Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Year in Lucy's Kitchen

For those not in the know, Lucy Waverman is the food writer for the Globe and Mail. She is the author of eight cookbooks. The newest one is called "A Year in Lucy's Kitchen". A common trend in some new books coming out is the idea of cooking in season. Of course this is not a new idea, but recently, things have come full circle. With the wide spread Slow Food Movement and the emergence of Farmers Markets, cooking in the season and becoming more aware of the foods available locally is on more peoples radar.

Lucy Waverman's new book is not only divided by season, but month to month. Being that the class was in April, I decided to keep in the early spring months with recipes from March, April and May sections of the book. Here is what we cooked:

Lyonaise Salad
Fiery Fiddleheads with Penne
Maple Infused Salmon with Watercress Salad
Fingerling Potatoes with Herbes de Provence
Banofee Pie

A traditionally French salad. Nothing really different in this. A classic mixture of crisp lardon, mixed greens, garlic croutons, a poached egg, and a simple vinaigrette.
Tasted as you would imagine it would.

Next was something a little more interesting. Fiddleheads are common this time of year in Quebec, parts of Ontario and New Brunswick. But most people are a little confused as what to do with these young ferns. I loved the fact the author adds a few recipes for fiddleheads in the book. In this case we made a quick pasta incorporating the fiddleheads, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovy and chili. To finish we grated on some pecorino cheese. For fiddlehead fans, this is a winner, colourful and fresh.

The main was another simple seasonal dish that incorporates one of Quebecs favorite ingredients, Maple Syrup. We marinated the salmon and a mixture of maple, vinegar, wine and lemon and then seared in a pan. It had a nice balanced flavour with the sweet and sour.
The side for this was a salad of watercress. We also roasted some fingerling potatoes spiked with Herbes de Provence. I figured I would combine the 2 and make a warm fingerling and watercress salad. Came out very nice.

Dessert on the other hand was more of an experiment. I think I chose to make this purely out of curiosity and the name "Banofee Pie" intrigued me. In my mind, I could not imagine this would turn out that great. I'm pretty good at reading recipes now. Lets just say it was an acquired taste. Also, it would be a diabetic nightmare. A mixture of sugar, sweetened condensed milk, bananas and milk. Now I like sweet, but this was off the charts!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Real Cajun

Nothing is hotter right now than Cajun. A recent featured city during the Montreal High Lights Festival, New Orleans style of Cajun food has been getting a lot of press. Most specifically Donald Link's book real Cajun has been a popular go-to reference for authentic Louisiana Cajun recipes.
We recently did two nights of Real Cajun. Here is what we made in no particular order.

Old School Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
Fried Chicken Livers
Lake Charles Dirty Rice
Chicken and Andoulle Gumbo
Peach Buckle

The Jambalaya didn't really turn out like the picture. Mostly because I was a little short on time and cooking it for as long as the recipe asked for just wasn't time sensitive. I will say the flavour was there. The recipe calls for smoked sausage like andoulle. We don't get that sausage here in Montreal so I substituted Chorizo. It gave it the smoky flavour we needed. It definitely had a paella-ness to it.

When I mentioned fried chicken livers to the guests, there were a few strange looks. But once you have one bite, you're hooked. Anything deep fried is good. Especially chicken livers. They were soaked in buttermilk and dredged in flour and served on a crouton. Some chili on top and voila. They were awesome. One thing though is that the really spat up when frying. So use a net over the oil.

Give me a bowl of rice and I'm a happy boy. But when you fry up ground pork and ground chicken livers, fry them up and fold them into rice, you had me at fry! This is like nothing I've ever had. Reminiscent of Chinese fried rice, this incorporates pork, chicken livers, chili and vegetables folded into perfectly steamed rice. The flavour was deep and rich with a mild liver taste. A definite winner.

