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Thursday, December 25, 2008

What To Do With….. Turkey Leftovers

We just spent this past weekend with my husband’s parents in Montreal to celebrate an early Christmas. (We are spending Christmas day in Toronto with my brother and parents.) Our trips to Montreal are characterized by massive amounts of delicious, full flavour foods and quiet relaxation on the West Island. This trip was no exception. While it was blistery cold outside, we indulged in fabulous meal after glorious meal of French-Canadian delights as well as some of my mother-in-law’s other tried and true Christmas time dishes. In between our noshing and nibbling marathon, we did a little sight seeing in la belle province. For this wintery visit, we drove down to Quebec’s Eastern Townships to enjoy an afternoon of sight-seeing, exploring and antiquing.

The Eastern Townships are located south-east of Montreal nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians near the border of the north-eastern U.S. states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Its settlement by English Loyalists over two centuries ago has left an indelible mark on the Townships where English is widely spoken and expressed through the region’s architecture. Still the Townships are very much a part of Quebec. Driving through south-eastern Quebec is like driving through a picture on a postcard as fir trees, their boughs heavy with pristine white snow, line undulating country roads guiding drivers through the Townships’ villages, ski hills and cottages. We drive past communities whose populations ebb and flow with the seasons, swelling in the summer with the arrival of cottagers and tourists and contracting when the days grow shorter. In the winter, the population swells again when the snow lures skiers to the Townships’ powdery hills. On the day of our visit to the town of Knowlton, near Lac Brome, the community seemed serene and quiet, with only a handful of locals and the occasional tourist peeking into shops and visiting the antique dealers.

Daylight was limited and we decided to have a quick lunch in order to catch another tourist stop before the sun quit for the day. We popped into a Quebec hamburger franchise, Valentine. As I walked through the door, it was like stepping in a time machine to an eighties fast food restaurant. The tiny restaurant was brightly lit in its canary yellow and cherry red furniture. Christmas garland and ornaments hung along the walls and a large Christmas tree tucked into the corner by the window.

I ordered the Valentine burger which was about the size as a McDonald’s hamburger but significantly meatier and loaded with fresh toppings. It was such a memorable little place, not because the food per se, but it seemed like the restaurant, its patrons and employees had been frozen in time. It was a time where fast food restaurant served hot coffee in mugs and employees gladly came around with free refills. It was a time where big burly grey-haired grandfathers took their young grandsons for a cheeky afternoon meal which would surely spoil supper that evening. We don’t see that anymore in our world of conglomerate fast food restaurants where everything is rehydrated, frozen and pre-made.

My nostalgia set me up for our next stop along our whirlwind tour of the Townships was the Notre-Dame de Stanbridge covered bridge. The first covered bridge built in 1848, it has since been replaced but it stands as a reminder of a time gone by. Now the bridge sits out on a lonely road with a cattle farm on one side and abandoned dining room and motel on the other. The light was fleeting and the temperature had dropped significantly at this point. We stopped for a couple of quick photos before hopping back to the warmth of our car.

The highlight of our weekend was our Christmas dinner where we celebrated the holiday with a twelve pound grain-fed turkey. As I have mentioned previously, roasted turkey is probably one of my favourite meals, mainly because I love the rituals surrounding the meal – the gathering and celebration of family. Of course, a turkey feast for four, means plenty of leftovers and there are only so many turkey sandwiches you can eat before growing tired of the bird.

Happy holidays to MKF readers. May your holidays be filled with joy, happiness with friends and family and an abundance of great food.

What To Do With... Leftover Turkey

When I was growing up, my mom would make fried rice and noodle soup with our leftovers, those are still some of my favourite ways to use roasted turkey.

1. Turkey noodle soup – this is great for the bits of turkey that lurk around the bones (wings, and legs), long after the white breast meat is gone. (Use the bones to enrich the soup, but you may need additional help, so I often use chicken stock as well.)

2. Turkey Rillettes – shred meat finely (about a cup or so) and slowly simmer with a half cup of white wine, a garlic clove minced, 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste (you may also want to add some of the spices you used when roasting the turkey. I like to use celery seeds, a dash of smoked paprika, and thyme.) When most of the liquid has been absorbed, pack into ramekins, cool and refrigerate before serving.

3. Mango turkey salad over glass noodles – Serve this layered salad of 2 c of shredded turkey for chicken, 2 c of diced mangoes, handful of beanspouts, chopped cilantro over fine slippery glass noodles. Make a vinaigrette from the juice of 1 lime, 1/4c light soy sauce, 1 tsp of sambal olek, 2 tbsp of nam pla (fish sauce) and 2 tbsp of sesame oil. Pour over top and garnish with toasted peanuts or cashews.

4. Breakfast Frittata – 6 eggs, half a red bell pepper diced, ½ large onion diced, 1 cup of diced or shredded turkey, ½ mozzarella or cheddar cheese – heat pan over medium heat and sauté bell pepper and onion in butter until softened. Crack eggs, add salt and pepper and spices and beat in a large bowl. Once the vegetables are cooked, pour eggs over top. Quickly give the eggs and vegetables a stir to move around the egg mixture slightly. (Take care here because you’re not making scrambled eggs which is equally as nice but not the intent.) Sprinkle the turkey over top, then the cheese. Allow the eggs to continue to set. Meanwhile, set your oven’s broiler to medium/high. After about five minutes or so when the eggs have mostly cooked through, place the pan under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and golden.

5. Turkey congee – a very Chinese way to use a turkey bones. Cover bones in a pot of water and simmer for about an hour or two. Remove scum as required, and do not boil. Discard the bones (making sure you’ve strained out the tiny bits that sometimes break away from the main body.) Add about 4 cups of chicken stock to the pot, 1 c of rinsed white rice, and simmer for another hour or so. Rice should dissolve into a creamy consistency. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Garnish with finely chopped green onions, grated ginger with soy sauce and lashings of toasted sesame oil. (The liquid to rice ratio should be about 8c-10c of stock to 1 c of white rice.)

6. Turkey Quesadilla – on one half of a soft tortilla, add shredded cheddar, shredded turkey, diced tomatoes, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Fold in half and grill under a pannini maker until the outside is crispy and toasted and the filling has warmed through.

7. Turkey Waldorf Salad – if you have fairly large amounts of turkey left over, this is probably one of the first recipes you should think of. Traditionally, Waldorf is made with chicken but around our house, one side of the turkey breast is enjoyed at dinner and a full half is left behind. This is a great way to use turkey. Mix 1 cup of cubed turkey with 1 c of diced apple, 1/2c celery crescents, and 1/4c Thompson raisins with about 1/2c of mayonnaise (or 1/4 c of mayonnaise and light sour cream each.) Serve over Boston lettuce.

8. Turkey pot pie

9. Fried rice with turkey

10. Turkey stews of all kinds: chilis, stews, cacciatores, and turkey a la king.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grateful Dinner Guests Bring Dessert: Raspberry & Asian Pear Crumble

One of the nicest gestures of friendship is the invitation to dinner. Friends who invite to their home for a meal are the friends I happen to like the most. I love having a home-cooked meal prepared for me. As much as I love cooking, eating at someone else’s home offers an introduction to foods I have never had before or a new preparation on a tried and true classic.

However, having a mild obsession with food has its drawbacks. My husband thinks I am a difficult dinner guest to please. But I don’t think so. I do like great food and I have a high standard that I set for myself, but I am always pleased to be invited for a meal and I appreciate any and all efforts our hosts put forward in creating our meal.

Maybe this comes across as showy or “a one upmanship” type thing, but I usually like to bring a little something. Not to display my prowess in the kitchen but as a thank you for the invitation. My lovely neighbour, Jules, invited me over for a girl’s night three weeks ago and after learning that some of the girls were going to show up with bubbly, I thought that I might bring some rose syrup for our drinks. Well, it turned out that all the girls ended up bring beer, and I was the only one with bubbles and rose syrup in hand. Jules laughed and quickly poured me a flute joking that I was being a show off. I realized that maybe she would have appreciated it more if I had brought this dessert instead. It’s my no fail, dead-simple dinner invitation crumble.

The fruits are inter-changeable to reflect your own tastes and what is in season. I like this with apples (or course), strawberries and rhubarb, apricots and almonds, and peaches and raspberries.

