Friday, October 30, 2009

its (all) about time

Tonight while eating dinner it clicked: today was my last, actual, real, cooking shift at the Grapevine this season. Sure there is one day left on my schedule, but it will be spent scrubbing walls, and tackling that treacherous oven, rather than cooking with it. Today was it--wasnt yesterday just the beginning?
Now I must stop. I vow to write more on Sunday, when it is all actually done-done. When the season is officially over. Last sign in and out, last day in that kitchen with those wonderful people--prepare for some serious sentimentality.
It has been a good run though (more on Sunday, saving it for Sunday...), with an idle last week or so. Eerily so. I mean, it is go-go-go, go some more, sweat alot, yell some, remember to breathe and eat, breathe eat and sleep the restaurant since, well, warmth and tourism around here and then just...nothing. I mean, there was no segway, no phasing out, just: quiet. Which has been just as exciting.
Perhaps "exciting" is the wrong word, but enjoyable (perhaps "enjoyable" is the wrong word, as summer was chaos and stress--enjoyable chaos and stress). For the last few days, I have been playing in the pastry kitchen, making sponge cakes and chocolate mousse, choux pastry and vanilla cream to transform it into cream puffs, and a calvados sabayon that I am proud to immodestly call lovely. For the last few days, there has been time.
Now, though, time hardly seems so wonderful. In fact, it seems down right cumbersome, a burden that is haunting me as I await the very last day. Sure school begins and my days will be again filled, but even the mere two weeks prior to that, in what I would consider an early retirement if I even considered retirement part of my later in life plan, are sufficatingly full of nothing but time. It makes me anxious. What am I to do with all of that time and no one to cook for but me? And surely I cant cook all day for myself. I need a hobby. Wait, I have one, its called cooking. Are you sensing my restlessness.
Most people would enjoy such an enforced vacation, a freedom for two weeks before reality kicks back in. And I do plan on enjoying it, cooking things on my "list," and cooking for others too.
And I will start with Spatzli. From scratch, through the ricer, laden with enough nutmeg to make my grandma swoon. This tops my list because tonight, for the first time, I tried Spatzli--Germany and Switzerlands take on pasta. Now, being a pasta lover myself, and working under both a German (who, mind you, ate Spatzli almost--no I could probably safely say just-- every day this season) and Swiss chefs, it is surprising that I waited all year. And that thought was even more surprising when I took my first bite. "Oh my god," I thought--i may have even said this out loud--, "why the hell havent I been eating this all year?" It was that good. Soft and richly eggy, Spatzli is fluffy in a way aldente pasta cannot be. And I was shoveling it down as if I had no time at all to eat it. Seriously, I could not get enough, and wish so much that this had been my last Grapevine Spatzli rather than my first (meaning it sure would have licked the stress and hunger of the busy times). So my next food mission, what with all this newfound free time, will be to make my own, because I cannot imagine the off-season without it. And I have enough time to perfect it, and impress the shit out of that German and that Swiss the next time I see them. Not ready to say goodbye (more on Sunday...nows not the time).

This is the basic recipe and technique for Spatzli. At the restaurant, we served it unadorned as the starch side to Duck Breast with a warm cabbage salad for Dinner, at lunch it was sauteed with mushrooms, leeks and ham, before being doused in bechamel, covered with cheese and gratineed. I however, sauteed it with a clove of finely minced garlic, chopped kale, and sprigs of thyme and sage; top with parmesan cheese and wondered why I let so much time slip by.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

the pink ladies have arrived

I used to follow the adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," religiously grabbing an apple each morning with breakfast. But as the last of the winter stock dwindled this spring, and summer brought apricots, cherries, raspberries, peaches, and plums, I replaced my old standby with what was in season. And I hardly missed them at all; there was plenty (again, too much) to choose from.
Now, however, is apple season. The market is full of Honeycrisps, Granny Smiths, Macs, Spartans, Ambrosias, and Mutsus. I, however, have been waiting for Pink Ladies.
It has been a long wait, too, one where I kept my mind off apple cravings with Bosc Pears so as not to give in to another apple type, one I knew would be far less satisfying after two seasons without them.
I discovered, and fell madly in love with Pink Ladies last winter, reading a snippet somewhere by Alice Waters and a dessert of a tart made with lemon curd and said apples. On the Chez Panisse online menu, they listed another pairing of the Pink Ladies and cherries. Well, if they were a regular occurance for Chez Panisse, they must be special. So I sought them out...and didnt have to go far. They were in the same place I buy all my apples and pears, the Okanagan Fruit Packing co, a frigid cooler-of-a-building where I once did an apple and pear tasting with some chef friends: 42 varities at nine in the morning, thats alot of fibre even for this fruit lover. I dont remember tasting the Pink Ladies then, but I do remember that successful visit finding them.
The skin of a Pink Lady is, well, pink, blending with yellow in a smeared, pastel sort of coating. They were pretty. Before even getting in my car, I pulled an apple from the bag, and feeling this was going to be something special, closed my eyes and took a bite. Bam! It sparkled! This apple was effervescent, I swear--like having champagne! The skin was the but not chewy, the flesh was so crisp and juicy, not at all mealy or woody. It was perfect; Id never go back (I did once, with a Granny Smith, and regretted it...).
Unfortunately, though, Pink Ladies require a long growing season, adn they are one of the last apples to arrive. For weeks now, there have been plenty of apples to choose from, the Ambrosias particularly tempting with their similar hue (be strong, remember the disappointment of the Granny Smith), but I was choosing to wait for my favorite. I kept stopping in at OK Fruit Packers, but they were not there. By the seventh stop I was beginning to wonder if they were never going to come, we did have very sketchy weather this year. But I had heard that this was to be one of the best apple seasons yet, and I remained optimistic--and patient.
You can imagine my delight then, when yesterday at the market, after asking what the unidentified box of apples was at my Bosc mans stand (let it be Pink Ladies, please say Pink Ladies), he said he could not recall; it was on the tip of his toungue--oh what were they called. Pink Ladies, I asked as he said the same thing, remembering. I did a little happy dance and clap (the same moves I compulsively do when rhubarb hits the stands in spring). And then I bought twelve pounds (youll recall the heaviness of my basket). Back at my car, just as the winter before, I picked out a particularly large apple, closed my eyes and took a bite as delightful as the very first. So worth the wait.
And now I dream of all the things I will do now that my old favorite is back in the fridge. Plenty will be eaten unadultered, sure, but some will be sliced on mueslix or peanut butter toast for breakfast, dipped in lemon curd for an easy dessert, with walnuts and honey at any time of day, baked in crisps, or in a pie with a aged cheddar. I love that combination, old white cheddar with my sparkling Pink Ladies. One recipe I have been dreaming about since I began dreaming again about Pink Ladies is a crostada of the fruit, the crust laced with the sharp cheese. When I make it, I will provide the recipe. But for now, I am so excited to have them again taht I just had to share, and now I have to go eat another!


