Monday, December 21, 2009

Radicchio, feta, and pecan salad

My mom and I have been working out the details of what we'll make for Christmas Eve dinner – trading ideas for more dishes than we could ever make (or eat) and agreeing to improvise together when the day comes. There's one thing that I'm hoping will make the cut: this radicchio, feta, and pecan salad.

I made this pretty pretty salad a while ago to go with a white bean soup, and loved it. Sweet crunchy pecans, creamy salty feta, bitter radicchio – it all combines to make something awesome. And it's red and white, and is super simple to make yet feels a bit decadent, so it's perfect, right?

Feel free to sub maple syrup for the honey in the dressing if you're making this for a honey-hater like I was. Or just because maple syrup and balsamic go so well together.

Just wanted to quickly pass on this recipe, in case you're also in the throes of menu planning and looking for ideas. Merry Christmas, happy eating!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Robust Bruschetta at the Epicurean Cafe

Beans, sausage, spicy pickled eggplant, green olives, rosemary, sage, raw onions, grilled and garlic-rubbed bread, plenty of olive oil and balsamic vinegar soaking in... I had this sandwich once over two years ago and it was impossible to forget. Unbelievable that it took me so long to go back for it.

Of course, the sandwich had the curse of being "across the bridge." The Epicurean Cafe, at Cypress and First, used to be one of our semi-regular spots when we lived in South Granville back in the day. They make what I consider the perfect breakfast (my favourite is the Earthy: eggs poached in amatriciana sauce, Italian sausage, spicy eggplants – those eggplants again, I know) and cultivate a leisurely European mood. This place is both luxurious and comfortable. But seriously, the marble tabletops, the French mother at the next table urging her son to finish his homework, the case of beautiful pastries, the vine covered patio, none of this matters really – I'd come to any kind of place that can make a sandwich this good.

And, I'm hoping to turn my kitchen into that place.It should be fairly simple to recreate, right? It's not fancy in any way, just an amazing combination of ingredients, and an unexpected form for a sandwich. So let's see, I'd have to:

  • Grill some ciabatta bread, and then rub it with an olive clove.
  • Grill an Italian pork sausage, and slice it in half.
  • Slice an onion.
  • Buy some pickled eggplants and green olives at the European Deli on Davie.
  • Cook some cannellini beans, or open a can...
  • Muddle everything together on top of the bread and generously drizzle on olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

So I'll try it, hoping they haven't used any unknown magic to make it so irresistible. And I'll also try to be stuck in Kits needing lunch more often, 'cause the Epicurean Cafe is definitely on my list of places I feel love for here in Vancouver.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Bread Update – Goodbye to Martha's rich and decadent white creations, hello to hearty, local loaves

It's been a long time since my last bread update. But I've still been making bread, and there have been many surprises, discoveries, and can't-stop-eating-this -it's-so-delicious bread moments that I've been dying to share with you all. So it's time.

Important events in my journey to bread master,
April–November 09
First, I ate obscene amounts of foccacia studded with whole cloves of roasted garlic, on several occasions. Tessa and I spent most of our overnight stay at the Warden's cabin at Lake O'Hara making and consuming it. I made it for Mom and I in our perfect little cabin on Galiano Island. We ate it for breakfast with leftover mussels and bratwurst – my god. Martha Stewart's foccacia is to die for. It rivals the legendary bread at both Pagliaccis and Rebar in Victoria, both of which have been a focal point for my homesickness over the years. The first time I made it, I was shocked, amazed, and bragged profusely (to myself and the kitchen). It's the month's supply of olive oil that goes into it, but I can pretend it's me.

However, after months of Martha's fantastic white breads – not only the foccacia, but also baguettes, fougasse, and the olive oil bread – I figured I should maybe learn how to make something healthy. Luckily, this thought came at roughly the same time that...

My CSA flour from Urban Grains arrived. I was out of town both weekends that it was available for pick-up (I so wish I could have been there – check out these pics of members meeting their grain, and each other), but Urban Grains did a great job of organizing carpooling and Karen Hamilton of Tiny Bites generously picked up my grain and babysat it for me for a week. When it arrived in my kitchen I was super excited, and also totally clueless about how to store it. I've since packaged up many mason jars full of flour for friends, frozen as much as I could fit in our tiny freezer, and stashed the rest in our slightly cool downstairs storage locker. I'm hoping for the best. And baking whole wheat everything as fast as I can.

In the early days of my whole-wheat baking frenzy, I found what has now become my most-baked bread: Multigrain Bread from London Foodie in New York. This is the ultimate healthy and delicious weekday bread. It can be made in two hours, including baking. I just took a loaf out of the oven a few minutes ago, on a Monday night, after running errands after work, making cheese and jalepeno biscuits for dinner, and it's still early enough for me to go to bed at a decent time. That's awesome, right? Not only that, but it's delicious. I actually crave this bread. I eat it all week and still want to make it again the next week. It's heavenly toasted, with jam, almond butter, or my favourite – pink grapefruit marmalade – for breakfast. It's hearty but moist, with great texture and a crunchy crust.

I tried making two different fancyish breads with fruit and nuts – Martha's cranberry-pecan rye bread, and this fig and fennel bread from the Fresh Loaf. The later, pictured below and at the top of the post, represents the height of my achievement so far. The sweetness of the figs, so soft, the crunch of the occasional walnut, the complex taste of the flours, cornmeal to add texture to the crust. The whole thing light, but moist, chewy, and so flavourful. I want to eat this every day.

Next I learned what happens when you leave dough in the fridge for a week before shaping and baking it – very good things. This recipe for Sweet Provecal Flatbread with Anise Seeds from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was my introduction to this technique, and I've since been experimenting with it some more, and talking up its amazingness to anyone who will listen. You stir together a basic no knead bread dough, throw it in the fridge and then take out a little to bake each night. With hardly any effort each day you can have fresh bread with dinner. And, having tried the anise flatbreads on day 1, day 3, and day 7, I can tell you that letting the dough sit for a week makes a huge difference. It's kind of like that 72 hour chocolate chip cookie dough – the flavours are unbelievably more complex after you put the time in.

So, what now? I've designated sourdough starter as my last bread mission of the year. Does anyone know a good technique/recipe? I've found billions out here on the internet, all different, and I'm not sure what works best. I did hastily try one last month, but I didn't look after it very well (abandoned it to go to Whistler when it was only one day old, oops) and it started to do strange things (like turn yellow, hmmm). But, I saved the jar with holes poked in the lid, and I'm ready to start again. Anyone interested in being my sourdough mentor?

I'm also thinking about what I should set as my cooking resolution for 2010 – maybe mastering sauces or salad dressings? I rarely put much time or care into learning proper techniques for anything, preferring just to go at it in the kitchen and have fun. But I've been so happy with the success that has come from starting at the beginning with bread and really applying myself to it – and making it part of my routine – that I'm looking forward to trying this again. If you have any ideas about what I should tackle, let me know!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why I'm back in the habit of freezing bananas

Sorry we've been gone for so long! A busy month turned into a busy summer, turned into a hectic fall, and here we are... But we've still been dining on Wednesdays (fish tacos with lemon olive relish, juicy burgers, gluten-free duck quiche!) and loving food all the same, which means we have lots of exciting things to report. If anyone is still out there, that is.

