Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A little more catch-up (no food pun intended)

Marinated Salmon

Some time ago (ahem ... three Wednesdays ago) WeDine cooked a delicious marinated salmon using the following sauces:

and lots of lovely garlic and ginger:

We also made a yummy vegetable salad, something I'd never heard of before. The vegetables, including broccoli (chopped lovingly by a colour-coordinated Alisha)

and cauliflower (here fished out of the pot by Michelle)

and carrots, were blanched and then put in water to arrest the cooking process, so they would still be fairly firm and crunchy, but not raw. We made a marinade/dressing for them using ginger (below, rasped by Meg), olive oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar and some chopped cilantro.

Here is the finished dinner. The fantastic whole wheat rolls you see in the picture were baked by Michelle the previous day - shaped by her own fair hands! The salmon was very tasty.

And for dessert we had longans, which are the fruits of a Chinese evergreen tree. According to Wiki, longan, (or long-ngan) which means 'dragon eye' is so named "because of the fruit's resemblance to an eyeball when it is shelled (the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris)". Mm. They were sweet and delicious. Plus they make for a good photo!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

The good, the bad & the ugly

An...Interesting Scottish Experience

So my step-brother got married in mid-April in Scotland, and that is how I found myself in the small town of Pitlochry, at the feet of the Highlands, in the Moulin (pronounced 'moo-lin', not in the French way) Hotel. Here it is:

Okay, it doesn't quite look like that anymore. For a slightly more up-to-date image, go to their website.

Everything was tartan:

We arrived a little late to the hotel from Edinburgh airport, and were the last ones of the evening to be served in the hotel's dining room, if you don't count the various stuffed animals that were accompanying us throughout dinner. Taxidermy is almost enough to put you off your dinner. Verdict: Ugly.

My starter was a terrine, which wasn't horrible, and came with oatcakes, apparently a Scottish staple. Lots of oatcakes. Verdict: Bad.

Ben was adventurous and had the venison for his main course, which tasted like liver, which is apparently what venison tastes like if it's left too long. And I had the duck, which was alright. The apple slices on top were the best bit! Oddly, Ben & my dishes are almost indistinguishable. Verdict: Bad.

For dessert I was adventurous and had some cloutie dumpling, a concoction of suet, flour, oatmeal, golden syrup, sultanas and buttermilk. It was delicious. Apparently you can eat it for breakfast, as it showed up again on the breakfast menu. The cream sauce was particularly yummy. Verdict: Good.

After dinner we retired to the lounge and had tea. The tea came with tablet, a sort of Scottish fudge that I was happy to try because I'd been searching for it for Michelle's colleague Maureen for a while. It was amazingly sweet - it's basically sugar. You can see it in the bottom of the picture, and reflected in the very cool silver teapot. I quite liked the scripty engraved Moulin Hotel. Verdict: Good.

After tea Dad & Jenny went to bed, and I bought Ben a pint in the Moulin Inn, which is the oldest part of the hotel, dating from 1695. They have recently started brewing their own beer again, and have been voted best pub in Scotland the past two years running, and if that isn't a good reason to have a late-night pint with your brother, I don't know what is. Ben had the somewhat-cheesily-named 'Braveheart,' and I had the darker 'Old Remedial'. Verdict: Goooood. Thankfully the night was looking up!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Felafel and Risotto, but not at the same time


Three Wednesdays ago we made a quick but delightful dinner of felafel. Here's my (fairly insignificant) contribution to the felafel – I chopped the veg! Red onion, field (we couldn't find English) cucumber, tomatoes and delicious chunks of avocado. The plate proves that I've learned what Alisha has to teach, namely: Presentation Is Important. Though she would probably have lined things up more neatly!

Meanwhile Michelle was working away, whisking the felafel mixture and cooking the felafels. She likes to use the two-spoon method to form them into patties. I'm afraid I was the one who forked the patterns onto the mixture while it was setting – clearly I had too much time on my hands after chopping the veg!

