Thursday, January 26, 2006

6 Challenges

During the last week I've been exhausted and not sleeping well. But I HAVE been eating. Here's a small sampling of the week's dinners:

Pizza Alsatian

Chinese-style soup

Slow-cooked Lotus Root

Pasta Con Salmone Affumicato

Crazy Gaijin, I haven't been ignoring your tag. Honest. Here is my stab at it ;)

Six Cooking Challenges for 2006 (I changed it to six to reflect the year). I was tagged by Crazy G at Nihon No Ryori

1) In case you haven't been reading my blog, jam/jelly is on my to do list. I'm actually terrified of the whole procedure because I feel like things will explode on me. Heat and glass near each other does give me some frissons of panic. It's not like I haven't seen it a number of times before with The Mom. My mom has been jarring jams and preserves for as long as I can remember. I guess I just haven't been paying as much attention as I guess I should have instead of stealing the skimmed foam for a sandwich.

2) Like Crazy G, I really need to learn how to clean and fillet fish. My last attempts really sucked. Luckily with the amount of fishing and preserving going on around here in booneyville, finding people to show me techniques shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

3) Make a decent custard. I haven't managed to get a good custard going without somehow curdling it. Even on really low heat. HELP! If you have any suggestions, preferably step by step and very detailed. Pictures would help too. I am from a watch and do kind of family.

4)Make pastry dough from scratch. Errr.. yah. You see, I've never done it. What pies I have made have had premade shells (which, around here, bite the big one). It will not only help with sweet pies but the meat pies I want to make for the Frog (in case you don't know it, I haven't eaten a heck of a lot of meat for about twelve or more years)

5)Errr... I haven't ever made any kind of souffle. Yeah, you heard right. I've never made one but then my mother never really did either. Her influence on my cooking styles has been fairly heavy. Souffles therefore have not crossed my mind much until living with a Frenchman. Well, seeing all the pretty souffles from challenges of food blog past have influenced too *S*

6)I need to learn to make profiteroles as they are pretty much the only dessert that the Frog likes. That way his B-day "cake" will be something he actually craves.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Seven Meme... At Last

I feel like this week is running away from me. I didn't have time to really think about the Seven Meme until later in the evening when I was too tired to think too long. I finally managed to get up in time to catch the window of time when I can get on the dial-up internet. I can't wait to get on wireless. Hopefully it will be soon! Then I will be able to blog when I want. Ahhh... that will be the life!

Here are some facts about me:

Seven things I say often

1) And listening in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (Hey I’m a teacher)
2) This rain sucks! (I live near one of the rainiest places in Canada)
3) Yes, I’m sure I want to pay _______ for this [insert name of fruit or vegetable that is being given odd looks by the cashier at the band-run store]! (Yet they never blink at the price of the toilet paper or cheese which can be outrageous!!)
4) Did you see the sunrise?
5) Come here _______ [insert name of one of the dogs that roam Waglisla streets]. Wanna treatie?
6) God! I’m such a klutz!
7) What was that!!?? [I get a bit jumpy during winter windstorm season and since I got a nocturnal animal for a pet]

Seven things to do before I die:

1) Go to Egypt and Japan and England (and my provincial capital ;) )
2) Get a tattoo
3) Learn to speak French fluently without heavy reliance on a dictionary
4) Well… have a kid or two
5) Learn to scuba-dive and drive a boat of some kind
6) Own a bookstore or a bed and breakfast (or both?)
7) See Derek Jacobi in a live performance

Seven things I cannot do

1) whistle well
2) ignore chocolate
3) fix a car
4) juggle
5) eat hamburgers
6) manage to go a week without dropping something
7) make jam (I hope to fix this soon)

Seven things that attracted me to (food) blogging

1) It lets me explore different things I love in one place: talking, taking pictures, cooking, writing
2) I no longer feel guilty about eating (really!)
3) Making new friends
4) A chance to improve my writing skills and styles
5) A chance to blog about local indigenous foods
6) Learn about the culinary cultures of the world
7) It kinda lets me believe a bit in idealism again ;-)

Seven Favourite Books

1) Wintercombe by Pamela Bella
2) The Hippopotamus Marsh by Pauline Gedge
3) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
4) Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
5) Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
6) The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
7) Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

Seven Movies I like to watch again and again

1) It’s A Wonderful Life
2) Star Wars: Episode IV
3) Alistair Sim’s Scrooge
4) Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson version)
5) The Fifth Element
6) The Italian Job
7) Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea movies

As for Seven people to tag... I haven't thought of that yet. I don't even know if I can because I was so long in getting this post moving. Perhaps I will write down seven people I WISH I had tagged. Until later!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Toooooo much information

S'kat hath me tagged. Too Much Information is the name of the game. I've been vacillating between thoughts that produced WAAAAAY too much information and things so innocuous I rather think they'd not count. But I'll try to play at this game which entails "writing ten random and interesting facts about yourself and they need not be food-related".

