beans and bok choy

After a weekend of meaty meat, I was ready for some basics on Monday. There was a head of bok choy in the fridge left over from Chinese New Year celebrations, so I found a basic recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and then went flipping through for something to accompany it. I stumbled across Bean Croquettes and latched on to it – I love croquettes, but they’re usually so much effort to make. This was full of protein and promised to be quick and painless.

cooking bean croquettes

The croquettes were relatively painless, though picking parsley leaves always makes me a little stir crazy. I had to mash the beans by hand, as we had just a little food processor that was pureeing the beans at the bottom and leaving the ones at the top. After that, things were fine, with the croquettes frying up nicely. I used a relatively fine-grained corn meal, as that’s what was around, and it worked out fine.

My favourite part was making chimichurri to accompany the croquettes. This was the one flavouring (other than salt) that could be found in Argentine restaurants and I enjoyed it, though I think it went better with these croquettes than a lot of things they had it with. I put in an excessive amount of garlic (FIVE cloves), which no one at the table minded, though it was good we didn’t have to go out that night. It’s a great sauce, though.

The bok choy was merely OK, in my opinion. I cooked it according to instructions, but I found the stems to be a little too soft for my liking – I had been hoping for a bit more crunch to remain. Maybe that’s not desirable with bok choy? I’m not sure. The others enjoyed it, though, and it was gone at the end of dinner. It’s hard to argue with that.

Overall, a decent meal of disparate parts. It definitely green enough to fit my needs this evening.

dinner is served

Quick-cooked Bok Choy

1 head bok choy, about 1.5 lbs
3 T peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
Salt & freshly ground pepper

1. Cut the leaves from the stems of the bok choy. Trim the stems as necessary, then cut them into roughly 1-inch pieces; rinse everything well. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until they just lose their crunch, about 3 minutes. Add the greens and about 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the stems become very tender, about 10 minutes more; add a little more water if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Bean Croquettes

2 c cooked or canned white or other beans, drained by with a few tablespoons of bean-cooking liquid reserved
1/2 c minced onion
1/4 c minced parsley leaves
1 egg, slightly beaten
Salt & freshly ground pepper
About 1/2 c coarse cornmeal or bread crumbs
Oil for frying

1. If you want to serve the croquettes hot, preheat the oven to 200*F. Mash the beans by putting them through a food mill or into a blender or food processor. Use a little bean-cooking liquid (or other liquid, such as water or stock) if the beans are too dry to mash. Do not puree; you want a few bean chunks in this mixture.

2. Combine the beans with the onion, parsley, and egg and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cornmeal or bread crumbs by the tablespoon until you’ve made a batter that is barely stiff enough to handle. You should be able to shape it with your hands without its sticking, but it should be quite fragile or the cakes will be dry.

3. Cover the bottom of a large, deep skillet with about 1/8 inch of oil; turn the heat to medium. Shape the bean mixture into patties 2 to 3 inches across or into 1.5×3-inch longs and when the oil is hot, put them in the skillet. Don’t crowd them; you may have to work in batches.

4. Cook the croquettes until nicely browned on all sides, adjusting the heat so that they brown evenly without burning before turning, 7 or 8 minutes total. Keep warm in the over until ready to serve for up to 30 minutes, or serve at room temperature.

Chimichurri

2 c parsley leaves (thin stems are OK), rinsed and dried
salt
3 cloves garlic (more if you like it really garlicky)
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil, or more
3 T vinegar
at least 1 T hot red pepper flakes

1. Combine the parsley with a pinch of salt, the garlic, and about half the oil in a food processor or blender. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and adding the rest of the oil gradually.

2. Add the vinegar, then a little more oil or some water if you prefer a thinner mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve. Do not refrigerate, but will stay fine on the counter for a few days.

Chinese New Year dinner

Happy Chinese New Year! For family dinner on Tuesday, we made up an (early) Taiwanese-influenced dinner. Dumplings are symbolic of family reunion and so they’re always around at this time when families are reunited. Our recipe is from a friend of friend, learned at the ‘boys’ part’ of a baby shower. Thanks, Bosco.

