Sunday, November 25, 2007

simple side dish

my microwave oven — like those of many other people — is mainly reserved for reheating and occasionally defrosting when i need something quickly. once in a while, however, i actually will use it to cook.

one of those items is the following couscous side dish which can be made quite quickly with a few everyday pantry items. things will go even faster if you buy pre-sliced mushrooms and use stock powder.

after a few minutes of cooking you are left with a flavourful side dish which goes well with fish, meat or a variety of vegetarian main course meals. the finished casserole can also be frozen and reheated when needed. you can also add or adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.

mushroom tomato couscous pilav

serves 4 (can be doubled)


1 c (~165 g) med grain couscous
1 c (250 ml) vegetable or chicken broth
1 c (250 ml) plain tomato sauce (not paste)

1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 to 2 c (~225 g) sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp margarine or butter or olive oil

1/2 to 1 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp dried marjoram or basil or oregano
1/4 tsp garlic & onion powder each (optional)


in a small pyrex dish (at least 4 cups), place the couscous.

add the tomato sauce and the broth on top but do not stir. let this sit aside while you continue with the rest of the recipe.

chop the onion and garlic and place in a microwaveable bowl with the butter or oil.

cook on high heat for 4 minutes uncovered.

meanwhile, slice the mushrooms thinly. remove the bowl and add the mushrooms to the onion garlic mixture.

stir well.

cook again for another 3 minutes at high heat. remove it from microwave and let sit while you cook the couscous.

cover the pyrex with plastic wrap and cut several holes in it to act as steam vents. cook the couscous in the microwave for 5 minutes (*see below). most of the liquid will have been absorbed prior to cooking so don't be alarmed if there doesn't seem to be enough.

place the pyrex on the counter and remove the plastic wrap carefully. it is very hot from the steam.

add the mushroom onion mixture and mix to blend.

add the seasonings (*you can add the dried herbs at the point when you microwave the couscous, if you like).

mix again to blend well. taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

the real deal

like many people, i have my (strong) opinions on how things should be — especially when it comes to food. one of these foods is guacamole, something i eat often and really like. having tried countless versions, i have to say that i always come back to this particular one. it should be remembered that sometimes simple and rudimentary is just the way things are meant to be.

velvety soft, beautifully coloured and perfectly seasoned and textured, this version of guacamole is the real deal. made from basic core ingredients, it is quickly chopped and mixed and served minutes after making though it can be held over for serving later.

how is this one different from others?

well, first of all, there are no tomatoes! tomatoes, in my opinion, do not belong in guacamole. keep those for your salsa cruda recipe. second, there is a clove of garlic which gives it a very nice extra zing in addition to the chopped onion. third, it is not mashed up at all but left in a coarse texture. making a thick paste is good for fillings for sandwiches or wraps, however.

this version also uses culantro which can be found in latin grocery stores or asian ones quite easily. it is a relative to regular cilantro but culantro comes in long leaves and has a sturdier texture than that of the former. if you can't find it, then just use regular cilantro. to see a comparison of the two (plus an additional one!), look here.

if you like, you can add a 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of dry roasted cumin (whole) seeds but that is really very optional. i wouldn't go beyond those amounts as too much of it overpowers the guacamole, especially in the ground up form.

while you can use lemon juice in the absence of lime, try to stick with lime. it makes for a much better product and more authentic one.

now for the fun part: impress your guests or dinner mates with this little fact (from wikipedia):
The name guacamole comes from Mexican Spanish via Nahuatl ahuacamolli, from ahuacatl (="avocado", or literally "testicle" because of its shape) + molli (="sauce").
testicles, huh? ha, ha, ha......

chunky style guacamole

this guacamole always leaves you thinking you should have made more and is one of those recipes you'll add to your repertoire. ready within minutes of making, nothing could be easier for a quick snack or taking to work for part of a lunch.


