Saturday, January 28, 2012

fermented update

1. Fish sauce does not age well. By extension, the ketchup did not age well, and got progressively fishier. By the time Sam tried it, it was um... pretty fishy. Sorry, Sam. We threw it out after that.
2. OH MY GOSH I love chutney.
3. I am making kimchi and it tastes good so far - but I don't know what to serve it with!?!? Hyun did you get my letter about this??
4. I made homebrew and am happy enough with the results that I will blog about it when I have the time. Keep your eyes peeled for Radical DIY Homebrew 2.0. Get excited!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dangers of Garlic-in-Oil FYI

I thought we were friends, yo.

UPDATE: (Thanks, Amy!) If it's commercially bought and mentions "preservatives" on the ingredient list, then you're safe. But I don't think I'll be buying these again anyway! Too risky!

Um, did anyone else know about this?

According to Health Canada, you could be at risk of Botulism if you aren't careful about how to store your garlic-in-oil!

"Garlic-in-oil is a mixture of oil and garlic, either whole, chopped or minced. When you make it at home and use it right away, it is a safe product. It is also safe if you keep it refrigerated on a continuous basis, and use it within a week.
The trouble starts if you store homemade garlic-in-oil at room temperature, or if you keep it in the fridge for too long. These actions could allow growth of the spores that cause botulism, resulting in the production of toxin in the food"

I ALWAYS buy minced garlic in oil and keep it in the fridge--and there's no way I could possibly use it all up in a week!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pumpkin-Sage Brown Rice Risotto


1) You need to use short-grain rice, or you're screwed.

Lies. There's no need to use "short grain" or glutinous (sticky) Japanese brown rice, any rice will do. The trick is to soak rice beforehand for at least 35 min to 1 hour, so that it becomes more brittle. (I'm sure there's a better explanation as to why soaking beforehand works, chemistry-wise...anyone?)

2) It will take you like, forever and ever to make.

Nope. I could have had a beautiful dish for 2 at about 40 minutes, but I made a big batch, so it took me about an hour.

3) You have to keep stirring CONSTANTLY.

Uhhh...I surfed the net, chatted, and got up to stir every 2-4 minutes. And the bottom of my pot did not burn in the least.

4) You have to use cream/dairy or you'll never get the desired consistency.

You could totally make this with just the broth. I didn't add the dairy until towards the end, and it was delicious even in the pre-dairy stages. I will try to experiment without any dairy at all next time for a super-healthy alternative (almond milk, I'm looking at you.)

As I'm sure many of you know, risotto is a heavenly Italian dish that is cooked by adding liquid slowly to rice until it is absorbed, so that the rice achieves a beautiful, dreamy consistency.

Dreamy consistency = ultimate comfort food, and with the puree pumpkin, gives an extra health kick.

What You'll Need:

-Any kind of brown rice

-4 tbsp oil or butter

-1 medium onion, finely chopped

-3-5 cloves garlic, minced

-4-5 cups HOT chicken or veggie broth (I used veggie)

-1/4 milk (2%, whole, or cream) (I used cream...because we had some and I couldn't resist.)

-1 bunch sage or thyme, or have a party and use both (!), separated of stems and chopped finely

-cayenne pepper, to taste

-1-2 tsp allspice or your favourite woody spice mix

-1/2 cup - 1 cup pureed pumpkin or squash (just not spaghetti squash!)

-white wine or sherry (optional)

-1/4 cup grated or shaved cheese (I used parmesan, but next time will use a sharper cheese like asiago)

What To Do:

1) Roast your pumpkin or squash, slice in half and lying flesh-side down on a cookie sheet lined with foil paper, rubbed with a bit of olive oil, at 350 on Bake for about 35 minutes.

2) Soak your rice for at least 35 minutes.

3) Get your broth heating. Use 1-2 boullion cubes and water, or your homemade broth in a pot and start heating up on low heat. If you use cold broth, you will slow down the cooking process.

4) Put a separate, medium-sized pot on low-medium heat on your stove, and slowly melt your butter/oil in the pot. Add your chopped onions, and slowly cook over low-medium heat until the onions become transluscent (not brown or crispy!), should take about 5-7 minutes. Keep adding butter/oil to taste (and, err, moderation). If you're using wine or sherry, now's the time. Add the garlic and toss until fragrant. Add the spice mix and stir.

