Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)

Foodie’s Gold

For me, a good recipe should always hit the spot on taste, that is, flavour and texture. A recipe that I’ll make over and over again, however, must also be wittily simple, nourishing, and dirt cheap. I mean, sure, a delicate entremet is surely delicious, but let’s be honest here, ain’t nobody got time to chill and set six frickin’ layers. And yeah, totally, if I bacon anything (yes, it’s a verb now) I’m pretty sure I can tag it #mattprestonlikedit, but I’m sure I’ll enter a sweaty bacon coma shortly after eating it. And heck, I could practically do anything to a piece of chilean sea bass and it’d be yum, but I’d be broke in a week.

Thus arises the dilemma of a poor foodie: sacrificing taste vs sacrificing time/health/wallet’s embonpoint. But you can’t starve a foodie, it just doesn’t work like that. We are a very advanced type of people in terms of our ability to self sustain because a huge part of our brain specializes in just that: nom and nosh.

I am thankful that I can tell when tofu’s gone sour. I am thankful that I am educated to choose those foods that help me thrive. I am thankful that I am not rich, should the abundance turn me a glutton. Yet I give thanks that I am not poor, should the words that fill my mouth become bitter and dry. I am thankful that there is not one perfect way to make a dish, but many different ways to make a dish perfect. And I am thankful that I can find my way.

What are you thankful for?

Remove far from me vanity and lies:

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with food convenient for me:

Lest I be full, and deny thee,

and say,

Who is the Lord?

or lest I be poor,

and steal,

and take the name of my God in vain.

Proverbs 30:8-9

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Far from being traditional, this paella still hits all my check-points as far as a recipe is concerned: delicious, simple, healthy, and cheap. I ditched the saffron and gave turmeric a try. I used regular brown rice instead of imported paella rice. Excuse me for using frozen seafood, but excuse you for not knowing that flash-freeze technology has hugely improved since two decades ago. Also, I didn’t bother with any type of stock because I have no intention of using store bought, and time or spirit for simmering my own. Hence I added depth of flavour by charring my corn, tomatoes, and pepper which brings out their sweetness.

Delicious, simple, healthy, and cheapo points: check, check, check, check!

Ingredients for the paella – part I :

3 cups brown rice, soaked overnight

1 large red bell pepper

1 ear corn, husk removed

3 tomatoes on the vine

To prep for the paella, char the pepper, corn, and tomatoes on the gas stove by holding them with metal tongs over direct flame until the skin blisters blackens all over. Be careful when you try to do this with the corn – it will pop a bit! Leave them until cool enough to handle.

Core and remove the seeds from the pepper, then thinly slice. To remove the kernels from the ear of corn, hold it vertically over a large mixing bowl and slice downwards along the core. This way you save all the sweet juice and the hassle of chasing after kernels flying through the air. Finally, dice the tomatoes. Reserve until needed.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion, diced

1 spicy chorizo, sliced into 1-cm thick coins

1 fat garlic clove, minced

1 tbsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp fish sauce (yes it stinks, I know, but it’s practically msg-less shellfish bouillon)

4 1/2 cups water

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

1 pkg (16 oz.) frozen mixed seafood, do not thaw

1 pkg (16 oz) frozen raw mussels on the half shell, do not thaw

To make the paella, heat the oil in a large roasting pan. Sweat the onion and chorizo on medium heat until the onions are translucent and the chorizo is browned. Add the garlic, paprika, turmeric, and fish sauce and fry until fragrant. Add the prepared vegetables and cook on high heat until the tomatoes lose their raw flavour, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the soaked rice and water, then season well. Cover and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lower third of the oven. Once boiling, remove it from the heat, stir well, and arrange the frozen seafood on top. Do not stir once you add the seafood!

Cover and bake in the reheated oven for 1 hour, or until the liquid has been completely soaked up by the rice. Turn off the oven and leave the paella in the oven to rest for a further 10 minutes, undisturbed.

Serve immediately with a simple herb salad.

Enjoy!

 

Imagine in Purple

I doubt I’m getting to that age where I have the seniority to say “as you get older you find that every year passes you by so quickly that they blend into one another”. Nor am I quite so busy to say that the thin silver line between each day has disappeared. But there’s one thing I can say, because I believe that time cannot be quantified according to any device except for perhaps by one’s heart:

time took itself to sloth from one point to the next, which was back in August when lunch between mother and daughter was a three-hour affair that would take place under impromptu patches of flowery shade over crostinis and blueberry compote.

but then, like a child, it grew as an exponential function.

So here we are, in the very belly of November, and every man I see sports some sort of awkward hybrid between grubble and moustache on their face. In all honesty, the only possible thing I can connect that – whatever that is, movember? – to would be that stage when a cute fuzzy baby chicken overnight becomes this grotesque, almost reptilian creature with non-uniform spikes protruding from their pores. But for the cause behind the hairiness I think I can go another two weeks.

Afterall, two weeks feels to me like three days now.  And eggplants are running exponentially faster away from me. My mind, however, still dreams in purple – the deep, royal, amethyst sort of purple.

