Saturday, June 29, 2013

Golden Chicken Kebabs with Persian Rice

I've been taken to task for featuring too many vegetarian dishes on this blog, the complaint coming from my youngest, very non-vegetarian daughter so here is one of her favourite meals: chicken and rice. Not just any chicken and rice, but succulent garlicky saffron chicken served on a bed of fluffy basmati rice with crunchy bits nestled in its midst.
Golden Chicken Kebabs with Special Everyday Persian Rice
The recipe for Golden Chicken Kebabs is an easy, flavourful way of preparing boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs.

The meat is trimmed of fat, cubed and marinated in a mixture of plain yogurt, garlic and saffron. It soaks for 3-24 hours so it's easy to prepare in advance.

The kebabs cook very quickly, 10 minutes on the grill or under the broiler and they're done, making them perfect for a busy weeknight. The meat is juicy and tender, and flavoured with garlic and the earthy flavour of saffron. You don't really taste the yogurt but it seems to enhance the natural flavour of the chicken.
Delicious hot or cold.
Grilled Chicken Kebabs
The rice recipe, also called chelo, is a little labour intensive but is a favourite of both daughters so gets made on occasion.

Quite a few steps are required in getting this basmati rice to the table and if I knew how to cut back on the time and labour involved and still get the same results, I would. It starts with a rinse and then a long soak in some salted water. The rice is then cooked briefly in boiling water, drained, then rinsed in cool water to stop the cooking.

One thing that sets chelo apart from everyday Persian rice is the tahdig, a crispy golden layer that forms on the bottom of the pot during the next phase of cooking. To make it, some of the partly cooked rice is combined with an egg and yogurt and added to hot oil in the pot. The remaining rice is added carefully to create a mound, the pot is covered and the rice steams while the tahdig forms.
Chelo with Tahdig
To serve, the rice is garnished with the crunchy, golden shards of deliciousness. It has the perfect texture with absolutely no stickiness and tastes as good reheated as it does freshly made. It makes a huge amount, easily serving 8....or maybe only 4-5 if my daughters are around!

Both recipes are from the book Seductions of Rice, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.
The recipe for the Golden Chicken Kebabs can be found here.
The recipe for Special Everyday Persian Rice can be found here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chickpeas, 2 Ways - IHCC Got a pulse?

In the few years since my eldest daughter has become a vegetarian, dried beans, peas and lentils have taken over my pantry. I do try to keep on top of them by cooking and freezing in bulk but I'm not always that organized. With a 1kg bag of chickpeas taking up precious shelf space, and I Heart Cooking Club's Got a Pulse? theme this week with featured chef Yotam Ottolenghi, I knew what I was cooking!

I decided to make Balilah from the book Jerusalem. A Palestinian street food, it's a simple dish of cooked chickpeas flavoured with parsley, lemon and cumin. When I saw that the recipe called for fresh lemon segments, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to catch up on last month's IHCC community recipe and make and use Quick Pickled Lemons instead, a fantastic tasting condiment worthy of the rave reviews it's received.

Quick Pickled Lemons
We loved the fresh flavours of the balilah and wished it were available here as a street food! I'm sure it's delicious made with fresh lemon segments but I think the pickle added more complex and more intense lemon flavour. Typically, this is served at room temperature but it was also delicious chilled, as part of a packed lunch.
As suggested in the recipe notes, I turned a portion of it into a salad, adding tomatoes, cucumber, more lemon pickle(!) and arugula to serve with grilled fish. It was very good this way but I preferred it in its original, undiluted, form.

Balilah Salad
 Hummus, the IHCC community recipe for June, provided a perfect way to make an even larger dent in that bag of chickpeas. 

Basic Hummus

Perfect, except for the fact that I'd never made hummus successfully and had virtually given up trying to recreate that lovely smooth, creamy texture of store-bought. Following Ottolenghi's recipe for Basic Hummus, I made my first successful batch!

I did adjust some of the ingredients to personal taste, reducing the amount of tahini and salt, increasing the lemon juice, and adding some cumin. It was unbelievably smooth and the perfect consistency to use as a dip or spread. And the much better than anything I'd ever bought. I served it with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sumac. Loved it!

All recipes are from the book Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
The recipe for Basic Hummus can also be found here

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blueberry Pierogi

Blueberry pierogi, little dumplings filled with juicy fresh berries and topped with sweetened sour cream, were a treat I looked forward to every summer growing up. Being so labour intensive, pierogi were, and still are only made for special occasions, the blueberry variation to celebrate summer and the bounty of local berries.

