Thursday, April 29, 2010

Just for the halibut.

Ok, ok, it's a lame pun, but I really can't help myself. And this is a halibut reicpe -- I snagged some today because it looked so fresh. This recipe hails from Tanis's A platter of figs which I think I have described elsewhere as very inspirational. Well, it struck again as I quickly scanned through some books to figure out what to do with my fresh, fishy bounty. The recipe is for grilled fish, but adapts well to frying, and since we've already done steamed and grilled fish on this blog, I figured it was high time we fried something!

This recipe uses Indian spices and makes for a surprisingly subtly flavoured fish that lingers on the palate in the best possible way (i.e. you keep going "yum" later). You'll need a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds; 4 cloves, 1/2 a tablespoon of tumeric (good for you -- you need to eat more of it!), 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, a chunk of fish, and some salt and pepper. This is enough spice for a couple of fillets. The recipe calls for double the above amount, and is for 8 fillets (party on!)

Toast the seeds (cumin, coriander, and fennel) and the cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to wake them up.

Then grind them up in a mortar (with a pestle, of course). You could go for the spice grinder here, but these guys grind up fairly easily so why not zen-out with the peaceful, quiet method rather than the noisy, soul shattering one? (Ok, maybe it's not all THAT quiet, but it's a different kind of noisy.)

Once the seeds and cloves are ground up, add the tumeric and cayenne.

Plunk your slab of fish into something that won't stain (tumeric has the express goal of making the world a yellower place). Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the fish.

Then add your spice mix, and gently work it into the fish. Tanis calls for you to oil the fish first, but I forgot to. You can send it into the fridge at this point for several hours, or (if you're hungry like me!) keep on truckin'!

Next step is to fry the fish. I had some niter kebbeh on hand (we all should, it's great!) which is clarified butter seasoned with ginger, tumeric (see the theme? see the yellow?), garlic, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, onion, and nutmeg (i.e. it's awesome). So, as you may have guessed, I decided to fry the fish in niter kebbeh. You could go for butter, or your favourite oil instead, of course.

Fry the fish top side down for about 5 minutes over hotter-than-medium heat. I did it in this order in the hope that the first sear would come off the cleanest and yield a nice looking fillet. It did! See?

Then flip it over for another 5 minutes. This is a universal constant, like pi. Almost everything seems to cook in 3-5 minutes per side ('cept of course those super thick steaks we all like!).

As the fish was just about to hit the heat, I prepared some green beans too.

I like to steam these babies, so I popped them into the double boiler-type steamer thingy I have, and let them steam for about 5 minutes while the fish was cooking.

I was also lucky to have some mint coming up in the garden. Tanis calls for mint and yogurt sauce to go with this dish. I skipped the yogurt, but was happy to oblige on the mint front.

Once the fish is fried, and the beans steamed just plate up with a side of sliced tomatoes, garnish with mint and you're off to the races! I would recommend you keep the mint off the fish, since it overwhelms the delicate flavour of the spices, but it is great on everything else.

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rhubarb post script

Well, the verdict is in. The rhubarb crisp from yesterday is WAY better cold. The next day even. Like for breakfast, Calvados whipped cream and all! (Who doesn't need an excuse for a splash of breakfast booze? You can only eat so much Scotch oatmeal.) Both the whipped cream and the crisp improved after a night chilling out together. The crisp in particular mellowed out, and lost some of it's hot-off-the-press primal pucker. This must be a case of the triple-T (temperature tempered tartness). I just made that up now, but had to share.

Not much to report otherwise. Nothing noteworthy on the recipe front tonight. I should, however, share with you the super cool thing I found at Kitchenalia yesterday.

These old brass ladles were too good to pass up, and were a steal! (I didn't steal them, they were just really inexpensive.) I'm not sure what to do with them other than look at their rustic awesomeness as they hang in the kitchen. Be on the look out, though, for recipes that say: "Now take your vintage brass ladle, preferably the medium sized one...."

Bye for now -- wishing you good eatin' til next time!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rhubarb! (Or apple crisp -- actually Betty.)

