More muffins…

Sorry I haven’t been posting in a while! Life has gotten hectic at my house, thanks to our impending international move. As a byproduct of the move, my kitchen has been reduced down to the bare bones, so I won’t be cooking anything very elaborate anytime soon. Fortunately, we had a goodbye party last weekend which included a lot of food, which should make for some great entries in the coming weeks.

As I have been reduced to being a glorified nomad, I’ll try my best to post every other day, but I will be traveling a lot, so no promises!

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Here’s another healthy muffin recipe that I’ve grown partial to.

It’s healthy, simple, and cheap. Too often, in this age of caloric excess, muffins have become cupcakes in disguise. At 166 calories a pop, and 2g of fat per muffin, these Buttermilk Oatmeal Muffins are keepers.

I made a few modifications to the recipe, using the first commenter’s suggestions as a guide. I cut down the amount of oil by half, and added in a grated apple in order to keep the muffins moist. Alternatively, you could use applesauce or more apple and completely eliminate the oil if you want to be really hardcore.

I also added in some cinnamon and nutmeg to give these muffins a bit more flavour. The commenter also suggested adding ginger and vanilla. I’ll try that some time and report back.

Lastly, I added raisins to the muffins to make them a little heartier. With muffins and cookies, I find it a good idea to soak the raisins for about 15 minutes in some water so that they don’t dry out completely in the oven when you bake them.

If you’re fresh out of buttermilk (karnemelk), make it with a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. You’ll have chunky milk in no time.

Good pie…

… starts with a good, flaky pastry.

Pie is another one of those easy basic desserts that impresses people. Nobody has the time to make a pie these days, but most people have the skills to do it. The most labour-intensive part of most dessert pies is making the pastry, and after that it’s downhill from there.

The pie we make most often in our house is apple pie. Why? Because apples are cheap and readily available and because apple pie is really, really hard to screw up.

Throw a latticed top on the pie with some egg wash, and people will ooh and ahh even more.

Today is another one of those rare days where my recipe comes from a printed source, as opposed to the interweb. Rumour has it that the last time my dad cooked as a bachelor, he used this cookbook as a reference, so it is highly regarded in my family as a relic from another era.

Flaky Pastry for 2-Crust Pie from The New Revised and Updated McCall’s Cookbook.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shortening or 2/3 cup lard [I use 3/4 cup butter]

5 to 6 tablesppons ice water

Directions:

1. Sift flour with salt into medium bowl.

2. With pastry blender or 2 knives [in hard times, I use a fork], using short cutting motion, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

3. Quickly sprinkle ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, over all of pastry mixture, tossing lightly with fork after each addition and pushing dampened portion to side of bowl; sprinkle only dry portion remaining. (Pastry should be just moist enough to hold together, not sticky.)

4. Shape pastry into ball; wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Divide in half, flatten each half with palm of hand.

5. To make bottom crust: On lightly floured surface, roll out half of pastry to 11-inch circle, rolling with light strokes from center to edge and lifting rolling pins as you reach edge. As you roll, alternate directions, to shape even circle.

6. If rolled piecrust is too irregular in shape, carefully trim off any bulge and use as patch. Lightly moisten pastry edge to be filled in. Gently press patch in place. Smooth seam with several light strokes of rolling pin.

7. Fold rolled pastry in half; carefully transfer to pie plate, making sure fold is in center.

8. Unfold pastry, and fit carefully into pie plate. Do not stretch pastry. Trim bottom crust even with edge of pie plate.

9. Turn out prepared filling onto bottom crust.

10. To make top crust: Roll out remaining half of pastry to 11-inch circle.

11. Fold in half; make several gashes near center for steam vents. [I usually cut my top crust into even strips in order to make a latticed top. If you do this, skip ahead to step #13]

12. Carefully place pastry on top of filling, making sure fold  is in center; unfold.

13. Trim top crust 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold top crust under bottom crust; press gently together to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

14. For shiny, glazed top, brush top crust with 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water, or with 1 slightly beaten egg white, or with undiluted evaporated milk.

15. To prevent edge of crust from becoming too brown, place 11/2-inch strip of  foil around rust; bake as recipe indicates. Remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.

Makes enough pastry for 8 or 9-inch 2-crust pie.

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The filling

The secret to tzatziki…

…is good yoghurt. Greek or Turkish will do.

Tzatziki is one of my favourite condiments. Its versatility makes it great.  It can accompany breads, veggies and meats, and can even be eaten on its own. In the even that you don’t have thick yoghurt, all you need to do is drain the water from plain yoghurt, by putting it in a sieve for a few hours.

