Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Flummoxed: The worrisome effect of baffling adjectives

Not too far from where I grew up, there is a country road that baffled me when we drove by. It was all about the name: Old Tom Road. It bothered me because I couldn't tell what the adjective -- "Old" -- referred to. Tom, or the Road? Did Old Tom have a road named after him? Or was it an old road, called Tom?

As you can imagine, a lot of things baffled me when I was a kid. I realize this explains a lot about my general character.

Anyway, this all comes down to a recipe, which shouldn’t surprise you. I want to tell you about a terrific cold weather desert called:
Chilled Prunes Simmered in Wine. Not only is it a perfect conclusion to a heavy winter's meal, it's also baffling--baffling that I didn't stick with the original, logical name of the recipe, which was written by David Tanis.

Now, I am sure you're wondering: "Are the prunes first chilled, then simmered? Or simmered and chilled? Or perhaps the wine is chilled when the prunes are simmered? WHAT THE HELL AM I SIMMERING HERE?"

If you haven't stopped reading by now, please, please try this dessert. Anyway, David Tanis calls it Chilled Prunes in Beaujolais, which is much more sensible name.

This dessert is so easy, and dare I say, wholesome. The prunes should be served in crystal, if you ask me, and you should eat them slowly and savour the wine and cinnamon syrup.

By the way, they're simmered, then chilled. In case you're still wondering.

Chilled Prunes, Simmered in Wine
Adapted from a recipe by David Tanis, in A Platter of Figs

Serves ten or so, and can be kept in the fridge for several weeks.

1 ½ pounds dried pitted prunes (organic if possible)
2 ½ cups light-bodied wine, like a Beaujolais Nouveau
½ cup white sugar
A cinammon stick

This is so wonderfully easy. In a heavy-based sauce pan, combine all ingredient. Bring to a gentle boil, and simmer for ten minutes. Let it cool, then store it in a jar in the fridge. Make sure it’s fully chilled when you serve it.

David Tanis, who I am quite certain is a wise, wise man, advises the following: "Serve each diner a small bowl with a few prunes floating in the winey sauce."

Yes, please, Mr. Tanis.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Returns

Oh, gosh. Hi. It's nice to see you again.

I could pretend that I didn't go on another long hiatus, and just launch right back into blogging as though nothing happened. But I should probably address the situation, straight on. I didn't blog, because life is wonderfully busy, mostly with lots of work in radio.

I also left the country for nearly a month. We went on a trip in July, Andrew and I. Several days in Paris, and several more in Sweden.

The highlights? A wedding in the north of Sweden, near a city called Luleo. The bride was Sri Lankan, and we feasted on warm curries under the (nearly) midnight sun. I also discovered something Swedish called smörgåstårta --- sandwich cake. And it really is that: a cake made out of sandwiches. With shrimp and ham and pickles and tangy mayonnaise -- tangy because it's mixed with Baltic herring. And they rolled it out in the wee hours of the drunken morning.

I'm going make sandwich cake one day. I have a recipe, you know.

Andrew, in Sweden

Now, on to business. This is a hefty salad I've been meaning to share with you. It's originally a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie at Home, but it comes to me via the lovely blogger Beth Palmer. So it's changed hands a few times. I've made it many times in my own kitchen, and it's starting to morph, as recipes do.

It's hard to find the right name for this thing. Jamie Oliver calls it an Indian Carrot Salad. I think its more about the ground lamb, and I'm not sold on its authenticity as an Indian dish. Beth calls it Lamb Salad, and I think she's on to something.

I can say, at least, that it's definitely a salad. It's warm, and delicately spiced with garam masala. Shallots, cilantro and mint punctuate the dressing. I always serve it as a meal course, piled high in distinct layers. But tossle it around before you eat it. A bite of this, a bit of that. Let the shallots surprise you.