3 half-pints raspberries
1 large Asian pear
¼ c light brown sugar
1 tbsp corn starch

4 tbsp butter
½ c flour
1c quick cook oatmeal
¼ c sugar (dememerra)

1. Peel and chop asian pear into small bite size pieces, about the same size as your raspberries.
2. Tumble washed raspberries and asian pear and into a 8 x 8 baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar and cornstarch. (I have added a little bit of sugar here because I find raspberries are slightly tart and the sugar mellows it out abit. This is not a super sweet dish)
3. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Mix flour, oatmeal and sugar. Blend in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Don’t fully incorporate the butter, you still want to see the the little flecks and bits of butter embedded within the mixture.
5. Spoon topping over the prepared fruit. Cover most of the fruit with the crumble mixture, but I always leave alittle around the edges to allow the fruit to bubble up.
6. Place the baking dish on top of a baking sheet (in case of spills) and place in the oven for 35 minutes. Check to see if the crumble has a golden crown and if the fruit has bubbled up a bit. If so, remove from the oven and cool slightly. If not, leave in for another five minutes, check.
7. Cool slightly and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin and Acorn Squash Bisque

When I invite friends over for dinner, I want them to leave feeling full, delighted and cared for. So when I invited my good friend, Manish, over for dinner, I had to find something that was not only delicious and savoury but also vegetarian. I always find this a bit of a challenge because as a meat eater, vegetarian meals don’t come naturally to me.

In the summer, I think this task would be fairly easy – you could put together a delicious salad with baby greens and sprouts followed by a light spaghettini in a light tomato broth including fresh heirlooms and sundried tomatoes with a dollop of chevre. But it’s cold outside and we are looking for something a little more, something warm and sustaining. In the end, I settled on a pumpkin and acorn squash soup and a vegetarian Japanese curry.

The pumpkin and squash soup is very easy to make. It takes a bit of time but it sits in the oven for most of the cook time. If you can’t find a sugar pumpkin, you can substitute whatever squash you find available.

Roasted Pumpkin and Acorn Squash Bisque

1 sugar pumpkin
1 acorn squash
1c milk
1l vegetable broth
4 tbsp brown sugar
salt & pepper

Optional: coriander chutney

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Split the acorn squash and pumpkin in half (vertical wise). Scoop out seeds.
3. Place the acorn squash & pumpkin halves on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the cavity with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Bake in oven for about an hour until the vegetables are soft.
4. Remove from the oven. If you can handle it, quickly scoop out the flesh from the squash and pumpkin. Put the roasted vegetables into a large pot. Discard the skins.
5. Add milk, broth to the pot and bring to boil. Turn down. And carefully, blend with a handheld immersion blender. (I think this is far safer than sending it into a food processor or a blender. Just proceed carefully.) Blend until its smooth and silky. Add a little bit of water if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Finish with a spoonful of coriander chutney (if you don’t have this, you can always substitute pesto.) Let your guests swirl the chutney into the soup. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What To Do With... Capers

These salty little darlings are one of my favourite things. Capers are the pickled or salted bud of a Mediterranean shrub aptly named a caper bush. (What else?) A jar of these briny little nubs don’t last long at our house.

Like anchovies, capers play a great supporting cast member. They have a special affinity for fish and chicken. They add a brightness to these delicate flavours that doesn’t overwhelm.

There are a multitude of uses for capers, and I love them all:

As an add in:
1. Added to a pasta sauce – like a puttanesca
2. Chopped up and added to a tuna fish sandwich mixture or potato salad
3. Black Mission Fig and Olive Tapenade

Classic Preparations:
4. Sole Grenobloise: a lemon butter sauce with capers on top of sole (or any white fish)
5. Garnished on top of smoked salmon with sprigs of dill
6. Included in classic sauces such as tartar sauce; remoulade and Cesar dressing
7. Chicken Veracruzano: a delicious chicken dish with an olive, onion, and tomato topping
8. Chicken Piccata: lightly breaded chicken breasts served with a sauce made with chicken broth, capers, and butter.
9. Added to bruschetta
10. Chicken Marbella: This classic Silver Palate recipe is a go-to recipe in our home. It’s delicious and so easy to make. It is really great for a crowd and the flavours are better the next day so this makes it a great make-ahead recipe for the holidays. This recipe is all over the internet and most versions I saw hardly deviated from the original. It’s delicious.

Chicken Marbella
Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook

12-15 boneless, skinless chicken thighs*
1 head of garlic, peeled and pureed
2 tbsp oregano (powdered)
½ c white wine vinegar
1/2c olive oil**
1c pitted prunes
1c green olives
1/2c capers (with a bit of the juice)
1c brown sugar**
1c white wine
1/4c fresh parsley, chopped coarsely

1. Marinate the chicken in the garlic puree, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives and capers. (The longer the better, the original recipe calls for overnight and I think its worth the wait.)
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Pour chicken and marinate into an oven proof dish, add white wine and sprinkle brown sugar.
4. Bake for an hour. Serve over rice, garnish with parsley.

*we’ve tried it with chicken breasts, too but thighs are much better
**I have reduced the amount of sugar and olive oil – this works for me but others might consider it sacrilege.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shout Out

In the course of our lifetime, we meet hundreds if not thousands of people. Some stop briefly, while others linger, get cozy and stay for a while. I met my friend, Abby, in a cool little town named, Kota Kinabalu in an exotic faraway place called Malaysian Borneo. She was just finishing off a tour of Asia before she heading off to start law school in the US, and I was on the front-end of a nine month backpacking sojourn throughout Asia. We both reluctantly signed up for a guided tour to re-assure worrying parents at home that at least a portion of our travels would be “safe.” As single girls, fate and the tour paired us together.

I arrived in Borneo and checked into the hotel already to find that the “other girl” was already there. Darn, I wouldn’t get first dibs on the beds. She had just come back from a hair salon smelling of Aqua-Net (or some highly fragrant hair care product). She offered me a slice of carrot cake (?) and we got to the business of getting to know each other. We shared our travel stories thus far and our life before embarking on travel. It was immediately apparent to us that we were meant to be friends. We found more similarities than differences: long distance running, politics, travel, scuba, and of course, food!

We spent about two weeks travelling together, climbed Mount Kinabalu together and zipped around Sabah eating juicy pineapples, roti telur (a thin buttery pancake folded into a tiny parcel with a cooked egg in every bite), and prawn curries. We watched a bootleg copy of Spiderman on the evening of our “home-stay” with a local family and bathed in the Kinabatangan River, which is full of saltwater crocodiles (or so I was told.) It was a very enchanting and exciting experience.

Back at home, Abby only lived about an hour by plane and over the years we stayed in touch and visited on occasion. Now she lives a supremely “glamour” life in the City of Lights and keeps me posted on her whereabouts on Facebook. When she recently asked me for a healthy fish recipe, how could I refuse a kindred spirit?

The recipe that I share with you below is something that my husband and I have been making for years. He says it’s my signature dish. We usually have this dish at least once a week in the winter. It is influenced by something my mother used for cook for me when I was younger and has some of my most favourite flavours: ginger, green onions, and shitake mushrooms. It’s a fast dinner and really easy to make. We usually serve it over a bowl of brown rice.

2 basa fillets (or any other thick lean white fish – haddock, halibut), boneless and skinless
1 thumb sized piece of ginger (I am talking Andre the Giant thumb size or more if you dare)
2 stalks green onions, sliced
5 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 c water
2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp soy sauce

Oyster sauce
Sesame oil

1. Peel and julienne ginger.
2. Place fillets in a large skillet or casserole (You are looking for a pan that is wide but also has walls, also choose one that has a lid.) Add 1c of water, sprinkle fish sauce and soy sauce over top.
3. Scatter green onions, ginger, shitakes on top of the fish.
4. Drizzle oyster sauce over top and cover. Turn on the heat to medium heat and allow the fish to get steamy. Leave on stove top for another 5 minutes. (Fish should cook quickly. If you are uncertain of the “doneness,” find an inconspicuous edge of the fillet and gently stick the fork in, if the fish flakes and crumbles under your fork, you’re probably close to being done.)
5. Remove off heat, and serve over rice, spooning broth over top.
6. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What To Do With... Anchovies

Okay, so maybe you were hoping for another ingredient... maybe, pine nuts or something a little more fashionable, but it's anchovies this week. Don't stop reading okay? Just hear me out.

Anchovies do have a bad rap. They are too often maligned with noses upturned at the mere mention of this salty, humble ingredient. But why? Sure, they are not the most attractive things, and sure, they are incredibly salty and also a bit fishy, but who says you have to eat them out of the can? Maybe anchovies were never meant to be in a starring role, but I think they make a great supporting cast member. Think of anchovies as Rob Schneider to a main ingredient's Adam Sandler. So maybe you weren't supposed to have an anchovy sandwich, but just maybe anchovies are supposed to be a great sidekick.

