Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Falafel

Some recipes take a long time to perfect. For me, falafel was one of them. I say "was" because I finally got them just right. I don't usually make things over and over again until I get them right like some people do. After all I am the working mother of two and really don't have the time for all that. So over the last 6 years I've worked on my falafel recipe. I remember making it the first time in my fancy new deep fryer. I popped them in and when I opened the lid a few minutes later all I found were dark brown crumbs. I cleaned up the mess and put the second batch in and watched as layer by layer the falafel mixture separated from the ball. I finally made enough for dinner by pan frying them!
But now they look like this:



We like our falafel full of flavour, crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. It turns out that the moist on the inside is what was killing me. I experimented a bit with a few different shapes and the shape didn't seem to make a difference. The girls really loved the bite sized falafel, ideal for an appetizer served up with a bit of hummus.


Preparation time: 2 hours. Serves 4  


Ingredients:

4Scallions (or 1 onion)
2 ClovesGarlic
1/2 CupCilantro leaves
1/4 CupMint leaves
14 oz canChickpeas, rinsed and drained
3/4 CupBread crumbs
1/4 CupFlour
1 heaped tsp.Ground cumin
1 tsp.Baking powder
1 tsp.Salt
2Green Chillies, optional
1 lOil, for frying


Method:

First of all let me tell you why I was getting falafel crumbs instead of proper falafel. There were two reasons:

1. The balls were too moist.
2. The oil was not the correct temperature. 

The moisture problem occurs whatever you try to deep fry. If you are Sri Lankan, you will know the trouble of trying to keep your cutlets together. Well guess what? It's the same problem. There is too much moisture inside the ball and when it's put into hot oil something happens (I haven't yet figured out what!) and BOOM your lovely ball explodes, or slowly starts shedding!! "But...", you say, "I want my balls to be juicy!". Well, as I have learnt you can't have everything and you have to sacrifice a little to get what you want i.e. a perfect falafel.

To avoid the crumbs I have added flour to my recipe. This binds together the moisture that comes from the chickpeas. To get rid of excess moisture take your chick peas out of the can, rinse them and then let them drain in a colander until you are done with the rest of the ingredients. You can also use dried chickpeas. Of course this takes a lot of time. Soak them over night, boil them well and then drain. Some places advise you to squeeze the moisture out of the chickpeas by putting them in muslin cloth and squeezing them. You can do this, but your falafel will be super dry. 

Once your chickpeas are draining roughly chop the scallions (red onions if you are in SL), garlic, cilantro and  mint leaves (and green Chillies, if using). Put them in a food processor and finely mince. 


Next add the chick peas and mince until it looks like bread crumbs. Finally add everything else, except the oil, and pulse. 


How much you pulp it depends on your taste. We personally like our falafel to have texture so we go for a grainy look. 



Now you are wondering why it takes so long to make the falafel because up to now things have been pretty easy, right? Well now you have to make the balls and unless you have some helpers to help form them it's going to take a while. For the cocktail sized balls I used one tablespoon of mixture, for the regular balls I used a small handful (once I made the ball it comfortably fit inside a quarter cup). You need to press them together really hard so that there are no cracks. Don't try rolling them, they will just crumble. So squeeze your balls into shape!!




Now here comes another trick: leave your balls on the counter top for an hour or more and they will dry out, making them less likely to crack when frying. Don't put them in the fridge.
Fry them in oil between 175 and 180 Celsius. And make sure that there is enough oil in your saucepan so that the falafel are not touching the bottom of the pan. This will cause them to fry unevenly. I fry 2-3 at a time and keep an eye on the oil temperature. Every time you put falafel into the oil the temperature drops so be careful. Drain on absorbent paper.

We like to put our falafel in a wrap with hummus, cucumber raita and tabouli. But you can just as well eat it without wrapping it up. Make sure you have something moist to eat it with hummus is good but some type of yogurt dip is even better.


Enjoy!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Milk Toffee - Sri Lankan Style - for dummies

Finally I get to write my milk toffee post!

