Monday, April 26, 2010

Mush ado about nothing.

Apologies for bad puns may be in order sometime, but for whatever reason I can't seem to help myself. Anyways, this is a really simple mushroom salad recipe and being a fun guy, I'm just going to toss it out there for anyone who's interested. I, also, wanted a segue way to talk about Ron Mann and his cultishly nerdy documentary films and his interestingly cultivated obsessions, like marijuana and mushrooms, and to say that if you overlook their titles (which stink: like Grass and Know Your Mushrooms) he is another example of a cool, interesting person doing their thing in Toronto. So check him out if you haven't already because he knows what's up with culture. Did I mention he's hilarious and buddies with Woody Harrelson and Jim Jarmusch?

Sauteed Mushrooms on Baby Spinach & Arugula (Rocket)

Mushrooms (for a big 4 to 6 person salad)
1C King Oyster
1C Shitake
1C Chanterelles
1C Porcini
1C Oyster

1/4 Olive oil
2C Baby Spinach, destemmed
2C Arugala
3tbsp Balsamic vinegar (buy a good one, that's sweet and tart)
Cracked pepper, to garnish

Start by chopping the larger mushrooms down to the size of the smaller ones, you want everything to have roughly the same shape and thickness, so it cooks evenly throughout. Heat your olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high flame and just before it hits the smoking point toss in all of your mushrooms, flip the pan to coat the shrooms in oil and then season. Saute the mushrooms for 5 to 10 minutes (the word and tehcnique derives from the French, ‘jumped,’ past participle of sauter). This means your fungus should literally be crackling and jumping out of the hot oil in the pan when you dump them in, not soaking up the grease and getting bogged down in luke warm oil. You'll know the mush mixture is done when the moisture has been cooked out and the exteriors brown.

Serve over a bed of baby spinach and arugula and drizzle with a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar. Top with cracked black pepper and chow down. This is a hardy and amazingly tasty and filling salad and works as a vegetarian main if the servings of mushroom are generous enough.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Berry Blues

The blue ones always show up first. I think they're supposed to be ready to pick at the end of April but it's been warmer this year so the fruit shops on my way home have had gorgeous baskets filled with the dreamy blue-black berries for a few weeks now. How can you resist? Blueberries are great. They remind me of Robert Frost poems and make me want to bake. My first blueberry adventure this year was this coffee cake. It came out moist and delicious and looked absolutely beautiful because of all the dark blue magic in it.

You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.
-Robert Frost

Recipe: Blueberry Coffee (or tea) Cake

1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4C Sugar
1/3 C Canola Oil
1 egg
1/2 C Orange Juice
1 tsp Orange or Lemon Zest
1 tsp Good Vanilla Extract
1 C Blueberries

Optional Streusel Topping

1/2 C Flour
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 Tsp Canola Oil or Melted Butter
2 tsp Cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and the baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the sugar and oil until frothy. Add the Orange Juice, zest, and vanilla to the egg mixture and mix. Add the flour in thirds and stir until uniform but don't over-beat. Finally, fold in the blueberries.

For the Streusel topping, simply add all the ingredients and mix them with a fork. Pour half of the batter into a greased shallow cake pan (2 1/2") and top with half of the streusel. Next, pour the rest of the batter in and finish with the rest of the streusel. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

This is a very moist and fruity cake, so if you plan on keeping it for more than a few days, keep it chilled to avoid moldy berries.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fishy business

I have an odd sort of relationship with fish, as I was raised by vegetarians who (this is not a joke) refused to let me use their pans when I decided as a teenager that I wanted to start cooking seafood and meats at home. At the time I was working in a bistro (the only one in my Polish neighbourhood) doing kitchen prep., which meant washing dishes, preparing an absolutely revolting amount of squid for calamari (as in gallon buckets of the squirmy little, ink squirting buggers every afternoon after highschool), and last but not least, gutting fish. Lots of them, big ones, small ones, stinky ones, writhing ones, ones that ingested golf balls, and fatlaced pretty in pink salmon bellies were all laid open on my cuttingboard. It was a foul, squeamish experience for an adolescent vegetarian that I will readily admit was eased by a bad habit, smoking. At the time, nobody seemed to make a fuss about cigarettes in restaurants (it was a French place after all), and so preparing fish will forever remind me of having a smoke hanging off my lip and a Frenchmen screaming at me to Hurry up wheat the feckin poisson. For some reason I still can't quite figure out, I have very fond memories of the place and occasionally "sneak" into the gastropub that inhabits my old haunts to stare longingly through the handoff window into the ugly, little ten square foot kitchen of my youth.

You may be interested to know: a tagine is a slow cooked stew of spiced meat or fish cooked over vegetable in an earthenware dish, but the word tagine actually comes from the Arabic ṭājin, which just means frying pan.

Moroccan white fish tagine
(from Moro East)

4 fillets of white fish (monkfish and mackerel both work well)
1/4C Olive oil, 6 tbsp to coat a sauce pan and 2 tbsp to rub on fish fillets
2 onions, sliced whole into thin rings
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 cup of golden raisins
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp saffron
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange blossom essence
1 3/4C water
2 large potatoes,peeled and diced to half inch cubes

Preheat oven to 230/425.

