Vegetable Biryani

by Kelly on September 14, 2012

When I dine out, I almost always order the dish that I can’t make (think soufflé) or one that is too labor intensive to make at home. Invariably, that means a mole sauce at a Mexican restaurant, sushi at our favorite Japanese place, or biryani when we’re eating Indian. For those not familiar with biryani, it’s a fragrant rice-based dish popular in Pakistan, India, and beyond. I’ve tried several biryani recipes at home over the years, with mixed results. Traditional recipes involve several steps and multiple pans. This version is easier and less fattening than other recipes. The taste is just as good, if not better, than many restaurant versions that I’ve had. Great for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, don’t be afraid of the long ingredient list and feel free to swap in whatever vegetables you have handy. The original recipe calls for a small head of cauliflower and small red potatoes instead of zucchini. My fridge was pretty bare, but it didn’t stop me from getting a decent meal on the table.

Although substitute vegetables will work in this dish, the basmati rice is essential. If you don’t normally buy basmati, consider adding it to your shopping list. It can elevate the most humble of rice dishes and I find it more forgiving to cook than other rices and grains. I recently bought a 20 pound bag from Costco. My husband thought I was crazy but my fellow Costco afficiandos can appreciate a good deal when they see it. Speaking of Costco, check out my friend Outlaw Mama’s funny posts on the subject.

Vegetable Biryani
adapted from

I think biryani tastes best served with raita. Here is an easy raita recipe or, if you are out of cucumbers, just serve some plain yogurt alongside.

serves 4–6 as main course

For the rice:
1 cup (180 g) basmati rice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons sliced almonds (blanched or toasted)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 3/4 cups (400 ml) water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the vegetables:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons  raisins
2 tablespoons sliced almonds (blanched or toasted)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 whole cardamom pods
1 large or 2 small zucchini, diced
6 ounces green beans, cut into 1‑inch pieces
1 medium carrot, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Make the rice: Place the rice in a sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the golden raisins, almonds, turmeric, cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 1 minute more. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, (wrap the lid tightly with a kitchen towel), cover, and steam until the rice is tender, 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the vegetables. Melt the butter in a medium straight-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the golden raisins, almonds, coriander seed, cumin seed, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, green beans, carrots, and salt. Raise the heat to high, pour in the water, and cook, covered, for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender and most of the water has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes more.

Add the rice to the vegetable mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Divide the vegetable-rice mixture among plates and top with some of the almonds. Serve immediately.

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Canning Tomatoes and Pickled Green Beans

by Kelly on August 28, 2012

In celebration of our three year blogging anniversary (congratulations to us!) I’m making an exception to our normal dinner menu/recipe format in order to encourage you all to try canning or preserving during this produce-abundant time of year. Over the last few years, really since having kids, I’ve been trying to move towards more local, sustainable, organic and less processed foods. Canning and preserving makes this goal more attainable, especially in Wisconsin, which has easy access to farms but a short growing season. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and having Kristin walk me through canning a batch of homemade pickles, I am now a canning addict. Home preserved food is cheaper and better tasting than store bought and nothing beats the feeling of opening your pantry and seeing rows of gorgeous food lined up and ready for the long winter ahead. Food that you made!

If you think canning is difficult and time consuming, think again. Putting up a batch of pickles takes less than 2 hours and hardly any prep, especially after you’ve done it a few times and figure out little tricks like putting up the canning water to boil before doing anything else. I put on a good album and do my canning after my children go to bed. I find it relaxing and fun. Last week, my friends and I tried canning tomatoes for the first time, throwing a little canning party complete with hired babysitter. Although novices with tomatoes, we cranked out 15 jars in three hours at cost of about $1 per jar.  We also did a quick double batch (8 jars) of dilly beans. Not too bad for a Sunday morning’s work.



Canned Tomatoes (Packed in Water)

from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, recipe available here

There are many wonderful canning websites with detailed instructions and pictures on how to prepare your jars, lids and other canning set up information. I like the canning tips at and the photos and instructions for tomato canning at Food in Jars. Beginners should also check out the videos and instructions here.

