Wednesday, May 30, 2007

a dish sure to please

myriad versions of chicken curry exist, each having their own distinct flavours depending upon from which country the recipes hail. some of my favourite kinds are the thai and malaysian types which use more unusual ingredients, at least in NA standards, like kefir lime leaves, basil and lemon grass.

the following is a very basic indian type curry and the first of several curry dishes i will add over time. a staple dish in my home, this understatedly simple chicken curry is fantastic and takes little time to make — especially if you've spent a few minutes to get everything ready beforehand. it freezes well and is good for a few days in the refrigerator where it improves the longer it sits. often, i'll measure out all the ingredients and prepare the chicken the day before i cook, making cooking a less arduous task the day of.

you can make this curry in two ways, each having its own character. you can try this plain, as is, with its very flavourful sauce or you can add coconut milk and have a much richer sauce. sometimes, if i am making this to serve to guests, i'll take half out and add coconut milk to the other half and have two versions.

both ways are sure to please.

chicken curry in a hurry


4 good sized whole chicken legs, cut into drumsticks and thighs or,
8 thighs or 8 drumsticks
(don't use boneless chicken, much of the flavour comes from the bones)

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 large onions, minced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/3 c water

1 large tomato
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 c water

1 c regular or thick coconut milk (cream), opt.

3 pods of green cardamom
2 inch piece cinnamon*

*there are 2 kinds of cinnamon: here i use cassia, the asian variety, which is more like tree bark (see photo below). you can use the quill (rolled) type if this is not available to you or already ground cinnamon. cassia can be found in indian stores under the name dalchini or in asian shops.


remove skin from chicken. the dish will not be good if you keep it on as there will be too much fat.

chop the onion and mince the garlic and ginger. chop the tomato and set aside for later.

measure out the cumin, chili powder and turmeric in a small bowl. add the 1/3 c of water and make a slurry or paste. set aside.

heat the oil on medium low heat add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 15 to 25 minutes until it caramelizes/browns in a dutch oven or heavy pot. the colour should be golden brown and not black. if the heat is too high lower it. the long cooking time is tedious but necessary for the success of the curry. stir often. you may want to add a 1/2 tbsp of sugar half way through to help the onions brown.

once browned, stir the spice slurry and add it to the onions. cook over medium heat until the water is almost fully gone.

add the chicken pieces and coat them well with the onion mixture.

add the chopped tomato and the salt and pepper and cover the pot (you don't need to mix right now). cook this on medium heat for 15 minutes. don't peek!

after 15 minutes, remove the lid and stir everything well. add the 2 1/2 cups of water and cover the pot.

cook, covered for 40 minutes, over medium low heat.

while the chicken is cooking, grind the whole cardamom pods and cinnamon until it is powdered. set aside for later. you can use equal amounts of powdered cardamom and cinnamon (a little less than 1/2 tsp each) but it is not the same as using the whole spices.

after 40 minutes, remove the lid and place the chicken pieces on a plate and put aside.

stir the curry sauce well. if the sauce is thick already, skip this step. if not, turn the heat up to high and boil the sauce until it thickens to your liking. stir while it is boiling. it may take up to 10 minutes, depending on how much liquid there is. if using coconut milk, boil the sauce a little thicker as you will be adding coconut liquid afterwards. now lower the heat to medium low and proceed.

once thickened, you can add 1 cup of coconut cream or milk, or just keep it as is (just as delicious!). add the cardamom and cinnamon mixture and stir.

put the chicken back in the sauce and stir. let the chicken cook in the sauce for 10 - 15 minutes on low heat, covered.

serve over rice and enjoy!
it's even better the next day.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

an east european favourite

with summer quickly approaching, barbeques will soon be ablaze all over the place as people look forward to and plan for picnics and country house weekend getaways.

a very easy and delicious item for these summer days are the small romanian sausages called mititei ("small things"). a staple item with the romanian crowd, after tasting these you will understand why.

