Tag Archives: easy

Cold Ferment Bread with Hokkaido Squash Soup

Cold-Fermented Wheat and Spelt Bread aka “Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and a Really Really Great Squash Soup Recipe

Last two days’ and nights’ wind (I hesitate to call it a storm, it was just a really windy night) tore most of the remaining leaves off the trees around town, and the municipal street cleaners and maintenance have been scrambling to try to pick the piles of soggy wet leaves off the lawns, playgrounds and streets.  The weather has turned from sunny, dry, and cold to cold and wet, which tends to inspire me to bake.  And since it’s conveniently still cold as opposed to deep-frozen (that comes later in the year hereabouts), it has occurred to me that I can use my balcony as a refrigerator annex to house a large (5-liter) bucket of cold-fermented dough.

What is cold-fermented dough?  If you have been reading foodie blogs over the past few years, you may have heard of “artisan bread in five minutes a day“.  The website and the book are both very good resources, although the authors have not (nor do they claim to, that I know of) invented the method – it has been used by pizza and other bread makers for a good long while to handle very wet dough, and the results are generally remarkably good.  I suspect that the reason this method hadn’t been popularized sooner is that few people have enough space in their fridges to permanently house 5L buckets of dough, and also because, while the effort really isn’t much more than five minutes a day, this isn’t an instant-gratification method of baking bread.  For best results with this method, you need to think at least 24 hours ahead.  However, if you do have that much foresight (and balcony, cellar or fridge that can take a large plastic box or bucket), this method is entirely worth trying.  It is very forgiving, it’s hard to mess it up, and it requires very little equipment (no stand mixer – or any mixer, actually).

The basic idea behind this bread is very slightly more advanced than the basic no-knead bread.  This one is no-knead, too, but it does work better for two reasons.  Reason one – unless you are baking with actual sourdough starter, a few more days of fermentation using regular yeast really improve the flavor of bread, so refrigerating the dough after a short rise and letting it ferment slowly works great.  Reason two – dough this wet (we are talking 75% hydration here, which is to say – 75g water to 100g flour ratio) is really hard to handle at room temperature.  However, refrigeration stiffens it significantly, resulting in a dough that has all the advantages of wet dough (open structure, good crust), but handles like a dough with much lower hydration, i.e. far easier.

The procedure for this is simple – you mix all the ingredients (recipe follows) in a large bucket or bowl with a wooden spoon or whatever.  You let the dough rise for 2 hours at room temperature, then snap the lid of the bucket or cover the bowl, leaving just a tiny (pinprick is enough) space for gases to escape, and you refrigerate the dough for 1-6 days.  At any point after the first day of refrigeration, dough can be taken out of the bucket (all or part, depending on how large a batch you made), shaped into a loaf (or flatbread or whatever), allowed to rest, and baked.  No kneading, no judging size doubling, nothing like that.  Yes, it’s easy.

My own recipe for this type of bread varies, but recently the one I’ve been using is this:

  • 1kg total flour, out of which 100-200g wholemeal spelt flour and the rest white bread flour.  You can use a whole kilogram of bread flour of your choice – I just think spelt adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor.
  • 750ml of water.  This can be cold or lukewarm.
  • 2tbsp (~30g) salt
  • 1tbsp (~10-15g) dry yeast

You can also halve the entire recipe (this makes two good-sized loaves), or double it if you have the space.  Mix the flour, salt and yeast, add water, and mix until all flour is incorporated.  Dough will be shaggy.  Let rise 2 hours, refrigerate overnight  When you go to grab some dough, sprinkle some flour on the surface of the dough, and grab and stretch the amount you like.  The dough will stretch in long gluten strands.  I tend to snip as much as I want with scissors.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface, and give it several folds with 5 minute rests in-between those.  Flour a banetton or prepare a sheet of baking parchment.  I use a banetton because I have one and it makes the bread prettier, but either is fine.

Cold Ferment Proofing

Pick the dough up with well-floured hands, fold it again and shape into a rough ball.  Place in banetton or on the baking parchment.  Add some flour on top, and let rest for a while.  General concensus is that 40 minutes is enough, I tend to let mine rest up to 80-90 minutes, but anything in-between will work.  The dough will expand very slighly while it rests – it will not rise significantly during that period.

Cold Ferment Slashed

About 30 minutes before you intend to bake, preheat your oven to about 230C, with your pizza stone, dutch oven, or whatever baking implement you are using in it.

Once oven is preheated, if you are using a banetton, you’ll need to turn the bread out onto baking parchment.  I do this by covering the top with parchment and a board and quickly flipping it.  If your bread is already sitting on parchment, well, there it is.  With a sharp serrated knife, slash your bread as you prefer.  My slashing today was haphazard because I was angry (not at the bread), but it can be made as neat and pretty as you like.

Cold Ferment Baking sm

Carefully slide your bread onto or place it into your baking vessel and cover if able.  Bake for 25 minutes covered, then remove the cover and bake for additional 25-35 minutes until rich nut-brown in color (in the photo above I have just removed the steel bowl under which I started the bake).  Cool on rack.  Try to not burn your mouth and squash your hot bread by attempting to eat it right away.  It’s easily 100C inside, you know.

Cold Ferment Bread

Instead, while your bread is crackling as it cools and the aroma is driving all your neighbors up the wall, you can make the happily-nearly-fluorescent-orange winter squash soup.

The soup turns out best if you can get your hands on a Hokkaido (Red Kuri), buttercup (not same as butternut!) or kabocha squash.  Why?  I think it has to do with their texture, which is somewhat drier than that of butternut, but butternut is still a perfectly good substitute.  As is Acorn squash (but this one is a pain in the things to peel).  You’ll need a goblet or immersion blender for this.  Or if you are really hardcore hands-on, I suppose it can also be done with a metal sieve and a spoon, or one of those ancient food mills that I don’t own, but you might.

Here’s what you are going to need:

  • Enough winter squash (washed, deseeded, peeled and chopped into 2-3cm pieces) to fill your desired soup pot to within 5-10 cm of the top.
  • 2-4 potatoes (I use 2-3 for a 3L soup pot), peeled, chopped and added in with the squash.
  • 1 large onion, peeled, chopped, sauteed in some oil or butter, added to the same soup pot.
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic and/or a small chunk (2cm) of ginger, chopped and sauteed and added to pot. (entirely optional but nice)
  • Enough cold water to just-nearly cover the vegetables in the pot.
  • 1-2dl heavy cream (optional)
  • Some olive oil to drizzle, and fried bacon or onion bits for garnish.  Or some sambal oelek or other chili paste.
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder, or cumin powder, and/or hot chili powder and/or smoked paprika powder – whatever you feel like at the moment.
  • Salt to taste.  For a 3L pot of soup, I use a scant tablespoon, but I like salt.

