinegar & syrup and reduce for 2-3 minutes on low
  5. Add minced garlic and chilli flakes and continue to reduce until glossy chutney consistency.
  6. Cool and store in a covered jar in the fridge
  7. Chutney should keep for up to 3 weeks in fridge (ha ha will never last that long!)
http://albaliving.com/2012/04/balsamic-bacon-chutney/

 

 

 

Cardamom Rolls

Cardamom Rolls

I have a confession, I am having a food affair.  And it is all the fault of this woman; my friend Linn from Sweden.  While I am indeed totally committed to exploring and sharing Scottish ingredients and food with you, Linn’s cooking and even more so her baking is just too distractingly good – so I must widen my scope to include some of her Swedish delicacies.  Truth be told, there are loads of folks here from other countries that are cracking cooks (so this will end up quite a multi-cultural jaunt around the world), but for now let me entice you with these babies – Cardamom Rolls from Sweden.

Linn – the Swedish food seducer

Early in our friendship our mutual friend Jessica asked me if I had tasted any of Linn’s baking yet.  When I answered, “no” she grabbed my arm, shook her head and rolled her eyes heavenward.  Her mouth hung agape for a moment while she tried to gather some strength to properly communicate how important it was that I remedy this situation immediately saying , “Oh my God, you must –  you simply MUST…Linn makes cakes that the angels would eat in heaven!”.  Well, you don’t have to tell me twice.

She is also a midwife specialising in home births just to push you over the warmth and comfort edge – but don’t be fooled by her angelic looks, she is super sassy and can swear like a sailor.

Linn arrived at my house early on a Friday morning with a pretty unassuming bunch of  ingredients. Since I have had the privilege of enjoying these staples of Swedish hospitality before,  I was curious to see how the magic was going to happen.

I want to say in advance while I have clearly lost the plot in my picture taking, this is not a terribly complicated recipe.   As I am a very visual person, I appreciate seeing each stage of a new technique before undertaking it myself, so hopefully you will be inspired to do the same.  No step is terribly tricky and you can get on with other things when dough or rolls need time to rise.  The result is totally worth it I assure you!

50 grams of fresh yeast = 14 grams or 2 envelopes of dried yeast

Straight away she cracked out this slightly whiffy block of yeast.  Apparently, this is compressed live yeast and a fundamental ingredient in most Scandinavian baking.  Having only used dried yeast myself my first thought was, “holy moly that’s a lot  of yeast!”.  My fretting was for naught as 50 grams of live yeast is the equivalent of two envelopes (14 g) of fast action dried yeast.

Better yet I was able to procure this yeast cake for free at my local Tesco supermarket!  If you ask at the bakery counter they happily hand over the live yeast but limit the amount to 50 grams per person.  They explained that they are unable to sell the product, so they are required to give it away but only in small amounts, which was handy as this recipes call for 50 grams of live yeast.  After checking on the etiquette, I was assured that there are several people who come in once a week for their allotted live yeast.  You can also get in at most whole food stores or on-line from speciality websites.

Live or dried just crumble the yeast onto a large mixing bowl.

Now the best results come from activating the yeast, and this is done by heating up 100 g or 1/3 cup butter until melted.  Add 500 ml or 2 cups milk and stir to combine.  Gently heat the mix until it is warm when you stir it with your finger (please make sure your hands are clean before this act).

Now you bring the warm mixture back to your bowl of yeast and add a small amount of the liquid.

Stir to dissolve and activate the yeast.  Once completely dissolved add the rest of the warm butter and milk mixture.

Now you just add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the 100 ml or 1/2 cup sugar.  Mix to dissolve and slowly add the flour – with the mixer running if using – until all the flour has been incorporated into a dough.  Mix with enthusiasm for about 5 minutes.  The dough with begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl after about 2-3 minutes so be sure to continue for about 2 minutes after that signal.

Fling a tea towel over the bowl or mixer and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.  The shot on the right  is the glorious vision that awaits after proper rising.

Now before we go on I just have to say I had never seen dough rise covered in a mixer before, but it is quite a common sight whenever you visit Linn’s house.  Between settling the kids and preparing tea or coffee she will simultaneously tell you how between work, kids and the house she just doesn’t feel on top of anything and absent-mindedly roll, shape and bake the most exquisite tasting thing that you have ever encountered.  And I have encountered a lot of baked goods in my day.  Self depreciating humour, off colour jokes and fantastic food make Linn’s kitchen one of my all time favourite places to hang whenever I get the chance.

