December 29, 2010

International Bento (Afghanistan): Burani Bonjon

I realize that I have not yet posted any of the holiday baking or cooking that we have done this past month, and I'm not going to get to it again, either. I confess to be a little weary of butter tarts, shortbread, and cranberry oat squares at this point, and I'm right back to craving the savory foods that we tend to rely upon.

This bento was constructed from leftovers from a dinner that Palle cooked earlier this month, and we're definitely going to have it again. The lamb curry in almond milk (a sort of Afghani korma, if you will) was tasty but a tad monotone, and may want a little tweaking, before I'm ready to post it up. The eggplant dish, however, Burani Bonjon, was outstanding. Outstanding! Here it is again below, as we had it the first night, since I fairly drowned it in yoghurt sauce in the bento picture.

One of the marvelous things about this dish is that it is served at room temperature, or chilled, meaning that it a) can be made in advance, and b) is perfect for bento (although, I did remove the lamb curry from the bento to warm it up anyway). The other marvelous thing is that, while consisting wholly of familiar flavours, the combination was so delicious that I really could not get it into my mouth fast enough.

Burani Bonjon
Serves 4

1 large eggplant (about 8" long)
200 ml. canned diced tomatoes, drained
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon powdered cayenne
salt & pepper to taste
Aleppo pepper (for garnish)
Seer Moss (for garnish, see recipe below)

Slice the eggplant into coins. Lightly, but liberally salt both sides and allow to rest on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet for about an hour, to draw out the bitterness. Rinse the salt off, and pat the slices very dry.

Saute the crushed garlic in half the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet until fragrant, the remove the garlic to the side. Add the (dried) eggplant slices to the skillet and brown both sides, cooking in batches if necessary, and adding the remaining oil as needed (eggplant soaks up oil pretty fast).

Reduce the heat and add the tomato, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper. Simmer until the eggplant is very tender. Serve warm, or at room temperature (not hot!). Drizzle with Seer Moss and sprinkle with chopped cilantro and Aleppo pepper.

Seer Moss: Garlic Yoghurt Sauce

This makes a lot of sauce, but you will love it as a vegetable dip, or as an alternative to Tzatziki, so make the whole batch.

1 cup plain yoghurt
3 - 4 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch salt

Combine and let chill for at least an hour to allow the flavours to meld, but remove from fridge 15 minutes before serving, to take the chill off.

I can't wait to have this again.

December 07, 2010

A Thousand kinds of Chili: Texas Red

Why, that's my baked acorn squash stuffed with leftover Texas Red, that's what that is.

I have been eating chili all my life, but until I left home, I had only had chili that was made from ground beef and contained kidney beans. I loved it. I still do. But I soon realized that it's not the only chili kid on the block, and there are an awful lot of tasty contenders to get wrapped up in. These days, my chili might be made with ground buffalo and black beans, or, in Palle's case, ground turkey, pumpkin, and beer.

There is the great debate, of course: beans or no beans. People have very strong opinions on the subject, and while I am a fan of beans, generally speaking, I've certainly enjoyed the bean-less chiles that I've had. Tomatoes or no tomatoes is an almost as heated question. Certainly the chile of my childhood depended on tomatoes as part of the flavour and texture and overall body of the dish.

As I considered the different styles and recipes available, it gradually dawned on me that the dish I really wanted to make was closer to Mexican Carne con Chile than anything I had eaten as a kid, but I wanted an American style. A classic. I started doing some research on the classic preparations of Texas style chile, the infamous, notorious bowl of red.

Because I do like beans, I opted for red kidney beans on the side, and made them nice and spicy with lots of fresh green chiles. That's a whole separate recipe. And, because I do like cornbread, I made some to go with.

After extensively slogging my way through old American cookbooks and the interwebs in general, I found in Homesick Texan the inspiration for the chili that I wanted to make. It had almost everything I wanted: chocolate, ancho chiles, beer, chunks of tender meat braised long and low.

I confess to the scandalous addition of tomato paste, because I like the depth of flavour it brings, without contributing a particular tomato-y-ness to the entire affair.

Texas Red Chili
Adapted from Homesick Texan

4 ancho chiles
2 pasilla chiles

2 pounds of bottom blade beef, cut into 1/2 centimetre cubes

1 large onion diced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 bottle of beer (I used Tankhouse Ale)

2 cups of water

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp cayenne

2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ancho powder (just for good measure)
1/3 mexican chocolate tablet, grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Bufalo Jalapeno Hot Sauce

I heated the dried chiles by holding them over a flame on my gas stove until they became pliable. I tore them open and removed the seeds, and tore the pods into pieces. They went into a bowl with enough water to cover, and were let to soak for half an hour while I cut up the meat. I sprinkled the meat lightly with kosher salt.

I seared the meat in batches in my Dutch oven, then added the onions and garlic, and stirred them around until the onions became translucent. I added the tomato paste and dry spices, and stirred them around until everything was evenly coated. I deglazed the pan with some of the beer, then added the rest as a braising liquid, along with the water.

The chiles were retrieved from their soaking liquid, and pureed in a mini food processor with a little water to make a thin paste/thick sauce. This was then added to the chile pot.

Once the chili began to boil, I turned the heat down to low and let it simmer for about three hours, stirring occasionally.

I smashed up a couple of wedges from a Mexican hot chocolate disc using my meat mallet, and sprinkled the cocoa dust into the pot. I had some masa harina standing by to thicken it up, but it really didn't need any help, as far as I could tell Maybe a Texan would have wanted it thicker, but the spoon was standing up pretty well on its own, so that was good enough for me. I let the chili simmer for another half hour or so, and served as you see above.

Oh, and if you want to serve it (or the leftovers thereof, perhaps mixed with any leftover beans, or perhaps not) in a squash, simply hollow out a nice acorn squash, brush with canola oil and sprinkle with cumin and smoked paprika. Bake uncovered in a baking dish at 350℉ for about 20 to 30 minutes. Fill with hot chile, and maybe a nice coleslaw on the side.

December 04, 2010

International Bento (Germany/Ukraine): Sausage & Sauerkraut

Internationally speaking, this bento is a little German, a little Ukrainian/Russian, a little Polish... and generally north eastern European.

This bento was the result of leftovers, as is my usual modus operandi, The sausages and sauerkraut were cooked together in Riesling wine, using the recipe from Nigella Express, the perogies are potato, from Alenka on Kingsway in Vancouver, with caramelized red onions sprinkled over them.

I do note that the amount of sauerkraut that the recipe makes far exceeded our needs, so be advised to cut it in half if you don't want leftover kraut. Also, the amount of wine does not sufficiently cook away in the cooking time, so I have reduced it from 750 ml to 500 ml. The good news is, you get to drink the remaining 250 ml with dinner!

Sausages with Sauerkraut
Adapted from Nigella Express
Serves 6 - 8

950 grams jarred sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons juniper berries or sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 dried bay leaves
8 smoked sausages, cut into shorter lengths
2 cups/500 ml dry Riesling wine
1 teaspoon white peppercorns

Spread the drained sauerkraut in the bottom of a small roasting pan. Sprinkle with juniper berries, bay leaves, and white peppercorns. Add the sausage pieces in a single layer, and carefully pour in the wine. Bring the mixture to a boil on the stovetop, then cover with foil and place in a 400℉ oven, and bake for 30 minutes (check the liquid level after 20 minutes, as your mileage may vary). Serve with mustard.

If you do not have juniper berries, sprigs of fresh rosemary give a similar effect of a woodsy floral note. It's not the same, of course, but it is a lovely alternative if juniper berries aren't something you can easily get.

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Redux

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends south of the border!

Up here in Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October, so to allow time to sufficiently digest the turkey before having more at Christmas, or so the story goes (according to me). However, it's true that we don't always have turkey for Christmas dinner at our house (although we usually have one on Boxing Day with the family), and it's also true that we sometimes mess around with cross-cultural holiday traditions.