It seems silly to complain about too much food, but that is what I am about to do.

Market day yesterday and I would not resist the bounty of fall harvest. Soon my basket was impossibly (and in-carry-ably) full of apples and pears, parsnips, garlic, sunchokes, and the last head of butter lettuce I will eat this year, a double-baked swiss bread. If I had not run out of money--yes, actually cash stricken and not a debit weilding produce stand in sight--I would have added about ten pounds of winter squash in four different colors and varieties to my load, settling instead for another delicata, my last toonie.

I would consider this a successful trip, and look forward to the wholesome meals to come of it, if it were not for all the other options already in my fridge--artichokes, fennel, kale, carrots, beets, and more parsnips. Granted, most of the fall veg is hardy, and will keep well beyond next weeks market, the last one of the season, when I am bound to bring home those other three squash and then some. It is not really that I worry about all that I once found so beautiful will be found so rotten I have to throw it out, it is where to begin with it all.

There is just simply not enough time or meals in the day, or space in my stomach, for all that I want to make. Everytime I open my fridge door, I breathe in with excitement; it all looks so fresh and lovely, but then I go to reach for something, and my outstretched hand seems lost, going from veg to veg to fruit to cheese (another drawer of great variety), back to fruit and finally, fingers now a little chilly, comes out with nothing. Grabs a pumpkin muffin off the counter. It will help me think of what I really want.

But thats the problem, I want it all. If I could cook and eat all day I would, but it is just not timely, or physically possible. And choosing what to eat each time hunger calls is difficult with so many options and so many things that I love. I start thinking, I know I want to have this now, but I might want that later, or have been looking forward to having this for dinner, and will having this now ruin my appetite. What about this instead, its smaller...but oh, I was saving that to have with this. Besides, this will last longer than that, and I had one of those yesterday. Sound crazy--well it is.

Sometimes I think I should exercise more control when shopping, giving myself less options and less strife. Choose one vegetable per week, buy a shwack load of it, each night make a different meal with it, get right sick of it, move on. Its not just dinner though, breakfast would have to be the same all week too, so the cereal/toast/baking and all additions debate would not occur, the same brown paper lunch, and (I couldnt do it) one kind of cheese. One variety of fruit. The muffins stay, but only bake one batch of cookies for the week. Sounds beyond crazy. And boring.

Shopping then, I should think of what I really love, rather than what I love the look of. Again, though, and I may be writing in circles here, I love it all, some more than others, yes, but I am not picky. I love having variety and choices too, and all of this is really not worthy of complaint. I should be thankful that I do have so many options, that opening my crisper drawers is a struggle, that if I get the craving for something, chances are, its in my kitchen somewhere. I should be thankful that leaving the market with an empty wallet only meant that I would have to stop at and ATM and get the cash I would need to buy the quince I had arranged to pick up from a local farmer, use my card at the grocer for yogurt and figs. I am thankful, and I do so enjoy it all. And tonight, I will enjoy that fennel. Thats whats calling me and my outstretched hand today (its also been in there the longest, but never mind that). First, though, maybe an apple, or a pear, those look good...I should make a salad, or some soup, its chilly. Where are those muffins. Sigh, you have to start somewhere.

Swordfish with Braised Fennel, Olives, and Meyer Lemon
I buy vegetables because they are beautiful, which is exactly why I bought Maggies Harvest, a gorgeous (and as heavy as some of my root veg) cookbook by Maggie Beer. It is cloth bound, seasonally divided, and full of rustic, honest photographs. Turns out, it is also full of wonderful recipes and ideas, like this one for swordfish. Not an actual recipe in the book, but mentioned in the prelude to fennel as a salsa prepared by the late Catherine Brandel of Chez Panisse. Maggie could not recall the fish it was served on at the time, but imagined it would be wonderful on swordfish. This is my take on her story.

