Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Moong Dhal with Roti

This recipe is one I've loved since I was young. I used to ask my mom to make it for me, as a special treat. It's kind of odd when you think about it - who'd have thought that vegetarian Indian lentils with roti could be seen as a treat?

The original recipe is from my Indian Delights cookbook, which was a gift from my parents upon leaving the house. Unfortunately, the recipes it contains are somewhat vague, to say the least - presumably, they are meant to be prepared by Indian women who already know what they're doing in the kitchen. You see, the cookbook was published by the Women's Cultural Group of South Africa in 1970, and the dedication reads as follows: "This book is dedicated to all husbands who maintain that the best cooking effort of their wives can never compare with what 'mother used to make'."

Since I've made this dish numerous times, and have never really followed (or figured out) the recipe, I'm including my version here. It's really simple and very satisfying.

Moong Dhal (Moong Lentils)
2 cups moong dhal (soaked in water for a few hours)
3 medium onions (finely chopped)
2-3 green chilies (seeds removed)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh chopped garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes (either canned or fresh with skins removed)
roti (or brown rice)
lemon wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish

1. Braise onions in oil until they are soft, but not brown.
2. Add all the spices to the onion mixture and stir to coat.
3. Add tomatoes and dhal and 6 cups of water.
(I never seem to get the amount of water just right - sometimes I end up adding a bit more part way through the cooking if it looks like it's getting too dry - but I'd aim for about 3 cups of water for each 1 cup of dhal. In the original recipe, the directions say: "Care must be taken that there is just enough water to cook dhal, otherwise dhal will be soggy." But how much is just enough . . . ?)
4. Simmer on medium low heat for about 45 minutes, or until dhal is soft and slightly browned at the bottom.
5. Garnish with chopped cilantro, fresh lemon wedges, and serve with hot roti (fortunately, you can buy roti at most grocery stores these days).

This dish will please vegetarians and carnivores alike!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Endive and frisee salad with blood oranges and hazelnuts

Here is the recipe for the delicious salad mentioned in Meg's entry on chicken pot pie. This is a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis's Everyday Italian. Sadly Giada is no longer with Michelle and I, but happily she will soon be enjoying a Renaissance at Meg and Darryl's! But before Giada left I nabbed this recipe to post for future reference. See also my entry that mentioned how endive and frisée are related.

Endive & Frisee Salad with Blood Oranges and Hazelnuts
For the vinaigrette

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil or hazelnut oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the salad

3 heads belgian endive, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
2 heads frisée lettuce, centre leaves only, torn into pieces
2 blood oranges or regular oranges, segmented
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

1. To make the vinaigrette, whisk balsamic, chopped shallots and honey to blend, and then gradually whisk in oil. We used olive oil, but hazelnut oil sounds delicious, and would probably add a deeper hazelnutty flavour. Season with salt & pepper.

2. To toast the hazelnuts, arrange them on a heavy baking sheet and put in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 7 minutes. Stir occasionally until nuts are fragrant and light golden brown in the centre. Let them cool completely and rub between your hands to remove the skins, then chop – either in a food processor or wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and chop them with the back of chef's knife.

3. Then toss the endive and frisée in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound the greens on plates and surround with the orange segments. Sprinkle with hazelnuts, drizzle any remaining vinaigrette around the salads and serve immediately.

This was a great salad. I don't think blood oranges were available when we made it (not the right time of year), but I would use those next time if possible. And the hazelnut oil – I'd like to try that too. But even without those it was a great combination of textures and flavours, and went really well with a hearty dish like chicken pot pie. Thanks for the memories, Giada!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Chicken pot pie, how I've loved thee all these years...

A couple of visits to Victoria ago, my Mom presented me with the little red journal from Chinatown which she had kept as a diary of her first few years with me. It documents her adventures in learning how to deal with me and the peculiarities of my personality. Not surprisingly, food makes an appearance in several entries! She pointed out one hilarious passage that says it all:

Oct 26 [1983] The things you come out with Meg – a 3 year old already asking for gourmet dinners. We got home late this aft. after making Halloween cookies at Pegs, so just had cheese + crackers + veggies + dip for dinner. Jim said "Isn't this a nice dinner?" You replied "No, not really, I'm used to souffles and things like that!"

