December 24, 2006

In the Nick of TIme

The baking is finished. Whew!

Cranberry squares. I don't get to make these as often as I would like, since I'm the only person in the house that can eat cranberries. I love them, though, and my mother used to make them, so they're a Christmastime favourite, and if we're having company, I get to make them. They're essentially date squares (or, if you prefer, matrimonial cake) with cranberry filling instead of dates. Less sweet, very festive.

Ginger snaps are a little more festive with red sugar on them...

I've said it before, but there must be shortbread!

I'm ready. Hang the stockings.

December 20, 2006

How I Spent My Evening: A Story in Pictures

I love making these tiny French butter cookies at Christmas. They are not difficult, but a tad laborious. I realize I skipped photographing a step - the slicing of the dough. Such is the case, late at night, when one's hands are awfully sticky. My apologies...
Step one: Hurl partially formed dough onto a parchment sheet.
Step two: Try to persuade dough to conform to the sized paper under the parchment.
Step three: Try harder... use rolling pin "persuasion."
Step four Cut dough into strips, and alternate.
Step five: repeat, using eggwash "glue" and reverse the colour scheme. Repeat again, reversing colours once more for the final layer.

Step six: chill and thinly slice the completed cookie logs. (You can wrap them well in waxed paper or parchment, and freeze them for several months. Defrost slightly before slicing, or they will be shattery.)

Step seven: bake for 8 minutes.

December 06, 2006

Versatility (Roasted Pork Tenderloin)

One of my favourite cuts of meat is pork tenderloin - one that I have only become familiar with in the last couple of years. Until I was inspired by a photograph I saw online, the only use I had for pork tenderloin was Porc Normandy - a braised, creamy dish from northern France. I just didn't know what else to do with the stuff. It seemed kind of expensive for stir fry, and I thought that the oven would dry it out.

I was wrong on both counts, as it turns out. Even a small-ish, on-sale piece of tenderloin goes surprisingly far in a stir fry (I'm planning a double ginger stir fry as I type this), and as for the oven - roasting a tenderloin is easy, low-stress, and has an unbelievable flavour payoff for even the most minimalist treatment. Roasting, therefore, is the method that I have turned to the most since I started regularly adding pork tenderloin to my shopping cart.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Trim the roast of any silverskin, being careful not to remove too much of the actual meat. If there's a skinny end on your roast, tuck it under and tie it with a piece of butcher's string to create an even thickness for the length of the roast.

Line a large baking dish with tin foil, and spritz with a little oil. If you like, put down a layer of sliced onions or fennel, and use that as a bed for the pork. Spritz the pork with a little canola oil, and season generously with coarse salt and pepper. If you're feeling feisty, add any other seasoning that comes to mind - cumin is good, as is powdered chipotle pepper.

Roast, uncovered, for about 50 minutes per pound. Allow to rest out of the oven for five minutes before slicing on the bias, and serving. A sauce is nice, but totally optional.

If you should (mysteriously) have any leftovers, or had the good sense to roast more than you needed, slice them thinly or thickly for sandwiches the next day, or use them as part of a burrito filling. Tasty. Dead easy.

December 02, 2006

More Possiblities, or, Eggs, Again

It has been years, literally years, since I made an omelette. I suppose I fell for the siren charms of the fritatta, which involves less crucial timing and is more forgiving of somewhat random fillings. Perhaps I am afraid that my omelette will break or over-brown, and I will feel the bitter sting of failure in the kitchen. At least, an ugly omelette is still quite edible - even tasty - so one can consume the evidence and start anew each time. I certainly eat breakfast out often enough on the weekends that, if I want a good omelette, I certainly know where to get one, but there is something to be said for making it oneself.

Perhaps it is our North American culture that seems to broadly consider the omelette an individual portion, unlike the family-feeding monsters you can find in the farmhouses of France. Making omelettes for breakfast has always been something that I made when I was alone, so I wouldn't be eating in relay at the table, or allowing one to grow cool before the other one was finished. Happily, the Food Network provided something of a little jab to the frontal lobe, reminding me that an omelette can be a perfect meal for two, no waiting, if one is willing to divide a single, larger omelette into portions.

I am happy to report that I have not entirely lost my touch. Breakfast was a delightfully pale, gold-tinged omelette of mushroom, shallot, bacon and Tintern cheese, and it caused no embarassment whatsoever. In fact, it is inspiring me to flex my newly-fixed wrists over many omelettes to come.

I'm just getting warmed up.

November 13, 2006

Infinite Possibilities

Of course, eggs aren't just breakfast food, or the glue that keeps your cakes and meatloaves from crumbling helplessly as you attempt to slice/eat them. Eggs have an infinite number of possibilities attached to them, whether as the star ingredient or merely an essential component. Merely, of course, practically deserves air-quotes, because there is nothing insignificant about the role of the simple egg in great baking and cooking of our time. Really, there isn't a single culinary nook they haven't invaded: they help breadcrumbs adhere to chicken, they make a dandy snack when stuffed, they are critical to hollandaise and quiche, they make muffins rise better, an egg salad sandwich is a perfect summer lunch... the list goes on.

I also like to have eggs for dinner. Sure, scrambled eggs on toast are a classic and kind of fun breakfast-for-dinner sort of thing to do, but the very best eggs-for-dinner that I know is a family of Indian dishes known as Masala Eggs. (or, Eggs Masala. Or, insert variation of your choice here.) I think of it as a family of dishes because there are literally thousands of variations to choose from - some regional, some preferential, some dictated by your darkest curry desires.

I confess that my (current) very favourite Eggs Masala actually uses the sauce from this Chicken Korma recipe (but pureed smooth with an immersion blender), but I'm happy to have just about any version, and the one shown here has the advantage of feeling very light on the palate, while still being satisfying.

Once again, I have adapted this from Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by the inimitable Madhur Jaffrey.

Hard Boiled Eggs Masala

Serves 2 for lunch, or 4 for dinner as one of several dishes

4 hard-boiled eggs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 cup of canned diced tomatoes (with some liquid)
chopped cilantro to taste

Combine ground spices with lemon juice and a tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Mix to create a thin paste.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, give the pan a shake, then add the onion and ginger. Stir and fry until onion browns nicely. Add the spice paste, and stir and cook for another 15 seconds or so. Add the tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, and lay the eggs (sliced in half length-wise) onto the sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over the eggs. Serve with rice or naan, or (!) even over toast. For a thinner, smoother sauce, just add a tablespoon or two of water and puree before laying down the eggs.

November 01, 2006


Baked pasta is a popular execution which can range from the simple combination of noodle-of-choice with sauce-of-choice, generally topped with cheese and popped into the oven, to elaborate layers of disparate ingredients which meld into a glorious and highly specfic dish, such as the classic lasagna al forno. Whenever you stray too far into the realm of binders, breadcrumbs, and cross-culture fusion, however, it generally becomes safe to call the resulting concoction a casserole.