Friday, October 23, 2009

worth the wait

For the second time today, I am waiting--most unexpectedly and (seemingly) eternally--for the oven timer to ding.
Waiting for the ding #1:
As the season is slowing, I am finally trying and learning new things at work. Today (well, the last two days actually, and more to come yet) was dedicated to honing my pastry, well, cake skills (that, and boiling a lobster). The other day I tackled a sponge cake box mix, a prelude to researching and baking the from-scratch version. Today, the cake was transformed into a white and dark chocolate, Austrian-style torte, mousse heavy and complete with chocolate fans. Splendid, but I barely touched it, taking notes while Rene, the (modest...?) cake guru did all the layering. I did however, have complete reign over a flourless chocolate torte--where my story begins.
I took my time making the batter, assembling my pan and collecting my ingredients before attentively following the weighed proportions of the recipe. Allow me to stress how carefully I wrapped that nine-inch springform pan in foil so as the keep the water of the Bain Marie it was to be immersed in from ruining the dessert I was trusted with. Just over an hour and the cake was ready, looking dark and flattened for thickness, I let it cool in its pan for far too long while I busied myself with other things. Had I checked a little sooner, I may not have this tale to tell, for all may have looked and smelled wonderful, but with the release of the pan sides came a stream, no, river, of water, and a far-too-fudgy cake. Never mind that it tasted great, this was a hardly a cake at all, more of a baked pudding. With forty five minutes left in my shift, and no bosses present, I started again.
It was such a simple recipe: 225 g butter, 250g chocolate, 1/2 cup sugar, 5 eggs, 1 Tbsp each cocoa and more sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, melt, beat, beat, beat, pour, bake, that I didnt grab the book as I hurried with a second chance. And I had all the quantities right, only, as this cake sat in the oven, it dawned on me that my 1/2 cup sugar had been weighed out at 225 g, on a roll from the chocolate and butter. Shit. But I had used a darker chocolate this time, so I hoped it would balance the doubled sweetness. Only time would tell. And alot of time, let me tell you. Not wanting to risk another soggy mess, upon Johnnys advice I turned the oven down, and stuck the cake in sans water bath, and nearly an hour and a half later, I pulled it out. I dont work tomorrow. Or the next day. I will not know until Monday if it turned out all right. I wont sleep until Monday night.
And apparently I will not sleep tonight, at the rate that my dinner is going. Last weekend I could not resist buying a delicata squash at the farmers market. It was cold and rainy that day, and roasting a whole squash seemed perfect. But I didnt do it that night, in fact, the market is again tomorrow, and I am just dealing with last weeks purchase. But it smells wonderful, and I am hungry with anticipation--have been, for the last hour and then some. After thirty minute I check my wrapped beauty. Not even close. So I poured some more wine, ate some of the bread and cheese I had to go with dinner, and waited for another half hour. Not quite. More wine. Is it done yet? Did the timer on my oven break? I think I will go watch it cook...

Ok, that was some time ago now. And I have since enjoyed that slow roaster, and too much wine in the meantime. But it was worth it, so worth it. Now I can only hope that cake was worth it too. Until Monday...

Tomato and Chantrelle stuffed Delicata with Herbs and Garlic
This is the last of summer meets fall: there are no more fresh tomatos, and summery chantrelles are replaced with the wintery little brown shrooms until the morels of spring bring change. But there are squash, and will be for awhile, ready to be roasted all cold weather seasons long. This time I stuffed before roasting, and, scraping the contents into a bowl, with a chunk of bread and wedge of aged gouda, I was satisfyed and cared less about how late it is (though that might be the wine). It would be equally delicious, I think, stirred into soft polenta, or baked with cream and parmesan.

In a small pan, warm some olive oil and gently soften:
1 thick slice of onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
Once translucent, add in a cook until softened:
1 small leek (or 1/2 large), sliced and rinsed over
1 cup chantrelles, chopped and brushed clean
Add in and warm through:
1 large tomato, diced (roughly 1 cup)
1 sprig each thyme, oregano and savory
1 bay leaf
Cut a delicata squash in half lengthwise, scraping out seeds with a large spoon. Fill the cavity with the chantrelle mixture, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, close back up and wrap in tinfoil. Back at 375 for half an hour, I mean one hour, I mean, maybe a bit longer. When it is finally done, scrape out all the goods into a bowl with lima beans or roast chicken. Top with chopped parsely and another good swig of oil. Be glad you were patient, tis the season for slow cooking.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"doing" mushrooms

Sometimes bad things happen to you. For no reason at all, for no fault of your own. A random hate crime from the universe that could have smacked anyone else in the face but instead it chose you. Today, it chose me.
Coming back from a mushroom forage with other Junior Chefs, we noticed a car in the parking lot where we had met earlier that morning with its passenger window completely shattered. It was my car. Someone had broken the glass with a rock the size of my head (which remains on the drivers side floor), stolen my camera (yet left the cell phone that I carelessly left in the first place...), and I suppose, dashed off to the nearest pawn shop to, again with my presumptuousness, get money for drugs.
Ok, so I am insinuating their plan in an unfair way. But I was just robbed of one of my most prized possessions (the one, ironically, I wished I had all day as we treked through the forest in search of non-magic mushrooms), and left, as the weather gets cooler, with no right window and the impending bill for a new one. Also missing was a bag with school papers and government cheque (woulda helped pay for the window...). But what could I do. Just be thankful, I guess, that my beautiful market basket wasnt taken too, or that the ginormous boulder didnt go in one side and out the other.
And cook something wonderful.
Setting out on the mushroom tour today, I envisioned returning home with a little brown bag of collected edibles. I envisioned a risotto or polenta with enough pungent earthiness and cream to right settle into, or even just a buttery sautee on toast with a dry cheese and glass of white. But we came back as empty handed as my passenger side is empty mirrored.
Luckily, I had a bag of local chantrelles in my produce drawer, just waiting for their chance to shine. Softening first a little garlic and onion in olive oil, I chunkily chopped the chantrelles and tossed them in. As they met the heat their sweet smell rose, and I simply forgot about the drama of the end of my day. The camera was no longer a worry, rather it became an excuse for a new one; thankful to come back to any car at all, rather than upset at a car one window short. It was mushroom induced euphoria, something magic.

