Archive for the ‘New Projects’ Category

This Novelty Will Not Wear Off

Zoku

It’s been hot in Toronto recently.

Not just h-o-t hot, either.  More like h-a-w-t exclamation point hot.  With the humidex, most days last week were hovering in the mid 40′s, which when I did a conversion for an American co-worker turned out to be about 109* F.  This is generally much warmer than we’re used to around here, so please excuse me while I bitch and moan about it a wee bit.

Anyway, all of that heat percolating around us demanded that I find a touch of sweet relief.  At first that meant hauling out the ice cream maker for a few churns (lemon blueberry and fig ice creams were the frosty scoops du jour) but after a few days something a little different was on my mind.

A while back I’d read a product review on Serious Eats for the Zoku Quick Pop Maker and at the time (I’ll be honest) the idea of it did nothing for me.  But, thanks to The Atlantic’s food channel and its spate of ice pop-related stories, the idea of crafting artisanal ice pops began to pervade my subconscious and gain a fair amount of traction.

Before I knew it, I was asking the Everyman (by way of justifying its potential existence in my already overstocked kitchen) if a machine that freezes ice pops in only 7 minutes was an unnecessary extravagance.  I should have known the answer before I even asked the question (in case you’re wondering, it was that may be the very definition of unnecessary extravagance) but after mulling it over for a few more days, I ended up buying one anyway.  They can be had by visiting your local Williams-Sonoma, though if you’re in Canada I would suggest hopping across the border to get one, because the exchange markup  is brutal.  Alternatively, you could just buy the old fashioned frozen pop makers, since they clearly also get the job done.

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Peas Please

Pea Shell Pesto

I don’t like to see good food go to waste.

So whenever I buy some from my local farmer’s market or get a delivery from our farmshare, I’m always hyper aware of the imaginary ticking timer that hovers above all of our food.  Each and every time I open the fridge is a reminder to use it or lose it, which is probably as much a holdover from my hungry years as a desire not to be flippant with my finances.

Recently while shelling a few quarts of peas I thought it seemed like such a shame to throw away close to 80% of the veg (the pod) and thus decided to explore ways to repurpose them.

But the bag full of cleaned empty pods sat in the crisper of our fridge for a few days while I tried to work something out, taunting me with the possibility of spoilage daily.

And then it hit me… if I just steamed the empty pods a little, their fibrousness would break down enough to make friends with my high powered blender.

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And I Killed Some Prawns, Just To Watch Them Die

See The Whites Of Their Eyes

As someone who developed a fairly serious allergy to most varieties of shellfish during the past few years (severe enough that I now carry an epi-pen) I don’t often consume much in the way of shellfish.

But last year, after eating smoked prawns at The Black Hoof, I fell head over heels in love with one of the few crustaceans I’m still capable of eating.  BC spot prawns are generally sold fresh (read: alive) and are only available for a few brief months each year, starting in May and usually stretching through to July or August.  I can’t quite explain it, but there is something so much more creamy, sweet and delicately briny about spot prawns than any other shellfish I’ve ever sampled before.  Being that they also don’t induce anaphylaxis in me doesn’t hurt either.

I’ve tried in vain to find them frozen on several occasions, only to come up empty handed.  A few weeks ago when I searched for them at the St Lawrence Market, 2 out of 3 fishmongers had no idea what I was even asking for and the third outright said they didn’t carry them.  Faced with being at a loss for a second season in a row, I half-heartedly reached out to the obsessives on Chowhound who were surprisingly adept at pinpointing several places in the GTA that could help a sister out (I’ve had mixed success with reaching out for help on Chowhound, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much).  Most of the suggestions were out of the way for this non-driver, in the burbs of Scarborough and such, but one happened to be right downtown.  The T&T Supermarket on Cherry St even had spot prawns advertised in their circular, so I emphatically coerced the Everyman into letting me take my practice drive for the day over to said grocery store.

