It took me a long time to learn just how good a grilled cheese sandwich can be.
I don't really recall eating grilled cheese at home as a kid, but I do remember it making the rounds at gatherings after my hockey games. However, back then I remember the cheese being packaged and the bread being white, two things that my mom taught me to eye suspiciously. Grilled cheese sandwiches were often accompanied by potato chips and because I was occasionally allowed to eat plain potato chips (! ! !, I blame my adult obsession with potato chips on this), I ignored the grill cheese and went straight for the chips.
I truly believe that good food and good flavor combinations can be life changing. Trying different versions of familiar foods - such as dried apricots without sulphates or homemade mayonnaise - can really shift one's perspective and taste preferences. I experienced this when I tried my first good grilled cheese sandwich. A close friend was working at an organic grocery store that made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. The bread was brown and freshly baked, the cheese was aged and local and the meeting of the two was made all the merrier with oregano and some red chili flakes.
A grilled cheese sandwich is so basic that it really does not require a recipe. The concept is simple. Use good bread, good cheese and lots of butter. From there you can get creative by mixing different types of cheese, herbs, spices and veggies. How about a grilled cheese sandwich with goat cheese, roasted red pepper and arugula? Or one with roquefort on raisin bread, or dried-fruit and nut bread? Or an assortment of cheeses (like smoked gouda, aged cheddar and harvati) and lots of lots of red chili flakes. Just don't use the cheese that comes in individually wrapped packages that has the texture of plastic.
I have written before about my favourite cheese and fruit combinations for sandwiches and one combination is just made for grilled cheese. Now when I think of a grilled cheese sandwich I think of one with cheddar, slices of tart apple and caramelized red onions. Cheddar, Caramelized Onion & Apple Grilled Cheese
2 tbsp butter (or ghee) 1 small red onion, thinly sliced pinch of sea salt 4 slices of sourdough 100g white cheddar, preferably aged 1/2 tart apple, thinly sliced
In a frying pan over medium-high heat melt 2-3 tbsp butter or ghee. Once it sizzles add the onion and a generous pinch of sea salt. Stir every couple of minutes until the onions begin to soften. Reduce heat to low and cook until the onions are caramelized, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Slice the cheddar into medium pieces. Butter one side of each bread. Place a few slices of cheddar on top, then top with caramelized onions, slices of apple, more cheddar and another piece of bread, butter-side out.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add sandwiches. Add more butter to the pan if needed. Cook until the cheese melts on the bottom and the bread becomes golden, about 3-4 minutes, and then flip. Press down with a spatula to help the sandwich stick together. Cook the other side for another 3-4 minutes and then serve right away and with ketchup if you wish.
I'm off to Sweden for the next few days where I will indulge in plenty of fika, laughter and dried fruit and nut sourdough bread. And am I ever ready! I have been busy lately practicing my cake eating and coffee drinking skills here in Munich in anticipation of reuniting with Sweden.
I know that such an introductory line is rather obvious and not all that exciting, but it is true. I really, really like them. It might have to do with the fact that you dip them in a sauce. A friend of mine once made the claim that anything that is dipped in sauce is much tastier than anything that is not. It isn't about the sauce, she said, it is about the act of dipping. Or it might be because you can stuff them with anything which means that biting into a dumpling is the adult food equivalent of a child opening a loot bag at the end of a Birthday party. Surprise!
Or it might be because half of my family is Polish which means that I grew up eating a lot of pierogies. A lot. And dumplings could easily be a not-so-distant cousin of pierogies, but they are not pierogies which makes them that much more interesting and foreign. Also, I grew up listening to the stories of my dad and his siblings. They used to bring kielbasa sandwiches to school and so at their high school one could always smell their way to the locker of a Gora. So clearly pierogies, and most Polish food, was never allowed to be cool. Delicious and stick-to-your-ribs comforting, yes. Cool, no. Dumplings, on the other hand, are quite hip. They involve chopsticks instead of a knife and fork and they come with a small and tidy serving dish filled with dipping sauce (and it is often a very nice dish) as opposed to a mountain of sour cream and sauteed yellow onions. For the record I like pierogies a lot and I often ask my Babchai to make them, but I think that dumplings are just more exciting.
