Monday, 8 May 2017

Mexican (Spanish?) Rice

There is a controversy in our household as to whether this is a Mexican recipe or a Spanish one. I'm guessing you could eat it with either type of food. Our main use of this rice is to stuff it into burritos which is why I claim that it is Mexican! We love burritos and I am a bit bewildered as to why I have not posted our favourite burrito fillers yet! I shall have to look into this. If I ever get round to posting instructions on how to put a burrito together I will link it here.



Preparation time: 1 hour; Serves 8 (with side dishes) 

Ingredients:


350 g12 ozTomato (the riper and redder the better)
75 g 1 mediumOnion
3
Jalapenos (optional)
400 g2 cupsBasmati rice
75 ml1/3 cupOil
4 cloves1.5 tsp.Garlic, minced
475 ml2 cupsWater
1
Veggie cube
1 tbsp.
Tomato paste
1.5 tsp
Salt
0.5 cup
Cilantro, chopped
1
Lemon

Method:

Take your tomatoes and onions and put them into your favourite food processor. Puree them and measure out 2 cups (a little under 500 ml). Don't worry if you have small pieces of tomato skin in your puree. It makes the rice look nicer in the end. If you have more than 2 cups of puree do not be tempted to put it in the rice. The rice will get too soggy. Of course you could reduce the amount of water and substitute it with any left over puree.


Mince your chilies (if using) and garlic and then wash your rice. Wash it under cold water and keep washing until the water is only slightly milky. The more starch you get rid of the less sticky your rice will be (at least if you are using basmati). Drain well.

The rice needs to be baked in the oven so make sure you pick a pan, with a fitting lid, that can be put in the oven. Make sure it is large enough to deal with the expanding rice. Now heat this pan on medium high and add the oil. Now is also the time to put your oven on at 160 C for a fan oven or 180 C (350 F) for a conventional oven.

Now back to your oil. You will know if the oil is hot enough because the oil will sizzle when the rice is added. Add a grain to check. Once the oil is hot add the rice and fry. Keep on stirring it to prevent it from burning. It should be fried for 6 - 8 minutes, until some of it is golden brown.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic and chili. Stir continuously until it is well distributed. It always takes me forever to get the garlic well combined, but it is quite essential so that no one ends up with a clump of garlic in their rice.


Now stir in the water, vegetable cube, puree, tomato paste and salt. Just for the record: tomato paste is highly concentrated tomato. I don't know what you could substitute it with if you could not get it but I personally would just omit it rather than use some other tomato product. Mix everything well and increase the temperature to medium high. Bring the whole thing to a boil.



Once it boils take it off the stove top and put it in the oven. The rice should bake for 30 minutes and it needs to be stirred in the middle. So set your timer for 15 minutes, take the pot out of the oven and stir it. Replace the lid and pop it back in for a further 15.


Once you take the rice out of the oven (be careful someone always burns themselves on the hot pan!) add the cilantro and the juice of 1 lime and mix well.


Your rice is now ready to serve. You can add it to a burrito or just use it as your main staple. Try mixing other things into it to turn it into a one pot meal.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Rome itinerary 7 days, 6 nights with kids

Our latest vacation took us to Rome. I've always wanted to go to Rome. Even before I transited there on my way to Sri Lanka back in 1981. I imagined that I could see all the ruins from the large windows in the transit area. So it was no wonder that Rome was first on my list of places to visit once we got to Germany. Unfortunately it took 7 years to get there! It was amazing and definitely worth the cost, yes Rome is expensive especially during school vacations.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast near the Vatican City. It was nice but not great, it was the best we could afford!

So here is our itinerary:

Day 1:  We arrived at our B&B at around 5 pm and headed back out at around 6 pm. I advise a quiet walk around where ever you are staying. This will give you a good feel for the place and not overload the kids senses. Flying is stressful enough. We took a stroll along the Tiber and visited Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. After this we had some awesome pizza at Bir & Fud. The best I have tasted in a long while. Totally fresh ingredients, totally delicious.

The Tiber

Day 2: The Vatican Museums. Don't forget to book your tickets in advance and to book a slot early in the morning. It might cost you more, but really when you have kids in tow you do not want to be waiting for hours in line. They are going to be tiered out before you even get to the first exhibit.