It wouldn't be a Cajun class unless we put together some gumbo. In this case, we fried up some chicken and sausage gumbo. This rich, thick, meaty stew is a staple and can be difficult to make. I tried to cook it as fast as I could for the class and it came out pretty good. I had attempted this recipe the weekend before and it was the same. Served over rice, it was very hearty. But it was a certainly big bowl of brown.

For dessert we made a typical southern Peach Buckle. It is essentially a simple cake batter with fresh peaches folded in. One tip. Don't make this outside of peach season. Use fresh, in-season peaches and it will be an amazing dessert. But we made it, and it came out OK for off season. But in season, it will blow your mind.

Chef at Home - The Jolly Maritime Giant

You can't really miss Chef Michael Smith for two reasons. 1) He is on the Food Network Canada 10 times a day and 2) he's a full 6'7" of chef-ness.
I honestly didn't have too high hopes for this class. When Michael Smith cooks on tv, it all looks very simple, tasty and fun. But the translation into book just doesn't do it for me. But that's not his fault.
Due to the popularity of the Chef at Home, I had to do a class on the newest book. I have to tell ya, everything came out awesome! Everything from the soup to the dessert was very tasty and simple to make.
Here is what we did.

Maritime Clam Chowder
Southwestern Bean Salad
Cornmeal Crusted Salmon with Basil Mussel Broth
Bread Pudding

The Clam Chowder was simple. Canned clams, vegetables, some cream and milk. It took all of 20 minutes to put together. It was creamy without being thick and rich like some other chowders. I prefer mine thin so I put in a bit more milk that cream.

The next was a simple bean salad done "Southwestern" style. I used a mixture of Black Eye Peas, Black Beans, and Red Kidney Beans, along with blanched green beans, red pepper and some corn. It was brought alive with a very simple lime vinaigrette. The difference with how I did it was I used dried beans rather than canned which is what the recipe calls for. You get a better texture that is not mushy like canned beans can be.

The main course was probably my favorite of the night. Simple crusted organic salmon with cornmeal with a mussel broth. The cornmeal gives an amazing crunchy texture to the salmon and the broth from the mussels was full of flavour. The hardest part of this recipe was after cooking the mussels, you have to remove the mussel meat from the shell. But once that is done, it's a simple preparation.The broth is mixed with some pesto and I added some baby spinach to it. The salmon was crisp and the broth was full of basil and mussels. Very nice.

Dessert on the other hand wasn't my favorite. But that could have been my fault. I think the bread i used wasn't the best. It was a fairly dense levain like bread that being day old was even more dry and hard. I'm more accustomed to using croissant for bread pudding. Also, I'm not too keen on putting raisins in bread pudding. But that's just me.

The Best of Chef at Home is a pretty good book. Loads of recipes for the family, comfort foods with simple preparations. What I think most people will like about this book is Michael Smiths easy going attitude and unpretentious recipes. Your week night cooking just became a lot more tasty!


As you have noticed, me and updating a blog do not go together.
All this writing makes my head spin. I'd much rather be in the kitchen cooking than be chained to this computer. So, in order for me to appease everyone, I'll be reformatting the posts' in a way that will satisfy me and the 2 people that read it :)
I have been taking pictures of this seasons food and will post them along with a short description. Not the lengthy, time consuming write up as before. If you want to cook it, you'll just have to come in and pick up the book.
Happy reading!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

The first Moosewood cookbook came out in 1977. To this day, the Moosewood collective continues to put out quality vegetarian cookbooks loved by believers. The idea behind this book is that by eating more fruits, vegetables and legumes, one can live a healthier life. How this differs from any other vegetarian cookbook confuses me. The one thing I noticed was that there are nutritional values for each recipe. Does that make it more healthy? or just gives one the power to choose wisely?
Last night we cooked out of their newest offering, Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health. Here is what we cooked.