Tonight, we'll be having a turkey & stuffing skillet dinner, with roasted Brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato. It's considerably less effort than a traditional stuffed turkey dinner, and perfect for those of us who like to squeeze in an extra turkey-related meal between the others. I'm still tweaking the recipe, though, and you'll get an update on it when I've figured it out completely...

On Canadian Thanksgiving, however, we let our fusion madness run amok. This time, the infusion was from Japanese cuisine. The above picture is our turkey gyoza with sage-rice, sake-steamed sweet potato cubes, and ginger-sauteed Brussels sprouts, with little bowls of miso gravy and cranberry-soy dipping sauce (made with cranberry sauce, rice vinegar, and soy sauce).

The sage rice needs work - I needed to use either more (and more finely chopped) fresh sage, or combine it with a pinch of dry sage to really infuse the rice with a pleasantly mild sage-iness. As it was, the inclusion of the sage was tasty, but seemed kind of accidental or incidental to the dish.

The sweet potato cubes were a new variation on our favourite "Holiday Yams" which are briefly described about half-way through this post on jerk chicken. Instead of citrus juice for the liquid, I simply used sake, and instead of the mixed spices, I used thin coins of peeled ginger. The results were lovely! I used a covered corningware dish to make these, and bake them for about 40 minutes at 375℉ (you can adjust the time accordingly if you are cooking something else concurrently at a different temperature. This version was also a big hit, and will definitely be called upon again.

As a weird, additional bonus on the day, we were let out early from work on account of the (snowy) weather, since Vancouver comes to a screeching halt if more than two snowflakes are spotted in the air together. This means that I had lots of time to get home, and get dinner on the table, which was much appreciated.

Cooking Chicken @ Quince

On Tuesday, I went to a food bloggers meetup put together by the Chicken Farmers of Canada at Quince in Kitsilano.

The evening wasn't all marketing, as I had feared. There were a couple of reps from the organization, Marty and Carol, who were available to answer questions and generally co-ordinating the evening, and one of the attendees was in fact a chicken farmer, so we had good representation from the chicken folks. The first part of the evening was wine and canapes while we introduced ourselves to each other, and got to meet some of Vancouver's other food bloggers.

The rest of the evening was in fact a cooking class, including a demo from Quince owner/chef (and former Dubrulle instructor) Andrea Jefferson, who had a terrific teaching style, by the way (and offers classes at Quince), and then we were broken up into small groups to practice the recipes we had just seen demonstrated.

In an extraordinary failure as a food blogger, I did not remember to bring my camera. D'oh! However, my excellent teammate Marianne, from French Fries to Flax Seeds has done a heroic job of documenting the evening, so I refer you to her photo-rich post here. This is an epic cheat for me, since we worked in the same group to make the mushroom risotto and pan-seared chicken breast. You can even see my hands in a couple of photos - salting/stirring the diced mushrooms, and slicing the chicken breast for the plating. Our other teammates were Tana from Cheap Appetite and Kevin from 604 Foodtography.

The veggies, oven-seared zucchini and red bell peppers, were supplied by Quince staff, working hard around us to keep everything moving smoothly, and the pomegranate-duck reduction was prepared in advance and dispensed carefully on each finished plate by the chef.

So, I met quite a few new people, who will hopefully be familiar faces at any future food blogger event, and some new blogs (including Buttercream Barbie, Van Foodies, and Real Food Made Easy) to check out. All this, and a belly full of chicken and risotto, all courtesy the Chicken Farmers of Canada and Quince. Thanks for the invite!

November 21, 2010

Forbidden Rice

A friend gave me some beautifully inky "Fobidden Rice" earlier this year, and I was quite thrilled, because I had been wanting to try it (thanks, Lisa!). It's quite different from Thai black rice, which is a fairly long grain and appears to be primarily used for sweet snacks and desserts. Chinese Forbidden Rice is a short grain, and is rather small overall. A grain of the black rice next to a grain of basmati, for example, is an almost comical contrast.

Having never made Forbidden Rice before, I did a little research online before I started cooking. Most of the advice that I encountered suggested that the the rice needs less in the way of cooking water than most rices, but we found it quite firm and a little dry in texture, so a little more water would not have hurt, I think. The actual packaging (Cote D'Azur™ Chinese Forbidden Rice) called for equal parts water and rice, plus a pinch of sea salt. Next time, I think I would add another quarter-cup of water per cup of rice.

The flavour was very interesting. Definitely falling on the "nutty" side of unpolished rices, there was an almost woodsy undertone that I found very appealing, especially against a simple, brightly flavoured counterpoint such as the basic gingered chicken and broccoli stir fry that we paired it with.

I was really amazed by how black the rice stayed, once cooked. I was expecting it to go rather purplish, like many of the "red" rices do (although perhaps darker), but those little rice grains stayed black.

After poking around the internet for further suggestions for the remaining rice, and eyeing various recipes for puddings, salads, and, intriguingly, mixed rice types, I decided to take up a suggestion that I found in a few places: mixing about 20% of the black rice into 80% "regular" japonica rice (Japanese-style rice). I cooked it in the rice cooker, using the same amount of water as I would if I were making 100% japonica. The result was quite striking (sorry, no picture), as the black rice turned everything a sort of gentle, royal purple colour, with darker purple grains of the black rice. I should have made some of it into onigiri, because that would have been adorable (especially using a cherry-blossom shaper). I don't have very much of the black rice left, however, so I may try the mixed rice again. If I do, I will be sure to take pictures to share with you, and maybe make those onigiri, if we have any leftovers.

November 18, 2010

Apple Crisp, plus Apple Crisp Bento

Apple crisp has always been one of my favourite desserts.

It's not the prettiest thing going, so it doesn't suggest you need to wait for some sort of special occasion, and it's not a lot of work, unless you're afraid of peeling a few apples. It doesn't have tricky pastry, or challenging timing issues. It can be eaten hot or cold, plain or garnished with ice cream, for dessert or even for breakfast, really, since it contains both fruit and rolled oats and can therefore be classed as health food. You can make them any size you like, but more on that later.

Somewhere in my house (I think), lies a recipe card with my mother's Apple Crisp recipe (serves eight). It didn't get put back in its box one day, and has been missing in action ever since. There's a reasonable probability that it got swept up with some recycling, and will never be seen again. This makes me quite sad.

Fortunately, it's not a terribly complicated recipe, and I've been scaling it back to four servings for years, and tweaking the spicing and toying with adding almonds or dried cranberries or whatnot, so I didn't really need my mother's recipe, although I'll be very happy if it turns up again next time I sort through the cooking bookcase.

Anyway, I've attempted to recreate the basic recipe here. It turned out exactly as I wanted, so I'm feeling pretty pleased about the whole thing.

Apple Crisp

Fruit Layer
4 to 5 medium apples (I like to use Galas)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Crisp Layer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, melted (or: 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon cut into tiny pieces)

Peel and core the apples, and chop them into bite-sized chunks - I make them about the size of the end-joint of my thumb, but however you like (just not too small, or they will mush up). Toss with sugar and cinnamon, and pat them evenly into a lightly canola-spritzed baking dish A 1.5 quart cube-shaped baking dish works really well for this.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients of the topping with a fork. Add the melted butter all at once, and stir like mad to ensure that the oat mixture gets thoroughly coated with the butter. There should be no dry or floury-looking bits, so keep stirring until it all comes together. If you absolutely have to, add another tablespoon of butter (you shouldn't need to). If you press a bit of the topping between your fingers, it should clump in a crumbly sort of way.

Scrape the topping out of the bowl onto the apples. Spread it out to evenly cover all of the apples, and press lightly with your fingers to help create a surface-crust when it bakes. Don't press too hard, or you'll compact the topping into a dense wodge that is tasty, but less texturally pleasing. Note that you can fill your dish right up to the edge, since the apple crisp will "settle" a little as it bakes.

