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.