Mexican is a frequent flying flavour, at our house. That is to say, I cook a number of straight-up Mexican dishes, as well as the odd Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex items thrown in. I also am not at all above flinging Mexican flavours into decidedly non-Mexican dinners - in part because I believe many dishes improve with a little hot sauce added, and in part because I simply like the flavours, and am quick to reach for the ground chipotle or jalapenos to spruce up a dish that is otherwise lacking.

This is a variation on a Cooking Light recipe - I haven't gotten the perfect texture yet, so some experimenting is yet to occur. The basic structure is this:

Chipotle Macaroni Casserole

Sautee an onion with half a green pepper (diced), until softened slightly. Sprinkle with chipotle powder and a little flour (about a tablespoon or two) and stir in some minced garlic, and minced or pureed chipotle in adobo sauce, along with some cumin and oregano.

When the mixture starts to stick, add a 398 ml / 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice, and stir well until thick and bubbly. Next, stir in about a cup of milk, and a cup of ricotta mixed well with a beaten egg. Reduce heat to low and stir until well integrated. Mix in a couple of handfuls of cheese - Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan - whatever spirit moves you, really, and turn off heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and pepper, hot sauce (feel free to add whatever hot sauce strikes your fancy), and general flavour components.

Stir in cooked pasta - approximately 4 cups of cooked macaroni or its equivalent - and some nice diced, cooked chicken breast - great for leftovers - and pour the whole lot into a casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese, and breadcrumbs, if you like that sort of thing and can be bothered. Cover lightly and bake at 350 F for about half an hour, or until bubbling and browned.

Leftovers, should there be any, reheat well on medium heat in the microwave.

October 25, 2006

Rainy day food

When the rain begins, and the weather starts to cool, my mind wanders inevitably to sausages. Particularly, I must confess, the wonderful specialty sausages from Oyama Sausage down at Granville Island Market. I never know exactly what they will have available, each day, although there are certainly some frequent flyers, but I know that there will be a variety of fresh and cured sausages that will include, but not be limited to chicken, pork, lamb, beef, and a variety of game meats. Perhaps my favourite is the venison and blueberry, although competition is steep, and the chourice sitting in my freezer right now is looking mighty attractive. They don't use fillers (unless, as with black pudding, it is an essential part of the recipe), and they don't use more fat than is needful. Every sausage that I have had from there has been outright delicious. Sausage need neither be unhealthful nor frightening in the making, famous sayings notwithstanding.

Bangers and mash, that great classic comfort foods of British cookery, is one of the most straight-forward way to enjoy a good sausage, and I certainly do. I also borrow scraps from other european cuisines, though. Sausage with lentils and red wine, as the Italians would do. Cassoulet, as the French are prone to just about get into fist-fights over. Grilled beside a heap of red cabbage and apples, and buttery egg noodles, which would go down well in Germany or Scandinavia.

These are just beginnings. The possibilities, when you are starting with a good sausage, are just about endless. Breakfast hashes, stuffed into a good bun for lunch, or cut into coins and tossed with pasta for dinner. Jambalaya. Paella. Assorted casseroles and composed dishes. Heck, a nice, plump pork sausage next to a big bowl of homemade baked beans would be just fine, thanks.

A bit of onion, a bit of mushroom, and, as above, you have the beginnings of a sausage and gravy dinner that can feature any side dishes you like: scalloped potatoes, steamed broccoli, giant pile of coleslaw... really, whatever is in the fridge will likely go well with sausage.

When the weather starts to cool and the days are starting to grey with rain, this is what I want on my plate.

There are warm-weather sausage dishes, too, of course

October 09, 2006

Sweet and Simple

I love simple desserts, particularly on ordinary nights. Special occasions may call for fancy dessert footwork, but your average Thursday night is best topped off with something lightly sweet, easy to prepare, and deeply satisfying.

As we come to the end of the raspberry season, I am savouring them as best I can until we say goodbye to fresh berries for the winter. It is hard to beat, for both simplicity and deliciousness, a small bowl of really good, thick, yoghurt (the kind that is not too sour, but not cloying sweetened), topped with a scattering of red, luscious berries. And, if you happen to have a little limoncello to drizzle over the top - well, you've got the trifecta of weeknight desserts: soft, sweet, and just a little bit naughty. Well worth it.

September 30, 2006

Meatball Minestrone

I love soup. I cannot think of a culture that does not have some sort of soup. It can be an eloquent, evocative way to capture a sense of a particular cuisine, or a memory of a place. It can also be a tasty repository for things lurking in the refrigerator, slowly measuring their last useful gasps of usability until metamorphosis turns them into - if neglected, well, sludge, but if lovingly tended - a warming, welcoming breakfast (think menudo), lunch, or dinner.

As someone who grew up with "heirloom soup" in the winter, an ever-evolving pot of plenty into which most leftovers eventually found their way, I've always thought as soup as a somewhat ambiguous term, and was amused by people who made "mushroom soup" or "barley soup" because at any given time there might be mushrooms or barley or both in the heirloom soup. Even a soup that started off quite specific - chicken noodle, or oxtail, perhaps - would mutate quickly and, I thought, inevitably. As I grew older, I began to have an appreciation for the carefully thought out soups that highlighted a particular item. I've always had a fondness for minestrone, which somewhat bridges the gulf between the two philosophies of soup.

People will tell you that there are very particular things that one needs to put in (or omit from) a "true" minestrone, but these things vary by region and are often contradictory. Many minestrones are vegetarian, using plain water as the cooking medium instead of stock, and deepning the overall flavour with a rind of parmesan, and others will start with pancetta or bacon, and move on to a chicken broth. To achieve this particular minestrone, I went with a fairly classic approach, chose from the "acceptable" vegetables (since I had them on hand) and then spoiled it all by adding beef meatballs at the end. I'm not a bit sorry - the whole thing turned out just as I wanted.

Meatball Minestrone

2 tablespoons olive oil (or duck fat)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, diced medium-small
2 carrots, diced
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 cup of small cauliflower florets
8 cups water or vegetable stock
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, with liquid
1/4 cup tripolini or other small soup pasta
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
white pepper
salt to taste
small, cooked meatballs from 1 pound of ground meat (I bake mine in the oven for 25 minutes, rather than frying them)

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat your olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, fennel, carrots and celery, and stir well. Season with a little salt and white pepper, and stir for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to go translucent.

Stir in the water/stock, tomatoes (with their juices), zucchini, cauliflower, and herbs to taste. bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Stir in the cannelini beans with their liquid, and the pasta. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente and beans are heated through. Add meatballs and stir through. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste before serving, and garnish each bowl with some fresh basil or a a dollop of basil pesto.

September 14, 2006

More Eating from Other Cultures

I've been longing to try making this since I first tried it in one of the few Persian restaurants here in Vancouver. The version that I had, I think may have not had paprika (and perhaps less, if any tomato), because it was a much yellower colour. The flavour, a lovely jumble of lamb with a lively spang of lime, is quite delicious. I was also delighted to discover that it is no more difficult to make than any other stew in my collection.

