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We had a dinner party last Saturday. Can you still call it a dinner party if you make plans for dinner with your brother and sister-in-law and then, at the last minute, spring four more people on them? I say yes.
A few years ago when we were living in Montreal, we and all the people we knew were severely financially challenged. My brother and I started cooking together on Monday nights (hey, we were in university; Monday nights were no different from Saturdays back then). Each weekly evening meal got progressively more elaborate and more well-attended by roommates, friends, and, in the end, strangers. This was cool, except for the fact that we were making three or four courses for a room-full of 15 people without any advance prep. None. Seriously, we’d meet at around 5:00 and then go shopping and THEN start cooking. This meant that every Monday was a late night. I remember one Monday in particular when my brother, a pastry genius, had decided to make pie (started AFTER dinner) — he had the pies out of the oven and cooling by about 2:00 am, at which point he had people begging, really begging, for him to just please, please, please cut them a slice. He stood firm, insisting that they wait until the pies had cooled. It’s a testament to his baking that we all waited.
This meal on Saturday had a similar feel,complete with dessert at midnight, for which everyone waited because hey! home-made ice cream! My brother and his wife and Carlo and his brother and I scrambled around the kitchen and took far longer than probably necessary to turn out meatball sliders, a spinach salad, and roasted potatoes. We ate dinner at 10:00 pm.
We were behind last Saturday, and I’m still behind now. No one needs our meatball sliders only a few days after Deb posted hers! Oh well.
One of my favourite things about this meal is that we decided to place the meatballs on a serving platter (a marble slab) in the middle of the table rather than dishing them up for people. It allowed everyone to take exactly what they wanted without being embarrassed about how much they were eating (hey, they were very good sliders), and it gave a nice family meal atmosphere. And thanks AGAIN to my talented brother-in-law Tony for the photos and the roast potatoes.
MEATBALL SLIDERS, SiS LATESTYLE
Recipe from Bonnie Stern’s “Friday Night Dinners”
My brother and his wife made these, and as far as I know they made no real changes from the original recipe except that they reserved half the meat and grilled it to serve with guacamole instead of tomato sauce. This recipe should make 20 sliders.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 finely chopped cloves of garlic
pinch of hot pepper flakes
1 (28 ounce) can of plum tomatoes, chopped up, with their juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground chicken
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
20 dinner rolls
1. For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, cooking them for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onions are slightly transparent and soft.
2. Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes (until the sauce thickens slightly).
3. Add salt, pepper, and basil, then puree the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. To prepare the meatballs, combine beef and chicken in a large bowl. Add the eggs, Worcestershire, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Make balls with about 3 tablespoons of the mixture. Flatten the balls slightly so that they cook through easily.
5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Brown the meatballs on both sides (it should take a couple minutes on each side), working in batches.
6. Once the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. You can pull out a meatball and cut into it to make sure it’s cooked through.
7. Cut rolls in half and place a meatball with extra sauce inside each bun.
Now that the celebrations (and thus the expectations) are over, I can tell you that I love New Year’s. Sure, I understand that it’s a totally arbitrary celebration, that the difference between December 31 and January 1 is nonexistent, that all those ambitious resolutions we make are a little bit silly, and getting blotto just because one day turns into another one is stupid.
Minus the getting too drunk to think part (which is never a good idea), though, I don’t think the ritual is dumb at all. Okay, so it’s arbitrary and it fakes a pattern onto what is essentially randomness. But that’s our whole lives, isn’t it? I love how people make order out of chaos, I love that people make the effort to mark the passage of time, I love the ambition and hope of resolutions. Even if they’re unattainable, they’re sweet, don’t you think? I (or you, or that armchair explorer who decides this is the year he’ll run a marathon) love believing that I can fix the things that are wrong, that I can wipe the slate, start something new, be better faster stronger.