You can tell from the sunny photo above that my return to posting is taking us back a couple of months, not quite to the beginning of our silence here, but to one of the last beautifully warm weekends in September. However, I promise that this recipe will be useful even now when we no longer have unexpectedly hot afternoons to deal with.

Ever find yourself emerging on a weekend morning (or afternoon) dreaming of a thick, cool, smoothie, but knowing coffee also has to be a part of the waking up? I do. Which leaves me walking down Davie street juggling a Jugo Juice in one hand and a cup of espresso in the other. It's a little awkward.

Someone else must have had this same problem, because they created the perfect, inspired solution and put it on a juice bar menu in Cowichan Bay. They combined the coffee and the smoothie. Genius. I wouldn't have thought it was possible. Not only that but it's dairy free, and has no bad stuff in it at all.

I can't remember what the cafe (it's actually a cafe/gallery/ecoventure center) called it, but it was so perfect I had to go back for another one the next day. Darryl and I got to know the friendly girl who worked there. I sent my Mom and my sister there the next weekend, and they were hooked too. Then my sister came to visit and we recreated it in my kitchen. It woke us up every day for a week.

So, to the Liquid Cafe & Juice Bar in Cowichan Bay – I owe you big time for improving my mornings. I promise I'll visit again next summer.

Until you can get there yourself, here's what to do once you freeze those bananas:

Combine in a blender:
1 shot espresso* (I use one of those little stove-top espresso makers – if you don't have one, you could probably just brew a small amount of strong coffee for this)
1 frozen banana (I break each banana into 4 pieces before freezing, for easier blending)
2 tbsp almond butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
a generous splash of soy milk
a handful of ice cubes

Blend until smooth, thick, and icy (if your blender has an ice crush setting, use that). Pour into a big glass and drink with a straw.

* If I have time, I cool it a little while in an ice bath (pour the espresso into a little cup and place this inside a bowl of ice water).
Liquid Cafe & Juice Bar
1721 Cowichan Bay Road
Cowichan Bay, BC, V0R 1N0

If you make the trip to Cowichan Bay, make sure you go to Hillary's Artisan Cheese and True Grain Bread and Mill. There's so much awesome food stuff going on on Vancouver Island right now. Another post coming soon on the epic food and wine adventure my Mom and I had in the area in August. Can't let the decadent days of the past four months go unshared!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Contender for Summer Drink of '09

I bought a Saveur magaizine at the airport last week – it was The Texas Issue, how could I possibly resist – and it delivered, with a recipe for sangria so good that the awesome white sangria I usually make (this recipe from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson) has been outdone. Of course there's room in my heart for a favourite white sangria and a favourite red sangria, so there's no need to worry. But, I was just so surprised I loved this so much, as I'm usually not that wild about red sangria. It's often too sweet, or not really flavourful enough to wow me.

Saveur's Book Club Sangria has plenty of citrus (oranges, limes, and lemons) to balance the sweetness and add flavour, and the unexpected additions of pineapple and gingerale. It was really good – tart enough, tons of flavour, just the right amount of sparkle. Addictive. We didn't have a large enough pitcher, so made it in a big pot which we carried down to the back deck for easy refills while we ate a late (11:00!) dinner of bratwurst sausages topped with a choka of eggplant, tomato, peppers, sweet onion, and habanero pepper (more about that, and a recipe, to follow soon). The sausages were made nearby in Invermere, our appetites were fueled by a late afternoon mountain-biking adventure (my first!), it was the eve of solstice, the company was unmatched, and the sangria completed the perfection. Ah, why I love summer.

A few notes about the recipe:

  • Wine – we used Cono Sur pinot noir, which turned out to be a good choice.
  • Sweetener – we used agave syrup instead of sugar, so skipped the first step of boiling the sugar and water. We just combined all of the ingredients, using about 3/4 cup of agave syrup for a double-recipe. Taste as you go and add more if you like it sweeter. I love agave syrup because it dissolves easily in cold liquids, making it perfect for iced tea, lemonade, sangria... You can get it at most natural food stores.
  • Fruit – we couldn't get a ripe fresh pineapple, so used canned, and it was still good (would be awesome with fresh, but if you can't get it, don't fear). We also substituted nectaries for peaches, also with good results.

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The Freshest Salad

This bowl full of delicious, so-fresh-they're-nearly-still-alive greens was my first garden salad. As in, from our garden, greens grown with our very own hands. Last Friday, just after arriving back from Kelowna, and hours before leaving for Radium, I dropped by the garden (I can't walk by without stopping, no matter how little time I have or how much I'm carrying – I've tried) and picked a bunch of arugula and mixed greens. With them, I made my favourite salad of the moment: greens with chickpeas, feta, and a maple-balsamic-basil vinaigrette.

The chickpeas and balsamic dressing are inspired by the salad at Pagliacci's in Victoria which I love. Theirs has lettuce, chickpeas, tomato, carrots, red onion, and whole kalamata olives, and I always choose the balsamic vinaigrette to go with it. Although those other veggies are great with it (love grated carrots in a salad), I've become partial to this simplified version, with only the feta and chickpeas. Especially when the greens are as sublime as these were! Don't they look like they're nearly climbing out of the bowl with freshness? I could happily eat this every day.

If you want to join me in salad-heaven, here's what to do:

  • Wash and dry assorted greens.
  • Drain and rinse canned chickpeas.
  • Crumble feta.
  • To make dressing, whisk together equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a glug of maple syrup, a couple of tablespoons minced fresh basil, salt and pepper.
  • Combine greens, chickpeas, and feta, and toss with dressing until lightly coated.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

New Summer Drink! Tang-tastic!

Lemonade is always a traditional standby drink for summer though a truly great lemonade is few and far between. Lemonade has to be tart - if there isn't a tingling in your cheeks you've done something wrong. Tell us what you think of this one.

Strawberry Lemonade

2.5 cups hulled strawberries
a few whole strawberries
1.5 cups lemon juice (~12 lemons)
.5 cup honey
4 cups water
4 cups ice cubes
mint sprigs

1. Dissolve .5 cup honey in 2 cups boiling water, add ice cubes to cool it
2. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons (the amount of juice per lemon varies wildly, the original recipe called for 5-8 so i would suggest buying more than you need)
3. Blend the hulled strawberries
4. Combine the honey water, lemon juice, strawberry puree, 2 remaining cups cold water and ice cubes and stir or blend.
5. Pour into glasses, add whole strawberry and mint as garnish

Most recipes call for a simple syrup to sweeten this drink but we didn't want to wait for the heating and cooling so we tried to find an alternative: agave syrup (a natural sweetener) which will dissolve in cold water but couldn't find any. So we used honey instead and it was perfect, just the right balance of tart & sweet with a subtle strawberry flavour.

