Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Plateau Farmer's Market

I'm very picky when it comes to Farmer's Markets, but it is summer, and I've been making the rounds.

Tuesday is Organic Campus at McGill
Thursday is the Mile End Market or the Coop La Maison Verte on Sherbrooke in NDG
Saturday is Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue (only went once since it's far) or St-Henri or Little Burgundy Market
Sunday is the Plateau Market (but starting this week it's also the Outremont market) and I generally also get to Jean-Talon on Sundays on my way to the Plateau.
Sundays are my favourite for one reason: the muffins and bread at the Plateau Market from "La Perle et Son Boulanger" (adorable name: "The pearl and her baker", or more likely "Someone whose last name is Laperle and his or her baker". The raspberry blueberry muffin is incredible. the fruit are fresh, not frozen, and they make the whole muffin juicy. They also actually taste like something. The muffin itself is so moist and flavourful. I swear this guy has amazing flour. Two weeks ago was the first time I bought the bread. Now I've been making my own gluten-free bread lately and figured bread was not high on my list of things to buy, but they only have food there (lunch-style food like the fresh gazpacho I had once) sometimes, and I was hungry and a loaf of chocolate cranberry (bread, not loaf, really, since there was no sugar and it a simple loaf with small pieces of bittersweet chocolate and dried cranberries) was very tempting. Oh wow, was it good. I think there might be a little bit of sourdough in all the breads, because even though it wasn't a sourdough loaf, it had that slightly fermented taste to which I'm completely addicted. The chocolate wasn't anything special in terms of taste, but it was soft and a little warm in the Montreal heat when I bought it, and the cranberries got plump and juicy.

So I went back last week looking for another loaf. They were sold out, so I bought a loaf of hazelnut, along with a muffin and a chocolatine (pain au chocolate or chocolate in pastry, for all you non-Quebers). No I did not eat all them at once. I'm big on tasting. The bread was absolutely amazing. It's the perfect bread for dips (I just blended some chickpeas and some steamed turnip greens. The bitterness of turnip greens and the nuttiness of the cooked chickpeas worked really nicely with the bitterness of the fermentation and the hazelnuts), but only when fresh. The next day it's about half as good, and the day after that, even less. It dries out fast since it's so fresh, so I think I need to start wrapping it in a tea towel and then in a bag to keep it fresher.

The muffin was ridiculously good, and I wasn't even really attracted to the pain au chocolate, which looked a little squished. After trying the chocolate in the bread I wasn't expecting much, but I was so very wrong. There was so much butter in the pastry that I could have died of French heaven on the spot. The chocolate was again a little gooey, but this time it was semi-sweet chocolate, and so when it combined with the butter...

Thank goodness I'm lactose-intolerant or I would have eaten it all. The knowledge that I'm going to get really sick if I keep going is usually enough to stop me mid-pastry. Still, I'll be back for more bread next week. They've turned me into a loyal customer through addiction. Good work.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cookies, the 2nd (How Do You Mess Up Oatmeal Cookies?)

You don't. Sometimes they work out perfectly and, well, sometimes they don't. These didn't, but it was all my fault. They don't look so bad, right? They didn't taste bad either, but they didn't taste like rich, buttery, chewy deliciousness either. That was kind of what I was going for.

What I did wrong:
1. I used mostly Earth Balance (a vegan margarine) instead of butter and I topped up the measuring cup with oil so that the cookies would be dairy-free, but I forgot how bland both of these things are, and un-butter-like
2. I used a gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose white flour, so the cookies spread out very thinly on the baking sheet instead of rising a little.
3. I placed the cookies too close together on the baking sheet, so they spread into each other and into a giant, but thin, cookie rectangle. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the cookies look more like logs or slices than cookies when you try to figure out how to remove them from the pan.

1/2 butter (I should have just used butter or a flavourful margarine. Anything is better than earth balance it seems. I just got a new vegan cookbook and all the desserts are made with oil. I'm so very much not excited)
1 cup minus a tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp molasses (you can also just use 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar. It's the same thing)
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup gluten free flour blend (I should maybe have used 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat, like the original recipe suggested, but my gluten-free flour blend is supposed to replace all-purpose and 1 cup of all-purpose would in theory be better than 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 1/4 cups large-flake rolled oats, blended (ground) into a flour (this is the same thing as oat flour, but you're much more likely to have rolled oats lying around than ground oat flour. It'll also be fresher this way. You could just leave the rolled oats large but it's a completely different texture and having done both, I think the grinding method tastes and works better)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup dried cherries or raisins, optional (I skipped this because I just wanted plain oatmeal cookies. Savoury, not sweet)
1/2 cup grated chocolate, optional (I would only have used 1 oz if I used this, but again, I didn't feel like it. Besides I already had the chocolate in my biscotti)

Nothing fancy to this recipe, which may also be why the cookies spread on the baking sheet instead of staying in their cookie mounds.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat the margarine and sugars in a large bowl until light, about 2-3 minutes. Maybe I skimped on this step? Beat in the egg whites and vanilla. Doesn't say how long. At this point I'm missing Alice Medrich. She would have specified...well, in at least one of her recipes she would have specified and then you'd be expected to use that recipe as a guide for all other cookie recipes because God forbid she copy and paste...

In a slightly smaller bowl combine the flour, ground oats (I just used my blender to grind them. It worked great), baking powder and soda. Whisk to combine (stirring is also fine, apparently). Now stir the flour mixture into the creamed margarine mixture until combined. Then optionally stir in the dried fruit and/or chocolate.

Drop batter (or shape artistically - in mounds...not exactly Da Vinci) by the tbsp (approximately. Who actually gets out a tablespoon to measure how big the cookies are?) onto parchment-lined baking sheets. The parchment is just so you don't have to use butter to grease the pan. You can also use aluminum foil, or God forbid, cooking spray. If you think cooking spray is your best option I vote that greasing with butter will add calories and fat, but you'll be better off this way than with the chemicals in the aerosol spray can.

I used just one cookie sheet and a small tray for the toaster oven but I definitely should have done two batches. They only bake for 12-14 minutes so I should have just been patient. The recipe is supposed to make 32 cookies and 13 cookies per pan is standard. So AT LEAST two cookie sheets. I guess that's why my cookies oozed into each other. Still, they were absolutely delicious when fresh out of the oven - fresh and soft and a little gooey, but still chewy from the ground oats. I couldn't taste the butter, which was a little sad, but when your mouth is full of fresh cookie you won't complain.

How to save a pan of spread cookies: The thing about creating a pan of cookies is that it's hard to remove them from the pan if they've spread into each other. I'm big on geometric shapes, but I don't exactly have any spatulas that are good at creating circular cookies from a rectangular pan. This is called a cookie-cutter, I know, but then you waste all that cookie i between the piece, and you don't get the nice finished edge. You basically need to cut the cookie like a piece of cake into squares. It's not that attractive and the mixture's a bit crumbly. So wait until it's cooled but not stiff (20 minutes, approximately) and then carefully slice through the pieces in whatever shapes you want. My cookies didn't have to be pretty, but I ended up re-cutting them later once they had hardened up a bit and at that point it was too late. They were a little bit brittle and crumbly. I hate wasting cookies and I hate jagged edges so I had to eat the crumbly bits. Not the worst thing in the world, but also a bit of a waste. Normally I would never say that but it would have been WAY too unhealthy for me to eat all the crumbly bits and so there are all these little leftover pieces that I can't really serve anyone else. The point is, when you make a new cookie recipe, make some small cookies on the baking sheet and some larger ones. That way if the cookies spread at least the small ones will be fine and pretty. Then you'll know for next time how large you can make them. Pencils were created for a reason - make notes in your recipe book to remind yourself next time of what to do. The definition of insanity...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Because I Can Never Decide Which Cookies To Make: Chocolate Studded Almond Biscotti and Oatmeal Cookies

I've been eating too many fresh fruits and vegetables. I feel like I've been on a diet of soft foods. Sure, they're delicious and fresh and I know I'm doing good things for my body by eating them, but my teeth need more work! I need strong flavour! So I knew I wanted to make biscotti. That way I could finish a meal with a satisfying crackle and crunch. I don't drink coffee but I knew that dipped in plain, bitter yogurt the sweetness of the biscotti would marry well with the tang, especially when made with bittersweet chocolate. I didn't want a lot of sugar, but I wanted a mildly sweet treat.