Chantrelle and Tomato Pasta
I used my last fresh tomatoes of the season for this dish, and can not think of a better way to enjoy them. The sauce was fresh yet rich, with meaty bites of chantrelles, soothing and comforting from first smell to last bite.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; meanwhile...
Heat oil in pan and gently soften:
1 thick slice spanish onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Once translucent, add:
1 cup roughly chopped chantrelles
Sautee until you are completely enraptured by the buttery sweet smell, then add your pasta to the pot of water.
Add to the pan and season with salt and pepper:
1 large tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh time
Cover and cook for five minutes; remove lid from pan, increase heat, and simmer until at least half of the liquid is gone. Add cooked pasta and toss (if too much of your liquid has evaporated, add a little pasta water to loosed the sauce to coat). Top with chopped parsely and grated grana padano. Eat lifes cares away--it could be worse.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nows the time

The season is coming to an end at the Grapevine. Though I am sad, I think of all the time I will have to make what I want to make, to teach myself, to practice, to put in effort. To eat a proper lunch. I look forward to days spent in my kitchen whiling away the time with dishes I have long wanted to try my hand at: souffles, doughnuts, sourdough bread, perogies; to not having to plan ahead so that I dont end up eating the same pasta all week long, to being able to really think about what I want for dinner at that minute and having the time to make it happen. I will surely be on my feet just as often, and may take to wearing my slip-and-stab-proofs in my home kitchen.
On my days off throughout the season, I would get excited, and plan what I was going to fill my day with making. Especially breakfast. Porridge would be set aside in favour of French toast or an omelette. Id bake scones or whip up crepes, and take hours to eat it, drinking way too much coffee. Then the rest of the day would be spent thinking about dinner and eventually making it too. Risotto and homemade pasta were saved for those days, and any new recipes that I have wanted to try. But with the prospect of many days off, and a sudden desire, with school approaching, to expand my knowledge and abilities (easy to neglect when you are very frustrated with the industry on a day to work day basis) I long to try new things, not just take time with my old faves; to try out classics, and maybe learn some of those French terms in the meantime. So heres to new cooking adventures and eating to pass the time--if only I could count these hours towards my apprenticeship. Or get paid still...

Avoiding fancy

I do not like to cook fancy for myself. I usually follow a five ingredient rule (as well as my two pot max), and going beyond that makes me think that I am pushing simplicity, forcing too many things together into a conundrum of flavours less likely to please than to confuse. However, I often rearrange such five items in my head to become something that tastes like what I am eating, but sounds, for lack of a better, or real for that matter, word, menu-able. In other words, what I would do to my dinner if it was for my restaurant, rather than my personal dinner.
Does this mean though, that I care less about cooking for one than I do many. I have always thought that taking care of oneself in the kitchen is worth the extra effort, and enjoying my dinner has often meant enjoying my day, period. So why dont I cook the meals that I hear in my head as I eat the flavour inspiration of it? Perhaps embarassment at being fancy for just me (my sisters judgments come to mind) or a desire and regard for simplicity (my own judgements), or because the best ideas stem from the failure (i use the term loosely, dinners have been really good lately--toot toot) of others, the improvements or rearrangements into something a little better. It is certainly not for lack of time, plenty of that lately. And I hope it is not for lack of effort.
Yknow what--I think I am having a moment. A moment where it seems just too high maitenance to do something fancy for me. I am not talking about five course dinners or gastronomic revelations, but a willingness to go that extra step, take that extra bit of care, fuel that curiosity, or even understanding of flavours for just me. And not to tell someone about it later, but to enjoy it now, rather than think of what it could be.
Fancy, itself, is very subjective. Non-cooking friends (and sisters) of mine, think boxed pasta with a sauce I made from scratch is fancy, to make the pasta myself would be downright extravagant. I, on the other hand, view those with a simplistic eye: low maitenance, comfortable to make and eat, and a canvas for humble creativity. To me, I think, fanciness is in the preparation, the richness of a dish, the expense; the length of time from step A to step eat, and the number of steps in between. And most of the time I want none of that. I love to be involved lovingly in what I am cooking, but not encumbered with timing and calculation. And yes, I want to cook what I would be happy to present at a restaurant, but I would happily present the same things to anyone as unfancy as I am. Call me fancy, but I love to love food, and love to share that food and love. Moment over.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

when im stuck with a day, thats grey, and lonely...

funny that I should just be thinking of writing about lentil soup. More specifically, its inevitable unappetizing greyish color--at least if you use du puy lentils, or any bluish colored specimen. It does not happen, however, when you use red lentils, as in the soup I was thinking of and longing for when the thought of grey mush too mockingly resembled the rainy outdoors today, the weather the reason I craved healthy and hearty, warming lentil soup in the first place. Apparently, I was not alone.