The art of making milk toffee is supposedly simple. You just mix sweetened condensed milk, a bit of water and sugar together and cook it until it is done. Everyone has their own special ratio of ingredients and they all claim to yield milk toffees. The fact that they are so easy to make has left me stumped and feeling stupid for over 30 years!


My first encounter with milk toffee was through our gardeners wife. She worked in the tuck shop at my school. Of course the tuck shop was in the secondary school and I was in elementary school at the time. On some days she would pass by to see her husband on her way home from work and she would bring us a bag of crumbs, left over from the bulk production of milk toffees in the tuck shop. They were delicious and I couldn't wait to get to secondary school so that I could bust my pocket money on them. Finally when I arrived in secondary school I was placed in a classroom that was in the same building as the tuck shop. You have to imagine, it was just one long hall divided into three sections with wooden screens. Two sixth grade classes and the tuck shop. The smells were tantalizing. I continued to get crumbs out the back door until our gardeners wife left for better things. My mother did not, and still does not, make milk toffee but she did hire the gardeners wife to make us some every now and then. Absolutely delicious stuff.
In sixth grade the girls taking home science as a subject learned to make milk toffee in class. I took needlework with a handful of others. Our teacher took pity on us and agreed to sneak in a milk toffee session when she could get the kitchen and no one else was around. This was fantastic. I thought I would learn how to make milk toffee and that I did. I learned that you could make them to perfection in just 2 periods and that just because you take home science doesn't mean that you can cook!
So I went through bouts of phases where I tried to make milk toffee. They always tasted good but they never came out quite like I wanted them and they took me hours to make. I never quite got the hang of it.
I tried to make them sporadically over the years but my husband was quite against any sudden craves for milk toffee because it would entail me standing at the cooker for a good 3 hours. Then one year, not so long ago, my aunt from Toronto came to visit us in Germany. She made me milk toffee and showed me the trick of dropping the mixture into a glass of cold water and then "testing" it. Her milk toffee were always perfect. However, I still had trouble because when I made mine alone I was never quite sure if the consistency was correct.
Last time I was home, in Sri Lanka, I craved milk toffee. I figured the easiest thing to do was to go to the store and buy some. But was I disappointed! The were all sugary and nothing like the smooth morsels that I remember from my childhood. I tried making a batch for my birthday party but although everyone said they tasted delicious I knew that they were not what I was striving for. A month of so ago I decided to try out making milk toffee with a sugar thermometer and after a couple of tries I think I've gotten the trick. I still can't figure out the cold water technique but I sure know how to read a thermometer. So now I have the privilege of sharing my milk toffee recipe for all of you who could never get it just right. I am glad that I have managed this and it would be a sin to keep it to myself because I am sure there are many more of you out there who have experienced similar problems with milk toffee.
This recipe is from Ranjini Nandi, who lives in Toronto with all of her family (who enjoy her wonderful cooking all the time).

So here we go. Lets call it "milk toffee for dummies"!

Preparation time: 30 min. Serves 8 - 24 depending on the sweetness of the tooth!


Ingredients:

1 can (400g)Sweetened condensed milk (Milkmaid) 
1 lb/500gSugar 
1tbsp/ 1 pkt.Vanilla essence / Vanilla sugar
1/4 canWater 
3 ozNuts (Cashew, almonds, hazelnuts etc.)
Butter, for oiling the tray


Method:

First of all you need to prepare the tray. Any baking tray is fine but don't use  a non-stick as you have to cut the toffees in it and you don't want to get any Teflon on them. If your tray is smaller the toffees will be thicker. If your tray is to big then they will be thinner but the toffee you pour into your tray is so viscous that it will not get too thin. Rub butter all over your tray. This gives the toffee a good taste and prevents it from sticking. Then take something to flatten the toffees. Traditionally one would use a fresh banana leaf but I don't usually have any. Foil has been suggested but it doesn't work for me because the toffee is too hot. You can use a wooden board if you can find one that fits inside your baking tray. I used a flexible chopping board. Whatever you use butter this well.



