Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars and Graham Crackers

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars (in honor of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver) as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and As I don't have dietary restrictions and am on a budget, I did not make the gluten-free graham wafers. You can find a PDF of the information we received (and the recipes) here.
This challenge provided me with a new dessert recipe and the experience of making crackers, which I'll talk about later, but more importantly it reminded me of/made me more aware of the challenges faced by those living with Celiac disease. For Lauren to eat these bars, that she once could pick up at almost any grocery store in Canada, she had to create a recipe to make gluten-free graham crackers and now has to make the crackers and the bars using them in the base every time. As you can see from her blog she handles the challenge her illness provides with grace (and probably eats better than most of us) but is is not something I can imagine dealing with...after all I can't even get myself to eat less sweets, my eternal goal. 

I made this month's challenge in Vika and Rafe's well equipped kitchen Sunday while listening to the Jets game, visiting and taking full advantage of Vika's help and her digital SLR/photography skills. It took about 5 hours, including rest times, to complete both aspects of the challenge. I suspect if my original graham cracker dough hadn't been so dry and crumbly it would have been quicker as my paralyzing fear of failure wouldn't have kicked in and dragged things out. 

I ended up putting the first batch of graham cracker dough in the oven figuring it didn't matter if it was a crumbled, rolled out mess since I was trying to create crumbs. After a consultation with Mom, Vika fixed up the second half of the dough using 3 teaspoons of milk. It made all the difference in the world as you can see below. Both sets of graham crackers were delicious though I was shocked by how sweet a mere 1/3 c. of honey could make them. When I make these in the future, I will definitely continue to leave off the cinnamon-sugar topping as they don't need added sugar. 

The bar portion of the challenge was a breeze in comparision to the graham crackers. My only changes to the Nanaimo bar recipe were substituting vanilla Jello pudding mix for the Bird's custard powder and using at least a half cup less of confectionary sugar for the filling. I cut the nanaimo bars into 1" x 1" cubes as they were so rich. Yet I keep eating them in multiples as they are so delicious so perhaps I could have cut them bigger. I love the creamy buttercream filling's contrast with the crunchy graham cracker-coconut-almond-chocolate base. 

Per Lauren these bars freeze well. I hope that is true as I had to put the remaining bits in the freezer to stop myself from eating them. Fingers crossed on that working.
I'd recommend making these and you could even cheat to make the whole process easier by purchasing store bought graham crackers (though I think making them on your own is definitely worth a try). Thanks for a great challenge, Lauren!

The finished bars!
Batter 1

 Batter 2 (Night and day, right?)
Base Layer
Cutting the Finished Bars

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


On of my best and oldest friend's, Vika, is Ukrainian and Russian and rumor has it her mom makes a mean borscht. I've tried her husband's attempt at mimicing Mrs. O's recipe and my memory of the borscht was one of violent pink, filling soup with a spicy flavor .

I hope one day to try the original or even Rafe's version again, but in meantime the farmer's market had amazing, huge healthy looking beets last week and the time had come to try making my own. Or, you know, someone else's found via the amazing food blog recipe search. This borscht is bright, warm and very healthy with a somewhat sweet, tangy flavor.

Since the recipe was in grams I made the following approximate conversions: 3.5 cups beets, 1 cup onions, 2 cups carrots, 2.5 cups of shredded cabbage, 1 quart vegetable stock and 2 cups of water. I added a touch of red pepper, cayenne probably, to make it spicier as per my memory and let it simmer way longer than 20 minutes as the beets just weren't getting softened to my taste. These adjustments worked well and next time I will use less shredded cabbage as I didn't enjoy its mushy texture.

One word of advice, which may seem obvious, when you grate the beet I advise putting the grater on a hard surface to stablize it and making the beet mobile. Otherwise, you could end up with a grated knuckle. It wasn't too horrifying though as really blood and beet juice look pretty similar. Isn't that reassuring?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce

The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day. Cuppy was a generous host, who allowed a lot of wiggle room to us Daring Cooks. The only required element for this challenge was marinating the chosen meat.