It will be a summer of delicious lemonade. Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mushroom Inspiration

I was inspired at the beginning of this week by a mushroom soup brought into work for a meeting (from Trees Organic). It was so delicious - earthy, creamy, pure liquid mushroom that I had to try making it.

For all those who have ever hated soup or thought it was just dirty dish water, make this soup and be converted. When soup is made with real ingredients, it has great flavour. I used 2 portabellos, 1/3 kg of white and 1/3 kg of brown mushrooms, but experiment with any you like (It can be a new soup every time if you change the mushroom combo). This was my first ever mushroom soup and YAY! it turned out wonderfully. Pretty close to the one from Trees. So make this and enjoy, be swept into the earthy depths of this mushroom soup. Hope you love it as much as I do.

Mushroom Soup

* 5 tbsp butter
* 1 kg/2 lb. of any mushrooms, sliced
* 1 x large chopped onion
* 1 clove garlic, chopped
* 1/8 c brandy, dry sherry or Madeira
* 4 c of chicken, beef or vegetable stock
* 1 tbsp flour
* 1/4 c milk/cream
* salt and pepper

1. Melt 4tbsp of butter in a soup pot and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, add the mushrooms. Sauté until the mushrooms are wilted and release their moisture.

2. Add the brandy or other alcohol. (Feel free to omit this, but it does add an dimension to the flavour.)

3. In a separate pan, make a roux ( melt 1 tbsp butter, stir in the flour, when combined, add the milk/cream bit by bit until combined)

4. Add the roux to the soup, heat soup to a slow simmer. Simmer for five minutes or so stirring constantly.

5. Add the stock and simmer for another 20 minutes.

6. Remove a couple of slotted spoons-worth of mushrooms (1 cup) to a separate bowl. Blend the rest of the soup. Recombine the mushrooms with the blended soup.

7. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Let us know how you like it, or any exciting variations you might have.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Silky Spring Baba Ganoush

We went to little India last weekend, and I couldn't resist buying some of my favourite kind of eggplants – beautiful purple little baby ones like these. I got hooked on these back when I was working in the Granville Island Public Market. We'd get all kinds of eggplants flown in from India and Thailand, and these ones became part of my regular repertoire when someone told me they were perfect roasted and blended into baba ganoush.

Done this way, their flesh is silky, pillowy soft, with a warm smokey flavour. Heaven. Blended with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, basil, and a few spices, it becomes a dip so delicate and delicious that I want to just slurp it off a spoon, no crackers needed. It is delicious with pita though, or veggie sticks. I'm dipping some yellow and orange pepper slices into it right now, making this perfect sunny Friday afternoon even more perfect...

Spring Baba Ganoush
10 baby Indian eggplants (the ones I used were 2–3 inches long)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
generous glug of olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
Fresh basil to taste (I used two stems picked from the little pot on my windowsill, about 10 large leaves)
salt and pepper to taste

Use a fork to pierce the skin a few times on each eggplant and then wrap each eggplant individually in foil. Roast eggplants in 450 degree oven until they are softened to the point that they collapse when you squeeze them softly (about 30–45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants).

Remove foil and plunge the eggplants into a bowl of ice water. Peel the skin off and cut off stems. Put eggplants in blender or food processor and add remaining ingredients. Blend until super-smooth and silky.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer has started say the patio meals and me

There is absolutely nothing better than sitting on a sunny patio on an endless weekend day with people that make you happy, an icy beer or a spicy caesar, and craving-worthy food. And I got to do this TWICE in the past two weeks. Which means the best season of the year is here. I don't care at all about that June 21st technicality. It's summer.

The top photo was taken at the Canoe Brew Pub in Victoria, where I shared a lazy Saturday supper with my Mom two weekends ago. We were out shopping (plants, couches, tea) and decided it was time for a patio beer break. Canoe has the best patio in the city I think – big stone tables, a view of the industrial part of the harbour rather than the tourist hordes, and beer brewed on the spot. A bitter stretched into a lager, then into calamari, and then dinner.

Our sun-induced laziness was smart in the end – the Grilled Steak Waldorf salad I ordered was delicious, going far beyond what you'd generally expect from a patio spot. I really want to recreate this salad at home. Delicate endive, tart apple slices, firm yet creamy sheep cheese (Salt Spring Island Montana – such a good cheese), perfectly-crusted flat iron steak, and walnut vinaigrette. Mmmmm. I'm diggin' the salad with meat as dinner lately (another post coming up on a Thai chicken and green mango salad I made tonight that was equally awesome).

The second photo was taken yesterday on the patio at The Five Point on Main Street. This was a classic Sunday afternoon patio meal, caesar, coffee, and all. My first time at the Five Point, and I think I ordered well. This sandwich was kind of like a lamb version of my favourite pulled pork. Messy, slathered in barbeque sauce, soft bun, lots of peppers and onions. So good. My mind is reeling with ideas for how we can put our lovingly-battered little BBQ to use down at Sunset Beach this summer, and I think I'll try to recreate this too.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Community garden update

Nothing has gotten me out of my computer chair and my work-induced funk lately like the community garden plot (now plots!) that we've planted this spring. What a fantastic idea it was to convert this potential condo-building site to a lovely communal growing space. Even if it's only temporary, whomever thought it up should be commended. In her last post Meg wrote about the potentiality of the plot (and how her friends might "get their hands dirty" – how true!), and now I'm just going to update everyone as to how things have progressed.

What do a bunch of city girls and boys know about gardening? Not too much, it turns out, which is why we needed to team up! Ryan, Carla and Darryl laid the topsoil on the plot and we returned to it last weekend to sow our seeds. We planted a variety of good things, including zucchini, pattypan squash, basil, chard, beets, cilantro, shallots and peppers in raised rows (inspired by the next-door-neighbour garden, I have to say, not by some innate gardening skill). We planted seeds according to the heights they might achieve, the amount of sun they would get, the room they would need to grow – and (of course) – the directions on the package!

We were astonished to find that pepper seeds actually look like the seeds you find in peppers; squash seeds look like the seeds you find in squash! Who would have thought? Perhaps we are a little too removed from the cycle of growing things, but it had never occurred to us that those seeds could actually produce ... produce. Incredible.

A few days later, in a spate of good luck, Michelle learnt that there were still some plots going, so she snapped one up, and we headed back to the garden to put topsoil on it and plant some seeds sent to us by Tessa; these included yellow beans, arugula and mixed herbs, savoury and parsley. We left one row fallow (for which some Victorian cucumber plants are now destined!).

One of the things that has gratified me the most about the experience is the community aspect of it all; people who would pass by us anywhere else in the city of Vancouver with nary a word are now cheerfully regaling us with their stories, idle chat and gardening advice. I've heard about new techniques, various strategies and Newfoundland hard tack sea biscuits (mm). It's been great.

It's also great to think of reaping the fruits (or veg!) of our labours – there are already sprouts springing up in little bright green rows on both plots. Unbelievable! We actually managed to start a few seeds on their way. I guess all that rain is good for something after all! I can't wait to see what develops, gain a little gardening knowledge along the way, and hopefully produce some tasty and (very) local meals with our harvest. More to come!

