Thursday, December 3, 2009

Booze, out of season

This is going to seem all wrong:

It’s early December, the sky is grey, and the air is cold. I should be telling you about a hot, steamy, boozy drink, perfect for evenings spent under a blanket and on the couch, while watching Christmas movies on CBC. Instead, I’m going to share a recipe for a cold beer cocktail best enjoyed outside, in July, under the hot afternoon sun.

I discovered micheladas, or cervezas preparadas ("prepared beers") in Mexico City. To be fair, I arrived in January, and for the first month it did hover around freezing temperature at night. So I did learn to love them while I was wearing a jacket.

This recipe is also going to seem all wrong, simply because it’s a beer cocktail. I suspect some beer fans might consider them a travesty. Why add lime, salt and spice to a perfect good beer?, they might ask. I’ll tell you. Because it’s awesome. Maybe not to everyone, and probably not when it’s cold outside. But I don’t care. This beer is good.

(makes one cocktail)

1 cold Mexican beer, preferably Negra Modelo or Indio
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon (or less) Salsa Valentina (available in Latin America grocery stores)
A dash of Salsa Maggi or regular soy sauce
Ice cubes (if desired. Not necessary if you have a chilled beer glass)

for the rim preparation:
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon crushed/powdered piquín pepper

First, prepare the rim mix. Mix the salt and the piquín pepper in a small bowl, and sprinkle a spoonful onto a plate. Rub lime juice on the rim of a well chilled pint glass, and dip the glass into the salt mix.

For the drink, start with the "condiments". In your rimmed pint glass, add your ice, both salsas and the lime juice. Pour the beer (there might be a little left over in your bottle. Keep it to top off your drink), and gently mix the cocktail with a spoon. Garnish with a lime wedge and serve.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Manitoba Dreaming

I look forward to care packages from home. They’re always perfect, and my parents put a lot of thought into them. My mother always sends me her watercolours, which are stunning. The packages often include some home-grown literature (The Carillon, for instance. That way, columnists like J.D. Lee can make me kick, scream and sob, all from a distance. On the plus side, I’m also able to keep tabs on the properties in Manitoba that I could buy one day. There, I will raise poultry and grow cabbage).

There's more, and the boxes are always full of surprises. One thing I know for sure, though. There is going to be some kind of food in there. I can count on that.

It’s always been that way. When I was fifteen, and living in Québec on a student exchange, my father sent me a box full of Easter chocolates. It came with a letter telling me to take charge, as the Easter Bunny. I did this, dutifully.

Today, I got a package. It was packed full of goodies, but not chocolate this time. Instead, everything smelled like sweet, beautiful garlic, grown by our friends Kelly and Gerry Dubé, in LaBroquerie, 15 minutes away from my parents’ farm. I now have massive amounts of garlic, and by God, I will use it.

The box was also heavy with fingerling potatoes, which I helped dig up back in September. I also found two very firm, cylindrical beets.

Which brings me to tonight's dinner. I roasted fingerling potatoes, a beet, and an entire bulb of Kelly’s garlic, along with some yam and eggplant that I found in the crisper. I tossed everything in olive oil, salt and pepper, and topped it off with some nice feta. I also tucked in half of a lemon into the roasting pan. Once all my veggies were happily roasted, I squeezed hot lemon juice onto the roasted vegetables. A little fresh parsley, and BAM. Dinner.

Ah, yes. You want additional instructions, because that wasn’t really a recipe at all. 450 F, half an hour to 45 minutes...or whenever everyone in the roasting pan is tender, and even a bit charred. The denser veggies, like potatoes and beets should be cut into smaller pieces than softies, like eggplant or yams.

It may not have been a recipe, but I am damn excited about roasted vegetables in the fall. And so should you be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meringues aren't for breakfast

I’ve been eyeing a meringue recipe for days now. Finally, yesterday, when I felt my hands were steady enough to separate the whites without a speck of yolk, I dove in.

I made them with lemon zest, and they were beautiful in the oven. Their outsides puffed up crispy, while their insides caved in.

When they finally came out, I was unsure. Too soft? Now, too dry? I tested, sampled, and stuffed myself until I was miserable, full of sugar and immensely cranky (Andrew will attest). Worse, I had lost all perspective, and I couldn’t tell anymore if they were any good.

This morning, after yoga, and before eating anything else, I tested them again, with fresh eyes and a fresh stomach. Now I’m sure. These are good! Crunchy on the outside, slightly gooey on the inside, only interrupted by little zesty bursts of lemon.

This isn’t much of a recipe, because I’m sure you’ll find a meringue recipe in any basic cookbook. But here is what I learned:
-Be sure there isn’t any yolk or eggshell in your whites. The best way not to become insane is to use three bowls: one for your whites, one for your yolks, and one that you use to break and separate the egg into. Just slide the whites into to the larger bowl as you go. That way, if you screw up one egg, you won’t ruin the rest.
-Before you add the sugar, be sure your eggs are so stiff you could hold the bowl upside down, over your head.
-Before you fold in any flavouring, make sure the sugar has completely dissolved. The meringue should feel perfectly smooth between two fingers.
-Parchment paper works very nicely.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mr Trout pleads not guilty

Yes, this little fish looks like he’s done something wrong.