Rhubarb is pretty interesting stuff. How many plants can you think of where you eat the leaf stalk? (Ok, maybe onions technically, but you get what I mean.) It is also the easiest thing on the planet to grow. It comes up every spring, nothing else in the world eats it, and you never have to look after it except maybe to divide the clump once in awhile to make even more of it.

As you may have guessed, a rhubarb recipe is on the way.

But first, please have a beer.

Here's the clump of rhubarb, pre haircut. It is April 25th today, and the season is a little farther along than usual. The plant has lost it's creepy triffid/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers look and moved to a more respectable earthly clump of green.

After a quick trim, the alien scare returns in the shape of a forming flower stalk (see that yellowish thing in the middle?). But, still not too bad -- and as you can see, it hardly looks diminshed by the harvest. Plenty more where that came from!

This recipe calls for 2 lb. of rhubarb (about 20 leaf stalks), half a cup of white wine, half a cup of sugar, and a vanilla bean (sliced lengthwise -- skip it if you don't have one or use a splash of extract).

The recipe comes from the Orangette blog, and I was interested in it because it involved baking the rhubarb, rather than stewing it in a pot on the stove. My grandma used to make this stuff all the time, and it made a stringy, soupy, goup that I actually quite enjoyed (with vanilla ice cream ... mmmmmm!) I was intrigued at the possibility of something a little drier and more ... I dunno ... baked. So I gave this recipe a whirl. But it still makes a stringy, soupy, goup that I quite enjoy.

First, you have to trim the rhubarb leaves. Do this outside, and send the leafy parts straight to the compost. That little knife is a cool tool I got from Lee Valley. It's some Japanese thing, but it is very handy in the garden. It's also useful for scaring the daylights out of neighbourhood kids when you head out to harvest something -- especially if you hunch your back, drag one foot behind you, and speak with a Russian accent -- you know, stuff like "Bad Igor, bad Igor...!"

Give the leaf stalks a quick rinse, then...

chop them into three inch chunks (more or less -- less if you want shorter strings), put them in a Dutch oven or other deep, oven proof pot, add the whine (hahaha spelling mistake, I think I'll leave it), sugar, and vanilla bean, mix it with your hands, and then and pop it in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes. At the half way point, give it a stir to mix things around a bit.

After half an hour, it's all done. I am told you can eat it at this point, but if you want to go the extra mile (and I hope you do, dear reader) then read on!

My grandma also used to make this wonderful apple crisp. It turns out that it was actually an apple Betty, but who knew? I never got the recipe for it, and kept trying crappy approximations that involved oats and other dusty topping components. Then, one fateful day, I came across an apple crisp recipe on a package of brown sugar. No wonder -- it uses a ton of brown sugar. And, they were probably in cahoots with the butter people, since there is a whack of that in there too. Some people might find this too buttery, but not me, Oh no! I usually make a double batch for topping an apple crisp, but here is the single batch recipe for our rhubarb concoction. This amount of crisp yields a fairly sour end product -- I kind of like the tonic feeling of it, but it might be too much for some. You could double the crisp recipe to have a thicker, sweeter topping, or add more sugar to the rhubarb mix. Up to you!

For the crisp, you need 1 cup of packed brown sugar (ok, I only had yellow), 3/4 cup of flour, and 1/4 lb of butter (Or 2 cups brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups of flour, and 1/2 lb of butter if you want to go all out!) I am happy to finally have this recipe somewhere that I can find it, since I always seem to misplace the little slip of paper it's scribbled on.

Mix the flour and brown sugar. Then add the butter and cut it into chunks.

Use a pastry cutter or forks to start mixing the butter into the flour and sugar. (You could probably do this in a food processor, but I am a Luddite, and like to do it the sloooow way.) Eventually, you'll stop making progress with the pastry cutter. At this point just reach in there with your hands and massage it into a nice crumbly mixture. Stop once your hands start to heat things up too much and it starts melting and getting sticky in there. (No comment.)