What you do:

  • Put everything except cream in the pot and turn the burner on high to bring it all to boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until squash and potatoes are entirely tender, 10-30 minutes depending on how small you chopped them.
  • Take off heat, and puree using your chosen method.  Return to pot.
  • Add cream.  Thin the soup out with a bit of water or more cream if you think it’s too thick.  Reheat.
  • The soup can be left covered on lowest heat setting to be kept warm for several hours or served immediately.

Cold Ferment Bread with Soup

By the time you are done with soup, your bread should be cool enough to cut, or nearly so.  Serve all of this to your hungry and rained-upon guests (they braved this @£$€@! to come see you!), or just eat it all on your own.  Either way, it’s a glorious antidote to the cold, wet and dark.  Happy October!

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

Quick and Easy Kimchi, Fermentation (and stink) Optional


Lately I’ve been on what T has elegantly termed “one of your detours into regional cuisines” – more specifically, I’ve been trying to learn some about Korean food.  It all started with a desire for bibimbap – a dish I’d only ever eaten in restaurants, and guess what?  Jyväskylä doesn’t have a Korean restaurant that I know of.  There are, after all, some drawbacks to living on the edge of the Outer Dark in the middle of the forests of Middle Earth.  The upsides are glorious auroras, amazing forests and lakes, and the downsides are – this isn’t really a city.  It’s a large university town, and for its size and location, it is very cosmopolitan – which means that one can get some of the more exotic food ingredients here, with effort, but there isn’t a restaurant for every major world cuisine.

So, no Korean food to be had for dining out.  Obviously I had to make some, and after a first so-so try, I did succeed at recreating the awesome bibimbap that I’d remembered (I promise to post about it later), but today’s post isn’t about that – or, specificlaly, it’s about one of the ingredients I used in it, which is probably the best-known Korean food item outside of Korea:  kimchi.

In case you are unfamiliar with it, at its most basic, typical kimchi is a lacto-fermented cabbage (or one of a number of other vegetables) with generous amounts of chili, a bit of garlic and ginger and some umami flavor derived from seafood (dried shrimp, fish sauce, etc.) added in.  The dish has a long and distinguished history in Korea, and I by no means make claims as to authenticity of my recipe, nor attempt to do it justice as the locals may be able to.  However, as a non-Korean, I can still enjoy the flavor, and want to have some on hand, since I like pickles and I like chili, and I love the combination.

What I, and many other non-Korean people I’ve spoken to (I don’t actually personally know any Koreans, or I’d have asked their views as well!), don’t love is the frequently overly pungent scent that lacto-fermentation gives to the dish.  It may be argued that it is an integral part of what makes it kimchi and I am a heathen for even suggesting that it isn’t divine, but there it is – I don’t like the stink of rotten cabbage.  Interestingly, I do enjoy sauerkraut, which is also lacto-fermented, but there is something about fermented kimchi that turns me off.  It is possible that I’d had non-ideally prepared kimchi, but there it is.

Thankfully, there is a solution – one that isn’t mine, but collected over a variety of sources including friends who can cook (thanks, Berin!), and blogs by actual Koreans, or which refer to actual Korean people’s recommendations for making what they call in English ‘quick kimchi’.  The quick part is awesome for two reasons here – one, you can have kimchi overnight, and two – it has all the flavor and heat and umami of kimchi, but without the special smell!  Simply put, it’s salted and seasoned cabbage which doesn’t get fermented – and trust me, after consuming the entire first batch within about two weeks of making it, and promptly making a second batch, it turns out amazing, if I do say so myself (friends who tried it agreed, so there’s that)!

Kimchi will develop a fuller flavor after a few days in the refrigerator, even if you forego the room-temperature fermentation.  I think I liked it best after about a week, but it was delicious right away (the next evening).

So, how do you make it?  It’s actually really simple.

What you are going to need:

  • Jar or jars with tight-fitting screw lids, cleaned and sterilized (washed in a dishwasher at 70C works).  I prefer using larger jars with an opening I can get my hand through – they make stuffing of kimchi into them and squeezing air out easier.  (Note:  one small cabbage, which is what I have used, will easily fit into a 1L jar after processing, leaving a bit of headspace.  The jar in the photo is a Quattro Stagioni 1L jar.)
  • Large nonreactive mixing bowl (I used a large stainless-steel one).
  • Colander.
  • A pair of non-powdered rubber gloves (I use single-use ones) and eye protection (optional but you’ll be happy you did).
  • A small or medium white cabbage.  I used a whole cabbage and it wasn’t tiny, but I sadly didn’t keep the tag to see the weight.  It was small going on medium as cabbages go, less than 20cm in diameter.
  • 5-10 large hot chili peppers (I bought a variety pack with a green, a yellow and a few red ones).
  • 1-2 tbsp Korean (or any other sort of) crushed hot chilies (optional).
  • 2-5 cloves of garlic (now normally I am one of those people who use a head of garlic when the recipe states a clove, but based on what I have read, too much garlic or ginger can make kimchi turn out badly so I restrain myself).
  • a 4-6cm piece of ginger, peeled.
  • A generous amount of table salt (I use the iodized kind because it supports thyroid function and the flavor and texture of salt doesn’t matter in this dish).  One source suggests an estimated 2.5dl of salt for 4.5kg cabbage, but I just went by feel.
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce (can be bought in the Asian Food section at most supermarkets these days)

What you do with it all:

  • Clean and chop your cabbage into bite-size pieces.  Yes I know ‘real kimchi’ is made of whole leaves and only cut up for serving, but as I’ve read on a Korean blog, if you aren’t going to keep it for a year, might as well make it easy on yourself.
  • Toss the cabbage in a bowl with lots of salt.  What’s lots?  Enough to make it sort of gritty was the explanation I’ve seen.  Rub the salt into the leaves until they all separate into single layers and don’t remain stuck together.
  • Leave the bowl with cabbage to salt for 2-4 hours.  Visit the bowl occasionally during that time, flip the cabbage and rub the salt in.  Separate any leaves that you find still layered together.
  • After a couple of hours, the cabbage will take on a wilted look and there will be juice collected at the bottom of the bowl.  Drain the juice out and wash the cabbage in water a few times to remove excess salt, then drain it in a colander.  Wash and dry the bowl with a towel and set aside.
  • While the cabbage drains, put garlic, ginger and chilies into a food processor (you can also use a mortar and pestle but that’s not for the faint of heart) and chop finely.  Add the fish sauce and puree a bit longer.  You will need to use a rubber spatula or a spoon to push the mass down the sides of the food processor bowl a few times.  The mass won’t become a paste, but it’ll start to stick together and the pieces will be no larger than small chili flakes.
  • If you like your food really hot, feel free to add 1-2 tbsp crushed hot chilies (Korean if you can find them, or any hot chilies will do).
  • Here’s where I break out the gloves and eye protection.  If you’ve ever gotten a chili burn under your fingernail and didn’t enjoy it, you’ll want to use the gloves, too.  I figure the eye protection is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Having put on gloves and goggles, transfer the cabbage from the colander back into the dry and clean bowl by handfuls, squeezing excess liquid out as you go.
  • Scrape the chili-fish sauce paste into the same bowl with a spatula, and using your hands, rub it into the cabbage, mixing it thoroughly until every leaf is coated.
  • Using your hands, stuff handfuls of cabbage into jars, compacting it as you go to remove as much air as possible.  Wipe the edge and screw threads with a damp cloth or sponge, and put on the lid.
  • Now, at this point this can go one of two ways.  You can be like me, wash the outside of the jar with water and soap (because it will get coated in chili paste, trust me), towel it off, screw the lid on tightly, and stuff it into the fridge.  It’ll be ready to eat the next day and it’ll have all that lovely flavor and heat of kimchi sans the ahem, pungent scent.
  • If you are more hardcore and prefer said scent, then after washing and toweling the jar, unscrew the lid just enough to let air out (still closed, but not screwed tight), and leave the jar of kimchi on the counter out of direct sunlight for up to a week before screwing the lid shut and sticking it in the fridge.  (Note, I haven’t done this myself so I cannot pinkie-swear to it, but those I’ve asked about this recipe, have done so with good results.)

