Friday, February 17, 2017

Veggie Chili

Here's a nice recipe that serves 4 generously but scales up for a larger crowd.

Preheat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat.

Finely chop:
  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
When the pot is fairly hot, add a splash of olive oil or some other oil of your choice.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle, grind:
  • 1-2 heaping tablespoons of cumin seed
  • 1-2 dry hot peppers
  • ½ teaspoon oregano (double if using fresh)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch of celery salt
Add to the pot, stir into the onion and garlic mixture, and let it warm up a bit.

Using a strainer, drain the liquid from 1 large can kidney or pinto beans and wash them under the tap to get all the "syrup" off them.  Add to pot and stir.

Add 1 large can crushed or diced tomatoes, juice and all.  Mix thoroughly.  Adjust seasonings if you want more spice, but be careful not to over-salt.  If you're feeling adventurous, add a teaspoon of cocoa or a dash of cinnamon.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and put on the lid.  Initially you should check on it after about 20 minutes and give it a stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.  After the tomatoes have changed from red to orange-red, it's essentially ready but it tastes better if you simmer it longer.  You can even turn off the stove altogether after about an hour and let the flavours blend, and bring the heat back up just before serving time.

Try this with strong cheese -- Grate or crumble some into the bowl just before you add the hot chili.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Aunt Tata's Almond Cookies, Mk. III

Well, after a lot of fuss and bother and experimentation (and ingredients), the secret of those ever-so-elusive and ever-so-nomnomnom Chinese almond cookies has finally been discovered.  Astreja K. has been trying to figure this one out since the mid-1960s, when the Grade 4 teacher acquired some goodies from a local restaurant to complement a geography unit on China.  It was love at first bite.  (She's still working on the Chicken Fried Rice recipe, but it's getting closer.)

This recipe is missing a couple of the decorative features of restaurant almond cookies:  The egg wash, embedded almond, and yellow food colouring have been omitted.  Feel free to add them if you wish, but the cookies work just fine without them.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cream in a large bowl:

  • ¾ cup lard (traditional) or vegetable shortening (makes a slightly lighter cookie)
  • ¾ cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon pure almond extract

Combine in another bowl:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups ground almonds (preferably whole, not blanched)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Gradually add the dry mixture to the bowl with the creamed mixture of lard and sugar.  Continue mixing or kneading together until you have a firm dough -- it should hold together and not crumble.

Form the dough into 1" balls and place on a baking sheet lined with ungreased parchment paper.  Press a thumbprint into each dough ball to flatten it slightly.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  The cookies are done when they've flattened and spread out a bit and have crackles all over the top, and the texture should be light, dry and sandy.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Spinach and Feta Quiche

This tastes great when it's hot out of the oven, even better the second day.

Step 1:  Prepare the shortbread crust.

 Preheat oven to 325°F.  While the oven is heating, combine in a bowl:
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour (or a mixture of white, whole wheat and/or multigrain flour
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • Cold water as required
If the butter is hard, microwave it for about 15 seconds. Cut into the flour with your hands or a pastry-blending tool, and add water a bit at a time till you have a dough that's just starting to hold together (it'll be a bit crumbly, but that's okay).

Press the dough into an ungreased pie pan, lining the pan to just below the rim. With a fork, poke  some holes in the bottom of the crust so that steam can escape. Put in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Step 2:  Prepare the filling.

In a pot or frying pan, heat:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, virgin or extra-virgin
When the oil is hot, add:
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, thoroughly washed (baby spinach works great here).

Toss around in the hot oil till the spinach is just starting to wilt.  Remove from heat and pour off excess liquid.

In the same bowl that you used for the pastry shell, combine:
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 5 large eggs 
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced fine
  • At least 1/2 teaspoon oregano, fresh or dried 
  • Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Optional spices:  Dill, minced onions, basil.  Because of the saltiness of the feta cheese, we don't recommend using garlic salt, onion salt or any other salt-based seasoning in this recipe.

By this time, the sautéed spinach has cooled a bit.  Add it to the mixture of cheese, eggs and spices, and mix thoroughly.

The pie crust should also be ready by now. Pour the mixture into the partially baked shell and return to the oven.

Bake for at least 35 minutes.  Be aware that it can take 45 minutes or even longer, depending on your oven. Do not underbake!  When the pie is ready, the center will be quite firm to the touch and a very, very pretty shade of green on top.

You can serve this immediately, but it'll cut more easily if you let it cool for a few minutes.

Cooking axioms

Assorted snippets of cooking wisdom from Astreja K.:

