White Elephant – the Recipes

Three weeks ago in the midst of exams, presentations, and papers due I drew up a menu. Not just for fun, though I do that too, but for the biggest dinner I’ve ever hosted. A baker’s dozen, myself included. For Christmas, a week before. For a mismatched squad, one who brings peanut butter to every gathering, one who polishes off casseroles like a legitimate black hole, one who makes killer salads but cannot have tomatoes nor chocolate, one who ran out of luck with lactose but still hasn’t gotten over milk, and a handful more.

When I shared the night’s menu on where else but good ol’ Insta, I received a few inquiries of whether the menu was for a restaurant opening in the new year, or for a pop-up. Unfortunately, neither. At least for the short and foresee-able future.

As for the actual night, three questions passed around the table along with the bread and butter (with my answers) were:

1. What is your favourite Christmas carol?

For those of you who know me, this question basically forces me to pick a piece of straw out of a haystack. I do not like Christmas music, it must be the bells. If I must, I’d probably choose one in a minor key, so Mary Did You Know. Silent Night isn’t bad either. O Holy Night has lots of potential, might be my top pick for next year. But that’s next year.

2. What was your 2017 highlight?

This question had me. 2017 was huge for me. So blessed, so moved, so unexpected. I started the year in Baltimore, managing the most challenging project for which I’ve ever taken full responsibility (at the time), outside of the familiarity that is Canada. In May, with but a week’s time for transition, I returned to Waterloo and began what I thought would be just another term. Little did I know, it was this past summer when I’d meet some of my closest and most inspiring friends. I popped back in Vancouver at the end of the summer, where I was humbled by the amazing work God is doing in the lives of the young adults I used to mentor. Came September, and returning for a second school term in a row, I thought I was headed towards a sure-fire burnout. Instead, I fell in love with a ministry which is so real, so powerful, so alive. In awe at how God has orchestrated every detail this year. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve gotten my degree? Yeah, that too.

3. Do you like eggnog?

I’ve never tried it until the day after the dinner (when I learned, to my surprise, that there were three cartons of the stuff in my fridge). I made it into ice cream, and put it on apple crisp. I liked it that way. Still don’t think I’d drink it straight though. I sneak it into my mum’s coffee. Kevin likes it though, especially with a glug of Bailey’s slipped in.

Now, enough about me. Let’s get down to the grub. All of these were featured on December 18, 2017.

Since God chose you

to be the holy people he loves,

you must clothe yourselves

with tenderhearted mercy, kindness,

humility, gentleness, and patience. 

Make allowance for each other’s faults,

and forgive anyone who offends you.

Remember,

the Lord forgave you,

so you must forgive others. 

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,

which binds us all together

in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:12-14

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Salt and Pepper Peanuts and Broiled Dates with Prosciutto

Salt and Pepper Peanuts – makes 2 cups

  • 2 cups raw red skinned peanuts
  • 1 large garlic clove, grated to a fine paste
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground five-spice
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  1. In a colander, rinse the peanuts under cold water thoroughly.
  2. Transfer the rinsed peanuts to a large microwave safe bowl and toss to evenly coat with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes. Stir, and microwave 1 additional minute at a time, stirring in between each minute, until completely dry, golden, and fragrant.
  4. Cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature. Can be made up to 2 weeks in advance.

Broiled Dates with Prosciutto – serves 12

  • 12 medjool dates, pitted
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • espresso balsamic reduction*
  1. To make the espresso balsamic reduction, combine 1 tbsp espresso, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 tsp honey in a small saucepan until sticky. Cool completely.
  2. Cut the prosciutto slices into four lengthwise. Scrunch each piece up and stuff them into the dates’ cut.
  3. Broil or bake at 425 degrees F until the dates are caramelized on top.
  4. Transfer to a plate, drizzle with the espresso balsamic reduction. Serve immediately.

Young Greens with Yuzu and Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette – serves 6 (double up for 12)

  • 2 tbsp yuzu tea preserves (marmalade will work in a cinch)
  • 1 tbsp good mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 8 cups young salad greens (mesclun, baby arugula, mache, Bibb lettuce, are all good)
  1. In a large salad bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for the greens until creamy and emulsified.
  2. Add the salad greens and toss until evenly coated. Serve immediately.

