Thursday, March 31, 2011

what's for dinner? - burgers

i know, i've blogged the burger thing here on domestic sensualist before, so this isn't exactly news. however, this week is about what we're really eating for dinner, and last night, it was burgers.

a homemade burger is a most satisfying dinner. if you pile on enough tomatoes and greens and onions and cucumbers and avocado, you don't even need anything to go with it - meat, bread, veggies, bacon - it has something from all of the essential food groups. and although burgers can be a bit mundane, it doesn't take that much to step them up a notch.

500 grams of organic ground beef
3 cloves of garlic, minced
shake of fajita seasoning

mix the seasonings with the ground beef thoroughly, then form into patties. i make a fairly thin burger, mostly because i usually pile so much stuff on it that if the burger is also thick, i've got issues. plus, a thin burger gets done faster, so you fast track your time from stove to table.

do try to buy (or make, if you're ambitious) some posh buns (a harder crust italian one or a focaccia) instead of normal hamburger buns. it tastes better, but it also makes the everyday seem less mundane.

we always have avocado in some form with our burgers - either sliced or as guacamole - its green butteriness is just the perfect complement to the garlicky beef.

the burger above has a bit of a sesame dressing from a japanese place drizzled over it, but use what you've got around the house - a zingy citrus olive oil, some teriyaki, salsa, whatever's in the cupboard.

everybody likes a burger, so it's a great way to feed the family when inspiration lags.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

what's for dinner - risotto & potato focaccia

late yesterday afternoon, i had just turned on the oven to preheat before putting in the bread for a little dinner party we were having on a tuesday, since friends from manila were in town. suddenly, everything went dark. i thought that in this old house, since i had the dishwasher and my mixer going, that turning on the oven was too much and i'd blown a fuse. i went out to the new fuse board and flipped a few switches. nothing. the four guests would arrive in just over an hour and i had nothing finished to feed them. so i called husband in a panic. while i was photographing the electrical board for him and getting ready to send it through, the neighbor came by to ask if our electricity was out too. turned out it was the whole area and not my fuses at all! yay! or not, because who knew how long it would take before it came back on?

my planned menu was pretty simple - a potato focaccia, chicken risotto and a big salad. happily, husband recently built me a gas stovetop, so i didn't electricity to get on with the risotto.

risotto is my go-to dish at least once a week, especially in the winter. it's warming, hearty and lends itself to whatever you have at hand - you can add leftover chicken, peas, asparagus, leeks, mushrooms, safran - whatever you want, really. it's filling and all it really needs to go with it is a salad. plus, it makes great leftovers.  the first couple of times, it can be slightly temperamental, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy.

chicken leek risotto

3 C of chicken broth (preferably homemade, but it's ok to use a bouillon cube and hot water)
1 C good quality white wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it)
1 C risotto rice 
3 leeks, finely sliced and rinsed well
olive oil
2 C chopped roast chicken
1/2 C creme fraiche (optional)
fresh parmesan for grating over the top

put the broth in one pan and heat it up to simmer. meanwhile, melt a good knob of butter and a glug of olive oil and sauté off the leeks. it's ok to have more oil than you'd normally think is ok, because next you're going to add the rice and it should be well-coated in the butter-olive oil mixture. stir until the rice goes a bit translucent, then add the white wine. stir and once the rice absorbs the white wine, begin to add the warm bouillon one ladle at a time. stirring frequently, but not necessarily constantly. once you've added all of the bouillon and it's been absorbed (which takes 20+ minutes), stir in the chicken and creme fraiche and allow them to warm through. serve with fresh parmesan grated on top.  it will be quite creamy, even without the creme fraiche, so that's optional.

the focaccia recipe was posted here.  this time, i sliced 3 small potatoes very thinly (you can do it with a mandolin, tho' i just used the slicing bit of my big hand grater, since i have developed a strange fear of my mandolin), sprinkled them over the top with some dried rosemary and flaky salt.

