Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the category “sauces, sides and extras”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Homemade Granola

Cranberry almond granola.

Cranberry almond granola.

Granola is incredibly difficult to find in most countries. If you do find it, it will probably be very expensive. But, with a few inexpensive ingredients, you can easily make your own. It’s simple to alter the recipe to suit your tastes. As long as you include the oats, sugar and oil or butter, you can add or remove items until you have a granola recipe that’s perfect for you.

Ingredients for 1 batch

2 cups rolled oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup cane sugar

2 tbsp oil or melted butter

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

There are only a few steps to make granola. Combine everything except the cranberries in a bowl and mix until the oats are evenly coated. Make sure that you aren’t using steel cut oats. Rolled oats work best because they are thin enough to cook quickly.

Spread the mixture on a foil lined baking sheet (you might need to divide the mixture if you have a small toaster oven) and bake at 300 – 325 F  or using both heat sources for five minutes.

After five minutes.

After five minutes.

Stir the mixture on the baking sheet and bake for another five minutes at the same temperature. It might cook more or less quickly in your toaster oven. If you start to smell burning sugar, it’s cooked too long. Sadly, it can go from perfect to burnt in less than a minute,  so keep an eye on the oats. Stir in the cranberries and store in an airtight container.

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