Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Pickled Beets and Eggs

Some lovely purple pickles.

Some lovely purple pickles.

I’ve recently gotten very interested in pickling. Pickling is a fantastic way to preserve vegetables so that you can eat them out of season. Making them yourself also means that you can cut sown the amount of sodium to make them even healthier. Pickled vegetables retain their fiber and vitamins, and properly fermented vegetables boost healthy gut bacteria for better digestion. I started my pickling adventures with pickled beets because I’ve had, and enjoyed, them before. Turns out their quite easy to make at home.

Ingredients for 1 quart

3 eggs – hard boiled, peeled and quartered

3 medium beets – roasted, peeled and sliced

1 small onion – thinly sliced

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Once you have all of your vegetables ready, it should only take about 15 minutes to make your pickles. Just combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a pan and put over medium heat on the stove. You don’t need to bring the mixture to a full boil, just dissolve the sugar and salt. You can omit the sugar and salt if you like, but I wouldn’t recommend leaving those out if kids will be eating the pickles. Also, remember to avoid standing over the pot due to the vinegar fumes.

While the pickle is heating, layer all of your prepared vegetables and eggs in a 1 quart jar. You might want to wear gloves while you work with the beets or your hands will end up stained. You might have to press the vegetables down slightly to pack them in.

Once the sugar and salt in the pickling liquid has dissolved, let it cool slightly so that you will be able to handle the glass jar as you fill it. After it is cool enough, just pour it slowly over the vegetables. It is important to go slowly so that the liquid can get down between the vegetables and fill all of the spaces. You will probably have some liquid leftover. Let the jar rest for a few moments before you put the lid on because sometimes there are little air pockets or the vegetables will absorb some of the liquid and you will need to add more liquid. This is totally normal. When you feel like you’ve added as much liquid as you can, put the lid on and put it in the fridge. Leave it alone for at least three days before you eat the pickles.

Pickled beets and eggs with tuna noodle casserole.

Pickled beets and eggs with tuna noodle casserole.

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Beef Stew

Beef stew and fresh bread.

Beef stew and fresh bread.

I’m not a big fan of most stews, but it’s an often requested menu item in my house. A good beef stew has large pieces of vegetables and meat and the liquid should be heavy and almost gravy like. If you know how, it’s very easy to make a great stew.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 lb beef for stew

1/2 cup flour

salt and pepper to taste

1 large potato – cut in large chunks

2 carrots – sliced

5 cups vegetable stock or beef broth – divided

Combine the flour, slat and pepper in a bowl and dredge your pieces of stew meat. You want each piece to be lightly covered. Save your flour mixture after you dredge the meat. Next, place your pieces of stew meat in the pot of your rice cooker and set it to high heat. You don’t need to add any butter or oil because there should be enough fat in the meat, even lean meat, to put a good sear on it. You don’t need to cook it through, just put a crisp sear on the outside.

Searing the stew meat.

Searing the stew meat.

Now add the vegetables and 4 cups of the stock or broth and bring it to a boil. While the stew is cooking, mix the last cup of stock or broth with the remaining flour. It’s important that the liquid be cold when you mix it with the flour or the flour will clump up and not dissolve into the stew later. When the flour has completely dissolved and the liquid is smooth, we call this a slurry, stir it into the boiling stew.

Adding the slurry to the stew.

Adding the slurry to the stew.

All of the liquid in the pot should quickly thicken up to a gravy consistency and now you’re done. So much better than canned stews!

Tomatoes with Caramelized Onions

Tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Here’s a really simple and delicious tomato dish that I came up with years ago. With 6 ingredients and 15 minutes you can have a side dish that people will beg you to make again. I usually use a variety of heirloom tomatoes, but this time I had a bag full of vine ripened red tomatoes from a u-pick farm.

Ingredients for 4 servings

1/2 onion – thinly sliced

1 tbsp butter

3 tomatoes – sliced about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) width

1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (no substitutions on this one)

dash salt

2 tbsp grated sharp cheese

In a pan melt the butter and add the onion slices. It’s better to use butter here to get the best flavor and texture on the onion, but oil will work as well. Cook the onions on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. The keys to caramelizing onions are to cook them slowly and make sure your slices are even.

While the onions are cooking, spread the sliced tomatoes on a serving dish and top them with the balsamic vinegar and salt. I’ve tried other types of vinegar and none  of them tasted as nice as balsamic. Play around with flavored balsamic vinegars though if you like. The tomatoes in the photo were made with white peach vinegar and they had a very interesting sweet and tangy flavor.