Indeed, there are many delicious uses for this flavour enhancer; just give it a try.

Some classic preparations of anchovies include:

1. Ceasar salad: mashed into the dressing, its form is indiscernible but its presence is unmistakeable.
2. Spaghetti puttanesca : add 3 or 4 anchovy fillets into your next tomato sauce, add sliced black olives, 1 can of flaked tuna and warm thoroughly. The anchovies melt away leaving a rich taste of the ocean.
3. Jannssen’s Temptation : this is ridiculously delicious and simple to make. It’s basically scalloped potatoes with a layer of onions and anchovies. Bake until golden and bubbly.
4. Bagna Cauda: Warmed dip of olive oil, butter, anchovies, garlic, parsley, chilli flakes for dipping raw (carrots, celery or radishes) or cooked vegetables (such as baby potatoes, baby corn or artichokes)

With the holiday season upon us, don't waste your money on insipid preservative-laden commercial tapenades. Make this sweet and salty tapenade instead:

5. Fig and olive tapenade : In a food processor, whiz up 1/4c capers, 1 c of pitted black olives, 1/4 c olive oil, 1/4c balsamic vinegar, 10 dried black mission figs roughly chopped, 4 anchovy fillets, 1/4c red onion – until chopped finely. Serve with cheese and crackers.

(Fig olive tapenade a top of triple creme pictured above. Sinful but delicious.)

6. Sauteed rapini and chilli flakes : sauté 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 1 pinch of chilli flakes, and 3 anchovy fillets. Add half bunch of chopped rapini and sauté until rapini is bright green and wilted slightly.
7. Steamed asparagus with lemon caper and anchovy butter – toss steamed asparagus with a mixture made of the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 tbsp capers drained, 2 anchovies finely minced, and 1 tbsp butter.

If you’re feeling particularly brave:

8. Smear it on hot toast instead of butter.
9. Add to pizza
10. Add to pesto

There see? That wasn't so bad. You can do it! Anchovies are a great second fiddle.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Just Add Heat...

Brimming full of holiday spirit this weekend, we decided to buy our Christmas tree this morning. We lugged it home leaving in our wake, a trail of discarded needles. We re-arranged our living room and set our majestic and perfectly symmetrical fraser fir in a nice corner of the living room. Then we hung a wreath outside our door, put up our Christmas lights at the front of the house, decorated the tree and hung our stockings. We are ready for the holidays.

I fought it for a little while, in fact, all through the fall... but now our heater is humming along keeping us warm in the evenings, the Christmas decorations are up, and our CSA is bringing us winter vegetables to keep our bellies full. All the signs are here - and slowly, but surely, winter vegetables have now become regular guests at dinner.

Admittedly, I do miss tomatoes warmed by the summer sun, and the delicate crispness of tender leafy shoots. Summer vegetables are lush and light, they are meant to stave off little pangs of mid-day hunger but they don’t provide sustenance the way their winter counterparts do. Winter vegetables are hearty, and transform into dishes that fortifies, and strengthens the body and the soul through the cold weather.

Whereas I enjoy most of summer’s jewels eaten out of hand, winter vegetables often require a little more attention. These earthy, hearty vegetables release their flavours with a little warm coaxing. Imagine beets roasted until sweet and yielding, steamy rutabagas (swedes) mashed with buttery carrots, brussels sprouts braised in white wine, and crispy potatoes quarters. Among these is the versatile and highly accessible cabbage. I love the range of flavours that the cabbage possesses: savoury and sweet when cooked; crispy and crunchy when raw; tart and tangy when pickled and tucked in a Rueben sandwich; and soft and sweet with a savoury beef filling inside as a cabbage roll.

So when I laid my eyes on the frilly, crinkled curls of the savoy cabbage, I said, "Come to mama!" I knew I had to have this brassica. Round and substantial, its leaves tightly layered, verdant and bright with pale veins stretching out from its core. Oh the possibilities – I thought a braising, or a sautéing would be in order for tonight’s supper.

Savoy Cabbage with Sausage and Pasta

½ head of savoy cabbage cored
1 lb merguez sausage, removed from casings into thumb-sized pieces*
3 garlic cloves minced
15 small white mushrooms sliced
1/4c white wine (or vegetable broth)
1/2c light cream
1/2c parsley chopped
pinch of salt

1 lb spaghetti

black pepper

1. Cook pasta according to directions to al dente.
2. Slice cabbage into thin strips.
3. While pasta cooks, cook sausage meat over medium heat until it browns. Drain fat and set aside. In the same pan, add garlic and sauté for a minute. Then add mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms soften. Add the cabbage, and white wine and cover pan to allow cabbage to cook down slightly. (Should take about 5-10 minutes)
4. When most of the liquid has evaporated, add cream, sausage and parsley and turn on high to reduce. Stir to fully incorporate.
5. Drain and plate spaghetti. Top with the cabbage and sausage mixture.
6. Grate parmesan on top and add a few grindings of pepper on top.
7. Serve.

*If you don’t have merguez, any savoury sausage will do. We eat a lot of turkey sausage at home. If not, substitute 1 lb of ground meat (lamb for merguez), add a generous pinch of red pepper, salt, pepper and toasted fennel seeds.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What To Do With... Evaporated Milk

For my American friends, it’s Thanksgiving this weekend which means it’s turkey time. It has been several years since I have celebrated American Thanksgiving, but I think it’s a great four day holiday. Mostly because I love the rituals of Thanksgiving: rushing around the grocery store, baking pie, preparing this glorious meal and of course, coming together with friends and family. And don’t forget the post-Thanksgiving ritual of groaning with some regret, but mostly with pleasure after eating way too much turkey and stuffing, then loosening your belt to finish off the meal with a nice slice of pumpkin pie.

Evaporated milk is the ingredient of the week because it is used in one of my favourite Thanksgiving foods, pumpkin pie. I usually have several cans in my pantry because it is such a versatile product. They wait patiently to be called upon for a last minute panna cotta or when I have run out of regular stuff.

Evaporated milk is exactly what you think it is - fresh milk that has been reduced, in this case, by at least half. The result is a shelf stable product that has a rich, creamy taste. It serves a great substitute for fresh milk as well as cream. However, you cannot use evaporated milk interchangeably with cream due to difference in nutritional composition. (Think of evaporated milk as a concentrated dairy product.) I use it primarily to enrich foods where you would normally use milk or cream, when I don’t want all the calories. Additionally, the colour of evaporated milk is the palest caramel so it won’t do if you are making something that is supposed to be white.

Be sure you check the can – condensed milk, which usually makes an appearance in a smaller sized can with a pull-off tab, is not the same thing. While it is absolutely delicious, condensed milk is something else altogether.

Here’s what to do with evaporated milk.

It works as a fine substitute for milk in the following types of recipes:

1. Creamy type soups:Broccoli Potato Soup or Corn Chowder
2. Cheese sauce for broccoli or cauliflower
3. Mashed potatoes and scalloped potatoes
4. Rice pudding (It’s such an old-fashioned dessert, but I love the creaminess velvety smoothness of rice pudding that just seems to melt in your mouth. A pinch of cinnamon and oh yum.)
5. Bread pudding

Or you try something a little different:

6. Panna cotta
7. Mexican style flan – super easy, for clumsy dessert hands like me

But don’t forget the Classic Dessert Preparations:

8. Custard
9. Fudge

and of course,

10. Pumpkin pie

Enjoy giving thanks everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A New Take on Risotto

This weekend started off with unseasonably cold weather. Even with a down-filled winter coat, winter boots and merino wool undershirt, the cold still managed to seep in somehow. And now, my husband tells me the weather forecast calls for snow all this week. I guess there is no escaping the weather except for a move to Costa Rica perhaps. (Awfully tempting, isn’t it?)

This week also marked the start of our “winter share” box from our organic CSA, Plan B. Inside our box were the tiniest Macintosh apples, a green cabbage, a small brown paper bag of fresh shitake mushrooms, a parsnip, a head of broccoli and a generous handful of potatoes and yams. This means rich, warming flavours for dinner this week. In search of something a little different for dinner, I decided to cook the ancient grains I had in the pantry along with some of the ingredients from our weekly box.

I know that the mere mention of grains conjures up thoughts of cardboard-tasting health food. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I bought these grains one afternoon after leisurely perusing the basement level of the St. Lawrence Market. I didn’t really have a plan for them and to be frank, I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with them. But like many ingredients I am not really familiar with, I derive a certain satisfaction in thinking about how an ingredient might become a meal and then going out and bringing it to life. Sometimes, it results in disaster, though rarely inedible. However, other times, I win the new ingredient jackpot, and my kitchen experiment turns into something that I would make again, and share with others.

