Sunday, 29 July 2012

Falafel with Lemon Sesame Yoghurt

This weekend I checked some things of my culinary to-do list. First time cooking solo for a dinner party, check. First time cooking with dried beans, check. First time cooking lamb, check. So productive! Never mind that all three things were for the same meal...

The dried beans in question were chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans (the little fellas that get mashed up to make hummus). They were reconstituted overnight and mashed up to go into falafel. Spiced chickpea patties or balls, falafel is a staple of many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. A fabulous vegetarian dish with the heartiness and protein to substitute for meat with added points for being healthy. It can be served in burger buns, replacing the burger patty, in pita bread as a sort of sandwich, or on its own with just a little drizzle of sauce.

Either way, yum.

Falafel with Lemon Sesame Yoghurt

Lemon Sesame Yoghurt:
1 cup yoghurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to eat.

2 cups dried chickpeas (about 4 1/2 cups when cooked)
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 fairly packed cup chopped parsley
2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons water

If you're using dried chickpeas, you'll have to soak them overnight. Put them in a medium sized bowl and cover with enough cold water so that they're a couple inches below the surface. Cover and let sit overnight.

The next day, drain the chickpeas (they should be a little more than double their original size) and put them in a medium saucepan filled with water. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for about an hour. Drain and  allow to cool. The chickpeas can be cooked ahead and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple days.

Saute the onion in a little olive oil until translucent, then add the minced garlic and cook for another couple minutes. Remove pan from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, roughly mash the chickpeas with a potato masher or a sturdy fork (alternatively, you can use a food processor, on pulse so as not to overly mash them). There should be chunks, rather than a uniform mash, but no whole chickpeas.

Using a fork or a spoon, stir in the parsley and then the various spices. Be sure to thoroughly combine all the ingredients so that the flavoring is consistent throughout the mixture. Next, stir in the cooked onion and garlic (you might find it easier to use your hands for this part, as I did!)

Now add the flour (this binds the mix together so you can form patties) and a few tablespoons of water. You should be able to form balls of the falafel mixture without them immediately crumbling.

Cover with cling-film and refrigerate for at least half an hour. You can also do this in advance and leave in the fridge for a couple days.

To cook the falafel, heat a large saucepan and generously coat with olive oil (not so much that you're deep frying the falafel but enough to cover the whole surface of the pan). Remove the mixture from the fridge and form small patties with your hands (you might want a small bowl of water ready in case your hands get sticky!) You can make them whatever size you like (though if they're too big they're likely to fall apart), just be aware that larger patties will take longer to cook. Fry the patties for several minutes on each side, until they're a dark golden brown. If you're making several batches, you can keep them warm on a platter in the oven (turned to a low temperature!)

Serve while hot! The cooled patties will keep for a few day in fridge. You can reheat them in the microwave or the oven.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Go-To Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is that chocolate chip cookie recipe. You know, the one that each home baker seems to have. The go-to, in-case-of-emergency-baking-urges recipe. The recipe you use when it's 10pm and you desperately have to bake something immediately but you don't have the mental fortitude to come up with something new. The well-worn page in a recipe journal, scattered with greasy smudges and vanilla stains. That chocolate chip cookie recipe.

My go-to recipe produces light, slightly chewy cookies. My ideal blend of soft, chewy, buttery, crunchy, and satisfyingly dense. They're my stand-by for movie nights and potlucks. They satisfy my morning, afternoon, and midnight cravings. And when it's 8 o'clock and my post-dinner sweet tooth rears its head this is the recipe I turn to.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (113 g or 1 stick) butter, room temperature
2/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar (I used a mix of light and dark because I didn't have enough of either!)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 350° F (177° C)

Mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda with a whisk or fork and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar and then add the egg and vanilla. Begin adding the dry mix to the wet, a little at a time. Be sure to thoroughly combine.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips. Stir until they are evenly distributed throughout the cookie dough.

Spoon walnut-sized scoops of dough onto a lightly greased baking tray, spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to cool somewhat on the baking tray before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Home-Sweet-Home: Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

What's the only thing you can do when you're lazing around, recovering from jet lag and trying not to panic about the mysterious future? Make blueberry muffins, obviously. What, you don't distract yourself with comfort baking? Psh.

Well, I am 100%, bona fide moved back home. The couple boxes I had shipped even arrived today so it's official: I'm back at my parents' house. Glamorous.

As much as I do need to get a job, pronto, and sort out some genuine independence, there are definite pluses to my current living situation. For one thing, the parents have an awesome kitchen. Seriously, awesome. Also, they're pretty appreciative of being cooked for. That's always nice.

So far, I've been about as lazy as possible, cooking-wise (hey, it's a nice change to not have to produce my own meals!) But this morning I started getting a little twitchy. The I-haven't-used-an-oven-in-way-too-long-and-there-are-tons-of-ingredients sort of twitchy. Baking Time!

It needed to be something on the lighter side-- not too buttery and full of chocolate-- since this is for my parents, not some greedy college students (college has taught me that twenty-something boys really can eat all the food. All of it.) To me, lighter baking in the summer just means throwing in some fruit. That way it's healthy, see? Besides, bubbly, oozing berry juice, soaking into spongy baked goods sort of makes me swoon. And drool.

Also, there's something especially luxurious and wholesome about whipping up some tasty treats with fresh, juicy fruit and eggs from a friend's chickens. Fresh, local ingredients give you the sense of being more in touch with the food you're making (the food, ultimately, that you're putting in your body!)

So: blueberry muffins. Cinnamon crumble topping. Bubbly, juicy berries and gorgeous golden -yolked eggs. Yes.

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping
adapted from this recipe
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 heaping cup fresh blueberries

1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, room temperature (1/2 stick or 57 grams)

Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C)

Mix together the dry ingredients and the wet separately. My egg was on the small side so I added a splash more milk to make up for the loss of moisture.

In a third bowl, mix together the additional flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms a rough breadcrumb-like consistency.

Blend the wet and dry muffin ingredients, stirring until just combined. Now gently fold in the blueberries (being careful not to mix too much).

Fill greased muffin cups to the top with the mixture and top with the cinnamon crumble mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Let them cool in the muffin tin for a while (so the top don't tear off when you take them out!) and then remove to a cooling rack.

I got 7 hefty muffins from this recipe (let's call it 6-8!)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Moving On: A Few Goodbyes

The time has come. The end of an era. I've ended one phase of my life and, filled with terror, prepare to begin a new one. I have officially graduated from university.

I leave behind my student lifestyle. My university friends. The country I've lived in for the last three years.

Goodbye, my cluttered cupboards. Goodbye, my tiny kitchen. I'll only miss you during fits of nostalgia-fueled madness.

Thank you for the meals.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Spiced Bread Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce

My unofficial taste-tester gives this bread pudding two thumbs up ("All the thumbs I am capable of giving.") Really, what more can I say?

Perhaps that this is comfort food at its warm, scrumptious finest, combined with a little thriftiness. Or that it's a great way to use up unappetizing, old bread.

Or maybe just: it has cream in it. And rum.

I've had my fair share of dry/boring/flavorless bread puddings. Dishes that clearly exist merely to use up bread that no one will eat, bringing nothing but shame to the noble name of dessert. Believe me, this is not one of those. This boozy bread pudding is moist and cinnamon-y. It tastes like cinnamon french toast doused with some very decadent syrup. It is finger-licking, bowl-scraping goodness.

I ate it straight out of the pan. And I am not ashamed.

Bread Pudding with Spiced Rum Sauce
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups cubed day-old bread (I used a mixture of leftover challah, white, and wholemeal bread)
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons rum (I used Captain Morgan's Spiced but any kind will do)

In a small dish, pour the rum over the raisins and set aside to soak.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and cream. Add the sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon and blend thoroughly.

Add the cubed bread and rum-soaked raisins and stir until the bread is thoroughly coated. (Use a large spoon, use your hands. Embrace the goo.)

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the bread to soak up the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 175° C (350° F).

After the bread mixture has rested for a while, tip it into a greased baking dish (I used a 9 inch cake tin but a square metal or glass baking dish works just as well) and bake for 30-35 minutes (until the top is golden brown) and then allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Serve warm, with a drizzle (or the drizzle's less elegant cousin, the slosh) of rum butter sauce or on its own.

Spiced Rum Butter Sauce
110 grams butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons spiced rum

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and salt. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined.

Pour in the cream and continue stirring to blend. Allow to simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the mixture thickens.

Stir in the rum and simmer for another couple minutes before removing from the heat. Allow to cool and thicken in the saucepan.

This can be made in advance and refrigerated, just wait for it to cool before putting it in a refrigerator-able container and reheat before serving.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

(Expat)riotism: Lemon Cheesecake with Blackberries

On the Fourth of July two years ago, I was on a plane, flying back home across the world. 9 hours of appreciating my international lifestyle. Last year on the Fourth I was in London with a head cold, trying to get as much sleep as possible before heading to Paris with a friend for two weeks of adventures in France. This is my third year away from America-- far from the barbecues, fireworks, and flags-- and I decided that this year I would make a gesture (however token) in support of the Independence of my nation. Something celebratory would be baked.

I believe the tradition for Flag Day is to bake a pie. A suitably American delicacy, no doubt, and one that offers endless possibilities. But I didn't bake a pie, I made a cheesecake.

A really scrumptious, lemony cheesecake, piled with tasty, tart blackberries. My first ever cheesecake.

And I think it turned out rather well.

Happy birthday, America!

Lemon Cheesecake
(for a 7" cheesecake, adapted from the "Joyful 7 Inch Creamy Cheesecake" recipe)
1 1/4 cups cookie crumbs (I used Digestive biscuits but graham crackers would also work. Or whatever cookie strikes your fancy...)
75 grams butter (5 tablespoons) melted
450 grams cream cheese (16oz)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons yoghurt
zest of one lemon (this can be omitted to make a plain vanilla cheesecake)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir the cookie crumbs into the melted butter and press into the bottom of a 7 inch spring-form pan to form the crust, going about 1 inch up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes at 180° C (350° F) and then remove from the oven.

For the filling, cream together the cream cheese and sugar (if it's come straight out of the fridge, the cream cheese might need to be softened first with little time in the microwave). Gradually add the rest of the ingredients, mix them thoroughly.

Pour the batter mixture into the crust, smoothing the top flat, and bake for 50-60 minutes at 165° C (325° F). The center of the cheesecake will still look pretty wobbly but that's just because it hasn't set yet. Now turn off the oven and, with the door propped open, leave the cheesecake to cool inside for another hour. Then remove it to a cooling rack to cool completely before refrigerating it (still in the pan) for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When you're ready to serve it, carefully loosen and lift away the spring-form sides of the pan. Top with a heap of blackberries (or your choice of garnish!)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Back in the Kitchen: Rock Cakes

For the past few days I've been nursing a cold which, unsurprisingly, has left me with very little desire to do anything as strenuous as cooking. Or eating, really. Anything that might get in the way of my busy schedule of sneezing, coughing, and napping.

Two days on diet of ham sandwiches and Ben and Jerry's frozen yoghurt and enough was enough. It was time to get back on the horse (or at least out of the bed). I decided to start with something simple, though. Nothing adventurous, just a recipe that I've made often enough that it has a comforting ritualistic familiarity to it: Rock Cakes.

Although I'm still not sure why these are called "Rock Cakes" (I'm sorry, they just don't look like rocks, however I look at them), I remember my mom making them when I was little (big enough to get in the way, little enough to not be much help!) I also remember that she used to replace the raisins in half of every batch with crystallized ginger, an ingredient I've developed a taste for in later years but which, at the time, my sister and I both detested. Vocally. As I've grown older and more wily, it has occurred to me that this could well have been a simple tactical move on my mother's part, guaranteeing herself a fair share of the goodies. Well played, mother. Well played.

In the years since I've begun baking myself, I've made Rock Cakes several times and experimented by using a variety of dried fruit-- raisins, apricots, cranberries-- and they've all turned out equally scrumptious. Buttery with a crunchy outside and a soft inside. They're another of those treats that, with little effort, can be tweaked to personal tastes. And they make a very tasty teatime snack!

Rock Cakes
1 cup self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
113 grams butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, currents, dried cranberries, etc.)
1 egg
1-3 tablespoons milk

Sift together the flour and baking powder and then cut in the butter in cubes. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until it's roughly the consistency of rough breadcrumbs.

Add the sugar and dried fruit and thoroughly combine.

Add the egg and mix well. Begin adding the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is thoroughly combined-- not so dry that it crumbles apart and not so wet that you have a puddle of milk and egg! It's been pretty humid here lately, so I only needed one tablespoon, but at other times I've had to use all three.

Spoon scoops of about two tablespoons each, spaced about an inch and a half apart, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 200° C (390° F) until lightly browned. Let the cakes cool on the baking tray for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

I got 16 cakes, on the small side.