Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy

CFS with mashed potatoes and country gravy.

CFS with mashed potatoes and country gravy.

This is an American diner classic. If you’ve never had chicken fried steak, it’s simply cubed steak that has been breaded and fried. Cubed steak is made from either round or flank steak, both of which are very tough, and this method of cooking can elevate the less than desirable beef to a dish people search for on a diner menu. If you can’t get cubed steak where you live, it’s actually pretty easy to tenderize a flank steak. Of course, a meat tenderizer or mallet is the best tool because it will have the weight and shape necessary to break down the meat fibers. Don’t be afraid to get creative though. A heavy soup can, a sturdy glass bottle, or even a coffee mug can be be used to tenderize the meat. Just remember that you don’t have to use a lot of force. Put wax paper or plastic wrap on both sides of the meat and use just the edge of your improvised tenderizer, raising it only about 2 – 3 inches. 

Ingredients for 4 servings

For steaks

2 large or 4 small cubed steaks

1/2 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp oil

For country gravy

1 tbsp butter – if needed

2 cups milk

salt and pepper to taste

To start with, you’ll need to prepare the coating for your steaks. Combine the flour, salt and pepper on one plate and mix the egg and milk on another. Thoroughly coat the steaks in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, and then in the flour again. Reserve the extra flour.

Coating mixtures.

Coating mixtures.

You can cook the steaks immediately after you coat them, but it’s better to let them rest in the fridge for about 10 minutes first. If you’ve ever tried to make chicken fried steak before, you are probably familiar with having all the coating come off the steaks and stick in the pan. Letting them rest in the refrigerator will minimize coating loss.

Heat the butter and oil together in a pan. It needs to be very hot before you add the steaks. If you have any extra egg mixture left, try dropping just a bit into the oil and butter. When it’s hot enough, the egg will immediately start to sizzle. Place the steaks in the pan and don’t touch them. If you try to turn them too soon, you will lose the coating. Just keep an eye on the edge of the steak. When it has become well browned, then you can turn them over.

Steaks almost ready to turn.

Steaks almost ready to turn.

The coating on the top will seem to absorb into the steak before you turn it. Don’t worry, after you turn it and cook that side, the coating will crisp up. Ideally, you should only turn your steaks one time. After the steaks stop weeping any blood, they should be cooked through and you can take them out of the pan.

Don’t turn off the heat, we are going to use the oil and butter still in the pan to make the country gravy. At this point you can add extra butter to your pan if too much has been absorbed while cooking the steaks. *If your pan is hot enough, the steaks should hardly absorb any oil. Add the reserved flour mixture to the pan and stir to make a smooth paste. Then just add the milk and additional salt and pepper. The secret to good country gravy is a lot of pepper. Cook the gravy until it thickens and then pour it over your steak and serve.

 

Roasted Pepper Spread

Roasted pepper spread on a hamburger.

Roasted pepper spread on a hamburger.

I’m not a fan of plain mayonnaise on sandwiches. I do, however, love roasted peppers. I came up with this creamy spread to add a bit of extra flavor to sandwiches. This time I used green peppers for a bit of change, but it’s also great with red or yellow bell peppers for a slightly sweeter taste.

Ingredients for about 1 cup of spread

1 bell pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tbsp mustard

salt to taste

The first thing to do is roast the pepper.If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry, it’s easy. You can roast your pepper directly on the flame of your stove top using tongs to turn the pepper as soon as the skin begins to blacken. You can also roast it in your toaster oven. Just use the upper heat source at 375 – 400 F and, again, turn the pepper as soon as the skin begins to blacken. When all sides of the pepper are slightly charred, set it aside to cool.

Roasted pepper.

Roasted pepper.

When the pepper is cool, just slip the skin off. It should peel away very easily and the flesh inside will be very soft.

Peeling back the pepper skin.

Peeling back the pepper skin.

Chop up the pepper as finely as you can, then scoop it into a bowl and combine with the mayonnaise, mustard and salt.

Mixing the spread.

Mixing the spread.

The pepper will be very juicy and probably won’t maintain much crunchiness. This is what you want as it will help the spread become smooth and creamy. I thing it tastes great on pretty much any kind of sandwich.

Garlic Butter Hamburgers

Garlic butter hamburger with provolone and roasted pepper spread.

Garlic butter hamburger with provolone and roasted pepper spread.

