Comfort Cooking Abroad

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Archive for the tag “quick”

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.

Leftover Rice Pudding

Rice pudding made with leftover rice and coconut milk.

Rice pudding made with leftover rice and coconut milk.

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

Ingredients for 8 servings

2 cups leftover rice

1 12 oz can coconut milk

1 1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 egg

cinnamon and cardamom to taste – optional

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

Pudding mixture before cooking.

Pudding mixture before cooking.

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

Picked Cherry Tomatoes

Pickled tomatoes.

Pickled tomatoes.

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

Ingredients for a half pint

1/3 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes

Chopped fresh herbs of your choice 

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

Tomatoes, herbs and jar.

Tomatoes, herbs and jar.

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

Cream of Broccoli and Mushroom Soup

Broccoli and mushroom soup with cheddar.

Broccoli and mushroom soup with cheddar.

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

Ingredients for 6 servings

2 cups whey

1 small head of broccoli – chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tbsp flour

2 cups cold milk

salt and pepper to taste

Cheddar cheese for garnish if desired

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

Cooked broccoli and mushrooms.

Cooked broccoli and mushrooms.

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

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

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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