  • If a recipe calls for shortening or margarine, cut to the chase and go for butter.  Unsalted is best.
  • Cookies should be baked at 325° F or lower, especially if they contain baking powder or baking soda.  Sodium bicarbonate changes to sodium carbonate (ack! washing soda!) at higher temperatures.  So there you have it:  The real reason Auntie Em's gingersnaps taste like soap.
  • Cool down and wipe down your cookie sheets between batches.  Run them under cold water if they're too hot to handle.
  • Your best bet for getting cookies off the pans in one piece is parchment paper.  When the cookies come out of the oven, let them stand for about two minutes.  Place the cooling rack face-down on top of the cookies while they're still on the cookie sheet, then flip the pan and the rack over together, then lift off the pan and peel the parchment paper off the bottoms of the cookies.  (You may even be able to reuse the clean side of the paper for another batch.)
Things that aren't cookies:
  • There is no such thing as Too Much Garlic, except perhaps in chocolate cake.
  • There is no such thing as Too Much Vanilla, either.
  • Cook slowly and turn up the heat only if you have to.  It's easier than finding a place to dump whatever you just burned.
  • That said, if you're trying to burn something on purpose (For example, onions for French Onion Soup), a little salt will cause them to brown faster.
  • Read that last one again:  A little salt. Salt is the one spice that can severely wreck a recipe. Always err on the side of caution here.
  • However, when brewing coffee, always err on the side of excess.  You can water down the strong stuff, but you can't save the weak stuff.
  • Use nylon utensils, not metal ones, with your non-stick cookware.
  • The infamous Rule of Three:  When you can't decide what to make for supper, pick three ingredients at random from your fridge and/or cupboard.  Once you have the basic outline, you can cheat by adding flour, water, spices and other necessities.  Examples:
    • Carrot-Potato Pancakes (Grated carrots and potatoes, a couple of eggs, flour and spices.)
    • Lentil Soup with Tea Biscuits (Lentils and spices for the soup; flour, margarine and baking powder for the biscuits.)
    • Vegetarian Chili (Kidney beans, canned tomatoes and an onion.)
    • Corn Fritters (Frozen corn, flour, eggs and spices, fried in a bit of oil.)
    • Antibiotic Soup (All the onions and garlic you've got in the house, plus marjoram, a bay leaf and any other spices that look interesting.  Great stuff when you've got a cold.)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Minestewni for a cold, cold winter day

Here's an easy chunky minestrone that comes together fast (and disappears just as fast -- the pot we made at 4:00 this afternoon is already more than half gone).


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Spices to taste (Thyme, oregano, parsley flakes, celery salt, garlic powder or flakes, salt and pepper, or a tablespoon or so of mixed Italian spice)
  • 1 carton ready-made broth (we used chicken broth, but for a vegetarian version of this soup you can substitute vegetable broth)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large (796 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup small pasta shells
  • 1 small (398 mL) can Italian butter beans or other large, flat beans (Romano, broad beans or similar)
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pot.  Sauté the chopped onion in the oil for a few minutes.

Toss the spices with the onion and oil, then pour in about a third of the carton of broth and toss in the bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Gradually add the rest of the broth, and then add the tomatoes.

Cook the soup base for about 20-30 minutes at a high simmer, stirring once in a while and making sure that the tomatoes aren't sticking to the bottom of the pot.

When the tomatoes change from red to orange-red, it's time to finish the soup.  Add the pasta shells and let them cook until almost done (about 6-7 minutes).  Add the beans, including the liquid from the can.  Bring back to a boil and cook until the beans are heated through and the pasta is soft.  Remove the bay leaf and discard.

Serve immediately, but be aware that the shells will continue to expand and you may end up with a pasta dish instead of a soup.  If for some reason you need it to be soup, just add more broth to the mixture to thin it out again.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pumpkin Curry Bisquette

This soup falls into the quick-and-easy category, but it has a certain elegance -- A je-ne-sais-quoi-ness, if you will, even though there's nothing the least bit mysterious about the ingredient list.

Pumpkin Curry Bisquette

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 scallions, chopped.  You can either put the green bits aside and sprinkle on top of the soup, or sauté them with the white part.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced.  This is a case where more is not better.  Use only 1 clove, not 2 or 17.
  • Curry spice of your choice (at least 1 tbsp but probably more)
  • 1 small can (398 mL / 14 ounces) pure pumpkin (don't use pumpkin pie filling!)  You can cook and purée about 2 cups' worth of fresh pumpkin if you just happen to have a Jack O' Lantern lurking by the front door, but expect to spend at least another half hour putting this together.
  • 2 cups light cream (10% half-and-half or 18% coffee cream will both work)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Over medium-high heat, melt butter in a pot.  Add the scallions, the garlic and the curry spice and cook for a couple of minutes.

Dump in the pumpkin purée and combine well.  Continue to stir until heated through.

Gradually stir in the cream until the texture is smooth and velvety.  Add salt and pepper, and more curry if you think the soup needs it.

Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and serve immediately in small bowls.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Berry Flaxseed Bread

Here's a very simple quickbread recipe that's based mainly around eggs and ground flaxseed.  If you want to add fibre to your diet, or you want something that tastes a bit like a bran muffin but don't want to eat wheat, try this.

Berry Flaxseed Bread

  • About 300 grams of ground (not whole) flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1½ cups assorted berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries will all work; frozen fruit is OK to use, too).
  • ⅓ cup mild-tasting vegetable oil (sunflower, safflower or corn oil are all good)
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅔ cup water
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Next, line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper and oil the paper with a bit of vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (flax, baking powder, salt) and then toss in the berries.  Mix thoroughly.

In another bowl or a large measuring cup, beat the oil, eggs, and water together.

Add the oil/egg/water mixture to the dry ingredients and stir quickly with a fork until thoroughly combined.

Pour into the prepared baking pan and press into the corners.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.  You can subdivide this as soon as it's out of the oven, or wait until it's cool.  If you divide it into 10 pieces, each piece will have about 30 grams (roughly 1 ounce) of flax.  This can be eaten as is, or with butter or margarine.  It also freezes very well.