Friday, May 28, 2010

Adventures in Gluten-Free Bread

I decided it was about time to learn how to properly knead.

So I turned to YouTube. Several videos later I felt like the reason I've been such a bad kneader has been because my dough hasn't been great for kneading. It tears no matter what I make, which has mostly been different kinds of noodles and pasta. So I decided to make bread and really test myself. Maybe I'm not as incompetent as I thought? Gluten-free bread wasn't even a big consideration until I started doing some gluten-free baking (chocolate silk pie) and had to make a gluten-free flour blend for the pie dough. So I trekked all over Montreal looking for the strangest flours and starches:

Sorghum flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, guar gum and xantham gum.

I had found two gluten-free flour blends that said they were all-purpose (which is a lie in the world of gluten-free) but decided to give them both a shot, one at a time, to see what worked. Here was the first one:

1 cup brown rice flour
1 1/4 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch flour
2/3 cup tapioca starch flour
3/4 sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour, though there's no gluten in it. It's just made from sticky rice, who's grains tend to stick together. I am not a scientist, but I know it's celiac-safe)
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tsp xantham or guar gum (I bought guar gum, as it's about $10 less a package!!!)

So you add all these things together and stick it in the fridge to keep until you're ready to bake a few days, a week, or a month or more later, since the brown rice needs to stay refrigerated (turns out that since brown rice is less processed, it still contains husk that will go bad if left at room temperature. You know, like regular food...not that the other flours or rices are bad, just that traditionally they are processed or polished or parboiled so that they last, which makes sense in warm places like India and Thailand where rice is eaten every day, and certainly not harvested as often).

After I got myself all pumped up to knead, though, I did some research on gluten-free breads. Turns out most G-F breads don't get kneaded at all. There's no gluten in the flour that needs to be worked - the whole point of kneading. Foiled again.

So looking through a million recipes online, I started to get a bit disappointed in G-F bread as a foodstuff. Either there were a ton of eggs in the recipe and sugar and oil and fat, or there was egg replacer and sugar and oil and fat. Nothing like the simple recipes for wheat breads of flour, salt, yeast and water. Then I found what I was looking for from Dan Lepard at the Guardian. His trick? Psyllium husk powder.

The original recipe can be found here, but I decided to use my own G-F flour blend (a risky gamble when it comes to G-F breads, to not stick to the recipe. It was very adolescent of me, but I think I got away with it). I didn't want to go buy psyllium husk powder, but I knew that was exactly what was in a common breakfast cereal, All Bran Buds. Not regular All Bran. Only the buds. Now if you're actually celiac you can't do the replacement below because the buds are not gluten-free. So go buy the husk powder.

Here's what I did:
350g plus 2 tbsp G-F Flour Blend (above)
2 tbsp All Bran Buds cereal
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cane sugar
2 tsp vinegar (I used white balsamic because I'm ridiculous and have that and not regular vinegar)
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra to brush the top of the loaf
1/4 cup yogurt (I actually did use yogurt here, even though the probiotics would die in the baking process)
Generous 1 1/2 cups warm water

I wanted to soak the All Bran Buds in the water so they would break apart and spread throughout the loaf, but I didn't have time. I basically thought not doing this would wreck the recipe, but it still worked. Apparently the psyllium is what acts like gluten and keeps the loaf from falling apart like you may expect from a rice loaf. I don't know if the psyllium did its job, but for whatever reason, the loaf didn't fall apart. It actually turned out very loaf-like and not too dense like Gluten-Free anything tends to be.


Soften the All Brand buds in about 3 tbsp of the warm water for 30 minutes. They probably only need about 10, but you want to make sure they're really falling apart. If you're using psyllium husk powder, just add it to the dry ingredients below. You still need to use all the water in the recipe. If you don't have 30 minutes you shouldn't be making bread...I shouldn't have been making bread. So I'll start again: If you don't have 30 minutes, just add the All Bran Buds to the dry ingredients.

Put the Gluten-Free Flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl.

In a second bowl whisk the liquid ingredients (minus the soaking liquid with the Brand Buds if using), then add the buds and water. Whisk again.

Now add the dry ingredients to the wet (in the bigger bowl) and mix the two really well for a minute, until they come together into a soft dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and leave for an hour in a warm, draft-free place (like an oven with the light on, or my kitchen counter when it's 30 degrees outside) and let the dough rise.

Lightly oil a loaf pan and place dough evenly in pan. The original recipe says to shape it into a roll on a separate surface, but then when I had to transfer it later it kind of collapsed a little (I think because I'd applied plastic wrap directly to the surface of the dough. The original recipe doesn't say to cover, but I know that most bread recipes need the dough covered and draft-less to rise. Was I wrong? Bread-making people out there, please help me), so I think you can just let it rise in the loaf pan. If you want to make rolls, lightly oil a baking sheet and shape the dough into rolls directly on the sheet. Then cover the sheet or loaf pan again with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and then rise for an hour and a half. The dough should almost double in size. Mine didn't quite double, but it kind of bubbled and oozed, which I took as a good sign that something was happening. Oozing is probably better than nothing, I figured. At least my yeast was working.

Preheat the oven to 475 Fahrenheit. Mr. Lepard says you need an oven this hot because the bread doesn't have spring. I believe him, even though I don't understand this statement. Yes, I know what spring is, but what does a hot oven have to do with it?

Brush the top of the loaf with a little olive oil (it makes for a nice crust. I happened to have some melted butter left over from making baklava, so I brushed with that instead. Well, Earth Balance, not butter. Sorry purists, but it's gluten-free bread. The concept of "pure" was never a part of this recipe).

Bake for 50 minutes in a loaf pan or 25 minutes for rolls. When you take the pan out of the oven remove the bread immediately from it and place on a wire rack. Cover the loaf or rolls with a clean cloth. This apparently helps keep the bread soft. I guess it keeps the liquid from evaporating with the heat, kind of like a pot lid keeps the heat in.

You know what? This was one of the most successful breads I've ever made. Definitely the most successful gluten-free...I will not say how many gluten-free loaves I've made.

It even came out with that nice crack in the top that means it's baked to the right point. It didn't taste like rice, or too grainy. It was a little sweet from the All Bran, sugar and vinegar, but not too much so, and there were a few different tastes and textures in every mouthful. Cutting into the loaf once it cooled was easy, but it was wonderfully soft and moist yet annoyingly messy when it was warm. The buds gave a speckled pattern that was pretty fun, too.

All in all, I'm very happy, and with my next Gluten-Free Flour blend with sorghum I'll have to give this recipe a second shot. Coming soon.

Looks Gross, Tastes Amazing: Red Kale Soup

A lot of people get turned off by all this green, but there's no food colouring involved, no grass, no bitter, gross vegetables or a bad texture. It's one nutrient-rich, SWEET soup thanks to miraculous kale. Even the red variety ends up green (it's only called red kale because of the red lines in the veins, which you don't see once it's cooked/puréed anyway. I bought it because it looked a little fresher than the green this week at the market). Probably more people would find this soup attractive if it were actually red. That's what I call racist. Well, that and a few other things.

Kale is not chard. There is nothing swiss about it. That's a very important distinction. Chard looks a bit more like lettuce, and it's tough and bitter. Kale is sweet and smooth. Actually the white part is the tastiest. It may have the visual appeal of iceberg lettuce, but it actually tends a lot more toward the flavour of a good bok choy or spinach. Unlike any of the choy family (pak choy, bok choy, etc.) you wouldn't want to smother its bland form in hoisin sauce because it's better on its own. Buy organic and then call me a vegetable genius. So I usually just boil or steam a few long stalks for a side dish, the same as spinach (kale actually holds up better than spinach to cooking anyway. First boil the white stalks for a minute and then boil the leaves for another minute. Or just turn off the heat when you add the leaves and let the pot sit covered to wilt the greens. You kill fewer nutrients this way, but the leaves still soften).

The foundation of a good soup is a good broth. If you don't have any home-made, that's completely okay! Just buy good stuff. Definitely go organic and definitely make sure there's no MSG (monosodium glutamate - a flavour enhancer that's mostly sodium...but worse), corn syrup (candy does not belong in green soup), or things you can't pronounce in the ingredient list. Even some organic ones have yeast in them, so be careful of anything you don't think should really belong in soup, using the guiding principle that home-made broth is just vegetables, recognizable spices, and maybe chicken, beef or fish.