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Two exciting steps closer to eating local

I've spent most of this week in bed and on the couch dealing with a really bad cold and thinking about how to keep myself healthier. Eat more fruits and veggies! More vitamin-rich foods! Get more sleep and exercise! While I was creating this list in my head, two messages arrived in my inbox presenting exciting opportunities towards these ends.

The first was something I had been waiting for hopefully, but not sure if I'd be so lucky – an offer to purchase a share in the Urban Grains CSA. Urban Grains is a community-supported agriculture program. This is their first year of operation and their aim is to demonstrate new possibilities for local eating by providing Vancouver residents with access to grain grown locally in Agassiz.

I had signed up for their email updates many months ago and had been eagerly following their progress as they searched for a farmer to partner with and made decisions about how the CSA would work. I wasn't sure if I had joined early enough to be a part of it this year, so was so excited to be offered a share. At the end of the summer, I'll have in my hands a 20 kg bag of locally grown and milled whole-wheat flour!

I can't even visualize how much flour that is, but I'm sure I'll be packing up some smaller bags to pass on to my local-flour-loving friends and family. In exchange for recipes maybe? I'm going to need to amass a serious collection of whole-wheat bread recipes over the next few months in order to properly put all of that flour to use throughout the year. It's so great the way things come together – just as I've been learning to bake bread and really enjoy it as one of those good-in-every-way things, Urban Grains has success with their initiative and I get to be a part of something really awesome in the community. But so far a lot of the bread recipes I've been lovin' are white flour breads, so please share your favourite whole-wheat recipes with me! And, check out the Urban Grains blog to learn more about the CSA or get your name on a waiting list.

The second exciting email came a few days later – news that I've got a spot in the Davie Village Community Garden! I had previously been told I was on the waiting list, so had given up hope for this year. But management of the garden has changed and I guess they must have increased the number of plots or something because now I'm on the list. Number 94 to be precise, but out of 130, that's no so bad. I'll be going there on Saturday to register and be assigned a plot – so exciting.

And, also a bit scary. I have next-to-no gardening experience. But enthusiasm, passion, and a huge love for fresh local veggies – I've got all that. And a sister and mother who are gardeners-extraordinaire and always willing to answer my pleas for advice via phone. And... a bunch of friends who I think will be happy to get their hands dirty and put their minds together with mine to figure out how to do this, in exchange for a share in my small plot. That's how I'm hoping to do this – make my plot a mini community within the community garden, and see what we can do. I think together we'll be able to have at least some degree of success! So let me know what you think we should grow. Beets are already on the list (for Ryan and Carla, and also because I love them roasted so much), as is chard (suggested by Tessa because it can be harvested leaf-by-leaf as you need it, and because it's so so delicious). What else should we attempt?

So, great news and two important steps toward my slowly-progressing goal of eating locally and being more healthy. And, a small third step – I bought a little rosemary plant earlier this week and it's happily re-potted and chillin' in the sun on my windowsill. My makeshift herb garden begins again. It's going to be an awesome, healthy and happy, summer and fall.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Duck à l'orange…gastrique

Ah, Wednesday. Sometimes, when it's one's own turn to choose the meal consumed that week, all creative and rational thought flees the head, and meal ideas are found sorely lacking. A few Wednesdays ago it was my choice, and having left the decision late (the day of! tsk tsk!) I 'went to' my new 'go-to' cookbook: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. Emphasis on the 'lessons' part of things; the book is comprised of many how-tos (how to 'steam, poach and simmer,' for example, or how to carve a prime rib roast) and recipes that illustrate those how-tos.

All the recipes I'd tried so far had turned out well (particularly a tasty Wednesday wiener schnitzel that I shall have to document here soon), and so when mentions of duck caught my eye, I thought, 'Hey, it might actually be doable!' See, the preparation of duck is one of those things I've always thought left best to the pros, but I've found out how terribly wrong I was.

This should come as no surprise, as I had a phase (though I'm loathe to admit it) where I thought even soup wasn't something made at home, but, of course, after many tasty homemade soups (butternut squash, french onion, hot and sour, tortilla, and broccoli and stilton to mention a few of our more recent triumphs) I concede defeat. Perhaps anything at all can be made at home!

We were about to find out that cooking duck doesn't involve some arcane process that only chefs know about – it is, indeed, poultry, and though there are lots of tasty and slightly more complicated things you can do with duck (confit, Peking), it fries in a pan much like any other meat.

Except with perhaps more fat! Michelle had found us some duck breasts of the specified size (one large breast being about a pound, which would feed two people: we needed to feed five, so purchased two large ones and one smaller one) and Alisha scored them diagonally crosswise on top of their fat layer, making sure not to cut through to the meat. They looked exactly like the ones in Martha.

They rendered a whole lot of fat out on their first introduction to the pan, skin side down (ie. layer of fat side down too). This I manoeuvered out of the pan and into a heat-proof container through a complicated wrist motion that you could only emulate if you held a heavy pan containing three duck breasts and a vast quantity of hot fat.

I read now that Martha recommends a spoon for later transfer of fat. I must say I used the wrist method throughout, but Martha does instruct, right at the beginning of her book, to fully read each recipe through before embarking on any cooking. Which is a fabulous idea, I have to say, simple, but something I often forget to do. The book is really useful as a basic primer, and it spells things out that other cookbook authors often forget. I find Martha's publications often do this, and though some might say they take you too firmly in hand, I'm quite glad they do.

While I was practising my strange hand motions, Michelle and Alisha were making the side dishes. Martha had recommended turnip and a bitter green veg to complement the sweet fruitiness of the duck dish. We made mashed turnip, though not with the traditional milk addition, of course, but with butter instead, and a second delicious side of wilted kale with butter, oil and garlic.

Lastly, Meg made the orange gastrique which accompanied the duck. A gastrique is (according to Wiki): "a thick sauce produced by a reduction of vinegar or wine, sugar, and usually fruit. It is often served over meat or seafood to add a fruit flavor to the dish. It is made in its simplest form by caramelizing sugar and then adding vinegar." Which is precisely what Meg did.

She started out the pan with just sugar, which we watched miraculously caramelize before our eyes, without burning at all. It formed these beautiful sugar dunes. The sugar was cooked until 'uniformly amber,' and then half a cup of (good) red wine vinegar was added, reduced, and finally the orange zest which Meg had julienned and simmered to remove the bitterness. It formed a delicious gastrique, which we poured over the sliced duck breast. It was delicious, and the kale and turnip mash (also something I've never tried) were fantastic too.

Caveat: if you are not a big sweets eater, or dislike mixing sweet and savoury, you'd be better off dolloping the gastrique on the side, and applying it to the duck sparingly. The gastrique can be quite sweet, even with the vinegar. Personally I think sweet sauces on duck are indispensable (orange! sour cherries!), but they're not for everyone. Similarly, I know Martha Stewart puts some people off, but do give this book a chance: it's brilliant, incredibly well thought out in terms of pacing and learning, and gorgeously designed (of course). Funnily enough, it was given to my by my brother Ben, who, on a business trip here in Vancouver, managed to stop by just in time to sample the fruits of his generosity. Lucky him – and lucky us!