2 - 3 medium avocados (Haas)
3 tbsp minced onion (or 5 to 6 tbsp coarsely chopped)

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 small jalapeno pepper*, minced (seeds removed first)

1/4 c chopped culantro or cilantro

1/2 tsp kosher salt
juice from 1 small lime, to taste (start with 2 tbsp)

*use a little less if using a smaller amount of avocado


slice the avocado in half lengthwise. remove the flesh from it and coarsely chop it (about 1 inch pieces). place in a medium sized bowl. reserve the nut for later .... see below.

if you've never seen/used culantro before, just detach the leaves and wash them well and dry them with a tea towel or paper towel.

chop them as you would for any herb. they taste exactly the same as regular cilantro only the texture is somewhat different as it is not in the form of small leaves but rather more sturdy than it's dainty cousin (regular common cilantro).

place all other ingredients in the same bowl except the lime juice. mix gently once or twice or do it as i do below all in one shot.

add the juice of the lime and stir well but gently to mix all together. do not mash it up!

let sit for about 10 minutes, covered, before serving. best eaten right away.

if you are serving this later, place the nut of the avocado in the middle of the mixture; this helps the guacamole from oxidizing. also, use plastic wrap to cover but place it directly on the surface of the guacamole and smooth it over so there is no gap. this prevents the air from oxidizing the surface and turning it brown.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

no nuts about it .....

once upon a time, it seems, nobody was allergic to peanuts. at least, no one i knew...... peanut butter and jelly/jam sandwiches were the standard for school lunches and those "any-time-you-were-hungry" snacks. now, for some reason, it has become a common (and rampant) allergen, often with potentially deadly outcomes. scary stuff, indeed. i still thank the heavens that i can enjoy this favourite item of mine. mostly, though, i only indulge within the confines of my home or at a restaurant.

photo: source wiki

with that aside, peanuts — or groundnuts — are not nuts at all but rather legumes (Arachis hypogaea) originally native to the hotter climes of the americas. as with many other crops, explorers introduced these to other cultures who quickly adopted them. they are now found around the world, much being grown in africa, india and china.

from their 'greens' to their shells (see the above link for all the info), peanuts are used in a variety of ways and nothing goes to waste. while many people in north america are only familiar with one type — the cooked/roasted ones from a bottle, jar or package — other cultures know them in their more unprocessed or raw state.

cooked in a variety of ways, everything from savoury soups, stews, seasonings to sweet confections and baked goods, they are usually dry roasted first to extract their best flavour. i don't imagine they are very palatable or digestible in their raw state either....

one of my favourite ways to eat peanuts is in that most sinful concoction called peanut brittle. with only a few ingredients, this amazing confection can be made in under 15 minutes. it couldn't be easier to make, however, since the way i am showing here is done in a microwave versus the conventional stove top way.

making candy [with a thermometer] isn't exactly the easiest thing for most everyday cooks who are often inexperienced with it. it can also be a challenging thing as it is a bit more difficult, in general, than simple baking. besides that, i am assuming a number of people do not own candy thermometers!

so, if you like candy and are a peanut lover, then opt for this super simple method. this is really only a recipe to be made by adults, keeping pets and children out of the way as any slip up can result in burns. remember, you are dealing with hot sugar syrups here.

don't let that deter you, however! it's a super simple recipe and anyone can make it with fantastic results.

if you like sweet and spicy things, try adding a 1/2 tsp of dried chili flakes at the time you add the vanilla. that'll for sure get your attention and taste buds stimulated! :))

microwave method peanut brittle

whether you are making this for yourself or as a gift to give away, this peanut brittle is always a winner. it is also a much simpler and faster way to make it than the stove-top way, done with a candy thermometer — something not everyone owns. you may want to make more than one batch but only make it one recipe at a time as there is much 'upfoaming' and you are dealing with a scorching hot sugar syrup.

makes 1 batch (about 10 to 12 pcs)


1 c white sugar
1/2 c corn syrup

1 1/4 c peanuts, plain roasted or salted

1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp butter or parve margarine

1/2 tsp red chili flakes, optional

1 tsp baking SODA (not powder!)


before starting, you MUST:
  • have all ingredients ready;
  • have a baking sheet lined with parchment or buttered ready;
  • follow the directions exactly;
  • make sure to use heat proof utensils and oven mitts to transfer.
in a large bowl, place the sugar and corn syrup. you can use either dark or light. i use dark corn syrup. MAKE SURE to use a large bowl as it will bubble up. i doubt you want to scrub a hardened sugar mixture out of your microwave, now do you?!

mix the two together.

stir until it is well mix and use another spoon to get the sugar mix all into the bowl.

microwave this mix for exactly 3 minutes on HIGH heat.

remove carefully the bowl to the counter and add the peanuts only and stir.

place the bowl back in the microwave and heat it again on HIGH heat for 4 minutes.