In a large, heavy bottomed pan (no non-stick pans, you will ruin it when you scrape out the crumbs and what is the joy in making milk toffee if you cannot scrape the pan and eat all the crumbs when no one is looking!) mix the condensed milk, sugar and water. If you are using vanilla sugar mix it in too. Put the pan on medium-high heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat, if necessary, so that the mixture continues to bubble but does not bubble over. During this state you can stir occasionally (takes me about 10 - 15 min.). While this is going on chop your nuts. Traditionally cashew nuts are used but almonds and hazelnuts work well too. Walnuts don't do it for me, they do not complement the taste of the toffee. You can leave out the nuts and the toffee will still taste good.

Observe your pot closely, stirring occasionally. At some point you will notice small pieces of "toffee" (dark lumps, probably burning sugar) forming in your nice milky goo. At this point you need to start stirring constantly. If you don't your toffee will not be the smooth tuck shop type but the grainy type that you can now buy in the stores. It is now time to take out your sugar thermometer and monitor the heat of your brew. It seems to boil at around 112 C and continue this way for a while. All of a sudden the temperature will start to rise and when it hits 125 C it is time to take it out. Don't worry if it goes over this. It most certainly will because the metamorphism happens so fast. Just be careful of one thing, make sure your thermometer is not hitting the bottom of your pan. This can give you a false reading resulting in milk toffee that will not harden.


Add your nuts and vanilla essence (if using) to the mixture, stir in and pour the very hot sugar mixture into the prepared pan. Press down with the other board or banana leaf. Let the toffee stand for a while and then once it is hard enough to stay put and soft enough to cut, cut it into pieces. The size depends on your personal preference. I prefer smaller pieces then you can just take more if you like it!

Voila! A batch of delicious milk toffee!!


Additional things to add to your milk toffee: dates or any type of dried fruit, cocoa powder dissolved first in hot water (add at around 112 C).
My kids would like me to pour melted chocolate on top. I'll try this some time because it sounds delicious.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Vegetarian Lasanga

A few moments to make something a bit more time consuming!
This is not even going to be a recipe because you I totally forgot to weigh any of my ingredients.
All of our family love lasagna. But not all lasagna's. Obviously meat is off the list and so is spinach and feta (much loved in the USA). Other vegetables are quite okay. I used to have a recipe for a seafood lasagna but I got rid of it when we moved to Germany. [If I gave YOU the seafood cookbook, please copy the lasagna recipe and send it to me. It was my husbands favourite!]

Today's lasagna has egg plant, zucchini, mushrooms and corn in it. The corn is unusual and only found it's way in there because there was half a can left in the fridge.



As I said above, lasagna is time consuming. You can cut down the time by buying pre-made sauces, good lasagna and pre-grated cheese (I just learned how to spell lasagne!!). You can also divide the work up and prepare everything in advance so all you have to do is put the dish together and stick it in the oven. Great if you have time in the evening after the kids have gone to bed and not so much time the next day before dinner. Don't put the lasagna together and let it sit. The liquid will all run to the bottom and there will not be enough to cook the pasta on the top layers. Also the bottom layers will be over cooked because they have too much liquid.

For this lasagna all you need is:

4 Zucchini
3 Eggplants
400g Button Mushrooms
1 large onion
3 large cloves garlic, crushed (we love garlic)
1/2 can of corn
600 ml pre-made pasta sauce (tomato)
350 ml Milk
200 ml Cream
1 Tbsp flour
250 g grated cheese
200 g dried lasagna pasta
Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oregano and basil (other herbs can be used)

A huge list as you can see...

The first thing you need to do is cook the vegetables. Slice the zucchini and eggplant to about 1 cm thickness. If needed sprinkle the eggplant with salt and allow to stand for 30 minutes, then wash off the salt (I usually skip this step). I used to fry my eggplant and zucchini, but I don't any more because it takes too long and uses up too much oil. Instead I brush them with oil and put them under the grill. Less mess and they don't need to be watched all the time. I grill them at 240 C until they are golden. The kids babysitter asked me how long I grilled them for and I can honestly say "I have no idea". Just grill them till they are golden on one side and then flip them over and grill on the other side. You can of course fry them if you don't have a grill, it tastes better because of the extra oil.