Bake uncovered at 375℉ for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the topping is a dark golden hue and has sunk down in the dish slightly. It might be a bit darker on the edges - that's okay. Allow to cool at least a few minutes before serving (but it is plenty delicious at room temperature, or chilled, too). Serve on its own, or with ice cream (or whipped cream) or coconut yoghurt. Totally up to you.

In other good news, as touched on above, you can make these pretty much any size you like. You'll want to adjust the oven time somewhat, especially if you have an extra small or extra big one. I made a little, bento-sized one in a silicone baking cup along side the larger one, just to see how it would turn out. I pulled it from the oven at 30 minutes, and it was just right. Here's a closeup:

I didn't really have a bento planned to go with it, so I made an ad hoc bento that I thought turned out pretty well: a Shichimi tōgarashi onigiri from the freezer (microwaved for one minute to revive it); some fresh-cut radishes and cucumber half-moons; ham-wrapped cheddar batons, and a snowpea salad with ginger & rice vinegar dressing (the red bits are bell peppers). And, of course, the mini apple crisp! There was supposed to be a few frozen blueberries tucked in around the apple crisp, in true bento-stuffing tradition where empty space is anathema, but I was running out of time and shrugged it off.

This looks like it might not be a lot of food, but in fact it was quite filling. More importantly, it was an absolute delight to have a little, guilt-free dessert at lunch time. Most importantly, I suppose, from bento standards, everyone who saw it thought it was the most adorable thing ever. I was pleased that the apples had not completely mushed out (in part a function of the type of apple I used), and I was really quite thrilled that making individual sized apple crisps really didn't take more effort than a single larger one. This makes the apple crisp a dessert more suitable to dinner parties than I had previously expected.

As a final note, I want to mention a delicious variation on apple crisp which I first made a number of years ago, and which is incredibly simple. All you need to do is shake a handful of frozen cranberries into the apple mixture, and give it a good stir. Instant holiday fare!

November 13, 2010

Challah and Challah Swirl

I don't bake bread as often as I used to. Some of that is because I usually choose low-glycemic breads for everyday consumption, and I haven't really got the patience for making flourless breads or sourdough breads myself, or at least not on any sort of regular basis. Challah is really more of a special occasion bread to me, enriched with oil and eggs as it is; not being Jewish, I feel free to take liberties with challah which might or might not be acceptable to some. At any rate, it had been quite a while since I made any, and I felt it was high time.

My challah loaves are usually done in the traditional free-form braid (sometimes, as a smaller braid stacked on top of a larger braid, if I'm feeling fancy, or have a housewarming to go to). This time, however, I felt like making something that would easily fit into my toaster for breakfast during the week, so I crammed my braid into a loaf pan, and split the difference, as it were.

For the second loaf, I wanted something fun. I had contemplated making it into a set of nine cinnamon buns, but laziness won the day, and I settled on rolling it up into a log, and putting that into a second loaf pan.

As you can see, my rolling/shaping skillz are far from "mad". I am rather grievously out of practice, and should probably submit myself to some sort of remedial practice regime until the results are fit to photograph. This one managed to have the swirl quite uneven, as well as rising higher on one end than the other, because I was sloppy about making sure the rolled out dough was even. Quite lopsided. Hmph! Perhaps it was simply depressed by the rather ratty-looking pan that I used for it, next to the pristine loaf pan for the regular challah.

No matter, both loaves were delicious. The swirl was effected by mixing brown sugar with equal parts cinnamon and ground cardamom, a combination which I highly recommend, and which will be repeated the next time I feel the urge to get fancy with my bread. The swirl loaf also toasted up beautifully. I am partial to a slice of strong cheddar on toasted spiced and/or raisined breads, and this combination didn't disappoint at all.

I may have to make it again soon...just for the practice, of course!

The recipe that I use is from Claudia Roden's wonderful The Bood of Jewish Food. I note that she spells it "Hallah", another common spelling, but one I cannot get used to. Her recipe makes four medium-sized loaves, so I cut it in half here, for two loaves or one stacked braid:

Adapted from the Hallah recipe in The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 cup 2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten, plus 1 egg for glazing
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Optionally, sesame seeds or poppy seeds for garnish

Proof the yeast in the warm water with a pinch of the sugar, in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand until it foams. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the rest of the sugar, the salt, the eggs and oil and beat well. When the yeast is foamy, add the egg mixture and stir well.

To the wet mixture, add a cup and a half of flour and beat for approximately 100 strokes in the same direction. The batter will be thin and should become lump free during the process. Add another cup of flour and beat that in, too. Add the rest of the flour gradually, as needed, until the dough becomes a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead for about ten minutes by hand, until the dough becomes shiny, supple, and doesn't stick to your hands too much. You can add a little more flour as needed to prevent the sticking enough to be able to knead the dough.

Place the bread dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough so that the top has a thin film of oil over it, and cover it lightly with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free spot, such as the inside of an unlit oven with the light turned on. Let it rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until it doubles in size.

Squeeze the air out of the dough (also called "punching down", but you don't need to be that rough), and shape the bread as you wish, into two loaves or a single, stacked loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a loaf pan, as you will, and allow to rise until just about double, about an hour.

Use a pastry brush to gently brush the beaten egg glaze over the exposed surfaces of the bread. If you want to add seeds, sprinkle them on top of the glaze, so they will stick. Do not skip the glaze - this is what gives the lovely burnished golden brown colour. Your loaves will be pale and incomplete looking without it.

Bake at 350℉ for 30 - 40 minutes for two loaves, 40 - 50 minutes for a big stacked braid. Test them for doneness by tapping the bottom - they should sound hollow.

November 11, 2010

Coconut Pancakes

In the novel City of Bones (by Cassandra Clare), Clary Fry orders coconut pancakes at a diner in New York. It was a minor detail in a scene, and not relevant to the storyline, but the idea struck me hard as a good one. Why had I never had coconut pancakes before? I had to make some.

I looked online, but didn't find any recipes that really caught my fancy - many of them being more crepe-like or using coconut flour, which I didn't have on hand. I decided to simply modify several existing pancake recipes that I already make.

Coconut Pancakes

Makes: 10 - 12 fluffy pancakes (4" diameter)
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 45 minutes

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup fine unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup 1% milk
1 egg, beaten

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, mixing well with a fork. In a separate bowl, or large measuring cup, combine the wet ingredients (start with the 3/4 cup of milk amount), beating well until smooth.

Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour in the wet ingredients all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork to combine. The batter will be quite thick, but if it starts looking more like biscuit dough, add extra milk, 1/4 cup at a time. Continue to stir with a fork until all dry bits are integrated. Don't try to make it totally lump-free - a few small lumps in the batter are normal, and you don't want to overmix it. Plus, the coconut makes it look lumpier than it really is. Let the batter stand for about 15 minutes.

Spritz a large, non-stick skillet with canola oil, and allow it to heat over medium-high heat until you can flick a drop of water on the surface, and it dances. You can use a teaspoon to make a "tester" pancake if you like. Use a large, shallow serving spoon to scoop batter into the pan - I can fit three pancakes in my 12-inch skillet. Allow them to cook until the edges start to look a little dry, and little bubbles are rising to the surface in the middle of the pancake (about two minutes, but check underneath as needed), then flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or so.

Transfer finished pancakes to a rack in a warm oven to hold until all of the pancakes are ready. You probably won't need to re-spray the skillet before ladling the next set of pancakes in, but it's a good idea to aim for the empty spaces between where the previous pancakes cooked, just to help preserve the pan's non-stick surface.

Serve with any of your favourite pancake toppings. We had ours with whisky syrup (and some with orange-flower honey). I bet Nutella would be terrific, with or without bananas...

Leftover pancakes re-heat beautifully in the toaster for a quick weekday breakfast.

