Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vegetable Curry Pies

I have noticed that when my kids help me cook something, they are more inclined to eat it. I wanted some vegetable curry pies and I wanted my kids to eat dinner too,  so I set up a little cooking project for them - they love cooking!

I did five bowls - potatoes, carrots, corn, green beans and grated cheddar. I chopped the potatoes and carrots into small cubes (1/3 inch) and boiled them until they were cooked but not falling apart. The corn and green beans were frozen and I didn't bother cooking them as they'd thaw on the counter and cook in the oven. Taking some pie dough, I rolled it out and cut out large circles. I put each circle on a plate and let my kids go to town. They happily navigated filling their pies and sealing them.

In the interest of fun, instead of doing classic slits in the dough, I cut the first letter of their name so they could identify their pies after they came out of the oven.

I think we will do this again but their filling was a little bland and it could have used a little more liquid - the cheese was the only real moisture which wasn't quite enough. I was thinking of trying to mix 1/4 cup of flavorful broth in with the potatoes next time, like a pot pie filling consistency.

For myself, I got a little more creative and made a quick and easy vegetable curry that I loved. Biting into the flaky, buttery crust to a lightly sweet and spicy curry was a blissful contrast.

Vegetable Curry Pies
Makes about 12 pies

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
16 T cold unsalted butter

1 T Oil (I used coconut oil but any high heat oil is fine)
10 mushrooms
1/2 small head of cauliflower
2 - 3 carrots
1/2 onion
1 T mild curry powder
1 T brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Spread them evenly over the flour mixture and using your hands or a fork, blend the flour and butter together. Add about 1/2 cup of ice water and smear the mixture together with the back of a wooden spoon and your hands until it holds together as a ball (you may need to add more water).

The vegetables are tucked into a relatively small pastry so small pieces work best! I chopped the carrots into 1/4 inch pieces and the  cauliflower into small florets. Wipe the mushrooms free of dirt and slice them.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Put the onion in and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally.  Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add the cauliflower.

Sprinkle the curry powder, brown sugar and salt over the mixture. Add the coconut milk and a little water (about 1/4 cup). Add the red pepper flakes and stir to coat all the vegetables. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, the mixture has thickened and most, but not all the liquid has evaporated. The mixture should look wet but not be dripping if you scoop some up in a spoon. If it is too wet, the pastry will get soggy.

Take the dough out of the fridge, cut it in half and we-wrap the second half and return it to the fridge. Throw some flour down on a clean surface and roll out your dough (to a little more than 1/8" thick). Cut out five inch circles. Spoon 3 T or so of filling onto one half leaving an edge. Fold the circle in half (so it looks like a half moon) and pinch the edges together. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Meal Suggestion: Serve with a green salad and yogurt soup.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Little Lemon Cakes

I purchased some Meyer lemons the other day and they were a deep yellow color, almost orange. Their skin was soft and pliable. I love lemons, both unadorned and in almost anything made with their juice and zest.

So my vague plan was to use the Meyer lemons to make individual cakes with a chocolate topping but I had trouble finding the time. We were snowed in this week and my husband was in South Africa on business so I was flying solo with the kidlets. My saving grace is that I am an insomniac and when someone isn't around to keep me in check, I go to bed at 2. So for part of the week I stayed up reading a terrific, happy book called the Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz (possibly my favorite food blogger), but last night I made cakes.

While the cakes were cooking I made a caramel sauce and then a chocolate glaze and in the freezer we happened to have some vanilla custard from Old School Custard. I think the custard won as the best accompaniment to the cake, though all three were interesting and delicious in their own way. My test subjects thought the crust of the cake was a little overdone and I agreed. I should have pulled them out a couple of minutes before I did.

Little Lemon Cakes
Cake modified from the Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake recipe in the Joy of Cooking
Makes 4 generous individual cakes

5 T unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 meyer lemon, washed and dried
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
a scant* 1 tsp baking soda
a scant* 1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Butter or spray to grease the cake dishes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Grease 4 12 oz individual ramekins or other small dishes that are oven safe.

Melt the butter and transfer to a large bowl. Let cool a little.

Add both sugars, the vanilla extract, salt, egg and sour cream. Whisk until smooth.

