January 21, 2010

Ersatz Pizza, with lamb

I needed to use up the tortillas. They were lingering in the fridge a little longer than was ideal, and had gotten stale. If I was going to use them, it was going to have to be immediate, and something over high heat to crisp back some semblance of personality into them.

Fortunately for me, my corner grocery has a small, fresh meat section, and a butcher who comes in for a few hours in the morning to set up the various and sundry cuts necessary in the preparation of Vietnamese and Filipino dishes. This includes very thinly sliced raw lamb rounds which, it turns out, fry up blazingly fast. It's the same place that I get my thinly sliced beef for the Sesame Beef. They do a very nice thinly sliced meat.

In the interests of both creating a nicely sturdy surface to play on, and my desire to use up maximum tortillas, I chose to glue two tortillas together with freshly grated parmesan. After that, a thin smear of spinach pesto, followed by the seared lamb slices, some pine nuts that were also in need of being eaten, and some feta cheese. The lower right side also had a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, which I was initially unsure of, but it turned out delicious. The loaded tortillas were then shoved onto a baking sheet and slid under the broiler just long enough to crisp up the edges of the tortillas, and toast the pine nuts.

The final stage was performed post-broiler: a friend had given me a whole-spice blend called "Grains of Desire" which turned out to be a wonderfully fragrant mixture of black peppercorns, nutmeg (not whole, obviously), cloves, orange rind, rose petals, ginseng, and grains of paradise. The combined aroma reminded me a little of ras el hanout, a justly famous Moroccan spice blend, and indeed, shares an overlap of ingredients (although a good ras el hanout might have upwards of 40 spices within), most notably the rose petals and the grains of paradise.

I had been searching for the perfect dish to crack the seal on the spice mixture, and this was a good call. Lamb provided a beautiful backdrop for the flavours, and tied the whole impromptu dish together in a way that I could not have really predicted.

It's not really pizza, but I really don't know what else to call it. I know I'd love to have it again.

January 03, 2010

Sesame Beef Rice Bowl with Miso Gravy

My current enthusiasm for Japanese cuisine is clearly alive and well in the New Year.

Miso gravy is the only thing I ever really enjoyed from the famous, wildly overrated Naam restaurant in Kitsilano. They did a very nice sesame fries with miso gravy, and the gravy became so popular that they eventually marketed it to local supermarkets.
However, being fairly confident in my gravy-making abilities, it struck me that this should be pretty darn easy to do, just winging it. After, all, other bloggers have done just fine. Essentially, you get to make gravy however you like best, but using miso paste instead of roast drippings. If you want it vegetarian, use vegetable broth/stock for your liquid instead of meat stock. If you want it gluten-free, use chickpea flour as a thickener. If you want it to further complement Asian flavours, add soy sauce(or tamari), ginger and sesame oil. It is infinitely customizable, and quick to do. An immersion blender helps smooth out the garlic/ginger/onion particulate flavourings that I've used in this one. You can make it ahead, and store it in the fridge. It re-heats beautifully.

The sesame beef was very simple and quick, too. The marinade is from Just Bento, but I used sliced beef from our local Vietnamese butcher - very, very thin sheets, rather than the thin strips you would get from slicing minute steak, per the recipe. However, thin sheets of beef may not be readily available, so do as you see fit. I also didn't have any mirin (although I do now, it is not Hon mirin, which I understand to be the best), so I used sake - what with the brown sugar in the recipe, and my dislike of overly sweet meat dishes, it worked just fine - although, to be fair, I'm planning to re-do this with the mirin, just to see the difference.
To cook the beef, I simply heated a skillet until very hot, spritzed very lightly with canola oil, and sear the meat quickly in batches. It only took a few minutes to get through the lot - about a half-pound of meat, in total. At the end, I dumped the remaining marinade (not much left) into the pan and quickly scraped up the beefy goodness from the bottom of the pan, and then tossed it with the cooked beef.

The asparagus spears were quickly stir-fried, and the enoki mushrooms were steamed in sake. The radish is pretty self-explanatory, and the hint of pink over on the far side is some pickled ginger that I picked up at a local Korean market. Steeply angled green onion slivers complete the garnish (along with a few sesame seeds, for emphasis), and the whole lot is served on top of Nishiki steamed rice (gohan), with the gravy on the side for dipping the asparagus.

I am already planning when to make this again.

January 02, 2010

Venison Biscuit Pie

Biscuit Pie is one of my winter comfort staples. You can make it with just about anything that you can make into a stew, just like a regular pot-pie, but the topping is not the standard puff-pastry that starts crisp but quickly turns to greasy sog as you pierce the shell and begin to eat, and it isn't the industrial-tough standard pastry shell that tastes floury and has the texture of under-tanned leather. No, the topping here is, obviously, biscuit. If you can make a stew, you can make it into a biscuit pie.

You can get fancy, if you like, and cut out adorable little biscuit rounds and place them with great precision in some kind of fancy pattern before popping the pot into the oven, or you can do it the way my mother did her steak and kidney pie, which is to press the dough out into a single, surface-covering circle (or rectangle, if you use a baking dish instead of the stew pot), stab it vigorously with a fork to allow the steam to escape and promote even cooking, and simply lay it on top of the bubbling stew before shoving the whole thing in the oven. You get to break the crust into appropriately sized chunks with a swift scoop of your dishing spoon as you serve it up.

The bottom of the biscuit, once it is all cooked, will have absorbed just enough of the gravy from the stew to become meltingly tender, like using good bread to mop the bottom of a soup bowl.

My classic recipe is Steak & Mushroom Biscuit Pie, but for this one, I used some venison stew meat procured from the newly re-opened (and fabulous!) Jackson's Meats in Kitsilano, cremini mushrooms, carrot, parsnip, onion and garlic. The gravy is a little thinner here, because I wanted the venison flavour to pop, so it's a bit more jus like and less full-on gravy. The great thing is, you can customize that bit to your heart's content. I used red wine and vegetable stock to make the jus/gravy, and we added juniper berries to accent the venison (although, my juniper berries may not have been very fresh, and their flavour contribution was considerably more modest than I would have liked). The venison was dark and tender and lean, and the vegetables were cooked just through, and some fresh rosemary from my garden gave it a little hit of freshness that perked it, and me, right up.

If I'm feeling the need for a lot of biscuit in my dinner (the comfort food version), I will use a full batch of biscuits to fit my stew pot, but if there's lots of other food involved, salads and side dishes and whatnot, then I'll use a half-recipe, and shorten the cooking time a little.