Thursday, November 22, 2007

You've gotta be wacky to be this easy and delicious...

This post is an attempt to compensate for skipping out of Wednesday Dinner tonight... and a contribution to future WeDine's – a much needed one because we are sorely lacking dessert recipes! And what a dessert this is.

I have all these hazy childhood memories of making wells in flour, dropping chocolate chips one by one on top of chocolate batter, and sneaking tiny slice after tiny slice out of cake pans. This cake is so easy that a small child can make it, a small child or an exhausted twenty-seven year-old with pressing web design homework, a craving for cake, and no butter in the fridge. I decided to make this cake at 11:20 last night. It was in the oven at 11:30, and I was eating the first too-hot-to-cut slice at midnight. It's crazily easy (wackily...) and so good. Incredibly moist, not too sweet, and crusty on top soft in the centre. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

Wacky Cake
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a cake pan. Pour the following into the pan and stir to mix thoroughly:
2 cups flour

1-2/3 cups sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

Pinch of salt

Make three wells in the dry ingredients – one big, one medium-sized, one small. In the big one pour
1/2 cup canola oil. In the medium one pour 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. white vinegar. And in the small one pour 2 tsp. vanilla. Then, pour 1-1/3 cups lukewarm water on top of everything.

Mix it all together with a spoon. Then sprinkle chocolate chips or other yummy things on top. Bake for about 25 minutes. That's it!

See, we could even make this on a Wednesday! And then I won't have to eat it all by myself...

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

French Food, Part One: Brittany

These lovely rows of macaroons were waiting for us (my Dad, Michelle and I) in Quimper, Brittany. Brittany is part of the northwest arm of France, and part of the celtic fringe. Apparently people from Wales speaking Welsh and people from Brittany speaking Breizh can understand each other, though they've lived apart for hundreds of years. We were there on holiday with my family from England, and had driven into Quimper for the day – and the day happened to be market day. This was very exciting from a food point of view, but very bad from a navigating the city point of view.

This shot gives some impression of how crowded it was along the streets. There's my Dad on the left-hand side of the picture – good thing he's tall, or we would definitely have lost him in the crush! The stripey yellow building on the right-hand side is the macaronier and salon de thé where those marvellous macaroons were made. In the distance is the cathedral, arrayed around which were many cafes.

The first thing we did when we got into the city was head to one of those cafes and have some lunch! Priorities! Here's my dad pouring us some 'Breizh Cola,' clearly a rustic local drink.

My dad and I went for a Croque Monsieur, that ubiquitous French ham and cheese sandwich, made with béchamel inside and gruyëre cheese on top. Toasted to perfection.

And Michelle had some moules frites (mussels and fries) in this shell-shaped bowl. With little bits of lardon on top.

Before lunch, as we navigated our way to the cathedral square, we came upon some food stalls in the market, which were fantastic. Giant wheels of cheese! Small wheels of cheese! Saucissons! The signs on the saucissons say 'Veritable Saucisse seche, bien seche, pur porc' for five euro. And there was a 'saucisson du fromage au chevre' for four! In the cheese stall there were (from left to right) a tomme de brebis (apparently tomme is, according to wiki, "a generic name given to a class of cheese produced mainly in the French alps. Tommes are normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses, or when there is too little milk to produce a full cheese. As a result, they are generally low in fat," a vieux salers (old salty!), a tomme de chevre, a tomme de saudie, a morbier (the one with the black layer of ashes separating it horizontally in the middle), an andouille sausage and some tomme de pyrenees. We had had a slice of the chevre on the way to lunch, but didn't end up going back for some as we thought we would. Sigh. We'll have to go back next summer.

But perhaps I should start back at the beginning. Michelle has very nicely explained, in her entry on cidre our madcap rush to the train that would take us from Paris to Brest at the start of our French holiday. By the point that we collapsed into the seats that had been assigned to us (and that someone else had taken up temporary residence in), we were starving. So we had some train food. Expensive and of varying quality. This collage shows Orangina, a fizzy orange drink which is ubiquitous there (but which, of course, you can also get here), some fruit salad, a hot cup of thé (which was never served with milk), my train croque monsieur (the less said about that, the better), the stylish bag it all came in, and some rhubarb and strawberry compote, which was delicious. Though not for the cooked-fruit impaired. Below that is la vache qui rit! I love this small wedge of soft cheese, though I really don't know why. Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the fun of unwrapping its foil wrapper. Maybe it's the red cow on the front sporting earrings made of her own cheese! In any case, it's tasty.

