Weekend Chef – The World’s Most Dangerous Flavour

bitterI was very excited to get a copy of Jennifer McLagan’s latest cookbook, Bitter, A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, in the mail this week. I’m a big fan of hers, and love cooking out of her three previous books, Bones, Fat, and The Odd Bits. She’s done a very good job of getting people to try new things with ingredients we just don’t use that much in our every day cooking.

Jennifer is traveling from Toronto to Vancouver and Victoria to promote her new book. On Friday the 23rd of January she’ll be doing a special event at The London Chef in Victoria. On Monday the 26th, her dinner event at Barbara-jo’s Books to Cooks in Vancouver is sold out, but you can still meet her before dinner for an ‘Apero’ at the store. Details are here.

Fennel, onion, chile, coriander and beer.

Fennel, onion, chile, coriander and beer.

I’m interviewing Jennifer on Friday for a special podcast I’m planning a little later on, but I couldn’t resist cracking open the book and trying a couple of recipes this weekend. I prepared Mussels in Beer from page 61, while Ramona took on a salad from page 12, Curly Endive with Miso and Chile Dressing. I cleaned the mussels of their beards while sautéing some chopped onion and fresh fennel together along with a hot chile pepper and a tbsp of coriander seeds, and then added a nice glass of Stella Artois beer before adding the mussels.

 

 

 

Curly endive and miso/chile dressing

Curly endive and miso/chile dressing

Ramona’s curly endive recipe looked a little strange at first because you end up cooking the endive, so I guess you could call it more of a side dish than a salad, but it served a great role as our vegetables for the evening, along with some home made frites! Garlic, ginger, a hot chile pepper and the miso were stirred in along with a chopped red bell pepper, which all developed a very tasty flavour profile.

 

Weekend Chef comes through again!

Weekend Chef comes through again!

So, curly endive, mussels, crusty baguette and frites fresh out of my little deep fryer made quite a great meal, and I’m not bitter about it at all! Watch this space in the days to come for the podcast with Jennifer as she reveals her passion for what she calls ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Flavour’.

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Weekend Chef – Thai Red Lentil Soup

This is the first in an occasional series based on what my wife Ramona and I get up to in the kitchen on weekends. Hey, no filthy thoughts! Whenever I can adapt a recipe we’re trying for use in my Thermomix, that’s what the recipe format will reflect.

Plenty More

Plenty More

For Christmas I bought Ramona the new Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty More. It’s a follow-up to his immensely popular vegetarian cookbook, Plenty. We’re both looking forward to cooking lots of recipes out of it over the coming year, even if I did joke to her we could just ‘add a sausage’ to every recipe.  The first recipe I tried was a steamed eggplant salad that relied on Asian flavours of sesame oil, soya sauce and rice vinegar. Today it was another Asian-influenced delight: Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil. 

We already had some great Macadamia Nut Chile oil we brought back from Hawaii so I didn’t see the necessity of making Ottolenghi’s, especially since we wanted this soup for lunch!

Ingredients of note: Coconut milk, Red Curry Paste, Chile Oil, and Fish Sauce

Ingredients of note: Coconut milk, Red Curry Paste, Chile Oil, and Fish Sauce

Substitutions: The original recipe calls for sugar snap peas. I used fresh green beans grown in Mexico, declining to purchase snap peas grown in China. I didn’t have lemon grass, so did without, with no ill effects, I think. And because I had turkey stock in the fridge, I used that to cook the red lentils instead of water. And I used Thai fish sauce instead of salt. So this recipe is not strictly vegetarian. So sue me 😉

 

Frozen 'fresh' Kaffir lime leaves

Frozen ‘fresh’ Kaffir lime leaves

*Plenty More ingredient listings use a mix of metric weights and Imperial volumes. I’m going to try to put everything in metric as I go along. The Thermomix has a built in scale, so I use that in conjunction with a small digital standalone scale. Standard Thermomix instructions are in this format: time/temperature/speed, just like the order you enter them on the machine. Remember, these are not always the original ingredients or methods used in the recipe, but my adaptation.