they are simple to make and well worth the few minutes of work it takes to prepare and grill them. after cooking, the final texture will be juicy with a fine and tender interior, the result of mixing the meat properly and adding the secret ingredient. read on to find out what :D

as with all recipes, there are a number of variations to this little homemade sausage without a casing. in keeping with the kosher way of cooking, only beef is being used. you can adjust the seasonings to meet your tastes but the following amounts work nicely. try them and judge for yourself.

romanian style mini sausages

perfect for grilling outdoors, these can be made also on a grill-style cast iron pan with very acceptable results. served alongside pickles and good mustard, these are incredibly good for either a snack or part of a supper or picnic barbeque.

makes approximately 10 - 12


1 lb medium ground beef, not lean
3 - 4 cloves garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda (do not omit)
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh
1 tsp dried summer savory or marjoram (if unavailable use oregano)
1/2 - 1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika or harissa or dried red chilis
1/2 tsp mild smoked paprika, if available
(or use smoked hot paprika and omit the other 2)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin, optional
1/3 - 1/2 c cold water

note: try to use the spices listed without substitution; they are sausage spices and make a world of difference in the final flavour.


place the meat in a large bowl and set aside. you need medium and not lean meat for this to work properly. the lean just doesn't have the fat content to produce a nice sausage.

process garlic and salt to make a paste. you can also chop it extremely fine and then place 1/2 tsp of the salt on it and shmear it with the side of a knife over and over again to break it down to a paste, chopping in between. it's extra work but it gives a good result.

place the garlic in with the meat.

add the rest of the spices & seasonings to the meat. do not omit adding the baking soda, the "secret" ingredient. it helps with the final texture of the meat and keeps it juicy.

with your dominant hand, start to squeeze the meat over and over again to incorporate the ingredients. do this for about five minutes, adding the water in between squeezes. the texture of the meat needs to be a paste to get the right results.

now either refrigerate the paste until the next day or shape it right away and then refrigerate it. it is easier to do it right away than the next day in that you already have the meat in front of you!

with wet hands, take a heaping tablespoon of the meat and roll it into a sausage with is the length of your middle finger, more or less, and a good inch or so thick.

place these on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. this is to let the spices permeate the meat. don't skip this either!

when ready to cook, heat the pan or grill. i use a cast iron grill pan over medium heat which i leave for about 10 minutes to heat up. if it is not hot, the meat will stick.cook the mititei without any oil for about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes on all 4 sides.

the mititei will shorten and fatten up as they cook.

i like to place them in a bowl with a plate over it to cover for about 5 minutes to let the juices settle and keep them hot. this helps alot.

enjoy with mustard and hot peppers and pickles. a cold beer might help, too!

a great sauce

this post is a bit late and really should have either been the prelude to, or follow-up for falafel 101, but i guess better late than never ;P

for years i have seen people commenting all over the internet about how they have had difficulties making this sauce. i don't really understand why as it is very straightforward and a breeze to make — it is pretty much fool proof. in conversation one day with someone, it dawned on me one day that part of the problem stemmed from the fact that some people are making the mistake of not incorporating the settled oil and paste together before using it! they simply take the hardened mass of paste to make it. though i've never done this, i imagine this is part of the problem.

the base for this sauce, which is commonly used on falafel, is the slightly bitter paste made from hulled and only lightly roasted sesame seeds. after bottling and settling, a thick cement-like paste will solidify on the bottom of the jar and a layer of sesame oil will float on top. in order to use the paste, it has to be stirred well and shaken to blend it back into one cohesive sauce.

called tahin'ah ("tahini") طحينة in arabic, and techina תחינה in hebrew [both words stemming from the meaning "ground up"], this mixture is also used as a sauce for meat dishes, on roasted or steamed vegetables and for making the middle eastern type of halvah. it can also be used in baking and as a substitute, in some cases, for peanut butter.

