Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MOVED! Check out

My blog has now moved to: so if you're looking for new recipes or what I've been cooking and writing about lately, you're going to have to mosy on over there. No more ridiculous grilled shrimp pictures on the front page, thank goodness!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Melomakorona: Greek Honey-Soaked Cookies

I thought these were going to be easy...

...and it's not that Melomakarona are 'hard' to make, so much as they're time-consuming. You need to shape each one by hand and then place them in batches in hot honey syrup. I figured they'd be like baklava where you pour the syrup over after they're baked, but no, this one involved carefully picking them up one by one and essentially reverse deep-frying (instead of deep-frying in oil, the olive oil cookies are deep-fried in honey syrup...), then removing them with a slotted spoon and sprinkling with walnuts. They are heavenly, but anything with this much oil that falls apart so easily in your honey-drenched mouth (I initially mistyped "honey-frenched" and I think it may also be appropriate) should be epiphanal.

A Greek friend of mine asked his mom to make me a bunch of these as a Christmas present. Best. Present. Ever. Except I'm one person and there was a big Christmas-y container of them that weighed about 10 pounds.

 "They last a few weeks", says my friend, but mine sure didn't. Dinner of melamakorona? I'm not going to say I didn't...I may have rounded it out with a salad or something.

So I had to make them for myself and I had to make a few different kinds as all the refined sugar and regular flour in this recipe would make them off-limits for my mom. So I did a gluten-free, sugar-free version that ended up a little more crumbly (which was fine since they didn't have to be moved once I put them in a container post honey-soak) and one regular batch. The cookies are naturally crumbly and a little gritty from the semolina called for in most recipes, so I figured it would work perfectly with a mix of rice flours, starches, and sorghum flour.

3/4 cup of fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil. All olive oil makes the cookies bitter apparently)
1/4 cup of brandy (I think I used whiskey and it worked fine)

1 cup of sugar
3 cups of all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend)
1 cup of fine-ground semolina (or medium-ground, but not corn flour)
grated peel of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of grated cloves (or ground cloves)

For the Syrup and Topping:
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar (or sugar substitute)
2 cups of honey (or agave, but use only about 1 - 1 1/2 cups since agave is much sweeter)
1 stick of cinnamon (two doesn't hurt...)
3-4 whole cloves
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180C.

Stir the baking soda into the orange juice.

Put all the dry ingredients (flour, semolina, sugar, spices, orange peel) in a bowl and mix until blended with a whisk. In the middle, create a well and add the liquid ingredients (oil, brandy, and orange juice).

Knead the dough until it sticks to your hands. It should be wonderfully gooey.

To shape the cookies take a fistful of dough and make it into a log. Press the dough gently with your fingers on one side to flatten slightly. The shape of the cookies can be rounded, oval, or a small log shape. The ones my friend had given me that his Greek mother had made were rounded, so I aimed for that.

Photos from Melomakarona Greek Honey Cookies

Place the cookies well spaced in a cookie sheet (no need to grease the sheet since the cookies have so much oil in them that leeches out anyway), place on the middle rack in the oven and bake until browned (about 15-20 minutes}. A little extra is not the end of the world since they get soaked in syrup and there's no way they'll be tough, but you'll taste a slightly over-cooked flavour. If they're undercooked they may be too crumbly to soak properly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking racks (or plates. Who has a ton of baking racks?).

The cookies need to cool completely before being dipped in the syrup or they'll fall apart, so don't start the syrup until the cookies have cooled.

Put the water, honey, sugar, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a wide pot (like a deep frying pan. The wider it is the fewer batches you'll need to do. It can save a lot of time) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low. As soon as it starts to boil, a foam rises to the top. Scoop this off and throw it out. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves, or save them to add to the cookie tin after as garnish. Don't eat them.

Put the cookies (as many as will fit on the bottom at a time) into the hot syrup and use a spatula to hold them down completely immersed in the syrup for about a minute, depending on how syrupy you want them to be. Then remove them with a slotted spoon, letting some of the syrup drip, place on a large serving plate in layers (or immediately into a container with a top so you don't have to move them again), sprinkling each layer liberally with the finely chopped walnuts before adding another layer on top.

Melomakarona are not refrigerated. Cover them well with plastic wrap or in tins so they don't dry out, and they'll last for at least a week. The brilliance of not using oil or eggs! You also end up with a ton of leftover soaking syrup...this is the best part. Pour it (only a little at a time) on ice cream or yogurt, or frozen yogurt, or use it in smoothies as a sweetener, or even dip fruit or toast into it. Mmm...cinnamon-infused honey could also just make some baklava and use it all up in one go.