Blueberry Pierogi
I took advantage of the unseasonably cool weather we had leading up to the first day of summer to make these and used New Jersey berries - not exactly local, but certainly more local than the wild blueberries from BC we'll see next month.

I thought I would try the Master Pierogi Recipe from the book From a Polish Country House Kitchen by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden, which is remarkably similar to my mother's but uses a different mixing technique.
pierogi dough pierogi dough1
As with other pasta recipes, the flour is placed on the work surface; the egg, salt and oil are added to a well in the centre and lightly whisked.
pierogi dough2 pierogi dough3
Warm water is added slowly as needed and the flour is gradually incorporated to form a shaggy dough. The dough is then kneaded for 8 minutes until it's no longer sticky but smooth and silky.
pierogi dough4 pierogi dough5
After a one hour rest, the dough is rolled out to 3mm thickness. I worked with a 1/2 batch at a time. It's easy to handle, requiring very little additional flour but is slightly elastic. Letting it relax for a few minutes when it's almost thin enough helps with the rolling. I used a 6cm biscuit cutter to cut my retrospect, I would use a much larger cutter as my yield was over 50!
Each dough circle is filled with fresh berries and pinched to seal it shut. The circles were small and the berries were large so I could only fit 2-3 per dumpling.
I placed the filled pierogi on a lightly floured tea towel. Once they're all filled, they're cooked in boiling, salted water just as you would pasta. I ignored the last part of the recipe in the book that has you fry the boiled pierogi in butter - you may see that in restaurants here, but traditionally, they're served freshly boiled with a simple topping.
The dough was the perfect texture: delicate and tender. I did think it was a little too salty, especially with a sweet filling, so I would use only 3/4 tsp salt next time.

                                           Blueberry Pierogi
                                    serves 4-6


The recipe and method are from the book, From a Polish Country House Kitchen and can be found here.


227g fresh blueberries, washed and dried

Traditional Sour Cream Topping:

1 cup/242g sour cream (regular or reduced-fat)
4 tbsp powdered sugar (or to taste)

Stir the sour cream and sugar together until combined. Refrigerate until needed. Serve on the side with freshly cooked fruit-filled pierogi.

I really enjoyed making these...the batch size and labour it brings with it isn't overwhelming but produces enough for a meal. I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book which seems to offer traditional Polish recipes with a twist.

I'm sharing this post with Cook-Your-Books hosted by Joyce at Kitchen Flavours. Please visit to see the delicious food that everyone has made this month.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

French Toast

French Toast, made primarily with pantry staples, is often the answer when I'm totally uninspired in the kitchen but still have a family to feed. Which means it's served for supper as often as it is for breakfast!
Because it's usually an unplanned meal, I use fresh bread that just goes for a quick dip in the egg mixture - any length of time in the liquid and the slices will disintegrate - and because it's often the main meal of the day, that mixture is heavy on the eggs, with just enough milk to loosen it a little.  Since not everyone in the family is a fan of the typical toppings, it has to taste good without embellishment so I add a little sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.

French Toast For A Crowd (or my family of 5!)

16 slices whole wheat sandwich bread (540g from a standard 675g loaf)

8 large eggs

1/2 cup/125ml 1% milk

1 tbsp  granulated sugar

1 tsp  pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp table salt

Vegetable oil or melted butter for cooking the toast slices

French Toast For 2

4 slices whole wheat sandwich bread (135g from a standard 675g loaf)

2 large eggs

2 tbsp 1%  milk

3/4 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pinch cinnamon

Pinch table salt

Vegetable oil or melted butter for cooking the toast slices

1. In a bowl or shallow dish large enough to accommodate a flat slice of bread, whisk together all ingredients except oil/butter just until combined.

2. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Once hot (a drop of water should sizzle in the pan), mist pan with oil or lightly coat with melted butter using a pastry brush. Dip the bread 1 slice at a time into the egg mixture making sure both sides are coated and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place in the hot pan. Dip only as many slices as you can cook at one time in the size of pan you’re using.

3. Once the slices are in the pan, press down lightly on each with a spatula (ensures the bottom of each slice is completely in contact with the pan). Cook 2 minutes or until golden brown; flip and cook an additional minute or so until bottom is golden. It should have a crispy exterior and a soft, moist (but not custardy) interior.