November 06, 2010

Tomato Tarragon Bisque

It's definitely soup weather. In fact, not only was my last post also soup, I am also making soup right now. However, the one that is currently on the stove is my trusty ol' Beef Barley Soup, which I have already told you about. I noticed the recipe doesn't contain bay leaves, so I added some, and I'm also using fresh thyme, but otherwise, no change. It looks exactly like the picture through the link.

Today, instead, I'm going to tell you about a soup that I made a few weeks ago, the last of which I pulled from the freezer and defrosted for lunch earlier this week. Tomato Tarragon Bisque.

I've been using tarragon a lot since my sister brought me a seedling. Turns out, the seedling really, really enjoyed the plant food I gave it, and has been growing fairly abundantly. I've had to cut it back just to keep it off the floor. Now, tarragon likes a couple of things in this world, and two of them are cream and mushrooms. So, there've been a few dinners involving sauteed chicken with mushrooms and tarragon cream sauce, and the like, but that's a whole other post.

Since I can't eat creamy things every day (or I will need to buy a larger wardrobe), I started thinking about things that I could make with tarragon that weren't fundamentally based on dairy. I remembered, long ago, a Manhattan-style clam chowder recipe that I made (in an attempt to impress someone, actually) that had tarragon, and I think that was the first time that I had ever used the herb. That recipe (and the relationship) and I parted ways twenty years ago, and I don't really like clams, so that was out. It did lead me to thinking about tomato-based soups, though, and so that is ultimately what I decided to do.

I started with my Simple Tomato Soup recipe (expired link removed, please see recipe in the comments section below), which is a wonderfully all-purpose soup that can be switched up in a lot of ways. Ultimately, I did very little to change it. I added some drained, diced tomatoes (peel them if using fresh) after the puree stage, and about a half-cup of finely chopped tarragon leaves, stirred right in at the end. I didn't add the allspice, because I wasn't making "that" soup.

The brightness of the fresh tarragon and nice, bite-sized chunks of tomato interrupt the smooth, thick texture texture of the soup made it hearty enough that it didn't really need a sandwich on the side (although a chunk of bread didn't go amiss). Overall, a pleasantly light lunch or part (as they say) of a nutritious dinner...

Definitely on the repeat list.

October 31, 2010

Golden Borscht

Oh. Hi there. I didn't mean to leave you all alone for so long, but time seems to have gotten away from me. Sit down, have some soup.

I love borscht. To me, it is an extremely comforting combination of flavours, even though it wasn't really a staple of my childhood. I have had success with a number of styles and types of borscht, but I confess that my favourite is meatless (although I don't mind some chicken stock) and beautifully magenta with beets. In that vein, I have had excellent luck with the recipe from Diane Forley's The Anatomy of a Dish, which has been previously featured on this blog.

This version, as you can clearly tell, is a little different. Not, however by all that much. I've been toying with the idea of making a golden borscht since eyeing the beautiful golden beets that turn up from time to time in our local farmer's markets, and finally got around to making it. I followed the exact same recipe (including tweaks) as in the link above to the ruby-coloured borscht (although I omitted the potato entirely, as I don't care for its texture in the soup) and subbed out all of the red ingredients for their yellow/white counterparts. So, golden beets for red, white wine for red wine, white wine vinegar for red wine vinegar, and white (well, green technically) cabbage instead of red.

As you can see, it turned out beautifully golden, just as I had hoped. Interestingly, though, once the soup was complete, the beet chunks themselves had lost most of their colour to the surrounding liquid, making for a beautiful gold broth, but leaving the beet pieces a little anemic looking. Still, the flavour was dead on, that tart-sweet combination, and hearty, mouth-filling texture that makes it feel like a substantial meal all by itself (although, with bread is better).

This borscht is very, very strongly flavoured, and very, very tangy. If you like a milder (but still noticeable) tang, I suggest using half the amount of wine and vinegar, and making up the difference with either water or broth.

October 11, 2010

Taco Pizza

If you think we eat a lot of pizza at our house, you'd be right.

When I left home at eighteen, I made leftovers into soup. In my twenties, I learned that I could make pizza out of almost any kind of leftover imaginable, and I did; my rampage through leftover chile con carne, curry, flank steak and mushrooms, baked bean and cheese, and whatever-was-in-the-crisper eventually led to the now-legendary Lapin Dijon Pizza of 1996 (sadly, no photo).

In my thirties, I relegated leftovers to quesadillas (including the surprisingly tasty Aloo Gobi quesadilla), and pursued more classic (ahem) forms of the pizza, that is, if you can include "cheeseburger" as a classic pizza option.

Nowadays, I just make pizza whenever I want pizza, and I still make it sometimes to use up ingredients. Sometimes, it takes on strange new territory (there was a mushroom-sauced roast beef pizza a couple of weeks ago that I completely forgot to take pictures of), the trendy (buffalo wing pizza with blue cheese sauce) or the time-honoured traditional (pepperoni from the deli counter, maybe mushrooms, maybe peppers, tomato sauce, cheese).

Pizza is a go-to dinner for a few of reasons:
1) It can be on the plate in an hour, even making the crust from scratch.
2) I almost always have the ingredients for making crust, some manner of sauce, and cheese
3) It can help me use up whatever is lurking in the fridge.

The leftover factor might be subtle, it needs to be said. The Taco pizza above was constructed out of a need to use up some black olives and a red pepper that wasn't going to put up with much more fridge time. Since I had some ground buffalo in the freezer (and I usually do), it was pretty easy to fry up the meat, season it up as if I were making tacos (chiles, onions, garlic, cumin - loads of cumin!) and spread it over the pressed-out crust.

For the crust, I substituted about a quarter of a cup of the flour with yellow cornmeal, just to give it a complementary flavour, a slight corniness, you might say. I also use cornmeal for dusting the pizza pan, to make sure the crust comes away nicely, so I already had the cornmeal out. (Expired link removed, please see comments below for recipe).

In this, somewhat rare incidence, I didn't use any sort of sauce at all, but made sure that the taco meat was fairly "saucy" or wet before spreading it in an even layer on the unbaked crust. Top with olives, confetti of red pepper, and cheddar cheese, and you have yourself a taco-flavoured pizza. Serve with a little drizzle of sour cream, if you like, or a side of guacamole.

October 08, 2010

International Bento (France): Terrine

It's bento time again! This time, in the manner of a fairly classic French picnic.

Palle made this terrine from veal and pork, lining the exterior with swirls of pancetta, although I rather tragically failed to show off the pretty edge to the slice when I was packing my bento (although you can see it in the photo below). Clearly I need more practice in making the bento show off the attractiveness of the ingredients. To be fair, it was a hasty assembly, and upon review I should have put the piccalilli relish (in the small container) into an even smaller cup and wedged it in with the lentils, which only come half-way up the side of their section of the container.

The lentils were braised in wine (and, I believe some chicken stock), and contain finely diced onion, celery and carrot (sauteed in olive oil), as well as some seasonings that I do not quite recall (again, Palle made this dish, along with the Piccalilli, which used cornichons as a foundation), but may have included both bayleaves and fresh thyme. They were excellent hot for dinner on the first night, and equally good cold the next day in my picnic.

Finally, one of my favourite-ever crunchy vegetables, the radish. No fancy carvings into roses or toadstools today, just a rushed quartering and cramming them into the bento.

This is one of the few bentos which I actually ate at cool-room temperature. Most of what I take in my bentos is refrigerated, and then removed to microwave-safe crockery to be re-heated, but this particular bento really didn't need re-heating at all. Perfect for taking one's lunch to the park, or the library steps, instead of staying cooped up in the office.

Note the wine below - while a nice Côtes du Rhone was the perfect accompaniment to the dinner the night before, I only drink wine at work for special occasions, such as when the boss is buying lunch, so just water for me for this bento!

September 30, 2010

Beans with Bacon

I'm a big fan of beans, and possibly a bigger fan of bacon. Fortunately, they need not be mutually exclusive.

