Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Peck of Pickled Peppers Not Picked By Peter

I'm not sure if that's actually what I meant to write or if it's just tactile stuttering because I can barely feel my fingers...

It was a long bike ride from Jean-Talon this morning and the Tunisian dates and the bison rib didn't keep me warm from the inside out as I'd hoped. I did the same thing last Sunday minus the rib but it really didn't seem as cold then. Last week I loaded my bike up with a mix of red and green peppers and planned to do some standard pickling. So far my pickling has been a bit exotic for a newbie (fig jam, cayenne peppers, green gage plum and vanilla jam, daikon radish threads with Sichuan peppercorns) so I decided to step back and try a basic recipe for pickled peppers. Now I'm sure they weren't already pickled when Peter Piper picked them. In fact he probably brought them home to his mother or wife to pickle them, but he put the effort in. My equivalent effort was getting the pickles home from the market. Not one spilled (unlike my heart-breaking blueberries) but I had no wife or mother at home to pickle them for me. I'll think about working on that.

Pickled Peppers
8 green peppers. sliced
8 red peppers, sliced
8 medium onions, roughly diced
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 tsp salt

In the end I don't think I like this recipe because in all the blanching and boiling the peppers lose their colour, which means they lose a lot of their nutrients, and that's kind of the whole point of canning - to preserve things such as nutrients. Still, it was the best recipe I could find, having not looked particularly hard in three recipe books and not trusting the internet.

Let it be known, I did this all correctly:

1. Wash your jars, lids and canning rings in hot soapy water and put the jars and rings in a big stock pot or canning pot. Bring the pot to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, just leave the jars and rings in the water but turn off the heat.

2. Combine the peppers, onions and 1 1/2 cups of boiling water in a large saucepan. Cover the pan and let it stand for 5 minutes. Drain.

3. Return the vegetables to the saucepan. Stir in 2/3 cup vinegar and 2/3 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Drain the vegetables again and put them back in the saucepan. Cry a little as all those nutritious things circle down the drain. Dream of summer when all this canning nonsense isn't necessary.

5. In a small saucepan, bring a cup of water to a boil, then turn off the heat and add the jar lids. You don't want to boil them and wreck the wax seal. 

6. Heat the remaining 1 1/3 vinegar, the sugar and the salt in a microwavable bowl or cup (or on the stove in a saucepan, but that makes your stove pretty busy). Add the mixture to the vegetables and again boil the heck out of the previously brightly coloured peppers. Okay, well boil them gently for about 25 minutes, until they're tender-crisp.

7. Carefully take the jars out of the sterilizing water (for some method suggestions, check here) and place on a clean cloth next to the pepper pot.

8. Fill the jars with peppers, onions, and brine up to a 1/2 inch from the rim of the jars. Use a chopstick or spatula to push down to get any air bubbles out, and then wipe the rims down with a clean cloth or paper towel.  Carefully place the lids on top, then the tightening rings (no hands, please). You can tighten the rings by hand, though. Not too, too tight. Not superman tight. Just "little old lady" tight. Harness your inner little old lady. Do not:

1. Swear when you drop a lid
2. Cry when you see that's it's snowing
3. Give up. Never give up.

Then stick the jars back in the still hot sterilizing water (they shouldn't touch the sides or bottom of the pot, so put down a kitchen cloth in the bottom or form some kind of rack. Anyone want to patent a circular canning rack with me? Bring to a boil, and start the timer for 10 minutes (for half pints) or 20 minutes (for full pints) once the water comes to a boil again. Remove the jars again to a clean cloth, turn them upside down (not really necessary apparently, but it's comforting when they pop. Somehow makes botulism less scary) and let them cool. Label them. Now you're allowed to cry.

Hey, at least you have pickled peppers.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pauper's "Raw" Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Life-Lemon Juice at Chez Snips, Part 2

I ran out of lemon juice, but I doubt that jives metaphorically with life not giving me lemons anymore. My point is that there was plenty of "life-giving-me-lemon"-juice left over after I made a pound and a half of roasted jerusalem artichokes, and plenty of free time. What do you do in this situation?

1. You get a haircut (check)
2. You eat super healthy and affordably (and check)

So I went back to my fabulous hairdresser, Nadyne Kasta of Chez Snips, who even sneaked me in before she sneaked out of town for some birthday celebrations. Of course, I brought jam to thank her. Then I went home feeling 100% better to blend nuts.

Raw Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup sunflower seeds (soaked overnight and dehydrated in your oven until dry, or in a dehydrator)
3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp lemon juice
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup parsley (or basil)
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or snipped with scissors (basically I just wanted to use my amazing home-made oven-dried tomatoes.  My goodness they were good)

In a blender or a food processor (preferably the latter), process the garlic cloves, sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Process until very well combined and you have a pesto consistency. It's going to be really, really thick. If you want, you can add a little water, or not dehydrate the sunflower seeds as much, but that takes some of the crispness out of the pesto, and with raw food you don't want to give up any crispness without a fight. So fight that blender until everything's processed. 

Then add the chopped/hacked/snipped parsley or basil. Process until well combined. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and process until combined. This may take forever if you don't have a VitaMix or a good food processor, but it's worth it, and there's actual cooking involved, so you're not going to burn anything. Dehydrating the nuts doesn't give as great a flavour as toasting them, so if you don't care about raw, just make this as a standard pesto by heating the probably not soaked and dehydrated nuts in a small frying pan for a few minutes, moving them around until they're browned on all sides and aromatic.

Serve with pasta (wheat or zucchini), or as a dip or spread. Adjust the lemon juice content (unless you just ran out like me, and are forced to use lime juice instead. Lime was interesting...but not lemon. I guess I'm just happy life gave me lemons and not limes, though maybe that would inspire to cook more Thai and Mexican, neither of which are bad things).

Friday, October 29, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons You Roast Jerusalem Artichokes (Part 1)...

...Or maybe that's just me.

The thing is, I love lemons, but if they were all life gave me, I'd be a well-fed, yet unhappy person. Until today I'd had four beautiful items sitting in my kitchen waiting to be cooked and no time in which to cook (or 'un-cook') them. So when life gave me lemons and an abundance of time I took their juice and poured it on top of some jerusalem artichokes and garlic and roasted the whole thing. Then I poured more life-lemon juice on top of a raw sun-dried tomato pesto with sunflower seeds (beautiful kitchen item number 2 - recipe to come).

These jerusalem artichokes I had saved since the last Montreal Marché Fermier Farmers Market. I bought them from Aaron Langille (well, they weren't his sunchokes, but he stepped in to help out the farmer that day since he didn't have any help. Swell guy). I feel kind of mean giving you that link because he has an amazing dinner coming up with Cookies Unite and he gets to plan and execute the whole thing (multiple courses, whatever he wants) and it's BYOB and only $30 for some of the top sous-chefs in the city (DNA, Le Club Chasse et Peche, XO, etc.) and it happens not often enough...and the most important thing is it's completely sold out. SO keep that link in your bookmarks and reserve your spot for the next one.

The point is I'd been waiting for the right time to roast artichokes. My go-to recipe for jerusalem artichokes is soup but I really didn't feel like:
1) soup
2) peeling all those knobby things to get a smooth purée. Even with big pieces it feels as though by the time you're done peeling there are no artichokes left. Maybe that's why they're called artichokes, since the same thing happens with their big green counterparts.  Montreal doesn't even compost, so it really is a waste.
So, instead:

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled (I removed the green inside vein thing because apparently that makes them bitter, but it's not really necessary. Go with 5 if you hate garlic and go with 8 if you're me...or, you know, someone else who likes roasted garlic a lot and doesn't have a date tonight)
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, rinsed and cut into 1-inch cubes (mine were smaller because that way they roast faster...that way they also burn faster, though, so be careful)
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
a ton of fresh thyme (a bunch, stems removed)
a pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a large baking dish mix the oil and garlic and put in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. 
Then add the artichokes and toss to coat with the oil and put the baking sheet back in the oven for 25 minutes.
In a small bowl combine the water, lemon juice, thyme, and salt and after the 25 minutes are up pour the liquid over the artichokes. 
Roast for an additonal 20 minutes or until the liquid has almost evaporated and the artichokes are tender on the inside and crisp on the outside, then eat while you wonder why you've never roasted artichokes before.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lemon and Thyme Roasted Fennel: "How Did I Get So?"

