Author Archive

Kickin’ It Up a Notch

Monday, September 17th, 2007

We’ve been improving some of our favorite recipes.

cimg7109.jpgInspired by the breakfast burrito at Nellie’s Restaurant in Calgary and the fennel sausage pizza from Gioia’s Pizza in Berkeley, we made some revisions to our own breakfast burrito. We added olives, jalapeño, fennel sausage and toasted anise seeds, which we initially thought were the same as fennel seeds, but our taste tests have determined to be sweeter with more licorice flavor. Refried beans added smoothness, weight and held everything together. Flour tortilla’s were substituted for corn tortillas, which worked well in the lighter version, but would have been too much with the beans and sausage. Fresh mozzarella, scrambled eggs, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and avocado finish the ingredient list. We didn’t finish the food in the picture, flagging halfway through our second burritos.

While breakfast burrito’s are a great treat, we usually eat yogurt with fruit and/or granola. Inspired by her cherry pie, Janet grated a little nutmeg on top of maple yogurt and bing cherries–simple and tasty.

Ever since I tried cimg7114.jpgthe butternut squash pizza with the thin crust, I’ve been thinking about making a classic thin crust pizza. We topped ours with fresh tomato sauce, caramelized onions, anise seeds, fennel sausage, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, pine nutes and Parmesan cheese. It’s definitely in the top three pizza’s I’ve ever had, with Gioia’s Pizza’s and Alegretto in Chile being the other two.

Pizzeria Domestica

Monday, August 13th, 2007

cimg6986.jpgAfter the failure of the ciabatta recipe I wasn’t psychologically prepared for another failure of loaves, so I tried out the pizza dough recipe instead with toppings from a phyllo pizza recipe we made in our first year of this blog. It was the best pizza crust we’ve ever made, much better than Oprah’s chef’s recipe. Though my gluten development still needs work, it did stretch over my fists without tearing. I wasn’t daring enough to actually toss it into the air. Perhaps next time.

The thin crust baked perfectly on our sheet pan without need for the pizza stone we’ve been eyeing for weeks. The slices were crispy enough to hold without collapsing, yet were still chewy just under the golden brown surface. Perhaps this was due to the cookbook’s directions to cook the pizza at the highest temperature possible for only 5 to 7 minutes.

Now I just need to find some exceptional mozzarella and a recipe for great pizza sauce.

Leftover Frittata

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

cimg6959.jpgI was left to figure something out for supper after having forgotten to go to the grocery store. I failed to find a use for the jar of kimchi or the fennel, but managed to put everything else together into a fine frittata. Thyme, Chili powder and salsa were added to the beatten eggs. The potatoes were well boiled, having learned a lesson for the last time I tried to make a frittata.

We had finally purchased a heirloom cast iron frying pan at Sur La Table a few days ago after repeatedly eying it over the past two months. It did an excellent job of frying the red onion, leeks and green beans in a generous amount of butter. After heating up the potatoes in the pan, I stirred in the eggs until almost scrambled, sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on top and then put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes to finish. There wasn’t actually any basil in the frittate, but it made a good garnish visually when placed on the plate with some sour cream and salsa.

Although thyme with Mexican and Spanish ingredients wasn’t a perfect compliment, I did manage to clean out the fridge.


Monday, July 30th, 2007

Please allow me a moment to indulge in negativity. I shan’t be long.

Top 10 Most Hated Kitchen Tasks

10. spraying oil
I detest this task on several levels. First of all, I hate using this stuff because it comes in a pressurized can which one cannot recycle. In fact, I’m not even sure how one is supposed to conscientiously dispose of such a thing- does it get tossed in the pile of noxious substances that go to the fire department for disposal? or le landfill? At any rate, it’s not the recycle bin. Secondly, it sprays evenly only when it is held upright which goes against its purpose entirely. Thirdly, using it creates a circumference of oil slicked surfaces that always goes beyond the intended coverage. Example: spray a muffin tin while it sits on the counter; the result is an oil slicked tin plus counter top plus backsplash plus, as a bonus, any tools sitting in the near vicinity. So maybe you pick up the tin and hold it perpendicular to the floor, thereby trying to outsmart the can and reduce the spray radius but the result is a slick tin and, worse, a slick floor in the area of the spraying. I imagine that in commercial kitchens, where people where shoes and it is someone else’s job to swab the floor each night, the oil slick thing is not a nuisance but for those of us who wear socks on linoleum and who clean slightly less frequently, the oil slick area is a slippery, slippery hazard for days.