Bramante Staircase

We spent half a day here and then went on to visit St. Peters Square. No chance of getting in after 10 am without standing in a long line, in the hot sun. We took a traditional siesta and then went back out in the evening and walked into town. We walked around Castel Sant'Angelo (going in would have been total overload for us). There is a cool playground round the back. Across Ponte Sant'Angelo and into "town". Here we just got lost in the streets and ended up at an ice cream place. After a shot of ice cream we headed to a little restaurant that served tiny but delicious portions of Italian food. We found out that small and expensive is just how food is in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Day 3: The Colosseum, Palatino Hill and the Roman Forum. Here again make sure you book tickets in advance so that you can skip the lines. Even if you have a pre-booked ticket you cannot avoid the lines to get through security. So get there early. We booked a tour for 5 Euro. The tour guide was nice but she was not very informative.

These 3 sites were amazing and took us all day. We packed a picnic and I would seriously advise you to do this because the whole thing takes so long and there are no eateries near by. The biggest problem being that you have to leave the sites to get food and then go back through the long security line if you want to get back in again.

Roman Forum - my favourite

On our way out we visited Altare della Patria. Offers fantastic views of the city (and has public toilets!).



Day 4: St. Peters Cathedral. GO EARLY! We got there at around 7.10 am. Almost no lines! We went up to the top of the dome which gives you fantastic 360 degree views. In the morning its a bit hazy but there is no one pushing or shoving and you can take your time and enjoy it.

View of the Vatican Gardens
On the way down there are immaculate toilets, a gift shop and a cafe. Great place to have breakfast before getting to the church itself. The cathedral is quite amazing and you need to have some kind of guide on you to appreciate all the art. It can get really crowed! We needed 2.5 hours for the whole cathedral and when we came out the line snaked halfway across St. Peters Square.

A light shaft

Next stop was Trevi Fountain, Piazza Colonna, Il Tempio di Adriano, the Pantheon ending up on Piazza Navona. All of which are free of charge.

Trevi Fountain

Day 5: Spanish steps, Villa Borghese (park), Borghese Gallery and Museum, shopping. Make sure you have pre-booked your tickets to the Borghese Gallery. You can only get in with pre-booked tickets. It is an amazingly small gallery with amazing pieces of art. Due to the timed tickets it is not crowded at all and you can really appreciate the pieces. Mind you the explanations are horrible. I wish we had bought an audio tour.

Borghese Gallery and Museum

Day 6: Well you could do a lot of things but it happened to be Easter Sunday so we went and listened to the popes Easter mass. Which was a lot of fun. We didn't understand anything but that was fine, we got to see the pope (in small, as my kids would say!). Then we went off to explore the pyramid, find some more ice cream and have our last dinner at Bir & Fud so that we had a nice taste in our mouths leaving Rome. If it had not been for the mass we would have gone to the catacombs in the south of Rome and then gone to Trastevere to check out the churches and street life.

The Pope (somewhere up on the balcony)

Pyramid of Cestius

Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere


Day 7: Sleep in and get ready for the trip home. Do some shopping in the local area.








Sunday, 5 February 2017

Covering cake with fondant

This blog post is mainly for myself but may just be useful for others as well. My husband always laughs when I open up my own blog because I can't find the hard copy of  a recipe  that I posted! Bookmarks work well but I thought it would just be easier to have everything in one place. The motivation for this came yesterday as I was making a cake for one of my best friends birthdays. I was flattening out the fondant and wondering why it looked so irregular. Then my beloved husband asked, "Don't you have this white plastic thing to level it out?" How could I have forgotten? I have no idea. After that the cake didn't look quite so bad but it would have looked better if I had never touched it in the first place!


Cake Recipes 

These are the recipes I use if I am covering it with fondant:
  1. http://www.glorioustreats.com/2011/07/perfect-vanilla-cupcakes-recipe.html - twice the recipe gives a good sized 9 inch cake. Best to bake in two 9" spring forms and then split each into two so that you have 4 layers.
  2. https://vinitasfamilyblog.blogspot.de/2015_12_01_archive.html - Red velvet (chocolate) cake - easy to make, stays moist.
  3. http://www.food.com/recipe/spagos-chocolate-chiffon-cake-37811 - Chocolate cake - easy to carve, stays moist, difficult to make, tends to deflate if you over beat it.

Butter Cream

For the inside of the cake. 1:2, butter: icing sugar plus a dash of milk or cream, flavouring and colouring. Beat it until it is light and fluffy.

