Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cassoulet à la Child

After watching one of the competitors on Top Chef plate a spoon full of 'garbanzo beans' (i.e. chickpeas) and call it cassoulet the other night, I was inspired to try and make our own version of the traditional French pork and bean stew. We had some pork and liver sausage, some ribs and lots of beans (feel free to substitute any legumes you like), so the rest was actually quite simple. To make cassoulet, it really just requires a bit of patience and lots of tasty, hearty ingredients as well as the right herbs, and some bread crumbs to dust on top. There's a lots of different versions out there, but we roughly followed an old Julia Child recipe for ours.

Recipe: Pork and beans cassoulet

4 pork & liver sausages, parboiled and sliced into medallions
1lb spare ribs, parboiled and sliced
1 red onion, diced
4 celery shoots, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large can of whole tomatoes, pureed (or buy already crushed tomatoes if you don't have a food processor. But they'll taste way better if they're whole and you do the pureeing at home)
1C lima beans, rehydrated or canned
1/2C fava beans, rehydrated or canned
1/2C kidney beans, rehydrated or canned
1/4C drinking wine
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2C of bread crumbs
1 bunch of fresh thyme, tied tightly

First off, parboil your ribs and and sausages in a large pot for about half an hour or until they're cooked through and starting to get tender. Set meat aside and save the liquid to add as stock later. When the meat is cool enough to handle, slice sausage into medallions and tear the ribs into small pieces. Next, Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In the same pot, add the olive oil and adjust to medium-high heat. Saute your chopped onion, celery and carrots for 3 to 5 minutes or until they start to soften.

Add the meat back to the pot and stir briefly. next, dump in all of the beans and stir the pureed can of tomatoes throughout the meat, beans and vegetables. Now add whatever wine your drinking and then pour in enough of your reserved meat stock to fully submerge everything in the pot by about a half inch or so. Drop in the bunch of thyme, tied tightly in twine, and simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture has thickened.

Remove the thyme and dust the top of the cassoulet evenly with a quarter inch of bread crumbs, no more and no less. If you want, you can also try cutting the bread crumbs 50-50 with finely grated Parmesan to give it a rich, but decidedly unFrench finish. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden-brown.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brunch for Dinner?

I worked at a French restaurant where we made hundreds of savory tarts and quiches for breakfast, brunch and lunch, so when I made one at home last night it was so refreshing to crack 3 eggs instead of 50 and not to worry about whether we'd have the tarts ready in time for the brunch rush. We had ours for dinner because we wanted to, so feel free, tart-lovers, to make one of these whenever the mood strikes. Tart time is any time. There's quite a bit of creative freedom with this tart, as the filling is really up to you, or the contents of your fridge. The only rule is to sauté whatever vegetable you want to use, to get some of the juices out and avoid getting a soggy crust.
Recipe: Goat cheese and pepper tart

1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c vegetable/extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c cold cold water

3 eggs
1/2 c yogurt
1/2 c milk
3/4 c chevre (goat's cheese)

Sauteed veggies:
1/2 a red pepper, cored and sliced vertically
1/2 a green pepper, cored and sliced verticaly
1/2 a spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 a roma tomato diced or a handful of cherry tomatoes halved
fresh basil roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, for the skillet

This recipe is for a simple savory shell, but if you have pie pastry in the freezer, or a store-bought pastry shell, feel free to use that. First, mix the flour and salt with a fork. Beat in the liquids to thicken until it clumps in to a dough. Then grab dough with your hand and form a disc. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes while you prepare your filling.

To prepare the filling, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and 1/4 c of chèvre in a medium bowl. Mix in the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sauté all of your prepped veggies over medium high heat in a cast iron or non-stick skillet for 3-5 minutes, or until the edges brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll out your pastry on a floured surface to match the shape of whatever tart shell you are using. It should be about 1/4" thick. Press the pastry into your shell, poke holes in the bottom with a fork and trim excess from the edges. Then, evenly distribute the vegetables into the tart shell, and pour filling on top. The vegetables should be submerged but still visible. You don't want to drown them. Next, put spoonfuls of the remaining chèvre evenly throughout. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is golden at the edges and the egg mixture has raised all over. And don't you worry if the surface deflates and flattens when the tart cools, it's supposed to.