That’s it.  Enjoy your kimchi in whichever way you like – as a side to Asian food, in fried rice, in bibimbap, in kimchi pancakes or stew.  Just a warning – this is easy, this is cheap and it’s addictive.  You may be picking up another cabbage at the store in no time at all!

The non-fermented kimchi will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks without any deterioration while being used.  Use a clean fork to get as much as you like at a time out of the jar.

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 5: Roasted Cauliflower with Leftovers and Opinions

Cauliflower and Chorizo

It’s a Sunday morning, and poor T has to work a full day because of the sudden stuff that needs to be done before such-and-such-day piling up onto him as it does occasionally.  For me, that means being deprived of his wonderful company, and also making a quick ‘workday’ lunch that he can poke his nose out of the office for and eat quickly, then go back to work, rather than an hours-long brunch affair.

All of which is by way of explanation why today’s post is yet another one of those not-exactly-recipe posts demonstrating how I typically put together a quick meal in my “things food bloggers eat” series – and showcasing one of my favorite go-to vegetables for making random leftovers into a meal: cauliflower.

I don’t need to sing long praises to cauliflower – it’s low in carbohydrates, it’s high in fiber and minerals and vitamins (like all of its cousins in the Brassicaceae family).  In my opinion, it’s also one of the most easily palatable of them (yes, turnips, I am looking at you – now go away!), and one of the more versatile.  The internet abounds with recipes for making fake cauliflower rice and other such things, but I tend to dislike foods being made into pretend-other-foods (meat substitutes, dairy substitutes, rice substitutes) because they are never as good as the real thing, no matter what Pinterest descriptions exclaim, and because they do a disservice to the food that is being mangled into being something else (mushrooms, beans and cauliflower to name a few), when these foods can and, in my entirely biased and prejudiced opinion, should shine in their own right.

When I eat vegan or vegetarian dishes (and for all I am a self-proclaimed carnivore, I do that on a regular basis), I want them to be vegan or vegetarian because they need no meat, rather than because I abused some poor beans into a semblance of a burger.  Leaving aside all the morally ambiguous thinking that goes with that, I’d rather have beans cooked the way beans are best cooked – and if I want a burger, I’ll buy some nice and preferably well-treated-while-it-lived meat and eat a damn burger.

But I digress – back to cauliflower.  The reason I love it and always try to keep a head or two in my fridge (and, like many other Brassicas, it keeps for weeks, especially if store shrink-wrapped with no water trapped inside it) has nothing to do with fake gluten-free carb-free pizza crusts or rices it can be made into, and everything to do with the fact that you can make a whole lot of really really delicious things where it can be the star, not the stand-in for something an orthorexiac is afraid of on any given day.  Heck, you can just cut it into florets and mix some Turkish or Greek yogurt with a bit of pressed garlic and a drop of olive oil and go at it raw with the classic Middle-Eastern dip at its most basic (provided your date for that evening is garlic-friendly and willing to indulge as well).  You can lightly roast it and then blend it with some cream or stock for an awesome soup, you can throw it into a salad – raw or lightly sauteed, or you can make a head of cauliflower and random leftovers into a meal like the one in the picture.

All you do in order to create this awesome, warm and crunchy salad is – preheat oven to 180C.  Grab your cauliflower, and chop it into florets.  Dump into a large mixing bowl.  Look into fridge and take out random greenery, and some other random vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, anything that can be eaten lightly roasted or raw), and any say, bacon or sausage that’s laying around in it.  Or some cheese, cheese works too.  In my case, upon excavation of the colder part of the fridge, I unearthed a couple of part-cured chorizo sausages, a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley (another keep-around favorite which works as either parsley-the-herb or parsley-the-salad greens and stays fresh way longer than baby leaf salad), and a box of some fried aubergine slices left over from Friday’s dinner.

Drizzle a bit of oil of your choice on your cauliflower in the bowl, add whatever spices float your boat or might go with whatever else you have found (I sprinkled a generous amount of hot smoked Spanish paprika there), a bit of salt, and toss the cauliflower to coat.  Dump into a (foil-covered if you hate to wash them) oven dish.  Chop your sausage into large pieces or cut the bacon, and nestle that in-between the florets.  Stick into the oven for 25 minutes (set the timer).  If you have cheese instead of the sausage, grate the cheese.  When timer goes off, add any other leftovers (such as aubergines), the cheese, or vegetables you want roasted lightly (baby tomatoes, slices of bell pepper) to the pan and return it to the oven for 10-ish minutes.  You can turn fan on and heat up to about 200C here.  When timer goes off again, take it out, divide between plates, and toss the greenery you found on top.  Poke it into attractive shape with a fork if you are going to take a photo – or don’t, and just shovel it all into your mouth.  If you want carbohydrates* with it, a nice piece of bread with a dab of butter alongside this would be lovely.

Time spent – about 35 minutes, out of which the part that required effort is maybe 5 minutes at most.

So there you go – cauliflower with leftovers and opinions.  Take or leave the opinions – they are mine, obviously, not yours – but make the cauliflower!

Cauliflower and Chorizo

* I am not against eating carbohydrates, especially for the people who need more of them (people’s carbohydrate needs vary hugely with metabolism), but since I am sensitive to them, I tend to go heavily on the vegetables and proteins while avoiding excessive amounts of refined sugars and starch.  So when I prepare food that is low on carbohydrate content, I let the fast-metabolism-gifted T have bread with whatever else I made.  And since in Finland it’s easy to get gorgeous 100% wholegrain sourdough rye rolls at any supermarket, I don’t shy away from it that much, either.