It was a meal made in America, not in Taiwan, that’s for sure. Although we could find wrappers at the supermarket (the Chinese grocery was a long hike), they were wonton wrappers – thinner and square. They ended up working, more or less, though I wouldn’t recommend using them. Find the round ones.

The tomato eggs are one of my favourite foods in Taiwan. Chris learned them from a Taiwanese woman whose kids she was teaching. This was the first time we tried them, and while they were good, they need work. They were a little too scrambled – though I’ve had them like this before, usually they’re a little chunkier.

The ginger beans are easy and delicious. Simple as that, though we found them online while in Argentina. No Chinese New Year connection there, just a tasty side.

Finally, as I went to post this, a post on someone else’s CNY dinner on the other side of the world popped up. It’s worth a look – they also do pot-sticker dumplings, as well as beef noodles (representative of long life) and egg custard tarts (a recipe I’ll be trying out myself). Check it out!

Ginger Green Beans

2 lbs beans
3 inches ginger, peeled and julienned
3 tbsp butter/sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
soy sauce to taste

1. Cook beans until just tender. Drain, put in ice water, pat dry.
2. Cook ginger in butter/oil until golden, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the beans and cook for about 2 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, add zest and salt and soy sauce.

Tomato Eggs

4 small-medium tomatoes, cut into chunks (optional: blanche and skin them first)
5 eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
1/2 c green onion, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped or minced
2 tsp potato or corn starch, mixed with 2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp sugar

1. Heat 1-2 tbsp oil and fry the ginger.
2. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft & juicy. Add a little water if it looks dry.
3. Add sugar, another pinch of salt, and the starch/water mixture. Mix together so things thicken.
4. Add the eggs, cook like scrambled eggs, but stir as little as possible.
5. When mostly done, add green onions.

Pot-sticker Dumplings

1/2 lb ground pork (can also use ground chicken, turkey, beef, or tofu)
2-3 stalks bok choy
8-10 straw mushrooms (aka needle mushrooms – thin mushrooms that are mostly stalk)
3-4 Chinese mushrooms (dehydrated)
1/2 tsp ginger, minced OR 1/4 tsp dried ginger
1 stalk green onion, chopped
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 egg
1 package dumpling wrappers (3.5-4″ diameter), thawed (if bought frozen)

Soak Chinese mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes until soft and re-hydrated, discard stem. Chop up bok choy, mushrooms, and green onions into 1/4″ or smaller pieces.

In a large bowl, combine ground meat, chopped vegetables, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and pepper and mix well.

Whip the egg in a small bowl. It’ll be used for holding the wrappers together.

To make the dumplings (and I apologize in advance – this is much easier shown than described), place one wrap flat on a plate or clean surface. Brush egg on the top 3/4 of the wrapping and spoon 1 to 1-1/2 tsp of mixture in the centre of the wrapping.

Rather than try and explain how to fold a dumpling, I’ll simply direct you to the Google search, full of explanations and videos that are much better than trying to follow my directions. Good luck!

The dumplings can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours or frozen for considerably longer in an airtight container. I recommend freezing them separately on a floured plate first, then putting them in a bag or container. This prevents them from sticking together.

To cook the dumplings, put 1-2 tsp of oil in a frying pan at medium heat. Arrange the dumplings in a circle or two on the pan and cook until the bottom is light brown (2-3 minutes if fresh, 4-5 if cooking from frozen). Add 3/4 to 1 cup of water (depending on size of the pan and amount of dumplings you’re cooking) to cover the bottom the pan and put the lid on immediately. The steam in the frying pan will cook the top part of the dumpling. Check the dumpling when the steam stops or in 3-4 minutes. The dumpling should be done when the water is all evaporated. Be careful not to burn the dumplings – add more water if necessary.