So was I meant to be Greek? Well some Greek friends (and friends of friends) came to the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza and actually said, "They're better than my mother's," and I nearly died. His mother would cry if he told her that. I know what that means in a Greek family. High praise indeed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Zabaione? Zabaglione? Either Way, Prosecco, Sugar, Egg Yolks, and Learning Italian

Though this is more commonly made with Marsala wine, and may actually have originally been made with beer, the light, bubbly sweetness of prosecco is absolutely perfect with the sweet egg yolk, frothed dessert. It's the cousin of the French sabayon a sweet or savoury sauce, but in this case, the Italians did it first and better. I also chose the prosecco because the first time I had this dish it was with champagne and the Chef who served it to me and my mother (two lactose-intolerant women overjoyed to be eating dessert at a gorgeous restaurant) told me he had learned it without a recipe from a Chef who said, "You do this, you add this now, then you do this..." etc. and that seemed like such a natural way to cook that I was inspired to recreate the dessert.

The recipe is actually very adaptable; sugar content can vary, alcohol can vary, and cooking time is really just as long as it needs. There are people who hate recipes like that, but there's something very endearing and very Italian about them.

Speaking of Italian, the one thing that stumped me was why when I look up Italian recipes for the dessert the name is "zabaione" and when I look up English recipes it's "zabaglione"? If anyone can let me know, I'd appreciate it. The recipe I used said it could have come from one of several military generals of royalty with names that all sort of sound like "ee'-oh'-neh'" but then it admits that the recipe is probably a lot older than any of those war stories. The Italians were probably eating sweetened, alcoholic egg yolks long before Captain Baglioni or Giovanni de Baylon had anything to do with it. What did men know about Italian desserts in the 16th Century anyway?

I had 12 egg yolks leftover from the angel food cake, but you can do a smaller version of this recipe if you wish by just dividing all the ingredients appropriately. The long mixing is boring, but I had a willing friend who took the whisking reigns. It was a bonus that we could speak Italian together while he waited patiently for the custard to thicken. His Italian is much better than mine, and having just returned from Rome, the whole process was quaintly beautiful.

Zabaione al Prosecco
12 egg yolks
1/2 cup Prosecco (it doesn't have to be a great Prosecco. Anything will do. Any other sparkling wine will also do. If it's very sweet, just add less sugar below)
1 cup sugar

Seriously, three ingredients. You can do this.

1. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks and reserve the whites for another purpose*
2. Bring a pot of water to almost a simmer. It should never actually boil, but always be in the verge. Use a pot that a heatproof bowl can sit on top of safely (you're making a double-boiler).
3. Put the yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl and beat it with an electric whisk or beater until the eggs are thick, creamy, and almost white.
4. Add the Prosecco a teaspoon at a time, beating constantly and once all the Prosecco is added, put the bowl on top of the pot and whisk or blend for 15-20 minutes, until the cream is expanded, luscious and thick.
5. Serve immediately, or remove the bowl from the heat and keep beating until the custard cools completely. If you stop beating too early, the alcohol will separate. With the Prosecco in it it's better to eat it right away and make the most of the bubbles!

*Ideally you use them first if you need to whip them, as they're not going to get any fluffier by leaving them in your fridge. You can leave for up to two days in there if you, say, want to make an egg-white omelet with them. you can also freeze them, and the same goes for leftover egg yolks in other recipes. Once you try this recipe, though, you won't have any trouble using up leftover yolks. Take that, mayonnaise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finally! Angel Food Cake with Maple-Honey Dessert Wine Apricots and Honey Ice Wine Figs

Basically the whole concept of the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza started because I wanted to make Angel's Food Cake. To me, that's more than reason enough to have a party. The fact that it was Christmas came second.

I've made this recipe before, and it's stunning. This time the cake didn't rise as much, but only I had had the original, and knew what it could have been like. I also did a few variations, decorated the top with a mixture of apricots and figs in the various dessert wines, and garnished with my home-made ginger confit.

As long as you bring the egg whites to room temperature before you beat them and make sure you don't get a speck of egg yolk in the whites, you're golden. There's no butter, which usually means there will be no flavour, but the toasted almonds give a warmth to the cake, and somehow the texture is dense enough to not feel like you're eating air. The real miracle (pardon the pun) takes place when you add the incredibly sweetened fruit sauces that turn the cake itself from soft and a little chewy to almond the intense texture of a pound cake. Who needs Hell when you have Heaven?

Follow the recipe I already posted but use your dessert wine of choice. I did two sauce options: one with a maple honey dessert wine that tastes like you're drinking alcohol-laden maple syrup (aka heaven - this also tied into the theme) combined with dried apricots, and one relatively lighter version with a simple honey ice wine and three kinds of dried figs. Yes there are three kinds of dried figs.

