Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: Local winter greens…

“Good things will come to those who wait.”  While that may be true in principle, it’s tough to replace the convenience of ramen noodles and a king can of light beer (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

If you follow some of the contents of our posts, you will know there is a bit more of a conversation starting there these days – this is something that thrills me beyond words.  It’s just so much fun to see others discussing back and forth and learning and sharing off of each other and really feels much more like a conversation and not a speech.  It’s just a lot more fun for us and, hopefully, for those involved.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet: Local winter greens... Sprouts January Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

The apple of my eye – sentimental food..

When Dana placed a 5-pound bag of apples in our shopping cart I barely blinked.  I paid more attention than I would have a year ago – knowing that they are one of the few locally farmed foods that we can buy in the middle of winter.

The apple of my eye   sentimental food.. January

A few hours later I found myself mindlessly reaching for an apple from the counter. It wasn’t a great apple.  Most of them have marks, are fairly dry and wear the look of something stored marginally.  But it was an apple after all.

I sat on the couch and had a bite and, to my surprise, I found myself reminiscing about apples.  The first memory was a strong one – I went to college with a woman named Chow.  We weren’t close; she was shy, academic and quiet while I was loud, angry and smelling my own teen spirit.  We were always pleasant with each other and frequently traded niceties – but weren’t close.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the one significant conversation we shared.

Chow was from Viet Nam.  She fled the country with the help of her family at a young age.  She escaped as a preteen with a younger brother.  Her parents left the country separately and Chow had to navigate harsh jungle-like conditions for 10 days to guide her brother to safety.  Hunger, cold and fear were all very real.

When the two youngsters made it to freedom they were near starved.  Chow was handed an apple – she described it as her first taste of freedom.  She claimed (and I believed her) that she ate an apple every day since.  I don’t eat apples often but when I do, I almost always think of her.  She continues to inspire me with that memory.

More memories flooded in as well:

  • Apple pie made by my now-late mentor was his specialty
  • Apple crumble is an all-time favourite – and one that I remember discussing with my Grandmother in grand detail
  • Vivid memories of stuffing apples with brown sugar, wrapping in tin foil and throwing in a fire as a boy scout.
  • Eating apples in the back country of a Provincial Park as I worked on the trails with a small team.  One insisted that an apple could make your mouth feel like you just brushed your teeth.  Not sure why that memory stuck, but it did.
  • Memories of throwing crab apples into the neighbors pool as a child – and the trouble that came with it.

As I ate the apple I found myself surprised at how strong the memories were – as much as facts and mental images flooded my mind’s eye, I found myself processing strong emotions at the same time.  Some were sweet, some a little more bitter – all were very vivid.

Are there any tastes that marinate your memory?

Book review: COCO

It’s been some time since we’ve had a book review here – well overdue as the shelf continues to pile high with new knowledge and so many fascinating new books that I have yet to really sit down and digest.  I love buying books, having books, seeing books, knowing that they are there but I don’t read nearly enough.  I could use my childhood dyslexia as an excuse but it would simply be that.  I have a small goal of reading more cookbooks and following more recipes this year – I tend to be “inspired” by a recipe but lose valuable lessons from others by always interpreting it my way.

Book review: COCO January

COCO is very much about learning off of each other.  I think it’s one of the most fascinating “cookbooks” of the last few years even though it’s publicity has been relatively quiet compared to others (such as Momofuko which I also will get my hands on).  It’s not that it didn’t get a reasonable amount of press – it’s just that much of that was limited to chefs and many foodie types indoctrinated into food culture – many more casual (yet passionate) cooks missed this treasure.

The premise is simple.  The publisher (Phaidon) selected 10 world-class chefs and challenges each of them to identify 10 contemporary chefs that they would feature.  The result is 100 profiles of chefs – profiles created and oozing with the personalities of the 10 world-class leaders.  For people who watch television like Top Chef or Chef Masters, these profiles may prove extremely interesting and introduce all of us to some potentially new names.  Photos of their dishes and many recipes are included as well.

The 10 masters are:

  • Ferran Adria (Spain).  Owned of El Bulli – named the Best Restaurant in the World more times than any other restaurant.
  • Alain Ducasse (France).  Monster French chef owning restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo and others.
  • Alice Waters (USA).  Credited with starting the buzz of local, organic food in restaurants in the early 1970s.
  • Rene Redzepi (Norway).  Renowned for reinventing Nordic cuisine and recognized for his innovation and approach.
  • Jacky Yu (Hong Kong).  One of China’s biggest chefs with his own line of cookbooks, tv show, restaurants and food products.
  • Yoshihiro Maurata (Japan).  Recognized worldwide for his interpretation and impact on what is considered to be modern Japanese cuisine.
  • Fergus Henderson (UK).  Nose to Tail eating took off worldwide – many credit this eccentric British chef (we featured him here).  Essentially recognized as a top chef for chefs to dine at.
  • Shannon Bennet (Australia).  Fine French dining in the heart of Australia where her restaurant is recognized as one of the best in the country.
  • Mario Batali (USA).  Beyond Food Network appearances, Mario Batali has more than a dozen well-respected restaurants in the US and is a past winner of the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award.
  • Gordon Ramsay (UK/USA).  International acclaim including a 3-Michelin star restaurant in London.

