July 31, 2005

Chili, Biscuits, & Technology

Mostly, I tend toward cold, light, and refreshing meals at this time of year. Sometimes, however, the need to cook from the pantry, or the sort of odd light-headedness I get from eating sporadic non-meals for too long a stretch, makes me want something hearty. Chili fits the bill, because it is definitely hearty, but also employs the flavours of Mexico which eases the fact that it is not really summer food in most respects.

I've been on something of a mission to clear out my fridge before we head away to Scotland this coming week, and thus I have sometimes found myself with interesting challenges on my hands. Having used the last of my tortillas, and not really wanting to get or make more that will then languish in my absence, and being quite low on bread, I decided to make biscuits to go with my chili. Usually, we can demolish a pan of biscuits in pretty much record time, and if there were any leftover, I could always freeze them. Besides, biscuits are a classic sort of Texan dish, and quite appropriate for chili. Especially, if they are cheese biscuits.

For the chili, I was simply using up ground beef that was in the freezer, and a miscellany of beans and tomatoes in the pantry. The various seasonings are things that I always have on hand, and so I made what for me is a fairly standard bowl of mixed bean chili.

I should say here, that I am a huge fan of "proper" Texas chili, the quintessential "bowl o' red" as well as more faithfully Mexican dishes, such as Posole (which to me has always seemed to be a sort of chili), but I also enjoy my mother's style of chile, which as you can see, uses ground beef, kidney beans (I also added black beans, since they were handy), tomatoes, and peppers. It is a fine, comforting dish, and it makes a fine conversion to Chili Macaroni, Chili Dogs, or even Chili Omelettes, if that's what floats your boat.

The biscuits are my oh-so-simple biscuit recipe, gussied up with a little cheddar cheese and some freshly snipped sage from the window sill. For the first time, I actually used the food processor to mix the dough - filled with trepidation that the dough would yield tough little bullets instead of my predictably airy little scones. I need not have worried, as it turned out. The processor did an excellent job of integrating the cheese, and the biscuits rose up as tall as I could have wished.

They were as good a match for the chili as I had hoped, too. The flavours of sage and cheddar complemented the chipotle-tinged chili, and the whole meal (rounded out with cole slaw) turned out rather well.

I'm cautiously pleased with the food-processor adventure, and will probably employ it again. I am often torn between my absolute pleasure at doing things the old fashioned way, and the speed and convenience that comes with using newer kitchen technology. The only reason I might not use the processor, really, is that it is marginally more effort to clean than a bowl and wooden spoon. Since I can throw the processor bowl and lid into the dishwasher, that probably shouldn't be much of a deterrent.

The chili is gone, having been reincarnated (heh) as chili dogs a couple of nights later, and the few biscuits that made it through the night were eagerly devoured the next day.

The fridge is almost bare. We leave for Glasgow in two days.

July 28, 2005

Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers

Fortnightly update!

The main Always in the Kitchen website has a new recipe:

Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers - two variations!

and a new essay: Authenticity

"...Mentioning that you like beans in your chili might get you shot in parts of Texas – or at least win you a severe tongue-lashing. While the beans/no beans debate is familiar to us northerners, the great tomato/no tomato debate rages just as fiercely. "


July 22, 2005

Summer Patio Wines

I should preface this write up with the caveat that I was not in the best of moods going into the tasting, uncomfortable due to the heat and an unfortunate overindulgence in potato chips that left me feeling rather grotesque.

Note to self: enough with the potato chips, already.
Note to busybody Superego: La la la la la-la! (fingers in ears).


The Summer Patio Wine tasting has become an annual event. Every July, we stagger into the restaurant out of the oppressively humid heat, and set about drinking wines that fall into the category of refreshing, inexpensive (usually), and "quaffable."

We started with a sparkling Veuve du Vernay Blanc de Blanc Brut from France, an impressively inexpensive $13. There was a crisp dry scent of apples that reminded me of a good sparkling cider, and sure enough, that was reflected on the palate, too. This definitely hit all the critera, being refreshing, cheap, and at only 11% alcohol, pretty quaffable.