remove the bowl again and add the vanilla, butter and chili flakes if using. stir.

cook again for exactly 1 minute on HIGH.

you need to work fast (but extremely cautiously) now:

remove the bowl to your counter top and add the baking SODA and stir with a wooden spoon quickly but thoroughly.

it will thicken and turn creamy coloured.

pour this all out on your prepared baking sheet and smooth it over. you may end up with a little left in the bowl but don't fret over it.

quickly spread out the mixture a little and let it harden for 1 hour. it should be the size of a large dinner plate.

once completely cooled, break into smaller serving pieces.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

sweet and spicy

the older i have gotten, the more my eating habits have changed. gone are the days where i ate meat almost everyday of the week like everyone else i knew. i guess i could say i have become a part time meat eater, indulging maybe 2 or 3 times a month, at most. do i miss it? i think the answer to that is .... only when i'm eating it ;) admittedly, trying to come up with decent non-meat dishes to take the place of what i used to eat is sometimes a pain in the assparagus :o — many of the things i make requiring a a fair amount of preparation and cooking time, since most of the foods i exist on do not fall into the "throw pasta in water and boil" plan.

while i enjoy cooking and making things, i HATE all the prep work, especially when it comes to vegetables. as i am standing there busy cutting, trimming, peeling, coring vegetables, i start to understand why people are paying double the price for pre-prepared vegetables at the grocery stores!

the following tofu dish is a very simple dish to make for lunch or dinner which requires little work on your part. it is low in fat and high in protein and very flavourful due to the ingredients used. the best part is there is no vegetable chopping involved except for some ginger and garlic!

if you keep kosher, mitoku sells a variety of kosher asian products. check the links ... and even if you don't, they have a wide variety of interesting products which are both organic and macrobiotic.

sweet and spicy ginger baked tofu


1 lb (454 g) extra firm or firm tofu

2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
4 tbsp japanese soy sauce (shoyu)
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp honey or brown rice syrup
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil + 1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes

chopped green onion ('shallots') for garnish


preheat oven to 350 F.

cut tofu into 1/2 inch slices. place them flat in a pyrex.

make marinade — chop garlic and ginger finely and place them in a bowl with the oil.

add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

pour the marinade over the tofu slices.

bake everything for 1 hour.

serve either hot or room temperature with rice.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

early bird gets the doughnut

as i walk through malls only but a few days after hallowe'en, i am already being assaulted by jingle bells and flashing lights, some of them bright and fast enough to put me into a seizure. every year, it seems, the grace period between holidays is becoming shorter and shorter. sheesh, it just became november and already we've had a santa claus parade in my city! whoa, nelly.

not to be grinch-like and unfestive (or outdone!), i figure i'd better get a head start as i've been terribly busy with work, and life in general, and not had much time at all for the blogosphere and getting my posting done.

while one festival of lights is already taking place, the hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil, called diwali, another is just around the corner. hanukkah, this year, is very early, commencing on the 4th of december. that means only a few weeks before lighting candles, stuffing our faces with deep fried "cochoneries" (local french here for disgustingly good things) and gift giving.

last year, i went a little crazy with latkes and ignored the other deep fried thing we eat typically, deep fried jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot — and not for a lack of want but rather for not having had enough time. well, i guess this year i shall (hopefully) make up for it.

coming from the hebrew word for sponge, ספוג, (s'fog), soufganiyot are far from being only a jewish thing. they are called different things by different countries — berliners (germany), ponchiki (russian), pampooshky (ukranian), beignets (french), jelly donuts (states & canada), etc., etc. they are also know as paczki in polish and have a very long history. our soufganiyot are probably adopted from these, no doubt, since jews have had a long history in that country (pre holocaust). they are also pronounced similarly in yiddish, פּאנטשקעס .... punchkiss or punch-kees which i have always found to be a thoroughly amusing word!

in any case, these doughnuts are consumed in major amounts and have come a long way from only being filled with the regular red jelly of years gone by. all kinds of amazing fillings and glazes and adornments now exist and new ones are being 'invented' yearly. check out the picture and write up here.

almost all sufganiyot recipes are made with eggs. without them, you basically end up with a deep fried bread and not necessarily a soft pastry, the way they should be. with the many allergies, health problems and people opting for vegan diets, many people are out of luck. people who are on gluten free diets are even worse off as the building block for these is wheat flour, a definite no-no (but check gluten free by the bay for one; i know she has one!).