Serves Four

Ingredients:

120 g fresh green beans, topped and tailed

3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil (I used avocado)

160 g onions

1 1/2 tbsp (23 mL) Thai red curry paste

4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves, or 12 dried (I keep my fresh leaves in the freezer, so I used 12 of them)

250 g red lentils

1 400-ml can of coconut milk (recipe calls for 1 cup, or 250 mLs. Rather than have a bit of a can left, I used it all)

2 tbsp (30 mL) lime juice

2 tbsp (30 mL) soya sauce

1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce

1 cup/15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Bring a small pan of water to a boil, throw in a large pinch of salt and then the green beans. Blanch for 90 seconds, drain and rinse with cold water. Set them aside to dry, then cut them on the diagonal about a third of the length of your forefinger. (don’t cut your finger!) Set aside.

Chop the onions in the Thermie. 3 secs/speed 7. Scrape down the bowl. Add the oil. Cook 5 mins/Temp 100/speed 1. Add the curry paste. Cooks 1 min/Temp 100/speed 1.

[Or, saute the onions in the oil until soft, stir in the curry paste, cook some more. Add the lime leaves, lentils and stock/water, bring to boil and simmer until lentils are completely tender.]

Scrape down the bowl. Add the lentils, lime leaves, and stock or water. Cook 15 mins/Temp 100/speed 1, reverse. (Reversing the blades means the lime leaves won’t get cut up. They’re rather tough and fibrous, so you want to be able to take them out easily when the lentils are cooked. I counted them going in and coming out.)

Take the lime leaves out of the soup and puree until completely smooth. 45 secs/speed 9. Add the lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Mix together 5 secs/speed 4. Reheat 3 mins/Temp 100/speed 3. (the soup will be quite thick by this time)

[Or transfer from pot to blender and puree. Stir in lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce and coconut milk. Return to pot and reheat to almost boiling.]

Ladle the soup into bowls. Mound some of the beans into the middle of each bowl, sprinkle with cilantro, and drizzle with chile oil to taste.

The finished product

The finished product

While my soup didn’t have the darker reddish tone of the photo in the book (It was lighter in colour even before I added the coconut milk) it was very rich, silky smooth and nicely spiced. Add more or less fish sauce or chile oil to taste. Would I make it again? YES!

Tomorrow: Chicken with Mustard, from David Lebovitz’s ‘My Paris Kitchen‘.

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Weekend Chef – David Lebovitz, Chicken with Mustard

Paris KitchenSecond cookbook of this weekend was the one Ramona bought me for Christmas, David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. I like cookbooks for three reasons: The recipes, the photos and the writing. Lebovitz really comes through on the writing, although there are many Parisian recipes to try and lovely photos as well. Lebovitz tells great stories of his life in Paris, including a beautiful essay at the beginning of the book which is framed around his search for the perfect sink for his new kitchen. American by birth, and a professional cook and pastry chef, he’s been living in Paris since 2004.

 

Chicken simmering in the frypan.

Chicken simmering in the frypan.

Tonight I tackled the cover photo recipe, Chicken with mustard, page 169. It’s a fairly simple procedure, sautéing some diced bacon, onions, coating chicken legs and thighs in a mustard and paprika mix, getting them nice and browned, deglazing the pan with a glass of white wine and then putting the chicken back in and letting it simmer for 15 minutes or so.

 

Tonight's meal...

Tonight’s meal…

One slight quibble with the recipe. It tells you to stir in some more mustard and some creme fraiche, but it doesn’t tell you to remove the chicken first. Unless you do take the chicken out, it would be very difficult to get some action going on the stirring. That quibble aside, the chicken and its mustardy sauce, along with some blanched green beans and a bit of pasta tossed in butter with some chopped sage made for a great meal on a damp and dreary Sunday evening.

 

 

 

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Food Matters – Holiday Gift Suggestions: Books

You still have a baker’s dozen of shopping days left to complete your list. I’m spending this and next week’s column to bring you some suggestions. This week it’s cookbooks and more. While I love talking about cookbooks, and getting them as gifts, I also like to read culinary memoirs, and about what’s going on in the world of sustainable food production. And a large part of how we cook is increasingly affected by recipes we find on line and how we can plan our meals while we’re out shopping with the aid of our mobile devices. So I want to spend a little bit of time talking about apps today as well.

ottolenghiI’ll start with cookbooks. It’s no surprise that Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’ is at the top of many ‘Best Cookbook’ lists this year. It’s the sequel to this Mediterranean chef’s first vegetarian cookbook, Plenty. Wonderful photographs that make you wonder why vegetarian food used to just mean brown rice and tofu. You might have to search out some of the ingredients that aren’t commonly available in supermarkets, but especially in Victoria we are lucky enough to have Fig Mediterranean Delicatessen on Cedar Hill Crossroad where you should be able to find all the ingredients.