I wanted to find a way to cook hamburgers that didn’t require a grill or a sandwich press, but wouldn’t leave the meat dried out. I had, of course, heard of putting butter in a hamburger before. The idea of adding any kind of fat to a hamburger was a bit appalling though. I finally decided to try it so that I could cook burgers in a toaster oven without having to serve hard lumps of beef. It turns out that folding the meat around a small piece of butter leaves the center incredibly juicy, while giving the outside an al dente texture. My photos are from a double recipe.

Ingredients for four burgers

2 tbsp butter – softened

2 tsp garlic – minced

1 lb of ground beef

The first step is to combine the garlic and butter, and then place the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap. Gently shape the butter into a small roll or log as as you wrap it. Place the finished roll in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10 minutes.

Roll of garlic butter.

Roll of garlic butter.

While the butter is firming, divide your ground beef into four patties. Spread the meat thinner than you want the final burger because you will folding it over the butter. When the butter is firm, slice it into four equal rounds and place one on each burger patty.

The bottom 2 have been finished and the top 2 are ready to fold up.

The bottom 2 have been finished and the top 2 are ready to fold up.

Just wrap the meat around the butter and shape it into a good round shape. You will need to place your hamburger patties on the rack of your toaster oven and have a baking sheet placed under the rack to catch any drips. It’s important to keep the burgers out of the grease as they’re cooking, but also keep the grease from dripping onto the heating elements. If you don’t have a way to catch the grease, find one before you try this recipe! Grease catches fire, so be careful. Keep baking soda on hand and never use water to put out a grease fire. If you don’t have a rack to keep the burgers out of the grease, I would recommend using half the butter and flipping the burgers halfway through cooking. I can cook 4 burgers at a time in my toaster oven without over-crowding and it took about 15 minutes at 350 F using the lower heat source only. I turned on the upper heat source for 1 minute at the end to crisp the tops slightly.

If you would prefer to cook your burgers in a traditional oven, use the same steps. Burgers on a rack, baking sheet under the rack, 350 F for 15 minutes.

Don’t let my warnings scare you away from trying this at home. As long as you watch the burgers carefully and exercise causation, it is not dangerous at all to successfully cook burgers in a toaster oven.

Tomato Sauce

Fresh, homemade tomato sauce.

Fresh, homemade tomato sauce.

Today I want to share with you how I make fresh tomato sauce. It’s incredibly simple and only takes three ingredients (plus some water). I got about 12 ounces from just 5 roma tomatoes, so it’s also pretty economical. It isn’t easy to find high quality tomato sauce everywhere, but you can almost always find fresh tomatoes.  There are only a few steps, but it does take a bit of time, mostly for simmering.

Ingredients for approximately 12 ounces

5 roma tomatoes

4 cups boiling water

4 cups ice water

1 – 2 tbsp olive oil

salt to taste

It is possible to use other types of tomatoes. For example, if you have a blender, you can use cherry tomatoes and skip the boiling and skinning steps. Or you can use some other medium-sized tomato as long as it has a high flesh to seed ratio.

The first step is to get the skin off your tomatoes. To do this, cut an X on the bottom of each tomato. The cut doesn’t have to be very deep or long. Just slice gently through the skin. Have your boiling water and ice water prepared and set right next to each other. You might be able to use your rice cooker to boil the water, but I find a pan on the stove is much better.

Boiling and ice waters.

Boiling and ice waters.

Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and watch carefully. The skin will start to peel away from the flesh. As soon as it peels back or the X you cut splits, take the tomato out of the boiling water and place it in the ice water.

Tomato with split skin cooling.

Tomato with split skin cooling.

After the tomato cools, the skin will slip right off. The tomatoes should only take a couple of minutes at most in the boiling water. Sometimes, they will peel at the stem end, even if you cut the X at the bottom.

Once all of the tomatoes have cooled and you have slipped the skins off, the messy part begins. Take the tomatoes over to the sink and squeeze out the seeds. Even if you will save the seeds to add to a dish or use in making stock, it’s best to do this down in the sink because the seeds sometimes squirt out of the sides. Don’t worry if you can’t get all of the seeds. The most important thing is to remove as much of the liquid and as many of the seeds as possible.

After you’ve finished that bit, put the olive oil and tomatoes in a pot over low heat. You don’t want them to do more than simmer. Have a potato masher on hand so that you can occasionally smash the tomatoes as the heat. It will take at least half an hour for the tomatoes to really break down. The longer you cook, the smoother the tomatoes will become. *If the tomatoes you used have a woody or fibrous center, remove that at the same time you remove the seeds because it won’t break down as it cooks.

Nearly finished tomato sauce.

Nearly finished tomato sauce.

