Archive for October, 2005

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Mmmm, Pie

Monday, October 31st, 2005

Last year during Present Season, Marc bought me this great cookbook: Slow Cooking: Not So Fast Food. Incidentally, I think a cookbook is really the most perfect gift to give as the giver then becomes the receiver of many a great meal. I had been admiring the book at McNally Robinson a few weeks before Xmas and he was so thoughtful as to remember and surprise me with exactly what I wanted. Awww.

We’ve tried several of the recipes from this book but always have to plan the cooking way in advance because when they say ‘slow’, they ain’t foolin’. The descriptions of the recipes say things like “…from the Roman era…” and “..from the peasant kitchens of ancient Gaul…”. This makes it even more intriguing; imagine tasting history! Generally, these recipes take between 3 hours and 2 days to make (i.e. let stand in the fridge overnight) but they are always worth the extra effort. Marc made the best cheesecake I have ever had and the recipe came from this book. It would be nice to have a schedule that would allow for more cooking like this… How much does it cost to be independently wealthy?

So, the pie: it was Chicken Pot Pie with Mushrooms and Tarragon. It was kind of amusing to make, in a how-much-time-can-I-waste sort of way. The instructions said to use butter to brown the leeks and set aside; use butter to soften the mushrooms, set aside; use butter to caramelize the carrots and celery, set aside; brown the bacon, set aside; and so on. Then the cooking of the chicken breasts (we splurged and bought the good, free-range stuff from the butcher), then more simmering… At the end, the filling got a dollop of crême fraîche before it was reunited with the chicken pieces and covered with a home-made, tarragon pie crust. Marc even made the decorative flourish so as to match the picture in the book (yes, I can hear you– we already know we are nerds, thank-you). THEN, 2 hours in the oven. By the time it was done, we were all but drooling in anticipation because of the gorgeous smell emanating from the kitchen. Really, I could practically taste the smell, it was so good.

I’d like say that we savoured every morsel as we slowly sipped our wine but it was actually more like ‘wolfed every morsel’ and ‘guzzled our wine’. At least they matched; the wine was La Vieille Ferme, I forget what year, from Côtes du Ventoux made by the Perrin family. This is one of only two wines that qualified as a finalist in our 2003-2004 search for Cheap & Good. (The other one was LoTengo, if anyone cares.) This is no small feat because I am frugal to a fault and Marc has discerning tastes. (Read: I am wicked-cheap and Marc is a wine-snob.) This wine has always been very good to us and we figured it would go well with it’s long, lost, French-country cousin, Chicken Pot Pie. Once again, we were very pleased with our $9.99 bottle.

This meal rates as a solid Super-Like.

How To Make Breakfast

Monday, October 31st, 2005

Step 1: Over a period of 4 months, throw all over-ripe bananas into the freezer.

Step 2: Over a period of several weeks, make numerous sincere promises to bake banana bread; do not follow through.

Step 3: Experience pain as a result of a black, frozen banana falling from the over-stuffed freezer onto toe.

Step 4: Swear that you will make banana bread on the weekend so as to avoid further injury and to clear out some space in the freezer.

Step 5: Forget about banana bread; make cookies instead.

Step 6: Experience pain again (see Step 3 above).

Step 7: Come up with brilliant plan to make Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins instead of banana bread.

Step 8: Actually make the muffins.

½ c. butter
¾ c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. over-ripe bananas (3)
1 c. chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, whisk to blend. Mix in dry ingredients. Mix in bananas and chocolate chips, don’t over-mix. Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes.

Step 9: While they are still warm from the oven and the chocolate is still melty, consume several muffins slathered with butter in quick succession.

Step 10: Reserve the few remaining muffins for breakfast the next morning; serve with cappuccinos while still in pajamas.

Step 11: Give the puppy a little taste because he lays at your feet and keeps them warm as you eat your breakfast.

Plenty of Truth Serum

Friday, October 28th, 2005

A few weeks ago, we hosted a small dinner party. Well really, it was a wine party with food but there’s a fine line between the two. It’s lovely getting together with this group as everyone is friendly and talkative and we all appreciate great food and good wine. Conversation always gets louder as the night grows longer but in my opinion, that is a sign of a successful evening.