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 4: Halloumi and Grape Salad, and the Best Way to Store Your Greens

Grape Halloumi Salad

The baby greens in the picture are a week old and they are pristine. The only yellow is from the olive oil drizzle.

Today’s post is yet another easy-meal suggestion continuing the “things food bloggers eat when they don’t plan to write a recipe” theme (previous posts are here and here and here) from a few months back.  Essentially, these are the things that take the bare minimum of effort to prepare and are what I eat when I don’t feel like cooking.  In addition, I am sharing my possibly-best kitchen tip ever and it has to do with how I store my precioussss *cough* I mean my baby salad greens without them wilting or going slimy.

Yesterday, having braved the elements due to a pressing need for fresh milk, we have visited a supermarket.  While there, I restocked on a bunch of salad vegetables (including the not-pictured fresh batch of greens – the ones in the photo are the last of last week’s greenery!), and picked up a box of pretty red grapes.  I don’t often buy grapes because they are lovely and delicious and sugary as all hell, especially for fruit, but when I see a box of particularly pretty ones I don’t try to resist.  Or, well, I do try to resist by not eating the entire box as soon as I get home, but that’s about as far as my moderation goes.  Today, the morning dawned grey and uninspiring, and the swich to daylight non-savings time (gods how I hate this useless practice!) stole an hour out of my day, and by necessity, lunch was a let’s-see-what-fridge-has-to-offer affair.

The above pictured salad takes only as long as it takes you to slice and fry the halloumi.  I fry mine in a non-stick skillet on medium heat in a small amount of rapeseed oil, with some chili flakes thrown in, only until the slices are golden on both sides.  In meantime, I put handfuls of whatever greenery was left in my salad-storage box* (last week it was mache aka lamb’s lettuce and arugula) on plates, sliced some grapes to go on that, drizzled it with good olive oil, and sprinkled with a bit more chili and oregano.  I do not salt the salad since halloumi, even rinsed, tends to be rather salty on its own.  While the halloumi was frying, I also had time to call a friend for a short conversation about a creepy dude who’d been messaging me on Facebook (don’t worry, dude is reported and blocked), hung up, and my lunch was ready.

* I digress here because I must tell you of my salad-storage box and its awesome purpose.  You see, I am a firm believer that those expensive boxes of lovely baby salad leaves are the best green thing ever.  Arugula, beet greens, watercress, mache, whatever you call them – I love them all, preferably mixed, tossed with a good homemade dressing or just drizzled with olive oil.  There’s only a couple of problems – I don’t shop daily, the supermarket doesn’t restock them daily, and they go bad literally in about 24 hours if left in the thing they are packed in (usually a pillow-pack or a plastic box wrapped in some cellophane).  And when they go bad, they turn yellow and black and slimy and smell revolting.  Sounds familiar?  I thought so.

Baby-salad rot used to be my kitchen nemesis until I discovered the one and only awesome way to store it for at least a week without any detrimental effects.  Enter the salad-storage box, which is neither anything you need to buy, nor a brand.  It’s just a large roomy tupperware box (I actually use a discarded-by-supermarket food-safe plastic box with a snap-on lid that the store gave out for free after emptying it of candy into their by-weight candy isle).  Mine measures 18x18x11cm which gives it a volume of ~3.5L.  Any large tupperware box will do.  When I buy a pack of greens, I lay a sheet of paper towel in the bottom of my (dry and clean) box, shake the greens out onto it, loosening them gently if they’d been compacted in the package, lay another paper towel on top of them, and snap the lid shut.  That’s it.  The box can now go into the fridge and it will keep your greens fresh for a week, like magic.  This can obviously also be done with a large bowl, paper towels and a sheet of plastic wrap, but that takes a lot more inconvenient space in the fridge (not being rectangular), and you can’t stack things on top of it unless your bowl has a lid.  Plastic food storage boxes are rectangular, slot easiy into fridge, are easy to clean, aren’t breakable and the best part is now that you know this, you probably already own your very own magic salad storage box.  You are welcome.  :)

So there.  A meal you can put together in about ten minutes (if that) out of greens, grapes (or other fruit!), and halloumi – three ingredients not counting a pinch of chili flakes and a drizzle of oil.  Short of grazing on a bed of lettuce, it doesn’t get much simpler than this – and this?  It’s not just simple, it’s good!  The mild and bitter greens mix goes great with sweet-tart juicy grapes and the salty chewiness of halloumi, and to be honest, if I had had some kassieri (saganaki) cheese, that would have worked equally excellent here as well.  And this makes a pretty perfect antidote to grey day blahs, if I do say so myself.

As a bonus, I’ve used up the block of halloumi that, while not part of the freezer stash, has been hanging around the fridge for a while.  Those things keep forever in the refrigerator if they are sealed (half a year easily), but in the spirit of using things up out of the freezer, fridge and pantry, I’m happy to have it out of there – and eaten.

Roast Beef Dinner for Two – Not Sous Vide!

Roast Beef

I had entirely different posts queued up for this week, but with food and food blogging, like many other things in life, you’ve got to roll with the punches.  The pond across the street froze today, there is snow under the bushes in-between the fallen leaves, and it has been gray.  I have spent the day starting an oil infusion (more about this later!), making a small batch of lip balm to test the recipe (more about this later, too!), and wasted 4€ on two second-hand knives that looked good but wouldn’t take an edge on a sharpener no matter what I did to them.  So I threw them away (hence ‘wasted’ rather than ‘spent’).

This sort of cold, busy and mildly frustrating Friday with T quietly whining about his headache called for an intervention of the beautiful-date-dinner type.  And so I did.

Before I get to the actual recipe, allow me to rant a bit here, because I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that lately sous-vide is everywhere – food blogs, pinterest, online mag editorials, wherever I look, it’s all about it.

And I have to say that I am heartily fed up with the smacking-of-food-hipsterism fad of trying to make sous-vide machines at home out of slow cookers or old chemistry water baths, and the general insanity of claiming that one cannot, simply cannot have that perfect pink edge-to-edge medium or medium-rare steak without the damned contraption.

I call bull%¤#t on this right here and now.  This is a post that has nothing to do with sous-vide other than the above rant, and the gorgeous, entirely sous-vide-free sirloin roast.

The above photo was taken at dinner tonight.  I don’t have a sous-vide machine, improvised or otherwise.  I also don’t bloody need one.  What I do own, however, is a cast-iron pan, a meat thermometer from IKEA (relly cheap), and an oven – things which most people can reasonably expect to find in most Western kitchens, even student ones (the cast-iron pans I own are both secondhand, and that thermometer – it’s really cheap, folks).

What’s more, the piece of meat I cooked didn’t even take an hour from start to getting this on the table (well, I took it out of the fridge a while ago to take the chill off, but that is it).