Whilst your dough is rising to silken loveliness, it is time to prepare your cardamom filling.  Cardamom hails from India, and while in Britain it is more often associated with curries and Pilau rice (it is the big green seed you can unexpectedly chomp into), the Scandinavian countries use the ground seed inside the pods in much of their baking.  Those Viking did get around didn’t they?

Linn had a packet of the cardamom seeds (brought back from Sweden) that were ready to be crushed. (The seeds need to be crushed right before use as they lose their intense smell and flavour if left for too long).  As luck would have it these are not readily available in the UK, but the green cardamom pods are very easy to find.  The pepper-like black seeds inside the green pods and are easily released with a bit of smashing in a mortar in pestle or by putting into a sealed plastic bag and crushed with a rolling pin.  I was able to crush and separate out 1 Tablespoon of seeds while on the phone with my sister and it was not a hassle in the least.

One last thing – if cardamom is not to your taste or too hard to find, you can easily substitute ground cinnamon in its place.  And apparently, if you would like to illicit the amorous attentions of a Swedish male *wink, wink* serving these buns with cinnamon is a sure-fire aphrodisiac.  (Top tip for the day).

For the filling, cube up 150 g or 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of butter and add 50 ml / 70 g/ 4 Tablespoons sugar.  Then simply add your crushed cardamom (or cinnamon) and mash with the back of a fork to thoroughly combine.

When your dough has risen, roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle about 5 mm or 1/4 in thickness, and place the spiced butter mix on top of the dough.

Once you have evenly spread the spiced butter mixture to the edges of the dough, pull the far edge of the dough over itself  toward you, covering the butter mix inside.

Using a blunt knife cut about five “ribbons”  approximately 5mm or 1/4 inch wide, discarding the first ribbon on the grounds of scruffiness.  Pick up one folded “ribbon” and lightly hold at each end between your thumb and forefinger.

Gently twist the dough in opposite directions (without stretching or crushing) until it looks like the image on the right.

Working from the top,  loop the tip of the twist to the centre point of the ribbon.  Then bring the bottom tip underneath the loop tucking the end into the circle.

(In my seven years of friendship with Linn, I can’t recall a single disagreement let alone raised voices.  But trying to photograph her twisting  these things at lightening speed was a challenge indeed.  Literally, she was barely aware of what she was doing, as her hands blurred cranking out perfect knot after perfect knot. Please appreciate these images with a hearty “slow down, Slow down! Stop!  Hold it right there, Stop!” – in your mind.)

Place on a greased metal baking sheet (ceramic ones don’t heat up fast enough for the short cooking time) or use baking sheet liners or muffin cases for less mess, and cover with a tea towel and let rise for 20 minutes.  While the rolls are rising,  pre-heat your oven to 250 C/ 500 F/ Gas Mark 10. Don’t worry, they only bake for a few minutes but the oven needs to be screaming hot.

Now for the final touches, mix one egg in a cup and coat each bun with a pastry brush.  You can either bake straight away and glaze with a little icing sugar mixed with water AFTER they come out of the oven, or you can be tres authentique and sprinkle on some Parlsocker BEFORE you bake the rolls.

And what, you may ask is Parlsocker?  Well it literally translates from Swedish as “pearl sugar” or “sugar pearls” and really is just that. The consistency looks like pretzel salt and it sweet but not overly so.  It doesn’t seem to melt or scorch at the high cooking temperature so if you can find some I can happily recommend its use, but if not a little post bake glaze will be totally yummy as well.

Place each tray, one at time into the upper third of  your super hot oven.  Keep a close eye as these only bake for about 5-7 minutes until beautifully browned.  When done remove from tray to a cooling rack.

 And this is the wee bundle of perfection that rewards you for your efforts!

 If serving immediately, place on a plate whilst still warm and pamper your guests further with coffee or tea.  If not, cover with a tea towel on the cooling rack while still hot.  When all the heat has left you can place the rolls in a plastic bag and freeze.  You can thaw and serve them with a few minutes notice or place in a hot oven (from frozen) to warm and crisp again.