9. thinly slicing cheese without a cheese slicer
In truth, this task could be called “doing anything without the appropriate tool for the job”. Never, never will I ever be able to slice perfect, thin, even slices of cheese with just a knife. It is mathematically impossible.

8. toasting nuts
It’s not so much the toasting of the nuts that I hate but rather, the inexplicable forgetfullness that accompanies this task and which results in burned nuts every time. Manually toasting while cooking is a perfect example of multi-tasking at its worst. This delicate technique of gently coaxing the oil and flavour from the nuts requires both eyes and undivided attention, at least in my case. If there is any deviation from this formula, and there always is, the nuts will burn.

7. desparately dealing with frozen phyllo that hasn’t yet thawed completely
There are several layers to this mistake, the first of which must be obvious. The second layer of stupidity follows, in which I try to speed up the thawing process with a microwave/low oven/sunbeam, etc. This practice only produces mush, still frozen in the middle. If I am still desparate enough to try to use the phyllo at this point, there is only descent into frustration, vexation and surrender.

6. grating ginger
Loathsome chore, this takes forever, scrapes fingers and knuckles and leaves more ginger on the grater than in the bowl at the end. This fibrous root is barely tolerable when chopping, let alone trying to shave it into pulp.

5. separating paste from tamarind
This was a mistake I will only make once. The vile task of pulling the flesh off the tamarind root (it is a root, isn’t it?) requires more patience than I have to give. I bought tamarind in non-paste form because I couldn’t find it in paste form figuring that it couldn’t be that hard to extract the good part from the bad but I was most seriously wrong. Nobody has any business using whole tamarind so why is it even packaged and sold?

4. slicing soft bread
At first glance, this might seem as though it should belong to Number 9, “doing anything without the appropriate tool for the job”. However, I would argue that even with a long, sharp, serrated knife, soft, warm bread will effortlessly resist every effort to be sliced. It wobbles back and forth with every draw across its back, slowly shrinking under the pressure of the knife and smashing back into the dough from whence it came. Best to tear.

3. peeling fava beans
Who invented fava beans! The ratio of work to flavour is, like, 12:1. Open the pods to fish out the beans, boil the beans only to peel the skin each nugget for the meat. The bean provokes me, actually, because the skin has a seam that looks as though it should easily peel back along that line but it is a bitter, bitter deception. After enough of this torture, my fingernails feel as though they have been peeled back.

2. thyme
Wretched herb! Such delicate little leaves persistantly attached to such a woody stem. If only the leaves were less clingy or the stem more pliable, I wouldn’t bother with the de-stemming production but it cannot be. I must painstakingly peel the leaves off, very nearly one by one, in order to take advantage of them. If only they could be more like their easy cousin rosemary- so simple to fold the “leaves” backwards and pull them all off the stem in one broad stroke!

1. washing lettuce
This is, and has always been, the task I hate the very most in the kitchen. Boring beyond measure, finicky, dull, and time-consuming: washing any kind of leaves for consumption is to be reviled. We used to buy pre-washed stuff all the time but now, here in California, organic fare is never washed and we do not have a salad spinner. Leaves cannot be left wet after washing – it would so ruin a salad as to not bother having salad at all – and air-drying or towel-drying are wiltifying and ineffective, respectively. Without a spinner, I almost don’t want to have salad at all; it is simply not worth enduring my most hated kitchen task of all time.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

cimg6899.jpgI was eyeing a bread baking book at Chapters before leaving on our around the world trip. Now that we’ve returned and I’ve been making bread again, I picked up The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, to further develop my baking skills and fulfill my craving for artisan bread. My ciabatta recipe from Epicurious wasn’t doing it for me–dense and crumbly, completely lacking ciabatta’s distinctive big, shiny holes.

Before trying the new ciabatta I had to try the sticky bun recipe as I have fond memories of a place at the mall in Fort McMurray selling excellent sticky bun knots. Just the sight of the glaze–1/2 pound of butter, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of corn syrup– nearly cimg6887.jpggave Janet a heart attack and that was in addition to the 1/2 cup of sugar that was rolled into the buns. Baking the buns was a bit of a challenge because the dough need to cook through to the bottom and the glaze needs to carmelize without turning into rock candy. In the end, most of the glaze was a little too stiff, but still tasty. If I had rotated the pan half way through and took them out five minutes earlier, they would have been perfect bakery-quality buns. Surprisingly, the glaze softened over the next 48 hours.