The next two wines were from a small, new winery in the Okanagan, Joie, in Penticton. We had their Unoaked Chardonnay 2004, and their "Noble Blend" 2004. It should be noted that the "noble" comes from the last name of one of the winemakers, and is not related to botrytis affected grapes. Both clocked in at $18, which is actually a little on the high side for the Patio category, but not completely out of the ballpark. The Chardonnay was devastatingly true to typicity: soft, slightly grassy, but most of all - buttery and oily. Thank goodness, for my sake, it was unoaked, because I do not care for oak in my white wines. Given how big and true to form this Chardonnay was, I suspect that if it were oaked it would have that awful acrid wood taste that I associate with Chardonnay's from California (especially in the early 90s). The Noble Blend was a blend of Gewurtztraminer, Kerner, and Muscat, and smelled tropically sweet. Everyone at the table agreed on apricots, and I got a strong hit of guava, too. The palate was thick, sweet, and overwhelmingly apricot. I could have made cake with it, but it wasn't nearly refreshing enough for a hot summer patio. A bit cloying, really. I will be interested to see what this winery does in the future.

From there, we re-visited an old favourite - Cloudy Bay's 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand. Cloudy Bay is one of the more famous of the New Zealand wineries, Oyster Bay hot on its heals. Along with the fame has come a corresponding jump in prices, so our little Sauv. blanc came in at $35 - a bit ouchy for patio sipping. Its good acids cut nicely through the stickiness of the weather, and its aromas of grass, foliage and dusty road were right on target. The palate was cool and crisp and mild, with a touch of raw green vegetable that wasn't unappealing. It wasn't as good as I remember it being, but it was quite enjoyable. It may have suffered in the line-up placement behind something as sticky-sweet as the Joie Noble Blend.

Our fifth wine was the universally reviled Famiglia Bianchi 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina. In my experience, Argentina does not do wine well. I've had a handful of drinkable Malbecs, and the rest, in my opinion, has been dreck. This was no exception: Smelling predominantly of oily rubber, the combined flavours of wood, grease, pitch earned a "nastiness" notation on my tasting sheet. (((shudder))) That was not worth the $20. Don't pour for me, Argentina.

Moving on rather rapidly, we hit the Quail's Gate Old Vines Foch from 2002. Another BC winery, and one that's produced a number of very respectable wines, this particular wine is of limited availability and has something of an almost cult-following. The nose was quite closed, but the flavours were juicy and dark. At $19 per bottle it's not bad value, but I wasn't blown away by it, either. Still, this was one that I finished the glass on, so perhaps that speaks for itself.

The final wine was a 2003 Paradise Ranch Late Harvest Merlot, also from BC. Like most late harvest wines, it was sweet - but not as cloying to me as the Joie Noble Blend. The colour was a light, pinkish red, and the nose and palate both reflected honey very strongly. I got a taste of raspberry, but other than that the fruit seemed to come under the category of miscellaneous. Perhaps some berry? By this point in the tasting, I was fairly distracted and quite irritable, so I may not have done it justice, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as some of the other tasters. It was $30.

There wasn't a really clear winner, and we actually failed to take our usual poll at the end of the tasting (I guess I wasn't the only one that was distracted and tired). I would say that in pure Patio requirements, the Veuve Vernay reigned, but I also enjoyed the Cloudy Bay and the Old Vines Foch. Our next tasting will focus primarily on BC small lots. I intend to refrain from the potato chips before that one.

Previous Tastings:
Portugese Table Wines
Pinot Noir
South African Red Wines
Spanish Wines

July 20, 2005

Road Rage and Buffalo Wing Pizza

I don't believe in road rage. I resent the terminology, in fact, because I think that it leads to people shrugging off inexcusable behaviour and poor self-control with a "what are you going to do?" shrug based on a faux-scientific term.

Today, on my lovely walk home across the bridge, I was startled off my stride by crazed yelling two lanes over from the sidewalk. A couple of guys had jumped out of their convertible and were screaming at the driver of another car to get out of his car, and punctuating their yells with full-shoulder punches to the roof of the car in question - whose driver was huddled over the steering wheel in a flinching posture. I suspect, based on the slight angle of the car being assaulted, that the issue may have been as simple as the convertible being cut off by the other car. The punches looked comic-book, as though they could punch through the roof to reach their target, who quite sensibly stayed put. I'm glad they weren't punching the windows.