Okay, fine, so that's decided, I thought.

Nope, I also saw a recipe for oatmeal cookies and I'd been dreaming of soft chewy cookies for awhile. I wanted the chew of oatmeal and the density, not the air of plain chocolate chip cookies. I didn't want any fruit messing with the flavour. All I needed was a plain oatmeal cookie.

So I made both. It's been so long since I've baked, and it's so good for the soul. There's nothing like a fresh cookie to make looking for a roommate better. You probably don't believe me. I counted today; I've lived with 28 people in the last 6 years. 3 men, 25 women. I've had enough roommates. My next roommate will be #29, and if I make it to 30 I'll feel much older in terms of living experiences than the number. Perhaps I'll have an early midlife roommate crisis. Perhaps I'm already having one.

This is why I needed to spend a few hours baking in my kitchen. Emotional therapy.

These are amazing biscotti. They're from my favourite chocolate book, Alice Medrich's "Chocolate and Art of Low-Fat Desserts". My mother bought an extra used copy online (it's discontinued) just so that I don't have to lug it home in my suitcase whenever I go home. That's how much I love this book. It includes everything from ridiculous buches de Noel, 5 different mousses, cakes, creams to petite sweets - quarter-sized cookies, meringues and haystacks. There is, of course, an exceptional biscotti recipe. There are, in fact, three, and I sort of combined the first two to create my perfect snack.

Chocolate Spiked Biscotti:
2 cups flour (I used my gluten-free flour blend, which worked perfectly in these and less perfectly in the oatmeal cookies I made later)
1 tsp baking soda
1 square of bittersweet baking chocolate, grated
1/4 tsp salt (I feel like I added too much, because my cookies taste way too deliciously salty. It could just be that I used fleur de sel so the little salt rocks explode in the bites where my teeth find them)
2 eggs
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 tbsp molasses (the recipe calles for about 1/2 a cup of white sugar and 1/2 of dark, but white sugar just has more of the nutrients from molasses - the brown in brown sugar - taken out of it, so it's an easy fix)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup ground toasted, blanched almonds (Oh, for more info on toasting nuts, check my bittersweet chocolate truffle hazelnut mousse torte recipe)

I think because I used fleur de sel and cane sugar the biscotti turned out grainier than expected, but it was actually so perfect since they helped the crunch. I love it. Dipping these in coffee to soften them would be a sin. Well,in a few days when they're a bit more rock hard it may be a necessity, but freshly hardened, they're perfect.

I whisked the flour, salt, baking soda and grated chocolate. Grating the chocolate was annoying, since I grated it very finely. What was good about it, though, was that it was so difficult I decided to only do one square of it instead of two, keeping the fat down. It was just chocolate-y enough, especially when eaten right after an oatmeal cookie. Actually, then it seemed VERY chocolate-y. You could also coarsely chop the chocolate but then it doesn't go as far. You don't get chocolate in every bite. So there's a balance.

In a large mixing bowl I then beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. None of this "3 minutes until pale" business. Medrich gets right down to it and just says "util combined". Apparently biscotti aren't so fussy. You're not going for perfect cake texture. They're intentionally supposed to be tough. These are hardy cookies. No frills, just exceptional flavour. Then I stirred in the flour until combined (you can also beat, if you don't mind flour flying everywhere), and then added the nuts. Stir, stir, stir. Actually, I more so folded with a whisk, but as long as it gets combined it'll be just fine.

I preheated the oven to 300 Fahrenheit and lined my cookie tray with aluminum foil. Then I shaped the cookie dough into three long logs on the tray. They're supposed to go lengthwise and stay about 2 1/2 inches apart, but my cookie sheet isn't big enough for that. I figured it didn't really matter because these didn't have to be gorgeous cookies, and if they flowed into each other, well, I could live with that. I can live with a lot of things. A bad roommate is not one of them.

So these long logs are kind of like freshly planted gardens. Spiked with chocolate and almonds and in 35 minutes they'll come out of the oven as fully-grown cookies. That's where the fun starts. Biscotti means "twice-baked" in Italian. It also just means "cookie", since this is generally what they eat as a cookie. Not so much into the oatmeal raisin thing. This is only the first baking stage. Some vegetables and planted things can be eaten raw, but many need to be cooked, or re-baked, like these biscotti. I did eat one after 35 minutes to see what they were like, and they were very much like a cookie, but not quite yet like the crunch I was craving.

So the logs came off the aluminum foil, got cooled for 10 minutes, got carefully sliced back apart (they had baked into each other a little, but not irreparably so), and got sliced into 1/2 inch slices.

This is where Medrich assumes you read all her biscotti recipes before making one. I've made biscotti before, and generally you slice them on the diagonal to make the pieces longer. The biscotti you see in coffee shops are ridiculously long and are the equivalent of 3 biscotti, but even so, these biscotti become prettier when cut diagonally. One of her biscotti recipes says to cut on the diagonal and the other doesn't. I was surprised not to see it in the first, and didn't check the second. It really doesn't make a big difference, besides an aesthetic one. Now it also says to place the cookies on the oven rack. I did a double take. Put the cookies directly on the oven racks? Well it didn't say "directly", but the next line said "or arrange slices on two baking sheets" and bake them for half the time, rotate, flip front to back, top to bottom, fuss, fuss, fuss. So I figured I'd go with the less fuss step of baking directly on the oven rack. By the way, the rack should be on the bottom of the oven. I put it on the second bottom rung because the very bottom seemed bizarre. Actually one of the recipes didn't even specify where the rack should be. In the other recipe it did say explicitly to put the cookies "directly" on the oven rack. I don't know why publishers don't employ the copy and paste function of their computers when it would help a poor baker out.

Anyway, on the racks the slices went, carefully placed one by one. The oven was still "on" and hot, so I did this all very carefully. It's not great for the back. I miraculously didn't burn myself. 20 minutes later the cookies were carefully removed from the oven one by one. Medrich gives a trick (in one recipe only, of course) to take one cookie out when the timer goes and leave the rest in for another minute or 2. Once the removed cookie is cooled you can test it. If it's crunchy enough then you can take all the cookies out. If not, leave them all in there for another few minutes. Repeat test procedure. This can get dangerous, for both the tongue and waistline. Don't rush the testing or you'll burn your mouth, and call it quits when the sugar rush kicks in. It shouldn't go longer than 5 minutes, this whole "extra baking time" business.

Now the important thing is to cool the cookies completely before storing. If they get stored while they're still hot they'll soften up. NOTE! THERE IS NO BUTTER IN THESE COOKIES!!! and because they're so dry, they last for WEEKS at room temperature in a sealed container. I also just noticed that Alice and I agree on alternatives serving methods for the cookies. She thinks a scoop of yogurt is a lovely idea (though she specifies a "really pretty coffee cup" for presentation. Apparently yogurt is nothing special on its own. She is not French or Greek, it seems. She also think coffee should get poured around the yogurt. I agree with her that it's a great topping for frozen yogurt or non-fruity gelato, but one idea I didn't foresee was crushing them and pressing them against the sides of a cheesecake or iced cake (the iced cake is my addition, what we the fact that I don't eat a whole lot of cheesecake). Alice, we're a good team, you and I. You probably already have a roommate, right?

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Swear It's Better Than It Looks: Boiled Eggplant Sautéd In Lamb Fat

Remember how I love eggplant? There's something absolutely delicious about how slimy it can be. It becomes soft and mushy and very mild. Different kinds, especially the long, thinner purple Asian ones, aren't as bitter as the regular pear-shaped ones. Slimmer is not always better, but it seems that in this metaphor the larger ones are bitter about their bottoms.

All joking aside, there was still a fair bit of lamb fat in the skillet after sauté-ing my potatoes, and I hate letting things that great go to waste. So I decided to sauté the eggplant that I'd boiled whole (got the idea from a Vietnamese recipe blog when researching pho) in what was left of the fat. Well the eggplant sure sucked up the leftovers! It actually started to burn. So that's why Indian and Chinese eggplant dishes are so luscious...they need a ridiculous amount of oil or fat to keep the eggplant from sticking to the wok or pot!