Zest the lemon and add it to the bowl. Cut the lemon in half and juice one half, adding ~1/4 cup of lemon juice to the bowl (a little extra wouldn't hurt). Whisk until blended.

Add the flour and fold in gently with a wooden spoon until just mixed.

Transfer the individual dishes to the oven. Start checking at around 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean (a few small crumbs is okay as long as they don't look overly moist). Let cool for a few minutes and then running a knife around the edges, turn gently onto a plate and flip over, right side up.

The current winning vote in our household is to eat the cake warm with vanilla ice cream or custard.

* Why am I saying a scant? The original recipe calls for 3/4 tsp but I would scoop up 1 tsp and scrape a little out to approximate 3/4 tsp.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beef Stew

The Weather Channel is forecasting a rare snow storm. Embarrassingly, I must admit that it briefly crossed my mind to rush out to the store and stock up on canned goods. Then I remembered that we live in a big city and have lots of friends nearby. Plus we don't really eat a lot of canned food and in the worst case scenario, we will be making pasta from scratch for dinner. Worst, worst case scenario, we will have to cook it on our camp stove.

Today it is sunny but very cold. Along with the cold weather come requests from my family for beef stew, which is one of the easiest comfort foods to make. Give it a tasty savory liquid as a base, throw in some root vegetables along with the meat and you are golden. People walking into your house from the frosty outdoors will sigh with happiness at the permeating smell that speaks to winter warmth, being inside, and all the comfort of a bowl of beef stew. This is one variation I make, it is easy to get creative once you have made it a couple of times.

Beef Stew
Serves 4 - 6

2 T Olive Oil
2 - 2.5 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 onions, peeled and chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 T flour
3/4 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1.5 cups water
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
salt and pepper
10 carrots, peeled and chopped - do this while the meat is simmering
1.5 lbs baby white potatoes, peeled - do this while the meat is simmering
3/4 lbs haricot verts, washed and trimmed (optional)

Sprinkle the meat liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sear the meat in batches, without crowding the pan. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Repeat this process until all the meat is seared.

Turn the heat down to medium low and add the onions. Cook, stirring, until the onion starts to soften and look translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Sprinkle the flour and cook for about two minutes, stirring to coat the onions.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine has reduced by approximately half and the sauce has started to thicken.

Add the broth, water, thyme, Worcestershire Sauce and meat to the pan, including all the juices that have gathered in the bottom of the bowl holding the meat. Turn up the heat and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. The meat should feel fairly tender when pierced with a fork. Occasionally scrape the top of the broth to remove the scum that will gather while the stew is simmering.

Add the potatoes and carrots. Bring back to a simmer, taste and adjust for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the carrots and potato are cooked through and tender but not falling apart.

If you wish to add the haricots, add them right before serving. Stir them in, bring the stew back to a simmer and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

It is nice served with a crusty french bread.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lentil Carrot Curry Soup

While eating this soup last night, I mentioned my love of lentils to my husband. They are not traditional comfort food to Americans, but somehow I picked up that association. They are beautiful and versatile and they cook quickly. Lentils are the third highest in protein of all legumes and are an important staple in many areas.

I made some lentil fritters, a couple of weeks ago, that you never actually boil. I found it interesting that you could just soak and fry them and they would end up properly cooked.

This soup can be made in under an hour. It is nothing fancy, but it is soothing and healthy. I like the carrots just cooked through so that there are tangible bites to the soup, adding contrast to the smoothness of the lentils.

Lentil Carrot Curry Soup
Serves 4

2 bunches of 'new' carrots, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces (you can do this while the lentils are simmering, to save time)
1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup red lentils, rinsed well and picked through (remove any sad-looking lentils, or rocks)
2 T peeled and finely chopped garlic, about 3 cloves
2 T peeled and finely chopped ginger, about 2 inches of a root
4 cups water or broth
1 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 T Olive Oil

Set a large stock pot over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 - 8 minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one minute.

Add the lentils and stir to coat them in garlic, ginger and oil.

Add the stock, salt* and curry powder and bring to a simmer. Cook until the lentils have softened, about 15 - 20 minutes.

Add the carrots. Simmer until the carrots are soft, about 10 minutes more and serve.

* Depending on the salt content of your stock, you may want to add more. Taste it after bringing to a boil and adjust as necessary.