The ciabatta was a disaster. The book told me exactly what the dough texture was suppose to be and I didn’t have it. The dough was clearly too stiff and not the soft, silky mass they described. It was baked into three edible loaves of dense crumbly bread. Perhaps mixing baking and wine at 11:00 at night is not to be repeated.

Janet & Marc: Cooking at Home

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

cimg6908.jpgJanet’s first experiments in filleting a fish left us with excellent ingredients for fish stock, so we threw the cap and rake (read head and spine) into some water with a bay leaf and leek greens for about an hour. I’m told fish stock only needs a half hour, but I prefer to really work the fish smell into the house. When I’ve gone to all that trouble, I want people to walk into the house three days later and say, “Were you cooking fish?”

About ten years ago I was a big fan of “Julia & Jacques: Cooking at Home,” hosted by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. She tended to do Americanized recipes and he classed things up with some fine French cuisine. Although they were always very nice to each other, Jacques definitely had strong opinions on the right way to do a recipe and Julia was casual and confident. He would stir his pot and give her a glance out of the corner of his eye that said, “Whatever, you’re the legend.” Here’s an example of their styles that Amazon uses:

“Not everything I do with my roast chicken is necessarily scientific,” Julia says. “For instance, I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it–and, more important, I like to give it.” Julia sets her chicken on a V-rack in a roasting pan in a 425-degree oven that she then turns down to 350 after 15 minutes. Jacques roasts his bird at 425, on its side, right in the pan. “To me,” he says, “it’s very important to place the chicken on its side for all but 10 minutes of roasting.” After 25 minutes he turns his chicken over, careful not to tear the skin, and lowers the heat to 400. The bird finishes breast-side up for the last 15 to 20 minutes.

Hmm, that reminds me of someone.

I somehow managed to remember enough of their Mediterranean Fish Stew to make it myself and cook it every year or two without ever having written anything down, not that I’ve remembered to add the salt every time. If you can procure fish heads or fish stock, it’s really an easy meal to make and looks impressive when served to guests. Julia favored clams for this recipe, but I prefer mussels due to my east coast Canada heritage. I always shell the mussels before storing the leftovers, not for any specific reasons, but it seemed weird to have those shells frozen into my soup. Shells must not falsely state freshness. Other than that, there really isn’t much to the recipe at all. It’s mostly wine, fish and vegetables with hot sauce and thyme to finish it off.

After googling the recipe for the first time ever, I discover I’ve forgotten the rouille, a spicy sauce made with breadcrumbs and olive oil. It went on top of the soup, or perhaps on bread which were stuck into the soup. However, Janet’s garlic bread adds a very similar element with much less effort—especially when I get her to make it.

Keep reading for the recipe.



Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Confession: I bought a chef’s knife at IKEA and I like it.


Not my fault! It was purchased as a temporary stop-gap solution for having no knife at all in the kitchen of the apartment in which we are staying. The thing is, Marc – and by extension me – has a very good knife, one served us well on a daily basis for many, many days. That knife, however, is buried somewhere in one of the slowly moulding boxes in the damp storage unit in Calgary where we keep nearly all of our worldly possessions. Two months ago I made a half-hearted attempt to look for it but ground to a halt when it was clear that we would have to move the barbeque and the bed and the dresser in order to get to the knife. Eventually we’ll see it again, but I don’t anticipate that day coming anytime very soon.

The second option we had, when faced with the no-knife situation, was to purchase a good knife, an exceptional specimen that would be our most valuable tool, like a real knife owned by a real chef. I am a sucker for Wüsthof knives and Marc will always pause in front of the Shun Ken Onion blades. It is so satisfying to hold a well balanced tool, a pleasure to wrap one’s hand around a smooth handle that rests effortlessly in the palm of the hand and which, to quote Quentin Tarrantino, “is sharper than the devil himself”. Until I actually used a knife that was not a piece of crap and that was able to cleanly bite into and then slice through a ripe tomato, I didn’t know what a fantastic utensil a chef’s knife can be. For too long, I blundered along with dull, feather-weight knives, the use of which was made even worse by the fact that I had little idea that they were dull, that they were lightweight. Add to that, the fault that I didn’t know how to properly wield a knife and it makes me wonder how I ever came to enjoy cooking at all. They were pathetic, the knives I had: useless lengths and shapes, dull, serrated, stupid. When Marc and I and the knife moved in together, I threw out those old hags so that no-one else would suffer their inefficiency. Now! Now that I know what it means to whip through a scallion and have all the pieces separated, what it feels like to hold a knife properly, decisively, like I mean to do harm to vegetables, now that I know what a razor’s edge should feel like, I cannot turn back. I continue to work on my technique but it is a pleasure to prep vegetables now- celery especially, the crunch of the stalk as it is quickly diced into clean-edged pieces.