I had eaten a rice blend recently that included kasha and quinoa and it was not bad but a little on the bland side. I thought it could be easily improved. Additionally, I had made a farro salad this past summer for a party and thought there would be an opportunity to do something hearty and warm for winter with these grains.

Farro is a whole grain particularly popular in Italy. It looks like a grain of rice with its husk intact. It has a nice chewy texture, delicious and hearty. Quinoa is a high-protein grain which makes it a vegetarian favourite. I love how its tiny pin-heads cook into the pudgy micro orbs that almost seem to pop in your mouth when you take a bite. Kasha is a whole grain made from buckwheat. It is often served as porridge is Eastern Europe as it often becomes a little mushy when cooked.

The approach I took to cooking was to think about the seasonal foods and flavours I enjoy and how to bring them into harmony with these grains. Risotto is a big winter time meal that I have come to enjoy over the last several years. I never used to like it, but I have recently been converted. Apples are a fruit that cellars well and hence are a winter time staple. Shitake mushrooms have a great woodsy flavour and may be cultivated indoors over the winter, making it possible to enjoy them all year around.

The recipe that I have provided here is probably enough for at least 6 people. I decided to make a little extra for our lunches for a day or two.

Ancient Grains “Risotto” with Mushrooms and Sautéed Apples

1 c farro
1 c quinoa
1 c kasha

2 small Macintosh apples, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced finely
1 garlic clove, minced
5 shitake mushrooms finely diced

4 c of vegetable broth
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of ground sage
1 tbsp of salt

1. Toast farro in a dry pan, shaking on occasion, until the farro smells nutty.
2. Rinse farro, quinoa and kasha under cold water and drain well.
3. Melt butter in a medium size pan, and add onion and garlic.
4. Once softened, add mushrooms, grains, 3 cups of vegetable stock (reserving one cup of broth), sage and salt. Cover and cook on low-medium for approximately 15 minutes. Stir grains and check water level. Add the additional cup of broth if most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add apples, re-cover and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Check often to ensure it doesn’t burn.
5. Once the liquid has been absorbed and the farro has softened but still has texture. Turn off heat and keep covered for another five minutes.
6. Serve with buttery sautéed apples.

Sautéed Apples

1 tbsp of butter
2 large Macintosh apples, peeled and sliced

1. Melt butter in a large pan. Once melted, add apples and sauté until apples soften and are glistening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What To Do With… Cilantro

No other herb evokes a more emotional response than the citrusy, fruity cilantro. Some people loathe it so much that even the smallest bits can ruin a night. Others, however, would give it a hero's welcome by throwing a ticker tape parade. And most definitely, I belong to the latter camp.

Cilantro is also one of those vegetables with many names: coriander, Chinese parsley, or Mexican parsley. In fact, at the grocery store today, when the cashier inspected the bagged leaves, it prompted me to say, “It’s cilantro.” I caught tiniest huff under her breath when she replied, “Actually, it’s coriander.”

Either way, it's delicious.

Most recipes call for only the smallest snippets of cilantro, but it’s sold in these glorious bouquets. After it has served its original purpose and is only but a delicious memory, the remaining leaves wilt away in my crisper forgotten. Perhaps its human nature to forget about herbs after they have served their initial purpose. But is that any way to treat such a loyal, easy going friend? It seems like a downright shame especially when it is so easily paired with seafood, Mexican cuisine and citrus.

1. Cilantro pesto: This is truly a summertime delight when cilantro is bushy and brimming out its spot in the garden. I always have pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil on hand, so this is easy to whiz up in the food processor and put into tiny freezer bags for a later date. When I want to use it, I just defrost, shave parmesan on top and toss with hot pasta.

2. Cilantro vinaigrette: Another quick use for bits of cilantro (stems and all) is to throw it into a dressing. Whiz a handful of cilantro, with 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over a fresh salad or over boiled new pototatoes.

3. Lime Cilantro Compound Butter: Mix 1 stick of room temperature butter with a handful of cilantro finely minced (no stems), a squeeze of lime juice and the zest of one lime. Mix until fully incorporated. Pack into a ramekin or turn mixture out onto parchment paper and roll into a thick log (about 1 1/2” log.) Return to the fridge until solid. Add a pat to a grilled steak or hot steamy brown rice. Store the rest in the freezer until needed.

4. Fresh salsa: Slice and seed 4 roma tomatoes, dice into smallish squares. Add a 1/4c of finely diced red onion, 1 tsp of cumin, 1 half jalapeno, seeded and diced finely and about 1/2c chopped cilantro, and juice from 1 lime. Grind salt and pepper to taste.

5. Tabouleh Salad: Substitute part or all of the parsley of a tabouleh salad with cilantro for a different and fresh note.

6. Cilantro rice: Cook 1 cup of rice as per instructions. Toss hot rice with 1 cup of chopped cilantro (leaves and stems) and juice of one lime. (I have done the same with vermicelli rice noodles as well, and it’s so good.)

7. Cold Avocado Soup: This recipe was a great use for leftover buttermilk and a ripe avocado and it goes the same for cilantro.

8. Tuna fish sandwich: Mix 1 can of drained tuna (I like to plurge at times and buy the Italian tuna), with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise (or drained yoghurt), add ¼ c of chopped cilantro leaves, 1/8 tsp of cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.

9. Add to salad: Consider tossing in a handful of roughly chopped cilantro to your next salad. It adds another dimension in flavour to salads and you can use less dressing with this flavour boost.

10. As a garnish extraordinaire: when there is fresh cilantro in the fridge, a great way to get use out of it is to add it as a garnish: guacamole, Vietnamese pho, vermicelli rice bowls, stir frys, and curries.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Drunken Green Beans and My Weeknight Dinner Prep

Every weeknight on my way home from work, all I want to do is eat dinner and relax. I don't flick off my Louboutins, shake myself a vodka martini and politely nibble on pate and crackers while my husband regales me with tales from his day. No, that is not my life. I don't own Louboutins, except in my dreams, and I can't pour myself a vodka martini on a weeknight if I want to stay awake past 9pm. No, when I walk through the door, I am usually tired and very hungry. I just want to eat. Admittedly, a lot has to happen from that moment and when I sit down with my husband for dinner. I want something that's not fussy but at the same time, I also want us to eat something healthy. So how do I get dinner on the table quickly without popping something pre-made and processed into the microwave? With a little effort, a tad bit of planning, and a little team work.

Guiding Principle for Weeknight Dinner:
Keep it simple, there is no need to impress. But be organized, and have a well stocked pantry. A stop to the grocery store on the way home is not a detour I like to make after a long day at work.

The Plan:
My husband and I have a quick conversation in the morning about what we are going to have for dinner. If we're having meat, we take it out of the freezer and set it in the refrigerator to defrost before we head out the door in the morning.

In the evening, the first person who returns home first gets dinner started.
The first thing we get on the go is our starch which is usually rice. (This is partially because I grew up eating rice everyday and for practical reasons as it requires very little prep before cooking and it's low maintenance.) We have finally transitioned to brown rice and that takes a little while to cook. So we get that going before we start anything else.

We also try to plan out a couple veggie side dishes while we do our weekly shopping so that we don’t have to struggle on weekend nights with what to eat. This recipe is a great example of something we were able to throw together quickly based on what we had in the fridge. Although it's fast, it boasts great flavour.

The Pre-Work:
If you want to do a little weekend prep to facilitate weeknight meals, toast the almonds and wash and prep your vegetables when you're cooking on the weekend. Store in a sealable container. This is an unbelievable time saver.

Green Beans in White Wine with Toasted Almonds

Serves four

1 lb green beans, trimmed and washed
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp butter
1/2 c white wine*
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt to taste

toasted almond flakes

1. Heat large saucepan over medium high. Add butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
2. Add green beans and coat in the melted butter.
3. Saute until the green beans turn bright green. When the butter seems absorbed and the pan looks dry, add the white wine to de-glaze. Simmer and allow white wine to reduce.
4. Remove off of heat and place and garnish with almond flakes.

*not recommending you open a bottle of wine for this. This is strictly a way to get rid of leftovers. If you don’t have an open bottle of wine, you can use vermouth, chicken broth, or water. (If you’re using water, add a squeeze of lemon j for a bit of tang, and throw in some lemon zest if you're so inclined.) And don’t worry about the alcohol, if you’re simmering it down, the alcohol burns off and flavour is all that remains.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What To Do With... Fennel aka Anise

Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine, Fennel. Fennel, this is everybody. (I had planned to publish this great photo for our introductions today, but when I saw it on the preview, I knew it wouldn't do. So, unfortunately, we have to go without today...) (Updated November 18th, 2008 - Hungry Gal note: A photo is worth a 100 words...)

