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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