Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lobster with Clarified Butter

Just thought I'd rub it in that I ate fresh lobster for supper today. Boiled for 5 to 6 minutes a pound and then dipped in a bit of clarrified butter, it's a simple meal that's high on flavour and simplicity. Flavour and simplicity. Two words that are so beautiful together when it comes to food.

Also, notice how nicer this picture is compared to all previous posts. That's cause we got a new camera. There's even an option that's specially designed to take pictures of food. How cool is that?!

Cook Tomato Salad with Jamie

At the top of my list of things I love are food and books. Therefore the natural combination of the two is a real treat. I like books that aren't only cookbooks but tell you a story for the recipes or are the recipes that a person gathered on a trip of some sort. Two books of this sort I'd been eyeing recently were given to me by my mother-in-law for Christmas. I got both Kylie Kwong's My China and Jamie Oliver's new book Cook with Jamie.

The basic principle of Jamie Oliver's book is that this celebrity chef's cooking program through his restaurant Fifteen is here presented to the general public as a sort of cooking textbook. I haven't seen recipes so far that are just slapped onto a page without any context or story or explanation. For example, the first recipe I prepared from this book was for a tomato salad. The introduction to the recipe is actually longer than the recipe itself and there are gorgeous photos to go along with all of them. And then you get to the recipe for the tomato salad and you're not just given steps to follow but little explanations that clarify why it is you're being asked to perform such and such an action. In the recipe in question, once you've cut you're fresh mixture of different tomatoes into odd sized pieces, you put them in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle them generously with sea salt. But the instructions don't just say do 1, then 2, then 3 and so on. They say that the reason why you're doing this is to draw out some liquid from the tomatoes to concentrate the flavour. It also explains that he's not expecting you to eat all of that salt...the salt will, for the most part, run off with the excess liquid of the tomatoes.

I've done basic tomato salads like this before. Tomatoes + olive oil + balsamic vinegar. All that's different here is the preparation of the tomatoes and the expected additions like garlic, fresh marjoram and basil and the not so usual addition of a hot red pepper. The recipe's additions were good. But it's the preparation and the learning that went along with the preparation that makes this book worthwile. Now I know that if I draw some water out of a vegetable that I'll be able to concentrate it's flavour. Simple in retrospect but it's one of those millions of little things that need to be learnt in the kitchen.

Cook with Jamie is a recipe book that reads like a cooking show. You get all the information that can be delivered in live action but in a format that allows you to move at your own pace. Isn't learning fun?!

Sausage and Cheese Breakfast

As always, we picked up a few things at the Farmer's Market. This time the menu was all-French. And I mean European French, French.

There's this French vendor, Ferme du diamant, who sells all sorts of specialty meat products. He's got veal, veal cutlets, smoked duck, foie gras, a whole selection of terrines, and the most delicious sausages I've ever had. Now I'm not usually a huge fan of sausages. It's all the stuff they put inside it which is mostly preservatives, fat and salt. But mention any hot dog or mainstream sausage and you've just started this vendor off on a rant about how gross food can be made. His animals are properly raised and his products are full of nothing but real, untampered food. In the above photo you can see the veal sausage with cheese and parsley that I bought from him for this particular breakfast alongside a healthy little dollop of grainy mustard. A few weeks ago I also bought a wild boar terrine and another Landais county pate with cognac which were both magnificent. Though both of these contain liver, I don't find it gross because I know the liver was put in there on purpose and is not just some remains that were floating around the blood covered floor of a slaughterhouse. If ever you're in Dieppe, New Brunswick, you must visite the Ferme du diamant's booth. If you already live in the Dieppe and Moncton area then I suggest you pull yourself away from your computer and sample the delicious local product that is NOT featured at your local supermarket. Farmer's market. Not super-market.

Right beside the abovementioned booth, there is a small Belgian lady who sells these beautiful goat's cheeses. We sampled a few which were all very delicious but finally opted for what I think is the Madawaska cheese. It's a very creamy, almost liquid cheese, wrapped in a beautiful crust and perfect for this little breakfast dégustation on a bit of Montreal style bagel. We went back today and bought an even bigger wheel. Good food is hard to find so when you find it you make sure to support it. And everyone at a Farmer's market is worth supporting. They're locals with a passion for their products. There is pride there that can't be matched by the highly advertised and unethically produced food you find at the grocery stores. The present is the best time to emerge from your suburban bubble.