Duck Breast with Orange Gastrique
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cooking School

(To serve two)

1 large duck breast (about 1 pound)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 orange, zest of one half sliced into julienne, both halves juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup best quality red wine vinegar

Score crosswise (diagonally) through the skin and most of the fat, but avoid the flesh. Season both sides with salt and pepper and place skin-side down in pan on medium-low heat until pool of fat forms. Turn breast over and cook other side for one minute. Pour fat out into heatproof bowl (you can reserve for cooking the most delicious roast potatoes ever).

Continue cooking duck until skin is nicely browned and crisp, 10-12 minutes, spooning off excess fat. Turn duck once more and cook 8-10 minutes until medium rare. Transfer to wire rack to cool, 5-8 minutes.

For the gastrique, bring a small pot of water to a boil, and orange zest and simmer for two minutes, then drain. Heat sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat without stirring. Continue cooking until 'uniformly amber,' about 5 minutes more, swirling the pan slightly when the sugar has started to melt so it can caramelize evenly. Add the vinegar and combine with a wooden spoon, then continue simmering for 5 minutes more, until reduced. Pour in orange juice, add zest, and simmer until reduced to a thick syrup, about 5 minutes longer.

Slice duck crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices, and drizzle with sauce before serving.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wednesdays can be Julia days after all

I have to take back what I said before about Wednesdays and Julia days being mutually exclusive. A few weeks ago, it was my turn to choose what to cook for WeDine, and I was at a loss. Before I started aimlessly flipping cookbook pages, I remembered that we have that little neglected "coming soon" list here on our blog – a perfect time to knock something off.

Steak au Poivre seemed more doable than perogies or beef wellington, especially now that I have the perfect reference for it – Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I think this steak must be one of the simplest recipes in the book. I carried the book and a little jar of my cooking Brandy with me to work, we stopped on the way to Alisha's to pick up the very few ingredients needed for the steak and the potatoes and salad we planned to have with it, and without much effort produced a truly perfect meal.

Well, the one kind of effort it did take was following Julia's words carefully. Alisha made fun of me for switching kitchen personalities when Julia's involved, and I will admit I'm a bit obsessed with trying to emulate her methods precisely. Usually I'm much more about creativity than technique in the kitchen. But I realize that when working with a few basic ingredients, it all comes down to technique, and now that I've seen what wonders Julia's methods can produce, I don't want my results to be less than they could be. It's absolutely worth the effort for sauteed potatoes that sublime. Effort and the willingness to exceed healthy levels of butter consumption.

Our steaks came out perfectly, medium-rare, juicy, with tons of pepercorn flavour even though we'd only let them stand with the rub for the minimum half an hour. This was one of the first times I'd made a steak that couldn't have been better in any way. We all agreed that we'd have to make this again for our favourite people who didn't happen to be there that night. This recipe is classic in the very best way. Mmm, brandy sauce.

I've included the recipe below, along with another one of my favourites from the book – Légumes à la Grecque. I've made this simple recipe for vegetables simmered in an aromatic broth over and over again since I got the book. Paired with crostini and soft goat cheese they make an elegant, flavourful appetizer (we served them before Christmas dinner this year) and I've made them as a side for several meals, whenever I'm craving their juicy, herby, lemony taste. I always use red and green peppers and fennel bulbs in the recipe, but
Julia includes variations for many other vegetable choices – celery, mushrooms, eggplant, etc. – and really you could use any veggies you like, adjusting the cooking time accordingly. Let me know if you try it with something else and love it – maybe I could be convinced to break my pepper-fennel habit.

So the moral is, don't be afraid to turn to Julia on a weekday. She may be the perfect companion for a Saturday spent in the kitchen with lots of wine and resolve, but she can also come through when you want the definitive version of that perfect simple meal. Speaking of which, I made her whole roast chicken a while ago and it was out of this world. And all the recipe included was chicken and butter. Butter basted on every eight minutes throughout the whole cooking time. That's the secret to heavenly chicken my friends.

Steak au Poive (Pepper Steak with Brandy Sauce)
Adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves 4–6 people

2 tbsp mixed peppercorns (any mix of pink, white, green, black)

Crush the peppercorns roughly with a mortar and pestle.

2–2 1/2 lbs steak, about 1 inch thick

Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crushed peppercorns into both sides of the meat with your fingers and the palms of your hands. Cover with waxed paper. Let stand for atleast half an hour; two or three hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.

1 1/2 tbsp butter + 1 1/2 tbsp oil

Put the butter and oil in a heavy skillet just large enough to hold the steaks in one layer. Place over medium high heat unitl you see the butter foam begin to subside (this indicates the fat is hot enough to sear the meat). Saute the steak on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, and regulate the heat so the fat is always very hot but is not burning. Turn the steak and saute the other side for 3 to 4 minutes. The steak is done medium rare (à point) the moment you observe a little pearling of red juice beginning to ooze at the surface of the steak. Another test is to press the steak with your finger; it is medium rare when it just begins to take on a suggestion of resistance and spring in contrast to its soft raw state. If you have any doubts at all, cut a small incision in the steak.

Remove the steaks to a hot platter, season with salt, and keep warm for a moment while competing the sauce (we covered them in foil).

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp minced shallots or green onions
1/2 cup beef stock
1/3 cup cognac
3 to 4 tbsp softened butter

Pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the first tablespon of butter and shallots or green onions and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two more to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the remaining butter a half-tablesppon at a time. Pour the sauce over the steak and serve.
Légumes à la Grecque
Court Bouillon [Aromatic Broth]
For 1 pound (about 4 cups) vegetables 2 cups water
6 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced shallots or green onions

The following, tied in cheesecloth:
6 sprigs parsley including roots if available
1 small celery stalk with leaves or 1/8 tsp celery seeds
1 sprig fresh fennel or 1/8 tsp fennel seeds
1 spring fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
12 peppercorns
6 coriander seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sliced vegetables and simmer until tender. Then remove with a slotted spoon and serve.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

My New Favourite Thing

I had the privilege of spending this Easter long weekend here in Vancouver with my mom. And as is traditionally done, we ate and drank and cooked and baked for much of the visit. We had a few nice dinners out, but decided to stay in on Friday evening to munch on platefuls of Italian antipasto, which is my new favourite thing to make for guests!

According to Wikipedia, antipasto, or antipasti, means “before the meal” and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. Traditional antipasto includes cured meats, olives, roasted garlic, pepperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses (such as provolone or mozzarella) and peperone (marinated small green bell peppers, not to be confused with pepperoni). The antipasto is usually topped off with olive oil.