Here are the felafels, both cooking and finished on a plate. Cooked in oil they get deliciously crispy on the outside and remain soft on the inside. You can bake them instead, but they get a little dry, and if you cook them at the right temperature they shouldn't absorb too much oil. One hopes!

And here is Meg's finished felafel modelling for the camera. Isn't it 'fierce'? We couldn't find the pitas we wanted, so we used wholewheat tortillas instead, adding another healthy element to this meal – and perhaps proving my theory that one flatbread of the world can be substituted for another. Meg made a tahini sauce with lemon and garlic (I think...it's been a while! Was there another element?) and Michelle and I also had tzatziki on ours too. Tahini and tzatziki together at last! A fairly simple but altogether delicious meal.

Barley Risotto

So two Wednesdays ago found us at Alisha's. We had decided that we wanted to make something light and healthy, so we consulted Meg's recently acquired copy of Super Natural Cooking. We picked up some ingredients from Capers, including some barley, for it was to be a barley risotto. I liked this view looking downwards into the barley bag, but does anybody else think its shape resembles Australia? No?

We started chopping onions and garlic for the risotto and opened the bottle of wine that we had gotten (after consultation with the wine store employees) for the risotto – and possibly for drinking purposes. The wine was a 2005 Feudo d'Elimi Catarratto Bianco (which winegeeks.com tells me is "the second most-planted light skinned varietal in Italy, most notably the island of Sicily, where it dominates the western portion of the island." And sure enough, the bottle said 'Sicillia Indicazione Geografica Tipica' on it. It was chosen partially for its citrussiness, and was fantastic to drink. Well they do say you should only cook with wine you're prepared to drink too...

I zested lemon and supremed orange for the risotto. The lemon was super natural too, apparently. That's a little too much marketing for me...

We made a salad to go with the risotto. Michelle washed some greens...

...while Meg made a salad dressing and Alisha tended to the ever-needy risotto.

What went into the salad besides the greens was pretty incredible, actually. We used the balsamic that Alisha had bought on the field trip to Gourmet Warehouse (see the entries for April 15th and 26th) in the dressing. Words cannot describe the smooth mellowness of that balsamic. It needs to meet the fantastic olive oil that Michelle and I got on that trip. (I promised an entry on that! I remember!)

Also in the salad, walnuts:

Red onion:

Halved tomatoes:


And chickpeas:

Phew! What an ingredient list! It was an amazing salad, it must be said. The risotto also had a pretty amazing ingredient list, including a sort of goat cheese creme fraiche that Meg whipped up. Another delicous meal!

Desserts were provided by Capers, and I indulged in their amazing lemon tart, which has just the tiiiniest bit of whipped cream in it – thus it was that Meg and Alisha opted for a new (well, new to us) non-dairy lemon dessert (which I think one of you will have to explain) and Michelle had her beloved Nanaimo bar. I think Michelle keeps Nanaimo in business! Did anybody notice, by the way, that at the Fred Herzog exhibit Nanaimo was misspelled 'Naniamo'? A very different place. Anyway, here is my lovely tart:

Okay, no – here it really is:

What a meal! And what a mega-entry!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Passover, now and then

Passover (or Pesach – "pay-sach" – in Hebrew) is a Jewish holiday particularly associated with food (though most are!) – or in this case, with the absence of certain foods. If you are an Ashkenazi Jew (of Eastern European, rather than Mediterranean origin), as I am, you are prohibited the following foods on Passover: anything with flour, all breads, flat or otherwise (no pita, naan, crepes, tortillas, etc), nothing with yeast at all (injera is obviously out!), peanuts, beans, pulses, lentils, all pastas, cereals, rice, cakes, doughnuts, muffins, most alcohols with yeasts or grains . . . the list goes on. Think about not eating all that for eight days, and instead eating this:

This is matzah, which most non-jews have encountered before – a flat cracker-like bread with no yeast. The most kosher is shmura (literally 'protected,' – the grains have been monitored and protected from fermentation). Shmura matzah resembles cardboard in appearance (see above) and taste. Oddly this is some people's favourite type of matzah. Great shmura matzah is handmade and round and baked in 18 minute cycles (the number 18 is very important to Judaism, as numerologically the letters that make up the number (chet and yuud) also form the word 'life' in Hebrew: chai).