So, without further ado,in no particular order, here is .... ME:

1) I love dogs with squishy jowls. I grew up with boxers and my heart has been lost to squishy dog faces since.

2)I just recently acquired a new pet after 5 years of not having one (if you knew my family you'd know how bizarre this really is). Charlotte is a Syrian hamster. She is my foster baby (poor sweetie was abandoned)

3)The Frog (whose real name is Ben, btw) and I met on the internet.

4)My favourite colour is cerulean

5)I like dragonfly motifs in my life but I am VERY picky about their appearance.

6)I took about seven years of vocal training (singing)

7)I always succumb to tears when I see news casts of children suffering or crying

8)I've been to the capital of France and Holland but I haven't ever been to the capital of my own country or even the capital of my own province!!! (Later note: I do apologize Papa! You are right! I WAS in the capital of Belgium as well. That knowledge completely slipped out of my brain at the time).

9)My original arts degree is in archaeology

10)I've never dyed my hair ever or ever got a tattoo BUT they are on my to-do list. I've even thought of purple or peacock blue but it'll probably end up being auburn hair dye. Hmm... a bit of a delayed teenage rebellion? Perhaps.

Okay... that's enough. Back to our regularly scheduled program now.

Robyn,Linda,Crazy Gaijin, Melissa and Michelle are hereby tagged

Friday, January 13, 2006

Was it good for you too, hun?

And to think I was grumbling about moving my lazy tush over to Shearwater at lunchtime. Even after the long session of ProD I was sighing inwardly because the sound of the rain rumbling and tumbling over the school's roof gave me shudders about the walk to the seabus. I even mentioned how I wasn't even really hungry while on the seabus. But he still wanted to go... Frog was insistant. I'm SO glad he was because I had the best "food sex" I've had in ages. Come on... you know sometimes that food is a hot and heavy lover who sets your mind and body reeling.

First it started with not really being able to decide over three choices chalked out on the specials board. It was soon evident we couldn't so we chose all three. They all sounded amazing and like a lot of thought had been put into them.

Not very long later we were presented with a dish as pretty as a tropical flower. The descriptor on the board of "Shrimp Bruschetta with aioli" was a ruddy understatement. Here were five sets of collective shrimp, cheese, onion, peppers on firm tasty sesame-dusted bread ready to be enhanced by the most amazing looking sky-magenta aioli! Intrigued by the colour, I dipped in and added it to my bruschetta... and knew that true happiness CAN exist in a food product. The bruschetta (of which I got only TWO, Mr. Frog!) were soon polished off in a paradoxical time period: both in a slow motion enjoyment and as a quick-grab of fleeting raptures at the same time. The mayonnaise base was so obviously made from scratch as it reminded me of the aoili I'd had with lagoustines in Brittany, France. Frog must have found heaven in the mayonnaise base too because he insists he HATES aioli and yet we were fighting for best dipping position over this pretty purple paradise. Now THAT is the mark of a remarkable chef! If they can change Froggie Food Nazi's mind about his dislikes, I offer up tuition for their culinary classes!
Ready to fork-stab the waiter if he took away the remaining aoili, our next two courses were presented quickly. Mine was a bacon-wrapped halibut piece presented on a bed of luxurious (new favourite word LOL) cream-cheese and smoked salmon sauced penne rigate. The descriptor-rich English language is still not enough to truly explain this food experience. Prompted by our enjoyment of the bruschetta dish, we both quickly dug into our dishes until my rapture was snapped by "OH MY GOD... I forgot to take a picture!" The pictures you have of ANY of the food is just by sheer chance available since our greedy desire for fulfillment overtook the logical mind.

So... back to the halibut.