I prefer to have antipasto as a meal in itself, sort of a late-ish dinner served along with red wine. It's just so simple and tasty and feels super gourmet. Here's my method:

Alisha’s Antipasto

2 red peppers, cut in quarters with seeds and ribs removed
2 yellow peppers, cut in quarters with seeds and ribs removed
1 red onion, chopped into large chunks
1 cup cherry tomatoes, whole
8-10 whole garlic cloves, skin on
1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 bunch thin asparagus spears, ends snapped off

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Arrange all the vegetables in one layer in roasting pans. (Make sure to put the asparagus spears in a separate pan from the other veg.) Drizzle everything with olive oil, and season with coarse salt and pepper. For the asparagus, also add a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar and roll the spears around in the coating.

Add the peppers, onion, tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, and zucchini to the oven to roast.

Remove the eggplant, and zucchini after about 25-30 minutes. (Leave everything else in the oven.) At this point, also add the asparagus spears.

Cook for about 15 minutes and then remove all the vegetables from the oven. (The peppers, onion, tomatoes, and garlic should have been in the oven for about 45 minutes in total.)

Allow the vegetables to cool while you prepare the rest of the food.

Slice up some baguette, and arrange in a large bowl with assorted crackers and breadsticks. Then, place a variety of cheeses on a plate. I stick to sheep and goat cheeses due to my food restrictions, but you can use any cheese of your choice. Finally, arrange some cured meats and olives on a large platter. I often use genoa salami, prosciutto, smoked salmon, garlic shrimp, as well as spicy mixed olives. Once you have the meats and olives arranged, add the cooled vegetables to your platter.

Serve with red wine and enjoy!

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bread update – two unqualified successes and a lesson on the importance of salt

Maybe it's because it was the only firm resolution I made this year, but I'm feeling like my bread-mastering resolution has brought me great success so far. Focusing on this one mission in the kitchen, obsessively collecting tips from others (my sister, my favourite food bloggers, Martha) and abandoning my usual never make anything twice 'cause that's boring mandate, has allowed me to really seriously improve. And it's only been three months, so I'm excited about all of the experimentation that's still to come.

Here's what has occurred since my last bread update:

  • I made Martha's Olive Oil Bread again, and it was absolutely perfect. There isn't a single thing I would have changed. Darryl and I devoured the entire gigantic, moist, fluffy, rich loaf in a day and a half.
  • I also made the Multigrain Rolls again, and with the milk temperature thermometer-tested they rose perfectly. Unfortunately I was so obsessed with getting the milk right that I didn't pay enough attention to the simple task of making sure I added all of the ingredients. I left the salt out! Oooops. But this provided proof of how important salt is to the flavour of bread – the buns were tasty, but didn't have as much pop-in-your-mouth flavour as the first, salted, batch. I'll never forget to add the salt again.
  • And, I wanted to try making a nice moist whole wheat loaf. This Oatmeal Wheat Bread from Epicurious had lots of good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It was easy and really good. Amazingly good when fresh out of the oven, with butter slathered on. It has a really nice soft crumb, a crunchy crust, and just enough sweetness. I'd definitely make it again.

I've now worked it into my routine to make bread most Sundays. It's starting to feel easy, and I think I'm beginning to have a bit of that bread intuition I've been seeking. Next on the list to try making: the ciabatta and cranberry-rye recipes from Martha Stewart, both of which come highly recommended by my sister. And this Sunday's experiment, a loaf of no-knead bread, is at this very moment cooling on the counter. If all goes well it will be paired with soppresatta, roasted zucchini slices, and Heidi Swanson's Roasted Tomato and Paprika Soup tonight for dinner.

I think what I like so much about making bread is the thrill of being able to create so many different things out of the same few basic ingredients. Who knew that flour, yeast, salt, and water can take on so many different shapes and flavours? This feeling of endless possibilities is always what inspires me in the kitchen, and I didn't realize before that it could apply as much to baking as it does to throwing together a few things for dinner.

And there's an equal thrill that comes from being able to make something that you usually rely on others (professionals!) to make. I had a shining moment earlier this week, when Darryl came home from work and glanced at the counter, where a beautiful loaf of bread I bought at the French bakery was sitting, and asked "Did you make bread?" Nope, not today, but the fact that you assume I made that beautiful thing makes me so happy!

I'll leave you with a couple of recipes: the Multigrain Rolls, as promised earlier, and the heavenly Olive Oil Bread. Hey, we could trade – if you have any favourite bread recipes you think I should tackle on an upcoming Sunday, leave me a link in the comments!

Multigrain Rolls
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

Makes 2 dozen

Combine 1/2 cup oat bran with 1/4 cup flaxseeds, cover with 1/2 cup boiling water and let sit until water is absorbed (about 5 min). Set aside to cool completely.

Heat 1 cup milk to 110 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, 1/4 cup honey, and one packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast. Let mixture sit for 5–10 minutes, until foamy.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add 2 whole eggs, 2/3 cup large rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp salt, and the reserved flax and oat bran mixture. Stir/mix to combine. Slowly add all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. This should take somewhere between 2 and 3 cups of flour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until springy to the touch, about 3 min. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Generously brush three 8-inch round cake pans with olive oil. Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place eight balls of dough into each prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tbsp water. Brush rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with 3 tbsp mixed seeds (sesame, poppy, fennel, or...?) and 1 tbsp sea salt. Bake until dark golden brown on top, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pans to a rack to cool before unmolding.

Olive Oil Bread
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

2 cups water, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (about 4 1/2 cups) flour, plus more for dusting
1 ounce fresh yeast (or an equivalent amount of active dry yeast)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
1 tbsp coarse salt
cornmeal, for dusting

Combine water, flour, yeast and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add the salt and mix to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still sticky, about 3 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Fold in the following fashion: Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down, and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough after each fold to release excess flour, and pressing down to seal. Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap; let rest for about 15 minutes.

Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. To shape the dough, cup it between your rounded palms; roll it in a circular motion, pulling down on the surface of the dough to form a tight, smooth round. (The bottom of the dough should "catch" or drag a bit on the table as you roll; this will help it take shape). Transfer the round of dough to the prepared baking sheet, and drape with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

With the blade of a sharp knife, make four slashes on top of the loaf to form a square. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and bake until the crust is dark golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birth of a New Food Word

Observation: Have you ever noticed there is often one piece of food left on the plate at the end of a meal? A German friend visiting Canada commented that in Germany there wouldn't be anything left on the plate. This is apparently a very Canadian thing. I felt this ubiquitous morsel lacked a name/word and one needed to be created.

Possible Reasons: It is either through politeness or not wanting to seem greedy that we leave this solitary piece of food.

Result: This last piece of food, which all the people at the table probably want to devour, but won't eat for the aforementioned reasons now has a word of its very own.

The Creation Process: the first idea was that this was an orphan piece of food (some thought process brought a french pronounciation to mind - orfin) which somehow led me to dauphin (the name for the french crown prince) when I mashed these two words together I got ophin. When I shared this with others I was asked it if meant "the end" in french) and the final result was: aufin.

The word is: aufin (pronounced as in french, sounds like o-phin).

