Friday, October 29, 2010

Chocolate Oat Bars

Last weekend I had the joyous, nay rapturous, pleasure of a lazy Sunday. With nothing to do and the weather outside a delightful October crisp, baking was deemed obligatory. And not just any baking. Comfort baking. Low fat vegetables need not apply.

At such times, I turn to the Culinary Canon of the US, that is, the inimitable Joy of Cooking, now in its 154th edition (or something along the lines). It has provided the much-needed comfort food of home on many a desperate occasion. When I read the recipe I knew these would itch that longing-for-US-baked-goods scratch. And indeed. That's exactly what they did. Because just plain ol' chocolate wouldn't suffice for such Sundays, I also threw some peanut butter on top. You know, just to make it extra comfy. These bars are like the food version of your favorite old sweater. Nothing surprising. Nothing extravagant. But like a hug from home.

Makes one 13x9'' dish (about 12 bars)


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) + 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (I used light brown)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons + 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose (or plain) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups sweetened condensed milk 
3/4 chopped walnuts
Optional: peanut butter or nutella


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

Beat together the 3/4 cup butter and brown sugar.

Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside.

Whisk together in a separate bowl the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the oats.

Combine the chocolate chips, condensed milk, 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir over the low heat until smooth. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon vanilla and the walnuts.

Remove the mixture from the heat. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Pat about two thirds of it into the baking pan. Pour the chocolate mixture over all, then dot with the remaining batter. At this point, if you feel like adding peanut butter, add teaspoon scoops to the top of the mixture.

Bake about 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coconut Milk and Cream Soup Cooked in a Pumpkin

A few weeks back it was Canadian Thanksgiving. Now, I'm all about the good ol' American way of celebrating (that is, in November), but there is rarely a time when I turn down good food. And, oh my, was this food good. Nay, glorious. The highlight of the evening had to be the cooked pumpkin soup. That's right, a soup cooked inside a pumpkin. A creamy buttery concoction that actually let you scrape the insides of the pumpkin with a ladle to get as much of that delicious sinewy goodness as you wanted for your bowl. Now if that isn't an "impress your guests" kind of moment, I don't know what is. 

I spent the rest of the evening begging for the recipe. It turns out the recipe was from a "River Cottage" episode, a cooking show based in the UK. When I looked up the recipe online, I was almost bowled over by the fact that there were only three predominant ingredients in the entire soup: cream, Gruyere cheese, and, well, pumpkin. But the idea was so genius, I couldn't pass it up. I decided to tweak the idea just a bit, partially for my own health conscience (little as it may be) but more importantly to beef up the flavor a bit. So I added what I think is always a winning combination: coconut milk. By adding a little spiciness, some stock, and the coconut milk, it really fleshed out the flavor alongside the cheese and cream. I served it the week after Canadian Thanksgiving to rave reviews. 

The only thing I will warn about is timing. It's hard to tell when the pumpkin is done, i.e. when the soup is warm enough to eat and the flesh of the pumpkin is cooked through. You also have to be wary of structural integrity issues. As the pumpkin cooks, it understandably becomes softer, which means your soup bowl may become a bit soggy and, if left unattended for long enough, collapse in the oven in a great pile of pumpkin-y goo. This is a bad thing. So, the only thing I can recommend is watching the pumpkin quite closely when you think you're getting close to being done. 

Serves 4-6 generously


  • 1 medium (3-4kg) pumpkin or several small squashes (1 per person)
  • 4 stalks of lemongrass
  • juice of one lime 
  • 2 x 50mm ginger, peeled
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 red chillies
  • juice of 2 limes
  • black pepper
  • sea salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 banana shallots finely chopped
  • 5 g cumin seeds (or ground)
  • 600 ml vegetable stock
  • 400 ml tin coconut milk
  • sprigs coriander/cilantro, to garnish
  • Up to 500g Gruyere cheese, grated (depending on the size of your pumpkin)
  • up to 400 ml of cream
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • a knob of butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 190°c/Gas Mark 5.

Slice the top off the pumpkin or squashes three-quarters of the way up and retain; this is your lid.

Scoop out all the seeds and surrounding fibres from the pumpkin.

Place the scooped-out pumpkin on a baking tray or in an ovenproof dish (which must have sides to catch any leaking cream - an accident that shouldn't, but can, happen).

Peel the outer coating from the lemon grass stalks and finely chop the white bulbous part of the stalks, discarding the rest.
Mix together the lemon grass, lime juice, ginger, garlic, chillies and lime juice into a smooth paste. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Gently fry the shallots and cumin seeds for 3-5 minutes, then add in half the paste and fry, stirring often, for 5 minutes until fragrant.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes.

Put enough grated Gruyere into the empty cavity of the pumpkin to fill about a third of it, then pour in double cream and coconut milk until the cavity is two-thirds full.

Add a few gratings of nutmeg, a little salt and plenty of black pepper. Throw in a knob of butter and replace the lid, so the pumpkin is whole again.

Place in a fairly hot oven (190°c/Gas Mark 5) and cook for 45 minutes-11/4 hours (for me, this was more on the 1 1/4 hours side of things), depending on the size of the pumpkin. Test for doneness by removing the lid and poking at the flesh from the inside. It should be nice and tender.

At this point, the skin may be lightly burnt and the whole thing just beginning to sag a bit. Be wary: when the pumpkin is completely soft and cooked through, there is a real danger of collapse.

The larger the pumpkin, the bigger the danger. Don't panic if it happens - it will look a bit deflated but will still taste delicious.

Serve small squashes individually in bowls, with spoons to scoop out the flesh. Serve the larger pumpkin by scooping plenty of flesh and the creamy, cheesy liquid (the Gruyere comes out in lovely long, messy strings) into warmed soup bowls. Either way, serve piping hot.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mexican Bean Burgers

 You will forgive the slightly "artiness" of the burger photo. When approaching how to document my recent cooking venture, I was a bit flummoxed as to how to present a "bean burger" with any kind of photographic...shall we say, grace? Anyway, carefully positioned cilantro and limes helped the entire arrangement making it look as delicious as it tasted.

We've entered the timely fall term period at Oxford, which means everyone's schedules speeds up exponentially and there is sadly little time to spend luxuriating in the kitchen over 4 hour meals. I was looking for a quick post-class fix and these bean burgers were definitely the way forward. I will say, the more your refrigerate these bad boys, the better the taste. I also modified the original recipe (From Delicious Sept 2010) to make it a bit more zesty and, well, Mexican. Which meant adding achiote, cayenne pepper, and chipotle tabasco sauce to the mix. The end result was a nice "back of the mouth" heat but of course, feel free to tone down (or up) the spiciness as your taste buds will allow.

Makes about 6 generous burgers

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 red onion (chopped)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (both white and green parts)
1/3 cup finely chopped red chile (1 small chile)
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 400g cans of mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup toasted whole-grain breadcrumbs (about 1 slice of bread)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. pure chile powder, such as ancho or New Mexico
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
dash of tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt

Halloumi cheese for topping
Burger buns


Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat.

Add the red onion and scallions until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes.

Increase the heat slightly and add the garlic and chile and other spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes

Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the beans and mash together to form a rough lumpy texture.

Gently mix in the cilantro, breadcrumbs, egg, and 3/4 tsp. salt. Adjust for spiciness here.

Shape the mixture into 6 equal 3/4-inch-thick patties. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. (This mixture also freezes well)

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the burgers until nicely browned on both sides, flipping carefully, about 5 minutes total.

If adding cheese, put a slice on top of each burger and then stick under the grill/broiled for about 5 minutes until the cheese has melted slightly and turned a nice golden color.

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