Ganach

A very important part of a fondant cake. The best underlay for fondant. Here are somethings that will help:
  1. The ganacherator - to calculate how much ganach you will need (note the values here assume that you are filling the cake with ganach too. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/28726919/The%20Ganacherator.xlsx 
  2. How to ganach a cake - absolutely wonderful tutorial. Only thing I have trouble getting right is the consistency of the ganach. Usually dries up before I can really smooth it out. http://sweetnessandbite.com/2014/10/how-to-ganache-a-cake/

Covering with Fondant

If only I had a tutorial for this one. I have used a multiple of different sources over the years. One thing I can say is that you must have the correct equipment. A non-stick rolling pin is a must as is the cheap plastic tool to flatten the final product (a smoother). I never use icing sugar to roll out my fondant. It makes a mess in the kitchen and everything gets sticky. I use cornstarch instead. Some advice ⁠⁠though from my wonderful cousin... never use cornstarch if you are covering a fruit cake, it might explode! My cousin does this professionally so she should know. 
I have an old tea towel which I have filled with corn starch and secured the ends with a rubber band. This creates a corn starch puff! I use this to dust the surface of everything to prevent sticking. 
This video shows you pretty clearly how to put your fondant onto the cake and get a round cake covered. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vecmy4nKT-A (note the little white things she/he uses to smooth the surface!






Friday, 20 January 2017

Paneer Tikka Masala

When we lived in San Francisco this was one of our favourite dishes at our favourite Indian place "Naan and Curry". We were introduced to this, then hole in the wall restaurant, by a American colleague of mine whose wife was Indian. We were quite amazed at how bad the place looked but after eating there, well, we never went anywhere else (for Indian food that is). The food was amazingly good, amazingly cheap and there was free chai, as much as you could possibly drink.
Since that first visit the restaurant branched out and we were lucky enough to have a large branch open up a few blocks from where we lived. So we would dress up our kids in yellow, orange or red attire and walk down the street to get our naan and curry fix. The dress was very important given that there was so much turmeric (note that there is none in the recipe below but the tomato will do the trick) in everything, that the kids ate with their hands, there were no booster seats and our kids were under 4 years old! Any mistake with the dress code meant that piece of clothing was destroyed for life.
Once we moved to Germany we found that not only was there no Nann and Curry (which we fully expected) but there was no decent Indian food. We finally found one that had decent food but the price has gone up by so much that the only decently priced item on the menu is "suicide water", which is just a fancy word for tap water (price 0 Euro). There was no option but to start cooking Indian food at home. After much research and much tweaking I settled on this recipe.
There is one problem though. My kids do not like the taste of the paneer that we get in Germany. We substitute with feta made from cows milk, which is a much cheaper option than paneer so everyone is happy.



Preparation time: 40 minutes (can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen); Serves 4 


Ingredients:


1 tbsp.Butter or ghee
Cloves of garlic, minced
1Chili, minced (optional)
2 tsp.Ground coriander
1 tsp.Ground cumin
1 tsp.Chili powder
1 tsp.Garam masala
1/2 tsp.Salt
8 fl.oz.Tomato puree
1 cupWhipping cream
1/4 cupCilantro, chopped
200 gPaneer (or feta or tofu or anything you like!)

Method:

This is a majorly simple recipe it just takes a while because the longer you cook it the better it tastes! So first melt the butter over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted add the garlic and chili and fry them until they become fragrant (usually a few seconds). Then add the coriander, cumin, chili, garam masala and salt and continue to fry stirring all the time. Do this also until fragrant. Do not burn the spices! Talking about fragrant, be aware that after you fry all this stuff you are going to have to air your kitchen really well to get rid of the lingering spice smell. 



Now add all the tomato puree, stir and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. I actually don't use tomato puree but something called "Tomatenmark" it is very highly concentrated tomato and comes in a tube as a paste. I put around 2 - 3 fl. oz of this and make up the rest with water. How much I put depends on which particular brand I am using because they all claim different concentrations.



Now add the whipping cream (or full cream or heavy whipping cream) and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. I don't have any photos after this stage because I turned off the cooker and ran out of the house to pick someone up. Instructions were then sent via Whatsapp as to how to heat up the dinner. 


Finally add the cheese and the coriander leaves, heat everything through and serve with any type of bread or rice. 

I have found that the sauce re-heats and freezes very well but the cheese doesn't. So what I do is I make a double batch of gravy and only put in the amount of cheese that can be consumed in one meal. The left over gravy can then be reheated and new cheese put in. 

Left overs from the next day!


Enjoy!


Monday, 2 January 2017

Vegetarian New Years Eve Dinner 2016



Putting together a special dinner is always difficult in my household. I don't know why but I always find the suggested menu's never quite my taste. Some are just way too out there. Too many ingredients to purchase and too many days work. This menu I put together after much thought. Some things took some time to make and some were really easy. This was probably the best combination for me (the cook). I shall put the menu here so that I can find it if I ever need it again and so that it might be helpful to anyone looking to cook a special meal. Note that it is definitely not vegan. One of the recipe's calls for fish sauce but you can omit it without a problem.