It’s really up to you when the sauce is done based on the texture you want. I like a smooth thick sauce with lots of fresh tomato flavor. Just add salt to taste and pour into a storage container. I’ve saved it in the fridge for up to a week.

For those who are using cherry tomatoes and a blender, skip the boiling, cooling, peeling and seeding steps. Throw about 1 pint of whole tomatoes into the pot with olive oil and cook them down gently. They will burst open as they cook and begin to fall apart. At that point, put them in a blender and pulse until you get the consistency you like. The add salt and store just like the other recipe.

If you want to add more flavor to your sauce you try adding garlic or herbs like basil, oregano, tarragon or rosemary to the tomatoes while they are simmering. It takes a little more time and effort than I’d like, but fresh tomato sauce is definitely worth the effort.

Pan-fried Zucchini and Okra

Pan-fried zucchini and okra.

Pan-fried zucchini and okra.

If you’ve never tried okra, you have probably at least heard of it. Along with stories of how slimy it is. Or maybe you’ve only had them deep fried or as part of gumbo and don’t know what else to do with them. This is a great way to get a healthy and misunderstood vegetable in your diet without the slime. I first had them served like this in Japan and have been trying to recreate them ever since. It turns out the secret is to keep it simple. Of course, that’s true of most things.

Ingredients for 4 servings

2 zucchini

1 lb of okra

1 tbsp oil – divided

salt to taste

Start by cutting the zucchini into 2 inch long rounds and then quartering the rounds. Next, heat 1/2 the oil in a pan. I don’t recommend using your rice cooker for this because you will need to get the pan quite hot and keep it hot. Your oil should be almost hot enough to smoke. Lay the zucchini in the pan with one cut side down. leave it on that side until it starts to brown, which takes about 2 minutes, then turn it so the other cut side is down. Let the second side down, and then remove them from the pan. Immediately salt the vegetables. Salting when the zucchini is hot helps the salt to stick and melt slightly so the flavors really meld.

While the zucchini is cooking you can cut the okra. simply slice them in half lengthwise. You will have some stickiness while you are cutting, but that will disappear as you cook them. When the zucchini is cooked and set aside, add the rest of the oil to the pan and place the okra cut side down. Just as you did with the zucchini, leave the okra in place and just let it cook until it begins to brown and crisp up. It should take about 2 minutes again. You don’t need to turn the okra, just remove it to your serving plate with the zucchini and salt immediately.

Cooking the okra.

Cooking the okra.

You might have to cook the okra in two rounds, like I did, if your pan is on the smaller side. The vegetables cook so quickly that you don’t have to worry about the finished ones cooling. Half a pound might sound like a lot, but when I cook okra this way, it gets eaten very quickly and then everyone asks for more. The vegetables are salty and crunchy and the seeds in the okra are so much fun that even kids like this. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine do.

IMG_0273

Citrus Glazed Chicken

Citrus glazed chicken.

Citrus glazed chicken.

I had a request to make chicken for dinner, but no one could tell me how they wanted it prepared. I decided to use ingredients that were on hand to make something a bit different. This meal fed five, cooked up in under 30 minutes and was packed with flavor.

Ingredients for 5 servings

1 package of chicken breasts or chicken tenders

juice of 1 – 2 oranges

2 tsp olive oil

sprig fresh rosemary or 1/4 tsp of dried

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup honey

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar – optional

Combine the juice of one orange with the olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper in a storage size resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken and let it marinate in the fridge for at least one hour. It would be even better to do this in the morning before work and then cook it up when you get home.

Plug in your rice cooker and set it to cook. When the pot is hot, place your chicken right in. You don’t need any additional oil. Reserve your marinade, don’t put it in with the chicken. Leave plenty of space in the pot so that the chicken isn’t crowded even though you may have to do 2 rounds of chicken. Leave the lid off the pot while the chicken cooks so that it won’t get soggy. While the chicken is cooking, just let it sit, don’t flip it over or move it around too much, that will prevent a good texture from forming on the meat. It will take around 5 minutes to cook each side depending on whether you used whole breasts or tenders. Try to get a dark golden layer on each side.

My first round of chicken.

My first round of chicken.

When all of your chicken is done cooking, add the marinade to the pot with the honey and balsamic vinegar. If you can’t find balsamic vinegar, I don’t recommend substituting any other kind. It’s okay to leave this ingredient out if it isn’t available where you live or if you think it would be too tangy for your tastes. Keep the rice cooker set high and cook everything down to thick shiny glaze, stirring frequently. If it thickens up too much, add more orange juice. I used the juice of 2 whole oranges for mine, but this really depends on you. Do you like a very thick glaze on meat, or do you prefer a sauce. It works well either way. When you have it thickened to your preference, just pour it over the chicken and serve.