Once we got there, we found a large tank at the back of the store teeming with the vibrant pink beauties.  The tank was overcrowded though, so the spot prawns didn’t seem as lively as I had expected them to be, though they were certainly still alive.  Asking for 2 pounds, the fishmonger deftly scooped them out of the tank with a net, which set the previously docile prawns to wildly thrashing about.  Once bagged and tagged, I didn’t waste much time before exiting the store and returning home.  Live stuff generally doesn’t stay alive for long when trapped in a small plastic bag.  As a last ditch effort at giving me the finger, the spikiness of the prawns managed to pierce a hole in their bag unbeknownst to me and leak seawater all over the floor mat of my car.  Note to future intrepid purchasers of live prawns – always place them into a cooler or some other hard bottomed storing device when travelling, so as not to suffer the same fate, unless you enjoy washing floor mats for fun.

At home, I had no concept of how to prepare live prawns, and after turning to the internet I was faced with the realization that I had to rip off their heads.  The picture above is what was left of the prawn heads once I accomplished that task; an experience I found more than a little chilling since they were still moving about.

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Bastardized Pasta

Cavatelli or Capunti

For a long time now I’ve had a growing fascination with Italian cuisine, namely pasta in particular.

I constantly marvel at the innumerable shapes and sizes of pastas that Italy has created, and the myriad uses they have unique to each one.  For at least 6 months I’ve wanted to take a course that would teach me more about the intricacies of a subject I know precious little about, but as far as I can tell, such a course does not exist.  It’s unsurprising really, as I’ve noticed that Italians generally tend to be quite cagey when it comes to passing on their culinary know how to non-familial brethren.  If you are lucky enough to gain mentorship, I bet you sure as hell had to prove yourself first.  I’ve not yet found a person who thinks I’m worthy of what is to most a cultural birthright and so I continue on, on my own.  Perhaps when I make it to Italy one day I will track down a willing nonna who will share all her secrets with me.  One can always dream!

Barring any sort of official instruction, I’ve been messing around with pasta dough on my own more and more lately.  I’ve been meaning to buy the Encyclopedia Of Pasta ever since it came out, but my local bookseller never has it in stock and it’s definitely the kind of tome I want to page through before I buy it, just so I can make sure it’s really what I’m after.

In the meantime, I’ve been perfecting my stamped and ribbon pastas on and off for the past few months, so last night I thought I’d try something completely different.  Using Ruhlman’s pasta ratio I prepared 4 servings of dough in the morning and left them to rest in the fridge all day.  When I arrived home I started the basics of a red meat sauce on the stove by combining half a jar of my home canned tomato sauce with a lingering hothouse tomato, 4 grated zucchinis and half a pound of ground beef.  While the sauce simmered, I split the dough in half and began rolling out long, snaky tubes.  Snipping them down into 1 inch lengths, I rolled them a bit longer and thinner between my palms, then used a bench scraper to gently drag the dough nubs across the surface of the table until it formed either cavatelli or capunti.  I can’t say with certainty which one I made because so many pastas are so nuanced that they have only the faintest whisper of difference between them.  In this case, I think what I made is capunti, because I’m pretty sure cavatelli is usually made with a ricotta enriched dough.  As you can see from the above photo, some turned out rather well while others are an embarrassment to real pasta.  For a first attempt though I thought they were magical, and once they floated to the top of the briny, boiling water, I tossed them in a meaty tomato sauce and allowed the whole to soak in a little bit.

Like fingerprints, they’re all a little different, but definitely not quite perfect just yet.  The fun part about experimenting with pasta (or anything, really) is that in the end you can just eat your mistakes.

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Turning Over A Greener Leaf

Sweetish Slaw

Here at Foodie And The Everyman, we’re always trying to find new ways to incorporate more healthy and environmentally responsible meals into our life.

Being virtuous ain’t easy though, and after a tough day at the office, mostly I just want to inhale a cupcake or a juicy steak.  Unfortunately, one can’t live on cake or steak alone, so every now and then I need to boost my vegetable intake to compensate for one too many edible indiscretions.

As part of that, I’ve recently adopted the idea of participating in Meatless Mondays at home.