Get some ramekins ready. It's a good idea to put them on a cookie tray since it is easier to move them in and out of the oven this way. These may be too big to be called ramekins, but it is the only word I have in my head for them at the moment. I like to bake crisps in these individual containers because I don't like to try and figure out what to do with a half eaten pie plate of oozing crisp afterward. This way, you can serve them individually, and the ones you don't use get to sit all nice and tidy in the fridge til later. (Awesome breakfast or lunch idea!) By the way, if you don't want to make the rhubarb thing and want to go for apple crisp instead, just start here and fill the ramekins with chopped apples, maybe a couple of cranberries, a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon, and keep on truckin'.

After you take the rhubarb out of the oven, crank it up to 375. Fish out your vanilla beans, since you'll never find them later. (Like my joke? See the fish? HAHAHAHA!)

Fill the ramekins with your roasted rhubarb (or raw apples). Try not to put much of the liquid in, since it will continue to get soupy as it bakes.

Top them with the crisp recipe. I used a small measuring cup to distribute it gradually over each little pot. Then pop them in the oven again for 30 minutes (45 minutes if you are using raw apples instead of rhubarb).
Remove the crisps from the oven and then  (most important step!) let them cool for awhile. The rhubarb in there will be nuclear reactor hot, and will be too much to handle at this point. Giving it a while to cool will make it more palatable and will give the crisp topping a chance to firm up.

While you're waiting, you could go another extra mile....
by making some Calvados whipped cream! Just add a cup of whipping cream to a tablespoon of icing sugar and whip until stiff.

Then add a dash of Calvados (or brandy, or bourbon, you know) and mix a little more. (I didn't measure, but it was probably about a tablespoon of booze).
Top your crisp with whipped cream and enjoy! (This would also work with vanilla ice cream, but all I have in the freezer is dark chocolate and bacon ice cream, which probably wouldn't go. Ice cream is great because it is so cold and helps cool the rhubarb.) You'll have a nice crisp topping for sweetness; a sour, goupy, stringy middle for a tart, savoury zing; and cool whipped cream for a soothing, boozy finish. What more could you ask for?!

Bon appetit!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quick trip to the garden.

Greetings, Oh Cyberspace (and dear people who are following the Blog). Not much to report today. The sunny weather means I take off on my motorbike whenever I manage to score some free time. (Her name is Pearl, and she's awwwwwwwesome. See!)

I did manage to rummage around the garden this morning, and I do have a massive backlog of cooking I want to do, so hopefully it either rains, or I just buckle down and get to it in the kitchen. We shall see.... I do know that the rhubarb becons, so does the mess o' pecans I have in the fridge, and this niggling notion that I need to eat some leeks. So, hopefully inspiration will get the better of me any moment now.

As for the garden today, things have been pretty slow, what with the cold weather and all.

The fava beans have been plugging away, but things are a little crowded with the radishes in there too.

French tarragon is coming along too. This stuff is so fun to have in the garden. Whenever I cut the grass I nibble a leaf so that it sits on the edge of my tongue (and switch leaves when they run out). It makes your tongue go numb and is a great way to make grass cutting fun (like I said before, I am easily amused). You can cook with it too! Great for fish, or as a garnish for soups etc....

The costmary (remember the whole alecost story? If not, it's under whiskey sour!) looked really nice in the morning sun (and, as usual, smelled like a dream ... a dream with Juicy Fruit gum in it).

The horeseradish has started reaching for the stars. These will produce a MASSIVE amount of blooms soon. I let them flower because the bees and other pollinators like them (plus they look all frowzy and cool). Horseradish does not have a plethora of uses in the kitchen, but it's great to have when you need it. I think I have a recipe for a horesradish lasagne type gratin tucked away somewhere that I'll have to (first find, then) try this fall.

Lovage continues it's quest to be the biggest thing on the planet. You'll see what I mean once the flower stalks get going.

And, my dear friend the sage is bursting forth from what looks like a pile of dead sticks. I love this stuff, and am so glad that you can't die while it's in your garden! I also nibble on it when I cut the grass.