After meeting up with my parents in Brest, we eventually went out for a crepe lunch (with cidre, described a little in Michelle's entry, and to be elaborated upon in an upcoming entry on crepes). We then settled, for the next week, in a little village called Kergudon, and spent the week relaxing on the beach and making food together for sixteen people. Breakfasts would start with me, my dad and MIchelle heading down to the next village to the artisanal boulangerie for 20 croissants, 4 pain au chocolat and 4 brioche. We were not popular with the locals, as we often took the last croissants! But they were delicious.

Tony (my step-uncle) would make his famous scrambled eggs (or egg-flavoured butter, as my dad refers to this recipe) and we would be away! Liberal lashings of Bonne Maman jam (cerise and myrtles sauvages), orange juice and coffee completed the meal, all consumed outdoors at a giant table. Here is some of that fantastic Breton butter, which contains cristaux de sel, small suspended crystals of Guerand salt.

Lunch would be whatever we brought with us to the beach, and wouldn't be very complicated. There were ice creams and ice lollies purchased at the beach, though – I favoured the almond Magnum, a bar with vanilla ice cream in the centre and chocolate and almonds surrounding it. My nephew Joe had one of those stripey twister lollies that he made last about two hours (through careful drip management).

Dinner was an extensive affair, and required several gin and tonics in preparation:

We'd all pitch in to make dinner. One night, Jenny made a pizza dough from scratch, and just off the top of her head. I don't know why this impressed me so much, but the results were delicious – Jenny's one of my food heroes. Here we are doing some prep-work in the kitchen, and below that are the results – a tasty pizza, coleslaw made by my step-brother Jon, some paté, potatoes, some salad and some pickled beetroot, which the British love, and can't seem to give up, even in France!

A couple of nights we fired up the two barbecues on the property and cooked some hamburgers and pork.

Most days we'd stop by the supermarche and wonder at the enormous selection of good (and cheap) wines available. In the supermarket! What a civilized idea. We tried a number of reds and whites, from the very dry to sauternes and other dessert wines. We also tried numerous cidres, biers, chouchenn (the ultra-sweet liqueur made from cidre) and port. More on this to come in WeDrink!

But here, our finest moment in Brittany caught on film – boxed wine! One night this was the only white wine left in any of the cottages, but it had been put in the freezer overnight by mistake. We had a great time trying to thaw it in the sun, and trying to get the spout to produce little drips of white wine for us. It finally obliged!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The first thing I did with my share of the 1/4 of a cow

I made short ribs, for the first time ever! Mmmm, mmmm short ribs.

On Thanksgiving weekend, my Dad, sister and I were driving up Vancouver Island on our way to Maple Bay for a cozy cabin day and dinner. We made the essential stops for veggies to accompany the turkey who lived a happy life, bread to go with Betty's delicious soup, and of course, special-cheese-shop-cheese. But there was one more stop on the way, unrelated to Thanksgiving... The butcher! We parked the van outside and ran through the rain and into a big square warehousey place.

Inside, it was like a bigger version of a regular meat shop, except that there was lots of glass behind the counter, through which we could see all the butchers working on one side, and all the cows hanging up to age on the other side. Very cool. Even my recently un-vegetarianized sister thought it was very cool. We chatted with the girl behind the counter, who's great grandfather started the farm and the butcher business. We actually spent a long time chatting with her, because we discovered that when you buy a 1/4 of a cow, you get to make lots of complicated decisions about how you want it butchered. So we learned a lot. And about four weeks later (all of the beef is aged for at least 21 days) my Dad showed up at our apartment with a cardboard box full of carefully wrapped beef in all of the cuts and sizes we'd decided on!