Achiote Chicken Xmas Supper

We moved to the Maritimes because supposedly people were nice and life moved at a slower pace which is essential to quality of life. Though these things are true, living far away from the people and places we know is hard...especially during the holidays. For me, the Christmas season is not complete without some family squabble and seeing children opening presents. But, seeing as we might as well make the most of our present situation, we decided to alleviate the situation with a quasi traditional holiday meal.

It beeing a very mild December day, we fired up the bbq. Now we sometimes buy a pre-seasoned chicken and shove that on the beer butt stand. This time, however, I rubbed our achiote and orange juice mixture all over the chicken and under the skin. (Note: if you're going to put anything under the chicken's skin, you've got to be very delicate so as not to rip the skin. You also don't want to unstick too much of the skin from the flesh cause then everything's going to leak out and all of your efforts will have come to not.) With our red bird all moist and smocky, we prepared some peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce and stuffing. And though it really didn't feel like Christmas, we had a nice meal and came that much closer to realising how important home is. My grandmother told me on Christmas Eve that there's a reason why the age old saying "home is where the heart is" still exists. I guess I best start listening to my elders.

Happy holidays and have a wonderful new year. I hope you get to spend it with all of the people who are dear to you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fish Soup with Rouille

Trekking on with our soup “diet”, this fish soup was the next in line. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d like a recipe that asked for puréed fish but it turned all right. The flavour of the soup itself was nice but the texture sort of turned me off. On its own the soup was mediocre. What I really enjoyed about this was the dollop of rouille in the middle with the toasted baguette sliced on which we melted parmesan. So far the accompaniments for the soups in this cookbook are better than the soups themselves. Well we gave this one a 3 out of 5. Were it not for the rouille and baguette, the soup would probably score closer to 2.3. Anywho, here’s the recipe for rouille.


2 garlic cloves
1 tsp coarse salt
1 thick slice of white bread, crust removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and cayenne pepper

Long way…Put the garlic and salt in a mortar and crush to a paste with the pestle. Add the soaked bread and chilli and pound until smooth. Whisk in the olive oil, a drop at a time, to make a smooth, shiny sauce that resembles mayonnaise. Season with salt and add a pinch of cayenne.

Short way…Purée everything except olive oil in a small food processor. Slowly pour in olive oil till texture reached.

Mexicanish X-mas Supper

In order to kill two birds with one stone, as the old adage goes, we introduced a small group of our friends to semi-authentic Mexican food which also served as a holiday supper. You can see in a previous post my entry on homemade flour tortillas. I’ll say it again though that nothing beats real tortillas. Like anything made fresh and never having been in contact with a store, it’s so much better. The taste cannot be imitated. But that’s my opinion.

Now given what I just said, you’ll probably think me a hypocrite to have served canned refried beans. (Note: don’t be intimidated by the fact that these look like dog food when coming out of the can.) Supposedly these take forever to make. Beans on their own are a pain in the ass. Imagine having to refry them! Geez! Anyways, the guacamole and Mexican style salsa were made from scratch. For the guacamole, I put two fresh avocadoes, a hot pepper, a tomato, half an onion and two garlic cloves into my food processor, turned the little switchy thing and voila. Pretty much the same for the salsa but I don’t make that. My girlfriend has the recipe and I’m not quite sure where she hides it.

Also available for tortilla stuffing – in addition to such boring things like slivers of iceberg lettuce, chunks of tomato and shredded cheddar – was pulled pork in achiote and orange juice. The stuff we use is like a red spice brick which is sent to us by my girlfriend’s Mexican stepmother. Strait from the source. On the last batch of products we also got various dulce de leche de cabra treats, sun dried peppers, Maseca, corn husks, some dry pulled pork stuff and other things that I forget cause they’ve already been eaten. The next thing I’m whipping up are tamales.

In order to satisfy my appetite for spiciness, I put the two hot sauces I now have in stock on the table. The hottest in the Tabasco line, the habenero and chipotle hot sauces got a few people sweating. Now I know that these are mild in comparison to most real hot sauces but you’ve got to keep in mind that my French Canadian friends aren’t used to anything spicier than pepper and radishes. One advantage is that I was able to amaze them with my hot sauce eating capabilities. I’m like a super hero to the hot sauce layman’s eyes

For desert, my girlfriend made crème caramels which we found in our Mexican cook book which therefore means that it’s Mexican (A+B=C). The melted icing sugar caramel sitting on top of the gelatinous custard tasted a tad burnt. Supposedly that’s what it’s supposed to taste like. Served with some fresh mango I really didn’t care. It was a great end to a meal and a great launch to hours of wicked conversation and coffee drinking.