Citrus glazed chicken with pan-fried zucchini and okra.

Citrus glazed chicken with pan-fried zucchini and okra.

Spinach Cannelloni

Spinach cannelloni

Spinach cannelloni

This is one of my favorite Italian dishes. It’s so simple and filling. I like adding the spinach so that I can pretend I’m being healthy. If you aren’t familiar with cannelloni, it might be because you know it by a different name. Ever hear of manicotti? Those long round noodles that you fill with cheese. Pasta manufacturers have been selling you pseudo-cannelloni noodles under the wrong name for years. Manicotti is actually made with crepes.

Ingredients for 4 servings

1 batch homemade pasta

1 bunch fresh or frozen spinach – chopped

1/2 cup farmer’s cheese or cottage cheese

1 cup mozzarella – divided

salt and pepper to taste

1 12 oz can tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce

For this recipe you’ll mix your pasta dough and roll it out until it’s thin enough to see through as usual. Then just cut it into rectangles. The edges don’t have to be perfect because you’ll roll them up. About 4″ x 6″ (10 cm x 15 cm) is a good size.

Pretty rough rectangles.

Pretty rough rectangles.

Example of how thin your noodles should be.

Example of how thin your noodles should be.

Now let them dry for about an hour. This part is rather difficult in a tiny kitchen. You can drape them over a spoon set across your kitchen sink or you can set them on a tray and place them in your fridge for about half an hour instead. The dry air in a refrigerator will dry them out a bit faster.

Next, boil your noodles in a deep pot for about 3 – 5 minutes, depending on how thin you were able to get them. They’ll be soft, floating at the top of the pot and very sticky when they are finished. The stickiness comes from gluten in the flour and is why people sometimes throw spaghetti noodles at a wall to check if they are done. I recommend not throwing your noodles around the kitchen. You can tear a piece off one of the noodles and taste test if you like though. Drain the noodles. Rinsing will remove the stickiness, but will also change the texture. I don’t rinse, but it’s up to you.

While the noodles are cooling, combine the spinach, farmer’s or cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, and salt and pepper. It will be very thick. Lay out a piece of pasta and a line of  the cheese mixture along one side. I prefer to put the cheese on one of the shorter sides. When I roll the noodle I get some overlap and think it gives a good ratio of filling to noodle. You can put the cheese on the longer side and avoid overlap if you like a lot of filling.

As you roll the cannelloni, put them into a toaster oven size baking pan. I don’t usually do a foil lining for this recipe, but you can if you’d like to save clean up time. Once all of the cannelloni are in the pan, cover them with the tomato or spaghetti sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Put them in the toaster oven at 350F using both heat sources for about 20 minutes or until heated through.

Yum!

Yum!

 

It isn’t a very quick meal because of the drying time for the noodles, but the steps are simple enough to make this one of my go-to meals.

Perfect Pork Roast with Apricot Sauce

Pork roast with apricot sauce.

Pork roast with apricot sauce.

A Sunday roast is a classic in many western households. The idea of trying to recreate that without an oven was a bit daunting. I gave it a try anyway and was surprised to find that, with a small roast, it’s actually not too difficult. I made an apricot sauce to go with my roast because pork pairs well with the tangy fruit.

Ingredients for 1 roast

Roast

1 2lb pork roast

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp butter

Sauce

1 tbsp mustard

1/4 cup apricot jam (orange marmalade will also work)

1 cup vegetable stock

The salt and pepper are used as a simple rub for the meat. Roasting brings out a lot of natural flavors, so it isn’t really necessary to get to creative with spices or marinades. Just make sure that the whole roast gets a bit of salt and pepper.

In your rice cooker, melt the butter and set the machine to cook. It’s important that the butter be melted and the pot of your cooker be very hot because now you’re going to sear the meat. Searing cooks the outside quickly and seals in juices. Roasting is done by cooking slowly, which can dry out the meat, so don’t skip this step. When you sear meat, you need to get each side well browned including the ends. If your rice cooker won’t get hot enough, or won’t stay hot, you can also do this step on the stove. I like to make mashed potatoes with pot roast, so I don’t have enough room left on the stove to sear the roast as well.

Partially seared pork roast.

Partially seared pork roast.

Normally a roast would be put into the oven in the same pan it was seared in, but I’ve never seen a toaster oven large enough to hold a pan like that. That means you’ll have to move the roast to a baking pan that will fit in your toaster oven. Don’t worry about lining your pan with foil. You can if you like, but I don’t find it necessary. You can also skip the step where you would normally tie up your roast to help it keep its shape because the string can catch fire if it’s too close to the heat source in a toaster oven.

