Lied der Mignon

After snoozing my trusty bedside clock for three consecutive times this morning, I said thank you to Jesus for a perfect Sunday past and a revitalizing stretch of sleep. It was a quiet Monday morning where the gentle purr of the furnace was as clear to my ears as the heaving exhales of some slumbering giant, and I might have believed, for the briefest moment, that I had the house to myself.

As I sucked on the cold orange slice between my teeth, I gave myself the luxury of imagining the chill of its juice soothing the shriveled tissues in my throat. It was well past magic hour, and the sunlight was crawling up my left arm and slowly up my profile.

These fleeting moments are usually the most dangerous. And today was no exception. A newly instated holiday borne out of the most innocent of intentions, the words “family day” sank heavier than iridium into what is now a crater in my thought. Immediately fragments of the most plain and puerile experiences flooded my mind, and as they darted into the away, I felt as if I had plummeted a thousand feet back into the seat of my chair.

I wanted an old stale book with yellowing pages to curl up in, for the notes of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier to be hammered into my brain, for the sun to burn away the nerves in the surface of my skin.

Then my throat tightened, so I sucked on another slice of orange.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.

Psalm 38:9

Pickled, Pureed, and Pan-roasted Beetroot with Coriander, Yuzu, Thyme, and Chevre

So apparently when I get emotional I don’t consume food…I produce it, and often that’s when I come up with the better half of my kitchen endeavours. And this dish is full of psychotic pinks that will stain not just your fingers should you touch it, but also your precious white Club Monaco shirt should you dare to wear it to dinner. Beets, that’s right, in my three favourite variations of it: butter-basted with fried thyme for meatiness, candied and pureed with yuzu and EVOO for richness, and pickled with anise and coriander for crunch and tartness. If you remember Heart Beets from way back, this one would definitely be an upgrade as it pays more respect to the natural beauty of this revered root. And of course, you’ll see chevre at the party too.

I used fingerling or cylindra beets because I saw them at the farmer’s market and love at first sight sort of got the best of me, (and their slender shape makes the cross-section particularly stunning), but by all means, use smaller round beets if they’re what you’ve got. The best way to tackle this dish is to start three days ahead. Yeah, bugger, I know, but surely you don’t want to make the mistake of buying pickled beets from the store again wouldn’t you agree? So I say, boohooh to you, now roll up your sleeves and learn how to make the most out of being stuck in a pickle. After you’re through with the pickling, steam both the beets for the candied puree and the butter-basted variation together. That’s all I’ll say for now; for further information, please see the recipe below. (Excuse my formality, I just really wanted to see what it would feel like putting those words down.)

Ingredients for the short-pickled beetroot:

2/3 cup raw sugar

2/3 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted

4 star anise, toasted

3 fingerling/cylindra beets (use whatever color you’d like, just have all 3 of the same kind), thinly sliced with a mandolin crosswise into small rounds; you don’t need to peel them, just scrub them under running water

To make the pickled beetroot, place the sugar and vinegar in a small pot and bring to the boil. Pour the mixture into a clean glass jar and add the coriander and anise. Bring it down to room temperature, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge.

On the next day, add the sliced beets and refrigerate (covered), for at least 3 days or up to a week.

Ingredients for the beetroot puree:

3 fingerling/cylindra beets, cut into one inch chunks, steamed until tender

1 tbsp Korean yuzu tea preserves

2 splashes balsamic vinegar (about 2 1/2 tbsp)

1 splash extra virgin olive oil (about 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (with more emphasis on pepper)

To make the candied beetroot puree, place all the ingredients in a high speed blender and puree until completely smooth. Add a splash of water to help out the blades if need be.

Push the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and chill, covered, until ready to use.

Ingredients for the butter-basted beetroot:

3 fingerling/cylindra beets, scrubbed, halved lengthwise, steamed until tender

3 tbsp butter, or avocado oil

9 sprigs thyme

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the butter-basted beetroot, melt the butter over moderately high heat in a cast iron pan. Add the thyme sprigs and stir until fragrant and push to the side. Place the beets, cut side down, firmly in the pan and sear until crisp and caramelized while you baste the top side with butter.

Flip and let the other side take some color as well. baste and season generously with the thyme-infused butter.

Ingredients for the assembly:

120g unripened goat cheese, plain or with herbs, broken into chunks

Paint a near-circle of beetroot puree with the back of a spoon on 3 or 6 plates. Place a few chunks of broken cheese on the puree and position the butter-basted beet as pleases your eye. Add a few pickled beetroot slices here and there to fill the desolate spaces and garnish with the fried thyme. Finish with more salt and pepper and a drizzle of walnut or hazelnut oil if you’re really feelin’ it and into shiny food. No, really, go for it.

