August 30, 2007

Pirate Granola

Should I explain the name? Well, I'll try: Maybe it's because I'm soon going to be attending a pirate-themed party, and maybe it's because I've still got the image of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow burned into my retinas, and maybe it's because I sort of highjacked the original recipe from the inimitable Alton Brown. Maybe it's just that the changes I made all sort of smacked of the Caribbean, and while I know there is more to that culture than pirates (cue Johnny Depp, again), it just sounded kind of fun.

But, really? It's very, very good. Lightly sweet, satisfyingly crunchy, and easy to make.

I did, in fact, start with Alton's ratios, but because I don't like my granola to be too sweet, I cut down on the amount of sugars going into this by quite a bit. Once I decided to use rum syrup instead of maple syrup, well, that along with the coconut was really the start of the theme. I added pumpkin seeds in place of one of the types of nuts that Alton used, and this was a good thing, because a well-toasted pumpkin seed is a delicious addition to many a snackfood.

This recipe is rather goody-heavy. It's not like those sad bags you can see in some markets which are ninety-five percent oats and sugar, with a few stray-looking nuts or raisins. This granola is laden with, ahem, booty. While it's not in the picture, I later added some banana chips, although I've since become horrified at the fat content of those, and won't be repeating that adjustment.

Pirate Granola
Severely adapted from a recipe looted from Alton Brown

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup very roughly chopped almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
1/4 cup rum syrup (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup raisins (chopped dates would also be good)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine the molasses, rum syrup, oil and salt, and stir well. Combine both mixtures and stir until thoroughly integrated. Pour onto one or two large, foil-lined (and oil-spritzed) sheet pans. Cook for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring gently every 30 minutes to achieve an even colour.

Remove from oven and transfer to a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed. Once cool, seal in an air-tight container and keep unrefrigerated.

Yield: approximately 7 cups

Exellent as a topping for yoghurt, as a breakfast cereal, or - my favourite - as a coffee-break snack! I just pour a bit into a mug, sit at my desk, and much while I'm working, surfing, or typing.

Rum Syrup

1 cup brown sugar, not packed
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons rum extract

Combine sugar and water in small saucepan on stovetop, over a medium heat. Allow it to come to a gentle boil, and allow to cook until all sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, and add extract. Allow to cool, bottle, and refrigerate. Excellent on pancakes, or over ice cream.

August 26, 2007

Easiest Pasta Ever (Fettuccine Tapanade)

This is, really, the easiest pasta dish I've ever made. Barely more effort than packet pasta, really, and easy enough to accomplish when tipsy!

It's not even a recipe, really. It just sort of went like this:
  • Boil up water for pasta.
  • Throw in a good pinch of salt and about 200 g of fettuccine (aka "a good handful").
  • While the pasta comes back up to the boil, roughly chop up some capicolla found languishing in fridge. Haphazard chopping is okay.
  • Toss capicolla into nonstick skillet over medium heat, and let it frizzle a bit. Dump about half a cup or so of good quality black olive tapanade over capicolla.
  • Scoop al dente pasta out of boiling water and dump it on top of the tapanade. Give it a good stir. Add a clove of crushed garlic, if you're feeling fancy, and if the mixture is tight you can loosen it with a glug of olive oil.
  • Top with a fair bit of freshly chopped parsley, to give it a bit of a lift.
  • Dish up and devour.
This is going in the "Oh yeah!" pile of easy recipes. The cucumber on the side (barely visible) is a bare nod to the notion that olive tapanade doesn't really qualify as a vegetable, nor does parsley (except when used in tabouleh quantities).

I confess that I did a second version of this without the capicolla, but instead with some sauteed yellow and green zucchini and red peppers, and tossed it with tortellini. Slightly more effort, true, but a more well-rounded meal. You could easily make it a vegetarian or vegan dish, as it doesn't need (or want) any cheese atop.

