Monday, November 30, 2009

Krispy Kale


See what I did up there? I had to give this blog entry a jazzy name to make it sound more appealing because kale is not known as a fun food. But it is a superfood, owing to the fact that it’s naturally blessed with nutrients and health-promoting properties.
Not to sound like a cereal box, but a 1-cup serving contains almost double the amount of vitamin A you’d need in a day, 88% of your daily vitamin C, plus a goodly amount of manganese and fiber. Still, I swear, when tossed with a bit of fruity olive oil, good salt and pepper and some chili flakes, it tastes just like earthy, airy potato chips – way better than even ketchup flavour. Try this recipe once and tell me I’m wrong. I know you won’t because I know I’m right. Because I’m never wrong.
Especially when it comes to krispy kale.

Oven roasted crispy kale
Wash kale well and remove leaves from stems. Dry very well. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss leaves in some olive oil (about a tbsp), add a good pinch of salt, some chili flakes and pepper, toss again and spread leaves evenly on an oiled baking sheet (you may need to do this in two shifts). Roast for 7 minutes, toss around and roast for about 10 minutes more, or until crisp. If still not crisp, spread them out some more and roast longer still – you just need to get all of the moisture out of there (maybe your bunch is extra big, maybe you didn’t dry it as well as you could have, maybe the pan is too crowded?) Like spinach, it shrinks down to almost nothing, so eating it all in one sitting shouldn't be a problem. (Note: It doesn’t stay crispy in the fridge.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This Just in: Chicken skin wins!



It was my first mouthful of the evening -- an audacious one-bite dish that was all texture and umami-packed bliss. But could it win?
I was attending the Toronto leg of the Gold Medal Plates culinary competition, which pits the nation’s finest chefs against one another during evening competitions, held annually, across the country to raise millions in support of Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Described on the display card as “Crisp chicken skin and chicken cartilage” chef David Lee of Nota Bene presented his dish with a twinkle in his eye. This is what I’d call mischievous cooking: He knew he had created something great –- flattened shards of greaseless chicken skin topped with a plum hoisin, a tangle of green apple slaw, fresh coriander, and a pristine chunk of chicken breast cartilage that had been pressure-cooked for 24 hours. It was up to us to “get it”.
When compared to most of the other dishes of the evening –- fully realized small plates of venison tenderloin with sides and sauces, or seared scallops with smoked fish, I honestly didn’t know if chef Lee’s one-bite wonders fit the criteria. And even if they did, would the judges “get it”?
The champions from the other Gold Medal Plates regional events are: From Edmonton, Chef Nathin Bye of Wildflower, Lazia at City Centre; from Vancouver, chef Rob Feenie of Cactus Club; from Ottawa-Gatineau, chef Matthew Carmichael of Restaurant E18hteen; from Montreal, chef Matthieu Cloutier of Kitchen Galerie; from Calgary, chef Jan Hrabec of Crazyweed; and from St. John’s, chef Ivan Kyutukchiev from Bianca’s.
Chef Lee won the Toronto competition and will compete at the Gold Medal Plates Finale, held in Vancouver Nov. 27th and 28th.
My money's on him to take it all.
(BTW, I didn't take this photograph of David Lee. Photo credit: Martin Tan)

Monday, November 23, 2009

For an autumnal evening


I was minding my own business (like always), walking down the street on my way to my favourite new coffee shop, when I noticed these huge, fresh green cabbages going for $2 a piece. This, my friends, is the essence of eating local (read: seasonal, fresh and cheap). So I scooped one up, took it home, named it Stan, and decided to cook up a classic dish: Sausages and cabbage.

But mine would be a much lighter meal than the norm, using turkey sausages (not sure if you’ve noticed but I don’t cook with pork in my house – not sure if it’s for cultural or religious reasons – let’s just chalk it up to good old fashioned Jewish guilt). The sausages I usually buy have just 130 calories each, and when coupled with this delicious cabbage braise, it all adds up to a belly full of goodness with what must be fewer calories than a Lean Cuisine.