2–1/2 to 3–1/2 lb (1 to 1.5 kg) ripe tomatoes (about 7 to 10 medium) per quart
Citric acid or bottled lemon juice
Salt, optional
Glass preserving jars with lids and bands

Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside. [NOTE: I sometimes do this step in my dishwasher, running the washer on “high temp” and then keeping the jars inside and hot until ready to fill.]

Wash the tomatoes. Dip them in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately dip in ice water. Slip off the skins. Trim away any green areas and cut out the core. Leave the tomatoes whole or cut into halves or quarters.

Prepare the tomatoes according to raw or hot pack recipe below.

Add ½ teaspoon citric acid or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each hot quart jar. Add ¼ teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice to each hot pint jar.

Pack tomatoes into hot jars according to raw or hot pack recipe. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired. Remove air bubbles in the jars with a spoon or, my preference, a large chopstick. Wipe each rim. Center a hot lid on each jar. Apply a band to each jar and adjust until the fit is fingertip tight.

Process the filled jars in a boiling water canner 40 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude. Remove the jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours [NOTE: we heard the beautiful “pop” of the seal in about 3 hours]. The lid should not flex up and down when the center is pressed.

Raw Pack –
1.) Pack the tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
2.) Ladle hot water over tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired.

Hot Pack –
1.) Place the tomatoes in a large saucepot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil gently 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.
2.) Pack the hot tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
3.) Ladle hot cooking liquid over tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired.


Pickled Green Beans (aka Dilly Beans)

from Food in Jars

2 lbs (900 g) green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less depending on your spice preference)
4 teaspoons dill seed (not dill weed)
4 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) white vinegar (5%)
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water
1/4 cup (50 g) pickling salt (use a bit more if you’ve only got kosher)

Prep your canning pot by inserting a rack to keep your jars off the bottom of the pot, place pint jars in (wide-mouth pints work best here. A 12 ounce jelly jar is also nice, as it’s a bit taller than a standard pint and makes for less trimming) and fill it with water. Bring to a boil to sterilize while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.

Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.

Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that 1/2 inch headspace. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from jar by running it around the interior of the jar. Wipe the rims and apply the lids (which have been sitting in a small saucepan of water at a mere simmer for at least ten minutes in order to soften the sealing compound) and rings.

Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (remember that you don’t start timing until the pot has come to a roiling boil).


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Five Favorite Zucchini Recipes

by Kristin on August 23, 2012

They’re coming, they’re on us,
the long striped gourds, the silky
babies, the hairy adolescents,
the lumpy vast adults
like the trunks of green elephants.
Recite fifty zucchini recipes!

- from “Attack of the Squash People” by Marge Piercy

It’s that time of year when gardeners are groaning under a zucchini glut, leaving them on doorsteps or in unlocked cars, driven to look for “newcomers” or “tourists” to offload them on, as in Piercy’s poem. We might not be able to “recite fifty zucchini recipes”, but here are five of our favorite ways to use them up.

Zucchini fritters with feta and dill

Mexican rice supper with zucchini, chorizo and corn

Chocolate zucchini cake

Zucchini rice gratin

Fusilli with zucchini, tomatoes and bacon

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Remember physically cutting recipes out of newspapers and magazines or writing them by hand onto recipe cards, to be filed away into boxes or binders? I was cleaning out my kitchen recently and found two big binders full of recipe clippings, shoved out of reach at the back of a cabinet, that I had completely forgotten about. I dusted them off and flipped through them to save any of the recipes that had caught my eye a decade ago that still sounded good, and it occurred to me that this would probably be the last time I ever paged through torn-out recipes. Now, if I see a recipe in print that I want to save for later, I look it up online and bookmark it or add it to my spreadsheet. This was a recipe I had cut out of a newspaper years and years ago, the original source long since forgotten, the paper already turning yellow and brittle, an old summer favorite happily rediscovered.