Deirdre & Marshall

Andrew, Ingrid, Puppy, Marc & Janet

The meal had several courses: Pumpkin Soup with Five Spice Powder, then Roast Chicken Stuffed with Fennel and Garlic, Roasted Beets with Chianti Syrup and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes and, finally, a simple Apple Tarte Tatin with a dollop of mascarpone. I would go into more detail but we didn’t take pictures and somehow, writing about food without the pictures just isn’t as much fun. Suffice it to say that we all thought the meal was scrumptious, except for those among us who don’t like beets (sissies) and those of us who are pregnant (poor, poor Deirdre! we’ll have another wine party when you drop that sprog!).The wine takes center stage for this entry. In order of consumption, here is what we drank:

Prosecco – we usually have a couple of bottles of this on hand for the increasingly frequent occasions that warrant a sparkling white, like, someone announcing a bun in the oven, or Tuesday.

Oyster Bay, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand – this is the second time we’ve enjoyed this crisp wine; it matched very well with the rich pumpkin soup.

Ruffino, Italian Chianti – always something we like, full and good at adapting to whatever is being served; it was a pleasant coincidence that our menu consisted primarily of Tuscan flavours.

Ruffino Reserva, Italian Chianti – kind of saucy to compare a Reserva to the first Chianti, just the slightest change in taste.

Zenato, Italian Valpolicella – one of our stand-by favourites; it would be on our 2003/2004 Cheap & Good list but it falls short of meeting one of those criteria…

Sauternes – we hadn’t tried this before but because the recipe for the Apple Tart suggested a Sauternes, we decided to go for it. Marc didn’t have anything really good to say about it at first but eventually warmed right up to it while sipping it after dessert; I guess this is sort of somewhere between a sherry and dessert wine..?

Port, Angove’s Tawny, 1996– a decadent end to a decadent meal. Even though this port is from Australia (Marc is prejudiced against all Australian wines; surely there is something there that he would like), it is quite lovely and relatively inexpensive. Miraculously, Marc agrees and is now a champion for this port.

Good thing Marc has a fetish for glassware; we were able to use a new and appropriately-shaped glass for each wine. What a fabulously sybaritic way to spend an evening! We glided from wine to wine, commenting on the flavours, tasting the difference between regular and Reserve, gradually slipping into a suspended state of bacchanal bliss.

We made a pretty good dent in the wine supply (which we had just replenished that morning) and though everyone had generously brought a couple bottles of wine, we made quick work of those, too. If one glass of red wine a day is good for you, several bottles must be even better, right? Yes?

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Somehow, it came up in converstation recently that Marc had not had a cake for his birthday in April. How could this be? He claimed not to have been disappointed but the frowny face would indicate otherwise. Fine, I was in the mood to make a cake, anyway. He requested something with layers and chose lemon-y over chocolate or any other flavours. And because I love ginger, this Lemon Ginger Cake with Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting seemed like a good choice.

According to the intro on this recipe, it’s supposed to “turn dessert into a celebration”. Pretty big words coming from a little cake! Plus, it had buttermilk in it which, the recipe claimed, makes it a very moist cake that actually tastes better the day after it’s made. (Oh yeah?! We’ll see about that!) Actually, this bodes well seeing as how we are only human and much as we’d like to, we are physically incapable of eating a whole cake in one sitting, especially after having just finished supper. Plus, Marc is still “adjusting to the time change” from setting the clocks back one hour and after a big meal, he tends to fall asleep on the couch at about 8 o’clock. I had to work fast to beat that time deadline!

In between making dinner and watching CSI, I made the cake and frosting and then made a critical error in judgement: while letting the cake cool, I allowed the frosting to stand at room temperature. Rookie error! At 7:50pm, when I was ready to quickly frost the cake in all its layered glory and serve it forth to the increasingly sleepy ogre (ha ha!), the frosting was very sloopy (technical term). I had no time – no time! – to fool around with cooling the frosting so I risked assembling the cake with the sloopy icing and then attempting a flash-cool in the freezer. Rapidly emptied freezer, slapped on the icing, and threw the cake in for about 3 minutes, like that was going to help.

In the end, it was a bit lop-sided because the frosting squished out the sides causing the top layer to kind of slid to one edge, and I had to wake up Marc in order to eat it, but it sure tasted good. And the recipe intro didn’t lie, it really was better the next day. In fact, it was good on each of the next 5 days!

Po’ Canucks

Friday, October 28th, 2005

We’ve entered a new realm of the culinary world having discovered the
Crab Burger Po’ Boy.

Because we are so thoroughly Canadian and have no sweet clue regarding local delicacies of the Southern United States*, we were unfamiliar with the Po’ Boy. Research was required and the results were very informative.