I grew up eating Boston-style baked beans - sometimes the canned kind, but if we were lucky, the kind made from scratch, soaking the beans overnight and baking them slowly in the oven in a specially designed bean pot. Sweet and savory, hearty and comforting. Something that you wait for, and are rewarded for your patience.

I still like to make beans from scratch. Aside from the classic baked version, I developed a Stovetop version that only takes a couple of hours. It's not as good as the original, which takes about nine hours, but clocking in at under two hours, it's easier to wedge into my schedule (and it's still better than the canned kind).

The beans above, however, are not the "Boston" kind at all. They're a simple pot of pinto beans and bacon, with the flavour supplemented by onions and garlic, cooked with bayleaf and salt. It's a sort of foundation recipe, good on toast for a light supper, or to be seasoned up in the manner of your own choosing. I took inspiration from the Mexican dish called "thick beans", served as a protein/starch side dish, and often cooked with lots of lard. The lard in this recipe is only a little of the rendered bacon fat, but I've left the chunks of bacon in.

The thing that really elevated this dish was the quality of the bacon. My friend Rodney smokes his own bacon, and is extremely generous in sharing the bounty. I cut the bacon into thick lardons, and seared it quickly to render enough of the fat to saute some onions and garlic. Then I added the dried (washed) pinto beans, the bayleaf, and enough water to cover the beans generously, brought the whole thing to a simmer, and let it cook, covered over the lowest temperature on my stove until the onions and garlic dissolved, and the beans became tender. I checked on them periodically, topping up the water level as necessary as the beans absorbed the liquid.

The final stage was to add a little salt, and then mash up some of the beans and stir them back into the pot, thickening the gravy and cushioning the rest of the beans.

The beans were exactly what I wanted them to be (although I'm now contemplating making a spicy version, which would also be good). Even more, as the leftovers were turned into a delicious bean and bacon soup, which, on its own is a fine reason to cook up a big pot of beans.

September 26, 2010

International Bento (Japan): Tonkatsu Bento

As promised, a bento which ventures into Japanese content. In this case, the bento is an exact redux of the dinner from the night before (see below): tonkatsu, Japanese rice, miso-glazed carrots, and gingered daikon salad. The vegetable content was a little light, as I intended to combine the carrots with lotus root slices (very pretty together!) but failed to acquire the lotus root on my way home. Next time, I mean to do a combination of carrot, lotus, and burdock (gobo). The preparation is much like a kinpira, but with a little red miso mixed with water and sesame oil added in and reduced until it glazes the vegetable pieces. An extra vegetable, maybe something green to balance out the meal, too - perhaps a little finely chopped snow-pea "coleslaw", made in a vaguely sunomono-like fashion, would be a good addition here.

I'm very fond of tonkatsu, a breaded, shallow-fried pork cutlet, in this case made from a slightly pounded pork sirloin chop. The conventional flour/ dip in egg / dredge in crumbs is employed, using panko, the airy, coarse style of breadcrumb that gives Japanese breaded foods a delightfully fuzzy appearance. For the recipe, I refer you to Maki's excellent site Just Hungry, the sister site to Just Bento, which is a favourite resource for my forays into Japanese cuisine.

The little fish-shaped sauce bottle in the bento is filled with a Tonkatsu sauce which Palle assembled after perusing various recipes online and taking the best of them to form a hybrid (his favourite way to cook). I don't think he noted it down, though, so the next iteration might be quite different, depending on how well he remembers what he did. The little fish-bottle is one of a veritable school of fish bottles I got in a little box from a Japanese dollar-type store here in Vancouver. They are generally used for soy sauce, or other smooth and not-too-thick sauces that can be loaded by suction through the fish's "mouth". A bargain at two dollars for a box of them (if one doesn't make it home, I'm not too broken up by it).

If you recall my Fear of Frying post, you will know that this involves more oil and temperature control issues than I am strictly comfortable with, so making the Tonkatsu also helped me push my boundaries and further develop my frying skills. To be fair, I made a crash decision to shallow-fry the cutlets instead, using about an inch of oil in a large skillet, based on a different recipe that I found in a cookbook. The first two of the four cutlets I cooked were beautiful, but I had my predictable troubles controlling the heat for the second batch. The cutlets were all delicious, but the second batch were considerably less attractive.

More practice is clearly in order, but I was really happy with how well this turned out.

September 12, 2010

Jamaican Buffalo Pie

I don't get nearly enough pie in my life. One of the problems is that I am rather picky about the crust, and the leathery, greasy offerings of many of the pre-fab pies available are discouraging. Also, as is fairly well documented, I am quite lazy, so it is difficult to rouse myself up to make a double-crust pie on the spur of the moment. It can be done, however. It just takes a little craving.

My world is run by food cravings. It always has been, even at some fairly inopportune times. I am lucky to be able to indulge most of them. So, when an enormous craving for a savory pie hit pretty much juxtaposed with a wish for a Jamaican patty, I decided to combine the two: voilà, one double-crust pie, filled with a spicy, Jamaican patty-inspired filling, and less actual work than making a bunch of smaller patties.

I used ground buffalo meat, since that is what I had on hand, but a good quality beef would work as well, of course. I browned the buffalo with rather a lot of sliced green onions (white and green parts), seasoned it heavily with black pepper and allspice and lightly with hot curry powder and salt, added some chopped hot chiles and a generous slug of Matouk's Calypso sauce (I didn't have habaneros on hand, but the pie still had a big ol' kick). I thickened it with a flour-based slurry, but was careful to keep the amount of liquid really low, so it would act as a binder without sogging things out too badly. The seasoning was essentially just taste-and-tweak, so I'm afraid I can't impart the precise amounts.

Finally, since pies look more lovely with a shiny golden crust, I gave it a quick swipe of egg-wash, and loaded it into the oven on the middle rack at 375℉ for about 45 minutes.

Because this was done on a weeknight (and, see above re: lazy), there's a big flaw in the surface of the top crust (upper right quadrant) that I didn't bother to fix, but we successfully managed to ignore that and devoured the pie anyway, with coleslaw on the side.

I took a well-wrapped quarter pie to work the next day, to give to a co-worker friend whom I generally torture with descriptions of what I am cooking. It was received with great appreciation, and apparently re-heated splendidly.

September 07, 2010

International Bento (North America) Roast Chicken & Potatoes

I'm not heading back to school this week, nor am I sending a young person off to school. I will be going to work as usual, though, and at this time of year I find myself eagerly, even voraciously, reading up on all the latest ideas for packed lunches.

As those of you who follow this site know, I'm pretty enamored of bentos right now, along with most of the world, as evinced by the rampant proliferation of websites and cookbooks (many of which are very impressive indeed) dedicated to the art of the bento.

Since many, if not most, of my packed lunches are derived from dinner leftovers, working them into a bento format takes no great leaps of imagination. This bento was ridiculously simple - leftover cold roast chicken, which had been removed from the bone when it was still warm, and the attendant leftover roasted potato halves. I intended to either heat them up on a plate (my work has a microwave) or eat them cold, as is, but when lunchtime rolled around I realized that, with judicious application of the mayonnaise I keep in the fridge at work (for sandwich-related emergencies), I could make myself a tasty chicken and potato salad. So, that's what I did. I chopped up the potatoes a bit more, and the biggest pieces of chicken, and mixed them together with just enough mayonnaise to moisten them, and garnished heavily with black pepper. Very tasty!

The rest of the bento is self-explanatory: sliced cucumbers, and an assortment of fresh berries (get them while it's still technically summer).

My next bento will probably venture into Japanese territory, just for kicks, but stay tuned also for French bento, and more North American bento fun!

September 06, 2010

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Muffins

I was really very happy with my recent foray into the world of chocolate, oatmeal, and peanut butter. So much so, in fact, that I started thinking about other, non-cookie applications.