5) Pour the rice in to the pot and stir to coat. Raise the heat to medium, and let the rice fry in the butter mixture for 1 minute.

6) Add your first cup of warm broth to the mixture, leaving the pot of rice uncovered. Stir, and wait until the broth has evaporated. Keep stirring every 2-4 minutes. How's your pumpkin coming along?

7) Repeat Step 4 until you get to your 3rd cup of broth. You'll notice that your rice will begin to split. Now, add your desired dairy and see how you feel about it. Do you need more? Less?

8) Add your sage, thyme. Also, is your pumpkin done yet ? :) probably. Take it out of the oven and let it cool, best on a cookie crack if you have one.

9) While the rice is absorbing the last bit of broth, and your pumpkin has cooled, depending on how smooth you'd like your pumpkin, transfer to a food processer and puree. Add it to your risotto and stir.

10) Stir in your grated cheese, turn off the heat, and remove your risotto from the element.

11) Serve with a sprinkle of paprika or cayenne and a sage leaf, or thyme sprig.

...And bam. Ultimate, guilt-free comfort food.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

KAFFIR (Lime Leaves)


Where do I find this stuff?

Amy's Easy Lentil Crackers

I have been trying a no-sugar thing lately, as I've been feeling like sugar gives me headaches. I came up with a high-protein cracker recipe to get me through my morning snacktime sugar-free and satisfied, and I'm pretty happy with the results! I went through a cracker phase last year but was never satisfied with all of the elements... so I winged it, then tested it again before unleashing it on you here. Bon appetit!

A pastry wheel is best for nice fluted edges, but you can also use a pizza wheel. I don't recommend using a knife.

1/2 c red lentils
1 1/4 c boiling water

--> pour water over lentils in your mixing bowl and let sit one hour. Or all day, or overnight, depending on your schedule. You can also use leftover cooked lentils, or let them soak just 10-20 minutes in a blender and then blend them. Whatever. I let them soak 1 hour and then used a handheld soup blender. You can just use whole soaked lentils - as long as you can break them with just a bit of pressure with your thumbnail, that's fine.

Now, preheat to 350 degrees F.

70g cheddar, finely grated (if you're vegan, or fasting, use 1/2 c finely grated carrot - I haven't tested it but as long as it's grated finely enough, or possibly pureed, it should work - you may need a touch more fat in the recipe).

70g looks like this much - it's about 1/2 c packed down when shredded.

1/3 c coconut oil or butter (solid fats are better for this recipe - use liquid oil if you must but the texture will be off. You can get fragrant organic coconut oil for around $10-11 or cheap Chinese market shop refined - that is, unfragranced - coconut oil for about $4). 1/3 c is about 60g.

1/8c-1/4c sesame seeds (or flax, or you could probably use chia or amaranth if you're into that)
1 tbsp each dried oregano and sweet paprika
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp-1 tsp cayenne (I used 1/2 tsp myself which was not hot enough for my taste - it was just a hint of spice with no real heat)
3 c bread flour - if you use La Milanaise organic whole wheat bread flour, this is 430g. (Why bread flour? Bread flour is formulated to have a high protein - gluten - content, which I wanted to use here to boost the nutritional/tummy-filling value of the crackers - but if you don't have bread flour use whatever.)

--> Mix ingredients well until the dough forms a ball. With an electric mixer, it will be clumpy when ready - when combined, test with your hands to see if it holds together nicely.

NOTE: This recipe has NO leavening agents - this is not an omission! You want thin, crispy crackers, and you want your fluted edges to keep from being distorted - so you don't want to add baking powder or they will puff up and not be nice.

Roll out a handful of dough, flouring the dough and surface, turning and re-flouring as often as you need to. Roll it out like crazy. When you think it's as thin as it can get - roll it out more.

Like this!

Now, the next trick of crackers is baking surface - you must use a porous surface - parchment paper or a baking stone. In practice, it's got to be parchment paper. The stone would be crazy and messy. So just do it. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet. (The recipe makes about 6 sheets so have another one or more at the ready if possible.) If you must be an obstinate rebel, you can bake them directly on the cookie sheet, but they might be less awesome.