So as Linn would say, “Njut” which means “Enjoy”, or as you offer your guests your delicacy,“varsegod” which means “please help yourself”!

This recipe makes 36 rolls so you can always have a great home-made treat on hand at the ready…..

or if you have a houseful of hungry gremlins, they will all be gone in 24 hours and you are back at Tescos for more live yeast!

A fun weekend or after school project with the kids and something as beautiful as it is tasty!  Hopefully, this is just the first of many contributions from my super snazzy friends as we all hunker down for the cold grey months ahead.

Cardamom Rolls

Yield: 36 Rolls

Cardamom Rolls

Recipe and step-by-step guide to making these fantastic staples of Swedish hospitality.

Ingredients

    For the Dough
  • Yeast - 50 grams for live (OR) 14 grams - 1 1/2 Tablespoons for dried
  • Butter -100 grams - 3 1/2 oz - 1/3 cup
  • Milk - 500 ml - 16 fluid oz - 2 cups
  • Salt - 1/2 teaspoons
  • Sugar - 100 ml - 1/2 cup
  • Flour - 1300 ml - 5 cups
  • For the Filling
  • Butter - 150 grams - 5 oz - 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon
  • Sugar - 50 ml - 70 grams - 4 Tablespoons
  • Cardamom - 15 ml - 1 Tablespoon
  • Egg for wash
    Pearl Sugar or Icing Sugar for Topping

Instructions

    For the Dough
  1. Place yeast into a large bowl.
  2. Place butter into a medium pot and place on hob/ stove top.
  3. When butter is melted, add milk to the same pot and heat gently until warm.
  4. Drizzle a small amount of the butter and milk liquid onto the yeast - stir to dissolve.
  5. Add the remaining butter and milk liquid to dissolved yeast.
  6. Add salt and sugar to mix. Stir to combine.
  7. Slowly add the flour to the mix until combines. Stir or mix for about 5 minutes. (Dough will begin to come away from the sides of the bowl after a few minutes, continue to mix for 2 minutes more).
  8. Cover mixing bowl with a tea towel and let rise for 40 minutes.
  9. For the Filling
  10. Cube cold butter into a medium bowl
  11. Add sugar and cardamom (or cinnamon).
  12. Combine with fork.
  13. To Assemble
  14. Roll out dough into a large rectangle about 5 mm or 1/4 inch thick.
  15. Add the butter, sugar and spice mix and spread evenly over the rolled out dough.
  16. Fold the dough in half pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.
  17. Cut ribbons of 5 mm or 1/4 inch width about 5 at a time.
  18. Twist in length and then fold twisted dough into a knot.
  19. Place on a metal baking sheet (not a ceramic), cover with a tea towel and let rise for 20 minutes.
  20. Pre-heat your oven to 250 degree C / 500 degree F / Gas Mark 10
  21. Mix up 1 egg and brush over risen rolls
  22. EITHER add pearl sugar before baking OR drizzle with dissolved icing sugar AFTER baking.
  23. Place one tray at a time in the upper 1/3 of an oven.
  24. Bake for 5 - 7 minutes.
  25. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
  26. Serve immediately or cover with a tea towel to cool completely.
  27. Once cool can be frozen and thawed to serve or warmed in a hot oven,
  28. Serve & Enjoy.
http://albaliving.com/2011/12/cardamom-rolls/

 

Street Food - Sausage with Peppers & Onions

Street Food – Sausage with Peppers & Onions

There is something about this blustery weather that is putting me in the mind of tailgates (will explain in a sec), outdoor continental markets and the boldness of the Autumn cook-out party.  In the more northerly of the US States cold, rainy or snowy weather is no reason why you should not stand outside (often around a keg of beer) to while away some spare time on a weekend or just for a get together.  There is even a great (but may be fading) tradition of Tailgate Parties.  These are usually before an American Football games or concerts where people gather hours before the event.  The primary purpose is to nibble, sip and blab in order to a.) secure a great parking space, and b.) build up a good head of steam for the event.  The back door of an estate car (station wagon) or a 4×4 (SUV) is called a “tailgate” and it is folded down to make an impromptu cooking or picnic area.  I have seen some pretty impressive feasts being cooked in this way, whether on teeny BBQs, crock pots plugged into the cigarette lighters or even from chafing dishes with the little candles underneath.  It is lovely to be all bundled up  against the cold and wind eating something warm and tasty.  And so enter my version of Sausage with Peppers & Onions.