Go forth, spread our new word. When you see the aufin, exclaim this word and claim the food as yours! (Remember you heard it here first, maybe one day it will make it into the Oxford English Dictionary.)

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Desserts to Die For

As I sit here in my apartment, fresh from the bath, spending a cozy Saturday evening hiding indoors from the rainy weather outside, I find myself longing for a sweet treat. But since I haven't anything sweet stashed in my cupboards, why not instead reminisce of desserts past?

I must admit that I don't have a huge sweet tooth - and truthfully, if given the choice, I'd nearly always prefer a savoury treat over a sweet one - however, there are a few sugary treats that I'd happily include on my list of “desserts to die for.” Namely, chocolate mousse, home-baked pumpkin pie, and absolutely anything containing lemon curd.

Amaretto-Spiked Dairyless Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse is something I've been largely living without for years (along with things like ice cream and creme brulee and cheesecake) due to my allergy to dairy. So, when Meg showed me this recipe from Super Natural Cooking, I was ecstatic. For all you readers who are not dairy impaired, please don't be put off. This mousse is just as good, if not better, than its cream-based counterpart. And the best part: it's so simple! Do be careful though, as it's incredibly rich and therefore best consumed in small quantities.

1/2 cup organic chocolate soy milk
9 or 10 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
12 ounces silken tofu
1/4 cup Amaretto or almond-flavored liquor
1/4 teaspoon natural pure almond extract

Pour the chocolate milk into a small pot and bring to a simmer. Remove the milk from heat and let cool a bit while you melt down the chocolate chips. Place the chocolate chips in a double boiler (I use a large bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water) and gently warm the chips while you stir occasionally until completely melted. Remove from heat.

Add the soy milk and silken tofu to the melted chocolate chips. Process with a hand or regular blender until completely smooth. Stir in the Amaretto and almond extract.

Chill in individual bowls for at least 1 1/2 hours (the longer the better). The pudding will set up nicely as it cools.

Makes 6 decadent servings

Vodka-Crust Pumpkin Pie

I was given this recipe from Claire for a true baking emergency, when I foolishly announced that I'd take on the task of making Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Pies for two separate dinner parties. And this was foolish because I'd never actually baked a pie from scratch before. Ever. Thankfully, Claire came to my rescue with her tried-and-true Cook's Illustrated recipe, which featured the secret ingredient of Vodka (who would have guessed?) in the crust. And the pies were a huge hit!

Unfortunately, in my last-minute haste, I had to scribble down the ingredients and method onto some small post-it notes, which of course ended up lost in the baking aftermath. But I promise to post the actual recipe once I retrieve it again from Claire.

Meringue Nests with Lemon Curd and Fresh Raspberries

Now, this is truly a summertime dessert, but you can keep it in your arsenal until the sun comes out again.

For a couple of years, meringues were one of the top items on my list of "gotta try making this soon, because I just know it will be so tasty!" and I finally got around to doing so last summer, when my mom was in town for a visit. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't show the amazing lemon curd nestled inside that central well in the meringue, but I assure you that the curd was so perfect in this dessert.

The recipe was taken from my Good Housekeeping cookbook, which I use for almost everything. It's sort of like my go-to-cookbook, when I want to try something new and need a foolproof recipe to get me started. And it never seems to let me down.

Lemon Filling (see below)
Meringue Shells (see below)
1 cup raspberries or strawberries
mint leaves

1. Prepare lemon filling. While lemon filling is chilling, prepare meringues.
2. Spoon lemon filling into meringue shells and top with berries and mint leaves.

Lemon Filling
3 large lemons
1 tbsp cornstarch
6 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks

From lemons, grate 1 tbsp peel and squeeze 1/2 cup juice. In saucepan, whisk cornstarch and lemon peel and juice until blended. Add butter and sugar. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute.

In small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks. Into yolks, beat 1/4 cup hot lemon mixture, then pour egg mixture back into remaining lemon mixture in saucepan, beating rapidly to prevent curdling. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour into medium bowl and press plastic wrap onto surface. Refrigerate about 3 hours.

Meringue Shells
3 large egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200F. Line cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper. In small bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until sugar has dissolved. Add vanilla and keep beating until egg whites stand in stiff, glossy peaks.

Spoon rounded teaspoons of meringue into small mounds on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Make well in center of each round to form nest.

Bake until meringues are firm and just begin to colour, about 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave meringues inside for 1 hour or cool completely on wire rack.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Christmas at 145 Rendall Street

Since it snowed today, that means it's still winter, right? And if it's still winter then it's not too ridiculous for me to just be posting about Christmas food now, right? I don't really know where the past two and a half months have gone, but I couldn't let this post slip by. We invented such a delicious new mash this year that it has to be shared. File it away for next year. Or make it this week to make this weird cold feel a little less wrong.

Pureed celeriac was one of those things I kept hearing about and had never tried making. I was curious. So when we brainstormed ideas for different-but-still-classic sides for our Christmas turkey, I saw an opportunity to finally get celeriac into something, namely, the mashed potatoes. We all got excited about the idea of a mixed mash, and decided to throw in this and that as we went along. It turned out fabulous. Tasting it before dinner, we typed up the recipe right away, knowing it was good enough that it had to be preserved (you'll be happy to know the recipe below has not suffered from spending over two months fading away in my head!).

Merry Mish-Mash
(When I was young, I couldn't say "Merry Christmas" properly, and well, we all knew what this mash needed to be called...)
2 lb Potatoes (baby yukon gold)
2 lb celeriac root
1 parsnip
1 apple (Gala)
1/2 cup (or more as needed) unsweetened almond milk
4 tbsp buter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop potatoes, celeriac root, and parsnip into 1/2" cubes. Boil until soft.
2. Cut apple into 1/2" chunks or slices. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan. Saute apple until very soft and beginning to caramelize.
3. Using a hand blender or potato masher, mash the cooked veggies and apple together, adding milk and butter until creamy and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In the spirit of happy winter memories, I'll leave you with a few photos from our Christmas breakfast. Christmas morning is one thing we never mess with. Each year, my sister makes Panettone from scratch, with organic orange and lemon peel from the Italian Bakery. All you really need to be perfectly happy is this hot out of the oven with butter. So we keep it simple, usually just eggs and oranges on the side. In recent years we've added soy lattes and mimosas. Pure heaven.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frankly, sometimes the Globe & Mail is just plain wrong

Not too long after Frank (the new Frank Gehry-designed restaurant at the Art Gallery of Ontario) opened, it received a couple of not-particularly-favourable reviews in the Globe and Mail and soon became a sort of critical pariah, its interior likened to the worst sort of austere modernist structure (a subway platform? really?) and its food generally panned as pretentious and unappealing.

But Sean and I were mostly unaware of the buzz as we met at the AGO for a cultural experience (onto which we just happened to decide to tack a food experience). You may remember Sean from the Country Style post in which I foolishly took a vegetarian to a Hungarian restaurant. He very graciously snapped this picture of me in front of the AGO with my camera phone, and all the photos for this post were taken thusly (sorry for the small size!).