Best friend, math has not done so much to take away my imagination. I can still dream up a thousand and one ways to cook a deep, royal, amethyst purple giant of an egg. Here’s 1/1001 of the ways.

“How can people say

they don’t eat eggplant

when God loves the color

and the French love the name?

I don’t understand.”

– Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet

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Ingredients for the candied eggplant with akamiso glaze:

3 tbsp red miso

2 tbsp buckwheat honey, regular will do

1 tbsp mirin, or rice wine

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 large round eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 thinly sliced green onions, to garnish

To make the candied eggplant, preheat the oven to 415 degrees F with the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush it with some mild vegetable oil such as grape seed or avocado.

Stir together the miso, honey, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Toss the diced eggplant in the miso glaze to coat evenly and spread the eggplant onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25~30 minutes, or until the eggplant becomes caramelized and very tender. Transfer to a plate and garnish with the sliced green onions, and a thin drizzle of sesame oil, if desired.

Enjoy!

Some Sage Advice

Whether it’s the strokes of color representing specific flavours that streak across my mind when I “see” certain flavour combinations or something as straight forward as smelling the steam wafting lazily up from a finished dish, I think, flavour has to do with instinct and chemistry.

Like people, food has its own invisible forces of abstract attraction and repulsion. The only way one can go along with anyone and everyone and become absolutely essential is to be the salt of the world. Matthew 5:13

As for all the other foods, some clash and cause destruction on a plate, others are somewhat mellow and therefore go forgotten before the next meal. Then, there are still the harmony and excitement in other ensembles of flavours that make magic happen.

Crisp purple sage, kabocha squash gnocchi, brown butter, shaved Grana Padano, and caramelized balsamic vinegar.

I think these struck a chord with me.

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Ingredients for the kabocha squash gnocchi:

2 cups kabocha squash* puree (made from half a steamed squash)

1 1/3 cup potato starch

1 1/3 cup white rice flour

1 1/3 cup glutinous rice flour

3/4 tsp fine sea salt

2 free range eggs

2 tbsp water, as needed

To make the kabocha gnocchi, mix together the kabocha puree, potato starch, rice flours, and salt in the stand mixer using the paddle attachment. The mixture will look sandy and dry. Mix in the eggs, one at a time until well combined. If a dough forms and cleans the sides of the bowl, then you don’t need to add any water. Otherwise, drip in the 2 tablespoons of water as the machine mixes, until a dough forms.

On a smooth, clean working surface (I did this on my countertop), roll handfuls of the dough into inch-thick logs. Cut it into 1/3-inch thick pieces, or bite-sized. Roll it into a flat-ish round between your hands then roll it on the “teeth” of the fork, giving it some pressure, and voila, a perfect little dumpling!

Now, all you need to do is repeat that last step a few dozen times until all the dough is used up. Freeze them in a single layer, on a plate or baking sheet until rigid, then you can dump it all into a freezer bag for convenient storage.

When ready to cook, bring a pot of water to the rolling boil. Add a tablespoon of sea salt and 2 cups of frozen gnocchi. Stir gently with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking at the start. They are ready when they float to the top. Drain.

Ingredients for the sauce:

4 tbsp unsalted butter

36 purple sage leaves (regular sage leaves work just as well)

1 small brown onion, quartered, then thinly sliced

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 generous tbsp balsamic vinegar

lots of freshly ground black pepper

shaved Grana Padano or parmesan cheese

To make the sauce, heat the butter un a pan on medium high heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the sage leaves. Now listen, because at first there will be quite a bit of noise from the water vapour escaping the leaves, but as the leaves dehydrate, there will be less and less evaporation occuring, hence less noise. Once the sputtering dies down, you know the sage is crisp, so remove them with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Then, add the onions and salt. Fry the onions until brown and crispy around the edges and the butter is richly brown – this will take 2~4 minutes, and stir constantly to avoid the milk solids from burning. Now add the balsamic and cook it down until it is sweet and sticky (reduced by a third) before adding the cooked gnocchi. Stir until the gnocchi is evenly coated in the sauce and the sauce is sticking onto the gnocchi.

Serves 2, garnish with the reserved fried sage, black pepper, and shaved cheese.

Green Fronds and White Froth

While my (somewhat) equals hop into re-done cars with muscle-top apes, I retreat to my favourite shops and market in the more quiet extremes of town. Bruce’s country market down by the riverside sits on the skirt fringe of my small enough gem-of-a-town Maple Ridge. It’s also my salmon place. Yes, I’m a B. C. girl and I love my salmon, but only wild sockeyes please. The farmed, beastly humongous monster fish of the Atlantic are practically lumps of hormone- and antibiotic-injected flesh anyway.

You may have noticed that I’m starting to clean up my blog, starting from the last post https://cocoetcocoa.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/casually-pudding-it-out/ in terms of style and image. Yes, and I’m not just starting now, with only what meets the eye. People, eat clean, eat less. That way you get the best ingredients, and don’t actually spend a dollar more. This is particularly true with proteins. These days, it seems the mot du jour is always along the lines of sustainability.