they went all yummy and a bit potato chip-like on top of the bread.

happily, the electricity came back on and i was able to bake the bread so that it came out of the oven just as they arrived. sometimes you just get lucky.

the salad was simply a package of mixed leaves, a handful of tomatoes, an apple, half a cucumber, diced and a package of blueberries. for dressing, i drizzled a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  i served a south african chardonnay with the meal.

p.s. utterly neglected to photograph the risotto. sorry about that!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

what's for dinner - couscous

wander into the kitchen, bleary-eyed from a day at the computer, and more than a little shocked that it's already 5:45. pour self glass of cold white wine. take a sip. open refrigerator to see what's there. clear out the crisper. put carrots, half a zucchini (left over from yesterday's pizza), half a cabbage (left over from saturday's stir fry), a handful of green beans, half a box of mushrooms and an onion on the counter. check the cupboard, see if there's some couscous left in that box. there is. breathe sigh of relief. take another sip of wine.

set kettle to boil, pour boiling water over one bouillon cube (flavor of your choice - i used beef, tho' to keep this dish vegetarian, you can use a veggie one). meanwhile, put a cup of couscous into a shallow bowl, then pour the bouillon over it and place a plate over the top of the bowl and leave it to soak in. meanwhile, chop all of the assorted veggies you found in the fridge. start by tossing diced onions into pan and sweat them off in a good glug of olive oil. add a grated carrot and grated zucchini (courgette), then chopped mushrooms, then some chopped cabbage and green beans cut into bite-size. sauté them until they're done just enough - it's ok if the beans are still slightly crunchy. you can cover with a lid for a couple of minutes while you have a well-deserved sip of wine, but don't let them lose their bright color. and don't forget to season with salt & pepper.

toast off some hazelnuts or almonds or pine nuts - whatever you've got. chop a handful of dried apricots (or dates) for a little element of sweetness. toss it all together with the couscous (which you've fluffed with a fork), stir it together, take another sip of wine and call the family for dinner.  if you're lucky, there might be just enough left for you for lunch tomorrow.

this is a vegetarian dish, but if you had some leftover meat from another meal, you could toss that in, but the dish doesn't need meat.

Monday, March 28, 2011

what's for dinner? - pizza

i suspect i'm not alone in having a daily struggle with figuring out what to make for dinner. so i thought i'd share that struggle with you here, all week. some days are more inspired than others. it's hard when you've worked all day to find the energy to make a meal for the family. while i do cook to unwind, sometimes, i simply don't feel like cooking. but the fact is, we've got to eat, and so i find ways to put dinner on the table anyway. so i hereby give you the first installment in a week of everyday meals.

when you don't feel like cooking, the temptation to run down to the local pizza place is strong. however, making homemade pizza is easy and so much more delicious than any pizza from the local pizza joint. if you get creative, you can probably use the ingredients you have in the fridge and not even have to go to the grocery store.

potato slices, chicken, mozarella, prima donna cheese
pizza crust

250ml (1 cup) warm water
1/2 package of yeast (half a cube of fresh yeast is what i use, but dry is fine too)
1 squeeze of runny honey
1 tsp. salt
2 T olive oil
3 C flour (you may need a bit more if the dough is too wet)

mix the warm water, yeast and honey in the mixer bowl and let them sit for 5 minutes 'til the yeast begins to bubble. add the salt, olive oil and flour and allow the mixer to knead it for you (or mix it well and knead it for a few minutes if you don't have a mixer with a dough hook). place it in a large bowl, greased with olive oil and allow it to rise in a warm spot while you prepare the toppings. it's enough for two crusts. 

suggested toppings:

for all: 3 kinds of cheese - 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced, freshly-grated parmesan, grated prima donna (or whatever cheese you have on hand)

olive oil & garlic base:

