Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Summertime Dinner Party, No Ovens Required

It's summer! You've got a deck that was made for entertaining, right? But maybe it's so hot that you can't fathom turning on the stove. Maybe you kind of already blew your budget for the week. And maybe you're kind of over your standard BBQ fare. Never fear though, I've got your back. Here's the menu:

Cocktail Hour
New-School French Onion Dip with chips and crudites (from Food52)

First Course
Pan-Roasted Radish and Anchovy Crostini (from Melissa Clark/NYT)

Main Course
Fish Cakes and Tartare-Style Sauce (from BBC Good Food)
Broccoli Slaw (from Smitten Kitchen)
Israeli Couscous

Ice Cream!

The beauty of this menu is that it the work happens either way in advance or right before you serve. Here's how that might shake out:
Prep the onion dip and chop crudites. This can be done in two parts, but caramelizing the onions should happen a few hours before the party starts.
Prep the fish cakes and tartar sauce. The fishcake mix and the sauce can go into the fridge into you're ready to fry.
Prep the broccoli slaw. This can be completed 100% and tossed in the fridge until it's time to eat.

Once the onions have cooled, it takes 5 minutes to prep the dip, but this can be easily waiting for your guests. This is your chance to sit down and enjoy a drink (I like to ask guests to bring a signature cocktail). The first course takes 10-15 minutes to put together, so as the dip bowl is getting empty, excuse yourself to the kitchen (don't forget the bread needs toasting). Once you've served the Crostini, you can comfortably relax with your guests until you're ready to eat the main course (which will take about 20 minutes to plate, so your call). Start the couscous first, then get the oil heating to fry the fishcakes. Depending on how many you made and how big your frying pan is, you may need to do two batches. The couscous should be done just as the fishcakes are done.

Some Recipe Notes
-French Onion Dip - once the onions have cooled, consider chopping them up a bit, otherwise the strings can be a bit unwieldy when it comes to chip dipping
-Crostini - if you only plan to make 8 crostini, consider halving the amount of butter and oil for the sauce, otherwise you'll end up with more then you can manage - the recipe as it is yields about a baguettes worth of sauce, so consider increasing your radish quantities accordingly
-Fish Cakes - we cooked the fish on the grill, which is just to say that I don't think it matters HOW you cook your fish (or if you cook it in milk) -  we used a cookie cutter to shape the cakes to a uniform size, which makes cooking them a lot easier - we use vegetable oil for frying, but you may have a preferred oil, just don't use olive oil as it will be too heavy
-Tartar sauce - consider doubling the recipe, we had 9 fish cakes and really only enough sauce for 6
-Broccoli slaw - as long as your broccoli is bite sized, it doesn't matter how it's chopped - this recipe yields more than you realize, so for four people the recipe as written is plenty
-Israeli couscous - look, you don't need to serve Israeli couscous per say, but I do think it's really important to provide a carb or starch if you're drinking a lot
-Ice Cream - I'd just march everyone to the local ice cream parlour or frozen yogurt-erie, it was a lot of food, so you'll probably need a walk


Friday, 17 January 2014

Lamb Rogan Josh

I'm working on about a million posts, including a bit about where I'm/we're at in terms of what and how we eat, but if we wait on that we may never see another word here, so...

In a nutshell though, I'm trying to eat better. More whole foods, "cleaner" eating, less junk that isn't delicious. As ever, if I declare I want to eat better (man code, apparently, for diet), D instantly insists there's nothing wrong with the way he eats and maybe if I have a problem with our diet I should just eat less. Not a lot of buy in then from my partner in crime, but that's actually ok, because I think it speaks to the goal of the change anyways. I want to continue to eat things that taste delicious, because even if I could, say, lose weight eating a very prescribed way, I don't think I can keep that up in the long run. But if I can make some changes by eating better in the sense of eating more delicious and healthful foods (rather than eating better as D interprets it which is apparently rice cakes and celery), then that's a change I can stick to. And if D doesn't notice? That must mean it tastes good.

January was made for curry. Having a big pot of something that tastes amazing sitting on the stove all day? I can get behind that. Something that actually tastes better the next day? Mores the better. The last time I made curry I called my mother and asked her to give me her recipe. As ever with my mother though, there's not really a recipe so much as a general sense of how to makes things that she's been cooking for a really long time. It was early on Saturday morning though, I was headed to Whole Foods and needed a list, so I just googled until I found a recipe that looked spoke to me. I had actually started with this Jamie Oliver recipe, but there were a lot of ingredients and I wasn't sure about some of the ratios, so I found this instead.