In a related note, I found myself picking gooey chocolate crumbs out of a muffin wrapper last week, having succumbed to the "chocolate muffin" at Tim Horton's. Yeah. Well. It wasn't so much a muffin, as a damp, massively sweet cupcake with an unstable texture. Looking at the online nutritional information, the only entry close to what I had is the "chocolate chip muffin", which is a whopping 430 calories, of which 16 grams of fat and 40 grams of sugar make up much of the payload. If it had been more pleasant an eating experience, and less of a crumby, sticky-fingered disaster, I wouldn't have minded so much, call that a muffin? Really? We must be speaking different languages. I'd have rather had a doughnut. Or, er, "donut."

It got me thinking - why can't there be a chocolate muffin that is, in fact, a muffin and not an also-ran in the sweets department? Now, maybe if they'd backed down on the sugar overload, or added a hearty, muffin-friendly texturizer to give the creation a little backbone...and, before I knew it, I was drafting up a recipe.

The results were very pleasing indeed. A perfect lunchbox treat, in fact, or a quick breakfast snack on the go. Dare I say, perfect for back to school lunches (for those schools which don't have a peanut butter prohibition)?

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Muffins

3 tablespoons soft butter
½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup dutch process cocoa powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup peanut butter chips

My own cryptic notes for assembly read as follows:
Muffin Method; 400℉ 20 minutes; 12 regular. Those of you who enjoy a little more specificity may want to follow these directions:

Preheat your oven to 400℉ with the rack set in the middle of the oven. Lightly grease (or spritz with canola oil) a 12 cup muffin pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla extract until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and cinnamon,

Measure out the buttermilk for quick access.

Add about a third of the dry flour mixture to the beaten butter/egg mixture and combine until just blended. Then, pour in half the buttermilk, and stir it gently through. Repeat with the next third of dry mixture and the last of the buttermilk. Finally, fold in the last bit of dry mixture and add the peanut butter chips, carefully stirring it through just until all the flour is incorporated, handling gently to prevent toughness.

Distribute the batter between the greased muffin cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on your oven (check after 20, and if the muffin tops are dry and show a little resilience when gently pressed, remove from oven. Allow muffins to cool in pan on a rack for a couple of minutes, then lift muffins out of cups to finish cooling on the racks.

Store in a sealed container in the fridge, once completely cool, and re-warm in the microwave for 20 seconds.

The muffins are just sweet enough - the peanut butter chips are actually little sweet bursts of peanuty tastiness, and the oatmeal gives the muffin a sturdy, satisfying texture without being heavy or dense.

For those interested in how the nutritional info stacks up, I used an online calculator to come up with a count of about 220 calories per muffin based on this recipe, including 20 grams of sugar and 8.3 grams of fat. Plus, over three grams of fibre, if that's your thing. It should be noted that I couldn't find an ingredient listing for the Reese's peanut butter chips that I used in the recipe, so my calculations are based on using Reese's pieces instead, which will skew the results at least somewhat. Plus, I'm never entirely sure how reliable online calculators are. Your mileage may vary. Still, all in all, a considerable nutritional improvement on the commercial muffin I was lamenting above.

August 29, 2010

International Bento (North America): Macaroni & Cheese

Moving right along in the world of bento, I decided to do one that was close to home. My home, that is. That means that the macaroni and cheese is home made.

I have two different mac and cheese recipes that I use. One is deluxe and decadent, involving eggs and multiple cheeses, and the other is somewhat leaner and absolutely quick as the boxed kind. The second one is a little more suitable for everyday (but maybe not every day) consumption. You can make it with whatever cheese you like, but I prefer sharp cheddar. This one was made with white sharp cheddar, which is not as picturesque, hence the smoked paprika decorative topping.

The rest of the bento is simple: some sliced zucchini and red bell peppers, and a few Rainier cherries for dessert. I removed the pasta to a ceramic plate to re-heat, since my bento is not microwave friendly.

Skillet Macaroni & Cheese
aka "Evapomac"

Serves 2
Total Time Prep & Cook: 20 minutes

1½ cups uncooked macaroni
¾ cup* canned evaporated milk**
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon table salt)
½ teaspoon cornstarch
1 – 2 shakes of Tabasco sauce
1 ½ cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¾ cup grated Colby cheese (or Monterey Jack...or more Cheddar)

Bring the water and ½ cup of the milk to a boil in a large skillet or medium saucepan. Add the salt, butter, and the macaroni, and cook (stirring frequently) until the macaroni is tender and the liquid is reduced to a thin “sauce”.

Put the remaining ¼ cup of milk in a small bowl with the Tabasco and the cornstarch. Stir until smooth. Add to the cooked macaroni and stir until the sauce begins to thicken – no more than a minute or two over high heat. Turn off the heat and add the cheese, one handful at a time, stirring it in each time, and adding a little room-temperature water if necessary to adjust the consistency of the sauce as you go.

You can top it with some buttered, toasted breadcrumbs or parsley or something like that if you feel the need to be fancy, but really this is designed to be dumped into bowls and eaten in front of the television. Have a salad tomorrow.

Serves 2 people generously, or 4 people as a side dish.

*This is about ½ a 370 ml can. You can also use an entire 160 ml can, but add 2 tablespoons of milk or half-and-half with the cornstarch, to make up the difference

** don’t use sweetened condensed milk by mistake. Ew!

August 12, 2010

Spanish Pork Burgers

This was really, really good.

I'd made the Spanish Pork Burger recipe from Eating Well Magazine once before - well, once as burgers, and once as meatloaf, and I liked it. Finally having made it with pimentón de la vera (smoked paprika), and having vastly improved my burger seasoning skills, I absolutely love it.

What else did I do differently? Quite a few things, actually.

This time, I also used a smaller bun, a potato bun from my local supermarket's in-house bakery. It had a very, very slight sweetness to it that complemented the earthy lemon saffron mayonnaise (which sadly, is not visible in the picture, but is a delightful, vivid yellow), and the smokiness of the paprika. The lower bun-to burger patty ratio is generally more satisfying, I think. I didn't use Manchego cheese, this time, I simply used a nutty mozzarella that needed using up, and it was fine, if ever so slightly less Spanish. I didn't grate it, but simply laid it onto the pork patties in the grill pan.

That brings up another thing - the grill pan. This is definitely the right pan for the job - you get the slight char on the striped bits, without blackening the entire surface of the burger. It is infinitely more attractive, but also has a positive effect on the texture and flavour of the meat.

I also used the Piquillo peppers recommended in the recipe as opposed to regular roasted red peppers. I liked the firm texture and the flavour. I used them as a bottom layer between the mayonnaise and the pork patty, topped the pork with the cheese and then the sauteed onions, and then the toasted top bun. No other toppings were needed or wanted - they could be safely relegated to a salad on the side, and consumed leisurely after the burgers were devoured.

And devoured they were. I can hardly wait to have them again.

August 09, 2010

Fear of Frying #1: Southern Fried Chicken

I've always had something of a fear of frying. Not searing, or stir-frying, or tossing the perogies into a skillet with butter pan-frying kind of frying. You know. Frying. Deep frying, or at the very least, shallow-frying. I don't know whether it comes from a childhood immersed in 70's style health food obsessions, or simply the fact that my mother almost never fried anything. Maybe it's the waste of oil, the mess, and the general aura of guilt that seems to be evoked even by the word frying.

But, I do like fried foods. I like tempura, tonkatsu, southern-fried chicken, pakoras, fish and chips, doughnuts, and all kinds of delicious fried delights. So, I've set myself on a remedial course to learn how to fry without fear. First up: chicken.

I turn to the experts for advice, and in this case, I consulted Alton Brown's Fry Hard II episode of Good Eats, and the related cookbook. I learned that what makes southern-fried chicken "southern" is that it is shallow-fried in a couple of inches of oil which allow the skin to contact the bottom of the skillet during cooking, and is never fully immersed, which allows moisture to escape during cooking and prevents the crust from becoming a separate layer that simply peels off the chicken when you bite into it.