My rabbi step-brother sends us some shmura matzah every year, handmade in Brooklyn. I quite like egg matzah, which is more mellow tasting, and is really meant for the infirm, the young, the old and the pregnant. I have to say I don't currently fall into any of those categories, but I'll still eat it – it's the tastiest!

My favourite part of Pesach is the seder meal. Seder means 'order,' and there are two dinners, one on the first day of Pesach and one on the second. What we eat at the seders now is significantly different than the food even my mother's generation would have had at their childhood seders, so I'll describe both, as I found the differences really interesting.

We have matzah ball soup – chicken broth with dumplings (knaidlach) made with finely-ground matzah, eggs, oil and various seasonings (depending on what you prefer). Mm. Some like them light and fluffy, some dense and chewy (that's my favourite). Here's a picture of my dad making them. When they rise to the top of the boiling pot they are done (kind of like gnocchi!).

My dad makes the soup too, with whole chickens, artichokes, garlic, celery, carrots . . . lots of veg. Here are the two bowls of matzah ball soup I had on the first and second seders (don't worry, I soon added a second matzah ball to that second bowl of soup):

My mom told me her grandmother would go to the butcher for her chicken, and the butcher would pluck your chicken in front of you and cut it into about six pieces. If you were lucky, or if you asked for them, you could get unlaid chicken eggs from inside your chicken. These were then cooked in the soup, and my mom and the other kids would fight over who would get these eggs, as they were the tastiest bit.

This is the seder plate. At the top it says Pesach in Hebrew. Right below that is a pink blob of choraine, minced horseradish. It is pink because of beets, and should be extremely hot (spicy). My brother and I pile it on to gefilte fish (to follow) to make it as hard to eat as possible and see who can stand it.

To the right of the choraine is charoset, a mixture of walnuts, wine, apples and spices, and sometimes raisins. Here is a montage of the ingredients when I made the charoset for the second seder.

Continuing around the seder plate in a clockwise direction is an orange, parsley, a lamb shankbone and an egg. Every item has a significance, which you can read about here.

After the soup, we eat gefilte fish, which I have to say is an acquired taste. It is a minced combination of various white fishes, made into a . . . mound of sorts. This is as good as it ever looks:

And nowadays you just buy it in cans or jars, and it comes suspended in a horrible clear jelly. Here are two cans – why is one 'gold label,' I wonder? As you can see, you put choraine on it, partially to disguise the flavour.

However, gefilte fish used to be made by hand. My great-grandmother would go out and buy a live carp and cart it home, run the bath, and let it swim around for a week in the bathtub, until it was needed for its contribution to the gefilte fish. My mom and her brothers would visit it and watch it and name it (name most often chosen: Jackie), and then cheerfully return a few days later to eat it.

For the main course of dinner, we now eat turkey or beef, but people also eat brisket or chicken or lamb. My family also used to eat knishes, which are dumplings made with potato dough, schmaltz (chicken fat), and a filling of cheap meats (lung, liver, intestines, tongue) that were ground by hand. It was some serious work for my great-grandmother! Here is the table set for the first seder dinner. You are meant to drink four glasses of wine during a seder, but we usually just drink one glass in four parts.

And here is everybody digging in to dinner on the second night:

There aren't many desserts that are left to you at Passover, as flour is out, so that means no cookies, cake, pastries, etc. So some eat cakes made with egg whites (I ate one this Pesach made with thirteen egg whites in it!) or small macaroons made with coconut or chocolate. I like these candy fruit slices that always seem to turn up at Pesach:

And I made meringues for the second seder:

My mom says they used to have tsimmes for dessert, which is sort of a stew with prunes and apricots and raisins and a simple syrup (though other families make it savoury, and have carrots in it). Dessert would have been fairly simple.

Apart from the seders, Pesach is a difficult time for eating balanced meals. I managed to do it this year, but it was a struggle! Thankfully the next holiday – Shavuot – is the cheesecake holiday!

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