Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the category “Dinner”

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.

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.

 

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.

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 Enchiladas

Enchiladas.

Enchiladas.

One of the hardest things to find overseas is really good Mexican food. Even really bad Mexican food is hard to find. A can of enchilada sauce? Forget it. The only answer is to make it from scratch. Of course, once you’ve tried completely  homemade enchiladas, you’ll never want the store bought stuff again.

Ingredients for 8 servings

1 batch corn tortillas (recipe can be found here)

2 chicken breast – fully cooked and shredded

2 – 6 dried chiles depending on taste

1 1/2 cups very hot water

1 12 oz can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 cups cheese

This recipe is for a very basic chicken enchilada. You can add herbs and spices as you like, but I recommend trying the basic recipe first. You might be surprised by how much flavor is already there.

Put the chiles in your toaster oven at about 350 F using both heat sources for 2 minutes or less. They will begin to darken very quickly. When the skin is just beginning to turn black and is starting to smoke lightly, take the chiles out. This will give them a smoky flavor, which adds a lot of depth to the sauce.

Toasted chiles.

Toasted chiles.

Break the stems off the chiles and shake out the seeds. Now place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with the hot water. THe water should be almost boiling. Cover the bowl and let it sit for about one hour.

Soaked chiles.

Soaked chiles.

The chiles will soften and the water will turn dark red. The skin will still be tough and won’t be used in the sauce. Using a spoon, scrape the flesh away from the skin and throw out the skins. It’s okay if there are still a few seeds in the sauce. Try to break up the chile flesh as you scrape.

Scraped chiles.

Scraped chiles.

Now simply add the tomato sauce, cinnamon, salt and pepper to the water. Keep breaking up the chile bits as you go. Then mix in your shredded chicken and let it sit for at least an hour. The longer it sits, the better the flavor gets.

Chicken in enchilada sauce.

Chicken in enchilada sauce.

Now all you have to do is spread some of the chicken mixture down the center of a tortilla, roll it up, and place it in  a foil-lined pan. Put the enchiladas in the pan fairly close together. Once you have a single layer of enchiladas, sprinkle cheese over the top and start making another layer. Keep going until all of the enchiladas are in the pan and spread any remaining cheese over the top.

Put the pan in the toaster oven on 350 F using only the lower heat source for about 20 minutes. Let the enchiladas sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

I usually have more sauce than I need for the chicken enchiladas, so I reserve some before adding the chicken and make cheese enchiladas as well. Dip the tortillas in sauce and fill with cheese before rolling. Pour any remaining sauce over the cheese enchiladas and cover with more cheese before baking in the same way as chicken enchiladas.

Easy Homemade Lasagna

Lasagna and caesar's salad.

Lasagna and caesar’s salad.

One dish I can never find when living abroad is lasagna. For those of us used to buying lasagna noodles, it’s hard to imagine how to make homemade lasagna completely from scratch. But if you can make your own pasta, it’s very easy to make lasagna noodles. Simply roll out your dough and cut out rectangles or squares slightly smaller than your pan (they expand bit when cooked). This way you can even be guaranteed that your noodles will fit perfectly. Let the pasta dry for 30 – 60 minutes and boil. Unless you have a large pot to boil the noodles in, I recommend cutting rectangles instead of squares. It is better not to rinse your pasta after it boils because that will affect the texture, however the noodles will stick together if you don’t separate them. A good way to keep them from sticking together while they cool is to drape the sheets over a spoon set across your sink.

Ingredients for 9 servings

1 batch pasta dough

1 lb ground beef

12 ounces tomato sauce

1 clove garlic

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups shredded cheese

While your lasagna noodles are cooling, brown the ground beef in the pot of your rice cooker set to cook. When the meat is fully cooked, add the tomato sauce, garlic, salt and pepper. Keep the mixture on cook until it is hot and bubbly. Now it’s time for layering. Pour one third of the ground beef mixture into a baking pan and follow that with one third of the cheese and a layer of noodles.

Starting the second layer.

Starting the second layer.

Now add the second third of the meat, followed by the second third of cheese and the remaining noodles. Finish with the remaining meat and cheese.

Put it in your toaster oven at 350 F or using just the bottom heat source for 30 – 45 minutes. All of the elements are already cooked, so we are just looking for the cheese to melt and everything to be heated through. When the top layer of cheese is melted and beginning to brown, you’re all done.

Finished lasagna.

Finished lasagna.

Now comes the hard part. Let it sit for at least five minutes before serving. If you cut into it too soon, it will just fall apart.

Mini Meatloaf

Meatloaf.

Meatloaf.

Meatloaf is a classic comfort food made from inexpensive ingredients that are quite easy to find. However, trying to cook a whole meatloaf in a toaster oven is likely to end in an unfortunate combination of raw and overcooked. Trading a large loaf pan for a few small pans gives you evenly cooked loaves. A single loaf is perfect for two servings and the other loaves can be wrapped up and frozen for future meals.

Ingredients for 6 servings

1 lb ground beef

1 bell pepper – chopped

1 egg

1 6oz can tomato paste or 1/2 cup ketchup

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup breadcrumbs 

Note – The egg and breadcrumbs are both important and have very different roles. The egg is used as a binder to hold your loaf together and should never be left out. The breadcrumbs add to the texture and create a moister and spongier loaf. You can leave out the breadcrumbs if you prefer a denser loaf.

This is one of the simplest recipes you will ever find. Simply combine all ingredients by hand in a bowl.

Combined raw meatloaf.

Combined raw meatloaf.

Divide it evenly between three small disposable loaf pans. Since these are disposable and the fat will help prevent some sticking, you don’t need to line or grease the pans first. Pack down the meat into the corners of the pans so there are no air pockets.

Prepared loaf pans.

Prepared loaf pans.

Place the pans in the toaster oven and cook at 350 – 375 F or using only the lower heat source for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. I recommend cooking the loaves one at a time. Your overall cooking time will be increased if you cook to or more at a time and you will need to rotate the loaves to cook them evenly and avoid any undercooked or burned spots.

Cooked meatloaf.

Cooked meatloaf.

To check for doneness, use a knife to slice straight down into the center of the loaf. All of the juice should run clear. If there is any redness in the meat or juice, it isn’t finished. Allow the meatloaf to cool for a few minutes before attempting to remove it from the pan. Cut in half and serve.

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