The result? The eggplant was bland, even with the oil. Only the texture was different, becoming a bit more slimy (which I actually like. Maybe it's an acquired taste, like oysters) with the additional oil. I did a comparison with some un-sautéd, boiled eggplant to be sure. So what I ended up doing was adding a bit of chaat masala for flavour. It was a cheat baigan bharta, but the mango powder ended up being delicious and there was more than enough salt in the masala to bring out the flavour. Now I have leftover eggplant for amazing sandwiches. I'll just sprinkle on a bit of chaat masala, add a few more vegetables and some puréed chickpeas, and die happy.

How Not To Find A New Roommate (aka "Finally! Lamb Fat!")

My roommate is leaving me.

I'm very aware that I comfort myself with food. Unlike normal people, that doesn't mean a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Ew...and it's not even a few scoops of good gelato from Caffe Romagna. For me, this is a home-cooked, well-rounded meal. Know how some people say they're too stressed to eat? Or too busy, or they forgot? Yeah, that never happens to me. Eating is something that happens three times a day and only in extreme circumstances does that waver. That doesn't mean I cook three elaborate meals a day, but I try to enjoy three pauses in the day to appreciate food, relax, and have fun.

So the fact that I haven't wanted to cook very much is sad. I don't think it's because my roommate is leaving that I haven't been cooking, but it is odd that I haven't been cooking as a comfort for the fact that my roommate is leaving. Probably it hasn't sunk in yet. A good roommate is a hard thing to find. An exceptional roommate is rare. When my roommate leaves in September for rockier pastures (Newfoundland...),

who will tell me I'm a geek for getting excited about using all four of my mixing bowls?

Who will mistake "deer" for "beer" when I make jiaozi?

Who will save the day when I leave essential duck fat in Montreal?

Who will remind me that I am a very strange young person who is comforted by saag, economical with toasted sesame seeds, and barely escapes flying pieces of rogue garlic?

These are all stellar qualities in a roommate. Yesterday was my first comfort food attempt, I think. Well, a third for comfort, a third out of curiosity, and a third out of practicality. Starting from the end and working my way back: I had a bag of new potatoes that needed to be eaten, I wanted to see if it really made a difference to sauté and roast with meat fat instead of oil, and I wanted to be satisfied by a good meal.

So I chipped away at my hunk of frozen lamb fat from making lamb broth and heated up a generous 2 tablespoons over medium-high heat in my roommate's large skillet before my potential roommate showed up to look at the apartment. You see, I'd made an appointment, despite my sadness. Always practical. I wasn't excited about it. In fact I was fairly sure it wasn't going to work out just by our first phone conversation. I am, however, a horrible judge of character, so I figured I'd let the fellow come over.This is way more fat than I ever use to sauté anything, but I wanted to make sure I got the true taste of the fat. No use jeopardizing the results. I scrubbed the potatoes and chopped them into chunks. Then when the fat was hot I tossed them in. They sizzled very nicely, and there was so much oil that I never even dreamed of adding water to help the potatoes along. After I had rotated the potatoes enough that all the sides were nicely browned, I transferred them to a roasting pan and stuck them in my preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The nice-enough-sounding potential roommate called to say he would arrive soon. Why hadn't I started dinner earlier? I hate interrupting a meal. This is not his fault. Don't hold it against him.

After about 20 minutes in the oven the potatoes were good and tender, and I tried them before sprinkling them with a little bit of fleur de sel. Suddenly the flavour exploded. The chunks of salt broke down and spread all over my tongue in each bite. A little went a long way. That was all the potatoes needed - the salt. I don't think the fat really made that much difference. If I had used 2 tbsp of oil instead of animal fat I think the potatoes would have browned just as nicely. I couldn't really taste lamb, just delicious potato. Real potatoes. "From a good farmer's market" potatoes. With my roasted chicken, it was ultimate comfort. Oh, and some farmer's market fresh eggplant and peas. Shucking takes an age, but it's worth it. If only I'd eaten them two days previously, or let them get mushy, they would have tasted nicer and less starchy. Still, they were pretty fresh, and in a world of frozen peas, that's something special.

So I had about 5 bites and then the guy who was coming to look at the apartment showed up, and it all got covered and left to stay warm. I showed him around. Typical tour, typical apartment hunting questions. Then the inevitable, "do you like to cook?" when we got to the kitchen. He didn't really cook much, but he was learning. See, I've heard that before. Everyone who doesn't cook is "learning" whether or not they have any real ambition to learn. I'm also not an about to be a taken-advantage-of kitchen teacher. Either it's my kitchen with the occasional appearance of another person, or you need to be a good cook, and inspire me a little, or at the very least, respect food. To me, you can't respect food if you can't cook it. Why does that chicken have to be organic? Why not just eat fast food all the time because it's cheaper. If you cook for yourself, pay a little attention to the world around you (you know, books or a newspaper...), and have any taste-buds at all, you'll understand the answers.

There are things to look for in a roommate. Cleanliness is big, but it depends on your mutual happiness with a certain level of cleanliness. Laziness is big, but it depends on whether it irritates the other person - is it laziness in your own life or laziness in buying kitchen paper towel?

I showed him my spice cupboard. I have a three tier cupboard of spices, organized, but in a way that probably only makes sense to me. He was impressed in a slightly overwhelmed kind of way. We talked about what I like to cook. I can go on about that...but then I remembered that while he was learning about me, I was learning nothing about him. Still, I was in the position of power. He could want to be my roommate and still I get the final say. Nice enough, he seemed, but is that good enough? Do I really want to settle so soon? It's still early. I have time.

About 3 months ago there were a ton of articles in big newspapers (the Life sections. Apparently all Life writers convene and agree on what to write internationally that week, because it all too often seems to be coordinated) and on TV shows on the subject of "settling"; how men are happier to settle and women are too picky and will never be happy. That's the gist of it. We're doomed unless we go with the guy that doesn't make us swoon, but doesn't drive us to criminal acts.

Well I'm sorry, but I've been in too many relationships, roommates and otherwise, where "I'm no longer swooning" equated to "he or she is pissing me off". The honeymoon effect. So in my mind there's no need to rush to any conclusions and jump in with the first shmo who seems like a decent guy. There's something nice about feeling completely at ease in your own apartment. I like never feeling like I'm in the way or I'm inconveniencing someone else. I like it when I'm not judged for doing ridiculous things like hanging pasta from our clothes rack next to my just-washed clothes. It's okay when I say I'll get to that mess in the morning, because I will, and it's okay when he says he'll take care of something, because he will. Mutual respect. How do you spot respect in someone you barely know?

A smarter person than me once told me that when it's right it won't feel like settling, even if it's not exactly what you imagined. Well, that's what I got out of it anyway. Maybe if that smart person had written it down for me I could properly quote it now, and feel more comforted.

So, I'm waiting. Potential roommates will come, interrupt my poorly-planned dinners, stroll through my beloved home, judge it, judge me, and leave.

If you are not this person, know that I have lots of lamb fat left and certainly will not make enough potatoes to run out anytime soon. Feel free. Make yourself at home.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Champagne (Spanish Cava) Chicken

I've made this before, but this time I did it much better. I never use actual champagne since it costs a fortune and there are some good alternatives. Instead of just using chicken breasts like the recipe calls for, I also used a whole chicken. I also let it marinate about 8 hours instead of 30 minutes. I ALSO tented the roasted chicken once its internal temperature had reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit, to let the moisture spread through the meat. Basically I actually did everything right. I even added some fresh thym to the incisions of shallots in the meat.