I pored over online-recipes until I found a consensus of ingredients and a method that looked sound, and then tweaked it to fit my own schedule and laziness needs. I am given to understand that this dish is usually cooked gently on direct heat (i.e. the stovetop), but I have modified it so that most of the cooking is done indirectly (in the oven), where I need not have to stir it so often.

While the combination of onions (quite a lot) and split peas - a pulse, true, but also vegetable in nature - I decided to add one more vegetable, and the traditionally accompaniment of white rice. The carrots are sauteed in a mixture of olive oil and spices, then squirted with lime juice and simmered in just enough water so that when it cooks down to a glaze, the carrots are just tender. You can vary the spices to go with just about any main course.

Khoresht Ghaimeh
serves 4 - 6

1 cup yellow split peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
750 grams cubed boneless lamb meat (leg or shoulder)
2 large onions, thinly sliced into half-moons
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 - 2 limes, zest & juice

Rinse the split yellow peas thoroughly, and place in a small saucepan, covered with about an inch of water. Bring to a vigorous boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let stand until you are ready to use them, later in the recipe.

Heat a large iron skillet over medium-high, and sear the lightly salted lamb chunks (in small batches). Remove to an oven-proof casserole dish or dutch oven. In the skillet that was used for searing the lamb, add the oil and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions, and sauté until they begin to caramelize and turn translucent, and then add the tomato paste, paprika, turmeric, lime zest and pepper. Sauté for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly, and then scrape into the pot that contains the lamb. At the chicken stock to the emptied skillet and stir over medium heat, scraping up all of the stuck-on spices, tomato paste and lamb fond. When it has been all loosend and the stock comes to a boil, pour it over the lamb and onion mixture. Cover the pot and place in a 350 F oven for 1 1/2 hours, until the lamb is very tender.

Drain the hot-soaked yellow split peas, and add them to the lamb stew. Stir until well integrated, and continue to cook (covered) in the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the peas are tender. Stir in the lime juice to taste, and let stand for a couple of minutes, to integrate the flavours. Serve with white rice.

If you by any chance have access to dried, crushed limes, I am told that is the authentic seasoning, rather than zest and juice. Add them with the paprika, et al. this dish also often has small chunks of potato, added when the peas are added. I didn't have potato, so I omitted it, and didn't miss it.

September 04, 2006

Things to make with Chicken

Ever since the closure of Mirasol, Vancouver's tiny bastion of delicious Peruvian food just off Main Street, I have lamented my inability to dine on Aji de Gallina - a dish of shredded chicken in a marvelous, lightly spicy sauce of mirasol peppers, milk, bread, and cheese.

I had, of course, ever since I first tried the dish, been keeping an eye out for a likely recipe to try. One exceedingly disappointing attempt later, I had given up the notion pending a supply of the proper kind of pepper - and I had started to give up on ever finding them up here.

I kept an eye peeled for a likelier-looking recipe than the one that I had worked from previously, since I seldom take a second stab at a second-rate version unless I can pinpoint where, in fact, I went wrong as opposed to the general crumminess of the recipe. I've seen recipes for Aji de Gallina that call for carrots, jalapenos and saffron, that start with the boiling of an entire chicken, that call for evaporated milk or an entire cup of parmesan cheese, many of which feature bewildering directions. I have shunned them all.

So, of course, I was delighted when Cesar posted a recipe on (Lima) Beans and Delhi Cha(a)t. I bookmarked it, and told myself that I would find a way to make it. A few months have passed since then, but I finally cleared the last hurdle to success: South China Seas on Granville Island Market has begun to stock not only dried aji amarillo/mirasol chiles, but jarred ones, and even a sauce made from these coveted yellow peppers. We decided on the jarred ones (cured in a sort of brine, but not pickled, per se). I nabbed a double-breast of chicken from the poultry shop, and we hurried home to put Cesar's recipe into action.

I confess that I did not follow it precisely - I've neglected the potatoes that should be served on the side, and the black olive garnish for reasons purely of convenience in the moment. Next time, I promise to finish things correctly...and there will be a next time, because this recipe was exactly right. The texture, the flavour, the colour - all completely dead-on with my memory of the dish from the many times I've had it at the restaurant.

I used ground almonds, instead of chopped pecans, because they were what I had available. I used whole brined peppers, rinsed, de-seeded and pureed in the mini-prep. I used sourdough bread from my local Greek bakery. None of these things detracted from the feeling of triumph of re-creating a dish that I fully expected I would never again get to eat in this town.

Now, I must bend my attention to chicha morada...

August 28, 2006

A Good Steak

A good steak can be hard to find but, fortunately, it's pretty easy to make. I marvel at minor-league steakhouses that charge an arm and a leg for something that usually requires pretty much minimal preparation - and then often manage to do it badly or at least indifferently. I know that best-quality meat can be expensive, of course, but for goodness sake, do it right!

I don't cook steak all that often, though. I don't have the attachment to it as special occasion food, as some folks seem to, and it is a bit pricey for good cuts. I have had excellent luck with rib steaks, (and I make a mean flank steak) but this time, I decided to try the good ol' dependable strip loin, simply because I had never cooked one before.

I selected a smallish steak - the smallest that I could find, actually - since I was cooking only for myself. In the store, it seemed petite to the point of being teensy, but it really would have been big enough for two people to share, if they weren't being too greedy. Sadly, I ate the entire thing myself, and I'm not sorry one bit.

I followed Alton Brown's instructions, which have never failed me on the rib eye, and which apparently work wonderfully with any tender steak. A quick pat of butter in the vacated pan, while the steak rested, a slosh of red wine from my glass, and a smattering of parsley made an impromptu pan sauce, reducing to a syrup consistency in the time it took for the steak to recover its composure.

I had a side dish of Thai red rice (not pictured, sorry) and a salad with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, but almost any side dish at all would do just fine.

August 26, 2006

Herb exploration: Tarragon

Tarragon was not a frequent flyer in our household, when I was growing up. Consequently, my early exposures to it left me a little bit weirded out by its odd, licorice-y flavour, and I was never sure what to make of it - literally - so I never bought it.

After a few experiments, though, including one where I was slavishly following a recipe for Manhattan-style clam chowder (I'm not fond of clams, and had no experience cooking this dish, but it was as a treat for someone else), I ended up purchasing some fresh tarragon and adding it as prescribed. The effect, the change that was wrought in the soup, was phenomenal, and it warmed me to the use of tarragon in other dishes.

Because it is not one of my general repetoire, I've had to look around for uses for tarragon. Poultry seems to be such a natural match, that recipes abound for it, and that seemed like a fairly good place to start. With a fat bunch of tarragon, I cooked three meals in one week that featured the odd and woodsy little herb with the big flavour: Chicken tarragon, French style; Turkey burgers, Dawna style; and a ground-beef stroganoff to which it was a haphazard but welcome addition.