sesame seed paste is not only a middle eastern thing; different varieties exist in regional cuisines of china, japan and korea. the asian one is much darker however.

the tehina sauce can be made either completely by hand as i do it or in a food processor or blender. obviously, the latter two methods are quicker and less labour intensive. making it by hand is not much harder and remains my preferred method.

tehina sauce
basic sesame seed sauce


1/2 c "tahini" paste

2- 4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp coarse salt

1/2 c water
juice of 1 lemon

salt & sugar to taste
ground cumin, optional

"by hand" method:

mix the paste into the oil if necessary and then shake very well. repeat a few times until you have a smooth mixture which is pourable. be sure to mix from the bottom of the jar.

peel the garlic cloves and place them in a mortar with the coarse salt. grind them together until you have a paste.

place the garlic in a 2 cup measuring cup that you can pour from. add the lemon juice to it and mix well.

add the water and mix again.

place the tehina in bowl and add 1/3 of the liquid. mix it well. it will become like a thick sauce, almost like peanut butter.

add the next third of the liquid.

once you stir it, you will see it changes colour and becomes pastier and clumpier. this is normal.

add the last third of the liquid. it will form a mass at this point usually.

keep mixing until it is thin and airy. the bubbles will disappear afterwards.

add salt and a bit of sugar (to balance the lemon and salt) and cumin if desired -- i never use it but some people like it.

whip the sauce again for a minute and serve.

the sauce will probably thicken upon refrigeration. just add a bit more lemon juice or water and mix it well with a whisk.

food processor or blender method:

if making in a processor or blender, place the garlic, lemon juice, water and salt together and puree until the garlic is incorporated. you should not have chunks or large pieces; it needs to be smooth.

add the tehina paste to the blender or processor and incorporate both until you have an off-white thin sauce. add more water if you want it thinner.

add salt, a bit of sugar and cumin if desired.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

move over, quinoa

since the holiday foods of shavuoth are all dairy-based, i had to find something i could serve a guest who was vegan and had "gluten issues". apart from side dishes of vegetables, everything had eggs, milk, cheese, sour cream, etc. in it, not to mention flour.

i remembered i had something i wanted to try for a while which would be appropriate and figured it would be a good opportunity to make it. this vegetarian/vegan main dish, based on a recipe from joan nathan, worked out really well and was incredibly good even before i got it in the oven!

this delicious loaf is made from a mixture of buckwheat and some everyday vegetables and nuts. the recipe is really a mixture of "east meets west" as it includes ingredients like asian toasted sesame seed oil and japanese miso, both available with kosher certification. the semi-coarsely chopped nuts are there for texture and add a lot to the finished dish.

for those of you who have never used buckwheat groats before — or kasha, as it is also known — this is a good introduction. while it has never been my absolute favourite thing in the world, this may have converted me ;p i won't let that bias you, however. it is a wonderful earthy flavour which goes very well with the root vegetables used in the recipe.

kasha, or buckwheat groats, is considered to be a supreme grain, second only to quinoa, as it is a complete protein (11.7%) and is comprised of many amino acids. though not a true grain, it is commonly referred to as one. the plant itself is related to rhubarb and sorrel and produces triangular shaped seeds (groats).

buckwheat groats are available in several forms — the whole grain itself as used here (see link in ingredients for recipe), medium & fine grind and also powdered into a flour.
Common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is thought to have originated in central and western China from a wild Asian species Fagropyrum cymosum. It has been cultivated in China for over 1,000 years, and was brought to Europe during the Middle Ages. Buckwheat as well as other grain species accompanied the colonists to the New World.

The Scots coined the word "buckwheat" from two Anglo-Saxon terms, boc(beech) and whoet(wheat). The word beech was used since the fruit of the plant was similar to that of beechnut. It was called wheat because the grain of buckwheat was used in the same way as wheat. This term is somewhat ironic since buckwheat does not belong to the grass family and is not considered a "true" cereal.