 

banhmiAlso in the ethnic realm this year is a little book about one of my favourite Vietnamese foods, the banh mi sandwich, which in the classic version, basically takes a French baguette, stuffs it with some sort of meat, quite often a paté, then loads it up with pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeños. If you’ve never had one you don’t know what you’re missing. There are a few places to get these kind of sandwiches on Vancouver Island but it’s not a banh mi mecca like Vancouver. So if you want to make them yourself you need to pick up the Banh Mi Handbook, written by Andrea Nguyen. She is a Vietnamese cookbook author from California who writes excellent books to demystify Vietnamese cooking and this one is no exception.

Paris KitchenOne more exotic-type foreign book, but also written by an American, is David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. He’s a professional chef who has been living in Paris for the past decade and this is a collection of sweet and savoury recipes, once again with wonderful photos but more importantly, many stories about his life in Paris. I think he is just an excellent writer and this is a book you will want for the whole package, recipes, photos and stories.

 

 

OliveLocal authors: There are many to choose from, and I’ll start with a culinary memoir by Julie Angus called Olive Odyssey. Julie lives in Comox but she doesn’t spend much time at home. One of her previous books was a best seller about her voyage as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland. Olive Odyssey is all about the voyage Julie, her husband Colin and their newborn took in a sailboat around the Mediterranean in pursuit of more knowledge about the history of the olive and olive oil. I just picked this one up when I met her at an author’s gathering but I know I’m in for a good tale.

 

SkinnyChefAnother culinary memoir is called ‘Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef’ by Massimo Bottura, who is a Michelin-starred chef from Modena, Italy. The recipes are not necessarily that easy to put together, but it’s a great story of his rise. This would be a great gift for anyone who is considering getting into the restaurant industry.

 

 

 

ForagingBack into the cookbook realm with local authors, I have to include Chef Bill Jones from Deerholme Farm near Duncan and his Deerholme Foraging Book. This is a follow-up to his Taste Canada shortlisted Deerholme Mushroom Book. Bill and I were selling books together a couple of weeks ago and people were really going for the Foraging book as searching the woods and fields and your own backyards for wild edibles has become quite the thing over the past couple of years.

 

SoboYou also won’t go wrong by gifting the Sobo Cookbook by Lisa Ahier along with food writer Andrew Morrison. Anyone who has been at Sobo Restaurant in Tofino knows they make great food there and this cookbook has 100 favourite recipes from the restaurant in Lisa’s style which includes influences of local ingredients and her Tex-Mex culinary roots.

 

 

 

Dirty ApronFrom the mainland one more title, the Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson. I haven’t been able to spend much time at the Dirty Apron, which is a cooking school in Vancouver, but all of my food writer friends rave about it, and this cookbook is worth raving about as well. Nothing revolutionary in terms of recipes, but a solid collection that would be a great gift for someone starting out on their own who wants to learn more about tools and techniques. (and then there’s that book about Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands…great gift! Proud to say it was placed 5th in the top ten list of BC books for 2014 in the Vancouver Sun.)

BeefBooks for foodies concerned about sustainability:  here’s a list developed by the folks at Food Tank organization, but two books on that list caught my interest in particular. Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production by Nicolette Hahn Niman. Niman is a biologist and environmental lawyer turned rancher. In the book she advocates for pasture-raised meat as part of a healthy diet.

And…The Edge of Extinction: Travels with Enduring People in Vanishing Lands by Jules Pretty. This book goes from China to New Zealand and beyond to introduce us to people who are living close to the land and how small communities live sustainably.

RatioFinally, for the digital age: First, for foodies that like to take photos of their food and share them, I really like the CameraPlus app. It has some very powerful editing tools built right into the app that can make your food photos really come alive, and I like that it allows you to share to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. For someone who likes to invent their own recipes or scale them up or down according to how many people they need to serve, I recommend Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, at $4.99, which gives you 32 basic recipes that can all be adjusted according to what you want to do with them. For example, the bread recipe will always give you the right quantities of flour and water, or a cake recipe the proper proportions of fat, sugar and flour, and so on.

