Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Beauty in the Kitchen

Every once in a while, I'll spot something in the kitchen that strikes me as particularly beautiful. It may be the ruby brilliance of a lusciously ripe tomato,  the symmetrical perfection of a bumpy bell pepper, or the lacy design of milk solids left from slowly melting butter.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Tip: Soften Butter Quickly

Suddenly realize you need room-temperature butter, but don't have the time to let it soften on it's own?  Just shred the desired amount on a box grater, spread the strands out (using a fork) in a fine layer on a cutting board or sheet of parchment paper, and let sit for about 10 minutes. You'll end up with soft butter that can easily be spread or creamed.

Oven-Braised Shanghai Bok Choy

I prefer Shanghai bok choy cooked using this method over stir-frying.  The stalks are completely tender without being mushy, and the greens, instead of withering up to nothingness, remain plump and tender.  The greens also have a different taste compared to stir-frying; somehow they taste more 'vegetabley' done this way.  

1 lb Shanghai bok choy
¼ c water or chicken stock
2 T oyster sauce
2 t cornstarch
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly grated ginger

Cut the bok choy in half lengthwise, and rinse in cold running water.  Drain well and shake off excess water.

Put bok choy halves cut side up in a 9 X 13 pan, nesting them in an alternating manner (the stalk of one beside the greens of the next).

Sliver the garlic cloves and sprinkle evenly over all; preheat oven to 400o.

Combine the water/chicken stock, oyster sauce, cornstarch and ginger in a small jar.  Shake well to blend.  Distribute evenly over the bok choy.

Cover the pan tightly with foil, and bake for half an hour.  Remove to plate, spooning the residual juices over all.

Serves 2 generously


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Smoked Salmon & Asparagus Pinwheels

Another little 'something different' to serve with drinks before dinner.  Light and fresh.

½ c flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
½ c milk
10 or so chives, finely sliced
1 T melted butter, for greasing fry pan

4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
Zest of half a lemon
1 t capers, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of salt
100 g smoked salmon or gravlax
6 asparagus spears, blanched in boiling water for 1-1/2 minutes and cooled

In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt.  Whisk through to combine.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs well, then add the milk.  Add roughly half of the egg/milk mixture to the flour.  Whisk until lump-free and thick.  Gradually add the remaining, whisking after each addition.  Add the chives and stir to combine.

Preheat a (preferably non-stick) medium-sized fry pan (base approximately 17 cm wide) over medium heat.  Once hot, dip a pastry brush into the melted butter and apply a thin coating to the fry pan.  Tilting the pan away from you, add ¼ c of the batter, and immediately begin tilting the pan in a circular motion, moving the batter in the pan to cover the bottom.  Place back on the heat, and flip once the edges begin to release themselves from the sides of the pan (this will take approximately 30 seconds, depending how hot your stove is).  Cook on the second side for ten seconds or so; remove to a plate to cool.  Repeat until all the batter has been used.

Combine the filling ingredients (excluding salmon & asparagus), and mix well with a fork to combine.

Spread one-sixth of the mixture over each cooled crepe, going almost to the edge.  Place roughly one-sixth of the smoked salmon in the lower third of each crepe, and place an asparagus spear on top of the salmon.  Starting at the bottom edge, roll each crepe up tightly to enclose its ingredients.

Wrap each snugly in a piece of cling film, and refrigerate until well-chilled.  Remove cling film, cut a centimeter or so off each end (cook’s treat), and slice the remaining into five pieces, either straight across or on the bias.     

Can be made the day ahead; makes 30 pieces.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Perfect Poached Chicken

King Henry IV of France famously stated, ‘I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday’. Okay, that may be somewhat paraphrased, but you see where I'm going.

For a lot of people, roast chicken is their ultimate Sunday dinner.  Personally, I’ve never been partial to roast chicken.  Sure, I often roast chicken legs or thighs, and they turn out wonderfully, but when it comes to a whole bird though, there’s something about roasting that disagrees with me.  It always seems too rich and greasy, no matter how it’s cooked or by whom.  

Taking King Henry up on his thought of chicken in a pot, I began experimenting with poaching chicken a while back; it’s now my favourite way of dealing with a whole bird.  This method produces chicken which is unbelievably moist and flavourful.  I can honestly say I’ve never had such delicious chicken; I think the quick cooling method is the secret.

We eat this year-round, but it's particularly nice in the heat of the summer.

1 3 lb / 1.5 kg (+/-) chicken
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
1 stalk celery
1 carrot, peeled and cut in chunks
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove string from chicken, if tied.  Place chicken in Dutch oven, followed by remaining ingredients.  Add enough water to cover (or as much as will fit comfortably).

Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to simmer and cook for forty minutes.  Remove from heat and set timer for two hours. 

At the end of the two hours, place the covered pot in a sink.  Add a tray of ice cubes to the sink, and fill up the sink with cold water until it’s roughly the same level as the liquid in the pot.  Allow to sit for at least half an hour, or until liquid surrounding chicken is cooled to roughly body temperature.

Take the chicken out of the liquid, and remove the meat from it's bones (I just use my hands). Eat as is, use in recipes calling for cooked chicken, or make the best chicken sandwiches ever.

Radicchio Salad with Chick Peas

This hearty, flavourful salad pairs well with Italian entrees; it was an excellent side to eggplant Parmigiana.    

¾ head radicchio, cut into 1 cm dice
2 green onions, finely sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tomato, de-seeded and diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 can 19 oz / 540 ml chick peas, drained and rinsed
Small handful parsley, finely chopped (optional)

½ c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 t salt
1 t sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine salad ingredients in medium bowl and toss.  Mix dressing ingredients together in a jar, and shake well to combine.  Toss salad with dressing (you may not need it all).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Indian-Style Carrot Salad

This goes very well as a side to curries.  The yogurt in the dressing provides cooling properties, and the light, fresh flavours pair nicely, even if your curry is quite aggressive.

2 c shredded carrots (lightly packed)
1 green onion, sliced
¼ c chopped cilantro
3 T raisins
1 t cumin seeds
1 t black mustard seeds
2 T slivered blanched almonds

½ c plain yogurt
½ t turmeric
Juice of ½ lime
1 small clove garlic, minced
¼ t sugar
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put carrots in medium bowl; toss with green onion and cilantro.

Pour boiling water over the raisins, and let rehydrate for 20 minutes.

In a small fry pan, toast the cumin and mustard seeds over medium heat until fragrant; sprinkle over carrots.  Toast the almonds in the same fry pan over medium heat until lightly browned; set aside to cool.

Once 20 minutes has elapsed, drain the raisins and pat dry with a paper towel.  Add to carrot mixture.

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, turmeric, lime juice, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine.

Pour over carrot mixture and stir well to combine.  Sprinkle with almonds and additional cilantro, if desired.

Serves four as a side.