Dear Fennel,

I feel as though a beautiful song by Ingrid Gatin aptly reflects how I feel about our relationship. Please watch this video before reading the rest of my letter:

"Time swelled the moment that we started"...I washed you and cored you carefully, then thinly sliced you because what we had was new and fragile, and you always tiptoe at the beginning of a new relationship, tread softly. So I wanted to roast you long and slow at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes, turning you only once so you didn't burn. I saw you as something so naturally beautiful that all I wanted you to wear was a little oil (olive), cologne (thyme), and your own sweat (sprinkle of salt). My small hands cautiously explored your skin while I dressed you slowly.

"Make way for love, make way for heart-ache"...At first you seemed so sweet to me, but every conversation became a little more bitter, as if you were being bathed in lemon juice. I only wanted a little since the sweetness had been overpowering, but there was no substance to your words and your body turned from strong and firm to weak and watery. But I was the one whose eyes were close to tears.

"How did I get so"...fooled, lead astray, disappointed...underwhelmed? I wanted your lips to taste like licorice and your skin to yield to me its sweetness. Alas, it was not to be.

Fennel, I hoped we could have something real, but you weren't ready for me this year. Maybe a year apart will help you grow - mature, even - and next summer we'll be at a place in both our lives where we'll be ripe for each other. If you run to California and drive the long distance back to me once my city of Montreal has melted away the cold, I'll never want to see you again. You can't have the best of both worlds. Stay, instead, here in the ice and the storms, ride out the winter, and if in summer we run into each other again, I'll again chase the candy of your lips.

With love, always.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Love Fennel: Roasted Pasta Sauce or Ragout

I went to my fruit guy in Jean-Talon, Leopoldo. He doesn't do local. Neither did he have ataulfo mangoes (though he did the next week), and I knew the white peach and white nectarine seasons were over, so why did I go back to him? Because that's my Sunday. He makes my Sunday a happier day, what with his slightly intimidating self-assured nature that inspires trust.

And it turned out that white nectarines are back in season in California!!! I nearly died of joy.  Leopoldo said they were good, so I bought them. They were better than the Ontario ones, he said (and he was right, since I haven't had a really good Ontario one all season for some can't get the sweeter white ones from there now anyway, and I'm very picky). Unfortunately he was wrong about them being good, and my world collapsed a little, my heart tore at its tender seams, and I felt a bit spiritually lost.

Every last nectarine tasted like starch. It's true they weren't ripening properly in my frigid kitchen (1 degree celcius yesterday! That's madness) but they just turned to mush and went bad. There were a few that were almost trying to be flavourful, but they failed miserably...

But this post is not about nectarines. It's about fennel. Those too I found at Leopoldo's before I knew how crushed my heart could be by a man and his nectarines.

I have an ongoing love affair with fennel. I used to hate the anise flavour of the vegetable until I found a recipe a few years ago that said to roast it and then add a tiny, tiny bit of lemon juice and the natural sweetness of the vegetable comes out and the bitterness gets roasted away. I ate a whole fennel bulb that way and again nearly died of joy. I suppose I have a lot of near-death experiences with fruits and vegetables...

In Quebec this season the rain hasn't been right for fennel growing. I bought local, organic ones only once this summer and braised them with fibrous, wiry results (recipe #2 in my "Recipe For Disaster" cookbook?) AND they were really expensive! $3 or $3.50 for just one dwarfed heart.

But Leopoldo had a sale on. $5 for 3 of the big, juicy ones. I was sold. Even on the last organic farmers' market day of the season of Marché Fermier I chose to take up valuable granny cart space with three big bulbs of non-local fennel. That's how much I love these things.

So I decided to roast two of these guys according to my roasting bible in a recipe meant for pasta sauce, but which I would just have just with bread, and then I'd roast the third bulb according to my standard, simple roasted fennel with lemon recipe. Here's the first:

Roasted Fennel with Tomato (Pasta Sauce or Bread Topping or Sandwich Filling...or Snack)
2 bulbs fennel
1 head garlic (mmm...roasted garlic...)
1 tbsp fennel seeds (overkill, but nice)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used fresh green ones...bad idea! They weren't nearly sweet enough and they weren't plums, so the acidic, bitter juices got into the fennel and killed them in their over-heated sleep. You're also only supposed to end up with 2/3rds of a cup, but I had about a cup and a half of tomatoes to use up, so that's what went in...again, not a good idea. Try to cut the tomatoes evenly so they roast evenly, and again, smaller is better)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt (or other) and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit. Cut the fennel bulbs (wash them first) through the core and into quarters. Then cut out the tough core of each. Finally slice the outer layers into 1/8" slices. It doesn't really matter how thickly you slice them. They'll just take more or less time to cook, but I find the thinner ones end up crisper and the bigger ones are more watery, so slimmer is better in this case. In a BIG baking sheet or roasting pan toss the fennel slices with everything else and spread it as thinly as possible in the pan.

Once the oven is preheated, roast the fennel for 35-45 minutes. Don't stir or turn unless it's looking as though it'll burn at any second and it's not quite done yet. Voila dinner.

If you want to make this into pasta sauce, cook some pasta, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the roasted mixture, scraping in all the delicious blackened bits. Add about 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, then tear a cup of fresh basil leaves from their stems and add those. To serve, toss in a little mozzarella or parmiggiano reggiano (please, please, please do not use pre-powdered "parmesan" cheese. You'll break my heart more than the nectarines and Leopoldo did).

You know, I was expecting the fennel to make up for the lacklustre nectarines, but again, I was a little disappointed. I mean, they weren't bad, but I think I cut them too thickly and they ended up too watery. I also think my tomatoes were too juicy (and I used too many), but really the fennel flavour should have still been strong and dreamy, and I should have fallen in love with the aroma from my kitchen. In and out, in and out...I know, it's a bad cycle.

Alas, food is fickle and my heart is not a plaything. I also feel as though maybe I deserved this for buying so much imported fruit and vegetables. Surely the flavour just couldn't be as good as what I could get organic and local. Maybe I'm the fickle one, since the next day I fell in love with eggplant all over again. Well, to be fair, I fell in love with eggplant in sesame oil, so I mostly fell in love with a quarter cup of sesame oil. That sponge-y local, organic eggplant just soaked it all up and caressed my broken heart (and stomach).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Most Important Part of Thanksgiving: Being Thankful for Chicken Stock?

I mean, friends and family are all well and good, but chicken stock...

I shredded every morsel of flesh off that bird. Knives aren't good enough (or maybe I should say I'M not good enough with knives?). Then I threw the broken carcass in a big pot of water so that the body is covered. Bring the water to a boil and skim off the scum before adding the leftovers of peeled and chopped vegetables past that have been sitting in wait in my freezer, and top it up with some fresh hacked carrots, onions (shallots, in this case), tomatoes and parsley. Normally I get scared by tomatoes, but I had a few that needed to be used up and stock is definitively "how to use stuff up".

Bring the whole thing back to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and let the pot simmer for ages. I over-boil it so it becomes concentrated and takes less freezer space. So, after a few hours (you can also stick it in the slow-cooker for 8 hours on low or 4-5 on high, but the water won't evaporate so it might not be as flavourful if you added the "proper" amount of water to begin with) take it off the heat and strain the vegetables and carcass through a fine-mesh sieve. I use tongs to take the big pieces out first because pouring chicken carcass into a sieve is a recipe for disaster. There is probably a cookbook somewhere called "Recipes For Disaster" and this is the first recipe. One day when I write my cookbook...

