Make, Jane, make!: July 2011


Small Share

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kohlrabi and Zucchini Pakora-style Fritters

A new and fun vegetable in our CSA box this week - kohlrabi! I know this veggie but never buy it since I didn't know what to do with it other than stir-frying it like broccoli stems. We received two medium-small, tender kohlrabi bulbs this week and I figured that this would be a good chance to find out all about them.

The overwhelming net-census on the best way to enjoy them was eating them raw in salads/slaws. I saved the smaller bulb for future use in a colourful salad that I have envisioned using some of our other gorgeous Zephyr Organics produce. The larger bulb I decided to use with some of the organic zucchini we've been receiving to make a kind of pakora or fritter.

Fritters are a great covert way to introduce a lot of vegetable to your child's diet. I know they can be a little on the fatty side, but you could always fry them with minimal oil in a non-stick pan if you were concerned about the amount of fat in your child's diet.

I don't think these are technically pakoras since I used some egg in the batter and I think pakoras are usually just besan (chickpea) flour and water. They are not as crisp as ones made with just flour and water but I wanted the fluffiness that you get with added egg. I find the softer, fluffy fritters are easier for my kids to eat than the crispy ones (more like a doughnut and less like a chip).

The method is pretty simple. Grate or finely chop the vegetables you want to use (onions, peppers, spinach, zucchini, etc) and squeeze out as much excess water as you can for the wet vegetables, like my kohlrabi and zucchini. I like to grate half of my veggies finely and the other half coarsely. That way my finished fritter has some  recognizable vegetable bits but most of the veggies are hidden from a child's prying eyes and fingers.

You could be really diligent and squeeze out the water using a cheesecloth or dishtowel, but I just squeeze the grated stuff with my hands over a colander in the sink. If I feel I've been really unsuccessful getting all the water out, I just make my batter a little thicker to compensate. The batter is made with besan (chickpea flour), an egg, spices (coriander, cumin, green cardamom, turmeric - today), salt and water. Usually, I start with a little less flour than the volume of my veggies and mix it with my liquid until I get a thick paste.

Stir in your vegetables. (Notice that my mixture looks pretty thick right now... don't worry... the water I couldn't squeeze out will soon thin the batter down to a sloppy pancake batter consistency).

Heat up a good bit of oil to deep fry (if you want them pakora style) or a little oil in a skillet if you want to press them a little flatter and fry them like a pancake (fritter style). In my case, these were pakora style and I just dropped the batter into the hot oil in big forkfuls.

Fry them until they are golden and cooked through, flipping once. If you find they are getting too brown for your liking, either lower the heat or reduce the size of your fritters so that they will get a chance to cook through before overly browning. Remove them to a draining rack or paper towel-covered plate with a slotted spoon.

Enjoy them warm - crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and oh-so-good with some chutney!


Kohlrabi and Zucchini Pakora-style Fritters    Yield: 16-20 medium sized fritters
(measurements are totally approximate, depending on the amount of veggie you end up with)

1 medium kohlrabi, peeled and grated
1 medium yellow zucchini, grated
2 small green zucchini, grated
1-1/4 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 green cardamom pod, seeds removed and ground
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
water, to thin batter

Prepare, grate and squeeze excess moisture from kohlrabi and zucchini. Set aside.
Combine all remaining ingredients to make the batter. Fold in the vegetables. Add water as needed until the batter is thick pancake or muffin batter consistency.
Drop by the spoonful into hot oil and fry until golden, flipping once.
Drain over a rack or paper towels and enjoy.


p.s. As a sidebar, we enjoyed our pakoras with a tomato and yogurt based chicken curry. Check out the mise en place for the curry ---->

So colourful and fresh looking! No wonder I love making curries and the Indian ones are the best for richness and depth of ingredients :)

p.p.s.  Love that tomato season is starting. I cannot stand tomatoes from the grocery store, so bland and sour. These ones were super meaty and sweet. Also managed to use one of the Anaheim chilis we received in our CSA box last week. Perfect for adding a little heat (but not too much for the kiddies).