But as people who are unengaged in wage-earning, we could ill afford such dreamy luxury, so we kicked it down a notch and went to IKEA.

They had knives. We bought the least offensive-looking one at $16.99. (I would argue that these are the most offensive.) It came in the door, was unwrapped and washed and soon enough, put to the test. I was wholly prepared to abhor the knife and had ready various complaints about its cheap quality and poor performance, something along the lines of “there must be some assembly required, ha ha”, but none were necessary. I hate that I like this knife! It has a balanced weight, if a little light, but was dead sharp and co-operated very well with the vegetables. The fit is smooth. We bought a smaller version of the same one and it not only completed its assigned tasks, it hacked right through a chicken thigh bone without thinking twice. Mind, neither one of them held their edge for more than a couple of weeks, but I hadn’t expected that they would really have any sharp to begin with so the performance exceeded expectations. Dammit.

So we shall continue with what we have for the time being. And even though it has already severed a respectable slice off of my left index finger (due to pilot error), I shall continue to take pleasure in a decent knife.

Right v. Wrong

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Marc has been baking loads of bread lately. He picked up a hardcover breadmaking bible at the bookstore last weekend and has since been churning out the ciabatta. This isn’t the first time he’s gone through a flurry of baking, it happened just before we left on The Voyage and was cut short because we had to go. We threw out half-full bags of five different kinds of flour and now, though we are only here in Berkeley for five more weeks, we already have four kinds of flour and I suspect we’ll be burdened with even more when it comes time to pack up. When I asked him why he got into bread specifically, he said he liked the feel of it and how a gloopy mass of dough can be transformed into a loaf of bread. When he found a page in the bread bible that used math to explain the ratios of key ingredients, he was – and this is the only word to describe it – gleeful. Full of glee because of math and baking. I like seeing him happy but I don’t think I can really appreciate math in the same way. We both love to cook, though clearly we are drawn to different elements of the practice: where he likes to measure with spoons, I like to measure with my eyes; where I estimate cooking time, he googles the correct boiling time of corn on the cob.

cimg6914-320.jpgOne disagreement that will forever be simmering under the surface of our kitchen dynamic is the difference between dry-measure and liquid-measure. Marc insists that one cup of dry equals one cup of liquid and I insist otherwise; surely there is a reason why they make nested measuring cups and separate ones with spouts. There have been experiments conducted in the kitchen to prove and disprove our opposing views and the result usually ends with a discussion of molecular make-up of liquids and solids and then with an agreement to disagree.

An extension of the Measuring Conflict is the practice of following the recipe. I read the step-by-step instructions and follow along but I’m highly prone to changing the details to fit my preferences. cimg6867-320.jpgLiving in Calgary at a high altitude for so long, I’m well in the habit of adjusting baking recipes to compensate for the pressure and that habit has further manifested itself in my cooking. If it seems silly to add three tablespoons of butter where two would do, then I’ll go with the two; if a recipe calls for fresh tarragon, I’ll double the amount because I love that herb. Marc, on the other hand, is much more scientifc about things. If the interweb says that scallops must be cooked at a temperature of 360°F for a period of time no greater than 2.6 minutes, then we’ll have to go out and buy a thermometer and a timer. His method yields perfectly cooked scallops every timewhile my method may yield perfectly cooked scallops some of the time, with lots of tarragon. Our focus is different, my results vary.

There is a programme that we watch with equal rapture but which also serves to exacerbate his methodological rigidity. America’s Test Kitchen on PBS, with their test kitchens and and their tool comparisons and their “reserve 3/4c. of the cooking liquid” feeds right into his mathmatically logical mind. If the Vulcans had a cooking show, Marc would be their biggest fan, especially if it was hosted by T’Pol. However, as derisive as I’m sure I sound about his method, I have to admit that his googling and his obsessive use of the measuring spoons has added much clarity to our cooking.

But let me further elaborate; allow me to refer to our recent lunch of Kraft Dinner as an example. (I am loathe to admit that we will occassionaly revert to this childish nonsense for lunch, but in the interest of prooving a point, I must proceed.)

I am making KD. Marc walks into the kitchen while the pasta is boiling.