How To CookFinally, a real deal at $14.99. You get two complete books. Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. These are huge tomes that get squished into your phone so you can research a recipe from wherever you are, and even email yourself a list of ingredients to shop for at the grocery store. If you’re a fan of ordering books from Amazon.ca, each link on the books I mentioned will take you there. Any purchases you subsequently make on the visit will send a small percentage of the cost to my Amazon account, which will help me buy more books! (thanks in advance)

Next week, gourmet gadget gifts.

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Food Matters – Christmas Gifts for the Kitchen

It’s getting down to the crunch. One week left until Christmas and you still don’t have the perfect gift for the cook on your list. I visited Jo-Ann Roberts on her next-to-last day as host of All Points West on CBC Victoria with a pretty good-sized basket full of stuff.

I took a bit of a different approach this year. Instead of bringing you all the latest gadgets, I’m taking a ‘you must have one of these’ in the kitchen of whomever you’re gifting. I took this angle for a number of reasons: Parents of next year’s high school graduates who are already thinking about their kids starting moving into their own apartment. Going to a friend’s place and helping out in a kitchen that is hopelessly ill-equipped. And, having just come back from renting a holiday place that had the worst set of kitchen knives, EVER! So here are a few essentials I think everyone should have. If the person you want to buy for is deficient in even one of these pieces of gear, you have a perfect gift. You might have to do a bit of snooping, but worth it in the long run!

Messermeister peeler

Messermeister peeler

Microplane grater

Microplane grater

Starting with stocking stuffers. Everyone should have one really good peeler and one really good utility knife. I really like the ones from Messermeister. The peeler has a serrated knife which is great for rough-skinned things like ginger root or a fuzzy kiwi fruit. The utility knife is serrated as well and cuts through tomatoes in an instant and makes the slices as thin as a sheet of paper.  And a microplane grater, don’t forget that, your giftee won’t want to use any other grate after trying this one.

Along with the utility knife you need one good general purpose chef’s knife. And here you need to spend a bit of money. But don’t forget that a good knife will last a lifetime. Right now I think Japanese knives really are the best deal for sharpness and durability. I really like the line from Global. They are all metal, so you never have to worry about the handles breaking, they’re light, and even the small 6-inch chef’s knife I brought in to show Jo-Ann can be used for almost anything. You might also want to consider the Mac or Shun line, but they are a little more pricey.

Global Knife

Global Knife

Larchwood End Grain Cutting Board

Larchwood End Grain Cutting Board

With knives you need a cutting board, and I’ve become a real fan of wooden, end-grain cutting boards. They cost a lot but again, they last forever. I have one from Larch Wood Enterprises in Cape Breton, but you don’t have to go that far, in Brentwood Bay you will find Acres Away Woodworks, beautiful cutting boards, made by artisan Neil Bosdet, but also knife blocks, rolling pins, and pizza peels.

 

 

T-Fal non-stick pan

T-Fal non-stick pan

All Clad pan with lid

All Clad pan with lid

I’m going to say 2 good fry pans. One that is non-stick that you don’t have to spend a ton of money on, like the one I have from T-Fal.  One that ONLY gets used to cook eggs in on relatively low heat. It will last a long time. Then, another frypan, anything with high sides and a heavy bottom, with a lid. Could be cast-iron, which will last forever, or stainless steel with a layer of copper in it. All-Clad, Lagostina, Cuisinart all make good ones. You can use that fry pan for almost everything else, simmered dishes, stews, with a metal or ovenproof handle so you can put it in the oven, even under the broiler. And then one good stockpot or Dutch Oven style pot. Again, a heavy bottom so you can use it to brown foods, but at least 6 to 8 litres in size so you can put your whole turkey carcass in there so you can get more food value out of that turkey!

Instant-read digital thermometer

Instant-read digital thermometer

ONE basic suggestion when it comes to food safety… a good instant-read thermometer to help you determine degree of doneness and proper cooking temps for ground beef and chicken. If you think that’s too plain a gift, how about a remote thermometer probe? I also have one from iDevices that will talk to my iPhone via Bluetooth, you could use it for your turkey or for your steak or salmon you’ve got going outside on your barbecue.