Enjoy, all you lovely human beings!

salt and bovine cellulite

Rounding up 2014, because that seems like the only appropriate thing to do at this point, it seems that avocados and eggs haven’t exactly been my thing despite that donburi which may well be one of the highlights of the year. At least for me, 2014 has unfurled into a series of flirtations with NaCl and cellulite. While “put an egg on it” has more or less swept over the daily grub scene and transcended the bounds of the a.m., I’ve been frolicking around in salt – just recall that watermelon, that crumble, and that kabocha. That kabocha though…

As I write this I am also noticing that the two things that sum up the year for me are the two things that happen to be the unchallenged pillars of flavour. Coincidence?

Moving on to fat, the woes of this misunderstood substance, especially animal fat, which in my opinion, is perhaps what makes meat appealing. And when you mix fats, it’s possibly the best thing you can do to a dish. Mind you, I am one to buy beef ribs and despite the flashing red sale sign hovering over family packs of tenderloin. Tilapia fillets…did I even touch those? I think I prefer my fish AFAP (as fat as possible) so keep that skin on and hand me that belly trim. Also, um, smoked oyster oil makes the kale nearly arbitrary. Yes, kale, the little black lace dress of the edible dimension in recent years.

Now, to wrap things up, I’m really dishing up the nitty gritty essence of the year in this one plate of a single carrot. Buried in coarse flakes of kosher salt and baked until the natural sugars become concentrated into a candy intensity, the flesh becomes tender yet firm and meaty, then finished with searing beef fat in the cast iron (which is, by the way, so 2014), this is the most tedious, pretentious, and worthwhile dirt cheap bite I’ve made. And with this South Asian wind sweeping across North America, briny notes from plain yoghurt and lentils sort of made sense.

You shall present them

before the LORD,

and the priests shall

throw salt on them,

and they shall offer them up

as a burnt offering to the LORD

Ezekiel 43:24

IMG_4464edit2

Ingredients for the salt baked carrots, serves 4

4 medium carrots, sized like those in bunches, scrubbed clean

3 cups coarse kosher or sea salt

3 tbsp rendered beef fat

To make the baked carrots, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle. Pour half of the salt into a baking dish. Nestle the carrots into the salt and pour the remaining salt on top of the carrots to cover.

Bake the carrots for 40-45 minutes or until tender when pierced by the tip of a knife.

Let stand for 10 minutes, before breaking off the salt cap and brushing off the excess salt.

Heat the beef fat in a cast iron skillet until hot. Add the carrots and sear on all sides until golden and lightly blistered.

Ingredients for the lentils and garnishes:

1 cup cooked lentils, drained

juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp honey, to taste

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp quark orplain Balkan style yoghurt

small handful baby arugula

To make the briny lentils, combine all ingredients except for the yoghurt and arugula and let stand for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight in the fridge.

To serve, divide the lentils into four plates. Place a carrot on each plate, dot with yoghurt, and garnish with arugula.

Enjoy!

(I usually have this with steak, because then I’d naturally have a cast ironful of beef fat.)

 

all in eh?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the result of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

-Steve Jobs

It’s that awkward time of the year where the skies are churning thickly with blobs and streaks of saturated grey and the air is heavy like an underground parking lot on a rainy day. In the morning I look out the window and glumly pull out the next season’s clothing, which I didn’t think I’d need for another three weeks.

I slip into brick red jeans, and wiggle my head through the peppered sweater. Two seconds later, both articles of clothing are scrunched and stranded beneath my bare feet as I grope in dull frustration for the familiarity of nude shorts and a faded T.

Such a curiously bland event has happened more times than necessary in this past week. Indeed, summer being washed away by an early arrival of autumnal shower.

There is no time as melodramatic, though hardly sorrowful, as the current: the thriving green of summer sent upwards in vibrant splashes as the heft of autumn’s amber abundance falls into place.

Gremolata and kabocha, there is not a better time for the two of them to marry. Of course, goat cheese would be more than welcome, as always.

Love colour. Send those sparks flying against the walls raining down.

Let no one despise you for your youth,

but set the believers and example

in speech, in conduct,

in love, in faith,

in purity. 