Serve hot plain or with maple syrup, fruit....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Seafood Rice Cazuela - IHCC Potluck

Despite the fact that I live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, there is a sad dearth of good Mexican restaurants here. Of course there are a few places that offer tasty casual fare, but for something a little different, I rely on Rick Bayless. So for this week's Potluck theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs, I'm cooking with the previously featured chef.

Seafood Rice Cazuela/Arroz a la Tumbada
Seafood Rice Cazuela, from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, is a recipe I've had my eye on for some time. Described as a "brothy paella", I had high expectations for it, as I do for any dish that involves a lot of fresh seafood, something I associate with special occasions. I'm happy to report that this dish met all of was fantastic!

The recipe starts with an essential sauce/salsa, a combination of broiled, peeled tomatoes and pan-grilled garlic and jalapeños, that adds huge flavour to the broth.

Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalapeño Salsa ingredients
Apart from some rice which needs to be cooked, the only other item that requires much time is the squid. Rick recommends using the squid cooking water in place of some of the chicken stock required for the soup but I substituted this with bottled clam juice.

Once the components are ready, the dish comes together very quickly: clams, shrimp and fish (cod) are briefly cooked in broth flavoured with the salsa, and the cooked rice and squid are added at the end to reheat.

The seafood was perfectly cooked and tender (even the squid!) and was the star of the dish; the broth was light but amazingly rich in flavour with a nice kick from the jalapeños; the rice tempered the heat and added substance.

I served it with The Rustic Jícama Appetizer as a starter, a refreshing salad of fresh jícama, cucumber, radishes and oranges, seasoned with salt, chile powder and lime juice. It's crisp, crunchy and so delicious, I could eat it every day.

     Rustic Jícama Appetizer with Red Chile and Lime/ Entremés de Jícama
This recipe is also from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen and can be found here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pasta with Asparagus and Gremolata

I love one-pot meals, and this light pasta dish is no exception. With beautiful local asparagus as the focal point, and a sprinkle of parsley, lemon zest and garlic to enhance its flavour, this dish comes together in just a few minutes longer than it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Great flavour with minimal ingredients and fuss.
whole wheat linguine with asparagus, gremolata and Parmesan cheese
The recipe comes from The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Martha Rose Shulman. I stray from her method slightly but not when it comes to her time-saving trick of adding the asparagus to the pot of cooking pasta a few minutes before the pasta has reached the al dente stage. But before you do this, remove approx. 125ml of pasta cooking water from the'll need it later to create the "sauce".
cooked pasta and asparagus
Rather than putting the drained pasta and asparagus into a warm bowl, I return it to the cooking pot and place it back on the stove over low heat.
garlic, lemon zest, parsley, Parmesan Cheese
Add the olive oil, the topping ingredients (reserve some of the cheese for garnish) and a spoon or 2 of pasta cooking water and toss well. If the pasta seems dry, add more water and toss again. Repeat until the cheese is melted and pasta and asparagus are evenly coated.

Serve with additional Parmesan. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sweet Potato Galettes - IHCC A Little Bit of Sunshine!

Sweet Potato Galette
One of my goals in life is to increase the quantity and variety of vegetables my family consumes. My focus with this recipe was the sweet potato, a tasty tuber that has faced its share of rejection at my dinner table. Little did I know I just had to flavour it with garlic and hot chillies, smother it with goat cheese and bake it on a buttery, flaky pastry base for it to gain acceptance. It also helped that family believed they were eating a vegetable they know and like......though where they thought I could get carrots that size, I couldn't tell you......

Rough Puff Pastry
Quick Puff Pastry*
sweet potato galette
before baking...
sweet potato galette
ready to eat!
These were quite easy to assemble but roasted sweet potatoes were needed to begin. I took the easy - and cooler - way out and baked them in the microwave. I had only low-fat sour cream on hand so that's what I used and I brushed the sweet potatoes with the garlic-infused oil before baking since I didn't want the taste of raw garlic. The topping quantities seemed off....I prepped everything but used only half the ingredients.

These were absolutely delicious and I regretted not making a double batch and using up all of the topping (and pastry) since everyone was looking for seconds.

*The Quick Puff Pastry recipe is from The Pie and Pastry Bible (Rose Levy Beranbaum).

This post participates in I Heart Cooking Clubs. The theme this week is A Little Bit of Sunshine as we continue to celebrate the cuisine of featured chef Yotam Ottolenghi. This recipe is from his book Ottolenghi. Head on over to see what other bright and sunshiny food has been prepared by other members!