Start by frying your onions over medium heat in the olive oil until tender and gold, about 5 to 10 minutes, then add the garlic and raisins and continue to brown for another 3 to 5 min. Now stir in the admixture of dried spices (ginger, saffron, turmeric and cinnamon, as well as a bit of salt and pepper) and fry for thirty seconds or a minute til all is combined in pan. Next, pour in the water and stir thoroughly, while bringing the mixture to a simmer, continue for about 5 min.

Oil, salt and pepper your fillets, in other words, season the fish. If you haven't already, clean and dice your potatoes and salt them well. Now, in a roasting pan stir potatoes into the spiced onion and raisin blend and cover with aluminum foil, then roast in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Depending on what type and weight of fish you have (check online) the finishing time will vary; either way, the last step is to pull everything from the oven, turn up the foil and lay the fish sections on top of the tangine, recover with the foil, and replace in the oven until your fish is done.

Serve with rice, bread, or any side you prefer as this dish already has a starch and protein, it's rather versatile... enjoy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Praise of Pancakes

We pick up our prints at the photo place every week or so, and flip through them excitedly deciding which post we're going to do next and drool over images of food we've eaten the week before. The cycle feeds itself. We cook delicious food, and it often looks great so we photograph it, and another roll of film is developed and... you get the idea. Pancakes have turned up in many of these rolls. They are such perfect canvases for whatever mood you (or your pantry) happen to be in, and I have decided to be completely unapologetic about the fact that there will be multiple posts regarding these little round griddle things. Here's a simple one that goes perfectly with a press full of dark roast and the Sunday paper...

Recipe: Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes (for two)
1 egg
1 c all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 c buckwheat flour, sifted
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c buttermilk (you can make this yourself by adding white vinegar to milk and letting it rest)
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c fresh blueberries
butter for griddle/pan

Sift the Flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In larger bowl, whisk the egg and sugar until frothy, then add buttermilk milk, vanilla, and melted butter and whisk until mixed. Incorporate the dry ingredients with the buttermilk mixture using a fork and do not beat or over mix. Small lumps are fine.

Allow the batter to rest for ten minutes.

Preheat the over to 200°F. Lightly grease a griddle or frying pan with enough butter to coat the surface and bring to medium heat. Dispense the batter using an ice cream scoop or ladle, forming small circles depending on how many pancakes you would like to make. Cook for a few minutes, press in a few blueberries, and when small bubbles appear all over the pancake, flip. If they don't detach from the griddle easily, they're not ready to flip yet. Cook for a minute on the other side, and remove. At this point you can keep the cooked pancakes in the preheated oven until you are ready to serve them.

When the pancakes are done (or if you can multitask, in a separate frying pan) toss a cup of fresh blueberries in a tablespoon of butter on medium heat for a few minutes until berries are hot and sizzling.

Top the pancakes
with the cooked berries and finish with a healthy drizzle of you favorite syrup. Good morning!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Will curry for favour

This recipe for a Chicken and Potato curry has become my absolute hands down favourite meal over the last few months (read: Toronto winter). It's spicy and sweet and aromatic and flavourfully complex in a just so kind of deliciousness that really can't be made any other way than in a wok (You can get a fantastic wok for under ten bucks in a chinatown or thriftshop near you, so there's no excuse). It's basically just a Thai take on any classic one-pot wonder style dish, adding one ingredient at a time until they all combine into some sort of magic, ready for your mouth. Mmm, good eating is promised if you follow through on this one and it also makes the absolute best leftovers ever, for sure, guaranteed (in my opinion) or your money back. This curry is worth a hard sell.

Hot Sour Salty Sweet's Chicken and Potato Curry

1 whole chicken cubed to 1" (2 breasts/2 legs bone-in will due; you could debone, but you lose so much flavour it's really worth it to just pick the bones out as you eat)
6 to 8 potatoes, peeled and cubed to 1"
3 Thai red chiles, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 shallots, diced
2 tbsp frying oil (canola/vegetable/sunflower are all OK)
2 tbsp fish sauce (pasted anchovies, sugar and water if you don't have)
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
1 tsp orange blossom essence (you can substitute rose water)
6 kaffir (lime) leaves (if you absolutely cannot possibly find these anywhere use the zest of a lime)
2 green onions, sliced diagonally for garnish
1 handful of fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped for garnish

It seems like a lot of stuff to go in all at once, but if you cut everything first and have all the knife work done and the ingredients ready to go on your cutting board this recipe is eyes-closed, do-it-drunk-while-chatting easy and a total wOw for anyone who's never tried it. Parboil your potatoes and save 2C of the starchy water. In a mortar and pestle or with the butt of something hard in a sturdy mixing bowl, smash up and mash up the chiles, garlic and shallots. Heat oil in wok to medium-high and the fry up your spice paste for 30 seconds. Add the chicken, season well with salt and pepper and brown (5-10 minutes). Open the can of coconut milk and pour the watery bit in with the potato water leaving the fatter bit til later; next, add the coconut-potato water to the chicken and put in the potatoes as well. Bring to a rolling boil, cover and simmer for a half hour.

Take off your lid, stir everything up and make sure the potatoes and chicken are both cooked through. Now your ready to add the orange blossom water, kaffir leaves, and remaining 'cream' of the coconut milk. Boil for another 5 to 10 until the sauce start to separate a bit, taste for seasoning, toss in the scallion, plate and garnish with cilantro and healthy dose of a cracked black pepper on top. Serve over rice, preferably jasmine, and try not to over eat; this recipe can be dangerous.