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Archive for the tag “from scratch”

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.

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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.

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.

Homemade Cheese

Farmer's cheese/Queso blanco.

Farmer’s cheese/Queso blanco.

Okay, I can’t take credit for inventing this recipe. I can’t even pretend that I improved it or added to it. Cheese making is a science and any additions or alterations to the ratios will result in a ruined batch. Your options during the process are limited to lemon juice or vinegar. But, after the cheese is made, the fun of flavoring begins.

This particular type of cheese is made all over the world and has been for many centuries. It is called farmer’s cheese, queso blanco or cottage cheese (not the type you buy in the store). I’ll provide the ingredient ratios here for the smallest batch possible. I recommend doing twice that size due to the low yield though, and all of the photos are from a double batch.

Ingredients for 1 batch

4 cups milk (not UHT)

1/8 cup lemon juice or vinegar

Before we get into the steps of cheese making, lets talk about the science behind it. (Feel free to skip this part if you aren’t interested. I love science and am forever trying to get others to enjoy it as well.) You must use lemon juice or white distilled vinegar to get the correct ph. I have heard a few people talk about trying wine as their acidifier, but the ph of most wines falls between 3 and 4. If you can find a wine that is close to a ph of 2, it might be worth the experiment. Just don’t expect a perfect batch of cheese. A common misconception is that higher fat milks will yield more cheese. But cheese is not made from milk fat. It is made from casein, a protein found in milk. The addition on the acid causes the proteins to coagulate, or stick together. Higher fat contents will give you a creamier texture though. Also, you can use any kind of dairy milk; cow, sheep, goat, camel. The proteins in coconut, soy, and almond are not the same as those found in dairy milk. Although you can use the same process to coagulate proteins in other milks, the result will be different. For instance, you’ll get tofu from acidifying soy milk. Finally, avoid UHT milk because the extremely high temperatures used to destroy bacteria, also break down the proteins.

Now, on to the process. Once again, don’t be intimidated by the idea of making your own cheese. It’s incredibly easy. Put your pot on your cook top and slowly heat the milk. Be careful to stir occasionally to avoid scorching or burning the milk. It is helpful to use a thermometer to accurately check the temperature of the milk as you heat it. However, you can make a very good estimate of the temperature by the bubbles that form in the pan. When you can see bubbles rising regularly around the edge of the pan, but the milk has not begun to boil, it’s hot enough. This occurs around 180F.

Bubbles show that the milk  is almost hot enough.

Bubbles show that the milk is almost hot enough.

Now turn off the heat and add your acid. It will look like nothing is happening at first and you may be tempted to add more acid. Don’t. The ratio of acid to milk is exact. Any more acid will affect the flavor, but won’t change the formation of cheese. Just slowly stir the milk until the curds begin to form.

Cheese curds forming.

Cheese curds forming.

When the curds start forming, be very careful of how you move the spoon. Try to push all of the curds together instead of stirring and cutting through them. Within a minute or so, the cheese will stop clumping up. You will be left with curds and whey. The whey is a greenish yellow color, so it will be very obvious when the process is finished.

Curds and whey.

Curds and whey.

Your cheese won’t look very appetizing at this point. Though apparently Little Miss Muffet thought this was a tasty treat. You can let the cheese cool for a moment while you set up equipment for the next step. You’ll need a bowl with a strainer on top. In the strainer you need a double layer of cheese cloth if you have it, or a similar piece of cloth or nylon that can strain out the whey without losing any curds. Boil the cloth or nylon for 5 minutes before straining your cheese to kill any bacteria that might be hiding in it.

Bowl, strainer and nylon mesh.

Bowl, strainer and nylon mesh.

Pour your cheese into the cloth and let the whey drip through. When most of the dripping has stopped, pick up the cloth or nylon and close it up at the top. I used a food-grade rubber band. Carefully squeeze the excess whey out of the cheese. It should be firm and be able to hold a shape. At this point it may even be a bit dry. Just add a little whey if you want it creamier. It will also have a slightly sticky texture.