Butternut Mac and Cheese – serves 12

  • 1 small butternut squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 white onion, peeled and halved
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 200 ml heavy cream
  • dash of grated nutmeg
  • 6 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 500 g rice elbow macaroni (or other fun, short, chunky shape)
  • 300 g extra old white cheddar, grated
  1. Place the garlic cloves, squash and onion halves cut side down on a parchment lined baking tray and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, 1 hour, and 45 minutes respectively (or until tender). Let cool slightly.
  2. Place the roasted vegetables in a blender with the cream and nutmeg. Blend until completely smooth (add a splash of water if necessary to keep things moving). Season well and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, fry the bacon on medium heat until well rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the sliced onions to the pan and fry on high heat until browned and soft. Remove from the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil Season heavily with salt and add the pasta. Stir until the water returns to a simmer. Cook until completely tender – 2 to 3 minuted more than the recommended time on the package.
  5. SAVE THE PASTA WATER!!! Fish out the pasta with a slotted spoon and add it to the large pan with the caramelized onions. Add the squash puree and bacon and stir over medium heat, adding a ladle of pasta water at a time until the mixture comes together but is loose, almost risotto-like. (Make sure you have enough liquid in the mixture, otherwise it will be dry after baking.)
  6. Transfer to a large casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden. If the top hasn’t browned by then, just broil it for 3-5 minutes until it’s crisp and golden.
  7. Serve immediately.
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Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Way Too Much Bacon

Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with way to much Bacon – serves 12

  • 3 lb small Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 400 g thick sliced bacon, diced
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 c soy sauce
  1. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the oil and sea salt and spread onto a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees F until browned and tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pan fry up the bacon until crisp and rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  3. Add the roasted Brussels sprouts to the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes on medium heat. Add the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, an soy sauce. Cook and stir until the sprouts are coated and the glaze turns sticky. Return the bacon to the pan and toss to coat.
  4. Serve immediately.
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176-hr Wind Cured Roast Duck

WARNING: this recipe demands a certain level of commitment. Please proceed at your own discretion.

176-hour Wind Cured Roast Duck – serves 8

  • 1 fresh young duck, (or previously frozen and defrosted)
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • 1 tbsp ground Chinese five spice
  • 1 tbsp szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  1. Rinse the duck thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper towel. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, combine the orange zest, spices, salt, and sugar. Pulse until a wet sand forms.
  3. Brush the duck all over with whiskey, then rub generously inside and out with the spice curing mixture. Patting any extra on the breasts and in the cavity.
  4. If temperatures will remain under -4 degrees C, transfer the duck onto a rack and place it in a cardboard box, uncovered, outside, to cure for 7 days. Otherwise, place on a rack on top of a baking sheet in your fridge for a week (this will not be as good, just sayin’).
  5. On the eighth day, take your duck inside. No need to wait for it to defrost. Rinse under cold water and rub off any spices still clinging onto the skin. Pat dry completely and score the skin on the breasts at 1 cm intervals.
  6. Place back on the rack and in a roasting dish. Roast at 275 degrees F for 7 hours. Increase the temperature to 350 degrees for the last hour, the skin should be very crisp and richly browned all over. RESERVE THE RENDERED FAT!!!
  7. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
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Thyme and Duck Fat Roast Spuds

Thyme and Duck Fat Roast Spuds – serves 12

  • 18 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • rendered fat from 1 slow-roasted duck (recipe above)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • sage pesto, thinned with olive oil (regular pesto recipe, just use half sage half basil)
  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover and season the water heavily with kosher salt.
  2. Bring the pot to a simmer and continue for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.
  3. Place a potato on a flat surface and press down with the bottom of a plate until the potato is about 1 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
  4. Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Top with a spoonful of duck fat.
  5. Roast at 415 degrees F until crisp golden, about 15-20 minutes. Flip the potatoes over, season again with salt, pepper, and thyme, and continue roasting for about 10-15 minutes until the other side is crisp golden.
  6. Top with the thinned sage pesto and serve immediately.
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Sweet Cheese Plate

NOTE: this isn’t really a recipe, just a bunch of things that go well with certain cheeses. Rule I generally go by: a) have odd-numbers of cheese types (1, 3, 5, or 7), b) cut the cheese before your guests do so they have something to follow, c) have at least one cheese that you’ve never tried or you’re sure your guests have never tried.