“The name ‘po-boy’ is, of course, a shortened version of ‘poor boy.’ The name stems from the fact that a po-boy used to be a very inexpensive way to get a very solid meal. (Extremely detailed description of exactly what qualifies as a po’ boy here.)
Po-Boys are a New Orleans version of a sandwich, but they’re not just any sandwich. You might be tempted to call them a hoagie or a sub, but don’t! A true Po-boy is made with crisp New Orleans French bread, piled high with your favorite delicacy: fried shrimp? Crispy oysters? Sliced roast beef dripping with rich brown gravy? Order them “dresseda” (with lettuce and tomatoes) or not. And don’t forget a splash of Tabasco and a dollop of Creole mustard.”

The pictures bordered on frightening.

The only reason we started down this road is the crab meat in the freezer that needed to be consumed. This recipe featured crab and seemed intriguing, new, a little ‘red neck’. Truth be told, we are both a tiny bit red neck ourselves (though Marc would rather die a thousand deaths than admit this). The fact is, through no fault of our own, we both were raised in Canadian-Texas (a.k.a. Alberta) and we can never escape our past. For example, I have been known to occasionally use “y’all” in a sentence and may or may not know all the words to AC~DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Marc refers to ATVs as “quads” and he drinks rye. Plus, one half of his family is Acadian, which is just a stone’s throw from ‘Cajun.

Because we deviated from the recipe slightly and bought crusty buns instead of french bread, I would argue that our creations were more burger than po’boy. And frankly, I don’t consider crab meat to be terribly red-neck so, really, what we ended up with were more like fancy Filet o’ Fish sandwiches. I have to admit, though, that they were a little disappointing. They tasted just fine but with this recipe’s Louisiana roots, I was expecting more heat and frankly, more flavour. If we ever attempt a po’boy-type-sandwiches/burgers again, we should toss a little quebecois into the mix and make it a poutine affair: fries with cheese curds and gravy on french bread; guaranteed to cure any hangover.

* Once upon a time, my brother Geoff visited our Uncle Al in Galveston. Uncle Al took Geoff out for some real Texas BBQ which means that they drove to a trailer on the side of a country road which had a bunch of barbecues propped up near the back door. They went inside and ordered “2”.
Geoff followed Uncle Al to the food table where a woman wearing an apron ladled some BBQ onto his plate. Geoff, being a naïve Canadian, asked the woman what kind of meat was on his plate. She shrugged and said “I dunno. Parts is parts.” So they sat down on a bench at the one long table to eat. Geoff asked, “where are the vegetables?” A fellow at the table laughed at him and said “Vegetables? Vegetables?! Shoot, my favourite vegetable is fried chicken!”

Mustard Seeds

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Well. For a weekday, this meal was certainly a lot of work. If we had been hosting a tasting party and were making this at, say, 2.00pm on a Saturday, with big glasses of wine in hand, the task might not have seemed as onerous. But because it was a Tuesday, and because we were both already tired from work (and halfway into a bottle of red), this recipe for Moroccan-style Aggravating Chicken Phyllo Rolls of Angst with Spiced Tomato Sauce proved itself exasperating. It involved thawing, trimming, chopping, measuring, simmering, skimming, de-boning, shredding, reducing, stewing, blending, toasting, frying, buttering, sprinkling, wrapping, cutting, brushing and pressing to adhere. That is altogether too much friggin’ work for a Tuesday night.

At about ‘shredding’, Marc suggested that this was probably not something we were going to make again. I whole-heartedly agreed (I was hungry already!) and proceeded to bad-mouth the sauce which I was taking pains to carefully skim of its fat. Back and forth we went, berating this recipe for its confounded complexity until, in the end, we were shouting at the mustard seeds to “quit rolling around and adhere, dammit!” We chucked them in the oven and paced and drank until we could pronounce them ‘browned enough, sheesh’ and finally, sat down to eat. Unfortunately, they were quite good.

These fall into the appetizer category and it might seem curious that we made these for supper. Indeed, it is but we were trying to use up the extra phyllo leftover from when we made something else… hmm, I forget what. Anyway, Moroccans must really like to cook because this took two of us about two and a half hours to complete. Though, Moroccans must really like to eat because the rolls were definitely tasty. If they were served at a fête as part of an appetizer tray, I would have constantly been edging my way closer to the tray in order to score a few more before someone else got to them. The spices involved – ginger, cumin, turmeric, pepper, coriander, cinnamon, paprika – all served their purpose exceedingly well against the chicken. Phyllo, of course, is always good. The mustard seeds added their fair share of tanginess but the tomato sauce was a bit dull; I wish we would’ve added some more cayenne and/or more smoked paprika. Or better yet, if we had any of the harissa that Mom & Dad brought back from Tunisia, that would have been ideal to mix into the sauce.