The somewhat unusual cast of characters

Back in the days I was living in Boston, these would be served outside Fenway Park (home to Baseball’s Red Sox) but would be made with either a sweet or a hot Italian Sausage.  Since those babies are a bit hard to come by in my current location, I took a page from my fabulous friend Jess’s book (who also happens to be my sister-in-law,  lucky me) and go for the Bratwurst version instead.  Jess once served me this combo on her BBQ pizza and its yumminess has haunted me ever since. Since Brats are much easier for me to come by and they have the added bonus of being fully cooked (to reduce any raw meat problems if you opt for this out in the wild), it happily wins my vote for great camping or tailgating alternative.

To begin you will want to get the onions, peppers (and mushrooms if you so desire) going. I like to melt about one good blob of butter in a pan (please don’t laugh at my dented £11 Ikea non-stick fry pan – it works just fine thank you).

 Toss in some sliced onion, peppers and mushrooms…..

Sprinkle with some dried herbs (I think this was an Italian mix or maybe Herbs de Provence), and a very generous amount of salt & pepper.  Toss to coat and try to leave it alone for a few minutes. Don’t stir continually or the veg won’t get to develop any colour or caramelise, but don’t let it burn either.  Try for a good toss every few minutes but this will take about 20 minutes so try to be patient.

Now most sane people would remove the veggies from the heat at about this stage, but I was feeling wild…

so I continued until it cooked down to this pile of deliciousness!  Now, you can remove it from the heat of the hob/stovetop but keep it in the pan for warmth.  You can also pre-cook these and take along with you on your outdoor adventures and cook the Brats later.  If you are feeling snazzy you could even keep them in a wide mouth Thermos so they will be warm in the wild.

Now, with my onions and peppers ready I could turn my attention to the Brats. For this stage I opted for a bit of vegetable oil as it has a higher smoking point and won’t burn like butter can at high temperatures.

Place the Brats (plural Bratwursts that get their name from the German verb “braten” which means to pan fry or roast – huh), into a very hot pan and let them do their thing.

A few turns later and they will develop some lovely colour.

Just before serving toast up a hearty roll and top with cheese. I forgot the picture of melting some optional cheese – my apologies.

And finally, pop the Brats into the toasted cheesy roll to be liberally stuffed with your pepper and onion mix.  Now I am aware that this may not win any beauty contests but the flavour and the heartiness with counter that no problem.  In Germany, Bratwurst is almost always accompanied by mustard – which is great, but for this I opted for a generous swipe with horseradish sauce and was not sorry in the least.

So on this cold October Saturday why not try this for something different, whether you are brave enough to head outdoors or in the coziness of your kitchen?

Auf Wiedersehen ….

SAMPHIRE

SAMPHIRE

As we most definitely turn to autumnal gales, I wanted to share this one last shining moment of summertime dining that I first discovered just a few weeks ago.  That is the delicious, crunchy, salty and all around weird delicacy –  SAMPHIRE!  According to Wikipedia this edible sea grass (pronounced sam-fyre), was originally known as “sampiere” in honour of St. Pierre patron saint of fisherman.  Also known as sea asparagus or sea pickle this vegetable is found on rocky coastal outcrops or their surrounding marshland, usually shrouded in a constant  battering of northerly oceanic spray.  Since those that gathered the samphire were in obvious need of a patron saint,  perhaps they thought naming it after him would increase their survival rate.

Samphire is even mentioned in King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI) “Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!”.    Just ponder that for a moment – your trade gets mentioned as dreadful … in King Lear…that’s gotta be a bench-mark of some kind.  It was also used from the 14th century onwards in the production of both soap and glass making, giving rise to yet another of its names “glasswort”.  This versatile green wonder is even being explored as a potential bio-diesel that can utilise area of coasts unsuitable for conventional crops.  Huh, something new everyday.