Signing in to my blog tonight, intending to write mournfully about the weather: the rain that has been off and on drizzling and downpouring for the past four days, the grey that seems even less likely than the rain to let up as the Okanagan enters its infamous season of no color, I instead read someone elses blog. All the better for it, I suppose, because now I will write with less doom and gloom and perhaps a little more, well, color.
Heidi Swanson's blog,, is one of the sites I regularly visit, not only for her stunning photography, but for her wholesome, often vegetarian recipes (i'd never claim to be a vegetarian--dont get me started on such labels--if you have me over for dinner, Ill eat whatever you cook, and i could not imagine life without prosciutto or sausages; if I eat any meat, it is usually for wanton cravings of fatty pork, Italian style), such as this lentil soup that so ironically appeared as her post this evening.
This often happens: I am thinking of writing something, or even just thinking something, and then I read my thoughts written by someone else. In fact, such happenings are both the reason I started this blog, and the reason it took me so long to do so.
I have, for awhile, wanted to do something like this, but hadn't for awhile, because it seemed like everyone was, or already had, done so. Lets face it, there are alot of blogs out there, you probably have one too, so I was hesitant. Then I read Orangette, and promptly ordered Molly's book, where within two sentences, not pages, mere sentences, we are talking less than 25 words here folks, I threw out any idea of blogging, nevermind writing about food again. Ok, I just picked up the book and I am clearly exaggerating, it was page two that got me. But never mind specifics, the point is that she was saying what I felt, what I had written only in personal journals and the very, very, rough draft of my own essay collection/cookbook (more on that later...), and I lost the need to say it. Finishing the book, or at some point there-within (no specifics), I got that feeling back, and here I am typing away, hoping somebody else will read and relate to me, maybe even Molly herself; I realized she needed and outlet, as did I, and rather than feeling someone was saying what I wanted to, I felt companionship in someone feeling what I was feeling, and saying it. I could say it too.
That Heidi is cooking lentils tonight, the same night that I am sitting here craving them, is ironic and comforting, having someone to relate to, even a stranger, a stranger who loves lentils like I do.
Most specifically, red lentils. My intent tonight (slightly off course here), was to not only comment on the grey outside, but the way most lentil dishes turn that similar, bland shade (ok, I am repeating myself, but at least I am focused:weather, lentils, grey...spit it out already). Except dishes made with red lentils (Eureka! what a discovery, red lentil dishes arent grey, I am brilliant, please keep reading my insightful blog). Admittedly, I was having a bit of an epiphany here, as I recalled a way to satisfy my craving for lentils without my dinner matching the outdoors: Jeff Irwins Red Lentil and Rosemary Soup.
Now let me tell you, quickly, about Jeff. He was a chef at 764 Restaurant when I worked there, and his mission, it seemed, was to be completely not approachable or friendly, but rather, seek and enact a method to make you feel horribly guilty/ignorant/unwanted/like crying. His moods were hard to read, and likely to have changed twice over once you thought youd figure it out. I dreaded working with him. But he was very talented, and he made one hell of a, no, many hells of a, good soup(s). I was afraid though, to ask for the recipes, but this lentil one I had to have, it was thick without being thickened, smelled so intoxicating I could hardly deliver it to a table without wanting to sneak away and down the bowl myself, was a beautiful, muted crimson color that just sang of lusciousness. So I mustered up the courage and asked. It took him all day, and me both offering to pay him for it (was he in a joking sorta mood), threatening to not let it go (still hoping he has a sense of humour), cowering away and asking others (he seems edgy), begging shamelessly (egotistic and, yes edgy today), until finally, of his own conceit, he simply said that it was very easy, literally the title gave the ingredients: Red Lentil and Tomato Soup with Rosemary. I knew there was also spinach, and supposed there to be garlic, but he wouldnt say much more. Except that the key, and this seemed mighty generous a divulging of his, was plenty of good olive oil. Lots, he said. That was the trick.
Jeffs soup is simple and damn good, and so not grey. But as I honestly just gave you the recipe that he gave me, I will provide this, but be warned, its grey.

Grey Lentil Stew
I made this with three root veg I love, but I imagine with would be wonderful with winter greens such as chard or kale,some chopped tomatos, or with a grain such as brown rice or farro--though I would cook these seperately and then stir in, as they tend to take longer than the lentils. If you have leftovers, sautee it up in a little hazelnut oil and splash in some red wine vinegar for an amazing salad...but I dont like leftovers, so I just keep on eating, sopping up the juices with some good crusty bread. Oh, and the creme fraiche is key when the weather matches the stew, because though lentils satisty hearty and healthy, cream takes care of comfort just a little bit more.

Warm some olive oil in a sauce pot and slowly soften:
1 clove garlic, smashed, peeled and very finely minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Add in and sautee three minutes:
1/2 cup golden beets, diced
Next comes:
1/2 cup parsnips
Cook another three minutes and finally add:
1/2 cup jerusalem artichokes, diced
1/2 cup french green lentils
1 bay leaf (this is my old herb standby--you may want to try some dried chili flakes, fresh thyme, or rosemary)
Stir to mix it all up, turn up the heat and when you hear it sizzling, splash in some rosè wine. Stir, then cover with water, about 1 cup (you can add more if needed). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until veg are tender. Top with creme fraiche and chopped parsely and a good swig of olive oil (jeff style).

just stick up your chin, and grin, and say...

first time for everything

When I get an idea in my head, I have to have it. It is hard to shake: even after several unsuccessful market and grocer stops, i remain non-plussed, determined to make whatever i want to make, happen--and unable to choose something else for simplicity, time, and hungers sake. Stubborn is perhaps a more acurate term than determined.
Such ideas often stem from a desire for a favorite dish, and inevitably a craving during the wrong season. Tomatoey fish stew in the middle of winter, for one, when there is not a real tomato in sight let alone any colored vegetable. Or minted artichoke risotto, just days after the last of my herbs succumbed to the frost, and artichokes come from my cupboard not the ground. Apricots, just fresh, in spring and fall, before or after their season of bounty. More likely though, the idea is inspired by something I have yet to try, be it a cookery method, dish, or even ingredient.
Take, for example, the trout of two days ago. I have wanted rainbow trout since the weather turned cold and the halibut supplies dwindled. Time for something new and from a lake. Time for a fish that I could bake whole, just for me. Time to waste alot of time searching, four, yes four, grocery stores before finding the little guys (dont I live by at least three lakes that they swim in for heavens sake...). Finally though, I found them, and by ten oclock that night I was eating the whole swimmer, roasted in the oven just as I envisioned, recalling childhood fishing trips complete with hooking my own hand and the ce, my stepfathers claim to fishing success-- cheese, my stepfathers claim to fishing success--though, mind you, no true recollection of actually catching and eating a trout, and feeling much more successful this time at my own table.
Not having a taste memory, I wanted this fish as pure as possible, so I roasted it with a few slices of lemon and some parsely (safe), and topped with a little sherry butter to crisp the skin under the broiler. Devine. This is the approach I usually take when I search endlessly for a new something: prepare as unadulterated as possible to taste purely what I was so hungry for.
Tonight, or rather today, was all about quince. I have never tried the apple-ish fruit, but have waited to find its deformed and ugly yellowy-green self at markets or my apple place, having read and heard about it plenty. So when it appeared today in a soup prepared for the chefs association annual fundraiser at the market, I had to get me some once and for all.
And now I am waiting, as the anticipated quince roasts with a little honey and some wine in the toaster oven...