3 T good olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced

mix the olive oil & minced garlic in a bowl, spread it over the crust. top with cheese. you can also add leftover chicken if you have some. a couple of thinly-sliced potatoes are good too. or maybe carmelized onions.

tomato sauce base:

the quick version: keep a jar of good quality tomato/pasta sauce on hand (ours is called dolmio). (i know this goes against our own "what is not a domestic sensualist" philosophy, but sometimes, it's needed.)


sliced tomato + cheese (the classic margarita)
grated zucchini
thinly-sliced mushrooms

pesto base: 

keep a jar or tub of good quality pesto on hand for those don't-want-to-cook days. but pesto is also easy and can even be made of arugula, pine nuts and a dash of olive oil in the food processor in a hurry. but sometimes, you don't have basil or fresh arugula at hand, so a jar of it is fine.

ideal topped with leftover chicken or leftover flank steak and a few fresh veggies - peppers, mushrooms, eggplant.

bake for 20+ minutes in a 180°C/350°F oven, 'til the crust is crispy. eat immediately.

not the best pic, but it was getting a bit dark.
you can throw some mixed salad leaves right on top, for a healthy kick.

get as fancy and creative as you want with the toppings, but the simpler the better. and don't be afraid to use up leftovers as toppings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

cake pops!

Hey, thanks julochka and Bee for letting me be silly here - for silly I plan on being ... I mean, what could be sillier than cake pops?!

I'll give you the short version first (and because I have no step-by-step photos - sorry!):
Bake a cake. Deconstruct it completely - as in reduce it to a pile of fine crumbs. Mix crumbs with icing (frosting) to desired consistency. Roll mix into lollipop sized balls. Freeze balls. Cover in chocolate. Decorate.
Silly huh?
From the first time I saw them, I just knew I had to try them.

cake pops
Your favourite cake recipe.
Now's a good time to decide whether you want chocolate pops, red velvet pops, vanilla pops ... try anything as long it produces a nice fine cake crumb. 
The original instructions call for a cake box mix, I know how we feel about those here but in all honesty, and especially the first time you make these, it's not such a bad idea.

Bake cake as usual. 
Allow to cool completely. Crumble (I know, I know ... it feels wrong, get over it).
I baked my cake in two halves and after I'd crumbled one I decided I had more than enough to work with, so froze the other half. One half produced over 50 cake pops.

Mix up your favourite icing.
Something nice and sticky, and preferably not too sweet. I think cream cheese icing or julochka's fabulous creamy vanilla frosting is a good call.
Again, you probably won't use it all - but I find emergency frozen icing never goes unused.

Spoon icing into crumbs slowly, mixing all the while, to get desired consistency. 
Truthfully I added too much icing to this batch, the texture of the cake balls were a little smooth (a bit more like truffles than cake) and they were a little too sweet. You're trying for a mix which will ball nicely but still have a cake-like texture when you bite into them.

Freeze balls on a baking sheet or tray.
Prevent husband from devouring them just like this.
I left mine overnight. A long time to fight off the devouring.

When you're ready to start icing, gather together all the bits you'll need before you start.
- lollipop sticks
- sprinkles and any other decorative elements
- a block or sheet of styrafoam with holes already pegged out in it (you don't want to be doing this with a top-heavy lollipop stick dripping chocolate, trust me).
- a damp cloth (for fingers)
- toothpicks, useful for all manner of reasons
- your sense of humour

Melt chocolate, either using a broken up bar or chocolate melts (also known as buttons or tabs). Apparently melts are better designed to be heated and reheated so you should probably go with those.
If you want to be authentic, melt chocolate over a double-boiler but let me assure you - the microwave works just as well.

Working with only a few balls out of the freezer at a time, dip the tip of a lollipop stick into the melted chocolate then slowly ease it into one of the balls.
Dunk ball in chocolate, swirling it around for overall coverage, patching and smoothing with a toothpick, tapping stick lightly against the side of the bowl to tap off excess chocolate.