Dipping sauce: the recipe I got recommended 2 parts dark soy sauce with 1 part Worchestershire sauce. In Taiwan, we would have a mix of soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, and vinegar. Here, we found a chili-garlic paste at the supermarket and brought out vinegar and soy sauce and let everyone make their own sauce. It worked out great!

rhymes with orange

The other night we cracked one of our wedding presents and started experimenting. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, along with the original (non-vegetarian) book, is an excellent resource that I think will turn into a regular go-to book for us.

Looking at what we had in the fridge and thinking about what we felt like, we decided on two dishes involving orange – Black Beans with Orange Juice and Chard with Oranges and Shallots. Unfortunately, they didn’t complement each other all that well – the chard, with its sweet taste and strong flavour, totally overshadowed the subtle, earthy bean dish. The chard was the better-received of the night, with it’s almost-candied bits of orange, colourful presentation, and strong, sweet flavour. The beans were good – I think everyone had seconds – but next to the screaming orange of the chard, they seemed like regular beans. They’d do much better against something plainer, I think. Aw well, that’s what family dinners are for – experimentation. Recipes follow.

Black Beans with Orange Juice

3 c cooked or canned beans (2 15 oz cans) with about 1 cup of their cooking liquid
1.5 tsp ground cumin
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 orange, well washed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, preferably red or yellow, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 c dry red wine
chopped fresh cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish

Put the beans in a pot over medium heat (with liquid); add the cumin and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Halve the orange. Peel one half and add the skin to the beans, then divide the sections and set aside. Squeeze the juice out of the other half and set aside.

Put the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pepper softens, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add to the beans.

Turn the heat to high and add the red wine to the skillet. Cook until the win is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add to the beans along with the reserved orange juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with rice, garnish with the reserved orange sections and some cilantro, or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

chard with orange pieces

Chard with Oranges and Shallots

1 lb white, red, or rainbow chard, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tbsp sugar
1 small unpeeled orange or tangerine, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the stems out of the chard leaves. Cut the leaves into wide ribbons and slice the stems (on the diagonal in you like); keep the leaves and the stems separate.

Put the oil in a large skillet with a lid (I ended up using a small stock pot) over medium heat. When hot, add the shallots and sugar and cook for a minute, then stir in the orange or tangerine bits and lower the heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, until everything is caramelized, about 20 minutes. Stir in the vinegar.

Return the heat to medium and stir in the chard stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften a bit, just a couple of minutes. Add the chard ribbons, cover, and turn off the heat (I had to cook them for a minute or two). Let the chard steam for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir and re-cover the pan for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper and serve immediately, or within an hour or two at room temp.

Other vegetables you can use: any chard, bok choy, kale, or any cabbage. For the citrus, use kumquats (quartered) if they are available.

Robbie Burns night

Hey! It’s the 200th entry! Woot!

Today, January 25th, is a pretty big day for two reasons. As I type this, the State of the Union is being delivered to millions of TV sets and will outline public policy in the U.S. for the next year. The other reason is one that is centuries old, and while it may only meet the amount of drinking as the first, it certainly yields good food: Robbie Burns Day.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet, despite the fact that he died 215 years ago. His friends celebrated him after he died, then all of Scotland did, and now pockets of people all over the world do. There’s a program of events that involves readings, toasts, and of course lots of scotch drinking. We prepared a night of Scottish food and helped three people celebrate their first Robbie Burns night, which is always fun.

We started the evening with Scotch eggs, which I just tasted two years ago. They always seem to please. Of course, deep-frying anything is a pretty good way to make it enjoyable. We made it with a mustard sauce which I found here that was easy to make and matched the eggs very nicely. The recipe for Scotch eggs themselves didn’t come from that site, but from a book from way back titled The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors with the entertaining subtitle “Recipes you should have gotten from your grandmother” and is reproduced below. A note on the recipe: if you buy spiced sausage meat as we did, you’re good – the meat can elevate this dish from good to fantastic quite easily. If you buy unseasoned, use the seasoning in the link above – it looks pretty tasty and would have pretty much the same effect. Either way, seasoning is the way to go.