All in all, I’m afraid we’ll have to make these again. *sigh* When we do, we will have to make a huge batch and freeze them thus avoiding the frequency of the episodes where we cook using nearly every dish in the kitchen. I remember my Mom working with phyllo when I was little and in my mind it stands out as being delicate company food that required a lot of work. I know why, now. I get it. I will never again capriciously wolf down phyllo treats without thinking of the hard work of the poor sucker who made them.

The One to Beat

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

There are 3 things I know:
1) cat pee is the purest form of Evil,
2) Jude Law a beautiful, beautiful man, and
3) there is no such thing as Perfect Chili.

However, that being said, I am relentless in my quest for the Holy Grail, the Chili of all Chilis, the one that tastes like autumn and football, which envelops the soul in warmth and which involves a committee of spices. Much like the search for the real Holy Grail (the one involving Jebus), the search for the Perfect Chili is unending because it is surrounded by myth, competition to find it is fierce, and even if you think you have it, you’re never sure that there isn’t a more authentic one out there.

Ergo, the Best Recipe, So Far is Boston Marathon Chili. And there’s a bit more to it than just this recipe: a woman from Melbourne, Fla. added a review of the chili and she suggested about 10 other ingredients not mentioned in the recipe. As with every good chili recipe, there are one million ingredients and the quantities of each vary between cooks and the day of the month and the phase of the moon. As a result, I can’t recall precisely what we did with this version but we followed pretty much all of the Florida Lady’s additions but none (or few?) or her reductions or eliminations. The product of all this fooling around with the instructions was truly outstanding.

Firstly, this chili is made with cubed beef and pork, not ground beef, and the difference in taste was quite remarkable; it also made for a more liquid-y chili but that just made it easier to sop it up with bread. Secondly, both chocolate and cinnamon were involved which added a subtle and very interesting divergence from the usual chili flavour. As well, it was good and spicy, but not so much that a little sour cream and cilantro on top couldn’t counter the heat. And talk about fantastic leftovers– this chili is definitely the one to beat. On the Continuum of Like, it earns a rating of ‘Super-Like’.

The Côtes-du-Rhône we drank was quite nice. It stood up to the richness of the chili and pulled out some of the cumin taste.

Sidebar: I have met the person responsible for, arguably, the WORST version of chili ever known to man. This person (who, obviously, shall remain nameless) is the mother-in-law of one of my dear friends, E.

For Christmas Day at her in-laws’ house, E. offered to make chili for the whole in-law family for a casual lunch. On Christmas Eve, she, along with the mother-in-law, stopped to pick up a few ingredients for lunch the next day. When E. started to pick out green peppers, onions, kidney beans, etc., the mother-in-law stopped her and said, “Oh no, you don’t need that, Dear.” E. assumed that this was because she already had all the ingredients at home and so all she ended up buying was ground beef.

The next day, E. went to the kitchen to start making the chili. However, she couldn’t find any of the ingredients she needed. The reason there were no ingredients is that her mother-in-law’s version of chili is nothing, NOTHING, like any other chili on earth. The recipe? Ground beef, cooked, not drained. Ketchup. One can of Libby’s beans. No salt, no pepper, not even any chili powder (seems a bit odd given that the name of the stew is the same as the spice).

P.S. I didn’t realize how many things Jebus and chili have in common: their perfection is elusive, they both involve taking of bread and they both have been said to warm the soul. In fact, except for the bread, the same could be said of Jude Law. Weird.

P.P.S. That observation was TOTALLY sacrilicious.

Last Gasp of Summer

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Summer Garden Salad with Chili-Garlic Shrimp
Last month, in addition to this last ditch, food-centric attempt to INSIST that it was still summer, I was forced to conclude two things: 1) my iPod is really and truly gone, *sniff* stolen by some rat bastard who, though I don’t believe in Karma, had better suffer for that, and, 2) fresh corn on the cob tastes better than canned corn and is worth the extra trip to the grocery store.