Working quickly, before it sets, swirl chocolate covered ball through your sprinkles. Now's when you can add all manner of other decorative bits too. For more decorating tips and techniques it's best to visit the cake pop queen herself.

Now stand your cake pop up in the styrafoam and keep on going!

Awesomely impressive - if a little sweet - these might not appeal to all palates, but they certainly qualify as some delightful eye candy.
And just a couple of tips bakerella won't give you:
- make sure you pee before starting the decorating process
- have a hearty breakfast 
- if you live in a hot, bug-infested climate, make sure you've a pop-up fly net handy to keep your completed pops covered
- watch out for eyelashes, it seems you'll never lose more eyelashes than when working with melted chocolate
- have no, repeat NO, small children present at any stage of the procedure (at least not the first time you do it)
- when using a piece of styrafoam you dug out of the garden shed remember to wipe the underside before it's loaded with completed cake pops
- strictly make these at most a couple of hours before serving. Drooping sticks, cracked chocolate, cake oozes - let's just say they start looking a whole lot less attractive if they stand around for too long.

Get popping!

Friday, March 11, 2011

chai cake

i've been trying to devote my fridays to finishing projects that i have underway. but it seems that every friday, when i should be sitting down to do that, my mind wanders off to something new. today, i had a hankering to make a cake. sabin and i have been watching ultimate cake off, with the ambitious 5' tall structures of cake and fondant, but i wanted to do something a bit more simple. but still with a twist. i decided to make a chai cake.  and i began searching for recipes online. the more i looked, the more i thought that i could come up with something myself. so i embarked on an experiment.

we love chai and we love loose-leaf tea. however, our favorite chai is only available in a grocery store called Irma, that doesn't exist in this part of denmark - it's apparently a "city" grocery store and we live in the countryside. just this week, i had run out of that precious elixir, but i still had some of this:

it's a pretty good instant chai mix (tho' a bit sweet for my taste as a drink), that you mix with hot water. i thought it would taste delicious as a cake.  i started with a martha stewart butter cake as my base - martha knows her cakes and they always have lots of real ingredients - like butter and loads of eggs and they never call for a box cake mix (very surprising how many cake recipes out there do).

chai layer cake

250 grams butter (i always use salted because i think it tastes better, but you can choose) (that's 2 sticks to y'all in the US)
2 C organic sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 and 1/3 C of flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 C instant chai mixture
1 C (250ml) milk 

cream the butter in the mixer using the paddle. slowly add the sugar until it's a creamy, light yellow. mix in the four eggs one at a time, mixing well between each egg. meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, chai mixture and salt. add the vanilla to your egg mixture. begin to add flour and milk alternating each until it's all combined in a velvety dough.

butter and flour two round (9"/23cm) cake pans. i lined the very bottom with baking paper for ease of removal (i just trace around it with the pan and cut it out to fit it perfectly). i never used baking paper when i lived in the US, but i have to admit i don't know how i did without it!  i really highly recommend it.

bake the two cakes at 180°C/375°F for 30-40 minutes (again, my oven is faster than others, but you know yours best). take them out and leave them to cool. 

i would have liked to get creative on the frosting (something maple came to mind), but my family loves a good, classic vanilla buttercream, so i pleased them.

classic buttercream frosting

250 grams butter
500 grams powdered sugar
1 tsp. real vanilla
2 T milk

cream the butter, then slowly add the powdered sugar and vanilla. add only as much milk as you need to make a creamy, spreadable consistency. this can differ based on the weather (i swear). chill for a few minutes (up to 15) in the refrigerator, then spread on the cooled cakes. 

we didn't decorate or anything, we just ate thick slices with a steaming mug of tea. it tasted great, but i would say it was just a tad on the dry side, but that was undoubtedly because i baked it a bit too long. better to under bake just a titch than overbake. again, i make the mistakes so you don't have to!  enjoy!


Related Posts with Thumbnails