I don't know what happened to create this situation, but I'm fairly sure that there wasn't any contact between the two cars. I was that close that I would have heard it. Traffic had stopped, snarled helplessly , while these two adult men tried to wrench open the door of the car. I screamed at them. No one else seemed to be doing anything, so I screamed. "Stop that right now!" This flew out of my mouth before I could even gauge how unwise it might be to yell at angry, aggresive men only a few feet away. "Get back in your car!" I yelled. "Get off of the bridge! Do it now! Stop that right now!" I remember the exact litany, because I repeated it twice until they retreated to their convertible and traffic started to move again. By this time, there was another woman standing beside me, also yelling "Stop it!" and she had the presence of mind to note down the license plate. I asked if she had a cell phone. She said that she was almost home and was going to report the incident, and I gave her my card in case they needed another witness.

When I got home, she had already left me a message to let me know that a number of other people had already phoned in the information from their cell phones, and that the police were dispatched to locate the car. I was relieved to know that I wasn't as alone out there as I had suddenly felt, yelling at a couple of thugs.

I got home, adrenalin still rushing through my veins, my head sort of swimming.

I shook the last of my indignation at society away and started to make dinner. I still had some lovely Tiger Blue cheese from Poplar Grove in the fridge, and my spidey-sense was telling me that it should be used, and pronto. Buffalo wing pizza seemed the easy answer of the day.

I make this pizza a little different, every time I make it. Basically, all you need is a crust (expired link removed, please see comments below for recipe), a little blue cheese dressing, some chicken breast that has been sauteed in a little hot sauce - classic style, please, this is not really the place for funky pineapple or even a nice smokey chipotle - and a good scattering of small chunks of blue cheese. Sometimes, I add a little mozzarella, just to make it pretty.

Today, I was running low on all-purpose flour, so I use half whole-wheat, giving me the pretext of it being healthy food. This is, however, without a doubt the least healthy pizza in my repertoire. No vegetables (have some celery sticks on the side to play up the "wing" factor) and a rich, rich sauce. For some reason, whole wheat never really browns nicely in my oven, unless I use an egg wash - which I was far too lazy to do here. So, if the crust looks a little pale, it is. It's also cooked through, however, and has a little colour in spots. It is delicious.

In fact, all of my buffalo wing pizza variations have been tasty. It's a killer combination of ingredients, really. Tangy, creamy, and satisfying. I like Trappey's Red Devil sauce, which you can't buy in this town (along with grits and California wine, Red Devil is my principal import from Bellingham), but any hot sauce that's good for wings will do. Frank's would probably be fine, if that's what you like. I've never tried it, but I hear it's good.

I'm feeling calmer, now. I've had a couple of slices, and a beer, and I'm no longer convinced that society is falling to shreds before my very eyes. Yet.

July 19, 2005

Orzo is My New Best Friend

Orzo is my new best friend. Good thing, too, because suddenly it is everywhere – on every menu, at every picnic or buffet or wedding reception. I book a lot of food for events through work, so when I tell you that orzo is everywhere, I’m not kidding around.

For some time now, since before orzo’s sudden explosion in popularity, I’ve been meaning to try a particular recipe from the Cooking Light Collection #6. It is innocuously named “Creamy Parmesan Orzo” or "Orzo with Parmesan and Basil" or somesuch, in the side dish section of the recipe break-down.

The recipe is easy to make, fast, and shockingly good. The formula runs something like this:

1 cup orzo, uncooked
1 tablespoon butter
2.5 cups liquid (half chicken stock, half water in the original)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, minced, torn or chiffonade
pinch salt
fresh ground black pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sized saucepan. Add the raw orzo, and stir around for a couple of minutes to get it well coated. Add the liquid, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes (depending on what “medium” is on your stovetop), stirring frequently. When the liquid is mostly absorbed, and the orzo starts to “catch” on the bottom of the pot, turn the heat off and add the parmesan, basil, salt and pepper.