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I burnt it! ha! oh, it gets better, or rather, it got worse. Because before the charring, I have boiled slices of peeled quince because of having read of its long roasting time. Mush. I roasted that anyways, in a seperate dish of un-mushy peeled and sliced quince, both drizzled with honey, the latter with the wine (the first certainly did not need more liquid). Then into the oven, 375, for about ten minutes too long. Ah, cest la vie--just another day of finally eating what the day has been spent searching for: not perfect, slightly humorous, and generally successful for at least now I have tried quince, what the day was intended for. And, blackened bits removed, it was quite delightful, surprisingly zingy, and the new possibilities are, it was a great excuse of a dessert to top with a shwonk load of whip cream.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autumn friends

It is that time: now that I have had pumpkin pie, I can have what I wait for the moment that leaves start a changing. Pumpkin muffins. My ma used to make these with the inevitable leftover pumpkin puree in those much more than necessary for a pie cans, transforming her basic muffin recipe into something worthy of breakfast, snack, or dessert (add vanilla cream for the latter). When I left home, I took the recipe with me, and after turkey dinner, I would make a double batch (that is alot, youll see what I mean with the recipe) literally filling my fridge freezers with muffins and only muffins; no room for anything else, and why would there need to be. Each morning I would pull a few out, and each afternoon I would warm them a bit, grab a coffee, and for a few minutes escape the world of brain numbing University studies. At least if I was eating pumpkin muffins, it seemed as if I was reading Dickens for pleasure rather than for Victorian Lit.
Even though I am not in school anymore, and my favorite lattes could be combined with any of the wonderful financiers, tuilles, frangipans, or macaroons coming out of our pastry kitchen, I still made these this morning. My autumns would not be complete without them--actually, my autumns are epitomized by them. Truly.
So what is so great about a basic muffin+pumpkin, you ask? First of all, it is hardly a muffin at all. But it is not cake either, being not-too-sweet; not even close to a buttery scone; almost breadlike though; really, a baked good of its own category. The pumpkin gives the dough this incredible moistness, and fluffy yet dense texture. They are substantial yet light, scented with spice and with the earthy, natural sweetness of squash. And the perfect partner for lattes. See for yourself.
Pumpkin Muffins
Though this recipe makes 4 1/2 to 5 dozen muffins, I usually have to make two batches to last the season. Frozen once cooled, they rewarm as if fresh from the oven. I have changed my mas recipe slightly, as I have had plenty of autumns to experiment. And no, these are not dry-ass like most of my university baking.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together:
2 1/2 cups each whole wheat and AP flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 T baking powder
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom
In a seperate bowl, whisk thoroughly:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree
Fold wet ingredients into dry and stir just to incorporate. Bake in prepared muffin tins at 350F for 20 minutes.

This year I am thankful for Gourmet--a true toast

i feel like I should talk about Thanksgiving. It is after all, my favorite holiday; it was, after all, especially splendid this year.
First, a recap of what the truly North American holiday means to me, and what it has been to me for the past twenty years.
Holidays have always been a struggle for my family--will anyone come, and if they do, will they all get along for once. Stress is as abundant as colored eggs and tinsel per season, and often more time is spent bent over backwards to accomodate and rally church attendance than is enjoying the festivities. Not so with Thanksgiving. It is neither religious nor directed at one person or happening; there is no gift giving. It is simply celebration of the earth and what it offers us, and whether you can find the time to come to our home, that Turkey is going to be stuffed and served with all the from-the-ground-fixings the horn of plenty giveth. Oddly, though, i could care less about the bird (except as a vessel for stuffing); give me a plate of that bread filler, yams, and some buttery brussel sprouts and i have plenty to be thankful for. Oh, praise be to dessert made from winter veg.
Pumpkin pie is the epitomy of the holiday for me. In fact, last year, it was all that I had. Sad, yes, yet so delightful. Being a province away from my ma and her fabulous stuffing, I longed for the familial meal. Her side of the family out my way hosts Thanksgiving at a national park about an hours drive from me. But I was working the night of, and the morning after, so I could not go--at least not in a timely way to really enjoy it. So instead I made a pie...and ate the whole thing. I am thankful for excusable gluttony.
This year however, I did get to Fintry for the Kouwenhoven Thanksgiving, and so did my ma. Though she did not make the stuffing, she did bring yams, and a sense of closeness that reminded me of why the holiday makes me feel so good--just being with the ones you love the most, the ones who dont judge you for third helpings of food and wine. Just being with the whole family, guitars and all, brought not only a reminder of why I love this holiday, but why I love food period.
And I brought pumpkin pie. But so did about twelve other people. I also brought a baked tomato dish that (though late, like me, to arrive at the buffet style table) was much loved. And it came from a much loved magazine that is often present at my holidays. I am thankful for Gourmet, and so is my well fed, singing, laughing, family.

Baked Tomatos with Hazelnut Bread Crumbs
Like I said, I dont like Turkey. So I stewed some lima beans with a bay leaf and shallot, and layered the slices of tomatos atop them before baking, so that I would get at least some protein (besides turkey seepage in the stuffing) to go with all of the carbs I love. This also made for hearty leftovers atop barley, adn I imagine it would make a mean pasta sauce too.