Monday, July 25, 2011

Using Up Extra Phyllo: Apple-Raspberry Crumble "Pie"

After making spanakopitas from leftovers in my fridge, I was inevitably left with leftover phyllo... Since it needed to be used almost right away (it had already been defrosting in my fridge for a few days), I didn't have the time or energy to do anything else special with it. I figured I'd just layer it all together and make a sort-of pie. *You can also check out the bottom of my spanakopita post for some other ideas on how to use up leftover bits of phyllo.

I layered the remaining seven or eight sheets all together with butter brushed in between and stuck them into a glass dish.

It was a little thick for a light and flaky crust, but I just really needed to get something made with the phyllo before the whining I heard on the  baby monitor turned into full-fledged crying :)

Some Granny Smith apples, roughly cubed. A pint of beautiful little raspberries from our CSA box.

Some orange peel, sugar, flour and cornstarch and a squeeze of half an old lemon sitting in our fridge.

Pack it into the crust and think to myself that it needed a little something to cover up the fruit and balance out the extra thick crust on the bottom... Decide to throw together a crumble top consisting of butter, sugar, flour and steel-cut oats.

Sprinkle the crumble on top, fold the crust over the filling, brush with my leftover melted butter and throw it into the oven just in time to get the toddler some post-nap milk.

Checked the oven at the half hour mark and noticed that the phyllo was starting to look really brown, so I threw some foil over the whole thing and left it for another half hour to make sure the juices really started bubbling.

There was a lot of phyllo in the crust, but it made for no waste of ingredients. Besides, all the more crust to soak up the ice cream with. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chard and Spinach Spanakopitas: Raiding the Fridge

I had a very sad looking bunch of red chard and a few sad looking bunches of baby spinach in my fridge. Casualties of the over-abundance of veggies sent in my Zephyr Organics CSA box. The chard was all wilted because I ran out of baggies and towels big enough to wrap stuff in and the spinach was quite soft from being stored in a ziploc with too much moisture inside (my bad!) I also had a small block of goat cheese feta, a baggie full of pine nuts that my parents left at my house and some phyllo (which I had defrosted for some unknown reason) kicking around my refrigerator... almost as if spanakopitas were calling out to me.

Spanakopitas are a great appetizer-sized morsel that can be made ahead and frozen easily for any last minute house guests or potlucks. They are very forgiving in terms of cooking and preparation because the inherent flavour of the ingredients and use of pre-packaged pastry makes them impressive without much need for skill :) In my case, I was even using spinach and chard (the main fillers) that were past their prime.

To start with, I washed and cut all the tough stems off the ends of my greens. I didn't bother taking the spines out of the chard because I figured that they were all soft from being wilted anyway and I could just cook them a little longer and chop them up finely. Got a wok nice and hot, added a little bit of olive oil, and threw the whole lot of slightly wet greens in.

A little salt and the residual water from washing wilted the greens down nicely. I gave the wilted green a squeeze in a mesh strainer with the back a wooden spoon to get rid of any excess moisture and laid them out on my cutting board with my pine nuts for a fine mincing.

How coarse or fine you chop them is a matter of preference. I chopped fairly fine this time, since I knew I had some chard stems in there to contend with. Next, everything got transferred to a bowl, to which I added my very small bit of leftover feta and some nutmeg.

Mixed that all around and had a taste. The feta was actually salty enough and I didn't need any more seasoning, but I did feel like it wasn't creamy/cheesy enough - so I dug around in my fridge and came up with some cream cheese that I threw in for added creaminess.

Wrapping time. You could make these with a single layer of phyllo if you were making very small triangles, but I like them about palm sized, so I layer two sheets of phyllo together. Just melt some butter and get a brush ready. Lay one piece of phyllo out, brush with butter (no, it doesn't have to perfectly cover the whole sheet - in fact, I usually just dab it on with the brush and casually "connect the dots"), and lay the other sheet over top. Cover the other phyllo sheets up when you're not using them with the wrap they came in.