 

 

Abeego wraps

Abeego wraps

It’s not a must-have but it caught my attention this year. Abeego wraps, which are made from hemp and cotton cloth and blended with beeswax and jojoba oil, are made right here in Victoria and are a great reusable alternative to wax paper and plastic wraps. They warm up in your hands and become really flexible, then you just wrap them around a piece of cheese, for example and they stiffen in the fridge. You just wash them in cold water after you use them and come in a variety of sizes.

Salton induction burner

Salton induction burner

And for about $100, you might consider one of those portable induction burners, especially if the person you’re buying for entertains a lot and need a spare burner. They’re much safer and easier to use than traditional electric hot plates or those finicky butane heaters, as long as you have access to an electrical outlet.

This is my last column for 2014. I’ll be back next year with new Island Artisans and features on sustainable eating. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Food Matters – Holiday Platters

New shop just down the street from me!

New shop just down the street from me!

The holiday season is officially in full swing, with many calories to be consumed at dinners and parties now until New Year’s. If you want to be on trend with some of the goodies you plan to serve your guests, here’s some advice I shared on this week’s edition of Food Matters on CBC Radio’s All Points West program.

Sometimes I think I could almost live exclusively on cured meats, cheeses, sausages and all the condiments that go with them. These kinds of foods have been making a big splash in Canadian restaurants and specialty shops for the past few years, and more and more at home as part of cocktail and dinner parties. I was at the Out of Hand Craft Fair in Victoria over the weekend and saw one artisan selling refurbished barrel staves to be used as charcuterie platters and saw a few people walking around with these beautiful staves in their shopping bags and they were quite pleased with their purchases, looked like their guests are in for a treat during upcoming parties.

Two of Cure's Terrines

Two of Cure’s Terrines

There are a lot of choices to make, though, when you are considering putting together a platter, and that’s why I sought some help from Chef Brad Boisvert. Many people in the Cowichan Valley know him from his restaurant, Amuse, which has been in a few different locations of the years, he’s now comfortably ensconced at Cherry Point Vineyards, but Brad has also recently opened a little shop in the Valley View Mall called Cure, Artisan Meat and Cheese. Because the restaurant at Cherry Point is more of a seasonal operation, he decided to devote even more time to a craft he has been fond of for years. Brad says it started when he was in training at the Culinary Institute of America. There was one class in charcuterie, it was only 12 hours long, though! He knew he wanted to do more so he took as many extra classes from the instructor as possible. What hooked him was the ability to take a piece of meat and turn it into so many different things, like using pork belly to make pancetta and bacon.

Cure platter with duck liver pate, smoked duck breast, cheeses, mustards and pickled quail's eggs

Cure platter with duck liver pate, smoked duck breast, cheeses, mustards and pickled quail’s eggs

When it comes to making a platter with all the choices that are out there, Brad is always looking for balance. And balance is in the textures of the different items, chicken or duck liver pate, a nice sausage, smoked duck breast, for example.  And you can’t forget the cheese. Brad says we are very fortunate here on the island since we have so many local cheesemakers making some products perfect for a tasting platter, including Salt Spring Island Cheese, The Happy Goat and Hilary Abbott’s Creamery at Cheese Pointe Farm.

Cheese counter at Cure

Cheese counter at Cure

The condiments are a very important part of any platter, Brad makes several of his own, including three different types of mustard, a spicy ketchup, red onion jam, and these beautiful little pickled quail’s eggs. When it comes to your starch, you don’t want to get in the way of the flavours in your meats and cheeses. Simple baguette, or perhaps, some crostini, thin slices of baguette toasted with a little olive oil and some sea salt. To drink, Brad loves some of the Alsatian-style whites produced in the Cowichan Valley, especially a champagne-style bubbly from Cherry Pointe Vineyards, high in acidity and crispness to help you cleanse your palate in between bits of all that rich meat and cheese. Brad and I had a much longer chat about his love of charcuterie and his new shop, so click here for your listening pleasure

Time challenged? Let Brad make up a platter for you. And if you’re in Victoria, I heartily recommend the products and platters done up by Cory Pelan at The Whole Beast Salumeria. Act soon, these shops are probably already busy with orders for the holiday season.

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