Fennel and I only met in my twenties but I feel like we have been friends forever. Fennel sometimes goes by the name Anise and is a hearty but delicate tasting vegetable. It smells lovely and herbaceous and has a mild liquorice flavour that further mellows when cooked. But we almost didn’t become friends. In my younger years, I was too haughty and impetuous, “I am not going to like fennel.., I’ll pass.” But then we met, and I realized I was wrong and now, all is forgiven and we are pals.

So, if you see Fennel at the market, I encourage you to buy a bulb or two and try it. You just might like it.

Fennel is great raw or braised. With a sophisticated yet mild flavour, it’s more versatile than you think. It’s great with rich foods like cream and butter and also pairs beautifully with seafood.

Basic Preparation:
Cut off the fronds and stalks and put aside if you wish, for garnish and stock. Trim the fennel by trimming the bottom of the bulb and cutting the fennel in half. Now that it is in a manageable size, you can dice it, slice it thinly or cut it into large chunks.

Some ideas for Fennel:

1. Roast it: Slice thinly and toss with olive oil and herbs. Bake in an oven at 400 degrees until roasted.
2. Roast it with other vegetables: Toss in olive oil and roast with other vegetables such as peppers, onions, and zucchinis. Bake in a 400 degree oven until the vegetable’s edges are crisped while the rest of the vegetable soften.

Au Gratin:
3. Baked it: Slice paper thin and add to a potato gratin with crispy bacon

Raw in a Salad:
4. Throw it in a salad: dice raw fennel and add to your next salad (alongside some juicy tomatoes, and buttery boston lettuce)
5. Shave it: Shave fennel and plate with oranges and blue cheese salad (similar to my raw beet salad)

6. Braised it: Cut in large chunks and braise in white wine with leeks or onions
7. Serve it as a main dish: Braise in white wine, with chicken thighs, cannellini beans, tomatoes and onions.

With Seafood:
7. Steam it with mussels: Dice and toss into a moules mariniere (steamed mussels)
9. Saute it: Slice thinly and saute with butter and served with a portion of salmon
10. Throw it in a crab linguine: Dice and cook in a crab linguine pasta dish. Here’s one to try out, add about 1/2c diced fennel when sautéing the garlic and chillies. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/linguinewithcrab_66026.shtml

If there is an ingredient you would like to see for future, drop me a line! Suggestions are always welcome.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Would Obama Eat This Chili? I Hope So...

Autumn has been dropping by periodically for at least a month now, and with each visit, it leaves us with colder weather, more fiery-coloured fallen leaves, and a definite dampness in the air. There was no point in denying it last week, when we set our clocks back an hour calling an end to Daylight Savings Time. There would be no more warm weather this year so we spent the better part of this past weekend preparing our home for the season ahead. We raked the leaves in our yard, put our outdoor furniture away and cleaned our basement. However, there is an upside to ushering in the cold weather, and it's the transition to the comfort foods which we eat with gluttonous glee. In our household, our favourite winter dish is the king of comfort foods, chili. And if you need further inspiration, apparently US President-Elect Barack Obama also makes a mean chili. With that kind of pedigree, I thought I might share my take on this great American classic this week.

While Americans are definitely passionate about chili, there is little agreement on what constitutes a proper chili. In fact, my quick internet search this morning revealed many permutations and combinations of chili based on regional tastes and ingredients. Say what you may, and however you like your chili, it’s a great cold weather dish and definite crowd pleaser. I can vouch that this is an absolutely delicious, flavourful and easy chili which has pleased the hearts and stomachs of many over the years.

The incarnation of this chili began many years ago when I was introduced to Cincinnati Chili. It had me at “hello” and it has been love ever since. Cincinnati Chili is a hugely popular chili all along the Ohio River Valley. It's more of a meat sauce in a thin, but rich broth served over spaghetti with a mound of thinly rasped orange-coloured cheddar. This is known as a Three-Way chili. Serve it with raw onions (!) and it’s a Four-Way and further top it with kidney beans and it’s a Five-Way. Any which way, I love Cincinnati Chili because of the rich flavours and perhaps because it is served over my favourite noodle, spaghetti. This version is still bold, but thicker and includes vegetables for additional flavour.

Don’t be put out by the parade of spices required for this recipe. It’s mostly common everyday spices that you have in your cupboard today, and is certainly worth the effort. This symphony of warm middle-eastern spices is really Moroccan-inspired, bearing a strong resemblance to one of my favourite spice mixes, charmoula, a North African blend of spices and herbs. And if you think the chocolate is a strange ingredient in this chili, please trust me on this one. Think of a Mexican chocolate mole sauce which is savoury, rich and complex. In this instance, chocolate is used to deepen and enrich flavours and this is exactly what it does in this for this chili. Try it out and if you absolutely, don’t like it, write me back and tell me about it.

In the past, I have made two versions for parties, a meat version and a vegetarian one. To make this vegetarian, I use a can of kidney beans (but use whatever beans you like) plus whatever vegetables you enjoy.

I have cooked this recipe in a slow cooker for a large weekend batch, but it easily cooked in a Dutch oven or any large stove top pot.

Cincinnati-Style Chili

1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion finely minced
1 garlic clove minced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp chili powder
1 pinch ground cloves
2 bay leaves

1/2 pepper diced
1 celery stalk diced
10 white mushrooms sliced

1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste (maybe two if you like your chili thicker)

finely grated cheddar cheese (the amount is up to you)

This recipe doubles nicely if you’re making it for large groups. But do check seasonings for taste, I have found for larger batches, you need to add additional salt, and chili. But I don't double the cocoa powder. I add an additional 1/2tsp.

1. Cook meat, onions and garlic until fully cooked on a low-medium heat. (Cook the meat but do not brown it.) Drain off fat as necessary. Move to a slow cooker.
2. Add the cinnamon, all spice, mustard, cocoa, cumin, salt, chili and ground cloves. Stir to incorporate.
3. Add can of tomatoes, tomato paste, other vegetables and bay leaves to the slow cooker. Mix thoroughly and cover.
4. Simmer for 8 hours in slow cooker or at least 2 hours on a stove top.
5. Serve with rice as I have done here or if you're more traditional, over spaghetti. Top with finely grated cheddar.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What To Do With…. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a rich tasting, delicious and low fat dairy product that adds tang to foods. It is a highly versatile ingredient that is used in many applications including baking (cakes, scones, pancakes, and waffles), as a dressing, and as a tenderizer for meats.

I bought the smallest carton of buttermilk to bake a cake, but at one litre, it’s far more buttermilk than I really need…

So, here are ten ways I use buttermilk in my everyday recipes:

1. Mashed potatoes: Instead of using cream or milk, substitute buttermilk
2. Steamed potatoes: When I was in France, a friend served me this really simple dish. Season about half a cup to a cup of buttermilk with salt & pepper and snippets of chives, pour over hot steamy potatoes (quantity depends on the amount of potatoes and how much you want to use)
3. Fruit Smoothie: Blend 1½c of buttermilk with 1 cup of frozen fruit, add honey to sweeten
4. Cold avocado soup: Puree a ripe avocado with buttermilk, season with salt pepper and cumin, thin with additional buttermilk (if necessary) and garnish with cilantro
5. Marinade for breaded chicken: In a glass baking tray, marinate chicken in buttermilk overnight. Pat dry before breading and proceed as usual.
6. Ranch dressing: Mix 1 c of buttermilk, 1/2c mayonnaise, snipped chives and dill, ½ clove of minced garlic, salt and pepper
7. Buttermilk ice cream: Great with intensely sweet desserts like dark chocolate cake

For baking you can substitute buttermilk for recipes including:
8. Blueberry muffins
9. Scones
10. Pancakes

Monday, November 3, 2008

Beets Are The New Black

Just a shout out to My Kind of Food’s US readers. Happy voting. Democracy is a beautiful thing.

When I was growing up, I don’t think beets made a regular appearance at our family table, and as unfortunate as it may be, I don’t think I was the only one with such limited experience with beets. But today, beets are everywhere and I have discovered quite a fondness for them. I have noticed beets but not just the retro-chic pickles and borscht (which I love), but elevated to new heights of culinary sophistication including creamy risottos, crisp salads, and sexy sides. Even my Chinese mother serves beets when we come over for dinner these days. So if it makes it onto her table – then beets must be the new black.