World acreage of buckwheat has been as high as 5 million acres (2 million hectares). Producers include the former Soviet Union, China, Brazil, Poland, France, Japan, United States, South Africa and Australia. The former Soviet Union (54 per cent) and China (38 per cent) make up the largest percentage of world production.

In Canada, buckwheat production was approximately 150,000 acres (60,700 hectares) in the late 1970's and early 1980's but has since declined to 30,000 to 40,000 acres (12,000 - 16,000 hectares) annually. Manitoba is the major producer of buckwheat in Canada with 70 per cent of the acreage on average, followed by Quebec at 16 per cent and Ontario at 14 per cent. In Alberta, the annual acreage has been 500 acres (200 hectares) for a number of years. The Canadian 1993-95 yield average was approximately 21 bushels per acre; however, the long-term information from 1981-91 shows average yields closer to 16 bushels per acre.
to read the rest of the very short article from where this was excerpted, or to see pictures of the plant itself and where the groats come from, look here. who knew what a buckwheat plant looked like! also surprising [to me, at least] is that it's from china and japan; here i was thinking it was originally from russia all this time! [duhh, china is next to russia!] of course, i should have realized a connection since i love soba. interestingly, it is also used in india where it is called kutu or phaphra. these, however, are two differents species of the same plant: tatricum and esculentum, respectively.

traditionally, in the jewish ashkenazi kitchen, kasha is mixed with an egg and either placed in the oven to dry out or roasted in a skillet on the stovetop to keep the grain separate. for this recipe, the grains are roasted alone in a pan without any eggs. it is then cooked with a bit of water as the texture needs to be somewhat broken down to help keep the loaf together because there are no other binding ingredients in it.

a thoroughly easy-to-make recipe, i hope you like. i did :D

vegan & gluten free "kasha loaf"

this earthy flavoured vegetable and grain loaf is great along side a salad and a soup. it makes a nice light meal and can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature.


3/4 c whole grain kasha (buckwheat groats)
1 1/4 c hot water

3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot coarsely grated to give 3/4 c

1 cup coarsely chopped roasted almonds or pecans

1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 c chopped italian parsely

1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

2 1/2 tbsp miso paste (any kind)
2 tbsp hot water

6 to 8 large lettuce leaves or 2 large belgian endives


note before starting that you need a bain marie to make this. the loaf pan will be placed in another pan filled part way with hot water while the kasha loaf bakes.

dry roast the kasha grains for about 5 to 7 minutes on medium high heat, stirring all the time until they are fragrant and a bit darker. you can also do this in the oven @ 350 F. though it may take a bit longer.

roast the nuts also and then let cool. once cool, coarsely chop and set aside.

place the heat on very low and in a pot with a lid, add the hot water to the kasha and stir. cover the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. some of the grains will break down and some will stay whole. these will cook further in the next steps. remove from the heat and keep covered.

in a fry pan, add the sesame seed oil and over medium heat saute the onion for about 4 to 5 minutes. add the ginger, garlic, carrot and celery and saute until softened, about 7 to 10 minutes. add the spices and cook another minute. remove from heat.

mix the miso with the 2 tbsp hot water in a small dish until smooth and then add it to the vegetable mixture. mix well.

add the parsley, nuts and kasha and stir really well. set aside to cool.

preheat the oven to 375 F.

wash and steam the lettuce or endive leaves until softened.

grease a regular sized loaf pan with oil and then line the pan with the steamed and softened leaves. this adds moisture while the loaf cooks, prevents it from sticking and makes remove extremely easy.

pack the mixture into the prepared loaf pan.

cover the loaf pan well with tin foil and then put it in the bain marie and bake it for 55 to 60 minutes.

remove from oven and let it cool about 15 minutes. unmold it onto a serving dish and serve in slices.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ohh, what a tangled web we weave......

ok, some of you who read this blog may have figured out that i like animals.