He looks guilty, ashamed. This is a terrible photograph. To this tasty little trout, I owe an apology. I’m sorry your picture looks like a mug shot. It doesn’t do you justice. You were delightful, not a criminal. You were moist, buttery, and you got along really well with the parsley.

That being said, you didn’t photograph well.

This trout recipe is so simple, so quick, and rather quite perfect. The real treat is the hot lemon juice, which practically pours out of the broiled lemons. It’s from my recipe book crush of the week, Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie.

Crispy Trout with lemon and Parsley
Adapted from a recipe in Cook with Jamie, by Jamie Oliver

For 2 people:

1 whole trout (1 to ½ lb), gutted, scaled and cleaned
a drizzle of olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
a bunch of fresh parsley (enough to stuff the fish’s cavity)
1 lemon (zest one half and slice it and leave the other half intact)
10 small knobs of butter

Preheat the broiler as high as it will go. With a sharp knife, slash the fish about ten times on each of its side, about a quarter of an inch deep. Rub the fish with olive oil, salt and pepper. Stuff it with the parsley and the lemon slices. Place Mr Trout on a broiling rack or on a baking rack set over a roasting pan. Put half the lemon zest and 5 knobs of butter on the upside of the fish. Place the intact half of the lemon on the rack beside the fish.

Place the fish in the oven, about 6 inches from the heat. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until the skin is crispy and golden. Take the fish out, carefully flip him over and put the rest of the lemon zest and butter on his uncooked side. Place him back on the rack for another 6 minutes.

Squeeze some hot lemon juice on the trout and serve immediately.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cookbook commitment

I have a problem.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step, I understand? I have an addiction to cookbooks. I covet them, obsessively. Then I buy them, flip through them, and shelve them for weeks without using them again. Bought, pored over, and forgotten. It’s neglectful, really. And it doesn’t help that I work weekends in a cookbook store. It’s akin to hiring a recovering pill-popper to work in a pharmacy. Behind the counter. With the good stuff.

Before I tell you more about my addiction, I really need to sneak this in: I found a really great pumpkin curry recipe, and I’m awfully smitten with it. We had it last night, and we’ll have it again. Next Friday, Andrew and I are planning to take the ingredients over to his parents’ to make it.

Now back to my addiction. You’ll see that the cure lies in the curry, incidently. Here’s why: I’ve promised not to buy another cookbook until I’ve given the ones I own the attention they deserve. I will take them off the shelf, one at a time, perhaps for an entire week at a time, and lovingly turn their pages and discover new treasures within them. No new cook books for me, not until I’ve mended my broken relationships of the past. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be writing to you with specifics books in mind.

This pumpkin curry was born out of such a commitment. I spent an entire week with Jody Vassallo’s Cooking from above Asian. It’s a mish-mash of Asian cuisine (Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Thai), but beautifully illustrated, as the title suggests, from above. That way, the ingredients and tools are lined up for every recipe, so no one could possibly screw it up. It’s especially useful when it comes to unfamiliar ingredients.

I made a few good dinners from this book, but the winner is the Satay Pumpkin Curry. It’s rich, creamy, and satisfying. Cherry tomatoes burst in your mouth, and the pumpkin melts into the coconut cream. I added a few squirts of hot sauce (Sriracha) to satisfy my need for spice. If that’s what you like, try it. Or use a fresh hot pepper. It cuts into the creaminess very nicely, as does the cilantro.

Whatever you do, please try the curry. I know you have pumpkins.

Satay Pumpkin Curry
from Cooking from above Asian, by Jody Vassallo

1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp satay paste
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
1 lb pumkin, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks (I used a pie-sized pumpkin. It was perfect)
½ lb firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
½ lb cherry tomatoes
2 cups coconut cream
1/4 lb spinach leaves, roughly chopped
2 or 3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a heavy bottomed pot or wok, heat the oil and add the satay paste and the ginger (and the chili peppers if you chose to add them). Cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the pumpkin and cook until it’s coated and beginning to soften. Add the tofu, tomatoes and coconut cream. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the pumpkin is very soft and the tofu has absorbed the flavours. If you’re adding Sriracha sauce, add it now, to taste. Serve piping hot, over rice.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A quick note on méchouis

I need to tell you about our visit home to the farm in Manitoba last week. Well, I shouldn’t speak for the both of us; it’s home for me, but a totally new place for Andrew. He got to shoot a .22 and drive the tractor... I think he had fun.

My parents run a sheep farm, and I grew up eating lamb. If you are what you eat, well, BAAA. So there: if I know anything, I know lamb, in all its variations. But my very favorite way to prepare lamb is this:

The méchoui. It would be a traditional Moroccan dish if it weren’t for the entire bottle of Canadian whisky it’s basted with. The lamb is cooked over hot coals, for about three hours, its belly filled with rice, dates, cashews and lemons. The whole yard smells of coriander and paprika. While the lamb cooks, you drink beer, shuck corn. It’s party food really. It fed nearly twenty people. It was so good to be home.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Glaze optional

If you were to flip back to the page of July 29th of my day planner, you would see the words "BAKE MORE" scrawled across the page in large letters. I don’t know what exactly I was thinking, but it seems like sound advice. So I’m going to bake more.