Notes on the dried fruit:
1. You can find unsulphured apricots and regular apricots (sulphured). The unsulphured kind are darker and generally moister and more flavourful. They're also a touch more expensive but well worth it.
2. For the figs I used a mix of Turkish, Black Mission, and Calimyrna (so called because they come from "Cali'fornia). They were also my favourite fresh fig of the season, having tried these light green ones, the dark California mission figs, and the Turkish). The figs are probably sulphured, however...If you can find organic ones, by all means buy them, but they will not be cheap.

I skipped the amaretto drizzle on the cake since I actually think it takes away from the aesthetics on the cake (you can compare above). I also wanted to keep dairy out of the party as much as possible (even though the yogurt probably wouldn't have bothered anyone) and I wanted to make the dish as kid-friendly as possible by reducing the amount of uncooked booze...I, of course, served extra of the dried fruit liquor sauces on the side, and those who were not put off by what looked like slime-y goop could take heaps and heaps of intensely sugar-y nectar...

If you do make the drizzle, just use whichever liquor (amaretto, dessert wine, etc.) that you used in the dried fruit sauce. Die of happiness...and go to heaven, of course, where you'll be given more of this angelic dessert.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Buying Natural Wines and Champagnes in Newfoundland

It IS possible to find a decent selection of natural wines in Newfoundland!

The second time I went to the liquor store (time # 2 of 2) this Christmas, it was to buy the wine for the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza. It was so much fun! I wasn't sure if I was going to buy a few of the same wines or buy a bunch of different ones, but I wanted them to all be natural (organic and then some, to put it simply, but listen to this to find out more). I knew no one at the liquor store was going to know what a natural wine was, and the best-case scenario would be that I'd just be pointed to the organic ones (that often aren't natural, and the natural ones are often not labeled organic, which they also are. Complicated, I know). So I looked at every wine-making region and read the back of bottles, and recognized some names. Here's what I came up with:

Joseph Drouhin's Morgon, Pinot Noir, and Saint-Véran, and a Bouchard Père et Fils' Pinot Noir.
I had also planned to serve two Quebec white table wines since they're supposed to be used for musical parties ("La Musicale" from Quebec honey farm and honeywine-makers Les Trois Acres) but they were left in the fridge by accident and are awaiting a new musical party at which to be opened.

On a piece of cardboard next to the bar at the party, I wrote:

          About the wines:
The whites and reds are natural wines; they are produced organically, hand-harvested, and have no extra yeasts, enzymes, sulfites or other chemicals added. Many come from the same producer but are made with different varieties of grapes. By not adding any of these extras ingredients, natural wines are supposed to allow you to taste the "terroir" - the land and true flavour of the wine - since nothing is chemically-masking it.

The Honey Maple Dessert Wine and the Honey Ice Wine from Miel Nature are examples of what Quebec does best. They're a little sip of heaven. I also used them in the cinnamon apricots and figs for the angel food cake, so the cake and wine should go well together.
I couldn't tell anything about the champagnes at the liquor store, so I just bought an affordable prosecco for the zabaione and stuck with wines I trusted for the party. The prosecco was perfect for the Italian custard-like dessert.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Buying Rum in Newfoundland

I got carded buying rum for fruitcake...

For the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza I got really excited about going to the liquor store. I get excited about going to the liquor store anyway, since I'm more of an occasional drinker who splurges a little on nicer things than a regular "pick up a bottle of plonker"-er, so a liquor store trip is a special occasion and generally leads to something delicious. Kind of like how some women feel about shoe shopping...

Anyway, I've only bought alcohol twice over the course of my entire time back on the rock, and both times were pretty unforgettable. The first time I was sent by my mother to buy rum for my dad for his Christmas pudding. Newfoundland has a lot of rum! All that rum-running from the Caribbean really came in handy for making rum popular here, and it stuck post-prohibition. There were all the standards including Bacardi and Appleton's but apparently the most popular rum in Newfoundland is Lamb's despite the fact that it's from Ontario (though the Black Sheep Spiced Rum comes from Quebec for some reason) and there are a lot of local options. Or at least more traditional ones from the Caribbean. Probably Lamb's white is specifically the most poopular, but I needed dark rum for the pudding, so I had a hard decision to make.