You can be very anal about stock or not. Ideally you want to use a cheesecloth-lined sieve and strain it AT LEAST once to get any grit or dirt out, but I still don't have a cheesecloth. I had one once...Alas, now I'm back to using paper towel, which is wasteful since liquid is absorbed, but it does an okay job. So line a fine-mesh sieve or strainer with paper towel or a cheesecloth and pour (again) the broth through. Try to pour it in just one area of the paper towel so the next step is easier:

Ring out the paper towel. No ringing necessary with cheesecloth. Let the broth come to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. If you want to strain the fat let it sit overnight in the fridge and the fat will rise to the top and form an easily-removed layer the next day. That fat is good for you, though, it's what actually helps you recover when you have a cold, so leaving at least a little is a good idea. Once the stock is cool you can just transfer it immediately to freezer containers, or if you have immediate soup plans, or other uses for stock in the next few days, leave it in the fridge.

There's nothing like home-made broth, but I have this crazy habit of making it poorly. I think it's the length of the recipes. Don't you hate it when recipes just go on, and on, and on...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rooibos Chai Tea

This is my second Ochado tea. They're from the Marché Fermier that's currently closed, but you can order online. Chai is an easy thing to make since it's just a blend of whole spices, all of which I already have, but this is a rooibos chai, and I don't exactly have the right trees lying around to make that for myself. I do have better rooibos tea that I could infuse with my own spices, so I'll get around to that one day, but this version from Ochado is very nice and there's no way I'm going to be drying my own orange peel anytime soon. Besides, their spice balance is very good. That's what you pay for. It also came with a recipe. I've made it twice so far and my only adjustment is taking down the amount of honey slightly, but not too much as I took out too much the second time and it was too watery and bland.
For 1 person:
1 tsp of Rooibos Chai tea (or other chai. Rooibos is caffeine-free, and usually chai is made from black tea, so just a heads-up)
1 cup filtered water
2 tsp to 1 tbsp honey
1 cup milk (I used almond milk, which was lovely)

Bring the water to a boil, add the tea and honey and reduce the heat to medium to let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk, bring back to a boil, and remove from heat. Strain into a mug and enjoy.

You could also put the tea in a tea infuser and boil it that way. Saves you the trouble of straining after, but it's really not much trouble at all unless you're quadrupling the recipe and serving it to pretentious friends who think a strainer is out of place in tea service. My recommendation? Keep the strainer, lose the friends.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Roasted Turkey With Chocolate Sourdough Dried Fig, Apricot, Date, Cranberry, an Apple Stuffing

Turkey is so easy. The bird had been sitting in wait overnight, being moisturized by the Sichuan peppercorn salt under its skin and in its belly. Next step was to stuff it with the Chocolate Sourdough dried fruit stuffing and sprinkle the top with more of the salt. Then a pastry brush swish of olive oil to spread the seasoning all over the skin and it was done. The turkey even had a flap of fat that the legs got pushed through to keep the cavity closed -- no knitting needles, skewers or kitchen string required. The oven was preheated to 450 Fahrenheit and the turkey went in for 20 minutes.
After that it got basted and the heat got turned down to 325 for 4 hours. It got basted (approximately...) every 30 minutes and after the 4 hours I checked the thigh with a meat thermometre to make sure it had cooked through to 165 Fahrenheit. Then the other most-important-part of roasting a turkey: I tented it with aluminum foil for 30 minutes. This distributes the moisture throughout the meat. You just shocked a dead animal for 4 and a half hours; I hope you can understand that it's a little hard for it to relax and let the juices spread evenly through its flesh. 30 minutes in a relatively cool tent is like a massage after a workout or a hard day. I was going to say "like a cigarette after sex" but I don't encourage such things (One? The other? Both?).

How was it? The turkey, you mean? Moist and flavourful. Every now and then you'd get a slight hit of some kind of unidentifiable pepper, and then the salt of the crisp skin would make your eyes water. The turkey was joyfully overwhelmed by the sweetness of the dried fruit in the stuffing, but the thyme actually shone through everything, and helped bring the savoury turkey flavour back into the game. Even the subtle chocolate intertwined itself with the bird in a mouthful of Mexican mole-inspired joy. Thank goodness I don't believe in unchanging tradition. A perfect balance of cultural influences, recipes, and chastened innuendos make me feel very least very Torontonian and Montrealaise.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chocolate Sourdough and Dried Apricot, Fig, Date, Cranberry, and Apple Turkey Stuffing

Yup, all those things actually got stuffed inside a 12 lb turkey.

First, Bonnie Stern had a stuffing recipe up for Rosh Hashannah, and it seemed like a waste to stuff turkey breasts with it. You have to cut open all the breasts and you can never get enough of the delicious filling in there (the filling is always better than the meat anyway). As I'm a big believer in sharing traditions, and an even bigger believer in not wasting the rest of the turkey, I figured Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to bastardize her recipe by adding a loaf of bread and turn it into enough stuffing for an entire bird. Thank goodness I was right for once.

1 giant turkey (10-12 lbs -- ridiculous, I know. I put it in my bike basket, as I do with all heavy things I buy at the market, and nearly made my bike do a somersault twice trying to jaywalk across Atwater, it was so back-weighted.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt (kosher if it's for Rosh Hashanah, of course)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
5 beautiful shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced (easiest to do all the dried fruit dicing with scissors)
1/2 cup pitted dates, diced
1/2 cup dried figs, diced (don't buy medjools. Buy the cheap, pre-pitted ones and save yourself the hassle)
1/4 cup apple juice (Yeah, I didn't have juice, but I had apples, so I just blended them and made purée. I figured a bit of extra fibre would be just fine, and the stuffing would get a lot of added juice from the turkey)
1 tsp thyme (fresh or very high-quality dried. Mine was amazing. I opened a can of Épices de Cru thyme from actually MADE the dish since the slight bitterness cut through the sweetness of the dried fruit and the tang of the sourdough. Absolutely amazing)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water

I did everything right until I decided to stop being so well-behaved...
I cooked the onions, garlic and apples to in the oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. 
I added the honey, apricots, dates, figs and apple juice and cooked a few more minutes. Then I added the thyme, lemon juice and a tiny bit of my salt and Sichuan peppercorn blend. Then I chopped up an entire load of chocolate cranberry bread from LaPerle et Son Boulanger in the Plateau market (I bought two loaves that week so I wouldn't go loafless for a week once this was used...actually I used the opportunity to buy both a cranberry chocolate loaf AND a hazelnut loaf. I swear the toasted hazelnuts are the most amazing things ever invented, possibly besides this recipe, but if you put one of the most amazing things into THE most amazing thing it only helps. I know I'm crazy but even the hazelnuts inside the loaf seem toasted by the baking process. The ones outside get a slightly charred, papery cover that I adore too, but this loaf just seems magical. "Magical sourdough". I should never market anything. Ever.
Now my favourite part: mixing it all together. I actually didn't want to do it with my hands because I didn't want to waste any liquid by getting it stuck to me and not to the bread, but in the end my hands won out. Massaging bread like this is amazing. The only thing that beats it is bread pudding because there's more liquid. You shouldn't lick your hands after that one, though. This one I had to have some restraint to just not eat by the spoonful.

Then into the bird it went. And straight into the oven...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thanksgiving: Roasted 12 lb Turkey With Chocolate Sourdough and Dried Fruit Bread Stuffing...Spiked with Sichuan Peppercorns. Enough fusion for you?

I'm going to tell you the secret of why my Thanksgiving was successful, and it has only a little to do with alcohol. It has a lot to do with the secret powers of certain foods...such as Sichuan peppercorns...

My whole idea for Thanksgiving was to have 10 friends over and ask everyone to bring a milk-, cow-, and pig-free side dish. My roommate would make dessert, and I'd do the turkey, the stuffing, and the gravy. I'd also bake some potatoes because it's ridiculous to ask someone else to heat up their oven to make potatoes when mine is already roasting merrily away.