While you are grilling the vegetables dice the mushrooms and the onions. In a heavy bottomed pan saute the crushed garlic. If you don't like garlic you can leave it out or use less. My house always stinks of garlic after we've made lasagna, but it is a nice stink that none of us can smell. Then add the mushroom and the onions and saute until the mushrooms start letting some juice.


Sprinkle a heaped tablespoon of flour over the mushrooms and mix it in. Then pour in the milk and then the cream. Now I was going to make this without cream, and that would have been completely okay, but I just could not resist. The added calories of course give added taste. You can also use a cream substitute or soya milk. It will still taste delicious. (I've tried both, with the cream substitute no one notices the difference. It just costs more.) Bring the sauce to the boil, stirring all the time. Allow it to bubble a bit until the sauce gets thick.


Remove from the heat and stir in the corn, herbs (washed and chopped), salt and pepper. For the herbs use what ever you happen to have. Currently I have basil, oregano and rosemary sitting on my windowsill. I figured the rosemary would not match so I just used the other two.
Now once the vegetables are done you can put the dish together.



I use Barilla lasagna pasta. The reason is that it does not need to be cooked before hand and it is the closest I can get to fresh lasagna pasta. When I'm in Sri Lanka I just make the pasta from scratch but that adds another couple of hours to the preparation time. Not for the busy mother!



The first layer is lasagna and then I put some mushroom sauce on top making sure that all the pasta is covered so that it gets cooked properly. Then came a layer of eggplant; a layer of pasta; zucchini, mushroom sauce, tomato pasta sauce; layer of pasta; left over mushroom sauce; eggplant; tomato sauce; layer of pasta; grated cheese. Oh this sounds so easy when one writes it down, doesn't it?



Of course the pasta never fits exactly in the dish. I break mine so that it fits and make sure that there is overlap. I was just told that if you overlap it the pasta might not cook but that is why you need to make sure there is enough liquid covering it. I have one dish which has rounded edges. For that one, at least for the top layer, I have to patchwork it with little pieces.

Since I didn't put any liquid on the very top most layer I pressed the pasta down so that it would get wet. Sometimes I leave a bit of the white sauce to put over the very top layer before I put the cheese on (I seriously recommend remembering to do this). I guess you could also put pasta sauce on the very top, but it probably would not look very good. Should do nothing to the taste though. 

I also always estimate the amount of vegetables I need incorrectly. The solution is to make a small lasagna on the side (if there is too much) with what ever happens to be left over (currently the left over lasagna in the oven has eggplant, zucchini and a lot of pasta sauce, in it). Lasagna freezes well, and makes a wonderful pack lunch to take to work. Even if its not the best lasagna it sure beats cafeteria food. 

The cheese that you choose to use will also effect the taste of the dish. I used a cheap emmental. In Sri Lanka I use a local gouda. In the USA a cheddar. If I wanted to be really fancy I think I would use a mixture of original Swiss emmental and gruyere.



Gosh, I almost forgot. Bake your lasagna in the oven for around 30 - 40 minutes at 180 C in a fan oven. 200 C (400 F) in a conventional oven. Allow it to cool a bit before serving if you would like it to stay like a tower when you serve it. Be warned, it could fall over and the sauce could run out but it will still taste delicious. Now I just need everyone to get home from their various activities i.e. gymnastics and swimming, so that I can have dinner. Sitting here and staring at this lasagna has made me hungry!!




Thursday, 7 April 2016

Vegetarian Easter Brunch

This year was an early Easter, why it was not even April yet. The flowers had not started blooming and nor had the trees. An Easter egg hunt in the garden was out of the question since our garden looks like a pig sty, literally! Its just missing the pigs (although when my kids go out to play .... ). We invited all my husbands siblings to come over this Easter so that they could check out our new house (or so we could show it off maybe, or maybe just force ourselves to finish the details!!). So we had an Easter brunch. I don't know why but we always have brunch for Easter.