Today is the second time I’ve baked the best banana bread in the world. I’m telling you this in all seriousness. Do not take it lightly. I’m going to share with you the BEST banana bread recipe known to man.

I guess it’s not a big secret, given that the recipe comes straight out the pages of Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant. But if no one has told you where to look, how would you know?

This is why I’m sharing this secret with you now. And you’ll love it. It’s banana bread, with so much banana, it’s a wonder it bakes into such a solid loaf of bread. There’s coconut, lime and ginger. And rum. Did I mention rum?

It’s tangy and bright, unlike any banana bread I’ve had before. The glaze is sticky, zingy, and most importantly, boozy.

I know, the picture doesn’t look like much. I am acquainting myself with Andrew’s camera, but it might also just be the bread itself. In fact, when I left the bread to cool on the counter, my roommates didn’t eat it until they realized the loaf was topped with coconut, not cheese. Which makes me wonder: Do they think I’m crazy?

In any case, don’t be fooled by the photo. This bread is really good. My roommates will confirm this.

Yellowman’s Banana Lime Bread
From Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

Yields one loaf

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup mashed bananas (or about 3 bananas)
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt (milk will do too)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut, toasted (see note)
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon rum
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup unsweetened grated coconut, toasted

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a bread loaf pan.
For the batter, cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the other wet ingredients: eggs, bananas, yoghurt, and lime juice. Also add the salt, ginger, and coconut. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until smooth. Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for an hour or so, or until an inserted tooth-pick comes out dry. Let the loaf cool for 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan.

While the bread cools, prepare the glaze. Combine the brown sugar, butter, rum and lime juice in a saucepan. Bring it to a low boil, stirring constantly, until it becomes a light syrup. Pour it over theloaf, spreading it, and then sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wanna play?

Let’s play a game. You pretend to be any of the professors I had throughout my undergrad, and I’ll pretend to be me, during that same time period.

Me (shuffling into professor’s office, head down): "Um, hi. I have...a question."
You (looking up, frowning): "Yes."
Me: "It’s going to take me...longer than anticipated to finish this essay."
You (sighing, one eyebrow rising). "And?"
Me: "And I was wondering if you would grant me an extension. Just this once. Um, I mean, just this once for a second time."

In this game, you can decide what you’ll say. Maybe you can grant me the extension, but dock some marks? Or you can roll your eyes and mutter "whatever," and return to your work, ignoring my excessive thank yous. In any case, seriously, please give me an extension.

In real life, things have been a little crazy. Not in a bad way, just busy and exhausting. Without getting into the details, I’m working many jobs while trying to orchestrate a move to a new apartment.

I know! Last time I wasn’t updating my blog regularely I told you it was because I was moving. In undergrad terms, that’s like using the "my great-aunt died" excuse one too many times. But it’s true. I really am moving. Again.

But here is my promise to you: I will be back in full form as soon as the dust settles. I have some wonderful perogies to tell you about. And I’ve really gotten into the old BBC cooking show, Two Fat Ladies. And I certainly haven’t stopped eating. Oooh! And I’m buying myself a copy of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries for my birthday.

So more to come. Promise.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tried and true

I like to gush about recipe books (see my review of Falling Cloudberries, below). In fact, a funny things happens; I develop crushes on recipe books. Certainly, there’s a lot of courting going on at the cookbook store where I work on weekends. I spend a lot of time flirting with David Tanis, Jamie Oliver, Rose Carrarini. Someday, when I can afford to, I might just take them home.

That being said, I have stayed true to an old faithful. Joy of Cooking is, it has to be said, an essential. Faults, it’s got. I’ll admit that. Faults such as ambrosia salad, a sturdy belief in shortening, and far too many jellied... well, jellied everything.

I suspect editions older than mine have a how-to section on tying a bow in your hair and serving your husband a martini when he gets home from the office.

But, despite its flaws, Joy of Cooking is solid, like a good advice grandmother, always there when you need her most.

This morning, when I failed twice to poach an egg, I ran to Rombauer and Becker for a refresher lesson.

Later, when I had decided to do something about an old, mushy banana, I flipped to the B’s in the index. After all, a banana bread recipes that’s been in print since 1931 in unlikely to fail.
Also, my lovely friend Emma makes killer oatmeal cookies, and they’re Joy of Cooking as well.
So there.

Here’s lunch, a successful poached egg (the key is in the vortex, folks) on asparagus with mizithra cheese.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Prairie sky and dirty fingernails

Toronto is nice. People are friendly in the streets. There are hundreds of thoughtful parks in every neighbourhood. Precisely 99 public libraries are scattered through every part of town. Toronto is where I need to be, for dozens of reasons. Good reasons, like love and journalism.

But my heart isn’t in Toronto, with all this concrete and all these condos. It’s somewhere in the prairies, covered in garden dirt and watching the sun to set in an immense summer sky.

I don’t mean to sound so tragic. Toronto’s a great town. I just keep having to do little things that get my fingernails dirty, like scratching dogs behind the ears. It makes me feel better, closer to where I’m from.