Against my will, I obliged and made a special trip* to Safeway for the corn as we had all the ingredients for this “summer” dish and had missed just this item and the fresh lettuces meant to support the salad from below. I begrudgingly admit that it was worth it. It seems strange that we so rarely come across a recipe we don’t like so I’d like to suggest a tool for clarification: in my mind, all food exists on a Continuum of Like (see below).
For the record, there is only a miniscule percentage of consumables that I would not even make an attempt at consuming and which, therefore, fall off the far left end of the Continuum. This percentage contains, so far, the following:
– live octopus
– live crickets
– live snake
– severed, marinated duck heads
– duck fetus, still inside the egg
(I mean no disrespect to the duck, it’s other parts are very enjoyable to consume.) Love exists in a category all on its own. Lobster Sauteed in Butter and Brandy with Tarragon falls into the Love category.

Using this tool, I would argue that this recipe falls somewhere between ‘Like’ and ‘Really Like’. Because of all the vegetables, the salad was hearty enough to be supper and strong-willed enough to stand firm until lunch-time the next day; not many salads can do that. The shrimp were just this side of spicy but what pushed them closer to ‘Really Like’ was their flavour: chili-garlic sauce mixed with cumin makes for a sweet-ass marinade/cooking liquid for shrimp.

Also, it should be noted that avocado were a part of this recipe and, though I would never say this to their face, the salad wouldn’t have been that different if they weren’t there. In fact, I might omit them the next time we make this next summer (a.k.a. forever away). But don’t tell them I said that.

* The amount of whining associated with this chore was surpassed only by The Petulant Peanut Trip of June 2005, which shall be remembered in perpetuity.

At Least It’s Home-Made

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Pizza with Roasted Garlic, Bell Peppers and Two Cheeses.
Somehow it seems we’ve been eating a lot of pizza lately. Not that I’m complaining, I mean, one really can’t go too far wrong with pizza. This one in particular, I would rate as ‘Like’ (see The Continuum of Like in Last Gasp of Summer).

I think the roasted garlic is the key ingredient here. Plus, the smell of garlic roasting in the oven that permeates the whole apartment is an added bonus. All the other ingredients, on their own, were pretty plain but, added together = ‘Like’. At any rate, we didn’t have any leftovers, so that’s a sign.

We used ricotta cheese instead of feta on this pizza because we had ricotta and no feta. Also, I made a home-made pizza dough for this from Oprah’s In The Kitchen With Rosie cookbook; it’s easy to make and produces a nice, thin crust, which I prefer. The pre-made ones from the store always seem kind of soggy and expensive. Nothing expensive should ever be soggy.

Mac & Cheese

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Yet another yummy recipe from the Kitchen of Testing of America. Talk about yer comfort food- this must be at the top of Henry Lunchbox and Sally Housecoat’s Top 10 Best Down-home Recipes of The Unity-States. Though, with such a simple name, it could also masquerade as a clever, tongue-in-cheek kind of gourmet nonsense served at The French Laundry. (The title of the dish on the menu would quaintly read: “Mac & Cheese” and the description would read something like: “a delicate gratin of black-pepper flecked, wholegrain, fresh pasta with six locally-made cheeses, topped with a golden crust of panko and organic parsley, peashoot greens and a soupçon of chile-oil reduction sauce and mango-chutney glaze. $56.00)

Regardless, we actually watched the episode of the programme when they made this recipe. The goal was to produce something that was satisfying and ‘adult’, creamy and cheesy, with a crunchy, golden-baked topping. I like that they test multiple variations of the recipe and then show the audience the failures before launching into the Champion Recipe. The failures on this one were awful, gummy, sticky blobs of pasta made even more unappetizing by the way the host picked up big spoonfuls and then let the pasta flop back down into the dish.

The Champion, however, looked extremely good so we gave it a try. Because Marc follows directions precisely, it turned out looking just like the one on TV and tasted marvelous. It’s a simple thing – pasta with cheese sauce – but when done well like this, it deserves more credit. It has more calories and fat content than I care to review as it is made with whole milk, contains no fruit or vegetables and uses obscene quantities of cheddar and monterey jack cheese. But, oh, so delicious! It meets the challenge: creamy? check; cheesy? oh yeah, check; yummy, crunchy, breaded topping (made with butter, of course)? check, check, check! I don’t think it would qualify as ‘adult’ though, unless it was served with spinach salad or at the French Laundry. Or by someone in a French Maid costume.

P.S. This warmed over beautifully into molten, cheesy splendor.