Sweet Cheese Plate – serves as much or as little as you’d like

  • Chevre or goat cheese – honeycomb, black pepper, candied kumquat, walnuts
  • Manchego – persimmon, roasted almonds, currant preserves, dried cranberries
  • St. Andre – grapes, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, roasted hazelnuts, bosc pears
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Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies and Cardamom Rye Apple Crumble

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies – makes 24 to 36 depending on size

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 10 ml vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 3 ml fine sea salt
  • 1 c white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 c dried cranberries, de-clumped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F on convection bake.
  2. Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until the sugar is no longer gritty.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the creamed mixture to the flour and mix until a rough dough forms.
  4. Add the chocolate and cranberries. Mix, until a dough forms once again. Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to help with portion size, scoop mounds of cookie dough onto non-stick cookie sheets (or line a regular with parchment paper). Gently press down on the rounded tops so that they are evenly thick throughout.
  6. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until edges are just starting to turn golden. Let cool for 10 minutes until transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Cardamom Rye Apple Crumble – serves 12

For the apple filling:

  • 3 lbs small local apples, UNPEELED, cored and thinly sliced (my current favourite is Ida Red)
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 2/3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c corn starch
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

For the crumble:

  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 1 c oat flour
  • 1 1/2 c dark rye flour
  • 1 c instant rolled oats
  • 1 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp fine sea salt
  1. For the apples, sift together the brown sugar, corn starch, 1 tbsp cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.
  2. Add the apples and lime juice and toss with your hands until evenly combined.
  3. To make the crumble, place all ingredients in a stand mixer and mix on medium low speed with the paddle attachment until clumped and crumbly.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lowest part of the oven.
  5. Arrange the apple slices as tightly as possible in a deep 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Pour over any juices left at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pile on the crumble mixture. (This is a ridiculously massive apple crumble, I am aware, but it’s worth it!).
  6. Place the pie dish on a large baking sheet and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 80-90 minutes, or until the juices bubble over and the top is completely crisp.
  7. Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, or cool completely. It will stay crisp for at least 3 days at room temperature, so you can definitely make this ahead.

So there, all the recipes that went into one dinner.

backcountry roads

 

Forty years

Forty years they walked, they walked.

They had left, an impossible victory

an impossible freedom

but that was

nothing.

 

Nothing

that was, to them.

08.17.17 Never forget.

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Pita with Hummus, Shaved Cucumber, Harissa Fried Eggs, and Feta

Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained but save the liquid
  • 1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp honey, to taste
  • 1/2 c tahini
  1. In a food processor or powerful blender, add the garlic and lemon juice. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Add tahini, honey, cumin, salt, and drained chickpeas. Add in half of the reserved bean liquid.
  3. Blend on high speed until as smooth as possible, add more of the bean liquid as needed to achieve a light, whippy consistency.
  4. Transfer to a sealable container. Keeps in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Harissa Fried Egg

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1/2 tsp dry harissa
  1. In a non-stick skillet, fry the egg as you normally would on medium-high heat.
  2. When the egg is nearly done, tilt the skillet so the oil pools together. Add the harissa to the oil and spoon the harissa oil over the edges of the egg until crisp.

Shaved Cucumber Pea Shoot Salad

  • 1 medium spiny cucumber (persian cucumbers have too much water)
  • 1 handful young pea shoots
  • squeeze of lemon
  1. Cut off the ends of the cucumber. Slice lengthwise into thin, wide ribbons on a mandoline.
  2. Toss with the pea shoots and dress with a squeeze of lemon. Use immediately.

Assembly

  • 1 pita, lightly toasted
  • 2/3 c hummus
  • 1 harissa fried egg
  • shaved cucumber pea shoot salad
  • 2 tbsp crumbled feta
  • 1 tsp za’atar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  1. Spread the hummus evenly on the pita.
  2. Add the egg and drizzle the harissa oil all over the hummus
  3. Arrange the cucumber salad on the pita around the egg, top with feta, za’atar, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy!

 

confidence, confessions, and a confit recipe

I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make.

Julia Child (1912-2004)

Neither do I, Jules. And for that matter, I don’t believe in twisting myself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food I eat.

Food was, before cloth became fashion, before sticks and stones evolved into architecture, and definitely before the inception of the word “definition”, the one variable that defined human society, its tragedies and its genius. It might be useful to restrict what I mean when I refer to “food” to be separate from sustenance. We eat not because we are worried about surviving long enough and well enough to produce offspring, but because there is pleasure in eating.

While humanity is without a doubt exclusive, it can be difficult to pinpoint what it is that makes us so special. Some might say it’s our advanced use of hands to manipulate materials into tools. Capuchin monkeys do that too, but I’m not about to invite them to my Thanksgiving family dinner. Others might say it’s our level of intelligence. Please, let’s not flatter ourselves and have those cetaceans with their permanently sarcastic smiles actually laugh at our ignorance.