My cava, Segura Viudas (about $13), was a "Top 100 pick" by "Wine Enthusiast" at the liquor store (SAQ for all you non-Quebecers). It was plenty dry, and went perfectly with the meal. It also made the chicken just very delicious, though you don't need much of that since the meat is so tender. I rarely eat skin on chicken because if it's not crispy I find it disgusting, but the roasting here makes it perfect. The organic chicken I used was worth the $23 dollars. I ate the chicken pieces (of course the legs were the juiciest) on top of the last of my oyster mushroom and garlic scape risotto, along with some collard greens cooked in broth. Add a fresh salad with Quebec turnips and cucumber and a miso paprika mirin dressing (weird, I know, but it worked) made for a great meal. Tonight some new potatoes will get roasted in my lamb fat. I think it will overpower the chicken, but I'm okay with that...

OH! I wanted to let everyone who loves yogurt know that I may have found another yogurt I love...It's not necessarily better than Pinehedge, but it has a very unique creaminess. It's expensive, but so is life.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dehydrating Things...

I kind of love the idea of taking a whole head of something green and easily turning it into something deliciously snack-able. I decided to try more dehydrating since it was so easy and I never otherwise eat chips. Back to "Making Love In The Kitchen" from the National Post, from where I took a few more recipes, decided I didn't quite like them, changed them, and created my own batches of kale chips.

Macro-Asian Kale Chips
1/2 head of kale, washed and torn into small pieces
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp miso
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp ground almonds

Sweet Thai Kale Chips
1/2 head of kale, washed and torn into small pieces
3/4 tsp sugar substitute (or sugar, or honey)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp sriracha hot sauce (the big red bottles at Thai, Chinese, or Vietanamese restaurants, or a sweet hot sauce, or hot sauce plus a bit of extra sugar)
1 tbsp chopped peanuts
1/8 tsp salt

Basically I had some leftover sweetened vinaigrette from some thai noodles in a small container along with some peanuts and hot sauce from the Cambodian/Malaysian festival at Parc Jean-Drapeau last weekend, so I figured I'd use it here instead of on more noodles. I kind of O.D.'d on noodles...mmm...The macro-asian chips I just wanted to try without sesame and oil. Basically I wanted to see if this worked fine without the added fats. I only added the almonds at the last minute for a bit of texture, but kept the quantity very low.

All you do is mix all the ingredients together, lay them out in a single layer in two big baking sheets, and stick them in the oven with the door slightly open on the lowest possible temperature for about 4 hours, or until they're crispy. They stick to the bottom of the pan, so you can use wax paper and save yourself some clean-up (and some waste, since the kale dehydrates and you actually lose a fair bit to the baking sheet).

It kind of helps to turn them halfway, to make sure it all dehydrates evenly, but if you don't it's really not the end of the world. So some chips are more crispy than others. You can honestly use any ingredients here and these will be delicious, as long as there's a tiny bit of salt involved. Dehydrated plain kale is all well and good, but it has no taste. The miso is very salty, so feel free to cut back on that if it's too much, and if you want to avoid sugar, feel free to leave it out, along with honey or other sugary substitutes. The only way to make this gross, I think is to have no real seasoning. Herbs won't cut it. Dairy is not a great idea because you're leaving it out at a not so great temperature. Miso is okay because the fermentation is good, that's why I left it in there, but meat would be an awful idea, because I don't know what this is like for bacteria and contamination. Keep it vegan-friendly and you'll be in the clear. Oh, and happy. Probably glowing, like all those raw foodists seem to be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Farmer's Market Meets Kim Phat: Garlic Scape and Oyster Mushroom Risotto with Grilled Fish

"Rice, say the Italians, is born in water and dies in wine"
-Much Depends On Dinner

This is a perfect summer meal. The ultimate, light, comfort food topped with fresh grilled fish, all seasoned with top quality fleur de sel and organic sprigs of rosemary.

I don't use a recipe for risotto when I just make it for myself. This was not meant to be the word's greatest risotto, but in true Italian fashion, it was meant to be simple, filling, and delicious. I know a risotto is delicate and can only handle a certain number of ingredients and flavours - it's not a stir-fry where you just throw in whatever you have. I like a simple flavouring of garlic and mushrooms + one herb, in this case rosemary. I also had sage and lemon balm but sage I would probably have had to chop, and lemon balm I was worried would make it too acidic. I think the lemon would have been tasty for another time, though, especially with the fish, but it just wasn't the flavour I was going for that evening.

So here was my easy risotto strategy, a far cry from tradition, but also a far cry from being hit over the head with a rolling pin by an Italian Grandmother:

2 cups basmati rice*
2 tbsp garlic scapes pesto (just puréed garlic scapes with oil and salt)
1 small white onion or shallot (optional)
1 large package of oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped**
The dregs (about 1/3 cup) of a bottle of dry white table wine (Quebec's own 'Orpailleur')
some (about 1/2 cup) sweet pho' ga broth (leftover from some Vietnamese chicken soup)
4 cups water***
a few whole sprigs rosemary (or sage, or basil, or parsley, etc., chopped)

Some small silver fish (4-12, depending on the size), like mackerel, sardines, or sea smelt****

*I know! It's not arborio. I just wrote an article on rice for Spezzatino magazine, so trust me, I know ALL about rice, and why I shouldn't have used basmati here. Basically the basmati doesn't break down into starch like arborio, vialone nano, or carnaroli, but it's what I had, so I combined my Indian and Italian rice-making skills with good results.

**cremini work fine, but "fancy" recipes will specify porcini or shiitake for flavour. Chanterelles would be spectacular, but I went to Kim Phat, the big Asian specialty store on Cote-des-Neiges, known to be the best in the city, and got ridiculously well-priced oyster mushrooms. Everything's just marked "fruit/vegetable", though (even some of the meats and fish!!), so you've got to know your produce. There were a whole lot of things that actually were vegetables that even with a sign giving their names, I had no idea what they were. Radish? Turnip? Cucumber? Sweet? Sour? Who knows.

***I would normally use vegetable or chicken broth here but I tasted the garlic scapes and onion mixture after it had cooked for awhile, and I thought it was plenty salty for the risotto. I also didn't want to overpower the mushrooms with a lot of sodium. Next time I think I'd go 2 cups broth, 2 cups water.

****If you want to be unsustainable, you can use tilapia or sole, but you should probably hate yourself for it. If the first three fish I listed smell fishy, they're not fresh. The stereotypes around them are unfair. They're also VERY affordable. Honestly, I got 12 sea smelts for $1.20. That is ridiculous. At Kim Phat you need to be very careful, but if you choose wisely, you can get very good quality, very well-priced fish. Avoid the shark...

It's weird heating a big pot over medium heat with nothing in it. When I added the garlic scape purée once the pot was hot, I thought everything was going to burn. I stirred, though, and it was all fine. The oil in the scapes did its job and made everything not stick. Then I added the onions and stirred to coat those in the oil too.

Yes! Made it! 5 minutes of light stirring later, I added the chopped mushrooms. You don't want big pieces or they won't cook evenly, but you don't need to be too particular about the size, as long as the pieces are roughly the same.

Now the mushrooms should cook for a good 5-7 minutes to let the moisture evaporate out of them. The pot should be getting a bit dry, but nothing should be browning too much. Now you add the rice and stir it to coat in all the juices and oil for about 30-45 seconds. I had actually washed my rice Indian-style to get the starch off of it. I'd then let it soak in some cold water for about 15 minutes while the rest of the dish was cooking to this point. So I had to drain the rice and then actually let it cook for about 2 minutes to get all the water out of it. I don't really know why I soaked it for so long. I mean, the point of that is to keep the grains separate when they cook up, but for risotto they need to kind of stick together. I suppose it was the Indian in me. Maybe in my little toe.

You have to get all the water out so that when you add the wine there's a big cooking sound-effect: A big whoosh of deglazing aural beauty. You want the wine to boil, so you may need to up the heat to medium-high for a minute, and then turn it down to medium-low to simmer once the wine is added.

Now there's the labour-intensive way to do this or the not-so-labour-intensive way. Traditionally, you keep the rest of your liquid, about 6-7 cups of broth or water or a mixture of both, in a saucepan on medium heat. Then you add it 1/2 a cup at a time, stirring after each addition, until most of the liquid is evaporated. Then you add the next 1/2 cup. Repeat until all the liquid is used or the rice is tender. By keeping it hot this way you don't need to wait for it to heat up every time you add some to the rice for it to be absorbed. Adding it bit by bit feeds the rice slowly, which is what it needs to become perfectly al dente, yet creamy without becoming mushy from drowning. I figured that since I was using basmati rice, I wasn't going to get the perfect texture anyway, so I just added the 4 cups of liquid and the sprigs of rosemary at once, brought the pot to a boil, covered it and reduced the heat to VERY low (like my Indian basmati recipes say to do) for 18 minutes (normally it's 20, but the rice had already cooked a bit in the wine and onions).