Roast Beef

What do you need to make your own?  This will feed 3 people, generously or 4 people alongside other things.  Or two with leftovers.  And it’s all very, very simple:

  • Piece of well-trimmed sirloin roast, about half a kilogram (ours was 550g), allowed to rest at room temperature for 1-3 hours, and patted dry
  • 1-2 tablespoons cooking oil of your choice
  • ½-1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite salt-and-sugar-free spice mix

How to go about it:

  • Preheat your oven to 150C.  Prepare a shallow oven pan with a rack on it.
  • Rub your roast with oil, then salt and spice mix.
  • Preheat a cast-iron pan (and oil it) to just-above-medium heat.  I used setting 7 out of 9.
  • Brown the roast on all sides for a few seconds, till the meat is mildly browned.
  • Using tongs, take the meat out of the pan, place it on the rack, insert meat thermometer and place meat in the oven.  Roast until internal temperature reaches 45C.  In meantime you can cut up salad, or prepare whatever it is you wanted to make for sides.
  • Once temperature reaches 45C, turn oven off and leave the door shut.  Leave the meat in the oven till internal temperature reaches 52C.  Take the meat out and lay it on a cutting board, tenting it with a bit of foil.  Leave thermometer in the meat.
  • Allow meat to rest till internal temperature reaches 55C for gorgeous medium-rare headed towards medium.

Slice, add butter, eat with whatever the heck you want, or just as a steak sandwich on some bread.  It’s amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.  The luxuriously juicy and tender roasted cow is resting in my stomach and there is much happiness.  And yes, I grabbed the camera as we were just finishing eating, so you get treated to pictures of leftovers, essentially.  There was a salad involved, too, but it was all gone by the time I took a breath and paused inhaling the dinner, and remembered that things such as camera exist.

Kalaliike Sign

Support Your Local Fishmonger: Kalaliike Mäkinen (and an Awesomely Simple Recipe for Pikeperch Fillet)

 Jyväskylä University, Autumn

Jyväskylä University, Autumn

This weekend’s weather forecast was very distinct and specific: it predicted a chill and sunny day on Saturday and a slightly-warmer day on Sunday with ‘100% chance of precipitation’.  I interpreted this as ‘enjoy the glorious autumn weather Saturday because the next day you’ll want to stay at home.’

As it happens, both the weather report and my interpretation of it have been entirely accurate.  So yesterday morning we put on our warm coats, grabbed a camera and walked out into the lightly frosty morning with porcelain-blue sky and a flood of near-horizontal (at noon) sunlight.  It was the sort of weather that I like to call ‘Autumn in Technicolor’, when the light paints everything in bright shades – the blue of the sky, the green of the lawns, the yellows and oranges and reds of scattered fallen leaves, and the piercing emerald of moss against the grey stone.

Moss on Granite

In one word, gorgeous.

Autumn - Rowan Berries

See what I mean?  The frost nipping my nose while we walked through the shade of the great conifers surrounding the campus?  Totally worth it to stop and take photos right there and then!

The object of our venturing-out was manyfold, but the reason I made sure to venture out early enough (for us, on a weekend), was because I wanted to catch the local fishmonger, Kalaliike Mäkinen, open (they close at 14:00 on Saturdays).  If I were in mind to sappily romanticise, I’d have said that I felt the cool of Autumn and known that the vendace caviar (löjrom in Swedish, a well-loved Scandinavian delicacy) season is upon me, but honestly, I had no idea when vendace caviar season specifically was (I love eating it whenever I see it…).  I saw the picture of fresh löjrom on the facebook feed of the fishmonger (we live in the 21st Century and obviously the fishmonger that’s been there since 1929 has a well-updated website and facebook page).  I saw it there, and desired it with a maniacally-drooling enthusiasm.

Before I go further, I’d like to point out that while Kalix Löjrom is a Swedish PDO, the small fish itself (siklöja in Swedish, muikku in Finnish) isn’t patriotic about the Swedish flag, and lives just as happily in Finland, producing caviar that is in no way inferior.

So, off to the fishmonger we went, photographing the gorgeous sights along the way.  The fish shop itself is located very close to the city centre on the main shopping street (Kauppakatu 8), and has a plain, clean storefront with large windows and a really cute happy fish logo.  I’m not sure if the fish is happy that it’ll get eaten, or because it’s fresh and not sad supermarket-icebox fish, but there it is – see for yourself!

Kalaliike Sign

The store has pristine glass-covered icebox displays and a couple of tables in a corner for those who want to eat in (they sell a modest selection of sushi made with their fresh fish).  In terms of atmosphere, it is a good example of ultra-simplified Scandinavian decor adapted to a commercial space, spare and tasteful.

The proprietors, Ursula and Mika, are the third generation descending from the founder, and can often be seen behind the counter themselves, happy to answer questions and give recommendations when asked for.  The fish gets delivered fresh daily from both, local lakes and from Norway (sea salmon, Salmo salar), and the selection varies seasonally and ‘based on what the fishermen manage to catch’ – that is, if the Northern pike eluded the fishing lines and nets one day, there’s no pike in the shop and that’s just how it is.  This isn’t a supermarket, where you are guaranteed item X on any given day because that’s what they stock from a variety of sources and suppliers – but it doesn’t try to be that, nor should it.

Rainbow Trout and Pikeperch

Rainbow Trout and Pikeperch

What it is, is a great local fishmonger shop, where you can ask your fish to be filleted, or cut up just so, the bones and head and fins bundled separately if you want to take them home for making fish stock, and where the fish is always fresh and beautiful with shiny scales and clear eyes, not smelling the least bit ‘fishy’ – no sad days-old pisces with drying fins here.

We wandered into shop, oogled the offer of the day (and the caviar!), and asked Ursula which fish would be good pan-fried, since we planned a heavyish lunch, and wanted a lighter dinner.  She recommended a pikeperch (aka zander, or gös in Swedish and kuha in Finnish), which is a fish similar to American Great Lakes’ walleye (a close relative).  I hadn’t tried it before, but I’ve seen it in many a good restaurant in Stockholm, usually in the ‘premium’ range of the menu, and I’ve heard it was prized for its delicate flavor and good texture.  Most of the pikeperch in their box were … rather large…r than T and I could eat between us for dinner.

Pikeperch aka Zander

Pikeperch aka Zander

… So we ended up  buying a fillet of a smaller one that was available already filleted.  More on that shortly!  We also bought the löjrom (vendace caviar) we were after,

Vendace Caviar aka Löjrom

Vendace Caviar aka Löjrom

… and gleefully packed it and the pikeperch fillet into an insulating bag we brought along to keep them nice and chilled on the long way home (long because it went through a long lunch out and a bit more shopping before heading back).