Balcony gardens will also keep my fingernails dirty and my heart light. Friday, I seeded some spinach and arugula. June 12th was certainly late to seed greens, but with a balcony on the 16th floor, there’s be plenty of shade and cool breeze.

Smoked goldeye tartare
Just for one last dose of tragedy: I can’t make this anymore, because there is no goldeye in Ontario, as far I can tell. Goldeye is only found in freshwater lakes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, making this a perfect prairie recipe, just so I can indulge in another dose of nostalgia, if I may.

The meat of 2 smoked goldeye fish, stripped of bones and cut into 1 cm cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 small jar (110 ml) capers, drained
1/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
The juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve on wheat crackers or thinly sliced bread.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A book to curl up on the couch with

The first line in Tessa Kiros’ cookbook, Falling Cloudberries, is a perfect prelude:
"My mother’s name is Sirpa Tuula Kerttu Peiponein.
My father’s name is George"

Kiros wrote her recipes like a memoir, rich with family history and wisps of childhood nostalgia. Falling Cloudberries is divided into regional chapters, recounting recipes from her family, her friends, and from many countries and kitchens she has known through her life. With a Finnish mother, a Greek-Cypriot father, an Italian husband, a childhood spent in South Africa, and years working in restaurants across the world, the author fills her book with solid, time-tested and heartfelt recipes.

A sampling of the recipes I’ve been reading, curled up on the couch, no where near the kitchen:

-From Finland: Herrings marinated in vinegar with dill and allspice
-From Greece: Pork with celery in egg and lemon sauce
-From Cyprus: Filo with poached pears and rose petals, pistachio praline and vanilla ice
-From South Africa: Lemon vanilla jam (She suggests it be served with simple sponge cake
and mascarpone cheese. Sold!)
-From Italy: Arugula, parmesean, and pommegranate salad with balsamic vinegar

The recipes read like travel fiction. I love this book.

The bowl of lemons next to the book doesn’t look like much, but I’m just using them as weight to press out the juice in salted chili peppers for Chiles in olive oil, simple, no-fuss recipe that Kiros brought back from Cyprus. It’ll be ready to photograph tonight, and I will update my blog with my (anticipated) success. This recipe works especially well for me because I can never use up all my chilis before they go bad ( I often have to dry them). I’m afraid I’m a bit of a spice wimp.

Chilies in olive oil
Adapted from a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries

40 or so fresh red chiles
a good amount of salt
1 ½ cups olive oil

Slice the chiles into thin disks (1/16 of an inch). Kiros suggests using kitchen gloves, but I didn’t. I was very, very careful not to rub my eyes. Remove as many seeds as you can by putting the cut chilies in a colander and sharply tapping the edge of the sink. Leaving the chilies in the colander, generously sprinkle with salt. Place the colander over a bowl, and cover the chilies with saran-wrap, then place something heavy about the saran-wrap to press the juice out (a bowlful of lemons, for instance...).

Let the chilies sit like this for 24 hours. Squeeze the excess moisture and salt out of them, and place them in a sterilized jar. Make sure the chilies are covered in oil, or else they will spoil. After a few days, the oil will be ready to use (in marinades, on pasta, salads, etc...). Store in cool cupboard.

And a few hours later...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Spring's ground infantry

Asparagus is a sure sign of spring. Its brave pointed heads soldier up from cold, moist soil. The season for asparagus is the same season that you find sad, cracked, baby-blue robins’ eggs in the grass. On my parents' farm in Manitoba, two rows of it grow right down the middle of the garden. Those rows have been producing, year after year, since I was little.

As kids, we were sent out to the garden fifteen minutes before suppertime, with a bowl and a knife. We knew how to look for them (the fat ones, a day or two old, just peeking out) and how to cut them (well below the soil, always at an angle).

Then my mother blanched them and we ate them with loads of butter.

When I was about ten, I got into big trouble. It was August, and the asparagus had grown to its full potential; thick woody stems with full, fluffy wisps, speckled with orangey-red berries—Christmas in August. The plants were so soft, and thick, and taller than I was. And nothing in the world was more fun than throwing myself into them one afternoon, over and over, until I had flattened the entire patch.

In University, I took a botany class called "Economic plants" — basically, plants humans use to eat, to feed its livestock with, to make medicine, to make clothes, to get high on. Each student was assigned a plant to study Others got strawberries, wheat, cotton, carrots. I got asparagus.
In the days that I was writing the final essay, I remember waking up from a very fitful sleep in a panic. I had dreamt that I was asparagus. And that I could feel my roots growing deeper and deeper underground with every year. It was all very weird. Thinking back, I should have looked into what that dream meant.

Anyway, now its 2009, and I certainly haven’t settled my roots perennially the way asparagus does. But I have been eating a hell of a lot of asparagus, like I always have this time of year.

Simple roasted asparagus
While I still like my asparagus doused in butter, my favorite way to eat them nowadays is to roast them in the oven. If they get a little charred, all the better. This isn’t exactly a whiz of a recipe, but it’s the best way to enjoy asparagus for what they are.