After 20 minutes I kept following my Indian rice recipe and removed the lid, fluffed the risotto, and recovered for another 5 minutes (up to 10 if there's a lot of liquid). If it looks dry, you can add a little more liquid, but not too much, since basmati will get mushy quickly. Gelatinous rice is not delicious when it's supposed to be risotto.

During the first 18 minute cooking time I'd rinsed my fish, dried them, and sprinkled them with fleur de sel. That's just a fancy name for a specific type of large-crystal salt from France. Maldon salt, kosher sea salt, anything big (not pickling salt) all work fine. Fleur de sel is supposed to have a more delicate salty flavour. I just like it because you don't need to use a lot of it to get a lot of flavour. It's really popular here in Montreal (it is French, after all) so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Each crystal breaks apart into a luxurious mouthful of flavour. It feels like a guilty pleasure, like I shouldn't be eating that much salt, but it's really not very much since the flavour is so intense. I better like it, because my small container of it will last a long time.

That's honestly all I put on the fish. I was just going to put them on the grill, so it didn't need any oil. You can use a pastry brush to coat your grill in oil (not the fish, the grill), but with my indoor grill I don't it.

During the second rice-cooking time (5 minutes) I added the fish to my pre-heated grill. It took a few batches, but the first one was the one I needed to line up time-wise with the risotto. The nice thing about risotto, too, is that you can leave it covered for a little while on a different stove burner (a cold one, not one that still has heat coming from it) and it won't burn on you, unless there really isn't enough liquid in there. Anyway, the fish grilled in about 5 minutes. The sea smelts I used were very small so they didn't need a lot of time. When they were browned on the outside, they were done. I bit into one, the skin was opaque, not transluscent, but it wasn't too chewy or over-cooked. That means done to me. You just need to be careful of the vertebrae. If you bite carefully you can bite around it and then remove it without much fuss. If you try to break it, though, it gets trickier and messier.

Big scoop of risotto, a few sea smelts, maybe three crystals of salt, and a sprig of rosemary to garnish.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Plateau Farmers Market and My Negotiations with Garlic Scapes

Last week my roommate and I had house-guests (not including the cat currently residing with us temporarily. She makes herself way too much at home to consider as a guest...). The guests we had, the good kind, were just in town for a few days, but that was enough time to make our way to the city's best farmer's markets. I need to clarify something here. "Farmer's Market" to me doesn't exactly mean Jean-Talon. Sure, it's a huge market, but there are lots of shops that are not owned by farmers or farms. To be fair, most smaller farmer's markets, the kind where small booths are set up in an area on a specific day and all the vendors drive in for it) isn't always all farmers, but this one actually is. Even a nice man who sells his nature photography at the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue farmer's market every Saturday morning isn't even allowed to sell at the Plateau farmer's market every Sunday from 10am-2pm.

Everything being sold at that market is food or drink, local, and organic. Jean-Talon is far from organic. As much as I love my fruit guy, Leopoldo, I know what I'm buying. Most of those vegetables were sprayed with things that shouldn't really be eaten. Save a few stalls, there isn't a whole lot of organics being offered by the farmers and not farmers of the city's biggest markets.

I had a point once.

Oh, my point was that I hate garlic scapes. I need to say it now to make sure I get back to it. These house guests and I went to the Plateau farmers market, and purchased all sorts of lovely things.
We sat down to a really nice picnic lunch of the organic gazpacho with sprouts and whole grain toasted bread offered by the Market's main stall. Our guests also purchased a container of garlic scapes pesto. One was vegan and this cheese-free pesto was perfect with the baguette from a delicious bakery stall.
They offered to share their pesto but I really hate garlic scapes. In French, they're called "fleur d'ail". They're the twisted, long green things that look like green onions in the picture below. You can use them in soups, salads, stir-fries, anything where you'd use garlic. They're supposedly milder than garlic, but I always seem to eat them in raw form (salads and spreads) and the bad breath stays with me all day. I also find they're often very tough and not chewy, so even in soups they don't want to soften up enough to not ruin the texture. They are great, however, if you purée them. Still, I politely declined my house guests' offer to share the garlic scape pesto.
When they moved on from Montreal they left the rest of the bottle of pesto in my fridge. What am I going to do? I don't like this stuff, but it's high quality, local, and organic. Hmm...well, it's swimming in oil, so the next time I need to sautée garlic for a recipe, I'll just toss in a tablespoon of the pesto. PERFECT!So I decided to make a risotto. I didn't buy wine that day at the market, since my house guests also left about half a cup of an organic local kind you can find at the SAQ ("Orpailleur". I've taste-tested the whole line, but they don't offer the best ones at the SAQ. The white and red you can fine are perfectly fine table wines, though). I could have used a nice honeywine from Desrochers winery and honey farm if I'd wanted something sweeter, but carrying bottles of wine home on my bike is not my ideal bike trip. I had oyster mushrooms and a beautiful shallot from the Ethiopian farmer at McGill's Organic Campus, so I cheated with a bit of chicken broth leftover from some amazing pho' ga from Pho Lien and I even used basmati rice. This was going to be a weird risotto.

Since this really turned into a post on the Farmer's Market, I'll give the risotto recipe tomorrow. If you're not a patient person I'll spoil the results for you and say that the risotto was just okay. It was sticky and delicious in texture, but if I hadn't served it with grilled fish with fleur de sel, it would have been bland. Thank goodness for sea smelt. "Grilled fish" sounds so much nicer, doesn't it? Ah, North American expectations.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gluten-Free Pasta: Fusilli

I inherited a pasta maker. Nobody least they hadn't yet and I knock on wood they still haven't. So maybe "inherit" is not the right word, but like Greg "inherited" a slow-cooker, I, loosely, inherited a small pasta maker.

...and I've been on a gluten-free flour kick. So for my amazing mango salad a few weeks ago I used a gluten-free flour for the home-made pasta. It made all the difference in the world - the home-made, not necessarily the gluten-free. I do think the gluten-free part helped, though, because there's more chew, more texture, and less air to the denser flour, and I like that for a recipe where I want to feel full.

The recipe was easy...kind of. You just have to be careful about how much liquid and egg you use, since the different flours require different amounts of liquid than a standard high-gluten dough. I used my first gluten-free flour blend recipe, and decided to use two eggs instead of one in the actual pasta recipe to keep the dough together better.

2 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 Eggs
1 tbsp Olive Oil
approximately 1/4 cup of water to start

My pasta maker comes with a handy little measuring thing. It's not really a cup, but it comes with a quasi-lid that doesn't really seal well, but you can use to shake the egg, oil and water together inside. It's kind of awful for kitchen contamination since small amounts of egg fly everywhere. It has these ambiguous lines on the outside. The lines themselves aren't ambiguous, but they say things like "Small Load" and "Regular Load" even though the instructions that came with the machine say you should only ever make one size of load. So I never know which lines to use and every time I mess up I forget to mark down which line I should have used. Insanity or forgetfulness? Forgetfulness, I hope.

If you don't have a pasta maker you can still make this by hand. Just combine the egg, oil, and water in a sealable jar and shake until they're combined. Then create a well in a big bowl of the 2 cups of flour and incorporate it, stirring in only one direction. Then knead for 4-7 minutes, until the dough is ready. I have no idea when the dough will be ready, since I only ever use the machine and I don't think the elastic bread dough trick will work. My advice is to google some home-made pasta recipes and see what they say. Also keep in mind that you'll have a tougher time with gluten-free flour since it doesn't like to stick together. Even with the pasta machine I had to play with the amount of water and flour (adding 1 tbsp at a time of either) until the mixture resembled small pea-sized crumbs. In fact it got to this point in the 4 minutes that the machine required, and I started extruding it through the pasta die (their words, not mine) until it wouldn't extrude anymore. Some dough twirled into fusilli more easily than others, but a lot of dough was left over. So I added some more flour to get it unstuck and kneaded again in the machine, and then extruded that too. All in all, it was one of my less painful pasta-making experiences. Maybe I'm learning? Intelligence or luck? Hmm...