Besides, I had farmers' market potatoes. I also had Sichuan peppercorns, and great plans to combine a Rosh Hashanah stuffed turkey breast recipe with an Asian-Inspired Sichuan-spiked roast bird...Oh, and I'd throw in a loaf of chocolate cranberry sourdough bread just for fun. The Asian turkey recipe came from the Montreal Gazette and Jonathan Cheung from Appetite For Books, possibly my favourite bookstore. My Gazette man is back at the Lionel-Groulx metro, as you may know, and I am a loyal follower. I am not a loyal follower of sausage, however, so Bonnie Stern's dried fruit stuffing won out over Jonathan Cheung's pork-based Asian stuffing. The reason for adding the sourdough bread was to get more out of the stuffing, and because traditional turkey stuffing is bread-based. Who am I to mess with tradition? Rhetorical, yes.
The thing about Sichuan peppercorns, see, is there's both a mouth-numbing effect, but there's also a mild stimulant or aphrodisiac effect. Most of the people at the dinner were couples, but I believe that an aphrodisiac can be either sexual or just a stimulant that makes you social and happy. So conversation flowed. So did the wine, but honestly we went through about 2 bottles of wine during the meal and slowly made it through half of a third by the end of the evening. For 10 people. Well, really 7 since 3 had beer, but 7 people and two bottles of wine is practically unheard of at most Thanksgiving dinners, and I know that's not just my extended family.

All I did to make Sichuan peppercorn salt was roast 1 tablespoon of the aromatic kernels for 35 seconds in a hot pan until they were aromatic and started to smoke slightly, then ground them in my mortar and pestle and added 3 tablespoons of Himalayan salt (sea salt, fleur de sel, and kosher salt would all work fine).

What did I do with the Sichuan peppercorns, you ask? Three things:

1. The day before Thanksgiving I blended 3 cloves of garlic with a 2-inch piece of ginger, and 1 tbsp of olive oil until it formed a paste, stirred in a large pinch of the Sichuan pepper salt and pushed it under the skin of the washed and dried turkey (loosening the skin is a bit of an effort but it's worth it when the meat is tenderized by the salt seasoning but the skin crisps up from the roasting. I think it's actually one of the biggest tricks to doing a good turkey). Then I threw some extra peppercorn salt inside the turkey cavity, wrapped the bird in a huge net of aluminum foil, and put it in the fridge.
2. After stuffing the turkey the next day I sprinkled it with more of the peppercorn salt and brushed it with oil.
3. An hour before eating, after much basting, I used some of the pan drippings to coat the potatoes that were going to get baked. So they, too, were coated in peppercorns.
4. Instead of putting salt and pepper on the table, I put out a shot glass of of the peppercorn salt as seasoning. It looked like salt with freshly ground was just a little more aromatic.

Of course, I didn't tell anyone this. They're better off this way, thinking they had a wonderful time of their own accord. All the while, I knew that I'd mildly drugged my dinner guests, increased their heart-rates, got a little bit of adrenaline going, and seduced them with Sichuan peppercorns...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sambar -- Take 2 (No, Not Samba. Wrong Continent)

I'm convinced that in Mexico you have to dance salsa when they make salsa, but what if the country of the food and the dance don't match? I'm not so foolish to believe that South Indians dance samba when they make sambar. In fact I'm sure they dance bhangra instead.

God, I hope they do...Check out the 1:57 minute mark. It's actually a really hard dance...

Maybe I danced around my kitchen a little while I was making this...maybe. It was my second sambar recipe, and if you want to make sambar, use my first recipe because I got this one online and it was a bad recipe, which I didn't know until the end. Partly it was probably my lack of tomatoes' fault, but mostly it was the recipe.

1 cup toor dal, but I used skinless urad dal, which is definitely wrong)
2 tbsp channa dal   
1 bunch coriander leaves 
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 bunch curry leaves
ginger (all it said was "ginger" so I went with the standard 1 inch piece)
2 cloves garlic 
1 tsp asafetida (I assumed it should be grated, because that's just what you do. Explicit this recipe was not)
1 tsp jaggery (this is a dark sugar so I used regular sugar with a tiny, tiny drop of molasses) 1 tsp fenugreek
1 HUGE zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes, or really, however you want (but you can use almost any vegetable you want - potato, beans, caulifower, etc)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp oil 1 large onion, diced
6 dried red chilies 
1 tbsp rice salt to taste 
1/2 cup tamarind water (one golf-ball sized piece of tamarind soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, then strained through a sieve) 
1 medium tomato, chopped 
1 tsp turmeri
    I made the sambar masala just fine I thought, even roasting the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, and black peppercorns longer than the coriander seeds, red chilies, rice, and channa dal (which is traditional, and which is why I thought this would be a good recipe in the first place. Poh, from Poh's Kitchen taught me this is important in an episode with Indian spice master Ragini Dey). I'd also never seen a masala with oil in it since it wouldn't keep a long time.

    The middle part of the recipe was less "fine". See you have to make the sambhar masala and then you have to use some of the same ingredients in the dish itself, but the ingredients are only listed once, so when I got down into the meat of the recipe (it's vegetarian, yes) I had no idea how much of certain spices to I added the same amount again. WAY too much spice without anything to soak it up! Spices are delicate and while you can play with them, you can't just double them haphazardly. Shame on you, recipe.

    I finished the recipe just fine as well. I threw in some zucchini for texture and vegetable (yes, "for vegetable"). I'd even soaked a whole piece of tamarind and used my ENORMOUS new sieve to strain out the stringy bits. Oh it was beautiful, beautiful sieved tamarind. Well, the rest of of the tamarind is in my freezer waiting for the next time I don't mess up sambar...or a samba, or a salsa. I hate messing up a salsa...the dance, I mean. It's embarrassing. You feel like you're wasting the guy's time. He could have spent the last 5 minutes of his life dancing with someone else, someone with better technique, hands that fly through the air, feet that do extra steps that no one really teaches you. He could have danced with someone who'd flirt with him. I'm not going to flirt with you, arrogant dancing partner who decides I'm a waste of his time mid-dance. With food and dancing you need to have some self-respect.  

    Oh, here's a hilarious video on learning to dance bhangra. Indian aerobics shows are much cooler than North American ones. Grapevine, anyone?

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Vanilla Bean Green Gauge Plum Jam

    These plums, I believe, are also called "Reine Claude". Claude must have loved them more than the purple ones. I can understand that.

    See, I bought vanilla beans...

    I went to Épices de Cru in Jean-Talon market and asked to smell the 7 kinds of vanilla beans they keep in large glass jars. I wafted. I've had Madagascar and Tahitian before. Those are the standard exotics, but some of the others I'd never seen around. There were also Indian, Papua New Guinean, Ugandan, and Sri Lankan, and Mexican vanillas. The price range was also pretty broad, but I ended up choosing completely based on the smell I wanted, and these happened to be the Ugandan and Sri Lankan. From what I remember the Mexican smelled like grainy sugar. Can vanilla smell grainy? The Tahitian was a more intense version of the same. The Madagascar was big and floral, but I worried it might seem a little hollow in a jam. Again, hollow vanilla? The P.N.G. smelled like the Madagascar...but just less aromatic. The Indian was somewhere between the sugary-ness of the Mexican and the rich flowers of Madagascar. Then the Ugandan and Sri Lankan were the ones that seemed strong enough, without being too sugary or bitter. I can't quite put my finger on what I liked about them, but honestly, it probably didn't matter that much which pods I chose. All of these kinds were so fresh that they would do a wonderful job probably. The fun part is just smelling these vanillas and feeling like you're a million miles away in a warm, sunny, tropical place where such magical things may grow.

    On to the recipe. It's from here. There are 4 ingredients and no pectin. Easy.