Anyway, the reason this soup was so good was because I defrosted a large yogurt container of home-made shrimp broth leftover from making my seasonal spot prawn stir-fry as the base. All you do is take the shells of however many prawns you shucked, put them in a large pot, cover them with water and bring the water to a simmer (not a boil) for 15 minutes. Then strain off the shells. Voila, stock! Even after making this soup I have 3L of delicious broth leftover in my freezer. That's 2 or 3 more whole pots of soup right there!

Maybe you're not as excited about that as me, but with a soup recipe with only two ingredients that actually tastes good, the potential to make more delicious soup is a cause for celebration.

About 5 cups broth (home-made or organic fish, chicken, or vegetable. Cubes or powder are fine. OXO is not)
1 package red kale (or green)

1. Bring broth to a boil in a large pot (defrost frozen broth and bring to boil).
2. Tear off leaves of kale and set aside. Add white parts of kale leaves to boiling broth, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes.
3. Add kale leaves. Simmer 1 minute.
4. Purée soup in batches in a blender. Return to pot to serve and let the rest cool.

Grand total work time is about 8 minutes if your stove takes awhile to bring things to a boil (add an extra few minutes to defrost frozen broth). The fun part of this is knowing how much kale you're happily eating. You put all this kale in the pot and then once it's puréed you can easily eat half a pot of soup. You probably wouldn't eat the equivalent half a bag of kale if it was just boiled. Well you would if you're me, but I'm an oddity, I know.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

High On Life and Baklava

Ages ago I bought phyllo pastry. Seems like a crazy thing to randomly buy, but you have to understand, when you're lactose-intolerant and you find a product that has no dairy in it that's traditionally supposed to be made with a lot of dairy, you buy it on sight. Well, only if it's made with edible ingredients (aka only things I can pronounce, and in my case, no soy). You never know when you'll have this opportunity again. Think of it as a good investment, as long as it keeps, and phyllo pastry keeps, frozen, for ages. This one, Krinos brand, didn't even have a million ingredients to replace butter or act as preservatives (phyllo pastry should really only have about 4 ingredients - flour, salt, water and butter) since that's what the freezer's for (the preserving, not the buttering). Can you imagine a buttering freezer? What a world...

Anyway, the phyllo pastry sat in my freezer waiting patiently for the day I craved baklava. I've made it only once before. Two apartments ago (this is how I think of the history of my life, in terms of apartments) I had sampled all the baklava in the Mile End area of Montreal and decided that to be satisfied I needed to make my own. Since I didn't have any pistachios or walnuts I did a whole lot of baklava research to find out if I could substitute other nuts in the dessert. It turns out that traditionally baklava is made with a whole lot of other ingredients, like cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, and lots and lots of poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds? Really? It kind of makes sense since it's a Middle Eastern dessert, and a lot of those types of desserts, especially ones of Jewish origin (even though this is not) involve poppy seeds. I had just hazelnuts and poppyseeds, so that's what I used for my baklava. The poppy seed is what is used to make opium, and although it would take a whole lot of poppy seeds to get high on baklava (think cups and cups and cups of the stuff - "heaps and heaps" as my French friend would say - to the point where you just couldn't possibly fit the necessary amount into your body) I used a fair bit. I love poppy seeds. You can crack each seed and get a slightly bitter, metallic flavour. I'm not sure if that means it's not fresh. I mean, it's not like I'm out in the poppy fields experiencing the best that Mother Nature has to offer, but like North Americans love kraft dinner, I love what I assume to be the correct flavour of poppy seeds. One of these days I'll buy a container from Epices de Cru in Jean-Talon and ruin the poppy experience for myself forever by tasting what they're actually supposed to be like, but until that day, I live in sublime ignorance.

So that was last time, and now my kitchen stocks had changed. I had a grand total of 2 walnuts, 1 pecan and 6 hazelnuts to crack. That's a far cry from the 1 1/2 cups of nuts called for in the recipe. Fortunately the nuts are always my least favourite part of baklava anyway (the reason I prefer the honey-soaked Greek kind to the Middle Eastern kind). Anyway, in case you want to make your own, you can find the recipe here. Or follow below:
1 1/2 cups mixed nuts or nuts of choice. According to a lovely Turkish baklava maker at Patisserie Efes in Montreal the best choice between the common baklava nuts is walnuts right now, since pistachios are bland and expensive. The good ones come from Turkey, so he knows. You can also use hazelnuts, poppyseeds, pecans, whatever else you feel like experimenting with. As a good friend would say, "The recipe can't see you".
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted (the original recipe calls for more, but I don't think it's necessary, and God forbid you waste good butter)
18 sheets phyllo pastry

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Two 2" cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4-5 tablespoons honey

Take a really long tray, probably a cookie tray with sides (honey syrup needs to soak in it so it has to have sides. Ideally a whole piece of phyllo will fit in it, but this probably won't happen, which is fine). You want to use a tray that you don't care about scratching up, since you'll have to cut the pieces directly in the tray, and it's tough, so there'll be some scraping involved.

Thaw the pastry! Leave it out on the counter for about 2 hours. Fortunately for me (since I forgot to do this in advance) it was over 30 degrees celcius in Montreal when I made this, so it thawed in about an hour...You can also probably thaw it way in advance in the fridge, and it'll thaw more evenly. You need it to be fully thawed or it'll crack. Once you take it out of its packaging and it's exposed to air, make sure you lay a clean cloth or kitchen towel over it so it doesn't dry out. Again, it'll crack.

Grease the bottom and the sides of the baking tray.

Mix the nuts, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.

Taking one sheet of phyllo, lay it in the baking sheet (it can hang over the edges. That's fine), and use a small kitchen brush (or new paintbrush. There's nothing quite like seafoam green baklava to match your living room...) to spread a thing layer of the melted butter all over the top of the pastry. You need the butter to touch everywhere or the pastry will crack, but in this recipe since there's a whole lot more pastry than nuts the butter will soak down through, so a little is more than enough. Now fold the edges over if they've gone outside the pan (like colouring within the lines, it's hard) and brush the folded edges with butter as well.

Repeat with the phyllo until there are five sheets of pastry in the tray.

Spread half the nut/sugar/cinnamon filling evenly over the pastry.

Add three more sheets of phyllo, brushing each layer with melted butter before adding the next one (the original recipe says you brush the pastry on another surface first and then transfer to the tray but as long as you're careful brushing in the tray nothing bad will happen to the pastry. Besides, who's going to care?

Spread the remainder of the walnut mixture over the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit.

Finish by adding about 8 or 10 more sheets of phyllo on top, buttering each sheet every time.

If you don't want to fold the extra pastry in each time you can leave it and then cut it off once you're done adding more phyllo (now).

With a sharp knife, carefully cut small diamond or square shapes (cut 4 or 5 straight lines length-wise and then cut 8 or so straight lines diagonally), only cutting through the top few layers. This will make it much easier to slice once cooked. This was a good instruction on the part of the original recipe because last time I ended up having a tough time cutting through the baklava and it kind of fell apart a little. My only tip is to make sure you add a little bit of extra butter to the very top layer so it doesn't crack when baking. I also edited out the bit of the original instructions to leave a little extra pastry around the edges to allow for shrinkage during baking. Funny, I thought that only happened when it was cold. What do I know? I feel like I've been tricked.

Take a cup of cold water and using your fingers, sprinkle a little over the top of the baklava. This will help prevent the cut pastry from curling up while cooking, the same way applying extra butter helps.

Place the baking tray in a preheated oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until golden. Really nothing needs to cook (there's no meat or vegetables involved, not even any egg), so it's far better to err on the side of under-cooked rather than crispy.

While the pastry bakes, boil all the syrup ingredients except the honey in a saucepan for about 5 minutes. Then add the honey and simmer for another 5 minutes until thickened slightly. Yeah, mine didn't really thicken, but I also didn't really care.

Remove the cinnamon sticks.

Once the baklava is golden and you've removed it from the oven, cut the slices through to the bottom where you'd already half cut them. The original recipe says to pour the syrup over first and then cut, but you kind of need to use your hands and touch the pastry to cut decently, so it would be a lot stickier process if you'd already poured the syrup over the baklava. Either way the syrup will soak through, so it's not a big deal.

So, NOW pour the syrup over the cut diamonds.