P.S. The coffee was made with my new Bodum coffee press by the way. I’m never going back to drip coffee again…ever…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pork and Noodle Broth with Prawns

To start, let me put you into the context of my Asian food exposure. I grew up in an isolated lumbering town where everyone was snow white except 1 African-Canadian family who was a doctor and 2 Asian families who owned the Chinese restaurants. No Greeks or Ukrainians or Mexicans or Arabs where I'm from. The first time I saw a black person speak French - which is basically the primary language all over Africa - I was amazed. Shows how much I knew.

Long story short, food was basically limited to the usual Canadian and French Canadian fare. So you can say that I was pleasantly surprised when I made this soup and found that my chopsticks smelled like authentic Asian food. Not to mention that I actually found Kaffir lime leaves at my local Asian food market. I mean, for all of you big city folks living on the American west coast or anyone in a larger city of the world, finding these ingredients might be as common as finding carrots. But when I tasted this soup I got an appreciation for the delicious, not too overwhelming flavours of Asia. This particular soup is supposedly of Vietnamese origin.

Like a good spaghetti sauce, I find soup is always better the day after when it's reheated. The flavours have come together and things are all beautiful and stuff. And your chopsticks can be sniffed for hours afterwards.

Finally, I find following a recipe to the T is not any fun. This one calls for 12 ounces of pork. Do you think I really went out there and measured 12 ounces of pork? No. I cut up the pork tenderloin and stuffed it into the soup. Recipes are made to be altered. But I found that when I was starting to cook that it was better to stick to the recipe. So, rule of thumb, you can depend less and less on recipes as you practice more and more. Like anything, really.

Pork and Noddle Broth with Prawns

350g / 12oz pork tenderloin
225g / 8oz raw shrimp tails
5oz thin egg noodles
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
4 shallots or 1 medium onion, sliced
1 tbsp finely sliced fresh root ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp sugar
6 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 kaffir lime leaves
3 tbsp Thai fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
4 sprigs of fresh cilantro and 2 green onions (scallions) chopped for garnish

1. Remove fat of tenderloin and slice as thinly as possible. A good trick is to put the thawed pork in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm the flesh up. It's then easier to slice thinly.
2. If using raw prawn tails, peel and devein the prawns.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and simmer the egg noodles until softened, or according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set the noodles to one side.
4. Pre-heat a wok. Add the vegetables and sesame oils and heat through. When the oil is hot, add the shallots or onion and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until evenly browned. Remove from the wok and set aside.
5. Add the ginger, garlic, sugar and chicken stock to the wok and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, fish sauce and lime juice. Add the pork, then simmer for 15 minutes.
6. Add the prawns and noodles and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or longer if using raw prawns to ensure that they are cooked. Add the shallots or onion.
7. Serve garnished with cilantro and the green onions.

Definitely a 4 out of 5.

P.S. Sorry the pork looks purple in the photo. My camera sucks. I do not like green eggs and purple pork. I do not like them Sam

Harira a.k.a. North African Spiced Soup

All right so I'm not going to spend $18 for 5 strands of saffron. Call me cheap but...well...maybe I am. Maybe it wouldn't have made much difference to this exotic tomato soup.

Supposedly this soup is served in the evening during Ramadan, the Muslim festival when followers fast during the daytime for a month. I found it warm both because that's the nature of soups and due to the cinnamon, grated ginger and chickpeas. This is perfect for a slight twist on a basic tomato soup.

North African Spiced Soup (always from 400 Best-Ever Soups)

1 large onion, chopped
5 cups stock
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp grated ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 hot pepper, cut into rings (my contribution to this recipe)
14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 lb floury potatoes, diced
5 strands saffron
14 oz can chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
fried or barbecues lemon wedges, optional

1. Place the chopped onion in a large pot with 1 1/4 cups of vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, caryenne pepper and 2 tbsp of stock to form a paste. Stir into the onion mixture with the carrots, celery, pepper and remaining stock.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, then cover and gently simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and potatoes and simmer gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the saffron, chickpeas, cilantro and lemon juice. Season to taste and when piping hot, serve with optional fried or barbecued wedges of lemon.

This one scored a 3.3 out of 5. It's good but it's not "holly shit is this ever good" good.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Parsnip Soup

This is the first time I ever ate parsnips that I'm aware of. They're a carroty, potato-ish, sort of rutabaga-like flavoured vegetable. I guess someone whose familiar with parsnips would just say that they taste like parsnip but hey, I'm a rookie in the foodie world.