Curried Tofu and Mango Salad
Raw "Tacos"
Savory Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans
Silken Tofu Pudding

People tend to be on the fence when it comes to tofu. Texture and taste, or the lack there of, are the main offenders. But as I always say, everything tastes good if it's cooked the right way. In this salad, the tofu is cooked the right way.
We used very firm tofu that was broken into large chunks and then fried in a frying pan until golden and crispy. Already sounding pretty good. Now because tofu has no distinct flavour, you have to add it. Tofu is a great vehicle for flavour. In this case, a mixture of soy and miso. Once the tofu was browned, the sauce was added and quickly tossed together. We had to be careful not to cook it too long because soy can over cook and become to salty and bitter. So a quick toss and out of the pan.
The salad part was simple. These days, Ataulfo mangoes are in season. I love these. The smooth, creamy texture and sugar sweetness is a great combo. To me, it's the best fruit in the world. Anyways, the mango was mixed with celery, red pepper and green onions. We added some spinach to bump up the salad.
The dressing had a yogurt base with madras curry powder and a touch of cumin. I used Mediterranean yogurt when the recipe called for non-fat yogurt. It may not fall into the "Healthy Cooking" concept of the book, but we only used a very small amount of the dressing. Just enough to lightly coat the salad. The cooled tofu was mixed in and there you go.
For the people that didn't like tofu, and there were a few, they loved it. Some even went so fr as to say this was the best tofu they had ever eaten. And mixed with the fresh vegetables it was a great fresh and light, but satisfying salad. The complex flavours of the curry and soy and miso balanced well. I think if you are a vegetarian, or even a non vegetarian, you would love this salad if it was served to you.

The idea of Raw Tacos fascinated me. I love making tacos, but never imagine making them raw and vegetarian.The whole idea of raw is that nothing is cooked, or brought above 115*C. It is believed that cooking the food destroys the "life force" of the ingredient and kills certain enzymes that aids in the digestion and absorption. Whether or not this is good for us, the Raw Taco was tasty to eat.
It is started off by making the "Cheese", which consisted of ground sunflower seeds, lots of herbs, soy, lemon, and olive oil. It was mixed into a sort of salsa like consistency that really did not look like "cheese".
The next part was the actual filling. In the food processor we mixed sun dried tomatoes, lots of walnuts, garlic, olive oil and more herbs. It was processed until smooth but still a bit chunky. Because it was a raw dish, we could not use the tortillas used for a typical taco. We used lettuce cups as the shell. The "cheese" was spread on first and then a spoonful of the filling.
I think it was a surprise for a lot of people. First of all, you would not even consider it a raw dish. The richness with all the nuts was, in my opinion, was more rich than adding meat. The flavours with the sun dried tomatoes, garlic and soy really made this dish exciting. The texture of the nuts gave it some crunch that made it very palatable. It was a surprise at hoe good it was. Another winner.

I have been seeing savory bread puddings an a few cookbooks lately. It's definitely a great one dish meal. With the mixture of bread, vegetables, combined with the richness of eggs and milk or cream, it's a satisfying option.
In this case, we used some seasonal asparagus and mushrooms. If you have never made bread pudding before, i highly recommend trying it out. We started by sauteing some onions and then adding the asparagus and mushrooms. It was mixed together with some multi grain bread and the eggs and milk. Baked in the oven for 20 minutes and it was done.
The meatiness of the mushrooms along with the freshness of the asparagus really balanced out this dish. The bread added a nice texture and the creamy custard kept it really moist. You would not even think you are eating "bread pudding". And it was so simple to make. This is a great base for a savory bread pudding. Mix in a number of any seasonal ingredients and make it your own.

On the side we simply prepared some roasted Brussels sprouts. The were put in a hot oven and then tossed with a lemon Dijon vinaigrette and sprinkled with crushed pecans. So simple. I love the idea of tossing roasted vegetables with a light vinaigrette and Dijon. It really brings the flavours together and balances it all out. A great side dish not only for a bread pudding , but for really anything you serve.