Food, however, may be a simple way to mark the line between us and everything else. Specifically, if we define “cooking” as a process by which we alter the taste of an edible substance such that it might improve the experience of the eater, then we might have hit the jackpot. You might object and say that raw foods such as fruits and vegetables have not been processed in any way. Yet, cultivation in and of itself is by the definition above a form of cookery as the farmer, in order to compete with other farmers, must strive to produce a better-tasting crop and therefore uses anything from selective breeding to fertilizing in order to achieve his objective. What about sashimi? Well, it is probably one of the most intensely monitored, controlled, and complex processes a food can be subject to.

Take tuna for example. The time and location of ‘harvest’ matters due to the migration routes of the schools; in particular, fish that have reached their spawning grounds are less desirable as they are exhausted from the long swim and there is less fat and usually a metallic acidity in their flesh. The way they are captured matters; line caught is always better as the fish doesn’t drown before it’s hauled on board. Then there’s the speed and temperature at which it is flash-frozen as the quicker it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals and therefore the finer and more delicate the texture. Oh, we also want to defrost the fish nice and slow (also at a controlled temperature) so we don’t end up with a dry lump of bluefin swimming in its own juices. Then there’s the slicing and presentation that’s got diners at Tokyo’s Jiro-Sushi paying ¥30,000 for dinner (about $300).

Food is worth celebrating. But not because of what it is, because it is nothing if not for the mind and hands behind it. It says nothing about what we are. We are not what we eat – from a green-stemmed banana to sous-vide short ribs with. Rather, we are how we see food.

Take your pick, be a glutton, an innovator, an obsessive compulsive label-checker, an artist, a purist, a gastronomane, or a snob. The way you see food is your choice and you have control over that part of who you are. Why not be someone you’ll like?

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,

when he delights in his way.

Psalm 37:23

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Duck Confit

The word confit stems from a family of words that all huddle around the meaning of preserving. As most preservation methods are, the process of confit-ing was likely a peasant sort of dish as opposed to the reputation it occupies today. The breasts, which are more tender, quick to cook and best consumed fresh, were probably eaten first (or sold to wealthier folks), and the tougher quarters would be left to less à l’aise. In this context, confiting serves a few important purposes. In addition to substantially extending its storage life, it also stretches a small amount of protein to yield immense flavours. For example, the classic cassoulet uses duck confit as a seasoning to enhance the depth of what is essentially a pot of baked beans. However, you’d end up sacrificing the crackling that’s literally addictive as crack (and dare I say better than peking duck). Not the case here – just look at that crisp gold overlay.

Ingredients for the Duck Confit, makes 6:

  • 6 fresh free range duck legs
  • sea salt
  • bunch of thyme
  1. To make the duck confit, you first need to cure it – this will tighten the muscle fibers, making them more tender once they cook up and prevents them from drying out once they’re in the oven. To do this, simply rub the duck legs liberally with the sea salt.
  2. Line the bottom of a baking dish with a good layer of thyme sprigs, then arrange the duck legs, skin side up, in the dish. Cover tightly with foil then pop it in the fridge to cure for 2 days.
  3. On the third day, take it out of the fridge and send it straight into the oven – no need to preheat here. Turn it on to 300 degree F, and let it bake for 3~3 1/2 hours, or until the fat has completely rendered out and the skins are richly caramelized. Let it cool down to room temperature, uncovered, before transferring the to freezer bags in which you can then keep them in the freezer for at least 3 months.
  4. Tip the rendered, thyme-infused duck fat into a small jar and store in the fridge. I use the duck fat to roast potatoes and fry scallions for duck fat dry ramen. Don’t waste the flavour-bomb brown bits left at the bottom of the dish either. Flood the dish with water and bring it up to a simmer to lift up all those bits to make a beautiful complex stock, which you can take further by infusing with star anise, ginger root, szechuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, and a couple dried chinese jujubes.
Duck Confit with Warm Green Olive Potato Salad
Duck Confit and Warm Potato Salad with Green Olive Vinaigrette

Ingredients for the Warm Potato Salad and Green Olive Vinaigrette:

  • 1 lb new potatoes
  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 fat cloves garlic
  • 1 anchovy fillet, optional
  • 1/3 c finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 strips lemon zest
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  1. To make the potato salad, boil the potatoes in generously salted water just until tender, about 15-18 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pulse together the olives, garlic, anchovy fillet, parsley, lemon zest, mustard, and honey in a food processor until a chunky mixture forms. Scrape it into a large salad bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper if necessary.
  3. Once the potatoes are cooked, refresh them under cool water just until cool enough to handle – thy should still be quite warm. Halve the potatoes and toss with the green olive vinaigrette. Adjust the seasoning to your liking with either some more honey, or a bit more salt and black pepper.
  4. To serve the duck confit, heat a non-stick skillet until hot and add a good glug of flavourless vegetable oil such as avocado or canola. Add the duck, skin side down and sear until you can hear the sound of its crispness by tapping on it with the tip of a spoon (about 1~2 minutes), then flip to warm up the other side. Serve immediately with the potato salad. Feel free to drizzle a bit of the oil left in the skillet on the duck and potatoes! (That’s actually what gave the dish in the picture so much shine, not to mention it’s delicious!)