Normally, my concept of meat-free eating is firmly rooted in either a tofu preparation, one of my hand-rolled vegetable pastas or occasionally a hearty soup.  And since the Everyman is allergic to nuts and won’t eat eggs or seafood, I am somewhat limited in the options available to me, so it seemed important to expand the vegetarian repertoire.  That it would be good for our health and also the planet are somewhat of an added bonus.

However, for the inaugural Meatless Monday, I had no tofu in the house, and I’d already packed pasta leftovers for our lunches, which meant that another pasta meal was out of the question.  Thus our first Meatless Monday supper would require a slightly more elegant solution.  After brainstorming for a little bit, I decided to concoct a veggie burger with homemade buns, mashed white beans, flax seed and piri piri sauce for a little bit of kick.  Once mixed together and grilled, the patties proved tender and delicious, if a little sloppy to eat.  Next time I’ll most definitely have to experiment with other ingredients to make the patties firmer.

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Shepherd, Meet Cottage Pie

Mega Pie

When I was a child, shepherd’s pie was one of several dishes that my dad could make relatively cheaply and easily, so it was one we had fairly often.

I’m not sure what it was about shepherd’s pie exactly, but for years I’ve mercilessly decried its very existence.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was likely the whole frozen pea/carrot/corn blend that caused me to hate it with a passion, because I’ve had too long and varied a love affair with mashed potatoes for them to be the cause.

That negative connotation stuck with me even after all of these years, and though the Everyman is quite a fan of shepherd’s pie (categorizing it as one of those dishes he never craves but whenever he ingests it he wonders why he doesn’t eat it more often) I have never so much as considered making one.

But, then I concocted that delectable chicken pot pie recipe.  And it got me thinking – why limit a shepherd’s pie filling to that sad, sloppy mess of frozen veggies and ground beef?  Having just recovered from a bout of food poisoning (where the only things I could ingest were mashed potatoes or peanut butter on toast) I had a gigantic bowl of creamy buttermilk mash left over but no semblance of a plan for what to do with it.

Before I knew it I was mentally mapping out a shepherd’s/cottage pie hybrid that had the filling of a chicken pot pie, but was topped with pillowy mash instead of golden puff pastry.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that having all that mash on top meant I should omit the chunks of potatoes from the filling and replace them with something else.  My pot pie recipe typically consists of a carrot, celery, pearl onion and potato blend, and having nothing else in the house I opted to just beef up the other quantities.  To make the hybrid version that much more complete though, next time I would replace the potatoes with those ubiquitous frozen peas and corn instead.

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Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?

Complete

During the past few months I’ve become increasingly entranced by the idea of making my own pasta.

While achieving ribbony, hand cut noodles has been a work in progress, I’ve slowly but surely become more proficient, bit by flour-covered bit.

As such, I’ve been on the market for some form of pasta machine, but ever since my snafu with the stand mixer pasta attachment, I haven’t been in much of a hurry.  I’ve also been told they can be quite expensive, so I didn’t want to plunk down any cold, hard cash until I was absolutely certain it wasn’t just a passing fancy.  In the interim, pastas have been made with some regularity in our household by using the old fashioned method of rolling pin plus sharp knife.  Rustic for sure, but still extremely satisfying when compared next to your standard out of the box fare.

So, while the Everyman and I were out shopping for our upcoming trip, it occurred to me to stop into a housewares store to check if they happened to sell pasta makers.  In the first store I was out of luck, but ducking into the second as we headed towards the exit, not only did I find a pasta maker, but it was the last one, and a floor model at that, so for all intents and purposes it was a steal.  The only catch was that it didn’t come packaged, which meant that a) there was no manual, and b) it took the clerk 20 minutes to try and figure out what the SKU was so they could enter it into the cash register.  But, for a mere $20 I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Semolina Dough

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Bait And Switch (Or Why I’m Not Above The Occasional Culinary Subterfuge)

Parsnipity Spelt Cake

Sometimes I come across strange recipes on the internet that I just can’t help but test out in my own kitchen.  I become inordinately fascinated by these culinary oddities, with a fixation that won’t be satisfied until I taste them for myself.  Of course, in order to get the Everyman to try many of them, I generally have to leave out certain salient details that might give him pause.