1 Timothy 4:22

 

IMG_3819edited - Copy

Ingredients for the gremolata:

8 almonds

1 lemon, zested

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c lightly packed flat-leaf parsley

1 large garlic clove

sea salt, to taste

To make the gremolata, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a textured sauce. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover and set aside as you roast the squash and onions.

Ingredients for the roasted kabocha and onions:

1/2 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1-inch thick wedges

2 small brown onions, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges

3 tbsp avocado oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

few dried rosemary needles

To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the vegetables gently with oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Arrange on the baking sheet and sprinkle on the rosemary needles.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelized and tender.

To serve, drizzle the gremolata over the roasted squash and crumble on some goat cheese, if using, to finish.

Enjoy!

honey makes it hot

Parents are such sources of wisdom. Even if they’re fuzzy on the mechanics of things, they know the outcome. I guess, most of the time, that’s enough to help a kid grow up without slicing their hands open, putting a crater in their cranium, or in my case, scorching off my entire palate.

For that, in particular, I am so grateful.

I figured this out, not too long ago, and was very intrigued. I’m actually so excited to share this with you. Nerdy, whatever.

So let’s start with the basics. Water, that is, pure H2O, cannot stay in liquid form beyond 100 degrees C. Now, add anything, and since we’re in the kitchen, make that anything be salt or sugar. Now that boiling point temperature becomes higher. In other words, a pot of boiling salted water is hotter than a pot of boiling pure water.

Not cool, I know. Caught that? Good. Let’s keep rolling.

So what do you care? Well, that higher temperature is what makes your pasta taste better, as in with a bite that has a bit more bounce. In fact, the higher temperature results in a more quickly denatured (cooked) gluten (protein), which gives it a more resilient chew. On the other hand, you don’t want this to happen to your meat if you’re simmering or blanching it, the extra pinch of salt will make it tough, same principles.

What about sugar, though? Exactly the same. So, coating your carrots with honey, makes them cook more thoroughly, and results in a sensuously tender, rich, and sweet interior. This you cannot achieve by boiling, which adds water to the flesh, making it mushy, not by simply roasting, which takes forever and leaves them dry and chewy (or worse, with an uncooked center).

Yeah, so the 101 of this whole post: honey, squeeze that bottle.

Is not my word like fire,

declares the Lord,

and like a hammer

that breaks the rock

in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:29

IMG_3612edited2

 

These carrots are basically candied, and would go well with cool, slightly acidic cheeses like labne, quark, or fromage blanc. Of course, an addition of some crunchy bits like toasted baguette slices, toasted pistachios and some coarse salt and black pepper would make these irresistible. Serve these as part of an appetizer or, equally fitting, a cheese or even dessert course. Just be careful, the carrots will literally burn off the insides of your mouth if you eat them straight out of the oven, and even five minutes after. Experience and my mother’s words of wisdom have taught me restraint when it comes to these.

Ingredients for the lavender honey roasted carrots:

450 g baby heirloom carrots (regular ones will taste just as good)

2 tbsp grape seed oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp chopped lavender leaves (or 2 tsp dried lavender)

1/3 – 1/2 c buckwheat or organic honey

To make the roasted carrots, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack in the middle of the oven. Toss all ingredients, except for the honey in an ovenproof dish until combined. Roast for 20 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Add one third of the honey and continue roasting until the mixtures appear dry. Repeat until carrots are tender and well caramelized.

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

A Scrappy Panegyric

The typical home cook may not have a sous-vide, smoke gun, nor all those chemo-gastro tricks and bits in their cupboard. But in my experience, refrigerator purgation is a fun enough sport of its own.

I have no doubt that by this age, any conscientious cook would be well aware of the amazing efficiency of North Americans in wasting food. And I’m equally certain that many of you secretly do a victory hand gesture when you come up with something perfectly delicious out of seemingly nothing.

Story of these banana scones.

1. Bananas: leftover and on the verge of becoming the breeding ground of fruit flies.

2. Cream cheese: leftover and mistaken for butter due to its dehydrated state of being.

3. Sour cream: leftover from (now on vaycay) cousins frozen pierogi endeavours.

4. Butter: the last stick – hey, that’s barely enough for anything.

Perhaps you can now begin to understand my excitement when I used all of them up and popped these golden babes out the oven!

So tell me, what’s the most outrageously delicious thing you’ve done to redeem ingredients that’ve passed the point of no return?

He feels pity

for the weak and the needy,

and he will rescue them.

He will redeem them

from oppression and violence,

for their lives are precious to him.