The Chicken tarragon had wonderful flavour, and represented the steepest part of the learning curve. I learned that I should have had the tarragon chopped and safely en mise before I got going, because the last minute frenzy to get it into the pan at the right time left rather longer pieces than would have been ideal. Still, the flavour was fantastically encouraging, and I'll definitely be making this again.

I also learned that the recipe I was working from was too skittish about reducing the sauce, and consequently, it was a little on the thin side, but that is easily remedied on the next round. Still, the steamed new potatoes and carrot coins were a wonderful foil for the creamy sauce, regardless of its consistency, and quite a pleasant change from the more complicated side-dishes that I sometimes feel compelled to make.

The turkey burger, however, was an unqualified success. I regret that I did not note down exactly what I did to it, but the method was fairly simple. Ground turkey, panko soaked in milk, an egg white, salt, white pepper, the requisite (and more finely chopped) tarragon, and a mere smidge of cayenne represented most of the ingredients. I cooked them on my indoor grill, and we ate them on toasted sourdough bread with tomato and cucumber slices and some cumin-laced yam fries. For once, I forgot about taking a photo until after we had finished eating, so no yam fries pictures - the burger shown above was one of the ones that was deliberately left over so that we would have some to take to work in our lunches the next day.

The stroganoff I failed to photograph entirely. It was a truly last-minute affair of ground beef with onion, garlic, the last of the now-aging tarragon, finely chopped, and sour cream. We had it mixed into farfalle pasta, with a green salad on the side. I hadn't decided to make the dish in order to use up the tarragon, it was more of a happy accident that I realized it would go well - and it did. I'll be sure to think of that, the next time I'm making a real stroganoff.

There is a French restaurant near my house that uses tarragon a lot. They put it in many dishes, from hollandaise (but not as a true Bearnaise) to omelettes to ratatouille. It is almost a signature flavour with their chef, and I'm starting to see why. It brings a delightfully unexpected, yet not overpowering note to the food that is not found anywhere else in the city.

Now, if only I could find that chowder recipe (long since gone, I'm afraid) and make it without the clams...

August 20, 2006

A Tangle of Prawns

I have a great fondness for easy dinners, despite my appreciation for elaborate or difficult food. This particular dish was a second go at Nigella's Lemon Linguine, which she explains is simple enough to make even when "the thought of cooking makes you want to shriek." I've never been afflicted with that malady, personally, but I have occasionally wanted to "lie down in a darkened room" instead.

Happily, simple and easy dinners can often be made with things you've got literally lying around in the pantry/freezer/fruit bowl. I have reduced the ratio of pasta to sauce from Nigella's recipe, and added some garlic-butter-sauteed prawns (I confess, from a package of individually frozen, pre-shelled, cooked prawns) to relieve what I had previously found to be a dish more suited as a side than as a main course. This absolutely did the trick.

Lemon Prawn Linguine
Adapted from Nigella Bites

serves 4

1 lb. dried linguine
2 egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
2/3 cup whipping cream
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter, divided
parsley, to taste, chopped
1/2 lb. precooked frozen peeled prawns
1 - 2 cloves crushed garlic

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the linguine, and cook until just barely al dente. Drain, reserving about a half-cup of pasta water.

While the water is coming to boil, and while the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce: In a large, slightly warmed pasta-serving-sized bowl (rinse with hot water), stir together the egg yolks, cream, most of the cheese, and the lemon zest and juice. Don't beat too vigorously, just combine nicely. Chop some parsley and reserve it until the end.

Rinse your prawns under hot water, and toss them in a non-stick pan with a tablespoon of butter and a crushed clove or two of garlic. Allow them to simmer gently until warmed through. If they are done before you need them, turn off the heat and let them sit in the pan.

When the pasta is drained, add back into the cooking pot, and add the other tablespoon of butter. Stir about until the butter is melted and lightly coats each strand of pasta. Gently tip the pasta into your serving bowl with the sauce, and stir about until the sauce is evenly distributed. If it is looking too dry, add a little of the pasta water until it becomes slick again. Repeat as needed, if needed. Add the prawns and their garlicky juices, and stir about. Add the parsley for a final little toss. Serve at once, topped with ground black pepper and the last bit of parmesan.

August 16, 2006

Indoor grilling

I've never owned a proper outdoor grill. Mostly, the succession of apartments that I've lived in since I finished school wouldn't allow for it, either space-wise (tiny balconies) or financially. The house that I currently live in has a nice, big deck... well, actually, it has a big deck that's not that nice. It's weirdly shaped and one corner is falling down - literally - and the landlord (who claimed he was going to fix it in July) still hasn't shifted himself to do anything about it. I would be hesitant to put anything that had both fire/heat and weight out on it.

So, I have an indoor grill instead. Not a George Foreman, because my flinch-factor wouldn't go that high, but a sensibly oblong Hamilton Beach model that unhinges itself to be either a flat-grill surface, or clam-lids to become a two-sides-at-once kind of grill.

I am told that indoor grills never give you grill marks, but this is obviously untrue. What I have learned is that you need to preheat the little devils for at least 15 minutes, rather than the five minutes suggested by the manufacturer, and that a combination of open-lid/closed-lid works best to ensure even, rapid cooking that doesn't simply steam away the lovely striped char and leave you with dented, pale food.

The chicken above was my first use of the spice rub I gleefully reported receiving earlier this summer. I have little information as to what is actually in it, but it is certainly delicious, and while the chicken breast that I cooked with it wasn't as fabulous as the one that was cooked for me in Gibsons (on a real, proper, outdoor grill), it was certainly up to the task of tasting terrific.

Using spice rubs is fairly new to me, and I think I was a little too hesitant with the quantity needed here, so next time I will be sure to be more generous. I'm also contemplating using it on baked pork tenderloin, which has become one of my favourite affordable cuts of meat.

August 13, 2006

Breakfast at home (Zucchini Fritters)

Much as I adore going out for breakfast, I usually make some sort of effort at a breakfast at home at least once on the weekend. It often starts with a smoothie, just to fortify us with enough strength to beat eggs for a frittata or slice peppers for a breakfast quesadilla.

We are both savory-breakfast junkies, so it is no wonder that most of of our breakfasts at home are at least somewhat eggy. Today's breakfast was a sort of happy accident - I had picked up a zucchini to make my Zucchini Fritters "sometime soon" and by chance had some leftover Dijon-Dill sauce in the fridge. The urge to make some sort of Benedict-like breakfast was overpowering. I was quite helpless against it! I modified the fritter recipe to use spices that would go more harmoniously with the dill and mustard sauce, using a mixture of thyme, oregano, white pepper and a pinch of cayenne. I heated the leftover sauce (an emulsion of mayonnaise, sour cream and dijon) with a little pinch of cornstarch, to keep it from separating, and treated it like a faux-hollandaise.