An authentic addition to the cabbage would be caraway seeds, and I would have added them if I didn’t think they were a blight on humanity. Substituting the water with some nice Riesling or even ale would be delicious, but I didn’t have any on hand. So, long story short, I’d say this is the perfect meal for a lovely autumn evening.

Quickly braised cabbage with turkey sausages

(serves 4)

Ingredients

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 cooking onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 McIntosh apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 lb green or red cabbage, cored and shredded

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp cider vinegar

2 tbsp maple syrup

salt and pepper to taste

4 turkey sausages (or your favourite type of sausage)

In a large stockpot, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion and apples for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the cabbage and water. Cook for 5 minutes until it begins to wilt. Stir in the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper and cook for 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft, stirring occasionally. Within the last 10 minutes, poke sausages with fork and cook in a pan until they’re nicely browned. Serve over the bed of braised cabbage.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Snack of the day


Soft ripened Operetta goat’s cheese, Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps, and my own onion marmalade. Three ingredients, one big smile.


Monday, November 16, 2009

It’s a brisket that eats like a stew!


I don’t usually like to call myself a genius, except for here and here and here, but is it possible that I’m the first person in the world to think that beef stew would taste way better as beef brisket? And if so, shouldn’t I win some sort of award for furthering the culinary arts? This original recipe easily and tastily pairs all the classic, long-marinated flavours of your Bubbie’s Friday night brisket with the down home appeal of a gentile weekday supper. It’s the closet thing to intermarriage without being there. This brisket stew shall be my legacy.

BRISKET STEW

(Serves 10)

Ingredients:

5lb stewing beef

1 cup Coca-Cola (not diet, not lemon-flavoured, not Zero, just Classic please)

1 cup mango chutney or peach or apricot jam

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 packet onion soup mix

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. kosher salt

fresh cracked pepper to taste

Method:

Mix marinade ingredients together, pour over cubed beef in a large ovenproof pot, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Good morning! Preheat the oven to 325 degrees then cook beef, covered with pot lid (or foil if you can’t find the matching lid), for about 2.5 hours, then uncovered for a 1/2 hour. Test for tenderness and if it’s not there, cook a bit longer.

Stir all around, making sure every piece of meat is covered in sauce, then serve with a nice array of seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes. Or, come to think of it, potato kugel or latkes would be even more situation appropriate. (Or would it?)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The day the world changed


Okay, maybe I'm overselling it, but last week I learned how to temper chocolate in the microwave, and I happen to think this is huge news.
Tempering chocolate determines the final gloss and hardness of the chocolate -- that professional hard shell coating on a perfect truffle or likewise bonbon. When you melt chocolate, the molecules of fat separate. Putting them back together is to temper it. The most common way to do this is over a hot water bath, slowly melting and stirring until the chocolate reaches the magic 88-90 degrees F sweet spot (31-32 degrees C.) At this point a bunch of the chocolate is usually poured onto a cold marble slab and spread around with a spatula so that it partially cools, before blending it together with the rest of the warm chocolate still in the bowl.
In other words, this is something that I never, ever planned to do. I'd leave that to the pros, like Thomas Haas.
But then I met pastry chef and chocolatier Derrick Tu Tan Pho, who is the Director of the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. He was in Toronto to spread the word about Cacao Barry, the brand new 1 kilo boxes of professional style chocolate couvertures, just in time for holiday baking season. But these easily measured high quality chocolate buttons are besides the point if you don't know how to use them properly.
So here's the chef's foolproof method for tempering chocolate in the microwave, using about 1 kilo of chocolate:
Pour chocolate couvertures, or other high quality chocolate chopped into equal pieces, in a microwave-proof bowl.
Microwave for 30 seconds on high (all temps on high).
Give a quick stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds.
Give another quick stir, then microwave for another 30 seconds. This time, mix well for one minute.
Then microwave for 10 seconds. Stir. Microwave for 10 seconds more. Stir. Then five seconds. Stir. Then a final five seconds. This adds up to 4 x 30 seconds. And in the end, after a good final stirring, your chocolate should be glossy and perfect, and using a thermometer it should hit the above mentioned 31 degrees C.
(You're welcome.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

My morning smoothie


I’m not a morning person. At all. And as far as breakfast is concerned (which I never miss), I usually don’t even want to have to chew anything. (Exhausting.)

