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.)

 

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

 

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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

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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!

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.

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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!

They were white, then yellow, and finally brown

Winter is forcing me into a corner slowly. But it’s not annoying or boring – almost as if it’s challenging me. Its eyes, with the shimmer of an icicle dangling from the edge of a roof and its tip catching a bursting ray of sun shooting past, catches mine. In a sort of playful intimidation it draws me in. I’m reluctant to get too close, but a part of me tells me to brave the cold and step outside the door instead of admiring the rolling white mounds piled cheerfully on the other side of the window.

Why don’t I lace up my boots? Why don’t I put on my mitts?

Why, am I afraid? Afraid that after I’ve made up my mind, the snow would melt when I touch it? Am I afraid, that as soon as I wake up to it, winter would retrieve into its deep slumber? Perhaps I am afraid, that the sun tricks me, and the bird’s sing mockery. Or maybe my heart tells me that winter’s coldness will defeat me, and my pride will not allow for that.

Winter, what are you doing?

I’ll figure you out, you just watch me.

Such love has no fear,

because perfect love expels all fear.

If we are afraid,

it is for fear of punishment,

and this shows that we have not fully

experienced his perfect love.

~1 John 4:18

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Ingredients for the roasted cauliflower and broccoli:

1 big head of cauliflower, cut into florets, with the very big ones quartered

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

2 tbsp madras curry powder

1 tsp fine sea salt

3 tbsp avocado or grape seed oil

To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 435 degrees F, with the rack place in the top third of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with foil.

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients until all the vegetables are evenly coated. Spread them out on the baking sheets without crowding. Turn each piece so the cut side faces down – this allows the “blooming” top to get really crispy and golden brown. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly charred on the bottom and caramelized on top. Let cool slightly.

Ingredients for the lemon tahini vinaigrette:

4 tbsp tahini

1 large lemon, zest and juice

1 generous tbsp liquid honey or agave

pinch salt, to taste

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl.

Ingredients for the assembly:

1 can chickpeas, drained

1/3 cups sultana raisins (regular is fine too)

2 cups torn flat leaf parsley

To assemble the salad, stir the chickpeas and raisins into the big bowl of the  vinaigrette, then add the roasted vegetables; mix them in gently as they are quite tender.  You can now chill this overnight or up to 2 days if you’re making this ahead, and simply stir in the parsley just before serving.

A Girl and Agar

Being should not require an explanation. I am who I am. You are who you are. He is who he is. It’s very straight-forward, like conjugating verbs. In fact, there are more verbes (oops, excuse the french spelling…I tend to automatically go into french mode when I start thinking about grammaire and conjugasons) in this life than one that should not require an explanation. Sleeping, feeling, breathing, laughing, loving, crying…the list goes on. Oh, and needless to say, eating would be a member of that list too.

So what happens when you try to explain these things that aren’t meant to be explained? How can you explain to someone what sleeping is when you’re not even awake when you engage in it? How can you explain laughing when it’s often laced with tears, and crying when it wears a most heart-breaking smile. How can you?

You can’t. I can’t.

I’ve tried, I mean with the eating bit.

I’ve tried explaining to people how I eat. No, not the mechanics of sinking the teeth of a fork into a cherry tomato, subconsciously employing triangulation and advanced hand-eye coordination to bring it to my mouth, then embracing it with my lips only to sink my own teeth into it. No, I mean what I believe to be the right fuel for my body, mind, and soul. I’ve tried, but since I can’t really explain even the nouns body, mind, and soul, I was rather ill-equipped for the challenge.

And another thing, usually these attempts not only bring about confusion, but also casualty…ies. I mean, it’s only a tad bit awks when the person jabbing at a breakfast sausage in his plate sitting beside you in the cafe asks why you don’t eat meat (when you actually do, but just prefer to avoid those that are anonymously sourced.) Do you feed their brains right there and then of the hormone- and antibiotic-saturated conspiracy behind the commercialized farming practices that produced the now-become last bite of the sausage left in their plate?

Excuse me, but that would be rude. Then what? Well, maybe this will help.

Those who feel free to eat anything

must not look down on those don’t.

And those who don’t eat certain foods

must not condemn those who do,

for God has accepted them.

– Romans 14:3

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Ingredients for the Sesame Cucumber Slaw:

1 cup dried agar weed, cut into 2-inch strands

1 long English cucumber, julienned

Ingredients for the toasted sesame dressing:

4 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

1 tbsp rice winegar

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar or shiitake vinegar

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1~2 tsp Szechuan chili pepper confit (or chili oil)

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds or chopped toasted peanuts

To make the slaw, soak the agar weed in water that’s hot to the touch for 10~15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients except the sesame seeds for the dressing. Once the agar is re-hydrated, squeeze it very dry with your hands and place in a large bowl. Toss to combine with the cucumber and sesame dressing. Serve immediately or chilled (just make sure you stir it up a bit before serving), with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!