29 November 2011

A few of my favourite (kitchen) things

People frequently ask me whether they should buy a starter set from some company or another. I always strongly caution against that. Instead, I'd prefer that you buy a few excellent quality things (none of which are terribly expensive), and go from there. These aren't all completely necessary things (you may never reach for a pestle and mortar, because you don't actually use any spices that need crushing), so your mileage may vary, but I feel like for the price, all these items are very good deals.

Here is the list: http://www.amazon.com/lm/R3D907YKSJ0AG8/

26 November 2011

Ginger Tea

This morning, because of the heater, Steve's got a particularly nasty sounding cough. Time to brew up some ginger tea. This can be drunk on its own, or blended with whatever your favourite hot tea is. I generally serve it with a bit of green tea steeped in the hot liquid, but the choice is yours.

500 ml (2 cups, roughly) water
4 cloves
1 cardamom, in its pod
4 cm knob of ginger, sliced thinly
4 black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 lime, juiced
1 TB of your favourite tea (or 2 tea bags; ugh, tea bags)

Over highest heat, steep the clove, cardamom, sliced ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, and the juice of the lime (along with the leftover lime halves, if you're feeling adventurous) in rapidly boiling water for three minutes. Turn off the heat. Add your tea leaves. Allow it to steep for four minutes, with the heat off. Serve your tea piping hot. Strain out all the bits and bobs, and refresh it by pouring another 500 ml of boiling water over top the whole mess, and steeping it for five minutes. Strain again, and use the stuff for a third steeping.

If you're using tea bags, you need to steep the tea for four - six minutes, and only use it once. With actual tea, however, you can generally get three good steepings out of it, at the very least. In fact, the second and third steeping tastes better than the first one, which is why I suggest a relatively quick steep for the first go-around.

I and Steve both prefer this without sweetener, because it's so flavourful without. All the spices give a bit of sweetness on their own, without needing to rely on sugar. I urge you to try it on its own, and see if you can take a strongly flavoured tea, all on its own. You'll surprise yourself, as you reach for this blend for your morning cup of tea, and cut back drastically on the amount of sugar you pour on.

25 November 2011

Small quantities

It's a topic that's difficult for me to tackle, but frankly, I need to start cooking in small quantities when I'm at home. Why? Because if I don't, I'm going to wind up wasting food, and that's not a good way to keep my food shopping under control. Here's a helpful list for me to keep on hand, so that I remind myself of what a reasonably sized portion for one person (for one meal) should be.

1/4 cup of rice
1 potato
1/2 head of cauliflower
1/2 lb of spinach (cooked. Spinach is depressing in how much it cooks down!)
1/2 cup of beans
1 cup of red lentils (they're magic, and finish FAST)
1 cucumber
1 tomato
1 small red onion (or shallot, come to think of it)
1/2 cup of chickpeas, soaked and boiled (for hummus)

Ugh. This is depressing me. What are some tricks you all use to keep quantities small and manageable? I know I need to start doing it, because it's quicker too. 1 cup of rice or 1 cup of beans takes much less time to cook up than 5 cups of the same. Any tips from my lovely readers out there?

23 November 2011


Just a little note to thank you all for following my adventures all these years, and for a couple of random thank-yous to people who may or may not see them.

1) Thank you to the lady who let me go in front of her, because I only had one item to buy, and she had three. She had a small child with her, and I know how much of a challenge it can be to have an inquisitive child with you when you're shopping. Even then, she still thought of my comfort first, and that touched my heart. Thank you, lovely lady at the store! You've made my day a little brighter.

2) Thank you to the gentleman across the train who got up to let a father (who held his little girl in his arms) sit down. You didn't have to. What touched me even more was that there was a bit of a scramble of people (about three or four) who got up to offer him a seat. Were I on that side of the train, I'd have done the same. I'm glad to see that kindness exists out there, and that we're all eager to help each other out. It warmed me up on that cold, rainy night.

3) Thank you to Steve, who cleaned the kitchen for me yesterday, so that as soon as I got home, I was inspired to make beet daal. It was lovely, for the record.

Beet Daal

1 beet, grated
2 cups of red lentils
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 enormous piece of ginger, chopped very roughly
1 stalk of curry leaves
1/2 tsp oil
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed, crushed lightly
1 tsp sesame seed
2 litres water

Start with the oil in a deep stock pot. Add the cumin and coriander seeds. Wait about 30 seconds into the popping before adding the curry leaves. Add the onion, ginger, and sesame seeds, and stir vigorously. Cook for about 2 minutes. You want the onion and the ginger to just barely cook. The reason you chop them into rough pieces is that you want the ginger to retain some of its raw peppery bite.

Then, add the red lentils and the water, and let the water come to a full rushing boil. Drop down the heat to medium, and cover the pot. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and go grate up your beet.

When the soup is done cooking at the end of the 25 minutes, turn off the heat, and stir in the grated beets. The whole thing will turn a vivid purple. It's a beautiful colour. Let the beets steep in the hot soup for about 10 minutes, so that they're just barely cooked through. Eat over steaming hot rice. You'll get little bites of just barely cooked ginger, and beet, and bursts of spice from the toasted seeds. Delicious on a cold, rainy day.

