Friday, March 28, 2008

Turkey Meatloaf

I must admit I had never eaten meatloaf until last weekend. There are several explanations for this – I was a vegetarian for much of my adolescence and young adulthood, it was not part of my parents’ African-influenced Gujarati diet, and it never seemed like a particularly desirable thing to eat. The thought of a ground meat, breadcrumb and ketchup loaf conjured up images of All in the Family and Roseanne, neither of which I associated with nutritious or flavorful cuisine. Besides, we had our own humble food – kitchri, a rice and lentil comfort food that my mom served often enough. Above all else, how could I take seriously a food selected as the stage name of a pitiable rock star?

While the origin of American meatloaf is disputed, the dish became popular as raw ground meat become widely available in supermarkets and home refrigeration became ubiquitous. Like meatballs and sausages, meatloaf utilizes meat scraps and leftovers which are much more affordable than prime cuts. In addition, cereal and vegetable fillers “stretch” the meat so that it can feed more people - this made meatloaf especially popular during the Great Depression.
This loaf provided us with dinner for two nights (it reheats well) as well as one sandwich (a wrap stuffed with meatloaf, lettuce and hummus). I was pleasantly surprised by our invention, inspired by the recipe that my boyfriend’s Grandma Ruth made for him as a child. My friend Michelle’s mom uses rosemary in her meatloaf, which apparently imparts a lovely taste and fragrance. Meatloaf is also very healthy - lowfat meat, vegetables, and a little bit of carbs. How can you go wrong?

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 pound ground lean turkey
1 cup quick cooking rolled oats or gluten-free bread crumbs
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 cup carrots, grated (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon poultry rub
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
16 ounces (1 can) crushed tomatoes
4 ounces (1 can) tomato paste
2 eggs, slightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Over medium heat, sauté garlic in oil until fragrant. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
3. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients except eggs.
4. Add cooled onions and eggs to the turkey mixture and transfer to an 8 x 11 glass casserole dish. Shape into a loaf by firming mixture away from the edges (see the last photo above). You can also bake it in a 9 x 5 metal loaf pan.
5. Bake for 90 minutes or until edges are brown. Cool for 5 or 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding is a quintessential British sweet. It resembles a cake but is a traditional pudding since it is usually boiled or steamed. While the origin of the dessert is contested, the dominant story is that Francis Coulson, a chef at the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel in England’s Lake District, brought the pudding to mainstream attention.

While I have had this dessert several times, I was surprised to learn that the primary ingredient is dates. Dates are a fruit of the date palm tree and were cultivated in Arabia as far back as 8,000 years ago. They were soon introduced to South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa and Spain. In 1765 the Spaniards brought dates to Mexico and what is now California. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the world's largest producers of dates.

Dates are widely consumed in the Middle East in both savory dishes such as tagines and in sweet dishes such as breads, cakes and puddings. They are referenced several times in the Qur'an and traditionally eaten when breaking the Ramadan fast each night. I was recently at a party where a Saudi Arabian friend brought date sweets from a Bond Street shop including chocolate-covered dates, date cookies and date cakes. Apparently, you can also make a non-alcoholic sparkling date beverage.

The following recipe is adapted from one created by Nigella Lawson.

Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups dark brown (or muscovado) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
8 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups water, boiling

1. Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 6-cup, glass, deep ovenproof baking dish.
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar, ginger powder, flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In either a small pot on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe bowl, mix milk, 4 tablespoons of butter and dates. Heat and stir until the dates have dissolved.
4. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add the date mixture to the flour mixture and pour batter into the baking dish.
5. In another heatproof bowl mix 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons butter and boiling water and gently pour over batter. You should now have a baking dish with a layer of batter at the bottom, underneath a layer of hot brown sugar water.
6. Bake for 45 minutes or until the batter has risen and is firm but springy. Beneath the pudding the sugar water sauce bubbling.
7. Let cool for 10 minutes. Scoop batter and sauce into a bowl and serve with clotted cream, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Orange-Scented Scones

Afternoon tea is one of my favorite meals – it arrives just as I’m easing out of the late lunch food coma, and starting to feel peckish in anticipation of dinner. As you can see from my blog, the menu is also to my liking – rich and sweet baked goods including scones, cakes, pastries, and cucumber sandwiches.

Growing up in Canada, my family often had tea with cookies, cake or Indian snacks (such as thepla, nan khatai, khaari biscuit and chevda). It wasn’t until I moved to England that I discovered cream tea (also known as Devonshire or Cornish cream tea) which is tea served with scones topped with clotted cream and jam. My favourite place to have cream tea in Oxford is the Old Parsonage Hotel, a 17th century building where Oscar Wilde once lived.

Although associated with England, scones are small Scottish breads that can be slightly sweet or savory. They sometimes include currants or raisins. Scones are similar to biscuits, traditionally served in the Southern United States with honey, butter or gravy. North American scones, recently popularized by Starbucks, are generally larger, drier and served with nuts, dried fruit or chocolate chips.

Makes one dozen

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
zest of one orange (optional)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup whole milk
1 egg white (optional)
clotted cream and fruit jam (not optional!)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and sugar. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the butter into the flour mixture.
3. Using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers, blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add orange zest and mix well.
4. Add milk and form a soft dough. You can add a little more milk if necessary to bring the dough together.
5. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 1-inch thickness. Using a 1 1/2 inch pastry cutter (I prefer fluted, but plain will do) stamp out as many rounds as possible. Gather scraps and re-roll the dough and stamp out additional rounds.
6. Gently transfer scones to a lined baking sheet (if you don’t use parchment the scones could burn on the bottom). Brush the tops with egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
7. Allow them to stand for 10 minutes, and then bake for 10-15 minutes until light brown on top.
8. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Serve with clotted cream and high-quality fruit jam or preserve.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I love peanut butter. I eat it on toast, celery, crackers, crumpets, apples and chocolate. I eat peanut butter sandwiches several times a week, but never with jam or honey. I put peanut butter in soups and stirfries (watch this space for those recipes). As a child I ate Kraft peanut butter, but now I only buy brands made exclusively with peanuts and salt. The downside of this is that with ‘natural’ peanut butter, the oil and peanut solids separate. Mixing them can be a messy affair – churning the peanut butter invariably causes a minor countertop oil spill. Given the vast quantities of peanut butter I consume, however, mixing is a price I’m willing to pay for peanut butter without sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Peanuts originated in South America and are known to have been ground into a paste by the Incas. Modern peanut butter is thought to have been created in the 1840s by Rose Davis of Alligerville, New York whose son saw women making peanut paste during his travels in Cuba. All early forms were crunchy, but in 1922 Joseph Rosefield patented a technique to produce a creamy peanut butter and created the Peter Pan and Skippy brands. Peanut butter is popular in many countries but Americans still consume more than any other nation – about three pounds per person per year.

This week I feature an American classic – peanut butter cookies. These cookies have the traditional crisscross pattern – made by pressing the back of a fork against the balls of peanut butter dough before they are baked. While no one can explain the origin of this pattern, it has been traced to the 1931 Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes cookbook.

Makes 24 cookies

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
1 cup smooth or chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a medium size bowl combine flour and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl beat butter, peanut butter and sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat. All flour mixture and beat until combined.
3. Roll dough into 24 balls and place on a greased baking sheet.
4. Use the back of a fork to flatten the ball and create a pattern of fork tines. Press the fork again, this time creating a perpendicular pattern.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool cookies and store in an airtight container for up to a week. To soften crisp cookies, store them overnight in a container with a piece of bread.