When the onions have finished, after about 15 minutes, layer them on top of the tomatoes. Finally top the whole thing with the grated cheese. I like asiago and gruyere best, but parmesan and dubliner are also tasty. It’s very important to layer the ingredients in this order. I’ve tried doing it other ways and it never comes out quite right.

Leftover Rice Pudding

Rice pudding made with leftover rice and coconut milk.

Rice pudding made with leftover rice and coconut milk.

I recently had a lot of leftover rice from Chinese takeaway. Everything but the rice had been eaten and I didn’t want to throw out 2 cups of rice. Usually when I make rice pudding, I cook the rice in a thick custard, but this time I decided to make something closer to what I used to have at breakfast in KSA. I even had real cinnamon and cardamom pods to add, which is what you see in the lower left and top center of the pot.

Ingredients for 8 servings

2 cups leftover rice

1 12 oz can coconut milk

1 1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 egg

cinnamon and cardamom to taste – optional

This recipe couldn’t be any easier. Put the leftover rice in a pot and break it up a little. combine the coconut milk, milk, sugar, salt and egg in a bowl and add it to the rice. Add cinnamon and cardamom if you like. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Pudding mixture before cooking.

Pudding mixture before cooking.

The rice will soften and the liquid will thicken slightly. Don’t expect a custard-like pudding when you finish. This Arabic style rice pudding is much thinner. Try topping it with crushed pistachios for a bit of crunch.

Picked Cherry Tomatoes

Pickled tomatoes.

Pickled tomatoes.

Here’s an idea to use up extra cherry tomatoes before they go bad. I’ve been experimenting with pickles lately and wanted to try pickling these cherry tomatoes. The results were amazing. At first they taste just like you would expect, rather tart, but then the freshest, sweetest tomato flavor just explodes in your mouth. They’re amazing in salads and with pasta. I’m going to start buying an extra pint at the grocery store just to have these on hand at all times. These pickles are very easy to make, so don’t be afraid to try them if you’ve never pickled anything before.

Ingredients for a half pint

1/3 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes

Chopped fresh herbs of your choice 

In a small pot combine the first 4 ingredients and simmer until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Try to avoid inhaling the fumes as vinegar can be very irritating to your eyes and lungs. Not harmful, just unpleasant. While the pickling liquid is heating, pack a 1/2 pint jar with the tomatoes and herbs. I used a combination of basil, dill and tarragon.

Tomatoes, herbs and jar.

Tomatoes, herbs and jar.

Try to alternate the tomatoes and herbs so that the flavors are evenly distributed and pack them in fairly tightly. When all of the salt and sugar have dissolved, allow the pickling liquid to cool to just above room temperature and pour it over the tomatoes. You will probably have some liquid leftover, but it’s always better to have too much. Don’t try to cut the recipe down because any tomatoes that aren’t covered could go bad. Now just cover the jar and store it in the fridge for at least 2 days before eating. Save the pickling liquid when the tomatoes are gone to make an herbed vinaigrette.

Cream of Broccoli and Mushroom Soup

Broccoli and mushroom soup with cheddar.

Broccoli and mushroom soup with cheddar.

This recipe combines my two favorite cream soups and is much healthier than the traditional recipes. I traded half of the milk for whey, which I had leftover from making farmer’s cheese, and still got a rich creamy taste.

Ingredients for 6 servings

2 cups whey

1 small head of broccoli – chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tbsp flour

2 cups cold milk

salt and pepper to taste

Cheddar cheese for garnish if desired

This recipe is very simple and fast. Pour the whey into the pot of your rice cooker and set it to cook. When the whey begins to boil, add the vegetables. The broccoli needs to cook down until it is very soft. It will take 10 – 15 minutes for the broccoli to become soft and the mushrooms to cook through. * It’s important to keep the top of your rice cooker open while you are boiling liquid in it. If you close the cooker, you risk having the soup boil out of the steam vent and onto the electrical plug.

Cooked broccoli and mushrooms.

Cooked broccoli and mushrooms.

I like to keep the broccoli in bite sized pieces, but some people like to have it mashed into the soup. If you prefer to have the broccoli mashed, it is very easy to do with a potato masher. Just be careful not to splash the hot soup onto your hands.

When the vegetables have cooked, stir the flour into the cold milk. The milk needs to be very cold to mix the flour in without lumps. When all the flour has been absorbed, stir the mixture into the soup along with the salt and pepper. It should thicken quite quickly leaving you with a creamy soup. Now just pour it into bowls and top with cheese if desired.

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