after some fooling around two years ago, when i had to concoct something for people who could not eat eggs, i came up with this version which is just as good as the regular one. really. it contains no eggs or dairy products (not that all sufganiyot recipes have dairy in them...). they result in spongy soft pastries which can be filled with any kind of filling. the only drawback, if you can call it that, is that they need to be eaten within an hour or two of being made for maximum texture and flavour.

often, people fill the sufganiyot with an injection type implement. there isn't a need for it, in my opinion. i just made a slit big enough for a slim spoon (i use a grapefruit spoon) to enter and fill them that way. the slit in its side isn't totally unattractive, either (see picture below). but it you must have it without any telltale signs of filling, then you'll have to hunt down one of those injection tools at a kitchenware shop.

sufganiyot — the vegan way
no egg, no dairy and just as good!

if you're thinking these are going to taste "healthy" or awful, you're in for a BIG surprise. no one has ever turned them down and they always disappear. soft and oozing with a luscious filling of your choice, the only signs you'll have left that these ever existed are the powdered sugar remnants on your shoes and your mouth! the only drawback is that they're deep fried but, hey, it's only once a year and ooooh so good!!

makes about (10) 3 1/2 - 4 inch sufganiyot


1 1/2 c all purpose flour or wholewheat pastry flour, or more as needed
2 1/2 tbsp sugar or sucanat
1 pkg (8 gr) rapid rise yeast
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp lecithin granules (optional)

1 tbsp melted margarine or vegetable oil
1/2 c water, warm
1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp flax meal, heaped*
3 tbsp warm water

icing sugar or regular sugar for rolling the sufganiyot
fillings of your choice - jams, jellies, pudding fillings, etc.

*if you cannot use flaxseed replacement, use 1/2 a well-mashed banana instead. you may have to increase the amount of flour slightly. similarly, you can substitute the equivalent of 1 whole egg with ener-g brand egg replacer.


this can be done by hand or in a food processor. i make it either way .... both work.

combine, in a food processor or large bowl, the flour, sugar, salt, instant yeast and lecithin. lecithin is a kind of analog to egg (yolks) and comes in small granular bits; while it is optional, i like to use it. if you can't get it or find it, skip it. instant yeast can be combined with the flour as done here and does not need to be proved.

if you can't use or get hold of instant, prove the same amount of regular yeast in half of the warm water called for in the recipe (1/4 c of it) and add it the same time you add the water.

in a small dish, combine the flax meal with the water and let it sit for 10 minutes. see this post for further information. if you like, you can strain the mixture first to remove the brown bits (seed coat) with a fine sieve. otherwise, you can leave it as is as i have done here.

when the flax is ready, melt the margarine or mix the oil with the water and vanilla in another bowl or measuring cup. combine the two together and mix well.

with the motor running, add the liquid to the dry mixture.

with pulses, combine the liquid with the wet ingredients. once it forms a slightly tacky ball of dough, it is ready. you may need a little extra flour (will depend on where you live as not all flours are the same).

place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for a good hour or so in a warm spot. it needs to double.

take the proved dough and place it on a clean, flat surface. spread it out with your fingers.

using a rolling pin, spread out the dough into a rough rectangle or square which is about a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick.

using a cutter of your choice, cut out circles of dough.

gather the scraps and re-roll them. you may need to wait a bit between re-rollings for the gluten in the dough to relax again.

place a tea towel over the dough rounds and let them sit for a good 20 minutes or so to reprove.

after about 10 minutes of waiting, fill a pan with enough oil to deep fry (roughly 2 1/2 inches). i usually fry them about 350 F or a little higher.

take a sufganiyah and gently place it in the hot oil being very careful of your hands.

fry it on each side for about 2 to 3 minutes. if your oil is too hot, lower the temperature.

remove the doughnuts to absorbent paper and let them drain and cool down a bit (enough to handle).

to fill, make a small slit with a knife a little more than half way through.

take a spoonful of the filling you like (i use lemon curd often or other jellies and jams i have purchased. chocolate ganache is excellent, too, as a filling). do not overfill.

wipe off any filling on the outside of the doughnut.

roll the sufganiyot individually in icing sugar or in regular sugar.

eat while warm or at room temperature. they don't keep well the next day.