Enjoy!

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

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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.)

 

stubborn as crust

“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”

– Anna Quindlen

In addition, the longer they ferment in your lukewarm cranium, the more mature and profligate they become. Whenever an idea is conceived, it takes its time with unabated liberality right up until its eventual delivery. This bubonic pie sort of matter was one such illumination.

But then of course whenever your brain finds something worth latching on to, demons creep in and dissuade you, telling you the most realistic stories on failure and how you must be crazy to dare an attempt. “You don’t have this, you don’t have that,” he says, “ It’s not going to work.”

Well, how about this: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. I don’t have a stone oven, nor do I have a pizza stone. But the pizza’s right there.

Let you in on a few tips on how to get your oven to attain that high temperature, which is what most things boil down to anyway:

1. Blast that box. Most recipes call for a relatively timid 500 degrees F. However, most restaurants serious about their pies have specialized ovens whose internal temperatures range from the not-so-humble end of 1000 F to upwards of 1200 F (537 ~649 C). At home, the closest you can get would be to preheat your oven to the maximum baking temperature (mine goes up to 525 F). Keep in mind, broiling won’t do – you’re concern is with crisping up the crust, not reducing all those delicious toppings to sad little carbon lumps.

2. Don’t skip the oil. Huge thanks goes to water’s property of being unable of going past 100 degrees Celsius, which is roughly equal to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, simply cranking your oven to 525 degrees F will not cut it in terms of charring your pizza that’s only been dusted with flour. Yet, even bigger thanks goes to oil whose capacity to retain heat is at least twice as effective than water. Thus, the film of avocado oil (which is safe at higher cooking heats) will actually cause the moisture at the surface of the crust to quickly vaporize, and thereby dehydrate the surface. in short, minus the moisture, the dehydrated starches are now able to attain higher temperature, which results in gelatinization then caramelization. But that’s hardly relevant – the result is a light, crunchy exterior with a moist, springy interior.

But then again, all good things take practice – I’ve barely made it past my fourth pound of flour.

The kingdom of heaven is

like yeast that a woman took

and mixed into about

sixty pounds of flour

until it all

worked through the flour.

Matthew 13:33

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Adapted from Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza”

Ingredients for the pizza dough for four pizzas:

250 g all purpose flour

1 g active dry yeast

6 g fine sea salt

175 g water

To make the pizza dough, mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover with a lid or damp towel and leave to rise at room temperature for at least 18 hours. Once it has doubles in size, punch it down and divide it into two equal portions. If your dough is sticky, simply dust with more flour. Shape into 2 balls with your hands and cover loosely again with a damp cloth to let it rise while you prep the toppings and preheat the oven.

Ingredients for topping the pizza:

olive oil for the pans

1 cup fresh o frozen blueberries

120 g fresh ricotta cheese (ask for a taste before buying it at the deli or cheese shop – you want it to taste creamy and sweet with a bit of pale nuttiness, it should not taste watery)

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tbsp walnut oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the pizza, preheat the oven to its highest possible setting – anywhere from 500 to 550 degrees F will do, but of course, the higher the better. Drizzle olive oil liberally on two baking sheets.

Now, stretch out the dough, which should be very soft and well dusted with flour. The way I do it is I start off by pulling it into a flatter shape, then I put the dough on my knuckles to stretch them gently by moving my knuckles away from one another and rotating the dough. If this sounds too complicated, you can just leave it on the counter and pull it in every direction to flatten it. There’s only one rule: don’t use a rolling pin – it will smush out all the bubbles in the crust and leave it hard and flat.

Transfer the stretched dough onto the baking sheets and scatter the thyme and blueberries evenly on each. Dot with chunks or ricotta, drizzle on the walnut oil, and season well with sea salt and lots of black pepper.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the crust is puffed, blistered, and the blueberries have melted.

Serve with an arugula salad (toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil then season with a bit of salt and pepper).

Enjoy!