i also believe in not killing them and this extends to also not killing bugs unless they are posing some threat to me (stinging, biting, etc.). often, i have them on the "catch and release" program — especially spiders.

as spring has sprung, it seems every species of bug in town has awakened and somehow gotten into my home through some crack. most of these insects are less than pretty. while my first instinct is to whack them, i sometimes stop and think that maybe their little buglet friends will somehow know and come and attack me while i'm sleeping. neurotic, eh? mostly though, i feel wrong about killing another living creature and hope that if i ever came back as, say a spider, someone would catch me and let me go on my merry way (or at least end it all with one solitary good whack ;p).

the past two years, i have been battling wasps. i hate them. i REALLY hate them. they've also made life difficult for me as they built a small nest outside one of my doors, hidden very well. i couldn't understand why i was seeing so many of them until i discovered their papery hive. i very carefully, if not bravely, managed to destroy the nest completely without getting stung. stupid me thought this would be the end of it. it seems even though the nest was gone, they returned and spent the next summer harassing me once again. they didn't bother rebuilding the second time. i put all sorts of chemicals where the nest once was in an effort to try to deter them from buzzing around but to no avail. it made it literally impossible for me to be able to enjoy the outdoors. a few of them, over the two years, had even managed to find their way into my home which was pretty scary. bee and wasp stings are no fun. included in this scenario was a kitten
leaping from furniture trying to catch the wasps. luckily, i managed to kill them before either of us got stung. now i am sitting and waiting to see if they come back.

to this, add the eventual emergence of literally billions of "brood XIII" — and while i don't think i'll be affected for geographic reasons, i know their confreres will show up as they do every summer in the trees behind me buzzing away so loudly you wanna scream "shut UPPPP!!

i'll end this by introducing "charlotte" .... a little critter who appeared two days ago and is on the run escaping me every chance she gets (as i think, "G-d, no, don't lay eggs in my house!"). i told her it's either jump in the canister and be released or meet the jaws of death of the cat when i am not looking. you'd think she cared.

charlotte made her appearance the other day by running across my hand when i reached under the computer screen to grab a pen. i, needless to say, was not amused as she proceeded to run across my computer screen and jump on the wall.

i managed to grab a canister and actually got her in it. stupidly, i checked to make sure she was there and she jumped out and ran across my shirt, leaping to the floor and ran away. i found her last night in the livingroom but she darted away before i could get her and now she is playing hide and seek in yet another room.

enough already, charlotte. your days are numbered.

i know i need one of these. (lee valley is a GREAT store).

btw, she is the size of a silver dollar {shudder}. big, eh?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

simple but ohh so good

image: 10 Commandments, 18 C germany

tonight starts the observance of the holiday of the feast of weeks, an important harvest festival which not only celebrates the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, but also the end of the counting of the omer, or verbal recitation of 49 days of biblical measures of barley with the 50th having been offered in the great temple of jerusalem on shavuoth (culmination of weeks or 7 days x 7 weeks =49 days). the only thing remaining of the temple is now the kotel ha'ma'aravi, or wailing wall.

this counting of the omer started on the 2nd night of passover and continues until the 50th day which is where we are now. during this counting period — until the holiday of lag b'omer — we do not celebrate things like weddings as it considered a mourning period. those who are very observant will not shave, listen to music, go to parties, etc. from now on, however, many a bride and groom shall wed with great mirth and people resume their celebrations.

tomorrow morning families will congregate at synagogues to pray and to listen to the recitation of the TEN COMMANDMENTS. afterwards, what to do? EAT, of course!! families customarily will decorate homes with greenery and flowers and prepare elaborate meals which are dairy based <— great article.

nothing says shavuot like cheesecake.

while there is a whole world of types of cheesecakes out there, i really like a plain and simple one. the following recipe couldn't be simpler and is quite easy and quick to throw together. it results in a wonderfully light and creamy textured cake accented by a wholewheat crust, rather than the run-of-the-mill graham cracker crust (which i cannot stand).