And that’s where the frozen banana peanut butter smoothie comes in handy.

Here’s now to make it: Take one frozen banana (that you’ve previously peeled and have wrapped in plastic wrap) from the freezer. Unwrap and break into a few chunks. Pop it in the blender and top with about ½ cup of milk, 1/2 cup plain low fat yoghurt, a tsp of honey and 2 tsp of peanut butter. Blitz until smooth and then pour into a tall glass.

Now you’re ready to start the day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A gift from Sean


My brother-in-law Sean was in Rome, near the Canadian embassy where he was on official business. He stopped into an enoteca (like a fancy Italian deli), where he came across some small bottles of what he thought to be fine balsamic. “But then a very sophisticated Englishman came up to me," says Sean, "and explained that when roasting pork or chicken he adds a few drops of colatura to enrich the meat.” Apparently, this amber-hued liquid has been around since the time of Nero, and you’ll never taste anything quite like it. (Not cheap, this 100ml bottle cost Sean around $20.)

Before I cracked open the bottle I did some research. Turns out Colatura di Alici is an ancient convenience food (thought by most to be what ancient Romans called garum) that adds great anchovy flavour to a dish without having to fillet, rinse and chop the fish. It's the essence of anchovy. (Think of it as Thai fish sauce in killer stilettos with an Italian swagger, maybe even smoking a cigar.)

The colatura Sean bought me comes from a little fishing village called Cetara on the Amalfi Coast. When the fish are caught during summer, the Cetaresi throw them into wooden barrels, alternating layers with handfuls of salt, then pressing the layers down with a lid weighted with rocks. By December, the anchovies have produced a clear fragrant amber juice – anchovy sauce, and a hole is poked in the bottom of the barrel to drain the colatura.

The most common use is make a "salsetta" by mixing a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with a clove or two of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of colatura. Toss this easy instant sauce with spaghetti, swiss chard, mushrooms, rapini or plain old potatoes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A righteous dinner


After a big trip like the one I just took to Mexico City and Tepoztl├ín, I like to return home and cut my meals down from 10 a day to a more manageable four-to-six. I also consider drinking more water and hitting the gym, but I’ve found the easiest way to get back into fighting form is to eat at home, eat less, and eat healthier. Sustainable fish is always a righteous pick, and quinoa is a so-called superfood. Put the two together and it’s as if the past week of Mexican chocolate, pork fat and tequila never even happened. (But I’m glad it did.)

PANFRIED TROUT WITH WARM QUINOA SALAD

(serves 4)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked in 2 cups simmering water for 15 minutes

1 big bunch seedless grapes, about a cup, sliced in half lengthways

1 apple, peeled and chopped

1 celery rib, diced

½ cup pecans, toasted

Dressing made from 3:1 ratio of olive oil and cider vinegar, for about ½ cup dressing. Stir in 2 tsp Coleman’s spicy mustard or Dijon to bring it together.

salt and pepper to taste

4 5-oz filets boneless rainbow trout or your favourite sustainable fresh fish

1 tbsp butter

Method:

While quinoa is cooking, prepare your fruit and veggies and nuts and vinaigrette then toss together in a bowl so that dressing stops the apples from browning. (Aren’t I smart?) When quinoa is cooked, throw fruit/veg/nut/dressing mixture into slightly cooled pot and stir it all together. Taste for seasoning.

Pat fish dry and generously season with salt and pepper. Heat butter in large non-stick pan and cook fish skin side down for 3 minutes on medium heat without touching it. Flip and cook for 2-3 minutes more or until cooked through.

Plate the dish by mounding a nice pile of the quinoa salad in the centre of the plate with a lovely filet on top. And a decorative lemon wedge never hurt anyone.