I used the faster (cheaper) marinade listed below, substituting lime juice for lemon as I had a lime handy, on pork butt. In keeping with all the advice I’ve heard pork butt, clearly an area that gets lots of exercise on the pig, was a cheap cut of meat ($2.99/lb at Whole Foods). It isn’t something I ever expected to cook but it turned out very tasty after nearly 24 hours of marinating and the broiling. The meat was extremely tender with a rich flavor spicy enough to leave my lips burning a touch. Though I’m not sure the tingling was the norm or if it was the result of my lips’ tenderness due to the cold.

The peanut sauce was really easy to make, especially since I used a 1-cup measuring cup and the microwave to make it happen. My low powered microwave, which won’t even pop popcorn really, took about 2.5 minutes of 30 second intervals followed by stirring to dissolve the peanut butter creating a creamy sauce. I wasn’t sure I would like the peanut sauce but I did. Peanut butter as one would expect from the name was the predominant flavor.

I served myself the satay on a bed of coconut rice, which neatly used up the other half of the 15 oz. can of light coconut milk, surrounded by blanched broccoli. I didn’t feel like the satay itself needed the sauce since it already had so much flavor, but it was delicious on my blanched broccoli (even if it didn’t look so appetizing). The coconut rice is very coconut and sticky by the way. I've hung onto that recipe for years.

The most exciting aspect of this project and my chosen sides was that had I done it in one night I think I could have completed everything at the same time without any issues, excluding the meat’s marinating time. I’ll be revisiting this to test that theory and because it was delicious and economical.

Pork Satay

Satay Marinade
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 T ginger root, chopped (optional) (2 cm cubed)
2 T lemon juice (1 oz or 30 mls)
1 T soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp ground coriander (5 mls)
1 tsp ground cumin (5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (2-2.5 mls)
2 T vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil) (30 mls)
1 pound of pork (loin or shoulder cuts) (16 oz or 450g)

Feeling the need to make it more Thai? Try adding a dragon chili, an extra tablespoon of ginger root, and 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz or 15 mls) of fish sauce. (I keep some premature (still green) dragon chili peppers in the freezer for just such an occasion.)

1a. Cheater alert: If you have a food processor or blender, dump in everything except the pork and blend until smooth. Lacking a food processor, I prefer to chop my onions, garlic and ginger really fine then mix it all together in a medium to large bowl.
2a. Cut pork into 1 inch strips.
3a. Cover pork with marinade. You can place the pork into a bowl, cover/seal and chill, or place the whole lot of it into a ziplock bag, seal and chill.

Faster (cheaper!) marinade:
2 T vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil) (1 oz or 30 mls) (I used canola oil)
2 T lemon juice (1 oz or 30 mls) (like I said I used a lime)
1 T soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp ginger powder (5 mls)
1 tsp garlic powder (5 mls)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (5 mls)

1b. Mix well.
2b. Cut pork into 1 inch thick strips (2-2.5 cm thick), any length.
3b. Cover pork with marinade. You can place the pork into a bowl, cover/seal and chill, or place the whole lot of it into a ziplock bag, seal and chill.
4. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak your skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes before preparing skewers.
5. Gently and slowly slide meat strips onto skewers. Discard leftover marinade.*
6. Broil or grill at 290°C/550° F (or pan fry on medium-high) for 8-10 minutes or until the edges just start to char. Flip and cook another 8-10 minutes.

* If you’re grilling or broiling, you could definitely brush once with extra marinade when you flip the skewers.

Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk (6 oz or 180 mls)
4 Tbsp peanut butter (2 oz or 60 mls)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (0.5 oz or 15 ml)  (I used lime again)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 tsp brown sugar (5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (2.5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground coriander (2.5 mls)
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat) (I used a little cayenne here too instead)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well.
2. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often.
3. All you’re doing is melting the peanut butter, so make your peanut sauce after you’ve made everything else in your meal, or make ahead of time and reheat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Poached Pears

The past two weekends I have prepared poached pears for friends. Poached pears smell heavenly while simmering and require very little attention; two great qualities when you know other people will be waiting and you want to pay attention to them not the food.
If served right away, they are warm and melt in your mouth. The finished pears are firm yet yielding enough to consume without a knife and are best with a spoon to scoop up the syrup. They are simple, satisfying, in season (!) and stun everyone with the end result.