Starter: Spiced Yogurt Cheese Balls http://www.countryliving.com/…/spiced-yogurt-cheese-balls-…/ with Ritz Crackers



Salad: California Quinoa and Avocado Salad http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/california-quinoa-avocado-salad 



Main:













Image may contain: people sitting, drink, food and indoor

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli

I’ve been trying for some years to make the perfect homemade ravioli. The problem is that here in Germany it is somehow difficult to get vegetarian ravioli. We buy pre-made tortellini without any trouble. Yesterday I came home from work early and the sun was shining brightly into my kitchen (which is unusual given where I live) and I saw the pumpkin I had recently bought on the counter (my newly installed counter!). While drinking a cup of tea I decided to make myself some pumpkin ravioli. Finally, it turned out to my satisfaction so here I am sharing the recipe with you.
If you live somewhere where it is hard to get ravioli this is definitely for you. You can stuff it with whatever is available. You just need to have a lot of time.



Tastes great served with homemade tomato sauce.

Preparation time: 3 hours (can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen); Serves 3-4 (according to my daughter)


Ingredients:

Pasta Dough

2Eggs
2 tbsp.Cold water
2 tsp.Olive oil
1 tsp.Salt
2 cupsWhite flour

Filling
350 gButternut squash
Garlic cloves
1 tbsp.Finely chopped oregano
175 gTofu
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

The first thing to do is to make the dough for the pasta. Mix all the liquids together in a small bowl. I use my indispensable mini-whisk.


Next beat the liquid together with a cup of flour with an electric whisk. Once it was all combined you have to knead it with another cup of flour. I had to pull mine out of the machine and knead it by hand. You can knead it with a machine if you like. My machine is too big for such a small bit of dough so I HAD to do it by hand (I hate kneading). Knead it for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth.


Then I put the dough in a bowl and covered it with a plate. You can cover it with anything but it is important that you let the dough sit for a while and that you cover it to prevent it drying out. Mine sat for about 30 minutes while I was preparing the filling.

The best way to cook the pumpkin is to bake it. However, I decided to steam mine. I find that I put my oven on all too quickly. Many of my Sri Lankan family and friends are reluctant to use their ovens because of the large amount of electricity that they use. The electricity supply is also not always reliable and fluctuates quite badly. So since I have a lot of friends and family out there I decided to make this recipe without using my oven. I didn’t boil the pumpkin because it would get too soggy.

For this particular recipe I used butternut squash (known as Dubai Wattakka when I was a child). I assume you could use any other type of pumpkin, although I would stay clear of the stringy type. I peeled my pumpkin and cut it into 1 cm cubes. (The smaller you cut your pumpkin the quicker it will steam.)


Then put it in a steamer and steam it for about 15 minutes, or until tender. You do not want it to be mushy but you do want to be able to mash it. 

While the pumpkin was steaming I ran out to my herb patch and brought in some fresh oregano leaves. If you can’t get oregano don’t despair, you can use any herb or spice to give the pumpkin some taste. Half a tea spoon of dried herbs would also work well. If there are no herbs available try some spices. Curry power, garam masala or ground mustard should give it a South Asian taste (I’ll be trying the mustard next time because I absolutely love pumpkin with mustard. Probably be good with a coconut milk based sauce. Hmmm….).


Finely chop the oregano and the garlic. We really like garlic so I put in two cloves. The filling tasted really strong but once it was in the ravioli it was perfect.

I didn’t want the pumpkin to be too mushy so I mashed the pumpkin roughly with a fork ...


and then added the herbs, garlic salt and pepper. To add a bit of protein to our diet I added some crumbled tofu. You can omit this or replace it with feta cheese, although I think that the texture of the tofu was much better in the end. Once I had mixed this all together I realized that the filling was to soggy, there was too much moisture in it. To get rid of the extra moisture I put the filling in a small saucepan and cooked it over high heat for a few minutes. I stirred it constantly because I did not want it to burn. I am sure I could have dried it out even further but there was no time for that. I can’t really explain how dry your filling should be but if it resembles mush then it is definitely too wet. What this will do is soak through your dough and cause it to break. So if you’re making your ravioli and the pastry breaks it might be because of the moisture in your filling.


By now the pastry has been sitting long enough. On a well-floured surface roll out the pastry until it is very, very thin. I could almost see the counter through my dough. If you have a pasta press then use it to save yourself some time. You can also get molds to make your ravioli with, definitely a time saver. I used a round cookie cutter (5 cm) to cut my dough.



