31 July 2010

Pourgouri (Bulgar wheat)

Tired of the same old side dishes? Rice, pasta and potatoes just not exciting anymore? I know how you feel. You want something to complete the meal that will compliment the meat and veg and not take too long to prepare. Enter pourgouri, or Bulgar wheat.

Bulgar wheat is probably found in the staples or bulk food area of the grocery store. In London it can be found near the other beans and pulses because they have their own area of the store as so many more cultures eat beans and pulses compared to the American diet. Bulgar wheat can even be found in corner shops sometimes!

Bulgar wheat is like very small, coarse rice granules, or even a bit like quinoa (which I have never found in London and if anyone knows of a secret stash, do tell!). It's very filling and delicious with Greek yogurt on the side and goes well with pork or chicken. I have never heard of it or tried it until I met my fiance, like so many other dishes and foods.

This dish is traditionally made over the stove, but can now be made in the microwave, as my mother-in-law showed me.

First, chop an onion and put it into a big microwave-safe bowl with 2-3 Tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil. Microwave for 1-2 minutes on a high heat.

Then add small bits of vermicelli noodles- about 1.5 cups. You could use thin spaghetti if you were in a pinch. Microwave for 3-4 minutes on a high heat or until the onions and vermicelli are a bit browned. If your microwave is less powerful, try 7-10 minutes.

Add a can of chopped tomatoes, 1.5-2 cups bulgar wheat and enough water to cover everything. Microwave for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the wheat is soft. If you need to, add more water and keep cooking.

That's it! An easy Greek side dish to liven up your dinner.

UPDATE: For a great salad recipe and tips on where to find quinoa, check out a great London blog, The Bittersweet City.

26 July 2010

Summer quiche and pie crust

I know that summer is not the usual time when people want to get into the kitchen and bake, but all of the summer bounty of vegetables and fruit incite in me a desire to try new things no matter the temperature. Though it has been warm and sunny in London this summer, enough that it actually feels like a summer, I know it is nowhere near the usual summers in the southern US. Still, a girl can dream and go along with season appropriate food, like quiche. Quiche can be eaten hot or cold and can incorporate all sorts of summer flavours which means it is the perfect, easy food for lunch or dinner.

Another great thing about quiche is I have the chance to make pie crust, one of my most favorite things to make. I know that many people have trouble with shortcrust dough as it is persnickety and often fickle in temperament. It can get that way sometimes for me too. Pie dough was one of the first things that my grandmother taught me to make and to me it is calming to mix, roll and shape the dough into a pie pan. Plus, when you get it right there is a sense of accomplishment when something so simple comes together to make a pretty dish.

Quiche was surprisingly easy to make, or at least the pared down version of the recipe I actually used. I used the pie crust recipe from grandma, which is 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups flour, dash of salt and 2-3 Tablespoons of cold water. When the dough forms a ball, sprinkle flour on a counter top or board and on the dough ball as well to begin rolling the pie crust.

Roll in many directions until you have a vaguely roundish shape larger than your dish.

Transferring the rolled crust to the pie dish should not break the crust if the dough is right. If you fold the rolled crust in half and move it to the dish, it should unfold nicely without any tears or dropped bits.

Then I pressed the dough into the pie dish and ran a knife around the top to cut off the excess dough, (Save this for another tasty treat below!) then pinched the top to give it a finished edge. This also helps keep things in the dish.

After parbaking the pie crust for about 8 minutes, I lined it with sliced courgettes and tomatoes and I was trying to make this quiche presentable. You can probably just throw some veggies into the crust and it will taste just as good, but sometimes you want the food to look just as good as it tastes.

I combined three eggs, maybe 1/4 cup single cream, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil and poured it on top of the veggies in the pie crust.

A sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top and into the over for 30 or so minutes on 375 F/180 C.

And it comes out looking so pretty!

Now what about that extra dough I hear you say?

When Grandma taught me to make pie dough, we would always have some left over from the crusts we were making. With the extra dough Grandma would make something she called a sugar packet, which I think she picked up from her mother. Basically, you roll out a tiny crust and fill the inside with sugar and cinnamon, then fold it over like a turnover and bake. The best part is to eat the sugar packet warm so the cinnamon-sugar mixture is still warm and gooey.

Dinner and dessert all in one pie crust!

21 July 2010

Veggie crisps

One of the best places to really experience a new country and culture is to visit the grocery store. This is where the normal people who live in the country or city of interest shop and I often find it is a more realistic reflection of the country's eating habits. I also love going to grocery stores on a normal day so of course I make an effort to visit them in other countries.

When I first came to the UK my then-boyfriend-now-fiance introduced me to vegetable crisps, which are essentially the same thing as potato crisps/chips, but made out of root vegetables. It sounds really weird but it works! I always wondered why I had never seen these in the American grocery stores, but it could be because the crisps/chips area is a whole aisle in the typical US grocery store and it is easy to miss one type of chips when there are cheetos and corn chips and pringles and pretzels and ruffles and . . .

It could also be that they had not arrived in the southern US grocery stores five years ago, but it looks like they have now. My mom mentioned them the other day with skepticism until I talked her into trying them. (I think the parsnips put people off.) She was looking for a decent gluten-free snack and they seem to be few and far between in small town USA or very expensive or both. Being the good daughter I am, I decided to try to make vegetable crisps to see if I could save my mom some money and have a healthy, tasty snack. Plus, I like them too.