My new favorite fish mongers, H.S. Murray in Inverkeithing, Fife

In my travels to locate a local source for Scotland’s bounty of shellfish, I was directed to a truly fabulous fish monger, H.S. Murray’s in Inverkeithing .  It is everything you want such a shop to be; it was bright and clean, the staff were friendly and very knowledgeable and they seemed genuinely happy to have you try something new or special order anything they didn’t currently have in stock – take that standard customer service.  H.S. Murray’s also supply the fish and shellfish to the highly regarded Room with View Restaurant  in the nearby town of Aberdour. (http://www.roomwithaviewrestaurant.co.uk/)  I have yet to dine there myself but I will let you know when I do!

Anyway, back at H.S. Murray’s, in the span of about five minutes I had secured fresh, live langoustines, was given a free taste and brief history lesson of this nobbly weird plant I had never heard of before AND they offered to special order Phillips of Baltimore (http://www.phillipsseafood.com/) lump crab meat in a pasteurised tub – superb!   (I even had to break up with my fish van man who came to my door every Thursday as a result of this discovery, it was tragic for all but we are all moving on as best we can.)

Detail of Samphire – Edible Tidal Marsh Grass

I brought my new culinary conquest home for closer inspection and to see what I could do to best showcase its texture, crunch and flavour.  For me there was something evocative of sushi in its raw brininess so I went to work experimenting.  I didn’t want to lose any colour or crunch, but coastal rocks and marshes can be home to fair amount of cooties so I thought some cooking was in order.

Quick plunge hot

I opted for a treatment similar to mange-tout/sugar snap peas and decided to get a pan up to a rolling boil and just dropped the samphire in for about 5-10 seconds.

Quick plunge cold

Working speedily, I tossed the lot into a strainer and then straight into a prepared ice bath to give it a good shock and stop the cooking process.  After a minute or two or until I was sure there was no heat left in the samphire I drained everything again and placed on a pile of kitchen roll/paper towel for a wee blot dry.

Asian Taste Tango

As I said there was something in the Asian/Oriental taste range that was calling to me, so after a quick rummage in my cupboard I chose these favourites; sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chilli flakes and ginger.  Please note that while I do always use fresh garlic in my cooking, I have long since given up keeping fresh, frozen or jarred ginger in my house.  I can not tell you the number of times I find I am either without this crucial ingredient, have an open jar of an undisclosed age or have over-purchased a supply only to find a withered voodoo doll on the door of my fridge.  I have proudly opted for the squeezy tube of  ‘fresh’ ginger which is on hand and at the ready at all times.

A Yummy and Versatile Soy Vinaigrette

I quick toss of the ingredients and I was happy with the taste.  I do like things quite strongly flavoured so please tinker until it is to your taste, but this would work well with a cold noodle and vegetable salad with maybe some chicken and fresh coriander/cilantro, mmm.  As always, the recipe for the dressing makes more than you need for this dish so use the extra to experiment.

Toasted Sesame Seeds

And of course just to gild the lily (which a criticism in the UK and a compliment in the States…I thought it might make a good name for a catering company one day…) I toasted a few raw sesame seed on the stove top for garnish.

A Briny Crunchy Delight!

Drizzle a few spoonfuls of the dressing over the samphire, toss to coast and garnish with the toasted sesame seed.  And go on, add a bit of fresh lemon or lime right before serving for that extra level of brightness.  This dish work very well as a side with salmon or maybe some lamb to cut the richness of the main dish.

If you happen to cross paths with the positively pre-cambrian looking samphire, be sure to give it a try and I am sure you will be the better for the experience!

Samphire with Asian Dressing

Ingredients

  • Blended Sesame Oil (1/2 toasted, 1/2 raw) - 4 Tablespoons
  • Soy Sauce - 1 Tablespoon
  • Rice Wine Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
  • Ginger, minced - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Dried Red Chilli Flakes - 1/8 teaspoon
  • Toasted Sesame Seeds

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk to blend. Feel free to adjust to suit your own taste.
http://albaliving.com/2011/10/samphire/

BBQ Pizza!

BBQ Pizza!

Hooray it is a sunny and warmish day, so pull that cover off the BBQ  ’cause the outdoor cooking season isn’t over just yet!  Even though most people will have been firing up the BBQ for hot dogs, burgers and chicken for months now, I would encourage you to give this dish a try.  Not only is it dramatic to make, it is a quick, easy way to make all the little bits of leftovers in your fridge into something special.   I have included the recipe I used for the crust below but the rest is all made up – and I encourage you to do the same.

