February 15, 2007

Taking it Easy

Just because this is listed in the Kiddie Feast section of Nigella Lawson's Feast, doesn't mean it isn't a delicious little supper for a big kid who doesn't want to work to hard to get it.

You don't even really need a recipe - everything you need to know is visible in the picture. A couple of hundred grams of pasta, a good handful of peas, and some cubed up ham. A little cream, to moisten, and a dusting of parmesan, to set it up nicely. Presto! Dinner in minutes.

I especially like Nigella's instruction to drop frozen peas into the pasta water a minute or so before draining - makes for a very tidy sort of recipe, without need for a separate sauce pot or frying or blanching steps. Very civilized, really, and just the thing when you're recovering from being flattened by a devastating head cold.

You don't have to eat it straight from the pot, of course. But I certainly wouldn't blame you.

February 09, 2007

Soup, glorious soup!

I'm a big fan of citrus in savory recipes, so I was really pleased to see the current issue of Eating Well magazine hit the stands (as an aside, how unfortunate, that a magazine with such consistently good recipes abbreviates to "EW"). As I strolled through the pages of the magazine, plenty of recipes jumped out at me, but the one that demanded immediate attention was this one: Yucatan Lemon Soup. Bright flavours, simple construction, and the promise of a sunny lift in dreary February more than spurred me to the market for the requisite ingredients.

The recipe calls for Meyer lemons, which I had never used before, but which I had noticed were available at Capers Market recently. I followed the recipe pretty closely, and I have to tell you that it was fabulous! This will be made again and again, in our household.

Two things, in addition to the basic goodness of the recipe, contributed to my overall success: One, I had a pot of fresh, homemade chicken stock made from an organic, free range chicken, and two, I didn't shortcut the shrimp. By which I mean to say, I started with raw, shell-on shrimp, and peeled the little darlings before tumbling them into the finished broth.

The results were so outstanding, that I think I will make this again before the month is out - while Meyer lemons are still in season, at least. I suppose in the Yucatan, such soup would really be made with lime juice, and I'm game to try that, too. However, the beautifully mild sweetness of the Meyer, offset with the earthy cinnamon stick and the brightness of the cilantro were a truly winning combination.

Serves four, indeed! Not in this household.

February 04, 2007

Dark Banana Bread

This is not your garden-variety coffee-shop fare. Full of dark flavours and, just for fun, little chunks of banana-y goodness, it is a perfect morning treat to get you through to lunch without compromising your healthy intentions for the day. It's made with stone ground whole wheat flour, a small amount of brown sugar, and has a mild hint of dark cardamom flavour. Oh, and did I mention rum flavouring? Rum and bananas are just the thing, I think. These squares are not at all dainty, but rather squat and homey - and just perfect for snacking.

Dark Banana Bread

1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
2 mashed bananas (from frozen is good)
2 teaspoons rum extract
1 1/4 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick oats (not instant)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 firm banana, diced

Preheat your oven to 35o F. Grease (or spritz with canola) an 8" square metal baking dish.

Beat together the oil, sugar, and eggs. Add the mashed bananas and rum extract and beat again until all nice and smooth.

In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients. Be sure to use quick oats, not instant or rolled oats, whose texture are quite different. Tip the dry ingredients into the banana mixture, and stir just to combine. Add diced banana and stir through gently.

Pour batter into the prepared pan (it should be a little lumpy looking) and bake for about 45 minutes or until dark golden brown, and a toothpick or cake skewer comes out clean. The cake/bread will have pulled slightly away from the sides, too. Allow it to cool in the pan, then slice into 9 squares. Freeze individual squares in plastic wrap for a stash of lunchbox-ready treats.

You could certainly add raisins or currants, or walnuts, if that's your fancy. You could also substitute the cardamom with cinnamon, but I think cardamom is nicer, here.

Next time, I'm contemplating adding a little coconut, for a full-on Caribbean approach.

February 03, 2007

The Soul of a New Cuisine

One of my Christmas presents this year was a cookbook by Ethiopian-born Swede Marcus Samuelsson - the beautiful The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa. The recipes therein are quite gorgeous, and it was a bit of a chore to decide what to make first. Palle relieved me of that responsibility by deciding to make the Chicken-Peanut Stew (Samuelsson's own take on a classic combination found all over the northwest of Africa, inspired by descriptions from a dishwasher from Mali).

Classically, the dish would be served with yellow rice, we are told, but in the interests of keeping things simple, we opted for straight-forward basmati, steamed up in the rice-cooker untended, while Palle chopped, prepped and sauteed his way through the making of the dish.

We had shopped earlier that day, down at Granville Island market, a known source of fiesty scotch bonnet and habanero chiles, which the recipe calls for. We used two, trimming out the seeds and much of the incendiary pith, but the resulting dish was not as fiery as, for example, Palle's Jerk Chicken, which has been known to almost blind dinner guests. As you may guess, the man likes his fierce food.

The stew had spinach in it, which I am not accustomed to having in any other iteration of chicken and peanut stew. It was, however, a beautiful and perfect ingredient - added just at the last minute and stirred through, so it stayed jewel-bright and fresh tasting, and that single element really elevated the dish into something special. I particularly liked that, unlike many one-pot meals, this one had a variety of textures and a very well-balanced approach to starch and protein, and vegetables. While the recipe called for a combination of chicken breast and thigh, after making it that way I once again decided that stewed chicken should be all dark meat, whereever possible. It just gives itself over to the task that much better, staying juicy even in large chunks, browning beautifully when sauteed, and having a lot of flavour. For the small increase in fat to be found in the thighs, I'll take them over breast meat in most simmered dishes.

We both really liked the dish, although a couple of changes may be in order. The aforementioned all-thigh approach definitely strikes my fancy, and also, the amount of liquid seems a little higher than I thought ideal, especially for a stew as opposed to a soup. This is the sort of thing that can be very hard to gauge the first time one does a recipe, and moreso in a recipe like this where cooked onions and carrots are pureed into the liquid. Still, it's a good thing to note and adjust on a re-visit.

There are a lot of other dishes I want to try, in this book. There's an outstanding-looking lamb and chickpea sandwich, and a recipe for homemade merguez sausage - made into meatballs. That sounds just about perfect, to me, so I'm really looking forward to making it. I just need to decide what to serve with them...I suspect they are next on the list.