Spiced lamb salad
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe in Jamie at Home
Serves two as a main course

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 2 teaspoons Garam Masala -- you may want to adjust by adding more
  • 4-5 good sized carrots, shaved into long ribbon-like strips (use a mandolin or a regular peeler) You should come up with two large handfuls.
  • A genourous handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • Nearly as much fresh mint, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • A thumbsized nub of ginger, peeled and grated (should come out to a teaspoon or so)
  • 2-3 shallots, very thinly sliced
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In a dry skillet, briefly toast the sesame seeds on high heat. Be careful, it happens very fast! When they're golden, set them aside.

Now, prepare the dressing. Combine the shallots, ginger, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt. Whisk together with enough olive oil to turn it into a dressing. I would say three tablespoons should do the trick. Jamie asks for five. Use your judgement. Set the dressing aside.

On two plates, arrange the cilantro and mint. Think, bed-of-lettuce, only they're herbs.

Now, in an ungreased , non-stick skillet(perhaps the one you toasted your seeds in?), fry the lamb up with the garam masala. Here, I fry it a bit longer than I normally would. When it is rather crisp, take it out of the skillet, using a slotted spoon. Leave the spiced lamb fat in the skillet.

With the skillet still hot, briefly fry the carrots in that lovely garam masalaed fat.

To assemble the salad, first pile lamb atop each of the beds of herbs. Then the carrots. Pour the dressing over the carrots. Now scatter the sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Inaugurating the club

If you think these pictures look like the blurry photography of gal swinging a glass wine in one hand and a camera in the other, you'd be right.

For the record, there were also several glasses-worth of wine in the photographer's belly. And she's telling lots of really funny jokes.

Right. It’s me. I'm the photographer.

In April, I hosted the first Cookbook Club. At least, it’s the first one I’ve ever been in.

Here's what happens. There is a Club. We like to cook. The evening’s host picks a cookbook a few weeks ahead of time. Everybody reads it, and then we schedule a grand'ol dinner, pot-luck style, with food from that very book. Easy peasy.

The book was Falling Cloudberries, by Tessa Kiros. I've talked about her on this blog before.

Here's what we ended up with, a few Sundays ago.

Beth made some delicious dolmades, which we dipped in some very, very fatty yogurt.

Annie made a spicy, cilantro and chickpea salad. Dynamite.

Andi roasted some beautiful vegetables—bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini—stuffed with rice and minced meat.

Mika did some slow chicken roasting. It was sweet and deep flavoured, with some lovely little potato wedges.

For dessert, Lauren made the happiest cake I’ve ever seen.

As for me, I did something I’ve never done before. I made a freaking-octopus-goddamned stew! WAH! It had so many more legs than I do. I was terrified. It's a tremendous creature, and it lounged on my kitchen counter, thawing, all afternoon. I didn't really think I could do it, honestly.

Lucky for me, I combined the forces of good wine in my belly, and good wine in the stew (Andrew gasped when he saw me pour a cup and a half of $20 wine into the pot). Caramalized pearl onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf, simmered and spiced up the whole kitchen. The result was tender (tender!) octopus meat, sweet onions, and a broth I've never quite tasted before. It was savory, meaty, and mulled. And it was soaked up beautifully into some home-baked bread. I’m crazy about it.

I’m adapting Tessa Kiros’ recipe a tad, reducing the liquid components. In fact, we all agreed that her recipes are lovely, but call for more liquid than they really need. That collective knowledge makes us all better cooks.

Octopus Stifado
Adapted from a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries

Serves 6-7

One 4-pound whole octopus, gutted
2/3 cup olive oil
3 lbs pearl onions, peeled, but kept whole
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsps red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
A 16 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, tomatoes roughly chopped and juice included
1 ½ cups red wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed dried red chili
A pinch of grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 allspice berries

First, clean the octopus. Slice the head off as one disk, below the eyes, and discard. Most of the innards type bits should be gone, so cut the tentacles and central body into chunks of about 1 inch. Discard any leftover organs from the central part of the body. Set the meat aside.

Heat ½ cup of the olive oil in a large wok or heavy skillet on a very gentle heat. You’ll be caramelizing the pearl onions. Add the onions, and cook slowly, on low to medium-low. Stir them gently, and be careful not to break them up. When they are light golden, add the sugar and vinegar, and continue gently tossing them around. This can take up to an hour, on very low heat. They should be sweet, soft, and deeply golden. The sauce should also be quite thick.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy bottomed pot (used a round Dutch oven, if you’ve got) without any oil, on high heat. Throw the octopus chunks in and stir, over high heat, for about three minutes. The meat will turn bright, and create a lot of liquid. Reduce to medium high, cover, and cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring every so often.