IN vegetarian classes, i not only like to try and incorporate tofu once or twice, but I also like to try and make a vegan dessert. IN this book, there was a dessert recipe that allowed me to do both. The Silken Chocolate Pudding incorporates silken tofu, which is a very smooth tofu with a high moisture content which gives it an almost custard like texture. It is used in many vegetarian and vegan desserts as a dairy alternative.
This Chocolate pudding pureed the silken tofu with melted chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and a touch of water together until smooth and rich. Portioned into small ramekins and chilled until needed. It was that easy. The pudding was amazingly smooth like a pudding should be. But when tasted, you sort of know it's vegan. The texture was rich and creamy, but it was missing the cream. It was very smooth on the tongue and did not give the creamy aftertaste a regular pudding would. But that's not to say it was a bad dish. I really liked the rich chocolate flavour and the non creamy creaminess of it. I also really liked the quickness of the recipe. As you can tell in the picture, it looks like a really good pudding. Surprise, its vegan!
I'm not too sure if people really liked it though. Most of the dishes were left half eaten. But in their defence, i gave a pretty big portion. I think it is an acquired taste and once acquired, you could easily gobble it up. Also, I think we compare it to a full cream and egg pudding. This does pale in taste to that, but if you don't compare it, it's a great dessert.

The Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for health was one of the best vegetarian cooking classes I have ever done. The combination of dishes, flavours, and cooking techniques were vast and exciting. When we first received this book, the second I opened it, it gave me good vibes. The recipes on any given page really spoke to me. These were only a few recipes we cooked, but I look forward to trying a lot more. The Moosewood Collective continue to produce some of the best vegetarian cookbooks out there, and this new one is no exception.

Next Class: Nutmeg and Custard

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gourmet Today

This is the final bow for the famous Gourmet Magazine and it's editor Ruth Reichl. Gourmet Today is a compilation of over 1000 recipes from the now defunct magazine. They claim it's an answer to today's changing tastes, with more of what people want to cook and eat today. Hence Gourmet Today.

With over 100 recipes in one book, you can imagine of hard it is to choose a menu. With so many recipes, I decided to stick with a tour around the world, in 4 recipes.
Here is what we made.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad
Korean Pancake
Lamb in Spicy Yogurt Sauce
with Rice and Pita
Elvis Presley's Favorite Pound Cake

Lately I've been doing a few recipes with Quinoa. It's a seed originally from South America. The high protein content adds great nutrition to salads, soups, or side dishes. It's easy too cook and is a great vehicle to infuse flavours and mix with any ingredients you have around the kitchen.
This salad had Southwestern flavour that is very basic and simple to prepare. When it came to cooking the quinoa, i did change the preparation. The recipe called to steam it, which i have never done before. Usually I boil it, as I did this time. Boiling it eliminated using one extra piece of equipment, and I'm not to fond of washing extra things, so I boiled it. The general rule is 1 part quinoa, 2 parts liquid. After simmering for 15 minutes, I poured it onto a baking sheet to cool and dry a bit. Ready to go.
The quinoa was mixed together with typical southwestern ingredients. Tomatoes, roasted poblano chilies, corn and Queso Fresca which is a fresh Mexican style cheese. It's a little harder to find, so we altered it by adding in Geek feta. The vinaigrette was just a very simple mixture of lemon juice and olive oil.
The salad was refreshing, extremely nutritious, and satisfying. It took no time to make and everyone loved it. It would be a great dish for a large group, a light lunch to go, or a starter or side to a nice dinner. So far, we're on the right track.

Next was trip to Korea with a classic Korean Restaurant Staple, the Korean Pancake. Whenever I go for Korean food, I love to order this as a starter and share with the table. A mixture of vegetables and meats or seafood are cooked together into a large sort of pancake and dipped into a quick say based sauce. These pancakes are huge, packed with stuff, crispy and savory.
I have fond memories in Vancouver going to this Korean joint after the bars and eating for the first time this Korean pancake with a bowl full of assorted organs, stewed in kimchi with a cracked egg on top. So delicious. But my cousin Jeff didn't think so as he was passing out in the corner of the booth after too many shots of Jack Daniels...lightweight!