Before I continue to the (short and glorious) fate of aforementioned fillet, I would like to show some of the other delicious things the shop happened to have on display yesterday, but that I managed to not buy because a girl must contain her greed for foodstuffs sometimes.  Especially when she uhm, has a hugely full fridge and freezer she’d sworn to herself she’s going to eat out of before restocking.  So, onwards to more salivation-inducing items such as:

Gravad Siika

Gravad siika (aka sik in Swedish or whitefish in English) – a new favorite we discovered upon arrival in Finland, whitefish salt-cured in the manner of gravad lax (name which is mangled into ‘gravlax’ in anglophone countries).  If you like cold-smoked salmon or gravad lax, this whitefish preparation definitely worth trying – it is a less sweet, and cleaner-flavored cousin, distinct enough to serve on its own or alongside its famous relative:

Gravad Lax, Salt-Cured Salmo salar

Gravad Lax, Salt-Cured Salmo salar

Gravad lax needs no introduction – it is one of Scandinavia’s favorite foods for a good reason.  Really good reason.  The I-could-lick-my-computer-screen-now sort of reason.  Delicate and sweet, it’s amazing on local rye bread or crispbread, with a good slick of butter, honey-dill mustard sauce, a touch of hot sauce, or just plain alongside some boiled new potatoes.

There was a lot more, of course, including a variety of fishes hot-smoked whole, and the sushi, but one has to draw the line somewhere writing a blog post, or drown in drool and I am not ready to do that yet.  Anyway – if you love or like fish, and live anywhere around Jyväskylä, you need to visit this place.  Yes, there is also good fish in supermarkets around here (I wasn’t really trying to insult them earlier, and at least one or two also source locally and fresh!), but it doesn’t compare.  This is fresher, and usually just downright better.  And the service is second to none.

Moreover, there is a good reason to patronize your local fishmonger, and it is the same one as patronizing any small specialist business – not only is it better for you and the environment, but you are providing livelihood to the sort of specialists that you won’t find employed by large supermarkets, and are getting superior product and service at the same time.  To me, it’s not even a question – the not that much extra time spent stopping here and buying the catch of the day is absolutely, utterly worth it.

Fillet of Pikeperch, Peppered

And this brings us to the pikeperch fillet that we bought for yesterday’s dinner.  You see, when fish is this fresh, it needs nearly nothing in terms of gussying-up to shine.  If all the fish you’ve ever eaten had been the pre-frozen battered fillet kind, you don’t actually know what real, fresh fish tastes like – and what it tastes like is nothing short of amazing.  It’s delicately scented, not in the least bit ‘fishy’, and has that wonderful savory edge that only fresh fried fish has.

In short, unless you are allergic to fish, it’s the food of the Gods, or at least of Neptune in particular.  I imagine I don’t even need to go into the long lecture about how healthy and good for you this is, so I won’t.  But it is.  And you should eat it.  And it is one of the easiest things to cook, ever.  Easier than boiling an egg, I imagine – imagine because I don’t boil eggs as I hate them, but in short, this is very easy.

All you do is this:

  • You visit the fishmonger and bring the fillet home, open the package, and cut it into as many (or few) pieces as you like.  We split ours in half.  Salt and pepper it, and heat a nonstick pan with a little bit of oil or butter, or a mix of both on medium-high heat.

Fillet in the pan

  • Once preheated, slap the fish into it and drizzle the top with a little olive oil, and leave it be a few minutes (don’t poke it with a spatula, fish doesn’t like that).  The kitchen will become saturated with the most amazing fried fish scent, like the breeze from a good seaside restaurant.  While the fish cooks (watch it for turning opaque – thinner parts will cook faster than thicker), slice a few vegetables into a bowl for a simple salad.
  • Since we also had the fresh caviar, and I remembered I had an avocado in the fridge, I halved that, removed pit and spooned a bit of the caviar into the cavity, serving a bit of strained 10% fat Turkish yogurt alongside it.
  • Flip the fish when the edges look golden and it’s looking about halfway opaque in the thickest part of the fillet.  Do this carefully with a thin spatula, because unbattered fish can stick a little even to a nonstick pan.  The underside should be beautifully white with golden browning.
  • Pour a couple of glasses of wine, stick the salad on the table and light a candle.  Return to the fish (by now it might be about 10 minutes since it hit the pan), and if it’s looking entirely opaque and flakes easily when poked, it’s ready.

Carefully transfer it to the plates, take them to the table, and rejoyce.  You have just cooked a meal that most restaurants would struggle to beat, simply by virtue of the fish being fresher and better – and not needing heavy sauces, or anything else, really.  Squeeze a bit of lemon on it, and fork away.

Fresh pikeperch tastes sort of like you always wish white fish would, but it never does in fish fingers and the like.  Well, if you do this – it will taste the taste of all your pescatarian dreams.  I promise.

Pikeperch with Vendace Caviar (Gösfile med Löjrom)

Pikeperch with Vendace Caviar (Gösfile med Löjrom)

Eat, enjoy, and go back to support your local fishmonger.  Because they are worth it.

Pumpkin Bread with Golden Sultanas – an Awesome Fall Dessert!

Pumpkin Bread with Sultanas

Contrary to what you might think from the outrageously yellow color, there is none, nada, zero food coloring of any sort in this recipe.  Unless you count the naturally occurring Vitamin A in the pumpkin (in the form of carotenoids which are well, orange in color), and then you are obviously right.  There is loads of that in this bread.  Not that it makes this dessert a health food of any possible description (unless you are suffering from a specific Vitamin A deficiency, and then you can totally eat this as your medication!), but in the age of too much color dumped into too many desserts, I felt like I should say a few words before people run away screaming.  So yeah, pumpkin bread turns out that color, and it’s a great thing, because not only is it awesomely and amazingly delicious, it even matches the fall decor.

Pumpkin bread, for those of you unfamiliar with the food (I am not assuming here, I’ve had lots of people in Europe look at me funny when I mentioned it like they’ve never heard of it – which they hadn’t), is banana bread’s better, tastier, prettier and all-round awesomer classy cousin.  (Unless you just love bananas and their flavor, or if it’s potassium you are after, and then stick with banana bread or just plain bananas.)  It’s happily orange to the brown of banana bread, and I think we can all agree that orange is a better color than brown.  …What, you disagree?!  Ok, you can go sit in that there brown corner.  On this blog I am all in favor of all things orange, so the statement stands.

How is it better than banana bread other than the color and Vit A vs. potassium content?  Well, it also tastes better, in my totally-biased-in-favor-of-pumpkin opinion.  The pumpkin adds a fresh and delicate note, almost melon-like in quality, but with a heartier finish, and the spices (I use the holy-quadrinity of Pumpkin Pie Spice here – real cinnamon (non-bitter), freshly-grated nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) combine so wonderfully well and add the heavenly fragrance that is the very epitome of fall.  And not only does this keep well cooled and wrapped in plastic film, but in fact, it actually both smells and tastes even better the next day.