1 lb local, fresh asparagus (if possible, buy asparagus that is store with it’s cut stems in water— they’ll be less woody)
A good drizzle of olive oil
Fresh ground pepper and salt, to taste.

Preheat the over to 450 F. Trim the woody ends. In a shallow baking dish or a cookie sheet large enough to accommodate all the asparagus, side by side like little soldiers. Drizzle them with oil. Salt and pepper them, and slide them in the oven, uncovered. When they are glistening and wrinkly, and browned on the bottom (ten minutes or so), take them out and turn them over, using a fork. Leave them in for an additional ten minutes.
They’re great as is, but you can dress them with lemon juice, or shaved parmesan. Or even some crispy pancetta.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fiddle-dee-dum, not dead yet

There are few things I get nervous about in the food world. And, mostly, these things are avoidable deaths: Don’t feed your dog chocolate, don’t eat rhubarb leaves. And cook your fiddleheads thoroughly.

Well, undercooked fiddleheads aren’t fatal, as far as I know. They’ll just make you sick.

But tonight I cooked my first fiddleheads, and I think I’ll live. More than that, they were rather quite good. Tender, and buttery, they’re a lot like mild, just-out-of-the-ground asparagus.

I sprinkled them with mizithra—a salty, Greek sheep’s cheese. It’s dry and crumbly, and it can almost be used as a hefty substitute for salt.

Ah, yes, and a helluva lot of butter.

That’s it.

Fiddleheads with butter and mizithra
½ lb fiddleheads
1/4 cup salted butter
1 or 2 tablespoons crumbled or grated mizithra

Wash and trim the brown ends of the fiddleheads. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Boil the fiddleheads for 4-5 minutes. Drain. In a frying pan, melt the butter and add the fiddleheads.

Sautée for an additional 4-5 minutes, or until tender like asparagus. Serve with mizithra.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Excuses won't do

Before you say anything, I know haven’t been updating very regularly. And I do apologize, sincerely. I’ve had the word "blog" scratched into my agenda everyday. It just hasn’t been crossed out.

Today is a day to get back on track. Today is Saturday, a good day. Things have been so busy, with a great CBC internship on weekdays, and with my new job at Good Egg (link) on the weekends (more about that, later).

Oh, and I have more excuses! When I left Montreal, I also had to part with the school camera. Since then, I’ve been struggling to take good pictures with my pocket camera.

Because it’s been two weeks since I last posted on La Cuisinette I have so many things to tell you about:

Good Egg
I started a part-time job at a shop called Good Egg. It’s a lovely way to spend my weekends. It’s a food bookstore / cooking emporium in Kensington Market.

Good Egg is packed with cookbooks, food politics essays, biographies of famous chefs, books on foraging, books on fancy chicken breeds and on picking mushrooms. And books on anything else related to food (including "Kama Sutra in the Kitchen" and children’s books on poop). It’s also full of kitchen nicknacks, like bibs, peanut shaped erasers, rubber chickens, and lapel pins shaped like shrimp. You know, the kind of thing you might not know you need, but you do.

My mum sent me a parcel. It was full of goodies: jars of preserves that my Grandma, Marge, made the summer before she died; a packet of arugula and spinach seeds from my parents’ back porch planter; and, to go along with those seeds, two small bags of sheep shit compost.

You know your mother loves you when she ships shit half-way across the country.

Tinga de pollo
Adapted from a Diana Kennedy recipe

Also, here’s a recipe. I can only preface it by saying that I just finished a pile of tinga tostadas, and they were grand. This recipe is the closet thing to the ones I used to eat with Emma, in Coyoacán Market, Mexico City.

Tinga is sloppy, smokey tomatoey meat, usually pork or chicken, eaten on tostadas or in tacos.

180 grams (3 links or so) chorizo
½ cup chopped onion
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups shredded green cabbage
4 tomatoes, finely chopped (or even pureed, if you have time)
3 canned chipotle peppers in adobo
2 tbsp sauce from can of chipotles
2 medium chicken breasts, poached and shredded (or 2 to 3 cups of shredded left-over

roast chicken)
1/3 cup of the poach water from the chicken (1/3 cup chicken broth)
salt to taste

Skin and crumble the chorizo sausage. In a large skillet, cook on low heat until cooked through, but not brown. Discard any excess fat. Add the cabbage, onion and garlic, and cook on medium-low heat until the cabbage is soft and onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, and turn the heat up to medium. Add the chipotle chilis (whole) and the chipotle sauce, and cook until the tomatoes are fully cooked and the skins have curled. Add the chicken and the broth. Adjust the salt. Serve on tostadas with sliced avocado and crème fraîche.

This week:
The photo of the mountain sheep is only linked to the tinga recipe in the sense that I took it in Mexico City, at the zoo, probably after having eaten tinga. I can’t bring myself to post the pictures I took with my point-and-shoot.

I will practice.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lovely, lovely carrots

Goodbye Montreal poutine. Hello picnics in Queen’s Park! Which is exactly what I did yesterday afternoon.

It was a beautiful 20 Celsius in my big, new city, and I spend the out walking. I strolled down College Street, Dundas, Roncesvalles, and Grenedier, all the way to High Park, which is beautiful, even in the stern, grey colours of April.