Zucchini Fritters

Makes 6 fritters
Total prep and cooking time: 30 minutes

3 cups grated zucchini
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup breadcrumbs ~ I use panko
1/3 cup finely minced onion
2 teaspoons chile powder or southwestern seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup flour
oil for shallow-frying

Make sure that the strands of grated zucchini are not too long - I usually cut a slice into the zucchini lengthwise before grating. Squeeze the zucchini to release (and discard) extra liquid, and place the shreds in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the egg, butter, bread crumbs, minced onion, salt and chile powder/seasoning. Mix well with a fork, so that all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Using wet hands, shape the mixture into six thin patties. Dredge each patty in flour, patting it to remove excess flour. You can prepare in advance up to this point and hold the patties on a plate in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap.
In a medium skillet, over medium heat, heat enough oil to lighly coat the bottom of the pan. When the pan is hot, fry the patties in oil until a medium dark golden brown on both sides. Serve hot - for a tasty breakfast, place a poached egg on top of each fritter, and serve 2 per person.

I do confess that I wimped out on the eggs - they were simply steamed in little baskets, as opposed to being properly poached, but some mornings there are just only so many things you can keep in the air at once. A perfectly poached egg would of course be the preferable option, but I was willing to sacrifice that for convenience, today. Next time...

The fritters are a big favourite of mine, and something that I am prodded to make whenever the zucchini are heaped high in the produce stores. They are delicate - downright fragile before cooking - but not difficult to make, and they make a wonderful side-dish at any meal (or snack, I confess, with a little hot pepper sauce, or not, as you see fit. You can vary the seasoning to make them spicy, mild or assume compatible characteristics with any cuisine you choose.

They certainly don't need an egg or fancy sauce to show their little golden faces at the table. I do have a compulsion that must soon be addressed: I want to make these fritters meat-ball sized, and serve them with spaghetti and a light, fresh tomato sauce for a light veggie-based dinner. I'm convinced it would be a winner.

*This post was updated in 2017 to replace dead link to recipe*

August 09, 2006

Old Fashioned, New Fangled

I've always had a weakness for deviled eggs. Creamy, salty, a little bit spicy, and bite sized! Well, perhaps two bites if one is being excessively polite, or has unusually large eggs.

I don't make them that often, because it always seems that one should make them for a party platter, rather than as a late-night snack for two people to simply fall upon with hungry eyes and greedy fingers. Still, I often find myself too busy when I'm planning a party to fuss with the details that make a good deviled egg. So, sometimes I just have to make them anyway. The beauty of a deviled egg is that you can make as many or as few as you want. They are best consumed promptly, and one should be careful not to overcook the eggs, unless you enjoy the grey ring of doom around the yolk.

I would give you the recipe, if I had one. The problem is, I change it every single time I make it. Much depends on the contents of the fridge, you see. You can really taylor them to your tastes, though, whether your tastes run from caviar to Thai curry paste. This batch has green onion, parsley, ground mustard seed, mayonnaise, feta cheese, and is topped with aleppo pepper.

None survived the initial attack.

August 07, 2006

Looks Can Be Deceiving (Cherry Smoothie)

This is a cherry smoothie.

Unlike my previous, Bing cherry smoothies, this ones uses the ridiculously sweet Rainier cherries of the Pacific Northwest. It looks as though it should be a peach or apricot drink, because of its pale, golden, red-flecked appearance, but the only fruit in there is cherry. The rest of the smoothie is vanilla yoghurt, 1% milk, and a little lime cordial. Five minutes, tops.

I'm a big fan of smoothies for breakfast (or pre-brunch). These little darlings, though, are so incredibly sweet, that it feels more like dessert, or some particularly naughty snack. Full of fruity goodness, but startling as a breakfast food, particularly to someone who has severely cut back her sugar intake this past year.

I also tried a chocolate cherry smoothie, by adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to the mix (for two). Still shockingly sweet, of course, still not really breakfasty, of course, but tasty - and not entirely unhealthy, really!

I think I'll save the rest of my Rainiers for dessert, perhaps simply pitted cherries doused in a little brandy, and go back to blackberries and raspberries for my drinkable breakfasts.

July 30, 2006

Summer Salad

Summer is indisputably salad-time. Appetites are a little supressed from the heat, and an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs cry out for use. Not only are our appetites a little down - we still get hungry, but seem to fill up faster - but our desire to do much work in the kitchen (or out of it) also fades. Fortunately, the summer salad is a perfect opportunity for some easy, make-head, delicious dinner options.

You could serve this as a side dish, and I often have, or take it as a potluck item that will stand out beside other pasta salads, or indeed, hold its own against many a main course, or you can cram it into pita for a quick bite on the go. Sometimes, if I'm really feeling worn out, I'll just sit down to a bowl of this in front of the television and let my brain turn criticizing advertisements, or snarking at the shows on FoodTV.

It keeps really well in a sealed, tupperware-type container, for about a week. Doubtless, you will have eaten it all up long before then. As an added bonus, this dish has under 30% of its calories from fat, so it's fairly healthy, too. The use of low GI ingredients (chickpeas and lemon juice) mean that it's value on the glycemic index is probably quite low - which means that it will fill you up without wreaking havoc on your glucose levels.

Chickpea & Orzo Salad
(adapted from Cooking Light's Simple Summer Suppers)

1 cup uncooked orzo
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 19 oz. can Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - drained
zest and juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 - 2 cloves minced fresh garlic

Cook orzo until done in lightly salted water - about five minutes. Take care not to overcook, as you don't want the pasta to become mushy. Al dente is the goal. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly, and place in large bowl. Add drained chickpeas, green onions, dill, lemon zest and feta to the bowl of pasta, and toss gently to distribute evenly. Combine juice, water, garlic, salt, and olive oil, and stir well. Pour dressing over the salad, folding the ingredients gently so to coat everything thoroughly.

Try not to eat it all before it makes it into the fridge. You can serve it right away, but it's terrific very cold from the fridge - especially with a nice glass of crisp white wine.

July 25, 2006

Summer Lunch

Sometimes, it's too hot to cook. You know you should eat someting, and you're vaguely hungry, but it just seems like too much effort to bother with, when you'd really rather lie around fanning yourself and drinking mint juleps.

Sometimes, you don't want anything with more wattage than a toaster heating up your already humid kitchen. Sometimes, when tomatoes are ripe, all you really need for lunch is a fine old-style open-faced toasted sandwich, or overgrown bruschetta. Aaaannnnd if you also happen to have little bottles of basil oil and red pepper oil (Italian style), and a couple of plump balls of bocconcini lurking in the fridge, you can make yourself a pretty snazzy little lunch, without roasting the entire house.

July 22, 2006

Tasting Hot Sauce

July 8 was our second-ever Hot Sauce Party. A little earlier in the year than our previous one of three years ago, we were able to use the verandah later into the evening, but unfortunately our timing rather stunk as far as people's schedules. So, it was with smaller fanfare and lower attendance, but equally delicious hot sauces from around the world that we held our second tasting.