Case in point would be when this particular recipe popped up in my RSS, gleaned from the Serious Eats column The Crisper Whisperer.  I’m sure that by the time he finishes reading this post I will have received a call or an email about this particular cake and his personal thoughts on it, but when he asked me what it was last night I simply uttered “spice cake”.

Over the years we’ve all come to acknowledge carrot cake, sweet potato pie and zucchini muffins as relatively commonplace dessert-type offerings, but up until this point I’d never seen or heard of a parsnip cake before.  Between the fact that I was vaguely intrigued and disgusted by its very existence, and the fact that I had a half bag of parsnips lounging around our crisper not getting any younger, I decided it had to be done.

Just Batter

The recipe began simply, calling for all the usual suspects that come to a batter party (flour, sugar, eggs) but I immediately began making changes and substitutions.  Where there was once flour I replaced it with spelt, and a cupful of allergenic walnuts became a measure of porridge oats, while white sugar was traded for brown.  Then, just because I felt the guilt of attempting something healthy (yes, I suffer from the opposite form of guilt, not for eating badly, but from trying to eat too good) I threw in a small handful of dark chocolate chips – just because.

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Rabbit – It’s The New Pork

Ragu

I think I’ve pretty handily established how much I’ve come to enjoy cooking and eating rabbit during the last 6 months.

Coincidentally, rabbit’s profile and status has been elevated in the media lately, with some even going so far as to dub it the “gateway” animal to raising their own food.  I wouldn’t necessarily go to that extreme, seeing as I have enough small, stinky animals coexisting with me as is, but I do love to suck the meat off the bones of the occasional, delicious hare.  No longer just a popular protein for immigrant fare, rabbit it seems is beginning to come into its own, whether the mainstream is ready or not.

So, it was without hesitation that I purchased a few whole rabbits on my last 2 trips to The Healthy Butcher, even though I had no particular plans for their meaty little carcasses at the time.

Since then we’ve had rabbit braised in red wine over polenta, a ginger mustard stewed rabbit, and most recently a succulent rabbit ragu (pictured above).  We generally don’t eat a whole lot of red meat or pork on a regular basis (it’s typically one or the other about once every 2 weeks), so rabbit has been a refreshing way to break up the monotony of a diet riddled with vegetarian meals, pastas and poultry.  It’s gamey, yet mild and faintly sweet, lending itself to numerous preparations; small enough to be cooked relatively quickly, while also capable of being braised for many hours.  In our house, one might even go so far as to say that rabbit is the new pork belly, or even the new chicken!?!

While sautéing the base for said ragu on a Sunday not too long ago, I stopped to reflect on a time when I used to think ragu was merely a brand that came in a jar, and how unlikely it would’ve been for that younger me to consume a bunny rabbit (nigh on 25 years ago, I’d reckon).  Oh, how things (and opinions) have changed.  After a 6 hour simmer, the ragu I craftily prepared with a jar of my own preserved bruschetta (subbing in for canned tomatoes) melted down into the perfect, wintry sauce for blanketing a bed of hand cut egg yolk noodles.  It wasn’t the first, but it’s sure to be but one of many delicious rabbits I’ll sit down to over the course of the rest of my life.

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The Serious Mash-Up

Brothy Goodness

One of the main reasons I made a stop at Sanko this weekend was to pick up ingredients for a simmered soybean side dish that I’d read about over at Serious Eats and had been wanting to make for nearly a week and a half.  The Everyman is no fan of soybeans, but the dish sounded just perfect for me to bring to work as a relatively healthy afternoon snack, so I’d been mentally drooling over the umami-ish combination ever since.

Of course, while I was there I couldn’t help but grab a few other odds and ends that I had no specific intentions for, other than random experimentation.  Shopping in Asian stores is always fun for me, because oftentimes packages contain minimal English, so you don’t always know exactly what you’re going to get.  It’s like playing culinary roulette, just not deadly.

Rehydrated Soybeans

Once I got home with my mysterious bounty, I began prepping the dried soybeans so that the following day I could complete the recipe, while visions of deliciousness danced in my head.

Coincidentally a few days prior I had made another Serious Eats recipe, this time for something called velvet chicken, which sounded similar to san bei gi, otherwise known as 3 cup chicken.

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The Resurgence Of No Knead Bread

Crusty

I’ll be honest.

I’ve been categorically ignoring the whole no knead bread trend since I first heard about it back in 2006.

It became quite the internet sensation at the time, died down and now seems to be making the rounds again, due at least partially to Cathy Erway’s new book about not eating out for 2 years, I assume (which includes her riff on the recipe).

As someone who loves cooking and food as much as I do, I can say with alacrity that I’ve often thought of no knead bread as the lazy person’s shortcut, aka baking for dummies.  If you asked my mother, she’d probably cluck her teeth and mutter something under her breath about it being the cowboy way.  Beyond that, even though I start by mixing 90% of my breads in a stand mixer for at least part of the process, I can’t imagine giving up the interaction with the elementalness that is bread just to make life “simpler”.

But, when I saw Erway’s recipe for parmagiano, peppercorn and potato no knead bread, I made an exception and decided to try it.  At the time I had no knowledge of what made her recipe differ from the standard no knead bread, so I followed everything to the letter except for 2 things.  I subbed in a cup of whole wheat flour to surreptitiously improve its healthiness and instead of cracked black peppercorns, I mixed up a blend of 5 different ones that I’ve had lurking in the kitchen, including Muntok, Sarawak, Malabar, Tellicherry and Moula peppercorns crushed in a tea towel with a mallet.

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If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

Assemblage

Lest you start smirking about how seasonally appropriate this next dish is, wipe those silly grins from your faces because it was actually inspired by a comment left by Larbo’s friend Dan (aka the Chocolate Man).

It wasn’t enough for me to make my own ‘nduja.  Nor was it sufficient to try my hand at combining it into ‘nduja burgers.  And even after all that, my ‘nduja chocolate truffles only served to stoke the fire of my curiousity.

Nope.  I had to reach further; I had to do more.

Larbo’s friend Dan succinctly reminded me that what had initially inspired me to make ‘nduja truffles in the first place was a bizarre chocolate and ‘nduja pasta recipe on an Italian food website I’d noticed through Foodgawker.  It seemed only fitting that I should further expand on that idea in my own unique way.

Ideas have been marinating for a couple of days now, but yesterday afternoon I finally came to a conclusion about what I wanted to do.

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A Flour By Any Other Name Could Still Be As Sweet

A First Look At Timtana

A couple of weeks ago, I entered and won a contest over at Kitchen Therapy that netted me a free bag of a new gluten free product called timtana.  Timtana is a milled all purpose flour ground from timothy grass, which is completely gluten free but full of lots of good for you nutrients like fibre, protein, calcium and iron (you can read more about it over at Kitchen Therapy if you’d like).  A company called Montana Gluten Free graciously provided the bags of flour for the Kitchen Therapy giveaway.

As I’ve previously mentioned, my mother in law is allergic to wheat, so I often keep an eye out for new developments in gluten free products, and have a whole drawer in my freezer devoted to the various alternative flours that I use when baking for her.  Over the years I’ve found that while gluten free baking is not easy, once you know what you’re doing improvisation is possible.

A 3 pound bag of timtana flour arrived at my door a little over a week ago, and has been sitting on my counter waiting for inspiration to reach out and strike ever since.

While an original idea has yet to take shape, in the interim I decided to use Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio app and the basic bread dough formula for a first pass.

The proportions are simple and include 3 parts water to 5 parts flour, plus a little bit of salt and yeast thrown in for good measure.  Because timtana is gluten free, I also opted to toss in a bit of xanthan gum (the gluten free baker’s friend) for some extra leavening power.

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