So while my mom was buying groceries I wandered into the rum section of the attached liquor store to check out the offerings from home and abroad:

Central America:
Mount Gay (Barbados)
El Dorado (Guyana)
Havana Club (Cuba),
English Harbour (Antigua)
Goslings Black Seal (Bermuda)
Sangster's (Jamaica)
Ray and Nephew (Jamaica),
Ron Zacapa 23 (Guatemala)

Mac Na Mara (Scotland - blended scotch)

Cruzan (US)
Ron Matusalem (US)
Sailor Jerry (US)


Governor General Light (Quebec)
Ron Carioca (Quebec)
Captain Morgon (Moslty Quebec, some US)

Malibu (Ontario)

Smuggler's Cove (Newfoundland)
Cabot Tower (NL)
Lemon Hart (NL)
Iceberg (NL)
Newfoundlander's White (NL)
Old Sam (NL)
Ragged Rock (NL), and of course,
Screech rum (Newfoundland)

That makes for a lot of options for fruit cake...I didn't want something particularly good since it wasn't going to be drank anyway, but I didn't want junk, and I didn't want anything from the rest of Canada or the US, since if I was going to buy North American it was going to be from Newfoundland. In the end I chose a bottle of Cabot Tower (mostly because it was local and you could get the smaller bottles) and took it to the cash.

I haven't been ID-ed in a good while. In Quebec if you're taller than the counter in a bar you're legal. Even in a liquor store you rarely get carded once you hit my age. I didn't even have my ID on me. I'd even said to my mom when she sent me off in search of rum (like a good little Newfoundland girl) that I might get carded, but her look of "Yeah, right..."-skepticism kind of embarrassed me into trying anyway.

The woman at the cash gave me one look and asked for ID. I sighed. It was pretty embarrassing to have to say that my mother would be right there to buy it in a minute. You're not allowed to buy alcohol for minors either, but clearly this was fine with the woman who was having a bit of an internal laugh. You could kind of see it on the sides of her mouth. Ah, positions of power. They're supposed to card if you look under 25. My mom just laughed at me when I told her. So I spent 20 minutes choosing the right rum not to drink and I still get carded the one time I don't have my ID. It figured. Murphy's law. There are an awful lot of Murphys in Newfoundland, it's true.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Real" Sundried Tomato and Artichoke Dip (aka "St. John's Ran Out of Canned Artichokes and Philadelphia Cream Cheese")

This was the non-vegan, non-"raw" version of my preferred sundried tomato spread. It has lots of cream cheese, and is actually slow-cooked to a slightly molten state, unifying the flavours better than a stove or simple arm strength, I think. Maybe just my arm strength, though.

I tricked everyone. Normally I'm tricking people with making dishes "raw" that seem creamy and dairy-filled, but this case was a little different. It's not actually an artichoke dip...St. John's ran out of canned artichokes. Absolutely ridiculous, I know, but there you have it. I went to possibly the biggest grocery store in the city and there were none. So I bought bamboo shoots instead. They're bland, they're not too salty, and I figured the texture would work fine. Besides, I don't know a single Newfoundlander who would be able to call me on it being a bamboo shoot. The best they could do is call it "not an artichoke". So when people said "great artichoke dip!" to my dip labeled "sundried tomato cream cheese spread" I just said "thanks". Not that Newfoundlanders can't tell the difference, just that most wouldn't know what bamboo shoots are or taste like. So I got away with it.

I made a double recipe. It makes a ton. It's also a very labour-intensive slow-cooker recipe because you actually need to stir it. Thanks, ma.

2 cans bamboo shoots, chopped
2 packages cream cheese (the whole point of the dish was to use cream cheese because of the Philadelphia cream cheese commercials that have that angel woman eating the stuff (because the party was called "Heavenly Hosts" it had to be Phili). Except St. John's ran out of Phili too. So I used no name brand...again, no one called me on it)
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayo (I had the best intentions to use a home-made mayo but I hadn't made the angel food cake yet so I didn't have any yolks sitting around and I was not about to leave any whites sitting around getting potentially less able to expand, thus causing a sunken cake. So I used bottled. Again, no one complained)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (didn't use the real stuff here either. I'm a horrible cook. You should use the real stuff. Anyone could make this dip better than I did)
1/2 cup chopped, drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes. Finally! Something I did right!
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions (for garnish)

All you do is add everything except the green onions to the slow-cooker and stir.
Turn the slow-cooker to low and cook for just 2 hours. Stir twice during the cooking time and when it's done sprinkle with the green onions. It's kind of cool to serve this out of the slow-cooker, but it's also kind of cool to turn it into a snake. It's supposed to be served warm, kind of like a cream cheese fondue, but come on! A snake! How cool is that?