As we had our priorities straight we decided to eat before art, and so headed into Frank to see what was on offer. Sadly we were told that it was booked up into the next week.
Luckily, I spotted two free barstools at the well-stocked bar.

The bar was a great place to have a little lunch, providing a good vantage point and a nice focal point for all the hustle and bustle. It was nice to be a part of things and to chat to a couple of the waitstaff. The design of the bar (and indeed a whole wall) full of shiny glass cubbyholes for hundreds of wine bottles was brilliant. You can see part of it in the picture above.

We started out with some bread that came with a delicious goat butter – it was clearly goat, but not very salty, so there was a small shell filled with sea salt on the table. You can see the butter and salt behind my dish here.

Which was sooo tasty. It was called (okay, possibly a little pretentiously) Still life with pear, pancetta and fig, and it consisted of a pear (poached in my favourite, riesling), with caramelized fig, pancetta and blue cheese (hooray) – a Quebec bleu Benedictin. Mm. A classic combination, but done really well. The presentation was great and the flavours were fantastic.

Sean's dish, was, if possible, even better than mine. It was the soufflé of the day (!), a caramelized shallot and Maple Dale cheddar soufflé with lentil and roasted carrot salad. The soufflé's texture was absolutely perfect, which is hard to achieve! And so flavourful. We shared a side of frites with lemon mayo (really tasty) and quince ketchup (not sure I liked it, but I do like quince).

With lunch I had a glass of Cave Springs riesling, which was a quite nice inexpensive option, and it served me well for dessert too, which I shared with Sean. It was a baked bittersweet warm chocolate pudding with salted caramel sauce and sweet whipped cream. It crossed the sweet-savoury divide with impunity (several times!) and worked well. Sean and I really liked the salt on the caramel sauce and we salted it some more (from the seashell!). If you squint, you can make out the shapes of Sean and my spoons in the foreground as we were about to dig in.

We had some tea to finish the lunch and it came in the loveliest bodum double-glass cups. Mine was an Earl Grey with darjeeling, assam and rose petals. Wish I'd had my proper camera there as it was beautiful.

It's hard to know how some reviewers come to such unfavourable conclusions about a place where you've had a great experience, but perhaps it's because when they go they taste professionally, whereas the average restaurant-goer is having a social experience, and is perhaps more ready to be impressed in terms of food and atmosphere, and the excitement of visiting somewhere new.

Frankly, I thought Frank was a great experience, and well worth a visit. Give it a try and see what you think.

Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West Toronto
416 979 6688

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Molasses and Yogurt Look Pretty Together – A Bread Update

I haven't become a bread master yet, but there has been some definite progress, so I figured it's time for an update. Before I progressed forward though, I went back – back to one of my old favourites.

There's a quick bread recipe in Mark Bittman's endlessly useful book How to Cook Everything which I used to make often, back in the day before I pledged myself to bread-mastery. It's really easy. Perhaps even easier than cornbread, which is saying a lot, as I'm always shocked at how easy cornbread is. But, I hadn't made it for a while, mostly because it calls for molasses, which hasn't found its way into my cupboard in a long time. What brought the molasses back? Orangette's Chocolate Chip Ginger Molasses Cookies (which are so incredibly good, they've totally revived my interest in making cookies – not the point here, but I wholeheartedly recommend them).

Besides molasses, another attractive ingredient in this quick bread is whole wheat flour. I'm always out of white flour and absolutely rolling in whole wheat flour. Which leads me to try sneaking whole wheat into places it doesn't belong. Like in Italian grape bread, one recent bread mission that failed, I think due to my misguided use of whole wheat:

With part whole wheat flour, the grape bread just didn't have the right texture, didn't taste like a fluffy yummy dessert. I actually had to throw most of it out, which is something I never do. So I'm trying to get smarter with my whole wheat flour decisions. Which means finding recipes that actually call for it. Thus, Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread. This bread is dense, richly flavoured, and a tiny bit cakey with a nice crunchy crust. Over the past week, I paired it with chilli, poached eggs and caponata, and plum-orange jam for different meals – all very successfully. So it's versatile too. It's got everything going for it. I've included the recipe at the bottom of the post so you can get in on the action.

Now that we've discussed my bread failures and regressions of the past month, it's time to talk about what I've actually achieved, what I'm proud of.

First, I bought an oven thermometer! And discovered exactly how big of a lie my oven has been telling me for the past 4 years – a hot 100-degree-sized lie, to be precise. Gasp! Now, I dutifully check the thermometer before even thinking of sliding anything in, and I haven't burned one single thing since. Total success. Thanks Martha!

Second (also Martha-related), I attempted to make Multigrain Rolls, from her Baking Handbook. The result: I kind of screwed them up, but they're still delicious! And, I know what to do to make them right next time.

What went wrong? I killed the yeast by using too-hot milk. I was pretty sure that I had done so right from the beginning, but didn't have enough ingredients left to start over again and really wanted to make these rolls. Solutions? I'm going to add to my thermometer collection with an instant read thermometer to test the temperatures of milk and water before I subject my poor yeast to these warm (not hot!) liquids. I also called my sister to relate my yeast-killing woes, and sought her advice of course. She was familiar with my situation and commiserated that it's really easy to overheat milk (yay, I'm not stupid!). So, two new additions to my list of bread-teachings from Tessa:

  • With milk, it's better to err on the colder side. If the liquid is too cold, the bread will still rise, it will just take longer. Slower rising is better than no rising at all, I figure! It's such torture to watch bread fail to rise. I leave the house for two hours and return full of hope, only to be so disappointed upon seeing that sad ball of dough looking just like it did when I left...
  • If you're heating the milk a little less to be safe, it's a good idea to pre-heat the bowl that you'll be mixing the milk and yeast in. This ensures that the milk doesn't loose its heat too quickly. To do this with a stainless steel bowl, just run it under hot water for a few minutes.
Here's what the rolls looked like – not plump but still quite pretty:

My plan now is to try making the rolls again, equipped with this new knowledge. I think one of the things that works against my mission to attain mastery in the kitchen is that I'm always drawn toward experimenting with new recipes and rarely repeat one, at least not soon after enough to be able to build on my experiences. So, I'll restock my ingredients and then make these rolls again. And they will be perfect! Eating the small dense ones of this first batch, I can imagine how heavenly they would taste had they risen – the dough has a wonderful sweet and light flavour despite all of the healthy grains in there (whole wheat flour, oats, oat bran, flax seeds) and they're topped with coarse salt, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. This is a recipe it will be worth taking time to master. And speaking of the recipe, I'll post it in my next bread report (hopefully along with photos of a perfectly risen second batch), as this post is already too long – so stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's that quick bread recipe:
Quick Whole Wheat and Molasses Bread
[from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything]
Butter for greasing pan
1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt (I used goat yogurt)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup molasses

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 4-inch or 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
2. Mix together dry ingredients.
3. Stir the molasses into the buttermilk or yogurt.
4. Combine the liquid with the dry ingredients, then pour into the loaf pan.
5. Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about an hour. Cool on a rack for 15 min before removing from pan.

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