So yes, I like dumplings.
And duck and oyster mushrooms together make very fine dumplings. They took over my kitchen the other day, but I also made a bunch of vegetarian dumplings stuffed with savoy cabbage, cilantro, mushrooms, carrot and ginger. They were also quite tasty, but if you eat meat then pass on the veggie option and go straight for the duck.
I could not tell you exactly how much this recipe yields as I am sometimes quite messy it comes to measurements. That said, leftover filling can always be added to some friend rice and leftover dumplings can be stored in the freezer.
Duck and Oyster Mushroom Dumplings
five-spice roast duck
1 duck leg coarse sea salt a small piece of ginger 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
1 duck leg, roasted 1/2 cup oyster mushrooms 1/4 cup fresh cilantro 1 tbsp tamari a small piece of ginger 1/2 tsp red chili flakes 2 green onions freshly ground black pepper pinch of sea salt
oil for pan frying
1 pack dumpling wrappers or homemade dumpling wrappers
Preheat the oven to 325F/170C.
Rub the duck leg with coarse salt and Chinese five spice. Finely grate the ginger and also rub on the duck. Place in a roasting tray, with the fat side down, and then put the tray into the oven. Roast until the meat begins to fall off the bone, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Coarsely chop the mushrooms, ginger and green onion. Once the duck has cooled, carve the leg and then throw the duck meat, mushrooms, green onion, ginger and cilantro in a food processor. Pulse until everything is minced. Place mixture in a bowl and mix with the tamari, red chili flakes, salt and pepper.
Assemble the dumplings. Fill a small bowl with water and keep by your side as you assemble the dumplings. Place half a generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. That said, resist the urge to over-stuff the dumpling. Wet your index finger with water and then moisten the outer edge of one half of the wrapper. Fold the dumpling in half and pleat the edges along one side. Press the two sides together and seal tightly. Gently flour a dish and place the dumplings on the floured dish as you repeat with the rest of the filling.
Heat some cooking oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Place a few dumplings in the pan, making sure they are not overcrowded and that they all touch the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the bottoms are golden. Then add 1/2 cup water and cover the pan with a lid. Once the water has evaporated reduce heat to medium. Flip the dumplings and let cook until the other sides become golden brown and crispy. Remove from heat and repeat with the rest of the dumplings.
Serve dumplings right away with dipping sauce.
* * * *
2 tbsp soy sauce 1 tbsp rice vinegar a dash of freshly grated ginger, optional a pinch of red chili flakes 1/4 tbsp honey, optional
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dipping sauce.
2 cups all purpose flour 1/2 cup water When the duck is roasting make the dumpling wrappers if you aren't using store-bought. Put the flour in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup warm water and pulse. While the food processor is on, slowly add the rest of the water and pulse until a dough forms. Remove dough from the food processor and place on a slightly-floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth. The dough should be firm and not sticky. Cover it with a wet tea-towel and then leave to rest for about 20 minutes.
Once the dough has rested, flatten the dough into a dome and then cut into strips that are about 2 inches wide. Shape each strip into a long cylinder and then cut the cylinder into pieces that are about 3/4 inch thick. Roll each piece until it is flat and is in the shape of a circle. Use a glass or circular cookie-cutter to help get a round shape.
Wrap any leftover dumplings wrappers in plastic and store in the freezer.
The internet is an endless source when it comes to recipes, restaurant reviews and food porn. Sometimes it is hard to filter through all of the resources which makes me appreciate well edited sites like Honest Cooking.
Honest Cooking is a charming online food magazine and I am delighted to join the team. Read my first article about the savory and addictive panki chatni at Swati Snacks in Mumbai here.