It was a tournedo of halibut with bacon border in name only. The moist firmness of the white flesh sealed in by the quick golden crust on top and bottom and the bacon edging made me pause in momentary silence followed by a query in mind as to how in Heaven's name did I manage to stay on the raw food thing as long as I did some couple years back. And how on Earth do you describe perfectly cooked halibut without resorting to comparisons to scenes in 'When Harry Met Sally'. The pasta, dancing with little cubes of smoked salmon, was a completely irresistable with its creamy sauce JUST enough and not too much. I really tried to enjoy it s-l-o-w-ly... but I couldn't . I just couldn't.
Froggy enjoyed a half piece of slow-roasted curry basted chicken. I'm still laughing that he hesitated over choosing it because his mind was set that night on a attacking a peppersteak. For a man who claims he loves only the wings and legs, he sucked that birdy down to the bone one silent moment of bliss after another. Even he was shocked at how he ate every bit since he normally doesn't care for the white meat as much nor picking meat away from the ribs. And oh how funny it was to see him crowing over the succulent neck bone(one of his favourite parts). Even funnier still was that he was worried that the appetizer and chicken wouldn't fill him up. I think his post-meal groaning defied THAT earlier belief. We both ate our main meal with a Mission Hill Chardonnay that was delight to the tongue. I was surprised at how yummy it was that night since I could take it or leave it on other nights.

We both sat there after, sated and discussing the food endlessly, trying to find words to expressively convey our enjoyment. Later in the evening we spent time finding those words again as our chef came over to ask about dinner. If I could have spoken at top speed for twenty minutes I think maybe I could have expressed our happiness. In our discussion we found out that my guess for the purple colouring was wrong and NOT something beet related but in fact it was a red wine reduction! Mmmmm! How intriguing! And our dear chef also described how he's cooked the chicken with dipping it in hot curried oil so it half cooked and then roasting it in the oven after.

In the end we wended our way down to the seabus and capped off the night with an invitation to ride up front with the driver "who wanted to get to know us better since I see you every week". We had a wonderful chat with him all the way back. As I chattered and listened I read in a brief look into Frog's eyes and he into mine, that the lights of Waglisla we saw twinkling in the distance were calling us back home. Excuse my blasphemy but God F***ing Dammit, I love where I live. Remind me of that next time I complain about a lack of butter or pink fuzzy tomato innards.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chickpea Curry

It smelled like one of my favourite restaurants in my kitchen last night. I'm tickled pink that my new gift produced something resembling a presentation from a Indian Restaurant and not something with curry powder that is called "Indian". Dont' get me wrong. I like the quick ease of using a pre-made, store-bought curry powder in things like macaroni and cheese to give it a nice pick-me-up. But last night I had a revelation when using fresh ingredients like fresh green chiles, crushed cardamom pods, fresh ginger, chopped garlic and whole fennel seeds.

For Christmas I got a book called "Easy Indian" by Das Sreedharan. Last night was the first time I decided to use one of the recipes in there. I now know I will be going back to use more. What I made was a chickpea curry. With lots of fresh spices and slowly cooking onions until soft and golden. Now I do have a confession to make. My eyes obviously glanced too quickly at the "fresh tomatoes, chopped" but luckily I had some canned diced tomaotes. Now obviously canned won't replace fresh chopped but I think in the winter it will do in a pinch since all we get here are pink pingpong balls with inner pink fuzz barely resembling their juicy, red summer cousins. I think it was the only substitution I was forced to make. My only "hmmmm" is that the ingredient list doesn't mention what size of onions you are supposed to use!

Without further ado is the recipe by the creative Das Sreedharan from my new cookbook:

Chick pea Curry

Serves 4-6

4 tbsp vegetable oil
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of cinnamon stick
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods, crushed
pinch of fennel seeds
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2.5 cm (1 inch) piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 green chiles, finely chopped ( I didn't seed them. It left a low constant burn :D)
3 onions (I assume medium), peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tomatoes chopped (I used two cans of diced tomatoes with the juice)
2x410g cans of chickpeas (we have bigger cans here so I used 1 1/2 cans of them)
200mL (7 fl oz) coconut milk
sea salt (yes I actually have the real thing from Brittany, ground by my own self)
4 tbsp chopped coriander (also known as cilantro) leaves to serve.