Hello, does buying so-called “sustainably sourced fish” in such large quantities that the following year you still find the carcass of an animal skinned and filleted twelve moons ago represent sustainable? Does cooking so much “free-range organic” ground beef into a tub of meat sauce then letting the leftovers (which is half that tub) stink and rot environmentally conscious?

I’m not saying that we should live as monks or saints. But I do find that moderation is a rather valuable trait, it will actually save you legitimate bucks.

So what does all this have to do with the plat du jour? Well, you don’t need a whole fillet to serve two. You just need 200 g of really good quality salmon.

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Ingredients for the coconut poached salmon:

1 can organic coconut milk

8 thin slices ginger root

20 lemon balm leaves

1/2 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp sea salt

200 g wild sockeye salmon fillets with skin, cut into 2 portions

2 drops sesame oil

finely shredded lemon balm, for garnish

To make the poached salmon, bring the coconut milk and ginger to the boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the lemon balm, fish sauce, and sea salt. Remove the pan from the heat and gently lower in the salmon fillets, skin side facing down. Cover and return the pan to barely a simmer for 6 minutes; you can cook it slightly longer, but I would not exceed 8 minutes. Add the sesame oil at the last minute.

Lift the salmon with a slotted spoon onto warm serving plates. To make the sauce, strain the poaching liquid and froth it up using an immersion blender. Spoon the sauce over the salmon and garnish with more lemon balm.

Serve immediately. Also, this makes plenty of sauce, which implies that you could double the amount of salmon to serve four people or mop it up with some french crusty bread. I would just throw some glass noodles and bok choi into the poaching liquid to make it a meal, though.

Enjoy!

my duckling ain’t ugly

Ms. Quack has been snoozing her beauty sleep in my freezer #2 for quite a while now. Then one day I decided to wake’r up and give her a little makeover, I’m thinking sort of a tan to give that pasty skin a bit of a warm glow.

Now, you have no I idea. Three years ago I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Today I scoff at my youthful naivety at the time, and yet the qualities of that little girl are still in me; my eyes, my hands, and my mind. Mostly my mind, I would say, since I’m always feeling chased with a fire lit beneath my bum, that fire being time…or, rather the lack thereof.

So I won’t tell you how long that bird’s been hibernating. And I definitely won’t tell you how many times my mum nagged at me to free the poor thing and cook it already, each time with increasing urgency in tone.

But none of that matters anymore, since it’s all said (yes I do remember doing lots of talk on what I planned to do with the duck) and actually done.

So once I got ’round to the task, it was as easy as sticking a cake in the oven. Just the sticking part, since there’s no rush or anything against gluten formation or the sort. Two hours later, le voila! a magnificent king of the, um…pond! (?)

The skin, from the slow, gentle roasting is thoroughly rendered and as crispy as one can imagine, without any fattiness. The caramelization is deep and sweet. And the sauce (man the french know their sauce!) is so. flippin’. amazing. I threw some mint, from my garden of course, in there to serve, and it worked seamlessly with the brightness of the orange and richness of the duck.

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Ingredients for the orange roast duck:

1 organic duck, about 2~2.2 kg (spend the extra for organic, it’s worth it)

4 large, juicy navel oranges

2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half

1 big handful fresh mint, plus more to serve

95 g soft brown sugar

65 ml each kumquat vinegar and white vinegar OR 125 ml cider vinegar

80 ml whisky

30 g butter

To make the duck, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, wash the duck under cold water to rinse off any debris and fluid that may have accumulated in the cavity. Shake off any excess water and pat dry thoroughly with a paper towel. Cut an orange in half and rub it all over the duck. Cut the used orange in half again, then stuff it into the cavity of the duck with the mint and cinnamon sticks. Tie up the legs and wings (the legs are pretty straight forward, but if the wings are too intimidating, leave them flailing about, it’s fine). Prick the duck all over with a fork, piercing the skin and into the flesh, so that the fat beneath the skin can drain out effectively for an ultra-crispy skin.

Put the duck on a rack, with the breast side facing down. Put the rack in a shallow roasting pan, and send the whole thin into the oven and roast for 1 hour, turning the duck halfway.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, zest the remaining three oranges, then juice them, keeping the zest and juice in separate bowls. Pour boiling water over the zest, to cover and let it steep for a minute before draining. Repeat this two more times, then set it aside.

In a saucepan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat. When it becomes caramelized and bubbly, deglaze the pan with the vinegar and let the sharpness boil out a bit before adding the orange juice and whisky. Let it boil for two minutes.

After one hour of roasting, start basting the duck with the sauce every 5~10 minutes for another 1 1/2 hour, until the duck is deeply amber, with a reddish tinge. Turn off the oven, leaving the duck in there to keep warm while you finish the sauce.

Add the reserved zest into the remaining sauce and educe it over high heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy. Throw in the butter and stir until combined.

Serve the duck with the sauce, with mint leaves and new potatoes simply boiled in well-salted water.

Enjoy!