Apple and spice and everything autumn

Winter in Toronto has been suspiciously gentle this year. We've barely dipped into double-digits below zero and snow sightings have been rare. So, I find myself entertaining autumn notions and craving spiced cake and apple pie and pumpkin things... My seasonal cravings are confused. When I found the recipe for this spiced bundt cake the other day, I couldn't resist. It's a moist and crumbly cake that's simple and elegant and keeps well. And it's ready to serve with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.
Recipe: Spiced apple bundt cake

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 c (1 stick) room temperature unsalted butter
1 c brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 large egg
1 c apple sauce (here's how you can make your own)
confectioners' sugar to dust

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and set aside. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer or egg beater, beat butter, sugar, and honey until fluffy. Add egg, and mix until the consistency is smooth.

With the mixer on low, sift in the flour mixture and beat until the wet and dry ingredients are just combined. Finally, stir in the applesauce. The batter should be a little lumpy and thick; especially if your applesauce is home-made. Generously grease or spray and flour a medium bundt pan and spoon in the batter. Bake in the oven, preheated to 350, for 50-60 minutes or until a knife comes out clean but moist. Dust with sugar and impress your guests. We don't have a cake dish, but I cheat by inverting a small china bowl and placing a large china plate over it (no one will ever know).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A beautiful Beet borani

I found a copy of Sam and Samantha Clark's Moro East in a the nook of a used book shop last week and got so excited that I decided to surprise the other half with something before she made it home from work. Moro is a London restaurant run by a husband-wife team that specialize in Moorish influenced cooking but there happens to be a borani (Iranian yogurt dip) recipe in this book and seeing as how, Mina, the other half of The Salty Pear is Persian, it seemed appropriate. We also had some beets that had been in the fridge and borani recipes are very simple, though this one takes some time for the beets to cook.

Recipe: Beet borani
(blender or food processor needed)

2 beets whole, boiled then skinned
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
a pinch of salt
1 small bunch of dill (substituted a teaspoon of dehydrated dill)

Start by bringing 6 inches of water to a boil in a large sauce pan, then place whole beets skin on into the water, covering securely with a lid. The beets will take an hour to ninety minutes to cook thoroughly, so you'll have plenty of time to cook a protein or click around on foodblogs while your home fills with the aroma.

When a fork will sink into the beets they're ready to peel. Set aside and cool in the sink or somewhere they won't stain for 5 to 10 minutes. Next, run cold tap water over them and peel by hand. Get out your blender or a food processor and add 2 cups of plain yogurt, a minced clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some dill, then give the beets a chop and drop them on top. Puree the whole mix until it's got a nice velvety consistency and the gorgeous magenta hue of a hot lipstick. Unfortunately :(because of the weather in Texas) there's no fresh dill in Toronto right now, so I added a teaspoon of the dehydrated dill. But usually you would chop a small bunch of dill and stir it into the blended beet and add a sprig top garnish.

We had the borani as a sauce on top of grilled salmon, but it was just as good if not better the next day as a cold dip for some lavash flat bread. It will also work as a sweet marinade for lamb or goat once barbecue season returns to the Canadian tundra.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kandy(ed) Sri Lankan Guacamole with toasted coconut

This past Sunday afternoon while the better half of The Salty Pear was breaking a sweat making puff pastry for our Salty Pear tarts and I was casually snapping photos and watching American football playoffs, I realized we hadn't bothered to eat anything. This even though we'd already poached a half dozen pears in Pinot Noir and been to the farmer's market that morning. I decided to quickly stir up this recipe ("Avocado chutney," from Sri Lanka), perfect for dipping nachos, crackers, or flat bread. It's from our hometown recipe faves, Alford and Duguid's first James Beard winning book, Flatbreads and Flavors. Duguid and Alford say they picked up this recipe while hanging in Kandy a town in central Sri Lanka known for hosting Esala Perehera. A lovely place where one half of The Salty Pear once spent some cerebral down time

We should mention two things. One, we completely devoured the whole batch in about ten minutes flat, even after one half of The Salty Pear said, "Oh, I'm finished. I'm not having anymore" halfway through. Two, the original recipe calls for fresh cilantro on top, which we had sitting on the counter and totally forgot to chop and garnish with until after we had inhaled all two pounds of the guac.