Serves 4 as a side dish. Or, two greedy people who like starch. *ahem*

The original recipe also included toasted pine nuts, which I omitted simply because I didn’t have them, but I also think that the dish did not suffer for their absence. Not only were we exclaiming over the deliciousness of the dish constantly throughout dinner (sorry, apricot chicken, tasty as you were, you paled in comparison to the orzo), we were also dreaming up ways to vary the dish quite endlessly. These were some of the speculated changes:

  • Broccoli florets (small) added five minutes to the end of cooking
  • 1 cup of sliced fresh spinach, exchange parmesan for blue cheese, and toasted walnuts
  • Sundried tomatoes and kalamata olives with basil and parsley
  • Medley of finely diced peppers and feta
  • Exchange the water for milk for an extra creamy dish and add sauteed mushrooms

This is the dish that those packaged “Lipton Sidekicks” aspire to be, but fall short in sodium-frenzied starchy mediocrity.

July 17, 2005

Gyoza factory

I have been told that in some Asian families, children often participate in making dumplings - quickly learning the skills required to nimbly fold soft sheets of dough around a variety of succulent fillings - and the entire family sits around a table making dozens of dumplings at a time. Some for now, some for the freezer. It's a mental image that I love: it reminds me of making perogies with my mother, although we never made them in such a quantity (or all that often).

For the most part, I am a factory of one. Still, after the first couple of clumsily folded dumplings, I usually get into a groove and manage to fold three dozen neatly folded dumplings in less than an hour all by myself. Today, I decided to fold both halves of my package of gyoza skins - a total of six dozen dumplings. Since mixing up the filling takes the same amount of time, whether you are doing one or six dozen, it doesn't really add much time to the task to do a whole lot at once.

Since my last batch of gyoza were chicken, ginger, and water chestnut, I decided to go back to my standard pork recipe for this batch. Who knows what the next batch will be - I'm thinking I might try something with shrimp. So now, once again my freezer is stuffed with little treasures. I have my Jamaican Jerk Patties, I have some burritos (although they are running low) and I have six dozen gyoza, just waiting for a noodle-feast! I am pleased with my afternoon's work. Less than a couple of hours, really.

July 14, 2005

Lentil Salad - Two Ways

Link Update! You can find the below-mentioned recipes in the comments of this post.

Fortnightly update!

The main Always in the Kitchen website has a new recipe:

Lentil Salad - Two Ways - featuring both a Turkish Lentil Salad and Ethiopian Azifa

and a new essay: A World of Salad

"...Even more certainly, I declared to myself that I would never, ever order salad on a date. Certainly, any salad scrumptious enough to make me change my mind ought to be sinful enough to qualify for exemption from the rule."


July 12, 2005

Odd and Ends, or Primavera di Estate

Sometimes, what you have on hand is enough. In this case, quickly grilling some languishing zucchini and peppers while the farfalle pasta boiled up, and tossing with fresh herbs, a diced tomato, garlic and olives. And, just like that, dinner is ready.

I love it when thing work so simply, and so well.

July 11, 2005

Little Jerks

I can seldom resist the temptation to tamper with a recipe, even when it's one as delicious -sounding as Templar's Jamaican Beef Patties. In my defence, the only thing that persuaded me to vary the recipe was the knowledge that, lurking in the depths of my freezer, were some little containers of Palle's wonderful homemade jerk sauce, carefully saved from the last Caribbean dinner we had. How could I resist? Much of the seasoning in the recipe immediately fell aside as I gleefully poured about a cup of reserved jerk sauce into the beef and onion mixture. I did add a fresh jalapeno, as well - so between the habaneros in the jerk and the whole (seeds and all) jalapeno that I blitzed with the bread crumbs, there's a certain spicy quality about them that would probably seriously harm some of my more heat-wary friends.

I made a half-batch, as I only had one pound of ground beef at hand, so I also halved the dough recipe, whirring it up in my food processor in almost no time. I did use a little less water than called for - I always like to go a bit scant on the liquid, to prevent toughness. I've never used the processor to make pastry before, and I was quite impressed with the results. Tender, even a little flaky. Viva la "pulse" function!

I divided the dough into twelve pieces, and rolled each out out to roughly hand-sized, as directed. The dough is full of curry powder, giving it a lovely flecked appearance and a yellow hue from the turmeric (the latest and greatest cancer-fighting food, you know). It does take a bit of time to roll out a dozen pastries - thirteen, all told, when I re-rolled the cut scraps into an extra, slightly large patty. I was glad that the dough took so little effort to make, since the rolling took longer than I had thought. Each patty is about the size of a samosa, excluding the last one, which is more along the size of the ones you can buy from shops in this neck of the woods. I had a little filling left over, since I didn't want to risk exploding pastries, and that has been tucked into the fridge to be made into a feisty pasta sauce later in the week.