I know some people find phyllo finicky. I guess that's because it is so thin and tends to fold, crinkle up and tear... but because you pile it on in multiple layers, I usually don't fuss with whatever it decides to do. I figure that the creases will not be detectable in the multiple finished flaky layers and any tears can just be overlapped with sheets that are turned in such a way as to cover them up.

Cut the layered sheet lengthwise into four long strips. Place a heaping spoonful of filling onto one end of the strip and start rolling. If you wanted smaller, bite-sized triangles, you could alternately use one or two sheets of phyllo layered together and cut into six or more long strips.

This was actually not enough filling, my subsequent triangles were much more robust.
To form the spanakopita, you fold one corner of the phyllo over the filling to form a triangle.

And you keep on folding the triangle over and over again until you get to the top.

You don't need to worry about getting all the filling fully encased the first few folds, because as you roll the triangle up, all the edges and corners will eventually get covered in a few layers.

When you get to the top you get brush the end of the pastry with a little more melted butter to stick the end down and place it onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment or baking mat). They can be placed fairly close together on the baking sheet since they don't really expand during baking. Sometimes a little cheese leaks out of the corners, but this usually just forms some of that nice crispy burnt cheese pieces that everyone loves.

Once your baking sheet is full, brush all the tops with a little more butter and glue down any fly-away pieces of phyllo with a brush of butter as well. Place them into a preheated 375F oven and bake until they are golden brown (about 25 minutes).

I only baked one sheet and served them alongside a hearty salad for a light summer dinner. The rest I placed onto a parchment lined baking sheet and put into the freezer. Once they were sufficiently frozen, I transferred them to a ziploc bag and now I have some Greek pastries ready to enjoyed another day. They do not need to be defrosted before baking, though if you've made them really big you may want to lower the heat to 350F and bake them a little slower and longer to make sure the filling gets nice and warm. Alternately, you could cover them in foil if you think they are browning too quickly.

You'll almost always have leftover filling or phyllo. Leftover filling can be easily mixed into a pasta sauce or tossed with some warm pasta and pasta water for a quick lunch. You could also top a piece of bread or cracker with the filling and some cheese, toast it, and call it a crostini or bruschetta of sorts.

In my case, I had leftover phyllo... a lot of it. Since I was just using up leftover ingredients in my fridge I only had enough filling to make about twenty or so spanakopitas, leaving at least two thirds of the phyllo package unused. Phyllo generally needs to be used once the package has been opened as the pastry sheets dry out and start to crack quite quickly.

There's a few options here:

1. You could be ambitious and make something else with the phyllo: mushroom turnovers, baklava, cheesy beggar's purses.

2. Tiny tart shells. Layer up four or five sheets of phyllo with melted butter in between, cut them into small squares, fit each small square into a mini muffin cup (to form a tart shell) and brush the tops with a little more melted butter. Bake them until flaky and slightly golden and save them in the freezer for when you want a tiny tart shell for custard and fruit, ice cream or any sweet or savoury filling that needs little to no baking.

3. Phyllo "cookies" are also an easy treat. Again, layer four to five sheets of phyllo together - but this time, when you spread on the melted butter, also sprinkle on a sugar/ground nut/spice mix (e.g. brown sugar, finely chopped pecans, cinnamon). Finish the layers with melted butter and a small sprinkling of nuts. Cut your layered phyllo sheets into decorative triangles, squares, fingers, etc. and bake until crisp.

I used my phyllo to make a "pie crust" for a berry crumble. Write about it next post...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Easy Peasy Red Currant Fool

A week or so ago, we received a tiny box of red currants in our CSA box. Such a small bunch of currants! I lamented. Too little to make jam with. Too precious to waste in a jumbleberry pie or coffee cake. What to do with them?

Initially, I had wanted to make a light custard or semifreddo with some currant sauce on the side, but the other night temptation called and I needed a quick, cool and creamy fix.

I decided to boil the currants down into a quick sauce and use it over ice cream. However, hubby dearest informed me that there was only enough ice cream for one, clearly implying that the last bowl of ice cream was already taken. Not to be cheated out of my berries and cream dessert, I figured I'd just fold my half of the sauce into some whipped cream for the world's easiest dessert - the fool.