This past Monday just felt like a short-ribby kind of day, so I started looking for recipes. I looked in all of my cookbooks, and Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything)was the only one who offered short ribs. So I looked online, read through many recipes on Epicurious and several random southern cooking sites. But I didn't find what I wanted. I was planning to make short ribs in an Italian-style tomato sauce, to serve over the fancy tagliatelle noodles Darryl picked out a Parthenon the weekend before. So, I made up a recipe. I roughly followed Mark's method for short rib stew (with carrots and potatoes and such) as I really didn't have a clue about how to approach cooking these things, but ignored the ingredient list and threw a bunch of stuff in that I thought would be tasty with pasta.

It took about three hours, but it was delicious! Really rich and comforting. Definitely I'm-trying-not-to-despair-that-it's-winter food. I am trying to trust that winter offers good things this year (since summer kind of betrayed me, not enough to loose its favourite season status, but enough to make me consider other contenders) and I can tell this recipe's really going to help.

Short Ribs with Tagliatelle

2 tbsp canola oil
6 beef short ribs

1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 cups roughly chopped mushrooms
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/4-1/2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
* I used dried herbs cause I didn't have any fresh on hand, but if you've got fresh, throw them in!

6-8 roma tomatoes, cut in 1/2" chunks
1/4 cup port
2 cups diced tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

3 red/yellow peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped roughly
2 heads garlic, roasted and scooped out of the skins

tagliatelle noodles

The first step is to brown the short ribs. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the ribs well on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as they cook. It should take about 20 minutes in total - I turned them over about every 5 minutes, until all sides were nicely browned.

Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside. Pour out all but 2 tbsp of the fat. Add the onions to the pot and saute them in the remaining fat. After the onions have softened a bit, add the mushrooms and the herbs as well. Once these are all nicely sauteed, pour in the tomatoes, tomato juice, and port. Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar.

Now return the browned short ribs to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to low and cover. You want the sauce to simmer slowly, braising the ribs until they are nice and soft, and beginning to fall off the bone. Mark says this takes about an hour. I think I cooked them for closer to two hours, but just cook until they're the texture you want. I wanted to be able to tear/cut them up into small pieces to add to the sauce. About halfway through the cooking time, I added the chunks of roasted pepper and the roasted garlic.

Once the ribs are cooked to your liking, remove them from the sauce, let them cool a bit just so they're not too hot to touch. [This is a good time to put the pasta on to boil.] Remove the meat from the bones and break it up into smallish bite-sized pieces. Meanwile, reduce the sauce - remove the lid and turn the heat up to high, stirring frequently.

Add the pieces of beef back into the sauce, laddle the sauce over the tagliatelle, and you're ready to go!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Scallops love Muscadet

Les Vergers
Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Sur Lie
France (Loire Valley)

Yesterday, my mom, my sister and I were roaming around town, enjoying the sunny afternoon and looking forward to having uncle Ken over for dinner. As usual, most of our activities for the day revolved around food. In the car, on our way to Granville Island – after a visit to Monde Chocolat and Les Amis du Fromage – we concluded our half hour discussion of what we should cook for dinner, deciding finally on scallops. Specifically, the scallops we made in the summer for WeDine, sauteed with chicory and apples. Yum, yum. Once at Liberty Wines on Granville Island, I described this dish to the nice man who asked if I wanted help, and he brought me straight over to French section and pronounced "Muscadet Sur Lie." His description of its virtues won me over right away: apparently this palette-cleansing wine had the ability to make each bite of our perfect scallops taste as amazing as the very first bite.

Well, he was right. The Muscadet was great with the meal – light, crisp and refreshing, but neutral enough to let the flavours of the food shine. Very dry and low in acidity, it was a bit lacklustre when tasted on its own after the meal.

Something interesting... Liberty offered two levels of this wine – an entry-level one (which I chose) aged sur lie for six months, and a premium-level one aged sur lie for nine months. My helper said that the nine-month one would just "do its (palette-cleansing) job a little bit better."

Here's what wikipedia has to say about sur lie aging:

Sur lie literally translates from the French as 'on lees', [lees being the yeasty residue remaining in the cask after fermentation]. 'Sur lie' wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine), giving an added freshness and creaminess to the wine.

Oz Clarke says that aging the muscadet sur lie "gives it a bit of life and depth and makes all the difference between interesting neutrality and boring neutrality."

So now I know I'm a fan of interesting neutrality – I'd buy this wine again, next time I'm cooking up some rich seafood.

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