Then, I took the subway to Queen’s Park. The subway in Toronto has terrific names—Landsdowne, Osgoode, Runnymede, Keele—all the more British with their E's, hanging at the end, like a decoration.

But I’d better get to the marinated carrots. They are the first thing I’ve made in my new kitchen, and they turned out to be as lovely in Ontario as they are anywhere else. These carrots are perfect: fresh, vinegary, sweet and spiced with a smidgeon of fresh chilies. And crunchy! A perfect picnic food, really.

The key to these carrots is to parboil them, just so. Too cooked, they’ll lose the crunch. I find that 10 minutes boiling is good, if I keep the carrots whole, or halved. Also, the recipe calls for the carrots to sit for 24 hours. They’re pretty good even after a few hours, so don’t hesitate to make them the same day.

Marinated carrots
Adapted from a recipe in The Silver Spoon (Phaidon Press)

1 ½ lbs carrots, washed, peeled and cut in half, crosswise to fit in the pot
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
2 or 3 sprigs flat-leaf parley, chopped
pinch of dried oregano
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 small red chili, seeded and finely chopped

Cook the carrots in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes, or until just tender, but still quite crunchy. Drain and let sit (to dry) while you chop the garlic, parsley and chili. Cut the carrots into thin batons. In a bowl, combine carrots, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil, vinegar, and chili. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature (or picnic basket temperature, I suppose.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On fridge duty

We’re moving to Toronto! We’re packing our things, labeling the boxes, and trying our mighty best to empty the fridge and cupboards. That being said, I’m sure you’ll understand that I haven’t got a recipe this week. I’m eating jumbled-like, with occasional trips to Dairy Queen.

What I’m saying, is I haven’t been cooking. More like using.

Just now, I made a ground lamb skillet with a few borderline cheeses from the back of the fridge, a wrinkly onion, some suspicious carrots and a bag of penne pulled from dark corners. It was...okay.

But next week, I’ll be in Toronto. I’ll be basking in hot dog stands, and I’ll have a new apartment kitchen. And I promise recipes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lamb, full circle

It arrived in a leather suitcase, on Trudeau International Airport’s baggage claim. It was heavy and cold. It came off the rolling carpet and onto the floor with a thump.

The suitcase was full of lamb! Ground lamb, leg of lamb, lamb chops, lamb garlic sausage, lamb breakfast sausage, and a few delicious misfits: some goose and venison. My dad brought the suitcase, a gift from the farm.

He spent the weekend with me, in Montreal, and I took him to some of my favorites parts of the city. We had a lovely weekend, we walked a lot, stopping every few hours to eat or have coffee. It was a vacation in my own city, and it reminded me of trips to Winnipeg with my dad when I was a little girl. Endless ice cream and hamburgers, treats the whole way. Things have not changed.

But back to the suitcase: I’ve only made a small dent in my now-meat packed freezer, and already, I can feel my red blood cells dancing.

On Friday, we fried some garlic sausage with some perogis. There was some left over garlic sausage, and this caused a kind of chain reaction.

On Saturday, we left the sausage in the fridge, and my dad made a chili with the ground lamb.

On Sunday, we made a delicious leg roast, with maple syrup and rosemary. (Earlier that day, we went back to the market, and my dad bought four litres of maple syrup. It went into the emptied leather suitcase, Winnipeg bound.) We had some friends over that night, so we served some leftover chili as a starter.

With the bone from the roast came a noodle soup on Monday night (inspired by Mark Bittman ). It was packed with vegetables and Friday's garlic sausage.

Those leftover noodles became a chow mein (well, sort of) with a sauce made from Monday’s broth.

The leftover sauce inspired egg foo yung (again, sort of).

By then, my string of leftovers was broken, so I had to dip into the freezer again for some breakfast sausage.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Legume love

As it turns out, my love affair with lentils is not over. I think they love me too, the way they’re treating me (very well, that is). Don’t worry, I’m all right. I’m weaning myself off them. I came very close to writing about them again, in this week’s blog, but I know it would be too much. Too many lentils, too soon.

To compensate, I’ll write you about another legume. Cheap strategy, you say? You haven’t tasted this salad yet.

It’s warm and spicy, with its roasted butternut squash and allspice. Chickpeas are not lentils, and they don’t try to be. They charm me just as much, with their cheeky little bums, those cutties.

Also: My father is in town, and he arrived at Trudeau International Airport with a suitcase full of lamb. And now, I have a freezer full of lamb. So next week, I promise to write about it. No more legumes. I promise.

Warm butternut and chickpeas with tahini dressing
Adapted from a recipe by Molly Wizenberg in

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (2 to 2 ½ lbs), peeled, seeded
and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
½ tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can (19 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinced
½ of a red onion, finely chopped
1/4 to ½ cup fresh cilantro, corsely chopped

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
4 tbps lemon juice
3 tbsp well stirred tahini
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil, or more, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Combine the squash, oil, garlic, salt, and allspice and roast for 10-15 minutes on a baking sheet, until soft. Let cool, but not completely.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, tahini, water and olive oil.
Combine the cooled squash, the chickpeas, onion and cilantro in a bowl. Toss with the tahini dressing and serve (or toss with half of the dressing, reserving the rest so each person can add dressing to taste).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A quick note on Pavlov's dog

When I make dinner, I like to listen to CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Andrew told me that when hears clips from As It Happens any other time of day, his stomach grumbles.