unless i am entertaining guests, or giving a cake [or portions of it] away, i make a less gargantuan sized one which seem to be the norm in the cheesecake world. there are great smaller sized springform pans available on the market today which make beautiful finished cakes, perfect for a smaller family or just because it helps lessen having so much temptation laying around in the fridge for those late night binges!

this version is also very open to adding flavourings to it such as baileys, tia maria or khalua, and the list goes on.... of course, it doesn't have to be alcoholic. one can add melted chocolate and/or a shot of espresso or coffee powder. sometimes, i'll leave the cake portion as is and then flavour the sourcream topping instead.

plain & simple cheesecake

a quick and easy-to-make cheesecake, this one is light and creamy. it can be frozen for longer storage. double only the filling and topping if making a larger cake.

makes one small cake or quite a few minis if made in muffin tins.

note before starting: use a smaller springform pan for this recipe or similar sized pan. mine is 6 5/8" x 2 1/2" or 17,5 cm x 6,3 cm.

crust ingredients:

1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
4 tbsp packed brown sugar
1/4 c dried coconut or finely ground nuts, opt.
7 tbsp vegetable oil

filling ingredients:

2 pkgs cream cheese*, enough to equal 1 lb (454 g)
1/4 c sour cream or thick yogurt
1 c white sugar
2 eggs
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract

*cream cheese must be at room temperature (soft)

topping ingredients:

1 c sour cream
4 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

to make the crust:

mix the dry ingredients together.

add the oil.

mix well.

press well into the springform pan and up the sides.

tip: put tin foil all around the pan as the oil will seep a bit while baking. this helps to reduce the mess.

make sure it is compact.

bake for 15 minutes. remove from oven and let cool.

meanwhile, make the filling.

method for filling:

place all the ingredients in a large bowl.

blend everything with a mixer until it is very smooth.

preheat the oven to 300 F and prepare a pan to act as a bain marie for the cake pan. boil water to place in the bain marie.

make the cake:

put tin foil around the springform pan (again). this will act to ensure water does not get in the cake and that any oil from the crust which seeps (and it will) will not go into the water and make a mess. i usually double wrap to err on the side of precaution. you may want to also. i use a heavier bbq type tin foil as it is sturdier.

pour the filling into the crust and smooth the top.

prepare the bain marie:

put the larger pan that will hold the cheesecake in the middle of the oven. place, very carefully, the cheesecake in the pan. pour the hot water into the bain marie pan so that it goes 1/3 to 1/2 way up the side. make sure it does not go into the tinfoil.

bake the cake for 2 hours at 300 F.

after 2 hours turn the oven off.

let it sit in the oven for another hour.

remove the cake very carefully from the oven with the tin foil still on it and place it on the counter on paper towels to cool a few minutes.

do not be tempted to touch the cake's surface or you'll remove part of it on your finger! i talk from experience.

get rid of the water and bain marie pan.

turn the heat up to 450 F.

make the topping:

place the sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and mix well.

carefully add the topping on top of the cheesecake.

return the cake to the oven and bake a full 10 minutes. this is to set the sour cream. it will firm up once fully refrigerated.

very carefully remove the cake and place it back on the counter and let it cool undisturbed. do not be tempted to touch the cake with your fingers or you'll leave marks. you may notice that there will be little bubbles; this is fine.

when it has cooled sufficiently, place it in the fridge for at least several hours. overnight is best.

i have found that using a plate turned upside down is the best cover for the cake. if you use plastic wrap, it will adhere to the surface and destroy the topping.

hours later or the next day, take a knife and run it around the cake very carefully and slowly. make sure the knife is flush with the side of the pan and you go all the way to the bottom of the cake.

carefully remove the ring and serve with fresh fruit and coffee or tea. remember, use a hot wet knife when cutting the slices. the first is for the cook — it is the most difficult to extricate.


gut yom tov

happy holiday

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