Recipe: Kandy(ed) Sri Lankan Guacamole with toasted coconut

2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and mashed
1/4 C of unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 lime, the juice of
2 cloves unpeeled garlic, dry toasted
1 good sized shallot, diced
1 small chile to taste (you know how much heat you can handle)
1 heaping tablespoon dry toasted shredded coconut to sprinkle on top
(forgotten) fresh cilantro, chopped to garnish

To start slice a couple of ripe avocados in half then pull out the cores. You can tell when they're ripe because they're squishier than a baby's butt, and you can core them by slamming a knife blade into the woody sphere while holding it in your palm (but please do be careful). You could also try and pry the slippery buggers out with your hands. Either way mash the avocados in a mixing bowl and set aside. Next step, give a rough chopping to a small ripe tomato and stir it, along with the juice of lime, a quarter cup of dried (unsweetened is better) shredded coconut and the mashed avocado together. Put aside the mashed avocado mixture for later.

Next Heat a small pan or skillet to medium-high and dry toast (no oil, butter or god forbid Pam!) two cloves of garlic in their skin, i.e. do not peel them yet. This should take a couple minutes on either side, you'll know they're ready when they brown and are soft to the touch. Once your garlic is cooked, peel the cloves and mash them in a mortar with a finely chopped shallot, a healthy pinch of coarse salt and a serrano chile. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, go get one already (though you could make this spice paste in a blender if you want). Now stir the spicy garlic mixture into avocado mash and serve garnished with dry toasted coconut and nachos or anything else crunchy and dippable.

Monday, January 18, 2010

This Salty Pear is Sweet

This recipe for our Pinot Noir poached pear tart with sea salt isn't just our namesake, it has pretty much everything we're about: market fresh fruit, lots of vino, perfect pastry, coarse salt, and chocolate to top it all off. To start you're going to need to get a basket of pears (each tart requires a half pear, so 4 pears will make 8 tarts). We used Anjou because they're still in season and keep their shape well when baked, but you could just as easily use Bartletts.

Recipe: Pinot Noir poached Pear tarts with Sea Salt

4 Anjou pears, poched, halved, then sliced

Poaching liquid

1/2 Bottle of red wine, Pinot Noir, Amarone or a personal favourite
1 large orange, zest and juice of
1 stick of cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh mint, rosemary or thyme

Puff pastry

1lb all purpose flour
1lb cold, unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 C of heavy cream, mixed with cold water
1/2 C cold water, mixed with cream

Almond filling

1/4 C of ground almonds
1/4 C of confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons soft, whipped butter

For the Poached Pears fill a saucepan (preferably one that's going fit your pears tightly) add your vino, a vanilla bean sliced down the middle, the zest and juice of an orange, a stick of cinnamon, and a few sprigs of fresh mint, thyme or rosemary but don't over do it. If you only have dried herbs that's fine, but just a pinch will do. You don't want your pears to taste like a roast lamb. Next, bring the poaching liquid to a boil, then cover and simmer for 5 to 10. This particular poaching recipe is adapted from Jamie's Kitchen, but there's a million twists out there so just pick a pear poaching recipe that suits if you're not into this one. When the liquids are simmering (or marrying their flavors as the chefs would say), skin and core your pears from the base. Make sure to keep your pears whole with the stem on and in clean, presentable form. You're going to see them when you're done so you don't want to rough them up. Once your pears are prepped, place them base down in the simmering liquid and cover. And if they aren't fully immersed add more wine, it's important that the fruit is covered in the booze. They won't cook evenly if they're not, so make sure they're drowning in the sauce.

For The Pastry
(if you're up for making your own) this is the recipe we use. If not, store-bought pastry will do the trick. It comes in two forms: sheets, or blocks. If you buy sheets, simply lay out one sheet and take it from there. The blocks will need to defrost, and you will need a chunk of pastry roughly the size of one good sized handful. This usually means half of one package. On a floured surface, roll out a sheet about 1/4" thick and brush the surface with one egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of water. Then using a pizza roller, or the blade of a sharp knife, cut two rows of four squares or rectangles, whichever will accommodate your pears nicely.