If you’re looking for ways to use up an abundance of garden tomatoes, try these too: Chicken Cacciatore, Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Tart, Ravioli and Tomato Salad, Oven-roasted Ratatouille, or Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce.

Spaghetti with Roast Cherry Tomatoes, Chili and Basil

Serves 4

This would look especially nice if you used a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes. You could also add some finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes to the sauce if you have them.

olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chilies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb 2 oz (500 g) cherry tomatoes, 16–20 left whole and the rest cut into quarters
1 teaspoon sugar
splash of white wine or vermouth (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
small bunch of basil, leaves removed from stems and cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
1 lb (450 g) spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the garlic and chopped chili and cook for 1 minute, taking care not to let the garlic will burn or it will taste bitter and ruin the dish. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes and sugar. Turn up the heat and cook for a minute or two, then add just a splash of white wine or vermouth (or water) and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a rapid splutter, then lower the heat and let it gently bubble away until reduced to a thick-ish sauce.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, reserving a cupful of the cooking water when it’s done. Scatter the remaining tomatoes onto a baking sheet, season well with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes start to split.

To serve, add the cooked, drained pasta to the chili tomato sauce, stirring well until all the pasta is coated with sauce. Add a splash of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce. Stir in the basil and divide the pasta between 4 plates or shallow bowls. Add the roasted tomatoes individually to the top of each dish. Finish with a few basil leaves to garnish and a grating of Parmesan.

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Five Favorite Pestos

by Kristin on August 8, 2012

There are few better — and simpler — summer dishes than fresh homemade pesto. Here are five of our favorites from the archives.

Pesto Trapanese

Red pepper and toasted almond pesto

Spaghetti alla Genovese

Walnut kale pesto

Roast cod with pesto, chorizo and cherry tomatoes

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No really. This is the best ever banana cake. I don’t even like banana cake and I’ve made this twice in two weeks. It was so tasty, so perfectly textured, so cream cheese frosting‑y, I barely had time to snap a picture of myself eating it before it was gone. And yes, I do need a manicure but if I have a spare hour these days, I’m more likely to make a cake (this cake!) than drag myself to the salon. In addition to being one of my new favorite cakes, this recipe wins points on procedure alone. Unlike any recipe I’ve seen before, this cake bakes slow and low followed by an immediate trip to the freezer to cool. I was dubious, but the method works wonderfully.

Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make it by combining 1 1/2 cups of milk with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir the milk and lemon juice together and let sit 10 minutes before using.

Serves 12

1 1/2 cups (350 ml) mashed ripe bananas (about 3 large)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups (360 g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (170 g) butter, softened
2 cups (400 g) sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) buttermilk

1/2 cup (110 g) butter, softened
8 oz (225 g) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups (360 ml) icing (confectioners) sugar
chopped toasted pecans, to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 275°F (140°C). Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.

In a small bowl, mix the mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in the banana mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 65–80 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may have to check the cake a few times, as cooking times can vary greatly with this cake. Remove the cake from the oven and place it directly into the freezer for 60 minutes. This will make the cake very moist.

While the cake cools, make the frosting. Cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. Add the icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until the frosting is smooth. Spread the frosting on the cooled cake. Sprinkle chopped pecans over the frosting, if desired. Store in the refrigerator, covered.

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The other day, a fellow expat tweeted, “When I see a tourist in Dublin on a nice sunny day, I always feel the urge to stop them and tell them how lucky they are.” “Never mind them,” I tweeted back, “lucky us! At least they get to go back home to a proper summer somewhere.” After weeks of rain and temperatures that rarely even get above 65°F, I’ve just about given up on summer again. Even so, I still crave bright, zesty flavors in the summer, such as it is. These fishcakes make for a light supper served with a salad — or maybe soup, if that suits your climate and your woe-is-me mood better.