August 04, 2007

French Skillet Dinner, or "Not Cassoulet"

I love French food. I like the flavours, the unabashed use of butter and garlic, the reliance on duck and rabbit as part of the cuisine ordinaire. I like the traditions of wildcrafting, and of seasonal eating - abundance of whatever happens to be in season. I like the rustic stuff, and I like the highly refined, elegant stuff.

There are plenty of simple French dishes, many of which (for example, a classic omelette) I make without stopping to think of them as French, per se. Then, of course, there are the dishes that simply use French accents - combining carrots and tarragon, or thyme with mushrooms.

I am also very, very lazy in my weekday cooking, and as such, I often look for ways to shortcut methods and still feel like I'm dining reasonably well. I'm also pretty big on variety, and cannot face pan-fried hamburgers in mushroom gravy three nights of the week on an ongoing basis (although, back in school, I suspected that I could).

Of late, we've been all about the skillet dinners. Assorted combinations of rice or pasta and some sort of meat (often chicken) and vegetables, and one-pan programming. You know, the sort of dinner that you can bang out quickly when you get home from work and you're kind of bagged, or you don't feel much like spending all night in the kitchen. There are, however, only so many variations of pasta and rice that can be made in a one-pot dinner, and I thought that I had run their course. Until, as it turned out, I was standing in the butcher shop staring at some lovely looking lean duck sausages, and a glimmering of an idea came about.

I've seen plenty of "easy cassoulet" recipes over the years, recipes which promise the rich, soul-satisfying taste of cassoulet in less time than the requisite two-day operation. I've seen one-day "cassoulet" and four-hour "cassoulet" but it seems a little disingenuous to claim them as the real deal. I suppose, what it comes down to, is that there are a lot of bean and sausage dishes, but not all of them are cassoulet.

I didn't have time to muck about with confit, and I didn't have any pork or fatty lamb handy, but I figured that, since the French themselves have such varied and vehement opinions as to what really qualifies as cassoulet, as long as I'm not claiming to make a particularly authentic dish, I can do what I want with the idea of it. Out of this perhaps somewhat arrogant reasoning, came dinner, in exactly 45 minutes from wandering into the kitchen and curling up on the sofa with a big old bowl in my lap.

I was somewhat shocked to realize that it is actually a fairly healthy dish, since the sausages that I used were not terribly fatty, and there was no added fat or oil in the dish. Quel surprise! I'll definitely be making this again.

French Skillet Dinner
aka "Not Cassoulet"

4 large duck sausages
1 large onion, diced
3 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 whole cloves (the spice)
pinch ground cloves
good pinch ground sage
pinch ground thyme, or sprig of fresh thyme
white pepper, to taste
2 - 3 cups cooked white beans, such as cannelini, white kidney, great northern, flageolet
2 medium carrots, diced
dry white vermouth

In a large, heavy, cast iron (or any not-non-stick) skillet, brown the sausages on all sides over high heat (no oil needed). Push the sausages to the side, and add the onions. Saute, stirring occasionally, until well caramelized, and add one of the cloves of garlic, and a good pinch of salt. Add the carrots, and saute and stir, adding a little vermouth from time to time if necessary to keep from burning.

The sausage should have developed a nice sticky brown fond on the bottom of the pan. Add about a half-cup of vermouth and scrape it up into the onion and carrot mixture. Add the bayleaves, whole cloves, ground cloves, white pepper, sage and thyme, all at once. Stir to distribute evenly. Add beans, and enough water to make a fairly loose stew. Simmer, uncovered, over a medium-low flame for about fifteen minutes, or until the gravy thickens and reduces.

Remove sausages and cut into chunks. Return sausage chunks to pan along with the second sliced clove of garlic. Stir well (but gently, so you don't mash all the beans). Taste the gravy and adjust for salt as needed. Drizzle an extra tablespoon of vermouth over the top, sprinkle generously with parsley, and serve with a nice glass of wine and a piece of crusty baguette.