I had fun visiting my friend Frank today. It's his birthday, and he mentioned yesterday that he had this bottle of Chimay he was planning to drink, but for some reason he had no Chimay glass. (Beer people will be aghast, non-beer people will be "wtf?") SO, being the kind soul I like to try to be, I popped over to present him with one of my (three, now two) Chimay glasses. Luckily, he hadn't opened the bottle of Chimay (it's empty now, heh heh heh). Then, lo' and behold, he happened to have an extra Delerium Tremens glass, which he insisted I take in return. This, my dear friends, is what it's all about. Peace, and cheers!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Puy lentils on the stove (I am so good at making myself laugh! Puy, Puy, Puy!) and I need to start checking out recipes for pecan piieee (preferably ones with bourbon in it -- dunno why, I just think it's the right thing to do. I'm pretty sure Edna Lewis will be able to help me out on this one. We'll see tomorrow!)

Bye for now!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh, Baby!

This is a recipe for Dutch Baby pancakes. I've been meaning to post it for a few days now, but it isn't exactly weekday fare (except for those of you geniuses among us who've figured out how to work from home), but by posting it now, I can get you psyched for the weekend! (I have been using a lot of exclamation points lately, and probably use the word "awesome" too much -- I hope you don't find this too annoying, because I can't really stop.)

These pancakes were the speciality of a certain Manca's Cafe in Seattle back in the 1940s. One of the owner's daughters coined the name. The "Dutch" refers to the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are actually of German origin. This explains the similarity between these pancakes and the German apfelpfannkuchen which we all know, translates to "Dutch Baby pancake." I got all this from Wikipedia, so it must be true.

The great thing about Dutch Baby pancakes is that making them gives you the excuse to say "Baby!" all the time (and we can all use an excuse for that!). So you can say stuff like "These babies are awesome!" and "Look at these babies!" or just "Oh, Baby!". You also have the rare excuse to sing baby related songs while you cook and eat them. Stuff like "Oooooh, baby I love your way...," and "Baby's good to me...," and "My baby loves love, my baby loves lovin'...," or my personal favourite "I've heard people say that too much of anything is not good for you, Baby. Oh no. But I don't know about that...." This last one is especially useful when you have had two of these babies :D already and are trying to justify a third one.

ANYWAY, this recipe comes from Molly Wizenberg's A homemade life. You'll need two tablespoons of butter, 4 large eggs, 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of half-and-half cream (or whipping cream - yeah, yeah!), and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. The lemon is there for squeezing over the creation when it's done (and I forgot to show the icing sugar that goes on at the same time).

Two small skillets are ideal for this (6 inch size), although you can make one massive pancake in an 8 to 10 inch skillet (Molly says so, I can only vouch for the small ones). Heat your oven to 425 with the skillets in there. You need them hot at the start, otherwise this will fail miserably. Skillets take ages to heat up, so if you throw a cold one in the oven with your batter, it won't get enough lift to produce the right results.

While the skillets and oven are warming up, prepare your batter. Molly calls for a blender, but I really don't like cleaning a blender unless there are margaritas involved, so I mixed this up in a bowl with a whisk. Just crack your eggs into the bowl, whisk them up, add your cream, whisk again, add your flour and salt, whisk some more, and presto! All set.

Pour the batter into something that can pour easily. I use a big measuring cup. This makes the transition to the skillets easier, and helps keep an even amount of batter in each pan since you can measure it.

Get an oven mit on, take your skillets out, and drop a pat of butter in each one (about a tablespoon worth). When it's melted, swirl it around a bit so it coats the sides of the pans too. (Okay, maybe I used more than a tablespoon, but it's good for you!)

Then pour half of your batter into each of your pans. (Don't worry about the butter lake -- it will be yummy!) Pop the pans in the oven and wait for 20-25 minutes.

When they look like this, you're all set! They kind of explode in there, like Yorkshire puddings, or Jiffy Pop in reverse. No matter what, they sure look cool.
Next step is to ease them out of the pans (they may be a little stuck in the very middle, so slide something under there to make sure they come out in one piece). Then plate them up, squeeze half a lemon over each one, and sprinkle some icing sugar on top. So good -- like French toast without the bread! You can then slice and share, eat the whole thing, eat a couple of them, whatever!