Naturally, there were to be no repeats of sauces from the last tasting, three years ago. Even though there were clear favourites in the previous line up, there are so many amazing and different sauces produced in far-flung corners of the world, we went with an entirely new roster. To be fair, we had tried some of the sauces ourselves, previous to the tasting, but some of them were purchased specifically with an eye to origin, pepper type, style, and heat.

The subjects were arranged in (arguably) order of mildest to hottest:
  1. Tequila Sunrise Cayenne Hot Sauce (Costa Rica)
  2. Bufalo Jalapeno Mexican Hot Sauce (Mexico)
  3. Cholula Hot Sauce (Mexico)
  4. Waha Wera Kiwifruit & Habanero Sauce (New Zealand)
  5. Amazon Hot Green Sauce (Columbia)
  6. Cooksville Black Heat (Canada)
  7. Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce (Belize)
  8. Harissa du Cap Bon (Tunisia)
  9. El Yucateco Salsa Kutbil-ik de Chile Habanero XXXtra Kot Sauce (Mexico)
  10. Ebesse Zozo Hot Sauce (Canada, modelled on Togolese traditional style).
Most of our guests are at least somewhat familiar with spicy food, but the upper end of the tasting proved a little too feisty for real enjoyment for some people. In a curious turn, we actually placed the Ebesse Zozo last, not because it was the hottest (although it was very hot) but because it contained both oil and curry, and I thought it would irreparably alter the palate. It was pronounced delicious by just about everyone, though.

The most contentious hot sauce was #9. I'm very fond of it, in small doses, on an omelette or frittata at breakfast. It is fierce as anything, but for the first time I heard people describing it as flavourless and harsh. Not everyone was disparaging of it, though. Generally speaking, the tasters who were most accustomed to very hot food were able to look past the fiery habanero heat and groove on the fiery habanero flavour.

The most popular sauce, I think - I cannot remember if we did a poll - was #7. Hot, clean, and powerful, full of flavour, and with enough sweetness to cut the fire so that everyone could enjoy it. #5 did very well, also, being made from a little-known pepper (the Green Amazon pepper), and having a very pleasant blend of heat and flavour. It is the one we have used most since the tasting, since it boasts a broad application spectrum.

We finished the tasting with a little jerk chicken and a vegetarian 4-bean chili, and a fair bit of beer.

Next time around we'll have to pick our date a little better so that more people who wanted to attend will be able to make it.

July 10, 2006

Natural Match

Sometimes, I read a recipe that is very different than anything I've tried before, but while I am reading it, I find myself nodding and thinking to myself that this is such a natural match, these things go together so well, that I am surprised I've never thought of it myself. This happened immediately upon seeing this post by Michele at Oswego Tea, where some of the ideals of a Greek salad (long a favourite) have migrated into zucchiniville.

Fortunately, I do not really expect to come up with every brilliant food combination myself, but I'd be a sad sort of food enthusiast if I didn't recognise a good thing when I stumble across it. Still, it took a couple of weeks before the combined hot weather, hunger, and the presence of artisanal goat feta in my fridge prompted me to drag out the indoor grill for the season.

The salad is exactly what I hoped it to be: cool, tangy with feta and lemon juice, fragrant with mint, and slightly softened (but still crunchy) vegetables with lovely dark marks from the grill. It is a refreshing side dish for dinner, or even possibly a light meal by itself. It is the perfect thing to help beat the heat, especially in an old house that doesn't have great ventilation and needs all the help it can get to stay cool.

I will be making this many more times this summer...and in the summers to come.

July 03, 2006

Generosity of Family & the Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday, we went to Gibsons to have a family dinner at my sister's house. It was in part a belated Father's Day event, for which I made cookies, in part a very much belated Easter gathering, and all around a fine excuse to sit in the sun, drink beer and chat, and eventually fire up the grill for a little supper.

Well, I was too ill-prepared and, let's face it, downright greedy to take a picture of the fantastic grilled chicken that I had for dinner last night, but I am thrilled that I was given a jar of Pat's homemade spice rub that transported ordinary chicken breasts into a spicy, delicious, brag-worthy meal. Of course, the homemade foccacia, the freshly picked garden salad greens, and the nugget potatoes roasted with onions and garlic all contributed their fair share, but the chicken, with it's little bath of olive oil and quick rub with this fragrant, heady mixture, was undoubtedly the star of the show.

I'm not entirely sure what goes into it. I'm reasonably confident that garlic granules and cayenne pepper play a significant role, but I am told that there are upwards of 14 or 15 different spices required to make the spice rub. It's worth it.
We also managed to score a bag of the garden greens, which went into today's lunch of BLTs on sourdough bread. There's enough left over for a good dinner salad, so tomorrow's menu is well under construction.

Switching topics slightly, on a recent foray out of our usual dinner haunts, we found ourselves wandering down 4th Avenue on our way to get some tandoori chicken. En route, we paused outside a trendy little joint that has recently changed its name. We wondered if it had changed ownership, too, so we sidled over to look over the glassed-in menu posted outside. One of the few customers, an unhappy-looking woman sitting next to the open window, pursed her lips and shook her head slightly. We looked at the menu to see the same sort of ambitious combinations that had been so poorly executed in its last incarnation, and decided that the ownership was probably the same. I glanced back at the customer, sitting with a posture of regret and one hand on an empty wineglass, and she again shook her head. She made direct eye contact, shook her head, then closed her eyes and sighed, lifting her eyebrows slightly... a clear warning off. I gave her a little tight nod, and a thumbs-up, and she smiled, briefly. We continued on to our original destination.

I hope her evening improved - I hope it was a little bit improved by the fact that someone took her silent advice. We probably wouldn't have gone in, but it was nice to have our suspicions confirmed. Whoever you are, thank you.

June 28, 2006

Odds and Ends

What do you make when you have a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and it all needs to be used up promptly? For my mother, the answer was variously soup or omelettes. For me, the answer used to always be "pizza." I've made pizza out of some astonishing things (leftover Dijon rabbit comes to mind). In the past year or so, I've become enamoured of quesadillas, and that took centre stage for a while. Pizza was out of the question, with the weather being entirely too hot to have the oven on at such a temperature, and I've been eating a lot of quesadillas, lately. What else is there?

Ultimately, when your ingredients are delicious fresh vegetables and a handful of frozen shrimp, the answer has to be that old college standby: the stir-fry. To complement the shrimp, I added ginger, and to complement everything, a lot of fresh garlic and some chile flakes.

I've had to replace my beloved jasmine rice (off the charts on the glycemic index, so a rare treat instead of my default choice) in my pantry, and have experimented with a number of different rices. Often, I choose basmati, but this time, I used simple parboiled rice (the kind I keep on hand for making Jamaican Rice & Beans, or jambalaya) , but served as seen here, the rice felt a little uninspired. After the camera was put away and I was sitting down to eat, I found myself mixing everything about so that the buttery juices of the shrimp and vegetables would be soaked up by the rice. It was the right thing to do, if a little less photogenic. Still, if hunger hadn't been the driving force at the late hour of my dinner, I would have photographed it, too - little brightly coloured gems of pepper and glistening jagged tops of asparagaus peeking through the white grains of rice - it was entirely tolerable, aesthetically.