If there is a lot of “octopus liquid,” drain the meat. Add the remaining olive oil and garlic, and sauté until just fragrant, on medium heat. Add the tomatoes and their juice, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, bay leaves, chile, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice, as well as some salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 or 3 cups or so of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered for about 20 minutes.

Stir in the caramelized onions, cover the pan, and simmer for another 10-20 minutes. Gently stir occasionally, so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Let it sit for as long as half an hour, and serve in shallow bowls, with olive oil bread.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Big time, pig time

I’ll admit that there are worse tragedies than what I’m about to tell you.

I have too much bacon. So much, in fact, that my entire life revolves around a simple, but pressing question: How can I use it all up before it’s too late?

I took the bag of beautiful, pink streaked stuff out of the freezer on Tuesday. It was heavy, like a sack of apples. Two or three pounds of bacon? Maybe more.

I’ve carved dent in it since I embarked on the pork bender. But I need to use it up before it becomes bachelor bacon---the stuff university students find at the back of their fridge, craggy, brown and dry. I swear, some people will shrug, and fry it up in last night's oiled pan, still on the stove from drunken, greasy fried eggs. Have I ever done this? Nooooo. Maybe.

Yesterday, to keep my bacon sanity, I cracked open a brick of a book, Nigel Slater’s Tender. I think the book weighs about the same as the bag of bacon did, when I thawed it out.

So I consulted dear Mister Slater, and he told me (in his chapter on broccoli) that I should make a nice soup, creamy green, rich and meaty, akin to a simple ham and pea soup. Bacon broccoli soup is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a lifesaver when you need something green to cut the massive amounts of cholesterol chugging through your arteries.

Broccoli and bacon soup
Adapted from a recipe in Nigel Slater's Tender, volume 1

Serves 6

A medium onion, roughly chopped
A good knob of butter
200 grams bacon, cut into 2 cm long pieces
3 potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
1 1/2 litres chicken stock (or ham, for a very pea-soupiness)
A bunch of broccoli, about 300 grams, cut into pieces with stems no thicker than your thumb
150 ml milk

Soften the onion in a large, heavy soup pot in the butter until just translucent, but not browned. Add the half the bacon, and the potatoes. Stir and let the flavours come together, with as little browning as possible. Add the stock, and bring up to a nice boil. Reduce, and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until your potatoes collapse against the slight pressure of a spoon.
Now, add your cut broccoli. The exact shape of your veggies doesn't matter; you'll be pureeing the soup anyway. Let everything gently simmer for ten minutes, until the broccoli is nice and soft, but still brilliant green.
In the meantime, fry up the remaining bacon. Set aside, on a paper towel.
Add the milk to the soup, and heat through back to the simmer. Turn the heat off, and blend to a rough puree (I like to discover tender pieces of vegetable in my pureed soups). Serve in bowls with the crisp bacon pieces on the surface.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From Motors to Maize

You might think I’ve forgotten you. I haven’t.

I haven’t been around La Cuisinette because I've been having a hoot producing radio. Some of you may know that I'm a freelance journalist, doing my best to make a living. I've had a very lucky streak, and have had loads of work over the last few months.

While I might not have been blogging about food lately, I have been thinking about it an awful lot.

Last week, I worked at As It Happens, the CBC's flagship current affairs program. That’s where I make a living, mostly. It's a great place to work, and I'm lucky to be able to pitch stories that I think are important.

Which is where Detroit, Michigan's urban agriculture movement comes in. Over the week, As It Happens told the story of a city in the midst of change. Here is my favourite interview of that series, which I produced.

So that’s what I’m up to, when I’m not blogging. But do stick around. I promise more recipes and more photos…as soon as I find the damn camera charger. In the meantime, hear the sounds of radio.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back Porch scenes

You may have noticed, I’ve been talking a lot about Manitoba. Now I’m back in Toronto, after a blissfully relaxing two weeks at my parents’ farm in Sainte-Anne, Manitoba.