I am currently working on writing my Master's thesis (or at least reading for hours and hours each day in anticipation of writing it). Although it takes a lot effort for me to resist the temptation of wearing leggings and the same grey sweatshirt "dress" everyday, I have no problem whatsoever cooking up something delicious (and usually different) for breakfast each morning. I guess that we all have our own priorities.
Here is to a delicious week!
A week or two of breakfast
buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup (duh)
a soft-boiled egg with wild smoked salmon, sliced avocado, pecorino nero and a bun a fried egg on quinoa with herbs and olive oil, and salsa on the side
Oh Europe, you have certainly adopted this little Canadian and have made her feel at home.
You have taught me about Christmas markets, Bavarian beer versus Belgian ales, white asparagus and sourdough bread. You give me pretty much all that I could possibly ask for, but there is an exception. And it is a big exception: Mexican food.
I have confessed my love for black beans here before. Regarding the pro or contra cilantro debate, I am a big pro. I like my chocolate spicy and I like my tortillas made from corn (although I often have to settle for wheat due to availability). I like scrambled eggs with salsa. In fact, I like almost anything with salsa. I like Mexican and I like Tex-Mex; I just don't like what passes for Mexican food in Europe. There are a few okay options in Berlin, but that is probably only because a few North Americans like me got fed up with the situation and decided to do something about it (and make note that I used the word okay as opposed to revolutionary good). Sadly there are no okay options in Munich that I know of. Thank goodness there is at least a Mexican grocery store (that sells canned chipotle in adobe sauce and Mexican wrestling masks).
So huevos rancheros combines two of my biggest loves: breakfast and Mexican food. That said, don't hesitate to make this for lunch or dinner instead. The basic idea is quite simple. Fry some eggs and then serve them on tortillas with lots and lots of salsa. If tomatoes are in season, go for fresh salsa. If not, cook up some salsa on the stove. That's it. You can eat huevos rancheros with some black beans or re-fried beans, sour cream, and guacamole or sliced avocados with fresh lime juice and cilantro on the side (which I recommend). You can add some cheddar or another cheese of your choice (which I also recommend). If you can, use corn tortillas. If you happen to live in Germany where all of the stores are closed on Sunday (which happens to be your preferred day for big breakfasts) and you only have wheat tortillas in your pantry, then use wheat ones instead.
I find one egg and one tortilla (with lots and lots of sides) to be enough, but increase the recipe to 2 eggs and 2 tortillas per person if you wish.
cooking oil 2 tortillas (the smaller ones preferably) 1 small onion 4 small to medium tomatoes 1 small garlic clove 1 small fresh chili of your choice or 1/2 tbsp canned chipotle in adobe sauce a pinch of ground cumin, optional sea salt 1/4 cup fresh cilantro a knob of butter 2 eggs
Optional, but recommended
warmed black beans, or re-fried beans sour cream slices of avocado with fresh lime juice, sea salt and cilantro, or guacamole chopped cilantro fresh lime, wedged cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 250F/ 130C/ Gas mark 1/2.
Coarsely chop the onion, the tomatoes, the garlic and fresh chili pepper. In a small pot over medium heat add a splash of cooking oil. Add the onion and then the garlic. Once fragrant add the tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt, cilantro, fresh chili or chipotle and cumin. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat. Stir occasionally and let cook until slightly thickened.
While the salsa cooks, heat a splash of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tortilla (if you skillet is big enough add 2) and cook about 1 minute until the bottom is slightly browned or air bubbles form inside. Flip and repeat on the other side. Transfer the tortilla to an oven-safe-dish and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the second tortilla.
In the same skillet add a knob of butter (or a splash of cooking oil) and fry both eggs sunny-side up (you want a runny yolk for huevos rancheros).
Assemble on separate plates. You can spoon a little salsa on the plate, or just add the tortilla first. Add salsa to the tortilla and then top with a fried egg. Serve as is, or top with more salsa and some shredded cheddar cheese , or garnish with cilantro. Top with some squeezed lime juice as well if you wish. Or, eat with generous servings of sour cream, black beans and avocado. Don't be afraid to add and add.