I am thrilled that beets have experienced a renaissance, because they are fantastic and terribly underrated. They come in an array of colours, are relatively inexpensive, and easily prepared. They possess complex flavour in that they are sweet when roasted, but deliciously crunchy and earthy when consumed raw. And of course, they have an indefatigable colour that announces exactly where they’ve been as there is no mistaking a beet has been on your plate.

Beet Salad with Oranges and Blue Cheese

I marinate the red onions briefly to remove some of the bite. But if you slice them ever so thinly and marinate them, oh yum! It’s delicious. For this salad, I scrape a red onion over my Benriner mandolin, but a sharp knife and a steady hand will do the trick.

Serves 2

2 beets – peeled and trimmed
1 orange – peeled and segmented – or canned*
¼ small red onion
1 tbsp champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar)
1 handful of parsley
¼ c crumbled Roquefort cheese

1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar)

1. Thinly slice a red onion and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle with vinegar and set aside.
2. Slice beets thinly and arrange on a platter. Arrange orange segments on top.
3. Roughly chop parsley. Sprinkle over this over the salad and dot with blue cheese.
4. Remove onions from the bowl and drain off slightly, add to the salad. It seems like a lot and some days, I put more and some days I put less. Taste the onions first and decide how much you feel like.
5. Sprinkle vinegar over the salad, and drizzle honey over top.

*This is a Hungry Gal shortcut - I use orange segments from a can. Why? …because they are easy, and inexpensive. I might concede that fresh oranges are probably better, but this is far more convenient, and supreming an orange seems to be a bit fussy. Don’t you agree?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Kitchen Gadgets & Sunchokes

I do love my kitchen gadgets. But like most people, I have to admit, over the years I have collected and hoarded those little things, in fact, I have two drawers teeming full. However, in reality, most of these gadgets warmed the bench and never really saw any game time.

Thus, in an effort to really only own the kitchen gadgets I need, I actively exercised restraint whenever I came upon on the Benriner mandolin slicer at my favourite Japanese grocery store, Sanko Trading. It sat on the top shelf of the small single aisle store with a little hand-written sign appealing to my food obsession nature: “Benriner Japanese slicer! Excellent for slicing! Now only $29.99.” Every time I stopped in, I’d stand in front of the Benriner, read the sign and say to myself, “You know, it would be so useful at home. It would really elevate my skills in the kitchen.” I always wanted one, and I imagined its razor sharp blades easily slicing through the hardest vegetables dispensing them into fine, papery slices or perfectly uniform matchsticks or batons. It took about four visits to that grocery store before I accepted my fate and bought the Benriner.

With the Benriner now at home, it needed an appropriate debut. This week at the Market, we picked up a knobbly, knuckly vegetable called a sunchoke (also known as, a Jerusalem artichoke.) In fact, I must confess, I didn’t know what it was initially. My husband pointed to what he thought was ginger, but when I saw it, it didn’t look quite right to me. At first glance, I thought it might be galangal, a pale rhizome bearing an uncanny resemblance to the ginger. But when I picked it up, it had no discernable scent. The woman at the market must have noticed my bewilderment, “It’s a sunchoke,” she advised.

A quick search on the internet revealed that sunchokes are a starchy tuber, similar to a potato in texture, but resembling a ginger. Therefore, sunchoke’s starchy nature was naturally suited for a lovely re-imagining of a classic potato dish, Pommes Anna. And the Benriner did not disappoint. Smooth and sharp, it razed the hard nubby ‘chokes into delicate pedals in a matter of seconds. Within several minutes, the bowl of sunchokes turned into a pile of translucent papery shavings. Not quite ready to put the Benriner away, I also dispensed with a large garlic clove and a stalk of celery in the same efficient manner.

Oh the power of the Benriner! It is the one Ring to rule all kitchen gadgets.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this recipe does border on being fussy. We made this dish on the weekend when our night was all about a big dinner. Stayed tuned, I suspect a gratin dauphinoise (or potato gratin) will make it to the dinner table sometime soon.

Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke) Pommes Anna

1 lb sunchokes – washed, peeled or unpeeled
1 large garlic clove
1 celery rib
3 tbsp butter

Handful of parsley
Salt and pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice to prevent the sunchokes from darkening

1. Very carefully, slice sunchokes on a mandolin (or food processor) into thin translucent slices over a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent discolouration.
2. Process garlic and celery in the same manner in a separate bowl.
3. Drain the sunchokes and dry well with a towel.
4. Add 2 tbsp of butter to a large skillet.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
6. Heat the skillet until the butter is melted and foamy. Turn heat down to low. Arrange approximately a third of the sunchokes, concentrically. Layer a 1/3 of the celery and garlic, repeat until complete.
7. Place a plate on top of the slices and weigh down with a large can.
8. Turn up heat to medium and cook for ten minutes.
9. Remove plate and can and dot the surface with the remaining tablespoon of butter
10. Place skillet in the oven and bake for another twenty minutes or until crispy and brown.
11. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Disclosure: I have no commercial affiliation to the Benriner; I am just a big fan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

You Say Sustainable, I Say Delectable!

In an age of instant everything, the idea of being able to access whatever food our heart desires whenever we want, has indeed been a perk of our modern lives, particularly for us who live in colder climes.

Advancements in transportation, bio-science, and agricultural practices have exposed our palates to exotic flavours and delights we could only have dreamed about or read about in books about faraway places. However, the availability of new foods from the four corners of the earth has also come with another dark side. Global demand for certain foods has accelerated the depletion of these natural resources to the brink of extinction.

One case in point is a once-favoured fish, Chilean sea bass. Once featured prominently on the menus of many restaurants in this city, it is near impossible to find it today. In particular, Chilean sea bass has become the poster child for raising the awareness of the overfishing of certain stocks with several prominent Toronto chefs even removing this and other overfished species from their menus.

Chilean sea bass rose to be a favourite fish of mine because it possesses an intense rich buttery flavour. I think black cod, also known as sablefish, is a great substitute, and it’s a fish I can enjoy ethically for now.

Here is the simple way to prepare this wonderful fish. It’s very flavourful and super quick. This fish could be accompanied by a side of brown rice and stir fried vegetables topped with toasted cashews.

The Miso Glaze works well for other fatty fish like salmon.

Black Cod with Miso Glaze

Serves 2

2 fillets of black cod (sablefish)
1 tbsp miso
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp butter

sprinkle of black sesame seeds

1. Clean and pat dry the fillet.
2. Pre-heat broiler.
3. Whisk the miso, mirin, rice vinegar, and soy sauce together in a separate bowl until a thick smooth paste forms.
4. Heat a skillet at medium high, add butter until it is hot and sizzles.
5. Place fillet on the skillet, skin side down. Resist the temptation to move or touch the fish. Cook for about 5-10 minutes or until skin crisps up and the bottom of the fish starts to become opaque.
6. When the fish is cooked most of the way through, spoon miso paste over the top of the fillet.
7. Place under broiler until the fish is cooked and the miso glaze is golden. It happens quickly so don’t go answer your phone while your fish is in the broiler.

Weekday Meal Prep:
If you are serving this with rice and vegetables, the first thing is to get the rice cooking as it takes the longest and your vegetables prepped before you start cooking the fish so all the components of dinner are ready at the same time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What To Do With…. Romanesco Broccoli

A new feature I am introducing to my blog is “What To Do With…”

I believe people are inclined to try new foods, but they don’t know what to do with it or what it tastes like. Or alternatively, they know one or two recipes for a particular ingredient, but don’t know what else it can be used for. My goal for My Kind of Food is to have a repertoire of great handy ideas and sometimes recipes that will encourage you to try something new or to use an ingredient in a new way.

If there is an ingredient you would like to see for future, drop me a line! Suggestions are welcome.

My favourite part of going to the market is discovering something seasonal and fleeting. Something you can only savour at a special time of the year. Right now, the markets are carrying the Romanesco broccoli. It’s a really unusual looking thing. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie: lurid lime-green colour, angular shape and a bumpy surface like that of an uninhabited planet. But if you think of it like any old broccoli or cauliflower, you'll find it's really simple to cook and enjoy.

The Romanesco is very similar to the cauliflower in both taste and texture and therefore, any preparation you use for cauliflower would be just as nice for the strange looking vegetable.

Some ideas of what to do with Romanesco:

1. Steamed and served with a béchamel or cheese sauce
2. Roasted with smoked paprika and butter
3. Made into a gratin with gruyere and cream
4. Sautéed with garlic and olive oil
5. Steamed and pureed into a soup

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Best Laid Plans

Having a reputation for some competence in the kitchen often brings in requests from friends seeking out a new recipe, particularly for a special occasion. In fact, as much as I love such requests, I also fret over them. Oh the (self-imposed) pressure!