The proof is in the tasting, of course, at the end of it. Happily, they were delicious! I will have to make them again, of course, using the proper seasonings - just to see how they turn out. But I was happy to have a couple for dinner, and I plan to freeze any that don't get wolfed down in the next day or two. I've just added a new entry into my collection of freezer treasures - little homemade gems that are an absolute delight to pull out when one is short on time and in need of a quick, tasty supper.

July 10, 2005

A Day in Pictures

I didn't really set out to spend all day in the kitchen, but brief shopping excursions aside, that's pretty much what happened.

Breakfast was a quickly cooked and even more quickly eaten breakfast quesadilla, full of scrambled eggs, chile pepper rings, cheese, and Bufalo Chipotle hot sauce.

This fortified me long enough to get some much needed shopping out of the way in the morning, before coming back to the kitchen.

The first thing I set about making was a Turkish Lentil Salad, which I had promised earlier would be in the works for this afternoon. It takes less than an hour, and is pretty relaxing work.

The flavours of lemon juice and white wine vinegar sink into the warm lentils and take with them a payload of salt, cayenne, and most of all cumin. It's delicious while it's still hot, but it's even better when it has a chance to sit in the fridge for a while, to let the flavours meld.

I must have gotten a little faster at the vegetable chopping, since I had time to knock together a white bean hummus, flecked with parsley. I used the recipe Molly posted on Orangette as a departure point, but substituted cayenne for cumin. It's not hot, but it has a little zing to it.

Moving on, my only other real task of the day was to make Challah, which I wanted to do because a) we were perilously low on bread, and b) I wanted to make some as a thank you for someone who did something very nice for Palle and I last week.

I went with the traditional braid, as I often do. This is the bread that I often bring as a gift to housewarming parties, so if you think it looks familiar, it should. This is the "single decker" as opposed to the "double decker" that I sometimes do when there's a lot of people to feed.

I love the little extra bit of rising that occurs in the oven - oven spring - which creates lovely, decorative little tears between the braided strands, and shows of a wonderful contrast between the shiny burnished brown of the egg-washed curves of the braid and the pale, non-reflective, almost white interior of the loaf.

With my last task out of the way, and the bread lying on a rack in the bedroom, which is the coolest room in the house and is the only place safe from cat-predation of baked goods, I decided to have a whack at a raspberry almond torte. I monkeyed around with the ingredients to reduce the amount of oil called for, and studded the batter with fresh, juicy raspberries.

The almond appears as ground almonds, which I buy pre-ground (but very fresh) from Parthenon on West Broadway. It is essential to use fresh ground almonds, because I once made this cake with somewhat stale ground almonds left from Christmas amaretti, and the cake was barely tolerable and had an aftertaste. Not this one, though.

Fresh as a daisy. Er, fresher, actually, as daisies have always seemed a little rank. The reduced oil actually seemed to lighten the torte, making it airier and giving it a real spring in its slice. I plated the torte upside down and dusted it with confectioners' sugar for a simple, rustic dessert or snack. The raspberries did sink down to the bottom of the batter, though, so next time I may have to add them to the top of the unbaked torte, and perhaps they then will only sink half-way. Still, it should suffice for lunches for the coming week - if it lasts that long.

And now my day is drawing to a close. I still need to bag up the challah and put away a few dishes, and then it's quittin' time.

Good night.

July 07, 2005

Double Ginger Chicken Stir Fry

There is an art to the stir fry, and it's one that has taken me a long time to learn. Most of the principles seemed pretty simple - cut things small, cook quickly over high heat, use contrasting textures of vegetables for maximum effect.

Somehow, though, my stir fries were never quite what I wanted them to be, until one night that Palle made dinner for me. It was the onions. They were cooked, but still crisp - a textural issue which had eluded me for some time. His secret? Add the onions at the end.What? Onions go in at the beginning. Almost every dish I make seems to involve chopping up an onion first. It felt wrong to add it last. I cringed, looking at the neat pile of chopped onions on my cutting board when I first put the theory into practice. I probably made a face. But, at the end of it, I added the onions last, and they had the texture I had been looking for. A whole world of stir fry opportunities opened up for me.