(Just a quick note about how I choose recipes online. I tend to trust recipes that are from either publications that I believe test their recipes or food bloggers with a big web presence. From there, it's finding the recipes that have lots of positive comments. While a good rule for the internet is generally to never read the comments, the opposite is true for recipes. People will post their success with recipes as well as any changes they made or issues with the recipes. I'm skeptical of recipes on websites like food.com that don't have lots of good comments.)

 So off I went to Whole Foods. I got some brown basmati, some gorgeous (local!) Madras curry powder, and the other odds and ends I needed. But no lamb chunks. This is probably for the better, as it would have cost a million dollars, but it meant another stop. Committed to lamb curry at this point, I stopped at Loblaws and found something we've bought before, a 1kg bag of frozen New Zealand lamb bits. I just wanted to go home at this point, so frozen it was! But re-reading the recipe I realized that it actually called for lamb shoulder that you've butchered yourself into cubes. And honestly? I'd recommend you go that route. These chunks were clearly trimmed ends and were very uneven and fatty. I think a lamb shoulder would allow you to have much less fat and meatier pieces.

The lamb fiasco threw off my shopping groove though and I somehow forgot some other crucial ingredients: yoghurt and tomato puree. No matter though, as I have a generally well-stocked kitchen and am getting better about making substitutions. I used a combo of sour cream and buttermilk instead of the yoghurt and a can of Italian diced tomatoes that I pureed myself instead of the canned puree.

Despite all the substitutes, the recipe came together beautifully and it happily simmered until we were ready to eat. I thought the curry was delicious, but David prefers my mother's curry which has no dairy in it and is a bit thinner and juicier. And that would be my big comment too: there simply isn't enough liquid in this recipe and what blessed little there is evaporates as you simmer. I would add more water (or maybe chicken stock) and more tomato puree to thin it out a bit. Overall though? A delicious dinner which turned into really tasty leftovers.

Specific Product Recommendations:
(Part of what I want to do in this space is tell you about interesting recipes, what I think might improve them, but also brands and products that I really like and I think make a difference. Any views are my own because I have about 5 readers and no sponsors.)
Rice - part of my eating revolution involves fewer white grains (sob), so I'm trying to substitute brown where possible. And frankly, there's nothing special about the (white) basmati we make at home. Brown basmati actually tastes like something, it smells like something, and has texture to it. And if the rice is really just a vehicle for the curry? Why not go for something a bit healthier. Just make sure you take into account that brown rices takes much longer to cook. I like Lundberg Brown Basmati. It's pretty widely available, possibly in your organic section.
Naan - PC makes excellent Naan and it's easy to reheat. No whole wheat shenanigans here. I like the Garlic kind.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Weeknight Dinners When You Commute to Siberia

If you know me in real life, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter at all, you'll know that I currently have a reasonably hideous commute to my current co-op position that takes about 4 hours a day. Add on even the vaguest desire to go to the gym and I'm not home much before 7:45 most nights. D cooks some nights, but over four years of me doing most of the cooking is a hard habit to break and as I've said before, part of my purpose on this planet is to feed people (even if it's just D & I). What all of this means is that I'm always on the lookout for easy recipes that I can get on the table in less than half an hour and, crucially, that convert well to leftovers for lunch the next day.

I've liked Mark Bittman since Simon & Schuster published his book FOOD MATTERS, the first book that really got me thinking about where our food comes from and why we consume what we do. But it's his FOOD MATTERS COOKBOOK that's been a real game changer for me. There are a lot of excellent recipes in that book, particularly for pasta (my wheelhouse) that can be turned around pretty quickly. Still, D remains skeptical of Bittman because of his VB6 sitting menacingly on our coffee table and the fact that a Bittman book usually means I'm about to attempt to change the way we eat. More on that as we get closer to the New Year...

What I really like Mark Bittman for, alongside his NYT colleague Melissa Clark, is that if I have an ingredient that I need to use, he'll usually have a recipe for something interesting and easy that incorporates it. So when I was digging around in the freezer last week trying to find a place for gelato (a girl has her priorities), I deemed it high time that the pork tenderloin taking up valuable freezer real estate made it's way onto our table. Check my Instapaper archive for Bittman and pork and voila: Stir-Fried Pork and Pineapple!