For The Filling simply whisk together 1/4c ground almonds, 1/4c confectioner's sugar and three tablespoons softened butter. Spread one tablespoon of filling on each of the rectangles, but try to leave a border because the egg-washed pastry will bake into a beautiful golden hue in the oven. Next, take each poached pear and cut it length-wise in half. With the cut side down, cut each half into 1/8" horizontal slices keeping the shape of the half. Using the Blade of a thick knife, transfer the fanned half pears to the pastry rectangles. Bake these beauties on a lined/greased baking sheet in a preheated 350 ˚ oven for 20-25 minutes or until the edges look golden. Let cool on a wire rack. Garnish with a drizzle of chocolate, icing sugar and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The pomegranate, from seeding to eating.

One half of The Salty Pear is an unbelievably neat and tidy cooker, at least compared to the other half (my finger prints cover the kitchen) and she even has a technique for cutting, cleaning and seeding a pomegranate without staining her hands. So, without further ado, this is how you clean and quarter a pomegranate.
First, you cut off the top (the nipple!) where the small opening is, being careful not to cut into the seeds (i.e. the fruit). Then, score the entire skin of the pomegranate in two perpendicular lines so the pomegranate has an X carved around its skin. Now, stick the blade of your knife a few centimeters into the flesh where the lines intersect and turn the blade like a key in a hole: the pomegranate will split open. Don't worry, the first couple times you try this, you'll get juice all over yourself and the poor pomegranate will look like bloody murder, but with a little practice and patience you'll get this down, and be showing off to friends and family.
After you've quartered the pomegranate, there are a few alternate ways to get the seeds out. The first is to bash the quarters with the back of a tablespoon or ladle, which is quick, violent and effective. But it also ruins the clean hands thing and pretty much demands that it be done over a sink. If this is your method of choice, you can work with halves instead of quarters for better grip. The alternate method, if you have the patience and don't want to stain your counter top or maybe if you're at work in the lunch room, is to gently loosen the seeds by hand. This method can also be performed under water, by filling a bowl with cold water and submerging your hands and the fruit while you pluck away.
Working on one segment at a time, peel back the thin membrane covering the seeds and softly ease and pluck the seeds from their base into a bowl. If the fruit is ripe, the seeds should slide off easily. The seeds can be enjoyed as is, as a garnish, as a salad topper, and even to cook fish with their juice's acidity, as in a ceviche. And don't worry if you run out of ideas, there will be plenty of Persian inspired pomegranate recipes to come on The Salty Pear.
Also, if you're a health nut or just plain curious, you might like to know that pomegranates are just about the healthiest and juiciest fruit out there. They're packed with antioxidants and they're an aphrodisiac known to boost men's sexual performance and stamina. So have fun and don't spill too many seeds.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A is for Applesauce

Here’s the thing with applesauce: it’s awesome. And you want some. It’s so easy to make and you can eat it in so many ways. Put a bit of it on your yogurt and granola in the morning, serve it on top of latkes, or add it to your baked goods. If you’re looking for ways of reducing fat in your baking, applesauce can be substituted for oil or margarine and will still produce moist and tasty results that are great for everyday snacking. There's two basic varieties, so you might want two try both by making a double batch: chunkier applesauce will be fruitier and more noticeable in baked goods, while smoother applesauce blends better if you don't want your guests to no your baking without butter.

Recipe: Stove top applesauce

• Peel, core, and quarter 4-6 apples. Use whichever type you like eating or baking varieties, or a combination. But granny Smiths are the best for savory dishes as they have the least amount of inherent sweetness.

• Put the prepped apples in a medium saucepan and immerse in water and bring to a boil.

• Once the water is boiling, turn your element down to medium and let simmer 30-35min. To check if the apples are ready, poke one with a fork. When they are soft, drain the water and transfer apples to a large bowl to cool.

• When cooled, mash them with a potato masher or blend with a food processor to achieve your desired consistency.