Sweet Potato and Salmon Fishcakes with Chilli and Lime

Serves 4 as a light supper

If you don’t want to coat the fishcakes in breadcrumbs, you can simply dredge them in the seasoned flour and pan fry them. And if you’d rather bake the cakes in the oven instead of fry them, just put them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper in an oven at 350°F (180°C) for 20 to 30 minutes.

1 lb 2 oz (500 g) sweet potatoes
2 x 7 oz (200 g) cans of salmon
1 red chilli, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
a handful of fresh cilantro (coriander), chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (120 g) flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (100 g) dried breadcrumbs
olive, vegetable or rapeseed oil
lime wedges, to serve
green salad, to serve

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into large chunks or thick slices. Place in a pot with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Mash the potatoes until they’re smooth, then stir in the salmon, flaking apart any large pieces with a fork. Add in the chilli, lime zest and juice, the chopped cilantro and some salt and pepper and stir well to combine. Shape the sweet potato and salmon mixture into fish cakes and set aside on a plate.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl or plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the beaten egg in a second shallow bowl or plate and the breadcrumbs in a third bowl or plate. First dredge each fish cake in the flour, shaking off any excess. Set aside the floured cake on a plate and repeat with the remaining cakes (doing it this way helps to keep your hands cleaner). Next, dip each floured cake in the beaten egg, making sure it gets coated all over with the egg, then place in the bowl with the breadcrumbs, sprinkling the crumbs all over the cake and gently patting them in place. Set aside the breaded cake on a plate and repeat with the remaining cakes.

Heat some oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cakes to the pan in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Cook the cakes for 5 to 8 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden. Flip the cakes over and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more, until the other side is golden and the cakes are cooked through. (Alternatively, you can bake the cakes in the oven; see note above.) Serve with lime wedges and a green salad for a light summer supper.

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Crunchy Pork Kimchi Burgers

by Kelly on July 10, 2012

Last year I succumbed to a telemarketer begging me to buy a magazine subscription in support of a well-known charity. I’d like to tell you it was because I care deeply for the organization or felt pity for the poor saleswoman, but honestly, I just missed receiving a magazine with my name on it every month. After years of being a loyal subscriber to Gourmet (my idealistic college days), then Cooking Light (I put on weight working an office job in my early twenties) and, most recently, Cook’s Illustrated (the serious cooking began), I let the subscriptions expire four years ago when my first-born arrived. But no longer. My magazine days are here again. Unfortunately, I regretted last year’s selection of Food & Wine magazine. Besides this fantastic pork burger recipe and one other interesting salmon preparation, I didn’t find much inspiration in the magazine. Maybe I don’t drink enough wine to appreciate it. So, dear readers, tell me what periodical to order next. What cooking magazines do you love?

Crunchy Pork Kimchi Burgers
adapted from Food & Wine, May 2012

I used the last few precious tablespoons of my sister-in-law’s homemade kimchi for this recipe. Because the kimchi has a bit of kick to it, I made some of the burgers without the kimchi for the kids. Both versions tasted good but the kimchi really made the burger memorable.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced or grated
2 scallions, minced
1 lb (450 g) ground pork
3/4 cup (170 g) finely chopped kimchi
Kosher salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup (100 g) panko (Japanese bread crumbs), lightly crushed
Vegetable oil, for frying
12 oz (340 g) baby spinach
1/4 cup (60 ml) mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Steamed rice

In a bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, scallions, pork and kimchi with 1 teaspoon of salt. Form the mixture into eight patties, about 1/2 inch thick. Dust the patties with flour and refrigerate for 10 minutes while you prep the other ingredients.

Put the eggs and panko in 2 shallow bowls. Dip the patties in the egg and then in the panko, pressing to help the crumbs adhere.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. Depending on the size of your skillet, you will probably need to cook the patties in 2 batches. Add as many patties to the hot skillet as will fit and fry over moderate heat, turning, until golden and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil in the skillet. Add the spinach in batches, season with salt and cook over high heat until wilted, about 1 minute.

In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise, sesame oil and soy sauce. Mound the spinach on plates and top with the burgers. Top with the sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with steamed rice

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