Pumpkin and Sultana Bread

It also looks just the same the next day – so if you wanted a make-ahead dessert, this ticks that box as well.  No, I don’t actually know if it keeps longer than a day (some sources say pumpkin helps keep it fresh for a few), because I’ve never had it survive longer than two days at my place.  If it ever does, I’ll 1. wonder if I had messed up the recipe and 2. report back on the freshness.

Plus, if you really wanted to go to town with this, you could wait till it cools and make an orange or lemon glaze for it out of a bit of powdered sugar, a tablespoon or so of the juice and the grated zest of the citrus you fancy, and drizzle it over the top, leaving it to set.  I’ve done this before and it’s amazing.  And makes it look even more festive.

Have I convinced you that this American-food staple is not your average piece of McGarbage yet?  I sure hope so.  (Yes, I keep having to tell my European friends that American food is, in fact, amazing, and that no, it’s not all McCrap.  I think I am succeeding, one pulled pork feast, pumpkin soup and shrimp scampi at a time…)

And if you’ve gotten this far, I will also tell you yet another awesome thing about this – it’s easy.  And I mean, easier than easy.  It’s easy even by my already fairly low standards.  It is mixed in one bowl, glopped into greased loaf pans and baked.  This is how easy it is.  The entire thing takes about an hour and that includes 50 minutes or so of baking time.  Do I have your attention?

If yes, here’s what you need – makes 2 average-sized loaf pans:

  • 1 can of Libby’s 100% Pumpkin Puree (NOT the pie filling, yuck, no, ew!) or 425g of steamed and mashed winter squash of your choice (butternut squash works fine – weigh the squash puree after steaming and mashing, since it’ll lose water in cooking).
  • 225g salted butter, melted and cooled so you don’t cook the egg with it.  If using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp salt.
  • 3.5 cups (8dl) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (5dl) sugar – I use a mix of white and medium-dark brown sugar at about 2:1 or 1:1 here
  • 3 large eggs or enough egg substitute prepared according to package directions (My sig. other is allergic to egg whites.  This works beautifully with Orgran’s No-Egg – turns out tender and fluffy, with a good rise.  Good-bye Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute…)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaping tsp ground ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 heaping tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract (entirely optional but toss it in if you have some and like it)
  • 1 cup (2.5dl) golden sultanas (or other raisins but they won’t be as pretty or taste the same – nuts work well, too, but obviously the flavor will be entirely different.)

What to do:

  • Preheat your oven to 175C.  Set a rack in the middle.
  • Butter or spray 2 loaf pans, set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients except the sultanas (raisins) with a whisk to distribute the baking powder and spices.
  • Add the pumpkin, then the butter and vanilla extract (if using).  Add the eggs.  I actually pre-mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl, and you can do that if you think it’s easier.  I do – but it isn’t necessary if you don’t want to get another bowl dirty.
  • Stir the batter a little (I use a wooden spoon to mix this, there is zero need for even a handheld mixer), and add the raisins.  Mix until just combined and no dry flour is visible.  Some lumps are ok, it is important to not overmix this.
  • Scrape into 2 loaf pans and level the top with a spatula.
  • Place on the rack in the middle of the oven and set a timer for 40 minutes.  Ovens vary – generally these bake for about 50 minutes, but I recommend checking with a toothpick starting from 40 minutes.  Pumpkin bread is done when a skewer comes out clean without wet batter stuck to it.
  • Cool in pans on a rack for 15 minutes, unmold and cool on a rack out of pans until entirely cool, if you can wait that long.  Which you must if you plan to make the glaze and glaze them.  Otherwise, up to you!

Slice, serve with coffee or tea, and enjoy – it’s like all the colors of autumn in your mouth.  Well, not the brown mud color, but you know what I mean!

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 3: Avocado, Cucumber and Basil Salad with Biltong

Salad of Avocado and Biltong

Some days, the gods of schedule and other small-things-that-add-up are unmerciful.  I am having one of those days – it’s barely lunchtime, but I already missed one item on the agenda (thankfully not a life-or-death one) thanks to user error (I didn’t program a reminder when I thought I did), and I am running around like crazy cleaning and doing other things.

Have been running, that is, until I realized that I’ll just fall over or kill something if I don’t eat.  Which is why here I am, eating in a mad hurry because I am planning to run test batches of body lotion this afternoon before it actually goes from after-noon to right-before-dinner.  And blogging about it in a hurry, as well.  But yes, food!  On the really sunny upside of today, I am having a good refrigerator day, which is like a great hairday for your fridge, and means food just falls out of it and onto the plate without effort.

So today’s lunch is a prime example of a variation on the theme of this post and this one – things I eat when I have no time, inclination, or whatever else to do something elaborate and I want to eat deliciously and well.  Which, for the latter, is always.  The above picture has less than no recipe – it involves washing and slicing some cucumber and sunchoke, opening and scooping out an avocado, tearing some leaves off my much-abused basil, slicing the last remaining bit of Craig’s awesome biltong, fresh-ground pepper and a bit of salt, and drizzling the lot with some good-quality garlic-infused olive oil.

I suppose the key lesson and theme of today’s post is that when you have good fresh food in your fridge, you need not fear ‘cooking’ – an excellent meal can be improvised in under 5 minutes from grabbing a plate, a knife and a cutting board to sitting down to scarf it.  And, in case you wondered, yes I do plan to lick my plate in the privacy of my own home.

Sunchoke aka Topinambour, and Halloumi Salad

Sunchoke Salad

Last weekend while shopping for whatever-vegetables-look-best, I realized to my utter delight that sunchoke season has arrived in Finland – and promptly purchased a bag.  Sunchokes (aka topinambours, Jerusalem artichokes, jordärtskocka in Swedish or maa-artisokka in Finnish) are one of my favorite-ever vegetables, for reasons more than their – remarkable and awesome as they are! – culinary qualities.  Not only are they utterly delicious, both raw, sauteed, and in soup, but they are also decently rich in Iron, Phosphorus and Vitamin B1, contain other B-group vitamins, and, despite being wonderfully filling, are very low in digestible carbohydrates, which makes them a darling of anyone avoiding excess carbohydrates in their diet.

An important thing to know about sunchokes is that despite looking like most long-keeping root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc.), they are, in fact, extremely seasonal and should be eaten very fresh.  When kept too long, their flesh tends to ‘rust’ due to high Iron content where damaged (and they bruise easily), and their flavor and texture both degrade.  It’s also important that when fresh, their skin needs no more than a washing with a scrubbing sponge, and can then be ignored, but turns tough and fibrous, not to mention unattractively brown, with time.  To sum it up, they are fresh and ready in Finland now, and now is when you should eat them – sort of like strawberries, they are great when they are local and when it is their time, and mediocre-or-worse otherwise.