Anyways, The cool thing about this pancake is that it's base is not made from flour. It's a puree or dried, soaked and pureed yellow mung beans. It incorporates only a couple tablespoons of flour for binding and, in this case, shredded carrots and green onion. We fried them in a large pan until golden and crisp. Meanwhile, we made a simple dipping sauce of soy, mirin, and sugar.
The pancake it self was a bit bland, but with the sauce, it woke up. I can also suggest, if one plans to recreate it, to add assorted seafood or meats to make it more interesting. The base recipe is there. Building on it would make it even better. The texture was like it was made with all flour, and not the mung beans. A bit more dense but still having that "bready" feel. Interesting because of the lack of gluten.
The hard thing about making them so large is the flipping. The first one was a challenge. As I've never made them before, i wasn't sure how i would go about it. So, in true Julia Child fashion, the first one broke! But i made up for it with the second one. I guess in Julia's words, I just didn't have the confidence.

The main course brought us to the Middle East with the flavour combination of lamb and spiced yogurt. The lamb shoulder had to be simmered in a mixture of turmeric, cinnamon, onions and allspice topped with water. Because lamb shoulder is as tender and your leather shoe, it had to be cooked for a few hours. After about 2 hours of simmering in this liquid, we added in the yogurt and allowed to simmer another hour to thicken. I have to say, I've never had more tender lamb. The yogurt really helped break down the connective tissue in this tough piece of meat, and the spiced really were aromatic and added a beautiful, exotic taste.
This was served simply with steamed white rice and a bit of pita. The sauce mixed well with the rice and everyone loved the tenderness of the lamb. Some were concerned about the fact that the lamb was cooked in yogurt though. They thought it was a strange combo, But once tasting it, they realized it made sense. The yogurt added a slight tang to the dish that helped balance out the richness of the lamb.

I think I picked this dessert purely for it's name. I tried to do a little research as to why this pound cake would be Elvis' favorite. But I came up with nothing. So, whether it is or not, if it's good enough for the King, then it's good enough for us.
There was really nothing overly special about this pound cake, just a plain vanilla flavour. Butter, sugar, eggs and flour were mixed together and baked.
This recipe called for 3 cups of sugar, which might have been perfect for the King, but we don't want it that sweet. I cut the sugar by 1/2 a cup and it came out fine. Also, the key to this is the flour. The recipe called for cake flour which is a more finely ground flour. It gives the cake a very fine crumb and keeps it nice and spongy.
We served it with a dollop of whipped cream. It was still a bit warm which was nice.
The texture was great and the cake was moist. Make this in the summer and grill it on the BBQ with some grilled seasonal fruit and you're in business. The King would approve!

I have to give it to Gourmet. Coming up with over 100 recipes is not an easy task. In the cookbook world, we call these books "The Workhorse's". They provide you with every recipe you could ever need. Gourmet Today certainly does just this. The one problem I have with these kinds of books is that sometimes they can be a bit intimidating. Looking through it trying to find something to cook can be difficult just because there is SO much to choose from. It can make you dizzy.
Also, these huge books tend to lack a common theme. With recipes from all over the world, it's hard to create a focused menu.
But on the other hand, the variety is amazing. As with the menu tonight, we were able to taste flavours from all over.
So if you are not afraid of big books like this, and know how to read a cookbook properly, meaning focus your attention on one recipe at a time, then pick up this book. People who love Gourmet magazine love their recipes. With such a large collection in one book, Gourmet can live forever!!

Next class: Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Basic Japanese Cooking

I think I mentioned last night in class that if I were to eat only 1 cuisine for the rest of my life, it would be Japanese. The clean simple flavours make me feel so warm and fuzzy inside. I love the use of soy, seaweed, miso, and fresh fish. For those who have been to Japan or has experienced the Japanese culture will know what I'm talking about. It's not just the food, but the people and traditions around food. Each dish is a well thought out and precise item from a simple miso soup to a more elaborate Kaiseki meal.
We didn't get as intense as a Keiseki, but we did touch upon some of the basics.