I love starchy, purréed soups like this one. My girlfriend is nuts about my Leek and Potato Soup - also known as a Vichyssoise - which is pretty similar in preparation and texture to this soup. What really makes this soup remarkable is the very tasty flavour of cumin with the parsnip. It gives it real depth and warmth which is perfect for a snow shovelling day...and boy did I ever shovel alot of snow lately. We got 43 centimeters of snow in 2 strait days of storm. Which would equate to a natural workout for all of you positive thinkers out there.

Parsnip Soup

2 lb parsnips
1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
5 cups hot chicken stock
2/3 cup light cream
salt and black pepper to taste
chopped fresh chives, parsley and/or croutons to garnish

1) Peel and thinly slive the parsnips. Heat the butter in a large heavy pan and add the peeled parnsips and chopped onions with the crushed garlic. Cook until softened but not coloured, stirring occasionally. Add the groudn cumin and ground coriander to the vegetable mixture and cook , stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, and then gradually blend in the hot chicken stock and mix well.
2) Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the parsnip is soft. Purée the soup, adjust the texture with extra stock if it seems too thick, and check the seasoning. Add the cream and reheat without boiling.
3) Serve immediately, sprinkled with garnish.

This one scored a 4.2 out of 5.

Our new bowls are again featured here. Isn't the contrast of white and red totally mouth watering or is that just me....

Curried Salmon Soup

Forging on with our soup suppers, I made a sort of Indian-ish/east coast soup whose main features are yellow curry paste and coconut. Being in a medium sized Canadian town, I had to cross my fingers and hope that the only Asian food store in the city would have yellow curry paste. Luckily for me, they did have curry paste and the friendly guy at the counter told me that coconut milk and yellow curry paste with chunks of baguette is a great way to have it. This soup is along those lines. It also looks nothing like the picture in the cookbook...I'm sure those food stylists used dye or something. Stlylists! Phaw!

Curried Salmon Soup

1/4 cup butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 tsp mild curry paste
2 cups water
2/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup creamed coconut or 1/2 cup coconut cream....I used coconut work with what you got
2 potatoes, cubed
1 lb salmon filet, skinned and cut into bitesize pieces
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley...use the rest of the bunch to make tabbouleh
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a large pan, add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Stir in the curry paste. Cook for 1 minute more.
2. Add the water, wine, cream and creamed coconut or coconut cream, with seasoning. Bring to the boil, stirring until the coconut has dissolved
3. Add the potatoes to the pan. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until they are tender. Note: I forgot the covered part of this recipe and ended up having to add water as it evaporated all which caused the potatoes to take twice as long to cook. Do not allow the potatoes to break down into the mixture.
4. Add the fish gently so as not to break it up. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until just cooked. Add the parsley and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.

We gave this one a 3.5 out of 5. And also featured in this entry is the appearance of our new bowls. Sexy, non?

New Apartment, New Soup Diet

To make a long story short, we moved into the apartment building we never should have bought to make our lives easier, put it up for sale, and have only been able to get back in the kitchen in the last few days. There's 3 feet of snow outside (the above photo is about 2 months old) and I'm walking distance to work. Life is alright now. Backed up into a corner but alright.

On the food front, we've decided to go on a soup diet...and by diet I just mean what we're eating and not the weight watching obsession of the 21th century. Every night we make a different soup from the cookbook 400 Best-Ever Soup by Hermes House publishing. We then rate and date them that way we're actually getting some use out of our cookbook, are better able to track our progress through it and are making lighter meals that don't sit in our gut till midnight. All in all, it's a fantastic way to eat. More for breakfast and lunch, less for supper. And, of course, everything except the stock itself is from scratch.

The first soup we made in our soup diet wasn't very good...a 2.5 out of 5. You see, I don't like eggplant. I've tried it time and time again but that big purple bulbous plant just doesn't do it for me. However, I thought I'd swing another kick at a dead horse and tried the Greek Aubergine and Courgette Soup. I thought to myself, "What could go wrong with roasted vegetables in a Greek inspired stock with a fresh dollop of tzatziki in the middle?" The answer: three watery vegetables - eggplant, zucchini, and cucumber - and a taste that just doesn't inspire a wow. The only good thing about this recipe is that I find putting tzatziki in a soup is a great take on the usual dollop of crème fraiche. It was flavourful and cooled down the soup nicely. So let's forget the recipe for the soup and just go with the one for the tzatziki.

1 cucumber (english)
2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 cup plain yogurt
small bunch of fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Peel, seed, and dice the cucumber. Place the flesh in a colander and spinkle with salt. Leave to dehydrate for 30 minutes.
2. Mix the garlic with the vinegar and stir into the yogurt. Pat the cucumber dry on kitchen paper and fold it into the yogurt.
3. Season to taste and stir in the mint.
4. Chill until required.