The pasta gets boiled like any other fresh pasta - in a large pot of salted water until it rises to the surface. That means for about 3 or 4 minutes. Fusilli is pretty thin so it doesn't take much time at all. Then it gets drained, to stop the cooking process and keep it al dente. Half of the dough got boiled for the mango pasta salad, and half got frozen for easy fresh pasta at a later date. I have just today bought eight mangoes - four different kinds - from my fruit guy in Jean Talon (Leopoldo's) and will choose which ones will be good for the salad. I didn't buy any sweet yellow ones (Ataulfos) this time. I bought some Haitian, some Mexican pit-less (I think that was the translation - I have no idea how that's possible, and kind of hope I'm wrong. It could also mean seedless, but all mangoes are seedless except for the pits...maybe some time in the distant path mangoes had more seeds? I don't think so), some organic Hadens from who knows where in South America, and some $3 vine-ripened ones. I am SO excited. Normally you can only find two kinds in North America, and here were four. I forget the names of the other varietals, but one was more green and elongated. We shall see...

Anyway, if you're making your own pasta without a machine, there's no 'extrude' button, so you need to roll it out thin and slice it into the lengths you want. I recommend fettucine or tagliatelle (wider flat noodles) for first-timers, since everything usually ends up looking this way anyway. If the pasta's for yourself or an indiscriminating family or group of eaters, it doesn't matter if each piece is the same width or length. With the gluten-free pasta you're going to have a hard time transferring it from the floured kitchen counter you used to roll it out to the pot, so expect some strands to break. It'll taste great no matter what. Don't worry and don't lose heart. Also don't get so frustrated that you knock everything all over the floor and get flour everywhere. You'll just need to clean it up anyway. The nice thing about rolling it by hand is it doesn't really matter if it's the perfect consistency. It'll taste heavier or lighter, so it does make a difference, but again, it's just for yourself, so give it a try, and then you'll do it better next time. Or not. Or it could be perfect the first time.

Or just meet someone who wants to give you a pasta maker.

Good luck!

My First Amazing Broth: Lamb

I feel like I'm writing a 5-year-old's diary entry entitled: "My First Tooth", except they probably spelled it "toof" instead of "tooth", since they probably just lost the tooth(f?) required to properly pronounce the word and are therefore misspelling it.

Well, I put a bit more effort into making this broth than most kids put into losing their teeth. I mean, sure, some wrap string around it, tie it to a wagon and push the wagon away from them as hard as they can, but that's definitely the minority of the child population. I suppose most grown-up people don't put as much as effort into making broth as I did either. Maybe me and that crying, toothless kid have more in common than I thought. That does not make me like them more, children.

Anyway, I turned to Bonnie Stern to make this broth. Well, I turned to Bonnie Stern and one of my many, friendly neighbourhood butchers. Between the two of them my broth came out alright. More than alright - it came out amazingly well.

The trick is to brown the bones. Bonnie gives 4 stock recipes in her book "Heartsmart Cooking", but beef broth is the only one where the bones gets browned. This gives a dark, rich, caramelized stock.

This recipe took a grand total of 10 and a half hours. Unless you're okay with leaving your stove on a simmer while you're not in the house, this is a tricky one, but it's completely worth it.

I took 3 lbs of lamb bones (but you can use beef, goat, ox, mutton, bison, boar, or anything big and meaty) and put them in a large roasting pan. Then they went into the preheated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 1/2 hours. It felt weird roasting something for this long knowing I wasn't going to get to eat it when it came out. I turned the bones over halfway through to brown the underside as well, though it didn't say to do so. Then to the roasting pan I added 2 large onions, cut in big chunks, along with some frozen vegetable trimmings I store in the freezer - bottoms of asparagus and peels of carrots. They had defrosted in the fridge and I'd drained the liquid from them a little. This all got browned another 30 minutes.

Now the important part: The contents of the roasting pan were carefully removed to a large pot. There was SO much fat already from the bones, and some of that went in too. I rest the left for a minute so I could use the liquid to help scrape the roasted bits of lamb off the bottom and sides of the roasting pan - this is the flavour. Then the scraped bits went into the big pot along with the rest of the fat from the pan. This saves the trouble of adding boiling water to the roasting pan to scrape off the browned bits.

Then the bones and vegetables in the pot got covered with cold water. I really don't know how much I added...maybe 12 cups or more? I estimated on the side of slightly too much water, just because it's easier to reduce than to add more water as the broth simmers.

The broth came to a boil, and I skimmed the scum from the top of the pot. Then I added 2 bay leaves, 6 whole peppercorns, 3 cloves, 4 cardamom pods, and 4 whole coriander seeds. The recipe just calls for 1/2 tsp dried thyme along with the black pepper, but since I was making this specifically for the lamb curry I figured it would be better to enhance the spices that were already in that dish.

Now the only problem with the recipe is it doesn't say whether or not to cover the broth after you reduce the heat to let it simmer. I mean, you don't want it covered, since you want the flavour to concentrate and some of the liquid to evaporate, but you don't want to leave it uncovered for 8-10 hours or way too much water will boil off. I've burnt stock before by completely forgetting about it for half a day. It's a very sad, labour-intensive disaster.

So I decided to put on a cover, but leave it slightly ajar, and monitor that it kept a simmer but also kept enough liquid in the pot the whole time.

A very long day later (8 hours...I couldn't bear to wait another 2), I strained off the vegetables and bones. I wasn't going to taste it yet. I would reduce it the next day, before I needed it for the lamb.
So it got put in the fridge, and the next day when I brought it back out on the counter a thick layer of fat had accumulated on top of the broth. This is why I left all the fat in it from the roasting pan - it actually makes it easier to strain it off when there's more of it. It just peels off like a layer of jelly. I now have 500mL (half an ice cream container) of lamb fat in my freezer. I am SO excited to make some roasted potatoes...people swear that everything tastes better in duck fat, but I swear that EVERYTHING tastes better in spice-infused lamb fat. Au Pied de Cochon should be approaching me, asking to buy my lamb fat. It's that good. It would sell like hotcakes on their $100 and god-knows-how-much tasting menu. If you want to hire me for catering, I am significantly less expensive. I will do a small dinner for you and your friends for $40 a person incorporating the lamb fat...I'm thinking roasted new potatoes (they're finally out this summer!), wild mushrooms, and grilled lamb...maybe some confit cherry tomatoes...

ANYWAY! I ended up reducing the broth (just bringing it to a boil, and letting it boil gently) to about 7 cups. I used just 1/2 cup in the lamb curry recipe, and am saving the rest for the best noodle soups ever. I have home-made gluten-free fusilli just begging to be simmered in something rich. My own personal pho'. No, it's not the same, but it will be delicious.

Tomato Relish: This has Nothing To Do With A Hotdog Condiment...

This is the same recipe I made for my brother's big Indian dinner with friends in Toronto a few months back, except I skipped the onion (I hate raw onion), cut down on the salt (just a 1/2 tsp since my tomatoes were so amazing as they were), used parsley instead of cilantro (cilantro was nowhere to be found - well, good quality - at the market when I went, and I already had just enough parsley chopped), and I just squeezed a half a lemon over everything instead of bothering with measuring 2 tbsp. It was great.

If you make this recipe for the first time, follow the recipe and the proportions so you know what it's SUPPOSED to taste like. Madhur Jaffrey does not make Indian cookbooks so amateur at-home cooks like me can go thinking they know better than her. Trust me, she's always right, and I'm sometimes right (I couldn't say I'm always wrong, because then you trust me when I say she's always right. The upside of all this is that I'm not always wrong. Hurray!).
Chop the tomatoes. Add everything else. Done.

I suppose you could use this on a hotdog, but...well, it would be a bit wrong. Heinz would be no competition for the tomatoes I used. Jab left, cross right, etc.