To start, my usual caveats and substitutions:
-The recipe calls for 8oz of pork shoulder or loin. You're probably never going to find half a pound of pork shoulder in your standard grocery store and you may have difficulty finding a tenderloin that small too. But fear not, either halve it and freeze for next time (being sure to clearly label your freezer bag, including weight and date) OR double the recipe. My tenderloin was probably closer to 2 pounds, but having already thawed it I was sort of committed to a quadrupled recipe.
-Don't fret about his instructions on how to cut the pork. As long as it's cut evenly (so it cooks evenly), you'll be fine. 
-However much you increase the pork, increase the marinade by that much too. That said, make a little less than the increased sauce. I quadrupled the sauce and it was way too much, plus I ended up using almost half a bottle of rice vinegar in the process.
-Unless it's easy to find, skip the fungus. This has the added benefit of cutting down your time to the table in half.
-If you do skip the fungus, you might want another veggie in there, and to be honest, I think any Chinese green would do nicely.
-He says thinly slice the ginger, I say only do that if you really like a mouthful of ginger. Otherwise, I think you get the same flavour impact from mincing it.

Really, the whole thing couldn't be easier. Get the pork in the marinade, chop the rest of the stir fry ingredients while it sits for a few minutes, cook through the pork, warm through the pineapple, and toss on rice. It also reheats beautifully the next morning.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sunday Dinner

I grew up in a household where Sunday featured a big meal, either brunch at the Winter Club or a roast for lunch or dinner. Any of my siblings in town were expected to attend, which I only understand now how torturous it must have been to be expected in a jacket and tie for brunch on a Sunday at noon. Like good WASPs, meat and two veg on a Sunday were important to my family and are to this day.

It's taken a long time before I could think about continuing that tradition in Toronto. When I lived alone, Sunday was just another day and I didn't have the facilities, nor confidence, to attempt such a meal. Then when D and I moved in together, Sunday became the night we ate at his mother's, as we continue to do. What I've noticed, among my friends, is that regardless of how old we are, we continue to go to our families on Sundays, rather than them coming to us. As I say, I think part of that is that many people don't have the space to attempt such a gathering. And it's certainly easier, one less meal to plan and a way to see your family to boot.

In her excellent cookbook How to Eat, Nigella Lawson says of Sunday lunch, "One of the silent, inner promises I made myself on having children was to provide a home that made a reassuring, all-comers-welcome tradition of Sunday lunch. It hasn't materialised quite yet, but very few of my generation lead meat-and-two-veg lives any more,". I believe part of why I was put on this earth was to feed people and the idea of having an open invitation on Sundays, particularly for people who don't have family local, intrigues and delights me (D may have a different opinion...). But until we have our own family and Sunday's become more flexible, I'll be thrilled to open my kitchen up on the occasional Sunday to friends.

Last Sunday afforded just such an opportunity, and I knew it needed to be roast beef. The brilliant thing about roast beef is that it takes no effort and not really that much time. I picked up our roast late Sunday morning, thanks to a sale at Loblaws, and had plenty of time to get it on the table for dinner at 5:30. Nigella rubs with dry mustard, but we just used salt and pepper and called it good. The most important beef tip is to make sure you give yourself time to let it rest (about twenty minutes), which is useful particularly if you have a small oven like we do. Important tools here are a sharp carving knife and a cutting board with a gutter to catch the juices. Nigella says English mustard is non-negotiable, so that was a given, plus some horseradish.

The gravy was truly spectacular and I regret that I cannot reproduce the recipe for you here (see this for why) and Nigella doesn't have the recipe posted. But just to taunt you, what's great about this recipe is that you can make it hours ahead of time, and all you have to do before serving is add the beef drippings and heat it up.

Roast potatoes hardly require a recipe, but I recommend you follow Nigella's. Duck or goose fat is easier to find than you might think, either tinned or fresh. Certainly ask your butcher, as it will make ALL the difference. The key here is to not be afraid to get the fat smoking hot. It will be terrifying when you toss the potatoes in, but the results will be delicious. Semolina is well worth the addition too and a bag lasts forever.

It's just as well the Yorkshire pudding recipe isn't available because it flopped on me, and not for the first time. A consult with my mother suggests I didn't get the fat hot enough (our tiny oven created a bit of a staging issue, and it was a race to the finish). My father always used the Joy of Cooking recipe with success, so I would recommend that instead.

But apart from the gravy, I think the piece de resistance was the cauliflower cheese. I just used regular 5 year old cheddar and it was delicious. This too can be made ahead of time and tossed into the oven at the last minute.

My original vision for the evening featured a luscious pudding, but once again I was struck by Nigella's wise words, "Traditionalists will insist on a sturdy pie or crumble for pudding, but really, after all that carbohydrate, have you got room? I am immensely greedy, but I don't like the invasive and uncomfortable feeling of bloatedness that can make you regret eating much more than a hangover can ever make you regret drinking,". Her suggestion was lemon ice-cream, so I just bought a pint of some of Ed's Real Scoop Lemon Gelato, a pint of blackberries, and called it good. It was really refreshing, actually, and I had milk-chocolate digestives to go with the tea.