In a large pan, toast:
1 cup shelled and skinned hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat or rye
Drizzle with olive oil and toast a little bit longer, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Thickly slice 4 pounds of large beefsteak tomatoes (i used heirloom black clems) and layer in rows in a medium sized, rectangular casserole dish.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the leaves of 5 sprigs of lemon thyme.
Top with breadcrumbs and bake at 450 for just ten minutes (nice short time if you show up late!)
be thankful

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

well read

I just read about Gourmet magazine; I am at a loss for words at this loss of,well, words, and so very much more.

Gourmet was-- is, it is not gone, yet, afterall...-- not just yet another food-driven magazine. It was not a mag you flip carelessly through while waiting in line at the checkout; though if you did, you put it on that moving belt with your milk and produce to savour properly at home. Such an assumption comes from experience.

Guilty as charged, I am a grocery shopper who purposely seeks out the longest line (even if qualified to zoom through the twelve-or-less-express) so as to while away the wait with a food mag. Bon Appetit and Food and Wine are often available to browse, Saveur less common, sometimes even the food article and recipe section of Oprahs magazine. Once a month though, it is Gourmet, and only once a month because I rarely hustle to stuff it back on the shelf when the annoyed till gal gives me my total like do the others.

Even in that small amount of time, something in Gourmet manages to captivate me: a recipe I simply have to try at home (like the Vanilla Cardamom Pound Cake I had to have last spring, and will, I have a feeling, every spring), a travel story I long to read so as to vicariously experience the trip, and more often than anything, a picture that is so aweing, I want to be able to look at it any time I want.

Each Gourmet magazine is a work of art; this is what I believe sets it apart from other magazines in its genre. The photography is stunning, the detail impeccable, thoughtful, colorful, true to the segment and story, to the food subjected. It is the magazine I am most inspired by for its triage of passion, a recipe created and described, or lived and relived, and then presented in a way that is tender and becoming--it is as wonderful to simply look at as it is to read and cook from.

So apart from its reliability, I will miss the sheer beauty that Gourmet magazine adds to my days of dreaming of and working with food. I thank it for the inspiration it has given, and hope this is not the end.

For the photo that has captivated me now...

my own simple mornings

I have not had porridge in two weeks. I felt that I was missing out on all of the other lovely breakfast options, had let the hot days of summer, perfect for cold shreddies and cornflakes pass by with a bowl as hot as the weather, and thought that perhaps I should start eating some of those jams (four kinds) I effortedly canned this year. Plus, I found Jennifer.

If you have not already stumbled upon Jennifer Causeys blog Simply Breakfast, do take a look. The site itself is simply photos of her morning meal, her sole comment a description of what it is. It was here, with a picture of goat cheese and honey on toast, that I abandoned least until the snow flies.

So my simply breakfast: rice pudding with cinnamon and raisins, a bowl of golden raspberries, tea and milk. Hope you are enjoying your own special start to the day


No, its not porridge, its mueslix, with honey roasted plums and greek yogurt

Thursday, October 1, 2009

a veg only (even) a mother would love

My mom is the least picky person I know. A chef tried and true, we cannot go out for dinner without her tasting a bit of what everyone else is having. Invite her over for a meal, and she not only offers to help, but does so by tasting what is to come. She always ate what our childish hands made her for breakfast-in-bed-surprises, burnt or strange, and can sample her way through any farmers market or costco shopping trip. There is no food culture she has not experienced, from classic Italian, to the offals of Greek and German cuisine, the butter loving French, overwhelming Indian curries (my subject of avoidance), american takeout, crummy chinese takeout, authentic chinese sit down, and her own and mine, experimentation. My ma is the easiest to please for she simply loves food, its flavours and textures and the mere act of eating for such pleasure. I admire this in her, for I am at times a bit squeemish, and particular about a time and place for certain foods, and dont like alot of flavours at once (read, she may stick her fork in what I ordered, but it wont be as an exchange of tastes). I wish I could be more unabashed with eating, because I, like her, am really not picky.
But there are a few things that she does not like. Unless pears are cooked, she cannot stand their grainy texture; you wont catch her drinking a pina colada, because anything coconut flavoured in liquid form makes her feel as if she is drinking sunscreen, and she doesnt care for capers--though I have snuck them into a few things that she has admittedly enjoyed. But perhaps most intolerable to her, is eggplant.