So Carlo and I had a good New Year celebration, just the two of us at home, and I made him talk about 2008 and all the good things that happened/we did during the year, and we made some plans for the next year too (a lot of them blog- and food-related–hold on to your hats!). And I decided that the ritual needed some tradition, so we ate 12 grapes at midnight. Arbitrary choice, yes, but I made it mostly because I had a recipe I wanted to use. It’s all random anyway, so who cares if it’s not our tradition? The act matters less than its symbolism. Plus I really wanted to make these grapes.
Of course, because I am who I am, these were no ordinary grapes. This is a recipe from Michel Richard’s “Happy in the Kitchen,” a whimsical book with lovely ideas. Richard says that when you offer these grapes to people, they invariably say “‘No thanks, I’m full already,’ no doubt thinking that you are presenting a dense chocolate bonbon. Then, when they bite in and get a juicy, tart squirt of flavour, they always reach for another.” Sounds perfect, right? This description is right on. The finished product looks like craggy little truffles, and the combination of the sweet juicy pop of grape and the smooth richness of dark chocolate is fantastic. It was a great first food for the new year, but don’t let the New Year stop you. Like any good resolution, these grapes shouldn’t be tied to a particular moment. They’re so easy to make and so charming, I think you should have them anytime at all! I know I’ll be eating more of them very, very soon.
Adapted from Michel Richard
1 pound cold firm seedless grapes, stemmed
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used 70%), melted and slightly cooled (Richard advises checking the temperature of the melted chocolate by touching it to your lip. If it feels the same temperature, it’s a good temperature to be used)
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Rinse and dry the grapes well, then place them in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Add the chocolate to the grapes a spoonful at a time, tossing the grapes to coat them evenly (I used my spatula both for tossing the grapes and for adding the chocolate).
3. The chocolate will begin to set and harden a bit. When this happens, use a small fine-mesh strainer to sprinkle cocoa powder over the chocolate-coated grapes. Gently toss/stir the grapes so that they’re evenly covered in cocoa powder (be sure to do this step after the chocolate has sufficiently cooled, or else the cocoa will just be absorbed into the chocolate instead of coating it).
4. When the grapes are all coated and separated, remove them to your waiting baking sheet and place them in the fridge to cool until the chocolate is set. When you want to eat the grapes, leave them out to sit for about 10 minutes or so before you eat them, or else the chocolate is too cold and doesn’t taste as good.
5. A final note–the bowl you used for your grapes will be coated with cooled chocolate. Don’t waste it! I scraped it out and saved it to melt for hot chocolate.
Today I cooked with my favourite girls. They’re 6, 3, and 2. I don’t see them nearly often enough, which also means that we don’t cook together too often, but here are some things I’ve learned:
-They really, really like cracking eggs themselves.
-They also like measuring liquids into measuring cups. Six-year-olds can do this, but 3-year-olds… not so much.
-Aprons are a must (and they’re really adorable).
-Don’t worry about spilling and messes. Kids are going to get themselves and a kitchen dirty, but clean-up is easy.
-Baking is great because there’s a lot of measuring (I do a lot of the measuring, but I let them pour the ingredients into the bowl), a lot of stirring, and no knives. Plus baking seems a bit like magic, so they get really into it.
We cooked from Molly Katzen’s Salad People and More Real Recipes. This is a great book that alternates between print instructions for adults and illustrated comics-style recipes for kids. The 6-year-old loves going through the pictures, narrating the process something like this: “first you put the egg, then you put the milk, then you mix it up, then you add some stuff, then you put the green stuff, then you cook it, then you EEEAT IT!!”
Most of the recipes start with whole foods, so kids really are cooking, not just assembling pre-packaged foods in new combinations. The book isn’t perfect– one recipe calls for protein powder, which I find odd, and a recipe for focaccia starts with premade store-bought pizza dough. Time-saving, sure, but…. clearly I’m a purist. These oddities are offset by a recipes like parmesan crisps, pesto, cool cucumber soup with fresh mint, and mango-honey lassi with buttermilk. I think it’s great, and we’re definitely getting Katzen’s other book for preschoolers, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes, as a Christmas gift for the girls.