    Green Gage Plum and Vanilla Jam
    2lb (about 1kg) Green Gage Plums
    1lb (about 500g) sugar
    juice from 1 lemon
    2 vanilla beans

    The only thing that's annoying is that you need to pit every plum...
    You're supposed to cut the plums into big chunks but I just had them in half. Would have been better in chunks. One of these stays I'll learn to read.

    Then the plums go into a large pot...not the pits. Add the sugar and the lemon juice (I'm skeptical about adding the lemon juice now, since all the boiling kind of kills the intensity of the flavour, but I picked a high time to learn to read, didn't I?).  Stir well to combine. Cut a round piece of parchment paper the size of the diameter of the pot, and place it on top of the fruits (I have absolutely no idea why you do this with the parchment paper. Sure, the fruit needs to sit, but paper? Let sit for about an hour (or a day, if you're me. I figured as long as they didn't start to ferment I'd be golden).

    Cut two vanilla beans lengthwise (my goodness this was so fun. You never want to wash your hands again. SO much better than chili peppers!), scrape the inside of the pods to get to all the seeds (funny thing about these pods...there were no seeds!!! I looked, but I was like a surgeon looking for an aromatic, sugary tumour - I really wanted to find it, but I didn't want to tear the precious body apart. For the surgeon it's probably a little more serious if you can't find what you're looking for...but, well, no, my jam holds a similar importance to me. I put my heart into it. Not like a surgeon could put a heart into something,, I'm done now, I swear...).

    Scrape the pods and all the seeds into the pot with the fruits. Place the pot over the stove and bring to a boil over medium heat. Gently stir to make sure all the sugar is melted. Bring the heat down to a simmer, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it reduces at least by half or until it reaches the thickness you like. Ambiguous, recipe...

    To test to see if the jam is ready, put a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it. The take a small amount of jam on the tip of a spoon, and drop it on the plate. Put the plate back in the freezer for 30 seconds. Remove it and press down on the jam with your finger and it should be gel-y, not liquid-y.  If it's still a little runny, you might want to continue cooking for just a bit longer. Mine took forever and I figured it was because my plum chunks were too big, so I transferred the jam to the blender and pulsed it VERY briefly. I didn't want puréed jam, but I wanted to get the natural pectin in the fruit out from where it was hiding. Then the jam went back on the stove for maybe 10 minutes, stirring religiously because it'll burn now that it's quasi-puréed, and I tried the cold plate trick again.

    The canning thing...well, you CAN can this or just stick it in the fridge (apparently you're supposed to remove the vanilla pods but I didn't think the vanilla flavour was that strong as it was and I'd seen other recipes that said to add the pod to the canned jars for aesthetics anyway. If you can, sterilize the cans and rings in boiling water for 20 minutes, remove with tongs (no more touching). Add the lids to gently simmering water for 10 minutes. Fill the jars with the jam to the bottom lip, wipe the rims with a clean cloth or damp paper towel (no touching, remember?) and then use tongs or a jar lifter to place the lids on, followed by the rings. Now tighten with your hand (don't burn yourself). Then jam lifter the jars back into the water you used to sterilize them in the first place, return the water to a boil, and start the timer for 20 minutes once it returns to a boil. Remove from pot, cool, SLIGHTLY tighten the rings. I did this with my tomatoes too soon and now I can't open my tomatoes. It's very sad since I tried to open one for a sambar recipe I made...the sambar ended up being not so great since the tomatoes would have added the necessary acidity to the, well. Cooking for 1 means fewer people complain. I didn't say NO ONE complains, but there's always a trouble-maker, isn't there?

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Oven-Dried Tomatoes

    So I figured I'd missed the Montreal "sun-drying" opportunity. Fortunately I've been dehydrating like mad and feel very comfortable with my oven door slightly ajar.

    When I bought expensive tomatoes from my farmer John to make sauce he told me not to make. He said they're too expensive for sauce. No, no, trust me, I said. In the end it was the best sauce ever. I figured the same tomatoes would make incredible dehydrated (oven-dried) tomatoes. The normal sundried tomatoes you find in stores often have sulfites added for colour or preservation, so if you don't dry your own (who does that anyway?) check the label.

    This is actually really easy. Pictured above is how to do it very poorly with a lot more maintenance. What you need is a cake rack placed on a baking sheet. I just used a baking sheet brushed with olive oil. I did not have my Atwater Library membership or my three loaned books on preserving at the time. Had I known...

    Anyway, slice Italian tomatoes (the sauce tomatoes that already have less juice, not field or beefsteak or heirloom or cherries - though you could get away with cherries and they'd be sweet...hmm...) in half and place cut side down on the cake rack or something that elevates the tomatoes and lets air pass underneath. This will dry the tomatoes in half the amount of time otherwise required. You can brush the tomatoes on both sides with olive oil if you like, but I'm sure this doesn't expedite the drying process.

    Then stick them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature with the door a little open. And wait...

    And wait...

    And wait...

    And then...
    If you didn't elevate them you might need to turn them over a few times in the process, though having them skin-side up doesn't really help the liquid evaporate out. I used bigger tomatoes that had two cut sides, so there was more juice but also more turning required. Basically it required a day and a bit of turning to dry these guys out when overnight should have sufficed. I was scared to under-dry them because then they'd go moldy and all would be for naught - those precious tomatoes reduced to barely nothing as it was. I'm stocked for winter. So much pasta sauce...

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Honey-Grilled Nectarines

    I only had two white nectarines left; I could have cried. They were a little starchy. It's the end of the summer, so there are really no more great white nectarines to be had until next summer. That's so long away. Months and months of cold - mind-numbing, finger-freezing, shiver-inducing Montreal cold - to get through before I can again experience a perfect white breaks my heart.

    So I wanted these two nectarines to be used extraordinarily. To get rid of the starchiness I decided to grill them, and sweeten them, and add lemon to bring out their flavour. It worked. Rarely is cooked fruit better than raw fruit to me, but melted butter makes everything better.

    Super simple:
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 tablespoon water or dessert wine (I used amaretto, which was incredible...)
    1 teaspoon unsalted butter
    2 fresh bay leaves (optional. I skipped it because I couldn't find mine...not a good sign)
    2 ripe nectarines or peaches, thickly sliced

    1. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and water (or amaretto...mmm). Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and add the bay leaves. When the butter sizzles and the bay leaves start to blister, add the fruit.

    2. Cook until the bottom is browned, about 2 minutes. Turn it over and let it brown just one minute on the other side. Transfer the fruit to plates or a platter. 

    3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour the honey/amaretto mixture into the pan. Stir, scraping up any brown bits, and then simmer until deep brown, about 2 minutes.

    4. Pour the honey mixture over the fruit. Serve with a little creme fraiche, or ice cream, or thick tangy yogurt...or just on its own. 

    5. Thank someone or something for summer and cry a little inside as you savour what's left of it.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    "Raw" Zucchini Noodle Pasta With Sun-Dried Tomato Spinach Cashew Sauce

    I wanted to make zucchini noodles. It's basically impossible to find Quebec organic zucchini now. The season is over. If you see them it's unnatural, and it reminds me of strawberries in December (not jam), but I bought them anyway because I wanted to make zucchini noodles, and I figured that in the winter I'm going to buy zucchini one way or the other, and it definitely won't be local organics then either. Horrible reasoning, I know, but there you have it. Welcome to my head.

    I have a slicer thing that I inherited from a former apartment. I used it for my daikon radish threads (amazing by the way. So much better than raw radish. The salt and vinegar cut right through the stomach-turning quality of it and made it something almost sweet)...and then the crank went missing. I have a feeling I threw it out...forgetting what it was for, thinking it was some leftover junk in a wild purge of apartment things. 'Wild' being a relative term - it's not as though I turn into a savage when I clean my apartment . I probably thought about it hard for maybe 5 minutes and weighed my options for a machine-less crank before deciding it was useless and throwing it out. Idiot...