If you ask me, it's not really my fault that I was a snob about food right from the start. My mom cooked such delicious food every night that I think it's fair to hold her responsible for my high standards. She gave me my love of food – introducing me to everything from Chinese, Greek, middle-eastern, Thai, and Indian food, to west-coast hippie specials like homemade sprouts, peach-coconut fruit leather, and tofu-fudgesicles.

But occasionally, there would be a night when she didn't cook... In Oak Bay there used to be a restaurant called The Blethering Place which made the best chicken pot pies hands down, and on those rare nights we'd stop by there to pick up chicken pot pies to go. Mmmmm. They became one of my ultimate comfort foods.

So, when the idea of making chicken pot pie for Wednesdsay Dinner came up, I was super excited, having never made one myself before. Alisha hates chicken pot pie (why, oh why Alisha?) so we waited until she was out of town, and then Michelle, Laura and I got to it - armed with 2 (!) kinds of pasty and my trusty Donna Hay cookbook.

Here's how it went:

We rolled out the puff pastry (ghetto style, with a wine bottle)

We readied the pie pan – which turned out to be a lost relic from my childhood! Laura and Michelle had somehow inherited it and didn't know it was mine. Oh how happy I was to be reunited with it.

Michelle taught me how to successfully transfer the pie crust to its new home inside the pie pan

Meanwhile, the leeks enjoyed hanging out under water, and looked pretty while doing it

Those leeks eventually found their way into this pan of goodness, and after a while were ladled into the waiting crust.

And this came out of the oven!

Mmmm, look how flakey that pastry is. How could that not be comforting?

We did though feel the need to pair all this nostalgic comfort with something fresh and modern and healthy. So we made a frisee-orange-hazelnut salad from Giada's Everyday Italian. I would include the recipe here, but someone still has my copy of the book, so you'll have to be satisfied with just a few photos for now. Laura, maybe you can redeem yourself by posting the recipe in the comments... or you could just give the book back :)

Chicken Pot Pie
[from Donna Hay's Modern Classics – Book 1]
1 shortcrust pasty pie crust (I always used to use the recipe on the shortening box, now I use butter... but everyone has their own favourite pastry recipe, so use that!)
375 g puff pastry*
1 tbsp oil
2 leeks, chopped
2 lb chiken thighs, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup dry white wine
250 g small button mushrooms, halved
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

To make the filling, cook the oil and leek in a pot over med-high heat for 3 min or until soft. Add the chicken, stock and wine. Simmer, uncovered for 45 min or until tender. Add the mushrooms and parsley to the pan and cook for 5 min. Blend the cornflour and water to a smooth paste, add to the pan and cook, stirring, for 5 min or until the mixture thickens and returns to a simmer. Add the salt and pepper. Set aside to cool. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick and line the base of a deep 9 1/2 inch pie pan. Spoon in the cooled filling. Roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thick. Cut a shape from the middle of the pastry as an air hole. Place the pastry top onto the pie. trim and press the edges together to seal and brush the top with a little egg. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 40 min or until golden and crisp.

* Anyone know a bakery in Vancouver that will sell blocks of puff pastry they made themselves? I hate buying the packaged stuff from the grocery store... but don't have hours to make it either. Donna Hay says " a local patisserie and order a block in advance" but I've yet to find a bakery who will sell it to me. Help?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Summer Sweets

I've cunningly titled this post in an open-ended manner so that I can add more summer sweets (or even autumn or winter sweets) if I so desire, as this is just a selection of some of the sweets I've consumed recently. I always thought I liked savoury foods more than sweet, but clearly I happily indulge my sweet tooth too. I even cross the sweet/savoury border occasionally (Sorry Alisha!). These sweets are presented in absolutely no order at all, with neither temporal nor geographic constriction imposing any structure upon them.

This first dessert is from C5 in Toronto, the new restaurant found at the top of the Michael Chin Crystal at the ROM. The jagged glassed annex was designed by Daniel Libeskind on a napkin, so I suppose it's fitting to open a restaurant there. No really, I saw the napkin. Everything had a sort of crystaline theme, and this violet cheesecake, violet syrup-soaked brioche and ice cream were no exception – they had crystalized violet flowers on them. It was delicious. The frosted tiny grapes were exquisite. This was certainly the most expensive of my summer sweets!