The haggis was next, with full pomp and poetry (my terrible Scottish accent got complimented, but only because I was the only one willing to read Address to a Haggis), along with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, mashed and roasted) and peas (not a Scottish tradition, but some colour was needed). We ended up making Pretend Haggis, as 1) it’s very difficult to get the real haggis ingredients without lots of planning, and 2) our plan for haggis with some organ meat got put off by a butcher who didn’t order a heart. Fake haggis it is! It was still quite tasty – the oats provide a pleasant, different texture, and the lamb and liver gave a very different taste to the entire project. No picture, as it just looked like a meatloaf – no sheep stomach or sausage links to put it in.

tablet

Finally, we finished with Scottish shortbread and tablet, two treasures I discovered when I was in Scotland. The shortbread turned out great, though it wasn’t as buttery as I remember it from Scotland. I think they used twice as much butter as I did, and I used a lot of butter – butter makes any dessert heavenly. The recipe also came from The Frugal Gourmet book.

I was quite nervous about the tablet, though, which I got from A Wee Bit of Cooking, which is a really good cooking blog. There were lots of warnings in the recipe about how you could screw up, but somehow I managed to evade the dire predictions and have it turn out. I think the key is patience, low heat, and arm strength (for stirring). You can’t ever stop stirring and you have to be able to stay there and do that for up to an hour before you can walk away. That’s hard, especially if you have something else on the go. I did the shortbread first and was going to start the tablet while it was baking, but wisely decided to separate the two activities.

All in all, a successful meal and a successful celebration of Robert Burns. And maybe we’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne!

Scotch Eggs

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, at room temperature
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1.5 lb bulk pork sausage
1 c dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6-8 c peanut oil for deep-frying (I used vegetable oil)

Coat each hard-boiled egg with flour. Divide the sausage into 8 equal parts (or just grab a bunch as needed and smash it out, like I did).
Make a patty out of each bit of sausage and use it to to each egg completely. Mix the bread crumbs, sage, and salt. Dip the sausage-coated eggs into the beaten eggs; roll in bread-crumb mixture.
Heat the oil to 375* for deep-frying. Deep-fry the eggs, 4 at a time, 7 minutes’ minimum. Drain. Serve hot or cold.

Scottish Shortbread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 c sugar
1/2 lb butter, softened

Place all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend well. If you have a heavy-duty electric mixer, cut in the butter with the machine. If not, do it by hand with a pastry blender.
Knead the dough by hand for just a moment and form it into a circle 3/4″ thick on a nonstick baking sheet and flute the edges (I had to put some flour down and roll it with a rolling pin, then use a thin plastic sheet to pry it up and place it on a baking sheet. Then again, I wanted a nice, smooth top. Definitely flute the edges, though.) Prick the whole circle with a fork. Bake in a preheated 325*F oven for 30 minutes or until it just begins to turn a light golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then remove it to a rack for final cooling. When cool, the cookie can be cut, but the Scots simply break it up into pieces and serve it with tea.

If you wish to form smaller cookies from this recipe, just remember to watch the baking time. Smaller cookies will cook more quickly.

south american dinner

Chris’s mom hosted a local book launch at the library this past Wednesday, so we attended and listened as she talked about her visit to Chaitén volcano in Chile, which the novel is based around (it’s an eco-thriller). Chris snagged a recipe for some delicious chocolate-chili cookies (probably to be posted at a later date) and also won a bottle of Chilean wine. We decided to make it into a South American-themed night a few nights later and concocted a couple of dishes out of one of the recipe books we acquired in South America. As we didn’t spend much time in Chile, we couldn’t do a Chilean night, but thankfully the Colombian cookbook we had offered a few delicious opportunities.

