Saturday, February 1, 2014

Soup Series #1: German Potato Soup with Sausage

We like soup. It tastes great, it fills you up and baby, it warms you up. I like soup because it's one of the few things which everyone in our family eats. HRH aka Father in-law loves soups, Pater Familias aka my huz loves soups and both the kidlets love most of the soups, it's a win win for me in a family with spoiled brats of all ages.

The soup cooks quickly and without much effort so go ahead, try it today!

German Potato Soup with Sausage

This will feed 5-6 people

5 medium large potatoes peeled and cut into cubes of about 1/2" to 3/4" . You need about 4 cups of potatoes.
3 large carrots, peeled or scrubbed and cut into pieces slighter smaller than the potatoes
2 stalks celery, washed and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 large leek (cut into rings, washed and drained)*
1 small garlic, pressed
1-2 tsp. dried marjoram
3 cups Chicken stock**
3 cups water**
Salt, Pepper to taste
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 Whole Kielbasa cut lengthwise in half, and then into pieces (we get the light version Hillshire Brand)
2 tbsp of freshly chopped parsley
Optional 1 cup frozen green beans

On medium heat, heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion and celery (and leek if using). Cook until the onion softens and then add the garlic and marjoram. Stir about for a few moments and then add the cut up potato and carrots. Sauté for two minutes and then add the stock and water. 

Bring the soup to a simmer and cover. Meanwhile sauté the sausage in a pan and keep aside. Once the vegetables are done, remove about two cups worth of the vegetables and mash them. Return to the pot along with the sautéed sausage and frozen green beans if using.  Make sure you include the pan drippings. Bring to a slow simmer, cook for 7 minutes, and season to taste with pepper and salt (or stock paste, if you have***).

Before serving sprinkle with the fresh parsley.

Serve with a crusty, rustic bread.

* Leeks can be expensive and I usually avoid them.
** You may want to add more or less, depending on how chunky or liquidy you'd like your final product.
*** Best stuff EVER!

Spinach Mushroom Puffs

Sometimes good stuff happens because of mistakes. Like these Spinach puffs. I had bought the wrong frozen spinach and couldn't figure out what to do with it. And then I thought of Spanakopita, the lovely Greek mezze which tastes so very good. And because it has so much spinach you could almost convince yourself that it's actually good for you. From that the thought evolved. Let's see, I had spinach, mushrooms, and puff pastry. Something could surely be made with that. And oh dear did it taste wonderful. So very yummy. Healthy? I wouldn't go that far, but with all that spinach, something is good about it, surely.

Spinach-Mushroom Puffs

1 sheet of refrigerator thawed puff pastry.
I box frozen chopped spinach
1 cup chopped mushroom (button or baby bella)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp. finely chopped onions
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
1 tsp. dried dill
pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs
1 tsp. lemon juice

Thaw the frozen chopped spinach and squeeze as dry as you can. Put in a bowl. Heat oven to 400F. Sauté the chopped mushrooms in some evoo and set aside to cool. Roll out the dough and cut into 9-12 squares. Place the squares into prepared muffin tins making sure there is enough to cover the top a little bit after being filled with the spinach mix. Combine all remaining ingredients in a bowl with ONE of the eggs (slightly beaten) and stir to mix thoroughly. Divide the mixture among the pastry lined muffin tins. Fold over the corners of the pastry squares and paint the tops with the remaining egg beaten with 1 tbsp very cold water.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.

This recipe is one of those which could easily be customized. Exchange the mushrooms for roasted pine or walnuts, or even bacon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hazelnut Shortbread

Welcome to decadent. Having this stuff in my house is injurious to my health and I find myself contemplating an impromptu donation to a dear friend.
My son's school had a fundraiser on Friday and we parents were encouraged to donate baked goods. Wanting to make something that didn't have the words chocolate chip, rice-krispie, mono-ethylglycolene (just making this up)  or peanut butter in it, I decided on some lovely hazelnut cookies found on a blog titled At Down Under. Specifically I had run a search entitled 'eggless cookie' on foodgawker, and this recipe was one of many which popped up.
I felt entirely too lazy to go down to my basement (the dungeon, really) to find the cookie cutters, and therefore merely employed my knife and a fork to make shortbread style cookie bars. The recipe was followed to a T with the exception of adding the recommended chocolate coating. I didn't want the chocolate to start to melt all over the cellophane bags in which these lovelies were to be stored and sold. And it was lovely. Delicious. Addictive. Four cookies to a cellophane bag, tied with garden twine, and a stamped tag, these adorable things were way too cute to be prizes at a school fundraiser. But then, I am a good mommy and brought them early Friday morning to the school.
There were still plenty of ground hazelnuts at home and as the age-old adage goes 'waste not want not.' What better way than to turn them into more of these delectable cookies. This time, though, I allowed my meddling 'can't-leave-a-recipe-alone' personality to play and what came of it was nothing short of a culinary coup.  The cookies were enhanced with two ingredients. Yes, just two. But it's amazing what two ingredients can do. I included dried cranberries (craisins) and then drizzled the baked and cooled cookies with some leftover semi-sweet chocolate I had in my baking cupboard. That took these cookies from really good to 'Oh, Wow!'
Without further ado, here is the recipe as adapted from Viviane of Down Under.
Hazelnut-Cranberry Shortbread with Chocolate Drizzle
220 gr. flour
80 gr. ground hazelnut
200 gr. unsalted butter, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
40 gr. ground brown sugar
20gr. sugar
a handful of sweetened, dried cranberries
some semi-sweet chocolate for drizzling
If using a standmixer, place all ingredients except the chocolate in the mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment mix until you have a well mixed dough. Invert dough onto some parchment paper, and flatten to a thickness of about 1 cm. I used a rolling pin for that. Slip parchment and dough onto a cookie sheet and place in cool place or refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Slice  cookies into bars an prick with fork. If your cookie sheet has enough space (mine didn't) move the bars slightly apart. If you can't, you'll need to slice the cookies again when you remove them from the oven. Allow the cookies to bake for 14-18 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Melt the chocolate per manufacturers recommendation and put into a plastic bag. Cut a small hole on one end and drizzle the chocolate all over the cookies. A little chocolate goes a long way here. 
Let the chocolate set and enjoy with your favorite coffee or a chilled glass of ice-cold milk.
Guten Appetit. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kheema, an Indian ground meat dish

When I was a child, at every one of my birthdays, a few wonderful things happened. I would get a raise in my allowance, my lights-out time at night would be pushed back by 15 minutes and I would be allowed to choose my favorite meal. My parents were extremely frugal people even back then, and hell-bent on making sure that I wouldn't be stuck with the 'spoiled single child' label. Therefore, there were not many presents. Usually a book or two and a little something else. I remember a really cool piggie bank one time, in the shape of a picture frame.
My parents were amazing cooks, each in their own way. My mother cooked foods that reflected her German heritage. My father cooked Indian food like a god. I speak in the past tense because with age and dietary restrictions their cooking has changed a lot. My mother reads cookbooks with a passion, but save for baking recipes almost never followes a recipe. To her they are merely references. Papa, on the other hand cooks many of his recipes by following his cook books to the 't', even though he has cooked the same dish many dozens of times. One of my favorite dishes, and now my children's as well, was Kheema. Kheema is a dish with ground meat as the main ingredient. It is originally one of the many Persian dishes imported by invading Mughals.
Kheema, in our home, is made usually of beef. Ground lamb is a tad too expensive here in the US, and I only like mutton in certain curries. Served over a bed of piping hot rice, and accompanied by a cooling bowl of raita (a cucumber-yogurt salad), Kheema was a dish I often asked for as a special birthday meal. The savory meat, the satisfying bits of seasoned potatoes and the little green, jewel-like sweetpeas, are to this day, a meal I can't ever pass up.
My husband likes meals in which the flavors of the ingredients aren't overwhelmed by spices.  If you like very spciy Indian food I would recommend doubling the spices marked with an asterisk (*).
Kheema - Papa Ghosh's Style
2 lbs of good quality ground beef. If you do not eat beef, you may substitute ground mutton or lamb
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium large red onion - finely chopped
1½ c. diced tomatoes, fresh or from the can
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. plain yogurt - greek yogurt works great too (allow to come to room temperature while you prepare the other ingredients)
2 large cloves of garlic - ground into a paste*
ground fresh ginger, about the same quantity as the garlic *
2 dried red peppers *
1 large Indian Bay leaf (different from Western bayleaf)*
4 cardamom pods cracked open (*Increase by two if going for the spicier version)
4 cloves (*Increase by two if going for the spicier version)
1 2-inch long piece of cinnamon (*increase to 3-inches if going for the spicier version)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp each ground cumin and ground coriander*
1 tsp turmeric (*increase to 1½ tsp. if going for the spicier version)
1½ tsp salt, more to taste
2 c. potato cut into 1-inch cubes
1 c. frozen peas
You can lower the amount of fat in this recipe by browning the meat separately in a pan and draining the fat. If you are using a lean ground meat you can choose to skip this step.  Let us assume that we are skipping that step and go from there.
Heat the oil in a karhai or a heavy, flat bottomed pan. A wide and shallow wok will also work if you have it. When the oil is hot,  lower heat to medium, add the onions, bay-leaf, cinnamon, and red dried red peppers. Saute until the onions are starting to brown. Now add the garlic and ginger, cardamom, and clove, and continue to saute until the onion is a pleasing brown color.  Add the teaspoon of sugar, coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and saute a little longer, giving the sugar the chance to caramelize.  During the sauteing process you may need to add a tablespoon of water now and then to prevent burning. This initial stage of cooking should not be hurried as it creates the base for the sauce. Once the onions have caramelized and softened they will eventually dissolve rather than maintain their shape.  Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste  and on medium-low to medium temperature allow the ingredients to form into a fragrant sauce. Again, you may need to add a half cup of water here or there to make sure it doesn't dry out.  When the sauce has formed, reduce the heat, remove about a quarter cup of the sauce and stir into the room temperature yogurt. By tempering the yogurt you will avoid curdling when you add the yogurt mixture to the sauce. Stir the yogurt mixture back into the sauce and stir to combine. Add the meat and cook the meat until it looses it's pink color. When the meat is no longer pink you can add a cup of water and simmer on medium low heat for half an hour. The flavor improves the slower you cook it. Add the cut potatoes and raise the temperature to medium. If needed add water. When the potatoes are done add the frozen peas and cook for another 3 minutes or so and then turn off the heat. Let the Kheema rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with hot rice and a side of Raita. We like a squirt of lemon added to the Kheema when served.

Challah Bread

To me this bread is the sacrament of the Sacred Divine of the Church of Gluten. My daughter would agree.  The crumb is unbelievably tender and once you begin to partake of its holy sacrament, you can't stop. I've often baked this bread as a gift, and everyone said the same thing. You pull a corner and then there is this uneven shape which just won't do. In order to restore balance you pull on the offending corner. And then this imbalance thing happens again. This is the curse of braided bread. This curse also leads to an achy, overstuffed tummy.
By the way, you MUST click on the image for a larger picture. I am not responsible for any drool damage to your electronic equipment.
I found this recipe on a blog which in turn I found on foodgawker. The recipe is foolproof and I've  never felt the need to tweak it. When I bake this wonderful bread I generally use King Arthur flour which truly is superlative. But I am a tad short on funds right now (the holidays tend to do that to me) and I am using regular store brand flour.
No-Knead Challah Recipe
Adapted from 'Cooking with my kid', who adapted it from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
(Makes 4 loaves)
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil such as canola) (I only use unsalted butter)
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top
In a standmixer with the paddle attachment place half of the lukewarm water, a tablespoon of honey, the yeast, and 1 of the seven cups of flour.  Mix briefly. When the mixture starts to bubble (approx. 5 minutes), add the butter, remaining honey, beaten eggs, and remaining  lukewarm water. Stir for a whirl and then exchange the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Now, cup by cup add the remaining flour while allowing the machine to mix and knead.
This can be done with a spoon too, but I loooooove my standmixer as the dough is quite sticky. You may need to incorporate the last 1 cup of flour by hand with a dough scraper if you have been mixing by hand.
Place the finished (sticky) dough into a slightly oiled 5 quart or larger lidded, food-grade container.
Allow the dough to rise in the container until it collapses a  bit. The top will be flat, no longer domed. Do put the lid but don't lock it in place.
Now, invert the container onto your slightly floured work surface  and divide the dough into four equal parts. If you don't want to bake four loaves, put the dough you wish to keep for later in individual ziplock baggies and freeze.  If you are ready to bake, place the dough you wish to work with in your refrigerator and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes. It will be much easier to work with. 
Divide each piece of dough into three pieces  and roll into ropes.  If the dough shrinks back, let rest for five minutes and try again. Braid the dough into a loaf starting at the middle.  Turn around and braid the other side. Pinch and tuck the ends under. Transfer the loaves onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let rest at room temperature for about 40 minutes. I've found that covering them with a sheet of glad wrap helps prevent them from drying out. 
At the 40 minute mark turn on your oven to 350F. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of cold water and 'paint' the loaves with it. If you like sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the middle of the oven. Remove and allow to cool on a rack. 
The procedure for the frozen dough is slightly different. Remove dough from freezer and allow to thaw in refrigerator. Cut into three pieces and allow to settle for 5 -10 minutes on the counter before making ropes. Let the braided loaves rest and rise for at least an hour before giving an egg wash and  baking them. 
In the name of Gluten. Amen