Bon appetit, Baby!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Caviar de la Croix Rousse (or awesome lentils)

Well. What a name! I am not sure where I first came across this recipe. And, in fact, the version presented here is just a mash-up of several lentil recipes rolling around in my noggin’ – the real version should be made with lardons, but I’m fresh out.

What I am sure of though, is that this is an AWESOME excuse to drink a bottle of Russian Imperial Stout (you know, those bottles of limited edition beer I am trying to save? – Cory, you better hurry!). Actually, this is a case of willful ignorance on my part, since La Croix-Rousse means russet cross and is a hill town in the region of France that this dish hails from – however, it sounds like Russian Cross, hence the beer.

This dish uses du Puy lentils (lentilles vertes du Puy). These are small, speckled and dark little lentils that originate in Puy France. This is inconsequential – the really neat thing here is that you get to make a TON of hilarious jokes while you cook and eat them. Jokes like, “These are the Puyest lentils I’ve ever eaten!” or “These lentils are Puy” or “Look, someone spilled some Puy lentils while they were making supper!” or even, "I better wash these Puy lentils!" You know, roll with it. Anyone around you will have a great excuse to roll their eyes, and you will have a great chance to laugh at your own jokes! (I heard that only crazy people laugh at their own jokes. I pretty much think you’re crazy if you don’t – I mean, if you don’t laugh, it isn’t funny, and not a joke. Right?!)

ANYWAY, here’s the recipe. It goes great with salmon as a side dish (or under the fish, so an under dish if you will). You’ll need some du Puy lentils (1 cup. Loeb used to carry them, maybe Metro does), a couple of shallots or a small onion, some cloves of garlic, some cloves (of cloves!), salt, pepper, oil, a lime, a carrot, some celery, and a few herbs like bay, thyme, and a sprig of parsley. My parsley in the garden is still pouting from a miserable winter, so I substituted sweet cicely instead (which isn’t pouting). Almost no one grows sweet cicely anymore (this plant is another of my acquisitions from my time as the period gardener at Bellevue House National Historic Site). It has a (surprise!) sweet taste with a hint of licorice – they used to use if for sugar in preserves. What’s really cool is that the little seeds are just like candy when they first start forming. I can set you up with a plant if you stop by in the fall – the seeds need to be sown before winter or you get nada. (Pardon the digression, back to the food.)

First you need to get a base going. Finely chop the carrot, celery, and one of the shallots (or half a small onion). Don’t leave the chunks too big – the lentils will discolour the carrots, and they’ll look gross if they’re too large.

Gently fry the vegetables in olive oil until they are browning a little. Depending on your heritage, this is a sofrito, soffritto, battuto, mirepoix, or mess-o-finely-chopped-carrots-onion-and-celery.

While your mirepoix is cooking (French lentils) you can clean the lentils. Measure them first (1 cup), then pour them into your hand bit by bit to check for stones and foreign grains, and then dump them into a fine sieve. Give them a quick rinse and add them to the mirepoix with three cups of water.

Smash a couple of cloves of garlic. Add them and the herbs too.

And then prepare your fat clove friend! Stick several cloves (I used 8) into a peeled shallot (or half a small onion). This may seem a little frou-frou, but it is important because the only way you’ll ever find the cloves when the dish is done is by biting into one while you’re eating (no fun). The shallot keeps them all in one place, but lets them flavour the lentils.

Add your herbs and a dash of salt. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and let them simmer away gently for about 35-40 minutes. (Warning – it will smell wonderful!) Test a couple to make sure they're tender before you turn off the heat.

Towards the end of cooking time, prepare a vinaigrette. Fifty-fifty oil and lime juice (with a little more 50 on the oil), salt, pepper, and (since this is Russian!) a little mustard.

Use a nice grainy mustard for this.

Whisk that up. Drain your lentils (don't rinse, just drain: you’ll need a fine sieve) and remove the clove buddy and the herbs.

Add your vinaigrette and combine gently.

Then serve up and enjoy!! They look like caviar, and they’re REALLY good – hot or cold. The mustard makes it, or maybe it’s the cloves.

Bon appetit!