Ham and lamb are of course not on the menu!!

This is what we had:

Hot Cross Buns:


Going fast, as usual! I make these delicious spicy buns once a year on account of their time consuming preparation. Let to rise around 4 times they are super light and fluffy but you need a whole day to make them. Of course you could stress yourself out (like I did this year) and try making them early morning! If you do plan at least 4 hours (needless to say brunch was more like lunch!). Easter would not be the same without them.

Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary



Super easy and gone before you can get a second serving! Scrub the spuds, put them in a oven proof dish, drizzle with olive oil and add salt, pepper and fresh rosemary to taste. Mix everything up and bake at 180 C in a fan oven for ... oh lets say ... until they are tender (depends on the size of the spuds, mine took around 50 minutes). Give them a turn after around 20 minutes to make sure everything is coated with oil.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Mushroom Risotto



My very own recipe! Inspired by my Georgian friend who stuffed tomatoes for us the week before. They look oh so pretty. I made a mushroom risotto to fill them with using 3 different types of mushroom, portobello, brown button and oyster. Then I topped them with Parmesan cheese. I loved them but I couldn't get my kids to touch them. "Mum what's inside the tomatoes?"; "mushroom risotto"; "Yuck!". At some point I will post my mushroom risotto recipe but it might take a while because I've given up cooking it since this is the usual response. See "Risotto and My Kids"

Mini Cheese Omelets

Made in my pancake pans filled simply with grated Swiss Emmental. For the batter whisk 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of milk (you can use soy or lactose free) and a pinch of salt to make one small omelet. Rub the frying pan with oil, pour in the batter and then sprinkle it with cheese. To make sure that the top of the omelet also cooks put a lid on the frying pan. When it is almost cooked fold the omelet in half pressing down to make it stick together. If you wait until the omelet is completely cooked it won't stick together. Put the lid on again if necessary and cook until done. Simple and delicious!! And yes, my kids ate them :)

Boiled Eggs


Easter would not be Easter with out these. I did have more, I didn't have everyone on a diet, but they got eaten before I was done with the rest of the food. As I said, the hot cross buns took a bit longer and we had lunch instead of brunch!
Boiled eggs are simple to make but here is how to make them so that the egg yellow does not turn that dark grey colour.
Put the eggs in a pan with cold water. The water level should be one inch higher than the eggs. Put the pot to boil without a lid. Once the water boils remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid and let it sit for 6 - 8 minutes. Then wash the eggs under cold water to stop them from cooking. You will find that there is no grey colouring :) 


Have fun next Easter and try to make it a vegetarian one!

Half an Hour Crows Nest

My mother always used to make us this when we were at home. I always loved it especially when she fried the bread extra crispy. Now my kids love it too. They can't get used to the name because its just too out there to be comparing a yummy breakfast dish to a crows nest! You can really cook it in less than half an hour depending on how much you are making. In this particular case I made it with a day old baguette that had to be gotten rid of. I happened to make it for lunch because I needed something quick and my kids don't eat much for lunch right now.



Preparation time: 30 min. Serves 4 (as a side dish)


Ingredients:

8Eggs 
8 cupsCubed, stale (at least not fresh!) bread 
1/3 cupMilk
1/4 cupOil 

Salt and pepper


Method:

Put a large skillet or frying pan on the stove on high heat. For best results use a cast iron pan. If you use any non- non-stick pan you will be fine. With a non-stick you will not get the bread to be as golden brown and crunchy and you also run the risk of ruining the surface of your non-stick pan. Eggs tend to have this nasty way of ruining the non-stick surface.

While your pan is heating up cube, or dice, your bread. Around 1.5 cm cubes are good.