Today we made “corny corn cakes,” which were essentially cornmeal pancakes with some whole kernels of corn added in. I actually enjoyed the pancakes and found that the corn/cornmeal combination gave a nice rich flavour and a great texture.The girls’ favourite thing about the corny corn cakes was the whole kernels of corn in the batter. When we sat down to eat the pancakes, they loved discovering those big chunks of corn. They were especially delighted when a kernel fell out of the pancake on their fork. The two older girls had maple syrup on their pancakes, but the two-year-old requested grape jelly. I don’t know why. Kids are weird.
CORNY CORN CAKES
from Molly Katzen
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup corn (I used canned kernels)
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Beat the eggs in another bowl, then add buttermilk, butter, and corn. Beat to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir (gently, just make sure everything’s combined–like with any pancake, you don’t need smoothness)
Melt a little butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot enough, pour the batter in about 1/2 cup at a time.
Cook pancakes until they’re golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes (start checking when you see holes forming on the top of the batter in the skillet). Flip, then cook the other side, which should take less time.
And then you EEEAT IT!!
We’re taking it easy this weekend, so no recipes today. Instead, I thought I’d point you toward a few things I’ve found interesting recently:
- Carol Blymire, who cooked through the French Laundry Cookbook, has just started her new project, cooking through the Alinea cookbook. I’m in awe of this, because we have the book, and dude, it’s no joke.
- If you’re curious about the experience of eating at Alinea, check out Jess Thomson at Hogwash’s article about her visit. Her hilarious piece was included in “Best Food Writing 2008.”
- For some contrast and more about about Alinea and Grant Achatz, this New Yorker profile is fascinating, and its exploration of the way that taste and aroma function in our experience of eating is a must-read, even if you don’t care about Alinea.
- If you’re more about the home-cook experience, leave all those chemicals alone and take a look at “How I Beat KFC’s ‘Family Meal’ Challenge.” When our friend dropped this in our inbox, she gave this money quote: “In America, if we are what we eat, most of us are fast, cheap, and easy.”
Have a good Saturday!
Oh, the puns, the puns. I was telling Carlo yesterday, I don’t know if my pun-brain is a blessing or a curse. Probably both– a blessing for me, because it always makes me feel clever, and a curse for everyone who is subjected to it, because, really, they have to hear the pun and then smile politely through gritted teeth.
As if monthly Daring Bakers creations weren’t enough, I’ve recently set myself a new personal challenge. For the last few months, the DB challenges have focused on one of my most-beloved and most-neglected cookbooks– Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Bakers Apprentice. It was a reminder and a great jump-start for an idea I’ve been kneading around for a while (see what I did there? Kneading develops the dough, I’m developing an idea. I’m clearly a brilliant wordsmith).
See, I love baking. There’s something about being wrist-deep in dough, and the careful steps along the way that’s so satisfying. There’s very little in the world that I enjoy more than sawing into a loaf of bread that I. Made. Myself. I love the patience it requires, and the skill, and I love the way that every time I bake a loaf of bread I learn something new. I love kneading dough until it comes together into a silky mass, I love the smooth belly of risen dough before I punch it down for shaping. I love bread.
I’m a decent, but not superb, bread baker, and I know that I’ve got a lot to learn about the chemistry and formulas and proportions of bread if I want to improve. I’ve long been fascinated and intimidated by Reinhart’s book. What I love is how informational the text is, how much I’ve learned already just by paging through the book. But now I’ve decided it’s time to get a little more serious. So I’ve decided to bake my way through the book. This is not a side-project, I’m not starting a new blog, it’ll just be a bit of reporting now and again on my attempts and (I hope) successes. Obviously since I’m cooking through the whole book I won’t be posting recipes (feel free to search for them elsewhere online. I know some are out there. The book is a great investment though), but I hope to talk about what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what I learned about bread-baking technique.