I played with the border collies, walked on the frozen river with my mum and helped (sometimes) with feeding grain. And because my parents have been locavores since before locavores appeared in the lexicon, and because Manitoba winter’s are, um, harsh, eating locally means eating cheese and meat. Lots of it. Potatoes, onions and beets too. And some sharp, crisp pickles. I return to Toronto well fed and, I think, slightly fat. I feel great.

I also did some eating outside the farm, which brings me to this place.

Back Porch is a café on the outskirts of the small farming community of Linden, 30 or so kilometers south-southeast of Winnipeg. Denise Collins and her family opened the café in October, in a house once owned by her great-grandparents.

It’s a house that’s been in the family, and it feels like it. A narrow staircase leads to a cozy second floor, which has been renovated into an open space that somehow comfortably fits a half dozen tables and a few reading nooks.

Back Porch is open for breakfast and lunch. The kitchen serves coffee and espresso, breads, buns, bagels, cinnamon rolls, soups and sandwiches. On Saturday mornings, Collins offers a robust brunch buffet, complete with bacon, eggs and sausage. Brunch is just under $9, which is especially good when you consider the prairie view from the top floor.

You couldn’t pay for this in T.O.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Willie's Magic Mash

I realize that most people will remember their grandfathers as the sweetest men on earth. But I will go ahead and say it: My grandfather really was the sweetest. Really, he was.

In 2003 , Willie was left nearly speechless by a stroke. Yes, he became more dependent upon family members, but he never failed to find ways to be helpful. At family gatherings, he made sure everyone’s drink was filled. He had an extensive liquor cabinet, and a good memory for cocktails.

He used any occasion as an excuse to find something special at the jewellery store for Marge, my Grandma. He attended our graduations, and hugged his grandkids tightly. Without words, he was able to find ways to tell us that he loved us, was proud of us.

I suspect that making wine was, for Willie, a way to show how much he loved his friends, his family. Long before I could drink the stuff, myself, and long before he lost his speech, he was notoriously generous with his homemade wine. I’m not sure there was ever a visit when my parents didn’t come home with a bottle, or twelve, of the stuff.

Willie died last August, exactly a year and a half after Marge. My dad found this bottle of homemade crab-apple wine in the basement stash. It’s old, from 1995, and amber coloured. You wouldn’t necessarily think that homemade fruit wine ought to last that long, but it did. We opened the bottle yesterday. It was delicious, sweet, and as Grandpa would have it, nice and boozy

Monday, January 11, 2010

January blues

Oh, hi. This is awkward. Here I am, more than a month after those beers, during which time I didn't call, write, or make any attempt to connect. Not so much as a peep.

Well this time it’s different. Really. And there are a few things I need to tell you.

First, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me. On Mondays, specifically. Perhaps not every Monday, but most Mondays. If I’m not mistaken, today is Monday. Hi.

I should also tell you that I’ll be bringing cheese around a lot more. Today, for instance, I brought a feisty little cheese that I want you to meet.

So here it goes. Meet Blue Haze, an Ontarian smoked blue cheese.

Blue Haze is well-travelled, for a cheese. Monks start this semi-firm blue in l’Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, in Québec. The wheels travel to Cayuga, Ontario, where they are smoked of a bed of cherry and hickory chips by an affineur, Provincial Fine Foods.

And in this case of this particular wedge of cheese, photographed by my father, Randy, it also travelled with me to Manitoba, where it was laid to rest. In our stomachs.

While blue cheese and smokiness may be flavourful extremes, the result is mellow and well balanced. Because the cheese is fairly dense, the effects of the smoking process don’t fully penetrate the salty, buttery blues. But the golden, sweet caramel smoke rind creates a surprisingly delicate contrast.

The girl at the cheese shop recommended I have this cheese with fig chutney. I tested her theory, but with ground-cherry jam instead. Beautiful. Then I tested it again. And again. And again. I suspect Blue Haze and I will meet again.