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Best Banana Bread Ever

I found this recipe on a blog called Galleykitchen a while ago. And ever since then this bread appears on our table at least once a month. The bread is wonderfully tasty and so easy to make, I've made my kids bake it for me on a number of occasion.

Banana Bread

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. ground flax seed (adaptation)
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (adaptation)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt (we always use yogurt)
2/3 cup granulated sugar  (we use less than that)
2 extra large eggs lightly beaten, at room temperature
1 cup mashed very ripe banana, 2-3 depending on size
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) (chocolate chips work great too)
2 tablespoon Demerara sugar (optional, but really recommended)

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Lightly grease a loaf pan. If you bake in a glass pan, or a dark coated pan, reduce oven temperature to 330º F. In a medium bowl, place flour, ground flax seed, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the mashed banana, yogurt or sour cream, vanilla, vinegar  or lemon juice and chopped nuts or chocolate chips.

Beat the room temperature butter with the sugar. If you use a standmixer, use the paddle attachment. You are looking for a light, fluffy texture.  Now add the flower and speed up the mixing until  the mixture has a sort of sandy texture. Under no circumstance walk away and forget you have the mixer running and come back to find that the butter melted and it's all a creamy texture. That would be bad, your bread would get very heavy and doughy.  Add the eggs and beat until combined.  Fold in the banana mixture, and the nuts or chocolate chips; do not over mix.

Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the Demerara sugar.  Bake for 40-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the loaf to a cooling rack and allow to cool as much as you can tolerate before you absolutely have to try a slice.

Guten Appetit.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Vegetarian Turn-Overs

There are plenty of 'Hot Pocket' types of foods out there. And you'll find lots of nice vegetarian versions too. This is the version my family loves for lunch. 

Vegetarian Turnover with Cashews and Indian Spices
1 Potato - chopped small
1 Carrot - chopped small
Half cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup very small fresh cauliflower florets
1 half of a small tomato - seeded and chopped
3 tbsp. chopped onion
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. turmeric
pinch ground ginger
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste
1 tsp. cooking oil
2 tbsp. cilantro leaves - chopped
1/2 cup broken up pieces of raw, unsalted cashew nuts - roasted and allowed to cool
(Optional) 1 egg + 1 tbsp. cold water - beaten
I box ready made puff pastry
Set your puff pastry on a cookie sheet. If frozen allow to thaw.
Meanwhile heat the cooking oil and add the cumin seeds. Let them sputter for a moment and then add the onion. Sauté until starting to brown and add spices. Stir and then add all remaining vegetables except the peas. Sauté until the potatoes and carrots are cooked. You may add a little water while cooking, just make sure the final product hasn't any liquid gravy. Add the peas and cilantro and heat through for a few more minutes. Season well with salt to taste.  Remove from heat, allow to cool. Once cool mix in the cashew nut pieces.
Heat oven to 400 F, or pastry manufacturers recommendation. Cut the puff pastry sheets into four squares each. Top half of the square with filling. Paint the two sides of the bottom part of the pastry with the egg mixture to seal. Fold the other part of the square (so it turns into the classic triangle turnover shape) over the filling and seal the sides. Paint the top with the egg mixture and place the tray in the oven. Allow to bake until the turnovers are golden brown.
We enjoy the turnovers served with a spicy ketchup (mix Sriracha and Ketchup) and a cool salad on the side.
If you buy or make vegan puff pastry, and omit the egg glaze these turnovers are easily made vegan.