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Raw" Sundried Tomato Spread

I've kind of made this sundried tomato spread recipe before, but it's so simple that it easily got changed around a little for the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza (in the photo, it's the dip on the right):

1 cup macadamia nuts (soaked for 30 minutes to 1 hour and drained - not just because of "raw" food dogma - mostly because you need them to soften up and be creamy)
Juice of half a lemon (or to taste. I like it kind of sharp)
2 tbsp raspberry vinegar (it was unpasteurized, so I'm not sure if it was raw, but you could just use twice as much lemon juice if you want and be a little sadder)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup "raw" sundried tomatoes (So this is a bit fishy, I know. Sundried tomatoes are often a chemical process involving sulfites for preservation and things that aren't the sun for drying, but you could just dehydrate your own tomatoes in an oven on the lowest possible temperature with the door slightly ajar. This is probably not what happened to the tomatoes I had stored in this particular version of the recipe wasn't exactly raw)

I love raw food recipes for this reason:
Directions: Blend.

That's all. You only need to roughly chop ingredients, if at all, and then all you do is stick them in a good blender or food processor. Add a little of the sundried tomato oil or olive oil or water if it's too thick. You can optionally add a pinch of garlic powder or an entire raw clove for immune benefits (and taste, though bad breath comes along with it), or half a shallot (again, breath). You can also use cashews instead of expensive macadamia nuts if your mother is not currently in a digestive fight with them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Raw" Basil Walnut Spread

The recipe for this basil-walnut spread (pictured in the middle of the three dips above) kind of came from here, but mostly it came from the inspiration of my mother's kitchen, which is happily filled with special vinegars from the "O" Farm, the organic farm in Newfoundland where she gets her summer vegetable and herb baskets. There was conveniently a basil garlic vinegar in the cupboard, so I'm not sure if it is actually raw (though it may be because it's unpasteurized) but I figured no one would mind. I won't be bringing it to a raw food potluck in Montreal on Saturday just in case. Well, that and other transportation reasons that include the handle of my suitcase breaking in the middle of the one intersection that separates my Montreal apartment from the bus stop that takes me directly to the airport. One intersection! And of course that's where my suitcase decides to curl up and die. Needless to say I hauled it up on top of my other one whose handle was a brute and kept walking...

Anyway, what I actually ended up doing (though you could use this recipe of the other, or something in between...or something completely different and it would still be good) was:

2 cups walnuts (soaked for 4 hours and drained. The original recipe calls for cashews but my mom doesn't do cashews. If you do, however, use cashews you'll end up with a much creamier texture, but lose a lot of the bitter, endearing flavour of the walnuts)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (soaked for 3 hours, drained)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbsp basil-garlic vinegar (the website above has a way of making basil oil that works just fine. The dip will be more lemon-y this way and less complex than with vinegar, but still good. You can add a clove of garlic to the blender if your oil or vinegar isn't flavoured with it already. Be caaaareful with fresh garlic, though. It's strong. Same for if you decided to, say, add half a shallot on a whim)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (only if you didn't use vinegar)
pinch salt
pinch ground pepper

Blend in a workhorse of a blender or food processor. The water should be enough to help it along but you may need to scrape down the sides. I haven't lost a spatula to a blender in awhile. I figure my technique is better. ALWAYS turn off the blender before scraping down the sides. Don't do like I do. I won't have any spoons much longer if I'm not careful...or eyes when spoon shards escape the blender).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Raw Macadamia Nut Ricotta

You take some macadamia nuts, and you take some lemon juice...

The macadamia nut dip is the one on the left. I garnished them all with green onions and did a little design with a spoon to make it look a bit fancy, but the recipe -- very, very simple.

Lemon and macadamia nuts are a really nice combo, and whether you follow the "raw" food doctrine of soaking your nuts to reduce the or not, a good 30 minute minimum soak for these nuts before blending them up with some freshly squeezed lemon juice will give you a creamier texture. Salt is kind of important, and the lemon zest helps too, but the oil is really only there to make this creamy. The pepper is very much optional

The downside of this recipe is that the ricotta (albeit the least smooth ricotta you'll probably ever have) doesn't last more than a few days, so don't blend up more than you can chew, so to speak. A half cup of nut ricotta is a fair bit, so starting with more than a cup of nuts might be a bad idea.

With that in mind:

1 cup macadamia nuts
4-7 tbsp fresh lemon juice
sprinkle of salt (up to 3/4 tsp)
zest of one lemon
freshly ground pepper (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil (optional) or 2 tbsp water (or more to make it blend)

Soak the nuts in cold water for a minimum of 30 minutes, max an hour. These are not long-soaking nuts to remove enzyme-inhibitors, apparently. Drain the nuts and stick them in a strong blender or food processor along with the lemon juice, zest and some salt. Purée to creamy goodness, cursing if your blender dies, complaining if you have to add some water to get the darn thing to blend, and imagining how to apologize to your mother for breaking her blender (it later came back to life, miraculously. The wonders of "raw" food?).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Else Do You Put On Dosa?