There are a few secrets to stir fries, and most of them involve the word "not." Not to add too much thickener to the sauce, not to cook too long so that the tender vegetables go limp, not to add too many different seasonings that will make the finished dish taste like all of the leftovers at a Chinese restaurant were smooshed into the same takeout container. There are a few positive rules, too: always make sure your pan is very hot before you begin, or you won't properly sear the meat or infuse the aromatics into the hot oil.

Double ginger chicken stir fry came about because I love fresh ginger. I also like the background heat of dried ginger, and combining the two as the dominant characteristics on a background of chicken just sounded like a really good idea. I added mushrooms, because I like them, and because they also play well with ginger. I added bell peppers, because they are a sought-after stir fry item in this household, and I added celery because I had some on hand.

The stir fry is a college mainstay for good reason. You don't need a lot of meat (but you can use it if you've got it), it has loads of flavour, and uses vegetables that are usually pretty affordable, particularly in the summer. It's a cheap topping for inexpensive rice or noodles. You can substitute ingredients according to whim, availability, and budget. You can pick a flavour and go deep - spicy, or gingery, or garlicy, or black-bean, or hoisin, or oyster sauce, or... or... it's really up to the cook.

July 06, 2005

Too much tzatziki

I have no sense of proportion when it comes to making sauces, so perhaps it should be no surprise that I have way too much tzatziki sauce left after my lamburger dinner on Sunday. The solution? Souvlaki! A little lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, a little time goes by, and boom! Onto the grill.

Shortly after that, it's into a split pita with an enormous spoonful of greek salad and the aforementioned tzatziki sauce, and dinner was ready.

My day was not quite as simple as that sounds, however, because I had lessons in camera maintenance to learn. Namely, that if you leave the camera turned on while plugged into your computer for 24 hours, the fresh batteries die. So, with my souvlaki marinating away, I ran out to the corner store, cursing under my breath at the shoe that would not stay on my foot, skitter into the shop to get stuck behind some slow-talking customer who couldn't make up his mind what kind of phone card he wanted to purchase, bought the batteries with the last of my change, and skittered back home.

I still have a little tzatziki left - just enough to take care of the leftovers.

Mmmmm. Souvlaki.

If you don’t know me by now…

I’ll have to supply more details!

Linda has tagged me for The Cook Next Door meme.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I was seven years old, making oatmeal cookies that I had “assisted” with many times before. I panicked and added only 1/8 of a cup of flour instead of 1 cup plus 1/8 of a cup. The cookie dough was very liquidy, but I pressed on anyway, and the entire pan of cookies flowed into a solid, caramel coloured mass. We pried it off the sheet and cut it into squares, called it candy and ate it anyway. It was tasty, and my family was very reassuring that it wasn’t a dead loss, but I was quite embarrassed. It didn’t stop me from tackling independent cookery again, but from here on I was more disposed to ask advice if something didn’t look quite right.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Without question, my mother, who was not only an excellent cook, but had an almost magical ability to make great dinners out of almost nothing at all. There are some other significant influences, though, including the Dutch neighbour we had when I was growing up. She introduced the family to Tai-Tai gingerbread, olieballen, krokets, and all manner of fascinating food. She had been a professional cook for most of her life, and had stories to tell from working at exclusive clubs to being the cook for a logging camp. I was impressed at how much enjoyment she took telling stories about various culinary flops ("The next perogie filled the entire plate!") and her blithe manner of handling things not working out as they should.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Nope. There are very few photos (other than school pics) of me as a child, and it would never have occurred to us to photograph something going on in the kitchen.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I suffer from Fear of Frying. Specifically, deep fat frying. I’ve done it, but it makes me nervous, and I tend to avoid it.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Best: My mother’s cast iron frying pan, and my Goldhampster 8” chef knife
Worst: None, really. I have a zester that's not as useful as I'd hoped.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Peanut butter on pancakes
Fruit yogurt on pancakes
For the record, I don’t think these are weird at all, but this is what I am told…

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Three quickies:Your favorite ice-cream…
Dark chocolate

You will probably never eat…
The still beating heart of a cobra.