The currants cooked quickly and easily in a small pot over medium high heat with some sugar and just a touch of lemon juice to get the boiling started. I boiled them down until they were mostly liquified and then pushed them through a strainer with a scraper.

Look how little jam it would've made!
Hubby asked why I was going to the bother of straining out the seeds? Because I wanted a silky, creamy dessert, I replied. Small berries like currants and raspberries have such a high seed:flesh ratio. I don't mind it when I'm eating them raw or whole, but I personally like the seeds strained out when I want to use those berries as a sauce.

Whipped up some 35% cream with a touch of sugar since I made my sauce a little on the tart side (mmm - puckery) and then folded the currants in. I love the way the white and red and pink all swirl together. In fact, I think this is the perfect pretty in pink dessert to make ahead of time and pop into the fridge for those hot summer get-togethers. Kind of like a trifle, but even easier. Spoon this mix into small glass serving cups and throw some extra berries on top with a sprig of mint or basil and you're officially fancy-schmancy.

For my late night snack though, all I needed was a spoon and SYTYCD on our PVR :)


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fusilli with Grilled Chicken, Peas and Radish Leaf Pesto Cream

I always wonder when I pull the leafy tops off my lovely CSA radishes or carrots whether or not there is a good use for them. I realize that they are edible, but I wanted to find a creative use for them that the whole family would enjoy over and over again. And I think this Radish Leaf Pesto from Chocolate and Zucchini will be my go-to solution for radish leaves from now on.

There's no special trick to this pesto, just the use of radish leaves instead of the traditional basil leaves. At Chocolate and Zucchini, she offers some variations on ingredients for variety, but I just stuck with radish leaves, garlic, pine nuts and lemon peel.

The lemon peel really added a nice brightness to the end product that helped to balance out the extreme earthiness that you sometimes find with radish leaves. I was also surprised by how smooth the final product was... don't know why I thought the prickliness of the leaves would somehow come through in the chopped up pesto.

Now that I had the pesto made, I had to think of how I wanted to use my first batch. Pizza crossed my mind, but it being so hot here lately, I didn't really want to turn on the oven if I didn't have to. So a simple tossed pasta dinner seemed the right route to go.

I threw some frozen peas into a large bowl and cooked up a batch of fusilli. I didn't want the peas to get too soggy by cooking in the pasta water, so I just relied on the heat from the pasta to warm the peas.

The hot pasta came right out of the boiling water and was dropped onto the peas. (I saved some pasta water to thin down the sauce, but ended up finishing off my sauce with cream, cuz I'm kinda decadent that way. Though you could definitely use the pasta water and cut down on your calories :P) Added a generous helping of my radish leaf pesto and a good grating of Parmesan cheese and started tossing.

It needed a little more pesto than I had originally added, so I added more pesto until it started looking (and tasting) the way I wanted. Figured I should add some protein and cubed a grilled chicken breast, which I tossed in with some cream.

The pasta turned out great. It was creamy and garlicky and slightly sweet from the peas. The kids gobbled it down which is always the stamp of approval. I still have a little pesto leftover in the fridge which I think will end up in some mayo and be used as a dip for chips or fries. mmmmm.


Fusilli with Grilled Chicken, Peas and Radish Leaf Pesto Cream

Pesto (recipe roughly adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini because I am notorious for not measuring)
1 large handful radish leaves, tough stems removed
1 large clove garlic, roughly sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 long strips lemon zest
olive oil

- Pulse all ingredients in the food processor.
- Once the leaves are chopped down to approximately the consistency you want, start drizzling in olive oil while still pulsing.
- Add enough oil to get the pesto to the thinness or thickness you desire.
- Taste and salt if needed. (If you added parmesan to your pesto, you may not need to salt your pesto)

1/2 lb pasta (fusilli, bow ties, whatever!)
1/2 cup frozen peas (or fresh if you have)
approximately 2/3 of radish leaf pesto recipe
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1 large chicken breast, grilled, cubed
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper

- Place frozen peas into a large bowl and let them defrost a bit while you cook the pasta in well salted water.
- Using a slotted spoon (or similar implement), transfer the cooked pasta to the bowl. Don't worry about draining the pasta well, since the excess water helps to keep your pasta saucy. If you want to cut down the fat in this recipe, remember to save the pasta water to use instead of cream.
- Toss the pasta together with pesto and cheese. Fold in chicken breast and cream. Season to taste.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slap on Some Paint

It's amazing how a little paint can give a room so much personality.