I reviewed numerous recipes, mostly referring to Meg’s Joy of Cooking before deciding to use the methodology and ingredients below.

Poached Pears
4 Servings

4 firm pears, peeled, halved cored, stems on and bottoms cut flat (I’ve used bosc or seckel with success.)
4 cups Water
3/4 cup Agave Syrup*
1 Tbsp Vanilla Bean Paste
4 Cloves

1. Place water and agave syrup into a pan deep enough to fully immerse all 4 pear halves in the liquid. Add the vanilla bean paste and four cloves. Bring to a simmer.
2. While the liquid heats, peel the pears and slice them in half leaving the stems on. Cut the bottoms flat in case you want to stand them up. Scoop out the core with a melon baller.
3. Add pears to the liquid ensuring they are fully submerged so they don’t change color. Let simmer uncovered for 20 (or however many) minutes.
4. Remove pears from poaching liquid. Bring it to a boil to reduce to a stronger simple syrup.
5. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon. Spoon simple syrup over and savor.

*I’ve been using Agave Syrup as I have had it on hand from an awesome trip to Costco just before Christmas, but it can be replaced with 1 cup of regular sugar. The pears are bound to still taste delicious though they technically will spike your blood sugar more. It’s only a matter of time before I revert to sugar as my wholesale access to Agave Nectar is gone with my parents.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Everyday Red Lentil Dal Recipe

Over Christmas Mom was sick and working her usual erratic, demanding hours managing the Goochland Free Clinic's Dental program leaving Dad and I to fend for ourselves a bit. I saw she still was hoarding red lentil's from a trip to visit me in NYC very early in my tenure and decided to put them to use. Only I didn't have a recipe.

I didn't get creative, but with a bit of my usual internet sleuthing I found this Everyday Red Lentil Dal recipe, which I would probably eat every day given the option. We ate the slightly spicy, warm mixture with Stacy's Pita chips and a salad for dinner. I had it alone the next day for lunch and so on. It's super easy to put together, requires under an hour to prepare and is pretty much impossible to screw up. If you overcook the lentils this time no big deal as they are supposed to be mush anyway.  Delicious, healthy mush that is full of flavor.

I'm stoked that Leslie is making the original recipe with yellow split peas this weekend and some tasty sounding dips. It turns out I had bookmarked the original ages ago at Smitten Kitchen and when I sent Leslie ideas for this weekend's movie-meal plan it was her choice. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Braised Beef Chuck Roast

I'd rather not admit it, but my first big cooking project of the New Year was a bit a failure. The braised beef was/is edible but not delectable, which was a shame as it smelled heavenly slow cooking for 3.5 hours.
It probably has to do with the original recipe calling for a foil packet and bone-in chuck roast and my choice to use a dutch oven and tri tip roast.

But I really don't understand how that would cause the meat to be so dry and the sauce to be so thick. It isn't like there was a place for the liquid to evaporate and the meat did have some fat, even after I trimmed the silver skin and excess off it. This is me sighing and sulking and suffering through numerous meals of this nightly.

The sauce was sweeter than I would have liked so I won't revisit this particular recipe again, in spite of seeing that numerous people had success following the recipe and loved it. But I will braise again one day when I'm feeling like eating a lot of meat. Clearly not this is not something I will do for others until I fix my technique and find a recipe that is a winner for me.

I did enjoy the mashed rutabagas and potatoes, which looked like sunshine, and were delicious. I just boiled one peeled rutabaga (a new veggie for me!) with three medium peeled red potatoes for approximately 15 minutes, smashed everything together with a large serving spoon and, mixed in a little half and half, salt and pepper. Easy, satisfying and even somewhat nutritious since the rutabaga was in there and I didn't use butter. The simple salad (baby arugula, carrot strips and onion) was dressed with a honey-lemon-tarragon-olive oil dressing, not a vinaigrette as I forget the vinegar, and the dressing was a nice sweet contrast to the arugula.

I'll definitely revisit these thrown together super simple, side dishes. Happy 2010 y'all!