Friday, 27 March 2015

Lion's Head Cabbage Rolls

Can't finish winter if I haven't made any cabbage rolls! This is a (slight) variation on a classic Chinese dish. It's usually made with  nappa cabbage or bok choy, but Savoy cabbage works very well, and will be available right now. Shiitake mushrooms are more traditional than the button mushrooms, but yeah, button mushrooms were the ones I had. Jerusalem artichokes make a great stand in for water chestnuts, but if you can't find them just omit them; like water chestnuts they add more texture than flavour.

4 servings
1 hour - 40 minutes prep time


Make the Filling:
2 or 3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
4 to 6 large Jerusalem artichokes
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground pork
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sherry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoon tapioca starch or arrowroot starch

Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Wash, trim and chop the green onions. Peel and mince the ginger. Peel and finely chop the Jerusalem artichokes, if you are using them. Put them all in a mixing bowl with the ground pork, eggs, sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, pepper, and starch, and mix until evenly blended.

Finish the Dish:
8 outer leaves from a medium Savoy cabbage
250 grams (1/2 pound) shiitake or button mushrooms
2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
4 cups chicken or pork stock
a slice of ginger
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon tapioca starch or arrowroot starch

Separate the outer leaves from the cabbage carefully, keeping them whole and undamaged. Trim out the tough lower stems. Drop them, a few at a time, into the boiling water, and boil them for a minute or two. Remove them with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and rinse them under cold water  until they are cool enough to handle. Drain them well.

Put 1/8 of the meat mixture in the middle of each leaf, and fold it up into a neat roll. Repeat with the remaining leaves and meat mixture.

Clean and trim the mushrooms, removing the stems entirely if you are using shiitake mushrooms. Cut them into strips or quarters.

Heat the fat or oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms, and cook them until softened and slightly browned, then remove them from the pan. Add the cabbage rolls in a single layer, then pour about a cup of chicken stock into the pan. Add a slice of ginger to the pan, and return the mushrooms to it as well. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Turn the cabbage rolls over. add the sesame oil and soy sauce, and all of the remaining chicken stock except for about 1 cup. Cover and simmer the cabbage rolls for another 10 minutes.

Mix the remaining chicken stock with the tapioca or arrowroot starch. Remove the cabbage rolls to a serving dish, leaving the broth in the pan. Stir the last of the chicken stock and starch into the pan of broth, and simmer until thickened (just a minute or two). Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls.




Last year at this time I made Parsnips with Prunes & Lemon, and Mock Chicken Stock.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Meyer's Lemon Curd Cake Roll

For most of you, apart from a little flour and butter, the local component of this cake will be the eggs (and it does call for a lot of eggs). For us though, the lemons were local too!

Two summers ago we bought a couple of Meyer`s lemon trees, and have been growing them in pots ever since. Last year they did not produce anything, but this summer they really enjoyed their time outside, and grew many blossoms and attracted many bees. It took the rest of the summer, the fall, and most of the winter for the resulting lemons to ripen, but now they are ready and we are enjoying our lemon bounty.

Meyer's lemons are quite seedy; I recommend that you strain the juice before measuring it. You will need 4 good sized lemons according to the recipe, but it will not hurt to have 5 or even 6 on hand if they are smaller, or in case for some reason they don't produce the expected quantity of juice. You could, I suppose, omit the application of the lemon syrup at the end, but for me, the moister and zingier a lemon cake is, the better I like it.

My Meyers lemon trees wintering indoors

8 servings
20 minutes prep time for the lemon curd
30 minutes prep time and 15 minutes baking time for the cake
plus at least  hours cooling and resting times

Meyer's Lemon Curd Cake Roll

Make the Lemon Curd:
1/2 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter

Put the lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar in the top of a double boiler, and place over a pan of water. Stir well, then beat in the eggs with an electric mixer. Turn the heat on, and bring the water to a simmer. Beat the eggs constantly until the mixture thickens, then remove the double boiler from the heat at once, and set it in a pan of cold water. Continue to beat for a minute or two, then leave it to cool. Stir it occasionally as it cools, then cover it and refrigerate until needed.

This should be done at least 2 hours ahead, up to the day before.