Now she is not alone in feeling this way. Many people loathe eggplant for its tendency toward sogginess, and almost milky texture and flavour. I however, love it, and it is one of the things that I am curious enough to try in many different forms (except curry--dont get me started) and am intrigued by new ways to use, prepare, or incorporate aubergine (I find it even easier to love if you call it that) into dinner, for I love its taste, soggy milkiness and all.
That is to say, i love it with other things. While many a vegetable are best eaten unadulterated (but for maybe some coarse salt and olive oil), eggplant needs help. Alone, it is almost queezy, like its flavour is leftover from something that was once delicious. Like a burp. Ok...I know I am not making eggplant sound appetizing, and could not even convince my ma, at this point, that it can be so satisfying, but... what I mean to say is that eggplant, being the sponge that it is, benefits from other ingredients, while adding its own creamy, earthy flavour. It can stand up to anchovies, olives, and capers, and robust mediterranean herbs like basil and oregano, and a shwonk load of garlic, rounding out the saltiness and aromatics of the like. Eggplant loves most all cheeses, but is particularly fond of parm, ricotta salata, pecorino, and goats cheese. It holds its own in ratatouille, adding substance to the classic vegetarian dish.
But even if you enjoy the taste of eggplant in these dishes, it can be a pain in the butt to cook. Eggplant seems to stick to your pan no matter how much oil you use, for it soaks it all up the same as it absorbs flavour. And it seems to do so no matter how thick or thin you slice it. For myself, I dont mind this, because eggplant mush scraped from a pan still tastes delightfully like eggplant, and I just carryon cooking as if it were a pasta sauce of intent. But for those with a strong aversion to baby-food esque dinners, I suggest roasting it.
To do so, cut your eggplant in thick wedges. Rather than drizzle with oil, rub your hands with about a tablespoon of it and then rub each slice of eggplant, to coat, between your palms. Lay them on a parchment lined sheet pan, generously sprinkle with salt and roast at 400F for about twenty minutes. Eat them like this, with a zesty vinaegrette drizzled over, or dipped in salsa verde or garlicky aoili, or dice up your wedges and add to a pan of melted anchovies and garlic with handful of basil and oregano, toss with pasta and shave on a cheese that eggplant loves, no pan scrapage necessary.
But now, in a roundabout way, I get to the inspiration for such longwinded discussion of a very unpopular veg, both for frustration and flavour. I found an eggplant dish even my ma would love.
Long ago while seeing what was on the menu in the Chez Panisse Cafe as I often do, there was listed a Halibut entree served with green beans and eggplant. This was a combination I was not inspired to try, at least not right away. I thought that such a delicate whitefish would be overwhelmed by the distinctive taste of eggplant; despite loving both things, I couldnt imagine loving them together. But curiosity got the best of me, and sure enough, it was wonderful (should I ever have doubted the vegetable gurus of CP...). So wonderful in fact, that I think I could have fed my ma this supper, and made the list of things she does not like even shorter. Then again, just add Halibut and anything is possible with that lady...

Steamed Halibut with Green Beans and Roasted Eggplant
I dont remember what was served on top of the dish at Chez Panisse that particular Tuesday evening, but I drizzled over some meyer lemon confit--grassy and lively and perking up the earthiness of the roasted aubergine. It would also be good, however, with a dab of lemony aoli, or finely minced capers (though serving a dish with two of my mas food loathes may be trying too much...). This recipe makes enough for you and your ma, or any other eggplant skeptic you hope to dissuade, yourself included.

Turn your oven to 400F. Cut one medium sized eggplant, or two smaller ones (the less flesh, the less likely to mush), into thick wedges, and rub down with well olive-oiled hands. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and roast on parchment for 10-15 mins.

In the meantime, prepare a pan with:
1 cup water
a good drizzle of olive oil
a splash of white wine (hmmm...halibut and gewurtz, even better for my ma)
one large clove of garlic, smashed
a few whole sprigs of parsely.
You will use this pan to partially steam your trimmed green beans, about a handful each, and halibut filets. This only takes four minutes, with the water simmering over medium heat. After four minutes, add the beans and halibut to your tray of eggplant with about a third of the pan liquid and finish the lot in the oven until the fish is just cooked, a mere two to four minutes more. Top with meyer lemon confit and some fresh chopped parsely and prepare to bid goodbye your aubergine woes.

Season of lattes

Just like that: its fall. Just the other day I was wearing a skirt, now its jeans and the captivity of socks. It is briskly chilly, and with the leaves changing color, as my grandma so poetically described it once upon an october, it is as if the sun is shining from the trees themselves. Which is a damn good thing, too, because the real sun is sure making itself sparse.
It has been awfully grey here the past few days, a sullen reminder of the gloom to come as the once too-hot-too-move Okanagan begins its (quick) descent into, oh I shudder to write it, winter. And I am not ready for that.
Perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit here. There is afterall, this wonderful transition season of autumn, one of my favorites actually. A season of warm crumbles and crisps from the last of summer tree fruit and the new apples and pears. Where winter squash replaces zuchinni in its overwhelming bounty. One of roasting and braising and tucking in, literally curling up with bowls of soups and hearty pasta. Cinnamon buns and pumpkin muffins, and best of all, lattes.
There is nothing like a deep mug of strong espresso topped with thick, foamy milk. It begs to be kissed, held close, hugging you from the inside. If this seems too romantic for a cuppa joe, I apologize, and sympathize, that you do not get the same pleasure from each soothing sip that I do. And it is romantic; as soon as the air turns chilly, I crave them, and envision how I will enjoy them: Walking under trees as their amber leaves drift down, both hands wrapped around my cup; curled up with my cup and book companions; people watching from the Bread Company, where the milk froth is impossibly thick and the walnut raisin buns were meant for dipping. I drink them in the morning with toast or biscotti, in the afternoon with more biscotti or the infamous pumpkin muffins of all my autumns, just by themselves because its nippy and a scarf just isnt cutting it. In fact, this time of year, I treat a latte like a cocktail (never mind the beers or bellinis of summer, give me warm milk, oh boy...well, at least until winter and spiced rum takes over). And there is no one-a-day rule either, the second is no less satisfying than the first. Fall, come to think of it, is very good for my calcium intake.
And with the weather, and subsequent greyness, the way it has been lately, I have found myself full swing into latte addiction. A cappucino gets me through the meal time rush at work, and, from a trick I learned from my ma, I am able to make frothy milk at home from a pot of warm milk and a (careful) buzz from my hand held zerbitzer (an appliance most commonly used for pureeing soups, but I highly recommend it for this task too). So it doesnt get as thick as the Bread Co, but itll do for now...until I get my own espresso machine equipped with steamer.
On second thought, that may not be such a good idea. Then I would never leave the house, living off frothed milk and devouring novels in comfortable splendor, until before I know it, I actually cannot leave for the pile up of snow in my driveway. Besides, what better excuse for a latte than a coffee date with a girlfriend.
Which is exactly what Torrence and I did yesterday. And if there is anything that tops my intimacy with a 16oz latte, its a two hour girl talk over a 16oz latte, and serious consideration of another.
So cheers to enjoying the enforced splendor of the cooling season.