Transfer your thin dough to a prepared cookie sheet, trimming as necessary. (If the Queen Mother is coming, you can pre-trim with your fluted pastry wheel into a rectangle, to make sure each and every cracker is pretty - but I have a toddler and little spare time so I don't bother.) Now that it's on the sheet, cut into strips, then squares.

See? There is a natural unevenness to the dough that you can work with - just strategically cut it up where there are weird lumps at the perimeter.

And then into squares. As you cut, your wheel might drag the strips over themselves, so go slowly. You don't need to space them apart at all - the cut dough will often naturally shrink away from each cut, and since you're using parchment paper (right??) you'll get aeration that way too. After baking you may need to break them apart just slightly with your fingers.

Get a second sheet ready while the oven is still preheating. Pop them in two sheets at a time (assuming you have two racks - pack more or less in as you have room for).

Bake 20 minutes. Underbaking with make them soft, like baby crackers, and overbaking will make them smokey and less delicious. As a rule of thumb, they are ready when each sheet has a perimeter of about 2 crackers of the size depicted that are clearly, but not deeply, browning. It is better to underbake than overbake - if you realize they are not crisping up on the racks, you can just pop them back in to toast some more, whereas there's no such correction possible if you overbake.

The crispy edges at the forefront are what you want to see.

Cool on racks (important for air circulation and developing crispness).

I stored mine in a big gallon-size jar. A canning funnel is handy for packing them in there but isn't necessary.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Come-to-Mama" Turkey

I like to think of myself as a genuinely helpful person.

I love helping people. We are each blessed with unique resources, which God has specified that we use for the purposes of fostering ultimate Good in our oft-bleak world. I also love bringing people together to share good times.

Unfortunately, helpful people--hopelessly blindsided by their helpful fervor--find really, really dumb ways of getting themselves into deep shit.

Imagine this scenario:

Me: So, Dad, what do you think about inviting the whole family over for Orthodox Christmas?

Dad: I have no objection...but...that's a lot of people.

-Fourteen, to be exact.-

Me: So? I think it would be nice. It's the first time anyone has gathered your side of the family altogether. We would be like, making Ghali family history.

Dad: Well, ok. But...what do you cook for Christmas dinner? What will we make?

Me: make a turkey.

Dad: Oh. You know how to make turkey?


2 hours later

Me: Shoot. I've never made a turkey. What if I burn it?...Shoot.

2 days later

Dad: Samansa! I bought beautiful turkey!

Me: ....really!

Dad: Yes. It was the smallest turkey I found in Costco!

Me: Oh, thank GOD. So how heavy is it?


the next day

Me: you know how to cook a sixteen-pound turkey?


Le Jaime Oliver to the rescue.

Upon seeing my distress, Amy graciously lent me a cookbook written by the very talented (read: rich) heartthrob chef du jour, Jaime Oliver. I'd never tried any Jaime Oliver recipes before, and admittedly wasn't exactly impressed with his explanations, but here was a big bird recipe and I needed a crutch at any cost, at this point. To be fair, I'd observed my aunt Amira prepare turkeys every year for Everybody Else Christmas (Dec. 25), and was sure I could wing it...kind of.

The turkey took three days to defrost. That catapulted me into panic mode early on. When Saturday (the day of the dinner) rolled around, I dilly-dally-ed in the kitchen, doing everything else, and pretending that Big Bird wasn't chilling obnoxiously, practically mocking me from my sink, within a two-foot radius of my fidgety, apron-clad self.

Hey baby, let me buy you a drink. You look like you could use some unwindin'.

What You'll Need:

-Lots of fresh thyme

-Lots of fresh rosemary

-Lots of fresh sage

-Lots of fresh parsely

-Lots of minced garlic

-garam masala, or mysterious Mid-Eastern 7-spice mix known as "Bouharat", or your DIY creation

-olive oil or butter

-coarse salt (for cleaning the bird)

-about 5 carrots, sliced once lengthwise

-about 5 celery stalks

-your stuffing of choice ( another story on its own. to be blogged soon....)

-1 large orange or two small tangerines

-an oven-proof pan/dish that can carry the weight of your turkey (if you get a disposal aluminum pan, it is crucial that you know how much your turkey weighs before you buy one. Check the packaging on the pan: it should say how much weight the pan can safely carry (don't forget to calculate the weight of turkey + stuffing, too.). The last thing you want is a 3rd degree burn on Christmas and a Big Bird all over your kitchen floor because your pan couldn't withstand the weight of the turkey). What I recommend: buy a pan that you KNOW you can re-use!