Once the pan is hot add the oil and then the diced bread. Toss them in the oil so that all the pieces of bread get some oil. If the bread does not have oil on it it won't become crunchy and golden brown. You can always add some more oil if it doesn't seem to be enough. I think I might have added a bit more (my memory says a quarter cup more but its not very reliable!). Then fry them until golden brown. They need to be stirred every now and then to make sure they brown evenly and depending on your cooker and pan you might need to reduce the heat to medium to prevent it from burning.

While the bread is frying beat the eggs together with the milk, salt and pepper.



Once the bread is golden brown pour the egg mixture over the bread and mix until all the egg is cooked. Remove from the heat and serve immediately. Definitely best hot!


As you can see, not all of my bread was golden brown. It doesn't have to be all golden brown because that would take you forever and a whole heap of oil!
And here is the finished product which was devoured within a few minutes!!



Oh and I tried sprinkling it with Parmesan cheese (that's the white stuff you see on the side) but the kids did not like it although they do love Parmesan cheese and find it an absolute treat to be able to eat it by itself.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Hummus - Quick, Easy, Delicious!

I'm back!!!

I have figured out how to work my new phone and things have settled down enough that I actually have time to cook peacefully. Only when cooking peacefully does one have time to take pictures.

Today I wasn't really "cooking", since I never even put the cooker on.

My kids absolutely love hummus and given that it is nutritious and delicious I wonder why I don't make it more often. Whenever there is a pot luck and I don't have time to bake anything I grab for a large can of chickpeas. Its always a hit. Today I needed something quick for lunch so we picked up some Lebanese flat bread and made some hummus.



Just as a warning, don't omit the tahini (don't buy the cheapest either) because without tahini it does not taste half as good.

Preparation time: 15 min. Serves 4 (as an appetizer) 


Ingredients:

114 oz can chickpeas (or 225 g dried chickpeas soaked in cold water overnight
1Lemon, juice of
75 ml (1/4 cup)Tahini paste
2 tbsp.Olive oil 
1 cloveGarlic 

Salt and pepper
1 pinchChilli powder


Method:

I almost always use canned chickpeas. They are easy to come by and make this recipe really easy to make.


One mistake that I always make when putting my hummus together is that I throw away the water in the chickpea can. DO NOT throw away the water!! You of course have to drain the water because you don't want that much but you do need a little. 

Once you have drained the chickpeas put them into a food processor. Cut the clove or garlic into about 3 and put it in together with the olive oil, tahini and lemon juice. Be careful with the lemon juice. If you don't like things too sour put in the juice of half the lemon first. You can always add more juice later. Add some salt and pepper to taste (you can also add more later).



Then whizz it in your food processor until it is nice and smooth. If it doesn't get smooth it's probably because there is not enough liquid in the mixture. Taste the hummus and see if it needs more lemon juice. Add as much as you like and then whizz it again. If it is still too dry add the liquid that you drained from the can a teaspoon at a time. Whizz it each time and check the consistency. I like mine not so dry because then the hummus is smoother. So in this batch I ended up putting almost all the lemon and a tablespoon of chickpea liquid. Once you have a smooth paste you are done. 

To serve it place it in a bowl and flatten the top with a spoon making a swirl in the hummus. Drizzle a bit of olive oil onto the swirl and then sprinkle with a pinch of chilli powder. You can also use paprika or any other hot powder. 


Serve as an appetizer or snack with flat bread or vegetable sticks. 

For a chef friendly version click here

Monday, 29 February 2016

Busy, busy with a new house!

As you probably have noticed there have been no posts here for a long time. The reason for this break is that we were moving house. Once we moved things settled down a bit but then the camera on my phone broke AND we didn't have an internet connection. Since we are now hooked up to the rest of the world I was able to send in my phone for repairs. Which means I still don't have a camera to use when I am cooking or crafting. Add on to the despair, I thought that my phone automatically sent all the photos to the cloud, but it turns out that it doesn't (or hasn't). So I can't even write up some of the stuff that I cooked before Christmas.

Hopefully I will be fully functional by next week. Wish me luck :)