Each star profiles 10 of their favourites, presents a small sample menu, photos, a biography and, often, recipes to go along.  It’s a fascinating read to see why each made their selections as they did and provides culinary sleuths with enough leads to investigate (a la Google) to last a lifetime.

Book review: COCO January

What further separates this book from others is it’s design.  Each Master is given a color on the cover – these colors correspond to 10 colored bookmarks and each section uses the color of the Chef to further convey which one is delivering the message.  It’s a stunning collection and a wonderful attention to detail.

There was some controversy in Canada over the picks.  The Canadian Culinary scene created a petition to protest that no Canadian chefs were chosen and a New York blog fired back that two of the picks were born or started their careers here.  Toronto Life ran the story here if you want more detail.  I don’t find myself offended – I didn’t interpret this as the definitive Top 100 and imagine all would want to add more than 10 simple selections after all.

Regardless of ego, it’s well worth investigating and worthy of a Sunday afternoon and a blanket – which is my play this afternoon!

The one kitchen gadget I couldn’t live without…

I like gizmos.  Gizmos and gadgets to be more specific.  I’m not sure what the difference is between the two but I’m sure there must be a difference and it’s probably an important one.  But I do know that I love them both.

Before I get to the one “gadget” that I am absolutely smitten with, I need to offer some context. As your read the following take a moment to consider – what is the one item that you have in your kitchen that many would think is a simple gadget that you simply couldn’t live without.

We also have less than 4 feet of workable counter space and very limited storage in our kitchen.  We have a single drawer which stores a mess of these things – enough space to hide anything that you are precisely looking for while not allowing you room to expand by a single other item.  It’s a bit like pandora’s box – once you open it you may never be able to close it.

Alas, all is not loss – we, indeed, have more room to store things.  An old flour container (which, despite being pretty, never actually contained flour) efficiently robs us of a remaining square foot of counter space to store every long tool we can jam in it.  We store two types of tools in this space:

  • spoons and other long-handled instruments of precision cooking that we use once a day or more.
  • spoons and other long-handled instruments of precision cooking that we use once a decade or less.

Life is, after all, about balance.

All cheekiness aside, there are many things I love about our kitchen.  There’s a massive exposed brick wall, open concept which means our kitchen is also our living room, main room and living space.  Preserving space is thin but it’s never lonely.  It’s great to host a party in and our dog loves to run around.  I’m just trying to illustrate that there is not a lot of room to waste and we have to be selective on what tools we add to our lives.  There are many things I want to add long-term – for now I collect a lot of patience and selectively add (and subtract) items to our arsenal of cooking tools.

We have purged many items over the years.  I can think of a few:

  • many broken/ inferior meat thermometers
  • spoons and spatulas – especially broken ones.  I’m not sure how one breaks a spoon although I seem to (there was the unfortunate incident of dropping one in a running food processor of course)
  • a juicer
  • bowls
  • bad glasses replaced by worse glasses (they broke frequently) replaced by no glasses
  • a tortilla press.  I didn’t use it once in 3 years and I often wish I had it – though I likely wouldn’t use it.
  • cookie cutters (note to self: I haven’t made cookies in 20 years, probably don’t need any for a while)
  • many different versions of measuring cups, spoons and other such devices.

Most of all I got rid of things that we were given or added to the kitchen that we never used and I simply don’t remember.

All of this got me thinking: If there was one inanimate object in my kitchen that I had a little bit of a man-crush on, what would it be?  When it comes to gadgets, I’ve loved and lost – certainly this experience must help me discover some sort of passion for some remaining item in our kitchen arsenal.

The process of elimination took nanoseconds.  I am simply in love with my microplane.

The one kitchen gadget I couldnt live without... January

It is deceptively easy to clean, super affordable and something I use almost every day.  I find myself consistently surprised at its many uses:

  • Cheese.  It is the King, Queen, Prince, Princess and Emperor of grating cheese.  Super fine shreds which melt softly as they are eaten and add massive flavor to every bite of a salad, dressing or more.
  • Grating spices.  Frozen ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and even garlic in a pinch.
  • Bread crumbs – grating stale frozen bread
  • Zesting.  Way faster than a speeding train – or even a zester.  The pieces are not as long as a hand zester (which we also have) but it makes amazingly fast work of citrus as we learned with more than 40 lemons and limes last weekend.