I suppose that technically I’ve already started this project with my Daring Bakers pizza, so I won’t call this an inaugural post. Over the weekend, I made ciabatta. I suppose I should have chosen cinnamon rolls, or remade lavash crackers (which I MADE but then didn’t post for the DB challenge date… oops), but I recently had some incredible ciabatta from a great local bakery, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Plus, we were having a dinner party and I wanted to make something so impressive, so beautiful and tasty, that Carlo’s family (our guests) would tell Carlo he should marry me all over again. So, ciabatta.
This bread required a pre-ferment, and I had the choice between a biga and a poolish. I chose the poolish, for no really good reason, except that it came first in the book. It’s a really easy-to-make sponge of just flour, yeast, and water, that I left out on the countertop for 4 hours to develop (it got all bubbly–see the photo below) before I popped it into the fridge overnight.
The next day I combined my poolish with flour, water and more yeast before the kneading process, which is one I’ve never used before. Because the dough was so wet, I couldn’t turn it out onto the counter to work with it. Instead, I left it in the bowl and used my hand like a dough hook, rotating the bowl with my other hand.
Yes, I could have used my stand mixer, and maybe it would even have turned out better. Hands-off work requires less flour addition, after all. And from what I understand, the reason I didn’t have nice big holes in my finished bread is because the dough wasn’t wet enough. But, like I said above, I love being wrist-deep in dough, so I went the hands-on route. I will try the stand mixer next time*.
The ciabatta baked into lovely loaves, helped along a bit by a super-preheated oven (baking stone in, oven preheated at 500 F for 45 minutes), and a little bit of spritzing in the early stages: put bread in, close oven door. Open oven door and spray walls of oven (I followed Reinhart’s suggestion and covered the glass of the door with a towel, just in case of errant sprays). Close oven door for 30 seconds, then spray again. Repeat once more.
As you can see by the picture at the top of the page, the bread baked up beautiful and golden. It had fantastic flavour, and while Carlo’s family didn’t start planning our second wedding, they all loved it, and two and a half loaves (they were small, granted) disappeared into 6 peoples mouths.
*ahem… I’ve got loaves in the oven as I write, made with the stand mixer. I’ll post an update if they work out differently from the ones I’ve already made.
|From Apple Jellies|
It’s 7:30 and I’m watching the sunrise. I do this every morning, and (lucky me?), I get the full effect, since I’m up at 5:00. Nowadays, it’s still completely black at five, so I wait for the sun with great anticipation. My desk faces the window, so I get to watch all the phases of light in the morning while I sit on the phone discussing the present perfect tense or the differences between “say” and “tell” with my students. My favourite phase of sunrise comes just after the sun is up, when a beautiful apricot light illuminates the apartment and everything in it lights up with gold.
One of the lovely idiosyncrasies of our apartment is that, although our windows are completely east-facing, we get a beautiful sunset to go along with the sunrise I witness every morning. Impossible, you say? Never! You see, directly east of us is the downtown core, a place full of mirrored glass buildings. We get a pre-sunset reflection off those glass buildings that fills our evening with the same apricot gold that I see every morning. An urban sunset!
The reason I’m telling you this is that when I was looking through pictures of the apple jellies I made over the weekend, they reminded me of my lucky sunrise-sunset. While they’re not exactly the same colour, they have a sunny peachy tone that makes me think of the sky at sunrise.
Anyway, I discovered this apple jelly recipe in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food,” which I’ve raved about before. It’s a simple but not a quick recipe. If you’ve got good apples, it’s well worth your time. Mine came from a tree in my parents’ backyard.
Sugared, these jellies are great little treats. Alice Waters also recommends keeping them unsugared as a cheese-platter addition. They’d be fantastic with a hard, full-flavoured cheese. I meant to try it out, but my jellies have all disappeared! They’re almost as fleeting as the sunset.