Preparing a meal at its basic level is an act of sustainment and nourishment, we eat to live. But at its grandest, preparing a meal is theatre, a labour of love and an expression of passion. Whether it is a mother preparing lunch for her children, or a three-star Michelin chef dazzling his diners, food is a vehicle to communicate our affection, our joy, our pride.

This week, a friend of mine, Ralph, asked me for a recipe for ceviche in anticipation for a date he is having later on in the week. Since my return from Mexico, I had been thinking about re-creating a ceviche dish I had and so his request for the appetizer was well-timed. I had been thinking about ceviche shooters: soft pillowy scallops, dotted with tiny cumin seeds and a fine dice of red peppers, swimming in tangy mouth-watering broth of lime juice, salt and the slightest hint of tequila. However, I couldn't seem to get my hands on sushi-grade seafood this weekend which I think is a must not only from a taste standpoint but also from a food safety perspective. So, instead of something for the beginning of the meal, I thought I might share with Ralph a little something for the end of the meal.

This is the easiest dessert I know and an absolutely lovely way to end a nice supper. It is a dessert we eat often in my home and although light tasting, it is supremely satisfying.

Panna cotta (meaning "cooked cream" in Italian) is an elegant dessert which is super easy to make and takes fifteen minutes of cooking time. In its traditional form, it is as pale as the fresh fallen snow, made generally with cream and milk. It is delicate and smooth, unadulterated by strong flavours or colourings. In this version, I have looked to south-east Asian agar* desserts for inspiration. By contrast, agar desserts from south-east Asia are colourful sturdy gelatinous squares intensely flavoured by pandan, and coconut. It is usually served alongside a plate of sliced tropical fruit. While there is a similar flavour here, I like gelatinous desserts that quiver, wobble and yield to slightest pressure under a spoon. This is not a dessert that could be used as a paper weight, it is so light it almost floats.

We normally have agar* at home for when I make these light smooth mango puddings (a staple in Dim Sum houses everywhere) using a recipe very similar to the one below. I created this dessert when I didn't have mango puree, but a quick forage through my pantry yielded velvety coconut milk, creamy evaporated milk and sticky brown sugar. Of course, it's just a simple pudding but give it a fashionable name like panna cotta and your guests will be impressed.

The texture of this panna cotta is as it would be cooked in the traditional way: wobbly, delicate and light. It is the palest mocha and is deliciously fragrant.

Brown Sugar and Coconut Panna Cotta
Serves 4

1 500ml can light coconut milk
1 300ml can low-fat evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp of agar powder* (also called agar agar, or kanten)
1/2 c brown sugar (packed)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Measure and pour ingredients into a tall saucepan, except for about 1/2c of the milk and the agar powder.
2. In a tall saucepan, simmer coconut milk, evaporated milk, sugar and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining milk and agar together until fully incorporated and there are no lumps.
4. Add mixture to the sauce pan, whisk quickly to incorporate and simmer until warm. There should be no lumpy gelantinous bits. (If there are, you can strain them out before you pour into ramekins. Important: Do not allow this mixture to boil otherwise it will split and will not be creamy and opaque in appearance.
5. Prepare four ramekins by rinsing them in cold water and place the ramekins underneath a towel. Do not wipe the inside of the ramekins dry. The cold water will help in the removal of the panna cottas.
6. Pour mixture into a jug. (I use a 4c glass measuring cup which helps me measure out an equal amount into the ramekins.) Gently pour the mixture into the individual ramekins, allow to cool slightly, then cover lightly with cling wrap allowing steam to escape. When cool, refrigerate them until ready to serve.
7. To serve, warm a butter knife under hot water and gently slip along the edges of the ramekin. Place the plate on top of the ramekin and ever so carefully, invert the plate so that the bottom of the ramekin is facing upward. Carefully wiggle the ramekin away from the panna cotta. Dust the panna cotta with cinnamon, and chocolate shavings. Use the lightest touch. Alternatively, you can serve the panna cottas in the ramekins. Serve immediately.

*I can't find agar - what do I do?
Agar is a natural seaweed-derived gelling agent. It is a great alternative to gelatine for vegans. However, unlike gelatine, agar can also set at room temperature. Agar may be found in a health food stores or Asian grocery stores. If you can't find agar and you're not a vegan, use gelatin instead. It can be found in the dessert section of grocery stores (beside the Jell-o), baking supply stores or health food stores.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apples + Cranberries = Fall Flavour

When we received our CSA share this week, we found little mangled Macintosh apples at the bottom of our box. A bit bruised and draped with dirt from the other tenants of the half share box this week. These little globes were not shiny and gorgeous like their Whole Food brethren. While they were too damaged to eat out of hand, they might do quite well transformed into a luscious crisp or a spicy chutney.

And truth be known, I had apple chutney on the brain ever since I sampled a bite at the farmer's market table several weeks back. Gosh, it was heavenly. It was sweet, savoury, tart, and bright. It left me wanting to make my own batch.

Since we had an apple pie sitting on the kitchen counter, an apple crisp might be overkill this week and a spicy, fragrant apple chutney might be a nice little accompaniment for fall meals. Best part of all, apple chutneys aren't fussy. It's a couple of apples, a little tang, some spices, cook for 20 minutes and you're good to go. (Unless you want to can them, but this requires a little more effort and time. Since this is a small batch - it makes a little more than a litre - you can jar a couple and stick them in the fridge to eat them in quick order. Or give it to a friend who will appreciate the fruits of your labour.)

I had two ginger gold apples (my personal favourite - the ginger gold is a tart and crisp with a slight hint of ginger warmth) sitting in the crisper. I threw them in to add extra body since Macs transform into something more jammy and luscious. But use the apples you have and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Once done, I packed the chutney in lovely gleaming glass mason jars, but I didn't process them so they went straight into the fridge once cooled.

4 small macintosh apples (use what you have and adjust the spice proportions)
2 ginger gold apples
1/2 c onion minced finely
1 c dried cranberries
1 c fresh cranberries
1/2c brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 c orange juice
1/2c white wine vinegar
ginger (thumb size piece)

1. Peel and cut apples into medium sized dice. Cut the onion into a smaller dice (or whiz onion in your food processor)
2. In a medium sized saucepan, add apples, onions, cranberries, brown sugar, orange juice, and vinegar. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat.
3. Meanwhile grate ginger over a ceramic grater and add to chutney.
4. Simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. The apples will be jammy and sticky but should still be chunky.

Serve with crackers or as a side to turkey.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Civilized Picnic Lunch

I have been inspired of late. Not sure if it's the fleeting re-appearance of summer or the end of wedding planning season. (The lead up to getting married takes up far too much emotional and intellectual energy even for us non-bridezilla types and perhaps now that I am happily married, my brain has refocused on my primary pre-occupation: food!)

Paris is truly one of my favourite places because of its outdoor market culture. Although, I must confess that I have never met an outdoor market, I didn’t like. Markets in Paris sell everything, books, clothes, flowers and of course, foods. As we explored neighbourhoods and strolled down streets, we stumbled upon many markets in Paris. We weaved through markets, peering in to see what the many vendors had on offer, often picking up an impossibly light baguette, some plums, and nuts. We rounded out our market goodies with a thick slice of buttery pâté, a small wheel of rich and oozy brie, and a small handful of bittersweet chocolate squares. On a lazy afternoon, these are the best lunches – an impromptu gathering of nibbles and bites.

Today, I visited my favourite market of all markets - St. Lawrence Market with the intention of coming home with such a lunch for Ryan and me. I bought a basket full of goodies for our lunch: bresaola (salty, air-cured beef sliced thinner than paper – oh heaven!); reggiano parmesan, mini sesame breadsticks and Callebaut bittersweet chocolate. Instead of buying the delicious pâtés and rillettes they had on offer, I decided to make my own pâté. So much for a low effort lunch... but at least there will be some for freezing. Very few things are as luxurious as a smooth, rich potted pâté. In fact, this type of pate is low on the cooking effort scale. Like love, this pâté is meant to be savoured and shared.