What's your Sunday tradition?

Chez RosenBum Sunday Dinner
Cheese Straws
Roast Beef (How to Eat)
The Gravy (How to Eat)
Roast Potatoes (How to Eat)
Yorkshire Pudding (Joy of Cooking)
Cauliflower Cheese (Feast)
Lemon Gelato and Berries
Port and Sherry

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Crisp: Summer in a Casserole Dish

Let's get the excuses over with. I'm back at school, D is TAing, and life Chez RosenBum has been more than a little hectic. But we're still cooking and eating, so here we go...

It feels like summer has been so long to come this year. Aside from one crazy hot day a couple of weeks ago, it's felt mostly Spring-like since the end of April. I'm ok with this, as one is if one lives in a house without air conditioning, but it made me forget what fresh fruits and vegetables we have to look forward to. We had stewed rhubarb at D's mom's the other week and I remembered how long it's been since I've made a crisp.

We wrote about crisps with our Sweet Spot column (RIP), but that was in the fall, so we were talking apple crisps. Now, you can obviously buy apples in the summer, but with so many other summer fruits, why would you? D's mom very kindly sent me over some of her rhubarb and I supplemented it with some rhubarb and strawberries from St. Lawrence Market.

Before I go into the recipe, let me say a few thing about crisps:
-They are forgiving. Once you add some sugar to mostly unappetizing fruit (such as not very sweet strawberries) and bake it, almost anything will be delicious. D's mom had sent over rhubarb days before I had time to make the crisp, so I chopped it up and mixed it with sugar and it sat in the fridge quite happily for a few days.
-The topping can be whatever you want it to be. I've already played around with the Joy of Cooking recipe, but you could make further tweaks.
-If you use juicier fruit (like rhubarb or a berry), you might want to add cornstarch or tapioca to help seize up the filling a bit if you're concerned about a runny crisp. I always forget and it's always delicious anyways.
-Use whatever dish you have. Casserole dish? Fab. Individual ramekins? Adorable!
-To accompany a crisp, my first choice is Liberte's Méditerranée Vanilla Yogurt, but you can use whatever you've got. You could use ice cream. Or nothing. Or just plain whipping cream because that's all you have in the fridge and it will STILL taste amazing.

And now the recipe! This is based on the Joy of Cooking's 'Apple or Fruit Crisp' recipe, but less and less every time I make it.

Chez RosenBum's Super Casual Sunday Morning Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp
1) Pick your dish, first, as that will mostly dictate your quantities. My go-to is a 1.4L CorningWare casserole dish and quantities below reflect that. No need to grease first.
2) Crank up the oven to 375F.
3) Chop up a handful of rhubarb stalks (maybe 7 or 8?) into smallish chunks. Toss them into the casserole dish with about 1/2 cup of white sugar. This is something to taste, I'm afraid, and you'll figure out what qty you're happiest with over time. You basically want the rhubarb coated in sugar as it can be quite sour, especially early in the season.
4) Chop up as many strawberries as you need to fill up the casserole dish. I used about 2/3s of a basket. Given the sugar you've added to the rhubarb, you likely don't need to add more sugar even to sour berries, but it's your call.
5) In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup oats. Depending on your preference, you can mix up the proportions, but you want 1 1/2 cups of topping. I think particularly you could halve the brown sugar and double the oats.
6) Chop 3/4 of a stick of cold butter (salted, unsalted, doesn't really matter) and with your hands or a pastry fork, work it into the topping. The JOC advises that you're aiming for 'crumbs' here, but I think as long as it's uniformly divided, the butter can be a bit chunky. It's going to melt anyways. Sprinkle the topping on the fruit. I'm working on experimenting with how much I can cut down on the butter. At 3/4 of a stick, I think there's still room to decrease.
7) Toss your crisp into the oven on a tray and start checking it at 30 minutes (the JOC says 50-55 minutes, so it really depends on your oven). You want it to be golden and bubbly. The tray comes in handy if you have a little spillover. It will have shrunk considerably, height wise, and that's ok.
8) Let it cool slightly and serve with your choice of dairy.  Less gluttonous people might get multiple servings out of this, but we get four (basically two breakfast's worth). Enjoy!

And speaking of sugar, fat, and salt, I'm just finishing Michael Moss' amazing Salt, Sugar, Fat and boy oh boy do I have opinions. More on those later this week.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Addicted to Noodles

We (I) cook a lot here Chez RosenBum, as you know. We've got some favourites that pop up a couple of times a month, but we also like to experiment with new recipes. What often happens with new recipes is that I read about a food, or try something in a restaurant, and get obsessed with replicating it.