Dinner on the table in 18 minutes. Take that, FoodTv! Plus, I managed to use up not one but three ingredients that were riding on the edge of their expiry dates.

June 22, 2006

Butter Chicken!

I am a sucker for Indian food (downright amazing, given my earlier fear of curry). I particularly like to experiment with hitherto unknown dishes when dining in restaurants, but for the most part my home cooking adventures in Indian cookery focus on known quantities. I like spicy food, and Indian cuisine has it in spades, but there are also more temperate dishes - full of spices and flavours, but not necessarily focused on heat.

Butter Chicken is a funny one, though. Almost every place you have it (and it seems to be available everywhere, it's that popular here), it's quite different. My local neighbourhood joint makes it mild and fragrant with coriander, and sprinkled with methi (dried fenugreek). I've had it richly tomato-y and red, mildly orange and creamy and, on myfirst attempt to make it at home, bright pink. I concluded pretty quickly that I had used too much tandoori paste on the chicken, and subsequent batches were less terrifyingly barbie-toned.

I have quite a few recipes for Butter Chicken, but most of them are eye-rollingly daunting, or involve and actual tandoor oven or other equipment that I am unable to really equal in my western kitchen. Eventually, I stumbled on the website for Mamta's Kitchen and got the bones of a workable version. My version has remained quite true to the nature of hers, but is tweaked for my own convenience. I am quite lazy, so I have no problem substituting natural cashew butter for cashews that have been soaked one hour, and then ground. Although, just for fun, I did do it that way once, my shortcut allows me to carve away a significant chunk of prep-time, which makes me that much more likely to make this on a weeknight.

June 15, 2006

Mission in progress

I do like lamb. A few years ago, I realized that I seldom ate it, which was attributable in part to the fact that my family never had it when I was growing up, and that most casual restaurants didn't have a lot of lamb dishes on offer. My lack of lamb was, in fact, the topic of one of my earlier essays. I set about a remedial program of lamb cookery for myself, and I have had no cause whatsoever to regret it.

One of the two prongs to my approach was to investigate lamb dishes from different cultures. I quickly found that Indian cuisine offered a broad selection to choose from and, after brief flirtations with biryani, settled on lamb bhuna as a favourite dish. The image above is my first attempt at creating this myself, from an Indian cookbook brought back for me by my Dad and his fiancee from their recent trip to northern India.

It's the second dish that I've made from the book - the first was a cauliflower dish that was adequate but not outstanding. This, however - fantastic. I used the shank end of a leg of lamb, and cut around the fat before slicing it carefully across the grain. It was unbelievably tender and delicious, and the slicing of the lamb took longer than the entire cooking process.

I will make this again, but my next foray into exotic lamb cookery will be Mexican. They do some mighty fine things with lamb, down there, and I have a passel of dried chiles that are languishing until I get on with it.

June 10, 2006

Al fresco amidst the vines

I've been a little bit AWOL, lately, this I know. Last week, I started a new job, and have been pouring non-food information into my head with a funnel until my brains were so full that I couldn't have answered as simple a question as "Do you want fries with that?" I think I've made the adjustment now, so while I still have a lot to learn on my plate, so to speak, I can once again spare a little attention to the delicious things in life.

Last weekend, in the narrow slot of time between finishing my old job and starting the new one, I went to see friends on Vancouver Island. The plan was to do a little tour of the growing number of wineries there, and have lunch at one of them. Since we were scheduling around the transportation challenges of not only our arrival from the mainland, but also our friends' seven month-old baby, it took a while before we were on the road. We failed in our mission to complete an actual tour, per se, but we succeeded in having an absolutely delicious and revivifying lunch on the deck of Vinoteca Resaurant, overlooking (and a part of) Zanatta Winery's vineyards.

After a quick tour of their wine varietals in the tasting room, we sashayed out to the lovely wrap-around verandah and gazed down the vineyards while waiting for our food. We had a bottle of one of their sparkling wines, the Fatima Brut, which boasted toasty flavours (our favourite, in a champagne-style wine!) and tucked into the elegant but simple Italian fare on offer from the kitchen.
My salad had crispy pancetta, strips of citrus zest, melon balls, feta, on a bed of assorted bitter greens. The dressing was fig and balsamic vinegar. There was a sweet and sharp and salty combination that worked perfectly as an appetizer, revving up my tastebuds for the main dish. I'm not one to order salads, usually, but this just sounded so refreshing that I couldn't say no. It was an excellent match to the sparkling wine, and the sunny-but-cool weather.

Moving along, my pasta was also delightful - with darker, more earthy flavours compared to the brightness of the salad. There was a mushroom broth, little strips of proscuitto, and black olives, with shredded sage. The pasta was almost defiantly al dente, and the last few pieces of pasta had soaked up the rich juices beautifully.

The two men both opted for the polenta cake with chorizo and red pepper sauce, served over mustard greens with a mighty shard of parmesan cheese. It looked good, and the little bite I got of chorizo was very agreeable, but I didn't try much of it, with a rather large lunch of my own to work at.

I was too full for dessert, although my companions had some. The custard and fig cake looked so outstanding that I had to steal a tiny bite, even though I was quite full. I wish that I had remembered to take a picture of it.

We were leisurely enough at our lunch (and I would not have rushed, anyway) that we only had time to make one more place to visit before it was time to head back to the house. We went to the Merridale Cidery, and had a walking tour of the cider mill before taking to the tasting room. After a look at the menu for their restaurant La Pommeraie, we immediately swore (despite our full stomachs) that we would be back to try it soon. We sampled quite a few different ciders, and picked up a Traditional Cider and a Winter Apple - sort of the icewine of ciders, sweet, rich, and heavy, and perfect for after dinner.

We didn't make it to Blue Grouse, or any of the other places on our list, but that can mean only one thing: another attempt at an Island wine tour is definitely required. Preferably, soon.

June 01, 2006

Some Like It Hot! (Creamed Eggplant)

Some like it hot. Good thing, too, because sometimes, at the end of a long day when one is a little bit tired but relentlessly pushing on with the new recipe anyway, one forgets that, when halving a recipe the spices should also be halved.

Ordinarily, I probably wouldn't have even noticed that the spices were a little feisty, since I like a good bit more seasoning in my food than many folks. This, however, was an Indian recipe by way of Madhur Jaffrey, and didn't really start life as a particularly subtle dish.

As it turned out, I wouldn't make it any other way. Yes, it's a zippy little number, but that's what raita is for, yes? I did add a smidge more cream than the recipe called for, to temper the additional spice, but other than that it worked out perfectly. It was fun to make, too, with the charring of the eggplant, and the tearing away of the blackened skin in leathery chunks. In deference to my occasionally-problematic right hand, I used my mini-prep to chop the onions and garlic, and I have to say that I was impressed at what a good job it did - without producing ragged mush, as some food processors are wont to do. I would probably still hand-chop for something that wasn't going to be cooked down (such as a salsa fresca) but this worked admirably on a day when I couldn't actually hold a proper knife in my hand.