3 pounds of apples, quartered and seeded
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Line a lightly greased 8×8 square baking dish (or a 9″ round cake pan, if you’re like me and don’t have a square) with waxed paper. Set the baking dish aside.
Cook apples with water in a covered heavy-bottomed pot until very soft. This should take about 20 minutes.
When the apples are soft, remove them from the heat and send them through a food mill, or if you must do it the hard way (I had to. There was a bit of swearing.), press them through a sieve.
When the fruit is pureed, put it back into the pot and stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Simmer this mixture on low heat until it is very thick. This took me about 1 1/2 hours. You will need to stir it often to make sure it’s not sticking. The jelly is ready when it stays in place where you’ve scraped it instead of flowing back to cover the bottom of the pot. Waters says to use an oven mitt to protect yourself from splatters, but I had no problems with this.
When your jelly is sufficiently thickened, spread it into your prepared dish and allow it to cool. When it’s completely cooled, invert it onto another piece of wax paper, remove the top layer of paper, and allow it to dry out overnight.
If your paste isn’t dry enough (again, not a problem I had), you can put it in a barely-warm oven (150 F) for an hour until it firms up, allowing it to recool before cutting.
When your jelly is ready, you can toss the pieces in coarse sugar if you like, or stash it, wrapped in plastic, for whenever you’d like a little taste of sun. Waters says it will last a year!
|From Apple Jellies|
Hanne and I having built up our reputations as cooks sometimes pays off! Or we’ve at least convinced some people that we know enough about food that they humour us by asking us to make stuff for them. And sometimes they pay for the expensive ingredients, which is, in case you were wondering, the payoff.
My brother purchased himself a tin of matcha for 30 bucks. 30 bucks! His request was green tea ice cream. We used David Lebovitz‘s recipe, word for word. It worked perfectly and you can find it HERE. If you are one of the people out there that we’ve convinced to buy an ice cream machine and it’s since been relegated to your never-used single-use appliance cupboard, then buy this book and get your freezer bowl back in the freezer.
This turned out to be the best green tea ice cream I’ve ever had. Or made. Or Hanne made. Or whatever. My brother, when my Mom asked him if it was the best green tea ice cream he’s had said, “yeah, it’s good.” Maybe it was the victim of extortion talking (30 bucks!!?!). Let it be known that when he tried making green tea ice cream himself, he used brewed green tea. Brewed tea! So the lesson here is not to damn cooks with blogs with faint praise or their small world of readers will find out that you suck and that when you worked in a kitchen and dropped a knife you tried catching it by the blade. Anyway, thanks for the photos, little brother!
A good lunch gives a bored desk jobber something to look forward to. And nuking the office with a spice packed chicken curry? It warms my cantankerous heart. This one raised such a stink that it cleared the dead aired office, making the rest of the staff hungry and heading for the basement cafeteria.
Here’s Vij Family’s Chicken Curry from Vij’s Indian Cuisine. This one got so much attention coming out of the work microwave that I messaged Hanne at home and told her to quick take a picture before she finished her leftovers. Like most Indian recipes, it’s ingredient and step intensive. But it’s well worth the effort. Serves 4-6 or 2 dinners + 2 next day lunches.
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups chopped onions
3-inch stick of cinnamon
3 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp minced ginger
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp garam masala (def. worth making your own from scratch)
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 lbs chicken thighs, bone-in
1 cup sour cream, stirred
2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Have all the above set up, ready to go (your mise-en-place). If you’re a quick knife, it may not be necessary, but at least get your spices measured out in a cup (same cup, they all go in at the same time). If you have a large deep-bottomed pan, use it–the surface area will help cook your chicken faster. If not, a small pot will also work.
First you’ll prepare the masala:
- Heat the oil on medium.
- Add the onions and the cinnamon stick and sauté until the onions turn golden (5-8 minutes).