A couple of weeks back, I started reading a blog that reviews restaurants (mostly Asian) in Southern California. Random, I know. Anyways, one of the dishes mentioned was dan dan/dandan noodles, and I needed to eat them. After an afternoon spent trying to find restaurants in Toronto that serve them (not our Hakka place, sadly), I moved on to trying to find a recipe. Having never actually eaten them before, I was basing my recipe requirements on what sounded tasty and do-able at home. I ended up discovering that America's Test Kitchen had a recipe, but of course ATK won't let you access their recipes without a membership. I have no issue with paying for content, and had been contemplating an ATK membership, but I wanted these noodles NOW. Luckily, someone has (probably illegally) posted the recipe on Food.com, and it can be found here.

We're lucky that we live in a neighbourhood with a huge Chinese population, thus our No Frills has lots of speciality ingredients that might be hard to find elsewhere. Over the years we've amassed a pretty broad collection of Asian sauces, so I didn't have to buy anything extra for those, but I did really want fresh noodles. Fortunately, No Frills had options, and I opted for the thing that looked tastiest. The recipe calls for chinese rice wine or dry sherry, but I just used the Harvey's Bristol Cream I had on the bar cart. Otherwise, it's a really simple recipe that came together in less than 30 minutes.

And it's DELICIOUS. Everything I ever wanted in a noodle dish. I had a huge bowl and was beyond jealous that David got to eat the leftovers.

Now this was on Saturday. Last night, I needed to make dinner, and all I could think about was dan dan noodles, so I made them again. This is the first time that I have ever made a recipe twice in one week. I was shopping at our IGA instead of No Frills, so used fresh linguine instead of Chinese noodles. I also used the full amount of chicken broth (I only used 1 cup on Saturday) and it made for a saucier sauce. I think I liked it better that way.

What was the last thing that you made that was so delicious you immediately needed to make it again?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Single Food

Well, that was quite an...(checks calendar)...eight months. I do NOT know how that happened. I cannot even count the number of times we've made a lovely meal, taken pictures, I've written a post in my head and then...never did anything about it. But life has settled somewhat, for now anyways, and I've missed having a space to talk about our cooking (RIP SweetSpot). I daren't commit to anything resembling a schedule, but I'd like to think you can expect to see recipes, reviews of cookbooks and other food related books, and other things that I find interesting in the world of food.

When I was a single gal, lo those years ago, many a bad night would finish with the punchline, "and then I ate an entire box of macaroni and cheese". Almost 5 years later, I'll still make macaroni and cheese, but it's usually of the homemade baked variety for big BBQs and comfort dinners. Now, it doesn't happen very often, but I am occasionally left with a night at home with no-one to feed but myself. And I'll admit, my first thought is always to have a box of Kraft Dinner. I often talk myself out of it though, as I really try to avoid processed food as much as possible, and that cheese powder is almost certainly the definition of processed food. To get to the new punchline, it was in making dinner for D and I last week that I discovered my new single girl food. It's just as easy as a box of KD but contains far less crap, and I can assure you is just as delicious.

Behold: Cacio e Pepe.

The only unusual thing you need is Pecorino Romano, and if they have it at my IGA, I can promise you can find it almost anywhere. Scheffler's Deli at the St. Lawrence Market has great Pecorino Romano, and it's cheaper than the piece I buy at the store. Once you've bought a piece, it will last for several meals, and since it's a hard cheese you have a little more breathing room when it comes to using it. The only part that's any work is grating the cheese and that takes about 30 seconds, depending on your grating device (note to self: buy new box grater with smaller holes).

The thing I particularly like about this recipe is that it's super easy to cut down to a smaller portion. I'm a recipe follower to the enth degree and I find it very difficult to improvise around these types of thing. It's always hard to know how to cut down a recipe involving a sauce, especially. This though, you basically cut down by 6ths or 8ths, depending on your appetite, and it's easy peasy.

To make it even easier, I would recommend:
-use spaghetti if you have it, but any long and thin pasta will do (I particularly like it with fettuccine)
-putting out your measuring cup for the pasta water when you put the pasta in, as I am forever forgetting to scoop out some water before I drain my pasta
-grating more cheese than you think you need and leaving out your cheese and grating equipment just in case you need more
-using less pepper than you think you need, as it can quickly become overwhelming - better to need more than have a dish ruined
-if you forget the butter, it's no big thing

But I'm curious, what's your single food?