Better question: What DON'T you put on dosa?

Well, if you followed last year's Christmas party, you know I enjoy layers. So in a twisted kind of canapé style I'm a big fan of dosa + gloopy thing + cheese-like thing + meat-like thing + sauce-like thing. That doesn't sounds delicious at all, does it? I'll try to be more explicit with my descriptions:

1. Dosa + caramelized onion + Quebec Oka Cheese + smoked herring + fig jam (encircling the caramelized onions above, inside the circle of smoked herring)


2. Dosa + saag  + "raw" (vegan) macademia nut ricotta + crab meat (NOT imitation pollock...) + raspberry/blueberry compote

You could also do these combinations on other carb-y things such as baguette or even the dry gluten-free bread I put out for my mother's sake (though I will admit the tapioca bread is growing on me, but only when warm).
 So lets start with caramelized onions:

Tons of onions (4 is what the original recipe calls for, but I feel like I was chopping onions forever since I did a triple recipe. The other measurements below are for 4 onions)
a little balsamic vinegar (about a tbsp, but I like 2 since the balsamic I used was pretty subdued)
the same amount of sugar (again, a tbsp, but I like 2)
oil to slow-cook the onions (about 2 tsp. Extra is fine but unnecessary)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
a little salt
a little fresh parley or basil, finely chopped (optional)

What you do:
Slice the onions into very thin strips then add them to a pan of heated olive oil (medium-high heat). Reduce the heat immediately to medium and let them cook, unstirred, for about 4 minutes, or until they brown a little on the bottom. Now you're allowed to stir and keep cooking for another 5 minutes, spreading the light caramel colour throughout the onions and letting them wilt.

Now sprinkle the onions with the balsamic and the sugar and stir and cook for 10 more minutes. They should be very brown and very tender. You don't want to crunch caramelized onions, so test them now. If they're soft enough, sweet enough, and acidic enough, add a little sprinkle of salt and stir in the parsley. Test again. With so few ingredients you can't hide in this recipe and if it needs more salt, it needs more salt. If it's undercooked, cook it longer.

That's all. 

For the herring, I didn't trust how salty they were so I soaked them a little, basically depriving the already bland fish of any taste whatsoever. I should have gone with the pickled stuff, or pickled some herring myself, but, well, this way was easier and nobody was going to care. I cared. The soaked and dried stuff was junk, and the texture was nothing. In the future I will accept the salt or make fresh herring instead of wimping out.

Next post: Macadamia Nut Ricotta

Monday, January 3, 2011

3rd Annual Christmas Extravaganza: South Indian Dosa to Scoop Up Your Pork Vindaloo or Saag

Dosa is the easiest wrap to make ever. I don't know why more people don't eat it. It's a little coarse from the ground lentils, a little tangy, and deliciously sponge-like. Lots of people buy tortillas at the grocery store that come with so many preservatives and things you wouldn't really want to put in yourself if you looked at the ingredients list. Then other people buy things like tortilla presses, or even crepe pans and combine either hard to find ingredients or just lots of ingredients. Most people with wheat sensitivities just stick to sad, sad rice cakes.Traditionally dosa are eaten in Southern India with breakfast and lunch, but I keep having it for dinner. Kind of like having cereal for dinner, but less refined sugar and a lot more protein. It's just lentils and rice after all.

Dosa has 3 essential ingredients. Sure, it won't be as sweet as a crepe (though you could add sugar, I suppose), but it's about the most natural gluten-free wrap you'll ever make. Now "raw" food dehydrating, no kneading, no pressing, and it's as easy and fun as making pancakes. You can make the big elaborate cone-shapes one like you get in restaurants but actually making them pancake-sized helps them cooperate and be less brittle and fussy.
3 cups basmati rice
1 cup urad dal ("black gram", but the black skin is removed, leaving you with something that looks like a very small split pea. It's easily confused with other kinds of dal such as moong dal, so make sure you ask)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fenugreek (optional)

Soak the rice and dal in separate bowls for at least 6 hours on the counter. Add 1/2 tsp fenugreek (optional) to each bowl. The rice and dal should be covered by at least 1 inch of water.

Drain the water, rinse the rice and dal thoroughly, and place them in a blender or food processor along with 1/2 cup water. Add more water if you need to so you end up with a thin batter somewhere around a thin pancake batter or thick crepe better. I think too thick is worse than too thin, but there'll be lots of opportunity to add more water later, so for now err on the side of too thick. If the batter won't blend because it's too thick, don't be scared to add more water.