So how should you eat them?  Well, their root-vegetable appearances really belies their flavor and texture, which, when fresh and raw, resembles nothing more than a water chestnut and sunflower seeds (latter makes perfect sense, because sunchokes are tubers of a flower in the sunflower family), and are absolutely great eaten just as they are, washed and sliced into a salad.  Sunchoke flavor also marries exceptionally well with umami-type savories.  It goes great with cream in soups, or with mushrooms and mild quinoa or spelt grains in warm dishes, both raw and sauteed, and I have heard they are also lovely roasted in wedges but I haven’t tried that yet (note to self, try!).

The ones that I have bought were exceptionally young and fresh, and I needed lunch in a hurry (do you perceive a trend here yet?), so making a raw sunchoke salad was a no-brainer.  Sunchokes, due to their flavor, don’t actually need a complicated dressing – a light drizzle of olive oil and a powdering of some dried herbs and they are good.  And, have I mentioned that they work great with cheese?

Halloumi, sliced

Oh yes.

What you need to make this:  (serves 2 as a filling but not hugely heavy lunch)

  • 5-8 sunchokes (less if they are very large, but I didn’t weigh them), scrubbed, rinsed and toweled dry, ends trimmed, sliced into 3-4mm thick rounds
  • A large handful of cherry tomatoes (halved) or 2 medium tomatoes (chopped)
  • A large handful of baby spinach or other fresh greens, washed and dried (or out of washed-and-ready-to-eat packet)
  • Good olive oil, about a tablespoon
  • Frying oil such as refined rapeseed, peanut or ‘light’ olive oil, about a tablespoon
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano or a few leaves of fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 block of Halloumi cheese, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

What you do:

  • Set a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat and add the tablespoon of frying oil to it.
  • Toss the spinach, tomatoes and sunchokes into a bowl.

Sunchoke Salad

  • Rub some dried oregano leaves over, or add fresh oregano.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Sunchoke Salad

  • Once pan is hot, put your halloumi slices into it, sprinkle with chili flakes, and let them heat through and sizzle until they are swelling a bit, porous and turning golden on the underside.
  • Flip the slices and add more chili flakes if you like.

Halloumi Cheese with Chili

  • Once golden, remove from heat (halloumi burns really easily) and put onto plates.
  • Toss the sunchoke salad and serve alongside.

This is very quick, supremely easy (hey, halloumi is easier to fry than eggs – which, by the way, would work great here if you prefer them to the fried cheese!), and utterly delicious, with bright fresh flavors and great crunch from the sunchokes.  Enjoy them while they last!

Obviously, this is vegetarian, unless you choose to add meat to it, and – for my friends with Coeliac disease! – naturally gluten-free.  I have not changed my views, and I still don’t, and probably won’t ever advocate gluten-free diets for people who aren’t allergic to it.

Things Food Bloggers Eat – 2: A Vaguely-Japanese Fried Rice

Fried Rice

Yesterday’s post began a series which has been in the works – or at least in my head – for a long time, but hadn’t been realised until now: a series of pictures of random things T and I eat when the story of lunch goes something like this:  wake up with a headache, mop around slurping coffee a while, realize it’s 13:30 and there is hungry squeaking emanating from T’s office as he types, and panic.

Or well, not panic precisely, but brainstorm in a rush about what can be cooked and fed to hungry academic in less than 30 minutes flat.  So, to continue the story from yesterday, not having a single box of food in freezer that could be reheated, I run to pantry and fridge.

Things found in pantry without too much searching:

  • Box of sushi (round-grain Japanese) rice
  • Bottle of Ajipon citrus-flavored soy sauce (one of my favorite-ever ingredients to keep on hand whenever I can).

Things found in fridge:

  • A red chili pepper
  • Bag of slightly-sad scallions (salad onions)
  • Bag of prewashed baby spinach leaves
  • A pack of Chinese cured sausages that I’d bought a week or so ago for making Singapore noodles ‘sometime soon’.  There’s more than enough sausages in there to make noodles five times over so grabbing two won’t ruin future noodle plans.

What does this make?  It makes a very vaguely-Japanese-style fried rice.  No, I do not have a recipe.  What I did is remember the lovely and very simple Japanese fried rice I used to eat at (the now sadly closed) Tachibana in Saint Louis years ago, and thought that I have more than enough here to approximate it.

The how:  (this makes about 3 portions – two got eaten, third got boxed and stuffed into freezer)

  • Rinse the rice a few times and cook according to package directions (in my case, 250g of washed and drained rice into 330ml of cold water, bring to boil, simmer 10 min under lid, turn heat off and let stand 10-20 minutes).  Except, as soon as rice is boiling and you are covering it with a lid, put 2 links of Chinese sausage on top of the rice.  Cover the rice with lid and forget the sausages were there – cook as normal.
  • In meantime, wash and dry scallions and chili.  Seed the chili and slice it into thin crosswise strips.  Trim and slice scallions thinly, all parts included (other than the trimmed-off roots and sad ends of green parts, obviously).
  • Turn heat off under rice pot and run to take a shower while it sits for 10 minutes.  Towel self off and take the sausages that have steamed and plumped up out of the pot.  (Shower is optional but I had the time).
  • Heat a tiny drop of oil in a large pan (nonstick is great here) on medium-high heat.
  • Slice sausages thinly and toss them into the oil.  Chinese-style sausage is very fatty and more fat will render out of them as they cook.  Saute for a few minutes till the sausage slices begin to look a little golden.
  • Toss in chili and scallions and stir-fry a few seconds to a minute.
  • Dump the rice in and mix it all thoroughly, pressing any lumps of rice with a spatula to separate the grains.
  • Toss in a large double handful of baby spinach leaves and fold rice around them to wilt.
  • Grab your bottle of Ajipon and sprinkle a little bit of it (don’t overdo this) into the pan.  Turn heat off, and mix the fried rice a little bit to combine with sauce.
  • Scoop into bowls, grab some chopsticks, and eat!

Fried Rice and Ajipon Soy Sauce

So, here’s what an emergency fried rice looks like.  And while I give the ingredients that I have used above, they are by no means a recipe.  Take this as a guideline and use whatever you have in the fridge or freezer.  Cook other veg a touch longer than a few seconds, if using shredded chicken or such, add a bit more oil, experiment.  Tachibana used to have some tiny green peas and sometimes matchsticked carrots and such in their rice, they’d go great with this too.  Ajipon is a lovely, very light and citrusy soy sauce that you can find at most Asian shops, but if I hadn’t had it, a splash of Kikkoman would certainly have worked.

Rice was cooked fresh for this, but cold rice from the fridge obviously works as well.  And while long-grain rice such as used in Chinese-style fried rice dishes doesn’t take well to being fried while still fresh and warm, Japanese short-grain rice is more forgiving and thus friendlier in mini-lunch-emergencies such as today.