    The point is my blade doesn't work anymore. I tried using a bobby pin to replace the crank that keeps the machine together, but that didn't work. I tried a chopstick but that didn't work. Then I decided to just grate the zucchini. It's not the same. In fact, it sucks. All the liquid comes out of the zucchini and you end up with watery "pasta". I mean it's bad enough it's not real pasta, but it's worse that it tastes like chewy strands of watery mush.
    Anyway, I had some green zucchini and some yellow and I threw in some red pepper for colour, so at least it looked beautiful.

    Really the dish was all about the sauce anyway, which was wonderful. Raw food gets a bad rap, but that's mostly because you find some bad recipes. When you find a good recipe, keep it, use it, and appreciate it.

    "Raw" Spinach Cashew Sauce (or spread, or dip...)
    Here's the recipe from one of my favourite raw websites, Rawmazing. It's very lemony, this sauce, but that's good because you want something to cut through the mild sweetness of the cashews. I hate using raw shallots and garlic, but it does taste really good. You could also sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil first, and then add them to the purée if you're not actually a raw foodist. I didn't out of laziness, not out of dogma. The nice thing about raw food is you throw a bunch of things in the blender and don't use a million dishes, pots and pans. The downside is it's all baby food...

    ...purées and chewy dips. It's a nice, healthy change, but, well, I couldn't do it all the time. On the upside, I feel really strong the days I eat this way (even one meal a day of it, as long as the other meals in the day aren't really starchy or refined sugar-y). I don't get the "raw food high" or "glow" that I see on people who do it all the time, but I'm quite convinced that in a fight I could take them. Well, me and my animal protein could take them, maybe even especially on the days I eat raw, though, if that makes any's kind of like cross-training, raw do it sometimes and it makes you stronger. Then you do other things other days, and together you're better off.

    Anyway, for the pasta sauce I didn't add any extra salt (you put the nut spread into the pasta sauce recipe below on the website) and I didn't have enough sun-dried tomatoes to add a whole cup, but I had maybe a quarter cup and that worked just fine. I'm currently oven-drying my own, so I'll have lots for next time. Hard to get the sun to do that for you this time of year in Montreal...

    Anyway, I was very happy with this dish and ate it with more zucchini pasta for the next three days, because that's how long it keeps. The cashews keep fermenting a little in the liquid if you store it in the fridge (or freezer), so either you're going to be eating a lot of nuts or you're going to be throwing some out or sharing (God forbid). Just remember that it can be a good dip or quiche filling as well, and don't let that limit you because I think it's the perfect sandwich spread too. Mmm...lemon. Succo di limone at the Fromagerie Atwater (pure, imported lemon juice, much better than the organic lemons from California, and I would never use non-organic since they're from the same place and are just worse, and I'm a lemon snob). Sorry, carbon footprint.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    One of the Best and Worst Dishes I've Ever Made: Amazing Slow-Cooker or Stove-Top Tomato Sauce with 'Raw' Cheese on VERY Not Raw Fresh Pasta

    Sounds a bit Dickensian, doesn't it? "It was the best of dishes, it was the worst of dishes".

    Here's what happened:
    I made the most amazing tomato sauce. I'm serious. If you were me and I was you I would marry you for this tomato sauce. Honestly the best tomato sauce I've ever made, including many attempts with San Marzanos, supposedly the best and naturally sweetest canned, imported tomatoes. No, I used market fresh big ones from my farmer John at the Mile End market. I hope he knows what a difference his tomatoes have made in my life. Am I being overly dramatic? No, you need to try these tomatoes and this sauce. Italian Grandmothers will love me for this sauce. I will never again be hit over the head with a spatula by a woman yelling, "Che stupida!" I don't think that one needs hasn't actually happened yet, the yelling and the beating by spatula I mean, but it seems rather inevitable when I make such horrible pasta.

    That was the problem, see, the pasta. The sauce was divine and the pasta was a disaster. I tried to do it quickly. You take 2 cups of flour in the pasta maker (I used Première Moisson, not my gluten-free blend, to make it fuss-free. I can't remember the last time I had so much wheat and gluten in my feels like a pile of rocks) and then pour in a combination of a beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of water up to the line on my little container that comes with the magical machine. MIX for 4 minutes, and then EXTRUDE with whichever pasta die you want. Simple. Couldn't be easier. Except the pasta maker wasn't properly set up, so everything seemed to be mixing correctly and then when I pressed extrude things started spinning and falling over and flour flew all over the floor and nothing was coming out and I swore...a lot...and probably scared my relatively new roommate. I didn't even swear in Italian. Do I even know how to do that? I do now:
    "Vaffanculo a Lei, la sua moglie, e' la sua madre. Lei e' un cafone stronzo. Io non mangio in questo merdaio! Vada via in culo!"
    Yeah, look it up. I'm going with this one because there's no direct translation of what I actually said...I wasn't quite as long-winded, and I was certainly more repetitive, but this one gets the gist of it.

    The point is, I took all the marble-sized pieces of pasta and threw them straight in boiling, salted water instead of extruding them into linguine, or fettucine, or penne. The pasta was dense from a bit of over-mixing, and then I boiled it too long because I didn't care at that point, and, well, it really didn't matter in the end, because:

    Tomato Sauce 
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (yes, I actually used all two tablespoons. You don't need a lot of this sauce, since it coats everything and is so flavourful, but olive oil is good for you, and as long as you don't abuse it too regularly, you will be happier using 2 tablespoons than 2 teaspoons)
    2 shallots, diced
    3-5 cloves garlic, crushed with flat of knife and sliced thinly (remove the germ, the greenish bit in the middle, since it supposedly makes the dish bitter. Apparently crushing the garlic also makes it less bitter. I actually did this step. Normally I read this instruction and scoff, but I wasn't taking any chances)
    1/2-1 cup diced, fresh parsley. I wrapped it all around itself and kind of did a chiffonade (wrap it up like a cigar and then make thin slices. It doesn't bruise the herb as much this way)
    1/2 cup red wine. ("Good enough quality to drink". I went overboard on the quality part because I had an incredible - well, for me, very nice - bottle of a Languedoc-Roussillon wine open that needed to be used)
    1/2 tablespoon cane sugar (I used xylitol, a sugar substitute, since it's so little)
    Salt (a pinch) and freshly ground black pepper (a few grinds)
    5 very large, sweet, ripe, perfect market tomatoes
    1 tsp lemon juice (use this only if you DON'T use parmesan or another cheese on top. It's too much acid with the cheese and takes away from the incredible sweetness of the sauce. There's enough acidity in most cheeses to do the trick)
    3 tablespoons brandy (optional. I think it will overwhelm the tomato and wine flavour so I skipped it. I ate the pasta with the rest of the red wine, so I didn't want different alcohol messing up the wine pairing either. Don't worry, I'd been working on this bottle for a week, so it's not as though I downed a whole bottle minus a half a cup. You're probably laughing at me because who drinks a bottle of wine a half a glass at a time over the course of a week?)

    As I said, my farmer John was the key to my success. Buy incredible tomatoes, let them ripen, don't eat them all for salad. So do like I did with my figs, buy way more than you think is necessary so some are left for this sauce by the time you get around to making it. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until the skins are loose and wrinkled (about 45 seconds-1 minute, 15 seconds). Use tongs to transfer them to a bowl of ice water (you don't want to drain the whole pot in case the skins aren't ready to be removed and you under-blanched them. Sucks having to wait for water to boil AGAIN. What are you? Pregnant?) and remove the skins once the tomatoes are cool enough to touch. Then dice them.