I dutifully soaked my chicken in buttermilk overnight, and seasoned up the pieces (all drumsticks, in this case) with the exact seasoning mixture he prescribes, right down to using smoked pimenton for the paprika, which is a variant mentioned in the Good Eats: The Early Years tome.

I tossed the pieces in flour, and allowed them the full recommended 15 minute resting time to allow the combination of flour and buttermilk to gelatinize and form the crust. This little nugget of wisdom appears in the book, but not the online recipe.

The frying itself was actually pretty easy: I laid the pieces gently into the preheated vegetable shortening (I used a frying thermometer to get the right temperature of 325 F), four legs per batch, set the timer, and watched in fascination as they cooked. Tongs to turn them over, and another short wait, then onto a rack placed over a tray to rest while the rest cooked up.

I confess that I was relieved that Alton had cautioned that the step he employs of seasoning the chicken with paprika prior to the flouring stage makes the cooked chicken quite dark, or I would have been afraid that I had burned it. As it was, I may have left the second batch in a little longer than strictly necessary - it was quite mahogany coloured - but every piece was juicy and delicious, and made me want to eat far far more than I ought.

As you can see above, we had our southern-fried chicken legs with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy (made from the de-fatted chicken drippings of chickens, aka "chicken gold", a little broth, and a flour/chickenfat roux) and, of course, coleslaw.

It turns out, the hardest thing about frying chicken at home is refraining from overindulgence.

July 31, 2010

Chocolate Buttermilk Pancakes

I once had a lovely brunch that featured a bitter orange chocolate waffle with bourbon cream. It was chocolatey with out being overly sweet, and the bitter orange was a delightful counterpoint.

Since that day, I've been slightly haunted by thoughts of chocolate pancakes. Since my attempts at chocolatifying oatmeal cookies turned out so well, why not use the same adaptation for pancakes? I didn't have any orange, bitter or otherwise, but I figured that it should be pretty good anyway, especially with a little whiskey syrup poured over.

You can make these in a food processor! The metal blade continually slices through any forming gluten strands, preventing it from getting tough.

Chocolate Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes 8 or 9 medium pancakes, or 6 bigger ones

1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Combine egg and buttermilk in a food processor fitted with a metal blade (not a mixing hook) and blitz for about a half-minute to make sure everything is thoroughly integrated. Add the rest of the ingredients and process on high for one whole minute.

Pre-heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high flame. Spritz with a little canola oil. Ladle out pancake batter, making two or three pancakes at a time, depending on the size of your pan (I get three modestly sized pancakes in a 12" skillet). Cook, keeping an eye on the temperature, until bubbles start to form throughout the surface and the edges start to look dry. Then turn each pancake over, and cook for a couple of more minutes on the other side. Keep warm on a rack in a warmed oven until all the pancakes are ready.

Since I make three at a time, I like to sort of rotate where I put the batter to make sure I'm using most of the surface of the pan. This is mostly just to keep the pan from overheating where nothing is being cooked.

It is entirely reasonable to fry up some bacon in another pan, while all this is going on.

Why didn't I do this before? Next time, perhaps a little orange zest into the mix, or maybe just serve with a good bitter orange marmalade.

July 25, 2010

Mexican Bento

My worldwide bento lunch theme continues with Mexico.

The crumbly meat mixture is in fact picadillo, a ground meat filling used to stuff into things - peppers, tortillas, empanadas, etc. I made this one using the recipe from Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz's slim volume The Mexican Kitchen. It consists of fried up ground beef, onions and garlic, finely chopped green apple, tomatoes, pickled serrano peppers, raisins, cinnamon, ground cumin and black pepper. You can pretty much add as much of each ingredient as you want - I used one apple per one pound of meat, and just a small handful of raisins. It's very customizable. There is often a garnish of sliced almonds fried in butter, but I didn't have any, so I left mine plain, and stirred in a little cilantro instead.

The vegetably dish is the unimaginatively titled Green Lima Beans in Sauce (from the same book). I'm thinking of calling it ¡Hola Frijoles! It is delicious, and this coming from someone who was none-too-certain about the whole Lima Bean thing until very recently. I used frozen baby limas, and chucked them into a shallow sauce pan with a little water, a chopped onion, some garlic, and some tinned diced tomatoes. I added some chopped fresh jalapeños and stirred in a whole lot of cilantro. I cooked them, stirring frequently, until the water had evaporated and the tomatoes smudged down into a chunky sauce, which took about twenty minutes.

I was expecting a dish that was palatable but unremarkable (I restrained myself from adding cumin), but I had woefully underestimated the recipe. The flavour of the finished dish was surprisingly complex, and very, very Mexican tasting. It was an outstanding vegetable dish that stood up well to the rest of the meal, was good hot and cold, and re-heated beautifully for my bento the next day. (FYI, I do not heat food directly in my bento container, I use proper dishes. It's not safe to microwave the brand of bento boxes that I use.) I would recommend it to anyone, and especially to vegetarians wanting an interesting taco or tostada filling.

Finally, up at the top, you can see the edges of some homemade corn tortillas (recipe nominally also from the same book, except that I added a little lard, and a pinch of salt). I don't have a tortilla press, so I use my heavy, cast-iron frying pan to flatten them out, and that seems to work pretty well. I keep a small rolling pin on had to give them a quick go-over if they seem to need it, but usually they're fine.

More bentos to come...French, North American, (of course) Japanese, and many more! I'm in a zone.

July 21, 2010

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Spice Anything Cookies - are so very adaptable that they've become a go-to staple whenever I need to whip up a quick batch of cookie goodness. I've made them with dried blueberries and white chocolate chunks, with cranberries and Christmas spices, pumpkin seeds and golden raisins, and an almost infinite variety of fruit, nuts, spices, and other goodies. So...why not chocolate?

Of course, I have already made them with chocolate chips - I'm not daft! But, it occurred to me that I don't often see recipes for cookies that are themselves both oat- and chocolate-based. Why not? Is there something mutually exclusive about the decadence of a chocolate cookie and the healthy image of the oatmeal cookie? Couldn't they be combined into a single, satisfying treat?

I had been toying with the notion for a little while, when I stumbled onto an ingredient that upped the ante considerably: peanut butter chips.

That did it. I bought some. I took them home. I squinted at my master recipe for a while, and finally, I made the adjustments that I hoped would satisfy everything that I knew these cookies could be.

Here they are:

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen (depending on size)
Total prep and cooking time: 45 minutes

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup peanut butter chips
Preheat your oven to 350℉.

Lightly spray two large cookie sheets with canola oil.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix again. You can do this by hand or with an electric mixer. Pour the oats over the wet mixture. Without stirring, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda directly over the oats. Sprinkle the salt and the allspice over the flour mixture. With a wooden spoon, or on the lowest setting of your mixer, carefully begin to blend everything together. When it is starting to come together, add the peanut butter chips. Finish combining the ingredients until the peanut butter chips are all even distributed through the cookie dough.

Drop by tablespoon onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving room for each cookie to expand a little. Use your fingers to gently flatten the cookies slightly. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes, depending on size. Remove to racks to cool - they will be soft and flexible - downright bendy! - at first, but will firm up as they cool.

And, of course, they count as health food, thanks to the oatmeal, right?

July 18, 2010

Summer Fruit Salad

I adore fruit salad.

That is, I love fresh fruit. Fruit salad, as found in restaurants (often under the name "fruit cup" or simply arriving unannounced on the side of your brunch) is often lacking. The most heinous of the many crimes against fruit salad are as follows: too much filler (melon, canned pineapple, citrus sections from a tub), cut too long in advance (I'm pretty sure I've had some that were cut days before they got to me), fruits that don't complement each other (apples mixed in with soft stone fruits), the poorly cut (giant hunks of one fruit, tiny slivers of another) and, finally, what I think of as "interference" - some sort of nasty syrup poured over all as a "dressing".