Psalm 72:13-14

IMG_3706edited copy

Ingredients for the Roasted Banana on top:

1 large banana, sliced into 12 1/4-inch thick rounds

2 tbsp sugar, to coat

To make the roasted banana garnish, dip one side of each banana slice in the sugar to coat generously.

Ingredients for the Banana, Cinnamon, Cream Cheese Scones:

makes 12

3 c AP flour, you can substitute up to half with whole wheat

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c cold butter, cubed

2 tbsp cold cream cheese, cubed

1 large, overripe banana

1/2 c sour cream

scant 1/3 c heavy cream

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla

To make the scones, preheat the oven to 365 degrees F, with the racks spaced evenly in the oven.

Put the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor and blend until even. Pulse in the cold butter and cream cheese until a coarse mixture forms and there are still some small, visible bits of butter remaining. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and chill in the fridge until needed.

Puree the banana, sour cream, heavy cream, egg, and vanilla until very smooth in a tall container using an immersion blender.

Take the flour mixture from the fridge and make a large hole in the middle. Pour in the banana mixture and stir gently with a fork just to combine – it should hardly even come together. Divide the mixture in half and knead each portion at most twice to bring it together. Gather each into a mound and press it into an inch-thick disc. Cut each disc into 6 wedges and transfer to 2 baking sheets, leaving 1-inch space in between.

Brush with a little extra cream and garnish with the sugar coated banana slices. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until pale golden and risen.

Serve warm or at room temperature…

…with a cup of black, obviously.

 

Ain’t No Outrunning the Potato

Under normal circumstances I’m calm and umm… perhaps disconnected (not sure it’s the right word, but that’s not remotely important). ANYWAYS, oh my foodness gracious I can’ t wait to share this salad with you. And for you meat-and-potato guys out there, yeah you, I’m feeling pretty solid on this one. I mean, filled with crispy roasted purple potatoes, caramelized eggplant, toasted almonds, plump sultana raisins, surely something in that list must have hit your sweet spot.

Or maybe you’re wondering if you’d like that combination. But hey, practically everything in life is trial and error (don’t do drugs, kids). Yes, of course a homogeneous bunch of people will get along, but that’s probably the most they’ll ever be. As for me, I feel blessed to have someone sweet to lift my heart, someone spicy to tickle my mind, and someone to act as salt – whom I can’t live without.

Life is a potato salad; you can put whatever you want in it. It can be a side, it can be a show. It can ruin you, it can make you. I take chances with my potato salad. I take time with each component I’ve chosen. I don’t start with a recipe – so it won’t ever be wrong.

It’s just that you want it to fulfill its purpose of providing joy and nourishment to those you love, and not have it end up in the trash.

IMG_3107edited

Ingredients for the roasted eggplant and zucchini:

1 large round eggplant, diced

1 medium zucchini, quartered then sliced 1/2 inch thick

2/3 tsp sea salt

few rounds freshly cracked black pepper

2 tbsp grape seed oil

To roast the eggplant and zucchini, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with one rack placed at the lower third of the oven and the other at the upper third. Toss all ingredients together very well, spread in a single layer onto a clean baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven on the top rack for 15 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the centers are tender. Let it rest for 5 minutes before lifting them from the pan. The 5 minutes of rest will allow steam to permeate beneath the vegetables so they don’t stick and you can get them out of the pan with their beautiful caramelized bottoms intact effortlessly.

Ingredients for the crispy blue potatoes:

1 litre water

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt, divided

500g blue new potatoes, scrubbed clean and halved

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

glug of grape seed oil, about 3-4 tbsp

To make the roasted potatoes, combine the water and vinegar in a pot, cover, and bring to the boil. Add 1 tsp of the salt and the potatoes. Cover and boil for 5-8 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water only until cool enough to handle, then cut each half in half again, to get quarters.

Observe the skin, and once it loses its sheen from the moisture, toss the potatoes with the remaining salt, pepper, and oil.

Place the potatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet (you don’t need to line it or anything – this way you can get the spuds super-crispy). Bake in the hot oven (450 degrees) for 15~20 minutes, until they whistle and puff (literally) and get, of course, super-crispy.

Ingredients for the salad:

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves torn, tender stems chopped, and tough stems discarded

20 almonds, toasted and chopped

1 handful sultana raisins

2 tbsp grainy mustard

big splash, 4-5 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

To assemble the salad, whisk together the mustard and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Toss together the roasted eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, parsley, almonds and raisins in a large salad bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine.

Serve with a fresh baguette or a steak for a rounded meal, or just have it all by itself, which is the way I have mine.

Enjoy!