Cucumber Raita with Parsley

This is so easy and so refreshing. You need to start with a very good yogurt to make it well, though. I love Pinehedge 3.8% yogurt. A litre of this stuff comes in a glass bottle on which you pay a $1 deposit, making it very affordable if you return the bottle. I love this farm. It's bio-dynamic, organic, and most of all, the yogurt is the best I have found.

...and I've tried a lot of different plain yogurts. Liberté Organic, Liberté Greek-Style, Mediterranean, Danone, Damafro, Olympic, Activia, Stoneyfield, BioBest, Astro, and anything from the fat-free versions to the 1%, 2%, 3%, 3.8% and higher. Seriously, I've tried them all. Some are better than others, and some are just awful, but this one - Pinehedge - is the best. They have a light version but you've just got to go for the 3.8% whole milk yogurt or kefir. If you want it thicker, more like a Greek yogurt, use a cheesecloth to drain off the whey. This junk that Liberté has now, the Greek-Style fat-free, is a joke. It's bitter, and yes, it's full of protein, but there is no flavour. It's like eating protein powder; some people do it, but they don't do it because it tastes good or they like it, like those ridiculous Activia commercials ("Some people eat for the flavour, some people eat it for what it does for them". Yeah, it eases your digestion, but so do all other probiotic yogurts, and this one certainly is not the best for you anyway, not having the most bacteria of all the probiotic yogurts out there. I digress).

Anyway, take a good yogurt and whisk at least 2 cups of it with a fork to get out any lumps. Then grate one large (or several small) cucumbers into a bowl along with a small handful of chopped parsley (or mint, or cilantro), a sprinkle of roasted cumin seeds (stick some whole cumin seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until they start to become fragrant. Then grind them in a mortar and pestle, a blender, a coffee grinder or in a sealed bag, beating with something heavy), a small to slightly-less-small sprinkle of cayenne, 1/4 tsp salt (or skip it. You don't really need it if you have a good yogurt!), and some freshly ground black pepper. Then add it to the yogurt. You can stir as much or as little as you like, since it's really beautiful when everything is only sort of mixed in, or if you sprinkle it with the cayenne and parsley to garnish.
Sorry for the awful photos...

That's all. You can also skip any of the above ingredients. Often if I have an Indian meal I just pour some good yogurt on the side of the plate and eat it plain. The cumin, parsley, cayenne, and cucumber are extra. Goodness knows you don't really need the salt and pepper. That being said, the cucumber was actually really good grated. It's much better this way than chopped. I did it on a fine grate so it really integrated well with the yogurt and thickened it up. Then just cover and refrigerate.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Slow-Cooker Lamb Curry with Basmati Rice, Tomato Relish and Grated Cucumber Raita

This is in my top 5 recipes ever and my top 2 lamb recipes. It beats out braised lamb shank in all its forms and sauces, and only comes second to 2-day marinated leg of lamb with dried figs and poppy seeds.

Sometimes you need an excuse to make a recipe, and part 3 in the Midnight Poutine series "Greg Got A Slow-Cooker" had to be written after Greg got back from Scotland and before Greg left town for Maine for the summer. This was a 3 day window of Indian food opportunity. In came the lamb.
Now, you can't just make lamb. You need to make rice to soak up the luscious lamb juices, and then you need a yogurt, preferably with refreshing cucumber to cool down the body. You probably also need some kind of green vegetable or tomato salad. All Greg needed to worry about was the lamb, as it was the highlight of the meal, and the focus of the post.

Since he'd been in Edinburgh, he said I'd love all the "curries" there. That was the inspiration for making a lamb curry. These are not exactly traditional Indian curries, but are completely delicious. To recreate the Edinburgh curry effect for him (but better) I went to Judith Finlayson's Slow-Cooker Cookbook and found a general beef curry, substituted lamb, and knew it would be great. I love this book, and since her recipes in the slow cooker still call for whole spices, it's a lot closer to authentic Indian fare than something out of Bonnie Stern, much as I respect her. Judith Finlayson is no Madhur Jaffrey when it comes to Indian cooking either, mind you, but that wasn't what I was going for this time.

...and Judith lived up to my expectations. I can't describe how incredible this dish was...well, maybe I can. I bought the meat from Atwater market from a butcher who gave me the 2lbs of cubed Quebec lamb meat I wanted (not specifically organic, but I didn't want to know and I didn't ask and I couldn't afford the $40 price tage on the organic place behind me. This came to $25 and the butcher was nice) along with a big bag of bones for free to make broth. THAT is why this recipe was amazing. I made my own lamb broth. It was the best broth I have ever made, and I used the recipe from Bonnie Stern's Heartsmart Cooking. These women...I tell you, they're smart. I will do a separate post on the lamb broth because it deserves it, but not now.
The lamb...there isn't even a lot of salt in this recipe but the result was perfectly salty, the meat was perfectly tender, not falling to pieces, but just chewy enough to release flavour in each bite, and the flavour was rich...the juice was flavoured perfectly with bay leaves, cumin, coriander, chili, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, ginger and garlic, with just a little turmeric for colour.
The cubes got browned in the oil, which had been heated on medium-high and turned up a tiny bit once the meat was added. You don't want to slow-cook these things yet. You just want to sear them. I was worried they may have overcooked since they didn't really brown. I think the heat should have been higher, but it all worked out fine. The meat got moved to the slow cooker, and a little of the fat got drained from the skillet. Then the onions were added.
Judith is very reasonable about the order of adding spices. None of this 37 seconds later, 11 seconds later stuff. I won't say "nonsense" because it has never NOT worked when Jaffrey has told me to do it, but I question it...the slow-cooker recipes are made for people who don't like asting time with things like counting to odd numbers, thank goodness. So everything else got added all at once, except the stock and bay leaves. I did grind the cumin and coriander, though, since the recipe called for ground, not whole. It didn't specify if you should grind your own, but I always do this for freshness and flavour...and because I feel wasteful buying multiple versions of the same spice.These coriander and cumin seeds are not yet ground...

Then the tomatoes, then the broth. Just a half a cup. I was tempted to put in more because I had gone to all that work to just use a half cup of broth, but no, Judith would not lead me astray, and if she had I wouldn't know until later. Trust, Amie. Trust.
Everything got poured on top of the cubed meat in the slow-cooker stonewear, and mixed together. Yes, they call it "stonewear". It doesn't seem very stone-like to me. Just large, heavy and awkward, but perhaps the first slow-cooker ever was chiseled by our ancestors out of large slabs of stone off the side of a mountain somewhere. Who am I to argue with history and tradition? No one, that's who.

I set the slow-cooker to high and had waited patiently for four hours. I prepped the rice, instructed Greg on how to wash the grains (5 times) then leave them to soak. Finally, a half hour before eating time we drained the grains again, added the right amount of water and turned on the heat. We made perfect rice. He fluffed after 25 minutes, then put it back on the low, low heat for another 5. Nothing burned. It would have been a miracle if this had been 6 months ago, but now I am relatively good at making perfect rice. I am channeling my inner rice guru/Indian mother, or I can stop being so dramatic about it and just say I'm retaining knowledge for once...definition of insanity and all, not learning from your mistakes and doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results...well, not this time.
When the rice went on the ground almonds had to be added to the lamb. Then back on HIGH for 30 minutes. It looked so luscious and thick. No cream, no dairy, no coconut. I love it. The pools of grease I expected weren't even that bad, since the cubes had been decently trimmed and I'd skimmed the broth. Still, this was not a low-fat meal, and I could taste it...happily.

Chop, chop, chop tomatoes, grate, grate grate cucumbers, roast, roast, grind cumin. A little salt, a little pepper, a little cayenne, some yogurt and some parsley (wimpy cilantro) for the side dishes, and everything was ready.

There is absolutely nothing in the world like whole spices cooked on low heat for hours in a rich, meat-based sauce. Nothing. Cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns...then the sweet and fresh. Do not use a bag of pre-ground almonds from the supermarket. Get them from a bulk place that goes through quantity fairly quickly. Turkish or Middle Eastern places are generally great, and my favourite place is currently in the Atwater market upstairs by Premiere Moisson. There are no words for the joy this meal brought me. I think the sounds I made were, in fact, not words. Just happiness. The description and representation of happiness are not words. So simple, happiness.