    Now the important part: drain the excess juice from the tomatoes. Put the tomatoes over a big sieve or put them over a little sieve like I did in batches. It's mind-numbing and frustrating (to the point where I bought a big strainer today after I'd done this, so next time it will be easier) but it makes all the difference in the world. If you do this sauce on the stove you only need to drain the tomatoes a little since some of the juice will evaporate in the cooking process and you don't want it to burn. But if you do it in a slow-cooker like I did, you need to get rid of all the excess liquid. Don't bother removing the seeds. If the seeds make it more bitter, then the sauce would have been too sweet if I'd taken them out. 
    Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot if cooking on the stove, or in a frying pan or pot if cooking in the slow-cooker. When hot, add the shallots. 
    Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot, and sauté for 10-12 minutes. I forgot to cover it, but I don't think it really mattered since the heat was so low and there was so much oil.
    Add the garlic and parsley and re-cover for another 5 minutes or so. This time I actually read the instructions correctly and covered it.
    Uncover and add the wine. Reduce the liquid by about half (5 minutes-ish). 
    Add your diced, sieved tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Transfer the contents of the pot to the slow-cooker, or cook fifteen minutes on the stove. I like the slow-cooker method because you turn the heat to low for a good 2 or 3 hours and all the flavours marry. It's more like the traditional idea of leaving the pot on the stove all day to cook. 15 minutes feels like a quickie - convenient, but not as satisfying. So I hear, mom.

    If you're using lemon juice or brandy, add it 20 minutes before you want to eat for the slow-cooker version. In the stove-top version add it 3-4 minutes before serving.

    Serves 4. Top with fresh parsley and cheese, or my version of cheese:
    Raw Cashew Cheese:
    A handful of soaked cashews (a few hours in a big bowl of water, and then drained. Or soak them in advance and then dehydrate them and freeze them until you need them) thrown in the blender with a splash or 3 of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt (as much as you'd get from a parmesan - "parmiggiano"...what am I? English? - cheese, to a good pinch), and a few grinds of pepper. If you don't die of happiness on first tasting the tomato sauce it's your tomatoes' fault. Trust me. It's all about faith and good tomatoes and a little bit of prayer thrown in because it's Italian. You could yell a little if you want, too. That makes it more authentic.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Another Chili Sauce ('Rooster' Style Sriracha Sauce), But This Time With Mold...Trust Me

    THAT was a whole lot of slicing. The recipe didn't say anything about taking the seeds out, but I'm not into chilies for the pain; I'm in it for the flavour, so I stripped those seeds out, piece by piece. It took an age and I think a day later I still had chili pepper on my hands (as evidenced by my burning contact lens), but I'm SO excited about this chili sauce that I don't care.

    I went back to my chili guy at the Mile End Market and bought another big bag. This time, I was going to do a fermented paste. No processing the cans afterward, just a bit of mold. Since my obsession with sourdough bread and my new-found love of making dosa, I'm a huge fan of 'things fermented'. So I went back to the VietWorldKitchen blog and made myself a Sriracha-style chili sauce (she gives two recipes - fresh and fermented - and I obviously went with the mold. It's kind of a stronger flavour, apparently, and I wanted something unique in my world of heat. That's the kind you see in Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese restaurants everywhere in North America. Often called "rooster sauce", it's the one in the big plastic bottle with the green top. Well, that's not really fair. There are all different kinds with slight variations in heat, sweetness, saltiness, and most importantly, preservatives, and THAT'S why the author of VietWorldKitchen made her own. I'm just following in her well respected, preservative-reduced footsteps.

    Oh, she writes a lot about the different chilies to use, but I say use whatever you can find (long red types preferably) and then adjust sweetness, sourness, and salt as you go.

    The instructions are great, unless you're me. If you're me you forget not to add the vinegar to the blender mixture in step one. This seriously impedes the fermenting process. So I had to wash everything out of my chilies and dump it back in the blender. Thank goodness I hadn't turned the blender on when I noticed how stupid I was being. Kind of hard to get the liquid out a puréed thing, but it's easy to rinse sliced chili peppers. Unfortunately, on the second try I think I forgot to add more salt. I remembered the sugar (since I did a white sugar/molasses combo instead of brown sugar or traditional palm sugar) but by the time I realized I may have forgotten the salt, it was two days later and I wasn't even sure. Oh well. It fermented, anyway, so I figure that's a good sign. I stuck it in the oven with the light on and it actually overflowed on day 3 of 4. How does that happen? It says leave it at 'room temperature" but Montreal got cold all of a sudden and nothing in my kitchen was ripening (see the dates in the chili sauce pictures. Still as hard as ever. They went a bit moldy too! THAT was not supposed to happen...only the chili sauce was supposed to get moldy).
    So then I forgot to add the vinegar when I boiled the paste after scraping off the mold! Seriously, what's wrong with me? So I boiled it again. Fortunately, I figured I'd already added too much water to blend it in the first place (not in the recipe), so boiling off a bit of the extra was fine. Basically I was working really hard to mess this up.
    Then I forgot to add more water to purée and had a heck of a time trying to get the sauce through the sieve.  
    Finally, it was done. I still haven't tested it for salt. I had some of the leftover pulp with my dinner as a kind of hot sauce since it seemed like such a waste to just throw out all that beautiful chili flesh. I think my heart pounded for about 3 hours from the heat effects, and my stomach burned, but my soul rejoiced.

    It keeps for a month in the fridge, so I best get on that.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    The Triumphant Return of the "Free Gazette" Man!

    "Have a Gazette! Wipe your windows!"

    I smiled. He was back...

    "Make fire!"

    ...and in fine form, it seemed,

    which reminds me that it's Hallowe'en, which in turn means that I should be canning every last fruit and vegetable that I can get my hands on before Montreal goes sub-zero. Red and green tomatoes? Check. Chili peppers? Check. Fig, vanilla bean, and amaretto jam? Well, I meant to, but then I ate all the figs. Oops. 

    Canned Tomatoes
    Here are better instructions than I could ever give, with better pictures than I am currently capable of taking. This blog, Food In Jars, was suggested to me at the Concordia Sustainability Fair by "two canning wizardesses" who have not called me to can, as they said they would. I am only slightly disappointed. I managed on my own. Women are fickle, it seems. To be honest, if they called me tomorrow I'd still can with them. Does that make me sound desperate?

    Anyway, the recipe is clear and simple. My only suggestion is that you really only need to blanch the tomatoes for one minute at most, as long as they're fully immersed in the water (ou may need to turn them over at the 30 second mark to ensure even blanching. Use tongs, not your fingers). 2 minutes of blanching and they start to cook, which really isn't a bad thing, but in general, the less-cooked the better. You're probably going to cook them in whatever recipe you use them for anyway, so save as much freshness now as you can. 

    I used a mix of red and green tomatoes, mostly for aesthetics. The jars look cool (see the little bits of green in some of the jars?). The green tomatoes are a little more watery, though, so consider breaking them apart a little and draining them through a fine mesh sieve after blanching before stuffing them in the jars. The greens and are also a little more sour, so you may need to adjust for sweetness in whatever recipe you end up making. Make sure you process for 85 minutes after stuffing and safely sealing the cans. The lemon juice thing takes a little bit of calculation, but whip out that pencil and paper and remember how to cross multiply and you'll be fine. x = ?

    It's genetic, I'm sorry.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    South Indian Sambar: Tamarind, Lentils and Spices

    I love making recipes when I don't need to go buy any ingredients. It's only kind of fair because I happen to have a lot of weird ingredients that normal people don't usually stock in their kitchens (chana dal, asafoetida, curry leaves, and even soaked and sieved tamarind in my freezer), but this recipe is exactly why I love Indian cooking - you take a ton of spices, cook them according to a formula and end up enjoying food you were maybe a bit skeptical about trying in the first place. Oh, and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Sambar Powder:
    1 tbsp coriander seeds
    1 tsp chana dal (like split yellow peas, but not exactly the same. Any split pea substitution is fine, but it won't be exactly the same)
    1/2 tsp urad dal (look in South Asian stores and have some good conversations like I did)
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1/2 tsp asafetida, grated (this stuff smells like onion...sort's sticky and gets all over your hands, but it's so good for digestion and is everywhere in South Indian cooking)
    2-4 dried red chillis
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1/4 tsp mustard seeds
    1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (called 'methi', these are little yellow pebbles)
    1 cup toor dal. Okay, this is the one place I cheated. I just gone on two major trips in search of urad dal and chana dal and not looked for toor dal. Apparently nothing can replace toor dal in sambar, says the internet, but screw the internet. I used chana was nutty and delicious and nothing like other sambars I've had, but I'm okay with that. The next time I stumble upon toor dal I'll buy it.