As for the cukes, makes sure to add salt and really squeeze out all the water that’s in the cucumber, or else it will make your tzatziki runny. I used this recipe from allrecipes.com, except that I omitted the dill (because I hate it) and the olive oil.

Those who know me, know that I love garlic. To the point of excess. At one nerdy point in my high school career, I even wrote an ode to garlic for an English assignment. Any time I make something with garlic for my own consumption, I generally double the quantity required. Sometimes I even triple my quantities… and that’s exactly what I did on my first try of tzatziki… and I won’t be doing it again. After an hour or so in the fridge, the garlic flavour really started to overpower the tzatziki. It was enough to defeat me. Next time, I’ll probably add in just an extra clove, at the most. To be on the safe side, I’ll probably stick to the recipe’s quantities, and then add more after the flavours have settled for at least an hour in the fridge. You live, you learn!

Grocery store samples…

I love samples at the grocery store. Not just because they provide sustenance when I am broke/feeling cheap. Now I love them because they are a great source of ideas for new meals. Sampling food at a grocery store gave me courage to try cooking tofu on my own, eat smelly cheese, and find new ways to cook fish.

This next recipe is one that I got from Sligro, a cash-and-carry store here in Holland. They go all out with their samples, they have tables, wine, some decent plastic cutlery, and they always provide you with the recipe… so here it is, Madras Curry. It’s translated from Dutch, so bear with me….

Madras Curry

Ingredients:

375 grams shrimp

1 tsp Madras curry powder

1 kilo basmati rice

500 grams chopped bell peppers

1 bunch of spring onion

0.5 liter coconut milk (I suggest using the sweetened kind)

1 clove of garlic

1 knob of butter

Directions:

1. Thaw the shrimp and pat dry.

2. Melt the butter in a wok on medium heat.

3. Toss the bell peppers and the shrimp in the wok.

4. Mince the clove of garlic and add it to the wok.

5.  Sprinkle the teaspoon of curry into the wok.

6. Combine all the ingredients in the wok and continue cooking.

7. Add the coconut milk to the wok.

8. Cook the rice.

9. Serve the rice topped with the Madras curry sauce.

Enjoy!

Indian Feast…

A few times a year, I like to make a good Indian meal. I find having a good Indian food experience in a restaurant is very expensive. It can easily set you back €200 for four people, without dessert, and without drinks. So I’ve resorted to making the food myself.

I cooked Indian food every couple months  while I was in Korea, although on a much smaller scale. I would make my own naan, but as far as the tandoori chicken or the butter chicken went, I would buy a spice pack. Thank you, Asian Kitchen!

Needless to say, a good home-made Indian meal has been a long time coming at my house, so here it is!

I started off by making my own garam masala. We didn’t have any in the house, and I couldn’t find any in Wassenaar. Fortunately for me, I had all the ingredients needed to make it. What a fluke!

Next, I made my own paneer, or cheese, for my veggie dish, palak paneer, which is basically spinach cooked in a cream and tomato sauce. The hardest part of making the paneer was tracking down cheesecloth. At one point, I decided I was going to use my sister’s (unworn) pantyhose, but then I managed to find some cheese cloth at the kitchen store in our little town. It set me back 6 euros, which I’m sure is way more than you’d pay in Canada, but I didn’t mind too much because it’s reusable and can be washed at a really high temperature.

Most recipes say to use homogenized milk, or milk with a fat content of at least 3.25%. I decided to use volle melk, which is as close as you can get to that in Holland. I googled and found that volle melk is in that same ballpark when it comes to fat content, but my experience making the milk taught me a little different. From 2 litres of volle melk, my yield was just shy of 150g worth of cheese. For anyone who plans to make their own paneer in Holland, you might be wise to use more milk than most recipes call for.

I didn’t take a picture of the paneer, but here it is in the palak paneer:

Next, I made the butter chicken…. Rather than suffering in an effort to make tandoori masala, I just added in a little more garam masala and then threw in the ingredients that were missing. The butter chicken turned out great–my only gaffe was to use a bit of ghee in an effort to sweeten the butter chicken. I ended up with an odd kind of sweet taste that was too strong, so I balanced that out with some more fenugreek, which kind of has a bitter taste.

I added a 1/4 cup of cashews to the recipe, just because it’s something I’ve seen being done in Indian restaurants, and a few other recipes recommended it. I also threw in a bit of madras curry to make the sauce a bit more flavourful. That may well be a faux pas in authentic cooking, but I found that it improved the dish quite a bit.

Most of the butter chicken I’ve tried in restaurants has been on the sweet side, so I also added in some white sugar until it tasted about right. It’s no Bombay Choupati, but I do what I can. The only thing I would do next time to improve on my dish is make it spicier… and not put ghee in it.