- Add garlic and cook for another 4 minutes.
- Add ginger, tomatoes and your spice mix (salt, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala and cayenne). Cook for 5 minutes or until the oil separates.
Now in with the chicken:
- Skin the chicken thighs and rinse them (you can do this while the masala cooks).
- Add chicken to the masala, turning and coating the pieces well.
- Cook for 10 minutes, until the chicken starts to brown.
- Stir in the sour cream and water and increase the heat to medium-high.
- Wait for a boil, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked, being sure to stir the pot a few times.
And now the hard part. When your chicken is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Fish out the cinnamon and let your food cool for 30 minutes or more. Yes, you’re hungry, but be patient. While we waited, Hanne made some jasmine rice to go with the dish.
Next, the annoying part. You need to remove the chicken from the pot and its meat from its bones before adding the meat back into the masala. I nearly skipped this step, but I stuck with the recipe. It’s either going to get messy now or messy while eating. Your call.
Before serving, heat it all up again on medium heat until it starts to simmer. Cut the heat, stir in cilantro, serve, pack leftovers for lunch, tease your coworkers.
It’s another slow day at SiS, but we’ve made a commitment, and I’m sticking to my guns. We’re going to make it through NaBloPoMo, even if it bores our readers to death. I’m here knocking out this post while Carlo makes dumplings for our soup.
The above is a photo of our newest food books. The great thing about having a blog is that it makes it easy to justify buying more books. Of course, I’ve always managed to justify buying food-related anything. I have this conversation a lot with one of our favorite food friends. She always says she’s worn the same sweaters for years because she just can’t bring herself to buy new ones, but there’s always room in the budget for another cooking tool. I know the feeling. And I wish I had her mandoline.
I’m really enjoying browsing through Michael Ruhlman’s (very authoritatively written– I’ll never bring my stock to a boil again!) The Elements of Cooking, but it’s more a glossary of kitchen terms, with a few essays on essentials like salt, stock, and kitchen equipment at the beginning of the book. Anthony Bourdain’s introduction is entertaining as well. My favorite line: “… if you do somehow manage to properly roast a chicken and serve it with a little sauce, it’s nice to be able to discuss how, exactly, you did it. Your chicken did not turn brown in the pan by magic.” Now, I’m writing about the introduction and not the book itself, but I think that really sums it up for me. Cooking is a craft, with techniques and methods that can be learned and honed. And once you have those basics under your belt, they allow you to be creative.
This is also why I finally caved and bought Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. Honestly, I’ve just thumbed through it so far, and the diagrams are freaking me out a bit. I just opened the book at random to find an example, and I found an explanation of “linear amylose and bushy amylopectin.” Um, yes. Sounds a little bit dirty, and a little bit over my head. I’m going to take this one slow, but I do think it will be useful. I’m always curious about why food turns out the way it does (especially in baking, which contrary Bourdain’s quote up above, I still think of as pretty much magic).
Finally, I couldn’t resist Alice Waters’ new book, The Art of Simple Food. Out of the three, this is the one that I want to curl up with in an armchair and read through cover-to-cover. Of course, that’s also because hers is the only one that is not an encyclopedic reference. Now, that’s not to say that it’s not authoritative. The book is structured as a series of lessons, on topics like sauces, bread, simmering, and rice. The idea is that you can practice and master the recipes in the first half of the book (the lesson half), and then be prepared to improvise, or to use your newfound skills with the recipes in the second half of the book. I love Alice Waters’ philosophy, even when I’m not following it (I usually buy my eggs from the drugstore. They’re cheapest there out of anywhere. I try not to think about the hens these eggs come from.), and her book is great, full of simple, honest recipes with an emphasis on buying local, fresh, and delicious food. I’m thinking maybe I’ll take her advice and start buying farmer’s market eggs.
So that’s my haul. I’m pretty pleased with all three of these books, which of course totally justifies buying them.