Make the Lemon Cake:
3/4 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)

Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder and gently stir in the zest. Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a 10" x 15" pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper lightly.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, and add the sugar. Beat well for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very pale and fluffy.  Briefly beat in the lemon juice.

Gently fold in the flour, and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the centre springs back when gently pressed, and the cake is just browning around the edges.

Turn the cake out at once onto a clean tea-towel, and roll it up so the short side is the curled part. Place it on a rack to cool.

Make the Lemon Syrup & Finish the Cake:
1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)
1/4 cup sugar
a little icing sugar to dust the cake

Put the lemon juice and sugar in a small pot, and heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved and the mixture simmers a little. Set it to the back of the stove and let it cool. This can be done while the cake bakes.

When the cake is cool, gently unroll the cake. Spread the lemon curd evenly over it, and roll it up again, this time without the tea towel in it... for best results! Using a very broad, long spatula (or two) transfer it to the serving plate. Drizzle the lemon syrup evenly over the cake, and leave it for 10 or 15 minutes to absorb the syrup. Put  a spoonful of icing sugar into a wire sieve, and shake it evenly over the cake. Repeat if you feel that the cake needs more icing sugar.




Last year at this time I made Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

Monday, 16 March 2015

Maafe; African Peanut Stew

This is a dish from west and central Africa, and is also known as Mafe, groundnut stew, or several other names, as it is popular over quite a large territory. It's also highly variable because of that, although I think mine is a fairly typical version.

Mine was made with chicken, but you could replace it with lamb, or beef, or even chunks of tofu, although in that case it will take less cooking.

The green vegetable part is pretty flexible too; I used frozen spinach from our garden, but kale or chard would also work, and fresh green cabbage would be fine, although I would place it in a colander and pour generous quantities of boiling water over it before I added it to the stew. I don't know what it is about adding completely raw vegetables to stews, but they never seem to cook properly when you do that.

This is another pretty rich meal. I used 6 large chicken thighs, and I would say one made a good portion, what with all the sauce. Served with polenta or rice, it is a complete meal in itself.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 20 minutes prep time, not including cooking the sweet potatoes

Maafe; Chicken & Peanut Stew

2 large sweet potatoes (about 500 grams or 1 pound)
2 medium onions
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled ginger
4 - 5 cloves of garlic
1 kilogram (2 pounds) chicken pieces
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 cups crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce, or to taste
2 to 3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup peanut butter
chopped (frozen) spinach, kale, or Swiss Chard
OR about 3 cups chopped cabbage, blanched
chopped peanuts to garnish

Cook the sweet potatoes in advance; they can be roasted whole at a previous meal, or cook them in the microwave until tender.

Peel and chop the onions. Peel and mince the ginger. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken pieces until browned on both sides; about 10 minutes total. Put them in a large stew pot.

Cook the onions in the remaining fat in the pan over slightly lower heat, until softened and cooked down, but not much browned. Add the ginger and garlic, mix in well, and cook for a minute or two longer. Add them to the chicken, along with the tomatoes, chile garlic sauce, bay leaves, and vinegar. Simmer for about half an hour, until the chicken is tender.

Cut up the sweet potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Mix the peanut butter with a little of the sauce from the chicken to dissolve it, then mix it back into the stew. Add the sweet potato chunks and the vegetable, and continue to simmer the stew gently until hot through. Serve with polenta or steamed rice, garnished with some chopped peanuts.





Last year at this time it was chicken too, but one with a low-fat, low-key sauce: Poached Chicken with Dried Tomatoes & Shiitake Mushrooms .

Sunday, 15 March 2015

They're Here! They're Here!

... The red-winged blackbirds, that is! It's official - spring is coming.

(And of course, they're going to get whacked with some bad weather yet. I always picture them down south, thinking, "This year I'm going to be sensible, and not head up north until it's really going to be warm. It's crazy, arriving early and getting dumped on by a snowstorm, or putting up with -20°C weather. Hey guys, let's not... hey, where are you going? Guys?! Oh shit! I better get going or I won't get a good nesting spot! Guys! Wait for meeee...!)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Welsh Rabbit

Well, as ever, we ate all this ourselves! I have to say I regretted it a little - it was so very rich. Delicious! No question. But very, very rich. This often gets served nowadays as an appetizer in much smaller portions, and I can see why. 