On to the dough I heaped half a teaspoon of filling leaving plenty of place around the edges.


Then I took another cut out piece and stretched it a bit because it needs to be larger than the one with the filling on it so that it covers the filling. Press the sides together very carefully. Make sure you have clean hands when you do this. Any filling on your hands will get onto the outside of the ravioli and you will have a mess. Place the finished ravioli on a surface dusted liberally with flour. Keep going until you are done with either all the dough or all the filling.


Try to cut your dough as sparingly as possible. If you re-roll the dough you will need to first knead it and then leave it to sit for at least 15 minutes so that it is elastic again. I only rolled mine twice and trashed the little bit of dough that was left.

Once you are done you can leave the ravioli to air dry for a bit. Make sure there is enough flour on them so that they don’t stick.


To cook them lower them into boiling water and cook for around 2 minutes. I don't have any pictures of the cooking process because my husband cooked them while I was out playing "soccer mum"!!

Serve with tomato, pesto or a white sauce. 


Friday, 4 November 2016

Homemade Tomato Pasta Sauce

I'm blogging today from Sri Lanka! And I am anxious to get this out as quickly as possible. Last year when I was here fresh tomatoes were so expensive that I could not afford to make any sauce. I used concentrated tomatoes from a can instead. It tasted okay but you can't beat fresh pasta sauce. So when I arrived this week and found that tomatoes were in season and rather cheap (for Sri Lanka that is) I had to make my mum some pasta sauce. I am sure that some of my friends out there will find this recipe rather useful. It is adapted from http://www.food.com/recipe/fresh-tomato-spaghetti-sauce-10837?photo=349134


Preparation time: 2 hours makes about 500 ml  

Ingredients:
1 kgTomatoes
100 gOnions
3 clovesGarlic
2 tbsp.Oil
1/2 tsp.Salt
1 tbsp.Sugar
1 tsp.Dried herbs

Method:

The riper/redder your tomatoes are the redder and tastier your sauce will be. Mine were a bit green and thus my end product was orange as opposed to red. It still tastes delicious.


The first project is to skin the tomatoes. To do this, put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil. While the water is boiling score the bottom of the tomatoes. This will help you to peel them.


Carefully put the tomatoes into the water making sure that they are completely covered. Bring the water back to boiling point and after 1 minute remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and run under cold water. If you leave the tomatoes a bit longer it will not harm them after all they are going to be cooked later anyway. The tomatoes should be blistered and the skins loose. I think I left mine in a bit longer than 1 minute.


Carefully remove the skins and then coarsely chop the tomatoes. Finely chop the onions and crush the garlic. If you like a lot of garlic in your sauce, go ahead and add more. This is your sauce you can make sure that it is to your very own taste.


Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. To get the most authentic taste use olive oil. My mum would not part with her last tablespoon of olive oil, which is totally understandable given the price of it. I used sunflower oil but I am pretty sure you could use any available oil. I would not use unrefined coconut oil because it will make the sauce taste anything but Italian.

Add the onions and the garlic to the oil and simmer for around 3 minutes until the onions are soft. Then add the tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Now as I just said, "this is your sauce". You can add what ever you like to it. My mother requested that the next batch be made with some chili in it. You can also add different types of herbs and spices. I made mine with dried herbs because no fresh ones were available, but any type of fresh herb would be great. Traditionally Italian would be basil and organo but I would love to try it with coriander leaves. So go ahead and put what ever you like in there.

Bring your sauce to the boil and then reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 1.5 - 2 hours. Basically what you are doing is concentrating it so that it has the correct consistency. If you like your sauce chunky then you are done. If you want a smoother paste then you'll either need to cool it and then put it in a liquidizer or use a stick thingy. My mother opted for a smoother sauce.



Once the sauce is thick enough you can either directly use it for your spaghetti, lasagna, pizza or whatever else calls for pasta sauce or you can jar it for later use.

To preserve your pasta sauce wash and dry enough glass jars to hold 500 ml of liquid, place a metal spoon in the glass jar and place it on a dry surface. The spoon apparently stops the jar from cracking when you pour in the boiling sauce. I always put my jars on the draining board of my sink just in case they crack. I have yet to have a jar crack. Now boil some water and fill the jars to the brim with the boiling water. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. While it is sitting, reboil your sauce then quickly empty the jars of boiling water and replace it with the boiling sauce. Place a piece of clean cling wrap on top of the jar and close immediately. The less bacteria you get in it the longer it will keep. My guess is that with this method the sauce can be kept for around 6 months. But please keep in mind that this is just a guess and you should check the sauce before you use it.