A tasty twist on the usual BBQ fare

A tasty twist on the usual BBQ fare

Now whilst this recipe works for the BBQ I see no reason not to have ready-to-use homemade pizza dough lingering in your fridge at all times.  This dough is easy to make, ready in just a few hours and can be stored for up to 3-5 days for any unforeseen pizza emergencies.

 

Prepare a floured surface

 When the mood strikes to give this a go and your dough is in some stage of ready – go turn on the BBQ.  It needs to be super hot for this and it all happens very fast once you get going.  Next cook and/or cut up all your topping ingredients to be ready for action.  Once you are hot, diced and shredded – prepare a surface with a bit of flour to roll out the dough.

It doesn’t need to be too big or neat but I tend to favour the 1/4 inch or 5 mm thickness.

Now these next steps are important so please pay attention.  You DO NOT grease the BBQ (ever really in my opinion) but you MUST generously bathe your rolled dough with olive oil.  No skimping to save on fat grams all you skinny minis out there –  this is neither the time nor the place.

Now you need to press a flexible chopping board onto the oiled dough so you can flip it over and coat the other side.  Then pick up the flexible chopping board and place on a tray ready to shift things outside and begin the fun.

Use caution & confidence!

Lift the cover on your super heated BBQ, give the wires a good scrape and sort of thwack the dough down onto the grill.  (You need to do this with conviction or it will all go horribly wrong.)  Then quickly peel the flexible chopping off the top, stand back and allow yourself to breathe.

Despite your expectations of watching the dough ooze onto the coals below, in just a minute or so you will start to see big bubbles forming.  This is your cue to get ready to flip it over.

I chose to employ both tongs and my biggest pancake spatula for this but I am hoping to work up to tongs alone proficiency.  Now, here is where I chose to experiment a bit.  In the picture above notice how BOTH side of my massive BBQ are turned to high.

In an effort to prevent charring on the underside of the dough I cheated and popped the dough on a pizza stone (with much tut tutting from the Pampered Chef folks out there) but I made absolutely sure that I turned the burner off on that side of the BBQ.  You don’t need the stone to do this, but be sure to move the dough to cook with indirect heat for the rest of  process.  (You can also shift back indoors to finish in a hot oven and still have a really yummy crust)

Now that you have switched from direct to indirect grilling, place the sauce of your choice onto the dough,

and complete with your toppings.  Be sure to close the lid of your BBQ (or cover the whole lot with tin foil) and let your creation perfom the necessary alchemy to become proper pizza.

When the cheese has melted to your desired degree of completion, remove from the BBQ, cut, serve and enjoy!

Here is another effort that sought to recreate my half remembered craving from the California Pizza Kitchen.  Instead of the traditional tomato sauce – slather your dough with a smoky BBQ Sauce (bottled is just fine),

and top with cooked chicken, red onion, corn and a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Slap the lid down and let the smoky, sticky, sweet yumminess do its thing.

Voila! BBQ Chicken Pizza

 Use the recipe below as a template to create your own unique combinations.  Who knows, it could become your next signature dish!

BBQ Pizza!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups/ 650 g All purpose or plain white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups/ 350 ml Warm water
  • 2/3 cup/ 115 g Whole wheat or strong brown flour
  • 1 Tablespoon/ 15 ml Olive Oil
  • 1 package/ 1 Tablespoon/ 15 ml Dry active yeast
  • 2 teaspoons/ 10 ml Salt (flavoured is nice)
  • 1 Tablespoon/ 15 ml Sugar

Instructions

  1. Combine warm water, yeast, oil & sugar in a small bowl - set aside for 5 mins.
  2. In another large bowl add the rest of the ingredients and mix.
  3. Cut the wet & dry ingredients together in the bowl with a table knife (trust me) In a cutting/folding motion until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Cover and let stand for 2-3 hours.
  5. Turn out into a floured surface and knead until smooth (don't go nuts here)
  6. Can be stored in large zip lock bag in the fridge for 3 days
http://albaliving.com/2011/09/bbq-pizza/

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