Truffled Chicken Pâté - Terrine De Foies De Volaille

1 lb fresh chicken livers (cleaned)
1 c onion (finely minced)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 oz cognac
2 bay leaves
1 tsp truffle oil
3/4 c butter

1. Roughly chop chicken livers.
2. Melt butter in a small saucepan, add chicken livers, onions, and bay leaves.
3. Cook until chicken livers are slightly pink. Add cognac. Heat until alcohol has evaporated. (This should take a minute or two.) Remove off heat. Cover and cool.
4. When the mixture has slightly cooled, drain the liquid, reserving about 1/2c. (use it to thin out the mixture as you process it, as required.)
5. Process mixture in batches in a food processor. You are looking for a smooth creamy consistency. Set aside to cool completely.
6. If you haven't already, take the butter out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
7. When mixture is fully cooled, and the butter is at room temperature, fully incorporate butter and truffle oil into the pâté mixture with a spatula.
8. Pack into small pots for serving. If not serving right away, melt butter in a saucepan, and pour melted butter (without the milk solids) to preserve the pâté. Or pack into an air-tight container to freeze for another day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Salsa Redux

We deliberated for months about our honeymoon destination. Did we want to go to Paris, Tuscany, Costa Rica, Japan, or something Caribbean or Mexican? Oh the decisions! Surprisingly, this was the most difficult part of the whole wedding process. Some people fight over seating arrangements, budgets and food. Not us. Our lively debates centered around our honeymoon. "Well, how about Paris?" Then we thought, "Should we go some place new?" And then the bankers in us asked, "what about the Euro exchange rate?" "Well, then how about St. Lucia..." These conversations went on for months. We were paralyzed by our own indecision.

In the end, we chose a gorgeous resort outside of Cancun. A small hotel outside of the city and right on the beach. It would be a great place to unwind after the hectic pace of our wedding preparations and following celebrations. Our resort didn't disappoint - We felt like royalty from the moment we arrived... with no workday worries, we frittered hours away pouring over our novels, sipping margaritas, and stretching out like fat cats on our poolside loungers. We ate like kings noshing on 3 bite fish tacos, indulging on jumbo shrimp cocktails, and throwing back ceviche shooters.

I haven't been blogging much lately or for that long for that matter and so I probably shouldn't be recycling my own recipes, but I absolutely must. Tomatillos are such a farmer's market delight and now they are available in full swing.

We received some this week from our CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) and I dug out the recipe I posted last year. I had the beautiful roasted grape tomatoes* that I made earlier this week and thought I might take my advice and try roasted tomatoes. The resulting recipe brightened the salsa considerably so much so that I couldn't really call it a salsa verde any longer... really it has become a salsa with tomatillos.

1/2 pint of tomatillos (about 5 medium sized)
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes (roasted)
1 small white onion, cut into chunks
3 cloves of garlic - rough chop
1 jalapeno - seeded, chopped finely
juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of olive oil

Peel the brown papery husks and wash the tomatillos. Chop the tomatillos roughly.

Heat the olive oil and add onions, garlic and tomatillos. Saute until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes (fresh and roasted), sugar, and salt. Once heated through, take off heat and whiz in a food processor. Pulse it so you still have large chunks.

Refrigerate until cold and serve with nachos.

Makes 2 cups

*I love roasted tomatoes and it's one of the easiest things you can do to add intensity in both colour and flavour to your everyday meals. If cherry/grape tomatoes are available, wash them and tumble them into a roast pan. Sprinkle with salt and pop in a low temperature oven (200 degrees) for ninety minutes or longer until they are wrinkled like plump raisins. If you are using larger tomatoes, slice them thickly. Follow the instructions accordingly.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Broccoli Potato Soup

It has been unseasonably cold in Toronto this past week so much so that I took my winter coat out of storage, grudgingly removed the dry cleaner's cover and wore it to work today. But it's not even Thanksgiving yet, I pleaded. Sigh.

So as my winter weather clothes come upstairs from our basement storage, it is time for me to pack away my the warm weather recipes of salads, light summer suppers and usher in thick woolly sweaters, slow cookers and comfort foods. So it begins...

Hmm. Did that sound overly negative about winter... Let me clarify... it's not a bad thing altogether. I do love comfort food. I love the warm, rich dishes we allow ourselves to indulge in when it's cold outside because we feel it fortifies our bodies and nourishes our souls... But I guess I was having a hard time, just because there are little green orbs on my tomato plant that sits on my backporch garden and there wasn't enough of the sun's rays to warm those little darlings to red. I just wasn't ready to say good bye.

Well, not all of summer is lost, yet... While the air feels chilled, there is still one remnant of summer with us. Our CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) half summer share continues for the rest of this month. In the early days of summer, we received tastes like garlic scapes, rhubarb, and strawberries. As the summer progressed, we were treated to tastes like exotic lettuce mixes, garlic, onions, herbs, peppers, potatoes, jalapenos, cantalopes, and watermelon. The half share brought a connection to the earth we never had before with our food. While we do our best to eat local, support the farmer's markets and eat foods in season, our weekly bounty from our organic CSA really made an impact to the way we think about our environment and the challenges farmers face.

This June, it rained hard and our first half pint of strawberries were on the small side and pock marked. The following week, the weather had improved and our strawberries were bright, fragrant and juicy. As an "owner" of a half share of a CSA farm, we are receive a "share" of the weekly harvest. What the weekly share is is highly dependent on what is ready to be harvested by the farm's owners. In the earlier weeks of the summer when the weather was unseasonably cold, our weekly box reflected this. At the height of summer, we would gasp at how many vegetables were in our box. There were weeks where we struggled to eat the contents of our "half share" and this week was no exception.

Now as summer fades into fall, our summer deliveries are winding down but our weekly take is still bountiful. With a small bunch of broccoli threatening to whither, about a pound of potatoes, and a bright grapefruit size white onion, I decided that a warming, hearty soup would be a good use of some of the gorgeous produce we received this week. It was also a good excuse to use my new Le Creseut dutch oven.

Broccoli Potato Soup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bunch of broccoli - washed well - no stalks
5-6 medium sized white potatoes - peeled
1 medium sized onion (or a half of one large one)- chopped roughly
1 liter of vegetable stock

1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute gently. Sweat the onions, until they are soft and glossy.
2. Chop the potatoes into a large chunks and add to the pot.
3. Add broccoli and vegetable broth. Lower heat to a simmer and cover.
4. Cook until the potatoes are soft and crumble underneath your spoon.
5. Carefully, insert an immersion blender and whiz the soup until smooth and creamy. Do this slowly and carefully. If the soup is too thick, you can thin it out with additional vegetable broth. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Farmer's Market Summer Vegetable Pasta

At the height of summer (ok ok - I have been negligent to post), the tables at the farmers markets overflowing with an abundance of gorgeous ripe, fragrant produce. Thursday is the night we head to the farmer's market which is around the corner from the depot where we pick up our CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) half share allotment. We always catch the tail end of the market and sometimes some of the farmers are packing up. But I love going anyway. There are always a small handful of vendors who wait for the stragglers like me. The market closest to our foos is situated on the edge of a park and children's playground. Every week, swarms of tiny children covered in face paint descend upon the park, laughing, running, falling down and sometimes crying under the watchful eyes of their parents.

I love markets, particularly at the height of the season when the tomatoes, corn and basil shine. In fact, it's hard to keep me away. Some girls like shoe shopping, I like food shopping. I love looking at the long rectangular tables abundant with fresh vegetables everywhere glistening and fragrant of the earth and the possibility of what could be for dinner that night.

As we walked home, I thought about how I could put a meal together that would be simple and quick but would allow the natural fresh flavours of this week's harvest to shine through. This little gem is what I came up with...

1 lb cesarecce pasta (or other short pasta like gemelli)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large cloves of garlic, minced (lots I know - but I love it)
1 onion
2 zucchinis
25 cherry tomatoes
1 small red chilli – deseeded, finely sliced
2 handfuls of flat leaf parsley and curly parsley
salt & pepper to taste

To save time in the kitchen, prepare your vegetables as the water for your pasta boils. You will need to prepare your vegetables in the following order:
Mince garlic
Thinly slice onion
De-seed chilli and finely slice (it can be very hot so be careful and wash your hands thoroughly)
Dice zucchinis
Halve cherry tomatoes
Chop herbs

1. Bring water to a boil, generously salt, add pasta. Stir briefly to prevent sticking. Cook to package instructions (8-10 minutes)
2. As the pasta cooks, this is the time to finishing preparing the vegetables. Work quickly. Melt butter in a large pre-heated pan. The pan should not be too hot because you want the butter to melt gently until its slightly foamy and not sizzling. Add garlic, onions and chili and stir until translucent. Add diced zucchini and stir until it softens slightly. Add herbs to pan. Stir to incorporate.
3. Just before the pasta is al dente, scoop pasta out with a slotted spoon into the pan.
4. Mix the pasta with the vegetables, add a small amount of the pasta water if you need to loosen
5. Serve!!
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