Pretty, though

Also, here is a picture of a cake I made on Sunday. It wasn't very good, honestly, but I did think it was pretty. Here's it's glamour shot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Touski, or the secret to soup

I don’t really have a recipe today, but I’d like to tell you about a soup I made on Sunday. It’s my favorite kind of soup, the kind that can only happen when you’re interested in cleaning your fridge. In French, or at least in my family, it’s called a “touski” soup— on y met tout ce qu’il y a dans le frigo— an “everything-in-the-fringe” soup. A plethora of the weekend’s leftovers and of nearly forgotten bits and bobs. In other words, a heartfelt attempt to get to know your fridge.

You have to use your judgment, but these soups are often are beautiful, and strangely perfect. And I always feel rather independent making this kind of soup: Because I've marched ahead with no recipe, and because I’ve managed to salvage and recycle what might have gone to waste.

This particular soup is made of leftovers from a weekend with friends. We had a party on Friday, which became more of a potluck. We also had some friends, Tim, Michelle, and Julia, who stayed at our place for a glorious weekend of eating and drinking.

For our party on Friday night, Red brought a Portuguese roasted chicken. It was delicious. We had bones and meat left over. The bones eventually became broth, along with some onions, garlic and a few sprigs of oregano. And the chunks of meat adds to the soups heartiness.

On Saturday night, Michelle made tacos. She’s a fantastic cook, and had the wonderful idea of making mashed yams as one of the taco fillers. We were left with some of that, and with some chopped tomato. I added the yam in the pot, just after sauteeing some more onions and some diced potato. In went parboiled lentils, too. I found them at the pack of the cupboard, left over from a previous week long obsession with lentils.

In our fridge, we also had some near-goner spinach. That went into the soup at the last minute, just to wilt.

On Sunday night, in the wake of our wonderful weekend with friends, all these leftovers came together and became a warm oregano and chicken soup, heavy with vegetables and lentils. The mashed yam turned it into a thick and hearty soup.

Now, we are in our quiet apartment, our friends are gone, and it feels a little empty. But we’re still enjoying the leftovers, thinking of all the good times and good food we had.

This week

I’ve never told you about my favorite food blog, Orangette. Last Sunday, I made a batch of her butterscotch cookies. I made them again on Friday. And then I made them once more last night, with my good friend Caroline and a bottle of wine. You should try them too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cake and half-truths

The summer before last, when I lived on Braemar Street in Winnipeg, there was an apple cake that I made a lot. My parents’ crab apple trees were heavy with fruit, and I came home from the farm with loads of apples several times in late August.

I have to say, this story isn’t really about cake. It’s about those little secrets that are best kept to yourself. It’s about little accidents that should be left untold.

I had been invited to a supper with people I didn’t know very well. Keen on impressing, I made my cake the night before, so it would be well set and I wouldn’t have to scramble in the kitchen after work. It would be a hit, I knew it. It’s a beautiful cake, light, not too sweet, and packed with apples.

And apples, I had.

The problem, you ask? It wasn’t just the summer of crab apples. It was also the summer of ants. They were all over the kitchen that year, ransacking everything while I wasn’t looking, laughing at me when my back was turned.

On the dinner night, while waiting for the bus, I inspected my carefully saran wrapped cake. And then I saw it. An antenna sticking out of the icing, squashed against the plastic.

Shit. An ant in the cake. I got on the bus, sat down, and carefully unwrapped the cake. There were a dozen ants, smooched into the sweet icing. Diabetes kills, I thought. Bastards.

I picked all the bugs out before my stop.

Everyone enjoyed the cake, no one ever knew. Except me, of course. And you, now.

Insect-free apple cake
adapted from a recipe in the MCC Simply in Season

5 cups tart apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
1 1/3 cup sugar
½ cup oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt


2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cream
1 tbsp flour
1/3 powdered sugar

Combine the sugar and the apples and let stand while mixing other ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs and vanilla. Set aside. In a third bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Alternating between the egg mixture and the flour mixture, pour and stir into the apples. Pour into a greased cake pan (3.5 L). Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the icing, bring brown sugar, cream, and flour to a brief boil in a sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in the icing sugar, briskly. Pour onto slightly cooled cake immediately.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Subscription anxiety and bean burgers

I should buy Gourmet Magazine more often. If it wasn’t for the cheque addressed to the New Yorker (eep!) that I just dropped in the mail, I would be getting a subscription to Gourmet, definitely. You can't have everything, they say.

But, as a treat, I bought a copy this weekend and spent an entire evening folding the corners of pages that had especially nice recipes. That was Saturday. Today is Thursday, and I am making my third recipe from the February issue already. And it’s still January.

First, there was Paprika roast chicken with sweet onion, on Sunday night. It was amazing. Then, on Monday, there were the Black-bean burgers, which were ridiculously satisfying in that pasty beanie sort of way. I love these burgers, which is why I’m sharing the recipe with you, below. And finally, tonight, in the oven at this very moment, are Gourmet’s Buttermilk fantails, a fancy looking dinner roll. They may or may not work out. But the way things are smelling in this apartment, I think they’re working out.