20 November 2011

Philly Style Soft Pretzels

From 11/20/11
EDIT: When rolling out the pretzels, please make sure to roll them out thinner than you think you want. As soon as you dip them into the boiling water, they will swell BIG TIME.

If I can manage to knock up a batch of pretzels without screwing it up, anyone can.

1 1/4 cups of water, at body temperature
1 package (2 tsp) of yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups of all purpose flour, set aside for later
2 TB oil
2 tsp salt

Combine the water and yeast together, and let it dissolve. Then, combine the first two cups of flour with the yeast + water. Let the sponge (this is what the yeast, flour, and water mixture is called now) sit for about 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, the sponge should have doubled in size. If it hasn't your yeast has gone off, and you've got problems. Let it sit in a warmer space for another 20 minutes, and see if that does anything.

It did nothing? Buy fresh yeast, and fold it into your sponge, and try again. This is why I love the sponge method: you aren't too invested in anything at the initial stages. You haven't kneaded anything, and there wasn't too terribly much work going into anything yet.

When your sponge has doubled in volume, fold in, bit by bit, the remaining flour, salt, and oil. You can do this on a counter if you're feeling adventurous (and don't mind the mess), or in a food processor or stand mixer if you own one of those. It also works in a bread machine. If the dough is too sticky, knead longer. It'll de-sticky eventually. If it's still too sticky, knead in a bit more flour.

Once the dough is well kneaded (for about 10 minutes, or 2 minutes in the mixer or food processor), let it rise in a large plastic box/bowl/container that's been greased. Lightly coat the dough in a film of grease, either with cooking spray or oil. This will prevent that gross crust from forming on the outside. Let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours (more if you're doing it at a cooler temperature, like in the winter), until it's doubled in volume.

Beat it down, and form into pretzel shapes of your liking.

Boiling Liquid

1 litre of water
2 heaped tablespoons baking soda

Boil the water, and dissolve the baking soda. Drop in the formed pretzels, one at a time into the liquid. When the pretzel rises to the top, continue to boil for another 30 seconds. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, and lay onto a parchment-lined, greased baking sheet. As soon as it's laid onto the baking sheet, sprinkle on your salt or sesame seeds (whichever you prefer is fine).

Bake at 425ºF for 14 minutes. Turn the pans, and bake for another 7 minutes.

10 November 2011

Quick Red Lentil Soup

When I'm at my friend Nick's house, I can generally count on certain spices being in stock at all times: dried parsley, curry powder, celery seed, and he's generally happy to snag some onion, garlic, and red lentils when I come over for our weekly hanging outs on Wednesdays (formerly Thursdays, but there you go). We found the red lentils at his local grocery store, and picked up a pound, so that I could make a soup. I made about a gallon or so of soup, and the four of us demolished it. Last night, I made another batch of it, and it turned out rather well.

1 tsp olive or canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped small
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Pinch of celery seed
3 tsp curry powder
1 bunch of fresh parsley, or a couple of tablespoons of dried
Salt and black pepper, to taste (you can use cayenne pepper, red chile flakes, or any others you like)
1 lb red lentils (these cook up in 20 minutes, no soaking needed)
About 5 litres of water (some will evaporate)

Add onions, garlic, and olive oil to the pot, over medium high heat, and cover the lid after stirring well. Let them cook until completely softened. This took us about 25 minutes last night, on the stove that hates to be controlled. I would try to set it on low, and it would turn off. I settled on medium to let it cook for a longer time without browning. When you have such a small amount of oil, it'll want to make everything get burned rather quickly. The lower heat allows the juices of the onions and garlic to come out slowly, and prevent the burning.

When the onions and garlic are soft, throw in the celery seed, curry powder, and dried parsley. If you're using fresh, just add it at the last 5 minutes of cooking, and not at this point. Stir the spices with the onions and garlic, and continue to cook over medium heat (uncovered) for about two or three minutes. You want the raw taste of the spices to cook out.

Add the pound of red lentils, and stir thoroughly with the spices and aromatics. Add the water, and let it come to the boil (covered) on high heat. Let it continue to boil over high heat for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely cooked down. Add more water as desired.

We powered through almost the entire pot last night. It was brothy and tasty, and we just kept going back for extra helpings, even though there was plenty of other stuff to eat.

06 November 2011

Beginner cooking, Pasta

Today, we discuss beginner's recipes. Specifically, we attack pasta. When you're making pasta, I find that it's good to make a sauce while you're waiting for the pasta water to come to a boil.

Garlic and Herb Sauce
3 or 4 TB olive oil
1 TB Italian seasoning (or, a combination of dried basil, dried oregano, dried marjoram, and dried thyme)
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bunch of parsley, chopped finely
1/4 cup of pasta cooking water
Few pinches of red chile flakes

Heat the oil over medium low heat, and add the garlic and herbs. When the garlic is soft, add the fresh parsley, pasta water, and the (optional) red chile flakes. Turn off the heat, and wait for the pasta to finish cooking. Toss through with about 1 lb of cooked pasta of your choice.

This works really well with any kind of additions, like leftover veg (kale, broccoli rabe, etc), capers, olives, or beans. It's also a pretty basic starting point for if expanding into tomato sauces, etc., because once you master garlic and herbs, the sky is the limit!