Pour the batter into a bowl and add the tsp of salt. Now cover the batter and leave it to ferment at room temperature for 12 hours. After that you can put it in the fridge if you don't use it right away. I haven't noticed any problem with keeping it a few extra days in the fridge. It doesn't go bad that quickly. I also figure that in India it would go bad more quickly, but this seems like the kind of batter you just leave lying around fermenting and it's okay for a good while.

Heat a skillet or electric frying pan like you would for pancakes and add a tiny bit of oil to the pan. In my last dosa recipe I used a much more complicated system of wiping down the pan with water and all but I don't think it's necessary. Instead, just pour out the batter a tablespoon at a time and then use the back of a spoon or ladle to swirl the batter outward in a circular motion rom the middle of the circle of batter to the edges. If holes appear that's fine. You can try to fill them in with drops of batter but the fine, embroidered look of the hole-y crepes is beautiful.

Cook for about 5 minutes or until you can get a spatula under the dosa to flip it. The edges should be slightly browned. The bottom should be a light brown. Cook a few more minutes. Done. You can do a few dosa at a time if you make them small enough and your frying pan is big enough. Normally you'd do big dosas for each person but the small one is more like giving soft-shelled tacos to your diners instead of a big burrito shell. that way you can also put different fillings in each one. Especially for the Christmas Extravaganza, it made sense to do smaller ones, so no one took a whole meal's worth of pork vindaloo or saag. I think I probably took a meal's worth of saag...but it is my heaven, after all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Saag Again

I make a lot of saag, and so it's not really necessary for me to re-post the recipe I don't think. I'll just explain that this time I quadrupled the recipe, added some grated asoefetida for digestion, mustard seeds to make it more South Indian than North, (and also digestion), skipped the green chili, and this is a photo (above) of how much spinach was involved.

Normally I use frozen spinach because you don't need to slice it up and wash it well (the annoying parts of spinach prep), but Newfoundland ran out of frozen spinach in the lead-up to Christmas. I doubt it was because Newfoundlanders went out and bought it up. Somehow I think that it's just not that popular a frozen food. I mean, you don't boil it up with Jiggs Dinner of peas pudding, so what are you supposed to do with it?

This. This is what you're supposed to do with it. Mustard seedy, asafoetida-laced gloop. I love it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Slow-Cooked Pork Vindaloo: More Than My Dad's Heaven

Of course pork vindaloo was going to be a popular dish at the 3rd Annual Christmas Extravaganza. You take a bunch of pork and slow-cook it until it basically turns into the Indian version of pulled pork. Anything "pork" and "slow-cooked" will be amazing. You don't even need to put a sauce on it and it will be amazing. You can also do this recipe all on the stove by letting it cook in the pot instead of transferring it to a slow-cooker, but your chances of over-cooking the pork are increased. Any idiot can slow-cook. In my mother's encouraging words: "Stupider people than you have done it". She didn't say that directly to me.

This recipe will leave your house smelling amazing for days. So make sure there are leftovers so that on day two you don't feel depressed because you can smell the vindaloo but you can't eat it.

I made this with turkey about a week ago. Nobody said it wasn't good, but this time I had the proper vinegar and the fenugreek the recipe calls for and I'm told it was much better. I should know that when you actually follow Madhur Jaffrey's instructions, all will be well. I did not, however "serve with fluffy rice on the side". I instead served it with South Indian crepe-like dosa. Again, no one complained. It's a ton of ingredients, but it's also mostly spices. Really it's just pork and onions, so get all your spices measured and ready to go, and your vegetables and meat chopped, and the rest takes care of itself.

I made this for 18 people, but here's the recipe for 12. It will give you LOTS of leftovers, and it freezes very well. since it's maybe a little labour-intensive you might be happy to have home-made frozen dinners of Indian comfort food.