Black-bean burgers
adapted from Gourmet Magazine (by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez), February 2009 issue

2 (14-oz) cans of black beans
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs or crushed crackers
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dry cayenne
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
3 tbsp frying oil ( I used olive)

4 hamburger buns

guacamole, salsa and sour cream as garnish

Rinse and drain 1 can of beans. Purée in a blender or food processor, along with mayonnaise, bread crumbs, cumin, oregano, cayenne and salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and mix cilantro and second can of whole beans (rinsed and drained). Form into patties and cook at medium-high heat in an oiled frying pan, on both sides until crispy-brown on the outside.

Serve on hamburger buns. I made a coarse, tomatoey guacamole to heap on top of the patty.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Process this

A few months ago, when I interviewed my favorite food blogger, Molly Wizenberg, for a profile article, there was this one thing I really wanted to know: Did she have any culinary guilty pleasures? Did she, who always writes so wholesomely, enjoy a bowl of Kraft Dinner or some instant noodles once in a while? Does she have a secret love for processed foods? Because certainly do.

Molly wrote me: "Oooh boy. I love peanut butter. I also love Hershey's chocolate syrup (on vanilla ice cream, preferably), gummy candies, and sour gummy candies. When I was a kid, my dad always made macaroni and cheese with Velveeta, and I loved it. I bet I still would today."

I was a relieved, frankly. I don’t have to justify my likes and dislikes. It’s just that for someone who cares about food so much, I have a disproportionate passion for No Name frozen perogies and fried bologna with cheese.

But I know that good food writers aren’t ashamed of their own secret cupboard affaires (Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten, for instance, swears by Heinz ketchup on French fries).

At any rate, I suspect everyone, no matter how fancy pants they may be, has a special spot for something completely manufactured, packaged and preserved with ingredients
unpronounceable. Say, something you pour water into and then zap in the microwave. Or hot dog wieners. Or goldfish crackers.

I’m not saying that it’s not junk, because it is. As a whole, processed food is terrible for your gut, terrible for the Earth and probably, at some level, terrible for your soul... But only if you eat too much. Because knowing it’s so awful makes it special. Processed food is like glow bowling. It’s kind of stupid, but really fun on occasion, especially if you’re drunk.

Does that make any sense? I starting writing this last night, over a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup. It was salty, uniform, and exactly what I needed. Then I went out for a shawarma on Crescent street (which, for the record, is not junk food).

This week

Given the nature of this posting, I can’t possibly include a recipe of my own. Unless you want my recipe for tuna casserole using Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. But if you want that recipe, I’m pretty sure it’s written on the can’s label.

Instead, and for everyone’s benefit, I’m posting a soup recipe on behalf of my friend Red. He makes great soups, and every time I ask him how he makes a soup, his recipe is quick and simple. Next time, instead of instant noodles, I should take a few extra minutes and make Red’s soup.

Red’s zucchini soup

4 zucchinis
4 slices of laughing cow cream cheese
1 clove of garlic
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube
Some olive oil

Chop the zucchini into 1 cm discs, keeping the skin. In a large pot, fry them in olive oil, on low heat for 5 minutes, without burning them. Add crushed garlic clove and a cube of bouillon. Pour some water into the pot so it just covers the zucchini slices. Cook on high heat until they’re soft. Add the cheese.
When it dissolves, puree the soup, adding more water if it’s too thick. Serve.

Monday, January 12, 2009

From the top shelf

My obsession with lentils started on Thursday night, when I took a curried apple and lentil salad to a potluck (recipe below). For the next few days, if I wasn’t making lentils, I was thinking about them.

Even today at the journalism department computer lab, I flicked a mashed lentil off my shirt. I’m not sure how it got there, but it likely has something to do with the bacon and lentil dish I ate for lunch. I know. Sorry. "No food in the lab". But I didn’t eat lunch in the lab. It was the lentil that followed me there.

My crush on lentils isn’t forever, but there are more recipes to try before I put them back on the top shelf with my other infrequent legumes and beans. My kitchen spotlight will fade away.

But before it fades, let me say this: Lentils are easy. Spend almost no money. Soak them for almost no time. Pay almost no attention to them while they simmer. Serve. Enjoy.

Apple Lentil Salad
Adapted from "Simply in Season", a collection of recipes from the Mennonite Central Committee.

1 cup of dry lentils, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
3 tart apples, cored and finely cubed
1/4 cup lemon juice or cider vinegar
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the salt and curry and heat up until just bubbly. Drain the lentils and add them to the pan. Fry briefly, then add the water. Cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir once in a while, add water if needed, and drain any excess when the lentils are cooked. When the lentils are just cooled, add all other ingredients.

The salad can be eaten warm or cool, but I prefer it after it's been left in the fridge for a few hours.

This week

I received a copy of Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie—my guide to making you a better cook. He's lovely. He uses phrases like "bash up" for your rosemary, and "Serve! Eat!" for his Super squid linguini recipe. Yes, Super squid. And I think Jamie's just super.