Fruit salad is not difficult, and in the summer it need not be expensive. I eat fresh fruit year-round, when I can, and I therefore end up eating fairly seasonally, although I confess to occasionally succumbing to raspberries grown in Mexico in the dead of winter. In summer in Vancouver, there are explosions of local berries to choose from, and gorgeous stone fruits from the Okanagan. An embarrassment of riches, really.

While I'm not a hardened locavore (we don't grow papaya or mango around here), I do like to purchase the local version of those fruits that do well in our climate. The salad above contains local organic strawberries and blueberries, as well as papaya (not so local). I thought the combination of colours was pretty, and I find that generally three well-chosen fruits together make a very nice balance. I dressed it the way I dress most fruit salads (the non-dessert-y ones, anyway), which was simply with freshly squeezed lime juice. That's all you need, really, for most fruits.

This salad was made for a friend's bbq afternoon, and I was tickled pink when our host told me that it was the first time anyone had ever brought a fruit salad that wasn't full of things he hated. Perhaps that was luck, but I suspect it's because I didn't go the cheap filler route.

Now, before you think that I'm some crazed melon-hater, I should tell you that I rather like melon. We don't have it in the house due to allergy issues, but I have nothing against fresh melon, in season. I tend to prefer it on its own, but I've had melon-ball salads that were all different kinds of melon, and were absolutely delicious - but that's because it was someone using melon specifically to execute a particular effect, and not simply as coarsely-cut filler to reduce expenses. I also like fresh pineapple - one of my go-to fruit salads is the trio of fresh pineapple (diced small), kiwi, and blueberries - all drizzled with lime juice, naturally. Such a pretty combination of colours, with the green, yellow and blue. So delicious!

Getting back to restaurants, though, I know that one of the problems is that of suppliers. If you want the favourable, stable pricing from your supplier, you need to arrange a full-year gig, not just getting fruit in when it's not in season in your own backyard. This is why you can get limp, colourless tomato slices on your burger at the height of rioting tomato season. It's a tragic pay off, really.

So, in the summer, I eat a lot of fruit. I take fruit salads to work for my lunch as often as I can, and I take great delight in trying different flavours and combinations. It's pretty low effort for most fruit - maybe a bit of peeling and chopping, but for five or ten minutes' work, you get a splendid salad that cheers you right up at lunch time.

July 03, 2010

Using Up the Bits: Zucchini Balls

I do like zucchini, and I admire its versatility. My mother had an astonishing number of places to hide it when it overran the garden (and the neighbourhood), including a magnificent chocolate zucchini bundt cake and, more surprisingly, a sort of lemon curd whose bulk came from the skin-free pulp of the zucchini (not that you could tell).

As for me, I use zucchini in pasta sauces, in salads, as crudites, and of course the much-beloved Zucchini Fritters. Occasionally I stuff them, and that was what I was doing here...using a melon baller to remove scoops of zucchini flesh from the outer shell that would eventually house some meat-y rice-y affair. No photos of that dish, sorry; I got distracted by the fun possibilities of finding a way to use up the little zucchini balls that I had carved out. Half-balls, actually, as you can clearly see, since my goal was really just to empty out the shell of the zucchini, and I wasn't exactly heeding the form of the squash divots while carving.

I thought about tossing them into the freezer to be thrown in the next batch of curry or an upcoming pasta dish, but they were just so cute, and I couldn't resist doing something more immediate with them. So, I got out a wide skillet, heated a little olive oil until quite hot, and then threw in some cumin seeds. Once the seeds started to pop, I tossed in the little balls, and sauteed them briskly until they just picked up a little colour. A pinch of kosher salt, and voila! Tasty little side dish (or snack) that handily used up all the leftover bits, leaving me feeling virtuously waste-free and rather content at having a little extra something in the fridge.

Turns out, they were good both hot and cold, although a little slippery once chilled. This is definitely going to be the fate of the innards of the next summer squash that I feel the need to eviscerate. I'm betting that a few cherry tomatoes, and maybe some oil-cured black olives and some garlic would round this out into a perfectly wonderful dish all on its own.

June 12, 2010

Chicken Canzanese

I had some sage that needed using. A friend had uprooted a monstrous sage bush from his yard, and I became the beneficiary of a whole lot o' sage leaves that needed using (or drying) post haste.

Happily, my June 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated had a recipe for Chicken Canzanese, an appealing-looking braised chicken and wine dish that is fairly different from anything I'd tried before. The dominant seasoning notes of the dish are fresh sage and garlic, but it also contains whole clove buds, which is an intriguing departure from the usual suspects.

The recipe suggested serving the dish over polenta, boiled potatoes, or noodles, and I decided that the generous amount of liquid in the dish could be converted into a nice sauce for linguine. In fact, it was a little on the too-thin side, but was delicious anyway. In the future, I think I would probably reduce the amount of cooking liquid by about 1/2 cup, which shouldn't be detrimental to the main braise, but would result in a slightly thicker sauce at the end.

There was, in fact, so very much sauce that I used it as the basis of a pot pie for the remaining pieces of chicken (stripped from their bones), the next day. Even so, there was more sauce than strictly necessary, and reducing the overall liquid by a half cup is definitely in this dish's future. It also could have taken even more sage, had I only known. I did add a little more to the pot pie, just because I could.

The flavour of this dish is fantastic - familiar, comforting, and somewhat sophisticated, all at the same time. It takes a little while to make, but is definitely worth the wait.

Chicken Canzanese
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, June 2010

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces of diced prosciutto cubes (very small)
4 garlic cloves (sliced lengthwise)
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (back attached), trimmed of excess fat and skin)
2 teaspoons flour
2 cups dry white wine (or 1 1/2 cups...)
1 cup chicken stock or broth
4 clove buds
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, minced
12 whole fresh sage leaves (15 would be better)
2 bay leaves
pinch of red pepper flakes
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
kosher salt

Pre-heat oven to 325℉, with the rack at middle-lower position. Season the chicken lightly with kosher salt, and a little ground white pepper if you wish.

In a large skillet (minimum 12"), heat half the olive oil and saute the prosciutto cubes until fragrant, and add the garlic slices, cooking for just a minute or so until lightly golden (be careful not to burn). Remove to a small bowl and set aside.

Without cleaning the pan, add the rest of the olive oil and heat until very hot. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook without disturbing for about 8 minutes or until golden brown. Flip pieces over and cook a further 5 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Remove some of the rendered fat from the pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Make a blond roux by adding the flour to the pan, and stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon or spatula until fragrant, about one minute. Add the wine and broth, slowly, stirring to make a smooth, if thin, sauce, continuing to scrape the bottom until all the browned bits have been scraped up off the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is lumping up on you, whisk vigorously until it smoothes out. Add in the clove buds, red pepper flakes, sage leaves, bay leaves, and reserved prosciutto and garlic.

Carefully return the chicken to the pan in a single layer, skin-side up so it sticks out of the liquid. Bake uncovered until tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes. You should check on the chicken after about 15 minutes into the cook time, and the liquid should be barely bubbling. If it is doing something else (or nothing) raise or lower your temperature slightly, accordingly. While the chicken cooks, you can prepare your side dish(es). A big green salad nicely complements the richness of the dish.

Remove chicken from pan to a clean plate, and tent loosely with tinfoil. Place pan over high heat on the stovetop, and boil vigorously until sauce is reduced and thickened. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, butter, and minced rosemary. Pour sauce around chicken, and serve.

This chicken was so incredibly tender, moist, and delicious, even when re-heated the next day in pot-pie format, that I will absolutely be making this dish again. Next time: less liquid, more sage. Next time, also, I will make a full recipe (even for the two of us) and plan to make another stunning pot pie out of the extra.