We hauled out our Spanish copy of Secrets of Colombian Cooking (we recently discovered it was originally publish in English then translated for the author’s home country – here we figured we were getting an inside Colombian scoop!) and settled on Pollo Sudado, as it looked fairly easy (though time-consuming) and had pretty common ingredients. It’s a lot of FLURRY OF ACTIVITY then wait then FLURRY then wait, but in the end, it tasted like something we would’ve had for lunch in a Colombian restaurant, which was a good sign.

Pollo sudado

12 chicken thighs
1/3 c onion, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mustard
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 c onions, sliced
2 c tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp achiote (we used turmeric; see below)*
1 cube chicken bullion
1.5 lbs (about 12) potatoes

In a big bowl combine the chicken, chopped onion, 2 tbsp of oil, mustard, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and pepper. Mix well and let sit for 30 minutes.

In a big pot over medium heat warm 1 tbsp oil and saute the onions for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, the other 2 tsp of salt, Worchestershire, achiote, and bullion and fry for 4 more minutes.

Add the chicken mixture and 1 cup of water or chicken broth. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the potatoes, cover again and cook until the potatoes are finished, about 20 minutes.

It says to serve with white rice, but we thought the potatoes were enough. It’s very South American to have two or three carbs in a meal at the same time, though.

*We didn’t have any achiote spice, so we just used turmeric. It might have a slightly different flavour, but tasted close enough for us in the end.

How can you top a delicious dish like this? How about with a wonderful version of the dessert that appears on nearly every South American menu – arroz con leche (rice pudding)? This dessert was possibly the best arroz con leche I’ve ever had, and I LOVE rice pudding. It takes a long time to make – an hour of soaking, at least 40 minutes of cooking, then cooling time – but it is worth every second (and it’s easy). The spices saturate everything and the rice is so soft that it melts in your mouth. It recommends serving it cold, but I love a nice warm rice pudding. Either way, it’s really good.

Oh, and how was the wine? It was OK – a little on the dry side, though the finish was nice. To be honest, the food kind of drove out thoughts about the wine. At least it was a good instigator!

Arroz con Leche

1.5 c rice, washed
1/4 c sugar (the recipe calls for 1/2 c, but we found half of that was enough)
2 sticks of cinnamon
6 cloves
1 tsp salt
2 c whole milk
1 c sweetened condensed milk
1 c cream
1/2 c raisins (optional)

Mix the rice, 6 cups of water, and the cloves and cinnamon in a bowl. Let it sit at room temperature for one hour. Do not stir.

In a pot over medium heat, place the rice, water, and spices, 1/4 c of sugar, and the salt. Cover, lower the heat to medium-low and cook at a simmer for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the water is gone. (It only took about 40 minutes for us, though it overboiled at first.)

Uncover, add the other 1/4 c of sugar, the milk, the condensed milk, and the cream. Mix with a wooden spoon, cover, and cook at a simmer for 5 minutes.

If desired, add the raisins and cook for another few minutes.

Uncover and let sit until desired temperature reached.

arroz con leche

unripe chestnut

Who knew? Not me. Definitely not ready for roasting on an open fire. Interesting, though.

poutine

Ah, poutine. Often imitated, often falling short of the true deliciousness. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had a real version of Canada’s most famous dish. Of course, the best stuff is to be had in Quebec, but with Ottawa being right on the border, you can get some pretty darn good stuff right here.

If you’ve never had poutine, you need to visit French Canada and try it out. It’s not healthy and it’s not complex, but it’s strangely comforting, especially in the winter. You start with french fries, then sprinkle fresh cheese curds on top (the fresher the better – it’s best when they still squeak as you eat them!) and bathe the whole thing in gravy. You can get poutine at most fast-food restaurants now, but they often just use mozzarella cheese or some kind of shredded cheese mix, which just doesn’t cut it after you’ve had the real thing.

This batch is from a chip truck labelled GLEN’S that can usually be found in the Westboro area of Ottawa. It’s almost always got someone hanging around outside, waiting eagerly for their fries or poutine.