With our third child on the way, we thought it was about time to start thinking about giving our two existing boys some proper bedrooms.

Strangely enough, our firstborn wasn't all that enthusiastic about moving into the old computer room/office. (But isn't it so appealing? :P)

That is until we started adding some colour.

With a little inspiration from the colour palette of the Cars (Disney) wall stickers that I had bought from Walmart....

...the room slowly started becoming more and more appealing to our 3.5 year old. (Benjamin Moore: tropicana cabana, louisiana hot sauce, desert tan).

He's slowly earning more and more stickers from the package for showing nice big brother behaviour.

And now, suddenly, we have a child who willingly sleeps in his room. Still need to buy him some furnishings... but we may wait until he's old enough to need more, since the brothers really seem to enjoy having all the empty space to run around in :)

Next project, the baby boy's room...



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Salmon Gravlax

Around here, it's the time of year when wild Pacific salmon arrives at our local markets and can be bought for reasonable prices. So when my hubby and I spied those deep pinky-red packages of fish for sale last week we had to buy some. I asked him if he wanted them cedar planked in the bar-be and his answer was instantaneous: "No, that's a waste... cure it."

I love smoked salmon and I love cured salmon. We don't own a smoker and until recently I had never considered curing salmon at home until I saw the method/recipe featured in an issue of the Longo's magazine. I always assumed that it would be a long process that wouldn't be justified by the amount of time that would be involved. But after seeing the Longo's gravlax recipe side by side with recipes that called for pre-bought sauces as their main ingredients, I figured it couldn't be that hard.

I first tried this recipe during the Christmas season and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and reliably delicious the results were. We served our homemade gravlax twice during the holiday season to family and guests who were surprised that it could be made so handily at home.

The bulk of the time spent in making the gravlax is in the fridge curing time (not too labour-intensive, since you just let it sit in the fridge) and the slicing. I let my gravlax cure in the fridge for almost 2 days since I find that the flesh doesn't always firm up and lose all its translucency when only left for 24 hours as the recipe suggests.

As you can see, I don't use centre-cut portions of fish. I just buy a whole side (or two!).
I don't have as much dill in this batch as I would have liked to have. The fresh dill is what really gives this fresh homemade version its extra oomph. I like to try to cram in as much dill as possible between my sandwiched pieces of fish, just ran out this time.

When the salmon has been well cured, the flesh separates from the skin fairly easily.
I find the slicing to be the most labour intensive of all the steps. I'm blessed with a filleting knife which makes the slicing go very smoothly. However, I've done it before with a carving knife and a chef's knife - both of which have done the job just as well. And although gravlax is usually sold sliced paper thin, I find that when the salmon is cured thoroughly, the flesh is so tender that it doesn't need to be sliced so thin... in fact, it's nice to get a little more fish in every bite!

I like to split my gravlax batches into smaller portions and I just wrap them up in a little parchment paper. This allows us to enjoy some immediately and freeze the rest. The frozen portions can then be thawed overnight in the fridge when you want to use them. The frozen fish loses some of its fresh dill taste but is still delish nonetheless.

Gravlax and any kind of creamy spread on a cracker or toasted baguette/bagel are just the easiest treat. I love that my kids love salmon in all its forms, making gravlax and cream cheese on toast a super easy, filling and nutritious breakfast or midday snack. This time around, I ended up with 500 grams of wild Pacific salmon gravlax and only spent about $20 for the fish. It's even cheaper if you just use the plain-old, everyday, farmed Atlantic salmon. Which makes this a money-saving project as well. No wonder I've been buying whole sides of salmon every time they go on special :)