Dehydrated Kale Chips

More raw eating. How can you make kale any better for you? Well, I don't think it gets better, but it gets tastier and less of a trial to force into your body, like potato chips. Not in that potato chips are hard to force into your body, but that it's easy to eat a lot of them...too many in fact. Is there such a thing as too many kale chips? Yes, it turns out that there is. My ill-made point is that it's easier to eat a whole bag of potato chips than a small bag of bland, uncooked potatoes. Maybe not the best comparison, but it does the trick.

Much more delicious than they sound, these chips are from The National Post's cooking blog "Making Love In the Kitchen". I like it, overall. The woman's pretty knowledgeable, happy, and honest. Globe & Mail, if you want to compete with this, I am available (feel free to contact these people on my behalf. Choose someone from the Life section). I'm not saying I'm her equal, but you can definitely afford me. Anyway, the blog gives all sorts of different seasonings for dehydrating kale chips, all of which have too much fat, in my opinion, but the method is sound, and the result is delicious.

These things fall apart in your mouth, the chips. They dissolve from paper-thin pieces of green parchment to pools of salty, spicy flavour. I love it.

My variation on the Macro-Asian Kale Chips recipe:

1 Head of Kale, washed, dried and torn into bite size pieces
3 sheets of nori, cut with scissors into small pieces (this took forever! but it was very much worth it in the end, since the nori doesn't fall apart like the kale, and you end up with chewy little pieces that are covered in the delicious marinade)

2 tbsp cup black sesame seeds (or white will work too)
2 tbsp miso paste
2 tbsp lemon juice (the juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon)
1/2 tsp fleur de sel (it's what I had, but use any salt is fine)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp tamari
cayenne to taste (I ended up dumping in too much by accident. Good thing I like it spicy...)

Put the marinade ingredients in a blender and process them until they're smooth. The recipe says as a little water as you need, and I think I used about 2 tbsp. It just takes longer to dehydrate the kale if you use more water.

Then put the nori, washed kale and marinade together in a large bowl and massage well with your hands. You really want to coat everywhere. Oh, the recipe originally called for 1 tbsp of maple syrup and I just left it out. Normally I'd replace it with honey, but I wanted a more savoury chip. Use your liquid sweetener of choice.

Line a baking sheet in parchment paper and put it in the oven on the lowest possible temperature with the door open. I'm pretty sure in the current Montreal weather this step is certainly feels like my apartment is hotter than my oven. I have never felt so much like a baked good...I should just put the raw kale in me to cook and by the time it digests it'll be dehydrated, along with the rest of me.

So you can also do this recipe in a dehydrator but who has one of those? Unless you're "raw". The oven works fine. I left it overnight. I know I know, I shouldn't leave the oven on overnight, but it was so low and I was there the whole time, and my fire alarm works, so I took my chances. It was worth it. The chips were absolutely delicious. I don't like all the sesame, but the lemon and cayenne with the miso and tamari gave a really nice acidic and salty bite to the chips. Basically it feels like you're eating marinade and air...more delicious than you'd think. So the next time you don't know what to do with a head of kale and you don't feel like chewing, and chewing and chewing, try this out. You won't believe how fast the head of kale disappears into your stomach. OH! and feel free to leave out the oil in the recipes. It's kind of a preservative if you use it, so the kale'll l last longer in the fridge, but you can happily eat more of it at once without it. You won't even get sick from eating too heavy a snack, or, God forbid, spoil your dinner. People apparently still do that. Not just kids.

Bison Ribs

I was craving ribs. This is a problem when you generally don't eat pork and beef, unless you know the best place to go for bison in the city...Fortunately, I do.

There's a place on the suth side of the market, just around the corner from the chocolate place, next to the gaspesienne fish place that has very good bison. Not organic but all antibiotic-free. It's even relatively affordable. Relative, compared to the organic meats just a hop, skip and a jump down the market lane. I used my standard pulled pork recipe with a few variations. It wasn't super, the sauce, I mean. I should have just used a more standard bbq sauce, but, well, I just didn't.

1 tsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 cup ketchup (should have used a bbq sauce...)

2 tbsp Ethiopian hot sauce (any chili paste is good here. I had hot chile paste from the McGill Organic Campus. It's very tomato-y so I figured it would be fine. I don't find it too spicy, but the heat ended up over-powering the sweetness of the sauce, unfortunately.

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. I finally caved and bought some
1 teaspoon liquid smoke. Again, caved.
1 1/2 lbs bison ribs

Directions: Put the ribs in the slow cooker. I should have broiled them to give a good crispy exterior and keep the juices locked inside during the slow-cooking, but I knew it wouldn't matter too much, since the slow-cooker would make them fall off the bones anyway. A big piece of meat you can brown in a large pot on the stove, but ribs are so gangly that it's easier to broil them in the oven. Then just put the broiled ribs in the slow-cooker to wait.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the onions for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder and pepper for 1 minute. Then in went the ketchup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, worcestershire, and liquid smoke.

In about 2 seconds it came to a boil and I tasted it (pungent!) and poured it over the ribs in the slow-cooker. 4 hours later they were ready. I dug in.

You know, they weren't amazing. They were perfectly cooked and the sauce was thick and coating, but it was a bit too spicy and a bit too tart...not tart, but just not sweet. I wanted a bit more brown sugar, molasses-y sweet stickiness. So next time I just need a different bbq sauce. I kind of don't like the tomato-based sauces with this, since the meat is so rich. Tomato feels superficial. Ah well. Next time. I still love that the rib bones just slid right out. There was a ton of fat to pick through, but there was a fair bit of good meat.

And the Winner Is: Mango Magic Pasta Salad!

I wrote this up as part of a bigger article on Midnight Poutine, but you should know that it's the best one on the page. There's something amazing about the sweetness and the thickness of the mango. You don't even cook the sauce. It's so healthy and delicious. there are a bunch of textures - chewy noodles, crunchy peppers, smooth, slippery sauce. Ooh I love it. so much better than the hospital egg salad sandwich option placed in front of me tonight. Thank goodnss for vending machine organic nuts and fruit. Who knew?

Oh, I also made the noodles from scratch with my gluten-free flour blend in my small pasta maker, but use whatever pasta you want. I'll show the noodles I made later and give the mini-recipe at some point. Feel free to demand it sooner if you're really interested.

This pasta/salad is perfect on its own (I'm not which to call it since it seems much more luxurious than salad but is not hot like most pasta), but you can also throw in some mango liqueur. Buy mangoes and wait until they're perfectly ripe, or even one day past perfectly ripe (I know this requires a lot of patience, so buy in bulk from Leopoldo's in Jean-Talon. If you buy. You want them to be at the point where they're more syrup than liquid, so they coat the pasta in a thick glaze. Also, feel free to add more diced vegetables to the salad, use different kinds of pasta and different herbs.

Mango Dressing:
2 sweet yellow mangoes, very ripe (these are nicer for the recipe than the green and red ones)
1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth (preferably organic and without a lot of sugar or salt. They'll throw off the balance of the ingredients)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (it makes a difference, so use bottled only if you absolutely have to)
2 tsp olive oil (if your mangoes are thick and syrupy enough you can use less or none of this, but it's so little anyway, and the salad is already so low in fat)
1 cloves of garlic, peeled

Salad Ingredients:
1 lb pasta of choice (spirals, fusilli or rotini are the best since sauce sticks to them well)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or cilantro, or basil, etc.)
1 cup diced bell peppers, diced (red, orange, or green, or a mix)

1. Cook the pasta. When it's done, drain the pot and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and leave to air dry while you make the sauce. The only way you can mess this up is with soggy pasta.
2. Slice the sides off the mangoes and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a food processor or blender. Cut however you can around the pit and scrape all the juice and mango meat into the blender. Mangoes are a bit messy, but the sauce gets blended, so it doesn't have to be pretty. 3. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and blend.

4. Put the chopped herbs and peppers along with the cooked and drained pasta in a large bowl.

Add the sauce and stir to combine.