Here Michelle holds up a Tim Horton's sprinkled-dipped doughnut (or possibly, donut) up for inspection. This was after we'd visited the Simpsons-themed 7-11 in Coquitlam with Flora and Trevor (who took us on a suburban voyage exraordinaire! Thanks guys!). From high-brow to low-brow!

And here is Meg exclaiming on the root beer float I got at Helen's, a stop on the famous diner tour (post coming soon!). It was delish. Whoever thought of the idea of combining soda (!) with ice cream was a genius. Also, it came with a bendy straw, which never fails to bring happiness.

Here I am eating vanilla ice cream in a waffle cone in Mont St Michel, a monastic community and village on an island in Normandy, France. It was well-deserved – the queues were utterly ridiculous, and the stairs were numerous! You can't beat an ice cream cone on a hot day, though.

Here are the scones I helped bake in Toronto along with my mom and Ben. It was great to bake together. This seems like something Cathie and Meg and Tessa do a lot (or is that just canning and camping?!), but Ben's not usually particularly into baking (though he does make a mean salmon en papillote, I hear!). Anyway, it was great fun. The scones turned out perfectly. I really like raisins in them! Who knew? We had them with tea in my Bubbie's china cups. And served the scones on this matching plate. I may have had several. But Mom says they don't last past the first day, so it was a kindness to eat them on the day they were baked, really. Recipe to follow in another post. We had them with preserves!

Here are some sesame balls we sampled on our passage through chinatown on the diner tour. Okay, we only sampled one. Okay, only Michelle and I sampled it – Meg bought something too, but I can't remember what it was for the life of me. The sesame ball is one of life's joys. Sweet red bean paste on the inside, fried juicy glutinous rice dough on the outside, sesame seeds ... what more could you possibly want? Thanks to Amy for introducing us to the delights of dim sum.

This is me and a whole lotta candy floss (British English); cotton candy (US/Canadian English); fairy floss (Australian English); or barbe a papa (French). But since I was in France (Paris) it was called the latter, which means 'dad's beard'. I tried to sculpt it so. The girl in front of me got a massive portion, and that was called a 'super' (imagine French pronunciation here), so I asked for the smaller size, the 'normal.' Sadly, this was the 'normal'! Here I pose in front of the bumper cars.

Here is the sweet counter at Capers, where we often find ourselves of a WeDine Wednesday when we're at Alisha's. I just wanted to include a picture of it, because so many delicious lemon tarts, oatmeal cookies, fruit squares, brownies and nanaimo bars have emanated from this very spot. Also pictured is a very moist and deliciously chocolately cupcake I had from Capers.

And last but not least, some more waffle (or as the French say, gauffre). This decadent dessert was the end of a very good meal at the Musée D'Orsay's restaurant (where I've always wanted to go!) The restaurant is situated behind the façade of one of the two giant clockfaces – both clocks have glass faces and you can see out through them towards Sacre Coeur. Brilliant! And so was the waffle. Not too dry or bland, as many waffles are, and the chocolate sauce was rich and properly chocolately, and the ice cream was perfect, and the cream was real cream. Unbelievable!

Now that we've reached the end of my post I can think of so many sweets that could (and might soon!) be included in WeDine. Flora's amazing cheesecake with strawberries that we had this past Thanksgiving weekend, for example. Or the delicious almost flourless chocolate cake we made for Alisha's birthday up in Maple Bay. Or the hot chocolate Michelle and I had at stylish Vancouver chocolatier Mink. Good thing I've still got some room!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Prickly Pear Cactus Liqueur

I had this amazingly beautiful liqueur at the Canadian embassy in Paris this summer. What I was doing there was a long story, but the drink was was given as a gift to the ambassador by one of his staff on the occasion of his leaving service (the ambassador's retirement, that is). The ambassador then chose to share it with his family and with me and Michelle, which was lovely (and lucky for us!).

The liqueur is made with fico di india (literally 'indian fig'), which is one of the Italian names for the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The fruits are funny little red buds on top of the flat (and very prickly!) cactus paddles. The liqueur is made in Sicily and Malta, and is sometimes called Bajtra. The staff served it in cut crystal glasses, and it was a startlingly red colour, almost glowing in the light of the lamp. The flavour was strong and sweet and had sour notes too. The sharing of the drink was so generous and had a lot of meaning for the ambassador – such is the power of food and drink.

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