Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An unusual soup

Look, it’s unconventional.

I’ll cut straight to the chase. I made a soup last night that involved bacon, curry powder, and a good dose of dry sherry. The fact that I had very little going for me in the fridge is not a factor. This was a pre-meditated, weird and unusual soup. I thought about it long and hard. And I made it anyway.

And it’s brilliant.

I am exaggerating about my level of insanity here. But. BUT. Have you ever come across a recipe that involves curry and bacon. Have you?

Actually, wait a sec. I’m going to look it up:

Nope, nothing. Even this excellent book would never pair the words “bacon” and “curry.”

But I did.

Okay, enough drama. I made a soup, and it should have been weird, but it was very good. That’s it.

Also, it’s not that weird.

What follows is an approximation of what I made. Forgive the vague instructions. This is based on a memory of something that I didn’t think would work—so I kept no notes.

Squash, bacon and curry soup

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat a small splash of oil (grapeseed will do). Add two rashers of double-smoked bacon (sliced). Fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the bacon starts to colour.

Then add one diced carrot and one sliced leek. Sautee for a few minutes more.

Now add about two teaspoons of good quality curry powder, two cloves of garlic (finely chopped), and one small chili pepper (finely chopped). Turn the heat right up, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.

Now add a good, decent splash of dry sherry, stirring. It will evaporate quickly.

Time to add one butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed. And a 14 oz can of whole tomatoes, along with its juices. And a litre of vegetable broth.

Add a good pinch of fleur de sel. Bring to a boil, then a simmer.

Simmer for a good half hour, until all the vegetables are very tender. Puree with a hand blender until very smooth. Add a can of coconut milk. Stir, and serve in bowls with a large handful of chopped fresh cilantro.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A dark, spicy cookie

There’s a real cold weather feel to these cookies. They’re dark, spicy, and rich, but also slightly dry, like biscotti. Just the kind of thing you’d want to dunk into hot chocolate after a cold skating session. Recently, my friend Nadia (who keeps this lovely blog) asked me about cookies to bake for Christmas. These are the first that came to mind.

The recipe has been in my tattered Duo-Tang for as long as I’ve been stuffing recipes into it. My aunt Hélène told me about them. She calls them heart attack cookies—presumably for the sheer shock of realizing how much cocoa they contain.

I’ve tweaked them slightly to make them even spicier, but feel free to omit the cayenne. The back pepper, coffee, and cinnamon are a necessity. Remember you’ll also need to refrigerate the dough for at least a few hours before baking.

Heart attack cookies

¾ cups unsalted butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup good quality cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely ground coffee

½ teaspoon cinnamon

a pinch or two cayenne pepper

In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar with an electric beater, until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine all the other ingredients. Mix well, and tip into the butter mixture. Mix the dough with a spoon, until there are no lumps of flour and the texture is uniform.

Next, you’ll need to form a log with the dough. I find it easiest to gather the dough with my hands, and dump in directly onto a large sheet of wax paper. Form the log with your hands—it should be about two inches in diameter. Sprinkle it with a bit of white sugar, wrap it well in the wax paper, and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Unwrap the log, and slice it into pucks (about half an inch thick). Bake for 12 minutes on a greased cookie sheet. Remove, and cool on a rack.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cat In A Box

I don’t remember getting a case of Duggan’s No. 9 IPA, but I found the box at the very back of the closet. As soon as I took it out, the cat claimed it.

It’s been a week, and she still spends her sleeping (and sit-and-stare) hours in it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cookie Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery

On Thursday, I stopped into Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Queen West, and two things happened; first I ran into the lovely Derek Easton, of Easton’s in Toronto’s Kensington Market, and then I ate the best oatmeal cookie out there.

This post is about the cookie, but I should mention that Derek told me about the dry chorizo the venison sausages that he now has in the shop. He convinced me, and now both types of sausages are at my house.

But the cookie! It’s an oatmeal, pistachio, and fig cookie, which I’ve replicated, more or less. Happily, I share with you my version of the cookie.

Oatmeal, Pistachio and Fig Cookies
Makes about two dozen cookies

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons Bourbon (or vanilla)
¼ cup water
2 ¾ cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
¾ (100g) cup pistachios, roasted at 300F for ten minutes, and coarsely chopped
10 dried figs ( about 100 g), with the “twig” removed, and chopped into raisin-sized chunks.

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a larger, bowl, combine the butter and the sugar. Blend with an electric mixer for a minute. Add the egg and Bourbon. Continue mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon, and alternating with the water. Stir in the oats, nuts and fruit.

On a greased cookie sheet, drop well-rounded teaspoons, flattening each cookie with the back of the spoon. Bake for ten minutes. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Process

Sometimes, the outcome is not what you’d hoped for but the novelty of having ever tried in the first place redeems the experience.

Apparently Teddy Roosevelt, on his first buffalo hunt in the Dakotas’ Badlands (a trip that, by the way, partly fueled his devotion to national parks), lived for the process. After days in the blistering sun, little to drink, rain soaked camping blankets, nothing but dry biscuits to eat, and not a single successful shot, Roosevelt enthusiastically proclaimed, “By Godfrey, but this is fun!”

And that’s how I felt about my new pasta machine.

Don’t get me wrong, Yotam Ottolenghi’s instructions for Saffron tagliatelle with spiced butter (from his book, Plenty), are very good. The fragrant butter sauce is exciting, and the turmeric-stained pasta dough is flawless. It’s just that I’ve never used a pasta machine. And I’m afraid that in the end, the resulting meal was more like Spaetzle (a slightly gummy, sticky German squirt noodle), and less like a delicate tagliatelle.

Perhaps one day, when I’ve perfected the art of cranking out my own pasta, I will share some version of the recipe. But for now, here are some photos of The Process.

All photographs by Andrew Budziak