So now a few statements must be made: yes, the proper mustard is Coleman's; no, I didn't have any and we all survived to tell the tale. You can use whatever hard, melty, but sharp and flavourful cheese you like; a good old Cheddar will be perfect. And if I catch you calling it "rarebit" I will thump you about the head and shoulders. Okay? Okay.

I don't write much about alcohol, because alcohol and I are not best buds (alcohol started it). However, I've been coming across this Forbidden apple cider the last few months, which is made just out of town with local apples, and I have to say I like it. There is another apple cider, made in the next town over, called (strangely enough, or maybe not)  Thornbury cider. I don't like it much, because it reminds me of beer, while the Forbidden cider has an almost champagne-like quality to it, but maybe you will feel exactly the opposite for the same reasons. In short; use what you like. And yes, there will be quite a lot of the tin left over. Too bad, so sad, someone will just have to drink it.

Next time I make this, if it is not for more people than just the two of us, I am going to try keeping half the sauce in the fridge for another time, and broiling it a little longer on the toast to heat it through, so we don't have to eat it all at once. I see no reason why this should not work.

2 to 4 main to 6 to 8 appetizer servings
20 minutes prep time

Welsh Rabbit

200 grams (7 ounces) sharp old cheese
3 to 6 slices of good firm-textured bread


1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup alcoholic apple cider, or beer

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg

Cut the cheese into fine cubes, or grate it coarsely. Have the bread cut and ready, and toast it under the broiler as you make the sauce.

Heat the butter in reasonably large saucepan, with the flour, and cook, stirring well to blend,  until it lightens a bit in colour. Add the mustard, and the cider or beer, a bit at a time, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce. As soon as it is well blended mix in the cheese, and stir frequently as it melts to keep the sauce smooth and not scorching on the bottom.

At this point it is undoubtedly time to turn the bread over, and toast it on the other side. You should be aiming for fairly crisp toast, but only let the second side get moderately brown.

Once the cheese has melted, turn off the stove. Quickly and thoroughly whisk in the Worcestershire sauce and the egg, then pour the sauce evenly over the toast slices. Return them to under the broiler for just a minute or two until nicely browned. Serve at once.




Last year at this time I made Scrambled Tofu.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Tomato & Celery Barley Soup

This is simple and rather plain, but somehow it was exactly what I was in the mood to have.  Of course, I have been eating it with things like pizza and grilled cheese, so take that for what it is worth. Still, a plain, hearty-but-not-too-filling soup is sometimes just what is called for.

It's getting thicker as it sits, so I may make the remains even a little lighter by thinning them with some chicken broth

6 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time


Cook in Advance:
1/4 cup barley
1 cup water
a pinch of salt

Normally, I'd say cook it in the rice cooker, but this is too small a quantity, so unless you want barley for some other purpose, put it in a pot with the water and salt, and bring it to a boil. Boil steadily for about 30 minutes,  until the water is mostly absorbed and the barley is pretty much cooked. Watch the water; at this quantity it may boil off too soon, and you may need to add more to get the barley tender. Once it is mostly there, cover it and move it to the back of the stove while you make the soup.

Make the Soup:
2 large onions (about 2 cups chopped)
4 to 5 stalks of celery (about 3 cups chopped)
OR 2 cups peeled and finely chopped celeriac
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/8 teaspoon celery seed, finely ground
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel and chop the onions. Wash, trim and chop the celery, or peel and chop the celeriac. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat half the oil in a large skillet.Put the tomatoes, water, bay leaves, oregano, ground celery seed, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar in a large soup pot and heat over medium heat to a simmer. Cook the onions in the skillet until softened, reduced in volume, and slightly browned in spots - don't cook them too hot, in other words - then add them to the tomatoes, etc. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and cook the celery  until softened and reduced in volume. Add the garlic, and cook in for a minute or two, then add the celery and garlic to the soup. Add the cooked barley as well.

Simmer the soup for 20 or 30 minutes,  until everything is tender and, well, soupy. Season with salt and pepper as needed. This is fine served at once, but also keeps and reheats well.




Last year at this time I made Sweet Potatoes with Oranges & Ginger, and Apple Tapioca Pudding.