What to do:

1) Preheat your oven to the highest degree on your dial (I don't know if this is actually customary, but Jaime Oliver recommends it) on Bake. Once your turkey is seasoned and ready to go into the oven, lower the heat to 350.

2) Peel and slice your carrots lengthwise, place them sliced side facedown, along with the celery stalks, on the bottom of the oven-proof pan. This veggie layer is like a safety net, preventing the bottom of the turkey from burning in case you miscalculate the cooking time. If they don't end up burning, they will caramelize, and be super delish, adding a beautiful veggie-broth flavour to your gravy. Spray or brush the veggies with olive oil.

3) Chop your herbs into 1-2 inch pieces. Toss the different herbs, together with the minced garlic, and reserve in a bowl.

4) Wash your turkey inside and out, rubbing the skin and inside the cavity with coarse salt.

5) Squeeze those abs, bend your knees, and heave-ho your turkey onto the pan.

6) Pour a generous amount of olive oil or softened butter into your hands, and give the turkey a good rub. Then, very carefully, try to loosen the skin of the turkey on either side of the breast, creating two pockets (you'll notice that the breast is separated down the middle) in which you will stuff your herbs. My aunt always did this because she says that the herbs perfumed the meat. Jaime Oliver claims that it helps keeps the breast meat from becoming dry. Booyah! It all works. Try separating the skin from the meat of the breast slowly, first by working your fingers, then your hands, underneath the skin. Try not to make any holes...cause that would suck.

7) Wash your hands and pour about 2 tbsp of the spice mix in your hands, and rub your turkey well, inside and out. Carefully place the garlic-herb mix underneath the breast skin. After that's done, slice parts of the thigh and leg, and place garlic and rosemary for a decorative effect--it also makes people around you think you know what you're doing. ;)

8) Stuff the cavity with your stuffying, leaving a bit of room for the orange(s). Usually, there will be a bit of skin danging beneath the legs. Tuck the legs into that band of skin and hello, mama. There's your turkey.

9) Cover your turkey with aluminum foil, and heave-ho into the oven. Turn your heat down to 350.

10) Your turkey should take about 20 minutes per pound. But always use your chef's sixth sense: is your oven stronger/weaker than most? Trust your gut. If you're unsure if it's ready or not, slide a skewer into the leg and see if the juices run clear. Do the same for the breast.

11) When it's done, take it out and let sit for abot 15-20 minutes. Why? I dunno. It needs to set or something? Whatever.

* * *

After my turkey came out of the oven, my sister (the vegetarian) took one look, gagged, and peaced out. My heart was pounding in my ears. I carried it to my 14 salivating family members and was met with roaring applause--but they didn't even taste it yet!--I was officially mortified.

Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison...

Thanks to the intercessions of all of the saints I invoked, crosses on the turkey, and muttered prayers, my turkey was slightly overcooked, but DID NOT BURN! It could have been more tender (the turkey was done almost an hour earlier than the calculated time), but the meat still fell off the bone, and was soft and succulent. The stuffing was laced with the bright citrus scent of the tangerines--a beautiful accompaniment to the robust turkey meat.

And--big ups to the man who made it all possible--my dad. Thank you for a) agreeing to have an absurb amount of people in your home b) having enough faith to let me lead the whole operation c) being chill, joking, running out and getting last minute things ("Uh, Dad, we don't have enough serving utensils. We own, like, two.")

thanks, Baba!

Friday, January 6, 2012

muffin fail


I am constantly looking for a reliable, delicious muffin recipe that can be adapted to use different add-ins. I am really into cranberry & chocolate chip right now. Must have butter or be butter-friendly for substitutions. Must rise nicely and be cute looking. Must leave the muffin pan without too much fuss. Help!! My mom had a book of just muffin recipes when I was growing up - it had elves on the cover and more funny elves throughout. Adorable! I look for it every time I visit her, even though I know it got lost somehow years ago (infuriating!). Maybe I need a new muffin book?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Action in the Kitchen -Seared Ahi Tuna

A beautiful seared Ahi tuna entrée--from the last person you'd expect on the planet...

A HIP HOP artist hailing from Queens, NY!

(obviously, courtesy of Mickey.)