Now comes the fun part: flavoring. Farmer’s cheese is basically flavorless on it’s own. I always add a bit of salt to mine. Some other great add ins are herbs, pepper and spices. This batch I only salted because I used it with a curry. Now, wrap it up in plastic and store it in the fridge, or serve it immediately.

You’ll have noticed that there is a significant amount of leftover whey. From the 8 cups of milk I used for this batch, I got 1 1/2 cups of cheese and 6 1/2 cups of whey. (This is why I don’t recommend making the smallest batch.) Don’t throw out all that whey though. It has a lot of potential uses. You can use it in place of stock, drink it as is, add it to smoothies, etc. I have even heard of people using it to water plants, but I would dilute it with water before doing that. I like to pour mine into resealable bags and store it in the freezer until I have a need for it. Whey is loaded with vitamins and I can always find a place for it in my cooking. If you run an internet search for ways to use whey, you might read about making ricotta from it. That only works if the whey is from making cheese with rennet, not from acid. Sadly, you can’t get any more cheese from this whey.

Bags of whey.

Bags of whey.

Pasta Dough

Rolled pasta dough.

Rolled pasta dough.

Today’s recipe is ridiculously simple, but don’t let that fool you. There are only three ingredients and pasta dough, unlike bread pie dough, isn’t very touchy about kneading. You can be a bit forceful, in fact you’ll need to be, or re-roll the dough if you need to. On the other hand, pasta needs to be rolled so thin you can see through it. If you’ve got the elbow grease for it, you can get started making your own fettuccine, lasagna, ravioli, cannelloni, pierogi, spatzle, etc. So, clear some space on your largest work surface and get out your rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin).

Ingredients for small batch – will make about 8 cannelloni

3/4 flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

Usually pasta is made directly on the counter top where you’ll be rolling it out, but you can definitely make it in a bowl if you like. Combine the flour and salt and form a well in the center for the egg.

Double batch of pasta being started.

Double batch of pasta being started.

Using your fingers, mix the very center of the well. As it combines, slowly mix in more of the flour. If you go too quickly the egg will spill over the side and make a mess. Continue until all of the flour has been mixed thoroughly into the egg. If the dough is too dry and the flour doesn’t all mix in, you can add a very small amount of water. Just a sprinkle of water at a time. If the dough is wet and sticky, just a bit more flour. Now that you have everything combined, knead it a few more times to really homogenize the dough and get a smooth consistency. The wrap it in plastic and put it in your fridge for about 30 minutes.

Kneaded pasta dough.

Kneaded pasta dough.

After 30 minutes take the dough out of the fridge and divide it. Rolling dough with a pasta machine is pretty easy, but doing it by hand is not much fun. I find that dividing the dough into four parts makes it easier to roll the dough sufficiently thin. Just remember to keep the other parts of the dough tightly covered so they don’t dry out.

Quartered pasta dough.

Quartered pasta dough.

Lightly flour your work surface and start rolling. Start in the center of the dough and roll with even pressure to the edges. After a few rolls, turn the dough over and roll some more. Keep doing this until you can see your hand through the dough. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I make ravioli from fresh pasta dough in a tiny kitchen.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese.

Who doesn’t love mac ‘n’ cheese? Living abroad, it’s one of the hardest dishes to find. The good news? It’s really easy to make and freezes well, so you can make a big batch and have it whenever you want.

Ingredients for 6 servings

4 oz noodles

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

2 cups milk

2 cups cheese – divided

salt and pepper to taste

The first step for mac ‘n’ cheese is to cook the noodles. You can really use any type of noodle you like as long as the noodles have some way of holding sauce. Spaghetti and linguini just won’t work. Fill your rice cooker pot with water and set it to cook. Don’t add your pasta until the water is boiling or you will end up with sticky, mushy pasta and that won’t make for delicious macaroni and cheese. Follow the directions for al dente pasta on the package and then drain and rinse the noodles. Pour the noodles into a baking pan, lined or unlined, and set them aside.