Next, the naan. Thanks to my sister for making and rolling out the bread. Pretty straightforward. Since I don’t have a tandoori oven, we use a bbq for the airiest results. About an hour before grilling the naan, I crushed a few cloves of garlic and put it in about a 1/4 cup of ghee. I later brushed this mixture on both sides of the naan as it grilled. It tasted just like in the restaurant!

Since we didn’t have enough yeast in the house to make a triple batch of naan (we love the stuff A LOT), I decided to add saffron rice to our menu. Thanks to my mom for cooking the rice. If you do plan to use this recipe, heed the advice and use chicken broth instead of water, it’ll make all the difference in flavour. Next time, I intend to add cashews and raisins to it for a stronger flavour.

Last but not least, the drinks! Mango lassis. There are probably some great mango lassi recipes out there, but we didn’t use any. Just some full fat yogurt, a couple cans of mangoes, some caradamom, sugar and some mango juice.

Making Indian food is always a half-day trial, but it certainly is worth it in the end. Good food facilitates good conversation 🙂

A Prelude…

Today I’ll be cooking an Indian Feast. So far it’s been pretty labour-intensive, what with making garam masala from scratch using a mortar and pestle, and making paneer from scratch as well. Because I love stress, I’ll be cooking palak paneer for the first time, as well as saffron rice, and the family favourites–garlic naan, murgh makhani (butter chicken), and mango lassis. Since I must conserve my energy for this feat, this entry is going to be short.

This one’s basically a tip–no elaborate recipes or links to marthastewart.com. Just a tip.

For those of you who love chai and don’t want to shell out for ridiculously overpriced specialty bags of tea, just go to the grocery store and get yourself some black tea–something along the lines of English breakfast tea will do, and some cardamom seeds. Put the seeds in one of those tea sieves (about 8 seeds for a 300ml cup of tea), add your tea, and boiled water. Voila! Chai!

There are other spices that are used in different types of chai, such as ginger and cinnamon, but if you’re looking for chai that tastes similar to the one from Starbucks, cardamom’s all you really need. You can add other spices, but since cardamom is generally the dominant flavour in what the west considers to be ‘chai’, it does a swell job on its own.

Puff Puff

Enough with the oibo chop, it’s time to mix things up a bit.

This is one of my favourite Cameroonian (ok, West African) meals. Puff puff is quite simple to make, it just requires some time to cook.

Before I continue, let me give credit where it is due, and add that the puff puff was cooked by my cousin. I’m learning to cook African food, but alas, the process has not been photogenic. I’m much better at eating it.

Puff Puff

Ingredients:

14g of instant yeast

4 cups flour

2 cups warm water (45°C so you don’t kill the yeast)

-1 tsp salt

-1 cup white sugar

-enough cooking oil (canola, sunflower seed, etc.) to deep fry

Directions:

In a large bowl or pot (not sure what size it is, but we use our lobster-boiling pot), dissolve the yeast in the hot water. Add in the salt, and then the sugar. Next, add the flour a cup at a time, making sure to mix it in evenly without overworking the dough.

When all the ingredients are combined, cover your pot or your bowl and place it somewhere warm, like next to a stove, by a heater, or next to a window that receives direct sunlight.

The next part is tricky to time, but basically you have to let the dough rise until it doubles in volume. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of your batch, and the temperature of the room.

When the dough has doubled, get ready to fry!

In a second pot, add the oil until it is reaches a level of at least 6 cm. Heat the oil on low to medium heat. When you think the oil is hot enough, drop a bit of the batter into the pot. If it sinks, you need to wait a bit more, if it floats, you’re ready to fry.

While you are waiting for the oil to heat up, take a colander and line it with paper towel. Set aside nearby.

Next, use a tablespoon or a small serving spoon to spoon your batter, and another spoon to help you drop the batter into the pot. Alternatively, if you’re hardcore, you can form the balls with your hands and drop them into the pot. A good size for puff puff is about the size of a Timbit.  Be careful, when you drop them in, hot oil burns like hell–but I don’t need to tell you that!

Fry the balls until they turn a golden brown colour on one side, then turn them over and continue frying until the other side reaches the same level of brownness.

Using a pasta scoop (or some other utensil with slits), scoop the balls out of the oil and into the colander… then repeat this process until all your puff puff is cooked!

Puff Puff goes well with kidney beans and tomato sauce, but they are sweet enough that you can eat them on their own. Sometimes served with granulated or powdered sugar, they are often a staple at children’s birthdays or other gatherings. They don’t taste as good when they’re not fresh, so keep that in mind when you are planning your quantities.

Eet ze!