It’s like my BFF in the kitchen – always there when no other tool is while not burdening me with the guilt of not calling for days on end.  I find myself surprised on how often I use it (almost daily) and can’t imagine life without it.

Any other guilty pleasures out there?

When life gives you lemons…dehydrate them…

The learning continues.

I had a bounty of organic lemons.  The time was at hand and the mission simple – clean, cut and lay them out.  Put them on trays and insert into dehydrator.  6-8 hours later I would pull out golden jewels which would be a secret ingredient for citrus canning later this month (yeppers, for the Tigress Can Jam).

Instead it took about 20 hours and I pulled out something closer to a series of bronze medals:

When life gives you lemons...dehydrate them... Preserving Recipes Lemon January [Read more...]

Learning about making your own pizza

I made my own pizza again lest night.  It’s not something I do on a regular basis but it’s not something novel either.  Pizza is close to being a favourite – a status it achieved through almost a month exploring Italy about 7 years ago.

I decided to try something different last night – I turned to Jim Lahey’s – yep, the same one who invented No Knead Bread – for pizza advice.  The results were stunning:

Learning about making your own pizza January

There were several things I learned from this recipe and it’s approach which challenged my past experiences making pizza:

  • He does not use a pizza stone – a baking tray will do.
  • No need for cornmeal or flour at the bottom of your cooking tray either, line it with olive oil.
  • No rolling pins, no tossing.  Hand stretch it in your pan.This created a few tears which were patched up – I worried these would cause the pizza to stick to the pan but that was a non issue with the oil.
  • The sauce is extremely liquid.  In fact it is a can of plum tomatoes (14.5 ounces of tomatoes and 2/4 cup of the juice) and some olive oil.  This flys in the face of commercial pizza “paste” and what I thought made sense.  The liquid sauce keeps things moist and does not reduce to to the sweeter side of things.
  • Avoid saucing the middle of your pizza.  This I realized previously but this recipe took this to new heights.  I “kissed” the middle with sauce and want heavy on the outside as it tends to cook first.  Common sense but this had alluded me previously.
  • Cook it hot and long.  Hot I knew – but I did not expect my Pizza to survive at 500 degrees for almost 30 minutes.  The instructions were to wait for the edges to pull back from the pan and become slightly charred.   I thought this effect was only produced in a pizza oven.

The crust was thin and crispy on the outside as it gave way to a wonderfully soft and chewy crust in the middle.

Any tricks out there from other pizza lovers?  We’d love to hear them.

Check your fruit – dehydrated cranberries

Craisins.  Beautiful, sweet and bitter all at the same time.  Great in salads, granola or just for eating as is.  I love them.  I couldn’t wait to get cranberries into the dehydrator.

Lesson learned: craisins are not dehydrated cranberries.  Our small, shrivelled bits are intriguing, bitter, and interesting.  Did I mention bitter?

Check your fruit   dehydrated cranberries Preserving Recipes January Cranberry [Read more...]

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

 

We have been fairly meat-heavy on Cheap Tuesday Gourmet.  Living in a winter clime produces an inversion of pricing in the markets seasonally – meat can be cheaper the veggies in the winter and seasonal veggies drop under the price of meat in the warmer months.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   Vegetarian Split Pea Soup Peas January Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet [Read more...]

Dehydrating Lime and Lemon Zest

When we started canning, I was prepared for a long struggle in learning how to become proficient in a new skill.  It was a pleasant surprise to see how easy it was and how quick one could learn.  Success came from the first batch.

When we started dehydrating (4 batches ago at the end of December), I was ready for a short progression and instant gratification.  Place slices or whole fruit and veg in the magic box and pull out when dry.  Sounded easy.  I am learning that there is a bigger learning curve here than I thought.

Dehydrating Lime and Lemon Zest Preserving Recipes Lime Lemon January [Read more...]

Dehydrated Orange Slices

I have frequent memories of reading Mad Magazines and torn issues of Cracked as a child.  These were cartoony parodies, often cynical and often more cutting than the silly cover portrayed.

Although I have many general memories of these magazines (“What Me Worry?”, Spy Vs. Spy and movie parodies), I only have one specific memory of a particular item in the pages I once poured over.  The Magazine would often take common photos and add their own captions for humour.  They ran a piece on a motorcycle rally and had a photo of a woman driving a motorcycle with the caption “My boyfriend taught me how to drive his bike – I learn how to stop tomorrow!”  (When I read this I missed the obvious sexist undertones as I was young and tender :)).

Dehydrated Orange Slices Preserving Recipes Orange January [Read more...]