    1 lime-sized chunk of tamarind
    2 medium onions, chopped
    2 medium tomatoes, chopped
    1 curry leaf sprig. Yeah trying finding fresh ones...that's maybe a losing battle in Montreal, but dried can be found fairly easily. Cross your fingers and hope they're fresh. Me, I just had a bunch of sort of crushed old ones so I stuck them in a tea infuser (you don't want to eat these guys) and tossed them into the sambar.

    1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
    1 tsp salt 
    3-4 cups water

    1 tsp oil, 1 tsp ghee (or two tsp oil)
    1 tsp mustard seeds  
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1 pinch asafoetida (grated and then pinched, presumably)
    1/4 tsp turmeric powder

    Put the sambar powder ingredients in a small frying pan on medium-low heat. When you can smell them and they start to darken a little, take them off the heat and grind them to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle, blender or food processor. All these spices should be whole, but if you have, say, ground cumin instead of whole, and you're stubborn about not buying the whole ones you can add the ground ones after you've toasted the whole ones before you crush everything together. The ground spices will burn if you add them to an oil-free frying pan with the others. Oh, and it's maybe a bit strange that you wouldn't cook the chana dal for the sambar powder, but that's pretty normal for rice and lentils in South Indian dishes)
    Soak the tamarind in warm water (very warm, but not boiling) for 15 minutes. Then take a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl and press the soaked tamarind lump through as much as you can. It's a real pain, it's true, but you want to get as much of the softened pulp through the mesh as possible. Throw out the hard material that's left, then add enough water to the pulp to give you 1 cup. 
    "Cook the toor dal in 2 cups of water until it's soft". I hate ambiguous instructions like that, especially with lentils that get mushy if over-cooked and chewy if under-cooked, AND every lentil is different, so mine took about 25 minutes, but if I'd actually used toor dal, who knows how long it would have taken. Probably I could have looked it up really easily...I'm up there with people who are too stubborn to buy whole spices, apparently. I'm such a hypocrite. Anyway, bring the water to a boil (after rinsing the dal in cold water a few times to remove any dirt or stones) and add the dal. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium or medium-low and simmer for who knows how long...

    In a large pot, heat the oil (and ghee). My favourite part: add the mustard and cumin seeds. It'll take them about 30 seconds to start to pop. When they stop, add the asafetida and turmeric powder, curry leaves, and chopped onions. Cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes. Add 1 cup water. Add ground sambar powder. Boil. Inhale. Smile. Exhale.
     Mash the cooked toor dal (with a masher, a large, blunt object, or in a food processor. A blender will suck. It probably won't blend well unless you use something intense like a VitaMix. Add the dal to the spiced tomato mixture in the large pot.
     Boil for another 5 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp and salt. Stir and add more water if needed (it should be more like a soup than a stew, but the flavour gets watered down pretty quickly, so be careful, especially if you didn't work that hard at pushing the tamarind through the sieve). Boil for yet another 5 minutes.
    Turn off the heat, cover, and prepare dosa or idli, or get the rice that you started cooking 25 minutes ago (you did, right? I sure didn't...). When you're ready to serve, top the sambar with chopped coriander leaves. Normally every person at the meal would get a small bowl of sambar so you can garnish each individually, or give up from exhaustion and just throw all the coriander in to the hot soup to lose its colour and some of its flavour and nutritional clout  : )

    This is perfect to make with dosa because they take no time at all. Rice can be made in advance, but idli seem as though they may be a nuisance. I'll try that sometime and let you know.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Mysore Masala Dosa

    This was the first time I ever "winged it" with an Indian recipe. I mean, it's not as though I threw the recipe out the window, but there was nothing that said "30 seconds later add the" or "2 minutes later combine the", as Madhur Jaffrey is prone to do in my favourite Indian cookbook. Actually the cookbook of hers that I have doesn't have many South Indian dishes. So I turned to the internet with its sketchy, and often missing, instructions for a recipe for mysore masala dosa - my favourite fermented rice and lentil crepe known for its slightly (to not-so-slightly) spicy potato filling.

    3 cups boiled and slightly mashed potatoes
    2 cups chopped onions
    1/2 cup boiled peas (not really optional, but I didn't have any, so for me it was optional. For you, well, you can do what you want)
    3-4 finely chopped green chilies (I only had red. Well, oops, but that's what I'd bought in bulk at the farmers' market, so that's what I used)
    1/4 inch piece of ginger, finely minced
    2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
    3 tbsp oil
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    1 pinch asafoetida
    4-5 curry leaves
    salt to taste
    1 tsp turmeric 
    1 tsp cumin 
    chopped coriander
    1/2 cup grated fresh coconut (again, not really optional, but the fresh coconut options around the city are minimal, and I'm just one person anyway, and that's a lot of coconut to eat. So I kept my carbon footprint relatively in check...or at least let it balance with my purchase of Greek figs. So worth it).

    See, there were no actual instructions on how all these things should be put together, but with some other dosa cross referencing, I got the general idea. Besides, you'd rarely see an Indian cook with a recipe...but that Indian cook would probably have grown up in a household where such things as recipes were passed down from mouth-to-mouth, so to speak.

    Boil the potatoes. Boil them whole if you've got the time, since they slip easily out of their jackets and I think retain more of their nutrients if boiled with the skins on. If you don't have time, peel them and chop them into smaller sections. When a fork goes into them easily, remove them from the pot and either plunge into ice water to cool, or let them cool on their own while you're busy doing other things...

    ...such as chopping the chilies. I like to take the seeds out before I chop the chilies, since the seeds give pure heat and no flavour, but if you want that burning sensation to come quicker and don't care about the heat, leave them in and save yourself the trouble. Get all the other ingredients ready and measured. This goes pretty fast, so unless you are a chopping superstar whose spices are all alphabetically organized, be humble and do the mise-en-place. Oh! That includes peeling and mashing the potatoes. You CAN mash them after you've thrown them into the frying pan later, but it takes extra time and thing may burn while you're attempting to mash. Then if you're like me you know they're not going to want to mash and you'll start swearing at it and cursing your lack of a decent potato masher, when a slotted spoon would have been just fine if you'd actually mashed the potatoes before you'd turned on the heat...but that's just me. You are much smarter than that. Anyway, mashing roughly is fine. I kind of like the lumps because potato purée dosa has a less interesting, more baby-food-like texture.

    Okay, go! The oil goes in the large frying pan on medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds and asafoetida. Wait 30 seconds. With mustard seeds you always wait 30 seconds, well approximately. You wait for them to "pop" and in every recipe that apparently takes 30 seconds. Mine didn't I cried a little inside and turned up the heat. Maybe my pan wasn't ready yet. 
    Then add the ginger, garlic, chilies, and curry leaves and stir relatively frantically so it doesn't burn. 
    When everything is getting a little softened and brown a few minutes alter add the turmeric, cumin and coriander. Now you really need to stir since the dry spices will burn very easily. When it's stirred (it doesn't need to cook more than a minute) add the potatoes (pre-mashed!) and stir everything. The potatoes should turn yellow-orange from the turmeric. The oil will get sucked up, as though through a straw, into the potatoes and your masala is done. You can add a little water to thin it and make the potatoes a little more tender if they're a variety that's naturally starchy. Oh! Salt to taste! Very important! There's no other salt in this recipe and the salt really brings it together, so be generous. Garnish with chopped coriander (cilantro) and wrap in dosa. Die from joy from eating so luxuriously, simply, and healthy. Okay, maybe don't die, but experience some kind of blissful state. Please.