“Sorry- anything I can do to help?”
“Nah, it’s just KD.”
“OK, did you set the timer for the pasta?”
“Of course not, why?”
“Gah! How can you not set the timer? How do you know when it’s done?”
“What – I’ll know it’s done when it’s done. I’ve cooked pasta once or twice before.”
“Let me get the butter; how much do you need?”
“Like the measurement on the package? I have no idea, I’ll just put in enough.”
“How can you do this? It’s on the box for a reason- it was scientifically calculated to taste perfect.” he says, while rooting through the paper recycling.
“Whatever, I’ve been making KD forever and I never measure. You’re telling me you measure every time?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t you measure?!”
“Trust me,” I say as I toss in a lump of butter, “it will taste good even if don’t measure.”
“But you just put in, like, half the butter it called for.”
“So?! Trust me!”
“Oh fine, I’m monté au beurre-ing mine when you’re done.”
“Oh, fine.”
Miraculously, the KD that I produced without measuring the butter or the milk tasted good. And the bit about the direction on the box being “scientifically calculated” was a direct quote.

The One With The Pie

Friday, July 20th, 2007

A week ago I read an article about summer pies in Bon Appétit magazine and proclaimed that I would make their cherry pie. The picture alone would’ve been enough to entice me to give it a go but the recipe called for such lovely aromatic spices – cinnamon sticks, star anise, whole nutmeg – that I couldn’t resist.

Though first, I procrastinated. A pie is, like, alot of work and my experience in baking them recalls frustration, mainly directed at the crust. It just never rolls out right for me and frankly, I didn’t anticipate it being any better this time because I don’t have a rolling pin. I had planned to use an empty wine bottle – a reasonable substitute, I think – but then Marc did the recycling and I was bereft of anything resembling a rolling pin.

So we bought the cherries. cimg6822-320.jpgLike a fool, I just grabbed a bag from the bin at the Berkeley Bowl that read “$3.69/lb” assuming – and this is where I went wrong – that they were one-pound bags. I mean, I don’t know how much a pound is, it just seemed logical. Marc wanted a second bag for eating and so we came home with an unexpected cherry expense of $15.99. Which seems outrageous at first but we would’ve spent that on a bottle of wine, so relatively speaking, I guess it is reasonable.

I painstakingly pitted a pound of these fancy cherries for the filling. The recipe called for three kinds of cherries in the pie: fresh bing, dried tart, and jarred morello. cimg6829-320-3.jpgThe remainder of the dried ones are going to be great in scones or muffins and the remainder of the bings are quickly disappearing as breakfast food. Notice the aromatics; I wouldn’t have thought to add these on my own.

cimg6843-320.jpgPictured at left is the cooked filling, which took about 40 minutes to make and over an hour to cool. Meanwhile, I made the crust so that it could chill in the fridge for about an hour (see how a pie becomes so time consuming?) This particular crust recipe called specifially for hydrogenated vegetable shortening or lard. Marc couldn’t bring himself to buy lard so veggie shortening it was. Actually, this version offered some good advice vis-a-vis the shortening: freeze before adding to the dough. This is perfect because it is too fatty to freeze entirely and then when added to the dough, kept everything nice and cool. I have a feeling that this piece of advice is the lynch pin of pie crust.

The finished pie (pictured here next to our wee oven and the water heater that glamourously resides next to it) looked marvelous, if I do say so myself.


I finally figured out that to roll out pie crust dough, one must roll in alternating clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, rather than in straight lines radiating from the centre. Mind you, I had to use a Nalgene™ bottle to accomplish this but I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Sam, guarding the pie.


The final result of all the cherry pitting (35 min), filling cooking and cooling (1 hour, 40 min) , crust making and chilling (1 hour, 15 min), baking (50 min) and cooling (2 hours!) was absolutely worth it. I have made one fantastic pie and am tempted to make another with the rest of the cherries, if they last that long. (This picture makes it look as though the fork has just murdered the slice.)



Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

They said it would be foggy. I said, “I know”. They said that San Francisco has lousy weather in the summer. I said, “That’s OK, I like when it’s cool.” Now, as the fog looms so thick that I can’t see beyond the street corner, I say, “Stupid weather”.

So, unable to lift the literal fog, I made these breakfast parfaits to lift the figurative. Spicy ginger-pecan granola (chosen from amongst the array of granolas available in Berkeley Bowl’s bulk section), fresh strawberries with sugar and balsamic, organic maple yogurt.


A hot cup of tea with milk keeps me patient waiting for the sun.