Leave to cool completely in the tray, soaking in the syrup. Or not. Warm baklava is amazing, even if the honey macerates the pastry (can I say that for pastry? Macerates?) better if you leave it for awhile. If you cut the pieces small you can have one piece now and one later for a comparison. Baklava is very, very high in fat, though, and addictive, so a little goes a long way. Please do not get sick on baklava for the sake of a comparison.

The website recipe says to remove the slices one at a time from the tray, but I don't understand why you'd want to do this. It's best stored in the tray. You'd just waste honey syrup by trying to remove it. So as long as you have enough storage space on your counter (or fridge if the baklava lasts more than 3 days) then both you and the baklava in the pan are golden (Note: Just the baklava is in the pan).

So the whole point of this post was that I a had a few small pieces of baklava before going to record the Midnight Poutine podcast this week and was very much on a sugar high, since I'd used real (cane) sugar and a good honey. Really your honey will make this or break this. You want something flavourful that works well with the butter flavour. You could maybe even experiment with flavoured honeys, like blueberry...hmm...

I mean, mmm...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

5 Minute Moong Dal With Red Lentils and Browned Onions

Not the cooking time (5 minutes), but the writing time.

and, GO!

Okay, so this is a simple recipe for lentils. I basically had no other protein in my house and had to figure out something nourishing and comforting. For me, that means dal. I have no idea what kind of dal I actually used. I only used one even though the recipe called for two. It was black and a small lentil but if it was actually moong dal like the recipe wanted, I have no clue. Still, the recipe worked fine and my tummy was happy, and will yours, probably. All tummies are different, after all.

1 cup dal (some kind of lentil - red, black...specifically moong dal is called for, so if you can find it)
1 cup split red lentils
5 cups water
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
pinch of ground asafetida
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 dried hot red chilies
1 small onion, very finely sliced into rings

Five minutes are up, I lose. I'll be back!

Okay, I'm back.

Moong dal, continued:

So I love fried onions. I hate onion rings even though they're almost the same thing but not breaded. You get this intense onion flavour that you either love or hate, but your tongue gets to go swimming in oil since you essentially just deep-fryed the slices. I think I first got into them when someone I knew told me their favourite dish was biryani and they tried it at every restaurant they could find, the best in downtown Toronto being found at Quick Pita on College for awhile. That didn't include Little India on Gerrard Street, but for convenience sake, Quick Pita was pretty good, apparently. Anyway, they're the garnish for this dish, which makes it a little more gourmet than simple boiled lentils.

First, wash the lentils. Put them in a bowl and wash them like rice. Actually, you need to start the rice about the same time (or before) you start washing the dal. That way the rice can soak and the grains will stay separate.

After a few changes of water to clean the dal, drain them and put them in a big pot. Add the water and turmeric. Turmeric will take away some of the effect of beans on your digestive system ("Beans, beans, good for the heart..." etc.). Bring the dal to a simmer (don't let it boil over) and then reduce the heat, cover it but leave it "slightly ajar" (this is apparently the traditional way to cook lentils - partially covered) and let the dal simmer softly for about 45 minutes. It shouldn't completely fall apart, but it should be tender. If you don't use moong dal and red lentils, whatever you use may cook faster or slower. If you don't use lentils at all but you use beans instead, make sure you soak the beans overnight and then cook them. Lentils are split (like "split peas") and don't need to be soaked. They're the convenient legume, but it's all relative. 45 minutes is not exactly quick cooking. Unlike rice, you're allowed to stir the dal a few times while it's cooking, and when it's done you season right away with the salt, stir, and then leave covered over low heat if you don't have the next step already done while you were waiting for the lentils to cook.

All that's left is to heat the oil over high heat, and do some very quick, hot sauté-ing. This makes lots of noise, and looks really flashy, so if you have people over, they can watch in the kitchen and you'll look like a culinary superstar. Take that, Nigella.

When the oil's hot put in the pinch of asafetida, (be carefully of hot flying oil) count to 1 (yes, 1) and then add the fennel seeds. Count to 3 and then add the red chiles. Count to 4 and then add the onions. What happened to 2? Shouldn't you have to count to 2 somewhere? Then it would be called 1-2-3-4 frying. 1-3-4 is not as catchy, but traditional foods are not meant to be catchy, I suppose. They're probably just meant to be practical. So skip counting to 2. It's an unnecessary number and a waste of 2 seconds of your life.

Stir, stir, stir and reduce the heat to medium-high until the onions are very brown and crisp. They'll look like you really over-cooked them, but they'll taste great. If they really start to look like they're blackening or burning, turn the heat down a little more. Now pour everything from the frying pan into the dal that's set on low waiting for you patiently. You want to pour all the oil in too, not just the onions and spices. There may not be a whole lot of oil leftover, but you really need the fat of the oil in this to help digest the lentils. Otherwise there's about zero grams of fat and you'll never feel full and you'll have an awful time digesting, despite your use of turmeric. Actually I even drained the lentils after cooking them (before adding the salt) and added more turmeric, just to get more starch out of the water that had come out of the lentils while they cooked.

Serve on a bed of beautiful basmati rice that you've maybe even timed correctly to have finished just now and pour a little bit of yogurt on the side of the plate. The dairy actually helps turn the rice and lentils into a full protein! Ah, the miracles of Indian cooking. So sorry vegans, your protein will be incomplete, but your tongue will be happy from beautiful fried onions and oil.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Banana Flambé With Watermelon and Dates

Okay, so this is kind of far out there, but it was one of the best things I've ever accidentally made. It didn't actually look like the picture above, but fire is a hard thing to catch in a photo.

I took a banana flambé recipe that called for rum, brown sugar and pineapple juice, but I had none of those things. Undeterred, I took stock of what I did have: watermelon (puréed I thought it might substitute for the pineapple juice), red wine (it works for poaching pears, so why not for flambéing bananas?), and dates (fresh, not dried, so they were juicy. If you used dried you'd need to soak them in water until they were soft, probably overnight).

6 fresh dates
1/4 slice (3/4" thick) of a big watermelon. Use your own judgment.
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 ripe bananas, quartered lengthwise, and halved crosswise, or made into whatever size pieces you want. If the bananas are under-ripe the recipe won't work since they'll be too starchy. Over-ripe is fine too as long as they're not falling apart from being too mushy.
splash of red wine
Long matches or a BBQ lighter...wish I had those things

Basically, you want to purée the watermelon, dates, and spices so you get a fairly liquid consistency, as if you were using brown sugar and pineapple juice. Pour the purée into a skillet (if you have to scrape it in and it doesn't want to come out of the blender it's too dry and you should add more watermelon first) and turn the heat to medium-high. When the mixture comes to a boil add the bananas. Cook, turning gently for 3 minutes (you just want the bananas to heat up).

Pour over a splash of wine (about 2-3 tbsp, but more or less is not a big deal, as long as you don't mind the wine taste). When the mixture starts to boil again (a few seconds later), light a long match or use a BBQ lighter to light the alcohol on fire. If it doesn't work, try again. After 2 tries, if it doesn't work, give up. Bonnie Stern says to "not worry. It will still taste great". Comforting, Bonnie. All my other flambés have worked but this one wouldn't. It may have been the fact that I tried to use a regular lighter and charred my thumb. It didn't burn, but there was a nice bit of black involved.

When it does light there'll be a big "WHOOSH" of flame, so make sure your head isn't too close to the pan. I think it works better with liquor, like rum, because of the higher alcohol content. Ah well. It still tasted great, like Bonnie assured me it would. Actually, with a little thick yogurt as a bed for the warm, sweet sauce (you have no idea how amazing dates are until you use them to substitute for other sweet things), and perfect bananas, this was heaven. I hate fruit desserts, but this was smooth and rich and filling. If only flames liked being caught on camera. You'll have to make the recipe to see the magic for yourself.

Oh, this works perfectly if you're having friends over because it's so simple, cheap and makes you look very gourmet. Plus, if you're a guy, you get to show off your skills with fire. I think flambé came somewhere in the evolution of "cooking with fire" after the open pit with animal on a stick, after the tandoor oven, and before the Foreman Grill. How far we've fallen...

Oh (again)! In Quebec you can buy pig-roasting setups for fires! RONA and big home stores carry them. Sure, you can roast lamb, but you know it's traditional Quebecois families who are buying these things for big pig roasts in the country. Seriously, they sell out. Call ahead.