Your own signature dish…
That’s a toughie… I love inventing dishes, and am immediately smitten with anything that turns out well. Perhaps my Bengali Red Lentils, or braised lamb shanks. I make a mean sour cherry soup, too…

I think everyone that I know in cyberland has already been tagged, but if you’re reading this and want to participate, go for it (and send me the link)!

July 04, 2005

Yowza! Gyoza!

This is why I love having a stash of homemade things in the freezer. Even straight from the freezer, these little devils cook in mere minutes, and if you're feeling frisky, a quick little fry on one side gives a fantastic result.

This was the last of my most recent batch of gyoza - chicken with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and green onion. I must make more soon! Every time I make them, I vary the ingredients on whim and availability, and I've never had anything less than stellar results. While admittedly, this is a tiny serving - 3 dumplings of 2 1/2 inches long - it makes a wonderful topping for ramen, soba, or spicy somen, or as an appetizer.

(Note: expired link removed - instead, please see recipe(s) in the comments, below)

July 03, 2005


I like lamb. I've gone from a childhood virtually free of lamb, on to become someone who cooks lamb at least once each month. As I cooked lamb last Sunday, for the Taste Canada event, I'm actually having lamb twice in two weeks - an astonishing increase!

One particularly easy and inexpensive lamb dish is the lamburger. Lamb takes to a variety of spices very well, and I often tend toward middle eastern or mediterranean flavours to spruce up the bugers. The usual salt and pepper is supplemented with pomegranate molasses, cumin, mint, and sumac, or mint, oregano, garlic and parsley. I use one of those indoor "grilling" devices, which has sloped channels to collect away the grease - a blessing with a fattier meat, like lamb - and perfect for a hot summer's day when you really don't feel like heating up the kitchen any more than you have to.

Of course, in my case, the kitchen was already hot, because I got the bright idea of making rosemary buns out of my pizza dough recipe, since I couldn't quite face the price tag of the only tolerable commercial hamburger buns that I could find.

I've used the same basic dough recipe to good effect as foccacia, making hamburger buns seemed a no-brainer. I remembered to keep the dough soft (not add too much flour) so that the buns wouldn't rise straight up and give me tall, narrow buns. It worked quite well. One recipe of pizza dough yields four generous-sized hamburger buns, and the texture and flavour beat the daylights out of most commercial efforts.

Since I suffer somewhat from a fear-of-frying, or at least of deep-frying, and the household protests the frozen variety, I seldom make french fries at home. Instead, I like to use fresh summer salads to accompany my burger dinners. Coleslaw, lentil salad, and one of my favourites, couscous salad.

Couscous salad is basically a tabbouleh like salad full of tiny chopped red onion, cucumber, tomato, fresh parsley and mint, lemon juice, olive oil, and a heavy hand with the black pepper. Instead of using bulgar wheat, I use couscous, which I steam up with lemon juice to give an extra zip to the salad. The overall texture is softer than a tabbouleh, but tends not to run as soggy (especially if you remove the seeds from the cucumber and tomato).

It makes a terrific, light side dish, and doesn't heat up the kitchen. Plus, it packs well for lunches, so I make lots, and devour the overage over the next couple of days. A sprinkle of sumac over it gives a fantastic, floral yet woodsy flavour.

I also have taken to using tzatziki sauce as my primary condiment on lamburgers. A little mustard is nice, too, but a slightly garlicky, creamy tzatziki is a perfect accompaniment to a lamb patty. It is also significantly lower in fat than mayonnaise or hamburger sauces, so that pleases me, too - but mostly I like the taste.

It occurred to me tonight, as I tidied up the very few dishes required to make dinner, that I have yet to try an Indian treatment on my lamburgers. Immediately, this conjured notions of lamb patties spiced with kashmiri pepper, garam masala, and cumin, and instead of the tzatziki (although it is perilously close to a raita, as it is) a fruit chutney - mango, or perhaps tamarind. A banana and yogurt salad on the side, or shredded carrots with lime juice and hot chilies - this could be a fantastic meal. The bun, of course, requires some choices. I'm unlikely to make naan at the drop of a hat, but I could see a version of the rosemary buns made instead with dried fenugreek leaves (happily, on hand in the spice box already).

I may have to have this for dinner next Sunday. After all, I have to report back, right?