The process to make veggie crisps is very much like making potato crisps. You need something to slice your root veggies very thinly and I used a mandolin. Not the type that is often used in folk music, but the stand that will slice veggies very thinly while trying to slice your fingers too.

First, slice some root vegetables into thin strips. I tried carrots, parsnips and beets but you could easily try sweet potatoes and squash if you were feeling adventurous. I found that it was best to slice the carrots and parsnips on an angle so you get long thin strips.

The next bit was a trial and error process. I coated the carrots with olive oil and salt, but perhaps a bit too much oil. The carrots did not get as crispy as I wanted so a little less oil would be better. Just a tiny splash so they do not stick to the pan would be sufficient.

Once you have oiled and salted the veggies, spread them out on a baking pan and put them into an oven on a low heat, about 150 C or 300 F. You will need to leave them in there for 1.5-2 hours, turning once or twice to make sure they don't stick. I decided to oven bake them as opposed to deep frying them to try to keep them slightly more healthy.

Because of the excess oil, I dumped the crisps on to a paper towel to dry after they were cooked.

Voila! Healthy and tasty veggie crisps for my lunch.

Now that I have tried this once, it would be really easy to do again. The slicing part takes the most time but once that is done just spread on baking pans and leave to cook for a while. I might even try to tweak the recipe and cooking time as the beets are a little too done. You could probably do lots of batches of these and keep them in airtight containers to munch on. Oh, and these are gluten-free as far as I can tell so you can make them for all your gluten-free friends.

15 July 2010

The Joy of Cooking

Meatloaf- what could be more American than that? I am rustling up dinner tonight and turned to my new cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. It is a classic of modern American cooking that my mom gave to me (well, technically us) for our engagement, just as her mother gave it to her. It is truly a seminal cookbook as it explains everything from the most ordinary kitchen techniques and dishes to very complicated ones. The book is perfect for those times when you know what you want but aren't quite sure how to make it, or need to look up the quantities of ingredients. It's not too bad for handy recipes too.

I knew I wanted to make meatloaf tonight and knew what I had seen my mom and dad put in it before, but I turned to my trusty old cookbook friend for exact guidance. Turns out my memory of the dish and the cookbook are really similar!

Here's the modified Joy of Cooking meatloaf recipe for a quick American dinner on a weeknight:

1 pound ground beef/mince meat
1-2 eggs, depending on how eggy you want it to be
1/2-3/4 bread crumbs
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
half a chopped onion or dash from a package of onion soup mix

I also like the suggestion of adding ketchup, barbeque sauce, mustard or horseradish to the mixture, though I usually just add ketchup or barbeque sauce on top.

I also will serve fresh green beans, french fries and have peanut butter cookies for dessert. I went all out for tonight's American dinner.

**Sorry for the lack of pictures but I used an older camera as my regular one wasn't around, and now all the pictures have come out fuzzy. When I make meatloaf again, I'll show you what it looks like! **

6 July 2010

4th of July

Two days ago it was the fourth of July, just a normal Sunday in London. In the US, it was the anniversary of the beginning of the country and generally the most patriotic day of the year. I don't know any other country that really celebrates the country, the foundation, the ideals and the current citizens as much as the US, especially through the emblem of the flag. Is there another country that places such meaning in and reveres such an object? From the outside I have been able to appreciate the core meaning of Independence day more than I was able to while in the country. My fiance and I listened to a reading of the Declaration of Independence, the reason for the celebration, and discussed (briefly) the pros and cons of the US in the world. We also indulged in the typical American fourth of July: enjoyed the sunshine, ate hamburgers and great American summer food, and reveled in the day off of work. A few fireworks, maybe a parade and some march songs and it could have been a day in the US.

That's a bit unjust of me. The fourth also has a great feeling of community and pride in your country. People are generally happy, kind and get into the spirit of the celebration, which of course was lacking in the UK as we were some of the few people celebrating anything.

Although the fourth, more than any other American holiday, should be associated with the US, it has never been a huge holiday for me (unlike, say, Thanksgiving). I worked for the past 6 or so summers I was in the states so I missed a lot of the festivities. When I was younger we would have firework shows in the backyard and a cookout and maybe go to a local parade, but I don't really have great feelings towards this holiday. Well, I miss spending the day with my family, and fireworks. But I can now appreciate the ideals of the day from the outside and reflect on the birth of the US. And maybe next year I will have fireworks.

In keeping with the American theme of the day, I made rice krispy treats which to me is a classic American dessert. It turns out though that in the UK, they are called rice krispy cakes and made with chocolate, not marshmallows. Scandalous! I obviously had to show my fiance the correct way of making rice krispy treats, which is shamefully easy to make but I will include instructions in case any British comrades would like to try it.

Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter and a package and a bit of marshmallows in the microwave (told you it was shamefully easy).

The marshmallows come in white and pink here, hence the weird pinkish color when melted. Also, note the penguins diving into the marshmallows!

Stir in about 6 cups of rice krispies....

Until they are coated in sticky loveliness.

Press them into a rectangular pan and wait until they are cool.

Cut into squares.

Decorate as you see fit. I didn't have any blue icing, so we decorated with fireworks and a star.

Happy belated fourth of July!