Creamed Eggplant (India)
Adapted from World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped moderately finely
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek seed
1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seed
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1/4 cup half-and-half cream
cilantro to garnish

Line a sided-pan with tin-foil, and poke the eggplant with a fork - several times on each side. Char the entire eggplant under a broiler, until the skin is completely withered and black, and the flesh is soft. Transfer the eggplant to a clean sink and strip the skin away, carefully, under running cool water so that you don't burn yourself. Chop the flesh of the eggplant roughly and set aside.

In a medium skillet, over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the fenugreek and fennel and let it become aromatic before adding the onions and garlic. Stir and fry the onions until lightly golden. Then, add the tomato sauce and the rest of the spices, and stir and fry again until mixture is a little dry. Add the chopped eggplant, ginger, and salt. Stir and fry again until everything is well integrated (about five minutes), and then add the cream. Stir the cream through, keeping on the heat just long enough to warm it all nicely. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Serves 4 as a side-dish

Makes a surprisingly tasty appetizer when rolled up in a tortilla and sliced into pinwheels!

May 28, 2006

Stealth Cookie

It doesn't look like it's made with stoneground whole wheat flour. It doesn't look as though it was made with canola oil instead of butter. It certainly doesn't look low in fat. For the unswervingly chocolate-oriented, it may not even look all that delicious but, really, it is all of these things. This is the revised Oatmeal Coconut Cookie of my childhood. It has come a long way since the lumpy, dark-bottomed, dense-but-tasty little nuggets that represented the most commonly baked cookie of my childhood.

Occasionally, it would be studded with raisins or chocolate chips - perhaps even carob chips - but it is completely able to stand on its own, unadorned and golden. The coconut flavour is subtle but distinct, but if you wanted a more vigorous coconut flavour, you could use coconut extract, I suppose. I'm contemplating making them with rum extract, myself. Who could refuse a Malibu flavoured cookie?

The original recipe did in fact use whole wheat flour and canola oil, but I have tinkered with the proportions and technique to yield a leaner, crisper, flatter cookie. The proportions of rolled oats and flour are equal, making it almost a granola-bar of a cookie - very oaty, and the perfect thing to snack upon mid-morning or mid-afternoon, with a cup of hot tea or coffee, as you wish.

May 25, 2006

Last Vestiges of Winter

Spring is technically here, and the rains have certainly arrived, but the sudden chill after a week or so of warm, delightful weather has catapulted me back into a bit of a winter-cookery mode. To be fair, the real reason for making this recipe was because I got my grubby mitts on a copy of the much-lauded Zuni Cafe Cookbook. You see, I'd heard that they have a way with lentils, and I had a lovely little pouch of organic duPuy lentils mocking me from the fruit bowl, where I had unceremoniously plunked them in the blithe confidence that I would be using them straightaway.

They languished with the lemons and kiwi for about a week before I got to them, though, hence the mocking. Once I had the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, however, I really had no excuse. I found the perfect recipe, the one that simply demanded to be made with all haste: Lentils braised in red wine.

A trip to Oyama Sausage Company on Granville Island had equipped me with a pair of lean, rotund elk sausages, and another pair made of bison with rosemary. I roasted the sausages in the oven, alongside a pan of chopped fennel and whole garlic cloves. Fennel and sausage go so well together, whether the sausage is flavoured with fennel seeds or not. And garlic, of course, goes with everything.

As you can see from the picture, I didn't cut my carrot finely enough for the dish, but that didn't hinder the flavour at all. I realized at the time that the pieces should be smaller, but my problematic chopping hand was giving out and I did not have a, prep assist at the time. He showed up later, in time to slice cucumbers and trim radishes, for a much-needed fresh vegetable componant.

This dish could easily be made vegetarian. The original recipe uses olive oil rather than duck fat (I couldn't resist - it must be my French blood) and the braising liquid could be water (which I used) or veggie stock. The original also seems to think that fresh thyme is optional, but in my opinion, it is mandatory. I might try this again with the beluga lentils, since I usually have those on hand anyway, and I'm curious as to how different they would be. I don't think I'd try large green or brown lentils because, much as I love them in salads, I think they would easily turn to mush here.

Lentils Braised in Red Wine
Adapted from the "Zuni Cafe Cookbook" by Judy Rodgers

2 tablespoons duck fat
1 finely diced medium carrot
2 ribs finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 cups lentils (about 8 ounces) - French lentils or "Beluga" lentils
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as Sangiovese or Pinot Noir (I used a Tempranillo)
2 1/2 cups water, chicken stock, or a combination
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Warm the duck fat in a dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and a good pinch of salt. Stir for about 5 minutes as the vegetables release their moisture and begin to hiss, then add lentils, bay leaf, thyme, wine and about a cup of the water and/or stock. Raise the heat slightly to achieve a gentle (but not too gentle, or it will take longer to cook) simmer, then cook uncovered, stirring as needed, as you would risotto, adding more water or stock as the last of each batch is just about absorbed, until the lentils are nutty-tender and just bathed in their cooking liquid (you may not use all of the liquid, or you may need a little more). Allow about 40 minutes. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Add the extra-virgin olive oil to taste and simmer for a minute longer to bind it with the cooking liquid.

Serves 4 to 6.

Leftovers travel well to work, and reheat splendidly!

May 17, 2006

Desert Flavours: Chicken Sahara

I like sunny weather as much as the next person, really, but I am also one of those who suffers easily in the heat. None-the-less, I find myself drawn to flavours and staples of hot-weather cuisine. Chicken, that staple that happily accepts all manner of rough-treatment from filleting to pan-frying, braising, poaching, roasting, grilling, or skewering (and surely more that I've left out) becomes a particularly useful canvas for taking your tastebuds on a journey.

My journey this time is to the north of Africa - using the lemon and olive combination from Senegal's Yassa au Poulet, and the cumin, turmeric and red chiles favoured in Morocco. This is Chicken Sahara (expired link removed --please see recipe in the comments below) a recipe that I highjacked, modified and drastically improved from a more expositorily named recipe in a collection from Cooking Light, and which fairly shrieks of sunwarmed sand and sharp and pungent flavours. It is feisty, but not dangerously so.

The cooking method is unusual - room-temperature liquid surrounds the chicken as it goes into the oven, uncovered. There, it sort of poaches, sort of braises, for an hour, at the end of which, the weirdly murky-looking sauce has transformed into a smooth, thickened, sunny yellow, lemony deliciousness.

Make more than you need. Leftovers re-heat beautifully, and the lemony sauce is fabulous on steamed carrots, asparagus, broccoli - you name it. If there's any sauce leftover, I just stir it right into the leftover couscous that inevitably gets served with this dish. Very tasty, very easy.