(I know it seems like a long ingredient list but bear with me)

1 Heat the oil in a sauce pan. Add the cinnamon stick, sloves, cardamom, fennel seeds, garlic, ginger and chillies. Saute for 1 minute. Add the onions and fry over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until they are soft and golden
2 Add the turmeric, chili powder, ground coriander, garam masala, tomato puree, and salt. Mix well, then add the chopped tomatoes (or canned, juice and all) and 600 ml (1 pint) of water. Bring to a boil and add the chickpeas. Cover and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3 Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Simmer gently for 5 minutes or until the milk is well-blended with the spices and chickpeas. Remove the pan from the heat, scatter with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot.

I didn't add so much of the water with the tomatoes since there was a lot of juice from the cans.
I always add a bit more of each powdered spice for a little more kick and because some of the spices available to me don't always have that much oomph in them.
I served mine with Thai Jasmine rice and broiled eggplant last night.

Pasta Perfection and Beautiful Bread

It wasn't hard to like the Mediterranean Seafood Fettucini at Shearwater last Thursday. The clams were salty and potent, the halibut was firm and meaty, the shrimp just right... The mixtures of peppers,sundried tomatoes, parmesan cheese and green onion a nice contrast... but then there was the noodles themselves. I feel a little shocked to be writing a paean about pasta but I was blown away by the simple luxuriousness of the pasta. It was cooked just right, it was probably mixed with a nice olive oil... it all ended up becoming one of those "close your eyes and just "be" within the happy silence of your mind, zen-kinda pasta". Did you ever have one of those moments where what seemed to be the simplest part of the restaurant dish ended up being the part that made your mind reel?

I've tasted the usual accompanying bread at most pasta places. Their usually-toasted chunks redolent with salty margarine and god-knows-what-kind of fake-ish garlic. What came with my pasta on Thursday (and before Xmas too, incidentally) was a beautiful piece of bread heaven. There are little flecks of rosemary in the pillowy depths of the core and a lovely chewy crust lightly dusted with flour. Does a pasta dinner with buttered toast get any better than this? I think not!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Southwestern Chili

There are a few recipes out there that I don't make very often. It's not because the ingredients are rare or the time to make it is long. It's not even because I'm the only one who likes it. It's because it makes me... well... err... toot. Well, when you read the ingredient list you'll know why.

But sometimes I have to eat it. It's the ultimate comfort food--starchy, spicy, oniony tomatoey, just enough veggies to compliment the starches, enhanced by a touch of cheese. In its original form it is called "Red, Gold, Black and Green Chili". I got it from... yes, you guessed it... Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.

Frogman being what he is would have pouted if there was no meat in it so I altered the recipe a bit so that it included big pieces of chicken for him and altered the spices a bit for me because I like things with a punch.

Southwestern Chili

1/2 cup bulghur
1/2 cup hot water
3 cups undrained canned tomatoes (28 oz can)

3 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
3 boneless chicken breasts, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups chopped onion (smaller chop is better for the cooking time, bigger pieces feel more luxurious on the tongue)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp Mexican chili powder or 1 generous tsp of regular chili powder with a generous pinch of cayenne added

2 green peppers (this preferrable to cut the intensity of the starches but slightly unripe yellows work too)
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups drained cooked black beans (14 oz can)
1 1/2 cups drained cooked red kidney beans (14 oz can)
salt to taste

grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese for garnish


Place the bulghur, hot water, and about a cup of the juice from the canned tomatoes in a small saucepan. cover and bring to a boil on hight heat, then lower the heat and simmer gently.

While the bulghur cooks, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Saute the chicken in the pan until almost cooked through. Add onions, garlic, cumin and Mexican chili powder (or chili powder and cayenne). Stir around to mix in spices. When the onions are soft, stir in the peppers and saute for about 3 minutes more. Chop tomatoes in the can and add them to the pan. Stir in. Add corn and beans, stir in and heat thoroughly over low heat. Taste the bulgur. When it is cooked but still chewy, add it to the pan with its liquid. Cover and simmer for a few minutes for the flavours to meld. Add salt to taste.

Serve plain or topped with grated cheese ( I used jalapeno Monterey Jack this time around and it was nice but cheddar is lovely too)


It serves 4 to 6. I like to make the full amount even when there is only two of us because the leftovers are great as a burrito filling! mmmmm....

In the picture you can see a couple of the things I got down south at Christmas: the red bowl and the cute "Campbell Soup Kids" napkin on the side. :D

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Dinner Recipe & Photo Swap

Do not make sushi when you are brain dead.