Seasonal Cooking: Spring Spot Prawns with Fiddleheads and Peas

The Atwater Market and Jean Talon have exploded. That means it's Spring. When the flower vendors come in and the fresh fruit and vegetable sections expand to four times their normal size I get really excited. The downside of the new consumer obsession with eating locally and seasonally is that whatever's in season tends to be really expensive when it first hits the market. That's why I avoided buying fiddleheads. They went from an item nobody wanted, and nobody certainly knew how to cook, to a highly prized delicacy. Like wild leeks. Wild leek pesto seems so generic to me now. Soon Martha Stewart will be carrying a line of it, I'm sure.

I meant to wait until the end of each vegetable's season to buy it, so that the prices would reduce, but I caved. This last week I saw fiddleheads at the market and after comparison shopping a few different places, I bought them from Michaca Farms at a decent $5 a bag. I think it was asparagus' fault, since I'd avoided buying those until I found them VERY reasonably priced at the McGill Organic Campus tent on rue McTavish north of Sherbrooke on Tuesday last week. When I tasted them, and compared them to the organic ones I'd actually found fairly reasonably priced at Jean-Talon, I remembered how beautiful it was to eat in Spring. They were sweet and mild and you didn't even need to crack off the bottoms they were so fresh. Once I had fresh Spring produce, I needed more, and that meant fiddleheads.

I planned to make them very simply, using a basic Indian spicing of asafetida, onions, mustard seeds, garlic and cayenne, and salt, but I forgot I'd also bought some pois mange-tout (the kind of peas you where you can eat the whole pea...what's the word in English? It's not sugar-snap), and then I'd seen some sept-iles (local Quebec) spot prawns on for incredibly cheap (less than $6 a pound) and tried to buy a pound but the man gave me 2. That was fine...

The plan was to make quasi-sushi with them since I had leftover sushi rice, but in the end the photo above is what happened: Indian-Spiced Prawns with Fiddleheads and Peas. Somewhere between a shrimp stir-fry and an Indian shrimp saag (since the spicing originally came from a saag recipe) the dish was so, so good, and good for me. The only annoying part was shelling the prawns. You don't get a whole lot of meat off one of those guys, but you get tons of shells for making shrimp stock!!! I now have 4L of stock in my freezer waiting for my next soup or sauce. I love Spring. Did I mention that?

Fiddleheads need to be cooked twice. If you eat them raw they're toxic. So blanch them first and then cook them however you want (boil, steam, blanch again, stir-fry, grill, etc). So I threw them in boiling water for 3 minutes and then drained them and rinsed them under cold water. They have a lot of loose green threads that kind of fall off. It looks like they're pretty dirty, but it's just threads falling everywhere. Give them a good rinse before and after blanching and they'll be fine.

Then stir-fry. I heated a bit of oil (you can use anywhere from a teaspoon to 3 tablespoons. If you use more you won't need to be as diligent about stirring or adding water to keep it from burning, but you up the fat a lot) on high heat (this is a high-heat stir-fry, not medium-high, or medium, so be careful not to use olive oil or another oil that burns).

When the oil got hot in my large pot, I added the grated asafetida and then the mustard seeds "a few seconds later". When they started to pop (another "few seconds"...oh, Madhur Jaffrey) I added the onion that I had sliced finely and some minced garlic.

Stir, stir stir. The onions were going to burn a little, so I added a tiny bit of water to keep that from happening. They get soft this way, not crispy but I still like the flavour. It's more important to cook them through than to undercook them by not adding more liquid. 2 minutes later I added the fiddleheads and peas, and two minutes after that I added a pinch of cayenne, 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 tsp salt, and my spot prawns. They don't need much time at all; 2 minutes, max. If they're over-cooked they taste like rubber. What I didn't realize was that they're salt water prawns, so I didn't need to add any salt to the recipe. Still, the extra didn't make the dish less delicious. Madhur Jaffrey's recipes are often heavy on salt and cutting out a little (except in the lentil and bean dishes) is usually fine.

The picture isn't amazing, I know, and I think the peas were on the end of their shelf life. I'd been saving them for too long probably. That's the thing about fresh, good food - it doesn't last. You need to eat it right away. No holding back or delayed gratification. The food necessitates immediate satisfaction. Long live Spring, though I know, like the produce, it won't, and I will just have to take advantage of it while I can.

Pickled Red Chiles: "Beyond the Great Wall"

Feeding my addiction has never been so good for me. Some people say chocolate is better than sex. I say chiles are better than chocolate, and I've had good chocolate.I ran out of Guizhou Chile Paste. You have to understand, that stuff is meant to last a long time. It's not like you eat it by the spoonful. It is addictive, though, and I went through it like it was candy. No, really, the sichuan peppercorns are actually addictive, I think. They would be illegal if someone who had power over such things actually tasted them or knew what they could do. Fortunately, most business lunches don't end up at Chinese restaurants that would dream of using the stuff. In fact, I don't know any restaurants at all in Montreal or Toronto that use them. They probably do, but I don't know them. They're hard enough to find, (both the peppercorns and the restaurants) and even harder to find good quality (both, again).

Fortunately Épices de Cru is an amazing company that is feeding my addiction. Also fortunately, no recipe that calls for these things actually calls for very much, so a small container lasts a long time. Much longer than my chile paste did. They're pungent, to say the least. I bit into a whole peppercorn the other day and subsequently couldn't feel my lips for half an hour. It's not that they're hot or "spicy", whatever that means, but they actually do have an anesthetic quality. It's weird, though, because it's not like a drug that knocks you out. You won't be able to feel your lips, but you'll be high on endorphins and have so much energy. You know how certain foods are supposedly aphrodisiacs? Things like oysters, which I don't understand. They're slimy and delicious but physically I don't think there's actually a property in them that excites you. Sichuan peppercorns elicit a physical response. You'll probably also feel hungry after eating the tiniest bit, because your metabolism will be in overdrive from the endorphins. So you'll want to keep eating, which probably means having more of the dish with the peppercorns...and the cycle continues.


I'm trying to be a careful addict. I don't really want to recover, but I don't want to push my obsession too far. So instead of making the guizhou chile paste again, I decided to try the recipe in Beyond the Great Wall for pickled red peppers. Really I did this because the long red chile peppers looked so fresh at my favourite mushroom shop in Atwater Market (any idea why they put the mushrooms and chile peppers together in a large horizontal display in the middle of the store? I mean, I don't usually cook mushrooms and chilies together). The recipe also calls for a quarter the amount of the sichuan peppercorns needed for the other paste, so the effect shouldn't be so acute. It'll be like going from 8 cups of coffee a day to 2.

There are two ways to do this recipe - the fast way and the not so fast way. Since I don't know how to safely sterilize a jar for pickling, I went with the fast one. I also wanted to eat the pickled chilies with dinner, not in 2 weeks. Even my kitchen forethought tops out at a few days. There's a reason I don't make my own vanilla extract or age bottles of wine.

4 long red chile peppers
1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (I used Himalayan crystal salt)
1/8 tsp sichuan peppercorns (it didn't say ground, so I assume whole was fine)
1/2 star anise, whole or broken (I found a whole half).

I like that this isn't a sweet pickle. Actually, the chiles are kind of sweet on their own, so I don't think it needs any sugar, but feel free to add some the second time you make it if you're not happy with your first batch.

Take out the seeds of the chile peppers. This is where the flavourless heat comes from. If you don't take them out the chiles will just burn you. Without them, you can actually taste the freshness of the peppers.

Now the recipe said to remove the tops and slice the chiles into half inch slices, but it didn't specify how to cut them length-wise. I decided to make thin strips and estimate 1/2" slices. I think I misread the directions and actually cut them into 1 1/2" slices, but that's what teeth are for...when you mess up. Place the chiles in a heat-proof bowl large enough to press a small plate on top of them later, or a lid that touches the surface of the chiles. This will make sense in a minute.

Heat the vinegar in a saucepan (don't boil, just warm) and then add the salt, sichuan peppercorns and star anise. Bring the mixture to a boil and then pour over the chiles in the bowl. Now you want to put the small plate or lid on top of the chiles to weigh them down and completely cover them in the pickling liquid. If your bowl is too deep the liquid will just spread out and not do its job, and if the bowl is too small you may not be able to get a weight or plate in there to keep the chiles submerged and covered. Let them stand 30 minutes, or longer to infuse.
So I did, and then I drained off the pickling liquid and and used it to pickle some radish that I had cut into matchsticks. I am thinking of now draining the radishes to use the liquid to pickle some corrots. If I do this I will add some sugar to the liquid. I like the sweetness of the carrots.

Despite two marriage proposals this past week, I am still in search of high-quality chocolate.

Monday, May 17, 2010

3 Banana Cream Pies

This wasn't a traditional recipe from a book. Like my buttered rum-raisin cream pie with partridgeberry glaze, it was kind of a mash-up of a few different recipes. I used a basic pie crust, a vanilla custard with a mix of milk, almond breeze and yogurt, and a maringue topping. Oh, and bananas, of course.
This will make 3 eight-inch pies!!!!
Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup of earth balance (or margerine or butter) at room temperature
4 tbsp cold water (You might need 5)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
4 cups milk (almond, soy, cow's, or a combination. You can even use a bit of yogurt if you don't have enough milk, like I did)
1 tbsp vanilla

4 Bananas

8 egg whites
3/4 cup white sugar (don't use cane sugar. You, sadly, really need a refined sugar to make this smooth)
1 tsp cream of tartar

Combine the flour and salt. Use a fork to mix press and mix in the margarine or butter. The mixture should be crumbly small balls. Then add the water and stir with the fork, and then with your hands, until the dough comes together into one big ball. If it is still crumbly, add a little more water. If it's sticking to your hands, add a little more flour.

Separate the dough into two pieces. Yes two, not three. On a flour, clean counter-top take a floured rolling pin (or wine bottle, or olive oil bottle) and roll the dough out into a circle. Roll it a few times and then rotate it to roll a different direction. Start from the middle and roll to the edges, making sure when you roll just the middle to even it out that it doesn't stick to the counter. Add more flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin and counter. Roll the dough out very thinly. If it tears try to patch it up with some excess dough, but don't worry about it looking perfect. It'll get covered with bananas and cream.

When the dough gets larger than the pie plate all around, turn a pie plate on top of it and cut out a circle about an inch larger in circumference than the plate. Tear the remaining dough away from the edges and carefully flip the dough into the pie plate. This is where it's important to not have the dough sticking to the counter top. There's only so much surgery you can do on it to fix it at this point.

Press the dough into the pie plate and flute the edges. Patch the edges as needed, so that the dough extends over the lip of the plate. By flute, I mean take a knife and dip it in flour, then press it all along the top edge of the pie plate to make it pretty
(see picture above). You can skip this if you want more manly, less pretty pie. It's not like it makes it taste better. Now re-combine all the leftover dough with the ball you set aside, separate into a larger and small ball, and roll out the larger ball in the same way for the next pie crust. Poke the bottom of the pie dough with a fork so it doesn't create air pockets when you bake it.

When that's all done,
preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Recombine the leftover dough that was excess from what you just rolled with the smaller ball of dough to the side and roll that out the same way. You shouldn't end up with too much excess, but you can use little pieces to patch up imperfect crusts.

Bake these in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, no more. They should be a tiny bit browned, but not crisp. If your pie crust was rolled out more thinly, it'll cook faster, so be careful.

Remove from the oven, and let cool.

While the crust is baking, make the custard. I used Alice Medrich's Basic Vanilla Custard recipe from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts
Combine the sugar, flour, and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add all the eggs and yolks and beat them for 1-2 minutes. They should be thick and almost white.

Scald the milk in a medium saucepan (until the edges just start to bubble a little. It shouldn't boil) and pour it slowly over the egg mixture in a thin stream like olive oil, whisking constantly until all the milk is added. I kept beating with the handheld mixer here because I didn't have enough hands to whisk and pour at the same time. I foresaw the eggs tumbling to the floor that way (you can put a kitchen towel under the bowl to help keep it from moving around of its own accord). The liquid ended up a bit frothy, though, so you kind of need to beat the froth down into the liquid afterward, or you'll have a hard time telling when the mixture has thickened in the next step.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, reaching all over the bottom and sides of pan, until the mixture thickens a lot. When you think it's had enough, keep cooking and whisking an extra 30-45 seconds. Then scrape your custard into a clean bowl and whisk in the vanilla. Cool. Cover. Refrigerate.

Somewhere in this cream-cooking you probably took the pie crust out of the oven and placed them somewhere to cool. They're probably ready to had bananas added to them now. If they're not quite cool it's not a big deal. You just don't want them hot.

Slice the bananas thinly and place them evenly in the bottom of the cool pie crusts. They should cover the bottom completely, and you can even line the up the sides if you have extra. I try to cut them very thinly so I can cover the entire bottom of the pie and not have gaps, which equal sad, banana-less mouthfuls.

Now my favourite part. Pour the custard evenly over the three pies. At this point you could call it quits, or garnish with a bit of fresh fruit, like a few pieces of sliced strawberries or some blueberries, or you can make it into a really cool, mile-high meringue pie.

The great thing about this meringue is that it won't collapse if you mess it up a little, like it would for a soufflé or a meringue cookie. So go ahead and make an educated on those "stiff peaks"

Reheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit if you turned it off.

Beat the egg whites on medium (just the egg whites) until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until "soft peaks" form. Think pillows and waves. Add the sugar in a slow stream, turn the speed to high, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.I waited and waited on this one, because I think I always under-whip. You don't want the peaks to be "dry" but I'm not sure what this means either, so I beat for about 3 minutes on high. It felt like a meringue-wrecking eternity.

Then carefully scoop the fluff onto the top of the three cream pies. Spread it out with a spatula and try to do something decorate with the top if it kind of came out flat. Little peaks in the meringue coating will give it a nice brown and white topping where some of the meringue will be closer to the heat source. I tried swirling the top like the Joy of Baking told me to do after I had pressed down on the meringue to remove any air bubbles and completely cover the cream filling, but it just didn't want to swirl. I figured it was most important to cover the ridged edges a little so they didn't burn. Really, I didn't need to flute them at all since I wanted to hide them in shame by the end.

Set the meringued pies in the preheated oven and cook no more than 10 minutes, until the top is a little browned. It should still have some white spots, and not look too dark, but it's your call, and it's your pie. Mine were getting sold, so they had to look almost pretty. I think "almost" was the key word...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Banana Cream Pie for the Japanese Cultural Centre?

Every year the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre has a bazaar. They sell all sorts of Japanese foods...and then they sell pies. People who volunteer at the centre were asked to bake for the event, so I baked. I even asked what they would like me to bake. The answer was a little unexpected:

"How about banana cream pie?" So I made 3...

Recipe to come...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lobsters, Take 2

This is how it started...

...and this is how it ended...
I was going to make the bisque again. It's an amazing recipe, but it just seemed so unfair that you cook a bunch of lobsters, which takes a grand total of 10 minutes, but you don't get to eat for another 2 hours. Yes, it's worth it for this bisque, but just not this time. This time I wanted lobster fastfood. So my mom, my aunt and I walked up to the grocery store, bought our lobsters and I offered to carry them back down the hill to the house. I didn't even hold them at arms length from my body out of fear. I courageously threw them into my shoulder bag and let them bounce a tiny, tiny bit against my hip all the way home. I was gentle, but I was showing those lobsters who was boss.

My home in Newfoundland actually has a lobster pot so we could boil three small lobsters in one go. The suffering would be quick. Our suffering, I mean. The lobsters' suffering would take the same amount of time no matter when they got added to the pot. Still, they had to be added one at a time...

When we got home with the 3 poor fellows, I put the bag straight into the fridge while I boiled a big pot of salted water. I had about 4 cups of water, a cup and a half of sake (leftover, so I threw it in), 1/4 cup of salt (just throw in a lot) and a few slices of ginger (because all of Asia agrees that ginger goes well with sake in sauces). When I got the lobsters out of the fridge once the water had come to a boil, they weren't moving. This had happened last time I was pretty sure they weren't dead...just lethargic. Elastic bands firmly in place, I picked up the first lobster by his bottom and put him into the pot (pictured above).
Lobster number 2

Then in went lobster number 2, and finally lobster number 3.

Lobster number 3

Lobster number 3 looks a little more excited to finally be warm. No one cried (me, or the lobsters, or my mother, or my aunt) and when the water came back to a boil, I set the timer for 10 minutes and cooked the three crustaceans in the covered pot.

In the meantime...

I got three little bowls of butter melted ready. That's all you need for this. I also had some chile-garlic paste leftover (to continue the Asian theme from the sake and ginger) and so I put that out too. Really, the lobster meat didn't need much of anything, and the meal of sweet potatoes, lobster and salad was absolutely incredible. The great thing is it takes a bunch of time to shuck the lobster, so you work for your dinner, instead of gobbling it up quickly and still feeling hungry and wishing you'd killed an extra lobster or two. Besides, all that butter needs time to soak into your body. It is my favourite kind of body butter. Take that, Body Shop.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

This is the best side dish in the world, possibly besides roasted sweet potato fries. All you need is:

As many sweet potatoes as you want
Aluminum foil to wrap the sweet potatoes
A fork
Pepper (optional)
Other spices (optional)
a teaspoon of oil (optional)
An oven (definitely not optional, unless you have a BBQ)

In most recipe books that means that all you need is sweet potatoes because it's assumed that you'll have the rest. Geez, you don't even need a baking sheet. I used a knife because I wanted to shorten the cooking time, but you don't even need that. You certainly don't need a knife to eat the result. They will be soft and taste like candy.

1. Wash the sweet potatoes. Don't you dare peel them. The skin is the best part.

2. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork (they'll explode in the oven if you don't prick them...)

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Sprinkle the sweet potatoes with the salt and pepper (and oil if you want, but you don't need it). I actually sprinkled them with sake even though you don't actually need any liquid, because that's what I had leftover from the Asian-Inspired Dinner'll see an antena of that part in the corner of the picture above...recipe post to come...

You can also add other spices, like the ones you would use to make sweet potato fries, like paprika, cayenne, oregano, basil, garlic powder. Almost anything, but keep it simple the first time and experiment after you've had your first success. The potatoes are great plain, or served with butter. The melted butter made a whole lot of sense with the antenna part of the meal (see bottom right corner of photo above)...I also had a bit of chili-garlic paste left over that I used as a kind of dip...mmm...garlic.

5. Wrap the sweet potatoes in aluminum foil (shiny side facing in. The shiny metal in theory keeps the heat in and roasts the sweet potatoes more evenly, instead of reflecting the heat out of the foil), tightly, and place directly into the oven. Roast until tender, about an hour and 15 minutes. You can also roast at a higher temperature, say 425 degrees, and cut the roasting time to about 45 minutes, but I like the long and slow version and I actually had enough time for once. If you want them to cook a fair bit faster, or you just don't want whole roasted sweet potatoes, cut them into similarly-sized pieces before wrapping them in foil. You can wrap them individually or in packets.

6. The sweet potatoes are done when you open the foil and you can easily insert a fork into the flesh. They shouldn't be too mushy and falling apart, but they should be softened. Just like baked regular potato. In fact, you can make this recipe with any kind of potato, but the sweetness is amazing...Also sweet potatoes have a higher water content, I'm pretty sure, so they cook faster.

Enjoy summer and sweet potatoes and barbecuing!!!

Banana Sherbet: Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

This is the very similar to the lychee frozen yogurt, but it's from Alice Medrich's Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, not Josée di Stasio's A la di Stasio. I like lychee more than banana but the creaminess of the banana is a nicer texture. You also don't need to use such a high fat yogurt (or so much of the yogurt) as di Stasio recommended for the lychees because the texture comes from the bananas, AND it's perfect for bananas that are about to get too brown to eat. You can also freeze the bananas at this point and then use them later with no negative consequences. The skins will brown and look bad, but the inside will be fine. Just let them thaw and then stick them in the food processor or blender like below.

There's no chocolate in this recipe, but a chocolate syrup over top would be perfectly indulgent...kind of like a banana split.

Why has it been snowing in Montreal? It should be Spring. Patio season and ice cream. Hopefully the next time I make this there will be no freak snow storms to crush my Spring-related joy.

2 medium bananas, mashed
1/4 cup plain yogurt (2% is a good compromise, but you can use 3.8% or fat-free if you like)
sugar to taste, about 3 tbsp (bananas are very, very sweet, and if you use a high-fat yogurt you won't need to sweeten the bitterness of the fat-free versions)
1-2 tbsp rum (optional. You can use a 1/2 tsp of rum extract if you prefer, or skip it all together)
1/2 tsp vanilla (1 tsp if you skipped the rum)

Stick these things in a blender or food processor. Turn it on to purée. Turn it off to stop. Scrape down the sides if necessary and re-purée until smooth. Pour into ice cube trays or a resealable plastic freezer bag and lay flat in the freezer for about 6 hours, or until the mixture freezes slightly. Then pour it back into the blender in chunks and re-process. Pour into an old ice cream or yogurt container, or any kind of container that can go in the freezer, and re-freeze. This sherbet scoops much better than the lychee frozen yogurt, and as long as you love banana cough syrup or strong banana flavour, you'll love this. No other fruit really works like banana because of the creaminess.

It's kind of annoying trying to get all the mixture out of the blender, because it likes to get stuck and a spoon doesn't really fit well around the blades, so be patient. Also, make sure the mixture isn't too hard when you try to re-purée it or it'll hurt your blender or just won't work. Let it soften a bit and try again. It's not the end of the world if you get frustrated and leave it half-puréed and stick it in the freezer to re-harden. It'll be good enough.

I think you could probably even get away with making this recipe with milk instead of yogurt. It wouldn't be as creamy, but soy milk, almond milk, rice milk or regular milk would probably all work. There's so little yogurt called for, and the bananas will make the sherbet creamy anyway. Good luck! Dream of sun and flowers and heat. The whole "cold hands, warm heart" thing is getting ridiculous. I would really like my fingers to not feel like ice one of these days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Caramel Rum Oranges

I love a dessert with 3 ingredients. I also love a fruit dessert that doesn't taste like a sacrifice. This is a good example of the things that make me happy.

Oranges (As many people as you need to serve. 3 for four people, 8 for a potluck )
2 tbsp rum
1/2 cup sugar

Zest an orange and slice the long pieces into thin, thin slivers.

Remove the peel and white membrane from the oranges and segment the fruit. This takes some time but is necessary so the rum can soak into the fruit itself and not get stopped by the skin of each segment like an alcohol barrier. All the rum should soak into the (blood) orange stream. Place the orange segments in a bowl and drizzle with the rum (more or less, to taste).

Heat the sugar with 1/4 cup of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, but don't stir. Let it cook for 5-8 minutes, to the point where you can take a little of the liquid on a spoon and drop it onto a plate and it should seem thick and syrupy. It should also be changing colour around the edge of the pan. At this point you want to swirl the pan, not stir it, and let the colour spread throughout the liquid. Less cooking time here is better than more, because if the caramel over-darkens it will become bitter. I actually used xylitol, a sugar substitute, which didn't darken to a caramel colour because it's not sugar...but it did thicken a little, thank goodness and it didn't get bitter. The dish still tasted amazing even if it wasn't really caramel.

Pour it immediately over the oranges and rum. Serve hot, or refrigerate to let the alcohol and syrup infiltrate the fruit...mmm...macerated fruit.

Serve in a prettier glass than I champagne flutes, martini glasses or small wine glasses.

Lychee Frozen Yogurt

The first time I had lychees I was blown away. Maybe first I had them in bubble tea. I don't think I even knew what the real fruit looked like. Then I started noticing cans of them at Asian grocery stores and markets. The white fruit soaked in syrup was revolutionary. How many other fruits did I not know about?

Finally, I found a store that sold fresh lychees. I'd seen them before but the name of the fruit had never been written in English, so I'd had no idea what they were and had never wanted to bother the staff enough to ask the names of handfuls of exotic fruit. They probably wouldn't even know the English names, and they were busy. Excuses, excuses. When I did buy them I didn't know how long they had to ripen, so my first peeled fruit were often under-ripe and disappointing. Of my first bag of purchased lychees I probably enjoyed about two of them. It's also hard to get them at all, and so now I reserve my lychee tasting to lychee liqueur, juices, or specials at restaurants.

Until this recipe. I just had to, and it was worth it.

2 cans of lychees, drained and juice reserved
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste (or agave nectar - see Tip B)
1 cup plain yogurt (regular or soy)

1. Blend the lychees, sugar and yogurt in a blender or food processor and pour into ice cube trays or a resealable plastic freezer bag. Place the trays or the bag flat in the freezer. If you use a bag instead of ice cream trays remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing it, and flatten the bag to spread out the lychee mixture before laying it flat in the freezer.
2. Let the lychee mixture harden. This depends on your freezer, but usually takes at least 6 hours. Then break up the frozen pieces and pour them back into the blender or food processor. Process again until smooth (see Tip G) and then pour into your ice cream container of choice (plastic yogurt container or freezer-safe tupperware. No glass) to stick back into the freezer to refreeze.
3. Let the frozen yogurt harden for at least 2 more hours, and then scoop or scrape into a dish or a cone to serve.

Tips and Variations on a Theme
A. You can use any yogurt for this recipe, but depending on the brand it's probably better to use one that isn't fat-free. The higher fat versions will be creamier and naturally sweeter, so you won't need as much sugar.

B. You can replace the sugar with a mild honey or agave nectar. Or another sugar substitute like stevia, xylitol, or beet sugar.

Banana Sherbet

Banana Frozen Yogurt

C. You can use other kinds of pureed fruit, like raspberries or bananas (this one kind of ends up tasting like banana kids medicine. Some people love it) and adjust the sugar level to your tastes. If you don't want the skin of the substitute fruit to wreck the smooth texture of the frozen yogurt, put it through a sieve after pureeing, or peel the fruit before processing.

D. You can add cocoa powder and make this chocolatey...or vanilla extract to make a traditional vanilla frozen yogurt.

E. You can add rum or other liqueurs, just make sure the alcohol works with the fruit (rum and bananas or oranges, melon liqueur and honeydew melons, lychee liqueur for the lychees)

F. The frozen yogurt might be hard to scrape when it's fully frozen, so you can let it warm up a bit on the counter before scraping, like any grocery store ice cream.

G. You might need to scrape down the sides of your blender or food processor to get the mixture to process fully at first or break up and re-process in Step 2. To do this, make sure the food processor is OFF before sticking a utensil down into it. I've broken wooden spoons and torn rubber spatulae that way. Please, please, please don't try it with metal.

H. The sorbet is really good served with something crunchy, like a cookie or cookie bits or something chewy like a brownie, but you can also try a frozen grape. It'll be a lot chewier than a regular grape. Just remove a bunch of grapes from the stem and stick them in a covered container in the freezer overnight (or at least a few hours). The freezing concentrates the sugar in the fruit, kind of the same way ice wine is made from grapes left on the vine in the cold.

I. For the leftover lychee juice, you can drink it as is, or use some in a smoothie, a dessert sauce (it's amazing with butter or Soyfree Earth Balance or Becel vegan), or in a marinade for fish. I even get away with replacing mirin with it in Japanese recipes because it's so sweet. A final option is to make fruit juice jello.

This kind of turned into the ABC's of frozen yogurt...hopefully it's enough info to get you through the summer. If you've got questions or problems or have great frozen yogurt success, leave a comment below!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reflections on Synchronized Swimming: Not So Kid-Friendly Citrus Jelly

The only differences between the kid-friendly jelly I made and this not-so-kid-friendly jelly are you need a whole lot more patience for this one, and the recipe is unnecessarily complicated, but you get whole chunks of fruit that pop in your mouth, which is very cool...and un-grown-up-like. It also looks cooler. See how my choice of vocabulary reflects my preference for childish things in this instance.

Really, the length of time it takes to make this recipe is a draw-back, but the result is delicious and unique. Make sure you measure the fruit as you go or you may end up dissecting the right number of fruit but still end up with way too much of it, which may or may be a waste of your life. I think the funny part of this recipe is that it comes just BEFORE the kid-friendly jelly recipe in di Stasio's cookbook, as if once you've made this recipe you'll never want to do it again and the kid version will look mighty appealing when you turn the page. Like a brain massage after a math test.

7-8 regular sized navel or blood oranges, 4-5 massive ones
3-4 normal pink grapefruit, 2 meal-sized grapefruit (the ones that are bigger than a softball)
3 tbsp sugar, 4 if you use the huge fruit, 5 if they're not that sweet (or honey or agave)
2 tbsp gelatin (two packets)

So this looks easy. 4 ingredients! It's only easy if you're a good pith-remover. Not to be confused with being a good "pither"...lets keep this jelly as friendly as possible...Maybe you should use agar-agar instead of gelatin? Jelly is far from animal-friendly or vegan...

Cut the top and bottom off all the fruit, then remove as much of the skin and white membrane as possible, working your way from top to bottom all around each fruit. It's better to remove too much than too little. You'll save yourself a lot of time later when the rest of the membranes just fall off instead of sticking stubbornly to the fruit.

Then take a sharp knife and cut into the fruit on both sides of the white membrane that separates the fruit into segments. Cut very, very close to the membrane so you don't waste too much fruit. This whole process is very wasteful, and I generally eat the membrane as I go or once it's accumulated, since it's so sad to see all the delicious fruit go to waste for a silly presentation. But that's often how cooking goes, sadly. After you've cut in to the core all the way around the fruit segments should start falling out of their own accord. You can encourage this by gently opening the fruit and removing the segments with your hands. You will probably need to use your sharp knife to help it along, or scrape some of the little exploding capsules of juice that got left behind if your knife skills are, like mine, less than spectacular. 2 1/2 hours later I had successfully segmented 12 enormous pieces of fruit. Unfortunately, then I read the instruction that you only need 4 cups of the segments. I had 8. Double recipe time!

Anyway, do all this pith-removing over a sieve to catch the juices. I briefly considered taking some of my hard-won segments and puréeing them and then sieving them to turn them into juice, since you need 1 1/2 cups of the juice, but I couldn't do it. It would be such a waste of all my pith-removing. So I added some lychee juice to the cup of juices that had dripped through the sieve while I had worked, to give me the required cup and a half.

Then you dissolve the honey or sugar in this juice. Just stir it in. It doesn't really have to dissolve since hot liquid will be added shortly and do all your dissolving work for you.

Take a small saucepan and add 1/4 cup of the juice (1/2 cup for a double recipe, and a wider saucepan). Then sprinkle the gelatin over top. I messed this up. Stupid non-kid-friendly jelly...My saucepan wasn't very wide and the gelatin had to sit on top of itself instead of "blooming" properly on the juice. What the heck does that mean? It gelatinizes. There are no buds of flowers involved. No intoxicating smell of Spring. What a scam, I thought, as I stood in my chilly kitchen, dreaming of daffodils.

Five minutes into this supposed blooming process you turn the stove burner to low and let the gelatin melt. This took forever. The gelatin really didn't want to melt, so I turned the heat up a bit. It shouldn't have made a difference. I remember my synchronized swimming days when you take a kettle of boiling water and you dissolve knox gelatin in a small bowl. Then you take a paintbrush and paint your hair with it so it stays in place in a very tight bun. Just pray the person assisting you is good with a paintbrush, because dripping boiling gelatin is not a good thing to have land on your ears and shoulders.

So why can't you just bring the fruit juice here to a boil and then pour it over the gelatin? After the gelatin melts in the recipe you add the rest of the fruit juice, which cools down the liquid and makes your metaphorical "bun" of dessert into a gloopy, chunky, unappetizing thing. You've got to somehow then pour it over the fruit. Well, that wasn't going to work, so I had to reheat the gelatin. I don't exactly fully understand the properties of gelatin, but I figured it probably shouldn't be reheated. In swimming when the gelatin solidified before it could be painted onto your head you just added more boiling water and stirred. Problem solved. So I reheated the gelatin on the stove. Not the same as pouring more hot liquid over it (next time I would soften it over low heat like the recipe said but then I would boil the remaining juice so that when it got added to the gelatin it would dissolve it instead of solidifying it), but not horrible. The mixture got poured over the fruit and the two big bowls of dessert got stuck in the fridge to become jelly. Unfortunately, they started turning white around the edges of the fruit, the same way gelatin-painted hair got white and gross when it had been sitting at room temperature too long. No one cared, especially me, since it tasted great, but it certainly was not as pretty as the port glasses of jelly in the picture in the recipe book. Obviously, this recipe would have been very different if di Stasio had been a synchronized swimmer...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mango Jelly

When a kid comes to dinner I will go out of my way to not alienate them from the meal. I love serving wine, I love serving exotic fare, and I love a relaxed but grown-up atmosphere, so the trick is to combine that with foods the kid might eat. If they don't, oh well. I tried.

Dumplings might work. They're slippery and meaty and juicy and you get to dunk them in sweet sauces. They are for the adventurous North American with no-Asian heritage child, but who knows, it might work. Fish? Never. I didn't expect that one to fly. Even if it is sweet and doesn't taste like fish. Noodles. A fail-safe. All kids like noodles I'm pretty sure. Well, any kid in North America or Asian or Italy or anywhere that noodles are staples. Serve them without any fancy sauces, or accompanying sauces and you're golden.

But dessert. Now that's tricky. I wanted flambé or oranges with rum. Not so great for kids. Generally I keep flames away from children. Generally. Also, alcohol. That's where Josée di Stasio saved my dessert. As it was an Asian-Inspired dinner party I was thinking fruit for dessert, and di Stasio's book had a "kid-friendly jelly" that called for 2 ingredients plus a cookie cutter. The recipe itself was even hand-written by a 7 and a half year old. Some people think that kind of thing is cute.

So I bought some mango juice and found some gelatin in the cupboard...

4 packs of gelatin (there are usually 4 in a box of Knox, I believe. If it turns out that there are only 3 packets in the box, only use 3 cups of juice instead of 4)
4 cups of juice (mango, lychee, orange or grape. Or generic fruit punch. Not concentrate)

In a bowl (preferably a wide, shallow bowl, not a cup) pour 1 cup of the juice and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Don't stir. Just let it sit at room temperature and "bloom" for 5 minutes.

In a saucepan heat the 3 remaining cups of juice until the liquid is just about to boil, then add the "bloomed" gelatin and stir to dissolve.

Pour the mixture into a 9" pan. I used an 8" square pan. It really doesn't matter. Your gelatin will just be thicker or thinner depending on what kind of pan you use.

Set it in the fridge for at least 3 hours (overnight works well) until it's set. It shouldn't be liquidy.
To get the jelly out of the pan you're supposed to set it in hot water for a few seconds and then flip it onto a plate. From there you can cut jelly shapes out of it using your cookie cutter(s) of choice. I just got the very, very short dinner guest to use the cookie cutters directly in the pan. It was so FUN! You can see how many jelly "cookies" you can make and then try to lift them out of the mold using a plastic lifter. The jelly kind of folds to your touch and actually comes out cleanly, nothing like a piece of cake that crumbles when you cut a slice. You end up with a pan/art of cut-outs. The kid will probably be very entertained, and get to eat their work. Depending on what kind of juice you bought, it'll either be very sugary, or very not sweet, so you can adapt the recipe to your preferences for the child, or the child's preferences. I do not have one of those, so I just followed the recipe and non-chalantly prayed for the best. Sometimes, life just works out.

Oh, this is exactly the same result that you would get from Jell-O, the little boxes of flavoured jelly at the grocery store, except you skip all the preservatives in the boxed stuff, and get to add your own sugar, or not, through your choice of juice, You can even use REAL fruit juice. How gourmet.

Thanks, Justin Tousignant, age 7 and a half, for such a great recipe. You have the makings of a fine chef.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Soba Noodles in Turkey, Shiitake, Soy and Miso Cod Broth

This is the best and most delicious food ever. It is pure comfort. All the accumulated juices from the dashi or seafood stock, plus the dumplings and the cod will have dripped into the steamer pot, making it the perfect broth for noodles. Now all you do is add soba noodles (I used spelt soba, which is really not soba, since soba means buckwheat) to the broth, bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the noodles are al dente, about 7 minutes. DO NOT DRAIN the broth. That is sacrilege.

Traditionally the large pot would be in the middle of the kitchen table, so family could all participate in the cooking and take their own servings straight out of the pot. pot. The broth will be rich and often meaty, and the mix of flavours is completely unique each time.

To serve the noodles, place a bit in individual bowls, or let diners take their own and then ladle the broth over the noodles. I ended up with not quite enough broth, which was sad, and I had to dilute with some leftover vegetable broth. If you boil your dumplings instead of steaming them, you'll also get a much more intense flavour from the meat and the soy sauce in the fillings that leaches out into the boiling liquid. The noodles should be slurped up with the broth. The hit of liquid kind of tunes your stomach into the fact that you're full (or tricks you into thinking you're full if the meal has been small, a useful trick when a family can't afford a lot of meat and vegetables) and you'll end the meal feeling warm and satisfied. Don't worry about thinking it's weird to end a meal with pasta. It's perfectly traditional. If you want more flavour you can drag the noodles through the sauce you mixed on your plate for the dumplings, like chile paste, hoisin or soy. Enjoy.

Brilliant, brilliant Asian cuisine...

Miso-Marinated Cod with Sake and Lychees

I looked for black cod, but it wasn't available in Newfoundland. Atlantic cod, however, was a different story. I could get about 2lbs of it for $ is that reasonable? I mean, it's way too reasonable. It can't possibly be sustainable.

For this dish you need to make a marinade and then a sauce for the cooked fish. Make the marinade first because you'll need 3 tbsp of it for the sauce. The lychee juice was leftover from making the lychee frozen yogurt and since it's hard to find mirin in Newfoundland I thought it would be a good substitute. It sounds very exotic and it was a very delicious substitution.

Miso Marinade
1/4 cup sake (don't buy anything fancy or special. A cooking sake or the standard big bottle of Hakutsuru is fine)
1/3 cup lychee juice or mirin
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup miso (preferably "shiro" miso - white miso)

Whisk together the miso and sugar in the top of a double boiler (I used a stainless steel mixing bowl placed on top of a medium saucepan. Fill the sauce pan with a little water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to keep the water at a simmer). Add the sake and lychee juice, and whisk to combine.

Cook and whisk over simmering water, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves and the colour begins to darken (about 30 to 45 minutes). That's what the recipe says, but mine didn't darken so much. I used a different kind of miso and it was already fairly dark. So I just let it cook for 45 minutes and I was fine. You can't do this directly in the saucepan because miso shouldn't be boiled. It kills the good things in it, or so I thought. The double boiler is annoying, but worth it. After 45 minutes, remove the bowl from the saucepan and the saucepan from the heat and let it cool. Reserve 4 tbsp for the sauce below (the recipe only calls for 3 tbsp but keep 1 tbsp extra aside in case you need to make the sauce sweeter by adding more) and pour the rest of the cooled marinade over the cod in a large sealed container or covered casserole dish. Make sure all the cod is covered in the marinade, and if it isn't completely covered, try to remember to turn it at least once during its marinating period to make sure every part of the fish gets to luxuriate in miso. Place the fish in the fridge overnight or for at least 30 minutes.

Lychee Sauce:
1 cup dashi or fish stock
1/2 cup mirin or lychee juice
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
3 tbsp Saiko Miso (above)
1 tsp yuzu juice (or lemon, or lemon mixed with grapefruit and orange, but it's only a teaspoon so don't worry about it)

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat (here I don't understand why you can suddenly boil the miso. Sure, it's only supposed to be a simmer, but I don't quite get it. Perhaps the double boiler above is just so the sauce doesn't burn from direct heat over the long cooking time?). Let simmer gently for about ten minutes and taste. You want a good balance of salty, sweet and tangy. To make it sweeter add more Saikyo Miso (make sure you've reserved an extra tablespoon before pouring it over the fish. You can't use it once its touched the fish, since the bacteria won't be killed from any more cooking), or a bit of sugar (if you didn't reserve enough miso. I forgot to reserve extra and got stuck with less flavourful sugar). Be careful adding extra yuzu for more tang. It can be very pungent, so a little goes a long way.

Cooking the fish:
After making the dumplings you'll have a pot or two of boiling water. Remove the cod fillets from their dish in the fridge when you start cooking the dumplings. This will bring the fish to room temperature but won't let it sit at room temperature long enough for any bacteria to take over. When you're done with the dumplings, add the fish to the steamer apparatus, cover the pot(s), and let the fish steam about 5 minutes over simmering water (medium or medium-low heat). The fish is done when the flesh flakes easily with a fork and is no longer translucent. It shouldn't be tough or dry either. If the fish isn't done, just let it steam for a minute or so longer.

To serve the fish, remove it from the steamer to a serving platter and pour some or all of the Lychee Sauce on top.