4 tsp cumin seed (whole seed - with Indian if you can use whole you use whole since all the flavour comes from the freshness of the spices. If all you have is ground that's okay - but not great - in this recipe since nothing gets toasted before being ground)
4-6 dried hot chilis (these are supposed to be the small red ones but I brought home mulatos from Montreal and I just used one big dried mulato torn into a few pieces to get the seeds out. You don't need to seed the smaller ones. It's a big richer, chocolatier, and smokier than Indian chilies. Think Indian mole...)
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp cardamom seeds (you have to break open the pods and take the seeds out. In this case it's kind of nice to use pre-ground cardamom...but I don't need to beat a dead horse here)
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks (can use 1 1/2 tbsp ground if you're desperate)
1 tbsp black mustard seeds (not yellow, but you can use them in a pinch)
2 tsp fenugreek (find it, but leave it out if that's impossible)
10 tbsp white wine vinegar (a bit sweeter and less sharp than distilled vinegar)
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp light brown sugar
10 tbsp vegetable oil (yes, 10 tbsp, and I'm cutting that in half. The recipe actually calls for 20, which I only think you should if you make this dish, leave it overnight, and then skim off the fat which is very hard since there are so many spices that it doesn't really separate well. This is the problem with Indian buffets)
4 medium onions, very thinly sliced into rings (fried onions are a treat in Indian cooking. Kind of like un-breaded onion rings that are used for garnish for elaborate dishes for special events)
10 tbsp plus 2 cups water (with slow-cookers you're in theory supposed to use less liquid but I wanted this to be sauce-y)
4 lbs (1.8kg) boneless pork (from the shoulder, says Jaffrey), cut into 1 inch cubes. I just used pork stewing cubes. The pieces were very unevenly cut, but with slow-cooking that doesn't matter as much as if you do it on the stove.
1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into just a few pieces (no need to dice or even chop finely since it gets blended)
2 small (or 1 large) head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled but not chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander (if you can, toast whole coriander over medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes in a dry frying pan and then grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Do this in advance. Coriander is very pungent and the freshly-ground version is amazing)
1 tsp turmeric (don't skip this. It's the key to colour and digestion)

Grind the cumin seed, red chilies, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, black mustard seeds, and fenugreek (in St. John's you can find it at food for thought or bulk barn. Maybe also Auntie Crae's) in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle or a blender. Put them in a bowl and add the vinegar, salt, and sugar. Stir and set aside. Good job! You've basically completed half the recipe. Not so hard.

Put the ridiculous amount of oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and stir and fry until they're crispy and brown. Err on the side of overly-browned. In Indian cooking you want these to almost look burned since that's when they give the most flavour. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel and press very gently to remove excess oil (leave the pot with the leftover oil off the heat but don't drain it. You'll need it later and now you have a very flavourful oil). Then transfer the onions to a blender. Add 5 tbsp of water to the blender and purée the onions. Now add the purée to the ground spices you set aside in the bowl. Voila vindaloo paste. SO much better than store-bought. You can freeze this paste now to use later, or make it in advance, keep it in the fridge, and complete the rest of the recipe later. Think about it, 2 weeks from now you're craving vindaloo and you just defrost the paste. Maybe a good idea to make a double recipe of the paste...

Wash the meat cubes and dry with paper towels. If you can't find them pre-cubed ask your butcher to cube them. It will save you a ton of time. You can remove the excess fat if you wish.

Put the ginger and garlic into the blender (no need to wash it out after purée-ing the onions). Add 5 tbsp water and blend to a paste. Purée-d garlic, ginger and onion are pretty classic Indian techniques for thickening (no cornstarch, flour, or cream).

Now the fun part. Everything's ready to go, so put the put full of leftover oil back on medium-high heat. When hot add the pork cubes in batches (be careful! The oil splatters) and brown very lightly on all sides. Honestly just about 5-10 seconds per side to get rid of the pink. This is how you over-cook the pork by over-browning, especially if you're not going transfer to a slow-cooker.

Remove each batch of cubes with a slotted spoon or tongs as they're browned to a plate lined with paper towel. If you're not going to slow-cook you may want to not use a paper towel, since the collected juices will keep the meat moister. Once all the batches of pork are browned add the ginger-garlic paste to the pot. Immediately turn the heat down to medium. Stir for just a few seconds to coat the paste in oil and then add the ground coriander and turmeric. Stir for just another few seconds and then add the meat cubes, the vindaloo paste, and 2 cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil and then either transfer the contents to a slow-cooker and set it to high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours, OR cover the pot, reduce the heat to low or medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer, and stir occasionally for about 1 hour, or until the pork is tender. If you like a little more sauce, you can thin the liquid in the pot with water. No chicken, pork or vegetable stock allowed here. The flavour comes from the spices.

I am told this dishes like this taste best:
a) warm, not hot. So let the pork cool a little before eating it.
b) the day after. The sauce continues to tenderize the meat and the spices continue to infuse the meat. So even if you over-cook it, by leaving it overnight in the fridge, it could still be brilliantly tender and even more flavourful the next day.

Serve with rice and die of happiness. If you don't eat pork, make this with lamb, or beef, or really anything, but game or fatty meat tastes the best. Cheaper cuts of meat work well for that reason.