I can't believe how many little things just didn't go well yesterday when I was making some as per promise to The Daddy Man and because I wanted something cool to put in my "What did I eat for the last meal of 2005" entry for CookingDiva.

First of all there was the rice. Somewhere in this vacuous brain I seemed to believe that making enough rice to feed an army was necessary to feed three sushi lovers. Hmm.... not a good thing when there are only 12 pieces of nori in the whole friggin' house on New Year's Eve, aka "the night people close stores early".

Uh.... then there was the nori. Somehow I seem to believe I am a master sushi chef who knows what the *&!^ she is doing. I trimmed a nori sheet down in half like I THOUGHT I saw in Togo Sushi. BIG mistake. I not only screwed up rolling both small pieces which later refused to cut without explosive behaviour BUT I did something even more stupid. I did it again. Thus I ruined 2 of 12 precious nori pieces. Thankfully the second attempt was better because I cut a bigger piece but I ruined a perfectly smaller but good piece of that nori sheet trying to roll a mini version.

Then there was the sushi mayonnaise that I put inside each roll. I ALWAYS make sushi with this mayonnaise. Except for three rolls last night. Just about four. You'd think I'd been into the bubbly stuff early by the way my brain cell function was down to small blips.

The Daddy Man expressly mentioned how much he loved the asparagus sushi I make many times. So I expressly roasted them carefully in the pan with garlic and had some beautifully roasted emerald stems in a bowl. Which I just about forgot to salt. Okay.. that was fixable. But then... while fighting with the mini nori strips and down to the last two nori sheets I notice the green glisten from the corner of my eye. So lots get shoved into two... then I carefully unroll a sushi mayo-less concoction and insert remaining asparagus.

Stupid me decides to do a couple of inside-out rolls. Not only do I forget the saran wrap before starting but also manage to forget part of the procedure. Two manage to mangle together only held together by the starch of the rice. Try to roll it in the little bit of fish roe I thawed. It does not go on evenly as I had hoped. Looks like melted cheddar cheese on them. Spread them out on the rolls and proceed to mush more into the rice that I intended. Result looks a bit pathetic and misshaped.

Imagine, if you will a cut to a knife shot. Note the ragged bits of seaweed refusing to cut despite the sharpness of blade. Watch as the inside out rolls threaten to flatten into pancackes as you cut. Watch how the little baby sized rolls explode like touch-me-not seed pods when the knife hovers overhead.

I notice then just how off-kilter almost all the fillings are. I don't remember doing something different than usual on the regularly-wrapped rolls. I note how I will not get that brand of ginger ever again because the red colour makes many of the pieces look like a little girl's party dress.


At least it tasted good. At least it was eaten. At least some looked edible enough to photograph. Let's just hope this is like the saying "Bad dress rehersal. Good performance" because if Dec. 31, 2005 was a dress rehersal for 2006, I'm going to have a damned good year. Pray it's not a preview of coming events.

Here's the recipe for the sushi rice:

Sushi Rice

2 cups sushi rice
3 cups water
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp sea salt

1) Wash rice about 1 hour before you start to cook. Place the rice in a mesh strainer and place that inside a medium bowl. Rinse well with water (rubbing rice gently to release starch) until the rinse water runs fairly clear. Drain rice and let sit int the strainer for 1 hour.

2) In a heavy sauce pan with a lid, combine rice, water and 1 tsp sea salt. Let the rice sit for 5 minutes, then turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 20 minutes or until the water evaporates. Keeping covered (do not peek) remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.

3)While the rice cooks: In a small bowl combine rice vinegar, sugar, and sea salt, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve completely.

4)After rice has finished cooking and resting, transfer rice to a large shallow pan and spread out evenly as you can without mushing too much. Sprinkle seasoned vinegar mixture over the rice as evenly as possible and then gently mix with a flat wooden spoon. For the next 5 minutes or until cooled down, stir rice breaking up rice clumps and mixing vinegar in well. Cover pan with a damp kitchen towel. Can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before using.

I gave the recipe for sushi mayonnaise recipe before. With these recipes, a bamboo mat, deft fingers and interesting fillings you too can grow over-confident and make your sushi look like it was hit by a truck. ;-) Happy New Year!

My New Year's Results: