05 July 2012

Avocado bruschetta

My dad loved avocado. Any day - every day - was a great day for avocado. Sometimes he would have it for breakfast: plain, or slightly mushed up with milk and honey, or whizzed in a smoothie. But it wasn't breakfast-only fare for him. When I was a teenager, he taught me how to make avocado and tomato sandwiches, which was his idea of a quick, on-the-go type of lunch (slice avocado, slice tomato, layer between 2 pieces of bread. Don't forget the mayo). He also loved it in guacamole, in BLATs, in salads, and in pretty much anything, really.

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The last time I saw my dad, which was last year, he asked me to make guacamole for him. He was crazy for guacamole, Taleen's guacamole in particular, and he would put in a special request for it every single time we got together. It always turned out perfectly, except this last time. The avocadoes were taking too long to ripen, and every day we would give them a little squeeze to try to guage their readiness. After a few days I think he couldn't wait anymore, and he insisted that they were ripe enough. He was our family avocado expert and was never wrong about when they're ready, but this time he was. They were hard and rubbery, like an eraser, and no amount of mashing would soften them up. They also tasted awful. It was an epic guacamole fail.

A couple of months after that, I read somewhere that a very reliable way of ripening an avocado is to put it in the fridge. This was news to me; I've always ripened them at room temperature, often in a brown paper bag, and sometimes I would refrigerate them when they were ready to be eaten before we were ready to eat them. This fridge-ripening method sounded interesting, so I tried it, and I was absolutely thrilled when it worked. I ripen all my avocadoes in the fridge now. It takes longer - sometimes even a week - but they always turn out just right. I never got to tell my dad about that technique. In fact, when I found out that he had passed away, one of the first things that came to my mind was, "Oh no! I didn't tell Pops about the avocado in the fridge technique!" Not that he cares much now, but every time I halve open a perfect avocado I think about him and tell him that, see, it works!

I felt like having a BLAT today, but I didn't have any "L" and "T", so I had an avocado bruschetta instead. It's simple and quick, and it's very satisfying. It's probaby super highly caloric, but it felt perfectly light, just right for this terribly hot weather we've been having. I had lunch alone today, but I felt like my dad was with me. I thought of him the whole time, talked to him in my mind, and teared up only a little at the end. 

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Avocado Bruschetta

There isn't really an exact recipe for this, but here's what I did.


Crush a clove of garlic and mix it with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil (if you're only making one or two toasts, you definitely won't use all of this. You can use the rest in vinaigrette, or in a marinade or sauce, or wherever else you like to use garlic-infused olive oil).


Brush your bread very lightly with that garlic/oil and toast to your liking.


While the bread is toasting, dice an avocado. If you are feeling fancy, toss the avocado cubes in a dash or two of tabasco and a little splash of lemon juice. If you're not feeling fancy, leave them au naturel: the toasts will still be great.


You could also fry up a slice of bacon and then crumble it up. Just putting it out there. 


When the toast is ready, top it with the avocado, along with the bacon and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. I found that it didn't need any salting, but I guess you could sprinkle on some salt and pepper if you wished. 

16 June 2012

Craquelines

I owe you a recipe. It's been haunting me for a few weeks now, ever since the last post, when I promised I would tell you about craquelines. At that time I was convinced that I'd be back in a week, or even less, so I confidently said, "Stay tuned."

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I sure hope you don't hold grudges, because 3 weeks is an awfully long time to "stay tuned". I'm sorry. 

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I didn't know about craquelines until very recently, when I met Joanne Chang's cookbook, Flour. Apparently it is a French breakfast pastry: chopped candied oranges enveloped in a pillowy brioche, topped with crackly almonds. (I'm not sure if crackly is a word. I made it up. But you get the idea. Also, with a bit of imagination, you can also then gather why this pastry is called "craqueline"). 

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Homemade candied orange slices? In brioche? With a crackly almond top? SOLD! So off to the kitchen I went. I made this in parts (which I seem to be in the habit of doing): I find that it's a lot less stressful if I divvy up "complicated" recipes, spread the joy over a couple of days. In this case, I candied the oranges one day, prepared the brioche dough the next, and baked the day after that. 

The French really do know a thing or two about pastries, eh? Of course these were amazing - otherwise I wouldn't be telling you about them. They are great for breakfast: think of them as a special sort of toast with juicy pockets of marmalade, a little indulgence. I wouldn't say no to these for a snack, either. Maybe with a hot chocolate? 

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Craqueline 
Adapted from Flour

This recipe has 2 main components: the candied oranges and the brioche dough. The recipe for candied orange slices is in the previous post. For the brioche, I used my favourite no-fail recipe from Fine Cooking. If you use Fine Cooking's brioche, you will need half of it to make 8 craquelines (or about two thirds to make 10). Use the remaining dough to make a loaf, or 8 brioches à tête, or another brioche application of your choosing.

When your orange slices are ready and the brioche dough has risen overnight, assemble the craquelines.

Coarsely chop enough orange slices to get about 1½ cups. Before you dice the slices, try to scrape off as much syrup as you can, since the syrup will make the dough slippery and difficult to handle. Set the diced oranges aside. (The syrup can be used to sweeten tea or lemonade, or it can even be used on pancakes or waffles).

If making 8 craquelines, roll out half the brioche dough into a rectangle about 16 by 10 inches. If making 10 craquelines, roll out about two thirds of the brioche dough into a rectangle about 20 by 10 inches. In both cases the dough will be about a quarter of an inch thick.

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With the long side of the dough rectangle facing you, spread the chopped oranges evenly on the top two thirds of the dough. (See the pictures above). Similar to folding a letter, fold the bottom third up to cover the oranges about halfway, then fold the top third down. If making 8 craquelines, you should end up with a rectangle about 16 inches long and just over 3 inches wide. If making 10 craquelines, your rectangle will be about 20 inches by 3 inches.

Cut the filled dough into pieces that are 2 inches wide. 

Place the pastries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for about 2 hours. After this resting period, the dough will be puffy, pillowy, and soft.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and place a rack in the centre.

Prepare the topping. In a small bowl, whisk together:
  1 egg
  50 grams (¼ cup) sugar
  50 grams (½ cup) sliced almonds

Evenly spoon the almond mixture over each pastry, covering the entire top evenly.

Bake the pastries for 35-45 minutes, until the almond top is completely golden brown. Allow them to cool on the pan set over a rack for 20-30 minutes. Serve warm.

These are best served fresh, but they can also be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a day (or well-wrapped and frozen for a few weeks), then warmed in a 300ºF oven before serving.




24 May 2012

Candied orange slices

We've been really lucky with navel oranges this spring - juicy, sweet, seedless, and very ... well ... full-bodied-orange-y. We've consumed close to 30 pounds in less than 4 weeks (I kid you not), effortlessly: mostly just sliced into segments (Chinese-restaurant style, perfect for making orange smiley faces). I also turned some into candied orange slices.


These are so simple to prepare, and do not have the bitterness that sometimes occurs with citrus rind. They can be eaten as is, or sliced and laid on toast as a sort of marmalade, or diced and mixed into cupcakes, or laid atop a simple cake to pretty it up in both looks and flavour, or baked into French brioche pastries called craquelines - I'll tell you more about craquelines next time, so stay tuned.
 
candied orange slices

Candied Orange Slices
Adapted from Flour

The original recipe calls for 2 navel oranges, but when I tried it the first time I found that there was too much syrup. Now I either make it with 4 navel oranges, or halve the syrup for 2 oranges.

Slice the stem and blossom ends off, then slice (cross-section) into 1/4" rounds
  4 navel oranges
 
In a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat:
  3 cups (600 g) sugar
  4 cups (960 g) water

Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

Reduce the heat to very low, and slip the orange slices into the sugar syrup. Allow this to simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring gently every once in a while to distribute the orange slices.

You'll know the candied orange slices are done when they are translucent and the syrup is thick (consistency similar to that of maple syrup). If you bite into a slice, the rind will be completely soft and sweet, but the slice will not be falling apart. 

Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to cool completely. They can be refrigerated in their syrup, in a covered container, for 2 weeks (or even a bit more). 

The syrup can be used on waffles or pancakes, or used as a sweetener in tea or lemonade. I bet a small amount of it could be added to some salad dressings as well.

 

11 May 2012

Frangipane mini-cakes (Almond baby cakes)

I woke up today much the same as I have the past 11 mornings: thinking that today is the day that I would tell you about these little almond cakes. 

mini-almond-cakes

Then I crawled out of bed and did the usual, with a special twist this month: my mom is here! For the past week and half, she has been hearing our morning footsteps and whispers, and our little noises lead her downstairs. Soon after that, we wave the boys off to school and work, and then we sit down for breakfast. Mom has had breakfast ritual for decades: fresh brewed coffee, yogurt with fruit, buttered bread with cream cheese and jam, sitting at table, taking her time. I guess you could also say that I have my own sort of breakfast ritual: oatmeal, fast. Hm. On second thought, not very ritual-y, eh? While Mom is here, though, I've taken to sitting down with her. I still have oatmeal, but we talk and take our time, and since I polish off my breakfast faster than she does hers, I often end up nibbling on fruit (or other things - ahem - read on). 

Then we start our day, and before I know it, it is already time to pick up the schoolboy, and again before I know it, it is time for dinner, and then again before I know it, it is bedtime. And before I know it, I'm waking up and thinking that I still need to tell you about these little almond cakes. 

My conscience can no longer stand it, and neither can these cakes. It's time to show procrastination who's boss.

mini-almond-cakes
 
I chanced upon these on Dorie Greenspan's blog two Mondays ago, and that very evening I had a batch in the oven. Five ingredients and gluten-free, these are easy as easy can be, especially if there is almond flour in your pantry. To me these are frangipane in cake form, dainty and scented with almond, fine-crumbed and not at all heavy. I can't think of when these wouldn't be perfect: appropriate for tea, fitting for dessert, pleasant for snack, delicious for breakfast (ahem). 

And so today was much the same as the past 11 days, but tonight I will go to bed with the very satisfied feeling of having shared these little jewels with you.

mini-almond-cakes


Frangipane Mini-Cakes, or Almond Baby Cakes
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
 
A couple of notes: Dorie's recipe calls for lining the bottoms of the tins with wax or parchment. She also starts off with whole almonds that are then ground coarsely. I don't line my tins, and I use almond flour. Also, I discussed these with my younger sister and we thought that this would probably work really well with hazelnut flour - I may try that next time.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a standard-size 12-cup muffin tin.

Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until thick, pale, and voluminous (about 5 minutes):
  3 large eggs, at room temperature
  ⅔ cup sugar 

Pour in and continue to beat for another minute (the batter will deflate a bit):
  5 ounces ground almonds or almond flour (with or without skins; mine had skins) 

With the mixer still on medium-high speed, drop in a few pieces at a time:
  5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very, very soft

Beat until very well blended. There may still be small bits of batter and the batter might look curdled. Reduce speed to low, and add:
  1 tablespoon kirsch, dark rum or pure vanilla extract (I used dark rum)

Turn the mixer to high for a second or two, and then turn the mixer off.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin molds. The molds will barely be half full. The batter will rise slightly.

Bake for 20-29 minutes - this is a wide estimate, but start checking at 20 minutes. They will be dark brown around the edges and a cake tester inserted in their centres will come out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn the pan upside down on a rack and tap out the cakes. Cool upright on a rack.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.
 
Makes 12 mini-cakes 

30 April 2012

Black and white chocolate cake

I have more pictures than words this week.

black and white birthday cake

This was my son's birthday cake, from a couple of months ago.

black and white birthday cake

Also a couple of months ago, two days after this cake was made, we had to rush to Montreal for my dad's funeral. We brought the leftover half of cake with us, in a tin with ice packs. Birthday cake - especially one as good as this - shouldn't go to waste. Looking back, I realize I must really be a hardcore sweet tooth, to have thought of that in the middle of all the grieving.

black and white birthday cake

It still makes me a little sad that the other birthday boy, my dad, didn't get to see or taste it.

black and white birthday cake

I know I will always think of him when I make this cake, the cake I never got to make for him. He would have gilded the lily and had it with ice cream, I'm sure. He would have loved it.

black and white birthday cake

Black and White Chocolate Cake 

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's amazing baking book, which has quite a following. A few months ago, after 4 years of faithful weekly baking, the group "Tuesdays with Dorie" finished baking their way through this entire book.

There are 3 components in this cake: the base, the filling, and the frosting. They are all fairly easy, but shouldn't be rushed. A little bit of planning goes a long way. I make the cake and the dark chocolate filling first. The following day, I make the white chocolate frosting and then proceed to assemble the cake. It can then be served a few hours after assembly, or refrigerated overnight and served the next day.

This is a butter cake, and so I find it has the best texture when it is at room temperature. The frosting is cream-based, though, so I would not recommend leaving this cake out all afternoon.

The original recipe was featured here, when it was baked by the Tuesdays with Dorie group.

Buttermilk Cake

Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and place a rack in the centre. 

Butter and flour two 9"x2" round cake pans, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together: 
  9 oz (2 cups) cake flour 
  2 tsp baking powder 
  ⅛ tsp baking soda 
  ¼ tsp salt 

In a large bowl, beat at medium speed until soft and creamy:
  1¼ sticks (10 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Add and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 more minutes:
  7 oz (1 cup) sugar 
  
Add one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition:  
  3 large eggs 
  1 large egg yolk 

Add:
  1 tsp vanilla extract 

Stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl, and start it up again on the lowest speed setting. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts and the liquid in 2 parts (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients). You will need:
 the sifted flour mixture prepared above, divided into 3
 ¾ cup buttermilk, divided into 2

Do not overmix: mix only until combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. A cake tester will come out clean.

Cool on a rack for about 5 minutes, then unmold, peel off the paper and place right side up on the rack. 

When the cake has cooled to room temperature, you can proceed straightaway to assembling the final cake, or you can wrap it in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for assembly the next day.

black and white birthday cake

Dark Chocolate Cream

Melt and set aside:
  7 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Off heat, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together until well blended:  
  4 large egg yolks 
  6 Tbsp sugar 
  3 Tbsp corstarch, sifted 

  ¼ tsp salt

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan:
  2 cups whole milk 

When the milk has boiled, slowly whisk it into the egg yolk mixture, still off the heat. Start with a tablespoon of hot milk, whisk without stopping, add another tablespoon of hot milk, whisk again. Do this for a total of about 4 tablespoons hot milk. The egg mixture will become warm and it will loosen up. You can then add the remainder of the milk, slowly, continuing to whisk while adding the milk. 

Now place the saucepan over medium heat. Keep on whisking, vigorously and constantly, and bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and let it boil for about 2 minutes. When the mixture thickens (it will be around 165ºF-170ºF), immediately remove it from the heat. Do not turn the heat up to high, because if the mixture gets too hot the eggs will curdle.

Off heat, whisk in:
  the bittersweet chocolate melted above

Let stand for 5 minutes, and then whisk in: 
  2½ Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces, at room temp

Continue to whisk until the chocolate cream is smooth and silky. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create and airtight seal and refrigerate the cream until chilled, for up to 3 days. 

If you need to cool the cream quickly, put the bowl with a cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes. 

You will need 2 cups of this cream for the cake. The remaining cream can be served as a dip for cookies, or can even be eaten like a pudding or custard.

black and white birthday cake

White Chocolate Whipped Cream

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water, melt:
  6 oz. premium quality white chocolate 

Stir the chocolate gently, and take care not to let any water sputter into the bowl.

Meanwhile, bring to a boil (I use the microwave for this): 
  ½ cup heavy cream 

When the white chocolate has melted, remove it from the pan and pour in the hot cream. Let it sit for a minute, and then stir the chocolate and cream to combine into a smooth mixture. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature. It can't be the least warm when you add it to the whipped cream.

When the white chocolate has cooled to room temperature, prepare the whipped cream. Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat only until it holds very soft peaks:
   1 cup heavy cream, cold 

Add the cooled white chocolate at once, and continue to beat until it holds firm peaks.
Transfer the whipped cream into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap gently against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours.

Assemble the Cake

Slice each buttermilk cake layer in half horizontally, to create 4 layers. This is easier to do when the cake is cold. If the tops of the cake layers are domed, remove the domes.

Remove the dark and white chocolate creams from the refrigerator and whisk each of them vigorously to loosen and smooth them.

Take one cake layer and set it on the cake plate. Using an offset spatula, apread about 1 cup of the dark chocolate cream over the layer, covering it completely and evenly.

Top the cream with another cake layer, and cover this layer with white chocolate whipped cream, making the white layer about the same thickness as the dark layer. 

Cover with a third layer. Spread another cup of the dark chocolate cream.

Top with the fourth layer of cake, and frost the top and sides with the rest of the white chocolate whipped cream.

If desired, decorate with chocolate shaving or curls.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

19 April 2012

Gruyère croutons

We've had these four times in the past three weeks and I still don't quite know what to call them. Are they croutons? Breadsticks? Toasts? Cheese soldiers?

croutons

We first had them with eggs, then with salad, then as a snack with guests, and then as a piccolo pensiero/appetizer at a party. See why I don't know what to call them?

What I do know, aside from the fact that this is one of those concoctions that can wear a lot of hats, is that this is far too easy too make, and far too easy to eat. It's a little dangerous that way.

croutons

You start off with a loaf of crusty rustic bread, and slice it about half of it into chunky-finger-sized batons. Then you melt some butter (I keep meaning to try it with olive oil too), mix in some Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and pour that over the bread batons. A gentle toss gives each stick a thin coat of butter - and for croutons this is usually the point where you would shuttle the them into the oven - but these are special, so they get a snowy dusting of grated Gruyère.

croutons

Gruyère is the king of melty cheeses, in my book at least: it melts into a crisp lace - a perfect, fine jacket for the toasty bread underneath. If you take the croutons out a couple of minutes prematurely, as we do, the center stays the tiniest bit soft, a rewarding textural contrast to all the outer crunch. Crunchy all the way through works just as well too, and as long as they make it out of the oven before the cheese gets too brown there is no need to fear a broken tooth or a sore jaw.

croutons

I may not ever decide on a proper name for these, but maybe that's okay. When my boys say 'those crunchy cheese bread yummies' I know exactly what they're referring to.

croutons

Gruyère Croutons 
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen  

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Slice into thick batons (½" - ¾" thick):
  crusty rustic bread, or sourdough, to get 16-20 batons

Place in a large bowl and set aside.

Melt:
  4 Tbsp butter

To the melted butter, add:
  1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
  generous pinch salt
  freshly ground black pepper
  1 Tbsp finely minced parsley (optional)

Pour the melted butter mixture over the bread, and toss lightly. 

Sprinkle on the buttered bread and toss again: 
  1½ ounces finely grated Gruyère (about ⅓ cup)
  2 Tbsp finely grated Parmigiano or Romano cheese

Place the bread fingers in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly browned. Give the croutons a toss and bake another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown all over.

We've found that these are best eaten the day they are made. However, if the croutons are crisp all the way through and you store them in an airtight container, they will still be fine the next day.

26 March 2012

Caprese pasta

There are some days when there is just no time to cook. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know? Work, school, extracurricular activities, appointments, chores, 6 car pileups on the highway that take 3 hours to clear ... yeeeeah.

What I really wanted to eat last Friday, when I got home from my first-ever car collision experience, was something deep fried - very deeply fried - which for me usually means fish and chips. But time was not on our side. We had an appointment and couldn't go to a restaurant for dinner, let alone make fish and chips from scratch at home, so instead we had one of our faster-than-takeout meals: caprese pasta. We call it so because it's basically a caprese salad - tomatoes and fresh mozzarella - in pasta form.

caprese pasta 

There really isn't a recipe for this. Just boil lots of water in a pot, salt it generously, throw in a pound of spaghetti, and let it cook. While that's happily bubbling away, dice up lots of tomatoes, dump them in your serving bowl, douse them in your good quality extra virgin olive oil, and season them with a bit of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and dried oregano. Cube up some fresh mozzarella, set it aside on the chopping board, and wait for the pasta to finish cooking. Drain the pasta, toss it in the serving bowl with the tomatoes, and add the mozzarella right before serving, so that the cheese doesn't melt and get stretchy. Garnish with basil leaves if you have some, but don't sweat it if you don't. 

Et voila, a great meal in the time it takes the pasta to boil. It's not fish and chips, but it's healthier at least, and very satisfying, in a non-greasy sort of way. Sometimes there's no other option but takeout or eat-out, but sometimes it's possible to come up with quick and easy meals like this... I like when that happens. 

I'm still bent on having my post-accident fish and chips, though! 

Caprese Pasta
As mentioned above, I don't really follow a recipe for this dish, but here's roughly how much I use of each ingredient. A word of advice: don't skimp on salting the pasta water. Your pasta will taste very flat if it's not salted enough. Also, you can bust out your good extra virgin olive oil here - it's in really simple dishes like this where your great quality ingredients shine.

If you foresee leftovers, don't add all the mozzarella. This pasta is best as soon as it's made, but it can be reheated. Heating the fresh mozzarella will make it rubbery, but if you store it separately you can heat the pasta and then toss the cheese in at the end.

1 lb pasta, cooked in about 8 quarts water with 2 Tbsp table salt
6-8 Roma tomatoes, diced 
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste 
salt, pepper, and dried oregano to taste 
8 oz fresh mozzarella (bocconcini), cubed 

The juice from the tomatoes and the olive oil form a very loose sauce that tends to settle at the bottom of the bowl, so make sure to toss everything together very well. When serving, you may need to scoop right from the bottom and up to make sure that everyone gets some sauce with their pasta.

Serves 4-6.

17 March 2012

Pink shrimp sauce with cream

It's been rough lately. My dad just passed away. My youngest sister called me two Monday mornings ago, and in between her sobs I heard, "Poppy's gone." It's unbelievable how life can change from one sentence to the next, and as I made arrangements to take time off work, to book tickets for flying back home, to reschedule appointments and to pick up my son from school that afternoon, I also realized how the rest of the world just keeps going.

I was on my way to Montreal the next day, tears stubbornly uncontrollable, even on the plane: I didn't know that tears could flow even through closed eyes. Somewhere above the US-Canada border I wrote a tribute to my dad. I ended up reading it a few days later, at his funeral Mass, and managed not to cry too much while doing so. That was the only productive half hour of writing that has come out of me since that phone call. In my head all I can come up with now is - "I have no words left."

I've been wanting to write thank you notes to so many dear friends who have offered support and prayers. I want to tell them something heartfelt and genuine, but can't come up with the right words. I've been wanting to post something here, but the next post I had been planning was all about birthday cake - my dad and my son celebrated their joint birthday just 3 weeks ago - and that doesn't seem appropriate for right now.

The past weeks have been a bit hazy, but now that we're back, routine helps. I finally forced myself out of my cooking rut and we had our first real meal last night. Pops used to love visiting this blog, and he would have enjoyed this dish. It's a start. 

tortellini with shrimp sauce

Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream 

This sauce is ideal with tortellini - seafood tortellini, if you can get a hold of it. It also goes well with homemade/fresh pasta like fettucine or pappardelle. 

Shell, cut in half lengthwise, remove the vein, and rinse:
  medium shrimp, to yield 1/2 pound peeled shrimp

Cook the pasta while you prepare the sauce. 

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook: 
  3 Tbsp or ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil (olive oil also works) 
  (the original recipe calls for ⅓ cup, but I think it can be safely reduced a bit. If reducing the oil, save some of the pasta cooking water, in case you need to loosen up the sauce later on.)
  2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely 

When the garlic becomes a very pale gold, add: 
  1½ Tbsp tomato paste 
  ½ cup dry white wine 

Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Turn the heat up to medium high and add:
  the shrimp prepared above 
  ½ tsp kosher salt 
  generous grinding of black pepper

Cook for 2 minutes or so, until the shrimps turn pink/orange. At this point, the original recipe calls for taking the pan off the heat, removing ⅔ of the shrimp from the pan and puréeing them, then adding the purée back to the sauce. I skip this part, just for simplicity. We like whole shrimps anyway, and the sauce is still very flavourful.

Lower the heat to medium and add: 
  ½ cup heavy cream 

Cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the cream thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Toss sauce with: 
  1 lb cooked pasta (see above) 
  2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley 

Serve immediately. 

Serves 4-6. Remember - there is shrimp in this pasta, so no parmigiano!

23 February 2012

Okonomiyaki

I don't want to scare you away, so let's start with a picture, shall we? 

okonomiyaki

Riiiight? I promise: this tastes just like it looks: like it's not 90% cabbage. It's as if cabbage isn't even there. Maybe you're a cabbage lover, in which case I don't even need to try to convince you. Chances are, though, if someone gave you a recipe for pancakes or pizza made up almost entirely of cabbage, you'd run away. Well, okay. You're polite, so you'd probably feign some interest and then chuck the recipe.

okonomiyaki

Maybe it's just me, but I really think that this is precisely the sort of thing that deserves to be judged only after it's been tasted. Honestly, I never would have made this, had it not been for my younger sister. While I do believe that it's always good form to taste something before passing judgement on it, I must also admit that I filter what appears on our dinner table ... meaning: I read a recipe and imagine how it would taste; if at any point I grimace, chances are pretty high that it's not going to be making an appearance.

This brings us back to these cabbage-centric pancakes and my younger sister, who made them for me when we saw each other last summer. "They're soooo goooooood," she gushed. "Trust me!" And, of course, being the wonderful big sister that I am, I humored her and went along with it. (I'm only saying that because I know she's reading this!) Jokes aside, I really am glad she made them, because, well, after I took my first bite, I realized that she wasn't kidding. They are sooooo gooooood. Trust me!

okonomiyaki 

Native to Japan, this dish is known as okonomiyaki. It is a combination of 2 words: "okonomi"- "what you like/want", and "yaki" - "grilled/cooked". I've never been to Japan and I'm not an expert on Japanese cuisine, so I'm not making any claims to authenticity, but it does strike me that the name really is quite apt. You always start off with a base of flour and cabbage (with a few other things like water or dashi stock, and nagaimo, if you have access to it), but after that it seems you can throw practically anything you want in it: shrimp, octopus, sliced pork, grated vegetables, cheese, to name a few. Oknomiyaki is also known as Japanese pancakes or Japanese pizza, and I guess that works too, because they do take the form of a savoury pancake and they do behave a little like pizza (you know, top it "okonomi-style").

okonomiyaki

My sister, a big fan of Cooking With Dog, uses Dog's recipe. I didn't have many of the ingredients, though, and I wanted to come up with a recipe that would call for the staples I normally have in my pantry (plus a special trip for cabbage). Again, this probably isn't authentic, but it's in the spirit of okonomiyaki, and we really enjoyed it. As you can see above, the batter was really not very pancake-like. It was mostly cabbage held together by flour/water/egg, with some green onions and shrimp.(Again, note to cabbage non-lovers: something magical happens when these are cooked that makes them very un-cabbage-y, so take a leap of faith here!)

Okonomiyaki would not be okonomiyaki without toppings. Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce (I didn't have that but I always have tonkatsu sauce, so I substituted) are common. Traditionally I think some dancing bonito flakes also make an appearance, but again, I don't normally have that in my pantry, so our pancakes did not put on a show for us. Shucks. Some recipes cook the pancakes with sliced pork belly, but since we like bacon around here I decided to crisp up some bits and sprinkle those on instead. 

So there you have it: okonomiyaki! (Don't you just love Japanese words?) And ... cabbage? I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You do rock!

okonomiyaki

(My take on) Okonomiyaki 

If desired, brown in a nonstick skillet until crisp: 
  2-3 slices bacon, diced 

Set the bacon aside on paper towels to drain. Drain the rendered bacon fat off the skillet and reserve skillet for making the pancakes. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together: 
  ¾ cup unbleached all purpose flour 
  ½ tsp baking powder 
  tsp salt 
  a few grinds of pepper (optional) 

Add and stir a few times with a rubber spatula to combine roughly (it will be very thick and clumpy; do not try to combine thoroughly): 
  scant ½ cup water, at room temperature (or dashi stock)
  1 egg 

Fold in, until evenly coated with the flour "batter", taking care not to overmix: 
  2½ cups finely chopped green cabbage 
    (8 ounces of cabbage will be more than enough) 
  2 scallions, white part only, sliced finely (reserve the green parts for topping) 
  4 ounces raw shrimp, cut into small bite-sized pieces 

To make individual pancakes, heat about 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil (or some reserved bacon fat? just saying ...) in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Scoop out about a half cup of the cabbage mixture into the skillet. Flatten it to form a pancake about 4-5" in diameter (a bit less than ½" thick). Give the pancake 3-5 minutes to brown. Control the heat so that it does not brown too fast, as the cabbage needs a bit of time to cook. Flip the pancake and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until that side has browned as well. Transfer to a wire rack, blotting any clinging oil with paper towels. Repeat another 4 times for the remaining batter, using a teaspoon or two of oil for each pancake.

To serve, place a pancake on a plate. Top with: 
  tonkatsu sauce 
  bacon bits 
  sliced green onions 
  toasted sesame seeds 

Serve immediately. Makes 5 4-5" pancakes. I find that this is really filling, and 1 pancake is a satisfying serving portion; my husband has a bigger appetite and prefers 2.

16 February 2012

Scallion pancakes

Did you know that scallions and green onions aren't exactly the same thing? I thought that 'scallion' was just a highfalutin way to say 'green onion', and word-perception aside, I think a lot of cooks would agree that scallions = green onions = those green straw-like leaves with little white bulbs (typically sold in bunches, often held together at the ends by 2 thin blue rubber bands, for 30-50 cents a bunch).

scallion pancakes

However, the other day I was at my favourite grocery store and in their fresh produce aisle, right above a huge pile of beautiful green onions, was a little poster explaining that scallions aren't green onions. That was a first ... maybe I've been hanging out at all the wrong circles, but I'd always heard that green onions are scallions. 

Anyway, a bit of quality time in cyberspace did confirm that there is indeed a difference. To sum it up, scallions are young green onions: they are slightly milder in taste and more slender in shape, with no hint of a bulb. Subtleties aside, I think they are often used interchangeably in cooking, and probably all but the most discerning palates wouldn't take offense.

scallion pancakes

On many dinner tables, scallions/green onions often appear in a supporting role, added in small quantities for a bit of an Asian kick, or sprinkled over a dish as garnish. In scallion pancakes, though, they step to the forefront - but fear not: the allium flavour is quite mild, definitely nowhere near incendiary.

I'd never made scallion pancakes before, and what I found most intriguing was how these pancakes are formed. You start off with a small ball of dough, roll it out into a disc, sprinkle chopped scallions over it, roll it up, coil it, and roll it out again. It sounds fussy, but it actually goes pretty quickly. 

 scallion pancakes how-to

All that rolling helps create a pancake with layers, and after a brief encounter with some hot oil, what you end up with is a crispy crust and a tender, slightly chewy, layered interior. A cross between pancake and flatbread, these are particularly tasty when dipped in sauce. Some people serve these as a side dish and use it to sop up little puddles of sauce left on their plate; others serve it as an appetizer or a snack with sauce on the side.  

As for the whole scallion vs. green onion issue ... for my purposes, toh-may-toh, toh-mah-toh, or something like that: I made these scallion pancakes using green onions, and they turned out just fine.
 
scallion pancakes

Scallion Pancakes and Scallion Dipping Sauce

This recipe serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer, snack, or side.

Whisk in a medium bowl:
  1½ cups all purpose flour
  1 tsp salt

Add:
  ½ cup water, at room temperature

Using either a fork or your fingers, combine the flour and water. This is not meant to be a wet dough, but if the dough is having trouble coming together, add more water a teaspoon at a time. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured flat surface and knead it for about 5 minutes, until smooth. Brush the dough with a bit of vegetable oil, and let it rest at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince to yield about ½ cup:
  6 scallions (or green onions)

Divide the dough into 4. Working on one piece at a time, while keeping the others covered to prevent drying, roll one of the dough quarters into a disc about 7" in diameter.

Brush each disc with:
  ½ tsp toasted sesame oil (2 tsp sesame oil total) 

Sprinkle with:
  2 Tbsp of the scallions minced earlier (½ cup scallions total)
  1½ tsp chopped cilantro (2 Tbsp chopped cilantro total)
    (I think the cilantro is optional - I skipped it because I'm not a fan) 

Roll the dough, like a cigarette, then coil it into a spiral, tucking the tail end underneath. Roll this out to about ¼" thick (to get a disc about 5" across). Set aside and cover, while you roll out the remaining dough pieces. (See the step-by-step pictures above).

Fry 1 pancake at a time, in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, using about 1 Tbsp vegetable oil per pancake, until golden brown on each side, 1½ - 2 minutes per side.

Transfer pancake to a chopping board and tent loosely with foil while you cook the others. Slice into wedges and serve, preferably with scallion dipping sauce (below).

Scallion Dipping Sauce
This can be prepared a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. 
Combine in a bowl: 
  ¼ cup soy sauce
  2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  2 Tbsp mirin (rice wine)
  2 Tbsp water
  1 tsp chili oil (optional)
  ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
  1 scallion, minced