Comfort Cooking Abroad

Get a taste of home no matter where you live

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Rustic Plum Pie

Rustic plum pie.

Rustic plum pie.

I love fresh homemade pie. It’s hard to think of a food that’s more comforting or harder to make without a proper oven. These simple, individual pies are so easy to make and bake up quickly and perfectly in a toaster oven.

Ingredients for 4 pies

Crust

Pie dough for 1 double crust 12 inch pie – divided into quarters

1 egg white

Filling

4 plums – thinly sliced

1/2 cup sugar

2 – 3 tsp cinnamon depending on taste

dash salt

Cream cheese layer

4 oz cream cheese – softened

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup sugar

Start by mixing all of the ingredients for the filling. This is best done by hand so that the plum slices don’t fall apart. Set the filling aside and mix the ingredients for the cream cheese layer in a separate bowl. If you’re pressed for work space, keep both bowls in the fridge while roll out the dough for the first pie. On a lightly flour surface, roll one quarter of the pie dough into a rough circle about 6 in (15 cm) across. Smear  one quarter of the cream cheese layer in the middle of the pie dough.

Pie dough with cream cheese layer.

Pie dough with cream cheese layer.

Arrange one quarter of the plum filling over the cream cheese.

Pie filling.

Pie filling.

Now, all you need to do is fold over the edge of the crust. This step is much easier to do than it is to describe, so I’ve got a couple of photos to help you make sense of my explanations.

Fold up a small part of the edge so that it cover the plum filling. Fold up the next part of the edge allowing a bit of crust to drape over the first fold.

The first few folds.

The first few folds.

Continue folding around the pie. When you get back to where you started, drape one side over the previous fold and tuck the other side under the first fold.

Finished folding.

Finished folding.

This is a rustic pie, so don’t worry about getting your folds perfectly even. Just brush the crust with the egg white and place it on a foil-lined toaster oven baking sheet.

Bake your pie on 350 f or using only the lower heat source for approximately 18 minutes and then switch to the upper heat source for 2 minutes. While the first pie is cooking, you can repeat the steps for the second pie.

I included the cream cheese layer because the sweet cream helps cut the tartness of the plums. If you can get almond paste, that would be even better. Just spread about 2 tbsp of the paste on the crust as you would with the cream cheese. You could also use a little coconut cream on top of the finished pie instead.

Plum pie with coconut cream topping.

Plum pie with coconut cream topping.

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.

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.

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