Zaru Soba
Yakitori Chicken Meatballs
Oyako Don

The first thing we did was make Dashi. I consider this the life-blood of Japanese cooking. It is an ingredient that is in many dishes from sauces to soups and stews. The base is Kombu, which is a dried kelp, and Bonito flakes, which are dried and smoked bonito fish. A very flavourful broth that only takes about 15 minutes to make.

The first dish we made is a standard in Japanese cuisine. I have a fond memory of walking into a soba restaurant in Tokyo where the chef was cutting fresh soba noodles with a huge sword in the front window.
Here, we just buy Buckwheat soba noodles. The are prepared very simply by boiling for a short time and making a dipping sauce of dashi, soy and mirin. We garnished with some toasted nori seaweed and a bit of grated daikon radish. To eat, the noodles are picked up and dipped into the sauce and slurped away.
This "salad" is a great starter because of the clean flavours. The sauce really makes the noodles come alive.

I loved the next dish. When I was a kid, my mom used to take in Japanese Exchange students. When they cooked, this was one that they always prepared for us. I consider Okononiyaki a student food. Sort of like Kraft Dinner or instant noodles. Except this is made from scratch. It is essentially an savory pancake with a variety of fillings.
When I visited a former student of ours, Miho, in Japan she took me to a cool little lunch counter that had a flat-top grill embedded in the counter top and wrapped all the way around. You would order the okonomiyaki with what ever filling you want and they cook it directly in front of you.
We did pretty much the same thing here. We did a simple batter of flour, eggs, and dashi. We filled the pancake with the standard shredded napa cabbage and dried shrimp. At this point, one could put anything in from assorted seafood, chicken or beef. We fry it like a pancake in a pan and serve it with a couple of sauces. Traditionally, Kewpie Mayonnaise (Japanese mayo) and Tonkatsu Sauce (a sweet savory sauce) is drizzled on top along with a sprinkle of bonito flakes.
The pancake itself is rather simple in flavour, but the sauces really wakens it up. I can also imagine that with more "stuff" inside the pancake, the flavour would be more intense. It's an amazingly simple dish ready in minutes. I can see why students who have NO cooking skill can make this.

Next we did a yakitori. Yakitori joints scatter the Japanese alleyways and street. Small little restaurants with small stools and tables are usually packed late at night with beer guzzling Japanese business men looking to grab a hearty snack after work. Yakitori is pretty much meat on a stick. In this case, it was ground chicken egg, Japanese breadcrumbs and ginger. They were molded into small meatballs and skewered. We grilled them on the BBQ until brown and crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle.
Meanwhile, we made a sauce of sake, soy, sugar and mirin that was thickened with a bit of cornstarch. The sauce was brushed over the skewers and served. The char on the chicken, mixed with the sweet and salty sauce reminds me of the streets of Tokyo. A dish like this is perfect for the upcoming BBQ season. A variety of different yakitori would be great for a party.

The last dish is dish that reminds me of my teenage years in Vancouver. I've always wanted to learn to make it. If I knew it was this easy, I would have been doing it my whole life. But tonight was the first time.
I think it's the combination of the dashi, soy, sugar and egg that really makes this a savory and hearty dish. It can be made with any meat of fish that you have around. In this case, we used chicken what was cooked inside the mixture of dashi, soy and sugar. Once cooked, we cracked in a couple eggs that cooked and thickened up the sauce slightly. Served over rice, it looked just like what i had always ordered in the Japanese restaurants in Vancouver. But it tasted better, because I made it myself.

For all these recipes, i didn't change anything. I kept it pretty much by the book. The great thing about Japanese is that there are minimal ingredients so a few basic things in your pantry can put together a great Japanese meal. This book really makes it easy. Just like the Basic Thai Cooking last night, Basic Japanese cooking is great for people wanting to get into this style but wants to avoid complication. The recipes are easy to read with many pictures strewn throughout.
I'll definitely go back to this for the basics.

Next Class: Gourmet Today