Now just put it in your toaster oven with the temperature set to 300 F using both heat sources. If you can’t get a low enough temperature with both sources, just use the lower one. Set your timer to 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn your roast about a third of the way around. Then cook for another 20 minutes and turn again. Then cook for another 20 minutes. In total, your roast should could for about an hour. If your’s is smaller than 2 lbs, try doing 15 minute intervals.

IMG_1361

After second 20 minutes.

After second 20 minutes.

Typically a roast wouldn’t be turned at all while cooking, but toaster ovens heat a bit unevenly. After the full hour you will need to check the meat to see if it’s done. The best way is to check the temperature. According to the USDA the lowest temperature at which it’s safe to eat pork is 145 F. At this temperature the meat will still be a bit rare. However, if you don’t have a thermometer, it’s better to cook until there is no pink left, just to be safe. Check the meat color by cutting into the thickest spot.

Finished pork roast that I've begun to slice up.

Finished pork roast that I’ve begun to slice up.

Notice that the outside should be well cooked and have some crispy spots, while the inside is juicy and slices easily.

While your roast is cooking you can start on the sauce. The pot of your rice cooker, or pan on your stove top is you used that, will have bits of pork left in it from searing the roast. Turn it up to cook and let the pan heat through. Add the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. If the pan is hot enough, it will sizzle immediately. Now, just add the mustard and the apricot jam and stir to a smooth consistency. The sauce will thicken slightly. Pour the sauce over the finished roast and even on your mashed potatoes.

Just adding the apricot jam to the sauce..

Just adding the apricot jam to the sauce.

Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin curry with rice and homemade cheese.

Pumpkin curry with rice and homemade cheese.

Curry is a favorite meal of mine because it simple, versatile and filling. It’s also an easy meal to make when living abroad because you can find packages of curry sauce almost anywhere in the world. Here I used a golden curry and added a bit of my homemade cheese. Farmer’s cheese is very similar to Indian paneer, so it makes a great addition to many Indian dishes.

Ingredients for 4 servings

1/2 squash – pumpkin, calabaza, butternut, acorn or kabocha

2 potatoes – red or yellow potatoes have the best texture for this dish

2 carrots

3 cups vegetable stock or whey

1 can chick peas

1 package golden curry paste

1/2 homemade cheese

The first steps is to cut the squash and potatoes into about 1/2 inch cubes and slice the carrots. Ideally, the vegetables should be bite-sized and somewhat uniform.

Vegetables for curry.

Vegetables for curry.

Place the cut up vegetables in the pot of your rice cooker along with the vegetable stock or whey and set to cook. I used whey because I had so much left over from making cheese to add tot the curry, but stock works just as well.

When the vegetables have softened, add the chick peas. You can add the liquid from the chick peas as well if you want the curry a bit thinner, or drain the liquid if you like a thick curry. I used about half the liquid.

Now it’s time to add the curry. If you’ve never used this product before, you might find it a bit strange. Real Indian curry is not made with these blocks of spices (the paste is made by mixing spices with a fat that is solid at room temperature and formed into blocks). Getting all of the individual spices and then mixing them in the right proportions can be difficult bordering on impossible in many countries though. Break the blocks apart and add al of them to your vegetables. They will thicken the sauce as they melt.

Blocks of curry sauce. The odd coloring of the liquid is because I used whey instead of stock.

Blocks of curry sauce. The odd coloring of the liquid is because I used whey instead of stock.

Keep your rice cooker set to high until the paste melts completely. Stir it slowly sot hat you don’t break up the vegetables. When all of the curry has blended perfectly, just top it with some homemade cheese and serve.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

A pile of fresh, warm tortillas.

A pile of fresh, warm tortillas.

I won’t lie; these are not traditional corn tortillas. Those are made with masa harina, a type of corn flour that is made from maize treated with lime. The lime  loosens the hulls and makes the corn more digestible. Outside of the Southwest United States and Mexico, it’s very difficult to find masa harina. Even finding untreated corn flour can be daunting. I came up with this recipe to mimic the corn flavor and texture as closely as possible with ingredients that are a bit easier to find.

I’ve published it as a personal recipe on allrecipes.com and you can find it here http://allrecipes.com/personalrecipe/63751937/almost-corn-tortillas/detail.aspx

I’m posting the link here for anyone who would like to try my chicken enchilada recipe, but can’t get corn tortillas.

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