Keep your rice cooker set to cook and melt the butter in the pot. When the butter is melted stir in the flour to make a roux.

Roux

Roux

This is how you will get your cheese sauce to thicken. Slowly mix in the milk as soon as the roux forms a smooth paste. Don’t let the flour brown or it will lose its thickening power. I like to add the milk a little at a time to make sure that it has blended well and not formed any clumps. This butter, flour, milk mixture is called a bechamel sauce and is the base of most cream sauces, so it’s a very important skill to know. Keep the heat on high, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the mixture thickens.

Bechamel sauce.

Bechamel sauce.

Add the salt and pepper, and 1 1/2 cups of cheese. I used a white cheddar because it is the easiest to find in most countries. Stir the sauce until the cheese has all melted. Remove from the heat and slowly pour the sauce over the noodles. I like to give the pan a few taps to remove air bubbles after pouring in the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top.

Macaroni and cheese ready to cook.

Macaroni and cheese ready to cook.

Put your pan of macaroni in your toaster oven at 350 F (or using only the lower heat source) for approximately 30 minutes or until everything has set. During the final 2 – 3 minutes turn on the upper heat source to brown the top of the dish. It can still be a bit loose when you first take it out of the toaster oven, so allow the mac ‘n’ cheese to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Because it can be a pretty heavy meal, I like to serve it with something light, like this roasted beet salad.

Mac 'n' cheese with roasted beet salad.

Mac ‘n’ cheese with roasted beet salad.

Note: For those coming from the U.S., white cheddar might be a strange sight. Milk from strictly pasture raised cows produces a cheese with an orange coloring during the summer when they get more beta carotene in their diets. This summer cheese was thought to be more nutritious and better tasting, so dairy farmers started adding orange coloring to cheddar year-round to keep sales steady. After hundreds of years of this, Americans find anything other than orange a bit off putting, while the rest of the world cringes at orange cheddar. But, aside from the coloring, they’re all the same.

Vegetable Stock

Vegetable stock

Vegetable stock

As part of my never ending quest to save money and not throw out anything that can still be used, I started making vegetable stock about a year ago. I use it to replace any kind of stock or broth in recipes. It’s also completely free of fat and salt. As a bonus, the leftovers are great for composting.

Ingredients

Vegetable scraps

Water

Yep, that’s it. Just leftover vegetables (and occasionally fruits) and water. Whenever I peel vegetables, cut the ends off vegetables, etc. I put what won’t go in the recipe into a quart sized freezer bag and store it in the freezer.

Frozen vegetable scraps.

Frozen vegetable scraps.

When the bag is full, I put all the scraps into a pot with 2 1/2-3 cups of water and simmer it over low heat. The amount of water depends on how full your bag is. There should be enough water to cover all the scraps but they shouldn’t be swimming. You’re making stock, not soup. Cook everything down for about an hour or until the vegetables are all soft. You can do this in a rice cooker, but I recommend using the cook top.

Simmering vegetable stock.

Simmering vegetable stock.

After your stock has cooked down, drain the vegetables over a bowl. Let them drain until the stock has cooled enough to handle and most of the liquid has drained into the bowl.

Draining vegetable stock.

Draining vegetable stock.

If you want to avoid any sediment in your stock, line the strainer with cheese cloth or something similar. Once it’s cooled, set the strainer aside and pour  your vegetable stock into freezer bags and save in the fridge for up to a week, or store for up to three months in the freezer.

Note: I also add apple peels and cores, pear cores, and sometimes melon rind. If you add apple cores to yours, remember that apple seeds contain trace amounts of arsenic, so you might want to remove the seeds first. You might be okay adding other fruit peels (not bananas) but I have not tried it and can’t say for sure if it would work. If you want a meatier flavor you can add dried mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes.

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